Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Let’s pretend that this isn’t a pathetically commercialized holiday, but instead is a day to celebrate love.  Personally, my favourite part about love is empowerment: the encouragement of my parents, the support of my friends, the inspiration of a lover.

The love in my life is tangible.  On tough days, it feels like I’m physically wrapping myself with a blanket of love to shield out the pain and the hurt.

But I’m incredibly, incredibly lucky.

What about the people who haven’t lived surrounded by love, as I have, and, as a result, turn to other means of empowerment?  What about the people who use intimidation or coercion or violence to dominate others and prove their strength?  Moreover, what about their victims?

This V-Day, I encourage everyone to check out the One Billion Rising campaign as an effort to stop violence against women and girls.

More information can be found here:

The violence against women statistics are staggering.  I can’t fathom the global numbers or even just the South African ones.  As someone who has never been subject to violence in my life, it’s hard to believe that 1/3 women will experience some form of violence.

This is such a huge problem that I don’t even know where to begin. 

Part of me wants to rage against the patriarchal machine.  What’s wrong with men?  What’s wrong with society?  But assigning blame won’t lead to any solutions.

Furthermore, assigning blame usually leads away from the actual problem.  Last week, a 14-year-old girl was brutally gang raped in South Africa and died hours later.  Consequently, there have been waves of outrage declared by various community organizations and the media.  But outrage doesn’t work.  I don’t want to point my finger at men and say, “Look at what you did!”

Instead, I need to look at my own actions and responsibilities.  As an “active citizen,” I recognize that my everyday life contributes to the culture of this country.  Am I contributing to a culture that accepts violence against women or opposing it?

Let’s be honest.  If I asked most men, they’d say “Of course I’m against rape.”  But these same men might make disrespectful comments to women or think its acceptable to hit a woman in certain circumstances.

I might say that I’m against gender violence, but at the same I’ll let a man treat me terribly because I’m a woman.  I’d never let a man hit me, but I’ve let too many men manipulate or pressure me.  And I didn’t get angry.  Instead I made excuses for their callousness.

This all stems from patriarchy – from the assumption that I, as a woman, shouldn’t disagree with a man.  As a woman, I need to be kind and compassionate and understanding.  Men are entitled to bully others.  I have no right to argue.

Obviously, my struggles pale in comparison to the majority of women.  As part of the upper middle class, my chances at avoiding violence are much better than a poor woman of a disempowered ethnicity.

Let’s talk about this.  Let’s talk about patriarchy and violence.  Let’s talk about each of our contributions to a society that systematically disempowers women – and homosexuals and minorities and many other targeted groups.

Let’s recognize the issues, whether or not they’re in another country

or in our own backyards

These issues encompass everyone.  Violence and rape are not women’s problems.  Fear and anger seep into all aspects of society.  Men often turn to violence because they’ve experienced violence.  Or they’re afraid.  Or they’re insecure.  Or they’re resentful.  Or they’re angry at larger problems and take it out on an easy victim.

When I love a man, it’s a beautiful thing.  Both he and I become stronger people through mutual trust and understanding.  But he could never coerce devotion or loyalty or affection from me.  I need to give it freely – and he needs to know how to accept it and love me back.

Everyone loses when men and women can’t fundamentally trust each other.

Let’s come up with some reasonable solutions.

For example, any time someone uses “like a girl” to mean weak or wrong (as in “you throw like a girl”), I’m going to punch him or her in the stomach to show exactly how strong a girl really is.  This Valentine’s Day, that’s my promise to society.

Joking.  Obviously.

On a more serious note, I pledge to stop smiling to hide my discomfort at the sexual jokes men make at my expense.  It’s not a compliment to be treated differently because you think I’m physically attractive.  Maybe I’ll make a few more enemies for taking less shit from people, but those aren’t the people I want in my life anyways.

I’m a human.  You’re a human.  Let’s try to engage in a meaningful way, one-on-one, regardless of sex.  Maybe that’s a naïve thing to hope for, but I’m aiming high with my goals!

This Valentine’s Day, let’s all try to spread a little love and empower one another.  No blame or resentment or fear.  Let’s each love ourselves enough to demand respect from others.  Furthermore, let’s love other people enough to show more compassion and trust.

Then let’s keep it going all year.


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