It was International Women’s Day last week.
Large numbers of people all over the world live in abusive relationships. This is not a phenomenon of the East or the West, it is not something that is confined to those who live in poverty, or are relatively uneducated. It is something that can be found in all layers of all societies.
Many do not even recognise that they are in such a relationship.
The most obvious indicator of such a relationship is physical violence, but it is not always the only abusive behaviour present and, sometimes, may not be present at all. Sometimes there is just the implied threat of physical abuse. Sometimes just emotional abuse.
If you are belittled all the time, made to feel inadequate, you are in such a relationship.
If you are not allowed to make your own decisions, you are in such a relationship.
If you are not allowed to control your own money, have your own friends, see your own family, decide what you wear, have a job or go out when and where you wish, then you are in an abusive relationship.
One barrier in the way of reducing the incidence of abusive relationships is society itself. By declaring that men were superior to women, our society used to effectively sanction such a relationship and, in many societies today, it still does. This takes the form of making the victim feel that it is ‘okay’ to be treated that way, or even ‘right’. It also puts barriers in the way of reporting abusive behaviour to authority or to helping the victim. Religions have also sanctioned these behaviours, since they are reflecting the societies that created them in the first place.
Female genital mutilation is a good example of a societal abusive relationship. It is a tool used by a male-dominated society to keep a woman subjugated to males. The victim is mutilated in such a way that sexual intercourse becomes painful and undesirable, with the intention that she will not ‘stray’. Of course, there is nothing to stop the male from straying and, anyway, it is still convenient to blame the woman even if she is the victim of rape.
And it goes by different names; bullying, controlling behaviour, amongst others. But does it sound any less serious if we use these terms? Could it almost be trivialising it?
(It is also important to recognise that a surprisingly large number of victims are male.)
How do we tackle it?
First, we need to call it out. Call it by its proper name. Abuse is abuse. Victims need support, perpetrators need to be exposed and prosecuted.
Nobody has the ‘right’ to act that way within a relationship.
FGM is NOT acceptable. It is NOT a ‘tradition’ that we have no right to interfere in – by education, and by legislation, it needs to be totally eradicated. Those sorts of ‘tradition’, like forced marriages and beating children, have no place in today’s world.
We can all offer support if someone needs it.