DAY SIXTEEN: Bringing 16 Days Blogathon 2021 to a Close

It’s December 10, Human Rights Day, and we’ve reached the end of #16DaysBlogathon for the global #16DaysofActivism against Gender-based Violence for another year.

The 16 Days Blogathon Team

It’s December 10 – Human Rights Day – and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence comes to an end for another year. So, too, does our 2021 Blogathon. Over the last 16 days we have posted daily to raise awareness of gender-based violence as our way of supporting the global campaign.

This year, the theme has been Histories, Legacies, Myths and Memories.

We have explored the powerful undercurrents that connect past and present, highlighting the historical and longitudinal dimensions that have shaped narratives, experiences and activisms addressing gender-based violence today.

Through our remarkable contributors, we have surfaced the voices and perspectives of victims, survivors and activists from the recent past to antiquity, and across multiple geographies, and traced the legacies reverberating through the decades and centuries.

Over the last 16 Days we have travelled from Australia to India, Scotland to the Caribbean, and Mexico to England.

Through personal testimony, memoir, reportage, formal archive, immersive field experience and oral history as well as through literature and traditional music and storytelling we have reflected upon the lessons to be learned from the past.

Ultimately a focus on histories, legacies, myths and memories provides us with an important tool. It helps us to identify what is distinct and different about the moment and location we inhabit and what we share in common across time and space. In moving forward in the struggle to expose and address gender-based violence we argue that these histories are a rich resource to inspire and motivate today’s feminist practices and pedagogies.

The 16 Days Blogathon is a collaborative project co-hosted by genderED at 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.

The blog posts in a nutshell

Every #16DaysBlogathon is summarised below.

Content note: posts inevitably address distressing experiences and issues around sexual and gender-based violence. We hope they also provoke, energise, create solidarity, and sometimes uplift

Day One

Scottish folk tradition of ballads about violence against women

By Karine Polwart, songwriter and musician

Award-winning folk singer, songwriter and storyteller, Karine Polwart, reflects on a Scottish folk tradition of ballads about violence against women. She argues such archives and catalogues require critical intervention so that we can navigate and cherish traditional sources with a contemporary understanding of gender-based violence.

Day Two

Where it all began

By Anne Summers, Australian author and feminist

Almost 50 years on, Anne Summers writes about the opening of Elsie Women’s Refuge in 1974. This blog highlights the importance of the brave and selfless refuge workers who have devoted their lives to helping other women try and leave violence behind.


Day Three

Voices of Resistance: Women’s Folksongs and Response to Domestic Violence

By Garima Singh, Assistant Professor at the Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies

Garima Singh engages with the everyday resistance posed by women’s folk songs to the dominant social structure and their response to domestic violence in their own melody. She highlights that women have been conscious of their everyday struggle and, individually and in solidarity, pose a potent threat to the dominant.

Can victim-survivors of violent crimes find justice through true crime podcasts?

By Lili Pâquet, Lecturer in Writing at the University of New England, Australia

Lili Pâquet discusses her research which aims to discover if true crime podcasts can offer informal justice to victim-survivors who feel dissatisfied with the formal police and court systems of Australia. She uses the examples of Trace and The Teacher’s Pet which discovered new witnesses in unsolved murder cases and led to arrests and coronial inquests.


Day Four

Invisible Impact: Gender-based Violence and the Sikh Women’s Alliance 20 years on

By Balvinder Kaur Saund, Chair of the Sikh Women’s Alliance

This blog features a conversation with Balvinder Kaur Saund who has been at the frontline of activism within the UK’s Sikh community for over two decades. The London-based Sikh Women’s Alliance is an organisation which galvanizes women to tackle the deep-rooted attitudes and structures that fuel gender-based violence and constrain communities from tackling it.

Bringing back hope

By Maha Krayem Abdo (OAM), CEO of Muslim Women Australia

Maha Krayem Abdo writes about the history of Muslim Women Australia, who have led the way in centering the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse and faith-based communities. She highlights the healing and therapeutic nature of utilising faith as a tool for empowerment, with a client-centred focus to maintain a client’s dignity at every stage of support.

Day Five

Confronting Gender-based violence in Ancient Rome: The Sexual Violation of Pubescent Boys

By Ulrike Roth, Ancient Historian at the University of Edinburgh

In this post, Ulrike Roth explores evidence from the ancient Roman world to raise questions about our preparedness to confront the issue of sexual violence against children, then and now. She discusses how acknowledging the ambiguities in the ancient evidence, and listening more carefully to the signs of abuse in it, helps to ingrain in our mindsets the kind of sensitivised attitude that is so essential in identifying and combating sexual violence today.

Day Six

At the centre and yet forgotten: Violence against women in Oral Narratives

By Tanuja Kothiyal, Professor of History in the School of Liberal Studies, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi

Tanuja Kothial discusses the portrayal of marginalised women and gendered violence in oral narratives and Hindu epic literature. While these narratives provide voice to marginal communities and groups, even within these traditions women’s locations remain marginal and mostly within respect to male figures.

