People hold placards as they shout slogans to protest against the killing of Shraddha Walker, an Indian girl who was allegedly killed by her paramour, in Mumbai on Nov 15. (Photo: AFP)
November 25 is the day to eliminate all forms of violence against women.
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
It might seem that with the spread of education and growing prosperity, the incidence of violence based on race, class or gender would have decreased. But it isn’t so.
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) particularly, is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. Sadly, it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.
It is men who are largely responsible for this violence, and it is men who, literally, get away with murder.
In general terms, violence manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms, encompassing:
Judging from the above, there is almost no period in her life that a woman is not subjected to either verbal abuse or physical violence. And this is not race or class specific; it is present in every culture and society.
Every kind of society has streaks of violence, and even the Catholic Church, meant to be “a light to the world,” has exploitative behavior towards its nuns, its girls and married women, as we have become increasingly aware.
In fact liberation for women has come not from religion, but from secular sources.
The #MeToo movement, founded by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, exploded globally in 2017. It created a moment of urgency and solidarity in responding to sexual violence against women and girls.
“We are not safe anywhere — not in the office, not at home, not in the street"
In December 2012, India had its “Nirbhaya” (fearless) moment, when across the country, rallies and candlelight processions spontaneously arose, expressing solidarity for Jyoti Singh, the young woman raped and killed on a Delhi bus.
And in this very year, 2022, the women of Iran arose in protest, discarding their veils, as they reacted to the death of the student, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the “morality police” and demanded that their ayatollahs step down.
And most horrifying of all — even as this article is being written — the suffocation and subsequent vivisection of Shraddha Walkar, a young Indian woman, by her male partner, a monstrous crime that has convulsed the whole country.
As a female activist noted: “We are not safe anywhere — not in the office, not at home, not in the street. We must always be aware, be watchful.”
This unprecedented awareness and momentum have been created as a result of the relentless work of grassroots activists, human rights defenders, and survivor advocates worldwide, to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.
Why is it that men are so violent toward women? Why do they hate them so?
Perhaps the sweeping changes in mentality that democracy has brought about will tell us why.
For centuries, it was rich and powerful men who held sway everywhere. Whether these men were white, upper-caste, propertied, or of elite status, patriarchy (“the rule of the father”) was the norm.
No longer. Because of the spread of education and employment, because of work-related migration, and the presence of women in almost every public sphere, the hegemony of men is challenged.
"Male offenders feel deeply inadequate with a partner who is a confident woman"
But this means also a rise in anti-rights movements, including anti-feminist groups, resulting in a shrinking space for civil society, a backlash against women’s rights organizations and a rise in attacks against women human rights defenders and activists.
And the forces of reaction often use brute violence.
Speaking of the tragic crime against Shraddha Walkar above, a psychologist observed:
Male offenders feel deeply inadequate with a partner who is a confident woman, in charge of herself, who wishes to be equal in a relationship and demands accountability. As such, such men exhibit high levels of anger — turning furious at the slightest affront, unable to take ‘no’ for an answer from a female. Anger, power, control, fantasy … savagery.
How can women protect themselves from violence?
Most women have been brought up to be shy and demure and to cede to men as the stronger and more intelligent sex. This indoctrination is found in almost every religion, and religious influence is dominant in almost everyone’s childhood.
It’s time all women — young, old and middle-aged; educated and illiterate; rich and poor — challenge this stereotype, and stand up for themselves. It is simply not true that women are weaker, and have “to be protected.”
So a change of attitude regarding men is vital. Stop pampering them as children, stop finding excuses for them as adults. Stop accepting the use of obscene language at home, and hate speech and derisive jokes about gender and race in mixed company.
Most of all do not accept physical violence at any level in the home — be this the beating of children who are mischievous, or the thrashing of wives or daughters in drunken spells.
Instead, encourage the use of discussion, verbal apologies and compensatory actions whenever wrongdoing is observed.
However, in spite of it all, physical safeguards are often necessary.
Although today women take greater care of their bodies through proper diet and exercise, still learning self-protective systems can be a great help. Take the Israeli Krav Maga, for instance. It’s more than a sport. It is a system of self-defense that “channels the fear of being assaulted into a powerful weapon against the aggressor.”
"Men must come to realize that women are not 'taking over' the world"
It's not forbidden to inflict pain or injury on an aggressor who wishes to assault one or violate one’s body.
But more than this, women who are society’s educators at home and at school, must educate men about forbearance and non-violence.
Using dialogue and argument, they must allay the fears of men, the basic source of male violence.
Men must come to realize that women are not “taking over” the world, but rather building lateral relationships of healing and harmony towards peace and sustainability to which we all aspire, where all forms of violence are obsolete.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.