Conversation with Emma Ritch, Engender

Christina Neuwirth, 11.12.17

CN: Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today! I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about Engender before we begin?

ER: Sure! Thank you for having me. Engender is Scotland’s feminist and advocacy organisation. Its membership is made up of a combination of organisations and individual. Engender works with other organisations on women’s social, economic, cultural and political equality.

CN: Great, thank you. So, in our email conversation you mentioned that you wanted to talk about primary prevention of sexual harassment. Can you talk a little bit more about that? I think my mind always jumps straight to health care when I hear the words ‘primary prevention,’ so I would be interested in learning more about how it works in this context.

ER: Of course! All primary prevention in terms of violence against women is based on the fact that women’s inequality is what leads to violence against women. In a workplace context that means that we should have mechanisms for reporting, investigation, sanctions when people breach the rules about sexual harassment, but we also need to prevent it in the first place. We can do this by getting rid of stereotypes and creating cultures that enable people to be themselves; creating an environment that is free from micro-aggressions dressed up as “banter”. We need to address the pay gap and the ways in which success is measured. The idea is: how can we make an atmosphere that is hostile to sexual harassment? We need to create an environment that respects women and does not reduce them.

CN: Thank you. If I was an employer, what would be some good practices for me to put in place? For example, I’m thinking that, if there were more women working in management positions, women employees might find it easier to report sexual harassment…?

ER: Yes – but primary prevention would address this before it even becomes an issue, to prevent it happening in the first place. Of course, if you’re an employer, you should have good policies to respond to sexual harassment when it occurs, but you should also be building the capacity of your workforcue to treat women as equal, to remove as many as the barriers to women as you can whether those are inside or outside of the workplace. Look at your whole workplace culture: where do you have your away days? Do you play golf or go to lap dancing bars where women may be made to feel unwelcome? How do you as an employer measure success? Do you solely incentivise risk taking, or do you also incentivize teams, collaboration and mentoring? The hidden, domestic labour that women do at work like making sure that everyone gets a birthday cake, pastoral care in academia – just build in thinking about the full picture of what people need to do at work when you’re thinking about who does well. When it comes to promotions, are you considering people who work part-time or flexible hours? Are you enabling women to work part-time if this suits them? You should encourage them and build their capacity to apply for jobs – as we know, women are less likely to apply when they feel that they don’t meet the full application criteria. Respect the talents and skills of everyone in the organisation and don’t undervalue or stigmatise work – for example, administrative work is often seen as not difficult and not requiring skill, which of course is wholly untrue.

CN: Thank you! Do you have any resources you feel I could link to at the end of this interview for our blog readers, so they can find out more?

ER: Think Business, Think Equality resources are very easy to use and include self-assessment and a tailored action plan. Close the Gap have done a whole set of modules for employers. Their resources can help employers to be better employers of women, specifically.

Christina Neuwirth is co-ordinator of the new gender and sexuality studies hub genderED. She is also a PhD researcher in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling, where she is looking into gender equality in contemporary Scottish writing and publishing.

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ETUC report Safe at Home, Safe at Work

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This blog post by Dr Jane Pillinger is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Dr Jane Pillinger is a gender expert and author of the report ‘Safe at Home, Safe at Work: Trade union strategies to prevent, manage and eliminate workplace harassment and violence against women’. She has carried out research and policy advice on the issue of violence against women at work for the EU, ILO and European and global union federations. Recent work includes co-authoring a resource kit on ‘Gender Based Violence in Global Supply Chains’ for the ITC-ILO, advisory work with the Fair Wear Foundation on measures to tackle violence against women in the garment sector, and author of the report on Violence against women workers in transport for the European Transport Federation. She is currently writing a Guide to tackling violence against women at work for the ILO and UNWomen.

 The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) report ‘Safe at Home, Safe at Work: Trade union strategies to prevent, manage and eliminate workplace harassment and violence against women’ is based on 11 detailed country case studies (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the UK) and European-level developments on gender-based violence and harassment at work, including domestic violence at work. The report has raised awareness amongst a wider audience of national and European policy makers about the need for the systematic inclusion of gender when dealing with violence and harassment at work. Gender-based violence and harassment is a form of discrimination that causes significant harm to women, whether it take place in the workplace, in public places, on public transport, in schools and colleges, or in the family. Trade unions have approached the issue in negotiations, collective bargaining, union awareness-raising, training and campaigns, and partnerships with women’s organisations working to end gender-based violence, and there are many good practices in the workplace that show the added value of trade unions actions, innovations and negotiations.

The report was prepared at time of rising violence and harassment against women at work, continued and widening gender inequalities at work, and a culture of sexism in the workplace. In part, this arises because of increasing levels of precarious work across Europe, but continues to exist because the workplace is closely connected to women’s wider roles that extend beyond it in the private domain of the home and family.

The spill-over of domestic violence at work is a new issue for trade union negotiations successfully carried out by unions in Spain, Denmark and to a lesser extent France and the UK. Because domestic violence can involve a wide range of abuses including emotional and financial abuse and ‘coercive control’, it can affect a woman’s capacity to get to work and to participate effectively and productively in the workplace. Trade unions are increasingly recognising the role of the workplace in preventing domestic violence, and the social and economic benefits that result from this. Workplace measures such as temporary paid leave, initial safety planning, changes in work location or parking spaces, and providing information about specialist domestic support organisations and protection orders in cases of stalking in the workplace, are some of the ways in which trade union representatives have supported victims and negotiated measures for their protection and temporary leave from work, particularly when they leave a violent partner. They enable victims to stay in their jobs and retain their financial independence, while also ensuring that workers are safe at work.

