We are three days into the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls. This year’s theme is #OrangeTheWorld, uniting against rape.
Sexual violence is, heartbreakingly, a universal experience of women around the globe. This ranges from verbal harassment to rape and can affect each survivor in a unique way.
Sexual violence is a tool of oppression. It keeps women in fear on a day-to-day basis and modifies our behaviour so as to make our best efforts to avoid this type of violence. That’s easier said than done when so much violence takes place in our own homes.
A contributing factor to this continued violence is the way in which we use language to talk about it. Too many outlets victim-blame and victim-shame, like this girl whose underwear was brought into trial as a way of saying she was “asking for it” (she wasn’t). The accused was found not-guilty shortly after.
So what can we do to end, or at least not contribute to this atrocity?
First of all, we need to change the way we talk about women’s appearance and behaviour. We need to stop shaming women for the way they dress and carry themselves. In no circumstances does a woman’s clothing indicate she was asking for someone to be violent towards her.
Second, we also need to stop questioning a woman’s behaviour leading up to the assault. Was she flirting with him? Was she drinking? It doesn’t matter. Flirting does not equal consent to sexual activity. Drunk people are not capable of consenting to sexual activity. It should be that simple.
Third, we need to call out sexist language and behaviour whenever we encounter it, even if we’re told “it’s just a joke.” Jokes about violence against women are never funny. Sexist and misogynistic language contributes to a culture that normalises violence against women. Some people would say that we need to choose our battles and sometimes we need to lose a battle to win the war. In the case of violence against women, I am not willing to lose any battle.
Finally, we need to hold men accountable for their actions and words. This is relevant to point three above, but we need to stop giving men a pass under the old trope “boys will be boys”. Why is it acceptable for men to behave this way simply because of their sex? We need to teach men to be responsible for their actions starting in boyhood.
Last but not least, we need to teach our children the basic concepts of consent. If your child does not want to hug or kiss a relative, do not force them. I don’t care how angry or upset your adult relatives become. Explain to them that you are teaching your children that they have a right to not be touched if they don’t want to, that their body is theirs to do with as they see fit. How are we supposed to understand bodily autonomy if growing up we weren’t taught that we’re entitled to it?
These are just a few things we can do each day to help end the epidemic of violence against women. I hope you will put them into practice in your day-to-day lives. Our women and girls are counting on you.
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