On her grant to South Africa, Lora Lempert (standing,
left) introduced The Clothesline Project, a display on individually
created T-shirts that illustrate the personal stories of
women's experience with violence. The Clothesline is a popular
program among American women's groups.
Sociologist Lora Bex Lempert, a grantee to South Africa from
the University of Michigan-Dearborn, addressed another social
issue important to Africans-violence against women.
Lempert was awarded a research-lecturing grant to look at cross-cultural
violence and to teach in the Women's and Gender Studies Program
at the University of the Western Cape.
In the course of discussions with colleagues and students at
the university, she mentioned The Clothesline Project, a popular
program among American women's groups that builds a public display
of individually created T-shirts to illustrate with words, colors
and symbols the personal stories of women's experiences with violence.
"I explained that the Clothesline plays on a double metaphor,"
she says. "That is, as women do laundry they often exchange
information over backyard fences while hanging their clothes out
to dry, and it is also a way of airing society's dirty laundry."
"Their response to the idea of the Clothesline was immediate
and enthusiastic," she recalls, "and ideas started bubbling
right away about how to use the concept in South Africa."
Lempert approached the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town for seed money
to support the purchase of 700 T-shirts. The Consulate agreed
and the South Africa Clothesline Project was born.
Local NGOs also pitched in, says Lempert. The Western Cape Network
on Violence Against Women and the Saartjie Baartman Women's Center
contacted their member agencies to encourage their clients to
participate. All worked together to create the colorful-but sobering
-exhibit of T-shirts that lined the walls of an auditorium on
"The Clothesline provided the backdrop for the November
26 launch of the Justice for Women Campaign, an effort to get
a presidential pardon for women who kill their abusers,"
Lempert explains. "There was tremendous media interest. We
did a lot of newspaper and radio interviews, and the shirts were
featured on two evening news shows and also in a film about the
Indeed, the project was so successful that plans are underway
for provincial Clotheslines in Gauteng and in KwaZulu-Natal for
National Women's Day.
In addition to spearheading the Clothesline Project, Lempert
taught courses at the university; conducted workshops on sex,
gender and violence; did outreach programs for the Public Affairs
Office of the U.S. Consulate; and consulted for the South African
Department of Justice and Constitutional Development on a draft
of the South African Victim Charter. She also traveled to Makerere
University in Kampala, Uganda, to lecture in the Women's Studies
Program there, and also met with Ugandan government officials
and directors of NGOs.
"If you had told me a few years ago that I would spend a
year in South Africa consulting with government agencies and participating
in the launch of a South Africa Clothesline Project, I would have
said, 'What planet have you come from'?" Lempert notes. "This
has been an amazing experience-one I will remember forever."
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