Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why violence against women is a men's issue

What is it about us men? Why do we always seem to want control over women? Why do so many of us become violent when the “requisite” degree of control is not available to us?

Violence against women is the scourge of all societies. My family’s background is Indian Muslim. Indian cultures are some of the most oppressive toward women. Muslim Indian society produced Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani villager who was sentence to be raped as part of communal “justice” for the crime of bringing “dishonour”. Her actual “crime” was that her brother had befriended a woman from a powerful clan.

Instead of defending her pleas for justice, Pakistani President Musharraf caused international outrage by claiming rape had become a “money-making concern” used by women to seek refuge overseas.

On a perhaps more mundane level, it is the same society in which male religious scholars pass edicts (known as fatwa’s) against tennis star Sania Mirza for the length of her skirt, while ignoring the tightness of my namesake Irfan Pathan’s cricket trousers.

In Bangladesh, women are regularly attacked with acid if they are deemed to behave in a culturally inappropriate fashion. Yet this same community at one stage had a female president and opposition leader.

Something is rotten in the state of Islam. The way we treat our women is atrocious. Which doesn’t say a lot for Muslim societies as a whole, given that at least 51% of their community are women.

One recent well-publicised gang-rape case in Sydney involving defendants of Pakistani background outraged the community. A defence barrister reportedly claimed his client’s crimes were an inevitable result of “cultural conditioning” as the defendant grew up in Pakistan where traditional views are held about women.

Traditional views? To gang-rape a woman is deemed traditional? One Sydney lawyer, Ms Wajiha Ahmed, was outraged by the claims. She was cited in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “To make this excuse of where a person came from and that they lived a traditional life, is not good enough. This is a travesty for all women, not just white Anglo-Saxon women, but for all women.”

But it isn’t just Muslim communities that subject women to violence. In the great bastion of Judeo-Christian values that is 21st century Australia, domestic violence is on the increase. Yes, something is rotten across the Tasman as well.

On October 27, the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics released a report that showed reported incidents of domestic violence had increased across NSW by some 50% over the past 7 years. During the period of 1997 to 2004, rates in Sydney alone increased by 40%.

The trends are predictable, but the figures are alarming. Most women are abused by current or former male partners. 36% of incidents involved the abuse of alcohol by perpetrators. In the past year, some 86% of incidents occurred in or near the victim’s or someone else’s home. Around one-third of victims suffered injuries – mostly bruising, red marks, minor cuts or bleeding.

Some 15% of victims suffer more serious injuries – fractures, burns and internal injuries. And who knows what emotional and psychological scars women bear as a result of domestic violence.

We read these statistics. We read what women activists are saying about domestic violence. But what about men? What steps are men taking?

November 25 is my mother’s birthday. It is also White Ribbon Day, the United Nations’ designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On this day, men claim the issue of violence against women as a men’s issue.

Which makes sense. After all, the overwhelming majority of acts of violence against women are perpetrated by men. It is only appropriate that men be the ones to champion non-violent relationships amongst other men.

White Ribbon Day began in Canada in 1991, on the second anniversary of a massacre in which one man killed 14 women in Montreal. Since then, in countries across the world, men have been wearing white ribbons to signify their opposition to all forms of violence against women.

An important feature of the White Ribbon Day campaign is the role played by male ambassadors who are at the heart of the campaign to inform and agitate to eliminate violence against women. Among Australian ambassadors for White Ribbon Day are three Australian Muslim men (including myself), as well as men from across the spectrum of Australian society. They include footballers, politicians, entertainers, lawyers, politicians and businessmen. They include indigenous and not-so-indigenous Australians.

White Ribbon Day is about turning violence against women into a men’s issue. The men involved as ambassadors for White Ribbon Day are not perfect in their relations with women. But if we remain silent on the issue, we may as well be lending a helping hand to those who perpetrate violence against women.

Men really have only two choices when it comes to violence against women. They either speak out or they effectively lend a hand. Or perhaps a fist. Or a broken bottle. Or some other implement being used. The choice is ours.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University. He is an ambassador for White Ribbon Day 2005. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

2 comment(s):

  • Well put and very insigtful. If Muslim men and women do not act to protect the sanctity of life, human and otherwise, irregardless of gender, class, or association, then we collectively fail as inhabitants of this world. If a single woman is crushed under the yoke of cultural chauvanism and twisted egoism without emotional, verbal, or physical opposition, then so suffer all Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, and Spouses; and ultimately us all.

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/08/2005 12:52:00 AM  

  • If we could change the world....one person at a time

    I have to believe that one day we will live in a world without violence.

    If only more men though like you


    By Anonymous PeTra, at 11/25/2005 11:11:00 PM  

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