Remarks from the YWCA Evanston NorthShore YWomen Awards Dinner

October 13, 2016

Thank you to Karen and Trimmy and the entire YWCA Evanston North Shore board and all who helped plan this remarkable evening and Susan for producing that moving film. It is so humbeling to be standing here at the YWomen award dinner recieving an award for the organization that launched my advocacy and activism 25 years ago. I mean I have goosebumps. We have come full circle.

I have not lived my life working on these issues for awards and acalades. As a matter of fact it for many years I was secretive about my volunteer work. Would people think I was a victim? What would that mean?

But as I lived my truth, I know I gave way for others to live theirs. And with each action I took I discovered I restored my own wholeness, for myself and my community. For me this work has become important to my very survival. To give meaning and purpose to the painful situation i found myself in and to have the audacity to rise above it. And today I do it with a laser sharp focus on creating a safer world for my daughters and granddaughters and great granddaughters.

Now I will admit, this lifetime of pushing back against the normalization of violence against women has been exhausting for me. I am exhausted. Like really really exhausted. But it’s been real. It’s been painful and it’s been beautiful to see the remarkable nature of the resilience of. human spirit. And to be that human spirit that rises against all odds.

It is surreal to be standing here receiving an award for my lifetime work of ending violence against women in the same week that we have a presidential nominee who brags about sexual assault. After all we have done over the years to see this man of power laugh and smirk about sexual assault, it’s been painful and frustrating and has rattled so many of us to say the least. But as I think about it, I am hopeful too. We saw over 35 million women tweet their assaults over the course of 5 days, over 50 a minute. The collective unburdening of generations of silence, of shame that women all around the world understand and relate to. We saw athletes stand up and denounce this candidates words and behavior. We saw a moderator on national TV during the debate call it what it was, sexual assault and not simply dismiss these comments as “locker room banter”. We also saw President Obama sign into law a new bill of rights of sexual assault survivors, the first time anything related to sexual assault was written into law on a federal level. So we are making progress. It is because of organizations like the Y North Shore who for decades has been empowering its community to stand up to violence educating teens to be upstanders not bystanders, and helping victims process their experiences to become survivors, it is because of people like you that we are holding this candidate accountable and transforming our political system.

So I accept this award, on behalf of myself, my mother, my daughters and on behalf of the 1 billion women in the world who have been raped beaten or murdered. I share this award with all of you of you. United in sisterhood. To the 125 million girls who have undergone female genital mutilation. To the women who have reported their assaults only to not be believed and to the women who were silenced. To the girls who have had to ignore catcalls and creeps who rub up against them while crossing the street to get to work, school, home or play. Here is my message to you: You have the right to take space in this world and that space should be safe. You are not damaged. You are not broken. You are not helpless. You are whole. You are sacred. You deserve to be valued and respected. You are strong. You are a survivor. You are not alone. I am with you. I am listening to you. United in sisterhood.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Julie Smolyansky’s story.