‘My son of 4 was hitting me, just when I was thinking about what to say in this session about violence against women’, Alexandra Baldeh Loras told the participants of the breakout session ‘Violence against women: Generate deep empathy’ hosted by Design Echos and the Escola Design Thinking. ‘It made me wonder what actually the roots of violence are.’

Loras is a journalist, former television host in France and wife of the former consul of France in Brazil. Today Loras is a writer and advocate for (black) women emancipation. Using all her acquaintances in influential circles and media she has started to use the idea of inversion to make people aware. In one project she had a series of photos published in a magazine depicting a descendant of the former Brazilian royal house as a servant to a black mistress.

In the breakout session Loras argued that in areas without electricity and hence without television there is no violence. ‘In those regions there is also no anorexia. Television brings violence in the lives of children already at a young age. Internet is multiplying many bad things too. When we allow pornography to exist, we are teaching our children and future husbands how to treat women.’

Image an inversed world

Pointing out that many women have high rates of degrees while only 6 per cent is in the top of business life, Loras suggested to imagine an inverted world. ‘Imagine a world in which all great historical figures were women, in which even God is a woman and all revolutions have been led by women. And in porn the focus is only on the female orgasm. What a nice world that would be.’

Loras wanted the participants to realize that we are still very far away from an equal world. ‘We are still living in a very sexist world. We need to raise our voice, and we shouldn’t try to change our world, but we should strive to create a new one.’

A lot remains hidden behind the glass

Jolanda de Boer, public prosecutor in the Netherlands specialized in cases of human trafficking and violence against women also gave a grim view of the world that is hidden beyond the world famous Red Light district in Amsterdam. ‘The fact that the prostitutes there work behind transparent windows doesn’t enable to see us what really is going on behind those doors,’ she said. De Boer pointed out that 90 to 95 per cent of prostitutes are not from Dutch origin, but imported from eastern Europe and Africa and violently forced to work in the sex business.

Two experiments

After these introductions, the Design Echos team explained that their project is aimed at tackling the problem of violence against women through design thinking. As a first step in that process it is imperative to develop empathy with the victims, because feeling the problem yourself automatically leads to wanting to solve it.

In two exercises the participants could generate the desired empathy. The first one was designed to feel the imbalance of power in a relationship of inequality. Participants had to start a conversation in pairs, with one of the two instructed to react in an offensive, accusing and foulmouthed way. Afterwards the participants characterized their feelings during the experiment with words like ‘abused’, ‘anguish’, ‘out of balance’, ‘shame’, ‘discomfort’ and ‘tense’.

In the second exercise all present had to listen blindfolded to a monologue interieur of a woman who is bullied by her employer and at first doesn’t dare to stand up for herself, and eventually decides to leave her job. Afterwards there was a lot of recognition and emotional involvement.

Finally, the participants were asked to write their ideas for a solution to the problem on a card, with which they were photographed.

Top image by Sergio Caddah

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