Let us en­gage con­struc­tively to put our val­ues into ac­tion

Bhutan Times - - Opinion - Con­trib­uted by: Pem Lama

Few days ago, an or­di­nary con­ver­sa­tion with a friend turned into a heated de­bate: I re­al­ized that he is open to the idea of hit­ting his fu­ture wife “un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances”. In other words, he does not op­pose do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. My opin­ion on the mat­ter is that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is wrong – plain and sim­ple. I think do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is wrong re­gard­less of the gen­der, class, race, ori­gin, so­cial-sta­tus, re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, na­tion­al­ity, etc. of the both the per­pe­tra­tor and the vic­tim. Mean­ing that I don’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween men beat­ing women or women beat­ing men, a rich, up­per-class Bhutanese male beat­ing his for­eign wife from a dif­fer­ent re­li­gion, a gay per­son beat­ing their part­ner – to me it is all still do­mes­tic vi­o­lence if they are en­gag­ing in vi­o­lent acts and are in a do­mes­tic part­ner­ship, and I am against it.

I hold that opin­ion be­cause I pre­scribe to cer­tain core hu­man val­ues which I be­lieve should be the foun­da­tion of a so­ci­ety. There­fore, when I base my thoughts, speech and ac­tion ac­cord­ing to the hu­man val­ues I pre­scribe to, I come to the con­clu­sion that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is a bad thing. Some core hu­man val­ues that are par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant in this case for me are val­ues of equal­ity, re­spect, se­cu­rity, jus­tice and trust. I think do­mes­tic vi­o­lence usu­ally oc­curs when the per­pe­tra­tor feels more pow­er­ful than the vic­tim, which goes against the value of equal­ity. Fur­ther­more, it sig­ni­fies a lack of re­spect for the vic­tim by the per­pe­tra­tor and def­i­nitely di­min­ishes the sense of se­cu­rity for the vic­tim. I also feel such vi­o­lence can­not be jus­ti­fied for any rea­son, ex­cept maybe in some self de­fense cases (although I’m still not com­pletely sure if self de­fense is a good ex­cuse). And fi­nally, how can we build trust if, among other things, there is no equal­ity, re­spect, se­cu­rity or jus­tice? As you can see, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vi­o­lates core hu­man val­ues that I think are im­por­tant. More­over, at their heart, Bud­dhism and many re­li­gions also ad­vo­cate non-vi­o­lence. There­fore, I be­lieve do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is not right be­cause it hurts the in­di­vid­ual vic­tim, it hurts fam­ily dy­nam­ics, it sets bad ex­am­ple if they have chil­dren and af­fects their child’s psy­chol­ogy, and be­cause of the in­ter­re­lated na­ture of the world, it hurts our whole so­ci­ety in the grand scheme of things - just think about how it af­fects you if your neigh­bors are fight­ing vi­o­lently next door. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is not a pri­vate mat­ter, it is a wider so­cial and spir­i­tual mat­ter, as we strug­gle for a more com­pas­sion­ate, re­spect­ful and tol­er­ant so­ci­ety.

I pre­sumed all of us pre­scribe to the same hu­man val­ues, thus any sen­si­ble per­son would take the same stand as I would on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. But when my friend’s stand on the is­sue of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence was one of ac­cep­tance and in fact a “nec­es­sary evil” that he doesn’t mind ex­er­cis­ing, it re­ally hit a nerve. In my ut­ter fury, dis­be­lief and frus­tra­tion at his mind­set, I de­cided to open up the dis­cus­sion on my Face­book wall. In the dis­cus­sion, I called for ac­tion from in­di­vid­u­als - to take a stand, to speak up, to ed­u­cate them­selves and oth­ers, to do some­thing - to help ad­dress the is­sue. What en­sued was dis­cus- sion on var­i­ous re­lated top­ics in­clud­ing gen­der bias, vi­o­lence, cul­ture & tra­di­tion, al­co­holism and ef­fec­tive­ness of in­ter­ven­tion meth­ods to ad­dress an is­sue. In an ef­fort to main­tain the fo­cus of the dis­cus­sion on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and my spe­cific call for in­di­vid­ual ac­tion to stop do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, I tried not to dwell on the other re­lated is­sues and top­ics that came up time and again.

I no­ticed an in­ter­est­ing phe­nom­e­non: quite a few peo­ple who ex­pressed their opin­ion on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence (the topic of my fo­cus) had a par­tic­u­lar as­so­ci­ated is­sue that they would keep bring­ing up, sort of like they all had an in­di­vid­ual agenda/grievance to push. For ex­am­ple, let’s sup­pose Friend A says, “do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is due to gen­der bias so let’s fight for gen­der equal­ity”, then Friend B would com­ment, “do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is about vi­o­lence so let’s talk about vi­o­lence in gen­eral”. Then Friend C says “do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is a bor­rowed con­cept from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture”, while Friend D points out, “do­mes­tic vi­o­lence can hap­pen to men too!” to which Friend A would re­tal­i­ate by say­ing “yes maybe, but women are vic­tims most of the time and men the per­pe­tra­tor” and so on and so forth. All this time I was strug­gling to keep the dis­cus­sion fo­cused on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and my spe­cific call for ac­tion to ad­dress it. Not that I think any of those other re­lated is­sues are any less im­por­tant, but it sure was be­com­ing a dis­trac­tion!

Per­son­ally speak­ing, I think all the themes that were brought to at­ten­tion such as gen­der in­equal­ity, vi­o­lence, chang­ing so­cial norms (due to chang­ing time or ex­po­sure to other cul­tures and me­dia mes- sages), hu­man lim­i­ta­tion, etc. are all ex­tremely im­por­tant and should be put up for dis­cus­sion and de­bate. And all of them are ei­ther very closely or some­what loosely re­lated to my topic of con­cern: do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. How­ever, I felt my call for ac­tion on in­di­vid­u­als to take some ac­tion was get­ting lost in trans­la­tion.

Which fi­nally brings me to the point of writ­ing this par­tic­u­lar opin­ion piece: we live in a com­plex world with many com­pli­cated is­sues; and while we may care about one is­sue more than another, it is im­por­tant to en­gage con­struc­tively when de­bat­ing an is­sue in a way that keeps the fo­cus on the is­sue of con­cern with­out try­ing to de­flect, re­sist and dis­tract by rais­ing other is­sues, al­beit their im­por­tance (to you and in our so­ci­ety). As Ghandi once said, “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”. In­stead, I think it would be more help­ful to speak of other is­sues in tan­dem with the is­sue of fo­cus and take a value-based ap­proach. That is, we could dis­cuss how all the other is­sues we care about re­late to the par­tic­u­lar is­sue in fo­cus and what are the un­der­ly­ing hu­man val­ues that are vi­o­lated. For ex­am­ple, in the case I pre­sented above, in­stead of ev­ery­one try­ing to get their var­i­ous is­sues heard un­der the rubric of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, I would rather we dis­cussed how in­equal­ity (which vi­o­lates the hu­man value of equal­ity) and the re­sult­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion - not just in terms of gen­der but also class, age, so­cial sta­tus, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, na­tion­al­ity or re­li­gion - af­fect and re­late to vi­o­lence in a do­mes­tic set­ting. If we can do that, then I be­lieve we have a chance to main­tain our fo­cus on the prob­lem as well as the so­lu­tion re­lat­ing to the topic of con­cern, while also in­tro­duc­ing other in­ter­re­lated (and equally im­por­tant) is­sues. Hav­ing said that, I think we also have to pay at­ten­tion to all the other re­lated top­ics raised as well and find the un­der­ly­ing root cause(s) which may in fact al­low the solv­ing of mul­ti­ple is­sues at once.

Given what I have said above, al­low me bring your at­ten­tion to the is­sue of vi­o­lence against women and girls, as each year Novem­ber 25th is ob­served as the In­ter­na­tional Day for the Elim­i­na­tion of Vi­o­lence against Women. I care about the is­sue and I think you should too. I feel we need to do what we can at an in­di­vid­ual level so that our in­di­vid­ual ef­forts can build up to a col­lec­tive ef­fort to re­duce and fi­nally elim­i­nate vi­o­lence against women and girls. Just so it is clear, in this in­stance I am not talk­ing about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence; rather I am talk­ing specif­i­cally about vi­o­lence against women and girls. The two is­sues are very closely re­lated but I would like to keep the spot­light on vi­o­lence against women ei­ther in a do­mes­tic set­ting or oth­er­wise. Keep in mind that the Bhutan Mul­ti­ple In­di­ca­tor Survey survey un­der­taken in 2010 find­ings say that 68.4% of women say they de­served beat­ing if they ne­glect chil­dren, ar­gue with their part­ners, refuse sex or burn din­ner. This shows my friend is not alone and the nor­mal­ized at­ti­tude to­wards vi­o­lence against women is quite per­va­sive.

In a pri­vate mes­sage to me fol­low­ing the above

men­tioned Face­book dis­cus­sion, a very close friend wrote:

“Just this week, I read about a 16-year old girl in Ethiopia, who was gang-raped for 5 days and died; about a Kenyan woman who was stripped naked in broad day­light in pub­lic be­cause she was dressed “in­de­cently”; and an honor killing of a woman in Pak­istan be­cause she chose to marry some­one she loved against the wishes of her fam­ily… It is just so crazy... and it is very “emas­cu­lat­ing” what­ever the fe­male ver­sion of that would be called. Even feel­ing em­pow­ered is de­scribed in ref­er­ence to male strength. I am not denying that men don’t get abused. In fact, I think so­ci­ety is even less sym­pa­thetic to men who are abused.”

And here is an ex­cerpt of the mes­sage of the UN Women Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor to mark the Novem­ber 25th oc­ca­sion this year:

“Women are beaten in their homes, ha­rassed on the streets, bul­lied on the in­ter­net. Glob­ally, one in three women will ex­pe­ri­ence phys­i­cal or sex­ual vi­o­lence at some point in her life… More of­ten than not, vi­o­lence against women is com­mit­ted by an in­ti­mate part­ner. Of all women killed in 2012, almost half died at the hands of a part­ner or fam­ily mem­ber. It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion that the over­all great­est threat to women’s lives is men, and of­ten the men they love.”

