The Elders

Opinion
,

Let us measure up as men

“I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Desmond Tutu argues that child marriage is a form of violence. Writing for the Skoll World Forum and CNN, he urges men and boys to challenge harmful traditions and protect the rights of girls and women.

On 25 November, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is deeply saddening, though perhaps not shocking, to learn that around 70 percent of all women experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime. Despite the progress we have made, this world remains a cruel and arbitrary one for too many women and girls.

Do not be fooled, however: this is not some so-called “women’s issue”. After all, we know that more often than not, the violence suffered by women is inflicted by the men they share their lives with – their fathers, husbands, intimate partners. If the majority of women in this world have suffered at the hands of their men, how many millions of men must have hurt and abused women? How many millions of men have stood by and let it happen?

If men overwhelmingly brutalise women, then men are overwhelmingly brutal.

This is something I cannot accept. This is why I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men .

An unspoken kind of violence

I am an Elder now, and have witnessed many forms of brutality. There is the direct, physical violence often committed in anger or in war. But there are other forms of violence, too – more complex, more insidious, more unspoken – that we must not overlook.

In Ethiopia, last year, my fellow Elders and I met a woman called Himanot who was forced to get married when she was 13 years old. She was not physically forced or dragged to her wedding in chains – in fact, she wanted to run away. But her mother told her that she would kill herself if Himanot ran away. So what choice did the child have?

Inflicting this kind of emotional pressure is a form of violence against women. Taking away a girl’s education, a girl’s right to develop in her own time, to fulfill her potential: yes, this is violence. Yet, I do not judge Himanot’s mother too harshly. Most parents who marry off their daughters young have their best interests at heart – not many of them would willingly have their child face the shame and stigma of defying “tradition”.

So if this is violence, who is the perpetrator? If not the family, is it the community? Where does the responsibility end? The statistics tell us that 70 percent of women suffer violence at some point in their lives. But I suspect this figure would be higher if we included all the emotional, structural violence that for many girls and women forms the warp and weft of everyday life.

Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Gro Harlem Brundtland speaking with a woman who was married as a child, in Ethiopia

Desmond Tutu and fellow Elders Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland,
speaking with Himanot Yehewala who was married as a child, in Ethiopia

Child marriage is violence against women

When it comes to violence against women, there are few practices as harmful, or as widespread, as early marriage. It is not just the intense emotional and social pressure that the young bride is put under. Fundamentally, it violates a girl’s right to determine her own future – how can a child give her “consent” to marry when she is just 10 or 12 years old?

In such an unequal union, we know that girls are far more vulnerable to physical violence, especially when they are married to older men. It is hard to insist on practising safe sex, leaving them more likely to contract HIV or become pregnant before they are ready. And early childbearing itself can be devastating to a girl’s body – across the entire developing world, childbirth is the number one cause of death for girls aged 15-19.

And despite all this, the practice is defended in the name of “tradition”. This is why my fellow Elder Ela Bhatt says, “Child marriage is violence that is happening with the consent of society.”

Of course, not all of society consents. There are a few courageous voices, growing louder and stronger every day , who are challenging the status quo. I have been privileged to meet some of those who are showing their true mettle, defying tradition to protect the rights of girls and women in their communities.

Teenage boys challenging tradition in India

The state of Bihar has one of the highest rates of child marriage in India – 69 percent of girls are married before the age of 18. It is actually illegal in India to marry before the age of 18, for girls, or 21, for boys. But for most young people there, the weight of family and community tradition overrides this relatively recent law.

When I travelled to Bihar with my fellow Elders earlier this year , a boy called Premnath told me how his father is pressuring him to find a wife who can help with the housework after his mother passed away last year. But Prem – just 18 years old – is resisting. He has pledged to delay marriage, and proudly showed us a book of similar pledges from other young people and their families.

Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt with young people participating in a campaign to stop child marriage in Bihar, India

Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt with young people participating in the Jagriti campaign
to stop child marriage in Bihar, India

Together with his peers in the “Jagriti” movement, both girls and boys, he is now mobilising young people all over Bihar to make the same commitment. They already had more than 21,000 signatures when we visited last year – a staggering achievement. It seems, in fact, that he and his peers are defying their own Elders! This takes some guts, and I have to salute them for it.

Men and boys: take a stand

I want to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by recognising the work of young men like Premnath. It is one thing to stop an individual act of violence, or perhaps a violent individual. But to take on a whole community, a whole tradition, and try to challenge something that has been harming girls for generations – that is courage.

Men have a lot to answer for, I cannot deny it. We have built institutions that oppress and harm women, and we justify our practices as “the way things are” or “the way things have always been”. Yet, as I always say, I am a prisoner of hope. I do believe that we men can help put a stop to these traditions. We can refuse to participate in them, and we can refuse to condone them. We can go further, and campaign against them.

