Jane Devine: Strong campaign to end gender-based violence

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“WE believe that a world without domestic abuse is not just a dream, it is a possibility. Never doubt it – changing attitudes changes lives.”

That is the rallying call of Scottish Women’s Aid, who today begins a series of activities and events as part of a global campaign to end gender-based violence, which this year is based on the theme “From peace in the home to peace in the world”.

It is a hard-hitting campaign which is about challenging all forms of violence against women including rape, sexual slavery, genital mutilation and forced marriage as well as domestic abuse. It is hard-hitting because it aims to (and will) make us think, not just that violence against women is prolific and wrong, but will also challenge the basis on which we shape our views on domestic violence.

The campaign highlights the similarities between domestic abuse and the abuse of women by men in non-domestic settings or relationships, including the use of sexual violence and the threat of sexual violence as a weapon in conflict. Sometime these wide-ranging contexts can seem to differentiate types of violence against women, separating them into categories of severity. Yet all violence against women is founded upon the same principle: control through fear.

The “wife beating” we might ignore because it is a “domestic” is about the same thing as the systematic rape of women in a war zone. The shocking accounts of women activists and journalists being systematically targeted and sexually assaulted by groups of men in Egypt during tear gas attacks are the result of the same mindset as someone punching their partner because she has “too much” lipstick on.

It’s all about control and power and it’s Scotland’s and the world’s real shame. In 2011 Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General said: “Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.”

Something as endemic as this in our society and in every society can seem impossible to counter, but it is not something we can afford to give up on. And, if this campaign can make people link the outrage they feel at shocking events in the news with things happening in their own community, it will make a difference.

People need to understand that the eight-year-old girl in the Yemen, who died as a result of sexual intercourse with the man she was forced to marry, was the victim of the same mentality as the child at school abused by her father or the woman at work beaten by her partner.

Because no matter how we think about it, no matter the way we categorise it, it all comes down to the same thing: men’s power, men’s violence, men’s abuse and men’s control of women. It’s time it stopped.