DAY SIXTEEN: Bringing 16 Days Blogathon 2021 to a Close

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

The 16 Days Blogathon Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 16 Days Blogathon is a collaborative project co-hosted by genderED at University of Edinburgh, the Gendered Violence Research Network at the University of New South Wales, and the Centre for Publishing at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.

The blog posts in a nutshell

Every #16DaysBlogathon is summarised below.

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

Day One

Scottish folk tradition of ballads about violence against women

By Karine Polwart, songwriter and musician

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

Day Two

Where it all began

By Anne Summers, Australian author and feminist

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


Day Three

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

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

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

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

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

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


Day Four

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

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

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

Bringing back hope

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

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

Day Five

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

By Ulrike Roth, Ancient Historian at the University of Edinburgh

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

Day Six

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

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

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

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

By Hazel Atkinson, history graduate and writer

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

Day Seven

When Bessie Guthrie met the Women’s Liberation Movement

By Catherine Dwyer, writer and director

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

Systemic Stereotypes: Violence against Bonda tribal women

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

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

Day Eight

Death in Geraldton: how Joyce Clarke became another Indigenous statistic

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

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

Day Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Eleven

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

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

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

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

By Mara Schmueckle

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

Day Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Thirteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Fourteen

In search for a better tomorrow: Re-imagining home

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

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

Duties of care: navigating and narrating traumatic histories

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

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

Day Fifteen

Social Action in the 80s – has anything changed?

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

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

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

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

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

Day Sixteen

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

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

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

The 2021 curators:

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

Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi: Prof. Rukmini Sen (Director, Centre for Publishing), Dr Rachna Mehra (School of Global Affairs)

University of New South Wales:  Prof. Jan Breckenridge (Co-convenor), Mailin Suchting (Manager), and Georgia Lyons (Research Assistant), Gendered Violence Research Network

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

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

Ann Curthoys, Catherine Kevin and Zora Simic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors’ Bios

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

Day Thirteen |Women’s Navigation of Xenophobia and Violence in South Africa and the UK

photo credit: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE/AL JAZEERA. Men from the Jeppestown hostel in Johannesburg make threatening gestures towards foreign-owned businesses

Written by Natasha Dyer

In 2015, I was back in South Africa, after two years living and working in the country. The newspapers were full of graphic pictures of men brandishing knives, hammers and clubs, with headlines blaring about the resurgence of xenophobic violence after 2008’s nationwide attacks against foreign nationals left 63 dead, hundreds injured, dozens raped and hundreds of thousands displaced.

I had so many questions. What and who exactly were behind these attacks? Which foreign nationals were being targeted? Why was violence flaring up again now? And why were only men in the pictures? What about the women affected by the violence?

Violence against women and girls in South Africa is an ever-present reality. The rates of female rape and sexual assault mostly against black women are some of the highest in the world. Over the last five years, the number of women murdered in the country has increased by 16%, while one in 13 adult women have experienced violence at home. Violence against women is generally under-reported, and LGBTI and gender non-conforming people face severe risk of violence and discrimination, including a pandemic of “corrective rape” violations against lesbian women. Both men and women were reported as victims in the xenophobic attacks of 2015; foreign nationals and South African wives of migrants.

This reality, coupled with the gruesome newspaper images, propelled me to ask questions of activists, scholars, politicians and civil society and scour debates online. Eventually, it led to starting a PhD at the University of Edinburgh this year. In May, I conducted preliminary research in Johannesburg, with South African women and African women of multiple nationalities. The project convinced me to broaden my doctoral study to compare critically with African female experiences in the UK, looking at the gendered manifestations of xenophobia in Johannesburg and London, two cities experiencing rising levels of anti-migrant abuse and gender disparities, while linked by histories of colonialism and complex patterns of migration. Gender-based violence is a phenomenon being increasingly understood and fought against, as the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign shows.

Xenophobia and misogyny intertwined

Xenophobia is not new to either South Africa or the UK. Despite migrants constituting only 5% of South Africa’s population and 9% of Britain’s, foreign nationals are publicly blamed for almost every social issue. Since the start of South African democracy in 1994 and as recently as two weeks ago, politicians and the media have portrayed international migrants as “unwanted aliens”, negatively affecting businesses, acting in criminal ways and stealing our jobs and our women”. In the UK, the wave of hostility leading up to the Brexit referendum result was propelled by divisive political rhetoric led by far-right figures such as Nigel Farage, warning that failure to deal effectively with immigration may lead to ‘cultural issues’, such as women being attacked by foreign nationals. These sentiments have built upon decades-long racism embedded in UK society and policy, most often expressed in debates over immigration controls and bolstered by a media narrative about migrants as ‘scroungers’.

