“Enough is enough”: How men can help end violence against women
Tens of thousands marched across Australia on Monday calling for an end to gender-based violence and justice for victims of sexual assault. The March 4 Justice rallies were spurred by a string of allegations of sexual abuse centred around Australia’s parliament, including a 1988 rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter, who strongly denies the claim.
“Yesterday 110,000 women and their supporters came out in 42 locations across Australia to have their voices heard. A line has been drawn in the sand” tweeted Janine Hendry, one of March 4 Justice’s main organisers.
Many demonstrators carried placards reading “enough is enough” and wore black in protest. In Melbourne, organisers unrolled a banner listing the names of women and children who have died as a result of gender-based violence since 2008.
Brittany Higgins, a former political advisor who alleged in February that she was raped in a minister’s office in 2019, addressed the march in Canberra, calling out significant failings in the power structures in Australia’s institutions.
“There is a confronting sense of banality about sexual violence in our community” she said. “I was raped inside Parliament House by a colleague, and for so long it felt like the people around me did not care because of where it happened and what it might mean for them.”
“It was so confusing because these people were my idols. I had dedicated my life to them. They were my social network, my colleagues and my family. And suddenly they treated me differently. I wasn’t a person who had just gone through a life-changing, traumatic event, I was a political problem.”
“There is a horrible, societal acceptance about sexual violence experienced by women in Australia” Higgins added. “My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it is a painful reminder to women that if it can happen in Parliament House, it can truly happen anywhere.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who declined to join the protests, invited a delegation on Sunday to meet with him in Parliament House. The organisers refused, with Hendry stating via Twitter: “We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the Government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors.”
THERE IS A HORRIBLE, SOCIETAL ACCEPTANCE ABOUT SEXUAL VIOLENCE EXPERIENCED BY WOMEN IN AUSTRALIA
According to the Australian Bureau of statistics, one in three Australian women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15, a number that mirrors the results of the latest global study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Based on data from 2000 to 2018, the WHO found that violence against women remains “devastatingly pervasive” worldwide, and starts alarmingly young – one in four women aged 15 to 24 years who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by an intimate partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties. Around 736 million of women are subjected to physical or sexual violence by a man in their lifetime – a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.
While the numbers are already alarmingly high, WHO states that they do not reflect the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the contagion grows, so does women’s exposure to violence as a result of measures like lockdowns and disruptions to vital support services.
At the opening of the UN Commission on the Status of Women on Monday, head of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called the COVID-19 pandemic “the most discriminatory crisis” that women and girls have ever experienced, and declared that women are “under siege from gender-based violence,” suffering the highest rates of intimate partner violence ever seen over the last 12 months.
“Violence against women in public life is a major deterrent to their political participation, and affects women of all ages and ranks, in every part of the world,” she said.
Violence against women is a men’s issue
Gender inequalities of power is at the root of violence against women, explains Dr Michael Flood, Australian sociologist and associate professor at the Queensland University of Technology School of Justice. Flood, who participated at the March 4 Justice rally in Brisbane, is an internationally recognised researcher on men, masculinities, and violence prevention.
“When men assault and control their wives and girlfriends or ex-partners, they do so in part because of the beliefs that men should dominate relationships, and men’s needs and interests come before women’s” he tells us. “Men pressure and coerce women into sex because they believe in gender inequality: that they are entitled to access to women’s bodies; that women are malicious and dishonest; that men should be strong and forceful and dominant.”
“Men’s actions are only made possible because of a wider web of collective or structural conditions. Patterns of gender inequality. Structured inequalities in power. Peer groups that condone his violence. Collective ideologies and discourses of gender and sexuality. Organisational and workplace cultures. And institutional conditions.”
While patriarchal, social norms can not be dismantled overnight, men must be part of the combat to end violence against women. They have a vital role to play in preventing and reducing men’s violence against women, says Flood, and can be engaged at every level of prevention. A few ways to do so, he explains, is by educating boys in schools about respectful relationships and sexual consent, building egalitarian cultures in workplaces and sports, and using communications and social marketing to shift norms of masculine entitlement. Other ways include involving male community and religious leaders, mobilising men alongside women in advocacy networks, and holding male policy-makers and male-dominated institutions and governments to account.
How men can be allies to women
Flood gives three actions that men can take to support the fight against gender-based violence.
“First, we have to put our own houses in order. We have to take responsibility for violent behaviour and attitudes, and try to build respectful relations with the women and girls (and other men and boys) in our lives.
Second, men can take steps to challenge violence and violence-supportive behaviour around us, in our daily lives. We can act as positive ‘bystanders’: intervening in incidents of violence or the situations which lead up to them, supporting victims, challenging perpetrators, or other actions.
Third, men can tackle the social and cultural causes of violence, the social foundations of violence. This is vital, because without a wider culture change, we will never end violence against women.”
Men can also be allies to women by supporting survivors. “When a woman tells you that she has been assaulted or raped or is experiencing control and abuse, listen to what she has to say,” Flood recommends. “Believe women. They rarely lie about rape or abuse, yet our culture includes the widespread myth that they routinely lie. It is important to believe what they are saying. And respect both her feelings and decisions.”
And remember, he adds: “It is not her fault.”
Read more about men’s role in violence prevention in this collection of resources by Dr Michael Flood