Inequality is one of the biggest contributors to violence against women. Finding a solution first requires us to better understand the problem.
Studies have found that one in three (roughly 35%) of all women and girls worldwide have been the victim of physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime. But in all truthfulness, that number is probably higher because many cases go unreported.
For clarity, gender equality, as used herein, means that women and men, girls and boys enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections. This is also the definition used by UNICEF. It is an acceptance and appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses existing in both genders. It is not a declaration that women should be exactly like men or vice versa. They both have very important roles to play in society, nature, and the world at large.
Research suggests that the biggest driver of violence against women is inequality. Discriminatory laws and societal norms that favor males often undermine women’s roles and capabilities, leaving them fewer opportunities for education, the workforce, and their own independence.
As a result, this cycle perpetuates itself and allows gender inequality to serve dual roles as the cause of violence and the consequences therein.
Psychology tells us that violence is a learned behavior. No one is born this way, but through increased exposure, particularly during adolescence, violence becomes instilled and individuals are more inclined to resort to violent behaviors. Hint: Preventative measures could be more effective before or during this age bracket.
And though violence can also be “unlearned,” according to research, abuse towards women remains too big of an issue in our society.
What Contributes to Violence Against Women?
For decades, women have been struggling to stand on equal ground before men. Not many of us remember living in a time where women couldn’t vote, attend college, or choose their marital partner (though these “customs” still exist in some countries).
Women have come a long way, but many argue that they have just as far yet to go.
Many men still feel and act as though women are property, not people. They may develop a sense of ownership over women if they financially invest in them, such as paying for their education, living expenses or allowing them to stay at home to raise children instead of working outside the home. Here, the “to whom much is given, much is expected” concept is at play to a disturbing degree.
At times, many men insist on keeping women at home so they can remove any protective factors (e.g. their own income) so that the women will be more dependent on them. Jealousy is often a contributing factor in these cases — capable women can make some men feel insecure and emasculated. And sometimes it is a case of keeping women away from other potential male partners who might be present in a working environment. Here, they are keen on keeping their ‘possessions’ to themselves.
But consider for a moment that some men often struggle to show and process emotions for many reasons, including fear of being labelled as ‘not manly enough’ by the status quo and by some of the same women they end up abusing — being out of tune with themselves, women’s needs, desires, and feelings doesn’t allow them to understand the pain they inflict on women. They may have experienced trauma, pain, heartache of their own and project it through violence towards women because they know of no other way to process it. Example: There are teenage boys out there who vow never to let a girl see them cry.
In my book, The Sacred Emblem, I touched on a similar idea. When Phil was struck in his stomach, his pain was excruciating — his mind was tossed into a mist in a forest, lost and alone. His guiding, predecessor, Maximus, appeared before him and said: “Be still, son, free your mind. Resist not. Do not seek to control it.”
Phil was told to follow the pain and see where it goes. He was told to trust it. Upon his achieving this, he was then told to follow it no further and remember his journey. This led Phil to a higher level of consciousness where he was able to see past his pain.
In essence, Phil lost all sense of control, he was dying, and it wasn’t until after the fact that he was able to regain his focus. Perhaps this is a similar scenario that many men experience; who knows? It could be what they feel in a murder-suicide scenario too. They failed to process their pain, and they failed to wait long enough for that initial rush of pain to subside. Studies show that murder-suicides overwhelmingly involve male perpetrators (91% of which are conducted by non-Hispanic white males).
Pain leads to a reaction, a reaction to resolve it. The mind is supposed to go there and process what’s going on. Phil realized that the pain was his issue. This made him take a more objective approach towards resolution rather than becoming sidetracked by who or what had caused it.
As stated in Khalil Gibran‘s words, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand naked in the sun, so must you know pain.” This means pain is inevitable, and it can take you to another level developmentally in terms of your consciousness and connection to your greater self. The seed cracks open to protrude it’s plant, the mother bears the pain of childbirth to bring new life into this world. And a popular song says ´no pain, no gain’. That’s why sports teams train hard in wind, sun, snow and rain. They face the hardship because it takes them to success. And the team that doesn’t have a proper training regimen is unlikely to win or be successful.
Exploring Solutions to Break the Cycle
Violence begets violence, and the more often we see the actions and results of violence, the more likely it is that these habits will develop in others and the less sensitive we become to the issue.
To stop the cycle of violence against women, organizations look for patterns and trends to detect individuals who might be at risk, then provide early intervention. Children who grow up in households where violence exists are more likely to continue the cycle. Home visitation programs, educational seminars and workshops, and abundant resources can also provide help and outreach when it’s needed and reduce the stigma of asking for help.
Changes in legislation is also believed to be able to curb the number of violent incidents. For example, examining and changing laws pertaining to divorce and custody and improving the path to independence for women may help them become less reliant on male partners.
More research is needed to understand the risk factors associated with violence against women versus other types of violence. But experts agree that bringing the topic to the spotlight and getting people to talk about it is a step in the right direction.
There’s no excuse for violence against women. But it’s important to remember that abusers are victims too in that society has failed to identify effective ways to stop the cycle of violence. Ending violence isn’t just about focusing on one gender or the other, but rather initiating change at every level of the socio-political landscape.
On a philosophical note, these men, in their troubles, invariably choose death as an escape route. But is it truly an escape? Does covering your eyes in a public place makes you hide? Does it take you to a safe place? Yes this concept is toddler-like, but when a grown man’s actions are likened to a toddler, what does it say about his development?
Skipping pain sends us backwards. Imagine what will happen if mothers decide not to forego childbirth because of impending pain?
A man’s way is not to succumb to pain. A man’s way is to journey to a higher consciousness. Stepping out of a journey doesn’t end it, it puts you backwards to make right your ills. Because the conveyor belt of the road of time keeps moving forward even when you step off. You have to step on again, there is no other way. You cannot advance without correction. This was said in different ways, but take heed, because nothing is lost under the sun.
Stop the evil deeds. Stop the destruction. And some do these under the pressures of oppressors. Weren’t you told to envy them not, and chose none of their ways? Weren’t you also told by Bob Marley not to let the system let you kill your brother? Will the words of our prophets continue to go in vain as he’d also said? There is a better way.
I end with one of my favorite Lao Tzu quotes: “Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles, and the water becomes clear?”