Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why Are We Talking About Violence Against Women???

“Why are we still talking about violence against women?” “When will women stop talking about violence, men are facing violence now!” “Why violence against women must always infect all programmes whether development or conflict resolution?” “Give education and the problem of violence against women will be resolved!” “If women walk at 1:00 hr in the night, they are definitely asking for the trouble.” “Dress appropriately, if I see some, I want to see more.” “You can’t trust anybody, don’t leave the girl alone at home.” “Let the taxi drop you first and then me, it’s late and this place is not safe.”

The above are some of the comments I have heard between 29 of June till today. All while discussing work. The first four comments question the relevance of the issue of violence against women and the latter four answer why the need to prevent violence against women and support for the survivors remains relevant.

It is true that when we talk about violence, particularly domestic violence and sexual violence, we tend to speak of such violence as experienced by women and girls in forms of sexual harassment, rape, sexual slavery, genital mutilation, and so on. It is not often that we talk of paedophilia affecting boys, assault on gay men or of homophobic harassment, and ridiculing and denigration of transgendered. These are equally condemnable and all coming from deeply ingrained gender role stereotypes and age related vulnerabilities. This is mainly because as on this day the number of women and girls who experience violence and abuse remains far higher than the number of men and boys. It does not minimize the violence that men and boys experience, not it undermines the need to prevent and respond to violence against men and boys. Wide-scale prevalence of violence against women and girls, however, shows the need to name this violence as ‘violence against women’ as it is because of being woman or a girl that such a large proportion of the population continues to face violence and abuse day in and day out. Raising voice to demand action to end violence against women and girls is not to provoke men to be competitive. More than often it is women who rise to raise voice against sexual exploitation of children and violence against men, gays and transgendered people.

Violence against women, particularly sexual violence, occurs as a means of as well as is a manifestation of social control of women and girls. It occurs to keep them under check, because the powerful are not always held accountable for their behaviour or conduct and in relation to women and girls, men and boys hold greater power in most countries. It also occurs when individuals dare to step out of traditionally defined gender roles or challenge the established power relations between women and men. Being gay or transgender is seen as a trespassing of the established gender roles and so people who dare to define them as such also face societal discrimination and violence.

The widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and post conflict societies or when there is inter-community conflict, also shows how closely the control of women’s sexuality is linked to male honour and prestige. Women’s bodies and their sexuality, therefore, cannot be theirs because the value these have belong to their male relatives, and male dominant communities and the larger society. Since it is treated so, and because sexuality is such a central pillar of societal expectations and limitations, sexual violence is often used as a weapon of control of women and girls and to shame and dishonour male family members and the community.

Violence against women affects all aspects of a woman or a girl’s life and the impact lasts often lifelong. As indicated in the comments in the first paragraph, violence or even a threat of violence limit women and girls’ movement and, therefore, their ability to participate in public activities. Since their bodies are not controlled by them, if they dare raise opinions in their homes whether for getting basic need fulfilled or to claim their rights, the controller of their bodies use their bodies to punish them.

This form of disempowerment cannot be done away with only education (as in literacy) or economic empowerment efforts. The social control, the constant fear of violence, the internalized fear of provoking violence or the sense of being in some way responsible for violence by doing things which women and girls are told not to do is ‘psychological disempowerment’ that affects every woman's life and controls every aspect of a woman or a girl’s life.

And, therefore, my dear sisters, we must continue talking about violence against women and girls while we talk of gender based violence. And, brothers, join us in ending violence against women and girls with the same spirit that we have when we raise our voices to end violence against men and boys, gays, transgender and other marginalized people.

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