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.