Does fundraiser trade on gender stereotypes?

Men and women are being asked to ‘literally walk a mile in women’s high-heeled shoes to raise money for victims of domestic and sexual violence’

"Are you man enough?" That's the challenge from Concern and Women's Aid for their upcoming fundraiser. "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" asks men (and women) to put on high heels and walk a mile at one of three venues in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

“There is an old saying, ‘You can’t understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes’,” says the leaflet. Concern and Women’s Aid are asking men and women to “literally walk a mile in women’s high-heeled shoes to raise money for victims of domestic and sexual violence”.

The campaign is supported by Irish and Leinster fullback Rob Kearney. At the launch of the campaign, Kearney put on some red stilettos to draw attention to the cause. "It doesn't take a lot of training to take part and should be great fun while at the same time raising awareness about a very serious issue," he said.

Opportunity for men

Karen Power


, spokeswoman for

Concern Worldwide

, said the event was an opportunity for men to stand up and show they do not condone violence against women.

“It demonstrates that men are willing and able to be courageous partners with women in making the world a safer place,” she said.

The idea of men putting on “women’s shoes” and the idea that “high-heeled shoes” are the footwear of choice of women has riled many advocates of women’s rights.

Women's Aid, co-organiser of the event, has been working in Ireland to stop domestic violence against women and children since 1974.

So is Women’s Aid happy to trade in gender stereotypes to raise cash?

"We have to try new things sometimes," Women's Aid director Margaret Martin said.

“It is not so much about the money for us, it’s about the awareness-raising. What has changed in the past 30 years? Sometimes we have to try new things,” she said.

“I know some people will criticise, but we need to open up the issue. To some extent the campaign does trade in stereotypes, but if that opens the door, it’s important.

“We want to change things. We don’t want to be here in 40 years. We have to move things on, to move the focus away from women as victims. We need to engage with men in a way that is fun and family friendly,” she added.

“I completely understand the concept of stereotyping of gender and I know some people will criticise, but if this opens up the door, it’s important.”

According to Ms Martin, about 40 per cent of men “know a victim of domestic abuse”.

About 40 per cent of those men have asked the woman if she is alright and told her about the Women’s Aid helpline. “Ninety per cent of men consider domestic abuse to be a criminal offence. Only 5 per cent of men said they would do nothing,” said Ms Martin.

Fun event

Domestic abuse is a tricky concept to hook a fun event to, but Ms Martin hopes that the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event will help to break down the “shame and stigma that surrounds domestic violence”.

She also hopes that by partnering with Concern, her organisation is underlining that domestic violence is a global problem and emphasising that “the world is getting smaller”.

She pointed to the growing number of newly arrived women who access their services.

Women’s Aid currently provides a language line, which offers a translated service. “The global connections are growing, so it’s good to recognise that,” said Ms Martin.

However, the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event is a change of tack to get men involved in the issue.

“It’s very difficult to engage with men on a topic like this. It’s a circle that is largely confined to women, so it’s looking at ways to bring men in.

“This is basically a fun event. There is no agenda, and it’s a way to connect to men.”

Male participants might have to get hold of a pair of high heels, but some women are going to have to borrow a pair too.

The Women’s Aid national helpline is: 1800-341900. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes takes place on Saturday, September 13th, in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan is an Irish Times journalist