Hesperian Health Guides

How Gender Inequality Supports Violence

In this chapter:

Some people act like they have the right to control other people’s lives. This is true for men who are in positions of power as well as for those with little power over their own lives. Women’s low status makes them common targets for control, often through violence.

It may seem like violence against women is a problem of certain people, couples, or families. But community attitudes, customs, and laws often allow violence. Understanding how community beliefs may encourage violence and how difficult it can be to change them does not excuse anyone for using violence against women.

Violent or abusive relationships often happen when one person has more power over the other.

More Information
gender roles
  1. Differences in power between genders
    • In most places, men are considered more important and valuable than other people. This idea is used to justify mistreating women and people of other gender identities.
    • Many forms of discrimination keep women less powerful than men, such as preventing women and girls from going to school, forbidding women to work outside the home or owning property, and making women dependent on men financially.

  2. Wrong ideas about what it means to be a man
    • If people believe that being men means being violent, then they may feel it is OK to hurt women.
    • If people believe that being men means having control, then they may view women as their property.
    • If the larger community has these same ideas, they will not question the actions of men who are violent and controlling.

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    When health workers provide safe and supportive spaces for women who experience violence, it lessens their fear and shame.

  3. Wrong ideas that violence is an individual or private problem
    • If the community believes that violence against women is an individual problem, a “private” or “family” matter, not affected by community actions, and not affecting the entire community, then community members are less likely to take action against it and more likely to look the other way and not get involved.
  4. Shame and fear.
    • Women who experience violence are unlikely to report it to authorities or health workers because of guilt, shame, and judgement within their communities. Where a woman’s honor is valued, she many not report violence out of fear that she will lose respect in her community.
    • In many places, authorities and health workers do not respond seriously to violence against women.

This page was updated:13 Nov 2023