Closing Reflections: 16 days of blogs for 16 Days of Activism 2019

Fiona Mackay, Louise Chappell, Rukmini Sen, Caitlin Hamilton and Natasha Dyer (Co-curators)

We’ve reached the end of #16daysblogathon2019! It’s December 10th, Human Rights Day and the final day of the global 16 Days of Activism 2019 , the annual campaign that highlights the scale of gender-based violence (GBV) around the world and what is being done to stop it.

To honour this, we’ve run our third annual 16 days blogathon, a series of pieces posted every day over sixteen days from activists, academics and campaigners writing from Scotland to New South Wales, India to Northern Ireland.  The stories and statistics we’ve read have been eye-opening, worrying, urgent and hopeful for those of us working to raise awareness, and put an end to gender-based violence around the world, once and for all.

The 16 Days Blogathon is a collaboration between gender ED at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, and Ambedkar University in Delhi.

 

What have we learnt this year?

Gender-based violence is often hidden and perpetrated in unexpected ways.

When people refer to gender-based or domestic violence, they often cite shocking global figures, such as the more than 30% of women worldwide that have experienced a form of physical or sexual abuse, or refer to the #MeToo movement highlighting the scale of male violence against women. Indeed, two of our blogs this year reviewed #MeToo and analysed what (if anything) had changed for survivors of sexual violence and abuse, highlighting the need for ongoing support away from media hype, and to remember that #MeToo is only a ‘moment’ reflecting the years of work that came before it to highlight and address violence against women worldwide.

Our contributors have shone a light on rarer forms of GBV in 2019 however, revealing lesser known facts about how violence interacts with sexual identities, migration, and disabilities to oppress communities and societies, ‘othering’ women and girls in different ways. Manjula O’Connor, Jan Breckenridge, Sara Singh and Mailin Suchting raised the alarm on dowry abuse in migrant communities, for example, a traditional practice that can leave women isolated and at risk of suicide or murder, due to the power it gives men over their new brides. On Day Two, Jenn Piscopo analysed the harm caused by the daily violence women receive online, in a context of abusive political rhetoric aimed at women by leading political figures. Mayur Suresh reported on ‘witch-branding’ on Day 13, a practice where women in East Indian communities are blamed and sometimes attacked for the problems of others. Connections were also made by Sumangala Damodaran between gender-based violence and women’s work participation, as declining rates can be linked to the threat of violence from men in the household and wider violence effects of a highly patriarchal society, as in India.

 

Laws and policies designed to protect women often have the reverse effect.

One of the underlying themes for 2019 has been the promise and the limits of law. Although the law is supposed to protect the safety and rights of women and girls, and redress injustices, in practice, legal approaches can have the opposite effect. Heather NanCarrow highlights on Day Three for example, how Australia’s law on domestic violence can have unintended negative consequences, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, such as giving the state power to make choices for victims or charging them in the case of ‘fights’, which occur in the chaos of domestic violence.

Krishna Menon, Rachana Johri and Bindu K.C. review cases of sexual assault in India, arguing that despite its potential for justice, the power of the legal statute combined with a rigid and unimaginative invocation of identity politics, result in violent judgments that do not centre the experience and needs of the victim.  Shalu Nigam confirms this on Day Three, demonstrating that despite the indefatigable work of women demanding justice for cases of assault, abuse and threats to their safety, the majority of those who knock on the doors of the court are not receiving justice, while men are frequently acquitted.

However, the law can be used for justice in ways that we’re not always aware of. Anni Gethin writes of the successful case she brought against her domestic abuser on Day 11, and the campaign she has started to encourage more Australian women to do the same. At the same time, we also realise that putting laws in place is only a first step. Nicole George examines the steps taken by the Pacific Islands to protect women from violence on Day 10, but concludes that to ensure reforms provide benefits for women, there needs to be more investment and ongoing support. In Scotland, Anne Marie Hicks, the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, takes a holistic approach.

 

The importance of giving voice to lived experience.

This year we’ve also featured powerful testimonies from those with lived experiences of sexual and gender-based violence. Eve Ensler – a global feminist icon – opened the #16daysblogathon with an extract from the apology she wrote for her father for sexually abusing her as a child, the subject of her latest book. On Day Twelve, Anni Donaldson shared stories from women she interviewed in Scotland for her research into domestic violence – women trapped in abusive relationships between the 1960s and 1980s, during which time physical violence morphed into ‘coercive control’, where husbands and partners used technology and finances to control their partners. Through sustained public awareness and support from family and friends, these women eventually got free, but their stories remain essential to help other women, who may still be trapped in violent relationships.

On Day 7, Fidelma Ashe reveals that the failure of the Northern Ireland peace process to include the voices of LGBTI+ people, meant that while the rest of society experienced relative levels of stability during peacebuilding, LGBTI+ groups experienced high levels of insecurity and risk, as well as social and political exclusion.

 

Creative methods are a powerful way to communicate the effects of gender-based violence.

We’ve also seen various examples this year of creatively tackling gender-based violence  through poetry, textiles and comic books, reminding us of the power of the arts to communicate difficult stories in a way that centres and empowers survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. These artistic mediums are more accessible to a wider audience and often provide a refreshing form of addressing these difficult issues in bureaucratic institutions, such as universities.

What’s more, they can also help us challenge narratives we may hold onto about the victims of gender-based violence, showing their agency and resilience in the face of attack. Campaigns employing clever messaging and social media tools can also have a meaningful impact in representing the voices of victims and marginalised groups, as shown by the powerful #erasethegrey campaign. or the #SayHerName report and videos advocating for the rights and protections of sex workers in South Africa, highlighted by Ntokozo Yingwana and Lunga Luthuli on Day Seven.  Animated videos can also prove highly effective in helping people understand the effects of sexual violence and survivors’ fight for justice, as seen through a video animation on Day Five, created through the work of Afghan artist Shamsia Hassani.

Every #16daysblogathon post is summarised below. While there is a long way to go before gender-based violence becomes an abuse of the past, there are many powerful and effective initiatives underway designed to protect, empower and centre the survivors of gender-based violence. This gives us reason to hope.

 

Introduction

To introduce the third annual #16daysblogathon in support of 16 Days of Activism 2019, our co-curators from gender ED at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, and Ambedkar University in Delhi highlight central themes and the vast geographic reach of our blogathon, as well as introduce the exceptional powerhouse opening the 2019 #16daysblogathon….Eve Ensler!

  1. My father never apologised for sexually abusing me. So I wrote his apology for him

By Eve Ensler – award-winning playwright, performer and activist

On Day One, Eve Ensler describes the painful story at the centre of her new book, the apology from her father that he could never make.

  1. Abusive Language and Violence Against Women in the Public Sphere

By Jenn Piscopo – Occidental College, USA

Piscopo illuminates the incredible scale of abuse women receive online, and the effects it can have in environments of regular verbal violence directed at women by leading politicians. They are political violence is gendered in three ways; in motive, form and impact.

  1. We, the Women Warriors are unstoppable!

By Shalu Nigam – Delhi Courts/Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi

Shalu reports on the poor conviction rates for perpetrators of domestic violence in India as well as the highly damaging rulings of the Supreme Court for the protection of women. Regardless, women’s groups in India are demanding justice, breaking the codes of imposed silence, shaking the system and forcing it to respond.

Unintended Consequences of Domestic Violence Law

By Heather Nancarrow, CEO Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, UNSW Sydney

Contrary to its purpose, Heather shows how Australia’s law against domestic violence can actually lead to harmful consequences for women, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. These include giving the state power to make choices for victims or charging them in the case of ‘fights’, which occur in the chaos of domestic violence.

  1. #Me Too at Two

By Bianca Fileborn, University of Melbourne and Rachel Honey-Lowes, University of Wollongong

Bianca and Rachel review the #MeToo movement, examining what has changed for those affected by sexual and gender-based violence. The answer? While it has created an important platform for survivors of gender-based violence, it has also emboldened the voices of perpetrators, and vitally is hard to see how it has shifted attitudes, behaviours and tangible structural change to centre the needs of survivors first. Clearly much more work to be done.

#MeToo and the work of ending men’s violence against women

By Karen Boyle, Professor of Feminist Media Studies at the University of Strathclyde

The author of #MeToo, Weinstein and Feminism (Palgrave, 2019), Karen Boyle argues that #MeToo was not only a social media trend, but a mainstream news story; a ‘moment’, not a ‘movement’. It centred on the experiences of those involved with a high profile film industry figure, largely ignoring the decades-long emotional and intellectual work of survivors, including #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke and those who researched and campaigned for recognition of sexual assault and abuse in the years before 2017.

  1. Holding foreign fighters accountable for sexual violence

By Susan Hutchinson, Australian National University

On International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, Susan Hutchinson flags the vital opportunity governments now have to prosecute perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence for their crimes. She also features an excellent animated video released by the ‘prosecute, don’t perpetrate’ campaign, explaining why and how to end impunity for perpetrators and achieve justice for survivors. As she says, ‘we have the jurisdiction and the competent authority, all that remains is the political will and investment.’

  1. Towards a just conclusion – a prosecutor’s perspective on tackling domestic abuse in Scotland

By Anne Marie Hicks – National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse

Anne Marie outlines the Crown Prosecution’s holistic approach to transforming the institutional response to domestic abuse in Scotland. In this varied role, she makes sure the justice system puts the needs of victims affected by the 30,000 reports of domestic abuse annually first, and reports on the progress implemented by Scotland’s new domestic abuse law.

  1. Presumptions, Prejudice and Progress: The Dynamics of Violence Against Sexual and Gender Minorities in Conflict-Affected Societies

By Fidelma Ashe – Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University

Fidelma reports on the need for peacebuilding processes to take an approach that supports diversity, inclusion and equality for all identities affected by conflict, highlighting the consequences for LGBTI+ people during the Northern Ireland peace process, who experienced high levels of insecurity and risk, as well as social and political exclusion.

Remember Sex Workers during the 16 Days

By Ntokozo Yingwana – the African Centre for Migration and Society, University of Witwatersrand and Lunga Luthuli – Membership and Communications Officer for Sisonke Gender Justice

Two researchers and NGO workers ask us not to forget sex workers during the #16Days and highlight the precarious working conditions for sex workers in South Africa, where the work is illegal. Highlighting excellent campaigns, reports and videos made to raise awareness of sex workers and their industry, they urge South Africa to urgently decriminalise, for the safety and protection of adult consenting sex workers across the country.

  1. Reflecting on Zimbabwe’s Gukurahundi Genocide through Poetry

By Dudu Ndlovu, African Centre for Migration and Society, University of Witwatersrand

Dudu presents her powerful poetry and her arts-based research approach, which gives women spaces to discuss their experiences of sexual violence, particularly for those targeted in the Gukuhrahundi genocide in Zimbabwe.

  1. Fighting against Disablist Gender Based Violence: A Double Dose of Discrimination

By Caroline Bradbury-Jones and Sonali Shah, University of Birmingham

Caroline and Sonali alert our attention to disablist gender-based violence, calling it a ‘double dose of discrimination’, often missed by health service providers and policy-makers. Disabled women and girls are more likely to encounter barriers to protection, leaving them feeling disempowered and undeserving of support. It is a human rights issue affecting millions worldwide and must be urgently addressed.

  1. Women’s right to physical security in the Pacific region

By Nicole George – University of Queensland

Nicole reports that despite being almost twenty years on from a landmark international policy shift and Pacific Islands Forum declaration recognising women’s insecurity as a regional issue, violence against women is being perpetrated at higher rates than ever before. This is partly due to the difficult legal process for women trying to progress charges against violent family members through the criminal justice system, and the problems translating police orders into action on the ground.

Violence Against Girls in the Pacific and Timor-Leste

By Kavitha Suthanthiraraj, Policy and Advocacy Advisor at Save the Children Australia and Caitlin Hamilton, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Australian Human Rights Institute

Over 4 million children across 8 countries in the Pacific and Timor-Leste experience violence at home. The authors of the Unseen and Unsafe: Underinvestment in Ending Violence Against Children in the Pacific and Timor-Leste highlight the discipline inherent in this violence and what can be done to stop it.

  1. A calling to account: Suing perpetrators of domestic violence in Australia

By Anni Gethin – academic and coordinator of the Brigid Project

Anni reports on her successful legal case, suing her perpetrator for domestic-violence damages, and explains how she is helping the 1 in 4 women being affected by domestic abuse to do the same through the Brigid Project.

  1. From ‘Battered Wives’ to ‘Coercive Control’: Domestic Abuse in Late Twentieth Century Scotland

By Anni Donaldson – University of Strathclyde

Anni reveals fascinating stories of women who were trapped in abusive relationships during the 1960s to 1980s in Scotland, experiencing physical, emotional and psychological violence, including through them being controlled by money and tracking technologies. Thankfully, thanks to projects like Zero Tolerance, these women are free to live independently and tell their stories away from harm.

  1. Witch-branding in Eastern India

By Mayur Suresh – University of New South Wales, SOAS, University of London

Mayur teaches us about ‘witch-branding’, an Eastern Indian practice where women are called witches and blamed for the problems of other community members, leading to them being attacked and living in fear for their lives. This worrying form of women’s violence shows how gender can be experienced as a threat and a discourse can be built to justify that threat.

Making connections: Gender-based violence and women’s workforce participation

By Sumangala Damodaran – Ambedkar University Delhi

Over the past 30 years in India, women’s workforce participation has declined dramatically, down to 26% in 2018. Sumangala links this to the threat of gender-based violence in male-dominated households and shows how even when women do carry out work, it is often unseen and unvalued.

  1. Textile Testimonies and Gender-Based Violence

By Lydia Cole, Durham University

Lydia Cole shows us how creative approaches to conflict, in this case ‘conflict textiles’ or appliquéd wall-hangings in Peru are used to reflect scenes and experiences of gender-based violence, as well as give space and control to survivors of violence to tell their own stories.

Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy

By Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Radhika Govinda – University of Edinburgh

These feminist academics present their superb webcomic, illustrating risks for women operating in universities, and highlight the work of other campaigns such as Pinjra Tod and #MeToo to raise awareness of the abuse women in academic face worldwide.

  1. Understanding dowry and dowry abuse in Australia

By Manjula O’Connor, Jan Breckenridge, Sara Singh and Mailin Suchting – University of New South Wales

Dowry abuse is a largely unknown traditional practice, most often associated with India, but in fact being practiced globally. These authors shine a light on how the giving of money, property, goods or other gifts by one family to another before, during or any time after marriage in Australia, can be used to isolate women (often immigrants) and often lead them to suicide or becoming murder victims.

Harnessing Community Power to Prevent Gender Based Violence: The #erasethegrey Campaign

By Lesley Macmillan – Glasgow Caledonian University

As part of widespread university efforts to stop gender-based violence, Lesley alerts us to the #erasethegrey campaign, a powerful messaging campaign that highlights the scale of GBV on campuses and has been a hit across social media, prompting nominations for educational and media awards. The campaign is now being harnessed by others, and being used as part of a national Scottish police campaign.

  1. When the law against violence becomes violent

By Rachana Johri, Bindu K.C. and Krishna Menon – Ambedkar University, Delhi

Feminist academics Rachana, Bindu and Krishna argue that the law supposed to protect women from violence in India, can in fact, prove abusive towards women, by taking an aggressive, carceral approach that is hostile to the needs of victims and to approaches that include dialogue, mediation and conflict resolution.

Women, gender-based violence, and resistance in Kashmir

By Seema Kazi – Centre for Women’s Development Studies in Delhi

In our final post of #16daysblogathon Seema reports on women’s prolonged fight for liberation in Kashmir, the site of the world’s oldest unresolved conflict, positioned between India and Pakistan. Becoming increasingly militarised over the decades, in 2019 gender has been deployed in political discourse around the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy, with serious effects for women. The women’s resistance movement’s struggle for freedom continues, however, despite formidable odds.

 

 

 

 

 

Day Sixteen | Women, gender-based violence, and resistance in Kashmir

Seema Kazi

Kashmir_valley_beautiful_flowersPhoto reproduced from Wikimedia

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government annulled Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federally-administered territories.  Astonishingly, the promotion of women’s rights was invoked as one of the discourses to justify the revocation of Kashmiri autonomy, whilst at the same time there have been widespread reports of gender-based violence by Indian troops. 

In the run up to the abrogation, the central government mobilised a million troops across the territory of Kashmir in parallel with the unlawful arrest of over 4,000 civilians (especially young boys), widespread use of torture, sexual molestation and harassment of Kashmiri women, together with a climate of extraordinary repression against the local population. Curbs on the media have restricted public access to information on Kashmir.

In addition to these measures, the central government imposed a crippling communications blackout: internet, landline and mobile services were cut off; Kashmiris could no longer stay in touch with each other or know what was happening to them, or indeed about them in Kashmir, or in the world at large. Landline and mobile services have since been partially restored but the ban on the internet continues. 

Kashmir is the world’s oldest unresolved conflict in the world. Partitioned between India and Pakistan without popular consent in 1948, the territory of Jammu and Kashmir in India, or Kashmir as it has come to be known, transformed into an international dispute between both states. The attempt to contain a political conflict through military means has been synonymous with large-scale human rights abuse by state forces including high levels of gendered violence over seven decades.

As Kashmir transformed into the world’s most militarised region, the challenges of Kashmiri women were multiple and daunting. A report by Médecins Sans Frontières on women’s health in Kashmir noted that Kashmiri women were subject to high levels sexual and gender-based violence including rape. Indian security forces were indicted for rape and sexual assault. In February 1991, army soldiers allegedly raped more than 30 women in Kunan Poshpora. In July 2019, a UNHCR report affirmed that no progress in the investigation had taken place even as the state authorities continued to thwart the survivor’s struggle for justice.  

In addition to forms of direct violence, the conflict has extracted a deadly and tragic price from Kashmiri women by way of, among others, the loss of the family breadwinner and male kin, large numbers of widows and half widows, the emergence of female-headed households, threats to women’s bodily and sexual integrity, a rise in women’s economic vulnerability, especially of underprivileged women, a mental health crisis among Kashmiri women, and the social exclusion and marginalisation of widows.

In 2019, gender has been deployed in political discourse around the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy. Among the justifications for rescinding Article 370 was ‘gender inequality’ in women’s property rights. Proponents of revocation argued that the Article disallowed Kashmiri women married to non-Kashmiris from inheriting or holding property in the state. This particular argument however was factually incorrect. A 2002 High Court ruling affirmed the right of Kashmiri women marrying non-Kashmiris to own property. Another key public justification for rescinding Kashmir’s autonomy was the stated ‘backwardness’ of Kashmiri women – a claim belied by the consistently superior social indices for women in Kashmir as compared to their counterparts in India. 

Apart from the instrumental use of women’s rights to legitimise state action in Kashmir, the ruling party’s post-revocation statements have been infused with racist and sexist metaphors. Members of the ruling party hailed the removal of Kashmir’s special rights as an opportunity for greater Hindu access to (Muslim) Kashmir’s land and Kashmiri women’s bodies. A ruling party legislator declared his party workers were excited they could now get married to ‘fair Kashmiri girls. Nivedita Menon, a feminist academic, underscored the imperialist, sexist and misogynist sub-text underpinning the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy: ‘These are proclamations of conquest and plunder, and reveal the real intention behind the abrogation of 370’.

Kashmiri women’s resistance

Notwithstanding the relentless siege and brutality, the breakdown in civilian life, and the violence and torture, Kashmiri women such as Anjum Zamrooda Habib and Parveena Ahanger have publicly resisted the Indian occupation. Anjum Zamrooda works with families of political prisoners while Parveena Ahanger has  transformed her personal tragedy of a disappeared son into a larger civic movement for public accountability for the disappeared. Women’s resistance, however, is often not given the attention or importance it deserves. Kashmir is no exception to this trend. Recent research affirms the multiple and continuing resistance by Kashmiri girls and women across generations in the wake of post-5 August developments: as decoys, militants, stone-pelters and street protestors. 

Women’s individual and collective support for the Kashmiri struggle for justice and freedom  continues despite formidable odds. A ground report documented women’s spirit of resistance in the wake of the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy: a young woman in the capital city of Srinagar said she could not think of anything but ‘our Azaadi  (freedom)…we hardly care about any pellet or bullet’. The report further noted the numerous women-only rallies in Srinagar; it also described how young women took to patrolling Srinagar’s rebellious Anchar neighbourhood with men in order to thwart police raids. Rehana, a teacher said:

 Our fight is bigger than Article 370. The abrogation of the article stripped us off our identity, however our battle is older than this. We are fighting for Kashmir’s liberation and until that is achieved we will keep fighting, even if it takes several months or years.

