Forman to discuss Haiti’s gender-based violence

This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Wednesday, June 30, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

The Hebrew phrase “Tikkun Olem” means “repairing the world.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” in Matthew 5:9.

In Hinduism, the concept of karma guarantees that people who are charitable and kind will benefit in the next life. The teaching of “earthly Buddhism” is an environmental approach to repairing the world.

The interpretations differ, but the concept of kindness transcends religions. Johanna Mendelson Forman, who grew up Jewish, works daily to eliminate gender-based violence with the phrase “Tikkun Olem” whispering in the back of her mind.

“The concept of repairing the world … drives my own belief that we can always leave this place a better world,” Forman said. “So if we can help in this one area and make contributions, it’s certainly a contribution to our life on this planet.”

Forman is the senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has traveled to Haiti several times since the earthquake in January 2010.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Forman will discuss gender-based violence at the Interfaith Lecture Series with her lecture, “The Slaughter of Eve: Women and Violence in Haiti.”

Although the problem of gender-based violence is complex and widespread, Forman said there are three important steps toward a solution: outreach, protection and education.

In many developing countries, there is no incentive for people to report crimes because there is no punishment for the criminal. Outreach to women and victims is a giant first step toward reducing and eliminating violence.

“Getting women to work with other women’s groups, of which there are strong networks in these (Haitian) camps, is a very important step,” Forman said.

The architectural Defensible Space Theory is a surprisingly effective method of reducing crime and violence against women. In line with this theory, architects are rebuilding housing and space in Haiti so that people can feel protected. The community indicates where crime is concentrated, and the architects redesign the space to make housing safer and residents less vulnerable.

As simple as it seems, the problem can also begin and end with a change of attitude.

“It’s also a broader education program for men and boys, and the population in general, that this is not acceptable behavior to go in and try to rape women,” Forman said.

The solution to a three-part problem is, sensibly enough, a three-part process that Forman will break down for the Chautauqua audience.

“I want to give people a sense of what the problem is, because it’s a global problem… to give them the context of what it’s like in Haiti today and (to tell them) some of the things we’re thinking about to help alleviate the problem,” Forman said, adding that practical solutions involve legal changes, remedies to victims and protection for women before these legal changes are implemented.

Religious and cultural differences can compound the problem and cloud the solution, but the solution can be as simple as “Tikkun Olem.”

“As far as the religiosity aspect of it goes, it’s basic respect for one’s fellow man and woman … no matter how you feel about your religious tendencies, I think it’s a basic tenet of all religions to respect,” Forman said. “(Rape and violence are) perhaps one of the grossest violations of it in that there is the disrespect for people’s space, for people’s movement, for people’s body… and the church can play a role in (solving) it.”