DIGNITY: Taking a stand against Gender-Based Violence

Today, I will be a part of a conference on gender-based violence along with Tearfund, IBM and BMS organised by Contemporary Christianity (who played a massively important underground role in kickstarting the response to human trafficking in Northern Ireland: I like to call them the mafia of NI – they are more gentle/better-intentioned than most gangsters, however!)

Gender-based violence is often used interchangeably with the term ‘violence against women’, as it is caused by the power imbalance between men and women, meaning that most gender-based violence is perpetrated by men/boys and experienced by women/girls. Article 3 of the Council of Europe Convention on combating and preventing violence against women and domestic violence labels it as:

violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.

It takes on many forms, including:

Domestic violence

Sexual violence including rape

Honour-based violence

Forced marriage



Human trafficking

These are the worst expressions of a societal problem that is present in almost every jurisdiction, and has been for centuries: the inequality between men and women. At very basic levels, women have and still are denied access to education and healthcare, are treated as burdens or objects or second-class citizens, are the victims of the atrocities listed above much more frequently than men or boys, and in more subtle ways, are victims of institutional and systemic misogyny such as pay gaps, sexualisation in advertising, and sexist jokes.

Aptly, this image made its way into my Twitter feed last night as I was preparing for today:

Screen shot 2015-10-08 at 17.21.25

And it reminded me of why it is very important for us to be talking about gender-based violence: it is so deeply engrained in society that it is a joke, a Halloween costume.

In giving a local snapshot of GBV it is my duty only to relay what the rest of the world is experiencing to our situation here: that gender-based violence is present in NI. 60 incidents of domestic violence are reported to the PSNI each day. 10 rapes are reported every week (and that’s only those which are reported) – and reports of other forms of sexual violence are up to  three times more frequent. Honour-based violence is very rare here, but once incident was reported in 2011. The Justice Minister just this year introduced FGM protection orders to prevent girls from being brought to other countries from NI and mutilated there. Infanticide, which is the abortion of a girl because of her gender, has not been reported here.

And then, human trafficking. 82% of victims of human trafficking, globally, are female. Women and girls are trafficked into, out of and around Northern Ireland and exploited in the sex trade and in labour contexts. Women like Anna, and girls like Alisha.

To find out more about human trafficking in Northern Ireland, why not visit No More Traffik and browse the information we have prepared for you?

But here’s the tricky thing. In Northern Ireland, until 2014, there were more cases of sex trafficking, and thus more women recovered, than men. (Note: not all women are trafficked into sexual exploitation, and some men are trafficked to be exploited sexually.)

And then it changed. Perhaps because we started to talk more about labour exploitation, thus broadening the definition of ‘human trafficking’ and changing the narrative, which in turn was reflected in the statistics. Or perhaps traffickers found it more lucrative to exploit men in labour. Or perhaps it’s a fluke, and our statistics are not representative of the real picture. Or maybe it’s a mix of all three.

But this is what we’re working with: since 2014, and indeed this year so far, more male than female victims have presented.

Amy, one of our summer team, did some research on this question: are men the hidden victims of human trafficking? And she found that there is evidence to suggest they are. We initially thought then that female victims of trafficking were victims of gender-based violence because their vulnerability was their sex but that men were simply victims of crime preying on economic vulnerability or lack of education. But then we had to ask, was there not an element of gender vulnerability with men as well?

Because when we dug deeper, we realised that men were hidden as victims of trafficking because of how society conforms to cultural gender norms.

Maybe because of the shame they feel in self-identifying as victims, as being seen to be ‘weak’ and not ‘masculine’, as needing ‘rescue’ in a stereotypically princess-like female narrative we sell so well.

Maybe because they would rather suffer than fail to provide for their families, in a culturally normative way of looking at family structure and women’s roles in the public square or working world (and perhaps, their inability to participate because of lack of education or training access).

Maybe because law enforcement isn’t looking for male victims, because trafficking is a ‘women’s issue’ after all, isn’t it?

And so it would seem that in a sense, men are victims of the very framework that perpetuates violence against women. The patriarchy. That is, the power of men over women, and other men who don’t perform in the construct of masculinity our culture holds dear.

What underpins all of this – men being forgotten because they aren’t allowed to be victims of crime, men abusing women in the home, ancient cultural practices that exercise control over young girls to prevent them from enjoying intimacy, that Halloween costume I found last night, the trafficking of girls into sexual exploitation, the systemic abuse of power, the fact that men feel entitled heckle and honk at woman walking down the street, the lack of representation of women and girls in the arts, education denied to girls in a vast number of places across the globe, the pay gap, 7 year old girls being forced to marry, the pressures of ‘masculinity’ on men who don’t fit in, women being sexualised and used to sell cars and toothpaste…ALL. OF. IT (&more) – is the notion that some people are worth less than others.

And a culture in which one group is treated unequally, as second or third-class citizens is one in which everyone is at risk. Only when the value of all is upheld does everyone truly thrive.

Today we will hear from some wonderful people who are doing incredibly work in challenging unequal culture and its affects, to promote the worth and well-being of all people. Check out:

Steve Holmes

Tearfund’s No Child Taken campaign

David McAllister’s work in Congo


and BMS’ Dignity project

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