Men, women and equality

Photography copyright Julian Nieman for Refuge

 Where does violence against women come from?

As we grow up we learn a lot of “unwritten rules” about what it means to be male and female. These ‘rules’ apply inside and outside the home and influence how we should look, our behaviour and our views about who should be in charge in relationships and in wider society.

Although men and women have equal rights in law, women still face serious inequalities in many areas of life. Think about what the following statistics tell you about how society treats men and women:

The average woman in the UK...
Of those working in health and social care, a low-paid sector...
Of those working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries, a high-paying sector...
Only 29%...
Out of the CEOs and chairs of FTSE 100 companies...
As of 1 January 2015 there were 152 heads of state around the globe....

Photography copyright Julian Nieman for RefugeTraditional beliefs about gender, where males are in charge and females play a lesser role, not only promote the unequal treatment of women and girls, they also limit the options for men and boys. This results in a situation where we are all forced into behaving in expected ways and which can make it difficult to be truly ourselves without the risk of being laughed at, or excluded by others.

Males are traditionally taught that being violent and aggressive is an important way of showing their masculinity. It signals to other males that they are in control, they shouldn’t be messed with. Physical strength is important to be successful in a sport like football but it is totally unacceptable to use that strength to hurt others, particularly in a relationship. NFL expects all its players to live up to the core value of respect in their personal lives as well as on the pitch. The NFL does not accept or condone using violence or control in a relationship.


Consider how common it is to hear the following comments when males don’t live up to the traditional image of a boy or man:

“Man up”

“You run like a girl”

“Boys don’t cry”

“Don’t be such a girl”

“A real man doesn’t back down from a fight”

“You’ve got to keep your girl under control”

Traditional expectations about male behaviour can prevent men and boys from being themselves, from expressing vulnerability, from sharing feelings and seeking or accepting help when or if they need it.

Traditional beliefs about gender affect girls too:

75% of girls and young women
87% of girls and young women
60% of young women

Photography copyright Julian Nieman for RefugeSexism and gender inequality allow people to think it’s okay for a man to control a woman, to treat her as his ‘property’, to make the decisions and to control the finances. Sexism encourages people to think it’s acceptable for a man to hit, threaten or verbally abuse a woman if she ‘steps out of line’ and challenges his ‘authority’. This is wrong. This is abuse. Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect.

The next time you hear someone say “be a man”, or “boys will be boys”, ask yourself what that really means then speak out. Remember, you have the ability to challenge traditional ideas about what it means to be male or female. You have the right to be yourself, to express your feelings… to be anyone you want to be. Speak out for equality, speak out for respect.