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stop the cycle: strategies to prevent violence against girls

A report of the Stop the Cycle panel at CSW57, jointly sponsored by ICJW and the Armenian Relief Society, in New York in March, 2013, by Madeleine Brecher, ICJW representative to UN/NY.  
This panel was sponsored by the International Council of Jewish Women and the Armenian Relief Society and was created so that participants would leave the session with concrete best practices to actually stop the cycle of violence in categories where our stellar panelists were experts. It also provided time and space for the audience to share their own experiences and lessons learned plus ask questions. Our feedback was excellent and we do indeed believe that our goals were achieved.
Our moderator was Cindy Dyer, Vice President of Human Rights at Vital Voices, who was right on target with the questions posed during her conversation with:
  • Chi Yvonne Leina, World Pulse Correspondent and Journalist
  • Dean Peacock, Co-founder and Executive Director of Sonke, Gender Justice Network, and
  • Jessica Greer Morris, Executive Director of Girl Be Heard.
Leina talked about how the voice is a powerful weapon to stop violence against girls, and technology has the power to carry the voice to villages, towns and cities worldwide. That is why she is a spokeperson for World Pulse, a global media and communication network devoted to bringing women a global voice. They broadcast and unite women’s voices from around the world. Leina uses her voice to speak out against breast ironing, a violent cultural practice in her native Cameroon where moms and grandmothers iron their daughter and granddaughter’s budding breasts to flatten them so they will NOT be desirable to men and boys. They are taught to believe this will protect their girls from rape and other forms of violence.  Leina spoke about what she sees as a worldwide war against women by women.

Dean told us how violence is perpetrated by young men and boys under 20 against women and girls in South Africa. Why? Society has taught that men are superior and more powerful and they have a right of access to women’s bodies. His NGO, Sonke, challenges these norms about manhood and teaches that men and boys do not lose when women gain power. These distorted notions of manhood actually kill more men than women. Sonke believes itself accountable to women’s rights organizations and they have women vet their Mission. In all the conversations at the UN stressing the importance of engaging men and boys in the struggle for gender equality, Dean’s presentation was a breath of fresh air. 
Jessica advised us that 6 out of 10 girls suffer violence.  Girls MUST have a safe space where they are able to share their story. This is the way they are able to heal from the abuse they have suffered.  Ultimately, they are able to tell their stories to an audience in song, in drama, in poetry and they learn that they are valuable just as they are. Girl Be Heard uses theater as a vehicle to empower young women to become brave, confident, socially conscious leaders while exploring their own challenging circumstances. Jessica brought Betsy to the panel to speak of her incestuous experiences as a child of 5 with members of her own family.  At age 10, her uncle was having sex with her on a regular basis. She is no longer a victim thanks to Girl Be Heard; she clearly sees herself as a survivor. We were all so impressed with Betsy’s bravery, coming to our event to share her story! She had no voice until now at the age of 22. 
During the panelist’s conversation with the moderator, we learned: 
·         Technology is now somewhat available in developing countries, i.e. 16% of Africa has access but access is growing. 
·         The importance of getting men and boys engaged in the fight against violence and of the diversity of men and boys. They can’t all be put in one category. 
·         The Brothers for Life Campaign and One Man Can workshop both stressing the need for gender equality and the participation of men and boys in the struggle.
·         One girl who was raped went through the criminal justice system.  It cannot compare to the healing that takes place when girls are encouraged to talk, write, act in a safe space where friends actually listen to them and invest in them. There they are not judged or censored. 
·         There is a worldwide war against women by women.  In Africa there is a widowhood ritual where women are treated by women as the killer of her husband.  Women jurors are hardest on women and many times, lawyers want men on the jury when the defendant is a woman. Leina said we can’t blame patriarchy in violence against women in many of the cases. 
·         It is so important to shift the social norms so that men begin to understand that women deserve the same rights as they have. 
·         42% think government is doing too much to help women while 40% want government to do more. There is clearly a conflict and more education is required. 
At the end of the session, there was lots of energy in the room and throngs of people came up to engage the panel one on one. It was clear to us that the audience was excited by what they heard and for sure our event did NOT disappoint!