In 2019, genderED at the University of Edinburgh ran the third annual 16 days blogathon in support of the global campaign, 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The blogathon is a partnership between genderED, the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, and Ambedkar University in Delhi, to highlight global efforts to address GBV, through research, activism and campaigns.
You can read a summary of the key themes that emerged from the blogathon and short summaries of all the powerful posts featured this year. You can also find a moment (thread) of all the blogs on twitter.
Twitter moment here
By Fiona Mackay, Louise Chappell, Rukmini Sen, Caitlin Hamilton and Natasha Dyer (Co-curators)
We’ve reached the end of #16daysblogathon2019! It’s December 10th, Human Rights Day and the final day of the global 16 Days of Activism 2019 , the annual campaign that highlights the scale of gender-based violence (GBV) around the world and what is being done to stop it.
To honour this, we’ve run our third annual 16 days blogathon, a series of pieces posted every day over sixteen days from activists, academics and campaigners writing from Scotland to New South Wales, India to Northern Ireland. The stories and statistics we’ve read have been eye-opening, worrying, urgent and hopeful for those of us working to raise awareness, and put an end to gender-based violence around the world, once and for all.
What have we learnt this year?
Gender-based violence is often hidden and perpetrated in unexpected ways.
When people refer to gender-based or domestic violence, they often cite shocking global figures, such as the more than 30% of women worldwide that have experienced a form of physical or sexual abuse, or refer to the #MeToo movement highlighting the scale of male violence against women. Indeed, two of our blogs this year reviewed #MeToo and analysed what (if anything) had changed for survivors of sexual violence and abuse, highlighting the need for ongoing support away from media hype, and to remember that #MeToo is only a ‘moment’ reflecting the years of work that came before it to highlight and address violence against women worldwide.
Our contributors have shone a light on rarer forms of GBV in 2019 however, revealing lesser known facts about how violence interacts with sexual identities, migration, and disabilities to oppress communities and societies, ‘othering’ women and girls in different ways. Manjula O’Connor, Jan Breckenridge, Sara Singh and Mailin Suchting raised the alarm on dowry abuse in migrant communities, for example, a traditional practice that can leave women isolated and at risk of suicide or murder, due to the power it gives men over their new brides. On Day Two, Jenn Piscopo analysed the harm caused by the daily violence women receive online, in a context of abusive political rhetoric aimed at women by leading political figures. Mayur Suresh reported on ‘witch-branding’ on Day 13, a practice where women in East Indian communities are blamed and sometimes attacked for the problems of others. Connections were also made by Sumangala Damodaran between gender-based violence and women’s work participation, as declining rates can be linked to the threat of violence from men in the household and wider violence effects of a highly patriarchal society, as in India.
Laws and policies designed to protect women often have the reverse effect.
One of the underlying themes for 2019 has been the promise and the limits of law. Although the law is supposed to protect the safety and rights of women and girls, and redress injustices, in practice, legal approaches can have the opposite effect. Heather NanCarrow highlights on Day Three for example, how Australia’s law on domestic violence can have unintended negative consequences, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, such as giving the state power to make choices for victims or charging them in the case of ‘fights’, which occur in the chaos of domestic violence.
Krishna Menon, Rachana Johri and Bindu K.C. review cases of sexual assault in India, arguing that despite its potential for justice, the power of the legal statute combined with a rigid and unimaginative invocation of identity politics, result in violent judgments that do not centre the experience and needs of the victim. Shalu Nigam confirms this on Day Three, demonstrating that despite the indefatigable work of women demanding justice for cases of assault, abuse and threats to their safety, the majority of those who knock on the doors of the court are not receiving justice, while men are frequently acquitted.
However, the law can be used for justice in ways that we’re not always aware of. Anni Gethin writes of the successful case she brought against her domestic abuser on Day 11, and the campaign she has started to encourage more Australian women to do the same. At the same time, we also realise that putting laws in place is only a first step. Nicole George examines the steps taken by the Pacific Islands to protect women from violence on Day 10, but concludes that to ensure reforms provide benefits for women, there needs to be more investment and ongoing support. In Scotland, Anne Marie Hicks, the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, takes a holistic approach.
The importance of giving voice to lived experience.
This year we’ve also featured powerful testimonies from those with lived experiences of sexual and gender-based violence. Eve Ensler – a global feminist icon – opened the #16daysblogathon with an extract from the apology she wrote for her father for sexually abusing her as a child, the subject of her latest book. On Day Twelve, Anni Donaldson shared stories from women she interviewed in Scotland for her research into domestic violence – women trapped in abusive relationships between the 1960s and 1980s, during which time physical violence morphed into ‘coercive control’, where husbands and partners used technology and finances to control their partners. Through sustained public awareness and support from family and friends, these women eventually got free, but their stories remain essential to help other women, who may still be trapped in violent relationships.
On Day 7, Fidelma Ashe reveals that the failure of the Northern Ireland peace process to include the voices of LGBTI+ people, meant that while the rest of society experienced relative levels of stability during peacebuilding, LGBTI+ groups experienced high levels of insecurity and risk, as well as social and political exclusion.
