The Gendered Dark Side of Family Life
On March 8th, all over the world, we celebrate the International Women’s Day. This important day was initiated by socialist women in the beginning of the 20th century, and in 1975 was adopted by the UN “to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities”. As part of its struggle for gender equality, the UN aims, by 2030, to: “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres”.
In my recent book “Legalized Families in the Era of Bordered Globalization”, I dedicate one of the chapters to the dark side of family life, that of spousal and parental violence. While the book relies on the premise that families, at their best, can, and should, provide a unique and essential source of nurturing and support that benefits their members, the reality is that families can be, and too often are, a locus of physical, sexual, emotional, and economic violence. I am so grateful that CUP allows readers free access to the chapter on familial violence (ch. 7) in recognition of the importance of making the discussion of gendered violence a significant part of the International Women’s Day.
The first part of ch. 7 discusses spousal violence, and focuses on the legal questions arising when the victim is a non-citizen. Although there is no evidence to suggest that immigrant women are more at risk of domestic violence than native women, studies are consistently teaching us that immigration intensifies domestic violence in the sense that it traps the victim in the abusive relationship. The law in several countries indeed recognizes this special vulnerability and offers protection to address it. However, when it comes to women seeking asylum based on spousal violence that they face at their homeland, the law is lagging behind, and many women who managed to escape their abusive spouse find themselves deported back to the domestic terror.
The second part of ch. 7 discusses parental violence by focusing on female genital mutilation and male circumcision. It reveals the complexities arising from the intersection of children’s rights and multiculturalism in the global and national spheres. I offer a model with three parameters to shape the law towards culturally based parental violence: the proven harms and risks, the proven benefits, and the cultural meaning as perceived by the family members and their community. In light of this model, I not only argue that male circumcision is more tolerable than female genital mutilation, but also argue against child beauty pageants and the lack of regulation in this area, to highlight the cultural biases and phobias embedded in the global discourse opposing violence against children.
The third part of the chapter looks at international child abduction as another kind of familial violence, increased by globalization, and at the international attempts to prevent it, which are well coordinated yet limited in their effectiveness. Moreover, a surprising gendered aspect of child abduction is revealed: The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was drafted based on the assumption that it is fathers who abduct children from custodial mothers. Recent surveys, however, discover that today it is often the mother who illegally cross the border with the child. In many cases, these are divorced migrant women, desperate to return to their homeland to find economic and emotional support, or to escape abusive spousal relations. Hence, international law aimed at protecting women and children, have turned into a problematic tool that at times reinforces male control.
Other chapters of the book, dealing, for example, with transnational abortion and surrogacy, with mail order brides, with spousal and parental citizenship, and with imported care at old age – all demonstrate that we can no longer understand women’s status only through the national prism. Gendered identities and power relations are shaped today by the antagonistic, cooperative and hybrid relations between global forces and geo-political and social borders. To achieve the feminist goal of a universe in which we are all free to shape our individual, familial, communal, national and global biographies, regardless of being born male or female, we must understand gender as a globordered phenomenon.