The Memphis Area Women’s (MAWC) council held its annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes march on Friday, Sept. 23. Students, teachers, community leaders, and locals walked to raise awareness against domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and all other forms of violence against women.
This year marks the eleventh iteration of the march, which primarily emphasizes the importance of men’s role in ending violence against women. All men who attended were encouraged to wear high heels.
Deborah Clubb is the executive director of MAWC. “We’ve got to change behavior. We’ve got to change attitudes. We’ve got to see men and boys respect and value women and girls in such a way that they would never imagine beating on someone they claim to love or raping someone who is saying no,” she said. “Men have got to be the ones to make this stop.”
Clubb worked at the Commercial Appeal for 25 years before becoming further involved in women’s advocacy, joining the newly formed MAWC in 2004. “I have always had a deep concern for women’s voices and the needs of women to be able to have a life just as strong and just as safe as men can.”
Clubb has worked extensively in women’s advocacy, including co-founding Women of Achievement while she was still a reporter, collaborating with the city of Memphis’s Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, and coordinating the Memphis Says No More campaign, which she is most proud of. The campaign is city-wide, with posters appearing from regular schools and businesses to the jumbotron in the FedEx Forum. In addition, the campaign collaborates with celebrities and athletes in the community.
The kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher have placed renewed attention on the issues women face in Memphis and have reinforced the need for advocacy and awareness groups like the MAWC. “That terrible crime absolutely emphasizes the necessity to pull together and do everything we can to make our communities safe,” said Clubb, “so that all of us, whatever our gender, can go to school, work, and exercise without fear.”
Several students went to the event to show their support. Memphis student Elliott Lehr, like many at the event, had to adjust to wearing high heels. “To be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable, but I feel like that’s the point,” he said.
“I have friends that have personally gone through things, and I just feel like it’s an obligation,” said Alyssia Goodwin, another Memphis student. “They went through pain, so why not [show up].”
Before the march began, multiple speakers addressed the crowd. U of M Title IX: Prevention Specialist Regina Millen emphasized how essential men's attendance is to the march's cause. "I can stand up here all day and talk about how important it is to fight against this culture of violence," she said. "But the ones who need to hear the message are not going to listen to me, but they might listen to other men. Get involved, use your voice or platform, and stand for something."
Memphis student and Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Coalition Julianna Daniel also spoke about her personal experience with sexual violence. Daniel was assaulted when she was just 15 and met only with blame and rebuke from her friends. As a result, she didn’t receive the support she needed and stayed silent. Now, because of her experience, Daniel says the excuses for victimizers have to end. “Hold people accountable,” she said. “Call it out, call out the hurtful behavior. When we do that, we’re in the process of educating people. We’re in the process of changing this narrative around what’s healthy and what’s not.”
Daniel wants the narrative around sexual assault to change and for other victims to receive the support she now knows is available. “Show up. Support survivors, listen to their stories, and raise your voice,” she said. “Raise your voice for those who have been told not to, and raise your voice for those who are no longer with us today because of this violence.”
MAWC is always looking for volunteers to organize events, conduct workplace training, or simply distribute posters around the community. To support them and their efforts to end violence against women, you can go to memphiswomen.org to donate.