The spotlight is well and truly on violence against women since the recent murder of Grace Millane. And whilst many may question, why the outrage now when so many others have gone before? I was at the vigil last night in Wellington with many others and something resonated. When asked to put up our hands if we’d travelled alone offshore, felt unsafe, had families fear for our safety the majority of the women there did – we could have been Grace, we identified with her story and we can walk in her shoes. Like Grace, at 22 I arrived in Auckland from England on my OE over a decade ago, this is our reality that’s why it resonates.
But regardless of the name on the vigil there are many names that sit alongside, lesser profile perhaps but equally important lives - the statistics speak for themselves. It’s a sad fact that it took a young, white foreign tourist to die in this way on our shores to bring violence against women in NZ into the spotlight and the undeniable fact that in the vast majority of cases this is at the hands of men.
But we all know and love many men who don’t fit into this category, these same men join us in our outrage but is that enough? What are we doing as men (and women) to stop violence against women. To talk to our men and boys about their responsibility in how we treat women and how to balance out the power dynamic when it comes to gender.
Are we calling out the men (and women) who still assume when this happens a woman must be, in some way, to blame – she was out late at night, unaccompanied, using a dating app, wearing the wrong thing, behaving inappropriately. Why should it rest purely on women’s shoulders to try and protect themselves from men or to justify why they didn’t deserve to be victims of violence – don’t we all deserve the right to live safe?
Especially when all the evidence suggests the rules we’ve been taught to follow for so many years still do not protect us, summed up perfectly in this article by Emily Writes. And even if they did is it fair that we should live life differently, more cautious, less privileged and free to our male counterparts because of the threat they pose to our life?
So what is the answer and how do we ensure this is not just another women’s issue that women alone try to resolve because we know that’s only got us so far.
I had the privilege to see Author Clementine Ford speak recently when she was over in NZ. Having written a book with a similar title to mine and spoken a lot about empowering women I was intrigued. One thing she mentioned really stuck with me. She talked about those who we put in the ‘bad’ category – perpetrators of violence against women, those who discriminate or harass/bully females in the work place. Then on the other hand those who are ‘good’ people, obviously we do none of this, in fact we condemn it but is that enough? Clementine talked about the many men (and women) who may be in the ‘good people’ category but still are too passive, we stand by as this stuff goes on and feel because we’re opposed to it and refuse to partake that’s enough, but is it?
You see I’m not the protest type, I’ve never seen myself as a feminist (although I respect those that are and the work they’ve done massively). My mantra is that we focus on ourselves and empower each other to deal with this rather than what happens externally.
However it is apparent that we can’t do this alone and the success of women relies on us bringing our male counterparts along on the journey. The balance of equality and making our country safer for women is something men must help with – we can’t do this alone, we are in this together and we must take action together – all of us.
I’m aware that I prefer to stand in the background, I prefer quiet, subtle action and have always shied away from conflict. I’ve no desire to be the lighting rod for abuse that Clementine Ford admits to having become. But sometimes this is at the risk of me being too passive. I’m a good person but what use is that unless I’m actively doing something to help, speaking out, having the right conversations?
I’ve worked with many good men (and women) and indeed outside of work too but so many of us (myself included) are passive in this space. We think that because we’re not perpetrators of violence against women or believe we would never discriminate based on gender that we put ourselves firmly in the ‘good’ category. However, how much change does simply not being bad create? Is more than that required? Given the statistics 125 years after women won the right to vote in NZ it may suggest that yes, more is required.
Whilst I’m not ready to pick up my placards and hit the streets it has given me food for thought, along with other ‘good’ people. Standing by passively being good people is sometimes not enough. And that’s not to say we need to be protesting or petitioning our governments (although that can help too), it’s thinking about the conversations we have with each other, the small actions we can do and how we can use our privileged positions for greater advantage and change in this space.