Resource: Frontline Workers Explain What’s It Like To Bleed In Protective Gear During Covid

Rituparna Chatterjee, Frontline Workers Explain What’s It Like To Bleed In Protective Gear During Covid, Youth Ki Awaaz, 15 May 2020, https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2020/05/frontline-workers-explain-whats-it-like-to-bleed-in-protective-gear-during-covid/amp/.

Excerpt: ‘The lack of public facilities as menstruators step out to perform essential tasks during this lockdown, or migrant workers take the journey home on foot with girls and children in tow, and callous lack of thought that goes into assigning work for women who are afraid to ask for a period leave fearing rebuke, makes it obvious that women’s reproductive health isn’t priority in the struggle to keep them in the workforce.

Resource: Locked-down schoolgirls: no basic needs, period

Jigyasa Mishra, Locked-down schoolgirls: no basic needs, period, People’s Archive of Rural India, 12 May 2020, https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/locked-down-schoolgirls-no-basic-needs-period/.

Excerpt: ‘Phoolwatiya (name changed) expects her menstrual cycle to begin from tomorrow. But this time – unlike in earlier months – she won’t be getting free sanitary napkins from her school. “We normally get pads there when our periods begin. But now I will use any piece of cloth I can.”… Phoolwatiya is not alone. Over 10 million girls like her in Uttar Pradesh are eligible for free sanitary pads – which would have been distributed though their schools.

Resource: Surviving a ‘Shadow’ Pandemic: Domestic Abuse in the Time of COVID-19

Girija Godbole, Surviving a ‘Shadow’ Pandemic: Domestic Abuse in the Time of COVID-19,  Talking Policy, Centre for Policy Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, 29 April 2020, http://www.cps.iitb.ac.in/surviving-a-shadow-pandemic-domestic-abuse-in-the-time-of-covid-19/.

Excerpt: ‘According to Rajgopalan (personal communication, 7 April, 2020), creating good, safe shelters and improving helpline services is crucial. At a more individual level, Kirdat (personal communication, 8 April, 2020) of Purush Uvach, appeals to men to break the ‘traditional’ image and to get physically involved in household chores, which may also help them to channel the anxiety of future uncertainties and fight the temptation to resort to violence at the slightest provocation. In Sarubai’s opinion (personal communication, 16 April, 2020), assured free supply of food grains or reasonable monetary assistance by the State to needy families who have lost their source of income will ease the burden and help in reducing the violence.    

Well-funded and robust support services for domestic violence survivors, including psychological care and economic resources, are crucial. However, interventions cannot be limited only to dealing with abuse. As has been discussed, while lockdown may escalate already existing incidents of violence, it may also result in new incidents. The causes of gender-based and sexual violence must be disrupted by fighting the framework of patriarchal values.

Resource: The ‘Other’ Pandemic: Session on Violence against Women in the times of Corona

Surbhi Karwa, The ‘Other’ Pandemic: Session on Violence against Women in the times of Corona, The Leaflet, 22 April 2020, https://theleaflet.in/the-other-pandemic-session-on-violence-against-women-in-the-times-of-corona/.

This resource is a summary of a webinar on domestic violence. Here is an overview: ‘Thus, today, millions of women are finding themselves virtually in ‘prison’ with their abusers battling what can literally be described as ‘custodial violence’.

It is in this background that the webinar on ‘Women & the Pandemic: The Challenge of Domestic Violence’ was organized by Law and Society Committee (NLSIU, Banglore) in collaboration with Centre for Women and the Law (NLSIU, Banglore) and The Leaflet.

Sangeeta Rege (Coordinator, CEHAT), Ms Anuradha Kapoor (Director, Swayam), Ms Adrija Bose, (Associate Editor, News 18), Prof. Jhuma Sen (Centre for Human Rights Studies, Jindal Global Law School), Ms T.K. Rajalakshmi (Senior Deputy Editor, Frontline) Padma Deosthali (Public Health Expert, CEHAT, Bihar) and Ms Indira Jaising (Senior Advocate and Founder, Lawyers Collective) were the panellist in the session. Prof. Sarasu Esther Thomas (Professor of Law, NLUSIU) moderated the session.

Resource: COVID-19, Domestic Abuse and Violence: Where Do Indian Women Stand?

COVID-19, Domestic Abuse and Violence: Where do Indian Women Stand?‘, EPW Engage, 17 April 2020, https://www.epw.in/engage/article/covid-19-domestic-abuse-and-violence-where-do.

Excerpt: ‘While there are laws in place to protect against domestic abuse, it is not easy for the judicial system to break into the stranglehold of the patriarchal family. Neither is there societal will, as the following articles will show. In this reading list, we examine the laws and the redressal mechanisms available to women who are subjected to domestic violence.

Resource: South Asian Domestic Violence Survivors in Silicon Valley Grapple With COVID-19 Lockdown

Anahita Mukerji, South Asian Domestic Violence Survivors in Silicon Valley Grapple With COVID-19 Lockdown, The Wire, 3 April 2020, https://thewire.in/women/south-asian-domestic-violence-survivors-in-silicon-valley-grapple-with-covid-19-lockdown.

Excerpt: ‘While the situation is horrific for all domestic violence victims, accessing help can be particularly challenging for immigrants, such as the large South Asian population in Silicon Valley, where many women have no support system, are far from their families, and are not accustomed to calling the police to complain of their husbands, or accessing legal systems. Many South Asians in Silicon Valley are recent migrants who have yet to acclimatise themselves to their new environment.

Over the last couple of weeks, ever since counties in and around Silicon Valley called for a stringent shelter-in-place, asking people not to leave their homes except for essentials, nonprofits supporting South Asian domestic violence survivors are working round the clock, devising novel methods of supporting women through the shutdown.

Resource: India’s Domestic Abuse Survivors are in Lockdown with their Monsters, But Helplines Are Not Ringing

Adrija Bose, India’s Domestic Abuse Survivors are in Lockdown with their Monsters, But Helplines Are Not RingingNews18.com, 4 April 2020, https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/indias-domestic-abuse-survivors-are-in-lockdown-with-their-monsters-but-the-helplines-are-not-ringing-2563955.html.

Excerpt: ‘“It’s a ticking bomb in already abusive homes,” said Swarna Rajagopalan, political scientist and the founder and director of Prajnya Trust, a Chennai-based nonprofit organisation working for gender equality. She pointed out that when the tension outside goes up, violence on women and children increases at home. “There’s already so much sexism and gaslighting in Indian homes. It doesn’t take too much for these homes to turn violent,” she added. The research activist said that the anxiety of economic uncertainty that the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with itself only adds to the burden of that violence. Despite this constant fear and certainty of increasing violence, women are unable to seek help. With abusive families at home and limited services available, the silence of the already silent victims is only getting louder.

Resource: Reflections of an Aid Worker in the Time of COVID-19

Kailee Jordan, Reflections of an Aid Worker in the Time of COVID-19, Talking Gender, Gender at Work, 2 April 2020, https://genderatwork.org/news/reflections-of-an-aid-worker-in-the-time-of-covid-19/.

Excerpt: ‘Gendered impacts exist in any crisis, and COVID-19 will be no different. In fact, we can already see the effects it is having on women’s rights. One of the first, and most deadly impacts is the rise of domestic violence. Here in Canada, stories from front-line responders point to a significant increase in domestic abuse calls. Women’s rights organizations from across Europe are already warning that lockdowns are leading to increases in violence, and are calling for more resources to help address these challenges. Chinese women’s rights organizations have noted a steep rise in domestic violence rates since they started their lockdown. In many crises, increased stress and financial pressures exacerbate existing tensions and lead to increased inter-partner violence. Such is also the case with COVID-19. For many women, the added element of lockdowns means that they have nowhere to escape. At a time when violence is increasing, services are struggling to keep up, as many shelters, hotlines, and support roles have been closed or decreased due to COVID-19.

Resource: Pandemics and Violence against Women and Children

Amber Peterman, Alina Potts, Megan O’Donnell, Kelly Thompson, Niyati Shah, Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, and Nicoele van Gelder, Pandemics and Violence Against Women and Children, Working Paper 528, Centre for Global Development, April 2020. (www.cgdev.org)

Abstract
Times of economic uncertainty, civil unrest, and disaster are linked to a myriad of risk factors for increased violence against women and children (VAW/C). Pandemics are no exception. In fact, the regional or global nature and associated fear and uncertainty associated with pandemics provide an enabling environment that may exacerbate or spark diverse forms of violence. Understanding mechanisms underlying these dynamics are important for crafting policy and program responses to mitigate adverse effects. Based on existing published and grey literature, we document nine main (direct and indirect) pathways linking pandemics and VAW/C, through effects of (on): (1)
economic insecurity and poverty-related stress, (2) quarantines and social isolation, (3) disaster and conflict-related unrest and instability, (4) exposure to exploitative relationships due to changing demographics, (5) reduced health service availability and access to first responders, (6) inability of women to temporarily escape abusive partners, (7) virus-specific sources of violence, (8) exposure to violence and coercion in response efforts, and (9) violence perpetrated against health care workers. We also suggest additional pathways with limited or anecdotal evidence likely to effect smaller subgroups. Based on these mechanisms, we suggest eight policy and program responses for action by governments, civil society, international and community-based organizations. Finally, as research linking pandemics directly to diverse forms of VAW/C is scarce, we lay out a research agenda comprising three main streams, to better (1) understand the magnitude of the problem, (2) elucidate mechanisms and linkages with other social and economic factors and (3) inform intervention and response options. We hope this paper can be used by researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to
help inform further evidence generation and policy action while situating VAW/C within the broader need for intersectional gender- and feminist-informed pandemic response.

