How to Reduce Violence? Celebrate the Young Women Who Do It Every Day

Wherever you are in the world, statistics on gender-based violence are overwhelming – if not terrifying. At a time when 1 in 3 women will experience some form of violence over the course of her life, reducing the figures can seem like an insurmountable task. For an individual especially, it’s all too easy to feel like no match for a problem of this scale.

But there is a simple thing we can all do to make a difference; we can celebrate the young people who are increasingly choosing to devote their time, energy and skills to eliminating violence and protecting vulnerable people in their communities.

Young people like 25-year-old student, Stephanie Moniz. Stephanie is currently studying for a Masters in Clinical Counseling Psychology at Brenau University, and as part of that she’s completing an internship at Gateway Domestic Violence Center. When she’s not in class or doing her internship, she spends her time working at the shelter as an employee. I talked to her about her studies, her work, and her thoughts on gender-based violence.

So first of all, can you tell me a bit about your internship?  

So one of the internships I do is at a center for families affected by domestic violence. Through crisis intervention, comprehensive support services and community collaboration, Gateway tries to create an environment for safe, healthy, self-sufficient growth and violence prevention. It can house up to 20 families on a temporary or more permanent basis and is run entirely on donations. I run children’s groups twice a week for 4-6 and 7-11 year-olds. It’s kind of like a support/art therapy group and we all just chat and make things together.  We have anywhere between 10 and 30 kids- it varies a lot. I also see the mothers for individual counseling services if they would like to do that.

And you work there too when you’re not at university?

Yes, my job is to answer the crisis line, and around once a month I manage the shelter for the whole weekend. This means making sure all the women and kids have what they need, answering the crisis line, inputting stats for grants, monitoring security cameras, cleaning the shelter with the women, and offering emotional support when and where I can. On those weekends I sleep at the shelter; a paid employee is there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

When you talk to people about what you do, do you feel like there’s a good general understanding of gender-based violence?

As a whole, yes, but often people don’t realise how prevalent GBV is or how many different types of abuse there are. Domestic violence, in particular, is sometimes seen as just ‘a man hitting a woman’, but abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, financial or psychological and comes in many forms – like manipulation, control or isolation.  People often don’t realise how it affects the families and children whose trust is shattered by the violence, manipulation, and control of someone who was once a child themselves.

What do you think can be done to reduce violence?

I think we need to focus on educating children and on reducing the stigma around counselling. Very often the violent person in a relationship has experienced some sort of trauma themselves and their behaviour stems from there, so addressing this earlier would help massively. Some people think that talking to children about domestic violence is insensitive and could traumatise them, but in reality experiencing or participating in domestic violence later on in life is a lot more traumatic.

And for people who aren’t studying or working full time on these issues…can they still help?

People who want to help can definitely do so. So many organisations like Gateway are non-profit and always need volunteers, financial support, supplies, donated meals, and collaborators in the school systems, after-school clubs, activities etc. Find the contact details of a center close to where you live and talk to them about what you can do to help. Even something as quick and easy as sharing posts on social media to raise awareness or talking to your friends and family about something you’ve read is a good place to start.

It must be pretty difficult to spend so much of your time working on an issue like domestic violence. What makes you want to keep doing it?  

I have spent every month of 2016 at Gateway working with children whose short lives have been so dramatically affected by violence inflicted on a loved one, often by a loved one. These kids are some of the most loving and caring people I know, despite their lives having been turned upside down and inside out. I never thought that I would consider myself lucky to work in a place that can leave me so disheartened and saddened, but here I am, enjoying every minute of it. I love every hug, high five and smile from kids who are not even half my age but who have seen more than double the trauma than most people see in a lifetime. The innocence of these children is so raw, and though their stories are rooted in sadness, I really believe that their future is full of hope.

Ending violence against women is our joint responsibility, and no one is immune to it or its impacts not only on women and girls, but entire societies. Be inspired by Stephanie and others like her, and join the fight to end violence against women everywhere in the world!

Featured image: StockSnap







A Seat at the Table with Indego Africa

We have all heard the battle cry for education from the first lady, Michelle Obama and the call for inclusion from GIWPS Executive Director Melenne Verveer. Both women have been in the spotlight for their views and work with women and girls, specifically individuals living in impoverished areas or post conflict zones. Both women are sending the same message: Women and girls need to be seen as active drivers of progress and development, and we need to be better at including them in these processes.

