16 Days of Activism 2020 is almost over – but the global struggle continues

It’s a wrap! We’ve reached the end of #16daysblogathon! It’s December 10th, Human Rights Day and the final day of the global 16 Days of Activism 2020

The 16 Days Blogathon Team

Today is International Human Rights Day and the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence for 2020. We have been sharing daily blog posts to raise awareness in our annual 16 Days Blogathon as part of our commitment to the ongoing struggle to put an end to gender-based violence around the world, once and for all.

How often have you heard the phrase ‘Due to #COVID19…’ this year? In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic has loomed large – exposing and exacerbating deep and intractable social, political and economic inequalities and vulnerabilities to gender-based and intersectional violence for women and members of marginalised groups. Lockdowns and restrictions on movement have thrown the spotlight on the ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic violence and underlined the grim reality of “home” for many women and LGBTQ people.

This year, our main theme has been arts-based and creative responses to gender-based violence and we’ve been honoured to share the blogathon with a wonderful array of artists, writers, musicians, playwrights and performers. They join activists, academics, students, and survivors – noting that the boundaries between all these categories blur.

We’ve posted stories, reflections and performances from around the world. From Scotland to Brazil, from Australia to Nigeria, and from South Africa to India. Through images, video and text we have shared ideas, experiences and acts of remembrance and resistance that have been sometimes harrowing and challenging but always illuminating and, ultimately, hopeful. 

The 16 Days Blogathon is an ongoing collaboration between gender ED at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, and Ambedkar University in Delhi.

What have we learned through the blogathon this year?

Art is powerful in resisting, exposing and surviving gender-based violence

There is no doubt that art and design-based practice is a powerful tool for creatively addressing and resisting gender-based violence, for exposing and surviving, and as a key means of testimonial, commemoration and reckoning at individual and collective scales. From performing trans art as activism in Brazil to Zanana’s expressions of solidarity using songs, poetry and conversations in India, to Maria Adela Diaz’s video performance to encourage women to speak out – art is key in the movement to end gender-based violence.

On Day Six, we read about the innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised, to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors. Young people are creating training videos, digital resources and websites to make changes to the lives of survivors.

On Day Eight, we explored art installations that play a role in transitional justice efforts. The Blue Dress in South Africa and Thinking of You in Kosovo (and travelling) provide alternative ways to remember and address women’s experiences of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations.

Covid-19 has exacerbated gender-based violence

One of the themes of 2020 has been the effect Covid-19 has had on gender-based violence. As Violence Unseen (Day 12) campaigners note: “we know that lockdown has acted as an enabler for perpetrators and made violence against women even less visible to the public eye”. On Day Three, Rukmini Sen addressed the multiple meanings of ‘home‘ and how the stay-at-home message has affected women and minority groups in India through increased gender-based household work and domestic violence. And Natasha Chandhock told how Covid-19 has amplified the issue of safe spaces for non-binary and trans people, and how design-led thinking can support these oppressed groups to find safety when forced to retreat indoors due to lockdown. Qri Kim’s project focused on the people who are neither mainstream nor marginalised, and how the pandemic has exacerbated their ‘Nomadian’ place in society (Day 14).

Gender-based violence still exists everywhere and in multiple forms

Gender-based violence and abuse is still happening across the world, in private homes, workplaces, and in public spaces. And it is comes in many different forms, a number of which we have covered in the last 16 days including domestic violence , psychological abuse, femicide, and mass conflict related sexual violence . The Covid-19 pandemic has forced much of our lives online, and has exposed the rise and variety of gender-based and intersectional violence and abuse online.

On Day Four of the 16 Days Blogathon, the UK Femicide Census released its ground-breaking report analyising ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK. Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census, gave an in-depth look at the findings of the report and what it outlines for the future.

On Day Eleven, Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC – who fights contemporary miscarriages of justice in her day job – together with author Zoe Venditozzi shared their campaign The Witches of Scotland. Claire and Zoe hope their campaign will highlight historic miscarriages of justice and the persecution and murder of women during the witch hunts of the 16th-18th centuries in Scotland. The campaign also hopes to expose the accusations of witchcraft that continue to be used to persecute women and girls in other parts of the world.

Speaking out and speaking up has always carried risks for women, whether in the real or the virtual worlds. On Day Fifteen, Margie Orford traced how old and how deadly this taboo is on women’s free speech and their safety. The International PEN Women’s Manifesto takes stand against the vilification and censorship of women activists, artists, writers and journalists – and provides a powerful tool to fight for women’s right to free speech and creative expression.

Focussing on online abuse: on Day Two, we read a personal account from interdisciplinary artist and activist Megan Bellatrix Archibald  who attracted persistent online misogynistic threats after going public with a campaign, and quickly realised there is much progress to be made surrounding technology and the law. The Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism post on Day Three provides inspiration in terms of sharing and resisting online abuse. Through a digital installation, Isha Yadav is bringing the experience of digital harassment, usually suffered by women as individuals in private, into the public space in an act of collective reckoning.On Day Fourteen, Zelda Solomon outlined more subtle violence and the difficulties we face in fighting bias when it is encoded into algorithms; where “women of colour are often found in the intersections of oppression in the new digital world.”

Creative acts of resistance are happening everyday

Small and large acts of defiance continue to take place across the world. On Day One Jo Clifford wrote about her transgressive and transformative play Jesus, Queen of Heaven which continues to change lives in the face of transphobic hate and violence from Scotland to Brazil. Delhi is one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women but also a site of creative resistance: on Day Nine, Meenakshi Nair shared three stories of young women speaking out against gender-based violence and harassment through challenging impunity, spoken word videos and public dance performances. In Australia, two academics turned their park orange, in support of the 16 Days campaign, creating a safer public space for residents and paving the way for future social change campaigns. And the Zero Tolerance Unseen Violence Campaign projected powerful images on public buildings in Scotland. Meanwhile a group at UNSW School of Public Health are campaigning to establish of a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, the first of its kind in Australia.  In South Africa – where criminalisation of sex workers increases their vulnerability to gender-based violence, a small advocacy group literally ‘played politics’ – intervening in the presidential elections to put the rights of sex workers on the agenda (Day Fifteen).

The voices of survivors have been central to the blogathon and their stories of courage and creative agency have been inspiring: from the Scottish young survivors (Day Six) to Australian Musician Jack Colwell’s haunting new work aired on Day Five which addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse from the vantage point of a young man. In conversation with award-winning photographer Alicia Bruce, the Scotland-Gambia anti-FGM campaigner Fatou Badeh talks about the image they co-created: “That year was one of the most difficult years in my life. But that picture for me shows; I see a defiant woman who refuses to give up, who refuses to be defined by her experience.” (Day 10) And as Fatima Ishiaku, author and founder of a shelter for sexually-abused girls, describes her act of memoire: “My pain became my beautiful testimony.” (Day Ten).

The blog posts in a nut shell

Every #16daysblogathon post is summarised below. While there is a long way to go before gender-based violence becomes an abuse of the past, there are many powerful and effective initiatives underway designed to protect, empower and centre the survivors of gender-based violence. This gives us reason to hope.

Day One

Art as resistance in the face of hate

By Jo Clifford, Scottish playwright, performer and activist

In Brazil – a country that kills more trans women than anywhere else – performing trans art as resistance can be a matter of life and death. Jo Clifford, acclaimed author of plays and internationally known trans performer and activist, shares the story of actress Renato Carvalho’s experience performing in Brazil.

Day two

Digital Women – Gender Based Violence in the Online Space

By Megan Bellatrix Archibald, interdisciplinary artist and Masters student at Edinburgh College of Art

Megan gives a powerful personal account of being threatened online after speaking out about the laws on hysterectomies in the UK, and being faced with an unhelpful police force when she sought help. She discusses the lag in progress between technology and the law in Scotland, and the difficulties faced by someone who experiences online abuse. 

Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism

By Isha Yadav, Founder and Curator of Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism and PhD candidate in Women and Gender Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi

Isha Yadav introduces her curated art installation, The Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism, and her experience creating it with crowd-sourced screenshots of rape threats and sexist comments that women have received online for raising their voices for social justice. The installation brings the digital artifact (screenshot) into the physical space of the exhibition, making something normally experienced privately, public.

Day Three

Returning Home And Violence Within The Home: COVID-19 and multiple gendered violations

By Rukmini Sen, Professor of Sociology, Ambedkar University Delhi

What does the home mean to us? Rukmini focuses on India in her post, and while engaging with some of the reasons around the rise of domestic violence, she looks into the multiple meanings and metaphors associated with home that the pandemic has made us confront. In her writing she covers increased gender-based household work, access to technology, space, privacy, domestic violence, the implications for migrant workers and students.

The Place I Must Call Home

By Natasha Chandhock, graduate student at the School of Design, Ambedkar University, Delhi

Natasha explores the ways in which dialogue-based design, or discursive design, can create safe spaces for Trans Binary and Trans Non-Binary identities – a need which has been significantly worsened in the Covid-19 pandemic. She suggests design has the capacity to produce triggers or nudges to make individuals reflect or realign their thinking, that journey mapping exercises could encourage empathetic ways of engaging with others, and design can be key in bringing the concept of non-binary into the everyday life.

Day Four

If I’m not in Friday, I might be dead

By Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK. Karen Ingala Smith, co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census, gives an in-depth discussion of the report’s findings. 

Day Five

I will not let your shadow hang over me

By Jack Colwell, Australian singer/composer and activist

Singer/composer Jack Colwell’s new work The Sound of Music addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse. It is ‘a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.’ In his moving piece, Jack shares his experience of domestic abuse while growing up, and how he used music to work through childhood trauma.

Day Six

Young Survivors of Gender Based Violence: Innovation and Impact

By Ruth Friskney and Claire Houghton, University of Edinburgh.

This piece shares a range of innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors, including websites, films, training videos and resources for professionals.

Day Seven

The Zanana Ensemble – Women Perform Against Fascist Regimes

By Shwetha Gopalakrishnan, National Law University Delhi

Shwetha, a member of the Zanana Ensemble, tells the story of the Ensemble’s performance of ‘Zanana ka Zamana’ (The Era is Feminine), a collective act of resistance against the Citizenship Amendment Act in India through expressions of solidarity using songs, poetry and conversations.

We can’t breathe!

By Maria Adela Diaz, Guatemalan native and international performance artist 

Performance Artist Maria Adela Diaz discusses her performance piece tackling psychological abuse of women during Covid-19. She gives an insight into what prompted her to create, and how she hopes the work will inspire women who may be trapped in an abusive situation to speak up. 

Day Eight

South Africa’s Blue Dress: art as an alternative record of sexual and gender-based violence

By Eliza Garnsey, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in International Relations, University of Cambridge.

In this post, Eliza Garnsey explores how the powerful South African artworks ‘The Blue Dress’ provide an alternative record of women’s experiences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)

On the Appropriateness of Cultural Representations of Mass Violence Against Women

By Maria Alina Asavei, Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Studies, Charles University Prague.

Maria’s piece focuses on women survivors of violence from war and conflict, centring artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa’s Kosova installation, Thinking of You. She asks how the experiences of women affected by sexual violence from war can be highlighted through art, without further reproducing and perpetuating trauma.

Day Nine

Women’s Resistance in Three Acts: Experiencing 21st Century Delhi

By Meenakshi Nair, a student at SOAS, University of London

Delhi as one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women but it is also a site of creative resistance. In this piece, Meenakshi explores three acts of resistance by young women in Dehli against gender-based violence, including by filing police complaints, through spoken word videos, and performing in public spaces.

Unmasking the Issues of Cows, Women, and Safety in India

By Anisha Palat, PhD student at the Edinburgh College of Art

Anisha’s post focuses on the India artist-activist Sujatro Ghosh’s recent project Cow Mask project which highlights that, in India, women are seemingly less safe and less protected than cows. 

Day Ten

‘My pain became my beautiful testimony’: breaking the silence on the sexual abuse of girls

By Fatima Ishiaku, author and founder of House of Fatima for sexually-abused girls, Ebe, Nigeria

Nigerian author and activist Fatima Ishiaku turned her traumatic past into a memoir – and a beacon of hope for young girls like her.

Picturing Violence Unseen

By Alicia Bruce with Fatou Baldeh

This post shares a conversation between photographer Alice Bruce and Fatou Baldeh, an FGM campaigner providing space spaces for survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Alicia photographed Fatou as part of the Zero Tolerance ‘Violence Unseen’ campaign launched in 2018. They reflect on the image they created together.

Day Eleven

Witches of Scotland: A campaign to right the historic wrongs done to women

By Claire Mitchell QC , Scottish lawyer and author Zoe Venditozzi

The Witches of Scotland Campaign, set up in 2020 by Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC, seeks pardons, memorials and apologies for the women who died in witch trials in Scotland between the 16th and 18th century. It is hoped that this campaign can shed also light on allegations of witchcraft and gender-based persecution that still occur in communities around the world.

Day Twelve

Violence Unseen Reimagined – arts activism in the time of COVID-19

By Jo Zawadzka, Campaigns and Engagement Office for Zero Tolerance

When the pandemic curtailed the travelling exhibition Violence Unseen, the organisers had to reassess. And they re-imagined and ‘digitally painted’ the images onto cityscapes.

City Lights for Social Change

By Effie Karageorgos and Kcasey McLoughlin, University of Newcastle

To mark 2020 16 Days of Activism theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ Australian academics worked with local authorities to turn the city of Newcastle orange for the 16 days.

Day Thirteen

A Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre: A Call to Action

By Patricia Cullen, Research Fellow, National Health and Medical Research Council Population Health, UNSW, and Sally Stevenson, General Manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre.

While domestic and family violence is prevalent across Australia with a murder rate of one woman per week, there remains an absence of centres that offer support to women survivors over the long term. This post focuses on the campaign to establish a Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, by the UNSW School of Public Health and the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre and their partners.

Day Fourteen

Due to (Covid-19)

By Qri Kim, PhD candidate at Edinburgh College of Art

How do we encapsulate the experiences and voices of those who occupy liminal spaces in society? Qri Kim writes about her project ‘Due To’, and the reconceptualisation of the Nomadian in her art.

No Problem, I understand: digital antagonism and the algorithm

By Zelda Solomon, History of Art student at Edinburgh College of Art

Zelda Solomon discusses the problems of digital discrimination and the racist underpinnings of algorithms, through the incident with An Nguyen, a Vietnamese curator due to exhibit at the Affordable Arts Fair, only to be rejected because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associations with ‘Asianness’.

Day Fifteen

Playing politics to get sex workers’ rights on the agenda

By Ishtar Lakhani, feminist and activist, South Africa

On day fifteen, this piece from Ishtar Lakhani outlines how she, and SWEAT, an advocate group for the health & human rights of sex workers and the Decriminalisation of Sex Work in South Africa, used politics to bring sex worker issues to the public stage, by running for president.

Speaking for ourselves: the PEN international women’s manifesto

By Margie Orford, scholar and author

Silencing and censoring women’s free expression date back to ancient times. In this piece, Margie examines the impact of the PEN International Women’s Manifesto in the struggle for women to speak and write freely without censorship or violence.

Day Sixteen

Lifting our voices to end violence against women: the Hummingsong choirs

By Carolyn Thompson, Choir member

The Hummingsong Choirs in New South Wales build “community”, bringing together women of all backgrounds and stages in life to sing, laugh, nourish their souls and build close-knit connections. The other important purpose is to extend support to those most vulnerable in the community, women and children escaping domestic violence. 

It’s a wrap!

That’s the end of the blogathon to honour the 16 Days of Activism campaign for another year – but the struggle for women’s human rights and the end to all gender-based violence continues. Thanks to our wonderful contributors and to all of you who have read and shared these stories. Please keep reading and sharing, and we will be back in 2021!

The 16 Days Blogathon team:

Fiona Mackay, co-curator, Director of genderED, University of Edinburgh

Louise Chappell, co-curator, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales

Rukmini Sen, co-curator, Director of the Centre for Publishing, Dr B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi

Aerin Lai, student editor, UoE

Jessica Shao, student editor, UNSW

Laura Melrose, communications, UNSW

Jennifer Chambers, communications, UoE

DAY TWELVE: City Lights for Social Change

To mark 2020 16 Days of Activism theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ Australian academics worked with local authorities to turn their City orange.

Picture above: Civic Park in Newcastle, New South Wales being lit orange to mark 16 Days of Activism. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly, UON Marketing and Communications. Reproduced with permission.

Effie Karageorgos and Kcasey McLoughlin

In 1991 the Center for Women’s Global Leadership instituted the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which has now spread to over 187 countries. It begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day. In 2020, the University of Newcastle’s Gender Research Network has responded to the 2020 16 Days of Activism theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ by turning Newcastle orange.

The Gender Research Network, established and led by Associate Professor Trisha Pender, has embarked on a Program in Gender-Based Violence research and activism in 2020, aided by a $70,000 University of Newcastle Faculty of Education and Arts Pilot Grant. Spanning sociology, history, law, literary, gender and cultural studies, the Gender Research Network aims to collaborate with local frontline services to tackle the urgent issue of gender-based violence.

The academic research funded by the project will cover legal conceptualisations of family violence, male clergy perpetration of sexual violence, media presentations of gendered and sexual violence in mainstream television and French and Australian media, the #MeToo movement and the relationship between historical Australian archetypes of masculinity and media representations of male violence.

Associate Professor Trisha Pender at the launch of the Newcastle 16 Days of Activism campaign to end violence against women, held in Civic Park, Wednesday 25 November 2020. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly. Reproduced with permission.

The impetus for this program has emerged from the alarming scale of gendered violence in Australia, with one woman murdered each week by an intimate partner. Gender-based violence is a pressing social and human rights issue that causes long-term physical and psychological effects and costs the Federal Government billions of dollars every year.

It is also a contentious issue in Australian society, with proposed legal reforms such as Victoria’s move to ban the public disclosure of names of sexual violence victims and New South Wales Labor’s push to criminalise coercive control causing widespread and impassioned debate from victims, victim advocates and researchers. The Program in Gender-Based Violence will not only address male perpetrators of violence against women, but also violence affecting LGBTIQ communities and children. It seeks to define how gender-based violence is reported and conceptualised within society.

A central facet of the Gender Research Network’s program in gender-based violence is the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women campaign. The Network was awarded a Newcastle City Council SBR (Special Business Rates) grant for ‘City Lights for Social Change’, which has created a permanent lighting infrastructure for Civic Park. This turned the park orange for the 16 Days in 2020, but will also create a safer public space at night for Newcastle residents and will be available for use by other social change campaigns in the future. In 2020, the University of Newcastle also committed to turning the NUspace building on its city campus orange, and the Newcastle City Hall’s Clock Tower will also turn orange for the 16 Days of Activism from 25 November to 10 December.

NUspace at University of Newcastle being lit orange to mark 16 Days of Activism, a campaign focusing on preventing violence against women. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly. Reproduced with permission.

The launch and vigil of 25 November took place at 8-9pm, featuring Associate Professor Trisha Pender, with the support of the New South Wales Police Force. Pender was joined by a range of speakers from community organisations, including ACON Health and Warlga Ngurra Women and Children’s Refuge, as well as Federal Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon and City of Newcastle Councillor Carol Duncan. During the vigil, the names of the 45 women killed by violence in Australia in 2020 was read out by a group of domestic violence researchers and activists.

Image from the Newcastle launch of 16 Days of Activism campaign to end violence against women, held in Civic Park, Wednesday 25 November 2020. Photo by Eddie O’Reilly. Reproduced with permission.

The Gender Research Network’s contribution to the 16 Days campaign also included a webinar on the current push to criminalise coercive control in New South Wales. The session was facilitated by Dr Kcasey McLoughlin, Senior Lecturer in Law, and featured Laura Richards, prominent activist and behavioural analyst from the United Kingdom, Hayley Foster, Chief Executive of Women’s Safety NSW, and State Member for Shellharbour Anna Watson, who was responsible for introducing the bill to criminalise coercive control to the New South Wales Parliament.

The recording of the Coercive Control seminar of 30 November 2020 is available online.

Effie Karageorgos is a historian and member of the Gender Research Network at the University of Newcastle. Her research is in the social history of war, and specifically histories of masculinity and trauma. Her monograph Australian Soldiers in South Africa and Vietnam: Words from the Battlefield was published in March 2016. 

Kcasey McLoughlin is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Newcastle Law School and a member of Gender Research Network at the University of Newcastle. She is currently a visiting Scholar at the Australian Human Rights Institute (UNSW). Her research, broadly defined, concerns the gendered values that shape political and legal institutions and the extent to which law can be used as a tool for achieving equality.  

DAY ELEVEN: Witches of Scotland : A campaign to right the historic wrongs done to women

The Witches of Scotland Campaign aims to win pardons, memorials and apologies for the women who died in witch trials in Scotland between the 16th and 18th century.

Picture above: Witches Gestalt names, credits: andrewtcrummy, source: Creative Commons.

Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi 

The Witches of Scotland Campaign was set up in 2020 to highlight the terrible miscarriage of justice that was suffered by people, mostly women, between the 16th and 18th century that were accused convicted and executed as witches in Scotland. It seeks to obtain a pardon, an apology and a public memorial to commemorate all those in Scotland who were convicted or accused as witches.

Scottish lawyer Claire Mitchell QC set up the campaign. She is an advocate who specialises in appeals against miscarriages of justices. She knew that there had never been any attempt to address the wrongful convictions of women as witches.  As a result she decided to campaign for a pardon for these women, to highlight the wrongs done to them and to make clear that an allegation of witchcraft as a tool of persecution was wrong then and is wrong now.  She believes these women and men deserve justice. 

Much of the record keeping, especially in the earlier centuries, was very poor but from what is available it is thought that the people who were accused of witchcraft 84% were women.

The “satanic panic” that spread through Europe in at this time used the allegation of witchcraft as a tool of persecution against women.  Academics believe that the in Scotland approximately 5 times as many as the European average number of executions took place and it is estimated that of approximately 4000 allegations of witchcraft, 2500 people were executed as witches. 

“5. Witches Gates by Tom Ewing”, credits: andrewtcrummy. Source: Creative Commons.

The Witchcraft Act 1563 came into force in Scotland when Mary, Queen of Scots was still alive, but it was her son, James VI of Scotland (and later James the first of England) who legitimised the idea that witches lived amongst us. So obsessed was he with the idea that witches and demons were real and that they preyed on men and women that in 1599 he wrote the book “Daemonologie” which was a study of magic, sorcery and witchcraft. The ruling classes, the church and the common people all believed that the devil walked amongst us and corrupted those who were not godly enough. The reason why women were more likely to be witches than men is because that it was thought that women were “weaker” and more likely to succumb to the devil’s charms. It seems that the view that women were more likely to be witches than men was a universal one.

Unfortunately, it took very little and sometimes nothing at all to be accused of being a witch.

Allegations could be made up, or a woman could fall out with a neighbour and if the neighbour or her family or animals became unwell the suspicion would fall apon the woman as having cursed her enemy. After an allegation was made the woman would be interrogated. In Scotland the preferred method of getting confessions was to keep the woman awake and use sleep deprivation until she “confessed.”

