International Day of the Girl: Sports Edition

On Saturday, October 9, California became the first state in the U.S. to require large retailers to tackle gender inequality marketing.

In addition to sections for boys and girls, stores of 500 or more employees will have to display a separate and “reasonable section” of toys and childcare items related to in a gender-neutral way or face a first-time fine of $250 ($500 for repeat offences). The Assembly Bill 1084 impacts toys, children’s items related to sleep, relaxation, feeding, teething or sucking but falls short of clothing.

Democrat Evan Low, who co-authored the law, said “Traditionally children’s toys and products have been categorised by a child’s gender. In retail this has led to the proliferation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-geared toys in a ‘boys’ section and toys that direct girls to pursuits such as caring for a baby, fashion, and domestic life. The segregation of toys by a social construct of what is appropriate for which gender is the antithesis of modern thinking.”

Then, on International Day of the Girl on Monday, October 11, LEGO released a press statement saying the toy company will remove “for girls” and “for boys” labels to ensure that “children’s creative ambitions — both now in the future — are not limited by gender stereotypes”.

For Vibeke Thomsen, Monaco’s champion of gender equality and founder of the non-profit association SheCanHeCan, this is encouraging news but there is still “so much to be done”.

To mark the 10th edition of the UN’s International Day of the Girl, SheCanHeCan launched its first series of female footballer collector cards.  “This year we wanted to focus on women in sport and it was so apparent that one of the most popular sports in the world is wholly dominated by men but that the best footballers in the world are also women,” Vibeke explains. “This is a way of highlighting the inequality, challenging the current situation and encouraging more girls to continue or take up sports such as football.”

The limited-edition packs of 24 collector cards (€10) in French feature 24 of the 100 best ranked international female football players. “Even though research has shown that playing football increases self-confidence in girls. children do not value female football as much as male football, which is reflected through a lower participation in this sport,” she shares.

“There has been progress over the years when it comes to awareness of the many challenges faced by girls worldwide, like a strong focus on getting girls to school and including women in the digital revolution,” Vibeke reflects.

“We have also advanced in talking about violence against women but it is still a very real problem. Despite the few who get highlighted in the media – usually white, attractive young women like, for example, Brit Sarah Everard but rarely about less privileged minority women – most violence against women goes unreported and mostly unpunished.”

Her tone is less upbeat when is come to the abortion “heartbeat bill” in Texas. “Attacking basic rights to healthcare is rarely about protecting unborn life, but rather about controlling and exerting power over girls’ and women’s bodies. Such laws won’t stop abortions, it will just increase unsafe abortions, putting more women at risk.” 

On a lighter note, Vibeke shares one encouraging story at a local level. “I know most people cringe when I talk about periods and our Red Box Project Monaco but we are working to break that taboo. This makes me smile every time.”

To order collector cards, send an email to info@shecanhecan.org. Delivery in Monaco is free and there is a special promo this week – 3 packs for €20. Proceeds go towards SheCanHeCan International Day of the Girl projects and “hopefully to print more such cards in the future”.

Vibeke Thomsen

Vibeke Thomsen. Photos: Nancy Heslin.

On Friday, a French court handed down a 25-year jail term to 36 year-old Jonathann Daval, who was found guilty of killing his wife, Alexia, and then burning her body in 2017. The verdict has brought to a close a saga that rocked the country, especially as Jonathann had moved in with the victim’s family after he reported her missing.

The 6-day trials ends just before International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2020 on Wednesday, November 25.

This year of Covid has particularly highlighted the issue. During spring confinement, a police headquarters in Paris witnessed a 36% increase in domestic violence reports in just one week. So urgent was the need for intervention that the then French minister of interior, Christophe Castaner, created an alert system that would allow victims to get help by going to a pharmacy and use the code “mask 19.”

According to a 2019 IMSEE report, there were 33 cases of violence against women recorded by the police services, including 31 acts committed in Monaco. 58% of the 33 victims resided in Monaco. (For more Monaco statistics, see Box at end of article.)

Monaco resident Vibeke Thomsen, founder of SheCanHeCan, has been involved with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women since 2013, and helps to make sure the Palace, Tour Odeon and Conseil National are glowing orange is solidarity on the night of the 25th.

In previous years, SheCanHeCan would co-organise events but with the health pandemic, the non-profit association has instead launched an online campaign working jointly with Fight Aids Monaco and the Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Women’s Rights.

“We sent out a call to find 100 men to send us their picture and to choose a message to publicly say NO to violence against women,” explains Vibeke. “We reached 100 in less than two days! It’s been heartwarming to see this silent majority of men – who we seldom hear from but are against violence – stand up and publicly show their face.”

The #violencesfemmesjagis campaign of 100 portraits and messages, including from Princess Stephanie’s son Louis Ducruet, freediver Pierre Frolla and F1’s David Coulthard – ambassadors of SheCanHeCan – has gone live today.

“Next year, we are already planning a larger in-person campaign and we would love to see the community involved, so stay tuned,” Vibeke adds.

Vibeke is a huge supporter of the Monaco community. Born in Copenhagen to Danish parents, the family moved to Geneva when she was a baby. “Surprisingly to the people who meet me today, I was a very reserved and shy child,” she admits. “I was an avid reader and loved to write, too. Somehow I skipped a grade so I was a year younger than my classmates, which contributed to my shyness.”

