DAY SIXTEEN: Concluding 16 Days Blogathon 2022

Our annual 16 Days blogathon has come to another close. Here’s a quick recap to round up what our contributors have written thus far.

We’ve come to an end of our annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Blogathon, running between the International Day to End Violence Against Women and International Human Rights Day today. Our blogathon this year focused on the theme of migration, mobilities, and displacement and is a continued collaboration between GENDER.ED at the University of Edinburgh, the Gendered Violence Research Network at the University of New South Wales and the Centre for Publishing at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. We invited artists, academics, and activists to reflect on gender-based violence in the context of our theme and their blogs shared work from Australia, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Kenya, Tunisia, Nepal, Somalia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Syria.

This collaboration between the institutions and with the many bloggers who joined our online space reminded us of the urgent and powerful need for co-creation as an analytical and methodological approach as Nick Mai’s creative ethnofiction showed us.

Inviting a range of academics and activists to our pages these past sixteen days, we learned how the basic categories through which we name and approach gender-based violence can’t be taken for granted. Sometimes the very subjects of gender-based violence are missing. Elsewhere, the erasure is an epistemic one: where queer and trans refugee women are not seen as legitimate victims of displacement.

Our bloggers also challenged the unit through which we understand gender-based violence during times of migration, mobility, and displacement: is it the individual person or is this an issue requiring analysis at the community, kin, and group level as this blog from the DiSoCo project showed by focusing on questions of justice and care.

Through the past 16 days, we heard powerful analyses of rape, forced marriage, and displacement and uprooting. But we also encountered GBV at unlikely sites: through the politics of leisure in a Delhi resettlement colony perhaps, and a nuanced narrative of agriculture and kinship from Syria.

Traveling across sites and contexts of labour, war and violence, we encountered migration that helped people access much-needed care as with West African migrants in Australia and Ugandan refugees fleeing transphobia and homophobia to arrive in Kenya. Migration is “both a cry for help and at the same time the indomitable human urge to survive” as this blog on trans* masculine journeys shows us and practices of care are stitched together despite institutional violence as the asylum accommodation system in the UK shows. If borders are tools of violence, so too are immigrants often perceived as threatening. People seek mobility and liberation through border crossings but some journeys are persistently fraught with violence as racialised and gendered inequalities are reinforced.

How does one address this violence? Feminist jurisprudence offers the transformatory potential of difference in reimagining justice. Through our posts, we have expanded how we come to listen to gender-based violence and trauma through testimonials of gender-based violence through art, literature, and song[3]  that also have the powerful potential to heal through creative force.

At the end of the blogathon, we are left with the complexity of the racialized and gendered violence of migration, mobilities, and displacement but also we hope we can leave you with the possibility of healing and repair possible through collaborative creative exploration and feminist solidarity.

The 2022 curators:

University of Edinburgh: Dr Radhika Govinda (Director), Dr Hemangini Gupta (Assoc Director and 2022 Blogathon Co-Lead), Dr Zubin Mistry (Steering Group Member and 2022 Blogathon Co-Lead) and Aerin Lai (PhD web and editorial assistant) from GENDER.ED.

Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi: Prof. Rukmini Sen (Director, Centre for Publishing), Dr Rachna Mehra (School of Global Affairs).

University of New South Wales: Prof. Jan Breckenridge (Co-Convenor), Mailin Suchting (Manager) and Georgia Lyons (Research Assistant) for the Gendered Violence Research Network.

DAY FOURTEEN: Challenging sexual humanitarian bordering through co-creative ethnographic filmmaking

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.

Nick Mai

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. 

Watch the trailer to CAER (Caught) here. It was made in collaboration with the Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo

Author’s Bio

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).  

DAY TWELVE: I Never Ask For It: Building Testimonials to Gender-Based Violence

Over nearly twenty years, Blank Noise has worked with citizens and communities across India and beyond to build testimonials of gender-based violence. Blank Noise rests on the power of feminist collaborations and building feminist solidarities, writes its Founder-Director Jasmeen Patheja in today’s blog.

Jasmeen Patheja

Featured Image: Clothes from the I Never Ask For It campaign. Image credit: Jasmeen Patheja.

An idea has no significance or meaning unless someone makes it their own.

