UBC Reports
October 16, 1997

Dirty laundry displays compelling message

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

A tumble of multi-coloured T-shirts, paint brushes and felt pens litter the floor of the Women Students' Office (WSO) as small groups of women huddle over their work.

They are preparing exhibits to be shown Nov. 6-10 in the gallery of the Student Union Building (SUB) for the Clothesline Project, an international effort aimed at raising awareness about violence against women.

"It's a simple concept," says Kathryn Pedersen, counsellor in the WSO and one of the project organizers. "A clothesline on which women can air out society's `dirty laundry' -- things we don't talk about like sexual and physical abuse."

Each T-shirt carries symbolic messages about the creator's experience with violence. Shirts are colour-coded to represent different types of violence: pink or red shirts are associated with sexual assault, blue or green with child abuse and white or black shirts signify violent death. The shirts are then hung from a clothesline to create a visual statement about violence against women.

The WSO is holding a series of workshops that provide not only materials for shirtmakers but also a supportive environment in which to create them. Workshops are facilitated by WSO counsellors and provide time and space for women to create their own shirts in the company of other survivors.

"We want to honour both the survivors and victims of violence. This project helps women break the silence about what happened to them, supported by other women," says Pedersen. "And if we can increase awareness, that helps build a personal and collective responsibility to stop violence against women."

Over 1,000 people stopped to view last month's Clothesline Project display on SUB plaza and it had a strong emotional impact on students, Pedersen says.

"We have a book full of comments describing this year's show as amazing, shocking, brave and disturbing. Many students said they were unaware of the incidence of violence and thanked us for bringing the issue out in the open."

One in four women on campus reported that they have been sexually assaulted or raped according to a 1995 survey of UBC students conducted by sociologist Dawn Currie, chair of Women's Studies.

UBC is the first Canadian campus to participate in the international project which started in the U.S. in 1990.

The next project workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 28 at the WSO in Brock Hall. To arrange an individual session call the office at 822-2415.