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Combating violence today, everyday

di Livia Bellardini

November 25th was the International Day for the elimination of violence against women. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (better known as The Istanbul Convention) was opened for signature on May 11th, 2011 in Istanbul. As of today, The European Union, together with 45 countries have signed the treaty, 34 of which have ratified it. Not only does the Convention provide a legal framework for both combating and preventing violence against women, it also holds an ample scope of measures for governments to take that aim at preventing, supporting and protecting women who have been exposed to violence or who risk being exposed to it (Website).

On January 14th and 15th, the University of Trento was the venue of the UNIRE, International Graduate Conference Gender Violence, a cultural issue, a panel organized by Professor Giovanna Covi and Lisa Marchi, where culture was chosen as the overarching hallmark of a conference that, in and of itself, exemplified interdisciplinarity. As a matter of fact, in each presentation the participants shed light on the palpable or subtle fashion in which culture (their culture) is resistant to the prevention of violence.

In Italian, UNIRE means to connect, to combine and to join. It is also the acronym for “Università italiane in rete”, a project that stresses the compelling role of the university system in the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence by implementing the principles The Istanbul Convention is based on. Financed by the Department of Equal Opportunities, and directed by Marina Calloni since 2018, the idea of creating an academic network was brought forth by Michele Nicoletti, former member of the Italian Parliament and President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The aim of the project is to create and strengthen a university network in which universities, now ten, work together by joining forces and offering educational tools so as to endorse projects and research, ignite critical thinking, and raise awareness on the various aspects that are enmeshed in the endurance of gender violence. Culture, society and law being only three pillars among others that still today hinder the path to the achievement for ultimate equality between men and women. It is precisely in these areas of interest that universities play a core role, for it is in classrooms where knowledge is both conveyed and created, where seemingly unbreakable or harmful biases are questioned then scoured, where a respectful exchange of opinions and ideas is warmly fostered.

In her Introduction to “UN.I.RE – Gender Violence is also a Cultural Issue!”, Lisa Marchi underlines the urgency for the “involvement and hard wok of citizens at all levels […], since domestic violence, sexual assault, gender discriminations and abuse have sadly become part of our everyday life” (7). She furthermore reports Professor Nicoletti’s eager solicitation for a web-like involvement in the matter, as “institutions alone cannot do the work that is required to combat gender-based violence” (ibid.)

If today, in 2020, our democratic society still exemplifies a patriarchal state of mind made visible in everyday linguistic expressions, and that is so culturally embedded in daily micropractices, then what we need is what Professor Giovanna Covi calls a cultural revolution from within: “A deep transformation hich entails acts of civil disobedience” (17). She also sustains that such a deep and situated change is enabled through the actualization of Leela Gandhi’s philosophical framing on non-violence.

On June 21st 2019, Leela Gandhi (Brown University) delivered a lecture at the University of Trento. While reflecting on violence, her lecture foregrounded nonviolence as a political, cultural and ethical civil revolution (47). She states:

The Istanbul Convention puts a ban on such gender-based violence, at least in Europe. And it does something else, no less profound. It makes an explicit commitment to non-violence as a value in its own right. In Chapter III, Article 14 of The Convention, there’s a new accent (however tentative and fleeting) on the need for an ethos of ‘non-violent conflict resolutions in interpersonal relationships’. The promotion of nonviolence is beyond the purview of the law, per se. (48)

In other words, if the law can oblige one to not be violent, it cannot oblige to be nonviolent. According to Gandhi, non-violence is a way of life that can be explained with the three following points:

It is not utilitarian, meaning that one does not cease causing violence in order to acquire some kind of self-gratifying award. On the contrary, not hurting someone serves its own purpose; it is for its own sake.

It is not normative, meaning that non-violent acts are anarchic in the deepest sense of the word. They are also creative in their constant demand for renovation.

It is not virtual ethics, although it concerns character. Better put, non-violence has nothing to do with the achievement of personal fulfillment (50-51).

Gandhi has profound faith in the revolutionary effect that acts of non-violence can have in one’s ordinariness. If the structural nature of gender violence, and of all violence for that matter, is based on the cultural belief that men are more that women, what she proposes is a practice of non-violence based on the inversion of such a principle:

It is the practice of ahimsa (harmlessness), of being or becoming less rather than more. It is the reality of having the legally protected right to say “no” (54).

With a lot of effort, these practices can contribute to transforming both our culture and our democracy: let us include them in our shared lives.

I would like to conclude with a remark: let us all consciously ponder over the ways in which our behavior may participate in actually reinforcing acts of violence, both explicitly and subtly. Let us now think of how we embrace acts of non-violence in our quotidian, and how we daily intervene in combating cultural constructions based on power structures, whose bare exposure is imperative.

Works Cited
UN.I.RE – Gender Violence is also a Cultural Issue! Proceedings from the International Graduate Conference: Cultural Actions and Practices that Honor the Implementation of The council of Europe-Istanbul Convention, edited by Lisa Marchi, University of Trento,
July 2020.
Council of Europe Website https://www.coe.int/en/web/istanbul-convention/home?

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