DAY TWELVE: City Lights for Social Change

To mark 2020 16 Days of Activism theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ Australian academics worked with local authorities to turn their City orange.

Picture above: Civic Park in Newcastle, New South Wales being lit orange to mark 16 Days of Activism. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly, UON Marketing and Communications. Reproduced with permission.

Effie Karageorgos and Kcasey McLoughlin

In 1991 the Center for Women’s Global Leadership instituted the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which has now spread to over 187 countries. It begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day. In 2020, the University of Newcastle’s Gender Research Network has responded to the 2020 16 Days of Activism theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ by turning Newcastle orange.

The Gender Research Network, established and led by Associate Professor Trisha Pender, has embarked on a Program in Gender-Based Violence research and activism in 2020, aided by a $70,000 University of Newcastle Faculty of Education and Arts Pilot Grant. Spanning sociology, history, law, literary, gender and cultural studies, the Gender Research Network aims to collaborate with local frontline services to tackle the urgent issue of gender-based violence.

The academic research funded by the project will cover legal conceptualisations of family violence, male clergy perpetration of sexual violence, media presentations of gendered and sexual violence in mainstream television and French and Australian media, the #MeToo movement and the relationship between historical Australian archetypes of masculinity and media representations of male violence.

Associate Professor Trisha Pender at the launch of the Newcastle 16 Days of Activism campaign to end violence against women, held in Civic Park, Wednesday 25 November 2020. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly. Reproduced with permission.

The impetus for this program has emerged from the alarming scale of gendered violence in Australia, with one woman murdered each week by an intimate partner. Gender-based violence is a pressing social and human rights issue that causes long-term physical and psychological effects and costs the Federal Government billions of dollars every year.

It is also a contentious issue in Australian society, with proposed legal reforms such as Victoria’s move to ban the public disclosure of names of sexual violence victims and New South Wales Labor’s push to criminalise coercive control causing widespread and impassioned debate from victims, victim advocates and researchers. The Program in Gender-Based Violence will not only address male perpetrators of violence against women, but also violence affecting LGBTIQ communities and children. It seeks to define how gender-based violence is reported and conceptualised within society.

A central facet of the Gender Research Network’s program in gender-based violence is the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women campaign. The Network was awarded a Newcastle City Council SBR (Special Business Rates) grant for ‘City Lights for Social Change’, which has created a permanent lighting infrastructure for Civic Park. This turned the park orange for the 16 Days in 2020, but will also create a safer public space at night for Newcastle residents and will be available for use by other social change campaigns in the future. In 2020, the University of Newcastle also committed to turning the NUspace building on its city campus orange, and the Newcastle City Hall’s Clock Tower will also turn orange for the 16 Days of Activism from 25 November to 10 December.

NUspace at University of Newcastle being lit orange to mark 16 Days of Activism, a campaign focusing on preventing violence against women. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly. Reproduced with permission.

The launch and vigil of 25 November took place at 8-9pm, featuring Associate Professor Trisha Pender, with the support of the New South Wales Police Force. Pender was joined by a range of speakers from community organisations, including ACON Health and Warlga Ngurra Women and Children’s Refuge, as well as Federal Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon and City of Newcastle Councillor Carol Duncan. During the vigil, the names of the 45 women killed by violence in Australia in 2020 was read out by a group of domestic violence researchers and activists.

Image from the Newcastle launch of 16 Days of Activism campaign to end violence against women, held in Civic Park, Wednesday 25 November 2020. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly. Reproduced with permission.

The Gender Research Network’s contribution to the 16 Days campaign also included a webinar on the current push to criminalise coercive control in New South Wales. The session was facilitated by Dr Kcasey McLoughlin, Senior Lecturer in Law, and featured Laura Richards, prominent activist and behavioural analyst from the United Kingdom, Hayley Foster, Chief Executive of Women’s Safety NSW, and State Member for Shellharbour Anna Watson, who was responsible for introducing the bill to criminalise coercive control to the New South Wales Parliament.

The recording of the Coercive Control seminar of 30 November 2020 is available online.

Effie Karageorgos is a historian and member of the Gender Research Network at the University of Newcastle. Her research is in the social history of war, and specifically histories of masculinity and trauma. Her monograph Australian Soldiers in South Africa and Vietnam: Words from the Battlefield was published in March 2016. 

Kcasey McLoughlin is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Newcastle Law School and a member of Gender Research Network at the University of Newcastle. She is currently a visiting Scholar at the Australian Human Rights Institute (UNSW). Her research, broadly defined, concerns the gendered values that shape political and legal institutions and the extent to which law can be used as a tool for achieving equality.  

DAY ELEVEN: Witches of Scotland : A campaign to right the historic wrongs done to women

The Witches of Scotland Campaign aims to win pardons, memorials and apologies for the women who died in witch trials in Scotland between the 16th and 18th century.

Picture above: Witches Gestalt names, credits: andrewtcrummy, source: Creative Commons.

Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi 

The Witches of Scotland Campaign was set up in 2020 to highlight the terrible miscarriage of justice that was suffered by people, mostly women, between the 16th and 18th century that were accused convicted and executed as witches in Scotland. It seeks to obtain a pardon, an apology and a public memorial to commemorate all those in Scotland who were convicted or accused as witches.

Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC set up the campaign. She is an advocate who specialises in appeals against miscarriages of justices. She knew that there had never been any attempt to address the wrongful convictions of women as witches.  As a result she decided to campaign for a pardon for these women, to highlight the wrongs done to them and to make clear that an allegation of witchcraft as a tool of persecution was wrong then and is wrong now.  She believes these women and men deserve justice. 

Much of the record keeping, especially in the earlier centuries, was very poor but from what is available it is thought that the people who were accused of witchcraft 84% were women.

The “satanic panic” that spread through Europe in at this time used the allegation of witchcraft as a tool of persecution against women.  Academics believe that the in Scotland approximately 5 times as many as the European average number of executions took place and it is estimated that of approximately 4000 allegations of witchcraft, 2500 people were executed as witches. 

“5. Witches Gates by Tom Ewing”, credits: andrewtcrummy. Source: Creative Commons.

The Witchcraft Act 1563 came into force in Scotland when Mary, Queen of Scots was still alive, but it was her son, James VI of Scotland (and later James the first of England) who legitimised the idea that witches lived amongst us. So obsessed was he with the idea that witches and demons were real and that they preyed on men and women that in 1599 he wrote the book “Daemonologie” which was a study of magic, sorcery and witchcraft. The ruling classes, the church and the common people all believed that the devil walked amongst us and corrupted those who were not godly enough. The reason why women were more likely to be witches than men is because that it was thought that women were “weaker” and more likely to succumb to the devil’s charms. It seems that the view that women were more likely to be witches than men was a universal one.

Unfortunately, it took very little and sometimes nothing at all to be accused of being a witch.

Allegations could be made up, or a woman could fall out with a neighbour and if the neighbour or her family or animals became unwell the suspicion would fall apon the woman as having cursed her enemy. After an allegation was made the woman would be interrogated. In Scotland the preferred method of getting confessions was to keep the woman awake and use sleep deprivation until she “confessed.”

Unfortunately, many so-called confessions were obtained this way. It was not enough, however, to confess to being a witch – what was also required was that you gave up the names of the women who were part of the witches group too. This meant that if you knew someone who was accused as a witch you would fear being called a witch too. If you confessed then under the Witchcraft Act 1563 the punishment was execution. This was done by first strangling the women and then burning her body to get rid of any trace of her, so the devil did not bring her back to get revenge. 

In some countries, they have apologised, pardoned and build memorials for those wrongly accused and convicted of witchcraft. Those that were convicted in the most famous witch trials, those held in Salem, Massachusetts, in the USA were all pardoned and there is a public memorial in the form of a garden where each of the 19 killed (15 women and 4 men) are remembered with their own bench-seat. In Norway there is a memorial in Finnmark to those women killed in one of the biggest witch trials in Scandinavia. 

Unfortunately, gender-based violence is not a thing of the past, and women are still wrongly being accused of witchcraft in some parts of the world (See Mayur Suresh’s blogpost from last year on Witch-hunting in East India). Women and children continue to suffer harm through witchcraft allegations. It is hoped that in carrying out this campaign it also sheds light on the use of allegations of witchcraft as a tool of persecution in the modern day against women and children.  

Author Zoe Venditozzi and Claire Mitchell QC host a weekly podcast which can be found on the website where the allegations of witchcraft and the reasons behind the allegations are discussed as well as updates on the campaign.