Men fighting for women

Author: Caleb Bjorem   Date Posted: 24 November 2017 

Growing up with a hard-working, professional mother and a very bright sister who was always two steps ahead, the need for women’s empowerment had never seemed that pressing.

My wife and Outland Denim colleague, Katie, is similarly and simultaneously gifted: a genius, an innovator, the hardest of workers. I’m not in the least bit ashamed to say that she is undoubtedly more accomplished than me.


But travelling and working with my wife by my side, I have observed cultural phenomena that my personal relationships and university-level Political Theory framework couldn’t explain, or, at least, couldn’t excuse. I have long since realised that the freedom and opportunity my mother, my sister, my friends and peers enjoy in Australia are not the norm across the globe.

A multitude of articles, discussions, meditations and experiences have brought me closer to an understanding of the problem that lies before us. Living amongst different cultures and garnering insights from traditional preconceptions so different from my own have helped me to change my perspective.

Not long after moving overseas, I started reading ‘Half the Sky: How to Change the World’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (1). It was not the first time I’d encountered literature explaining the horrors of rape shaming, institutionalised prostitution, or FGM, but it was the first time that I was truly ready to accept what I was reading, despite cynicism borne of years of reading articles by jaded development experts criticizing anyone who had the audacity to so much as imagine the phrase ‘change the world.

The vast majority of women across the globe have experienced violence on the streets of their own cities, with 89% of women in Brazil, 86% in Thailand and 79% in India reporting harassment and abuse (2). Around 1 in 10 (120 million) girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives (3). At least 125 million girls and women alive today living in 30 countries have undergone female genital mutilation (4). The proportion of women subjected to physical or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in Colombia is 37.4%. In Vanuatu, that figure stands at 44% while in Afghanistan, it rises to 46.1%. But in Bangladesh, over 50.9% of women fall into this category; more than half. (5)

This is not merely an issue affecting the majority/developing world. It’s happening in your neighborhood, possibly in your street: 9% of Australian women report having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. This jumps up to 25% when you include non-sexual physical violence. (6)

These statistics are harrowing.

How are we allowing this to occur? How can we be complacent in the face of such suffering and evil? Read those statistics again. I urge you to stop and try to conceptualise this in human terms. Let them frame your thinking.

Here on the ground in Cambodia, statistics merely serve as a sidelight to the grander narrative. Cambodia is rebuilding itself, brick-by-brick, in the style that many less-developed nations have adopted: by empowering its women.

Cambodia has successfully integrated such a large portion of its female population into the workforce that it now bares a less than 0.2% unemployment rate in women (even lower than the male unemployment rate). (7)

Currently employing 32 seamstresses who craft denim jeans of fantastic quality, Outland Denim’s purpose is to empower these women by providing training and sustainable employment while utilizing an enviable skillset.

While many have come from very humble or difficult backgrounds, they all now have the ability to stand and be counted as artisans and equal members of the workforce. I am privileged to be able to spend my days fighting for them.

When I read that women are shunned in their towns by their own families after having been raped, or that young girls are subjected to forced FGM without their consent, or even that it could be considered normal for husbands to be unfaithful to their wives, it makes me so mad.

There are battles to be fought in boardrooms, in parliament, and in sports broadcasting agencies that no one can deny, but the most pressing threat to the equal freedom of women is happening right now in places where education has not taught men to respect and love women. In these places women are instead exploited, abused and discarded on a daily basis. The statistics are definitive.

As Kristof and WuDunn so eloquently note: “If we firmly believe in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings, regardless of colour or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them… We need not accept that discrimination is an intractable element of any society.”

I believe it is good and right for women to lead this charge, but I also believe that women do not wish to live in a world of apathetic men who are indifferent to their struggles.

In the same way that an economy is severely limited when it refuses to include half the available workforce, the movement for women’s rights will always be less effective if it is only championed by half the available support base.

So, for me, and I hope for all men reading this, the challenge has been levelled: what does a man do to help?

You could start by wearing Outland.

References:

(1) 2009, Kristof, Nicholas and WuDunn, Sheryl, “Half the Sky: How to Change the World”, Alfred A.Knopf Publishing
(2) May 2016, ActionAid UK, “Fearless”, https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/safe_cities_for_women_may_2016.pdf
(3) 2014, UNICEF, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Hidden_in_plain_sight_statistical_analysis_Summary_EN_2_Sept_2014.pdf
(4) 2016, UNICEF, “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A global concern”, https://data.unicef.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FGMC-2016-brochure_250.pdf
(5) 2016, United Nations, “Violence Against Women - Minimum Set of Gender Indicators”, https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/vaw/
(6) 2004, Australian Institute of Criminology, “Women’s experiences of Male violence”, p.21, http://www.aic.gov.au/media_library/publications/rpp/56/rpp056.pdf
(8) 2016, World Bank, “Cambodia Country Profile”, http://datatopics.worldbank.org/gender/country/cambodia


Caleb Bjorem is Outland Denim's Country Manager for Cambodia. He is a graduate of Queensland University where he studied international politics and languages, and spent a year living with the Karen people of the Thai-Myanmar border region with his wife, Katie, who is also an employee of Outland Denim.