December 2011 Issue
November 22, 2011

Seeking to end violence against women

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United

Random acts of violence against women can happen anywhere — in the workplace, on campuses, on the street, on dates. Violence can germinate in gated communities from men wearing snappy business suits, or inside homes where men can rage because the electricity has been shut off for non-payment. Women and girls shamefully hide bruises from violent relationships.

"The way a culture treats its women will tell you a lot about that culture," said Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and a member of NYSUT's Human and Civil Rights Committee.

The United Nations (UN) calls violence against women a "global pandemic of alarming proportions" that requires political commitment and resources. The violence "can include physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse, and it cuts across boundaries of age, race, culture, wealth and geography." The UN reports up to six out of every 10 women experience physical and/or sexual violence.

NYSUT is playing a critical role in addressing how females are treated, and is fostering awareness and action through posters, programs, information packets for local leaders, and white ribbon campaigns.

"Our women, our children are experiencing domestic violence. This is something that is relevant to us at NYSUT," said Dimino, a Port Jefferson Station teacher, who notes that the union is comprised mostly of women.

Freeport Teachers Association President Stuart Napear educates students about how controlling behavior, even off-color jokes that put women down, can escalate to sexual harassment and verbal, sexual or physical abuse. He started a school-wide anti-violence program to flint-start conversations about respect and understanding. Napear said a sharp increase in violence against women occurs on days of major sporting events, fueled by images of power, alcohol and betting.

"We encourage NYSUT locals, working with domestic violence prevention agencies, to provide workshops, classroom discussions and assemblies on home and workplace violence, stalking, teen date rape and the sex trade," said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler, who oversees social justice issues for the union.

Dimino, who chairs the NYSUT women's rights subcommittee, also invites women to find positive role models. Dimino said women can face unique disadvantages, including earning far less than men; dealing with a rise in violence when there are financial problems; an increase in sexual exploitation and prostitution; and lack of positive self-image from media pushing uber-thin looks that can lead to bulimia and anorexia.

Napear and his students make bilingual brochures detailing different forms of violence against women. Male faculty members are given anti-violence buttons. Napear sends literature on the issue to faculty across the district; on Human Rights Day, speakers and survivors come from the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The efforts were highlighted at the union's Representative Assembly last April.

The Freeport TA and the PJSTA are second year locals in NYSUT's Local Action Project, a community outreach/coalition-building initiative that seeks to increase member involvement.

Both Dimino and Napear tie their advocacy to the UN's Nov. 25 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The day commemorates the Mirabal sisters who were murdered for their resistance to a cruel dictatorship in their native Dominican Republic. Called "The Butterflies," the sisters were ambushed and killed on Nov. 25, 1960.

Last year, Freeport students colored paper butterflies to honor the Mirabals. "The butterfly is a transformative image about changing attitudes and behaviors," Napear said. Hundreds of student-made butterflies floated above the lobby ceiling as students walked under them to attend a domestic violence assembly. "It was very powerful," said Napear.