oices of men and women committed to ending gender-based violence filled the Boss Room of the Church Center of the United Nations in New York last night to consider the role of men of faith in the struggle.
“It was very exciting sitting on this panel and discussing these issues because I was able to listen to stories and learn from my colleagues on the panel,” said the Rev. Fr. Michael Sie, a member of Interfaith Technical Working Group and Advisor for Episcopal Church of Liberia Relief and Development Gender Based Violence Program. “The next step now is to go back home and implement some of the things that I have learned to help raise a new generation of future leaders and advocates who will join us in the fight for change. This change will bring about gender equity and will encourage those who are in the minority to come on board, to hold hands and partake in a dialogue that promotes change for a brighter future that embraces gender equity.”
Nearly 90 people gathered to listen during the 60th UN Commission on the Status of Women parallel event, titled “Engaging Men of Faith to be Champions in the Fight to End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence,” co-hosted by the We Will Speak Out US coalition and Episcopal Relief & Development.
Sexual and gender-based violence is a global pandemic, but faith communities and their predominantly male leaders have remained relatively silent on this issue. Commonly perceived to be a women’s issue, SGBV impacts women and men alike.
“Men must be a part of the solution if we are to end SGBV,” the Rev. Amy Gopp said. Gopp is Co-Chair of the We Will Speak Out coalition and Vice President of External Relations for IMA World Health, which is the host organization of the We Will Speak Out US coalition.
The event began with a welcome and introduction from Kirsten Laursen Muth, International Programs Special Advisor at WWSO member Episcopal Relief & Development, who talked about the coalition before introducing Jimmie Briggs, the founding executive director of Man Up Campaign and moderator for the event.
The panel was made up of a male pastor from Liberia, an advocate from Harlem, N.Y., and a female pastor from Burundi. Although their experiences and challenges are different, they are all vocal advocates in their communities and share the passion of being champions in the fight to end sexual and gender-based violence. The event was organized as an interactive discussion with the panelists and was then opened up to the audience.
Rev. Sie emphasized the need “to live what we preach and help people understand that gender-based violence is everyone’s business and we need to embrace each other to fight for change.”
Fellow panelist Quentin Walcott, Co-Executive Director of CONNECT, New York City, agreed.
“We can’t just talk about it; we have to be about it,” Walcott said. “We have to do the work ourselves to then create the atmosphere of bringing someone to the table. In the absence of equality and equity, there must be accountability and that marginalized person needs to define what it looks like.”
Walcott talked about the need for consistency, the importance of going to where young people are —whether it be a basketball court or a corner store—and the importance of inclusion of marginalized people and creating spaces for dialogue.
The panelists, who fielded many questions from the audience, also spoke of the need to look at the issue of trauma and the damage it does in different spaces. Addressing trauma and identifying it, discussing it, responding to it and preventing it is key to being able to hold on to and maintain momentum in this struggle on behalf of the rights of women and girls.
“It was great to see that men in other communities are very much ahead in fighting gender-based violence,” said the Rev. Jeanne Ndimubakunzi, coordinator of the Fight Against Gender Violence of the Anglican Church of Burundi. “GBV has been considered as women’s issue and now we see that men are joining in and helping us to talk about it, to challenge other men, and also to challenge traditions, norms and behaviors that are not helping women to speak out about what they are feeling, this problem and for victims. GBV is a problem that affects the whole community, men as well as women and children.”
She shared her experiences as a pastor and how men are more receptive to her message on gender-based violence because she represents the church. She also talked about the need to teach women how to treat other women.
“If we are not only to respond to violence against women and girls but also to prevent it, men and boys must be a part of the shared journey to find solutions to end GBV,” Gopp said. “Our panel featured those engaged in the daily work of fighting GBV in the contexts of Burundi, Liberia and New York City. We were all informed and inspired to work with men and boys in new and bolder ways.”
Video highlights from CSW60 – Engaging Men in the Fight to End SGBV
Following the CSW60 parallel event on Monday night, Episcopal Relief & Development hosted the panelists in a second discussion on Tuesday, March 15 that was moderated by Muth. Take a look at our Storify of both events.