Creative methods are a powerful way to communicate the effects of gender-based violence.
We’ve also seen various examples this year of creatively tackling gender-based violence through poetry, textiles and comic books, reminding us of the power of the arts to communicate difficult stories in a way that centres and empowers survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. These artistic mediums are more accessible to a wider audience and often provide a refreshing form of addressing these difficult issues in bureaucratic institutions, such as universities.
What’s more, they can also help us challenge narratives we may hold onto about the victims of gender-based violence, showing their agency and resilience in the face of attack. Campaigns employing clever messaging and social media tools can also have a meaningful impact in representing the voices of victims and marginalised groups, as shown by the powerful #erasethegrey campaign. or the #SayHerName report and videos advocating for the rights and protections of sex workers in South Africa, highlighted by Ntokozo Yingwana and Lunga Luthuli on Day Seven. Animated videos can also prove highly effective in helping people understand the effects of sexual violence and survivors’ fight for justice, as seen through a video animation on Day Five, created through the work of Afghan artist Shamsia Hassani.
Every #16daysblogathon post is summarised below. While there is a long way to go before gender-based violence becomes an abuse of the past, there are many powerful and effective initiatives underway designed to protect, empower and centre the survivors of gender-based violence. This gives us reason to hope.
To introduce the third annual #16daysblogathon in support of 16 Days of Activism 2019, our co-curators from gender ED at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, and Ambedkar University in Delhi highlight central themes and the vast geographic reach of our blogathon, as well as introduce the exceptional powerhouse opening the 2019 #16daysblogathon….Eve Ensler!
By Eve Ensler – award-winning playwright, performer and activist
On Day One, Eve Ensler describes the painful story at the centre of her new book, the apology from her father that he could never make.
By Jenn Piscopo – Occidental College, USA
Piscopo illuminates the incredible scale of abuse women receive online, and the effects it can have in environments of regular verbal violence directed at women by leading politicians. They are political violence is gendered in three ways; in motive, form and impact.
By Shalu Nigam – Delhi Courts/Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi
Shalu reports on the poor conviction rates for perpetrators of domestic violence in India as well as the highly damaging rulings of the Supreme Court for the protection of women. Regardless, women’s groups in India are demanding justice, breaking the codes of imposed silence, shaking the system and forcing it to respond.
By Heather Nancarrow, CEO Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, UNSW Sydney
Contrary to its purpose, Heather shows how Australia’s law against domestic violence can actually lead to harmful consequences for women, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. These include giving the state power to make choices for victims or charging them in the case of ‘fights’, which occur in the chaos of domestic violence.
By Bianca Fileborn, University of Melbourne and Rachel Honey-Lowes, University of Wollongong
Bianca and Rachel review the #MeToo movement, examining what has changed for those affected by sexual and gender-based violence. The answer? While it has created an important platform for survivors of gender-based violence, it has also emboldened the voices of perpetrators, and vitally is hard to see how it has shifted attitudes, behaviours and tangible structural change to centre the needs of survivors first. Clearly much more work to be done.
By Karen Boyle, Professor of Feminist Media Studies at the University of Strathclyde
The author of #MeToo, Weinstein and Feminism (Palgrave, 2019), Karen Boyle argues that #MeToo was not only a social media trend, but a mainstream news story; a ‘moment’, not a ‘movement’. It centred on the experiences of those involved with a high profile film industry figure, largely ignoring the decades-long emotional and intellectual work of survivors, including #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke and those who researched and campaigned for recognition of sexual assault and abuse in the years before 2017.
By Susan Hutchinson, Australian National University
On International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, Susan Hutchinson flags the vital opportunity governments now have to prosecute perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence for their crimes. She also features an excellent animated video released by the ‘prosecute, don’t perpetrate’ campaign, explaining why and how to end impunity for perpetrators and achieve justice for survivors. As she says, ‘we have the jurisdiction and the competent authority, all that remains is the political will and investment.’
By Anne Marie Hicks – National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse
Anne Marie outlines the Crown Prosecution’s holistic approach to transforming the institutional response to domestic abuse in Scotland. In this varied role, she makes sure the justice system puts the needs of victims affected by the 30,000 reports of domestic abuse annually first, and reports on the progress implemented by Scotland’s new domestic abuse law.
By Fidelma Ashe – Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University
Fidelma reports on the need for peacebuilding processes to take an approach that supports diversity, inclusion and equality for all identities affected by conflict, highlighting the consequences for LGBTI+ people during the Northern Ireland peace process, who experienced high levels of insecurity and risk, as well as social and political exclusion.
By Ntokozo Yingwana – the African Centre for Migration and Society, University of Witwatersrand and Lunga Luthuli – Membership and Communications Officer for Sisonke Gender Justice
Two researchers and NGO workers ask us not to forget sex workers during the #16Days and highlight the precarious working conditions for sex workers in South Africa, where the work is illegal. Highlighting excellent campaigns, reports and videos made to raise awareness of sex workers and their industry, they urge South Africa to urgently decriminalise, for the safety and protection of adult consenting sex workers across the country.
