Equality and Empowerment of Women Matters to You, Whether You Know It or Not
Someone you know has experienced physical violence or rape, either by their intimate partner or someone else. This isn’t fearmongering, it’s statistically true. Globally, 35% of women between the ages of 15 – 45 have been victims of this kind of violence.
Before you dismiss this as a problem that takes place “somewhere else”, but not in your community, I want you to hold up a second: the numbers are fairly consistent country by country. This is not a “third world problem”, something happening “over there” or with “those people”. It’s happening right where you live, right under your nose and that means in your group of female friends, more than one in four of them has experienced this type of violence in their lives.
When speaking about equality and empowerment, however, the subject dives significantly deeper than ‘just’ domestic violence and rape. Unfortunately, the issues are deep, often secretive, enormously complex, and interconnected. To me, it seems a mammoth task to consider how to create a world in which men and women are treated equally under the laws of all countries and have the same opportunities to make a living, the same access to healthcare, the freedom to make their own choices and to live lives free from violence either by family members, friends or complete strangers. While it is a mammoth task, I believe that it is possible, because if everyone takes one small step, that is a lot of progress.
It is kind of like how I am going to hike the United States from Mexico to Canada through the backcountry of the desert, Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades. 2,650 miles, one step at a time.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to dig deeper into the various issues under this umbrella, issues that strike me in the heart. These are:
1. Gender and domestic violence
2. Sexual Harassment
3. Statutory Rape/Child Marriage
4. Female Genital Mutilation
5. Human/Sex Trafficking
6. Student Rape
8. Economic Disparity
9. UN Targets & Summary
I encourage your thoughts and comments as I work through this. I am hoping to create a learning journey for myself and for everyone who is inspired to take part in it with me.
Gender and Domestic Violence
Eliminating gender-based violence is a priority, given that this is one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the world today. United Nations SDG#5
The United Nations is seeking gender equality by 2030. As we speed towards 2022, it is clear that this goal will require urgent action to eliminate the sources of discrimination that inhibit women. Existing laws need to be changed and new legislation adopted to advance equality. In the meantime, there are 49 countries in the world that have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence. In other words, it is perfectly legal for a man to beat and rape his wife. Based on data from 87 countries, 1 in 5 women and girls under the age of 50 will have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months.
Here in the Caribbean, a study in five countries revealed that nearly half of Caribbean women face at least one form of violence: physical, sexual, economic or emotional. Think of it: half of the female population. This is unacceptable.
How do we initiate healing that will get us to the point where domestic violence and violence against women is a thing of the past?
I have just watched this excellent interview with Jackson Katz, gender and anti-violence activist. It struck me as interesting that the interview participants linked the January 6 attack on the US Capitol back to misogyny, because men who are batterers attack their partners when they feel that they do not have sufficient power over them, or that they are not getting what they want, and have acted in exactly the same way when they felt a democratic election didn’t net them the results they craved. This theory paints a troubling picture, when coupled with the data around how many people agree with the January 6 attack.
This idea is supported by research that confirms that unequal power relations between women and men are fueling violence against women and girls. For example, rape culture is prevalent when sexual violence becomes normalised and excused in the media, culture and society through victim-blaming, objectification of women, and glorifying those in power who have a history of abuses against women. Yes, Andrew Cuomo finally resigned as Governor, but Bill Cosby is a free man. In the news today, US Rep. Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.) has been censured for posting a violent anime-style video of him murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), defying basic human respect and dignity, and sending a dangerous message minimising the value of a woman’s life. We have work to do.
There are reams of literature on the issue of domestic violence and the inequalities women all around the world face, first world or third world, written and presented by women and men who see the world as a better place when there is equality at its core. But read any of that material online, where comments are allowed, and it is clear this issue raises hackles – from both males and females. It makes sense when you listen again to Zearlina’s interview with Katz and Liz Plank and the connection they make between the culture in which we (globally) raise men, to revert to violence to express their masculinity. It seems clear that a significant percentage of the population is taught from an early age that the only two acceptable emotions for a male to feel are happiness and anger.
This may be an unpopular sentiment, but I empathise with those people: the men and women who resort to violence to solve their problems, because I believe if they could do better, they would. If we want to end violence against women and we want to create a world where people of all genders, of all nationalities, skin colours and cultures are considered equal, we need to work harder to raise children who also believe that. Leslee Udwin’s powerful TedTalk says exactly this. If we want to live in a society where every person is considered equal, it won’t be just about punishing the perps. We will need to change the entire culture, from how we think and talk about women to how we think and talk about power, emotions and roles in society.
Do I think that the United Nation’s goal is achievable? I think it is, if we take it from the perspective of equality legislation and legal protection for women. Some countries may move faster at this than others. But it is time that the women, and the men who support them, are more numerous than the men who continue to hold the power.
It is time for this group to lead.
I am undertaking an epic fundraising effort, with the aim of raising $1 million for the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre to build a new safe shelter for survivors of domestic violence. While I am in full support of safe shelter as a necessary service, I wish the effort was going towards violence prevention and not cure. But, as I have said previously, one step at a time.
Rape Culture: The media's role in normalizing assault - Campus Times (lvcampustimes.org)
Casting light onto the shadow pandemic in the Caribbean: Violence against women (worldbank.org)
In focus: Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG 5: Gender equality | UN Women