Violence against women is making headlines these days. The recent brutal murder of South African activist Reeva Steenkamp, allegedly at the hands of her famous boyfriend, Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is currently the sensationalist news story of choice for most mainstream agencies. Notably, these discussions often draw our attention to the problem of systemic violence against women in South Africa, and include calls to rectify this tragic situation. Women in South Africa suffer violence too often at the hands of their partners, with apparently 3 women being murdered by their partners each day. Similar discussions of the problem of systemic violence against women circulated following the brutal rape and murder of a young woman in India. Despite having a mainstream media in which feminist perspectives tend not to be popular, the issue of systemic violence against women has somehow made it into media disocurses and is being acknolwedged as a significant problem that must be addressed.
The problem for me with this state of affairs is that all too often, violence against women is considered a problem that someone else has. Women in India and South Africa face daily violence, and it is those countries that are deemed to have a problem on their hands. I have, when making a feminist argument about systemic inequality to some of my more “worldly” friends, been reminded that I have it pretty good — I don’t actually know what gendered oppression is and Canadian women like me have nothing to complain about. Now, I will acknowledge that I am a very lucky person. I do not face daily violence. I am safe, comfortable, and healthy. I have a good education and a partner who is not violent. I may be lucky, but my experience is definitely not universal amongst Canadian women.
The day before the sensational Oscar Pistorious case hit the headlines, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the long-term, sustained, and systemic violence against aboriginal women in Northern BC at the hands of RCMP officers. This region includes the “Highway of Tears” where 18 women have gone missing since the late 1960s (this is the official number, the actual number of the missing may indeed be much higher). Despite the severity of the allegations — that the RCMP have, far from simply not protecting the women in BC’s north, in fact been participants in the violence that these women face — this shocking news has not received the same calls for Canada to deal with its own issues of systemic violence against women. I find this frustrating and shocking, though admittedly all I know about media bias renders it also very predictable. I am appalled with how quickly the story about violence against aboriginal women in Canada was pushed from the headlines, to be replaced with an equally tragic, highly sensationalist story from a far away place, that we are perhaps more comfortable scrutinizing. South Africa is a very violent place, we will all willingly admit it. Can we not also open up a conversation about how violent some of the spaces in our own communities actually are, and that perhaps that needs to change as well? Violence against women is a global problem, we must all find ways to stop it, and it is definitely not just someone else’s problem.