NEWS

Working Together For
Women's Empowerment.

Updated: Oct 16


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.




Have you ever been treated unfairly in Japan for your race, gender, nationality/ethnicity, or sexuality? What happened?

日本において、人種・ジェンダー・セクシュアリティ・国籍などを理由に、理不尽な扱いを受けたことはありますか?ある場合、それはどのようなものでしたか?

I was walking with my friend one morning and we ended up walking all the way till Shibuya. This is when a guy who was clearly hungover from the last night suddenly came too close to my friend and leered at her in Japanese. My friend got really scared and stopped walking. I gave the man an angry look and we walked away. My friend was visibly shaken and kept looking over her shoulders until we got back home. Being drunk is not an excuse for such behaviour, nothing really is!



私は、グループディスカッションなどで積極的に発言したり、プレゼンテーションで発表担当になったりすることが多いのですが、ある日普段通りに発言している私に向かって「女の子なのにしっかりしているね~」と言ってきた中年男性がいました。本人は褒めているつもりだったのかもしれまんが、女の子といっても、私は20代前半でしたし、「女性=発言できない」というステレオタイプがありありと感じられて、二重の意味で馬鹿にされた気分になりました。



Although implicit, there have definitely been instances where I felt discriminated against because of the way I looked. For example, when a train is relatively full, but there is always an open seat next to me — I felt this could be because I was a "foreigner". I recently read an article that actually talks about this phenomenon. It's nice to know I'm not alone in this, but I can't help feeling an intentional distancing toward non-Japanese people... Similarly, I have felt unwelcome or received much colder service in restaurants and shops, presumably because of my non-nativeness. I also can't help but think that this is also because Chinese tourists have earned a rather negative image in Japan, and so for someone looks Chinese like me, the immediate assumption is that I will behave badly and not abide by society's rules. Though subtle (never overt, in Japan), the treatment I get in return is potentially reflective of these prejudices. Overall, when I am in Japan, I am always hyper-aware of my appearance, nationality, and sexuality in a way that having grown up overseas, I had never felt before, because I feel like it always influences the way people interact with me here.



道で全く知らない人に、お尻を触られたり、スカートを上げてパンツを見られたりした。


Yeah, I have been called “くそインド人”but I’m actually Mexican.

Yes, by looking clearly foreigner (Mexican) I was a target of police harassment when riding my bike back home at night.


ある、上司からのセクハラ。

はい。会社で勝手にLGBTであると噂話を立てられたりしました。



Yes, by my ex-boss. I was in a team with a boy so he would always give tasks to him, even though we should work on the same stuff. He would recommend me to get married and leave work. There was an uncomfortable situation when he asked my colleague If I could speak English. And I was just in front of him.



「社長とお話できますか?」「はい私(女)ですけどなにか?」日常茶飯事の性別役割分業前提の会話



Yes. Sometimes ignored, dismissed or spoken over.




高校の体育の授業で男子だけ先生がついて柔道を習い、女子は先生に教えられなくてもできる縄跳びしかできなかった。自衛術として習いたかったし、どうして男女で自動的に分けたのかわからない。大学でも「女なのに意見をはっきり言いすぎてきつい性格」とか「それじゃ彼氏できない」と言われ続けた。社会人になってからは上司から体型について言われることが相次いだ。



While working at a service job in Tokyo, I was regularly belittled by my male coworkers. Almost every day, I cried in the break room. The criticisms and comments they directed toward me included my appearance, my mannerisms, my work ethic, my accent, and my family background. No stone was left unturned. Everyday that I spent at this job, I left feeling so small and insignificant. My confidence steadily declined, until I felt that this treatment was what I deserved. This was power harassment (パワハラ).



Yes—I've been mocked for not speaking fluent Japanese even when I was trying my best to do so. Furthermore, as a girl, I can't help but notice just how much I am assumed to be stupid or incompetent at my job or in my classes.


The COVID-19 is now influencing the world and reshaping our lifestyles. WE Int. is interested in catching up with everyone. In such regard, on May 24th, WE Int. held the first staying-at-home coffee conversation online. Nine participants shared their own stories and offered their opinions in this lively and interesting conversation.



As we began the conversation, each of us shared stories about our self-isolation life, such as “a new hobby you started during the stay-home period” and“one way you do to stay positive”. Music, yoga, meditation, cooking and even hosting a podcast are what some of us are doing to make self-isolation more fun.

We then discussed about two topics:

How do you stay connected with friends and families?


We realized that even though we cannot meet in person, many of us have spent so much more time reconnecting with our families and friends than before. While the physical distance collapses, internet makes the virtual distance to everyone the same. Especially, the spreading of COVID-19 reminds us of the importance of caring about each other, so many of us begin to communicate with our families on a regular basis.

How does together staying at home change the division of labor in your family?


Data showed that under the lockdown, the number of female scholars submitting papers has declined sharply, while that of male scholars has not, the possible main reason being women scholars have to spend more time doing housework instead of research. During the coffee conversation, we realized that there is generally an imbalance of division of labor between males and females, no matter it is under the lockdown or before. For housewives, it is difficult to ask for help even if there is too much housework. It is no easy for female who is also working, neither. They usually have a stronger emotional labor for housework.


We also noticed that women tend to feel guilty about not doing housework or “helping out” when visiting relatives even when we were teenagers. This is a socially-constructed phenomenon that put burdens on everyone, as some suggested. Boys hesitate to do housework worrying it is “girly”, while girls are continually taught to keep it tidy at all times. One solution we proposed is to encourage males to actually involve in the housework and be aware of how tiring it is. It will also make them believe they have the ability to participate in it. Another solution is to keep track of the time housework every family member takes in a certain amount of time, and the data may help people realize the possible inequality exiting.


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