The Massachusetts White Ribbon campaign kicks off in the month of March. The campaign was created by a handful of Canadian men in 1991 on the second anniversary of one man’s massacre of 14 women in Montreal at the École Polytechnique.
This global campaign is now the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, as well as to promote gender equity, healthy relationships, and a new vision of masculinity. It is active in over 60 countries, asking men to “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”
I serve on the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center board of directors, and one of my fellow board members recently wrote a powerful essay that included these remarks:
“Since one in four American women experience violence in an intimate relationship during their lives, we all have mothers, sisters, daughters or friends who comprise that statistic, but many of them hide it well. It does not just happen to “other people” or certain kinds of people. It is happening now or has happened or will happen to loved ones that we all know well.”
As an educator, I feel strongly about the role education plays in developing young people who will stand up and challenge cultures and systems that embrace violence. In fact, it is fair to say that when distilled to its essential core, the purpose of education is to develop compassionate, informed and thoughtful individuals with the strength of character to make positive change in the world. While the prevalence of violence in so much of our culture is disheartening, young people remain a promise for a brighter future.
We must not, however, lay the responsibility for greater activism and equity solely at the feet of our children. If we are to break the cycle of violence against women, the burden of responsibility falls upon today’s adults, and especially upon men, to model healthy relationships and attitudes so that our children will have a positive path to follow. If we demonstrate the courage to speak out, to stand and be counted as citizens committed to the dignity and safety of all people, then we earn the prerogative to expect the same from our children.
Violence against women is an epidemic. A striking statistic to ponder: Between 2001 and 2012, 6,488 US military personnel have given their lives in battle, while in that same period 11,766 women have been lost to domestic violence.
While this statistic is somber, it stands as clear motivation for today’s adults and children to commit themselves to act unapologetically and speak up in the face of such atrocities.
I invite you to join me in this effort to end violence against women and girls and take the Massachusetts White Ribbon Day pledge: “From this day forward, I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women and girls.”
You can do so by joining me at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center’s seventh annual White Ribbon Breakfast on March 26 from 7:30 to 9:15 a.m. at the Black Swan Country Club in Georgetown to hear directly from local students who participate in our Youth Empowerment Services (YES).
These programs educate, engage and encourage dialogue about the issues of bullying, abuse and violence, as well as how we can band together to transform the negative culture that normalizes domestic violence and sexual abuse. I hope that you will consider joining us so that we can make a stand together. Visit www.jeannegeigercrisiscenter.org for more details on how to participate.
Andy Willemsen is director of River Valley Charter School in Newburyport and a member of the board of directors for the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center.