Written by Khadija Gbla
Once when I went down to the local store to buy some milk, a man coming out of the store called me a ‘black c**t’. I was frozen in shock that someone felt the need to hurl abuse at me, but unfortunately not surprised. It certainly was not the first time it had happened, and it probably won’t be the last.
While that is an extreme example of some of the blatantly racist and sexist abuse I have been subjected to, street harassment and disrespect towards women of colour comes in many different forms and dealing with it on a day-today basis is emotionally exhausting.
I felt this exhaustion acutely when my identity was questioned during the Black Lives Matter protests in America following the killing of George Floyd as a result of police brutality.
I was personally hurt when some people ignored the injustice and disparity and asked, “But don’t all lives matter?” The energy it takes to defend your existence and be constantly educating people on why stopping racism and sexism shouldn’t be a debate is exhausting, which is why we cannot do it alone.
Relying on allies and bystanders to do some of the heavy lifting and carry some of the emotional burden is extremely important. I have appreciated all the times white allies and friends have reached out to me privately to see if I’m okay and have stuck up for me and marched for people of colour publicly.
It is not good enough for people to do nothing and simply be non-racist or non-sexist, people must actively do something to stop it from happening in the first place.
During 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Our Watch launched 16 days, 16 ways, a campaign aimed at helping Australians do something when they see disrespect towards women online. 16 days, 16 ways builds on its Doing Nothing Does Harm campaign and gives people the tools they need to ‘do something.’
The key message we need people to take away from the campaign is that it doesn’t matter how big or small the action you take, but that we all have a responsibility to challenge disrespect towards women when we see it.
As clichéd as it may sound, collective action is powerful. If individuals take a stand, this will strengthen the impetus for all levels of government to create fair and equitable polices and for workplaces to create spaces that are safe for all women.
It is also imperative we talk to young people before they are forming their first intimate relationship. From birth, children are exposed to gender stereotypes which can limit their ability to be who they want to be and to form equal and respectful relationships. If we challenge the rigidity of gender stereotypes on young people, so that young men don’t think being masculine means showing physical strength, controlling others, or telling their partners what to do, we have will have a much better chance of stopping violence against women before it starts.
While there is no single cause of violence against women, current international evidence, outlined in Our Watch’s shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children, Change the Story identifies four specific, gendered drivers of this violence:
Condoning violence, particularly by excusing or trivialising it, or “blaming the victim”
Men’s control of decision-making, and limits to women’s independence in public life and relationships
Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity
Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women
Gender inequality is always influential as a driver of violence against women, but it is not always experienced in the same way by every woman.
Women and girls from minority groups are more likely to be vulnerable to abuse and experience domestic violence. The evidence shows that women with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence at considerably higher rates than able-bodied or non-Indigenous women.
We must address the gendered drivers of violence against women and the subtle and overt attitudes and behaviours that contribute to a society where violence against women and racism is allowed to exist.
Whether it’s disrespect towards women in the workplace, on the street, or in the home, it is a part of the spectrum of violence against women and it is not okay.
Women and girls have a right to the night, they have a right to the streets, and a right to the local shops without fearing for their own safety.
Let’s ensure we do something this 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and beyond to stop violence against all women before it starts.
Khadija Gbla is the Director of Ending Female Genital Mutilation Australia and an Our Watch ambassador.