Can generation equality really end rape?

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Can generation equality really end rape?

Friday, December 20, 2019

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It is fairly common knowledge that November 25, 2019 was recognised across the world as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). IDEVAW's major inception moment can be traced back to February 7, 2000 when it was officially adopted by the United Nations in honour of the Mirabal sisters. Prior to their deaths, the Mirabal sisters had become renowned for their ardent and unyielding opposition to the tyrannical regime of Columbian dictator, Rafael Trujillo who eventually ordered their assassination in 1960. Since its official adoption, IDEVAW has operated as a unifying force for activists, allies and key stakeholders the world over who remain steadfast in their commitment to eradicating violence against women and girls in all its manifestations.

The theme for IDEVAW 2019, 'Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape', sounded a clarion call to action, which implored us all to challenge and reject rape, as well as those ideologies, attitudes, and narratives that accommodate it.

As an act of violence with life-altering and life-long effects for its victims, rape is notoriously pervasive across the world and affects women and girls disproportionately. Indeed, data gleaned from influential studies on the issue have confirmed these realities. More specifically, a 2017 United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) study entitled 'A Familiar Face: Violence in the lives of children and adolescents', estimated that about 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex at some point in their life. And yet another study published in 2013 by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that, “One in three women experienced...physical and sexual violence — most likely from their intimate partner.”

Whilst rape is generally recognised as constituting an impermissible interference with an individual's bodily integrity and autonomy, it is seldom, if ever, understood as a pernicious impediment to their ability to live a dignified life. This is significant particularly since the “right to a dignified life” has been recognised within the inter-American human rights system as a critical component of the fundamental right to life. In fact, about 20 years ago, in the landmark case of The “Street Children” (Villagrán Morales and others) v Guatemala, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACrtHR) was insisted that “…the fundamental right to life includes not only the right of every human being not to be deprived of his life arbitrarily, but also the right that he will not be prevented from having access to the conditions that guarantee a dignified existence [emphasis added]”.

It is also significant that the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women 1994 (Belem Do Para Convention), which Jamaica ratified in 2005, guarantees to every woman the rights to be free from violence (in all its manifestations), both in the public and private spheres, and also to have her inherent dignity respected. In light of this, rape, as a form of sexual violence, therefore severely constrains women in their enjoyment of their right to a dignified life by undermining their dignity and compromising their life project. The eradication of rape, and indeed sexual violence in all its manifestations, will therefore be integral to the effective fulfilment, in practice, of this right to a dignified life.

It is noteworthy that international activist movements of recent vintage, such as #MeToo, #HearMeToo, and #TimesUp, have been instrumental in catalysing those critical conversations about sexual violence, including rape, and ultimately giving voice to the varied experiences of victims. However, there remains a pressing need for those conversations to be sustained well beyond IDEVAW and the “16 days of activism against gender-based violence” that followed it. And, integral to the potency and sincerity of such conversations is an interrogation of the enduring connections between masculinity (that is, how men understand themselves as men and ultimately give expression to those understandings) and violence in its varied manifestations.

In a number of contemporary societies like Jamaica dominance, aggression, and the use of violence are accepted, extolled even, as important markers of masculinity. Professor Angela Harris, a distinguished legal scholar at the University of California, Davis School of Law, posits that violence or the threat of violence is an affirmative means by which men, both individually and collectively, seek to prove their masculinity or defend their masculine self-identity when they perceive it to be under attack. By the same token, rape — as an act of sexualised aggression — is invariably about asserting masculine power and dominance over victims. Accordingly, challenging and redefining harmful norms and ideas of masculinity or what it means to be a man will prove indispensable to the success of efforts to effectively combat rape. Of equal importance, too, is the need to tackle those discriminatory gender norms and sex-role stereotypes which perpetuate “rape culture” as a “complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women”; silence and stigmatise victims; as well as engender a “climate of impunity” within which offenders go unpunished and victims have no redress.

The coinage “generation equality” pays homage to the work of activists in lobbying for the adoption of the revolutionary Beijing Declaration and Platform for action almost 25 years ago, all while acknowledging the work of a new generation of activists who are boldly reclaiming lost voices and shattering the silence around sexual violence. The thinking is that the vision and passion of this new generation of activists working in tandem with the wisdom, experience, and pragmatism of the activists of yesteryear will produce the change needed to end rape once and for all.

In her address on IDEVAW 2019, which was aptly titled 'End rape — an intolerable cost to society', the executive director of UN Women insisted that “[no] further generations must struggle to cope with a legacy of violation” declaring that “generation equality” will end rape.

For some, this goal may appear to be hopelessly aspirational given our resignation to the belief that rape is an inescapable feature of most, if not all, present-day societies. Still, we should not underestimate our collective power to imagine and continuously reimagine the kind of society that we wish to claim as our own — one in which the inherent dignity of all people is respected and affirmed. Among other things, ending this “legacy of violation” will require that we initiate and sustain important (and oftentimes difficult) conversations around the issue of rape and sexual violence; actively empower victims in ways that promote their healing and amplify their voices; support and build on the critical work of activists, organisations, and other key stakeholders who are toiling in “the trenches”; and examine as well as challenge the sometimes insidious ways in which we (both as individuals and members of society) perpetuate “rape culture”.

 

The above piece is written by Amanda Quest,representing the Norman Manley Law School Human Rights Committee. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or nmlshumanrightscommittee@yahoo.com.


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