To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, PhD Researcher Jennifer Buczynski, from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, discusses some of the techniques she has discovered through her studies of literature for women dealing with trauma from violence.
Shocking news headlines covering Reeva Steenkamp’s murder by famous blade-runner Oscar Pistorius and the ongoing trial are near impossible to escape. Sadly, Reeva was statistically just one of three women killed on Valentine’s Day this year by an intimate partner in South Africa. More devastating statistics reveal that in this country seven women were murdered each day in 2011, and that one woman gets raped every 17 seconds (allAfrica.com, police statistics).
If we look internationally, one in three women throughout the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence (World Health Organisation statistics). Although I reflect on these statistics about violence against women, mostly there is a sense that this kind of thing is over there, a distance away from me. Yet, the reality is that for millions and millions of women all over the world violence is part of their everyday lives. Rape, battery and other forms of violence are so common in the lives of women that they cannot be seen as unusual or outside ordinary experience. Actually, I am not removed from this horror because a hand raised against any woman could just as easily be raised against me, my daughter, my mother, my sister, my friend.
It is this realisation that most makes me want to do something to help. And to help, I first need to try to understand the affects of this violence on the psyche. What is the damage behind the physical manifestations of bruises and broken bones? If I can understand, maybe there is a way to take some control and discern a way out.
This is what my PhD research is all about. I turn to stories because they have always comforted me and given me valuable insights into my own and others’ experiences. I specifically look at novels that are anchored to convulsive historical periods, and as such frequently represent and confront traumatic events such as incest and rape. My chosen writers have been through the horrors they write about which makes their stories close to the experience of terror. The aim of my project is to draw out literary devices in these fictional accounts which give a voice to the trauma of the injured characters.
The reason for this is that for a woman to recover from trauma, she needs to be able to tell what happened to her. Psychiatrists specializing in treating traumatised patients know that expressing the trauma in a cohesive form is vital to recovery. Without a narrative, there can be no way forward because the accurate re-ordering of what happened, or the making of meaning, and the release of related emotions are essential in gaining some control of the violence enacted against her. But finding the words couldn’t be harder. How can she effectively describe the humiliation and shame of rape? Her pain challenges usual expectations of what it means to tell because often she is unable to acknowledge what she has been through even to herself.
Although language cannot capture such humiliations adequately, I hope that tools used by gifted writers in stories about trauma may help a victim find the words for her own pain. For example, a girl who has endured incest may find it easier to speak of her experience as in a dream rather than an actual involvement. She could create a fantasy space, which may be easier to enter, than her own bedroom. If the perpetrator becomes a nightmarish monster, instead of her father, she may feel free to express her real feelings towards him without fear of betraying the deeply entrenched loyalty attached to a parent.
Another useful tool is landscape metaphor. It may be impossible for a victim to explain the depths of depression following a physical or sexual assault, but imagining the colours and contours of a barren countryside which approximates her interior world may open up possibilities of rich expression. It is these types of literary devices I seek in twentieth century novels and then bring to the surface of the narratives to help give expression to what may otherwise lay beyond her reach.
On 25 November, International Day for Ending Violence Against Women, we can all speak up to break the silence against this scourge that scars our communities. Voices united from our governments, our schools, our businesses and our homes, can have an enormous impact on the practices and attitudes that incite, perpetrate and condone violence against women. We can all help to spread awareness about the scale and true nature of the fact that women around the world are being hurt. This may give courage to more and more girls and women to find the words to tell of their traumas and find healing.
Jennifer Buczynski is a South African PhD student. She spent a year in the UK at Swansea University from October 2012 to September 2013, on a Commonwealth Scholarship. She completes her doctorate on ‘Traumatic Representations in Twentieth Century Literature’ at the University of Johannesburg in 2015.]]>
Guest speaker at a popular and well received event organised recently by the UN WOMEN UKNC London Branch was Dr Phoebe Abe, President of the 100 Black Women’s Group. She talked about the current challenges facing women and girls living in Uganda.
Larisa Corda reports -
Dr Abe is a GP who has been involved with helping to improve conditions for women and girls in Northern Uganda since 1992. Years of war had left a trail of destruction behind and a region riddled with poverty, crime and practically no access to education or income for the people living there. Most people live in slums which have become rife with drugs and violence, in particular sexual abuse committed against women and girls. Dr Abe informed the audience that when she initially set out to help at the beginning of the 1990s, with no support apart from her own income as a GP in Berkshire and Middlesex, she met a population eager to change and triumph over their impoverished circumstances, but with no means to manage this. This is where she decided to introduce opportunities in the form of education, by offering courses and apprenticeships, resulting in qualifications that have equipped people to run and manage their local environments. She purchased pieces of land that have since been cultivated into small animal rearing farms and plantations, and now generate a regular income. She has appointed locals to act as project managers who oversee small groups that cook, sew, clean, sell local produce or offer transportation, in exchange for an income as a means of sustaining themselves. In addition, she used her own talent and passion for dance and music, so ingrained in the African culture, to set up a performance group called Acholi Heartbeat. Since then this group has performed at various national functions and events, including the National Theatre in Uganda and Kenya, in front of international dignitaries, which has generated another source of income and boosted morale. The group has even performed a special dedication to Michael Jackson that can be seen on YouTube and which has been viewed by the Jackson family, who have offered praise in support of Dr Abe and are eager to meet her.
The tremendous effort and success of Dr Abe’s venture is, however, tempered by the fact that so much more needs to be done to help a country whose population reached 37.5 million this year. Despite the widespread AIDs pandemic it has the second highest fertility and fifth highest growth rate in the world. Dr Abe said that the rapidly expanding population is compounding the crime and poverty that have plagued the country for so long, leading to child labour, forced marriage, sexual abuse and violence against women. Prostitution and female genital mutilation are widespread and without education and the ability to overcome their adversities, young women and girls are resigning themselves to a life under patriarchal control. Uganda has introduced the 2010 Anti-FGM Act, making this practice illegal. Despite some improvement in the rates of FGM, there is fear that a lot of the previous practice has not been eradicated but has gone underground and is therefore undetected. Dr Abe tells of how even in London, her clinic is full of girls who have undergone FGM but are too afraid to speak out about it.
Rates of literacy and school enrolment are very low in regions where FGM is practised (12% for boys and 6% for girls), compared to a national average of 77% for boys and 58% for girls. Dr Abe’s own experience of empowering women and girls by means of education and a regular income has shown the positive effect it can have on reducing violence, stigmatisation and overcoming poverty. With over 80% of Africans attending a religious or faith building organisation once a week, these can be seen as excellent opportunities to offer platforms for teaching, education and health provision in the form of screening for cancer, contraception, vaccination programmes and infection control. There is much to be done and Dr Abe’s talk gave us an endearing and personal insight into how all of us can change the course for women not just in Uganda, but all over the world, by leading discussion and campaigning for female equalities. In the words of Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General, in 2006: “It is impossible to realise our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”.
For more information on Dr Abe’s work please visit www.drabefoundation.com
The London branch of UN Women UKNC holds regular events for members covering a range of topics relevant to gender equality and empowering women. The next event will be on Saturday, 30th November. To find out more about becoming a member go to http://www.unwomenuk.org/get-involved/become-a-member/]]>
2013 is the UN Year of Water Co-operation, and so recently UN Women UK’s Corporate Advisory Group (a forum of high level individuals from global businesses) met to discuss how issues of water and sanitation disproportionately affect women.
During the meeting, chaired by UN Women UK board director Laura Haynes, members heard from Burak Cakmak of Swarovski (our generous hosts for the meeting), Stella and Tara Joy of Active Remedy, and Jane Wilbur of WaterAid, who presented their ideas on:
Their presentations were followed by a group discussion of some common themes. Throughout the world, women are intrinsically linked to water resources because of their roles and responsibilities in using and managing water. Since women and girls often cook, clean, farm, and provide health care and hygiene for their households, they are on the front lines of their communities’ and countries’ water issues.
Global challenges like over-consumption, population growth, privatization and climate change all affect the quality and accessibility of water, and put a strain on limited freshwater systems. Water scarcity and contamination disproportionately impact low-income women and girls. For many girls who must walk miles to access clean water, school is not a reality. In Africa, research has shown that a small increase in drought can lead to a spike in girls missing school. The same is not true for their male classmates.
Without a basic education or the ability to get a formal wage-earning job, many women become locked into a vicious cycle of poverty. This has a ripple effect that impacts communities and countries socially, economically and environmentally. There are also health implications to lack of clean water, and many issues around W.A.S.H. (water and sanitation hygiene) go undiscussed for being taboo.
The speakers’ presentations demonstrated that with all of these issues, businesses as well as charity and action groups can do much to help, by working with communities to educate, and to tackle problems in context.
Many thanks to our speakers and CAG members for their contributions to this meeting.
Forthcoming meeting topics for the CAG are proposed as: health, safety and freedom from violence in the workplace, supply chains, and reporting/ measuring impact.
If you’d like to find out more about joining the CAG, please visit our Corporate page.]]>
On 28 October, UN WOMEN UKNC joined representatives from the UK Government and civil society for the joint preparatory meeting for the 58th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in London.
Guest contributor Elizabeth Willmott Harrop,a freelance human rights advocate and writer, shares here the key points of the meeting.
This was a critical meeting in which around 90 stakeholders on gender equality, including Helen Grant MP, Minister for Sport & Equalities, the Government Equalities Office (GEO), the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), UN Women UK, Womankind Worldwide, and Widows for Peace Through Democracy, planned their representation at CSW58 and how to advance the cause of gender equality – in the UK, in countries receiving UK aid, and internationally.
The day included an introduction to CSW, the role of the UK Government Delegation, an update of the work of the Department for International Development (DFID) and its Strategic Vision for Girls and Women, and a review of the UK’s implementation of CSW57 Agreed Conclusions on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. In the latter half of the event there were three break-out sessions one of which – on ‘Maximising Influence: working with civil society’ –was led by Jan Grasty, President of UN WOMEN UKNC.
While NGOs used the preparatory meeting to question government on policies affecting women, such as the recent cuts in legal aid (see for example Unequal Before the Law in Fabiana Autumn 2013), Helene Reardon-Bond, head of gender equality policy and inclusion at GEO, stressed NGOs should focus on the goals of CSW attendance. Reardon-Bond noted that the UK is seen as a “leading light” within the European Union in terms of joined up government policy on gender, with the GEO, FCO and DFID all working closely together.
About the Commission on the Status of Women
Established in 1946, the CSW is a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is the principal global policy-making body dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which now has 187 State Parties, was prepared by the CSW and was adopted in 1979.
Every year, representatives of UN Member States gather at the UN Headquarters in New York for the CSW session to:
The principal output of CSW is the agreed conclusions on priority themes set for each year. Agreed conclusions contain an assessment of progress, gaps and challenges, and a set of concrete recommendations for action by Governments, intergovernmental bodies, civil society and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, national, regional and local level.
In addition to the agreed conclusions, the CSW also adopts a number of resolutions for example on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (2010).
Millennium Development Goals
The 58th session will be held in March 2014, with a priority theme of challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. The MDGs have provided a valuable focal point for the development community in the past 13 years, however they have also received much criticism, from the immeasurability of their targets to their lack of gender awareness. CSW58 will therefore be a final but vital platform for reflecting on the MDGs as they evolve into the post 2015 development agenda.
STEM science, technology, engineering and mathematics
The CSW58 Review Theme will be access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work, which formed the agreed conclusions from the 55th CSW session in 2011.
At the preparatory meeting, Jeremy Clayton, Director, Research Base at Department for Business Innovation & Skills, gave a candid overview of issues affecting women, girls and access to STEM subjects including the fact that only 9 per cent of engineering professionals in the UK are female – the lowest in Europe. However Clayton also noted progress including the appointment of Dr Jackie Hunter CBE as the new Chief Executive of the BBSRC research Council.
For further information about CSW58 go to www.unwomen.org/en/csw]]>
Take a look at their equality heat map below.]]>
You’ve probably already seen them: the series of images of women with google search bars in the place where their mouths should be. This was a creative idea by ad agency Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai for UN Women. When it was reported on Ad Week on Friday it, quite understandably, went viral. These are genuine google searches, and the autocomplete function reveals just exactly how widespread sexism and discrimination against women still is. The sentiments range from casual stereotyping (‘women can’t drive’) to the horribly repressive (‘women shouldn’t have equal rights’). Read more about the campaign here and on twitter on the #womenshould hashtag.
