About the authors: Firmansyah Sarbini (SGRC Indonesia) and Naila Rizkqi Zakiah (LBH Masyarakat) are the Australian Human Rights Institute’s first Visiting Human Rights Defenders.
The rise of anti-LGBT sentiment in Indonesia has led to the exclusion of LGBT groups from society, which has caused their persecution. More and more cases are emerging of banning academic discussions, discrimination in the workplace and educational institutions, through to efforts of criminalisation through courts and legislation.
In 2016, the Support Group & Resource Center on Sexuality Studies Universitas Indonesia became the centre of a media storm in Indonesia. The organisation was launching an LGBT Peer Support Network, a project-based collaboration with the LGBT online forum melela.org. Since then, an unexpected wave of bigotry hit Indonesia. The Love Family Alliance (ALIA), a conservative group in Indonesia, has requested the Constitutional Court to change the definitions of adultery and child molestation in the criminal code which would criminalise homosexual sex. By a margin of five to four judges, the Constitutional Court ruled against the effort to revise the country’s criminal code on the grounds that such a move was the responsibility of parliament. But this statement only inspired the conservative group to lobby lawmakers for the changes.
LGBT people are a marginalised segment of Indonesian society. In a survey of 1,520 respondents, conducted by the Wahid Foundation and Lembaga Survey Indonesia during March-April 2016 the LGBT group was the most disliked (26.1%), compared to other groups like Communists (16.7%) and Jewish people (10.6%). This was reinforced by the findings of Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC)during November 2016, which showed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (16.6%) were more hated than Communists and Jews, and second only to ISIS (25.5%). LGBT rights in Indonesia have also been politicised in every election campaign since Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, when Musdah Mulia, an Indonesian Islamic theologist and research professor at the Ministry of Religious Affairs who irked many conservative Muslims with her LGBT-friendly perspective, was in the team of experts of now president Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi). Many politicians endorse the rising hatred against LGBT people and often give biased statements and opinions about the LGBT community to gain majority votes, as well as promote anti-LGBT laws and bylaws. In early November 2018, a so-called ‘war against LGBT communities’ was started by Hidayat Nurwahid from Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), who demanded President Jokowi issue an anti-LGBT law. The 2019 presidential election will be yet another battleground for politicians against the LGBT community; it is highly likely that most affected group in this war will be already vulnerable transwomen.
In Silence: Violence against Transwomen in Indonesia
Throughout 2017, based on the data collected by LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid), there were 973 individuals who were victims of stigma, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions outside the heteronormative binary. Based on their observations, transwomen ranked first as victims of violence at a rate of 715 out of 973 people. The vulnerability of transgender groups is caused by the visibility of their gender expression, making them more identifiable to society and the public at large. For transgender people who are evicted from their homes, these risks are amplified due to not only their loss of housing, but also their loss of support groups, be it family or friends.
From LBH Masyarakat’s observations, throughout 2017 there were at least three incidents of murder of transwomen. A transwoman in Bone, South Sulawesi, was murdered by two men who pretended to befriend her. When she was asleep, they murdered and robbed her. This modus operandi of larceny also happened in Semarang, Central Java, where after dating a transwoman, the perpetrator murdered her and took off with her belongings. The third incident happened in South Lampung, Sumatra. This time there was no robbery, but there was the same patternwhere the perpetrator had sexual relations with the transwoman and then killed the victim. These killings, targeting transwomen, follow a similar pattern to murders targeting women, also known as femicide. They are done merely on the basis that the victim is a woman or a transwoman, by perpetrators who view women as weak and gullible, and transwomen particularly so.
Additionally, in 2018 transwomen have been identified as the most frequent victims of police violence in Indonesia. At the start of 2018, police in the province of Aceh detained 12 transwomen, shaving or cutting their long hair with the justification that they were teaching them how to act like “real men”. In November 2018, three transwomen were subjected to a raid by Satpol PP (a regional police force concerned with morals and order) in Lampung province. In this raid, the three transwomen were brought to the Satpol PP office and hosed down with water at the firefighter building. Adding insult to injury, a Satpol PP officer also proudly recorded and shared the torture and humiliation on social media.
Despite the fact that transwomen have become the most vulnerable group in Indonesia, the government tends to deny the violence against transwomen happens. It is also difficult to document the violence against transwomen because victims are often intimidated and oppressed, both by law enforcement agencies and society at large when they try to report their cases. Violence continues, justice is delayed.
The violence experienced by transwomen and LGBT groups in general is caused by rising intolerance and the lack of understanding of gender and sexuality in society. Widespread discrimination seems to be here to stay in the long-run. Most worryingly, many academics, politicians, and even governmental authorities have stated that they support legal discrimination of LGBT people in Indonesia. LGBT people’s basic civil rights are, at the end of the day, just unfulfilled promises. Their requests are simple: equal access and an opportunity to live. However, the government seems adamant to deny that wish.
About the author: Prof Christine Bell, Professor of Constitutional Law; Assistant Principal (Global Justice); Director, Political Settlements Research Programme. University of Edinburgh
Recently I visited the ‘Homomonument’ memorial in Amsterdam which commemorates the many gay and lesbian people persecuted by the Nazis. Estimates of those killed in Nazi concentration camps range from 5000 to 15000. In most countries this dimension of the holocaust went unacknowledged, and gay men were even rearrested sometimes on the basis of Nazi evidence. It was only in 2002 that Germany apologised and pardoned those convicted in that period, but only in 2017 did it pardon gay men convicted under Nazi era laws more generally. Standing at the monument served as a reminder also that in times of conflict, LGBT communities are often targeted in violent attacks in particular ways. Furthermore, awareness is now increasing that peace processes and post-conflict environments, almost without exception, fail to address LGBT security or consider what peace would look like for LGBT people.
During these 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, it is worth highlighting how persecution of LGBT people is often bound up with conflict violence in a myriad of ways and LGBT communities often make distinctive and important contributions to peace processes. In the early 1990s, during the conflict in Northern Ireland, I conducted some interviews with gay men and lesbian women, on police harassment for human rights research project (McVeigh, ‘Harassment – Its Part of Life Here’, 1992), which was to feed into police reforms as part of the eventual peace process. ‘Homosexuality’ had remained illegal in Northern Ireland long after 1967, when it was legalised in the rest of the United Kingdom, in part due to the conservative social culture, and in part because of the unwillingness for the UK government to legislate for Northern Ireland even when it directly held power there. It was not until 1981 when a European Court of Human Rights case brought by a gay man, forced a change in the law (The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act). This was the law under which the poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was convicted in 1895 – coincidentally Wilde grew up in Northern Ireland – and whose provisions still apply to make abortion illegal in Northern Ireland. A similar case before the ECHR against the Republic of Ireland in 1988, saw a law change South of the border.
The interviews made clear that, in addition to the difficulties, and often violent consequences that came with being a gay person in a very conservative society, were the specific threats that emanated from ‘the troubles’ (as Northern Ireland’s conflict was euphemistically called). People’s sexuality was routinely used against them. For example, in instances of police harassment, sexuality was often focused on as a ‘vulnerability’, and in particular with regard to people from Catholic/Nationalist/Republican communities, to be used to push people to become ‘informers’. Informing was in itself a lethal activity given that informers were routinely killed by the IRA. The ‘hypermasculinised’ culture of the troubles, coupled with a conservative social climate, meant that socialising as a gay person was very difficult, although the few spaces that did exist often transcended Northern Ireland’s other class and religious divisions. When a book was published with anonymous contributions on those from a Protestant background who did not ‘fit’ in the traditional ‘Unionist’ box allocated them, some of the most interesting accounts were from gay men (Hyndman ‘Further Afield’ 1992). They told of lives lived in complex navigation around Northern Ireland’s sectarian divisions, its violent religious ‘interfaces’, and its rigidly and violently policed gender boundaries. A long story could be told of the complex relationships of both Unionism/Loyalism and Nationalism/Republicanism with ‘homosexuality’ but remains to be written.
In the contemporary academic conflict literature, gender violence against gay people is rarely discussed, although this is beginning to change. Yet it is a feature of many identity conflicts, where concepts of ‘ethno-national belonging’ often include concepts of ‘the purity of the nation’ in ways that are used to police gender boundaries and reinforce violent attitudes not just towards women but also towards LGBT people. Many more conflicts than that in Northern Ireland have produced ‘hypermasculinised’ dimensions to conflict which has been visited on LGBT communities.
Also rare, is the addressing of any of these issues in peace processes and agreements. In a research project – the Political Settlement Research Programme (www.politicalsettlements.org), based at the University of Edinburgh, we have collected a very broad set of peace agreements, from pre-negotiation agreements through comprehensive agreements, through to implementation agreements and coded them for the issues addressed. This database is fully publicly available and searchable (www.peaceagreements.org). Between 1990 and 2015 out of over 1500 peace agreements, only nine referred in any way to sexual orientation. Six of these references are positive in the sense of providing rights, and three were negative – reinforcing prohibitions on same sex marriage for example or making ‘homosexuality’ illegal. In 2016 the Colombian peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government was ground breaking in the way it addressed LGBT rights and concerns. However, this agreement was narrowly rejected in a popular referendum, in part due to the opposition of religious groups who resisted what they saw as a ‘gender ideology’ in which LGBT rights were implicated. In the months that followed, tweaks to the agreement were made, until a new version was adopted some months later and, among other changes, the LGBT commitments and language were significantly reduced. Despite a well-established ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda underwritten by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates that peace agreements adopt a ‘gender perspective’, there has been little or no discussion of how a gender perspective should understand and include LGBT communities and perspectives.
Yet LGBT communities and individuals are often critical to the search for peace. Working behind the scenes in the Northern Irish peace process, it was clear to me that gay people were very significant in party structures and at the heart of the political negotiations. Some found room within their party to be out, others did not. How much was this contribution networked and understood as a ‘gender /gap perspective’ on the peace process? Not much. But there was sometimes a form of silent acknowledgement of the contribution of key gay individuals to the moderation of views within key political parties, although rarely causing a structural shift in party positions or attitudes.
