by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.
(NEW YORK–C-FAM) As negotiations intensified during the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), one sobering statistic on violence against women was repeated in conference rooms and media reports. Oftentimes it was used as a basis to promote abortion. Yet it is a disingenuous misrepresentation of the facts. Its author, an abortion advocate, sits on the U.S. delegation to CSW.
The Agence France-Press reported on March 5, the second day of the Commission, “Much has been made at [CSW] of a World Bank report which estimates that more women aged 15-44 are killed violently than die of malaria, HIV, cancer, accidents and war combined.” The statistic is used by multiple UN agencies and appears on the official UN resources for speakers. On March 13, it was cited in a New York Times editorial criticizing the Holy See and its allies for holding firm against feminist efforts to turn the CSW meeting into a call for global abortion access.
The statistic, which appears in many forms, first appeared in a 1994 paper co-authored by Adrienne Germain, a longtime pro-abortion activist who currently sits on the US delegation to CSW. In a table in the article, Germain and colleagues compare domestic violence and rape to a selection of other causes of harm to women of reproductive age, admitting in a footnote that the comparison is “for illustrative purposes”, because domestic violence is analyzed and classified differently than the rest of the data in the table.
The choice of cancer and malaria is likewise misleading. Data from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study reveals that most of the harm caused by these illnesses occurs outside the 15 – 44 age range. The comparison to HIV is completely incorrect and appears to have been fabricated by the AFP reporter. Its inclusion is particularly troubling since HIV rose from being the 33rd-ranked cause of disease burden and death in 1990 to 5th in 2004, where it remains as of 2010. Disease burden is a tool used in public health research to quantify the combined effects of disability, poor health, and early death.
In addition to being based on a flawed comparison and further exaggerated by news reports, this statistic is based on World Bank data from 1993, which predates the 1994 Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and fails to incorporate the effects of efforts made at the UN and within member states and communities to address violence against women.
In the 1994 paper containing the source of the statistic, the authors lament the fact that the UN’s definition of violence against women “excludes laws, policies, or structural inequalities that could be construed as violent (laws against abortion, structural adjustment policies).” Co-author Germain has worked with the Population Council, Ford Foundation and the International Women’s Health Coalition to promote abortion access worldwide by eliminating laws that protect women and babies.
At an event held during CSW, Saraswathi Menon, director of UN Women’s Policy Division, expressed concern over the lack of good statistics. “When important issues are not prioritized in data collection, then it becomes easy to ignore them in global discussions.”
Rebecca Oas is the Associate Director of Research for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM). Her article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM, a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/).