Considering Violence

Considering Violence

If conflict is not properly handled, it may even lead to low intensity to high intensity and large-scale war, threatening the very existence of the human environment. At times, the cooperative behavior of a particular society or community may affect the peaceful life of others in the society. For example, the extreme form of nationalism of a particular country affects its relations with its neighboring countries. In the same way, the conflicting behavior of a given society may develop group cohesiveness and strong identity. Thus dealing with conflict requires enormous potentiality, skills, strategies etc. Normative forms and natural way or leaving it to its natural course of its end of dealing conflicts very often proves stereotypic, uncreative and less effective.

Since the causes for the conflicts are multiple due to changing situations, the methods to deal with and respond to conflict cannot remain single and un-dimensional. Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Thus we require multiple and more creative approaches to respond to conflict to transform them more constructive and relevant to the situation.

A historical view of women’s situation in Afghanistan reveals that women have rarely been a part of political, social and economic decision-making processes. During the Taliban period, which was infamous for its brutality, extremism and misogyny, women were subject to gender crimes and sexual violence. Although the Taliban institutionalized gender apartheid, discrimination and violence against women was also existed prior to the rise of the Taliban and was used as a weapon of war by all parties of Afghanistan’s conflict. To varying extents, almost every political, ethnic, or religious group in Afghanistan has been implicated in violence, both as victim and perpetrator. The private behavior and life of Afghanistan’s kings and political leaders show a dark picture of women’s life. Although little research has been done on women’s situation in Afghanistan’s contemporary history, various indicators such as polygamy, the women of haramsara, taking women as booty in war, bad and badal marriages, objectification and instrumentalisation of women and suchlike reveal structural violence against women throughout Afghanistan’s history.

But with the Afghanistan’s new constitution and new law on elimination of violence of any forms which is strongly under debate will hopefully overcome some of these challenges.

The reality of life for today’s Afghan women remains one of segregation and struggle within a climate of fear. Afghanistan’s entrenched traditional and customary practices constitute one of the strongest sources of violence.

Among the three types of violence stated above, the most obvious type is direct or personal violence which we witnesses in Afghanistan and elsewhere the most.  Everything from threats and psychological abuse to rape, murder, war, and genocide belong to this category. It is called personal violence because the perpetrators are human beings, i.e., persons.

The second type, structural violence, is much less obvious, though it can be as deadly, or deadlier, than direct violence. Typically, no particular person or persons can be held directly responsible as the cause behind structural violence. Here, violence is an integral part of the very structure of human organizations social, political, and economic.

Structural violence is usually invisible, not because it is rare or concealed, but because it is so ordinary and unremarkable that it tends not to stand out. Such violence fails to catch our attention to the extent that we accept its presence as a “normal” and even “natural” part of how we see the world.

Physical, sexual, psychological, economical and other forms of violence against women which could be framed into direct, cultural and structural violence are common in Afghanistan; but its pure example of more on cultural and direct violence.   Some with argue if they are structural violence but I strongly disagree with it because, according to the codes of Poshtunwali, the Afghans have the highest degree of respect to women and above that the Sharia law has a special consideration to protect women rights in the light of Islam. Physical violence, terrorism and insecurity all play key roles in undermining women rights and the illiteracy high rates are instrumental in committing this violence’s in Afghanistan.

Galtung sees conflict as the expression of objective, structural dichotomy.  Based on the different expressions and terminologies used to describe the term conflict, Conflict theories are conceptualized and classified the theory of:”

  1. Individual characteristics theories look at social conflict in terms of the nature of the individuals who are involved.
  2. Social process theories look at conflict as a process of social interaction between individuals or groups and seek to make generalizations about the nature of this process.
  3. Social structural theories look at conflict as a product of the way society is formed and organized.
  4. Formal theories seek to understand human social conflicts in logical and mathematical terms

We understand that Violence is any physical, emotional, verbal, institutional, structural or spiritual behavior, attitude, policy or condition that diminishes, dominates or destroys others and ourselves. Violence is one of the possible responses to specific conflict situations. This does not imply that violence is unavoidable. Violence is not inevitable and it must not be confused with conflict.

