Nick Mai shares the trailer to CAER, made in collaboration with Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo, and argues for the importance of co-creative ethnographic filmmaking as a strategic methodological approach to challenging the spectacle of victimhood, allowing migrant sex workers and other migrant groups to define victimhood according to their needs, experiences, and priorities.
Featured image: Image: Still from CAER: Lorena Borjas and Liaam Winslet watching the first version of the film during a co-creative editing feedback session. From Anti Trafficking Review.
Contemporary times are characterised by the convergence of the inequalities engendered by neoliberal policies and the parallel increase in both migration flows and restrictive migration policies. They are also characterised by the global rise of neo-abolitionist policies attempting to eradicate sex work, framed as sexual exploitation and trafficking, which often translates into harmful policies exacerbating the exploitability and deportability of marginalized, racialized and sex-gendered migrant groups. This convergence is the background for the proliferation of sexual humanitarian biographical borders. These emerge at the interplay between discursive, material and performative practices through which a majority of ‘economic migrants’ are filtered away from a minority of refugees identified according to stereotypical humanitarian understandings of victimhood, abuse and exploitation expressing the sensibilities and priorities of the global north. Co-creative ethnographic filmmaking (ethnofiction) can be a strategic methodological approach to challenge the idealised and stereotypical priorities and categories of victimhood framing sexual humanitarian bordering by allowing migrant sex workers and other marginalised and stigmatised migrant groups to define victimhood in their terms according to their experiences, priorities and needs.
Nick Mai is a sociologist, an ethnographer and a filmmaker whose writing and films focus on the experiences and representations of stigmatised and criminalised migrant groups. Through co-creative ethnographic films and original research findings Nick challenges prevailing representation of the encounter between migration and sex work in terms of trafficking, while focusing on the complex dynamics of exploitation and agency that are implicated. Nick is the author of Mobile Orientations: An Intimate Autoethnography of Migration, Sex Work, and Humanitarian Borders (Chicago University Press, 2018).
Amancaya Xristina shares the power of art through her piece on the Heart & Art creative program for refugee and migrant women. By using creativity women reinvent what are those stable values within themselves, that no matter the circumstances they can return to and feel safe.
Featured image: Artwork created during the Heart & Art creative program. Image credit: Amancaya Xristina
When words are not ready to be shared, painting through its symbols and colors can become a smoother bridge to connect the dots of the past to the future, from loneliness to community, from silence to a story. Heart & Art is a creative and therapeutic program of interaction and exploration where refugee and asylum seeker women from different paths of life meet, create and share. The focus is on community, self-expression and healing from trauma. By using creativity women reinvent what are those stable values within themselves, that no matter the circumstances they can return to and feel safe.
Gender based violence (GBV) is often disguised in subtle forms of living, such as the daily intimidation of survival, or on the uncertainty of where “home” was, is and will be and when can I reach it, how to raise my children through a xenophobic and racist culture? How do we combat GBV through safe and respectful networks of solidarity and how to reinvent oneself in a new culture as a woman and mother?
My most recent insight on GBV and displacement comes from my work in Amurtel Greece, an organization located in the center of Athens, that gives various forms of support to refugee and migrant women in pregnancy, in birth and postpartum. We gather in this safe women’s space once a week, where mothers are able to close their eyes, connect with their breath, choose their brushes and colors, and create. To be in the present for a whole hour without worrying or thinking ahead is a state that is often unthinkable for refugee women, so when they do manage to relax it is a welcome break to them.
In a few cases, some mothers needed and were ready to share their story in detail. This included their stories of abuse and how they conceived their baby, sometimes in a refugee camp or while crossing borders. However, the majority of them need time to build trust and open up. Through art and more specifically through painting, mothers are able to access sensible personal information which is not yet ready to be expressed in words. The “silence” of colors, forms, and symbols has an inner message that has valuable meaning to the mother that creates and gives her an understanding of her present psychological inner state of being.
Painting is a tool that is respectful to the emotional pace of each person; it reveals only what the mother is ready to share to herself and to the group. Expressing through painting is a respectful and essential way of working with possible victims of GBV. Of course, it does not have to be only painting or a specific technique. The idea behind it not just being eager to listen right away for a detailed story expressed orally but employing creativity to access the unconscious information of each person in its own symbolism, rhythm and time.
