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WIN Magazine: "Stopping Rape with Your Breakfast"


By Joy Pincus

Germans may soon be helping to stop rape by buying their morning broetchen (roll). An innovative plan by two Berlin women calls for bakeries to use paper bags printed with information regarding violence against women such as: "One German women in two suffers from headaches, one in three wears makeup and one in five is raped by her partner" or "The customer in front of you is raped regularly by a close relative."

"This is an awareness-raising campaign that may appear ordinary and trivial, for it uses an everyday object that everyone buys regularly," said Silke Pillinger, 28, a coordinator for the European Language Council describing her idea. ".... There is a parallel between the ‘ordinariness’ of the object we use and violence against women, specifically rape. We want to emphasize that most rapes occur in a familiar context."

She adds, "We wanted people to be confronted [by] the issue of rape without being able to close their eyes. We wanted to provoke them and also shock them in a certain way....We also wanted to focus on rape that happens in the family, because this is where in Germany, as probably all over the world, most of the rapes happen. People would carry the paper bags home with them, [to] the place where rape happens a lot."

The idea of Pillinger and Karin Heisecke, 28, who works for International Planned Parenthood Foundation, were among three winning entries in an international contest in which contestants were asked to come up with creative ways to stop rape. The contest was sponsored last February by V-Day, a four-year-old worldwide movement sponsoring programs to end violence against women and girls.

V-Day has become a popular phrase in the feminist lexicon. It began with the phenomenal success of the "Vagina Monologues," an American play based on interviews with women worldwide talking about their experiences with rape, abuse and genital mutilation. In 1998, Playwright Eve Ensler and a group of fellow New York women founded V-Day, best known for its annual gala event focusing on domestic violence that is held on Valentine's Day and so turns the day’s traditional meaning on its head.

This year’s gala in New York included the contest to stop rape, judged by an international panel of activists dealing with violence against women, who sifted through hundreds of responses from 26 countries. Besides Pillinger and Heisecke, the winners included a 13-year-old student from Kenya and a 50-year-old street theater actress in Brazil. All the winners received up to $25,000 to implement their plan, but each is expected to get local support.

In Germany help will come from Pro Familia, a member organization of International Planned Parenthood Foundation, and hopefully some German political figures.

Pillinger's biggest concern is over what kind of press the project will receive, since "...rape as an issue is taboo and will not easily be dealt with by the media...People seem to think that this is a problem that doesn't really exist in Western European or North American countries."

In Brazil, masculine violence is a natural mode of behavior, said contest winner Regine Bandler. Bandler and Ana Bosch, plan to use their talents and experience in the theatre to reverse that current cultural belief. The women, part of a women’s theatre troupe known as Loucas de Pedra Lilבs (Lunatic Lilacs), propose creating a databank of speeches given by celebrities, experts and ordinary people dealing with the issues of both violence against women and human relationships that could be aired on television and throughout the media.

They also propose creating videos of staged public debates in which people would be invited to express their views on sexual violence and rape. The women are hoping to begin their ambitious project in August and are currently waiting for approval by the Brazilian Ministry of Health, which will help implement their program.

Bandler is a longtime women’s activist. After immigrating to Brazil from Geneva, Switzerland she co-founded Sos Corpo, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to apprising women of their rights to public health care. In seeking for new ways to communicate their message, Sos Corpo members created the Loucas, who are now based in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, Brazil.

"The reception on the streets was so warm that we put the theater on one, two, then four times a year, always with new hot subjects...and also with a lot of brand new fresh Loucas," Bandler said, referring to the addition of new theatre troupe members. "The importance was not to be able to act well, even though it was very welcome of course, but to… tell our indignation in that non conformist way. Participation of the Loucas was, and still is, an empowerment tool."

The theater group has in its troupe about 10 women, from very different social and cultural backgrounds and ranging in age from 20 to 50. While the Loucas respond to a range of women’s concerns, "...violence is one of our main issues," said Bandler. "... It is a question of daily survival. Brazil is a very violent country for historical and cultural reasons. Women have to struggle hard to be considered as persons with equal rights."

Sexual violence is particularly prevalent in the famed Brazilian music industry,"You can hear such barbarism!" Said Bandler. "Last carnival, the greatest ‘hit’ was about a funk dance which simulated a physical fight between men and women, saying ‘smash of love does not hurt.’ The answer of the feminists was rapid. Last March 8, in all states of Brazil, the word of alert was ‘Smash Does Hurt, and is A CRIME!’"

The Loucas responded by creating a theatre sketch to respond to this trend of violence, which they have incorporated into some of their different performances, including their play about violence: "Chega de Dor!" (Enough Pain).

Since rape prevention ideally begins in youth, Jennifer Jadwero of Kenya has a particularly important plan. Her idea is to form "Youth Against Rape" clubs in primary and secondary schools and universities. These clubs would be extracurricular activities that kids can join, as they would the drama club or a team sport, where they could participate in campaigns to increase public awareness to this issue. The goals would be to both convince boys that being manly does not mean being forceful and disrespectful of women, and to train the girls in both self defense and how to cope themselves if they are raped. Club members would arrange for professional speakers to come speak at their schools.

V-Day is also funding $3,000 each to an additional eight contest finalists for help in implementing their plans for stopping rape. These include Canadian Anne Marie Aikins' to provide a dating certificate to boys who have completed an anti-rape education program; Mongolian Puntsag Tsetsgee's to have a bi-weekly national radio program on rape and Costa Rican Rosa Barrantes' to create a virtual criminological museum on rape through a website or CD-ROM.

Funding for contest winners comes from donations to V-Day, sales of the book form of "Vagina Monologues" (Villard Books, 2000) and benefit performances of the play itself.

Rape is something women have lived with for so long -- is it possible to imagine a world where it does not exist? Ensler thinks so.

"It's happening. All that women and girls have to do is believe it's happening. That's the big leap. If we don't start to believe that violence can end, then it won't. I truly believe, for example, that if young girls knew their bodies were their own and had a right to their desires and felt supported in their desires, and grew up believing that nobody had a right to touch them or make them do anything that they didn't feel 100 percent comfortable doing, violence would end," Ensler said in an interview with "Chick Click" magazine.

The second V-Day contest dedicated to coming up with ideas to stop rape has been announced with an entry deadline of November 30, 2001.

And in a further indication that parts of the world are starting to think creatively about rape, the mayor of Bogota, Colombia declared last March 9th to be "A Night Without Men." Between the hours of 7:30 and 1:00, men were banned from the city's streets, required to play the traditional woman's role of staying at home with the children while their wives roamed the streets in an atmosphere of festivity. Any man out on the streets that night found himself the subject of harassment by the women who were taking advantage of the special occasion. The women-only night was a great success, the city packed with women, unlike the following week's "men-only" night, in which the general consensus of the city's men was that the absence of women made the evening pointless.

Mayor Antanas Mockus' unprecedented and radical move was designed to force men to reassess their attitudes in a traditionally macho society. More importantly, it was also an opportunity to see what would happen to rates of violence and other incidents in a city without men. The results were clear: there was only one murder, down 80% from a typical Friday, and other crime was down by 3 percent. The mayor, who stayed home with his children on that Friday night, feels that men have a lot to learn from women about peaceful attitudes.

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