(photo credit: FADIL BERISHA)
It was the late 1990s and I was an investigative reporter for a leading newspaper. I was working on a big story: a scandal implicating a politician at the highest level of Israel’s government. As a courtesy before publication, I reached out to his general counsel for comment, but when I arrived at the lawyer’s office, I realized instantly that he had different plans for me.
At the time, I was a working mother – and it was with my young kids in mind that, somehow, I found the strength in me to deny his pass; to look him in the eyes as he tried to kiss me and say: “Stop.” But the sobering truth is that far too many women never have that chance.
Every woman has had a #MeToo moment in her life. Some, like me, are fortunate that the sexual misconduct we’ve faced never led to anything worse; millions of others aren’t so lucky. What binds all of us together is our resilience in the face of adversity – our ability to stand up to the abusers in our lives and say: Enough.
That is the story of the #MeToo movement, which has made great progress in shining a light on violence against women. Women from all walks of life have come forward, forcing society to reckon with the prevalence of sexual assault, an issue that has been ignored for far too long.
However, awareness isn’t enough. #MeToo has been an important first step, but it’s time to move from awareness to action. That is one of my central missions as treasurer of the United Nation’s Women for Peace Association.
That mission starts with educating the next generation.
It is crucial that we intervene early, because the fundamental values that shape future behavior are formed at a young age. Several academic studies – done in countries ranging from the United States to Australia – demonstrate that men who saw their mothers abused are significantly more likely to abuse their future spouses. Children who grow up in an environment where women aren’t respected learn unhealthy models for how to treat women when they become adults.
The detrimental effects of a violent home don’t stop there. These children are more likely to become bullies and display other violent tendencies. They’re four times more likely to get into fights – and as they age, they continue to face greater risk of substance abuse and criminal activity. The link between a troubled past and a violent future is well established and it exists in every country worldwide.
IT DOESN’T have to be this way. We can stop this vicious cycle. By encouraging all parents to emphasize the importance of respect in their homes, we can address the root causes of violence against women. That’s what the next chapter of #MeToo’s story needs to be about – implementing strategies that prevent sexual assault from occurring in the first place.
Much like a start-up needs a business plan to grow and scale, the #MeToo movement needs a plan to achieve the next level of impact.
The UN Women for Peace Association has already taken tangible steps toward making this vision a reality. We’ve raised over $600,000 for the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women; just last month, I had the privilege, as treasurer, of signing a check for $50,000. The Trust Fund does amazing work, from helping make markets safer for women in Tanzania to addressing school-based violence in Mongolia.
These efforts are important and must continue, but we need more. We need you.
The societal shift we require – a turn away from gender-based violence and toward a culture of mutual respect – requires a broad base of support. I am heartened by all of the women running for elected office and rising through the corporate ranks, but the change we need can’t come from the top alone. The only way to bring about a societal shift is through millions of people making deliberate choices every day.
Mothers and fathers are especially crucial to this effort. Parents are our first and most important teachers, helping us learn right from wrong every morning at the breakfast table before sending our kids off to school. This role gives parents enormous influence over the trajectory of their children’s lives. I call upon parents to teach moral lessons alongside practical ones, because a society that prioritizes raising ethical, considerate children is a better society for all.
I know this won’t be easy — but neither is living in a world where all women are at risk of disrespect, assault, or violence. As president John F. Kennedy said when he promised to take America to the moon, we pursue important things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard… because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win.”
Let’s take a moonshot – and defeat violence against women – together, as one.
The writer is president of JCS International and Treasurer of the UN Women for Peace Association.
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