No Place on Earth: Lessons I’ve learned about violence against women by AsielWritten by Asiel Yessengeldina
Content note: discussion of sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence.
When a boy pulled my hair at kindergarten and kicked me in the playground, my teacher told me that is boys’ way of showing they like you and she candidly added that “boys will be boys“.
This belief does not only harm girls but manipulates boys into thinking that they are by nature, hostile and incapable of self-control and rationalisation in times of stress. Instead of teaching them how to express emotions in a healthy way, we reinforce the need to numb any feelings besides aggression and confine them to toxic masculinity.
The first time I wore a mini skirt out, I was groped for wearing it. When I confronted the harasser, I was met with surprise for not being “submissive enough” for an Asian girl, and challenged: If it wasn’t my intention to attract attention, then why had I worn the mini skirt that day? One of my friends later told me that it was a compliment, that my body was “worthy enough” to be harassed. That was the last day I wore a mini skirt.
For the first nine years of my life I grew up in a highly patriarchal society. As uncomfortable as it is to admit, I also grew up in a highly dysfunctional family. A home where all I’d ever witnessed was an overpowering dominance from men over women and an emotional and psychological intimidation. When I experienced domestic abuse, I translated it as a reminder to be disciplined and I would keep telling myself that it was for my own good.
In my family circles, women were often subject to domestic violence. My aunt got used to her husband beating her so much that she couldn’t remember when her body wasn’t bruised and her ribs not broken. The story ends with her husband threatening to kill her and she had no choice but to flee the country and leave her children behind. There was no action taken by the police.
It is not surprising that in a country where bridal kidnapping and marital rape are not criminally prosecuted, the criminal justice system has failed to help my aunt and many other women feel safe. Domestic abuse is not believed to be a crime but a “family matter” where the state has no business in intervening.
The lack of laws protecting victims against domestic abuse stems from dangerously deeply rooted cultural beliefs. Women are told that if they behaved “well enough”, their husbands wouldn’t have a reason to punish them. This assumption implies that a women’s “obedience” is a promise for her safety and that violence exists for our well-being.
Language is also often co-opted to oppress women. A Russian proverb, commonly used, translates as: “If he beats you then he must love you.” This damaging motto instructs us to appreciate abuse and violence as a token of affection. All this is nothing but propaganda, a tool to control women’s lives and withhold them from their own autonomy.
Two weeks ago, I attended a workshop whose goal was to prevent and tackle sexual violence. It covered different aspects of the topic but one thing that struck me the most were local statistics. In 2013, there were more rapes than robberies in Scotland.
Naively enough I thought Scotland was different when it came to violence against women due to its reputation of being more progressive and ready to tackle all issues. Unfortunately, I soon realised, there is no place on earth yet where women are safe. No existing law that can prevent a woman from facing violence.
What does it look like for the rest of the world?
According to the UN, of all women who were victims of homicide in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.
Up to 70% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence. In Washington DC, one in four women has experienced sexual harassment on public transportation.
Worldwide, 750 million women and girls today were married before their 18th birthday. Slightly more than one in 10 girls have gone through forced intercourse and other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives by husbands, partners or boyfriends.
At least 200 million women have survived genital mutilation, most of them cut before the age of five. Women and girls account for 71% of all human trafficking victims.
In the European Union, one in ten women have reported being cyber-harassed by receiving unsolicited sexually explicit emails, messages, pictures or offensive advances since the age of 15.
Studies show that marginalisation based on sexual orientation, social class, disability, ethnicity and age can increase women’s vulnerability to violence.
Throughout my lifetime I’ve witnessed women go through tough situations: raising children as single parents, surviving all forms of violence, fighting mental health issues. Needless to say, life is a path filled with many obstacles but violence should not be one of them.
Let’s continue to empower and support one another and to challenge everyday norms. Although we live in a world that wasn’t created to benefit us or make our lives any easier, if there is one thing that I know for sure, it is that we – women – are amazingly resilient and strong. We have more power within us than we believe.
Asiel Yessengeldina is a politics and psychology student and an intersectional feminist. She cares about mental health and the environment, and loves travelling, thought provoking conversations and self improvement. Find her on Instagram at: vslyxdn