On 10 December, International Human Rights Day, I went to an event held in the Burmese migrant community to start off the annual global campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The stalls were run by local organisations, including mine, with support from international partners – iNGOs like the IRC and donors like USAID – and there were crowds lined up waiting to play games like ‘throw the bucket on the can of coke’ or ‘stick the pink post-it on the wall’. The main draw card of our stall was to pick a question out of a hat like ‘It is ok for a husband to beat his wife sometimes. True or false?’ then – if you get it right – you get a tub of jelly and a packet of chips! It was kind of like a cheap, slightly warped amusement park with a social justice theme, and no rides.
Everything was in Burmese so I found it all a bit disorienting. At around 3pm I wandered over to the plastic chair area where some teenagers from my organisation were gathered, half-watching a blaring outdoor rock concert that was playing at the front. I sat down and watched them open their ‘showbags’, filled with things like booklets on Healthy Sexuality. As the girls flipped through their booklets, a Thai pin-up babe in short-shorts and a red bra was jumping around on the stage discharging erotic ‘yip! yip!’ noises into the microphone at regular intervals. I had a funny feeling this might have been the entertainment highlight of everyone’s week.
On Monday, back at the office, I noticed that my work friend TT was looking tired. When I asked her how the rest of the stall had gone she let out a dark, bemused chuckle, rubbed her temples and told me that a few men had got the questions on domestic violence wrong. What do you do with that? Shame them in front of the rest of the line? No pink post-it note for you? Where to begin?