By Alia El-Tayeb

When we think of the term ‘violence,’ often our mind leads us to terrorism, racial violence or genocide; all of which are forms of violence. Structural violence however, is more dangerous than any of the things listed above because it’s not a term that we hear in the news when people speak of danger or death. But to be honest, it’s more dangerous than any overt act of violence because it acts slowly and targets people who do not even know they are targets.


Structural violence is inequality: the lack of access to medicine, food, money or jobs or even education. It is a form of institutionalized violence that attacks a demographic of disadvantaged people by keeping them there while the rich get richer. We see structural violence every day, and we don’t even realize that this is what we are seeing.

For example, take into consideration the Afghanistan issue, where girls are not allowed to seek education because of government laws. These girls will grow up to be women who lack the ability to read or write, they will be unable to get fair paying jobs (if they are even allowed to work) and they will live dependent on their families and, eventually, their husbands.

This is seen in other places in the world as well, where girls are told to stay at home and help support their families due to the need for more money to support their families. Often, these young women and their families will remain poor, and at some point will get sick due to the inability to find clean water, good food or other environmental causes. Due to a lack of finances, these families are unable to afford basic healthcare and more often than not, people will die from preventable illnesses. Unfortunately, it does not end here because this is a cycle, where another young person will assume the responsibility of helping care for their family, will miss out on the opportunity to gain and education and find good work, they (or another family member will get sick) and the cycle will continue.

Unfortunately, many are not able to recognize this as structural violence because there is no visible form of violence. It is an institutionalized form of violence where many suffer in a cycle of inequality due to a lack of accessible education, healthcare and social aid. It is not a cultural problem, where people expect their youth to forfeit their futures for the well-being of families. It is a social problem, wherein governments and other powerful institutions hesitate or simply refuse to make a change that will undoubtedly save hundreds of thousands of lives.

What do you think?
Can you see other examples of structural violence in the lives of youth?
How does structural violence touch you?

About the Author:
Alia El Tayeb co-coordinates the National Youth Advisory Board for the Voices project. She is a student at Western University in London, ON,  and a youth-community developer for the City of London and the Boys and Girls Club. Alia believes in the importance of engaging youth in ways that allow young people to tell their stories.

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