Unfortunately, many so-called confessions were obtained this way. It was not enough, however, to confess to being a witch – what was also required was that you gave up the names of the women who were part of the witches group too. This meant that if you knew someone who was accused as a witch you would fear being called a witch too. If you confessed then under the Witchcraft Act 1563 the punishment was execution. This was done by first strangling the women and then burning her body to get rid of any trace of her, so the devil did not bring her back to get revenge. 

In some countries, they have apologised, pardoned and build memorials for those wrongly accused and convicted of witchcraft. Those that were convicted in the most famous witch trials, those held in Salem, Massachusetts, in the USA were all pardoned and there is a public memorial in the form of a garden where each of the 19 killed (15 women and 4 men) are remembered with their own bench-seat. In Norway there is a memorial in Finnmark to those women killed in one of the biggest witch trials in Scandinavia. 

Unfortunately, gender-based violence is not a thing of the past, and women are still wrongly being accused of witchcraft in some parts of the world (See Mayur Suresh’s blogpost from last year on Witch-hunting in East India). Women and children continue to suffer harm through witchcraft allegations. It is hoped that in carrying out this campaign it also sheds light on the use of allegations of witchcraft as a tool of persecution in the modern day against women and children.  

Author Zoe Venditozzi and Claire Mitchell QC host a weekly podcast which can be found on the www.witchesofscotland.com website where the allegations of witchcraft and the reasons behind the allegations are discussed as well as updates on the campaign.

DAY SIX: Young Survivors of Gender Based Violence: Innovation and Impact

We stay on the theme of child survivors of domestic violence today. Read about the innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors.

Picture above: Artwork above from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students. Reproduced by permission

Ruth Friskney and Claire Houghton

Young survivors of gender-based violence are at the forefront of innovative responses to Gender Based Violence in Scotland. National young people’s participation projects like Voice Against Violence, Power Up Power Down, and Everyday Heroes have transformed Scotland’s understanding of gender based violence through young people’s perspectives. The projects’ creative, relationship-building approaches are rooted in the skills of support workers in empowering children to speak about abuse. Young survivors themselves innovate in speaking directly to people in power and reaching out to other children and young people experiencing GBV, including during Covid-19.

Voice Against Violence led this campaign, co-produced with Government, about young people’s experience of living with domestic abuse alongside their mothers.

Young survivors have worked to see children and young people recognised as victim-survivors of all forms of gender-based violence. A Voice Against Violence film was used by young survivors to critique the lack of recognition of children in legislation about domestic abuse.  A key step forward was achieved in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 to finally recognise that the perpetrators’ ongoing psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse adversely affects children as well as women.

Super Listener, designed by the children involved in Power Up, Power down, to set out what children want from the adults who work with them. Now available in nine languages through Improving Justice in Child Contact. Slide the arrows left and right for English (left) and German (right).

Key messages  are consistent across projects: young people don’t know how to seek support, support is inadequate, training is needed and specialist workers are invaluable. Young survivors have taken action on this, using fabulous innovative and creative methods: websites by young sexual violence survivors for support and information, training videos and resources like Super Listener for professionals and a national online platform currently being co-developed (That’s Not OK) to take forward survivor’s recommendations to Government.

Still from You are not alone!, an animation designed by young people affected by domestic abuse for young people affected by domestic abuse. Watch different language versions from the Improving Justice in Child Contact media channel.

When COVID-19 hit, and evidence began to build about the ways in which the pandemic helped perpetrators of domestic abuse to harm women and children, Yello! a group of young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact (IJCC),  felt that

we had to do at least something small to help out – or at least let someone out there know that they’re not alone and what they’re going through will pass. [1]

What it was like to make the animations, from Yello’s blog: We knew we had to help

Yello! wanted to make sure that children and young people knew that there was help and how they could get to it. They worked on two animations (“You are not alone” and “If home is not safe”) and supported partners across the five countries of IJCC to tailor animations for their own languages and contexts.

Locally, young experts from AWARE, Angus Women’s Aid’s Young Expert group, created their own film about what young people affected by domestic abuse might be feeling and the questions they would be asking during COVID. The film signposts sources of help, to make sure that young people affected by domestic abuse – in their own relationships or alongside their mother – know, even in COVID, that “You are not alone”.

Artwork from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students

A key message from all these projects is that the justice response to young survivors needs improvement – in particular for children and young people’s views to be given due weight and for the perpetrator, not the woman or child survivor, to be held accountable. Everyday Heroes’ call for action expressed through displays in Parliament and creative dialogue with key decision-makers resulted in a pledge for collaborative action by Ministers.

