Bringing College Men into the Movement to End Gender-Based Violence

Hey guys, you know what’s really cool?

…Empowering Women! And there’s never been a better time to tell you how than during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. Just a little recap for those of you who may not know: the 16 Days Campaign runs from November 25th (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to December 10th (International Human Rights Day). Throughout the 16 Days, participants advocate for, and raise awareness of, gender-based violence as a human rights issue.

Here’s the thing: from personal experience I have concluded that a good number of college men either don’t think there is a place for them in the women’s rights movement or just don’t know how to go about it. I’d like to ask you to try to think of a woman you care deeply about, whether it be your mother, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, girlfriend or wife. Next, I’d like for you to think of her being in the position of the women in the following scenarios from my own experiences.

I have witnessed how objectified and undervalued women are in society. Walking past a group of guys on campus bragging about how many girls they “bagged” at the frat party the night before is all too common, or a girl hurriedly walking past a male passerby who is whistling and calling out to her. To some, these situations are thought of as nothing more than the norm. But the reality is that they illustrate dangerous views about women. In the situation above, the woman is not viewed as a human being, but rather as a lifeless object one feels they are entitled to stuff in their “bag.” Or, just as a body that only serves as eye candy.

Take a second and think of this happening to someone you love. The terrible reality is that these are only a few of the very severe realities that women all over the world face. Thinking of women as nothing more than an object gives permission for some to treat them as such. And this very view makes violent actions towards women permissible and often excused.   

But boys, this is a call out to you. The answer is yes, there is a place for you in the movement to end gender-based violence. And no, we all don’t hate men. We look to the attitudes and behaviors toward women that are continuously perpetuated throughout society. Great news, these attitudes and behaviors can be changed and stopped. However, women alone cannot stop them. There needs to be a call out to the entire human population from the entire human population. It is possible to break this cycle, and the time is now. Women and men can work together to both end gender-based violence and guarantee the rights to women as human beings.

How are you going to help, do you ask? First, question your own attitudes and behaviors. Do they disrespect or pose harm? If so, take the time out to inform yourself on how these attitudes and behaviors contribute to the culture of violence. Lead by example and spread awareness. You must recognize that violence against women is a serious issue, and should not be the reality. Challenge your friends and show them that what they think is “really cool” is really not. The objectification of women should totally not be a status lifter. You can also offer your support to those who have had or are having bad experiences.

Finally, get involved. I know what you’re thinking, “But I’m gonna get made fun of!” Seriously? By the same people who dismiss and simply ignore these issues? Reality check: you have power, brother, and you can make change. You are refusing silence and ignorance surrounding an underrepresented issue while giving a voice to those who may not have one. Silence is taking the side of the oppressor, and oppressing women is definitely not cool.

by Dina Mansour

Dina Mansour is a 3rd year student at Rutgers University studying Political Science and Women and Gender Studies with a minor in Social Justice. She is currently an intern at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and full-time advocate of human rights for all.

A Hostile State: On Being a Woman Human Rights Defender

On December 2011, the image of an abaya[1]-clad female protestor being dragged on the streets of Cairo by military soldiers went viral. The woman’s abaya was ripped by the soldiers, exposing her naked torso and blue bra as a soldier stomped on her chest with his heavy boots. The image epitomized the attitude of state actors when dealing with women human rights defenders (WHRDs). Faced with women who defy cultural norms of what it means to be a “respectable” woman by demonstrating and spending nights on the streets, the knee-jerk reaction of state actors is to strip her of her clothes, undeterred by the fact that there are hundreds of witnesses on the streets. The message that the state tries to convey by targeting WHRDs with sexual and gender-based violence is clear: get off the street and go home.

The use of sexual and gender-based violence against WHRDs is not a new phenomenon, however, but has been a persistent practice of the Egyptian state. In 2005, on what has been dubbed “black Wednesday”, hundreds of young men carrying and wearing badges of the, then-ruling, National Democratic Party, pulled out 30 women from a demonstration and took them to a parking garage by police officers, sexually assaulting the women and tearing their clothes. Following the January 25 revolution that toppled Hosny Mubarak, Egypt’s president for almost 30 years, no action has been taken to train the police officers and the Central Security Forces deployed in demonstrations on how to deal with protesters in a manner that respects their human right to protest without fearing for their lives. It was only normal, then, to see a resurgence in the very actions by police forces that were amongst the main spurs of the revolution.

Following the first 18 days of the revolution, it was disheartening to be eye witness to the oft stated argument that violence, if left unaccounted for, will grow in ferociousness, and become more blatant by the day. In the span of a mere 4 months, as documented by testimonies collected by Nazra for Feminist Studies, the response of state security officers on the streets to female protesters graduated from beatings and calling the women “whores” and “bitches” for simply being on the street to targeting a woman and publically stripping her. It did not matter that the woman was veiled or that the brutal attack was done in broad daylight- the only important factor was that she was a woman and that somehow, it must be instilled in her and through her, that it is dangerous to be a female protestor on the street.

