Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Carry Them With Me

[Written for the V Men project at www.vday.org]

I am fortunate to have grown up in a home where women are loved and respected, not just as equals, but as much more than that. My father still brings my mother flowers in the middle of the day, “just because”. He never fails to bring roses to my younger sister, though she is now married and has a child of her own. My parents still go on a date every Friday night and leave love notes in each other’s suit cases when one of them travels on their own. They exemplify a loving, respectful relationship between a man and a woman, and they’ve been doing it for over 40 years.

I grew up in Nashville, TN; always the “southern gentleman”. When in the presence of a woman, any woman, it is my nature to open the door for her, give her first priority in all matters, respect her in our communication and to protect her from perpetrators and pain. This is who I am. It comes from a very genuine belief that women are beings to be venerated. The heart and intuition of a woman is something I have always revered, largely due to the remarkable example of my mother. She has remained powerful and independent, yet intrinsically compassionate, loving, and nurturing. In the expression of Maya Angelou, she truly is a “phenomenal woman”.

For whatever reason, I’ve always had a fighting spirit in me. I am a protector at my core. Early on, I found myself looking for a fight, typically for the sake of a woman’s honor. I’ve now learned to channel that physical energy into more productive methods of standing against gender violence, which I believe to be the greatest of all injustices. It carries with it the power to destroy humanity on the deepest level.

I’ve spent the last 3 years living in Rwanda (Africa) working with women that have been tortured, raped and degraded to the point of selling their bodies on the street in order to merely survive. These 40 women and their children are just as much my family as my own mother and sister. I believe that with all my heart. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect them. I’ve looked into their eyes and heard them recount the horrific abuse that I could hardly comprehend. The thought of harm to my sisters fills my heart with a deep sorrow and pain. But that is the very pain that fuels my never ending drive to ensure a better way of life for African women.

Deborah was 3 years old when she first came into my life. I’ve witnessed her grow from a shy and tormented little girl into a thriving and happy 6 year old. She is innocence and beauty and she gives me hope for humanity. Deborah represents everything I’m fighting for. She is the heart line of the passion that drives me.

I witness the atrocities in the DRC and Rwanda every day. But I still dream of an Africa free from gender violence; free from oppression; where women are respected and revered. Many say this is unattainable and na├»ve, but I cannot imagine a battle more worthy of fighting. I cannot imagine a more worthy “cause”.

The women of Africa must be empowered to own businesses, to become politicians and consultants, and to take back the dignity they once had. They must be given a platform for their voices to be heard. When we open those doors, they will succeed, and they will lead Africa to peace and prosperity.

As we all know, men are the cause of gender violence. I believe that I, as a man, must strive to inspire other men to stop this violence. I believe men can be powerful without taking power from a woman. We must incite a movement and create new heroes for young men to follow. It is time to redefine “masculinity” in a way that serves both genders and creates harmony between us. In Africa, we call this “ubuntu”; the belief that we are all interconnected and reliant on each other.

As I wake each morning, I carry with me the lives of Deborah, my sister, my mother, the women of BURANGA, Ilea (my love), and the hundreds of images of battered African women I have witnessed. They are forever etched into my soul, and it is for them that I fight. This is the battle I choose every day. I thank God that I have been afforded the opportunity to live this life, and to serve those I carry with me.

1 comment:

Hillary said...

Hi Jared. Forgive me for leaving this message in your comments section, but I'm afraid I haven't found any other contact details for you.

I was given your name by Chris Page of Cards from Africa, to whom I've been speaking about a project I am trying to get off the ground. He thought we may be able to help one another.

I'd love to chat with you more about it (and don't want to leave a whole bunch of boring details here), so if you have a moment, could you please send me a quick email to:

hillary.cannon@hotmail.com

(I can assure you I'm not the crazy stalker type. Ask Chris - we met last weekend for a chat and he wasn't afraid at all... I hope.)

;-)

Cheers,

Hillary