Violence against women is a new theme that WDCD started to research in São Paulo, as a first step towards a new WDCD challenge. The breakout session ‘Deconstruct Cultural Behaviours’ aimed at raising the questions that might prompt the designer’s creative spirit.

At the age of 17 a Hungarian girl who grew up in a foster home because her alcoholic parents couldn’t take care of her, was taken home by her sister and her husband. The two put her on the street and forced her to prostitute herself. As soon as she turned 18 the sister and her husband sold the girl to a man who took her to Amsterdam. Here she was put to work in the famous Red Light district and forced to work day and night in double shifts, seven days a week without interruption. She had to bring home at least a thousand euros a day and earn the 250 euros rent for the window as well. For any occasion in which she didn’t follow the orders of her pimp she was beaten by him in such a way that the bruises wouldn’t show.

When police passed by and asked her if everything was OK, she told them she worked out of free will, never daring to tell the truth. When the pimp was arrested the parents of his wife kept the girl working. Only after five years the girl had finally the guts to step out of her miserable life and go to the police. And even then she had to be convinced that what she had been forced to do was not normal.

Collecting questions

This is a typical case Jolanda de Boer encounters in her daily practice as Public Prosecutor in Amsterdam. In the breakout session ‘Violence against women: deconstruct cultural behaviours’ hosted by design research company STBY, her story made deep impression. The session presented by designers Shay Raviv (STBY), Paula Dib and Renata Mendes, was meant to collect questions that can help narrow down the Violence against women theme to topics that actually can be addressed by designers.

‘This session is the very first step towards a new challenge by What Design Can Do,’ Shay Raviv said. ‘Our mission is not to come up with concepts, but with good questions that eventually can lead to good solutions. We decided to broaden the issue from Violence against women to Violence against femininity in order to approach it as something cultural, something that pervades our entire culture.’

Gender inequality

Apart from Jolanda de Boer, Guilherme Nascimento Valadares and Neon Cunha were invited as experts to spur the discussion. Valdares is founder and editor of Papo de Homem website and professor of the CEB (Cultivating Emotional Balance) program. He is also part of the #HeforShe UN Women Brazil committee and produced the documentary Precisamos falar com os homens? about inequality of gender and culture of violence.

Designer Neon Cunha, a trans woman of 44, was the first case in Brazil to obtain in court a name and gender rectification in official documentation. Brazilian law requires medical expertise to prove ‘gender dysphoria’. Neon, who is an activist in favour of ending violence against women, argues that transsexuality is not a pathological condition, and gender identity is self-defined by each person.

Feminist Beer

On Day 2, when the breakout was repeated, Dutch Public Prosecutor Martin Visser, creative director Thais Fabris and trainer Leonardo Oshiro were present. Fabris is a creative director, with years of experience in Europe and Brazil leading digital agencies. In 2015, she created 65|10, a consulting firm specializing in communication with women, to help agencies and brands review the role of women in advertising. The first action of 65|10 was the launch of Feminist Beer.

Leonardo Oshiro is a health educator and personal trainer. As a physical educator he began to question his own body and how it related to him. He began a therapeutic work that made him look deeper into some issues of his masculinity. From meaningful conversations with close friends came the idea of hosting a circle of men, talk free of judgment and discuss many questions about the roles set for masculinity.

Curbing perception

In separate groups the participants discussed the issues brought up by the experts and following a process of several steps devised by STBY proposed questions designers might want to address. The discussion with Jolanda de Boer made clear that there is a lot of misconception and misplaced romanticism around the Red Light district in Amsterdam. The exchange led to questions including What design can do to bridge the gap between prostitutes and help organizations; to curb the image of prostitution in media; to change the perception of the profession; or, in order to make the profession redundant, what design can do to please the man?

The question at Valadares’s table was how to create a space where male and female division doesn’t matter. ‘Places where we really can express our feelings and where all questions can be asked,’ as he put it. The discussion touched topics like gender unspecific clothing and unisex toys for children.


Gender neutral toys were also discussed at the table with Cunha, where the question came up at what age gender starts to matter for children. In fact, it was concluded that already before birth there are gender specific expectations. How can design help to redefine the gender distinction, requalifying colours, and making objects gender unspecific.

Overlooking the entire session, Paula Dib concluded the ‘humanizing is the umbrella theme’. Why should everybody, male, female, gay, transgender, put in a box, she asked. Or as Neon Cunha put it: ‘We need to leave the idea of binary gender. With 7 billion people on the globe we have 7 billion genders.’

All images by Sergio Caddah/WDCD

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