October 3 – Game Changers Forum

On October 3, 2017, the Game Changers Forum brought together a stellar group of scholars, civic leaders and celebrities to explore the economic, social and medical impact of gender based abuse. It provided a unique opportunity to raise awareness of a common problem- gender based violence- as we dialogued together to contribute to solutions. This year the forum brought Naomi Tutu and Christina Hale together to discuss gender-based violence. Waseema Ali, Managing Director of the Desmond Tutu Center, welcomed the guests and introduced Rabbi Sandy Sasso of Women4Change Indiana, first woman ordained as a rabbi in Judaism’s Reconstructionist movement. Rabbi Sasso led the audience in the civility pledge. Following the pledge, Cynthia Prime, CEO and Founder of Saving Orphans through Healthcare and Outreach shared the work her organization was doing both in the US and in Swaziland.

“I pledge to be civil and respectful in my public discourse and behavior.

I will honor the dignity of others whether in agreement or disagreement.

I will respond to incivility and speak up in the presence of name-calling, stereotypes, slander and slurs.

I will do this for the sake of our children, for the healing of our country, for the future of democracy and peace.” – Civility Pledge Women4Change Indiana

Following the opening remarks and housekeeping, Waseema set the stage for the table conversations- the first opportunity of the afternoon to engage in civil discourse. By creating a space for structured conversations led by thought-provoking prompts, participants shared their opinions and experiences in a focused and meaningful manner on the topic of gender-based abuse. From among the guests at the tables, one person was asked to be the facilitator and one person the scribe. The facilitator posed the Table Conversation questions guiding the conversation whenever needed, and the scribe wrote down a brief, but precise note sheet that summarized the highlights of the conversations.

The Table Conversations were broken up into categories of broad culture, domestic trafficking, domestic violence, policy, and judiciary topics. The first prompt on broad culture was about Lolita, the classic 1955 novel written by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, which tells the story of a middle-aged man who is obsessed with a young 12 year old girl he calls Lolita. As the story unfolds, the girl is a very young victim of rape. Today, the dictionary definition of Lolita is, “a young girl who dresses seductively or provocatively.” Each table discussed the topic with many concluding that society continues to reinforce a narrative that victimizes women while supporting male-orientated norms and standards. Many tables thought that to combat this problem, we must increase awareness of and confront narratives that sustain traditions that victimize women early on.

Human trafficking is happening in our own backyard yet most people do not know it is happening so close to home. Many tables were unaware that human trafficking is a local problem and decided that spreading awareness and exposing the issue is a first step that needs to happen. Most tables thought that human trafficking was primarily thought of as an international issue and one table said, “human trafficking is viewed as a third world issue to demonize other counties while glorifying America.”

The domestic violence prompt posed questions concerning domestic violence statistics- one of them was that over one-third of women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Many said that domestic violence needs to be thought of an all-around issue rather than just a women’s issue. Another statistic- the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500% – prompted table discussions on gun regulation and the complexity of the issue. Most recognized that we need increased gun control legislation. Many participants expressed shock by learning that the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488 and that the number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. Various tables posited that this number was surprising because domestic violence is a taboo topic that people do not what to think or talk about. One table pointed out that on average it takes eight occurrences of domestic violence to finally speak up and report.

The next question was regarding the Secretary of Education’s (Betsy Devos) decision to rollback Obama-era guidance on how schools should handle sexual assaults under Title IX federal law. During this conversation, many tables acknowledged that Title IX can be tricky but specified that making the policy less detailed is not the answer. If anything, there should be more guiding policy introduced.

The final prompt gave the example of Brock Turner, a rapist who was commonly referred to as the Stanford University swimmer, who only served three months out of a six-month sentence. The judge and probation office weighed in the facts that he surrendered a hard-earned swimming scholarship. The prompt asked about the tables’ opinion on mandatory minimums when it comes to sexual assaults and rapes. Most tables agreed that male perpetrators are given leniency especially when they attend universities and even more so when they are involved in the school’s athletic program. Some thought that mandatory minimums could bring more attention and awareness to the issue. On the other hand, some thought that mandatory minimums are not the answer for our judiciary system when it comes to any matter.

After the Table Conversations wrapped up over lunch, Cynthia welcomed Christina Hale and Naomi Tutu. Christina prompted Naomi to discuss what her life was like growing up as a women in South Africa and how that led her to her vocational path today. Naomi grew up in South Africa during a time of oppression and violence. The statistics on violence against women in South Africa are some of the highest in the world. Christina prompted Naomi to hypothesize about why this is and broadly, why gender-based violence statistics are so rampant. Naomi responded by telling us that toxic masculinity is a prominent contributing factor. “Toxic masculinity” is a term used to describe the norms and behaviors among men in contemporary society. Toxic masculinity often takes the form of dominance, the devaluation of women, suppression of emotion, and even aggression. It is the idea that men are big and strong, are always in control, and cannot show emotion because showing emotion is a trait specific to women. Boys are being socialized early on that they are supposed to be dominant and that they are even superior to women. Naomi believes that toxic masculinity emphasizes this false notion that men are dominant to women, which often results in violence against women.

Naomi posited another potential ideological factor-the place of women in worship.  In many religious traditions, women are not given the same opportunities as men. Men are given most leadership positions within the Church or similar positions in other faiths. One reason for this could be the God is often referred to as male. Instead of God being thought of as beyond gender and using genderless pronouns like ‘Godself’ for example, God is often replaced using male pronouns. This ingrains the notion that men are superior to female. Although some religious traditions have started to allow women in leadership positions, patriarchy is still ingrained throughout religious culture. When asked about ways to combat toxic masculinity and patriarchy within societies, Naomi told the audience that we must  focus on the youth. She shared that she has a son who she is raising to respect women. And professed that as a women, she  can dismantle toxic masculinity by educating the next generation.

The consensus of the audience following the conversation and discussion was that this problem is not just ‘over there.’ It’s in our backyard. There are no easy solutions, but it begins at home with teaching respect and empathy to our sons and daughters. Sons need to learn to treat others with respect and daughters need to learn that they deserve to be treated with respect. This is a cultural problem on many different levels; cultural shifts are needed for disruption. We can make a difference by using our voices and by thoughtful action. We need to stand up to the injustices, stereotypes and inappropriate behavior that we see in our homes, our neighborhoods and workplaces.

Following Naomi and Christina’s conversation, Gail Masondo took to the stage for the closing. After an unintended surprise during the closing, Waseema encouraged the audience to see the diversity that surrounded them- and to be inspired by it. She reminded the audience “united we strong because divided we fall.”

Game Changers Forum 2018 was a joint partnership of the Desmond Tutu Center, Women4Change Indiana, Saving Orphans through Healthcare and Outreach, and Leadership Indianapolis.


Link to Gail Masondo’s letter: https://www.desmondtutucenter.org/2017/11/01/gail-masonodo-letter/


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