Despite many challenges, including working within patriarchal structures and cultures, the report documents the many inspiring and innovative ways in which women and men in trade unions have campaigned against gender-based violence and brought the issue into workplace negotiations, safety and health programmes, and initiatives on wellbeing at work.

The report documents:

  • Over 80 collective bargaining agreements and union negotiated workplace policies, as well as union initiatives to raise awareness, train negotiators and campaign for an end sexual harassment perpetrated by colleagues, managers and third-parties (e.g. violence perpetrated by customers/clients against women workers in restaurants and bars, in health services and in transport).
  • Over 40 examples of collective bargaining agreements and union-negotiated workplace policies on tackling domestic violence at work, as well as awareness raising, training and campaigns carried out by unions, often in partnership with domestic violence organisations.


Despite many of these innovations, the problem seems to be worsening, pointing to the need for stronger legal measures to prevent sexual harassment and violence against women workers. The scale of the problem can be seen in a recent European survey showing shocking levels of harassment and violence against women transport workers across Europe. See: Violence Against Women workers in Transport:

The ETUC and many of its affiliates have long campaigned to end gender-based violence, and it has been a core objective of recent action programmes. One of the objectives of the ETUC’s Action Programme on Gender Equality, 2016-2019, is to contribute to eliminating gender-based violence and harassment at work and to continue to make the link between domestic violence and work-level protection.

The recent high-profile cases of sexual harassment in the media and in politics and in the #MeToo campaign have taken place at a time of significant national, European and international debates about gender-based violence at work. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has made a commitment to introduce a new international standard in 2018 on violence against women and men in the world at work. Trade unions are campaigning to ensure that there is a strong focus on gender-based violence in the new instrument, as seen in the highly visible campaign of the International Trade Union Confederation ‘Stop Gender Based Violence at Work’ []. The ratification by the EU and Member States of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) provides an important framework for an integrated approach to tackling violence against women. The EU ratification of the Convention will need an EU-level legal framework and strategy for implementation.

Conclusions and recommendations

Collective bargaining is one of the most important mechanisms for preventing and addressing violence against women at work, either as part of agreements that address violence against all workers, or in relation to sexual harassment at work, third-party violence or preventing domestic violence at work. However, the general trend towards reduced bargaining coverage and the decentralisation of bargaining puts limits on unions in some countries. A further issue is that, as violence and harassment have become a mainstream safety and health and wellbeing at work issue, there is a danger of it becoming de-gendered. Many unions therefore argue for effective gender mainstreaming strategies that will ensure that violence and harassment are addressed as a structural gender equality issue.

Having a strong legal framework is essential to enabling unions to negotiate concrete sectoral and workplace measures and many unions point to Spain as demonstrating good practice in this respect. The Organic Law 1/2004 on protection from domestic violence seeks to combat acts of violence that are considered discriminatory and includes measures to enable victims of domestic violence to remain in work. This has resulted in many collective bargaining agreements, harassment and violence protocols and gender-equality plans containing provisions on both sexual harassment at work and domestic violence at work.

Raising awareness, and training union negotiators and workplace representatives to have the skills and knowledge to integrate gender-based violence, including domestic violence, is a further priority. Workplace measures need to take account multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination so that the women most at risk of violence are protected. Having women in senior and decision-making roles, and as key negotiators in collective bargaining teams, is vital to ensuring that the issues are raised in negotiations. Some unions have used model agreements as a way of raising awareness and give negotiators appropriate language to be used in negotiations.

Ten things that the ETUC and ETUC affiliates can do to tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work.

  1. Prioritise sectoral and company-based social dialogue between unions and employers, jointly agreeing workplace policies, procedures and awareness raising actions amongst managers and workers.
  2. Ensure that women are in senior negotiating positions, as this has been shown to be critical to getting issues of gender-based violence and harassment onto bargaining agendas, particularly in male-dominated sectors.
  3. Produce guidance and model workplace policies, and train workplace representatives to negotiate agreements and policies to tackle violence and sexual harassment at work, third- party violence, and the prevention of domestic violence at work.
  4. Ensure that safety and health and wellbeing at work initiatives include a strong gender-based focus on the causes of and solutions to harassment and violence against women at work, and that they take into account gender inequalities and discrimination.
  5. Give information and support to workers experiencing gender-based violence and harassment and domestic violence.
  6. Work in partnership with NGOs and specialist violence against women organisations, for example in carrying out campaigns and union surveys to raise awareness about the extent and nature of gender-based violence at work.
  7. Encourage women and men in leadership, negotiating and decision-making positions to raise public awareness and act as champions for a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women.
  8. Highlight the economic and social case for tackling violence at work, including the business arguments such as improving workplace relations, enhancing wellbeing at work, retaining workers, reducing absence from work, and increasing motivation and productivity.
  9. Lobby for the inclusion of effective measures to address gender-based violence at work and domestic violence at work in governments’ national action plans on violence against women, in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention and the proposed ILO instrument on violence against women and men in the world of work.
  10. Implement measures to include and address gender-based violence and harassment in European sectoral social dialogue agreements and joint statements.


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Guest blog post by Talat Yaqoob

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This blog post by Talat Yaqoob (Women 50:50) is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Talat Yaqoob is the co-founder and Chair of the Women 50:50 campaign, which is fighting for legislated candidate quotas in local council and Scottish Parliament election and works to ensure the diversity of women is truly represented across politics.

The past few months have been a turbulent time for politics across the UK, not in the usual sense of infighting and constitutional nightmares, but instead some temporary focus managed to be on women and their experiences.

