End Violence Against Women

Guest blog: Gender-Based Violence is as an abhorrence that no society should tolerate

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  The second of our two guest blogs marking the Day is by Deirdre Campbell, Coordinator of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence.  She looks at how social norms can promote the idea that women are to blame for being subjected to violence, and can influence how victims of violence are dealt with by institutions of the State. 

During my time working to support women and girls affected by violence, I remember one case in particular that deeply disappointed me. The judge found a man guilty of serious physical assault, including an attempt to strangle a woman.  He sentenced him to a 12-week membership of a gym where he could work out his anger!

I remember other instances too: the rape and murder of a young woman by a man awaiting trial for a serious sexual assault, and yet another of a man released after serving a paltry sentence for a prior offence recommitting another serious offence against a woman.

Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination, social norms and gender stereotypes that disempower women and maintain the status quo of a patriarchal mentality across our societies. It is an abhorrent abuse of women’s and girls’ right to live in dignity and free from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

Violence against women and girls, while directly perpetrated against individuals, has consequences beyond the individual: its effects ripple out to undermine all levels of society – from families to communities to entire states and their systems of government.

At an individual level, survivors may face long-term physical, sexual, reproductive, emotional and psychological consequences, as well as economic impact.

At family level, the impact can create psychological, emotional and health issues, often resulting in the breakdown of the family unit. This can further isolate and stigmatise women and children, and increase poverty.

At a community level, the consequences lead to high levels of fear, and stigmatisation.  Members of the community in question may be less productive, culminating in increased vulnerability and decreased resilience.

Finally, at the level of the entire countries, its impact can be felt across, economic, political, and legislative spheres.

How to End Gender-Based Violence

We need a range of responses to see an end to gender-based violence, including holistic services to support survivors of violence and abuse, and policy and legislative frameworks that hold perpetrators accountable and end impunity. Most of all, we need everyone to grasp that violence against women and girls is a problem for us all to eliminate. It is not just about services for women and girls and change at an individual level; we need structural and cultural change – and that means for all of us.

In recent years, we have strengthened our focus on the role of men and boys in challenging violence and shifting attitudes, and this is key to addressing violence against women and girls.  However, we must ensure that – in focusing our preventative work on men and boys – we tackle social norms that remove responsibility from the perpetrators of violence, and seek to blame, stigmatise and isolate victims.

The Influence of Social Norms

Where social norms promote the idea that victims are to blame, this is not only damaging at an individual or family level; it also influences the way institutions function.  This – in turn – influences how women and girls affected by violence are dealt with by institutions, including the institutions responsible for establishing policy and legislation, and the way policy and legislation are implemented.

Social norms lead to women being blamed for being subjected to violence.  When they inform a health institution of the violence they have experienced, for example, they may be met with disbelief or blame – attitudes that push women back into silence and disconnection from services.

In the courts, such attitudes can result in inappropriate sentencing of men found guilty of violence and abuse, as cited in the opening lines of this piece.

These attitudes in services make it harder for women experiencing violence to reach out for help, and to stay safe. They are the attitudes that keep us all from accurately placing the responsibility for this violence with the person who is abusive and the institutions and social structures that do not hold him responsible.

Let’s Stop Trivialising Violence Against Women

Just as we need the perpetrators of violence to take responsibility for their behaviour and to make safe, respectful, nonviolent choices, all of us need to take responsibility for creating safe, respectful, non-violent societies.

We need to identify how we feed sexism and gender inequalities in our societies; we need to notice how we trivialise violence against women and girls, and blame women for the violence they experience.

We all need to stand up and speak out against all forms of violence against women. We need to identify how we allow cultural, religious and social discourses to blur our vision of the real issue, and we need to seek compatibility between cultural, religious and social norms and the universal principles of human rights and gender equality.

We all have a role to play – whether as individuals, calling out sexual harassment in the street when we see it; as funders, supporting programmes and services; as organisations, delivering services to women and girls affected by violence and abuse; or as schools, working with young people to develop respectful and equal relationships.

Violence against women and girls is not inevitable and we can stop it.