On October 1, Mallika spoke at Brooklyn Law School on a panel for the Kings County District Attorney’s Office’s Domestic Violence Conference – Addressing Violence Against Women: Collaborative Approaches in the 21st Century. She spoke for a panel whose subject was “The Link between Local Prosecutors and the Global Movement to End Violence Against Women.”
Read the transcript below:
I just want to start by saying thank you to Michelle, to the Brooklyn DAs office, to this wonderful law school, and to all of you for putting this day together, and for showing up, and being so incredibly present. I was commenting to Michelle earlier that I’ve been to lots of conferences and spoken at a bunch of places, but the kind of attention and presence in this room has been just astounding and it’s pretty remarkable considering that you’ve been talked at for a while now and that we’ve been talking about stuff that’s actually really painful and difficult and traumatic at multiple levels.
I also want to say thank you to each and every one of you in this room for all that you do because we get caught up in the language of the law and we think about the work that we’re doing in the context of the law without really understanding how much of ourselves ends up getting put on the front line in doing this work. The kind of trauma and pain that we carry from our own lives as well as the pain and trauma that we pick up from everybody that we are serving. Take a moment to look to your left and to your right and recognize one another and yourselves for being such incredible powerful advocates and healers in addressing what is the world’s largest pandemic–and that is of violence against women. Really, thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything that you all do.
On September 13, I saw these headlines about the Egyptian Army bombing a group of Mexican tourists in the desert by mistake and how many people have died. And it wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered that one of the people that had been killed in the mistaken bombing was a very dear friend of mine. His name was Rafael Bejarano and he was this incredible healer. A shaman. A musician. And, it was once again a reminder for me how interconnected our lives are. That a random, bizarre incident in the Egyptian desert where the Egyptian Army bombs a group of tourists that are at an oasis having lunch is intimately and deeply connected to my life.
And so it is with the work that we do in Brooklyn and NYC and around the world that our lives–no matter where we are–are intimately interconnected to one another. The local is global, and the global is local in just the most profound ways and I think that we’ll all come to understand that–even beyond just thinking about “what are the cultural norms over there?” and “how do we address them over here?”–to really understand in all the stories that we heard this morning is that the cultural norm of violence against women is pretty universal. We might have different variations on the theme, but at its fundamental core it is really the same thing that we’re dealing with over and over again.
You might be wondering why I’m sharing Rafa’s death as an example of showing the interconnectedness when we’re here talking about intimate partner violence … The cultural violence that we live with on a daily basis in the streets of New York and around the world–I have come to believe–really starts with the way in which violence is perpetrated and allowed in the home. This is the place where the first distinction between human beings gets made; between men and women; where the other gets created; where the paradigm of one group of people having power over another group of people first comes into existence; and–in that family unit where many of us are born and grow up–the values of how we then go about our lives in society come into being. And so boys grow up thinking that to be masculine means to be tough, to use violence as a tool to resolve conflict, that women can be abused–that they can be second class citizens. And women grow up thinking that they are second class citizens and that it is okay for men to behave in this way.
And so, our most fundamental construct of “what does masculinity?” mean and “what does femininity mean” within the whole, begin with this allowance of violence as a way of being. Even with reference to the statistics that we just heard … Violence against children in the home is also a pandemic, right? If violence as a tool is okay within the home, then it’s no accident, I think, that we then watch it play itself out in gangs, on the streets, in the army, in wars, and having the arms trade be one of the biggest billion dollar–multi-billion dollar industry on this planet. It’s all connected.
That’s one of the points I do want to make because there is a way in which we sometimes can start thinking about intimate partner violence as this thing between a couple–whether it’s a man and a woman or any other variation on this theme–that we then somehow have to marshal all these resources to address and sometimes lose sight of how–really–we are on the front lines of transforming something that affects every aspect of how we come together as human beings on this planet.
And I think it’s really, really important for us to step into owning that part of what intimate partner violence is. You already heard about how it’s a much larger human rights issue; that it’s about women’s public and political participation; it’s about their ability to step into the economic system. I posit that it is actually about the core of the values system on how we live lives, how we treat one another, how we treat other species, and how we treat the planet itself. This conference today for me is pivotal to this question of what is the world that we want to live in? Who are we? What are creating together in terms of our becoming? And what we can transform within the home? It will be absolutely critical to answering that question.
The second thing I just want to say is that prosecution and law enforcement as we hear many times in this room is one pillar of a prevention strategy. It cannot–as we all know–be the solution to this problem. We have to combine a prevention strategy of enforcement and prosecution with culture change, with transformations in economic systems, political systems, and social systems. There is no way in hell that we can marshal all the resources necessary to really address this pandemic simply through a legal process. It’s simply not possible.
