Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Raising the Barr in Berlin

We’re proud to announce our director of volunteer development, Stephanie Barr, was invited to speak in Berlin on her thesis paper which focused on solidarity within a diverse feminist movement.

Stephanie presented her paper called “What Unites Us? Effective strategies for Fostering Solidarity Within a Diverse Feminist Movement” this past July at an international conference titled Collectivity Beyond Identity. The three day conference was organized by and held at the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies at Humboldt-University of Berlin. It hosted 38 speakers from the US and Europe including famous feminist theorists Linda Alcoff, Linda Zerilli, and Adriana Cavarero. The base question presented by the conference was, “How might we rethink the notion of community and how can we conceive of collectivity, when the seemingly crucial aspect of collectivization – identity – has become the object of critical study?”

To learn more about Stephanie’s experience at the conference, I asked her a few questions:

How did you become interested in feminist theory?

I took some feminist philosophy courses in college that really impacted the way I view feminism. I identify more as an activist than an academic, but I think theory is really important because it informs our strategies for achieving social change. As feminist theory has evolved it has helped us better understand the role identity plays within feminism, power dynamics between feminists, and how we can become a more effective, increasingly inclusive movement. So for me feminist theory provides a framework for thinking about how I want to engage in this work.

How did you feel when you were invited to speak?

I had to apply to present at the conference, so when I heard that my paper had been accepted I was shocked and thrilled and a little intimidated. But mostly I was excited that I would have the opportunity to share my research with new people, and have the opportunity to meet other people with similar passions and learn from them.

How was your experience in Berlin, the city?

Berlin is an amazing place with a rich and complicated history. The people of Berlin have been incredibly thoughtful about not erasing the past—even the dark moments of Nazi Germany—but also looking towards the future with eyes wide open. I biked along what remains of the Berlin wall, covered in political graffiti, then relaxed on a sandy beach along the riverbank, just on the other side of the wall. I never knew what to expect. It is a unique mix of past and present, urban but integrated with nature. It’s diverse and has a relatively young and creative population, so for me that environment was fun and invigorating.

How was your experience at the conference?

The conference was stimulating and challenging, and at times overwhelming. As I said, I consider myself more of an activist than an academic, and feminist theory encompasses so many different disciplines that there was a lot of new information for me to take in. But it was also really inspiring to hear other feminist theorists present research about their passions and their visions for the future of feminism. Ultimately the conference was focused on feminist collective identity, so everyone was genuinely interested in how we can motivate more people to feel like they belong to the feminist movement. That gave the conference a great energy, I think.

What was your favorite part of the conference?

I enjoyed sharing my research. The big fear in academia is that no one cares what you’re doing and no one will ever read your research once you finish. So just getting to engage with other people and hear their feedback was exciting. A woman who works in Sweden for the European Women’s Lobby asked to read my thesis, and that felt incredible.

I also really enjoyed a talk on Jewish queer poetry presented by a woman from Israel. It made me think about what creates a sense of belonging, and how powerful it can be to rediscover and celebrate your identity within a community that made you feel unseen in the past.

Will you be presenting your paper again in the future?

Not exactly that paper, but I’m investigating ways to present my research here at the Y. I’m so grateful to work somewhere that recognizes the connection between my research and the work that we do. It would also be great to continue using it to develop concrete strategies that organizations can put into practice. My ultimate goal is to be able to write a short paper on specific strategies non-profits could use to explore the issues of diversity and solidarity within their organizations. I think the research applies beyond feminist organizations because it’s really about doing coalition work and what that brings up for people.

Were there any speakers or topics there that you were particularly excited about?

It was a real honor to hear some of the keynote speakers present their work. One remark that has stayed with me was shared by Linda Zerilli. She said that feminism keeps trying to devise the perfect theory to address power imbalances, and no perfect theory exists. There are strategies for dealing with power dynamics in practice, but there is no single theory that will solve all of these problems. I really appreciated hearing that because I think striving for perfection is great, but expecting perfection can make us miss the huge strides we’re making and actually become an obstacle to moving forward.

