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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MOOC  ‘Understanding Violence against Women – Myths and Realities’

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This blog post by Anni Donaldson (University of Strathclyde) is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Anni Donaldson:

I am a Knowledge Exchange Fellow and Project Lead at the Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) Project at the University of Strathclyde.  Based in the School of Social Work and Social  Policy, the ESHE Team are creating a national Gender-based Violence Prevention toolkit for use in Scottish universities. I have been working in the field of domestic abuse and violence against women prevention undertaking research, teaching and practice development for nearly thirty years. I am a historian and am currently completing my doctoral thesis ‘An oral history of domestic abuse in Scotland 1979-1992’.  I am also a blogger and journalist.

Find out more about a related forthcoming event on 7 December here.


As acronyms go MOOC doesn’t roll easily off the tongue.  Massive Open Online Courses harness the reach of the worldwide web to the immediacy of social media and magically turn teaching and learning into something entirely new for educators and learners alike.  As a key element in the Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) Toolkit, developing a new MOOC  ‘Understanding Violence against Women – Myths and Realities’ with my ESHE colleague Roisin McGoldrick took us into uncharted technological and pedagogical waters. With no students in front of you and no entry requirements, these free courses, covering every subject under the sun, attract learners from across the globe who might be studying at all hours of the Scottish day and night. Designing a course on VAW, a complex and at times controversial topic, for an invisible audience, was a challenge to two experienced educators used to the cut and thrust of lectures, powerpoint, handouts and groupwork.  Converting what we knew into audio-visual learning steps to capture and retain learners’ interest over a six week period meant that most of how we did things went out the window. Knowing you are only ever one click away from internet oblivion at the best of times, teaching such a complex and highly controversial a subject required us each to find a friendly yet authoritative ‘voice’, somewhere between a pal and a mentor.  I won’t even go into the whole teaching to camera business…

My long experience of teaching about violence against women has shown me that it is one of the few academic subjects where students’ personal opinions can sometimes trump all the research evidence you can throw at them.  Violence against women (VAW) is so deeply interwoven in the warp and weft of world history and modern life that finding a way to unpack its complexities was our first task.  We wanted to stimulate thinking and ideas around violence against women and girls and offer knowledge and perspectives for people to consider.  We were firmly feminist in our approach and were clear that our aim was not necessarily that everyone agree but that we provided them with a strong foundation from which to build their learning and their own analyses.  To do that we needed to introduce some serious sociological concepts such as gender, power and violence. We hoped this would help them make personal connections with underpinning theories, theoretical frameworks and the lived realities for women living with violence the world over.

Before we started on the content however we were clear we needed a clear ethical learning framework for learning. Given its high international prevalence and gendered nature, it was very likely that many of our participants would have either direct or indirect experience of violence against women and girls in private, social or public settings. We recognised that for some, this may well have influenced their decision to study the course and how they might interpret our materials. We would be covering topics which people would likely find distressing and because we were not around to have a private chat after class, we created a ‘Health Warning’ with regular reminders about the need for self-care and regular breaks to allow processing and learning.  We established clear groundrules stressing the importance of being mindful of themselves and respectful of others in group discussions and in responding to other people’s posts in the online space, their sole and virtual classroom.  We stressed that personal experience is wholly that – unique and personal – and should not be used as evidence of more general points that people might wish to make. The chances of disclosures were likely to be high and we asked people only to share information about themselves that they were comfortable making available in the course’s public online platform. This request was well adhered to and might be a useful reminder for use in other public social media platforms,

“Please be sensitive to the potential for causing distress to yourself and to others in what you say and post during your time studying on this course.

We observed this in action many times.  Participants contravening the ground rules were dealt with very effectively and graciously by the others in ways which were a model of pro-social, measured and well-argued rebuttals.

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Each learning step of the six week course contained short lectures, reading materials, hyperlinks, video extracts and opportunities for online discussion. There were quizzes and ‘live streams’ where people could tune into a Youtube channel and post questions for us to answer live on air.  We eventually got used to teaching direct to camera, to breaking learning down into powerful packets of knowledge and getting to the point and sharpish! We dashed off compact articles, wandered down the vast storehouses of Shutterstock images, interviewed experts over Skype and chipped into online discussions being carried out across continents – reading discussions between people in Sri Lanka, Chile, South Africa, Russia, Italy, Burkino Faso, New Zealand, Australia was thrilling. We learned about media schedules, subtitling, editing and were fortunate in having tremendous contributions from a range of well-kent Scottish and internationally renowned experts in the VAW field and the support of a team of learning technologists and film-makers and audio-visual specialists.

Our community of learners included survivors, a range of professionals, VAW specialists, students and many FutureLearn old hands who were simply interested in exploring a new subject. Some were regular contributors to the discussion and many were not – content to learn in their own way. There is absolutely no requirement to chip in your tuppenceworth.  We witnessed extraordinary moments of enlightenment as people began to make sense of their own or others’ experiences or to connect their practice with new ideas.  We read with interest as people spoke of their growing confidence in their own knowledge to initiate conversations about VAW with family, friends and colleagues for the first time.  In an extraordinary piece of synchronicity,  the Weinstein story and the #MeToo campaign aftermath broke when we were dealing with ‘Media Representations of VAW’.   The chat was mighty and the analysis of the press coverage was a joy to behold in its confidence, knowledge and outrage! The pleasure of taking part in discussions with participants from every corner of the globe, of hearing their perspectives and of reaching so many people was a new one to me. The feedback since the first course ended in mid-November 2017 has been extremely positive. People connected to the issue in new ways, realised that they could play a part in preventing violence against women and many resolved at the end to take action in their own communities. The course page invites learners to join the global movement to prevent VAW.  By taking part in a course like ours I believe they made a start.  We explored VAW Prevention at the end of the course and when people read about the first Zero Tolerance Campaign in Scotland, the 16 Days of International Activism against VAW, the Inside Outside Project, One Billion Rising and White Ribbon for instance many were inspired into taking action in their own communities.  Learning about VAW is an intervention and a key part of primary prevention.  Knowledge is indeed power, we busted some myths and laid down some realities and just maybe we have helped bring about some changes of mind. People are already signing up for the next run starting on 5 February 2018.  Click here to join us.







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We need to look beyond individuals if we want to tackle gender-based violence: embracing social determinants of health

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This blog post by Karen Lorimer (Glasgow Caledonian University) is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Gender-based violence affects all ages and social classes, but we do still need to pay attention to how and why violence manifests within particular places.  Gender norms are not just taken up by individuals, community-level norms can support violence.  In this piece, Dr Karen Lorimer, a Senior Research Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University, describes the social determinants of health framework to explore the various causes of gender-based violence. 

As a sexual health researcher with a background in sociology, I’ve always been fascinated by the influences upon people’s health.  The social determinants of health framework conveys the various levels of influence on health, including individual, peer group, community and wider society [1]. Often depicted like a rainbow, the framework shows at the inner level there are the immediate or ‘downstream’ influences, such as individuals’ knowledge.  As we progress outwards, the neighbourhood and community level is where we may see the reinforcement of certain norms and individuals may reside in a gendered environment.  Moving towards the outermost layer, or the ‘upstream’ influences, are the wider socio-economic, cultural and environmental level influences such as poverty.  This is an important framework to draw upon in relation to the prevention of gender-based violence, as it reminds us that individuals who perpetrate such violence do not exist in a vacuum, and that should inform our prevention work. We should be trying to intervene across these levels to prevent gender-based violence. However, we do see the dominance of interventions targeting individuals, and which seek to modify individual-level factors such as knowledge [2, 3].


One could say that tackling wider structural issues, such as poverty, are commonly for governments to implement across policy fields; but we should still see a lot more work at community and peer levels than we do.  If we keep focusing on trying to change individual knowledge and behaviours, will we really transform society? The Scottish Equally Safe framework [4, p6] explicitly references gender inequality as underpinning gender-based violence:

We need to eliminate the systematic gender inequality that lies at the root of violence against women and girls, and we need to be bold in how we do it.

None of this is easy, and individual-level interventions have an important role, but on their own they will not be enough to tackle violence against women and girls.  Systematic reviews have found very little evidence on how community level factors are associated with sexual violence [2, 3].  So, if we are to see more work across different levels then it is important that we do that work on the basis of evidence.

This is where the work by my colleagues and me is useful:  we carried out interviews and focus group discussions with 116 men and women age 18-40 years, in which we sought to better understand local gender dynamics and the importance of experiences in places, for the way these influence sexual health understandings and behaviours, including coercion and violence.  Within this, we focused on masculinities, to explore how they are shaped and how they impact on behaviours and attitudes. If we go back to the social determinants of health framework, our work found masculinities at the wider societal level being reworked at a local level of community, peers and family [5].  For example, at the community-level we heard of peer group acceptance of violence and a sense of how normalised various forms of violence were.  Ally [pseudonym], an interviewee from Glasgow, said of domestic abuse:

It’s just something that I’ve seen for years, aye [yes]. It’s a common thing, aye. You know? You might no’ see the physical acts o’ violence. You dae [do] sometimes. But you see the way women are.

