NYSUT will observe International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which this year falls on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25. The union is also launching an effort to increase awareness of the violence that impacts students and many members every day. Watch www.nysut.org for details. NYSUT United spoke with Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler, who leads the union's social justice efforts, about these initiatives.
NYSUT United: What is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women?
Lee Cutler: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of Nov. 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On this day, the UN hopes to focus our attention and raise public awareness of the problem of violence against women and girls around the world. The date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the brutal political assassination of the Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic.
NU: Why has the statewide union chosen to address this as an issue?
Lee: Women have shaped, inspired and led the union since its founding in 1972. From the NYSUT women's history project to our involvement in women's health issues and fighting for pay equity, the union has created many initiatives focused on our sisters in labor.
We're probably all familiar with the stories of violence against women abroad. In some countries, raping of women has been accepted as a method of war. But it's not just a problem in "other" places.
Violence against women (and increasingly, men as well) continues to be rampant. It exists in our locals where we hear the horror stories of our own members who have been beaten and killed by their husbands or boyfriends. We see it in our classrooms as children who have witnessed violence at home, or even been victims themselves, often repeat the cycle of abuse in their interactions with classmates and educators.
The problems continue with older students. Nearly one in five female high school students reports being physically or sexually abused by her partner.
I have a daughter, a mother, a wife, a sister.
It horrifies me that in many places in this world there are women and girls who are not safe simply because they are female. And I'm not alone.
More NYSUT members are speaking out and wanting it to be recognized. As a union we cannot be silent about this problem. We need it to come from behind the shadows and address it head-on if we ever hope to eradicate these abuses.
NU: How is the union recognizing the date?
Lee: This year, the commemoration happens to fall on Thanksgiving here in the U.S. While it may cause some inconvenience, it also presents a special opportunity to share the important occasion with our families and to send a message across the state that we will not tolerate violence in any form.
We want to open a dialogue and make our members aware of some of the horrific circumstances that students and many of their colleagues deal with on a daily basis.
Members of NYSUT's Women's Rights subcommittee have developed a pledge to end violence against women, and we're encouraging members to take the pledge and share it with their friends and family.