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The Social Violence of Gender Inequality


Patriarchy is not only the driving factor for gender violence, but is also a form of structural violence in itself. Wedded to the cultural and social makeup of many of the world’s communities, patriarchy is often viewed and critiqued only in the context of gender. However, patriarchy rears its head in all spheres: be it politics or development. The targeting of women and girls based on their gender roles within particular societies and cultures, is systematic and thorough.[1] Until patriarchy is seen for what it is, and until the offensive manifestations of patriarchy are seen as social crimes, the landscape will not change.

Image: Vero Romero - Toppling the Patriarchy


As much as many communities tend to look at Patriarchy as being a product of particular cultural manifests, ideologies or traditions, the structural defect is seen across the board, cutting across cultures and traditions. The blatant disregard of women is a product of the belief that society is in collective control of a woman’s sexual rights, her “honour” and “chastity”, her body and her mind. I choose to use the word “society” rather than “men”, because women are equally perpetrators of patriarchy by complicity and active reiteration of patriarchal values.

Research by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice reveals that the lack of access to basic services is a driving factor behind sexual violence.[2] Girls cannot go to schools in many parts of the world because it is unsafe for them. Women and girls across the world don’t have access to clean water and toilets. Food security is still questionable for many women and girls. Agreeable, that this reality is just as true for men and boys – but between both genders, it is the former that is more vulnerable.

The state of affairs is a marriage of both cause and effect – the lack of access to basic services is a cause for patriarchy manifesting as gender-based violence, and is an effect of patriarchy manifesting as gender-based violence. To put this in perspective, an example, is in order. Earlier this year, in Badaun, near New Delhi, India, two girls were raped and hung. The two of them had no toilets in the vicinity of their neighbourhood, and had to use the only one in the village at the witching hour. While the rest of the village slept, the silence and the darkness proved to be the perfect enabler for impunity. Here is a clear manifestation of the patriarchal set up: there is no access to clean toilets within the reach of the women, they are forced to use the only toilet in the village, while predatory men wait to make use of the opportunity to dominate over the women. This is the effect. Reversing just this, the cause is discernible. Women are not considered important enough to be motivators for the construction of many toilets, their movement from and to the existing few toilets is not respected enough to let them have their privacy and right over their dignity and right to access services they deserve to use.

The redundancy of gender inequality in development has not been understood yet. The skewed perception of the entitlement of one gender at the cost of the other is the undercurrent that leads to lack of access. There is a sense of entitlement that one segment of society wields over the other. In the context of patriarchy, it is the sense of entitlement that men are assumed to have over women – the assumption being equally shared by men (who perpetrate the notion aggressively or passively) and women (who perpetrate the notion through complicity and blind adherence).

Zooming out of the space that the problem occupies, it is very clear that patriarchy is wedded to the very fabric of most global societies – India included – and is being the cancer within that is eroding the very sanctity of that social set up. If gender crimes are looked at through a wider lens that attaches importance to the social angle, it would be a far more efficient way to approach tackling the crime – both in prevention and penalization.



[1] Mazurena et al (2005), in Introduction Gender Conflict and Peacekeeping (p. 1)
[2] CEPR, Lack of Access to Basic Services a Driving Factor Behind Sexual Violence in IDP Camps, March 8, 2012 http://www.cepr.net/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/lack-of-access-to-basic-services-a-driving-factor-behind-sexual-violence-in-idp-camps