Her family relocated to Monaco when Vibeke was eight and she attended local schools before heading off to boarding school for a couple of years. “Monaco was different then, less international, less dynamic, less cultural offers and less activities for children. Going to the local school felt very normal. There were no parties on yachts, it’s much more low key than what people expect when they hear I grew up here. I was lucky to find incredible friends, many of who I’m still close to 30 years later,” she shares.

She left Monaco at 16 and for the next 13 years reinvented herself, living in many places around the world. “Travelling definitely helped me come out of my shell as I had to open up and meet new people.”

During her time abroad, she worked in a bank in Frankfurt, with the Danish Delegation to the OSCE in Vienna and spent three years in the US – one in Washington D.C. working for a non-profit to end the death penalty and then two in Ann Arbor, MI, where she picked up a double Master’s degree in Public Policy and Arts in Russia and East European Studies. 

“When I came back, Monaco had completely changed,” she describes. “It became a much more dynamic city with many cultural offerings – you can go out every night, which is surprising for a city this size. There are now more families with young children, more activities, restaurants and bars to enjoy, too. Every week, you can meet new people from every path of life and that’s what I enjoy about living here.”

Vibeke’s favourite haunts were the Bombay Frigo in Emilie Palace on blvd Princesse Grace – “incredible for drinks, dinners and dancing on that bar, it’s a shame it closed.” – and the Sea Lounge at the beach club: “It was a fun place for parties, especially the White Night party in August.”

Vibeke created her non-profit association GenderHopes in 2012, which in 2017 became SheCanHeCan, a name change “to better reflect our work locally and with the community, which is our main focus.” She has a team of three volunteers and five ambassadors.

“I had a 3-year experience in Brussels working in security, including for women in post-conflict countries and reconstruction. That’s when I got bitten by the bug and when I moved back to Monaco in 2011, I tried to find ways to continue in the same field.”

Pre-Covid, SheCanHeCan did various events, including movie screenings, fundraisers, the “A Confident Girl” exhibit at the Columbus Hotel featuring over 20 artists, and the launch of the Equality Pledge in 2019.

Every International Day of the Girl on October 11, SheCanHeCan invites students to the Conseil National to meet with the president and the (mainly) female MPs, to better understand the role and importance of women in politics.

Last year, the association launched the Red Box Project Monaco to address period inequality by bringing period products to local schools, raising awareness about organic menstrual products and breaking the taboo when speaking about periods in schools and in the workplace. The International School of Monaco was the first school to adopt the Red Box and provide free period products to its students in middle and high school.

In terms of companies and/or institutions providing free organic period products, it has been a learning process. “Most of us have learned that periods are private, almost secret and shameful and something not to be discussed in public spaces or at your workplace. It has been a fascinating experience to see how quickly the mindset and approach can change once we become aware of period inequality,” Vebeke relates.

“The environmental impact of period products is also important and often overlooked so, along with our partners Freda and FabLittleBag, this is something we work to address and raise awareness about. Overall, I would say the welcome has been positive but it’s been slow and that’s partly due to Covid.”

And for the past three years, SheCanHeCan has hosted a parent child Book Club in which we read inclusive stories,” relates the mom of three whose children go to local schools.

“I think life with kids is relatively easy in Monaco. There are many moms with young children and a wonderful informal support networks and supportive mums. There is a great play group, twice a week, at the St Paul’s church on avenue de Grande Bretagne, and the Princess Grace hospital provides some support in terms of breastfeeding.”

Vibeke, who speaks Danish, English, French and German, considers herself fortunate. “In confinement, I was able to spend time with my three children in a way we might never experience again, outside of daily stress and routine and with more time to listen and focus on each other. Despite homeschooling and work, we found time to just be together, go for long walks, talk, play, do activities. I’ll cherish this time, also because I know confinement has been a difficult experience for many.”

Vibeke Thomsen pauses for a moment. “In terms of what’s come out of it, I’ve realised the importance of focusing on the people who really matter in your life.”

Need help?

0800 91 90 10
Free hotline in Monaco for victims of all violence (rape and sexual violence, violence perpetrated within the family, sexual harassment …) and on their rights available to them.

WHO reports that 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. For more information about getting help during Covid, click here.

Monaco in numbers

According to an IMSEE report, there were 33 cases of violence against women recorded by the police services in 2019, including 31 acts committed in Monaco. 58% of the 33 victims resided in Monaco.

The average age of the women aggressed was 37; for the perpetrator, he was around 42. One in two cases were committed at the victim’s or perpetrator’s home, with 58% committed by the spouse or ex-spouse of the victim.

Nearly 60% of cases concerned physical violence while 25% were sexual violence.

113 women were admitted to hospital, including 83% suffering from physical violence and while these cases was recorded at CHPG, not all these acts of violence took place in Monaco.

In 2019, 74% of cases of violence committed in Monaco in 2019 resulted in a complaint being lodged and 33 proceedings were opened.

At the time of IMSEE’s publication, 15 cases were subject to legal proceedings, or under investigation. Of these cases, perpetrators were on average 39 while the victim was 35. There were 4 convictions and 2 protection orders for acts committed in 2019, all against men. There were no condemnations for rape in 2019 in Monaco.