Approximately half of migrants in both Johannesburg and London are women. Despite this, political and media debates often position women as silent victims, passive targets of spectacular xenophobic violence or vulnerable persons. Academic studies on xenophobia are mostly lacking in rigorous gender-based perspectives (see Morrice, 2016 and Sigsworth et al, 2008 for exceptions), despite the similarity between xenophobia and the battle for power inherent in misogyny, as noted by Helen de Cruz. In her new book DownGirl (2017), Kate Manne describes misogyny as “dependent on patriarchy – societal structures that demand that women cater primarily to men’s needs.” When women do not fit the demands of patriarchy – for example, by standing up for their rights or taking on leadership roles – backlash occurs in the form of verbal or physical abuse.

As de Cruz explains elsewhere, one can see a similar struggle for control in xenophobia worldwide. Instead of a representation of hatred between a country’s native population and its immigrants, xenophobia demonstrates a fight for control over identity, rights and resources. It is a manifestation of the institutionalised sense of entitlement generated in citizens born in a country. Immigrants are tolerated as long as they adhere to stringent political and legal rules, learn trivia about a country’s history to pass immigration tests and keep out of the way, even when they contribute to society or their safety is at risk. It occurs when immigrants fight against measures designed to control them or force them into positions of dependency and potential rejection. In African contexts, xenophobia is understood as the systematic construction of strangers as a threat to society, justifying their exclusion and sometimes their suppression.

My PhD compares how women of different socio-economic classes in London and Johannesburg experience ‘everyday’ forms of xenophobia and how this impacts upon their lives. More broadly, it looks at questions of access, race, identity and belonging in two countries where migrants and often women (and especially women of colour), are made to feel unwelcome. It creates a space to explore the multiple roles women play as would-be targets, observers, accomplices and instigators of xenophobia in day-to-day life.

 Exploring conflict and violence through the arts

This work requires tools that can sensitively enable a multiplicity of voices to interact. They must facilitate the sharing of feelings and experiences, and challenge stereotypes associated with different identities. Creative, arts-based research approaches such as theatre, film, photography and walking can facilitate spaces for women’s stories to be told, shared and processed creatively, contributing to positive social change. Like the arts, conflict resolution is often approached experientially. The key to successful approaches is to create safe spaces that guarantee physical safety and a learning environment free from violence. In these forums, participants can communicate their fears, problems, feelings and frustrations.

Over a decade working on development projects across Africa, I have seen the usefulness of some of these methods first-hand. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was introduced to peacebuilding NGO Search for Common Ground’s project using participatory theatre to help transform the way that people view conflict. In South Africa, I have met researchers and NGOs using the arts to work with marginalised women and their communities, such as Sonke Gender Justice’s community radio arts production to help educate women about surviving sexual assault. The African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg does excellent work on migration, identity and belonging, as well as supporting artists using multimedia to explore similar issues, such as Sydelle Willow Smith, whose most recent project investigates white South Africans exploring their past and present in the new post-apartheid society.

For research to have meaning and impact beyond the academy, cross-pollination between artists and academics exploring social issues is essential. It combines creative ways of learning and investigation with well-worn data-gathering tools, hopefully providing positive ways for those affected by conflict and violence to process their experiences, as well as new insights for academics, policy-makers and practitioners. Using a participatory approach in my research, I look to the female participants to lead the process, while learning from feminist scholars and experienced artists. My hope is that by enabling women of different socio-economic classes, races and nationalities to explore their feelings on identity and belonging through the arts, in two countries where debates on these issues have become so divided, it will generate new understandings of how to tackle xenophobia and its gendered dimensions. In places where migrants are at serious risk of deportation or violence and where gender-based violence or discrimination is ever-present, women need spaces to explore and share their thoughts and experiences creatively, helping them to make connections and generate answers to increasing social problems.

Natasha Dyer is a research and communications consultant in international development, currently pursuing a PhD at the Centre for African Studies, School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked across Africa for over a decade, supporting organisations and governments to achieve gender equality, provide quality education and resolve conflict. Twitter handle: @nrlcadyer

Day Eleven |Democracy’s Promise Unfulfilled while Violence against Women in Politics Persists

photo credit: Eric.Parker DSC07415_ep via photopin (license)

Written by Dr. Gabrielle Bardall

In October 2018, the Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls presented a report to the UN General Assembly recognizing violence against women in politics (VAWP) as a human rights violation and calling upon all UN member states to take action. In less than a decade, this issue went from an unnamed and unnoticed fact-of-life to an internationally-recognized threat to democracy and violation of human rights.

