You can help stop gender-based violence

Sometimes I feel so helpless and despondent about all the violence against women and children in our country and want to know what we can do to prevent this or help find solutions. I was also once a victim of partner abuse but got myself out of this bad situation. I want to now help others but the problem seems out of control.

Thank you for raising this important topic, especially at this time in South Africa. Yes indeed gender-based violence has become a scourge of pandemic proportion, both locally and globally, according to the World Bank.

While both men and women can be victims, violence against women, often at the hands of men, is a unique category of violence that relies on the historical and current unequal balance of power between men and women, boys and girls.

Violence against women is the crucial element that reinforces men’s power and control over women throughout the world. On some level, most of us participate in the culture that supports and encourages violence against women and girls, in both small ways (like telling our friends to “man up” when they have to do something difficult) and large ways (beating or raping women and girls).

Here are some small and big ways we can work to end it, or at least interrupt it, every single day.

For everyone:

Educate yourself on violence against women; learn the facts and the prevalence.

Believe survivors, in most cases, if not all, they are not fabricating their experience to gain attention.

Be aware that dating violence and sexual assault affects one in three girls and one in six boys by the time they are 18.

Contact your local school body and ask them to address sexual harassment in schools.

Speak out against all forms of violence, including any you witness or hear about. Report abusers (you can remain anonymous to protect your identity).

Question gender roles and assumptions which most of us take for granted. For example, skewed assumptions that claim men are supposed to control women, have every right to assert their power over women, and women are supposed to be in a submissive role in relationships; that boys (or real men) do not cry and girls are emotional, irrational and therefore need to be treated like children and rightfully castigated where necessary; that men cannot control their sexuality and women who dress in a particular way provoke men and it is their own fault when a man loses control of himself, either sexually or otherwise.

Respect and embrace diversity in every form, including in race, culture, gender, ability and teach this to your children from a young age.

Respect a person’s right to say “no” – including a child’s right.

Respect your partner’s right to disagree or have their own opinion.

Don’t blame the victim, saying “she was looking for it because she was drunk” or “she was wearing too skimpy clothes”. Instead, reinforce that rape is never the victim’s fault and always is the perpetrator’s.

Speak out against the media’s portrayal of violence against women and all violence.

Learn how racism, sexism and homophobia are connected.

Acknowledge that gender-based violence does happen in your own community.

Learn about power and control tactics.

Ask permission before pursuing physical or sexual contact with someone.

Realise that sexual violence is about power and control, not sex.

Teach children that respect is the minimum in a relationship, and lead by example.

Ask your priest, rabbi, pastor, cleric, or spiritual leader to hold a special service to raise awareness and promote safety for victims and accountability for perpetrators.

Avoid engaging in, supporting or encouraging sexual harassment by speaking up when you see or hear it.

Teach children that violence never solves problems.

Know that most sex offenders aren’t strangers – 86% are known to their victim.

Be courageous; don’t be afraid to speak up for those who have lost their voice and dignity.

Praise women and girls for something other than the way they look.

Discourage racist, sexist or homophobic jokes.

Advocate for more youth violence prevention programmes.

Get others to speak out against sexual violence.

Avoid buying music that glorifies sexual violence and the objectification of women and girls. Urge your local radio stations to stop playing such music.

Invite Rape Crisis to speak to your class, work or community group.

Stop yourself or others from taking advantage of someone who is intoxicated.

Make a decision to become an active bystander by speaking up and calling for help when necessary.

Respect the choices victims and survivors make to survive.

Think globally and act locally; we are all impacted by any violence in the end.

Engage others in discussions about violence against women.

Learn about healthy boundaries and don’t be afraid to voice your feelings and needs in your relationship. Listen to others and respect their boundaries too.

Celebrate all aspects of masculinity, including compassion, kindness and sensitivity.

For men:

Choose your words carefully and respectfully when speaking about women.

Show your strength by speaking up to men who abuse their strength and power over others.

Refuse to allow the media or other people to define what it means to be a man for you.

Know that it takes more than just not being a batterer or a rapist to be a good man.

Treat all women and girl children with respect.

Ask, don’t assume you know what your partner wants.

Get involved with movements that oppose gender violence.

Refuse to coerce or manipulate your partner/others in order to get your way; and be willing to compromise and accept “no” as an answer – this is a sign of strength not weakness.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.