Be the catalyst: ending gender-based violence begins today

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Michael Kaufman, prominent advocate for gender-equality and co-founder of the global White Ribbon Campaign. Michael appeared at a recent event hosted by Aware in Singapore, speaking about How Good Dads Can Change the World. Find out what he had to say below...

Q1: Why is it important to you that males condemn gender-based violence?

It is critical that men speak out about gender-based violence for many reasons. One is, when we say gender-based violence, we often leave out who is committing most of that violence. Of course it’s men. So it’s critical that all men speak out against it. Because even though the majority of men do not commit acts of physical or sexual violence, even though the majority of men are not emotionally abusive, the majority of men have been silent about this violence.

Michael Kaufman with Ashley and friends in Singapore [Credit: Youth For Change}

Michael Kaufman with Ashley and friends in Singapore [Credit: Youth For Change}

Because of our silence, we’ve allowed the violence to continue, because men look to other men to define what a man should be. So if I don’t speak out against the violence, other men are going to think, “Well, I think it’s okay, I approve, I can do that too.”

There’s another reason why it’s critical for men to speak out, because we live in a world where men still have more power, men still control governments and companies, and the media. So that means men still have more power to make sure that we change laws, that we devote more budgets to women’s programmes. So it’s critical that we reach men.

Q2: You wrote in your paper The Seven Ps of Men’s Violence that the “redefinition of masculinity” is necessary to end gender-based violence. You’ve shown through this session, and I believe through other workshops conducted by the White Ribbon Campaign team, that education plays a big role in eliminating gender-based violence. But, in your opinion, which is more important - education or legislation? Or are the two perhaps not mutually exclusive?

A patriarchal society is such a complex entity, from top to bottom. It exists in our laws, our religions, our courts, our media, education systems… It exists in our homes. It exists in our bedrooms! And so what that means is, there isn’t one thing that we need to do to change everything. It means that we need so many different approaches, and that’s why we need everything - from those working to elect more women, to those working at a grassroots level to educating people in our communities.

We need the empowerment of women at the workplace, we need changing roles in our home! We need men doing half of the carework, half of the parenting and housework to free women from doing a double day of work. This helps men become better human beings who are connected to children, who are connected to their emotions.

That was a good question, and the answer to your question is saying that we need legislative change, saying that we need education… We need those things, and more. And that’s why I encourage everyone to think about what YOU can do to make a difference. What can I do in my school? What can I do in my place of worship? What can I do in speaking to my friends? Who can I vote for? What are the different things that we can do? And what we discover, is the more we encourage people to take initiative in their own communities, in their own schools, in their own lives, we can make a difference.

Q3: This brings me to my next question - How can others, and men in particular, work towards gender-based violence in their own capacity? Because sometimes, even when we advocate for topics like these by attending workshops such as tonight’s, or write about these issues, it feels like what we’re doing isn’t enough.

You know, it’s different for different people. We have to use the tools at our disposal. One of the things we need to do is to talk to our friends. As a man, I encourage boys and men to speak out against sexism, against that sexist joke, against that homophobic joke, because it may be technically funny, but it’s actually not very funny, because it’s a joke based on degrading someone, putting down someone. So, sometimes the actions seem to be small, but there’s a link between those jokes and abusive behaviour.

Sometimes it starts on a small level. Sometimes, it’s within a school, raising money for a local women’s shelter. Sometimes, it’s a school that does a White Ribbon Campaign to raise awareness about the problem of violence against women. As soon as you do that, people start having a million different ideas of what they can do, so there’s no one formula. I don’t think there’s only one thing that you have to do.

So we create those ripples, we act to create change. And the change is positive change. This is about making a better world.

I think that what we can do as people who want to and are working to bring about change in a better world, is we can see ourselves as catalysts. In Chemistry, you take these two different substances but nothing happens, until you add a third substance, the catalyst, then something happens. And that’s our job - our job is to be a catalyst. Because we can’t do it all, but if we can motivate, if we can encourage, if we can inspire others to take action in their world, suddenly it’s like dropping a pebble in the pond, and it creates ripples. Things happen. And when it hits the shore, it changes the shore. So we create those ripples, we act to create change. And the change is positive change. This is about making a better world.