Day Ten | Gender-based Violence as a Form of Genocide

photo credit: Shutterstock

Written by Rosemary Grey

Gender-based violence can be a form of genocide, and has been recognised as such since Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin first coined the term ‘genocide’ in the aftermath of World War II.

Today the issue of genocide continues to loom large.

In 2018, the international community marks the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines the crime of genocide under international law and obliges states parties to prevent and punish this crime. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handing down the first international conviction of an individual for genocide. Furthermore, it marks the 10th anniversary of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on charges of genocide and other crimes against ethnic groups in Darfur.

It is the year that the UN Human Rights Council found that there were serious grounds to believe that Myanmar’s Rohingya people have been subject to genocide, just two years after concluding that Iraq’s Yazidi people had likewise been subjected to that crime. And it is the year that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – a joint initiative of the Cambodian government and the UN – convicted two surviving leaders of Pol Pot’s regime for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Continue reading “Day Ten | Gender-based Violence as a Form of Genocide”

Day Nine | Disability Gender Violence: Time for a Human Rights-based Approach

Written by Rosemary Kayess

December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities and 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is the first human rights treaty of the 21st Century, setting out a contemporary agenda of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of disability.

The fundamental premise of CRPD is that disability is just one aspect of the human condition. Acknowledging that people are not defined by just one personal characteristic, that we all experience discrimination in a multiplicity of ways. A fundamental tenet of the CRPD is its universalism, that of modification of the social norm to reflect human diversity. It is a normative frame that is representative of the actual lived experience of the human condition. The CRPD sets standards for society where politics, policy, and law need to be fashioned around a complete, comprehensive vision of the human experience. It is only through such a vision that we are to meet the needs of real-life subjects and address human rights violations such as violence against women.

The CRPD’s approach is a significant shift away from the prevailing social conceptualisation of disability that reflects a deficit approach; where disability is viewed as a problem, an individualised issue where vulnerable individuals require care, treatment and protection within a social welfare regime as a way of dealing with their ‘special needs’. This individual deficit approach to disability has reinforced notions of disability as difference thereby ‘othering’ these individuals and has included the standard response of law and public policy to focus on separate parallel institutions and services in isolation to mainstream systems, such as residential care facilities, special education, sheltered employment and justice diversion measures. These policy responses have been central to inherent systemic disadvantage and ongoing violations of fundamental human rights. People with disability are stripped of legal personhood, institutionalised in closed facilities and exposed to violence and abuse.

It is time to bring a human rights approach to disability gender violence – a type of violence that is routinely ignored or downplayed. Regardless of setting or context, it is often conceptualised as abuse, neglect or service incidents, or a workplace issue to be dealt with administratively – rather than as violence or a criminal act. This is particularly the case in institutional and service settings where violence is continually excused or covered up, or at worst, normalised. Critically, the effect is a lack of recognition of disability gender violence across the legal and service systems, resulting in women and girls with disability having less legal protection and access to justice.

It is currently estimated that the incidence of violence against people with a disability is at least 3 times higher than the general population. This violence is less likely to be reported, investigated or prosecuted with much higher rates for women with disability, particularly more marginalised women such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disability.

There is a growing body of evidence of the nature and extent of disability gender violence. Violence against women and girls with disability in Australia is far more extensive than violence among the general population, and violence perpetrated against women and girls with disability is significantly more diverse in nature and more severe than for women in general. Compared to their peers, women with disabilities experience significantly higher levels of all forms of violence more intensely and frequently, and by a greater number of perpetrators. Women with disabilities experience violence over a longer period of time, resulting in more severe injuries, and have limited pathways to safety.

