The theme for this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is prevention.We are not only raising awareness during the 16 days of activism, but also discussing ways to permanently eradicate violence against women. Gender Based Violence (GBV) is non-discriminatory of race, color or social status. Current statistics are alarming, with one out of every three women and girls globally experiencing physical and, or sexual violence. The violence manifests in various forms including rape, defilement, domestic violence, early and forced marriages, FGM and sex trafficking.
For a long time we addressed GBV from the perspective of women, who form the majority of victims and survivors. However, GBV is an issue that affects not only the victim’s life but also other aspects of global social progress such as health, education and economic productivity. The HeForShe movement is an example of initiatives calling upon men to support women in achieving gender equality. To work towards ending GBV we need to shift our awareness focus to include both those on the receiving end of violence and those causing the violence to occur. I recently watched two amazing Ted talks which address how to engage men both as advocates and those perpetuating violence.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- ‘We Should All Be Feminists’
Jackson Katz- ‘Violence against Women- It’s a Men’s Issue’
Both of these talks address the critical paradigm shift which needs to happen in order to engage men in the conversation and address gender based violence issues holistically. I have gleaned some relevant ideas from these two speakers that may provide a way forward to end gender based violence.
We should raise our sons differently:
A question is posed by Katz. “What is the role of Institutions in helping to produce abusive men?” Certainly abusers do not exist in an island, they live in a society and socialization is a major influence to our thoughts and actions. Chimamanda asserts that our roles in society are so gendered that we subconsciously do what is expected of us socially. Some girls are taught or learn that good wives are loving, obedient and submissive to their husbands. Boys on the other hand are taught to be strong and brave, not to show weakness or fear. They should instead expect fear, respect and obedience from women. Do we often think about the probability of creating a violent mindset in how we raise boys to exercise power over women? How about we also teach our sons how not to rape girls or beat their wives. We empower them to treat women with respect and dignity.
Violence against women is not a women’s issue:
Gender based violence is a men’s issue too. Violence against women is a human rights issue. The protection of women from degrading treatment is not in any way a call for special rights. Women should not be respected because they are women but because they are people, and have a right to dignity like every person.
Stop victim blaming:
At times, women are often blamed for their actions. A lot of research on GBV prevention is centered on what women do that increases their risk of being sexually and physically abused. Chimamanda talks about girls being taught to sit properly and avoid walking in dark streets alone to avoid being raped. A woman may be accused of contributing to her own rape if she was walking alone in certain places ‘indecently’ dressed. Quite often, the moral character of the victim is scrutinized more than the criminal conduct of the perpetrator in judicial proceedings. However, Katz suggests that we should turn the question from the acts of women to why the men are perpetrating GBV. If men understand what is going on with them, then they can perhaps create further change.
Avoid the by-stander approach:
If we know anyone who is a perpetrator of GBV, keeping silent about it is further perpetuating the issue. Katz challenges men who are not abusive to challenge those who are. Men must criticize degrading acts against women publicly even if it means going against their fellow man. We must all stand up and speak out.
If we can adopt the above approaches, we can effectively address critical gender based violence issues in our families and communities.
From November 25th-December 10th follow #16DaysofActivism and raise your voice against gender based violence.
Cover Photo Credit: UN Women, Flickr Creative Commons