This bombshell comes in the same week as a very positive campaign being run by the BBC reaches its conclusion. During October 2013 the BBC’s 100 Women season has been exploring, through various programmes and articles, including interviews dug out of the BBC archive, what life for women in the 21st Century is like – the risks, challenges and opportunities they face every day, in every country. The month of activity concludes on Friday with a conference at the BBC’s London Headquarters, when 100 women from all over the world, representing many professions and backgrounds, will come together to talk about where they think the world’s women are today, and to set out their goals for the future.
The list of the 100 Women who will be taking part in Friday’s discussion is a timely reminder that although – as the Ogilvy campaign so forcefully points out – there are still major barriers in place of women’s economic, political and social empowerment across the globe, many are nevertheless overcoming the negativity and repression that surrounds them to do some truly inspiring things.
You can find out more about 100 Women here, or join the conversation on twitter on #100women.]]>
In this week’s Say NO – UNiTE Video of the Week, Daily Show host Jon Stewart is rendered speechless by Malala Yousafzai. Malala, who appeared on the late-night US comedy/talk show, walks Stewart through her thought process when she learned she might be a target of the Taliban’s guns because she was speaking out for education rights for herself and other girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Among other courageous conclusions, she tells herself that she “must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.”]]>
The discussion on the 9th focussed upon encouraging and supporting women’s empowerment through entrepreneurship, leadership and economic empowerment. This second annual Global You! event aimed to inspire and encourage female entrepreneurs to think globally, help them to achieve their ambitions and connect them with other like-minded women and organisations.
UN Women UK’s President shared her knowledge and experience of having worked with UN Women since 2004 and spoke about the barriers to women’s empowerment both in the UK and overseas. She also discussed UN Women’s strategic goals of helping to build peace and security, ending violence against women, achieving equality through leadership and participation and reducing poverty through economic empowerment.
Jan Grasty said,
“We’re delighted to engage with Nat West who are doing so much to recognise the needs of women in business and provide the kind of support which is most needed. We are also seeking to engage women and businesses in the North West either to become individual members of UN Women, engage with our Corporate Advisory Group and to talk to us about how they can help us to raise awareness of UN Women’s work.”
NatWest’s Regional Director, Peter Richardson, commented,
“Encouraging entrepreneurship is important for the recovery and growth of the UK economy and women have an important role to play. NatWest is committed to supporting female entrepreneurial talent across the UK, helping to remove barriers for women considering enterprise as a career option. By working in partnership we can share our expertise and knowledge to help women to achieve their immediate and long term business ambitions and provide valuable networking opportunities and support from like-minded organisations that support women. With this in mind we are delighted to deliver this opportunity for women in the region to engage with UN Women UK.”
Gemma Kirby, Regional Women in Business Specialist for the Greater Manchester Region, added,
“NatWest’s team of Women in Business Ambassadors was established in 2007 to support more women to start up and grow their businesses. The initial team of 12 Ambassadors has grown to over 200, helping almost 100,000 female customers. Earlier this year NatWest also introduced teams of Specialist Women in Business Relationship Managers who are undergoing a formal accreditation programme with Everywoman. NatWest is proud to support female entrepreneurship and to grow a vibrant SME market with supporting events, networking opportunities and awards. Having UN Women UK take part in Global You! has generated a great response from the region.”]]>
The recent gang rape in Delhi sparked a national debate in India and across the world about how women are treated. With this in mind, a recent event about violence against women and girls organised by the London branch of the UN Women UK National Committee proved timely in furthering the discussion. London member Malika Bouazzaoui reports -
Passionate about women’s empowerment and the role young people can play to combat violence against women and girls, Kimberley Green, who worked for the UK National Committee for UN Women as a voluntary assistant while completing her Master’s degree, shared her experience with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) where she supervised volunteers from the UK and India. She had spent eight months in Bihar and Jharkhand in the northeast of India where many women are illiterate and have experienced rape, sex-selective abortion and child marriage.
