Tag Archives: Rape


schermafbeelding-2016-10-16-om-09-45-03©Nathalie Majerus

I’m so happy and honored that Valentin Bianchi included my photograph of Maryam (not her real name) and her mom in the #dysturb project plastered on the wall of the city of Liège here in Belgium.

#Dysturb is an incredible project created by Pierre Tjerdman and Benjamin Girettein response to the lack of publications of specific news topics in our mainstream media.
They decided to plaster their images on the walls of Paris and with a proper caption, inform people in the city about things happening around the world which magazines and newspapers didn’t publish.

schermafbeelding-2016-10-18-om-22-26-46©Nathalie Majerus

And so now it’s the first time #dysturb is hitting Belgium streets and I couldn’t be happier that they chose an image of mine from the ‘Because I’m a girl’ series on Rape in Pakistan.
The topic of rape, violation and sexual predatory behavior now even seems more of an acute topic with a horrible man like Donald Trump running for the office of President of the United States of America while publicly denouncing and degrading women, even on record saying how he forces himself on women by kissing and groping them without their consent.
It’s beyond mind boggling and I would recommend you watching a speech that Michelle Obama gave a good week ago, stating perfectly what I feel on the topic.

“Strong men, who are truly ROLE MODELS, don’t need to put down Women”

It’s estimated that worldwide 1 in 5 women will become the victim of rape or attempted rape during her life.
Violence against women is prevalent all over the world and rape in particular has become a ‘weapon of war’ and tool to systematically oppress, control and marginalize women.

I started working on the topic of rape in Pakistan in 2011 and continue to do so on each visit. It’s so important as it is still very much a taboo subject.
In Pakistan around 85% of women face various forms of gender-based violence.
Women and girls are being murdered, kidnapped, raped, killed for honor, have acid thrown on to them.
The Pakistani government rarely takes action and the perpetrators are hardly punished. Unreliable statistics hide the actual magnitude of the problem. Data gathered by the police is notoriously unreliable because of underreporting of cases or their refusal to lodge F.I.R.’s (First Information Report) needed to start criminal procedures.

Maryam (not her real name) was raped by her school teacher when she was just 5 years old.
When asked what the biggest change in her daughter was after the rape happened, Maryam’s mother said she wasn’t carefree anymore and didn’t smile as often as she used to…

I walked to the rape and murder site with the father of Ali, a boy who was raped and killed in the outskirts of Karachi. His grandmother crying while the family told me the horrific story of what had happened.


Besides suffering psychological trauma and the attached stigmatization, the women and their families are often harassed by the families of the rapist.
They blackmail the victims and try to persuade them into dropping the case or settle out of court. Like Jamila, mother of Sobia, a girl who was raped and killed by a young men who she went to school with and whose wedding proposal she refused. The culprit ran away and still to this day is not found and brought to justice. Meanwhile the neighborhood threaten to abuse Jamila’s other still surviving daughter Sana, hoping the family will then drop their court case.


It’s an uphill battle for all the victims and families I met. Young girls get robbed of their smiles, some women carry lasting physical scars, boys are as vulnerable as girls, their innocence easily taken away.

As always, I continue to work on these topics that become personal to me once you know some of the families. I hope having my image plastered on the walls of Liège and writing about it here will add a little drop of awareness one way or the other.

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The favored daughter

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen


Last week a wonderful package arrived in my mailbox. In it were a few copies of the audiobook ‘The Favored Daughter’ by Afghan parliament member Fawzia Koofi published by Tantor Audiobooks.

The cover photo of this audiobook is a portrait I took of Fawzia when I met her in Belgium during a book conference. We immediately had an amazing conversation and talked about  maternal mortality and life for women in Afghanistan. This talk led up to me getting on a plane to Kabul a little over a year later and actually visiting her and traveling to her home province of Badakshan in the North-Eastern part of the country. An incredibly beautiful place where the mountains rise up in full glory, but at the same time make life hard and rough.

Fawzia withdrew as a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections in 2014, but remains nonetheless an outspoken politician and human rights activist. She invests a lot of her time in trying to raise education levels, especially for girls who during the Taliban regime were not allowed to go to school at all. It’s wonderful to see how she inspires countless young women to study, work hard and aspire to a promising life .

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen


I just started reading the book written by Malalai Yousafzai (cowritten with Christina Lamb), another girl who is fighting for the right to go to school in Pakistan. Shot in the face by Taliban when she was just 15 years old, because she voiced this right to an education for girls too loudly.

She survived wondrously and is now even more outspoken then before. What is sad to read though is that now in Pakistan, her book is banned in private schools and people are gearing up against her, feeling she is too pro- western and even call her anti-islamic. I’ve heard the same things happen to a rape victim I met while I was in Karachi and working on my story ‘Because I’m a girl’ on rape in Pakistan.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

In 2002, Mukhtar Mai, a rural Pakistani woman from a remote part of the Punjab, was gang-raped by order of her tribal council as punishment for her younger brother’s alleged relationship with a woman from another clan. Instead of committing suicide or living in shame, Mukhtar spoke out, fighting for justice in the Pakistani courts.
Further defying custom, she started two schools for girls in her village and a crisis center for abused women.
She wrote her own memoir, “In the Name of Honor” and her story was included in the bestseller “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. But all this made people turn against her… I heard and read commentaries that she must have done this on purpose and that she got raped to get money or to try to get a visa to go the West. How else is her advocacy to be explained?

… Horrible…

The responses to Mamala’s story feel the same as Mukhtar’s, and it’s a shame that these women are inspiring countless people all over the world but still can’t seem to be respected in their own country. There is still a long road ahead for sure and it’ only shows the need for more education of both boys and girls. Because education is key and can change things in the long run.


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Walter – Burqa – Australia

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen
© Wendy Marijnissen

It’s nice to know that some of your work is shown in different countries all over the world. And so it goes for the image above of the woman in white burqa.
As we speak the photo is part of the ‘Dream the world awake’ exhibition by Belgian fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck as a part of the inspiration wall shown in the RMIT University Design Hub gallery.



It’s a great reminder as well of the search to get this image and the lead up to my latest project ‘Us/Them’ that I’ve been working on in Belgium for the past year.

At the time I was in Pakistan working on the story ‘Because I’m a girl’ on rape victims in Pakistan when I received the request for an image of a woman in burqa. I had seen so many during the course of my travels in the country already that I thought it would be easy enough, so I accepted the assignment.  It turned out to be a serious quest though and not that easy at all. I saw women in burqa everywhere, but the photographs were not good enough… Usually I was in a car traveling from one place to the next and the photo’s were on the fly sort of speak and either too far away, too crowded backgrounds, etc, etc…

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

When I tried again and Mrs. Aziz, a mother of one of the rape victims I worked with,  was in the car with us and saw what I was trying to do, she was puzzled and asked what was going on. The girls I was working with explained to her and Mrs. Aziz said: ‘Oh but what’s the big deal, come back to my house tomorrow and you can photograph my burqa and I’ll get my neighbors one as well.’

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

We went back the next day and had so much fun with trying the burqa on, posing for the photographs, … women giggling and enjoying themselves.

I was really happy to get the photographs I wanted to make, yet Mrs. Aziz remained puzzled about our reaction to the burqa. She asked: ‘Oh don’t they wear burqa in her country then?’ …

I didn’t even know  where to begin and how to start explaining… How do I tell a woman that hasn’t ventured out of her country or even her city, that in my country there is a burqa ban. That in Belgium, the headscarf has become such a loaded and negative symbol, that it’s banned in most schools.  How do you explain to her that in Europe the veil is seen as a symbol of oppression, while for her the burqa is her way to get out of the house and go to work and support her family as a single mother.

Her question triggered a lot of questions in my own head about my own country and so it became the start of a very challenging yet inspiring project ‘Us/Them’ of which a small part will be exhibited in the ‘Rise of Populism in Europe’ exhibit in Utrecht (NL) this coming month.


Exhibition Dream the world awake » 17.07.2013 – 05.10.2013 » RIMT Design Hub, Melbourne, Australia, Admission is free

Exhibition The Rise of Populism in Europe » 01.09.2013 – 21.09.2013 » Zijdebalen theater, Utrecht, Netherlands, Admission 5€ (incl. entry to exhibition ‘House of Eutopia’ by Filip Berte)

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Mother’s love

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

Today worldwide we celebrate our moms and even though my mother has long since passed away, I still celebrate this day with her in mind as she was an amazing mom to my sister and me. Showered with an abundance of love, we received a strong base that helps me through life to this day. What gift to have gotten…

During my work, I’ve come across some amazing mothers as well. Especially in Pakistan I was fortunate enough to witness the strong bond between a woman and her child.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

Hamida remains the woman that has stolen my heart. From the moment we met, we made an intuitive connection and she allowed me into her life. I was able to see how she went through the final weeks of her 4rd pregnancy, living in a tent camp with the rest of her family after having lost everything in the flood of 2010.


© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

Or Nazia, the woman in the picture kissing her daughter Rabia, who is about to undergo a c-section to deliver her first baby. I met them in Thari Mirwah, a small town in the middle of rural Sindh. The doctors I had been working with, were on a surgical camp tour across the Sindh province, coming to places where usually skilled help or sufficient equipment and medicine is hard to find.

Rabia was incredibly lucky that day and was able to deliver her baby safely with the help of the visiting doctors. In normal circumstances she would have been very likely to have had serious complications during her delivery or even die during childbirth…

Nazia stayed with her daughter during the night, watched her like a hawk, waved a fan to keep her comfortable, making sure her daughter was alright.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

And lastly I want to show you one more incredible mother I met. Jamila, mother of Sobia.  At 19 years old, Sobia was brutally raped and then murdered a few streets from her home by a neighboring boy who went to school with her and who’s marriage proposal she refused.

The social stigma involved in rape is extreme in a conservative, highly religious and patriarchal society like Pakistan’s.  Living next to the mosque complicates fighting for justice in Jamila’s case even further. She is being blackmailed and harassed into dropping the case against the rapist who abused and killed her daughter. Yet she is so brave and fights on despite the pressure from her neighborhood.

It’s just a small tribute and there have been so many wonderful mothers that have crossed my path. Too many to mention here…But I wish all of them a very happy and beautiful mother’s day.

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