This is the time of year when we’re all busy scrambling to find the perfect gifts for our friends and family. We all want to help people feel good, but what if we could also do good this year?
Violence against women is an epidemic that affects us all. At least one in three women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime, which means we all know someone who has been impacted. But, the good news is, we also have incredible power to stop these crimes. We can start by giving gifts this year that truly make a difference.
1. Gifts that promote equality. One of the main causes of violence against women is rigid gender roles, which teach boys they are only worthy if they are powerful, and teach girls they are only worthy if they are likeable. This creates inequality and leads to abuse and control.
This year, give children toys that challenge these stereotypes, and encourage boys and girls to explore their true passions and talents. Give girls gifts that encourage creativity and ingenuity, such as building block and science kits. Give boys gifts that encourage nurturing, such as dolls and Easy Bake Ovens, which will help them grow to be more compassionate partners and fathers. Most of all, encourage children to explore their interests, without labels. Children who feel loved and respected for who they are will be much less likely to become victims or abusers someday.
2. Gifts that promote compassion. One of the most valuable lessons we can give our children, especially young boys, is the ability to express a full range of emotions, and to feel empathy for others. Many boys who grow up to abuse their partners have been taught that anger is the only acceptable emotion. Teaching children that it is alright to feel fear or sadness encourages them to express and process these emotions, rather than lashing out against others.
Of course, we can teach these lessons simply by talking with our children, and modeling compassionate behavior. But, we can also give books that illustrate empathy, such as Bully, Ramona the Pest, The Giving Tree, and Charlotte’s Web. We can also help children choose gifts to donate to local homeless or domestic violence shelters, and teach them the importance of helping others.
3. Gifts that empower. Women spend so much of our time caring for others, and we often neglect ourselves. Give the women in your life books that will empower and inspire them, such as Thrive by Arianna Huffington and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Give books that teach about ending violence against women, such as Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof.
There are also many great gifts available that are made by, and which help support, survivors. Organizations such as Made by Survivors, Fair Trade Designs, and Cotton Dahlia offer beautiful clothing, jewelry, and accessories that benefit worthy causes and empower women worldwide.
4. Gifts that promote healing. If you have people in your life who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence – and we all do – give a gift that will help them on their healing journey. Yoga can provide immense healing for survivors, especially those who have been sexually assaulted, because of its ability to reintegrate body, mind, and emotions. Giving a survivor yoga gear or a gift certificate for yoga classes can start her on the path toward healing. Painting supplies, journals, and other gifts that encourage creative expression are also healing.
Most of all, let survivors in your life know that what they experienced is not their fault, that you believe them, and that you will always support them. Friendship and compassion are the most healing gifts of all.
5. Gifts that provide safety. There are hundreds of wonderful domestic violence and sexual assault programs across this country. You can give a donation in someone’s honor, which will provide safety and comfort for women and children in crisis. You can also donate your time and talents. Volunteers answer crisis calls, accompany survivors at the hospital, and work with children in shelter. There are many ways to get involved and make a difference – all it takes is a little time and a lot of heart.
There is so much we each can do to end the epidemic of violence against women. This year, give gifts that truly make a difference. Together, we can create a world that is safer for all women, children, and men. Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift of all?
If you or someone you know has been abused or assaulted, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). To get involved in the work to end sexual assault and domestic violence in the Midlands, contact Sistercare at 803-926-0505 or Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands at 803-790-8208.