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Why Feminist Security Studies?

14 Sep

Why Feminist Security Studies?

Guest blogger Jamie J. Hagen is an NYC based writer on feminist and LGBTQ politics currently serving as Contributing Editor for  and a research consultant for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders(GNWP).  She has worked with several women”s groups concerned with the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 and is currently consulting on a GNWP monitoring report in Liberia, Nepal and Norway. Find out more about Jamie on her website: 

I first learned of the field of women, peace and security through an internship with the Social Science Research Council in the summer before graduate school. Walking into a conference room with about nine other interns to begin collecting data for their Gender Hub, I had little understanding of what the words women and peace and security would mean to me as I learned more about the developing field. What I did know was that my interests of feminism, women”s rights and political science had all brought me here.

The December 2011 issue of The Journal of the Women and Politics published a conversation among academics in the field of Feminist Security Studies. Feminists have added to traditional security studies gender-based perspectives encouraging analysis accounting for the roles women and gender play both during and post-conflict, as this is something often absent  in the subject of  security politics. Laura Sjoberg of the University of Florida introduces the conversation by raising some of the many questions still shaping the developing field, including “What is the relationship between Feminist Security Studies and international relations or its security studies subfield (in the United States or abroad)?” and ”What is the relationship between theory and practice in Feminist Security Studies?” Following Sjoberg’s introduction, several scholars address these questions from their varying points of view, allowing for a multi-faceted approach to understanding what end the field serves.

To my mind, shifting the field of security politics away from the more traditional emphasis on securing borders to instead securing the rights and well being of individuals is perhaps the most important task for feminist security studies. Feminist security studies reminds us that it”s important to ask what is being secured by any type of legislation or act of war in the name of security. For example, while traditionally politicians may point to an increased military budget as a sign of security, feminist security scholars may look to other metrics, such as accountability to human rights doctrines or the safety of LGBTQ identified individuals. Additionally, a feminist security studies brings an awareness of sex and gender to the table for the international security studies framework. As someone who comes to the field of security politics from non-governmental work in women, peace, and security with organizations such as  and the , the projects I”ve worked on have sought to document and improve implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which requires member states to empower women through active roles in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. I agree with Carol Cohn, director of the at the University of Massachusetts Boston, in her point that academics should be informed by the work of women in civil society in pursuing research projects noting, “I hope that some feminist researchers will be motivated by the question of which research projects are most likely to be useful to women”s civil society organizations and women peacebuilders. While there is no doubt that the constituency security studies was created to serve, – the civiliam and military police of world powers-has a major impact on the conditions of the lives of vast numbers of people, it is also likely true that no one is more likely to push a change agenda than the organized women who live in the shadow”s of those elite men”s decisions.”

As is the case in other fields of feminist studies, feminist security scholars often value the role of qualitative data individuals and especially women bring to research, in addition to otherwise faceless quantitative data.Our work at GNWP is largely geared towards supporting the grassroots efforts of our member organizations through capacity building training and  also reporting on their monitoring work to provide an international platform for local work.

As Annick T. R. Wibben of the University of San Francisco writes in the journal, “Feminist security scholars, with their unique methodological choices (including the recognition of the performative nature of gender/sex), can counter the prevalence of bodiless data in security studies by highlighting personal stories.” At the same time, as a student of feminist research methodology, I also agree with the point made by Valerie M. Hudson of Brigham Young University that if it is necessary to use more traditional methodologies of political science, such as statistical testing, historical process mapping, and other more quantitatively driven approaches to build the case to illustrate the strong connection between the security of women and the security of states, a researcher should do so. Working as a research consultant in the NGO world I, too, look to traditional quantitative models to boost the valuable qualitative personal narratives and experiences of women in  civil society seeking peace and security.

Feminist security scholars force us to reconsider what it is that our current security politics are truly serving to secure. By focusing on human rights, such as food security or protection of reproductive and sexual rights, feminists turn the traditional paradigm of security politics into a politics serving citizens rather than governments, corporations, or politicians.

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Female and Dalit, the Double Whammy

22 May

Female and Dalit, the Double Whammy

Guest blogger Matilda Branson is a passionate feminist and human rights advocate from Australia with a background in gender and development. She is currently working with a feminist non-government organisation in Nepal.

In my current job working with Dalit women in Nepal, I frequently find myself thinking of feisty ole Crenshaw’s (1989) sociological theory of intersectionality — how categories of identity such as gender, class, ethnicity, and ability — can create, through their interrelation, an intersection of multiple forms of discrimination that can hit just one person with one hell of a punch. In this case, gender and caste in Nepal create a deadly combo.

Who are Dalits? It is a bitter irony that more people know well the Daleks from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, but have never heard of the term “Dalit.” To understand the term “Dalit,” consider the hierarchical caste system of India, a tool of social stratification dating back centuries. The caste system in Nepal mirrors that of its giant neighbour India. Separated into four levels the Brahmins, traditionally priests, scholars and educators, occupy the top rung of society, while the lowest rung is occupied by “untouchables,” the Dalits.

The term “Dalit” means “ground,” “suppressed,” and “broken” in Sanskrit, which is frankly too close to the truth in terms of the social status they hold in Nepal and in many South East Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, among others. Many theories, too many to analyse within a humble blog post, abound as to the formation of their “untouchable” status in the caste system. Many relate to the occupations Dalits traditionally fulfilled as labourers, removing animals carcasses, rubbish, and waste, and as butchers, among others, and were consequently regarded as ritually impure, which over time through notions of pollution, purity, and impurity, contributed to their untouchable status. Today, Dalits are discriminated against because of this notion of untouchability.

What forms of discrimination do they face? Dalit discrimination and their consequent disempowerment is social, political, cultural and economic. If you are a woman and Dalit, the discrimination compounds, and this is where Crenshaw’s theory comes to mind. A Dalit friend of mine was alerted to her Dalit status at the age of six, when her teacher yelled at her in front of her class for drinking from the same water tap as the other children and later sent home. Another has had to move four times in the last year, as when her landlords discover she is Dalit, they kick her out. Another is in love with a boy from the highest caste, Brahmin, but must marry another from her own caste. In 2010 Kalli Biswokarma, a 47-year-old woman from Pyutar, a village 40 kilometres south of Kathmandu, was accused of witchcraft and tortured by neighbours for two days and forced to eat human excrement. Her case is just one of many documented. Discrimination against Dalits persists in every facet of their lives; many lack the basic human rights they deserve and are regarded as sub-human by wider society.

I currently work with an organisation, the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO), dedicated to advocating for the rights of Dalit women within a human-rights-meets-fundamental-feminist framework. The people – both men and women – whom I work with are amazing. On my first day of work, half of the Senior Executive of FEDO were arrested by police after conducting a peaceful sit-down protest in central Kathmandu. From there, the admiration I hold for Dalit advocates has grown from the admiration I feel for my colleagues, their boundless passion and belief in what they are fighting for. The day after their release, my colleagues were back, campaigning, risking arrest once more. Dalits have faced so many varying forms of discrimination in their lives, growing up, fighting for first a primary, then secondary and finally tertiary education, and are now fighting to obtain rights for their fellow, less fortunate Dalits, with particular focus on Dalit women’s rights. Old school advocates, in a sense.

A range of Dalit organisations exist in Nepal doing admirable work in advocacy, social welfare, and development. As an Australian and a complete and utter outsider, I can only imagine the difficulty in being a Dalit woman, to be discriminated against through sheer accident of birth, sex, and a rigid hierarchical caste system.

What strikes me is that there seem to be only two approaches through which Dalit organisations operate: through the portrayal of Dalits as pitiful, downtrodden and voiceless victims, or as rebellious revolutionaries engaged in political activism. This has become particularly evident as Nepal’s long-awaited Constitution is prepared, to be released on May 27, 2012, with every minority and disenfranchised group in the country, including Dalit women, vying to pressure the current government to include their rights in the new Constitution.

For a long time I was confused by these somewhat contradicting points – victim or rebel, with little in-between. I yearned to hear of any kind of positive celebration of what it is to be Dalit, the nobility of Dalit women in adversity, pride in “being Dalit.” Even an “I Love Dalit” T-shirt would do.

I feared the danger of victimising Dalit women, that it may adversely affect their image, contributing further to the internalisation of a stigmatised identity as an “untouchable.” I feared the out-of-touch representation of a few Dalit intellectuals, academics, activists, and political leaders for the majority whose experiences in remote rural Nepal differs vastly from the experiences of the newly formed urban elite.

It took a long time for me to realise that what I am in fact watching is the formation of the collective identity, the group consciousness, of this minority group. What it is to be “Dalit,” let alone a Dalit woman, as yet lacks unity. Even within the overarching label of “Dalit,” there exists a range of “sub-castes,” more than twenty in Nepal, some of which discriminate against others on the basis of specific professions occupied historically, despite all being classified as “Dalit” in the caste system.

Yet I am seeing in my work that the Dalit identity in Nepal, particularly that of Dalit women, is growing — daily, weekly — and gaining strength and support. To even have educated Dalit women at the higher levels representing Dalit women’s interests creates a positive representation of Dalits as role models and trailblazers. This helped me realise that such representation over time will help foster more positive attitudes toward Dalit women and Dalits generally, and that the positive celebration of their social identity will indeed come, bit by bit.

Reference: Crenshaw, K. (1989) Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. 1989 University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139. He picked up the alto sax while still in school and mastered it almost immediately, earning a spot in the school’s uncommon source marching band

Participating in the Sculptures of Sarah Sze

4 May

Participating in the Sculptures of Sarah Sze

Guest blog writer Emily L. Newman holds a Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, City University of New York, and is currently Assistant Professor of Art History at Texas A&M University – Commerce. Often exploring the intersections between popular culture and art, her research focuses on the way contemporary artists have addressed female body image.

Known for her innovative sculptures of impressive scale, utilizes paper, string, and various types of discarded or repurposed objects in her art. Recently the subject of a major exhibition “” at the Asia Society in New York City, Sze will represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2013. Born in Boston in 1969, Sze received her B.A. from Yale University and her M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Among the many awards she has received, Sze was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005.

One of the major strengths of Sze’s work is her ability to defy expectations about the artistic process, often by breaking the rules. Not content with frames and pedestals, her works climb up and down the walls and jut out into the viewer’s space. Materiality is a defining characteristic of her work, as she uses found objects, trash, and temporary objects like painter’s tape.

In her show at the Asia Society, Sze’s large, mixed-media sculptures were paired with a selection of drawings and more intimate works on paper. At first glance, the differences between the two groups of works were jarring. The sculptures featured Sze’s customary use of found objects as well as site-specific details like the application of tape, paint, and writing directly on the museum walls and floors. Among the construction materials and objects, Sze included personal items such as credit cards with her name and plane tickets, which specifically connected the viewer to the artist.

Sze follows in the tradition of artists like Marcel Duchamp and Louise Bourgeois, who, through their use of unconventional materials, challenged the art world while challenging identity. Sze incorporates fragments of objects specific to her and her inner circle, but are instantly relatable as symbols of modern identity. Credit cards, airline information, receipts, and discarded scraps of paper all refer to the mundane events of everyday life. Yet, they also refer to the information age, and the large number of people and organizations that have access to personal accounts. Creating modern portraits, Sze encourages the viewer to reflect on the tiny pieces of paper that begin to stand in for important moments and life events.

In addition to her sculptural pieces, her investigation of others’ identities in her drawings is especially poignant. Here, she innovatively transforms personal life events like a pregnancy, a career highlight, and a wedding into architectural elements. Stacking individual memories on top of one another, she creates a biographical tower of her subject’s important moments in graphite. By including these small, specific details throughout her manipulation of space, Sze pulls back from her larger sculptures to focus on the details that define a person’s history.

While the specific, detailed objects often refer to transactions or transportation, the individual artworks themselves require thoughtful investigation and movement to see the intricacies that compose the drawing or sculpture. The viewer must negotiate the terrain of the work, which often begins to resemble a journey. Getting down to look at details on the floor, peering through windows and around walls, and moving in close to read some tiny text, the viewer must investigate the details of the works themselves. It is only then that the work slowly reveals itself.

But whose journey is the viewer experiencing? Is Sze creating a journey for the viewer? Or is it her journey the viewer is on? Does it even matter? With her sculptures, Sze creates an experience that will differ for every viewer-participant. What is remarkable about Sze’s work is that while they may be wedded to their location and installation, Sze creates an experience of not just viewing the work, but also of moving and engaging the work in a very specific way. The works become intricate worlds filled with lines and structures that push the viewer to move in and around the space.

Still Life with Landscape created for the High Line in New York in 2011 (and on display until June 2012) creates habit for a different consumer: birds and insects. The large construction resembles an architectural drawing realized in three dimensions, with various perches, mirrors, and green spaces integrated into the project. Sze even incorporated different types of food into the work, encouraging the birds’ engagement with the piece. Her purpose for creating the piece was to create a space that worked with the park, an abandoned railway track converted to green space. In , Sze explains, “I wanted the piece to really be like a site of experimentation, a place where something can happen or not. But the most essential thing really being that you would be reminded that there was the presence of these animals – birds, butterflies, bees – all over the park.” Sze is a conscientious artist who considers not just the environment where her works will be installed but also the way that they can be interacted with. Her selection for the Venice Biennale positions her as one of the best artists in the United States today, with good reason.

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Welcome, New Board Members!

27 Apr

Welcome, New Board Members!

Please join me in an extending a warm welcome to our new board members, Courtney McDermott, Katie Elson Anderson, and Jessica Gildersleeve!

You can find out more about our new and existing board members on . We are curious to spare know what you think in the comments section below

New Women’s Media Center Guide Available

28 Mar

New Women’s Media Center Guide Available

By Rachel Joy Larris and Rosalie Maggio is now freely available as a 29 page pdf.   It is sponsored by , a collaborative project of The and .

The guide gives suggestions to journalists on looking for terms to describe female candidates, such as reversibility and parallelism (if there isn”t a male equivalent, or if the gendered terms used aren”t parallel, don”t use them).  For example, the adjective feisty is used only with those who would not normally be considered powerful.  Women can be feisty.  Children can be feisty.  Men generally are not.   If a media outlet does not normally discuss the hair style and color of male candidate”s hair then it shouldn”t discuss female candidate”s hair.

There are some case studies and suggestions for female candidates who find themselves the target of sexist attacks.   The guide also provides background research on the effect of gender oriented language on voters” impressions of candidates.

While the guide focuses on female politicians, powerful women in all settings would benefit from the information provided.  Likewise, while it is aimed at the media, anyone in public relations or who speaks in public, especially as a corporate or organizational representative would find it useful. In the early 50s, richard moved to the piano and began molding the boogie woogie style that would make him famous

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