When the gender norms flowing from the dominant form of masculinity – hegemonic masculinity – get reworked at community levels and picked up by individuals, then we need to try to tackle the issue at the wider ‘upstream’ level.  When you hear how localised, socio-cultural influences did not appear to foster more egalitarian expressions of masculinity, then how do we expect individuals to be empathetic and respectful towards women?  Thomas, an interviewee, captured this when he said:

people just don’t realise what it’s like tae live and kind o’ grow up in some o’ these places and I think that they’re kind o’ ignorant when they think that they can just change a couple o’ things and it’ll make everything awright

There is a limit to what individual-level interventions can achieve, but they are important when used alongside other approaches. So, we need to keep our attention firmly fixed on improving gender equality, and fostering more positive community-level norms. We must seek transformation not just incremental gains. There are some good examples of interventions that have sought to shift individual behaviours by tackling gender norms as they are linked to gender inequalities.  For example, the Stepping Stones intervention in the South African context is labelled gender-transformative as it sought to reconfigure gender norms towards gender equitable relationships [6]. However, when dominant structural-level influences, such as poverty, remain unchanged then it may be that we only see marginal gains even with such work.  This is why it is important that we pay attention to each of the levels a model such as the social determinants of health alerts us to. We must impress upon governments to reduce poverty, we must ensure there are not just laws but law enforcement, and we must seek to intervene across communities to ensure these environments are conducive to individual behaviour change.  Importantly, this means understanding various communities and not assuming everywhere is the same.  Yet, as the same time, gender inequalities across the whole of societies must be tackled to improve women’s lives.  The Scottish policy says we should be bold.  Indeed, we should.





  1. Dahlgren, G. and M. Whitehead, Policies and strategies to promote equity in health. Copenhagen: Regional Office for Europe. World Health Organization, 1992.
  2. Tharp, A.T., et al., A Systematic Qualitative Review of Risk and Protective Factors for Sexual Violence Perpetration. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2013. 14(2): p. 133-167.
  3. DeGue, S., et al., A systematic review of primary prevention strategies for sexual violence perpetration. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2014. 19(4): p. 346-362.
  4. Scottish Government & COSLA, Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls. 2016: Edinburgh.
  5. Messerschmidt, J.W., Engendering Gendered Knowledge: Assessing the Academic Appropriation of Hegemonic Masculinity. Men and Masculinities, 2012. 15(1): p. 56-76.
  6. Gibbs, A., et al., Reconstructing masculinity? A qualitative evaluation of the Stepping Stones and Creating Futures interventions in urban informal settlements in South Africa. Culture, health & sexuality, 2015. 17(2): p. 208-222.



Dr Karen Lorimer is a Senior Research Fellow and medical sociologist at Glasgow Caledonian University, where she is a member of the Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Research Group.  She is a member of the Scottish Government’s National Monitoring and Research Group and the Scottish Parliament cross-party group on Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses.  She was principal investigator on the CSO-funded ‘DeMaSH’ project (CZH/4/925).

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Dangerously Provocative [re-blog]

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This blog post by Jessica Wolfendale (West Virginia University) was originally published in The Dangerous Women Project here on 4 July 2016. It is being reproduced here with permission from the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) as part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Dangerously Provocative [1]

The provocatively dressed woman is dangerous. She is disruptive; a distraction and a temptation. She can lead good men to thoughts of infidelity; she can distract men and boys from the important tasks of work and education. The dangers posed by the provocatively dressed woman mean that she must be monitored and controlled. Girls must be forbidden from wearing provocative clothing to school, so that they don’t distract boys.[2] As a principal of a Canadian High School wrote in a letter to parents: “Girls wearing short skirts should think about how they sit and what is revealed when they bend over …. It’s my job as principal to keep students contained in an environment where they [boys and teachers] can learn [and teach] without distraction.”[3] Likewise, women should wear “good, modest, conservative dress” at work because “[r]emoving one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus”.[4]

But the provocatively dressed woman also needs to be warned about the dangers she poses to herself. A Canadian police officer told students at Osgoode Hall Law School that: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,”[5] and in the wake of a series of sexual assaults in Brooklyn in 2011, police officers advised women not to wear shorts or skirts that were “too short”.[6] Because the provocatively dressed woman sexually arouses men, she risks attracting unwanted sexual attention. It is therefore up to her to make sure that she doesn’t send the “wrong message” with her outfits.

This means that if she is sexually assaulted or harassed, the provocatively dressed woman only has herself to blame. As a commentator in a CNN discussion about the SlutWalk movement put it, “You women that dress provocatively will attract the pervert/rapist whatever nearby. Simple as that. When they see boobs and thigh and butt they all go nuts. So don’t entice them as much as possible.”[7]

This narrative of the provocatively dressed woman is persistent and widely-held.[8] It is implicit in numerous school dress codes, in media coverage about sexual assault and harassment,[9] in the advice given to women and girls by police officers, and in advertising depictions of “sexy” women.

The narrative of the provocatively dressed woman seems to offer an enticing and uniquely female form of sexual power. Just by wearing revealing clothing, it appears, a woman can sexually arouse men; she can make them forget their girlfriends or their marriage vows, and she can even threaten their commitment to their work and their education. She is the classic femme fatale: the woman who uses her sexual appeal to control and manipulate men to get what she wants. Men, in this narrative, are hostage to their sexual desire. At the mere sight of a short skirt or tight top, they can’t control themselves. Against their better judgment, they can become powerless in the face of a woman’s allure.

Perhaps, then, the provocatively dressed woman is a sexually empowered woman: she embraces and celebrates her power to arouse men rather than fears it. She is dangerous not because she is a threat to sexual morality but because she knows she is powerful, and she exercises her power when and how she sees fit. She consciously chooses to wear what the author Annette Lynch refers to as “porn chic”– the short, tight-fitting, and revealing outfits worn by female celebrities such as the Kardashians.[10] She is the sexy, cheeky, scantily dressed young woman we see frequently in advertising who doesn’t feel the need to hide her sexual appeal, as exemplified in a Calvin Klein ad in which a scantily dressed model reclines on a couch looking enticingly at the camera, with the slogan “I seduce in my Calvins”.[11]

But once we unpack the beliefs and attitudes that are expressed and reinforced through the narrative of the provocatively dressed woman, we see that she is not empowered. She does not have genuine power or sexual agency. In contrast, her apparent dangerousness and sexual power is embedded in and reinforces disempowering and objectifying conceptions of women’s bodies and women’s sexuality.

The narrative of the provocatively dressed woman tells us that women are responsible for men’s sexual behavior. Male sexual desire is depicted as an omnipresent and potentially dangerous force that women must learn to avoid arousing if they don’t want trouble. The attitudes expressed in the narrative of the provocatively dressed women encourage men to feel entitled to act on their sexual desires, even if the women who are the object of those desires reject them. Social and cultural attitudes, such as those expressed in media discussions of sexual assault and harassment, reinforce this privileged status of male sexual desire. The privileged status of male sexual desire is also reinforced in the law, for example when a Canadian judge referred to a victim’s “suggestive” clothing as grounds for leniency for a defendant convicted of rape, since such clothing “sent signals that sex was in the air.”[12]

This narrative of the provocatively dressed woman also reflects and reinforces the belief that women who wear revealing clothing want sexual attention from all men, not just from men they are attracted to or from whom they would like sexual attention. Thus the narrative implies that men who sexually harass or assault women aren’t fully to blame for their behavior because women who wear revealing clothing are “asking for it.” Men’s diminished responsibility for their actions toward women is implied by the very use of the word “provocative” to describe women’s clothing. Men’s clothing, no matter how revealing or tight-fitting, is never described as provocative. Women’s sexual arousal is not depicted as a potentially dangerous force that men must be wary of. Men are not warned against tempting or distracting women, and men are not blamed if a woman sexual harasses or assaults them.

So the “power” of the provocatively dressed woman is an illusion. The power attributed to the provocatively dressed woman is based on the belief that women’s bodies are inherently sexualized: that clothing that reveals sexualized women’s body parts is an open invitation to any man, an invitation that men are entitled to act on regardless of the intentions and wishes of the women in question. This reveals the insidious message of the narrative of the provocatively dressed woman. When a woman’s outfit is described as provocative, she is reduced to a collection of sexually charged body parts (breasts, buttocks, legs). In addition, a specific subjective desire is attributed to her—the desire for sexual attention from men. Because of what she wears, she must want sexual attention, regardless of what she says. Her actual preferences, if inconsistent with the intentions that men attribute to her, are dismissed as not reflecting what she “really wants”—she says “no,” but her outfit says “yes.” Thus, it is men’s interpretations of her desires and intentions that are taken as authoritative.

Contrast this with the narrative of the male seducer – the debonair playboy (exemplified in the character of James Bond) who actively seeks sexual attention from women, only to use them and leave them. The playboy figure, despite his dashing attire and seductive behavior, is never accused of sending the “wrong message,” nor is he viewed as deserving or “asking for” unwanted sexual attention. If he rejects a woman’s advances, his rejection is taken as authoritative. She cannot then claim that his “no” means “yes”.

But the provocatively dressed woman’s supposed sexual power over men can be turned against her at any moment. A woman who embraces provocative dress and decides that she wants sexual attention from men will still be denied her own agency if she chooses to reject a particular man, or objects to certain kinds of sexual attention. Instead, she will be accused of “sending the wrong message,” and the desires of men who sexually approach her will be attributed to her, and her own desires will be denied and overridden.

