These are not womens issues.


photograph taken near a jungle market in Borneo 2009

When I was doing my undergrad degree I was studying a double degree in writing and international politics. Feminism is always something that I’ve had a strong interest in, though it took me a long time to identify as a feminist. It took me a long time to identify with a lot of things, I guess that’s just part of growing up. I was living in Melbourne and studying at Melbourne University, it was all very hip and edgy and alternative. I wore the Melbourne uniform of black skinny jeans and tattoos. I enrolled in a few units on women’s rights, one semester, I think they are under the blanket term of “gender issues” at university.

I remember sitting in the lecture, my nails painted black, take away chai in hand, and listening to the lecturer talk about “women’s issues.” I remember listening to the atrocious way that women have been treated around the world, and the horrific way that women are still, to this day being treated. Not only in developing nations, but right here, in our own backyards. I remember learning about the construct of gender for the very first time. The idea of femininity and the negative connotations it brings. I remember walking out of that lecture, my mind full of ideas and frustrations and information and statistics. I started thinking of how we define people, how we, as a society, label the marginalised with terms. Terms that make excellent academic papers and political discussions. Terms that only tell half of the story.

I remember wondering then why issues that seemed to be based on fundamental human rights, were being classed as “women’s issues.” I wondered then why there was only ONE male student in my tutorial. I wondered why the word “feminist” was used as an insult. I wondered why these issues weren’t more important to everyone. I remember thinking, if I have a son one day, I hope I can raise him to be that one guy in the class if he’s interested in politics. I hope I can teach him that women’s issues aren’t just for women. I hope I can raise him to care about issues even if they don’t directly relate to his own personal experience.

Now that I have a child of my own these issues are even more important to me than ever before. In the eyes of the girls all around the world I see her face. In the pain and the hunger and the sadness and the injustice I see Bo and I. I don’t think these issues are more important to me because my child is female. I think these issues are more important to me because my child is human.The only thing that separates us from those men and women and children who are suffering is where we were born. Nothing else.

How much do you know about the injustices facing women and children in the world right now?

The following are facts from studies conducted by the United Nations on “women’s issues”:
  1. Every 90 seconds, one woman dies as a direct result of pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths are preventable with good education and access to medical care.
  2.  One in three women internationally will be beaten, raped or abused during their lifetime.
  3. More than 80% of displaced people and refugees are women – most of whom are caring for small children.
  4. Girls are less likely to reach adulthood than boys because of gender discrimination. This includes gender selection during pregnancy, undernourishment of female children, and
  5. The majority of victims of human trafficking are women. Women and girls are more likely to be bought and sold internationally as a part of sex trading.
  6. Women make up 70% of the people living in poverty internationally.

These figures are absolutely staggering, but for most of us, they don’t affect us personally. Yes, it is unlikely that as a western woman living in a western country that you will be sold as a part of a sex trading rink. It’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible. It’s unlikely that you will ever be a refugee, it’s unlikely you will ever be completely displaced. It is unlikely you will die from (a medically preventable condition) pregnancy or childbirth because you have access to good medical care. Our female children are just as likely to reach adulthood than our boys. Aren’t they?

So let’s put it in more local terms.The following are facts that were collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and published as a part of an Australian Government report on “women’s issues”:

  1.  One in three Australian women will be abused, assaulted or raped in their lifetime.
  2. In Australian women aged 15 – 44 violence is the leading cause of death, illness or disability.
  3. More than one third of violence against women happens in the home by the hand of someone they know.
  4. More than 80% of women surveyed who said they had experienced violence also said they did NOT report this violence to the police.
  5. Women are more likely to be abused by men they know whereas men are more likely to be abused by men they have never met before.

Are all of these statistics accurate? I hope not. Statistics are easily misrepresented and shouldn’t always be trusted. What these statistics do is give us a place to start the discussion. The reports issued by the Australian Government call these “women’s issues.” But they are not women’s issues. They are everyone’s issues. What these reports fail to mention is that men are twice as likely to be victims of assault than women. So if men and boys are just as likely if not more likely to be abused and assaulted than women and girls, isn’t this everyone’s issue? Isn’t maternal deaths everyone’s issue? Isn’t single parent families (regardless of gender) living below the poverty lines, everyone’s issue?

International issues of people trafficking, rape, maternal deaths, gender selection, domestic violence, abuse… these are not women’s issues. These are issues of humanity. These are issues for all of us as people and these are issues that we should all consider as parents, raising people.

Aren’t they?