Blank Noise is a growing community of Action Sheroes/ Theyroes/ Heroes: citizens and persons taking the agency to end gender-based violence. Blank Noise was initiated in 2003 in response to the silence surrounding street harassment in India and globally. While for the first decade, Blank Noise worked to bring attention to street harassment, its next phase was an inquiry into the nature of victim blaming. Blame permeates spaces of violence. If blame has been used to justify violence against all identities and spaces, how can we be Action Sheroes everywhere? Not just on the streets, but in our power at home, on campus, at our workplace, on the internet.

In 2003- 2004, since the start of Blank Noise,  I reached out to women around me, to speak with me about their experiences of street harassment. Responses ranged from “it doesn’t happen to me”, “how can you ask me this question – I am not that type of a woman”, to “it happened to me, I was wearing my school uniform and it still happened.”  

The dominant climate back then was ‘good girls’ don’t experience it, don’t name it, and if you do experience it, you ‘asked for it’. Fear and the threat of street harassment was a given and normalised. 

The more I listened, I paid attention to the fact that garments were being recalled and named in testimonials.  I recognised that there was a pattern here in the way we narrated. The noticing became an inquiry. 

Nearly 20 years later, no matter where I go ( urban, rural or internationally) , I still ask the question “Do you remember what you wore when you experienced gender based violence? Is there an unnamed, yet unforgotten memory of discomfort where you remember the clothes? What makes so many of us, across identities and geographies, remember?”

The first 8-10 years of I Never Ask For It was about making the garment a ‘truth’ visible to ourselves and the public we engaged with through the press and media. We were recognising that women in all clothes, women across identities, age, religion or faith experienced it. We learnt to say #INeverAskForIt. 

Participants build the I Never Ask For It project at public sites. Image credit: Jasmeen Patheja.

I Never Ask For It has grown from an idea and campaign to a mission. The 2004 version of I Never Ask For It issued the first call to action inviting survivors of violence to bring or ‘discard’ the clothes they were wearing when they experienced violence.  We moved from the idea of inviting and encouraging survivors to speak to the campaign’s current phase emphasising, “speak if it serves you.”  

I Never Ask For It is a place for memory – to keep our memories safe. It works towards building ten thousand garment testimonials and bringing them to unite at sites of public significance. We share this number because we are motivated by what it would take to build this – the healing it could offer, the feminist solidarities it could initiate.

I Never Ask For It has been built slowly, iteratively, through the years. It has been co-created with feminist alliances and through listening. We ask ‘who is yet to be heard,’ and that drives how we design its path ahead. The practice at Blank Noise is located within socially engaged art practice and movement building.

I Never Ask For It behind the scenes includes workshops, campaigns, research projects, public actions such as ‘Walk Towards Healing’, Listening Circles, public talks and more. It has moved away from its early ‘myth breaking’ and making this truth visible approach to now claiming, “We are done defending. I Never Ask For It”. The garment is merely a witness. It bears memory. It was present at that moment. We believe there is power in bringing the garments together, standing united in solidarity; power in speaking if it serves the speaker. 

We are building testimonials, but who has the capacity to listen? I Never Ask For It is about learning to be a listener. It is an injustice to ask survivors to speak if we do not have the capacity to listen.  I Never Ask For It rests on building our collective capacity to listen. The burden of memory is not mine, or ours alone.

Over the years, I Never Ask For It has been shared at multiple sites including Ars Electronica – Austria (2005), Kitab Mahal (2006), Abrons Art Center (2017) , Ford Foundation Gallery (2018), and is now also at Khoj International Artists Association through their ongoing show called Threading the Horizon.

Watch this powerful video of their work here.

Author’s Bio

Jasmeen Patheja is an artist in public service mobilising towards the right to be defenceless. Patheja has worked to end gender based violence and victim blame for nearly two decades. She founded Blank Noise in 2003, in response to the silence surrounding street harassment.  She mobilises citizens and individuals to take agency in ending sexual and gender-based violence. Patheja designs methodologies (tareeka) to confront fear, fear politics, warnings, and victim blame surrounding sexual assault. Patheja works towards building the capacity to listen to survivors of sexual assault and the capacity to care.

Jasmeen works with multiple forms of media. She is also a photographer. She is a TED and Ashoka Fellow.

DAY SIX: Migration, mobilities and displacement: A view from the ground in Nithari, India

Sunalini Kumar writes about displacement and the disproportionate effects of migration on women in Nithari, a village of thousands of ‘urban villages’ in the industrial suburb of NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Area) in India.

