One million men: one million promises


More than one-third of all women worldwide—35.6 per cent—will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, usually from a male partner. This was one of the results from the first comprehensive study of its kind by the World Health Organization, reported in UK newspaper The Guardian on June 20.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey 2005, less than half of women in Australia who experience domestic violence report the assault to police. Additionally, only 30 per cent (18,000) of the estimated 60,000 adult sexual assaults are reported to police each year.

Behind closed doors it is shielded and hidden and it only intensifies.

In Papua New Guinea, two-thirds of women reported being constantly exposed to domestic violence and about 50 per cent experienced sexual assaults. The rates in the provinces of Chimbu and Western Highlands were 97 per cent and 100 per cent respectively. Let me spell that out clearly: of the women surveyed in Western Highlands, ALL of them said they had experienced gender-based violence.

I am a woman. I have two daughters. I am horrified by these numbers. We need to talk about how real violence is tearing apart the lives of women and children every day. Remember, many of those children are young boys. Violence against women affects everyone. This can’t be labelled a women’s issue. Overwhelmingly gender-based violence is violence perpetrated by men to women. This is something men need to talk about too.
Some high profile men are speaking out publicly against gender-based violence. Sir Patrick Stewart (best known as a distinguished Shakespearean actor or a major player in the Star Trek universe—depending on your perspective on popular culture) survived a childhood where his father regularly beat his mother. He says: “The truth is that domestic violence and violence against women touch many of us. This violence is not a private matter. Behind closed doors it is shielded and hidden and it only intensifies. It is protected by silence—everyone’s silence. Violence against women is learned. Each of us must examine—and change—the ways in which our own behaviour might contribute to, enable, ignore or excuse all such forms of violence. I promise to do so, and to invite other men and allies to do the same.”

In the city of Dallas, Texas, Mayor Mike Rawlings recently made the following public announcement: “Make no mistake: men’s violence against women is a men’s issue —it’s our problem. And I’m here to say we’ve had enough of women being disrespected, and we won’t tolerate it any longer. It’s not only about not being violent; it’s about changing a culture that says ‘violence is okay’. I promise to stop laughing at jokes we’ve all participated in. I promise to speak out against domestic violence. And I’m asking men in Dallas—and everywhere—to do the same. Let’s make our homes, and our cities, safe for all.”

Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today. His books include The Politics of Manhood (1996) and The History of Men (2005). He writes: “Because it is—some—men who commit violence against women, it must be men who change. By this we mean not only those men who use violence in their relationships. We also mean the majority of us who have remained silent. Men dominate parliaments, pulpits and police forces. When we are silent, we allow violence to continue. Men today support equality not only because we know it is fair and right, but because it will enable the women in our lives to be safer and to exercise their power—and because it will inspire us to be better fathers, friends and partners. Which means: we will all have better lives.”

The above quotes were taken from the One Million Men: One Million Promises campaign. The campaign is providing a way for men to publicly state what they will do to stop gender-based violence. On the website the promises made by ordinary men in many countries scroll through forming a wall of hope. The campaign provides the following guidelines that all of us can use to help stop gender-based violence in our communities.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I doing all I can to challenge inequality in my family, classroom, office, sports team, church or group of friends? 
  • Can I start sharing chores and responsibilities with my sisters? 
  • Will I call out friends (or online commenters) who disrespect women? 
  • Does my company need anti-sexual harassment/discrimination training? 
  • How can I safely interrupt the violent argument I overhear in my building or witness on the train or bus? 
  • How can I be a role model for younger boys? 
  • What action can I take, just in the world I inhabit and influence? 
  • How can I be accountable?

During June I spent some time in Papua New Guinea, working with ADRA on its strategic planning. Following a week of intense discussion and prayer about the vision and key areas for ADRA’s projects in PNG over the next five years, staff wrote the following vision statement: “For the five years between 2013 until 2018 our vision is to be a committed and empowered team of professionals, providing quality services characterised by innovative programming, gender sensitivity and sustainable relationships with partners.”

In response to the frightening reality of gender-based violence in PNG, ADRA has chosen not to regulate gender issues to be dealt with by a women’s program. Instead ADRA PNG has placed gender sensitivity right up there in its organisational vision, to be included in all its projects with communities. This vision is endorsed by the mostly male ADRA PNG Board, and endorsed by all the leadership of ADRA PNG—male and female.

Jackson Katz is an educator, author, filmmaker and social theorist who has long been recognised as one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists. He recently made a stirring speech concerning men’s involvement in stopping gender-based violence. I watched this speech with some ADRA PNG staff during a break in the planning sessions. He made the following call: “We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them.”




Michelle Abel is an international community development consultant based in Sydney. She is currently working on projects in Papua New Guinea and Rwanda. She previously lived in Mongolia and Papua New Guinea, where she worked for ADRA.