Smith Hosted Making Connections: a Symposium on Women’s Rights
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 22:11
On Oct. 27, Smith students and alumnae gathered for the Making Connections: Violence Against Women and Reproductive Justice Symposium, organized by Assistant Professor of the Study of Women and Gender Carrie Baker. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, opened the event, which was composed of a series of lectures and discussion panels.
In introducing Gandy and her work to those assembled, Baker described the symposium’s concept: how the rollback of reproductive rights is connected to violence against women. Proceeding from where Baker left off, Gandy used Lesley Gore’s song “You Don’t Own Me” as a means of describing the connection between violence against women and reproductive justice. Gandy claimed that this connection has remained unrecognized by many organizations, most of which focus exclusively on either violence prevention or reproductive justice.
Following Gandy’s opening address, the symposium began with the panel “Reproductive Justice and Bodily Autonomy,” moderated by Baker and featuring Smith alumna Candace Gibson ’07. Gibson spoke about her work as a Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, where she blogged about immigrant women in detention centers. Gibson was careful to precede her remarks with the disclaimer that her opinions are not representative of the organizations with which she is involved.
In her work with undocumented immigrant women, Gibson learned that in 1996 detention centers became the principal means of enforcing immigration laws, and that a 45 million dollar lobbying budget at the federal and state levels – allocated by corrections corporations – led to a rise in their net income. She described how detained women are denied due process, spending weeks or months incarcerated before seeing an immigration judge, and how inconsistent resources restrict their rights to health according to their detention facility.
Gibson also spoke of the practice of shackling immigrant women in hospital transport, a practice held by the U.N. nations to be a form of cruel and unusual punishment, but used in the U.S., and referenced instances where women were physically forced to sign deportation forms. She went on to explain the high risk of violence LGBTQ populations face in these centers, where they are sorted by birth gender and not gender identity and, without medical and mental health resources, including hormone therapy, experience mental anguish that has in some cases led to self-castration.
Sophia Godley ’93 spoke next on the panel, and currently works as a clinical assistant professor of public health at Boston University School of Public Health. She described how her worked at Necessities, the shelter now known as Safe Passages, led her to a career in public policy. “I realized we can fix one woman’s life momentarily … we could give her a quiet place to sleep … but there were, like, 10 women behind her, and 10 women behind them,” said Godley.
Realizing that she needed to “get upstream,” she came to public health through her sex education work, where she learned how sexual education and the preventative care it provides avert sources of violence. She highlighted the incongruity of abstinence education: “You should save this gross, vile, disgusting thing for the person you love the most.”
Godley closed by telling a brief anecdote in which she asked the audience to imagine they were heading out for the day and forgot their genitals, and that they returned to the genital lost-and-found, and then posed the question whether or not you could identify your own genitals from the line-up. For men, this is an easier challenge than it is for women, she stated, partly because of anatomical structure, and partly because of society’s fear of women’s bodies. This anecdote thus served her point that “if people don’t know what healthy vulvas are like,” then they can’t diagnose what appearances and sensations are wrong.
Jessica Lewis ’94 shared her work on intimate partner violence, describing motivations for this violence including revenge, retaliation or lack of attention from one’s partner. She presented evidence of higher rates of intimate partner violence among teenagers and of a correlation between intimate partner violence and adverse reproductive health outcomes.
After the opening panel, the event broke into discussion groups, which pursued related issues at greater length and in greater specificity. Topics included Sex, Violence and Disaster, Prostitution and Sex-Trafficking and Debunking HIV/AIDS Prevention Myths. After the last panel of the day, Gandy provided closing remarks to end the syposium.