Oct 28 2014

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

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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

Spectrum

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?

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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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Apr 23 2014

The UK Stabilisation Unit and Sexual Violence in Conflict

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Nicolás Salazar-Godoy author pic

Nicolás Salazar-Godoy is a researcher and consultant specialising in conflict management and resolution. He completed an MSc in Political Sociology at LSE, and has worked in Egypt, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel and the Syrian borders. His current research is focused on armed actors, gender mainstreaming in peace negotiations, and transitional justice mechanisms. He is currently based in Gaziantep (Turkey).

Intersections between men, a gendered misrecognition and transitional justice across conflict geographies

Coinciding with the British presidency of the G8 and under the leadership of Foreign Secretary William Hague, on 10-13 June 2014 the UK will host a global summit on sexual violence in conflict areas. As part of the UK Stabilisation Unit’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict will gather representatives from the 122 countries that endorsed the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, along with civil society actors, scholars, judicial, medical, NGO and military practitioners.

According to the Foreign Office, it will be the largest ever convened high-level summit on sexuality and conflict, aiming to tackle sexual violence in warzones and to strengthen mechanisms to document and investigate sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in conflict areas. Certainly, sexual violence against women and girls is a main component of SGBV in conflict – it is, however, not the end of the story. The more I familiarise myself with Hague’s initiative and discussions, the more I observe with concern that the issue of sexual violence in conflict appears overwhelmingly situated within issues of women’s and children’s rights, women and peace-building or women-oriented projects of post-conflict transformation. Sexual violence against men, boys and sexual minorities, however, is barely mentioned.

While tempting, my intention in this article is not to discuss Britain’s motivations to embrace sexual violence in conflict areas as a 2014 top foreign policy priority. I am sure that such motivations will shortly generate critical debate among scholars and students of transnational sexuality studies. Rather, the objective of this post is to draw attention to an overlooked issue that the Stabilisation Unit and the international community needs to take more seriously: sexual and gender-based violence against men.

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Apr 17 2014

Book Review: Gender and Global Justice by Alison M. Jaggar

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Alison Jaggar aims to bring gender to the centre of philosophical debates about global justice with this recent collection of essays. Chapters cover geographies of gender and migration, taxation and global justice, and sexual violence in an international context, amongst other issues central to our understanding of what justice means today. Although Gender and Global Justice is not altogether timely, the book still forms a compelling resource for those interested in global issues, in social and political philosophy, and in feminist theory, given the breadth of conceptual work it contains, writes Clara Fischer.

Gender and Global Justice. Alison M. Jaggar (ed.). Polity Press. December 2013.

Find this book: kindle-edition amazon-logo

Being perhaps best known for her classic 1983 text, Feminist Politics and Human NatureAlison Jaggar has, over the decades, consolidated her position as one of the most preeminent philosophers working in social, moral, and political thought in a feminist vein. Her latest edited volume,Gender and Global Justice, continues this project of critical feminist theorising by reinscribing gender in philosophical discourses on justice in the wider context of phenomena and events that transcend national borders.

For Jaggar, a too-narrow focus on topics deemed to be of particular interest to women, such as “female seclusion” or “genital cutting”, masks the fact that “all of the issues addressed by global justice theorists have gendered dimensions.” Accordingly, “philosophical work in global gender justice addresses the gendered dimension of war, human rights, global governance, political freedom, nationalism, migration, indebtedness, poverty, climate change and more” (p. 9). Gender and Global Justice reflects this all-encompassing approach to philosophical work on global justice, and cogently makes the case for a gendered reading of issues as diverse as migrant care work, reform of global taxation arrangements, poverty, sexual violence, and transnational collectivities.

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Apr 5 2014

UK 2014-15 Budget: Where does the social security spending cap leave disabled women and their carers?

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Dinara Zapparova Author bio

Dinara recently completed her MSc in Gender, Development and Globalisation at the LSE Gender Institute, and will shortly be commencing an accounting training scheme.

On 19th March 2014, George Osborne, the UK Chancellor of the  Exchequer delivered the annual speech to Parliament outlining spending and taxation plans. A limit was imposed on UK annual social security spending. This limit is set at £119 billion for year 2014-15. The limit was announced in relation to managing ‘out of control’ welfare spending, reigning in alleged ‘incentives’ which ‘pay not to work’ and resisting temptation to ‘squander the gains’ of continued economic growth. The limit excludes spending on Jobseekers Allowance and State Pensions, which in 2012/13 amounted to £5.1 billion and £79.9 billion respectively (Outturn and forecast: Budget 2013 xls). Out of 26 benefits within the scope of the limit, over a third are directly related to disabled people and their carers. The cap for example includes ‘Attendance Allowance’, an allowance paid for personal care to those with physical or mental disabilities over the age of 65. Also included is ‘Carers’ Allowance’, which pays £59.75 a week to those who spend more than 35 hours per week caring for someone with a disability (unless the carer is studying for 21+hours a week or earning more than £100/week).

Putting this cap into practice will mean cuts to the income and wellbeing of all disabled people and their carers. Yet women are more likely to bear the brunt of disability-related funding cuts for two main reasons:

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Apr 3 2014

How does freedom dress?

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Cloth - still from videoCloth is a video art piece intended to contribute to an inter/intracultural conversation about women, identity, oppression, agency and freedom, as well as common (mis)representations thereof. The directors and performing artists, Samira Mahboub and Ania Catherine, both current postgraduate students at the LSE Gender Institute, envisioned film as a medium through which they could carry academic discourse to a wider audience via performance art – cloth is the result. As gender scholars with diverse backgrounds –  Samira is a Muslim of  German and Moroccan heritage, and Ania is a non-religious Hispanic American –  they are interested in channeling their performance experience into projects that not only stimulate critical reflection, but also encompass a meaningful combination of art, academia, and politics.

Cloth plays on stereotypes of the veiled Muslim woman as the ‘oppressed‘ Other in binary opposition to the ‘liberated’ Western women. In doing so, it takes up academic scholarship that challenges the homogeneous (and negative) portrayal of veiled women, and the assumed mutual exclusivity of veiling and empowerment.

Veiling – —to Western eyes, the most visible marker of the differentness and inferiority of Islamic societies— – became the symbol now of both the oppression of women (…) and the backwardness of Islam (Ahmed 1992)

Cloth playfully translates such critiques into a medium that invites a wider public into the conversation. In exploring how freedom dresses, all too easy assumptions around oppression and empowerment are complicated.

Enjoy!

 

Directors: Ania Catherine and Samira Mahboub
Director of Photography: Jacqui J Sze
Editor: Jacqui J Sze
Performance Artists: Ania Catherine and Samira Mahboub
Production & Set Assistant: Eman al-Maadeed
Music: “Easy Muffin” by Amon Tobin

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