Ambassador Verveer and Deputy Prime Minister Khupe on Engaging Men and Boys

July 25, 2012

MS. GIBSON: Let’s go to the other side of it. That’s the global power of women. But you must engage – correct me if I’m wrong – men and boys, that this is the piece that sometimes gets overlooked. It’s something at Women in the World we have become – it is now a permanent theme for us is engaging men and boys.

Melanne, I’d like to go to you first and talk to you about what the State Department is doing to engage men and boys.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Well, first of all, I love hearing about the global power for women that is getting organized more significantly. But the truth of the matter is the guys have most of the power and they are a big part of the solution to this problem. And fortunately, we have begun to spend more and more effort in bringing in the men and boys to help address an issue.

So many times in a room like this filled with women, this issue will come up. And inevitably, somebody will raise her hand and say, “Why are we discussing this with the women? We know what the problem is, but the men are the solution to this problem.” And I think we are increasingly recognizing that and focused on that in a variety of ways.

Some of those ways involve community awareness, where efforts are made to engage young men in the process of changing the behavioral patterns, that norm of, well, this is just what’s done, to really recognizing that it is not the right thing to do. And I, on subsequent trips to India, began to be followed by this group of young men who were very active and very proud of what they were doing, because they were engaged in their community, they were doing skits, they were bringing men together into this issue. And in the process, the women all said that they were much safer and things had changed dramatically, but the men said they felt proud of themselves and they felt that they were going to behave differently. They saw change in themselves.

I think also because of where the power lies, we really need to persuade through statistics, through hard data, through all of the realities of the by-products of this awful issue, what the consequences are in terms of productivity, in terms of public health, in terms of justice systems. Much more needs to be done by those in power, who need to see this as a power issue. And I really think much of what the business community has done in the United States, for example, BD, tonight’s engagement in this issue and Together for Girls, is an example of that.

I’m not sure we would have passed the Violence Against Women law in the United States ultimately until the business community became engaged at the end after everybody else was in, persuaded some of those who had not yet been persuaded that this was also an economic issue and that there were other high stakes. If they weren’t considering those, they might consider these. And it began to change the equation and it began to change the debate.

So I think we need to do more of that, and we need to model a different kind of behavior for boys. And part of that is going to come with educational systems. There are wonderful modules that are being developed that are part of school systems now in many places where a different model of behavior is what is being presented. And I think that is also critically important.

And additionally, I would just say that these are not cultural issues. These are not private matters. These are crimes. And until the impunity is dealt with seriously by justice systems and perpetrators pay a price for what they’ve done, if there’s no price, it will go on. So there’s a lot we need to do with men and boys. They’re a huge part of the solution. And we need to work it in all of the ways we can, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

MS. GIBSON: I’ve been told this is going very, very fast and we have very little time left. I do want to ask, Deputy Prime Minister Khupe, about this men and boys issue in Zimbabwe. Is there a – would you say that this is exactly the kind of plan that you would like to incorporate there to engage men and boys about what is happening to their sisters and their daughters?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER KHUPE: We are definitely doing that right now, and this is evidenced by the fact that men use condoms more. Zimbabwe recorded the highest use of condoms in the whole world. So it is clear that men now understand the magnitude of this problem, because as long as they now understand when women negotiate for safe sex, they will understand where they are coming from. So I think – I mean, we are also (inaudible) just to make sure that the men and women – I mean men and boys to be comfortable in this role (inaudible).

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