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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Mar 27 2014

Only Deeds: Twenty Years Later and Still Not Recognizing What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy

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Dana Rognlie author pic

Dana Rognlie is a doctorate student at the University of Oregon completing her dissertation on the virtue of courage and domestic violence.

[trigger warning]

Suppose I decide to rape Catharine MacKinnon before
reviewing her book.

(Carlin Romano, 1993,  The Nation)

Suppose I decide to skip Carlin Romano’s latest pontification before blogging about him. Because I’m uncertain he understands the difference between being a feminist and being a ‘feminist’. Perhaps the better question is, suppose the discipline of philosophy valued the existence and freedom of women in philosophy and in society more broadly over abstract claims of freedom of expression made by privileged men? Despite attending more to style than to content, touting clarity while remaining incoherent, and responding to criticism with name-dropping and non sequiturs, Romano is what passes in America (the philosophical!) for a public intellectual. Perhaps I owe it to him, to philosophy, to America, to women, or to myself to attend his talk. But the carelessness with which he wields his privilege is precisely the problem for women in philosophy (and in the home, and in the streets!). Would attending implicitly endorse his ignorance and privilege? Would failing to attend allow him to get away with yet more self-indulgent misogyny? Should I carry a sign? Should I wear a vagina hoodie? Or should I engage in polite, Midwestern chitchat? Should I patiently explain, as I do with students, that sometimes women aren’t treated so well? More importantly, why do I have to make these wrenching decisions at all?

One thing is certain: you don’t mess with Kitty and get away with it.

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Mar 24 2014

Is ActionAid’s gender-specific fundraising campaign progressive?

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Author pic Georgina Holmes

Georgina Holmes is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Portsmouth, Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London and a Visiting Lecturer in the Centre for Gender, Culture and Development at the National University of Rwanda. She is the author of Women and War in Rwanda: Gender, Media and the Representation of Genocide published by IB Tauris in October 2013.

In September 2013 international NGO ActionAid launched a new fundraising campaign in the UK that aimed to raise awareness of the plight of women in refugee camps. The campaign poster features a black-and-white image of a Congolese woman, accompanied by the heading “The worst period of her life.” Underneath this statement is written:

Imagine you’ve fled your home. You’ve lost everything. And then it gets worse: you get your period and you can’t afford sanitary towels. Women fleeing conflict in war-torn countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria suffer this terrible humiliation, month after month after month. Will you donate £3 to help give one more woman a little bit of dignity?

The poster, first promoted in women’s public washrooms before being rolled out across British train network media in early 2014, may well succeed in establishing empathy and willing among UK-based women. Yet the extent to which ActionAid, a rights-based organisation committed to advocating consciousness-raising and mobilising voices in civil society, broke free from the discursive structures of inequality, that posit African women as silenced, passive victims is questionable.

To a degree, this latest strategy to generate interest and engagement with UK publics represents a reassuring break from the relentless images of helpless Congolese women ‘rape victims’ that have pervaded NGO and human rights campaigns since the 2000s, though still continuing to feature in ‘western’ media. Critics (myself included) hold this image as central to the new, feminised Congo atrocity narrative.[1]

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Mar 19 2014

Five Minutes with Meena Kandasamy: “I think propaganda can be very beautiful based on what you are doing it for”

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Nazreen Fazal author pic

Nazreen Fazal is Assistant Editor of the LSE Review of Books. Nazreen graduated from the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus) with a degree in International Communication Studies with English Language and Literature. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Comparative Politics at the LSE. Nazreen blogs at Penguin Peeks and Brown in Britain.

Meena Kandasamy is a poet, writer and activist who deals with the questions of caste, language and feminismShe recently spoke at the LSE event ‘Gender and the Hindu Right’, organised by the LSE Gender Institute. LSE Review of Books Assistant Editor Nazreen Fazal talks to Meena about her writing, activism in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and her latest novel- The Gypsy Goddess. Recommended reading for those interested in issues revolving around gender and activism in India

What are your experiences as a female writer in India who identifies herself as a feminist? Do you face a lot of opposition against that – online or otherwise -when you meet people?

It is not the feminism bit that is problematic. What’s problematic for these people is the fact that you are also challenging Hindutva, the caste system, and with it all these so-called rules that they have used to put women in [their] place. Most of these rules are not just out of misogyny but arise from a religious or caste-based conditioning. So yes, it does make people angry.

Feminism for some reason has – at least within the section of men – become ‘Oh she hates men’. It is easily translated into that. When you say you are a feminist, you also have to clarify what exactly your feminism means, because sometimes feminism itself as a broad term is used to silence or justify what happens in, say, Afghanistan, with the drone strikes. But feminism is neither a corporate nor an imperialist project. Feminism is a grassroots project; it is a project of the people. As a feminist you need to be really clear on where you come in and where you come from. You have to define your own space but also let people know that they don’t really have a business in what you are critiquing.

Your latest novel, The Gypsy Goddess, is based on the true life Kilvenmani massacre, in which a group of 44 striking Dalit (untouchable) village labourers were murdered by a gang. It must have been painful writing about something this brutal and personal, since you yourself come from a particular caste; how did you get through the process?

My parents had an inter-caste marriage; my grandparents had an inter-caste marriage, so I’m one of the few people who come from inter-caste marriages over three generations. So I consider myself as more of a hybrid as opposed to belonging to any particular caste. The second thing about telling this kind of story is that the easy way for me would have been to write the story of people visiting the UK, studying in dorms, transiting between airports, falling in love with someone of another nationality- just a very urban, educated girl’s experience. But there is enough written about that already so I wanted to tell a story which for me was something that identified me with my roots in Tanjore (a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu) and help me understand why a person like my father would so desperately want to escape from there.

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