Last Sunday was the 19th International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Even today, many women suffer daily abuse in silence – especially in countries outside of Europe. According to UNWomen, more than a third of women worldwide have been victims of either physical or sexual violence. Hundreds of cases are reported daily and a very small minority of those lead to actual charges. When they do get to court, we often see debacles like the recent rape trial in County Cork, Ireland. A 17-year-old rape victim was humiliated by having her underwear showcased in court by the judge. The defence lawyer essentially claimed that “she was asking for it” because she was wearing the exhibited thong when the attack happened. Her 27-year-old attacker was found innocent and the rape case was promptly swept under the carpet.
However, the case ended up generating attention from women worldwide. Protests and social media campaigns developed– women were posting photos of their underwear with the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent and some took the trial to the streets of Ireland while marching in their underwear in order to raise awareness and end victim blaming.
Trials like these are precisely the main reason that many survivors of violence choose to not report their cases. The majority of women are terrified of having their credibility publicly questioned or experiencing retribution from their attacker. It is heart-breaking to know that so many women endure domestic violence on a daily basis. I personally know victims who have to live with severe PTSD while their rape case is stuck in someone’s office because there is not enough ‘evidence’.
Although campaigns like #MeToo have contributed to the conversation, social media activism is not enough. We need to tackle the root cause of all forms of violence – and contrary to what some may be saying, men are not the root cause. The problem is the rot within the system – it is the social construct of masculinity. Our focus should be on what is being taught to boys, to our sons and our brothers. Not only is the system teaching lies but it is also making men isolated, emotionally unavailable, and unable to relate to one another. Nurturing aggression and playing the role of ‘alpha male’ does not do anyone any favours. It further perpetuates deep-seeded insecurities and toxic masculinity that both need to be seriously addressed in classrooms and during one’s early development.
How do we reduce and prevent violence if it happens at homes, behind closed doors and away from the public? We need to listen to the stories that are slowly coming to light, check on our friends regularly, and if something does not feel right we need communicate with each other and show support. Let’s take these days to listen but also break the silence, empower women, support them in their businesses, and promote more services that help them deal with PTSD and other issues that survivors of violence have to cope with. These 16 days of activism concerns all genders and people of all backgrounds. We must pay close attention to the examples we are setting to others in our society. We need to make the prevention of violence an everyday practice.
Kate Shylo is a master student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.