Christian Veske of the European Institute for Gender Equality speaks out against domestic gender violence and calls for all men to take action.
The photograph shown above appeared in my Facebook news feed on November 28th. Christian Veske, pictured, is a Networking and Communications Assistant for The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE); the photo made its rounds as part of EIGE’s participation in “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.” Christian included the following caption: As a child I witnessed on a regular basis how my friend’s father beat up his mother. I remember how frightened we were when his father was drunk for we knew that this meant that shouting and beating will happen too. I don’t think any child should experience seeing their mother get beaten up. Never. The key to end violence against women is in the hands of men. Men must change and we need to stand against violence against women. Together.”
I had a chance to speak to Christian this past week.
I was very moved by the photograph, and I applaud your efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence. Of course, the men who are abusing their wives and families are not necessarily those who saw your photo and were moved by it. In what way will raising an awareness among the general population about the prevalence of domestic violence help to reduce it?
I think it is very important to make the issue of domestic violence visible. Men need to stand against violence because most of the perpetrators are men. Therefore men, as a group, should take responsibility to improve the situation. If men dared to say that violence towards other human beings were unacceptable, this could hopefully lead to change in behaviour patterns of the perpetrators.
Naturally, as you pointed out, quite often it might be that the perpetrators do not see these sorts of campaigns, but I believe the more people, the more men, dare to stand against violence, the greater the effect can be. I also believe that everyone can do this. At EIGE, we work with the topic of gender based violence mainly in terms of research, but the campaign on Facebook was a grass root initiative. This is something anyone could do. It can happen in any organization. All it takes is the courage to step forward and propose the idea. From our institute’s side we can make problems of violence visible through the research we do and this is something that potential future campaigners could use. Of course, one should not stop only with campaigning, but one should also extend these principles to one’s everyday life. What I mean is that when you see or hear something that may you lead to believe that someone’s physical integrity is in danger, do not hesitate to call the police. Too often people still feel that they are intruding to other people’s personal sphere, but this is not true. One should not leave these things unnoticed.
You mentioned in the caption attached to the photo that you witnessed a friend’s father beat his mother multiple times. Do you know what prevented your friend’s mother from leaving her partner?
I do not remember much of my childhood, only some strong emotions. The thing I remember in this particular case was the fear. I think every child in the house where I lived was afraid of this man. So, I can’t speculate about her reasons; as an adult, I can only guess. Violence against women has historically been rather too commonplace in Estonia. There are numerous proverbs that show this—violence has been considered as a private matter of the family. I believe that when a woman wanted to leave husband, that had a stigmatizing effect on that woman: she had to consider the consequences and deal with gossiping.
You also mention that the father was often very drunk. To me it seems impossible to address an issue like domestic violence without also addressing alcoholism, especially in the Baltic States where rates of alcohol abuse are very high. How do you see this relationship? Isn’t alcoholism essentially a cause of domestic violence?
I don’t think that the issue of domestic violence should automatically be related to alcoholism. There are cases nowadays in my home country, Estonia, which clearly show that alcohol had nothing to do with violence. Yes, it might have a triggering effect, but the issue still is about power relations and how some men feel the need to exercise their power on the ones that are vulnerable.
I know some men believe they have to show who is the master of the house. I believe this has nothing to do with masculinity. On the contrary: when a man needs to assert his masculinity through violence, it only shows this man’s insecurity and reveals very serious self-esteem and confidence issues. In my eyes violence makes men look weak; when you resort to violence, you show you lack brains enough to solve issues in civilized manner.
That is also a bit of a circle. To break the cycle of associating this kind of brutal “power” with the masculine, we need to work with boys at an early age. We need to make them understand that what makes them best is not that they have control over others (a “boys will be boys” mentality), but teach them to understand other people, what others may feel as a result of their actions.
What else is EIGE doing to spread awareness?
We are planning to work much more on the issue of men and gender equality, as this remains an important topic. Soon we are publishing a report of a study on men for gender equality in the European Union, and we will also make public a database on organizations in Europe that work with men and gender equality. Over the next year, we are planning to have online discussions on our web platform, Eurogender. We hope these and other efforts work to continue spreading public awareness.
Photo by Christian Veske