A recovery plan which works for women also works for the planet

This blog post first appeared on ‘On the Engender,’ the blog of Scotland’s Feminist and Policy Advocacy Organisation. 

Claire Duncanson is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, researcher on a project called The Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace, and a member of genderED’s steering group.

Engender and Close the Gap’s new paper outlining nine principles for economic recovery provides a valuable roadmap for Scotland to emerge from COVID-19 in ways that address the pandemic’s alarming gendered impacts. However, as important as its ideas are, it fails to make a critical connection, one at the heart of our country’s future. While the paper’s nine principles are offered as a path to a fairer, more just, more equal and inclusive Scotland, they can and must also be understood as providing a strong foundation for addressing and arresting the climate and biodiversity crises. This is an increasingly urgent task given Scotland’s recent rise in carbon emissions and its damaged and depleted ecosystems, but mention of this potential benefit of their approach is surprisingly absent from the paper.

In what ways do the principles for inclusive economic recovery also serve as a foundation for addressing our climate and biodiversity crises? I’ll highlight three. First, the central plank of Engender and Close the Gap’s nine principles is significant investment in the care economy: in health, childcare and social care services. The benefits of this for a more just and inclusive economy are clear: despite being essential to sustaining societies, paid care work, carried out disproportionately by women, has long been undervalued and under-compensated. Where state services are insufficient, women disproportionately take on the unpaid labour burden. Rewarding those carrying out essential care work with higher pay and better conditions, and ensuring that there is accessible and quality provision of care for all, is thus indeed crucial for gender equality.

As well as furthering gender equality, building a strong care infrastructure contributes to addressing the climate crisis because caring jobs are low carbon jobs: caring for children, seniors and those living with disabilities rarely extracts anything from the land and need not create vast amounts of new waste or pollution. As Naomi Klein argues, in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need to replace the ‘gig and dig’ economy, where the natural world and the majority of its inhabitants are seen as resources to use up and then discard, with one that is structured around ‘care and repair.’ Engender and Close the Gap’s emphasis on care gets us half way there. 

Second, Engender and Close the Gap’s principles also include a recommendation to replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with measures that capture increases in the wellbeing of the people of Scotland. In particular, they argue that existing economic indicators and systems of accounting provide ‘at best a partial, and at worse a misleading, perspective on the productivity and wellbeing of Scotland’s women,’ pointing out that despite the ways women’s unpaid work props up the economy, GDP does not measure what happens within the household.

But, as well as misrepresenting and marginalising women’s labour, GDP also provides a misleading perspective on the environmental costs of our economic system. As it is essentially a sum of all the goods and paid services produced, it (mis)counts as productive all those activities that are dealing with pollution, such as cleaning up after an oil spill, or indeed directly polluting, such as the production and sale of the petrol consumed by vehicles stuck in traffic, and the plastic contaminating the ocean

Changing the measure will not on its own change the world, but indicators matter. As economist Joseph Stiglitz argues: ‘If we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing.’ Discarding GDP opens the door to using economic indicators that accurately account for the social and environmental harms and benefits of any activity. Thus it would not only promote gender equality, but would also enable Scotland to orient its economy towards healing the damage we have done to the planet. 

Third, Engender and Close the Gap’s paper addresses not only the need to redistribute resources to women and other marginalised groups, but also the need to tackle the ideas about gender that act as a barrier to changing our economic system. By arguing that within households men and women should be enabled to do a 50/50 share of paid work and unpaid work, they engage with powerful gender norms that cast men as natural breadwinners and women as natural carers, cleaners and cooks. As the breadwinner role is the one that is more highly rewarded, materially and culturally, this gendered binary underpins gender inequality.

Getting men to undertake 50% of unpaid care work in the home is a challenge. Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, when men are home more than ever before, evidence from the UK and across the world suggests this has not happened, despite the many ways it would enhance gender equality. We can only explain these entrenched divisions of labour by understanding the power of gender norms. Gender norms are not iron laws, however, and the way change happens is through everyday practice: each time men carry out unpaid caring work in the home, each time this work is valued by them and the people around them, a contribution is made to deconstructing the gendered binary of male breadwinner and female caregiver. Engender and Close the Gap’s proposal that men do 50% of the unpaid work is thus a really important aspect of their principles. 

Deconstructing ideas about what is appropriate for men and women is not only important for constructing an inclusive economy, however; it is also essential for addressing and arresting climate change. Our environmental crises are not just caused by carbon emissions, but by ideas about appropriately masculine behaviour. ‘Controlling the environment, using it for survival and/or profit, and being resilient in the face of “Mother Nature’s wrath” are well-nigh compulsory traits of normative “true” manhood in Western cultures,’ write Sherilyn Macgregor and Nicole Seymour. Cara Dagget, drawing on the historic role of fossil fuel systems in buttressing white patriarchal rule in the US, shows how fossil fuels don’t just contribute to making profit, but to making identities, petro-masculinities, which are so firmly held they threaten the chances of post-carbon energy politics. Engender and Close the Gap’s attention to deconstructing ideas about gender is thus important not just because it is a crucial ingredient of an inclusive economy in Scotland, it is also an essential element of a more harmonious relationship with nature. 

In sum, Engender and Close the Gap’s paper could be much bolder in its claims. It not only offers a path to a fairer, more just, more equal and inclusive Scotland, it simultaneously provides a strong foundation for addressing and arresting the climate and biodiversity crises. This reflects the message of a research project I’m involved in to build a Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace, where we’ve found that the principles for inclusive economic recovery after war are the same foundations required for addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. If the Engender and Close the Gap paper made the compatibility of feminist and green approaches explicit, it would strengthen the arguments of both, and aid campaigns for Scotland to build back better after COVID-19. And, with the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group for Economic Recovery’s prescriptions proving so uninspiring (also see herehere and here), these voices need all the strength that can be mustered. 

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Introducing the genderED Summer Intern

Hello – I’m Iz Gius, and I am the genderED summer intern for 2020! I am an incoming fourth year student studying History and English Literature, and I spent the past year participating in (75% of) an Erasmus exchange at the University of Amsterdam. As a student who is passionate about gender and sexuality studies and excited about academic interdisciplinarity, working with genderED is a perfect fit. I took Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World (genderED’s flagship course) in my first year and Introduction to Queer Studies in my second. Looking back, both courses were instrumental in cementing my interests and priorities. The Queer Studies course, for example, inspired me to focus my final-year history dissertation on intersecting homophobia and racism during the early HIV/AIDS epidemic. Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World gave me the theoretical tools, background knowledge, and confidence to undertake gendered analyses in nearly all my subsequent courses, from the criminalization of third-gender communities in colonial India to queer hip-hop. I feel very honored to be able to promote research and teaching about gender and sexuality at the university and contribute to such an important initiative. Gender and sexuality studies have been a hallmark of my university experience thus far, and I’ve been cheering on genderED from afar since my first year, so I hope to communicate the vitality within this broad field in accessible and engaging ways. 

