Men against gender-based violence: Ariz, Singapore

According to We Can Singapore, 1 in 10 Women has experienced physical abuse from a male, with more than 70% of such cases not reaching the police. The situation is a travesty if you consider how often we hear boasts about "women having it better here" than in other countries.

What makes this statistic even more depressing is how critics of women’s' rights often zoom right past such clear evidence. This ranges from outright dismissal to deflection, insisting that advocates focus on nearly all other issues except the one they are focusing on, violence against women. 

Why is it important to you that males condemn gender-based violence in 2017? Why is now the time to affect change?

I am deeply upset that I cannot pinpoint one close female friend who hasn't been subject to some sort of gender based abuse. Even more distressing is how many men do not see it as a problem since they have not directly caused such abuse, and often are more upset at why they are losing the "right" to make light of such problems or dismiss it, as opposed to gender-based violence itself.

Why now? It seems that people are increasingly coming to realise that it is not a bad thing to demand greater standards of ourselves, even if we often fail to meet those standards. An increase in the expression of dismissal, against intersectional gender issues, is being accompanied by the realisation that this generation will demand better standards, whether such standards are deemed to be politically correct or not. 

Speaker at Slut Walk Singapore, 2010 [Credit:  Tamara Craiu ]

Speaker at Slut Walk Singapore, 2010 [Credit: Tamara Craiu]

What do you think other males in your society can do to affect change and stand up against gender-based violence?

Firstly, I think we need to start with ourselves. No man should ever think that he fully understands gender-based violence when all of us have been socialised in subtle ways to see women as our subordinates or inferiors. We need to be aware of our own prejudices, and take principled and careful steps to enact change in small ways. 

Secondly, we need to have the courage to change our values. Do we even aspire to humanise women? Are we able to empathise with them and understand that they will face problems that we, as males, never even need to think about? Even if we cannot fully eradicate all traces of patriarchal prejudice, or deeply ingrained ways of dehumanising and objectifying women, we should not get blasé about these issues. Upon realising our own sexism, we shouldn't simply get comfortable with it and declare victory.

Thirdly, we should stand by all women - those of different colors cultures, sexualities, family backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses etc, who face different kinds of experiences. We must not confuse our need to be right or our interpretation of justice with the more pressing need for women's empowerment.

demonstrator at Slut Walk Singapore, 2010 [Credit:  Tamara Craiu ]

demonstrator at Slut Walk Singapore, 2010 [Credit: Tamara Craiu]

Certainly, many males would respond that as men, we have our own set of problems, some of which women would not face either. Harmful gender roles certainly hurt men too - society places expectations of men to always take on the role of the defender, the sole breadwinner, the aggressor, the soldier who should never shed a tear...these are certainly important issues we need to talk about. However, we often utilise them as a reactionary measure against women's rights advocacy, to show that males have problems too. There are many important issues out there, and it is important that we stand BY each other, not speak OVER women's rights issues, or demand equal representation to simply point out the "hypocrisy" of feminist organisations.

These are unnecessary, deflective and ignorant of the deeply ingrained cultural problems, whether they manifest in legal or extra-legal inequalities. Gender based violence and inequality are more than statistics - they are the very real experiences of many women, so pushing for 50/50 representation is far from the be-all-end-all of this problem. 

How are you, in your own capacity, going to enact change?

There is certainly so much more that I can do. In my own capacity, I realise that I can often violate the very precepts I stated earlier, but I am doing my best to be mindful of how I may be speaking over a women, or falsely empathising with them from a position of power, instead providing a listening ear and getting more involved in advocacy projects. Most importantly, if I witness a sexist act, whether it is physically violent or not, I will call out the perpetrator and explain why what they are doing is wrong. Non-violent acts and demands for women's subordination can be a precursor to violence, because we are all socialised in certain ways to be capable of it. Hence, we should be aware of our own impulses and right any wrongs we can see our friends or family members committing. 

I know I owe a lot to the women in my life. My grandparents, my sisters, my beautiful mother and my friends have all shown me the great strength that women have, even if they themselves disagree on what gender equality or gender roles should be. There is an obvious strain of plurality in the women's rights discourse that I am still learning about. The support that women, with varying ideas of what "appropriate" dress codes should be, gave to each other over the Burkini ban in France in realisation that no man should tell a women what is oppressing her or what to wear, is one such obvious example. My