What is “VAWP” and why is it so significant? Political violence during elections and democratic processes is a common occurrence in many countries, especially states undergoing regime transitions. Likewise, the global and pervasive presence of gender-based violence (GBV) is well-established. VAWP exists at the crossroads of political violence and GBV, targeting women who participate in public or political life either specifically because they are women, or in distinctly gendered ways. Sadly, there is no shortage of examples and no boundaries — from Zimbabwean women experiencing genital mutilation in retribution for engaging in politics, to women legislators across Western democracies denouncing sexual harassment within the halls of their parliaments, to the bombing of a busload of female election workers in Afghanistan.

VAWP is not only a manifestation of inequality or a harm against an individual. It is a mechanism that formally institutionalizes women’s subordinate position in society by coercively excluding them from state governance. Just as VAWP terrorizes and degrades its individual victims, it undermines democracy by enforcing patriarchal control of democratic institutions and impedes the economic growth potential associated with greater women’s political participation. VAWP is the ultimate expression of the patriarchy and until it is eradicated, democracy’s promise remains unfulfilled.

VAWP occurs in multiple locations, including private and domestic spaces, and online. It is often perpetrated by someone known to the victim – indeed, in many cases we have encountered, women experience violence at the hands of other elected officials as well as by their intimate partners as a result of their political or public engagement. Women overwhelmingly experience psychological and sexual forms of political violence, compared to men who are more often targeted by physical harm. VAWP has been documented in all parts of the world, regardless of regime-type or socio-economic status, although it takes different forms in different places. Emerging statistical research suggests a very high prevalence. One recent of 45 countries found that over 85 percent of women parliamentarians had suffered psychological violence, while 58 percent had been attacked online. Our research at IFES finds that in some countries, political women are targeted with online threats, degrading attacks and other forms of digital harassment at up to three times the rate of their male counterparts. These attacks largely reflect anger with a woman’s decision to run for office or otherwise engage in public affairs because of the break with traditional gender roles, and the content of online vitriol – from Zimbabwe to Sri Lanka to Ukraine to the USA – is riddled with sexual threats, manipulated images and video, and threats of physical harm to the woman herself or to her children and partner. We also know that VAWP has an intersectional dimension and that women who also identify with marginalized religious, ethnic, racial groups have a distinct experience.

The path to ending VAWP has turned into a highway over the decade since the issue of VAWP began to be recognized as a distinct threat to democracy and human rights. The SRVAW’s report in October 2018 unified the vision, action and research of many global activists and researchers, and provided direction and momentum. Responses to mitigating and ending VAWP once and for all are manifold and include education, awareness, improved data, personal security, law enforcement training, and monitoring. One response in particular is of vital importance, no less because it is reflective of a deep and abiding inequality that crosscuts global democracies: the issue of ending impunity for VAWP.

With only a handful of exceptions in Latin America, VAWP is not explicitly addressed in national legal frameworks. However, most frameworks do address the most egregious manifestations of VAWP, including physical and sexual violence and many forms of harassment and discrimination. Yet, laws protecting victims of VAWP and punishing its perpetrators are systematically overlooked and unenforced worldwide. More challenging still, legal frameworks are often murky or absent for the types of violence women most frequently experience in politics, including online and many forms of psychological violence. So long as we fail to recognize VAWP when it occurs and to prosecute its perpetrators, permissive norms and attitudes will remain.

This is a fundamental issue because it goes to the heart of how we judge the quality of democracy itself. A double-standard for electoral standards operates in democratization processes today. In practice, some laws simply count more than others when it comes to determining how democratic a democracy is, regardless of the hierarchy of law. The trouble is, the laws that end up in the second-tier are often those laws designed to defend women’s participation and security in the course of the exercise of their civil and political rights. Recently, Kenya and Haiti have, respectively, annulled national elections and undergone upheaval over electoral irregularities. Yet in both cases, blatant violations of Constitutional law were not the issue behind the turmoil – because those violations pertained to the protection of women’s space in state institutions.

Understanding VAWP provides a vehicle that compels us to re-evaluate the fundamentals of how we define and defend democracy. There can be no gender-exceptions to the hierarchy of law. Electoral integrity does not exist where the rule of law is not applied to protect and defend all citizens equally. Democratization remains incomplete where half the population is subject to discrimination and political violence, in all its forms. Until violence against women in politics is systematically addressed, many electoral processes remain at risk of reproducing the patriarchal structures that exclude and silence women’s voices. Adapting a feminist approach to democracy and democracy assistance is vital to overcoming this fundamental human rights challenge.

Dr. Gabrielle Bardall is the Gender Advisor at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Research Fellow at the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa. Bardall was an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow (2016) and a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation doctoral scholar (2012).

Twitter handles: @gabrielleB17 @IFESGender

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”