Impact and solidarity - The poignant theme of the Fourth World Conference of Women’s Shelters (4WCWS) reaffirms that backgrounds, collaboration, and cooperation among individuals from a wide range of professions are key to improving shelter services and ending violence against women.
Nearly 1,400 individuals, mainly women, representing 122 countries from across the world, attended this memorable conference from November 5-8, 2019 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Throughout the conference, three sub-themes emerged:
1. Violence against women (VAW) is the biggest war in the world: One billion women and girls have been affected. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled VAW as an “epidemic.” VAW kills more women and girls than any other form of violence. There are courageous women (and some men) who are tackling this war through art and advocacy, new methods in shelter management and social work, policy-making and legislation, and equality and economic empowerment of young girls and women.
Women are NOT objects; we are NOT property. Rape is a weapon of war where women and girls are targeted as a means of demoralizing men in order to destabilize and rupture entire social groups, communities, and societies. Whether in conflict zones or not, violation contaminates a person’s whole being.
The BIG question is: How do we transform ourselves from being social workers to becoming social justice workers?
It is integral to remember that, “One woman’s healing is interwoven into another sister’s transformation.”
2. Patriarchy must be eliminated. Patriarchy maintains the status quo of the power of men over women. As Kamal Bhasin, a dynamic, elderly woman from India articulated, “Patriarchy has made our streets and homes a war zone.” Patriarchy has also made partners with hierarchies including racism, classism, and more. Men need to realize that violence against women is a man’s issue. “We need men to become gender traitors to end patriarchy.”
Eve Ensler, an American playwright, author, feminist, and activist who revolutionized how the world perceives a vagina through the medium of her play, “The Vagina Monologues,” went so far as to state that patriarchy is responsible for “soul fragmentation” that “requires healing, and unless violated women heal, healing cannot occur in a community because healing is a social, cultural, and political act.”
3. Safety. We need to ensure the internet is a safe place to converse. Karuna Nain, an India-born woman currently living and working in the USA, is the Global Safety Policy Lead at Facebook based in Menlo Park, California, where she is responsible for working with internal and external stakeholders on issues of child online safety and well-being, women’s safety, and suicide prevention. She developed a pilot program for victims to proactively report non-consensually shared intimate images. Her presentation and discussion were absolutely engaging and very well-received.
I had the great opportunity to speak one-on-one with Choi Young-Mi, a poet and novelist from the Republic of Korea (South Korea). She is widely known for her poetry collection, At Thirty, The Party Was Over, and is one of the defining figures who ignited the #MeToo movement in Korea. In 2017, Choi Young-Mi was requested by a magazine editor to write poems on feminism and gender inequality. In response, she wrote the poem, “Monster,” exposing the sexual harassment and abuse committed by a revered Korean poet, igniting the local #MeToo movement. When I told her that I was in the midst of writing my own poetry book of my lived experience of intimate partner abuse, she agreed to read a preview and possibly write a review. I came home with a signed copy of her poetry book.
The final day of the conference was optional, but we were so thankful to have registered for Study Tour #7. In the morning, we drove approximately one hour north of Kaohsiung for a tour of the Kaohsiung Social Affairs Bureau of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Center and the Kaohsiung Juvenile and Family Court Domestic Violence Center. These two service centres are located within a single building, providing a one-stop centre for violated women and their children. The centers seemed as though they were completely respectful of the needs of the individuals they serve. So much so, that, I believe we, here in Canada, could learn much from the Taiwanese model.
The afternoon was spent touring an old Taiwan Sugar Museum and the Ten-drum Ciaotou Creative Park, where we received a spirited drumming lesson. Can you imagine the excitement of approximately 40 women who had been cooped up in workshops for the past three days? I can assure you we were loud and proud! We then had the opportunity to watch six professional ten-drummers perform their rain drumming – an absolutely mesmerizing professional performance!
One value reinforced to me by attending the 4WCWS was that strengthening our networks is of the utmost importance. Violence Against Women deserves and requires the attention of the international community. Actions such as addressing the impunity of VAW is crucial. We began creating an international help line for women and girls in crises because of VAW.
Before and after the conference, my colleague and I had the wonderful opportunity to tour much of Taiwan, beginning in Taipei, the capital city, traveling to Sun Moon Lake, and then southwest to Tainan and Kaohsiung. We stayed on a very peaceful farm in Taichung, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, ferried over to Green Island for several days of incredible exploration, including a three-hour full-moon evening relaxing in one of only three seawater hot springs in the world. Seeing the Qingshui Cliffs and hiking Taroko Gorge, as well as being in the Pinglin Mountains participating in a tea ceremony led by a fifth-generation tea expert and plantation owner were once-in-a lifetime awesome experiences! I am truly blessed.