The quality of equality

Distinctions between equality and inequality prompt us to look carefully at both sides: those advantaged by it and those disadvantaged by it. That path helped Jesuit Social Services define the foundation of equal relationships.


Jesuit Social Services’ submission to the National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality 

At first sight it may seem strange that a submission to an enquiry about gender equality should focus on the attitudes and needs of young men. The usual focus on gender equality, of course, has rightly been upon the ways in which women suffer disadvantage. The attention to men, of course, has been a strong focus of Jesuit Social Services experience over many years. It also reminds us that questions about inequality necessarily lead us to look both at those advantaged and those disadvantaged by it. If women suffer from inequality, men must be treated advantageously, and influential groups in society must support or be blind to the inequality.

One of the worst forms of inequality between men and women is the extent of domestic violence. In it women are overwhelmingly the victims and men are the perpetrators. In its research into the attitudes and behaviour of young men, Jesuit Social Services has shown the malign influence that the stereotypical images that many men form of themselves and of their relationship to women can have on their behaviour. Men who define themselves by their physical toughnessare unable or unwilling to own weakness or to talk about their feelings, expect themselves to be the sole providers for their families, and imagine that these qualities will endear them to women, are more likely to resort to physical violence when frustrated. The effects of such insistence on male dominance and control contributes to manipulative relationships and can result in violence against women. This is destructive of women’s self-respect and deprives them of the agency central to equality.

Research has also shown the correlation between the violence of men towards women and the effects of disadvantage on men. The areas of disadvantage include experiencing violence in their childhood home, lack of access to education, employment and support services, substance abuse, and mental and physical illness.

To address gender inequality then means that we must also address the factors that lead men to act manipulatively and violently towards women. These include the brittle images of masculinity among men. This requires working with boys and young men in schools to resist these stereotypes, to encourage them to deal positively with anger and frustration and to be respectful in their relationships. It also requires addressing early the disadvantage that breeds dysfunctional relationships and resort to violence. Since disadvantage is clustered in relatively few local areas, to address it will require resourcing work with children and young adults in a culturally aware way. This work must be evidence based and so be supported by gathering relevant information in the National Census.

The central place that relationships play in inequality also suggests that we must resist the temptation to regard the relationship between women and men as inherently conflictual. To see women and men as competitors or as enemies simply perpetuates the forces that create inequality. Equality must be built on men respecting women as persons and not as possessions and on women demanding to be treated with respect. This is the foundation of healthy and equal relationships.

These reflections are drawn from one of many submissions made by Jesuit Social Services to Government enquiries on current issues. The submissions always focus on the needs of the people, especially young people, whom our Jesuit Social Services staff accompany and whose experience and needs we understand. Draft National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032 (the National Plan).

Feature photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash