What else is there to be said about domestic violence that has not been said over and over? So much advocacy, yearly campaigns, law reform and yet, I understand in Trinidad in January 4 women were killed by partners or former partners. Most women murdered in the Caribbean are killed by men with whom they have had an intimate relationship. Every day on Facebook, a page titled Walking into Walls shares the horror story from the region. This is a deeply dispiriting reality.
When I was a lawyer, I had the opportunity to speak to many men who had been accused of domestic violence. There would have been a variety of circumstances but without exception, the men all confirmed that they had indeed perpetrated violence. That was never in dispute though there was always a ‘but’ as men articulated their inherent right to violate women. But she went liming. But she laughed at me. But she was nagging me. But she have a next man. And then the lawyer would add other buts in defence. But he was drunk. But he was stressed, under pressure. But yes, she have a next man and you know how man can’t take horn.
Years later, working with a fabulous group of psychologists, social workers and lawyers, a psycho-educational batterer intervention programme was adapted for the Caribbean. Partnership for Peace seeks to assure the safety of women but also to hold the mirror up for men to self-reflect on the social meaning of their behavior as a pathway to behavioural change. For there is no doubt that we cannot eradicate domestic and sexual violence as long as men view control over women as central to their sense of being a man. As long as men and yes women, continue to think of women’s difference from men as not just biological but also social, of different and lesser value.
There is so much in our culture that reinforces this. From man-as-head of household demands reiterated every day in faith-based institutions to rejection by state institutions that women are autonomous, self-determining beings, as in hospitals which (unconstitutionally it must be said) refuse to do tubal ligations without a male partner’s consent. The private sector pays men more than women and most especially, because its influence is so pervasive, so much of our music advances a crude and sexualised version of femininity and indeed of masculinity.
We will not reach widespread safety for women and girls in the home or streets so long as most men stay distant from the advocacy for gender equality. We will not get there unless our socializing institutions (the schools especially) consistently contribute to civic values of respect, equality and peace. We will not get there so long as so many women, themselves also breathing in patriarchal monoxide, keep sending the mixed messages, opting in and out of the obligation for self-determination.
And we not get there so long as individuals, communities and institutions fail women when they say they are afraid.
Let us keep talking and talking out.