Protecting Women from Domestic Violence Essay
“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, uthorities 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 theory, women’s presence in legislative bodies is essential because women representatives have different values, attitudes, and priorities than men based on their unique experience as females (Phillips, 1995). Women legislators will express these differences by putting women’s issues on the agenda and making policy choices that benefit women as a group.
Women’s issues can be defined as “those that mainly affect women, either for biological reasons (such as breast cancer screening and reproductive rights) or for social reasons (sex equality or child-care policy)” (Lovenduski 2001). According to this theory, women representatives will address domestic violence because it is a part of their experience as women. Even if the legislator has not experienced domestic violence personally, she probably knows someone who has, or can relate to the inequalities that lead to violence against women.
Another important theory in women and politics literature is called critical mass. The critical mass theory holds that once women gain a certain percentage in the legislature, they will have the ability to ‘make a difference,’ or make changes in the legislature that improve women’s status (Dahlerup, 2001; Lovenduski 2001). Such changes may include implementing policy that is important to women, bringing attention to women’s issues, or changing the norms and values of the legislative institution (Norris and Lovenduski, 2003).
According to a classification made by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, there are three categories of women’s minority status in the legislature: the skewed group of up to fifteen percent, in which women would be merely tokens and have no real power to implement change; the tilted group of fifteen to forty percent, in which the minority is gaining strength through numbers and may influence the nature of the institution; and the balanced group, of about forty to fifty percent, in which women are no longer a minority (Dahlerup, 2001; Lovenduski 2001).
Women need to hold about thirty percent of the seats in a legislature in order to achieve a critical mass. Once women reach that threshold, they will bring attention to the issue of domestic violence by putting it on the legislative agenda and implementing policy that protects women. The degree to which women can attain cabinet or ministerial positions will also affect their ability to make a difference. Positions of leadership in the legislature allow for more influence over the political agenda and policy choices (Reynolds, 1999).
Therefore, women in cabinet positions are able to exert political power that will lead to a greater protection of women against domestic violence. H1: As women’s access to political power increases, the level of protection for women against domestic violence increases. Although the ‘politics of presence’ and critical mass theories are well-respected in women’s representation literature, the policy effects that these theories predict has yet to be examined on an international level.
Because women’s presence in the legislatures of many states is a relatively new phenomenon, it has been too early to determine whether these theories will be realized when it comes to measurable policy change. It is possible that woman legislators will behave no differently than their male counterparts, in which case an alternative cause is needed to explain the variation in women’s protection across states. The Cultural Influence
According to several studies, the political and social culture of a state affects the level of support women will receive in the pursuit of equal rights and political power (Reynolds, 1999; Kenworthy and Malami, 1999). The specific traditions and values of a country determine a woman’s place, whether it be strictly confined to the home, nearly equal in the public sphere of employment and politics, or somewhere in between. The degree that each culture is in favor of expanding women’s rights will influence their practices and policies on domestic violence.
Political Culture Although the political history and customs of each state are unique, examining certain aspects of a country’s political culture allows for a cross-cultural comparison of the political support for women’s rights. Women’s movements are one way of exerting influence in the political realm. These movements can be defined as “a subset of sociopolitical movements that are characterized by the primacy of women’s gendered experiences, women’s issues, and women’s leadership and decision making” (Beckwith, 2002).
The issue of domestic violence is one that women’s movements have addressed in every corner of the globe. In many instances, these groups have been the only advocate for women experiencing violence in the home. When authorities look the other way, women’s groups have come forth to call attention to this problem. In order to affect legislation and practices on the domestic violence issue, women’s movements have utilized strategies such as protest, media campaigns, lobbying, research, litigation, and international treaties (Bush, 1992; Abrar and Lovenduski, 2002; Hawkins and Humes, 2002).
Although the state institutions and cultures that women’s movements must work with can vary greatly, several studies have found that movements can be successful even in countries whose institutions do not promote the political participation of women and whose cultures that do not hold egalitarian beliefs (Tyyska, 1998; Bush, 1992). Such a finding is hopeful for women in patriarchal cultures; however, it may be a leap to suggest that women’s movements are completely independent form culture.
At the very least, the women in a given state must support the advancement of their sex in order for a movement to take hold. In countries such as Turkmenistan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, over fifty percent of women think it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife for a variety of reasons (Seager, 2003). Such a culture would likely not be able to produce a successful movement because the women themselves do not believe men and women are equal. Although women’s movements operate outside the status quo, they should be considered a measure of political culture.
Another way to measure the political culture of a state is to determine whether it has a history of women’s participation. A citizen’s political participation includes a variety of activities: pursuing political knowledge, discussing politics, supporting a political party or voting. There is no question that political participation is valuable and leads to greater political power: “To the extent that citizen activity provides a critical channel for the expression of citizen preferences, those who are less active pay the price in terms of representation” (Verba, Burns, and
Schlozman, 1997). Women’s issues have not been on the political agenda in the past because women had little or no role in the political community and therefore had no place to voice their opinions (Fraser, 1999; Nelson and Chowdhury, 1994). If the most basic form of political participation is the act of voting, then the date of women’s suffrage speaks to the political culture of a given state. In those countries where suffrage was granted only recently, it is unlikely that women have established a culture of political participation.
The strength of leftist parties also indicates whether the political culture of a state supports women’s rights. Traditional political parties, whatever their ideological stance, have often been associated with an ‘old boy’s club’ approach to political decision making: only those who are invited may attend. Some even argue that rather than open doors to political power, political parties create obstacles that women and other minorities must sidestep: “the culture and process of formal political institutions… are major barriers to women’s equal participation in institutional politics” (Nelson and Chowdhury, 1994).
Although political parties have a history of excluding women, leftist parties may be more inclusive than the rest. Parties of the left, particularly socialist parties, support women’s rights to a greater degree than other parties do because their ideological stance tends to be more egalitarian (Kenworthy and Malami, 1999; Reynolds, 1999). Leftist parties often include a pledge to reduce gender inequality in their political platform and tend to yield more successful woman candidates (Kenworthy and Malami, 1999; Reynolds, 1999).
Therefore, the share of seats held by leftist parties may indicate whether the political culture of a state will favor protection for women. Finally, the level of socioeconomic development in a state influences its political culture. In times of economic hardship, the support given to women declines. Countries that have suffering economies are much less likely to be concerned with social programs than those which are thriving (Nelson and Chowdhury 1994, Seager 2003). Spending on education and social services, including services that protect women, will be considered unimportant when people don’t even have enough to eat.
Unfortunately, hard times are usually when women need protection the most. Whether or not a state has a history of providing social services speaks to its political culture– is it considered “necessary” to provide these services or is it considered a superfluous expenditure? States with a high level of socioeconomic development are more likely to have a political culture that supports women. H2: States with political cultures that support women’s rights will protect women from domestic violence to a greater extent than those that do not. Social Culture
Just as a state’s political traditions can determine the amount of support women’s interests are likely to receive, its social culture also influences the importance a society places on women. Social factors affect the way that a society views the role of woman. Are women expected to stay in the home or is it acceptable for them to pursue a formal career? Are they considered the equal of men? Religiosity is one factor that may influence the social culture of a state. A nation’s religiosity is its religious sentimentality, or the degree of importance the dominant religion plays in people’s lives.
Religion is an especially important factor to consider when examining the issue of domestic violence because many religions are concerned with the family structure and consider women to be uniquely tied to the family. States that have fundamentalist religions follow the doctrine that women are subordinate to men (Reynolds, 1999). If women are considered to be subordinate, a husband’s abusive treatment of his wife may be excused as ‘discipline. ’ Traditional, highly religious societies are likely to consider the family a private sphere and discourage state interference, even in violent cases.
Societies that have a high degree of religiosity are therefore less likely to provide a large amount of protection for women. The social culture of a state may also be determined by its education policies. Is it considered appropriate for women to receive some sort of higher education? This speaks to whether women are considered equal to men and whether they have the right to gain knowledge. Higher education leads to an understanding of issues that are important to women, as well as social and political mobilization around those issues: “Knowledge is power, the foundation of intellectual and political development” (Fraser, 1999).
If women are to understand that there are options beyond the status quo, they need education. Women are more likely to demand equality and protection under the law if they are educated. They may also have greater resources that would allow them to leave an abusive situation. Therefore, the larger the number of women in higher education, the more likely a state is to protect women from domestic violence. Finally, a society’s social culture is reflected by the egalitarianism of the citizenry.
The extent that a country addresses the inequalities women face is largely due to the beliefs of the people. Nations that believe women are equal to men are more likely to pursue policies that are important to women. For instance, there has been an increase in the salience of issues such as reproductive choice, sexual harassment, and equal opportunity in states where the cultural ideologies are becoming more egalitarian (Inglehart and Norris, 2001) Therefore, if the social culture of a country promotes egalitarian beliefs, women are more likely to be protected from domestic violence.
H3: States with social cultures that support women’s rights will have a higher level of protection against domestic violence than those that do not. Research Design and Methodology Design Strategy and Case Selection In order to test the theoretical explanations offered by the literature, this study compares the levels of protection against domestic violence cross-nationally. The research design employed is a statistical method. Using bi-variate correlation and multiple regression, the strength, significance, and relative influence of each independent variable in relation to the dependent variable is tested.
Examining twenty-nine members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) allows for a broad mix of cultures and polities. (Iceland had to be excluded due to lack of data). This variation is valuable if the diverse situation of women is to be examined. At the same time, using the OECD member states allows much of the “noise” created by non-democratic governments and large variations in wealth to be blocked out; all of these states are relatively well-off and have some form of democratic government.
Levels of wealth and degree of democratic functioning still vary widely enough to be diverse, however. The countries included in this study are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States. Dependent Variable The dependent variable of this study is the level of protection for women against domestic violence.
This variable is an unweighted summation of seven separate measures: marital rape law, divorce law, gender wage gap, percentage of salary paid during maternity leave, length of maternity leave, child poverty rate in lone mother households, and percentage of lone mother households. Many of these measures indicate the level of familialization, or the ability for a woman to leave an abusive situation and live independently from her abuser. The level of protection is measured on a scale that ranges from 11 (lowest protection) to 25 (highest protection). Data for this variable were obtained from a wide variety of statistical sources.
Marital rape law is a dichotomous variable. It is coded as 0 if the country does not have a law against marital rape and coded as 1 if it does. Marital rape laws are a direct measure of protection against domestic violence because rape is an act of violence. This variable indicates whether the state is willing to invade the private sphere of sexual relations between married couples in order to provide protection. About half of the cases in this study do not recognize marital rape as a crime.  The second dependent variable measure is a coded scale representing the egree of difficulty women face when attempting to obtain a divorce. The scale ranges from 0 to 3, with 0 being the most difficult and 3 being the easiest. Coding was based on the grounds for divorce in each country. States were given a point if women can initiate divorce, if mutual consent is a ground, if breakdown of marriage or a phrase of similar meaning is a ground, and if violence, battery, or abuse is a ground. A point was subtracted if there is a requirement for the couple to be separated for a certain amount of time before divorce will be granted.
Finally, a point was taken away for miscellaneous factors that would likely cause difficulty in obtaining a divorce; for example, if no alimony or child support is offered or if divorce is considered a social stigma in the country, a point was subtracted.  The third measure in the scale is gender wage gap. This variable captures the ability of women to be financially independent; the higher the gender wage gap, the more difficult it is for a woman to support herself and her children. The scale ranges from 1 to 5, with 1 being the largest gap between male and female wages and 5 being the smallest. 3] The fourth and fifth components of the dependent variable are the percentage of salary paid during maternity leave and the length of maternity leave.  These measures speak to the financial and social independence of mothers in a given state. If all or most of the mother’s salary during leave is paid and she is able to take a substantial leave without the risk of losing her job, this indicates that the state offers progressive social welfare benefits to women. Studies show that parental leave attracts women to the labor force and maintains their attachment (Kamerman, et all, 2003).
Continued employment indicates that women have a better chance to leave an abusive relationship because they are more likely to be financially stable and have a support system outside of the family. Both variables are coded in a range of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least favorable leave policies for women and 5 being the most favorable. The sixth measure of protection for women is the rate of child poverty in lone mother households. This variable is coded in a range from 1 to 5. A score of 1 represents the highest rates of child poverty and a 5 represents the lowest rates.
Although it would seem that the percentage of lone mother households is a direct indication of child poverty rates, several studies indicate that if a country has progressive social benefits for single parent families, high poverty levels can be avoided (The World’s Women 2000; Kamerman, et al, 2003). Therefore, this measure speaks to the social support offered to single mothers.  The seventh and final component of the dependent variable scale is the rate of lone mother households. This measure is coded as a scale from 1 to 5; a score of 1 indicates low rates of lone mother households and 5 indicate high levels.
The rate of single mothers in a country indicates whether it is socially acceptable for a woman to live independently from a male family member or intimate. 7 In countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, there are few social stigmas associated with single motherhood and accordingly, the rates are high: 15% and 19% respectively (Kamerman, et al, 2003). However, because these states provide few social supports for single mothers, the rates of child poverty for these family types are also high: 59. 6% in the U. S. and 40. 3% in the U. K. (Kamerman, et al, 2003).
Therefore, it is necessary to look at both rates of single motherhood and of child poverty in lone mother households in order to gauge both the social stigma and support offered to single mothers. Independent Variables This study employs a parsimonious model with respect to the independent variables. Four independent variables are analyzed as indicators of the two theories discussed previously: women’s representation and the cultural influence. Data for these variables were obtained from several sources, primarily Joni Seager’s Atlas of Women in the World.
The first variable is women as a percentage of elected officials in each state, or the percent of women occupying seats in the lower or single house of their country’s legislature. Those data, reported from the year 2002, indicate the level of women’s representation.  The second variable is women’s history of political participation, measured by the date women’s suffrage was introduced in each country.  The third variable is the level of socioeconomic development, measured by per capita GNI from the year 2001. GNI measures the gross national income of a state in current US. dollars.
Both date of women’s suffrage and per capita GNI are indicators of the political culture of the countries in this study.  Although affluence could be measured separately from culture, socio-economic indicators are frequently used as proxy measures for culture in literature on women and politics (Kenworthy and Malami 1999; Matland 1998). The fourth variable, women as a percentage of students in higher education, is an indicator of the social culture of a country. Higher education is defined as third level institutions, such as universities, technical schools, and equivalent institutions.
Students of higher education have completed education at the second level or provided proof of equivalent knowledge. The data reported are from 2000 or the most recent available year.  Analyses and Results This section reports the findings of the empirical analysis. After coding and analysis, the dependent variable (level of protection against domestic violence) produced an index ranging from 11 to 25, with 25 being the highest degree of protection. As shown in Table 1, there is a moderate amount of variance in the dependent variable, with a mean of 17. and a standard deviation of 3. 42. Analyses of bi-variate correlations and multiple regression tests for the independent variables indicate that the main findings of this study support the proposed hypotheses. Table 1 The Dependent Variable: A Breakdown of Protection Levels High Protection Levels Moderate Protection Levels Low Protection Levels Austria 19 Australia 17 Greece 14 Czech Rep. 19 Belgium 17 Ireland 12 Denmark 23 Canada 16 Japan 13 Finland 20 Germany 17 Korea 11* France 21 Hungary 17 Luxembourg 14