For 17 years, I’ve been a Board Member of Vital Voices, the organization started by Hillary Rodham Clinton following the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Vital Voices invests in women leaders who improve our world. These leaders, representing 144 countries, know better than anyone, what it will take to end violence in their communities. Around the world, they are partnering with men and boys to bring about change that lasts. Next week in New York City, Vital Voices will confer the prestigious Solidarity Award on four men who are champions in the global fight to end violence against women.
Today, on Giving Tuesday, I ask you to give your support and your voice to a movement rooted in working together.
The need is greater than you might think. Worldwide, 35 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence. In the U.S., it’s no different – intimate partner violence afflicts one in three. These numbers are alarming. They’re disgraceful, but the bigger problem is that, even with good laws and greater awareness, we aren’t making enough progress.
Women have led the charge against gender-based violence, but it hasn’t been enough. Because it’s not really a women’s issue – it’s everyone’s issue – and men’s voices are urgently needed. By speaking up, men and boys can change negative perceptions, attitudes and behavior.
Nearly 20 years ago, one of my sons helped me realize the power of men’s voices. He showed me that no movement for social change, including the movement for women’s rights, is complete without our husbands, brothers, fathers and sons.
Eli was 23 when he traveled with me to Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. It was 1995, and an uncomfortable silence was broken when then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton declared: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”
I couldn’t have anticipated how deeply the experience would affect me, but its effect was all the more significant on Eli. This typical American young man stood in awe as he heard women reveal a profound struggle for what, to him, seemed so elemental: the right to an education, the right to proper health care, the right to economic freedom, the right to speak out, the right to live without fear of violation.
I could see and feel him react to what was being illuminated. He understood the fundamental disparity in men’s and women’s experience, and he recognized that he has a role to play in righting this injustice. He realized that there is power in his voice, and he decided he would not be a silent ally. Eli speaks up. He leads by example and encourages others to do the same.
He is not alone. There are a lot of good men. In fact, most men are not abusers. But to all of them, I want to be clear on this point: choosing to be nonviolent yourself is not enough. Because the others-the perpetrators-they rely on you to mind your own business, to keep your thoughts to yourself, to give them the benefit of the doubt and not to interfere. We need the silent male majority to speak up against those who commit violence in their name. The number one thing we can do to reduce violence against women is to intervene at the earliest signs. And we especially need men to model this behavior for other men.
Violence takes many forms, including domestic and sexual abuse and human trafficking. No country or community is immune, and it crosses every socioeconomic, religious, racial and political divide. The problem seems overwhelming. But change doesn’t have to be. Fathers, speak to your sons. Coaches, talk to your team. Tell them that violence is never acceptable. Tell them to speak out against violence and encourage others to join them.
And because it is Giving Tuesday, give a little something extra to an organization like Vital Voices.