As far as women’s movements are concerned, 2013 has been an intense year.
Emotions are running high, protestors are gaining courage, the media is paying attention, and around the world, some people in positions of authority are continuing to make ignorant and insensitive comments and choices.
It has, indeed, been a big year for women, and it’s only January 9.
The fatal gang rape of a woman in India garnered worldwide media coverage. Hers was certainly not the first tragic sexual assault to transpire on Indian soil, but was one of the most galvanising of the modern era.
Journalists and commentators around the world have suggested the incident made international headlines for two reasons – the Indian population is getting younger and thus more likely to challenge an ingrained culture, and the rise of social media means news can travel across the globe in Twitter-time.
The story of the 23-year-old girl in India sparked demonstrations against sexual violence not only in New Delhi, but also in Nepal and Egypt. Women in conflict-ridden Somalia are reportedly staging their first-ever protest against rape and sexual violence, and One Billion Rising is a movement women from all over the world are staging on February 14 against violence.
One Billion Rising organiser Eve Ensler has called this point in history a “catalytic moment” for women, a time for the world to start thinking about “subjugation, rape, and degradation of women globally”.
Women’s organisations around the world are heralding the coming of a new age for domestic and sexual violence awareness. They’re also reminding us that this isn’t just India’s problem.
“That’s what I find so frustrating about (the India story),” Rape Crisis England and Wales trustee Jo Wood told England’s Channel 4 News. “Everyone’s appalled about what’s happened in India. But I want to tell people – this is happening next door, right here in the UK.”
A Canadian newspaper ran a story about India’s dismal human rights record, especially in the area of sexual violence against women, but called on its readers to first examine their own country’s transgressions.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re (number one) and India is dead last if we aren’t committed to protecting women just as we are urging India to be,” the article says.
The United States is offering India money to protect its women. Ironic, then, how its Congress just voted not to re-authorise the Violence Against Women Act, which funds protective services for abused women at home and strengthens penalties for offenders. The majority of Congress decided the act was too costly to sustain.
We need to think globally but to act locally. Each nation should be part of the global conversation about sexual violence, but its priority should be to fix the problem at home – to protect victims, to penalise perpetrators, to educate men and women.
What’s happening in the Cook Islands’ own backyard?
Mereana Taikoko, Marjorie Crocombe and Va’ine Ko’ai authored a brilliant chapter in ‘Akono’anga Maori: Cook Islands Culture’ about domestic violence, in which they suggest that the Cook Islands “suffer(s) as much or more than many other countries” from this societal ill. They also suggest that it’s time to shine a light into this dark evil.
“We who have worked with victims of violence believe that we all need to talk about it, read about it and write about it, to encourage better understanding of the issue and how to handle it,” they write. That’s because “our silence encourages the abusers to carry on”. Simple as that.
Time Magazine ran an article analysing sexual violence in India, which makes the globally applicable arguments “that many still view rape as personal shame, not a violent crime, and male aggression is routinely excused as a mundane fact of life”.
The article adds that “retrograde ideas about a woman’s ‘place’ in society, socioeconomic insecurity and a crude yearning for power add other dimensions” to the problem.
It’s ugly stuff.
Call me a dreamer, but I believe that change begins with one. I can’t resist employing a clich here, because it rings so true:
Change begins with you. It begins with me.
Together we can stop blaming victims. We can encourage our sisters and mothers and mates to leave their abusive partners, and shelter them when they make that courageous decision. We can start talking about this silent epidemic.
We don’t have to be complacent. We don’t have to accept this scourge as the status quo. We can “no longer condone the view that what happens in the home is no one else’s business”, say Taikoko and Crocombe and Ko’ai, because “like cannibalism, (domestic violence) is a carryover from the past that we can do without”.
The tide is changing. Change with it.
Uncle Norm says “we will never be able to declare no more domestic violence in the world” because “it does happen whether we like it or not”. I know it will take time – generations, even – but it’s time to start proving him wrong.
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