Slapping. Choking. Pushing. Intimidating. Hair pulling. Burning. Public shaming. Raping. One in every five women experiences these forms of violence during her lifetime. One in five. Experienced in every society, this violation of human rights ranges from domestic violence (at the hands of an intimate or ex-partner) to a weapon of war. So pervasive, violence against women (VAW) was recognized in the Millennium Declaration of September 2000, when the General Assembly of the United Nations resolved “to combat all forms of violence against women and to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women”.
In order to combat violence, one must first ask why it is occurring. VAW is closely linked to complex social conditions like poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, maternal/child mortality, and HIV/AIDS – conditions that have guided the Millennium Development Goals set to expire in 2015. Yet nowhere in the targets or indicators of the MDGs do we see a focus on VAW. In order to improve this gender equality that continues to undermine health and development, we must develop a greater partnership with men. Without the help of men and boys, how will there ever be an end to violence against women and girls?
Last month, violence against women was a trending topic in the media after Elliot Rodger murdered six and wounded 13 students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, blaming the “cruelness of women” for his “day of retribution.” His words inspired Twitter users to create a hashtag – #YesAllWomen – to share personal accounts of the threat of male violence. Within 48 hours, #YesAllWomen was used more than 1 million times.
Not because she’s someones mother, sister, daughter, personal belonging. Because she’s a human being and she has rights. #YesAllWomen
— Donna (@randomknits) May 25, 2014
In college, a police officer told us to scream FIRE if we were in danger of being assaulted otherwise people won't get involved #YesAllWomen
— Carrie (@OneBookishMom) May 24, 2014
Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen
— Emily Hughes ✨ (@emilyhughes) May 24, 2014
What quickly followed was a defensiveness of men; those who felt women were quick to point to misogyny and stereotyping all men as perpetrators of violence. The hashtag #NotAllMen was created showcasing a wide range of reactions from men. Some were angry that fingers were being pointed at the male gender, even though they specifically never did anything wrong. Others believed the focus should be on violence on all humans, regardless of gender. No matter how the hashtag was perceived, it certainly created a dialogue that highlights the immense inequality that women feel and the realities of growing up in a world where we teach girls to fear men. The global cry was loud and must not be ignored.
Violence and its acceptance is central to the unequal relations of power between men and women. Male violence produces and reproduces the subordination of women, as patriarchal norms and practices create the conditions that make VAW acceptable. In order to increase gender inequality and decrease the violence, men and bys must be included in those policies and programs to end VAW.
Prevention: Prevention must start early in life, as values and norms around gender equality are forged at a young age. By educating and working with young boys and girls to promote respectful relationships and gender equality, we can raise individuals who see violence as an unacceptable form of behavior.
Partnership: As men and women work together to shift the inequalities surrounding VAW, we also need continued and increased partnerships in government and local organizations. One example, Partners for Prevention, is a UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UN Volunteers regional joint program for gender-based violence prevention in Asia and the Pacific. Bringing together four UN agencies with governments and civil society strengthens the promotion and implementation of effective violence prevention programs and policies.
Proactive: While hashtags like #YesAllWomen increase the visibility of VAW and those working to end learned behaviors, it is critical that men play a proactive role in supporting and challenging institutions and individuals to break the cycle of violence. Jackson Katz, an internationally recognized educator on gender violence prevention, has argued that if society wants to see an end to VAW, we must first transform how we think about it.
“As a culture, [we] first must take the step in acknowledging that violence against women is not a women’s issue, but a men’s issue.” – Jackson Katz
As Katz points out, dialogues and policies surrounding VAW often ignore the issue of perpetration. Citing rape as an example, Katz asked, “Over 99 percent of rape is perpetrated by men, but it’s a women’s issue?”
Working towards gender equality will require policies and partnerships that empower women and engage men, also critical to achieve development outcomes like reducing poverty, improving health, increasing access to education, and other population concerns. Men and boys have an opportunity to support women, to stand beside us and fight for a better world – a world free of violence.
Cover image c/o We Will Not Be Silent