First in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. November 25 is the International Day for the elimination of Violence Against Women. Photo: The Hunger Project-Bangladesh. Acid attack survivors speak out.
Will we males ever stop abusing women? This issue is so fundamental to all other human progress that each of us needs to learn how to make it our top and most urgent priority.
Gender-based violence is the tip of the iceberg of human attitudes and behaviors that results in war and the devastation of our environment. Google “wife beating found acceptable” and you’ll discover hundreds of studies finding that large percentages of people consider it acceptable for husbands to beat their wives – and often more women than men confess to that belief.
There is a name for this iceberg: patriarchy.
Pervasive brutality against women is not only the result of a few twisted individuals who should face criminal punishment – although that is certainly part of the answer. Gender-based violence is the inevitable consequence of a deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset affecting every aspect of life. We all need to wake up to this malignancy and confront it in every aspect of life.
Patriarchy is a paradigm that says there must be an iron-willed top person – usually male – willing and able to ruthlessly rule over everyone and everything. Patriarchy emerged at a time of violently-competing tribes, when fearful people were willing to sacrifice anything to be protected by a tough guy. And, as we’ve seen today, tough guys can generate tribal fears to ride to power. This has not only shaped national governments – leading to war – but also top-down structures in all aspects of society and in our relations to Mother Earth.
At the end of World War II, people saw the ultimate consequence of this social structure – massive devastation that could end all life on the planet. They wisely set about creating a new world, based on the principle that “all human beings are born equal in rights and dignity.”
That was a lifetime ago. Many people have forgotten those horrors. Today we seem willing to tolerate levels of dehumanization in our quest for perceived safety.
Fortunately, as the influential philosopher of education Paulo Freire pointed out – while humanization and dehumanization are both options in history, only one is a calling – a vocation. And as he points out, the leadership for social transformation emerges from the oppressed. Millions of women – and hopefully thousands of men who stand in solidarity with them – are awakening to the calling of humanization – of demanding equal human dignity for every person – of building social, economic and environmental structures based on cooperation, sustainability and solidarity.
This transformation is profound, and those who are “woke” to this epoch struggle to supplant patriarchy with justice must recognize how patriarchy affects every aspect of life – starting with its remnants in our own minds, in our everyday social interactions, in our work life and communities and on up.
The purpose of gender-based violence is to strip women of dignity and freedom. Halting gender-based violence not only restores dignity to victims – it reaffirms dignity for all. It shines light on the evil inherent in patriarchy, and it liberates the creativity and leadership of all women and girls held back by the ever present threat of violence. It is their leadership that will usher in a new future for all humanity and our planet home.