In October of this year, Holyrood and Westminster were rocked by sexual harassment claims, but women who have been working in political parties, in parliaments or in councils were not “rocked” by this news, most nodded knowingly, having experienced the casual sexism and in many cases the direct harassment that has come to light. Our parliament or councils do not exist in isolation from the rest of society, where there is patriarchy preventing social justice for women; there too are forces of patriarchy in our democracy. The inequality is clearest in who is represented; only 35% of MSPs are women (down from 40% in 2007), there are only 29% women councillors and there are 103 wards with no representation from women whatsoever.

A very specific point needs to be made, and loudly, about the intersection of race and gender in our democracy; since the day of devolution there has never been a black or minority ethnic (BME) woman in the Scottish Parliament and across the councils in the 2017 local elections, we went from 4 BME woman councillors to 3. This is despite a focus on gender equality and outreach from political parties, which should lead us to ask; which women are they targeting their outreach too? Aside from it clearly not having enough impact overall, it would seem what little is being done is targeted at those who are easiest to find and are already closest to participation.

Inside the Scottish Parliament, its Corporate Body has 1 woman and 5 men and its Business Bureau is all male. Combined, these groups govern over the programme of parliamentary business, HR, equality and diversity and staff/MSP conduct – until last month, both of these groups were all male, however a resignation led to one of the male members of the corporate body resigning and recommending a woman take his place. That was certainly a welcome move, but the fact that these groups were all male, should have bothered those in the parliament long before these sexual harassment cases came to be known.

Why am I talking about representation during the 16 days of activism on violence against women? Because political under-representation is part of the continuum of inequality that allows violence against women to persist in our society. Women missing from decision making means poorer, less well informed decisions are made, often hurting women the most. Women missing from our politics and leadership feeds the perceptions that they are less capable of or less well suited to these roles and drives deeper the stereotypes that inhibit women’s ambitions and opportunities.

It is a Westminster parliament, with only 29% women MSPs, that passed universal credit, the family cap, the rape clause and austerity measures which disproportionality impact women (and women of colour, refugee women and disabled women the most). Yes, there is a woman Prime Minister leading the charge on these decisions, I do not expect that every woman elected will be a feminist or should be the voice for all women, but I do firmly believe that institutions which have (and have always had) a majority of men making decisions, create systems which benefit those like them. This has been proved in every avenue of society. More women around the decision making table, with diverse lived experience, from across political thinking makes for better systems and better outcomes.

The continuum of inequality, of which under-representation is just one part, can be vividly seen in how our women parliamentarians are treated. Once women have got through the sexism they face within their parties, have earned their stripes and run for selection, have managed to deal with the questions asked of their capabilities, their “work/life balance” (which we simply do not ask of men), make it on to the ballot paper in a winnable seat and make it into council or parliament, what awaits them is unacceptable.

The way women are represented in traditional media needs to be challenged and overcome. We have seen the First Minister photo-shopped onto a bikini wearing Miley Cyrus and more recently, the Daily Mail went with a front page headline “Never Mind Brexit, who won legs-it?” commenting on Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon’s bodies. Forget that they were meeting to discuss the most critical issue in the UK today, how did their legs look? Such commentary and imagery only feeds the idea that women are there to be objectified and even as leaders, are not to be taken seriously.

But it is not restricted to our papers. The way they are treated by the public on social media is horrifying, Amnesty UK conducted research on the treatment of women MPs on social media platforms such as Twitter and found that women were more likely to be subjected to abuse and whilst all MPs suffer unacceptable abuse online, women experienced specifically gendered, misogynistic abuse. Of the tweets they investigated, 41% of abuse was targeted at BME women representative despite there being eight times as many white MPs (Diane Abbot taking the brunt of these attacks, with almost a third of the abuse directed solely at her.). This is violence and it must be tackled. We need to work on the structural barriers within political parties which exclude women’s participation through quota mechanisms and equally, we need to genuinely challenge misogynistic attitudes and make such views socially unacceptable to all, not just those of us working in equality and diversity.

All of the above is part of that continuum of inequality, where we silently condone one aspect, we normalise the next, and the next, until violence against women becomes the epidemic it is today. The Women 50:50 campaign is working on one aspect of women’s inequality, but we recognise the multiple and layered inequality women face. That is why we are proud to work with and champion women’s organisations across Scotland who work on policy making, the labour market, BME women’s participation and violence against women.

Scotland needs to take bold action on every aspect of this continuum and at the same time, from women’s political participation to their experiences of sexual or domestic violence – because no woman’s life exists in silos.


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Safe at Home, Safe at Work

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This blog post by Ann Henderson is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

The publication of the European TUC Report Safe at home, safe at work: Trade unions’ strategies to prevent, manage and eliminate work-place harassment and violence against women’ in June this year marked a significant contribution to bringing about effective change in workplaces and in our communities, recognising the key role for trade unions and their responsibilities at local and national level, including through collective bargaining and workplace agreements.

The Report is extensive, having collected evidence from 11 countries, including the UK. Both the TUC and the STUC contributed to the case studies. It has been presented to the European Commission, and work continues on implementing its recommendations.

It contains many examples of good practice, and further establishes clarity between the different practical and policy responses to sexual harassment in the workplace as distinct from supporting those experiencing domestic abuse and how that impacts the workplace too.

Establishing a workplace culture that does not tolerate bullying or harassment is central to the Fair Work agenda, to which Scottish Government, the STUC, and employers signed up, in March 2016, endorsing the Fair Work Framework.

