To End Violence Against Women, We Must Fight All Forms Of Oppression

It is significant that the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence we start today lead us to Human Rights Day on 10 December. Human rights are universal. The symbolism underlines that ending violence against women is an issue of fundamental rights, an issue of equality.

Like other global rights movements, the goal is shared but the the paths we take toward it will differ. For different ethnicities, cultures, nations, the particular challenges we each face require particular approaches. Even in one community, the difficulties that marginalised and persecuted groups face in having their rights recognised and respected might be different even to their neighbours.

To end systems of oppression such as racism or patriarchy, we must recognise that not only are they often closely related, but they operate simultaneously. It is perhaps at the political extremes that the intersectional nature of oppression becomes most apparent.

In particular, violent extremism - in whatever form it takes - is rarely about one thing, about one -ism.

Witness the moment in Elle Reeve’s report from the Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville when white nationalists deign President Trump insufficiently racist. The disgust that a white man would “give his daughter to a Jew” is palpable. Here is not only racism, but a deep and visceral sexism, a view of women as property.

The scene is only more chilling knowing that a woman counter protester would be murdered just hours hours later.

We see examples of abusive misogyny again and again in the lives of violent extremists of all backgrounds. The 52-year old man who killed five and injured 49 on London’s Westminster Bridge earlier this year had a history of domestic violence. So too did at least one of the three men whose van and knife attack killed 8 in the same city in June. They are joined by the 26-year man who murdered 26 people earlier this month at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. His conviction for domestic violence should had prevented him from possessing the murder weapon.

It is in such mass killings that we find perhaps most compelling evidence of the destructive potential of misogyny when coupled with a desire and ability to commit violence. In an analysis of the 156 mass shootings that took place between 2006 and 2016, researchers found the majority were related to domestic or family violence. This particular sub-set of shootings involved the murder of 422 individuals. Even a lone attacker can bring untold damage, but when larger and more organised forces combine violence against women with bigotry, the results are even more catastrophic.

This week the military commander behind the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was finally brought to justice. Ratko Mladic was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, including overseeing the mass rape of Bosnian Muslim women and girls.

Far from an inevitable result of the excesses of war, rape in Bosnia was a fundamental part of the genocide. It was carried out in a manner every bit as systematic as the massacres of men and boys. The brutally effective aim of these organised rapes was to terrorise and humiliate the civilian population; to forever rid the country of its Muslim minority by creating an indelible scar, a permanent trauma that meant victims would never consider returning to the scene of such personal horror.

The atrocities in Bosnia are often used to demonstrate that gender-based violence is not simply a byproduct of war, but a tool used every bit as calculatedly as aerial bombing or improvised explosives. It also shows that bigotry - misogyny, racism, nationalism and the like - is central to systems of violence and oppression. To carry out such a brutal campaign against civilians, it is not enough simply to hate. You cannot recognise the humanity of your victims.

What happened in Bosnia in the 1990s is happening now in Iraq and Syria, where thousands of women and girls have been forced into sexual slavery by ISIS. These women are not seen as equals by their captors, their violation is not criminal or immoral in the eyes of their attackers. Such dehumanisation has echoes in the present and across human history, from the transatlantic slave trade to the modern slave auctions in Libya, where sexual abuse of migrant and refugee women is endemic.

None of these crimes are possible without a deep sense of bigotry, a feeling that your victim is somehow less that you. If a person believes that a particular group of people are inferior, they have already rejected the principle that human rights are universal.

To truly eliminate violence against women, we must put an end the idea that certain people do not need to be treated as equals. As campaigners, we must make the fight against all forms of bigotry that legitimise and facilitate oppression a central part of the fight to end violence against women. In this way we can see that eliminating gender-based violence it is a cause for everyone who believes in the universal nature of human rights.

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