Making a Difference
Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010 11:40 am
An essential first step for eliminating violence against women is the acceptance by governments that it is a priority concern. Laws and policies are critical. However, the effectiveness of laws and policies depends ultimately on the willingness of people to accept them. States cannot get behind the closed doors of homes where domestic violence is most prevalent, or change deeply rooted cultural norms that subordinate women. Though states can act as a catalyst for change and social action, they are most likely to succeed when they have the support of community-based efforts to address the experiences, histories and beliefs of their citizens. Most importantly, states need the help of local initiatives to evoke empathy with their cause and inspire personal commitment.
While change begins with the individual, it cannot happen fully without the consent of groups. In fact, psychological research on public and private behaviour suggests that integrating the individual into a group is a prerequisite for change. “Only when individuals’ private conversions are brought into public awareness – only when they realize that their new attitudes are shared by their peers – will they feel at liberty to act on them” (Hogg and Terry 2000). With gender-based violence, this means letting go of entrenched behaviours and seeking new standard to replace them. It also means finding individuals who are willing and able to take on the role of leaders, and press the agenda forward.
A key challenge in working with communities is creating a sense of responsibility for violence against women. Unless people feel personally affected by a problem they are not likely to become stakeholders in the solutions. How do we mobilize support when people don’t realize the extent of the problem, or don’t believe that the problem is theirs? The most obvious way is by making them understand that it is. The arousal of empathy and compassion has a unifying effect. It binds people to a moral ideology that they feel is important to their own well-being. In fact, to a large extent it is the lack of empathy that makes violence possible. Researchers have attributed this to a separation from feeling and emotion that people, and men especially, learn from a young age. “Without feelings, we cannot feel for other people, and therefore we can do anything…even if it means torturing another” (Bloom and Reichert 1998). On the other hand, research also indicates that those who have separated themselves from their feelings can re-establish the connection – often through nonverbal actions related to the arts (ibid.). Drawing, painting, drama, poetry and dance can help people express their emotions and bring communities together. These kinds of activities can rekindle a sense of empathy and have a healing effect on individuals.