It is not an easy task. But if an 18-year old boy in a patriarchal, traditional community like Prem’s can do it, I have faith that others can do it, too.

Videos Day of the Girl: giving girls a voice
 
On the Web
What does #childmarriage mean for girls? How can it end? http://t.co/mEi63hz6… watch this video via @GirlsNotBrides #IDG2013 #dayofthegirl
THIS FRIDAY we're also teaming up with @onegirlorg to host the screening of "Girl Rising" http://t.co/N8wf4Mty… #DayoftheGirl
Oct. 11 is the #DayOfTheGirl Honor a woman who has impacted your life by tweeting about her with tags #standup4girls and #dayofthegirl
Here's a great way to let people know about International #DayoftheGirl Child - send them an e-postcard: http://t.co/XXRktjU8… @Canada_swc
U.N.'s 2nd annual International Day of the Girl approaching http://t.co/x3ZExOxs… #idg2013 #dayofthegirl
70% of the world's poor is made up of #women and #girls. It doesn't have to be this way. #investingirls #education #dayofthegirl #endpoverty
Congratulations to all who support @planglobal, 1.5 million hands raised for girls' education! http://t.co/GY1B6kvI… #IDG2013 #dayofthegirl
“On #dayofthegirl, 33m girls are missing out on their right to education" http://t.co/0TmEtgAr…
Do you have the ROARing spirit? Join @katyperry to support all girls' right to education! WATCH: http://t.co/7MzDzL5O… #dayofthegirl
New Factsheet on New Launch of Public& Private Initiatives To Raise the Status of Girls from @StateDept http://t.co/h5F8xb8t… #DayoftheGirl
RT @warisara: Here are some pics of iconic monuments turned pink for the launch of #bcimagirl #dayofthegirl on #BBC Newsround http://t.c ...
The Forgotten Girls @independent Support the Fight Against Forced Marriage @PlanUK International #DayoftheGirl http://t.co/8RGP0vfY…
"Development matters most to girls and women" says Justine Greening on #DayoftheGirl: http://t.co/wIYwIh2Q… #endchildmarriage @DFID_UK
On October 11th, we are celebrating #DayoftheGirl ! Find out why #DayoftheGirl was created http://t.co/Mf2kOqvz…
Give girls a chance to postpone motherhood until they are women #endchildmarriage http://t.co/Ydljae77… @ICRW #DayoftheGirl @10x10act
Of the world's 130 million out-of-school youth, 70% are girls. Oct 11 is the #DayoftheGirl - http://t.co/Dag92UHs…
Want to learn more about the first #dayofthegirl? Read the UN General Assembly Resolution here! http://t.co/4A0iitei…
RT @melindagates: Today is the first #DayoftheGirl, and it's about time. We see more urgent reasons every day. Now, anyone can help: htt ...
International Day of the Girl (11 Oct) - Resources http://t.co/rZ0lI3LA… #dayofthegirl
2500 girls become #childbrides every single day http://t.co/4Lfu8l6G… Help us spread the word #endchildmarriage @CARE #DayoftheGirl
Did you know 41% of women aged 20-49 today were married before 18? http://t.co/7sszJr1F… On #DayoftheGirl let's act to #endchildmarriage
Oct 11 is #dayofthegirl: + girls' rights and end #gender bias. PRB says #FP and #GenderEquality go hand-in-hand: http://t.co/SkTsS2rd…
Raise your hands for #dayofthegirl supporting girls' right to a quality education http://t.co/bem3Vl6Q…
How are you celebrating International #DayoftheGirl? Here's a list of ways YOU can get involved! http://t.co/W0v4RoOt…
@HungerProject "When women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits." #DayoftheGirl http://t.co/2hVFqwgc…
Why I am so delighted to be involved in first ever International Day of the girl --> Because I'm a girl http://t.co/dvgkyWMC… #dayofthegirl
Investing in girls unleashes their incredible potential! Such a great cause. http://t.co/PwiwahfG… #DayOfTheGirl

Comments

Please read our moderation policy before commenting

  • All comments posted on www.theElders.org will be moderated before publication.
  • In making comments, please be constructive and treat others with respect.
  • Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, inflammatory statements or accusations, personal attacks, discriminatory or abusive language will not be posted.
  • Links: Please do link to other relevant sites and articles to enrich the debate. Please do not link to inappropriate or offensive websites or use signature links in your post.
The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders.

We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.

Visit the archive to see our past newsletters.

The Elders website uses cookies. Click here to accept the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy when visiting this site.