It is over a year since 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard was abducted and murdered in south London. While walking home from a friend’s house, she was stopped by Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens and detained by him. He claimed that Sarah had breached Covid-19 regulations, and went on to kidnap, rape and murder her.
While Sarah’s high-profile murder may seem rare, violence against women is not. Since Sarah’s death of her, at least 125 women have been killed by men in the UK. Approximately 85,000 women are raped and over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year.
On 8 March, International Women’s Day celebrates the rights and achievements of women. We should all be encouraged to “break the bias”, as this year’s theme suggests. Instead, women’s empowerment initiatives too often focus on the role and responsibilities of women. Organizations are good at rolling out initiatives that focus on improving women’s confidence and their communication styles, shifting the responsibility onto women, while leaving men out in the solution.
The continuous victimization of women calls for men’s involvement in creating change. This must start with the daily interactions that men have with the women in their lives.
Growing up, some of the most empowering forces in my life have been the men who stepped up to defend me, and held space for me. They made sure my voice and ideas were heard at meetings, mentored and took time to listen and be part of women’s initiatives, such as the Charisma Campaign. They had the microphone and chose to share it. This is how to use your privilege, no matter what it looks like, to make the world a better place.
The empowerment of women does not lead to the demise of men – true allyship benefits us all. According to Harvard Business Review: “When men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96 per cent of organizations see progress – compared to only 30 per cent of organizations where men are not engaged.”
Research from Goldman Sachs also suggests that having diversity in senior leadership and women on boards leads to an increase in innovation, creativity and profitability.
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We need to encourage healthy masculinity. Being an ally must mean a shift from apathy to men proactively championing women’s rights. Men need to challenge their biases, especially when it comes to misogyny, patriarchy and sexism, and celebrating the contributions of women. A culture of sexist microaggressions fails us all, and the institutions, beliefs and structures that uphold this must be challenged.
As human beings in a broken world, it is fair to say none of us are exempted from challenges both men and women have suffered at the hands of the opposite sex. There are over 200 unconscious biases out there, including those around race, sexuality, neurodiversity and mental health. Understanding that women face additional barriers in the workplace and in society helps to create the much-needed impetus to address the problem.
All the insidious messages that set us back can be broken down, one person at a time, to prevent other people from having to go through the same challenges we experienced. Men who challenge the unfair ways women are treated are putting in the essential work towards gender equality. We rise by lifting each other up.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.