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.

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

Written by Rosemary Kayess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Eight |EU-UN Spotlight Initiative; A New Global Solution to a Global Challenge

Credit: UN Women Guatemala. Pictured: Ana Maria Pivaral Hernandez is 60 years old and lives in Zone 7 of Guatemala City. In 2017, the Guatemala Safe City and Safe Public Spaces programme conducted a survey of women in seven zones of Guatemala City as part of a baseline study. Every woman surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment in public at some time during her life. At least 44 percent said it happens daily.

Written by Adekoyejo Adeboye

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. It cuts across all generations, nationalities, communities and spheres of our societies, irrespective of age, ethnicity, disability or status.

The facts

One out of three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

Domestic violence, including intimate partner violence, remains the most prevalent form of violence against women and girls, reportedly causing more deaths than in civil wars.

More than 700 million women alive today were married as children (before the age of 18), with more than one third married before their 15th birthday.

An estimated 200 million women and girls have experienced the human rights violation known as female genital mutilation.

Across the globe, the #MeToo movement has brought attention to the fact that millions of women and girls still face the threat of sexual harassment and violence in public spaces, the workplace, in school and at home.

 A barrier to realizing the world we want

If the current rates and trends for gender inequality and violence persist, it will be impossible for the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – the global commitment to end all forms of poverty, inequality and tackle climate change by the year 2030.

To achieve the world we want, all women and girls must fully enjoy their human rights and live free from violence and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In fact, eliminating all forms of harmful practices and violence and against women and girls are specific targets under the Sustainable Development Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

 The good news

There is now an unprecedented and global effort to remove this primary obstacle to achieving a sustainable world free from poverty, hunger and inequality.

I work for the Spotlight Initiative – a new global multi-year partnership between the European Union and United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Launched last year with a five-year funding commitment of €500 million from the European Union, the Initiative represents the single largest global investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment as a precondition and driver for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the next few years, we will invest in innovative programmes and projects that respond to all forms of violence against women and girls, with a particular focus on ending domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence, harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (labour) exploitation.

A comprehensive response

While many different efforts to confront these issues exist, the Spotlight Initiative’s comprehensive programme design, theory of change and its high-level political and financial commitments promise to deliver meaningful results on a large scale.

Programmes funded by the Initiative will simultaneously address legislative and policy gaps, strengthen institutions, promote gender-equitable attitudes, provide quality services for survivors and reparations for victims of violence and their families. Interventions will also strengthen systems for collecting data on violence and empower women’s movements.

A pivotal year ahead

By the first quarter of 2019, we will have invested €325 million – 65% of our overall funding envelope – to fund programmes to eliminate violence against women and girls reaching 170 million people in 24 countries.

In Latin America, we will fund initiatives to end femicide – when a woman or girl is killed based on gender – in Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. 12 women are killed because of their gender every day in the region.

In Africa, we will begin implementing interventions to end sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and promote access to sexual and reproductive health in Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

In Asia, we are already funding a regional programme to strengthen rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to labour migration. The “Safe and Fair” programme will address vulnerabilities to violence and trafficking and the support the delivery of essential services for women migrant workers in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

New programmes to end domestic violence in the Caribbean and the Pacific are currently under development.

Demonstrating change

One of our goals at Spotlight is to demonstrate to the world that significant, concerted and comprehensive investments in gender equality can make a transformative difference in the lives of women and girls.

We want to show that the United Nations and its agencies, national governments, civil society, donors, academia and the private sector can work closely together and join resources to solve an issue affecting half of the world’s population.

While €500 million is the largest investment ever made to end violence against women and girls, much more resources and commitments will be needed to improve the lives of girls and women everywhere.

We want to work hand-in-hand with everyone from world leaders to local communities to end violence against women and girls. Learn more about us and our work at spotlightinitiative.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalSpotlight.

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

photo credit: Everyday Heroes

Written by Claire Houghton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Four | Tackling Gender-Based Violence in Indigenous Communities

Written by Dixie Link-Gordon



I see you, I hear, I feel you

sisters in so much quietness,

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

with almost no relief,

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

Dixie Link-Gordon


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

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

Silences

Authority

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

Family

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

Religion

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

Community

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

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

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

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

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

We have now started work on:

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

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

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

Day One | Introduction

photo credit: Jeanne Menjoulet 8 mars 2018 via photopin (license)

Written by Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh), Louise Chappell (University of New South Wales), Krishna Menon (Ambedkar University Delhi)

Welcome to our blogathon to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. Here we plan to post a blog on each of the 16 Days of Activism, to bring attention to a particular aspect of the scourge of violence against women which occurs in ‘peacetime’ and conflict, at international, national and local levels, in our homes, in public spaces and workplaces, on campuses, in parliaments, corporations and third sector organisations, in sport, militaries and entertainment industries. Topics will range from #MeToo, to gender-based violence and the rights of children, to addressing gender-based violence in post-conflict settlements.

The blogathon is a collaboration across our three organisations, which seek to advance women’s equality and support a world free from sexual and gender based violence: GenderEd at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ambedkar University, Delhi.

The 16 Days of Activism is now in its 27th year, originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991. The program starts on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day, in an effort to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

This year the theme is #HearMeToo, directed towards exposing the magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence suffered by women everywhere. It is aimed at breaking the silence around gender-based violence, where ever it happens, and transforming the behaviours, norms and institutions that support gender-based violence.

Attention to gender-based violence is arguably greater than ever, as evidenced by the international reach of the #metoo movement across all sectors, and this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.

New efforts are taking place at local, national and international levels to stamp out gender-based violence and to protect and empower victim/survivors of. Within our own settings we have recently seen positive developments: In India, transformative training programmes for police, including the Justice for Her initiative, following on from the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape; In Australia, the introduction of paid domestic violence leave; and, in Scotland, new laws to tackle coercive control that have been described as ‘gold standard’. At the UN-EU level, the new €500 million Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year program focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. Internationally, each of the Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security Resolutions and the International Criminal Court have mandates to ensure women’s voices are heard and to strengthen accountability for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Yet, the problem remains in epidemic proportions. Globally, the WHO cites gender-based violence as a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. According to recent WHO data across 80 countries, almost one third of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. In addition to intimate partner violence, globally 7% of women report having been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner. Evidence shows that intimate partner and sexual violence are mostly perpetrated by men against women. New forms of technology and the cyber-sphere are further exacerbating this problem.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation poll in 2018, India holds the dubious reputation of being the world’s most dangerous country for women and girls, due to the high risk of sexual violence and trafficking. But countries including Australia and the UK are by no means immune to the problem. As the femicide index initiative called ‘Counting Dead Women’ shows, in the UK and Australia, more than 100 women each year are killed by their current or former intimate partners, in ways that follow a similar pattern, and occur in similar circumstances.

Trends across the globe in terms of resurgent authoritarianism, rising populist movements, xenophobia,  militarisation and securitisation (including the ongoing so-called War on Terror) create a dangerous and insecure environment for all; but women (particularly women from minority groups, castes, and identities) experience the effects, and lose rights and freedoms, in ways very different to men.

Clearly, much more needs to be done.

Across the next 16 days we will bring together a range of academic researchers and students, practitioners from NGOs and international organisations, and activists to amplify the 16 Days of Activism, and to expose, share, and campaign on a range of issues.