Unspoken Conference: October 17-18
September 27th 2012 · 0 Comments
By Lisanne Divine
Whether living in a remote village in Bangladesh or an upscale Manhattan condo, the violence that women and girls endure occurs frequently and is told similarly regardless of socio- economic factors. One in three women will endure gender violence in their life time. The cost to society is huge. What can we do as a society to alter beliefs and practices that cause harm? What would the impact be to live our lives free from the threat of gender violence? How doe we engage men as active partners to change social norms?
In 2005-06 the WHO (World Health Organization) interviewed 24,000 women from 15 different countries about gender violence. Their stories are astonishingly similar, both to each other and to accounts we hear from our friends and neighbors. The social rules and ramifications of speaking out on gender violence are a powerful force that keeps much of what happens unspoken. What remains unsaid perpetuates like an endless repeating of the past into the future (Zaffron and Logan, 2009).
The United Nations describes gender violence as being universal but particular. It is universal in nature, as it occurs in every corner of our world and knows no socioeconomic boundaries. It does not occur in every human being, which makes it particular. Universal human characteristics occur in every human being; for example, we eat, we sleep and we reproduce. Not every human being endures or causes gender violence. Gender violence is socially constructed and upheld through beliefs, practices and silence. However, there exists opportunity for social reconstruction to shift behaviors toward upholding dignity instead.
Gender is different than sex. Sex refers to the physical characteristics of being male or female. Gender is what society constructs as acceptable behaviors of male and females, and violence is upheld by societal expectations of the social roles of males and females. When individuals step outside the societal constructed beliefs, there are likely social ramifications for doing so, often leading to violence.
Futures Without Violence highlights the prevalence of gender-based violence in the United States. On average, more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States. In 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that women experience two million injuries from intimate partner violence each year. Nearly one in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend in her life. There were 248,300 rapes/sexual assaults in the United States in 2007, more than 500 per day. Cheryl Hamilton will bravely perform her play “Checkered Floors” at the UNSPOKEN Conference. Her performance illustrates the universal but particular nature of gender violence and creates bridges to understanding social norms.
The UNSPOKEN Conference: Create Space for Gender-Peace™ will reflect on the effects of war on women and girls. Extreme wartime rape as a tool in civil war conflicts globally brings forth the need to be sensitive in working with women and families from war-torn areas. Rape and sexual violence against women and girls in current civil conflicts worldwide number in the hundreds of thousands. These assaults are systematic, well organized and erode the ethnicity of the communities. Gender violence in civil war conflicts generates terror for all.
As we explore forced marriages and the effects on individuals, communities and what societal belief structures exist, we will see how to alter traditions and beliefs that cause harm. Cristina Bicchieri PhD, will share her work on social norms and social change, work which is being used by UNICEF. Cody Donahue of UNICEF has written a paper to be considered open -source for our conference on his work in social change and for the multiple countries for which he is responsible. Cody and I have been in communication for the past three years, beginning while he was working at Tostan in Senegal. Tostan’s work on social change and abandonment of harmful traditional practices creates a space for communities to come together democratically generating conversations which uphold human rights. Gannon Gillespie of Tostan will share their Community Led Empowerment methodology at our UNSPOKEN Conference.
Consent to marriage is a human right according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, one wonders how a 14 year old can be legally married here in New York State. Is there consent to the marriage? Both males and females can be forced into a marriage. The social consequences for refusing can be grave. Early and forced marriages typically create an atmosphere in which girls are not fully supported and are unable to finish school, increasing the likelihood of being impoverished, dependent and suffering abuse.
“Girl Not Brides” notes that “every year, an estimated 10 million girls aged under 18 are married worldwide with little or no say in the matter…That’s more than 25,000 girls every day.” The Tahirih Justice center’s 2011 survey identified as many as 3000 known and suspected cases of forced marriage in immigrant communities in the previous two years in the U.S. Forced marriages can happen to adults as our honored conference guest Vidya Sri will share her personal story of being forced into marriage as an adult. Lena Alhuesseini will offer a community perspective on forced marriages and Mr. Gillespie will share the success Tostan has had in getting 5,000 communities to abandon these practices.
The proposed theme of the UN Commission on the Status of Women 2013 will be “the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls” (Donahue, UNICEF, 2012). Violence against women and girls is upheld by social norms. Donahue writes:
What are social norms? Social norms are social rules of behavior. They are context dependent. They are defined by interdependent expectations in a social group or community. A great deal of international development intervention has focused on independent behaviours or one way dependent behaviours (that rely on social learning). The social norms perspective is trying to further develop the understanding of multi-way, interdependent expectations in a community that uphold social acceptance of violence and harmful practices.
Community can be defined in many ways, but social norms are strongest when shared by people who share mutual expectations and communicate about it. Therefore, a community may be geographically bound, but may also be seen as an extended social network crossing borders and including immigrant/diaspora communities living in the United States – a group of particular interest to the UNSPOKEN conference participants.
…Sustained prevention of violence against women and girls requires that multisectoral action be aimed at reinforcing existing positive social norms and bringing about new ones that make violence socially unacceptable, in addition to being legally prohibited. If the violence is socially condemned, then dynamics within society will dissuade people from engaging in it.
…Central to the social norms perspective is that it highlights that behaviours may persist because those who engage in them believe that they are expected by others to act in a certain way. Thus, for example, violence in a household may be used in the belief that not using it would reflect negatively on the perpetrator as he may be seen as a weak husband. Also, violence may not be reported by women and girls affected by it because this would break the social norm of family honour or the multitude of interconnected social norms that define girls and women’s roles in society. In that social context, reporting the violence would bring even graver consequences onto them. (Donahue, UNICEF, 2012)
To change social expectations, communities need to be in action and take action. More is required than merely convincing people that violence is not acceptable. Social expectations may prevent taking action; therefore, multiple groups in society can stimulate change of social norms through participatory discussions offering spaces for alignment and choice. Effective programming with generative conversations are supported and gain wider acceptance when given voice by the communtiies’ trusted leaders–employers, religious/faith based leaders, teachers, and/or elders. The communities who have abandoned gender violence practices share how lives have improved with other communities generating additional social norm change (Donahue, UNICEF, 2012).
The Conference portion of the UNSPOKEN Human Rights Festival will be held October 17-18, and will explore a gendered perspective of human rights and how consent, coercion, and conflict affect our world. Local, national and global perspectives will bridge the universal nature of gender violence and possibilities for gender-peace™. Professionals and those interested in being educated about gender, culture and social change are called to partake.
Visit www.iamunspoken.com for ways to participate and to buy tickets.
There are strong organizations collaborating to support victims and have effective interventions. If you suffer gender violence, need an intervention, or want to help a friend or neighbor, call for help: 911 or the domestic sexual violence service provider in our community.