What new or exciting concepts did you walk away with?

One of the other US presenters on my panel researched how multiracial Black youth form a collective identity with their peers in school. Her presentation expanded my understanding of some of the challenges people who identify as multiracial might experience, particularly during their teen years when so many are seeking understanding and acceptance. It was another reminder of how complex and personal identity is for each of us.

Would you do it again? 

I would, although most likely with new research. It was an incredible learning experience to meet feminists from so many different parts of the world and hear about the research they’re conducting. I definitely think the experience of sharing ideas with people who have similar passions is worthwhile.

What advice do you have for aspiring feminist theorists?

You may not know how you’re going to apply it once you graduate, but if you can find the funding and make the time, the degree is worthwhile and can lead you to new opportunities. Choose to research topics that have some practical application because that’s how you can really make an impact. And finally, even if you research the worst results of sexism, it helps to focus on solutions. One of my mentors once told me “you can’t work towards a better world if you don’t believe it’s possible.” Retaining that optimism is essential. It makes all the difference to nurture your hope and to remember that there is a whole movement of people committed to the same goals. That, above all, is what I get from participating in feminist communities of all kinds, and that’s why I wanted to study feminist solidarity. I hope that anyone committed to gender based justice can find a place to belong, because there is so much potential in our collective power. Like we say at the Y, strong alone, fearless together.

Volunteer Spotlight: Rick Sievers

After separating himself from volunteer and social service work for over a decade, Rick Sievers has found happiness volunteering with YWCA’s Sexual Assault Program.  Rick has been volunteering with YWCA for about a year and a half and said he finds the work healing. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Rick felt he wanted to help, just as he had been helped. He also recognized that men are usually the aggressors. As a volunteer, he wanted to find opportunities that were rewarding to him, yet sensitive to the needs of the survivors. Group facilitation was the answer.

Rick is currently co-facilitating two groups offered by the Sexual Assault Program: the journaling group and the men’s group. He’s always found journaling to be a great benefit to his own recovery and wants to share his “$5 therapist” with other survivors. “My journal is like a friend,” said Rick. “I can write whatever I want in it. I don’t have to have correct punctuation. I don’t have to be politically correct. I don’t have to be kind or nice… but I still am,” he added with a smile. The journaling group is for women 21 and older who have been affected by sexual assault. Attendees do not have to say they’ve been assaulted, or that they’ve been a survivor.  During the group sessions, Rick wants to help people find safety within themselves and beyond; “Can we access that safe place within ourselves through journaling, and can we find someone who can support us in our lives?”
Laurie Schacht, SAP Director sits with Rick Sievers.

The men’s group is available to males 18 and older who have been affected in any way by sexual assault. It’s a 5 week forum for men to make connections with each other and to discuss what it’s like to be a male in our society. In Rick’s experience, the expectation was that, “You’re not allowed to have feelings. You gotta be tough.” Societal expectations like these can be compounded for those affected by sexual assault. Rick sees this opportunity as a time to address the impact of those expectations and to provide a space when men can connect, during a time when men may feel isolated from each other.

Rick says he will always be in the process of healing. He recalls more than 15 years ago when he was a social worker, “I would come home anxious and depressed. I would just lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling for hours. It felt like I put the cart in front of the horse, in some way.” He quit social work in ’96 and went to massage school, finding it to be a great way to start re-inhabiting his body. It helped him to be comfortable with safe touch, and to be comfortable as a male. After his partner died in 2005, Rick’s memories flooded back into his life. He sought therapy and joined a group. He found employment as a butler, which allowed him to really focus on healing. After 12 years of working as a butler, he retired, bought a farm, and turned on his radio. “I heard something about the sex scandal in the church, and I thought, ‘this isn’t about sex, this is about rape.’ I wanted to do something about it. I thought ‘maybe I could participate and help some way.’” And so, the volunteering began.

