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Grim tales of rape told through victim’s clothes

Grim tales of rape told through victim’s clothes

“What She Wore”, an exhibition of clothes worn by rape survivors in Ethiopia, opened this week at the Addis Ababa Museum. The exhibition showcased the clothes of 15 women between the ages 7 and 20 when they were raped at various times.

Organized by Setaweet in collaboration with the Swedish Embassy and UN Women, the exhibition is modeled after a similar project in Brussels in January of this year.

Hanging from simple black hangers, these clothes confront the viewer with a brutal honesty; one can neither look away from nor stare at for too long. The clothes hang empty of flesh but it’s easy to imagine Kokeb aged 16 or Kidan age 12 wearing these clothes.

The written stories posted below the clothes offer the ugly truths many of us are unwilling to face. Being presented with first person accounts of the violence these women have endured is overwhelming.

The exhibition opening was preceded by a panel discussion on Gender-Based Violence, showcasing the social, psychological and legal problems involved in rape cases.

The social ostracism and persecution survivors face is sobering. Victim blaming, typically attributing the rape to what the woman was wearing, how she was acting, what she was saying, ‘she was asking for it’ continue to harm survivors. Rape is first and foremost about power, after all.

The flaws in the criminal justice system that refuse to listen to victims and let rapists go unpunished were also discussed. One of the survivor stories in the exhibition showed how her rapist was able to escape persecution after bribing the police while another story tells how a policeman inside a police station raped her.

The exhibition set the stage for Setaweet and UN Women’s 16 days of activism on Gender Based Violence, a campaign that hopes to increase social awareness and promote gender equality.  Under the social media tag #HearMeToo women have been sharing their stories of gender-based violence, setting the story straight of who the real perpetrators are and how society has systematically protected criminals.

The Ministry of Women and Children Affair has also echoed the campaign with the work of Jegnit, a project that highlights the contribution of women in Ethiopian society.

Setaweet has planned a number of campaigns in Addis Ababa for the following two weeks and many artistic and social activities in the city have adopted themes of gender equality and an end to gender based violence.

“What She Wore” will be on display at the Addis Ababa Museum until December 10.