In the Australian context, evidence shows that more than 70% of women with disabilities have been victims of violent sexual encounters. Data suggests 90% of women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse, with more than two-thirds (68%) having been sexually abused before they turn 18 years of age. The rates of sexual victimisation of women with disability range from four to 10 times higher than for other women. More than a quarter of rape cases reported by females are perpetrated against women with a disability. Women with a disability are 40% more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than women without disability. One in four women with disability who access support services experienced violence. Eighty-five (85%) of women with mental health impairment report feeling unsafe during hospitalisation, 67% per cent report experiencing sexual or other forms of harassment during hospitalisation

The multiple forms and complex nature of disability gender violence in Australia currently sits in a legislative, policy and service response vacuum. It is not afforded the same protections and responses as others forms violence and women and girls with disability have little or no avenues for recourse. Disability gender violence is significantly more diverse in nature and more severe than for women in general. Their experiences of violence last over a longer period of time, and more severe injuries result from that violence.

A young woman sits in silhouette on an open window ledge. Her hands rest on her slightly raised knees. She looks outwards into an urban landscape.
Source: WWDA Human Rights Toolkit for Women and Girls with Disability

Narrow conceptual understandings of domestic and family violence as spousal and/or intimate partner violence obscures disability gender violence, marginalising the violence experienced by women with disability from policies and service responses designed to address and prevent violence against women. These narrow policy frameworks for domestic violence, ignore the experience of disability and fail to encompass the range of settings in which women with disability live and access.

Disability gender violence traverses traditional domestic settings including private and family dwellings but large numbers of women with disability reside in and receive support in a range of institutional and/or service settings, such as group homes, supported residential facilities, boarding houses, psychiatric and mental health community care facilities, residential aged care facilities, hostels, hospitals, prisons, foster care, respite facilities, cluster housing, congregate care, special schools and out-of-home care services. Further policy definitions fail to capture the range of relationships and various dimensions of disability gender violence, which may include the relationships they have with support workers and co-residents with disability.

Australia is far from unique. Like gender-based violence generally, disability gender violence is a widespread persistent devastating human rights violation across the world. It is only when we use normative frameworks such as the CRPD that embrace disability as an inherent part of the human condition to inform policy will we have the recognition and understanding of disability gender violence that we can eliminate violence against all women regardless of personal characteristics.

I would like to knowledge work of Women with Disability Australia and Disabled People’s Organisations Australia who’s extensive, comprehensive and rigorous work has informed much of my analysis for this blog.

Rosemary Kayess is a Committee member, UN Committee for United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Interim Director Disability Innovation Institute, UNSW, Sydney.

Day Seven | Epidemic of Violence against Transgender Women in Indonesia: When the Government Fails to Protect its Vulnerable Citizens

photo credit: 2018 Women’s March Jakarta

Written by Firmansyah Sarbini and Naila Rizqi Zakiah

The rise of anti-LGBT sentiment in Indonesia has led to the exclusion of LGBT groups from society, which has caused their persecution. More and more cases are emerging of banning academic discussions, discrimination in the workplace and educational institutions, through to efforts of criminalisation through courts and legislation.

In 2016, the Support Group & Resource Center on Sexuality Studies Universitas Indonesia became the centre of a media storm in Indonesia. The organisation was launching an LGBT Peer Support Network, a project-based collaboration with the LGBT online forum melela.org. Since then, an unexpected wave of bigotry hit Indonesia.  The Love Family Alliance (ALIA), a conservative group in Indonesia, has requested the Constitutional Court to change the definitions of adultery and child molestation in the criminal code which would criminalise homosexual sex.  By a margin of five to four judges, the Constitutional Court ruled against the effort to revise the country’s criminal code on the grounds that such a move was the responsibility of parliament. But this statement only inspired the conservative group to lobby lawmakers for the changes.

