In Defense of a Gendered Lens: addressing the term “Stop Violence Against Women”

Men and women are differently situated. Although we have an equal capacity to achieve as much as the other, it is important to realize that the place and experiences of women in societies are different from that of men. Changing the ‘STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN’ campaign, to simply read ‘STOP VIOLENCE’, eliminates the context in which the violence is occurring, removes the gendered perspective, and erases the fact that men and women are differently situated.

This is not to say that men do not experience violence nor does it say that they do not have a role in stopping violence. There are certainly instances of men experiencing violence, and men absolutely have a role; they have a significant role. But their experiences and the role that they will play is different from that of women. The way for us, as a society, to address this issue to boys, the way we talk about this issue to boys, will not be the same as the way we talk about this issue to girls.

What can be a problem however is that there is sometimes no joint conversation happening between men and women, between boys and girls. Which is why I understand one’s willingness to simply say “STOP VIOLENCE”, as opposed to “STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN“. It is not a secret that this lack of conversation and this lack of collaboration has been harmful to the Gender Based Violence (GBV) campaigns. But the way to solve that lack of conversation and that lack of collaboration is not to take away the gendered perspective.

It is a known fact that women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence. Placing a gendered perspective on the issue allows and gives us a framework to investigate why this is the case and why women and girls are more affected by violence than men and boys. What is it that we, as a society, do to affect the choices of men and to affect the choices of women? Without a gendered lens, it is difficult to ask these questions and to highlight the different situations in which men and women find themselves in.

In the case of the Karenni refugees for example, perhaps the disproportionate violence towards women comes from the fact that it is often boys/men who join the military and are ingrained with the mentality that physical violence is necessary to achieve a means (in their case, independence from Burmese military control). It is also boys/men who have a lot more free time in the camp as they are not required to stay home and to cook and to clean. Thus it is boys/men who have greater access to a space that is not regulated by their parents nor by their immediate community, a space that will allow them to partake in non-socially acceptable activities, and a space that will allow them to consume larger amounts of alcohol than they ought to.

At the same time, limiting women’s space and movement, as they have more responsibility in the house, limits their visibility in the community. It limits the audience to their abuse, it limits their social interactions, their social connections, and limits the security that they may be able to derive from having such connections.

A gendered lens or a gendered perspective allows us to view the issue of violence in these terms and allows us to create increasingly effective solutions borne out of a more culturally and situationally relevant understanding of violence.