To commemorate International Women's Day; the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, Northwestern University Women's Center, The Woman's Club of Evanston, Evanston Women's History Project, Frances Willard Historical Association, the League of Women Voters of Evanston and the City of Evanston co-sponsored a breakfast event featuring a keynote address, "Gender Violence: Addressing Injustice," by activist, author and scholar Beth E. Richie March 8 at First United Methodist Church in Evanston.
International Women's Day ( March 8 ) is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women as well as a call for gender parity in all aspects of life.
Richie is the author of Arrested Justice, Black Women, Violence and America's Prison Nation as well as a professor of African-American studies and criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago ( UIC ). She also wrote Compelled to Crime: the Gender Entrapment of Black Battered Women and has received the Audre Lorde Legacy Award from the Union Institute, The Advocacy Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and The Visionary Award from the Violence Intervention Project.
Following words of welcome and an introduction by Cece Lobin ( Chicagoland area women's empowerment coordinator ), Richie told the approximately 300 people in attendance that leaders like Lobin are essential to the work of promoting women's equality across the board.
Richie spoke about the way race/ethnicity and social position affect women's experiences of violence and incarceration worldwide.
"I began my academic and activist work over 30 years ago, working with local and national community organizations, to try and figure out the link between violence against women and the problem of mass incarceration … the way that both affect women of color, queer people, poor people, immigrants and young people," said Richie.
Richie explained that amidst the conversation around racial justice, there are silos around gender and sexuality that included women, girls and gender non-conforming people who experience different kinds of oppression than men of color. She also noted the importance of reminding Black men that gender matters and white women that race matters.
"Today, the only way to challenge gender violence is to square it with racial inequality," said Richie.
Richie said that 1.3 million women each year report instances of gender violence. She noted that there are many forms of gender violence, including intimate partner violence, sexual assault/rape and stalking. Richie explained that many of these women lose days at work due to gender violence and that sometimes their injuries turn into permanent disabilities.
She noted that, of the women who experience gender violence, those who have less social powersuch as poor women, women of color, undocumented women and members of the LGBTQ communityface a society where their voices are ignored.
Richie asked the audience to think about two things when considering the issue of gender violence: the country's status as a prison nation and carceral feminism.
When talking about a prison nation, Richie said, "The way this country has divested from communities, particularly communities of color, in the areas of health and human services because we blame people for their problems contributes to this issue. … We have new laws, new codes of behavior … coupled with the ideology that suggests poor people, immigrants, Black/Latina women and trans people are undeserving of our help. Their rights are disregarded to protect others."
As for carceral feminismdefined as a feminist who believes that women who've been raped or have experienced other forms of male violence should be protected by the criminal-justice systemRichie noted that many times this doesn't happen, stating the criminal-justice system often ignores or criminalizes women who experience gender violence.
Richie explained that one such case of carceral feminism not working was in 2006 when a group of Black lesbians was violently attacked by a man in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. She noted that when they fought back, they were arrested and charged with a felony. This story was featured in the documentary Out in the Night.
During the Q&A session, Richie said she feels optimistic about the future. She explained that from what she's seen, people are ready to make a change for the better.
She also noted that despite what others have said, guns are dangerous and don't keep people safe.
At the close of the event, both Lobin and Richie put out a call to action for all attendees to get involved with this work in order to end gender violence and make the world a more equitable place for everyone.