- Women are not commodities; they are humans. Abusing their rights is grave crime
- According to UNFP, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime
By At first glance, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) may seem like just another issue in the world that doesn’t apply to your life. But in truth, you are at risk of experiencing GBV in the very next second and you would be completely unaware of its occurrence due to normalization of such acts. During our life, all of us encounter some form of GBV. It could be in forms of domestic violence, sexual harassment, physical or psychological abuse or even subtle forms of GBV. While women are most at risk and are most affected by gender-based violence, men, and sexual and gender minorities also experience GBV.
Sharp claws of GBV
Even though we pride ourselves as a modernized society, the stereotypical gender roles still exist in a society where a woman should be gentle, submissive and take care of the kids and the household while the men should be strong, aggressive, and dominant and be the breadwinner of the family. While one might think that we have evolved from these stereotypes, these gender roles have sunk their roots into the foundation of human society so that it’s difficult to escape its claws.
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo Chathurika Arukgoda emphasized that these gender roles bring about subtle forms of GBV. Every negative comment on someone’s dress or body based on our pre-existing mindset of conservative dresses and an hourglass body can be considered as verbal and psychological forms of GBV.
In Ms Arukgoda’s opinion, expecting people to live up to these stereotypical gender roles is not acceptable in this modern society where women and men both work hard to earn money. We use labels such as ‘tomboy’ and ‘femboy’ and phrases such as ‘lady-like’ or imply the meaning behind them in our daily conversations. We ridicule boys for being emotional, using make-up and wearing jewellery and girls for their lack of interest in beauty culture and cooking. All such labels and what they stand for are forms of GBV.
The United Nations Organization (UNO) defined GBV as an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will, based on socially ascribed differences between males and females including acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm and other deprivations of liberty. These acts can occur in public or in private.
Expecting people to live up to these stereotypical gender roles is not acceptable in this modern society
Primitive mindsets and stereotypes
According to Arukgoda, the root cause of GBV lies in the stereotypical gender roles and mindset descending from the primitive society where the husband goes out to hunt while the wife looks after the house and the kids. A highly patriarchal society was born with civilization and women were heavily mistreated and were denied the right to education, right to freedom, etc.
“A highly patriarchal society which treated women like property was firstly heard of in the Roman Empire. Some people are still in that primitive society and that is why they treat women as things. A progressive society should be working towards abandoning this primitive mindset and work towards achieving equality,” she emphasized.
Meanwhile, renowned Psychologist Rasini Bandara believes that the root cause for GBV is the mentality or the mindset of the people enriched by social expectations of a strong, powerful, aggressive man and a timid, gentle woman who is dependent on the man. This sort of mindset lowers the self-esteem of women and the respect directed towards women by men. And lack of self-esteem and respect becomes the seed for blossoming of an abusive relationship.
However, according to Director of Programmes at Nelumaya Foundation, Attorney at Law Radika Gunaratne, GBV occurs due to several social elements. Accordingly, social and cultural norms, lack of education especially in terms of Sexual education, economic pressures and personality issues could be the root cause of GBV.
In a relationship, if one party brings you down mentally, devaluing your self-worth while being over-controlling and minimize your freedom, such a relationship is an abusive relationship. An abusive relationship doesn’t always revolve around physical violence; it may be concerned with psychological abuse as well.
According to Rasini Bandara, psychological GBV is worse than physical GBV because if something damages you psychologically, it is a very long term kind of damage. She believes that when it is psychological violence, it affects your whole personality. However, most of the time, physical GBV affects you mentally as well. Abusive relationships may not begin with abuse. A good healthy relationship may gradually become abusive with time.
“Initially when you are still in the passionate phase of a relationship, girls tend to bear abuse, even physical abuse, in their belief that it is love. But as the passionate part dissolves in a relationship and the commitment part comes in, then the situation changes,” Ms Bandara emphasized.
The abusers in most of these cases are men. Ms Bandara believes their abusive personality reflects upon the pressures on these individuals due to the social expectation of a strong aggressive man. Due to that mentality, they believe it is necessary to enforce their authority over these women.
“Society expects a man to be strong and aggressive. Therefore, men try to communicate their manliness and display their anger through violence. They take their partners for granted,” she explained.
Victims of psychological GBV in abusive relationships in Ms Bandara’s opinion are often very insecure and are with low self-esteem.
“Because you are insecure as a person, you can’t invest trust upon a very secure relationship. Anyway, you feel that you are not good enough. When you don’t have self-esteem you start to doubt your worth in a relationship. You are ready to be in a relationship, even if it is abusive, till you feel that you belong,” she commented.
“There are some women who believe that if your husband doesn’t hit you, you are not being loved. Tolerance towards abuse depends on your personality which is shaped by these social norms,” she said.
Besides, she said financial dependence and fear of losing the stability of a relationship cause these victims to tolerate abuse.
However, one should not tolerate abuse nor should one be abusive towards their partners. Ms Arukgoda believes that both parties should be treated with respect and common decency. “We are human beings as much as they are. Therefore everything should be done under a shared basis. We must stop this discrimination and treat every human being as a person, irrespective of their gender,” she added.
GBV via internet
Technology has invaded our lifestyle. Phones have become a necessity in our lifestyles and our lives revolve around social media. Understanding this, Ms Arukgoda condemned this social media culture where hurtful comments based on body shaming and insulting personal lives is abundant.
