By Cillea Houghton
NASHVILLE, TN — In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the work of the YWCA is more important now than ever and the Nashville chapter is acting as a leader both locally and nationally.
“Really the foundation of the YW is making our community better by giving women of all colors, races, creeds, the ability to be self-sustaining,” said President and CEO of YWCA Nashville and Middle Tennessee Sharon Roberson. “All of the things that we do are about helping people become self-sustaining, be independent and really strong women in our society.”
Combating domestic violence is at the forefront of the YWCA’s mission, as Tennessee has the fourth highest death rate of women from domestic violence across the country. The YWCA runs the largest domestic violence shelter in Tennessee that not only offers women and children fleeing a domestic violence situation with shelter, but also provides them with trauma informed care, therapy, transitional housing and other community resources to help develop a safety plan as they move into this new phase of life.
“We want to make sure those people that survive domestic violence have a better life and that’s where we have to concentrate our efforts,” Roberson said, adding it’s important to help men and women understand the issue. “I think a lot of people have a lot prejudices against women who are in domestic violence situations…and we’ve educated the community so significantly and make them understand that these can be strong, powerful women, but they’re in a domestic violence situation. So you have to work on the community’s understanding of that.”
Progressive is one word to describe the YWCA’s work. One of its newer programs, Shear Haven, educates hairstylists on the signs of domestic violence, as bruises often appear under the scalp. Roberson is working on a legislative effort so this training will become a part of the stylists’ pre-licensing education classes, calling the effort “very significant.”
Educating youth is also an important part of the YWCA’s mission through Girls Inc., a program in Metro Nashville Public Schools that empowers girls to succeed through goal setting, teaching life skills and building lasting relationships, and AMEND Together, which teaches young men about healthy masculinity and self-control so they can have respectful relationships with women. Roberson says these programs contribute “toward the healing process and the prevention and the culture change.”
The organization’s work also ties into sexual harassment, which the YWCA calls “violence against women.” Roberson has led training sessions for legislative staff to educate them on proper workplace behavior to stop the abuse of power that perpetuates sexual harassment and will lead training sessions for legislators in the House of Representatives. Roberson says a key part of the training is teaching men to control their own actions and understand women don’t ask for this behavior.
“I think first of all, we’re putting a spotlight on it and hopefully this will go to other YWCAs. We’re talking to the national organization by taking what we’ve done here in Nashville on a national level and that is very significant,” she said of the organization’s work in addressing disrespect in the workplace and how we need to change the culture in corporations. “We have to make sure they understand Nashville’s YW has been at the forefront and we’re in the position to make sure others understand this.”
Making an impact in Nashville since 1898, Roberson said the YWCA’s work is just as important now with the major culture shifts happening in the world today, as the work surrounding domestic violence and instituting educational programs help prevent such issues for the next generation. “We have a significant history in the community and it’s a very proud one and we’ve been doing it a long time,” she said. “We’ve had to evolve as a society and now more than ever we need the YW, we do more than ever because we have to use the opportunities that we have.”