On Wednesday, 25 November, Mallika spoke along with others at the UN Headquarters in New York to mark the Day to End Violence against Women and the start of 16 Days to End Gender Violence. She shared a story about Will, a student at Indiana University-Bloomington (IU), and his transformational journey. Before college, he knew almost nothing of campus sexual assault. After reading about it, he began to challenge his own notions of masculinity, his peers to do the same, and joined IU MARS (Men Against Rape and Sexual assault on college campuses) to help end campus sexual assault. Culture change started with Will and has led him to take it to his peers, his campus, and his community.
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Read the transcript below:
Thank you so much.
Madame Executive Director, your Excellencies, all you amazing advocates, organizers, rabble-rousers, mobilizers. I am delighted to be here this day–this week–to Orange the World, as a proud partner of UN Women and the UN Trust Fund to end Violence against Women. Thank you. The secretary-general was one of our first global champions for our Ring the Bell/Bell Bajao campaign several years ago as well, so thank you again.
I’d like to take you on a slightly different journey. I want to introduce you to a young man called Will McElhaney, who is a 19 year old sophomore with a business major at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. Will grew up in a small town in Indiana called–I kid you not–Santa Claus. He came to the university two years ago and started to see all of these campus newspaper articles on the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. This was something that was startling to him and he wanted to do something about it. So, he became a member of an organization called MARS, which is Men Against Rape and Sexual assault on campus, an organization that Breakthrough has been working with for the last two years in our work with fraternities around the United States to address the very large prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses right here.
Will, in his journey of transformation, began to call out his brothers in his fraternity–as he is a fraternity member–and his friends every time they made comments about women that were not appropriate. He started to table condom use for safe sex and when men would come up and say “Hey, if I use a condom, it’s not rape is it,” he’d call them out that humor like that only exacerbated the problem. Will then joined with other members of MARS to create the BannerUp campaign at his university where they got 20 presidents of fraternities to put up big signs against sexual assault during what they saw was the “red zone” time–the largest number of sexual assaults against women on college campuses happen against first-year women from the first week of college to Thanksgiving.
When one of the fraternity men in a drunken moment sexually harassed women walking past the fraternity in one of the fraternities that had a banner up, Will and his brothers called that fraternity out and said you’ve gotta take action, wrote to the dean, and called a meeting of the fraternity presidents to talk about what they needed to do to step up. The BannerUp campaign used social media, as millennials and young people do so brilliantly today, and created a huge conversation around this issue not just on the Bloomington campus, which is a very big campus and also a huge party school, but across universities in the area. And now more and more people–more and more fraternity leaders are looking at how they can step up their work to challenge sexual assault on college campuses.
Most importantly, Will says that his own understanding of himself as a man and his notions of masculinity have undergone a transformation. Being cool and being a guy isn’t about how many women you can have sex with–without or with their consent–or about how drunk you can get or how many parties you can attend. He is reexamining his whole notion of what it means to be a man, what it means to show up, and he’s challenging his brothers and his friends to do the same thing. Being a peer who challenges your peers has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of creating norm change. And it’s not an easy thing to do.
At the end of the day, violence against women and girls can only come to an end if it is prevented. We cannot turn every home into a domestic violence shelter, and we cannot put all perpetrators in jail. That’s not the vision of the world that we want to live in. We want a world where notions of gender are about the right of all of us to live on this planet with dignity, with equality, with justice. The only way to that vision of our world is by including men and boys in that journey. By making sure that we engage in transformation at the individual level, at the interpersonal level, at the community level, at the structural level–that’s how change happens across the ecosystem.
We spend a lot of time these days focusing on violent extremism. Violent extremism is really sort of the far end of the kinds of gender norms that we allow to exist on a daily basis for men and for women–especially for women and girls being at the receiving end of the toxicity of those gender norms every single day. So, when we talk about the extremes–really, the journey has to begin within, between, among–wherever we stand.
And so today, if Will is watching, I want to say, hey Will. Keep up the good work. And I want to invite men and boys around the world to join this movement–to join this movement to say violence against women and girls is not acceptable. Simply unacceptable. And that the world we all want to live in–that we dream about–can happen right here and right now, if we all join that journey.
Thank you so much.
Thank you so much, Ms. Dutt. And Will, if you’re watching–and all the Wills out there–thank you so much for what you’re doing. We cannot thank you enough.