With the rapid growth of the global population, comes rapid growth of the issues and challenges these growing societies are forced to face. The country I chose to learn more about is Australia, and the specific issue I chose to unfold is specifically violence against women, and how the social determinant of being female impacts the violence a woman in Australia may endure. I also chose to analyze this topic through the lens of a critical medical anthropological perspective.
Firstly, before getting into the statistics of violence, I will provide some brief background information on the country of Australia. Australia is continent as well as a country. The population of Australia is just over twenty-one million, significantly lower than the United States. Even with the huge discrepancy in population the domestic violence rate is the same as the United States. One in three women will experience some kind of domestic violence in Australia(1in3, 2015). Australia’s population is mostly concentrated in larger cities, with a vast majority of the land comprised of desert. There is also a rich blend of culture in Australia, 40% of the population are immigrants. It has a strong indigenous population as well; and similar to the United States aboriginal people, their rates of poverty, crime, and abuse, are higher than those of the urban populations.
The critical medical anthropological perspective circles around the idea that health is impacted by social and economic factors. It looks at finding the social origins of health, like how poverty, discrimination and social violence lead to poor health. In this case I will be focused on physical violence against women. Reproductive health and a women’s right to choose reproduction rights are an issue related to medical anthropology, (Dudgen, 2004). Another issue being examined in through medical anthropology is the spread of sexually transmitted disease because of sexual assaults and rapes, (Fischbach, 1997). Some theories state that economic prosperity are the origin for gender-based violence (Heise,1998). Another theory stems from natural male aggression against female because of sexuality; this can be seen in primates and animals all throughout the animal kingdom (Smuts, 1992). Australia’s government has recently implemented a 12-year plan to combat and help stop domestic violence in the country (Women’s Safety, 2010). By putting this plan in motion it shows that Australia’s government acknowledges the fact that these types of crimes are happening and are trying to do something to stop it. Women have less access to education and job opportunities making it harder to be successful on their own. This type of discrimination leads to more women staying with abusive partners.
“Social determinants of health are economic and social conditions that shape the health of individuals, communities, and jurisdiction as a whole” (Raphael, 2008). Therefor, people who are doing well financially or have a stronger hold in the culture have access to better healthcare, along with less risk of poor health to begin with. So those who are living in a lower social class, or have less money are automatically at a higher risk for factors that attribute to being the recipient of physical violence.
Women in Australia, as well as other parts of the world are at risk for domestic violence which can lead to extreme health complications, both physical and mental. Part of the reason for this violence is the social bias that women are inferior to men, and are not able to take care of themselves on their own. An example of this is women living in poverty are more likely to be abused as well as less likely to report the crime. Socioeconomic factors play a large role in the rate of abused women. Women have less access to educational, economic and job opportunities. With less access to these things women become more dependent on men to provide for them, making it harder to leave after being abused because they do not have the same opportunities to succeed on their own.
Gender is also another large determinant of health. Women are the main breadwinner in only 40% of Australian households (NAB,2014). Although this number has risen of the last decade, there is still a lot of ground to cover in equalizing pay rates, and the ratio of stay at home mothers and fathers. A woman at age 25 will still make about 50% less over her lifetime than a man of the same age and education, this perpetuates a woman’s financial freedom heavily relying on a man when only making fifty percent, and probably less if the child care falls onto the womans responsibility forcing them to either work less, or pay for child care. This is a statistic that heavily contributes to the amount of domestic violence that takes place in Australia. Without finical security a women is more likely to endure domestic violence because they have no where to turn, and no job to fall back on.
Earning less than men across the board at all positions further promotes that women are inferior to men in society’s eyes. Even with the same education and credentials, women are still subjected to lower pay, and are viewed as less qualified than a man. When women are socially degraded like this, it is not hard to see why so many are abused at home. Financial security is extremely important for anyone, but especially to women who are unable to attain successful career paths.
Maternal instinct is also a huge factor in cases of domestic violence. Even when woman are victims of domestic violence, many mothers have no choice but stay because they want to protect and provide for their children. In a study by ABS states that 48% of the women that reported being victim of domestic violence, also reported that their children were present and had seen or heard the violence (Australia’s National Research Organization for Women’s Safety, 2015). It is easy to say that women should just run away and leave the man, but with multiple children being impacted by the violence as well, mothers will stick around and endure some of this abuse to protect their children from it. They have no easy way to just pack up and leave especially with less income and resources. This also perpetuates the generational cycle of abuse because children who see abuse among their parents are more likely to either abuse a partner in their life time or be the victim of abuse (Behind Closed Doors). Woman think that by staying, they are doing good by their children to provide a home and financial stablilty, but in reality they are only perpetuating the cycle of violence to potentially one day haunt their children the way it is currently effecting themselves.
Between 2008-2010, 89 women were killed by their partners in Australia, this equates to almost one every week (1in3, 2015). There is no denying that the violence is happening, and the numbers do not lie that women are far more affected by it then men. According to ANROWS .05% of men have experienced sexual violence compared to the alarming 20% of Australian women. (Australia’s National Research Organization for Women’s Safety, 2015) 25% of women in Australia have also experienced emotional abuse from their partner, which can be just as dangerous and devastating as physical violence. This 25% equates to over 2 million victims. That is just astounding with today’s modern society, that such a large portion of the population undergoes such devastation daily.
Domestic violence is defined as acts of violence between people who have, or have had, a relationship in a domestic setting. There are many different things that are considered acts of violence. Some of the most commonly known are physical, which are direct assaults on the body or use of weapons and emotional, which is undermining the victim’s self-worth. Some of the more uncommonly discussed forms of abuse are psychological abuse, making threats regarding custody of the children, abusing pets, or driving recklessly. Economic abuse is essentially controlling all money, forbidding access to bank accounts, or taking wages earned by the victim. Verbal abuse is also very common which is swearing or humiliating the victim in public, focusing on intelligence and body image (Mitchell, 2011). There are many different ways women are being abused not just physically, but all of these that I have just listed still take their toll, and the abusers should be punished accordingly and harshly no matter how severe or what type of abuse they dish out to end the social stigma that abusing a woman is ‘ok’.
We know that this type of violence is happening not only in Australia but all over the world. Female politicians are far less prominent than males, which could be a social determinant in why less attention is being spent on these issues. Women were not granted the right to vote and run for political office until 1902 in Australia (Australian Women in Politics, 2015). Indigenous women did not get the same rights until 1962 (Australian Women in Politics, 2015). Women do not hold as many political positions as men do in Australia, however the trend is changing. Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, was elected in 2010. There are many countries across the globe that are beginning to recognize women as viable candidates for political office. I think that more attention will be put on combatting domestic violence with these women in office, and society view of women will begin to shift seeing woman in powerful positions.
Women playing the subordinate role is no new concept. Throughout history women have been demeaned and considered sub-par to men. I believe that this plays a huge role in the way women are treated in today’s society. When society does not portray the genders as equal, it opens the door to the idea that men should be able to control and punish their spouses which has been the norm of our past. In some lesser developed parts of the word, men feel that it is their responsibility to control their women and that a woman’s loyalty should be unflinching. These types of ideals are what we need to move away from especially in modernized societies, but better yet in societies all over the world.
As I mentioned before Australia has implemented a 12 year program designed to prevent and help treat victims of domestic violence. This is a huge step in the right direction, especially the focus on prevention. Stopping these types of crimes before they happen can save millions from physical and mental abuse. I think another huge factor for preventing these types of crimes is providing a safe and constant way for victims to reach out for help. All the statistics for domestic violence come from those who report it, but there is a large number of women either to scared or don’t know how to ask for help.
Laws need to be implemented that clearly define domestic violence and need to have more severe punishment. Multiple offenders of domestic violence also need to cracked down on, making second or third strike offenders serve significant punishment. Also men who are convicted of domestic violence crimes should have less contact with their kids. We need children to have good strong role models and not be sucked into the cycle of abuse. Woman’s safety should be the number one concern; physical violence happens everyday and those responsible need to be punished. Women should be able to live happily and healthily without being victims of abuse.
Violence against woman is not just a woman’s issue, it is not a countries issue, it is a world issue that demands to be addressed. Viewing women as inferior to men socially has been the norm for hundreds of years but it is slowly starting to change. Although it is an uphill battle women like Julia Gillard, have started to shift the thought process in Australia. It will not happen overnight but if more laws are put into place to protect women there will far less victims of abuse. Providing women with equal pay to men and allowing them powerful positions within society and political offices will start the change that is needed. Knowledge is power, and when analyzing the effects of physical violence through a critical medical anthropological perspective, progress can and will be made.
1in3. 2015. Oneinthree.com.au/overview/
Australia’s National Research Organizations for Women’s Safety. 2015. Anrows. Anrows.org.au
Australian women in politics. 2015. Australian Governemnt. Australia.gov.au
Behind Closed Doors. The impact of Domestic Violence on Children. unicef.org
Dudgeon, Matthew. 2004. Men’s influence on women’s reproductive health: medical anthropological perspectives. Social Science & Medicine.
Fischbach, Ruth. 1997. Domestic violence and mental health: Correlates and conundrums within and across cultures. Social Science & Medicine.
Domestic violence in Australia- an overview of the issues. 2011. Parliament of Australia. Aph.gov.au
Heise, Lori. 1998. Violence Against Women, An integrated, Ecological Framework.
Raphael, Dennis. 2008. Social Determinants of Health, 2nd Edition.
Smuts, Barbara. 1992. Male aggression against women.