Today is the International Day on Women Human Rights Defenders. To mark this event, we call for actions to support the work of women human rights defenders to demand the end of violence against women justified in the name of "culture", "religion" or "tradition". Take back the tech! Declare our culture as free from violence against women! Support the "Violence is Not Our Culture" global campaign!
Culture and violence against women
Culture plays a large part in perpetuating violence against women. Sometimes cultural attitudes are hidden in everyday assumptions about how we should behave and interact with each other. For example, sexist jokes or remarks in the workplace get brushed aside because it is part of the office's "work culture". Other times, “culture” is used explicitly as a way to perpetuate and defend certain acts of violence against women. For example, laws that violently deny the rights of lesbians through forced counselling, imprisonment or corporal punishment are justified as being part of a country's culture or tradition; or excusing the murder of a woman deemed to have engaged in "immoral behaviour" because she breached her community's "honour code".
In all instances, "culture" contains ideas about different values, norms and codes of conduct assigned to men and women in society. As such, culture and the way it is promoted creates ideas and norms about gender, sexuality, social roles and power. The "Violence is Not our Culture" campaign defines culturally-justified violence against women (CVAW) as acts of violence against women that "are justified and condoned through a politicization and misuse of cultural, religious, or traditional beliefs, values, and practices intended to impose a patriarchal control over women and girls. This includes control over her body, her sexuality, who to love, who to marry, how to express herself, what to believe and exercise of her own free will."
Who defines culture?
Cultures are constantly contested and transformed in response to changing circumstances, and women and girls have an active role to play in deciding what the cultural norms that they live by are. All cultures are informed, and shaped by structures of power such as gender, class, race and sexuality, and cultures can also challenge hegemonic power structures in unique ways. Culture is never static, or singular. There are many cultural norms that co-exist and compete for dominance within any given cultural setting. Question whose definitions of culture are being given power and legitimacy, whose autonomy this denies and whose interests this serves.
Institutions such as the media and judicial system have a lot of power in saying what is or is not part of our culture. They play a large role in transmitting and disseminating meanings, norms and values embedded within "culture". Representations through words or images are particularly powerful vehicles that can act to reinforce or disrupt particular ideas about norms, values, gender roles and culture.
Here, information and communications technologies (ICT) such as the internet have great potential to enable a far greater number of people to participate in the development of culture. Through ICT, people can be empowered to generate content, share information, participate in debates and challenge the dominance of particular understandings of "culture".
Take part in this conversation! Exercise your right to expression and claim your space to define a culture that is empowering and free from violence against women. Reject the notion that violence in any form is part of our culture, religion, or traditions. Violence is not our culture!
- Check out recent news reports or statements by people in authority where you are.
- What are the acts of discrimination and violence against women and girls and other groups that have been justified in the name of culture?
- How is culture used as an excuse? How is culture interpreted? By whom?
- Cut out the statement, or the image used.
- What's your view on the meaning of that particular idea of "culture" or "tradition"?
- How do you think religion, traditions or popular beliefs are being distorted and being misused? What impact do these have on your communities especially on women and girls?
- Spell it out. Write it as a sentence that directly counters the way culture has been misused. For example, "No forced marriages. My culture respects women's ability to make choices about her body and her life".
- Or if you prefer imagery, draw a picture, or find one that directly counters the image that has been used.
- Make a poster.
- Put the two statements or images side by side. Turn it into a conversation!
- Declare your stand! State "VIOLENCE IS NOT OUR CULTURE!" as the main message on the poster.
- Organise to take action together with your friends, family, colleagues or neighbours.
- Create several posters and them up at your nearest bus stop, lamp post, public phone booth, your gate, neighbourhood library, anywhere that can be seen by the public.
- If there is a march taking place where you are, turn your poster into a placard and bring it with you!
- Take it online! Snap a picture of your poster in action, and upload it on the site, or send it to us via email.
Take back the tech! Challenge hegemony. Claim your space to define and reject the use of culture as an excuse for violence against women. Violence is not our culture!