Every action matters

Action countsA group of men from Preventing Violence Together partner organisations met in July 2015 to discuss their experiences as men taking action to prevent violence against women. Written for whw news edition 3 – 2015, they shared the journey they’ve taken to understand men’s violence against women as encompassing unequal power relations between men and women, emanating from gender inequality. 

As members of the Preventing Violence Together partnership, we have had the opportunity to discuss violence, gender inequality and male privilege at length with colleagues. We have also had the opportunity of having in-depth discussions with women working in preventing men’s violence against women, enriching our learning and professional development with insights that other men have been rarely afforded.

Most men we talk to oppose violence against women, but this view does not always translate into action to prevent violence.

It is our belief that two barriers, both related to language, hinder most men from engaging in activities to prevent violence against women. The first barrier relates to understanding that all men can play a role in preventing violence against women. When we talk with some men about the importance of being involved in preventing violence against women, we are so often met with two responses: ‘I am not violent, why do I need to act?’ and ‘I do not know what you are asking me to do’.

The links between gender equity and preventing violence against women are complex, with gender inequities creating an environment for violence to occur. However, this link often runs counter to the personal experience of men we talk to. All have grown up in gendered environments, but not all men choose to use violence. Answering the question ‘what causes violence against women?’, and giving men the capacity and confidence to make changes in their everyday lives is not an easy task.

The second barrier is balancing language that doesn’t shy away from the issue, with language that encourages and supports participation.

Quite rightly, we use the phrase ‘men’s violence against women’ and encourage men to take ownership over the problem. This recognises that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence, and that men have been afforded unequal positions of power in our society. Despite this, we have found when we talk to men who have never committed violence and use language that seeks to encourage ownership, we force our audience to make a challenging decision – will I confront this as an issue for all men or, because I’ve never been violent and I don’t see the links you’re referring to will I choose to stay disengaged? When talking to men outside of the health and community sector we find that many choose the easier option.

We believe that taking ownership over the issue is not as simple as an opting in or out at a single point in time. Eliminating violence against women is a long-term prospect, meaning that building strong community involvement will be more like a marathon than a sprint. For this reason, we need to be prepared to engage men where they are in order to build the support to get where we want to be as a society.

In this issue, the journey from superficial engagement to comprehensive understanding starts with small, every day actions that build to longer term engagement and, ultimately, a change across our community. Participation in change occurs across a continuum – from being placated or informed, through to partnering and leading.

For every man who makes a public stand to promote gender equity and prevent men’s violence against women, there are many more that contribute in smaller ways. Whether it’s husbands and partners who break gender stereotypes in the home, or the sports coaches who challenge sexist jokes in their clubs and set a culture of respect for teams to abide by, these ideas and contributions, however small, should be encouraged and seen as important steps on a journey to move men from a position of participation to one of leadership.

One in three women will experience violence at some point in their life. That means that, whether they know it or not, most men will come into contact with a woman who has experienced violence.

With an issue of the size and breadth as violence against women, men cannot simply choose whether or not to be involved – we are all involved. The real choice is what that involvement will be. Our objective is to engage other men, to help them identify ways to confront gender inequity and oppose violence to women, and to make small everyday contributions that can grow into leadership. We invite other men to join us.

The authors

This article was written by: James Dunne (HealthWest Partnership), Nuredin Hassan (ISIS Primary Care), Cuong La (HealthWest Partnership), Peter Crowley (Moonee Valley City Council) and Samuel Muchoki (Brimbank City Council)

Read more stories and get the latest news about Women’s Health West in whw news.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of organisations mentioned.