Violence Against Women Not Included in Peace Index


The first-ever study ranking countries according to their level of peacefulness, the Global Peace Index (GPI), was recently published by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Grounded in the notion that there is more to the concept of peace than merely an absence of war, the index uses 24 indicators to measure, instead, peace as an "absence of violence." Among the indicators are numbers of internal and external wars, political instability, access to weapons and military expenditure.

Yet, despite such broad ranging considerations, the Index has a fatal flaw. As noted in the Christian Science Monitor and Women's E-News, it fails to include the most prevalent form of global violence: violence against women and children, which often occurs under cover of impunity and within their own families.

In fact, the only component of the study that even remotely gestures to the status of women is the incorporation of infant mortality (there are, of course, considerations of population). For a report that aims to look beyond traditional military conquests as measures of peace, this one is woefully negligent of how most of the world population experiences violence: in the home.

This exclusion means that the report failed to account for the fact that such human rights violations as female genital mutilation, "honor" killings, female infanticide, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and systematic medical neglect of girls were disregarded.

The significance of the omission cannot be overstated. It is a perfect example of why women's human rights advocates still need to shout from the rooftops that women's rights are indeed human rights. The violence faced by women in their homes and communities is not separable from the state of their nations.

In fact the indicators that the study does incorporate are incompletely considered without this perspective. For example, in considering population alone, the researchers fail to comprehend that the skewed ratio in China (ranked 60) is due to the fact that female infanticide is still a major problem in the country. Notable also are countries whose high rankings betray a level of peace certainly not enjoyed by all citizens. Consider Romania and Poland (ranked 26 and 27, respectively), in which the trafficking of women and girls certainly affect the level of peace enjoyed within its boundaries.

While, at first glance, the omission of violence against women and children from the Global Peace Index might seem a matter of mere negligence — an all too common oversight — it is much more than that. This kind of rationality is symptomatic of a larger problem: the challenges faced by women in particular fail to register on an international stage as the kinds of challenges that actually affect anyone. These are not national and international matters, on this account, they are merely personal matters. We have seen this kind of reasoning before: women's work in the home barely registers in questions of how capitalist economies actually function, rapes are not considered war crimes and crimes that occur inside the home are out of the state's jurisdiction. On the flip side, that which should remain personal is dragged into the public discourse. Consider the discourse about what happens to a woman's body when she chooses to have or not to have a child and how our families are constructed — certainly not matters that are easily ignored.

The researchers and supporters of the report might regard these issues as somehow incorporated into their existing indicators. To some degree they would be correct — the status of women and children does indeed affect other markers, like population and economic security. However, by ignoring this connection and failing to make it an explicit one, they fall into an age old political trap. They consider "levels of violent crime," without accounting for the fact that in many places violence in the home and intimate partner violence is not considered a crime. They fail to acknowledge that intimate violence is inextricably connected to international violence. They fail to comprehend that amongst the most accurate markers of the status of women in a society is the control they are afforded over their reproductive destinies. They fail to see that children who grow up in homes where their mothers, sisters and they themselves are brutalized are not living a peaceful existence.

From the words of the GPI's website, Vision of Humanity:

Peace is a powerful concept. However, the notion of peace, and its value in the world economy, is poorly understood. Historically, peace has been seen as something won in war, or else as an altruistic ideal. There are competing definitions of peace, and most research into peace is, in fact, the study of violent conflict.

Vision of Humanity contains the results from the Global Peace Index and other material of interest on peace. It also contains a section on institutions that need help to fund peace-related initiatives. Over time this source will be updated to combine more relevant material that will demonstrate the linkages between peace and sustainability.

One can only hope that in upcoming editions, the purveyors of the study attempt to rectify this staggering oversight and make the effort to truly understand what it might mean to live in peace.

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