Thus women are in a bind. Both women and men sometimes want to be viewed as sexually desirable, but for women the wish to be attractive is tinged with the threat of unwanted sexual attention. Both men and women use clothing to attract others, but only women are punished if they reject men’s sexual advances, whatever they are wearing. And only women will be blamed if they are sexually harassed or assaulted by men. The provocatively dressed woman, it will be said, knew she was playing with fire when she decided to go out dressed like a “slut.” Since, in this narrative, male sexual desire is a powerful force that can cause men (poor creatures) to be overcome by their urges, it’s not their fault if they get “carried away.” It is the provocatively dressed woman who is to blame for attempting to have it both ways: sending the invitation that she’s “up for it” but then complaining when men take her up on the invitation.

So the narrative of the provocatively dressed woman has nothing to do with women’s sexual desire and sexual agency. Sexual agency, at a minimum, involves the freedom to refuse or accept sexual invitations from others. It involves the freedom to understand and develop one’s own sexual potential, and to have one’s sexual desires treated with respect by one’s partners and potential partners. But the narrative of the provocatively dressed woman frames female sexual agency purely in terms of male sexual desire and male sexual entitlement. Indeed, the satisfaction of female sexual desire plays no role at all in the narrative, since the narrative suggests that men’s sexual arousal is the aim and sole object of a woman’s choice of clothing. The narrative depicts women as sexualized objects who have the potential to affect and disrupt men (but not vice versa), and the potential to attract sexual violence and aggression. The narrative suggests that men may be entitled to approach a woman sexually if she is wearing a “sexy outfit,” even if she claims she doesn’t want such attention.

Thus the narrative of the provocatively dressed woman is dangerous not because a sexily dressed woman is dangerous but because the narrative reinforces and reflects attitudes about women’s responsibility for men’s behavior that privilege male sexual desire, and that hold women to blame for sexual assault and harassment.


Jessica Wolfendale is Associate Professor of Philosophy at West Virginia University. She has published extensively on topics in applied ethics including terrorism, torture, and military ethics. Her current project is a book on war crimes (co-authored with Associate Professor Matthew Talbert). In addition to her work in political violence, she has a long-standing interest in fashion as it expresses values, sexuality, and identity. She is co-editor of Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone (Wiley-Blackwell 2011) and is currently completing an article on sexual modesty. Her most recent article, “Provocative Dress and Sexual Responsibility,” is forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law.


[1] This article draws on ideas discussed in “Provocative Dress and Sexual Responsibility,” Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 17 (1), 2016.

[2] Laura Bates, “How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture,” Time Magazine (May 22, 2015),

[3] Shauna Pomerantz, “Cleavage in a Tank Top: Bodily Prohibition and the Discourses of School Dress Codes,” The Alberta Journal of Educational Research 53 (4): 373-386, 2007, p. 381.

[4] Jason Hancock, “Missouri Legislators Suggest an Intern Dress Code, but Speaker Nixes the Idea,” Kansas City Star (Aug. 18, 2015), the-buzz/article31374875.html.

[5] Ed Pilkington, “SlutWalking Gets Rolling After Cop’s Loose Talk About Provocative Clothing,” The Guardian (May 6, 2011), policeman-talk-clothing.

[6] Katherine Bindley, “NYPD to Women of Brooklyn’s Park Slope: Don’t Wear Shorts or Dresses,” Huffington Post (Nov. 30, 2011), wear-shorts-or-dresses_n_989539.html.

[7] Jessica Valenti, “Why We Need SlutWalk: A Study in Comments,” JessicaValenti (2011), we-need-slutwalk-a-study-in-comments.

[8][8] For example, one third of respondents in a 2005 Amnesty International survey of over 1,000 people in the UK believed that a woman who wore revealing clothing and behaved flirtatiously was partly responsible if she was raped (“UK: New Poll Finds a Third of People Believe Women who Flirt Partially Responsible for Being Raped,” Amnesty International UK (Nov. 21, 2005), new-poll-finds-third-people-believe-women-who-flirt-partially-responsible-being).

[9] For example, a New York Times article on the gang rape of an 11-year old girl quoted residents of the area in which the girl lived as saying: “she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s” (James C. McKinlley, Jr., “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town,” New York Times (March 8, 2011), 4).

[10] Annette Lynch, Porn Chic: Exploring the Contours of Raunch Eroticism (London, UK: Berg, 2012).

[11] This ad was shown side by side with an ad featuring a male model with the slogan “I make money in my Calvins”. (Jess Edwards, “Calvin Klein under fire for ‘sexist’ ad campaign,” Cosmopolitan (22 March 2016),

[12] Mike McIntyre, “Rape Victim ‘Inviting,’ so No Jail: Judge Rules Woman’s Clothes, Conduct Ease Blame on Attacker,” Winnipeg Free Press(Feb. 24, 2011), local/rape-victim-inviting-so-no-jail—rape-victim-inviting-so-no-jail-116801578.html.

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Technologising Rape and Sexual Assault: Can we really innovate the problem away?

