The fight for gender equality and justice with gender issues across all spheres of life has picked up pace more recently again. Women in leadership. Gender pay gaps. Education for girls. #MeToo
These are not new movements but fresh branding on old issues that range from intellectual policy advocacy type pushes, through to good old celebration of ‘girl power’. (The #MeToo movement was founded on female sexual harassment and abuse issues but is more currently encompassing all sexual harassment and abuse).
There is so much great information spreading around about these issues, that choosing to write on this almost seems lazy and perhaps redundant. This was until I reflected on some of my interesting conversations with my son this past year. He has grown up watching his family live a life committed to social justice. He has been by our sides as we worked alongside victims of child exploitation. He has seen girls in Cambodia not be allowed to go to school or 12-year-old girls with babies. Therefore, I guess I had a beautiful assumption that of all the males in my world, that he ‘got it’.
My son would often hear me educate others on gender violence issues in Cambodia. This is a place where second generation PTSD has been recognised to have such a pervasive effect on its people groups. It is a country where the newspapers run warnings (The Guardian) and social media floods with campaigns (Cambodia Safe Cities) in attempt to stop the attitudes that most men have sex on Valentines Day regardless if the women choose to participate or not. Cambodia, to my understanding, is the only country where the gang rape statistic had been higher than individual rape at one stage (SEA Globe rape). Evidence of a dysfunctional attitude where gang rape was almost a rite of passage for some males. Due to our previous work, my son got to know victims as people, hearing their stories and seeing some of their pain and consequences close up.
My son, alongside with my girls, have also been exposed to multiple discussions and fun YouTubes that explain just why there needs to be such a large push for girls to have educational opportunities globally. Both the consequences of a lack of education, and what the potential becomes when a girl is educated. We have even had interesting discussions on the difference between what a boy does with his education compared to what girls often do (Girl Effect). The global issues of educating females in developing and developed countries already has wide and deep bodies of research (UN Stats) that are easily found and do not need repeating here. The interesting moment for me was to watch my son want the best out of life for himself and have to reconcile that even on his worst day, he still has better opportunities than his sisters in some small, easily hidden ways purely because he was a boy. I watched his mind tick over trying to reconcile that what he had access to was not noticeable to him, nor even interesting or tangible at this point in time, but yet he was part of an unjust situation.
One night 8 months ago, my son and I stumbled across a TV show by SBS’s Insight that discussed why more older women were homeless later in life (SBS Insight). This show talked about how there is a new wave of retiring-age women who were finding themselves utterly homeless and without resource due to situations that had occurred throughout their lives. Often the narrative was similar amongst them whereby an ugly relationship breakdown had seen them subject to losing everything. It often would involve the natural consequence from them taking more time off work to raise children that put them behind in the career and superannuation game. This created vulnerabilities so when relationships failed, or jobs were lost, there was not enough margin for failure and the whole system tipped over on them. It was sobering for my son and I to realise that there was a cultural transcendent situation in the western world mirroring that of the developing world. That the most vulnerable of people are females and children. And the single mother probably has the toughest draw of the lot across all the cultures (Global Issues). We had personally seen that Cambodian single mothers faced the greatest prejudices, education and financial challenges and often were doomed to repeat the cycle of impoverishment. To watch this show on Australian women and hear the similar things out of their mouths we had heard from our time in Cambodia had both my son and I feeling moved.
I notice that as my 4-wonderful chipper little humans have those common impossible conflict moments (yes straight up fighting!), that my son would sometimes struggle to fathom concepts of why I expected him to treat his sisters in a certain way when the stack seem loaded against him in his mind. Push aside the fact that mothers of large families would probably make the best Secretary-General of the UN due to our highly refined negotiating prowess under extreme duress, I have been intentional in attempting to raise a son who would advocate for the vulnerable and exploited. Yet in the moments where his sisters would instigate and provoke large reactions, he would react in ways that would require me to step in and point out why this behaviour is not acceptable and often would have much more severe consequences when he becomes of age. Watching his reaction has made me wonder why his response was not more empathetic due to all the unusual understanding he has in comparison to the average young teen. It showed me that nothing short of proactive advocacy will help change perspectives .
The lesson I have learnt from my son and from the current global pushes towards equality, is that all the information in the world, will not change the situation. What changes it is either facing it through experience then making a choice to allow this experience to create a drive for advocacy. Or an intentional digging for understanding that creates an empathy that will not sit easy with merely clicking ‘like’ or share on social media, but will engage and even sacrifice time, energy and (gasp) finances to activate momentum from opinion to a value.
So I guess my call out to you as a reader is that you may know 'oodles' of information on social gender issues, but do you truly ‘get it’ in a way that moves you to be part of creating a world of equality? Because the alternative may be that you are contributing to the inequality...
Let me know your thoughts!
Kimbra Smith has been advocating, studying and working in the sphere of social justice since 2010 with specific interest in areas of exploitation, human trafficking and disaster relief. She has overseen a couple of projects in organisations in Cambodia between 2013 - 2017 whilst living there with her family which includes four (!) children. The last role there was as Interim Country Director for AusCam Freedom Project. Kimbra is currently recharging the family batteries back in Australia, working part time with an organisation that focuses on poverty alleviation whilst chasing sunsets and new adventures with her family. Coffee is her only requirement in friendship.
PROTECTION & EMPOWERMENT THROUGH EDUCATION, MENTORING & LIFE SKILLS
AusCam Freedom Project believes girls should be 'taught not trafficked'.
You can set a girl free by sponsoring her education here: