Violence against women is partly a result of gender relations that assumes men to be superior to women. Given the subordinate status of women, much of gender violence is considered normal and enjoys social sanction. Manifestations of violence include physical aggression, such as blows of varying intensity, burns, attempted hanging, sexual abuse and rape, psychological violence through insults, humiliation, coercion, blackmail, economic or emotional threats, and control over speech and actions. In extreme, but not unknown cases, death is the result. (Adriana, 1996) These expressions of violence take place in a man-woman relationship within the family, state and society. Usually, domestic aggression towards women and girls, due to various reasons remain hidden.
Cultural and social factors are interlinked with the development and propagation of violent behaviour. With different processes of socialisation that men and women undergo, men take up stereotyped gender roles of domination and control, whereas women take up that of submission, dependence and respect for authority. A female child grows up with a constant sense of being weak and in need of protection, whether physical social or economic. This helplessness has led to her exploitation at almost every stage of life.
The family socialises its members to accept hierarchical relations expressed in unequal division of labour between the sexes and power over the allocation of resources. The family and its operational unit is where the child is exposed to gender differences since birth, and in recent times even before birth, in the form of sex-determination tests leading to foeticide and female infanticide. The home, which is supposed to be the most secure place, is where women are most exposed to violence.
Violence against women has been clearly defined as a form of discrimination in numerous documents. The World Human Rights Conference in Vienna, first recognised gender- based violence as a human rights violation in 1993. In the same year, United Nations declaration, 1993, defined violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to a woman, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life". (Cited by Gomez, 1996) Radhika Coomaraswamy identifies different kinds of violence against women, in the United Nation's special report, 1995, on Violence Against Women;
Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non spousal violence and violence related to exploitation.
Physical sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution.
Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs. This definition added 'violence perpetrated or condoned by the State', to the definition by United Nations in 1993. Coomaraswamy (1992) points out that women are vulnerable to various forms of violent treatment for several reasons, all based on gender.
1. Because of being female, a woman is subject to rape, female circumcision/genital mutilation, female infanticide and sex related crimes. This reason relates to society's construction of female sexuality and its role in social hierarchy.
2. Because of her relationship to a man, a woman is vulnerable to domestic violence, dowry murder, sati. This reason relates to society's concept of a woman as a property and dependent of the male protector, father, husband, son, etc.
3. Because of the social group to which she belongs, in times of war, riots. Or ethnic, caste, or class violence, a woman may be raped and brutalised as a means of humiliating the community to which she belongs. This also relates to male perception of female sexuality and women as the property of men.
Combining these types of abuse with the concept of hierarchical gender relations, a useful way to view gender violence is by identifying where the violence towards women occurs. Essentially, violence happens in three contexts - the family, the community and the state and at each point key social institutions fulfil critical and interactive functions in defining legitimating and maintaining the violence.
1. The family socialises its members to accept hierarchical relations expressed in unequal division of labour between the sexes and power over the allocation of resources.
2. The community (i.e., social , economic, religious, and cultural institutions) provides the mechanisms for perpetuating male control over women's sexuality, mobility and labour.
3. The state legitimises the proprietary rights of men over women, providing a legal basis to the family and the community to perpetuate these relations. The state does this through the enactment of discriminatory application of the law.
Margaret Schuler has divided gender violence into four major categories;
1. Overt physical abuse (battering sexual assault, at home and in the work place).
2. Psychological abuse (confinement, forced marriage).
3. Deprivation of resources for physical and psychological well being (health/nutrition, education, means of livelihood)
4. Commodification of women (trafficking, prostitution).
Adriana Gomez has also talked about two basic forms of violence, that is; structural and direct. Structural violence arises from the dominant political, economic and social systems, in so far as they block access to the means of survival for large number of people; for example, economic models based on the super-exploitation of thousands for the benefit of a few, extreme poverty in opposition to ostentatious wealth, and repression and discrimination against those who diverge from given norms.
Structural violence according to her is the basis of direct violence, because it influences the socialisation which causes individuals to accept or inflict suffering, according to the social function they fulfil. Open or direct violence is exercised through aggression, arms or physical force. (Larrain and Rodrigue, 1993)
The Fourth Conference of Women, 1995 has defined violence against women as a physical act of aggression of one individual or group against another or others. Violence against women is any act of gender-based violence which result in, physical, sexual or arbitrary deprivation of liberty in public or private life and violation of human rights of women in violation of human rights of women in situations of armed conflicts. (Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995 Country Report).
Violence is an act carried out with the intention or perceived intention of physically hurting another person (Gelles and Straus, 1979). Gender Violence is defined as "any act involving use of force or coercion with an intent of perpetuating promoting hierarchical gender relations". (APWLD, 1990, Schuler, 1992)
Adding gender dimension to that definition amplifies it to include violent acts perpetrated on women because they are women. With this addition, the definition is no longer simple or obvious. Understanding the phenomenon of gender violence requires an analysis of the patterns of violence directed towards women and the underlying mechanisms that permit the emergence and perpetuation of these patterns. Liz Kelly (1998), Surviving Sexual Polity has defined violence as "any physical, visual, verbal or sexual act that is experienced by the woman or girl at the time or later as a threat, invasion or assault, that has the effect of hurting her or degrading her and/or takes away her ability to contest an intimate contact".
Dr Joanne Liddle modified this definition as "any physical, visual, verbal or sexual act that is experienced by the person at the time or later as a threat, invasion or assault, that has the effect of hurting or disregarding or removing the ability to control one's own behaviour or an interaction, whether this be within the workplace, the home, on the streets or in any other area of the community".