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.
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.
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.