Michael Kaufman, CoFounder of White Ribbon


Its continued presence is one of the clearest markers of societies out of balance and we are determined to change that”. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced gender based violence. This could be physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. UN Women’s work with men and boys is anchored in the belief that only by transforming the power relations between men and women can gender equality become a reality, and this can only be done with the support of men and boys.

It will be impossible to eliminate violence against women and girls without the commitment and involvement of men and boys. Everyone needs to be a part of social changes to achieve gender equality.” Where We Stand Statement, Soroptimist International


Michael Kaufman is a public speaker, author, educator, and consultant whose innovative approaches to engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality have taken him around the world. Working extensively with the UN, governments and NGOs, corporations, universities and colleges, Michael wrote the training programme on sexual harassment being used by tens of thousands of staff at the United Nations. Michael is co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women.

What began as an idea discussed around a kitchen table in 1991, White Ribbon is now a far-reaching education and awareness raising campaign. With a presence in 80 countries, it focuses on engaging men and boys to think about their own attitudes and behaviour, and to speak out to other men in order to challenge all forms of men’s violence against women.

Michael explains: “Our motivation was simple: women had stood alone too long. Violence against women is a problem committed by a minority of men – the majority of men do not commit acts of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. However, the majority were remaining silent and our silence allowed the violence to continue. We see the symbol of the White Ribbon as a catalyst for discussion, soul searching, challenge and change. Men such as myself understand that we are 50% of the gender equation. When it comes to achieving gender equality we have a critical role to play. We understand that our work as men isn’t to ‘take over’, but rather to work in partnership with women. This process starts with listening with humility and respect to the voices of women, and learning from women’s experiences.”

Forming the back drop to the founding of White Ribbon Campaign, was the murder of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnic in Montreal on December 6, 1989. Overnight there began a nationwide discussion about men’s violence against women. For months the media gave unprecedented attention to these issues and two years later, Parliament proclaimed that 6 December would forever be the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.


When faced with the complexities of delivering the White Ribbon message to men and boys worldwide, Michael describes the challenges and his decision to create a decentralised campaign. “Due to cultural and linguistic differences, it’s difficult to craft messages that have the same meaning or impact around the world. Gender inequality, and its many manifestations including violence against women, has specific expressions in different cultures. Justifications for inequality vary and some forms of inequality and oppression are subtle while others are blatant and horrific. But there is a common denominator: it is the supposition, traditionally held by most men and reinforced by the social, cultural, political and economic structures of our male dominated societies, that men should have power. Power over women, power over children, power over nature, power over other men, and power over our own emotions. People in their own countries and communities are best placed to reach out to men and boys, so it made sense to decentralise the campaign early on. An NGO, individual or a small group within a workplace, school, community, or a place of worship may choose to start a White Ribbon effort. White Ribbon is completely non-partisan, reaching out to men and boys right across the political and social spectrum”.


Michael works together with others on a broad range of gender equality issues, including two international alliances: The Men Engage Alliance and MenCare. The Men Engage Alliance brings together NGOs, community groups, UN agencies, researchers, and individuals and works to engage men and boys, working collectively in order to promote gender equality and healthy ideals of manhood. MenCare is a global fatherhood campaign active in more than 35 countries believing that true equality will only be reached when men are taking on 50 percent of the child care and domestic work around the world. June 16, 2015 saw the release of the ‘State of the World’s Fathers’ report, launched at the UN and at events in capitals around the world. Produced by the MenCare network, together with various UN and NGO partners, Michael Kaufman was co-author of the report, which examined the importance of transforming fatherhood for gender equality, in order to improve the lives of women, men and children.

State of the World’s Fathers: Executive Summary: A MenCare Advocacy Publication.

“It is critical that boys grow up with models of compassionate men” explains Michael. “This is one reason why the transformation of fatherhood is critical for the achievement of gender equality and positive changes in men’s lives. When a father (or father figure) does the daily nurturing jobs such as changing nappies, cooking, reading, looking after — and they do all this in loving and non-violent ways, then boys will start their lives with strong and positive models of manhood. This doesn’t mean that all homes must have a father present to provide a healthy upbringing for boys, but it does mean that when there is a father present, he has an important, caregiving role to play.”

In September 2014, Emma Watson spoke at the launch of HeForShe, a UN Women global solidarity movement to end gender inequality by 2030. The campaign saw 100,000 men sign up to show their support within three days, sparking more than 1.2 billion conversations on social media within the first week of launch. In her speech she said: “I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less ‘macho’.” She went on to say: “I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.”

This was a sentiment expressed by Michael when he took to the stage as keynote speaker at the 20th Soroptimist International Convention, Istanbul, Turkey. Delivering his message to a 2000 strong, mostly female audience he invited us to challenge men’s power and privilege with determination but also compassion and empathy. Michael talked of boys being ridiculed for having feelings; of suppressed emotions; of the need to redefine what it means to be a man. Michael says: “This issue is critical, and a key part of my own work. Looking at the negative consequences of our male-dominated cultures on men, including the pressure to always be strong and in control, always succeed, show no fear. In other words, there’s a paradox at the heart of men’s lives. Men have power in male dominated societies, but the ways we define and construct that power is the source of not only privilege but enormous negative consequences for men. Paradoxically, both this power and men’s vulnerabilities are simultaneously sources of men’s violence.”

Michael also talks of the dangers of collective blame. “How can we speak to men and boys about violence against women and have the greatest impact? Successful and evaluated programmes around the world show us that generalities such as “men always…” and “you men…” do not help. Rather, positive messages about men’s role in bringing about change are the way forward. Positive messages and looking at the paradoxes of men’s power are why I use so much story-telling and humour in my talks. They are a way of reaching men and helping men understand we can be part of the solution. Men can be allies with women in bringing about a society of gender equality, gender justice and freedom from the narrow limits we’ve place on both women and men.”

As the White Ribbon Campaign continues to flourish, Michael is set to explore and develop both new and current projects. Michael will continue to work with UN agencies, NGO’s and service clubs around the world and plans to work more within the corporate environment. The author or editor of seven books, Michael adds: “I am writing a book that focuses on men’s leadership as allies with women, to create a world of gender equality. It’s going to be a popular book, aimed at a wide audience. I’m also doing my best to find more time for my fiction writing; my latest novel, co-written with my colleague Gary Barker is an anti-war story called ‘The Afghan Vampires Book Club.” Oh, and of course I will be continuing to spend wonderful time with my first grandchild!”

Within the key findings of a recent report ‘Men And Boys and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), it states: “It is unhelpful to feed into narratives that portray women as victims and men as perpetrators: We need to understand how SGBV is part of, and driven by, broader inequalities that affect social constructions (commonly held understandings) of what it means to be a man or a woman in society”. From a report by Alice Clarfelt, 9th October 2014 – Discussions with youth peer educators and staff at Restless Development South Africa: Challenges and recommendations.


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