Stop labelling, start understanding

an Africian woman's face c. UNHCR Gillene
'Victim' - a word loaded with disempowering connotations

Prior to volunteering at Scottish Refugee Council, I often placed women who had experienced violence in to the same category as a ‘victim’. But this word is loaded with disempowering connotations and I have since come to realise that labelling a woman in this way can often be a continuation of the removal of her individual power.

A new first hand understanding

The women I have met this past year at Scottish Refugee Council are far removed from the clichéd images of a ‘victim’ that I had constructed in my mind throughout my years at university.  Yet, I recognise that highlighting women’s experiences of ‘victimisation’ is, sadly, one of the key ways to stir emotions and garner support for campaigns. No doubt lack of understanding of the complex issue of gender violence and the widespread nature of such a serious crime also feeds into this women-as-victim perception.

Part of the solution

Widespread education is an important factor in promoting respectful relationships and ending violence against women – it also counters the portrayal of women as victims.  Certainly such philosophies may stir arguments over ‘Western Imperialism’, or ‘universalistic ideals’.  However, placing the individual woman at the centre of any considerations should be fundamental; ultimately fighting for her rights, regardless of place, culture or religion, is what’s essential.

Men, as the main perpetrators of violence against women, do lie at the heart of any change. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, where rape is used as a weapon of war, it is crucial that men are informed about and included in the fight to eliminate this. 

Respect and all its facets

Whether in the family, community, or the wider world, the importance and value of women must be emphasised and recognised. Promoting respect for women and instilling an awareness of gender issues from an early age, in all societies, is another important step to ending violence against women.

Because, really, it’s time to stop labelling, to start challenging misconceptions and promoting a wider understanding.

Find out more about volunteering with Scottish Refugee Council

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(2) Comments

  • Helen Vermij
    02 December 2010, 19:20

    I agree that the word "victim" is a paralysing one. Living in South Africa, where abuse against women and children is rife, the word "Victim" is no longer used, the word they use is "statistic". The sad reality is that the harder we fight abuse in all it's forms, the more it happens. But the joy of helping and saving that one person we fought for, is a joy to be had.

    Wonderful article Ashley.

  • Rini
    11 February 2012, 09:33

    I think the beiggr question is Why do women need protection? If fathers teach their sons to be real men and to treat women with respect, women wouldn't need protection. Of course, it's every man and woman's responsibility to protect the weak=; for the able to assist those who are not. It's not just a gender issue, it's a human one.

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