Hesperian Health Guides

Art and media break silence about violence

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HealthWiki > Health Actions for Women > Chapter 6: Ending Gender-based Violence > Art and media break silence about violence

a girl looking at a poster that says: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person."

Silence about gender-based violence makes it easier for abusive men to keep hurting women and LGBT people. If we do not stand up and say that violence against women is wrong, then abusers get the message that their behavior is normal and acceptable. Silence also gives victims the message that no one cares about them or their pain. There are many ways to open people’s eyes to violence in their communities and families, and say, "We as a community are against this violence!"

Popular music, radio, TV, and the Internet can reach many people with messages to raise awareness about violence. Here are some examples.

Breakthrough India created a large media campaign using radio, video, leaflets, bulletin boards, and town meetings, carrying the message that women have the right to be free from violence and showing people taking action to stop gender-based violence. A music video and hit album called "Mann ke Manjeeré," or "Violence Against Women," was seen or heard by millions of people and was especially popular among youth. The album and music video were based on the true story of a woman who left a violent husband and became a truck driver to support her children.

a woman driving a truck and singing.
My mind has begun to play its own rhythm today My feet, once stilled, are dancing today... Every breath I take is filled with joy My heart is singing now I have begun to believe in myself.

Many communities created their own songs, other media, or informal actions as part of this campaign. For example, a group of adolescent boys decided to watch TV every night at a neighbor’s house to stop him from beating his wife.

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Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua produces a weekly half-hour TV series called "Sexto Sentido," or "Sixth Sense," that dramatizes issues such as sexual relationships and sexual orientation, and also violence and rape. The show follows the daily lives of a group of young people as they deal with problems in their relationships. The stories unfold over many shows, making them more realistic and complex, as well as entertaining and full of suspense.

a voice from a radio.
Today’s topic is the effect of family violence on women and children.

Raising Voices in Uganda uses community radio to provide information and a space for discussion about violence against women. The programs include public service announcements about support services for women.

Newsletters, websites, and magazines can showcase art and poetry, as well as share experiences, ideas, organizing strategies, and questions from readers about gender-based violence. Information shared this way can provide support privately and across communities around the world.

a male mannequin facing a female mannequin with many forks stuck in it.

Street art, such as community murals and performances in public places, can motivate people to think and talk about gender-based violence. An art project in Mexico City used male and female mannequins like the ones usually used to display clothing in stores. These mannequins were posed in dramatic scenes set up in parks and town squares, and outside subway stations. The scenes showed women as objects of violence next to men in familiar "macho" poses committing violence in different ways.

Sometimes the mannequins were posed in an obvious situation, such as a man hitting a woman. Sometimes the poses were more symbolic. For example, a male mannequin appeared to stare at a female mannequin’s body that had forks sticking out of it, as if he were eating her as he stared. Some scenes were humorous, but many of them were horrific. Paper and markers were available on a table so that people walking by could write down their thoughts or feelings and clip the papers to a clothesline where others could read and discuss them.

Participatory theater

Groups all over the world use participatory theater to call attention to gender-based violence. Some let survivors of violence — or actors playing them — act out their stories. Then they guide the audience in a discussion about violence. Other groups allow people to witness a situation that becomes violent and ask the audience to comment on it or change what they see.

a man and woman acting out a scene of gender-based violence while a crowd watches.

Ambush Theatre in South Africa and other places involves men and women of the Sonke Gender Justice Network who act out scenes of emotional or verbal violence in public, where no one is expecting to see it. When a crowd gathers to watch what is happening, the group uses the opportunity to talk about violence and rape. Then the actors act out the scene again, asking the audience to shout "Stop!" when they want to suggest something different to say or a less violent way to act.

Sharing true stories about violence through art

Sharing personal experiences with violence helps people fight against self-blame and stigma to become survivors instead of victims. Seeing art about violence can also help others reflect on their own experiences and treat survivors with greater compassion. Art can be a powerful way to inspire people to speak out against injustice.

Poster contests, poetry contests, and art exhibitions can motivate children and adults to share their ideas and feelings about gender-based violence, whether they have heard about it, seen it, or experienced it. The art can be shown without people’s names attached if this encourages more people to participate.

Comic books can show real-life situations that make people think about why gender-based violence happens, how the people in the story feel about it, and how things could be different.

a comic strip with 2 women talking.
You heard? Yes, he hit me.
That's violence.
   Not violence. It's just his way.
Did he hurt you? Do you feel scared?
Umm... Yes
Then it's VIOLENCE.
Through Our Eyes videos about violence and rape in Liberia

During the 14-year civil war in Liberia, West Africa, soldiers used sexual violence against women to turn one group against another. Soldiers raped thousands of women and girls. After the war ended in 2003, the sexual violence did not stop. Girls were forced to marry too young. Many men believed it was right to beat a wife who did not obey them, and rape was common. Some women wanted to talk about how to be safe from sexual violence, but many people denied there was a problem.

a woman looking through a video camera at another woman.

To start community discussions about violence against women in areas most affected by the war, the Through Our Eyes project trained teams of women and men to use video cameras to produce short films about gender-based violence, as well as services for survivors. Community members were the actors in these videos, which showed different ways women and girls were harmed, including traditional practices, early forced marriage, sexual abuse and rape, and physical violence. When the videos were shown in the community, they helped start discussions about issues rarely mentioned in public settings. After a while, many women and girls started to come forward to report assaults and seek counseling.

Whether creating or watching the videos, women survivors now say they feel less alone and less to blame for what happened to them. They see how much they have in common with other women with similar stories. And because of its success in Liberia, Through Our Eyes video projects have also been done in several other countries.

a woman speaking.
Look at my age. I’m not an educated woman, but today I can take a camera. I can film. I can do production. I never had this dream before.
Liberian video trainee participant