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Dear Harry Belafonte: Ending Violence Against Women Demands That Men Take Responsibility

Ending violence against women does not require any more platforms. It demands process, practice and active engagement by men.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/cinemafestival

 
 
 
 

"Men, who created violence against women, are the ones who should end violence against women. Let us use this century to be the century where we say we started the mission to end the violence and oppression of women." So said veteran humanitarian, activist and artist Harry Belafonte during his keynote speech at Phi Beta Sigma's Centennial Founders’ Day Gala Saturday night in Washington, D.C.

I agree with Harry Belafonte: men can play a crucial role in ending violence against women. The mission to end violence against and oppression of women was started by women in the same parts of the world that Mr. Belafonte cited as inspiration — the Congo, South Africa, as well as across the United States. Mr. Belafonte cited ongoing issues in these places as inspiration for his new non-profit. A 2008 Washington Post piece written by DeNeen Brown reported on the culture of war and the cycle of sexual violence in Northern Uganda. Brown also wrote a 2004 piece on violence in Haiti . Women-led movements have been working, building and fighting for years and years and years to end these violences. So, what Mr. Belafonte and his organization would be doing is joining a movement that was established by women and continues to be moved and run predominantly by women.

I point that out not because I am interested in creating the kinds of gender wars about "who did what" in terms of the work of ending violence against women, but because Mr. Belafonte is a man who respects history. And, as one who honors history in taking on a mission of this size, it is important to note that he stands on the shoulders of women and stands beside a growing number of men and organizations engaged in this fight. To be sure, the role of men in ending violence against women is crucial. It is major, and it matters.

Mr. Belafonte was being inducted as an honorary member of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, one of the largest men’s organizations in the world. He has a long history of activism — national and global — and his human rights record is powerful, personal and global. As a part of his speech on Saturday, he also remarked: "My contribution as a new member of the fraternity is to sucker all of you into coming with me and man up and stand up. When the time comes, we will be in touch and you will be informed to join us in this movement in the 21st century." Mr. Belafone's new non-profit, Sankofa & Justice Equity Fund, is a social justice organization that utilizes the power of culture and celebrity in partnership with activism. It is a space for artists to contribute their talents to build awareness and confront the issues that negatively impact marginalized communities. Mr. Belafonte is part of the American Civil Liberties Union Ambassador Project , which harnesses the power of celebrity by tying influential creative artists in film, television, music and comedy with public education and advocacy for key ACLU issues.

In advocating for men to end violence against women, Mr. Belafonte walks in the company of other black men like Jimmie Briggs of MANup INC.; Tony Porter of "A Call to Men"; Quentin Walcott of CONNECT; and award-winning filmmaker and gender justice activist Byron Hurt, to name just some here in New York City.

The work of ending violence against women by boys and men, of course, already has many inspirational and powerful women. At 2013’s Black Girls Rock, a musical celebration of girls and women of color across the worlds of activism and art, Chicago-based activist Ameena Matthews was honored as a Violence Interrupter , a process that literally interrupts the steps that lead to the acts of violence that transform lives, for example. There are myriad efforts by women and men across these United States and globally working and fighting to end violence against women. That space is open for more, but, to be clear, it is not empty.