"The personal is the political" has long been the mantra for grassroots women's organizations. This sentiment is especially dear to women organizing to fight domestic violence -- an epidemic fraught with gender politics that becomes all too personal for too many women.
Every day, women are working in global and local ways to educate and raise awareness about domestic violence -- so much so that the personal is becoming the international, literally. As we speak, a local panel of domestic violence experts is getting ready to head to Kharkiv, Ukraine, to meet with community leaders and women's organizations to discuss domestic violence.
The Cincinnati group will stay in Kharkiv Oct. 15-25. The delegation -- comprised of Jody Grundy, co-director of the Domestic Violence Project; Pamela Sears, Chief Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor; Ann MacDonald, executive director of Women Helping Women; and Jim Brown, Cincinnati Police Recruiting Unit -- has been hand-picked by the Cincinnati-Kharkiv Sister Cities Project (CKSCP), the organization behind this domestic violence project.
Cincinnati has shared a sister-city relationship with Kharkiv for the past 10 years. Throughout those years, the cities have exchanged dozens of delegations back and forth. CKSCP is a non-profit, volunteer organization, affiliated with Sister Cities International, a program created under President Eisenhower for the purpose of promoting citizen diplomacy.
The grant money for this specific domestic violence project comes from the United States Information Agency. Cincinnati and Kharkiv are participating in this project with five other sister-city pairs.
According to Grundy, the grant is geared to working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Kharkiv to bring about grassroots change. These NGOs -- women's groups, mostly -- are highly organized and resourceful.
"They are making it happen," Grundy says. "We hope to be able to share information with the NGOs. Our goal is to help Kharkiv get to the point where they can organize a collaboration between the NGOs and their society."
To that end, the Cincinnati delegation is planning to meet with Kharkiv women trying to draft the first domestic violence laws in the Ukraine. As a newly independent state, Ukraine is dealing with multiple economic, social and cultural issues. Women who were long silenced are now claiming their voices and speaking out about domestic violence.
According to the interim report, "The domestic violence project is based on the training the trainees model, whereby U.S. law enforcement and municipal personnel, as well as social workers and educators, provide their newly independent states counterparts with the necessary tools and information to address the problem of domestic violence in their respective communities."
The first phase of the project, the exploration and assessment phase, has already taken place. In May, Grundy and Helen Mess, CKSCP vice president and project co-director, went to Kharkiv to meet with individuals and groups working on the issue. They discovered that there were several different NGOs addressing domestic violence and that the groups simply needed some help networking.
They also realized the huge problem domestic violence has become -- not just in Kharkiv, Ukraine, but in many of the NISs.
"There has been a 10-fold increase in domestic violence in Russia and the republics since the breakup of the Soviet Union," Grundy says. "Alcoholism and traffic in women have increased as people's economic situations become desperate. A lot of it may have to do with displacement of anger."
The Ukraine trip will move the project onto the second phase -- the engagement of a domestic violence team in the host community. Grundy and the rest of the team meet regularly to discuss what they will encounter when they arrive. The team is well-seasoned, having collaborated several times in the past.
"If we can boil it all down, our main message will be domestic violence is a community problem," Grundy says.
The final phase of the grant involves sharing the information -- not just with the other sister-city pairs in the program, but internationally. In addition to attending the Sister Cities International Conference next June in Denver, the participating cities also are expected to develop a Web site as a means of communicating information.
There are some exciting goings-on in Cincinnati with the CKSCP project as well. Currently, a delegation from Kharkiv studying hotel/restaurant management is in town. Among the delegates is Larisa Kulakova, who's here officially to learn more about her business but also to learn more about how we deal with domestic violence in Cincinnati.
Kulakova heads a group in Kharkiv called Women's World, which works on bringing to light different women's issues. She has just opened a women's crisis center there and is looking forward to touring the YWCA shelter and meeting with community leaders about this issue.
Olga Kovton, also in Cincinnati through CKSCP for another business-related exchange, works with a group in Kharkiv called Nadia, or "hope," that actively works with victims of domestic violence. And here from Bolivia until Oct. 10 -- sponsored through the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights -- is a group of female interns, one of whom is responsible for framing her country's first domestic violence laws.
Grundy is excited to see this kind of cross-feeding.
"We're now interchanging on an international level with different women's groups," she says. "I see our role as that of an interface between local communities and international human rights movements."