“Domestic violence is the most ubiquitous constant in women’s lives around the world. There is virtually no place where it is not a significant problem, and women of no race, class, or age are exempt from its reach” -Joni Seager
Abstract: Domestic violence against women is a social problem that occurs in nearly every corner of the world. Recently, some states have begun to recognize that women must be protected from abuse by family members and intimates. While policies and practices designed to protect women have emerged in a number of countries, many lag behind on the issue. This paper will examine the causal factors behind the variation in protection for women. The literature on women and politics suggests that women’s representation may increase the level of protection against domestic violence because female legislators are more likely to put women’s issues on the agenda and make policy choices that benefit their sex. Alternatively, the culture of a state may determine whether the society supports rights for women, including protection from domestic violence. A variety of statistics indicating women’s representation and culture were gathered for analysis. Using bi variate correlation and multiple regression, the theories were tested against each other in an attempt to determine the cause of variation in levels of protection. The findings suggest that both women’s representation and culture are significantly correlated to level of protection. Because the number of women in elected office influences protection to a greater extent than culture, improving women’s representation appears to be an important factor in fighting the domestic violence problem.
THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROBLEM
Across the world, women are beaten, tortured, mentally abused, burned, and killed by their intimate relations on a regular basis. Domestic violence is defined as abuse between family members, but for the context of this paper I am specifically referring to abuse against women. Until relatively recently, authorities in many states have ignored or even condoned this type of violence. For example, the phrase “rule of thumb” comes from Anglo-American common law -- a husband was permitted to strike his wife with a stick as long as it was no wider than his thumb (Straus and Gelles 1986). In some cultures, domestic violence remains an acceptable means for a husband to discipline his wife. Why do such abhorrent acts occur and why have they gone unpunished? Experts generally agree that domestic violence is used to keep women in a subordinate position within the household (Seager, 2003; Straus and Gelles, 1986). Men use physical abuse against women in order to ‘keep them in their place’ -- to exert their power as the dominant figure in the household. Historically, domestic violence has been considered a private matter, a problem between a man and his wife that the state need not become involved in (Abrar and Lovenduski, 2002; Bush, 1992; Hawkins and Humes, 2002).
Recently, the domestic violence issue has been moved from the private realm to the public in many states. Consequently, practices regarding the problem are changing and violence in the home is becoming a criminal matter. Yet the degree of protection women receive varies tremendously across states. Why is it that in some western societies, women can prosecute their husbands for a slap in the face, yet in places such as Turkey, men receive reduced sentences if the murder of their wives is an ‘honor killing?’ (World Report, 2003). In order to explain this variation, I examine the impact of women’s representation and cultural factors, either of which may account for the level of protection women receive against domestic violence.
THEORIES REGARDING WOMEN’S PROTECTION
Making a difference: Women’s representation
One of the prevailing theories in women and politics literature is called the ‘politics of presence.’ According to this...