In the Fight against Gender-Based Violence, One Picture Can Tell a Million Stories

June 2, 2014


Stella Damasus' movie on gender-based violence will be screened at the World Bank as part of the "1 in 3" exhibition.

@Dasan Bobo/World Bank

  • Seven artists from around the world, whose work is part of “1-in-3”, a new exhibition curated by the World Bank Art Program, took part in a panel discussion on the role art can play in fighting gender-based violence
  • Nollywood star Stella Damasus spoke passionately about the need to break the silence about violence against women.
  • As in other regions, gender-based violence is widespread in Africa, especially in areas affected by conflict.

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2014 –Seven artists from around the world gathered recently at the World Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss gender-based violence and the role art can play in tackling the epidemic. "Let’s not ask the specialists today. Let’s ask the artists," said Ian Bannon, a social development expert in the Africa Region of the World Bank, when introducing the panel.

Stella Damasus, a Nigerian actor, singer, and producer, spoke passionately about the need to break the silence about violence against women. “Sometimes, in order to challenge apathy, you have to look for trouble,” she said, as she explained her motivation for producing “When it is Enough,” a short film inspired by a true story:  the tragic death of Stella’s best friend, the victim of an abusive husband.  

Damasus is banking on the influence of NollywoodNigeria's young and booming film industryto help change social norms in Africa. She believes in the power of television and films to help raise taboo subjects, break barriers, mobilize support for change and shape views and perceptions, especially among young Africans.

The Nollywood star deplored the fact that on screen, “women are always the victims, the ones who cry, the weak… and our boys grow up believing it is okay… ” She urged the creative industries to rethink the messages their music, films and videos convey, and to start focusing on more positive female role models.

" Sometimes, in order to challenge apathy, you have to look for trouble "

Stella Damasus

Nigerian actress


The World Bank hosted a panel discussion on the role art can play in fighting gender-based violence. From left to right: Marina Galvani, Art Curator, Hanifa Alizada, Stella Damasus, Maura Misiti, Jutta Bezenberg, Ian Bannon, Francisca Valenzuela, Sakale John, Rana Yaseen, Maria Correia. 

Violence against women in Africa

Worldwide, 35% of women (one in three) are subject to violence over the course of their lives.

As in other regions, violence against women and girls is widespread in Africa. Its many forms range from domestic and intimate partner violence, to sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and, trafficking.

The statistics are shocking. A global study by the World Health Organization found Sub-Saharan Africa rates for intimate partner violence to be above the world average of 6.4%. The highest prevalence is in the Central African sub-region (65.6%) and in the West African sub-region (41.8%). Rates of non-partner sexual violence are also much higher than the global average of 7%, with the highest prevalence recorded in the central African sub-region (21.1%) and in the southern African sub-region (17.4%).

Behind these numbers, are millions of African women, trapped in violent situations; deprived of property rights; denied access to education and training, and consequently to economic opportunities. In countries affected by conflict, violence against women and girls hits epidemic proportionscompounded by weak, inexistent or ineffective security and judicial systems, and the resulting climate of impunity.

Moved by the plight of abused women and girls around the world, Marina Galvani, the World Bank Art Curator, organized the exhibition “1 in 3” as a visual companion to the hard data on gender-based violence presented by the World Bank and other development partners. “Art is giving voice to the silent. Art is bringing to light the unspeakable,” she said.

Changing Social Norms

One by one, the artists explained how their work transcends language and culture and ease communication on this painful topic. Sakale John, a painter from Papua New Guinea said he conveys his messages about women’s rights through art in a country of seven million people who speak 800 different languages.

Half-way around the world, in Afghanistan, Hanifa Alizada uses photography to question gender roles in her society. “It is easier said than done,” commented Maria Correia, the World Bank's sector manager for social development in South Asia, who co-chaired the discussion panel. Correia pioneered a number of initiatives against gender-based violence and believes it is imperative to scale up this kind of work. 

A few World Bank projects are beginning to address the problem, notably a new project in Eastern DR Congo which will presented to the Board of Directors in late June. The Great Lakes Emergency Sexual and Gender Based Violence & Women's Health Project will be the first of a series of programs funded by the Great Lake Initiative launched by WBG President Jim Yong Kim and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during their historic joint visit to Africa in 2013.

At the Opening Ceremony of “1 in 3” the night before, Damasus shared the stage with the other artists and World Bank senior managers in a moving recital of monologues. Titled “Wounded to Death”, the monologues are of women victims of gender-based violence written by Italian playwright Serena Dandini. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim hailed artists as “critical agents of change.”

Stella Damasus expressed interest in supporting the World Bank’s efforts to give a voice to women and girls and fight gender-based violence. “I hope that ‘1 in 3’ is just the beginning. So much more can be done through art and education. We must all get involved and we should not spare any effort,” she said.