This blog post first appeared on PreventConnect.org

Being born and raised in India, I assumed only young girls and women in my city experienced and witnessed multiple forms of sexual harassment in our country, especially on the streets and in public transit. Until I arrived in the U.S. in 2004 and continued to read about sexual violence, especially the blogs at Stop Street Harassment, I realized that street harassment is unfortunately prevalent all around the world in shared public spaces. Street harassment, often a troubling factor attributing to sexual violence and physical harassment, is often trivialized and normalized due to being a part of our everyday lives. Being catcalled, groped and grabbed, physically and sexually assaulted, stalked or exposed to flashings and lewd gestures are all types of street harassment. We often overlook the most troubling fact — most of us experience it everyday in our commutes, parks, walks, drives, bike rides and many more avenues. Imagine the trauma, the impact, and future implications on the lives of those affected and victimized.

WAMTA campaign addressing sexual harassment and transphobia. Photo Credit: Holly Kearl

Street harassment is also intersectional in nature as it often connects with sexual and domestic violence, racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, transphobia, reproductive injustice, Islamophobia, and other forms of oppressions.

Denying and trivializing the prevalence and the traumatic impact of street harassment on our communities continues to contribute to the hostile, negative, and misogynistic environment for young girls, women, and trans women. Unfortunately,when it comes to preventing street harassment and other related forms of sexual violence, the victims/ survivors are often held accountable for their victimization and are taught ways to prevent the harassment. Many women have been taught to be aware and cautious of their surroundings, and some have even learned self-defense, in an effort to increase their sense of safety and strength. These things are important, but when young girls and women are frequently asked to dress ‘appropriately’, asked to smile when catcalled, not to stroll ‘alone’ outside in the dark, always be with a friend in public, not to be ‘alone’ at bars, parks and other shared spaces– it contributes to rape culture and perpetuates sexual and domestic violence. Gendered policing and victim-blaming are not going to help prevent street harassment.

An example of collaboration and collective community organizing between Stop Street Harassment, WAMTA Metro and Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Photo credit: Holly Kearl

This week (April 2-8, 2017) marks the 7th year of the International Anti-Street Harassment Week. In order to prevent and end the cycle of street harassment, we can take the following steps:

  1.  Collectively shift the culture in how our society sees and responds to street harassment and sexual violence. We need to identify protective factors and effective ways to change these harmful gender and social norms that condone harassment, sexism, and other forms of oppressions.
  2. Take action: Get inspired by examples of events and activities of how other activists around the world are resisting and challenging street harassment in their towns. Take a look and see how you can adapt the elements of collaboration and community organizing to stop street-harassment in your community and town.
  3. Share resources with survivors and communities: Those who has experienced street harassment and need help, can call toll-free: 855-897-5910 or click here for online hotline.  You can find other resources here through Stop Street Harassment or read stories shared by other victims/ survivors of their experiences on Collective Action for Safe Spaces.
  4. The month of April also marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM): It is important we recognize how street harassment, an often overlooked and minimized form of sexual harassment, is connected to sexual violence and other types of systemic and institutional oppressions. Check out how you can get involved.

This blog post first appeared on PreventConnect.org

On 18th March 2017, I was fortunate to have attended the Empowering Women of Color Conference (EWOCC) at Berkeley. This event was organized by The Women of Color Initiative, a project of the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly. This year’s theme was “Unbound and Unboxed”, with a focus on the urgent need for collective care, nurturing, and affirmation for women of color, who lead the battles against social injustice and cycles of violence and oppression.

The moment I walked in the event space, I could feel the energy, dedication and enthusiasm by the student activists and organizers who made this conference possible and successful.  The conference began with Wakan Wiya Opening Blessings. This beautiful ceremony was performed by Zamora, a Two Spirit ceremonial drummer and singer along with other drummers from the larger Two Spirit prayer community, the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit (BAAITS) Drum. Mesmerized by the powerful beats of the drumming ceremony, the morning program continued to be inspiring!

karen kaur dhillon, Youth speaker at EWOCC

karen kaur dhillon, the plenary youth speaker for the conference is a committed advocate dedicated to addressing and transforming institutionalized oppression in the education system through law and policy. As one of the many immigrant students who had dealt with barriers and intersectional forms of oppression, and witnessing how it also affected her peers (students of color), karen kaur talked about what it was like growing up to be an immigrant and her experiences in the education system and other forms of oppression. Having witnessed the same passion, commitment and excitement at the recent ThisGEN Youth Summit through social media, I was deeply moved by karen’s stories and commitment and the evolving role of youth-led movement building and activism.

The opening address was by a nationally touring poet, screenwriter, educator and performer, Fatimah AsgharA member of the Dark Noise Collective and currently a MFA candidate at the Helen Zell Writers’ program at the University of Michigan, Fatimah is also the co-creator and writer of Brown Girls— a web series that addresses friendships between women of color. While reciting her poem, “If They Should Come For Us“, she challenged the audiences to reflect on the intersectional and common experiences of oppression shared by marginalized communities, especially growing up as an immigrant woman of color. What inspired me the most were the questions she encouraged us to explore further:

Plenary speaker

What does solidarity & allyship mean for women of color? How can we commit to seeing each other fully?

