DAY THREE: The Place I Must Call Home

What is a safe space for non-binary and trans people in a pandemic? This post explores the ways in which ‘design’ as a discipline can respond to the systemic oppression(s) faced by the marginalized Trans Binary and Trans Non-Binary identities, a crisis that has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Picture above: ‘Trespassing the Binary’ from the series ‘Unblocked: Beyond the Gender Normative’. Medium: Digital. Reproduced by permission of author/artist

Non-Binary Existences and Negotiations in a Pandemic-Ridden Binary World

Natasha Chandhock

Gender-Space Identities and the World as Binary

We understand ‘identity’ as an intrinsic part of our being, something we assert in different capacities, given our comfort, safety and surroundings. This forms part of the environment we interact with, be it the rhythmic harmonies within natural environments or the pulsating ticking of a clock. In the same breath, gender and space too interact with one another, producing experiences that are different for different social identities, depending on their standing in the world around us. For instance, certain public spaces become sites of male dominance and are instrumental in defining the levels of safety for non-male identities.

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DAY THREE: Returning Home And Violence Within The Home: COVID-19 and multiple gendered violations

This post, while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, will primarily look into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront.

Rukmini Sen

The COVID 19 public health crisis and the subsequent lockdown has generated discussions about the ‘shadow pandemic’ of the rise of gender based domestic violence. This post, while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, will primarily look into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront. As a part of the 16-day activism against GBV, and the UN Women theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect’ with a special focus on pandemic induced heightened domestic violence, I  will briefly assess what are the multiple ways in which home has been confronted the pandemic. I see contestations around five meanings of home emerging in this crisis all of which have gender based implications and consequences.

All of us by now have been made conscious about the need to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus. In India, which this post focuses on, the first advisory came on March 16, directing closure of schools, regulations on mass gathering, ensuring physical distancing of minimum 1 metre between tables in restaurants, postponement of examinations, avoidance of non-essential travel. It was only a matter of time before we understood that the implications of stay at home in conjunction with work from home was going to be serious for gender based household work over and above the impact of professional work space moving inside the home.

The public discourse of Stay at home meant the homeless and the urban pavement dweller were excluded from the discussion

It has also had hierarchical implications depending upon the space inside an individual home—how many rooms, how many people in each room, how many members having their own electronic gadget to connect to the world outside the home? Space, privacy, personal phones all have gendered implications and there have been specific studies about women’s inadequate access to smartphones in India, before the pandemic.

Work from home for most of urban upper middle class women in India has meant a disproportionate increase in domestic labour. Finding  work life balance becomes difficult if not impossible because the increase in care work, in addition to the professional work all from the confines of the home. Middle class professional households were without assistance from paid domestic helps for at least the first two months of the lockdown and this impacted on women’s lives in manifold ways.

Traveling to the workplace is an important liberating journey for most women, including college going women students.

These sites, however gendered in themselves, still create the possibilities of travel, self time, friendships, conversations—away from caste-kinship determined existence within the home. While this situation is experienced by professional service sector women, the pandemic has increased the gender gap in employment. According to Ashwini Deshpande women employed in the pre-lockdown phase were 23.5 percentage points less likely than men to be employed post-lockdown.

A third type of discussion around the home has happened in regard to violence within the home or domestic violence. It is necessary to remember that the stay at home, work from home advisories and experiences were clearly creating a condition for increase in domestic violence. According to National Commission for Women, domestic violence could have increased by 2.5 times during the lockdown. Some of the reasons for physical as well as verbal abuse as reported are ‘not managing resources properly’, ‘not serving food on time’, and also ‘not being able to procure rations/relief material’.

Specifically, in Tamil Nadu the reasons for increase in violence within the home were arguments arising out of sharing household work, suspicion over time spent on social media, unemployment resulting in a cash crunch at home etc. One of the main strategies for tackling COVID 19 -related rises in domestic violence has been to increase helpline services by various women’s rights, child rights and sexuality rights organisations in different Indian cities and a WhatsApp helpline number set up by the National Commission for Women. However, finding the opportunity to report cases with most members of the household also indoors has become even more difficult.

