Just like rape during conflict situations, rape during peacetime knows no geographical or cultural barriers. But how does rape as a weapon of war relate to rape in ‘everyday life’ ? The answer can be found in every society because wherever we are, rape has one root: patriarchy. And that is what has been revealed, at the end of 2017, by the testimonies of women through the #MeToo movement on social media.
But what is patriarchy ? Radical feminism understands patriarchy as a «sexual system of power in which the male possesses superior power and economic privilege» (Eisenstein, 1979). Other feminist essays describe patriarchy as a social and economic structure based on unequal balance of power between men and women (Kandiyoti, 1988 ; Makama, 2013). Even in the most developed countries, society is structured on patriarchal features. Those features can be seen in the government, for instance, where women are often less or not represented at all. In movies, where men are more often given the lead role and even when women have a lead role, there is always a man to save her at some point in the movie. It also transpires in childcare. It wasn’t until very recently that we started talking about paternal leave ; the mother has always been seen as the sole carer of the children while the father would take care of the finances. But now, both men and women work, gender roles have evolved and society is catching up more slowly. Another example of patriarchal features in our societies is the fact that women are more likely to face abuse than men because they are not given the same status and respect. As such, rape is only one of the many forms through which violence against women transpires in a patriarchal society.
Patriarchy has always taken the notion of property and availability of women’s bodies as granted. Whether dicted by religion or by culture, the basis of rape takes place in the belief of men’s superiority over women. But sexual violence is not inevitable. It is merely the reflection of women’s portrayal in society. Men rape because they can. Especially during conflict situations, they know there is no accountability for their actions. To stop rape, that kind of thinking needs to change and it starts with our boys. If they are not taught, from a young age, to seek equality for all, to respect women and to stand up against harassement, then they will grow into men who rape women, men who will use violence to get their way or who will stay silent when it happens. And as long as rape remains hidden and shameful, recovery is impossible. Shame needs to shift from the victim to the perpetrator and boys need to be educated about consent and respect for women.
A good example is the Kenyan organization No Means No. At first, it was supposed to be a self-defence programme for women and girls in order to empower them. But the instructors were told by the girls that most of the time the perpetrators were family members and boyfriends, men that women should not have to fear. Instructors then learned that many boys believed that «it’s justifiable to rape girls who are out alone after dark, wear miniskirts, or are taken on expensive dates» (Molloy, 2015). That is when the programme evolved to include Your Moment of Truth which teaches boys in school about consent and that rape is never acceptable. After these programmes were implemented, rape by boyfriends and friends had dropped by 20% in 2015 (Molloy, 2015). According to the No Means No website, 50% of girls stopped a rapist the year after the training and boys are 73% more likely to intervene when witnessing an assault. This actually proves that education can be the solution.