‘Fair Work’ is defined through five dimensions: effective voice, opportunity, fulfilment, security and respect. The Framework identifies trade unions as contributing to all these objectives, and recognises that collective organisation gives more effective voice to the needs and concerns of individual workers. In the context of tackling sexual harassment in the workplace, we envisage a key role for trade unions, and there is an opportunity here for the Fair Work Convention to examine some of the recommendations of the ETUC Report, and consider how their implementation could assist in Scotland with delivering on the Fair Work Framework.

The TUC ‘Still Just a Bit of Banter’ report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in 2016, produced in conjunction with the Everyday Sexism project found that for many women sexual harassment was not a one-off incident, but something that had happened many times throughout their working lives. Of all those polled, over half had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. The TUC Report also made a number of useful recommendations, including the reintroduction of third party harassment legislation; recognition and facility time for trade union equality reps; and to extend full range of employment rights to all workers, regardless of employment status or type of contract. Employers are encouraged to provide decent jobs, good training, and clear policies with effective enforcement – and trade unions are also encouraged to provide training, to run workplace campaigns, and to lead on negotiating workplace polices. Effective enforcement of health and safety legislation and using the statutory powers of health and safety reps can make a big difference in workplace culture and environment.

With such a wealth of resources, and the recognition by the Scottish Government of the role of trade unions and the recognition of the benefits of collective bargaining, it is concerning to find that the Scottish Government recently published the Delivery Plan for ‘Equally Safe, Scotland’s Strategy to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls’ with absolutely no mention of trade unions, equality reps, workplace representation, or collective bargaining and trade union agreements. There is virtually no crossover with the Fair Work Framework, despite the fact that trade unions are represented on both the Equally Safe Strategic Board and on the Fair Work Convention.  The proposed pilot accreditation programme for employers gives no recognition to the extensive work already carried out through the trade union movement, nor the role that union reps can play in securing clear workplace agreements, rather than simply ‘urging’ or ‘encouraging’ good practice.

The ETUC Report also makes a distinction between tackling domestic violence and its impact in the workplace, developing good policies to support those employees experiencing domestic violence, and the strategies needed to ensure workplaces are free from sexual harassment and bullying.  In Scotland, a working group at COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) included the four key public sector unions, the GMB, UNITE, UNISON, and the EIS, has been developing guidance on domestic abuse policies in local government workplaces. Hopefully this is being taken forward, although it is not referenced in the Equally Safe Delivery Plan.

In 1998, in a paper published for the Scottish Office Central Research Unit, Dr Sheila Henderson of Reid Howie Associates, brings together the summaries of four separate reports on the lived experience of, and policies to tackle, domestic violence. Moving towards the common understanding which shaped the first Scottish Government strategy, after the Scottish Parliament was established, the Report clearly states ‘Domestic violence occurs in all social groups, and is not caused by stress, unemployment, poverty or mental illness, nor by the women who experience the abuse’. The first Labour/ Liberal Democrat Scottish Government allocated significant increases in funding to Women’s Aid and projects supporting women and children, and set a different tone for all our work.

Holding on to that understanding of the nature of domestic violence is important, and can also frame our understanding of the way in which the abuse of power manifests itself through sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace and in our communities. Whether a woman works as a cleaner, admin worker, engineer or astronaut, sexual harassment in the workplace and in the wider community is unacceptable. Trade unions can play a vital part in developing a culture, and creating safe and healthy workplaces for all. Domestic violence does not distinguish between women by their occupation or income either, and our strategies must meet the needs of all women.  For example, if there is no serious investment in public sector housing, directly under the control of local councils and communities, then the options for women to find alternatives to living with domestic violence which are secure for themselves and any children are removed for all women, regardless of occupation.

In fact, one of the biggest problems for women who are dealing with domestic violence, is to recognise the support needed to remain in employment, and not be faced with losing a job through irregular attendance, workplace harassment, or unauthorised leave. Trade unions and clear collective bargaining and representation can ensure agreements are reached on periods of unpaid leave, support in transferring to another location if appropriate, and other measures which recognise this situation is not the woman’s fault. The ETUC study contains some excellent examples from other European countries.

In Slovenia, a workplace policy on sexual harassment and bullying has been signed between Mercator, a supermarket chain with over 10,000 employees, and the trade union ZSSS (commerce sector). This makes clear there will be no tolerance of such behaviour; identifies a dedicated staff team and helpline; and the trade unions report an 80% resolution rate on cases raised so far. A significant proportion of those cases raised, involved bullying and harassment from management team members, and the agreement between the employer and the union was vital in providing a route for dealing with the issues.

Unions in Bulgaria flagged up the vulnerability of all casual and migrant labour, highlighting the problems of low pay, poor working conditions, and psychological violence and harassment in the garment sector, with a mainly female workforce.

The importance of the law as an enabler for then progressing workplace agreements is illustrated in several country case studies. In Spain, countrywide legislation Organic Law 3/2007 on gender equality paved the way for unions to conclude agreements at company level through equality plans which include the prevention of sexual and gender based harassment.

In the UK, USDAW the shopworkers union has developed a ‘Freedom from Fear’ campaign, focussing in particular on safe travel to and from work, and improving lighting and security on entering and leaving premises. Representing workers in the retail sector, mainly women, USDAW also has taken up the issue of third party harassment, despite the removal of this provision from the Equality Act 2010 by the Conservatives government. Shop owners have responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for their staff.

