Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
And so this is Christmas. Even for those of us not at all religious there is an undeniable sense of joy, peace and ‘good will towards men’ as the bible so encourages. But it must be pointed out that some translations qualify this passage to ‘peace to men of good will’. Which I think is much easier.
Yesterday at Daily Life we celebrated the Women of the Year, so today let’s give a bit of space to the men of good will in the struggle towards equality and support of women. Those blokes who recognized that women’s rights are human rights and that a society where women and girls are mistreated, underpaid or unrecognised is a society that needs an occasional sermon from a mount or indeed a mounted computer screen.
So I thereby nominate Lieutenant General David Morrison as a man of good will for this year. Given ‘Kate’ the Australian Defence Force Air cadet is our woman of the year this is perhaps particularly fitting. For while Kate’s bravery to speak out and stand up to the hostile boys club is nothing compared to his work it must help her to know that in an institution that led her down badly now has a senior leader who will speak out.
Former Defence minister Stephen Smith. Photo: Andrew Meares
And speak out he did. On International Women’s Day this year, as Chief of the Australian Army, David Morrison addressed the UN. It was a surprising speech that came after sitting down with women who had been physically and emotionally abused by fellow soldiers and it earned him the title of ‘a male champion of change’ by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elisabeth Broderick. You can read the transcript here:
It began with an acknowledgement of his benefits of masculinity and patriarchy and ended with a promise of a better future. Some months later he gave a blistering address to his troops about ‘explicit, derogatory, repugnant, demeaning and repugnant’ emails concerning women. This speech was far less polite than his UN address; it was a tour de force that committed Australia to an inclusive army, rid of those who won’t work with women or meet its standards and told troops ‘if that does not suit you, then get out!’ It was a powerful message to the 1.5 million others who watched his visible fury and resoluteness.
Special mention must also go to the former Minister for Defence Stephen Smith who stood up to the institutional silence and ordered the inquiry into the treatment of women in our defence forces. Smith released the report in June and bought forward the opening up of all roles in the ADF to women. It remains to be seen whether the recommendations are followed up. Don’t hold your breath but here they are if you’d like to track progress.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox at the Independent Commission into sex abuse. Photo: Steven Siewert
The NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch was another man who stood up for women this year. Via the Murdoch press he revealed domestic violence had become an increasing part of police work and called for men to stand up and 'ostracize' those who are violent towards women. "Domestic violence isn't a women's problem it's a men's problem and until such time as men wake up to that fact and other men, good men stand up and do something about it, it will continue,"
Now, while the notion of ‘good and bad men’ is rather simplistic and better suited for tabloid sensibility it was a sign that police are improving caring and supporting women who are abused. Again, though there’s still a long way to go.
While some are cynical about the wearing of a white ribbon to signify opposition to sexual violence, it can’t be denied that a call to challenge and report sexist and violent behavior is a welcome call for action. Many white ribbon ambassadors have incredible stories of courage and care. Take Ian Barker who is a carer for his daughter who was left brain damaged after being bashed by an ex boyfriend and now works for early intervention in cases of domestic violence.
Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for campaigning for the right to an education, holding hands with her brothers and her father Ziauddin Yousufzai. Photo: -
Peter Fox should also be acknowledged. The former Police Officer was so sickened by the protection given to Catholic Priests who had sexually abused young men and women, that he became a whistle blower. His standing up to such powerful institutions ruined his career and damaged his mental health but was instrumental in the setting up of the NSW Inquiry and the Royal Commission into Child Abuse.
And I also acknowledge the Male Champions of Change who are putting pressure on some of our largest companies to commit to diversity and gender balance.
Internationally, respect must go to Malala Yousafzai’s father. Ziauddin Yousafzai is a poet, school owner and educational activist and it was he who first suggested his daughter write the BBC blog that began her journey towards danger, near death and symbol for female education. All hail as well to Badrinath Singh, the father of ‘Nirbhaya’, the Indian student who was brutally raped and then murdered exactly a year ago yesterday. Badrinath refused to be quiet and shamed by her ’undoing’ (as rape is often referred to in India) and fought for her justice and recognition. Yesterday he spoke out again saying he doesn’t see the change that is needed to ensure the safety of women in India.
Assistant Commissioner with the NSW Police Mark Murdoch. Photo: Jon Reid
Time Magazine named Pope Francis as it’s Person of the Year, crediting him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church while capturing the imagination of millions of people who had become disillusioned with the Vatican. While I’m inspired by his commitment to humility, frugality and his statement that the Vatican must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, I’m not sure we are there yet with the Church.
Meanwhile, a shout out to another set of men who donned a dress this year. After an Iranian court sentenced a man convicted of domestic abuse to walk the streets in a frock, a group of Kurdish activists dressed in dresses to show that ‘being a woman is not a tool to humiliate or punish anyone’.
But, being Christmas, let’s also nominate ‘ordinary’ men who restore our faith. Those partners, brothers, sons, teachers, carers, lovers and guys who assist women in attaining their potential. We used to say behind every good man was a good woman, now let’s flip it. Of course men shouldn’t get medals for being decent, loving and great. But men of goodwill deserve our thanks this Xmas. After all. we can honour them without obeying.
Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.