Thursday, September 20, 2012

Big-picture change requires both genders

I write this knowing full well that, by bringing gender into the conversation, I run the risk of provoking long-standing, gender-related angers that will make this, for some, a difficult blog to read and process; but rather than asking you to hit a sort of emotional mute button, it seems better to urge you to read on, if necessary, with your heart screaming.  I can't (and won't try to) settle whatever injustices are behind those angers; but I will ask, for the sake of the movement, that you hear my point and give it honest consideration:  that the kind of change we're all hoping for requires the full and strategic involvement of both genders. This will be the first of a three-part post.

I am a man, deeply involved in a movement populated mostly by gifted, passionate and amazing women.  Some would say "that's as you would expect", given the dynamics of trafficking in general and sex trafficking in particular.  The International Labor Organization, for example, now estimates (on link, see p. 45) that, worldwide, 55% of all labor trafficking "victims" (we prefer the more empowering term "survivors") and 98% of all sex trafficking victims are women and girls. So, the argument goes:  since women are the most affected by it, women will be the most likely to do something about it.  

That certainly holds true in almost every area within Amirah:  our four-person staff is three women and me.  Our room sponsors are 90% women; our blogger team, 80%; our monthly donors, 78%. Our table team at a recent major event was 69% women, and it's likely that those who read this blog will be about 80% women.  With few exceptions, I go into every trafficking-related meeting, event and conference finding myself, as a man, in the vast minority.

This all makes sense, and I see the power of it in living color every day. Simply put, amazing women are doing amazing things. I have no interest in derailing that.  But as the movement matures, I would argue that, in addition to (and alongside) what women are doing, men need to get more substantially involved if we're going to address and conquer the root issues that enable trafficking to continue. Since maleness-gone-awry (disrespect for women, unrestrained greed and sexual appetites, the craving for control/power, etc.) is largely responsible for the problem of trafficking, I don't see big-picture change getting a full head of steam until men on a larger scale confront the root issues within ourselves, challenge other men to do the same, model and teach healthy attitudes to our boys and offer the best of our heart, skills and resources to the movement.      

I'll get into specifics in part 2, but before I sign off, I want to offer heart-felt gratitude to you women who have largely been the heart, brains and muscle of the movement so far; and who, though having legitimate reasons to push men away, have chosen not to and have welcomed us as valuable partners in the fight.

I also want to give kudos to you men who have made yourselves willing to face the atrocities of human trafficking, own them and address what you see in the mirror first... who think of and relate with women with heart-felt respect and honor... who have learned to restrain and direct your sexual energies and longings for power in healthy ways... and who have taken the time to figure out how you can offer your best to be part of the solution.

We need the strength of both genders if we're going to turn the tide.  Thanks for listening, and please feel free to go scream in a pillow if need be.  

Bob Atherton is Amirah's Executive Director.

To learn more about Amirah, or to support our work, please visit www.amirahboston.org .

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