Apr 20 2015

The legacy of the coalition government: a double standard on women’s rights

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Kady author pic

Kady Billington-Murphy (@KadyBM) is a part-time student at the LSE Gender Institute studying towards an MSc in Gender, Policy and Inequalities. She has worked in the human rights sector for several years with UK and international NGOs.

As the general election looms large on the horizon, and the days of the current coalition government appear numbered, what are we to make of progress on women’s rights during the last five years of Tory-Liberal Democrat rule?

The question is not a straightforward one to answer. Certainly examples spring to mind of government ministers speaking out about the need to protect “the most vulnerable women” around the world. The high-profile Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) is one such example. Launched by former Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London last June, the initiative received widespread media coverage. Supporters argue that it has mobilised significant support and attention in this neglected area, not least the recent opening of a new Centre for Women, Peace and Security at LSE.

The government has also focused attention on ending what it calls ‘the scourge of modern slavery’ – or human trafficking – in the UK. Home Secretary Theresa May’s Modern Slavery Bill, introducing tougher penalties for traffickers, has recently become law, and the first Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner has been appointed.

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Apr 13 2015

Intersections of Gender, Sexuality, Race and Age in the Privileging of Coupledom

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Kate Gilchrist graduated from the LSE’s Gender Institute in December 2014 with an MSc in Gender. As well as freelancing as a sub-editor and writer on a wide range of national and international magazines and journals, she has volunteered for several gender-rights based organisations in the UK, Central America and Asia. She also on the editing team of www.genderandthecity.com.

Earlier this year LSE held an event to commemorate the sociologist Ulrich Beck. Beck was prominent in developing the theory of reflexive modernity and the related concept of the transformation of intimacy. Such a theory suggests that postmodern society is characterised by diversification, freedom and fluidity within intimate relationships where non-traditional forms of love are being reflexively constructed into ‘elective affinities’. Yet singledom, defined here as an intimate life not organised by a serious or long-term, monogamous relationship, remains – 20 years on from Beck – inherently deprivileged within relationship discourses. Indeed, the coupledom/singledom divide is firmly in place and little eroded. As Budgeon describes

hetero coupledom is still dominant and central, though critiqued from the margins. Shelley Budgeon

Recent media representation of two heterosexual celebrity weddings, as well as the work of two artists offer interesting examples of how such discourses continue to operate, and how such deprivileging is produced at the intersections of gender, sexuality, age and race.

Examining the recent media portrayal of two celebrities’ nuptials – George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston – demonstrates the deprivileging of non-coupled lives at the intersection of gender, sexuality, race and age. Both marriages are overwhelmingly celebrated, working to devalue singledom and elevate marriage as the pinnacle of a ‘successful’ life and the gold standard of relationships. However, the events occur in starkly contrasting ways in each case, revealing the complexity of the single/couple dichotomy. Clooney’s crossover into married status is framed in terms of capture, while Aniston’s is portrayed as a form of escape and refuge.

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Feb 12 2015

The Forgotten Women of Comics

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Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. With an MLitt in Comic Studies, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.

Dale Messik

In recent years, “diversity” has become somewhat of a buzzword within the superhero comics industry and fandom, and a point of tension between life-long comic fans with a largely male online presence and newer fans from a range of different backgrounds eager to see themselves represented on the page. In many ways that tension has been eased – Marvel for example have committed to pushing several prominent female characters including the wonderful Kamala Khan as a newer, fresher Ms Marvel, and publishers certainly seem willing to listen to women fans. But after 12 months of constant drama within the comics community, from harassment campaigns to rape threats for female critics, it’s important to keep looking ahead as we acknowledge victories along the road.

When I first began writing about comics back in 2011, the problems with sexism in superhero comics was something that I was determined to address. It soon became clear that this was an incredibly complex issue, and something that was going to get me – and other women – far more attention than I had anticipated. A piece on the seemingly controversial idea to place Wonder Woman in trousers rather than a skirt opened my eyes to a highly reactive segment of the comics community that decried any kind of change, an echo perhaps of the never-aging pantheon of superheroes that are constantly recycled and renewed.

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Nov 18 2014

Britain must end its support for sterilisation in India

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Dr Kalpana Wilson is Senior LSE Fellow in Gender Theory, Globalisation and Development. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and include the relationships between neo-liberalism, gender and concepts of agency, the experiences of women in rural labour movements, and ways in which notions of 'race' are inscribed within discourses of development.

Dr Kalpana Wilson is Senior LSE Fellow in Gender Theory, Globalisation and Development. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and include the relationships between neo-liberalism, gender and concepts of agency, the experiences of women in rural labour movements, and ways in which notions of ‘race’ are inscribed within discourses of development.

The horrifying deaths of at least 14 women who had undergone surgery at sterilisation camps in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, highlight the violence of the population control policies that the British government is at the forefront of promoting globally.

Far from giving poor women in the global south much-needed access to safe contraception that they can control, these policies dehumanise them as “excessively reproductive” and set targets that make atrocities like those in Chhattisgarh possible. While these policies are rooted in deeply racist and patriarchal ideas, they are implemented in the name of reproductive rights and choice.

Two years ago, the British government co-hosted the London Family Planning Summit, where along with other international organisations, they announced a $2.6bn (£1.7bn) family planning strategy aimed at getting 120 million more girls and women in the poorest countries to use voluntary family planning by 2020. A few months later the development secretary, Justine Greening, announced further “determined UK action on family planning” including the increased distribution of contraceptive implants.

Despite its insistence that it opposes coercion, it had already been revealed that the Department for International Development (DfID) was funding forcible sterilisations in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Here, too, poor women, many of them Dalits, died after allegedly being lied to about the operation, and threatened with the loss of their ration cards or their access to government welfare schemes. They are said to have been bribed with small amounts of cash or, as with this latest case, forcibly taken to camps, where they were operated on under appallingly unsafe conditions.

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Oct 28 2014

The War Rages On: Women in the British Military and the De-Politicisation of War in ‘Our Girl’ (2014)

Harriet Gray author pic

Harriet Gray is a PhD student in the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics, working on intimate partner abuse in the British military. She has also written on female combat roles in the American military, consent, and celebrity intimate partner violence, and can also be found on Twitter.

The five part BBC drama series Our Girl (and the 90 minute TV film which preceded it) centres around the experiences of Private Molly Dawes, a young medic serving in the British Army. Molly is assigned to a unit referred to as ‘2 Section’ as a combat casualty replacement, and with them deploys to Afghanistan. Her colleague in 2 Section, Private Dillon “Smurf” Smith, and their leader Captain Charles James, an experienced officer on his fourth tour of Afghanistan, form the two other principle characters in the series.

Our Girl was broadcast at a time when women’s roles in the British armed forces are once again under review. At present, women – who make up 10% of British regular military personnel – are able to serve in most roles in the British military with the exception of ‘combat roles’, defined as “ground combat units where the primary role is to close with and kill the enemy”. Previous reviews of the ban in 2002 and 2010 have concluded that while many women may well possess the physical and psychological capacities to serve in any military role, the impact of women’s presence on unit cohesion and therefore on combat effectiveness cannot be fully understood without taking the risk of sending mixed combat teams into battle; a risk which the MOD and the armed forces were not at the time of these reviews prepared to take. That is, women’s continued exclusion from combat roles was justified not on the basis of what women were capable of doing, but, as I have argued elsewhere, of who (what?) they are.

their war her battle

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Oct 20 2014

Where has gender gone? The big absence in Brazilian presidential elections 2014

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Louisa Acciari author photo

Louisa Acciari is a PhD student at the Gender Institute working on the mobilisations of domestic workers in Brazil. Her research interests include social movements; feminist and post-colonial theories; the intersections between gender, race and class; and Brazilian politics.

One could expect that having two woman candidates (Marina da Silva and Dilma Roussef) leading the polls might have brought gender equality to the centre of the Brazilian presidential elections debates – especially when one of them is the current President of Brazil, and the first-ever woman to hold that office.

Although feminist scholars have warned against essentialist arguments on representation, there is an expectation that women will be better represented by woman politicians in what could be conceived of as ‘women’s interests’, particularly on issues related to the right to chose, violence and discrimination in the labour market.

However, when analysing the propositions and manifestos of the three main candidates (those with the highest chances of reaching the second round, according to polls), candidates’ positions on these issues were not easy to identify. The main national newspapers summarising their propositions highlighted education, health, economy, energy, environment, international affairs, but not gender equality.

As the second round vote between Dilma (the current president, left-wing party) or Aécio (centre-right man candidate, now backed by Marina who did not get through) nears on October 26th, the need for a feminist analysis appears even more pressing.

