ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

What value can anthropologists bring to ending violence against women and girls?
Location Science Site/Maths CM219
Date and Start Time 04 July, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2


  • Tamsin Bradley (University of Portsmouth) email
  • Kelly Johnson (University of Durham) email
  • Janet Gruber email

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Short Abstract

The sustainability goals place emphasis on improving the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable. In this panel we reflect on what the anthropological imagination can bring to development programmes working on reducing social harm.

Long Abstract

The sustainability goals emphasise the need to improve the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable. Focus is placed on reducing violence against women and girls (VAWG) which are now acknowledged as the most embedded forms of abuse with shockingly high global prevalence rates. The category of VAWG includes 'harmful cultural practices' (e.g. child marriage, FGM, Infanticide, bride price and dowry), intimate partner violence, sexual assaults, work and school based harassment, rape during conflict, domestic violence.

Multi and bi-lateral funded programmes bring ending VAWG together with access to justice and peace building. Increasingly anthropologists are being employed to generate new insights and data in relation to these programmes. In particular anthropologists are tasked with understanding the triggers for long-term mind-set change. In other words answer questions around what needs to happen for VAWG to be de-normalised, for families to no longer offer bride-price and dowry for their daughters, to end genital mutilation. Offering women and girls routes to recourse when they suffer abuse is seen as key to challenging its normalisation.

Key questions we would like to explore; how can and are anthropologists contribute to the goal? Are the theories of change behind access to justice and VAWG programmes accurate? Are programmes complex enough to account for the web of factors that interplay in fragile contexts leading to or sustaining VAWG?

In this panel we invite papers that reflect on what the anthropological imagination brings to multi-disciplinary development programmes with a particular focus on ending VAWG?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


VAWG mainstreaming in access to justice programmes: a framework for action

Authors: Tamsin Bradley (University of Portsmouth)  email
Janet Gruber  email

Short Abstract

This paper offers a framework for mainstreaming a framework to end violence against women and girls (VAWG). In doing so it highlights the value of the anthropological imagination in understanding the multiple power relationships and discourses that prevent success.

Long Abstract

Sustainable Development Goal 5 states: 'Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls'. Within that goal are 9 targets whose common objective is to end gender inequality in all its forms, including violence against women and girls (VAWG). Two targets are focused on VAWG: 5.2 is Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls and 5.3 is Eliminate all harmful practices. There is ongoing debate on the targets, e.g. the need to remove any age caps, thereby to acknowledge that violence can and does occur at all stages of a woman's life, from earliest childhood into oldest age.

While there are many examples of programmes, polices and conventions to end VAWG, we argue that without a systematic model for mainstreaming an end to VAWG we will not see SDG 5 and its targets achieved.

There is no agreed, commonly applied approach to mainstreaming VAWG prevention into sectoral and multisectoral programmes addressing aspects of access to justice (ATJ). Such action can be aided by building partly on best practice, lessons learned and indeed failures of gender mainstreaming. Other guidance can be provided by the programmes supported by DFID, one of whose four pillars is addressing VAWG in all its manifestations, and other country, civil society and development partners dedicating to preventing and mitigating VAWG and to developing an evidence base to inform future action. This paper explores what a mainstreaming approach might look like and offer some practical examples of how and where it might be applied.

Participatory action research on domestic violence law: Insights from a client consultation competition with university students in Cambodia

Author: Katherine Brickell (Royal Holloway, University Of London)  email

Short Abstract

This papers discusses the findings of a Foreign and Commonwealth Office-funded participatory action research project in Cambodia to raise awareness and practice-based expertise on domestic violence law with university students.

Long Abstract

While in the past twenty years, unprecedented progress has been made in respect to the number and scope of laws designed to prevent domestic violence in the developing world, daily violations of women's human rights remain a pervasive problem. The hiatus between legal reform and transformative change for women is particularly pronounced in Cambodia which ratified the 'Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims' in 2005. This paper discusses the findings of a higher education-oriented participatory action research project in Cambodia funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Bilateral Programme Fund. Women's rights are a key issue for the FCO and are likely to continue as so in the post-2015 development framework. The 'Client Consultation Workshop and Competition' held in 2014 sought to raise awareness and practice-based expertise on this important yet understudied law among 100+ undergraduate students at Pannasastra University of Cambodia. The paper analyses pre and post project evaluation data (namely questionnaires and focus groups) on the impact of the training and competition on students' knowledge and understanding of domestic violence (law) and draws on the distinction between practical and strategic gender interests to examine the challenges of the short-term educational intervention to effect deep seated change.

Applying Medical Anthropology to Domestic Violence Interventions

Author: Kelly Johnson (University of Durham)  email

Short Abstract

Touching on recent ethnographic research in Edinburgh, this paper explores what anthropology can bring to the study of domestic violence. I explore how varying domestic violence understandings shape the ways in which violence is recognised and responded to, as well as experiences of intervention

Long Abstract

Touching on my recent ethnographic research in Edinburgh with domestic violence service providers, social services and police officers - this paper explores what medical anthropology can bring to understandings of domestic violence, in both theoretical and applied ways. In the context of recently migrated Central and Eastern European women, I will discuss divergent domestic violence explanatory models and conceptions, which traverse across organisational and individual discursive fields. I will explore how varying domestic violence understandings shape the ways in which violence is recognised and responded to, as well as victim/survivor/practitioner experiences of intervention.

Men Speak Out: a reflection upon African men's views on FGM in Belgium, Holland and the UK

Author: Sarah O'Neill (Institute of Tropical Medicine)  email

Short Abstract

Over the last decade concerns about FGM in Europe have been raised but no reliable data are available and surprisingly little is known about men's views on FGM. Based on research undertaken on African men’s views on FGM in Belgium, Holland and the UK, we reflect upon existing presumptions about the practice.

Long Abstract

According to the UNICEF 2016 more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of (FGM) in 30 countries. Over the last decade concerns about the occurrence of the practice in Europe have been raised. However, no reliable data on the prevalence of FGM at European level are available, as under-reporting and incomplete data are an issue. The the EU is increasingly supporting NGO activities that aim to eliminate the practice in Europe. Since FGM has been brought up as an important health issue by the WHO, it has often been taken for granted that men's domination and control of women has an important role to play in the perpetuation of the practice. The UNICEF report 2013, however showed that in 16 African countries the percentage of men who want to stop FGM is higher than the rate of women who want to stop. In Europe surprisingly little is known and published on men from practicing communities views on FGM. This paper presents the results of qualitative research undertaken on men's views on FGM in Belgium, Holland and the UK. We reflect upon this data in the light of existing presumptions about the practice and highlight the importance of working with African men living in Europe too, not just women. Funded by the Daphne programme (EU), the research is coordinated by the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp and carried out at national level by GAMS Belgique, HIMILO Foundation (Netherlands) and Forward (UK).

The violence of interpretation: Pitfalls and opportunities of anthropological interventions in the violence against women conversation

Author: Catherine Whittaker (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Anthropologists are uniquely equipped to critique the universalising master narrative of VAWG by paying attention to local understandings of violence yet risk being misunderstood as apologists for violence or for discriminatory attitudes against “violent” indigenous people.

Long Abstract

Through their distinctive methodology of long-term, immersive fieldwork, social anthropologists are uniquely equipped to critique the universalising master narrative of violence against women and girls (VAWG) by paying attention to local understandings of violence. For instance, similarly to other Latin American societies, the Nahuatl-speaking people of Milpa Alta in the Federal District of Mexico have an ideology of women as "fighters" (luchadoras), so that they conceptualise domestic violence as a fight between equally powerful partners. Local ideologies need to be taken into account in order to develop effective violence prevention strategies. Thus, anthropologists may act as valuable cultural brokers, negotiating between the specific worldview and needs of an indigenous population and the globalised, UN-inspired policies of government agencies. However, the anthropologist requires foresight and political skills to avoid their work being used to justify VAWG in the population they study or having their work misinterpreted to justify "modernising" government agendas and discriminatory attitudes against indigenous cultures, which are perceived to be "culturally violent" and "backward". I will illustrate the opportunities and dangers of applying an anthropological perspective on the subject of VAWG with examples taken from my recent 15-month doctoral fieldwork in Milpa Alta, where I collaborated with the local government organisation, Inmujeres (Women's Institute), on this subject. To conclude, I will argue that anthropological interventions in social policy are worth the risks and that a commitment to public outreach is essential for minimising them.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.