International Women’s Day

March 8, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In honor of 100 years of organizing for peace, economic justice, and women’s empowerment, check out these links to learn about innovative and inspiring activism happening around the globe right now.

Maiti Nepal works with girls and women in Nepal who are vulnerable to trafficking and forced prostitution. Their work includes teaching girls about trafficking so that they can avoid being tricked or lured in.

Chouchou Namegabe risked her life to broadcast the testimonies of women who had been raped by militia men in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The organization she co-founded — South Kivu Women’s Media Association — uses media to empower women and fight sexual violence.

No One Is Illegal is campaigning to change the Canadian government’s policy that allows immigration enforcement agents to enter shelters for women fleeing violence to detain and deport undocumented survivors.

And have you seen The Girl Effect video? It is a compelling vision of how investing in education for girls living in poverty can give them the tools to improve the health and well being of entire communities.

What has inspired you lately?  Share more links here. Get inspired. Spread the word. Join the movement.

Egyptian women demand a voice

On February 11, Hosni Mubarak resigns and headlines blare –“This is what freedom sounds like,” “People win” and “Egypt will never be the same.”  Together, courageous women and men forced radical change. Yet, incredibly, some things remain the same. As the Egyptian people work to build a new government, women have not been invited to the table.

There are no women representatives in the Constitutional Committee that has been formed to prepare for free elections. The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights just released a statement protesting the exclusion of women experts.

Why aren’t women included? For that matter, why can’t they walk down the street without being disrespected? A 2008 poll found that 83% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment. Nihal Elwan, an Egyptian who has worked on social development in the Middle East, describes the daily reality of most Egyptian women: “whether you’re rich, poor, you take public transportation, … you’re doing your shopping, whatever social class you’re from, you’re bound to get sexually harassed.”

The way I see it, both of these issues have the same cure – and it’s also at the root of my work. We have to support women’s right to self-determination. Only then will they be allowed to participate in their government, walk safely down the street, and have relationships free of violence.

Can the end of a dictatorship also lead to revolutionary change in the lives of Egyptian women? I am reminded of the words of Abigail Adams, in 1776 “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

I love football

The Super Bowl has come and gone. But it’s left me thinking about masculinity and violence. Don’t assume I’m just another woman trying to rain on the manly mans’ celebration of blood, sweat and crunchy helmets. I love football. Seriously. I miss the Sunday afternoons on the couch, hollering at the TV, rooting for my team.

You know what else I love? Peaceful homes and couples who treat each other with kindness.

Now, I know the Super Bowl doesn’t cause domestic violence. Abuse happens every day, regardless of a football game. However, I do think that abuse in relationships can be linked to the qualities that we value in men in this country. Jackson Katz talks about this in his commentary on Ben Roethlisberger. Acting tough and treating women poorly is usually the best way to avoid being labeled weak or called some, um, colorful feminizing insult (as if being compared to a woman is the most terrible thing for a man).

After the Super Bowl, the director of a violence prevention organization in Iowa received death threats, death threats, just for running this ad suggesting that we can prevent violence by raising our boys differently. Let’s just dwell for a second on the irony here.

How about we make it perfectly normal for men to be kind, gentle and respectful? These qualities are not exclusive to women and we should value them more than aggression and brute force. There’s a great place for all that to stay — on the football field.

Matchmaking for Dummies

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Have you noticed how much social pressure there is to be in a relationship and, if you are, the expectation to be romantic? For me, the pressure comes from various self-proclaimed matchmakers who regularly ask the question, “Ankita, why don’t you just get married?”

My mother wants me to get married because it’s time for me to ‘settle down.’ Friends of my family want me to get married because they know a successful Indian man who is looking for a ‘family-oriented girl.’ My attorney informs me that marriage is the best and easiest way to obtain citizenship in the United States.

None of these pass the laugh test, let alone provide a good reason for me to get married.

But I do wonder why no one is:

  • asking me what I want, or what I am looking for in a relationship;
  • coaching me on the skills I need for a great relationship – voicing my needs, negotiating compromises, respecting one another’s autonomy;
  • assuring me that it is all right for me to set my own expectations?

In communities where parents and extended family have a lot of input into marriage decisions, young women like me are often advised more than they are listened to. And that can lead to unhappy – even violent – relationships.

To my self-proclaimed matchmakers: I challenge you to ask, coach, and assure me. This will help me lead a healthy, full life, whether I am in a relationship or not.

Party time!!

I don’t know what’s wrong with me this winter. I find myself being inordinately happy – laughing out loud. Sometimes at myself and (full disclosure) sometimes at you too. We can be a grim lot in our movement, wouldn’t you say? Seems like it’s against the rules to celebrate.

Case in point. We just had a great victory. When the brand new Congressional leadership started the session with a bill to try to force us back into a little box by redefining rape, we raised the roof with an outcry.  Shaming them until they backed down.

Take one minute – that’s 60 full seconds – to feel your power.

That, my dears, is the taste of liberation!

Thank you Nick Baumann and Linda Feldmann for your outstanding reporting and follow up on this. Thank you Jon Stewart for your brilliant satire.

Thanks to everyone who

  • posted a link to info on Facebook or email,
  • talked about it with friends,
  • contacted one of the co-signers on the bill.

That was fun!

Someone. Turn up the music! It’s party time!!

Advocacy for rookies

A few weeks ago, our final fatality review report pointed out that most people victims turned to for help did not refer them to a domestic violence advocate.

We know that advocacy saves lives.

We also know that domestic violence programs cannot keep up with the demand for services.

And we know that people turn to family and friends long before they seek help from professionals.

As Traci said earlier, we’re all counting on YOU.

