On Tuesday, I pulled my car into the last space in a large parking garage in Poughkeepsie and let myself be swallowed by the crowd of commuters pouring onto platform 1 to New York City. It was quiet in the packed train car, but I was too excited to sleep against the greasy window, looking out of it instead at the ice-littered Hudson river. I was on my way to the United Nations for the day, having been invited to a conference on the Status of Women just the night before.
Every time I go to New York City, my heart rate doubles and my eyes get sore from the constant stream of interesting things to watch. It is not a long walk from Grand Central Station to the UN buildings, but I felt like it was a grand adventure as I traversed the teaming cross-walks and chose a fruit juice from a wildly gesticulating man wearing a Little Mermaid apron.
I was fortunate to have recently visited the UN as a tourist not long ago, and so I knew where the visitor's entrance was and was prepared to hand over all my belongings for x-ray searching. I was early, so once inside, I had the chance to collect myself and take a look around. On the main floor, there is a pendulum near the door that swings to the movement of the earth, and the people who work in the coffee shop speak at minimum three languages. Right now, there is a moving and terribly sad Holocaust exhibit that speaks to the all the scientific atrocities that took place during Hitler's rule, and hordes of school groups pouring through every couple of minutes.
I met Dana Rafael and her small group near the information desk around 12:30pm. Dana is a family friend from our days in Connecticut, and it was she who invited me to this conference, and to lunch with the speakers of her workshop before-hand. I must add that I was incredibly flattered to be invited by her, as she is the woman who came up with the term "doula" (meaning a support person for women during pregnancy and birth), and is in general a very inspiring and awesome woman. She escorted the group through all sorts of security and up elevators operated by special elevator operators in smart hats, to the diplomat's dining room. This was to be, to date, my most expensive and interesting lunch.
Dana's workshop was entitled, How Men Can Act Against Violence Toward Women, and the blurb beneath the title read, "Five male panelists who actively work to stop violence against women will describe the nature of their professional jobs and their motivation for working on behalf of women." Lunch was with four of these five men and their accompanying aids, friends, and spouses. I'll give you short biographies so that you may understand the diversity and intensity of the conversation:
-James Randall "Randy" Noblitt is a clinical psychologist, author, and professor, who specializes in the treatment of ritual abuse survivors. (If you are interested in this topic, check out his book, Ritual Abuse in the 21st Century)
-Neil Brick is an activist and founder of S.M.A.R.T. (an organization assisting survivors of ritual abuse, torture, and mind control, if you are interested, their website is: http://ritualabuse.us/smart)
-Zeresenary "Zee" Mehari is an Ethiopian filmmaker working on a new film documenting the story of a young woman who was abducted into marriage. (If you are interested in learning more or supporting the film, check out www.oblivionfilmproductions.com)
-Warren Eginton is the U.S. District Court judge in Bridgeport, CT, who handed down a landmark decision on behalf of children used in pornography.
The fifth speaker was not able to attend at the last minute, but his name is Randy Burton, and he is the founder of Justice for Children (an organization that believes every child is entitled to an advocate (legal) for their safety. To learn more, check out www.justiceforchildren.org)
I learned a lot a lunch, and more at the following workshop at 4pm. I was left with big questions to ponder, I'll share a couple:
1. The patterns in the lives of those who actively work to end violence against women and children suggest that it is experience or witness of violence that leads to action. How can (or should) those who have not directly been affected become motivated to act as well?
2. There are many root problems that lead to violence. If it is a cycle, where is the best place to intervene? (For example, at a young age, having received no schooling, a woman's father marries her to a man, and she has many children and many of them die. Her daughters receive little or no schooling, and are married off at a young age by her husband, their father...)
I caught the 6:45pm train home just as it began to rain. Dancing lights reflected on the dark water of the river along side. I reflected on my day, noting with interest how despite the depressing nature of the general conversation, I felt hopeful just because there was a dialog happening at all. I felt hopeful because there are people like Dana who are asking questions with kind eyes. I desperately want to pass that hope along.