One of the workshops of Heart & Art is called “Masks & Mirrors”, where we challenge the notion of who we are, how we see ourselves and how others see us. Another expression of GBV for refugee women is self-identity crisis; asking “who am I?” while crossing border to border and when the cultural norms differ. The cultural shock is inevitable and there is a heavy weight on them when they walk in unknown and unfamiliar places.
At the same time in “Masks & Mirrors”, we go deeper and try to look into the different layers of societal perceptions since childhood to adulthood, womanhood, motherhood – the mask of innocence, of being a pure girl, a quiet woman, a caregiving mother. We acknowledge these invisible masks in our self of today and by painting our new mask we redefine who we are and who we want to become.
One mother shared with the group that the white part of the mask represents her early years when she was a girl and a daughter, and the black painted part of the mask represents when she got married. There is no need for further questioning to understand her full story. The image that she portrayed accompanied with her few words reveal her present perception of herself in her story, which she can redefine when she is ready. This first acknowledgement is a valuable step towards healing. Also, various mothers that wear the hijab put make up on their masks – rouge, eyelines and crayons – and they share that this is how they would like to look if they could.
In another Heart & Art workshop called “Mothers within Mothers”, the intention is to honor and heal the intergenerational linkage of mothers within their own mothers and with their children. One of the mothers in the group stayed silent the whole hour but she did paint. Once more the symbols and colors used revealed her story in a respectful, subtle way. From this image alone, we were able to address her need for further psychological support.
I used these few examples from my practical experience with the mothers that visit Amurtel Greece to share my insight on how to approach victims of GBV in transition, in this case refugee and asylum seeker mothers.
Art can reach ones’ truth in a humane, calmer and softer way when words are not ready.
I started painting at the age of 24 when I was living in the colorful country of my favorite painter Frida Kahlo, in Mexico. While living in Bolivia I wrote an art visual book of birth stories, painting and poetry called “Birth as you please”. In Latin America, Canada and now in Greece I am coordinating women’s circles using art as a powerful healing tool. I have a degree in Economics, an MBA and a Master’s in Social Development and I am currently studying Art Therapy.
I always say that I started painting to penetrate more into the truth of life where words cannot reach. Creating in groups and especially in a circle is therapeutic in itself since it is a safe space for sharing and connection. I am now conducting in collaboration with various non-profit organizations (IOM GREECE, Amurtel Greece, Caritas Hellas) an art program I call Heart & Art, with refugee women who have deep traumas, but also life teachings of strengths and resilience. I am always moved by how art can instantly alleviate the human spirit.
Art is more than an expression, it is a human need that connects us to our inner truth and wisdom.
Corrine Kumar speaks about Courts of Women, assembled together in tandem with various organisations, that receive testimonials and offer judgments on different forms of violence like war, militarization, feminisation of poverty. They create possibilities for exchange among women’s and human rights groups and organisations in the regions.
It was a dream of many years ago; a dream to break the silence that enshrouds the violence; to rewrite women’s histories, to reclaim our memories; to find new visions for out times. To tell our stories not only of pain, but also of courage and survival; to find another logic; another way to know.
It began in Asia through the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council who together with several other women’s rights groups across the Asia and the Pacific has held nine Courts in the region; India held several Courts of Women; El Taller International, a sister organisation based in Tunisia has taken these Courts to the other regions of the world: Africa, Arab, Central and Latin America.
The Courts of Women are an unfolding of a space, an imaginary: a horizon that invites us to think, to feel, to challenge, to connect, to dance, to dream. It is an attempt to define a new space for women, and to infuse this space with a new vision, a new politics. It is a gathering of voices and visions of the global south, locating itself in a discourse of dissent: in itself it is a dislocating practice, challenging the new world order of globalisation, crossing lines, breaking new ground: listening to the voices and movements in the margins.
The Courts of Women seek to weave together the objective reality (through analyses of the issues) with the subjective testimonies of the women; the personal with the political; the logical with the lyrical (through video testimonies, artistic images and poetry); the rational with the intuitive; urging us to discern fresh insights, offering us other ways to know, inviting us to seek deeper layers of knowledge; towards creating a new knowledge paradigm. The Courts of Women are public hearings: the Court is used in a symbolic way. In the Courts, the voices of the victims/ survivors are listened to. Women bring their personal testimonies of violence to the Court: the Courtsare sacred spaces where women, speaking in a language of suffering, name the crimes, seeking redress, even reparation.
It speaks of a new generation of women’s human rights.
It is an expression of a new imaginary that is finding different ways of speaking truth to power; challenging power, recognising that the concepts and categories enshrined in the ideas and institutions of our times are unable to grasp the violence; violence that is not only escalating, but is also intensifying, the forms are becoming more brutal.
The Courts of Women also speak truth to the powerless, seeking the conscience of the world, creating other reference points than that of the rule of law, returning ethics to politics. It invites us to the decolonisation of our structures, our minds and of our imaginations; subsumed cultures, subjugated peoples, silenced women reclaiming their political voice and in breaking the silence refusing the conditions by which power maintains its patriarchal control.
It speaks too of another notion of justice; of a jurisprudence, which bringing individual justice and reparation will also be transformatory for all. A jurisprudence that is able to contextualize and historicise the crimes; moving away from a justice of revenge, a retributive justice, to a justice seeking redress, even reparation; a justice with truth and reconciliation; a restorative justice, healing individuals and communities.
Through its very diverse voices, the Courts of Women attempt to speak of equality, not in terms of sameness, but in terms of difference; a difference that is rooted in dignity that comes from depths, from the roots a people who have been dispossessed and denigrated.
The Courts of Women invite us to write another history:
A counter hegemonic history, a history of the margins. The Courts of Women are a journey of the margins: a journey rather than an imagined destination. A journey in which the dailiness of our lives proffer possibilities for our imaginary, survival and sustenance; for connectedness and community.
The Courts of Women invite us to dismantle the master’s house; for as the poet Audre Lorde says the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. There is an urgent need to challenge the centralising logic of the master’s narrative implicit in the dominant discourses –of class, of caste, of gender, of race. This dominant logic is logic of violence and exclusion, a logic of civilised and uncivilised, a logic of superior and inferior.
This centralising logic must be decentered, must be interrupted, even disrupted.
The Courts of Women speak to this disruption; to this trespass. The Courts of Women are about crossing lines, about breaking new ground, about finding new paradigms of knowledge and of politics.
The Courts of Women are our dreams of trespass.
Corrine Kumar is Founder and International Coordinator of the World Courts of Women that work with local organizations to assemble these courts that have a different ethos and emphasis. An assembled Jury receives testimonials and then offer judgments that offer a valuable input into local, national and international campaigns against different forms of violence like war and militarization, monoculturalisation and the feminisation of poverty. They contribute to a growing body of knowledge that will help to question, transform and initiate alternative thinking, institutions and instruments which seek to address the violation of women’s human rights at regional, national and international levels. They create possibilities for exchange among women’s and human rights groups and organisations in the regions.
Over the years the Courts have grown into a movement that has gathered momentum from the time of its inception in 1992 to the over 40 Courts held in the global south; deepening its vision of politics and power, justice and transformation and the making of violence against women unthinkable.
In this interview with Juliana Nkrumah, issues of female genital mutilation and how different meanings are affixed to it through migration and displacement are discussed.
An interview with Juliana Nkrumah
Featured Iimage reproduced from Shutterstock
What does this year’s blogathon theme mean to you?
A lot of us think of gender-based violence (GBV) as violence against women – but GBV is wider than violence against women. I see it as societally instituted where social control and social isolation are powerful strategies used to entrench GBV.
The wars that took place in West Africa in the late 90s and early 2000s in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone forced people to leave their countries and go to places like Guinea and Ghana, and then sometimes resettle in Western countries. These West African countries practisce female genital mutilation (FGM) as a traditional practice, a normal social practice that nobody questions. FGM is seen as a way of strengthening women’s status and position in society, not as GBV.
It is important to recognise that GBV does not only occur when populations are in conflict, but also in communities where there is a sense of stability. However, where conflict or war displaces people, after social upheaval new understandings of GBV emerge.
How does the movement of people shape access to communities of care after enduring gender-based violence?
FGM is a form of gender-based violence. The interesting thing about this type of GBV is that it only affects people who identify as biological females, as the site of violence is the external genitalia of a person born female. When people live in a country, village or community where FGM is not seen as GBV, because the society has forced people to accept this is a way of life -, this is who we are, this is what defines us and sets us apart from other biologically born women -, then there is no question about seeking care because it happens to everybody – 99% in Somalia, 94% in Djibouti, 94% in Guinea. How are you going to seek help if it is not seen as an issue?
If we focus on the movement of people into diaspora, to a country like Australia where FGM is not an acceptable practice, we see FGM as a human rights violation, and we accept and respond to the health impacts. We create the care and build an environment where women are comfortable to seek help. For example, in maternity care it becomes an issue of life and death, particularly for the most serious types of FGM, where health professionals have no knowledge and skill to deal with it. Gynaecologists and women’s health workers need to be able to respond and make the community feel comfortable approaching communities of care within our health care services.
But we are currently lacking psychological care in our community. Women who were circumcised before they came to Australia in a sense have learned to deal with it. But the young people are savvy, their culture is not only their parent’s culture, but the global culture. And as a result of that, they are dealing with some deep psychological impacts. We need to grow a community of care for these young women as some of them are really angry and frustrated. Their anger is fuelled by the fact that they feel that beliefs like religion was used to entrench and enforce the practice. They are looking for skilled professionals who they can relate to and who they don’t have to educate about FGM before they can get support. There’s a movement against this type of GBV, driven by the community themselves. The young people are on a trajectory to stop the practice in their community, to say it’s not going to happen to our children, and we are taking control of our community now.
How might migrant communities practice healing and seek accountability in the absence of legal personhood and formal citizenship?
In relation to making a change around this form of GBV, I think you need several things to work side by side. The law as a tool of change is powerful in the hands of those who understand community and can use the law to reach community and change a situation. When the laws around female circumcision were introduced in Australia, they were harsh, and the community saw this as a racist response. But the interesting thing is that we took the law and went to the community and said to them, it’s not because they don’t like you or because they’re being racist, we have laws in Australia that protect a human being’s body, just like bicycle helmet and seatbelt laws. This made the penny drop for some communities, they said ‘whoa, the government cares about me and the protection of my body and my children’s body’. The law became a tool for education, leading to change.
I see changes in understanding of GBV and female circumcision because people are living in a place where outside information can reach them. If there’s no information in community the practice is allowed to continue. There’s evidence to show that when people receive external information, they use that to make an informed decision. In Australia, the law has been a tool of education and what people reverted to for protection when they are under pressure from families overseas to ensure the perpetration of the practice.
Juliana Nkrumah AM has worked in both State and Commonwealth Government agencies for over 20 years. Her voluntary work in the community sector has gained her much acclaim including the award of Membership of the Order of Australia. She currently works as the Program Manager, Domestic and Family Violence at Settlement Services International (SSI).
Juliana has been an active advocate on the women’s issues in Australia since 1989; she is especially passionate about Women’s Human Rights issues. Juliana played a leadership role on issues of FGM across Australia whilst working as the Coordinator of the NSW Education Program on FGM in Western Sydney Area Health Services from 1996 to 2005. She continues to be a spokesperson on FGM; and has provided access to training on FGM for a number of women as spokespersons on FGM.
Divya Chopra and Rwitee Mandal illuminates the importance of accessible spaces for women, especially in urban sites which are often planned with masculine vision and makes these spaces unsafe and non-inclusive for women.
Divya Chopra and Rwitee Mandal
Featured image: ‘Top view of the terrace’ at Fursat ki Fizayen, credits to authors
Gender Biased Violence (GBV), especially Violence Against Women (VAW), is a living reality for migrant women living in resettlement colonies. Dislocation to under-resourced peripheries of cities is an iniquitous outcome of the urbanization process which deeply and disproportionately affects women who constitute almost 67% of the migrant population (Census of India 2011). While the underlying causes of GBV are rooted in patriarchal relations, the impacts of urban migration on gender compound those relations. Violence Against Women varies according to geographical location and scale as well as various other causal and contextual processes in cities. Migration particularly has deep ramifications on the lives of women by impacting their livelihoods, access to opportunities, resources, services and their ‘right to the city.’ Further, the physical configuration of urban areas planned with a masculine vision renders urban spaces unsafe, inaccessible, and non-inclusive.
Within this larger discourse on GBV, VAW, and urban migration, ‘Fursat ki Fizayen’, a socially engaged art project supported by Khoj International Artists’ Association, engaged with the spatial realities of young, single, working women living at the margins – geographically, socially and economically – and artistically interpreted the multiple narratives around women’s leisure in the visible public domain, thereby encouraging women’s participation in public space.
The project explored the concept of leisure as a way of acknowledging women’s right to leisure time for personal growth as well as mental and physical well-being; as a way of addressing women’s right to leisure spaces in the city; and together with such an approach, contributed towards building gender inclusive cities.
