On International Women’s Day (IWD), we passionately strike the #EachforEqual pose. To us, this pose symbolises equality, compassionate boundaries, allyship, and the disruption of destructive gender-based cycles.
Alongside our ongoing advocacy for the equal rights of all human beings, we pay particular respects on this day to the women and marginalised genders affected by violence. In doing so, the team at Centre for Integrative Health (CFIH) makes a call to action to all Australians and the role they play, directly or indirectly, in perpetuating the constructs that fuel gender-based violence.
Despite vast improvements in the rights for women, gender-based violence remains one of the most prevalent and devastating human rights violations in the world today. One in three women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime while one woman per week is murdered by her partner or previous partner. Women who identify as lesbian or bisexual, transgender or intersex as well as first peoples and ethnic minorities, and those who are neurodivergent or living with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to experiencing gender-based violence. Such violence not only compromises the health and safety (both, physical and emotional) of its victims, but it serves as an obstacle to the fulfillment of human rights and equality for all human beings. While not everyone in Australia will experience or perpetrate gender-based violence, everyone will undoubtedly be part of or witness a conversation involving it. The dialogue you engage in around such issues determines the role you play in either dismantling or further perpetuating the problem.
Last month, the team at CFIH were devastated by the news of the horrific murder of Brisbane woman, Hannah Clarke, and her three children (Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3). Not only did we grieve the deaths of four innocent people, but we were struck by the confronting reality of the societal constructs working to keep such violence unseen and unaddressed. We were sadly reminded of the all-too-common responses (including “why doesn’t she leave?” and “perhaps he was driven too far”) to incidents of domestic violence and the pernicious role they play in perpetuating the very victim-blaming mentality that underlies and fuels such abuse itself. Efforts to reduce violence against women start here, in the very way we talk about abuse when it occurs. There is no excuse for abuse and there is nothing that anyone can ever do to be deserving of it. Abuse is not to be tolerated under any circumstance and in responding to incidents of abuse, the safety and welfare of the victim/s must always be prioritised before seeking to understand or attend to the perpetrator.
When the commentary around violence towards women isn’t targeting the victim, it is often aimed at minimising or silencing the issue through responses such as, “men also experience abuse”, “men suffer too” and “it’s not all men…”. At CFIH, we acknowledge that men are also victims of violence (albeit, most frequently at the hands of other men). Our efforts to advocate for and support marginalised groups (including, but not limited to, women) is aimed at just that. It has no business in distracting from, discounting, or silencing the issues faced by men. However, in pointing out to us that “men suffer too” surely, it is not being suggested that women also take on the labour of men’s issues while men themselves do little more than criticise the current efforts of women to support other women in ending gender-based violence? If men are concerned about and actively working to improving the mental health of other men, we applaud them and want to hear about these initiatives so that we too can support and promote them where possible. However, we request that the time and the place for this does not conflict with pre-existing agendas devoted to other concerns.
With regards to the retort that “men suffer too”, we are well aware of this fact. We think that we can safely speak on behalf of women more broadly when we say that we are deeply saddened and moved by the pain and suffering experienced by men. Our acute awareness of men’s struggles and our efforts to prevent or alleviate them without simultaneously demanding the same consideration from men, however, has been to our detriment. Not only have women throughout history subjugated their needs, desires, and aspirations in an effort to ensure those of men are met but survivors of domestic violence often attribute their compassion and concern for the wellbeing of their perpetrators beyond consideration of their own welfare as the reason they remained in the harmful situation for as long as they did. Please respect what it has taken Australian women to get to the point of being able to prioritise their welfare enough to protect themselves from abusive situations. Rather than discouraging the newfound agency of women, focus such efforts instead on encouraging men to take healthy responsibility for themselves in the same way.
The team at CFIH recognises that, in many cases, perpetrators of abuse were once victims themselves. We are saddened by this truth whilst also demanding that an important distinction be made between acknowledging someone’s pain and excusing their behaviour. Insisting that society seeks to understand why some men do the things that they do without first protecting their victims serves only to perpetuate inter-generational patterns of abuse. On a similar note, we concede that not all men abuse women. Not inflicting abuse however should be a given. It is certainly not something to be commended. At CFIH, we know that there are many wonderful men in the world. However, simply protesting “it’s not all men” in the absence of actively role-modelling exactly what a good man is does little more than serve as complicity. For those who are genuinely concerned about the reputation of men and seeking to protect it, we suggest that efforts currently focused on debating the validity of women’s complaints be redirected towards changing the behaviour of those men bringing the male reputation into disrepute. Finally, although not all men perpetrate abuse, all men do systematically benefit from the patriarchal structures that disadvantage women – making all men responsible for helping to dismantle it.
In an effort to progress the discourse towards gender equality, the team at CFIH asks that the issue of gender-based abuse and that of the suffering of men, be recognised and responded to separately (despite their obvious intersectionality). We agree that men need substantial support in dismantling the toxic masculinity that reinforces violent behaviour and discourages men from seeking appropriate help and support. However, we demand that women’s lives cease to be the price paid in seeking to understand, protect, and support men. We support suggestions that men’s concerns require increased attention and support. At the same time, we ask that such issues be raised on separate occasions with agendas of their own rather than during conversations concerning women. We also insist that men leave women to focus on the important work that they’re already doing and take responsibility themselves for the unique and important issues faced by their fellow men.
Finally, given that today is International Women’s Day and the focus of this post has already been disproportionately centered around men, we conclude with one final call to action: that the remainder of today’s conversations be focused rightly on women; the experiences of women, the barriers women continue to face, and the efforts required to achieve the emancipation of all women. Each and every one of us has an important part to play. As long as one woman faces discrimination, harassment, inequality or oppression, we all do.
The team at CFIH