DAY FIFTEEN: Speaking for ourselves: the PEN international women’s manifesto

Today’s post examines the impact of the PEN International Women’s Manifesto in the struggle for women to speak and write freely without censorship or violence.

Image above: PEN International President Jennifer Clement, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon (holding Women’s Manifesto), Publishing Director and manifesto advisor Ellah Wakatama Allfrey OBE, and PEN International board member Margie Orford

Margie Orford

 No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public. For nothing which they have attempted, not even to secure the suffrage, have they been so abused, condemned and antagonised.’

Susan B. Anthony, American civil rights campaigner, 1900. 

In 2016 as the PEN International Women’s Manifesto to protect freedom of speech and of creative expression for women writers, poets, and journalists was being collectively drafted, those words rang chillingly true. That was the year when Donald Trump, riding a right-wing, anti-feminist wave, swept to power in the United States. Four years later Trump is on his way out but the global political stage is crowded  with so-called strongmen – Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsinaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, Modi in India – who centralise power around themselves. This power, patriarchal in nature, is premised on the lethal binaries of  race,  religion and, above all, gender and has resulted in attacks on and the curtailment of women’s freedoms in both the domestic and the public sphere. This is most visible on the internet, where many of us conduct parts of if not most of our public and professional lives, where the attacks on the free and authoritative speech of women are frequent and vicious and often have lethal effects in women’s off-line lives. These are attempts to silence women, to expel them from the public sphere – the realm of free speech, politics, decision and authority that is gendered as masculine, and to sequester women in the domestic or private sphere, which is gendered as feminine. As Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International – the first woman to hold that position, writes,

In drafting the PEN International Women’s Manifesto, we needed to acknowledge  women’s inequality in the world and how the violence against women was also a censorship issue. It needed to have a humanist position, which addressed that lack of knowledge or, more to the point, missing knowledge. We don’t even know what the world has lost.

Jennifer Clement, President PEN International

The particular remit of PEN International is literature so let us turn to literature to understand how old and how lethal this prohibition is on women’s free speech: to The Odyssey by Homer. Mary Beard, in her astute analysis of women and power, brought to our attention the scene where Penelope, the faithful weaving wife of the wandering Odysseus, comes down from her private quarters to the public part of her own home. There she addresses her adolescent son, Telemachus, and the suitors and adult warriors. Telemachus, both threatened and threatening, tells his mother that because she is a woman she has no right to speak. That she has no right to what he calls muthos, the ancient Greek word that means ‘public speech’. He orders her to return to the woman’s quarters and she obeys. Why?

Put yourself in Penelope’s place. To speak publicly is to speak with authority. To claim an authority that has been, and in many quarters still is, fiercely defended as a masculine domain and she  is in a room filled with armed men. In front of her is a son whose very authority, whose ‘honour’, whose masculinity depends on his ability to silence a woman. To expel her from the public sphere, to defend  with violence if necessary, that as a domain for men only. It is – a dangerous moment and Penelope, wise and politically astute, falls silent. Censured –  a woman speaking in public of turn. Censored – a woman who is ‘spoken for’, not a woman with a right to speak for herself. Hers is the silence of half of history, half of humanity. What would she have said? How different might literature and history have been if she had spoken and written? How can we end this deathly silence?

Activism, like art, is an act of imagination. 

So let us return to that scene of Homer’s and to the confrontation between Penelope and Telemachus. Let’s imagine that when Telemachus ordered Penelope back to her quarters, when he denied her the right to muthos– public speech – that she refused to go. Let’s imagine that Penelope insisted on speaking and that when she spoke she was not alone. Let’s imagine that the wiser, more confident men had intervened. Let’s imagine they said:

Telemachus, be silent. Listen to the words of this woman. This space of public speech is one that is to be shared. She is wise and will have good counsel for she has experienced the pointless slaughter of the Trojan wars too. Listen to her.

Shifting the social balance of gender, power and speech is at the heart of what the Women’s Manifesto addresses – opening up ways of imagining and working for a different future, an equal future.

The PEN International Women’s Manifesto

PEN International Women’s Manifesto. Reproduced with permission

The first and founding principle of the PEN Charter asserts that ‘literature knows no frontiers’. These frontiers were traditionally thought of as borders between countries and peoples. For many women in the world – and for almost all women until relatively recently – the first, and the last and perhaps the most powerful frontier was the door of the house she lived in: her parents’ or her husband’s home.

For women to have free speech, the right to read, the right to write, they need to have the right to roam physically, socially and intellectually. There are few social systems that do not regard with hostility a woman who walks by herself.

PEN believes that violence against women, in all its many forms, both within the walls of a home or in the public sphere, creates dangerous forms of censorship. Across the globe, culture, religion and tradition are repeatedly valued above human rights and are used as arguments to encourage or defend harm against women and girls.

PEN International Women’s Manifesto. Reproduced with permission

PEN believes that the act of silencing a person is to deny their existence. It is a kind of death. Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge. As Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN’s Writer’s in Prison Committee, writes:

Women who defend human rights, women who speak in public, and women who engage in controversial debates have been subjected to insults by latter-day Telemachuses all the time. Some have been vilified, like Priyamvada Gopal in the UK when they speak on race and colonialism, some have been attacked for campaigning to have a British currency note with the image of a woman, like Caroline Criado Perez, some have seen their morphed images spread on the Internet, like Rana Ayyub in India, some have been insulted by heads of state, like Maria Ressa in the Philippines. Some, like Nasreen Soutedeh in Iran, remain in jail, some, like Asli Erdogan in Turkey, face prosecution, and some, like Svetlana Aleksiyevich in Belarus, are questioned by those with power because they speak truth to those with power. And then some, like Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Gauri Lankesh in India have been murdered. 

Amnesty International has shown, through detailed research, how mobs on the Internet seek to silence women who engage in the public sphere. Recognising the Women’s Manifesto is but the starting point in understanding the restraints being placed on women. It is incumbent on all those who care for free expression to make sure that their voices are not silenced; that their access is not withdrawn; that they are not shouted down; and to do that, the world needs to read more women, and listen more to women, and on all issues, not only about issues that the patriarchy decides as ‘women’s issues. 

Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee

The Women’s Manifesto endorses the internationally recognised human rights principles: non-violence, safety, education, equality, access, parity. This provides the frame for action and activism, has been widely used for PEN’s advocacy for the rights of imprisoned women writers and has, as Jennifer Clement says, been widely taken up.

Within months of the Women’s Manifesto passing by unanimity at the PEN congress in Lviv, Ukraine, many organisations asked if they could sign on as supporters.  These included United Nations Women, the International Publishers Association (IPA), Ana Ida Gannon Centre for Women and Leadership at Loyola University, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, Moomin Characters Ltd, as well as several literary festivals.  At present, UNESCO has taken the manifesto as the heart of its global work on gender with pilot programmes, which include PEN VIDA UNESCO Counts, in several countries in South America. 

Jennifer Clement, President PEN International

In addition, prominent women endorsed the document such as First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, Her Royal Highness Princess Nandi of the Zulu Royal House. Noma Dumezweni, Sofi Oksanen and Dareen Tatour, who says of the Women’s Manifesto: 

This document is about me.  It represents me as a woman, as a human being.  It represents the pain that I feel as part of the women’s community… It summarizes in a real way the things I have faced

Dareen Tatour, Palestinian poet, photographer and social media activist

The Women’s Manifesto has been crucial for a number of PEN’s cases. Here are some that you, as readers, can become involved in:

Take action for Sedigeh Vasmaghi

Take Action for Chimengül Awut

Take Action for Paola Ugaz

Iran: Temporary release of Nasrin Sotoudeh welcomed while calls for her unconditional release continue

and the long term case of Narges Mohammadi released recently.

PEN has advocated for Tsitsi Dangarembga, shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize, who is currently facing trial in Zimbabwe, and has campaigned successfully with many African PEN centres for the justice for the Ugandan writer, Dr Stella Nyanzi

Video above: Ugandan academic activist and poet Dr Stella Nyanzi. Source: Youtube.

The Manifesto is used by PEN Centres all over the world for advocacy but it is also used for the creating new ways of thinking about writing as Nadia Davids, President of PEN South Africa, where the Women’s Manifesto is widely used writes, 

I used the manifesto for a suite of third year English lectures at the University of Cape Town and it always prompts a really generative conversation among the students- allowing them to carefully consider the relationship between freedom, creativity, the ownership of the self, our inalienable rights over our own bodies and how that may connect to creating a body of work… We read the Manifesto in relation to two other texts: Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Alice Walkers response to Woolf, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens and this invites us to consider the relationship between the psychic and the physical, and how the right to roam uninterrupted allows for the mind to wonder and make.  