LGBT people are a marginalised segment of Indonesian society.  In a survey of 1,520 respondents, conducted by the Wahid Foundation and Lembaga Survey Indonesia during March-April 2016 the LGBT group was the most disliked (26.1%), compared to other groups like Communists (16.7%) and Jewish people (10.6%). This was reinforced by the findings of Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC) during November 2016, which showed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (16.6%) were more hated than Communists and Jews, and second only to ISIS (25.5%). LGBT rights in Indonesia have also been politicised in every election campaign since Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, when Musdah Mulia, an Indonesian Islamic theologist and research professor at the Ministry of Religious Affairs who irked many conservative Muslims with her LGBT-friendly perspective, was in the team of experts of now president Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi). Many politicians endorse the rising hatred against LGBT people and often give biased statements and opinions about the LGBT community to gain majority votes, as well as promote anti-LGBT laws and bylaws. In early November 2018, a so-called ‘war against LGBT communities’ was started by Hidayat Nurwahid from Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), who demanded President Jokowi issue an anti-LGBT law. The 2019 presidential election will be yet another battleground for politicians against the LGBT community; it is highly likely that most affected group in this war will be already vulnerable transwomen.

 In Silence: Violence against Transwomen in Indonesia

Throughout 2017, based on the data collected by LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid), there were 973 individuals who were victims of stigma, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions outside the heteronormative binary. Based on their observations, transwomen ranked first as victims of violence at a rate of 715 out of 973 people. The vulnerability of transgender groups is caused by the visibility of their gender expression, making them more identifiable to society and the public at large. For transgender people who are evicted from their homes, these risks are amplified due to not only their loss of housing, but also their loss of support groups, be it family or friends.

From LBH Masyarakat’s observations, throughout 2017 there were at least three incidents of murder of transwomen. A transwoman in Bone, South Sulawesi, was murdered by two men who pretended to befriend her. When she was asleep, they murdered and robbed her. This modus operandi of larceny also happened in Semarang, Central Java, where after dating a transwoman, the perpetrator murdered her and took off with her belongings. The third incident happened in South Lampung, Sumatra. This time there was no robbery, but there was the same pattern where the perpetrator had sexual relations with the transwoman and then killed the victim. These killings, targeting transwomen, follow a similar pattern to murders targeting women, also known as femicide. They are done merely on the basis that the victim is a woman or a transwoman, by perpetrators who view women as weak and gullible, and transwomen particularly so.

Additionally, in 2018 transwomen have been identified as the most frequent victims of police violence in Indonesia. At the start of 2018, police in the province of Aceh detained 12 transwomen, shaving or cutting their long hair with the justification that they were teaching them how to act like “real men”. In November 2018, three transwomen were subjected to a raid by Satpol PP (a regional police force concerned with morals and order) in Lampung province. In this raid, the three transwomen were brought to the Satpol PP office and hosed down with water at the firefighter building. Adding insult to injury, a Satpol PP officer also proudly recorded and shared the torture and humiliation on social media.

Despite the fact that transwomen have become the most vulnerable group in Indonesia, the government tends to deny the violence against transwomen happens. It is also difficult to document the violence against transwomen because victims are often intimidated and oppressed, both by law enforcement agencies and society at large when they try to report their cases. Violence continues, justice is delayed.

The violence experienced by transwomen and LGBT groups in general is caused by rising intolerance and the lack of understanding of gender and sexuality in society. Widespread discrimination seems to be here to stay in the long-run. Most worryingly, many academics, politicians, and even governmental authorities have stated that they support legal discrimination of LGBT people in Indonesia. LGBT people’s basic civil rights are, at the end of the day, just unfulfilled promises. Their requests are simple: equal access and an opportunity to live. However, the government seems adamant to deny that wish.

Firmansyah Sarbini (SGRC Indonesia) and Naila Rizkqi Zakiah (LBH Masyarakat) are the Australian Human Rights Institute’s first Visiting Human Rights Defenders.

Day Five | #Hear Me Too: A celebration of children and young people’s activism to end gender-based violence

photo credit: Everyday Heroes

Written by Claire Houghton

Today dozens of children and young people are leading an event at the Scottish parliament that honours and amplifies the voices and activism of young people, including young survivors of gender-based violence. They are meeting and talking with parliamentarians, ministers and national leaders in justice, police, education, health, and social work responses. Today is a celebration of the strength, resistance and power of young survivors. It is also a call to action, and young people are presenting their priorities for action to address gender-based violence and gender inequality.

