03/11/2014 05:41 pm ET Updated May 11, 2014

Bystanders No More

By Hon. Judy Harris Kluger and Ted Bunch, Co-Founder of A Call to Men.

"When did you first realize that violence against women, and gender violence, is a man's problem?"

That's the opening question that moderator Pat Mitchell posed in the first moments of a special forum held on February 24 in New York to explore ways that men can be engaged in the movement to end gender violence. Entitled "Bystanders No More," this panel discussion was produced through a partnership between Sanctuary for Families, New York's leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking, and A Call to Men, a leading national violence prevention organization providing training and education for men, boys and communities.

The issue is urgently important, with one in three women worldwide experiencing some form of gender violence in their lifetimes. Increasingly, it's clear that the movement to end gender violence is not "just a women's issue." Violence against women and girls, and more broadly, gender violence -- including violence against men, boys and in the LGBTQ community -- is an issue that concerns every one of us. Bystanders No More attracted a standing-room only crowd of over 450 men and women -- demonstrating that when advocates and providers reach out about this issue, people are willing to engage.

What drives the prevalence of gender violence in our society? Sexism, homophobia and misogyny are deeply engrained in our social fabric -- through the media and sports culture, in our institutions, our classrooms and our homes. They shape societal norms and perpetuate gender stereotypes that provide us with implicit permission to perform or overlook acts of violence rooted in gender relations.

While the overwhelming majority of men are not violent, many remain silent in the face of gender violence. Changing this behavior is critical to the reduction of violence in relationships. Masculine stereotypes tell men, from a very young age, that they have a duty and a right to preserve and benefit from the patriarchy and the privileges that society has historically granted to males.

The "man box" that restricts men by reinforcing these traditional ideas of masculinity -- that men must be tough, powerful leaders who reject any semblance of vulnerability or openness -- also binds many men to a code of silence regarding the actions of other men.

The resulting propensity to violence -- and the silence -- are incredibly harmful, not only to women and society, but also to men themselves. Yes, men also suffer from the effects of gender violence. Three years after the brutal murder of his sister by her abuser, Paul, a Sanctuary client, still battles with the impact. Not only did her death leave Paul with deep emotional trauma, it also made him a parent -- with their mother gone, Paul is raising his sister's three children.

While gender violence rarely affects men so directly, many are indirectly impacted every day. "Our masculinity is constantly policed by other guys," said panelist Michael Kimmel, a state of being that leaves deep, long term effects on men's physical and mental health.

So how do we begin to create change?

We need to educate men, from a young age, about the harmful nature of the "man box." "We wake up in the morning and we're exposed to all of these hyper-violent images of men of all backgrounds," noted panelist Byron Hurt. "Once you begin to show [men] how this hyper-masculine persona does not benefit them in terms of health and wellness, then you get guys to start saying, 'I'm divesting from this whole patriarchy thing.'"

It is crucial that parents talk to their children, and educate them on how to view media and gender stereotypes with a critical eye.

We need to examine our own implicit acceptance of the social norms that drive gender violence. Whether you are a man or a woman, challenge yourself to be aware of how your inaction supports sexism and homophobia. Think about your language choices -- do you call women "girls"? How do you talk about individuals of other genders and sexual orientations? Consider the media you consume -- what sort of messages are being sent about gender?

We all need to become "bystanders no more." Talk to your colleagues, friends and family about these issues. Find allies -- others who are troubled by these harmful manifestations of gender stereotypes -- and join with them to speak out against gender violence and related behaviors. Sanctuary for Families has developed a toolkit with suggestions for how to start. You can also view the entirety of the Bystanders No More forum discussion online.

Gender violence is not someone else's problem. It is an issue that diminishes the quality of life, and potentially harms, all of us -- men, boys, women and girls. Every one of us has a role to play in ending gender violence.