By Amílcar Sanatan, CCSJ Board member
Governments, institutions, and civil society groups around the world annually mobilise for the Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign. The campaign runs between November 25 and December 10.
Therefore, the campaign begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and concludes on International Human Rights Day.
The campaign was established since the 1990s and has sought to advance the understanding that violence against women is a violation of women’s human rights and it is imperative that we construct societies of peace.
One of the main modes of raising consciousness on gender-based violence, violence against women and social problems in general, is to facilitate a public forum or expert-led panel discussion on the topic.
This allows for policy makers, practitioners, scholars, and activists in the respective fields to define the issue and its concepts, discuss the historical and contemporary development of the problem and propose solutions and a way forward to redress the issue.
People outside of these events — and even some who attend — question, “what is the point of all this talk?”. Some are well-intentioned in their questioning.
Given the urgency and prevalence of the issue, I understand that a forum in a safe environment to people who appear to already grasp the seriousness of the issue is seen as “preaching to the choir”.
However, public talks that illustrate the problem and address current dynamics of problems, such as gender-based violence, are critical parts of developing transformative actions for social justice.
Talks stimulate public debate and interest and ultimately transform public consciousness. For example, through sustained ‘talks’ on social and traditional media, women asserted their rights in the Carnival fetes around consent for their bodies.
Though “thief a wine” was long considered to be a fixed and unchanging dimension of Trinidad and Tobago culture, a generation of young women and Carnival revellers spoke up as a collective and challenged that understanding of the culture.
In 2018, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service dutifully cautioned the nation that sexual harassment and assault are criminal offenses and consent should be the basis of all dancing and enjoyment during Carnival.
There are topics that are less spoken about in the public domain and have less airtime or real estate in our consciousness.
Are we prepared to promote and protect paid family and domestic violence leave in the workplace? Human resource professionals throughout Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean have long relied on being discreet, creating ‘special arrangements’ or worse, institutional silence, in their response to workers who experience violence in the household.
If we want to see a fundamental shift in the stories of violence against women, we should imagine a world where they do not have to experience abuse and lose pay for being absent from work or returning to work with makeup over their bruises.
Having attended talks and public fora for over a decade, I invited a process of learning and unlearning. This was important to expanding my knowledge about issues of gender-based violence in schools through the voices of guidance counsellors, challenging androcentrism [practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing a masculine point of view at the centre of one’s world view, culture, and history] and never repeating phrases such as “the man on the street” to represent the interests of both women and men, and more.
Sadly, there are several challenges to sustain public actions. Throughout the world, people rise up in collectives selectively. Still, there are multiple domains for transformative work and action and an important part of it is empowering people with decision-making power – from primary school teachers to politicians – to have the consciousness to protect the rights and freedoms of all, particularly the most vulnerable.
Most importantly, people are suffering in our homes, in our communities and all around the world. The public talk reminds them that they are not alone.
SOCIAL JUSTICE QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
“Some people are born into economically stable families, receive a fine education, grow up well nourished, or naturally possess great talent. They will certainly not need a proactive state; they need only claim their freedom. Yet the same rule clearly does not apply to a disabled person, to someone born in dire poverty, to those lacking a good education and with little access to adequate health care.” (109)
– Pope Francis, Fratelli Tuitti.
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee