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Symposium seeks to build community networks to address violence against women

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Tue, Oct 11th 2016 11:40 am

By the University at Buffalo

The University at Buffalo's Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender, in conjunction with the Coalition for the Advancement of Moslem Women, the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, and other Western New York organizations, will present a symposium to address issues, responses and solutions to violence against women from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, in 120 Clemens Hall on the university's north campus.

The symposium, titled "Honor, Systems of Masculinity and Violence Against Women," is free and open to the public. Organizers request guests register online.

Through a series of conversations featuring a broad coalition of researchers, scholars, community leaders and survivors of and witnesses to violence, the symposium seeks to develop a holistic and integrated approach to domestic violence that is not limited to intimate partner violence, but also includes community-supported violence, such as honor killings and female genital mutilation.

The goal is to forge an anti-violence community network that makes Western New York a safe and just place for all residents, according to Kari Winter, professor of transnational studies and director of UB's Gender Institute.

"We want the participants to learn from each other and to know what resources exist in different pockets of Western New York," she said. "Do you need a doctor? A lawyer? A safe house? Or a speaker? Let's get to know each other so each of us can work on one piece of the issue and know who is working on the other pieces so, as a community, we build a strong network."

Winter said the problem of violence against women demands perspectives from many parts of society, including language, literature and history. The symposium's speakers will share information from the fields of cultural activism, art, education, government, medicine, social work, law, law enforcement and family justice services.

The symposium's speakers will include:

Filomena Crittelli, associate professor, UB School of Social Work

Elizabeth Gerhardt, professor of theology and social ethics, Northeastern Seminary, Rochester

Karen L. King, executive director, Erie County Commission on the Status of Women

Tara J. Melish, director, Buffalo Human Rights Center, and associate professor, UB Law School

Mary Murphy, executive director, Family Justice Center of Erie County

Judith Olin, Esq., director, Family Violence and Women's Rights Clinic, UB Law School

Nadia Shahram, Esq., Moslem women's rights activist

Satpal Singh, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Science

A complete list of speakers is available online.

This kind of integrated and holistic approach recognizes the necessity of the judicial system, but acknowledges courts are not enough, according to Winter. Some of the challenges are linguistic. More translators and cultural sensitivity are needed. First responders and medical professionals can be trained to recognize signs of danger and violence. Dentists, in particular, are well-situated in this regard, since the face is the part of the body most affected by domestic violence, Winter said, but few dental schools provide training or create awareness about the issue.

"Violence against women or gender-based violence is a sign of a society that is not healthy and robust," Winter said. "If we want to be a healthy community, we have to make sure women are empowered."

Winter said she hopes the information and perspectives presented in the symposium can eventually become a pilot or model for other communities addressing violence against women.

"The question is how we can come together in Western New York to create different norms and safeguards to counter community-supported violence," Winter said. "The problems are complex and the community that supports this kind of violence is often transnational. It's not rooted in the nation state; it's not subjected to national boundaries. Community-supported violence is organized around something other than national identity."

Just as borders provide no organizing principle in the case of violence against women, borders must also be recognized as an inadequate deterrent in and of themselves. Winter said it's important to emphasize violence against women is not just a foreign problem, but one that's native to the U.S., as well.

"Many cultures support violence against women in one form or another, and it's important to address it in ways that are sometimes culturally specific, without tapping into what is another violent problem in American society right now: Islamophobia," she said.

Honor killings and female genital mutilation are cultural practices that did not emerge indigenously in the U.S., but are supported by transnational networks that intertwine with communities in North America, according to Winter.

"We're talking about cultural networks that support certain kinds of violence, and the only effective intervention is to deploy other community safeguards," she said. "An individual can't protect herself as an individual; one person can't protect another against community-supported violence. 

"We need to imagine and create the better version of community, the one based on justice and equality." 

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