The event is testament to two consistent trends in Scottish government and politics since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as part of the UK devolution settlement: first, a demonstrable commitment to wider inclusion and participation; and second, the prioritisation of policies to address domestic abuse and gender-based violence (Mackay 2010). In part, these twin features are the result of the mobilisation of organised women’s and feminist groups in the run up to devolution and their efforts to build equality ‘in with the bricks’ of the new institutions.

Over the last few years, children and young people have also been increasingly included in political spaces and processes, through innovative programmes (Houghton 2018), the latest of which is the Everyday Heroes Participation Programme. The Scottish Government established a participation partnership to ensure that children and young people, especially young survivors of gender-based violence, participated in their plan of action ‘The Equally Safe Delivery Plan’. The Everyday Heroes programme asked children and young people about their priorities for government action around the questions:

  • What would improve the journeys of young abuse survivors through services and the justice system?
  • What could help improve societal attitudes and people’s lives in relation to gender equality?

At this year’s #HearMeToo debate in Scottish Parliament, the Everyday Heroes programme was widely referred to. Minister Christina McKelvie said, “Voices of children are important, Everyday Heroes made sure we listened to them in our Delivery Plan, looking forward to meeting them…”

Creative mediums and the arts were key to the engagement sessions undertaken with skilled support workers known and trusted by the young participants, ensuring participation was part of their therapeutic process (Houghton 2015). Young and adult experts, partners in a wonderful collaboration between feminist and children’s rights organisations, created ways to safely explore the ‘stepping stones’ young survivors take through services and the justice system, the ‘inside out’ emotions felt in their journeys, the light bulb ideas they have for change. Detailed recommendations have been crafted for improvements in service delivery, the response of the justice system, and ways to tackle harmful gender stereotypes and norms.

Stories told through the Everyday Heroes programme tell us that silence and stigma not only allows violence against women to escalate but the abuse of children to go unnoticed. The status of being a child, on top of being an unacknowledged victim of gender-based violence, silences the young survivor. They are sometimes terrified of speaking out, fearing that their age is a key deciding factor in adults believing them. The default position of many professionals, furthermore, is to notify the parents, even when the child has disclosed abuse from their father; or to panic when a child discloses sexual abuse. The child’s voice gets lost, the child’s abuse often continues and escalates, the child’s story remains untold.  Many, many years later some amazing young survivors have told their stories of consequence, resistance and anger, often with the support of specialist organisations – but far, far later than needed.

“I spoke to a police officer when I was six. But they dropped it. The police thought I was too young to know any of that…”

Impunity is something which frustrates young survivors; that even when they report and seek legal redress, the abuser is often free to further abuse them. Abuse can continue through proceedings – for example in court and in car parks, and through outcomes – poor sentences or being ordered to have unsafe contact with an abusive father.  Young victim and survivors have been further traumatised, felt ‘recovery’ was delayed hugely and that they have been made to feel culpable (along with their mothers in domestic abuse contact cases) so argue for quicker, safer, more child-friendly access to justice.

“I got a screen in court to protect me from him as I’m scared of him but now I have to fight to not have contact with him, why?”

Today’s event in Parliament continues Scotland’s tradition of dialogue between young survivor/activists and policymakers and underlines that such dialogue needs to be sustained and meaningful (Houghton 2018). Bringing children’s and young people’s stories to light challenges an often adult-centric discourse surrounding domestic and sexual abuse and violence.  The programme reaffirms feminist challenges to the heteronormative male power. And it promotes an intersectional approach to gender equality and gender-based violence, and the effects of gender norms on boys as well as girls, and on non-binary young people. It is an appeal to us all to be both women and children’s human rights defenders.

https://everydayheroes.sps.ed.ac.uk

Dr Claire Houghton is the Everyday Heroes Programme Coordinator working alongside young and adult expert partners from the University of Edinburgh IMPACT project, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. The programme was funded by the Scottish Government to inform and influence the Equally Safe Delivery Plan. Celebrating Everyday Heroes follows a Parliamentary Debate (27th November 201) on #Hear Me Too and is part of many 16 Days activities to promote the voices of women, children and young people.

