Featured image: From UN Women – “In focus: 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which runs from 25 November to 10 December, Human Rights Day. This year’s annual blogathon brings together voices from academia, activism and the creative arts to raise awareness of this ongoing struggle. The blogathon marks a continuing collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, Dr B.R. Ambedkar University, Delhi, and the University of New South Wales.
Our theme this year is migration, mobilities, and displacement. This is an urgent theme, both historically and given the current moment. We are living through one of the largest and most rapid forced displacements of our times with some four million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries. This is not the only example of forced displacement: across the planet, populations are on the move in search of shelter from war, extreme climate change, and political instability. Historically, as our bloggers note, the foundational violence of settler colonialism and racialized labor regimes have violently separated people from their communities, rendering them vulnerable to harm.
Through an analysis of both violence and the reparative work of care, this year’s 16-day Blogathon explores how people endure and negotiate gender-based violence in contexts of voluntary and coerced movement.
Our blogathon follows in the tradition begun in 1991 by activists at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute. That decade was marked by an emphasis on gender in global development initiatives. In 1995, the UN held the Fourth World Conference on Women that adopted the Beijing Declaration with an agenda for women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Where are the conversations today, thirty years later? As we curated the blogathon, we found that our interlocutors adopted a quite different approach to gender from the discourse of the 1990s.
One of our bloggers critically notes that “in the context of displacement, gender-based violence is often conceptualised as violence against women, meaning those who are cisgender and heterosexual.” Rather than considering women as the a priori subject of gender-based violence, our blogathon show how gender-based violence is produced in a range of institutional sites and contexts.
This year’s opening blog is by Urvashi Butalia, well-known historian and founder of the feminist publishing house, Kali for Women. She writes about India’s Partition, drawing on stories from the time to raise questions about what ‘displacement’ means when, really, you have no place at all to call your own. Gendered violence is enacted through separations of land and people.
Indeed, many of our bloggers show how forms of settler colonialism and war have displaced people from their land and their communities, thus fracturing kinship and intergenerational strength. Equally, borders act as technologies of violence, inviting certain laboring bodies and confining and isolating others—their spouses—whose labor of social reproduction is unrecognized. Moving bodies are also read as not “belonging” at certain times of day and night, as “foreign,” or “out-of-place” in certain spaces. We investigate a range of these spaces: refugee camps, crisis pregnancy centers, homes, and domestic shelters. Our bloggers draw on narratives – either from ethnographic research, personal testimonies, or literary accounts – of sexual violence in wars, and detail the racialized, sexualized, classed, and gendered dynamics of these forms of violence.
Our bloggers also show us how a gender analysis can expose the problematic construction of the “ideal” victim in international humanitarian and legal discourse. Such a figure is mobilized by normative ideas of gender and sexuality. Through queer and trans perspectives, the blogathon shows how homophobia and transphobia necessitate migration and the cobbling together of community-based “safe spaces.” The lived experience of violence in migrant life is thus not experienced through the individual alone but distributed through the communities that marginalized migrants belong to. Despite what some of our bloggers named as the “inevitability of rape and sexual abuse” in the refugee experience, there are now vibrant networks that situate refugee voices as leaders in international decision-making fora.
Even amidst the violence of war and border-making are forms of public and community art that enable survivors to bear witness and create art that gives form to experience and enables healing. We explore the feminist possibilities of witnessing and seeking justice through alternative courts and hear about the public installation of clothes of survivors of sexual violence. We explore the visual landscapes of art created in the aftermath of large-scale sexual violence during war. We hear the songs and read about the characters who have experienced gender-based violence during migration.
We hope that our curation of this year’s blogathon leaves you with a multi-lensed analysis of how gender-based violence works through patriarchy, colonialism, war, and racialized violence.
We also hope that we can give you a sense of the crucial forms of care and mutual aid through which communities stitch together the resources and kinship that are necessary to survive and thrive amidst both the violence and the possibilities of mobilities, movement, and displacement.
Content note: posts inevitably address distressing experiences and issues around sexual and gender-based violence. We hope they also provoke, energise and at times, serve to provide hope when it seems most bleak.
The 2022 curators:
University of Edinburgh: Dr Radhika Govinda (Director), Dr Hemangini Gupta (Assoc Director and 2022 Blogathon Co-Lead), Dr Zubin Mistry (Steering Group Member and 2022 Blogathon Co-Lead) and Aerin Lai (PhD web and editorial assistant) from GENDER.ED.
Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi: Prof. Rukmini Sen (Director, Centre for Publishing), Dr Rachna Mehra (School of Global Affairs).
University of New South Wales: Prof. Jan Breckenridge (Co-Convenor), Mailin Suchting (Manager) and Georgia Lyons (Research Assistant) for the Gendered Violence Research Network.