Content note: This article contains mentions of sexual assault and rape.
We like to think of IFM-SEI and our organisations as safe, utopian spaces, which are different from the societies in which we live. But the reality is that we are a still part of wider society. Patriarchy, misogyny, violence and many many other structures of power and hierarchy continue to exert their influence. Combined, they produce the ideal context for sexual harassment, assault and rape.
However much we want to believe that our organisations are non-hierarchical, equal and full of reflective feminist young men, sexual violence still happens within our member organisations and on IFM-SEI events.
Our motto is ‘education for social change’. But how can we try to change society in a meaningful way when IFM-SEI’s spaces do not live up to our own ideals? ‘I Act’ is about changing the culture of our organisations, little by little, so that we in turn can change society.
This cultural change is not a burden that should be placed at the feet of the women, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folk who are most likely to endure sexual violence.
Statistics show that perpetrators of sexual violence are most likely to be men. But the assumption that gender violence is a women’s issue gives men an excuse not to pay attention.
Yet sexual violence affects all of us. And it will take all of us engaging in the issue if we are to make any progress in tackling it. Practising solidarity means engaging in issues that do not directly affect you. It means recognising your privilege and using the power of your voice and actions in a way beneficial to those other than yourself.
Silence is a form of complicity, and the absence of enthusiasm for the I Act training, especially among men, is disappointing and a sign of how far IFM-SEI still has to go for sexual violence to be recognised as an issue to be tackled, let alone solved.
Sexual violence is not a separate inconvenience to the work and education we do. It has everything to do with practising solidarity, for creating a more peaceful world, to fighting for equality, and standing up for human rights, especially those of minorities.
First of all we need to radically accept that sexual violence is an issue in our organisation. And then we need to apply some of the radical thinking and actions that we practice in so many other aspects of our politics and educational work, this time for something much closer to home.