The UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, referred to as the White Ribbon Day is celebrated on Nov. 25 every year. The universal White Ribbon campaign may not be very popular in some countries, however, nowadays it has become more and more visible in many countries around the world.
In Australia earlier this month — between the April 5-14 National Youth week — White Ribbon Australia celebrated youth activism by encouraging more young Australians to become active within their communities. White Ribbon Australia has initiated a unique primary prevention program to strengthen the culture of respectful relationships through Australian schools. The program calls on all young men to influence change. It targets primary and secondary school principals and senior teachers, and also includes universities and workplaces.
Three men launched the White Ribbon campaign 20 years ago in Canada. It has now spread to more than 60 countries. Millions of men and boys, from Brazil to Pakistan, China to England, Namibia to Russia, Cambodia to the United States, Chile to Japan, Norway to Argentina have taken part in White Ribbon ceremonies, and meetings to celebrate the day.
Men have finally joined women activists around the world in speaking out and challenging negative traditions and the people who support its preservation. Together they are calling for better laws to end the violence against millions of women who are physically and sexually abused, battered by husbands, trafficked into prostitution, and sexually harassed in workplaces and on the street each day. The universal campaign calls for the protection of millions of women who are living in daily fear.
The majority of men are nonviolent, but they need to be encouraged to speak out against the violence against women. Organizations such as the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia have made progress in this area, however, Australian women like many women in the Arab countries feel more can be done to put an end to the phenomena that are still prevalent. Changing and shaping attitudes and behaviors of young people are critical to preventing violence against women in the future. More should be done to encourage all men to join the campaign against violence. It is important to expand men’s knowledge and skills in promoting and sustaining respectful relationships.
Education is an important means that can help people develop and maintain nonviolent and respectful relationships. Boys should be educated at a young age to respect women. School and community centers need to support and foster structural and individual change. School-based approaches that help young people identify inappropriate sexual or violent behavior and shape their expectations and capacity to build and sustain respectful relationships, are promising examples of primary prevention that have been effective internationally. Children learn their attitudes and behavior from those around them. It has been proven that positive adult roles could encourage young people to develop positive respectful relationships.
Discrimination and violence against women and their children continues to be a topic of global concern. Women in global leadership positions have taken the lead to support more advanced national plans to address the problem. Many government departments across the world are working in unity to end the violence against women and to guarantee a safe community for women and their children. There is a universal focus on prevention, holding perpetrators accountable and changing attitudes and behaviors that tolerate violence against women and reducing economic, social and political inequalities between men and women.
The international White Ribbon campaign should gain more prominence in Arab countries to change the negative attitudes towards women. More Arab men should be involved in addressing the discrimination and violence against women in the Arab world.
In Saudi Arabia today King Abdullah has taken a lead role in supporting women. He has defied extremists who discriminate against women and those who are insensitive to the violence committed against them. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has championed the role of women and supported many programs to protect women’s rights and status in society. Some prominent lawyers and Shoura Council members, like Dr. Mohammed Zulfa, are beginning to speak out against the negative attitudes against women that encourage the violence against them. Men in media such as Abdullah Al-Alami and Turki Aldakheel continue to expose the perpetrators who get away with minimum or no punishments for their violent behavior. However, we need more of these examples to reduce the violence against women in our society.
The Ministry of Education could also play a more effective role by adopting a Saudi White Ribbon campaign to target schools, communities, sporting groups and the media, to educate the masses and create a safer environment for women.
A Saudi White Ribbon campaign is the need of the hour. It is time we call on all men in this country to support King Abdullah’s efforts in changing the negative attitude towards women. Those in prominent positions need to be more vocal in addressing the prevalent aggressive behavior and show more courage by standing up against those who show no respect for women. We need more role models among men who can influence change and condemn aggressive individual attitudes against women in Saudi Arabia today.
— Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.