Violence against women is not about alcohol

15 December 2017

By Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA Representative

We hear about it all the time – “Her husband drinks a lot, that’s why he hits her.”

For far too long, it has widely been said that alcohol is the main reason why men commit acts of violence. But, is it? Is it really alcohol which leads men to hit women? Or are there are other deeper, more complex reasons we need to discuss frankly and openly?

Throughout my time in Mongolia, I have spoken to hundreds of female friends, colleagues, and beneficiaries of our work. Many of them have shared harrowing tales of violence and abuse. Recently, we have seen increasing media coverage of such violence – the stories are coming out into the open.

Yes, many of these stories often begin with a husband coming home drunk. Yet, when one digs deeper, the truth is found. It’s in the way he talks to her, even while he’s sober. Or it’s how he treats her in their daily life. It is how he thinks of her. It is how he accuses her of lying, spending ‘his’ money and a litany of other accusations. So while alcohol may be a trigger for the act of physical violence, I am convinced that it is unequal gender relations and dynamics that are the actual root causes of violence – not just physical, but verbal and emotional.

Gender inequality goes beyond education levels or other socioeconomic factors. In Mongolia, a lot of progress has been made to educate women in the past decades, and in some instances, women receive higher education than men. But gender inequality manifests in so many ways – including the lack of women holding policy and decision-making positions both in the public and private sector, which is the phenomena commonly rooted in families, communities, and societies. When women and girls are not afforded the same level of power as men and boys, or the opportunity to achieve their full potential, it creates imbalanced relationships between them. It creates a condition wherein one must submit to another.

Of course, any kind of violence is not acceptable, whether it is violence against women or men. But given gender imbalance and inequality, women are disproportionately affected by violence. Consider, for instance, that the UN estimates that globally nearly 1 in 3 women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. More than 90% of reported violence in Mongolia involves female victims. Violence can negatively affect women’s lives – including their physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring STIs and HIV.

Quite simply, violence against women is a major human rights violation that impacts half of humanity. 

But to put an end to violence against women and girls, we must recognize, admit, discuss and act upon the root cause of violence, which is gender inequality. Let’s not use alcohol as an easy excuse for violence.  Rather, let’s create a society that is equitable, where men and women stand on equal ground. When women are empowered and free from violence, whole families will benefit, and these benefits will have a ripple effect on generations to come. Gender equality ultimately benefits not only women and girls but also men and boys – all of society – and the entire nation.

Naomi Kitahara is the UNFPA Representative in Mongolia, with more than 20 years of international development experience. She is a passionate advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

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(Sources for this blog: WHO and UNFPA)