My Voice, Our Collective Future: Resisting Gender-Based Violence Around the World

This International Day of the Girl (IDG), we are surrounded by a somber reality. Femicide and domestic violence rates are alarmingly high. The futures of girls and women are being taken away. Brutal statistics from Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, and beyond illustrate the stark reality and deadly outcomes of gender-based violence. There is ongoing ignorance, corruption, toxic attitudes, and refusals to act and bring about justice. The stories of Pinar Gultekin, Ruth George, Magui (the list goes on) have broken our hearts again and again, but we continue to fight for a more just and equal world.

As we remember our lost sisters, Chalk Back celebrates the collective resilience of the community of activists making strides against gender-based violence. In honor of IDG, we’ve convened with powerful activists, artists, and collectives paving the way towards a better future. We asked eight individuals and groups from around the world about the impact of their art and how to build solidarity moving forward. Women, girls, and marginalized genders are transforming streets, walls, and digital spaces with chalk, paint, wheatpaste, spray paint and graphics. We are at the forefront of the fight for gender equality. We’re committed to lifting each other up along the way. We act with an urgency, creativity, and boldness that is unmatched. Read about each collective’s messages for the future.

Women Chalking Back, by Ipsita

Chalk Back: Who Are We?

Chalk Back is a collective of more than 100 young activists around the world. We document instances of gender-based harassment on the streets using colorful sidewalk chalk. We grab the attention of passersby by writing the word-for-word phrases used to harass. We then post on social media to spread awareness, promote dialogue and encourage story sharing.

The streets and social media are two public spaces we use to shed light on the reality of gender-based violence. Our message of solidarity? We are stronger together. We work in different contexts around the world to fight back against patriarchy and gender-based violence. We believe in collaboration. We believe that art and activism can change the world, one piece of chalk at a time. We are just one of many groups using art, public space, and social media to address gender-based violence.

Public Art and Protest: Rede Nami and Collage Feminicide

Public artists, activists, and protesters are taking powerful stances against gender-based violence around the world.

One group in Brazil, Rede Nami, uses spray paint and graffiti to speak about gender-based violence. Founder Panmela Castro is a survivor of domestic abuse. According to an Assembly blog post, after the police in Rio de Janeiro told [Panmela] the attack was perfectly legal… [she] began expressing her anger with the most powerful tool at her disposal: a spray can.” In 2010 she started Rede Nami, to empower girls and women through graffiti. The graffiti challenges machismo culture and gender-based violence and creates a powerful community.

Rede Nami creates a space and method for women, girls, and gender minorities to speak up against the violences they face.

A Collage of Rede Nami, Collage Feminicide, and Tristen Jenni’s work by Ipsita

Like Chalk Back and Rede Nami, Collage Feminicide uses public spaces to draw attention to issues of gender-based violence.

The Paris-based group uses posters to denounce violence against women. They put up phrases such as “she leaves him, he kills her’’ or “silence is not consent.” When we asked Camille Lextray about the message behind Collage Feminicide, she said “With our posters we want to make visible all the violences that we live as women and gender minorities. We stick our stories on Paris wall so that everybody faces the truth. No one wants to listen to us, no one believes us, no one cares for us. Now we don’t leave them the choice.”

Too often, women and gender minorities are not given access to public spaces. Camille explains, “… we see that we don’t belong in the street, in museums or in any public space. We always face aggression or rejection when we speak out…. our work is linked to every creator that faces adversity just by the fact that she or he exists. We are all fighters even when we paint because as women and gender minorities we are still not allowed to do that. We are still invisible. We are still marginalised.”

Credit: Dmitry Kostyukov, New York Times

The group doesn’t consider their work as art, but rather activism. Camille told us, “There isn’t any artistic purpose in our posters.” But she believes “we need every form of activism to fight.” We agree.

Tristen Jenni is an indigenous artist and creator of the piece “Not Invisible,” which helps raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Her art centers indigenous women and her goal is “to bring more awareness to issues like this in hopes that we get more people working together to keep our women and girls safe and have justice served appropriately for any who fall victim to violence and abuse.”

Understanding the intersections of gender-based violence and the harms faced by indigineous communities is imperative to fight back collectively.

Digital Art: Sonaksha, Nourie, Lausan, Annette, and Ofentse

Finally, there are countless amazing artists using social media to address gender-based violence and build meaningful solidarity. As COVID-19 has made gathering in public difficult, social media becomes a primary public space for many. We believe these artists have the potential to change attitudes and create important conversations about activism and gender-based violence.

Feminist Artivism on Social Media by Ipsita

When we asked Annette (@muyhumanos) an artist and activist from the Dominican Republic how art can change the world, she said, “As I always say: art is the most powerful tool for change that exists because art is a type of activism that excludes no one, to which everyone has access. It is a safe space where we can express concrete situations in an abstract way and abstract feelings in a concrete way.”

Sonaksha (@sonaksha) an illustrator from India, uses art as a tool to contribute to social justice movements across the world. She shares that “Art has always inspired art. But particularly in moments of crisis or unrest, we’ve seen the power of community. Artists and activists have built on each other’s work and message, to keep the fight going, to ensure we’re not losing the momentum during protests.” Sonkasha joins us in using art as a way to dream a world where patriarchal norms cease to exist: “Art is a space to dream and to create worlds that we want to see and live in. Whether that means talking about why capitalism and patriarchy need to be dismantled or drawing a world centering queer and disabled folks. “

Lausan (@loretta.modern) explained that for her “art is pure power, in both senses of the word: it is power and it is the possibility of producing different effects in those who receive it (although this reception is never passive).” She went on, “I believe that with those two things, you can change the world because you can change people. But mainly, I believe that art can change the other when it doesn’t underestimate him/her, when the person doesn’t want to say ‘this is the message’, ‘this is the form’, ‘this is the way.’”

“I’m coming back mom. I’m going to play ball.” By Lausan

We couldn’t agree more. There are endless possibilities when it comes to the power of art. Similarly, Ofentse (@ke.ofentse) shared, “Art is involved in affecting the essential self-sense of human beings. To say the least, art is a mirror reflection of what is happening in the world around us.

“By highlighting the flaws of our society, we are bringing attention to something that can/should be fixed. Artists can help society think more and challenge themselves by seeing the messages in our art and being that positive change in the world- so in this sense, art can be seen as a medium of self-realization and motivation. We are able to assist people to understand the physical reality as well as the imaginary world (the potential of what our world could be).”

Credit: Ofentse Netshivangane

For Ofentse, that means highlighting the double standard of sexuality. She explains, “I wanted to create a conversation around the shame and judgement that a lot of women go through when it comes to the topic of sex… I think women should be given the freedom and opportunity to be vocal about their sexual activities/beliefs without being shunned. There is a lot of hypocrisy and double standards that is linked to how society views women when it comes to sexual matters, which I think is unfair and very bias and this is a conversation that needs to be had. Women are shunned for the very same things men are praised for and it makes no sense to me.”

Challenging the double standards of sex and sexuality is an essential part of resisting gender norms and gender-based violence.

The purpose of Lebanese artist, Nourie’s (@nouriflayhan) art is “Representation, taking control of our narratives & sharing our stories through our own lens.” She explained, “I grew up with no representation to SWANA (South West Asian/ North African) womxn in the media or books, there was one very white washed beauty standard & I wanted to break out of that. My women were viewed through a white lens where our truths and stories were altered & controlled to fit their narratives. So I promised to take that back and tell our stories.”

With all of these artists, activists, and collectives working to change gender norms and fight gender-based violence around the world, we truly feel the future for girls is in good hands. When asked how art can change the world and grow solidarity, Nourie told us, “together we can unlearn, learn & grow with the help of one another… Artists have the power to take people places, mentally and emotionally & impact their lives. It can bring us all together, it can unlock parts of ourselves we hid away. It can spread light & truth & love.” On this International Day of the Girl, join us in solidarity and in taking collective action for our artists’ dreams to become a reality- a world where all girls do not face gender-based violence.

Credit: Nour Flayhan