On Monday, December 7, Vital Voices hosted their annual Voices of Solidarity awards to honor five men “who have shown courage and compassion in advocating on behalf of women and girls in the United States and around the world.” The five honorees were Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former peacekeeper and diplomat; Gary Barker, founder of Promundo and global leader in engaging men to prevent violence against women; Sadou Lemankreo, a police officer and human rights defender in Cameroon; John Prendergast, activist and author working to support women survivors of conflict in Africa; and Tom Wilson, chairman and CEO of The Allstate Corporation.
The five honorees have impressive experience working to empower women and engage men to change their attitudes and behaviors towards women. They are rightly honored for their work and should be held as models for how men should act worldwide. But my thoughts on the event, and the issue of violence against women in general, can be summed up with six words from Cindy Dyer early in the night:
“Violence against women is a men’s issue” Cindy Dyer, Vice President of Human Rights, Vital Voices
When I looked around the room on Monday night, it was filled with an overwhelming majority of women. This gender imbalance has been the norm in my experience of attending similar events and herein lays the problem; women, who are victims and allies to victims of male violence, bravely come together while the perpetrators are disengaged from the conversation. This needs to change.
Violence against women stems from a daunting web of social norms, patriarchy, power dynamics, greed and injustice. For example, rape is used as a weapon of war and justice systems around the world drastically vary in their efficiency. With these larger structural barriers in the mix, can one individual make a difference in these issues? The answer is yes.
Dyer and Barker acknowledged the many men who would never hurt a woman and are champions for equality in the workplace and the home. However, when these men remain silent or refrain from participating in gender equality conversations, their actions (or inactions) have an impact. Speaking on her experiences with female victims, Dyer said that the “silence of male leaders speaks louder than women’s actions.” Men can be tremendous activists in the fight to end violence against women by actively taking a stance against the injustice.
So, to the men who believe in gender equality and justice, but are possibly unsure about how to engage in this conversation, I’m here to say: speak up! As a woman I welcome your voice to this discussion! A few conversation starters are below based on my own experiences and reported successes from the Vital Voices event this week.
Men, how can you get involved?
- Ask questions: do you feel safe walking down the street? What resources are available for women who have experienced violence? Speak with the women in your life and ask about their experience.
- Share news articles. Use the news as a way to start the conversation, learn about the nuances of the issues and take a stance.
- Be a mentor. Young boys who witness violence growing up are more likely to exhibit those behaviors as an adult. As a positive influence in a young boy’s life, you can have a lasting change.
Women, how can we engage the men in our life?
- Speak openly with the men you trust. For example, if you experience harassment in the workplace, debrief with a trusted male friend.
- Invite your male friends to any conferences or events you attend on issues related to violence against women. Let’s get more men at the table.
As the 16 days of activism to end gender based violence comes to a close, I challenge you to speak with the people closest to you about the atrocities committed against women every day. It is time to end the silence surrounding violence against women and hold men accountable for their actions.
This post is part of Girls’ Globe’s #16Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Post series. Learn more about the #16Days campaign here, and join the discussion on social media with #16Days.
Photo Credit: Holly Curtis