Shared Responsibility

Nellie McClung

Nellie McClung

Fighting for rights should not be solely the responsibility of the victim. Any cause for social change requires that the majority, or in this case those in the traditional position of power, either come to understand the issue in question, or are driven out by force and violence. As a man, I prudently choose the former.

As part of my current internship, I am lucky enough to watch the drafting of UN human rights resolutions, from their raw states to the (relatively) polished form that gets presented to the Human Rights Council and eventually the General Assembly. This past week I have been following a draft resolution entitled ‘Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: ensuring due diligence in prevention’. The text itself touches on a variety of issues, including health, education, empowerment of women in politics, etc. However there is one paragraph that stood out for me. “… urges States to enhance efforts to involve men and boys in efforts to prevent violence against women and in highlighting the unacceptability of violence against women” This, to me at least, seems to be much too small a sentence for such a big idea. In this case, dealing with violence against women, the perpetrators are almost exclusively men.

To tackle the problem without addressing men is a misguided effort. There are countless other areas of women’s rights where men can play a vital role. In prostitution and sexual exploitation, men can teach their sons the practical dangers faced by a woman selling her body, or the more abstract lessons of social power imbalances. When it comes to underrepresentation of women in government, male teachers can actively encourage female students to take part in student politics. Or maybe on the subject of maternal health and a woman’s right to choose, men can actively campaign their churches or government representatives to listen to the views of their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. The opportunities for education and activism are endless.

This is not to say that gender equality needs a helping hand from men, far from it. Women in the modern world, with the right education and no legal obstructions, have all the power they need to bring about the kind of changes that are necessary to see gender parity. Indeed in the draft resolution that I refer to above, there are constant references to empowerment and the woman as an active participant in prevention of violence. Throughout history, there have been women who, faced with opposition from men at every turn, managed to fight for what they believed in and win. As a Canadian, I have particular respect for ‘The Famous Five’ – Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Edwards who were central in redefining Canadian legislation to have women declared as ‘persons’ before the law. Countless other examples exist from each of our own histories.

So with the complexities of gender in mind, and the long history of the fight for equality that has already been written, men such as myself need to reflect. What can we do to further the rights of women? We don’t need to march in the streets, we do not necessarily need to vote for a woman for Parliament, nor do we need to hire a woman over a man when faced with such a decision. But what we do need to do is ensure that in each of those decisions, we are aware of the role that we play in redefining the social structures built up generations before us.

At the risk of cliche, a quote:

I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity
– Nadezhda Mandelstam

This silence, and the responsibility to not share in it, belongs to us all.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, feature photo courtesy of Adolf Galland/Flickr)