Is “Incivility” Violence Against Women?

Every year the world engages the problem of Violence Against Women (VAW) and brings to the attention of the world one of the great “invisible” human disorders, violence against women. In many parts of the world, Zimbabwe included, it appears that the problem is getting worse and not better.

In Zimbabwe, according to the Health and Demographic Survey in 2015:

  • Thirty-five percent of women aged 15-49 experienced physical violence since age 15; 15 percent of women have experienced physical violence within the past
    12 months.
  • Fourteen percent of women aged 15-49 experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, and 8 percent experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months.
  • Thirty-two percent of ever-married women have experienced spousal emotional violence; 24 percent experienced spousal emotional violence in the 12 months preceding the survey.

This has got even worse under Covid, with cases tripling from 2019 to 2020.

A major part of the problem is the invisibility of VAW, with so much taking place behind the closed doors of homes, and too frequently underplayed by the blindness of patriarchal societies. However, there are many areas in which aspects of VAW are highly visible. One area is the workplace, where bullying and incivility are highly frequent experiences for women.

Bullying and incivility affect large numbers of people in the workplace. A South African study found that 31% of workers experienced direct or indirect bullying. Incivility – the exchange of seemingly inconsequential words and deeds that violate conventional norms of workplace conduct – is even more common, with studies suggesting that 98% of workers report this, 50% report this happening weekly.

The costs are enormous. In the US it is estimated that:

  • US$24 billion per annum for an estimated workforce of 1.4 million affected workers.
  • Effects on job satisfaction and work effectiveness
  • Effects on physical ill-health
  • Effects on psychological health

The research generally shows that, in all of this, women are more frequent victims than men. It should be borne in mind that none of this bullying and incivility happens behind closed doors. It happens in front of our eyes; in the office, on the shop floor, at service tills, in hospital wards, lecture theatres and classrooms.

Bullying and incivility are not invisible and may well be the breeding ground for the worse forms of VAW. They even may be culturally acceptable as part of the distorted power relations that come with unreconstructed patriarchy and matriarchy. However, the visibility of bullying and incivility does mean we can do something about it, and if we do, perhaps we change the ground in which VAW grows?

Source: Research and Advocacy Unit

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