HAVANA TIMES, March 8 (IPS) — Violence against women is not a subject that one would normally associate with comic strip books, but a French publisher thought this would be a “perfect” medium for raising awareness among both young and old.
The result is “En chemin elle rencontre …” (On the way, she met …), a collection of comic strip stories edited by Marie Moinard, director of the small publishing company Des ronds dans l’O, and a cartoonist herself.
In association with human rights group Amnesty International France, Moinard officially launched the second edition of the book here Monday, ahead of International Women’s Day.
The event brought together cartoonists, an outspoken French singer, a psychiatrist who treats victims of violence, and artists who support women’s rights.
“The book comes from the humanist conviction and the fierce belief that the incidents of violence must stop, and that equality between men and women must be respected,” Moinard said.
Known as “bandes dessinées” or BD in France, comic books enjoy a popularity that cuts across “age, gender, class and skin color,” Moinard said. As such, the medium can be used to sensitize readers about serious and difficult issues.
The title of “En chemin” is drawn from a French children’s song that tells the story of a girl meeting four boys while out on a walk. Each of the boys touches a different part of her body, with the song implying that the girl enjoys the violation. A verse states that “men are pigs” but that “women like pigs”.
“This is a song that children sang at holiday camps,” said Muriel de Gaudemont, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International France. “I used to sing it myself, and it illustrates the mentality that women are somehow to blame for the violence that they suffer.”
This mentality is one that the comic strip book hopes to transform, she told IPS. The book looks at rape, verbal aggression, domestic cruelty and other kinds of violence, and clearly shows the consequences for women. But it also outlines women’s legal rights, alongside the thought-provoking images.
“The portrayal is discreet, not voyeuristic,” de Gaudemont said. “It’s not for people who want to see the horrors in graphic detail. Things are more evoked than shown graphically. We see the trauma that women suffer – the depression, the nightmares – as a result of violence.”
De Gaudemont said that violence against women is one of the “greatest scandals” in the area of human rights.
“Everywhere in the world, women are too often the victims of humiliation, rape, mutilation, murder or lack of access to healthcare,” she stated. “In France too there is still much to be done.”
One of the book’s sections is based on the lyrics of a disquieting song by the rising French singer Agnès Bihl, who gives voice to subjects often considered taboo.
Titled “Touche pas à mon corps” (Don’t touch my body), the song deals with incest. The story it tells is illustrated in red and black by artist Nathalie Ferlut, with readers being made aware of the impact on the child.
At the launch of the comic strip book, Bihl performed the song in a way that touched the audience, both through the lyrics and her delivery. The “narrator” is a child begging the father she loves to stop what he’s doing.
“I am a woman and I’m fighting for women’s rights,” the 36-year-old Parisian singer told IPS. “I don’t want to be neutral because I’m very much aware that I’m in the minority of women on this planet who have freedom of expression.
I want to use that freedom.”
She said it was an honor for her to be part of the comic strip book project because the subject of violence against women and girls needed to be brought into the open.
“Children should know that incest is not normal,” Bihl said. “We need to make this subject less taboo. It’s a terrible thing to experience incest, and it’s also terrible not to be able to talk about it.”
She said that each time she performs the song, there are individuals who approach her afterwards to talk about their experiences. She told IPS that two children who had listened to the song recently revealed to their mother that they had been abused by their father.
“For people who have lived through this, I want them to know when they hear the song or read the bande dessinée that they are not alone,” Bihl said. “And for people who haven’t experienced incest, they should know that it could happen in their families.”
Among the 24 artists (12 men and 12 women) who contributed to the comic strip album, Congolese cartoonist Pat Masioni produces a story that evokes the horrific violence against women in Central Africa and other parts of the continent.
Masioni depicts a character called Maya who undergoes verbal and physical abuse. The last box of his strip is black, to represent the death of dignity that Maya suffers.
“With her, I want to pay homage to all the anonymous women in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who are alive and dead at the same time, victim of the shameful violence that exists in the world,” Masioni stated in his introduction.