Changing the Game on Violence against Women and Girls

5On October 3, 2016, the Indianapolis community gathered in the Reilly Room at Butler University to hear featured speakers, Josina Z. Machel (the stepdaughter of Nelson Mandela) and Gail Masondo—along with an esteemed panel—talk about violence against women and girls as part of the DTC’s Game Changers forum.

DTC Managing Director, Waseema Ali, began the forum by giving the audience some chilling facts: 1 in 6 women in America have been raped and 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced domestic or sexual assault. These facts demonstrate that issues of violence against women are not confined to a culture, region, or specific social group and this a problem that impacts everyone.

After these opening remarks, Cynthia Prime–Save the Orphans through Healthcare and Outreach (SOHO) founder and moderator for this event–introduced our featured guest Josina Z. Machel–a survivor of domestic violence. On October 17, 2015 at 1:00 a.m., Josina was attacked by her boyfriend. While driving, an argument between the two turned physical. She did not “remember feeling threatened or an escalation that indicated life [was] about to change” until she felt a huge blow to the head. The second punch to the face erupted her cornea, which caused instant blindness to her right eye. Josina was able to escape from her perpetrator and sought out refuge. As Josina herself said, “I screamed in English, I screamed in Portuguese, all I wanted was help. I didn’t get it.”    

Instead of receiving  treatment for her injuries, she spent four hours “begging for assistance” at the hospital, where she was told there was “no medical hope or interventions for repair” to fix her damaged sight. After being forced by her abuser to see five additional doctors for proof of injury, discovering that her file didn’t exist at the hospital, and learning that the police didn’t believe her case was important enough to write up, Josina made the decision to speak out and share her story of domestic violence.

A year later, Josina is still fighting to obtain a restraining order against her abuser. She urged audience members to not treat instances like this as “a little secret or lover in our bedroom,” but to “take one action in [our] lifetime to end domestic violence.”

Following Josina’s empowering speech, Gail Masondo––a counselor for women and girls who have been victims of gender-based abuse and trafficking––talked about her past experience with abuse. Growing up, Gail lived with an alcoholic father and did not understand why her mother stayed in such a threatening environment. To help people who are in situations similar to her mother’s, she opened a practice for people who are mentally and emotionally scarred. Simulating the activities she does with her patients, Gail gave everyone broken crayons and asked them to write empowering words on a piece of paper. Volunteers were called to the stage to present their creations. Through this collaborative activity, Gail demonstrated that “while we might be broken, we still have value.”  

After a break for lunch and time to engage with our attendees through table conversation questions, Session Two began with a panel of local thought leaders–Christian Hale, an Indiana State Representative for the 87th District, Dr. Rev. David Hale, senior pastor at Light of the World Church, Sareen Lambright Dale, Assistant Director of Sexual Assault Education and Prevention at IUPUI, Kirat Sandhu, a recent graduate of IUPUI working at the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, Darlene Bradley, special Agent assigned to the Department of Homeland Security, and Jennifer Thuma, Director of Victim Service Programs and Deputy Attorney General in the Victim Services Division for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who answered questions posed by Cynthia and the audience about violence against women and girls.

2A few standout themes that emphasized the need for women’s empowerment in the face of violence included a call for a change in language (e.g. instead of calling these women “victims” they should be recognized and treated as survivors) and for male involvement. David Hampton reflected on how the stereotypes of male-culturation and hyper masculinity support the false notion that aggression is a symbol of strength, when in fact it is a sign of weakness. Hampton continued, saying that “male privilege doesn’t give men a right to rape,” and that “it will take a man to step up” to progress this movement further.

Following the panelist discussion, Coburn Place and The Julian Center––both nonprofits that provide resources to survivors of domestic violence and abuse––presented on how their organizations are  impacting the Indianapolis community through their services. Josina also took the stage again to talk about Kuhluka (meaning rebirth and regeneration), which is a movement in Africa that Josina joined last year to act as a voice and example of how to overcome domestic violence, specifically in Africa. Through Kuhluka, Josina aims to eliminate gender-based violence, challenge African perspectives on gender issues, and provide specialized support for survivors. In the next 18 months, Josina hopes to establish the first shelter for domestic violence survivors in Mozambique.

Through our passionate speakers and the engagement of a diverse audience, including a mix of ages, races, and the attendance of a group of young African women refugees, the forum embodied what is needed to end violence against women and girls: an exchange of ideas between generations, a call to action, and the courage to speak out because this is a social issue that continues to directly or indirectly affect us all.

By: Lexa Muehlbauer

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