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 Two | Abusive Language and Violence Against Women in the Public Sphere

Jennifer M. Piscopo, Occidental College, USA

Strongmen across the globe are ascending to the position of president or prime minister. Sexist and racist rhetoric is part of their brand, which followers find authentic and even unifying. Male political leaders who use swaggering masculinity to cultivate support express the growing global backlash to diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. When powerful men use their platforms to abuse women, they send the message that abuse is okay. It also makes abusing women an integral part of a right-wing agenda.  

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has an impressive track record of demeaning women. He has called women Members of Parliament (MPs) by their husband’s names and described women journalists and athletes in terms of their bodies – he once described female volleyball players “glistening wet otters”, for instance. 

Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump uses adjectives like “fat” and “ugly” to demean women who have spoken out against him. He rallies crowds to chant “lock her up” in reference to his former rival, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro once told a congresswoman she was not “worth” raping, saying that she “didn’t deserve it”. 

Jennifer PiscopoLock Her Up” by James McNellis, 2017.

These leaders often reserve their most vitriolic comments for women of colour – attacks that often merge gender and race. Trump told four women Members of Congress – all of whom criticised his policies and his person – to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”. Three of them were born in the United States, while the fourth – Somali refugee Ilhan Omar – was painted by Trump and other critics as a Jew-hater. Similarly, Johnson has spouted racialised descriptions of Muslim women, variously portraying them as objects and criminals. 

These incidents are not isolated. When powerful men deliver abuse, the attacks receive media coverage. But many women with public profiles – from activists to athletes – receive hateful messages daily. The senders are not usually powerful men, but everyday people. 

A study examining 152 leading British women in politics, business, entertainment, the media, and sports estimated that each received about 200 sexually-explicit tweets a day. In another study of nearly 600 women journalists, 63 percent reported being threatened and harassed on-line and 26 percent reported physical assaults. Amnesty International documents various quantitative and qualitative studies, all demonstrating that high-profile women on Twitter endure significant levels of abuse.

 

Abusive language as political violence against women

Abusive language is a form of violence against women. Much of it may happen online, but virtual harms cause actual damage. Hateful messages and death threats cause stress and trauma. Victims experience diminished self-esteem and an inability to focus and to complete their work. They fear for their safety and for their family’s safety, and they face disruption to their routines caused as a result of increased security. Many leave Twitter. In Britain, female MPs received such profane attacks that they received police protection.

But this language affects many more than just the immediate victims: it also tells the larger audience of women and girls to stay out of public life. Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanín call these “message crimes.” Whether world leaders or everyday jerks, abusers want women in public life to shut up and go away. 

Since abusive language aims to diminish women’s influence over politics, policy, and the public debate, these attacks are forms of political violence. In my research with Elin Bjarnegård and Gabrielle Bardall, we argue that political violence is gendered in three ways: in its motive, in its form, and in its impact. The abusive language aimed at women in public life has all three elements. 

In terms of motive, attackers are driven by hate towards women in public, not hate towards public figures irrespective of gender. The rates at which women and men endure abuse are simply not the same: visible women receive disproportionate amounts of abuse when compared to visible men. In terms of form, attackers use gendered language, including threats of sexual harm and sexual assault. 

In terms of impact, the victims extend beyond the women targeted. They signal to other women and girls the costs of a public profile. And women and girls have received this message. A respected U.S. survey firm found that 70 percent of women, and 83 percent of young women, identified online harassment as a major problem, compared to just 54 percent of men and 55 percent of young men. Indeed, programs that train women candidates now include lessons that prepare women to handle abuse. Their tips include immediately reporting the abuse to authorities, using humour to diffuse the situation, and writing op-eds to call attention to the problem. 

 

Stopping abusive language 

Documenting and denouncing abusive language have not stemmed the attacks against publicly-visible women. The anonymity of online platforms combined with social media companies’ commitment to free speech means that attackers behave with impunity. Abusers even become leaders of powerful countries. 

The vicious and sexist abuse of women in public life has become so normalised that solutions focus not on holding perpetrators accountable, but on helping women cope. In the candidate training program, women politicians are told to be brave. A British MP, herself standing down because of online abuse, recommended that women MPs create circles of support

The women and girls of the world deserve better solutions. When the #MeToo movement brought down prominent men like Harvey Weinstein, the effects reverberated across the globe. Sexual harassment suddenly bore real consequences, even for powerful men. Likewise, voters must reject male political leaders who bully those weaker than them, especially women and racial and ethnic minorities. In the current political climate, protecting women from abuse cannot be divorced from resisting the right-wing forces that reject diversity and inclusion more broadly.   

 

Jennifer M. Piscopo (@Jennpiscopo) is an Associate Professor of Politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. Her research on women’s political participation and representation has appeared in over 15 academic journals. With Susan Franceschet and Mona Lena Krook, she co-edited The Impact of Gender Quotas (Oxford University Press, 2012). An international speaker and consultant, she has collaborated with international organizations such as UN Women, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the Carter Center. Her op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times, among other outlets. 

Day One | My father never apologized for sexually abusing me. So I wrote his apology for him.

Eve Ensler talks about her new book, the apology from her father that he could never make…

Eve Ensler

When I was five years old my father began to sexually abuse me. This went on until I was ten, and then the daily physical battery and terror began. This life of endless brutality and invasion rearranged my chemistry, forced me out of my body, repressed my ability to think and made me terrified of love.

My father never told me why he did what he did. He never explained how he became a man capable of this kind of sadism and he died without apologizing.

In recent months, I have read the accounts of several men accused of sexual violence. Their words often focused on the pain and repercussions they had experienced after being accused rather than thinking of the pain of their victims or admitting what they had done and how they had worked on themselves to understand their own histories and behavior.

It then occurred to me that I had never heard a man make an honest, thorough, public accounting of his abuse. I had never heard a man openly apologize. I wondered what it would be like to hear an apology like this, what impact it might have on me and other survivors and how it might help end the scourge of violence altogether.

And so I decided to write the apology from my father that I always needed to hear; to find the words and the language, to outline the anatomy of an apology that could possibly set me free and act as a possible blueprint for other men seeking a pathway to atonement, accountability and reckoning.

As I wrote “The Apology” I felt as though I began to hear my father’s voice. He told me of his childhood, how he was adored rather than loved and how adoration forced him to live up to someone else’s idealized image of himself rather than being able to be his authentic, imperfect human self. He told me of the ways that patriarchy and toxic masculinity had forced him to push feelings of tenderness, vulnerability, tears, doubt, uncertainty and wonder underground, and how they later metastasized into another persona called “Shadow Man.”

This disassociated self was capable of sexually abusing a five-year-old girl and physically torturing and gaslighting her thereafter. He told me in ruthless detail everything he had done to me and why. He allowed himself to feel the pain, heartbreak and betrayal he had caused in me. He reflected deeply on his past in order to understand what had led him to these terrible actions. He explained his behavior rather than justifying it. And through his agonizing detailed admissions, he expressed deep sorrow, remorse, guilt and self-hatred. He took responsibility and he made amends.

In the book, my father also confessed to me that to apologize is to be a traitor to men. That there is an unwritten code of silence that is not to be broken without unraveling the whole story of patriarchy.

But he also told me that what he had done to me had poisoned his soul and consumed him in the next world. He was desperate to tell the truth, to make an apology so he could get free.

Until I wrote this book, both my father and I were caught for nearly 60 years in an ongoing vise of pain, rage, guilt and shame. We were consigned to a particular terrible time in our history. Me, defined as victim; him defined as perpetrator.

Because my father owned his actions and apologized in the book, my suffering was honored and made real. I experienced justice and respect. I heard the words I needed to hear that released the resentment, pain and hurt. I was able to have a deeper understanding of his history, wounds and motivation, and because of that the ongoing, haunting question of why was finally resolved. I was able fully let him go and move on.

