This Saint Valentine’s Day, Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero look at what it means to have a healthy relationship and how unhealthy ones may be formed.Today, many couples, in many countries will be celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day – or ‘El día de los enamorados’ (‘Day of Lovers’) in some Latin American countries. Whilst a chance to celebrate the spectrum of healthy loving relationships; it is also an important opportunity to highlight a crisis affecting women and girls in every corner of the world – 30% of women will experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a current or former partner or husband.
This figure of 30% does not take into account coercive control – a pattern of domination through intimidation, isolation, degradation and deprivation, including psychological and economic control. So whilst the figure of 30% is shocking – we know it is just the tip of the iceberg.
No single factor alone causes partner violence, however evidence shows that one of the strongest factors that predicts this form of abuse is discriminatory shared beliefs (social norms) about what is normal and appropriate in relationships. These can include that a man has a right to assert power over a woman or that a man has a right to discipline women. Societies across the world promote masculine jealously and control as a desirable way to demonstrate love. Films, music, soap operas reinforce these ideas, as can parents and friends.
Unhealthy relationships often start early – with young men and women thinking behaviours such as teasing and name calling are normal parts of relationships. The Government of Australia has just released a powerful advert demonstrating how these early notions of relationships between boys and girls can lead to other more serious forms of violence. In one scene, a young boy slams a door on a young girl, causing her to fall over. “He just did it because he likes you,” the mother explains.
Other identities can intersect with gender to influence what is considered normal and appropriate within a relationship. For instance, in Latin American cultures, ‘concepts of machismo dictate that boys and men should be tough, sexually assertive, and dominating, whereas marianismo stresses that girls and women should be submissive and passive in their relationships with boys and men.’
Nearly half of urban youth promote sexist beliefs that normalize violence
To address this the Colectivo Rebeldía, Oxfam Bolivia and the Women’s Coordinator are today launching a new campaign ‘ACTÚA, detén la violencia’ to tackle violence in young people’s relationships.
Bolivia has the highest rates of physical violence against women in Latin America and the Carribean – 53.3% of Bolivian women have experienced physical or sexual partner violence and every three days a woman dies because of femicide.
Oxfam Bolivia’s research has found that nearly half of urban youth (men and women) promote sexist beliefs that normalize violence. This includes “the way you dress provokes rape”, “jealousy is part of love” or “if you really love, you forgive violence”. The study also found that 9 out of 10 youths know a friend is suffering from violence from her partner and that the majority state it is better not to intervene – 33% said that if their friend beats their partner, they do not get in because it’s their private life.
Despite this apparent indifference, 43% of young people consider that violence can decrease if the whole society gets involved, 54% believe that the fight against violence is a priority for the development of the country and 85% of young people would be willing to act to stop the violence.
In its first stage, the ACTÚA campaign aims to tackle the indifference of the friend of someone in a violent relationship or perpetrating violence in a relationship. It will develop circles of friends that socially sanction violent behaviors and develop support networks for young women facing violence. Using public and peer pressure, the campaign hopes to decrease violence in young relationships.
Whether in Bolivia or anywhere else in the world, we all need to take a stand against notions of harmful love and instead promote positive and healthy relationships with our family, friends and colleagues.