Solidarity Sisters

By Cllr Kenny Selbie

As I write this piece the hype surrounding the World Cup in Brazil is reaching its climax. For the left there are any number of reasons to be concerned about the context for this year’s tournament: the impact on the working class around government priorities and public spending; disregard for health and safety during the development of much of the infrastructure; blatant economic and social exploitation of local and foreign workers – the list is substantial and alarming. However, one issue which has received little mainstream media attention is the inevitable growth in the sex trade.

This is unsurprising – the sex trade is seen in some quarters as another hospitality market supporting the economic output of such events. The government response in Brazil to international NGO and pressure group concerns seems to be focused on targeting and criminalising those women in poverty affected by commercial sexual exploitation as part of their attempts to “clean up” the streets in preparation for the tournament. This is the wrong priority. The focus should be about facing up to and challenging demand, which is created by male behaviour, attitudes and commodification of women.

This shift in approach to focus on perpetrators is crucial to get to the core of the issue in tackling violence against women. While progress continues to be made in recognising the prevalence and impact of violence, for years the feminist movement and women’s organisations have been on their own fighting the corner for those women affected by violence in our communities. This is curious, given that male behaviour accounts for the significant majority of violence perpetrated against women.

Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality, and it is male abuse of power in a society still afflicted by gender inequality that enables the levels of violence against women. In my council area alone, there were over 4,000 reported incidents of domestic abuse last year. While this is clearly alarming, it is encouraging to know that reports increase as women become more confident in the reporting processes and the criminal justice outcomes available to them. In order to tackle this issue, it is not enough to provide crisis interventions, support for women affected and an effective criminal justice response. There needs to be a focus on challenging the behaviour of perpetrators – for the most part men.

The lack of male voices in the past within the debate on tackling violence against women has not helped in making the case for tackling the root causes of violence against women. That is why the White Ribbon campaign is so important.

The international White Ribbon campaign is the largest effort in the world to engage men working to end violence against women. There are local campaigns underway in over 55 countries across the world (including the UK). The work of White Ribbon raises awareness, promotes discussion and provides information and resources to support personal and collective action among men. The campaign gives voice to the vast majority of men who do not commit or condone violence against women, and ultimately aims to create a cultural shift so that stereotypes and social norms about what it means to be a man (which enable violence against women to be perpetrated) are challenged and changed.

Emerging and growing areas such as the impact of the internet and social media are having a direct and significant impact on the attitudes and behaviours of everyone in our communities, but in particular young people. The commodification of women generally, media portrayal of women specifically and the growth in the online adult entertainment industry are all clear examples of the very worst of uncontrolled free market economics. The harm being afflicted on young women by the indirect impact on attitudes and behaviour through these global multi-billion pound industries should not be underestimated. White Ribbon Fife is one a small number of local campaigns which are using the international White Ribbon campaign to support prevention of violence against women in communities. A range of public and voluntary organisations are engaged in the campaign, and while in its early stages, we are beginning to build a grass roots campaign to take us in the right direction.

The argument for men to engage in this campaign is simple – this is about joining in solidarity with every woman who has faced abuse, assault or violence in all its forms. The sad reality is that too many of us are aware of women who have faced these issues and it is time to make our collective voice heard to say that we will not tolerate violence against women in our communities.

Given the importance of delivering this message to where men are, perhaps taking the White Ribbon campaign to the 2018 World Cup in Russia would be a good place to start.

For further information on the White Ribbon campaign or to sign up to the campaign pledge, please visit: www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk