Occasionally, when you are travelling, you find yourself in the right place at the right time and discover something interesting is happening. Sometimes you realize it straight away and think “Oh, cool!” Then there are the occasions when you don’t discover what was really happening until much later. I’ve had experiences that fall into both categories one of the most unusual ones happened in Valencia.
The date was December 27, 2015. I took a stroll to the centre of the city and found the Plaza de la Virgen was scattered with hundreds of red shoes. I only discovered the true significance of the red shoes today. It’s taken me more than four years to find out.
At the time, I thought the red shoes were something to do with Christmas celebrations in Valencia. However, when I asked a policeman, he told me the shoes had been put there in memory of all the women who have been killed by their husbands.
When I got back to my apartment, I went online and tried to find out more about all the red shoes I’d seen in the centre of Valencia. I failed with English search terms, so I tried searching in Spanish instead. Again, I had no success. I forgot about the puzzle of the red shoes until earlier today.
I’d been reviewing some of my old blog posts and saw a picture I’d taken of the red shoes. It’s a puzzle I’d forgotten about but I still wanted to solve it. Now I have and the inspiration behind all those red shoes is so tragic I’ve decided to write about it.
How and Why the Red Shoe Display Came About
The policeman was right. The red shoes that were scattered in Plaza del Virgen were a homage to murdered women, but not necessarily women who’d died at the hands of their husbands. They stand for all the women who lost their lives through gender violence.
When I saw the red shoes in the plaza and thought it might be a Yuletide celebration, that wasn’t my only mistake. I also presumed it was something that happens every year in Valencia. It’s not. That was the first time and, so far, it’s never happened again. Not in Valencia, anyway. However, this red shoe initiative has been staged in cities all over the world.
Los Zapatos Rojos was first staged in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on August 22, 2009 by the Mexican architect and visual artist Elina Chauvet. Both an art project and a protest, Los Zapatos Rojos denounces violence against women and femicide.
Chauvet staged her first red shoe display after her 32-year-old sister was murdered by her husband. She says it served two purposes. First of all, taking action helped her to deal with the pain. Secondly, It sent a message to the Mexican government. “If it had given more attention to this issue years ago,” Chauvet said, “these women would be with their families, at home right now.”
Further red shoes against violence to women displays followed, in cities all over the world including Grand Rapids, Michigan; Milan, Italy; and Valencia, Spain. Although the original Los Zapatos Rojos only consisted of 33 shoes, the displays that followed contained many more.
How the Situation Looks Now
The situation with violence towards women in Mexico is a problem that hasn’t gone away. Depending on which figures you go by, eight to 10 women are killed each day.
It’s an ongoing problem and the way the press handles the stories is not always sympathetic.
Earlier this year, there was an outrage when 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla was murdered by the man she was living with. He partially skinned her and dumped several of her organs into the sewer. The local paper published pictures of her mutilated body under the headline, “It Was Cupids Fault.”
Of course, Mexico is not the only country where men show violence towards women. On a global scale, it’s estimated that out of the 87,000 women who were murdered in 2017 more than half of them were killed by intimate partners or family members. (Violence Against Women: Facts and Figures)
In January this year, Chuavet and her red shoes went to Mexico City. She and a team of activist painted 300 pairs of shoes with red paint and then laid them out in pairs. Some of the shoes belonged to real victims of gender-based violence. Two pairs were hand-painted by the dead girls’ mothers.
Now that you know the full story, scroll back to the top of the page and take another look at all those red shoes in Valencia. When you realize what all those shoes are about, it’s incredibly sad. Four years ago I thought I was witnessing a Christmas celebration but I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d tried.
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