When I speak to MPs in the British Parliament on Monday, I’m going to say that for too long women have stood alone. When it comes to violence against women, we’re still thinking it’s “just” a women’s issue.this.
Sexual and physical violence at the hands of a man hits a staggering 45 percent of women in England and Wales sometime in their lives. That’s one-quarter of your constituents. Voters. People who give you your jobs.
Men’s violence against women hits the pocketbooks of all your constituents: The direct costs to your taxpayers of medical care, police responding to violence, courts, prisons, social workers, and refuges is £5.8 billion per year. Your taxpayers can probably think of ways they’d rather spend that money.
Men’s violence against women exacts a terrible toll on the children of your nation. Contemporary research by neuroscientists shows us that the 750,000 children who witness such violence each year in the UK have marked and measurable deficits in the development of their brains, particularly when the abuse they witness (or directly suffer) is ongoing and when it happens when they are very young. If your job as Members of Parliament is to build a strong future for the country, these 3 million children during one term of office should be on your mind.
I’m going to suggest to the MPs that this is an issue for them as leaders. There are few other issues – one thinks for example of climate change – that have such a profound effect on so many of your constituents.
I’m going to suggest that this is also very much an issue for men. Not only for that sizeable minority of men who use violence in their relationships, but that majority of good men who don’t use violence but who have remained silent.
Why should that silence worry us? It’s because boys look to men and men look to other men to define what it means to be a man. So if we’re silent in the face of rape jokes or demeaning images of women in the media, when a friend or brother abuses his wife, or when we see sexual harassment in our workplace or classroom, then boys and men will take our silence as consent.
When I tell MPs this is an issue for all men, I’ll rush to reassure them I’m not talking about collective guilt or collective blame. It’s more like an act of collective love for the women in our lives so they know we’re working together for a world without violence against women.
When UK men do speak out against the violence, they won’t be alone. When we started the White Ribbon Campaign twenty years ago, it was pretty unusual for men to be speaking out. Now, at my latest count, the campaign has spread from Canada to about seventy countries. In some countries, like Lebanon or Mongolia, the campaign is still small, while in others, such as Australia and New Zealand, it’s a huge and prominent national effort. And this is but one example of the many initiatives underway around the world.
I’ll suggest to MPs that this is one issue where they can inspire the nation by speaking with one united voice: whatever important issues and party affiliations divide us can take a back seat to our determination to raise our voices to end all forms of violence against women: emotional abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, trafficking, sexual harassment at work, and murder.
And I will say this: For too long women have stood alone, suffered alone or heroically resisted alone. We all owe it to the women we care so much about – our mothers and daughters, our sisters, wives and friends – to speak out as leaders, as women and men, to bring this violence to an end. Our future has no violence against women.