In the early days of the modern feminist movement in the 1970s, we used to make the case for women by reminding everyone that "women hold up half the sky" -- and therefore must have equal rights. Decades later, and with so much accomplished and so much more to do to advance justice and end violence against women worldwide, I am proud to be able to write that more men are stepping up and joining with women to "hold up half the sky," and ensure dignity and equality for women everywhere.
In the past week alone, I have been deeply moved by two men I know, both of whom believe in women, hate the violence perpetrated against them and are doing something about it. One is Ben Horowitz, the highly respected Silicon Valley investor, and the other is Imam Demba Diawara, a village chief in Senegal, whom I visited last week in his community, 90 minutes from Dakar.
Ben, an entrepreneurial genius, mentsh and friend, is a longtime supporter of American Jewish World Service. He just shared the truly amazing news that he will donate the proceeds from his new book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, to AJWS, to support our work to promote women's rights and end violence against them throughout the world.
In a revelatory blog post announcing his gift, Ben explains why he supports AJWS's work to end violence against women. He views the current fight for women as a cause as morally significant as the 19th-century movement to end slavery in the United States, which was led by a few people to overcome great odds:
... the most incredible thing about slavery was how it ended. An institution that was embedded into human culture, endorsed by the Bible, promoted by the Qur'an, pervasive in society, and embedded in the global economy was taken on and defeated by a movement started by a tiny number of people. These brave souls had no Twitter or Facebook. They had no Internet or telephones or automobiles, but they organized people across the world and largely stopped slavery globally.
After understanding how slavery ended, I promised myself that if something like that ever happened in my time, I would be part of the group who tried to stop it.
Slavery has been weighing on my mind, too, just having visited Gorée Island in Senegal -- one of the main trading ports from which slaves were shipped to the Americas. As Ben's blog demonstrates, he is among the ranks of men who recognize that the struggle for women's rights is not just a women's issue, but a human issue -- and one which men must step up and join with women in this fight. He understands that overcoming violence, discrimination and oppression of women and girls is everyone's responsibility, just as it was to end slavery.
Other men I know around the world who come from very different backgrounds feel the deeply moral commitment Ben feels. In Senegal last week, I had the privilege of spending time with Demba Diawara, a village chief and highly respected religious leader whom I first met 12 years ago. He is known worldwide as a prominent male leader of the movement to end female genital cutting in Africa. When renowned activist Molly Melching of Tostan, a longtime AJWS grantee, visited his community, Demba heard women speak out for the first time about the trauma they and their daughters faced from their experience with genital cutting. He cried when he understood the suffering that had been inflicted for generations -- and then he reached out to the leaders of nearly 400 villages across Senegal, asking them to commit to stopping the cutting of women's bodies.
Ben, a digital person, has put the word out through the blogosphere. Demba, who lives in a poor village, spread the word slowly by traversing dusty roads. Their message is the same, and their leadership is needed to win this struggle.
As I know from decades of work in the movements for civil and women's rights, leaders of every background are crucial. We need more men around the world to take this issue on as their issue, and to speak and act publicly to end violence against women. We need more men -- more mentshes like Ben and spiritual leaders like Demba. I look forward to the day when we'll all hold up the sky with and for women and celebrate the cessation of centuries of violence against them everywhere.
Ruth Messinger is president of American Jewish World Service, the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization.