Academics, journalists, jurists and political and NGO leaders gathered on June 1st at the European Parliament offices in Madrid to debate the international patterns and causes of violence against women and the responses to a problem which, according to WHO data, affects one in three women worldwide.
Alison Brysk, Professor of Global Governance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Scientific Coordinator of issue 117 of Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionals, used her presentation to set out the causes and patterns of gender-based violence and the responses to it at international level in her presentation The Struggle for Freedom from Fear: Contesting Violence against Women at the Frontiers of Globalization.
In a previous interview for CIDOB, Alison Brysk sought to emphasise that gender violence occurs in contexts of both war and peace, in democracies and authoritarian regimes, and at the hands of both state and military actors and private civic and/or transnational actors – from bosses, relatives, neighbours and friends to traditional authorities. This is because the pathologies of patriarchy, Brysk added, are present in every society, although the levels and patterns of gender-based abuse vary. This is what Brysk calls the “gender regime”, which is a combination of a society’s institutions, practices and cultural expectations regarding the social, sexual and reproductive behaviour of its women and men.
To the question of what academia can bring to the struggle against gender-based violence, Alison Brysk showed that the social sciences can guide the analysis of the roots and structural causes of this kind of violence, as well as providing a comparative human rights framework for a subject “too often seen as a personal, cultural, or psychological problem”. She also underlined the importance of academic study of the responses to gender-based violence to aid the design of more targeted and effective policies and campaigns.
For Alison Brysk, if reproductive control is the end goal of the gender regime, advancing reproductive rights will be the key to changing that regime. “Reproductive and sexual human rights are the right response to the culture of rape”, Brysk concluded.
Women refugees: a double vulnerability?
Blanca Garcés, Senior Research Fellow at CIDOB, focussed part of her contribution on answering the question: Are women more vulnerable in contexts of conflict, refugees and population flows?
Gender-based violence, forced marriage, genital mutilation, feminicide, sterilisation, selective abortion, honour crimes and human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation are some of the reasons people may be considered refugees for gender reasons. “But beyond people who are refugees for being women or refugees for gender reasons, we have refugee women who are subject to specific forms of violence”, Garcés explained. “They are not refugees because they are women, but they are female refugees suffering from a double vulnerability”.
The forms of persecution and violence in conflict settings are not gender neutral. “Rape has been a weapon of war for some time”. Rape is a form of perpetuating social control, redrawing ethnic boundaries. “Raping women and making them pregnant is a way of destroying the adversary's community; it is a form of genocide”, Garcés stated. Rape is used as a way to humiliate, destroy and punish opposition groups.
Blanca Garcés also wanted to make it clear that sexual violence against women goes beyond the conflict situations mentioned above, as it also takes place in contexts of impunity that arise during flight (mafias, refugee camps) or in post-conflict settings. Finally, this researcher wanted to highlight that “the need for women refugees to demonstrate vulnerability to obtain the right to asylum is the last violence they suffer. It is an institutional violence that deprives them of agency”.
The launch of Afers issue 117 took place on June 1st in the European Parliament’s Madrid office. The director, María Andrés Marín, made it clear the institution she represents was committed to working on gender issues by driving initiatives like the #DóndeEstánEllas manifesto and supporting projects like CIDOB's Afers magazine itself. María Andrés Marín presented and welcomed people to the event along with Anna Estrada, the Deputy Director of Executive Coordination at CIDOB. In her statement, the latter sought to underline the appropriateness of dedicating an issue of Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionals to gender-based violencefrom the international relations perspective and highlighted the academic publication’s track record of 35 years of bringing together recognised experts in the international relations field, and whose digital version is consulted on average 200,000 times a year.
Following the statements made by Alison Brysk and Blanca Garcés, Elisabet Mañé, CIDOB's Publications Officer and Editor of Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionals, led the moderation of the subsequent audience debate.
>> Access issue 117 of Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionalshere
Video Interview with Alison Brysk (see below)