Challenges and Finding Solutions
violence continues to cast a dark shadow over us in the 21st
century, damaging and destroying the lives of literally millions
of people. It is by no means unique to our times, but the
still-widespread prevalence of such violence today is shocking.
Furthermore, it is one of the few common experiences in the
modern world that cuts across all boundaries, including nationality,
class, education, race, religion and creed. There are few
who would actively defend violence against women. So why is
it such a pervasive phenomenon?
between men and women is not only the result of individual
actions, but also the result of how a society is structured.
Access to resources (education, health), ownership of assets
and opportunities for self-advancement, largely continue to
favour men. To make things worse, different aspects of gender
inequality often reinforce each other e.g. if women are not
educated, they have less earning-power, and consequently,
are less valued by society. Social attitudes are critically
important: if women are considered intrinsically inferior,
they will inevitably be treated as second-class citizens.
Consequently, they become disproportionately vulnerable to
violence at the hands of those more powerful.
attitudes contributing to gender violence are based on a series
of complex factors, including social practices, cultural and
community norms and often, misrepresentation of religious
injunctions. A typical example in Bangladesh is when women
are told that because a woman's path to heaven lies at her
husband's feet, she must accept the violence he inflicts on
her. In fact, the belief actually states that the path to
heaven lies at your mother's feet, the implications of which
are quite different!
of misrepresentation is by no means limited to Bangladesh.
In many countries, the issue of forced marriage and related
"honour crimes" (in which victims are assaulted
or murdered - often by their closest relatives - because they
have "insulted their family" by refusing to marry
someone chosen for them) is a serious problem, including among
immigrant communities in Europe. While sometimes practiced
in parts of the Middle East, such practices are denied or
ignored by most governments, though Jordan's Royal family
have spoken out against such killings. The Palestinian Authority
was recently criticised for failing to protect vulnerable
women (violence is increasing because of high unemployment,
and men's frustrations over the breakdown of their traditional
roles as breadwinners), and the incidence of so-called "honour
killings". Yet the incidence of such crimes is not limited
to developing countries. Shockingly, the London Metropolitan
police revealed at a recent conference that it had received
reports of almost 500 cases of women (presumably of immigrant
origin) being forced into marriage against their will in the
last two years in London alone.
of excessive political correctness have skirted issues of
this nature for years, hesitating to challenge religious or
cultural practices. And yet as we all know, forced marriage
is not sanctioned by any religion.
it is a practice that is expressly forbidden in Islam, which
states clearly that women and men must have freedom of choice
when selecting a life partner, as long as the person is considered
a believer. That is why, the girl is expressly asked at the
marriage ceremony for her consent. The Prophet (PBUH) granted
girls who have been forced into marriages against their will,
the right to have their marriages annulled. And in this regard,
it is important to remember the distinction between arranged
marriages (accepted in many cultures) and forced marriage
(which is not). When culture is used as an excuse to promote
backward and oppressive behaviour, including violence against
women, this should be analysed and questioned even by those
who promote multiculturalism, rather than being accepted as
some kind of immutable truth. It is encouraging, and long
overdue, to note that Saudi clerics have recently taken an
unprecedented stand against forcing women into marriage, saying
that fathers who have tried to do this should be jailed until
they change their minds. Coerced marriages were described
by clerics in the kingdom as "a major injustice"
problems, which are often blamed on "culture", include
issues such as female circumcision (sometimes practised among
expatriate African/Arab communities in Europe). It is worth
asking why some cultural practices that are acceptable in
immigrants' home countries are deemed completely unacceptable
in the countries to which they migrate (e.g. cutting off the
limbs of thieves), while strangely enough, other so-called
cultural practices which relate to the oppression of women
are excused in the name of culture. It has been argued that
the reason cultural grounds are accepted for women's oppression
is that this is an area that remains less "worthy"
of interference than others i.e. because patriarchy is common
to all countries (to varying degrees), its manifestations
are less objectionable or "alien" than other "cultural
one woman out of three will experience domestic violence,
abuse or sexual assault at some point in her life. The sheer
scale of the problem is proof enough, if any were required,
that the issue of violence against women is not limited to
a single category or nationality. And precisely because it
is so widespread, sometimes the problem seems insoluble, and
overwhelming in its intensity. Just as we wonder what to do
in Bangladesh, other countries - including western countries
- are also searching for solutions.
news is that we are NOT helpless, and political will on the
part of individuals and governments can improve the situation.
Although changing attitudes and behaviour takes time, and
requires considerable effort, there are many success stories
to indicate that there is hope for all of us - whether as
perpetrators, survivors or reluctant observers of gender violence
- to change the existing situation for the better.
of governments to practise what they preach is one important
step. The current UK government has made it clear that they
are taking a "zero tolerance" approach to domestic
violence e.g. police do not require violence victims to testify
against their partners in order to take action. This is very
important, because often the victims are too scared to report
attacks, or can be intimidated into withdrawing such allegations
once they have been made. The police are successfully reducing
violence by using certain criteria to identify particularly
vulnerable women, monitoring "at-risk" cases closely,
and ensuring a preventive or rapid response to trouble.
it only western countries where effective action is being
taken. In Nicaragua, male social activists are working with
other men to identify behaviour and circumstances that trigger
violence, and highlighting the damage done to those (including
children) who are affected by it. In Kenya, the government
is acting against female circumcision, by supporting women
bringing cases against those who colluded in such violence.
Turkey has recently initiated co-operation with the Scots,
to learn from their experience in preventing "honour
killings". In Bangladesh and India, using male role models
and peer workers to speak out against violence has yielded
positive results. We all - women and men - need to address
this problem by learning from the positive experiences of
others, in the hope of someday - the sooner the better - living
in a world free of gender violence.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005