Of course I wrote my father’s apology for him. But I must say it was a profoundly healing and liberating exercise. Because my father has lived inside me my whole life, I was able to move him in a new direction, from monolithic monster to apologist, from terrifying entity to broken, damaged little boy. In doing so, I gained agency and he lost his power over me.

In the process, I also discovered how central apologies are to the next stage of our human evolution. We must create pathways for men to do this critical work of atonement, and men must be brave now and willing to come forward — risking being called gender traitors — in order to free the suffering of their victims and themselves. The time of reckoning is here.

This piece was first published by NBC news and reproduced with permission.

Eve Ensler is a Tony Award-winning playwright, performer and activist best known for “The Vagina Monologues.” Her critically acclaimed memoir “In the Body of the World” was published by Metropolitan Books in 2013. Her most recent book is “The Apology.”

Day Thirteen |Women’s Navigation of Xenophobia and Violence in South Africa and the UK

photo credit: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE/AL JAZEERA. Men from the Jeppestown hostel in Johannesburg make threatening gestures towards foreign-owned businesses

Written by Natasha Dyer

In 2015, I was back in South Africa, after two years living and working in the country. The newspapers were full of graphic pictures of men brandishing knives, hammers and clubs, with headlines blaring about the resurgence of xenophobic violence after 2008’s nationwide attacks against foreign nationals left 63 dead, hundreds injured, dozens raped and hundreds of thousands displaced.

I had so many questions. What and who exactly were behind these attacks? Which foreign nationals were being targeted? Why was violence flaring up again now? And why were only men in the pictures? What about the women affected by the violence?

Violence against women and girls in South Africa is an ever-present reality. The rates of female rape and sexual assault mostly against black women are some of the highest in the world. Over the last five years, the number of women murdered in the country has increased by 16%, while one in 13 adult women have experienced violence at home. Violence against women is generally under-reported, and LGBTI and gender non-conforming people face severe risk of violence and discrimination, including a pandemic of “corrective rape” violations against lesbian women. Both men and women were reported as victims in the xenophobic attacks of 2015; foreign nationals and South African wives of migrants.

This reality, coupled with the gruesome newspaper images, propelled me to ask questions of activists, scholars, politicians and civil society and scour debates online. Eventually, it led to starting a PhD at the University of Edinburgh this year. In May, I conducted preliminary research in Johannesburg, with South African women and African women of multiple nationalities. The project convinced me to broaden my doctoral study to compare critically with African female experiences in the UK, looking at the gendered manifestations of xenophobia in Johannesburg and London, two cities experiencing rising levels of anti-migrant abuse and gender disparities, while linked by histories of colonialism and complex patterns of migration. Gender-based violence is a phenomenon being increasingly understood and fought against, as the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign shows.

Xenophobia and misogyny intertwined

Xenophobia is not new to either South Africa or the UK. Despite migrants constituting only 5% of South Africa’s population and 9% of Britain’s, foreign nationals are publicly blamed for almost every social issue. Since the start of South African democracy in 1994 and as recently as two weeks ago, politicians and the media have portrayed international migrants as “unwanted aliens”, negatively affecting businesses, acting in criminal ways and stealing our jobs and our women”. In the UK, the wave of hostility leading up to the Brexit referendum result was propelled by divisive political rhetoric led by far-right figures such as Nigel Farage, warning that failure to deal effectively with immigration may lead to ‘cultural issues’, such as women being attacked by foreign nationals. These sentiments have built upon decades-long racism embedded in UK society and policy, most often expressed in debates over immigration controls and bolstered by a media narrative about migrants as ‘scroungers’.

