Nov-25. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
“You are useless and stupid; you never do anything right.” “If you leave the house again without my permission, you will really be sorry”. Violence against women starts with words. And while words do not produce the same kinds of visible marks as physical violence, their effects can be just as damaging. Women who suffer from chronic verbal or emotional abuse have very low self-esteem, and are at greater risk of becoming depressed, anxious and even suicidal. Emotional abuse has also been found to remove social support and increase women impoverishment.
Emotional abuse is the most pervasive form of violence. For example, in Peru 69.4% of women who had ever been married or in union reported emotional abuse by a partner in 2014, compared to 32.3% who reported physical violence.
Also, emotional and physical violence are interrelated, taking place simultaneously or in progression; physical abuse is often used when emotional abuse does not produce the results the perpetrator is seeking. In 2006, 92.6% of women in El Salvador who reported physical violence in the past 12 months also experienced emotional abuse during that time period.
What form does emotional abuse take? It includes insults, humiliation, threats of harm or abandonment, and threats of removal of children or withdrawal of economic support. It is frequently accompanied by controlling behaviors like preventing a woman from seeing friends and family, preventing a woman from working outside the home, getting jealous or suspecting infidelity.
And what about at work? Women experience harassment, insults, sexist remarks, and threats of withholding pay, benefits or promotions, to name a few. Verbal or emotion abuse against women on the job, especially when it is perpetrated by superiors, is a powerful means of maintaining gender disparities in the workplace.
This type of violence, in effect, constitutes the broad base of the proverbial iceberg. In fact, Amnesty International published the Iceberg of Gender Violence a couple of years ago to clearly illustrate the expanse of violence hidden below the surface. So we cannot dismiss the power of words, and continue to brush off verbal abuse as less important because it didn’t (yet) get physical.
So, what can we do to stop emotional abuse?
First recognize that change begins with you… and with each and every one of us. Then,
- Help make more visible that abusive language is a form a violence that has long-term negative effects.
- Contribute to changing the social norms that continue to justify the use of all forms of violence against women instead of peaceful forms of conflict resolution and equality in relationships.
- Be a model of respectful, non-violent communication and action at home, in our communities, and at work.
- As professionals, seek more opportunities to support violence prevention initiatives, especially those that aim to develop skills among parents, children and youth to form non-violent, healthy relationships. Evidence shows that both school-based and parenting programs can help reduce emotional and other forms of violence and prevent the intergenerational transmission of violence against women.
One example is the Amor, pero del Bueno program, that targeted students in Mexico City to promote an inclusive and nonviolent environment by building a critical posture toward gender violence among young people involved in intimate relationships. One of the short term results was a reduction of psychological violence (55%) perpetrated by young men who participated in the workshops. Another example is Triple P, a positive parenting program that has worked effectively across 25 countries to give parents practical strategies to help them build healthy relationships and positively manage their children’s behavior. An evaluation of one of their programs in South Carolina (United States) found a 25% reduction in the rate of substantiated child maltreatment.
On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, let’s reflect on how to affect change. Let’s work together to transform our words into instruments of peaceful coexistence and equality in all spheres of our lives.
*Guest blogger: Denisse Wolfenzon is consultant at the Institutional Capacity of the State Division at the IDB, supporting the integration of the perspective of violence against women. Prior to this, she worked in the Governance Global Practice at the World Bank on accountability and fiscal transparency in Latin American. She has a bachelor degree in Economics from Universidad de Lima (Peru) and a Master’s Degree in International Relations with a concentration in Political and Economic Development from Columbia University (USA).