Earlier tonight I was in the Chamber, PPS-ing in an adjournment debate on the DRC which had been requested by Eric Joyce, the chair of the All-Party Great Lakes Group. Sometimes it's a bit of chore for a PPS, sitting through rather lacklustre contributions from tired MPs at the end of the day, but Eric's speech was incredibly good, and very moving. He spoke about sexual violence against women in Eastern Congo, and about the case of a woman who would have died in childbirth, from a simple breech birth, had the visiting MPs not been able to lend her transport to get to the nearest hospital. I'll post the link to it when it appears in Hansard tomorrow. Definitely worth a read.
It's so good to hear a male MP raise such issues - too many men assume that issues such as sexual violence and maternal mortality are "women's issues" (as we saw in yesterday's Africa debate). They shouldn't be. Rape doesn't happen without a man's involvement; childbirth can't happen without someone fathering the child. It goes back to what I said on a recent post. We need to engage men in such debates if we're ever to find solutions.
For some reason Eric's speech, when he talked about the almost epidemic levels of sexual violence in DRC, brought to mind an incident from when I was about 16 or 17. I remember taking the family dog for a walk quite late at night, and seeing at the traffic lights a mini-bus full of drunken men who were obviously on their way back from a rugby match. They had a blow-up doll in the van and were punching her over and over again, in the face. It has always stayed in my mind because of the sheer viciousness and hatred on their faces, and the fact they were all cheering each other on. Obviously it was only an inflatable replica of a naked woman, but you would never for one moment get a group of women behaving in such a way. If they were in possession of a male inflatable, they'd be treating it as an object of ridicule (isn't that what men fear most - women laughing at them?). And yes, I accept women can be violent, but I don't think there's ever that pack mentality, that sheer hatred of someone for no other reason than their gender.
As politicians we can only ever go half-way towards tackling sexual violence if we only look at half the equation, i.e. at the women who are victims. We need to look more closely at men's involvement, at male attitudes and culture and the kind of group mentality which leads to gang rapes or the use of rape as a weapon of war. And to do that, dare I say it - we need men.