I Sing of Arms and the Woman: Gendered Violence in Modern Mythic Reinterpretations

By Hazel Atkinson, history graduate and writer

In this blog, writer Hazel Atkinson explores ‘feminist’ reinterpretations and reclaiming of myths which historically have perpetuated violence against women. She asks the important question: Does repeatedly depicting the violence women face, even with the best of intentions, challenge or contribute to it?

Day Seven

When Bessie Guthrie met the Women’s Liberation Movement

By Catherine Dwyer, writer and director

Catherine Dwyer, writer and director of the film Brazen Hussies, reflects on the Women’s Liberation Movement and the work of Bessie Guthrie – a feminist and campaigner for child welfare reforms. Through her collaboration with the Women’s Liberation movement, she attracted media attention resulting in an exposé on the abuse of girls in state care and the barbaric act of forced virginity testing.

Systemic Stereotypes: Violence against Bonda tribal women

By Nancy Yadav, PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the School of Human Studies at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi

Nancy Yadav writes about stereotypes embedded in myth and colonial history that oppress the Bonda tribal women in India. While the recorded history of the Bonda community intersects with gender-based violence, Bonda women continue to bring rays of hope, interrogating negative stereotypes that they are born in to and repositioning their identity.

Day Eight

Death in Geraldton: how Joyce Clarke became another Indigenous statistic

By Hannah McGlade, Noongar woman, Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University and an Advisor to the Noongar Council for Family Safety and Wellbeing

In this blog, Hannah McGlade highlights how Aboriginal women have consistently voiced concern about state indifference and violence that contributes directly and indirectly to the violence that is blighting the lives of too many women and children. A standalone National Action Plan and recognition of the fundamental right of self-determination is needed to combat the systemic and structural discrimination that contributes to violence against Aboriginal women. 

Day Nine

Statues and status: Mexican women change the face of history to combat gender-based violence today

By Sarah Easy, human rights lawyer and research assistant for the Australian Human Rights Institute

Sarah Easy discusses the anti-gender based violence movement in Mexico and the practice of dismantling public monuments or ‘statue toppling’. She considers whether the dismantling of the old and rebuilding of new public monuments is merely symbolic, or whether it can engender genuine cultural change.

Myth and reality of gender-based violence in India’s partition and thereafter

By Rachna Mera, Assistant Professor in the Urban Studies Program (SGA), Dr. B. R Ambedkar University Delhi

Rachna Mehra traces the legacies of Partition-era gender-based violence and abductions on community relations and consensual inter-faith marriages in contemporary India. She argues that whether it was 1947 or it is 2021, the honour of the Hindu family, community and nation is inextricably linked with a woman’s body.

Day Ten

Storytelling for Social Justice: The Story of Antigua and the Masked Serial Rapist

By Janeille Zorina Matthews, multi-disciplinary criminal justice scholar, The University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus, Barbados

Janeille Matthews offers a critical perspective into the story of the ‘masked serial rapist’ in Antigua and how it frames gender-based violence. She argues that Antiguans need to hear a different story about crime and sexual violence, one that includes a historical understanding of the intra-racial sexual violence that existed during slavery and its post-emancipation aftermath and is grounded in 50 years of police data.

Gender-based violence in the archives: Curating the past without perpetuating harm

By Kristy M Stewart, New College Collections Curator and School of Scottish Studies Archivist, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

This blog considers the role of the archivist and the problems of taking a neutral voice in curation when many stories are underpinned by gendered violence and silencing women’s voices. Kristy Stewart argues that the re-telling of such stories should give women and girls a voice that their history should have had all along.

Day Eleven

No it wasn’t different back then #1 – Researching rape in 20th century US

By Mara Keire, Senior Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford

Mara Keire discusses her research on rape in the 20th century and how the rhetoric of ‘it was different back then’ enables the justification of men’s sexually predatory behaviour. She argues that studying the history of sexual violence serves to obliterate the idea that rapists are solitary ‘bad apples’. Instead, researchers can uncover the networks of complicity that reinforce male power.

No it wasn’t different back then #2 -Tracing Rape Myths in Medieval Court Records

By Mara Schmueckle

Building upon the previous blog, Mara Schmueckle discusses the medieval Scottish notarial record on Janet Lausoun, who was abducted and forced into marriage. The story highlights the burden placed on women where their credibility is measured against expectations of the behaviour of “real victims.”

Day Twelve

A ‘National Disgrace?’: Notes from a history of domestic violence in Australia

By Ann Curthoys, Department of History at the University of Sydney, Catherine Kevin, College of Humanities, Arts and Social sciences at Flinders University and Zora Simic, Historian and Gender Studies scholar, Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture at the University of New South Wales

In this blog, the contributors discuss their research which aims to capture the first national history of domestic violence against women in Australia. In doing so, they are working to understand the significant changes over time in public discourse, legal frameworks and activism to combat domestic violence, and to understand how and why domestic violence has wreaked such enormous damage on women, children and society as whole from the 19th century to present.

