Australian police on domestic violence

In the Guardian this morning, there is an important message from Australia’s police chiefs on domestic violence. It is encouraging to see attention drawn to this actual issue, where people every day are hurt and traumatized, instead of the bogeymen of terrorism or asylum seekers. It could be a lot better: none of the police chiefs are women. But still, good on them for having a say.

Those who have read my blog since the days of the bhikkhuni ordination may remember that I drew the connection between women’s ordination and domestic violence. The logic is simple: when religious leaders treat women as lesser and other, this message filters down in coarser forms and becomes a justification, implicit or explicit, for violence against women. Thus when the monks of the Wat Pa Pong circles make rules saying that nuns cannot speak before a monk, that they must follow behind and so on, they are deliberately and consciously acting to reinforce a social norm that creates a culture of violence.

This process is inherent in how we live our lives as Buddhist monastics. We expect that our behaviour, more than our words, will provide an example of the best kind of moral life. When we disempower women, exclude them, and deny them their basic human rights, such as their right to practice their religion in accordance with their conscience, we send a powerful message to our community. If the monks treat women as less, that confirms that women have bad kamma and they cannot escape their lot. Sometimes monks will even argue this explicitly; a common position in the Theravadin Sangha is that when girls get captured and sent for sex slavery, there is nothing that can be done, as it is their kamma.

The police chiefs who I quote below know all too well the results of this kind of denial of responsibility. It is not just monks who behave in this way; when men are in positions of power, respect, and authority, they become isolated from the consequences of their sexism. The police are not: they see it every day.

They regard it as the moral responsibility of men of influence to strongly send a positive message and change the culture. This is very telling. If sportsmen, businessmen, or husbands have a moral responsibility to change the culture around discrimination against women, what are we to say of monks? Are not monks supposed to be far greater examples of moral behavior than footy players? Is it not our job, much more than others, to set a clear and consistent message and example, and to not rest until the culture of discrimination against women, and the violence that inevitably accompanies that, is ended forever?

Commissioner Ken Lay

… we perceive women differently than men and by differently, I mean we perceive them as less valuable.

In order to stop a problem we have to tackle the cause. Even though it’s only a small number of men who perpetrate violence against women, all men have the power to help prevent violence.

We all have a circle of influence around us, whether it’s a whole organisation, the local footy club, or simply the family around the dinner table. We have enormous capacity to lead by example, and show other men how to champion change.

Commissioner Darren Hine

But it’s only through a cultural shift, where we all influence a change in attitude and behaviour, that there will be a significant and lasting impact on family violence.

It starts with society’s “influencers”: sportsmen, businessmen, actors and other personalities are standing up to condemn violence against women and children. And it continues at footy games, BBQs, cricket matches, school, college, university, at work, the pub; we are all in a position to make a positive influence when we see unacceptable behaviour or attitudes.

We can assist in turning young boys into respectful young men. We can have a quiet word with the young man or mate that the way he talks about girls is disrespectful and inappropriate.

We should consider our own behaviours and attitudes, be strong role models for our children, families, teammates and friends.

We are all responsible for shifting social norms that blame, excuse, minimise and justify violence against women and their children.

Commissioner John McRoberts

However, effective laws are only one of the tools required to combat domestic violence. True and lasting progress will only be made when community attitudes, specifically male attitudes, change.…

It involves a three-pronged strategy of enforcement, engagement and empowerment that when combined have been demonstrated to reduce the incidence of domestic and family violence and hold perpetrators to account.

Addressing this issue is going to require lasting generational change. Lead by example. Challenge others. Own the change.

16 thoughts on “Australian police on domestic violence

  1. Sujato says:

    If sportsmen, businessmen, or husbands have a moral responsibility to change the culture around discrimination against women, what are we to say of monks? Are not monks supposed to be far greater examples of moral behavior than footy players? Is it not our job, much more than others, to set a clear and consistent message and example, and to not rest until the culture of discrimination against women, and the violence that inevitably accompanies that, is ended forever?

    if monks sincerely believe that the Teaching implies women’s inferiority, that this is the norm, it’s only natural that they won’t recognize abuse of women as immoral, as a problem within the society and their own obligation to set an example for the latter

  2. Along with helping young men transform their views of women, so that they see women as equals, valuable, and empowerable, I hope that girls and women can take notice of great women in our history like Ayya Khema, and see currently the development of Dhammasara, the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, and other Bhikkhuni lead monasteries in the west and in Asia. For my own part, I’ve taken membership with an ABA group involved in the prevention of the trafficking of women in the sex trades in Thailand, and hope to visit northern Thailand later this year where there is a refuge and school for children run by Not for Sale (anti-trafficking NGO) near my home Wat. I mention this not to toot my horn, but with the hope that young men will come to understand that by subordinating, or denigrating and disempowering women, we denigrate and disempower ourselves and our communities. I welcome the day the Thai Sangha opens its heart and doors to the Bhikkhunis there.

  3. Good on you, Bhante, for drawing the line between actions devaluing of women at Wat Pa Pong and acts of violence towards women in the wider world. Your clear unequivocal voice as you have spoken out in this area over the years resonates deeply and uplifts profoundly.

  4. Actually Great Determination is a static website, the blog is at http://www.ven-kalyana.blogspot.com/, where I shared a link to your blogpost. This attitude among the conservative Sangha members is a serious problem and not just for their wellbeing and their own Kamma, it leaches into all our interactions affects all of us. It has created a climate of fear and denial, really a shrouded schism, among the four fold Sangha. Those of us who would change this trajectory have no recourse but to withdraw, to mind our own practice and accept the solitude imposed by the lack of leadership such as yours. You have a following, your voice is heard and supported, thank you for being a stand up guy and please keep it up, it is the only saving grace today.

  5. An inspirational commentary that should be front and center of the Sangha work today.

    This conservative attitude is rooted in the three poisons, Greed Anger and Delusion. Conservative sangha members strive to keep their place and their power, their support by defending their place atop the pillar they have inherited. Just like the Catholic church, a hierarchy exists and is dangerous, damaging and dismal.

    Sensei, Venerable KC DaiKai Madika WarEagle, Bhikkhuni, whose wisdom I cannot deny, says they are learning and everything is just as it should be, it is ourselves we are responsible for and ourselves we work on.

    I see that and agree, but I would like to join with and consort with and communicate with other like minded Sangha members. I cannot find them because I have an unusual situation with an isolated sangha and I would have liked to go to the WBMG but the conservatives have taken it over. I see this as directly related to the misogyny of the conservative sangha and violence in the world. The Sangha absolutely mirrors a dysfunctional and incestuous family dynamic, just like much of the rest of the world.

    But that dynamic is a realm, a hell realm we do not need to reside in. When we look elsewhere and work on our own practice we join a different realm, a heaven realm and reconnect with the good and the kind and the wise. This means there is a choice of how to envision the structure of the world. It can be seen as set in stone or it can be seen as dependent on our intention and effort. This is Dhamma, the world is not as it seems. Do not get trapped in the dismal swamp, step out and raise your head – there is dry ground and fresh air right here. Focus on being Generosity, Compassion and Discernment. The Sangha is also not what it seems, Sangha members are everywhere, they are all around, they appear and give encouragement, wisdom and kindness and then they go away again. The world is mysterious and amazing and much greater and more important than the vast sea of human failings.

  6. In practising the 8 fold path, we are aiming, on many levels, to see our blindspots, our delusions on an individual level. When individuals come together as a group, communicate over centuries, around fireplaces, over many mundane and extraordinary events, we can so easy solidify our commonly agreed upon views and practices into ‘culture’. In such solidity exist many blindspots some of which, come to be viewed as ‘truths’…because so many agree…and because so many agree, they are never questioned. Often, even those who are hurt by views and practices enforced by such ‘cultural delusions’, can believe in their ‘rightness’. Thus one finds, on a coarse level, the wife who believes she deserves the beating; or on another level, the female lay Buddhist who believes she cannot become Enlightened. Or the nun who believes she must accept the garudhammas… The list can go on…

