A Necessary Perspective On Violence Against Women
There is nothing more certain than that, as a woman existing in the world, violence will find you. You will be walking down the street or sitting in a religious meeting, breastfeeding your child or trying to get contraception, partying or sleeping, online or offline, and someone will take exception to the simple fact of you. In any space where your body is female, you will be a potential target. Because of the way most of the world is set up, violence against women is standard fare.
It manifests in everyday life as street harassment and sexual violations, in private spheres as physical or sexual abuse, and in public as assault, kidnap or murder. It is supported by tradition and perpetuated by society, and unless we begin and sustain concerted push back against it, it will never stop.
The 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence campaign officially begins today with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25th). This year alone, global news has been peppered with accounts of truly horrific crimes against women. From Nigeria to India, Pakistan to Hollywood to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt to Brazil to South Africa, kidnap and sex slavery, trafficking, weaponised rape, intimate partner violence, leaked private images, brutal murders, political detentions – the range of these crimes is as wide and varied as the cultural environments that continue to enable them to occur.
The issues that allow gender-based violence to persist on such a massive scale are numerous, complex and connected, but I believe a good place to start to tackle them is on the personal level. Gender-based violence is a very real, very immediate threat, and it is everywhere. The inclination to ignore the evidence of this fact probably comes from our own individual discomfort: there is no way to honestly engage with and address this issue without coming face to face with our own complicity in perpetuating the norms and ideologies that enable it to exist unabated. It is easier to believe eighteen women are lying than to confront the fact that a man as respected and loved as Bill Cosby is a serial rapist. It is easier to insist that you were provoked into uncontrollable rage than to confront your own personal failings that made it okay for you to hit your intimate partner. It is easier to look the other way when another woman is being abused and worry about your own safety than to intervene. It is easier to slut-shame a woman than dismantle the unhealthy power dynamic that allowed coercive sex to happen with her pastor.
I could go on, but this is the point: we live in a world where women’s humanity, autonomy and rights are constantly being called into question, and often violently so. The path of least resistance is to continue to function in accordance with our socialisation; to overlook, minimise, dismiss or erase women’s experiences, to victim-blame and to protect the status quo. What we fail to realise is that a status quo that brutalises women hurts all of us in the end.
To begin to address the issue of gender-based violence, we must first look inward. We must accept that we have contributed to the problem, and we must dismantle our own notions of what is acceptable, what is inevitable, and what women are responsible for. We must expand our understanding of violence to include so-called ‘micro-aggressions’ like unwanted sexual advances, catcalling, body shaming and discrediting women as overly sensitive. We must choose to value women’s own accounts of their experiences. Instead of victim-blaming, we must engage with the perpetrators of violence, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. We must be aware that there are structural, systemic issues that enable violence against women to continue, and we must address them.
No one can claim that there are any quick fixes, but the fact that current estimates say that 1 in 3 women will face sexual or physical violence in her lifetime is truly disheartening and completely unacceptable. No generation has ever had the resources or capacity to improve the world that this one has, and so more than ever before it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with women everywhere and strive to end violence against women.
Follow @16dayscampaign on twitter for more information.