Within civil society, LGBT communities were a key constituency pushing for a just peace based on equality and human rights. LGBT groups played a significant role in the peace process on their own, and as part of broad-based equality alliances that were responsible for many of the human rights and equality provisions of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement (although the ‘single equality Act’ promised in the peace process was never finalised). In the years after the Agreement, there were some breakthroughs – a major report aimed to give Lesbian and Bi-sexual women a voice in equality debates, and broke new boundaries by being launched in Stormont, the seat of the new Northern Irish Assembly, with cross party support (‘A Mighty Silence’ Marie Quiery 2002). There is today some more space for being gay than when I was growing up, and a range of organisations now fill the spaces created by the brave but often lone spokespersons of eras before. But progress is frustratingly slow, and life as a young LGBTI person remains challenging (a report whose release was for a time blocked by the DUP Education minister, showed that 2:3 pupils did not feel welcome in Northern Ireland’s schools). A survey of LGBT rights and experiences across Europe in 2017 found that Northern Ireland was ‘the worst place to be gay’.
While there were some equality gains from the peace process, the peace process and resultant power-sharing mechanisms, also helped bring about regressive outcomes on LGBT rights. Under power-sharing, and backed up by a socially conservative Attorney General for Northern Ireland, many progressive measures were routinely blocked or challenged. Same sex adoption was resisted, with the (new) Attorney General also stretching the limits of his role to intervene, in line apparently with his own religious views, against same sex adoption in the European Court of Human Rights. Same sex marriage remains prohibited, even though legalised in the rest of the UK and in Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party (currently crucial to the current UK government remaining in power) has a track record of regressive policies including trying to ban blood donations from gay men .
A report ‘Reimaging Inclusive Security in Peace Processes: LGB&T Perspectives’, authored by Fidelma Ashe of University of Ulster, and shortly to be produced by the Political Settlement Research Programme (www.politicalsettlements.org), interestingly returns to the issue of LGBT security. Based on research in Northern Ireland, this report reveals a situation where LGBT communities still feel insecure. Even new generations are affected by some of the historic distrust of institutions such as police, with respect to past actions. It is clear that security has not been defined and implemented with LGBT experiences in mind. The report contains useful recommendations for how the security of LGBT communities could be addressed in future peace negotiations. The report will be available in mid-December at www.politicalsettlements.org.
About the author: Anna Hush is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, researching how student activists have responded to sexual violence at Australian universities. Anna is also a Director of End Rape on Campus Australia, a national advocacy group working towards an end to sexual violence in university communities.
In 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released the results of a landmark survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities. The results were staggering – the Commission found that one in ten women had experienced sexual assault while studying in the past two years, with roughly a quarter of these assaults occurring in a university setting. Queer, trans, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and students with disabilities were all found to be at particular risk of experiencing sexual violence. With 1.4 million students currently enrolled in higher education in Australia, this translates to thirty students a day, every day, experiencing sexual assault within a university setting.
This is not a new issue by any means. The Red Zone Report, released by national advocacy group End Rape on Campus (EROC) Australia in early 2018, showed that feminists at the University of Sydney have been speaking out about this issue since at least 1977. The stories of survivors have been particularly important in highlighting the devastating impacts of sexual violence, and the sense of institutional betrayal experienced when universities fail to respond with sensitivity and compassion.
Since the release of the AHRC report, universities have taken some steps towards developing stronger policies around sexual violence and improving the support offered to survivors on campus. But why has it taken them so long to act, when there have been consistent demands from students for many decades? This is particularly vexing when we compare Australia’s action on this issue to that of the United States. The first federal complaint against a university for engendering a ‘sexually hostile environment’ was filed in the US in 2011; by 2013, the United States Congress had passed legislation mandating that federally-funded universities undertake evidence-based primary prevention programs for sexual violence.
In contrast, Australia is lagging behind. We are only now seeing Australian universities begin to roll out consent modules for their students, many of which have been criticised by experts as ineffective, and called ‘unrealistic’ and ‘tokenistic’ by students. Australian universities also continue to miss the mark in their public responses to sexual violence; in September this year, the University of New South Wales sent an email to all staff and students in the aftermath of a sexual assault on campus, encouraging them to ‘walk with purpose and confidence’ and ‘maintain awareness of [their] situation’. Students and staff were acrimonious, pointing out the disjunct between the university’s victim-blaming language and their stated ‘zero tolerance’ approach to sexual assault.
Part of the problem in Australia in addressing campus-related sexual violence is the lack of an effective federal body for overseeing the sector’s approach. When universities in the US fail to respond adequately to complaints of sexual violence, students can file complaints with the Office for Civil Rights using the Title IX statute, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally-funded university. This has been a critical tool for US survivors and advocates to hold universities to account. In contrast, when students in Australia are dissatisfied with their universities’ responses to sexual violence, there are scarce options for taking their complaints further. Complaints made to universities can take months or even years to resolve, during which time student-survivors are forced to attend classes or share residences with perpetrators. This is in breach of federal standards stipulating that universities must promote a safe environment, have clear and timely structures in place for investigating complaints, and provide support, advocacy, and confidentiality for complainants.
