Including Men In Fighting Gender Inequality

I met Lizette Ruíz Castillo during a Monthly Open Mic in San Andrés Cholula called Pulques Feministas, where women and men can discuss issues surrounding gender inequality, violence against women, sexual and reproductive rights, and most importantly, how we can tackle them.

Liz is President of the Colectivo Equilátera, a civil association that provides the community with skills and knowledge to generate new patterns of behavior and relationships through sexual health and education for peace that lead to a better quality of life. I asked her if I could interview her to see what project they are supporting and hands down, this is one of the best projects I’ve encountered so far.

Colectivo Equilátera is a group of psychologists, lawyers, educators and musicians, among others, who offer different services to the community in Puebla, the fourth largest state in Mexico. Among these are psychotherapy with gender perspective, legal advice, workshops, conferences, consultancy, graduates. Right now, one of the projects they are supporting is Hombres Trabajando(Se) which roughly translates to “Men working on themselves”.

This project is a program of reeducation to question how men have absorbed norms of violence throughout their lives. It gives them a chance to deconstruct their ideas, to be reassembled during the course of the program. This complements the activities promoting gender equality and education for peace that Equilatera promotes.

“When men attend regularly for a while, they begin to understand more deeply the forms of violence and their impact, as well as the different manifestations of inequality between men and women. Their empathy begins to grow. If they continue to go regularly for a year (or more), their relationships with themselves and their surroundings improve significantly; it is possible to communicate with them on a more intimate level. They can show a greater respect for those around them.”

Hombres Trabajando(se) program is helping to reduce the gender gap in daily life. It reduces the rates of violence in relationships and it’s hoping to reduce the rates of femicide.

Liz states that the project still has an incipient impact, as it is difficult for men to attend voluntarily and to be consistent. One of the attendees has admitted that it is an extremely difficult process, to acknowledge how you’ve promoted gender based violence and to whom you’ve exercised it. This project hopes to become a tool for change, which could be replicated in different parts of Latin America or the world. For this, it needs to reach more people and encourage them to attend regularly, since attendees become future facilitators.

How can we help Equilatera and Hombres Trabajando(se)?

One of the biggest challenges is simply to let people know these projects and programs EXIST. It’s a common misconception that projects like these are aimed at those who may be cognitively impaired, or that they are expensive and therefore unaffordable. So help us give a shout-out to these projects in your communities or on social media.

If you would like more information on how you can mimic these efforts in your own community, or learn more about Equilatera and what they are doing to fight gender inequality in Mexico, please feel free to comment!

Documentary ‘The Uncondemned’ Shatters Stigma on Sexual Violence

The persistence of rape in conflict, from a moral standpoint, represents a regression. Humanity better stand back up on that front if it wants to survive as a species.” Dr. Justin Kabanga, rape psychologist (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

When Godelieve Mukasarasi first began working with female sexual assault survivors of the Rwandan genocide, she described them as “the living dead.” Beyond shock and grief, they had shut down in order to make it through alive. One woman, Serafina, explained, “[rape] is the wound that you can’t cure among all wounds that you ever had.

As the Founder of Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA), Godeliève works to bring women together to break the silence on the pervasive sexual assaults that occurred with impunity in Rwanda. Nothing would erase the horrific violence inflicted upon them, but anything close to closure was impossible without justice.

After the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, tribunal members reached out to Godeliève in the hopes of connecting with survivors. The testimony they heard allowed them to prosecute Jean-Paul Akayesu, under whose supervision Tutsis were systematically raped and murdered. His trial marked the first time in history that rape was prosecuted as a crime against humanity and also a crime of genocide.

The film The Uncondemned tells this remarkable story, following the international team of lawyers and activists that fought to bring Akayesu to justice and the brave women who came forward to testify against him. In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, join Peace is Loud’s campaign to bring this film to colleges, universities and communities worldwide to strengthen support for survivors of sexual violence and torture.

Rape is a crime that feeds on silence, and it takes a rupture in the status quo to affect change. After the success of the Akayesu case, local Rwandan tribunals ruled that rape was a “category one” crime, in the same grouping as murder. This was a tremendous step forward, setting a lasting precedent for the severity of sexual assault.

The story of rape used as a weapon of war is sadly a universal one—but we’re working to make the story of justice for survivors a universal one too. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, described by UN officials as the “rape capital of the world”, we will be partnering with organizations working on the ground to bring The Uncondemned to safe houses for female survivors of sexual assault; and to mobile court judges and medical, law enforcement and legal experts to demonstrate effective, survivor-centered strategies for documenting and prosecuting rape on a local level. We’re particularly pleased to be working to integrate the film into a mandatory training for Congolese soldiers on gathering evidence in gender-based crimes.

The Uncondemned demonstrates unwaveringly that women feel the devastating impact of conflict the deepest, yet are underrepresented in peace talks. To reverse this trend, we’ll be working with global grassroots organizations who are looking for tools to help implement and localize UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, which highlight the urgent need for women’s participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Within the U.S., we’re working with universities and student groups to integrate The Uncondemned into classes and trainings that strengthen support to survivors of sexual violence and torture. We’ve developed film-accompanying discussion guides for law schools and medical schools which address the legal, medical and psychosocial aspects of sexual violence and present scenarios how to best respond to disclosures of sexual violence.

It is our hope that each screening of The Uncondemned will bring us one step closer to bringing justice and support for survivors of sexual assault and torture around the world. These crimes perpetuate as long as they are allowed to; it’s up to each of us to say, “no more”.

As for Godeliève, she’s still hosting her weekly SEVOTA meetings for survivors, including the three women featured in the film. “The fact that rape was taken into consideration in the prosecution of Akayesu [on screen] has had a worldwide impact on the issue of the rape of women”, she says. “In spite of being a rural woman with little means, I helped denounce injustice and fought for humanity”.

Please join us in bringing The Uncondemned to your campus or community. Learn more about the film, host a screening, and be a part of our global community.

 

A Letter to Assault Survivors

‘Effects of sexual assault on future relationships’

‘Multiple sexual assaults’

‘Definition of rape’

‘Was I raped’

‘Can you be raped twice’

‘Can your boyfriend rape you’

‘Please help’

These were some of an endless list of phrases I typed into google search bars, coming through every results page to see if anything could explain the last few years of my life.

Five years ago, if you’d typed any of the above, you’d get a handful of articles (and one pdf document) that documented the phenomenon of repeated sexual assaults. Most were unhelpfully inconclusive as to why it happened, but they were my only comfort in that they at least confirmed that it did.

A victim of multiple sexual assaults challenges our comprehension, and our empathy. We imagine that the after-effects would be hypervigilance, an ingrained wariness of risky behaviors or situations. The human brain, however, does not always act logically when distorted by extreme pain or shame, both of which rape victims experience profoundly.

A devastating letter by the victim of Brock Turner shed light on struggles of recovering from an assault, but fewer of the less palatable effects of an assault are as widely discussed. People are generally willing to accept anguish, anger or fear. They’re less ready to believe that trauma can beget trauma.  If a woman has been so badly burned, some ask, why would she throw herself into another fire?

Smart, strong, reasonable women who have been victimized by sexual assault can still be vulnerable to abusive relationships, sexual situations they don’t know how to control, and unsure how or when to say ‘no’.

I’m one of them. One ten minute incident five years ago spurred me to spend the next 1,095 days unknowingly punishing myself for it. If a boy bought me a drink, I’d feel so guilty that he’d spent $5 on me that I’d close my eyes and bear it when he pushed me against a wall and put his hands up my shirt, even if I’d asked him not to. Was that assault? It couldn’t have been. I didn’t fight him off.

If I came home exhausted and someone I was dating didn’t listen when I said I was tired, then pulled me on the bed and unbuttoned my jeans while I protested, I’d try not to show them I was biting my tongue and crying because of course, this was how men were supposed to treat me and it was my job to put up with it. Also, I’d said yes before. So it couldn’t be rape.

If sex hurt, it was because it was supposed to. If I’d done something I didn’t want to, it was because ‘can we not do this’ was a favour I should be grateful for, not a fixed boundary. If I got hurt, it was my own fault because I should’ve known better. If I started talking about it, the confused looks while friends asked for clarification – “I mean, you said you were tired, but you didn’t insist, did you?” “If you didn’t want him to touch you, why didn’t you push him off?” – pummelled my definition of ‘consent’ to practically nothing.

The more confused I became, the more ashamed I became, the worse my decisions became, the longer my list of, ‘did I want that?’ became, the more my vicious cycle strengthened. Before I hit a breaking point and went into therapy, I would have had to be pulled into an alley kicking and screaming before I considered it rape (and even then I would have double checked what time I was walking home and asked myself what I was wearing).

