Gender Based Violence

by Grace Ndanu

A photo of a woman crying. Her face is bruised.
Source: UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Creative Commons

It is believed that Gender Based Violence existed from long time ago as a result of male dominance and power, meaning women were left inferior. Generally GBV stops girls from reaching their potential, where by there is a lot of working to transform attitudes towards girls and women that perpetuate violence against them. That is why women are trying to negotiate with the men that they can be equal, but men want to maintain their dominance, which causes an increase in GBV cases.

GBV occurs almost everywhere now, and the girls and women are the victims. Stating at home, children’s vulnerabilities to violence stem from the fact that they depend on their parents or caregivers for their development health and wellbeing. Girls and young women often experience violence at home, from physical punishment to sexual, emotional or psychological violence. Acceptance of violence as a private affair often prevents others from intervening and prohibits girls and young women from reporting in the name of keeping the family name clean.

In primary and high school the violence rate is low unlike in the college and universities. This is because there are strict rules and supervision, which is not the case in colleges and universities around the world. While in college a girl is considered to be an adult. Also, her parents are far away, so anyone she has the freedom to do whatever she wants, including engage in sexual relationships. In these relationships the boys often want to take charge of girl’s life. At this point most of the girls already know their rights and hence they will never accept to be dominated. Unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to gender based violence because the boys will still fight to maintain the “man’s “position in a girl’s life.

In the work place the top positions are designed for men, including the managers, directors and supervisors, while women are secretaries and cleaners. Gender based violence is likely in situations where a qualified female is expected to perform sexual favors to management in order to get a promotion.

Gender based virulence is also a rising issue in online spaces with girls and young women reporting harassment and abuse. For many girls, there is a pressure to leave online platforms. I am opposed to this because these are the places where most girls and young women get to know their capabilities and strengths through interaction with different types of people. But girls need to be careful in these spaces.

Gender based violence occurs in all parts of the world, but the risk is higher where violence is normalized and where rigid concepts of gender exist. In many cultures, especially the developing countries, violence towards girls and young women is accepted as a social norm. Here comes a saying of an African woman who is strongly tied to culture “a husband who does not beat his wife does not love her”. And the woman herself will ask her husband to beat her. This must be challenged as a matter of urgency, the blame, shame and stigma faced by victims must be eliminated.

Violence should never be a private matter and everyone should be aware of this starting from the youngest to the oldest. So that it can be challenged. Ending GBV will involve action at all levels; strengthening legislation and criminalizing the violence, challenging social norms that condone violence and prosecuting the perpetrators.

Children should learn about gender equality at school, just as it is important to promote integrational dialogue on violence against children. Community dialogue can challenge dominance that brings about gender based violence.

Everybody has a responsibility to promote and strengthen values that support nonviolent, respectful, positive gender equitable relationships for all children and adolescents, including the most vulnerable and excluded.

Young girls and women are encouraged to speak up about the issues they face which embolden them to speak up for change. On the other side young men are encouraged to identity and challenge harmful and negative masculinities that perpetuate discrimination and violence.

#MeToo’s Moment of Reckoning: Sexual Assault in the Spotlight

by Dianna Bai

Disclaimer: This blog post focuses primarily on women and girls who are victims of sexual assault and harassment, though the author acknowledges that both men and women are survivors.

a protest sign that reads "Can you hear me now? #MeToo
Can You Hear Me Now? #MeToo. Source: Alec Perkins, Creative Commons

The nation was transfixed on September 27 when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about her memories of sexual assault, she alleges, at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers. Hailed as a “cultural moment” that is couched in the grander chorus of the #MeToo movement, Ford’s quiet, emotional, and powerful testimony serves as a reckoning for women who have suffered in silence for so many years. After Dr. Ford’s testimony, women and men across the country used the hashtag #IBelieveHer to show their support. Two sexual assault survivors confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator on Capitol Hill, possibly the reason why he decided to call for an FBI investigation before the Senate vote on Judge Kavanaugh.

Whether or not Dr. Ford’s testimony changes the Senate vote, she will be a positive example for legions of women who have been afraid to tell their stories. The #MeToo movement is about women taking back their power. As the movement founder Tarana Burke said, “Everyday people…. are living in the aftermath of a trauma that tried, at the very worst, to take away their humanity. This movement at its core is about the restoration of that humanity… They have freed themselves from the burden that holding on to these traumas often creates and stepped into the power of release, the power of empathy and the power of truth.”

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault

The prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment is staggering in the United States and worldwide.

  • Sexual assault is any sexual activity that the victim does not consent to, including rape and sexual coercion. It can happen through force or the threat of force or if the perpetrator gave the victim drugs or alcohol as part of the assault.
  • Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace or other social situation.

Scores of men in power have recently been exposed for sexual assault and sexual harassment by the #MeToo movement. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are problems that penetrate every level of society and every industry: politics, business, the media, and academia among them. These are only the industries in which women have been most vocal as part of the #MeToo movement. Workers in low wage industries face the most exploitation and are less likely to go public with their stories. According to the National Women’s Law Center, sexual harassment is most severe in low wage industries, including the service industry. In the fast food industry, for example, around 40 percent of women have experienced unwanted sexual behaviors on the job and 42 percent of those women felt that they could voice a complaint for fear of losing their jobs. In the #MeToo era, men in high profile industries have been publicly exposed by the media. In the industries that do not dominate the imaginations of the public, employers are even less likely to take sexual harassment and sexual assault seriously because they do not fear a public relations crisis.

Sexual Assault

The National Crime Victimizations survey estimates that there were over 320,000 incidents of rape and sexual assault in the United States in 2016. Two-thirds of them will go unreported. It is a social phenomenon according to many scholars. The human rights organization, Stop Violence Against Women, puts it this way, “Social conditions, such as cultural norms, rules, and prevailing attitudes about sex, mold and structure the behavior of the rapists within the context of the broader social system, fostering rape-prone environments…”

Culture is pervasive and omnipresent, creating a powerful influence over the everyday behaviors of people. Gendered norms are ingrained ideas that help define the role of men and women in society and what is acceptable or not. Gender studies scholar Melissa Berger argues that despite being a highly developed country, “American culture and society is imbued with gendered norms relating to domination, over-sexualization, violation, and power and control over women and girls. In fact, violence against women is so pervasive that some scholars have argued that America has a culture of rape, domination, and victimization of women.”

Some of these attitudes include:

  • Men are dominant
  • Male are entitled to sex
  • Manhood is tied to sexual conquest
  • The woman’s body is a sexual object
  • Women should be pure

Even if a country denounces sexual violence against women on the surface, implicit biases may render such behavior acceptable. These prevailing attitudes, whether implicit or explicit, contribute to the continued oppression of women in American society. A Yale law professor pioneering research on the #MeToo movement emphasizes that sexual assault and harassment are typically manifestations of sexism rather than sexual desire. Some men attempt to prove their manhood or worth by denigrating women.

The controversy over sexual assault has left an indelible mark on college campuses in recent years. From student complaints filed at Columbia University for systematic mishandling of sexual assault allegations to the rape convictions of student athletes at Vanderbilt University, Baylor University and Stanford University in the past five years, universities have had to come to terms with their campus cultures. Twenty to twenty-five percent of college women have been victims of forced sex. A researcher who conducted surveys of college students over two decades found that between 16 to 20 percent of men said they would commit rape if they were certain to get away with it. That number rises to 36 to 44 percent if the question was reworded as “force a woman to have sex.” Many colleges are actively trying to change their culture as it relates to sexual violence, spearheading campus wide campaigns to educate students about sexuality, consent, and intervention.

New laws can affect the culture of sexual assault in a significant way, changing how university administrators respond to sexual assault and encourage or discourage victims from coming forward. Legally, it’s been a delicate balancing act between protecting the rights of victims and the accused. The Obama Administration required the lowest standard of proof, a “preponderance of evidence” in deciding whether a student is responsible for sexual assault. A “preponderance of evidence” means that universities must find the accused to have more than likely committed the crime. The Trump Administration’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has enacted new policies that require a higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence,” meaning that it is must be highly probable that the assault occurred. These new guidelines certainly send a signal that there will be less protection for students who report sexual assault. Critics of the Trump Administration argue that the new policy will discourage students from reporting sexual assaults and give universities the opportunity to drastically decrease its attention to sexual assault without retribution from the government or legal systems.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is not about sex but the abuse of power. The social psychologist Dacher Keltner writes in the Harvard Business Review that feeling powerful can lead to an increase of sexual harassment. “Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum — and worse.” Institutions where systems of power are in place are fertile grounds from which abuses of power arise.

The EEOC reported in 2016 that approximately 1 in 4 women have been sexually harassed in the workplace. Think about the implications of that statistic. Everywhere, women (and men) are wearing the invisible scars of abuse whether in the workplace or school. The National Women’s Law Center estimates that 70 to 90 percent of these cases go unreported since victims do not want to derail their careers, cause themselves embarrassment, or believe that nothing will be done. The attitudes of powerful men and victimized women reveal that sexual harassment is clearly very much a cultural problem. We live in a culture that can denigrate the dignity of women at work and in school.

a #metoo sign
Source: GGAADD, Creative Commons

The consequences for women

The most distressing aspect of the widespread, societal problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment is the destructive effects it can have women’s physical and mental health in the long run. Aside from the physical pain and discomfort, victims of sexual assault frequently suffer from post-traumatic stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, and low self esteem, among other consequences. One important aspect of Dr. Ford’s testimony was how she described the impact it had on her life. A trained psychologist, she said the trauma caused by her sexual assault “derailed her life” for four or five years and affected her academic performance in the first two years of university. Decades later, she still needed to talk about the incident in therapy and suggested to her husband that they install a second front door — an escape route — for their home.

For women who have experienced sexual harassment on the job, it often means that their careers will suffer. It can lead to a loss of wages from taking leave for physical or psychological distress and sometimes voluntarily leaving the job for a better environment. One recent study showed that about 80% of women who have been harassed leave their jobs within two years. A recent case from the #MeToo movement, the case of Stanford political science professor Terry Karl, is an example. As an assistant professor at Harvard University in the 1980s, she had been sexually harassed by a senior faculty member who had the power to give her a promotion. Although she filed a formal complaint with the university, it was ultimately she who decided to leave Harvard while he stayed on as faculty and gained increasing renown.

#MeToo Around the World & the Inevitable Backlash

The United Nations estimates that 30 percent of all women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence from intimate partners or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. The sheer number of women who have experienced sexual harassment across the globe is also astonishing. Here is only a sampling: 57% of women in Bangladesh, 79% of women in India, 99% of women in Egypt (from a survey carried out in seven regions), 40% of women in the U.K. have experienced harassment in public places.

Addressing a problem of global proportions, it’s no wonder the #MeToo movement has spread quickly to other countries. In the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, India, Africa, and the Middle East—creative variations of the #MeToo hashtag have caught on and in some cases caused the downfall of men in power such as British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.

But the successes of #MeToo have been met with plenty of resistance, even giving birth to the hashtag #GoneTooFar. A Bucknell poll in 2018 revealed that Americans are deeply divided about the impact of the #MeToo movement, with 41 percent believing that it was “just about right” vs. 40 percent believing that it had “gone too far.” Many people believe that the #MeToo movement has gone too far in creating a culture where men are publicly shamed and presumed guilty until proven innocent. It can also create an environment where men are increasingly wary of women and more likely to exclude women from social and mentoring opportunities because they fear the consequences of sexual harassment accusations. We can hear echoes of this sentiment in one of the last lines of Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement: “I ask you to judge me by the standard that you would want applied to your father, your husband, your brother or your son.”

From state capitols to the technology companies of Silicon Valley, men are becoming reluctant to meet behind closed doors with women and thinking of segregating themselves. The counter narrative was especially poignant in France, where the actress Catherine Deneuve published an open letter with over 100 other notable French women in the arts denouncing the #MeToo movement for infantilizing women and denying their sexual power. They argued that seduction is a sexual freedom and that women could discern between sexual aggression and an awkward pickup. Have we empowered women so much with the #MeToo movement that we are now persecuting men? Who is really the victim here and who should decide the fate of the men accused?

The moment of reckoning for Brett Kavanaugh and #MeToo

The question now becomes whether there has been real change in our culture. The current #MeToo narratives and counter narratives are reflected clearly in the partisan atmosphere that permeates American politics. Twenty-seven years ago, Anita Hill made her allegations about the sexual harassment she endured from then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in an eerily similar “moment.” In the end, he was confirmed in spite of her testimony. Will Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed for the Supreme Court? Will more women be inspired to speak up after hearing Dr. Ford’s testimony? Will a new generation of young men who have grown up watching the #MeToo movement unfold think differently about their relationship with women. Or will there be a “chilling effect” in offices, schools, and boardrooms across the country as men react defensively? Is this the “cultural moment” that women everywhere have been waiting for?

To learn more: Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, will be speaking at UAB on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 at the Alys Stephens Center.

 

Dianna Bai is a Birmingham-based writer who currently writes for AL.com. Her writing has been featured on Forbes, TechCrunch, and Medium. You can find her portfolio here.

Protecting the Dishonored: The Jailing of Honor Crime Victims in Jordan

The silhouettes of a man and a hijabi woman face each other with a sunset behind them
We will stay forever. Source: Kamal Zharif Kamaludin, Creative Commons

“And the Oscar goes to, Mad Max! No.” The audience laughs as they await the announcement from host Louis C.K. for the winner of the 2016 Best Documentary Short. He pauses, then reads “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy!” Applause erupts as Obaid-Chinoy makes her way to the stage, and during her brief acceptance speech she reveals that “Last week, the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.” Another round of applause sweeps across the theater as the crowd cheers the progress made to end this extreme case of violence against women.

Obaid-Chinoy’s film focuses on eighteen-year-old Saba, a Pakistani girl who was the victim of an attempted honor killing, defined by the BBC as “the murder of a person accused of ‘bringing shame’ upon their family. Victims have been killed for refusing to enter a marriage, committing adultery or being in a relationship that displeased their relatives. In many instances, the crimes are committed by family members against a female relative.” Saba survived the encounter, and the resulting documentary chronicling her experience caught the attention of human rights activists around the world. Pressure from these groups was put on the Pakistani government to change the law allowing the perpetrators of honor crimes to avoid charges should the victim or relatives of the victim forgive them, and as of October 2016 the law was changed so that there are now mandatory prison sentences for those who commit an honor killing. However, this is not the case for every country, as other loopholes exist to protect the perpetrator while simultaneously punishing the victim.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy smiles and poses with her newly won oscar.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Source: Disney, Creative Commons

During my stay in Jordan, a second film on honor crimes caught my attention. Shown to the local community at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in downtown Amman, I sat with 50 other people as we watched If You Meant to Kill Me, a 2014 feature length documentary by Jordanian filmmaker Widad Shafakoj. Her film spotlights Jordanian women who are survivors of honor crimes but were detained in prison by the state “for their own protection” due to the lack of shelters serving victims in the community. These women would spend years inside their cell, released only after a family member signs a paper stating they would not harm her or until the guards arbitrarily decide to let her go. Once released, the women often have no money, no community connections, and no support to help them start again.

Jordanians who commit honor crimes face the threat of arrest in theory, but traditions and stigmas going back generations have created informal barriers to prevent the perpetrators from conviction. An honor crime is not committed by a single individual but instead multiple individuals, ranging from immediate family members to a group within the community. This poses a difficulty for police to convict participants because they must identify an entire social network. To counter this difficulty, they have adopted a second approach that only involves a single person: the female target/survivor. By putting the target/survivor in jail, it relieves the justice system of the stress of convicting an entire family or worrying about another crime being committed. The system also faces little backlash for this decision as the families of the women imprisoned accomplishes two tasks. Without advocates to help their case, the female target/survivor resorts to her families for a signature for release; thus, exposing herself to a future risk of violence.

Jordan is publicizing its work on improving other women’s issues inside of its borders, with some measured success. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, and ratified by Jordan in 1992 with the intention of allowing women to have equal rights under the law. However, Jordan still maintains two reservations to the document:

The first reservation is against Article 9, which states that women and men should be granted equal rights in transferring their nationality to their children. Currently, a child of a Jordanian man and a foreign woman can take Jordanian citizenship, but a child of a Jordanian woman and a foreign man cannot take Jordanian citizenship without a special identification card. The second reservation is against Article 16, which states “Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.” Here is where the difficulty lies, for within a marriage the woman has far less legal power and is therefore tied to the relationship formally and informally, even when violence is introduced.

Freedom House, in 2010, reported that while “domestic abuse is a valid reason for initiating such a divorce, it is often very difficult for a woman to prove her case, because Shari‘a courts require the testimony of two male witnesses.” This poses a significant deterrent for victims to come forward as their own testimony will not be adequate in a court of law. They also risk forced imprisonment for their safety should they come forward, making the risk even less of an option. Besides acting to protect their own safety, the women also shoulder the burden of staying to protect their children. Freedom House reports that the father is the de facto guardian of his children, and while the mother may be able to leave with the children initially, should she remarry she would lose custody. This forces the mother into a position of staying in an abusive situation, where there is a threat of death, or leaving without the security of a second income source to support herself and her children.

A group of hijabi women cut a ribbon to open the new shelter.
Women for Afghan Women open a shelter in Badakhshan province. Source: State Dept, Creative Commons

With the outcry growing louder to find a better solution for these women instead of placing them in protective imprisonment, a small number of departments and shelters developments give an attempt at a solution. The Jordanian government created the Family Protection Department within the Public Security Directorate in 1997 to work specifically on cases of domestic violence and sexual assault; however, their focus is children in the family, instead of the women. In 1999, the Jordanian Women’s Union opened a shelter capable of housing 20 women. The Family Reconciliation Centre opened its first house for 50 women in 2007 and a second in 2009 for 80 women. A

Between the three current shelters, a maximum of 150 women can be protected in a non-prison environment, but with a population of 9.5 million as of 2016, the number of shelters are incredibly too small to adequately serve the women of Jordan. Even if women are gaining more rights to interact equally in the public sphere, the lack of safety for some women in the private sphere blocks them from participating in this progress.

The dedication of more resources is necessary to ensure the women in danger are properly cared for in a safe environment. Additionally, attention to convicting perpetrators is imperative; allowing the women to reenter society knowing they are not at risk for future harm. Freedom House does note that Jordan is taking steps to enact more punishments that are forceful: “stricter sentences are now issued for honour killings and a new specialized tribunal was set up by the Ministry of Justice in 2009 to hear such cases.” The arrests of those committing the acts must occur immediately to hasten the release of the victimized women presently held indefinitely within the Jordanian prison system.