We're still here!

We know it's been a long, long time since you've heard from us. We've done doing a lot of healing and growing in the mean time.

In particular, we've learned about how accumulated experiences of GBV can result in PTSD. We encourage anyone who is struggling under the burden of frequent GBV or who thinks they might have PTSD to practice self care and seek the support and care of friends, chosen family, community, and mental health care professionals. 

Another way we've grown is that we've continued to learn about the complexities of how GBV functions in our world. In response to the brilliant work of trans and non binary activists--including this article called 3 Common Feminist Phrases that (Unintentionally) Marginalize Trans Women by Luna Merbruja--we've updated some of the language on our site. If you have further improvements that you'd like to suggest--in particular we're interested in improving our inclusivity and knowledge of mental health--we'd love to hear them!

As always, check us out on Facebook if you're interested in being a part of our community.

 

Learning Curve

I think some of you might be confused about why BOPM hasn’t yet published any daily observations, the main event that we keep promising to deliver to you and that we believe has the power to shake up the normalization of GBV.

We’re on a steep learning curve as BOPM is still an itty bitty teeny little baby organization. We’re impatient for change, but real change requires patience. Thus, we’ve slowed down the pace.

To give more people across the world a chance to participate as a daily observer of gender-based violence for BOPM, we’ve done away with the time lines that we had originally set. Now, we’re asking our volunteers to record their observations of GBV for 30 consecutive days, regardless of the start date. We’re searching the globe for people who want to share their story in the hope of shaking up the normalization of gender-based violence.

If you or someone you know would find this experience empowering and fortifying, then please start recording those observations and sending them to us at bopmovement@gmail.com.

Remember, it doesn’t matter what day you begin to record your observations as long as you record for 30 days straight so that we can demonstrate our day-to-day struggle with patriarchy.

For more information about how to record and submit a daily observations, you can check out our Get Involved page.

With love and power from the BOPM team.

Our Philosophy

BOPM is working to cultivate empathy for the daily grind of living in a patriarchal society and to create a supportive community by providing a platform where people can share their daily experiences with gender-based violence. Our ultimate goal is to put an end to the normalization of gender-based violence.

Intersectionality

We recognize that not all people who experience GBV share the same experiences. Some of us are cis, some of us are trans, and some of us are nonbinary. Some of us benefit from white privilege and some of us are systemically dehumanized and oppressed because of our race. Some of us benefit from class privilege and some of us do not. Some of us are disabled. Some of us are queer, bisexual, and/or gay. Some of us are married, some of us reject the institution of marriage, and some of us are legally denied access to marriage. Some of us have children. Some of us live in East Africa, and some of us live in Western countries. Some of us are living in our hometowns or in places with familiar cultures, and some of us are living thousands of miles away from our homes in cultures where we are outsiders. We are all of different ages and perceived ages. We are all of different nationalities. And we are so many other things as well.

All of these aspects of our identities and many more impact how we experience the realities of living in a patriarchal world. Thus, the purpose of The Burden of Proof Movement is not to tell a single story about this experience. Rather, we exist as a platform where people around the world can share their own stories, and all of our participants are encouraged to explore through their daily observations how their multiple and sometimes even conflicting identifies impact their experiences with patriarchy, gender-based violence, and rape culture.

Sources of Inspiration 

We owe so much to the generations of feminist and womanist activists and thinkers who came before us who have made great advances not only in policy and law but also in public perception and philosophy (here’s looking at you bell hooks). We are so grateful that today there is a rich feminist community online that provides critical commentary of our patriarchal society at every turn.

We love projects like Everyday Sexism and Surviving in Numbers because they allow people to share their personal stories about singular incidents of GBV that have happened to them. This “Academic Men Explain Things To Me” Tublr allows users to describe an instance in which they've experienced mansplaining in academia and very effectively portrays how pervasive patriarchy is within academia. Hollaback! is another great platform designed to track street harassment. The sheer number of people who share their stories on these and other similar websites indicates just how pervasive GBV is in our society and also that there is a demand for people to share their stories about their experiences with GBV. We share the same goal as these and other similar projects: to put an end to the normalization of gender-based violence (and ultimately stop the violence itself) through sharing our personal stories and helping others share theirs.

Describing the Daily Grind

The reason why we decided to go ahead and start the Burden of Proof Movement even though amazing similar projects already exist is because we wanted to create a story-sharing platform that communicates the daily relentlessness of gender-based violence. We love that there are outlets for people from all over the globe to write about one-off instances of GBV that have happened to them. However, we wanted to create an outlet that would allow people to share what happens to them every single day, to demonstrate how the relentless of GBV can build up stress and wear you down over time. So, we ask our participants to record their experiences with GBV every single day for an entire month, and then we will publish those observations on our website. We also ask people who do not experience GBV on a daily basis to write reflection pieces on what they learn from reading through the daily observations that we publish.

