What’s a smart way to empower women worldwide? Get the men involved and give them a chance to feel like they are a part of the solution. In other words, build collaboration. This past week, Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide, wrote an op-ed, “Violence against women is no ‘women’s issue’” for Politico about the importance of men’s involvement in empowering women. Using examples from various countries, Sharma gives proof that men need to be involved in shifting the belief systems around customs that tolerate and even promote violence against women. One example stands out about a man who “didn’t know [he] was not supposed to beat [his] wife,” but who learned through adult education classes that this learned behavior wasn’t necessary, nor productive. It’s a bit of a shock to read that mindset, but it is not unusual. While working in rural Kenya a couple of years ago, I heard a few men make similar claims, or explain that, according to (insert religious text here), they had the right to treat women as their subordinates and discipline them as necessary. Similarly, some women felt that their husbands had the right to hit them and that this act showed their commitment.
As the article infers, violence against women requires changing the mindset of all those involved – the men and the women of all ranks. Honoring the status bestowed upon men in many cultures promotes more lasting and successful attitudinal changes in the communities. This has been proven from Haiti to South Africa. Seattle-based Landesa, an organization working to secure land rights in the developing world, has many success stories about men and women empowering each other by working together. For such a story, read Deborah Espinoza’s blog entry, “Land rights for women – a ripple effect.”
Sharma’s op-ed came out the same week the Senate was kicking around the expired Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and trying to cut out key pieces of the Act to purportedly save a few dollars. On Thursday, it passed (phew!), with less funding, but with all key elements still intact. That the VAWA was even considered negotiable is an embarrassing message to the world (if anyone out there can still stomach listening to our politicians). Communities of men and women in developing countries are challenging themselves to change their mindsets and adhere to a more respectful attitude towards women and structures of dominance. Such work could prove beneficial right here, too.