I make this point to say that if we can step into understanding ourselves as one key pillar of a larger strategy, then our ability to be interconnected with those other strategies becomes better. We become smarter and more strategic about how we are weaving in and out of working with a culture change strategy. Working with men and boys. Figuring out what legislation needs to happen as well as making sure that we are keeping women and kids and everybody safe and protected in the actual work that we’re doing.
But, it’s really important to understand that we are part of a larger change–a larger culture change that has to happen. You’re going to hear a lot more about that in our next panel and my colleague from Breakthrough, Phoebe Schreiner, will be sharing some of the work that we do specifically at Breakthrough–which is where I work–but I’m kind of using my time to really just share some insights from my thirty years of working on this issue.
So, if prosecution is one piece of a larger strategy and we’re thinking about culture change in this broader way, even things like what happened at our erstwhile government when Cecile Richards was testifying a very short while ago, the way in which she was attacked is part of the culture that we need to change. Political leaders–male political leaders–need to understand that it’s political suicide for them to treat women in the way in which they continue to treat women. And that’s not just true in other parts of the world–that’s just as true in these United States of America.
When we’re talking about culture change, it’s getting to that place where we make certain kinds of behavior unacceptable. It’s not acceptable to treat women in the way in which they’re currently treated and that is true whether it’s in the halls of our government in the United States or whether it’s in our homes in India. Right?
I just want to make that point of us understanding that the piece that we hold in this room of prosecution and law enforcement is absolutely critical and it’s part of this larger, much more multi-pronged strategy that we need to come together with and move forward with. And working with men and boys, for example, is another critical piece of that whole.
The last thing that I just want to say after thirty years of doing this work is that it’s really hard work. It is relentlessly difficult work. I went on sabbatical over the summer, and it was the first time that I had had a break and there was this one moment when I was walking through this valley in Peru–in the Sacred Valley of Peru–and I was surrounded by all of these mountains, and it was just one of those sacred, beautiful, divine moments. And I felt this kind of crack, this cracking in my system around me, and I started to cry. And I cried for four hours. And I realized that I was shedding the pain and the stories and the trauma of all of those thousands and thousands and thousands of women and girls and boys and men that I had listened to, worked with, represented, engaged with, and whatever with, and that they were all in my body. You know, we learn how to say things like “she was burned,” “she was killed,” “she was maimed” with these impassive faces to talk about some of the most egregious, horrible things that human beings can do to one another. We can sit at our conferences–we sit across the table from people–and we have to learn how to talk about this stuff in this strong, clear–we’re lawyers, we’re advocates, we can’t show emotion.
All of that pain goes somewhere, right? I mean, it’s just not possible to be doing this work without having all of those things impact us as well. As many walls as we might be creating to making ourselves safe and secure. And most of the time, we’re carrying our own pain and trauma because I would hazard a guess a significant number of people in this room have experienced some form of violence either themselves or have watched it with somebody in their family or a friend. It’s not like we’re just dealing with people out there. We’re dealing with all of this ourselves.
My third and last point that I’d just like to share today is self-care is essential in this work. We have a tendency for those of us who do advocacy–those of us who are lawyers; those of us who are a part of social change movements–to always be focused on the external and what needs to happen externally and we forget that we really need to take care of ourselves along the way. Because, after all, at the end of the day, what are we all trying to do? We’re trying to create this world, right? Our value system and why we all do this work that is so hard, so challenging, so difficult is because we deeply believe that women and men and kids have the right to live with dignity, with equality, with justice. That they have the right to live violence-free, express themselves, thrive. That’s what brings you all to this work, right? It’s not because we’re all masochists who kind of wake up every morning and just want to whip ourselves for some bizarre reason. There’s a vision of the world that we’re trying to create that brings us, that drives us, that fuels our passion. And so, that world where each one of us can thrive has to happen by making sure we create the conditions in our own lives for ourselves to thrive as well. And for ourselves to thrive as well means that we have to take care of ourselves as much as we take care of everybody around us.
There’s no “there there” in this vision. There’s no, you know, “someday we will wake up and we’ll be over the rainbow and the sun will be shining and bluebirds will be singing and it’s like somewhere out there in that distant horizon–” No. I have come to understand that that world has to be the world that we step into ourselves every single day. And that’s the only way in which we’re going to manifest this world now.
One of the things that Rafael used to say was “May your day be filled with angels in disguise.” Like I said: he was a healer. He was a shaman. He was a musician. He had this incredible laugh and this was one of the things he always used to say. And I just want to say to all of you that in the work that you do and the way that you show up for women and kids and men who are in such pain and such trauma is that you are the angels in disguise in their lives. So, thank you.
You can find the transcript here.