#VAWIP Blog Symposium: USA

USA: Because she was a woman

by Amy Shamroe

I remember huddling around my friend’s laptop with several friends on November 4, 2008. We were hopeful, but didn’t really believe a black man could become President of the United States. Not yet. When he did, we literally took to the streets of our small town singing “God Bless, America.” Hope had won.

When it became apparent in summer 2016 that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for President, I was conflicted. I had been wrong about America’s ability to elect a black man, but as a woman living in this country I knew in subtle and not so subtle forms that sexism and misogyny is alive and well here. Still, hope had one victory, so I allowed myself to get excited that a woman might finally lead America. We saw how that turned out.

So, how did a former Senator and Secretary of State lose to a bankrupt reality TV star? Hundreds, if not thousands, of think pieces have been written about this subject since last November. Many, especially those written by men, look at the campaign’s lack of ground game. Fair point, but Trump didn’t even have organizers in every state. When you strip it all away, it comes down to the fact she was a woman.

From the get-go, as a former Secretary of State, Senator, architect of a healthcare plan, and successful lawyer Hillary Clinton still wasn’t good enough. In comments and conversation, she was a “bitch” or worse for being involved in politics, for making the tough decisions men are supposed to make. Trump called for her to be locked up for doing her job as Secretary of State and made it a platform during the campaign, ignoring the long history in our country of peaceful transitions without abuse of power to punish challengers. His supporters latched on the “Lock her up!” battle cry, including soon to be National Security advisor Michael Flynn (now under investigation). Demeaning and undermining her accomplishments has always been par for the course, and American politics have not only allowed it, they have made it the status quo.

It pains me to start with this, but merely getting dressed has always been all the media and critics have needed to attack Hillary Clinton. When she was First Lady, a completely allowable attack was her headbands and scrunchies. Journalists of all stripes commented on the “trend” while she was working to try and reform health care during her husband’s first term. Senator Hillary Clinton’s “boring” pantsuit was a sign of her not being feminine enough. Well, until 2007 at least, when she wore a shirt under one suit was noted to show cleavage. “There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.” The Washington Post, a newspaper of note, reported at the time. Numerous articles were written about the suits. Television talk shows spent hours discussing them. As women often do, Clinton eventually leaned into it and even went on David Letterman’s show and made jokes about them herself.

In 2015, when the 2016 Presidential election was already making headlines, pundits once again focused on her clothing. A secret Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation eventually sprang up to take ownership of the obsession with Clinton’s wardrobe. It is easy to downplay and minimize this behaviour, but it is a small but meaningful way women are demeaned and marginalized.

While pundits like to put blame for the vitriol, if they even see any, of the 2016 elections on Trump and his supporters, it is far more institutionalized. Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy released a study after last year’s elections that showed the media focused more on Clinton’s “controversies,” as the study referred to the negative events, than Trump’s in the election. While the percentage difference was only 4%, the coverage mattered. The narrative for Clinton almost solely focused on “the emails” while Trump’s multitude of controversies were briefly discussed until the next one came along to overshadow the last. From the study, “Clinton’s badgering had a laser-like focus. She was alleged to be scandal-prone. Clinton’s alleged scandals accounted for 16 percent of her coverage—four times the amount of press attention paid to Trump’s treatment of women and sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to Clinton’s most heavily covered policy position.” The media chose to report on an “the emails,” even after countless of GOP led hearings yielded nothing- all while Trump’s blatantly sexist comments and terrible treatment of women were passing stories and not viewed with the same intensity. This was the media as whole, including the allegedly liberal bias publications, giving a man who was caught on tape make lewd comments and had multiple accusers speak out about his actions a free pass.

Looking back a year later, seeing the havoc Trump is already wreaking, the narrative has sadly not changed. When Clinton dared to share her experiences as a woman in international politics the same media turned up to tear her apart again. Numerous Op-Eds questioning how she could dare to share her thoughts flooded social media and chat shows. Bernie Sanders released a book the week after the election and was met with no push-back. Clinton publishes a memoir a year later and she is branded as a sore loser and/or someone who should not even consider being part of the conversation anymore.

Amy Shamroe, publishing professional and Traverse City City Commissioner (elected), Michigian, USA. 

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#VAWIP Blog Symposium: Colombia

Colombia: Institutional violence versus political equality

by Sofi Ospina

Sixty years ago, 41% of women voted for the first time on the first plebiscite for peace that gave legitimacy to the ‘National Front’, in which the liberal and the conservative parties agreed upon to share power, as an attempt to put an end to the fratricide bloodshed of the “Violence” period.  On 1st December Colombia will be commemorating the 60th anniversary of women’s vote but this relative long history of participation as voters has not yet translated into political equality. Elected women represents only 20% in the National Parliament, less than 10% as provincial governors and less than 15% as mayors in the municipalities and as city councillors.[i] This low representation contrasts with other Latin American countries for example Bolivia (47,2% in the Senate and 53% in the Low Chamber). Even though there exist some legislation to promote women’s political participation, as the quota law and the Law 1475/2011 that rules political parties, there remain many barriers that prevents their participation mostly nurtured by the sexism embedded in political parties male-dominated leadership: lack of training for female militants, lack of funding to their political campaigns, not access to media, etc.

A study released in March 2017, undertaken among elected women, showed that 63% of the respondents (N=166) were victims of political violence. The major reported form of political violence is psychological, mostly exerted by their male peers, even from their same political party. The acts reported were in the form of dismissal of their arguments, threats against their children or relatives, rumours of infidelity, physic and verbal abuse. The most frequent was to restrict their voices, including by turning off the microphones while they were addressing the floor. These acts of violence were considered by themselves as ‘the natural price they have to pay for being elected women. As result of these acts some of them resigned from office or abandoned politics for ever. [ii]

This year with the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC insurgency, the level of political violence against human rights defenders, social activists and demobilized ex-combatants have increased as the territories formerly controlled by the FARC have been taken over by right-wing militias and the State is not yet ensuring security in those areas as has been agreed. Between 2016 to September 2017, 200 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia.[iii]   In our region, South-West Colombia, many social leaders (both women and men) have been killed in 2017 mostly among Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples. Last month, threats of political violence were reported by the Executive Director of the Union Patriotica, who received death threats by right-wing militias both to herself and the members of her party, if the UP were to contest the 2018 elections.[iv]  The second chapter of the peace agreement encompasses measures by the State to the protection of social activists, human rights defenders and opposition leaders and to neutralised right-wing militias.

This second chapter focuses on political participation and includes a political reform. It establishes 16 special circumscriptions for peace to represent the rural citizens of 170 municipalities (15 million people) that have been affected by the armed-conflict. This is a window of opportunity to political equality, as each list to contest these post-conflict seats should be composed by a man and a woman whose names should be put forward by mid-December. The chances for a woman to be elected in these constituencies will be slim due to the rampant machismo; however, as women political activists, we are vigilant and working hard to ensure there will be some rural women elected on 11 March 2017. For this political reform, women political activists proposed to the special electoral mission the adoption of the zipper system (50% women and 50% men alternately in party lists) for the forthcoming elections 2018 /2019. Unfortunately, the national parliament postponed this proposal to be enacted in 2026. This is another form of institutional violence against women politicians and activists working towards political equality in the electoral law just ad-portas of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of women’s vote in Colombia.

Sofi Ospina, Red Nacional de Mujeres Valle del Cauca, Colectivo de Mujeres Pazíficas Cali, Comisión de Igualdad de Genero y Empoderamiento de las Mujeres Partido Alianza Verde.

[i] http://lasillavacia.com/silla-llena/red-de-las-mujeres/historia/y-de-la-paridad-que-63377

[ii] http://colombia.nimd.org/publications/mujeres-y-participacion-politica-en-colombia-el-fenomeno-de-la-violencia-contra-las-mujeres-en-politica/ and https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/el-63-de-las-mujeres-que-hacen-politica-en-colombia-son-victimas-de-violencia-de-genero-articulo-684343

[iii] https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/investigacion/la-lista-roja-de-defensores-de-derechos-humanos-articulo-713488

[iv] During the late 80s and 90s about 3.500 leaders and militants of the UP, composed mainly by different ex-combatants of the insurgency, were killed by right-militias and the military.

 

#VAWIP Blog Symposium: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico: Women in politics: New rules for equality

by Amárilis Pagán-Jiménez

Some people say that whoever pays for the bills, states the rules. And if we look at the political world of Puerto Rico and compare it with our economic statistics we know that it is almost impossible for women to be in a position of command today or in the next week. We are the group with the highest percentage of families under the poverty level. When it comes to have access to positions of power, it is also evident that not only the educational level that we reached is considered. Our biological sex determines social expectations around us, what stereotypes are used to judge us, what excuses are used to sexually assault us, and how likely is that our couple will abuse or murder us. Violence against women is much more than being hit, it is also a social platform apparatus that deprives us of opportunities for development and basic human rights.

When we lack basic human rights, like the right to the housing, to food, to education, health or work, our capacity for action is limited by a routine for survival that rarely leaves space for access to public and political spaces of the countries where we live. “What will give food to my family? Where will we live next week? How do I get to my work? What can I do with my children if schools are closed? How can I find a doctor to diagnose my symptoms? Where can I find a job that pays enough to cover the needs of my family?” These are just some of the questions that populate the heads of a high percentage of women in Puerto Rico.

Even women who have attained a higher educational level and employment, have dilemmas that need to be resolved before aspiring to public office. In Puerto Rico we lack a structure of social or governmental support to facilitate the raising of our children through quality care centres or schools with schedules that recognize the reality of working mothers. We are still pretty far from having family structures where the fair division of household chores is a reality.

As a woman, you have to be in a very particular economic and social niche to say with confidence that you are ready and have the necessary conditions to make the leap from the domestic space to the political arena. Even from that space, which we see as one of privilege, it is not easy to overcome obstacles and violence that represents a constant menace for women in the public world. Our morale, intelligence, leadership and even our form of dressing is always questioned and criticized.

Although women are 50% of humanity, our presence is scarce in political bodies, governments and economic leadership of the planet. On average, we are no more than 25% of the legislative bodies of the planet. According to UN Women, only 7.2% of women are head of state in the world. In Puerto Rico, 14 of 80 legislators are women (17.5%).  If we look again and evaluate each of the fourteen women legislators we have today from a gender perspective and in the light of their history of working for other women, we would have to conclude that women in Puerto Rico do not have representation in the legislature. I say this because in assessing the participation of women in politics and the public sphere, it is not enough to look at their biological sex, we have to look at their commitment to equality and their understanding about what is gender perspective.

When we talk about women in the political field, there are two important elements that collide with each other. On the one hand, we are a group consistently studied by advertising agencies to learn how to sell us political parties and their candidates. On the other hand, beyond wanting to win our vote, for many of those political parties there is no real interest in advancing an agenda of equality for us. We are the most desirable voters and at the same time, the group most despised at the time of distributing rights.

It is necessary, however, to look beyond what has been considered “politics”. Feminism and the LGBT activism have given us some good lessons because they have been able to work beyond partisan politics tied to electoral processes and have worked politically influencing social processes to advance their own agendas. To the horror of conservative groups who hate to see the women gaining the space they deserve and LGBT people reclaiming their humanity against the discrimination, our work has been paying off.

In the case of women, to reach 2016 elections in Puerto Rico with candidates and parties which fully supported our rights was not coincidence. At the beginning of the 20th century, we had to fight for the mere right to vote. In the 70’s, we had to work a reform of the Civil Code to achieve equal rights in marriage. In the 80’s we achieved legislation to prohibit domestic violence and sexual assault in marriages. In the 2000’s, economic development began to acquire importance on our agenda: with poverty in the center of our lives, there is no way to have equality. We have also achieved important rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity. All that work was political and, in this new decade, we are now ready to cross the borders of the electoral world and go into the spaces of power where decisions that affect not only women, but their families and their communities are made. If we are 50% of the population, we must also be 50% of those who make the decisions.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the election of 2016, we only had a 20% nominations of women versus 80% of men. In the case of the LGBT communities, as in past elections, we had candidates who have been open about their sexual orientation and that it is a breakthrough.

If we take a closer look at this picture and study platforms, proposals and the history of some parties and candidates of 2016, we can conclude that there was a real opportunity to change numbers and alter the proportion of representation of women and LGBT communities in our Government. Unfortunately, candidates who have attacked our rights prevailed. In part, because they have big-budget campaigns and it was difficult to overcome gender stereotypes. Many people still think that women must be at home and not leading in public spaces. We are still subject to a harsher evaluation than men and it is a disadvantage in politics where double standards cost votes. In the case of LGBT candidates another challenge is the direct attack of anti LGBT groups and religious fundamentalisms.

Is the political world a space of violence for women? Definitely yes. Not only is there violence in the double standards used to evaluate us that I have just mentioned. There is evidence and we know cases in which the manifestations of violence directly affect women candidates or that occupy public spaces from government offices, social movements or media. This does not mean that we should give up to a reality that we can and we must transform.

In a discussion on this topic held by the Organization Proyecto Matria in 2015, activists, students and workers identified some of the forms of violence suffered by women in public spaces and proposed concrete actions to counteract this violence. Some of them have already been mentioned in this column, but worth noting how the attacks on reputation, the fear of losing economic spaces and threats from private individuals or Government officials represent major concerns for every woman that wants to aspire to public office in Puerto Rico. These fears are not unfounded. In the past years we have seen the publication of private photos of public officials, election campaigns that make reference to sexual orientation or morals of candidates, defamatory campaigns in social networks and the persecution of activists by Government officials who have been confronted because of their incompetence or human rights violations. Coping with these challenges which add to the ones we already have in our lives long before considering a political career is hard enough and a good reason to think it twice.

Some of the proposals made by discussion group of Matria, and others found in a research on the subject, give us some keys that can be considered for future actions aimed to change and improve the situation of women in the public and political world of Puerto Rico. These same recommendations are probably good for other countries. For example, using tactics of reframing was one recommendation. What is it? To alter the meaning of a fact or situation by changing or clarifying its context and proposing a reinterpretation. Other proposals include the work of a common agenda of rights for women in the country and promote it directly with women candidates so they take them beyond the borders of their parties and generate a discourse that strengthens its presence in public spaces. It is also recommended to have a communication strategy that allows the continuous monitoring of media and social networks to achieve coordinated responses beyond the immediate circle of the candidate or of women occupying public positions. It is important to send the message that they are not alone or an easy prey for the machinery that tries to put us again in domestic and apolitical spaces.

Human rights include the right to participate in the decisions that affect our lives and our families. That is politics. That is equality and development for us all.

Amárilis Pagán-Jiménez, Executive Director of Proyecto Matria

NB: Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States.

References:

Women in Politics, 2017; UN Women; http://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2017/femmesenpolitique_2017_english_web.pdf?la=en&vs=1123

Women’s leadership and political participation, UN Women; http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation

Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 December 2011 [on the report of the Third Committee (A/66/455 and Corr.1)] 66/130. Women and political participation; http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/66/130

Women in Politics: Why We Need More Women in Office; Soraya Chemaly, Huffpost 2012;https://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/women-in-politics_b_1307586.html

#VAWIP Blog Symposium: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: What’s stopping her?

by Lakmini Jayathilake

1931: Women gain the right to vote

1960:  The world’s first female Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, elected

1994:  The country’s first female president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, elected

Present:  Lowest female representation in politics in South Asia

Sri Lankan women gained the right to vote 17 years before the country gained independence from the British. The country elected the world’s first female Prime Minister and the fifth President of country was female. Women have made rapid advances in education, healthcare and their participation in the paid economy has been immense; however, little or no progress has been made with respect to their representation in the national legislature.

It is alarming how women go unrecognized in the most important decision making processes in the country. The Asian region has some of the lowest levels of women’s participation in national parliament, amongst them Sri Lanka is one of the lowest. Timor-Leste has 32.3% of women in parliament, Nepal 29.6% and Bangladesh 20.3% while Sri Lanka is at 5.3% and the nomination list has never increased beyond 6% for women.[i] Thus Civil Society Organizations (CSO) especially women’s rights activist from across the country have campaigned since the 1990s for a quota system for women in all political institutions.[ii] Although there wasn’t a backlash from the government or political parties towards these CSOs and women’s rights activist, quota system proposals consistently faced a dead-end.

The quota and what it entails

Following persistent lobbying and campaigning with every government, opposition party and political parties since the 1990s, the women’s movement in Sri Lanka marked a monumental milestone on 7th July 2017, when the Government of Sri Lanka gazetted the Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Bill to increase the number of female representatives in Provincial Councils. As the first step, the Government amended the Local Authorities Election Act to include 25% quota for women at the local government elections.[iii] Thus for the first time, a prospective 2000 women will contest in the upcoming local government election in January-February 2018 alongside their male counterparts. To influence local legislature, dismantled gender stereotypes and finally start seeing women as equals.

What’s stopping her?  

Sri Lankan women share many common barriers with women in other South Asian countries which prevent them from entering into their country’s formal political spheres. These include: cultural values, the perceptions of politics as a male domain and women’s double or triple burden of work, lack of family support and balancing responsibilities as a mother and wife all stand as obstacles. The most significant factor however restricting women from entering politics in Sri Lanka is Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).

Sexism is so deeply rooted within the political structure and society making it almost impossible for women to break through glass ceiling and emerge as true leaders and furthermore be accepted as politicians. Upon entering politics women encounter harassment, intimidation, threats, financial pressure and in some cases sexual bribery to even include her name in the nomination list. Negative campaign material targeting women are commonly spread through various forms of mainstream and social media to undermine and sabotage her participation, of which character assassination and objectification of female candidates are the most common. This further disempowers and discourages grassroots level women leaders from entering politics as lack of funding and increase in care burdens becomes trivial compared to the SGBV she will face when getting into politics. Many female leaders fear they may lose their current social status within the community if they enter politics as it will create further space to target her and tarnish her reputation. The aforementioned ground level realities prevent female community leaders and activists from making an entrance to local political bodies.

The existing patriarchal social structure puts unfair pressure not just on prospective candidates but female politicians alike. They are constantly criticised and their political careers are always evaluated as a justification tool used to validate or dismiss the need for women in the political arena while their male counterparts face no such pressure. Apart from family commitments, lack of financial support and increase in women’s care responsibilities one of the key factors restricting female leaders from all socio-economic backgrounds is the SGBV they face upon entering politics which not only affects her but her entire family and social circle. This significantly hinders women’s participation and feeds into the stereotype that politics is a man’s domain.

The way forward

Sri Lanka currently stands at a pivotal juncture, taking one of the first steps towards encouraging the increase of women’s participation in the political arena. While making policies to promote women’s representation in politics is extremely important it would not be effective if an enabling environment wasn’t created in parallel. It will be ineffective if the country’s political climate, attitude of its citizens and the overall absence of an enabling environment are not favourable and safe for women to come to the political forefront.

Lakmini Jayathilake, development sector professional, Colombo, Sri Lanka

[i] Women in National Parliaments (1st September 2017), http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

[ii] Swarna Sumanasekera, Women in Public life (2016), National Committee on Women.

[iii] Disna Mudalige, Bill to increase female representation in Provincial Councils gazetted, Daily News (11th July 2017), http://dailynews.lk/2017/07/11/local/121641/bill-increase-female-representation-provincial-councils-gazetted

 

#VAWIP Blog Symposium: Maldives

Maldives: Roughed up and Repressed

by Farah Faizal

I was arrested on 19th March 2012 while I was at the Maldivian Democratic Party Office by two police women. They just came and handcuffed me behind and the cuffs were very tight. They took me first to the police HQ and then they transferred me to Dhoonidhoo Island. I was handcuffed. They made me give a urine sample in front of them. They then took me to another room and made me take off my clothes and did a body check. I was kept in a police cell there at the detention centre and released the next day.” A. Muna

On 19th March 2012 I was near the MDP Office when the police came and grabbed me. I said, “Don’t hurt me please. If you want to handcuff me and I will go willing with you; please don’t hurt me.” And the police replied “We will do it.” One of the civilians there told the police that I had just had a small baby and not to take me. The police responded, “We will take her and we will kill her.” They then beat me and one of them grabbed my breasts. The police them sprayed by mouth and eyes with pepper spray.” I lost consciousness and when I regained it, I was inside the police jeep. …I told them don’t beat me. It wasn’t long ago I had a baby by Caesarian section. When I said that the police hit me on my stomach where I had my C-section with their fist. I cried out in pain.” – Y. Hussain

These are just a couple of extracts from the cases submitted to the UN in 2012 regarding what took place during an opposition protest in 2012.

The February coup of 2012 which led to the overthrow of the first democratically elected government led to a galvanising of female political activism in the country. Day after day women came out onto the streets of the capital to protest against the overthrow of the government as well as the diminishing of democratic political space. However, it also led to Maldivian women political activists facing the rough end of police brutality as they had never witnessed in the past.

Women protesters were repeatedly pepper sprayed, tear gassed, sprayed by water cannon and taken into custody. While this did not appear to stop women from participating in protests in the wake of the coup, since the elections of 2013, the government has repeatedly refused to allow protests and demonstrations from taking place at all. Those who have dared to participate have often been harshly punished. One such case is that of Nasira, a mother of two who threw an empty plastic bottle at a police cordon during one such protest and was jailed for five years. She was subsequently released after being in prison for over two years.

Women’s representation in politics and top government posts is very low in the Maldives with only five female MPs in the 85-member parliament and only three female cabinet ministers. A 2015 survey by the NGO, Transparency Maldives found that Maldivians believe that men make better political leaders than women. However, the survey also showed that compared to a survey in 2013, more people disagreed that men make better leaders, depicting a slight change in attitudes.

Despite low political participation, the survey showed that support for women in politics, especially as parliamentarians, cabinet ministers and councillors remained high. Of those surveyed, 84 percent supported women being parliamentarians, 79 % for cabinet ministers and 82 per cent for councillors. While attitudes for female political participation and activism appeared strong, the discrepancy between attitudes and actual participation indicates that there are other factors hindering women’s participation in politics. When asked why there were so few female MPs, 30 % stated that society does not want women as political leaders.

While political participation at the top level remains low, women continue to play a role in political parties mainly at grassroots level in the form of organizing campaign rallies, attending meetings and assisting in door-to-door activities. Women often explain their involvement at grassroots level as being easier for them as it is sporadic and does not demand full time involvement.

The change in attitudes, if any, and the level of women’s involvement in formal politics of Maldives will be evident in the next couple of years as Maldives faces a general election in 2018 and a parliamentary election in 2019. At the same time, there is also the risk of political repression and imprisonment of those who dare oppose the current regime, both that may result in once again women being pushed to the periphery of politics.

Dr. Farah Faizal, Former Ambassador, now Human Rights Defender, Maldives

#VAWIP Blog Symposium: India

India:  Strength—And Safety—In Numbers

by Vibhuti Patel

How safe are women activists in the public sphere?

In the public sphere, wherever and whenever, the women activists are backed by organisational strength and are a part of collective, they have been effect in their efforts and have a safety net. But if the women activist is isolated, there is threat of backlash, she is verbally abused, socially boycotted and physically-emotionally-psychologically harmed and faces continuous witch-hunting from the community. Women’s movement’s slogan, “Women United Will Never be defeated” and “There is Strength in Numbers”. Hence we must promote “cluster approach” in fighting for women’s rights.

How significant is the presence of women in formal politics in your country?

If women’s agenda has to be centre-stage, women’s presence is a MUST in formal politics. All important laws, government rulings, policies, programmes, schemes, translations of gender commitments into financial commitments is not possible without formal representations of women who have proved themselves by working for women’s causes. Activists of the women’s movement have just remained foot-soldiers of the formal politics and those with ornamental/token presence are projected as the figure-heads. This is harming women’s concerns. Moreover, one or two women in powerful position can be easily bypassed, silenced and marginalised. Hence we need “critical minimum” of at least 1/3 representation of women in the formal politics, though our goal must be 50: 50 in the long run.

Is the threat of violence against women candidates and voters significant enough to affect women’s participation?

It’s threat of money and muscle power that discourage committed women from participating in the mainstream politics. Historically, women’s voices have been suppressed, women have been confined to domesticity and women’s concerns have been neglected. Most of the women face tremendous opposition from family, community and the male political leaders if they decide to enter electoral politics or public life. The present political leadership of any hue, in spite of its populist rhetoric, wants to keep women out of the political arena. Indian women’s lower educational level, inferior social status and lack of autonomy are reflected in their lower participation in politics. Increasing criminalisation, corruption and compromises required to sustain one’s political career also deter women from entering mainstream politics. To provide level playing field to women against this historical neglect and adverse socio-political and cultural forces, reservation of seats for women in legislature and parliament is a MUST to ensure a more participate and inclusive, a more egalitarian and sensitive citizenship for all.

What about other forms of violence faced by women in the public sphere–for instance, journalists or writers?

Women in public spheres face three types of violence: First and the most prevalent form of psychological violence is character assassination through whisper campaign, blank calls, scary SMSes and MMSes, cyber-stalking and IT-based torture, morphed images used to tarnish her personality. Second type of violence is threatening her family members to pressurize her to withdraw her article, book, film and to stop her from her future work as a writer or journalist or film maker. Third is physical harm- killing or acid attack or maiming her set an example so that fear-psychosis prevents other journalists/writers/film makers not to speak out on sensitive/uncomfortable issues to the political vested interests.

What has been the experience of women human rights defenders in your country?

Women human rights defenders have been at the receiving end of the communities in case of “honour-related crimes”, accused rapists, accused dowry murderers, accused child sexual abusers and accused members of domestic violence in all parts of the country. Individual whistle blowers have been silence using the above mentioned 3 tactics. Women human rights defenders who are part of women’s groups, national and global networks have been able to save themselves as a result of safety nets provided by their colleagues locally and globally and also due to timely media coverage. They do not have to die an anonymous deaths or are not silenced. Hence, the need for women’s rights movement.

Dr. Vibhuti Patel, feminist economist, SNDT University, Mumbai, India, co-authored Political Feminism in India, 2016.

Violence against Women in Politics: A Blog Symposium #StopVAWIP #WHRD

Prajnya’s initial plans for its gender equality work were to document the work of women in the South Asian public sphere—as activists, politicians, bureaucrats, social workers and those who document this history as historians, writers, film-makers or journalists. We realised too that the biggest obstacle in women’s journeys towards the public spotlight was the threat of violence. This is why we began organising the 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence. With this blog symposium on Violence against Women in Politics, we come full-circle to where we started.

We posit women’s participation in the public sphere both as an intrinsic good and as a right. But what are the costs that women face in order to pursue political careers? Indeed, there are two dimensions of this work—there is work that women might do within the mainstream and there is the work that they do on the margins of a mainstream space where rights are violated with rising impunity. We are placing here on a single spectrum the two categories of ‘violence against women in politics’ and threats faced by Women Human Rights Defenders, because the roots of the problem (the will to exclude) and its expression (violence) seem to be similar.

The NDI guidebook, “Not the Cost,” identifies four roles in which women stepping into the public sphere face violence: as activists, as voters, as candidates and as parliamentarians. This study classifies threats as psychological, physical, sexual and economic, while a report by the Centre for Social Research and UN Women classifies them as structural, institutional and functional. There is a growing academic literature on this question, annotated last year as part of the 2016 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign.

This year’s blog symposium has a simpler objective—to simply be a window to the world in which political women work. What is it like from their point of view? Why is it so hard for women to enter and stay the course in politics? What is the relationship between the women’s movement and mainstream politics? And of course, what are the threats that women face when they take up human rights work or enter the mainstream?

We are fortunate to have perspectives from six countries: India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Puerto Rico (which is an American-held territory), Colombia and the US itself. Each of these are written by people who care profoundly about their contexts. Through the six, what emerges is what women can achieve when they work together—anything, from a quota for women’s reservation to a peace pact.

  1. India
  2. Maldives
  3. Sri Lanka
  4. Puerto Rico
  5. Colombia
  6. USA

Violence against Women in Politics (#VAWIP) and Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD): An Annotated Bibliography

 VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN POLITICS AND WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

An Annotated Bibliography

by Radhika Bhalerao

The intent in compiling this annotated bibliography was to identify and summarise academic as well as non-academic literature easily available in the public domain on the topics of gender-based violence in politics and elections, against Women Human Rights Defenders (HRD), including violence by extremist groups.

The publication of this annotated bibliography as a public document is to assist other researchers, the donor community and others who have an interest in aforementioned arenas.

This annotated bibliography contains resources from international organisations, news articles and peer-reviewed academic publications available in the public domain. The arrangement of the bibliography has also been made in this order and not alphabetically or chronologically.

 

Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, U. N. (2004). Fact Sheet No. 29, Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights. DOI: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet29en.pdf Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This fact sheet primarily addresses state authorities, national and international non-governmental organisations, U.N personnel, major private sector actors including transnational corporations, and HRDs themselves. The fact sheet has been divided into four sections that deal with information about what “human rights defenders” are, the violations faced by them, U.N protections and support for their work and recommendations for support and protection of their work. It has been prepared with the objective of supporting HRDs in their work.

The publication is intended for several reasons, such as to provide a rapid understanding of what a “human right defender is” and what activities he/she undertakes, support the right to defend human rights, strengthen the protection of human rights from any repercussions of their work and provide a tool for HRDs in conducting advocacy and training activities. Particular to section II, the document discusses the situation of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) and establishes that the particular situation and role of women as HRDs require special awareness and sensitivity to both, ways in which they might be affected differently, and to some additional challenges. Importantly, this section notes that while the state is the primary perpetrator of violations against HRDs, WHRDs have often found their rights violated by members of their own communities owing to several social and cultural factors.

The publication also contains a brief analysis of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and provides an introduction to the activities and methods of work of the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on human rights defenders.

 

Women, U. N. (2014). Violence against women in politics a study conducted in India, Nepal and Pakistan. DOI: http://iknowpolitics.org/sites/default/files/vawip-report.pdf  Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

The object of this study is to examine, analyse and understand the context, nature, extent, motives and effects, as well as increasing awareness of, and identifying best practice approaches to Violence Against Women in Politics (VAWIP) in the countries of India, Pakistan and Nepal (South Asia). In doing so, a mixed-method sequential approach and stratified sampling has been employed. The study makes use of primary as well as secondary data. One of the first studies of its kind, it explores the connection between violence and discrimination against women, women’s political participation and political violence and is an important body of knowledge for understanding the extent of VAWIP in the subcontinent.

The study forms three conceptual categories – Structural (social, political and economic), Institutional (individual institutions through which the structure manifests itself) and Functional (efforts challenging the structural features of the socio-political devices creating and perpetuating VAWIP) – to assign the discussion on existing violence, women’s participation in politics, the challenges they face and the attempts to regulate such violence. The study asserts that patriarchy at the structural level, and all its socio-cultural ramifications, are reinforced at the institutional level and are the key factors that lead to VAWIP.

This study makes use of other important bodies of knowledge such as publications by South Asian Partnership and Centre for Social Research for understanding the nature and extent of VAWIP and for developing policy briefs as well as policy level advocacy to influence electoral reforms and creating an enabling environment for women’s engagement with politics. The primary research validates some important research findings of the secondary research used in this study, particularly that social and economic disparities affect gender equilibrium in politics, leading to a deprived political agency, of particularly those women who are not connected to a political family.

Importantly, the study establishes that there is a sparsity of dialogue on the topic of VAWIP, and the political system is in almost complete denial of the existence of VAWIP.  It further states that this silence and limited understanding of the topic is compounded by the lack of structures to address Violence against Women (VAW) and even more broadly, violence in politics.

South Asia Partnership International. (2006). Violence Against Women In Politics: Surveillance System. DOI: http://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/PartPol-VAW_Surveillance_SAPI-VAWP_2007_0.pdf Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This guidebook has been published under the VAWIP program implemented by South Asian Partnership (SAP) International to create a favorable environment for women’s political participation in South Asia. The guidebook is intended to provide information and support the Surveillance System (SuS) developed to monitor, document, communicate, refer and advocate against VAWIP.

The guidebook is intended to provide some basic information on the development of, and support the day-to-day practical process of implementation of, the SuS at the regional level for the use of Watch Group Members, SAP Nationals and partners who are the key stakeholders of this system to understand its various levels and processes for proper functioning. The guidebook has been structured in a simple manner and written in a language that is easy to understand, and allows its users to devise a step-by-step action plan relevant to their work.

Apart from being an introduction to the VAWIP program and the SuS, its phases and areas of information, reporting of surveillance, structure of the system and the roles and responsibilities of watch groups, the guidebook also introduces the reader to the South Asian political system and the state of women’s participation in it.

 

South Asian Partnership International. (2007). Unfolding The Reality: Silenced Voices of Women In Politics.  DOI: https://www.academia.edu/14355079/Unfolding_the_reality_Silenced_voices_of_women_in_politics  Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.  

This report has been published in order to reveal the dimensions of VAWIP and attempts to document the realities of the sufferings of women trying to achieve a career in politics. Importantly, the publication holds a mirror to the issues pertaining to the structural form of violence affecting women at various levels of South Asian society.

The report has made use of National Situation Analysis reports, Case Study Reports and other documents prepared by the SAP national and partner organisations and in a unique manner attempts to understand the nature and form of violence against female politicians in a region having a paradoxically complex history of oppression, female leadership in top political positions and mobilisation of women at the grassroots level.

While the study does not cover all the dimensions of the issues of VAWIP, it is intended to act as a stepping stone towards building a new arena for addressing the issues of VAWIP and primarily acts as the breaker of silence on the issue. More importantly, the study is a breakthrough in clarifying some deep-seated myths and misconceptions associated with violence against women in the public domain. For example, it debunks the myth that the perpetrators of violence are social miscreants, perverts or thugs by its finding that government officials, political representatives at the higher echelons and law enforcing agencies top this list (effectively leaving little room for accountability).

The study also makes recommendations to the state, civil society organisations, media, as well as political parties. It urges all stakeholders to act as change agents and work towards a brighter future for women in politics.

 

South Asian Partnership International. (2010). Violence Against Women in Politics: Defining Terminologies and Concepts. DOI: https://www.ndi.org/files/VAWIP_Defining%20TERMINOLOGY%20AND%20CONCEPTS_Final.pdf Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This handbook has been published in order to clarify terminologies and concepts and compiling definitions and scope of terms and concepts relating to VAWIP. It has been published by SAP International in collaboration with national SAPs partner civil society organisation working on issue of VAWIP since 2006.

The handbook uses a variety of sources such as books, academic publications, UN conventions and other official UN publications, and material available on websites in the public-domain. Organised alphabetically, the handbook elaborates on concepts such as ‘Affirmative Action’, ‘Coping Mechanisms’, ‘Culture of Silence’ or ‘Women’s Qualitative Participation’ among others. It is interesting to note that this handbook is placed in the context of the challenges faced in South Asia in terms of effective democratic governance as the countries cope with demands of global economy and pressures form citizens for increased participation and representation.

The handbook has been published with the intent and object of being useful to all readers but particularly to those working on the issues of violence against women, women in politics and political violence.

 

Association for Women’s Rights in Development (2014). Our Right to Safety: Women Human Rights Defenders’ Holistic Approach to Protection. DOI: https://www.awid.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/Our%20Right%20To%20Safety_FINAL.pdf Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This is a research report published by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and dealing with the topics of safety and security of WHRDs. This research report has been formed by a consultative process that has included individual conversations as well as consultations that brought together WHRDs who defend human rights including women’s rights, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The report provides an insight into the complex situation of women who face threats and violence resulting from their work defending Human rights.

The report does not focus solely on the aspect of physical violence but establishes a need for creation of an enabling environment for WHRDs to work in. The report asserts that the violence experienced by WHRDs, as well as the impact it has on their lives and work, makes it imperative to adopt mechanisms for protection that address the different needs and realities of WHRDs.

Divided in five parts, the publication deals with various aspects of security and protection of WHRDs such as analysing risk factors, exploring protection measures, responsibility of the state, identification and description of regional and international human rights mechanisms in place to protect defenders and providing recommendations for various actors such as states, regional and international human rights protection mechanisms, international cooperation agencies and donors, and national and transnational corporations to develop gender-specific protection initiatives, and what “effective protection” means to WHRDs. Thus, the publication has a strong focus on protection initiatives put in place by the State as well as regional and international multilateral institutions and draws on the experiences and realities of WHRDs in relying on these protection strategies and mechanisms.

The publication emphasises the need to advance an integrated concept of security that goes beyond the mere physical protection of an individual. The report reiterates the need for protection measures and programs to take into account the historical, cultural, political and social contexts in which WHRDs live and address their specific needs and realities. Importantly, the report highlights the limitations of the term “security” by stating that it is often associated with militarization, whereas the word “protection” is often understood as having paternalistic connotations.

 

Pendigrast, K. (2016). BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE: A Preliminary Inquiry: Tangible Protection Mechanisms for Women Human Rights Defenders in the MENA Region and Beyond. Gulf Center for Human Rights. DOI: https://www.google.nl/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiXqICQwbLQAhVI0xoKHaCyAo8QFggoMAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gc4hr.org%2Freport%2Fdownload%2F55&usg=AFQjCNEzil6ViCSGR2OsqXBEWq52uPFLSw&sig2=vk_iQRLwA95xu5fU0q2Few Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This report has been published with the objective of initiating discussions on various thematic issues, including definitions of WHRDs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and how they relate to definitions used by United Nations Mechanisms, including the U.N special Rapporteur on the Situation of HRDs. The report establishes a feminist methodology for the research and has been created with the aim of being a collective and participatory effort based on objective investigation and analysis. The report also aims at addressing and unpacking common problems in definitions and reflecting a culture of reaction while seeking to use women’s voices as the main source of report narratives.

The report places the situation of WHRDs in the MENA region within the context of displacement, secrecy, constant assault and disrupting identity and conventional (legal approaches and social pressure) and unconventional (ICTs and methods affecting social and financial mobility) modes of targeting WHRDs. With the aim of creating a category of WHRDs with a clear set of rules and criteria to be inclusive and non-discriminatory, the report sheds light on the dilemma of the definition of WHRDs. The discussion highlights an evidential gap related to “neutrality” between the local and international circles with regard  to who can identify as a defender in general. The report asserts that the lack of knowledge and awareness of these concepts is problematic and finds that definitions of who can conceptually or theoretically constitute a WHRD are very restrictive, and contribute to excluding a lot of women who are part of these global movements, based on narrow understandings and technicalities.