This summer, I’ll be focusing mostly on the communications side of things, including social media promotion and website development. I am also working jointly with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities to help finalize the publication of their book Dangerous Women. I am eager to gain career insights and proficiency in a professional setting, to put my personal ethics and academic interests into practice, and to develop my existing skills in new and exciting ways. Outside of university, I am the co-founder and co-Editor-in-Chief of The Rattlecap, a student-run activist publication, and have also presented and reviewed for FreshAir, the student radio station. 

To me, genderED is so vital because it is a platform which promotes interdisciplinarity, connectivity, co-production, and community. It showcases and amplifies voices which are often, because of their focus on gender and sexuality, marginalized and underestimated within academic spaces. It allows researchers to connect and collaborate across disciplines, schools, and indeed even across institutions and nations. The ‘Feminist Struggles in the Academy’ webcomic exemplifies the insightful results of such collaborations. Especially for early undergraduate students, genderED is an essential reminder that there is so much more to the study of gender and sexuality than a designated ‘gender week’ which pops up in the middle of the semester to remind us that women and queer people exist in these survey courses too. The ‘living’ directories of courses, researchers, projects, networks, and events which exist on the genderED website reveal the strength and immense variety of research and teaching across the university, as well as existing opportunities for students and staff – they are a useful resource to anyone and everyone. I am so looking forward to the upcoming months working with Fiona, and I hope to help deliver sustainable strategies and impactful projects which can further the already-outstanding work happening in this community. 

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Feminist Struggles in the Academy in India and the UK: Comic Launch!

This is a guest post by Kamya Choudhary and Cat Wayland, PhD researchers in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. In it, they introduce a newly released comic, now available for online viewing, Feminist Struggles in the Academy in India and the UK.

Feminist Struggles in the Academy is the culmination of a year-long collaborative effort involving PhD researchers Cat Wayland and Kamya Choudhary, Dr Radhika Govinda, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, and artists Shazleen Khan (London, UK) and Samia Singh (Punjab, India). The comic draws on a unique series of panel discussions and roundtable conversations involving established and emerging feminist academics and activists in Edinburgh, UK, and Delhi, India. These were documented between 2017-2018 as part of a research project, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives (TFTL), led at the University of Edinburgh by Dr Radhika Govinda. TFTL, a collaboration between scholars and students at the University of Edinburgh and Ambedkar University Delhi, explores questions of identity, pedagogy, and violence in two differently diverse yet hierarchical, neoliberal contexts in Northern and Southern locations.

Feminist Struggles in the Academy emerges as part of the legacy of this research project, carrying forward the original vision of creating more open and inclusive spaces for feminist discussions. We hope that the comic is faithful in its reflections of these powerful exchanges, foregrounding the transformative potential of feminist classrooms at the university level and the centrality of reflecting collectively and comparatively through an ongoing dialogue across institutions and borders. Most importantly, we hope that a wide cross-section of feminists within (and perhaps even beyond) academia will identify with the challenges and rewards that our interlocutors described when trying to practice feminism within and against deeply neoliberalised and hierarchical institutions. In spite of the obstacles and the pitfalls along the way, the shared endeavour of the comic and TFTL more broadly points to the sense of optimism that fuels our visions of feminist futures.  

The comic focuses on expressing feminist, intersectional, and decolonising perspectives on a panoply of themes, including pedagogy, positionality, neoliberalism in the academy, and sexual violence, all of which emerged at TFTL project events. Although its themes can also trace their roots to academic literature and scholarly debates, we wanted the comic to represent and communicate these through an artistic medium, so that their sensitivity and complexity can be addressed and captured in a way that may sometimes go unexpressed in academic writing. For instance, the thoughtful and attentive renderings by artists Samia and Shazleen help us to see how the concept of intersectionality is drawn out in terms of the speakers’ embodied identity, but also through their relationships to others who appear in the comic and the positions they hold within their respective institutional settings. Through the illustrations and the text, we have attempted to make visible the simultaneity of privilege and marginalisation in the academy in action.

We hope that GenderPol readers will find this and many other themes in Feminist Struggles in the Academy as points of identification, resonance, and inspiration. In the spirit of ongoing feminist dialogue, we look forward to continuing these important conversations and hope that the comic will inspire further discussion, critique, and imaginings of feminist futures.

Start reading Feminist Struggles in the Academy here: https://edin.ac/2Ai84bE

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Missed the 16 days blogathon? Catch our summary post here

In 2019, gender ED 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

(Repost from genderED)

cropped-wordpress-banner44By Fiona Mackay, Louise Chappell, Rukmini Sen, Caitlin Hamilton and Natasha Dyer (Co-curators)

We’ve reached the end of #16daysblogathon2019! It’s December 10thHuman 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 identitiesmigration, 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 poetrytextiles 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 Africahighlighted 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!

  1. My father never apologised for sexually abusing me. So I wrote his apology for him

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.

  1. Abusive Language and Violence Against Women in the Public Sphere

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.

  1. We, the Women Warriors are unstoppable!

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.

Unintended Consequences of Domestic Violence Law

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.

  1. #Me Too at Two

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.

#MeToo and the work of ending men’s violence against women

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.

  1. Holding foreign fighters accountable for sexual violence

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.’

  1. Towards a just conclusion – a prosecutor’s perspective on tackling domestic abuse in Scotland

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.

  1. Presumptions, Prejudice and Progress: The Dynamics of Violence Against Sexual and Gender Minorities in Conflict-Affected Societies

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.

Remember Sex Workers during the 16 Days

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.

  1. Reflecting on Zimbabwe’s Gukurahundi Genocide through Poetry

By Dudu NdlovuAfrican 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.

  1. Fighting against Disablist Gender Based Violence: A Double Dose of Discrimination

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.

  1. Women’s right to physical security in the Pacific region

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.

Violence Against Girls in the Pacific and Timor-Leste

By Kavitha SuthanthirarajPolicy 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.

  1. A calling to account: Suing perpetrators of domestic violence in Australia

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.

