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20 Oct 2021 11:01
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  •   Home > News > International

    Where are the men when it comes to women's safety? Four weigh in on cultural change

    What do men think about campaigns urging them to examine their role in preventing family and sexual violence? We asked young men — and those who work with them — about their experiences, and what they think will turn the tide.


    There's been a lot of talk about women's safety in recent weeks. Women's safety, in most of these discussions, in relation to men.

    The federal government convened its first National Summit on Women's Safety this month, and classrooms are starting to feature regular conversations about gender stereotypes and respectful relationships.

    Throughout these meetings and discussions, one question keeps coming up: 94 per cent of violence against women is perpetrated by men, so where are the men in conversations about keeping women safe?

    Australian of the Year Grace Tame was involved in a discussion about family and sexual violence, which had 49 participants. She said only one of them was a man.

    "It sort of makes you feel like, 'Alright, well, here are these women's issues, so we'll just make the women deal with them by themselves'," she told the ABC's Q&A.

    From boardrooms to bars, and all in between, men are being asked to consider how they could help bring change.

    Advocates stress there's a link between male violence and gender inequality.

    So what do men think about campaigns urging them to examine their role in preventing family and sexual violence?

    We asked young men — and those who work with them — about their experiences, and what they think will turn the tide.

    Everyone is deserving of respect

    University student Joseph Cefai, 20, thinks part of the challenge is what some blokes regard as fairly common conversations: banter, comments on social media posts, so-called "locker room talk".

    "Maybe photos that girls might have posted on social media and comments that have kind of come up from that, that, you know, you probably hear in the schoolyard," Mr Cefai said.

    He's referring to the kind of comments that objectify or degrade women.

    "The kind you end up letting slide just because, you know, you're in a group of friends and you don't want to be the one to … stick out from the group."

    But he believes that on the whole, there's been genuine progress.

    "I think we are getting better in terms of attitudes towards women," he said.

    Mr Cefai went to an all-boys high school, and even though he had female friends, university has been different.

    "Since going to uni from an all-boys high school, I've been spending a lot more time with my female friends and I'm just sort of having that experience," he said.

    For Mr Cefai, that includes learning about the daily reality many young women experience.

    "I've … been able to hear stories of instances from high school of … disrespect towards women and things like that. Certainly [I've] been able to hear a lot more of that, now that I probably have a lot more female friends."

    He believes for his peer group, gender equity is a given.

    "It has become a cultural norm that you are respectful towards women," he said.

    "You're on equal terms and everyone you interact with is deserving of respect.

    "I'd like to think that … down the track when we are starting families of our own, [the] improved attitudes and relationships with women are going to translate to … much more respectful, loving relationships and going to completely excise domestic violence from society, hopefully."

    Ekrem Kucukali, 26, doesn't recall much talk of culture change and family violence when he was in school.

    "It wasn't much of a thing for us to talk about," he said.

    But Mr Kucukali said in his Turkish Muslim community, the understanding of gender roles had changed dramatically in just one generation.

    "My mother and father came from Turkey. And, you know, whatever the culture was there, they came and brought that here and continue that," he said.

    "It was a typical … Middle Eastern culture where the mother's at home, does the cooking, the cleaning and the dad's outside, you know, earning that bread money."

    For his peer group, that's all changed. In many couples, both spouses are working. Ekrem works in human resources and his wife is a psychologist.

    He believes that change in the perception of gender roles will make a difference.

    "For the previous generations, our mothers' or fathers' [generations] … I'd say it might have been that family or domestic violence was seen as something that was acceptable," he said.

    "Our generation has that education and respects that the female can have education as well. And that has, I think, a relatively large impact on the awareness of domestic violence and the reduction of domestic violence in households."

    But even though Mr Cefai and Mr Kucukali say their male friends believe in gender equality, both concede there's a long way to go before all men call out other men for disrespectful behaviour towards women.

    Mr Cefai says it can be easier to speak up against disrespect against women with really good friends than in bigger groups of people.

    "In that sense, you wouldn't want to kind of create bad blood [by] instigating any sort of conflict in a social setting like that. And, yeah, that can definitely be a roadblock to … calling out behaviour like that."

    Men can change

    The desire to belong in the group is powerful and can be a real barrier to behaviour change.

    That's something Jai Tao, 46, has often seen in his work with young men and boys.

    As a facilitator with The Men's Project at Jesuit Social Services, he helps them recognise behaviour that can lead to violence.

    "Banter is one of those things where the social teasing … the dialogue that sort of could be misogynistic or sexist by nature … that behaviour is also ingrained into [those] social dynamics," he said.

    Mr Tao hears the language sometimes used to keep young men "in the group".

    "They get policed with words like, you know, 'Don't be such a pussy, man up … grow some balls', this kind of thing," he said.

    "Dialogue that indicates them either being like female or part of her body or same-sex attracted. A lot of the ways that men will use language to put other men down."

    Many of the young men he works with have strong ideas of what makes up the male identity: aggression, toughness, and a rigid understanding of gender roles. All traits that can contribute to violent behaviour.

    "If someone's had an entire lifetime of messaging from society and culture and all the influences around them that says, 'I need to be this way', for them to switch that off and behave a different way tomorrow when they wake up is probably not realistic," he said.

    Mr Tao believes to address men's violence against women, against families, against men, the key conversations have to involve men themselves.

    "We can change our ideas around the male gender from within, rather than being told from the outside, 'You need to change your behaviours', 'You need to change your attitudes' … because that's usually just going to be met with defensiveness and resistance," he said.

    "I think we need … more men to understand this."

    Alan Thorpe, who has been helping Indigenous men understand themselves for two decades, says no one model will work.

    Mr Thorpe attended the National Summit on Women's Safety. He believes the strength of the Dardi Munwurro healing and behavioural change program he directs in Melbourne is that it's community specific.

    The work they do is designed for Indigenous men.

    "You've got to go back before you go forward," he said.

    "You want to understand what men are holding on to, and what really sends them on that destruction path and what creates violence."

    At Dardi Munwurro, men begin with what Alan calls a safety net, and reflection.

    Men come to Dardi Munwurro through the courts, the Department of Corrections, and community organisations. They've all had a history of violent behaviour.

    "You're dealing with different journeys," Alan said about the men who come to the program.

    "[Some] men want it more than others or men are just exploring it. Or men … are doing the program because they've been told."

    Dardi Munwurro has a residential program where men live on-site for 16 weeks. Participants can connect with their culture and begin to understand their own violent behaviour.

    "Not all men have felt safe before, you know? They wouldn't even know. So how do you create that for your partner or your children or your loved ones? Because you don't even understand it."

    Men can be transformed, he believes. But they have to want to reject violence.

    "I think you've got to be courageous enough to go, 'I need a bit of support,' or 'I actually need to learn some new ways … to learn about myself'," he said.

    "I really believe in men. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't, because I see it. I see it every day. And I really believe men have a role and men can contribute, you know. And men can change."

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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