Sexual and gender based crimes (SGBC) are offenses violators mete on their victims on the basis of socially construed roles along gender lines. SGBC includes a wide scope of practices and abuses perpetrators mete out on the victims such as forced prostitution, bride burning, sexual slavery, female genital mutilation, homo and transphobic attacks and so forth (Heise, 2018; Turchik, Hebenstreit, & Judson, 2016). Although affecting both males and females, gender crimes also involve crimes against homosexual and transgender individuals (Turchik, Hebenstreit, & Judson, 2016). Still, various reports on SGBC show that girls and women suffer disproportionately from gender crimes (Heise, 2018). Female genital mutilation (FGM) and bride burning are two examples that demonstrate the pervasiveness and severity of SGBC. Additionally, examining the sociocultural and legal contexts that underpin the above-mentioned highlights the challenges impeding the elimination of SGBC.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one of the most widely perpetrated forms of SGBC. FGM involves the partial or complete removal of certain parts of the female genitalia, causing permanent and often irreparable damage. According to health professionals, FGM does not confer any health benefits on the women that undergo the procedure. FGM is perpetrated globally under various cultural and sociological contexts (Mahmoud, 2016; Muteshi, Miller & Belizán, 2016). Typically, societies that carry out FGM equate it to male circumcision. FGM is common in patriarchal societies where men dominate the social discourse on sex and gender roles (Mahmoud, 2016). In societies that practice FGM, women also contribute significantly to the persistence of the practice where those that have undergone the ceremony acquire a higher social status. That FGM dampens a woman’s sexual drive and therefore making her amenable to marriage is a major rationalization in societies carrying out the practice (Mahmoud, 2016).
FGM is usually performed on girls or young women and often it carries various degrees of psychosocial trauma (Muteshi, Miller & Belizán, 2016). For instance, women that have not undergone the practice are often ostracized and socially excluded. In some cultures, it is often impossible for a woman that has not undergone FGM to attract a marriage mate. Additionally, FGM carries numerous physical health risks given the lack of sanitation that characterizes the procedures (WHO, 2019). The possibility of infection from unsterilized equipment and botched procedures often lead to deleterious health outcomes such as urinary tract infections, excessive bleeding, trauma and even death (Muteshi, Miller & Belizán, 2016). Another long-term risk FGM poses is the increased likelihood of complicated births. Also, the promulgation of legal statues banning FGM and enforcement of laws prohibiting FGM in societies that practice them, particularly in less developed countries, is often non-existent (Muteshi, Miller & Belizán, 2016).
Bride burning is a major issue in Asia and is the result of sustained cultural practices that subjugate women (Lakhani, 2005). The primacy of marriage in Asian societies undergirds the practice of bride burning. On the Indian sub-continent in particular, it is the bride’s family that pays the groom dowry to for a marriage to proceed. The Indian sub-continent is predominantly patriarchal and like in societies that practice FGM, women in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are deemed subservient to men (Heise, 2018). The subservience of women arises from the construal of women as being a burn on men, with the latter viewed as the productive members of society. Consequently, it is the women on the Indian subcontinent that have to prove their worth through the submittal of generous dowries, usually under coercion from males (Lakhani, 2005). In this respect, economic imperatives work alongside culturally assigned gender roles to spur the practice of bride-burning.
Bride burning arises when the groom and usually with the involvement of his immediate family, decides that the dowry the bride initially offered to secure the marriage was insufficient. Where the bride’s family cannot raise more dowry, bride burning may ensue (Lakhani, 2005). In addition to immolation, bride burning may also take other forms of violence, particularly acid throwing and suicide, with the latter being an avenue of escape from the ostracism that the society subjects women who cannot raise more dowry (Lakhani, 2005). In the foregoing context, bride burning is an adjunct to extortion, a way of the bridegroom to increase his holdings at the expense of the bride.
While legislation exists that outlawing bride burning, enforcement of extant laws is either weak or non-existent. According to scholars, the weak enforcement of laws that make bride burning a criminal offence are countered with the millennia-long practice (Lakhani, 2005). On the Indian subcontinent, bride burning has been taking place for thousands of years and it is only recently that laws came into place that ban the practice. As a consequence, it has been difficult to ensure the cessation of bride burning given the tendency of cultural sympathies outweighing formal laws.
In conclusion, FGM and bride burning are just two of the many of the many examples of SGBC. A variety of sociocultural, economic, and legislative factors ensure the persistence of SGBC. FGM for example results in long-term physical health and psychological ramifications for the girls and women that have undergone the practice. Equally bride burning results in the complete denial of life of thousands of women who fall victim to the brutal practice every year. Both FGM and bride burning are condemned in the various jurisdictions they occur as well as internationally. However, weak or non-existent enforcement of extant laws as well as entrenched cultural outlooks mean that more needs to be done to stamp out these nefarious SGBC practices.
Heise, L. (2018). Violence against women: the missing agenda. In The health of women (pp. 171-196). Routledge.
Lakhani, A. (2005). Bride burning: “The elephant in the room” is out of control. Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Journal 5(2), 249-298.
Mahmoud, M. I. H. (2016). Effect of female genital mutilation on female sexual function, Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria Journal of Medicine, 52(1), 55-59.
Muteshi, J. K., Miller, S., & Belizán, J. M. (2016). The ongoing violence against women: female genital mutilation/cutting. Reproductive health, 13(1), 44.
Turchik, J. A., Hebenstreit, C. L., & Judson, S. S. (2016). An examination of the gender inclusiveness of current theories of sexual violence in adulthood: recognizing male victims, female perpetrators, and same-sex violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 17(2), 133-148.
World Health Organization (WHO) (2019). Female Genital Mutilation. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation
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