Women’s Issues. This simple and well meaning term has made the health and well-being of women an issue for you know, just women. Because it shouldn’t matter to men how healthy, happy, and safe their female loved ones are. It definitely doesn’t affect men when their mothers, sisters, and wives are attacked, depressed, oppressed, and sick.
Now of course I’m being very sarcastic to prove a point: men the world over care for the well being of their female loved ones so why are issues pertaining to women relegated to an ulterior dimension of ‘women’s issues?’ Would it not be more appropriate to begin calling them plain old ‘issues.’ Perhaps the largest burden placed on women through ‘women’s issues’ is their responsibility in preventing sexual assault when in reality this is a social issue for everyone, regardless of gender (Tweet this).
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and this year the theme is ‘Prevention is Possible.’ Yes, prevention is definitely possible but perhaps not how you think. Prevention is not possible by buying all of womankind pepper spray and teaching them self-defense moves. Prevention is not possible by buying women longer skirts or separating men and women. Nope, prevention does not start with the survivors. It begins with all of us (Tweet this).
Respect and equality are the antidote to sexual assault. It sounds so simple but in practice it isn’t. Think about all the ways in which women or feminine characteristics are minimized and oppressed. Think about how women’s bodies are policed, ‘don’t wear this’ or ‘cover up’ etc. While this may be well-intentioned because after all, as Muslims, modesty is part of our calling, it becomes problematic when the focus of this guidance is on how one appears to others, particularly men rather than a covenant of faith with Allah. The underlying belief here is that men can not control themselves if a woman is dressed a certain way. Quite frankly, that belief is false and if I were a man, I would find it insulting.
Then there is the ultimate outcome of any ‘-ism’: silencing. If a woman raises concern over how she was spoken to at work, often the refrain is ‘you’re being too sensitive.’ You can bet that woman is going to think twice about speaking up again. If a Muslim sister voices a concern over a man behaving a certain way, it is often minimized or brushed off. One thing I often hear is, ‘he’ll grow out of it’ or ‘all men are like this.’ This is often in reference to aggressive behavior. In reality, we teach men how to be. We are stewards of entire generations and we help shape them.
So what can we all do to prevent sexual violence? We can intervene when we see problematic behavior (Tweet this). Now keep in mind you may want some additional training to do so but intervening is not a bad thing. It may seem uncomfortable or nosy but helping someone is our calling. Doesn’t Islam teach us that to save one life is to have saved all of humanity? That to be a Muslim is to promote justice? Listen, nosy should not even come into this conversation for many of us who know everything about everyone in our social circle and then some. How is it that we make an effort to know who bought what car or who is living where or doing this, yet we have discomfort in intervening to stop harmful behavior?
As mentioned earlier, we are all in some way stewards of the next generation. We have a profound influence on the young ones in our communities. We can help shape and model healthy attitudes and behaviors surrounding gender. This might look like minimizing sexist jokes, sexist comments, and encouraging conversations about gender. Adults, too, need modeling of healthy behaviors. Be that model.
As communities, we can ensure that stakeholders have the proper training to respond to sexual assault allegations. So often, we hear the mishandling of these situations in Muslim communities and that serves to perpetuate a culture of silence and complicity. If we don’t believe the survivor and the community ostracizes this person, why would anyone else come forward (Tweet this)? Why would the perpetrator stop engaging in this behavior? To that end, holding individuals who harm accountable is also key.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is believe survivors when they tell you they have been assaulted. Help them find resources and stay with them. There is a huge amount of emotional consequences that come from being assaulted, in addition to what the survivor will face from society. Having just one person who believes them and supports them can make a world of difference. You can be the person. Be a part of the solution.
Learn more about what you can do to help prevent sexual assault at http://www.nsvrc.org/.