For a very interesting conversation on men, feminism and human rights I urge you to watch this TED talk. A man talking about why HE is a feminist, and why he thinks everyone should be. He is engaging, interesting and has some strong, powerful ideas that are really worth listening to.

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  • May 22, 2013 - 4:00 pm

    Lilybett - I was reading a summary of statistics like this the other day but someone had gone back to the original questionnaires and responses and found a few discrepancies that might explain some of the apparent inequalities. The one I found most interesting was something I’d thought about when I took one of these surveys in that what they categorised as abuse ran the full gamut from emotional and verbal to physical and sexual. Women were more likely to tick the emotional/verbal abuse boxes whereas men didn’t, even though in later more detailed questions they ticked that they’d been sworn at or been insulted or vilified, etc. Men’s perception of these being abuse skewed the statistics when they were all lumped in together under a generic blanket term ‘abuse’.

    When I did the survey they were talking about, I ticked the boxes for emotional and verbal abuse because I’ve been screamed at to my face and from cars, I’ve been bullied by vicious women and girls. But I imagine there’d be quite a few men who wouldn’t have thought it counted.ReplyCancel

  • May 22, 2013 - 4:22 pm

    Lila Wolff - I can somewhat speak to the statistics from the Australian Government report.
    1. almost certainly and much more likely if you are poor or indigenous
    2. not sure but wouldn’t be surprised
    3. definitely
    4. I would never have reported my assault had I not worked with a woman whose husband was a fairly high ranking police officer and to be honest the fact that he got community service for a prolonged attack and keeping me locked up means that I feel the extreme stress of the whole reporting and trial process was absolutely not worth it. it meant nothing in keeping my children safe from him or healing from it or stopping him from going on to assault his next partner.
    5. Most assaults on men seem to be alcohol fueled which means out amongst strangers but that’s just anecdotal evidence.

    Did you know that several indigenous women in Australia have been given prison sentences for withdrawing statements in cases of domestic violence? We all like to think we live in a reasonably progressive country but scratch the surface* on domestic violence and you’ll soon see we don’t.

    *and let’s face it most people are in a huge hurry to look the other way so not a lot of surface scratching is going on.ReplyCancel

  • May 22, 2013 - 5:13 pm

    Bec | At Penny Lane - Fantastic post you’ve written. These issues most certainly are for everyone to know about and they receive far less coverage and resources than they should. Every time I see current affairs program’s covering the most trivial and ridiculous issues I get so angry that the real problems in the world aren’t getting covered like they should. But as you mentioned people prefer not to think about these things, out of sight, out of mind. There is so much that can be done and many incredible organisations doing amazing things across the world to make these injustices right. A few of the ones I support are A21 Campaign and The fistula foundation. A little support can go a long way.ReplyCancel

  • May 22, 2013 - 6:43 pm

    Vickie van der Linden - As an original feminist…..I brought my son and daughters up the same way. My son IS a ” sensitive new age guy” ….. Guess what? Women wanted SENSITIVE NEW AGE CAVEMEN. Many GEN X were all talk… No action. As a middle aged man, he is in a good, equal partnership…. However in his younger years, being emotionally honest, crying, cooking and seeing women as equal, was a real handicap…… Or , failing that, he must have been gay. So much for my trying to ensure that MY SON WOULD BE DIFFERENT. He is happy now; it wasn’t always thus.
    I was am a true feminist, always having shared the financial burdens of a family…. I see many girls/women , who still look for a wage earner first, NOT a life partner……….people whatever their gender, need to know WHAT THEY REALLY WANT.
    We baby boomers muddled our way though, Gen X may have honed it but Gen Y need to perfect this.
    Keep it up Sash, always enjoy your work. Bo is a lucky girl .ReplyCancel

  • May 23, 2013 - 5:36 am

    Rebecca Alexis - I just recently started following your blog and then saw your heartfelt interview over at BabySpace and popped over here to tell you how much I loved it….and yet I love this post just as much. These ARE everyone’s issues. xoReplyCancel

  • May 23, 2013 - 8:21 am

    Rebecca Alexis - Has anyone here (I know this is a US film) seen Miss Representation? It is so very powerful. It is about the media manipulation of women’s sexuality. so so good. Please watch and let me know what you think.

  • May 27, 2013 - 6:37 am

    The other woman. | Inked in Colour - […] the blame-game. I think we are getting it all wrong… and putting the fight for equality and women’s rights back a thousand steps whilst we are at […]ReplyCancel

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