On Thursday November 29, 2018 in commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Women’s Freedom Forum held a photo exhibition and panel discussion in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The all-day event entitled, “Uniting Women Worldwide to Eliminate Violence Against Women” educated and informed Congressional offices about violence against women during WFF’s 16Days Campaign, in support of the UN Women’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women #OrangetheWorld #HearMeToo.
In the wake of record-breaking political participation by women in the U.S. midterm elections and a historic number of women elected to office, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, member of the House Armed Services Committee and Select Intelligence Committee gave a speech to the event that was read by her Legislative Director.
Congressman Mike Coffman joined the event and gave brief remarks in support of gender equality.
Congresswoman Dina Titus, member of the House Foreign Affairs committee also gave a written statement to the event.
Many Congressional staffers, Embassies in DC, members of the media and members of women’s organization participated.
Prior to the event, WFF held 2 social media twitter chats, engaging the twitter platform to answer questions and stay active these 16 days.
This panel was moderated by Lynn Dykstra, WFF Representative to the UN.
The following is the summary report with speech excerpts of the panelists:
Lynn Dykstra, Founder, Our Global Cry for Freedom; UN representative and civil society outreach director of Women’s Freedom Forum
“… For over 2 decades, Women’s Freedom Forum has played an instrumental and effective role to raise public awareness on women’s equality issues. We speak for those who cannot safely speak for themselves. We educate with real life stories that break your hearts. We search for solutions to the issues women face…
Today, here in the United States House of Representatives we commemorate the UN 16 Days of Activism. … The theme is Uniting Voices Worldwide. In this room all of us are among the millions of voices who speak out to actively support and create changes to empower women – and men – in the worldwide goal to eliminate violence against women. By your attendance, you are speaking out. It starts with an individual voice, always. So, Go Forth and Shout!
“… It is said, change starts with one voice – and it always does. …The International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day was adopted on November 25th, 1999 in honor of four sisters… from the Mirabel Family [who] led a very calm life with their parents who owned land and businesses in the Dominican Republic. The country was governed by a dictator who, amongst his many horrific human rights violations, enjoyed having young women available to him, usually without their consent. One night there was a special occasion [which] the daughters attended with their father and the dictator took a liking to one of the sisters. When he made advances toward her on the dance floor, she slapped his face. The family left quickly and within days the father was arrested and tortured in prison. The daughter and her friends were arrested and questioned for hours and days… they were finally released.
“The daughters never forgot that they were among many who were arrested, tortured and/or killed every day simply for protecting themselves from the threats of the government. They took on the cause to resist the dictator’s rule and for the next several years their mission was to tirelessly fight to bring change to the country. For this bravery they were assassinated… This caused major outrage by the people of the Dominican Republic. Within months the dictator was removed. The Sisters became icons of resistance to oppressive human rights. …. Songs, poems, books honored their bravery… Statues of the sisters replaced those of the dictator. … The sisters are called the Mariposas – or the Unforgettable Butterflies.
“It starts with one VOICE and it unites us WORLDWIDE!”
Message by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Democrat from California
Member of the House Armed Services Committee and Select Intelligence Committee
“… At a time when we are seeing alarming crackdowns on women’s rights defenders around the world, this discussion, and the Women’s Freedom Forum’s efforts to advance equality and social justice for women in the Middle East, are more critical than ever.
“This is fitting that we hold an event on women’s rights and political empowerment here in Congress in the wake of record-breaking political participation by women in the midterm elections and a historic number of women elected to office… It will also be the largest and most diverse freshman class of women in American history.
“…The freshman class of women in Congress offer hope that we can continue to overturn the relics of a male-dominated society and build momentum for women’s rights here at home. But we must also recognize that these gains are only meaningful if we use our combined voices to fight for the women around the world who lack protection under the law and face barriers to political participation. We cannot hope to win this fight without strong partners like the Women’s Freedom Forum, which is tackling these issues head-on in the Middle East…
“While promoting U.S. leadership on human rights has recently been more of an uphill battle than usual, I know that resurrecting America’s moral compass will be much easier with more women at the helm. And in order to achieve equal rights for women in the Middle East, at home, and globally, we will need more women at policymaking tables around the world. I know that today’s panelists will provide valuable insight into the importance of women’s empowerment and political participation in the fight to end violence against women and achieve equality. …”
Rep. Dina Titus, Democrat from Nevada
Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
“Today we pause to draw attention to the somber reality that women around the world face various forms of violence every day… As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have been an outspoken advocate for combatting violence against women globally. I am a cosponsor of the International Violence Against Women Act, which would empower the State Department with new tools to protect women and promote opportunities for their social and economic growth. In an age when the United Nations report that one in three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, I am proud to be on the forefront of ensuring that the United States upholds its commitment to tackling this societal problem.
“In my home state of Nevada, almost half of all women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Across our country, domestic violence affects more than 12 million people each year. That’s why I also support the Violence Against Women Act, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, and the Victims of Crime Act. These laws provide training programs and tools for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges, in addition to supplying counseling and other much-needed support programs for victims…
“Finally, we must prioritize the presence of women’s voices at every level of government. I am proud to serve among the impressive number of women who have been elected to the 116th Congress. I believe women are powerful change agents and when given an opportunity to participate can shape a better future for all…”
Congressman Mike Coffman, Republican from Colorado, Member of the House Armed Services Committee
I have to say that combating violence against women begins at home, so I supported the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in the United States.
In the House Armed Services Committee, where I’m the Chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, with ranking member Jackie Speier, Democrat from California, we worked together to combat sexual violence against women in the United State military. We’ve done that by doing several things. First of all, bringing awareness, and that’s what you are doing today.
…Screening associated with that, by changing the criminal justice system in the military, where we have specialized prosecutors that prosecute these cases, and we have victims and advocates that are specialized in helping victims of sexual assault.
So I think that puts us on the path, certainly, within the United States military. But also the United States is supporting efforts worldwide. Aside from being a positive example, the US needs to support the global World Health Organization …
Soolmaz Abooali, a world champion and 12-time US National Champion in Traditional Karate. A conflict resolution scholar, published author, and lecturer
“When we think about violence against women, sport doesn’t naturally come to mind. Sport is this flashy, athletic, fun, skillful activity that we engage in, whether it’s kicking a ball in a park or in a stadium, or watching a game. But the connection between violence and sport is actually profound in the sense that sport is 1) a window through which we can learn more about society’s structure, culture, ideologies, and values. 2) sport is a vehicle through which violence is enacted….
“… Sport, when carefully designed and delivered, can create the right environment – the hook and safe space – whereby girls can gain basic body awareness, knowledge, life skills, and a network to advocate for themselves and their rights. Through simple participation in sport, women and young girls can challenge traditional gender roles, inequity, and patriarchy.
“… sport-based experience has given me the chance to gain an acute awareness of what is mine – meaning I control my body and the space around it. The awareness isn’t unique to me; I’ve seen girls in our karate programs who walked in shy in posture and personality and walked out emboldened and transformed – they learn to create power, speed, and their voice…. Today, I’m a world champion, I’m a national champion, and I’m pursuing a PhD in conflict resolution (go figure!). These accomplishments have come to symbolize, in large part, the opportunities that my fellow female athletes – in my native homeland of Iran – are denied…
“… This isn’t the kind of society any of us want to live in, nor is it one that we want our loved ones to be in. It is not humane. Any solution to gender-based violence should always be geared toward the question: ‘how many more women should experience violence?’ I would suggest 5 points to keep in mind with regard to tackling gender-based violence in Iran:
- “Focus on changing laws that institutionalize oppression against women.
- “Encourage international sport governing bodies (FIFA, FIVB, AGF) to put pressure on Iranian lawmakers to include women, to improve training conditions and resources for them…
- “Create social media awareness campaigns among diaspora to promote support for equal treatment of male and female athletes in Iran.
- “Enlist the help of private sports corporations to raise human rights campaigns that give voice to the realities for female athletes in Iran.
- “Educate the younger generation, especially young boys, about what equality looks like, so that they do not become future perpetuators and also victims in this cycle.”
Professor Donna M. Hughes, Eleanor M. & Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair, Rhode Island University; Editor-in-Chief, Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation & Violence.
“Each year, hundreds of thousands of women and children around the world become victims of the global sex trade. They are recruited into prostitution, pornography, stripping, and other types of commercial sexual exploitation; sometimes they are compelled by force, fraud, or coercion. Criminals working in organized networks treat the victims like commodities, buying and selling them for profit. This modern-day form of slavery is called sex trafficking.
“Often analysis of the causes of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking focus on factors in the sending countries or the conditions of the victims’ lives. …In comparison, there have been fewer campaigns or efforts aimed at reducing the demand for victims. A focus on the demand side means making men who buy sex personally responsible and accountable for their behavior …
“There is a solution. It is possible to address the demand side of sexual exploitation and hold the perpetrators accountable. Sweden was the first country to pass a law exclusively criminalizing the buying of commercial sex acts. The law passed in 1998, redefined prostitution as a form of male violence against women. [and] … distinguishes between victims and perpetrators. Prostitution has been redefined as a male issue. Prostitution is about men’s power and sexuality, not women’s.
“…There is a global movement to decriminalize – legalize – prostitution and the entire sex industry, including pimping and brothels. Tragically several of the largest human rights organizations in the world have decided to support full decriminalization of the sex industry …In my opinion, they have moved to the wrong side of history, if we support freedom and rights for women….As women’s rights activists, we must stand for women and our right to be free of sexual exploitation. …”
Mandy Sanghera, award winning philanthropist, community consultant & global campaigner as well has international human rights activist.
“I’ve been working with the UN and many organizations, and am a founder of the UK Forced Marriage Unit. You may ask yourself why we have such a unit; we live in the West and if these harmful cultural practices still happen, people can say these are cultural, traditional practices, and people can do whatever they like. No, you can’t! People, especially women, have rights: rights to be treated with respect, dignity, and make our own choices…
“In two years, we will be celebrating Beijing 2020. A lot has changed. We are raising awareness. But in some communities, in some cultures, we are still not educating women. … We need to change mindsets, we need to change ideologies. … Violence is not just about sexual, physical, psychological or emotional effects. It’s a lot more pandemic. One in three women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. What is violence? Violence is about power, control… We have seen great movements in the last year including the MeToo, the TimesUp campaigns. We have a right to stand up and call out people who have abused their power in positions of trust…
… “We need to be clear about protecting and safeguarding the most vulnerable. If people do not have voices or rights, we have a right to step up and support them. I have met women who have left Syria, Iran, Africa and other parts of the world. That journey has been because of violence, sexual violence and abuse… We need to stand up and call these out for what they are. We need to also look at home and look at the role we play in violence against girls. We need to look at ourselves. Do we turn a blind eye because it’s not our daughter? We have to stand up and call it out…”
Christina Kharazian, a professional violinist and educator who is a versatile artist that is comfortable in many styles of music from classical to jazz performed a few beautiful pieces in memory of the victims of violence against women.
During the panel discussion, Lynn announced the release of WFF’s annual publication, “Working From Within 2018: Report on the Status of Women and Youth in Iran”
Our team of activists and networks within Iran has risked their lives to bring us the valuable information we present in this book.
This book has been made possible by the courageous men and women of Iran, more specifically the women’s and human rights activists, bloggers, journalists, students, professors, religious and ethnic minorities, and workers, all under constant threat and hardship.
Many have been arrested in the process, further limiting our sources of accurate information.
In admiration and honor of their continued selfless endeavors, we dedicate this book to them.
Photos of the Exhibition: