Stand up for Catalonia: A feminist perspective on political repression


Picture: Glòria Sánchez, photojournalist:

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 | Leave a 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.

Blog pic 1.png

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.

blog pic 2

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:

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 | Leave a comment

Decolonising Feminisms, Transforming Lives

Cat Wayland and Marta Kowalewska (University of Edinburgh)


Photo Credit: Megan Harrington

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 reflect here, in their capacity as budding feminist scholars and as student organisers of the workshop, on its genesis, aims, successes, shortcomings, and lessons for the future.

Continue reading

Posted in decolonising the academy, feminism, gender politics, genderED, intersectional feminism, intersectionality, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World: audio interview

Abrisham Ahmadzadeh interviews Dr Meryl Kenny and Silas Lehane about the course Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World.

genderED is the University of Edinburgh’s interdisciplinary hub, showcasing excellence in gender and sexuality studies teaching, research, and knowledge exchange. Find out more: or on Twitter at @UoE_genderED

Posted in decolonising the academy, feminism, genderED, intersectional feminism, intersectionality, teaching gender, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Re-blog: Epidemic of Violence against Transgender Women in Indonesia: When the Government Fails to Protect its Vulnerable Citizens (16 Days Blogathon)


Photo credit: 2018 Women’s March Jakarta

This article was originally posted as part of our 16 Days Blogathon 2018, a collaboration by  University of Edinburgh’s genderED initiative, the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ambedkar University Delhi to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The team comprised: Fiona Mackay, Christina Neuwirth and Natasha Dyer ( Edinburgh); Louise Chappell, Gabrielle Dunlevy and Chantelle Mayo (UNSW); and Krishna Menon and Rukmini Sen (AUD). @UoE_genderED@  #HearMeToo #16days #OrangeTheWorld

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 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.

Posted in 16 Days of Activism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Re-blog: Gender Violence in Conflict and Peace Processes: The Neglect of LGBT Security (16 Days Blogathon)

homomonument-adam1 (1)

photo credit: Paul2 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally posted as part of our 16 Days Blogathon 2018, a collaboration by  University of Edinburgh’s genderED initiative, the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ambedkar University Delhi to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The team comprised: Fiona Mackay, Christina Neuwirth and Natasha Dyer ( Edinburgh); Louise Chappell, Gabrielle Dunlevy and Chantelle Mayo (UNSW); and Krishna Menon and Rukmini Sen (AUD). @UoE_genderED@  #HearMeToo #16days #OrangeTheWorld

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 (, 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 (  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 (, 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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Re-blog: Taking Transformative Action on Sexual Violence in Universities (16 Days Blogathon)


photo credit: Illinois Springfield 2017 UIS Commencements via photopin <a href=”

This article was originally posted as part of our 16 Days Blogathon 2018, a collaboration by  University of Edinburgh’s genderED initiative, the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ambedkar University Delhi to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The team comprised: Fiona Mackay, Christina Neuwirth and Natasha Dyer ( Edinburgh); Louise Chappell, Gabrielle Dunlevy and Chantelle Mayo (UNSW); and Krishna Menon and Rukmini Sen (AUD). @UoE_genderED@  #HearMeToo #16days #OrangeTheWorld

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.

Posted in 16 Days of Activism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment