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Identity & Community

Activists Rally to End Gender-Based Violence

Many women will celebrate Valentine’s Day by spending some quality time with their significant others, but there are many other women who will spend the day in fear of intimate partner violence.

That’s why New Voices Pittsburgh, a community based organization dedicated to the health and well-being of black women and girls, is organizing a rally to end gender-based violence, to be held at noon Friday at Market Square.

The event is part of a global day of action organized by the One Billing Rising for Justice Movement, which uses “creative resistance” and dance as a way to bring attention to social justice issues. A short film about the movement made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

La’Tasha Mayes is executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014.

Mayes said Friday’s rally “is meant to not only inspire, to remember and commemorate, but to celebrate the power of women and girls and our ability as a community to end gender-based violence.”

Organizers will draw attention to specific women who were the victims of intimate partner violence.

“Charmaine Pfender received a life sentence for defending herself against sexual violence, and it’s for her that we stand in solidarity,” said Mayes. “We would like to challenge the District Attorney to review and re-open her case.”

According to the group Women’s and Trans Prison Defense Committee, Pfender was sentenced to life in prison for killing the man who attempted to rape her at knifepoint. Mayes said protesters will deliver a letter to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala asking him to drop the charges against Pfender, who was been in jail for more than 20 years.

Organizers also want to commemorate Ka’Sandra Wade, who was killed in January 2013. Two officers visited Wade's home in response to her New Year's Eve 911 call, but they left after her ex-boyfriend, Anthony Brown, told them through the door there was no problem. Police think Brown then shot Wade, and killed himself the next day during a police confrontation.

“We do this in commemoration for her,” Mayes said. “But also in commemoration of the hundred women that have died in Pennsylvania due to domestic violence since Ka’Sandra Wade’s death.”

Mayes said the One Billion Rising name is a reference to the number of women worldwide who will face intimate partner violence.

“Our culture accepts violence towards women and girls as the status quo, that it’s okay, that it’s acceptable, that this is what happens to women,” said Mayes. “Around the world, one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s one billion women.”

The rally will also provide support for transgender women who have been the victims of violence, according to Mayes.

“We believe it’s important to include all people who identify as women in this, and that there are specific … targeted attacks on transgender women for not conforming to the gender that has been prescribed for them,” said Mayes.

Mayes said even though New Voices Pittsburgh is dedicated to advocacy for black women and girls, all people who are opposed to gender-based violence are encouraged to participate in the rally.

The rally is scheduled for Friday at noon and will begin at Market Square. At 1 p.m. protesters will march to Stephen Zappala’s office in the City-County Building.