For over 15 years, UNISON has been promoting workplace policies on domestic violence, following on from an effective ‘Raise the Roof’ report. A guide published in 2016 gives information  and raises awareness for to union reps about the causes and effects of domestic violence, gives information on signs which may indicate domestic violence is an underlying issue, and states that employers have a duty of care to their employees. Alongside this, a leaflet is available to all employees about how to seek help if experiencing domestic abuse.

The TUC’s Occupational Safety and Health Working group published a ‘Gender Sensitivity Checklist’ to assist Health and Safety Reps in raising issues with the employer, which includes checking ‘Does the employer recognise that domestic violence can become an issue at the workplace and treat the matter as a safety, health and welfare issue which needs to be dealt with sympathetically and practically? ‘

Tackling violence against women and girls is indeed everyone’s responsibility, and trade unions have a big part to play. Let’s recognise that, and draw on the work developed so far. Collective voice can speak louder than that of individuals, and set out boundaries and agreements in workplaces which will make a significant difference to women’s lives, both at home and at work.


Ann Henderson





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The Right to Recover [re-blog]

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This blog post was originally published on Rape Crisis Scotland blog here on 17 November 2017. It is being reproduced here with permission from Rape Crisis Scotland as part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Today in the Scottish Parliament a special event is being held to highlight the publication of a new NSPCC report which reveals a dearth of specialist services across the country for children who have experienced sexual violence.

The new report: ‘The Right to Recover’ covers the West of Scotland from the Western Isles down to Dumfries & Galloway, and the NSPPC has found that more than half of the 17 councils it looked at in West and Central Scotland have no specialist service for children of primary school age who need help, while 15 of the 17 have no service for children aged under five years.

Figures released by the Scottish Government in September showed very clearly that an increasing number of reported sexual crime in Scotland relates to children & young people, and highlighted in particular the high prevalence of sexual crime being experienced by young women under the age of 16. And where there is sexual crime, there are survivors in need of support, advocacy and information – what is equally clear is that all children & young people have a right to and an increasing number badly need access to specialist services following sexual violence.

Rape Crisis centres are seeing an increasing number of young people coming to them and looking for support and information around sexual violence, and more centres have set up specialist services to meet this need – Dundee and Angus Young Survivors (DAYS) for young people aged 11-18, which was recently established by the Women’s Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre in Dundee is the most recent to have done so, after consultation with young people.

Peer and other support available to young survivors from services like DAYS, and the ROSEY Project in Glasgow, offer an invaluable lifeline, and the friendships that develop in these contexts a vital part of this process. Here are some of the comments made by young service users:

“I met wonderfully ordinary people who were connected by similarly awful experiences and I owe where I am to all those involved”

“Support from the centre has shown me that what I feel and how I feel it is both normal and justified, without the support I would still be lost”

“Support has helped me get rid of some of the shame I carry with me”

“I felt totally helpless and didn’t know what to do for my daughter. Knowing she was attending the centre and seeing how much it helped her has been so valuable”

“The support I received following childhood sexual abuse has changed my life, I’m happier then I ever thought I could be”

Rape Crisis Scotland’s Sexual Violence Prevention Project works with young people on issues of consent and healthy sexual relationships, and currently reaches 13,000 young people across Scotland. One of the knock-on effects of this is that increasing numbers of young people are coming forward for support – and ethically, this is something to which they are absolutely entitled: children & young people must have access to specialist, locally based support around sexual violence.

In addition to these are the many adult survivors seeking support from Rape Crisis Centres who were abused as children. Child sexual abuse accounted for almost a quarter of the experiences for which people attended rape crisis centres in Scotland during the past year.

The current work around forensic provision in Scotland includes looking at the learning from the Barnahus model in Iceland; at what child-centred care post sexual assault can and should look like. It is vital that support looks not only at the acute aftermath of assault but the longer term support and advocacy for young people, and their parents/carers.

It is clear from all of this that a solution must be found. Rape Crisis Scotland is keen to be part of that solution, whether this means working in partnership with other agencies towards the development of new and distinct services for children and young people, expansion of existing rape crisis services (with appropriate resourcing) to meet this need, or some other model of provision/

Whatever the answer is, what does remain clear is that the need for children and young people to receive specialist support around sexual violence is pressing, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

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Southern perspectives on domestic violence: Contesting universalisations and reconceptualising social and lived realities of migrant women experiencing multiple marginalisation

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This blog post by Dr. Anuj Kapilashrami (University of Edinburgh Global Public Health Unit & Global Development Academy) is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

About the author:

Anuj Kapilashrami is a lecturer in global health policy at the University of Edinburgh. She has an interdisciplinary background and works at the intersections of gender and health politics and development praxis, with particular interest in their interface with human rights and social justice. She has worked with various development actors and social movements in India, the UK and Europe in varying capacity as feminist researcher, academic, and policy analyst. She currently chairs Gender Rights & Development network and convenes Scottish People’s Health Movement.

This piece draws on her ongoing research on intersectional analytics of violence among migrant women, and recent writings on political economy of violence in conflict settings.  


This year’s theme for uniting efforts under 16 days of activism to end gender based violence – Leave no one behind – is an opportunity for deeper reflection on critical gaps in our understandings and responses to gender violence. It calls for raising critical questions on who are ‘left behind’ or excluded from ongoing efforts and policy responses, and how an inclusive agenda for gender violence can be developed. In this blog, I reflect on these gaps in relation to policy responses to domestic violence and their implications for migrant women and girls.

