*This blog post was written after Adnan’s safe return to Canada*
By Adnan Ali
In this final blog, I will talk about a working paper I edited on gender stereotypes and violence during the last weeks of my internship.
Growing up in Pakistan, we were imbued with a spectrum of gender roles that then seemed business-as-usual. While I was not allowed to wash the dishes or do the laundry, my sisters were not allowed to attend the door when the bell rang, fetch groceries from the bazaar, or dump the trash at night. I observed that women kept quiet when the men talked, and during family gatherings, the men dined first, and the women ate when the men had their tea and were back on politics. Violence against women was not uncommon.
Two decades later, I find myself editing a paper linking gender stereotypes with violence in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe (the ECA region), and I suddenly realized that stereotypes were not a Pakistani special. Entrenched gender-based stereotypes that aired violence against women and girls existed in high numbers across all the ECA region.
For instance, data collected over 2015-18 indicated that 60 per cent of all women surveyed in the ECA region experienced psychological violence. Another 45 per cent women experienced physical and 31 per cent experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Most even reported facing a combination of different forms of violence. Societal attitudes against women and girls, such as marrying them young and not permitting them choice in marriage, not treating them as equals in the labour market, perpetrate violence against women.
Violence is also normalized through myths and perceptions, including those held by women. For instance, 60-65 per cent women in Bosnia and Serbia and 42-47 per cent in Albania and Montenegro agreed with the statement, “a good wife obeys her husband even if she disagrees with him.’ Another 32-35 per cent in Albania, North Macedonia, and Montenegro; and 21-25 per cent in Bosnia and Serbia agreed with the statement, ‘It is important for a man to show his wife/partner who the boss is.’ Astonishingly, 30-45 per cent women in Albania, N. Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia agreed with the statement, ‘Women who say they were abused often makeup or exaggerate claims of abuse or rape.’ Sadly, more women agreed than disagreed (30 vs 19 per cent) that violence against women is often provoked by the victim. Some forms of violence are so normalized that women do not believe it should be punishable.
The point is the struggle to uproot entrenched gender stereotypes against women is a global one, and not just an Asian, a South, or a Muslim problem. This is an area where top-down and bottom-up initiatives are needed, requiring the involvement of NGOs, civil society, governments, and mass awareness/educational initiatives at the local, national, and international levels.
Over the last six months I have learned more than I ever could have imagined. In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to BSIA and the United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-C) for making this valuable international experience a reality.
Note: Data quoted in this blog comes from the following working paper:
Mateja Zupancic (2020). Gender stereotyping and violence against women in the ECA region. What does the data say? (United Nations Women, forthcoming 2020).