  1. From ‘Battered Wives’ to ‘Coercive Control’: Domestic Abuse in Late Twentieth Century Scotland

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.

  1. Witch-branding in Eastern India

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.

Making connections: Gender-based violence and women’s workforce participation

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.

  1. Textile Testimonies and Gender-Based Violence

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.

Gender-based violence: a glimpse of feminist dilemmas in the academy

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.

  1. Understanding dowry and dowry abuse in Australia

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.

Harnessing Community Power to Prevent Gender Based Violence: The #erasethegrey Campaign

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.

  1. When the law against violence becomes violent

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.

Women, gender-based violence, and resistance in Kashmir

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.

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Genderpol in 2019: A round-up of this year’s blogs

It’s the end of another great year for genderpol, but in case you missed any of our blogs, we’ve summarised them for you below.

From our podcast on the Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World course; to posts on our excellent Decolonising Feminisms workshops; to reports from the protest movements in India, our blog closes this year with a reflection from outgoing coordinator of genderED, Christina Neuwirth, on two years of genderED and its plans for 2020!

If you’ve got a great idea for a blog, podcast or something different, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Gender.ed@ed.ac.uk

2019’s blogs in summary:

  1. Our podcast, hosted by Abrisham Ahmadzadeh who interviewed Dr Meryl Kenny and Silas Lehane about the course

Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World

If you missed it have a listen here:

2. Decolonising Feminisms, Transforming Lives 

On 22 May 2019, the one-day workshop ‘Decolonising Feminist Knowledge: Reflections on Research and Curriculum’ was held at the University of Edinburgh, under the auspices of Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives, a UGC-UKIERI funded project involving staff and students from Ambedkar University Delhi, India and the University of Edinburgh, UK. The workshop was co-sponsored by the University of Edinburgh’s GenderED, Centre for South Asian Studies and Sociology department.

Doctoral researchers CAT WAYLAND  and MARTA  KOWALEWSKA wrote a blog reflecting on the workshop’s genesis, aims, successes, shortcomings, and lessons for the future.

6vcevl3K.jpegPhoto Credit: Megan Harrington

3. Decolonising Feminist Knowledge through Art

@KamyaChoudhary, PhD researcher in International Development at the University of Edinburgh, reports on the Decolonising Feminist Knowledge workshop on 22 May 2019 at the University of Edinburgh.

It emerged from a research and reading group, and a larger North-South research project, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives (TFTL), with the vision being to inculcate an arts-based element to the academic day. The team recruited Raquel Durán, a London-based artist, who specialises in graphic recording and live illustration to communicate complex ideas in an exciting and innovative way. The resulting mural is below. To read more about the workshop, click here.



4. Stand up for Catalonia: A feminist perspective on political repression

Mònica Clua (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) and Tania Verge (Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona) report on the Spanish Supreme Court’s conviction of nine Catalan pro-independence leaders, sentenced between nine and 13 years for the crimes of sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience on Monday 14 October 2019.

As feminists, the authors expose why they believe these charges, made by the State Attorney, Public Prosecutor and the extreme-right party VOX, the same party that believes gender-based violence does not exist and opposes abortion and LGBTI rights, are intolerable. Read more here. 

Picture: Glòria Sánchez, photojournalist: https://www.instagram.com/gloriasanchezfoto/


5. Lessons from Hyderabad: Yesterday, today and tomorrow 

With devastating news of a brutal sexual assault from Hyderabad in December 2019, and protests across India against the scourge of gender-based violence, Krishna Menon and Rukmini Sen (Ambedkar University Delhi) describe the lessons they are taking from this horrific attack, and from the wave of women’s protests on the streets of India against the abrogation of Article 370; the introduction of a highly exclusionary citizenship bill ; the attacks on public funded education as detailed in the National Education Policy;  and the partisan and contested  judgement on the disputed  site of worship at Ayodhya.

This post was part of the 16 days blogathon series, posted in support of the 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, by gender ED (@UoE_genderED). Krishna also co-authored another post on Day 16 of the blogathon, about when the law designed to protect women in India can become violent. 

A link to all the blogs on twitter can be found here

14711280076_5136beafd8_bImage: Night Bazaar (Ramzan) by Rajesh India via Flickr Creative Commons

6. Finally, genderED’s outgoing coordinator, Christina Neuwirth, reflects on genderED at two years old: what’s been achieved so far and what’s next? Lots of exciting plans for 2020! If you missed it so far, don’t forget to take a look at genderED’s #16daysblogathon of this year, in support of 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence. You can also see a summary on twitter here.


Do get in touch if you have an idea for a blog, podcast or something different. For now, a very happy Xmas and New Year from all of us at genderpol

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Outgoing coordinator Christina Neuwirth reflects on two years of genderED: what have we achieved and what’s next?

genderED banner

As we approach the  end of 2019, we reflect on some of the past and future highlights of the genderED initiative – the University of Edinburgh’s interdisciplinary hub for gender and sexualities studies. This post is written by our outgoing co-ordinator Christina Neuwirth, who has been with genderED since the beginning. Christina was instrumental in creating the genderED directories and harnessing community engagement. She has now left genderED to focus on her research and writing. Thank you for a great two years, Christina, you have been amazing, and we wish you all the best for the future!


Christina Neuwirth

How do gender and sexualities scholars, students and educators connect our work across different Schools and disciplines in a large, decentralised University?

How do we make research-led teaching options more visible to students?

How do we build community and capacity as well asraise our profile?

How do we support institutional efforts to promote cultural change and decolonise the Academy?

These were just some of the questions which spurred the creation of genderED in 2017. Gender and sexualities scholarship tends to be marginalised in the Academy, and the University of Edinburgh is no different. The original idea behind genderED was to create a virtual space to showcase excellence in teaching, research and KEI in gender and sexuality studies at the University of Edinburgh, and to promote connectivity and interdisciplinarity. It sprang from the same initiative that created the undergraduate course Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World (More on the origins of that here).

genderED’s Director is Fiona Mackay, Professor of Politics, and I was its  inaugural coordinator and engagement assistant. I came to the role after working at the Centre for Open Learning, the Dangerous Women Project (IASH 2016-2017) and the Institute for International Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh. My starting workat genderED also coincided with the beginning of my PhD in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling, University of Glasgow and Scottish Book Trust (funded by SGSAH/AHRC), where I examine gender equality in contemporary Scottish writing and publishing.

genderED started its life as a set of virtual directories and collection of resources, bringing together information on gender and sexuality courses, researchers, research and KE projects, networks and research groups, blogs and social media, activities and events from across the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS) and beyond. Two years have now passed since we compiled the initial directories, which began with spreadsheets detailing information on gender and sexuality studies courses and research at the University of Edinburgh. Thanks to the help of Gavin Maxwell at CAHSS, these spreadsheets became dynamic, searchable directories listing researchers and courses across more than 10 schools – anything from Chemistry to GeoSciences, Law to Business, Social Sciences to Literature, Languages and Cultures (more information in Figures 1 and 2). The researcher directory currently stands at 132 researchers (from 85 at launch), and the courses directory at 185 courses (from 80).

