On 7 February 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution 54/134, officially designating 25 November as the International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In doing so, governments, international organisations and NGOs were invited to join together and organise activities designed to raise public awareness of the issue every year on that date. 25 November is the Orange day.
As much as this day is significant and telling, I often wonder if dedicating a day, a colourful day, is enough to eliminate violence against women on the ground. Not to mention what the effectiveness of these ongoing campaigns, hashtags, photos, videos, blog and vlogs, and the endless events and statements by the officials, everywhere, actually is.
This morning I was listening to a famous European radio station, hailing and celebrating this day, the host of the program (a woman) interviewed women from all over the world, yet none of the women were from Europe, as if this problem is non-European and the audience is not in Europe.
The sad truth is that women are the victims of violence in wartime as well as in peace, in Europe as well as abroad, in rich and poor countries, among women of all colours and origins. The victims are frequently within the confines of their own homes and relationships. The violence can come in many forms. It can come slowly creeping in, or it can happen all of a sudden and with great intensity. For some, it is something that happens occasionally, for others it is part of an all too agonising pattern.
“The sad truth is that women are the victims of violence in wartime as well as in peace, in Europe as well as abroad, in rich and poor countries, among women of all colours and origins”
Today, most officials published videos and statements agreeing that Violence against women should stop and that, unfortunately, the journey to end this is still too long. Similar speeches, different words, endless promises, countless initiatives, yet the results are appalling.
Violence is like terrorism, it has no religion, and is not a cultural, regional or a national brand. Violence has no boundaries, nor nationality. Violence starts at home and in the education system. Eliminating violence against women starts by educating the boys and men to respect their mothers, sisters, daughters and female friends.
It is a natural cultivation of the male mindset that the female in front of him is not less, is not weaker, she is a human just like him, made of flesh and blood, feels the pain, has dignity and aspirations in life. The female figure is not his to take out his suppressions, sadness, insecurities and cowardness on.
Violating women is not a simple act which we need only dedicate a colourful day for, the regulatory apparatus should and must come with the most severe punishments and dedicate funds to women’s education and the introduction of programs that can help men at any age to identify and face their psychological problems.
Women are the victims for sure, but by over profiling that women are victims, we only enforce the stereotype that women cannot do anything and are helpless.
We should also remember that violence is not only physical. Verbal and mental violence are hard to detect, even by the victims themselves, as they become a sponge to the verbal abuse. This leads to long lasting psychological challenges in women’s lives, with women often ashamed and embarrassed to share that they are being abused and violated, due to social pressure and cultural expectations. This discourse should change radically.
These campaigns and initiatives should, first and foremost, project women as equal to men and not less. The message has to focus more on the consequences that men could suffer from, rather than ask them polity to treat women nicely. The projection of a weaker position of women in society must stop.
Second, the efforts would be more impactful if they are built on the strengths of women and their contributions to the world, in a scenario of ‘What if there were no women?’
Third, international funding should be dedicated to reform the educational curricula, with lessons focusing on the different forms of abuse, in order to educate men of the consequences of violence against women.
Fourth, in many institutions and multinationals, testing for drug use is a norm. Wouldn’t it be helpful if men of all ages, and any seniority, could go through physiological testing to verify their state and conduct with their wives, partners, daughters, or even colleagues, and make it as part of their performance appraisal, which could complicate their official appointments and promotions.
Fourth, in spite of all the nice words and good intentions, enough with the colours and the sympathetic messages on social media. We have tried it, and it does not work. Instead, you should ask yourself, what - if anything - you have actually done to change the situation.
“If we cannot stop the violence that is right by our side, in our homes, how do we hope to stop it anywhere, or pretend to do so? The choice is ours”
Did you ever talk to a friend who is the recipient of violence? Did you lend a shoulder to cry on, offer your support or take any kind of action? Did you encourage reporting it to the police? In case you “just” suspect someone you know is experiencing violence, did you bother to check if it happens and if they maybe need help?
We should all ask these questions to ourselves because, if we read the statistics on the problem, it is clear that you do know a victim of violence, and you do know someone who is committing that violence. In fact, next time you are in a meeting room, reception or an event, or nowadays an e-event in Brussels or elsewhere, if you look around you, you will find both; those committing the violence and those suffering from it.
If you have never bothered checking with anyone, you have contributed to a cult of silence that still prevails around the issue. This is why I say, and out of personal experience, enough with the colours and with the messages on social media, enough with the blogging and vlogging and buying endless amount of orange scarfs. If you truly want to help eliminate violence against women, take action.
Take action in your close circles, not just by supporting action in a faraway land and pretending to save women in developing countries, and posting selfies, because the violence exists here as well, very close to all of us. If we cannot stop the violence that is right by our side, in our homes, how do we hope to stop it anywhere, or pretend to do so? The choice is ours.