What will all the marches against rape achieve?
You may have come across a shocking story in the news about the brutal rape of a 17 year old girl in South Africa this week. You probably also recall the global outrage following the rape and death of a young woman from India just a few weeks ago. Both of these atrocities have been accompanied by calls for marches and protests; indeed in India, a number of these took place.
I have been outraged and driven to despair hearing about what happened to these two young women (and many others before them), and like many of you probably feel, I often feel at a loss as to what can really be done to put an end to this. I’ve spent of lot of time thinking about it this week and I continue to be sceptical about the value of marches and how much they can really achieve.
The thing is, the reasons behind extremely high rates of sexual violence against women are multiple and complex; and are often rooted in persistent patriarchy and wider cultures of violence. And these issues cannot be solved by marching – not even if we march all day and every day. I believe that if we want to start addressing sexual violence against women, we need to start addressing patriarchy and gender norms – and this is something we ALL have to do. It is not enough for our countries to have Constitutions that guarantee gender equality; it is not enough for our governments to introduce laws and policies promoting equal rights for women; it is not enough for us to show outrage when such unspeakable acts happen through marches and protests and angry tweets/Facebook messages.
These things are all very important, but we also need to bring the struggle against gender based violence and sexual violence into our daily lives – we need to change the pervasive power imbalances that make it far easier for men to be violent against women; that make so many women fearful to report abuse; and that makes so many witnesses turn a blind eye.
The problem with this is that it requires us to challenge our friends, our families, the ‘nice’ people in our lives – to confront them when they make sexist comments, or to call them out on their ‘jokes’, and to question and deconstruct the stereotypes which dictate what makes a man a man, or a woman a woman.
All of this requires bravery – it is not easy to stand out to the people around you and to risk being ostracised – but I see no better cause for which to be brave for.
Photo: (two gypsy hearts, Creative Commons)