TAIPEI (CNA) – The fifth Asian Girl Award was conferred Sunday upon Victoria Huang (黃靖茹) from Taiwan, a victim-turned-activist who has launched a series of campaigns to help alleviate the suffering of victims and fight against gender-based violence.
In her acceptance speech, the 18-year-old Huang recounted her story as she has done on many occasions since she suffered an attempted rape at 10 and was sexually assaulted at 15, saying that she especially wanted to emphasize the way society views sexual assault victims.
The chronic “rape culture” in society treats victims in a way that makes them feel they are “humiliated, discriminated against and segregated,” Huang said.
She said that when she was trying to write down her thoughts and feelings and share them on social media as a way of overcoming the traumatic experiences, people repeatedly told her not to do so, laughed at her, or hurled insults at her.
“Speaking publicly about my experiences didn’t make me stronger,” Huang said. “I felt alone and had no future in sight.
Thanks to social media, Huang said, her story has resonated with girls who had similar painful experiences as they have contacted her, shared their experiences and encouraged each other to move on.
“That was when I realized why it was not easy for victims of all forms of offenses, be they sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying, or state violence, to speak out. It was because of the public’s reluctance to admit the existence of such violence,” she said.
In 2016, Huang launched the “Read Your Pain” project that created an anonymous environment for young survivors of sexual assault to tell their stories in writing, painting or through any other forms of artistic expression.
“They can say whatever they want without fear. I hope this will bring public attention to the prevalence of violence and the victims’ situations,” she said.
The Asian Girl Award was created in 2013 by the Garden of Hope Foundation, a Taiwanese nongovernmental organization dedicated to preventing and decreasing sexual and domestic violence toward women and children.
The other award, “Community Development,” this year went to Flory Joy Alvarez from the Philippines, in recognition of the contributions she has made to soliciting money from local officials and the public to address sanitation problems associated with the lack of clean water in slum areas in her country.
Upon receiving the award from Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容), chief executive officer of the foundation, Alvarez burst into tears, saying that she would like to dedicate the award to her country and her fellow countrymen, and she expressed hoped that everyone can work together to ensure that “the next generation will enjoy a better future.”
With the initiative of improving sanitary issues in the slums, Alvarez said that 100 families have benefited from the project and that she also aims to spread awareness of girls’ rights and advocate women’s empowerment in the Philippines and internationally.
Huang, Alvarez, and Monisha Muniyandi from India, were invited by the foundation as ambassadors to attend the ceremony held to mark the International Day of the Girl Child, which is also Taiwan Girl’s Day.
The 17-year-old Muniyandi has been an active participant in programs and campaigns that are conducted by Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) to work toward ending all forms of gender-based violence.
Badly burned in a fire last year, Muniyandi said the incident not only caused her many visible burns but made her discontinue her education for a year.
Muniyandi said she had enormous self-doubt at the time, but her stay in the PCVC rehabilitation center, where she met many young girls and women who had suffered from domestic violence, made her rethink the meaning of life. •
By Shih Hsiu-chuan