Nadia Davids, President of PEN South Africa

Dr Margie Orford is an independent scholar and the author of the internationally acclaimed Clare Hart novels, a literary crime series focused on gendered violence that has been widely translated and is currently being developed as a television series. A Civitella Ranieri fellow and a Fulbright scholar, Dr Orford is an honorary fellow at St Hugh’s College, Oxford and Community Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at University of Edinburgh. She was the patron of Rape Crisis in South Africa, president of PEN South Africa, a member of the executive board of PEN International and is a co-author of the PEN International Women’s Manifesto.

You can follow her on twitter @MargieOrford

DAY FIFTEEN: Playing politics to get sex workers’ rights on the agenda

Playing politics: so what do you do to get your voice heard – as a small South African sex workers rights advocacy organisation -during an election campaign? Run for President!

Picture above: ‘Campaign’ materials for SWAG. Reproduced by permission

Ishtar Lakhani

Studies show that female sex workers are 18 times more likely to be murdered than other women. As a result of criminalisation, stigma and discrimination, sex workers are unable to report violence perpetrated against them by clients, law enforcement officials and members of the community. Criminalisation also increases risk of violence as sex workers have to work in isolation far from the reach of healthcare and justice services and have no access to labour protection for the work that they do. As sex worker rights activists in South Africa we decided that the best way to ensure that sex workers and their issues are represented in political spaces, was to create our own sex worker-led party, as the saying goes, nothing about us, without us. 

It is 2019, time for South Africa’s general election. The media is bloated with the usual pre-election diet of scandal, corruption, and political statements. I am in a meeting having the usual vent about the state of our nation with a collection of social justice activists. Many of the organisations represented in the room have decided to lay low until the election is over, reasons being: “trying to get the media to cover anything that isn’t election related right now is useless” and “what’s the use of lobbying, in 3 months’ time we’ll have start again with new people?”. I understand these approaches. Given the serious lack of resources experienced by social justice organisations, it is essential to pick your battles wisely. It is necessary to be strategic on when, where, how and on what you deploy your ever-shrinking reserves of energy, time and money.

However, we at the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) saw the 2019 South African National Elections as a prime opportunity to deploy our creative activism. 

At SWEAT (a South African based human rights non-profit), a core part of the work is advocating for the full decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa. This position is supported by rigorous research, international human rights frameworks, and most importantly, by people who sell sex themselves, so I will not dive deeply into why you should support decriminalisation. Merely to say, if you support human rights, you should support decriminalisation. Now back to the elections. 

We asked ourselves: in a pre-election context, how do little-old-us gain access to these influential spaces and people? We certainly did not have access to the kind of money needed to buy a plate at political fundraisers. None of us had any desire to learn how to play golf. And we did not have the patience or moral ambiguity to implement the long-game strategy of joining a political party, rising through the ranks and eventually become president. So, we thought: if we can’t beat them, join them. 

The idea of a sex worker for president is not new. Emboldened by the story of Gabriela Leite, the first sex worker to run for Brazilian Congress in 2010, we decided to start our own sex worker-led political party. SWAG, the Sex Worker Action Group (to be perfectly honest, we chose the acronym before we chose the name because who doesn’t like a good acronym?). Now that we had a name, we could really start organising. But when we looked at what it would take to formally register SWAG, the wind was quickly taken out of our sails. None of us had the stamina to climb Mount Bureaucracy. We looked back on our campaign objective: to put sex workers rights on the political agenda. Surely we didn’t have to have an “officially” recognised political party to do that? And so we decided to confidently ignore and navigate ourselves around Mount Bureaucracy. We created a logo and campaign badges, t-shirts and posters (a campaign isn’t a campaign until you have SWAG). We placed our realistic political party posters up on lamp posts directly under our oppositions. With the help of social media we only needed a handful of posters strategically placed and photographed at multiple angles to give the illusion we had national coverage. We even filmed a low budget but surprisingly convincing campaign video, complete with our candidate shaking hands with hard working people, kissing babies, and saying inspiring one-liners like “Your Rights, Your Freedom, Your SWAG”. 

Video above: SWAG campaign 2019. Source: Youtube.

So, what did all this “fun and games” really achieve one might ask? Firstly (and importantly), it was enormous fun. When you are involved in the serious work of human rights activism, there is very little frivolity and burnout is common. This campaign gave us and our organisation a much needed energy boost. Secondly, people believed the campaign!

We were caught off-guard at the amount of support we received. This led to conversations, platforms and events where we could talk about the rights of sex workers in South Africa.

