By Michael Kaufman
For too long, women stood alone. The woman, alone in her kitchen, after her husband beat her. The woman, alone in her bed, after her boyfriend raped her. The woman, locked alone in a room, by the men who trafficked her. The girl alone, harassed by a schoolmate.
Forty or so years ago, women started saying to their sisters: “You will not be alone.” And so, with tenacity and courage, they stared abusers in the face and set up women’s shelters and crisis centers. They researched the problem and questioned the role of the media, religion, and the state
in allowing the violence. They pushed for better laws and training of police. They challenged harmful traditions. They provided a voice for those girls and women who, for too long, had been silenced.
It took too long, but finally, men all over the world are now saying to our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives, our friends, and to the women of the world: It’s time we stood at your side. And we are realizing that standing up to end gender based violence also means championing better ideals for ourselves.
There were three of us, inspired by the women around us, who started the White Ribbon Campaign in 1991in Canada where I live. At the time, it was unusual for men to speak out against men’s violence towards women. But now, two decades later, this little campaign has spread to about eighty countries. And it’s only one of the fantastic efforts that are now blossoming wherever you turn.
Our awareness-raising efforts aimed at men and boys have spread because women everywhere have said no to the violence. But these efforts have also spread because there are more and more men who want the violence to end. Although far too many men use violence in their relationships, the truth is that in most of the world, the majority of men do not. However, the problem has been the silence of that majority. Because of men’s disproportionate social, political, economic, and religious power, men’s silence amounts to tacit consent.
Recognizing this, many of our efforts are aimed at encouraging men who don’t use violence to speak out against gender based violence to their friends and workmates, and their fathers, uncles, brothers and sons.
In our work, we have learned that positive approaches to reach men and boys are most effective in ending our silence. We speak out in favor of equality between women and men. We speak out for new ideas of manhood that do not include violence. We speak out for better laws and for training of police and judges to implement the laws. We speak out for state support of services for women who are survivors of violence and want to leave violent relationships.
White Ribbon in particular has also spread because it is a campaign that believes that people in their own countries and communities, in their own workplaces, schools and religious institutions, know best how to reach the boys and men around them. No one “owns” White Ribbon. It is an idea and symbol we encourage all boys and men to embrace and make their own.
As a result, White Ribbon campaigns are incredibly diverse: from men in contingents at Carnival in Brazil, to sports teams raising money for women’s shelters, to work with religious officials in Pakistan (some of whom have issued a fatwa against violence towards women), to schoolboys writing chalk messages on sidewalks in Singapore, to leaders of the Australian army speaking out against sexual harassment in their ranks.
Those of us who have been doing this work among men are now also looking not only to raise awareness, but for long-term solutions. For example, our new MenCare campaign focuses on social policy and public education to reach the goal of men doing fifty percent of parenting work, and doing so in nurturing, non-violent ways. We see this as key for ending the cycle of violence and establishing caregiving, and not domination and even violence, as central to our practices and beliefs of what it means to be a man.
Not too long ago, it was only a handful of men here or there who were speaking out against this violence. Now, finally, at last, millions of men are echoing the words of our sisters: “You are not alone.”
Michael Kaufman is co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, a writer, public speaker, and long-time activist supporting gender equality. His latest book is “A Guy’s Guide to Feminism.” He is writing a book on international efforts to engage men to end men’s violence against
women, and another book, with Gary Barker, on the global transformation of fatherhood. We encourage you to read his blog at www.michaelkaufman.com. @genderEQ