Today is International Women’s Day, an opportunity to call on governments around the world and citizens globally to talk about those issues which go to the heart of gender based inequalities, but in the rush to address these problems, men are often vilified in the process. Some would argue that the current inequalities women face are a direct result of male-centric policy and law and in some cases, a complete lack of either, so why should we celebrate men on International Women’s day?
Gender inequality is a complex problem which needs to be solved, but as women we cannot do this without men, and we cannot assume that all men feel ambivalent towards the hardships women suffer on a daily basis across the world, either. Let’s take a virtual tour across continents and time, to look at just a few men who have fought for women’s rights:
India – in an attempt to change the status of women in India during the 1700’s, Raja Ram Mohan Roy fought tirelessly to abolish sati, a practice which saw wives having to sacrifice themselves should their husbands pass away before they did, demanded inheritance rights for women and believed they should have full access to education. Roy wrote in Hindi, Bengali, Persian and English and introduced the term ‘Hinduism’ into the English language.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was a Bengali polymath, who also championed the rights of women by pushing for legal reforms which would allow all widows to remarry, and to do so in a way which would not expose them to the sometimes deplorable treatment they suffered in those instances when they did remarry.
Other men include Jyothirao Phule, who fought for women’s education and emancipation; Harbilas Sarda, who was responsible for creating the Child Marriage Restraint Act, or Sarda Act as it is known, legislation which raised the marital age to 18 for girls; Maharishi Karve, who founded the first university for women in India; Bhimrao Ambedkar, who condemned the treatment of women in Muslim society at the time and pushed for women’s social and economic rights with success, and Jawaharlal Nehru – under Nehru, the Indian Parliament criminalised caste discrimination and increased the legal rights and social freedoms of women.
In the United Kingdom, the number of men taking up the female rights mantle has continued to grow. The Men’s League For Women’s Suffrage saw several men fight, support and even help fund the feminist movement in the 1900’s. Fast forward to 2006, and Colm Dempsey, a police officer in Ireland, took on the issues surrounding female domestic violence, and single handedly put on an exhibition to highlight the impact of this kind of violence on women and their families.
On a more humorous note (for those of us with a sense of humour who do not take ourselves too seriously), Edward Hardy’s Considerate Constructor’s Scheme allows builders to sign up to a charter which ensures no lewd language or behaviour takes place on site….
In America, The National Organisation For Men Against Sexism has been around for forty years and aims to unite men and women in tackling gender inequalities on a broad scale.
Male celebrities have often used their status to raise awareness of gender inequality, too. From Will Smith, to John Legend and beyond, these men are modern day male feminists, pushing for equality, social recognition and human rights hand in hand with female activists, and often off their own bat.
We’ll leave you with some thought provoking quotes from some of these magnificent men. And whilst there is no doubt that we should be celebrating the many brave women who have contributed, and are contributing to gender equality across the world, we have chosen this year to focus on the men who have chosen to focus on us, and we say thank you – and let’s do this thing.
“Any woman is just as capable of being a hero as any man.” Hayao Miyazaki, film director
“All men should be feminists. If men care about women’s rights the world will be a better place. We are better off when women are empowered – it leads to a better society.” John Legend, musician
“I feel that all revolutionary causes should start with addressing misogyny.”Ezra Miller, actor