Rick knew when he met Laurie and the other staff at the Sexual Assault Program that he made the right choice. While going through training, he started to see a whole other dynamic at YWCA that he would be navigating: being a male in an agency whose mission is to empower women and eliminate racism. “As a male, consider why you want to volunteer here: Is to be a human being, to explore your own life, to really be of service, or is it to protect women and children?” said Rick. For him, it’s about focusing on human kindness, “Men often see themselves in a protector role, but what are you saying about women by saying you want to protect them?” As a male, he thinks it’s most important to be yourself, but to also be very open to new ideas. He said the training and workshops opportunities offered at YWCA have really helped him to explore himself and continue his journey of healing. Rick said, quite eloquently, “If you’re gunna volunteer, this is the place to do it, but don’t do it for somebody else, do it with somebody else.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Stephanie Barr, Director of Volunteer Development at 360 906 9112 or sbarr@ywcaclarkcounty.org. To learn more about the two groups Rick will start co-facilitating this month, contact us at 360 696 0167, or view the flyers online: Journaling Group, Men’s Group.

Be the Change with Naomi Tutu

Be The Change, Every Day

Every day activism is a movement that is gathering momentum around the world. To be an every day activist means that you belong to a community of people who are dedicated to taking individual every day actions to help change the world for the better.  We are that community.

Act today by registering to attend the 18th annual YWCA benefit luncheon where Naomi Tutu will speak to the understanding how our actions – or inactions – affect all with whom we come in contact and ourselves.  Tutu encourages us to focus on our shared humanity in order to build a just world.

The challenges of growing up black and female in apartheid South Africa is the foundation of Tutu’s life as an activist for human rights.  Those experiences taught her that our whole human family loses when we accept situations of oppression, and how the teaching and preaching of hate and division injure us all.

A Leader Social Change

YWCA’s Social Change Program is dedicated to preventing racism and other forms of oppression in our community through education and support. Presentations at area schools  increases youth civic engagement to eliminate racism and oppression, creates respectful school environments and builds inclusive communities. Workshop leaders assert that when we engage in the most challenging conversations we create amazing opportunities for growth and change together.

YWCA also works to eliminate racism and other forms of oppression through the education and advocacy provided in our seven programs and volunteer training. Resources for eliminating racism and oppression are available by contacting YWCA Clark County.  We encourage all to take action as an ally against oppression on an individual, community, organizational and institutional level.

Naomi Tutu, Advocate for Change

Naomi Tutu is a lifetime advocate of human rights. Daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu, she was born in apartheid South Africa, but later lived in Lesotho, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Tutu served as a development consultant in West Africa and coordinated programs for race and gender awareness at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. She is a consultant to two human rights organizations, the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (SASIV) and the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa (PHSSA). Tutu has led workshops for conflict resolution and issues of race and racism, as well as women’s retreats through her organization, Sister Sojourner.

Her professional experience ranges from being a development consultant in West Africa to being program coordinator for programs on race & gender and gender-based violence in education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. In addition Tutu has taught at the University of Hartford, University of Connecticut, and Brevard College in North Carolina. She served as program coordinator for the historic Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, and was a part of the Institute’s delegation to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban.

Accepting the Challenge

Naomi has been challenged to follow her own path in building a better world. She has taken up the challenge and channeled the opportunities she has been given to raise her voice as a champion for the dignity of all.

Will you accept the challenge?

Domestic Violence Has No Place in Our Community

The statistics are startling: One in four women will be the victim of domestic violence at some point in her lifetime, and, on average, three women are killed every day at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. In the past ten years, 359 people were killed by their abuser in Washington State alone.

YWCA Clark County’s SafeChoice Program is actively working in our community to bring awareness and support to victims of domestic violence. All year long we share the strong message that “Domestic Violence Has No Place in Our Community.”

The economic downturn has had a devastating effect on local programs working to serve survivors of abuse. Reports of domestic violence are increasing, while funding to support survivors are decreasing. According to the 2012 Mary Kay Truth About Abuse Survey, nearly 8 out of ten domestic violence shelters nationwide reported an increase in women seeking help, while the vast majority experienced decreases in funding.

