Leo Gilling | Don't fight women, fight for them
According to Wikipedia, gender violence, also known as gender-based violence or GBV, is, collectively, violent acts that are motivated by the victim's gender, as a result of inequalities between genders, or that disproportionately affects a certain gender.
Although much gender-based violence is directed towards women and the terms are often treated as if they were interchangeable, the term is not exclusively used to refer to violence against women. Thus, violence against men, boys, gay or transgendered people can also be classified as gender-based violence. Rape, sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, stalking, human trafficking, and forced prostitution are all examples of gender-based violence.
As I grew up, I routinely witnessed women being beaten, raped, violated, the women were commonly blamed, the man was generally considered right. As I grew older, however, my sense of justice was triggered, and I began to question why this was so.
Recently, I was asked to join a movement to create awareness around violence against women in the crime-ridden neighbourhood of Salt Spring, Montego Bay. Before I knew it, I was moderating a live-stream discussion on domestic violence and sexual abuse themed 'Feelings Buried Alive Never Die'. Five women from Jamaica and the diaspora shared stories of rape and domestic abuse from family and friends, men they were supposed to be able to trust.
These stories shocked me to my my numbed toes. The sexual predators ranged from community leaders who molested one of the women at an early age, to a grandfather who had sex with two sisters between the ages of eight and 11, to an uncle who raped his niece, and another uncle in the same family who raped her daughter. In fact, all four brothers/uncles in the family are sexual predators but are not committed to an institution.
I left that discussion with many questions and few answers. Why is this such a prevalent problem? And why, as a society, do we collectively brush this under the carpet? The one question that continues to haunt me is, where did this all start? And also, why do men think that they have the right to abuse women in this way? It led me to a few possibilities:
Can it be the the coverture doctrine? In the 12th century the term coverture was developed in the English common law, it dictated that upon marriage, a woman's legal and property rights became the husbands'. The Bible also supports this. The Ten Commandments indicate that wives were included alongside houses, donkeys, and oxen as the property of men. I left a church a few months ago in Jamaica fuming with anger, as all the pastors repeated almost the same language around women's need to be submissive.
Can it be an issue of subconscious consent? The philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote that to some extent, "The oppressed consent to their oppression." Have you heard a woman say, "It's just a man being a man" - right after this man has committed an act of violating a woman. She has just given implicit consent, and this attitude trickles down from generation to generation.
Can it be the appearance of weakness? In the animal kingdom, the male of the species is stronger and, as a result, has more control. The weaker are softer and appear physically weaker. Is the same true about human beings? Since the man can be physically stronger than the woman, is there an acceptance that men can do as they please?
My consciousness does not allow me to think about women and men in terms of strong and weak. Our physical abilities may be different, but our existence makes us equal. However, it wasn't until the conference at Seneca Falls and the work of people like Susan B. Anthony where women finally earned suffrage and equal rights after not being able to vote, serve on juries, or participate in political affairs.
So much more is required. We can create awareness, as I have witnessed with the Fi Wi Jamaica project led by Professor Rosalea Hamilton of UTech, moving across the island with programmes such as Drums Fi Life, the songwriters' competition, plays, workshops and seminars. But we also need the creation of a infrastructure to deal with GBV: funding of jails, sensitised police officers, judges, and systems to monitor.
But where do we go to start the healing and recovery of our nation?
More women than most of us realise in our little country have had experiences of domestic abuse and sexual violence, the course of their lives forever marred. The change that is needed requires a wholesale mindset shift. Women cannot fight this battle by themselves.
Slavery would not be abolished without the oppressors also accepting that it was wrong. In the same way, men must endorse the new path forward to a society without GBV. I am happy to be one of them. Are there any others out there?
- Leo Gilling is a media personality, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.