Not That Bad: Review and reflection

The week after I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on television, I purchased an anthology of essays edited by Roxane Gay, Not That Bad (Harper 2018). The subtitle of this book is ‘Dispatches from Rape Culture,’ and I thought I would find more ideas, insights and words that I could then bring to the everyday work I get to do with Prajnya on gender-based violence.

It has taken me more than two months to make my way through this powerful book. In small part, this is a function of my life, but largely, it is because the essays are so powerful, so disturbing, so heart-breaking that you really cannot binge-read. They are also inspiring in their courage and exactly as I hoped, have left me with insights and words that I think will find their way to things I say and do in training sessions and workshops.

The essays–and I am using this word to describe what are mostly first-person testimonies, because they are written in the spectrum of styles that ‘essay’ covers–are almost all by survivors, of all genders, and include a couple of essays where the writers reflect on whether or not they gave consent. Through almost all the essays, the deeply internalised stigma attached to the experience of violence is expressed and sometimes rejected.

I am going to share some excerpts here, for several reasons. First, I don’t think I can summarise. Second, I want you to experience the power of the words, and maybe go read this book. Third, there are people out there who cannot afford this book and will not have a library from where they can borrow it. This is not meant to undermine copyright or sales, and I do hope lots of people will read this. Women should read this because it will resonate so strongly, as most of us live with the experience and all of us with the fear of sexual violence. Men should read it to know what that really means in our heads and in our days. And yes, the book is full of potential triggers, so if you think you will be sensitive to them, tread cautiously (these excerpts are for you too).

The idea that what happens to us, is not so bad, is so deeply ingrained that it stops survivors from seeking help. If you survived, that’s already not so bad, is it?

At least you weren’t killed. At least you have access to medical care. At least you have insurance. At least you have wonderful friends. Because the ones who tell me this are my friends and my teachers and the social worker and the doctor, I hold their words and outstretched hands even though my anger is mounting and I want not to be touched.

These days, I speak few words, and I certainly don’t have the vocabulary to dismantle what’s been forced on me by people called safe. I don’t have the breath to say: No, I will not be grateful for my rights. I will stand with two feet on this earth and I will always say thank you when somoene does something kind and sorrt when I’ve done something wrong and never outside of that. And, yes, I am furious that I am pulled between poles of gratitude and apology–both of which are violent erasures.

Thank goodness I wasn’t killed.

I’m sorry I’m so inarticulate.

I can’t name it then, but I feel the words at least eroding my voice. I sense that “at least” marks an end to the story I’m supposed to tell, that I’m supposed to say something gracious in response–“thank goodness”–or else nothing more at all. “At least” curbs my telling too much truth. It’s a blunt instrument wielded to club a reckless retelling into submission. The story ends here. But the truth is, I have no story–nothing I can corral into a coherent narrative.” (Claire Schwartz, pages 35-36)

I found this extremely powerful: “pulled between poles of gratitude and apology–both of which are violent erasures.” The week I bought this book and even when I picked it up to read in December 2018, in India we were witnessing a cascade of #MeToo revelations, that began with women in media and then spread to some other fields. Most of the women encountered the stock responses: Why now? Why not earlier? Why did you continue to work with this person? Many of the experience reported were not rape as traditionally defined (vaginal penetration without consent), so really, they should have been grateful, people seemed to be saying. Gratitude for that, and apology for upsetting the apple-cart.

Ally Sheedy in her essay mentions Hollywood’s #MeToo moment in 2017. She writes:

“This isn’t about naming names. I don’t have enough for a lawsuit, but I do have enough for a broken heart/ spirit. Nothing will change in Hollywood. Some men will get careful. Some men will pretend they never behaved like predators and wait this out. What’s so disheartening is knowing Harvey Weinstein’s sick actions will be addressed (finally) and yet the entire culture and context for his sick shit will remain in place.” (pages 112-113)

Just four months after India’s season of revelations, hardly anyone has been punished, and some are already being gently rehabilitated into public life. The defamation cases filed against the women who made the charges–those remain.

