Transforming violence against women

I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion hosted by The Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention at the Church Center for the United Nations. The topic was Transforming Violence Against Women: Empowering Projects in Africa, Haiti and the Middle East. It brought to light many of the struggles that women in other countries face, the reason for their subjugation, and the actions being taken to end the cycle of violence.

The first speaker was a woman from Israel. English was not her first language and she had trouble with some words, but her passion and vibrance shined through the language barrier. She spoke about the violence women are subjected to in the name of honor. Thousands of women are maimed and murdered by their in-laws, uncles, brothers, and even their fathers for what they perceive as grievances against their families. The aggressors are rarely brought to the authorities and are even sometimes praised for their actions against these women. Some women are trapped in loveless, abusive marriages, but there is no such thing as divorce and they fear retribution from their communities for reporting the injustices they face. Some say that the problem is their religion. People sometimes think that Islam promotes the subjugation of women and sense- less violence, but the Quran teaches equality and peace. Muhammad, the religions holy leader, was married to an older woman, Aisha, who he treated as a partner and equal. The issue is the culture of the area. The violence is generational and embedded into the fabric of their understanding. It makes little sense to just empower the women. The men need to be empowered with knowledge and compassion as well. ATOP teaches classes in the Middle East that help men understand the evils of violence and open their eyes to the strength and value of their women. We need both men and women to work together to defeat the issue of violence.

The second speaker was a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She spoke about the issues hindering young women in the DRC from getting a proper education. Women are expected to do chores and raise children. Younger girls have more autonomy, but as they get closer to childbearing age, they are burdened with more and more responsibilities. Schools are hard to get to anyway, sometimes being several kilometers from some villages, so as children get older, the disparities between the number of girls and boys in school get higher and higher. The brunt of poverty is placed on women. They have to work hard to make ends meet for their families, but still are dependent on men to bring in most of their income. Men lead in the villages and women must follow silently. We must put international pressure on the Congo and other coun- tries that don’t have rights for women to make policy to give women equality. We must invest in young women’s educations so they can have brighter futures.

The third speaker was a spiritual guru that educated us on the power of feminine energy. She explained to us that feminine energy is not only found in females. All human beings can harness the power of the feminine within them. Feminine energy is both soft and nurturing, but can also be great and powerful. She urged that men not smother the feminine inside. It is not a weakness, it actually strengthens the soul. We must find harmony with the masculine and feminine. Too much of any side makes us unbalanced, chaotic, and weak. The violence of this world is caused by the disproportionate energies battling one another causing the pain and suffering that we face daily. We must center ourselves and summon the heart’s energy to protect ourselves from the chaos that threatens to consume us.

This seminar was such a moving experience. Hearing these brave women share their passion with the audi- ence was powerful and touching. It is important that more than just that room full of people hear their mes- sage. We can all help by giving money, volunteering to teach, and even just taking a moment to pray for the women suffering. Violence against women is not a women’s issue. It is a HUMAN issue. Their suffering is all of our suffering. Let us work together to end the violence and make the world a place fit for ALL human beings.

Reporters: Sherry Johnson-O’Neal, CWA Local 1180 Kawana Scott, Volunteer