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Health: Men join fight against domestic violence

Though short of funds, governments are enacting new anti-domestic violence laws and more men are jumping on the bandwagon.

Abused woman holds child
A woman who was abused by her husband is seen through a small mirror as she holds her child at abused women's center in Algiers. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

NEW YORK — Thirty years after the first treaty on women’s rights was adopted by the United Nations, millions of cases involving beatings, marital rapes, honor killings and genital mutilation lead to deaths, medical injuries, failed pregnancies, abortions and psychological damage.

Not only do one in three women worldwide experience some form of physical violence, but one in three teenage girls has been sexually abused by a boyfriend. In 2008, 157 women were killed by their husbands or partners in France. That same year in Pakistan, out of 8,000 officially reported cases of violence against women, about 1,000 women ended up dead.

A significant development came in November when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched his Network of Men Leaders to combat violence against women, which includes South African Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu and Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. “Men must teach each other that real men do not violate or oppress women,” he said.

The campaign for men joining the fight against violence is growing. The last straw for Mohammad Khalil came in 2009 when the owner of a television company in Buffalo, N.Y., beheaded his wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, after she filed for divorce.

“I think it was a wake up call for the Muslim community,” said Khalil, a professor of religion at the University of Illinois who set up an organization called Muslim Men against Domestic Abuse.

Still in its initial stages, the Illinois-based group has prepared an anti-domestic violence packet for local imams to include in their sermons. “There is a stereotype that Muslim men are particularly abusive … more than any other,” Khalil said. “We wanted to address the problem in our community first.”

Confronted with mounting deaths and hefty monetary losses, governments worldwide are enacting new laws and more men are becoming part of the solution to end abuse against women. The antidote, however, remains short of funds.

In 2002, the World Health Organization found that in countries such as Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the U.S., 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. While most American women are killed by guns their counterparts in India are burned alive — murders that are passed off as ‘‘kitchen accidents.’’

Despite the massive scale of atrocities, governments hesitate to enter the homes of perpetrators since these crimes are committed within the sanctity of the private sphere.

"The reality for most victims, including victims of honor killings, is that state institutions fail them and that most perpetrators of domestic violence can rely on a culture of impunity,” said Navi Pillay, the U.N. human rights chief, on International Women’s Day in March.

In Afghanistan, for instance, violence is life-threatening but there is little the government officials can do about it, according to Col. Shafiqa Quraish, the director of gender issues in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior.

“In all traditional societies police are not allowed to go inside the houses. Those who are subjected to family violence do not go to the police to lodge a complaint,” she said, noting that a law preventing violence against women will be tabled in the Afghan parliament soon.