City of Joy Gala on Saturday

Rounding up the See You Next Tuesday festival, an event that has been celebrating International Women’s Day for a good two weeks now (well, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!) comes the City of Joy Gala at London’s New Players Theatre on Saturday the 20th.

Raising funds for the V Day initiative City of Joy (a safe house in Bukavu, DRC, for women who have experienced sexual violence) the gala will feature celebrity guest speakers and debut performances of new works by Maya Angelou and Eve Ensler, as well as music and dancing from Congolese band Kasai Masai. Sounds like an amazing night, and it’s all for a great cause!

Tickets cost £25 and can be bought here.

Text ‘CONGO’ to 82540 to donate £5 to the City of Joy

By: Sarah Barnes, 19.03.2010 | Comments (0)
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The Big Question; The Big V

A question has been hanging in the air for some time now. We’ve been trying to ignore it, but now there’s definitely no escaping it. It’s February the first, people! Time to step up and get answering; What are you doing for Valentines Day?

Whatever romantic situation you’re in, and whatever you think of the dreaded Hallmark holiday, this question is probably taunting you from inside and out. So here’s a couple of ideas that may answer the ‘what are you doing’ question whilst also answering your need to do something a little more worthwhile than an overpriced candle-lit dinner…

As we should all know by now, Valentines day is also V-Day – a day of focus for the global ‘V-Day’ non profit movement, founded by Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler in 1998, that aims to end violence against women and girls. In an event to raise money for V-Day London, Volupte Lounge is moving into Ministry of Sound for the 14th and throwing a decadent party with all the trimmings; three-course meal, an 8-piece band, swing dance and lindy-hop lessons, taxi dancers, spoken word, live guest speakers, DJs, aerial acts, cabaret and burlesque*.

It looks set to be a lavish affair, and the price reflects that… but all proceeds go to V-Day London to end violence against women at home and around the world. You can also choose to opt out of the more expensive excesses and just get a ticket for the main party – tickets are available here.

If you’re looking for something feminist to fill your day with (and hoping to keep your evening free for some scheduled romance) then Feminist Fightback have the answer! Their ‘Sex, Work, and Sex Work: Building a feminist analysis and a feminist struggle’ discussion will take place between 4 and 7pm at The Foundry, 86 Great Eastern St, East London. After a screening of the ‘Estrellas de la Linea’ documentary, feminists, sex workers and researchers will talk around the following areas;

What does understanding sex work as labour bring to our analysis of prostitution? How might it change the way sex workers and feminists fight exploitation and violence? When is sex work and when is it play?  What new ways of ‘workplace’ organizing need to emerge in order to engage with other forms of ‘affective’ labour or care work?

Suggested reading for this discussion includes Noah D. Zatz , ‘Sex Work/Sex Act: Law, Labor, and Desire in Constructions of
Prostitution’, Signs, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Winter, 1997), pp. 277-308. Email feminist.fightback@gmail.com if you cannot access a copy online.

Whatever you end up doing this V-Day, have a good one!

* Since I’m aware that burlesque isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, just thought I’d gather together some Feminist responses to burlesque, for your reading pleasure:

Fat Women in Burlesque on The F Word.org

Burlesque Laid Bare by Laurie Penny for The Guardian

Feminism vs Burlesque by Lipstick Lori on Rarely Wears Lipstick

Deirdre does Burlesque by Mandy Van Deven on Bitch

Can Burlesque be Feminist? by Chloe Emmot on The FWord.org.uk

By: Sarah Barnes, 01.02.2010 | Comments (0)
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Company magazine’s coverage of sex attacks

Company Magazine Get Home Safely

As part of their ‘Get Home Safely’ campaign, Company magazine ran a piece in their December 2009 issue on how women are now using social networking sites to raise awareness of sex attacks in their local areas.

I have to say that I was a bit skeptical from the get-go, thinking that the piece would relay how women were simply using social networking as a new way to distribute those tired old email circulars. You know the ones; they’re chock full of exasperating tips that have no grounding in reality – saying you shouldn’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it’s easier for an attacker to grab, for instance.

Is it any wonder that I expected the worst? After all, one pull quote from the feature read; “It seemed an easy way to warn all my friends to be on their guard” which immediately had my alarm bells ringing. Whilst, of course, it’s a good idea for women to be cautious and keep themselves safe, I can’t help feeling that women constantly and randomly warning each other ‘to be on their guard’ can lead to the growth of fear that results in women installing their own mental curfews.

On the contrary, however, the Company coverage (written by Nada Farhoud) concentrated on specific areas that had seen incidents of an attacker committing sexual assaults. The Facebook responses weren’t just some spreading of a general ‘Careful Now’ message, but an example of how women in those areas raised awareness of attacks within their neighbourhoods. Whilst local newspapers or television programming may not fully inform people of such attacks in their home town, these Facebook groups and messages seem to be an easy and accessible way for women to spread information at grassroots level. The sense of sisterhood makes me feel all warm and fuzzy!

Still, the feature made for dispiriting reading when Farhoud spoke of how herself, and others she had interviewed, modified their behaviour in order to avoid becoming victims of sexual violence. One particular disheartening story told of how warning signs have been installed at Mudchute Park in London (which has seen a recent spate of attacks) advising women not to walk alone through the park. So far, so victim blaming.

Imagine how my heart sang, then, when I read this next couple of paragraphs;

Now, while I feel too scared to go back to the park alone, other young women have been taking a different approach. Emma Felber, 27, a PhD student from east London, refuses to let the sex attackers ruin her daily routine. Instead of avoiding the park, she has been giving out leaflets to local men, saying, ‘Regrettably, due to a number of recent incidents, it’s necessary to remind men walking alone through the park, not to rob, rape, threaten or assault anyone. Thank you, in advance, for behaving like decent human beings. Signed, single women who refuse to live in fear.’

“I walk through Mudchute Park regularly,” explains Emma. “When I got home that night, after seeing signs about the attacks, I ranted at my flatmate about how there were no signs up telling men not to rape anyone, and that it was unfair that it was always up to women to protect themselves. Why should we have to live in fear? The next day, it occurred to me to make some signs of my own…”

I’m so happy that people like Emma Felber exist, and I’m even more happy that her input was included in the Company piece. Whilst some might balk at her forthright feminist approach (I am, obviously, not one of these people!) and worry about insulting men (rather than worrying about women being assaulted, attacked or raped), Felber is making a valid point that is not often given exposure in mainstream media.

So often women, as an entire gender group, are the ones who suffer as a result of action that is intended to curb sex attacks and assaults. Which is crazy, since women are the ones who are directly suffering from sex attacks and assaults anyway! The rolling out of the warning signs for women at Mudchute Park (effectively banning them from going about their legal business) is just another example of how society will try to wish away attacks by stunting the freedoms of potential victims, rather than attempting to get to the root of the problem and punish the perpetrators. For women, to have to live with the constant reminder that we are ‘potential victims’ and moderate our behaviour, well… it’s no way to live.

What Felber’s flyer does is remind us that the onus for sex attacks should be placed squarely on the perpetrators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not of the mind that all men are potential sex attackers. But then, the warning signs of Mudchute Park grouped the entire female gender into a ‘potential victim’ category – so at least her male targeted flyering acted as a rather bitter role reversal where men could experience the feeling of having their conduct monitored just because they belonged to a certain gender group.

I can imagine many men bristled at being handed such a leaflet, but let’s hope that any red mist descending did not get in the way of anyone seeing the bigger picture. After all, women are still being assaulted in public spaces that exist for everyone to use… and that, surely, is more of an atrocity than a small knock to the pride of a few men?

More refreshing tips to avoid sexual assault and rape here, here and here.

(Image taken from Company Magazine December 2009)

By: Sarah Barnes, 18.12.2009 | Comments (1)
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‘My Strength’ Posters

My Strength

I came across the My Strength website via the comments on this piece on the F Word. My Strength is a Californian initiative (though it has now spread further), aimed at men, that strives to promote youth empowerment, gender equality and healthy relationships.

I found the My Strength campaign posters (available on the website) to be really refreshing pieces of media. Not only are the sentiments quite unique (in terms of how the media usually responds to and reports rape and sexual violence) but I also think the images are a bit special too. It’s not often that we see a male/female couple where the male meets our eye and the female gazes into the distance (isn’t it usually the other way round?) AND it’s not often that we see a male/male couple full stop (especially one that acknowledges the sexual relationship between the two).

