Monday, November 29, 2010

Days: 4-5: Be Your Own Expert; Women-Human Rights: Violence is Not Our Culture

Day 4: Who's the expert? Break a Myth!

See the assorted actions that challenge media's self-appointed experts and consider even starting your own wiki (if you are not sick of wikileak stories that ignore women's issues)...

We also need to acknowledge our own expertise. In Patricia Hill Collins' book, Black Feminist Thought (chapter 11, 2nd ed): she challenges definitions of positivist experts and proposes a Black Feminist Epistemology (how we know what we know) or four criteria that are helpful for all of us.

1) We look at/respect the "experts'" lived experiences and their knowledge-wisdom
2) We use dialogue in assessing claims re knowledge or expertise and willingness to share back and forth.
3) We use ethic of caring--talking from the heart & respect.
4) We have personal accountability for one's expertise and how results or expertise are used; motives

These four points are in contrast to positivist methodology that emphasizes:
1) distance between research and subject;
2) absence of emotions;
3) "value" free
4) adversarial debates decide truth

For dealing with statistics and VAW, Hill Collins' criteria have guided my own work as a sociologist-feminist from the North. I value women's lived experiences with VAW and their own lives through my own research and spending time in women's lives and experiences in Bangladesh. I listened to and engaged in dialogue about my own understandings and women's and men's understandings. I also learned to be open about my own values, roles, and perspectives in gathering the oral and statistical data. Some times, based on these experiences, dialogues and feedback with Bangladesh colleagues, staff, and respondents, I changed my research questions, methodologies, and perspectives.

For example, instead of just listing signs of an abused woman in the Bangladesh domestic violence resource brochure, AKM Saiful Islam and I listed the signs of a good relationship (eng p2;. bn p2) first and signs of abusive relationships second. At the same time, I maintained that VAW was NOT just a matter of culture. Finally, I sought to be accountable for my research and my presence as well as the consequences for women participants and staff as I shared the research.

I suggest incorporating these criteria on our ways to empowering women to become experts in their own lives: listen to the women and their expertise because they have lived through VAW and suffered the consequences as well as being experts on survival. Support those who work through legal, political, and institutions to end violence against women. Share your experiences with one another inside and outside of the family to end the isolation and conspiracy of silence to maintain honor. Finally, reach out to one another if you suspect abuse.

Likewise, often when men heard that I was doing research on VAW in Bangladesh, they told me that they also were abused. I started listening to their narratives and learned what experiences they had defined as abuse: harsh words-actions from their spouse, socio-emotional dynamics of couples, and dowry and other pressures from their families. Although none of these narratives justified the physical, socio-emotional abuse, and abandonment of wives, the men's narratives gave me more insights on domestic violence in Bangladesh and possible solutions.

Day 5: Violence is not Our Culture--International Campaign

Read more about the campaign to stop stoning, honor killings, and other violence against women in the same of culture, religion, or tradition. Support women who bravely speak up for women's and human rights rather than demonizing and punishing them in the name of culture, religion.

Likewise, hold politicians accountable for what I call "opportunistic use of gender", where they use women's issues, rights, and/or violence against women as justifications for military action most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other arenas. Then assorted leaders turn to "cultural" reasons for ignoring women rights, empowerment and well-being in these countries' new/old regimes and in the presence of USA and allied forces for nine years! Ann Jones in argues that "Afghan women have already been abandoned." For example, escalating violence against women is cited as a reason for the USA presence in Afghanistan despite increasing Talibanization of Afghanistan. Male leaders have excluded women from negotiations-deliberations about reintegration of the Taliban.

So please read these and the women's stories from around the world on the campaign website...culture increasingly has been used to justify violence in the USA- Dr. Tiller's murder as well as around the world.

See also: Zainab Salbi: Women, wartime and the dream of peace | Video on

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 3: feminist slogans, actions, t-shirts

Daily Actions and Discussion from TBTT (click here)

Each day, we wear assorted clothes and items from our wardrobes, which can include t-shirts with various trademarks (walking billboards) and/or other messages that we want to convey. Some of us have more agency than others about what we want to wear: social pressures-approval from parents, friends, standards in our countries, our gender-expression, race-ethnicity, class, and even religious beliefs and/or our willingness to draw attention to ourselves also shape what we can wear. In the USA, even the curvy shapes of our clothes can have gender-race/ethnic meanings. Or in Bangladesh and other countries, shawls and baggy kameez & salwar obscure the curves of women's bodies; burkhas cover even more. However, these clothes can hide many forms of resistance and transgressions.

Such clothes make the wearing of t-shirts with mottos and slogans somewhat tricky. Nonetheless, women manage many statements--covered and uncovered--through their t-shirts (diy or bought), chanted slogans in marches and demonstrations, "Hay, ho, patriarchy has got to go!; women united will never be defeated") feminist buttons (click on all buttons for ordering information & items from Peace and/or google for other suppliers or get your own buttonmaker!), and of course, the TBTT's participant generated postcards.

I can trace my own feminist herstory through the feminist-activist t-shirts (and buttons) that I have worn over time: take back the night marches in Iowa City, Iowa and Carbondale, Illinois; Emma Goldman women's clinic (abortion and reproductive services), 1985 anniversary Michigan Women's Music Festival (motto: see you in august!), and one of my own diy: outlaw virgin (based on Marilyn Frye's argument that we need to reclaim the original definition of virgin--a woman in control of herself/body instead of later definitions of "untouched" by a man. This shirt generated many looks and comments at the local mall and my university. Later I translated this into Bangla for people who inquired about my marital status and marriage resisters: "shakti kumari" [strong unmarried virgin woman]. No t-shirts or buttons, however.

I look forward to the generation and proliferation of new slogans in all languages, cultures and formats as we continue to agitate and educate. For example, this t-shirt (and others) that can be purchased from Hijabman:

click on picture for ordering info and more pithy t-shirts

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 2: Get the statistics & petition a politician!

check out the TTBT campaign video and the linked videos below

Daily Actions
read more on the TBTT site

As a sociologist, I've known the difficulties of collecting and compiling data over time on sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence in my university town(s) as well as my more recent experiences working on domestic violence issues in Bangladesh. "Official" population or survey data are limited owing to the sensitivity of the questions as well as the survivors' experiences definition of harassment, rape, sexual assault and of shame-blame/honor/family and so forth. These data challenges occur around the world.

In the USA, we have had access to such data since the 1980s and we still have varying estimates such as 1 in 3 women experience sexual assault in their lifetimes and 1/4 domestic violence. Definitions also vary among researchers in USA and else where. Do these estimates refer to harsh words, grabbing, hitting, injuring, rape, and/or some combination, including death? Some women seek an order of protection, which may restrict contact with an abuser, but doesn't provide ironclad security against another assault. The filing of charges and convictions are even lower although changes in laws, police enforcement, legal advocates, and support have improved reporting and sanctions from previous levels. For example, when I started teaching at my university in the early 1980s, women students who reported stalking by men had few legal options. These newer laws had provided some legal recourse (although still difficult to charge and prosecute).

All these factors have led to ongoing underestimates of the problems and less attention to the causes and solutions by lawmakers, legal authorities, governments, and civil society. Ironically, domestic violence shelters have seen more demands for their services during the ongoing economic recession, while the state governments and funders have dramatically cut their funding. So one action for these 16 days might be to donate money, goods, and time to local domestic violence shelters and programs.

This use/misuse of ICT has received some attention mostly in widely publicized cases of abuse/bullying on basis of gender, sexuality, race-ethnicity (or intersections) on social networking sites by fake accounts, mobiles-cell phone use of photos, videos, sexting, and other activities. These forms of harassment have led to suicides, deaths, and socio-emotional trauma and only then do we hear about more cases across the USA. At the same time, some cell apps such as Hollaback can help pinpoint harassers and their locations. Once again we need more systematic data on these abuses as well as timely education and solutions on bullying, abuse of power, and harassment via newer forms of ICT such as social networks, smart phones, video cameras, and more!

In contexts where government and legal authorities have ignored or paid limited attention to sexual assault and domestic violence in the paucity of laws or enforcement and gathering data, we need to encourage the gathering of good, quality, and unbiased data on these crimes and their legal outcomes as well as concrete action and education. Meanwhile governments, schools, and parents will continue ignore how harassers and abusers find ways to use ICT to harass and abuse women through phone calls, social networks, sexting, broadcase of videos-photos (from mobiles and webcams) and more. Education also includes training young women and men on the vagaries and respectful use of ICT. For example, when posting "fun party" pictures on the internet, many people remain unaware that their images and words will stay on the internet and social networking sites. These materials can be retrieved by employers and future partners & in-laws by a simple google search. Some posters/postees have lost their jobs as a result. Likewise, adda-gossip-and facts about certain domestic violence-murder cases that went viral out on social media continue to circulate. This information can serve to inform-alert as well as serve as cautionary tales for what happens if women do and/or do not speak up. The TTBT site has many good suggestions and ideas for safe surfing and participation.

This brings me specifically to Bangladesh, which only in spring 2010 approved legislation against domestic violence despite rates that rank among the highest in the world. Unfortunately, the enforcement of laws against violence against women such as sexual assault, acid throwing, and sexual harassment, eve-teasing, and bullying have been limited and politicized. As more girls and young women attend schools, eve-teasing (illegal in Bangladesh) has limited women's education and mobility (see Bangladesh battles sexual bullying) and increased young women's suicides. In response the government has increased some police patrols outside of schools and some undercover women police in schools. This media report 500 arrests...and I wonder how many convictions and actual punishment for these actions and when eve-teasers turn on guardians?

As more and more Bangladeshi have acquired mobiles, such devices have become another vehicle for communication and harassment (ofen anon.) especially among young women and men who have little experience with respectful communication with each other. I observed this among male staff in a research project who used their mobiles in courting phone calls (bhalobashi kotha--love talk--I called it). Computer teachers and I talked with young women who came to the now closed Nari Jibon office in their mobile and internet communication including voice chats. We tried to provide some training on safe use of the internet and ICT. I wonder how they are faring in the expanded use of mobiles as well as the limited safe cyber cafes-spaces of the internet?

This can even affect bideshis (foreigners) as myself with unwanted phone calls by men who randomly call numbers until they reach a woman, esp foreigner (I've written about this in earlier blogposts). I threatened to call the mobile provider and police if he persisted in his phone calls. If politicians and law enforcers lack the will to deal with existing laws while insisting that every cell phone be registered to a listed person, then once again overburdened women's organizations and like-minded allies-- including the media-- must document and publicize the various ICT abuses and incidents.

So reach out and "touch" some one respectfully with kind, thoughtful words via your venue of choice...and insist that we have good data and practices dealing with those who abuse ICT.

In line with Day 3, on slogans....Refuse to be Abused....

Thursday, November 25, 2010

25 Nov 2010 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 2010: 16 days of activism
Take Back The Tech! is a collaborative campaign that takes place during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (25 Nov - 10 Dec). It is a call to everyone - especially women and girls - to take control of technology to end violence against women.

Please check out the TBTT website for daily actions, resources, videos, and activism. You can also sign up for the Take Back the Tech group on Facebook and/or follow via Twitter

You can view their video as well as others around the web.

On going illness has continued hinder my writing, reading, and postings. This year I intend to return to my daily blogging on these issues and others, which have remained very important to me and many others. I have done some of my writing and commentary on my facebook and delicious accounts where I have posted-book marked relevant articles as well share them with my students.

For example, I will note-discuss the ongoing problems of VAW with eve-teasing in Bangladesh and other countries where the harassers have returned to murder guardians who protested their harassment and other issues such as implementation of the new domestic violence laws. I will continue to share resources-research such as my website on Bangladesh and USA resources on domestic violence as well as the Out Against Abuse site for South Asian diaspora (also on Facebook)

Finally, I remain interested in issues of women, work, and empowerment in the global economy as well as emerging interests in social justice, commodity chains, food, security, and plant-based and vegan diets.