Attacked Not Defeated is coming to an end

Last year I made the difficult decision to slowly wind down operations of AND. The final months of 2019 were spent, by our amazing project manager Vivian and project partners Safe Spaces Uganda, implementing The Thrive Project. This was our legacy project, using a peer education model, where the team held a 3-day workshop with 50 young community leaders and university students to teach them everything we have learned, through 7 years of outreach, research and project work. Our hope is that by doing this project, our work will continue under fresh, young, Ugandan leadership.

Words cannot do justice to express my gratitude for all the support we have recieved.

Here’s a video explaining my reasons and feelings on the end of an era.

With love, always,

Phoebe x

 

Sexual Violence and Motherhood in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

By Amy Holmes

Resilience and solidarity, hope and renewed health. Image by Platon, for The People’s Portfolio and Panzi Hospital and Foundations. © 2016

The aftermath of decades of civil war and instability across the African continent is still profoundly felt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by the thousands of women and girls for whom sexual violence is an everyday reality.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is situated in a crucible of conflict, and not only shares its borders with countries affected by conflict such as Angola, Sudan and Uganda, but also bears the legacy of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, from which thousands of the Tutsi ethnic minority fled persecution by the Hutu majority.

The fraught relations between ethnic groups, alongside the routine perpetration of sexual violence by state officials, militants and even by locals, ensure that torture and rape remain endemic in the region.

It is estimated that 48 women and girls are raped per hour in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Susan Lloyd-Roberts, 2016; 248). Such is the scale of the problem that the 1998 Rome Statute ratified Gender Based Sexual Violence (GBSV) as an act of genocide due to  widespread devastation it has on communities, often lasting for generations.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hundreds of thousands of women and girls are at risk, not only from their physical wounds but from the social and cultural consequences of sexual violence.

Photographer: Paolo Patruno for the Social Documentary Network

CULTURAL CRISES

Although it is important to acknowledge that sexual violence has both male and female victims, the study of conflict-based sexual assault demonstrates that violence against women has specific consequences.

To illustrate the cultural ramifications of this type of violence, I refer to the work of American philosopher, Judith Butler.

Butler is notable for her vast contributions to the field of gender theory, and she argues that cultural attitudes in the context of war play a key role in particular defining what experience defines someone as a victim.

She addresses the consequences of sexual violence in her book, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? and puts forward the notion that sexual violence is not usually considered to be directly resulting from war time activity, as sexual violence is something of a normative, even during peacetime.

For Butler, sexual violence inflicted on women demonstrates existing inequalities that are exacerbated during conflict, leading to her assertion that war is perhaps the most extreme expression of inequality between men and women (Judith Butler, 2009).

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, strict moral codes such as those pertaining to honour and chastity are imposed upon women, as if their body’s honour are a direct belonging of the community, and as such, are instrumental to the strategic domination of communities by oppressive forces.

The stigma that is attached to sexual assault survivors, serves to fracture social cohesion within the groups that are targeted, and thus, displaces thousands of survivors from their communities; as they become estranged by the shame imposed upon them.

VIOLATION

Many gender theorists argue that the work of the social anthropologist, Mary Douglas provides an accurate explanation of the stigma and shame associated with sexual violence. In her book, Purity and Danger, Douglas brings forward the notion of ‘the abject’ a person who embodies disorder, dirt and disruption or contamination of everyday life.

The idea that rape violates communal, marital and personal boundaries means that those who survive it, come to carry the symbolic, as well as the physical and emotional, injuries of their ordeal.

Women who survive sexual violence are frequently condemned by patriarchal society, and are labelled abject, because the boundary between the community and its enemies has been broken, thus allowing disorder and a ‘contamination’ by outside forces.

SYMBOLS OF CULTURE

This is especially the case where a woman becomes pregnant from rape by outsiders; the baby that she carries comes to represent a blurring of ethnic boundaries, and presents a cultural crisis that threatens the potency of established traditions and social bonds.

Significantly, women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are seen to be symbols and repositories of their native culture, and through child-rearing and education, propagate the continuation of tradition. Therefore, the notion of motherhood represents a symbolic actualisation of cultural identity, not only within the sphere of the family, but within the broader local and ethnic community.

Esther, 17, with her son Josue. Image by Platon for The People’s Portfolio and Panzi Hospital and Panzi Foundations USA and DRC. © 2017

LONG-TERM INEQUALITIES

As stated by Blay-Tofey and Lee in their study of Cote d’Ivoire, “Violence represents a serious public health problem, that is an important cause of many physical and psychological illnesses, and can cause social disruptions that impede reconstruction efforts for generations.” (Blay-Tofey and Lee, 2015;341).

Although post-conflict strategies in Africa aim to improve the structural conditions across the continent, very little is often done to tackle the long-term inequalities that arise from the pervasive sexual violation and trauma experienced in the region.

Alongside the short-term damage and psychological trauma caused by sexual violence, women are at risk of myriad additional complications from their physical injuries, such as incontinence, miscarriage, permanent damage to the reproductive organs, fistula, sexually transmitted infections as well as infertility.

The brutality of these injuries is poignantly captured in a statement by Dr Denis Mukegwe, the director and chief surgeon of the Panzi Foundation, who said: “If you destroy enough wombs, there will be no children.” (Mukegwe, in Cannon, P, 2012; 483)

VIOLATING A COLLECTIVE IDENTITY

This statement recognises the strategic dimensions of GBSV in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and demonstrates the intention of rape as a way of violating a collective identity through the intrinsic link between the body of the mother and the lifeblood of the community.

The destruction of the womb becomes a symbol by which the vitality of the community is threatened; if there are no wombs to create children, there are no children to continue traditions and thus preserve the community itself.

The work of the Panzi Foundation and its contemporaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo provide hope, by rehabilitating mothers and restoring a sense of community cohesion through education and communication.

Rhythm exercises during music therapy at Maison Dorcas. Photo credit: Naama Haviv for Panzi Hospital and Foundations, September 2016

REHABILITATION

The Panzi Foundation provides health services to women who have suffered reproductive damage and related issues as a result of sexual violence, but also plays an important role in enabling these women to secure work and support their families (Cannon, 2012; 480).

Through access to healthcare and education, service users are also empowered to subvert the stigma that was once attached to their injuries by restoring their worth as caregivers and mothers.

Although Trenholm et al assert that a focus on motherhood “ignores the fundamental individual humanity” (Trenholm et al, 2015; 494-495) of women who have survived sexual violence, I argue in this final discussion that motherhood provides a strategic means of rebuilding a displaced identity in the aftermath of assault.

EMPOWERMENT

The formation of a community of survivors demonstrates the potential for motherhood as an innovative means of recovery and empowerment “the community of women creates unity- one life” (Mama Jeanne, in Kumar, 2015).

This is a vital insight into the way in which motherhood can reassert itself against the perceived stigma of sexual violence, where the mother was once rendered incapable of acting as “guardian of moral and ethical values” (Meger, 2010; 127). Instead, the role of mother, or ‘Mama’ becomes vital to the destabilisation of normalised assumptions about sexual violence.

The high prevalence of sexual assault means that rape has become a normalised behaviour amongst Congolese men, that is enacted on women as a form of punishment or dominance. From a young age, those who see rape as a corrective or coercive practice are likely to take on board the idea that it is an acceptable form of social interaction thus creating a cycle of sexually violent behaviour.

Rebecca ‘Mama’ Masika Katsuva, a prominent sexual assault campaigner and activist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Foundations such as Panzi and Heal Africa are vital to the rehabilitation and breakdown of this cycle, and of the normative recognition of sexual violence; offering treatment and education to survivors enables them to challenge the acceptability of rape and thus destabilise its place in Congolese society (Cannon, 2012; 480).

‘Mama’, therefore, becomes a label of optimism; despite, and perhaps because of the legacy of sexual violence, survivors can educate and raise children, and once again re-establish themselves as the core of the community.

An Ode to the Trigger Warning

 


Founder of Attacked Not Defeated, Phoebe Tansley, is a sexual health practitioner, gender-based violence prevention advocate and survivor. Here she revisits a previous blog and reflects on her experiences over the last five years.


 

By Phoebe Tansley

Unbelievably, it’s been over two years since I last wrote about my personal experience of surviving rape. I suppose as time goes by and workload mounts, self-reflection gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list too often.

16298695_575633395979470_3817207482471222057_n

I decided to write this as I recently reached the five year milestone since I was attacked; and in particular wanted to focus on something which has cropped up for me recently; triggers.

In the five years I have been doing this, many survivors have approached me and asked me for advice on how to cope; some reassurance that it gets easier. I know that when survivors who are further along in their journeys than me describe where they are at with it, it has at times comforted me.

In particular I remember reading an account written by a woman who – like me – was strangled, but around 20 years ago. She talked about how she couldn’t wear anything too restrictive around her neck for years because it reminded her of the attack, but that over time she started to wear scarves again and now she can do so without even thinking about it.

To me, in the early days of recovery, that was probably the most comforting thing I read. So next time you see me rocking a turtleneck and looking pretty smug about it, you’ll know why.

turtleneck

source: rifemagazine.co.uk

 

***

The word ‘trigger’ suddenly becomes really present in your life after you’ve experienced sexual violence.

I remember in the immediate aftermath, various professionals kept asking me what ‘triggers’ me or if I had been ‘triggered’, and not really knowing what they meant.

As I wrote in a previous blog, my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arrived with delayed onset so for about six months after I was raped I felt relatively ‘okay’. It was my first trigger which actually then led to the first signs of PTSD; and that trigger was a pretty catastrophic one as it involved me being mugged by two men carrying machetes.

The sight of two violent men, the feeling of vulnerability, and the very real threat to my life took me right back to the night of the rape, and culminated in a total shut down of logic; I remember a feeling of overwhelming fear, and of utter devastation. It was from that moment on that my hyper-arousal kicked in.

There are plenty of definitions of hyper-arousal online; all I can really say with any authority is my own experience of it, which was a feeling of being constantly under threat.

Every situation was a risk, every day was a mission to avoid being raped or attacked. Every unknown person, and some known people, felt threatening. I had adrenaline constantly pumping through my body which translated into night-terrors as I slept; and so it was rare to have a restful and uninterrupted night’s sleep – even with the addition of a hammer that I kept by my bed.

I remained in this exhausting state of existence for around 18 months; but now, I am pleased to report, it has eased off substantially.

These days I walk home from the tube at night with the regular amount of anxiety that any woman experiences (that in itself is still frustrating but I’ll take putting keys between my fingers over screaming ‘HEELLPPPPP’ and running in the opposite direction when a man smiles at me on the street – this actually happened).

I am also, I think, a better friend and family member than I was back then. I’d put this mostly down to the fact that I don’t conduct an impossible-to-pass risk assessment of every social engagement before I attend in the same way I used to; I’m generally more trusting and can devote more brain space to enjoying people’s company now that it’s not being taken up by holding my bladder for hours on end because I’m convinced an attacker is waiting for me in the toilet.

All joking aside – hyper-arousal is totally debilitating and so if you are currently experiencing it, be gentle with yourself. You’re allowed to drop the ball a bit in other areas of your life while you navigate this horrible, relentless sense of impending doom. If a loved one is experiencing this, let them off the hook if they flake on a few meetups or don’t reply to your messages. They will come back to you and they will be so thankful that you continued to love them and gave them time to find their footing again.

So, remember a few paragraphs ago when I said everything was much better? It is – however, as with most difficult things in life, recovering from trauma is not a smooth ride. Rewind to four months ago, there I was living my life, feeling good about not having to barricade myself into rooms anymore, when the mother of all triggers decided to descend.

It had been so long that I had forgotten how it felt. And yet; the length of time I had felt better for, and the confidence I had developed, somehow made it worse: I wasn’t protected by shock like I was back then; the memories were flooding in with ease and clarity, and I was no longer dissociating with the event like I used to.

This wasn’t a scary movie anymore, it was me. It happened to me. It really happened.

I was watching the TV programme Broadchurch, which came with very clear and robust trigger warnings. Confession: I basically ignore trigger warnings. This is because between working in sexual health, studying sexual violence advocacy, and running AND, I have developed the ability to almost completely separate my personal experience and my professional experience. This ability is what has enabled me to do the job I love for the last five years.

I watch documentaries, films and TV programmes as well as read academic texts, personal accounts and fictional descriptions involving sexual violence all the time. Of course – I am human – it still affects me, but what I rarely do is relate it to my own experience.

I think one of the main reasons I have been able to do this is because what happened to me is a less common form of sexual violence – stranger rape. So, when I tuned into Broadchurch, the only thing going through my mind was that it would be interesting to see sexual violence support services depicted in a drama starring Olivia Coleman and David Tennant. It didn’t even occur to me that it might impact me personally.

And then suddenly, a frightened, injured woman was being taken into a clinical room for examinations – and it was me.

She had bruising on her arms and neck and cuts on her legs – just like me. She even had a cut on the back of her head where it hit the ground when she lost consciousness – just like me. And as the timid remains of her voice attempted to answer the policewoman’s questions while tears involuntarily fell out of her eyes, I remembered: that’s me.

This totally blindsided me and it took some time to feel like myself again. My nearest and dearest will tell you I am pretty in touch with my emotions – I regularly cry watching DIY SOS – but before experiencing this trigger, I can count on one hand the number of times that I remember crying about what happened to me. But this trigger acted like a faucet, and the tears were unyielding for a good five days.

***

I am very lucky in that I am currently being supported by a therapist, so I was able to take this into the therapy room within a week of it happening and do some very intense, challenging, but ultimately hugely restorative work around it. My therapist also gave me a talking to around my wilful ignorance of trigger warnings, and encouraged me to take a bit of a time out from anything which could be upsetting to watch.

But the most profound realisation to come out of this trigger has been this: maybe I don’t have to carry around my experience like a heavy burden whilst simultaneously trying to conceal it. Maybe I don’t need to be so anxious that others might view it as an impediment to my work and other areas of my life.

After watching Broadchurch I got into such a state that I felt an overwhelming urge to run away, because I genuinely didn’t know how I would ever be able to act normal and carry on with the life I had created for myself.

Partially due to aforementioned hyper-arousal, and partially due to my tireless indulgence in self-serve guilt, I decided not to do a runner and instead to bite the bullet and talk to a couple of people in my life about what I was going through.

The response I got wasn’t the one I was expecting. The people I chose to share with were my brother (for the comforting honesty that a sibling will reliably deliver) and two co-workers (because I was demonstrably not coping at work).

Both of these conversations resulted in these people fundamentally (and much more sensitively than this) asking me what on earth would possess me to stifle my human feelings and reactions to something which was not my fault in the first place, when those very feelings and reactions grant me an empathic knowledge which could actually be invaluable to my work?

Oops.

I had been so utterly convinced that my experience of sexual violence and the impact it had on my mental health would be at odds with my professional practice that I had neglected it and starved it of oxygen until it eventually clambered up into my consciousness, gasping for air and begging me to accept it as a part of me.

I am coming to realise that the most important thing I can do to aid my work is to take care of myself – and that means all of myself, not just the parts that are convenient.

Sometimes, admitting that something is hard and asking for help is the hardest part.

These blogs are not easy to write; and they’re even harder to share. But I do so in the hope that – just as that article comforted me five years ago – someone might read it and feel a little bit less alone. So to anybody who can relate to some of the things I have described in this blog, consider that sometimes it takes another person to point out the truth that has been glaringly obvious to everyone else the whole time; that the darkest part of yourself that you have demonised and shamed for so long could actually be cultivated into something wonderful, if you’d only shed a little bit of light onto it.

afterlife

“Afterlife” by Chana Bloch

Identity politics: why have yours when you could have “ours”?

by Joshua Piercey

Image source: newstatesman.com

It’s time for the left to abandon identity politics.

That’s what the right say, at least. They also use some cool, 1984-inspired buzzwords like “thought police” and “liberal elites”. Identity politics is the domain of the illiberal, the controlling, the feminazi. Many on the left are starting to adopt similar discourse: identity politics are counter-productive, divisive.

DOES IDENTITY POLITICS LOSE CANDIDATES VOTES?

In a New York Times article that generated much debate, Mark Lilla intoned:

In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

Identity politics supposedly cost Clinton the election. By focusing on LGBTQ people, black people and women, Clinton lost the votes of rural white people. In the UK, Brexit was apparently not a rejection of diversity and immigration but rather a push for sovereignty and national control. Now Theresa May describes a national unity that does not exist, repeating her mantra of “strength and stability” to present a picture of united government that a fragmented Labour cannot match.

Image source: squarespace.com

All right. Let’s assume that successful politics is a play for the middle ground, and that identity politics are counter-productive. What should we do instead? According to Lilla:

LIBERALISM SHOULD BE ‘QUIET, SENSITIVE WITH A SENSE OF SCALE’

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base … by emphasizing the issues that affect (the) vast majority.

As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale.

Riiiight. Unfortunately, “scale” is rarely dictated by those pushing against the status quo. If every social change went through without a hitch there’d be nothing to complain about. If you don’t really care about transgender bathrooms, their adoption is a non-story. If you’re hugely against them you shout it from the rooftops.

“Quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale”? When I look at the great civil rights successes of the 20th and 21st century I cannot find many that succeeded using this strategy.

WOMEN AND IDENTITY POLITICS

Leaves women in a tricky spot, doesn’t it? If you ARE a woman, and you care about issues that face you personally AS a woman (and it’s undeniable that there are many), what exactly are you supposed to do?

(That fact that “female” is included in discussion of identity politics at all is important to note. More than half of us are female. That’s not the politics of the minority, it literally can’t be. But to try and speak to women about the things that specifically concern them is pushed as political suicide. To bring up issues that affect the majority of people in the entire world is seen as somehow shutting out another majority that doesn’t exist.)

WHAT IF IDENTITY-DRIVEN POLITICS IS INTEGRAL TO WHO YOU ARE?

What if you are a woman of colour? Or gay? Or all three? What if the issues that affect the many make less difference to the quality of your life than the issues that affect the very few? What if the issues that affect the many are, for you, inextricably linked to your identity?

The answer is, as perhaps is to be expected, “shut up about it and concentrate on something more important”.

In the UK that “more important thing” has been and is Brexit. The media and political establishment are setting up the snap election to be one-issue affair, leaving other identities behind, even as the terms “leaver” and “remainer” become firmly entrenched in the discourse.

But identity politics are at work in the UK, even within a so-called “single issue” debate. If you identify more as English than British, you are more likely to have voted for Brexit. The more English you see yourself to be, the more likely you are to vote Conservative or UKIP. Outside of England, Welsh and Scottish identities become more and more important. Part of Labour’s apparent collapse is its changing (and challenging) relationship with the working class.

Image source: Illinois Family Institute

DOES CENTRALISM PERMEATE THE IDEA SOME IDENTITIES ARE WORTH MORE?

So the backlash against identity politics masquerades as one of moderation and centralism to obscure a key fact: some identities are worth more than others. You don’t want to make white men feel left out, because they dominate the voting and the discourse. The working class are important not because of what you can do for them, but because they might vote for you. No one is asking “English” people to leave their English-ness aside.

This is pragmatic, of course. But to pretend it’s anything other than pragmatic is disingenuous. ALL politics is identity politics. And while it won’t change the economic status quo, it is what wins (or loses) elections. When we elevate single issues to the forefront we are deliberately ignoring the patchwork of identities that create and care about those issues.

When it comes to how you vote, your identity is as important as anyone else’s. Beware those who would supply another for you and tell you it’s all that matters. If you vote only as a Leaver or a Remainer, what will the consequences be for you when those labels become worthless? In short: anyone asking you to abandon your identity because it’s inconvenient is not your ally.

Lessons from a Nobel Peace Prize winner

by Sara Belhay

Image source: Pinterest.com Pictured: Activist and Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee

Challenging the status quo in Liberia

Leymah Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, for leading a non-violent women’s movement to end the second civil war in Liberia. At the time of the outbreak, Leymah Gbowee was a social worker at the ‘Trauma Healing’ project, which was initiated in response to the damage left from the first civil war. Women largely saw peacebuilding as the work of men, and so Gbowee sought to redefine the role of women and ensure women’s voices were heard. Gbowee recruited women from different spheres of civil society, targeting the mosques on Friday, markets on Saturday and churches on Sunday. Flyers were handed out that read ‘We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up- you have a voice in the peace process!’ In order to create an inclusive movement, religion, class and social differences were side-lined in favour of their shared identity as women.

The Liberian Women’s Mass Action for Peace wearing white to symbolise peace. To ensure inclusivity and solidify their shared identity as women, Gbowee asked the women not to wear makeup or jewellery.

Although Gbowee encouraged the women to see beyond their identity as wives and mothers, Gbowee strategically adopted techniques that played to the gender conventions in Liberia to support her cause. The women appealed to President Charles Taylor as mothers, in Gbowee’s address to him, she stated ‘we believe as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, ‘Mama, what was your role during the crisis?’

In addition to this, the women abstained from sex to persuade the men to end the violence. Although Gbowee reflects that this had little practical effect, it did successfully garner international media coverage which further propelled the women’s movement. When the peace talks were at risk of breaking down yet again, Gbowee instructed two hundred women to link arms and sit outside the room in which the talks were taking place. When leaders of the rebel groups tried to leave, Gbowee threatened to strip naked, which traditionally in Africa, is considered a curse if an elderly or married woman deliberately exposes herself, as it symbolises taking back the life given to men. After peace was brokered, attitudes towards women changed, paving the way for the election of Liberia’s first female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee addressing over two hundred young people at the PeaceJam conference at the University of Winchester 11/03/17.

At present, Gbowee is the founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation, which provides educational and leadership opportunities to girls and women in West Africa. Gbowee is also is a member of the African Women Leaders Network for Reproductive Health and Family Planning and serves on the Board of Directors of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the PeaceJam Foundation.

‘Are you a bystander?’

Earlier this month, I attended the annual PeaceJam conference at the University of Winchester, where Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee addressed over two hundred attentive youth, asking: ‘What are the things that keep you up at night, that disgust you?’ From discussing bullies to racism, Gbowee referred to the concerns that young people often approach her with: ‘You may be against all these things, but unless you take action, you are just a bystander.’ As a human rights and women’s rights activist, Gbowee is committed to taking action when she witnesses injustice.

Gbowee recalled an incident whereby she witnessed a 14-year-old boy harassing a young girl stood in a group. The other girls were howling with laughter and as the boy left, he took the sunglasses off this girl, snapped them and threw them in to the trash, and said take it from there because you are trash. Gbowee walked over and confronted the girls, asking who the best friend was. When the girl who had laughed the hardest raised her hand, Gbowee replied ‘who needs enemies when this girl has got a friend like you’. Gbowee talked to the girls about feminism and sisterhood, with the message that there will always be people there to stand up for you, and there will always be women who will be your sisters in the face of patriarchy.

Image source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/Scanpix Pictured: obel Peace Prize winner, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, poses with her award at the award ceremony in Oslo, December 10, 2011.

Leymah Gbowee, poses with her award at the award ceremony in Oslo, December 10, 2011. Image source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/Scanpix

Determined to confront the boy, Gbowee sought him out and challenged his behaviour towards the girl. When asked if he had any sisters, the boy replied yes. Gbowee instructed the boy to question his actions and ask himself, ‘would this upset me if someone did this to my sister?’ The lesson Gbowee taught the boy was that making others feel bad for your own inadequacies, would not be tolerated by people.

Gbowee recruited women from different spheres of civil society, targeting the mosques on Friday, markets on Saturday and churches on Sunday. Flyers were handed out that read ‘We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up- you have a voice in the peace process!’

‘Don’t hide in the shadows of low self- esteem’

Gbowee declared to the audience, if you want to live and enjoy life, you have to at some point make a stand. Gbowee divulged to the youth that after leaving an abusive relationship, Gbowee returned to education but had such low self-esteem, she never participated in class, despite knowing the answers. When Gbowee received a grade F for a piece of work she knew deserved a grade A, she challenged the teacher that marked the paper. The teacher apologised and revealed that because Gbowee never participated in class, the teacher assumed Gbowee did not know the answers and therefore automatically graded the paper badly. Gbowee highlights this event as the start of a journey in which she would use her voice to speak truth to power. Addressing the audience, Gbowee said to the audience that if you want to taste freedom, keep walking as life with all its complexities will never offer you what you want unless you step up and take it.

A student group presenting their project to Leymah Gbowee at the PeaceJam conference at the University of Winchester 11/03/17.

‘I challenge you to take the open mind challenge’

Gbowee spoke of the divisions that exist in society and the prevailing ‘us v them’ narrative. Quentions around racism and identity kept re-occurring at the conference. One school student originally from the Philippines asked Gbowee how to respond to bullies without resorting to violence. Gbowee probed what the boy’s aspirations were in life and instructed him ‘respond to what you are and not what you are called’. Gbowee’s parting message to the young people was to take the open mind challenge. Gbowee urged the young people to break down the barriers that exist in society, and talk to people you wouldn’t ordinarily talk to.

Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee discussing nonviolent solutions towards bullies.

‘One Billion Acts of Peace Movement’

PeaceJam’s ‘One Billion Acts of Peace’ campaign is an international movement that encourages people around the world to take action and provide solutions to the planet’s most pressing issues, as identified by Nobel Peace Laureates. Students at the PeaceJam conference were invited to present their projects to Leymah Gbowee. It was not only inspirational to see the fantastic projects delivered by young people, but also inspirational to see their reactions to other student projects, and further cemented the idea that anyone can make change. The lessons learnt at the PeaceJam conference were evident in the enthused faces of two hundred students. The students had accepted Gbowee’s open mind challenge and they were no longer going to be bystanders, but instead active agents of change, committed to standing up against injustice.

‘You wanted equal treatment’

by Joshua Piercey

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon faces a civil suit for attacking Amelia Molitor. Image source: Tulsa World

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon faces a civil suit for attacking a young woman. But comments on the graphic video suggested that by wanting equality,  women who start a fight deserve to be dealt with the consequences, equal to a man. Image source: Tulsa World

There’s a video that’s been popping up on my social media, a symptom of the simultaneously sophisticated and asinine algorithms that control our content. Facebook knows I enjoy NFL and knows I’m interested in feminism… and so it shows me an act of shocking violence, perpetrated on a woman by a college footballer. Great catch, Facebook, just what I wanted for Christmas.

equality-quotes-13The video makes for uncomfortable viewing; I will describe it instead if you would rather not watch it. To do so might seem oxymoronic – why offer to protect you from distressing material only to force it on you via another medium – but it’s important because both the way the violence makes you feel and the way you subsequently assess it are important.

In the video a young woman and young man are arguing. The woman is speaking loudly and apparently aggressively to the man. After a second or two of footage she shoves the man in the chest. The woman is slim and perhaps a foot shorter than the man, but the shove is enough to make him take a step back. He lunges towards her but she doesn’t back away, instead she slaps him. From my reading of the footage the slap is not particularly powerful, if only because the woman is off-balance. The man retaliates with a brutally fast punch, hooking his arm around to punch downwards into the woman’s face. The man is tall and obviously muscular, though not particularly broad – a sprinter’s build. The punch looks very powerful, and the woman is absolutely floored: clubbed to the ground. The man immediately turns and walks quickly out of shot.