It is difficult to navigate our way out of the hell that is the targeting of WHRDs with sexual and gender-based violence. And it is easy, amidst the many painful testimonies to throw the towel and walk away. However, changing institutions, not merely the head of the state, was the goal of the January 25 revolution. And it is a goal that will be achieved gradually by pushing for new laws, for accountability for past violations, and the underpinning social attitudes without which any meaningful change for WHRDs will always stall in the realm of far-fetched dreams.

by Masa Amir

Masa Amir is a researcher in the women human rights defenders program at Nazra for Feminist Studies. She has a BA in international relations and an MA in international human rights law. 

[1] An abaya is a loose-fitting, robe-like garment, usually black, covering the whole body except the face, hands, and feet.

For True Peace and Security: Welcoming the 16 Days Campaign

Worldwide, militarism continues to be a significant source of violence against women, from the domestic sphere of the home to civil war and international conflict.  This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign seeks to highlight the linkages between gender-based violence and militarism through our 2012 Campaign theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence!  Coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, the 16 Days Campaign serves as a global advocacy campaign to increase awareness about gender-based violence and call on governments to respond, protect, and prevent such violence. 

Militarism not only undermines women’s rights as a whole, but also women’s dignity and bodily integrity. Militarism creates a culture of fear, supporting the use of violence, aggression, and military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. While often being used in the name of “security,” militarism typically has the opposite effect, causing violence and preventing peace.

Women and men worldwide are organizing hundreds of initiatives to challenge militarism and gender-based violence in their communities and world.   Activities range from dialogues with local policymakers in Botswana and documentary film screenings in Egypt, to pledges by police and firefighters against domestic violence in England and a 940 kilometer walk across Malaysia. 

For the 2012 16 Days Campaign, CWGL joins women’s, peace, and human rights groups across the globe in challenging militarism, ending gender-based violence, and promoting a culture of peace.  I am thrilled to kick off the CWGL 16 Days Blog, which will feature insights by activists worldwide on their experiences working to end violence in their communities.  Guest bloggers include Masa Amir, researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies, writing on state response to women human rights defenders; Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Executive Director of FemLINKPACIFIC, discussing radio as a tool for social change; and Mabel Bianco, President of Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer, on challenging cultural norms through art.  

In addition, the Center has launched The Security Project, aimed at questioning traditional definitions of security to consider what human security really means to all of us.  Often when we hear about security, it is defined by the state, in terms such as the presence of military personnel, checkpoints, and the right to bear arms.  But do we define our own sense of security in these same terms? 

We invite readers to share your thoughts through our anonymous, three-question survey.  Your feedback will help guide our advocacy on state spending priorities and national budgets, work toward developing a renewed understanding of what human security means for all of us, and help us realize human rights and peace for all.

Already in the responses we have received thus far, key patterns are emerging in how members of civil society envision a more peaceful world, hinting at the steps necessary to achieve sustainable development and long-lasting peace.  To end violence against women, women’s rights must not be seen as one dimensional.  Women’s experiences of violence are manifested in multiple forms of discrimination, and greatly influence their access to economic, social and cultural rights.  Violence against women cannot be adequately addressed unless States also address land rights, healthcare, education, access to justice and legal mechanisms, and the larger economic, social, cultural, and political context in which women and men live.  Only then can we truly have an equitable and peaceful world.

by Julie Ann Salthouse, Violence Against Women Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

What we should think about in the aftermath of Sandy…

November 7, 2012

In 2006 the United Nations adopted guidelines on human rights and humanitarian disasters.  The document focuses on the ways in which intergovernmental organizations and civil society respond to crises from a human rights-based approach. However, the role of government is not addressed.

Hurricane Sandy severely impacted areas in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and the northeastern coast of the United States. Government agencies, humanitarian aid organizations, and independent local groups have all had a significant role in the immediate response to the disaster. Those responding to natural disasters fulfill basic needs such as providing food, water and sanitation, shelter, and health services. During the recovery period from a disaster, governments have an obligation to uphold human rights and have a vital role in fulfilling economic and social rights of affected peoples.

Dare I ask what we can expect next? In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., numerous survivors of Katrina were displaced. There was little oversight and attention paid to international human rights norms by the U.S. government and standards were ignored in the long-term recovery. Using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the U.S. Human Rights Network mounted a national campaign to address this gap and hold the U.S. accountable.

In the wake of Sandy, and based on the experiences of similar natural disasters, the U.S. government and those recently elected must ensure that it does not repeat the mistakes of the past. This disaster has the ability to push many more families and individuals deeper into poverty, thus the long-term recovery requires governments to adhere to human rights principles. The economic crisis coupled with millions of people living in poverty, racial injustices, and the realities of climate change expose the deep and systemic inequalities within our society. A human rights-based approached recovery would address these issues and ensure that people’s economic and social rights are realized. 

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University