“The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence” – Martin Luther King.
By: Akínpèlú Yūsuf O.
In 1909, New York witnessed the much-acclaimed Shirt Waist Strike spurred by Clara Lemlich’s impassioned speech. This came on the backlight of poor wages, gender discrimination, unfair treatment that women had to endure. Following Clara’s speech, over 20,000 women joined in the course to echo their voices against blatant injustice. They succeeded in getting their voices heard, improving their living condition . In this, like in many others, women turned their table around from the dark tunnel of injustice to the sunlit path of equity, from the waves of discrimination to the shores of fairness. Following this success of over five-score years ago, women’s searchlight for freedom, which is as old as human existence, still beams its ray into the dark tunnel of injustice against them.
The Zimbabweans would often say that what is horned cannot be wrapped. The age-old gender bias is a horned problem which cannot be concealed. Problems ranging from female genital mutilation, girl-child marriage, violence against women, gender inequity to sexual assault are some of the many problems faced by women. It is important to continuously discuss and find solutions to these problems affecting women in our society as they form an integral part of any society’s development. This essay therefore concisely discusses the problems facing women in the society and proffers possible solutions to them.
The Oxford Dictionary of English defines violence “as a violent behaviour intended to harm or kill somebody.” Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Third Edition, explains it in clearer terms as “actions or words which are intended to hurt people.” In other words, it is any act that hurts or kills emotionally, mentally, physically, sexually and even health-wise. So, it could come in different forms as unsolicited taunts of any nature, leering, making obscene gestures, rape, beating.
Moving on, The United Nations take it a step further by defining violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, sexual harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” In essence, it is the denial of women their own due, their own right. Sadly, this problem is forever making wave.
Worldwide, it is estimated that 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. This follows to say that at least one in every three women, in her lifetime, has experienced any form of violence.
The report – despite the fact that getting accurate statistics on physical and sexual violence is difficult due to stigma, fear, shame and underreporting – further states that Southeast Asia is the most affected region with 37.7% of women experiencing violence, followed closely is Eastern Mediterranean with 37%.
In Africa alone, 36.6% of women are violence-prone. On fourth in the ranking is Europe with 25.4%. In fact, 43% of women in 28 European Union Member States have experienced some of the psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Completing the ranking is Western Pacific with 24.6%. Even in the United States, the so-called cradle of equity, approximately 50% of the homeless women and children are on the street because of violence in their homes . Going by this, maybe we could say that by statistics, women are safer on the streets than in their home!
Back home, here in Nigeria, the outrageous figures are ever-soaring! The National Demographic and Health Survey in 2008 proves that domestic violence cut across all socio-economic group and cultural background in the country. The report shows that “28% of all women”, totally close to one-third of Nigerian women, “have experienced physical violence.” This, no doubt, is a significant number “in a country of almost 160 million, where almost half are women”. Sadly, the report further states that 43% of women believe that wife-beating is justifiable on mental repulsive grounds of burning of food, arguing with husband, going out without permission. As it can be seen, violence against women is not only a global issue but a pressing one which requires a proper address.
Clearly, the pitfall of violence is a real situation that thrives on a myriad of reasons and means. First is the media. The commodification of women as sexual object and mere body parts for men’s sexual satisfaction has contributed to the normalisation of sexual assault. The nudity of women being flaunted in advertisements, rock and pop music, films, pornographies has debased the status of women to mere sex-butterfly, causing free doom sexually, rather than the sexual freedom it depicts.
Also, cultural belief about women rights is another of such reasons. It is this that further escalates the problem of violence by making women justify violence against their own selves. Some of these beliefs are contained in our traditional proverbs. For instance, it is proverbial in Gambia: “beat your wife regularly…if you do not understand, she will” Also, the Rajasthan tribe of India would tell us that “the nails of a cart and the head of a woman: they work only when they are hit harder” “Affection begins at the end of a rod” , the Koreans like to say. “A woman, a dog and a walnut tree – the harder you beat them, the better they be” are the words of the Europeans. Beliefs like these, not just normalise violence, they culturally legalise it. This problem, rather than be subdued, is heightened by underreporting, reporting to wrong authorities and undue endurance all in the name of submissiveness often echoed by our cultural rubric. However, in the midst of these problems, lie their solutions.
In the bid to end violence against women, we must develop a global educational curriculum that stems all forms of violence. This is achievable by teaching early enough in school why violence is an anti-social behaviour through literature texts, textbooks that preach against violence. Also, we must look beyond just educating children’s mind; moral uplift must be paid attention to.
Likewise, efforts must be made in weaving a society where men and women are respectfully interdependent on each other. Reports have shown that women with education are less likely to experience domestic violence. This points out to the fact that through holistic education and empowerment, violence can be kerbed. This will equalise the status accorded to women in the society in terms of dependability.
We must not stop here. We must design professional guidelines and codes of conduct which address violent, degrading and pornographic materials concerning women in the media. Media contents must be ensured are as women-friendly as possible. The depiction of women body as a temple of sexual-inebriation is long overdue if violence against them must stop. Through these guidelines, media displays and contents will be regulated and checkmated.
From the foregoing, though the media is part of the problem, the truth is that the media is also a solution. Through dissemination of information aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women, violence can be expunged from our society. This will, more than before, create public awareness, keeping everyone informed about the evils inherent in violence. Doing so, violence will cease to be seen as normal but rather a misnomer. This can be done by producing more informative programmes, jingles, newspaper columns, hashtags, on this subject matter.
Also, adopted and legalised laws on violence must be compliant with international standards and recommendations and put to practice. At least 119 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, 125 on sexual harassment and 52 on marital rape , yet cases of violence persist. As an empty sac cannot stand, so also these existing laws would be useless when not followed to the letter. If we must stop violence, our laws practicality must be upped. It is then we can look into the future and relish the good that awaits us.
In those days, women were defenceless and voiceless. But as time grew, the world became safer for women. This is because people’s – men and women alike – understanding of violence against women is growing by the day. Looking into the future, with a continuous discussion of this issue, in the bid to end it, more people will get better understanding of violence. That way, everyone will see violence as should be seen: something that if we do not end now will put an end to us soon.
Looking forward, our voice against violence must be louder than ever. Today’s gloomy skyline in the women’s world will have a fat ray of light in their future’s skyline if our collective voices are never tired of fighting violence against women. However, mere saying is not enough; we all have to show it like Clara Lemlich did. No oppressor is willing to let go of the oppressed. No one will give women freedom unless we demand it. To achieve this, it begins with you and me.