The following is written in solidarity with my friends from within the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) who intend to speak out against the proposal to grant voting rights and directive positions to men and individuals who identify as men. As a non-member of AWARE, I fully understand that the organisation does not have to take my views into consideration but I hope that as part of civil society and as a woman who identifies as a feminist, my views can contribute to the larger part of the conversation that should continue to take place beyond the EGM that will take place on 26 November 2016.
Gender justice, and the empowerment of women and non-binary persons
Indeed, we have gone a long way in achieving gender justice and the empowerment of women and non-binary persons compared to many decades ago. However based on my interactions with women and non-binary persons, especially those who live on and beneath the margins, more needs to be done.
Women and non-binary persons who belong to the working class due to their personal backgrounds and circumstances, and those who continue to face discrimination and violence for who they are and who they choose to be, need a voice and a champion to fight for a safer and more egalitarian space to exist. Although I certainly do not think that AWARE is and should be the only entity responsible for this, the organisation is recognised by the mainstream as the entity that campaigns for gender equality through its work to raise awareness to issues faced by women and non-binary persons and to call for changes to policies that have led to gender inequity and marginalisation. It is the organisation that many would approach in times of need.
As it stands, we have a society that is still not progressively educated about the notion of gender justice due to the fact that attempts to facilitate public understanding of the concept may have been coming from a certain place that have failed to forge identification with the discourse over the years. The culture and system in place is still far from being egalitarian, and patriarchal values continue to have a strong hold over the larger part of the society, especially among the marginalised. The scale is certainly tipped in a way that does not benefit many women and non-binary persons.
Therefore all of us who consider ourselves advocates, including AWARE, needs to focus on reflecting about the way we advocate and then find ways to reach out to those who have been beyond our reach and who do not find our messages accessible. We need to realise that we may be speaking in languages that alienate and disempower them, resulting in the lack of motivation to be part of the larger discourse to achieve greater gender justice and empowerment for themselves and others. We need to be more inclusive, diverse, and sensitive toward the situations and needs of those we mean to advocate for and with.
Including men in the discourse
Personally, I cannot emphasize more about the need to include men in the discourse towards achieving a more egalitarian society. In recent years, more men have publicly identified as allies and have made initiatives to participate in the discourse in various ways.
However we must not confuse the need to include and encourage the participation of men with the need to grant them the institutional right to influence the advocacy direction in a women’s organisation that campaign on issues faced by women and non-binary persons. The way I see it, this is a well-meaning but simplistic “solution” that brings about unintended consequences. Symbolically, it might lengthen the longevity of the patriarchal idea and practice that men hold a right to decide on matters concerning women, which is definitely not something that a women’s organisation should be encouraging. I strongly believe that there continues to be a variety of ways to involve men in the discourse towards achieving a more egalitarian society. As allies with a genuine understanding of how allyship functions, I do not think that they would be in a rush to say “Let me be a part of the decision making process of how we can make things work for you.” They would be more aware of the fact that one of the first steps in becoming an ally is to recognise the need for a space where women and non-binary persons get to hold on to their agency on how to deal with issues that exists in their lived experience, which is an important part of the process to foster empowerment.
Of course, this is not to say that men are not affected by the gender stereotypes and expectations that patriarchy imposes on them. We just need to recognise that patriarchy sets the condition for men to exist as the dominant gender and we need to recognise that in order to be equal stakeholders in the discourse, the power scale between genders need to be on a relatively equal level. As mentioned earlier, this condition has yet been achieved, hence there is a need to bring about agency and empowerment within and among women and non-binary persons, especially the ones who live on and beneath the margins first to talk about issues concerning them. Let the priority be on this for now.
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