“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”
On November 25, 1960, Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal, three courageous women who opposed the staunch dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic were brutally assassinated.
For the past 36 years, this date marks the International Day for the elimination of Violence Against Women.
Leave no one behind
For 2017, United Nations has launched the campaign Leave no one behind. The concept of the campaign aims to highlight the experiences of women that are particularly vulnerable, such as “young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees, indigenous women and ethnic minorities, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those in humanitarian crises” as quoted on the campaign’s website.
This is particularly needed in times where the multiplicity of factors that shape women’s experience determine the scope and magnitude of violence they are exposed to.
The observance of this date marks a powerful reminder of a sordid truth: in spite of all efforts, there is a tendency to normalize violence against women.
For years, UN Women has raised awareness of the pervasiveness of violence as part of women’s life using impactful statistics, such as 1 out of 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence or the fact that 50% of women killed in 2012 were killed by their intimate partners or their families. Because the normalization of violence is so dangerous, and the situation that women and girls face around the world is dire, this work is necessary and needed.
What we are missing is men
However, as we embark in this year’s campaign and the #16 days of activism against Gender-based violence that follows, an important question emerges: if this campaign is about leaving nobody behind, where are the men? In most instances of violence against women and girls, the perpetrators are boyfriends, fathers, brothers, husbands, partners, grandfathers and uncles. Their common denominator: they are all men. So, can we actually eradicate violence against women without including men in the process?
Today, undoubtedly, men are responsible for most acts of violence against women and girls. The evidence is not what is missing in this conversation: we have statistics, we have stories told in #MeToo or #NiUnaMenos. What we are missing is men.
But as result of the patriarchal system that we live in, men remain -for the most part- absent. This, despite all the international attention and resources invested or the 12 million #Metoo posts on Facebook in 24 hours after actress Alyssa Milano asked her followers to use “Me too” as a way to indicate if they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.
As men, opting out of these conversations is always a possibility, but men’s absence is a privilege that women cannot afford.
“We should be calling this International Day of Men’s violence against Women and Girls”
When campaigns that aim to address the conditions and factors that enable violence against women leave men behind, they contribute to feeding the narrative that insists in calling this type of violence a “women’s issue”. It is a women’s issue because they suffer exponentially the consequences of men’s behaviours. If we want to be true and fair, we should be calling this International Day of Men’s violence against Women and Girls.
Men’s absence is a privilege
Heterosexual men and boys are able to live their lives oblivious or purposefully pretending that nothing happens, that violence against women is something that does not affect them. So they remain silent, absent and disengaged, while violence against women and girls goes on.
But as men’s silence grow deeper, women’s voices get louder.
Women are collectively and publicly challenging the power of men and the institutions that protect them. Men in the media industry accused of sexual harassment and abuse such as Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein or comedian Louis CK are finally being called out.
For decades, they enjoyed the privilege of impunity. But their actions were known and other men went along with it. There were men who supported and enabled their behaviours with their complicit silence and lack of action. The Weinsteins and CKs of the world use the power society granted them and abuse it as they pleased. Their success is our failure as a society, but overall, as men.
Not leaving men behind, including Donald Trump
But this fight is far from over. As more of these cases emerge, it becomes more difficult to ignore that one of the most important positions in the world is occupied by Donald Trump, a man who has been repeatedly accused to abuse and harass women. A year ago, the world learned how he abused and harassed women, as a result of the exposé of the Access Hollywood tape. In spite of all that, the alleged sexual predator is still sitting in the White House and still sits at the Oval office.
Should he be left behind too?
If we want to create a world where violence against women is not accepted nor tolerated, we should not leave a single man behind, unchecked. Men’s absence from the conversation on violence against women and girls is their victory. At the core of the violence and the abuse resides power and the ability to exercise it over others. Men know this and they will fight back to keep their privileges. This is why we need everyone, but especially men and boys, to speak up and speak out challenging this situation.
The UN has rightfully chosen to focus its campaign in shedding light in the multiple layers of experiences and stories of women. Today, more than ever, it is fundamental to explore violence against women and girls from an intersectional standpoint. However, it misses a tremendous opportunity to amplify women’s voice and defy openly the privileges of those who are violent, those who enable violence against women, allow this violence to be ignored or simply, pretend that is part of what women and girls should expect. To eliminate violence against women and girls is imperative to include, engage and confront men. It is men’s actions that kill and harm women.
Unfortunately, this year, the campaign aimed to leave no one behind, but it did.