Sexual Violence is a Men’s Issue

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Caribbean journalist Ricky Singh indicts regional and national women’s groups, women lawyers and women politicians for being silent in the face of sexual violence against women.

Roberta Clarke, on her Roots and Rights blog, pointed out that for the last 20 years women’s organisations have in fact been speaking out, advocating for legislation, running shelters and crisis centres  etc. Caribbean women have been anything but silent in the face of relentless and ongoing violence. In the 1980s schoolgirls in St. Vincent and the Grenadines marched to protest sexual violence and in 2013 women’s groups across the region continue to do unrecognised, invisibilised work.

When it comes to sexual violence the overwhelming majority of persons who are raped or sexually assaulted are women and girls and the overwhelming majority of rapists are men.  Men and boys too are victims of rape (though not at the same rates as women and girls) and in these cases too, men are the overwhelming majority of rapists.  It should therefore be self-evident that sexual violence is a men’s issue.  And the more appropriate question to ask is why men as the majority of elected leaders in the region, as individuals and members of various men’s organisations are not doing everything in their power to end sexual violence. Rape is a men’s issue.  Ending rape, speaking out against violence against women and girls is the collective responsibility of men.

Yet, men collectively, as major power brokers in the region, are silent.

Why are Caribbean men silent on rape? Why did it not occur to Rickey Singh to ask this question? Why is men’s silence not shocking?

Everybody should be outraged when schoolgirls are sexually harassed in the street and on public transportation, when women are killed by their intimate partners, when police officers turn away rape survivors for being naked, when payments are accepted in lieu of prosecution in cases of child sexual abuse, when our legal system supports this form of injustice, when deputy commissioners of police suggest that teen girls are the ones responsible for the sexual crimes against them. Everybody should be outraged.  Not just women.  Not just the handful of women parliamentarians.  Not just overworked and underfunded women’s organisations. EVERYBODY.  And that includes men who for too long have been shamefully silent.  (Big up attorney Lennox Sankersingh and the other lawyers who have offered to support rape survivors throughout the legal process in Trinidad and Tobago).

Why are men silent on sexual violence against women and girls?

What does their silence communicate?

Does it communicate an acceptance of rape culture, of gender inequality? An understanding that violence against women and girls and the threat of it is part of what helps to maintain male privilege? A desire to see that privilege maintained at all costs?

It’s time we heard from Caribbean men what they intend to do to end gender-based violence.

I’m all ears…

Jamaican women accused of creating rapists by failing to breastfeed

A Jamaican anthropologist blamed poor Jamaican mothers for failing to breast feed their sons and the social neglect which leaves them marginalised and prone to violence.  Many Caribbean boys and men face limited options, an education system which reinforces class stratification, marginalisation and lack of a social safety net.  Blaming their mothers who face the same conditions does nothing to assist the young men recruited by criminal gangs and forced onto the margins of society.  Mother-blame completely misdiagnoses the problem.  It lets governments off the hook for ensuring that their policies promote justice and social equality.  It lets government off the hook for treating these young men as expendable.  It also colludes with the worse of misogynist ideology.  In the context of very brutal rapes of women and girls, arguing that women created the rapists by neglecting their sons is such perverse victim-blaming.  To argue that Caribbean mothers protect their girls at the expense of their boys is, of course, to ignore the harms which girls face too.  (And to ignore men’s responsibilities as parents!) We can call attention to the harms facing boys and men without dismissing and denigrating women and girls.

This article came to my attention via Caribbean feminist, Roberta Clarke’s blog post about the need for reliable allies:

I sometimes pessimistically think of women working with men on gender equality as a high risk endeavor, akin to walking on the verge of a precipice or a high tension wire. Similarly in our personal lives, you going good, good and then out of nowhere, a sexist joke and  some man friend telling you, ‘ like  you cyah take a joke?”

I don’t share her pessimism when it comes to working with men because we do have feminist men working with CODE RED.  YAY! (In fact, we have a very exciting project in the pipeline which will see young men and women working together). I do share her concerns, however, about the new men’s organisations which have emerged in the region since the late 90s and some gender scholars and practitioners who are decidedly anti-woman.  Many who are talking the gender talk are attracting legitimacy and funding but are not at all interested in gender equality.  Thinking through gender is hard, hard work. You’ve got to be willing to think, to hurt your head, to be introspective, to question everything, to examine your own privileges and to live the talk everyday.  It’s hard work. And at a minimum, its work that potential allies have to commit to doing.

On a related note, Philip Cohen of the US, who blogs at Family Inequality uses data to show that single moms can’t be scapegoated for the murder rate any more.