I share this not in expectation that its tools, definitions or even reasonings directly provide a fit for all groups, Peoples, Tribes, States or Nations, but, rather, as an example for what can be done. A starting point. An inspiration. All groups, Peoples, Tribes, States and Nations, or any other entities, can consider how to become more technically aware, as social systems, of the violence occurring against women within their own system domains. The process of determining, as in the U.N. Indicators document, what kinds of violence, how much violence, violence at the hands and/or minds of who, and the roots of the violence, can be done in both in culturally appropriate ways and creatively. Individuals also have the right to claim this concrete awareness of prevalence from their systems and social and political groupings, as support by the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the U.N. General Assembly. There is no need for violence against women, or violence in general, to be silenced and stigmatized. There will be a day when it is easier to address, talk about and heal the stigma against talking about violence, and this starts with acknowledging it and becoming aware of and honest about its social prevalence and that, in fact, violence is everywhere, and that that is what we must address.
Rights Movements have, historically, inspired one another, despite, so to speak, their differences, where all share the common goal of better conditions of life for oppressed humans. For example, the United States Civil Rights Movement coexisted historically with the Women’s Rights movement, which coexisted with the Abolition Movement against slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement deeply influenced the American Indian and Indigenous Rights Movements. And as we come closer to our goals in one Rights, National or Peoples' Movement at times, it is important to not forget the rest, so as to further avoid the phenomenon of the inequality of the structure of oppressor and oppressed. Legal inferiority and forced dependency of the oppressed on the dominant needs to be continually and genuinely compared and contrasted between cultural and socio-political groups as well as genders, so as to better understand how all Rights-based movements can continue to work, or expand upon working, together, as well as how to create genuine models of change and improved and/or revitalized systems.
Concerning gender-based forced dependency and legal discrimination, Kenneth Karst wrote in 1974, "It is ... the right to be treated as one who is free to make independent choices … that is undermined by the legal rules symbolizing a woman's dependency." (Karst, Kenneth, "A Discrimination So Trivial: A Note on Law and the Symbolism of Women's Dependency”, Los Angeles Bar Bulletin, Vol. 49, No. 22: October 1974). This issue of the freedom to make independent (or fair and collaborative) choices as a woman, versus being forced to be dependent due to rules and customs, directly parallels the striving for legal and political Self-Determination of Peoples, Tribes and Nations versus an unequal dependency on the State as non-State socio-political entities (or other forms of unequal external dependency, such as in business, if Statehood is the chosen form of Self-Determination). Too often money with strings attached and fears of retaliation are what hold women, groups, Peoples, Tribes and Nations back from striving for greater independence while maintaining a need and/or desire for non-violence.
If we are to work for political, legal, territorial and otherwise forms and visions of Self-Determination, we must also work for an end to all oppressions, and, in particular, oppression through forced dependency and/or violence against women as well as not only female or gender equality but the equality and highlighting, selecting, trusting and honoring of compassionate, non-competitive, inclusive and empathic female leadership. As Catharine Goodwin expresses in her essay on gender discrimination in clubs and organizations, “To be stamped as inferior or a nonparticipant is particularly painful in the context of a legal order that professes equality as a fundamental tenet.” ( Goodwin, Catharine M., “Challenging the Private Club: Sex Discrimination Plaintiffs Barred at theDoor”, Southwestern University Law Review, Vol. 13: 1982, p. 271, footnote 230). We must ask ourselves not only who is being left out in the building of the Self-Determination process and achievement, but what qualities in such persons, what value systems, are being denied, destroyed, forgotten or excluded. We must both reclaim and create our own indicators for pain, exclusion and violence, internally within our social organizing systems- as States but also as groups, families, communities, Peoples, Tribes and Nations. And we cannot exclude women from this process or in having their own indicators of exclusion, as that is also a form of violence.
The U.N. Indicators document states:
“Gender-based violence against women is a form of discrimination and deeply rooted in power imbalances and structural relationships of inequality between women and men. Violence against women is a global phenomenon, occurring in every continent, country and culture. It harms families, impoverishes communities and reinforces other forms of inequality and violence throughout societies. A focus on the collection of data on violence against women remains essential. […] It is well established under international law that violence against women is a form of discrimination against women and a violation of human rights.”
To this end, I encourage everyone to become curious about violence against women in their families, communities, workplaces, groups, Peoples, Tribes, Nations and States and more, and to think about how this is related to other oppressions being experienced, and what can, by uniquely you, be done about it.
India Reed Bowers, B.A. LL.M
Founder & Director IOSDE