Despite tremendous challenges, domestic violence shelters served nearly 70,000 victims in one day alone, according to the latest National Network to End Domestic Violence Domestic Violence Counts. In 2011, YWCA’s SafeChoice shelter provided 8,389 bed-nights to individuals fleeing domestic violence. More than three out of four domestic violence survivors who sought support groups, counseling, supportive services and legal advocacy found these services to be “very helpful,” the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and the University of Connecticut School of Social Work reported.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Communities across the country will mourn for those whose lives were taken by domestic violence, celebrate the tremendous progress victim advocates have made over the years, and connect with one another with a true sense of unity to end domestic violence.

YWCA Clark County will host a number of activities for the public throughout the month of October to raise awareness about domestic violence in our community.  Please join us to show that you also believe that domestic violence has NO place in our community.

YWCA Supports Ref 74

By Dena Horton, Public Policy Committee Chair

As a 501(c)3, YWCA Clark County is prohibited from supporting political candidates.  However, the law does permit for the support or opposition of issues. As you know, on February 13, 2012, Governor Chris Gregoire signed legislation legalizing marriage for all families in the State of Washington.  The elected officials of Washington chose to make our state the 7th state to legalize marriage for all of its citizens.  Almost immediately, several groups began gathering signatures and filed to have the issue brought before the citizens of Washington State via the initiative and referendum process.  As a result, the people of Washington State, not just the elected officials, will have the opportunity to vote this November on Referendum 74 to uphold the same sex marriage law or overturn it.

YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. This mission and the core values it represents easily lends itself to support marriage for all people. YWCA Clark County’s public policy statement on oppression is simply, “Oppression is the dominance of one group over another, resulting in hardship and injustice.”

When government structures are formed and operated in a manner that institutionalizes discrimination against a segment of its citizens, that government system becomes a form of institutionalized oppression.  Action must be taken to correct the system and allow all citizens to be treated fairly.  That is the main reason Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law – to require Washington State government to treat all of its citizens equally.

If a person resides in Washington State, abides by the law and pays taxes, that person is accorded certain rights and benefits as a citizen of Washington including the right to marry and have that marriage recognized by the state government and its agencies. However, if a person resides in Washington State, abides by the law, pays taxes, and that person is LGBTQ, the State of Washington and its agencies should not be allowed to discriminate against this citizen based on their sexual orientation and deny that person the rights and benefits the state accords to other citizens.  It is about justice, equality, dignity, and eliminating a form of institutional oppression.

In addition to YWCA Clark County, there are other organizations such as Washington United for Marriage and Equal Rights Washington that are mobilizing at the grass roots level across the entire to support Referendum 74 in the November election. Ty Stober, the Board Chair of Equal Rights Washington, lives in Vancouver and stated, “The LGBT community in Southwest Washington is so grateful to YWCA Clark County for their courageous leadership in the fight for human dignity. It is such an honor to be partner with them in the campaign to Approve Referendum 74 and guarantee the freedom to marry for all of our families.”  Over the next few weeks, YWCA Clark County will be implementing an action plan to more visibly demonstrate support for Referendum 74. Be on the look out for ways you can help  support Referendum 74 and if you have any questions, contact Natalie Wood at 360 906 9137 or nwood@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

What is VAWA and Why Does it Matter?

By Sharon Svec

The Violence Against Women Act (or VAWA) was initially first signed into law on September 13, 1994 by President Clinton.  This milestone marked the increased acknowledgement of domestic violence as a public health and human rights concern both in the U.S. and internationally, and at last, a federal response to national grassroots efforts urging legislation to specifically address domestic violence and sexual assault.  The good news is that VAWA has been reauthorized twice since ’94: once in 2000 and again in 2005.

The 1994 law accomplished many things – it established the U.S. Office on Violence Against Women;  established mechanisms for a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking crimes; strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders, and included a federal law to prevent offenders from using a victim’s past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial. The law also required states and territories to enforce protection orders issued by other states, tribes and territories; created legal relief for battered immigrants and allowed victims to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes. Finally, VAWA provided grants for law enforcement training, battered women shelters and assistance for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault amounting to $1.6 billion.