We find that it’s usually easy to explain why one-off instances of GBV such as rape and sexual assault are egregious violations, but it’s more difficult to explain the daily relentlessness of GBV. It’s difficult to communicate that a stare is never just a look, a “Smile, baby!” is never just a catcall, and a brush against the thigh is never just a simple touch. Rather, the stare, the catcall, and the touch are the most recent violation in a long, long list of previous violations and a reminder that this is our position in life: we are dehumanized and our bodies are treated as public property day in and day out. It is only by recording our experiences with GBV on a daily basis that we can begin to communicate how the accumulation of these incidents (no matter how big or small) over time affects our sense of security, our mental state, and the way we live in society and relate to other people.

Collective Action 

Our intention is not for BOPM to in any way divert attention from the other GBV story sharing projects. Rather, we created BOPM to be a tool to be used by the groups and individuals that are already doing the hard work of fighting the normalization of GBV. We’re providing what we hope is a healing activity for people to engage in together and a platform where people can share their perspectives, deepen their analysis, and join with a global community of others who are doing the same. We truly believe that the only way we’re going to be able to create a world in which women, nonbinary, and feminine-perceived people are treated as people and our bodies are no longer used as public property is by joining forces with the other people around the globe who share our goals. 

Empathy Building

Empathy is one of the strongest agents for social change. If we can truly understand and feel the experiences of another person, then it is natural for us also to want to help that person. Due to the insidious nature of oppression, however, empathy can be really difficult to cultivate across privilege gaps. Institutions of privilege and oppression such as racism and patriarchy are so ingrained in our societies that it can be difficult for those with privilege to recognize when oppression is happening or when they are benefitting from privilege. Thus, even for the people who want to empathize with others, it can be difficult for them to do so.

Thankfully, storytelling is empathy’s closest friend and ally. By employing personal story telling, we can cultivate empathy even when it is difficult to do so. We hope that by communicating the daily relentlessness of GBV, we can help people who do not share this experience understand the psychological weight of it. In doing so, we will be cultivating empathy and thus inspiring others to take action and to take one step closer to ending to the normalization of gender-based violence.

Cultivating Community

 Another critical element of our philosophy is that we’re not just a project--we’re a community. Since no one on our team had web design experience, our original plan for building the BOPM website was to hire a web developer who would transform the content that we fed her into a website. As we began this rather isolating process, however, we realized that the most important part of BOPM is the supportive community we’re developing, not necessarily the website itself. 

Fresh from this realization, the BOPM team agreed that we wanted to build the website ourselves all together as a collective. Thus, instead of the website building process for BOPM looking like one of us working with a very far away web developer, the process became 5 women piling into a borrowed office during a weekend work retreat. We have great hopes that by choosing to use this kind of collaborative creation process, we set into motion the foundation for a global community of support, strength, brilliance, and collective liberation. We want people across the world to know that they are not alone as we create a better and more equitable world together.

The Website

Inspired by Beyoncé's kick ass all female band, The Suga Mamas, we built the Burden of Proof Movement as a collective of badass women.

Photo source: On The Gig

Photo source: On The Gig

Our contributors have many differing circumstances that impact the way we each experience patriarchy, rape culture, and gender-based violence. What brings us together is that we're all committed to documenting how we experience patriarchy, rape culture, and gender-based violence every day for a full month and helping others do the same so that we can engender empathy. Our common goal is to help document the daily relentlessness of gender-based violence, rape culture, and patriarchy and to engender empathy for the daily experience of living within a patriarchal society.

Volunteers will keep a log of their experiences with GBV each day for a month, and we will make sure that the log is somewhat clinical in tone to ensure that the BOPM website never feels like a laundry list of complaints or man-hating and instead reads like a body of evidence. The who volunteer as daily observers of GBV may also choose to write about what the process of observance is like because the process, while fruitful, is not easy. 

We're trying to build a movement that has the staying power of other awareness months like Eve Ensler's V-Day and November's Breast Cancer Awareness month, so as we carry BOPM into the future, we want to maintain the strong iconography of the practice of reserving one month of the year for recording daily observations of GBV.

Beyond being a place to publish daily observations of GBV, we hope the website will grow to include to many different kinds of documentation including lists, narratives, poems, songs, audio recordings, videos, and even visual art and photography. Thus, this website will also serve as a forum for related conversation. We hope to have regular contributors as well as guest bloggers.

We already have a handful of male volunteers who've reached out to us about their interest in and support of BOPM. They will carefully read the daily observations (the pieces of "proof") as they are published on the website and then post their reflections and lessons learned.

Our goal for this first experiment in GBV storytelling is for 20-30 volunteers across the globe to chronicle their experiences for 30 days. That's 600 pieces of "proof" at a minimum. We hope that the sheer volume of stories published on this website will help to shed light on the gender-based violence that is made invisible through normalization.

We also hope to have an active social media presence on Twitter and Facebook, and we look forward to watching the #BOPM hashtag develop as a participation tool for those who aren’t officially publishing on the website.

Why "Burden of Proof"?

The Legal Definition

The idea behind the legal definition of burden of proof is that the accuser must bear the burden of providing evidence because the person on the side assumed to be true, normal, the default, or innocent—and within most legal systems around the world everyone is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty—is generally not required to provide evidence. For example, in the case of a burglary, the suspected burglar is not required to provide evidence that he/she did NOT commit the crime. Rather, the person who was stolen from is required to provide evidence that the suspected burglar is the one who committed the crime. The victim must sway the court away from the default position—that the person being accused is innocent—and to his/her position—that the person being accused did indeed commit the crime. In other words, the victim bears the burden of proof. 

In a patriarchal society, rape culture and gender based violence are the norm. Thus, within patriarchal societies the burden of proof for calling out gender-based violence lies with the people who experience it. Making our duty as the ones obliged to provide the evidence for gender-based violence even more difficult is the fact that, as women and other gender minorities, our voices are already devalued. In spite of all the evidence that we provide, we might still be asked, “What did you do to ask for it? What were you wearing? Can’t you just take the attention as a compliment?”.

Male Privilege to Ignore GBV

People with male privilege often have the ability to ignore or not notice gender-based violence. I often hear men agree that rape and sexual assault are egregious crimes, but I find that it’s more difficult to explain to men what it’s like to be subjected to the daily relentlessness of the smaller, more normalized acts of gender-based violence that women, feminine-perceived people, and nonbinary people experience daily, like a stare or an unwelcome hand on the thigh. How can I describe that in the moment of feeling an unsolicited hand on the small of my back, it does not feel like a simple touch? Rather, in that moment, I’m reminded of all the other times that I have been violated because of my gender; I’m thinking about how the vast majority of rape is committed by men and I’m feeling extremely unsafe because, even though most men don't rape, I never know whether the man who just touched me is a rapist or not; I’m wondering whether this moment is a sign that the man will continue making advances because he clearly believes that my body is public property for him to enjoy as he wishes; and I’m reminded that tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, and every other day that I wake up I will continuously be treated more like an object than a human.

That's where the Burden of Proof Movement comes in, to provide a linear narrative of the daily grind of living in a patriarchal society. I believe that the first step in fighting patriarchy is for more humans to begin seeing gender-based violence for what it is—the structural and systematic dehumanization of women and anyone perceived to be feminine or nonbinary—rather than allowing it to disappear into the background of normalcy. Thus, here we have gathered to present our burden of proof, our body of evidence.

The Internalized Normalization of GBV

Gender-based violence is so normalized that even people like myself who experience it frequently often do not remember or notice when we’ve experienced gender-based violence. At an early planning meeting for BOPM in a café in Kigali, we started our meeting by recounting to each other our “highlights of the week”, our attempt at bringing a little levity into our recounting of our experiences with gender-based violence. I animatedly told the story of a man who came up to me while I was on a moto, rubbed my bare leg (I was wearing a skirt), and then pranced away with a goofy yet malicious grin on his face. The experience was maddening and dehumanizing, but it felt good to laugh about it with the group of brilliant, powerful women who could commiserate. Once it was her turn, one of the members of our group said that she was sure something had happened to her that week, but she couldn’t recall it because for her encounters with patriarchy were just so normal.

Here’s what a typical BOPM meeting looks like. We make sure to have a lot of fun while fighting the patriarchy. I especially like this picture because I (pictured on the right) am unintentionally sitting like a man, refusing to shrink myself as girls and women are taught to do.

Here’s what a typical BOPM meeting looks like. We make sure to have a lot of fun while fighting the patriarchy. I especially like this picture because I (pictured on the right) am unintentionally sitting like a man, refusing to shrink myself as girls and women are taught to do.

