The silence of our friends

Last week, nearly 100 men in Niagara attended the Coalition to End Violence Against Women’s (CEVAW) 101 Men event, featuring Jackson Katz and his Mentors in Violence Prevent (MVP) training. Since that day, I have read a few tweets, a Facebook post or two, and a newspaper column about how interesting and important the conference was; about men needing to act; about men needing to treat violence against women as a men’s issue to join in the fight to stop it.

So far, and – to be fair, it’s just five days later – I have neither heard nor read anything about what specific action will be taken; what specific action men who attended the day’s workshops will engage in.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

You see, whilst Jackson Katz did note that everyone’s lives (not just women and girls) have dramatically improved because of women’s leadership and advocacy in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault, he also noted that – for numerous reasons – gender violence should be framed as a men’s issue, rather than a women’s issue.

Men have the power to stop other men from engaging in gender violence.

Now, I know that all of the men I know who attended the 101 Men conference are good guys, decent guys who would never harass, hit, beat, assault, or rape a woman or girl. I know that. What I don’t know, though, is how willing they are to step up, potentially put their masculinity up for judgement by other men, and take concrete steps to help protect not only their mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters, but also their fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, and grandsons.

“I know the commitment is in this room. The question is if the commitment is in that room.” – Jackson Katz during his lunchtime address to a roomful of women, referring to the men in the workshops.

Maybe more troubling than so far hearing no discussion about what actions will be taken by men in our community to end gender violence is that of the 108 men who are politicians in Niagara (municipal, regional, provincial, and federal), only three attended the full conference. Less than 3% percent of our men in political leadership positions took the time and had the benefit of participating in the workshops and discussions with other men in business, education, non-profit, and other leadership positions about what can be done to end gender violence.

To make this perfectly clear, it was the 101 Men conference. Our male political leaders alone could have filled those conference rooms. But they didn’t.

In a region that is already ranked 19th in a list of the 25 Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada in 2016, it is imperative that our men start standing up and helping us work toward economic, security, and leadership equality. One small way to do that is to make the time to attend something like 101 Men and learn more about how men can help to end gender violence.

Over the next week or two, I am hoping to hear and learn more from the men who attended the conference about what actions they will be taking.

Just as we see and hear your actions and words loud and clear, we also hear your silence.