 Acknowledgement of violence occurring in the ‘domestic’ or ‘private’ sphere dates to the ‘second wave’ of feminist struggle and activism associated with ending the social and sexual control of women by men. However, its recognition as an utmost public health and development priority and a human rights concern is relatively new, bolstered by recent endorsement of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Limitations in mainstream discourse

Growing attention aside, mainstream literature and policy debates on domestic violence (more commonly referred to as ‘intimate partner violence’) conceptualise it as a universal phenomenon affecting all societies. These perspectives reflect a unified understanding of relationships as ‘intimate’, context as ‘nuclear household’ or that of ‘stable’ political economies. Such framing overlooks the complex nature of family in non-western societies, specificities (of culture and political economy) in patterns of abuse and help-seeking practices, and deep-rooted patriarchal norms and institutions within which such practices are embedded. Informed by these perspectives, policy and institutional responses to DV tend to focus primarily on presence of laws, availability of legal aid and counsel services, and processes of adjudication. Embedded in a functionalist and distributive paradigm, such focus on distribution presumes that availability of these material goods/ resources will translate into their uptake by those most in need. This paradigm is restrictive in scope as it fails to bring “societal structures and institutional contexts under evaluation”[i]. It also renders dimensions of diversity and structural inequalities invisible by ignoring unequal distribution of and access to both material and non-material goods such as opportunities for development, citizenship among others[ii].

Political conflicts and resulting forced migration have created significant risks for women, as new forms of gendered violence emerge and existing patterns get amplified and intensified for populations moving across borders and socio-economic contexts[iii]. It has also been argued that trans-border movements, while increasing risk of violence, also create spaces for women to highlight violence and gender inequalities hitherto overlooked given the focus on political violence and stability.iii However, there is dearth of analysis on how responsive policies and institutions in countries are to specific positionality, lived realities and needs of migrant women experiencing family abuse.

 Complexities & lived realities of ‘domestic’ abuse among migrant women

In many societies, domestic violence is portrayed as a private issue, shaped by unquestioned belief around men’s ‘rightful’ control over women’s sexuality within a marriage. Reporting any act of violence in this context is viewed as “betrayal of family and violation of social cohesion”.iii In the context of political or religious conflicts and social uprisings, this culture of shame and silence has assumed an altogether different proportion. Here, women’s silent coping with domestic violence gets perceived as an act of ‘national resistance’ or resisting further vilification of already vilified communities (ibid).

Furthermore, in southern contexts, violence takes place within an explicit patriarchal familial, social and cultural context. Feminist scholars have helpfully reminded us that there are “many forms of families; inhabiting varied contexts and subject to different pressures”[iv]. Patriarchal structures of family and ideological formations within these are continually re-constituting and manifest differently in shifting contexts. Among South Asian migrant diaspora populations for example, women are subjected to ‘coercive control’[v] from not only the spouse but also members of the extended family, especially female kin such as the mother-in-law[vi]. While older women in these families are subject to the authority of men, they are also delegated authority over younger daughters-in-law to ensure conformity to patriarchal social norms. Besides physical abuse by partner, young women in these settings are often subjected to everyday form of abuse exercised in domains of the economic, social and political (freedom of movement and other liberties).

These micro experiences within families and households are mediated by macro factors such as border security regimes, policy and institutional provisions at the state level. Research has revealed how ‘harmful immigration policies’ and women’s immigration status creates new forms of coercion and control, such as threats of deportation, denial of asylum or separation from families[vii],[viii]. In the context of tightening border security regimes, irregular / undocumented migrants (in both transit or destination countries) have limited access to justice as they not only fear deportation but further violence from state authorities.

Thus, women’s experience of abuse in families must be understood not by virtue of their gender alone but by their position at the intersections of ethnicity, immigration status, migration journeys, class, sexual identity and their specific socio-cultural context. These structural and institutional factors determine women’s access to resources such as financial support, recourse to legal and justice systems that ultimately shape women’s choices and actions within abusive relationships including whether and how to report or ‘exit’. Disregarding these can severely limit the ability of mainstream interventions in reaching those in need. Studies in the field of violence show that VAW is not only a matter of gendered power relationships but is co-constructed with racial and class stratification, heterosexism, ageism and other systems of oppression[ix]. In accounting for these structures, an intersectionality lens can capture these diverse and unique experience of violence experienced by migrant women.

Moving forward

In conclusion, current policy level understanding and conceptualisation of domestic violence is limited on multiple fronts in engaging with the complex nature of family and kinship structures and deep-rooted patriarchal norms within which families, cultures, societies and state institutions are located. The ‘leaving no one behind’ agenda offers an opportunity to examine specific marginalisations that such universal conception creates.

Migrant women are exposed to multiple forms of violence manifested at familial, community, structural and institutional levels. Their levels of isolation and precariat conditions of living in countries with unfair immigration policies also predispose them to further domestic abuse and restrict possibilities of freedom. A transformative and inclusive agenda for addressing domestic violence must therefore adopt a multi-dimensional perspective and an intersectionality lens to understand and act upon the multiple structural drivers that underpin such pervasive violence.


[i] Young, I.M. (1990) Justice and the Politics of difference. Princeton & Oxford. Princeton University Press. pg 20.

[ii] Galston, W. (1980). Justice and the Human Good. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[iii] Alsaba, K., & Kapilashrami, A. (2016). Understanding women’s experience of violence and the political economy of gender in conflict: the case of Syria. Reproductive health matters24(47), 5-17.

[iv] Ghosh, S.V. (2004) Contextualising Domestic Violence: Family, Community, State. In Rinki Bhattacharya (ed) Behind Closed Doors. Domestic Violence in India. 51-66. Sage. New Delhi.

[v] Stark, E. (2007). Coercive Control. How men entrap women in personal life. New York: Oxford University Press.