Child contact remains a key area of concern – one being considered by the Improving Justice in Child Contact project including Yello!, its young advisers. Evidence from young survivors indicates that domestic abuse continues even if a mother and child are able to separate from a perpetrator. Child[1]  contact can be defined as communication, such as phone calls or spending time, with a parent that the child does not usually live with, and its type and frequency can often be set by the Courts. Child contact is often used by perpetrators to continue to harm mothers and children. COVID-19 has provided perpetrators with additional opportunities to enhance their abuse.[2]

“Don’t dismiss us – we experienced it, and we know what we’re talking about.”

From Yello!’s evidence to the Justice Committee

In Scotland, Yello! have been instrumental in the development of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, meeting with the Minister, submitting written evidence, and taking part in person in a session with the Justice Committee. One young woman worked with Scottish Women’s Aid to write a case study of her experience of the child contact system – with the aim of giving decision-makers a glimpse of what it is like for a young person not to be listened to, and to be told to spend time with someone she feels unsafe with.

Yello!, the young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact, dressed up as ghosts to meet the Scottish Minister for Community Safety in Parliament. Their key message was that young people affected by domestic abuse feel invisible in court processes that decide child contact.

Internationally, IJCC have inspired partner organisations and the young people they work with to reach out creatively to share their experiences and to meet directly with people in power. For example, young people working with the IJCC partners in Portugal have been invited to meet directly with judiciary and other key stakeholders. Maria, a young person working with the IJCC partner in Romania, has written a blog, including poetry, about her experiences:

It was only one wish I have had,

I asked not to see him again

And it is such a sombre thing

You demand that I must visit him.

I read and a tear slipped my face

Because in danger you have put me

You told me I need to stay with him

As if it was a little thing.

Note to my judge
‘Maria’, 13 years old, working with the Romanian partner in the IJCC project, writing about the experience of reading the child contact court order

Young survivors of abuse have transformed policy and practice responses in Scotland through participation – and are inspiring young people internationally with what progress is possible. Such innovation needs resources and the support of competent adults to fully harness the wonderful power, talent, expertise and passion of young survivors.

“I think projects like ours are important because not that many children and young people have a say in their lives, because people think we are too young to know better.”

Yello!, on the experience of taking part in participation work

[1] There is a large academic literature on the impact of domestic abuse on children and the particular issues around child contact such as: Katz, E. (2016). Beyond the Physical Incident Model: How Children Living with Domestic Violence are Harmed by and Resist Regimes of Coercive Control. Child Abuse Review 25(1), 46–59. Callaghan, J., Alexander J., Sixsmith, J and Fellin, L. (2018). Beyond “Witnessing”: Children’s Experiences of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence and Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(10), 1551–1581 Holt, S. (2017). Domestic Violence and the Paradox of Post-Separation Mothering. British Journal of Social Work 47 (7), 2049–2067; Mackay, K. (2018). The approach in Scotland to child contact disputes involving allegations of domestic abuse. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 40(4), 477-495. Morrison, F, Tisdall, E.K.M., and Callaghan, J., (2020), Manipulation and Domestic Abuse in Contested Contact – Threats to Children’s Participation Rights. Family Court Review, 58 (2), 403-416.

[2] You can read Improving Justice in Child Contact’s response on COVID-19 to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

This blog was written by Dr Ruth Friskney and Dr Claire Houghton from the University of Edinburgh. Ruth is a Research Fellow on the Improving Justice in Child Contact project (funded through the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020), working to improve participation in child contact processes for children affected by domestic abuse. Claire is a Lecturer in Social Policy and Qualitative Research working to improve young people’s impact on gender equality and gender-based violence policy, through Voice Against Violence (ESRC/Scottish Government funded), Everyday Heroes (Scottish Government) and the new ESRC UK project CAFADA. In writing this blog Claire and Ruth have drawn on the inspirational and creative work of the young people leading and taking part in the projects described in this blog, as well as the organisational partners: with thanks to them all.

Their twitter handle is @CYSRG1

DAY FOUR: “If I’m not in Friday, I might be dead”

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK.

Picture above: cover of Femicide Census report of Femicides in the UK between 2009-2018. Source: femicidecensus.org

Karen Ingala Smith

This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK.

The report entitled UK Femicides 2009-2018:  The police said, “there is no risk to the wider community” offers an in-depth analysis of the deaths of 1,425 women and girls aged 14 years and over killed by men and boys between 2009 and 2018.

1,425 dead women over ten years is an average of 142 a year, though in fact the range was from 124 women in 2016 to 168 women in 2010; a woman dead at the hands of a man on average every 2.5 days. The majority, 888 women (62%)’ were killed by a current or former partner, meaning that for ten years, a woman was killed by a current or former partner every 4 days. The report also addresses the suspicious deaths of another 117 women, for which, owing to various reasons addressed in the report, a suspect could not be legally held responsible. 

Femicide, the killing of women and girls because they are female, is not a specific offence in the UK.

