Safe Spaces for Learning: Engaging Men and Boys

May 7, 2014

NEW VIDEO: Watch Now!

As a long-time educator, I’m proud to be working with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) on a new initiative to help teachers and teachers unions play a central role in ending the violence that is hindering the educational attainment of girls.



In countries around the world, men’s violence against women and girls is happening at staggering levels, including sexual and physical assault, sexual harassment (Eve teasing), psychological abuse, and murder, with most cases going unreported. This (along with gender-based violence against boys which is usually committed by other boys) is a serious education issue. For me, men and boys can play a big role in bringing the violence to an end.

That violence touches the lives of our students. When girls and boys witness this violence at home, or directly experience it against themselves, it has a negative impact not only on their self-confidence but also on their brain development and thus their capacity to learn. If a girl is worried about the sexual harassment or other violence she is experiencing at school, on the way home or at home, her attention simply won’t be on her studies.

In most countries, the majority of men and boys do not commit these acts of violence. But there are two problems: The first is that, until recently, the majority of good men have remained silent. We haven’t had the courage to speak out, to tell our fathers and sons, our friends and students, our workmates and leaders that all forms of violence against women and girls are unacceptable.

The second problem is that a significant minority of men (and, in some countries, a majority of men) are still committing these acts of violence. Sadly, this includes some male teachers who think it is their right to demand sexual favors from their students or to touch their students, usually girls but sometimes boys, in inappropriate ways.

The good news is that when men work in partnership with our women colleagues, women’s organizations, community organizations, religious institutions, the government and non-governmental organizations, we can actually bring most of this violence to an end.

I’m part of the loose network of White Ribbon Campaigns around the world. The campaign focuses on raising awareness and mobilizing men’s and boy’s voices to speak out against this violence, through public education and activities in communities, schools, workplaces, and places of worship. When three of us started it in Canada in 1991, we had no idea that our volunteer effort would blossom into campaigns in seventy or eighty countries. (For a roundup of some White Ribbon activities around the world, visit my web site by clicking here.)

The White Ribbon Campaign along with many of its partner organizations in the MenEngage Alliance, also work with teachers who are playing a critical role in engaging boys and men to promote gender equality and end gender-based violence in many countries.

The critical role that teachers can play stems from many things: It’s not only that that teachers have a central role in the classroom and school where teachers are role models, either good or bad, for their students. But it’s more than that. Teachers are seen as leaders in the community. Our voices can have a huge impact on the ideas and actions of parents and community leaders.

Certainly, all teachers have an important role to play. But for me, it’s critical that male teachers speak out. That’s because boys and other men look to define what it means to be a man. It’s critical that when we know that abuse is going on, we help stop it.

All this is why UNGEI is working with partners to engage teachers and teacher unions in preventing and ending school-related gender based violence. In the coming months, I’ll be working with them to develop resources that can be adapted and modified to give male educators the knowledge, encouragement and tools they need to play a positive role in ending this violence.

UNGEI is kick-starting this initiative with a five minute video where I talk about some of the issues. It’s available here for viewing or to download so you can show it at a conference or a staff meeting. Or simply to send the link to your colleagues and friends.

I hope you’ll get in touch with my colleagues at UNGEI to see how your organization and school can get involved.

Michael Kaufman is the co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. He is a senior fellow with Promundo. And he is the author of seven books. Twitter: @genderEQ

*This video was first previewed at the International Partners Meeting on School-related Gender-based Violence (Paris, France | 15-16 April 2014). A segment of it was also shown at the Education International Second World Conference: Women in Trade Unions and in Education (Dublin, Ireland | 7-9 April 2014).


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Michael Kaufman is the co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. He is a senior fellow with Promundo. And he is the ...

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