Thursday, August 2, 2007

Violence Against Women in the United States of North America

Friends, I am currently working on developing a graduate level course titled, Violence Against Women From a Global Perspective. I have spent the entire day researching and identifying resource materials that would provide a comprehensive learning experience primarily designed for seminarians, ministers, women studies majors and other lay persons concerned about the issue. The course will primarily focus on the United States, England, India, Ghana, and South Africa. Here are some reflections I wanted to share:

Violence Against Women in the United States of North America - A Glimpse into the Past

Without a doubt, the most significant legislation passed in this country to date that addresses violence against women is the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. This legislation signaled a pivotal moment in the collective lives and efforts of women and their male allies that had worked tirelessly to galvanize the resources of this nation to address this shameful problem. Heretofore the problem was viewed as a personal problem, a family problem that others did not get involved in, very much like child abuse had been perceived in previous years. However, the valiant efforts of a few women grew over the years as their ranks expanded to include not just those "militant women" that kept pushing the issue into the light of day and out of the closets from behind closed doors, but the movement to end violence against women eventually spread to everyday women who didn't identify as feminists but simply got "sick and tired of being sick and tired." Grandmothers, middleclass women, poor working class women, single women, single parent mothers and the debutante, all had something in common - they were hiding shameful secrets and living in fear due to the violence in their lives.

I would like to tell you a story. The story is about how the first shelter was started in Minneapolis, MN in the early 1960s when a group of women were at an Alcoholics Anonyomous meeting sitting around talking while their partners were meeting. One woman revealed that she was being beaten, then another, then another. Before the evening was over they all admitted that they were in abusive relationships. They agreed to meet and do something about it. One woman offered her home and they all moved in together and began to share child care and to experience what it felt like to live without the fear of violence.

This story might be taken as a sort of urban legend if we didn't all know women that opened their homes to individuals down on their luck or hid a friend from an abusive partner? So while it may have taken on a life of its own over the years, I love to tell this story to illustrate how creative we become when we are willing to take the risk to reach out and change our lives for the better. Since that time we have developed shelters and transition housing and full service programs with staff and batterers groups. Battered women are no longer stigmatized and education is fairly accessible. However, the problem is still quite prevalent. Nevertheless, the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 reflected effective coalition building between grass roots women and organizations and institutions from all levels of society, from activists to elected officials. Its passage represented for activists, one of their finest hours in the movement to end violence against women. Many of these women, themselves marginalized because of the unpopularity of the issue had worked tirelessly either as volunteers or in low paying positions in shelters, rape crisis centers, on crisis hot lines, community centers, law clinics and in academia helping battered women and their children at a time when it was not chic or the popular thing to do. They raised the issues while educating and advocating for change.

I will share one more anecdote and then leave you to puruse the Act by clicking on the link below:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
The Steering Committee for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence was an organization dedicated to ending violence against women and children. NCADV was comprised of Steering Committee members appointed from each state that met in Washington, DC . I was elected to the Steering Committee in the early 1980s. I remember walking into the room with these women seated around the table that I had read about and heard about. There was an energy around the room and I felt like I was home and that my life would never be the same after meeting these amazing women. They were the most powerful kick ass women that I had ever met. They baptised me in the fire of their passion and activism. The Battered Women's Movement was where I found my voice and what eventually become my ministry. Women like Ruth Slaughter, Caitlin Fullwood, Beth Richey, Gwen Davis, BJ Bryson, Tilly Blackbear, Nan Stoops, Suzanne Pharr, Kerry Lobel, Barbara Hart, Diana Onley Campbell, and Deborah Muhammad are some of the women that I came to know and respect. They were my role models while I was trying to find myself and to heal from the violence of my childhood and adulthood.

I saw Caitlin Fullwood several years ago. We were both reminising about times gone by when she turned to me and said, "We old broads are still going strong." We both laughed riotiously. I believe our laughter was partly out of a knowledge that we had survived and were not crazy, on drugs or dead. And partly just the joy of being alive, and older and wiser. Ginny NiCarthy just celebrated her 80th birthday folks, and she is still going strong and raising hell! I would love to see some of these individuals again. Occasionally I see their names associated with the wonderful things they are still doing, and I think about Caitlin's hilarious and insightful comment. Yes, we broads are still going strong!

On another occasion Steering Committee members had convened once again to handle the business of eliminating violence against women and children. However, in addition to our usual business meetings and caucasing we had scheduled visits with our congresspersons to talk about violence against women and children and to persuade them to support the pending legislation that we felt could usher in a dramatic shift in how our nation perceived domestic violence. We were a motley group because many of the women were what I call "earth women" who did not like to dress up. Although we certainly had our exceptions! We had strategized about what to say and we were all primed and ready to go. Each of us were organized in groups of two or three's. We were told that we would have no more than 10 minutes to make our case with legislative aides. Only some of us had been lucky enough to schedule with our congress persons. I had never seen so many panty hoses, suits and dress up clothes in all the time I had been serving on the Steering Committee. Some of the women complained about having to wear panty hose and bras. One member indicated the only time she wore them was when she lobbied. I was excited. I had never been to the capital, let alone paid a visit to my congressperson. Even now when I think about it I get excited that we had done the work to influence those in the corridors of power. While I was a little naive back then, it was moments like that when I look back in wonder, amazed at the shy, battered and wounded little girl that had managed to shed her docility and break the silence that my mother and some of my biological sisters had endured for almost a lifetime. This was only one of the many times that I have reflected on how far I have come, and yet how far I plan to travel in my journey toward transformation.
Blessed Be!

H. R. 2876 (Introduced-in-House)

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