Last Friday evening, WomEnpowered International, with the support of the Mexican Embassy in Japan, held an interactive online workshop on the topic of gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
Given the rise in incidents of domestic violence and gender-based violence in the era of COIVD-19, WE Int. felt it was important to come together to discuss this pressing issue, whose global prevalence qualifies it as its own global pandemic. In fact, the WHO cites that 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence, and an NPR survey in 2018 found that 80% of women have experienced verbal sexual harassment in their lifetimes.
We were honored to begin the workshop with a special message from Mexican Ambassador to Japan, HE Melba Pria, herself a lifetime advocate for marginalized communities, who graced us with this warm and inspiring message about the importance of the “El Tendedero” (“The Clothesline”) project:
We were also very fortunate to be able to speak with the original artist of the “El Tendedero” project, Ms. Monica Mayer, who first began the interactive art installation in Mexico City in 1978.
Her aim in starting the project was to spark conversation and bring to light the fact that harassment and gender-based violence, while typically couched in shame and stigma, should not be accepted as normal-even if it is so massively wide-spread.
She noted that the project “brings precisely all these different tones of experiences together that show a portrait of what happens socially from our individual experiences.”
Indeed, one workshop participant remarked that she “found the El Tendedero project to be simple but very powerful in bringing people from different places together and encouraging them to break their silence by sharing their personal stories. The project made me reflect upon sexual harassment in public, domestic violence, and other gender inequalities faced by the women in my country, Myanmar, and allowed me to think about what I could do from this time forward.”
Ms. Mayer herself recalled the first time that she experienced harassment on the street as a young girl of just 8 years old, and through this project she learned that her experience was not rare or unique.
With “El Tendedero” installations having traveled around the world, from Latin America to North America and all the way to Asia, the global scale of this problem was evident from the stories of the women whose experiences she has anonymously gathered through this work of art. The stories were so numerous that many of them have been catalogued and studied by researchers.
In order to better understand the situation of gender-based violence in Japan, we were joined by Ms.Ikemoto, a student of art history and a more recent budding activist on the issue of gender-based violence and gender equality in the art world in Japan. Ms. Ikemoto, having participated in a version of “El Tendedero” with Ms. Mayer at the Aichi Triennale in 2019, talked to us about the importance of such projects in progressing and changing the narrative around feminism and feminist expression in conservative Japan.
At the Triennale, one of the largest festivals of contemporary art in Japan, Ms. Ikemoto experienced both support from other festival guests as well as criticisms and pushback for their “El Tendedero” installation. After another exhibit on the topic of WWII “comfort women” was censored by the directors of the festival, Ms. Mayer and Ms. Ikemoto, along with other artists, protested the censorship by transforming the regular “El Tendedero” into one that reflected this silencing of voices.
However, even today, Ms. Ikemoto is still active in generating awareness of these issues here in Japan, having also held “Flower demonstrations” to protest against the acquittals of perpetrators of sex crimes in Japan. Fortunately, such efforts have caught the attention of the government, who has recently adopted more robust measures to combat harassment and sexual violence in Japan.
At the end of the event, participants were able to breakout into smaller groups, where they could discuss other experiences with misogyny/sexism and harassment, the problem of victim blaming, and the role of institutions and culture in perpetuating gender-based violence and harassment.
Reflecting upon her experience at the workshop, one participant said,
“I feel many voices are still unheard, stories are untold, and silences keep destroying the dreams of women in all different corners of the world. Monica Mayer and The Clothesline project encourages me to not stay still, but to keep breaking silences by participating in empowering movements in the society I belong to as much possible in order to bring about a better world with zero sexual harassment and violence.”
WomEnpowered International is grateful for the participation of the Mexican Embassy, Ms. Mayer, Ms. Ikemoto, and all the attendees at this event. We are committed to continuing this important conversation through maintaining our online El Tendedero and continuing to collect responses and post them on our blog so that we may remind all survivors that, while experiences of violence and harassment can be devastating, you are not alone.
We stand with you in solidarity, fighting for a world of justice and equality for all women.