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Soldiers accused of rape and crimes against humanity slouch in their chairs during a military tribunal in the town of Baraka, Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. The group of eleven was commanded by Lt. Col. Kebibi Mutware, left, who is the highest ranking officer to face such significant charges. The men are accused of raping nearly fifty women and looting numerous shops in the town of Fizi on January 1-2, 2011. If convicted, some defendants could face the death penalty. (Pete Muller/AP)

We're In It Together

Lessons for my Grandson: Enlisting Men to End the Violence Against Women

Musimbi Kanyoro, CEO of the Global Fund for Women, on why we must enlist men to break the silence and help end the attacks on women and girls worldwide.

At this moment in my life, my 2-and-a-half-year-old grandson is the most precious and exciting gift to me. He signifies the good in men. I would never imagine that such a beautiful boy would be capable of growing up and becoming a violent man. What is it that makes men—born such good little babies—become violent? Male violence against women is the most pervasive violence in the world today. So much so that in many arenas, we’ve become comfortably numb.

Where is the moral authority that women’s lives are so expendable that a woman dies every minute of the day? Seven in ten women experience physical and sexual violence in their lifetime.

For the last 25 years, the Global Fund for Women has worked with the women’s movement to shine a light on these violations, and drive policy change to ensure that women are protected and supported to live free of violence. But we can’t do it alone. We need a broader movement of men, women, boys and girls, to learn how to be human with each other in ways that are creative, expressive, and nonviolent. The perpetuation of women having low or no status leads to the trivialization of their real pain. The extreme violation of women’s human rights is what compels the Global Fund for Women to accelerate and deepen its support for women’s human rights organizations.

In the early days, women were silenced to protect the status quo of their male relatives, friends, superiors, and colleagues. Today violence is experienced in ways we never imagined. Digital technology, including social media, is proving to be a double-edged sword: it can be destructive and transformative. For instance, a woman who launched a Kickstarter project to raise funds to support women-friendly digital games had her online face and body brutalized, tortured and raped by men using computer imagery. These online gang rapes jammed her computer with brutal images for several weeks, leaving her traumatized. But she would not be silenced. Her social media rallying cry resulted in so many people feeling outraged that she far exceeded her funding target and was able to extend her work and produce more initiatives aimed at empowering girls and women.

She is part of a crescendo of women’s voices saying it’s not ok to keep silent. Breaking the silence—taking the courageous step to voice one’s experience—is already a success in communities where tolerance for violence against women has gone on for too long.

The Global Fund receives over 2,600 applications per year from women’s rights organizations and at least 60 percent include a focus on ending violence against women. We have supported women-led organizations to develop effective models and responses to deal with gender-based violence.These models and initiatives must be adopted, expanded and supported in a wider movement to end violence against women. This means stronger public and private partnerships. For anything to be scaled and enforced, we need government leaders creating good laws and policies and then implementing them and ensuring effective regulation.

The theme for this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women was “Ending Violence against Women and Girls.” Hundreds of women’s rights groups from around the world converged on New York City to share personal experiences and effective responses. They managed to ensure a UN Outcomes Document that restated a commitment, which governments must now act upon.These UN Protocols are good way to mobilize global goodwill but without strong government action and financing they fall short on delivering real justice to women. Yet, these Protocols are useful in providing a mandate to social justice movements working to protect women’s human rights.

For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, women’s groups saw a victory in 2011, when for the first time, an army colonel was convicted for ordering mass rape. In Nigeria, the NGO CIRDDOC holds town-hall style Women’s Rights Tribunals which expose violations ranging from child labor, child molestation, forced marriage, land grabs of widows’ farms, and widowhood violence—in a bid for courts to take such violations seriously and render justice to its victims. Meanwhile, other groups offer hotlines, SMS for confidential reporting, and safe spaces in schools to report sexual harassment.

It’s time to stop talking and start acting differently. Ultimately what we do in our personal lives will address systemic violence. I’m committed to impart goodness to everyone around me, including my grandson. He represents the hope of the world—in embracing his full humanity and in turn supporting women to do the same.

The Global Fund For Women 25th Anniversary Gala, which will feature appearances by CEO Musimbi Kanyoro, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and emcee Christiane Amanpour, will take place on April 17, to celebrate 25 successful years of advancing the human rights of women and girls.

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