These T-Shirts bearing positive messages were hung out as a part of Mary Seacole Hall’s ‘Clothesline Project’, which is now in its fifth year. The aim of the project is to encourage survivors of rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence and honour the memories of those who have lost their lives to gender-based violence, while simultaneously raising funds to further the fight.
UNSTEADY ankles protruding from the broken down backs of high heels wobbled around the UWI Mona Ring Road last Thursday, as a group of men marched 'A mile in her shoes' against rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence. Accompanied and supported by women, the group of over 30 men from The University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts tried their best to balance in heels as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with women who are affected by these issues.
Among the group of brave men was renowned Jamaican actor and lecturer at Edna Manley Owen “Blakka” Ellis, who gave the introduction on the front lawns across from The UWI's Assembly Hall, then proceeded to take the cumbersome lap around the Ring Road in his granddaughter's stilettos.
“I am feeling pain,” he related to All Woman halfway through the march. “But I think it's an important symbolic act for us to take part in as men, to say to our women folk that we feel your pain, we empathise with your reality, and we're prepared to do whatever it takes to destroy the monster called sexual harassment, violence and rape.”
He was quick to add, however, that walking in heels was just the first step.
“It's a very important thing to do, but it can't just end with us making the walk,” he said. “The walk is just an important first step to a larger conversation that we need to have in Jamaica. I believe strongly that men follow men, so we need to engage other men to ask what we can do to stop this, because men are the main perpetrators. If we can make this walk then we can start the talk that will lead towards action that will make a change and transform society.”
His colleague in the entertainment industry, Glen “Titus” Campbell also took bold steps in heels to honour women.
“I've always felt as if gender-based violence is an issue that hasn't been given enough attention, and anything that I can do to help raise awareness to the issue, then I'm all for it,” he said seriously, before wailing dramatically that his feet hurt. “It nuh pretty at all. Ah gone about 50 yards, and me nuh know if me ago make the mile, but me a go.”
Dr Adwoa Onoura, a lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, said initially it was very challenging to organise this event because of the stereotypes surrounding the wearing of heels.
“But heels were actually invented by men for men during the Persian war because they wanted to mount their stirrups and stay in them to ride their horses during battle,” she pointed out. “A lot of people aren't aware of that historical fact, so they base their ideas off what is happening now in the context of the contemporary movement that heels are women's apparel. So it was very challenging because men don't want to be associated with walking in women's shoes because they believe that somehow that is attached to their sexuality or their sexual orientation.
“But as time went on we managed to sell the idea to a few brave men. A lot of these men here today are walking in heels because they know somebody who has been affected by gender-based violence and sexual violence, in particular rape,” Onoura said.
Halfway into the march, several men could be seen walking barefoot with heels in their hands, while others came prepared with more comfortable flat shoes for when their untrained legs gave out. Still, another set, either out of personal taste or inability to acquire heels in their sizes, walked the entire mile in ballet flats, bedazzled slides, or fashionable flip flops.
Matthew Anderson, a student from Edna Manley, remained committed to the task despite the discomfort.
“I don't think there is any circumstance where violence against women, sexual assault, or harassment is ever right, and given the fact that it's so pervasive in our culture and around the world, I thought that it was important to show that I am against that kind of behaviour.”
He felt as if a few moments of pain in his ankles was nothing compared to what women go through every day.
“It's very symbolic and a really powerful gesture because this is something that women do on the regular. It is a very powerful tool for empathy — literally putting yourself in the person's shoes,” he said.
Nadeen Spence, student services manager of the only all-female hall of residence at The UWI, the Mary Seacole Hall, said she has wanted to bring the walk to Jamaica for a while, but the men at the time weren't very keen on the idea.
“So when “Blakka” said he wanted to do it I said, 'Yea, I'm willing to partner, but you have to get men out',” she shared.
'Walk a Mile in Her Shoes' is an international movement which began in 2001 with a small group of men in a park, and has become popular in many countries for raising awareness of rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence. This is the first time the event was being held in Jamaica.