A recent UNDP study on violence against women (pdf) and domestic violence in Montenegro revealed alarming data about gender-based violence.
The study shows that 91.7 percent of Montenegrins believe domestic violence is omnipresent in the country, a number that tells us people are aware of domestic violence and know how to identify it. However, every fourth person holds the victim responsible. The difference between these two numbers is worrisome, to say the least.
It suggests that a significant portion of society sees violence as normal and legitimizes it. This is why violence is not a private matter but a social problem that concerns us all. Our attitude towards violence is crucial to end gender-based violence.
But numbers, although they help us formulate actions in the fight against violence, tend to hide the human face of victims and aggressors. They shock us for a moment and then we move on.
We’ve all experienced some form of violence at some point in our lives, whether at home, in school, or at work. For most of us, those moments are just a normal part of growing up that we bury somewhere in the back of our memories.
The truth is that most women (and men) who experience domestic or sexual violence can’t do that. For them, violence is a daily reality. In some cases the violence is so severe that the victim has no choice but to respond with violence. And this is the tragedy of violent behaviour – violence begets more violence.
What’s more, with limited support from family , friends and society, both victims and aggressors make excuses for the continuing violence, and as a consequence violence becomes justified.
The pain people feel when they are the victim of violence is the same regardless of whether it’s inflicted by a man or a woman, but the social significance of violence is different if the victim is a man or a woman. It plays a crucial role in the way we address violence – whether we tolerate it, justify it, glorify it, stigmatize it, condemn it, or fight it.
This is why violence is socially unacceptable for adults, but fighting between young boys is seen as a normal part of growing up. Similarly, men who are the victim of violence or are sexually abused by women are less likely to admit it.
Violence is a powerful instrument used time and again to maintain the gender differences between women and men.
Feminists put the emphasis on empathy and solidarity, and we should keep this in mind by remembering what we lost during our own violent experiences, remembering that we are simply human beings with a unique capacity to feel and empathize with others.
The question is, what prevents us from seeing violence for what it really is?
*Milos Burzan is an intern with UNDP in Montenegro, working on issues related to equality between women and men.