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Educating, championing and bridging the gender divide

Everyone has a part to play, including men, in promoting greater diversity and achieving gender equality in the workplace and society at large. We spoke with Saul from Plan International about his work in gender studies, his current role within the not for profit sector, and his insights on how men can become a #championforchange.

Can you tell us about your personal and professional background?

I am a Venezuelan born Australian. I initially focused my career on music, and was a touring musician for six years before going to university to study journalism and human rights. Since then I’ve graduated with a Masters of International Relations, where I studied gender and radicalisation theory.

My professional background has primarily been in youth work, working directly with young men between the ages of 14 and 16 to discuss masculinity, and the stereotypes and expectations imposed upon us.

What motivated you to pursue a career for good, and get involved with causes that champion women?

When I was little my mother used to have books like “Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Mars” and “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” lying around. While these books are very gender essentialist and I would not recommend them to anyone as serious reading, as a nine year old they were fascinating to me. I carried through that curiosity about masculinity as I got older. It led me to take up gender studies, as a way to understand myself.

I grew up between Latin American masculinity and Australian masculinity, with conflicting expectations on how I was supposed to act. Taking gender studies gave me the language I needed to talk about the pressure I felt growing up, but it also exposed me to just how rife sexism is. It was like Pandora’s box. I knew that I couldn’t just continue to learn about masculinities and myself without contributing to the movement for gender justice. It’s simply a requirement in my mind now.

What attracted you to Plan International and what do you do there?

Plan International is the world’s leading girls’ rights agency. I got my start at a similar but smaller NGO, running media campaigns in support of girls’ education. This movement to create a safer world where girls can live free from violence and fear of violence married perfectly with my academic background.

I am the Campaigns Officer at Plan International Australia, where my primary role is to organise and coordinate the Youth Activist Series (YAS), a network of female-identifying people who bring real change in Australia and abroad for girls. The YAS group make a 12 month commitment to campaign with us, and we develop their personal and professional skills with gender training, media and public speaking skills.

My role is not so much as to lead the group but rather organise and enable them to leverage their own skills and power. I’m a strong believer that allies like myself are there to get behind women or get out of the way, and this is my way of getting behind women.

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What are your tips for other men and male leaders on getting involved in helping women’s welfare and development?

Firstly, accept that you are going to make mistakes. You will be confronted with your privilege on a daily basis, and this will feel uncomfortable, but that discomfort is nothing compared to the discomfort of not being a cis-man living under patriarchy.

Secondly, understand that men aren’t supposed to tell women how to deal with patriarchy, it’s simply foolish. Rather than imposing our own understanding, we need to open ourselves to listening, learning and understanding a different perspective and experience. We also need to get used to the idea that our voice isn’t always needed in every space. We’re not entitled to that.

Finally, as men we also have to recognise the power we hold. There’s a quote I like from Kelley Temple: “men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society and make it feminist.” What this means is that men have the power and responsibility to speak up about misogyny. For instance, men can take a bystander training course and learn how to defuse, call out and most importantly call in other men when they are being sexist.

How can people start the right conversations for change in terms of equality?

There is a lot of theory and academic jargon that dominates the conversation around feminism, and this can be confronting. It can be scary from the outside looking in, as there are a lot of places where you can make a mistake. Combat this with educating yourself, but also don’t be afraid to vocalise yourself when you hear or see something that you think is wrong. The language doesn’t have to be perfect.

If you are an ally, make sure you don’t let your outrage or anger alienate the person you are trying to reach. As men, we don’t experience patriarchy the way women do, so it can be tempting to react with fire when we hear something offensive or disrespectful, but this can actually cause more harm than good.

I would recommend that men approach situations like this with a level head, leverage and use your mateship to say “look, I think that comment was really unnecessary”, and state your reasons. It’s more powerful to call-in the person you need to, than to escalate the situation with straight allegations of sexism.

Are you working on any other interesting projects at the moment?

Plan International has just finished its second run at the Free to Be project, an online mapping tool that captures instances of street harassment and women’s perception of the city. The tool was co-designed by Plan International Australia’s youth activists as well as Crowdspot and Monash University’s XYX Lab. We are now taking the findings and analysis of this data back to city planners and the government, with our youth activists leading the charge.

 

Connect with Saul.

Learn more about Plan International.