From A World to Win News Service

Violence against women and the capitalist system

December 9, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |


November 26, 2012. A World to Win News Service. We remember Doaa, the Kurdish (Iraq) woman stoned to death by her family because she fell in love with a man outside her village and religion.

We remember Nadia, the young Afghan poet murdered by her husband (in Herat, Afghanistan) because she dared to cross the boundaries of kitchen and housework. We remember Mukhtar Mai, gang-raped in her village by the men members of a powerful feudal family in her village in Pakistan. We remember Atefeh, the Iranian girl abused by an adult and then arrested for Zena (sex outside of marriage). She was raped while in custody, and then raped again by the judge and his team. The court falsely claimed she was 18 in order to execute her quickly.

Of course, we will never forget Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, a 14-year-old girl in a village near the town Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq, gang-raped by five U.S. occupation troops. After that she was shot in the head and the lower body and then set on fire. We know Abeer was the victim of extremely brutal men from an extremely brutal army of an extremely brutal imperialist occupier, but we also know that she was not the only female victim on the endless list of wars. We know that Abeer, Doaa, Mukhtar and Atefeh and the rest are not alone but represent billions who have been the victims of extreme violence in patriarchal societies.

"Globally, up to six out of every ten women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. A World Health Organization study of 24,000 women in 10 countries found that the prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence by a partner varied from 15 percent in urban Japan to 71 percent in rural Ethiopia, with most areas being in the 30–60 percent range.

"In 1994, a World Bank study on ten selected risk factors facing women aged 20-44 found rape and domestic violence more dangerous than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria." ("Violence against women,"

We often hear about the murder of women by their husbands or partners. We often hear about the rape or gang-rape of women that may have happened in a village in Pakistan or India or in central London or elsewhere. We often read or hear reports about the sexual abuse of women in workplaces, schools and even in the family. We hear about bride-burning, honor killing, the traffic in women, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation, war-time rape, marital rape, forced abortion and the death of women because abortions are illegal. We could go on and on about different forms of violence against women.

Ruling class institutions in Western countries repeatedly warn about the "alarming" rate of violence against women. Ministers and ministries issue statements about it, not to reveal the dimension of the disaster but to calm the communities and show they are taking measures—for example, by passing this or that law or allocating such and such an amount to tackle these problems—and present a false picture about their achievements in this field.

In the face of the escalating rate of violence against women, in 1999 the United Nations declared November 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, officially marked every year since.

But these kinds of measures have done nothing to stop that violence or even reduce it. Atrocities against women are increasing at a frightening rate. Every day we are faced with new features and new forms and new figures. It is not difficult to see that the rulers of these societies and the world as a whole, despite their gestures and apparent sympathy, are not really willing to tackle this fundamental problem that threatens the lives of half of humanity.

They might worry about the criminal aspect of the "problem" that might threaten their legitimacy and control, but it is more than doubtful that their concerns about the status of women are genuine or at least meaningful.

The question is why women as a group continue to be discriminated against and victimized. This is not the exception but the rule in today's societies.

In fact the ruling classes, especially the monopoly capitalist class in the imperialist countries that dominate the rest of the world economically, politically and militarily, have been trying to divert public opinion and attribute violence against women to a particular part of the world, ethnicity or religion.

Reality has shown that violence against women has no nationality, no religion and no ethnicity; it can take different forms in various parts of the world at any time. With a glance at the statistics and only a brief review of history we can clearly see that this violence is part of the oppression of women as a whole on a world scale and is related to the subordination of women to men that arose when private property came into being. This factor has been part of all class societies, from the earliest times up to the prevalence of the capitalist mode of production today. But capitalists and their promoters have resorted to various ways to attribute this violence to everything except what it is related to.

First of all, the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries do not generally publicize violence against women in their own country and even in other parts of the world. They report some cases, especially in third world countries, sometimes when such a case already enraged the masses and the news has already spread. Often they try to misuse it for their own political agenda. The content of this agenda may vary, from glorifying their own system and their own way of treating women to justifying military invasions, promoting racism and/or denigrating a particular religion, culture or nation.

For example, if this kind of violence is done by Taliban forces, the media do not hesitate to give it big coverage and publish the picture of the victim on the first page of Time or some other prominent magazine or newspaper to show their so-called support for women victims of the Taliban. If they have to, they may publicize the case of Ghazal, an Afghan woman who was raped by her cousin and became pregnant. She was sent to prison for Zena, but after international publicity, President Hamid Karzai intervened and said she would be released if she married the rapist. The coverage of such atrocities is used to justify the occupation of Afghanistan.

We know that the case of Mukhtar Mai did get a lot of coverage internationally and this encouraged her to continue her fight and stand strong against General Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan at the time, who had no intention of intervening on her behalf. But this coverage was coupled with American political pressure on Musharraf and the Pakistani army to get them to do more in support of the U.S.'s war in Afghanistan.

Similarly, a case of violence against a woman might be given publicity in order to target a culture and religion. This is especially the case with honor killings by immigrants in Western countries. There have been a number of cases of honor killings in Sweden, UK, Canada and many other Western countries where women have been murdered by a family member because she had a boyfriend or refused to accept an arranged marriage or divorced or "betrayed" her husband.

If an Englishman or a Swede kills his wife, we're told that this is to be explained by some individual tragedy or pathology affecting the perpetrator—often alcohol is blamed. Rarely called into question are the prevailing relations between men and women that such individual acts concentrate. But if an immigrant from the Middle East or South Asia commits this crime, the media readily attributes it to the perpetrator's cultural or religious background.

The coverage often aims not to expose the everyday occurrence of violence against women but to blame immigrants for rising crime rates and argue that immigrants are bringing with them traditions and religions that are damaging to "our" society, as if violence against women were a foreign import.

But another way these crimes are sometimes dealt with is to point to the tradition and religion of the perpetrator in order to play down the seriousness of the act in the name of cultural relativism. And it is shocking that this kind of thinking has gone as far as to advocate the passing of special laws under which perpetrators of a particular religion would be tried by representatives of that religion.

Obviously, there should be no objection to the coverage of violence against women in third world countries; the more, the better. But the question is why the Western powers and their media are trying to make it look as if they were champions of women's liberation, as if women were not oppressed in their countries as well, and as if the religion, culture and tradition they promote were not also anti-women. And they imply that women all over the world should view their model as their dream.

Let's just look at some forms of violence against women in the Western imperialist countries like the U.S. and UK.

In 2005 in the U.S., 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner. That's an average of three women every day. 232,960 women in the U.S. were raped or sexually assaulted in 2006. That's more than 25 an hour. According to statistics provided by the U.S. Justice Department, more than 180,000 women were raped in 2010. It also estimates that one in five American women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years, and that less than five percent of these rapes will be reported.

In the UK, according to the March 2011 Home Office Newsletter on Violence against Women, 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and 80,000 raped a year, that is, more than nine every hour. In addition, it reports, sexual bullying and harassment are routine in UK schools.

What does it say about the dominant culture in the UK that, in a survey conducted for Amnesty International, more than one in four respondents thought that the woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than one in five held the same view if the woman had many sexual partners?

On average, two women a week (110 a year) in England and Wales are killed by their partner or ex-partner. And in France, 122 women were killed by their partner or ex-partner in 2011.

These figures do not include deaths due to the illegality of abortions or the restrictions placed on them in the Western world, which are also a kind of murder. Savita Halappanavar, 31, a dentist who lived near Galway in Ireland, 17 weeks pregnant, died last October 28. The hospital refused to operate to cut short a prolonged spontaneous miscarriage that was killing her, because it is illegal to conduct an abortion while the fetus's heart is still beating.

This taboo is a basic teaching of the Catholic Church and many forms of Protestantism, which seek to give it the force of law wherever they can—and how many prime ministers and other British politicians (and French and German and American, etc.) proclaim that Christianity is at the heart of Western culture? In fact, what major culture does not have the oppression of women at its heart?

There are also many women who are poor and vulnerable and can be trapped, tricked, coerced or drugged into selling their bodies. This is now a worldwide phenomenon. Millions and millions of women and girls are brutalized and forced into the international sex trade, a modern-day form of slavery that generates billions of dollars in profits for the capitalist economy. This trade takes place in many parts of the world, including the Western countries where there is a huge market for buying sex and pornography, which degrades, humiliates and incites violence against women. What does this say about the reality of Western culture?

We often hear that murder and other kinds of domestic violence against women in the Western countries are motivated by a man's emotional distress at the idea of being left by a woman. But let’s not fool ourselves. These are "modern" forms of honor killings.

When men kill or brutalize their wife or partner based on jealousy or "excessive" love or whatever you want to call it—it doesn’t matter—this is about ownership of women and revenge for stolen "property." It is another way of expressing that this woman is mine, and I have the right over her, I should have control over her life, she should be under my command and she should serve me and my children and my family. This is also the grounds on which honor killings are justified: the ownership of female family members. No matter what the particular conditions and under what mode of production, whether feudal or capitalist, in both cases violence enforces the rules of ownership of women.

This is not to deny the differences in the forms, nor to deny the reforms that the bourgeoisie has made in the forms of women's subordination to men. The point is that violence against women, in whatever form it might take, is universal and very brutal even in the Western countries. It is not simply due to the particular culture or religion of any particular people, but deeply engrained in the culture of all class societies and an inseparable part of the religions, traditions and moralities that are generated by and enforce the exploitative mode of production and the resulting inherently oppressive character of social relations in all class societies.

Islam gives men the right to batter and punish their wives and this gives the ideological power to Moslem men to practice violence against female family members. But let's be clear—it was not only the Koran that ordered punishment of wives. Under U.S. law until 1870, a husband had a legal right to "physically chastise an errant wife," and in the UK a husband had a traditional right to impose physical punishment on his wife in order to keep her "within the bounds of duty." While that kind of physical violence against women is no longer legal, it continues to be widespread. In addition, verbal violence—with very damaging psychological consequences—continues to be practiced by men in those and other countries.

To be fair, none of the major religions are friendly towards women. In addition to the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion, consider the case of the Magdalene Asylums run by the Catholic Church throughout Britain, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, and Canada and United States, during much of the nineteenth century and almost to the end of the twentieth. These "homes" were punitive and prison-like places for the involuntary confinement of girls considered "sinful" or rebellious, or who just happened to displease someone in authority—or their family.

They were required to undertake hard physical labor, like laundry and needlework, and long periods of prayer and enforced silence. The girls were also sexually abused by the priests, as happened to children throughout the West. Similar institutions were run by various Protestant denominations and the state in Northern Ireland and England. Hundreds died in custody. The tens of thousands who survived were scarred for life. The last Magdalene Asylum, in Waterford, Ireland, was operating as late as September 1996.

Violence against women cannot be eliminated by statements or calls for action to reduce the number of incidents. It cannot be eliminated by passing laws to restrict one form of violence while the whole society, from all its pores, exudes male chauvinism. No matter how many laws are passed and no matter how much funding is allocated to reduce the statistics of violence against women, no matter what kind of measures are taken, violence against women in this class society will continue as a means of control over women and as a mechanism to keep them in a subordinate position to men, because control over women and their bodies is part and parcel of all exploiting systems, including the capitalist system.

The capitalist system has proved incapable of solving the oppression of women. It has used it and added and invented various and horrible forms of violence against women, because it sanctifies private property, and the roots of discrimination and violence against women are in private property.


A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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