Day Four | Tackling Gender-Based Violence in Indigenous Communities

Written by Dixie Link-Gordon



I see you, I hear, I feel you

sisters in so much quietness,

all reaching to break the code of silence bearing us down,

with almost no relief,

Our voices whisper across land and sea seeking to be free of shame and pain.

Dixie Link-Gordon


On a beautiful winter day in Sydney in August 2018 we moved as one up the Grand Parade of UNSW. With nothing but the sound of our clap sticks (traditional instrument) Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander Fiji, Maori, Tongan and Cook Islander women brought our stories through our language of resilience, sharing with our sisters and supported hand in hand by the UNSW Gender Violence Research Network.

Layers of oppressive legal policies and processes that directly impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have prevented so many practices, including the trading of information and resources about family, domestic and sexual violence with our Pacific sisters.

Silences

Authority

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters were silenced as children from sharing the most intimate of violations. Many of us were stolen from our families. We were placed in homes, orphanages, hospitals or schools. We were not allowed to talk to each other about what was happening to us. We learnt very quickly to block our emotions. We played down our injuries and were outcast by dominant society. We were policed and silenced.

Family

Women from childhood have been silenced by our families. As women in relationships we, of course, knew of rape and understood the pain. But to articulate and say what had happened to us was another thing. It is the same for domestic and family violence. We had no knowledge of where to seek appropriate support, and became lost in fear. Being empowered to have a safe living family is something so many of us work towards for our future generations. This issue always comes up when we are sharing with each other and, at times, with professionals and cultural healing groups.

Religion

We were told to go to church to engage spiritually in a safe place. There were things you just didn’t talk about.  If you were sexually abused, you had no pathway to enable you to disclose. We practised silent prayers of hope and change.

Community

There are layers of oppression in Indigenous communities, too. For a long time, it has seemed that all other matters of injustice are more important than issues of  rape and domestic violence in our communities.

Breaking Silent Codes across Australia and the Pacific allows us as women to rediscover long-ago practices and trade stories, bringing us into an era of re-engagement and speaking as a movement of Indigenous women. We speak of the multiple atrocities that have sadly played out both in wider society and in our intimate relationships; sexual assault and domestic and family violence. It is the acts of sexual abuse that remain some of most heinous.

Breaking Silent Codes is a unique and aspirational project, and possibly the first time that Indigenous women across the Asia Pacific have gathered to discuss their stories of surviving sexual and domestic violence and collectively celebrate their resilience and strength.

Sharing and continuing this work is crucial and provides the potential for all people affected by sexual and domestic violence to realise the importance of sharing their experiences and benefiting from the support of others.

By taking our voices to the University of NSW, we created a whole community approach to share the rebuilding our cultural ties to the Pacific and each other.

We have now started work on:

  • The preparation and publication of a hardcover book offering a collection of stories and art depicting women’s narratives of survival.
  • A presentation about Breaking Silent Codes at the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide International Indigenous Gathering in Sydney from 26-29 November 2018.
  • Generating much needed support for Breaking Silent Codes events in Aboriginal communities across Australia and the Pacific. Events will be led by the women who attended the Breaking Silent Codes forum at UNSW in August 2018, to continue conversations about sexual assault and domestic and family violence started at the forum.
  • Consolidating links between Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander women and the UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network
  • Developing a safe online space for Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander women to continue to Break Silent Codes, sharing stories and triumphs of cultural and spiritual responses to the issue of family and domestic violence and sexual assault in communities across Australia and the Pacific.

Many thanks to UNSW Staff including Professor Megan Davis, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indigenous Associate Professor Jan Breckenridge, Mailin Suchting, and Kat Armstrong from the Gender Violence Research Network.

Dixie Link-Gordon is a community educator with the UNSW government.