‘It Takes a Global Village to End Gendered Violence’: Looking back at the ‘International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship’

By Charlotte James Robinson, doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History

Charlotte James Robinson reflects on the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship, held in November 1996. The conference was considered a remarkable culmination of two decades of feminist activism against gender-based violence. She discusses the success of the conference in including the voices of all women working on gender-based violence.

Day Thirteen

Opening the Pandora’s Box: Dilemmas in a Course on Family Engagement

By Monimalika Day, Associate Professor at the School of Education Studies, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi and Deputy Director, Centre for Publishing

Monimalika Day discusses how education students grapple with stories, memories and narratives of gender-based violence. A range of experiences are shared, with variations in the degree of violence, the relationship with the perpetrator, the nature of oppression, the site of the violence, each a powerful testimony of dehumanization. However, this approach often challenges the instructor to move beyond the well-defined space of a syllabus and explore uncharted waters.

Teaching sexual and gender-based violence: learning environments and pedagogic dilemmas

Tereza Valny, Teaching Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, Department of History   

In this blog, Tereza Valny discusses the challenges of teaching about historical case studies of sexual violence and how this may impact students and create feelings of anxiety, tension and distress. She asks the important question: what can we do as instructors to face these inevitable dilemmas that arise from teaching material which has the potential to traumatise and re-traumatise?

Day Fourteen

In search for a better tomorrow: Re-imagining home

By Anubha Sinha, Alumni Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi and Consultant at PRADAN

Anubha Sinha reflects on the immersive action research she conducted in Dokal in the state of Chhattisgarh, India, where she formed a collective of forty women who had experienced domestic violence. The blog highlights how these strong women are taking small steps every day to survive and bring attention to the injustice of gender-based violence. 

Duties of care: navigating and narrating traumatic histories

By Claire E. Aubin, PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, and Emily Rose Hay, PhD scholar situated between the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh

Co-convenors of the Emotionally Demanding Histories Group Claire E. Aubin and Emily Rose Hay discuss how researching sensitive topics, such as gender-based violence, can present ethical and methodological dilemmas and impact the person’s emotional health. They consider how we can engage with traumatic histories in a way that does not cause further harm to researchers, but which does justice to the stories we are telling.

Day Fifteen

Social Action in the 80s – has anything changed?

By Jan Breckenridge, Professor and Head of School of Social Sciences and Co-Convenor of the Gendered Violence Research Network, UNSW Sydney and Mailin Suchting, Manager of the Gendered Violence Research Network, UNSW Sydney

This blog highlights that social action in the 1970s and 1980s meant that it was no longer possible to ignore domestic violence, rape and the sexual assault of children. The results of this work were tangible with a proliferation of women’s health and sexual assault services, survivor groups and government policy development. There is no doubt that these changes established child and adult sexual assault as a serious and prevalent issue. But is our world a safer place?

Does she have a voice? Do we hear her? The silencing of Indigenous women and girls experiences of violence: does it ever change?

By Kyllie Cripps, Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law and Justice and Co-Convenor of the Gendered Violence Research Network at UNSW, Sydney

It is widely understood that gender-based violence disproportionately impacts Indigenous populations compared to other population groups. And yet, why are their lives not honoured or mourned or valued in the same way? Kyllie Cripps discusses the silencing of Indigenous women and girls’ experiences of violence and how Indigenous women continue to speak up and speak back to the narratives constructed about their victimhood.

Day Sixteen

Freedom from endless violence, freedom from helpless silence – Songs against gender based violence in India

By Sumangala Damodaran, Professor of Economics, Development Studies and Popular Music Studies at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi

Sumangala Damodaran discusses how songs about gender-based violence have been a significant element of wider struggles in India. They have been written spontaneously as part of various campaigns and social and political events that brought issues to the fore, including before the mass mobilisation of the women’s movement in the 1970s. Songs depicting the lives of women, and particularly focusing on the violence that is inflicted, have had to edge their way into larger repertoires around class, caste, racial and ethnic discrimination.

The 2021 curators:

University of Edinburgh:  Prof. Fiona Mackay (Director) and Aerin Lai (PhD web and editorial assistant) for genderED; Dr. Zubin Mistry (Lead), Prof. Louise Jackson, Prof, Diana Paton, and Dr Hatice Yildiz, for the Histories of Gender and Sexualities Research Group

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), Gendered Violence Research Network

DAY FOURTEEN: Duties of care: Navigating and narrating traumatic histories

Historians often encounter traumatic and emotionally demanding stories in their research. Claire Aubin and Emily Rose Hay looks at the emotional labour that underpins such research through reflecting on the ’emotionally demanding histories group’.

Claire E. Aubin and Emily Rose Hay

Featured image: Logo of ‘Emotionally Demanding Histories Group’

We are confronted by challenges when doing any type of research.  However, there are difficult decisions to make and experiences to endure when studying certain sensitive topics.  We started the Emotionally Demanding Histories Group (EDHG) at the University of Edinburgh in early 2019 to provide a much-needed support network for researchers studying particularly difficult, upsetting or traumatic histories.  Our own work prompted us to form this network. Emily Rose researches British child/youth homicide in the late twentieth century and Claire examines Holocaust perpetrators in the post-war US immigration process.  Both topics present us with ethical and methodological dilemmas, while at the same time taking a toll on our emotional health. 

Since the inception of EDHG, historical gender-based violence has been raised repeatedly as a subject fraught with difficulties.  A key concern regards victims, and how to represent their lives and the violence enacted against them. 

Recent scholarly works have placed victims of infamous gender-based violence at the centre in a deliberate move to shed sensationalist, pejorative and marginalising representations, particularly of sex workers.

Louise Wattis’ 2018 work contextualises the lives of the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper by examining their local communities. Similarly, Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five displaces the mythologies cemented around the Jack the Ripper case with a thoroughly victim-centric history.[1] 

However, creating these kinds of histories is not straightforward.  Participants in EDHG often share that they don’t know how to approach writing about their victims to best preserve their dignity.  This is especially the case with histories that have not previously been written about.  Do we anonymise and/or provide as much contextual information about their lives as possible? How do we know what the specific victims in our research would have wanted?  We have a responsibility to our subjects, but it is not always clear how to do right by them.

It bears mentioning that we are both contemporary historians working primarily on topics related to the latter half of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, gender-based violence spans historical eras and affects researchers of all time periods.

The issue of temporal ‘distance’ from our subjects arises in several ways, most frequently in terms of practical concerns. Researchers cannot determine which historical subjects would have preferred (or abhorred) anonymity when those subjects are no longer alive to speak for themselves. Conversely, secondary victims of violence or descendants of victims may still be alive to object to a researcher’s approach to narrating the experiences of their loved ones or ancestors.

While temporal distance is not necessarily an impediment to historical understanding, it plays a particularly outsized role in our navigation of ethical anxieties as we shape the afterlives of our source material. The perceived personal safety that temporal distance offers also does not mitigate the real impacts that these sources may have on us as researchers.

Since forming EDHG, the temporary and long-lasting effects of traumatic historical research are finally being discussed. Issues such as vicarious trauma (also called secondary or indirect trauma), wherein symptoms of trauma occur in an individual who interacts with traumatic information without experiencing it directly, have historically been viewed as the province of social workers and mental health professionals. However, discussions within EDHG sessions regularly include topics such as nightmares, anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and loneliness, irritability, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, and hypervigilance — all in direct relation to traumatic research topics, and all common trauma symptoms.

These feelings are only compounded when secondary trauma occurs at an intersection with relevant personal experiences. A historian of domestic violence who has themself survived domestic violence is at once witnessing and articulating the pain of others, while simultaneously risking the perpetuation or re-embodiment of their own trauma.

The question becomes, then, how can we engage with traumatic histories in a way that does not cause further harm to researchers, but which does justice to the stories we are telling? Emotional engagement is often inescapable, particularly when the line between the ‘historical’ and the contemporary is smudged so thoroughly as to nearly cease existing. Cases such as those of Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman remind us as historians that the violence we research and discuss also remains a threat outwith the archives. The first step, it seems, is to acknowledge that these experiences are real; the barrier between ourselves and our research is more permeable than we have previously assumed. Only once this is both acknowledged and accepted can we begin to find practicable answers to the questions raised by our work.

Authors’ Bio

Claire E. Aubin and Emily Rose Hay are the founding co-convenors of the Emotionally Demanding Histories Group, an initiative to explore new approaches to researching traumatic and distressing historical subjects.

Claire E. Aubin is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity. Her PhD dissertation, entitled ‘From Treblinka to Trenton: Holocaust Perpetrators as Immigrants to the United States,’ focuses on the comparative individual agency of Holocaust perpetrators throughout their experiences of post-war US immigration. Claire’s academic work frequently explores concepts of perpetration, collaboration, community, and justice, as well as public perceptions of these issues. She is an ECR Member of the Royal Historical Society and her research has appeared on History Hack, WW2TV,  and the AskHistorians podcast. She can be found on Twitter at @CEAubin.

Emily Rose Hay is a PhD scholar situated between the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh.  Her research is interdisciplinary and examines press representations of British child and youth homicide in the late twentieth century.  She is particularly interested in local media and situating historic grief within a community context.  She is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology at the Open University, and you can tweet her @emilyrosehay.


Footnote

[1] Wattis, Louise. Revisiting the Yorkshire Ripper Murders: Histories of Gender, Violence and Victimhood. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018; Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. London: Doubleday, 2019.


DAY THIRTEEN: Teaching sexual and gender-based violence: learning environments and pedagogic dilemmas

What is a safe learning environment and how do we create them? Tereza Valny explores the ethical dilemmas and strategies when teaching about sexual and gender based violence in the classroom.

