Scars Across Humanity: Naming the Problem

There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

On 25 November 1960 in a sugarcane field in the Dominican Republic, three sisters were brutally assassinated. They had been tortured, strangled and clubbed to death. They were three of the four Mirabal sisters who had spent many years highlighting the corruption and injustice of Rafael Trujillo, the infamous Dominican dictator, whose cruel and despotic regime brought death to more than 50,000 of his own people. The women were persistent in their defiance. Their husbands had been incarcerated for political opposition, and they themselves had spent much time in jail. One night, as three of them were driving home from visiting the isolated prison which held their husbands, their jeep was intercepted on a remote mountain road. They were dragged out of the vehicle, taken to a lonely field, and savagely murdered. The jeep they had been travelling in was then thrown over the cliff, with their bodies inside, so that the world would think it an accident. But no one was fooled. There were cries of outrage from the Dominican Catholic Church, already in conflict with Trujillo, and this was followed by international condemnation. The despot’s rule was never to recover. Within a year his regime would be finished, and he himself assassinated.

Nearly forty years later, in 1999, a representative from the Dominican Republic brought a resolution to the General Assembly of the United Nations that November 25 should be known as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This day had long been remembered in Latin America and now it was the United Nations turn. The resolution was adopted. Not only would the bravery of the Mirabal sisters never be forgotten, but the brutality meted out to them would stand as a marker for all violence inflicted on women along with the call for its elimination. What had begun as a protest by four courageous Catholic women against a vicious tyrant, now became a justice call for women across the globe who suffered at the hands of tyrants, whether that tyranny was political, military, economic, structural or domestic.

Yet, there is a paradox here, of course. The Mirabal sisters were well-connected, highly educated, fluent, popular and influential. They had once moved in elitist circles; were articulate as women in the public sphere. The injustice their family received was visible and recognized; their murder was open to scrutiny and its outcome had far-reaching consequences. Yet few of the women with whom they now share this day, will also share these characteristics. Far more often these women will be unidentified, silent, out of public view, hidden behind a veneer of normality, or suffering in isolation. Their deaths will not make the headlines, their names may never be known. But they are ever present, and exist in their millions. As the statistics calmly tell us, acts of violence to women aged between 15 and 44 across the globe, produce more deaths, disability and mutilation than cancer, malaria and traffic accidents combined.

The truth is that violence on such a scale could not exist were it not structured in some way into the very fabric of societies and cultures themselves. It could not continue if it were not somehow supported by deep assumptions about the value of women, or some justification of the use of power. In many cultures such assumptions are reiterated every day in the absence of legal protection for women, or indifference towards issues of human rights. Even in advanced democratic societies, where women play a significant part in public life, the level of domestic violence and sexual abuse suggests that these assumptions remain powerful and effective, even though they are concealed behind closed doors.

So what is it about human societies that tolerates the kind of animosity and violence towards women which is greater than that found in animal communities? What is it about some human cultures and tradition which makes it normal for women to undergo rape, beatings, cutting, molestation, infanticide, trafficking, bride burning, child prostitution and sexual slavery? It seems ambitious to hope that we can find an answer to these questions. But if violence to women is ever to be eliminated, we need to know what it is that we are up against.

My wish is that this book will be a contribtion to the search. It has been eight years in the writing, begun after a trip to Africa brought me into contact with women whose sufferings from war were heart-wrenching. My conviction has grown that the power we are up against is destructive. I am just daring to hope that this effort might add its own weight to changing the structures and extinguishing the brutality which have harmed and destroyed far too many women.

We are grateful to Elaine for permission to publish the introduction to her important new book, Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women (SPCK), which is reviewed by Natalie Collins here

1 thought on “Scars Across Humanity: Naming the Problem”

  1. I just find it incredibly disturbing and frustrating ,that the way that people never ever listen at the point of need that can or will do anything about it. I have for years alongside many tried to work out why, there are so many levels of violence, and anyone who actually really just wants to create peace is mocked and often ostracized because it upsets their equilibrium or so it seems. It is a type of reverse psychology it messes with the mind. The reason it continues is because the real perpetrators of violence start with the mind so those who are harmed are harmed because they believe in the deepest crevice of there being that no one will or can help. But the other more important level is that when there are signs of violence beginning to show on a smaller level people are prevented from dealing with it. It is at this point it starts . It may be individuals it may be committees but the minute that the victim is not heard that is the gap. All of our wars are started by individuals all businesses rely on profit or making money to survive. So money and power always at the root of it, land is needed for that and so on it goes. I actually don’t believe people are born evil but people are born wilful some right from the word go rely on careful management to steer them in the right direction, the people they meet on the way will help or hinder, but a lot of damage is done preschool. Upon going to school without good teachers , and the understanding of the effects of home on learning little people are lost. From then on its which side of the fence do you end up on being abused in the many guises it comes making everyday a challenge of the ducking and diving of survival through fear to what may or will happen, or a person who ducks and dives through business or status who is equally vulnerable, or a person who believes because they have seen so many cases that are similar that one treatment fits all?. All of this leads to people being in a place in life where they either help or hinder abuse, nothing it seems is able to irradicate it. People always laugh when it’s small but it’s there it has to begin, it is not about the act but the intention of the act, female mutilation is about control . It was about degradation, abuse is about degrading people and creating shame fear and guilt it is impossible for the victim to pick it up. Because things were designed to make it that way and women are victims but women are also perpetrators not all of them because a man forced them to be so. I have been verbally berated by many men who feel hard done to because they were victims of abuse, the problem then increases if only they realised, they put obstacles in the way to prevent those who are actually trying to stop it,because they are wrapped up in fighting for rights. Abusers are brazen and they think they are untouchable the things put in place to prevent it cause more fear to the victims and thus strengthens the abusers position. It is literally a nightmare on a loop.So much is put down to culture it has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with at least misguided pleasure pain principles and humiliation and control alongside a physical environment and financial environment that both creates and allows it. This is followed by disempowerment . It actually starts in the top colleges and universities , which is why its hard to stop. It starts there because it’s about strength of character, but it depends on the character, as one lot fights to prevent abuse the other lot fight for the right to have sex with children, the same universities teach them both and allow both.People operate on a protection system, how can we expect any one to put their family on the line without that protection, there are so many components and strands. But I hold on to this seek the intention not the outcome. For in that you may unravel it. Even dictatorships have an intention of order as do people who want to arrange an event. It is the need for order. The need for order tends to come from the desperation to be heard to feel calm, prevention is better than cure always. Survivors of abuse become the living dead it not being bearable to relive, not fully functioning and out of balance ,more affected by the events outside of them than others, setting the scene for further abuse. Sadist see that weakness, whether intellectually or physically sexually or psychologically, and not forgetting spiritually, break a person’s spirit to do good what are you left with. ?

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