As the latest news of rapes on college campuses and Bill Cosby's 'audition' tactics hit the airwaves, I am thankful that there is indeed an International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This global issue needs as much attention as possible to give victims a public forum to tell their stories in safety and to eradicate the crimes which have become a way of life for so many women and often their children.
Last week women from 10 chapters of IAWRT (International Association of Women in Radio and Television) met in Granada, Nicaragua for a regional conference. This was held in collaboration with Puntos de Encuentro, a Managua-based NGO that uses multimedia and communication for social change. Under the strategic banner of South to South Cooperation, we shared experiences, skills and strategies to respond to and end violence against women around the globe.
I was surrounded by media makers from Uganda to Honduras. The IAWRT board members have about 200 years of media experience amongst them, from documentaries, to radio and television, and print. The opportunity to hear from seasoned journalists about one, their experiences of violence in their home countries, and two, issues of safety when trying to report the news, was hugely important for the young women from Central America who living under the veil of machismo, need the support to grapple with their problems.
In a world where Virgin Galactic customers are planning recreational trips to galaxies beyond, it is completely unfathomable that our earthlings still permit men to hurt women. From brides being punished or killed for inadequate dowries in India to genital mutilation in Tanzania to rapes in Honduras to long-earned maternity- leave rights being reduced in Norway, no country is free from the endemic quality of gender violence.
At this conference in still recovering yet hospitable Nicaragua, we learned how to protect ourselves while gathering a story, how to shoot a film on an iPhone and shared various styles of storytelling for their effectiveness. CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) was explained to the attendees. This national conference will take place in many cities throughout the US next year with a goal to get municipalities to adopt CEDAW as a city ordinance as part of Beijing Plus 20.
There is a lot of power behind the push to wake up and tell the stories, but there are institutions that try to stand in the way. Policemen in Honduras systematically rape women and ignore their complaints, instilling fear of retaliation as a punishment for telling the truth. When I asked a woman from Guatemala if the church was helpful, she called it 'the oppressor." In private she told me of women beaten by their husbands are told that "they must take it, as that is marriage," or even worse, "only God can change their husbands."
Often if women progress in the work field and the men in their lives don't move forward, the men take out their frustration on the easiest target. And when the 99 percent struggle to hold on under UC (Unfettered Capitalism), it is the women and children and Mother Nature who take the biggest hit.
When the IAWRT organized a parade around the Granada, I wasn't sure if it made sense. But I needn't have worried. The act of making the signs for the demonstration was incredibly bonding and when everyone dressed up in their native costumes stepped onto the square, it was a powerful demonstration with just a touch of Fellini. I carried a Citizen of Woodstock Nation sign so that Abbie Hoffman could make an appearance. The crowd was sparse because of the rain, but when seeing the little school children look out their classroom windows, it all made sense. They got the message right away: that courageous mothers and sisters were standing up for their rights.
Because stories then create a desire for facts, here are a few from the UN:
• 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries.
• It is estimated that up to 30 million girls under the age of 15 remain at risk from FGM/C, and more than 130 million girls and women have undergone the procedure worldwide.
• Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth
It is the duty and privilege for women in the media to report on these stories and to do it with impunity. In the wonderful documentary Gulabi Gang,an intrepid village activist in Bundelkhand, India valiantly purses cases of violence against women, forming her own vigilante group, hitting men with a stick and taking the cases are far as she can in the legal system. Pink Power.
The more women have the opportunity to talk and share stories, the more chance they have to challenge their situations, create better lives, and improve the world for all us.
I say Thank You on this holiday week to my new sisters in strength: Racheal, Valerie, Liz, Rose, Gerd, Samina, Sue Ann, Sheila, Khedija, Martha, Adriana, Debbie Ann, Ananya, Violet, Leticia, Amy, Patricia, Eunice, Vanessa, Maria, Roscio, and all the other wonderful women who shared this important time with me. And to Howard for his help and Cesar our driver with his own daughters... you are pretty cool, too.