Trailblazing Conference, CONVERGE!, Refocuses Attention on Gender Violence


 Miami Law)

CONVERGE! Re-imagining the Movement to End Gender Violence was recently held at Miami Law and brought together over 200 survivors, policymakers, academics, practitioners, and students for a two-day vigorous and often emotional discussion addressing the most pressing concerns of the U.S. movement to prevent and respond to gender violence.

“Anti-violence activism must include attention to structural violence that has a disproportionate impact on those who are most oppressed in our society,” said keynote speaker Dr. Beth Richie, the Director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy and Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, Criminology, and Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“That means that we need to position ourselves as activists in other movements for social justice; among the most important of which is prison abolition work. While that might seem paradoxical, prison abolition gives us the broadest and most visionary agenda to re-invest in community struggles for accountability, democracy, and justice.”

Miami Law Professor Donna Coker, a leading expert in the field of gender violence, conceived of the conference more than two years ago.

“By focusing an entire conference on the structural inequalities that create and maintain violence, CONVERGE! was a major milestone in the movement to end gender violence,” she said. “The U.S. response to domestic violence and sexual assault is more and harsher criminalization, but research shows a very high correlation between increases in male unemployment and increases in domestic violence by men against female sexual partners. We should recognize that jobs, education, housing, childcare, and economic security are key components of our work to end gender violence.”

With regard to Richie’s call for focus on prison abolition, Coker noted that the U.S. has the highest imprisonment rate of any country in the world, and people of color are grossly over-represented in those numbers.

“Crime control policies that result in huge numbers of African-American women and men behind bars creates the kinds of conditions in neighborhoods that is correlated with increases in gender violence. Our work on gender violence, therefore, must take up the call to address criminal justice system injustice.”

CONVERGE! Co-chairs were Donna Coker, Marcia Olivo, Gender Justice Coordinator of the Miami Workers Center Sisterhood of Survivors, and Leigh Goodmark, Co-Director of the Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and author of A Troubled Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System.

“CONVERGE! reflected a hunger for a conversation about alternatives to criminalization of gender violence and a desire to reach beyond silos to bring the many struggles that make up the gender violence movement together,” said Goodmark. “Thanks to CONVERGE! we have set the stage for the challenging but hugely rewarding work that needs to come next, thinking about what those alternatives might be, how to develop and fund them, and how to fight the forces that would continue to keep us divided and to marginalize low income communities, communities of color, immigrants, LGBT people, and others who experience gender violence. We left the conference excited, exhilarated, and ready to work.”

The co-chairs emphasized the unique collaboration between the academy and grassroots organizers that was reflected in CONVERGE! “There was a very deliberate effort to create a dialogue between survivors, activists, and academics,” Coker said. “This collaboration was evident in the conference funding.”

In addition to Miami Law, CONVERGE! was supported by the NoVo Foundation, Move to End Violence, a program of the NoVo Foundation, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, the UM English Department and the School of Education and Human Development. The Race and Social Justice Law Review, a student publication, will publish the papers from the conference.

“The CONVERGE! Conference came at an important time,” said Olivo. “While the war on women rages on, we are making an important link between individual gender violence and the larger cultural context. The conference gave us a place to explore this and develop ways to work together. From the community, to the academy, to the law makers, we will end gender violence.”

Olivo noted that one of the truly unique and powerful things about the conference was the significant involvement of South Florida survivors of gender violence.

“Having the CONVERGE! Conference here in Miami was important for our movement to end gender violence in Florida,” said Reina Fernandez, SOS member. “We have been building momentum throughout the state, and this national conference gave us a boost of energy and inspiration.”