  The specific sexed contexts of these women’s deaths were erased. Instead they were homicides (murders and manslaughters) – or where the man killed himself before he was detected, charged or convicted – unlawful killings.  But whether the law recognises it or not, there is much that is sex-specific about men’s fatal violence against women. 

The subheading of the Femicide Census is, “If I’m Not In On Friday, I Might Be Dead”. These are the words of  Judith Nibbs who said this to colleagues as she left work in April 2014. She did not go to work on the Friday in question. She was murdered by her husband.  

It’s true that there were a far greater number of men killed over those same years: 3,796[1] males aged 16 and over. But women are disproportionately victimised, comprising approximately 36% of victims but only 8% of those convicted[2] in the year ending March 2019. Between 2009 and 2018, annually between 4% and 8%[3]of men were killed by a current or former partner compared to our finding of 62% of women who were killed by men. Men are also much more likely to be killed by a same sex partner. There are sex differences in histories of abuse between couples where intimate partner homicide ends the relationship, women killed by male partners or ex-exes have almost always suffered months of years of abuse from him prior to their death, while men killed by female partners are usually those who have been inflicting abuse. There are also differences in methods of killing, sexually motivated killings and use of sexual violence, and overkilling.

Men kill women because they can and because they decide to

Men’s violence against women is often framed as a loss of control. Indeed, this is available as a partial defence to murder. But men’s fatal violence against women is much more about control, than the loss of it, particularly, but not only, when we’re looking at intimate partner femicide. Of the 62% (no. 888) of women who were killed by a partner or former partner, at least 378 (43%) were known to have separated from or to have taken steps to separate from the man who killed her. The majority of them, 89% (338) were killed in the first-year post separation and 142 (38%) in the first month. This finding ties closely with Jane Moncton Smith’s 8-stage model of domestic homicide, where four of the eight stages: coercive control, trigger, change in thinking and planning, relate to men increasing their control not losing it.  

It is not only women who are partners of abusive men who are controlled, and whose liberty is restricted by abusive men, – it is all women – in the routine choices we make, in the ways that we’re judged and whether we do or don’t comply.  

Men’s violence against women is a critical tool of patriarchy. 

Women are killed by husbands, partners, lovers, exes of all these, by men whose advances they reject, by their sons, so-called friends, neighbours, maintenance men, burglars and sexual predators as well as men who get off on women’s pain and humiliation, be they women they know or women they don’t.

Less than a month before we published the report, Peter Sutcliffe, who had killed at least 13 women and attacked at least 10 more in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester between 1975 and 1980, died in prison. His death is a timely reminder that femicide extends beyond men killing current and former partners, or other family members. Also, that the sexism and misogyny that are characteristic of systems and institutions that regulate our lives are not restricted to those that deal with the domestic. Joan Smith has argued that in the policing of West Yorkshire, men’s arrogance and misogyny meant that Sutcliffe was able to kill more women than could have been the case if survivor accounts had been taken seriously, that is, if women had been believed. Men charged with murder lie about their intent and actions even when the consequences of their crime, a woman’s dead body and the injuries that they inflicted, are plainly available as contradictory evidence.

Rape convictions have fallen to a record low, to the extent that feminist campaigners suggest that rape is as good as decriminalised. Yet stereotypes about women’s false allegations rather than men’s false protestations of innocence, and juries’ false ‘not guilty’ verdicts are those which dominate popular consciousness.

So-called ‘gender neutral’ responses to domestic and sexual violence, including prostitution, are anything but. Ignoring the sex-specific nature of women’s victimisation hides disproportionality.  The Femicide Census team are very clear that statutory services and the criminal justice system could make a difference by doing their jobs properly and implementing existing laws and policies. At the same time an inquiry into institutional sexism and the state apparatus would surely reveal a system stacked against women.

However, without a clear and ambitious strategy that addresses the individual, relational, institutional, cultural and cross-cultural factors that create a conducive context for men’s violence against women, we fear that men’s violence against women, girls and children will not be eradicated.  Approaches that see incidents of men’s fatal violence against women as isolated incidents and that do not recognise that some members of the community – women, by virtue of our sex – are at risk of victimisation by men that is disproportionate and different in nature to any violence we inflict, are doomed to reinforce the structural sex inequalities of patriarchal societies. The Femicide Census is a call to action and a commemoration of our sisters.


[2] ONS Y/E March 2019 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/homicideinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2019

[3] Ibid

Karen Ingala Smith is a co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census. She set up the website Counting Dead Women (CDW) in 2012, now replicated across the world. She is Chief Executive of nia, an East London charity providing services for women, girls and children who have been subjected sexual and domestic violence, including prostitution. Karen is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Durham. Karen was awarded the Positive Role Model for Gender at the 2014 National Diversity Awards.

Her social media handles are @k_ingalasmith @femicidecensus @countdeadwomen

You can find the Femicide Census report here.