The report aims to set up a basis for a holistic strategy for prevention of violence against and protection of WHRDs in this region by focusing on components such as communal approach, communal research, tackling urgent issues with time, technology, access to privacy and safe spaces, access to rehabilitation, and establishing a culture of well-being. The report also presents a comprehensive set of recommendations addressing stakeholders on various levels. Prevention is at the core of these recommendations and proposals focus on maintaining and sustaining collaboration between different agencies to achieve the anticipated results through various tools such as legal mechanisms, research, long term programing with a concentration on well-being, access and dissemination of information through safe digital spaces.

 

Foulkes, I. (2016 October, 26). Sexual harassment of female MPs widespread, report says. BBC News. DOI: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37770664 Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This news article reports on the study by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) being released during the group’s annual assembly in Geneva. The article reports that over 80% of the participants had experienced some form of psychological or sexual harassment or violence, as found by the study with fifty-five Members of Parliaments (MPs) from across the globe.

The article put the report in the context of current global developments such as the U.S presidential elections and points to the abuse female politicians face, through social media, by language used by colleagues and voters. The article notes the conclusions of the report, stating that the sheer pervasiveness of sexual discrimination, from humiliating language to harassment to real violence, is preventing many elected women from carrying out their duties in freedom and safety.

 

Moloney, A (2016 September, 9). Violent Extremist groups take special aim at women, U.N. official says. DOI: http://thejournal.io/a/1049744-violent-extremist-groups-take-special-aim-at-women-u-n-official-says Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

The article reports on the statement made by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of U.N Women’s advocacy agency in Salvador, Brazil, stating that armed extremist and fundamentalist groups worldwide are eroding women’s right and undermining gains made in gender equality in recent years, citing militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria (kidnapping of 276 girls from secondary school in Chibok) to Islamic state in Iraq and Syria (Yazidi people of northern Iraq where women and girls have been brutalised).

The article also noted the statement that fundamentalists and extremists have intensified attacks on groups that campaign for gender equality and defend human rights, globally.

 

Khan, S. R. (2009). REGIONAL CONFERENCE OF WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS 8–9 August 2009 Women Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh. Women8, 9. DOI: http://odhikar.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Women-defenders-Bangladesh-Article-2009.pdf Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This paper has been presented by the author at the Regional Conference of Women Human Rights Defenders held in 2009. The author begins by accommodating the definition of  WHRDs with Article 1 of Declaration of Human Rights Defenders and proceeds to state that HRDs have several characteristics in common, even though they may have differing reasons in taking up this role. The author then notes the different areas of work that WHRDs cover, the different categories they fall in and the need for special attention and focus in order to ensure their protection. The author discusses the environment in which WHRDs conduct their activities and several gender-specific risks they face owing to the manipulative use of culture, tradition, custom, misinterpretations of religion, social pressures as well as victimisation within the private space.

The author then discusses the “Empowerment of WHRD in Bangladesh Project” by Odhikar, an organisation that has trained and enhanced activities of more than two hundred HRDs across Bangladesh. She states that the project has been aimed at training and enhancing the capacity of local WHRDs in four areas of Bangladesh, and to carry out fact finding missions and monitor the status of cases involving acid violence, rape and dowry related violence. She states that one of the outcomes of the program was the creation of a network of victims, WHRDs, local lawyer groups and the police. The author also states that among the obstacles faced while implementing the program, non-cooperation and inaction by the police was starkly visible.

In conclusion, the author states that the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination of women are vital to protection of WHRDs, and that the state must take measures to correct gender biases in their legal systems, repeal biased laws and policies and modify social attitudes that sponsor gender inequality.

 

Krook, M. L., & Sanin, J. R. (2016). Gender and political violence in latin America. Política y gobierno23(1). DOI: http://mlkrook.org/pdf/pyg_2016.pdf Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This article surveys how the concept of VAWIP has been defined by academics and practitioners across Latin America, and notes that it is largely in terms of physical and psychological violence. The article draws on secondary data and research from various disciplines and proposes the expansion of the concept of VAWIP. The articles begins by establishing that there is a major shift towards gender equality in elected office, and measures such as gender quotas have been put in place to achieve better results. However, the article notes that gendered political environments continue to create difficulties and affirmative action, such as quotas, can cause a backlash which may take the form of violence. The author notes that this has caused concerns among international non-governmental organizations across the world,  particularly in Latin America.

The article is divided into four parts. The first section addresses the “state of the art” across Latin America in terms of debate around “political violence and political harassment against women” along with tracing the development of this dialogue. In the second section, the article engages with various academic literature to distinguish VAWIP from related concepts, and theorises the causes behind its occurrence and the significance of the particular forms it takes.

The third section of the article incorporates feminist and non-feminist research and scholarship on violence and contends that apart from physical and psychological violence, economic and symbolic violence should be included in the definition of VAWIP. In this section, the authors also provide the reader with examples of all four types of violence to substantiate the proposal of the revised framework. The final section of the article considers theoretical and practical implications of opting for different definitions. The  authors assert that widening of the definition is important to fully understand the nature of the issue as well as for developing effective solutions for it. They emphasise that a comprehensive approach best tackles the issue.

The article reveals the existence of widespread resistance to full political incorporation of women globally, but particularly in Latin America. Most importantly, the article asserts that VAWIP poses a threat to core democratic values when public officials are prevented by way of intimidation and coercion to prevent them from performing their duties. Thus, the authors assert that VAWIP not only threatens to hollow out national and international commitments to gender-balanced decision-making, but can also affect the integrity of the political system itself. They emphasise that attending to these issues is important not only for women interested in pursuing a political career, but also citizens and the academic community at large.

 

Krook, M. L., & Sanín, J. R. (2016). violence Against Women in Politics. Política y gobierno23(2). DOI: http://mlkrook.org/pdf/pyg_2_eng_2016.pdf Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

This article has been published as a response to Jeniffer Piscopo’s (2016) critical assessment of the article “Gender and political violence in Latin America-Concepts, debates and solutions” by Krook & Sanin (2016). This article addresses the misinterpretations made by Piscopo and also augments the original article with their thinking informed by seminar discussions, conversations, readings, news items and original interviews conducted in the year preceding the publication of this article.

The authors argue against Piscopo who states that VAWIP is simply a subcategory of violence in politics more generally. Piscopo states that it is a phenomenon which is explained by weak state capacity and criminal justice systems and do not  violate only  women’s political rights but also other laws and legislations. The authors contend that VAWIP is distinct from violence in politics and that it seeks to prevent women’s participation as women. They also recognise the prevalence of this issue and the influence that different contexts have on the content and prevalence of different categories of violent acts. Further, the authors assert that VAWIP is more than just a criminal issue and one which poses a serious challenge to democracy, human rights and gender equality.

The authors argue against Piscopo’s assessment that scholars have accepted activists’ definitions at face value and state that emerging academic studies bring new tools to bear on the definitions of the phenomenon of VAWIP. The authors further make a very important assertion that solutions to address the occurrence of VAWIP should be pursued not only by the state but also by a host of different actors and stakeholders. They note that while the issue of VAWIP is being taken up globally and gaining ground speedily, academic studies are still nascent and emerge primarily out of Latin America. In conclusion, the authors encourage scholars and activists not to abandon the concept of VAWIP and instead work together to bring this issue into focus.

  

Bardall, G. (2013). Gender-specific election violence: the role of information and communication technologies. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development2(3). DOI: http://www.stabilityjournal.org/article/view/sta.cs/ Retrieved on 2016 November, 21.