Approximately half of migrants in both Johannesburg and London are women. Despite this, political and media debates often position women as silent victims, passive targets of spectacular xenophobic violence or vulnerable persons. Academic studies on xenophobia are mostly lacking in rigorous gender-based perspectives (see Morrice, 2016 and Sigsworth et al, 2008 for exceptions), despite the similarity between xenophobia and the battle for power inherent in misogyny, as noted by Helen de Cruz. In her new book DownGirl (2017), Kate Manne describes misogyny as “dependent on patriarchy – societal structures that demand that women cater primarily to men’s needs.” When women do not fit the demands of patriarchy – for example, by standing up for their rights or taking on leadership roles – backlash occurs in the form of verbal or physical abuse.

As de Cruz explains elsewhere, one can see a similar struggle for control in xenophobia worldwide. Instead of a representation of hatred between a country’s native population and its immigrants, xenophobia demonstrates a fight for control over identity, rights and resources. It is a manifestation of the institutionalised sense of entitlement generated in citizens born in a country. Immigrants are tolerated as long as they adhere to stringent political and legal rules, learn trivia about a country’s history to pass immigration tests and keep out of the way, even when they contribute to society or their safety is at risk. It occurs when immigrants fight against measures designed to control them or force them into positions of dependency and potential rejection. In African contexts, xenophobia is understood as the systematic construction of strangers as a threat to society, justifying their exclusion and sometimes their suppression.

My PhD compares how women of different socio-economic classes in London and Johannesburg experience ‘everyday’ forms of xenophobia and how this impacts upon their lives. More broadly, it looks at questions of access, race, identity and belonging in two countries where migrants and often women (and especially women of colour), are made to feel unwelcome. It creates a space to explore the multiple roles women play as would-be targets, observers, accomplices and instigators of xenophobia in day-to-day life.

 Exploring conflict and violence through the arts

This work requires tools that can sensitively enable a multiplicity of voices to interact. They must facilitate the sharing of feelings and experiences, and challenge stereotypes associated with different identities. Creative, arts-based research approaches such as theatre, film, photography and walking can facilitate spaces for women’s stories to be told, shared and processed creatively, contributing to positive social change. Like the arts, conflict resolution is often approached experientially. The key to successful approaches is to create safe spaces that guarantee physical safety and a learning environment free from violence. In these forums, participants can communicate their fears, problems, feelings and frustrations.

Over a decade working on development projects across Africa, I have seen the usefulness of some of these methods first-hand. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was introduced to peacebuilding NGO Search for Common Ground’s project using participatory theatre to help transform the way that people view conflict. In South Africa, I have met researchers and NGOs using the arts to work with marginalised women and their communities, such as Sonke Gender Justice’s community radio arts production to help educate women about surviving sexual assault. The African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg does excellent work on migration, identity and belonging, as well as supporting artists using multimedia to explore similar issues, such as Sydelle Willow Smith, whose most recent project investigates white South Africans exploring their past and present in the new post-apartheid society.

For research to have meaning and impact beyond the academy, cross-pollination between artists and academics exploring social issues is essential. It combines creative ways of learning and investigation with well-worn data-gathering tools, hopefully providing positive ways for those affected by conflict and violence to process their experiences, as well as new insights for academics, policy-makers and practitioners. Using a participatory approach in my research, I look to the female participants to lead the process, while learning from feminist scholars and experienced artists. My hope is that by enabling women of different socio-economic classes, races and nationalities to explore their feelings on identity and belonging through the arts, in two countries where debates on these issues have become so divided, it will generate new understandings of how to tackle xenophobia and its gendered dimensions. In places where migrants are at serious risk of deportation or violence and where gender-based violence or discrimination is ever-present, women need spaces to explore and share their thoughts and experiences creatively, helping them to make connections and generate answers to increasing social problems.

Natasha Dyer is a research and communications consultant in international development, currently pursuing a PhD at the Centre for African Studies, School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked across Africa for over a decade, supporting organisations and governments to achieve gender equality, provide quality education and resolve conflict. Twitter handle: @nrlcadyer

Day Twelve | To Speak/To Complain: Reflections on Indian Feminist Politics in the Moment of #MeToo and LoSHA

Photo credit: provided by author

Written by Prof Rukmini Sen

On October 2017 – just after the first allegations of rape and sexual harassment were levied against Harvey Weinstein through the #MeToo social media campaign –  an Indian student based in a US law school ‘published’ a crowd-sourced list on Facebook (FB) that named and accused more than 70 Indian professors (based in Indian universities or outside) as sexual harassers. This FB post by Raya Sarkar was shared, liked and commented on widely. In social media circles this list has since been referred to as LoSHA (List of Sexual Harassment Accused) and it also has its own Wikipedia page. LoSHA is seen as the catalyst for the #MeToo movement in India.

LoSHA provoked both support and resistance within feminist circles. Immediately after the FB post, a statement was released and signed by fourteen Delhi based feminists who critiqued the ‘naming and shaming’ of men, cautioned against making accusations of sexual harassment without ‘context or explanation’,  and advocated ‘due process’.  After the statement, many other feminists across India commented and reflected on this, raising concerns around the over-emphasis on the law. It became evident again that there is no monolithic feminism in India – or any single unified position on feminists engaging with the law. The last year or so has been an interesting ‘new’ moment in feminist politics in India, and amongst the accusations, counter accusations and closing down of conversations,  we have also seen nuanced and thoughtful reflections trying to understand complexity and express solidarity. V Geetha, in an important essay, points out the need to initiate dialogue about sexual harassment, and the power politics in social relationships including in the Academy:

“Therefore, rather than fall back on the need to observe due process, which, indeed we do, when we engage with the justice system, we need to also think of how we enable speech about sexual harassment and violence that is not about law and justice alone, but about social relationships and the power invested in those who defined the terms of the latter, on account of their class, caste and authority as intellectuals.”

Whilst the media has characterised feminist conflict over LoSHA as that of ‘old’ and ‘new’ feminisms, of ‘ungrateful daughters’ and ‘tut-tutting mothers’, others, such as Srila Roy, have argued that a generational analysis is unhelpful and over-simplifying:  “there has been both support for and condemnation of the list across different generations of feminists.” Meanwhile there have been provocative discussions on erotics in the Indian university classroom through pedagogic practices (Brinda Bose and Rahul Sen https://cafedissensusblog.com/2018/08/17/liberal-vertigo-eros-and-the-university/), projecting the interconnections of caste and patriarchy in University spaces in contexts of sexual harassment (Drishadwati Bargi https://www.epw.in/engage/article/misreading-dalit-critique-university-space) and hoping for a conversation on the modes and methods of speaking, complaining on sexual harassment by netizens (Gita Chadha and Rukmini Sen https://www.epw.in/engage/special-features/power-relationships-academia)

Since LoSha and then #MeToo in India, languages of both law and feminism have been questioned, subjected to reflection upon their own hegemony and boundaries respectively. The legal history around sexual harassment in India goes back to the 1997 Supreme Court Vishakha judgment recognizing unwelcome sexual behaviour in the workplace as harassment, which mandated workplaces to create gender sensitization and complaints committees. Twenty years post the judgment and four years since the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, it is important to understand that the LoSha and #MeToo campaigns have happened as a result of years of feminist politics and not despite them. Yet, this contemporary moment opened up new conversations about the meaning(s) of speech, silence, evidence, criminality, intimacy.

This is a crucial point at which it becomes necessary  to acknowledge that the law would  define and construct boundaries within which a violation has to be expressed. The limitation of what is intrinsic to law is the need to speak in the language of law—within definitions, through written/oral testimonies, evidence, or witness, especially in situations injury leading to punishment. The definition of sexual harassment includes and yet also leaves out many kinds of behaviour from the definition; it is hinged at a complicated understanding of ‘unwelcome behaviour’, where the definition of ‘unwelcome’ is be redefined in each new case. Interpretation of what is not exactly in the definition is always possible, yet it is important to recognise that quasi legal committees operate within the framework of the law and all (sexually unwanted) behaviour cannot find a name in the law. Speech therefore is an essential component of any legal process, when law is in action either in a courtroom or within an anti-sexual harassment complaints committee. It is relevant to remember here that feminist politics has encouraged and emphasised the need to use speech to bring experiences into the public realm. Breaking the silence or chuppi todo has been part of posters and campaign slogans since the 1980s when issues of rape and domestic violence were discussed publicly in unprecedented ways. Thus voicing and not silence has been a tool for any politics emanating from the margins and feminism has been no exception. Silence, hesitation, pausing, self-imposed caution are all part of the process of making sense of a sexual violation, and the definition of the law is not the only way through which this happens.

What is of critical importance in the post LoSha moment is to reaffirm that universities are sites of both possibilities and contradictions. They foster ideas and imaginations of new citizenship by removing boundaries about who can have access to higher education. On the other hand, universities also cultivate power in relationships while encouraging and sustaining relations – all of which are a complex web of multiple social locations and identities that individuals inhabit based on gender-sexuality, caste, class, religion, language, disability or place of origin. It is necessary to take cognisance of the co-existence of power and intimacy in teacher–student relationships in contemporary institutions of higher learning. As V Geetha  notes: “ In the university context, indeed in any learning context, especially in caste society, the communication of ideas, and the practice of teaching and learning are fraught and precarious”

In these transformative times, with the demands for empathetic, more democratic teachers, are flows of power disrupted? How do gender and caste relations play out within these flows? Is being (and expected to be) obedient as a student judged as being submissive by the faculty, and is the inability to resist interpreted as consent? It is important to note this transforming landscape in which young, aspiring, freedom-seeking women/multiple genders in institutions of higher learning across Indian cities talk about, discuss and debate sexual politics. Institutions need to create an enabling eco-system much beyond only a complaint registering committee, where, within pedagogic and political practices of the institution’s everyday functioning, certain non-negotiable ethical principles of interpersonal interaction are deliberatively arrived at.

I am proposing the need to craft opportunities for dialogue (between students, between faculty, between faculty and students, between administrative staff) moving beyond merely a culture of formal complaints. Through this the claim, besides being aware as gendered citizens about the legal provisions on sexual harassment but to not overemphasize the need  for more training or improved legal skills , but for a democratic space in which the complexity of life experiences of students as well as early career women/multiple gendered faculty in institutions of higher learning can be acknowledged and explored. This will enable conversations (speech of a certain feminist kind, not necessarily the juridical) on the plural meanings of unwelcome experiences, transgressions, consent and control.

Rukmini Sen is Professor at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. She teaches and publishes around sociology of law, feminist movements and personal narratives

rukmini@aud.ac.in

https://www.facebook.com/rukmini.sen.31

https://twitter.com/RStweet18

The ideas expressed in this blog are taken from, continuing and connected with two previously published essays https://www.epw.in/engage/article/sexual-harassment-limits-speech and https://thewire.in/education/sexual-harassment-committee-universities-jnu-gscash

Day Eleven |Democracy’s Promise Unfulfilled while Violence against Women in Politics Persists

photo credit: Eric.Parker DSC07415_ep via photopin (license)

Written by Dr. Gabrielle Bardall

In October 2018, the Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls presented a report to the UN General Assembly recognizing violence against women in politics (VAWP) as a human rights violation and calling upon all UN member states to take action. In less than a decade, this issue went from an unnamed and unnoticed fact-of-life to an internationally-recognized threat to democracy and violation of human rights.

What is “VAWP” and why is it so significant? Political violence during elections and democratic processes is a common occurrence in many countries, especially states undergoing regime transitions. Likewise, the global and pervasive presence of gender-based violence (GBV) is well-established. VAWP exists at the crossroads of political violence and GBV, targeting women who participate in public or political life either specifically because they are women, or in distinctly gendered ways. Sadly, there is no shortage of examples and no boundaries — from Zimbabwean women experiencing genital mutilation in retribution for engaging in politics, to women legislators across Western democracies denouncing sexual harassment within the halls of their parliaments, to the bombing of a busload of female election workers in Afghanistan.

VAWP is not only a manifestation of inequality or a harm against an individual. It is a mechanism that formally institutionalizes women’s subordinate position in society by coercively excluding them from state governance. Just as VAWP terrorizes and degrades its individual victims, it undermines democracy by enforcing patriarchal control of democratic institutions and impedes the economic growth potential associated with greater women’s political participation. VAWP is the ultimate expression of the patriarchy and until it is eradicated, democracy’s promise remains unfulfilled.

VAWP occurs in multiple locations, including private and domestic spaces, and online. It is often perpetrated by someone known to the victim – indeed, in many cases we have encountered, women experience violence at the hands of other elected officials as well as by their intimate partners as a result of their political or public engagement. Women overwhelmingly experience psychological and sexual forms of political violence, compared to men who are more often targeted by physical harm. VAWP has been documented in all parts of the world, regardless of regime-type or socio-economic status, although it takes different forms in different places. Emerging statistical research suggests a very high prevalence. One recent of 45 countries found that over 85 percent of women parliamentarians had suffered psychological violence, while 58 percent had been attacked online. Our research at IFES finds that in some countries, political women are targeted with online threats, degrading attacks and other forms of digital harassment at up to three times the rate of their male counterparts. These attacks largely reflect anger with a woman’s decision to run for office or otherwise engage in public affairs because of the break with traditional gender roles, and the content of online vitriol – from Zimbabwe to Sri Lanka to Ukraine to the USA – is riddled with sexual threats, manipulated images and video, and threats of physical harm to the woman herself or to her children and partner. We also know that VAWP has an intersectional dimension and that women who also identify with marginalized religious, ethnic, racial groups have a distinct experience.

The path to ending VAWP has turned into a highway over the decade since the issue of VAWP began to be recognized as a distinct threat to democracy and human rights. The SRVAW’s report in October 2018 unified the vision, action and research of many global activists and researchers, and provided direction and momentum. Responses to mitigating and ending VAWP once and for all are manifold and include education, awareness, improved data, personal security, law enforcement training, and monitoring. One response in particular is of vital importance, no less because it is reflective of a deep and abiding inequality that crosscuts global democracies: the issue of ending impunity for VAWP.

With only a handful of exceptions in Latin America, VAWP is not explicitly addressed in national legal frameworks. However, most frameworks do address the most egregious manifestations of VAWP, including physical and sexual violence and many forms of harassment and discrimination. Yet, laws protecting victims of VAWP and punishing its perpetrators are systematically overlooked and unenforced worldwide. More challenging still, legal frameworks are often murky or absent for the types of violence women most frequently experience in politics, including online and many forms of psychological violence. So long as we fail to recognize VAWP when it occurs and to prosecute its perpetrators, permissive norms and attitudes will remain.

This is a fundamental issue because it goes to the heart of how we judge the quality of democracy itself. A double-standard for electoral standards operates in democratization processes today. In practice, some laws simply count more than others when it comes to determining how democratic a democracy is, regardless of the hierarchy of law. The trouble is, the laws that end up in the second-tier are often those laws designed to defend women’s participation and security in the course of the exercise of their civil and political rights. Recently, Kenya and Haiti have, respectively, annulled national elections and undergone upheaval over electoral irregularities. Yet in both cases, blatant violations of Constitutional law were not the issue behind the turmoil – because those violations pertained to the protection of women’s space in state institutions.

Understanding VAWP provides a vehicle that compels us to re-evaluate the fundamentals of how we define and defend democracy. There can be no gender-exceptions to the hierarchy of law. Electoral integrity does not exist where the rule of law is not applied to protect and defend all citizens equally. Democratization remains incomplete where half the population is subject to discrimination and political violence, in all its forms. Until violence against women in politics is systematically addressed, many electoral processes remain at risk of reproducing the patriarchal structures that exclude and silence women’s voices. Adapting a feminist approach to democracy and democracy assistance is vital to overcoming this fundamental human rights challenge.