It became abundantly clear that South Africans were hungry for something different and more progressive than we had given them credit for. Finally, one of the biggest impacts of our SWAG Campaign was that the 2 largest opposition political parties both included the rights of sex workers as an issue that needs addressing in their election manifestos, something that has never been done before.

Image reproduced by permission of SWEAT (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce)

This Campaign showed us what we could really achieve with a passion for human rights, a little bit of money, and a lot of SWAG. 2024, watch this space! 

Ishtar Lakhani is a feminist, activist and trouble maker in the field of social justice advocacy. Her passion lies in using creative activism to advocate for the rights of sex workers and the full decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa.

You can find her on twitter @IshtarLakhani 

DAY FOURTEEN: No Problem, I understand : digital antagonism and the algorithm

Zelda Solomon discusses the problems of digital discrimination and the racist underpinnings of algorithms, through the incident with An Nguyen, a Vietnamese curator due to exhibit at the Affordable Arts Fair, only to be rejected because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associations with ‘Asianness’.

Picture above: “Compassion through Computation: Fighting Algorithmic Bias.” Credits: World Economic Forum. Source: Creative Commons.

Zelda Solomon

One of the first examples I saw of anti-Asian discrimination in response to corona-virus was that of An Nguyen, who is a Vietnamese curator that was due to exhibit an installation at the Affordable  Arts Fair in Battersea, UK last March. In a screenshot of an email posted to her social media, dealer Raquelle Azran wrote to her:

“The corona virus is causing much anxiety everywhere, and fairly or not, Asians are being seen as carriers of the virus. Your presence on the stand would unfortunately create hesitation on the part of the audience to enter the exhibition space”

and cancelled Nguyen assistance at the event. 

In her caption, An Nguyen wrote in response:

“It is the systematic structure of knowledge production that informs some of us that normalising non-aggressive discrimination is acceptable which needs to chang.e”

Picture above: Screenshot of the email sent by Raquelle Azran to An Nyuyen.

Re-reading these lines, I find myself turning to the suggested prompts. 

The phrases “No Problem, I understand.” “I understand.” “No worries, I understand” are written in inoffensive blue, padding the screen in discreet boxes. These are the outputs of an algorithm that likely recognised the phrases “sorry” and “cancel” in Azran’s email and generated the pre-written responses. I didn’t notice them on my first reading, which I assumed was due to my eclipsing outrage and identification with Nguyen. However, technology’s ability to evade suspicion is partly by design; input technologies like predictive text are built to optimise user efficiency, marketed as objective, neutral tools that serve only productivity. We are not meant to see any motive or meaning in them. 

In the bygone age of digital utopianism, Nguyen’s predictive text might be excused as a simple glitch. However, as theorists such as Ruha Benjamin and Saifya Noble have made clear, encoded  bias is part of a larger, and growing, industry of control. 

One case study Benjamin references in her book “Race After Technology,” (2019) explores the racial weighting behind selective encoding, citing how Google Maps read the name “Malcom X Boulevard” as “Malcom 10 Boulevard.” She explains how from an industry perspective, the translation of roman numerals is a feat, revealing the racial biases behind technological ideals of progress. As Benjamin writes, the glitch is not an “aberration, but a form of evidence illuminating underlying  flaws in a corrupted system.”  

Women of colour are often found in the intersections of oppression in the new digital world.

Saifya Noble

Noble opens her text “Algorithms of Oppression”(2018) with a Google search experiment she conducted in 2014, where she found the search terms “Black girls” “Latina girls” and “Asian girls” resulted in pornography pages, while then same is not found when searching “white girls”. Noble outlines that the prioritisation of racist and sexist content when searching for women of colour is not solely reflective of user-desire, but a product of bias engineering masquerading as objective coding.

Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. “Google has a Striking History of Bias Against Black Girls” From Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, ​Reprinted with permission by NYU Press, in TIME Magazine, MARCH 26.

The fact Nguyen’s device could interpret something as complex as human interaction but failed to recognise racism reveals what is categorised as valuable information. Nguyen’s exclusion is thus two-fold; the first at the hands of a gallerist who deemed her Asianness threatening, and the second at the hands of an algorithm that failed to recognise it. 

As Jennifer M. Piscopo eloquently outlined in last year’s blogathon, we are witnessing an age where women, and more-so women of colour, are receiving an onslaught of abuse online to the extent it is re-shaping what it means to be a woman in public life. Theorists such as Benjamin and Noble are building on this research, looking to the encoded systems that facilitate and reproduce oppression online. They encourage us to approach advancing technology with a critical eye, and refuse to greet the sexist or racist glitch with the predicted : “No problem, I understand.


Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race after Technology : Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Newark: Polity Press.

Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression : How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: New York University Press.

Zelda Solomon is a 4th year History of Art student at Edinburgh University. She is on the Edinburgh College of Art Board for decolonising the curriculum and was previously the Black and Minority Ethnic Liberation Officer for Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA). She co-founded the SexyAsiansInUrArea theatre company that recently released a short film on preforming Asian identity for RUMAH festival. She is currently focusing on how race is represented in the digital age. 

You can follow her on Instagram @zeldasolo

DAY THIRTEEN: A Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre: A Call to Action

While domestic and family violence is prevalent across Australia with a murder rate of one woman per week, there remains an absence of centres that offer support to women survivors over the long term. This post focuses on the establishment of a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, by the UNSW School of Public Health and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre and their partners.

Picture above: Flyer for the Photographic Exhibition #voicesforchange

Patricia Cullen and Sally Stevenson 

Domestic and family violence is a public health emergency and occurs in epidemic proportions in Australia. One woman a week is murdered. One in three have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. One in six have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. 

But what is so often missed in the reporting of domestic violence, the reporting of cold-blooded murders, of vicious assault, of long-term abuse – all acts of violence akin to crimes of war is what happens after. What happens over time, in the years and decades after the abuse has stopped, or the women and children have managed to escape their own private conflict zone. 

Vicki Roach – survivor and advocate. Photograph by Sylvia Liber. Reproduced by permission

Research shows – clearly and without doubt – that left untreated, the traumatic consequences of domestic and family violence can have lifelong physical and mental health consequences. They are significant, long lasting and evidence-based; impacting women, children, future generations, our community, our economy and ultimately, our country. 

Research shows – clearly and without doubt – that left untreated, the consequences of domestic violence result in increased rates of heart disease, diabetes and chronic pain, increased rates of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and substance use, and are overrepresented in prison.

Research shows  – clearly and without doubt – that it has a devastating impact on the development and wellbeing of children. 

But we don’t talk about that. And we certainly don’t provide adequate and accessible publicly-funded services that support women who continue to suffer the trauma and pain that the violence and abuse has embedded in their bodies and their minds – that remains long after the violent hands, the abusive and demeaning words and all the controlling behaviours of their intimate partners has stopped. We’d rather not think about it, we’d rather not pay for it, in fact as a society we’d really rather not be bothered about it. 

Women recovering from complex trauma and PTSD caused by family or intimate partner abuse require a range of support services depending on their circumstances: counselling, social support, parenting support, financial advice and support, and/or legal support. These services are most efficiently and effectively provided in one -safe- place, from a case managed team of professionals. 

There is no such service or centre available anywhere in Australia. 

There is nowhere in the public health system, or across the community service sector, where women can access integrated, comprehensive long-term support to recover from the health impact of complex trauma. 

And that’s why we – the UNSW School of Public Health and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre – with our partners are campaigning to establish a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre

This specialised Centre will offer a whole-of-organisation trauma sensitive approach that enables recovery from domestic and family violence trauma and helps to break the intergenerational cycle of violence. A range of holistic, and free, health, legal and psychosocial services will be provided. The Centre represents an investment that will provide significant financial and social returns to both the Commonwealth and NSW Governments, and the community. As a first of its kind in Australia, and designed to be easily replicated across the country, it will transform domestic, family and sexual violence response and recovery services

As part of our campaign during the 16 Days of Activism, we are holding a photographic exhibition: Resistance, Resilience and Recovery

‘Women resist violence, are fundamentally resilient – and have the right to recover from domestic and family abuse. We are calling on the community to support this right to recover.’

The exhibition is a community ‘call to action’ to support the establishment of Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre. The images here are from that exhibition, taken by award winning photographer Sylvia Liber.  

For more information, visit the Womens Trauma Recovery Centre’s website and Facebook

Dr Patricia Cullen is a Research Fellow and Co-lead Child and Adolescent Health Theme Early Career Fellow, at the National Health and Medical Research Council Population Health, UNSW. Sally Stevenson AM is the General Manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre.

DAY TWELVE: Violence Unseen Reimagined – arts activism in the time of COVID-19

When the pandemic curtailed the travelling exhibition Violence Unseen, the organisers had to reassess. And they re-imagined and ‘digitally painted’ the images onto cityscapes.