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Oct 9 2014

Gender Equality Forum and Spectrum respond to recent events around LSE men’s rugby

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The Gender Equality Forum (GEF) and Spectrum (LSE’s LGBT+ staff forum) have released a joint statement in response to the sexist, homophobic, racist, and classist leaflet recently dispersed by the now disbanded LSE Men’s Rugby Club to LSE Freshers. The statement is an important example of collective politics in action, and brought together input from around 70 members of the School to draw attention both to the incident itself and to some of the initial reactions to it, which failed to take account of the full scope of the problem. Since the release of the statement, the School has expanded its response and has committed to paying attention to the broader issues raised by this incident. We have published the joint statement from the Gender Equality Forum and Spectrum in full below.

Members of the Gender Equality Forum (GEF) and Spectrum (The LSE’s LGBT+ forum) are outraged but not surprised at the Men’s Rugby Club handing out misogynous, homophobic, racist and classist leaflets in Freshers’ week.  We welcome the speedy decision of the LSESU to disband the Men’s Rugby Club for the rest of the academic year and their commitment to a broader challenge to hate speech and everyday inequality at LSE. In addition we call upon the LSE to recognise the gravity of both the specific incident and the broader context within which it has arisen.  We are clear that this event reflects a wider culture of inequality and elitism that needs to be transformed; any response that frames the incident as exceptional would be unacceptable.

We call on the School to provide a dynamic and proactive response that shows the School’s commitment to equality for all its members. Staff, faculty, researchers and students want their anger at the leaflets’ message to be taken seriously, and demand recognition of the pervasive issues of inequality that mar many people’s experience at the LSE.  We are concerned that LSE’s response thus far seems to be focused on damage limitation rather than real interrogation of the broader issues, a concern underlined by a historic failure to show real leadership on the need for change. New and existing students, staff, researchers and faculty at the LSE have a right to expect the School to ensure a safe environment within which all of us can thrive (as promised in the Strategic Review).

The GEF and Spectrum expect:

*Full information on the time frame of the School investigation of the incident, including details of who will be conducting it and the process of their appointment.

*A full statement from the School concerning its commitment to addressing sexism, homophobia, racism and classism at all levels across the school.

*A firm action plan to transform the LSE’s elitist and hostile culture, and details of the process and extent of group consultation and open fora on these issues at the School.

*A clear commitment to appropriate resourcing, monitoring and transparent reporting on the substantive outcomes of that plan, such that this does not remain a paper exercise.

LSE’s recent failure to secure a Bronze Institutional Award under the ECU’s Gender Equality Charter Mark, as well as our placement 314th out of 369 by Stonewall for our efforts to tackle discrimination and create an inclusive workplace for LGB employees, underlines many people’s sense that the School’s stated commitment to tackling inequality remains superficial. LSE has a strong Ethics Code to which it is obliged to adhere, and the failure to meet this commitment risks further damaging the School’s national and global reputation.

Provided the above conditions are met, the GEF and Spectrum are willing to work with the DMT as part of our ongoing efforts to create a safer and more inclusive environment at LSE. We see the issues arising from this incident as a real opportunity for LSE to take a lead in addressing everyday and institutional inequality.

Gender Equality Forum


Other concerned School members

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Jul 14 2014

A compulsory heteronormative university? The regulation of sexualities and identities in the UK higher education system

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Louisa Acciari author photo

Louisa Acciari completed her MSc in Gender Research in 2013. She now works as Research and Policy Officer at the National Union of Students (NUS) on issues affecting women, LGBT, Black and disabled students. She is the author of Education Beyond the Straight and Narrow, a report on the experience of LGBT students in higher education.

It is often believed that universities are open and progressive places where everyone can and express themselves. However, several studies highlight the ongoing discriminations against oppressed groups such as women, Black and LGBT people. The particular experience of LGBT students is quite difficult to capture as there is no consistent data collection and monitoring. It also represents an epistemological challenge around the use of the category ‘LGBT’. By using it as opposed to ‘heterosexuality’ we risk reinforcing the idea that one is the norm while the other represents the deviation (Phellas 2012).

An enquiry into the education system nonetheless remains necessary to understand how certain rules and behaviours reproduce heteronormativity, thereby excluding other sexualities and identities.

