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Women's Empowerment.


“He inappropriately touched me [...] I told him to stop and he did it again. I was really confused about why he thought he could do it. Why he wanted to do it. What made him think he had the right to touch me like that?”


“I want to die. Nobody believes me. He’s hitting me and nobody believes me.” 


These are quotes taken from students who have experienced harassment and violence. They are among 246 million children subject to some form of gender-based violence in schools worldwide every year. The latter quote is from a 10 year old girl who faced a horrific ordeal alone, because her school refused to acknowledge her abuse nor were the necessary resources provided for support. One of the reasons for the victim’s struggle to explicitly express what she had gone through was fear that she “might be pregnant.” At her young age, receiving proper sexual education is also essential for children to understand what they’re going through. While the main offense that schools are faulted for is protecting their reputation over their students’ wellbeing, it must not be forgotten that this, too, is a consequence of larger, systemic issues in institutional guidelines and rooted within power imbalances. 


Kat Banyard, co-founder of education pressure group UK Feminista, believes that “What underpins it all is an inequality of power between women and men and various other cultural trends [...] that teaches boys and men that they are entitled to sexually access women’s bodies regardless of whether the feeling is mutual.” 


Sexual violence is pervasive, globally and within many different contexts (whether it be a workplace, on the street, at home, or on campus). And unfortunately, it is so pervasive that it often goes unseen. Gender sociologist Marianne Cooper urges us to “think about [it]. Sexism and certain forms of sexual harassment are so normalized it’s hard to distinguish it from another day at school or just another day at work.”


“This has to change.” 


Much like the conversations — and often, heated debates — about the meaning of “feminism” (no, it is not synonymous with “man-hating”) or “consent” (which must always be affirmatively, explicitly, and freely expressed), there are a range of ideas as to what “sexual violence” really constitutes. This can work both ways: underestimate the severity of violent actions, or wrongly label mundane actions as violence, thereby trivializing victims’ experiences. It is also important to note that anyone, regardless of gender, can be a victim of sexual violence, however women tend to be the focus of these discussions because they are undeniably most susceptible. Violence against women can exist on a continuum, from harassment to more extreme violations such as abuse and rape. 


UNESCO provides examples of school-related gender-based violence that can be physical (physical violence, corporal punishment), sexual (coercion), and/or psychological (verbal, emotional abuse), and may take place in any of the following spheres:

For developing countries in particular, this can severely hinder a child’s fundamental right to education — its severity cannot be overlooked, despite how sexual violence in schools remains a secondary concern for the global education aid architecture. Certainly, there are many different regional and cultural contexts that we could hone into, but one that may pertain more specifically to us is college and university campus assault, an issue that has been steadily garnering attention in recent years. 


College campuses contain a dangerous mix of instigating factors: alcohol and drug culture, peer pressure, young adults, and often, institutional neglect. The pressure to participate in social activities can lead to situations where incapacitated violence occurs, and these assaults go unreported due to victims not believing that authorities would help. While data varies by place and survey methodology, general estimates find between 19–27% of college women and 6–8% college men to have faced sexual violence during their time in college. Of these victims, only 20% of victims report the incident. Some of their reasons for not reporting may include

Moreover, most campus assaults are committed by acquaintances of the victim, thereby contributing to  narratives of “victim blaming” and other myths that this type of violence is trivial and deviant. The impact felt by the individual is immense, and may be reflected in academic performance, substance use, mental health decline. Victims are often shamed and silenced, but this is by no means an indicator that these events are anomalous. Perpetuating stigmas and denial can escalate into a “rape culture” where violence becomes normalized, and perpetrators are empowered to become repeat offenders. 


Violence continues when organizations are permissive of this behaviour, and there are insufficient measures in place for a perpetrator to be punished. Therefore, “when these codes of conduct are crossed and nothing happens,  this is a green light opening a door to further misconduct.” The bottom line is that tolerance of bad behaviour leads to more bad behaviour — it’s a vicious cycle.


If you are currently a student and are wondering what you can do to protect yourself, the first thing to remember is that you are never responsible for preventing violence; it is always in the hands of the perpetrator. There are measures you can take to make you and your surroundings safer, including things like ensuring you know someone well before spending alone time with them, commuting to/from social events with others, and being aware of your surroundings. 


Needless to say, there are resources online that you can find for more information — but of course, these can feel very detached and unhelpful; after all, what good can reading about it do when faced with violence in reality? Or perhaps you are thinking if even those in an educational context are vulnerable, surely knowledge has little to do with whether you become subject to violence? But educating yourself is part of a bigger collective action which demands that institutions and authorities take the problem seriously; to be transparent and accountable. Part-in-parcel with this objective is also understanding the experiences of others — victims, survivors, or anyone really, because we could all be subject to violence in our lives. After all, behind all these statistics are individual voices, who deserve to have their stories heard. 


With WE Int.’s  ‘El Tendedero’ campaign at the University of Tokyo, we hope to raise awareness on the pervasiveness of sexual violence through an online adaptation of Mexican artist Monica Mayer’s original installation by the same name. The project asks participants to share their stories and opinions about harassment and gendered violence through several prompts. These anonymized responses are then put on display along a clothesline (now in a virtual gallery). 


We would love for you to join us in this initiative! Your voice will be anonymous, but nevertheless an invaluable part of a larger community. By filling out this Google Form, you would be contributing to the project by sharing your thoughts and experiences, which will remain completely anonymous, and become a part of our website’s publication. Please help us create awareness around the episodes of harassment and sexual violence women experience every day. By embedding a Latin American art project in a Japanese context, we show the persistence of these issues across societies around the world.


**If you don’t currently live in Japan, but would still like to contribute with your answers, simply leave the questions related to a Japanese context blank, and submit the rest of the questionnaire.**


***Finally, if you are seeking help and would like to contact someone, here is a link to our resources page.*** 


Sources: 


Bates, Laura. “Are We Ignoring an Epidemic of Sexual Violence in Schools?”The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Dec. 2017, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/dec/12/are-we-ignoring-an-epidemic-of-sexual-violence-in-schools.


Cooper, Marianne. “The Power of Us: How We Stop Sexual Harassment: Marianne Cooper: TEDxUniversityofNevada.”TED Ideas Worth Spreading, TED Conferences, Jan. 2018, www.ted.com/talks/marianne_cooper_the_power_of_us_how_we_stop_sexual_harassment.


Guru-Murthy, Krishnan. “Sexual Harassment Debate: 'It's Offensive to Women That Have Been Raped to Discuss Knee Touching'.”Channel 4 News, 6 Nov. 2017, www.channel4.com/news/sexual-harassment-debate-its-offensive-to-women-that-have-been-raped-to-discuss-knee-touching.


#AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic

#EndViolence

#ElTendedero

#spreadtheword

#Standupjapan

#bewomenpowered

Updated: Oct 17

WE Int., committed to lifting up women and shedding light on their work, introduces its members as part of the series #SheInspires. In this article, we introduce to you Serah Alabi, a photographer with a deep understanding of gendered gaze in visual arts.

Born in Nigeria and grew up in Germany, she recently completed her masters program at Bunka Gakuen University and currently work as freelance writer/photographer in Tokyo.


1.Tell us about yourself. What is your passion? What is the background you grew up in?


My family made the big move from Nigeria to Germany when I was around four-five years old.

The city I grew up in west Germany was fairly new to African immigrants, which resulted in me being the only coloured girl in my entire school. The creative space always had a strong appeal to me, because it allowed me to fully embrace every step towards my journey, be it playing different instruments, drawing, writing my first short stories as a teenager or picking up the art of capturing memorable moments in time.



2. Could you talk about your specialty? What do you try to express/convey?


Photography is part of my creative practice and language, that defines the relationship between individuality sensory engagement. For me photographs do not only operate on a visual level, but have the ability to occupy the spaces bounded by emotional impact and semiotic codes. Photography is a medium of storytelling and shifting relationships through which meaning and purpose are created. I want my photos to not only represent the person but evoke sensibilities of the past, present and future. In a time where the material and embodied experiences are constantly changing with the inventions of new digital communities across the globe, I want to convey an alternative way at looking at the social inscriptions of images within gender studies and art historical background.


3. How did you become interested in gender issues?


I hadn’t realized I was particularly interested in gender studies until I was deep into my Master thesis, which was an investigation of the female gaze in Japan through the eyes from Japanese female photographers. I looked at the female gaze as a diverse visual landscape, a window for the feminine experience and its uniqueness as a transnational culture.  I wrote my first research paper as a teenager on Jeanne D’arc, investigating her life as a martyr and the question of her identity as a saint and heroin. I remember how fascinated I was with historic female figures and with the impact they had over the centuries.







For me photographs do not only operate on a visual level, but have the ability to occupy the spaces bounded by emotional impact and semiotic codes. I want my photos to not only represent the person but evoke sensibilities of the past, present and future




4. What gender-related issue(s) are you most interested in and why?


My interest lies in analyzing women’s role in visual and cultural studies. I studied Fashion Journalism for my B.A degree, and during that time I merged my interest for gender, research and media. I started looking at different angles on how women are perceived in the visual landscape of fashion, art, and culture. It is important to visually critique and analyze how women are portrayed in mass media. Since then, I discussed the objectification of women in fashion and beauty advertising, the restrictive notion of their stereotypical portrayal by men in media and the impact visual media has on the social construction of gender. We are living in an sensory era where we are easily influenced by the media and brands. 





