Ending Violence Against Women Begins at the Bus Stop

By Mallika Dutt and Carlos Andrés Gómez

If there were ever a time for men to stand side-by-side with women in the fight to end violence against women and girls, it is now.

For many of us, in fact, it's this weekend, when the two of us will join the Omega Institute 2014 Women & Power conference. This year, for the first time ever, the conference includes men as speakers and guests, joining the conversation about how we can all "live, love and work together as whole human beings." That's where we'll be premiering Carlos's video poem "When," which calls on men -- regular guys like you -- to change the cultures and paradigms that enable violence.

The Omega event also takes place days before the United Nations General Assembly convenes and the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting kicks off in New York City. All three gatherings will address the world's challenges -- gender inequity in particular -- with heads of state, philanthropists, NGO directors and other leaders working to drive needed change.

But right now, equally important conversations are also starting in, say, sports bars.

That's exactly where I -- Carlos -- was a couple of nights ago, observing a room full of men as they watched an ESPN commentator discuss Ray Rice's brutal assault of his now-wife. Have you ever heard a sports bar fall totally silent? Neither had I. Not that I expected all the men there to rise up in an unscripted, instantaneous moment and demand justice for all women and girls across the world, but still. It seems like a lot of guys don't know what to do when confronted with violence against women -- other than say, "That's bad. I don't do it."

That's understandable. What, after all, are men who are not violent -- that is, the majority of men -- supposed to do, other than keep not being violent? What are men who are not Bono or Ban Ki-moon -- again, the majority -- supposed to do to make a difference?

Well, very recent history actually shows that a little can go a long way. Small acts add up. Many individual voices, together, can be very, very loud. It wasn't only professional or seasoned activists calling for the NFL to take action in response to Ray Rice; it was everyday football fans -- yes, many of them regular dudes -- armed with not much more than a Twitter account and a strong sense that something was OFF. So far, the NFL has acted too little, and too late, but the reason they've acted at all is that the people of this country demanded it. And when even their sponsors start backing away slowly, you better believe our voices matter.

But this is also about what happens when we put our phones down. This is about recognizing that each moment alive presents an opportunity to be a different kind of man -- a different kind of person. By being aware, critical, humble, informed -- and yes, bold -- each of us can be revolutionary agents of the gender equality we need in the world. Men need to equate "manliness" with bravery, accountability, respect and empathy. Will we always succeed? No. Will we need to read and respect the work of women who have been doing this for millennia? Yes. Will it benefit everyone on this planet, for generations to come? Absolutely.

So what more can you do, other than not hitting women and calling it a night? Ask yourself these questions:

What are my skills? Where do I have impact? Who looks up to me? Where can I step up?

Maybe it's in how you coach your basketball team at the Y. Or whom you advocate for at your job. Or the first time you don't let it go when a male friend tells a demeaning joke, or when an online comment crosses a line or when some kid at the bus stop echoes the sexism he's heard from men all his life -- until you're the one who finally says something about how you bet he's better than that.

Or maybe you're an artist or poet with the creative tools to reach people where they are and inspire them to act. That's why Carlos wrote "When," and worked with Breakthrough, the global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable to transform it into a video and spread the message far and wide. Please watch it; please share it. "When will men drop their arms? When will hands exist to hold instead of take? Mold instead of break?" Now. Today. This weekend, from the UN to the subway platform to wherever you're watching the game. It starts with you.

Carlos Andrés Gómez is an award-winning poet, actor, speaker and writer from New York City. He is author of the coming-of-age memoir Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood.