Towards solidarity on violence against women - including Mother Earth

"Violence against women is not a private matter but a human rights violation that generates state responsibility," wrote Binalakshmi Nepram, award-winning human rights advocate in the strategic introduction she put together for an event she hosted in which I was a speaker. Violence against women is also an environmental (justice) issue. Environmental violence is a gender issue. it is not just that all the issues are connected in some abstract way: it is that these different forms of violence stem from a similar source.

On December 6, Manipur Women Gun Survivor's Network, the Control Arms Foundation of India, the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace and the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples' Gender, Justice and Peace program collaborated to put on strategic round table to discuss ending violence against women. I was invited to talk about climate change, from my particular role as a spiritual entrepreneur and educator who integrates healing, spirituality, decolonization and climate change into the wider concerns around ongoing violence against women.

It was a remarkable gathering. Nepram, did a superb job at bringing together some amazing people. Besides myself, other speakers included Elsa Stamatopoulou, former Chief of the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2003; Dr Rashmi Jaipal, the main representative to the UN from the American Psychological Association and Professor Emeritus of Cross cultural Psychology Center for Cultures and Communication in Bloomfield College; Natalia Caruso, Director of Grantmaking and Partnerships at MADRE (which hosted the event); Ahmet Coymak, a transnational peace activist; Cristina Veran, an international Indigenous Peoples' issues specialist; Dorjee Tsteten, a Member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile; and Gilbert Smith, a musician and writer committed to community service who also works at the Columbia University's Mailman school of Public Health. Several other male artists/actors also attended. Of note was that the room was mostly men: their presence was much welcomed by the women. As Dr Jaipal noted, it is not possible to shift the system only by focusing on empowering women - we also need to focus on shifting men.

Each speaker brought helpful insights into underlying causes of violence against women and various forms of solutions. The concerns of indigenous women, who are too often wrought invisible in conversations about gender, were particularly highlighted. Dr Jaipal's brought psychological research which dove into some of the socio-psychological dynamics that keep men from stopping violence, including a tendency amongst men to validate violence - from verbal jokes to physical violence- as socially acceptable. "Break the consensus," she said, and you will do a lot to challenge the social web that upholds violence. The intersections between race, gender, class, and indigeneity were explored.

Insights into solutions include recognizing that culture is evolving, and, as such, we must both lift up those practices that support ending violence against women, especially indigenous women, and be vigilant against those new practices which find new ways of enacting violence. State courts need gender training. Best practices need to be shared. Women, especially indigenous women, need training to increase their skills and capacity to engage with the state. Livelihoods that generate greater economic and social freedom are also helpful. In some extreme cases, such as honor killings, it was noted that the younger generation is shifting - but that old social mores still hold a powerful sway, even if individuals do not want to act on them.

I brought up the relationship between violence against the earth and violence against women. Ecological violence, including climate change, can be appropriately understood as a symbolic and actual form of gender violence. Violence against the earth stems from the same cultural, psychological, and socio-economic patterns as does the extractive, manipulative and power-driven patterns that undergird violence against women and girls. As a result of climate change, women and girls are both more vulnerable than their male counterparts because of pre-existing inequalities; they are also critical to climate change resilience. Education and family planning are among the top 10 solutions to averting ecological disaster. Too often ignored in most ecological (and most gender-and-climate) discussions and planning circles is the extent to which the history of climate change derives from the history of colonization, not the industrial revolution. Without these appropriate origin stories, it becomes difficult to assess appropriate action, and we risk replicating systems of division and segmentation. Many speakers, including me, discussed the importance of re-incorporating rituals into our work and daily lives.

All in all, it was an honor to be at this particular table. The group intends to meet in January to see what are further shared work that we can do together - for sure, none of this can happen if we work alone!

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