Last week my daughter came home from school and asked me if I knew what White Ribbon day was. I did not know what it was and she briefly explained to me what the day was about. A few of her teachers had taken part in a training workshop on violence against women and discussed it with her and her classmates.
I am glad that her teacher raised such an important issue and trusted the children’s sensibilities to talk about it and learn something from the discussion. It is a topic that is quite pervasive in our societies, but is often not openly discussed. When I asked my daughter what she understood about violence against women from the discussion, she said that it was about men hitting their wives, partners, friends or even strangers and that it was not ok. As I am an admittedly over-protective mom, I felt compelled to tell her that violence comes in many forms and that she should trust her feelings. If it does not feel right, it is most definitely not right.
At one point or another, many of us have witnessed or experienced violence against women, in its many guises, subtle or unsubtle, physical or non-physical. It could be as simple as the boyfriend whose girlfriend had to be contactable and tell him where she was at and who she was with at all times, regardless. It could be the boyfriend who constantly belittled his girlfriend in private. It could be the husband who expected his wife to be a 24/7 dedicated mother, refusing to babysit the kids. It could be the partner who used money as leverage. It could also be the boys/men who harassed, threatened, bullied or mocked a female friend, schoolmate or colleague based on her physical features or any other attributes that the boys/men decided to be fair game.
Onlookers, friends and family tend to not know what to do in these situations, especially those in which no physical harm is involved. Some well-meaning friends and family may advise the victim to smooth things out or let it go. Some blessed brave souls might take the perpetrator to task. But, most will ignore it, believing that it is not in their place to intervene and that the woman at the receiving end is an adult and should just leave her partner or the situation.
Violence against women, especially domestic violence, often starts very mildly. The perpetrator could almost sniff out the “right” target, testing the water with somewhat trivial matters at the beginning, gradually escalating it to the next level. It can be a debilitating situation for the victim. Outbursts of anger and abuse are often followed by profuse apologies (accompanied by victim blaming) and periods of peace and over-the-top kind acts, leaving the victim confused about what to do.
Whether the violence is physical or not, if it has gone on long enough, the victim could start to internalise it. She may end up believing that maybe she could behave better, maybe she did worsen the argument, maybe she should have apologised for all her faults sooner or maybe she is simply not good enough for her partner or for anyone else for that matter. Leaving may thus seem too hard and pointless to the victim because both the present and the future appear hopeless. Therefore, non-physical violence is another form of violence that could also scar and change a person in the most profound, albeit unobvious way.
Parents, family, friends and colleagues may feel that the boy/man they know is too sweet and unassuming to be a perpetrator or the girl/woman they know is too strong willed and feisty to be a victim. Still, as people are not one-dimensional, outward appearances can be very deceiving.
White Ribbon day which falls on November 25, is still months away. For the sake of our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, daughters, nieces, friends and fellow female beings, however, it is a day that should be in our minds every day. Please visit the White Ribbon website to get resources on violence against women and find out how you can get involved.