Geographical Frontiers of Gendered Violence

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Geographical Frontiers of Gendered Violence

This suite of interventions aims to generate belated conversation across geography on gendered violences. As such, it brings together and formalises dialogue convened at the Royal Geographical Society-with IBG (RGS-IBG) Annual Conference 2013 on the theme of ‘new geographical frontiers’. Organised by the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG) as part of the ‘100+’ series of events marking the centenary of women’s admission to the RGS-IBG, a plenary panel on gendered violences provided case study insights from the Global North and South on this pressing issue. Contributors were posed three questions to shape their respective presentations: first, are gendered violences universally or spatially differentiated and, if so, what does this tell us? Second, how are particular forms of violence shaped by gender and other axes of difference? And third, how do gendered networks (informal and institutionalised) perpetrate or resist particular forms of violence? (1) In response, the interventions attest to gendered violences that are physical, sexual, and/or psychological and extend to rape [interventions 1 & 2], domestic and state-sponsored violence [intervention 3] and religious and racial hate crime [intervention 4]. Whilst far from exhaustive, collectively these interventions highlighted a multiple set of gendered violences that affect the lives of women and men in different settings.

Since the mid-1990s, geographers have worked to expose the gendered violences of public space, particularly in the West. Revolving around women’s fear of violence by men, this literature (e.g. Pain 1991, Valentine 1989) highlighted the apparent paradox of women’s fear of violence from unknown men in public spaces, compared to the greater likelihood of women experiencing violence from known men in the domestic sphere (Mehta and Bondi 1999). This work was later followed by a smaller literature on men’s experiences of violence including Brownlow’s (2005) research on the intersection of ethnicity, class and gender which made African-American men the group most likely to experience violence in public spaces of the United States.

Akin to sociology, which has been less concerned with ‘the specifics of interpersonal violence, domestic violence or violence in intimacy’ (Hearn, 2012: 153), geography has only recently begun re-orienting its focus to ‘private’ spaces of violence. Indeed, this is something raised in Rachel Pain’s (2014a, b) recent work where she writes with specific reference to domestic violence that it remains ‘the elephant in the room. We know it is present, not just as something that happens in distant locations to distant others, but in many of our own lives’ (2014b: 2). The ground-breaking work on geographies of gender and violence that appeared in the 1990s and early 2000s is now being extended in range and enriched by research that explores wider geographies of gendered violences both within, but critically beyond, public spaces of the Global North. This emerging body of social, political and development geography scholarship encompasses work as diverse as the gendering of gang involvement and punishment in Brazil (Wilding, 2013); the impact of non-formal education to empower girls to claim rights to be free from violence in Kenya (Cobbett, 2015); and the policing of intimate partner violence in the United States (Cuomo, 2013).

While gendered violences are not by any means a ‘new’ geographical frontier of encounter, the interventions here seek to support and encourage ‘new’ work on this arena of concern across sub-disciplinary boundaries. The interventions illustrate, for example, how gendered violences are both grounded in the everyday, but also surpass the marker of daily struggle. They counter what Anderson and Smith (2001: 9) have described as ‘anemic knowledges predicated on the artificial separation of private and public, body and citizens, domestic and global’. Together all four pieces echo the point made by fellow geographer Cathy McIllwaine (2013: 66) that gendered violences are ‘not only “social” in nature, as it usually assumed’, but are ‘a form of political, institutional and economic violence’. Likewise, Pain (2014a,b) argues, domestic violence needs to be seen as a form of political influence or control achieved through fear, and thus acts as a form of terrorism. In this spirit, these interventions signal the need for, and potential of, critical, social, cultural, economic, and political geographies to contribute to the critique of violences and their gendered dynamics.

Indeed, as [intervention 1] goes on to detail with reference to the Badaun rapes in India, this focus on spatialities matters: ‘it is the lack of critical reflection on the spatiality and intersectionality of this violence across the divides of public/private that is ultimately stifling potentially progressive interventions’. Through the lens of different Indian laws and other material interventions (such as better toilet provision), [intervention 1] exposes how women’s access to justice (on the basis of caste, working class status, minor ethnic/religious/tribal affiliations, and across alternative sexualities) is haunted by misogynistic institutional structures and discourses. These inflict their own spatialized violence upon victims’ lives by reinforcing the domestic as the (supposed) sphere of safety and the public of danger. [Intervention 3] also makes connections to work in legal geography and the ambiguity of law as a mechanism of protection and redress. [Intervention 3] highlights the irony of how the Cambodian government have violently legitimated ‘rule by law’ against a grassroots network of female citizens opposing the gendered insecurities of forced eviction at the same time as emphasizing to the international community its commitment to ‘rule of law’ and human rights through the sanctioning of its first ever domestic violence law. This irony is compounded by a new law which stresses a moralistic commitment to ‘harmony’ and the unyielding continuity of the marital unit to secure the ‘intimate security’ of the nation more than the women it is nominally designed for. Both interventions thus expose how responses formally designed to address gendered violences such as rape and domestic violence hold the very real potential to exacerbate rather than necessarily alleviate injustice.

The two further interventions talk to the theme of the (geo)-politics of hate, namely [Intervention 2] on the relationship between gender prejudice and sexual violence against women; and [Intervention 4] on religiously-motivated violence directed towards those perceived to follow the Islamic faith. As was highlighted by Brownlow’s (2005) US study of African-American men, these two case studies call attention to the intersectionality of gender and other axes of difference prompting specific forms of gendered violences. In these cases, gender (women in India and men in the UK respectively), intersects with class, religious intolerance and cultural violence. Each case study highlights violence as an expression of power, reflecting the perpetrators’ discursive construction of the entitlement to evaluate, judge, and act violently upon certain others in order to control the victims and influence/ direct the wider society to which both parties belong.

At the same time however, [intervention 2] highlights the female vigilante groups which are mobilising and pushing against such exertions of power. Just as ‘the term precarity is double-edged as it implies both a condition and a possible rallying point for resistance’ (Waite, 2009: 412 author’s emphasis), gendered insecurities often set the conditions for staged as well as more subtle activisms in everyday social relations (also born out in intervention 2). In this vein, future work in geography has a role to play not only in bringing to light experiences of gendered violences but also giving exposure and support to resistance efforts to bring about meaningful change.

Anderson K and Smith S J (2001) Editorial: Emotional geographies. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 26(1): 7-10.

Brownlow A (2005) A geography of men's fear. Geoforum 36(5): 581-592.

Cobbett M (2015) Empowering girls to claim rights? Non-formal education and the 'Stop the Violence’ campaign in Kenya. PhD thesis: Royal Holloway, University of London.
Cuomo D (2013) Security and fear: the geopolitics of intimate partner violence policing. Geopolitics 18(4): 856-874.

Hearn J (2012) The sociological significance of domestic violence: Tensions, paradoxes and implications. Current Sociology 61(2): 152-170.

McIllwaine C (2013) Urbanization and gender-based violence: exploring the paradoxes in the global south. Environment and Urbanization 25(1): 65-79.
Mehta A and Bondi L (1999) Embodied discourse: on gender and fear of violence. Gender, Place and Culture 6 (1): 67-84.
Pain R (1991) Space, sexual violence and social control: integrating geographical and feminist analyses of women’s fear of crime. Progress in Human Geography 15: 415–431.
Pain R (2014a) Seismologies of emotion: fear and activisim during domestic violence. Social and Cultural Geography 15 (2): 127-150.
Pain R (2014b) Everyday terrorism: connecting domestic violence and global terrorism. Progress in Human Geography 38(4): 531-550.
Valentine, G (1989) The geography of women’s fear. Area 21: 385–390.
Waite L (2009) A Place and space for a critical geography of precarity? Geography Compass 3(1): 412-433.

Wilding P (2013) Gendered meanings and everyday experiences of violence in urban Brazil. Gender, Place & Culture. Online before print.

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