The footage is from 2014, and the man is Joe Mixon, a then running back for the University of Oklahoma. The woman is Amelia Molitor; four bones were broken in her face and she had to have her jaw wired shut. Mixon was suspended for the 2014 college football season but is back playing ball: the footage was released by his attorneys in 2016 (Molitor filed suit in federal court in the summer of last year).

I read the Facebook comments on the video for the same reason most of us do: the wound demands prodding, the tooth demands wiggling, no matter the pain nor noxious discharge that may result.

Like many comment streams an initial argument derailed the overall discussion; all subsequent conversation related to two points. In short: did Molitor partially deserve what happened to her, and more broadly, is violence against women ever ‘justified’?

The last part of that sentence makes me immediately uneasy, but I think it’s worth exploring for reasons which hopefully will become apparent. I should make it clear at this point that neither the mainstream media nor the NCAA shared these views: both condemned Mixon’s behaviour.

Whether you watched the video or not, I hope you agree that Mixon’s assault on Molitor was without any kind of justification. The shove and slap delivered by Molitor caused no physical injury, and the retaliation was in an entirely different league. One might have stung – the other shattered bones.

The commenters who maintained that Molitor ‘had it coming’ or ‘not to start shit if you can’t handle what happens’ are entitled to their personal views, but the law is clear on who was at fault. Any attempt by Mixon to claim self-defence would be rendered moot by the sheer level of force involved. An attack using the same level of force on another man would have been equally vicious, equally unacceptable, equally open to prosecution and punishment.

The use of the word ‘equal’ is problematic, and this was picked up by the commentators. Many of them identified a disparity of feeling and used it to move to an often-used argument that is tricky to work through: that it is hypocritical (and therefore sexist) to reserve greater judgement on male-on-female violence over female-on male or male-on-male violence.

Image source: Hong Kong Free Press

Image source: Hong Kong Free Press

This argument makes a basic sort of sense, especially as an unsophisticated argument against feminism. If women want to be treated equally, then a woman hitting a man should be treated as seriously as a man hitting a woman. The legal consequences should be the same. And since, a secondary thread of the argument often runs, a man hitting a man might reasonably expect to be hit back, a woman hitting a man should accept any subsequent violence as either self-defence or a consequence of her own actions.

This line of reasoning is touted with triumph by anti-feminists because it appears to use feminism’s core tenet – a simple plea for equal treatment – against it. You want equal treatment? Fine, and don’t come crying to us when equal treatment hurts. To quote a commenter: “She put herself in man (sic) position. So she got treated like a man.” This argument is, unfortunately, utter horseshit – for several reasons.

But there are two key (and deliberate) misunderstandings at its heart.

The first is that with equal treatment must come an end to nuance or circumstance. Mixon is several inches taller, several stone heavier and many times more powerful than Molitor. The law in most western nations is surprisingly refined in this area: it takes differences like this into account. The law cares only a little for who starts the fight, and less for who ‘deserved’ what. It’s not specifically to protect women in most cases (although this is an inescapable effect), it’s to protect the weak when they are abused by the strong. And this leads us to the next flaw in the argument: the false equivalency between equal treatment and identical personhood.

Women do not want to be treated “like” men, they wish their treatment to be equal in social status and opportunity. Woman are normally shorter, lighter and not as physically powerful as men. Fine. To confuse this very specific set of physical differences with the differences in social treatment is to – deliberately or not – denigrate or obscure the issue.

Male-on-female violence is not reprehensible because of some chivalric distinction between the sexes, or some implicit demand from women for special treatment – not wanting to get beaten up does not count as special treatment, even if you want it extra, extra bad – it’s reprehensible because it is almost always the powerful abusing the less powerful.

Feminism extends beyond women to equal treatment for all (something that should be obvious from the word ‘equal’ but seems to need constant repeating). To state that it is hypocritical to want equal positive treatment but leave behind the negative is both despairing for our progress as a species and some pretty wack logic.

Equal treatment means only positives: why would we preserve the negatives at all? If we could extend our society’s inbuilt unease about violence against women to everyone, would men not benefit most?

Women do not ‘deserve’ special treatment when it comes to combatting violence. Everyone ‘deserves’ special treatment, but until those who cry hypocrisy can truly admit that (and believe it, without dismissing the giving and receiving of violent acts as a part of the male experience), not everyone is going to get it.

‘Evolutionary speaking’

by Emilia Passaro

Image source: Jarek Puczel at berlinartparasites

Image source: Jarek Puczel at berlinartparasites

As with all of my passionate opinions, I discovered this one through a conversation in a pub. I was talking to a work mate about his (in my opinion) failing relationship: “You don’t get it” he said, “Men are just not meant to settle down. It’s against our nature to be monogamous. It’s an evolutionary fact!”

Now, I do not profess to be an expert in any field, in fact, I know very little about anything but, my degree is rooted in biology and my dissertation was centred on evolution.

Consequently, while he was explaining this to me I almost believed him. For a second it made sense. As with many other animals the male of the species needs to be visually and physically impressive enough to attract the attention of the females.

Their aim is to impregnate as many as possible in order to pass their genetic code onto as many offspring as possible. Conversely, the females aim to seek out one male who will protect and provide for her and their offspring. I agreed. But then, a second passed.

