By Jeremy Meltzer (a White Ribbon Ambassador and Founder of iEqualChange)
It takes my breath away. We have been brutalizing women for thousands of years. Why does this continue to occur with such overwhelming frequency? Largely unseen, rendered almost banal, herein lies the issue. Up to 90% of violence against women that occurs behind closed doors is perpetrated by men against their ‘intimate partners’.
Do men commit violence against women in public? Almost never: they could not get way with it. So, far from public eyes, protected from the stigma and repercussions of being labeled ‘violent’, the most seemingly functional and even successful amongst us contribute to what the UN calls the most ‘pervasive and systematic human rights abuse in the world’ – violence against women.
Since when does being an ‘intimate partner’ include being the receptacle of violence? There is nothing ‘intimate’ nor deserving of the word ‘partner’ in an abusive relationship. We maintain the illusions of civility at great personal risk.
I will be clear.
For thousands of years men have chosen to be violent against women. These choices have been largely excused, commoditized and normalized. Men are rarely challenged or held accountable. Even with our purported liberalism and sophistication, we still insinuate a woman’s inherent responsibility for the abusive choices of men. Relationships are complicated. They can become dysfunctional. Women can also be abusive. Although when talking about physical and sexual violence, and the intractable scars it leaves, a clear line in the sand is easily drawn. As aggressors, men inhabit this domain almost exclusively.
As men, we choose violence when words and the capacity to emote fail us. We choose violence when we know we can get away with it. Subconsciously fearing and resenting the sexual power women have over us; we delude ourselves by our potency and by the control this fear longs to maintain. Spasms of violence - these deeply selfish moments - often affect women and girls for the rest of their lives, and will prevent them from realizing their fullest potential. We all lose deeply as a result.
Under the illusion of separation - that what happens next door doesn’t ultimately affect us all - numbed by frantic lives, alcohol and sports, we allow ourselves the comforting lie that ‘it’s not our business’. Well, it is our business. Do we need to talk business for this issue to resonate? Violence against women conservatively costs the Australian economy over $14 billion per year. Thousands of paid workdays are lost each year costing employers hundreds of millions of dollars.
More importantly and tragically, violence against women in Australia is the leading cause of death and disability in women aged 15 to 44. 1 in 3 women will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetimes. 1 in 5 women experiences rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. As tragic as Jill Meagher’s murder was, one woman a week in Australia is killed by her ‘intimate partner’ - by the man who should be loving, honoring and protecting her.
So where is men’s roar? Not for the football, but for the deep injustice and unconsciousness that allows this issue to fester unabated in our communities.
As White Ribbon Day arrives, I ask that as men we sit quietly, and summon the courage to examine our beliefs about the value and role of women in our lives. Interestingly, with introspection we often realize our ideas are not our own, but come from our cultural conditioning - from the ‘social soup’ in which we were born. And here lies the opportunity. Instead of succumbing to the uniquely human trait of outsourcing responsibility to everything (and everyone) else, with awareness of what is ours - as distinct from the beliefs foisted upon us by time, place and our experiences since birth - we can begin to make different choices. The cumulative effect of different choices, ultimately creates profoundly different lives.
I believe violence against women will continue for another thousand years until we realize this is a men’s issue. And so, it is up to us. Every day offers the opportunity to listen for our truth, stand up, hold each other accountable and recognize what in fact we long for, instead of succumbing to the reactions that belong to centuries of institutionalized misogyny, prejudice and fear.
Let us begin today. Turn down the banter, the endless distractions, acknowledge and pay homage to the beauty and the gifts women bring to our lives. When we honor them, we honor ourselves. To co-create our lives, peacefully and lovingly; seeking connection, passion and purpose is our birthright.
This is my choice.
This article was provided to the PGPD and also published in The Age
Australian Parliamentary Group
on Population and Development
A cross-party group of parliamentarians working together to champion reproductive health and women's empowerment