The global economic downturn may be leading to increased violence against women worldwide, both by pushing them into unsafe jobs and by raising tensions within their families, U.N. officials said Wednesday.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told the opening session of a two-day international conference on violence against women that job losses were a contributing factor to family troubles.
“We’ve seen rising levels of despair and frustration in families around the world, exacerbating violence against women,” she told participants.
While no reports or statistics have been tabulated, there’s enough anecdotal evidence to believe that the economic crisis has had a “ripple effect” on society and women in particular, said Joanne Sandler, deputy director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women.
Women in hard-hit industries such as garments and textiles manufacturing have been particularly vulnerable, she said in an interview.
“We hear of women losing their jobs who were forced into other types of informal labour, which were insecure, which exposes them to harassment,” or push them into trafficking or sex work, Ms. Sandler said.
“Also, job losses for men would create frustration which then in turn can lead to domestic violence,” she said.
Discussions at the meeting—hosted by Italy as it holds this year’s Group of Eight presidency—focused on rape and domestic violence. The conference also included panels on genital mutilation, access to education and violence against young girls.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano opened the meeting by warning that violence against women also occurs in rich countries.
Among the participants was Iranian activist Manda Zand Ervin, the head of the U.S-based Alliance of Iranian Women organization, which promotes human rights for women in Iran. Ms. Ervin, who fled Iran about three decades ago and lives in the United States, recounted stories of Iranians abused or killed in the name of oppressive laws.
“The women of Iran have been at war with the Islamic clerics’ establishment for at least 150 years,” Ervin told the conference. “They have fought against the total domination ... in every town, village and city.”
The conference is expected to end with a declaration to be presented to a G-8 foreign ministers meeting scheduled later this month in New York.