UN report: Women too often suffer violence in families

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. women’s agency says in a new report that families around the world can be loving and supporting but too often are the place for discrimination and violence against women — and home is one of the most dangerous places for a woman.

U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told a news conference Tuesday launching the report that’s because of “the shocking pervasiveness of intimate partner violence.” In 2017, for example, every single day 137 women were killed by a family member, she said.

While the report recognizes the vital importance of families to cultures and economies, it also says that in every region there are concerted efforts to deny women autonomy and the right to make their own decisions in the name of protecting “family values.”

“I am here today to say that this is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to stand,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “Women around the world, and their allies, will not allow a roll-back of everything that we have achieved.”

Despite great progress in legally eliminating discrimination against women, she said, “it’s no accident” that the slowest progress has been in family laws that govern a woman’s right to choose who and when to marry and her right to divorce and inherit money and property.

The 287-page report entitled “Families in a Changing World” provides data on the variety of family forms, based on U.N. population division data from 86 countries around the world of all incomes.

According to the data, 38% of households globally are couples living with children, 27% are extended families including other relatives and 8% are one-parent families, the vast majority led by women often juggling paid work, raising children and unpaid domestic work. Households comprising couples without children accounted for about 13%, and one-person households for 12.5%.

The report said same-sex families are increasingly visible in all regions, adding that as of last month, 42 countries around the world have granted same-sex couples the right to marry or form a civil union. At the same time, however, it said some 68 countries criminalize consensual sexual relations between partners of the same sex, and in 11 of those countries such relations are punishable by death.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said the report shows authoritatively for the first time that families are diverse.

It also counters the push-back against women’s independence “by showing that families, in all their diversity, can be critical drivers of gender equality” provided governments adopt policies with women’s rights at their core.

Shahra Razavi, U.N. Women’s chief of research and data, noted other huge changes impacting women.

The age of marriage, for example, has increased in every region of the world from 21.9 in 1990 to 23.3 in 2010, she said, which has enabled women to complete their educations, get a foothold in the labor market and support themselves financially.

In some cases, Razavi said, women are choosing to delay marriage or live together.

For example, she said, “in some countries in Latin America, southern Africa and Europe up to three-quarters of women aged 25-29 in a relationship are cohabiting.”

The report stresses the importance of women having their own income and recommends greater public investments in child care services and in social protection — and paid parental leave to spur women into the job market.

Marwa Sharafeldin, a board member of Musawah International Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, told the launch that the report’s first recommendation — to adopt family laws based on equality and non-discrimination to expand women’s choices — poses special difficulties for Muslims.

Almost all Muslim families laws are hundreds of years old and were based on rulings by jurists at the time, she said. Some condone marital rape, permit husbands to “discipline” their wife, allow child marriage and polygamy, and restrict women’s movements outside the home without their husband’s permission.

But despite the risks, Sharafeldin said Muslim feminist scholars and activists are developing “a brave new family jurisprudence … with gender egalitarian possibilities that are rooted in Muslim scripture.”

In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, for example, a legal ruling has banned child marriage and domestic violence, she said.

In India, after relentless advocacy by Muslim women, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the practice whereby a husband can divorce his wife on the spot by just saying “I divorce you” three times, Sharafeldin said.

And Tunisia has banned polygamy and Egypt set the age of marriage at 18, Sharafeldin said.

She said Musawah International is campaigning this year for a comprehensive reform of Muslim family laws.

“It is time families, in all their diverse forms, become a safe space for women, men and children together,” Sharafeldin said.

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