Silent No More, We're Hanging out Our Dirty Laundry: The South Africa Clothesline Project
Lempert, Lora Bex, Skorge, Synnov, Women in Action
Mom's spirit was killed long before Dad executed her.
Ndoda Ndini Ungeva Kanjani Inguwe lo Udlewenguliweyo (How would you men feel if you were raped?)
MisDaad meet hok Geslaan Word. (Violence must be stopped.)
He raped me. Nobody can take that pain out of my heart and soul.
These messages and hundreds of other messages were written, and drawn on the 'canvas' of ordinary t-shirts and hung on South Africa's inaugural Clothesline on 26 November 2001 on Robben Island, the site of Nelson Mandela's long imprisonment and now a national historical site and museum.
The Clothesline Project is a public display of individually created t-shirts that illustrate, with words, colours or symbols, women's personal stories of their experiences of violence (Foley 1995). Each T-shirt honours, respects, and recognises one woman's courage in facing experience(s) of violence--rape, incest, abuse, harassment, murder, intimidation, and/or torture--in a medium that provides public exposure while guaranteeing distance and safety.
The original Clothesline Project began in 1990 in Hyannis, Massachusetts in the United States. It was inspired by an artist in a display of shirts at a "Take Back the Night Rally" (Foley 1995). Since then the project has become both national and international, with hundreds of locally organised projects in the United States and other nations displaying thousands of t-shirts (U.S. National Clothesline Project flyer, undated).
The U.S. Clothesline was built around a double metaphor: "Doing the laundry has always been considered women's work, and in the days of close-knit neighbourhoods, women often exchanged information over backyard fences while hanging their clothes out to dry. The concept [of the Clothesline Project] was simple--let each woman tell her own story, in her own unique way, and hang it out for all to see. It was and is a way of airing society's dirty laundry." (Carol Chichetto, U.S. National Clothesline Project flyer October 1994).
The South Africa Clothesline debut on Robben Island provided the backdrop for the launch of the Justice for Women campaign. Sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, and the National Network on Violence Against Women, the Justice for Women campaign is a public appeal to President Mbeki for the pardon or sentence reduction of abused women who have killed their husbands. Following the Justice for Women launch, the Clothesline also marked multiple events in the 16 Days of Activism, an annual international event (25 November-10 December) intended to create a worldwide movement that raises awareness of gender-based violence as a human rights issue and calls for the elimination of such violence.
Inaugurating South Africa Clothesline Project
Within a few weeks, news headlines in urban areas chronicled the scope of violence against South African women. A Grooto Schuur Hospital medical academic announced that the yearly incidence of rape in South Africa now exceeds that of tuberculosis; the rape of schoolgirls by teachers, peers and gangs was documented by both the Human Rights Watch and an Eastern Cape provincial investigating committee; a report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation argued that violence against women and HIV/AIDS may be converging in new and lethal ways--even as Jackie Selebi, National Police Commissioner, pronounced the Domestic Violence Act to protect women "unimplementable" While there has been ample evidence of women's victimisation--child rape, schoolgirl assault, sexual harassment, wife battering, abuse of older women--and a long history of feminist interpretation and activism surrounding gender inequality and the social privileges that sustain men's violence, the messages were obviously not getting through to those with the power of enforcement and prevention.
During informal discussions with local NGOs, Lora Lempert raised and introduced the U. …