    On the one hand, most well intentioned monks understand about the importance of sila and the benefits to themselves and others when society at large are developing and practising it. On the other hand, when a monk’s only response to the sexual slavery of women, is to suggest that nothing can be done because it is their bad kamma, they are exposing a harmful, corrosive blindspot; a ‘cultural delusion’ which is in complete contradiction to their instruction from the Buddha, to spread the Dhamma in society. Aside from the lack of compassion towards these women – an odd attitude in contrast to the Buddha’s instruction – what about the sila of those, people who are practising this abominable trade? Similarly, in not realising the urgency of the need for female ordination to be prevalent and widely supported, they are undoing the Buddha’s work, for they are not promoting the development of sila in society. Such monks are not promoting the development of the highest female role models – for both women to aspire to and learn from, but also for men to respect and see that a woman, like a man, is worthy of respect. This is a particularly destructive blindspot, that appears to have morphed across cultures and has found its way into more than one Theravada sangha; it finds expression in various ways and is defended through various excuses and denials. The most obvious symptom of this fact is in the lack of openness to any form of meaningful communication with those who would seek to have a conversation around this, some going so far as to exclude and turn away from those they are in disagreement with – again, in direct contrast to the Dhamma.

    Some monks may easily say, ‘oh, yes, of course women can become Enlightened and practise the 8 fold path’; but it is not such comments that will convince a woman who has doubt (one of the hindrances that any good monastic should be encouraging us to overcome) about the possibility of the teaching growing within her feminine framework. No it is not. It is in seeing a nun, hearing her chant and speak Dhamma, watching her meditate, observing her in simple tasks such as sweeping her monastery path…it is these kinds of auditory and visual experiences that bring home, vividly and directly to one’s mind/heart, the faith and belief in the possibility of female spiritual development. This is what will overcome that deep seated, culturally, historically, socially fed, doubt.

    A friend tells me of how she visited a monastery that has the following sign, or something like it, placed in a public area: Females Must Leave by 1pm. She jokingly said that there’s a cafe down the road where she can await her husband. I asked, jokingly, how they round up the female birds, animals etc. There is a lack of respect, simple courtesy and the most basic kindness, not (for me) in the intention of the sign, but in the coldness of its wording. It does not inspire me or leave me feeling good. What must it do for those women who constantly go there to offer dana. Doubtless, they would defend it and ignore and refuse to acknowledge any gnawing feelings of hurt they might experience due to regularly reading this message. Actually, that’s not always so, for I know of at least one lady who offers dana to these monks, (who, I believe, are good monks, so others have told me); this lady offers dana to them despite the fact that she does not deny her feelings about the cruel, thoughtless wording of this sign. Good on her. But doesn’t she deserve better?

    And yes, I agree Bhante Sujato, we should hold our monks to a much higher standard. At the very least, they should see the ways in which the cultures they are influenced by go against, and also with, the teaching of the Buddha. Surely they cannot hope to overcome delusion themselves, if they remain blind to such coarse manifestations of it. The Buddha’s Enlightenment, did away with his personal delusion; and it also resulted in him compassionately, wisely, challenging sexism, classim (or caste-ism) and other ‘isms’ – though they weren’t labelled as such, were still prevalent, the deluded mass of our humanity being what it is.

    • Sometimes monks will even argue this explicitly; a common position in the Theravadin Sangha is that when girls get captured and sent for sex slavery, there is nothing that can be done, as it is their kamma.

      Bhante,

      Can you support this assertion that “a common position in the Theravadin Sangha is that when girls get captured and sent for sex slavery, there is nothing that can be done, as it is their kamma”? And, if so, why are you still in the Theravadin Sangha?

      The idea that monks having a view on the Vinaya regarding the ordination of women in the Theravadin line leads to domestic violence in society seems odd.

    • Hi Brc,

      This is not something that you will see advertised as a matter of public policy, but yes, it is widespread. Here are a couple of examples.

      One Theravadin nun was working to try to stop the trafficking in girls in Vietnam. She discovered that the traffickers would intentionally target the Theravadin regions. (Vietnam is of course mostly Mahayana, but there is some Theravada, and other areas are more secular.) This was because the secular communists, for all their faults, have a policy of equality for women; while in the Mahayana districts, there are bhikkhunis. She brought this to the attention of the local Theravadin monk, saying that this affected the dughters of the families who brought dana to the temple. He declined to say anything, citing women’s kamma as the reason.