Kim was involved in organising self-help groups, where groups of women were given the means to develop micro-enterprises and resilience. These worked well when they built on existing community relationships but Kim noted that the men would always listen to the discussions and intervene when they disagreed. It was also difficult to hold these communities to account when the initial investment could not be traced.
To educate girls Kim also facilitated volunteer workshops on maternal and child rights and on reproductive health, after which the girls would pledge to spread their newly acquired knowledge.
Kim shared her experience of having to be chaperoned by male members of staff when she finished work after 6pm. She thinks this prevents women in the community from working to the best of their ability and spending longer hours in the office. It limits their career opportunities and as a result women tend to be more held back from senior positions than men.
In her role as supervisor Kim supported teams of UK volunteers who were, at times, shocked by the lowly conditions children from rural communities were living in. She observed that many children were severely malnourished and that nurses had to work in public places with old and dirty equipment. The experience of Indian volunteers was also telling. For example, one dropped out because her family did not approve of the work she was doing. Another female volunteer was bullied by male colleagues, who thought that as a married woman she should be performing her household duties.
During her time in India Kim was inspired by the women she met and helped. She spoke about one woman who had no children and felt under pressure from the community to start a family. The woman confided in Kim that several years ago she discovered that she was pregnant. But when her family learned that the baby was a girl, her uncle crept into her room at night and gave her an injection so she lost the baby. After this tragic event she could not consider becoming pregnant again and shielded her secret from the community. In spite of this she bravely remained positive, and devoted to her family.
Kim closed the event by celebrating the power of volunteers to bring a new perspective and to assist in driving community transformations from the grassroots level. However, she stressed that an understanding of the local language, customs and traditions is crucial in this work, hence the necessity to empower national volunteers too.
The London branch of UNWomen UKNC holds regular events for members covering a range of topics relevant to gender equality and empowering women. To find out more about becoming a member go to http://www.unwomenuk.org/get-involved/become-a-member/
A first of its kind, “Voices against Violence” is a co-educational curriculum designed for age groups ranging from 5 to 25 years. It provides girls, boys, and young women and men with tools and expertise to understand the root causes of violence in their communities, to educate and involve their peers and communities to prevent such violence, and to learn about where to access support if they experience violence.
Working with youth organizations, UN partners and governments, UN Women and WAGGGS will roll out the curriculum to young people around the world. It will be adapted to national context, translated into local languages, and reach an estimated five million children and young people by 2020.
“We need to expand quality education that empowers girls, breaks gender stereotypes, and achieves real social change. Education can play a key role in ending violence against women and girls and partnerships are critical to move this forward,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director. “We are very excited about our partnership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts on this pioneering effort to prevent violence against women and girls worldwide,” she added.
With 1 in 3 women and girls experiencing abuse in their lifetime, violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation. Gender-based violence starts early, and girls and young women are particularly vulnerable. Over 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16 years. Globally, one in three girls are married before the age of 18, and one in nine before they turn 15.
“When we reached out to girls and young women around the world and asked what was important to them, they told us that they wanted to take a lead on tackling violence against girls and young women and that they wanted the World Association to work alongside them to do this”, said Mary Mc Phail, Chief Executive of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. “As part of our Stop the Violence campaign, Voices against Violence is our first response; and with this programme we aim to go from a whisper of resistance to a shout of outrage, to stop the violence.”
The new curriculum stems from the understanding that prevention should start early in life, when values and norms around gender equality are formed, by educating girls and boys about respectful relationships and gender equality. Effective prevention efforts entail a cross-generational approach, working within schools and communities, and providing young people the tools they need to challenge gender stereotypes, discrimination and violence.
Members of the Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting Movement can earn a ‘badge’ by completing a set of six age-appropriate sessions from the curriculum. Sessions can range from the youngest groups starting out with storytelling and games that prompt them to think about gender bias and stereotypes, while older age groups might organize poster competitions, visit and volunteer with local shelters, or develop local community-based campaigns and projects to address specific forms of violence against girls and women.
For more information on Voices against Violence, go to the UNWomen website here