I hope you will agree with me that both above the mes­sages on vi­o­lence to­wards women and my ar­gu­ment with my friend are all re­lated to vi­o­lence, gen­der in­equal­ity, cul­tural norms, male chau­vin­ism and re­li­gious sen­ti­ments em­bed­ded, among other things. They are all im­por­tant is­sues and all in­ter­re­lated to vi­o­lence against women and girls. And by now, I am sure by now you can think of few fun­da­men­tal hu­man val­ues that th­ese is­sues vi­o­late, not to men­tion spir­i­tual val­ues!

Vi­o­lence against women and girls is a world­wide is­sue and we know from our ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing in Bhutan that vi­o­lence against women and girls is a prob­lem here too. Whether we want ac­knowl­edge it or not, there are nu­mer­ous cases of women and girls be­ing sub­ject to abuse, the Vi­o­lence Against Women re­port (2007) com­piled by RE­NEW has the statis­tics to prove it. Of the 688 mar­ried women sur­veyed, 188 said they have been vic­tims of phys­i­cal abuse. The na­ture of abuse was phys­i­cal abuse (77%), emo­tional tor­ment (54%) and forced sex (23%). In the same survey, 38% of the women sur­veyed said that they face ha­rass­ment at the work­place from their male coun­ter­parts and 17% have said that they have been touched by a male col­league. Only six re­ported to their boss although majority said that they just kept quiet and did noth­ing. Of the 145 men sur­veyed, 10 re­spon­dents said that they had at some point forced sex on their women part­ner although 5 said that they did know that this could be termed as “rape”.

I bet we know men (and women) who have been vi­o­lent to women and girls, we know of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in Bhutanese homes and we have read on the news of rape cases. We most prob­a­bly even know and/or are re­lated to per­pe­tra­tors or vic­tims. Per­haps one of us has been the per­pe­tra­tor at some point. I bet more than one of the women/ girls read­ing this has been the vic­tim. We know that de­spite the ma­tri­lin­eal cul­ture prac­ticed in some re­gions in Bhutan, Bhutanese women and girls face many chal­lenges that Bhutanese men and boys don’t. Again, I’m not say­ing that men and boys don’t have chal­lenges, in fact I am cer­tain they do and per­haps never ex­press it openly be­cause of the so­ci­etal pres­sure to ap­pear “manly”, but that’s again be­sides the fo­cus of the Novem­ber 25th oc­ca­sion.

Fi­nally, to tie all the points I have made in this ar­ti­cle while keep­ing our at­ten­tion on the is­sue of vi­o­lence against women and girls, I am call­ing on you, the reader, to en­gage with the is­sue. I am invit­ing you to con­tem­plate on the mat­ter, de­bate and dis­cuss with your friends and fam­ily and of course in the end do some­thing, it can be any­thing you can do in your in­di­vid­ual ca­pac­ity to curb the is­sue of vi­o­lence against women and girls. You may say you are do­ing your part to be­cause you are not vi­o­lent to women or girls. While that is a good start, I think it is time we be­come more proac­tive and en­gage our­selves in do­ing more than just that. We should ed­u­cate our­selves, be crit­i­cal and an­a­lyt­i­cal, take a stand, raise our voices, chal­lenge oth­ers, and ed­u­cate peo­ple around us so they can be more knowl­edge­able about the is­sue at hand.

If we don’t en­gage con­struc­tively, just like my friend who does not think do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is a bad thing (which by the way is an of­fense un­der the Pe­nal Code of Bhutan since the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Preven­tion Act of 2013), I fear that deep down some of us may be liv­ing our lives with flawed ideas and con­ve­nient jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for ac­tions that are sim­ply against fun­da­men­tal hu­man val­ues. Worst still, some might write off women’s rights, ac­cess to jus­tice and pro­tec­tion against vi­o­lence as a “Western idea”, when in fact such vi­o­lence also goes against fun­da­men­tal hu­man val­ues. In ad­di­tion to that, specif­i­cally in Bhutan, it goes against our Bud­dhist, spir­i­tual, and Bhutanese val­ues as en­shrined in the GNH phi­los­o­phy.

All said and done, I don’t think my friend is a “bad per­son with­out val­ues”. Although my im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion that day was that of anger, my in­ten­tion is not to em­bar­rass him by speak­ing about it. I feel per­haps he does not see the in­co­her­ence be­tween his val­ues vis-à-vis his thoughts, speech and ac­tion on the par­tic­u­lar is­sue. Per­haps he is un­able to con­nect the dots about why his belief and ac­tion will neg­a­tively af­fect him and the so­ci­ety at large. There­fore, by en­gag­ing him, tak­ing up the dis­cus­sion with my friends on Face­book and by writ­ing this, I am hope­ful that we can change his mind­set and the mind­set of those who hold sim­i­lar be­liefs as him. The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of our in­di­vid­ual ac­tions could col­lec­tively build an en­light­ened so­ci­ety.

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