I spent Sunday, March 11, with my 16-year old son at the run/walk to end violence against women in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was a very successful and energized day, but in the sea of at least 10,000 women/girls, only two men/boys were in sight: one of them was my son.
This was one event I did not have to cajole my son J into attending, he had announced the night before that he would be participating, this is important to him. From when he was born, I raised him to understand that a core element of what makes him a man is how he treats women and this treatment is affirmed by the women in his life, girls in his school and eventually his wife, daughters, his female colleagues at work and all women in general.
The easiest part for us in the women’s march was starting the run/walk. As it proceeded we realized he was the only man in sight. Towards the end of the run we saw another boy around 12 years old.
There were men on the sideline, outside the march, condescendingly laughing and cheering the women along. Some of the younger men on the sideline even jeered at my son who walked on proudly with his sunglasses on. He started and finished the walk. At the finishing line, some young girls whispered and giggled and one of them could be heard loudly whispering loudly “what is he doing here.”
I smiled at the group of teenage girls, walked up to them and explained that the only boy in our midst is my son and he is participating in the march today to demonstrate his commitment as a teenager to ending violence against women. He went further to share that my son’s presence in the march was a manifestation of his commitment as a teenage boy and eventually a grown man, to ending violence against women in every form in his personal and public life.
I also explained to them that as a single mother, I have raised my son in this way, and ending violence against women has become part of his core life values. And this includes him standing against physical violence as well as violence perpetuated through the exclusion of women, unfair pay to women in the work place. And we need boys and men to join in the fight. The young girls cheered in support.
Men should not be on the sidelines on the fight to end violence against women. We need them to be at the forefront. While men commit the majority of violent crime, it is important too to emphasize that the majority of men do not commit violent crime.
According to UN Women, in order to stop violence against women, it is increasingly recognized that the focus of attention also needs to be directed to men. Ending violence against women must start with men demonstrating public solidarity on the fight.
Men must be encouraged to feel comfortable in women’s spaces to demonstrate this solidarity. Many women in the 2018 Addis Ababa run/walk came with their daughters but not their sons, this needs to change.
My son and I use the list of what violence against women is by the White Ribbon Campaign. The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) is a global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls. It says:
Violence against women is also perpetuated because of very problematic definition of what it means to be a man. At the core of the fight to end violence against women, we must also be watchful of how misguided cultural definition of masculinity normalizes violence against women. Parents, and most especially, mothers of sons can begin by monitoring this and taking actions to correct it early.
For the 2019 run/walk to end violence against women, mothers please bring your sons. We need men to lead on the fight to end violence against women, and we need them to start early.