Let’s Look At Gender Based Violence Holistically
The world on Tuesday November 25, 2014 launched sixteen days of activism leading up to 10th December- the day set aside globally as the international human rights day. The focus, rightly on many local and international organizations has been a campaign to end gender based violence. Gender based violence has been a cancer that was thought treated but has resurfaced with vengeance, tearing the society limb by limb. The era where men and women were judged and treated on their gender was thought to have been dead and buried. But yet here we stand. Afraid and vulnerable; hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
The sixteen days of gender activism popular by the hashtag #16daysofgenderactivism provides the world with a unique opportunity to examine and prioritize the activism agenda. It gives human rights activists, actors, world leaders and concerned citizens a chance to stand for something, a chance to shout to the world what they need commitment on and exert sustained pressure on those responsible.
Martin Niemöller- famous for the speech when they came for me, which pours scorn on just sitting there and doing nothing in the wake of injustices, reminds all that propagating excesses just but requires good people to stand still and do nothing.
As such the world needs to stand up for something. The world needs to stand up and say that no more young girls in Kajiado and elsewhere in the world will have to be subjected to excessive and inhumane female genital mutilation in the name of culture. The world needs to stand up and say that no woman should be stripped in Kenya in the pretense of protecting the social mores of our society. The world needs to stand up and say that no young girl will be forced to early marriage.
Most urgently we need to say no to the moral decadence and the plain evil that forces two middle aged brothers to descend mercilessly on their two year old niece. The world needs to stand up and demand protection for eighty year old women in Busia County who are suddenly victims of an upsurge of insatiable sexual predation by young able bodied men in the county. In the same strength and undeterred we need to tell teachers who impregnate young girls in their schools that we want our society back. We want a society where old women and young children, the physically disabled men and women feel truly safe.
However, even as we strive to end gender based violence, let’s not narrow gender based violence to only physical violence or sexual violence.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is the general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society. It is thus the whole spectra of violence be it emotional, domestic, physical, sexual or psychological violence.
Denying a woman financial support to control her for example is just as violent as slapping her on the cheek. Not talking to her as a way of perceived punishment or in order to make her learn a lesson is just as violent as stripping women in public. Forced exposure to pornography, forced sterilization, use of children in domestic spats are among other non-common forms of violence. But even just threatening to commit violence is in itself a form of violence according to internationally agreed instruments such as the Beijing plan of action, UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
But gender based violence isn’t just about women. Whereas women bear the brunt of gender based violence due to the patriarchal nature of most societies, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. We must hold to account women who scold and pour hot water on men as we zealously hunt and chastise men who use their strength to hurt women. We must desist from laughing at victims just because they are male. That would be gender based violence as well.
What about domestic rape. Is it happening? Can a man be said to have raped his wife?
During the conversations around the domestic violence bill in Kenyan parliament, there were utterances attributed to certain senior male legislators that after paying goats as dowry, one is allowed to do to his wife what he pleases. What that showed is that most people think that there is nothing like marital rape. It is such thoughts that we need to address. The fight against gender based violence must be holistic and three dimensional.
It must not just be about baying for blood or revenge, or online activism. It must be more than demonstrations such as #MyDressMyChoice. It must extend to changing our thoughts and actions. Ending gender based violence will be a mirage if some seven out of ten women in Siaya County still think that it is okay for their husbands to beat them.