Bárbara Bonvalot

Let's talk about respect?

Mar 08, 2022

{ID: A woman with a bandage over her mouth. In the bandage is written "silence" in caps. The woman has her eyes shut and looks passive.}

Yes, about respect. Men and women, we are all entitled to equal respect. Oh, of course... that's obvious! No, it isn't. Despite all rights already won for women and by women, respect is far from being a reality. Many women still believe that situations of abuse are not worth reporting because they believe that they will not be respected. They know that by reporting such situations, they will be challenged and they will prolong the very abuse they wanted to report and from which they would want to feel to protected from.

Whether in a more private circle or at the level of private and governmental institutions, the silencing and relativization of women's complaints and of violence against women is still a reality. In turn, this allows a culture of downgrading, violence, and humiliation, in its various dimensions, to be perpetuated.

But what can be done to cultivate respect and counter the silence that feeds the permissiveness of disrespect and abuse towards women? Here are some ideas for men, for women, for authorities, and for society in general. The purpose is to encouraging communication, so that women feel safe to voice their complaints every time they are victims of some kind of harassment, abuse, or violence.


It is really important to know how to listen when someone shares an episode where they have felt vulnerable, unprotected, or wronged. We can ask questions to understand how they felt, without being invasive and putting the focus on their perception. Knowing how to listen is also about validating the other person's emotions. Even if I wouldn't have reacted the same way in a similar situation, I can understand their reactions and their sensitivity.

Do not judge

No one asks to be disrespected or abused. No one. If we assume that the person who has been harassed or abused is the one to blame, not only are we protecting the aggressor and allowing further aggression, we are also calling into question everyone's fundamental rights, namely the right to safety and the right to physical and moral integrity. And no, the clothes someone is wearing have nothing to do with the respect that is due to them!

Do not relativize or minimize

Comments such as "you probably misunderstood it" or "the guy was just trying to seduce you" or even "you're walking through some doubtful neighbourhood" call into question the discernment and judgment ability of someone who is already feeling overwhelmed. Confusion, when it's there, is on the side of those who don't understand basic social rules and have difficulty recognizing other people's the personal boundaries. "If it feels wrong, it is wrong."

Putting yourself on the line

Sometimes, people tend to unconsciously protect the abuser simply because they identify with the comfortable position of not having their behaviours questioned. This is a privilege that society implicitly still gives to men, and sometimes also to women who "follow the rules," and which may be invisible to those who enjoy it. So, question yourself. Ask yourself if, in some situation, you have ever abused someone's trust, if you have ever pushed someone else's boundaries in any way. Being able to recognize our mistakes does not make us bad people, but is a sign of humility and growth. Not wanting to listen the other person's story, so as to not lose a position where we feel protected from dealing with suffering, hinders empathy and prevents a change in the mind-set.


We can also give support by simply asking "How can I help? What do you need from me?" It can be as a companionship to go to the doctor, it can be as an authoritative witness, it can be by sharing a similar story so that the person doesn't feel alone, it can be by giving the contact information of a professional, it can be by offering moral support to make an official complaint, if appropriate. Support can be done in many ways, and each person in each moment will know how to best help. Support is not silencing a woman because "maybe it wasn't like that" or "maybe you misunderstood". Support is to listen and not allow a request for help, a complaint or a denunciation to fall into silence. To support is to recognize the truth of the other, the pain of the other, and to respect their voice.

In short... when in doubt, take the word of the person in front of you. Respect what they have to say. Respect their vulnerability, respect their anger, respect their voice. Respect them.



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