Hafsa Kanjwal, a Kashmiri scholar, points out that India’s revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy has refocused world attention on Kashmir as a political dispute. For the first time in 50 years, the UN Security Council held a closed door hearing on Kashmir. UNHCR reports on Kashmir in 2018 and 2019, recent US Congressional hearings on Kashmir, and the statements of US Democratic Party Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledging Kashmir as a disputed territory awaiting the implementation of UN resolutions indicate a discernible shift in international political and policy discourse. A recent US House of Representatives resolution called on India to end the communications blockade and mass detentions in Kashmir.

When or whether international opinion forces India to allow Kashmiris the right to determine their political future, as promised to them in 1947, remains to be seen. Kashmiri feminist scholar Hafsa Kanjwal spiritedly maintains:

‘the inability or sheer refusal to see the writing on the wall…has marked India’s position on Kashmir. But the unravelling of this position is giving way to a new movement – one that can no longer be contained.’

Seema Kazi is Associate Professor of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in Delhi. Recent publications include Gender and Governance: Perspectives from South Asia (Zubaan Academic 2019), and Between Democracy and Nation: Gender and Militarisation in Kashmir (Women Unlimited 2009; Oxford University Press 2010)

Day Sixteen |When the law against violence becomes violent

Rachana Johri, Bindu K.C. and Krishna Menon

Resisting Violence

Image of WISCOMP’s Resisting Violence annotated bibliography, reproduced with permission. Original art work by Linda Carmel

 

A critical question for feminists to ask when women turn to the law is whether a legal victory is always a triumph of the feminist worldview. Violence against women is ubiquitous in patriarchy. It pervades virtually all spheres of lives, happening most often in relational spaces. Without questioning the necessity of the law, it seems that the work of feminism must include a detailed analysis of the many moments in which women experience violence such as sexual harassment at the workplace and at educational institutions. 

Every violent act – whether it is a comment on the looks of a classmate, persistent messages from one student to another, or rape – constitute violence. Must all these be treated within a legal framework? And is ‘punishment’ the only imagination of justice? Perhaps more pertinently, does ‘punishment’ belong in a feminist approach to justice?

Feminists have had a rather contentious relationship with the law, and thereby with the state. In India, for instance, feminist campaigns have reposed great faith in the ability of law to initiate and establish equality and freedom on the one hand; on the hand, feminists have doubted and been skeptical of the very foundations on which modern legal systems are based. Consider the two moments where feminists in India have engaged with law – the Mathura custodial rape case and the infamous Delhi bus gang rape case. 

The Mathura rape case (1972) was undoubtedly a watershed moment in India; it signalled a radical shift in the focus of the women’s movement and feminist politics in India, and its engagement with the law. In 1974, the Committee on the Status of Women in India published its landmark report – ‘Towards Equality’ – and demonstrated an abiding faith in the ability of legislation to act as the major instrument for ushering in changes in the social order. 

The Supreme Court of India belied this faith when it pronounced its judgment in the Mathura rape case. Mathura was a sixteen year old girl who was raped by two policemen who were on duty.  She fought a courageous battle in the courts only to find that the Supreme Court of India cited the absence of injury marks on her body and her failure to have raised an alarm as evidence of consent for sexual encounters.  Following the judgement, sustained feminist campaigns resulted in many substantive changes in Indian criminal laws as passed in 1983.

In response the Mathura case, an Open Letter to the Chief Justice was authored by teachers of law at the University of Delhi Upendra Baxi, Lotika Sarkar, Raghunath Kelkar and Vasudha Dhagamwar. The letter represented a thrilling moment in the history of women’s movement and its long battle on the question of violence.

Thirty two years later came the Delhi bus gang rape case. This was a brutal and aggravated sexual attack perpetrated against  a 23 year student traveling home on a bus after an evening out with her friend. It horrified people across India and, indeed, the world.  She and her friend fought back only to be beaten mercilessly with iron rods, resulting in grave injuries that finally resulted in her death.  This incident resulted in  angry protests in the city of Delhi and elsewhere, compelling the government to review the existing legal framework – a process that resulted in further changes in the law.

Just months later, the Justice Verma Committee Report was released in response to protests across the country. This report laid the foundations of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, and became an occasion for feminists in India to engage deeply with the nature of law and the crime and punishment matrix. 

Law is not static; it is best understood as a process that unfolds rather messily and haltingly. While the legal dispensation might nudge along progressive change, its ability to render justice remains limited. While the law might nurse implicit emancipatory potential, it harbours within it the seeds of what might be called a ‘carceral’ and aggressive feminism that is hostile to conversation, dialogue, mediation and conflict resolution. The power of the legal statute combined with a rigid and unimaginative invocation of identity politics, can result in nasty and bitter and – dare we say – violent use of the law.  What do we do when groups of feminists argue with each other, and use the power of law to settle disputes? Can the law, as Pratiksha Baxi asks, translate sexual agency and desire into juridical categories?

Feminists in India have reflected upon other conceptions of justice and indeed the impossibility of justice within what is essentially a masculinist legal paradigm (see also Menon’s Recovering Subversion and Sethi’s commentary ‘Why the Mahmood Farooqui Judgment is Deeply Flawed’).  It is this kind of questioning that has led feminists in India and elsewhere to value emotions and account for the specificity in each instance, rather than be guided solely by universalising frames and principles based on ‘reason’ and empirical evidence. Such an orientation towards questions of legality and justice  would be concerned with setting limits to the use of law. It would value friendship, compassion and relationality as frames within which to examine the question of justice. 

Do these two approaches have to be pitted against each other? As feminists we would caution against the setting up of yet another unfruitful binary. It is only through the difficult task of feminist engagement with the law, legal processes, legal institutions, legal education and the legal profession that the distance between these two approaches will be creatively negotiated. We see the sixteen days of activism against gender-based violence as yet another significant initiative in this direction.

Krishna Menon is Professor of Gender Studies, is and currently Dean of the School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. Some of her recent publications include Social Movements in Contemporary India (SAGE Texts 2019), ‘The “Right” Music: Caste and “classical” music in south India’ in Discourse on Rights in India: Debates and Dilemmas (Routledge 2018). 

Bindu K.C. is Assistant Professor in gender studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. Her teaching and research expertise are at the intersection of gender studies and English literature.  

Rachana Johri is a Professor at the School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi, where she teaches psychology, psychosocial studies and gender studies. 

 

Day Fifteen | Harnessing Community Power to Prevent Gender Based Violence: The #erasethegrey Campaign

Lesley McMillan

Lesley macmillan

Image of #erasethegrey banners reproduced with permission of Glasgow Caledonian University

In recent years, universities and colleges across the world have begun to take steps to address the widespread problem of gender-based violence (GBV). There has been considerable attention paid to universities’ historical inaction on these issues, or where responses have been inadequate at best, and deeply harmful at worst. Research has highlighted ‘lad culture’ on campus and evidenced the high rates at which women students experience GBV. The NUS revealed 1 in 7 women students in the UK had experienced serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. The study also found that 12% had been subjected to stalking, and over two thirds had experienced some kind of verbal or non-verbal harassment in or around their institution, including groping, flashing and unwanted sexual comments. 

Many students may have experienced GBV before coming to university. One in three (35%) women worldwide has experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. GBV takes many forms, including sexual harassment and intimidation; rape and sexual assault; domestic abuse; coercive and controlling behaviour; child abuse and child sexual exploitation; trafficking; forced marriage; female genital mutilation; and so called ‘honour’ crimes. These experiences, before or during a university career, may impact on someone’s ability to be fully part of the university community and can have implications for their learning experience. Given what we know about prevalence, those employed in universities and those visiting the university campus are also likely to be affected. 

Universities globally cannot be complacent about GBV and must take steps to prevent its occurrence, challenge the cultures that support it, and respond effectively when such violence occurs. Within this context, Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland embarked upon a comprehensive programme of work Preventing and Responding to Gender Based Violence. This has included a policy, an action plan, a network of first responders trained to take disclosures, a multi-agency working group, staff training, peer to peer education, and a programme of prevention work.  It is specifically our primary prevention work through the #erasethegrey campaign that I will discuss here. 

In seeking to develop a GBV campaign, we drew upon a body of research work conducted by colleagues in the Justice, Violence and Gender Research Group and worked collaboratively with colleagues in Student Wellbeing.

Our campaign would have three clear goals:

  1. to counter the silence around GBV and to make a clear statement that it is something that can be spoken about, challenged and addressed;
  2. to challenge the common myths, misunderstandings and scepticism that surround GBV and that often make it difficult for survivors to name their experiences and speak about them;
  3. and to draw attention to the university’s First Responder scheme where support and could be provided.

Our research tells us that institutional responses to survivors are often poor, it was therefore essential that a fully trained network of staff was in place before embarking on an awareness raising campaign. We also wanted to produce a campaign that sought to address the many forms GBV can take. While many universities have focussed on sexual misconduct, instituting consent training and bystander programmes as a primary response, we wanted to take a broader approach. 

We were confident in the research that informed the need for the campaign, the approach and the goals; we were less confident in our graphic design capabilities.  We drew upon the skills of our BSc Digital Design students undertaking the Design for Change module. Their brief was clear; to address the three aims, and to categorically avoid victim-blaming and scaremongering. It is vitally important to address GBV without placing responsibility on women for their own safety as some other campaigns and interventions have done. Risk avoidance approaches that focus on victims’ behaviour and fail to address perpetrators’ actions reinforce the problem. 

Sexual assault posters

Some of the #erasethegrey messages, reproduced with permission of Glasgow Caledonian University

The students produced a striking design using white and grey text on a black background. The grey text represents the myth or misunderstanding, and the white text highlights the ‘take home’ message. We worked with the students to produce 14 messages for the campaign, which we then named #erasethegrey. The campaign was launched in 2018 and assets include large pole banners for display outside, posters, motion graphics for use on digital screens and social media channels, and campaign merchandise such as stationery, bags and hoodies. 

The campaign was an immediate success generating considerable attention, particularly on social media. It went ‘viral’ one night on Twitter, generating 130,000 likes, and 46,000 re-tweets at the last count. In 2019 #erasethegrey has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards Outstanding Student Support Award, and the Scottish Public Service Awards Championing Gender Equality Award

As a result of its success, and because preventing and responding to GBV is everyone’s responsibility, we took the opportunity to make the campaign available to other organisations, free of charge, under licence. To date, the campaign has been used by eight other organisations with several more scheduled in the coming months. During the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV it was used by those involved in Fearless Glasgow, and run as a national campaign on social media channels by Police Scotland.

The very fact that institutions are approaching us in number suggests it may be generating wider cultural change. Of course, one campaign alone will not address the deeply embedded conditions that are both a cause and consequence of GBV, and anyone using this or other campaigns must embed it within a comprehensive programme of work that must include support services. However, any steps that seek to challenge the status quo, change institutional culture and practice, and make addressing GBV a community responsibility, is to everyone’s benefit. 

Campaign versions are currently available for UK jurisdictions. We would be happy to adapt the campaign for use in other countries or jurisdictions. If you are interested in using #erasethegrey, please get in touch. You can follow us on twitter @GCUerasethegrey.

 

Lesley McMillan (@lejmcmillan) is Professor of Criminology and Sociology at Glasgow Caledonian University. Her research interests surround gender inequality and crime and justice. In particular, she is interested in gendered and sexual violence and the statutory and non-statutory response to it. She is especially interested in the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault and in particular: the post-assault processing of cases; the problem of attrition; perceptions, attitudes and practices of criminal justice personnel including police officers, prosecutors, forensic medics and judges; and medico-legal interventions in rape and sexual assault. 

Day Fifteen |Understanding dowry and dowry abuse in Australia

Manjula O’Connor, Jan Breckenridge, Sara Singh and Mailin Suchting

dowry abuse

Reproduced from Shutterstock via The Conversation

 

The practice of dowry usually involves the giving of money, property, goods or other gifts by one family to another before, during or any time after marriage. It is a universal practice. For example, Bombay Island – now called Mumbai – was a former Portuguese outpost which was gifted to England as dowry in the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II (and was later leased to the East India Company in 1668). 

In its modern day avatar, dowry as a practice has different customary characteristics across different communities. Dowry exchange in South Asian communities is characterised by the woman’s family providing goods (including but not limited to money, jewellery, furniture and appliances) to the man and his family. In North African and Middle Eastern communities, dowry is characterised by the man’s family providing goods (predominantly in the form of money or cattle) to the female and her family.

Dowry is an ancient practice most frequently associated with India, but in reality, it is a cultural practice globally. This blog mostly addresses dowry in the South Asian context. Dowry in ancient times originated as a form of ante mortem inheritance, meant only for the bride. In modern times dowry gifts are expected by the family of the receiver as well and has become a practice that is a product of patriarchy reinforcing gender inequality. Women activists have campaigned against dowry practices in India since 1961, recognising the toxic impact of patriarchy combined with greed, and growing evidence of serious violence, murders and suicides associated with dowry in India. 

The Australasian Centre of Human Rights and Health (ACHRH) has refined the definition of dowry as ‘substantial gifts’ in the context of a marriage, where the value of gifts is out of proportion to the income of either family and causes financial distress to the giver.

Dowry abuse 

The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women has defined dowry-related violence as ‘any act of violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of dowry at any time before, during or after the marriage’.

Money is power and like any power is open to abuse in an unequal situation. Dowry is one such practice. Where there is gender inequality and unequal power between the bride and the groom, the path to violence against women, dowry related death-murder and suicide becomes possible. In the Australian context, the unequal power relations are in some ways magnified because the bride is usually a new immigrant to Australia and often on a temporary visa such as a partner visa or dependent visa of the groom (the sponsor). The groom commands a higher dowry value in lieu of Australian residency. To this extent, the immigration process can allow the groom to gain additional power over the bride. In addition, the sponsor holds the power to withdraw sponsorship, leaving the new migrant bride vulnerable to abandonment and threats of deportation. 

These issues are often compounded by lack of family and social protective mechanisms in their home country and the social isolation that many brides experience as new immigrants. There is emerging evidence that some perpetrators collect dowry in India and leave the brides behind in India, never sponsoring them. The exact figures of abandoned brides in India is not known. Similarly, there is no good data available on the numbers of women abandoned within Australia, including those who are tricked into returning back home.

The dowry gifts are often particularly ‘excessive’ when compared to the income and assets of the family giving them. Although the demands are often unstated there is expectation that oversized gifts will be given. ‘Insufficient’ dowry can be accompanied by acts of violence towards the woman and her family, or other acts of abuse including emotional and economic abuse, harassment or stalking to exact compliance with demands or to punish the victim for non-payment. In this way, dowry abuse differs from other acts of family violence in that a number of individuals can be involved in perpetrating acts of violence, including in-laws, former spouses and fiancés, and other family members. To this extent, dowry abuse is a cultural manifestation of domestic and family violence, and also a form of financial abuse. 

Perpetrators can conduct sham and fraudulent marriages, extort dowry and abandon the brides. These perpetrators escape accountability by hiding in developed economies such as Australia, the UK, USA, Europe, the Middle East and Singapore. However, the abandoned brides themselves go through severe trauma, are stigmatised, may experience a sense of failure. They are sometimes rejected by their own family, cheated of their dowry saved over many years, left pregnant and must manage resulting mental health issues. Sometimes they are duped into returning back to their country after migration. They have no rights to residency of the developed country their perpetrator/ husband lives in and no laws to protect them in this transnational space. 

Two of these women travelled from India to attend the Second National Dowry Abuse Summit and spoke about their painful, harrowing experiences. The Summit was hosted by the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health and UNSW Sydney and co-hosted by Harmony Alliance, InTouch, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), Good Shepherd, White Ribbon and South West Sydney Local Health District and held in Sydney Australia on 22 February 2019. The women – who felt voiceless and powerless before – both have been accorded residency in Australia as special cases. Their experiences highlight, the need for and value of, systematic support for women impacted by dowry abuse. 

Dowry abuse in Australia

Dowry abuse is perceived as a growing problem in some communities in Australia. The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence recently found that it was a particular concern in Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and, increasingly, in Middle Eastern communities; it is, however, important to note that it is not confined to any one ethnic, cultural or religious group. Care is needed in public discourse so as not to stereotype or vilify one particular group. Migrant diaspora communities continue to engage in the practice of dowry as a central marriage custom. Migration status can be used to demand higher dowries which when not fulfilled result in abuse and violence.

The Commission noted that the extent of the practice is considerable in Victoria. The growing concern of the impacts of dowry abuse gave rise to a grass roots campaign against dowry and dowry abuse, with a petition raised by the ACHRH that demanded dowry abuse be included in the Family Violence Protection Act of Victoria as an example of economical abuse. In addition, community participatory theatre projects and a video titled have increased the community’s understanding of the issues. 

However, it appears that there is very limited understanding amongst the police, social workers and the legal profession in Australia as to what dowry is, how it is practiced, and how it may be linked to family violence. For example, in the case of one Indian woman who was ultimately killed by her husband, her complaints to police about dowry appear to have been misunderstood and the seriousness of the issue may have been downplayed due to lack of cultural awareness. This highlights the need for increased cultural awareness and greater education about dowry abuse for service providers in Australia 

Responses to dowry abuse in Australia

On 26 June 2018, the Australian Senate referred the practice of dowry and the incidence of dowry abuse in Australia to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry. The Final Report of the Senate Inquiry into the Practice of Dowry and the Incidence of Dowry Abuse in Australia was handed down on 14 February 2019. It uncovered the practice was nationwide and recommended to include dowry abuse in Federal Family Law Act.

This Inquiry was preceded by a number of achievements, including the petition which was tabled in the Victorian Parliament on 13 May 2014 by Former Premier Ted Baillieu; the 2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence Report, which made a recommendation to include dowry abuse as a statutory example of family violence; and extensive media coverage on dowry abuse. The Dowry Abuse Amendment Bill was tabled in the Victorian Parliament in 7 August 2018. Seven MPs from Lower and Upper house spoke in favour, and it became law on 29 March 2019 (see Family Violence Protection Act 2008).

Next year marks the 25-year anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Australian government’s progress Report to UN Women for the Commission in the Status of Women meeting in 2020 includes dowry abuse as a matter for action – it is worth noting that Australia is the first developed country to do so. 

There has also been an increasing level of awareness and sensitisation to the issue of dowry abuse in domestic violence service providers nationwide. The Second National Dowry Abuse Summit adopted a Dowry Abuse Resolution. A national group hosted by Harmony Alliance the peak Migrant Women’s Network was also formed to further the national awareness and education program around dowry abuse. Most recently, on 8 August 2019 the COAG endorsed the Fourth National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children. In it, dowry abuse is noted as a complex form of abuse in culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CALD) communities.

Next steps

The current domestic and family violence and family law systems are ineffective in responding to the legal issues reported to arise from the practice of dowry, including financial abuse, exploitation of the family, and divorce, custody and property settlement proceedings. In addition, nationwide education programs are lacking for front line workers, the police, judiciary, domestic and family violence service providers, and medical and health workers. 

There is a need for more systematic structural support for people impacted by dowry abuse. Services and supports (including legal, health, financial, housing, employment services) for dowry abuse victims need to be improved so that they are more accessible and better address the complex issues faced by victims of dowry abuse, and in particular, victims who are on temporary or dependent visas. 

The Migration Regulations 1994 (Cth) contain provisions that allow for individuals on certain temporary visas to apply for permanent residency if they have experienced family violence by their sponsor. However, not all temporary visa holders (such as individuals on a tourist visa, a dependent of a student, or a dependent of certain skilled migrant groups) are eligible to access these provisions. This limits the ability of many dowry abuse victims to access residency and means that women in the above categories have no access to support services such as Medicare, Centrelink, housing rights and sometimes work rights. 

Compounding this, many immigrant women who have experienced dowry abuse feel unable to return to their country of origin due to shame and stigma. They may also feel compelled to not return to their families who have paid huge amounts for their weddings and dowries. Many women are also told by their families not to return, which puts the women at high risk of mental illness and further abuse. 

Evidence put before the Senate Inquiry also highlighted the intersections between dowry abuse and modern slavery (for example, sexual and domestic servitude). Service providers need to have greater awareness of these intersections in order to develop more holistic and appropriate services for people impacted by dowry abuse. 