There is one federal body in Australia that may be equivalent to the Title IX mechanism in the United States. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is responsible for overseeing universities’ compliance with federal standards – so in theory, TEQSA could sanction universities for mishandling sexual violence complaints with fines or even deregistration.
In 2017, End Rape on Campus Australia filed the first complaint with TEQSA related to an instance of sexual violence. The 17-page complaint, supported by 112 pages of documentation, argued that one Australian university was in breach of its own policies by allowing a man convicted of child sex offences and placed on the sex offender register to continue studying, after being made aware of the risk this student posed to others. Over a year later, however, EROC Australia is yet to receive any notification of the findings of the investigation. Sharna Bremner, founder and director of EROC Australia, notes that “TEQSA did not have clear or accessible procedures for filing a complaint – it’s not set up for students to lodge grievances in the same way as Title IX. Filing a complaint with TEQSA typically requires a student to have first utilised their university’s internal complaints mechanism and then taking their grievances to an external body, such as the state ombudsman, before a complaint can be lodged with TEQSA.“
“Pursuing our TEQSA complaint has taken approximately 350 hours over the course of thirteen months, and on a number of occasions, we have had to escalate our questions to senior management in order to receive a response. When TEQSA’s investigations had been completed, we learned that the university that is the subject of the complaint determines what, if any, information we receive about the findings,” Bremner commented.
This points to the need for stronger oversight in how universities respond to sexual violence. Advocacy groups have called for a federal taskforce to coordinate the sector’s response, but as yet this has not been put into place. As it stands, universities have been left to determine their own responses to sexual violence, which have largely been ad hoc and reactive. As I have argued elsewhere, their prevention efforts have been particularly disappointing. Many university administrators have failed to engage with the expertise of academic staff in disciplines like gender and cultural studies, criminology, and social work, which should be some of their key resources in developing prevention and response strategies.
We are now at a point where we have a clear sense of the problem. We also have good evidence about what needs to be done; for example, the good practice guidedeveloped by academic researchers at the UNSW Australian Human Rights Institute. But to genuinely transform cultures of violence in higher education, it will take a coordinated approach from the sector, and accountability mechanisms for when universities fail. When universities have shied away from public scrutiny in this area for so long, transparency and accountability will be the key to creating genuine change.
By Meenakshi Gopinath, Shilpi Shabdita and Diksha Poddar
“We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.”Hannah Arendt, We Refugees(1943)
Each year, millions of people are forcibly displaced at astonishing rates from places they have regarded as home in search of shelter, safety, and freedom. As per United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) records, an unprecedented 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced around the world. Despite the swelling numbers and the magnitude of their trauma, they have generally remained in the periphery, not just in terms of spatial location but in terms of public consciousness.Increasingly now, compelling visuals and testimonies of displaced communities from across the world have ignited an international outcry over the human cost of the migration crisis. This includes disturbing image of the lifeless body of a toddler washed ashore in Turkey while fleeing Syria in 2015 which was widely publicized with hashtags of ‘humanity washed ashore’.
Among displaced communities worldwide, possibly the most persecuted are those who are stateless, living on the margins of society, pushed to the ‘oblivion of rightlessness’and most vulnerable to exploitation. They are seized within the protracted cycles of displacement and precarity, where “today’s IDP is tomorrow’s refugee, tomorrow’s refugee is day after’s economic migrant.”And therefore, it will be insufficient to understand statelessness through the prism of state and law.This article critically explores the interaction between displacement and security from a feminist lens, in South Asia.
The Rohingya in the South and Southeast Asian region, living in precarious situations as ‘Asia’s new boat people’, are one of the world’s most persecuted stateless communities. In recent years, the mass exodus of over 4,00,000 Rohingya from Myanmar reignited an international debate in South and Southeast Asia on issues of displacement, statelessness and the rights of refugees. Almost a year has passed and the plight of the Rohingya remains largely unchanged as they languish in inhuman conditions in the ‘camps’ and replete with everyday indignities, threats, fear, erasure of personhood, and the sustained violence of marginalization that epitomize the half-life of statelessness.
Within Myanmar, ethnic and national identities have effectively merged and intersected with political disempowerment and economic impoverishment of vulnerable communities. These issues are nestled within the context of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India’s historical linkages, porous borders and shared pasts, which are increasingly overlooked as the borders of these interdependent states increasingly hostile and inhospitable.
In mainstream narratives in India, the Rohingya are often described as a ‘threat to security and national interests’, ‘Muslim Bangladeshi infiltrators’, ‘illegals’, ‘victims’, or are attributed responsibility for adversely affecting strategic bilateral relations with Myanmar. The turbulent history of the region, coupled with the post-9/11 regime of securitization and the increasing currency of the discourse of terrorism and concurrent rise of Islamophobia, have combined to make the plight of the Rohingya precarious in ways that are difficult to redress. Further, there are systematic efforts in the region to sanitize states by creating an ideal notion of citizenship narrowly defined by three attributes—Male, Monolithic and Majoritarian. In this context, there is a need to exhort sensitivity towards the complexity inherent in issues of displacement and statelessness by moving beyond the paradigm of ‘security’ and reimagining a new vocabulary rooted in values of human dignity, interdependence, dialogue, respect for diversity, and compassion. Therefore, in South Asia, how can we begin a process of ‘Restorying’ and redefining the conceptual vocabulary of security, and move outside the framework of state and law?
Prof. Shiv Visvanathan’s reflections on the limits of policy raise several pertinent questions. “Policy often destroys language, it objectifies the other person, it has no language for suffering or memory. When we say what is our policy, the moment of violence has already begun.”What are the experiences that lead people to feel stateless, homeless, disadvantaged? How do we rehumanize the ‘other’? Where do we listen for the silences in narratives? How do we bear witness to the symbols of everyday resistance and resilience of displaced communities? How can we shift away from characterizing forced migrants as silent victims and move towards privileging narratives of the displaced to combat their state of voicelessness and restore agency? What is our language for memory, longing, belonging, the body and suffering?
In this context, there is a need for states to explore creative avenues of engagement at the regional level for the protection of stateless populations.
[C]an there be a policy for hospitality, a policy to be kind? … The pertinence and the impossibility of the question suggest for us, of course, the need for a dialogic approach to the issue of care and hospitality. New rules can be built only on such dialogic awareness that will tell us of the need for continuous conversation within the country and internationally; among shelter-seekers, shelter-givers, and the institutions of care and justice, including public and community bodies.
This invites an iconoclastic recovery of the ideas of security — of what it means to be secure, what it means to be human, and above all, whether citizenship can frame the canvas of humanity.
Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath is an educationist, political scientist and writer. She is Founder and Director of WISCOMP and has served as the Principal of Lady Shri Ram College For Women, University of Delhi for 26 years.
Shilpi Shabdita is currently Program Associate, WISCOMP and holds a Masters’ degree in International Peace Studies from University of Notre Dame, USA.
Diksha Poddar is working as a Consultant with WISCOMP. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Paula Banerjee, “Editorial”, Forced Migration and Displacement Peace Prints South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding(New Delhi: Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace), Vol. 4, No. 1 (2012).
Hannah Arendt, The Origin of Totalitarianism(New York: Schocken Books, 2004), 353-5.
Rita Manchanda at a Panel Discussion in New Delhi on 7 September 2018. See, Shilpi Shabdita & Diksha Poddar, People on the Run, people on the Move: Displacement, Security and Gender in South Asia(New Delhi: WISCOMP, 2018), 15-16.
Ranabir Samaddar at a Panel Discussion in New Delhi on 7 September 2018. See, Shilpi Shabdita & Diksha Poddar,People on the Run, people on the Move: Displacement, Security and Gender in South Asia(New Delhi: WISCOMP, 2018), 13-14.
Madhura Chakraborty et al., The Rohingya in South Asia: People Without a State, ed. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury and Ranabir Samaddar (New York: Routledge, 2018), 110.
Paula Banerjee at a Panel Discussion in New Delhi on 7 September 2018. See, Shilpi Shabdita & Diksha Poddar, People on the Run, people on the Move: Displacement, Security and Gender in South Asia(New Delhi: WISCOMP, 2018), 18-19.
Ranabir Samaddar at a Panel Discussion in New Delhi on 7 September 2018. See, Shilpi Shabdita & Diksha Poddar, People on the Run, people on the Move: Displacement, Security and Gender in South Asia(New Delhi: WISCOMP, 2018), 13-14.
Opening Remarks by Prof. Shiv Visvanathan at a WISCOMP Roundtable titled (Re)Storying Kashmir: Exploring Possibilities for Constructive Partnershipsin New Delhi on 25 October 2017.
R. Samaddar (ed.), Refugees and the State: Practices of Asylum and care in India, 1947-2000(New Delhi: Sage, 2003), 60.
Last year, we participated in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence with a series of blog posts. This year, we are partnering with the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ambedkar University Delhi to bring you a blogathon over the full 16 days, 25 Nov – 10 Dec 2018. The theme for this year’s UN 16 Days campaign is #HearMeToo. We have created a special website which will publish the blog posts every day and act as an archive beyond the 16 days of the blogathon.
The first post, 25 Nov, introduces this year’s project and provides more context around this year’s campaign. It was written by Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh), Louise Chappell (University of New South Wales), and Krishna Menon (Ambedkar University Delhi). You can read it here: https://16daysblogathon.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/day-one-introduction/
Extract from: No room for complacency: the ongoing need for world-wide activism to eradicate violence against women, originally published on 16daysblogathon.wordpress.com
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.
In 1998, Sweden was the first country in the world to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, but not the sale of sex. The law represented a new prostitution regime that problematised power relations in prostitution as inherently gendered and hierarchical and made the male buyers of sexual services responsible for the act of prostitution. The Swedish case is critically important to the study of gendered institutional change and has been of empirical interest and global debate.
Using the feminist institutionalism approach to the analysis, Criminalising the Client offers new insights to the Swedish case and provides a new analytical framework for micro-level analysis of institutional change that addresses the struggle for meaning, institutionalization of new gendered ideas, and the (strategic) actions of feminist actors.
Sometimes radical shifts occur which alter existing rules and norms in society in a way which have major implications for gender equality. When Sweden criminalised the purchase of sexual services in 1998, without criminalising the sale of sex, such a crucial shift took place. The new law was a manifestation of a new way of perceiving and approaching prostitution; power relations in prostitution were seen as inherently gendered and hierarchical and (male) buyers of sexual services were made responsible for the act of prostitution.
Recently there has been a renewed interest in the Swedish case since several countries have followed suit and criminalised the client; for example Iceland (2009), Norway (2009), Canada (2014), Ireland (2014) and France (2016). The point of departure of my book is that the Swedish client criminalisation constitutes an instance of gendered institutional change. Regardless of normative considerations—the ban has received critique as well as praise— the ban is indeed an intriguing case from a gender perspective. The case is thus not only topical and of great interest in itself, it can also provide new knowledge into the dynamics of gendered institutional change, for example it gives the encouraging insight that radical change can in fact be the result of gradual, slow moving processes.
Inspired by feminist institutionalism  and frame analysis  (the book develops a novel analytical approach to gendered institutional change that can account for gendered ideational changes as well as actors’ strategies, and the interaction between ideas and actors.The usefulness of this new analytical approach is demonstrated in a rich empirical analysis of the Swedish political process between 1970s and 1998 when the client was criminalised. Over the course of these years the ideas of client criminalisation developed from a marginalised idea expressed by a few individuals, into a new institution (set of rules and norms). Our story begins when the demand for criminalisation was first raised outside parliament by feminist organisations, and it continues inside the parliament as women legislators from different political parties repeatedly advocated for criminalisation. While the resistance in parliament initially was strong, these new ideas gradually gained broader support and influenced actors’ understanding and strategies in favour of increased support for client criminalisation. Important steps included the creation of a consensus that prostitution was a problem in itself, the introduction of a gender perspective, and support for a causal story “blaming” clients. During the same period, the established social understanding of prostitution as a structural socio-economic problem rooted in poverty became more and more questioned. In the end feminist strategies played an important role for the final outcome.
The book’s main empirical finding is that the sequencing of frames—whereby the institutionalisation of an overarching abolitionist frame needed to be prior to the institutionalisation of a gendered frame— was decisive for the outcome in various ways. For example, it delimited the resistance. Another key factor for the final outcome was the commitment of female MPs from various political parties, including non-socialist parties, who worked across party lines in coalitions and the use of discursive strategies, for instance broad inclusive problem framings.
My work does not support previous claims that demands for client criminalisation emerged in the 1980s and had radical feminist roots . On the contrary, the demand for client criminalisation arose from other sets of ideas and actors. For example, the demand to criminalise the purchase of sexual services was, from the very beginning, framed in terms of an unequal and hierarchical gender relation in the act of prostitution, although it was not framed as violence against women. In addition, women within a number of political parties were the most prominent advocates, not radical feminists.
In terms of theory, the book furthers our understanding of gendered institutional change in general and more precisely in demonstrating the endogenous process by which an individual idea becomes an institution. Various mechanisms at work within processes of gendered institutional change have been identified, of which sequencing, consensus concerning the framing of the problem, and gendering of the discourse appear to be the most important. In respect of strategies for promoting gender-equitable change, the findings indicate that lessons from other institutional contexts as well as inclusive framing strategies are significant. Finally, the development of a dynamic frame analysis is an important methodological contribution to feminist institutionalism insofar as it specifies analytical tools for analysis of gendered institutional change at the micro-level.
The book inspires scholars to bring in the role of ideas in the analysis of gendered institutional change and encourage a continued theorization on how gendered ideas and institutions interact.
 Krook, Mona Lena, and Fiona Mackay. 2011. Gender, Politics and Institutions:Towards a Feminists Institutionalism. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palsgrave Macmillan; Mackay, Fiona, and Georgina Waylen. 2014. “Introduction: Gendering “New” Institutions.” Politics & Gender10 (04):489-494.
 Schön, Donald A., and Martin Rein. 1994. Frame Reflection. Toward the Resolution of Intractable Policy Controversies. New York: Basic Books; Lombardo, Emanuela, Petra Meier, and Mieke Verloo. 2016. “Policymaking from a Gender+ Equality Perspective.” Journal of Women, Politics & Policy:1-19.
 Dodillet, Susanne. 2009. Är sex arbete? Svensk och tysk prostitutionspolitik sedan 1970- talet. Stockholm/Sala: Vertigo; Ekberg, Gunilla. 2004. “The Swedish Law That Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services. Best Practices for Prevention of Prostitution and Trafficking in Human Beings.” Violence against women10 (10):1187-1218; Gould, Arthur. 2001. “The Criminalisation of Buying Sex: The Politics of Prostitution in Sweden.” Journal of Social Policy 30 (3):437-456.
In the moments of now, you are so much involved in the present and it is only when that moment has passed that you appreciate the full essence of it, even the subtle aspects of the experience that you did not realize at that moment that you were absorbing. This is true for the week at Edinburgh that flew by in a wink for me. It was only as I got ready to leave the boundaries of the United Kingdom that I felt the full impact of the time that I had spent with the team of Feminist Taleem.
My journey with Feminist Taleem is filled with several major milestones. It started with my becoming part of the host team for the Delhi workshop. This involved spending an intensive week with the project team members from Ambedkar University Delhi and University of Edinburgh. During this week, I found myself amidst other women who identified themselves as ‘feminists’. I was exposed to a diversity of ideas and experiences, and this exposure initiated a process of reflection. This process reached its height at the February workshop in Edinburgh when we, as a team, met again for a week-long deliberation. My ‘aha’ moment during this week was hitting upon the realization that women academics’ realities are so similar across different contexts in the North and the South.
However, in the run up to this ‘aha’ moment and the Edinburgh workshop, as such, I had been very apprehensive. All project team members were to present an auto-ethnographic paper about their engagement with feminism, and I felt apprehensive while writing my own paper for this presentation. After all, it was a part of me that I was transferring onto paper! A paper to be shared in the public domain would mean making myself vulnerable, and it is never easy in this world to deliberately place oneself in such a position, even if it is among fellow feminists where subjectivity is allowed to emerge. But when Lauren, another project team member and fellow PhD scholar, spoke about her fears during the workshop, I felt like it created a space to openly talk about my own vulnerabilities. It also strengthened my belief that only when we are able to create spaces to talk about our own fears ourselves that we can do the same for others.
In my doctoral research, and in my paper, I was trying to capture my maternal self and within that the essence of my own mother’s presence. I was also curious as to how others like me dealt with their dilemmas surrounding ‘womanhood’ and ‘motherhood’. My research question was: ‘Where does the subjective position of a Muslim mother in contemporary India lie?’ I suspect this subjective position is influenced by an identity that is increasingly seen as the ‘other’ by the majority in the society, in a world that is witnessing multiple instances of what is called ‘Islamic terrorism.’ To pen this ongoing journey as I hold conversations with other mothers is fraught with struggles as it requires oneself to be honest and dig deeper within – like an archeologist who excavates what lies hidden and yet influences deeply the present. It is for this reason that I was apprehensive – there was lots to write but I was struggling to write it, and that is also how the title of my paper emerged, ‘As I Struggle, I Write the Script for My Daughter.’
The underlying theme of our project is creating feminist classrooms, and the workshops in Delhi and Edinburgh truly offered not only formal but also informal feminist spaces where we felt enriched through exposure and sharing of new ideas. I remember the time that I spent with my fellow Ambedkar University students preparing for our visit to Edinburgh. We learnt to work together and got to know each other beyond the mere familiarity of faces seen on campus. Friendships were formed and our sense of togetherness was consolidated during the week spent in Edinburgh. The initial walk around town that Megan and Orla took us on in Edinburgh, and the subsequent feminist tour of the city will be remembered with fondness. In fact, the feminist tours of the city – quite different from the ordinary tours of the city which tell us about the history of a place – were, for me, the best features of both the Edinburgh and Delhi workshops!
At Edinburgh, what made the adage ‘the personal is political’ truly come alive for me was our visit to Professor Mackay’s home. She invited the whole project team over for dinner, giving us a glimpse of her ‘personal space’, and extending such warmth and friendship. I see this as a crucial aspect of our being feminists. When we open different spaces that we live in to include others we acknowledge the possibilities of intersubjectivities, thereby allowing for the existence of different identities and interfaces between them. That evening, all of us talked about our lives and our politics. Personal anecdotes helped build connections. Creativity flowed through music and poetry representing both countries. I think the evening was a demonstration of the kind of feminist space that we talk about creating for others around us, be it our students in the classroom or in our individual groups. From the informal space of the home to the formal spaces during the workshop, each of us was responsible for constructing an environment where we were able to speak because we experienced the feeling of being heard.
Overall, I loved the conversations about our lives and how this gets reflected in our work. It made engagement in the project so much deeper for me, personally. I loved the reflective pieces presented by each project team member, especially those presented by the students (not to say that the presentations of the faculty were not inspiring :)) as each one of them had something that spoke to me about what I experience in my own life. Therefore, hearing and talking about it was a relief. Being paired up with a team member from Edinburgh gave me an opportunity to get exposed to a work domain I was not familiar with. Sarah, who discussed my paper, helped me by asking questions about things I had not noticed, having been so close to my subject. I hope I was able to do the same for her. Reading her paper allowed me to think about ‘bodiedness’ and I was left with curiosity about how it would translate further in her work.
I returned back to Delhi, inspired to engage with my work with renewed energy that only comes in when your soul is refreshed.
Some months back, I picked up Sara Ahmed’s eagerly-awaited most recent book, Living a Feminist Life. Opening it to the first page, I found the dedication:
‘To the many feminist killjoys out there doing your thing: THIS ONE IS FOR YOU.’
For several minutes I sat with the book open to that page, taken aback by how much it had moved me, and trying to figure out why. On reflection, it makes perfect sense. Feminist killjoys – and feminist teachers – operate largely in apparent isolation. We’re out there ‘doing our thing’, unyieldingly intruding on patriarchy’s otherwise smooth operation. It’s rich and rewarding labour, but labour nonetheless, and it’s often met with resistance, derision, ostracism, and sometimes much worse. We fight on anyway because it needs to be done, but the feeling of being an isolated feminist antagonist is lonely and exhausting.
When I read that dedication, I was immediately struck by a mental image of all of the other feminists out there, and just how vast a network we are. We each know that the others are there, doing the feminist work, pushing on patriarchy’s stubbornly solid walls, but that knowing is often not felt. For the most part, we don’t know who these other feminists are, where they are, or what they’re doing. We can’t see them, touch them, or hear their voices. We just have to keep pushing, and trust that the others are there pushing alongside us, even if they’re too far down the length of the wall for us to see them. Occasionally, though, there is a fleeting instant when our awareness of one another’s presence – of the vastness of the feminist army – is really felt. Reading Ahmed’s dedication, I thought of all of the others holding that same book in their hands, strong and determined but weary from the long feminist fight we’re each fighting, each a one-person cell in a web too great to readily fathom. As individuals we do important work, but what makes feminism an unstoppable force in the world is that we are absolutely everywhere. That great web is indestructible and full of power and energy, reverberating with the passion, cumulative insight, and wilfulness of agitators, educators, and freedom fighters.
Fast forward a few months, and the Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives team is meeting for the first time in Delhi. We had only about a week together, which couldn’t possibly be enough time, but we made the most of it, sharing ideas, papers, reflections, travels, meals, and happiness. On one intellectually explosive day, we presented papers to one another and other interested attendees, and convened a roundtable discussion of our team as well as a range of other feminist educators. It would be difficult to convey the enormity of what a single conference room contained that day. Around a long conference table, and with a packed-out second layer surrounding it, was an assembly of feminist titans. By that, I don’t refer to the notoriety of some of those present (though some were widely recognisable), but rather to the immensity of wisdom, experience, conviction, and insight accumulated amongst the group present.
We shared reflections on feminist teaching and learning, and the challenging and ambivalent negotiations and travails that we each face in practising them. We were reminded that many of our students are led to feminist classrooms by deeply personal journeys, and of the incongruity of our responding by handing them overwhelming reading lists of esoteric theoretical texts. We heard about the difficulties of persuading women to pursue and finish their educations, and the disappointing concessions to patriarchal discourse that it sometimes requires. We examined the challenges of teaching anti-feminist men in a feminist classroom, and of being a pro-feminist man in educational spaces which mark feminist education as the sole purview of women. We explored productive and inhibitive forms of feminist and anti-feminist discomfort in pedagogical spaces, and sat with the encouraging but dissonant acceptance that ease and comfort are unlikely signs of transformation – feminism was never meant to be an easy ride. We shook our heads in frustration, laughed with glee, and nodded with fervent affirmation as we recognised one another’s feminist pedagogical journeys in our own.
What has most stayed with me after the event, though, was one particular narrative we heard near the end of the almost three-hour long session. After many interventions around the question of what we collectively called the ‘resistant subject’ – the mind which draws away from the threat of a burgeoning feminist consciousness – we were told about a young man in a feminist classroom who, after weeks of wrestling with feminist learning, submitted a revelatory essay at the end of the term. It began, ‘Let us imagine…’ before going on to engage in the vital practice of radically envisioning a more feminist world. There are infinitely many things to say about feminist imagining and what it enables us to do, but in the satisfied exhaustion of a long and enriching day, what most struck me was what this feminist teacher had to say next: She reflected that if our teaching leads to a student submitting an essay which opens with the phrase ‘let us imagine’, then ‘we’ve done our job’.
In that moment, the feminist super-network invoked in Sara Ahmed’s striking book dedication was present, not just through the experiences and reflections we had shared, but through the acknowledged collectivity of the pedagogical enterprise: ‘we’ve done our job’. Most of what we do as feminist teachers is, of course, teach. We enter classrooms, teach and learn, and are perpetually astonished at how much our students teach us. We, in collaboration and negotiation with students, do the on-the-ground intellectual, emotional, and relational work of bringing about the feminist world which we hope to co-imagine with them. But we do a lot of that work in isolation from each other, embedded in our classrooms and usually unable to see one another. With so many brilliant feminist minds gathered in a single room, the invisibility of the vast web of which we’re all a part was broken. We saw and felt the already-known reality that many of the thoughts, ideas, trials and tribulations, victories, defeats, frustrations, ambivalences, and pleasures that we each experience are ones that we all experience.
In our individual classrooms, compartmentalised and separated by university departments and national borders and the brute force of empire, we are collectively forging a groundswell of feminist consciousness. Political transformation cannot be stopped by walls or borders or boundaries, and though we always know that, the physical co-presence that our meeting in Delhi afforded us enabled us to palpably feel that knowledge, and to engage in a form of exchange which will fuel our pedagogical work and better enable us to continue the transformative feminist project that we, and our students, have embarked upon.