From members of the baseball team at the University of Massachusetts to the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Tim Murray, men are taking a pledge not to commit, condone or stay silent about domestic violence or sexual abuse. They are part of a week of activities that get underway statewide March 1 in advance of International Women’s Day on March 8th. A proclamation day gathering at the statehouse in Boston is being celebrated on March 2.
Why should men get involved in what many have called a “women’s issue?” It’s simple: domestic abuse and sexual assault against women are community issues impacting wives and partners, mothers, daughters, sisters—everyone. As men, White Ribbon Day gives us an opportunity to proclaim, “From this day forward, I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.”
Dozens of men came down from their seats at a UMass basketball game last month to take the pledge read by Lt. Gov. Murray, a longtime advocate of domestic violence prevention efforts. The Massachusetts undertaking is part of the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC), an international crusade to engage men and boys to help end violence against women. Besides the baseball team, members of fraternities said no to violence at the halftime event.
Spearheaded in the Bay state by Jane Doe, Inc., the statewide coalition working to prevent domestic and sexual abuse, WRC is a powerful symbol of a social movement aimed at transforming men from perpetrators of—or bystanders to—violence against women, into advocates on behalf of girls’ and women’s safety. It was founded in Canada in 1991, after the Montréal Massacre on December 6, 1989 in which 14 women students at a polytechnical institute were brutally killed and 13 students wounded by a lone gunman. The first year 100,000 men across Canada wore white ribbons. The campaign is now worldwide operating in nearly 60 countries, and has gathered more than five million signatures of support.
According to Craig Norberg-Bohm, coordinator of the Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe, in 2008 the organization first organized the Massachusetts component of what now is an “international effort for human rights, engaging men to help end violence against women, men and children.”
The campaign focuses on men’s violence against women because of its fundamental connection to all forms of personal, economic and structural violence and oppression throughout the world. Not all men are violent and the campaign is not about individual acts of violence. It focuses, Norberg-Bohm says on “a broader framework that confronts unhealthy behaviors and promotes positive masculinity.” It has adopted an international human rights perspective, because, he believes, it “challenges us to change the ways in which male authority has been equated with power and control over others’ individual freedoms and liberties and the world around them.”
In my work with men, I have witnessed a slow and steady openness among a range of men to speak up about the minority of males who perpetrate abuse. Events like White Ribbon Day are raising the profile of this work. Across Massachusetts, Norberg-Bohm says there are nearly 400 White Ribbon Campaign “ambassadors” promoting the campaign and its message of nonviolence in Massachusetts.
Despite the harrowing cases of domestic abuse and brutal sexual assaults occurring in communities from small towns and cities in the U.S. to the Congo in Africa, antiviolence efforts by men are gaining adherents. It’s especially encouraging to see the number of college-age men initiating campus campaigns to challenge male violence. I met scores of them at a first-ever conference of campus males committed to gender equality in Minnesota last November, and was heartened to learn they are developing campus cultures that promote respect and safety for women and girls. They are the future—emerging leaders in the work of ending gender-based violence.
Any campaign that has as goals “changing societal attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate and make excuses for violence against women; promoting safety and respect in all relationships and situations; fostering a positive image of masculinity, and inviting all men and boys to join in a celebration of personal peace and cooperation” are ones everyone should get behind. I know I can.
To take the pledge or to learn about more go to whiteribbonday.janedoe.org/.