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School of English and Drama

Visualising Gender-Based Violence

Visualising Gender-Based Violence in Graphic Awareness Campaigns in Nepal

Funded by British Academy / Global Challenges Research Fund


Dr Charlotta Salmi

School of English and Drama, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Barbara Grossman-Thompson 

International Studies, California State University Long Beach 


We are investigating representations of gender-based violence (GBV) in graphic awareness campaigns in two urban areas in Nepal: Kathmandu and Pokhara. Our research focuses on how four different forms of violence – domestic abuse; trafficking; street harassment; menstruation-based discrimination (chaupadi) – are portrayed in graphic print publications (comics, posters) and in public graphic expressions (murals, graffiti, street art), and how stakeholders (NGOs, activists, artists) use graphic art as an awareness-raising tool.

By combining interdisciplinary research methods, from our respective backgrounds in cultural studies and sociology, we seek to understand and promote reflective cultural practices in GBV messaging. We use literary and visual analysis and feminist social theory to understand how graphic art forms can be used to empower women.

Our project has four principal aims:

  1. to improve understanding of how aesthetic representations challenge or create assumptions about GBV.
  2. to facilitate knowledge exchange between academic researchers, government agencies, arts collectives and NGOs about representational practices (aesthetic strategies, cultural history, heritage).
  3. to encourage women and girls to participate in the production of anti-GBV materials through creative initiatives.
  4. Ultimately, we aim to develop strategies for producing inclusive, effective, and culturally sensitive messaging in GBV awareness campaigns.

Background on Graphic Awareness Campaigns

Cultural representations of GBV are crucial in raising awareness and promoting the visibility of women and girls in civil society. Among these, graphic narratives (comics, storybooks) and public graphic expressions (street art, murals, graffiti) have gained particular popularity in Nepal’s urban areas. After Sattya Media Arts Collective’s Kolor Kathmandu project (funded by the Prince Claus fund, 2012-13) created 75 murals, several arts collectives and activist communities – including street art group Artlab (partially funded by the Danish Centre for Culture and Development) and the World Comics Network (which set up a branch in Nepal in 2005 to produce grassroots comics) – have turned to alternative art forms to promote social justice. Oxfam used comics and murals as communication strategies in their anti-GBV campaign (“We Can” 2004-2011), while regional graphic narratives, like India’s Menstrupedia (2015), have been translated into Nepali to help dispel prejudices about menstruation. Creative collaborations between artists and NGOs, such as Chameli Goes to School (CauseVision and Himalayan Children’s Charities, 2015), and independent works of comics journalism, like British creator Dan Archer’s Graphic Voices from Nepal (2012), have tackled human trafficking and the sex trade. 

However, there is little research on how graphic campaigns in Nepal represent gender and violence, the difference between the visual vocabularies of locally run and international initiatives, and the ways in which graphic art forms are most effectively used to challenge visible and invisible forms of violence. Various European cultural development initiatives (Netherlands, 2012; Denmark, 2015) and Bath University’s AHRC-funded project (2015-17) on comics and peace building have promoted graphic art forms as communication strategies in Nepal, but without reflecting on the social and political impact of different aesthetic approaches. Understanding how graphic representations work, what their long-term cultural impact is, and how to include women from diverse backgrounds in representing GBV issues, will shape more culturally sensitive and politically conscious methods for representing gender and violence.  

Our Sustainable Development Goals

“Visualizing Gender-based Violence” supports the UK’s aid strategy, which aims to lead efforts to tackle gender-based violence. It addresses the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda goal 5 to empower women girls and eliminate violence and gender discrimination. The project investigates representations of gender-based violence (GBV) in graphic art in Nepal and promotes welfare and sustainable human development in Nepal through addressing gender equality and social justice.

Specifically, we aim to empower women and girls and reduce GBV through

  1. improving understanding of how aesthetic representations challenge or engender assumptions about violence
  2. facilitating knowledge exchange between academic researchers, government agencies, arts collectives and NGOs about representational practices (aesthetic strategies, cultural history, heritage)
  3. raising public awareness
  4. building capacity among  local NGOs working on GBV
  5. encouraging girls to participate in the production of anti-GBV materials via creative initiatives.

Eliminating gender-based violence, UN 2030 Development Goal 5, is one of Nepal’s sustainable development priorities. A GBV study conducted by the Nepalese government in 2012 showed 48% of respondents had experienced violence in their lives: in addition to domestic abuse and street harassment, women and girls in Nepal are vulnerable to trafficking and subject to systemic menstruation-based discrimination (chaupadi). These forms of physical, psychological, and structural violence have had a negative impact on women’s political representation and rights, resulting in what Nepal’s National Planning Commission (2012) calls “deficits in power and voice” in state and development programmes. This project will address this deficit, contributing to knowledge on graphic arts and GBV in Nepal and having an impact on a range of stakeholders – from the public in Nepal (specifically women and girls) to NGOs and arts organizations and other researchers working in the field. Its aim is to improve how women’s and girls’ experiences of violence are visualized in civil society and sustainable development programmes. 


Our Initiatives

Visualizing Gender-based Violence’ Workshops in Government Schools

In June 2019 we ran a series of workshops in two government schools in Pokhara: Nawa Prabhat Secondary School and Mahendra Secondary School.

The workshops engaged girls in discussions of existing graphic awareness materials and guided them in developing their own campaign messages and art works. Students learned how to produce typography, stencils, collages and posters for awareness raising and worked with our street artists to create a mural for their school.

Video of  workshops:


June 20th 2019, we hosted our first Roundtable on Arts and Visual Messaging in Gender Equality Campaigns  at Martin Chautari, Kathmandu.

The roundtable included artists, scholars, and representatives from organizations working broadly on issues of gender equity and gender-based violence. The first half of the roundtable consisted of dialogue between stakeholders on how arts and visual messaging are currently used as an “awareness raising” tool and some of the benefits and challenges therein. The second half of the workshop presented attendees with preliminary data from our research – visual messages created by girl students in classes 6-9 from two government schools in Pokhara. With these materials we discussed how visual messaging can best respectfully and effectively engage audiences. 


Charlotta Salmi and Barbara Grossman-Thompson “Kathmandu’s Street Art: Public Representations of Gendered Vulnerability” Special Issue on Public Feminisms, SIGNS: Journal of Women and Culture in Society. Forthcoming 2020.

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