Tereza Valny

Content note: the following post contains references to sexual and gender-based violence

Featured image: “A Classroom” by DaveFayram is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sexual and gender-based violence as unavoidable topics

The attention given to the systematic use of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against civilians and unarmed combatants during times of war and genocide has increased since the 1990s.[1] What has become clear in the last few decades, beginning with close analyses of the case studies of Rwanda and Bosnia, is that SGBV was and is a primary tool of genocide. Rape and other forms of sexual assault are an intrinsic part of dehumanisation and are clear attempts to interfere with the continuity of life in both physical and psychological ways. SGBV has always been a part of armed conflict and, although it tends to disproportionately affect women and girls, the use of sexual violence is so embedded in acts of mass atrocity that it impacts everyone, including men, boys and individuals with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

As a historian who teaches extensively on the topic of genocide, my courses inevitably examine sexual violence. In addition to the aforementioned Rwanda and Bosnia, the case studies I cover include: the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people in Canada; the use of SGBV in a displacement context in Darfur and with regard to the Rohingya; and the legacies of silence surrounding SGBV after the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and the Cambodian genocide.[2] But covering these case studies with sexual violence as an intrinsic component creates a space for anxiety, tension and in some instances, distress. So what can we do as instructors to face these inevitable dilemmas that arise from teaching material which has the potential to traumatise and re-traumatise?

Pedagogic dilemmas

Sexual violence is an inescapable reality and it does affect our students. The overall statistics suggest there is a chance that at least 25% of the women in our classrooms have faced some form of SGBV, with transgender assault rates being even higher.[3] Sexual violence against men and boys has been harder to quantify due to under-reporting, but there are many estimates in place both globally and nationally. Therefore, as teachers in a university context, there is a probability of having a victim of SGBV in the classroom. And I do believe that I am ethically obliged to think about anticipating the needs of students affected by these dynamics.

‘Anticipating needs’ can mean different things, but a solid first step is justification. Is the content essential for a deeper historical understanding of the subject? Given how profoundly embedded SGBV is in the history of genocide and mass atrocity, the answer is straightforward. However, this does not mean that students will be unaffected by the material even after an explanation and a content note is given. This potential effectof learning about SGBV has a range of forms, including re-traumatisation.

Trauma, re-traumatisation, and vicarious trauma  

Many victims of sexual violence experience what is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[4] If we consider that some of our students are affected by past trauma then we should also think about the relationship between the examples of SGBV covered in class and how that might interact with their own experiences. In particular, for a victim of sexual violence, this exposure can lead to re-traumatisation (or re-experiencing, a part of PTSD). More generally, students being exposed to traumatic content can experience vicarious trauma.[5] Not everything can be accounted for, and spontaneity of reaction to SGBV material does happen, but generating an atmosphere where a tense situation can be addressed effectively is part of a strategy that can be helpful in the classroom and mainly helpful to those affected by the content. These strategies are all part of creating a safe learning environment

Creating a safe learning environment

If the content linked to sexual violence is deemed essential (as is the case with the history of genocide), then the following steps can help to facilitate a safer learning environment: content notes addressing the material’s links to SGBV; thinking about how to react to unplanned disclosure in advance; making sure rape culture is not being (even inadvertently) reinforced by the lesson plans and discussions; having a way ‘out’ for students who do not want to participate (which does not spotlight their experience); and being honest about the material covered from the start while making it clear to students why certain topics have to be covered.[6] These steps matter; in the case of victims, negative social reactions can cause re-traumatisation. If a system is in place to manage situations such as this, then some of this potential damage can be mitigated. This can also include a follow-up, in confidence and at the victim’s discretion, which lets them know what their options are once they have disclosed.[7]

These are just some of the steps that can be taken. As instructors who have made a choice to teach about SGBV, these are steps we must take.

Author’s Bio

Tereza Valny has been a teaching fellow in modern history at the University of Edinburgh since 2017. Tereza’s main current focus of research within genocide studies includes representations of trauma in various mediums. She has recently given a series of talks about landscape, violence, memory and trauma, in relation to post-genocidal spaces. Tereza also teaches several undergraduate and postgraduate courses which focus on witnessing, testimony, trauma and reconciliation related to genocidal events. Part of her recent related activities included a co-running a teaching circle in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology (at the University of Edinburgh) about ‘teaching sexual violence’ as well as organising a seminar on representations of toxic masculinity.


Footnotes

[1] I am using a comprehensive definition of sexual and gender-based violence rooted in international law (namely, the Rome Statute of 1998), because the definition covers the ‘widespread and systematic acts of SGBV as an act of genocide, a war crime and a crime against humanity’: Davies, Sara E. and True, Jacqui (2015). ‘Reframing conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence: Bringing gender analysis back in’, Security Dialogue, 46(6), 495-512, p. 495. An additional breakdown of the term SGBV, taking the definition out of the parameters of armed conflict, is provided by the Médecins sans frontières (MSF), but please note that it includes images as well as graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

[2] By ‘legacies of silence’ I am referring to a lack of survivor testimony, documentation and understanding of the role of SGBV within these genocides partly due to non-existent frameworks for survivors and witnesses.

