In South and South-East Asia, as well as in the Pacific, cases of rape and violence towards women remain a relevant and challenging issue.
A recently-published study combines the resources of four different United Nation agencies: The United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and United Nations Volunteers together with Partners for Prevention.
These agencies worked together in an effort to better understand the causes of violence against women, and point to possible methods for prevention. This long-term UN study surveyed over 13,000 men and women from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Papua New Guinea from 2010 to 2013.
This study marks the first instance of in-depth research in these locations, and has collected evidence that brings realities about the repercussions of gender inequality to light.
Man’s Role in the Family: Breadwinner
In many countries, a man playing the role of the dominant figure in the household is a common cultural practice. Men are the “breadwinners,” going out to work as the sole provider for the family in most cases while the wife’s understood role is to stay at home, to raise the children, and to take care of any elderly family members who might live with them.
We might compare these cultural norms to those we commonly associate with the 1950’s in the United States of America. Lead researcher Emma Fulu told Decoded Science that, “the region was not chosen because it is in any way more violent than other regions, and we believe that the findings are of notable worldwide interest because the world’s population lives in this region, and the countries with it are culturally diverse.”
The Move toward Gender Equality
Given this cultural context, what does the concept of gender equality really mean for the women who live in these communities? The UN study has shown that women have been growing more comfortable with speaking out against the abuse of their partners. In some cases, this might mean leaving the man’s household and returning to a parent’s house or that of a family member on the woman’s side. This form of protest is considered more acceptable than questioning the actions or words of the man directly, or by looking to the public for support.
Both partner rape and non-partner rape prove to be common among the men who were interviewed. The study has found that the violence often occurs for a variety of reasons, such as the lack of legal or social consequences for rape and sexual violence. While the causes might remain complicated, all stem from the culturally accepted norm of male dominance.
Researchers were surprised by the willingness of male participants to speak freely about their use of violence against their partners. However, when women were asked about their experiences with this violence, they often defended their husbands’ actions in the household.