I’ve never been one for activist groups. I remember sophomore year in high school a teacher horrified and enraged all of my friends and I at the atrocities being committed in Darfur. Under the idea we could actually end it, (yes we did actually believe we could,) we began holding awareness meetings, which turned into a club, which turned into bake sales and t-shirt sales, which then turned into benefit concerts and more. Eventually though, we all met a reality that no matter what we did, there was some other obstacle we had to climb, a constant up-hill battle that seemed to not only get steeper but more slippery as we ascended. The club eventually dissolved the following year after we lost our hope and drive in our impact.
Most recently I came across several male activist organizations that advocate stopping sexual assault of women and sexual discrimination in general. While I knew many activist groups against rape existed, I didn’t know of ones that were focused on men’s roles and reforming men. Not only did the majority of these explain the depth of injustices our patriarchal society have caused, but also the breadth in men’s ability to change the world around him for the benefit of those oppressed by the patriarchy.
One in particular was NOMAS, or the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, which recognized “women’s oppression, oppression of gays, homophobia, and men’s numerous sex role burdens and wounds are all part of the institution of patriarchy,” and works to promote “a perspective that is pro-feminist, gay affirmative, anti-racist, dedicated to enhancing men’s lives, and committed to justice on a broad range of social issues including class, age, religion, and physical abilities.” By advocating for genuine lifestyle changes of typical patriarchal roles, NOMAS hopes to enhance men’s lives through the advancement of oppressed minorities around them.
Another similar site was A Call to Men, which “works to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.” The highly accessible site focuses on educating men on subjects like domestic & sexual violence and social constrains of a patriarchal society, in the hope of changing behavior, thoughts and ideas on what’s defined as “manliness” and “manhood.” It then goes a step further by offering tools and material to empower people to engage with their families and communities about breaking the cycle of violence. Then again it takes another step by offering programs, presentations and training workshops across the country to “educate boys and men to shift social and cultural norms that define manhood.”
Among all the blogs and websites, several testimonies cropped up that gave a unique personal side to the effort. One in particular was of Mwasapi Kihongosi. Mwasapi, a 24-year-old Tanzanian man, first learned of the wide-spread presence of violence against women and girls in the world, and particularly in Africa, while conducting research for the UN’s UNiTE campaign t-shirt design contest. This sparked a conversation with his mother who he discovered was a victim of domestic violence.
“My mother told me she was treated badly by her new family, with whom she grew up after her own mother passed away. Stories of how she had to skip school, was beaten without any apparent reason, was not given a chance to complete her education after primary school although she was such a good student. Stories of how she was deemed to stay at home and carry out domestic chores instead. And I wondered why I could not see that happening to my younger sister right now? Then I realized that my family has been blessed with incessant love, respect and understanding. Although my mother went through tough times, she did not take it out on our family but made sure she broke the cycle of violence she had witnessed herself.”
With a vision in mind Mwasapi went on to win the design contest and adopt a life of activism. In November he led a “Caravan for Change,” a bus of he and 25 other activists who toured five different regions of Tanzania to raise awareness and speak out against violence against women.
“This experience meant a great deal to me, as I really felt the sense of responsibility to further mobilize my peers and tackle violence against women and girls in my own country. Through this involvement, I learned a lot and decided to continue to combat this pervasive violation of women’s integrity, dignity and worthiness. […]I hope that one day my children will be able to grow up in a world without violence against women and young girls.”
It’s hard to think in a world of 7 billion people, one voice, your voice, can make a difference. It’s hard to believe that your efforts are benefiting anyone, and it’s even harder to trust in blind faith without any affirmation that your contribution is helping. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, a single grain of rice can tip the scale; one person can be the difference between success and failure. So I ask of you only what I now expect in myself, that you boldly take a stand and fight for what you believe in. Never lose hope that one day the violence will cease to exist, and be satisfied that your contribution, no matter how big or small, helped to bring that dream into a reality.
By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”