If that makes you nervous – never fear. I just finished teaching at our 3-day Advocacy for Rookies training. It was heartening to learn that many of the attendees have no intention of getting a job as an advocate. They came to the training because they know that anyone can be a critical, life-saving source of support. Here’s how:

1.      LISTEN. Really listen. What is she saying she needs? What does she think will help? (Note: Hear what she is really saying, not what you think she should be saying. For many people, the goal is to end the abuse, not necessarily to end the relationship.)

2.      LEARN. Do a little research on her behalf. Call your local domestic violence program and find out what they offer. And there’s tons of great info online. You can read up on legal and economic options. Get the scoop on housing and employment issues. See what the laws and policy manuals say.

3.      LOOK AHEAD. Talk with her about long-term plans for coping with the abuse. Help her think through the pros and cons of different options and anticipate how the abuser might react. That’s called safety planning.

4.      LEVERAGE. Give her whatever help you can: a ride somewhere, free babysitting, some cash. And use your influence to let the abuser know that controlling and violent behavior is unacceptable.

5.      LOVE. Have compassion. See the victim’s (and abuser’s) full humanness. Be patient and humble – this stuff is complicated. We are all responsible for each other. Love is the antidote.

A Lot Like You

Needing a break after over a decade of working against rape and domestic violence, Eli Kimaro quit her job, took a filmmaking class, and set off to Mount Kilimanjaro to film a documentary about her father’s Chagga tribe. Raised in the U.S. by her Tanzanian father and Korean mother, Eli’s ambitious project was motivated by her struggle to integrate her own complex cultural identity.

After months of filming, the footage she envisioned – village rituals, folk dances – eluded her. Instead, when Eli asked her aunts to tell her about their marriage ceremonies, they told her stories filled with brutal violence. She had no idea this was part of her family’s history – yet it resonated deeply with her own experience as a survivor of violence and advocate for other survivors.

The film that has emerged, A Lot Like You, weaves together big themes – exile and return, multicultural identity, violence against women – all told from an intimate point of view. For me, the film is a powerful reminder that when you scratch the surface of any story – from the tale of an entire culture to your own family’s history – you find stories of women’s suffering and survival. Some are hidden; some are known but not spoken; some have been repackaged as tall tales or family jokes. My family has these stories. I doubt I know one who doesn’t.

A Lot Like You raises questions for all of us – How does violence shape our sense of who we are? When we tell stories that have been silenced does that strengthen or threaten our family bonds? And what stories will we leave as our legacy for the next generation?

Women trump guns

Imagine living in a place where your healthcare and schooling is free. Where you are given a plot of land to farm and a fishing boat. All that is required in return is that you do not beat your spouse.

Is there such a place? Yes, and its location will surprise you.

In war-torn Somalia, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two daughters started a one-room hospital on her private land. A city of 90,000 refugees sprung up around it. The women of this city in turn, have created their own social services and justice system, which makes it a sanctuary from the violence, disease, and famine around them. But it is also a threat to those in power in the region.

I read in the news last week that a group of armed militants decimated Dr. Abdi’s now 400 bed hospital. They held Dr. Abdi and her daughters at gun-point for days and interrogated the doctor. “Why are you running this hospital?” the gunmen demanded. “You are old. And you are a woman!” Dr. Abdi said “I told the gunmen, ‘I’m not leaving my hospital … If I die, I will die with my people and my dignity.’ I yelled at them, ‘You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?’ ”

Thousands of women from the refugee city surrounding the hospital organized a protest and forced the militants to back down. A written apology was wrung out of the militants by Dr. Abdi.

We live in one of the wealthiest places in the world and yet we don’t replicate the type of community Dr. Abdi created. As a matter of fact, many of the riches we do have are being eroded. What will it take for us to stand together and demand communities that are prosperous and free from violence for everyone?

Up to Us

I’m really excited this week because the release of our final Fatality Review Report is getting a lot of attention in the media. But it’s hard to be excited about the report itself. Studying domestic violence homicides has shown that many of the systems we expect will help are not reliable. And honestly, this is not a big surprise to me. Maybe I’m jaded by all the stories I’ve heard from survivors of how the legal system, or the welfare system, or even sometimes the domestic violence shelters, failed them.

But I want to talk about something else. The Fatality Review data also showed that victims turned to family and friends for help long before and far more often than they called police, got a Protection Order, or went to a shelter. And yet, still their lives ended at the hands of their abusers. My hope in this new year is that if you’re the one person that someone turns to for help, you’ll know what to do. Just knowing that anyone can call a domestic violence program and knowing a bit about what might happen when you do goes a long way. Domestic violence can end, but we all must be a part of the solution.

New Year’s Resolution

Lately, I’ve been ruminating about sound bite messages – those short, memorable, repeatable phrases that say a lot in a few words.

Sound bites remind us how to be safer on the roads, like Click It or Ticket. And thanks to Michael Pollan’s brilliant brevity, we know to eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

We live in a sound bite world, which is rather unfortunate for those of us working to end super- complicated problems like abuse and rape. We haven’t yet developed clear-cut, resonant phrases to describe how to have loving, safe, and fair relationships.

I loathe seeing complicated issues reduced to sound bites, but why shouldn’t we use strategies that have been proven to work? I recognize that brevity reigns supreme, so it’s my New Year’s Resolution to hop on the sound bite bandwagon.

But where to start?

Google “healthy relationship” and you get pages and pages of text. I’m looking for a handful of short phrases: a to-do list for our daily lives that will move us in the direction of cooperation, liberation, true love.

I’m only on day 4 of my resolution, so I haven’t any brilliant Pollan-esque slogans to offer. I know it’s a tall order, but anyone have an idea?