Women Studies Departments in Indian Universities face threat of closure

Dr Geentanjali Ganjoli, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, School for Policy Studies, discusses the future of Women’s Studies in India.

There are 163 Women’s Studies Centres (WSCs), funded under the University Grants Commission (UGC) in universities and colleges across India, most of which now face the threat of being wound up after September 2017.

Concerns over the future of the Centres were originally raised in March 2017 but were temporarily allayed when the UGC issued a public notice on 29th March stating that all existing schemes would continue for the fiscal year 2017-18. However, on 16th June, the UGC published a revised notice that ongoing schemes under the Plan Head would be funded only up to September 2017.

The women’s studies centres in India are organically allied to feminist movements in India, and are historically linked to the UN international decade for women (1975-85), and the Status of Women Report led by a group of Indian feminists in 1974, which revealed the myriad social and economic hardships and inequalities suffered by Indian women. Women’s Studies was introduced into the National Policy of Education in 1986. The late 1970s and 1980s also saw the rise of women’s movements’ campaigns against forms of violence against women, including rape, sexual harassment in public spaces and the workplace, dowry, domestic violence, representation of women in the media and female infanticide, and is also linked to wider secular movements.

These concerns have always been represented in the teaching and research interests of women’s studies departments in India. For instance, the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT University, which was the first women’s studies department set up in the country in 1974, conducts action research programmes on topics as varied as assessing the extent of sexual harassment in university campuses, research on problems faced by the girl child within the family, and teaches women’s studies at Masters and research PhD levels.

In spite of the intellectual and political insights provided by women’s studies scholars in India, the discipline itself has often been treated as marginal by universities and funding bodies. One suggestion is that the challenges to patriarchy and gender roles posed by the Women’s Studies Centres threaten the inherent misogyny within the academy, and this may the reason why this discipline is under threat now. As observers of Indian society are aware, women students have always been subjected to discriminatory policies. Examples of this include: curfews for women in hostels, women students being evicted from their hostels in the summer break and dress codes imposed on female students in different universities.

Within this context, the threat to women’s studies centres indicates the further shrinkage of secular and feminist spaces within Indian academia, and is concerning particularly within the wider context of the rise of misogyny and right-wing Hindu politics in the country, and indeed internationally.

The Centre for Gender and Violence Research has always had close working and personal connections with women’s studies departments in India, and elsewhere, and this is reflected in our new journal in its scope, editorial board and papers. The first issue of the journal has an interesting paper written by academics from the Women’s Studies Centre in Tata Institute of Social Sciences which showcases the work of women’s studies departments in India in terms of its links to activism and feminist concerns with regard to policy and practice on gender based violence.

To read more articles like this, sign up for a free trial of the Journal for Gender Based Violence.

Sexual violence in India: feminists and others

Geetanjali Gangoli, from the School for Policy Studies, discusses the issues raised by ‘India’s daughter’

The recent furore around the BBC Four documentary, India’s Daughter, has once again brought to the forefront the issue of sexual violence in India. Sexual violence continues to be a serious issue for Indian women. The latest crime statistics released by the Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB, 2014) show that 93 women are raped every day in the country. The number of reported rapes a day has increased nearly by 700% per cent since 1971 — when such cases were first recorded by the NCRB.

GG

The documentary, made for BBC by a British filmmaker Lesley Udwin was based on the well publicised rape and murder of 23 year old student, Jyoti Singh in a bus in New Delhi, and featured controversial interviews with Mukesh Singh, one of the six men accused in the case. He is currently on death row, awaiting an appeal to the Supreme Court, and he made several misogynist statements about the victim, including arguing that women were more responsible for rape than men were. He also argued that the woman should not have fought back, and that if he was executed, that it may lead to murders of rape victims. The film also included interviews with the defence lawyers, who also argued that the victim should not have been out at night with a male friend, and with her quietly dignified parents, and friend, whose voices are used effectively to challenge these pervasive rape myths.

As is well known by now, a group of feminists wrote an open letter to NDTV, an Indian news channel, which was planning to air the documentary on March 8th 2015 (at the same time as BBC Four), asking them to show restraint and postpone the broadcast, as the appeal against the death sentences is still pending; but also raising some other objections to the film, including that it promoted ‘hate speech’ against women, that it could lead to increased violence against women, and that it included graphic and gratuitous descriptions of sexual violence. The Indian government however banned the film, on the grounds that it violated ‘permission guidelines’ in airing the interviews with Mukesh Singh, and his comments were ‘highly derogatory’ and violated the dignity of women.

The documentary was, however, aired on BBC Four and released on you tube, rendering the ban ineffective. Since the ban, a number of interesting feminist views on this issue have been voiced, not one of them supporting the ban. What to me has been most impressive is that Indian feminists have been one of the strongest voices standing for the rights of the accused to a free trial (even and especially in a case where the ‘facts’ of the case appear to be clear), and arguing that the death penalty is not only counterproductive, but against feminist principles.

The film itself is interesting and well made, though at points tends to suggest that not much happened in the public and social sphere against sexual violence in India before this particular case, and that sexual violence owes much to poverty, deprivation and social exclusion made worse by globalization, and commodification of women. It projects Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder as emerging from a clash of culture between the upwardly mobile, forward thinking section of Indian society and the socially excluded working class, who have not been able to benefit from globalization. By virtue of omission, it also tends to project sexual violence as happening primarily in the public sphere, by strangers, rather than within the domestic sphere. Recent statistics released by the Delhi police suggest that in over 95% of all recorded cases of sexual violence, the accused was either a family member or known to the victim.

Indian feminists have of course, challenged these rape myths since the 1970s. They have constructed sexual violence as an act of patriarchal power and control, rather than as class warfare, and pointed to the endemic nature of rape and assault across social class, caste and region. Even though most cases of sexual violence around which Indian feminist campaigns have been centred on the rapes of working class and/or Dalit women by those in power (for e.g. the Mathura rape case in the late 1970s, and Bhanwari Devi case in the 1990s), feminists have placed sexual violence as an integral part of the domestic sphere, and demands have been made to the State to criminalise marital rape since the early 1980s. That these have still not been met reflects the pervasive nature of popular beliefs of the sanctity of marriage as a ‘private’ sphere, and the acceptance of male entitlement to women’s bodies, particularly in the home and within the private sphere.

Feminists have always (often simultaneously) collaborated with and opposed State (and media) engagement with gender based violence. Following Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder, feminist groups have fed into Justice Verma Committee , a committee made up of Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Leila Seth (both retired judges) and Gopal Subramanium constituted by the Government to look into possible amendments to the Criminal Justice Law ‘to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals committing sexual assault of extreme nature against women’, and some recommendations of the committee were passed into law through ordinance in early 2013. In opposition to feminist demands, the ordinance retained the marital rape exemption; therefore women in violent and abusive marriages continue to be unable to access the law when raped by intimates. It also created the offence of rape and sexual assault as a gender neutral offence, both in terms of perpetrators and victims, in ‘everyday contexts’ as well as the aggravated rape cases (e.g. gang rape and custodial rape cases).

Demands for legal changes are often an immediate response to social issues, especially in the area of gender based violence, but even moderate ‘successes’ – such as the inclusion of the custodial rape clause and the repeal of the ‘past sexual history’ clause – are often rendered useless where social attitudes regarding women’s sexuality remain unchanged. Legal intervention, even where unsuccessful or partially successful, therefore, must be seen as part of multiple strategies within the Indian women’s movement which seek to challenge, redefine and reshape patriarchal conceptualizations of women’s sexuality in law and society.

Celebrating 25 years of Gender Violence Research @ Bristol Policy Studies.
Save the date: June 15th 2015.

You the man

Geetanjali Gangoli, from the School for Policy Studies, on a novel way of changing attitudes to gender violence

There is increasing interest in the role of bystanders in preventing gender-based violence. You the Man is a 35 minute theatre- production combined with workshop that promotes bystander engagement addressing the themes of: promoting equal and respectful relationships between men and women; promoting non-violent social norms and reducing the effects of prior exposure to violence (especially on children); and improving access to resources and systems of support. The project has been used internationally in the fields of education, workplaces, local government, health and community services and the community.

 The University of Bristol’s Centre for Gender Violence and Research hosted a You the Man workshop last month led by international contributors Professor Ann Taket from Deakin University, Australia, Professor Cathy Plourde and actor Glenn Maynard. It brought together an audience of 25 local practitioners and policy makers. This group comprised advocates (such as Next Linkthe BridgeBristol Rape Crisis),  local community networks and agencies (including Bangladeshi Association, the Barton Hill Settlement), youth organisers (such as the Prince’s Trust), Bristol City Council and representatives from Bristol University and UWE.

The 35 minute one man play is based on responses and fears expressed by six men responding to the dating violence experienced by a young woman university student, Jana. It highlights the seriousness of unhealthy relationships and dating violence and how early intervention by family and friends may be able to help victims in these situations.

The play was followed by a panel discussion involving Professor Ann Taket, Professor Cathy Plourde, Glenn Maynard, Dr Geetanjali Gangoli, Dr Christine Barter (expert in intimate partner violence in teenage relationships), and Shabana Kauser-Iqbal from Women’s Aid and the Sky Project, an expert in BME communities. Having originated in Australia, the play was critiqued by the audience as to its ‘translatability’ into a UK context and more specifically to BME and/or sexual minority communities. Having already been effectively translated from its original American setting to an Australian setting, it was considered to be suitable for adaption to a UK audience (with further consultation with minority groups) – and particular interest was shown in introducing the play in university settings.  The audience heard about evaluations undertaken showing that the play was effective in changing attitudes to sexual and domestic violence in both the short and long term. Queries were raised about the need for support services not only for victims of sexual and domestic violence, but also for family members and friends; such support was said to exist to a limited degree in Bristol.

The play is a powerful and simple tool, requiring minimal resource. It can be effective as part of the strategy towards prevention of gender-based violence, increasing awareness, providing resource information, and changing attitudes to sexual and domestic abuse. This workshop is the first step to enable us in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research to build on our existing networks with practitioners and policy makers. It could be effectively used in conjunction with existing local programmes on reducing and preventing gender-based violence. We anticipate that such an initiative has potential to demonstrate long term impact and to change local policies.

GGDr Geetanjali Gangoli organised and moderated the workshop on behalf of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research. The workshop was supported by PolicyBristol, where this post was first published

Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in the School for Policy Studies, discusses gendered violence

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People around the World are currently engaged in 16 days of activism against gendered violence.  Communities across different nations are challenging the inequality which some men interpret as an excuse to violate and oppress those, predominately women and children, who are more vulnerable than themselves.

This image is being used with permission from J.Fleming

This is a global phenomenon which has landed in the middle of our city of Bristol. I drove past the Premier Inn on my way to work this morning.  The same hotel where last week it was revealed that a young, vulnerable, girl of 13 had been raped and sexually abused by a group of men who had been grooming her for sexual exploitation.  That building used to house Bristol Social Services.

It is possible that I have met this young woman, or someone like her, during the course of our research on the needs of homeless women or in the recent evaluation of a nearby Child Sexual Exploitation project.

She could be Jasmine, not her real name, who we first met when she was 19.

But when I got kicked out the last time, that was the only person who I could go to … but he’s on like a paedophile thing, he’s on the sex offenders for life … and he’s just not right in the head. […] Not … he never done nothing to me … or that I know about … cos he could have done it when I was asleep … but I never felt safe there. It was just horrible. (Jasmine, age 19)

When we spoke to her again, she told us

When I think back to that I do get very paranoid thinking he might have put stuff in my drink and … cos I just would not put it past him.  And … but I try not to think of it, cos I’d never find out now. (Jasmine, age 19)

When Jasmine told us about this she did so with a resignation and matter of fact honesty.  She genuinely does not know, on that occasion, if she was sexually assaulted or not.  The rest of Jasmine’s story has an inevitability about it, for example she told us about both her current and ex- ‘boyfriend’:

One time my ex-boyfriend, he hit me before … this was like proper punches to the head … never got the police involved when I should have.  But this one’s a bit different – although he’s physical, he’s like in your head.  That’s what he’s more like – he tries brainwashing you. (Jasmine, age 19)

And about how she coped with alcohol and drugs:

I know it sounds stupid, but I was just thinking a bit religiously and thinking it’s not natural, this is not what God like wanted you to do – take drugs and drink all the time. There’s got to be more to life than that (Jasmine, age 19).

Speaking with older homeless women, the vast majority of whom had experienced domestic or sexual violence throughout their lives and used alcohol and drugs as a coping strategy, demonstrates how the abuse of vulnerable girls and women continues overtime with immeasurable personal costs.

Blossom was 52 when we spoke to her:

[…] this person I’d known from last year, […] he harassed me going along the road, he wouldn’t leave me alone … he said “I need to talk to you” … and the outcome was I was assaulted […] And you see the thing is I knew him when I had nowhere to live, and I stayed there for a night.  And people don’t realise how vulnerable you are when you have nowhere to go. […] you’re vulnerable to all sorts of people.  And believe me I’ve met people that are not nice, and they take advantage of the situation. (Blossom, age 52)

Or Daisy and Ginger who spoke to us about staying in a mixed homeless hostel:

[…] the mixed [shelter], it ain’t safe in there because being women, sometimes I’d get a lot of attention from men, you know?  […] you don’t like waking up in the night getting touched or things going that shouldn’t be going on, you know what I mean?   (Daisy, age 30)

Yeah it’s mostly men, there’s only four women there.  It can be a bit agitating, cos the men there think they can just grab you when they’re drunk and do what they like, you know, but they can’t really can they? (Ginger, age 49)

The Bristol case yet again highlights the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable girls but it also challenges us all, as a society to reconsider how we respond to victims and how we all contribute to the reality in which abusive behaviours, across the continuum from wolf whistling to rape, are experienced and understood.

Whilst the media is rightly abhorred by the rape and sexual exploitation of young vulnerable girls, it doesn’t ask about the wider dynamics of gender and power which contribute to such abuse taking place.  When exploited girls talk about perpetrators as their ‘boyfriends’ it is in a context where society teaches young women to judge their self-worth on the basis of women’s objectification in the eyes of men.  Where they are bombarded by objectifying images on a daily basis in our newspapers, on TV, and on the cover of magazines.  Where senior executives from one of our national TV stations think it is ok to represent the harassment and abuse of women as tongue in cheek comedy entertainment.

In Bristol we have a council that sanctions licenses for sexual entertainment venues – whilst simultaneously seeking to educate young people in the city about respectful relationships. What we need to realise is that the violence and abuse experienced by women and children is inextricably linked to gender and inequality.  If we fail to challenge the latter, we fail to address the root causes of abuse and let victims and survivors down.

Dr Emma Williamson

Anyone who wishes to donate to a local Bristol charity which works with vulnerable women in relation to sexual exploitation might wish to donate to:

http://one25.org.uk/

http://www.sarsas.org.uk/

 

Understanding Gender Based Violence within national and international contexts

GG NANadia Aghtaie and Geetanjali Gangoli from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research in the School for Policy Studies introduce their new book

The endemic, universal and multifaceted nature of gender based violence is what drives the work of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research (CGVR), at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol. Through our recent book (Aghtaie, N. and Gangoli, G. eds (2014) Understanding Gender Based Violence. National and international contexts. Routledge), we aim not only to contribute to scholarly debates on gender and violence,  but also to showcase some of the pioneering and original research conducted by members of the CGVR.  All the chapters in this book have contributions from current and former members of staff or post graduate research students attached to the CGVR.

While the Centre was formally created in 2009, members of the Centre have a long history of researching gender based violence at a local, national and international level, and feeding this into policy and practice. The CGVR grew organically from the Violence Against Women Research Group (2003) that emerged from the Domestic Violence Research Group (1990).All the members of the CGVR identify as feminist, and have a personal passion to end GBV, and our research has always originated from this desire.018

The CGVR works on all forms of GBV and interventions challenging it, and explores how violence, gender and power operate within intimate partner, interpersonal and structural violence, for example in the context of domestic abuse, prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation of women and girls, rape and sexual violence, domestic violence and disabled women and gender based violence for BME communities, young people’s experiences of intimate partner violence, online and offline,  same sex domestic violence and abuse, and international and comparative research on gender based violence, in a variety of contexts.

Based on the varied research conducted by members of the CGVR, the book aims to highlight the continuing, pervasive and varied nature of gender based violence in a range of countries and contexts, such as the UK, India, Iran, Rwanda and China. The chapters in the book focus on the importance of context and structure both nationally and internally The book both builds on, and expands on existing research, theories and methodologies on the issue; as well as, enters into some under researched geographical areas; and issues, such as children’s and young people’s experiences and attitudes to gender based violence and disability and domestic violence.

The book gives a taste of the many projects, studies, international reach and contributions to theories and practice of the CGVR. The Centre is now one of the largest research centre on gender based violence in Europe. Ultimately we believe and hope that the work done by the Centre does and will contribute to a more egalitarian society, where women, men and children, are free of the pressures to ‘do gender’ and are free of violence and abuse. This is, in our view, the core of feminist research.

The book will be launched on the 3rd December 2014 at the Common Room, 8 Priory Road, Bristol.  All welcome – book here!