5. How do you see the status of women in Japanese society (compared to Germany or other cultures you know)?


Germany was ranked 10th in last years gender gap report and Japan was placed 121st out of 154 countries. Even though there is an immerse gap, both countries share similarities when it comes to employment policies. Focusing on characteristics such as age, work experience and education during their hiring process. Whereas Germany is updating their corporate policies to match today’s zeitgeist, Japan is sticking to its lifetime system. Each country brings with them a diverse set of cultural differences. What I believe we have to do is to recognize the differences and learn to respect each countries values and status. What we can not do is forcing one country's conditions to another. Instead, we should focus on slowly introducing adapt-friendly policies to help grow the economic position of men and women.  In order to narrow the gender gap, we first have to highlight different institutional scenarios to promote gender equality in both countries. 


I started looking at different angles on how women are perceived in the visual landscape of fashion, art, and culture. It is important to visually critique and analyze how women are portrayed in mass media.


6. Through WE Int. platform, what would you like to achieve? How do you think you can benefit from/contribute to WE Int.?


I bring in the art historical aspect of gender studies to WE Int., widening the conversation in able to include thematics that may have not been discussed. Yet this is how I also benefit from WE Int., being exposed to differences members who are focused  on a specific specialty within gender studies. By widening the exchange of views on gender-related issues, I would like to be part of a progress WE Int. will make in the future.



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(Source: Osumi, Magdalena. “Curbs to Stem COVID-19 in Japan May Fuel Domestic Violence and Abuse.”The Japan Times \ Kyodo, 6 Apr. 2020.)


As Japan rolls into its third week of self-confinement due to COVID-19, the country is joining the ranks of the international situation where lockdown conditions have led to worrisome rise in violence against women. While the world continues to struggle in the fight against the viral pandemic, we must also be aware of the accompanying, yet nevertheless severe threat of the “shadow pandemic” that is happening simultaneously. The World Health Organization emphasizes the significant health impacts “particularly [of] intimate partner/domestic violence, on women and their children”. This potentially results “in injuries and serious physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies”.


Many of us may envision our homes as a place of comfort and refuge, keeping us safe from the virus, but the unfortunate reality is that staying inside creates heightened conditions for this type of violence. More power and opportunities are given to the abuser, whereby the victim cannot escape.


This is not only a threat for previous victims. Due to worsening family circumstances from losing income, jobs, and other stresses, women everywhere are more susceptible to violence by their partners. Moreover, the already overwhelmed workforce has been unable to provide adequate consultation and other support services despite the escalating situation. In 2019, Tokyo recorded single-digit averages for monthly calls made to consultation centers, but last month marked a significant increase to 23. All Japan Women’s Shelter Network, a victim-support NGO, raised further concerns that Japan’s gradually declining economy will bring long-term increases in domestic violence cases.


The gravity of the situation, particularly in Japan, cannot be ignored.


While our current context calls attention to domestic violence cases in particular, there are other pre-existing conditions of violence and harassment in Japan that foregrounds these events, and should not be overlooked. For example, a majority of women have been sexually harassed at least once in the workplace, and almost half of all women in Japan have been touched without consent. In fact, conceptions of consent in Japan are widely misunderstood, with over two thirds of people believing that certain actions (i.e. drinking together, going for a drive, attire, holding hands etc.) can imply consent (clarification: consent must be explicitly expressed). There are ~10,000 criminal offenses on sex crimes per year in Japan, with a 13.3% crime reporting rate, meaning that most cases are not even reflected by this statistic. Of these victims, most are underage girls.


But unlike the upsurge of social movements against gendered violence seen elsewhere (such as #MeToo), Japan has yet to see a similar scale of outpouring support and media storms that vow to openly confront these issues.


That is why the members of WomEmpowerment International have launched our ‘El Tendedero’ campaign at the University of Tokyo, which is a continuation of Mexican artist Monica Mayer’s original art installation. This project aims to raise awareness about the growing magnitude of the issue, by asking people to share their stories and opinions on harassment and gender violence by responding to some questions on the subject. These anonymized responses are then put on display along a clothesline — though we have since changed the format to a virtual one.


By filling out this Google Form, you would be contributing to the project by sharing your thoughts and experiences, which will remain completely anonymous, and become a part of our website’s publication. Please help us create awareness around the episodes of harassment and sexual violence women experience every day. By embedding a Latin American art project in a Japanese context, we show the persistence of these issues across societies around the world.


**If you don’t currently live in Japan, but would still like to contribute with your answers, simply leave the questions related to a Japanese context blank, and submit the rest of the questionnaire.**


**Most importantly** if you or anyone you know is a victim of violence, please refer to this comprehensive list of resources in Japan (in English and Japanese) to seek help.


#AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic

#EndViolence

#ElTendedero

#spreadtheword

#Standupjapan

#bewomenpowered

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