Men Must Be Allies In The Abortion Referendum

By Mark Montegriffo

This March, our community will be in the final phase of one of the most polarising but necessary debates of human history. For the UK, the debate was polarising up until the 1960s. Before Franco, Spain legalised abortions in the 1930s, before legalising it again more than 30 years ago. Alas, our time happens to be now. In 2020, it is also time to learn how to be allies.

An ally in this context refers to men who stand in support of women, advocating for their rights, and engaging in an equal dialogue on the systemic injustices that are unique to them or affect them first. The abortion debate is not just a matter exclusively about gender. It's about class - the low-income family who cannot afford the time or money to travel for an abortion where they can legally get one. It's also about mental health: the young woman who cannot get a safe abortion here and, on her return, has to keep it quiet for fear of judgement. For some it's about faith, for others about secularism. And yes, it is about gender equality and coming to terms with what is pulling us back from achieving it, of which there are several systemic factors as well as more implicit ones.

The abortion referendum will bring up debates that reach beyond the specific law on the ballot paper, which is not to undermine how absolutely crucial it is. Rather, it is to recognise its fundamental importance. The fight over a woman's right to choose ought to be a fight led by women. However, men get to vote in the referendum. We also have a population that is fifty percent male. We are going to have a role in this debate, but it is up to every individual to decide what role they take.

In many respects, our society is male-dominated. Just look at our parliament and you'll see that the political process - the institutions that legislate on behalf of the whole population - is comprised overwhelmingly by men. It is a privilege that a man can stand for election and almost automatically face fewer obstacles than if they were a woman. It is true that for decades our political parties have tended not to field many female candidates, but that also proves the point about our politics being exclusive. It doesn't mean that by virtue of that, every decision made will be misogynistic and sexist, but it does mean that equality will be harder to strive for without more representation for those who experience the inequality.

It is generally easier to have your voice heard in our society if you're a man. This is changing, and the debate over a women's right to choose will change it further. It's partly the role of the media to facilitate this (perhaps we should have more blogs on this website by women). It's also, however, the role of the ally to engage with those voices. Sadly, some still react to a strong or opinionated woman as hysterical or in some way unstable. We must watch out for repeated tropes and stereotypes, implicit or explicit, that undermine the value of what a woman is saying. We must listen, not for the sake of sympathy or pity but in the spirit of justice and empowerment.

That is, in short, the role of the ally - enabling empowerment. It doesn't mean you give up your opinion or that it is of any less value. But it does mean that the discourse is approached with an understanding of power and the challenge of pushing society together towards equality, away from a history of entrenched sexism and roadblocks against women. A good starting point is talking and listening to the women around you about serious issues like this one over a woman's right to choose.

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