Jo Zawadzka

Violence Unseen Re-Imagined is an online photography exhibition that aims to put unacknowledged and often unseen forms of violence against women on the map.  

The images used in this exhibition were originally created by the photographer Alicia Bruce, then re-imagined and ‘digitally painted’ onto the city landscapes by the visual artist Szymon Felkel.  

Before the pandemic curtailed the Violence Unseen exhibition’s travels, it was displayed in around 40 locations across Scotland, and seen by around 2000 people.  

However, with COVID-19 measures forcing a mass shift to online campaigning in recent months, our travelling Violence Unseen exhibition has taken on new significance and moved online. The Re-imagined exhibition features the Violence Unseen images in public spaces to convey the message that, whilst often hidden, violence against women hasn’t disappeared. In fact, it has been exacerbated by the pandemic.  

The forms of violence against women featured in the exhibition are not new, but some groups of women are more vulnerable to certain types of violence. This is especially true for women who face other forms of discrimination, such as women with learning disabilities, women who sell sex, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans women, and minority ethnic women. Moreover, we know that lockdown has acted as an enabler for perpetrators and made violence against women even less visible to the public eye, making getting this campaign seen by the public, even more important.  

Alongside the re-imagined images, we will be sharing links to research, articles and projects to help to broaden understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women. I would therefore like to spotlight three of our images here, as examples of our informative campaign. 

Picture above: Diane by Alicia Bruce/Szymon Felkel. Reproduced by permission of Zero Tolerance

Our first image features Diane Abbott with the backdrop of the houses of Parliament. This image is a significant representation of Violence Against Women in Politics and Elections (VAWIE). VAWIE was extremely prevalent during the run up to the 2017 snap election in which 45.14% of all abusive tweets were directed at Abbott, largely focussed on her gender and her race, largely in the form of threats of sexual violence.

Understanding intersectional discrimination is essential to understanding Violence Against Women and Girls, the different ways violence is enacted, and the varied impacts it can have on people who are multiply marginalised. 

Picture above: Margaret by Alicia Bruce/Szymon Felkel. Reproduced by permission of Zero Tolerance

The second image I want to focus on is of Margaret, very powerfully superimposed onto a Princes Street bus stop. This image discusses disabled women and carer abuse. Disabled women are twice as likely to experience men’s violence as non-disabled women, and 73% of disabled women have experienced domestic abuse. This image is captioned “How are you supposed to get anyone to believe you if everyone thinks he is a ‘Saint’ because of how he helps you?”, emphasising how much abuse towards disabled women goes unseen, diminished, and un-prosecuted.  

Picture above: Mridul by Alicia Bruce/Szymon Felkel. Reproduced by permission of Zero Tolerance

Mridul Wadhwa’s image has been ‘digitally painted’ onto the side of the Scottish Parliament building, thus placing a trans, migrant woman who describes how she is seen by the world as “outsider everywhere”, straight into the political sphere. 83% of trans women have experienced a hate crime, whilst migrant women’s experience of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ can leave them more vulnerable to violence. This demonstrates another way multiple marginalisation can lead to increased exposure to violence. 

Visit virtual exhibition here

An accessible version can be found here

See also Day 10 Blog by Alicia Bruce

Please note that some of the content in this exhibition deals with sexual violence, abuse and exploitation which some people might find upsetting. Some of the women featured in the pictures are models. 

List of helplines for anyone who lives in Scotland is available here:

Jo Zawadzka is Campaigns and Engagement Office for Zero Tolerance, the Scottish charity that works to end men’s violence against women by promoting gender equality and challenging attitudes which normalise violence and abuse. Their work began in 1992 with a series of mass media campaigns designed to raise awareness and challenge attitudes about violence against women. Today their work continues to challenge the social attitudes and values which permit violence to occur. They take a practical, evidence-based approach targeting primary prevention of violence and promoting change. 

Throughout the 16 Days of Activism, Zero Tolerance will be sharing our seven images across their social media platforms. They will also be available for campaigning purposes – if you are interested in accessing their Violence Unseen Re-imagined resources, please contact Jo at  

You can find Zero Tolerance Scotland on Twitter @ZTScotland, and on Facebook and Instagram @ZeroToleranceScotland. Their website is

The photographer, Alicia Bruce can be found on twitter @picturemaking, instagram @aliciabrucephoto and her website at Szymon Felkel, the arts activist, can be found on instagram @szymon_felkel and at their website at