Day Sixteen | Women, gender-based violence, and resistance in Kashmir

Seema Kazi

Kashmir_valley_beautiful_flowersPhoto reproduced from Wikimedia

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government annulled Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federally-administered territories.  Astonishingly, the promotion of women’s rights was invoked as one of the discourses to justify the revocation of Kashmiri autonomy, whilst at the same time there have been widespread reports of gender-based violence by Indian troops. 

In the run up to the abrogation, the central government mobilised a million troops across the territory of Kashmir in parallel with the unlawful arrest of over 4,000 civilians (especially young boys), widespread use of torture, sexual molestation and harassment of Kashmiri women, together with a climate of extraordinary repression against the local population. Curbs on the media have restricted public access to information on Kashmir.

In addition to these measures, the central government imposed a crippling communications blackout: internet, landline and mobile services were cut off; Kashmiris could no longer stay in touch with each other or know what was happening to them, or indeed about them in Kashmir, or in the world at large. Landline and mobile services have since been partially restored but the ban on the internet continues. 

Kashmir is the world’s oldest unresolved conflict in the world. Partitioned between India and Pakistan without popular consent in 1948, the territory of Jammu and Kashmir in India, or Kashmir as it has come to be known, transformed into an international dispute between both states. The attempt to contain a political conflict through military means has been synonymous with large-scale human rights abuse by state forces including high levels of gendered violence over seven decades.

As Kashmir transformed into the world’s most militarised region, the challenges of Kashmiri women were multiple and daunting. A report by Médecins Sans Frontières on women’s health in Kashmir noted that Kashmiri women were subject to high levels sexual and gender-based violence including rape. Indian security forces were indicted for rape and sexual assault. In February 1991, army soldiers allegedly raped more than 30 women in Kunan Poshpora. In July 2019, a UNHCR report affirmed that no progress in the investigation had taken place even as the state authorities continued to thwart the survivor’s struggle for justice.  

In addition to forms of direct violence, the conflict has extracted a deadly and tragic price from Kashmiri women by way of, among others, the loss of the family breadwinner and male kin, large numbers of widows and half widows, the emergence of female-headed households, threats to women’s bodily and sexual integrity, a rise in women’s economic vulnerability, especially of underprivileged women, a mental health crisis among Kashmiri women, and the social exclusion and marginalisation of widows.

In 2019, gender has been deployed in political discourse around the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy. Among the justifications for rescinding Article 370 was ‘gender inequality’ in women’s property rights. Proponents of revocation argued that the Article disallowed Kashmiri women married to non-Kashmiris from inheriting or holding property in the state. This particular argument however was factually incorrect. A 2002 High Court ruling affirmed the right of Kashmiri women marrying non-Kashmiris to own property. Another key public justification for rescinding Kashmir’s autonomy was the stated ‘backwardness’ of Kashmiri women – a claim belied by the consistently superior social indices for women in Kashmir as compared to their counterparts in India. 

Apart from the instrumental use of women’s rights to legitimise state action in Kashmir, the ruling party’s post-revocation statements have been infused with racist and sexist metaphors. Members of the ruling party hailed the removal of Kashmir’s special rights as an opportunity for greater Hindu access to (Muslim) Kashmir’s land and Kashmiri women’s bodies. A ruling party legislator declared his party workers were excited they could now get married to ‘fair Kashmiri girls. Nivedita Menon, a feminist academic, underscored the imperialist, sexist and misogynist sub-text underpinning the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy: ‘These are proclamations of conquest and plunder, and reveal the real intention behind the abrogation of 370’.

Kashmiri women’s resistance

Notwithstanding the relentless siege and brutality, the breakdown in civilian life, and the violence and torture, Kashmiri women such as Anjum Zamrooda Habib and Parveena Ahanger have publicly resisted the Indian occupation. Anjum Zamrooda works with families of political prisoners while Parveena Ahanger has  transformed her personal tragedy of a disappeared son into a larger civic movement for public accountability for the disappeared. Women’s resistance, however, is often not given the attention or importance it deserves. Kashmir is no exception to this trend. Recent research affirms the multiple and continuing resistance by Kashmiri girls and women across generations in the wake of post-5 August developments: as decoys, militants, stone-pelters and street protestors. 

Women’s individual and collective support for the Kashmiri struggle for justice and freedom  continues despite formidable odds. A ground report documented women’s spirit of resistance in the wake of the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy: a young woman in the capital city of Srinagar said she could not think of anything but ‘our Azaadi  (freedom)…we hardly care about any pellet or bullet’. The report further noted the numerous women-only rallies in Srinagar; it also described how young women took to patrolling Srinagar’s rebellious Anchar neighbourhood with men in order to thwart police raids. Rehana, a teacher said:

 Our fight is bigger than Article 370. The abrogation of the article stripped us off our identity, however our battle is older than this. We are fighting for Kashmir’s liberation and until that is achieved we will keep fighting, even if it takes several months or years.

Hafsa Kanjwal, a Kashmiri scholar, points out that India’s revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy has refocused world attention on Kashmir as a political dispute. For the first time in 50 years, the UN Security Council held a closed door hearing on Kashmir. UNHCR reports on Kashmir in 2018 and 2019, recent US Congressional hearings on Kashmir, and the statements of US Democratic Party Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledging Kashmir as a disputed territory awaiting the implementation of UN resolutions indicate a discernible shift in international political and policy discourse. A recent US House of Representatives resolution called on India to end the communications blockade and mass detentions in Kashmir.

When or whether international opinion forces India to allow Kashmiris the right to determine their political future, as promised to them in 1947, remains to be seen. Kashmiri feminist scholar Hafsa Kanjwal spiritedly maintains:

‘the inability or sheer refusal to see the writing on the wall…has marked India’s position on Kashmir. But the unravelling of this position is giving way to a new movement – one that can no longer be contained.’

Seema Kazi is Associate Professor of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in Delhi. Recent publications include Gender and Governance: Perspectives from South Asia (Zubaan Academic 2019), and Between Democracy and Nation: Gender and Militarisation in Kashmir (Women Unlimited 2009; Oxford University Press 2010)

Day Fourteen |Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy

Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Radhika Govinda

Feminist cartoon day 14

Artwork by Samia Singh and used with permission and produced as part of the Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project, a collaboration between Ambedkar University and the University of Edinburgh

The above image is a preview of a (web)comic focused on feminist struggles in the academy, that is currently under development. The (web)comic features 24 pages of beautiful original artwork by illustrators Samia Singh based in Punjab, India, and Shazleen Khan, in London, UK. It is based on roundtable conversations and panel discussions that took place at Ambedkar University Delhi, India in December 2017 and at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in February 2018 as part of the ongoing Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives Project

Some of the most poignant ideas and issues that emerged during the roundtable conversations and panel discussions pertained to sexual violence and sexual harassment of women, and how these are managed in the institutional space of universities. Feminist academics and activists speaking at these fora observed how commonplace sexual harassment and violence were, to the point that they could say with considerable confidence that there wouldn’t be a single woman who hadn’t experienced some form of sexual harassment or violence!

They noted that there were no doubt differences in the form and intensity of harassment and/or violence experienced; that this was informed by the intersectionality of race, caste, class, sexual orientation and so on; and that this could occur at the university and other places of work, or on the streets, or in more intimate spaces. Participants shared their experiences of sexual harassment, and even rape. These were moments for pause and reflection, for expressions of solidarity and support. 

There were other moments when participants expressed frustration and dismay at the ‘loving (and oft knowing) ignorance’ displayed by their colleagues, friends and family members about the everyday nature of sexual harassment and violence – the kind of ignorance which they processed through humour and irony. For instance, one speaker observed that they had been advocating for many years for these issues to be taken seriously but it wasn’t until the #MeToo movement emerged that more people started to take notice:

‘For the first time people who didn’t really know about it before are suddenly like, “oh is that what happens to women? Do you really have to assess your risk about when is it that you go home?” People are now listening in a way that they haven’t before and we said “[but] we’ve been trying to tell you this for years!”

Our intention is to capture these and more difficult moments and ideas on the pages of our (web)comic.

In honour of the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, we wanted to showcase a panel from our (web)comic, which seeks to depict some of the dilemmas, challenges and contradictions that feminist academics are themselves confronted with when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment and violence in university spaces. Specifically, it engages with the notion that universities’ institutional responses to violence and harassment can often replicate and perpetuate paternalistic and patriarchal norms around women’s ‘safety’, in spite of also being spaces in which women can access emancipatory feminist education.

All-women colleges are considered one important way in which women from diverse backgrounds can access higher education in India. Some of these institutions pioneer rights-based and feminist consciousness-building, yet we are then left with the paradox whereby measures designed to mitigate the risk of sexual violence, such as housing in all-women’s hostels, end up enforcing new restrictions or replicating old patriarchal social norms.

There is a clear tension between the impulse to create safe and empowering spaces for women and the consequences of this strategy, which require instructions to create ‘rules’ that mimic familial patterns of control such as strict curfews, dress codes, visitation limitations, policing interactions, and so on. These rules end up treating women as ‘precious birds’ that need to be kept under lock and key. The displacement of patriarchal authority from the ‘threat’ of men on the outside to the paternal hand of the higher educational institution places feminist academics working in these institutions in a uniquely challenging and frustrating situation.

In August 2015, students came out to protest the imposition of curfews and other sexist rules on college-going women at Delhi’s Jamia University. They were soon joined by students in other Universities in Delhi and elsewhere in India. They called themselves the Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage) campaign. In less than a year, it had successfully pressured the Delhi Commission for Women into challenging discriminatory practices against college-going women at Delhi’s 23 registered universities. Over the years, Pinjra Tod has continued to mobilise and act both online and offline. It has broadened the ambit of its demands from ‘breaking the hostel locks’ to claiming women’s right to freely and fearlessly occupy and even take risks in public spaces. 

Campaigns like Pinjra Tod and #MeToo demonstrate that it is not only important for feminists in the academy to address issues of sexual harassment and violence but how we choose to address these issues is equally significant. Through the pages of our (web)comic, our aim is to not only debunk the myths of who is a feminist academic or ‘why doing gender studies is not a waste of time’ but to also offer a peak into the everyday struggles, dilemmas and contradictions that feminists face when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment and violence and the spaces we are able to create for resistance and change in the academy. 

As a conceptual tool, the comic is rooted in core academic literature and scholarly debates, but exists in a more accessible format that will make it easier to understand and for academic and non-academic audiences alike to engage with the highlights from the project events. This is in sync with the feminist and decolonial ideas we are working with to create more democratic and decentralised forms of knowledge creation. Illustrations from both artists, Samia Singh and Shazleen Khan, will reflect their respective styles and the cover illustration will be a collaborative piece that the two shall develop together. 

Being part of the conception and creation of this unique artwork has made us reflect on our own respective privileges and marginality, and recognising the powerful opportunity we have at our hands to contribute in destabilising knowledge production on feminism and GBV has been a real joy! We hope we have been able to share a glimpse of that in this blogpost. The creation and development of the (web)comic is supported by a Student Experience Grant and genderED. We invite you to look up a web version of the full comic, which will be up in the new year on the Gender Politics at Edinburgh blog.

Cat Wayland (@cat_wayland) is a PhD student in political theory at the University of Edinburgh, working on methodology, intersectionality and the politics of knowledge production. 

Kamya Choudhary (@KamyaChoudhary) is a PhD researcher in International Development at the University of Edinburgh, her research focuses on the impacts and the sustainability of renewable energy applications within agriculture in rural India. 

Dr Radhika Govinda (@GovindaRadhika) is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She has a keen interest in identity politics, intersectionality, and gender and development, and is the UK Lead on an ongoing North-South, UGC-UKIERI-funded research and teaching collaboration, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives: Questions of Identity, Pedagogy, and Violence in India and the UK.

Day Thirteen | Making connections: Gender-based violence and women’s workforce participation

Sumangala Damodaran

Cotton Textile millsPhoto reproduced from Fibre2Fashion

As early as 1818, a group of British women weavers, or ‘Lancashire girls’ were brought to India to train women workers or ‘introduce factory methods of work’ in the Bowreah mill in Hooghly in Bengal. In her captivating account of the presence of women in India’s industrial sector, historian Samita Sen quotes an account by Janet Harvey Kelman, who wrote one of the earliest and most remarkable accounts of Indian labour, and according to whom women were associated with the ‘tragedy’ that surrounded the ‘first efforts to introduce modern mill industry into India’. The British women were released from a prison on an island in the Atlantic into the custody of a certain McAllister, who was the manager of the mill. It is believed that all succumbed later to an epidemic in India.

The presence of women in the industrial labour force in India, particularly in the  and the jute mills of Bengal, has thus been acknowledged from the beginnings of factory labour in India. Not only were women part of the industrial workforce, they also were the subject of numerous debates and controversies around their presence, especially between the introduction of the Factories Act in 1881 that was to regulate the conditions of industrial employment and the First World War.

Expectedly, the debates centred around the supposed contradiction between women’s sexual and reproductive roles in their families and as workers. The anxieties expressed about women’s participation in industrial work and the fear at what this presence outside the home and the family meant was, in this case, mediated by the colonial discourse around the usefulness of the female colonized subject. The debates also encompassed genuine concerns for women’s working conditions and safety in the industrial sector.

More than a century and a quarter later, the Female Workforce Participation Rate (FWPR) in India fell to 26% in 2018 and is seen, alarmingly, to have declined continuously over almost three decades. If we consider the region of South Asia, the pattern is mixed; in some countries, such as Nepal, the figures are quite high, whereas in Pakistan and India, they are declining, in India’s case alarmingly. This is particularly so  when compared to the global level, where women’s global labour force participation rate of around 48 per cent in 2018.

If women are participating less and less in what is conventionally considered ‘work’ or what contributes to the output of the economy, both as paid and unpaid workers, could it have something to do with gender-based violence which is a major contributor to the resilience of patriarchy? As with the ‘tragedy’ of women’s employment from the example of the ‘Lancashire girls’ and their Indian counterparts in the mills of Bengal, how does patriarchy’s continuous reiteration of the contradiction between women’s reproductive and productive or ‘visibly productive’ roles relate to the threat of violence?

It is acknowledged in academic work as well as in policy initiatives that actual violence and the fear of it affects the extent to which women participate in political and social processes. How does the violence that women face within and outside households, in communities and in workplaces impact women’s participation in, access to and exit from work and the workplace?

These are questions that need to be examined from the actual experiences of women with work as well as of violence and it is necessary to develop analytical frames that look at both simultaneously as fundamentally underpinning women’s lives and existence. The literatures that exist around the two axes, of work on the one hand and violence on the other, tend to be mostly mutually exclusive. Violence as an active variable tends to figure only tangentially in analyses of work and the understandings of gender based violence tend to address the structural features of women’s lives as workers only in a limited way.

Gendered analyses of work point out how the complexities of women’s existence and the invisibility of their labour results in complex negotiations between reproductive labour and both paid and unpaid ‘productive’ labour. The threat of violence within the family and from social networks is often seen to keep women out of the labour market or confine them to sectors where their work is considered more acceptable, or remains invisible.

Economic and political conditions within countries, like slumps or political upheavals, are also seen to have social impacts that typically raise the risk and incidence of violence against women. Further, even if, as in many countries in South Asia, the FWPR is very low and also falling, at the same time, there are newer sectors – particularly in services – where women are being employed and seen to be ‘visible’, often having to transgress patriarchal restrictions within families and communities.

The insights provided from actual experiences of work and workplaces could be useful to understand the multifaceted dimensions of gender-based violence. Further, the lens of violence and the dispositions within individuals, families and communities towards women’s work thus could generate rich material that allows for a nuanced understanding of the gendered dimensions of work.

 

Sumangala Damodaran is a Professor of Economics, Development Studies and Popular Music Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. As a development economist, her research and publications fall broadly within the rubric of industrial and labour studies. She is also a singer and composer.

 

Day Thirteen | Witch-branding in Eastern India

Mayur Suresh

witch-huntingImage reproduced from DW

Witchcraft-related beliefs result in violence against women in parts of India, as in other regions of the world. Allegations of witchcraft lead to violence against women, including social boycotts, public humiliation, banishment, torture and lynching. As noted by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, being accused of witchcraft “is tantamount to receiving a death sentence.” 

In India, witchcraft-related violence against women is more ubiquitous than official statistics suggest. In November this year, an 81-year-old woman, who was accused of witchcraft by other residents of her village, had her face blackened, was garlanded with shoes and forced to walk through her village. In September of this year, a boy hacked his aunt to death, as he thought she was a witch. While men have also been the target of violence following witchcraft allegations, anecdotal evidence suggests that witchcraft accusations are made mostly against women.

The state of Jharkhand has recorded the highest number of witchcraft-related deaths in India. According to official statistics, in the year 2016-17, 19 women were killed on the allegation that they were witches, with 523 women being killed on witchcraft accusations between 2001 and 2016. These statistics reveal a fraction of the problem because they only represent those cases where ‘witchcraft’ is mentioned in the police records as a motive for murder, and they only record the murder of ‘witches’ – leaving the vast majority of violence that results from witchcraft allegations uncounted. 

Jharkhand has enacted a law that criminalises the identification of someone as a witch. Additionally, the law criminalises the rituals performed by an ojha or a witch doctor who the community believes can identify and ‘cure’ witches. However, both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests that implementation is poor, even when a ‘witch’ has been murdered or assaulted. 

Earlier this year, I conducted preliminary fieldwork in Jharkhand where I met governmental and community-based organisations that engaged people on issues of witchcraft, as well as those who had personal experiences of being accused of witchcraft. A common story runs through many narratives that I came across during this fieldwork. An adversity befalls a family: an illness, an inability to bear children, crop failure or the death or illness of livestock. The family goes to an ojha (who is always a man) to deal with the problem. The ojha may tell the family ‘black magic’ has been performed on the family by a witch and they need to counter-act it. The family then performs a ritual in order to ward off the ‘black magic’. In the event the adversity persists, the ojha might tell the family how to identify the ‘witch’. Often this ‘witch’ will not be named, but rather the ojha will give clues to identify the ‘witch’ – for example, “Next to a pipal tree in your village there is a house with a door that points north. This witch lives around there.” 

After a person is identified, the public accusations begin. Threats are made against the ‘witches’ – warning of dire consequences if the witchcraft is not stopped. Rumours spread and soon other members of the community make similar accusations, claiming that their own illnesses or misfortunes are because of the ‘witch’. What follows is ever-increasing acts of humiliation and violence against the person by the rest of her village.

Witch-branding is therefore not a single act of naming, but is instead a process, where a person is gradually identified as a witch, with more and more people accusing them, accompanied by escalating forms of violence. The initial naming thus has devastating consequences. In addition, witchcraft allegations always take place within communities; often involving an entire village (both men and women) against a few (largely female) individuals. The victims and the perpetrators are usually of the same caste or tribal community, and are very often related – as one person told me, witch-branding is a type of domestic violence, where a family persecutes a few individuals within it. 

It became clear that the women who had personal experiences of being accused of witchcraft often did not know where the accusations originated from. As “everyone knew that [they] were witches,” the stories that were told about them took the form of communal accusations, and no one person could be identified as the accuser. Effectively, these were experienced as anonymous accusations that could neither be rebutted or rationalised. Whereas in other contexts, this form of communal knowledge might be celebrated, here it constitutes a direct threat to the lives and safety of women. 

Incidentally, the people who perpetrate violence against ‘witches’ think of themselves as the victims and the ‘witches’ as the perpetrators. According to a legal NGO in Jharkhand, the accused murderers often confessed to their crimes as they believed they were acting in self-defence. I was also told that people accused of killing ‘witches’ often expressed incredulity at being arrested and prosecuted for murder, “as witches had to be killed.”

Attempts have been made to identify socio-economic indicators of ‘witches’ that sets them apart from their communities. My ethnographic interlocutors, however, resisted attempts to draw such causal connections. They said that ‘witches’ are often as rich or as poor as their accusers, and they often have the same educational level as well. ‘Witches’ can be married, unmarried or widowed; they can have children or be childless. According to one community worker,

“if it is a poor woman who is called a witch, they will say she used black magic because she is jealous of the wealth of others […] if it is a rich woman, then she does it to keep others poor.” 

What remains constant is that ‘witches’ are mostly women. Witchcraft therefore shows us how gender can be experienced as a threat and how a discourse can be built around gender to justify that feeling of threat.

 

Mayur Suresh is a Future of Change India Research Fellow at the Faculty of Law, UNSW, Sydney and a Lecturer in Law at SOAS University of London. His research seeks to bring an anthropological perspective to the study of legal processes. He is currently finishing a book titled ‘Terrorists’ on Trial: Life and Law in Delhi’s Courts. This blog comes out of a new research project on witch-branding laws in Jharkhand.

Day Nine | Fighting against Disablist Gender Based Violence: A Double Dose of Discrimination

Caroline Bradbury-Jones and Sonali Shah 

Disability, Gender

Disability and violence are global human rights issues that cut across gender, race, age, sexuality, geographical, religious, socio-economic and cultural boundaries. They are socially produced and culturally constructed, and can manifest at different or multiple, generational locations over a person’s life-course (childhood, youth, adulthood and older age). Disability and violence have a bi-directional relationship in that the onset of impairment can be caused by being exposed to violence, or violent actions by a perpetrator can be stimulated by a victim’s impairment.

While both were once considered to be private problems hidden from public view, increasingly they are recognised as issues that call for public attention and intervention. Moreover, both are gendered, and both begin early in life. Here, we focus on what we term ‘disablist gender-based violence’, that is, violence that is specific to being disabled and that is targeted at women and girls because they are women and girls. It is, in effect, a double dose of discrimination.

Across the globe, the risk of violence for children with impairments is up to four times greater than their non-disabled contemporaries. Violence against disabled children tends to be more severe than for non-disabled children, while severity is correlated with the impairment type. They are likely to experience more than one type of violence across their lifetime starting from an early age.

From infanthood, disabled people are continuously reminded of their ‘difference’ and ‘otherness’ in society. There is now indubitable evidence that there are considerable gendered risks that lead to disablist gender-based violence. Accounting for gender, significantly more disabled girls than disabled boys are likely to experience sexual abuse, while the opposite is true for physical abuse. 

The high proportion of disabled women and girls exposed to and experiencing violence during their lives is associated with a number of factors, starting with the societal contention that the life of a disabled child is a wrongful life and an economic burden to the family and society. The objectification and manipulation of the disabled female body have been suggested to create opportunities for violence.

Disablist gender-based violence includes actions that simultaneously increase the powerfulness of the perpetrators and the powerlessness of the disabled women and girls. Although disabled women and girls can experience the same types of abuse as their non-disabled contemporaries – physical, sexual and emotional – they are likely to be subjected to additional abuse triggered by the objectification and manipulation we mentioned earlier. Moreover, abuse may be perpetrated by people who are supposed to ‘care’ for them, such as personal assistants or carers in institutions, parents and health care workers.

Into adulthood, over half of all disabled women have experienced physical abuse, compared with one third of non-disabled women. Nearly 80% of disabled women have been victims of psychological and physical violence, and are at a greater risk of sexual abuse than non-disabled women. Traditionally, as a group, disabled women and girls have been exposed to disempowering messages about their reproductive choices from early childhood, for example having limited exposure to sexual knowledge and opportunities while growing up. 

This arises from them being excluded from the cultural spaces where such exchanges take place or being constrained by high levels of surveillance. Disabled women have been discouraged and sometimes physically prevented from exercising their reproductive capacities and becoming parents. They are subject to social infantilisation, being conceptualised as weak, passive and dependent. The disabled female body has not been seen as beautiful or sexual, but as fragile, weak and asexual. Moreover, the disabled female has historically been objectified asexually by media, medical and legal discourses; conceptualised as undesirable sexual partners or mothers. 

The fact that disabled women and girls may have to depend on others for basic personal and social needs, not only places them at greater risk of abuse compared to non-disabled females, but also reduces opportunities to disclose. Professionals may not necessarily recognise scars of disabled child abuse and misdiagnose them as being related to the child’s impairment. Such diagnostic overshadowing can thwart opportunities for child protection and support and exacerbate marginalisation and risk to disabled women and girls. Moreover, limited violence prevention support and intervention for disabled females at different points of their life can leave them feeling disempowered and doubting their rights to protection and support. 

In conclusion, gender-based violence perpetrated against women and girls is a major human rights issue that blights the lives of millions worldwide. This risk is greater for disabled women and girls and is less likely to be recognised among policy makers and health service providers. Disabled women and girls are more likely to encounter barriers to support and protection for a number of reasons, connected to the overall pattern of disablism in society.

The evidence suggests that indicators of violence can be overlooked by practitioners who see the disability first, rather than the woman or girl as a person. The reality is that many disabled women have intersectional identities – they may identify as homosexual, identify as transgender, are of minority ethnic or religious background, and are of different ages – which contributes to unique experiences of oppression and disadvantage.

Across the globe, there is a dearth of voices and experiences of disabled women and girls in mainstream research, policy and practice in relation to violence, victimisation, protection and prevention. The inclusion of these hidden voices will not only help achieve the goal “nothing about us without us”. It will also raise an awareness of the need to include disablist violence in official definitions of gender-based violence and child abuse. 

The issues covered in this blog are addressed more fully in our book: Disability, Gender and Violence over the Life Course: Global Perspectives and Human Rights Approaches. Shah, S. & Bradbury-Jones, C. (2018), Routledge, London. 

 

Caroline Bradbury-Jones is a registered nurse, midwife and health visitor. Her research interests lie broadly within the scope of addressing inequalities and more specifically are focused on issues of family violence and child abuse and neglect. She has led or been actively involved in securing funding for a number of research projects relevant to these areas. She has undertaken research or engaged in scholarly activities with a number of countries including Japan, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany and Finland. Caroline leads the Risk, Abuse and Violence research programme at the University of Birmingham. 

Sonali Shah is a Research Fellow in the School of Nursing at the University of Birmingham. She is funded by a Burdett Trust award to undertake a qualitative study ‘Eternal: UK healthcare of women with Cerebral Palsy across the female life cycle’. The purpose is to address the gap in existing understandings about growing older with Cerebral Palsy, and women’s health, and to highlight the health and healthcare experiences of disabled women in general, and women with CP in particular. The proposed outcome is to develop an educational tool for nurses, midwives and allied healthcare practitioners to understand the embodied changes experienced by girls and women with Cerebral Palsy across the life course (from menarche to menopause), and how to overcome structural and cultural barriers to healthcare services, environments and treatments, particularly in relation to reproductive and sexual health. 

Day Three | We, the Women Warriors, are Unstoppable!

Shalu Nigam

Shalu NigamImage reproduced with the  permission of Shalu Nigam

After a long wait, the National Crime Record Bureau of India has recently published its report pertaining to crimes in India  in 2017. According to this report, 104,551 cases have been filed under section 498A IPC, a criminal law dealing with `cruelty’ against married women by their husbands and in-laws. A further 7,466 cases have been registered under section 304B, which pertains to dowry deaths, while 10,189 cases have been registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act, a law that bans the giving and taking of dowry. In addition, 5,282 cases have been registered for abetment of suicide among women and 616 cases have been registered under the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, for breaching the civil orders granted under this law in favor of the victims of domestic violence.

The NCRB report further indicates that the conviction rate was as low as 9.5% under section 498A cases in 2016, but which rose to 15.9% in 2017. In cases pertaining to dowry deaths, the conviction rate is 41.1% in 2017. These figures indicate that majority of women who knock on the doors of the court are not receiving justice. Compounding this, violent men are being acquitted by the courts. 

This data shows that a large number of women are not safe in their own homes. They are being physically and psychologically assaulted, verbally and emotionally tortured, discriminated, sexually harassed, murdered, forced to commit suicide and attacked in numerous ways. Serious complaints of violence are normalised and trivialised, framed as ‘disputes’ or `ego tussles’. Myths and misogyny operate in  society and the courtrooms alike to deny justice to women survivors of violence.

 

The role of the Supreme Court 

 Despite the fact that a large number of women are approaching the police and the courts with their complaints of violence within homes, police are rarely arresting violent men and the courts are failing to hold them accountable. In some instances, the courts are actually making the problem worse. For example, in 2014, the Supreme Court decided the matter of Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar. It delivered a sweeping statement that section 498A, a criminal law provision relating to domestic violence, is being ‘misused and abused by disgruntled women’ and directed for the dilution of the provisions relating to the arrest and bail of accused persons. 

Then, in 2017, in Rajesh Sharma v State of UP the Supreme Court passed a directive to police and magistrates that no arrests were to be made or coercive actions taken without ascertaining the veracity of the complaints lodged under section 498A. It suggested the formulation of Family Welfare Committees to scrutinise every complaint of domestic violence to ensure that no ‘false cases’ were registered. Without examining the on-the-ground realities, the court concluded that the law is misused by ‘vengeful’ women, and saw men as victims of this ‘cruel’ law. While himpathising (a term coined by Kate Manne) with the accused persons, the bench remarked that there was “violation of human rights of innocents”. In contrast, no compassion is shown towards the women who are abused, abandoned, burned, murdered, killed, raped and brutalised.

However, after protest by several women’s organizations and petitions filed in the Supreme Court, the Court heard the matter of Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar v Union of India in 2018. It ordered the Family Welfare Committees be done away with, while retaining the provision relating to arrest and bail for the accused persons. Even earlier, the Law Commission and several other state institutions too, have recommended the dilution of the domestic violence laws.

The legal system provides a platform for women to raise their concerns; however, there is a lack of commitment in implementation. Over the years, concerted actions have been taken by state actors to dilute the provisions of law. The system is being manipulated to serve the logic of the patriarchy, protecting the interest of the dominant group while reinforcing the prevailing biased stereotypical norms. The state more broadly is treating domestic violence as a social crime and using manipulative tools –including mandatory mediation – designed to compel women to arrive at a ‘compromise’ or ‘settlement’ with the accused persons without any assurance for their safety (and that of their children), and without punishing the abusive men. In many other cases pertaining to domestic violence, dowry deaths and suicide by married women, the courts have granted immunity to violent men by placing weight on the principle of ‘family harmony’, and in the process, disregarding the constitutional rights of women as citizens.

 

We, the Women, are Warriors and We Will Persist!

Yet the survivors, who may be seen as powerless and vulnerable, through their sheer grit, are demanding justice, breaking the codes of prolonged imposed silence, shaking the system and forcing it to respond. They are not feminists or experts but they are everyday women who, with their own sense of justice, and with scant resources or little support, are seeking a violence-free life for themselves and their children. They are fighting battles not only against abusive men but also against the patriarchal structures within homes, misogyny in courts, and androcentric culture and sexism in society. In doing so, they are reclaiming ownership of their lives with persistence, courage and resilience.

The law is currently implemented in a way that means complainants are being revictimised in the process. Despite this, women are using the law to reclaim their rights and resist violence. Those who are registering their complaints are negotiating their rights and contesting their claims while challenging the stubborn patriarchy. While writing their own stories of emancipation, they are shifting the inegalitarian structure within families, creating democratic spaces within society and –  in fighting to seek freedom, or aazadi, from violence – they are demanding the recognition of their dignity. 

For the state, as well as national and international organisations working on the issue of violence, it is essential to focus on women’s autonomy and agency in a patriarchal society and to provide support measures that help them to attain socio-economic self-sufficiency while countering ingrained misogyny. Many women are compelled to stay and bear violence because they lack any other options. There is therefore a  need to create a mechanism whereby women can access support that is specific to their circumstances. Until then, through their tough persistent legal and social battles, the simple message women are giving is this: “We, the women warriors, are unstoppable; unless violence is eliminated, we will persist”. 

 

Shalu Nigam (@ShaluNigam) is an advocate, researcher and an activist working at the intersection of gender, law, governance and human rights issues. She is currently practicing at the courts in Delhi and is associated with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Delhi, Indian Social Institute, Delhi, as well as the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi. She was awarded a Senior Fellowship by the Indian Council for Social Science Research, Delhi. She has published several books, the recent one is Women and Domestic Violence in India: A Quest for Justice. She has been a regular contributor to countercurrents.org and has published her essays in journals such as the Indian Journal of Gender Studies, South Asia Journal, Social Action, International Journal of Gender and Women’s Studies, Women’s Link, Legal News and Views among others. You can read some of  her work here and here

 

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

Jennifer M. Piscopo, Occidental College, USA

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

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

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

Jennifer PiscopoLock Her Up” by James McNellis, 2017.

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

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

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

 

Abusive language as political violence against women

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stopping abusive language 

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

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

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

 

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