Insights into violence against women

Amira Elhamy , Tuesday 12 Dec 2023

Al-Ahram weekly talks to psychologist Naglaa Naguib about the problem of violence against women

violence against women
violence against women


There is no doubt that violence against women, particularly domestic partner violence, is a critical public health problem and a violation of women’s rights. Sadly, violence continues to severely affect women’s physical and psychological health in many parts of the world.  

World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics indicate that almost one third (27 per cent) of women aged 15-49 years worldwide who have been in a relationship say that they have been subjected to some form of physical violence by their partner. About one in three (30 per cent) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical violence or non-partner violence in their lifetime.

Naglaa Naguib, founder of the Inside Out Counselling Centre in Egypt, explained that violence against women is considered a worldwide problem. Many women experience domestic violence from their partners, and some are assaulted by men who are not their partners. 

Domestic partner violence can result in physical or psychological harm, she said. Physical aggression, sexual coercion, or psychological abuse and controlling behaviour are all examples of violent behaviour. Sexual violence can include any unwanted sexual advances. 

“Murder has to be added to these statistics, unfortunately,” Naguib said. “In fact, 38 per cent of murders of women worldwide are committed by intimate partners.” Such figures bear witness to the social imbalances, economic problems, and severe psychological problems that some women may be facing. 

Social imbalances occur because families who suffer from domestic violence sometimes develop distorted values, and children who witness their mothers being mistreated may consider this to be normal. A girl might consider it to be normal to be mistreated by a man after she has been accustomed to seeing her mother being exposed to it. A boy might think it normal to beat a woman after seeing his father doing it as well. 

Economic problems can also be a significant by-product of violence against women, costing countries up to seven per cent of GDP. Women who are exposed to violence are unable to participate well within the workforce, which has a negative effect on the economy. 

“Let me add that the stress, frustration, and heightened anger that people experience as a result of economic difficulties also increase violence in general, including violence against women. When people are jobless and stay for long hours at home, this is another kind of frustration that can result in domestic violence,” Naguib said.

Finally, domestic violence can have severe psychological effects on women and girls and negatively affect women’s well-being. It can prevent them fully participating in society and sometimes can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sleeping disorders, back pain, abdominal pain, limited mobility and poor overall health and last but not least suicide attempts, Najib said.  

“Domestic violence is present at all social levels. It knows no social or economic boundaries, and it is present in developed and underdeveloped countries alike,” she added. 

Some men may give themselves the right to commit violent acts against a woman or sexual harassment because the woman is dressed in a certain way. This is not an excuse, of course. Banning woman from being educated or working or participating in society are all also forms of violence against them, Najib said.

“Unfortunately, some factors put the woman at risk of being exposed to violence, such as a low level of education, a history of exposure to maltreatment, witnessing family violence, living with a partner addicted to drugs or alcohol, disruptive masculine behaviour against women, community norms or values that favour certain types of masculinity and cause gender inequality,” Naguib explained. 

“Community norms or values that put a high value on masculinity compared to femininity, like favouring a boy over a girl within the family, or asking a girl always to serve her brother, are all problematic for the internalised norms of some women. These are patriarchal values that men have been raised with, and we must consider them to be social imbalances in our society.”

“We have laws in Egypt that condemn domestic violence, as we follow UN norms and consider them to be human rights violations. But who are setting and applying the laws in our society? They are judges, the civil service, police officers, and religious clerks, and unfortunately many of them have been raised according to patriarchal values, or according to certain misinterpreted religious beliefs, for instance that men are better or have a higher status than women,” Naguib commented. 

Such views have nothing to do with religion, she added, as according to Islam while men are responsible for providing for women financially, this does not entail that they are higher or better than them. It simply means that the different sexes exercise their talents in different areas. In fact, Islam praises women in many aspects.

“It is society that creates false values or beliefs. We need to adopt more gender-based interpretations, as is mentioned in all religions,” Naguib added.

“In the past, there was a tendency from some religious figures to always blame the woman, and sometimes this happens also nowadays. When the murder of Nayera, a student in Mansoura University, took place, a religious figure came out with a statement that put the blame on the woman, saying that if a woman wears tight clothes and leaves her hair uncovered, this will expose her to be killed,” Naguib said, referring to a case of gender-based violence in Egypt earlier this year.

“Islam protects the woman and her rights. Such a declaration gives the impression that how a woman dresses gives an excuse for someone to attack her or even kill her.”

“I would say that any ‘sympathy’ towards this young woman’s killer indicates a critical imbalance in social norms and mentalities. There is an issue of toxic masculinity here, which means that a man somehow cannot accept rejection. How could a woman reject him? Some people, whether men or women, sympathised with him, giving him the excuse for killing the woman he loved because he was heartbroken and couldn’t accept rejection from her.”

“But what kind of mentality is this? There is no excuse for killing another human being, and this is the case in all religions.”

“Any man who commits such an act is a criminal, though in fact these crimes happen within social clusters and our society has witnessed many similar crimes. One of the most famous happened years ago when a famous businessman killed a singer,” Naguib added.

As a result of such attitudes and the harassment or worse that they can foster, some women and girls suffer from trauma. They may even be anxious about going out, being fearful about being exposed to violent acts. They may be anxious about their domestic partners, and in order to counter such problems psychological support is needed as well as women’s empowerment. 

“A woman should never accept to be violently treated, but unfortunately some women do accept it and do not even speak about it, which results in a severe lack of self-confidence, low self-worth, and feelings of undeserving love and respect. Another consequence may be the emotional numbness a woman may feel when she is disconnected from her emotions in order to disconnect from the emotional burden that results from being violently treated at home,” Naguib said.

“Depression and post-traumatic disorder are also two major consequences.”

There must be more trained medical professionals who deal with traumatised women, as well as shelters that can host victims. Mental health support is also necessary in regular hospitals and specialised clinics. 

In order to combat the problem, there is a need for further public-awareness campaigns, in order to reduce or eliminate the stigma around seeking mental healthcare by victims of abuse or domestic violence. 

“When we encourage women to speak up, more women will confidently be able to do so,” Naguib concluded.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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