The 2000 reauthorization emphasized assistance to victims identified as immigrant, elderly, disabled and those affected through dating violence. It also expanded interstate stalking laws to include cyber stalking. President Bush signed the 2005 reauthorization, which instituted at least six new government programs, and included an increased emphasis on abetting violence against Native Americans.

After all of this progress, now, in 2012, we find that VAWA reauthorization has been held up in Congress since April of this year when the Senate and House passed different versions of the bill.  While each version contains many similarities, the one proposed by the U.S. Senate makes additional efforts to ensure services to same-sex couples, American Indians and immigrants.

Groups like the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and representatives like U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) believe that Congress must work together, as they have previously on VAWA, to agree on a funding bill to be signed by the President this year. On August 15, Senator Patty Murray held a roundtable discussion with local agencies and domestic violence survivors at YWCA Clark County Vancouver, Washington.  Senator Murray has been traveling the country collecting input from survivors, and advocacy agencies like the YWCA – those at the front lines who will be impacted the most by a continued delay in reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Looking back, much has improved since the passing of the first VAWA in 1994. All states now have laws making stalking a crime and have strengthened rape laws. The number of people killed by an intimate partner has decreased 34% for women and 57% for men. Also research from the National Task Force to End Sexual Violence Against Women shows that VAWA saved $12.6 billion in net averted social costs over a six-year period.

The reauthorization of VAWA would build upon successes like these, and continue to break the cycle of violence within our culture. Senator Murray, along with other Democrats, is focused on improving protection for immigrants, the LGBTQ community and tribal community members. Other components that have been proposed are:  streamlining programs, increasing accountability, supporting community-based response and direct service, enhancing criminal justice responses to sexual assault, strengthening housing protection for victims and providing services and prevention programs for young people.

While VAWA has significantly improved protection and service for victims/survivors, agencies like YWCA Clark County are experiencing considerable gaps in funding. This is particularly challenging because domestic violence has been reported by 51% more people since prior to the Act. Funding has not kept up with this increase in reporting by courageous victims and survivors. In 2010, an NNEDV survey found that while more than 70,000 victims are served daily by domestic violence programs, there are over 9,500 daily unmet requests for services nationwide. In addition, a 2009 survey by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence shows that 25% of rape crisis centers have a waiting list for crisis services, 61% have 3 or fewer staff, and 56% have had to reduce staff due to funding cuts.

YWCA Clark County’s Sexual Assault and SafeChoice Programs rely on funding from VAWA. As VAWA awaits agreement in Congress, an average of 6,300 people are raped and/or physically assaulted daily by a current or former partner, and an average of more than 42,000 children per day  are exposed to domestic violence.

September 2012 Y's Words

Be the change every day.  This is what our volunteers, staff, and board strive for…everyday.

We believe that when we examine our own individual beliefs and cultural values we can gain insights that help us make better decisions for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

YWCA Clark County will host a number of activities for the public throughout the month of October to raise awareness about domestic violence in our community.  Please join us to show that you also believe that domestic violence has NO place in our community.

We’re proud to announce our director of volunteer development, Stephanie Barr, was invited to speak in Berlin on her thesis paper which focused on solidarity within a diverse feminist movement.  She is finding creative ways to incorporate her research into various aspects of the organization.

Please take the time to learn more about our wonderful volunteer, Rick Seivers.  Rick said the training and workshops opportunities offered at YWCA have really helped him explore himself and continue his journey of healing.

Because we love our volunteers, all YWCA volunteers are invited to attend our upcoming movie night.

When: Thursday, October 25th from 6-8:30pm
Where: the Community Room at 3609 Main St. in downtown Vancouver
What: A showing of the film “Offside”

Find out why the Y’s Care Children’s Program and the Independent Living Skills Program are “Keen” on shoes!

Our Public Policy Committee has been busy.  We were grateful to host Senator Patty Murray for a round table discussion regarding the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

We have also been discussing and taking action on Referendum 74.  We believe in marriage equality.  We believe all couples should have the to right marry.  We believe in peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Please join us in APPROVING Referendum 74.

Strong Alone. Fearless Together.