The latest buzz on women’s rights has been on the speech delivered by Emma Watson. She was promoting the HeForShe campaign launched by UN Women on September 20, 2014.
I’d like to pick up on her comment that, “the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating.” I agree.
I have been working on women’s rights advocacy and implementation at the national level in Canada and overseas for 16 years. In that time I have been told by some people that they were surprised I didn’t hate men. They found it shocking that I (and colleagues of mine) even chose to engage men in the process to address and eliminate violence against women. An initial oversight, by many, is that the approach we take to eliminate violence against women includes addressing gender-based violence against men.
To exclude men in the process of establishing and implementing women’s rights is to exclude one significant contributor to the problem. How can we have women’s rights if one of the parties is not included in the conversation? And when I say conversation, I don’t mean a gathering where men are blamed or isolated. I also don’t mean a conversation where gender violence against men is not acknowledged. I mean a genuine exchange involving curiosity, understanding and collaboration.
Consider what Ms. Watson asked: “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”
To isolate men undermines the aim of establishing women’s rights. It also undermines the aim to establish gender rights.
Ms. Watson said, “I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”…” and “I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.”
We need to engage all genders in addressing sexual and gender based violence in order to eliminate it.
I’m not saying women who have experienced violence by men should necessarily sit with them, make peace and establish rights. I am saying that a process needs to take place.
In safe spaces women and men, separate from each other, need to acknowledge the suffering they have experienced, come to terms with it and work on healing. Compassion and understanding of oneself and each other needs to be a part of the process.
A genuine dialogue needs to take place with all genders. We need to examine how we have come to a place where women, the root of communities, are devalued and how men are stripped of the ability to feel and be vulnerable. We need to do so with compassion and curiosity.
My hats off to Emma for delivering a speech with a very strong and simple message to engage each other. It is my hope that the HeForShe campaign bridges divides, helps eliminate sexual and gender based violence and helps establish and reinforce women’s rights.
Jo-Ann Rodrigues is a Gender Equality and Conflict Resolution Consultant. This post was originally published on her blog, JO-Talk, on September 25, 2014.