From the November-December 2020 issue of News & Letters
In November, women surrounded a courthouse in Ica, Peru, and marched in the capital, Lima, to protest the court’s acquittal of a rapist. The court claimed the woman could not have been raped because her red underwear meant she was “prepared or willing” to have sex with the rapist. Many protesters wrapped red underwear around their legs, and some held signs with photos of the judges. Signs read, “Listen up, judges. Don’t use my underwear to justify rape” and “Lace is just lace, it’s not an insinuation.” Protesters chanted the song “A Rapist in Your Path,” which includes the lyrics, “The fault was not mine, nor where I was, nor what I was wearing” and “the patriarchy is a judge that judges us for being born.”
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Due to the efforts of a volunteer research team, the Forgotten Women of Wakefield Project, Mary Heaton received a Blue Plaque in November. It is a British historical marker linking a location with a famous person, event or building. Since most plaques celebrate men, the Project is dedicated to making the number of women’s plaques achieve parity with them by 2028. After Heaton interrupted a vicar’s sermon, calling him a thief for not paying her for his daughter’s music lessons, a court judged her “insane.” Her plaque is at the site of a former lunatic asylum where she spent most of her incarceration, lasting the remaining 41 years of her life. Project member Sarah Cobham stated, “Women were deemed dangerous and insane during the 1830s for all sorts of reasons, none of which had anything to do with their actual mental health but…with the lack of their perceived ‘womanly attributes.’” Heaton coped with this trauma by creating her own art therapy of needlework samplers of writing describing her life, now in a collection at the Mental Health Museum.
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In 2015 in Sicily, Osas Egbon started the organization Women of Benin City to support survivors of prostitution, most of whom, like herself, were trafficked to the capital city of Palermo from the Edo state of Nigeria. Since then, the number of women trafficked there has doubled. Most are forced to swear “juju” oaths to spiritual priests that they will pay off a debt supposedly owed to traffickers, not report them to police, and obey their “mamas” (brothel madams). They are told harm will come to them or their families if they break their oaths. Egbon gained their trust when she got a traditional priest to curse the traffickers, which was announced on posters in Palermo. She said many Italians want to help but are hindered by anti-migrant sentiment.
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In October, in Egypt, the Cairo Criminal Court began hearings on a male university student from a wealthy, influential family. Hundreds of women worldwide gave anonymous testimonials on social media that he and another young man are serial rapists, pressuring a government investigation. Mozn Hassan, head of Nazra for Feminist Studies, stated, “Egypt is on fire for more than three months talking about different incidents in different sections and layers [of society].” Speaking out against the widespread sexual abuse and blame of women is dangerous, and survivors and witnesses of rape can be arrested and face extreme social stigma. Activists state that, rather than teaching girls to always be careful, boys need to be raised to view women as human beings.