Image: Canberra's rally on Sunday (Jeremy Stevens)

Violence against women is a men's issue

Violence against women is a men’s issue, but the most effective solutions will require all of us to work together.

When Australian Senator David Pocock said that violence against women is a men’s issue, he was absolutely correct. Violence against women is a men’s issue, but the most effective solutions will require all of us to work together. Both at the micro level – each of us as individuals – and within the broader structures of power, policy, and government that shape our lives.

It was clear from the chants and speeches at the No More: National Rally Against Violence in Canberra on Sunday that women need men to step up.

As a bloke, I include myself here. We need men to pay attention to the horrific violence that is occurring and listen to the women in their lives, without becoming defensive or dismissive. We need men prepared to stand up and speak up when something wrong is happening. We need blokes who are prepared to use their social influence where it will make a positive difference — among their friends, family, sporting communities, workplaces, and peer groups.

We need guys willing to seek help as early as possible if they’re struggling to manage their anger or healthily express their emotions. And we need services to support men with this. Services that are effective, cheap (or better yet, free), and readily available.

I think we need everyone on board to make these things work. Both men willing to listen, and women (who feel comfortable to do so) sharing their stories.

It bears repeating though, it isn’t the job of women to educate men when many women have already been shouting from the rooftops about this problem for decades. There’s no shortage of resources out there for men to get up to speed if they want to. But it is to say that we won’t easily get where we want, and certainly not with the speed and urgency required, if we form silos and go it alone. We have to listen to the lived experiences of victim-survivors, find spaces for connection, for sharing, for collaboration, for learning, for mutual support, and get to work – together.

In this way, dedicated spaces for sharing, connection, and up-skilling are critical. Some incredible people are already creating and maintaining these spaces. What exactly does that look like and what does it involve? These are some of the things that spring to mind for me.

For men to listen to women’s stories and experiences, some men may need to learn and practise what it means to truly listen from the heart. You may think that deep listening comes to us naturally, but I think it’s rarely natural. We all know what it’s like when someone has listened to our words, but not actually heard us. Deep listening is a skill that can be taught and practised. Let’s perfect that skill.

We may need spaces, in addition to those of our personal relationships, where men can witness women sharing their stories in safe ways, and where those women and their experiences can be honoured by all. Some men may need training in how to effectively intervene with their mates rather than being a bystander, and this can require skills in non-violent de-escalation. We may need professionally facilitated men’s groups for men to share among themselves, support each other, and hold each other accountable.

And we must normalise that many men, on having some of these experiences, may feel a healthy sense of shame, guilt, or other uncomfortable emotions (this is often a good thing!) as they acknowledge past harm they may have caused, harmful peer behaviour they’ve let slide, or their own past ignorance at how bad the violence in this country is. Spaces to understand and process these emotions, and make amends where appropriate, are integral to moving individuals from stasis towards meaningful action and change. They can also help men with engaging in healthy, connected relationships, and help them raise their children in more loving ways.

That’s a lot. It barely scratches the surface, and it won’t happen overnight. So what’s next?

If you’re a bloke and feeling overwhelmed by all this, here’s what I reckon: the women in Australia need to see how many men care about their safety. In a world that can feel very unsafe, you can sit on the sidelines, or you can show up and show that you care. It’s why What Were You Wearing? called for men to rally and march in solidarity this past weekend. Showing up at a rally is just one way to show that you care, but it’s an important one.

Beyond this, if you’re a bloke and you want to be an ally, I think the priority for men has to be to listen. Really listen to what women are saying and what their experiences are like. I’ll be the first to admit that for a long time, while listening to people, my thoughts often went to how to ‘fix’ whatever that person’s problem was or provide a ‘solution’.

But this kind of response can leave people feeling unheard. If you’re a bloke listening to a woman, and you catch yourself preparing what you’re going to say next while they’re still speaking, or getting ready to provide a ‘solution’ or advice, see if you can gently catch yourself. Take a pause, a deep breath, and go back to just listening with your full care and attention. Reflect back to that woman what you’ve heard and what you now understand about them. Show them you’re there to hear, hold, and fully honour their experience. It's a privilege to have women share with us, and we owe our deep listening in return. Shoutout to Mike Dyson and Joel Hines from Good Blokes Co, whose men’s retreat helped me learn and practise this.

As for the systemic, macro, government level: we need to call for action. We need to pay attention to the upcoming budget. And we need to make sure this issue is taken to the next election and treated seriously.

Sandra Rajic, Counsellor and Violence Prevention Practitioner with EveryMan in Canberra spoke at Sunday’s rally. Rajic noted that services like EveryMan require appropriate funding if they are going to meet community needs and prevent future violence. They currently have 60 men on a waitlist for one-on-one men’s behaviour change counselling, and 70 men on a waitlist for their group program beginning in June – a program that can only take 16 men. Let that sink in for a moment. That many men in Canberra want help to change their behaviour, want to avoid causing any future harm, but are stuck waiting. What a maddening state of affairs. This is an issue which can no longer fall on the deaf ears of our political elite. Let’s make sure it can’t be ignored.

I’m woefully aware of the irony of another op-ed, from another bloke, being published on this, especially when I’m advocating for deep listening. So let me leave it there. Men of Australia, it’s time to listen and it’s time to show up.

If this article raises any concerns for you, please call 1800Respect for around the clock counselling and support. Alternatively, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.