Beaten. Battered. Bruised.
There is no gentle way to describe women who are violated and stripped of their basic rights. Gender-based violence has remained one of the most serious and consequential issues that societies around the world have yet to fully eradicate.
There is a prolific number of statistics to prove that violence against women still occurs around the world. Today, 1 in 3 women still experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Moreover, according to the UN, 43% of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Yet, when numerical quotients are provided to generalise an issue, the real faces behind these raw, authentic stories fail to be recognised. I speak from experience when I say that some journalists even become indifferent to stories on the news related to women being subjected to rape or physical intimidation by misogynist males in patriarchal societies. Sometimes, the humanising quality of this very issue involving basic human rights for all is trivialised because of the frequency at which anecdotes on gender-based violence are featured in the news.
And this is precisely the problem. Why is it that such a grave matter has been treated so lightly? How has it become an acceptable norm for our society?
Recently, I was scrolling through my newsfeed when I came across a post online, where a Facebook friend of mine shared her story as a witness of violence towards a female in public. A man had shoved a woman, presumably a friend or intimate partner, into the passenger seat of his car before proceeding to slam the door of his car on her legs. When a few members of the public surrounded the man to confront him, he ignored their intervention, got into the car, and sped off.
“What about the woman? What did she do?” you may ask. Well, the woman didn’t dare step out of the car as she was too afraid to retaliate.
When I hear stories like these, the amount of ire I feel towards this dominant male is truly unfathomable. But, it saddens me even more that the victims of these abusive relationships feel that they are unable to walk away.
In the beginning, it was difficult for me to understand why any woman would allow herself to be abused, be it emotionally or physically. As a female who has been raised in a stable family, I firmly believe that any form of violence towards a partner, child, parent, or any family member for that matter, is morally impermissible. My upbringing has made it hard for me to understand the predicament of many women who continue to stay in abusive relationships. But, after attending workshops and events, and doing my own research to educate myself on this issue, I’ve come to realise that these battered women cannot allow themselves to be abused, because they are not the ones who are able to control the violence in the first place – the perpetrator is the one who has this power.
There are multiple reasons that many women are unable to leave abusive relationships. One of these reasons is brought forth by Michael Dowd, Director of Pace University’s Battered Women’s Justice Center. Dowd wrote in his paper Dispelling the Myths About the “Battered Woman’s Defense:” Towards a New Understanding that “the woman stays with her batterer because the abuse she has suffered impairs the rational decision-making ability which would allow her to leave”. He further elaborates on this by quoting Lenore Walker, a psychologist, who has “suggested that battering relationships have a cycle of violence consisting of three phases… The three phases of the repeated cycle of violence consist of a tension-building phase, an acute battering incident, and a contrition phase, where the batterer showers affection on the woman with promises never to repeat his conduct.” In this way, the abuser manipulates and plays on the victim’s desire for him to atone for his past mistakes, caging her in by making her feel as if she does not have the option of leaving.
Ultimately, gender-based violence is convoluted and complex in ways that we may never be able to fully comprehend. However, it is important for us to eliminate the social stigma that surrounds this topic such that we are able to support and help victims in any capacity we can. More than this, males need to be educated to fully understand that gender-based violence is something that must be condemned. Males must not only treat people of other genders in their lives with dignity and respect, but also call on other men to join them in this pursuit towards gender equality instead of keeping silent. In a world as contemporary as the one we exist in, human rights violations such as gender-based violence should be a term only seen and read about in our history books, not in our everyday news.
If we do not attempt to make change, then how are we going to tell our grandchildren and the generations that follow that we had the chance to do something, but didn’t? If we, as the generation of tomorrow, do not attempt to put a stop to gender-based violence today, then who will?
This post is written in conjunction with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.