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 Twelve | To Speak/To Complain: Reflections on Indian Feminist Politics in the Moment of #MeToo and LoSHA

Photo credit: provided by author

Written by Prof Rukmini Sen

On October 2017 – just after the first allegations of rape and sexual harassment were levied against Harvey Weinstein through the #MeToo social media campaign –  an Indian student based in a US law school ‘published’ a crowd-sourced list on Facebook (FB) that named and accused more than 70 Indian professors (based in Indian universities or outside) as sexual harassers. This FB post by Raya Sarkar was shared, liked and commented on widely. In social media circles this list has since been referred to as LoSHA (List of Sexual Harassment Accused) and it also has its own Wikipedia page. LoSHA is seen as the catalyst for the #MeToo movement in India.

LoSHA provoked both support and resistance within feminist circles. Immediately after the FB post, a statement was released and signed by fourteen Delhi based feminists who critiqued the ‘naming and shaming’ of men, cautioned against making accusations of sexual harassment without ‘context or explanation’,  and advocated ‘due process’.  After the statement, many other feminists across India commented and reflected on this, raising concerns around the over-emphasis on the law. It became evident again that there is no monolithic feminism in India – or any single unified position on feminists engaging with the law. The last year or so has been an interesting ‘new’ moment in feminist politics in India, and amongst the accusations, counter accusations and closing down of conversations,  we have also seen nuanced and thoughtful reflections trying to understand complexity and express solidarity. V Geetha, in an important essay, points out the need to initiate dialogue about sexual harassment, and the power politics in social relationships including in the Academy:

“Therefore, rather than fall back on the need to observe due process, which, indeed we do, when we engage with the justice system, we need to also think of how we enable speech about sexual harassment and violence that is not about law and justice alone, but about social relationships and the power invested in those who defined the terms of the latter, on account of their class, caste and authority as intellectuals.”

Whilst the media has characterised feminist conflict over LoSHA as that of ‘old’ and ‘new’ feminisms, of ‘ungrateful daughters’ and ‘tut-tutting mothers’, others, such as Srila Roy, have argued that a generational analysis is unhelpful and over-simplifying:  “there has been both support for and condemnation of the list across different generations of feminists.” Meanwhile there have been provocative discussions on erotics in the Indian university classroom through pedagogic practices (Brinda Bose and Rahul Sen https://cafedissensusblog.com/2018/08/17/liberal-vertigo-eros-and-the-university/), projecting the interconnections of caste and patriarchy in University spaces in contexts of sexual harassment (Drishadwati Bargi https://www.epw.in/engage/article/misreading-dalit-critique-university-space) and hoping for a conversation on the modes and methods of speaking, complaining on sexual harassment by netizens (Gita Chadha and Rukmini Sen https://www.epw.in/engage/special-features/power-relationships-academia)

Since LoSha and then #MeToo in India, languages of both law and feminism have been questioned, subjected to reflection upon their own hegemony and boundaries respectively. The legal history around sexual harassment in India goes back to the 1997 Supreme Court Vishakha judgment recognizing unwelcome sexual behaviour in the workplace as harassment, which mandated workplaces to create gender sensitization and complaints committees. Twenty years post the judgment and four years since the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, it is important to understand that the LoSha and #MeToo campaigns have happened as a result of years of feminist politics and not despite them. Yet, this contemporary moment opened up new conversations about the meaning(s) of speech, silence, evidence, criminality, intimacy.

This is a crucial point at which it becomes necessary  to acknowledge that the law would  define and construct boundaries within which a violation has to be expressed. The limitation of what is intrinsic to law is the need to speak in the language of law—within definitions, through written/oral testimonies, evidence, or witness, especially in situations injury leading to punishment. The definition of sexual harassment includes and yet also leaves out many kinds of behaviour from the definition; it is hinged at a complicated understanding of ‘unwelcome behaviour’, where the definition of ‘unwelcome’ is be redefined in each new case. Interpretation of what is not exactly in the definition is always possible, yet it is important to recognise that quasi legal committees operate within the framework of the law and all (sexually unwanted) behaviour cannot find a name in the law. Speech therefore is an essential component of any legal process, when law is in action either in a courtroom or within an anti-sexual harassment complaints committee. It is relevant to remember here that feminist politics has encouraged and emphasised the need to use speech to bring experiences into the public realm. Breaking the silence or chuppi todo has been part of posters and campaign slogans since the 1980s when issues of rape and domestic violence were discussed publicly in unprecedented ways. Thus voicing and not silence has been a tool for any politics emanating from the margins and feminism has been no exception. Silence, hesitation, pausing, self-imposed caution are all part of the process of making sense of a sexual violation, and the definition of the law is not the only way through which this happens.

What is of critical importance in the post LoSha moment is to reaffirm that universities are sites of both possibilities and contradictions. They foster ideas and imaginations of new citizenship by removing boundaries about who can have access to higher education. On the other hand, universities also cultivate power in relationships while encouraging and sustaining relations – all of which are a complex web of multiple social locations and identities that individuals inhabit based on gender-sexuality, caste, class, religion, language, disability or place of origin. It is necessary to take cognisance of the co-existence of power and intimacy in teacher–student relationships in contemporary institutions of higher learning. As V Geetha  notes: “ In the university context, indeed in any learning context, especially in caste society, the communication of ideas, and the practice of teaching and learning are fraught and precarious”

In these transformative times, with the demands for empathetic, more democratic teachers, are flows of power disrupted? How do gender and caste relations play out within these flows? Is being (and expected to be) obedient as a student judged as being submissive by the faculty, and is the inability to resist interpreted as consent? It is important to note this transforming landscape in which young, aspiring, freedom-seeking women/multiple genders in institutions of higher learning across Indian cities talk about, discuss and debate sexual politics. Institutions need to create an enabling eco-system much beyond only a complaint registering committee, where, within pedagogic and political practices of the institution’s everyday functioning, certain non-negotiable ethical principles of interpersonal interaction are deliberatively arrived at.

I am proposing the need to craft opportunities for dialogue (between students, between faculty, between faculty and students, between administrative staff) moving beyond merely a culture of formal complaints. Through this the claim, besides being aware as gendered citizens about the legal provisions on sexual harassment but to not overemphasize the need  for more training or improved legal skills , but for a democratic space in which the complexity of life experiences of students as well as early career women/multiple gendered faculty in institutions of higher learning can be acknowledged and explored. This will enable conversations (speech of a certain feminist kind, not necessarily the juridical) on the plural meanings of unwelcome experiences, transgressions, consent and control.

Rukmini Sen is Professor at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. She teaches and publishes around sociology of law, feminist movements and personal narratives

rukmini@aud.ac.in

https://www.facebook.com/rukmini.sen.31

https://twitter.com/RStweet18

The ideas expressed in this blog are taken from, continuing and connected with two previously published essays https://www.epw.in/engage/article/sexual-harassment-limits-speech and https://thewire.in/education/sexual-harassment-committee-universities-jnu-gscash

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.

‘Genocide’, as understood in international law, means something different to mass murder. It means certain act when committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part.

Those acts are not limited to killing; they also include any acts that cause serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; subjecting the group to conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction (e.g. starvation); imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or forcibly transferring the group’s children to another group.

Without the intent to destroy a victims’ group, those same acts can be recognised as war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of human rights law, and crimes under national law. But it is the intent to destroy the group – specifically, a national, ethnic, racial or religious – that transforms the atrocity into a genocide.

In the 70 years since the Genocide Convention came into force, there has been a growing awareness of the links between gender-based violence and genocide.

In genocide scholarship, writers including Helen Fein, Charli Carpenter, Patricia Sellers and Adam Jones have illuminated these links. Based on their analysis of historical precedents – particularly the experience of Jews and other minorities in Nazi rule; of Tutsi and perceived Tutsi-sympathising people in Rwanda; and of non-Serbs during the wars in the former Yugoslavia – they have shown that genocide has affected men and women in different ways.

For example, men from the targeted group may be killed first, because they are perceived as potential combatants. Pregnant women may be slaughtered in order to prevent them from giving birth to a baby from the targeted ethnic or racial group; and women may be purposely impregnated by the genocidal group in order to breed in a particular race or ethnicity.

In parallel with this scholarship, international criminal courts have played a part in “gendering” the concept of genocide.

The Akayesu trial judgment at the Rwandan tribunal, led the way in this respect. It was not only the first case of an international conviction for genocide, but also the first to recognise that sexual violence can be an act of genocide. Applying this argument to the Rwandan context, the judges held that:

“Sexual violence was a step in the process of destruction of the Tutsi group – destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself.”

That interpretation has been followed in numerous cases since, including the International Criminal Court’s Al-Bashir case. In line with Akayesu, the Prosecutor in that case has alleged that women and girls from the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur were raped as part of the genocide, and that men from those groups were rounded up and killed in sex-selected massacres.

Most recently, in November this year, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal added to the case-law on gendered genocide. In finding that Cham and Vietnamese people in Cambodia had experience genocided during the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979), the Tribunal held that Vietnamese women and children were particularly targeted because their ethnicity was thought to pass down the mothers’ line, but in families where only the father was Vietnamese, he alone would be killed. In this way, the judgment helps to show that genocide during the Democratic Kampuchea period was not ‘gender-neutral’, as had previously been thought.

Gender-based violence and genocide are not two separate issues. Often, they go hand-in-hand. During this important anniversary of the Genocide Convention and this #‘16 days’ campaign where there is a heightened awareness of gender-based violence, the prevention of genocide must remain part of international efforts to prevent and condemn gender-based violence in all its forms.

Rosemary Grey is a University of Sydney Postdoctoral Fellow, Sydney Law School and Sydney Southeast Asia Centre 

Day Two |No room for complacency: the ongoing need for world-wide activism to eradicate violence against women

 

photo credit: Shutterstock

Written by Laurel Weldon

As the Day 1 blog highlighted, violence against women is a widespread, ubiquitous problem across all countries regardless of economic status, across the public and private spheres, and across all sectors. Globally, the main driver of change to eradicate violence against women has been women’s organizing on their own behalf. Feminist organizing drives government and intergovernmental action on violence, and sparks normative change.

Over the past few decades, feminist activity has spread to more than a hundred countries in both old  (street marches and ), and new forms (e.g. the exploding digital activism of the #metoo movement).  This past success, however, does not justify complacency about the inevitability of progress on women’s rights, which continues to be strongly contested around the world. Indeed, the spread of feminist activism has increased the frequency of state repression specifically focused on women’s organizing; and transnational campaigns funded by donors in rich countries have pushed opposition to what they call “gender ideology,” sponsoring initiatives to resist and roll back attitudinal and policy changes in women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and related areas.

Across the world we are witnessing an atmosphere of backlash to efforts to address broader gender equality efforts and campaigns to address violence against women and the LGBTIQ community.  Resistance to progressive schools curricula designed to improve acceptance and awareness of gender inequality and LGBTQ rights has emerged in Peru on the Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas (“don’t mess with my kids”) campaign, and is a phenomenon in Colombia, Mexico, France, Poland, and Canada and Australia. In the USA, recent reports indicate the Trump Administration is seeking to remove the word “gender” from UN documents and domestically, erasing LGBTQ people from websites and other government documents.

At the same time, funding for women’s initiatives is declining. Development assistance targeted to women has declined 20% overall. Similarly, funding from the USA, a major source of funding for women’s organizations worldwide, has also declined. This decline means a loss of material support for women-focused initiatives, including vital resources for anti-violence against women initiatives.

These factors are contributing to a worrying trend in women’s organizing, which in spite of the explosive growth in the eighties and nineties, has stalled globally. And even the best funded organizations need more support. Women’s organizations have tiny budgets compared with other social movement organizations: AWID found that the combined budget of the 1000 women’s organizations they studied was $106 million, a figure dwarfed by the budgets of even a single organization in the environmental field such as Greenpeace at $309 Million, or child well-being such as Save the Children. 1.442 Billion. (AWID 2013).

Women’s activists worry that core funding focused on feminist values and purposes is hard to come by, with funding increasingly tied to specific programs, and funded by corporate interests or offered in partnership with such interests. Those organizations who are at the forefront of identifying the intersectional nature of violence against women, find funding particularly hard to secure. This situation makes it difficult for women’s organization to set their own agenda, which is essential for those seeking to address violence against women.

Given the worrying context of backlash and funding cuts, during these 16 days of activism, we must call for greater support for women’s own efforts to address violence and oppression.  Feminists’ activists have drawn the connection between women’s rights and human rights; this equation must remain at the forefront of efforts to address the violence and oppression that blocks our pathways to greater democracy, peace and sustainability.

Women facing sexual violence and street harassment – Survey in Europe and in the United States

Laurel Weldon is a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.