Grantees in the spotlight: women’s empowerment

Recently, TIME magazine revealed that its Person of the Year isn’t just one person, but all the many women and men who are speaking out against sexual harassment and violence.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement – a wave of allegations of sexual misconduct – we spoke to a few of our grantees whose strength-based programs and services advance women’s empowerment and safety, locally. 
“We see more than 2,000 survivors of intimate partner violence each year, and that number keeps growing,” says Anne Tapp, Executive Director of the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN), which aims to end violence against adults, youth and children through support, advocacy, education and community organizing. 
“#MeToo is a cultural phenomenon that’s allowing both women and men who have experienced harassment or violence to find a collective voice – and that’s always powerful, when we finally break through the isolation victims often feel. 
“But it’s also a moment of frustration for a lot of survivors in that the national conversation has been prompted by voices of women in positions of power – often celebrities. While that’s important, it also reflects the lack of willingness, historically, to the hear voices of marginalized victims – like women of color, LGBTQ folks, our immigrant communities, and other vulnerable individuals who have tried to give voice to their experiences of being bullied, harassed, or worse, but who have not always been heard, or believed, or taken seriously. 
“But now we’re hearing from marginalized survivors more often – they tell us, ‘I’ve been saying this for years,’ or ‘I feared retribution if I told my story,’ or ‘I told my story, and I lost my job.’”
According to Anne, in response to more women coming forward with greater needs, SPAN is modifying its programs and expanding its services accordingly. 
“Hopefully, the conversation that continues isn’t just about high profile men being held accountable for sexual misconduct, but also the impact of harassment and violence on the victims who survive them,” she adds. “This is an opportunity for us to recognize the consequences of violence on not only offenders, but their victims, too…especially those who remain faceless and nameless.” 
Agrees Elena Aranda, Director of Wellness and Education at El Centro Amistad, also a foundation grantee that works to promote education, health, and quality of life for Boulder County Latinos: “Our on-the-ground promotores are trained to help our community learn and adopt healthy behaviors, especially those who are less privileged and those who don’t have access to medical care and insurance. 
“Promotores are trusted by our community. They go into peoples’ homes, most often working with women to make healthful household changes. We also hold weekly group meetings where issues of harassment come up, although people in our community are afraid to call the police.”
Continues Elena, “We hear stories of controlling men, men with an economic advantage, or otherwise powerful men who exploit women – for example in the cleaning industry. These men will say inappropriate things, touch these women, and then joke about it – and the women don’t say anything, because they need the work, they don’t want to lose their jobs, and they are afraid to call the police. 
“Now they know they’re not alone.”
At the YWCA Boulder County, Interim CEO Karen Hada reports an uptick in referrals to direct service providers like SPAN, and points out connections between sexual assault and racial discrimination.
“We’ve all experienced – or know someone who has experienced – sexual harassment or assault,” she asserts. “The media attention on this issue is bringing it into our everyday conversations, which I think is great because everyone has a right to feel safe and free from violence – it’s a basic human right.  
“Unfortunately, women and communities of color disproportionately carry the negative impact of sexism and racism. That’s why the mission of the YWCA is to empower women and eliminate racism by allowing space where the intersection of race and gender can be directly addressed in our programs, advocacy, and education.”
Indeed, the YWCA has come a long way in its 95 years – from leading the charge to end segregation and providing housing for women to attend college, to help stay-at-home moms transition back into the workforce, and serving low-income families with drop-in childcare, divorce and parenting education, and financial counseling. 
“We strongly believe that women cannot be empowered until all women are empowered,” Karen continues. “Regarding gender-based violence, the YWCA works in tandem with many other great organizations in the community who specialize in sexual assault prevention – from SPAN and MESA [Moving to End Sexual Assault] to Blue Sky Bridge, and The Blue Bench – to support women who are ready to report their experiences, or get support.”
Concludes Karen, “Although it’s disappointing that the world has not yet achieved racial, social, or gender equity – despite the valiant efforts of the YWCA and other organizations who have, for well over a century, focused on these vitally important issues – we’re in a unique time in history for these public conversations to create lasting solutions for women and people of color.  
“Injustice, violence, and inequality are not Red or Blue issues – they are institutionalized and systemic challenges that impact every community. We all must continue to push for the change that we want to see in our world.”
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