Where are the men, and not just in Nigeria? Kidnapping crisis underscores the question but calls for introspection
By James E. Copple
Where are the men? Gender-violence and human-trafficking are issues caused mostly by men but challenged mostly by women. There is a conspicuous silence and lack of interest on the part of Muslim men, government leaders (mostly men) and by men in general. Recent attention to the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian girls by the terrorist organization Boko Haram is a good example and begs the question: Where are the men?
We rally around causes. And to be sure, the kidnapping of Nigerian girls to exclude women from education is a cause worthy of our attention. However, it is time men in our communities respond to gender-violence and gender-equity issues, both abroad and in our own backyards. The call for petitions to demand the release of “our girls” is an important message to leaders in Africa, but I don’t anticipate Boko Haram giving it much regard when they have clearly indicated intent to sell the girls, ignoring global protests.
Moreover, what about “our girls” at home, in our cities, our communities? What is our domestic culture of respect, rights, law, process – the many tangible and invisible material, ethical and spiritual effects of violence, crime, victims, subrogation, suppression and denial? For all of us; right here, right now? When I talk to people, I find pause; a disconnect; an asterisk. Even in my own faith organization. I had made an appeal to involve the church in discussions about gender-violence, and a leader replied: “Oh, that is our women’s issue.”
The assumption is that the women in our denomination would do this work. Relegating gender-violence prevention and treatment to the women of our faith, and believing that is all that is required, is not only naïve but irresponsible. We can no longer afford to make this “our women’s issue.” It is an issue that crosses all boundaries, and it requires the voices of men.
Those of us working to secure funding to support these causes often note the absence of male donors. Fortunately, the Kenya Gender-Based Violence Partnership has seen significant contributions to the project from men. However, the ratio of women-to-men donors is markedly disproportionate. We speculate the topic is uncomfortable for men: It is about rape; gender-bias; and, often, brutality toward women. Nobody, but especially men, likes to engage the issue because it is both awkward and threatening.
We must take action against these problems and persist in efforts to get governments to acknowledge that rape has become an instrument of war and must stop. Further, we must address local community insensitivities to a male-dominated world that winks-and-nods at sexual assault and sentences our community leaders to minimum sentences for rape crimes.
The time is now, and we are the ones to change the conversation. Beyond politics, power and religion, this is an issue of humanity, suffering and comprehensive consequence. As we embrace the work of securing release for 276 Nigerian women, we must also do the work to secure peace for all women, our community, humanity, our families, our souls.
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Jim – Thanks for this call to conscience and action. While we can only watch from a distance the atrocity to girls in Nigeria we can look closer to home for paternalism and violence against women, even in – especially in – our faith communities.