By Dudu Ndlovu, African Centre for Migration and Society, University of Witwatersrand
Dudu presents her powerful poetry and her arts-based research approach, which gives women spaces to discuss their experiences of sexual violence, particularly for those targeted in the Gukuhrahundi genocide in Zimbabwe.
By Caroline Bradbury-Jones and Sonali Shah, University of Birmingham
Caroline and Sonali alert our attention to disablist gender-based violence, calling it a ‘double dose of discrimination’, often missed by health service providers and policy-makers. Disabled women and girls are more likely to encounter barriers to protection, leaving them feeling disempowered and undeserving of support. It is a human rights issue affecting millions worldwide and must be urgently addressed.
By Nicole George – University of Queensland
Nicole reports that despite being almost twenty years on from a landmark international policy shift and Pacific Islands Forum declaration recognising women’s insecurity as a regional issue, violence against women is being perpetrated at higher rates than ever before. This is partly due to the difficult legal process for women trying to progress charges against violent family members through the criminal justice system, and the problems translating police orders into action on the ground.
By Kavitha Suthanthiraraj, Policy and Advocacy Advisor at Save the Children Australia and Caitlin Hamilton, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Australian Human Rights Institute
Over 4 million children across 8 countries in the Pacific and Timor-Leste experience violence at home. The authors of the Unseen and Unsafe: Underinvestment in Ending Violence Against Children in the Pacific and Timor-Leste highlight the discipline inherent in this violence and what can be done to stop it.
By Anni Gethin – academic and coordinator of the Brigid Project
Anni reports on her successful legal case, suing her perpetrator for domestic-violence damages, and explains how she is helping the 1 in 4 women being affected by domestic abuse to do the same through the Brigid Project.
By Anni Donaldson – University of Strathclyde
Anni reveals fascinating stories of women who were trapped in abusive relationships during the 1960s to 1980s in Scotland, experiencing physical, emotional and psychological violence, including through them being controlled by money and tracking technologies. Thankfully, thanks to projects like Zero Tolerance, these women are free to live independently and tell their stories away from harm.
By Mayur Suresh – University of New South Wales, SOAS, University of London
Mayur teaches us about ‘witch-branding’, an Eastern Indian practice where women are called witches and blamed for the problems of other community members, leading to them being attacked and living in fear for their lives. This worrying form of women’s violence shows how gender can be experienced as a threat and a discourse can be built to justify that threat.
By Sumangala Damodaran – Ambedkar University Delhi
Over the past 30 years in India, women’s workforce participation has declined dramatically, down to 26% in 2018. Sumangala links this to the threat of gender-based violence in male-dominated households and shows how even when women do carry out work, it is often unseen and unvalued.
By Lydia Cole, Durham University
Lydia Cole shows us how creative approaches to conflict, in this case ‘conflict textiles’ or appliquéd wall-hangings in Peru are used to reflect scenes and experiences of gender-based violence, as well as give space and control to survivors of violence to tell their own stories.
By Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Radhika Govinda – University of Edinburgh
These feminist academics present their superb webcomic, illustrating risks for women operating in universities, and highlight the work of other campaigns such as Pinjra Tod and #MeToo to raise awareness of the abuse women in academic face worldwide.
By Manjula O’Connor, Jan Breckenridge, Sara Singh and Mailin Suchting – University of New South Wales
Dowry abuse is a largely unknown traditional practice, most often associated with India, but in fact being practiced globally. These authors shine a light on how the giving of money, property, goods or other gifts by one family to another before, during or any time after marriage in Australia, can be used to isolate women (often immigrants) and often lead them to suicide or becoming murder victims.
By Lesley Macmillan – Glasgow Caledonian University
As part of widespread university efforts to stop gender-based violence, Lesley alerts us to the #erasethegrey campaign, a powerful messaging campaign that highlights the scale of GBV on campuses and has been a hit across social media, prompting nominations for educational and media awards. The campaign is now being harnessed by others, and being used as part of a national Scottish police campaign.
By Rachana Johri, Bindu K.C. and Krishna Menon – Ambedkar University, Delhi
Feminist academics Rachana, Bindu and Krishna argue that the law supposed to protect women from violence in India, can in fact, prove abusive towards women, by taking an aggressive, carceral approach that is hostile to the needs of victims and to approaches that include dialogue, mediation and conflict resolution.
By Seema Kazi – Centre for Women’s Development Studies in Delhi
In our final post of #16daysblogathon Seema reports on women’s prolonged fight for liberation in Kashmir, the site of the world’s oldest unresolved conflict, positioned between India and Pakistan. Becoming increasingly militarised over the decades, in 2019 gender has been deployed in political discourse around the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy, with serious effects for women. The women’s resistance movement’s struggle for freedom continues, however, despite formidable odds.