March 8 2023 – “Gender inequity is a problem that can only be solved by men as it is a problem caused by them in the first place”.
This was stated by the University of Fiji Vice Chancellor Professor Shaista Shameem in her address to staff and students of the University at an occasion that simultaneously celebrated the Festival of Holi, My World Freedom Day and International Women’s Day at the Saweni and Samabula Campuses.
Professor Shameem said that her recommendation that men should take full responsibility for ensuring gender equality in the home, in the community and at work, politics and the environment, was triggered by the fact of an almost all-male panel discussing women’s rights and freedoms at Samabula Campus for IWD. It was the first time in her experience that male members of staff had offered to speak out for gender equality at a panel discussion organized at the University, and this was to be applauded, she said.
Professor Shameem said IWD speeches usually concentrated on the dire situation of women who, everywhere, faced limited access to opportunity, inequality in pay and conditions, violence, lack of political presence and poverty.
But this year, encouraged by the significant and most welcome presence of men at the Samabula Campus IWD Panel discussion, she decided that it was time to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and call out all men, ‘every single one’, to take full responsibility for actively promoting gender equality in all spheres of existence- at work and in the home, in politics, with the community, and in whatever environment they could.
She said that for far too long women have had to take full responsibility for promoting and protecting women’s rights- including at the beginning of the 20th century when the suffragettes had to tie themselves to the railings in front of the Parliament in London just to get the vote.
However, Professor Shameem said, the problem was never women; it was always men. ‘We can sanitize this problem by calling it ‘patriarchy’ or whatever anthropological term, but the reality is that men, collectively, have always benefited from women’s disadvantage’. Professor Shameem said that there were many men who had not remained silent and had done the best they could to advocate for women’s rights but these had all been adjuncts to women’s voices and a minority. She said she could not recall any campaign by men to eliminate gender inequality.
Thus, Professor Shameem’s message to everyone today when three important themes were being marked at the same time at the University of Fiji – Holi, My Freedom Day and International Women’s Day- was that men, all men- in all spheres of life, should now together or individually take full responsibility for eliminating discrimination, prejudice, and violence against women and children which are all rampant in Fiji. ‘The same problem is evident the world over but since we are in Fiji we should start with our own country and lead the way’, she said.
Professor Shameem told the audience at the University that all men should now take full responsibility for ensuring gender equality whether in traditional/customary society, in the paid work space, in the home, or in public- in the entire environment. Gender equality should no longer be only the women’s cry. Professor Shameem said it was probably time for women to step back and let men take active responsibility for the problems the male gender had created in the first place. All men should take the opportunity to speak out- as at Samabula Campus for IWD- or actively re-examine their environment- for example, their workspaces, to see if gender equity can be introduced personally by them as a workplace strategy, or examine their homes to see how gender equity can be achieved there. They can take active steps to wear a gender equity badge without embarrassment or believing that it is a sign of weakness to do so Professor Shameem said.
She said that men will not be emasculated or lose their maleness by taking on full responsibility for gender equality in Fiji- indeed they will be strengthened by it and admired and loved even more for their innovation in calling out for equity. ‘Society, including the future generations, in other words our people, place and planet, will be well-served if only men took responsibility for eliminating harm caused to women and children by the inequality that exists everywhere’.
Men can no longer pretend that gender inequality has nothing to do with them personally. In the same way that African slavery financially and socially, and indeed personally, benefitted those in the west who did not actively engage in the slave trade, so does discrimination against women and children benefit all men whether or not they individually participate in that discrimination, Professor Shameem pointed out.
She called out to all men to immediately put up their hand to eliminate gender inequality in Fiji as it was time women alone stopped fighting for their rights and freedoms all by themselves, usually heard only during IWD.
Professor Shameem said men should therefore now feel empowered to take on the lack of gender equity problem as their own problem and solve it. The ball is in their court to show the world how to lead by example, she said.
She challenged all men today to make International Women’s Day and My Freedom Day meaningful by committing to a strategy for taking on full responsibility for eliminating gender inequality in Fiji.