Indian migrant workers during the COVID 19 pandemic. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Images of migrant workers—a bulk of whom were women with children walking back home, travelling unimaginable distances by foot due to the sudden announcement of nation wide lockdown, are now global. What this clearly demonstrated is that big cities do not become homes for migrant labourers, they come there to work, mostly as construction workers and short term migrant workers face a complete sense of precarity if there is no daily work in the city. It is impossible to survive in the metropolis, to pay rent, buy food without wages. Seasonal migration for construction, migration in the city for sex work or bar dancer, migration due to agricultural purposes are to be understood as conditions where the worker comes back home when the work ends or goes to another place in search of work. Thousands of migrant workers walking back several days to reach home—where they could at least find food and the security of other members of the community —signify which is really shelter.

Finally, the anxiety and hope of home coming for many students who stay in halls of residence away from their parents, or in rented apartments in cities where they work, within or outside the country, away from their original natal or marital homes. Travelling back home for a certain class of people, takes a flight or an AC train to ‘come’ home/country of original residence has been disrupted and shaken up in ways that has never happened in the recent past. People of all genders are affected by this, but for women students or professional single women, the isolation during these months and its deep psychological impact are sure to have far reaching consequences.

The pandemic crisis opened up a sociological insight to the gendered site of the home as contested between the metaphors of caged, sheltered, violent and secure.

Rukmini Sen is Professor of Sociology, School of Liberal Studies, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. You can contact her at rukmini@aud.ac.in

DAY TWO: Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism

Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism is a digital installation created with crowd-sourced screenshots of rape threats and sexist comments that women have received online for raising their voices for social justice.

Isha Yadav

Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism is a digital installation created with crowd-sourced screenshots of rape threats and sexist comments that women have received online for raising their voices for social justice.

 It is a crowd-sourced project where over 70 Indian women have contributed screenshots of harassment, rape threats, violence, sexist comments and incidences of receiving unsolicited images of genitalia. 

It memorializes the verbal violence and visualizes the effect of violence and addresses the global menace of violence threats. Museum is part of a growing movement against sexual harassment and solidifies all women and their courage to speak against it, and in broader terms, the #MeToo movement. 

On-line harassment including rape threats  has become a new age mass crime that exists privately and is faced by a large number of women. These are not isolated incidents, and often the perpetrators escape from the clutches of law with impunity, through deliberate failure of mechanisms to address these crimes. Suffering in silence deprives women of their citizenship rights guaranteed by the constitution.

Museum is a form of social movement: it exposes structural violence and seeks to create an intervention into rape culture; not only displaying the threats but also the responses and resistances of women, many of whom have internalized the abuse as the new normal.

In a demonstrative sense  it creates an ongoing, peaceful and democratic conversation about the digital violence women endure, and women can keep contributing their screenshots to the same. 

Some documentation of the in-process museum creation. Screenshots crowd-sourced from anonymous women, a tapestry of imagination on cloth material, screenshot of Google form link how it was crowd-sourced, the Facebook post created to advertise this project

This is my attempt to memorialize our collective past that delves into political violence. This memorialization and remembrance and our phone galleries become the spaces of contestation of our radically gendered histories, ideologies, subjectivities and imaginaries. The number of screenshots that women have contributed towards this project demonstrate the urgent need for such an intervention. The exhibition seeks to explore the dynamic ways through which affected communities can speak for themselves. 

Created with screens and slides of rape threats and sexist comments that women receive on-line, for raising their voices for social justice, these have been crowd-sourced through a Google Form Link. Screenshots of verbal assaults, violence and harassment, incidences with pornographic images, unsolicited genital pix that women receive in their inboxes through social media are curated into motion graphic videos and projected simultaneously using 3 projectors. The screening viewers/visitors are given a Trigger Warning Note at the door, to protect them from viewing triggering content without their will. On entering the exhibit, the viewers roam around the exhibition-room, the room is vacant with nothing other than projectors placed. 

It is an experiential walkaway. There is no sound. The tone of the exhibit is serious, yet calm.

I invite the viewers to experience a sense of trauma, yet only passively. The screenshots, although sourced over time, and through different individuals, when collated together evoke a sense of repulsion, outrage and hostility. The installation titled as a ‘museum’ presents itself as a visual archive of the subject, the vast expanse of not only data, proofs and records but also of inflicted emotions like trauma, pain, shame, conflict, rage, and verbal violence. 

I began this project by writing a social media post on Facebook and Instagram, crowdsourcing screenshots from women around me. I forwarded a Google form link, and sent personal messages inviting screenshots and making conversation about this, it is an ongoing project. Several of them said they deleted, several of them engaged in conversations with the senders about the affect of the verbal abuse and did not let the incident traumatize them. A few of them did not want any conversation till they were comfortable recalling the incident, and a complete new category of women laughed off at the commonality of these incidences. 

My idea was to explore connection, and create a lens for memorializing violence. The ethnography, overall, triggers action for the cause and becomes a strong indicator of where rape culture lies. It excavates the verbal violence from the normalization. 

The visual media here not only brings the digital artifact (screenshot) into the physical space of the exhibition but also transcends the private into public. The messages and comments that are often received on private chats are enlarged and publically displayed (names of the senders are concealed). The act of viewing somebody else’s private chat and trespassing into somebody’s moment of shame and rage points out to how much more is hidden and endured. The metaphor of museum is then evoked to point out to the large amount of facts hidden. 

Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism is a project that expands our understanding of sexual violence, gender based violence, victimhood and resistance and urges us to seek constitutional justice for the same.

Isha Yadav is Founder and Curator of Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism and PhD candidate in Women and Gender Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi.  In her doctoral thesis she is exploring some of the art installations created around the world that report and challenge violence against women. 

DAY TWO: Digital Women – Gender Based Violence in the Online Space

What happens when the same digital space that enables women to be who they want to be is also the same space where women become targets of misogynistic threats? This articles delineates the author’s experiences with perpetrators and an unhelpful police force.

I put my story and my voice out into the world. I braced myself – I knew what was coming…

Megan Bellatrix Archibald

Women living in 2020 have an opportunity that many women who came before them did not have – and that is the opportunity to present themselves to the world exactly as they wish to. This is perhaps especially poignant for female-identifying celebrities, who would formerly have had everything they said to the press about their lives come through the filter of a (likely, male) PR representative. However, irrespective of your celebrity status, women now have the opportunity to entirely control the narrative around their own lives, to express their views, their artworks and their expertise to a global audience – at their fingertips. We are entirely in control of our own image, and that’s what fourth-wave feminism is all about, empowering women, utilising the Internet to do it. However, this online space has opened up the opportunity for a new, unique form of gender based violence against women.

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DAY ONE: Art as resistance in the face of hate

In Brazil – a country that kills more trans women than anywhere else – performing trans art as resistance can be a matter of life and death.

Picture above: Actress Renato Carvalho in O’ Evangelho Jesus, Rainha Do Ceu (Gospel according to Jesus, Queen of Heaven). Reproduced by permission

Jo Clifford

The show had gone really well, considering.

The actress and crew were exhausted: they’d flown up the night before, had to stay in a different town from the performance, and Jimmi, the stage manager, had had very little time to set up.

Natalia, the director, had been with the actress while she’d been vomiting with fear.

This wasn’t just stage fright. The threats Renata had received before coming up to this town in north Brazil had been graphic and horrifying.

Brazil is the country which kills more trans women than anywhere else on earth.

Continue reading “DAY ONE: Art as resistance in the face of hate”