The author begins by establishing that the influence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has paralleled development of women’s political participation globally. The author also establishes that women’s experiences of election violence fundamentally differ from men and may take place within the public as well as private spheres, and are distinguishable by their forms and frequencies. The author notes that women experience one-third as many direct physical attacks as men but are three times as likely to experience psychological violence. Further, the author asserts that, coupled with the threats of physical and sexual violence, these forms of election violence are the most devastating for women and are most often orchestrated through social media.

Giving evidence of acts that inflict psychological harm or the fear of it, the author notes that ICTs are often used as tools of gender-specific and electoral violence against women in political life or holding public office. The author also cites examples from Kenya, U.S.A, and U.K among others while discussing the various ways in which social media is used as a tool for intimidation or incitement for violence against women in elections (VAWE). The author notes the moral implications for this kind of violence carry a higher social cost for women owing to the imbalances in what constitutes ‘moral behavior’ for male and female politicians. The author also discusses the benefits that the perpetrator has by way of legal and moral impunity due to the difficulty of regulating and punishing such attacks.

Interestingly, the author also asserts that the same ICTs offer innovative solutions for prevention and mitigation of violence such as monitoring and documentation, education, providing platforms for raising awareness and through empowerment and advocacy. The author notes that one of the biggest advantages of ICTs has been to collect and document incidents of VAWE which helps in recognising its existence and thus establishing a baseline for progress.

In conclusion, the author states that innovative use of ICTs for combatting election and political-related violence against women still have far to go in catching up the threats posed by these ICTs to cause violence against women. She emphasises that it is necessary to understand the underlying dangers presented by social media, and encourages elections-rights and gender-rights advocates and practitioners to integrate best practices from their mutual fields in doing so.

 

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS

AWID……..Association for Women’s Rights in Development

DOI…………Digital Object Identifier

ICT…………Information and Communication Technology

IPU…………Inter-Parliamentary Unit

HRD……….Human Rights Defender

MENA…….Middle East and North Africa

MP…………Member of Parliament

SAP………..South Asia Partnership

SuS…………Surveillance System

U.K…………United Kingdom

U.N…………United Nations

U.S.A………United States of America

U.S…………United States (of America)

VAWE…….Violence Against Women in Elections

VAWIP…..Violence Against Women in Politics

WHRD……Women Human Rights Defender

 

Parents–key to fighting child sexual abuse

PARENTS – KEY TO FIGHTING CSA

Interview with Vidya Reddy, Tulir, by S. Meera

Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) – works against child sexual abuse in India. One of the key messages they impart is that cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) exist, but in silence due to the discomfort it generates if acknowledged. Accepting and taking the initiative to respond in a timely and appropriate manner keeping children’s safety in mind is not only a priority, but also a necessity. This will enable children to grow in a safe and enjoyable environment, says Vidya Reddy, who works at Tulir.

Can you tell us about your work done with schools under the Personal Safety Education programme that you conduct?

We don’t do anything in isolation. Personal Safety Education is one of our programmes for schools, but there are multiple ways Tulir can help schools become safe. Whichever aspect is received well, we go with that and then expand the scope organically, depending on response and the needs of each school.

Government schools in Tamil Nadu have been far more receptive to the idea of creating awareness and responding appropriately in their schools. The Director of School Education, in fact, has evolved a reporting system in the schools for such cases. In our experience, private schools in Tamil Nadu should hang their heads in shame. Most private schools are in denial and find several excuses for not creating awareness and establishing systems to enhance child safety. For example, we had been doing CSA workshops annually for a few years in one school. However,  they asked us to take a break one year. The reason – they felt that by doing it every year, they were giving the impression that they had a serious problem of CSA in their school!

Many private schools think that CSA cannot happen in their schools. This is ignoring the reality on the ground. There is no one profile for the perpetrator. They bust every stereotype – they can be educated, married, even have children of their own. Most often, they seek jobs where they can have access to children. Schools are places where abuse or disclosure of an abuse can happen. Schools need to accept that and be prepared for it.

How do you think schools can be equipped to handle and work against child sexual abuse?

They can start with a self-audit for themselves – this way, they can know the situation on the ground and take necessary action to improve the safety levels in their school. Tulir as a facilitator can provide guidelines.

This is just the first step. If nothing else at all, I believe schools need to follow at least these five tenets, which together form a framework to provide children with a safe environment and protect an adult from false allegations:

  1. Take steps to overcome the risks. When hiring a teaching or a non-teaching staff, it is important to look beyond qualifications and experience. If there are gaps in the resume, or if the candidate has hopped schools often, find out why. I think even when recruiting volunteers, this exercise should be followed.

In addition, value interviewing is important as it helps assess their capability to handle awkward situations – for instance, ask how the candidate would react if a student had a crush on him/her.

  1. Then look at your training for teachers to help them understand children’s development issues, not just cognitive and physiological but also psychosexual. I understand you cannot provide training to each and every recruit, but you can have online tutorials and make undergoing that training mandatory for a promotion or a raise.
  2. Code of Conduct – do you have a policy on how the staff should behave with children? Have clear guidelines so staff members are aware of expectations, such as: no staff can be alone with a child, someone else must be present; or if you have to, then you must keep the door open.
  3. Reporting process – every school must have a system for reporting concerns about a child or staff, for instance, having a whistleblower’s clause. Again, the TN government has been proactive in this.
  4. How one manages a reported instance also needs to be thought of. For instance, have a committee that includes an odd number of members and an outside agency to deliberate on what further steps to take. Schools also must consider how they will handle cases of one child abusing another.

Where do you see the challenge in reporting CSA and implementation of the process?

Schools are very aware that they have problems. However, they fear it is a can of worms best not examined too closely. They stonewall and try to play it down.

The second and greater challenge is parents themselves. Ironically, the more educated and well-heeled parents are the ones who usually underplay any kind of safeguarding needed to keep their child safe. Even if the child reports, they want to hush it up and do not bring it to the notice of the authorities concerned. PTAs should demand that their schools implement child protection policies. Any child deserves justice, and being believed is the simplest and most powerful form of justice for a child. More often than not, they are disbelieved and shamed.

Studies show that only 12-24 percent of instances of CSA get disclosed, and only a miniscule of that gets reported to authorities. Parents are the key; they must stop deluding themselves with myths about CSA. Their mindsets have to change, and that can happen only with greater awareness. They must be able to handle uncomfortable topics – for instance, today children are watching pornography because they have easier access. Parents need to acknowledge that and guide their children to process what they see.

POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) 2012 very correctly makes school management responsible for any incident of CSA in their school, which they may have been aware of but did not act upon. Law is the not the only recourse, but even if it has to be enforced, and if there is a complaint,the success depends on the child not turning hostile. The greatest risk is from parents as well as schools. Also, principals themselves need support to be able to implement and enforce protection policies.

Schools also make the mistake of assuming that having a counsellor is enough. However, are they in tune with this generation? Do they know enough about sexual violence and trauma to be suggesting and taking appropriate steps?

These are some of the issues we at Tulir address through our workshops and by working closely with schools that want to provide a safe environment. Between November 28 and 30, we will be conducting a workshop, ‘Safe Schools: Supporting schools address child sexual abuse, holistically’ under our continuing workshop series – Connecting the Dots. The lead facilitator will be Dr Lois J Engelbrecht, who has helped create systems of prevention and response to sexual abuse of children in the Phillippines, Malaysia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Ghana and Vietnam.

 

Life in a girl’s Porta-Cabin

LIFE IN A GIRLS PORTA-CABIN: A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

by Rashmi Kumari

porta-cabin

Porta-cabin at Sunset. Picture by Rashmi Kumari

Jayashree*, a shy eighth-standard student, loved to play. Enrolled at a ‘Porta-cabin’ in Ankaluru village of Bijapur district in Chattisgarh, Jayashree participated in kabaddi competitions held at the village. Her excitement was palpable when Porta-cabin’s warden (Adhikshaka) recommended her name in the school’s team to compete in the under-14 Block-level competitions. However, she had an unusual problem – Jayashree didn’t know her age.

