“Violence against women is the leading cause of death and disability of women no matter their age”.
Along with the writers whose work you will read over the coming days, and the more than 6,000 organisations who run 16 Days campaigns every year, we are united in our commitment to women’s equality and share a desire to see a world free from sexual and gender-based violence.
From Monday 25 November 2019 (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day), we will be posting blogs that explore some of the most pressing issues in gender-based violence. Our remarkable contributors look at the many ways in which gender-based violence interacts with health, trans identities, migration, sexualities and disabilities. They write about political rhetoric that invokes gender-based violence, and the promises and limits of legal systems. They write narratives and poetry, and explore the potential of thread and comic books to tell different stories – or to tell stories differently.
Through their blogs, we travel from Scotland to Myanmar, and from the Pacific to South Africa via India and beyond. We see how gender-based violence exists in all spheres – from past to emerging and ongoing conflicts, in houses and on university campuses, and in the smallest of villages to the largest of cities. It affects women and girls of all ages, of all backgrounds, from all places.
We will be posting updates on Twitter from @UoE_genderED and @HumanRightsUNSW and look forward to sharing these stories with you over the next 16 days. We hope that you will share them further.
We couldn’t have asked for a better person to open our 2019 blogathon than Eve Ensler – best-selling author, playwright, anti-violence activist, and initiator of V-Day and 1 Billion Rising. In her powerful blog, Eve reflects on the crafting of her 2019 book The Apology, in which she wrote the apology that she knew she would never receive from her abuser: her father. For our first blog of the year, we are therefore delighted to introduce Eve Ensler’s piece, ‘My father never apologized for sexually abusing me. So I wrote his apology for him’ (reposted with kind permission from NBC News).
Signed, Co-curators of the 16 Days blogathon
Fiona Mackay, Director genderED, University of Edinburgh
Louise Chappell, Director Australian Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales
Rukmini Sen, Director Center for Publishing, Ambedkar University Delhi
Caitlin Hamilton, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Australian Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales
Natasha Dyer, PhD candidate, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
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).
December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities and 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is the first human rights treaty of the 21st Century, setting out a contemporary agenda of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of disability.
The fundamental premise of CRPD is that disability is just one aspect of the human condition. Acknowledging that people are not defined by just one personal characteristic, that we all experience discrimination in a multiplicity of ways. A fundamental tenet of the CRPD is its universalism, that of modification of the social norm to reflect human diversity. It is a normative frame that is representative of the actual lived experience of the human condition. The CRPD sets standards for society where politics, policy, and law need to be fashioned around a complete, comprehensive vision of the human experience. It is only through such a vision that we are to meet the needs of real-life subjects and address human rights violations such as violence against women.
The CRPD’s approach is a significant shift away from the prevailing social conceptualisation of disability that reflects a deficit approach; where disability is viewed as a problem, an individualised issue where vulnerable individuals require care, treatment and protection within a social welfare regime as a way of dealing with their ‘special needs’. This individual deficit approach to disability has reinforced notions of disability as difference thereby ‘othering’ these individuals and has included the standard response of law and public policy to focus on separate parallel institutions and services in isolation to mainstream systems, such as residential care facilities, special education, sheltered employment and justice diversion measures. These policy responses have been central to inherent systemic disadvantage and ongoing violations of fundamental human rights. People with disability are stripped of legal personhood, institutionalised in closed facilities and exposed to violence and abuse.
It is time to bring a human rights approach to disability gender violence – a type of violence that is routinely ignored or downplayed. Regardless of setting or context, it is often conceptualised as abuse, neglect or service incidents, or a workplace issue to be dealt with administratively – rather than as violence or a criminal act. This is particularly the case in institutional and service settings where violence is continually excused or covered up, or at worst, normalised. Critically, the effect is a lack of recognition of disability gender violence across the legal and service systems, resulting in women and girls with disability having less legal protection and access to justice.
It is currently estimated that the incidence of violence against people with a disability is at least 3 times higher than the general population. This violence is less likely to be reported, investigated or prosecuted with much higher rates for women with disability, particularly more marginalised women such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disability.
There is a growing body of evidence of the nature and extent of disability gender violence. Violence against women and girls with disability in Australia is far more extensive than violence among the general population, and violence perpetrated against women and girls with disability is significantly more diverse in nature and more severe than for women in general. Compared to their peers, women with disabilities experience significantly higher levels of all forms of violence more intensely and frequently, and by a greater number of perpetrators. Women with disabilities experience violence over a longer period of time, resulting in more severe injuries, and have limited pathways to safety.
In the Australian context, evidence shows that more than 70% of women with disabilities have been victims of violent sexual encounters. Data suggests 90% of women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse, with more than two-thirds (68%) having been sexually abused before they turn 18 years of age. The rates of sexual victimisation of women with disability range from four to 10 times higher than for other women. More than a quarter of rape cases reported by females are perpetrated against women with a disability. Women with a disability are 40% more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than women without disability. One in four women with disability who access support services experienced violence. Eighty-five (85%) of women with mental health impairment report feeling unsafe during hospitalisation, 67% per cent report experiencing sexual or other forms of harassment during hospitalisation
The multiple forms and complex nature of disability gender violence in Australia currently sits in a legislative, policy and service response vacuum. It is not afforded the same protections and responses as others forms violence and women and girls with disability have little or no avenues for recourse. Disability gender violence is significantly more diverse in nature and more severe than for women in general. Their experiences of violence last over a longer period of time, and more severe injuries result from that violence.
Narrow conceptual understandings of domestic and family violence as spousal and/or intimate partner violence obscures disability gender violence, marginalising the violence experienced by women with disability from policies and service responses designed to address and prevent violence against women. These narrow policy frameworks for domestic violence, ignore the experience of disability and fail to encompass the range of settings in which women with disability live and access.
Disability gender violence traverses traditional domestic settings including private and family dwellings but large numbers of women with disability reside in and receive support in a range of institutional and/or service settings, such as group homes, supported residential facilities, boarding houses, psychiatric and mental health community care facilities, residential aged care facilities, hostels, hospitals, prisons, foster care, respite facilities, cluster housing, congregate care, special schools and out-of-home care services. Further policy definitions fail to capture the range of relationships and various dimensions of disability gender violence, which may include the relationships they have with support workers and co-residents with disability.
Australia is far from unique. Like gender-based violence generally, disability gender violence is a widespread persistent devastating human rights violation across the world. It is only when we use normative frameworks such as the CRPD that embrace disability as an inherent part of the human condition to inform policy will we have the recognition and understanding of disability gender violence that we can eliminate violence against all women regardless of personal characteristics.
Today dozens of children and young people are leading an event at the Scottish parliament that honours and amplifies the voices and activism of young people, including young survivors of gender-based violence. They are meeting and talking with parliamentarians, ministers and national leaders in justice, police, education, health, and social work responses. Today is a celebration of the strength, resistance and power of young survivors. It is also a call to action, and young people are presenting their priorities for action to address gender-based violence and gender inequality.
The event is testament to two consistent trends in Scottish government and politics since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as part of the UK devolution settlement: first, a demonstrable commitment to wider inclusion and participation; and second, the prioritisation of policies to address domestic abuse and gender-based violence (Mackay 2010). In part, these twin features are the result of the mobilisation of organised women’s and feminist groups in the run up to devolution and their efforts to build equality ‘in with the bricks’ of the new institutions.
Over the last few years, children and young people have also been increasingly included in political spaces and processes, through innovative programmes (Houghton 2018), the latest of which is the Everyday Heroes Participation Programme. The Scottish Government established a participation partnership to ensure that children and young people, especially young survivors of gender-based violence, participated in their plan of action ‘The Equally Safe Delivery Plan’. The Everyday Heroes programme asked children and young people about their priorities for government action around the questions:
What would improve the journeys of young abuse survivors through services and the justice system?
What could help improve societal attitudes and people’s lives in relation to gender equality?
At this year’s #HearMeToo debate in Scottish Parliament, the Everyday Heroes programme was widely referred to. Minister Christina McKelvie said, “Voices of children are important, Everyday Heroes made sure we listened to them in our Delivery Plan, looking forward to meeting them…”
Creative mediums and the arts were key to the engagement sessions undertaken with skilled support workers known and trusted by the young participants, ensuring participation was part of their therapeutic process (Houghton 2015). Young and adult experts, partners in a wonderful collaboration between feminist and children’s rights organisations, created ways to safely explore the ‘stepping stones’ young survivors take through services and the justice system, the ‘inside out’ emotions felt in their journeys, the light bulb ideas they have for change. Detailed recommendations have been crafted for improvements in service delivery, the response of the justice system, and ways to tackle harmful gender stereotypes and norms.
Stories told through the Everyday Heroes programme tell us that silence and stigma not only allows violence against women to escalate but the abuse of children to go unnoticed. The status of being a child, on top of being an unacknowledged victim of gender-based violence, silences the young survivor. They are sometimes terrified of speaking out, fearing that their age is a key deciding factor in adults believing them. The default position of many professionals, furthermore, is to notify the parents, even when the child has disclosed abuse from their father; or to panic when a child discloses sexual abuse. The child’s voice gets lost, the child’s abuse often continues and escalates, the child’s story remains untold. Many, many years later some amazing young survivors have told their stories of consequence, resistance and anger, often with the support of specialist organisations – but far, far later than needed.
“I spoke to a police officer when I was six. But they dropped it. The police thought I was too young to know any of that…”
Impunity is something which frustrates young survivors; that even when they report and seek legal redress, the abuser is often free to further abuse them. Abuse can continue through proceedings – for example in court and in car parks, and through outcomes – poor sentences or being ordered to have unsafe contact with an abusive father. Young victim and survivors have been further traumatised, felt ‘recovery’ was delayed hugely and that they have been made to feel culpable (along with their mothers in domestic abuse contact cases) so argue for quicker, safer, more child-friendly access to justice.
“I got a screen in court to protect me from him as I’m scared of him but now I have to fight to not have contact with him, why?”
Today’s event in Parliament continues Scotland’s tradition of dialogue between young survivor/activists and policymakers and underlines that such dialogue needs to be sustained and meaningful (Houghton 2018). Bringing children’s and young people’s stories to light challenges an often adult-centric discourse surrounding domestic and sexual abuse and violence. The programme reaffirms feminist challenges to the heteronormative male power. And it promotes an intersectional approach to gender equality and gender-based violence, and the effects of gender norms on boys as well as girls, and on non-binary young people. It is an appeal to us all to be both women and children’s human rights defenders.
Dr Claire Houghton is the Everyday Heroes Programme Coordinator working alongside young and adult expert partners from the University of Edinburgh IMPACT project, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. The programme was funded by the Scottish Government to inform and influence the Equally Safe Delivery Plan. Celebrating Everyday Heroes follows a Parliamentary Debate (27th November 201) on #Hear Me Too and is part of many 16 Days activities to promote the voices of women, children and young people.
Written by Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh), Louise Chappell (University of New South Wales), Krishna Menon (Ambedkar University Delhi)
Welcome to our blogathon to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. Here we plan to post a blog on each of the 16 Days of Activism, to bring attention to a particular aspect of the scourge of violence against women which occurs in ‘peacetime’ and conflict, at international, national and local levels, in our homes, in public spaces and workplaces, on campuses, in parliaments, corporations and third sector organisations, in sport, militaries and entertainment industries. Topics will range from #MeToo, to gender-based violence and the rights of children, to addressing gender-based violence in post-conflict settlements.
The blogathon is a collaboration across our three organisations, which seek to advance women’s equality and support a world free from sexual and gender based violence: GenderEd at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ambedkar University, Delhi.
The 16 Days of Activism is now in its 27th year, originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991. The program starts on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day, in an effort to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
This year the theme is #HearMeToo, directed towards exposing the magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence suffered by women everywhere. It is aimed at breaking the silence around gender-based violence, where ever it happens, and transforming the behaviours, norms and institutions that support gender-based violence.
Attention to gender-based violence is arguably greater than ever, as evidenced by the international reach of the #metoo movement across all sectors, and this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
New efforts are taking place at local, national and international levels to stamp out gender-based violence and to protect and empower victim/survivors of. Within our own settings we have recently seen positive developments: In India, transformative training programmes for police, including the Justice for Her initiative, following on from the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape; In Australia, the introduction of paid domestic violence leave; and, in Scotland, new laws to tackle coercive control that have been described as ‘gold standard’. At the UN-EU level, the new €500 million Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year program focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. Internationally, each of the Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security Resolutions and the International Criminal Court have mandates to ensure women’s voices are heard and to strengthen accountability for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
Yet, the problem remains in epidemic proportions. Globally, the WHO cites gender-based violence as a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. According to recent WHO data across 80 countries, almost one third of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. In addition to intimate partner violence, globally 7% of women report having been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner. Evidence shows that intimate partner and sexual violence are mostly perpetrated by men against women. New forms of technology and the cyber-sphere are further exacerbating this problem.
According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation poll in 2018, India holds the dubious reputation of being the world’s most dangerous country for women and girls, due to the high risk of sexual violence and trafficking. But countries including Australia and the UK are by no means immune to the problem. As the femicide index initiative called ‘Counting Dead Women’ shows, in the UK and Australia, more than 100 women each year are killed by their current or former intimate partners, in ways that follow a similar pattern, and occur in similar circumstances.
Trends across the globe in terms of resurgent authoritarianism, rising populist movements, xenophobia, militarisation and securitisation (including the ongoing so-called War on Terror) create a dangerous and insecure environment for all; but women (particularly women from minority groups, castes, and identities) experience the effects, and lose rights and freedoms, in ways very different to men.
Clearly, much more needs to be done.
Across the next 16 days we will bring together a range of academic researchers and students, practitioners from NGOs and international organisations, and activists to amplify the 16 Days of Activism, and to expose, share, and campaign on a range of issues.