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Images of Femicide Displayed to Prompt International Action

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A UN exhibit and seminar in Vienna marks a day devoted to ending violence against women. Alice Driver, whose photographs are included among the images, explains.

A photography exhibit opening in Vienna, Austria, is designed to raise awareness of crimes of femicide and violence against women and girls. For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 26, the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) is sponsoring the exhibit. Femicide is a term that addresses not only violence against women, but also the institutional structures and cultural attitudes that create extreme violence against women as well as and members of the transvestite and transgender population. 

As Claire Laurent, one of the organizers of the event, explained, “Femicide is growing all over the world, and these crimes often remain unpunished, which not only intensifies the subordination and powerlessness of women and girls, but also sends the negative message to society that male violence against females may be both acceptable and inevitable. Therefore, we need to show with these photographs that femicide is an unacceptable crime.” 

The exhibition is being held in conjunction with a symposium on femicide that brings together experts such as Diana E. H. Russell of the United States and Ranjana Kumari of India to discuss the issue and measures to prevent femicide. At the end of the symposium, the Vienna Declaration on Femicide, a document aimed at taking action against femicide, will be presented to the audience, and member states and other relevant actors will be invited to sign the document.

The photography exhibit includes work from South African Jodi Bieber, El Salvadorian Lisette Lemus, Argentinean Walter Astrada, and Paula Bronstein of the United States. Beiber was a finalist for The Women of the Year in the Media Awards in South Africa in 2011, and her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Lemus has worked as a photographer at the leading Salvadorian newspaper El Diario de Hoy since 2002, and was named journalist of they year by the El Salvadorian journalists association in 2003. Astrada is currently at work on a long-term project analyzing specific acts of violence against women on each continent (for example, sex selective abortions in India). Bronstein is a senior staff photographer with Getty Images, and her photographs in the show “Stolen Faces: Acid Violence in Cambodia and Pakistan” display intimate portraits of victims of acid violence. 

The UN exhibit includes artwork from artist Diane Kahlo of Kentucky. Kahlo recently exhibited miniature portraits of more than 350 missing and murdered women and girls in a show titled “Wall of Memories: The Disappeared Señoritas of Ciudad Juárez.”  The exhibit also features several photos that I took in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, while conducting femicide research there.

My photos reveal bleak landscapes like Lomas de Poleo, a poor neighborhood on the northwest edge of Ciudad Juárez where many bodies of femicide victims have been discovered. One photo shows a series of pink crosses erected in Lomas de Poleo by the families of victims of femicide. Ciudad Juárez photographer Julián Cardona had taken me along the deserted roads of Lomas de Poleo, explaining how the remains of women, of lives, of clothes, and of trash were often left in those territories.  “Lomas de Poleo is surrealist,” he said at the time. “The bodies of those girls were abandoned along this road. Here you could find entire families searching for things among the trash.”

The UN exhibit highlights the ways that institutional structures and cultural beliefs contribute to cycles of violence against women, but it also aims to educate audiences about how to prevent such violence.  When speaking of the goals of the exhibition Laurent explained, “We hope that it will prove that femicide is a serious crime and that member states and individuals will take action against femicide in the future.”

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