[vi] Mirza, N. 2017. South Asian women’s experience of abuse by female affinal kin: a critique of mainstream conceptualisations of ‘domestic abuse’. Families, Relationships & Societies. 6(3) 393-409 (17).

[vii] Anitha, S. (2008). Neither safety nor justice: the UK government response to domestic violence against immigrant women. Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law30(3), 189-202.

[viii] Mirza, N. (2016). The UK government’s conflicting agendas and ‘harmful’immigration policies: Shaping South Asian women’s experiences of abuse and ‘exit’. Critical Social Policy36(4), 592-609

[ix] Varcoe, C., Pauly, B. & Laliberte, S. (2011).  Intersectionality, Justice and Influencing Policy. In Olena Hankivsky (ed) Health Inequalities in Canada. Intersectional Frameworks and Practices. Vancouver. Toronto: UCB Press.


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Beneath the spectacle: Challenging Sexual Harassment at the UK Parliament [re-blog]

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This blog post by Cherry Miller (University of Birmingham) was originally published on Political Studies Association blog here on 10 November 2017. It is being reproduced here with permission from the Political Studies Association (PSA) as part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

I recently completed empirical doctoral research that took a workplace ethnographic lens to examine the everyday performance of gender, beneath ceremonial displays of power, within the British House of Commons. It involved detailed ethnographic research and raised a number of issues, arguing that sexualisation is a significant component of gender relations within Parliament. It also very much echoed the continuums of violence that have been reported in the newspapers recently. Examples of behavioural conduct experienced by male and female participants within three working worlds – parliamentary researchers, MPs and members of the House Service – range from low level (compulsory jocularity, lookism, and unsolicited texts for dates); to the harassing behaviour of MPs towards committee staff within the House of Commons and on overseas visits, to physical contact such as rummages at bars. Sexual harassment was shared in the gender regimes of all three ‘working worlds’ that I examined. Given the gravity of the situation at Westminster, many have been asking – how can change come about and what might that change look like?

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Being cautious about ‘tipping point’ proclamations

Sexual harassment inside the UK Parliament has a longer genealogy than the discreet episodes in the news, which gives myself and others’ reservations about ‘crisis’ or ‘tipping point’ proclamations – why is this now a crisis and why hasn’t it always been treated with such seriousness, a crisis of what and for who? A survey conducted by Channel 4 news in 2014, very clearly reported high levels of sexual harassment and raised questions about gendering sexual harassment as a solely ‘woman’s issue’ because the research found that a third of men and women researchers had experienced sexual harassment, and men were more numerous in respondents who had experienced harassment. The Leader of the House answered an Urgent Question on 30th October 2017 on tackling sexual harassment in parliament and the party leaderships met for a ‘summit’ on 6th November. But what sort of material changes and discursive changes can be made?

 ‘Material’ changes to gender regimes

1.Codes of conduct, training and proceduresThe Nolan Principles of public life (selflessness, integrity, leadership, objectivity, accountability, openness and honesty) have been long established for MPs, though they are rarely (in)formally reflected on. With regard to broader ethics and reflection, a pattern in my research was that an ‘all hands on deck’ arrangement of time meant that there is less time to formally reflect on ethics. Compulsory management training has been suggested for MPs though Caroline Lucas MP suggested that this should be more encompassing. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson made ‘strong representations’ that the Respect Policy, that had lapsed for House Staff and was reintroduced in July 2014, should include other parliamentary actors. For the House Service, there could be greater institutional recognition that they are stewards of Parliament rather than servants of MPs. At the summit on the 6th November, the party leaders agreed an independent grievance procedure.

The challenge with codes, training and procedures, as with the hotline for parliamentary researchers, is that policies can represent the end of institutional responsibilities rather than their start and becomes the responsibility of individuals to make use of them. Obstacles to reporting should be addressed. A persuasive argument about non-reporting is an insidious argument addressed by both Rainbow Murray and Alison Phipps: that a notion of meritocracy (a contested discourse, not least since political appointments are not strictly scientific) stymies reporting since complainants may not want to damage someone’s career (even if the person is disrupting others’ careers in the workplace). Furthermore, the dissemination, reflection, uptake and rolling evaluation of these codes and procedures is important. Furthermore, should design be a participatory and discursive process beyond the party leaders, given the trauma to individuals?

2.Personnel changes: Showing leadership and making personnel changes is important and parties should apply sanctions consistently. Ruth Davison MSP suggested that we need to ‘clear the stables’ with a ‘big shovel’. Debates on recall should come with caution because women MPs may possibly be more vulnerable to deselection attempts in local parties and could be disproportionately affected. Furthermore, The Guardian argues that personnel change in and of itself may feed the Westminster obsession with runners and riders.

Personnel changes are important because there are broader temporalities to injury such as experiencing a wilful ignorance of harassment by political leaders and Whips. Micro-affirmations towards those who have buried or have committed wrongdoing themselves such as promotions, as Ava Etemadzadeh discussed, can be disempowering and shows a lack of recognition of pain. John Mann MP has recommended a menu of sanctions upon MPs. Disclosure checks on constituency staff was also raised by Dr Lisa Cameron MP. Focusing on individuals is important, but will some of the scripts of power survive these actors, whilst (re)individualising the issue?

