The Gendered Effects of Structural Violence

32 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2013


Violent, armed conflict causes a great deal of suffering and harm in the world. Peace researchers are undeniably justified in their selection of inter- and intra-state war as objects of study. However, evidence has accumulated which shows that structural violence, a concept introduced by Johan Galtung in 1969, may do more harm to a greater number of people than even armed conflict (Galtung and Hoivik 1971). It has been further suggested that structural inequalities are especially harmful for women, because of the intersection of gender with existing conditions such as poor health, inadequate education, and caste (Yardley 2012, Farmer 1997). But in spite of the harm caused by gendered structural violence, studies of direct violence occurring in conflict settings are much more prevalent. This may be due to the relative “invisibility” of structural violence (Galtung 1969), the lack of good data on violence against women (Anderson 2009, Hudson et al 2008, Caprioli et al 2009), or the prevalence of the public/private divide which encourages researchers to focus on public, political violence rather than violence that occurs in the private sphere (Wilding 2011, Felson 2000, Heise 1998). I argue that a gender lens ought to be mainstreamed into studies of structural violence and into the peacebuilding solutions designed to address such violence. If the end-goal for peacebuilders is positive peace in the thick sense of justice (Galtung 1969), then peacebuilders should be as concerned about the violence that happens between husbands and wives as they are about violence between nation-states.

I conduct a cross-national, quantitative study using newly available data from the WomanStats project to show that structural inequalities correlate with violence against women. The unequal structures are themselves violent — public inequality fosters norms of dominance and ownership such that inequality in private places becomes “justifiable.” Specifically, I find that democracy has a significant, dampening effect upon violence against women, and that the Gender Inequality Index (comprised of measures of women’s reproductive freedom, labor force participation relative to men, and empowerment) correlates with rising rates of violence against women (Gender Inequality Index). Regions of the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia also display higher rates of violence against women as compared to that of OECD countries. These results confirm my hypothesis that structural violence adversely affects women, statistically affirming on an international scale that which has long been shown by anthropological studies (Farmer 1997, Beckerleg and Hundt 2005, Campbell 1992). Peace researchers and peacebuilders must be mindful of the extent to which women are affected by structural inequalities. Furthermore, they must be willing to explore not only public initiatives that mitigate social and economic inequalities, but also private interventions that protect women from domestic violence. In the end, we may find peace among nations to be possible only if private peace is secured (Hudson et al 2008).

Keywords: gender, peace studies, structural violence

Suggested Citation

Cross, Karie, The Gendered Effects of Structural Violence (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Karie Cross (Contact Author)

University of Notre Dame ( email )

361 Mendoza College of Business
No Address Available

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