Uncovering SGBV: Clarification

This is supposed to be a piece on systematic sexual violence against an unlawfully marginalised group. A short piece cementing the establishment of Restless Beings’ commitment to peoples’ physical, mental and emotional integrity, regardless of the amount of media or public attention these people receive.

The reaction to “Uncovering SGBV: It’s Tangible, Stupid!” was mixed. We received several responses applauding the organisation’s discourse direction. Generic responses in the lines of “how terrible, great work!” came in tiny masses. A few gems even took the time to share their experiences in the field of SGBV. And then there are the naysayers, the sceptics, the utilitarian few who scrutinise indiscriminately. In the first instance, I was rather startled by some of the accusations thrown around, questioning my allegiance to my gender and love for my native Somalia (having a picture of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud underneath the title is apparently a big no-no). On second thought, these brave few were surprisingly constructive in their criticism. Underneath the smug comments lie a few valid conceptions. It should be duly noted that the vast majority of responders were sensible, relevant and openly expressed their support against SGBV. Therefore, as Restless Beings is a flat and transparent organisation, I will attempt to clarify some decisive discrepancies brought to light by Nathan the naysayer, Sandy the sceptic and finally Ursula the utilitarian. Although avid disapprovers, these three somehow embody sexual and gender-based violence cynicism.

Nathan the naysayer reacted to the demonization of Somali leaders, institutions and police. The bombardment of critique toward the legal framework and native culture were far too harsh. Contextually, I was simply too unfair. Nathan stressed the allegations brought to light during the trial: “the woman and the journalist were paid to falsely accuse the police of rape in hope of shattering their fragile legitimacy” (this turned out to be untrue).

Hmm.

Nathan indirectly highlights the powerful tools for intimidation and “shaming”. By victimising the one true institution which should serve its people, the discussion completely thwarts into an irrelevant context. The fact that a citizen was deprived of her personal freedom seems insignificant. What’s alarming is that the opinion generating process favoured the new stipulative victims, thereby facilitating a culture of shaming towards victims of SGBV rather than promoting solidarity with them.

The voiceless become passive aggressors.

Let’s meet halfway, Nathan. If I have offended a government or culture you treasure, I apologise. However, as emphasised below, I personally do not believe moral progression. In order to alter cultural beliefs linked to SGBV, institutionalisation is key. Setting rigid examples of intolerance toward breaches of integral freedoms, and fortifying these examples via legislation and complying institutions, is crucial. It’s sometimes depicted as moral progression, but is in fact the result of institutional progression, a progress which hopefully reflects cultural practice. After all, an institution is purely a set of rules and norms; nothing uniform nor absolute.

Sandy on the other hand expresses her full support for the cause. Her scepticism lies with the portrayed rhetoric. “Sexual and gender-based violence” endangers and dilutes the original term “gender-based violence”. Incorporating sexual violence into a structural discriminatory realm may at first instance widen the context but sexual violence is already implicitly included; SGBV as a term is no more constructive than GBV.

In order to clarify, a definition is needed. Any act of violence based on gender that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life is called gender-based violence. The definition was proclaimed in the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993).

I disagree with Sandy’s conclusion but it is possible to rationalise it. The UN sponsored definition of GBV itself contains sexual harm, yes. As mentioned before, victims of sexual violence are usually women. Sexual and gender-based violence encompasses a wide variety of abuses including, but not limited to, sexual threats, exploitation, humiliation, assaults, molestation, domestic violence, incest, sexual bartering and rape. The idea behind the included ‘S’ however is to some extent detach the female sex from attaining monopoly over victimhood and to transcend the traditional gender oppression status quo; a sort of confrontation against the famous Pogrebin quote “when men are oppressed, it’s a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it’s tradition”. Gender-based violence presupposes one sex oppressing the other. The incorporation of the term ‘sexual’ permits an asexual dimension – when women are victims of SGBV, it’s a tragedy. When men are victims of SGBV (although seldom in comparison to the opposite sex), it’s a tragedy.

Tim Wise once said “those of us in a dominant group who are not targets of a system of subordination have the privilege of obliviousness”. In this context, I am not suggesting that incorporating the ‘S’ should eradicate the vital nature of recognising women as the main target for perpetrators. It is simply an idea that confronts gender tradition in the SGBV context and welcomes alteration.

Ursula’s comment is probably the most worrying. It was short, flat and concise. “You do not understand the development process. Blind feminism isn’t the way to go. They’re not ready yet”.

Okay. Some countries lack strong central governance, some may be in conflict, others are perhaps prioritising other political issues. Yes, institutionalisation of SGBV prevention is an intrinsically complex development process bound to affect and mould cultural practice.

The reason why this respondent was named a utilitarian is because Ursula embodies the naturalist view of suffering “over there”. Maximising utility at the face of SGBV oppression is a mere euphemism for succumbing to unalterable power structures. The “they’re not ready yet” either suggests that “they” aren’t morally capable of comprehending the dreadful character of sexual and gender-based violence, or presents solemn apathy in the face of inexpressible human suffering. The blind feminism critique implies that moral progression is a precursor for institutional change. Resistance is the precursor, Ursula.

Nothing can righteously transcribe the result of suffering and intimidation. Millions of mostly women and children across the globe are in risk of SGBV. Restless Beings welcomes a transparent discussion in a matter affecting the backbone of society. Always bear in mind the loving mother, the innocent child, the anonymous victim; the ones who were deprived of choice and fundamental liberty of physical, mental and emotional integrity.

 

To Nathan
To Sandy
To Ursula
Stay Restless.

 

If you wish to contribute to our work on SGBV, please contact us on hassan@restlessbeings.org.

Comments

Ismael Sidat

Another great piece hasan! :)

08 April 2013 delete
So Nia

Did you see the article in the evening standard about this issue last week? Written by a woman who has been exploring the issue for years, focus on Sierra Leone I think where she was originally from. Can't remember her name - has anyone else read this? May be good to get in touch with her?

15 April 2013 delete