The Weather Outside Is Frightful
If you’ve flown JetBlue, you know that every passenger gets their own video screen. On March 5, as my flight into JFK began its descent, a nearby video feed showed a picture of a Delta plane that, just a few hours earlier, had skidded off the runway at nearby LaGuardia due to the day’s snowstorm. It was not a very comforting thought, but we landed with no problems, and we passengers gave the crew a hearty round of applause.
The weather actually played havoc with the International Conference on Masculinities, which my org Man Up Campaign was co-sponsoring with Stony Brook University and several other organizations. There were flight delays galore. All four international Man Up delegates to the conference from Africa and South Asia were delayed, one by nearly 24 hours.
Brothers in Arms
Our hotel (a small, old Howard Johnson) was near JFK, meaning our subway trip to the conference hotel in Manhattan (the historic Roosevelt Hotel) took an hour and a half each way. This meant that I ended up being a sort of host and guide to our four international delegates: my hotel roommate Thierry from Burundi, James from Uganda, Ghanshyam from India, and Qasir from Pakistan. It was Qasir’s second visit to the U.S., but the first for each of the other three. (A fifth delegate, also from Uganda and our only female delegate to this particular conference, could not make the trip because of visa issues.) For Thierry, it was also the first time he had ever seen snow!
None of these men actually work for Man Up Campaign; they all have other jobs. But they are all involved, in one way or another, in leading programs in their home countries which empower women and girls. Here’s a partial list of the initiatives that they help to lead:
? James, a husband with two children, leads a program to help young unwed mothers to gain access to the health care they need. These women often completely avoid prenatal care because hospital staff frequently shame and criticize them for getting pregnant. James has been connected with Man Up ever since the 2010 South Africa summit that launched the organization.
? Qasir, a husband from the historically disputed state of Kashmir, works to help kids get the nutrition they need, and girls to get access to education. He works in association with the organization started by Malala Yousafzai (the Pakistani teen – now Nobel Peace Prize winner – who survived a gunshot to the head by the Taliban for going to school).
? Thierry, also a husband with two kids of his own, helps village women to gain economic empowerment as a means to achieving greater respect and rights. Often, these women are viewed as property by their husbands and communities, so they and their children work the land and their husbands control all the income. Thierry was also a delegate to the 2010 summit, and helped last year to field test a World Bank-sponsored curriculum co-written by Man Up executive director Jimmie Briggs in central Africa.
? Ghanshyam, a newlywed of just over two weeks at the time of the conference, works to educate communities about the devastating effects of sex-selective abortions; an estimated 50-70 million girls and women have gone “missing” from Indian society over the last century because they were killed after they were discovered to be female, whether in utero or after birth. In some areas of India, there are about 1000 males for every 900 females.
These are good guys all around!
Dude, Where’s My NGO Headquarters?
First up for us was the conference, which featured an incredible number of sessions and workshops (detailed in the conference’s 40-page program). About 1000 researchers, writers, and activists from around the world were present, and I got to meet several male leaders in the fields of gender equality studies and advocacy that I’ve only previously interacted with online – Stony Brook’s Dr. Michael Kimmel, College Football Hall of Famer Don McPherson, and Dr. Michael Flood from Australia, for instance. Truth be told, I had never even met Jimmie and Man Up Campaign’s managing director Fred Sullivan in person before this trip, although I was very familiar with their voices after months of Skype and phone calls! The best part of the conference for me, though, was getting to know the Man Up guys from overseas.
We did deviate from the conference schedule at times. On one occasion, we broke away to meet a delegation of women at the U.S. State Department’s NYC mission, just across the street from the United Nations. These women, from Angola and Mozambique, are leaders in the movement for women’s rights in their home countries, and were in the U.S. at the invitation of the U.S. government. They had heard of Man Up Campaign during their several days here, and wanted to learn more about a men’s organization that advocates for women and girls. As our team communicated back and forth through two State Department translators, I showed them a picture of my daughters and talked about how my love for them is one of the main things that drives my activism. In return, I learned more about the issues women in sub-Saharan Africa face, especially that male control over women in their societies is so deeply rooted in their cultures.
A couple of days later, we met with another group of women from overseas, this time a group of activists from Palestine, Sudan, and other Arabic-speaking countries. We met in a small coffee shop near the U.N. because of its proximity to the starting point of the International Women’s Day March. Speaking through their translator, one of the first questions they asked us was, “Where is your organization headquartered? And why are we meeting in a cafe and not an office?” This group of women had apparently been meeting with other nonprofits and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations, what the rest of the world calls social justice nonprofits) in their respective offices. With Jimmie and Fred still en route, I had the chance to explain to them that Man Up is not like the International Red Crescent, which has staffers in many different places, but that Man Up has only a small handful of workers in the U.S. and equips and encourages many activists around the world via online means. It was a reminder of how blessed Man Up Campaign is, that we have so few core people running the organization, yet we have a global impact.
These experiences were quite meaningful and educational. But my major takeaway from this trip was yet to come.
Witness to History
There were many other highlights during my stay:
? Getting lost in the subway system
? Accompanying our Man Up international delegates on a quick jaunt past the Statue of Liberty, which they all really wanted to see
? Slipping on icy sidewalks
? Meeting up in person with other activist friends I had made over the Internet, including Julie Young of the YWCA of Brooklyn, and Elena Rossini from Paris, whose documentary The Illusionists you will hear about in the near future, and who happened to be in NYC for a screening of her film at Pace University
? Getting lost in the subway system again
? Meeting at our Man Up reception in Harlem our guest speakers, noted women’s activist Shelby Knox and actor and musician Penn Badgley
But there were three occasions that I felt like a witness to history. One was the march for women’s equality, sponsored primarily by the U.N. but also Man Up Campaign. Thousands of women and men, girls and boys, and even at least one dog, marched from the U.N. to Times Square. You can check out some of the pix by clicking on the thumbnails below this column.
A second occasion, in which I was a witness to the effects of past history, was our quick evening visit to the World Trade Center, which our international delegates also very much wanted to see. I had last visited there in 2004, before the current museum was built. I was very heavy-hearted as we neared the grounds, but when I saw in the large museum window a section of steel beams that had survived the collapse of the towers, I just lost it. I wept for quite awhile before I was able to rejoin the others. One of the security guards asked if I knew someone who died in the towers. I did not, but the feelings of pain and sadness are still quite strong, as they are for many other Americans.
A third occasion in which I felt like a witness to history took place at our Harlem reception. It was the culmination of many discussions among representatives of U.N. Women (the U.N.’s branch that focuses on women’s issues), Man Up, and Lions Quest International (part of the massive worldwide association of Lions Club chapters). All three organizations had come to an agreement on a framework that would see Man Up adapt our central African curriculum (mentioned above) for educating boys in India on how to treat women and girls as equals. Indian society is generally, as has often been documented, a very difficult place for women and girls in terms of sexual assault and harassment. It is very common.
But under the auspices of the U.N., Man Up and Lions Quest are attempting to help change that. Man Up will adapt the curriculum, and Lions Quest, with its numerous representatives in Lions Clubs across India, will teach it. At our Harlem reception, Lions Quest announced a $100,000 grant for this project, which we believe will be the largest gender equality education program ever undertaken, anywhere.
And that brings me to my biggest takeaway, or lesson learned, from the trip to NYC: teaching males to respect women and girls as equals begins at the earliest age possible. While working with grown men and teenagers is highly important, boys need to learn from the time they’re preschoolers that girls are not inferior to them. It’s critical that at that age, when boys and girls are equals in physical strength and speed, and when girls are typically more developed intellectually and emotionally than boys, to teach boys that girls’ talents and opinions and choices are just as important as their own. We need to start educating boys in age-appropriate ways when they’re young to respect girls and women physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Preventing violence against girls and women before it starts will be easier, and more effective, than trying to reform chauvinist and misogynist attitudes and behaviors later on in life.
That’s my big takeaway from the trip. What I’ll do with that lesson is something I’m still processing.
Back in Cali
Things have been quite active since my return to SoCal, and will continue to be:
? Participated in a roundtable discussion on parenting and education at public radio station KPCC’s studios
? Led the audience discussion following a screening of the acclaimed documentary on campus sexual assault, The Hunting Ground, at an art house theater in O.C.
? Met with the director for USC’s Center for Women and Men about ways Man Up can partner with the Center on initiatives and programs for reducing campus violence against women
? Spoke to Biola University students who are members of an egalitarian campus group called Thrive
? Met with a sportswriter based in NYC, and discussed ways that gender inequality frequently invades sports news headlines (in the form of domestic violence and sexual assault cases, for instance) and ways that women sports journalists often have to deal with sexism in their field
? Will attend a screening of the new documentary film The Mask You Live In, held by Biola’s Thrive group
? Will meet with a prof at Cal Poly Pomona who works on sexual assault awareness initiatives there, to explore ways Man Up can partner with the school’s efforts
? Will attend a Man Up co-sponsored evening with actor and activist Jessie Kahnweiler at USC. She may be best known for her short film, Meet My Rapist, and in her live performances she’s known for addressing the issue of sexual assault – one that is very personal for her – in a powerful, raw, moving, and yet at times, humorous way. I’ll also be talking a bit to the audience about Man Up.
? Will attend another Man Up co-sponsored event, the Center for Women and Men’s Denim Day at USC
Again, thank you so much for all your support! And to everyone advocating for women’s and girls’ rights everywhere, more power to ya!