How commonplace sexual violence is, is something women at least know intuitively. This exchange in Stacey May Fowles’ essay underlines that, but also makes me wish we could so sensitize doctors, counsellors and nurses in India so that they would respond to survivors with sensitivity.

“When I finally managed to splutter out “something bad happened to me,” she just knew.

Without saying a word, she slipped a small square of yellow paper across the desk toward me. It was printed with information about the rape-counseling clinic.

I was struck by the ease with which she provided me with the contact, as if she’d done it hundreds of times before.” (page 279-280)

A counselor says to Fowles, “Every one believes there is suffering worse than her own, that they should be strong enough to cope without me.” It’s not that bad, why seek help? And if it were that bad, how come you are alive to seek help? How many Indian, Southasian girls can go to a doctor or a hospital and get help, leave alone expect sensitivity? We have tried in a small way to change this, but there is such a long way to go.

So Mayer writes about words, enjoyed and deployed as weapons of control (page 136). She titles her chapter Floccinaucinihilipilification and quotes the Oxford English Dictionary definition: “The action or habit of estimating something as worthless.” Gaslighting, sealioning, lollipopping, Cordelia-ing and mansplaining–she gathers all these words into this suitably long one (page 137).

So Mayer’s essay compares rape to colonialism, calls them “kin” (page 140). She writes:

“…I learned the blazing insight that rape was not an act between an individual and an individual, hidden in a dark room… Rape was and is a cultural and political act: it attempts to remove a person with agency, autonomy, and belonging from their community, to secrete them and separate them, to depoliticize their body by rendering it detachable, violable, nothing. (page 140)

…When we talk about sexual violnce as feminists, we are–we have to be–talking about its use to subjugate entire peoples and cultures, the annihilation that is its empty heart. Rape is that bad because it is an ideological weapon. Rape is that bad because it is a structure: not an excess, not monstrous, but the logical conclusion of heteropatriarchal capitalism. It is what that ugly polysyllabic euphemism for state power does.” (pages 140-141)

Michelle Chen also writes about the politics of sexual violence in her essay on the violence experienced by women who are displaced or in flight. “The place where sexual violence is most readily weaponized is the one where other social instruments have become unhinged: the interface between two societies. Sexual domination, a familiar pillar of every nation-state’s culture, fills the liminal spaces opened by mass displacement.” (page 191) As Warsan Shire wrote in her poem, Home: “and one prison guard/ in the night/ is better than a truckload/ of men who look like your father.”

In the final essay in the book, Elissa Bassist lists all the reasons why she stayed in a violent relationship and did not think of it as ‘violence.’ This is one of the most heart-breaking essays in the book.  She says, in more powerful words than I could summarise that she stayed because she and her boyfriend were both a product of their milieu, which is misogynistic and violent. She closes the book by saying:

“Because worst-case scenario is murder.

Oh, because it wasn’t that bad.” (page 339)

We become accustomed to the language of violence, the culture of rape. It is us, as we know ourselves. 

“Violence in a family comes down through generations: long before my father (finally) left my mother, her father left her mother, and her father’s father left my great-grandmother…

Sometimes by mother tells me stories about her father, or stories about my father. They are not mine to repeat. “I want you to know,” she tells me, as if she feels guilty for explaining our history to me. I am amazed at how much violence we can contain–internalize, suppress, hold on to, narrate. How much we can swallow and still survive.” (So Mayer, pages 132-133)

Women who speak about the violence they experience, who name their assailants or harassers and who express anger are accused of making trouble. Speaking about their experience of violence, several of the survivors writing in this book talk about how this feels.

“Forgive the abuser. The only solution for female anger is for her to stop being angry.

And yet, when Jesus flipped tables in the temple, his rage was lauded. King David railing to the heavens to rain fire on his enemies is lauded as a man after God’s own heart. An angry man in cinema is Batman. An angry male musician is a member of Metallica. An angry male writer is Chekhov. An angry male politician is passionate, a revolutionary. He is a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders. The anger of men is a powerful enough tide to swing an election. But the anger of women? That has no place in government, so it has to flood the streets.” (Lyz Lenz, page 164)

Amy Jo Burns writes: “The truth no one told you is that, in order for a good girl to survive, she must make some things disappear.” (page 167)

This includes the memory of violence, the name of your harasser, the resultant trauma and every one of those inconsequential details from that consequential moment–what you were wearing, the colour of that vase, the food on the table, the light in the room. As Dr. Ford said“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” We never forget, but we must. It wasn’t that bad, after all.

(Cross-posted from here.)