Since we published the article on domestic violence, 3 more women have been killed by their intimate partner this year. That’s 48, in one year. Nearly 1 per week.
Sadly, violence against women prevalent and insidious. It can be perpetrated in words and actions and can have wide-ranging effects on women in the short and long term, as well as on their children, and the communities they live in.
Why does violence against women happen? This is a very complicated and frustrating question to answer. Research shows unfortunately that our societal norms help to normalise violence against women, making it cognitively easier for perpetrators to act and cause harm to women.
In society, the words we use are important. How we speak to and about women, and the jokes we make influence the behaviour we are willing to accept. Our written words, our laws, can be flawed and make it more difficult for women to speak out and protect themselves. Stereotypes around the roles of men and women in society mean that women often miss out on opportunities to have a voice and to have agency and independence; even now, men are often in charge of making decisions about women’s rights and women’s bodies. Accepting disrespect towards women, and condoning violence (‘she must have done something to really upset him’) is dangerous and validates perpetrator’s thoughts about their violence. Ultimately, whilst women and men are not treated equally and with equal respect in our society, there will always be an inherent imbalance of vulnerability – and women will remain vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
So, what to do? Sometimes when a problem is a big one, it can feel very much that we are powerless to help. The good news is that, as individuals, we can make a difference both to society at large, and to our friends on a smaller scale.
An organisation called Our Watch has done research on exactly this, and recently created a report called ‘Change the Story’ – the four page summary can be found below. It aims to show what we can do as a society to try to prevent violence to women. They have identified four main areas to be addressed:
- Challenge condoning of violence against women
- Promote women’s independence and decision making
- Challenge gender stereotypes and roles
- Strengthen positive, equal and respectful relationships.
So the question is, what can we do in each of those areas?
Challenge condoning of violence against women
- If someone makes jokes which condone violence, call them out, don’t let it pass.
- If someone tries to blame a survivor-victim for their experience, do not let it pass.
- If you see examples of violence against women or children being trivialised, challenge it. If it is in a public place, eg, in advertising or in a television show, comedy act or other entertainment form, make a complaint.
Promote women’s independence and decision making
- Get involved!! For example, the NCJWA is looking for volunteers right now to be involved in advocating for women’s rights and safety – you might like to join in. In any case, if you have expertise to share, share it. If you want to lead, lead. And if your society has made you feel unsure of your own abilities, reach out to a mentor. Women make great leaders if given the chance.
- If you notice an organisation has an imbalance of genders in their leadership, point it out, ask them why, and challenge them to change it.
- If you notice a man ‘mansplaining’ or making decisions for a woman, stop him speaking, let the woman speak.
Challenge gender stereotypes and roles
- If you have small children, or grandchildren, make sure they know they can and should do whatever they like in terms of their future family, social and professional lives. Challenge their ideas of gender roles early; show them concrete examples of women and men taking diverse roles in the family and in our society. You might like to use books, cartoons, or examples from your own life or the life of family or friends.
- Encourage young people to find their voice in challenging stereotypes.
- If you notice gender roles being reinforced in daycare or schools, challenge this and give suggestions about changes that should be made.
- Look at your workplace – for example, challenge them to have ‘parental leave’ instead of ‘maternity leave’ – fathers can be primary caregivers, too, and mothers can be sole breadwinners. Neither should be a gendered choice but a personal one.
- Help nurture young people to be comfortable in their own identities and bodies, and to not be pressured by gender stereotypes to conform to a particular appearance or behaviour.
Support and strengthen positive, equal and respectful relationships
- In some earlier articles we spoke about how to support friends and family members who may be in abusive relationships – 1800respect.org.au has some great resources to help you navigate this
- Model positive relationships for young people in your life.
- Men can help by challenging their peers if there is negative and disrespectful talk about women.
There are many other things that we as a society can do together. We encourage you to have a look at the Our Watch summary.
Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, the festival of lights. It feels sometimes as if violence against women is spreading a blanket of darkness and negativity over all areas of our society, without discrimination. We as a society do not have to stand for this.
As Rabbi Tarfon says in Pirkei Avot: ‘ It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.’ Let’s all shine a light on this issue, challenge the status quo and make a big difference to women and girls in Australia and around the world.