Like Jayashree, all the 11 girls who were recommended for the kabaddi team were unaware of their dates of birth. This may have been a non-issue for most children in this tribal belt, as documenting one’s age is not a common practice among their community. However, for a student, issues such as this assume several facets. Under one of the RTE norms, free and compulsory education is provided to children between the ages of six and 14 years. This makes proof of age for these children important to be enrolled in the mainstream school portal. Age is also an important factor for children to participate in any event held at different levels.

For children who stay with their parents, this may not pose a big problem. Jayashree and her friends, who hail from interior villages (andarwale gaon) and stay at residential Porta-cabins, depend on their school staff (Anudeshaks and Adhikshaks) to know their age and dates of birth. A common practice among the staff is to guess a child’s age and assign a date of birth depending on their own religious and national sentiments. Popular dates are Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanthi, Christmas, and even Valentine’s Day. This is primarily because many of these students at the Porta-cabin were either displaced or orphaned due to the violence that shook Chattisgarh during Salwa Judum.

Caught in the crossfire between different actors involved in the bloody conflict, these children were encouraged to take shelter in make-shift residential schools, a.k.a. Porta-cabins, by the then district authorities. Driven by the fact that permanent school structures were used by military and para-military forces as a base for their operations and the consequent destruction of these structures by the Maoists, authorities came up with a so-called ‘innovative’ solution – creation of temporary, prefabricated bamboo structures that could be relocated at a short notice. These cabins were supposed to be an immediate, short-term solution to provide safer spaces to children affected by the conflict. However, they have been made concrete and are replacing the non-residential school in some respect.

Hailed as a most ‘successful’ initiative, 500-seater Porta-cabins started springing up across the violence-hit Bastar region. A total of 65 cabins providing free education to children until the eighth standard were established between the intervening period of 2008 and 2013. Following the incidents of sexual harassment, these schools were further segregated along the lines of gender. During this phase of expansion, Porta-cabins underwent a transformation. Prefabricated bamboo structures gave way to concrete structures; a temporary solution was now regarded as a permanent substitute for regular government schools in the area. ‘Adarsh Gurukul’ became ‘Avasiya Vidyalaya’.

The transition of these schools from Adarsh Gurukul to Avasiya Vidyalayas may not be a co-incidence. In the official discourses that seldom talks about the community’s needs and perceptions, Porta-cabins have been hailed as the best solution to provide ‘safe’ spaces for conflict-hit children. Located at the fringes of Naxal dominated areas, Porta-cabins were also intended to serve as an example to the local population. The then collector of Dantewada, O.P. Chaudhary, gives his rational for promoting Porta-cabins in a paper he co-authoured with Manisha Priyam and Sanjay Chopra.

“There was a constant threat of naxal violence.  The fringe area schools were developed as clusters of development – building of roads, bridges, electricity, drinking water, and health facilities was veered around them. It helped to create a demonstration effect for the people from interior villages,” the paper argues.

The geographical location of these residential schools hint at a two-fold assumption of safety.  At one level, the campus is assumed to be safeguarded by the very presence of a police station and a CRPF camp right by its side. On another level, it is assumed that the children will be ‘mainstreamed’, reducing the possibility of falling into the ‘wrong hands’.

During my stay in the area, I found that most Porta-cabins were located at the peripheries of the villages adjacent to the CRPF camps. Girls’ residential schools, such as Ankaluru Porta-cabin, were also supposed to be a ‘no-male’ premises, making them ‘safer’ for girls.

The phrase ‘safer for girls’ is a politically charged statement. Keeping the girl child as a central figure in the discourses of global politics is a form of “child politics” (Baird 2008) in general and “girl child politics” (Berents 2016) in particular. As Berents further says that in the discursive figure of the “girl child the protective, patriarchal and innocent discursive framings become more explicit”. (Berents, 2016). A gender identity does not stand in isolation with other identities of caste, tribe, class and race. Hence, it is also not immune to the power and hierarchies of the society. Hierarchy in a society is generally maintained through spatial segregation. Feminists studies of schooling, curricula have pointed out how within the institutional knowledge and contexts, gender ideologies are maintained and reproduced (Bhog 2002, Chanana 2001, Manjrekar 2013). School knowledge and practices often work in tandem with the heteronormative patriarchal society to present a ‘normalised’ male-dominated world.

The state-led effort of ‘mainstreaming’ children presents numerous challenges for girl students such as Jayashree. Contradictions in the concept of Porta-cabin present themselves at several levels. These girls are removed from their own communities, which are considered to be easily influenced by the Maoist ideology, so that they will be kept safely away from violence and armed resistance. Kept at a close proximity to the armed state forces, girls, however, are constantly reminded about the violence engulfing their lives.

Further more, even if the security forces stopped occupying majority of the school premises as their operations base following the 2011 Supreme Court order, these premises are still under constant scanner of security forces. Girls at Ankaluru Porta-cabin were constantly reminded about the presence of armed soldiers during the patrols conducted by the CRPF and state police forces twice a week. During these patrols, the armed policemen form a ring around the school and the residential areas. Interestingly, policemen always face the inhabitants and subject them to a constant gaze. Intensity of these patrols increased significantly around Independence Day celebrations.

The pattern of these patrols point out that though the children are in ‘safe’ spaces, they also seem to be posing some kind of threat to the state which necessitates a constant surveillance. Many a times during my fieldwork, block officials and government para-teachers (Sikshakarmi) pointed out to me that these children, who come to Porta-cabin, are the children from “andarwale gaon” meaning either ‘liberated’ villages or Naxal strongholds. Hence, there was a necessity for the government to bring them into mainstream through education.

The aim of education, say Krishna Kumar and Latika Gupta, “is to enable all children to realize their right to participate in governance as sensitive and responsible citizens” (Kumar and Gupta, 2008: 27). They further note that it is a difficult aim for children from Dalit, tribal, minority and other groups to achieve. It also becomes a two-fold battle for girls belonging to these groups, because they not only have to face the general deprivation that these communities face but also the suppressive forces that every girl faces (ibid).

Navigating their ways through the geographical challenges of these terrain and political challenges posed due to the dispute over resources, these girls are fighting a larger war and hoping to continue their studies after middle school. Some of them are able to join high schools and some are still waiting for high school hostels to be constructed in their village. When asked about her future plans and aspirations, Jayashree, who is about to complete her eighth standard, smiles and says, “Madamji, hostel me hi rehkar padhenge.”

*Names of people and places have been changed to protect their identity.

(Rashmi Kumari finished her MPhil at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2016. This article is an excerpt from her MPhil thesis that was based on her fieldwork conducted in 2015 in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.)

References:

Baird, B. 2008. “Child Politics, Feminist Analyses.” Australian Feminist Studies 23 (57): 291–305.

Berents, H. 2016: Hashtagging girlhood: #IAmMalala, #BringBackOurGirls and gendering representations of global politics, International FeministJournal of Politics,

Bhog, D. 2002. Gender and Curriculum. Economic and Political Weekly, 37, 1638-1642.

Chanana, K. 2001. Hinduism and Female Sexuality: Social Control and Education of Girls in India. Sociological Bulletin , 50, 37-63.

Kumar , K., & Gupta, L. 2008. What is Missing in Girls’ Empowerment ? Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 43 Issue, 2-27, 19-24.

Manjrekar, N. 2013. Gender, Childhood, and Work in the Nation: Voices and Encounters in an Indian School. In G. B. Nambisan, & S. S. Rao, Sociology of Education India: Changing Contours and Emerging Concerns (pp. 157-181). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.