Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Opening our Eyes to Gender Violence

Published in the Fiji Times as "Open Your Eyes" (Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan) Wednesday, 21st November, 2012

This Sunday is the 25th of November. It marks the beginning of my mother’s 75th year. Significantly, it also is the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women which marks the beginning of the annual global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

The 16 Days run from 25th November to December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day.

This global campaign calls on individuals and groups around the world to act to end all forms of violence against women and girls. Making the critical link between violence against women and human rights, the campaign observes several significant dates in its 16 days, including November 29th, International Women's Human Rights Defenders Day; December 1st, World AIDS Day; and December 6th, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, where a man deliberately gunned down 14 women students.

Set against the recent backdrop of the Israel/Palestinian conflict in Gaza and ongoing conflicts around the world; the attempted assassination of 15 year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, the continuing use of child soldiers in places like Uganda and other untold stories of violence against the girl child; and the ongoing struggle for a just and peaceful society in our own country; it is important that we do not just paint a picture of gender violence is broad brush strokes that may obscure the details and allow us to dismiss this campaign as “just another” event by “men haters”.

According to Johan Galtung, an acclaimed peace researcher, there are three broad forms of violence:
  • ·         Direct violence: The most visual form, hurting people physically by war, beating people, abuse, mobbing, etc. It can either be experienced yourself or seen on the street but it can as well be ‘transmitted’ by movies, games, etc.
  • ·         Structural violence: The type of violence that is embedded into systems. Restricting access to rights and possibilities based on gender, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. The inequalities within societies and between societies create tensions which further violence if not resolved non-violently.
  • ·         Cultural violence: Embedded stories glorifying and normalizing war and violence. These stories and ideas of how to solve conflicts limit our possibilities to solve conflicts, because they tell us that one action always needs this specific reaction and it has always been like this and will always have to be like it is. In a way, this is the brain, the reasoning behind violence, making it acceptable.

Violence has its roots in distorted power relations.
·         Fear is a key element in domestic and family violence and is often the most powerful way a perpetrator controls their victim.

·         Intimidation includes harassing the victim at their workplace or home either by persistent phone calls or text messages, following the victim to and from work, or loitering near work or home.

·         Verbal Abuse includes screaming, shouting, put-downs, name-calling, sarcasm, ridiculing the victim for their religious beliefs or ethnic background.

·         Physical Abuse can range from a lack of consideration for physical comfort to permanent damage or death.

·         Emotional Abuse, by deliberately undermining their confidence, leading them to believe they are insane, stupid, 'a bad mother' or useless.

·         Social Abuse includes isolation from social networks, verbal or physical abuse in public or in front of friends.

·         Economic Abuse results in the victim being financially dependent on their partner or family member. Sexual assault is an act of violence, power and control.

·         Controlling what the victim does, who they see and talk to, where they go, keeping them from making any friends, talking to family, or having any money.

·         Separation Violence involves various activities such as loitering and following, receiving persistent telephone calls and mail, and being watched. 

In Fiji, the fact that “bread and butter issues” were highlighted in many constitution submissions, the recent case of sexual assault by a religious leader and news of increase in suicides and attempted suicides should make us realise that all is not well in the islands “where happiness finds you”.

The coming “16 Days of Activism” are an opportunity to not just look at the global and local scenarios of ongoing discrimination and violence against women of all ages but also to honestly reflect on our own attitudes towards women and other vulnerable groups in our society.

There are many vulnerable groups and minorities – ethnic, social status, economic, those with differing opinions, lifestyles and faiths – who continue to be subjected to violence and discrimination. Each one of us, men, women and children need to ask ourselves how we may have contributed or allowed these abuses to take place.

Often we take a simplistic view to the issues and the brave women and men who speak on behalf of the voiceless many subjected to these forms of discrimination and violence – who are often to ashamed or afraid to speak out – persevering in silence.

In a society that holds dearly to religious values that promote peace, justice and the greater good, the question needs to be asked: what are we doing to stop violence from destroying our homes and our communities?

Many religious leaders, when asked for comments by the media, speak out against gender violence. Yet how are we addressing the issue of violence in general and in particular violence against women and children in our churches, temples, mosques, mata-siga and bible-study groups etc?

Are we willing to discuss this topic in our community talanoa or kava sessions?

Are we willing to accept that we may need to change our views?

Are we willing – even for a moment – to look at the world through the eyes of some who has been sexually violated (regardless of gender)?

Are we willing to try to peer out of the slits of someone who has been “bashed” in the face for no reason except that they were weaker and an easy target for someone to vent their frustrations (sometimes of being a victim themselves)?

Are we willing to look at ourselves through the eyes of a mother forced to sell her body to provide for her children because her husband abandoned them?

In “Long Walk to Freedom” Nelson Mandela, writes that when a population faces structural violence and repeated oppression, many argue that... the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.

The cycle of violence, if not broken, continues with more devastation than any flood or cyclone.

There are no easy answers, but we must not be afraid to ask these questions to ourselves and our society.

Or perhaps we prefer to live with our eyes wide shut.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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