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WHILE we are still commemorating the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, one of the challenges is getting men to understand abuse through the lens of a woman.

I understand that no matter how much a man may claim to get the plight of women, one may never fully understand the excruciating experiences women go through every day.

Just like no one who has ever experienced racism can ever claim to know what it feels like to be discriminated against based on your skin. An example would be asking someone who is used to wearing flat shoes to find heels and wear them for a day, the first instinct would be for that person to find the most comfortable stilettos and forge their way on those - finding a comfortable position in an uncomfortable situation.

While learning to be comfortable with discomfort is one of the most important skills you can ever have to live, women have been living in this condition for far too long. They find themselves having to accept certain treatment from men as ‘normal’ and just barely living through it.

How often have you heard the phrase, ‘Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t know’? Or ‘Men are the same, and boys will be boys’. These aren’t widely believed facts; rather they are widely accepted because they have been normalised as general men behaviours.

Women say these things to other women, but at the back of their minds they wish things were different, they know it is wrong to be cheated on because of the prevalent STIs and HIV pandemic, but they accept it because it is deadly behaviour they have learnt to live with. Most women embrace comfort and resist anything that may lead to discomfort. But discomfort has become their friend, because it leads to growth; it helps them become stronger.

And this is the strength that has made many of us realise that this is not the kind of strength we need. What we need is to grow stronger with men, instead of growing stronger against them. Survivors of abuse deserve all the peace and security that a loving relationship can provide. But learning to accept abuse as normal can bar women from experiencing and recognising real love when it hits them.

Many women who have experienced abuse often believe deep down that no one can really be trusted, that intimacy is dangerous, and for them, a real loving attachment is an impossible dream. Many tell themselves that they are flawed, not good enough and unworthy of love. Thoughts like these can wreak havoc in relationships throughout life.

And is this really the kind of women we want to become? Can believing the worst of yourself, and everyone around you the comfortable stiletto we have chosen? While these ideas may help a person cope when they hurt so badly every day and just need to survive, they do not help the emerging adult make sense of their inner world or learn how to grow and relate to others. Women need to stop finding a comfortable stiletto, we need to learn to escape situations that make us uncomfortable. And I hope that this is one of the conversations we are engaging in during this important period.

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