Why my controversial Game of Thrones rape scene made me join the Sisterhood

by Sophie Turner, Actress and Patron | @SophieT | Women for Women International
Wednesday, 8 March 2017 08:00 GMT

Justine Mbabazi, Social Empowerment Manager for Women for Women International, explains the content of a job skills class to Sophie Turner, in a local primary school in Mubano village, Rwanda. WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL/Hazel Thompson (Supplied)

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I was angry that there is such a taboo surrounding rape and that depicting it on screen was seen as vulgar

Sophie Turner plays Sansa Stark in hit HBO television series ‘Game of Thrones’

The response from the Game of Throne viewers following Sansa’s rape scene last year shocked me. There was a huge reaction, and not a particularly positive one. People were boycotting the show, multiple articles were being produced online and it was a trending topic on Twitter.

At first I was angry. I was angry that there is such a taboo surrounding rape and that depicting it on screen was seen as vulgar. Sexual violence happens every day all around the world and yet for that to be represented on television, when other forms of violence are so often represented and more importantly, accepted and even welcomed in some cases, was considered disgusting instead of important. It made me think: why such a taboo?

My anger over the response then turned to excitement that the show had caused such a stir among the public and that a dialogue had been created; a dialogue that was very important. Although, I wondered why people feel so impassioned to speak out about a fictional rape when this happens all over the world every day? So unless we continually keep broadcasting people’s stories of sexual violence, then how else are people going to respond?

This is what made me want to get involved, and that’s when I came across Women for Women International, and how I ended up visiting their programme in Rwanda where women are still dealing with the aftermath of the 1994 genocide when over 1 million people were killed and the UN estimates that up to 500,000 women were systemically raped during the 100 days of violence.

What made me want to work with Women for Women International was the plan that they have in place for women survivors of sexual violence and war. They not only set out to raise money to help women support themselves financially, but they provide a year-long training programme to teach women business and life skills that will help them to rebuild their lives, helping them not just to survive, but to thrive.   

I met so many incredible women on this trip. To name a few; there was Grace who is a single mother of five who, through the saving skills she learnt through the Women for Women International programme, has been able to provide for her kids and buy two cows. She also started her own women’s movement, encouraging and helping women who have been in very similar situations to her.

There was Judith, a woman who runs her own textiles business making clothes and also teaching other women the same skills that she was provided with.  Another woman I met saved 500 francs ($0.6129) every week until she reached 100,000 francs ($122.59) and was finally able to buy herself a plot of land, again thanks to the saving skills taught through the programme.

A meeting of Women for Women International graduates who have formed a savings group in Shyogwe, southern Rwanda. WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL/Hazel Thompson (Supplied)

Meeting these women and hearing about how much a simple letter from their ‘sister’ on the other side of the world really meant to them and inspired them to get up and work and to know that they aren’t alone, that their stories are being told, was really life-changing. In a time where it seems a lot of focus is being placed upon domestic issues and concerns, it’s important that we draw some attention to the people who aren’t able to publicise the horrors that are occurring or have occurred in their own countries. It made me look outside myself. It was truly an eye-opening experience.

The women I met in Rwanda have inspired me in so many ways. They’ve shown me that no matter how bad a person’s situation can be, whether financially, emotionally, sometimes even physically; it is possible to heal and to get yourself back on track, through sheer perseverance and the power of teaching and friendship, it’s possible to do and become whatever you want.

As Patron, I’m going help raise awareness of the work of Women for Women International, share the stories of the women they serve, and the issues women and girls face globally.  Ultimately, I hope to help them build their network and raise much needed funds to help more women survivors of war.

For International Women’s Day, Sophie Turner, new Patron of Women for Women International – UK, is sharing the film of her recent trip to Rwanda here https://youtu.be/fShfOnaqMdw and urging men and women to join the global sisterhood to show solidarity for survivors of sexual violence and conflict. More information www.womenforwomen.org.uk