When women from the six Tewa-speaking pueblos of northern New Mexico decided to do something about the rape and sexual violence in their communities, they turned to their cultural roots of peace and respect for the earth. "Violence against women is not distinct from that against the poor or Mother Earth," says Kathy Sanchez, director of Tewa Women United, an activist group in the area. "Within the Native perspective everything is connected."
To honor that heritage, Tewa Women United has created one of the first antiviolence programs in North America, headed by the Native American women it serves. They call their initiative V.O.I.C.E.S. (Valuing Our Integrity with Courage, Empowerment and Support). Rather than adopting what it calls a Euro-American model of healing that relies on timed therapy sessions and jails far from the community, V.O.I.C.E.S. calls on its own traditions. "Native Americans are wary of outside agencies from the white world," says Katia Delgado, an indigenous Peruvian woman and therapist for V.O.I.C.E.S. "Memories of being betrayed, enslaved, and beaten for speaking their own language lurk beneath the surface. So, when the perpetrator of a sexual crime is sent to prison outside of the pueblo, breaking up the family, it awakens old ghosts for everyone."
Volunteers with V.O.I.C.E.S. encourage healing by working closely with sexual assault victims, the victims' families, and the communities to make offenses publicly known despite resistance from mostly male tribal councils. The group encourages the entire pueblo to take responsibility for the violence and come together for peace. V.O.I.C.E.S. finds shelter for women and their children among the sprawling networks of extended families. They are also working to establish halfway houses for abusers on the pueblo grounds. Volunteers help run a hotline, offer culturally sensitive counseling, and provide medical help and emergency intervention for women in distress. To serve the growing number of women seeking help, V.O.I.C.E.S. has had to lean on services from outside the community. But first, Tewa volunteers provide cross-cultural training for the tightly supervised network of outside medical and legal agencies they use.
To help women and children recoup their inner strength, V.O.I.C.E.S. trains them in the spiritual rituals of their ancestors. "Every morning, we present ourselves to the sun, which has many healing powers, especially when its rays are at a certain angle," says Sanchez. The group also leads prayers of thanks that recognize the people, animals, plant life, wind, and water that sustain them. "We make women feel less alone by helping them name three support systems in their lives," says Sanchez. "Once you claim these connections, you recognize the sacred energy of the universe and gain strength from it to make choices that empower you."
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .