Harmful Practices: Explore the Issue

last updated June 2010

What Are Harmful Practices?
Discrimination and violence against women and girls has often been justified by invoking social or religious customs, values, and practices. Such discriminatory social values often give rise to socially constructed forms of violence against women, known as “harmful practices,” that are accepted and justified as culture or tradition.
"Harmful practices resulting in pain, suffering and humiliation for girls and young women originate from the deeply entrenched discriminatory views and beliefs about the role and position of females in many societies and communities. The differentiation in roles and expectations between boys and girls relegating girls to an inferior position starts from birth and continues throughout their whole life. Harmful traditional practices help replicate and perpetuate the subordinate position of women. The issue of harmful practices therefore cannot be addressed without tackling gender discrimination which is at the root of such practices."
See: No More Excuses! Ending all Harmful Traditional Practices against Girls and Young Women
Types of Harmful Practices
Harmful practices include a wide range of practices which vary from culture to culture and country to country and are constantly changing due to modernization, globalization and migration. For this reason, there is no complete list of harmful practices. They might include femicide, forced or early marriage, son preference or pre-natal sex selection, breast ironing, witch hunts, acid attacks, inciting women to commit suicide, dedication of young girls to temples, restrictions on a second daughter’s right to marry, dietary restrictions for pregnant women, force feeding and nutritional taboos, and marriage to a deceased husband’s brother, among others. >>Learn more

Effects of Harmful Practices
Harmful practices are interconnected with one another and with other forms of violence and discrimination against women. Disconnecting the problem of harmful practices from gender inequality, simply shifts problems to other areas and fails to address the root cause of such practices. For example, female infanticide and sex-selective abortions result in a vast gender imbalance in a society which, in turn, can cause an increase in bride, kidnapping, forced marriage, rape and trafficking. Victims of forced marriage are often raped to keep them from being able to leave their kidnappers. In some countries, rape victims are accused of having engaged in pre-marital or extra-marital “sexual relations” and are further subjected to “honour crimes” and/or forced to marry the perpetrator of the rape in order to restore their family’s damaged “honour.” Maltreatment of widows and witch hunting are both related to discrimination against women regarding property and inheritance rights. Female genital mutilation is often a requirement for marriage and sometimes seen as a way to control women’s sexuality. Ironically, breast ironing is explained as an effort to preserve a girl’s virginity and protect her from rape and sexual harassment by warding off signs of puberty. >>Learn more
All of these harmful practices, along with others, are indicative of “discrimination against women and are symptomatic of the devalued status of women in society.” See: Good Practices on Harmful Practices Expert Group Report.
What we have learned is that violence against women is a universal problem and that one type of violence is intimately linked to another as the root causes are the same: they are all very much related to gender inequality.
See: Human Rights Council Panel discussion on female foeticide and girl infanticide



Stormorken, Lalaine Sadiwa, Vincent, Katrine, Vervik, Ann-Kristin, & Santisteban, Ruth. No More Excuses! Ending all Harmful Traditional Practices against Girls and Young Women, Plan Norway and Plan Finland, 2007.