By Will O’Brien
WWSO Summer 2017 Intern
n his 1988 commentary The Book of J, literary critic Harold Bloom made a classic blunder that I still encounter almost daily. Bloom argues that the Jahwist—a theorized author of portion of the Torah—must have been a woman because so much of the content was about women. Originally praised as feminist bible commentary, popular opinion quickly turned on Bloom; why would only women care about the toils of women? Could a male author not be interested in the lives of the women in the community about which they write?
Unfortunately, much of the world (not only men) still categorizes a number of issues as “women’s issues” because they feel that only women can be interested in issues that predominantly affect women. Of the numerous issues that are traditionally placed in this category, sexual and gender-based violence is one of the most firmly rooted. The question is not how do we get men interested in “women’s issues,” rather, how do we show that these are issues that affect us all?
As a Resident Advisor, I worked to develop skills to support survivors of sexual assault and to help them connect with resources, but I didn’t have opportunities to prevent the array of sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and sexual violence that is tragically common on American college campuses. My first meaningful experience working to prevent sexual violence came at the end of my sophomore year. I began working with a group of like-minded individuals to create a group that specialized in leading conversations about sexual violence with all-male groups—men’s sports teams, fraternities and male floors in residence halls. I once overheard this group being referred to as “The Consent Guys,” a title I almost prefer to the actual name of the organization (although, we had group members and facilitators with a variety of gender identities).
My time organizing, facilitating and participating in events for groups of all different genders allowed me to understand how a broad spectrum of college students thought about an issue that I had spent so much time thinking about in a bubble. The privilege of not being afraid for my own bodily autonomy required that I listen and learn from those who are afraid or have had experiences with such violations. This experience helped me develop listening, organizing and facilitation skills that allowed me to pursue education and outreach related to SGBV on a small scale.
After college, I was fortunate to find a position with Global Ministries—the joint witness of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). For the past year, through Global Ministries—I have worked as the Funding, International Relations, and Marketing Intern for the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services in Cairo, Egypt. Moving into an international development context, I had to change how I worked to address the issues about which I am passionate. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to work with teams implementing a number of initiatives that empowered women and girls in rural Egypt. As I worked with project managers and international partners I learned about a variety of models and approaches that have been used to empower women and girls around the world and to address SGBV.
This was my first experience assisting with such a large-scale advocacy effort. CEOSS worked with opinion makers, politicians, academics and religious leaders to change public perspective and create long-term change on a variety of topics they addressed. Learning about program design and implementation, models of international development, and public advocacy gave me an entire other set of skills to seek justice and transform the way people of all genders think about SGBV.
I am excited to be working with We Will Speak Out as it continues to provide resources, guidance and a hopeful future. I personally hope to continue to empower and impassion people to oppose SGBV around the world.