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 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 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 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.

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.