#16DaysofActivism: The No Means No Campaign in Bilbao

To commemorate the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, I want to share photos of a violence prevention campaign in Bilbao, Spain.

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Bilbao is the new Las Vegas

16 Days of Activism runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. The fifth goal of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is gender equality. These 16 days are meant to bring light to the violence that women and girls face around the world, solely because of their gender. Citizens, policymakers, and educators are taking a stand.

Around the globe, 1 in 3 women has experienced some form of gender violence. Like the rest of the world, Spanish women grapple with physical and sexual violence, and many activists have brought attention to devastating femicides. Read the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality’s 2015 Report on Violence against Women to learn more about gender-based violence in Spain.

Semana Grande de Bilbao

This past August, I visited Basque Country. Yes, this is same trip as the Pitbull incident. The day that Pitbull didn’t accompany us, friends and I went to Bilbao to see the last weekend of the annual celebration, Aste Naguisa.

Aste Naguisa is a 9-day festival celebrating Basque-ness. Political and neighborhood organizations set up tents.  In these tents, participants drink, play games, and see performances. Walking around the endless pedestrian-only streets we saw the organizations’ massive murals and artistic takes on pop culture, consumer society and world events.

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It’s the Basque spiderman
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There’s a lot of references going on here. The Basque Uncle Sam?
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Protest for Spain’s anti-protest law
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Play on consumer culture.

The narrow cobblestones streets were filled with overflowing tapas bars, street vendors and loud music. Those celebrating the festival wear purple scarves.

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The scarf the party goers wear

The protagonist of the festival is Marijaia, who, surprisingly, is burned to celebrate the end of the 9-day event. Marijaia means “lady of the party,” and she is meant to symbolize optimism and dance.

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Happy and dance-loving Marijaia here to say “hey!”

She comes in different shapes, forms, and versions.

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Marijaia even made an appearance at the Guggenheim cafe in Bilbao

The above photo was the first Marijaia I saw. At first I thought she was just a fun decoration. Then I realized her significance. Below is an example of a smaller version, seen in a shop window in the central distinct.

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Mini-Marijaia in the house, throw your hands in the air!

Marijaia was everywhere. But among the tents and crowds, I noticed a different version of her I hadn’t seen before. This Marijaia was purple, with a winking face with the words, “Egin Keinu bardintasunari” (Make an equality gesture) under it. At the bottom, it reads, “Ez beti da Ez,” or “no means no.”

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One of the posters of the campaign in the city center.

The campaign “Ez beti da Ez,” financed by the Bilbao Town Hall, had the support of 880 businesses located on the grounds of the event. The campaign distributed 700,000 napkins with the phrase, “¡Ez beti da ez; no es no. Insistir es acosar. Acosar es agredir¡” (No means no. To insist is to harass. To harass is to attack) to be placed in those restaurants.

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Some of the napkins I saw at a tapas bar I visited.

The directors of the campaign also distributed cards with emergency phone numbers and had a hotline available for people to report violence. Buses on certain lines throughout the city were also decorated to spread the word on preventing violence, and to provide information for those who needed to report.

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One of the buses in Bilbao’s center.

It struck me as impressive that the local government was able to make this campaign so visible. Everywhere I saw a billboard, a poster, a sign, a napkin. The message “no means no” was unavoidable. It was loud and clear, just as the campaigners intended it. Their goal was to make the event for all people and free of prejudice and violence of any form. Festivals are for joyous celebration, not for chauvinism and aggression.

As my friends and I joined hundreds of people circling around teams competing in traditional Basque games, I couldn’t help but notice a huge “no means no” sign behind the crowds.

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The winking Marijaia gives her message

I walked around the people as an announcer was speaking in Basque. When no one cheered when expected, she switched to Spanish and said, “So no one speaks Basque here?” As she continued, I saw a few girls holding a cutout. It was a giant, winking Marijaia with her face cut out. Festival goers could show their support for the campaign by inserting their faces in the sign.

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Traditional Basque games that were going on as I observed the cutout

For 16 Day of Activism, I celebrate this campaign. I celebrate the town hall’s creativity in associating a revered cultural symbol with consent and equality. Violence prevention efforts are more effective when they are continuous and consistent. I hope the campaign served to remind people to respect others. I hope that in case someone was in danger, the campaign’s hotline was there to help.

Do you also want to wink for equality?

On these 16 Days of Activism, I hope everyone takes a moment to understand the challenges women face around the world. Your education shouldn’t make you feel powerless, however. One of my favorite quotes is by Charles Dickens:

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of anyone else.

Each of us has a chance. A chance to lighten the burden of someone else. To step up for those who have been pushed down.

  • Read here for my tips on handling subtle micro-gender-based attacks, especially in the classroom.
  • Read here for tips on how to confront abusive language.
  • Read the U.S. Department of State’s blog on three ways you can participate in 16 Days of Activism. Your activism doesn’t have to end after the 16 days. Use this tips to be an advocate for human rights all year.
  • Read here for how you can help others by being at peace with yourself
  • Gear up to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8
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Feminism was present and vocal at the festivities

Featured photo: A mural at one of the tents


On Backpacking While Being a Very Hairy Woman

He looked down at the practically inch-long hair on my legs. I interjected the stares of the boy who was flirting with me in Ibiza and explained, “Yeah… I don’t really shave sometimes…”

To my surprise, he remarked, “Vello es bello.” Body hair is beautiful. Before I could respond, I almost started crying I was so happy. Someone who understands me! (Don’t get excited. It still didn’t work out.)