The content of the directories is always growing and changing – initially, we sent them to Heads of School, and to personal contacts amongst research and teaching staff, asking whether ‘their’ school list of research and teaching felt accurate to them, and if there was anyone whose work we had accidentally missed. Since their inception, both resources have grown and become not only bigger, but better – it’s direct engagement with the directories that makes them work; through using them, we can hone them and make sure they reflect the breadth of gender and sexuality studies at the University of Edinburgh.

They have also been a trigger for researchers and teachers to ‘discover’ common interests in gender. For example, the Wellcome-funded Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society recently realised its gender research strength, as a result of discussions with us anddecided to make gender and sexualities an explicit research theme in its work going forward.

Personal highlights among the courses and projects I engaged with are too numerous to mention, but I will list some here:

From the beginning, we’ve worked to connect gender and sexuality studies researchers and students across the University of Edinburgh, sharing information about events, opportunities and publications through our mailing list (you can join by contacting gender.ed@ed.ac.uk). It rapidly became clear that there was an appetite for genderED to be more than a virtual resource but to also bring people together face-to-face.

In addition, genderED organises, hosts or sponsors a range of activities to promote and support our community.  In 2019 alone, activities included:

  • Our Anniversary celebrations showcasing research and teaching from across the University
  • An annual international blogathon to raise awareness of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, delivered in collaboration with Ambedkar University, Delhi and the Australian Human Rights Institute, University of New South Wales
  • Anoversubscribed feminist methods workshop for postgraduate research students delivered on behalf of the Scottish Graduate Schools (SGSSS and SGSAH Spring into Methods programme) in partnership with Strathclyde University
  • Promoting Inclusion, Equality and Diversity in the Curriculum: In April 2019, we were commissioned to contribute an online case study based on the innovative introductory undergraduate course Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World as part of a wider University project
  • Co-hosting or co-sponsoring several high-profile public talks and important research seminars and networking activities, including:Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw Distinguished Scholar Lecture (with SPS/PIR, May 2019); Decolonising Feminist Knowledge workshop (with SPS/ Sociology/ Centre for South Asian Studies, May 2019); Transgender: Intersectional/International Conference (with Edinburgh University IS, IAD, LLC, Law, SGSAH, SGSSS, May 2019); 2019 Postgraduate Gender Research Network Scotland (PGRNS) Intersections Conference (with SGSAH, Fran Trust, June); and Fatima Bhutto & Regina Porter with DeRay McKesson at the 2019 Edinburgh International Book Festival (August 2019)
  • Uncovering and recording the history of women’s, gender and feminist studies teaching at the University through our ongoing oral history project ‘Voices from the Early Days’
  • Providing research-based advice to the University on equality and diversity, including supporting a university Working Group to meet new UKRI requirements to integrate gender equality into GCRF and Newton Fund research proposals and projects (ongoing).


Upcoming highlights for 2020 include a research workshop on Balancing Work and Life in the University organized in collaboration with the EPSRC Inclusion Matters E-Base team at the University of Edinburgh,  and a collaboration on Feminist Open Government with the Scottish Government and WISE Glasgow Caledonian University.

One of the best things about genderED has been seeing how it brings people together. Over the two years of its existence, the resource has grown thanks to the tireless engagement of service, research and teaching staff whose engagement in gender and sexuality studies demonstrates theirreal passion. It is so exciting to see the gender resource at the Library and Special Collections, observe new networks being created, like SEXES, and reflect on four years of Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World in our recent podcast.

We also conducted our first stakeholder survey in 2019, completed by 120 respondents across 12 schools. It has demonstrated the health of gender and sexualities research at Edinburgh, and the reach and relevance of genderED. Respondents highlighted the need for increased awareness and visibility of gender and sexualities research, researchers, and teaching. This was reflected both by early career and later career stage respondents who want more opportunities and forums to showcase their work. Two-thirds of respondents were interested in promoting their work through genderED. Having this information is vital for improved and better connected gender and sexualities research and understanding.

At our soft launch event, a student asked me whether they could hypothetically use the directory to find a supervisor for their Masters thesis. It then became apparent that genderED was a tool for collaboration, not for one person on their own.

Collaboration has been key for genderED from the beginning, incubated by staff and students across the University, and catalysed by EUSA -the student association, co-hosted by SPS (the School of Social and Political Science) and IASH (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities). Collaboration with UNSW in Australia and Ambedkar University Delhi in India has been so important for the 16 Days of activism project. Sharing badges with others has been a central way for usto be involved with events. At every step of the way, collaboration and community has made genderED special.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone I met over the course of the last two and a half years, especially the kind people who gave up their time to be interviewed for the 16 Days blogathon, who offered to help with the genderED platform, and who showed genuine enthusiasm and belief in the initiative. I look forward to finding out where genderED goes next! Many thanks especially to my colleagues Fiona Mackay, Tatiana Cary and Abrisham Ahmadzadeh, Sarah Moffat at EUSA, and Patricia Erskine, and the IT and Facilities team at Chrystal Macmillan Building B.07 for their kindness and support.


About: Christina Neuwirth is theoutgoing co-ordinator and engagement assistant for genderED at the University of Edinburgh. She is the recipient of the Arts and Humanities Research Council/Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities Creative Economy Studentship “Women of Words”, and is currently completing her PhD in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling, the University of Glasgow and Scottish Book Trust. More information on her research findings to date can be found here: www.roar.scot

Christina’s fiction and non-fiction writing has been published in various anthologies, journals and magazines in the UK, including 404 Ink’s bestselling book Nasty Women (2017). Her debut novella Amphibian (Speculative Books) was published in 2018 and shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Book Award. She was one of Queer Words Project Scotland’s 2018 Emerging Writers. In recognition of her creative and academic work, she was included in The List Hot 100 in 2018. @ChristinaNwrth www.christinaneuwirth.com

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Engendering Pathways in Higher Education in India: Sharing Insights from WISCOMP’s Hamsa Campus Equity Initiative

WISCOMP Team, Delhi


Image courtesy of WISCOMP: Students at a campus in North India presenting a folk dance with a re-scripting of the verses from a gender lens. 

India’s higher education landscape boasts of an impressive increase in the enrolment rate of female students over two decades (48.6 percent in 2018-19) and the hiring of female faculty (42.2% in 2018-19)[1]. However, the absence of robust gender just practices deny women substantive voice and equality in the higher education space.

In recent years, a spate of protests across campuses in India have highlighted the pervasiveness of gender discriminatory practices in higher educational institutes (HEIs). They brought to light several regressive practices, such as segregated public spaces for male and female students; differential timings for access to libraries and student hostels; imposition of dress codes; use of evaluation as a tool to ‘domesticate’ students, especially women, who raise their voice against gender-based violence; inhibiting the mobility of female students by designating areas as ‘unsafe’ for women in and around campuses; and intrusion into the privacy of female students through surveillance in the garb of ‘protection’. The magnitude of discrimination and violence is worse for those belonging to low-income groups, lower castes, religious minorities, sexual minorities and the differently abled.

Female faculty also have to combat glass ceilings. The representation of women in the higher echelons of the professoriate and senior management teams remains abysmally low [2]. In 2015, there were only 3% female Vice Chancellors in the country at the apex [3].

Several constitutional mandates, progressive legislations such as Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, and instructions from regulatory bodies like the University Grants Commission are in place. However, ground realities belie the aspirations of equity and gender justice.

WISCOMP’s Hamsa: Campus Equity Initiative seeks to facilitate gender-just norms and practices at HEIs through Gender Audits across diversities and faultlines. It brings together a rich confluence of over 50 diverse HEIs ranging from denominational religious institutes, tribal universities, private institutes, small liberal arts colleges, rural institutes, large public universities, single-sex colleges, co-educational institutes, among several others. Clusters of HEIs from diverse regions such as Bhubaneswar and Kolkata in the East; Jalandhar and New Delhi in the North; Kochi, Hyderabad and Chennai in the South; Guwahati in the North East; and Pune and Mumbai in the West, engaged in dialogue and deliberation on gender reflective practices to engender higher education. Inclusion of gender experts from the American academy and partnerships with HEIs across India encouraged feminist solidarities and a cross-fertilization of ideas across global contexts.

Images courtesy of WISCOMP: (clockwise from top) (1) and (2) Gender Audit animators at Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Pune, with a representative of the US Embassy and the WISCOMP Team: Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath, Seema Kakran, Diksha Poddar and Shilpi Shabdita; (3)American Gender Expert, Dr. Kristy Kelly, leading a group discussion with the faculty and students on drafting Gender Audit templates for their campus; (4) Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath facilitating an elicitive session using posters from WISCOMP’s Exhibition When Women Write…In Words and Pictures; (5) Participants presenting their Gender Audit template on Curriculum as a priority area of concern; (centre) In Indic iconography, Hamsa or the Cosmic Swan depicts the transformation of consciousness. Hamsa is the vehicle of the Goddess of Knowledge and is believed to have the ability to be a denizen of land, water and air. Hamsa symbolizes the power of discernment, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and this makes it particularly significant for knowledge. Hamsa is also a talismanic symbol widely used in diverse cultures by followers of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Five Workshops conducted by WISCOMP in 2019 with the participation of faculty, senior administrators and students, revealed deep layers of misogyny embedded within initiatives seeking to ‘empower’ women. WISCOMP’s decision to facilitate Gender Audit Templates was the first-ever unique and innovative Pan-India initiative at university and college campuses across the country.

Drawing from the work of Dr. Kristy Kelly, Dr. Debra Meyerson and Dr. Deborah Kolb, the workshops focused on six components that help identify ways in which policies, processes and practices at HEIs are gendered:

  1. Organizational Structure and Culture
  2. Administrative Practices
  3. Curriculum (Formal and Hidden)
  4. Media and Communication (Internal and External)
  5. Student Life and Services
  6. Campus Infrastructure and Surrounding Public Space (Usage and Design)

The process of getting a buy-in to the idea of Gender Audits across hierarchies, and particularly from the Senior Management Team at HEIs, was slow and challenging. By the middle of the workshops, we witnessed a palpable shift and wearing down of resistance to the idea of Gender Audits which were initially perceived as ‘intrusive’ and ‘top-down’. The understanding of Gender Audits as part of Social Audits that can help facilitate inclusive and engendered campuses gradually gained acceptance.

The workshop sessions elicited deeply personal narratives on exclusion, sexual violence and discrimination on campuses using WISCOMP’s mobile exhibition When Women Write…In Words and Pictures[4]. The Exhibition carries evocative pictorial representations juxtaposed with exegetical writings by renowned writers on gender. A great many hidden aspects of routinized and legitimized discriminatory practices on campuses came to light as did understandings of violence that included structural injustices and everyday exclusions and erasures.

Conversations among the diverse pool of HEIs located in different contexts revealed that gender concerns were embedded in specific cultural milieu, even as some common concerns spanned across contexts. Safety Audits conducted in and around all campuses revealed how infrastructure often neglects the mobility, accessibility and safety needs of vast sections of the population, particularly women, those differently abled and sexual minorities. Issues concerning different sexual orientations and gender identities found expression at the workshops through a critique of inadequate sanitation facilities, gender-binary framing of policies, and discriminatory attitudes and entrenched practices.

Log-in Gender, WISCOMP’s unique online Educators’ Portal, has also sparked dynamic conversations among university and college communities on issues of gender justice and inclusion. Through an innovative letter writing series, feminist journaling, photo essay competitions, online genderlogues, and compilation of a feminist glossary, the portal continues to sustain conversations in an expanding virtually connected academic community.

Through its Saahas Awards, WISCOMP will also celebrate the efforts of individuals whose resistance has helped break cultures of silence on gender based violence and discrimination on campuses, and nurtured an enabling and inclusive environment. The Hamsa Project has led to several spin-offs such as the monthly WISCOMP Dialogues which brings together civil society and academia for sustained public dialogue on pertinent contemporary issues through a gender lens.

WISCOMP believes that HEIs are not just conventional workspaces as they also have the potential to signal to society a broader transformative framework for engendering learning and workspaces across sectors. The new National Education Policy of India is likely to be passed in the Parliament very soon, and gender justice on campuses still remains an untenanted space of discourse. The journey for WISCOMP has just begun and the vistas for exploration are many.

Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) is a pioneering peacebuilding initiative in South Asia. Established in 1999, it foregrounds women’s leadership in the areas of peace and security and promotes cultures of pluralism and coexistence in the region.

[1] All India Survey of Higher Education 2018-19, MHRD, GOI. http://aishe.nic.in/aishe/viewDocument.action;jsessionid=5716535F086C2D12E692E05663BB5CDE?documentId=262.

[2] All India Survey of Higher Education, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, New Delhi, 2016-17.

[3] Kumar, Chethan (June, 2015), “Only 13 of Indian 431 Universities have Women VCs”; The Times of India. Retrieved from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Only-13-of-Indias-431-universities-have-women-VCs/articleshow/47547616.cms

[4] When Women Write…In Words and Pictures (2017) is a unique digitalized mobile exhibition on an intersectional understanding of the diversity of women’s experiences and the contexts in which they unfold. It has been designed as a tool for advocacy and educational projects, and can be accessed at http://www.wiscomp.org.


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Lessons from Hyderabad: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Krishna Menon and Rukmini Sen (Ambedkar University Delhi)


Image: Night Bazaar (Ramzan) by Rajesh India via Flickr Creative Commons

As we move towards the close of 2019, women’s groups are out on the streets in India protesting the abrogation of Article 370 that takes away special status to Jammu and Kashmir,  the introduction of a highly exclusionary citizenship bill , the attacks on public funded education as detailed in the National Education Policy,  and the partisan and contested  judgement on the disputed  site of worship at Ayodhya.

However, the shocking gang rape and brutal killing of a 27 year old veterinary doctor in Hyderabad brought the issue of gender-based violence back to the fore. The discovery of  the charred remains of  the victim, attacked and murdered on her way home from work, shocked the residents of a city renowned for its genteel ways, and deemed the safest city for women in India in a 2017 survey.  This atrocity was followed by reports of the death of another young woman who had been attacked on her way to court in Unnao Uttar Pradesh to testify in an ongoing rape case.  She was allegedly set alight by the accused rapists, and died shortly afterwards from her injuries. Just as it seemed that it couldn’t get worse came the chilling news of  the police ‘encounter’ in Hyderabad that resulted in the killing of the four alleged rapists.  This ‘unlawful’ attempt at ‘justice’ has very worryingly been hailed as praiseworthy by some, including women, who showered rose petals on the policemen involved in this shooting.   Feminists have been quick to spot the connection between a state that justifies coercion and suspension of fundamental rights and the heightened impunity that now characterizes incidents of rape and murder of women.   Fortunately, despite the feelings of despair and dejection,  citizen groups are active and alert in their responses to these shocking incidents of gender based violence.  Feminist groups need to remind themselves that, it all began in a manner of speaking, ironically in the city of Hyderabad in 1978, with the rape of Rameeza Bi and the murder of her husband by the policemen who raped her, while she and her husband were going back home after a late night film show. Tough political  battles and legal struggles have characterized the journey thus far and  much has changed. Feminist solidarities of various kinds across different contexts is the only way out.  This is also the time to re-engage with the question of violence – of all kinds and at all levels with enough attention being paid to the perpetrator as well.  The psyche, the social context and the individual experiences of those who engage in violent acts and those who legitimize it need feminist analysis. For so long we have focused, and rightly so, on the ‘victim/survivor’.  We argue that academic analysis, incisive journalistic writing and creative engagement with the question of violence in general and gender based violence in particular are the need of the hour, to take us beyond binaries of accused-survivor or acquittal-punishment.

The events of Hyderabad in December 2019 point to a distressing reality in a modern tech savvy Indian city in India and multiple dualisms are noticeable. On the one hand women occupy public spaces in much greater numbers in the last decade in India; while on the other hand, this presence has also seen increased levels of violence against women.  Despite Hyderabad’s status as the Technology City, the city for the millennium or cyber city with a high living quality rating, clearly one kind of progress doesn’t necessarily lead to comprehensive patriarchal transformations. The lethal misogyny that this incident exposes is connected with the reform of rape law in 2013, in response to the notorious Delhi gang rape. In responding to the outrage  engendered by this case, the death penalty was introduced as a punishment for rape, as well as a minimum tariff of seven years of imprisonment for committing rape. Paradoxically, the risk of women being murdered after rape increases  in instances where the death penalty is introduced as a punishment for rape, since killing the victim removes the one witness to the crime. In the Hyderabad case, the four men accused of rape were killed by police in an apparent reconstruction of the crime shortly after the incident. The reason why this is troubling is because, without any due legal process, killing is understood as justice in itself. This also feeds into  the culture of lynching that India is witnessing in the last few years.

Increased levels of sexual violence on women is connected with the presence/absence of women in public spaces. #GenderAnd reports that the Census (2011) data for cities (tier I, II and III) shows that women form only 22 per cent of all people travelling for work across India. Bangalore is at the upper end of the spectrum, with women forming 26 per cent. Delhi is at lower end, with this figure falling to 15 per cent. Such low numbers of women commuting in public spaces reeks of deep constraints to women’s mobility — be it concerns for safety, or attitudes which perpetuate the notion that women need not work or step outside their homes unless necessary. Together with this data, according to the 2016 government of India data; out of 38,947 cases of rape reported by children and women, the accused was known to the victim in 94.6 per cent of the cases. Data shows that although over the years women’s presence has increased in public spaces, women still occupy much less than half of these spaces.  This evidently point to a paradox and a grave form of patriarchal violence that exists not only in the ‘real’ figures of rape but also in the fear of the public space. The insistence on  harsh and stringent punishment for the perpetrator of rape has been consistent. In 2013 however, going against the Verma Committee recommendation, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013 introduced the death penalty in cases of aggravated rape for the first time. That the death penalty does not act as a deterrent in rape cases has been well noted and therefore does not serve the desired purpose. All the rapists in the Delhi gang rape were given the death sentence. Public calls for retribution trended on social media as #HangHyderabadBrutes and #NoMercytoRapists in the immediate aftermath of the Hyderabad rape as well, which was subsequently followed up with ‘celebrations’ after encounter. The Chief Justice Bobde has raised his concern over the police encounter and killing of the alleged perpetrators. He cautioned that justice can never be instant; if so, it loses its character as justice and becomes revenge.

We are at a critical juncture in Indian feminist politics – trying to make sense of popular support towards hanging, extra-judicial killing and mob justice and the promotion of  surveillance systems to ensure safety for women. The politics of propagating  women’s unhindered access to public spaces with freedom needs to be a consistent and an everyday mode of feminist engagement to counter questions of fear and mobility restrictions.  Upholding constitutional values of liberty and dignity to all citizens  needs  reaffirmation in the broader political context and specifically  when all such ‘events’ hurt public conscience.

Krishna Menon is Professor and Dean School of Human Studies, Amebdkar University Delhi krishnamenon@aud.ac.in

Rukmini Sen is Professor School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi rukmini@aud.ac.in

Posted in 16 Days of Activism, feminism, gender politics, genderED, Uncategorized, violence against women | 1 Comment

Stand up for Catalonia: A feminist perspective on political repression


Picture: Glòria Sánchez, photojournalist: https://www.instagram.com/gloriasanchezfoto/

Mònica Clua (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) and Tania Verge (Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona))

On Monday 14 October 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court convicted nine Catalan pro-independence leaders and sentenced them to between nine and 13 years for the crimes of sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience. The Catalan political prisoners have already spent two years in prison (pre-trial and without bail), which has been condemned by the UN Committee against arbitrary detentions. They include half of the former Catalan government (the other half is exiled in Belgium, Switzerland and Scotland), the former Speaker of the Parliament of Catalonia, and the leaders of the two largest civic associations in Catalonia. The charge of sedition was brought forward by the State Attorney while the Public Prosecutor and the extreme-right party VOX presented the charge of rebellion. Yes, that’s right, the same fascist party that sustains a belief that gender-based violence does not exist and opposes abortion and LGBTI rights was allowed to act as a civil party in the infamous trial amidst Spain’s April 2019 General Election.

As feminists, we can only consider such charges, convictions and prison sentences as intolerable. Sedition charges bring back memories of the ancien régime and their attempt to protect monarchies from democratising demands. Throughout history, many democratic movements have been accused of sedition while suffering state abuses of power, including the women’s suffrage movement – see, for example, Sylvia Pankhurst’s 1920-21 sentence for inciting sedition. Locking up both peaceful and militant political dissidents is clearly an authoritarian move which has seldom deterred movements from their demands. In the 21st Century, it is hard to see how calling a referendum (especially when it does not constitute a criminal offence in Spain even when not authorised by the central government), allowing a parliamentary debate, or taking to the streets to protest a judicial decision can be constitutive of sedition in a modern democratic state. [1] 

“If they are seditious, then we are seditious too!”, as many social movements are claiming in Catalonia. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the two main movements for the right to housing in Spain, the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) and the Sindicat de Llogaters, issued statements against the sentence demanding the immediate release of the prisoners. These prison sentences are a complete aberration to the rule of law, so often invoked by the Spanish State, as it criminalises civil disobedience. Furthermore, let’s not forget the conditions under which the Spanish Constitution was approved 40 years ago. The threat of a regression to the military Francoist regime was evident, as well as the consequences of such regression, which were very clear for many, not only in Catalonia and the Basque Country but also for those who had fought the dictatorship all over Spain. Again, as feminists, we cannot but firmly reject that the rule of law prevails over the democratic principles of legitimacy and people’s rights to decide on their future. In fact, feminism has taught us that the fight over sovereignty starts with our own bodies. Indeed, women have always had to disobey the extant ‘rule of law’ to win their rights, with massive protests, civil disobedience acts and self-incrimination campaigns.

The propaganda war waged by Spain aimed at convincing the international (and its own national) community has focused on presenting the pro-independence movement as small-minded and provincial. It denies people’s agency, something that as women we know well from our ongoing struggle for our rights. Pro-independence supporters are also, day in and day out, characterised by Spanish media, unionist political parties and many Spanish intellectuals as being manipulated by elites as well as being supremacist totalitarian Nazis. Such an attempt to discredit those who support the right to self-determination is undemocratic and un-feminist – feminists also suffer the banalisation of totalitarianism when depicted as ‘feminazis’. [2]

Likewise, pro-independence supporters are depicted as selfish nationalists who undermine cosmopolitanism, as if the struggle for individual and collective rights did not require an institutional framework to protect and enforce them.

Self-government has been under constant threat in Spain, with recentralisation trends deepening in the past few years, with sometimes devastating consequences for people’s lives. For example, when the central government excluded non-documented migrants from public health or lesbian couples from access to assisted reproduction public services, the decision of the Catalan parliament and government to keep providing those services was suspended by the Constitutional Court at the request of the Spanish government. Indeed, the latter has lodged several appeals before the highest court against progressive Catalan laws in the field of fuel poverty, housing rights and protections against evictions, gender equality, anti-fracking or climate emergency, to name just a few. This is the self-government many Catalans are pushing for, through a referendum; namely the capacity to rule over matters that crucially enable or constrain citizens’ and the planet’s wellbeing. This is what self-determination is about –our ability to decide our future across all aspects of our lives.

The intersectionality of gender, class and race is crucial when attempting to understand inequality. We must add that belonging to an oppressed, non-recognised or a stateless nation has implications for the participation in the establishment of a ‘social contract’ determining people’s rights and freedoms. [3]

One of Catalonia’s feminist writers, Maria Mercè Marçal, captured these intersections in 1977 in her poem Divisa(Motto):

“I am grateful to fate for three gifts: to have been born a woman, / from the working class and an oppressed nation. / And the turbid azure of being three times a rebel”

Two of the recently sentenced political prisoners, as well as several of those in exile, are women. The two sentenced prisoners, Carme Forcadell, Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, and Dolors Bassa, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, together with Marta Rovira and Anna Gabriel, the two Members of Parliament who are exiled in Switzerland, have all highlighted the inextricable relationship between women’s rights and Catalonia’s self-determination. Furthermore, the consequences of repression are not gender-neutral. For example, both Carme and Dolors are in separate prisons in order to be closer to their elderly mothers. Ensuring that their mothers don’t have to travel far to visit them comes at the cost of further isolation. While serving time, they have contributed to the raising of awareness of the extent to which women inmates face much tougher conditions in prison due to the androcentric character of the penitentiary system. Marta decided to go into exile, to be able to see her “daughter grow up”, and Anna has received vicious press and social network attacks. Their voices are often made invisible by the social, political and media inertia of patriarchal societies, as denounced by the cross-sectional and pluralistic platform Women for the Republic, which runs the campaign ‘No Woman Forgotten’.

The independence movement is also often erroneously characterised as violent. Yet, in an era of global media and social media, the images of the police brutality exerted against peaceful voters back on 1 October 2017 as well as since the court judgement speak for themselves. Throughout this period, the Spanish police has used rubber bullets against civilians doing sit-down protests, even though the use of rubber bullets was outlawed by the Parliament of Catalonia in 2013. This has left about 600 protesters injured, some of them with serious testicle and eye injuries, and even journalists who were documenting the disturbances and police brutality have been targeted with rubber bullets and attacked by the Spanish police. The Spanish Home Office Minister has announced that the police officers staged in Catalonia would be decorated, as was also the case of the more than 500 Spanish police officers who were given the Orden de San Cristóbal medal for their role in repressing peaceful voters during the 2017 referendum.

Since the Supreme Court sentence was announced, we have witnessed massive marches, a general strike and other acts of civil disobedience. Even though the character of the majority of the protests has been peaceful and based around the principles of non-violent civil disobedience, one of their organisers, the anonymous collective Tsunami Democratic, has been charged with terrorism and its website has been shut down by the Spanish judiciary police. Late-night protests in Barcelona have seen images of waste containers being set alight and used as barricades, which has led the Spanish Home Office Minister to threaten “violent pro-independence supporters” with prison sentences of up to six years. Besides constituting a breach of the separation of powers (since when does a member of the executive sentence people before trial?), it is also a monumental exercise of hypocrisy. The recently convicted political prisoners have been sentenced for a total of 100 years in prison, for non-violent actions. About a month ago, seven pro-independence activists were also sent to pre-trial (no bail) prison under accusations of belonging to a terrorist organisation with no evidence supporting such a charge. Furthermore, in the last two weeks over 200 protesters have been detained and 28 have been sent to custody, most of them aged 18-25 years. This has stirred to the creation of a solidarity network led by the mothers and grandmothers of the detained, self-identifed by the use of a red scarf, who demand the repression against young protesters to stop.

In repressing self-determination demands, Spain has chosen to suspend fundamental democratic rights and to criminalise dissent. Hundreds of people still await trial for their role in the October 2017 referendum and dozens have been charged this week with various offenses and many of them have been already imprisoned with no bail. Through the imposition or threats of exemplary punishments against a peaceful movement, the Spanish state is seeking to teach a lesson to various generations of pro-independence leaders and activists. This is why the feminist movement as a whole, regardless of individual positions on independence, has unanimously stood against political repression, cancelled all activities the week the Supreme Court verdict was issued and joined the marches for freedom as well as the general strike that took place in Catalonia on 18 October. After all, as feminists, we know that no court verdict has ever been able to limit the yearning for freedom of social movements that peacefully rise up to demand the recognition of their rights.

Stand up for Catalonia!

About the authors: Mònica Clua is associate professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Tània Verge is associate professor at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). She is awaiting trial for her participation as electoral commissioner in the 2017 referendum and faces the threat of a prison sentence of 2 years and 9 months.

For practical ways to support Catalonia, please see this Call for International Solidarity


Posted in gender and independence Catalonia, gender politics, Uncategorized, Women and Constitutional Futures, Women and Politics | 1 Comment

Decolonising Feminist Knowledge Through Art

 Kamya Choudhary (University of Edinburgh)

The Decolonising Feminist Knowledge workshop which took place on 22 May 2019 at the University of Edinburgh was an event that I really looked forward to – it formed the culmination of such wonderful work taking place on campus. It emerged from a research and reading group, and a larger North-South research project, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives (TFTL). Being a part of the organising team, our vision was to inculcate an arts-based element to our academically intensive day-long line up. Upon doing some research, we came across Raquel Durán’s work: Raquel, as a London-based artist, specialises in graphic recording and live illustration. From the moment we reached out to her, our association was one based on coming together to find an innovative way to communicate complex ideas – the result was a detailed hand-painted mural capturing the day’s events.


Credit: Raquel Durán

The mural was conceptualised as a way to subvert how knowledge creation usually takes place. It was motivated by the conviction that the artist medium has the potential to challenge mainstream ideas of what constitutes knowledge, how it is produced, and whose knowledge counts. Raquel working with the workshop content and attendees to co-create an art piece meant an accessible artform was used to capture the urgency of decolonising knowledge within University spaces and the relevance of intersectionality in this process. ‘Decolonising’ here means disrupting the way that knowledge is currently valued and created: contributing to a movement that challenges eurocentrism and a colonial legacy in which knowledge production privileges white, male scholarship. By ‘intersectionality’, we mean a mechanism for understanding that gender does not exist in isolation from race, caste, class, religion and ability among others, that these identities are multiple and intersecting impacting experiences of resultant power, privilege, inequalities and/or exclusion. We believe that this artwork will have a lasting impact by kickstarting conversations and consequently learning by engaging senses and emotions too on this topical theme.

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Planning an event is one thing, watching something unfold in unexpected and magical ways is when one finds intent truly manifest. Amongst our participants, Raquel set up her corner at the venue and began documenting the day’s proceedings, debates and discussions. Watching Raquel work was an experience in itself – speakers and attendees all took the time to walk over and observe the artwork unfold. There were small gasps of joy when someone recognised a reflection of themselves in the figures coming alive in paint or when they noticed something they had said make its way into some corner of the mural. Just as we had envisioned, workshop participants were equally involved in wanting to engage with the development of the mural, regularly providing inputs, asking Raquel questions or making suggestions about how to best do justice to a moment that for them captured the zeitgeist of the day.

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Getting a chance to discuss the mural with a few participants as they left the venue on the day, I was told that the mural was quite a ‘surprise,’ “We’ve never seen so many people come together to discuss decolonisation on campus before, and, the mural was something so unexpected – what a great way to summarise such a powerful day!” Currently, we are working to develop the mural into an exhibit to display the artwork along with explanatory panels to further share the proceedings of the day. This unique initiative was conceptualised and delivered by doctoral candidates Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Megan Harrington, with mentorship provided by Dr Radhika Govinda. It was made possible with the support of the Principal’s Office Fund and the Student Experience Grant. To explore more of Raquel’s work visit: https://raquelcronopia.wordpress.com/.

To find out more about the Decolonising Feminist Knowledge workshop, read Cat Wayland and Marta Kowalewska’s blogpost

About the contributor

Kamya Choudhary is a PhD researcher in International Development at the University of Edinburgh, her research focuses on the impacts and the sustainability of renewable energy applications within agriculture in rural India. @KamyaChoudhary

Posted in decolonising the academy, feminism, gender politics, genderED, intersectional feminism, intersectionality, Uncategorized | 1 Comment