In December 2012 I met Lisa*, a jovial lady determined to get the most out of life. It was at a birthday party thrown for a younger brother and I, for his 18th and my 21st. We all had fun that night, celebrating life through dance, song and generous helpings of food. It’s been a number of years since then, but it’s a memory I’ve kept to remember Lisa by. Following a similar party a few months ago, she was raped, murdered and dumped in a cemetery by an unknown assailant.
Lisa is not alone, globally up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime, and women aged 15-44 are at greater risk of experiencing rape and domestic violence than they are cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. The bulk of these offences against women are perpetrated by men, out of control, and seeking control through domination of women’s bodies. Women are daily turned into commodities for the exercise of power by men, through brutal and subtle violence in this ‘male dominated’ world.
We serve a flawed system
I quiver to think of what goes through the mind of a man who chooses to carry out the vile acts our beloved Lisa was subjected to before and after her passing. Even worse to think that this man walks the streets today, with a murderer’s conscience, the mindset of a rapist and yet still passes as normal in his sphere of influence. How many more women will fall victim to his depraved thinking and what will it take for our social and legal systems to arrest him and the many like him across the world?
Sadly our systems continue to afford the existence of the violent man; to allow him to receive more money than his female counterparts, better access to power and permission to be irresponsible without rebuke. As our capitalist systems demand, there must always be places of excess that can be exploited by capital for it to work. Our economies thrive on the existence and creation of such areas of weakness; in similar fashion, our patriarchal societies function through the systematic oppression of women and their exploitation as excess resources for the furtherance of ‘male power’.
Daily, women are taught to be weak, submissive, silent and dependent to allow for men to occupy spaces of strength, dominance, voice and independence. A woman in an abusive home is taught by her family and in-laws to be understanding of her husband, and not to report him to the police for fear of breaking up her family and losing her source of financial support. Women and girls who are subject to violence, often by those close to them, face the difficulties of overcoming the shame, humiliation and social stigma of challenging their experiences. When some of our sisters overcome this difficulty and find their way to police stations, they face further ridicule and a veiled coercion to be ‘silent’.
Arresting violence against women and girls
To defeat violence against women and girls, we need to take responsibility for every recorded and unrecorded statistic of violence perpetrated by men against women, girls, men and boys. We need to accept that as society we have created an unfair system that sets out to punish women and reward men for the sole reason that they were born female and male. We then need to take responsibility for changing this system and to decide that we cannot afford to let this system continue. Making this decision means we allow ourselves a chance to see and work out the world differently, and to reform our own spaces of power to foster an equality of the sexes. I have decided to do so as an African man, and encourage you to take a similar stand.
I urge Governments and political representatives to expedite the arrest, conviction and sentencing of perpetrators of domestic violence. Such individuals should be taken out of their communities and placed in prison and other institutions of reform, until they are ready to respect women and girls. Let our prisons and institutions of reform actively promote gender equality through creating and delivering educational curriculum on this to inmates. Furthermore, governments should introduce a domestic violence fund provided at community level, for access by survivors of domestic violence who need support to escape such violence and take care of themselves and their children in the event of a spousal arrest.
I urge civil society groups to strengthen their community education and dialogue efforts on ending violence against women and girls. Such efforts must be carried out with increasing leadership and involvement of young people as the torchbearers of community transformation. The work of neighborhood watch committees and other citizen-led public security initiatives must be scaled up to make our nights safer and increase community ownership of efforts to end violence against women and girls.
To men, both young and older, I urge you to respect women and girls. Let’s forsake our privilege and take deliberate steps to unlearn the norms that have allowed this violence to continue. Take a moment now to verbally declare:
- ‘I commit to respecting every woman, girl, man and boy that I interact with. I will not use my power in a way that causes them distress or discomfort’.
- ‘I will use my money to take care of the people around me. I will not use it as an instrument of control over those who are dependent on my support’.
- ‘I commit to supporting every girl and woman in my sphere of influence to ensure they have an uninterrupted opportunity to find and fulfill their purpose’.
- ‘I commit to letting go of privileges I have received and taken by virtue of being a man, and to openly refuse to participate in platforms and processes that further such privilege’.
- ‘I will submit myself to authorities for rebuke, arrest and reform when I commit acts of violence against others’.
- ‘I commit to continually learning how I can be a better man, brother, husband, friend and colleague and to implement what I learn to make the world fairer for women and girls’.
I challenge you to take a step further and write this declaration down, to add to it, share it and repeat it to yourself as often as possible.
To women, both young and older, please stand for Lisa, and for every woman and girl who has been subjected to some form of violence by this system. Bear in mind that this violence thrives on silence and that by speaking out, empowering yourselves and others, and building on your strengths, you will effectively bankrupt this system. There are many, including myself, who believe in your power, and the world awaits the realization of your potential; it is within your ability to use and experience both to transform the world as we know it. You don’t have to be a ‘man’s woman’, be the woman you want to be, a ‘woman’s woman’.
There’s definitely more to be done, but these few steps will help us arrest this violence, from it roots and at its core. We can arrest violence against women and girls, and refuse it space in this ‘better world’ we seek to create. Let Lisa, and the many women whose lives have been harmed and lost be our rallying call. Let us end this violence. Happy International Women’s Day!
*Name changed to protect identity
 United Nations (2016) Resources for Speakers on Global Issues [online] Available at: http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/briefingpapers/endviol/ (Accessed on 23 February 2016)