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E-Learning course: Urban Crime and Violence Prevention

Module 2 Intra-family Violence Prevention

Culture and Violence against Women

Whilesomeculturalnormsandpracticesempowerwomenandpromotewomenshumanrights,customs,
traditionsandreligiousvaluesarealsooftenusedtojustifyviolenceagainstwomen.Certainculturalnorms,for
example,havelongbeencitedascausalfactorsforviolenceagainstwomen,includingbeliefsassociatedwith
harmfultraditionalpractices(suchasfemalegenitalmutilation/cutting,childmarriageandsonpreference),
crimescommittedinthenameofhonour,discriminatorycriminalpunishmentsimposedunderreligiously
basedlaws,andrestrictionsonwomensrightsinmarriage.Cultureisformedbythevalues,practicesandpower
relationsthatareinterwovenintothedailylivesofindividualsandtheircommunities.Socialbehaviouris
mediatedbycultureinallsocietiesandcultureaffectsmostmanifestationsofviolenceeverywhere.Butthe
particularrelationshipbetweencultureandviolenceagainstwomencanonlybeclarifiedinspecifichistorical
andgeographiccontexts.Sincecultureisconstantlybeingshapedandreshapedbyprocessesofmaterialand
ideologicalchangeatthelocalandgloballevels,thecapacitytochangeisessentialtothecontinuationof
culturalidentitiesandideologies.Culturecannotbereducedtoastatic,closedsetofbeliefsandpractices.

Cultureisnothomogenous.Itincorporatescompetingandcontradictoryvalues.Particularvaluesandnorms
acquireauthoritywhenpolitical,economicandsocialdevelopmentsbringtheirproponentstopoweror
positionsofinfluence.Determinationsofwhatneedstobepreservedchangeovertimeas,forexample,when
maleleaderswillinglyaccepttechnologythatmassivelyaffectsculture,butresistchangesinwomensstatus,
reflectingatendencytotreatwomenastherepositoriesofculturalidentity.Womenarealsoactorsin
constitutingculture:theyinfluenceandbuildtheculturesaroundthem,changingthemastheyresist,and
reinforcingandrecreatingthemastheyconform.

Variousmanifestationsoffemicide,themurderofwomenbecausetheyarewomen,illustratethe
interrelationshipbetweenculturalnormsandtheuseofviolenceinthesubordinationofwomen.Femicidetakes
placeinmanycontexts:intimatepartnerviolence;armedconflict;workplaceharassment;dowrydisputes;and
theprotectionoffamilyhonour.Forexample,crimescommittedinthenameofhonour(usuallybya
brother,father,husbandorothermalefamilymember)areameansofcontrollingwomenschoices,notonlyin
theareaofsexuality,butalsoinotheraspectsofbehaviour,suchasfreedomofmovement.Suchcrimes
frequentlyhaveacollectivedimension,withthefamilyasawholebelievingitselftobeinjuredbyawomans
actualorperceivedbehaviour.

Theroleofcultureasacausalfactorforviolenceagainstwomenmustthereforebeinvestigatedwithindiverse
culturalsettings,takingintoaccountthemanywaysinwhichtheconceptofcultureisused.Culturecanbemost
usefullyviewedasashiftingsetofdiscourses,powerrelationsandsocial,economicandpoliticalprocesses,
ratherthanasafixedsetofbeliefsandpractices.Giventhefluidityofculture,womensagencyinchallenging
oppressiveculturalnormsandarticulatingculturalvaluesthatrespecttheirhumanrightsisofcentral
importance.

Effortstoaddresstheimpactofcultureonviolenceshouldthereforetakedirectionfromthewomenwhoare
seekingtoensuretheirrightswithintheculturalcommunitiesconcerned.

Source:UnitedNations.2006.EndingViolenceAgainstWomen:FromWordstoAction:StudyoftheSecretary
General.UnitedNationsSecretariat,DepartmentofEconomicandSocialAffairs,Geneva,Switzerland

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