I am declaring 2015 the Year of Women’s Rights. Given that it is only April, 2015 already seems posed to be the year that awareness about violence against women (VAW)-including domestic abuse, sexual harassment, psychological abuse and rape-came to the forefront. Whether this is because it’s the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, or because major events such as the Superbowl, Grammy Awards and Oscars which, although they are American institutions are viewed by people around the world, made VAW a centerpiece of their shows, or because maybe the world is finally waking the bleep! up: whatever the case, women’s rights are everywhere.
Maybe it just seems like ending violence against women is on everybody’s lips because I have been focusing on the issue and those activists who make it a priority. Back in October I had to leave a great job because it conflicted with my classes and master’s thesis writing. However, I realized that although I couldn’t handle a full-time job at the time, I didn’t want to waste my time. That’s when I saw the advertisement for a volunteer fundraising and development assistant at Women’s Crisis Care International.
WCCI, as it is abbreviated, is a charity organization based in Manama, Bahrain that focuses on survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The organization, which just celebrated its first birthday this past December, is the brainchild of one lovely-there is no better word to describe her-Mary Justine “MJ” Todd, an American who has decamped to Bahrain. A certified rape crisis counselor with a Masters in Public Health, Mary Justine has worked across the globe, with a focus on Africa, in women’s health and human rights. The aim of the organization is to support survivors of violence in a region where sexual violence is rarely addressed, and domestic violence even less so.
If the level of awareness and understanding of violence against women is woefully low in the United States–where rapists often go free and victim blaming is de rigeur, activism against VAW in the Middle East is even worse. It doesn’t help matters that sex is a taboo act if committed outside of marriage, nor that [generally speaking] women are taught to listen to their spouses. Furthermore, the concept of domestic violence is generally not considered a crime by law in the Middle East, and women rarely report it.
To combat this situation, WCCI’s aims to establish the first rape crisis response system in the Middle East. Recently we held a series of training sessions for healthcare providers and volunteers interested in promoting women’s wellness in Manama, entitled “Women’s Health: Domestic and Sexual Violence Awareness and Sensitivity Training.” 15 ladies partook in the program, the first of its kind in the Gulf region; another training series is set for next month. We’ve partnered with Esho Funi, a local private psychiatry practice and consultancy which takes women we refer who need more long-term counseling. We’re also in talks to collaborate with Ahfad Women’s University in Sudan. And just last week we received our 501(c)3 status, which means all donations to the organization are now tax-deductible!
Volunteering for WCCI has helped me become a better person. It gives my life purpose, the opportunity to be part of something greater than myself. I have learned more about violence against women, both here in the USA and abroad; more about crisis response (a subject I had no prior knowledge of); and more about the feminist movement. Walking in the International Women’s Day March on March 8th in Manhattan, New York to represent WCCI was an exciting experience for me. Not only did I make a great acquaintance that day, all of the women I’ve encountered while volunteering for WCCI are amazing and inspiring.
The appeal in volunteering for WCCI: it’s to get people who are not used to discussing and addressing these experiences to tell their stories and get help; it’s to take the shame and taboo away from the subject.
The time to end violence against women is now, yella it is time for all women to unite and stand up to the violence we daily face. To learn more about WCCI check out our webpage, follow us on social media (see below), get involved and don’t forget to make a donation!