On February 14, women all over the world will be taking to the streets in support of the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign to protest against violence against women.
The one billion is a number extrapolated from poll data which show that one woman in three around the world has been raped or beaten by a man. The world has more than three million women, so one-third is one billion women likely to suffer male violence if nothing is done to stop it
The campaign was launched in September 2012 and drew global support, especially after the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in December 2012. On Valentine’s Day 2013, rallies were held in 190 countries.
This year, the call has gone out “to women and men everywhere to harness their power and imagination to rise for justice”. Women who have suffered violence are asked to break the silence and release their stories “politically, spiritually, outrageously – through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way seems right”.
In Jamaica, there will be a discussion, film, poetry and performances, led by Marcia Griffiths, at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.. In the evening, there will be a Conscious Reggae Party: Rising for Justice at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts.
I recently heard writer Eve Ensler and actor Thandie Newton talking about the campaign on the BBC. They were reaching out not only to women, but to men who loved women, to take part. It got me wondering how men in Jamaica would react to the campaign and how we can support it.
HORRIFIED at rape
Many men are naturally horrified at the reports of rape and violence against women when they hear about this attack in India or that one in South Africa. We like to think that it does not happen here, or that if it does, the law will punish the offenders.
Yes, there is a problem in getting the law enforced, but that is for the police to deal with. What can I do about it? they say. Much more than you think.
Violence against women is an abuse of power. While many human-rights violations are an abuse of state power, violence against women is an abuse of physical power.
Most men are physically stronger than most women. Most men have been conditioned and raised to believe that they are the dominant gender, the head of the household, the one who has the power to take decisions and enforce them.
So each of us men could usefully look at our own relationships and reflect: Have I abused my power? Have I thwarted my partner’s career by making her stay at home? Have I exerted my will on her by threats or by violence? Have I insisted on sex when my partner did not want it?
If yes, it is time to change. Change from the misery of a relationship based on power to the joy of a relationship based on equal respect and equal rights.
Another area for self-examination is how we are treating our children. Is there any kind of child abuse in our home? Do we use violence against our children? Do we teach our boys to look down on girls? If yes, we should not be surprised if our male children grow up to be abusers of women.
We can be proud of the numbers of women who are now leaders in our country. But there is a disconnect between the respect given to women in the workplace and the disrespect with which many women are treated in the home.
The liberation of women, which I wholly support, is not a threat to men. The fulfilment of women enriches us all. The prospect of real equality is a challenge to be grasped eagerly by men as well as by women.
So many men are blind to the real beauty of their women. The beauty of a woman lies in the interweaving of her mental brilliance, her bodily form, and her spiritual fire. Men who simply pant after the body are doomed to fail. They disrespect the mind and may never reach the spirit.
So I ask men to support the One Billion Rising, not just by avoiding sexual crime and violence, but by embracing equal relationships.
When mutual respect becomes the norm, violence will be unthinkable.
Lord Anthony Gifford, QC, is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to [email protected]