Last year I spent about five months back in the States while renewing my South African visa. During that time, I became aware of an underlying culture. For the first time, I was overwhelmingly aware of the acceptance of violence and crime in my home that I had never noticed before. I think moving to a country known for its high crime rate has made me more aware of the repercussions of violence. While for some this would further divide the culture between South Africa and the U.S., for me, I have realized how strangely similar they are. Yes, they are different countries with different struggles, but they share some interesting parallels in their history and cultural climate. Here are three of many similarities I have noticed which I believe contribute to cultural violence:
- Diverse, yet clumsily classified communities divided by wealth and ethnicity.
- Constant flow of stories, media, news, and content available online has created an infatuation and general apathy towards violence. Reporting of incidents is often biased. Crime and drama sell.
- No value for the importance of family // life at home and its contribution to society.
There is a ton of information available online about facets of violence around the world. The World Health Organization, United Nations, the Peace Alliance, and more consistently put out information about living in a culture with normalized violence and its repercussions. It doesn’t take much reading to realize this a multi-faceted subject with many different faces and effects to filter through.
***Click on different locations on the map below to learn about what types of violence are still common or normalized.
How on earth do we begin? When something is so deeply rooted and negatively affecting everyone it touches, how do we even make a difference?
I believe we make a difference by starting to prevent instead of reacting and intervening.
There are a lot of messes that we and the future generations have to clean up. Very often the conflicts we’re involved in have a root cause which happened long before we were around. We are trying to fix huge societal issues that started when societies shifted or were built in the first place. Often we feel we are not responsible for fixing how our institutions run because we personally aren’t racist, we personally never contributed to violence, etc. These institutions include events such as the aftermath of colonialism and westernization, harmful traditional practices still being implemented today, even cultural expectations and roles of women and men. While we may not contribute to any of these institutions which normalize violence, somehow we are affected negatively by it. It is each of our responsibility to play a part.
I would even argue that those pieces of our history go back further than we can concisely document, back to a time when people were first beginning to spread out across the globe. But the repercussions today are localized and very relevant to our communities’ health.
We’re trying to end gang violence which started generations back. We are trying to end the cycle of children growing up without their parents, who also grew up without their parents. We are trying not to be numb to violence when it is a constant theme in media and marketing. Each one of these conflicts comes from a long story of violence. In visual terms, we’re the mechanics trying to fix and work on machinery that may have not been pieced together properly in the first place. While intervening in these large issues is necessary for healing and moving forward as both localized communities and society as a whole, what if there was something we could do to prevent these things from happening in the first place?
It sounds a bit idealistic, I know. But there is evidence that this works.
If you google conflict prevention, an extensive list of pdf’s and web pages come up from countries all over the world about putting government money towards conflict prevention instead of relief aid. Research indicates that investing early to prevent conflicts from escalating into violent crises is, on average, 60 times more cost-effective than intervening after violence erupts. While these methods are generally between large groups of people, it’s a concept that must be implemented locally.
So. Where to start? How can we practically make a difference in our communities? Here are some proven ways that violence, abuse, and crime can be prevented.
1. Give tools instead of punishment.
People should always take responsibility for their actions, and with each action, comes a consequence, whether good or bad. But what if instead of just punishing people for the wrong they have done, we give them tools that lead to self-improvement and development so bad choices don’t keep happening?
Need I say more? If children and adults are given access to a complete education, they will be more informed in their decision-making processes.
Women who complete their secondary education are less likely to experience violence from an intimate partner.
3. Work in Teams. Encourage Diversity.
Conflict begins when people cannot see eye-to-eye. While there is a right and a wrong in many matters, there are also multiple options in moving in a positive direction. What is most powerful is when we can learn to work together despite, and maybe even because of our differences. Whether that difference is nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, patterns of thought, religious beliefs, or skill sets, teams who work together while maintaining diversity are the powerhouses of change. While working in diversity can be extremely difficult, if done well, it can build a culture of collaboration.
4. See something, say something.
If you notice something that makes you think someone is being abused, you can help. Most people who are in a bad situation feel they don’t have the power to do anything about it.
Conclusion: It’s important that every single one of us are a part of this conversation. If you dig deep enough, in your family history, in your neighborhood culture, in your community’s tendencies, you will find a tie to violence. Some of us don’t even have to dig very far to find evidence. In some way, the repercussions of violence within your culture are affecting you. And it is up to us to change that. As Charlotte Bunch says, “sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture.”
article & illustrations by Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh