Deeds, not words

18th March 2021

Author: Rita A. Gardiner, PhD, Critical Policy, Equity and Leadership Studies, Faculty of Education, Western University, Canada

Despite decades of feminist action, and government policies, gender-based violence continues to escalate. One troubling side effect of COVID-19 has been an alarming rise in gender-based violence. But this is not only a problem in Europe, but across the world.

Gender-based violence is not only fueled by the global pandemic. It is also fueled by the political rhetoric of some world leaders. Their rhetorical indifference stems from a pervasive toxic masculinity that permeates many public spaces. The #MeToo movement brought this issue to light.

Yet it is still the case that many people chose to ignore the problem of gender-based violence. This plain ignorance stems from a reluctance to get involved. This is sometimes called the bystander problem. #MeToo has taught us that we can no longer remain bystanders. It’s time for deeds, not words.

Our special issue on Leadership in an Age of #MeToo examines some global effects of gender-based violence. Contributors examine gender-based violence through diverse intersectional and institutional lenses. From office politics to peace-keeping, contributors explored the effects of #MeToo in different global settings and contexts.

Contributions range from an examination of workplace romances in the United States to an interrogation of sexism in Spanish football institutions. There is also an exploration of #MeToo and LGBGTIQ issues in El Salvador, and incorporating a peace keeping approach to understanding the effects of gender-based violence in a rural community in Canada.

This collective research shows that gender-based violence continues to flourish in many spaces. It is akin to a disease, but one with multiple causes. We could call this global “disease” a by-product of patriarchal, racial, sexual, and colonial injustice.

When we shine a light on gender-based violence, we also see that institutional practices do not change with the introduction of new policies. In many organizations, there is a gap between policy intent and implementation. On the one hand, organizations publicize their desire to promote equity. On the other, the use of non-disclosure agreements acts to silence those who are harmed alongside those who perpetrate harm. These silencing techniques are an insidious form of genderwashing that may have long-term negative effects. In short, policies alone are unlikely to challenge deep-seated institutional injustices, such as sexism and racism.

Institutional change takes time, effort, and understanding. We need to understand gender-based issues from many perspectives. This requires courage. We need to have brave conversations in our workspaces, our political spaces, and in our homes.

COVID-19 has shown us that governments can change direction when there is a global threat. Gender-based violence represents a global threat to many. Are governments and leaders willing to act to eradicate this scourge? If so, how?

To start, we need leaders to tone down the institutional rhetoric and move to action. Moving forward, leaders also need to consider gender-based violence as a global issue, and encourage meaningful conversations about how to deal with this issue. Leaders also need to ensure that diverse, disadvantaged and global voices are part of these conversations to effect change. That means listening to voices that make us feel uncomfortable. Such discomfort is necessary if we are to move beyond a world where violence flourishes.

In the fight to combat gender-based violence, as Emmeline Pankhurst taught us long ago, it’s time for deeds, not words.

Author: Rita A. Gardiner, PhD
Critical Policy, Equity and Leadership Studies
Faculty of Education
Western University, Canada

Guest Editor for this Special Issue: Leadership in an Age of #MeToo: Global Perspectives

Journal: Gender in Management, vol 35 iss 4