November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
In recent years Australian attitudes to violence against women have changed greatly. Governments have strengthened laws and policing of domestic violence, and the #Me Too movement has drawn attention to the sexual abuse of women by powerful men. As a society we are still coming to terms with these changes.
The change in attitude reflects the recognition that behaviour, always thought to be wrong, is far more extensive and damaging to women than had previously been thought, and that consequently the task of changing it is far more urgent and difficult.
Most people regarded domestic violence as wrong, but minimised the harm it caused and saw it as a problem only in dysfunctional families. They did not see it as their business to intervene when they saw evidence on their neighbour’s face of beatings or heard cries at night. Police, too, were reluctant to get involved in ‘domestics’, believing that what was done in the family was generally best left to remain in the family.
These attitudes perhaps reflect an older unarticulated view that saw women as their husbands’ possessions and so could be treated disrespectfully with impunity. In some societies this is still the operative view.
Movements like #Me Too have reminded us that women are not playthings or slaves but people, that they have a voice and the right to raise it in outrage if they are badly treated, and that the bruises and scars left by assault do not fade with time but can corrode the spirit, destroying self-confidence, sense of self-worth and any larger view of human possibilities than physical survival.
As more women have spoken out we have all come to realise how widespread is violence against women, how it afflicts women in every sector of society and in every suburb, and what subtle forms it can take. It is an evil that as a society we must address.
The focus on domestic violence must remain on the women who are overwhelmingly its targets.
But we must also see it as a human problem, affecting the relationships between men and women. From that perspective it is a men’s problem. That violence against women flourishes means that men’s understanding of women, their experience and their response to women are flawed.
These flaws will begin in their understanding of themselves as men. These are the premises of The Men’s Project at Jesuit Social Services, which seeks to explore the roots of men’s violence and to help young men find a better way.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.