On Gender-based Violence, Society Possesses More Power than Courts

Feb 20 , 2021
By Eden Sahle

There are many renowned people that I often get nuggets of wisdom from. One of these was the renowned Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. I have read many of his books and followed his work closely.

When he passed away last May, international mainstream media highlighted his remarkable work. High profile individuals, including former US Vice President Mike Pence, spoke about the kind of great man he was and how he positively influenced the youth. I was saddened as well.

The story did not end there, unfortunately. What followed his death were the scandals he left behind, which contradicted the values and principles he stood up for in public. It was just last week that the headlines began to role — it was years of sexual misconduct and rape that was verified by the investigators his own organisation hired to clear his name after dozens of women accused him of sexual abuse.

While his organisation went on to apologise to the women publicly, many public figure associates of his in politics, sports, music and religious organisations went silent.

It has been shown too often that society tends to shame victims and protect the reputations of offenders. They fear that confronting challenging realities somehow reflects upon their values, which it does. Sadly, this is also the main reason that gender-based crimes thrive. Anything that we are not willing to tackle will continue to affect victims and society at large. This should be obvious.

This should be an imbalance of justice that laws and courts should be adept at addressing. But the justice system is only as effective as the priorities of society. It nurtures harmful traditions and privileges and tolerates perpetrators. In the face of this, seeking justice through the courts is often futile.

We have seen this recently in our country. Reports coming out of Tigray Regional State that acts of sexual violence have increased have been met with inadequate outrage. Worse, some attempted to excuse it by insinuating that it is an inherent element of conflict; others unashamedly argued that there were rape cases in the region to begin with. Such apologetics encourage offenders and endanger the wellbeing of women.

It is shattering to see laws being disregarded and society upholding norms that tolerate crimes.

The countless reports of gender-based crimes we hear about daily should alarm us. It should worry us even further that there are many willing to be silent and even defend perpetrators. For anyone wondering why societies across the world that vow that they are progressing are unable to put a pin on such crimes, the answer is that these same societies are often doing the exact opposite.

Law enforcement and courts alone can only go so far. The public must play its vital role to create a safe environment for women and girls. Whether we accept it or not, offenders are the consequences of their surroundings. Society should start taking indirect responsibility for not offering protection.

The more lawlessness allowed to flourish and the more tolerant of perpetrators the public is, the more violations there will be. If we all collaborate and work together to eliminate violence, we can create a liberating space for women that is free from endless abuse.

In Zacharias' case, this means acknowledging that while his work may have meant a great deal to many people, and although he may have contributed to a way of thinking, his crimes against women should not be discounted and held in silence. All of those people that stood by him when he had a positive public image should have the courage of their convictions to speak out when such allegations come out.

The public ought to actively take part to hold perpetrators to account and listen when victims speak out. People like Ravi get away with their crimes, because society puts too much credibility in their words, even though they already have the privilege and power.

We all have mothers, sisters and female friends we cherish and would be devastated if something wrong happens to them. We owe it to them to fight gender-based crimes. It is only when we all do what is expected from us that crimes that have been normalised could be addressed.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 20,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1086]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at edensah2000@gmail.com.

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