Women's Freedom Center: In the name of freedom


Not every milestone makes the news of course, but some deserve public notice: just as many of you helped mark our 40th anniversary, we hope you'll come celebrate our 25th Annual Women's Film Festival in March (check out womensfilmfestival.org). This month however, we reached a subtle but no less significant marker: it was five years ago that we changed our name from Women's Crisis Center to Women's Freedom Center, and at the start of this new year, it's worth revisiting why.

At first, not everyone in the community supported the change. Some worried that after so many decades as the Crisis Center, survivors wouldn't know how to reach us. Calls did not drop off however; survivors proved their ongoing resourcefulness and still found our number. Noticeably too, they themselves like the new name for affirming what they're really after.

Others concerned about the name-change suggested it wouldn't reflect what we actually do; plus some felt the name just shouldn't have — or no longer needed — such a "radical" tinge to it. While we respect that well-meaning allies can disagree, it's important to note that early on, the Women's Crisis Center itself was a radical name. Because the first work of our foremothers was to break a vast historic silence: in the early 1970s, even naming the problem of domestic and sexual violence was a revolutionary act. They knew that language has power; that shifts in language create shifts in thinking. It's crisis that helped them get heard as they formed a movement. Decades later though, our culture is so used to hearing about violence against women, that crisis may sometimes read as stasis. Our present task is to still to be heard, to break through all the barriers to women's progress.

Yes, there have been successes, and our allies include more men in each generation. But as long as women are less safe than men, we are less free. As long as we're less respected, less elected, less hired, and less paid, we're also less free, both to share in, and help shape the world. That's why freedom has actually always reflected the many facets of our work, as well as the rich conversations we have with our community. If that most iconic American word does somehow sound radical, just when it's next to women, it speaks volumes about what's still missing, and why the new name.

Not surprisingly, the dialogue on this topic among advocates and board members beforehand was some of the most potent discussion we'd ever had with each other. Like any long work in progress, social justice builds on some blend of vision and re-vision: crisis was quite an arresting word once, when applied to women; now freedom helps us pause again, and re-examine what's left to be done.

And in that vein, we appreciate the thoughtful voices of those who came to our "Unpacking the Gender Box" series, and there's another chance to catch both films at The Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro: Wed., Feb. 3, "The Mask You Live In," and Wed., Feb. 17, "Miss Representation," both at 6 p.m. All are welcome, including parents and high school students.

So it's 2016, and the work to make a better world for women and girls goes on. As always, our goal isn't just an absence of crisis but the presence of liberation for everyone. Everyone counts, and every step matters, because public or not, it links us all to a higher cause. And not until women's freedom is universal can we stop having centers to help make that point.

The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at Women's Freedom Center and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.


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