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.