A Few More Good Men

03/08/2013 09:00 am ET | Updated May 08, 2013

This March 8, as we celebrate International Women's Day, I sense that the world is reaching a long-overdue tipping point in how we recognize and respond to violence against women. In the past year alone, we have been stunned by the all too frequent attacks against women and girls, from the Taliban's assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the brave Pakistani girl who is an advocate for girls' education, to the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman from Delhi whose death sparked nation-wide protests and calls for reform. The fact that these attacks are galvanizing serious dialogue and action on the issues of violence against women is a testament to both the courage of the victims and to how pervasive such attacks are.

In fact, one-third of women around the world will be beaten, raped, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of their lifetime. Add to that the acts of violence that girls and women like Malala and the woman from New Delhi face from unknown attackers, and it is fairly obvious we are faced with one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time. While violence against women is certainly not a new phenomenon, it is finally gaining the global awareness needed to bring about serious action to end it.

This is not a problem without a solution. Much has already been done to assist women who are targets of such violence, from UN resolutions and national laws to building grassroots networks of support for survivors. But there is a piece that is still sorely missing from most of these efforts -- the voices of good men.

In Women for Women International's work over the past two decades, many of the women survivors of war we serve are also survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. And while our program helps them understand how they can take a stand to stop violence committed against them and other women, we realized that we were only tackling half of the problem. The men in the communities where we work also needed to hear the message that not only was violence against women wrong and a danger to the entire community, but that they could be part of the solution. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon explains, "Men must teach each other that real men do not violate or oppress women."

Over the past few years, we have piloted an outreach program to male leaders in the communities where we work to engage them as allies in our efforts to end violence against women. Through this Men's Leadership Program, we have worked with leaders in places that are among the most dangerous countries to be a woman, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. By opening a dialogue with them on the challenges women in their own communities face and helping them embrace their role as extraordinary agents of change and advocates for women's rights, we are tackling deeply-rooted norms and traditions that denigrate women's value and contributions to the family and society.

In the DRC, we have engaged security personnel, including soldiers, who are now systematically debriefing their units about gender issues. In Afghanistan, we have worked to raise awareness among mullahs in remote communities who now use their weekly sermons to speak about issues of women's rights. Sadullah Sarwari, an elder in Nangarhar province, told us that, "Now I know that under Islam, women also have rights, like men do -- rights that our prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, talked about. At first, I shared what I have learned among my male family members and soon began to talk about it at our local shuras and social gatherings. I even discussed what I had learned with fellow passengers on a long trip to another district in Nangarhar."

The world needs more men like Sadullah Sarwari, men who understand that violence against women is a terrible injustice, and that with the power of their voices they can challenge those who perpetrate it and end the culture of impunity. On this International Women's Day, I want to salute not only the women, but the many, many good men who live each day with such integrity. By your actions to stand up for and with women, no matter how big or small, you are making the world better and safer for all of us, and we thank you.

For more information, please visit www.womenforwomen.org