I must admit that being an usher at the CSW conference made it a little difficult to pay attention to every word from the speakers. Between helping people find their seats though, I made sure to pay attention to all of the great material that was being shared in each panel. The panel that stood out to me the most was the one on Best Practices to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, particularly when Sean Southey of PCI Media Impact (http://mediaimpact.org) spoke on the power of stories.
Often when people talk and hear about sexual violence, it comes across as heavy news involving lots of sad statistics. Personally, I feel a mixture of anger and helplessness because I have no sense of what I can do to prevent such occurrences. But providing information through a story can transcend the problem of comprehending hard facts. A story can provide a human face for people to experience and connect with someone that has had to face such violence. When a story can focus not on the suffering inflicted on these women but on their own resolution to overcome it with the support of a community, then a sense of hope can overcome the statistics. We can learn from the examples of these brave women that the horrors of sexual violence can be defeated, and actions can be taken to prevent further atrocities.
Yet such stories are not often heard in the current media. Movies and music often sensationalize violence; news programs use shocking headlines and reports to garner a larger audience. However, media doesn't have to be a negative influence. Southey gave the example of a telenovela called Simplemente María, which aired in Peru in 1969. The story described the trials of a single mother who worked hard to educate herself and start her own fashion business. The popularity of this show caused women around the country to enroll in literacy classes and take up sewing. This demonstrates the potential of media to bring about positive social change. Instead of glorifying the tragedy of sexual violence and injustice, it can be used to glorify the triumph of recovery and equality.
As consumers of various types of media, I think we should all pay close attention to the kinds of stories we listen to and share. Are we following stories that often focus on the horrors of violence against women? Or do we celebrate with the characters that overcome violence and discrimination? One of the ways I learned to be active in the prevention of sexual violence is by paying attention to the stories that I am listening to and sharing with those around me. We all can encourage each other to bring hope and solution to a problem that can often seem insurmountable.