It’s been awhile since I’ve been anywhere and felt so completely like the new girl. Last week, I was in Eastern Europe- Georgia to be exact and for the whole time I was there, I didn’t see another Black face. It was most disconcerting being stared at constantly. But that’s half the fun of being a domestic violence activist- it takes you to some very unusual places!
I was training a group of prosecutors and once we’d got through the language barrier (thanks to the wonderful interpreters), we discovered that (a) domestic violence happens all over the place; (b) it looks pretty much the same wherever you go and (c) there are committed people everywhere tackling the scourge that is domestic violence. Because domestic violence is about power and control, it doesn’t matter where it’s happening, because the root cause is the same. There might be some superficial differences in the types of violence that occur, but fundamentally, it’s the same. We had a lively debate about whether domestic violence is caused by alcohol or drugs or stress or anger (also very common beliefs about domestic violence). As we went back and forth, it occurred to me that these factors were just like make-up. No matter how little or how much make up a person uses, there’s still a face underneath. When all is said and done and the make-up is wiped off, you’re still left with two eyes, a nose and a mouth. It’s the same with domestic violence. The violence is fuelled by a desire to exercise power and control over your partner. Sometimes, these other factors are also present, but in the end it comes down to a simple choice about whether or not to use violence to get what you want.
The next point I’d like to make is that the challenges that we face in tackling domestic violence are pretty similar wherever you go. However, where there are challenges, there are still committed people who are up for the challenge of ending violence against women. We’ve just had the 1 billion rising event on the 14 February and next Saturday is International Women’s Day. I don’t know many activists who will be saying “Oh no, is it time for another event to highlight violence against women? I’m tired; I think I’ll sit this one out”. In my experience, it doesn’t work like that. If you’re in, you’re in and you seize every opportunity to speak out and take action. No woman is free, until we’re all free!
Finally, in spite of all the challenges, I think that there is still hope- as long as we don’t stop trying. When I think back to how things were, when I started this journey 14 years ago, there is much to be thankful for. As a junior prosecutor presenting a domestic violence case, I remember being told by a judge that I was in the wrong court. He said I should be in the family court, because domestic violence is a family issue and not a crime. Attitudes may not be perfect now, but they have definitely shifted from there! In spite of the ongoing violence against women, in spite of the efforts to shut down the conversation and in the face of serious injustices, we continue to fight to end this attack on women. As I end this piece, I’d like to encourage you to think about your attitude to domestic violence. What are your beliefs about it? Are you ready to stand up and speak out about it? Do you want to leave a better world for our daughters, where they don’t have to fear being that 1 in 4 woman who will experience violence in her lifetime?
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Until next week, go well.