Darwin's Tree of Life; a metaphor used to describe the relationships between organisms, both living and extinct. Image source: www.fossilmuseum.net

Darwin’s Tree of Life; a metaphor used to describe the relationships between organisms, both living and extinct. Image source: http://www.fossilmuseum.net

After that I realised how embarrassing this idea is. I have to believe that we as a species have evolved past that. Yes, it may have been relevant in the past when we were evolving our culture and society but surely not anymore.

There are many things we have done in our evolutionary path to the present day that we have discarded simply because they are no longer appropriate. The gender roles that defined these sexual choices are slowly resetting themselves. We have plainly moved on. Humans are no better than any other organism on this beautiful planet but we certainly have evolved differently.

Don’t get me wrong, I accept evolution wholeheartedly, it has bestowed upon us such amazing gifts not least our big, beautiful brains. With this astounding, complex organ I believe that we are able to overcome our base instincts if we so choose.

If we decide we want to be in a monogamous relationship then surely we can be, humans have definitely performed greater feats. We walked on the moon, we conquered Everest, we even squeezed the juice from an orange to create the drink of the Gods.

In all of these scenarios we used our brains to overcome the voices in our heads which tell us to stop, which say “hold on, maybe we’ve gone too far this time”. We still did it though, through sheer want of will.

So I refuse to demean and patronise my male counterparts (even if some choose to do so themselves) by perpetuating the idea that they are unable to or find it almost impossible to maintain a monogamous relationship.

Although, if someone decides that they much prefer the polyamorous lifestyle and wish to practice with other like minded people; go for it! You do you. But please, don’t use this “evolutionarily speaking” defence to run around on your partner and then blame it on ‘innate qualities’ because you are not being a ‘bloke’, you’re being a bad person.

In my eyes this entire argument is an obvious patriarchal gas lighting tactic to persuade ourselves that it is OK for approximately half of the population to do as they wish even if it directly and negatively impacts the other half.

That may seem like an outrageous and militant statement and so I will qualify it with the idea that many of us are oblivious and blissful in our ignorance. I have had discussions on this topic many times, which is not surprising. What is surprising is that I have often been debating with other women who have themselves been cheated on or strung along for months. I hate the idea that there are people who feel blameless for cheating on their partners because ‘they just couldn’t help it’. What an awful cop-out.

In short, what I am trying to say is that we are capable of making our own decisions in all aspects of our lives, including our love and sex lives, and we need to step up to that ability.

There is no other creature on this planet who has created science, art, literature, peanut butter, music etc. We are conscious of ourselves and others, we feel empathy and sympathy, we act altruistically for the benefit of others. We should never seek to blame our biology for things that we can choose and should change.

Nevertheless, these thoughts are solely my own. This is my opinion, as you can see there are no citations or references. I have absolutely no empirical evidence from published members of the scientific community to back me up. Hopefully, this will spark an interesting conversation. I am always interested to hear from people who disagree with me and even more interested in those who agree. Let’s discuss…

Image source: Tran Nguyen at berlinartparasites

Image source: Tran Nguyen at berlinartparasites

Breastfeeding: the realities of a working mother

by Flora Aduk

The speaker of Uganda, Hon Rebecca Kadaga shares a moment with children at the Ugandan parliament day care centre. Image source: @SarahKagingo

The speaker of Uganda, Hon Rebecca Kadaga shares a moment with children at the Ugandan parliament day care centre. Image source: @SarahKagingo

Breastfeeding and work: “Lets make it work”, that was the theme for last year’s World Breastfeeding week. After my maternity leave at the end of 2013, I was determined to make it work, like we all usually are. My son was three months old and I wanted to try and breastfeed exclusively until he was six months old as recommended by health experts.

According to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, World Health Organization and UNICEF, breastfeeding a baby in the first six months enhances healthy growth and development of a child. It guards them from lethal health problems and diseases such as neonatal jaundice, pneumonia, cholera, diarrhoea, respiratory tract diseases and many more that can lead to early death. The infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) in Uganda was last measured at 38 in 2015, according to the World Bank.

While in Uganda, breastfeeding practices are progressive, with 98 percent of mothers breastfeeding new borns, by age 4-5 months about 33 percent of children are already on foods other than breastmilk, water or juice. By six months, only around 10 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed.  Working mothers are particularly challenged at breastfeeding when they go back to work after their maternity leave. As a mother in a fast-paced media industry I sought out to try and breastfeed as long as possible.

A breast pump was going to be my magic wand. And I was going to start early I told myself. And I did. I got my pump ready, in fact two, one manual one that I bought for about 30,000 shillings (about £6) and one electric one which was a gift from my sister Betty.

A month to the end of my maternity leave, I began my journey. I opted for midnight as the perfect time to express because then the baby was asleep. With a good movie I went about my business and managed to fill a milk bottle of 150mls usually.  Having searched the internet about how to store breast milk appropriately, I started putting away all the milk I expressed. It helped quite a lot to have breast milk readily available for my son on the days I had to run errands and leave him with his nanny.

When my leave ended, I had quite a stock of breast milk in my freezer. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed until my son was six months old. Ordinarily in my society, working mothers supplement with formula and other foods when they go back to work, breastfeeding only in the evening when they get back home.

Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli back in 2010 accompanied in the Strasbourg European Parliament with daughter Vittoria. Image source: Getty images

Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli back in 2010 accompanied in the Strasbourg European Parliament with daughter Vittoria. Image source: Getty images

While this option usually works, I wanted to try to achieve the six months. I had many bottles of frozen milk so I felt safe. But not for too long. I had to keep the supply constant. This meant that I had to find time to express during office hours. One of my workmates had taken to pumping in the office so I figured I would survive. I bought an ice cooler, ice jelly, towels and all I needed. What I hadn’t thought about was where I was going to do this exercise that requires absolute peace of mind. My workmate had expressed her milk in a room adjacent to the ladies, and that just wasn’t ideal.