We know the facts and we have the data, and it proves that women don’t just deserve to be part of the magical operation called decision making but it also makes monetary sense as well as humanitarian sense. We are here, we are humans and we are capable of playing an active role in our legislative, judicial, parliamentary and governmental bodies so give us a seat at the freaking table.

Since we have all these facts and data that prove the importance of educating girls and including women in the legislative process, why are there so few countries and organizations with women in leadership roles and why is the amount of funding for secondary education in marginalized communities so low?

Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to these questions, but I can share information about organizations that are making tremendous strides towards change. Recently I chatted with Elizabeth Coates, regional board member for Indego Africa. We shared stories about our initial interest in women and girls education as well as some of the intersecting issues within this area. Education and financial security often goes hand and hand. As women and adults, we need to feel a sense of independence a sense of self and often this is achieved by being able to say,

“Yes I did that with MY hands, MY brain, MY skills, MY money. I contributed to this family, house, community, society…I am an integral part!”

It is not hard to figure out that educating a woman really has a positive impact on countless people – but sometimes it helps to see the numbers that support that claim. Indego Africa partners with artisans in Rwanda and Ghana, and provides vocational courses as well as courses to enhance entrepreneurial skills. 52% of women graduating from their Leadership Academy in Rwanda started new businesses; in addition, 92% of IA artisans had banks in comparison to 35% of women in Rwanda.

I’m sure that IA is not the only organization partnering with local community members to empower women. So if you know of an organization that deserves the spotlight let us know, shout it out and leave a comment.


Women as Leaders

Women haven’t always been best suited for the leading roles. A thousand years ago, leadership depended on other skills than what is required today. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her famous speech We should all be feminists, “[…] human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. The physically stronger person was more likely to lead. And men in general are physically stronger; of course, there are many exceptions.” That isn’t the case any more. Women are just as capable of being leaders as men. Yet, men are dominating as leaders in almost every sector. With less than one week to Women Deliver in Copenhagen, it’s time to reflect on why women are still underrepresented among higher positions, and how we can change that.

Over 50 percent of the population are women. Still, it’s not news that parliaments all over the world are dominated by men. Worldwide, 22 percent of the parliamentarians are women. In 37 countries, this number is below 10 percent.Parliaments in Micronesia, Yemen, Qatar, Tonga, Palau and Vanuatu only include men. Only two parliaments in the world have more women than men. However, being a Swede, I often hear people arguing that the situation is better within Europe. This is not necessarily true. Rwanda is currently the country with the most female representatives at  63.8 percent. Although the Nordic Countries are getting closer to the 50/50 line, Europe with the Nordic countries excluded, has 24.4 percent women in parliaments. Looking at the business sector, the numbers are even worse. Only 4 percent of the S&P 500 Companies CEO’s are women. Notable is that most of the female leaders are represented within the social sector, so in order to achieve equality, we cannot only look at the numbers. Women and men need to have the same possibilities of reaching higher positions within all areas.

However, there is good news too. We are on the right track. The number of female parliamentarians has doubled in the last 20 years, and we might even see a female president of the United States. Women are acknowledged as being capable of developing the same leadership skills as men, and now the situation is being discussed more than ever. Political reforms and law changes also contribute to more possibilities for women. There are also wonderful organisations and conferences focusing on the issue, like Women Deliver. This year the conference features many amazingly inspirational people, both women and men. One of the incredible female leaders who will be attending the conference is Gro Harlem Bruntland – former Prime Minister of Norway. She was in this position for 1o years, and was the youngest person and the first woman to be elected. Referred to as the “mother of the nation”, it’s clear that she is very important to Norway. Bruntland is currently a member of “The Elders” and a member of the United Nations Foundation Board. She has become a symbol for women with power and is a true role model for people all over the world.

The conference features a broad variation of people. Another interesting woman attending the conference is Moya Dodd. Dodd has been listed twice as one of the top 100 Women of Influence by the Australian Financial Review. Aside from being a part of the AFC Legal Committees with an Honours Degree in Law, she has made herself a name within the world of football, a man-dominated area. After being vice-captain of the Australian team, she made her way into the FIFA Executive Committee. She is now working on reforms to include more women within FIFA and make Women’s football more acknowledged. Dodd is an excellent example of a strong leader who breaks norms and is making a change for society; we definitely need more people like her. Want more inspiration? Read more about the amazing leaders attending the conference here.