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This blog post by Lesley McMillan (Glasgow Caledonian University) and Deborah White (Trent University, Ontario) is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Sexual violence against women and girls remains a major social problem with as many as one in three (35%) women worldwide experiencing either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Despite major policy and law reforms, as well as initiatives such as those focussed on educational and self-defence programmes, states worldwide have been largely ineffective at tackling the prevalence of rape and sexual assault. In the context of this inefficacy, along with the widespread availability of social media platforms, we have started to witness the emergence of new technologies targeted at women for the purpose of preventing rape.

Struck by the increasing number and types of technologies – from anti-rape bras and tampons, to mobile phone apps to communicate distress or a concerning situation – we decided to research this phenomenon in greater depth. Over a period of more than two years, we used ‘Google alerts’ and ‘Google Scholar alerts’ to identify new and proposed anti-rape devices. During this time we were startled by the nature of the technologies being devised, and whilst not all are currently available for purchase – some are prototypes and others have been funded and manufactured but are not yet widely available – these devices, based largely on the commodification of women’s safety, seem to represent a significant, and concerning, growth area.

In the course of our research[i], we categorised the various, and in some instances, farcical, technologies as those designed for the physical protection of a woman’s body, those intended for communication with others, and those that combine the two.  In terms of bodily devices, although too numerous to list here, examples include the Personal Space Dress that detects when someone is too close and uses special motors to expand its size to protect the wearer’s personal space; anti-rape underwear that can only be removed by the woman; colour-changing anti-rape nail polish that detects date rape drugs; the Rape-Axe condom worn internally by women and equipped with jagged teeth intended to dig into a rapist’s penis, affixing itself and requiring medical attention to be removed; and, the Anti-molestation jacket that, at the touch of a button, discharges 110 volts of electricity into anyone who is making unwanted advances.

For those communications-based anti-rape technologies, which are primarily intended for mobile phones, we see examples such as the “We Consent” suite of apps, where those considering engaging in sexual activity say their name, their partner’s name and an explicit ‘yes’ to sex. The app then records the statements, adds a time stamp and geo-code, encrypts the footage, and stores it off line. More common in this category is a range of apps that alert family, friends or the police if a woman feels she is in a situation that may be dangerous.  For instance, the Circle of 6 app uses text messaging and GPS to let a woman notify up to six contacts of her whereabouts if she feels unsafe. Apps such as bSafe allow others to track an individual’s journey in real time using GPS to ‘virtually’ walk her home. It also includes an SOS feature, and begins video recording if the alarm is deployed to collect evidence of a possible crime.

9 Circle of 6 App

Some anti-rape technologies combine bodily and communications features.  For example, the Personal Guardian, designed to be attached to a bra strap or belt, is activated when two buttons are pressed simultaneously. The device connects to a woman’s smartphone which contacts a monitoring station where staff listen for screams or signs of a struggle, using GPS to identify location, contact police or relatives as necessary. Other wearables include the Athena Pendant, the Guardian Angel and the Revolar Instinct. The latter, marketed as a ‘fashionable device’ with a step counter, is designed to prevent sexual assaults by sending out help alerts and includes a ‘ring me’ feature which allows users to ring their own phone and excuse themselves from uncomfortable situations, or “bad dates”.  A more recent addition, the Intrepid, is a wearable bra sticker that can allegedly detect forcible grabbing or touch upon which it sends a distress signal to the user’s family and friends using Bluetooth and a mobile phone.

Once we had identified these technologies we examined more closely the nature of the claims made about their assumed role in the prevention of sexual assault. Whilst some developers and promoters seemed aware that their products were just one potential solution to a much more complex problem, overwhelmingly the language characterising these devices was about their ability to end violence against women. Despite grand promises, we argue that there are a number of problems with these technologies.

Firstly, there is potential for product failure and unintended consequences. For example, for the communications tools to be effective, a woman must be holding her telephone, must have it charged, must be in range of a signal, and must be able to engage the app. For those technologies designed to protect the body, many have the capacity to injure the wearer (e.g. sharp devices worn internally, electric voltage clothing, anti-rape pants that may not be able to be removed should medical attention be required).  It is also likely that in a time of stress when someone may be under attack, they may not be able to deploy two buttons at once or find a device on their bra.  There is also the possibility of an assailant being further angered by a woman’s attempt to use such devices, particularly if he is injured by one, for which there could be serious repercussions.  Additionally, and worryingly, these technologies could become the tool of the coercive controller, as they offer potential for the increased surveillance of women. Devices that offer remote monitoring of someone’s location or a ‘follow me’ or ‘I’m here’ feature, for instance, could allow stalkers or abusers to identify locations as well as regular routines. Women could also be coerced or forced to remove the anti-rape underwear, or to give consent to the “We Consent” app.

Our second concern is the misplaced responsibilisation for sexual violence. In essence, these technologies place responsibility on everyone except perpetrators.  Foremost, they focus on women taking routine measures for their own sexual assault prevention, and even in some cases for collecting their own evidence for the criminal justice system. In many ways this is nothing new, women have always been encouraged to consider where they walk, what they wear, how much they drink, but this responsibilisation is now enhanced by having to wear or carry new devices to prevent being sexually assaulted. Women are frequently blamed for their victimisation[ii] and this could become more intense if questioned as to why they were not using a safety device, why they had not informed someone of their whereabouts using an app, or collected evidence of the assault. Not only do these devices responsibilise women, they also responsibilise friends, family and bystanders to prevent or intervene in sexual assaults.

Our third issue concerns what we see as the misrepresentation of rape and sexual assault embodied in these technologies.  Many of these devices feed into the common, and erroneous, assumption of ‘stranger danger’ – the myth that rapists primarily jump out of bushes late at night[iii].  We know this type of sexual assault is very rare, and most women are raped by someone known to them, including partners, relatives, friends and colleagues[iv].  Those technologies based on the body, such as the anti-rape pants, reinforce the notion of rape as vaginal penetration, suggesting that if an attacker cannot remove a woman’s pants then she is safe. In reality rape takes many forms[v] including, for example, forced oral penetration, for which anti-rape pants would not offer much protection.  There is also a heavy focus in the prevention discourse about drug-facilitated rape, with drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB used to justify technologies such as anti-rape nail varnish, however studies confirm only a very small number of rapes involve the covert use of such drugs[vi]. In the most part, alcohol is the rapist’s drug of choice[vii].

The final part of our analysis centres on the fear-mongering and marketing surrounding these products. The expanded use of these technologies has the potential to normalise sexual assault; the assumption that ritualistically putting on prevention jewellery or clothing, or using an app to track your whereabouts, suggest that a woman’s daily activities should incorporate efforts to prevent sexual violence. This naturalising of constant threat and vigilance is largely tied to the market. Whilst there are ‘social impact’ or ‘moral entrepreneurs’, often with good intentions, behind the development of these products, and some are non-profit organizations that put a portion of proceeds towards education programmes, many are sold for profit through Amazon, and some, like Guardian Angel, include monthly subscription fees. Tying rape prevention to the market is highly problematic, not least because even if they were shown to be effective at rape prevention, which we doubt, many women could not afford these devices or may not own mobile phones. Rape prevention effectively becomes the privilege of the wealthy.

These devices do not meet the discursive claims of their proponents in terms of solving sexual violence. Moreover, they are largely depoliticised and decontextualized, and are situated within, and highly compatible with, neo-liberal culture and capitalism.  In essence they further privatise and individualise the problem of sexual violence taking the polar opposite approach to global initiatives such as the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. These products treat sexual violence as an individualised crime – and just as individualised efforts such as self-defence training for women have not eradicated sexual assault – selling women bodily and communication technologies to incorporate in their daily lives will not ultimately end the historic pattern of pervasive sexual violence.


Lesley McMillan is Professor of Criminology and Sociology at Glasgow Caledonian University.  She is Associate Director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and academic lead for public protection research.  Her research focusses primarily on sexual violence, with a particular interest in statutory and institutional responses including criminal justice, policing, and medico-legal intervention.

Deborah White is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Her research focuses on the institutional responses to sexual violence, particularly medico-legal interventions and the role and nature of forensic evidence and experts in criminal justice systems.




[i] White, D. & McMillan, L. (2017) Innovating the Problem Away? Exploring the Possibilities and Perils of Technologizing Sexual Assault Prevention, STS (In)Sensibilities, Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), Boston, Massachusetts, 30th August – 2nd September

[ii] McMillan, L. & White, D. (2015) Silly Girls’ And ‘Nice Young Lads’: Vilification And Vindication In The Perceptions Of Medico-Legal Practitioners In Rape Cases, Feminist Criminology, 10:279-298

[iii] Du Mont, J. & Parnis, D. (1999).  “Judging women: The pernicious effects of rape mythology”.  Canadian Woman Studies, 19(1 & 2), 102-109

[iv] McMillan, L. (2013) Sexual victimisation: Disclosure, Responses and Impact, in Lombard, N. &  McMillan, L. eds. Violence Against Women: Current Theory and Practice for Working with Domestic Abuse, Sexual Violence and Exploitation, Research Highlights in Social Work Series, Jessica Kingsley

[v] White, D. & Rees, G. (2014). “Self-defense or undermining the self:  Exploring the possibilities and limitations of an anti-rape technology”.  Violence Against Women, 20(3), 360-368.