As this shows, there is currently limited legislation and service provision to protect victims of dowry abuse in Australia. Whilst there is action, more work still needs to be done to ensure the safety, financial security and wellbeing of victims of dowry abuse. 

 

Manjula O’Connor is a Psychiatrist with four decades of experience. She is also an applied researcher and a published author. Her primary area of interest for past 10 years has been family violence and mental health in immigrant communities. She chairs the Royal Australian NZ College of Psychiatrists Family Violence Psychiatry Network and is Honorary Senior Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry , University of Melbourne. Manjula co-founded the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health in 2012 and advocates against family violence in immigrant communities. Manjula led the public dowry abuse campaign in Australia that led to the inclusion of laws against dowry abuse in the Victorian Family Violence Protection Act and triggered the Federal Senate Enquiry into dowry abuse. She is a member of South Asian Community Ministerial Advisory Council Manjula is a White Ribbon Advocate. Manjula’s work has been cited in the Victorian Parliament and the Federal Australian Parliament several times. Manjula was a member of the steering group that organised the Second National Dowry Abuse Summit. 

Jan Breckenridge is an Associate Professor, Head of the School of Social Sciences, and the Co-Convener of the Gendered Violence Research Network, UNSW, Sydney. Jan’s research is oriented towards maximum impact in innovative social policy development, service provision and outcome measurement of effectiveness. Jan leads an evidence informed knowledge-exchange stream ‘Gendered Violence and Organisations’ which provides expert advice to government, private and third sector organisations on best practice policies and organisational response to employees and the management of customers affected by domestic and family violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Jan was a member of the steering group that organised the Second National Dowry Abuse Summit. 

Sara Singh Sara Singh is a Research Assistant at the Gendered Violence Research Network (GVRN) at UNSW, Sydney. She engages in research projects aimed at informing policy development and best practice responses to individuals and communities impacted by gendered violence. She was recently awarded a UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarship to examine dowry and bride price practices in the Indo-Pacific region.

Mailin Suchting is the Manager of the Gendered Violence Research Network (GVRN) at UNSW, Sydney. She has worked for over three decades in leadership, management, education and frontline roles shaping public sector policy and responses to the health and justice impact of domestic and family violence, sexual assault and child physical abuse/neglect on individuals. She has a particular interest in gender, culture, sexuality and intersectionality. A current focus is the Gendered Violence & Organisations stream at GVRN which offers a suite of services including policy advice, face to face training and eLearning to employers who want to address the effects of domestic, family and sexual violence on their employees and organisations. Mailin was a member of the steering group that organised the Second National Dowry Abuse Summit.

Day Fourteen |Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy

Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Radhika Govinda

Feminist cartoon day 14

Artwork by Samia Singh and used with permission and produced as part of the Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project, a collaboration between Ambedkar University and the University of Edinburgh

The above image is a preview of a (web)comic focused on feminist struggles in the academy, that is currently under development. The (web)comic features 24 pages of beautiful original artwork by illustrators Samia Singh based in Punjab, India, and Shazleen Khan, in London, UK. It is based on roundtable conversations and panel discussions that took place at Ambedkar University Delhi, India in December 2017 and at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in February 2018 as part of the ongoing Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project

Some of the most poignant ideas and issues that emerged during the roundtable conversations and panel discussions pertained to sexual violence and sexual harassment of women, and how these are managed in the institutional space of universities. Feminist academics and activists speaking at these fora observed how commonplace sexual harassment and violence were, to the point that they could say with considerable confidence that there wouldn’t be a single woman who hadn’t experienced some form of sexual harassment or violence!

They noted that there were no doubt differences in the form and intensity of harassment and/or violence experienced; that this was informed by the intersectionality of race, caste, class, sexual orientation and so on; and that this could occur at the university and other places of work, or on the streets, or in more intimate spaces. Participants shared their experiences of sexual harassment, and even rape. These were moments for pause and reflection, for expressions of solidarity and support. 

There were other moments when participants expressed frustration and dismay at the ‘loving (and oft knowing) ignorance’ displayed by their colleagues, friends and family members about the everyday nature of sexual harassment and violence – the kind of ignorance which they processed through humour and irony. For instance, one speaker observed that they had been advocating for many years for these issues to be taken seriously but it wasn’t until the #MeToo movement emerged that more people started to take notice:

‘For the first time people who didn’t really know about it before are suddenly like, “oh is that what happens to women? Do you really have to assess your risk about when is it that you go home?” People are now listening in a way that they haven’t before and we said “[but] we’ve been trying to tell you this for years!”

Our intention is to capture these and more difficult moments and ideas on the pages of our (web)comic.

In honour of the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, we wanted to showcase a panel from our (web)comic, which seeks to depict some of the dilemmas, challenges and contradictions that feminist academics are themselves confronted with when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment and violence in university spaces. Specifically, it engages with the notion that universities’ institutional responses to violence and harassment can often replicate and perpetuate paternalistic and patriarchal norms around women’s ‘safety’, in spite of also being spaces in which women can access emancipatory feminist education.

All-women colleges are considered one important way in which women from diverse backgrounds can access higher education in India. Some of these institutions pioneer rights-based and feminist consciousness-building, yet we are then left with the paradox whereby measures designed to mitigate the risk of sexual violence, such as housing in all-women’s hostels, end up enforcing new restrictions or replicating old patriarchal social norms.

There is a clear tension between the impulse to create safe and empowering spaces for women and the consequences of this strategy, which require instructions to create ‘rules’ that mimic familial patterns of control such as strict curfews, dress codes, visitation limitations, policing interactions, and so on. These rules end up treating women as ‘precious birds’ that need to be kept under lock and key. The displacement of patriarchal authority from the ‘threat’ of men on the outside to the paternal hand of the higher educational institution places feminist academics working in these institutions in a uniquely challenging and frustrating situation.

In August 2015, students came out to protest the imposition of curfews and other sexist rules on college-going women at Delhi’s Jamia University. They were soon joined by students in other Universities in Delhi and elsewhere in India. They called themselves the Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage) campaign. In less than a year, it had successfully pressured the Delhi Commission for Women into challenging discriminatory practices against college-going women at Delhi’s 23 registered universities. Over the years, Pinjra Tod has continued to mobilise and act both online and offline. It has broadened the ambit of its demands from ‘breaking the hostel locks’ to claiming women’s right to freely and fearlessly occupy and even take risks in public spaces. 

Campaigns like Pinjra Tod and #MeToo demonstrate that it is not only important for feminists in the academy to address issues of sexual harassment and violence but how we choose to address these issues is equally significant. Through the pages of our (web)comic, our aim is to not only debunk the myths of who is a feminist academic or ‘why doing gender studies is not a waste of time’ but to also offer a peak into the everyday struggles, dilemmas and contradictions that feminists face when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment and violence and the spaces we are able to create for resistance and change in the academy. 