In my discussions on leg, map of Tasmania, and underarm hair, there has been him…and what felt like the rest of the world.

The encounter with my Ibiza admirer was night and day compared to the death stares I received while traveling Europe with Kimberly this summer.

In Cinque Terre, at the height (or length!) of my leg/arm/pub hair, I caught one man transfixed by the curly-q’s sprouting from my calves. While walking the Camino de Santiago, a friend of ours was clearly disgusted every time Kimberly lifted up her arm, exposing her underarm hair growth. That was pretty entertaining to be a party to.

(It is important to note that yes, because I was a tourist, I frequented tourist areas. This also may influence people’s opinions)

Why Are People Disgusted?

In February of 2014, I wrote an article on pubic hair, one of my most favorite articles I’ve ever written. In response to American Apparel’s use of pubic merkins, I posed the question “Will this year mark the ‘year of the bush?’”

That was over a year and a half ago. And clearly 2014 wasn’t. My experiences this summer in Europe with full-on hair taught me that 2015 hasn’t been either (hey, 2016… you out there?).

Needless to say, the opinions on the topic are many and varied. Geographic concerns no longer (if they ever did?) determine hair or no hair growth. In my experience, if you talk to anyone over 50 years-old (who hasn’t been to Europe), he/she will most likely believe that European women are ravenous, unkempt animals (as demonstrated by a facial gesture the speaker makes) who “just let it all go.”

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“How do make putting up a ponytail becomes an act of activism in one single step?” 1. Put up a ponytail.” Illustration by Rocio Salazar.

While people in the U.S. tend to view Europeans as hairy, turns out things stateside aren’t as clean shaven as assumed. According IU sex researcher Debbie Herbenick’s 2010 study on pubic hair removal patterns in the United States, only 12% of women aged 25-29-years-olds were hair free.

In a different hair removal study, researchers found that:

Europe-wide, 10% of women completely removed their pubic hair, 15% trimmed, and 75% left it completely natural. Women in Eastern Europe, France, and Spain are notorious for leaving their armpits and legs unshaved, and one can assume this also extends to the pubic region.

I’d like to know where those women are. Because I certainly didn’t see them.

Why would some women shave and some not? There are any number of reasons, some of them personal and others political (Hard to tell which is which. The personal IS political!).

Lizzie Crocker reports that:

But body hair remains a powerful weapon in the fight against patriarchal standards of female beauty, and removing it is still largely associated with internalizing misogynist ideals of femininity.

Hair removal thus becomes the visible and external demonstration of women deciding that they decide for themselves, not mainstream hetereonormative patriarchal society.

Illustrator Rocio Salazar’s collection ¿Y si no me depilo más?  (And if I don’t remove my hair anymore?) the artist challenges ideas of taking care of oneself, beauty, and cleanliness.

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“La mujer como la osa/Cuanto mas pelo, mas hermosa” (Like woman like Bear, More hair, more beautiful) Illustration by Rocio Salazar.

Her illustrations show a general support for not shaving, claiming its woman’s personal choice, and does not imply that she is ugly, dirty, or unwanted (Interestingly, Argentine researcher Karina Felitti makes the argument that to remove hair or not remove hair should be a personal choice. However, she notes that in some feminist circles, if you decide to remove hair, you become a slave to patriarchy and judged by other feminists. Felitti argues that this type of conflict creates a rift among woman and takes attention away from the real issues, such as equal pay, the right to decide, and violence).

What Does This Mean For the Woman Who Travels?

People who travel outside of the U.S. tend to remark how progressive Europe is, and how ignorant Americans are. But progressive in terms of what? Social policy (and a number of other topics), I would argue yes. But socially? Body acceptance? Our hegemonic standards of beauty cut across national borders. I can’t make any assumptions about the U.S. or Europe as a whole, but it seemed that no matter where Kimberly and I went, people weren’t entirely comfortable with our choice to not shave.

My reasons for or for not shaving/removing hair are more out of convenience than protest. That being said, the reason I am still okay with not shaving comes from my feminist education and understanding of why women are expected to shave. Therefore, when I don’t, I don’t find myself “unkempt” or undesirable. I am not afraid to go to the beach with a bush.

Removing hair hurts (although I am partial to waxing) and is time consuming. Generally, I would rather spend my time elsewhere than slaving away over my unruly hair and sensitive skin.

For a backpacker, this outlook makes things very convenient. Without stressing over hair removal, the female backpacker saves money, time, and is removed from shame and embarrassment of body hair.

Maybe the shower is too small or you don’t feel like shaving in cold water. Perhaps you’d rather eat a sandwich than buy a razor. Maybe, you are just tired and don’t feel like showering, period. No problem. Just don’t shave.

The trade-off?  One must be prepared for the stares and disgust that not removing hair might produce.

For me, it’s worth it.

What about you? What have your experiences shaving/not shaving while traveling been? How have people reacted?