      In another example, a well-known Buddhist scholar told me that he heard the same view expressed by a very senior Thai monk at an international conference in Europe. Bear in mind that, as a representative of a major Thai University, he was one of the most well-educated among the Thai Sangha, and was present as an official representative. When the scholar expressed his horror at the view, the monk said to him, “You must be a Bodhisattva!”

      And so it goes.

      As for, why I am still a Theravadin, who says so? I haven’t thought of myself as Theravadin for many years now. Frankly, Theravada as it exists today is an embarrassment.

      The idea that monks having a view on the Vinaya regarding the ordination of women in the Theravadin line leads to domestic violence in society seems odd.

      It doesn’t seem that way to the people who have suffered the violence. Have a read of this article by Thai feminist Ouyporn Khuankaew: http://www.american-buddha.com/thai.buddh.patriarchy.htm

      The Sangha is a moral exemplar. When they explicitly follow policies that discriminate and disempower women, they reinforce similar ideas in the society. The result of this is rape, abuse, violence, and trafficking. That’s what happens to disempowered women all over the world.

    • Sujato says:

      He declined to say anything, citing women’s kamma as the reason.

      i don’t think this story is necessarily illustrative of the Theravadin monks attitude towards gender inequality.
      saying it was her kamma (or more accurately – vipaka) he was within the doctrinal boundaries, because it’s exactly due to their past deeds that in their current life they have ended up in such a predicament, in an environment where abduction of women is practised

  7. My impression is that if Thai women continue to support such a tradition then nothing will change. There is no incentive for the monks to change. Generally speaking I don’t think Asian women are keen to tackle these types of issues and they shun women who try. I know this from experience and happen to be western. It would be good if a woman of Asian descent in the Perth community could lead a dialogue on this. I have given up.

    • Hello fi,
      If you allow me to add from my experience with Buddhist women of Central Asia: even if we put aside the fear of being rejected and deprived of resources, there are still other issues. Many of them (but not all !) sincerely believe that their ethnic and cultural background is not possible without a patriarchal social model and their men keep shamelessly assuring them that this is true. So, for such women, the rejection of patriarchy is also equal to the loss of their ethnic, cultural and even feminine identity, which, of course, is absurd.

    • One reason that sexism is so deeply embedded in our psyches is that in the bush (including in forest monasteries) the physical capabilities of men are seen to be needed. As long as men and women are blind to the potential of women to do traditionally ‘male’ tasks, and women are shy of building their physical strength and using practical tools like chainsaws, women will be dependent on men to survive in the bush. As a corollary, they will see men as having a having a higher value than women (in the bush) and perpetuate the cycle.

  8. It seems to me that we in every society, and in every religion, are having an ongoing battle with sexism, in all its forms.
    I grew up in Australia, and I can recall reading article in magazines and newspapers when I was a teenager, some extreme ones promoting the idea that if females used their brains too much, they would produce more male hormones, and therefore be less desirable, and “feminine”. Maths and science were particularly dangerous to the female mind, it was said.
    These ideas had been around since the time of Jane Austin, but were still being trotted out in more or less subtle ways.
    As a girl who was studying maths and physics and chemistry in the 1960s, and was also not very buxom myslelf, these ideas did make me feel quite discomforted.
    The mind is indeed the forerunner of all things, and that is why religious dogma, and political propaganda can be so powerful – and why it so vital to be mindful, and to mindfully examine the ideas we hear – especially those from “authority” including religious and political authority.
    Do the ideas we hear lead to truth, compassion and inclusiveness – or are they pitched to make us more comfortable excluding the people we fear, or people we want to feel superior to, in religion or culture?
    It is now obvious to everyone that girls who are taught maths and sciences are very capable of mastering these subjects, and do not undergo an involuntary sex change in the process!
    Feminine, as I now understand, is a just a word, most often used to describe the state of child like submission that the males in positions of authority find the most comfortable – for themselves.
    Just as with religious or racial stereotyping – whose power is advanced by the maintenance of these stereotypes?
    And who pays the price of powerless, of exclusion, of being devalued?

    Thank you Ajahn Sujato

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