Today a very important parallel event was held on the topic of “Violence Against Women: What Do Gender, Race, and Class Have to Do With It” which was sponsored by United Methodist Women. We have planned for this for a few days and after attending other events, I had very high expectations. This event was organized differently than the other events I have attended. Instead of having panelists in front speaking to a room of people, there were circles set up for discussion. Women come from all over the world to attend the Commission on the Status of Women and to tell their stories. UMW hosts this event as a way to foster discussion, and to allow these voices to be heard. This structure created space for women to share their encounters with violence in their own communities.
At the beginning, after welcoming and explaining a few key rules about how to deal with the sensitivity of the issue at hand, two women shared their personal stories. These were very different interactions with violence, but very important and moving. Groups were then left on their own with facilitators to discuss. Many chose to examine the stories already told, but this led to some other stories being shared within groups. There were commonalities found, and half way through, groups were asked to share their findings with the whole room. Overall, groups found that when the issue of class and race were combined with gender, the violence was intensified. Not only this, but that existing policy measures can at times leave out some individuals who are of a different race or class.
One important idea that was brought up was the fact that there is no general woman. When discussing issues of violence, each individual woman or girl is affected in a different way. This is extremely important in regards to race and class.
The intense experiences shared were eye-opening. The women were able to use these stories as fuel for brainstorming on policy change ideas. The small groups developed a few different ideas on what they would like change to look like. One group shared the necessity of ‘cognitive restructuring’ within individuals. Changing the way men and women think about gender issues and violence is integral in improving conditions for women and girls. Another group highlighted the importance of education, both in a familial setting and in public. In addition, groups stressed the importance of implementing existing laws.
This session was an incredible experience of sharing and seeking to change attitudes around violence. Although very difficult stories were shared, the feeling of the session was very forward-looking. The women discussed ways to advocate for policy change that can help prevent violence in the future.