* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Among several strategies to empower women, art is one approach for treating survivors of sexual violence
By Rebekah Curtis
ISTANBUL (TrustLaw) - Worldwide, women battle patriarchal systems daily to own what is rightfully theirs, be it their right to land or household finances – as highlighted by delegates at the world’s largest global women’s rights conference in Istanbul this week.
Yet when it comes to women and girls who have suffered sexual violence, the property they often strive to reclaim is their own body.
So how can women regain a sense of ownership over bodies that have been physically and emotionally shattered?
Among several strategies to empower women, discussed at the International Forum of the Association For Women’s Rights In Development (AWID), art is one approach for treating survivors of sexual violence.
“Women who are victims of sexual violence cannot embrace and celebrate their bodies,” Alma Quinto from the Philippines, co-founder of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that uses art to rehabilitate abused women and girls, told TrustLaw at the conference.
“They see their body as fragmented, they consider it as dirty. They do not own it, they have no control over it,” said Quinto, who has worked with survivors of sexual abuse in the Philippines, Japan and South Korea.
For women who struggle to talk about abuses they experienced, it can be easier to express themselves through creativity, said Quinto of the NGO House of Comfort Art Network (ARTHOC).
But in the Philippines, stigma deters abused women from asking for help, she said.
“It's difficult if there is no support from the local government in terms of shelter or temporary refuge and if the woman victim still sees her abuse as an issue within the confines of her home and that outside intervention is not needed,” she said.
But, she added, as women garner more information and support from NGOs, the media and government social agencies, they assert their rights and fight for justice.
Through her “House of Comfort Art Project,” she teaches women to create miniature houses out of scrap materials.
“These women… need a refuge, a shelter, a comfortable place,” said Quinto, adding that in real life a house can be a prison or a comfort.
“We learn our basic values at home but it is also there that abuse takes place,” she said.
But through art, Quinto is helping women and girls to build up more positive experiences in their minds, she said. The hope is that then, bit by bit, they can once again feel in control of their own bodies.
“As their art becomes bolder, colorful and definite, their self-esteem improves,” she said.
“As they become creative, they can mold and reshape their lives, put colors into their grey existence.”