The conference workshops not only examined the daily lived experiences of women of color, such as biases and micro-aggressions but also explored other intersectional topics ranging from challenging transphobia, reproductive justice, body and identity politics, de-colonialization of harmful practices, to state and gender violence against Native American women and immigrant communities. In each of the two sessions, there were about 18-20 workshops that we could choose from to participate, which proved to be a dilemma due to the fascinating and challenging topics being addressed. In the first session, I participated in the ‘Challenging Transphobia’ workshop by Abeni Jones, a black trans educator, workshop facilitator, artist, and writer in New Orleans, LA. Using this workshop as a brave space to grow and learn and be challenged, Abeni inroduced Trans/Gender 101 definitions, provided everyday examples and helped us understand how prejudice (for example, gender essentialism) leads to oppression (transphobia) and how can we prevent and challenge it.

The second session was more about Self-Care. This interactive and engaging workshop titled “Radical Self-Care is Not Optional” was led by Nakia Dillard, a life coach and workshop facilitator who guides women for self-care and personal development. We spoke about why we hesitate to take care and prioritize our well-being first and what are the barriers to self-care. This helped us discuss our own experiences of what self-care means and using examples of her own such as journaling, hobbies, and other coping methods– Nakia encouraged us to write affirmations for ourselves, list of things for self-care and identify things we are grateful for in our lives.

As a South Asian immigrant woman who is actively involved in this movement against social injustice and gender-violence, what struck me the most in this conference was the intersectional nature and commonness of discrimination, barriers, violence, and other forms of oppression that women of color encounter everyday. More importantly, I realized the urgent need for identifying root causes and risk factors that lead to unsafe, violent, and hostile spaces for women of color to prevent it from happening. To prevent and end the cycle of oppression, trauma, injustice and violence, it is critical we first find spaces of well-being and identify ways of replenishing our strength, preservation, and resistance.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare”~ Audre Lorde

Two weeks ago, I participated in an engaging & rigorous 3-day training, ‘Building Change Together’, organized by our sister coalition, California Partnership To End Domestic Violence (CPEDV). Being new to prevention and have recently joined the PreventConnect team at CALCASA, I found the training to be a great tool to educate myself about the Core Competencies in primary prevention, address challenges and privileges as a social justice advocate, and further meet and network with an inspiring community of prevention visionaries and advocates. Despite the diversity our backgrounds and work experiences, participants had a common vision. We envisioned preventing and ending sexual and domestic violence through inclusive, accessible, accommodating, culturally specific and comprehensive programming and strategies, grounded in an intersectional social justice framework. For more information on the linkage between sexual violence and domestic violence, click here.

Our sister coalition & partnerships

Using a series of interactive exercises, small group activities and sharing, engaging lectures and assessment worksheets, the training was aimed at understanding the fundamental theoretical frameworks addressing root causes of violence, including intersectional forms of oppression and social injustice. Grounded in public health and ecological frameworks, we were provided practical tools and resources for community-level changes and building a collaborative, supportive and culturally specific community of prevention advocates. On the 1st day, we discussed what prevention at the community-level mean to us, and how our community work should involve all stakeholders and those affected by sexual and domestic violence. For example, one of the activities included identifying our individual ‘passion word’ for our prevention work and sharing with our individual small groups our personal or professional experiences resulting from the passion word. The passion words were then used to frame a value statement for our common goal to end this cycle of violence and oppression.

 

Banner of OppressionDay-2 particularly focused on the social justice approach to preventing violence and learning about the intersectional and complex nature of oppression and how it affects our communities. The Fabrics of Oppression poster (photo attached) taught us to check in on our own privileges and the multiple levels of oppression including adultism (marginalizing youth). Using a translation/interpretation activity from Spanish to English— we were taught about the role and impact of language justice with a focus on intergenerational and multilingual initiatives. How does it feel for communities who cannot speak English to seek resources or be involved in the social justice movement? What barriers do they face and how can we be more sensitive and inclusive of their voices? What does it mean to be an interpreter/ translator especially for those involved in social justice movements and assist marginalized communities?

 

On the last day, we learned about how to develop a collaborative change approach and engage resistance to change. Through a case study activity, each of the smaller groups got an opportunity to learn and discuss promising and effective community-driven prevention initiatives. In summary, the message was clear: preventing and ending sexual violence, domestic violence and other forms of intersectional oppression is possible if we take the steps to build a community of advocates, stakeholders, youth activists and most importantly those who have been marginalized and experienced violence.

On October 18, 2016, CALCASA’s national project, PreventConnect participated in a Twitter Chat hosted by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV). In this #WhyICare Twitter chat, activists and leaders representing leading social justice organizations and coalitions came together to discuss what this movement signifies to us and why we all care about ending domestic    violence. Our common goal is to end and prevent domestic violence. Creating comprehensive, accessible, inclusive, trauma-informed, survivor-focused prevention whyicare   programs is only possible by addressing the nature of intersectionality of domestic violence to sexual assault, child abuse and other forms of violence. This social  justice movement to end domestic violence and other related forms of violence will be successful if we recognize the shared risk and protective factors and identify  who’s left out in this movement. Many chat participants agreed that we need more awareness and social change to build this movement and make it stronger.

 Recognizing what this social justice movement commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month means to each of us is a critical piece in identifying ways to  prevent domestic violence and other intersectional forms of violence. Although this social movement may be shaped by our unique backgrounds and experiences, the  #WhyICare hashtag suggests we all care about and work together towards this common goal.

 If you missed this twitter chat or for further details, click here. Also, be sure to check out the report Reciprocal Advancement to learn more about how domestic  violence and sexual assault are linked yet distinct.

 

 

 

 

 

#WhyICare: Building an Inclusive and Intersectional Social Justice Movement to End Domestic Violence