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Federal Election 2022: Supporting men and boys to lead respectful, accountable and fulfilling lives

Jesuit Social Services’ recently released Federal Election platform, A blueprint for a just recovery, builds on 45 years of advocacy and action, to outline the organisation’s vision for a just society across a range of interconnected social policy areas, from climate change to Aboriginal self-determination, youth justice, mental health and affordable housing.

In this fourth in a series of pre-Election blogs, we focus on gender justice: supporting men and boys to lead respectful, accountable and fulfilling lives, as we work towards a future free from gender-based violence.

In our work we see too many boys and men in trouble, and causing trouble.

Men experience high rates of substance misuse, mental health issues, radicalisation, violence, and extremely high rates of suicide – serious issues that have only been compounded by the stress and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our society is acknowledging the significant problem of violence against women. It is vital that we continue to invest in supporting victim-survivors. But there is also more to do in identifying and stopping harmful behaviours in some boys and men, to tackle the root causes of violence and anti-social behaviour before they begin, and to enable all members of our communities to lead safe and fulfilling lives. Our election platform calls on the incoming Federal Government to invest in initiatives that can make this happen.

Addressing family violence requires tackling its root causes

Jesuit Social Services began working with men and boys in crisis 45 years ago, providing temporary housing for young men released from prison. More recently, our work has moved upstream, adding prevention to our crisis support. We’re not waiting until a young man lashes out – we’re intervening early, with programs that support men and boys to be their best selves, to live lives free from violence, to foster positive relationships, and to address the underlying attitudes that can drive violence and other harmful behaviours.

Through The Men’s Project, we’ve taken steps to better understand and respond to male violence. The Men’s Project’s Australian-first research, The Man Box, surveyed 1,000 young men aged 18 to 30 across Australia. It found men who rigidly conform to stereotypical masculine norms – like believing men should be tough, dominant and in control – are are 20 times more likely to sexually harass a woman, 14 times more likely to use violence, and are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts. Crucially, the research also showed that adhering to these stereotypical beliefs about what it means to be ‘a real man’ also result in damaging outcomes for young men themselves. Men who personally endorse the Man Box norms are much more likely to self-report the use of violence and sexual harassment, suffer poor mental health, and engage in risky behaviours. The Man Box research shows us we must tackle these rigid attitudes, which are so closely linked with harmful behaviours, if we are to meaningfully address gender-based violence.

Men need good role models to be their best selves

The people who work alongside men and boys every day have opportunities to engage with them on issues relating to those harmful and stereotypical constructions of masculinity. Jesuit Social Services facilitates those conversations through our Modelling Respect and Equality and Unpacking The Man Box workshops.

One of those workshop participants is Vas, who felt “nervous and excited” before attending a two-day Modelling Respect and Equality training. The training opens with findings from The Man Box research, which Vas said was revealing.

“I found the evidence both compelling and validating, as it resonated with my own discomfort with toxic messages and my coexistent uncertainty about what exactly healthy masculinity might look like today,” he said.

“The two-day workshop and subsequent meetups in the weeks and months following gave me an arena in which to explore my questions and insecurities with the support of other men and women who were also committed to challenging their personal biases and growing in their own ways. Opportunities like the program are few and far between and I feel hard-pressed to think of anyone whom I would not encourage to attend.”

Evidence and experience tell us these conversations make a difference. We call on the incoming Federal Government to invest in workforce capacity-building, to support people like Vas to work alongside men and boys to challenge harmful stereotypes, and promote respect and equality.

Fund prevention education to stop violence before it begins

Safe and respectful relationships contribute to the goal of ending gender-based violence, and the inclusion of consent education in the new national curriculum is an important step.

Conversations about consent and respect must happen everywhere. We call for respectful relationship education to be prioritised in all Australian schools, and ask for the teachers, coaches, and community leaders who work with boys be equipped with the language and skills they need to create positive change.

Jesuit Social Services is supporting the Victorian Government to implement the Resilience Rights and Respectful Relationships curriculum, which builds the capacity of school leaders and other staff to teach students about healthy and respectful relationships – the incoming Australian Government could expand this important curriculum.

Outside schools, we are also designing, piloting and evaluating early intervention program models in the prevention of child sexual abuse. Two programs – Stop It Now! and the Worried About Sex and Pornography Project aims to prevent child sexual abuse by working with adults and adolescents who are worried about their sexual thoughts and behaviours. Expanded support for programs like these is an important element of identifying and stopping harmful behaviours, tackling the underlying causes of violence, and enabling all members of our communities to lead safe and fulfilling lives.

Jesuit Social Services’ gender justice recommendations:

  • Invest in workforce capacity-building across organisations, based on our Man Box research, Modelling Respect and Equality program and Unpacking the Man Box workshops, to support people who work with boys and men to challenge harmful stereotypes and promote respect and equality.
  • Provide funding for the evaluation of primary prevention interventions.
  • Provide coordinated, centralised and long-term investment for primary prevention education for schools with a particular focus on research and sharing best practice across states/territories.
  • Expand the Rights Resilience and Respectful Relationships Curriculum nationally and prioritise healthy and respectful relationships education.
  • Invest in national coordinated data collection, research and evaluations to address the complex causes of family violence and inform evidence-based interventions, such as providing funding for the national roll-out of Jesuit Social Services’ Adolescent Man Box Survey.
  • Fund research and program development to address the root causes of harmful sexual behaviours among young people’s behaviours such as Jesuit Social Services’ Worried About Sex and Porn Project.

Read our Federal Election Platform:

This blog draws on our Federal Election recommendations towards gender justice. Our full Federal Election Platform, A blueprint for a just recovery, lays out our recommendations under 12 areas.