The 16 days of Action for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls runs from 25th November, the UN International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, to the 10th December, Human Rights Day. The 25th December is also White Ribbon Day, a campaign where men pledge to eliminate violence against women and girls.
Domestic abuse, sexual violence and harmful practices affect us all, directly or indirectly. A third of women in the UK will experience violence or abuse in their lifetime. This includes our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues, yet there is a huge divide in those who campaign for change. Most of those campaigning to address the issue are women. As a man I campaign for change for the reason I previously stated; the victims are my family, friends and colleagues.
As a white, educated male I understand that I have privilege on my side. I have used my privilege to progress my career and exert my influence. Through working in the sector I aim to educate others in the hope to create change, to influence the professionals I train to be able to spot warning signs and offer appropriate support, and ultimately reduce the number of victims of abuse, or at least create a better response to those who disclose as well as a shorter period of feeling trapped in an abusive relationship.
Throughout the 16 days local and national events will run to raise awareness of EVAW, these will mostly be attended by women. So what is the barrier for men? Some events may be women only, but a majority will be open to all. I began to process this thought as I sat in a conference on Female Genital Mutilation today, as one of two men amongst 50 women attendees.
Historically society has said men don't show emotion. This is evident in the help seeking patterns of male victims of domestic and sexual abuse who more commonly access short term, practical support rather than accessing long term emotional support which women are more likely to do. So do men not engage with the violence against women and girls' movement because of the emotional attachment? Does it become something too alien to process? Does society discourage men from supporting the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) movement through its constructs of hyper-masculinity? It's a mystery.
So what changes can men make? From the smallest pledge, a commitment to themselves and to others men can join the White Ribbon Campaign at www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk and pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about men's violence against women. But more than a pledge, this needs to be put into action. This includes never being a bystander, to strangers in the street, friends or family members. Never laughing someone's abusive behaviour off as a lovers quarrel or minimising or justifying our own abusive behaviour. It's being proactive in our workplace, making it a safe place for colleagues to make disclosures of their experiences of domestic abuse and having a policy in place to support those that need time off or to flexi-work or need support around safety when their perpetrator harasses them in the workplace. It's about having a zero tolerance policy to any form of violence or abuse.
Although the 16 days focuses on women's experiences, a lot of VAWG strategies now show consideration to male victims. We know that domestic and sexual abuse, as well as harmful practices are gendered crimes, most victims are female and most perpetrators are male, but that is not to say that ALL victims are female. Men experience violence and abuse. We are seeing a growing number of support services for men and society is beginning to speak out about men's experiences of domestic abuse, sexual violence and harmful practices. However, services are still limited, and it is often something I get asked about, 'so why aren't there services for men?' Ultimately, the women's movement in the 60's and 70's created refuges and services to help keep women safe. Men haven't done the same. There is often an expectation, most likely linked with male privilege, that services will just appear. As a man we can use our status to begin the men's movement of violence against men and boys, to establish services and raise awareness of men's experiences of violence and abuse. It won't happen on its own.
So what is my expectation as a man during the 16 days? I want to raise awareness and show my support to all victims, and get the world having the conversation that violence and abuse is never ok and there is support out there. Together we can make a change.