Aaah it’s like an invigorating breath of fresh air! Why can’t we see more campaigns like this?

My Strength

By: Sarah Barnes, 05.12.2009 | Comments (0)
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Teenage Girls Guide To Surviving Sex Slavery

Following on from my post last week about the V-Day meeting calling for an end to sexual violence in the Congo, I just wanted to share this video. In it Eve Ensler performs her piece, inspired by the women of the Congo, entitled ‘Teenage Girls Guide To Surviving Sex Slavery’. It will most definitely be triggering.

I absolutely loved the Vagina Monologues, and thought Until The Violence Stops was one of the most affecting films I’ve ever seen, so I am already an admirer of Ensler’s work. What I love about the way she writes is that you can hear all the fragments of other women’s voices in her pieces, all coming together to loudly speak one truth. You can bet this was the case in the above performance.

Other videos about the situation in Democratic Republic of Congo;

Come Clean For Congo: Life Should Be Free

BBC World News Report

UNICEF and V-Day fight sexual violence in DR Congo

Epidemic of Rape in The Congo: Women for Women International

By: Sarah Barnes, 04.12.2009 | Comments (0)
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Call to Stop Sexual Violence in DRC; V-Day meeting at Royal Albert Hall

Stop Raping Democratic Republic of Congo

Last week I had the great privilege of being invited to hear Eve Ensler speak about the work V-Day is doing to tackle the sexual violence taking place in the Democratic Republic of The Congo(DRC). We gathered at the Royal Albert Hall, since it was exactly 100 years ago that key luminaries of the time had held the Great Congo Demonstration there. That 1909 meeting had resulted in the Free Congo Movement, which campaigned vigorously against the exploitation, slavery and murder of the Congolese people.

One hundred years on, violence and exploitation of a different but equivalent devastation grips the people of DRC. Although the war (which began in 1998, and is also known as Africa’s World War) was declared formally over in July 2003, women and girls remain targets for unimaginable violence. Rape is used as a weapon of war to torture and humiliate, leaving survivors with physical wounds, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and the fear of being ostracised by their communities. Between 300,000 and 400,000 women have been raped in the last 12 years (source: V-Day educational film) and it is estimated that 40 women are raped every day in South Kivu, eastern DRC (V-Day and Unicef educational leaflet)


A transcript, and more information about the video, can be found here.

In attendance at the Royal Albert Hall was Lynne Franks (Chair of V-Day UK), MP Eric Joyce, representatives from the Anglican Church and the wonderful Sandi Toksvig, who acted as a compere of sorts, introducing all the speakers. A young woman called Judith, who described herself as a ‘typical North London girl’, took to the stage to tell her story of how she left DRC with her parents at the age of 3. Judith was being filmed for an upcoming BBC programme and, like so many young Britons, had been ignorant of the situation in the Congo. Her recent journey of discovery opened her eyes; “I’d abandoned my mother-land.” Speaking of how DRC is suffering due to the western worlds ever-increasing demand for its minerals, Judith said “I felt complicit…as the minerals in this war are used in the mobile phones, computers and gadgets I use.”

Congolese anti-rape activist Christine Schuler-DeSchryver spoke with us of her experiences. She had just come from Bukavu to speak with us, where she had visited an 82 year old woman recovering from rape in hospital. Speaking out about the atrocities is a very brave action in the Congo, and elsewhere; “Sometimes I am even afraid of my own shadow” she said. After so many years of travelling and talking about the situation, she told us;”I don’t believe in politicians anymore. The only solution is a women’s revolution and the revolution starts here”

Schuler-DeSchryver is the director of the V-Day created City of Joy, “Our revolution centre”, which will be opening around May 2010. The V-Day action pack gives more information on the centre;

The City of Joy will be located in Bukavu, down the road from Panzi hospital, where it will support and train women to become community activists. They will have access to services including education and income generating activities, as well as a ditinct focus on leadership training. They will also receive programming in: group therapy, storytelling, dance, theatre, self defence, comprehensive sexuality education (covering HIV/AIDS, family planning), ecology and horticulture and economic empowrment. The City of Joy will provide women a place to heal emotionally as they rebuild their lives, turn their pain to power, and return back into their communities to lead.

“I will never forget something Jane Fonda said to me in New Orleans;” Schuler-DeSchryver said “‘Can you imagine if you woke up one day and saw on the news that a grandmother in New York had been raped? The whole world would stand up and fight’ But just because they are black and poor, nobody cares”

Introduced as ‘a power-house’ by Sandi Toksvig, Eve Ensler took to the stage. She began; “I am always on the tip of my emotions when I talk about the Congo.” Having been a campaigner for women’s rights for many years, Ensler felt like she had seen all the atrocities it was possible to see, and knew all it was possible to know. However, when she heard the stories of the women of the Congo; “I was forever shattered,” she said “But I don’t want to ever be the same.”

“These are the stories of people just like you and me” Ensler stressed. She then went on to tell us of an eight year old girl name Alisa who she and Schuler-DeSchryver had befriended in DRC. Alisa had endured two weeks of rape at the hands of militia, who had been keeping her captive. When Ensler and Schuler-DeSchryver met her, Alisa had fistula; holes inside herself from wounds caused by the guns and bayonets used on her. Because of there wounds Alisa no longer had control of her urine.

When they met, Ensler had tried to hug Alisa, but she shied away. It was then that Ensler realised Alisa had not been hugged since her ordeal because people were afraid of being urinated on. Determined to show her some affection, Ensler sat her down on her lap and hugged her…and was promptly ‘pee-d’ on. “It was an act of grace, it was a baptism” Ensler said of that moment.

“I don’t think it’s accidental that we’ve been relegated to the basement,” Ensler said sadly of our meeting place that morning, “It’s an indication of the problem that we haven’t filled the hall with thousands. We’re told to sit down here and be peaceful whilst one of the greatest atrocities of the world goes on as we speak”

“The way that the Congo will change is through a womans revolution,” Ensler went on. She spoke of the strong, resilient women of the Congo and said she was sure that “with a little support they can take back agency.”

As we left the space having heard from all the speakers Ensler urged us; “It’s up to all of us to stop being so polite. We need outrage, otherwise we will not penetrate this apathy.”

VDay Congo Meeting Royal Albert Hall

More things to go on and do;

Donate online to V-day; “We welcome any support or donations you are able to give us towards our campaign to prevent rape as a weapon of war in the DRC. Your donation will go towards the City of Joy: a safe house to help women and girls heal from rape, rebuild their lives and re-integrate into their communities.”

Educate yourself using these resources over at Vday.org

Read more over at Women’s E News, where they dedicated a 10 part series to covering this issue.

Add yourself to The V-Wall For Congo

Visit www.stoprapeindrc.org and www.stoprapenow.org

Hold a Congo ‘teach-in’ or other V-day event

Ask your religious leaders, faith communities or congregation to participate in the Congo Sabbath Initiative

Read Congo Now’s Call To Action

(Photograph sourced from Congo Now’s coverage of the event)


By: Sarah Barnes, 26.11.2009 | Comments (1)
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MTV worries me… Part 1; Glamorous Pain

Some time ago Sociological Images published a brilliant blog (although, when are their blogs anything but?) that pointed out the sexualised violence in Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi video. It should never have been surprising that this video was going to be controversial, since it was directed by Jonas Akerlund of (the incredibly NSFW) Smack My Bitch Up video fame.

There is a brilliant critique of the Paparazzi video over at ‘amplify your voice’ where writer Michelle identifies the 13 (who knew there were so many!) female models posed as murdered/dead through-accident-or-suicide. Michelle rightly questions why they are there, and it seems that it’s the same old story of ‘to look glamorous, sexy and shocking‘.  It’s America’s Next Top Model all over again, where the models were asked to play dead for one of the photoshoot challenges.

Lady Gaga Paparazzi Dead Model

But maybe I’m becoming desensitised to the ’sexy dead woman’ images (oh what a world we live in when I can type that sentence!)  because, even though I found this element of the video deeply problematic, what I found most disturbing whilst watching Paparazzi was the eroticised treatment of the Gaga character’s pain and discomfort… (more…)

By: Sarah Barnes, 12.11.2009 | Comments (3)
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