Our Watch, the “national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia,” recently released the Men in Focus guide which is aimed at “addressing masculinities and working with men in the prevention of men’s violence against women.”
As is paraphrased on the Our Watch website, the UN defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life..”
Australia has a poor record when it comes to men’s violence against women. A 1999 Australian Institute of Criminology report states that there were, at that time, an average of 125 females murdered each year in Australia, (by strangers and by men known to them), with men killing approximately 94 percent of the adult female victims. The Our Watch website states that an average of one woman per week is murdered by her current or former partner and “almost 10 women a day are hospitalised for assault injuries perpetrated by a spouse or domestic partner.”
Of course, these are examples of the more obvious forms of men’s violence against women; ones that are well-documented and are historically consistent.
A newer, more covert and less documented form of violence against women and children may be rearing its ugly head through Australian policy and law which require women and children to adhere to the notion that men can become women and thus, should be allowed into all single-sex spaces such as bathrooms and prisons, as well as safe spaces for women and their children such as domestic violence refuges.
All states and territories in Australia have at least one piece of legislation or one policy through which “gender identity” (or “transgender” or “gender diverse”) is a protected category. This means it would be discrimination to refuse to treat someone based on their “gender identity,” generally speaking. This creates a conflict of rights between different protected categories of people, and as we are seeing through international and local examples, in the day-to-day operation of gyms, pools, prisons and other single-sex spaces, women and children are consistently being treated as secondary to the protected category of men with a “gender identity.”
As a result, men that claim a female identity are being routinely allowed into these single-sex spaces.
Many advocates for the rights and protection of women and of children are of the stance that this is, in and of itself, a form of coercion and a form of violence against women and their children. When you consider the overwhelming amount of data, media and literature regarding the vast range of vulnerabilities of women and children, and the high rates of sexual assaults and physical abuse inflicted upon women, it is reasonable that women are compelled to defend their single-sex spaces and protect their children.
Anna Kerr, Principal Solicitor for the Feminist Legal Clinic in Sydney, NSW said, “While I think its useful to challenge masculine stereotypes, it is quite clear that adopting stereotypical feminine attire and mannerisms does not automatically cure males of their violent and sexually predatory urges.”
“Propagating the idea that it is possible to change sex operates to remove the few protections women and girls have in place to keep them safe from male criminality and encourages them to let down their guard in relation to males identifying as trans or non-binary.”
Kerr added, “Rather than promoting gender ideology which exposes women and children to increased risk, Our Watch should put some energy into working with government and media outlets to limit content that celebrates the use of violence and controlling behaviour by heroic characters and which depicts it as contributing to their sexual appeal."
Advocating for and encouraging men to gain access to women-only spaces, and to spaces where vulnerable women and children are, seems to be in opposition of Our Watch's stated goals, and, as Kerr states, this exposes women and children to increased risk.
Another concerning aspect of the guide is the watering down of the seriousness of male violence against women and their children.
The guide states: “The drivers of violence for LGBTIQ people are likely to be similar to those experienced by heterosexual and cisgender women…”
Not only does this undermine the experiences of women, it omits the sex-based drivers of violence against women. This is repeated by the lumping together of women with “gender diverse people” as the victims of violence against women and their children.
The Men in Focus guide conflates gender with sex repeatedly, claiming there are more than two genders while also encouraging men to reject the gender binary. The guide further contradicts itself by repeatedly referencing how “rigid gender roles” for men are harmful to both men and women while endorsing a belief system that revolves around the idea that feminine men are actually women.
More concerns are raised by a reference to Alok Vaid-Menon, who has previously come under fire for alleged comments about little girls being kinky, and not being “as straight and narrow as you think,” and another reference to “Starlady,” a man, who falsely claims attacks on the “trans and gender diverse community” “keep coming” and that the risk of violence toward them is increasing in Australia. "Starlady" also uses the slur “TERF” to describe women.
According to a trans murder monitoring website, there have been 4 murders of “trans” people in Australia over 13 years (2008 - September 2021). In that time, if we use the figures from the 1999 AIC report, at least 1625 women would have been murdered.
The Men in Focus guide falls very short of what victims of men’s violence need, and it certainly raises legitimate concerns within the Australian community of Our Watch's capacity to take serious and address important issues like men's violence.
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