I can relate. Several months ago I came across this blog post written by a biologist in which she chronicles a list of the major instances of gender-based violence that she's experienced over the course of her life and explains how these instances impact the way she interacts with men today. While the post was somewhat triggering, I also found it oddly comforting. It conveys an important message to women that we're not alone, and it also conveys an important message to men to help them understand the experiences of women. The biologist's list got me thinking about the contents of my own list of experiences with gender-based violence, and I sadly realized that, while a handful of particularly egregious experiences of gender-based violence do stand out in my memory, the vast majority of times when I've experienced gender-based violence have faded away in my memory in the same way that all the times that I've brushed my teeth have faded: our brains tend not to catalog the normal, daily routines that happen to us regularly. The Burden of Proof Movement intends to document these many forgotten moments so that we can all become better equipped to call these experiences out for what they are: violence, dehumanization, and denigration of anyone or anything feminine. I'd like to shed light on the invisibility of the norm by speaking its truth. It is only by being able to recognize the problem that we can begin to address it.

HERSTORY: Rwanda's Women of Grace and Courage

This April marks 20 years since the tragic and horrific genocide in Rwanda, where over one million people were brutally murdered and hundreds of thousands of women and girls were violently raped and sexually violated in the span of only 100 days. To pay our respects to those who perished and to honour the resilience of those who survived and have even thrived, we want to share some deeply moving words from the First Lady Jeannette Kagame, featuring the personal stories of individual women survivors of gender-based violence during and after the conflict. We salute these women of grace and courage, and we will champion the mission of BOPM in their honour, and in the honour of all GBV survivors around the world. 

*Content warning: Graphic depiction of violence

To all the women who bore the heaviest burden of our history

By Jeannette Kagame, First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda

As we close this special month dedicated to women in Rwanda, and prepare to mark the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, I wish to pay particular tribute to the valiant Rwandan women who have borne the greatest burden of our history.
In 1994, our country stared deep into the depths of human cruelty that knew no bounds. Rwandan women who survived the genocide saw this horror and went through an immeasurable anguish. They witnessed a nation and its people robbed of dignity. The lights of too many of our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives were extinguished amid the debris and despair. Theirs are stories too agonizing to tell, too painful to recount.
Suzanne, you were 58 years old then, when you fell victim to one of the most heinous weapons of war: rape. Yours was not a singular instance of pain and humiliation, as interahamwe militia systematically killed your family and neighbours.
You were raped day in, day out until you lost consciousness. Suzanne, you were stripped bare of all humanity and dignity and incapacitated in every way. You could neither sit nor stand, or go about your daily chores. You could not even respond to nature’s call!
Josephine, you survived the waves of killings in ’59, ’63, ’73. But in 1994 your seven children and husband, who should have been a part of your future and not your past, were cold-bloodedly ripped from your loving arms.
Yolande, you were hunted down day and night, and made a choice no mother should have to: to separate with your children. In fear of all of your lives, you decided that, in order to increase your chances of survival, your niece should hide your three precious children.
But when your niece returned towards the end of the genocide, all alone, the sight was too much to bear. Yolande, you were put in a dilemma too difficult for us to understand.
Rose, you cradled your teenage daughter, Hyacinthe, as she died in your arms at the St. Famille church. Her budding life snatched away at the behest of a notoriously brutal Roman Catholic priest who continues to preach unabated in different parishes in France. Rose you left before seeing justice exacted, but rest assured your death has not been in vain.
Sonia, every April you are haunted by the image of the man who was shot in front of your four year-old eyes. You could still feel his blood spilling on your face. After seventeen years of concealing your trauma, trying your best to be brave, you broke down and suffered from post-traumatic stress. Your loved ones stood firmly by you; they were willing to go to any lengths to see their little girl fight this disorder.
Diane, you are now at university, but the same man who raped your mother, raped you when you were just five-years-old. Your body continues to suffer the consequences of that ill fated day; you do not know if you will ever bear children of your own.
To those of you whose loved ones were mercilessly flung in the rivers, I cry with you as you lay tributes of petals in solemn recall of your dear departed ones. For those who may never find your beloved ones, nor have any place of remembrance or solace, my heart reaches out to you.
To those who have refused to release their pain and shed tears, standing instead with courage and resilience in support of your brothers and sisters. I pray that you will one day find peace and closure.
To those of you who still live, having lost so much: I appeal to you not be discouraged by the naysayers, the deniers of the genocide and revisers of our history. Do not allow them to define who we are. Do not allow them to reopen your wounds.  Do not allow them to recreate our heroes. Do not allow them to rewrite our history.
To the true patriots of this nation let us remember those whose lives were robbed; let us unite for a better future; let us renew our faith in humanity.
To the unsung heroines, I salute you for bearing, with such incredible grace and admirable strength, the burden of our horrific history.
As Rwandans prepare to Kwibuka for the 20th time, I thank you Suzanne, Josephine, Yolande, Hyacinthe, Rose, Sonia and Diane for personifying generations of women who have shouldered the burden of tragedy and the unimaginable challenges that ensued. I salute you and all my Rwandan sisters, for standing strong in the face of adversity, for coming out hopeful, resilient and dignified.
If you have not given up, how can we?

 

Our Origin Story

Several months ago, I experienced three instances of gender-based violence (GBV) all within one hour of each other:

1. While on my way to the main bus station in Kigali, Rwanda, I was in a motorcycle accident because a car full of teenage boys attempted to gain a better vantage point from which to heckle me by recklessly speeding around and cutting in front of my motorcycle taxi. My moto driver had no other choice than to run us into the back of the teenagers' car, and we fell into the deep gutter beside the road. As I crashed into the filthy concrete, I could hear the jeering of the boys and see their heads leaning out of their car window to get a better look at me.  

2. Once I had finally managed to get my bruised body onto a bus, the man seated next to me insisted on "helping" by offering that I could sleep on top of him. When I refused, he forcefully grabbed my arm and pulled my torso onto his lap. He did not relent until I told him “no” repeatedly and yanked my arms away from him.

3. The man sitting behind me on the bus repeatedly stuck his hand into the crack between the back of my seat and the seat cushion so that he could touch me without my consent. Each time I turned around to confront him, he’d pretend he hadn’t been doing anything.  

Here’s a typical view of Nyabugogo, the main bus station in Kigali, Rwanda. You can see that the space is full of men, and the bustling crowd makes it easy for these men to get away with acts of gender-based violence. Photo credit: Allie Gates

Here’s a typical view of Nyabugogo, the main bus station in Kigali, Rwanda. You can see that the space is full of men, and the bustling crowd makes it easy for these men to get away with acts of gender-based violence. Photo credit: Allie Gates

After these experiences, I knew I had to do something to help me convey to the men in my life what it's like to experience every single day the saddening, angering, and frustrating relentlessness of gender-based violence, rape culture, and patriarchy because I believe that it's only through empathy and true understanding that we can begin to chip away at these harmful and pervasive power structures. So, I did what a lot of us usually do when want to broadcast a message widely: I posted on Facebook.

This is the Facebook post that launched BOPM.

This is the Facebook post that launched BOPM.

When I shared the story of what happened to me that night with my friends, I didn't want to hear, "I'm sorry about what happened to you that night! That's so terrible!". Instead, I wanted to hear, "Rape culture has got to go," because for me and for so many other women, that night was only the most recent in a long, long list of all the times when we have been dehumanized because we are women. The experience made me want to join forces with some of my female friends and document our daily experiences in a way that could help the men in our lives understand our daily reality.

Thus began The Burden of Proof Movement (BOPM). I was amazed by the positive reception that my Facebook post received. Within just a few hours of my posting on Facebook about my experiences on the bus and hinting at a little baby idea about a gender-based violence storytelling project, I was juggling email, text, Facebook, in-person, and phone conversations with people all over the world who were pushing for this idea to be inclusive of all people and to become a reality. I received an early morning message from Janet Karemera who was full of ideas and excitement about how BOPM could work in Rwanda for Rwandan women. Katie Carlson messaged me with unabashed enthusiasm, and within just a few hours of mentioning the potential of a story telling project in a tiny little Facebook comment, Katie and I had come up with a name for the project.

As I continued sharing my experiences and my desire for some kind of gender-based violence story telling project with acquaintances and friends through Facebook, email, and word of mouth, the idea grew into a movement that spans East Africa, the United States, and beyond. The only reason that BOPM exists today is that a multitude of people, both men and women alike, latched on to the idea of using daily storytelling to address the normalization of gender-based violence and gave the idea shape and momentum. In particular, the BOPM founding team—Janet Karemera, Katie Carlson, Jenn Lee, Aissata Traore, Carolien Vis, Jackie Mujawimana, and Kristin Roha—as well as early advice from Jina Moore and Diana Iglesias have made BOPM possible. Additionally, I’m amazed by how many feminist male allies have approached me with encouragement and with the desire to contribute. I am humbled and encouraged by these men, and it is their speaking out that has made the male reflections that you will soon see published on this website a reality.