What I Learned About Violence, Gender Equality, and Myself Through a Global Design Challenge

Image Credit: WDO

Last week, Friday, marked the end of the Generation Equality Asia-Pacific Design Challenge organised by World Design Organisation (WDO) and UN Women Asia-Pacific (UN Women APAC).

The design challenge brought together over 100 participants from 29 countries to identify human-centric, solution-based design initiatives to address the issue of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG/VAW).

Six teams worked virtually with Subject Matter Experts and Design Facilitators to address critical challenge statements that promote behavioural change to reduce violence against women. My team’s focus was on how to transform the double-edged nature of the media to positively influence audiences.

It was the first time for UN Women APAC to use a design-thinking methodology. Our team spent many late nights (or early mornings) to work on our solution. We held empathy interviews, created persona profiles, brainstormed big ideas, and worked on the storyboard to present our ideas.

My team’s virtual whiteboard on Mural. We worked remotely across multiple time zones. Whew!

Within a short time, I learned so much that I can now talk about the subject for hours on end (if I wanted to).

I’ve done my best to distil the learnings into six key lessons. The last three are lessons I learned about myself:

  1. I have indirectly, unintentionally contributed to violence against women and girls.
  2. The media needs to step up in ending violence against women and girls.
  3. Violence can be non-tangible, and very few people understand that.
  4. I still have so much to learn…and it excites me!
  5. I can dedicate a lot to the cause.
  6. I am capable of a lot more than I credit myself. Than others credit me.

I have indirectly, unintentionally contributed to violence against women and girls.

Most of us do it to some extent, and it’s not exclusive to men and boys. Women, including those that believe they are empowering women, do it too. We perpetuate gender stereotypes when we tell someone to “have some balls” or “be a man” or “act like a lady”.

It’s because of the deep-rooted patriarchy that each generation inherits. It’s because the right information is not as accessible to us. In contrast, misinformation is frequently distributed by people that don’t know any better. Gender inequality drives violence.

The lack of education paired with misinformation hinders progress towards reducing it. There is hope, though. We can change. Break the cycle. There is evidence. And a generation that is more socially-aware than past generations. This is not to say that we should be holding Gen-Z responsible for being the sole agents of change. Everyone is accountable for ensuring that we achieve gender equality. Gender equality is a human right, and you are human, am I right?

The media needs to step up in ending violence against women and girls.

This includes content creators, curators, publishers, and consumers. We all need to be held responsible for our actions (and inactions). This means more sensitive reporting and less sensational reporting, like putting the spotlight on the perpetrator rather than the traumatised survivor. Below is a Ted Talk by Jane Gilmore on how the media can better report violence against women and girls.

Learn how to properly report violence against women and girls.

Marketing agencies and marketing teams should also invest in “femvertising” — advertising that uses pro-female talent, messaging, & imagery to empower women and girls. Did you know that brands that are more diverse and inclusive in their advertising earn more profits, improve brand reputation, and increase brand trust & loyalty? Why not tap into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds to get the job done?

With their ‘Women Acknowledged’ campaign, PPS, the largest financial company in South Africa, took stereotypes against women and repurposed them in favour of their professions.

Government officials should also implement policies to encourage more positive use of the media to end violence against women and girls. The only way to create systemic change is to start with a top-down approach. Violence is not an individual problem, it is a societal problem. A problem sometimes enforced by the media, like the romanticisation of rape in movies, TV shows, romance novels, and more.

Violence can be non-tangible, and very few people understand that.

Even people that believe that they are progressive aren’t aware of how violence goes beyond domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment. It can be psychological like when a husband refuses to give his wife an allowance. He already pays for the essentials and believes she doesn’t deserve it. He thinks, “She signed up to be a housewife, so she has no right to complain when I don’t give her enough money to treat herself or none at all.”

Violence against women and girls is fundamentally about power — male entitlement. Repeat this as many times until it’s deeply embedded in your psyche: GENDER INEQUALITY DRIVES VIOLENCE.

Do you participate (actively or as a bystander) in any of the following?

  • “Honour” Killings
  • Female Genital Mutilation / Cutting
  • Forced / Child Marriage
  • Catcalling / “Eve” Teasing
  • Gender Stereotypes
  • Patriarchal Beliefs
  • “Mansplaining”
  • Acid Attacks
  • Having Sex with an Incapacitated Woman — that’s rape!
  • and the list goes on…

If you answered yes to any of the above, you are normalising and contributing to the violence. Please, stop.

I still have so much to learn…and it excites me!

