Cassandra Mok, CAFOD’s Country Rep for Cambodia ＆ Myanmar, shares her thoughts on why violence against women and girls is such an important issue.
A friend of mine once confided that her high school boyfriend used to hit her and drag her around by the hair. It surprised me, as I always saw her as this clever, articulate and powerful woman. I asked her why she put up with it for so many years. After explaining that both her parents used to beat her in anger, she simply stated: “Everyone who loved me hit me. So I believed that if someone loved you, they hit you.”
Gender-based violence affects both men and women, boys and girls. It affects the family as well as the society we share. Violence is not solely about personal safety, it’s about how we communicate our emotions and how we resolve conflict. Children learn how they should treat others and how they deserve to be treated from those around them. Growing up in a violent situation makes it a norm. These children grow into adults with conceptions on how to interact with each other and with expectations that it’s normal to hit or to be hit.
Montserrat Fernández, Programme Officer for Central America, has been working against gender-based violence for 22 years. On the first day of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign she shares her thoughts on why violence against women and girls is such an important issue, and what motivated her to act.
My experience of gender-based violence
I belong to the 35 per cent of women worldwide who have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in our lives. At 20 years old, I was living in Barcelona and studying teaching. One day, while travelling to teach at a primary school, I was raped.
I went to the police station to denounce the attack but there were no police women at that time, in the 80s, in Barcelona. The policeman who took my testimony got red face as I described what had happened. My parents then accompanied me to another police station to look through photos of all rapists in Barcelona, to see if I could recognise my aggressor. He was not in the police photo albums, but my neighbour, the son of one of my parents’ friends, was.
I decided to denounce the attack because I didn’t want the young girls who were going to the primary school to have the kind of bad experience I was facing. Today, in Nicaragua where I work, I know that girls going to school in rural areas are facing similar experiences on the way to school or even inside their schools. Because of this, some girls decide to drop out of school.