The history of equal rights for women in America and across the globe is plagued with missteps and false starts. But one of the biggest mistakes our ancestors made is defining issues like maternal mortality, the education of young women and sexual violence as “women’s” issues. Treating the issues as such divides women’s problems from men’s, thereby turning them into a niche issue instead of a community issue — and makes it even harder to try and solve them.
Globally, women’s issues are human rights issues. Rape is violence that directly relates to men, even when they aren’t the physical victims. Last week, when Guinean soldiers tried to suppress an opposition groups’ political rally by raping women in broad daylight, it wasn’t just the women attacked who were hurt. The entire opposition movement was affected and likely will have trouble attracting future participants.
This compartmentalization hurts Penn’s campus, too. The two rapes reported here in the last month affected male Penn students, too, by forcing a greater amount of responsibility on the overwhelming majority of men who do not engage in violence against women. Rape changes the comfort level between men and women at all social events and often reduces the number of parties that are held. But instead of blaming men for violence and discrimination, now is a prime time for women’s groups to focus on educating men and engaging them as part of the solution.
According to Felicity Paxton, director of the Penn Women’s Center, “Men don’t think they can walk into the Women’s Center. We are trying to undo the myth that men are not welcome here.” From what I can see, Penn’s done an admirable job of staying on the front lines of engaging men in “women’s” issues — likely due in part to the type of students, male and female, that go to Penn — but the efforts must be sustained as student leaders turn over.
Penn’s chapter of One in Four, established in 2007, has rightly garnered much of the credit for working to eliminate the stigma some men feel towards getting involved in women’s issues. College senior Josh Pollack, president of One in Four, said one of the group’s goals is “working to change the perception than men cannot be involved in issues related to women. Different people are impacted in different ways, so we try to make the group personal but also a fun, social environment where people want to come.”
But these discussions and efforts don’t need to be limited to just after violent acts, or just in a social-setting paradigm. Making it acceptable for men to be engaged in women’s issues in college makes it more likely their involvement will continue and even broaden.
2008 Fels graduate Jean Marie Kouassi took his interest in developing countries and women’s empowerment beyond the classroom. The founder of Palms Solutions, a nonprofit that offers financial advice to African nations and communities, and a consultant to the World Bank, Kouassi integrates advocacy for women his work: He uses the opportunity of having several (male) political leaders in a room together to encourage women’s involvement in the economy.
“Helping male leaders understand that empowering women in the workforce and valuing their contributions to society will change the community in a positive way is one of the most important parts of our conversations with them. It is important to include men in the conversation instead of only talking to the women in these communities – men want to be part of the solution,” he said.
While becoming aware of violence against women in the context of the campus social life is good, it’s just the jumping-off point. There’s a whole wide world of “women’s” issues that need men to become more involved. Whether it’s joining One in Four, attending a Women’s Center educational event (with free food!) or working for women’s economic empowerment around the world, there are a myriad ways men can help promote the entire community’s wellbeing.
Lauren Burdette is a College senior from Overland Park, Kansas. She is the former president of Penn Dems. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgComments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.