I have spent more than 15 years travelling around the world learning about the different forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. I have come across domestic violence, rampant sexual harassment and blatant discrimination. I have learned about honour killings, slavery and ‘cultural’ ideas that deliberately deny women from having the same rights to education, work and freedom as men have.
Throughout these travels I have heard many voices speaking up to express their condemnation of this widespread violence and discrimination towards women.
However very few of these voices have been male.
In fact, there seems to be a resounding silence from men throughout the world when it comes to speaking up against violence and discrimination against women.
Many men, it seems, believe that they should not speak up about against violence against women because to do so, would somehow make them not a man.
It’s as if the idea of a man wanting women to have the same rights to protection, safety and opportunity as men do, is somehow a threat to their masculinity. As if their masculinity rests upon their ability to dominate, control and be violent towards women.
However, there are a few parts of the world where concepts of masculinity are not based on such ideas.
The Mosou are one of these groups of people.
They can be found living around the sparkling waters of Lugu Lake in the mountainous province of Yunan, China. Renowned for their matrilineal culture the Mosou carry their family line through the mother and the grandmother is considered to be the most important person in the family.
Relationships between men and women are centered around love and both men and women are free to choose their partners and change them as they wish. There is also uniquely, no requirement for men or women to get married. Rather the Mosou engage in what they call walking marriages where a man and woman may have a relationship together without formally being married, much like the relationships between a boyfriend and girlfriend.
I spent 10 days with the Mosou, travelling around the beautiful waters of Lugu lake talking to men and women about Mosou culture and the role of women within it.
What I found was a culture where relationships between men and women are based on mutual respect, love and caring. I also learned that violence against women is not allowed.
What I found was the most impressive about the Mosou, was the men. All of the men who I spoke with spoke strongly against violence against women and they all said that in Mosou culture, it was not allowed.
‘I feel angry when I hear about stories of violence against women,’ said Giruduzhi, one of the Mosou men who agreed to sit down and talk to me. ‘It’s not common in Mosou culture.’
‘Women work very hard for the family, we have to respect them,’ he explained. ‘Its not allowed in our culture for a man to hit a woman. If I saw a man hitting a woman I would think badly of him and try to stop him.’
Another Mosou man working in a local museum agreed that violence against women is not allowed in Mosou culture. As an old man in traditional Mosou clothing chanted Buddhist prayers behind us, he explained that the united nature of Mosou culture protects women.
‘We believe that you have to be good to both boys and girls,’ he said.
A young man working as a boat driver on Lugu Lake, explained that the strong role of women in Mosou culture is due the powerful role of the mother and the grandmother.
‘Both men and women are considered equal. They respect each other,’ he said.
Luruduoji, a local Mosou man living by Lugu Lake, explained that equality and non violence is taught to Mosou men from a young age.
‘We are taught to be kind by our families. I learned that from my uncle and my grandfather,’ he said.
When asked what he thinks about other cultures that allow men to be violent towards women he shakes his head and says that such behavior is completely unacceptable.
Indeed I did not meet a single woman who complained about violence in Mosou society.
The Mosou are an example to all of us of how things can be.
If we are going to achieve a world where women and girls have the same right to freedoms and opportunities that men have as well as the same rights to live free from violence, harassment and discrimination as men do, then we need to rethink our models of masculinity.
We need to promote masculinity’s around the world that are built around love and respect between men and women rather than violence and degradation.
We can see that with cases such as those of the Mosou, that this is possible. We can also see that where cultural ideas of masculinity are based around equality, love and respect then we can see a society where there is much lower rates of violence against women.
These are the models of masculinity that we need to promote around the world.