The project site, Madanpur Khadar, is a peri-urban, resettlement colony in Delhi, located along the southern banks of River Yamuna, where provisions of basic urban services and amenities are grossly inadequate. Open spaces within this tightly packed, built-to-edge, lower income neighbourhood are heavily gendered, unsafe, and hence inaccessible, discouraging young girls and women from enjoying these spaces. Instead, they avoid these spaces completely and remain invisible in their own neighbourhood.
Lacking access to physical leisure spaces, but having access to smartphones, they escape into a virtual space to live an alternative reality of public life. Through the construction and projection of self in an anonymous digital realm, they express their aspiration for leisure without being judged or afraid. Thus, providing access to a safe space where young women could enjoy leisure time without the fear of harassment or violence became the primary objective of the project.
Leisure for women in cities, often determined by the intersection of gender with other identities, produce exclusion in complex ways. It is seen when women spend their leisure time, they construct their identities using space to express themselves and interact with others. Fursat ki Fizayen explored this dialectical relationship between leisure and space by engaging young, single, working women to reflect on how they think and construct their own images in the public domain. Participatory place-making and image-making being powerful tools for social empowerment were used to foster ownership and belongingness for their created environments. Stories of daily negotiations and contestations were curated to understand the lived experiences and spatial realities of these young women who access the site of power – the public domain – while exploring and reclaiming spaces for leisure in their own unique ways. Aspects of time, space and nature of leisure were discussed to co-design and co-produce leisure spaces with them. Their stories were used to understand and question the ways in which the world affects women at leisure.
Among the many open spaces imagined and desired for at the neighbourhood, precinct, and city level, a space often forgotten, underutilized, and seldom used for leisure – terrace – emerged as the space of relief and escape from the confines of the four walls. Our facilitation partner Jagori provided the terrace at their community office at Madanpur Khadar for intervention.
The terrace at Jagori was also seen as a safe, familiar, and accessible space. Addressing multiple binaries, this space was reimagined as a personal yet collective, private yet public, internal yet external, an open-to-sky elevated space with lots of plants, seating, lights, decorations, music, mirrors, games (carrom, hopscotch, skipping), exercise equipment, a patch for a kitchen garden and various backdrops for selfies.
A central feature of the terrace, a colourful wall mural, was conceptualized along with the girls who co-created the mural along with two young artists. Together with the girls, the artists painted each of the girls’ avatars in joyful colours, enjoying both productive and non-productive means of leisure – reading, singing, working out, taking selfies, dressing up or just watching the world go by.
The mural also strongly represents women’s right to experience leisure freely without the fear of harassment or violence. Since the young women have a strong digital presence, a Wi-Fi connection with boosters, charging points and speakers have been installed along with the creation of a beautiful backdrop for video calls/meetings, selfies/reels. A QR code printed on the wall connects the visitors to our Instagram page. The reclaimed terrace now has become a space for me-time, meet-ups and celebrations.
Having an afterlife, way beyond the duration and scope of the intervention, was an inherent quality of the project and its associations. The women appropriated the space by growing their kitchen gardens, making their decorations, creating their selfie backdrops, holding their celebrations, and bringing along more women and girls to enjoy that space. The vibrant terrace continues to be used in creative ways to experience leisure by the community women. This terrace was built as a prototype that could be easily replicated allowing for additions and alterations. We hope it can trigger similar ideas to make use of underutilized terrace spaces to their full potential using local skill sets, locally produced products and locally available materials – which are low-cost, sustainable and support local businesses.
Together, these terraces could fulfil the need for accessible, and familiar spaces which women can access freely and use for personal and collective time, without fear of harassment and violence.
Divya and Rwitee are spatial design practitioners, researchers and educators based out of Delhi/Gurgaon.
Divya’s practice primarily delves into themes of Inclusive Cities, Informality and Migration, Socio-spatial Justice and Urbanising Rural. Her current research pursuits revolve around formulating an integrated urban development framework that allows for a collaborative and structured way of envisioning, co-designing and co-producing our cities. She has been working across community partnered multidisciplinary engagements with a focus on placemaking through participatory art and co-design methods. She has been actively involved with the Urban Form Lab at the Urban Design programme at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi.
Rwitee is a Senior Program Manager at Safetipin, a social enterprise which uses technology to collect spatial data in order to make cities safer and inclusive for women and others. She has been working across multidisciplinary domains with a focus on gender-responsive spaces and placemaking through participatory art and co-design methods. She mentors the Social Urbanism Lab at the postgraduate Urban Design programme of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi.