Gendered Violence: I Don’t Need Your Protection, Give Me Your Power!

By Federica Russo

From Protection to Empowerment

A key element to eradicating violence against women is having a focus not merely on the protection of women, but their empowerment. The goal is to transform the social perception of women from victims in need of protection, to being perceived as having power equivalent to men. The focus on the empowerment of women in relation to violence is particularly important because it addresses the basis of violence against women. Gendered violence is rooted in the unequal relationship between men and women, which characterises our patriarchal society, normalising and encouraging male power and aggression.[1] The less social power held by women, and the consequent perception of men’s superiority, leads to a normalisation of violence from the point of view of the victim, the perpetrator and society.

This violence, independent of whether it is morally accepted or condemned, is normalised as something inherent to the relationship between unequal powers. A higher level of ‘social power’ for women , for example related to a larger involvement of women in the productive sphere, would raise the awareness of equality between men and women, thereby diminishing the perception of male superiority and undermining the basis of gender violence.[2]

‘Social power’ involves being socially accepted and respected. It is affected by several elements, such as economic position, culture, education and laws. A discussion on gender-based violence must address women’s social power.

Economic power is the first element of the social power gap between men and women: “women and men do not have the same opportunities to participate in economic activity, and when women do participate, they do not receive the same recognition, wages, or benefits as men”.[3] A focus on the necessity to release women from the private sphere is present in Marxist ideology. Household work and childcare are considered a social matter and their socialisation is essential to free women from what Lenin referred to as ‘domestic slavery’, and allows them to be practically involved in the political, economic and social sphere.[4] The involvement of women in the productive sphere, along with the increase of their active role in the political sphere is considered essential to “spell the end of the supremacy of men”.[5]

Involving women in the political sphere is essential. Indeed, the still significant gap between men and women in power within the political sphere, contributes to the social view of women as weaker member of society, excluded de jure or de facto from the political decision-making process. The issue can be only partially addressed by providing temporary measures such as gender quotas. The urgent necessity is to provide women with the opportunity to be fully involved in political activity, which requires the elimination of all material obstacles, as such the limited time that women can dedicate to politics due to ‘their’ high time-consuming domestic work. Women’s political empowerment is essential to undermining the perception of male supremacy.

Culture and tradition play another important role. Most widespread religious beliefs reflect old societal values and are poorly adapted to progressive society, assuming a conservative role in perpetrating out-dated values such as the division of roles between men and women.[6]

It is also important to consider the role of legislation of the issue. Indeed, law has not only a regulative or punitive role, but also defines what is socially acceptable. Current legislation is still inadequate to address the issue and, in some cases, perpetrates inequality between men and women.

Overturning cultural and legal norms is essential in order to empower women. All the different elements of ‘social power’ are deeply interconnected. Thus, overcoming social sexism, so deeply rooted in society, needs a combined approach towards women’s social empowerment.

Violence against LGBTI People, Different Shades, Same Root.

Discussion of gendered violence is still dominated within the frame of male violence perpetrated against heterosexual, cisgender women. The result is that research on violence against LGBTI people is lacking in comparison to violence against women. Violence against LGBTI people is a real and widespread social problem: perpetrated by not only external persons but family members and partners. Accordingly, the immediate cause of violence varies and differs from gendered violence against heterosexual, cisgender women and is usually grounded in the violent rejection of non-heteronormative status. Nonetheless, even with different shades, the root is the same: the lack of social power.[7]

The dominant socio-cultural system is not only patriarchal, but it is also based on heteronormativity and heterosexism. “Intersex, transgender and gender diverse people challenge the assumption that binary biological sex determines a binary gender, undermining the assumption that masculinity and male power are grounded in male biology…. Taken together, research suggests that there is a strong correlation between traditional masculine ideals (and associated attitudes and behaviours), violence against women and violence against LGBTI people”.[8]

Many elements that contribute to the lack of social power for women are also present for LGBTI people. The conservative cultural and religious sphere, along with discriminatory laws, led to the normalisation of heterosexism, which is even stronger than sexism. “Heterosexism implies that heterosexuality is normative, morally superior, and better than other sexual orientations”.[9] For example, the widespread unequal enjoyment of legal rights (e.g. matrimonial rights) directly results in enhancing the perception of heterosexual superiority.

Cases of intimate partner violence in same-sex couples are equal to or even higher than in heterosexual couples, and the rate of abuse is even higher for transgender people and people with intersex characteristics.[10] Research on power dynamics in LGBTI relationships is limited, nonetheless, an interesting study of the role of power and control in gay relationships involving young men, suggests a reproduction of the same ‘gender roles’ present in heterosexual relationships, where the ‘weaker role’ is played by the partner with lower social power, taking into account several elements such as sexual positioning, masculinity, gender roles, level of education/employment and acceptance of their sexuality.[11]

Taking all of the above into account, I believe it is possible to conclude that the social empowerment of LGBTI people will strongly reduce the source of violence.

Some Conclusive Considerations

The achievement of equality, meaning equal social power, is essential to overcome gender-based violence. The phenomenon of the normalisation of violence between men and women, as well as against LGBTI people, is still prominent and inherent with relation to unequal powers. Eradicating the normalisation of violence is essential to its social rejection. This is possible only when the heteronormative, patriarchal society is overcome and the basis of inequality is targeted. Legal protection is still essential, but the goal is to not need it anymore.

Social empowerment will lead not only to the condemnation of violence through legal repercussions, but also to its prevention, depriving it of a place in society.

We don’t need protection, we need power.

Federica graduated in Law with full marks at Federico II University of Naples in Italy. She wrote her final thesis about the relationship between States and Human Rights. Federica has considerable experiences volunteering with various NGOs and associations and she currently also writes human rights articles for Alternativa Europea. She has a particular interest in the rights of migrants and LGBTI persons.

[1] (Hlavka 2014, p.339)

[2] (Shuler et al. 2013)

[3] (IMF 2018, p.4)

[4] Lenin, VI 1913, ‘Capitalism and Female Labour’, Pravda no.102, today in Lenin Collected Works, 1971, Vol. 36, pp.230-231.

[6] Mikolajcazak, M & Pietrzak, J 2014, ‘Ambivalent Sexism and Religion: Connected Through Values’, Sex Roles, vol 70, no.9-10, pp. 387-399: 388

[7] Lay, Y, Leonard, W, Horsley, P & Parsons M, 2018 ‘An analysis of existing research Primary prevention of family violence against people from LGBTI communities’, Our watch Report. p.32

[8] Ibid, p.7-8

[9] Murray, CE, Mobley, AK, Buford, AP & Seaman-DeJohn, MM 2007, ‘Same-sex intimate partner violence: Dynamics, social context, and counseling implications’, The Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, vol. 1, no.4, pp. 7-30: 14

[10] Horsley, P, Moussa, B, Fisher, J, Rees, S, 2016 ‘Intimate partner  violence and  LGBTIQ people Raising awareness  in general practice’, Medicine Today, Vol. 17, no.11, pp.26-31:27

[11] Kubicek, K., McNeeley, M., and Collins, S 2015, ‘Same-sex relationship in a straight world: Individual and societal influences on power and control in young men’s relationships’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 30, no.1, pp. 83 – 109.