[vi] Krebs, C.P., Lindquist, C.H., Warner, T.D., Fisher, B.S. & Martin, S.L. The Campus Sexaul Assault (CSA) Study Final Report, NIJ Grant No. 2004-WG-BX-0010, Washington: National Institute of Justice

[vii] Horvath, M and Brown, J., (2007) ‘Alcohol as Drug of Choice; is Drug-assisted Rape a

Misnomer?’, Psychology, Crime and Law, 13(5): 417-429.

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Introducing genderED: a new hub for gender and sexuality research and teaching at University of Edinburgh

Fiona Mackay, Director genderED and Christina Neuwirth, Co-ordinator genderED

We are delighted to announce the launch of genderED, a new virtual hub for gender and sexuality research and teaching at the University of Edinburgh. It’s the culmination of more than a year of planning with staff and students across the institution. We hope you enjoy exploring it.

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What is genderED?

The idea behind genderED has been to create a virtual space to showcase excellence in teaching, research and KEI in gender and sexuality studies at University of Edinburgh, to promote connectivity and interdisciplinarity, and to build capacity. At its core, genderED is a set of directories and a collection of resources, bringing together information on gender and sexuality courses, researchers, research and KE projects, networks and research groups, blogs and social media, activities and events from across the University. It is designed to be used by prospective and current students, prospective and current researchers, potential collaborators, and the wider community interested in these issues. The project has been led by the School of Social and Political Science (SPS) and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) on behalf of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS), and a wider consortium of academics and students. It builds upon a number of earlier initiatives including the Global Justice Academy Gender Justice Listing, the engagement work by the Gender Politics (@genderpol) community, IASH’s Dangerous Women Project, and the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Gender campaign (2014-15). The genderED project is part of the wider and evolving University of Edinburgh- EUSA Gender Initiative.


More than 80 courses - teaching image

We have compiled “living” directories with information about all specialist courses on gender and sexuality, and more generalist courses with substantial gender and sexuality components, running at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in a particular academic year. This will help interested students to navigate “gender and sexuality” pathways through their programmes, equip personal tutors to advise their tutees, as well as identify gaps in provision.

SPS in practice students - Meryl Kenny

SPS in Practice Students – photo by Meryl Kenny on Twitter

The directories includes information about “Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World” – an Ordinary level course co-created with students as part of the University’s evolving Gender Initiative – and open to undergraduates from across the University. Now in its 2nd year of running it has more than 200 students ranging from Fine Art to Cognitive Science, and from Physics to Social Anthropology.  It is led by Dr Meryl Kenny and Dr Pablo Schyfter from the School of Social and Political Science with a teaching team from across the University, supported by a reference group of academics and representatives from the EUSA. (See here for a recent presentation to Senate by Meryl Kenny and students on the co-creation process and the SPS in Practice model).

We will highlight a selection of courses with commentary from course convenors and students, updating periodically.


More than 85 researchers image

We are creating directories of gender and sexuality scholars, including our PhD and early career researchers, giving information about their research interests and projects. They will be regularly updated and will make visible the great breadth and depth of scholarship at University of Edinburgh. We hope these resources will enable researchers to connect with each other (across and beyond the institution), encouraging multidisciplinary collaborations, as well as attracting prospective PhD and Masters students.

We will highlight a selection of researchers and projects, updating periodically.

Making Connections

Making connections image

In this section of the hub we will highlight the myriad ways we connect and engage. This will include networks and groups, knowledge exchange activities, and social media engagement.


As part of genderED we will be working with IASH to create a rolling specialist gender and sexuality events listing.


Gender and sexuality scholars and teachers, students and student leaders, and Heads of Schools, Colleges, and Academies, have all played an important role in the incubation and creation of genderED. There have been countless conversations over the years about how best to connect our work across different Schools and disciplines in a large and decentralised University; how to make research-led teaching options more visible to students; and how to identify gaps and build capacity. This is an important area for support and growth given the University’s commitment to equipping students to become critical citizens at global and local level, and to promoting values of social responsibility and social justice.

As noted above, genderED builds upon work by an ad hoc group of academics and students. But the step change came in 2014-15 with the then- EUSA Vice President of Academic Affairs Dash Sekhar’s gender campaign for more gender courses including the creation of a University-wide introductory course on gender. The Heads of CAHSS and SPS agreed to provide institutional support for this, and for a wider University-EUSA Gender Initiative. The key outcomes to date have been the creation of the Understanding Gender course (see above, 2016) and the launch of genderED (2017).

What Next?

This is the start of the project and our directories and other resources are living works in progress. Please get in touch if you would like to have your course or research profile listed, if you are part of a research project or network, or if you are organising a gender and sexuality studies related event! Christina can be reached at

The image of the embroidered rug is used under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY-NC-2.0. The image was created by Flickr user Mark Heard and can be found here. For genderED, SPS graphic designer Adam Cavill has changed its size, and overlaid it with colour hues.


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