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BEV HOFFMAN AND THE WALL OF HOPE: A leading project concerning violence against women (VAW)

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Bev Hoffman, the Director of Human Rights Film Focus Nepal (HRFFN) and a human rights activist, has been hard at work in Nepal. His initiation with the Wall of Hope Campaign is now one of the leading projects concerning violence against women (VAW).

The Wall of Hope campaign is a project where the HRFFN team reaches out to schools and various other institutions where they would create a wall which helps spread the message on it: “Say No to Violence Against Women”. There, the participants can paint their hands and leave an imprint on the wall after taking an oath, stating that they will not support violence of any kind against anybody. During this campaign, students are shown documentaries relating to VAW. Documentaries, such as ‘A Girl Rising’ and ‘Sari Soldiers’, are screened for the audience as well. Till date more than 400 schools have participated in this campaign and have collected more than 10,000 hand prints of the participants. Recently they have developed a petition where they ask the students and staff of various other organizations to sign a petition saying that they would not stand the gruesome act against women.

“I see HOPE in children and with the WALL OF HOPE I want to share this mutual feeling with the world someday” says Bev, and we hope that day is not too far away. We talk to him and find out more.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS FIELD? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ACTIVITIES YOUR ORGANIZATION HAS DONE?

I was among those people who always knew that something wrong is going on, but was unaware how brutal the situation was. I was working with related organizations and institutions but was oblivious of the intensity of pain women and children were going through. The figures were staggering. United Nations say that one in three women are going to be sexually or physically assaulted in their life time. When you look at Nepal, 20,000 thousand women are being trafficked to India every year. Knowing all these facts, staying put at one place wasn’t an option; it was a human emergency that had to be addressed. Hence, here I am!

As a part of our human rights program, we have done multiple issues in the past four years and plan to continue that effort! Here, we introduce various films at our film festivals which circle around the issues of women: domestic violence, child abuse and Kamlari to name a few. After our last film festival, which was a week-long human rights festival, we decided that this issue needed even greater attention. Hence, we decided to go full force. As a result of that, we started the WALL OF HOPE campaign in November, 2013!

WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE THE WALL OF HOPE CAMPAIGNS EXISTED?

Like I said, I was into a broad range of work. I was working in covering multiple issues, conducting festivals in schools and bringing programs to schools. Mostly we used to conduct human rights films screenings in different schools and institutions. Before that, I was living in the United States and was involved in similar works.

WHAT IS THAT ONE THING OR INCIDENT THAT REALLY MADE YOU AN ACTIVIST?

We were well aware of the individual stories within Nepal, but I am motivated by something closer to my heart. My own step-daughter went through a traumatic experience a long time back and it has intensified my focus that much more as it has always remained in the back of my head. It is an event that makes my heart heavy, but it has helped keep me going on. In one of our movies they showed a story about a woman who was raped and harassed during the war. That movie also moved me emotionally. As time passed by I learnt a lot of things regarding women violence. So, I have to say ample amount of experiences and incidents made me a human rights activist today.

WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND THE WALL OF HOPE’S INCEPTION?

We started the Wall of Hope campaign after one of our film festivals. The venue was at Yalamaya Kendra and there, at the location was a huge wall. While the audience was enjoying the movie we were preoccupied by the wall. We started thinking of ways to make use of that wall and this idea just struck us. We rushed out to get some pens and papers and then we did the mock of the initial wall of hope there. People came out after watching the movie, some of them were very enthusiastic about tracing their hands and filling it with comments. So we looked at it throughout the week and that’s how it all started. In the next film festival catered to the young generation, which was called Half the Sky Film and Art Festival, we integrated the Wall of Hope into our schedule.

One thing I had learned via all the previous festivals and events is that young students did not have knowledge concerning gender issues, harassment and violence against women. So during that festival we dedicated significant resources to go into schools and start the campaign. The outcome was so powerful that we continued the movement even after the festival. We didn’t have any idea that we would be approaching schools throughout the year. We had decided to keep moving forward till March 8th, International Women’s Day, but we liked the idea so much that we are still doing it.

HOW MANY SCHOOLS HAVE YOU VISITED TILL DATE? AND WERE YOU INVOLVED IN ANY OTHER EVENTS?

We are estimating that over 400 schools will participate in the movement in different forms. We don’t have complete information on that because we need to reorganize the data. Another event that we organized was Girl Power Conference and after that we supported another event which was conducted by CWIN Nepal. In the event, we had girls from 40 districts and we supported them by providing flexes and DVDs so that they could go back to their home town and share it with the rest of the people there. Now, everywhere we go, we look out for walls. Most of the time we did it consciously but now it has turned into a habit. Recently, I received emails from students saying that they organized a Wall of Hope program in their schools/ institutions along with photos of the event. I would like to believe that this campaign has stirred some sort of feeling in many people.

In November we started another campaign called ‘Stop Violence Against Women’ for 16 days. We launched the movement just to get the walls up in the community. Several organizations got involved in this campaign including the Australian embassy, United Nations and a few health clinics.

When you look at Nepal, 20,000 thousand women are being trafficked to India every year. Knowing all these facts, staying put at one place wasn’t an option; it was a human emergency that had to be addressed. Hence, here I am!

WHAT IS THE MESSAGE THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO SEND FROM THE WALL OF HOPE CAMPAIGN?

By putting these walls as well as posters in the public areas, we want to send a message to the people that violence of any sort is not acceptable. The idea is to send a message that loudly and clearly says that this social evil must stop. We want the community to know that the women of the society will not accept this kind of brutal behavior against them.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORKING IN A DEVELOPED COUNTRY AND WORKING IN A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY LIKE OURS?

Violence against women is everywhere. According to the UN’s statistics every nine seconds a woman is assaulted. Where I come from, domestic violence increases during football season. Men vent their anger onto women after their teams lose. This is a form of domestic violence in my country.

In colleges and universities the data collected shows that one in five women is raped by male students in the campus. Here men enjoy their privileges as the laws are not well implemented. When they are charged, their punishment is not equivalent to the heinous crime that they have committed. Here, many people are not aware of the laws which do exist in Nepal. For example, many people don’t even know that spousal rape exists and that they can say no to sex. So the differences that I see in these two countries are not much. VAW exists everywhere but the only difference that I would see is the law enforcement. In developed countries the retributions are implemented by following strict law and order where as in Nepal the citizens are not even aware of them.

WHAT HELPS IN BRINGING ABOUT A GOOD CHANGE IN THE SOCIETY?

If you are working in this field, you cannot expect for change to happen in a short period of time. To bring about a change which is for the welfare of the society, one needs to build a lot of patience as these things take a lot of time. When we go to schools for the Wall of Hope campaign, we tell students to think like a marathon runner who is in for the long haul.

When I look into the audience, I find hope there. I find hope in the younger generation who are willing to get involved when they know the issue, when they get some education and when they get into action. You never know who is going to be the next Malala. All these are signs of healthy changes.

Photo: Jenish Rajbhandari

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