Discrimination and harassment on campus

Research conducted by NUS entitled ‘Education Beyond the Straight and Narrow’ reveals that LGBT students feel less safe on campus than non-LGBT students, they are more likely to consider dropping out, and are exposed to increased levels of bullying. Among those who seriously considered dropping-out, 56 per cent mentioned the feeling of not fitting in as the main reason.

About 1 in 3 LGB+ and 1 in 5 trans students have experienced at least one form of harassment on campus. Trans students are twice as likely to experience harassment, threats or intimidation in comparison to their LGB+ counterparts.

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Jun 30 2014

The Gender Politics of Closing Down Yarl’s Wood

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Malia Bowers is a current MSc Gender (Research) candidate at the LSE Gender Institute. In her dissertation, she is critically and creatively engaging with state-sponsored discourse surrounding the mental health of resettled Bhutanese refugees in the United States.

Recent events have brought a measure of media and public attention to the detention of women asylum-seekers being held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Center (IRC).  Including a whistleblower, sex abuse claims, and the cancelled UN inspection, many on social media are calling to #ShutDownYarl’sWood and #SetHerFree.  A petition put forth by Meltem Avcil on change.org has, at the time of writing, garnered 46,846 signatures requesting that Home Secretary Theresa May “end the detention of women who seek asylum,” drawing on Avcil’s experience and that of her mother in Yarl’s Wood.

While I find the abuse happening at Yarl’s Wood reprehensible, there is something happening in this particular situation that doesn’t sit well with me.  What is different about Yarl’s Wood that merits special attention out of the 11 other IRCs throughout the UK?  Abuse has been documented at many (if not all) of them, and the problematic carceral approach to managing asylum-seekers undergirds the entire system.  So why Yarl’s Wood?


The simple answer is women.  Yarl’s Wood holds primarily women.

Image credit: Indymedia UK

Image credit: Indymedia UK


But of course answers are rarely that simple!

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Jun 23 2014

Is sexual violence in conflict a new Trojan horse?

Author bio for Charlotte Gage

Charlotte Gage has been working in the women’s sector in the UK and internationally for the past seven years with a focus on policy and human rights and is now undertaking an MSc in Gender at the LSE Gender Institute.

The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict took place at London’s ExCel Centre between 10th and 12th June 2014. Amongst the fanfare and excitement at Angelina Jolie being involved in her role as Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, this event raised a lot of questions for me – questions which were only increased on the afternoon that I attended. I do not want to negate the reality or magnitude of the problem of sexual violence in conflict situations around the world and that this needs to be tackled, or to deny the experiences of the survivor-victims, I want to raise issue with how this is currently being addressed and suggest that the so-called humanitarian response from the UK Government has a wider agenda and may in fact be damaging.

My introduction to the summit was an animation created for the event, which raised a number of concerns for me. The childlike cartoon and narration immediately separates what is happening from reality, constructing it as a fantasy or dream. What is surprising is that the images show a Western scenario – the white family in Western dress with a large house, a pet dog and barbeque, the military aggressors, in tanks and helicopters, also white. The implication is that this could also happen to us ‘over here’. The military men enter the home and there is a rape scene, however, the character who rapes, unlike his fellow soldiers who look on, is shown with the face of a monster. The next scene, apparently after the conflict (as if there is in fact the possibility of ‘post-conflict’) shows the vulnerable girl-child inside the Western house while the rapist with the monster-face is still outside. This creates the impression that there is safety from sexual violence within the home when in fact most women are at risk from someone they know. The following scene shows the ‘monster’ being tried and punished by a court which is not in fact the reality for many perpetrators of sexual violence, especially in contexts of conflict, and gives a false sense of confidence in the criminal justice system as a method for accountability and retribution. The way that the ‘monsters’ remain like this throughout the animation gives the impression that others involved – such as other soldiers, the prison guards, the judge, or the father – do not have the potential to also be ‘monsters’ and so restricts this to a limited number of evil ‘others’, separating men into the categories of monster/rapist and ‘normal’ men. The final message is that it is #timetoact for people as individuals and that stopping sexual violence in conflict is simply a mouse click away, therefore taking the onus from governments and international bodies and presenting this as a global problem that can be solved through social media campaigning. This divides ‘rape as a weapon of war’ from ‘peacetime’ sexual violence, with the implication that we can effectively tackle one whilst completely ignoring the other. Continue reading

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