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UB Gender Week wraps up with violence against women symposium

Students and faculty hold conversation about solutions to domestic violence

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Kari Winter, director of UB’s Gender Institute, said it’s more important than ever to have a conversation about misogyny.

“When we began planning this symposium, we had no idea that we were on the cusp of an outbreak of some of the most vulgar, misogynistic discourse ever witnessed on the public stage of American presidential politics,” Winter said.

This was just one of many topics discusses during last week’s Gender Week. The Gender Institute’s fall symposium was the final event of the week and took place in Clemens Hall on Friday. The symposium featured seven different speakers, which included UB faculty and community leaders. The audience was made up of primarily women with only four men in attendance.

UB provost Charles Zukoski opened the symposium. He said UB has a responsibility to educate the next generation about gender related issues.

“Symposiums like this bring together our scholars, students and community members to advance our agenda of improving quality of life for citizens of Western New York,” Zukoski said.

Winter said one in three women and one in four men in the United States have been victims of domestic violence, emphasizing that nearly one in twenty people per minute are physically abused. In one year, this equates to nearly ten million women and men, Winter said.

“[Domestic violence] is a human problem and we all need to work together to create peace,” said David Castillo, director of the UB Humanities Institute.

Nadia Shahram, attorney and women’s rights activist, discussed how certain religious practices perpetuate misogyny and violence against women. In countries like Iran, which has an Islamic government, laws perpetuate discrimination against women, according to Shahram.

Shahram does not think religions are inherently misogynistic. She emphasized certain practitioners of religion may be misogynistic, but said that is not reflective of the religion as a whole.

The next speaker, Elizabeth Gerhardt, a professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, N.Y., discussed how religion could become part of the solution to domestic violence and said religious leaders have a responsibility to speak out against domestic violence.

“The loudest voices in [the Christian community], should be saying ‘this is a crime,’” Gerhardt said.

Religious leaders are graduating from seminaries without courses on violence against women and are therefore “not equipped” to face the problem, according to Gerhardt. She said implementing such courses is a crucial step to addressing domestic violence.

Gerhardt also highlighted supporting community programs and holding perpetrators of domestic violence accountable.

Satpal Singh, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at UB, discussed the role that men play in addressing violence against women. He said men have a responsibility to stand up for their mothers and daughters. He also discussed the need for a “cultural change.”

Singh believes that although political dialogue “reinforces” misogynistic beliefs, people are speaking out against this rhetoric.

“The [current] political discourse is terrible, but the response tells us we are making progress,” Singh said.

Iman Ismael, a leader from Masjid Al-Eiman Mosque in Buffalo, also believes religion plays a large role in domestic violence.

“People think in Islam it’s OK to [commit violence against women] and that’s where I come about and I speak about this from the Quran and Islam itself and say, well, culturally and religiously this is not accepted,” Ismael said.

April Arman is a clinical social worker and president of Resources and Help Against Marital Abuse (RAHAMA), a non-profit organization that aids victims of domestic violence. She said the organization helps all women regardless of faith, but specializes in helping Muslim women.

The Buffalo community demonstrated a need for domestic violence resources specifically geared towards Muslim women, according to Arman. She said Muslim women and children have unique needs, as well as language and cultural barriers and that they often don’t want to seek help outside of the Muslim community.

“There are so many barriers to women getting help, we wanted to remove one of those,” Arman said.

RAHAMA provides a variety of services for victims including safety planning, educational outreach, counseling, support groups and transitional housing, Arman said.

The symposium speakers participated in a brief question and answer session where they were asked about specific ways to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Shahram said attorneys have to go through domestic violence training and Arman said RAHAMA has done trainings for family courts and Child Protective Services. Singh thinks UB should establish formal sexual violence response training.

“If this is something you’re passionate about…speak up. The more we bring it up, the more we talk, the more we effect and bring about change,” Gerhardt said.


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