10 December marks Human Rights Day and the end of the 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, this year focused on the theme of #HearMeToo. As part of this, the UN-Habitat Gender Equality Unit has curated a sound installation in the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON), fusing the sounds of the city with narrations of personal experiences of Gender Based Violence (GBV).

The stories were collected anonymously, with 18% from men and 82% from women. The stories ranged from street harassment to cases of extreme violence and were played in a blackout sound booth. Through these stories the lister experienced the harassment and violence first-hand.

Many were shocked that it can happen to people they know: ‘I was surprised… you often think that these things just happen to people far away… but these stories are all from our friends and colleagues. It happens every day, to normal people’

The stories highlighted highly complex issues:

  • Many victims experience ideas of shame and blaming oneself for what happened
  • Many fear being blamed, ignored or not believed.
  • There is often pressure on women to change their behaviour – how they dress, not being ‘provocative,’ not arguing or fighting back.
  • There is a lasting impact of even “minor” incidents – it effects people for lifetimes, changing a fundamental part of who they are and scarring people for all.

There were varying reactions from those who stepped into the sound booth: shock, fear, overwhelming sadness, agreement, while many identified with the stories shared. Many shared their personal stories, reflecting on past experiences while some acknowledged that they too had been aggressors and had not realised how their actions had affected others.

Others reflected that there is progress being made: “I can tell you that these stories are true. Of course they are not as rampant as they used to be. There is definitely progress.”

The Exhibition raised critical awareness on how GBV effects the work of the UN, and effects the everyday lives of those who work with and for the UN. Many resolved to change their behaviour: ‘It made me think that there are comments we make among groups of male friends. Or when someone shares something. You think you’re being funny but you’re doing more harm. I am going to change that.’

The 16 Days culminated in a Joint Town Hall with all UN agencies in Kenya, with the Director-General of UNON, the Resident Coordinator of Kenya and the Executive Directors of UN-Environment and UN-Habitat. The UN-Habitat Executive Director called upon men and women to ‘speak up against this. Speak up when you see it. Speak up when you hear about it. Speak up when you experience it. And let us all listen to victims. Believe victims and support them.’