“No level of individual self-actualization alone can sustain the marginalized and oppressed. We must be linked to collective struggle, to communities of resistance that move us outward, into the world.” – Bell Hooks

Dear Friends of HAWC,

March is Women’s History Month.  The predominant way of telling history is typically to lift up the big names, the perceived dominant actors as the primary players, the history makers.  Women’s History Month asks us to think differently about history, how it’s made and who shapes it. It is not enough to simply replace the names of male actors with female ones, the logic goes.  Instead, this month begs us to ask who is telling our history and why is it told that way?

In that spirit, let us recognize and celebrate the 45 years that the Houston Area Women’s Center has been shaping how our community recognizes and responds to domestic and sexual violence.  And let us tell the story such that it’s the courageous survivors who have in fact, been leading those changes.

What if we thought of history’s primary actors as the women in abusive marriages who first called our early donated phones in 1977 and asked for help?  And what about those first women, before there were rape crisis centers and sexual assault hotlines, who were willing to step forward and say that they had been raped?

We may not know their names, but aren’t they the ones who made it possible for the Violence Against Women’s Act to even become an idea, much less a federal law we now know as VAWA?  Aren’t they the history makers who deserve the credit for ensuring that today, we have protections in place for our children in schools, churches and clubs?  Where would be today, if it weren’t for the bravery and sense of justice of the women who spoke out, long before we collectively considered acts of physical, emotional and financial abuse, to be abuse?

It is because of their struggles for dignity and safety that a broad based movement to end gender based violence emerged, involving community leaders, elected officials and decision makers. Their bravery and vulnerability are what made possible the policies, services and funding that benefit survivors today.

This is how Women’s History Month asks us to think about history.  There is still much work to be done to achieve true gender equity, and with it, a world free from gender violence. The challenges our most vulnerable women and girls face are many. The instances of physical violence and economic abuse against women, and in particular women of color, in Houston and around the world, have only increased during the past two years of the pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, Houston Police report nearly 1 in 5 of all crimes involve domestic violence, with domestic-violence related homicides up 50% year over year.

I would argue that every day, survivors are agents of history, doing their part to remake a world that better serves not their children, themselves, and all of us.

My hope is that by seeing them not as victims, but as agents of history, we will all do our part and advocate for the services they so desperately need and deserve:

    • Real time safety
    • Financial and emotional resources to support a life free from violence
    • Tools to prevent and interrupt the cycle of abuse
    • Accountability for the perpetrator.

To all the women – and men – invested in this movement, we thank you.

Until it stops, 

Emilee Dawn Whitehurst
President and CEO
Houston Area Women’s Center