Human rights are importantly collective rights of communities and peoples to the right to continuing sustainable development, eco-systems, livelihoods and the struggles against concentration of wealth and power and patricarchy. It is the voice of the oppressed and exploited, of indigenous peoples, fishing communities, women, dalits, children, workers, artisans and peasants; it is the voices from below from a resurgent civil society for sustainable livelihood and eco-systems, popular governance and equitable development. The struggles against corporate exploitation, patriarchy, destruction of forests and child labour; for living wages, custodial justice, land and housing, protection of bio-diversity; against untouchability and caste oppression, for gender justice, protection and regeneration of the commons and waterbodies, against destructive mega projects and industrial pollution etc., are all part of this human rights movement.
Gender violence is perpetuated by cultural beliefs and norms based on the devaluation of women; and legitimized, obscured or denied by familial and social institutions in fact gender violence is a historical, universal problem. It is often experienced in the context of additional oppressions based on race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, type of labor performed, level of education, class position, disability, and/or immigration or refugee status.
Violence against women and girls occurs across the lifecourse. It employs a constellation of physical, sexual, economic, and emotional abuses that establish a climate of fear and result in severe physical and psychological injuries. It is the most extreme expression of sexism and misogyny; accompanied by gendered harms that leave women and girls bearing the socio-cultural burdens of shame, humiliation, and victim-blaming. The historical nature of gender-based violence confirms that it is not an unfortunate aberration but systematically entrenched in culture and society, reinforced and powered by patriarchy. Violence against women maintains the structures of gender oppression; be it carried out by individuals in private and/or by institutional forces in the public sphere. Families, communities, and social, legal and civic institutions may covertly and overtly endorse it.
Patriarchy is about the social relations of power between men and women, women and women. It is a system for maintaining class, gender, racial, and heterosexual privilege and the status quo of power – relying both on crude forms of oppression, like violence; and subtle ones, like laws; to perpetuate inequality. Patriarchal beliefs of male, heterosexual dominance lie at the root of gender-based violence. Patriarchy is a structural force that influences power relations, whether they are abusive or not.
Feminist social transformation requires that we also address political, economic, ecological and cultural injustices – otherwise the gains that women’s rights have made are always under threat, and progress for women’s rights remain uneven and unbalanced, particularly for the most disadvantaged women at the margins of capitalism.