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WHAT WE REALLY NEED IS SOLIDARITY
On International Women’s Day, one radio call-in discussion debated whether women and men’s biological differences meant that they are supposed to be unequal. As if equality requires biological sameness or, for women, that they be like men. As if our differences as women and men legitimise the status quo of unequal value, power, status, rights and authority.
This backhanded involvement in engaging women’s rights issues is worrisome, yet common, and often unchecked. For example, Single Father’s Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SFATT), a men’s rights group, is organising a men’s march. Their theme is men against “all violence from all to all others”, which seems common-sense, valid and laudable. For, who isn’t against all forms of violence, and who isn’t glad to see men taking action?
Yet, behind this seemingly progressive engagement is unchecked denial of women’s empirical realities and long-sought transformations.
In one comment on the march, Rondell Feeles, head of the group, wrote, “So why are so many public advocates intent on separating the issue to deal with domestic violence against women only, when statistics have shown that both children and men are victims of the same. Are we saying violence in the home is unacceptable to one party but acceptable to everyone else in the family? A holistic issue warrants a holistic approach.”
First, public advocates don’t “separate” the issue of domestic violence against women, they bring an analysis of how our notions of manhood and womanhood shape power and vulnerability, and take into account the fact that women suffer serious injury and death in disproportionate numbers at the hands of male partners. This means that while both men and women may be violent in domestic relationships, the consequences are different, requiring recognition and specific strategies.
Second, statistics show that girls and boys also experience violence in gendered ways, not only in terms of physical and sexual abuse, but in terms of perpetrators and silencing. Third, no one has ever said that violence in the home is unacceptable for women, but acceptable for everyone else. This is a “straw woman” set up solely to knock down.
Women are being murdered in increasing numbers, with the majority related to intimate partner violence. Women and men have been calling for an end of violence against women, not only in relation to domestic violence offences, but also in relation to violence as it daily affects women travelling by taxi, on the street, at work and in other public places. Violence is committed at very high levels against women because they are women.
What’s gained in presenting activists as exclusionary? What’s at stake in calling for a focus on psychological and emotional violence, for example, when severity of injury and death show women’s inequality in terms of harm from their relationships? What’s at stake in focusing on violence by all when all are not equally perpetrating violence, nor are the harm and increasing rates of murder from domestic violence offences equal? Finally, what’s at stake in SFATT insisting that men are the “greatest victims of violence in Trinidad and Tobago?”
The overwhelming murders of men, which occur primarily by men, are horrific and must be stopped. Men also face violence in heterosexual relationships and it can be hard for them to report it and seek help. Yet domestic violence by women and men also show distinctly different patterns. For example, women’s violence to men usually ends when the relationship ends. Male partner violence generally escalates and becomes most dangerous then.
SFATT has been arguing that women are as violent to men as men are to women, citing CAPA data which shows that, between 2010 and 2016, 56 per cent of the Domestic Violence murders were of women and 44 per cent were of men. However, this data about doesn’t say those murders were at women’s hands, and it can’t be assumed.
CAPA data also shows that, between 2010 and 2016, women reported 100 per cent of the sexual offences, 80 per cent of the assaults and beatings recorded, 82 per cent of the breaches of protection orders, 66 per cent of threats recorded, and 72 per cent of the cases of verbal abuse. The data suggests that women experience fear, threat, injury, severe harm and death to a greater extent where they should be safe in their families, relationships and homes.
The bait and switch at work here goes like this: it’s separatist to focus on violence against women. So, let’s focus on violence against all. However, let’s emphasise where the real violence is. It’s not against women. Men experience the real sexism and are the real “victims”. Too much attention has been given to women. It’s time for that “discrimination against boys and men” to end.
Activism by men’s organisations to end violence against women remains necessary. What we hope for in these efforts is true solidarity.