Back to our roots and into the 21 st century why gender and feminism matter in responses to vawg
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Back to our roots and into the 21 st century: why gender and feminism matter in responses to VAWG. Prof Liz Kelly Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit London Metropolitan University NE SV Conference November 2012. Reflections and challenges. Almost 40 years as a feminist

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Back to our roots and into the 21 st century: why gender and feminism matter in responses to VAWG

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Back to our roots and into the 21 st century why gender and feminism matter in responses to vawg

Back to our roots and into the 21st century: why gender and feminism matter in responses to VAWG

Prof Liz Kelly

Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit

London Metropolitan University

NE SV Conference

November 2012

Reflections and challenges

Reflections and challenges

  • Almost 40 years as a feminist

  • Most working on VAWG

  • Importance of roots, principles and change

  • Ideas that motivate and challenge me

  • Am not standing outside, but include myself in the questions and tensions

Feminisms and feminists

Feminisms and feminists

  • Minimal definition: understanding women’s

    subordination in order to change it – theory and practice

  • Not one but many

    • The diversity of ‘us’

    • In multiple spaces and locations

  • Have always been argumentative

    • Need to dare to ask hard questions, to know the uncomfortable

  • New and old - ideas and practices

    • More reflexive?

    • Still ‘in movement’?

  • Some of us now have positions of influence

    • What is feminist integrity?

    • How do we use the power we have?

The second wave 1970s

The second wave - 1970s

  • Re-discovery of VAW

    • Telling our own stories, naming and speaking, questioning shame and self-blame,

    • The personal as political – crimes of dominion/power

  • Creativity, vision, optimism

    • Creating what did not exist – services that supported and believed women

    • New ways of organising – anti-hierarchy, activism

    • A ‘we’ – violence affects all women, inviting women we supported to join movement

Gender analysis and vaw

Gender analysis and VAW

  • Disproportionality in victimisation and offending

    • Perpetrators usually known men

  • Violence as the exercise of power and control

    • Over our bodies and our sense of self and safety

    • Constructs masculinity and femininity

    • Female offenders – access to more limited forms of power

  • Not exceptional – everyday/everynight

    • ‘safety work’ in our everyday routines

  • Inadequate and inconsistent institutional responses linked to the lower status of women and girls

    • Impunity

Vaw and women s inequality

VAW and women’s inequality

  • UN ‘a cause and consequence’ of women’s inequality

  • Limits our ‘space for action’ – in public space, workplaces, families

    • Lost opportunities and projects

  • Symbolic meanings

    • Worth less than men and other women – ‘spoiled identities’

    • Barriers to disclosure, under-reporting

  • Harms - to sense of self, safety in world and connections to others

    • Betrayals of trust, breaking social connections

  • Survival and coping strategies

    • ‘violence work’ that victim-survivors have to do just to ‘get by’, let alone rebuild their lives

    • Trajectories for many into drug misuse, criminality, mental health problems and suicide

Vaw and women s equality

VAW and women’s equality

  • The crucial thing is the structure of society – the fact that a woman cannot drive or travel without authorisation, for example – gives a special sense of strength to the man, and this strength is directly connected to the violence. It creates a sense of immunity, that he can do whatever he wants, without sanction.

    Rania al Baz, 2005

Naming and speaking

Naming and speaking

  • feminism is concerned with finding a voice, …[with] working against cultural exclusion (Linda Gordon)

  • ‘Bringing into language’

  • Listening and beginning from women

  • Early challenges about who speaks/is heard – race, class, sexuality – disability and age came later

The complexity of speaking out silence

The complexity of speaking out/silence

  • In many countries violence and abuse is no longer ‘unspeakable’

    • Some forms of violence are more ‘speakable’ than others

    • Some women have more possibilities to speak

  • BUT when women and children tell, safety and support for them and sanctions for perpetrators are not always forthcoming

  • AND in some contexts speaking can create further danger/ potential for harm

    • honour based violence

    • sexual violence in conflict

      May choose silence or be silenced

Listening to women

Listening to women

  • ‘When you want help you don’t want to be bombarded with bruised women, it makes you feel even more dirty and horrible about yourself’

  • ‘We need public education with more Black and Asian women. If you don’t see yourself , you don’t relate to it’

  • ‘It’s about lifting the lid, not to be ashamed’

Problematic imagery

Problematic imagery

The 21 st century

The 21st century

Changed discourses

Changed discourses

  • VAW or GBV → ‘hate crime’, ‘interpersonal violence’

    • Loss of gender and power analysis

  • Discrimination/inequalities → ‘disadvantage or ‘vulnerability’

    • Loss of intersectional analysis

  • Telling/speaking → ‘disclosure’

    • Shifts focus from agency of woman to agency response

  • Victimisation → ‘victimhood’

    • From a material reality to a stigmatised identity

    • For professionals being a survivor is no longer a resource but a weakness

      Language can change what we know and speak

Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences

  • Success in placing VAW on national and international

    policy agendas BUT

    • Dominance of domestic violence - and shift to family violence

    • Domestic violence as crime incidents rather than pattern of coercive control (including in prevalence studies)

    • The neglect of sexual violence and sexual harassment

    • Culturalising of harmful practices

    • Marginalisation of gender analysis

  • Funding of services has improved quality and distribution

    • Emphasis on standards and policies eclipsed engaging with women?

  • Making states responsible, embracing multi-agency

    • Tempered feminist voices?

    • Who sets the agenda?

Who is silencing who about what

Who is silencing who, about what?

  • Which women can speak about what kinds of violence?

  • How is what they say heard and responded to?

  • How do we maintain feminist voices and perspectives?

    • Within women’s services

    • In multi agency contexts

  • Where are the voices of resistance?

    • Importance of young women, survivors forums, blogs, Twitter – naming misogyny and sexism

Neo liberal agendas

Neo-liberal agendas

  • The current context we have to work in

    • But need critical awareness not just adaption

    • From women’s safety and needs to the language of rationing and risk

      • Do we accept in principle that support needs to be limited as are ‘too many cases’?

      • Whose assessment of risk counts?

    • New public management

      • Measurement and ‘outcomes’

      • ‘Evidence’ based policy – what counts as evidence?

      • How many ‘anecdotes’ does it take to become data?

      • Costs of violence - public purse rather than women’s lives

Knowledge claims

Knowledge claims

  • Mossman et al 2009 – New Zealand review of sexual violence services

  • Three framings to establish

    • Proven effective through research evidence

    • Practice reflecting current trends

    • ‘Knowledge based practice’ which recognises skilled practitioners and experiences of survivors (pxi)

  • Women’s organisations should claim and value knowledge based evidence

What women want

What women want

  • Focus groups with 300 diverse women as part of consultation for Westminster government VAWG strategy in 2009

  • Even though not asked directly many referred to importance of women only services

  • What women valued was – safety, holistic support, when and for as long as they need it

  • Want better statutory responses AND women’s services

    Huge challenge to maintain what we have built

Susan brison

Susan Brison

  • I develop and defend a view of the self as fundamentally relational – capable of being undone by violence. But also of being remade in connection to others... Learning to fight back is a crucial part of this process, not only because it enables us to experience justified, healing rage... the confidence I gained from learning to fight back not only enabled me to walk down the street again, it gave me back my life... a changed life, a paradoxical life. (Aftermath, 2002, pxi)

The whole place self

The whole place self

  • From Fiona Elvines MA dissertation,

  • Rape Crisis Centres - standing alongside and working with women

    • To rebuild a self fragmented by violence

    • Active participants in exploring what violence meant and means for their whole selves – not just a story of abuse, a collection of effects

  • The ‘relational self’

    • Women only – who women can relate to/with

    • Create new meanings ‘in conversation’

  • Rebuilding the self

    • Empowerment as extending women’s space for action, including the power to speak out, resist, be part of a collective movement against sexual violence and for women’s equality



  • Need feminisms for the 21st century

    • Renew and reclaim

  • Gender theory and intersectionality

  • Respectful relationships in the VAW sector

    • Space for debate, disagreement, change

    • ‘Practicing solidarity’ (Mohanty, 2003)

  • Actively committing ourselves to ‘listen louder’ to victim-survivors

  • Must be a critical voice so long as violence and impunity continue

At the same time

At the same time

  • Htun & Weldon 2012

  • Datasets for 70 countries over 4 decades

  • It is strong autonomous feminist movements that have

    • Challenged social norms on male dominance in the family, sexuality and more broadly

    • Changed international norms on VAW

    • Produced enduring impacts at national policy levels

    • Through a focus on ‘everyday politics’

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