The only things that would lend my story credence are that despite what happened, I have a good career, I have a stellar social media presence, I’m constantly projecting happiness, I’ve had successful relationships, and I’ve not spoken about it publicly before. The less we speak about it, the less we let it affect us, the more we blame ourselves, the more credible we are. As painful as it may be to lock ourselves into our patterns of behaviour, it is far more terrifying to admit what we’re doing, to admit what’s happening to us. It’s horrendous to be a rape victim. It’s intolerable to be a rape victim nobody believes.

I’m one of the luckier ones. After three years, I stumbled into therapy and a social circle of women I respected with similar experiences. For the last two years, I haven’t cared if someone buys me a drink, and my boyfriends know that even if it’s just because I want to read a book instead, they’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Nonetheless, I’m still hesitant to talk about it. But recovering enough has left me with the gnawing guilt that comes with knowing that there are other women, right now, who are googling, wondering how much of what’s happening to them is their fault, desperately hoping it isn’t.

It took me five years to be able to say, being raped doesn’t mean you deserved to be raped. Being hurt once doesn’t make you damaged goods. You don’t have to spend your life repenting for something you didn’t do. If you didn’t want it, if you say you didn’t want it, that’s enough.

No matter how many times it happens, you should know, it isn’t your fault. You don’t have to live your life telling yourself it is.

Why She Stays: Behind the Doors of Domestic Abuse

Why do you think she stays? Because she wants to? Because she loves him that much? Maybe. But she may also stay because red is the only color she can identify when she sees him. She may stay because she’s terrified of the thought of her children having to live in a shelter, having no financial resources, having no one to rely on. She may stay because he threatens to take her children if she tries to leave.

In the eyes of others, he’s charming and kind. But no one knows that he’s also someone who pays the children’s school fees if he feels like it, and the light bill or buy groceries some of the time, but there’s usually a catch. He always makes sure she and the kids feel guilty about it, as though they’re strangers depending on his unjustified kindness. He’s someone and he’s no one, all at once. This is where her confusion lies.

There are also other things he is not. He is not someone who can give love, because he cannot receive it. He is not someone who is able to put himself in anyone else’s shoes. He is not someone who will share her burdens. He is not someone who wants to model compassion and integrity for his children. He doesn’t know how to pretend to be these things, nor does he care to.

He is not someone who will protect his family, and in fact, he is the one from who they need protection. He is secretly proud of his cowardly ways.

So you ask, why does she stay? What’s wrong with her? Well, would you leave if you had nowhere to go, no one who could help you, no money to feed your children or no way to get them to school or doctors’ appointments? What about if he took away your family’s medical insurance? And what about if your child had some chronic condition? What if he threatened to call immigration?

It seems easy to question some other random person. Yet, it’s more often not some other random person, it’s your co-worker, your neighbor, your friend, your sister. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you don’t know it is. Maybe you think someone else’s situation is worse and so you justify to yourself that yours isn’t that bad, so it couldn’t be considered abuse.

He doesn’t punch or slap you like those other men. He only occasionally curses at you or randomly accuses you of cheating when he’s really angry. Sometimes he shoves you but always says he feels terrible afterward. He doesn’t stop you from working. Yet he drops by unannounced from time-to-time, and come to think of it, more frequently lately.

He says he loves you so much he wants to spend all of his time with you, especially when you try to hang out with friends or make plans to see family. He says he wants to take care of the finances. He gives you an allowance because it’s convenient. He feels there is no need for you to have access to the account. Access for what?

No, no, no. None of this is me, you say. Okay. But are you afraid to say the wrong things, to do something that might upset him, go to places he may not approve of, wear clothes he might find inappropriate? Do you have a running reel in the back of your mind of what he might say about this or that, about just about every decision in your life?

But you’re always on his mind because he cares, you say. I get it. It’s all very difficult. It’s insidious. It’s perplexing. Comprehending his intentions can be difficult and even the fleeting idea of leaving is not an easy one to consider.

Let’s now once again reconsider why she stays, why you stay, why we stay, why we’ve considered leaving, why we don’t have to do any of it alone whether we stay or go. Most of us, 1 out of 3 females in fact, has been abused, most often by a loved one. You are not alone.

So again I want you to believe me when I say it, you don’t have to do it alone, no matter what you decide.