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Men must Stand with Women to end Family Violence

Men must Stand with Women to end Family Violence

Australian of the Year David Morrison came under fire for being a white, privileged male advocating for gender equality, diversity and inclusivity. Is it appropriate, his critics asked, for him to defend the rights of the marginalised when he himself has never experienced discrimination?

Well, why wouldn’t it be?

In his former role as Chief of Army there was no one more appropriate to address the scourge of sexual abuse in the Australian Army. As one of Australia’s oldest hierarchical and patriarchal institutions, the message had to come from the top.

And in his current role as Chair of the Diversity Council Australia Morrison is well placed to continue the conversation about family violence started by his Australian of the Year predecessor Rosie Batty.

He is not alone. Increasingly, we are hearing more of our male leaders, including our prime minister, say that the problem of family violence cannot be tackled just by women.

This is a good thing.

The root causes of violence against women have been found to be gender inequity and rigid gender stereotypes.

According to UN Women, ‘negative gender stereotypes hinder people’s ability to fulfil their potential by limiting choices and opportunities’. They translate into practical policies, laws, practices and theologies that cause harm to women on the ground.

As long as men are predominant in decision-making and leadership in governance, politics, sport, employment, wealth, religion and so on, we will need decent men in positions of influence to support and add their voices to those of the women spearheading the campaign for change.

As the website for Male Champions of Change, an initiative of the former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, states, ‘We need more decent powerful men to step up beside women in building a gender equal world.’

The role of religious leaders in this should not be underestimated.

Last year I was part of a national roundtable responding to violence against culturally and linguistically diverse women and their children. At the roundtable were women from a range of religious traditions including Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim and various Christian communities.

The roundtable drew on the recent Hearing Her Voice report on violence experienced by women from over 40 ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The report noted that a ‘number of participants felt there is considerable scope for religious leaders to play a greater role in preventing and addressing violence’.

It recognised not only the positive role that community and religious leaders can play, but also cases where the belief system propagated actually contributes to the problem.

Given that the majority of leaders of religious communities are men, the potential for male religious leaders to act as agents of change is great and as-yet unrealised.

This largely untapped potential is perhaps nowhere greater than among male religious leaders in the Catholic Church — the oldest, largest, most hierarchical and patriarchal institution in the world.

Can these church leaders be male champions of change on the issue of family violence and its root causes of gender inequity and rigid gender stereotypes?

If one of the key causes of family violence is gender inequality, can these church leaders speak with authority and authenticity when they are part of an institution that has no women episcopal decision-makers or leaders?

These are challenging but vital questions that could be relevant to any of our institutions whose leadership is dominated by men.

We all need to work together, women and men, to examine the attitudes, cultures and belief systems that create inequity.

This work will eventually create a safer society for women, men and children alike.

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