Making women’s history month matter: ending violence against women
By Lauren Anders Brown
“…the client was problematic, she wanted things to be done her way or else she would say they are corrupt.”
It’s not easy to listen to stories of gender based violence. In the field, I would often feel a lot of feelings — both the pain for the survivors (they should always be survivors, not patients or clients) and my own pain of what I was putting them through by asking them to relive their experience again. One feeling I would usually feel as well, is anger — towards the lack of justice that usually always follows a case of gender based violence.
1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
With a statistic like that, it is unsurprising that so many women have been coming forward with the momentum of #metoo. And it seems while the platform of media, my own industry and work included, has been great catalyst for change it has also become somewhat of a curse.
I recently hosted a TED Circle titled ‘How to Consume Your News’ where one of the takeaways that came up from the talk was: if everyone is a reporter, no one is. The internet has given us a huge amount of equality and platform, especially for women. My biggest concern last year was that all the fights for equality that would usually take place in crowds and protests would become muted in quarantine. Despite my concerns, I feel it has been an incredible year of activism that is not showing any signs of letting up. Nevertheless, all the hashtags and trending can’t give women what they need most — to be heard, understood, and to receive the justice that is due to them and to those involved. It’s not an easy process, but we can participate in it. Not just by showing up at marches but by curating our own news through different outlets than ways we’ve traditionally consumed media in order to get a just understanding of the issues at hand.
The quote at the beginning of this piece is from a chain in an email describing a survivor of gender based violence by a case worker. It mentions the problematic nature of the ‘client’ but avoids to call the problematic paper trail of the case this client has been fighting- how its been withdrawn, closed, and awaiting feedback for sometimes years. The email also describes her lack of attendance at a homeless shelter, as if this should determine whether her claim of gender based violence is valid or not.
When I read this chain of information, I must admit I too had biased thoughts enter my mind and questioning the case. But I then immediately thought, well why is this? What in this email has made me question this? Just those two unrelated sentences on her character made me question myself, and then I realised that the purpose of those sentences had just proved their effectiveness on me.
Any claim of gender based violence needs to be held accountable and justice to be served or it will never cease to end. It’s been a tough #WomensHistoryMonth with more cases and more cases in the media with more and more descriptions of ‘problematic’ survivors or worse, those that don’t survive like Sarah Everand in my adopted city of London.
Curate your news, the truth is no longer served on a silver platter.
If there’s anything we’ve learned being locked down, it’s that there’s a million ways to tell a story. You don’t need to read all one million, but try to create a healthy daily media intake to avoid only getting one side of the story and having unconscious bias like I did from reading that email. For every one side you encounter, work to get out of that echo chamber and into another to keep your own blind scales of liberty balanced.
“Fight for the things you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Intake media in different formats — From television to twitter and especially radio as it’s often a most trusted news source, try several different ways to absorb it so no one way becomes your only way. Some screen-free time is also good for your own self-understanding of a situation.
But most importantly, just listen to women. 1 out of 3 women will have had an act of gender based violence occur to them, that’s worth listening to them and working to find ways to keep them and other women safe.
The survivor mentioned at the beginning of this piece was violated by a Deacon in the Catholic Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. When she tried to report the case to the church where she also attended nursing school, her free tuition was stopped and she was left in a foreign country to fend for herself. No action was taken by the church or even the Bishop against this perpetrator, and he continues to serve in the church to date as if nothing has happened. Her attempts at seeking justice have been a bureaucratic challenge, she has struggled to have her voice heard and to have appropriate action taken. She continues to fight for her justice to this day not just for herself but for other survivors from the church, including young boys.
With the support of organisations like Voice It In Action, survivors can begin their course of justice through marches, social media campaigns #BeyondThePain, and grassroots efforts to encourage other survivors to share their stories — take a look at some of their work here and send them an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out on WhatsApp 074 268 9571 / 071 426 0606.
I write a lot about Gender Based Violence (GBV) and gender equality. You can read more and also follow me on twitter and instagram to join my monthly TED Circles.