Representations in the media form a really big part of our lives. On the one hand, they act as a mirror that reflects back to us what our society looks like. On the other hand, media can be used as a way to construct what we would like to see in our communities, in a hope to inspire change.
Gender-based violence (GBV) and its impacts unfortunately continue to be a universal part of our existence and, as such, are often drawn on for inspiration when creating art, books, movies, podcasts, and more.
Personal experiences and reflections of GBV presented in all forms of media can help amplify awareness of the issue, as well as highlighting the solutions and action we need to see from leaders, policy-makers, and everyday citizens to help promote and protect the human rights of women and girls.
And there is absolutely no shortage of media we can turn to learn more about gender-based violence in all its different forms, the harm it causes, and solutions to help eradicate it once and for all. So whether you prefer laying on your bed with a good book, lounging on the sofa in front of an action-packed movie, or stealing away moments to listen to your favourite music or podcasts, there's something for you.
Not sure where to start? Here are some powerful and informative books, podcasts, songs, and more inspired by the fight against GBV that you should absolutely add to your list this year.
1. GBViE Podcast by UNICEF
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) started a podcast in 2020 on GBV for the purpose of emergency prevention, response, and risk mitigation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and mandated lockdowns.
UNICEF’s mandate is to address the long-term needs of children and women in developing countries and this podcast provides guidelines for integrating GBV interventions in humanitarian action. The site on which the podcast is based has toolkits, training modules, and even resources to aid recovery, promote resilience, and reduce risk.
2. 'I Am All Girls'
Based on true events, I Am All Girls is a South African-based Netflix original film released in 2021 starring veteran actresses Hlubi Mboya and Erica Wessels. A compelling thriller directed by Donovan Marsh, it showcases the harsh reality of corruption in South Africa and brings to light its role in perpetuating sex trafficking.
The story is set in South Africa against multiple timelines — 1994 and present day — and follows a relentless detective (Wessels) who finds common ground with a killer (Mboya) targeting the perpetrators of a powerful child-trafficking ring. Read more about the movie and how it shines a light on human trafficking in our breakdown here.
3. Big Little Lies
Book and Series
An HBO series with an all-star cast based on the best-selling book by Liane Moriarity, it can only be Big Little Lies. The riveting series is seen through the lives of three mothers, whose seemingly perfect lives unravel to the point of a murder. One of these women, Celeste Wright — played by Nicole Kidman — is abused by her rich, picture-perfect husband behind closed doors, and we watch as she tries to navigate living in an abusive relationship.
What made this dark dramedy resonate with the audience is how it dealt with the issue of domestic violence, and how it helped to make viewers realize that GBV is universal — it can happen to any woman anywhere, despite wealth, social standing, or race.
4. 'The Color Purple'
Book and Movie
The Color Purple is one of those stories that transcends mediums. It was originally an epistolary book by Alice Walker published in 1982, winning a Pulitzer Prize the following year. It was then presented as a feature film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985 starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. The Color Purple made its theatrical debut as a musical on Broadway in 2005 and was even staged at South Africa’s Joburg Theatre in 2018.
It tells the story of two African-American sisters, who live in the rural southern United States in the 1930s with an abusive father. We witness their lives from Celie’s point of view — the older stepsister — as she is sexually assaulted by him, impregnated by him, and then forced into an abusive marriage by him.
According to notes compiled by South African theatre producer Bernard Jay in the 2018 production playbill, the book addresses a number of issues such as the sisters' low position in society at the time and the problems they faced with accessing education.
The novel itself has been targeted frequently by censors. It is number 17 on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 because of the explicit content in terms of violence featured within it.
5. 'Dirty Laundry' by Kelly Rowland
Former Destiny’s Child vocalist Kelly Rowland released a song in 2013 with this title that is so befitting of its subject. The single was released on her album, Talk A Good Game and revealed that Rowland had endured GBV in a previous relationship.
“Started to call them people on him
I was battered
He hit the window like it was me until it shattered.”
Rowland shared her personal story through this track, produced by The-Dream, and how she endured this abuse for a decade in the shadows of the music industry.
6. 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'
International best-selling author of The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini is no stranger to writing gut-wrenching stories about violence. In his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini explores domestic relations in the context of Afghanistan at war. The plot follows a woman named Mariam who was born in the 1950s, and another young woman, Laila, born in the 1970s. These two women's lives intersect and we witness the global and regional power struggles that impact their lives.
The “unwanted” Mariam (by society’s standards) is married off by her father to a man 30 years her senior and soon her husband’s critical nature becomes abusive. He then marries Laila and is abusive towards her and her child. The women attempt to take their children and flee but under the rule of the Taliban, it is illegal for women to leave their husbands. This story is as compelling as it is heartbreaking, with a through-line of the characters' remarkable resilience.
7. 'Madoda Sabelani'
Former South African Idols contestant, Lloyiso Gijana (known as Lloyiso) recently signed to New York music label Republic Records and Universal Music Group South Africa, joining the likes of Drake, Ariana Grande, and The Weeknd. Lloyiso rose to stardom through the covers of songs he would make and post on his social media pages.
In June 2020 Lloyiso released a song about femicide that he composed himself, titled “Madoda Sabelani” — which loosely translates to “Men Must Answer” in isiXhosa. He revealed that the song was written in memory of his friend Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was murdered at a post office in 2019. The song is also a tribute to all women in South Africa who continue to endure GBV and it became widely shared on social media shortly after its release.
8. 'Sex For Grades'
This is a BBC Africa documentary that looks into sexual violence allegations at universities in Nigeria and Ghana. The universities highlighted in the documentary came under scrutiny after being implicated in a wide range of sexual harrasment claims spanning years. Sex for Grades explores these accusations, which include blackmailing students for better grades, investigating sexually suggestive comments made by lecturers, and grooming.
BBC Africa Eye — a division of the BBC that does current affairs investigations on the continent — sent undercover journalists posing as students into the University of Lagos and the University of Ghana in order to capture evidence of sexual harrasment accusations. While eye-opening, this documentary comes with a trigger warning to viewers who may be sensitive to such explicit content.
9. 'How Come, How Long' by Babyface
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds teams up with Stevie Wonder in this song that speaks to the bystanders of abusive relationships. “How Come, How Long” is also an encouragement to survivors of domestic violence, reassuring them that it’s okay to speak out about their experiences.
Even though the song was released in 1996, it is still very relevant to the context of modern day relationships. Wonder sings in the second verse, “She even blamed things on herself”, highlighting how frequently victims of GBV are blamed, either by society or themselves, rather than the perpetrators.
10. 1 in 3: What Does It Take for You to Be Outraged?
The name of this exhibition is derived from global GBV statistics. According to the the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 3 women globally will face sexual or physical GBV in her lifetime.
In response, the World Bank developed a multi-dimensional art exhibition raising awareness about GBV and partnered with visual artists from across the globe to display the body of work interpreting the WHO’s statistic. Some of the artworks from the exhibition, which was opened to the public at the Passarelle at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in 2016, can now be viewed on the internet.
Artists and their art include; “Bullets'' by Lella Essaydi from Morocco, “The Bleeding House” series by Marko Maetamm from Estonia, and an “Ode to Women'' by Beatriz Meja from Colombia.
11. 'Spotlight: Justice for Women' Podcast Series
A podcast series from the Wilson Center, Spotlight: Justice for Women explores GBV and the obstacles women encounter when they seek justice. It also examines why the violence continues, the attitudes towards (and correlation between) gender and violence, and what policymakers can do to help women live freely and safely.
The first part of the podcast series puts a spotlight on Latin America, as one of the regions with the highest rates of GBV in the world. You can listen to Spotlight on several streaming platforms including SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.