In other words, Violence consists of actions, words, attitudes, structures or systems that cause physical, psychological, social or environmental damage and/or prevent people from reaching their full human potential. Violence can be deeply structured into the system of relationships, within socio-economic and political arrangements, and even in the culture of a society and of a global system. Therefore, systemic violence can in turn be a root causes of conflict, as well a behavioral response to a specific conflict situation.

Johan Galtung, made a clear distinction between Structural Violence, Cultural Violence and Direct Violence. These ideas are connected to his distinction depending on how it operates between three inter-related forms of violence (Structural-Cultural-Direct) where Structural Violence is at the left end and Cultural Violence is at the right end of the base of a Triangle invisibly while Direct violence is on the vertex visibly.

According to Galtung’s Violence Triangle, Cultural and Structural Violence cause Direct Violence. Direct Violence reinforces Structural and Cultural violence. Direct Violence, Physical and/or verbal, is visible as behavior in the triangle. However, this action does not come out of nowhere; its roots are cultural and structural.

Direct violence can take many forms, in its classic form, it involves the use of physical force, like killing or torture, rape and sexual assault, and beatings. Further, we understand that verbal violence, like humiliation or put downs, is also becoming more widely recognized as violence.  Johan Galtung, further, describes direct violence as the “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs or life which makes it impossible or difficult for people to meet their needs or achieve their full potential. Threat to use force is also recognized as violence.”

Cultural violence is the prevailing attitudes and beliefs that we have been taught since childhood and that surround us in daily life about the power and necessity of violence. We can consider the example of telling of history which glorifies records and reports wars and military victories rather than people’s nonviolent agitation, movements, rebellions or the triumphs of connections and collaborations. Almost all cultures recognize that killing a person is murder, but killing tens, hundreds or thousands during a declared conflict is called ‘war’ or killing of innocent people by the security forces are often declared as caught in the crossfire.

Structural violence exists when some groups, classes, genders, nationalities, etc. are assumed to have, and in fact do have, more access to goods, resources, and opportunities than other groups, classes, genders, nationalities, etc, and this unequal advantage is built into the very social, political and economic systems that govern societies, states and the world. These tendencies may be overt such as Apartheid or more subtle such as traditions or tendency to award some groups privileges over another. Constitutional privileges of Job reservations and financial supports in the name of the welfare of the “tribes or backwards” and non-uniform land law, which bans one group to own landed property in their own land while other groups are free to own landed property wherever they want are also examples of structural violence.

Theories of structural violence explore how political, economic and cultural structures result in the occurrence of avoidable violence, most commonly seen as the deprivation of basic human needs. Structural theorists attempt to link personal suffering with political, social and cultural choices. Johan Galtung’s original definition included a lack of human agency; that is the violence is not a direct act of any decision or action made by a particular person but a result of an unequal distribution of resources.

Here, we must also understand “institutional violence”. “Institutional violence” is often mistaken for structural violence, but this is not the case. “Institutional violence” should be used to refer to violence perpetrated by institutions like companies, universities, corporations, organizations as opposed to individuals. The fact that women are paid less at an establishment than men is an act of direct violence by that specific establishment. It is true that there is a relationship with structural violence as there is between interpersonal violence and structural violence. And Structural violence is the most problematic area to be addressed for conflict transformation.




·         UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT AND WAR Vol. 2 THE CONFLICT HELIX By R.J. Rummel Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications, 1976.

·         Mapping Contours of violence


·          Posts Tagged ‘Johan Galtung’ The Violence Triangle Posted in Economy/Society, tagged Cultural ViolenceDirect ViolenceJohan GaltungStructural ViolenceViolence Triangle on February 20, 2012




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