Join Me On The Bridge: International Women’s Day

Zainab Salbi

This International Women's Day remember the women in Rwanda and the DR of Congo  - survivors of war and the sexual violence that so often accompanies war.

You’ve probably heard of the 1994 genocide that took 800,000 lives and witnessed up to 500,000 rapes in only 100 days. You may be less familiar with neighboring DR Congo, where the same roots of conflict have fostered a war more deadly than any since WWII, where hundreds of thousands of women are estimated to have been raped and where the violence wages on today. Yet despite this brutal history of conflict, poverty and loss, it is on the border of these two countries — Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo — where less than one month from now thousands of survivors of war, genocide, torture and rape, will gather — not in mourning, but in unity, determination and celebration.

100 years after the declaration of an international day for women on March 8th, women worldwide have yet to reach full equality in all aspects of life. In times of war, they are still the targets of massive rape, torture, displacement and pillaging. The difference this time is that women are speaking out and stand united as they break their silence, demand an immediate end to war and the building of sustainable peace that can allow them to plant, harvest, go to work, send their children to schools, and dance, live and eat without any fear.

It is a day on which they will hang their hopes for peace and prosperity even as, in a vibrant display of unity, they tie together banners of fabric on which they’ve painted their visions for this peaceful future. Initially, you may only see them for their poverty, but when you get to know them, as I and my colleagues have in the process of working with women survivors of wars in the past 17 years, you will know that they are strong women, resilient woman, women who refused to give up, women who refused to be silent, women who kept life going for their families in spite of their circumstances. In respect and honor of their voices and the voices of every woman who has faced injustice and decided to break her silence, in honor of every woman who decided to stand up with her sisters and echo their voices in one united voice, we join with these women to let the world hear our roar and listen for once to what women have to say. And so, on this March 8th, 2010 the centennial anniversary of International Women’s Day, I am proud to announce that thousands of women in New York, Sarajevo, London and many other cities are standing together to honor the resilience of millions of women survivors of war around the world as part of Women for Women International’s global campaign, Join Me on the Bridge. Because the women of Rwanda and Congo are not alone.

In the 21st century, you would think the data about women’s circumstances worldwide have improved. But alas, not by much. Women are still 70% of the world’s poor, they are still 75% of the civilians killed in war (along with their children), and still receive only 10% of global income for 66% of the world’s work (UN). Yet, as our Congolese, Rwandese, American, European, Mexican, French, Bosnian, sisters show us, they are survivors whose strength and ability to persevere is immense.

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So Join Me, join us, join thousands of women on bridges across divided communities worldwide. Join Honorata who survived a year and a half as a sexual slave in Congo to build three businesses and who now dedicates her life to promoting women’s independence in her home country. Join Violette, a Rwandese woman who lost everything in the genocide and was only able to keep her children alive by smearing blood on their faces and asking them to pretend they were dead. 16 years later, Violette owns her land, sends her kids to school and runs her business out of the home she was able to rebuild. Join Senada who spoke up in Bosnia about the rape she endured. Join Mersada in Kosovo who spoke up about the domestic violence she faced. Join Abby, and Liz, and Beatrice, and Hamide, and Suada and so many women from so many parts of the world as we all meet, tie our fabrics together, dare to imagine peace together, and dare to be loud and clear, showing our determination for the end of war and the establishment of a lasting peace in our lives and the lives of our children.
If these women can stand up to make a difference, so can the rest of us. We can demand attention to this issue, we can demand governments no longer ignore the suffering of women nor their voices and their crucial role in repairing their countries after war. We can unite to help other wives, mothers and sisters all over the globe whose daily existence is a challenge. After all, if we don’t speak up, who will?

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Ours is an unprecedented call to action: let all who support peace and development for women, their families and communities Join Us on the Bridge. You can join a global movement of women uniting for peace and prosperity. All around the U.S. and all around the world women are organizing events to honor and echo the voices of women survivors of war on International Women’s Day. You can attend a bridge event, organize one, or sign the pledge that you believe women are the key to global peace and development.

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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Commentary Violence

When It Comes to Threats, Online or on the Campaign Trail, It’s Not Up to Women to ‘Suck It Up’

Lauren Rankin

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric is nothing new for this election. In fact, the Republican presidential candidate has made an entire campaign out of it. But during a rally last Tuesday, Donald Trump sunk to a new level. He lamented that if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, there will be no way to stop her from making judicial nominations.

He said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

For a candidate marred by offensive comment after offensive comment, this language represents a new low, because, as many immediately explained, Trump appears to be making a veiled threat against Clinton, whether he had intended to or not.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called it a “death threat” and Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News host, called it a “direct threat of violence against a political rival.” Former President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis said it was “horrifying,” and even the author of an NRA-linked blog initially tweeted, “That was a threat of violence. As a real supporter of the #2A it’s appalling to me,” before deleting the tweet as the NRA expressed support for Trump.

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This kind of language is violent in nature on its face, but it is also gendered, following in a long line of misogynistic rhetoric this election season. Chants of “kill the bitch” and “hang the bitch” have become common at Trump rallies. These aren’t solely examples of bitter political sniping; these are overt calls for violence.

When women speak out or assert ourselves, we are challenging long-held cultural norms about women’s place and role in society. Offensively gendered language represents an attempt to maintain the status quo. We’ve seen this violent rhetoric online as well. That isn’t an accident. When individuals throw pejorative terms at those of who refuse to be silenced, they are attempting to render public spaces, online or on the campaign trail, unsafe for us.

There is no shortage of examples demonstrating how individuals who feel threatened by subtle power shifts happening in our society have pushed back against those changes. The interactions happening online, on various social media platforms, offer the most vivid examples of the ways in which people are doing their best to try to make public spaces as uncomfortable as possible for marginalized populations.

Social media offers the opportunity for those whose voices are routinely ignored to hold power in a new way. It is a slow but real shift from old, more traditional structures of privileging certain voices to a more egalitarian megaphone, of sorts.

For marginalized populations, particularly women of color and transgender women, social media can provide an opportunity to be seen and heard in ways that didn’t exist before. But it also means coming up against a wall of opposition, often represented in a mundane but omnipresent flow of hatred, abuse, and violent threats from misogynist trolls.

The internet has proven to be a hostile place for women. According to a report from the United Nations, almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. As someone who has received threats of violence myself, I know what it feels like to have sharing your voice met with rage. There are women who experience this kind of violent rhetoric to an even greater degree than I could ever dream.

The list of women who have been inundated with threats of violence could go on for days. Women like Zerlina Maxwell, who was showered with rape threats after saying that we should teach men not to rape; Lindy West received hundreds upon hundreds of violent and threatening messages after she said that she didn’t think rape jokes were funny; Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, was driven off of Twitter after a coordinated attack of racist, sexist, and violent language against her.

And yet, rarely are such threats taken seriously by the broader community, including by those able to do something about it.

Many people remain woefully unaware of how cruel and outright scary it can be for women online, particularly women with prolific digital profiles. Some simply refuse to see it as a real issue, declaring that “It’s just the internet!” and therefore not indicative of potential physical violence. Law enforcement doesn’t even have a solution, often unwilling to take these threats seriously, as Amanda Hess found out.

This kind of response is reflected in those who are trying to defend Donald Trump after the seemingly indefensible. Despite the overwhelming criticism from many, including some renowned Republicans, we have also seen some Trump supporters try to diminish or outright erase the violent aspect of this clearly threatening rhetoric. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani have both said that they assumed Trump meant get rid of her “by voting.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that it “sounds like just a joke gone bad.”

The violent nature of Donald Trump’s comments seem apparent to almost everyone who heard him. To try to dismiss it as a “joke” or insist that it is those who are offended that are wrong is itself harmful. This is textbook gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse in which a victim’s reality is eroded by telling them that what they experienced isn’t true.

But gaslighting has played a major role in Donald Trump’s campaign, with some of his supporters insisting that it is his critics who are overreacting—that it is a culture of political correctness, rather than his inflammatory and oppressive rhetoric, that is the real problem.

This is exactly what women experience online nearly every day, and we are essentially told to just suck it up, that it’s just the internet, that it’s not real. But tell that to Jessica Valenti, who received a death and rape threat against her 5-year-old daughter. Tell that to Anita Sarkeesian, who had to cancel a speech at Utah State after receiving a death threat against her and the entire school. Tell that to Brianna Wu, a game developer who had to flee her home after death threats. Tell that to Hillary Clinton, who is trying to make history as the first woman president, only to have her life threatened by citizens, campaign advisers, and now through a dog whistle spoken by the Republican presidential candidate himself.

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump’s rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Language matters. When that language is cruel, aggressive, or outright violent, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it doesn’t come without consequences. There is a reason that it is culturally unacceptable to say certain words like “cunt” and other derogatory terms; they have a history of harm and oppression, and they are often directly tied to acts of violence. When someone tweets a woman “I hope your boyfriend beats you,” it isn’t just a trolling comment; it reflects the fact that in the United States, more women are killed by intimate partners than by any other perpetrator, that three or more women die every day from intimate partner violence. When Donald Trump not only refuses to decry calls of violence and hate speech at his rallies but in fact comes across as threatening his female opponent, it isn’t just an inflammatory gaffe; it reflects the fact that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Threats of violence have no place in presidential campaigns, but they also have no place online, either. Until we commit ourselves to rooting out violent language against women and to making public spaces safer and more accommodating for women and all marginalized people, Trump’s comments are just par for the course.

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