Sunalini Kumar

Featured image credits: Joint Women’s Programme

Nithari village is one of thousands of ‘urban villages’ in the industrial suburb of NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Area), just outside India’s national capital, Delhi. Nithari presents a picture of congestion, overflowing sewage, narrow galis (streets in Hindi) and ramshackle, hastily erected tenements. Nevertheless, over the decades Nithari has become home to thousands of marginalised and poor Indians from North India and beyond.  

In the popular press – both Indian and foreign – economic liberalisation brought prosperity to the country and expanded opportunities for the poor. However, the underbelly of this growth has been devastating especially for those who were suddenly defined as ‘unskilled’. Women form a huge section of the category of the especially vulnerable, ‘unskilled’ poor in a phenomenon termed the ‘feminisation of poverty’ by economists.

Often illiterate, jobs like babysitting; elder care; and employment in hospitals and factories, which were previously open to them, are now denied under the modern, ‘corporate’ organisation of labour.  

Therefore, urban migration for women is different from the experiences of men who are generally literate and have a higher bargaining status. Migrant women find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of low wages and a sudden decline in status compared to their lives in the village. In Nithari, the Joint Women’s Programme – an autonomous women’s organisation established in 1977 – reports that despite their lower status, migrant women have become the primary breadwinners of their families. This is either due to destitution; domestic violence; or because their male partners are afflicted with physical and mental health issues. However, persistent cultural factors in these communities simply don’t acknowledge the reality of women as workers. Due to these long-term factors, the effects of the 2020-22 COVID-19 pandemic have been especially devastating in Nithari. Padmini Kumar of the JWP shared some examples of migrant women’s distress during the pandemic: 

‘Food on plate’ Image credits to: Padmini Kumar

A migrant labourer from Bihar, Rani was stranded in Nithari with her children. Her husband had gone to another district in search of work and lost contact with the family. With no money in hand Rani would stand in front of the gate of the emergency food ration service organised in the school run by JWP. One of the teachers asked her if she was looking for someone. She started crying and confessed that she and her children had not eaten for three days. They did not have a phone to contact anyone in their village and were staying under a stolen old polythene banner to protect themselves from the hot sun. JWP continued to give her food till the end of lockdown but lost touch with her post-pandemic.  

Omvati was working as a construction labourer along with her son after her husband had died due to a workplace accident. The contractor paid them a small token amount to cremate the body. With grief weighing them down they preferred to go back to their village. But the sudden lockdown had left them with debts and the contractor refused to give them their earlier payments. The single room they had rented needed to be cleared of dues. They were left locked inside the work site, with very little to eat and with no access to a clean toilet. After four days when they ran out of groceries, they started waving their clothes to try to catch the attention of passers-by but due to the lockdown there was hardly anyone in the vicinity. Out of hunger and exhaustion they were found semi-conscious by one of JWP’s community workers. Emergency first aid was given and they were taken to hospital. It was ensured that they were given food every day until the end of the lockdown. Later the JWP volunteers met the contractor to redeem a major part of their wage dues and the family was sent home as per their own wishes. 

There are many such stories in Nithari, like the ones shared above. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic fallout of it in India has elevated the ordinary marginalisation of migrant women in Indian cities to widespread destitution. This is a silent crisis that has not received the kind of attention from the government and the media that it needs.

In Nithari, migrant women are in danger of losing what little they had before the pandemic; and yet they remain the fragile pillars, on which their children and others depend. Without sustained intervention by the state, these women will become one of the long-term casualties of the pandemic, without even the formal acknowledgment accorded to other victims. Gendered violence takes many forms; Nithari’s women experience it not only directly, but also in its most insidious form through the uncaring patriarchal state.  

Author’s Bio

Sunalini Kumar is Associate Professor at the School of Global Affairs, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. She was educated at Delhi University, JNU and Cambridge University. She has previously been Visiting Fellow at CSDS, Delhi and Fulbright Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow at MESAAS, Columbia University.

Sunalini’s research interests centre around urban and regional politics; gender and political theory; and the global south. Her publications are included in Critical Studies in Politics: Sites, Selves, Power (Delhi, Orient Blackswan 2013) and Urbanising Citizenship (Delhi, London and Thousand Oaks, Sage 2013). She is a contributing member of the widely read blog

DAY FIVE: “It’s not just the war that displaces these people”: care and containment for displaced survivors of sexual and gender-based violence 

This piece is based on the DiSoCo project, which looks at improving healthcare for internally displaced people in Somalia and DRC,and Somali and Congolese refugees in Kenya and South Africa. The authors reflect on their interviewees’ stories on sexual and gender-based violence and the repercussions on those who report these stories.

