By Jimmie Briggs
Journalist and Founder of Man Up Campaign
As the founder of Man Up, a Women and Girls Lead campaign partner, Jimmie Briggs advocates for the personal responsibility men have when it comes to gender equality. Man Up strives to engage youth in a global movement to end gender-based violence and advance gender equality through programming and support of youth-led initiatives intended to transform communities, nations and the world.
When my daughter was born, I was fully immersed in being a war journalist. Assuming I would be travelling for most of her childhood, I sat down and wrote her a letter. One I’ve been re-writing periodically for the last 11 years, which she has yet to see. I told my daughter, “I go because these experiences must be recognized, must be honoured.” On one of my first trips to Northern Uganda, an elderly man told me that if a dying person tells you their story and it’s not passed on, you would be haunted. Well, I did pass on the stories I heard, but the knowledge and the awareness remained to haunt me.
As a journalist, I wanted to make the world a better place not just for my daughter, but for all the sons and daughters in the world. As a father, as a man, as a human citizen of the world, I know we all must hold to the belief that a world can exist where I would want to live, where men stand up with women and girls. It is with that faith that I would go and leave my family for long periods of time.
Without reaching out to and changing the lives of the youth, as well as men, achieving gender equality and preventing violence against women and girls may as well be an impossible goal. I am not an expert on violence against women, or even women in general for that matter, but as a former journalist and a newly awakened advocate, I do know the absence of men and boys, as well as the missing component of youth ingenuity and passion, has been an impediment to lasting progress.
Individually, we likely do not see ourselves as part of the problem. We remain comforted in the ability to point fingers elsewhere. But as 19thcentury minister and poet Frank Crane once noted, “Responsibility is the thing people dread most of all. Yet, it is the one thing in the world that develops us, gives us manhood or womanhood.”
Being “good,” whatever that means, must not be defined by the things you don’t do, but by that which you do. The “good” person doesn’t stand by, or look the other way when an injustice is done, doesn’t condone misogynistic language such as “bitch” or “ho”, doesn’t define their manhood by the number of women with whom they can sleep, or how physically overpowering they can be, and doesn’t objectify women by secretly viewing them as “less than.” The individual who is good recognizes their strength in defending, supporting, and affirming, not for hurting.
Personally, through my work and focus on the lives of women and girls, I firmly believe we have a chance to create and affirm alternative masculinities, and possibly prevent violence as a whole-whether it’s child soldiers in the developing world, rape as a weapon of war, or urban violence here in America.
Let’s draw inspiration from the efforts of little boys and girls who marched towards high-pressure water hoses and police dogs in Montgomery, Birmingham without the assurance of safety or success. Take heart from the examples provided us from the youth who protested and affirmed their dignity, non-violently, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, when so many of their peers made the easy choice of picking up arms after Bloody Sunday and the countless confrontations which followed. And then there’s South Africa, where far too many schoolchildren fell and died in 1960 during the Sharpeville massacre, then nearly a decade later in 1976 Soweto, under a repressive, racist regime. They were unarmed in the conventional sense, but emboldened by weapons no one could take away.
If we are to address the disparities and lingering tragedies afflicting and created by man, we must be willing to confront them head on. We must recognize that these are not issues tied to one gender, race, or ethnicity, but must rather be seen as human issues, dealt with by all.
Equality and the full empowerment of citizenship benefit us all.
To learn more about the Man Up Campaign, please click here.