The Many Forms of Gender-Based Violence
This post talks about sexual harassment and may be triggering for some people.
Illustration by Brittany England
I was 20 years old and I’d recently said goodbye to my family in my home country to move to Scotland. I’d been raised by a mom who worked at the domestic violence court and a sister who wrote about gender inequality.
I remember how we used to have time-consuming conversations about the many forms in which gender-based violence occurs. I remember the three of us attending demonstrations in favour of women’s rights, shouting the slogan: ‘Not a single step back in equality!’. I remember the goosebumps, the weight on my chest, holding back tears of determination.
Both my mom and my sister believed that they’d provided me with the tools to identify and protect myself from gender-based violence. I thought so, too. I had no idea that I was about to be proven wrong.
I would’ve been shocked if I’d known that I’d stay silent because of fear. That when the manager of my new job asked me in front of everybody, which of the boys I would date, I would answer with a forced smile. That when the kitchen staff commented on my appearance, I would say nothing. That when one of them groped me in passing, I would look away.
I would’ve never thought that when my boss told me I was still making mistakes, but had the right smile, I would only nod. That when some of my colleagues were asking daily whether ‘I was still a lesbian’, I would only roll my eyes. That when I realised that the new male waiter, same age and similar experience, was earning more than I was, I would scream in silence.
Where did all my arguments about responding to injustices go? I was aware, yet I felt like a spectator in front of a screen, watching a movie under a blanket without having any control of what was going to happen next. I felt scared, but I had not been raped, I had not been beaten.
My experiences were still forms of gender-based violence, but it felt like there was no point in saying anything as they would not understand. I made excuses: ‘They believe they’re being nice’; ‘they don’t know better’; ‘it’s not that they don’t like me, because when they don’t, they make an outcast of that person’.
How can you explain the bigger picture to someone who does not want to see it? What are my options? To speak up, be regarded as hysterical, and keep coming to work in an even more hostile environment than before? I couldn’t face it.
I understand now, that being able to identify gender-based violence is not enough if society does not embrace you. I understand that my authority to speak up was predetermined and undermined by an accumulation of intersections of gender, age, immigration, and sexuality. I understand that the responsibility to defend myself was not solely mine. I had no shield.
I remember the countless staff training sessions we used to have. What about training to make clear where the boundaries amongst staff members are? What about ensuring that there is no discrimination of any kind? What about creating safe working spaces for everybody? Should this not be on the agenda?
It’s not enough to devolve the responsibility of reporting to those that suffer as a result of inequality, because sometimes they don’t have the capacity to do so. And I understand now that the prevention of gender-based violence is of dualistic nature; it requires both individual awareness and collective responsibility.
Disclaimer: the views expressed in this post are those of the respective author and are not necessarily shared by the #ChangeHerStory Campaign partners.