Recently I have been invited to participate in several discussions on the subject of Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
Various forums highlighted the importance of language as well as the lack of vocabulary for women and children to be able to express their silenced experiences.
For example, I was seven years old when I first experienced street harassment; yet I lacked the words to describe the fear and anxiety I felt. The term ‘street harassment’ was not available to my parents nor me at the time. When I began working, the concept of ‘sexual harassment in the workplace’ did not exist; this is not to say that it didn’t take place, because it did, and all too often. Yet the absence of meaningful words left me silent for decades.
GBV has many faces. Here are some:
- femicide – the murdering of a woman by a man often an intimate partner;
- rape – any form of forced or coerced sexual act;
- physical violence – hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, strangling;
- emotional violence – insulting, gaslighting, blaming;
- spiritual violence – demanding obedience, silence and subservience in the guise of religion;
- financial violence – controlling and restricting access to finance in exchange for compliance.
Today I identified another face of GBV, namely professional violence. It was not my first experience; I just did not have a term to define it. I hold a senior position in my organization; I am a founding director and COO. On more occasions than I can count, employees of companies are rather unaccepting of my position and seek a ‘male oversight’ to finalize an agreement, for example. They will Google the organization and change the name of the director. Today, the company chose to email confidential documentation to info@….. in search of that ‘man’ to validate the new contract.
This reminds me of an article I read a couple of years ago: two women who ran a successful advertising company in LA decided to add an imaginary director to their business portfolio, with a male’s name of course. The results were immediate; as ‘he’ would send out communication to new customers, emails were attended to speedily and thoughtfully, and business was conducted professionally; dinner date requests ceased, as did incessant questions on marital status and number of children.
Professional abuse is real and happening around us every day. We need to address this abrasive disrespect of women’s positions and competence in no uncertain terms. Those of us that have stood our ground before, know that yet another service provider will be calling us ‘difficult’. That is the price we are willing to pay, for our excellence to be acknowledged and the respect due to us to be given.