This article contains absolutely nothing new about violence against women. That’s because we already know everything we need to know about it. Everyone knows it exists. Most people would say it’s a pretty bad idea. And yet it doesn’t go away. To say it’s annoying would be a serious understatement.
In the many years I have worked on women’s rights, violence against women has been a constant. Violence as an obstacle to health care. Violence as a barrier to education. Violence as an inevitable fact of life.
I am tired of it: violence against women may be a current fact—every 3 minutes a woman is beaten up — but it is not inevitable. So here are my top three key recommendations for how you (yes: you) can make it stop before it even starts:
1. Value women’s work
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Women earn 20 percent less than men in the United States. This pay inequality contributes to make women financially dependent on men and therefore stay in violent relationships. The United States needs federal legislation to guarantee women equal pay for equal work.
Basic labor protections in the United States exclude some professions that are dominated by women, such as domestic work. Part time workers in any profession are entitled to less labor market protections than those working full time, prompting some to leave the work pace all together when they have kids. This does not make them less vulnerable to abuse. In fact, rather the opposite. So, until women are valued at work it’s unlikely they’ll be properly valued at home.
2. Stop stereotyping women.
We all do it: stereotyping. We stereotype children (erratic), grandparents (indulging), and fathers (aloof). We also stereotype women, and politicians base policies and laws on these stereotypes. For example, when states obligate a woman to wait 24 hours before she can have the abortion she already decided she needs, it is based on a stereotype of women as irrational and changeable.
Some stereotypes contribute to justifying domestic violence, because they set out expectations for female behavior that, if breached, serve as an excuse for abuse. “My man doesn’t beat me,” one young woman told me proudly on the playground the other day when I disclosed I work on women’s rights. “Because I don’t give him reason to: I have dinner ready when he comes home.”
Maybe this example is extreme, but the next time you make assumptions about what men and women “should” do, ask yourself where the notions come from and if they could be used to justify abuse.
3. Make some noise.
It’s been said before: in countries where the elimination of domestic violence is seen as a political priority, supported by policies, discourse, and money, the prevalence of violence does go down over time. And at the local level, we see time after time that in those societies or communities where intimate violence is stigmatized and reviled, it abates. Making noise works.
But at an even more local level, you should start making noise among your friends. If a woman is beaten up every 3 minutes, chances are someone you know has either faced violence or meted out abuse. They need to know where you stand: talk about violence as unacceptable and question policies that stereotype women.
They might find you annoying. But not as annoying as another decade of domestic violence and abuse.