“I was once talking to a black man about gender”, the famous Nigerian author Chimamanda Adiche said, “and he said to me, “Why do you have to say ‘my experience as a woman’? Why can’t it be ‘my experience as a human being’?” Now, this is the same man who would often talk about his experience as a black man.”
Most people tend to have the same question that man had for Chimamanda. Why does it have to be about gender? Why do you have to call rape or domestic violence “Gender Based Violence” or “Violence Against Women”? Why can’t it be just ‘violence’? Why do you have to make it gender issue? True, it is a human right but we need to be specific about certain things. The name comes from the attribute of the problem.
So yes, it is called Gender Based Violence (GBV) because the violence targets specific group based on their sex. If a man was robbed by a group of gangs in the middle of the night, we wouldn’t call it Gender Based Violence because the gangs attacked him not because he was a man but because he is just a human being who was there at their convenience to be robbed. However, if this man gets raped by a group of men or women, although the possibility of the later is too little, we can call that Gender Based Violence for he was attacked because he was a man. Same goes for women’s case, if a woman is attacked at dusk and the gangs were after her jewelry or other material possessions, it will not be any different than the man who was robbed. Nonetheless, if the woman was sexually harassed by these gangs, then that makes the whole story different and the case falls under Gender Based Violence for the attack happened solely because she was a woman.
For most times, Gender Based Violence is used synonymously with Violence Against Women (VAW). Even though the two are different concepts, the first thing that comes to people’s mind when GBV is mentioned is VAW because most cases regarding GBV target women. Although the main reason for women to be subjects of GBV is the centuries old gender inequality, some people give it blind eye thinking they are two sides of the same coin.
Gender inequality is the notion as well as the practice of considering women unequal with men and with that it dashes women out of all the rights they are entitled to have as human beings. Denying them of different opportunities and considering them nothing but sexual objects can be examples of gender inequality. Telling little girls they should stay at home and help mom instead of going to school, telling them they should strive to become good wives, mutilating their genitals to make them sexually inactive (FGM), forcing them for sex because they are defenseless or because they are considered as sexual objects (rape), tending to control their lives and beating them for every other reason (domestic violence), etc are some common examples of VAW that arise from gender inequality.
Who is responsible for this social dismal? Is it women who are supposed to defend themselves? Is it men who should protect them? Is it families who are supposed to teach their kids? Is it the law that needs to be changed? Is it the police who is should be there to protect them? Who can make a change to make things better and wipe out the term “gender inequality” or “Violence Against Women” because they no longer are problems?
The famous blogger and writer Hiwot Emishaw once wrote a short story about a girl who got her first period when she was in her classroom and she tells her friend hoping she would help her. However, her friend gave her off for the classmates and the whole class ended up teasing and embarrassing her making her uncomfortable – any girl would know how having the first period would feel. Shortly, the teacher finds out and calms the class down. The girl felt little relived thinking the teacher was by her side. But it didn’t take him too long before he mocked her in his own way to which the class had another reason to laugh at her. Later on, she asked her friend why she did that to her, “because they did the same thing to me last year when I had my first period.” she answered unapologetically.
The story shows a glimpse of our society. How we fail to protect the victim and how empathy has almost fled out the window. So whose fault is it? Clearly, the society. We can tell women that they should speak up for themselves and defend their rights, we can tell men that they should respect women, we can preach about gender equality or pass a new law or modify the existing one to scare potential perpetrators… we can think of different ideas but we should keep in mind that all of these are intertwined to each other and need a collective effort of the society. We need to unlearn a lot of cultural teachings that belittle women and rob of their human rights. We need to raise our children in a way they find the idea of gender inequality too bizarre…in a way that we don’t need to tell our boys they are equal with girls or teach girls they are equal with boys because naturally, it should go without saying. We need to have a better punishment system for those who go out of line…society should give perpetrators the greatest punishment more than just putting them behind bars. We should know who to blame when such things happen and remember it is never the victims fault. Generally, we should unlearn so many cultural and societal notions that drove us into this social chaos. We should all be concerned and dream of a world where the terms “gender inequality”, “Gender Based Violence” or “Violence Against Women” don’t even exist – because they simply don’t need to.