Bahai Association UGA - ENDING VIOLENCE IN THE FAMILY

ENDING VIOLENCE IN THE FAMILY

A statement of the Bahá'í Community of the United Kingdom, February 2001

Family violence is a global and pernicious problem. It takes many forms, and affects all spheres of society and all aspects of human development. The links between violence in the family and social, structural and political violence are often overlooked, and the problems therefore dealt with in isolation. Not only that, but family violence is frequently denied as a problem, but until it is openly acknowledged and tackled it will not be eradicated.

The costs of violence

The economic costs alone of family violence are huge, ranging from medical treatment and social support for the victims of violence and abuse to legal fees, foster homes for children and so on. But the price of violence goes well beyond mere money. We can hardly begin to guess at the personal and social cost of the suffering, of the unfulfilled potential of damaged individuals, and even of loss of lives.

A development issue

Family violence is often seen as a localized or social problem, when in fact it is a human development issue. It damages wives, mothers and daughters who are battered, raped, deprived of human dignity and the means to meet their basic needs. It also traumatises the children living in these homes, where they witness or are subjected routinely to beatings, sexual and verbal abuse, and neglect.

Violence perpetuates the historically unequal power relations between genders and severely impedes the full development and advancement of both men and women. Replicating itself in generation after generation, it stunts the growth and development of whole societies.

A human rights issue

Family violence, deeply rooted as it is in cultural and religious gender bias, is also a human rights issue. In communities where women's rights are denied family violence can be a culturally inbred part of upbringing, embedded in the consciousness of all family members as 'acceptable' and 'normal.' Moreover, contrary to conventional wisdom, a gain in status for women often brings an increase, not a decrease, in reported cases of violence as men feel threatened by a loss of power.

Ending denial

Denial is one of the greatest obstacles to eradicating family violence. Victims, fearing loss of love or acceptance by the perpetrator or by other family members, will often not admit that abuse is taking place, let alone speak out. Even if they acknowledge the violence, victims will excuse it, blame themselves or accept culturally based justifications for it. Families, supposing they recognize abuse, frequently turn a blind eye to what is going on in their midst or even tacitly support it. Communities and whole societies refuse to face the terrible truth about the violence that they permit or encourage.

What can we do?

Effective efforts to create violence-free families require a partnership between men and women and the active participation of all parts of society. Strategies for redress and remedies must be designed to include the whole family, because the dynamics of family violence directly affect all its members. That effort must begin with a new vision of the family, based not on power-relations but on unity, equality and mutual respect.

Our challenge is to search out new strategies and adopt fresh models that will encourage a healthier, more co-operative society at all levels. We need to move consciously away from patterns of force and aggression, and from the adversarial approach that characterises many of our institutions, towards methods of consultation and peace-making.

One of the essential ways to encourage more co-operation is through education in such fundamental realities as the oneness of the human race, the equality of women and men, and the essentially spiritual nature of human beings. Education - moral, material and practical - is therefore not only a fundamental right but a practical necessity in today's world. At a time when illiteracy is increasing among women in the developing world and levels of learning are falling for both sexes in industrial societies, it is essential to re-emphasise the role of education everywhere if violence within families is to be controlled.

One important focus for intervention is the education of girl children. Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), the Founder of the Bahá'íFaith, has emphasized that mothers are the in the broadest sense first educators of the next generation, and that where resources are limited priority must, therefore, be given to education of girl children. If families educate their daughters, and the community systematically encourages the education of girl children, both the family and the community benefit.

The problem of violence cannot truly be resolved unless men are also educated to value women as equal partners. Any effort to protect women against male aggression which does not involve the early training of boys will necessarily be short-lived. Likewise, all attempts to understand the causes and consequences of violence against one sex which do not involve the other are bound to fail.

Conclusion

Family violence must be addressed by the world community. It is not a private matter, but has become a global pandemic that the international community can neither ignore nor allow to be protected within the privacy of the family. It is an affliction that ravages all regions of the world, all economic and educational strata and all types of families. The family is the primary locus of human socialisation and development. If that development process is denied or distorted, the adverse consequences can be irreversible. Patterns of behaviour learned in the home are replicated in the wider society.


©Copyright 2001, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom

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