Stockholm / Rome — I do not understand a word of Persian and cannot determine whether these lines, taken from a German translation, are a correct interpretation of Muhammad Hāfez-e-Shīrāzī´s original poem. Nevertheless, Hāfez, who lived 1315-1390 CE, was apparently one of those great writers able to provide bemused couples with points of reference after being struck by the tumultuous sensation of passionate love.
All over the world we find a wealth of poems that with tenderness and empathy express love and compassion. Several of them have been written by men to women, by women to women, and men to men. Such tenderness is easily forgotten when we are confronted with men's cruelty towards women; their power abuse, contempt for "the weaker sex", drunkenness and sadism, as well as men's obsession with brutal sex and machismo and repeated claims about male reluctance to demonstrate affection. We are becoming used to consider men as warriors, playboys, or power-drunk world leaders, while offensive role models and ideologies by various media outlets are presented as guiding principles for male behaviour.
In spite of advocacy and involvement of many activist organizations, violence against women remains one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations worldwide. It ensues in both public and private spheres and may occur at any time in a woman´s life span. Violence against women might limit their contributions to social, economic, and political development, as well as it impedes them from exercising their human rights. Gender-based violence prevails regardless of age, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and specific geographical areas.
Since the issue of gender equality is present in both public and private spheres, affecting us all by influencing even our most intimate relationships, it is very difficult to address it in a balanced, objective and multi-faceted manner. We tend to limit problems related to gender equality to "neutral" spheres, like economic and social justice combined with a struggle to tear down barriers to equal participation, rights and possibilities for men and women. The thorny issue of human emotions is generally ignored, while men and women are bunched together as one-dimensional stereotypes.
While working with gender equality issues within development cooperation organizations, I actually never heard anyone talking seriously about love between men and women. Words like love, or compassion, were not mentioned during any of the countless meetings and gatherings I attended. If I mentioned such words in speech or writing, they were criticized, censored and obliterated. A word like compassion was for some reason considered to be "embarrassing", "falsely emotional", "disparaging", or "overly sentimental". On the contrary, words like fighting spirit and competition were welcomed. Do we not like love? Does the gender equality struggle have no need for positive role models, except for empowered, energized women, and tolerant, supportive men? Why is it often easier to recommend fighting and violent action, instead of negotiations and compromises? Patience and understanding, combined with an unselfish and benevolent concern for the good of others, i.e. love, may be considered as a prerequisite for peaceful cooperation and positive outcomes, like in the Beatles song:
Love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time.
All you need is love, all you need is love.
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
To me it appears as if any official discourse about harmonious, respectful love between human beings tends to be considered as somewhat embarrassing. Is it not politically correct to talk about that kind of love? In the current debate about gender equality we seldom hear the word love (not in the sense of sexual satisfaction, but as a general, overarching concept), nor words like tenderness or compassion.
Maybe it would not be harmful to point out that there are indeed good men around, not only chauvinists and abusers. Positive male role models do exist. Everywhere we find men who are supportive of, respectful and affectionate to women. I assume we have to search for expressions of that kind of love and as poets and songwriters often do - praise it.
Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.