Shattering Stereotypes: Confronting GBV, Fostering Empathy for All

By Furera Isiaka

From my personal observations, it is evident that on social media platforms where individuals openly discuss the challenges they face in their daily lives, a notable trend emerges where someone begins with the plea, ‘Please hide my ID.’ This plea often signals a high likelihood that the person is experiencing some form of violence, with the majority being women and girls. Sadly, some find themselves without formal safe spaces to turn to for help, compelling them to seek refuge in these online communities.

These social media platforms function as prompt-response forums, providing a space for individuals to quickly seek assistance and gather a variety of opinions. Engaging with others experiencing similar situations becomes a source of comfort, nurturing a sense of community that offers valuable advice or directs individuals to professional help. Significantly, the standout feature of these platforms is their accessibility, perceived as faster and more cost-effective compared to seeking help from online or offline counselors who may charge substantial fees. However, what about those lacking access to social media?

Yet, the fundamental question here is: why the necessity for requesting identity concealment? The answer lies in the fear of stigmatisation, as victims often refrain from disclosing their struggles due to potential repercussions on various aspects of their lives, such as jobs, freedom, relationships, and more. However, it is crucial to challenge this notion. With awareness, wisdom, patience, and strategic utilisation of the limited resources available to a victim, seeking help should be an empowered choice. Violence should never be condoned, as it can drain the life of an individual. Speaking up, despite the challenges and potential delays, is the pathway to receiving help and reclaiming control over one’s life.

Violence, whether manifested through action or inaction, imposes harm, fear, injury, pain, a sense of inferiority, or feelings of deception upon another individual. Even threats constitute a form of violence, carrying potential long-lasting consequences for the victim. As the global community commemorates the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence in 2023 under the theme “Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”, it is crucial that we collaboratively and purposefully initiate efforts to address this pervasive issue.

Investing in preventing violence can manifest itself in various ways, including dedicating time to listen to victims, contributing financial resources, providing support to those affected, advocating for systemic change, speaking out against GBV, refraining from being an agent of GBV, holding perpetrators accountable, and fostering community vigilance. Every individual bears a responsibility in combating this societal menace. It is essential to transcend the mentality of believing, ‘It did not happen to my daughter’, ‘My wife is not facing workplace discrimination’, ‘My son is not enduring mistreatment from a neighbour’, and ‘My sister did not have her womb removed by her husband, conniving with a doctor without her consent. Now, she navigates from one place to another, grappling with infertility for years and facing the threat of divorce from the same man’.

Rejecting GBV in its entirety should be a shared responsibility. It requires a collective effort to challenge and eliminate the normalcy that society may assign to such behaviours. Whether it is refusing to tolerate abusive relationships, supporting victims, or demanding justice for the oppressed, everyone has a role in fostering a world free from GBV.

One significant concern is the marginalisation of men in these discussions. GBV is commonly portrayed with men as perpetrators and women as victims, perpetuating the misconception that it is solely a women’s issue. In reality, GBV affects both men and women. To foster inclusivity, it is crucial that conversations surrounding GBV involve the voices of both genders. Recognising that GBV impacts everyone and encouraging the active participation of both men and women ensures a more comprehensive and balanced approach to addressing this pervasive issue. Society often perpetuates the stereotype that men should be inherently strong and self-sufficient, which is an unjust perspective. It is crucial to recognise that violence against anyone is unequivocally wrong. Witnessing a grown man, old enough to be a grandfather, on his knees, sobbing, and pleading with his family to intervene and separate him from his wife is a heartbreaking scenario. The intense emotional pain he must be experiencing raises questions about the underlying issues that could lead to such a distressing situation.

There exists a prevalent belief that women and girls, by virtue of societal norms, are perceived as weaker and more susceptible to violence. Advocates for women often reinforce this narrative. For example, when we consider statistics that highlight the high incidence of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) against females, we can say it is indeed alarming.

The United Nations Women (UNW) reports that one in three women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Also, data from the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) in 2021 reveals disturbing trends in Sexual Assault Referral Centers incident reporting. The majority of sexual offenses (88 percent) are reported against females, especially those under 18 years old. This reinforces the widespread perception that women and girls bear the brunt of SGBV. In Nigeria, a staggering 60 percent of rape survivors are children aged 0–14, with an alarming 0.9 percent of sexual assault perpetrators brought to trial and almost none convicted. This alarming statistic underscores the urgent need for immediate attention and intervention in addressing GBV, with a recognition that both genders can be victims, and a comprehensive approach is necessary for effective prevention and support.

Additionally, another vulnerable group of people facing heightened challenges, particularly among women and girls, are people with disabilities (PWDs). Sadly, many of them lack empowerment, and the care they receive is often viewed as a charitable act rather than a basic right. Those with disabilities who endure GBV often find themselves trapped in silence, choosing to remain in harmful situations because their caregivers represent their sole source of hope. The lack of viable alternatives makes leaving seem impossible, creating an unfair and untenable situation that demands societal attention and change. It is essential to address the root causes and provide support systems that empower individuals, regardless of gender or ability, to live free from violence and exploitation.

In certain regions, individuals who perpetrate GBV often share a common history – they were once victims themselves. Unfortunately, many of them have not sought the necessary help to fully heal, perpetuating a cycle of violence. Growing up in an environment rife with violence increases the likelihood of individuals becoming even more aggressive than the original source of their learning.

Regarding domestic violence, there are instances where the character and behaviour of the victims are perceived as problematic. In these cases, the perpetrators may view violence as a corrective measure to address what they consider unruly behaviour. However, such an approach is generally inappropriate and tends to fall short of achieving the intended results. It is essential to recognise that resorting to violence as a means of correction is not a productive or justified solution in most cases.

Each day, the media is flooded with reports on GBV, prompting concerns about the countless cases that remain unreported. It is imperative that all of us be deeply concerned about this issue. Recognising violence when it occurs is crucial, and collective efforts are needed to curb its prevalence. Those found guilty of such acts must face appropriate consequences to serve as a deterrent for others.

As a starting point, the 16 Days of Activism are important, but the fight against GBV requires ongoing commitment. GBV goes beyond violating our rights as human beings; it robs individuals of a life free from fear, pain, and low self-esteem. While life’s challenges can be inevitable and contribute to personal growth, intentional infliction of pain, hardship, and injustice by another human being, claiming superiority, is unacceptable.

It is essential to pay attention to those who bravely speak out about their experiences and ensure that they receive the justice they deserve. Governments must proactively implement measures to combat this pervasive menace. The importance of providing women and girls with quality education and skills is paramount, as it will assist them in taking on decision-making roles, and will empower them to challenge and overcome those who perpetrate violence against them. By taking these steps, we contribute to creating a society where GBV is not only condemned but also prevented. We must actively engage in conversations about GBV at every opportunity, opposing it in all its forms. The goal is to ensure that such violence is minimised to the barest minimum. Waiting for ourselves or our loved ones to become victims is unnecessary; the time to act is now. Each of us has a role to play in combating GBV and creating a society where such acts are not tolerated.

Furera Isiaka writes from Resource Centre for Huma Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED).


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