But without options, as is the case in many work places in Uganda, what was a mother to do? I decided my car would have to do. I made 1pm the ‘milking’ time as I could take an hour plus. The afternoon heat wave seemed to attack from all ends.

“Setting all my things in order was a daunting task. I was caught between positioning my breast pump whilst trying to shield myself from possible curious passersby near our parking lot”

It was tough to say the least. I hated each moment but I knew it was important to have this milk for my son. Once done with a 150ml bottle, I would carefully place it in a cooler that had ice gel blocks.  I often left the office at 4pm which was three hours later. At home I expressed some more milk in the night and put it away in the freezer.

Later I discovered an empty office on my block and turned it into my expression room but the trouble of carrying my cooler around was just too much. As a working mother it is tough. I managed to sustain this for two months at least and I felt so proud of myself. I had breast fed my son exclusively for five months.

My experience made me seek audience with the Human Resources Manager. She offered a store room adjacent her office as alternative space for nursing mothers, but truth be told, it was just inconvenient especially since her office was blocks away and as a temporary solution just wouldn’t do for mothers.  Today we have a male Human Resources Manager at my work place. I brought the topic up a year ago and he promised to set aside a room for mothers who want to express while at work, or must nurse their babies. Nothing has been set up yet.

Last year, the Ugandan Parliament opened up a breastfeeding facility on site to serve members of parliament and staff; becoming the first public institution to offer a breastfeeding facility. It comprises of a play area, kitchen, sleeping area, breastfeeding room and bathroom. It was reported to have cost 90 million shillings (about £20,500 then). The initiative is expected to encourage public institutions to adopt similar good practices and for employers in the private sector to invest in workplace breastfeeding programs and policies. This move was, however, met with some public criticism due to the fact it seemed to benefit politicians rather than empowering the common man.

Nevertheless, regardless of where the first facility was opened, breastfeeding is a crucial aspect of child development and matters that concern it need to be given a priority in our society. I believe that it will take legislation and serious enforcement to encourage the launch of nursing areas for mothers, as currently, it never seems to amount to more than good fodder for conversation in the work place.

If Genders Were Equal, Alike and Respected…

A Poem by Laura Mundy


lm-1

[Image souce: https://www.flickr.com/photos/antphotos/4226218448/]

 

Imagine a world where we had one less inequality

Where male and female aren’t polar,

There is no disparity.

 

… … …

 

We begin, we are born, yes – as a girl or a boy.

But what’s between our legs doesn’t dictate

who gets what toy.

lm-2

 

Being a girl or a boy is a simple categorisation of sex.

It doesn’t dictate our daily life; it doesn’t make anything

complex.

 

It recognises the differences between our body parts.

But, how we choose to act, behave and play only comes

from our hearts.

 

Instead of gendered assumptions, we choose and we think.

As a human, do I like navy blue or

fuscia pink?

 

The girls aren’t forced into a pale and constrictive dress.

This allows them the joy of rolling down hills, and

making a mess.

lm-3

 

For boys – there’s no such thing as ‘naturally violent’.

If they’re hurt or sad, no-one ever tells them to

keep silent.

 

The choice of football or ballet comes from the child.

Kids forced to take classes they hate will go

furiously wild.

lm-4

 

At school, sporty girls aren’t bullied and teased.

Boys who like to dance are encouraged to twirl

on their knees.

 

And then come the crushes, love interests and flings.

Marry if you want, to whoever you want. ‘Gay’ marriage isn’t

a separate thing.

lm-5

 

For sex education equally teaches it all.

Girl on girl, boy on boy – before they grow up

big and tall.

 

 
So that informed decisions, choice and consent

are part of daily life: no-one can claim a rape

wasn’t with intent.

 

… … …

 

If genders were equal, alike and respected,

Would there be gender-based violence? No.

Society wouldn’t accept it.

lm-6

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

 

This poem describes an imaginary utopian world in which all genders are treated equally, and in which gender alignment or rejection is every person’s own choice.

 

I’ve chosen to talk about this topic as gender non-conformity and the acceptance of other genders is becoming a widely talked about change in our otherwise very gendered world.

 

I am very glad to see this paradigm shift occurring, as I believe the disparity between our current binary gender categories is a cause for so much harm in society.

 

I wonder, if this poetic world were real, could we achieve the elimination of gender-based violence by simply ceasing to see genders as opposite and unequal?

It Is Plain for All to See: A closer look at gender

by Robert Lutz

Visual poem capturing the absurdity of gender divides

“I see the lack of gender justice in our world as a real tragedy. I have written several stern ‘think pieces‘ about gender as a result.

This is neither the only approach out there nor is it the best or most promising one.

Let’s face it: the fact that the societies we live in vehemently insist on treating men and women differently because of whether or not something is dangling between their legs is completely absurd–it makes no sense whatsoever.

We cannot defeat an irrational beast with logic, but what we can do is draw attention to the inherent absurdity and force the audience to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors.

My visual poem ‘It Is Plain for All to See’ does exactly that: it forces a confrontation with the unjustifiable rules and social norms that split people along gender lines (even if their own bodies and lived experiences do not comply, as in the case of people who are intersex or trans). Whether or not you interpret the struggles of the pencils and flowers as tragic or humorous is up to you.” Robert Lutz, 2016