This International Women’s Day we have celebrated many women all over the world such as Katherine, Maria and Dulce, who have inspired change in their own lives and in the lives of others. We have taken stock of the huge amount of work still needed to be done to end violence against women, to give them access to education and health care, to break glass ceilings in the work place and provide them with access to political power so that their voices may be heard. We have talked, and rightly so, about what women can instigate, what women can create and what women can change. However, there is one slightly uncomfortable, yet important truth, we haven’t spoken much about:
“Inspiring change for women is a man’s issue?
This controversial proposition is dealt with eloquently by Jackson Katz where he speaks about Gender Violence in the United States. He refutes the position that gender violence is a “women’s issue which some good men help out with? arguing that by calling it a “women’s issue? we give men an excuse not to pay attention, which prevents introspective thinking by men about their dominance and thus the power systems women dispute go unchallenged by those maintaining them.
Mision Mexico’s Alan Skuse
Therefore, while it is imperative that we empower women to inspire lasting change in their own lives and in the lives of others, if we ignore men we will get nowhere. Men like Alan Skuse, who is a key instigator of change for the young girls living at Misión México. In fact, his very identity is defined firstly by the relationships he has with women.
“I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a worker, a director (of the refuge), a surfer and a sportsman.?
He is a firm believer that two approaches to inspiring change need to take place. Firstly, we need to help young girls and women to “believe in themselves; to become confident that they are equal and have a valued place in society” and secondly, we need to “educate young boys and men so that they see women as equal and not there for the convenience of men.?
This is not an easy task, especially in Tapachula where “it appears that men think that they have more rights simply because they are men.? As a father to a large number of young boys, he struggles against a culture where “men here feel they have a right to have a wife and a family and more often than not a mistress or two and children to them also.? He worries about the “example are they setting for their sons? which undermines the progress women are making in fostering an equal society.
A firm believer that “actions speak louder than words? and acutely aware of his responsibility to be a good role model, he takes his role as a father and grandfather very seriously:
“I try to show respect to all the women in my life; my wife, my daughters, and all the girls placed in our care. I encourage the girls to challenge themselves and strive for higher levels in their education and sporting activities so that they develop a strong belief in themselves. I am also constantly telling the boys to show respect to the girls. They have grown up in an underprivileged society where they haven’t had good role models.?
Therefore, while it could be argued that inspiring change for women should be led by women, we shouldn’t ostracize men. Rather we should challenge them to make women’s empowerment their issue and we should celebrate those that have already done so. At Misión México we are very proud to know men all over the world who challenge existing power systems and ideologies that discriminate against women just by being themselves; men whose very nature it is to treat women as equal; men who commit themselves to being good fathers, husbands, neighbours, teachers and friends.