16 days of activism against gender-based violence

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IT HAS been 11 days since the 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence would have ended with very little fanfare. There were some walks and discussions held; but, largely, these activities seemed to speak to people who already believed that gender-based violence was wrong, and as such, it made me wonder whether we really are doing enough to educate and sensitize people.

The ‘16 days of activism’ was an attempt to not only raise awareness and let victims know that they exist, but also to raise money to support the cause, as one of the challenges of many social change organizations is the lack of financing, which is needed for intervention programmes.

There have since been several media reports about men and women being killed, maimed and abused. It must, however, be considered that these reports, while painting a disturbing picture of the prevalence of violence in our society, are, by and large, a small number of the actual cases. When we begin to consider that the frequency with which violence reveals itself to us through newspapers, observations and social media is just a minority of the actual occurrences, it is easy for us to become disenchanted with the progress we have made so far on the eradication of gender-based violence; and the question once again is: Are we doing enough?

When I came across the story of 19-year-old Michelle Baker, the flaws in our system and the flippant way in which we treat domestic abuse victims became even more startlingly clear. Here we had a young woman who, fearing for her life, tried to obtain from the police a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, Jason Henry, but was denied one on the bases that the threat was made only once and because the two were not living together. Not long after being denied a restraining order, Baker was attacked by her boyfriend and stabbed in the neck. It was only after she had been attacked and almost killed that the police saw it fit to give her what she had initially asked for.

I’m not saying that had the order been granted she would not have been stabbed, because, if we are truly honest, restraining orders are oftentimes as worthless as the pieces of paper on which they are printed. However, it is the principle behind the denial of the order that is worrying. A woman who fears for her life and is seeking safety, no matter how apparently trivial her circumstances are, should not be denied what she seeks because of frivolous reasons, and be taken seriously only when the very thing she was trying to fight against has happened to her.

I understand that the Domestic Violence Act covers those who live in the same household, or those who are engaged in sexual relationships; but what about persons like Baker, who have left relationships and are on their own, but are still being threatened, injured and killed?

We cannot, on one hand, be encouraging victims to break free, come forward and fight back; and on the other hand tell them that they may be the wrong type of abuse victim. This helps to perpetuate the culture of violence we have for centuries been fighting against, and effectively diminishes any meaningful conversation and action we may have in regard to the protection of victims. We need to being using every available tool there is to ensure that victims are protected, particularly if they are actively seeking that protection.

We need to stop sitting on the sidelines and expecting everything to change miraculously; that’s not the way it works. Even those of us who are involved tend to fall victim to the very stasis affecting everyone, as we become preoccupied with our workshops, seminars, fundraisers and walks, rather than taking the conversation where it needs to be: in the streets, homes, and schools.

As pointed out by Vidyaratha Kissoon in ‘The Coil” on GT Mosquito, “It is much easier to come up with the list of things which need to be done, and do this over and over again.”