“The younger generation craves for these likes and hearts and ha-ha comments in social media and they fail to notice the parties they hurt in the process. There is so much hate speech, so much body shaming, sexual harassment and violation of one’s privacy. These are all forms of Gender-Based Violence,” she emphasized.
GBV at workplace
In the 21st century, you see women in all fields of work. However, even today, a women’s success in her professional life is widely limited due to various factors. According to Ms Arukgoda, the social expectation of marriage is one of the major influencing factors, especially in Asian society. “Most of the professional women stop working or they can’t go up the ladder in their career life due to these limitations such as the social expectation of marriage and children,” she said.
Also, other forms of GBV faced by a woman in her career life include sexual harassment, verbal and psychological abuse. A Girls Club member at the American Centre shared her personal experience at her workplace to give a clear idea regarding this issue. According to her, she had been often discriminated by the department head of her company. He had often tried to intimidate her into submission and he had expected her to feel guilty for her skilled and forward nature.
“Even though I did best and handled critical cases in the company, I was always under-appreciated. However, another guy who wasn’t as talented as I was always praised and respected by my boss. He held no respect for me. I was often verbally insulted in a very disrespectful manner. I think because I am a girl, I was always underestimated by my boss,” she said.
Besides, sexual harassment at the workplace is an issue, especially faced by the female working community. Ms Arukgoda strongly believes that one should be assertive and show one’s disagreement towards such harassments at the workplace.
“If you ever had to encounter sexual harassment in the workplace, don’t be timid. Don’t be submissive. Don’t be intimidated. You have your dignity and you have every right to speak up. If you feel that it is dangerous to speak up, show your resistance and walk away. When sexual harassment happens and if you submit yourself to that once, it will continue and will only worsen with time,” she said.
The root cause for GBV is the mentality or the mindset of the people enriched by social expectations of a strong, powerful, aggressive man and a timid, gentle woman
GBV against men
According to Ms Radika Gunaratne, men suffer from GBV as well. Other than psychological and verbal abuse, sometimes they suffer from sexual harassment and physical abuse as well. However, it is not sufficiently recognized as an issue in today’s society.
“GBV is not only for women, but it’s also reported with men as well. We come across many cases of GBV among men, especially within the LGBTQ community. But not only in the gay community, generally, but men also suffer from GBV in the current society. Sometimes men are subjected to GBV by women in the relationships, especially psychological abuse. However, the issue is that it isn’t popular or eye-catching because of the media culture,” she said.
If you are a victim of GBV…
If you are a victim of GBV, you must not tolerate it. You must do everything in your power to escape it. According to Ms Gunaratne, many laws are dealing with violence against women in Sri Lanka. She believes that though the legal process may be uncomfortable, it is necessary to escape from GBV and live peacefully in the future.
There are several organizations in Sri Lanka such as the Women In Need (WIN) organization which can help you in this legal battle and protect your rights against GBV. Other than legal action, if you wish there are couple therapies and other therapeutically helpful programs which may help you and your partner to solve some personality issues.
“You should participate in couple therapy. When you go to a therapist, you would be able to understand the problems in your relationship rather than sticking to your view of it. That kind of help can be effective” Ms Bandara said.
As a perpetrator of GBV, you must keep in mind to be respectful towards everyone as human beings. As a victim of GBV, you must remember that you are a human being of value and you must stand up for your life. Do not let your fear of repercussions get in the way of your remarkable future. Just remember, you are never broken nor beyond repair.
Workshop against GBV
With hopes of creating awareness among the younger generation about GBV, the Girls Club, which is a voluntary organization at the American Centre, conducted a series of workshops at the American Centre on November 27 and December 1. These workshops were organized as a part of the 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence starting from November 26 to December 10.
“One of the key issues we wanted to address is gender equality. In today’s society, there is a negative perception regarding feminism which revolves around extremist views. Through these workshops we want to promote gender equality and action against gender-based violence,” Girls’ Club President Krishmila Rangali said.
“Domestic violence is seen in rural areas more than in the cities. Some men think that once they marry a woman they can hit and do anything with her. This is a terrible attitude. You should not violate the rights of your wife as she is not your property but a person.” -Ashan Widyaratne
“In the mixed school I attended, boys particularly always chose basketball or football while girls couldn’t engage in those sports as they were considered as a ‘boy sport’. Similarly, girls were assigned the colour pink while boys were assigned blue.”-Girls’ Club member Jisuan Kweon
“In today’s society, Gender-Based Violence is initiated by women more than men. For an example, mothers refuse to be helped in the kitchen by their sons who are willing to help on the basis that boys should not be involved in cooking as it is a girl’s job.”-Husna Shiraz
“Still women are struggling with their rights. And some women, they don’t know that they have the right to make decisions about their own life. In some countries, just after completing their education, girls are forced into married life by their families. This is terrible, but still, it happens in the world.”-Girls’ Club member Nethmi Muthugala
“I got a clear idea that though women want to be independent, still we can’t because of the social and cultural system. Even though I have a clear idea about what I want in my career, society expects me to get married and have children. We are judged based on our marital status regardless of our academic and career achievements.”- Girls’ Club member Ganguly Garushika