I went to the launch of a new organisation tonight, the Roundtable on Violence against Women. Not another service provider, set up to deal with women victimised by violence – but a network of people who contribute in a variety of ways to end violence against women – through activism, advocacy, policy work, research and communication.
I’ve been involved in the early planning of this group with other women – though the group is open to male members – and there are some fairly impressive women involved. Most come from backgrounds of extensive work with women in the fields of rape and sexual violence, domestic violence, prostitution and trafficking. The launch was well attended, mostly by people concerned about how gender has been left off the agenda in Aotearoa.
One of the things which is obvious when you work with women experiencing violence is that you cannot separate out neatly rape from domestic violence from stalking from harassment from prostitution. Women’s lives just are not that neat and tidy. So women working in prostitution will often be pimped by abusive, violent partners. Rape is a recruitment tactic for trafficking into prostitution. Childhood experiences of domestic violence make it more likely women will be in abusive relationships as adults.
Women tell each other stories of sexual abuse, unwanted touching, rape, physical violence, sexual harassment and stalking all the time. It would be extremely difficult to find a woman who has no experience of gendered violence if we think of violence as a continuum – I certainly would be unable to find a woman in my life who has not experienced one of the list of types of violence noted above.
We often trivialise these experiences – and if women take them seriously, we’re told off as “humourless bitches” who can’t take a joke. I’ve only hit two people as an adult – once was in a bar when I was 19 and a man repeatedly touched my arse while I was dancing, so after warning him once, I followed through and punched him in the stomach. The second time I punched a man who was trying to undress one of my friends despite her telling him repeatedly she did not want him to – we ran away together, chased by him and his friends around the streets near my house.
My own experiences of gendered violence have been fairly mild on the spectrum, if still disturbing. The typical for women gamut of sleazy men in bars and on public transport touching me despite no encouragement from me. A masseuse giving me an extremely overfamiliar massage while I was travelling through Sri Lanka – and which I second-guessed myself into failing to challenge until the end, thinking it was a cultural difference thing. Actually, it was a cultural sameness thing – he, like men in other places I’ve lived, saw my western white woman body as fair game.
Feminists have been challenging violence against women for centuries, but real changes came during the second-wave of feminism, as domestic violence, rape within marriage, childhood sexual abuse and sexual harassment were all named and legislated against. This is in the last 25 years in Aotearoa – and while these acheivements are remarkable, what has happened since here and elsewhere is perhaps even more remarkable.
I’m going to post on different types of violence against women over the next few days – what has happened to women who report violence, how “defences” have changed, why the Roundtable on Violence against Women is even identifying gender as an issue. I welcome your thoughts – from women in Aotearoa and outside.