I strongly encourage everyone to reflect on women as leaders, and why there are so few of them. We already know women are amazing leaders, so let’s take a stand for gender equality. Let’s look at peoples’ competences, skills and personalities, and less at their gender. In this way, we will give the right people influence, and see more people like Gro Harlem Bruntland and Moya Dodd. I guarantee you that we’ll create a better world for everyone once we give everyone an equal opportunity.

Girls’ Globe will be present at the Women Deliver Conference, bringing you live content straight from the heart of the action. If you can’t be there in person, you can be a part of Women Deliver through the Virtual Conference, by hosting an event in your hometown, and by engaging online using #WDLive and #WD2016. 

Cover photo credit: Gary Kashka, Flickr Creative Commons

This Mother’s Day, Give the Gift of Kindness

I’m lying in bed awake at four in the morning, nursing my restless and sick son so that he can sleep. This is my second Mother’s Day, and I can honestly say that the last two years of my life, starting from when I got pregnant with him, have been the most rewarding, but also most challenging, exhausting, frustrating and at times heartbreaking years of my life. Why heartbreaking? Because I never knew that one single person, this tiny little human being, could make me doubt my abilities as a mother, a woman, a wife, a professional and a person so completely and utterly as he has.

Obviously, it is not his fault. It’s not really him who makes me doubt myself, but the society around us – a society that constantly tells not only mothers, but women, that we’re not good enough. That we’re not performing to the standards set to us by others, that we’re not succeeding in “having it all”, that we’re not enough. The pressure is even worse on mothers, because of all the unrealistic and unnatural expectations placed on motherhood and parenting. Some days it feels like we just can’t win. If we stay at home, we’re not setting an ambitious enough example for our offspring; if we go back to work, why did we have kids in the first place since we’re just dumping them in the hands of strangers. If we don’t breastfeed we’re selfish, but if we breastfeed too long, we’re weirdos and clearly there’s something wrong with us. If we co-sleep, our kids will surely be sleeping with us until they go to college, and if we put them in a crib we’re causing permanent damage to their ability to form normal attachments. It seems that when it comes to motherhood, everyone has an opinion and everyone is an expert – and all that “knowledge”, information and pressure can at times just feel too much to handle.

I’ve received my fair share of judgement and criticism, some from strangers and some from people I know, some in the form of disguised “advice” and some as plain, nasty comments – but as I watch my sleeping child, I realize that even though those comments have hurt me in the moment, I’ve made the somewhat unconscious decision to not carry them with me. What I carry with me are the random, unsolicited acts of kindness and support I’ve also received, sometimes from very surprising places.

Instead of remembering the nasty stares I got from strangers when I nursed my crying child in a crowded New York subway, I remember the unknown construction worker who came up to me and told me I was doing a good an important job nursing my baby – which he knew all about, as his wife had nursed all four of their kids. Instead of remembering the group of young women who made sure to speak just loudly enough for me to hear them as they criticized me for traveling with a baby as we were waiting to board a flight from Helsinki to New York, I choose to remember the lovely elderly couple who played peek-a-boo with my son on our latest trip from New York back to our current home in Tanzania. Instead of holding with me the judgmental remarks I’ve received about the fact that we choose to co-sleep with our son, I remember my husband telling me that he believes our son is such a happy, relaxed, well-adjusted little kid largely because we’ve kept him close to us, and because he knows we’re always there for him when he needs us. I also carry with me the memory of the relief and gratefulness I saw on the face of the mother whose newborn baby I breastfed when she had ran out of formula and couldn’t breastfeed herself – and I know that it is those moments, those sincere and genuine acts of solidarity and kindness, that can make the hard moments of motherhood a little easier to handle.

So on this Mother’s Day, give the mothers (and others) in your life the gift of kindness. Hold out your hand, and pull up someone who is about to fall. Allow a tired mother to lean against your shoulder. Tell her “Great job, Mama. What you are is enough. You are enough.”
Because it is kindness that can really change this world into something better – not just for mothers, but for all of us. Happy Mother’s Day.

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Featured image credit: Eren {Sea + Prairie} / Flickr

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