Rina Ghafoerkhan, Elise Griede, Laura Jeffery, Lucy Lowe, David Nieuwe Weme

Featured image credits: SIDRA Institute

… she actually complained to the camp leaders. And there was an NGO, that NGO helped her, she went to the police station and the guy was caught and, you know, he stayed in jail for two days. And since then, that’s when the abuse started. He rapes her constantly. As a punishment. So, you have the rule of law that is not doing its job. The government’s not doing their job, you have the NGO, of course they do help, but then they don’t look at the consequences. You’re not addressing the issue. And that’s why women don’t come forth, because it’s easier. Maybe it happens to you once. And if you keep quiet, then it stops. But then you talk and you get punished.  

These are the words of an internally displaced teenager in Somalia. They reflect the experiences of many displaced women too scared to report experiences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) because of the repercussions experienced by those who do. Her account was shared with researchers on the DiSoCo project, which aims to improve healthcare for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and amongst Somali and Congolese refugees in Kenya and South Africa.  

Both Somalia and the DRC have been involved in decades-long protracted conflicts, and Somali and Congolese people have faced prolonged exposure to numerous human rights violations, including torture, sexual violence and repeated and often protracted displacement. During interviews, many people emphasised the stigma surrounding SGBV, sometimes as an even greater concern than physical or mental health, due to the social significance of female virginity and chastity. Several interviewees discussed concerns about the lasting impact that public knowledge of assault might have for survivors’ futures, such as being deemed unsuitable for marriage.

As a result, they suggested, a priority of many survivors and their families is to conceal the assault, in an attempt to avoid the shame and dishonour that often haunts survivors.  

Our interviewees discussed this process of concealment and containment as a response to stigma occurring on multiple levels. Firstly, several interviewees articulated that victims’ fears about other people’s responses might disincentivise victims from disclosing sexual violence to others, but that this containment might also result in social isolation. Secondly, in relation to containment within the household, interviewees noted that victims and their families might seek to restrict knowledge about the incident to a select group or even remove the entire household from the social setting by moving away. Both Somali and Congolese interviewees mentioned cases of people relocating – displacing or re-displacing themselves – in order to evade the stigma surrounding what had happened to them. One Congolese interviewee responded that: 

In some cases, they isolate themselves or they will be forced to go into exile, another village or into the city where again they don’t have the support system. So it’s not just the war that displaces these people…  

Thus, in displacement contexts in which social support networks have already been severed, household containment has the potential to compound pre-existing social isolation. 

Thirdly, strategies for containment at a community level via social institutions include transforming the violation into an ‘appropriate’ sexual interaction through marriage, seeking reparations in the form of compensation, or initiating retributive justice. Similarly, our research partners in Somalia found that a commonplace principal response to sexual violence is families and extended clan networks seeking compensation from the offending parties to the victim’s family (Boeyink et al. 2022, p8). This implies a framing of sexual violence not only as a mental health concern and physical assault for which the victim might warrant medical attention, but also crucially as a (dis)honour for which the victim’s family should be compensated.  

Prevalent norms surrounding sex and gender are crucial to understanding how victims, their families, and local communities react to experiences of sexual violence. Displaced populations face parallel challenges in accessing all forms of care because displacement ruptures and fragments support networks. This is compounded in cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), where perceptions of gender, violence, and sex among displaced and host communities are entangled with practices of care.

Our interviewees highlighted that gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and the availability of local support networks together inform the forms of social harm and potential care experienced by survivors of sexual violence. Without viable and accessible support and care, survivors of SGBV can be subject to repeat displacement, revealing the highly gendered, but often concealed, nature of forced migration. 

Authors’ Bio 

This blogpost draws on a journal article in preparation for publication. Its co-authors – Rina Ghafoerkhan, Elise Griede, Laura Jeffery, Lucy Lowe, David Nieuwe Weme – are based at ARQ International in the Netherlands and the University of Edinburgh in the UK. The co-authors are collaborating on a UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) research project aiming to help Somali and Congolese displaced people to access appropriate healthcare for chronic mental health conditions associated with protracted displacement, conflict, and sexual and gender-based violence. For more information about the project, please visit our website at and twitter @gcrf_disoco