3.Institutionalising key critical actors outside of parties: MPs themselves may struggle to provide pastoral care and training as employers because they do not have the time to build these relationships. Therefore institutionalising critical actors is important, such as the Women and Equalities Select committee that was created in 2015. As Sarah Childs has suggested, individuals have invested personal capital taking on battles for gender (in)equality. At the moment complainants can go to the media for justice which is unsatisfactory for both the victim and accused. This apparatus should be outside parties and confidential, involving sexual violence experts. The setting up of an HR department would be a good start and for researchers to be formally employed by parliament. A personnel advisory service can currently sit in on interviews when MPs recruit staff, but currently, it is not a compulsory service. The UNITE union parliamentary branch, should receive institutional recognition from Parliament. However, any engagement with a critical actor is coupled with the performativity of complaint that some respondents feared and ‘turning something into a thing’. ParliaGender – the workplace equality network for gender (in)equality, may be given a stronger role in making representations to the House and could also continue  to use ‘soft’ methodologies at Westminster in addition to codes and procedures such as focus groups and interviews – which has already been conducted successfully – but the Workplace Equality Networks must be properly resourced.

4.Structural questions of institutional power that reproduce gendered norms: This systemic problem goes beyond sexual harassment and is entangled in (in)direct structures of power and hierarchy, differences in pay, availability of alcohol, stratification, seniority, long hours, differences in contacts and networks, a greedy institution in terms of time, that produces mistake anxiety, bullying, one-upmanship, racism, and poor communication. A more radical solution would be that local government – matched by funding, could eventually be seen as an equally esteemed route for a job in politics and can address (ideas about) the concentration of power at Westminster, but this could be arena-shifting and is not exempt from problems of sexual harassment.

Discursive changes to gender regimes in Parliament

Now that we have looked at material aspects of gender regimes, we can challenge some of the ideas, constructions and scripts around power and sexual harassment at Westminster. This is because these ideas may survive more material changes.

1. Reconceptualising power – analysing concentrations of structural power is a good start but this conception of power does not stand up when analysing peer harassment from juniors that occurs ‘out of earshot’ of formal supervisory relationships. Examples include a male researcher reporting horseplay from another researcher, the auditability of female MPs in a chocolate bar system by male researchers, peer harassment for MPs, and a member of the House service outing a male parliamentary researcher in front of an office intern. We may still be left with the ideas of misogyny, homophobia, dominance and hegemonic masculinity, even when structures are changed to be more equal. In the Mark Clarke case with regard to sexual harassment and bullying of young activists, discourses of celebrity and prowess combined with his structural ‘power over’ activists. Therefore ‘power over’ models can simplify what is going on and how authority and power is gendered in its current form. Masculinity, after all, differs in similarly structurally empowered men. This suggests, in my view, that ideas about power are also important in addition to formal structural power. Change might mean reconceiving power, or more specifically, changing the gendering of power away from dominance, towards ‘power with’ others.

2. (Loss of) context – Judith Butler suggests that to be injured is for the addressee ‘to suffer a loss of context’. What makes ‘context’ particularly important to the Westminster Parliament is that behaviour falls below our expectations of a workplace, not least one that legislates on rules for others. Sentiments from participants when discussing gender inequality within this context and the disjuncture between formal modernisation rhetoric and standards of other workplaces, included feeling thunderstruck, incredulous, fury, a zooming out of workplace interactions and describing institutional arrangements as: ‘crazy’, ‘weird’ and ‘ridiculous’. It can be alienating for bystanders who often provide the emotional labour to those who have experienced wrongdoings. A proper discussion about the locus of Parliament and political parties within society and expectations on its members is needed.

3.Discursive change on sexual harassment as a knowledge – The term ‘sexual harassment’ is being fought over and contested, beyond its formalistic legalistic usage that sets a criminal threshold. The way that harassment is spoken about within this institutional arena is important. Brant and Too have foregrounded the ‘workplace origin’ of sexual harassment discourse. Parliament is referred to as an “organism, not an organisation” – thus sexual harassment, a workplace discourse, has arguably not been put on its proper footing in this institutional arena.

‘Man up’ narratives are unhelpful – whilst it is not an illegitimate argument that that sexual harassment affects different men and different women differentially, this does not justify commodification of gender discourses – that is, that men and women can voluntarily ‘man up’ and grow a thick skin. We cannot schedule our reactions to sexual harassment.  Some people are immobilised by sexual harassment, for others, it comes later, some are not overwhelmed and transformed utterly. Sexual harassment has been described in discourses of high jinks, bantz, ‘sex pests’, and ‘Pestminster’. Brant and Too note that this discourse is based upon a localised irritant that ignores responsibility and agency of perpetrators. It does not capture what is going on institutionally.

The potential effect on policy regimes

We may now reflect on broader gendered policy regimes coming out of the UK Parliament. The TUC found that 52% of women and 63% of 18-24 year old women had experienced sexual harassment. A question is whether sexual harassment may catalyse responsiveness to other forms of harassment and underfunding of sexual violence services and adult social care too? Whilst sexual harassment is made illegal under the Equality Act 2010, third party harassment was removed from the Equalities Act in 2013, and makes employees more vulnerable at work. The Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Rt Hon Maria Miller MP highlighted in Parliament that 2/3 of girls in schools had experienced sexual harassment. Domestic violence charities and Rape Crisis Centres have received inadequate funding. Given Women’s Budget Group’s budget assessments since 2009, the 22nd November budget might be a sensible time for the government to act now on gender equality.

My comments here do not ‘reveal’ a ‘truth’ about the essential gendered nature of the UK Parliament. But they do offer some early thoughts on the (re)production of everyday sex/gender hierarchies within the House of Commons. These comments are not exhaustive of the issues at play and I welcome discussion to understand and address this further.

Cherry Miller is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham and has recently successfully defended her doctorate into the performativity of gender within the British House of Commons. She tweets @CherryMMiller.

Image: UK Parliament: CC BY-NC-ND

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