[3] There is a range of statistical information available where you can read up on global rates and estimates, including: the ONS report for England and Wales; data on violence against women and girls from the UN Women’s report; statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (US-based); the WHO report from 2017; and because I am based in Edinburgh the Scottish government’s latest data compilation for sexual crimes recorded by the police (this does not delineate GBV).

[4] PTSD as a concept has its limits in terms of the centring of the individual in their own healing process, and what this implies (an assumption of resources). However, the term also generates an understanding of what happens to victims of trauma, therefore I have used it in this blog.

[5] There is extensive literature on these concepts, particularly in the field of psychology and social work. I have included a few of these texts: for example: Branson, D. C. (2019). ‘Vicarious trauma, themes in research, and terminology: A review of literature’, Traumatology, 25(1), 2-10; Hernandez-Wolfe, Pilar, et al (2014). ‘Vicarious Resilience, Vicarious Trauma, and Awareness of Equity in Trauma Work’, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 55(2), 153-172; Ullmann, Sarah E. et al (2007). ‘Psychosocial correlates of PTSD symptom severity in sexual assault survivors’, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20(5), 821-831; Michalopoulos, Lynn M. & Aparicio, Elizabeth, (2012). ‘Vicarious Trauma in Social Workers: The Role of Trauma History, Social Support, and Years of Experience’, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 21(6), 646-664; and Finklestein, Michal, et al (2015). ‘Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Vicarious Trauma in Mental Health Professionals’, Health & Social Work, 40(2), 25-31. There are many other informative studies and a vast body of literature on this topic, but I have found these articles to present helpful frameworks for thinking about my own lesson planning.

[6] This is not a comprehensive list of strategies and mechanisms (further guidance is outlined here in the Rosey Project, part of Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis). Some of the strategies that I have been consulting were created with the idea of public disclosure in mind, including sensitivities to different gender identities as well as students who face a range of social barriers in relation to disclosure. The point of consensus of this varied literature is to acknowledge the disclosure and not to ignore or ‘brush it off’. Simply being aware of these mechanisms means preparedness, and by extension mitigating potential re-traumatisation. A great article that address types of disclosure in an academic setting and makes suggestions for responses is: Branch, Kathryn A. et al (2011). ‘Professors’ Experiences with Student Disclosures of Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence: How “Helping” Students can Inform Teaching Practices’, Feminist Criminology, 61(1), 54-75.

[7] This obviously varies institutionally; and you may have suggestions that go beyond the institutional structures such as non-profits, community and youth organisations, and other support systems.


DAY TWELVE: ‘It Takes a Global Village to End Gendered Violence’ – Looking back at the ‘International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship’

Moment in the making of a global feminist anti-VAW movement – Charlotte James Robertson reflects on The Brighton conference in 1996 and how far the movement has come.

Charlotte James Robertson 

[1]: ‘It Takes a Global Village to End Gendered Violence’

‘Never Give Up’ 

In November 1996, 2,500 people from 137 countries converged on Brighton, England, for the ‘International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship’.[1] Those who attended the conference recall it as the remarkable culmination of two decades of feminist activism against gender-based violence. The Chair of the conference’s Steering Group, Jalna Hanmer, described it as ‘emotionally demanding, physically exhausting and exhilarating all at once’.[2] Al Garthwaite, pioneer of the Reclaim the Night movement, described it as ‘one of the most significant weeks in my life.’[3] The Brighton conference covered a multitude of issues effecting women and girls, including rape, sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, child abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

International conferences are slowly becoming a possibility again but what are the benefits of this? What did the participants of the Brighton conference value about the experience and how successful was the conference at including the voices of all women working on gender-based violence?  

The Final Programme, Book of Abstracts and Final Conference Report for the International Conference of Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship (1996). The slogan of the conference was ‘Never Give Up’ taken from the cartoon of a girl jumping into the air by Jacky Fleming.
‘A City Full of Women’

Angela Beausang, then chairwoman of ROKS, the National Organisation of Battered Women’s Shelters (refuges) in Sweden, recalled the conference thus: 

‘A city full of women and feminists as well, it was a dream come true. It took me a couple of days to get the hang of finding time for as much as possible… you had to plan your participation very carefully!’[5]

Beausang captured how overwhelming yet exciting it was to share a space with so many passionate women. Learning about what others had achieved gave women a renewed sense of possibility for what could be done in their home countries. As explained,

‘it is conferences like this, where networking on the global level gives women the impetus to persevere in their own communities’.[6] 

Helene Rosenbluth, Radio Documentarian

Another reason for planning participation carefully was the emotionally challenging content of papers and sessions. For example, the effect of armed conflict on women was a significant theme. Testimony from women living in the ‘Former Yugoslavia’ and Afghanistan highlighted war crimes against women, whilst many participants were moved when two women, one Palestinian and one Israeli, took to the stage to discuss their joint refuge provision project. 

An example page from the second day of the conference, demonstrating the range of countries that speakers travelled to Brighton from and the plethora of issues being discussed.
Inclusivity and Protests

The conference programme shows that this was a truly international event that included a diverse range of activist and academic voices. There were panels dedicated to discussing violence experienced by lesbian and disabled women as well as papers that considered the impact of race on experiences of gender-based violence. Patricia Connell, who was a PhD student at the time working on African-Caribbean women’s experiences of domestic violence, noted that the conference speakers and participants tried to widen the scope of the movement and to recognise the diversity of women’s positionality globally.[7] Connell recalled anti-violence advocate and criminologist Beth Richie’s paper, which called for a more contextualized and intersectional analysis of gender-based violence, as a highlight of the conference.

However, while the public memory of the conference is overall a positive one, there is also evidence that some women’s voices were marginalised. For example, there were two protests at the conference, one by a group of Black women and one by a group of disabled women, who felt their concerns were not being adequately addressed. Irish feminist activist Ailbhe Smyth also reported that there were no Black keynote speakers from Britain.[8]

Therefore, while there were discussions of issues affecting marginalised groups, it was disempowering that these were largely in the workshops rather than the keynote papers. It is also revealing that the recollections of the conference I have been able to find all come from European or North American women.

‘A Global Village’

These voices of appreciation and protestation are both important aspects of the way this conference should be remembered. Moreover, these were not binary experiences. Some women who voiced criticisms of the conference still appreciated the opportunity for debate and knowledge exchange. Challenging one another and grappling with uncomfortable issues are important aspects of creating transnational solidarity. The knowledge that there were other people campaigning around these issues could be incredibly reviving for activists who often had little recognition for their work.

Reflection on the more critical perspectives voiced is especially valuable in examining how much progress we have made on these issues since 1996. It is true that intersectionality is a key analytical approach adopted by many activists and academics working on gender-based violence in the present day.

However, LGBTQ+ people, women of colour and disabled women continue to be disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and there is still much work to be done. While the buzz of an in-person conference cannot be replicated, social media and video conferencing have made it easier for people to access and create transnational spaces of exchange. These are important tools for listening to and centring a more diverse range of voices in future projects on gender-based violence.[9]

Author’s Bio

Charlotte James Robertson is a doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History. Charlotte examines the feminist movement to establish women’s refuges and other services for victims/survivors of domestic abuse. Her thesis is entitled “‘Towards Sisterhood?’ Women’s Aid in Britain and the women’s refuge movement as a transnational endeavour, 1971-1996” and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Charlotte holds an MA in History from the University of Glasgow and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. She is the convener of the Hufton Postgraduate Reading Group. Her research interests include transnational and intersectional approaches to the history of feminism, the history of Women’s Aid and oral history. She also works part-time for the National Library of Scotland. You can tweet her @CharJamesR or get in touch: charlotte.jamesrobertson@glasgow.ac.uk 


[1] Title taken from radio documentary created by Helene Rosenbluth. ‘Active Resistance: Domestic Violence Globally’, Hungry Mind Recordings, radio documentary produced by Helene Rosenbluth. (1996). http://www.hungrymindrecordings.com/ProductListing.aspx?Id_Category=44

[2] Postcards from Brighton’, TroubleandStrife, (Summer 1997). 

[3]  Jalna Hanmer, ‘Message of Thanks’, Final Report: Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship, Brighton, UK, 10-15 November 1996, ed. Val Balding, Julie Bindel and Catherine Euler, p.3.  

[4] Al Garthwaite, Postcards.

[5] Angela Beausang, Postcards.

[6] Helene Rosenbluth, ‘Active Resistance: Domestic Violence Globally’, Hungry Mind Recordings, radio documentary produced by Helene Rosenbluth. (1996). http://www.hungrymindrecordings.com/ProductListing.aspx?Id_Category=44


[7] Patricia Connell, Postcards.

[8] Ailbhe Smyth, Postcards.

[9] The women-led volunteer organisation FiLiA have recently won funding to digitise and share audio recordings from the conference https://filia.org.uk/latest-news/2021/1/7/7th-january-2021?rq=brighton

DAY TWELVE: A ‘National Disgrace?’: Notes from a history of domestic violence in Australia

Three Australian researchers are working to understand the significant changes over time in public discourse, legal frameworks and activism to combat domestic violence

Ann Curthoys, Catherine Kevin and Zora Simic

Since at least 2015 in Australia, domestic violence has been a highly visible issue when bereaved survivor of domestic violence, Rosie Batty, was appointed Australian of the Year, and the Royal Commission into Family Violence in the state of Victoria was launched. The Commission’s March 2016 report recommended a multi-faceted approach which prioritises advocating for cultural change around violence. Historical understanding is an essential facet of this cultural change.

We are three historians researching the first national history of domestic violence against women. We begin our project in the mid-nineteenth century when marital cruelty began to feature in changes to separation and divorce laws across the Australian colonies (starting with South Australia in 1857) and we will end with the current ‘shadow pandemic’.

As the feminist historians who first opened up this topic to historical investigation in the 1980s recognised, the prevalence of domestic and family violence is impossible to quantify in both the past and the present given it’s a mostly behind closed doors phenomenon and associated with shame and secrecy.

Silences haunt histories of gendered violence. Yet what is striking is that across the 170-year-period, the most common form of domestic violence – men’s violence against their female partners – has always been visible in some form, including in public discussion about whether it was (and is) a peculiarly ‘national disgrace’.

In the nineteenth-century, the widely used terms ‘wife-beater’ and ‘wife-beating’ placed the stress on the ‘blow’ or the ‘wallop’, and the excessive drinking of the assumed working-class perpetrator or ‘husband’. Sometimes there was recognition that violence could occur in more ‘respectable’ families, and commentators pondered whether ‘wife abuse’ was more rampant in the colonies, or whether, as one 1870 editorial declared, that it was a ‘scandal to all English lands’.

Men wrote about other men under the auspices of condemning ‘wife-beating’ as an uncivilised practice, and a taint on any colonizing and civilising claims – but with scant recognition of the violence of colonialism itself, including against Indigenous women.

Image above: Mary Leunig (1992). [Domestic violence]. Source: https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/179890465?keyword=mary%20leunig. Reproduced with permission.

The terms ‘wife-beating’ and ‘wife-beater’ remained in common usage well into the twentieth-century, maintaining an emphasis on physical violence and the stereotypical ‘wife-beater’, a category which by the post-war period included the ‘migrant wife-beater’. But for some recently arrived migrants from Europe, ‘wife-beating’ appeared distinctively common in Australia – as one German woman told a reporter in 1953, ‘I am often surprised by what Australian women have to bear’.

In Australia, as in the UK and elsewhere, it was women who had experienced gendered violence who brought it to the attention of the Women’s Liberation movement in the early 1970s. Australian feminists were amongst the first to develop the term ‘domestic violence’, inaugurating an enormously generative cultural shift in comprehending its causes, prevalence and features, as well as an entire sector dedicated to addressing it. Yet from its inception, ‘domestic violence’ has been an evolving and contested term, including among feminists. At the first national conference on domestic violence in 1985, refuge worker Dawn Rowan referred to the ‘Criminal assault of women in their homes (euphemistically called domestic violence)’, while Vivien Johnson lamented that the ‘spurious neutrality of “domestic violence”’ distanced the issue and avoided the critique of marriage contained in ‘wife bashing.’

Another speaker at the 1985 Conference, Beverley Ridgeway, represented the ‘Aboriginal women’s viewpoint’. She argued that while on the surface, domestic violence within the Aboriginal community appeared to ‘resemble that within the non-Aboriginal community’, it could not be interpreted or responded to in the same way. As it was an issue, she argued, ‘which traditionally did not exist we can only assume it was another destructive element perpetrated on us by the non-Aboriginal community’. The support she sought was assistance to reduce domestic violence in a ‘manner which is appropriate to us.’ By the 1990s, a clear preference emerged within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for the term ‘family violence’, encompassing that it does extend family and kinship relations.

For decades now, various data has shown that First Nations women experience family violence at alarmingly higher rates than average.

For at least as long, Indigenous women have drawn attention to the extent of the problem and offered powerful intersectional analyses concerning the consequences of colonisation and the intergenerational trauma that has resulted.

As a recent open letter by Associate Professor Hannah McGlade, Professor Bronwyn Carlson, and Dr Marlene Longbottom made clear, the lack of outrage about the victimisation of Aboriginal women and children signals the ongoing normalisation of this violence. In current discussions surrounding the development of a new National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, First Nations women have called for their own separate National Plan, led by them, as opposed to being included as ‘afterthoughts’ in processes which have thus far failed to deliver.

Australia now faces a paradox that while there has been a significant increase in public awareness of and scholarly knowledge about domestic violence, there has been no reduction in the rates of domestic, family, and sexual violence, even while overall rates of violence have fallen. One of our central tasks as historians is to help account for this situation by taking a long view. We need to understand the significant changes over time in public discourse, legal frameworks, and activism to combat domestic violence as well as just how and why domestic violence has wreaked such enormous damage on women, children, and the society as a whole from the 19th century to the present.

Authors’ Bios

Professor Ann Curthoys (Sydney University) has researched, taught, and published on many aspects of Australian history, and also on questions of feminism, cultural studies, and historical writing and theory. Associate Professor Catherine Kevin (Flinders University) teaches and researches in the fields of Australian history and feminist history, particularly Indigenous-settler relations, the politics and experience of the reproductive body and gendered violence. Dr Zora Simic (UNSW) teaches and researches past and present feminisms, especially but not only Australian; twentieth century Australian history, especially gender history and migration history; and histories of sexuality. This research is part of 2021-2024: ARC Special Research Initiative (SRI) SR200200460, ‘A History of Domestic Violence in Australia, 1850-2020’