From Canada to Korea, Brazil to China, Spain to South Africa, Pakistan to the United States, men are finally challenging a grave epidemic and a terrible form of terrorism. It is not a disease, nor what we normally refer to as terrorism. But that doesn’t matter for the thousands of women who are murdered each year and the millions who suffer physically and emotionally. For this is men’s violence against women. It is an epidemic that shows up in many forms: Women beaten by their husbands. Sexual harassment by men at work. Sexual assault on a date or at home. Murder.
In some countries, so widespread is domestic violence against women by men that everyday acts of hitting are not even considered violence. In other most countries, the majority of men do not commit these acts of violence, although a significant minority do. But that majority of men have until recently been silent. Through this silence we have allowed the violence to continue. This is because men control governments and police, legal systems and religious institutions, corporations and the media. And it is because men respect what other men say. Or what we do not say.
The result is that millions of women live in fear and terror. Who are these “terrorists”? They are ordinary men from all social backgrounds and of all ages. Rich and poor, men who toil in the fields and men who sit behind desks. They are our friends and perhaps our fathers or our sons.
Why does this violence exist? It is not because men are bad, nor because we are naturally violent, nor because some men are crazy. It is because we have created cultures where women are not valued and where men exercise power and control in the home, on the streets, and in our places of work. It is because we raise boys to be tough and not show tender feelings. It is because we have defined manhood as having power. And, strangely, it is because many men secretly fear not being “real men” or not having enough power. These men use violence to prove to themselves and to the men and women around them that are “real men.”
Until now, men have been part of the problem. But around the world, there are men who strongly believe that we must end our silence and work alongside women to end the violence.
How can we end men’s violence against women?
* We must commit ourselves, from our homes to the highest levels of government, to full equality between women and men.
* We need laws that clearly prohibit all forms of physical and sexual violence. We need to train police and judges to enforce these laws.
* We should support services for women who are escaping violent relationships, and support men who are committed to stop using violence.
* We need educational programs in our schools so young people can learn that violence against women is unacceptable, to learn how to create healthy relationships, and to learn respect for one another.
* We need to redefine manhood so that a man can be both strong and gentle, so men can learn healthy ways to express emotions, and so men can learn to take equal responsibility with women for raising our children.
* And we need public education campaigns such as the White Ribbon Campaign.
Begun in 1991 in Canada, the White Ribbon Campaign has now spread to more than thirty countries around the world. Each year, for one or two weeks, men and boys wear or display a white ribbon. (In most countries this is around November 25, proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women.) The white ribbon is a public promise never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women.
The White Ribbon Campaign is politically non-partisan and includes men across the political and social spectrum. It is led by the men (or men and women) in each country and each community. They hold public meetings, or sponsor television or radio ads. They put up posters, or distribute ribbons and information at schools, workplaces or markets. They encourage boys and men to find their own ways to speak out in their schools and communities. They raise money for women’s groups and work closely with them to support their goals. They are supported by unions, professional associations, student groups, corporations, religious institutions, the media, non-governmental and governmental organizations.
These men and boys learn to challenge sexist language and behavior that demeans women. They learn to examine their own actions and beliefs. They learn to listen to the voices and experiences of women.
Why are men speaking out against the violence? It is not an act of collective guilt. No, it is an act of collective love. Love and respect for the women in our lives: our mothers and daughters, our wives, our sisters and our friends.
This year, in Korea, this year in Canada and around the world, men and boys are standing side by side with women. And with one voice and with all our strength and power, we are saying this: We will end this disease. We will free our homes and countries of this terror. No woman should live in fear. Working together, we will end this violence.
An Act of Collective Love: Why Men Are Working to End Violence Against Women
Presented at the launch of the South Korean White Ribbon Campaign
Seoul Korea, November 23, 2003