Thursday, December 23, 2010
Mao Khang has been fighting for equality for decades now. As a southeast Asian coordinator for The Women's Community in Wausau, she works directly with local victims of domestic violence. She's worked within the Hmong clan system as an advocate for women -- standing up to a patriarchal system that too often tended to sweep women's concerns aside.
It is hard work, and Khang has paid a real price personally for it, at times feeling alienated from her own culture.
Recently, though, there were signs that her efforts have actually begun to pay off.
In July 2009, it was Khang's efforts that brought Gen. Vang Pao, a revered cultural leader among Hmong in America, to Wausau. Vang Pao's speech at a conference called "Hmong in the Past, Present and Future" was the first time he had ever made public statements directly denouncing domestic violence and polygamy in the Hmong culture.
At that meeting, Vang Pao directed a committee of six Hmong men and six Hmong women be formed to explore ways to curb violence and sexual abuse within the culture.
And in March, for the first time, state Hmong clan leaders met in Green Bay, working to set the cultural tone for many Hmong families, to provide instruction on domestic violence laws and to train families on mediation techniques. Khang, a committee member and an organizer of the meeting, has been a guiding force behind every step of this process.
"This is a new thing happening in history, with Hmong women getting involved," committee member Paj Muas, 34, of Milwaukee told a Wausau Daily Herald reporter this spring. "We want to create some understanding, fair treatment."
In August, Khang received the Sunshine Peace Award, a recognition of her work to battle domestic violence. At a ceremony in Wilmington, N.C., she received the honor from the Sunshine Lady Foundation.
Domestic violence affects all cultures, all races and all socioeconomic groups. But the Hmong clan system's patriarchal traditions have made it especially hard for women to get help, because they're simply not viewed as equals by some within the culture.
That's changing. And Mao Khang is leading that change.