Ushering in a new social climate capable of transforming the society where today’s issue will no longer be a tomorrow’s concern requires an activism whose strategy should be articulated, with longer term vision and daring to explore unconventional paths. In the fight of violence against women, punctual public actions (rallies, protests, marches) should be integrated with personal everyday proactive activism to transform this issue into everybody’s business, every day.
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The issue is one: women are the object of violence. This is referred to with various names such as violence against women, gender-based violence and domestic violence. Much too often, they share the same tragic end: ‘femicide’. In the attempt to stop the former to avoid the latter, these various labels become as many social activism initiatives such as big rallies, protests, marches, new hashtags that make news headlines and other public actions. To rally cry against this issue, they use different symbols and slogans in different countries, languages and dates that from one-off occasions often become recurrences to celebrate the fight.
Below we summarise WHY we believe current ways of fighting violence against women undermine the power of its activism, WHAT we believe the new strategy should be, HOW we believe can help with this.
WHY we believe current approach is weakening the power of this activism
Three points: the strategy of current activism has a tunnel vision, its tactics show various limits and its recent developments produced debatable benefits.
Strategy: This relies mainly on public actions such as big rallies, protests and marches. It is true that they are all laudable initiatives raising awareness of the problem, giving visibility to associations fighting it, sensitising public opinion, forcing decision-makers to engage, and attracting media attention. But, as M. White one of the organiser of the OCCUPY protest states in his book ‘The End of Protest’, these actions are important but insufficient to engender the desired social changes. Moreover, they are not the only worthy actions and they show some limits suggesting a strategy change.
Tactics: These public actions are punctual and limited in time and organised on occasions that are specific, exceptional, and unrelated or extra-ordinary people’s life. This type of tactic has two intertwined drawbacks. On the one hand, although they have a great symbolic impact and attract media attention amplifying their effects, these usually remain short-lived producing limited outcomes. On the other, once these actions are over, the interest of people turn back to their everyday life, and the media spotlight moves to another news, this issue becomes, once again, the difficult reality for real women all over the world.
The communication approach of these tactics is based on what Clemencia Rodriguez calls ‘epidemiological approach’. Sketchily, this means that social issues are compared to the consequences of a disease. When fighting a disease, specific communities are exposed to a vaccine campaign. Similarly, when fighting social issues target populations are exposed to a campaign with pre-designed messages. This unidirectional persuasive communication intends to promote attitudes and behaviours considered socially desirable or good and condemn those considered socially unacceptable or bad. This approach has one main limit. Although the largest possible population is exposed to specific messages related to specific issues, this is usually confined to the duration of these actions, producing time-bound benefits.
Looking at the various initiatives one could ask these questions:
- What is the difference among dates such as 8th March, 25th of every month, and 25th November?
Our answer to these questions is: NOTHING !
They are different activism actions using different symbols and slogans in different countries, languages and dates that share the same overall objective of fighting the one issue: violence against women to avoid the tragic event of femicide.
However, we believe that this apparent ‘no difference’ in the means used for the fight, in reality, makes a ‘big difference’ for the end of the fight.
They show many of the weaknesses we have identified in current forms of social and political activism. In sum, these many and vary actions do not show the unity of the fight undermining the transnational relevance of the issue. As they appear unrelated, the issue seems geographically restricted. They put forward often loosely linked requests making the goal of the action confused. Their message is often scattered in into multiple sub-messages failing to transmit authority and clarity associated with a univocal message. Its meaning lost in translation failing to sensitise simultaneously and in the same way activists in different countries and of different cultures. Campaigners’ engagement in each demonstration may be strong, but it remains de facto disconnected missing the opportunity to make a powerful impact.
Recent developments: Exploiting the huge protest symbolic power of movements such as #MeToo and Women’s March may have helped raising awareness about the violence against women.
- But one could ask: what is the added value of associating the activism concerning the violence against women with notorious movements such as #MeToo and Women’s March ?
Our answer to this questions is: if there an added value this is DEBATABLE ! Here is why in three points:
Firstly, violence against women becomes one among other fights of #MeToo and Women’s March movements making this issue lost either in their overall narrative or in the whirlwind of a broader articulation of narratives with a varying degree of connection with the violence against women. This can create confusion that can discourage wannabe demonstrators to rally and, most importantly, offer decision-makers and the media an easy escape and excuse to discredit the action, disregard the demands and justify a poor media coverage. The main narrative of #MeToo remains the cry against sexual assault and harassment. Indeed, these are forms of violence against women, but the issue has many more facets and it is much more than sexual harassment. The mission of Women’s March is summarised in the H.E.R.S. framework (Health – Economic Security – Representation – Safety). Violence against women is included in the overarching goal of ‘safety’. However, this also lists other important issues such as ending racial discrimination, human and sex trafficking, dismantling gender and racial inequalities, and advocating for the rights of refugees and asylum seeker.
Secondly, these movements developed arguments and counter-arguments no longer revolving on their own narrative and shifting the attention away from the associated issue of violence against women, shadowing the magnitude of this problem. Recent main debates around the #MeToo focused on dissecting the difference between violence and seduction, advancing accusations of puritanism, and claiming freedom to pester as indispensable aspect to women sexual freedom (Andrews, Peigne and Vonberg). In 2018, Women’s March saw hundreds of thousands of women around America and the world taking to the streets. However, their protest was against Trump. It is true that having his own sexually abusive behaviour exposed, and yet remaining in office, Trump and violence against women are connected. But this link is loose and it cannot be easily grasped because Trump is also opposed for his anti-immigration policy, anti-environment stand etc. In a more recent development, the strong protest symbolic power of #MeToo Movement was used in South Korea to protest against spycam pornography
Lastly, the extent to which the fight of violence against women benefitted from the prominence offered by these movements or these movements enjoyed a new wave of visibility thanks to an (unfortunately) still topical issue remains little discernible.
WHAT we believe the new strategy should be
We believe that what is needed is a strategy change. This is how we believe it should be outlined.
Contemporary activism is at a crossroads between innovation or irrelevance says M. White. We believe that these are the most needed innovations to make these typical forms of activism through public actions still relevant. Different activism public actions should show unity. For this, the new strategy should replace the heterogeneity of campaigners and protesters’ ‘crowd’ with a homogenous protesting ‘mass’, because the former does not convey the same powerful idea of mobilisation associated with the image of the latter. ‘Unity makes strength’, goes the motto. This united mass should voice a simple, univocal and authoritative core statement, and put forward a unanimous demand. Action, message and demand should have a transnational reach to reflect the reality of this issue with transnational relevance. They should also sensitise, engage and empower simultaneously and in the same way activists in different countries and of different cultures. For this, these actions should be inspired by the success of the Occupy Wall Street protest.
We also believe that these public actions should be integrated with personal everyday activism. This is in line with the position of Naomi Klein who in her latest book about recent evolutions in activism argues that saying ‘NO is not enough’ and calls for a systemic change and counter stories capable of connecting and re-uniting people. We add that this should take the form of ‘political defiance’ (Sharp 2010 p.1). This is an everyday activism by everybody aiming at an ongoing public awareness campaign and based on an active, deliberate, provocative and non-violent mass mobilisation of individuals in their ordinary life. After all, “you must be active to be an activist” (Ferrone) and possibly be proactive at your local level and in your everyday life. Coherently, the communication strategy should be based on what Clementia Rodriguez calls a ‘social fabric approach’. Sketchily, this means that social issues are seen as a consequence of the erosion of the social fabric. Therefore, the intent of this multidirectional communication it to re-knit the social fabric around a specific issue creating an environment conducive to the expected changes in the society.
Although actions carried out within people’s ordinary everyday life might have a less symbolic impact, this activism strategy shows four important benefits. It 1) allows campaigners and protesters to feel they have not only an active role in the protest but they are empowered; 2) spreads the message beyond the community directly involved in the struggle against the specific issue; 3) exposes regular people to specific messages on a more regular basis and in their everyday life and beyond specific and punctual occasions of public actions. Being unexpected in such circumstances, these messages can provoke surprise that in turn can inspire reflection on the specific issue, and/or push people to question their and other people’s inaction or silence; 4) reinforces the visibility of the issue producing a cumulative effect. Re-knitting the social fabric, this communication strategy can contribute to re-unite people and create an environment conducive to transformative social changes. Within this social climate, the proactive personal and everyday activism can foster the mass mobilisation and make violence against women everybody’s business, every day, contributing to making this today’s issue no longer a concern in tomorrow’s society.
The use of the same symbol, largely received in different cultural context and integrated with slogans customisable according to linguistic needs and creative preferences, can simultaneously unify, engage and empower activists in different countries. The use of the same symbol in public action and personal everyday activism allows to capitalise on its protest symbolic power.
HOW we can help
BASTA! is a research-based project whose mission to give a distinct identity and a stronger voice to social and political activism actions. It aims at responding to the weaknesses identified in today’s practices of social and political activism including those indicated above. It builds on the study of essential theoretical foundations of activism, protests and nonviolent public actions and on the analysis of other (un)successful social campaigns and political protests.
Based on the study, it has created a new symbol. This is largely received in numerous cultural contexts and understood in various languages, can be used for numerous social issues and political matters, and is customisable with targeted slogans according to linguistic needs and creative preferences. Exploiting the synergy among the verbal component, the graphic element, the typeface and the colour it can act as a ‘meme‘ and offer the opportunity for a ‘snowclone‘ usage, giving a distinct identity to the activism and meeting the needs of the strategy outlined above.
In line with Sharp’s suggestions, the symbol can be displayed on large variety of of activism merchandise usable in conventional and alternative tactics such as big rallies, protests and marches, and personal and proactive everyday activism. Moreover, earing the symbol conveys the idea that campaigners and protesters have not only an active role in public actions, but they are empowered. Here a recent example of this tactic of wearing activism gadgets.
Our products (t-shirts, caps, drawstrings bags, tote bags, pins …) are available in our external shop. Here some examples:
Shown during specific and punctual public actions these licenced personalised protest merchandise can multiply the exposure of the statement they show. Displayed in public actions hold in different countries activists de facto confirm to be part of the same protest and convey a sense of unity of their action. Wearing or displaying these gadgets in situations within people’s ordinary everyday life as a form of personal and everyday proactive participation in the activism action people can feel empowered. Acting as human billboards / walking advertisement, they can extend the visibility of the message raising awareness about the issue and generating cumulative benefits.
Obviously, associations in the front line in the fight against violence against women can add their sponsor and sell these gadgets to contribute funding their activities to raise awareness on the issue and their programs of assistance and support to women object of gender-based violence.
Of course, being short and catchy the symbol would also be perfect for online actions, producing even more visibility to the campaign and generate more cumulative effects to the actions.