Although there’s still much to learn, I won’t stop advocating for gender equality because it’s an issue that not only affects women and girls but everyone else as well. Women make up almost half of the world’s population, yet we aren’t well-represented in certain areas, especially in Asia. There isn’t enough diverse representation of women in the media, in leadership positions, and in some industries. The day I stop speaking up when it calls for it, is the day I take my last breath.

I can dedicate a lot to the cause.

There was one particular day where I had difficulty getting out of bed. I just wanted to sleep the day away, but when I thought about the challenge and the impact of my contributions, I knew that I just had to get out of bed. It was a good lesson on the importance of doing work that intrinsically motivates you to keep pushing even when you feel like you’ve run out of energy.

If even on your worst days, what you do doesn’t get you out of bed, then you don’t love what you do. You don’t believe it’s worth the fight.

No amount of money can replace the experience I had throughout the two weeks. Like the rest of the participants, I was not getting paid to do this. I volunteered my time and energy. I feel whole knowing that I had the opportunity to leverage my experience, knowledge and skills for a good cause.

I am capable of a lot more than I credit myself. Than others credit me.

For some people — especially those that have seen me on the “front lines” — they see someone confident and kickass when pitching to a client. The reality is, I have my days of just feeling absolutely insecure about myself especially when I experience a series of negative events.
This experience has shown me that I am more than capable of holding my own surrounded by people that have better academic credentials than I do and people that are in better positions of privilege. Because of my lack of an undergraduate or post-graduate degree, I often feel like I’m not enough — especially when I look for work. It feels like a slap in the face when minimum requirements disregard my years of work experience and place more importance on a piece of paper.

During the 2nd week, we did a virtual privilege walk to help us develop self-awareness and improve how we design for different levels of privilege.

The acknowledgements that I received throughout the process were very uplifting and much needed, especially after presenting my team’s work to everyone else. I am honoured to have learned from and worked with a combination of amazing designers of various disciplines, subject matter experts, educators, activists, scientists, researchers, artists, and all-around remarkable human beings.

Overall, it was such a humbling and rewarding experience, and I would definitely do it again. With the challenge over, I’m excited to see which ideas go into the next phases of funding, sponsorship, partnership, and implementation.

I’ll leave you with these beautiful words that were shared with us during the closing of the two-week challenge. They made my heart swell (and my eyes tear up).

“Design should always meld the head and the heart. And I’m emotional in this moment because I think we saw this done brilliantly in these last two weeks. Violence is a constant, sadly, across the planet. Hopefully, the more we talk about it, the more we’ll have positive change. You know, 40-years ago when I did the Empathic Elder, there were many in the design community who thought I lost my way because clearly, I wanted to be a social scientist and not a designer. But what we saw today is the very fact that you cannot separate empathy from great design. I’m glad that I had male champions in the beginning — Raymond Loewy, Bill Moggridge, Victor Papanek, Hartmut Esslinger. If these champions of design hadn’t supported my work, I’m not sure empathy would be at the heart of design as it is today. So I’m so touched. I’m always flattered by the title of “Mother of Empathy”, but it’s a delight to wake each day — even at 4AM — when we get to do such positive, impactful work. So, I hope this is just the beginning of a long association. I’m glad you found me and I’m honoured to have served. And I’m delighted in every moment of this experience. Thank you all. Brilliant work.”

— Patricia Moore, Pioneer of Universal Design & Gerontologist

“Seeing you today, I’m just so deeply humbled. There is an observation that I hope you’ve been aware of and if not, I would like to give you credit by just naming what’s happened. You realise (I hope) that you have been designing for social transformation in the future by engaging in a very meaningful, personal change process in the present. That is the nature of what you’ve just accomplished here. Through the last two weeks, your discussions, your research, your interviews, your debates — this is all what it means to engage; to undertake social change and you have been right at the heart of it. You’ve been touched. We can see that. We can see that through all of your hearts. Putting yourself right out there, into the work. And that’s not a touch that can be undone. You’ve been touched and what I want to share with you is that we now have this set of responsibilities, both individually and collectively, to take what we know now further. Because we, in fact, only have the excuse of ignorance once — on any given dimension of the issue — and we now know much more about violence against women. We have the obligation to take this forward.

— Wenny Kusuma, Country Representative of UN Women Nepal

These wonderful human beings that organised, facilitated and participated in the design challenge.

#GenerationEquality Advocate • Sales & Marketing Manager • Writer • Filipina Third Culture Kid • www.lingualaura.com