As a conceptual tool, the comic is rooted in core academic literature and scholarly debates, but exists in a more accessible format that will make it easier to understand and for academic and non-academic audiences alike to engage with the highlights from the project events. This is in sync with the feminist and decolonial ideas we are working with to create more democratic and decentralised forms of knowledge creation. Illustrations from both artists, Samia Singh and Shazleen Khan, will reflect their respective styles and the cover illustration will be a collaborative piece that the two shall develop together. 

Being part of the conception and creation of this unique artwork has made us reflect on our own respective privileges and marginality, and recognising the powerful opportunity we have at our hands to contribute in destabilising knowledge production on feminism and GBV has been a real joy! We hope we have been able to share a glimpse of that in this blogpost. The creation and development of the (web)comic is supported by a Student Experience Grant and genderED. We invite you to look up a web version of the full comic, which will be up in the new year on the Gender Politics at Edinburgh blog.

Cat Wayland (@cat_wayland) is a PhD student in political theory at the University of Edinburgh, working on methodology, intersectionality and the politics of knowledge production. 

Kamya Choudhary (@KamyaChoudhary) is a PhD researcher in International Development at the University of Edinburgh, her research focuses on the impacts and the sustainability of renewable energy applications within agriculture in rural India. 

Dr Radhika Govinda (@GovindaRadhika) is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She has a keen interest in identity politics, intersectionality, and gender and development, and is the UK Lead on an ongoing North-South, UGC-UKIERI-funded research and teaching collaboration, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives: Questions of Identity, Pedagogy, and Violence in India and the UK.

Day Fourteen | Textile Testimonies and Gender-Based Violence

Lydia Cole

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have become topics of global focus. From #Metoo to landmark judgements in international criminal justice processes, visibility – amid promising calls for action toward justice – is often contingent on the testimony of survivors. In our haste to hear these stories, the long-term impact of demands for testimony is overlooked.

In this post, I propose an alternative site in which we might listen to and hear testimony. Specifically, I take a look at arpilleras – appliquéd wall-hangings – from Peru, featured in the Conflict Textiles collection. The term ‘arpillera’ literally means burlap or hessian, the material on which the textile is made. However, the term has become synonymous with this form of appliquéd wall-hanging.

 

The Conflict Textiles Collection: From Chile to Peru 

The Conflict Textiles collection is a physical and online archive of materials hosted by CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) at Ulster University. Curated by Roberta Bacic and Breege Doherty, the mainstay of the collection is the Chilean arpilleras which were crafted to denounce violence under the Pinochet dictatorship. Made with the support of the Vicariate of Solidarity, arpilleras depicted the killing, disappearance, and poverty experienced under the regime, as well as acts of protest and everyday strategies of survival.

As with the collection itself, the arpillera travelled to other global contexts. Inspired by the Chilean arpilleristas (those who make arpilleras), women living through the Peruvian civil war (1980 to 2000) began to stitch the violence in their own country.

Curator Roberta Bacic uses the term “textile photograph” to describe the arpilleras; a reference to the way that they bear witness. The Peruvian arpilleras, like the Chilean pieces, testify to conflict experiences, depicting scenes of massacre, displacement and poverty, and commenting on issues related to gender-based violence.

quilt cole 1
‘Debo ser humilde y sumisa? / Should I be submissive and subservient?’, Peruvian arpillera, Anonymous, 1986, Photo: Martin Melaugh, © Conflict Textiles.

‘Debo ser humilde y sumisa?’ (Should I be submissive and subservient?) was produced in 1986 in Lima. The textile shows a gathering in a room which has two posters emblazoned on the wall. One states: “Women, value yourself!”, while the other rhetorically asks, “Should I be humble and submissive?”.

This is an emotive piece, with the figures stitched with a range of expressions: some cast their eyes and heads down, though others take a different stance: the figure in light blue appears inquisitive, while three women sat at the bottom of the textile hold a book, perhaps engaging with the themes in the posters. Above all, the arpillera depicts: ‘women who have already made a space to deal with their issues’.

Providing answer to the poster’s question, the arpillera emphatically portrays a space of agency, with suggestion of their ongoing discussion of issues related to gender, violence, and patriarchy.

quilt cole 2
Violar es un Crimen / Rape is a Crime’, Peruvian arpillera, MH, Mujeres Creativas workshop, 2008, Photo: Martin Melaugh, © Conflict Textiles.

‘Violar es un Crimen’ (Rape is a Crime) is a 2008 replica, with the original a design from the Mujeres Creativas workshops in 1985. The textile shows a protest which took place outside military command in Lima. On the right-hand side, a woman has entered the military command, angrily confronting the armed military police. All the figures wear dark colours and hold flowers, representing the cantata (the national flower of Peru). This flower is primarily found in the Andean mountains and its inclusion symbolises a connection to Ayacucho, the community for whom they protest. 

Speaking about the arpillera, Maria (a participant of the action) states:

In October 1985 many people were killed in Ayacucho and women were raped, but nobody protested. Two groups of us decided to demonstrate in front of Comando Conjunto… since the people… living in Ayacucho felt too vulnerable to do so… [Later we] decided to make an arpillera of our action to show that we do not condone such brutality.

‘Rape is a Crime’ denounces sexual violence and displacement in Ayacucho through its depiction of resistance and solidarity with those unable to make their voices heard.

quilt cole 3
‘Violencia Doméstica / Domestic Violence’, Peruvian arpillera, MH, Mujeres Creativas Workshop, 2008, Photo: Colin Peck, © Conflict Textiles.

‘Violencia Doméstica’ (Domestic Violence) is another arpillera produced in the Mujeres Creativas workshops and responds to the contemporary context. The piece is divided into three sections. In the first, we are shown a scene of domestic violence within the home. The second shows the neighbours seeking justice at the local police station. Later, with the police unwilling to take further action, members of the community decide to enact their own justice. In the final panel, the man is tied to a tree and holds a sign which reads “I will not beat again”.  

Responding to the prevalence of domestic violence in Peru, the arpillera again speaks to a wider discussion among the group on issues of gender-based violence, and signals toward community action toward justice.

Conflict Textiles are therefore a promising site to learn (and unlearn) our ways of knowing SGBV. Untangling narratives of victimhood, together the arpilleras stitch a continuum of gender-based violence. As textile testimonies to a range of gender-based violence, arpilleras bring women’s voices, agency, solidarity and resistance to the fore. 

 

Dr Lydia Cole (@LydiaCCole) is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Durham University on ‘The Art of Peace: Interrogating community devised arts-based peacebuilding’. Completing her doctoral research at Aberystwyth University in 2018, her research engages at the intersections of feminist international relations theory, critical peace and conflict studies, and visual, creative and participatory research methods. Lydia’s research on gendered violence and conflict textiles has been published in journals including International Feminist Journal of Politics and Critical Military Studies. She has also co-curated exhibitions including Stitched Voices / Lleisiau wedi eu Pwytho and Threads, War and Conflict.