Dr. Gabrielle Bardall is the Gender Advisor at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Research Fellow at the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa. Bardall was an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow (2016) and a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation doctoral scholar (2012).

Twitter handles: @gabrielleB17 @IFESGender

Day Ten | Gender-based Violence as a Form of Genocide

photo credit: Shutterstock

Written by Rosemary Grey

Gender-based violence can be a form of genocide, and has been recognised as such since Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin first coined the term ‘genocide’ in the aftermath of World War II.

Today the issue of genocide continues to loom large.

In 2018, the international community marks the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines the crime of genocide under international law and obliges states parties to prevent and punish this crime. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handing down the first international conviction of an individual for genocide. Furthermore, it marks the 10th anniversary of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on charges of genocide and other crimes against ethnic groups in Darfur.

It is the year that the UN Human Rights Council found that there were serious grounds to believe that Myanmar’s Rohingya people have been subject to genocide, just two years after concluding that Iraq’s Yazidi people had likewise been subjected to that crime. And it is the year that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – a joint initiative of the Cambodian government and the UN – convicted two surviving leaders of Pol Pot’s regime for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

‘Genocide’, as understood in international law, means something different to mass murder. It means certain act when committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part.

Those acts are not limited to killing; they also include any acts that cause serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; subjecting the group to conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction (e.g. starvation); imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or forcibly transferring the group’s children to another group.

Without the intent to destroy a victims’ group, those same acts can be recognised as war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of human rights law, and crimes under national law. But it is the intent to destroy the group – specifically, a national, ethnic, racial or religious – that transforms the atrocity into a genocide.

In the 70 years since the Genocide Convention came into force, there has been a growing awareness of the links between gender-based violence and genocide.

In genocide scholarship, writers including Helen Fein, Charli Carpenter, Patricia Sellers and Adam Jones have illuminated these links. Based on their analysis of historical precedents – particularly the experience of Jews and other minorities in Nazi rule; of Tutsi and perceived Tutsi-sympathising people in Rwanda; and of non-Serbs during the wars in the former Yugoslavia – they have shown that genocide has affected men and women in different ways.

For example, men from the targeted group may be killed first, because they are perceived as potential combatants. Pregnant women may be slaughtered in order to prevent them from giving birth to a baby from the targeted ethnic or racial group; and women may be purposely impregnated by the genocidal group in order to breed in a particular race or ethnicity.

In parallel with this scholarship, international criminal courts have played a part in “gendering” the concept of genocide.

The Akayesu trial judgment at the Rwandan tribunal, led the way in this respect. It was not only the first case of an international conviction for genocide, but also the first to recognise that sexual violence can be an act of genocide. Applying this argument to the Rwandan context, the judges held that:

“Sexual violence was a step in the process of destruction of the Tutsi group – destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

That interpretation has been followed in numerous cases since, including the International Criminal Court’s Al-Bashir case. In line with Akayesu, the Prosecutor in that case has alleged that women and girls from the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur were raped as part of the genocide, and that men from those groups were rounded up and killed in sex-selected massacres.

Most recently, in November this year, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal added to the case-law on gendered genocide. In finding that Cham and Vietnamese people in Cambodia had experience genocided during the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979), the Tribunal held that Vietnamese women and children were particularly targeted because their ethnicity was thought to pass down the mothers’ line, but in families where only the father was Vietnamese, he alone would be killed. In this way, the judgment helps to show that genocide during the Democratic Kampuchea period was not ‘gender-neutral’, as had previously been thought.

Gender-based violence and genocide are not two separate issues. Often, they go hand-in-hand. During this important anniversary of the Genocide Convention and this #‘16 days’ campaign where there is a heightened awareness of gender-based violence, the prevention of genocide must remain part of international efforts to prevent and condemn gender-based violence in all its forms.

Rosemary Grey is a University of Sydney Postdoctoral Fellow, Sydney Law School and Sydney Southeast Asia Centre