Femonationalism: Understanding Nationalists and Feminists’ Shared Obsession to Strip Muslim Women

In 2016, images from the beaches of Nice were published, showing a group of male police officers stripping a Muslim woman wearing a Burkini, an overall swimsuit that includes a Hijab. The French law prohibits wearing an “integral veil” for reasons of public safety on the one hand and “explicit religious sign” in public schools on the other, which means it is technically legal to wear hijab everywhere except public schools, including burkini on the beach. However, the 2015-16 attacks in various areas of France have radicalized the public attitude towards veils, with seven towns, among them Nice and Cannes, banning the burkini. 

The prohibition doesn’t refer directly to Islam, but Newspapers and politicians didn’t fail to mention the Nice terror attack in their reports on the matter, and the ban itself is written in terms of “state of emergency”, requiring citizens to respect “moral standards”, “common decency”, “hygiene”, “safety” and “secularism” in their fashion choices. These measures have since been cancelled by the state, but studies report that 66% of French citizens are currently in favour of forbidding the burkini on beaches and less than 50% of employers are open to employees wearing a hijab at work.

The sentiment surrounding the burkini ban manifests a long-standing tradition of Western man’s concern with the Eastern woman’s body. The terms “West” and “East” are in themselves social constructs, as postcolonial studies assume that existing ethnic hierarchies have no objective meanings, but rather derive from colonial and nationalist views of the Western world seeing itself as modern and rational, and the “other” (e.g., the “East”) as irrational and passive. This ideology, defining Western culture as a universal benchmark for moral judgment, was referred to by Edward Said as “Orientalism”, assuming that ethnic identity is based on the creation and definition of the “other”, regardless of ethnicity and geography. This enabled the construction of “otherness” by the French under the East/West discourse, despite the geographic fact that most French colonies were in North Africa (i.e., not the east). 

With growing involvement of post-colonial subjects in the lives of French citizens through immigration, orientalism spawned sophisticated variants that appeal to liberalism as a justification for continued “Western” supremacy. Such is the notion of Femonationalism, introduced by Sara Farris (2017). The term aims to frame the political-economic logic underpinning “the surprising intersection among nationalists, feminists, and neoliberals” in denouncing Muslim communities as exceptionally sexist, unlike western countries, perceived as sites of “superior” gender relations. Farris demonstrates how invoking women’s rights to stigmatize Muslim men advances those different actors’ own political objective.

Such narratives are not new in colonial perceptions. Spivak’s (1988) essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” discusses the Western intellectual’s view of himself as transcending the socio-cultural context in which he was educated to examine the colonial subjects in a “context-less” manner, that in fact echoes his own voice. The white man perceives himself as the saviour of the non-white woman, protecting her from the oppressive patriarchal regime in which she lives while ignoring the oppression undergone by those women under his rule, as well as the oppression that white women undergo.  This thought paradigm is useful for understanding the context of the forces exerted on non-Western women in the burkini affair and in general. I do not mean to imply that non-Western cultures should not be criticised, but to highlight that the active force here is an inherent sense of supremacy of the West rather than a necessity arising from the voice of the victims (real or imagined).

A quote by France’s former minister of Families, Children and Women’s Rights, Laurence Rossignol, is a good example, stating that “women’s control over their bodies is at risk. When a brand invests in a Muslim clothing market, it is essentially renouncing responsibility and promoting women’s incarceration”. Her claims do not take into consideration the will and needs of women who buy and wear the burkini. Ra/ther, she is the one putting their control over their bodies at risk.

While Burkini is a relatively new phenomenon, the concern regarding covering Muslim women is a long-standing practice. Elor (2017) discusses how the word “veil”, narrowing and inaccurate to begin with, became a “problem” or an “issue” in Western countries. The word immediately relates “the problem” with Muslims people, government, economy and culture, but Elor demonstrates that time after time the concerns end up being placed specifically on the heads of girls and women. In current discourse, the West presents an ethos of gender equality that seeks to see itself as a universal order. The woman in the veil undermines this representation when she does not adopt the “principle of equality” but openly selects difference. These women are acting on the gender axis, and yet they’re being disciplined first and foremost on the national axis. Accordingly, the politicians’ criticism of the Burkini allegedly refers to gender, but mainly reveals the national source of Western discomfort. French 2016 PM Manuel Valls, called the Burkini “not compatible with the values of France and the Republic” and Nice’s deputy mayor wrote that “hiding the face or wearing a full-body costume to go to the beach is not in keeping with our ideal of social relations”. In the terms of Bhabha’s (1998) “The White Stuff”, with these statements “Whiteness” (i.e., the West) continues its “nationalist career” under the guise of “civil culture”, “tolerance” and other terms created to draw humans into a community, but, also to exclude some as “others.

While Burkini is a relatively new phenomenon, the concern regarding covering Muslim women is a long-standing practice. Elor (2017) discusses how the word “veil”, narrowing and inaccurate to begin with, became a “problem” or an “issue” in Western countries. The word immediately relates “the problem” with Muslims people, government, economy and culture, but Elor demonstrates that time after time the concerns end up being placed specifically on the heads of girls and women. In current discourse, the West presents an ethos of gender equality that seeks to see itself as a universal order. The woman in the veil undermines this representation when she does not adopt the “principle of equality” but openly selects difference. These women are acting on the gender axis, and yet they’re being disciplined first and foremost on the national axis. 

Accordingly, the politicians’ criticism of the Burkini allegedly refers to gender, but mainly reveals the national source of Western discomfort. French 2016 PM Manuel Valls, called the Burkini “not compatible with the values of France and the Republic” and Nice’s deputy mayor wrote that “hiding the face or wearing a full-body costume to go to the beach is not in keeping with our ideal of social relations”. In the terms of Bhabha’s (1998) “The White Stuff”, with these statements “Whiteness” (i.e., the West) continues its “nationalist career” under the guise of “civil culture”, “tolerance” and other terms created to draw humans into a community, but, also to exclude some as “others”.

Further understanding of what Farris (2017) describes as an “unholy alliance” between feminists and nationalists requires a closer look into the positions of western women towards the Burkini.  Nadia Guessous’s (2011) ethnographic study of leftist feminist politics in Morocco of the new millennium connects the hostility of some Moroccan feminists towards younger women who wear the hijab with their struggle to deal with loss, a moment before recognizing and accepting that the aesthetics of modernity have changed. Guessous found that feminists of the older generation, similarly to Susan Okin’s approach (1989;1999), discursively construct “tradition” as a problem and perceive themselves as “guardians of modernity” despite struggling with its constitutive contradictions themselves. They are unable to deal with the gap between their assumptions about freedom, religion, and the body and those of the younger generation of women, who have different strategies and ideas on how feminist action looks like. Rossignol’s critique – both as a woman and as the minister responsible for women’s rights – shares the national dimension that characterizes male politicians, with this additional shade of gender dimension.

The West male gaze of the East has infiltrated so deeply into the population through the practice of nationalism, that feminist women, who feel committed to women’s struggles, remain blind to its impact on their feminist approach. The absence of this impact is very noticeable in the writings of Lady Mary Montague, the first secular account by a woman of the Muslim Orient, written in the 18th century before the idea of nationalism became central in European thought (Melman, 1992). Montague wrote in the early days of the imperial era, a period characterized by extensive travel literature, much of it by “armchair travellers”, who never left Europe and base their writing on third-hand sources and/or their fertile imagination (Montesquieufor example). As opposed to those mainly male writers, Montague wrote from the Orient itself, while living in Istanbul between 1716 and 1718. Already then, veils were seen in the West as a symbol of the enslavement of women in the Muslim world. However, when Montague addresses the subject in her letters, she presents a different stance:

“Tis very easy to see they have more liberty than we have, no woman of what rank so ever being permitted to go in the streets without two muslins, one that covers her face all but her eyes and another that hides the whole dress of her head […] You may guess how effectually this disguises them, that there is no distinguishing the great lady from her slave, and ’tis impossible for the most jealous husband to know his wife when he meets her, and no man dare either touch or follow a woman in the street. This perpetual masquerade gives them entire liberty of following their inclinations without danger of discovery” (p. 242).

In addition to the pre-national context, the lack of gender equality ethos in her society allowed Montague to examine women and men relationships in other societies with a less judgmental, more curious eye. “The manners of mankind do not differ so widely as our voyage writers would make us believe”, she writes (p. 243). Spivak warns us from nostalgia for lost origins, and indeed, our look into Montague’s world cannot be separated from the history of colonialism. Nonetheless, learning from women from varied eras, locations and contexts is helpful if we wish to recognize our blind spots.

The burkini affair reflects a core debate in feminist political thought and policymaking, highlighting the urgent necessity to include voices of women from different backgrounds in decision-making processes. In Abu Lughod’s words, we must develop “serious appreciation of differences among women in the world” and consider “our own responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find themselves” (2002, p.783).

Author bio

Shir Berebi is a Masters student of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She works in the field of critical pedagogy and facilitates Israeli-Palestinian dialogue encounters. She is active in various feminist anti-militarist movements as well as co-mobilizer of the anti-pinkwash block – Queers against Pinkwashing in Israel. Contact her at shirberebi@gmail.com. Pronouns: she/her.

Why intersectionality cannot wait. Considering Northern Ireland’s widening participation policy

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, ‘everyone has the right to education’. The establishment of this right in social and legal discourses, as well as increased access to schooling in many countries within the last one-hundred years has led to the perception of education as essentially inclusive. In this context, access to higher education and successful educational outcomes are often taken for granted and are rarely framed as major issues—let alone as issues related to gender, race or any other social identity. 

By adopting feminist and intersectional perspectives, however, we can see how inequalities and injustices effect many aspects of life, including education. Intersectionality emphasises overlapping social categories, in addition to gender, that work together to compound an individual’s marginalisation and disadvantage. Kimberly Crenshaw, one of the pioneers of intersectionality, describes it as,  

‘a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power’, that ‘[brings] to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them’. 

In this sense, intersectionality is an analytical perspective. More importantly though, it is also a lived experience—based on multiple identities—that is often overlooked, unacknowledged and misrecognised.

Increasingly, the concept of widening participation in higher education is drawing attention to the role of social identity in determining whether or not a student has the opportunity to attend and succeed at university. As both a government policy and higher education practice in the United Kingdom, widening participation initiatives aim to increase the accessibility of undergraduate study for students from disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds. Most often, students targeted by widening participation strategies are those who face financial barriers to attending based on their socio-economic status, although other social categories that may disproportionately face barriers may also be included to a lesser extent. These include disadvantaged groups based on gender, race or ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, refugee status, care leavers and those with caring responsibilities. Widening participation, in other words attempts to examine and mitigate the negative effects of privilege, marginalisation and disadvantage as they relate to students’ various economic and social statuses.

From their very nature, many widening participation strategies may seem intersectional. In practice, however, these intersectional approaches not always perfect, nor clear cut. For example, the Northern Irish version of the policy, Access to Success, claims ‘support should be tailored to individual needs and based on identified multiple disadvantages’ (DfE 2015, p.17). Nevertheless, there is limited evidence of this in the rest of the strategy. In fact, the only evidence of an intersectional approach is the identification of Protestant males from areas of high deprivation as distinctly underrepresented in higher education–combining disadvantages related to religion, gender, and class. 

 Simultaneously, several other groups that are recognised as facing disproportionate disadvantages in access and successful outcomes in their higher education experience elsewhere in the U.K. are completely excluded from the widening participation strategy. Most notably, Black, Asian, ethnic minority (BAME) and female students are considered ‘well represented based on enrolment statistics. As a result, these groups are considered to have fair and equal access. Despite this broad assumption about female and BAME student access, there has been acknowledgement of disproportionate disadvantages and barriers faced by these groups elsewhere in the UK through higher education policies, the National Union for Students and in academic research. Further, LGBTQ+ students and several other groups are not mentioned in the policy at all, despite also experiencing disadvantages and marginalisation.

Equally worryingthere appear to be no attempts to fulfil the initial promise to recognise forms of multiple disadvantage, stemming from the intersection of these identities with others. In using broad categories such as ‘men’, ‘women’ and ‘ethnic minorities’ the different types of barriers faced by an LGBTQ+ student, a BAME woman and a white woman all from low-income households, for example, are apparently not considered. Rather, Access to Successtreats these groups and potential barriers or disadvantages as homogenous. Essentially, as bell hooks put it, the policy assumes ‘all the women are white and all the blacks are men’ and so on.  

The outright exclusion of certain groups as well as their exclusion from the policy’s intersection approach, indicate that policy makers in Northern Ireland do not see these groups as facing significant barriers and inequalities to access and success in higher education. Perhaps this is because many of the disadvantages faced by these groups, specifically at the intersections of identities, are not always straight forward, easily quantifiable, nor reflected in admission and enrolment statistics on which many policies are based. Or perhaps, in the case of race and ethnicity, it may be because Northern Ireland is perceived as almost entirely white and, therefore free of racism. (Although we know this is not the case, particularly in higher education, as was recently highlighted by Queen’s University’s Afro-Caribbean Society). 

Nevertheless, this selective application of an intersectional perspective on educational inequalities is not inconsequential. By overlooking some specific and less obvious barriers while appropriately attempting to mitigate the effects of others, the policy risks increasing the gap in educational inequalities between groups. This does not mean, however that Northern Ireland’s widening participation efforts are beyond improvement. A more intersectional approach could be achieved if policy makers and higher education professionals commit themselves to posing more critical and intersectional questions, such as: ‘which types of men and women are present in the student bodies of universities?’; ‘how is LGBTQ+ identity connected to multiple forms of disadvantage and marginalisation that may affect access to or success in higher education?’; and ‘how do experiences for both male and female BAME students from low-income households compare to both white male and white female students from similar socio-economic backgrounds?’.

Without addressing these questions to create a more inclusive policy, many the groups mentioned here and the variety of complex barriers they face both to entering higher education and to success within it will ultimately continue to be left unacknowledged, misrecognised or entirely invisible. To quote Kimberly Crenshaw, ‘intersectionality cannot wait’. Indeed, if Northern Ireland’s widening participation policy is to be an effective tool in the fight against educational inequalities it is important to use intersectional perspectives to scrutinise the effects of social policies, especially taking into consideration who and what is not addressed.

Author Bio:

Anna DeWitt is a master’s student from the United States completing a degree in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s. She is interested in the role of education and community organisations in promoting conflict transformation and social justice. In the future she hopes to combine these interests in her work to encourage positive outcomes for young people by supporting educational and leadership opportunities and promoting their capacities to work with others from diverse backgrounds. 

The Intersection of Gender, Power and Violence in Armed Conflict.

On the 30th October 2014, soldiers of the Sudanese army searched houses, severely beat residents and raped women and girls in the Sudanese town of Tabit in a series of attacks over a 36-hour period. According to one report, over 200 cases were credibly reported, with two soldiers stating, “that superior officers had ordered them to ‘rape women’”. Why did military officers order the rape of civilians? Because they were believed to be “rebel supporters”. This case provides an example of how sexual violence in armed conflict can be chosen as a specific tactic. As will be explored in this blog post, what makes this tactic feasible or effective in the eyes of the perpetrator is the underlying gendered hierarchies that rely on essentialist identities and marginalises femininity. 

Rape as a “weapon of war” was brought to international attention predominantly after the mass use of rape in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and the 1994 Rwandan genocide with international bodies, such as the United Nations, taking steps to tackle it. For example, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, enacted in 2000, called for all parties within an armed conflict “to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape”. However, feminist research since has shown that while rape is a gendered insecurity in war that does target predominantly women, this does not encapsulate its full gendering dynamics nor the gendered assumptions behind it.

Sexual violence in conflict holds a range of purposes and aims. One such purpose relies on the gendered assumption of the masculine ‘warrior’ and ‘protector’ identity. Rape can serve a communicative purpose in the form of humiliation by targeting this gendered identity as it ‘feminizes’ the enemy by reducing them to ineffective protectors of their communities and thus undermines the cultural and social fabric of their society. Cynthia Enloe highlights how militarized rape is used by states occupied with the sweeping threat of ‘national security’ as a form of repression. This use of militarized rape is evident in the case of Sudan, as the state relied on gendered assumptions by exerting its masculine dominance and authority against a village perceived to be supporting their enemy, thus undermining the rebel group’s authority, targeting their masculinities and ‘feminizing’ them.

Therefore, in relation sexual violence in conflict relies on the gendered assumptions of the feminine ‘victim’ identity as women and girls become the ‘protected’.  Laura Sjoberg describes sexual violence and rape as a tactic of warfare that serves an explicitly gendered purpose by targeting the foundations of a community through women who are utilised as “centres of gravity” for their communities. This holds significant implications as it positions female bodies in relation to their society, as it is not only the individual victim that is the target but through them the wider community, ethnic group or nationality. Female bodies become weaponized. In the case study of Tabit, it is the power positionings of women as symbols of their societies that makes them effective targets to those seeking to undermine the wider group through their gendered foundations and it is therefore through them that responsively the group’s masculinities are targeted.

It should also be mentioned that the majority of Tabit, the village targeted, belong to the Fur ethnic group, a minority group in Sudan who have been previously targeted by militias, such as the notorious Janjaweed, supported by the Arab-dominated government. Women were targeted because of their identity as not only women, but minority women, and therefore in these armed conflicts there is an intersection here of not only gendered power hierarchies but also ethnic power hierarchies. 

The case of rape in Sudan provides evidence that through the use of sexual violence power and gender intersect as a tactic that specifically targets an enemy’s masculinities undermining the gendered identity of the male ‘protector’ while subjugating them through the process of feminization. This tactic relies on notions of gendered subordination and is only made feasible because of the gendered positionings of women that locates them as the ‘protected’, in relation to their communities and therefore viable targets. Therefore, the explicitly gendered use of violence in armed conflict reflects and reaffirms the patriarchal system of power that subjugates femininity and valorises masculinity. Significantly, the example of Tabit is but one of many examples of the continued use of tactical rape in conflict. It is important for the full gendered dynamics behind sexual violence and the tactical nature in which it is adopted to be fully explored in order to effectively tackle it.

Author Bio:

Anna Grant-Jones is undertaking an MA in Violence, Terrorism and Security at Queen’s University Belfast. She is currently working on her dissertation focusing on gendered narratives and media conceptualisations of female terrorists. 

Welcoming Clara Fischer to the Centre for Gender in Politics: An interview

Welcome! You have recently joined HAPP as an Illuminate Fellow. Can you tell us a bit about the focus of your research in this role?

My research is broadly concerned with Irish feminisms, embodiment and reproduction, theories of emotion and affect, and feminist-pragmatism. My current interests lie specifically with reproduction and abortion rights on the one hand, and gendered (economic) precarity on the other – both viewed through the frame of the politics of emotion. Emotions and affects have long been recognised in feminist work as being of political significance and there is now a renewed interest in emotion/affect reflecting recent developments in critical thought. My research positions itself within these developments and examines emotions for their political value.

You recently undertook an EU project GENDEMOTION, looking at gender, shame and economic disadvantage in austerity Ireland. What was one of the most interesting/surprising outcomes of that research project?

The research examined the 2008 financial crisis and its gendered fallout. It included interviews and a survey with lone parents in ROI (the vast majority of whom are women), and explored the role of shame in women’s experiences of austerity measures and the crisis more generally. I suppose one of the more surprising outcomes of the project was the diversity of “sites” of shame that survey and interview participants shared. While it is not entirely surprising that social welfare offices can be experienced as sites of shame, participants highlighted many other sites of shame, including maternity wards, which were experienced as shameful owing to gendered and heteronormative norms  – especially around motherhood. This raises important questions for future research,  eg on the delivery of maternity care. 

Much of your work has been with the NGO sector and civil society. Can you tell us a bit about how you think about connecting with civil society organisers while also working in academia?

This presents both challenges and opportunities.I’ve been fortunate enough to work with several engaged activists and grassroots organisations whose work at the feminist “coal face”, if you like, I greatly admire. I think it’s really important for feminist academic work to be responsive to such civil society work and to build alliances between civil society and academia to achieve feminist ends. This can be tricky sometimes, though, as such collaborative work has not always been considered “academic”, especially within certain disciplines – although this seems to be, thankfully, changing. Feminist thinking and practice of course takes place both in civil society organisations/grassroots groups, as well as in academia, and one can greatly enrich the other through collaborative and responsive work. 

Who is one of the most influential feminists in your life (academic or otherwise) and why?

This is quite a challenging question as  I’m really lucky to know – or know of – many impressive feminists, so having to choose just one is really difficult! I’ve been personally and professionally supported by several more senior women in academia – women who model feminism for the rest of us. And of course I am greatly influenced by feminist thinkers ranging from Jane Addams to Sara Ahmed. I suppose the primary feminist influence in my life, however, would have been my mother. She has always been strong willed and unconventional, and fostered in me the need to pursue one’s passions and a desire for independence. 


Recent work:

Feminists redraw public and private spheres: Abortion, vulnerability, and the affective campaign to repeal the eighth amendment; Fischer, C., 01 Jun 2020, In : Signs. 45, 4, p. 985-1010.
Abortion and Reproduction in Ireland: Shame, Nation-building and the Affective Politics of Place; Fischer, C., 01 Jul 2019, In : Feminist Review. 122, 1, p. 32-48 17 p.
Gender and the Politics of Shame: A Twenty-First-Century Feminist Shame Theory; Fischer, C., 11 Aug 2018, In : Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy. 33, 3, p. 371-383 13 p.

The Irish Abortion Referendum Is A Chance To Change A Culture Of Shame, Huffington Post, 2018

Philosophical Perspectives on Contemporary Ireland  book cover

CGP Co-directors on podcast in new QUB ‘Peace and Conflict’ Series

In a new podcast, co-directors Dr. Jamie Hagen and Dr. Maria Deiana reflect on ‘Activist Feminism–Addressing Inequality. Listen here.

Listen as Queen’s academics from the Centre for Gender in Politics discuss the role of black feminists in the Black Lives Matter protest, the need for solidarity between feminist academics and the study of LGBT and feminist activism in post-conflict societies.

Hosted by Prof Richard English. Guests – Dr Maria Deiana and Dr Jamie Hagen from The School Of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics and the Centre for Gender in Politics

Pushing the Boundaries of Sport, Gender and Nationalism? An analysis of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team

In 1999, a record-breaking crowd in California watched the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) win the FIFA World Cup. Between the team’s suspense-filled victories and the unprecedented, ‘girl next door’ media coverage, the ‘99-ers’ popularity appeared to cement the USWNT as a beloved national icon. 

Eileen Narcotta-Welp[1] argues this legacy was constructed through liberal ‘girl power’ discourses that, while opening up football as a space for women on a national stage, also reinforced dominant exclusions in U.S. Soccer (and U.S. nationalism) with intersections of class, race, gender, and sexuality (See here and here).

As such, the USWNT serves as an example of the tensions between nationalism, sport, and gender. Often, women are both insiders and outsiders in sport and in the nation. They challenge and reinforce gendered norms in complex and varied ways yet often remain confined to what sport and nationalism does to women, instead of what women do to them.[2]

With this in mind, let’s consider how the current USWNT is pushing the boundaries within sport, gender, and nationalism in a noticeably different way than the 99’ team—opening the possibility for the creation of a more inclusive space in football and in U.S. nationalism. While there have been many moments and actions by the USWNT in the last year, the best example of exposing these tensions is the USWNT’s gender discrimination lawsuit and 2020 protest against U.S. Soccer.

The USWNT’s gender discrimination lawsuit sues U.S. Soccer for inequality between the U.S. Men’s and Women’s teams concerning pay, field conditions, accommodation, and staff support—a public and aggressive step the 1999 team never took. The team argued its 2019 World Cup successes provided further evidence for equal pay, despite receiving harsh criticism during the tournament for the goal celebrations that became staple moments of its World Cup wins. These actions resulted in the fans, pundits, and President Trump  calling the USWNT “unpatriotic” and “humiliating.” The public interrogation of the team’s patriotism, and its refusal to apologize for its behavior, is a sharp break from the 1999 legacy—suggesting the team’s behavior is challenging gender norms and nationalism in ways it previously has not. 

The national debate continued after the 2019 World Cup. Less than 24 hours before the U.S. was set to host a match against Japan in March, it reached a critical moment when U.S. soccer released the following counterargument against equal pay for the USWNT:

“‘It is undisputed that the job of [Men’s National Team] player requires materially more strength and speed than the job of [Women’s National Team] player…” and that “the job of MNT players carries more responsibility than the job of a WNT player.”

In response, every USWNT player warmed-up for the match with their jerseys inside-out. This created an image in which the U.S. Soccer crests on the jerseys were hidden, except for the four stars—that represent each of the team’s World Cup championships. FIFA regulations required team jerseys for the match to be worn in the usual fashion. However, the team continues to promote this image as a challenge to U.S. Soccer. Sales of shirts with this new image skyrocketed, noting the power the team holds to influence U.S. nationalism.

Importantly, the image also emphasizes that the outline of the once-present crest remains. It marks space for the team, symbolically representing the nation’s women, to return to a defined, bordered, national community. Here, despite the protest of the players, they return to the nation as an inherently exclusive ‘us versus them’ structure—which leads to the question, who is constructed to belong here and who is being excluded? 

The team decision to remove the clearest markers of U.S. identity in the crest stems from the intersection of class, gender, and nationalism. However, there have been numerous moments in the last several years when U.S. Soccer took additional appalling actions toward its players, such as prohibiting players from kneeling in protest to police violence. Yet, there was no act of solidarity by the entire team. Since the policy has been reversed, after pressure from supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, already USWNT players have decide not to kneel.

Again, this makes one wonder, is solidarity by the entire USWNT limited to a liberal feminist agenda of equal pay? If so, perhaps the team’s challenge to dominant constructions of U.S. nationalism is not as divergent from its 1999 legacy as USWNT fans may wish it to be. 

It is unknown if the U.S. crest will return if equal pay is won. However, I think feminist football fans should be ready to question the circumstances of its return and whose exclusions are deemed not critical enough for unified acts of protest by the USWNT. We should be ready to ensure that challenging limited benchmarks like pay inequality does not lull women’s football from seeking more radical change. 

About the Author :

Amy Gilmore is a student in the MA program in Global Security and Borders at Queen’s University Belfast. She is interested in studying migration, mobility, and gender, and is also an avid football fan (Go Lewes FC!) (pronouns she/her)

[1] Eileen Narcotta-Welp is an Assistant Professor of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. 

[2] Ranchod-Nilsson, S. and Tetreault, MA (2000) Women, states, and nationalism: At home in the nation? Routledge: London and New York, p. 7. 

“Un Violador en Tu Camino”

Re-imagining Citizenship through Transnational Feminist Mobilization

On the eleventh of November 2019 the street performance, “Un Violador en Tu Camino,” (“A Rapist in Your Path”), created by feminist collective, Las Tesis, was performed for the first time on the streets of Valparaíso, Chile. The piece references several iterations of violence against women, alleging to state sanctioned violence in lyrics and body movements. Clips of the performance spread rapidly via social media as Las Tesis called for local interpretations to take place and be shared back to the collective via their social media accounts—the response was global. The viral spread of “A Rapist in Your Path” was another #MeToo era example of transnational feminist mobilization, as feminist activists performed this protest art in pursuit of their own just citizenship. The transnational mobilization of “A Rapist in Your Path,” can be viewed as a re-imagining of citizenship articulated along three components: exposing injustice, art as activism, and public engagement.        

Citizenship carries with it the question of who belongs, and what the criteria to belonging are. While feminists involved in the transnational mobilization come from various nation-states, where laws and social customs differ, they draw attention to gender-based violence as a shared experience of women in societies across the globe. As emphasized by Lisa Baldez, “when women mobilize as women,” they address “expectations about women’s behavior;” and, in doing so they “highlight women’s shared experience of exclusion from political power.” Such creative protests unite feminists across the world building community through collective participation rather than allegiance to the state.                            

Given historical exclusions from formal political power, feminist movements have often utilized ‘informal’ methods to engage the public and make political demands. Creative strategies utilized to pursue feminist political goals include marches, social media, song, dance, and art, among academic as well as economic techniques such as boycotts and strikes. Not only does art allow space for these creative expressions of experiences, individual or collective, but its interpretive qualities enable what are often deemed radical ideas to be presented directly in the public sphere. Public art spaces can be inclusive, accessible to all and inviting of potential adaptation from a variety of contexts. Initially for Las Tesis, this took several forms. For example, individual performers were encouraged to wear whatever they liked to the performances, while spreading a sense of unity over the topic of sexual assault. 

This form of art becomes protest. The combination of uniformity and individuality, precision and imprecision, speaks to collective demands while simultaneously commenting on the often isolating experiences of each woman. Through the use of art and creative expression of grievances, women’s movements expand their presence in public spaces, increasing societal awareness of those issues, united not as one but as many. The public presence of these art installations can push activism to the next level: public engagement. 

Not only is “A Rapist in your Path” an artistic expression of protest, but it intentionally engages directly with the community by inviting unlimited numbers of participants. Feminist activists involved have taken to the streets in great numbers to tackle these global issues. The uniform blocks of protesters swaying in sync is a visual spectacle that also draws in an audience from any passersby on the street. The everyday spaces where these performances take place speak back to normalised, systemic acts of violence against women, but also empower women in those same public environments. In this way Las Tesis makes a powerful commentary on the ownership over public space, challenging the status quo and interrogating the public-private divide. 

The lyrics include the repeated line “our punishment is the violence you don’t see” commenting directly on the inherent violence of the public-private divide. Feminist activists such as Las Tesis, and the other performers from across the globe, take up space and engage in dialogue about private experiences. They create community in doing so, shedding light on the hidden reality of gender-based violence. Systemic violence survives on fear-induced silence, shame, and stigma. By making these conversations public, and artistically displaying them in this way, the performance creates a feminist community. In this sense, public protest is both symbolism and community building.

The performances took place in the streets, but were disseminated in people’s homes, blurring the line of public versus private. While it is important to consider that “active citizenship” is a marker of privilege and  not all feminists were able to perform “A Rapist in Your Path” on the streets, many privately viewed the performances. Footage, clips, and eventually artwork inspired by “A Rapist in Your Path” spread through social media accounts of individuals and large international organizations. With the click of a button private life experiences could become public, expressing beliefs and calls to action. “A Rapist in Your Path” encouraged “transnational feminist networks” to get back into the streets, when possible, moving the #MeToo movement out the front door, while continuing to spread globally through digital connections.

By the end of 2019 reports of “A Rapist in Your Path” performances reached 200 cities, spread across six continents, from Valparaíso and Santiago to Mexico City, Paris, Nairobi and Tokyo, suggesting ‘bottom-up’ artistic displays of activism can be utilized as a mechanism to re-imagine citizenship.While Las Tesis created “A Rapist in Your Path” with Chile in mind, women globally relate to its message. The transnational feminist mobilization is a community fighting for shared goals. In this sense, citizenship does not end at a border, but rather weaves in and out of them, crossing oceans, and stretching continent to continent to include intersectional identities of feminists. It’s a sense of belonging based on mutual purpose rather than any demographic label.

About the Author: Brianna Griesinger (she/her) is a master’s student in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. Her current dissertation research focuses on feminist identity formation and storytelling as a means of pursuing justice.

Contact info: briannagriesinger@gmail.com

Why Betty Bigombe Is Not an Exception: The Invaluable Role of Women in Conflict Mediation

By: Giulia Cacopardo

When a successful mediation is compromised by the marginalization of women, it is essential to evoke the past for a fairer future. The story of Betty Bigombe will help us understand what that means.

Pictured: Scenes from the United Nations General Assembly Hall on 19 September 2017 prior to the opening of the General Debate. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In 1917, Emile Durkheim stated that society is a system of interlinked components that, when in balance, operate smoothly to produce social solidarity. This perspective is easily applicable to the gender discourse, which has finally taken on significant importance. A gender equality culture is certainly something that most people are familiar with but, nonetheless, is also something not practiced in the majority of traditions. The prevalent mindset in the world presently is, despite all the achievements in terms of women’s rights, a patriarchal view of the society, which means a world based on the strengthening of the male figure as strong and energetic, whereas the woman is painted as a more fragile individual that fulfils herself throughout, for example, the care of the others. Obviously, this kind of mindset has a significant impact on the perception of women and, inevitably, on the role of women in society, most notably in the workplace.

Photo Credit: Ralph Alswang

The field of conflict mediation is one of the many where woman has been and still is discredited. There are, however, landmark cases that deserve to be mentioned as, for example, Betty Bigombe’s one, also known as Mommy Bigombe, a mediator that made history. Her experience as conflict mediator is exemplary of how any woman is obviously suited to the job as much as a man but at the same time disgraced by ‘society’. Her story as conflict mediator began when being a Member of Parliament in 1986. During her parliamentary mandate in Uganda, the Rebels were attacking the country’s northern districts, which resulted in the prolonged fighting with the dispatch of southerner Museveni’s army into the north. Although there were many attempts by the government to stop the regime of terror conducted by Joseph Kony in Northern Uganda they all failed.

When Bigombe decided to resign from her position for lack of work attributed to her, the President gave her the task of defeating LRA (Lord Resistance Army). The reaction of the members of the LRA when knowing about a woman sent to settle peace was characterized by resistance and mistrust with a goal of diminishing her role, followed by, not surprisingly, a letter which included phrases such as:

“This is a male domain; if you step in here we are going to kill you. Museveni don’t want to end the war, if he is sending a woman. He is insulting us even more.” (Interview to Betty Bigombe by ‘Enough Project’, 2012).

Despite all the challenges she had to face as a conflict mediator and especially as a woman mediator, she managed to prove herself worthy of her position and, through her inspiring ambition and power, Bigombe negotiated peace talks with one of the world’s most feared man, Joseph Kony. Eventually, the International Criminal Court convicted Kony for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Betty Bigombe’s path is the living proof that there is no such concept as a job made for men or women and that, as unacceptable as it is, women still have to prove themselves just solely for the fact that they are women.

The international community recognizes the multi-layered challenges women have to face and therefore in 2000 they issued the first Resolution (1325) focusing on the role of women in the maintenance of International Peace and Security. To ensure collaboration and coordination throughout the UN system in the implementation of the Security Council resolution, the Interagency Network on Women and Gender Equality established the Interagency taskforce on Women, Peace and Security. However, women continue to be highly unrepresented and therefore they have decided to support each other throughout new initiatives such as the so-called Networks. Networks have been created all over the world for women from every country, e.g. the Southern African Women (2010-2017), Nordic Women Mediators (2015) or again the Arab Women Mediators Network of League of Arab States (2019- in development).

Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

These networks are key strategies to advance women mediators thanks to the global connection and support they provide. Those mechanisms function also as an instrument for participation through enabling continuity during transition from family to work; the mentoring and intergenerational connection or again connecting the tracks of different processes going on. However, those networks also bear with them many limitations such as the sedimentation of a one-dimensional notion of women (as the ‘victim’) or the lack of commitment by government, which releases itself from the duty to help, thinking that simple financing is enough.

An example of a successful meeting of women happened while the Colombian Peace Process was taking place, in 2003. In order to deal with decades of civil conflict, 500 women from all over Colombia gathered to develop ideas and plans on how to act to start the peace process, also considering their presence as women. The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo) signed in September 2016 was by the most inclusive peace agreement in history.

On balance, given the various efforts made by women and given the not entirely satisfactory results, the problem is confirmed to be structural rather than transitional. At the United Nations’ level, mediation has gone from being considered an art to being a science and, lastly, a little of both. Even though this is not the place to deepen the above-mentioned notions, this hint is fundamental. It shows us that, although great conceptual and practical changes have occurred within this field, Ariadne’s red thread that is the idea of woman has remained, reluctantly, intact. Therefore, whatever view is adopted, women are still marginalized or excluded.

Consequently, states, regions and the international community have a duty both to make better efforts in representing women and to seek change in the current mindset about the female ideal. For a well- functioning incorporation of women within these mediation processes and initiatives, the starting point should be education and a bottom-up approach. Without a real change of a tradition of thought, there can be no sustainable conflict prevention, peace or solidarity in the society.

About the author:

Giulia Cacopardo, 23 years old, graduated with top marks in Philosophy. She is now attending the European Master in Human Rights and Democratisation (EMA). For some years she has been trying to deal with human rights and for 4 years now she has been participating in collaborations between universities and prison institutions, supporting the right to study for students restricted to ‘Bollate’ house of prison (Milan, Italy).

She is writing her Master thesis on the relationship between new technologies and human rights with a focus also on gender discrimination, inherent in these machines. She is currently based in Milan, Italy.

Introducing ‘Queen’s on Gender’ website

In an effort to bring together ongoing work on gender at Queen’s University Belfast, we launched a new website this year: Queen’s On Gender.

Queen’s on Gender brings together leading academics from Queen’s University Belfast who can provide an authoritative voice on gender, the many policy areas affected by gender, and a look at the ongoing work by civil society related to gender.

The website includes information on eleven people at QUB who have an expertise in gender, links to research activity related to gender at QUB, and ongoing projects invested in gender research and policy work at QUB. For example, in March a new report about reparations for sexual violence was produced as part of the Reparations, Responsibility and Victimhood in Transitional Societies project, which is based at Queen’s and the University of Essex in partnership with REDRESS. Find this report and other research activity here.

The Centre for Gender in Politics at HAPP is just one of several initiatives at QUB invested in gender research at QUB. Other projects include The Gender Network, PRISM, and the QUB LGBT+ Society, all of which you can learn about here.

Keep checking back on the website as we continue to develop the theme as a way to bring together an interdisciplinary representation of the work on gender at QUB.

The long road to reproductive rights in Northern Ireland: what next?

October 2019 marked the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland through an act of the British Parliament during  the prolonged suspension of the NI devolved government. The act was the culmination of concerted efforts by long-standing pro-choice activists in Northern Ireland, human rights organisations, healthcare professionals and MPs in Westminster, led by Stella Creasy who was able to garner cross-party support for policy change. 

The reinstatement of devolved institutions paved the way for abortion law reform and the introduction of regulations for local abortion access in Northern Ireland.  However, the road to abortion healthcare has been fraught with delays due to ongoing political deadlock and ideological resistance. 

The extraordinary circumstances brought about by the spread of Covid-19 compromised yet again the prospects for reproductive rights and abortion healthcare availability. As a result, a new fight for  reproductive rights has recently  ensued in the wake of travel restrictions and lockdown measures.  After yet another wave of mobilization led by pro-choice activists and healthcare professionals, abortion services have become available at last in Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday 22 of April we hosted a timely webinar  titled ‘The long road to reproductive rights in Northern Ireland: What next? 

We were joined to discuss the recent developments  for reproductive rights by Emma Campbell and Naomi Connor, co-chairs of Alliance for Choice,  the grassroots organisation at the core of pro-choice activism in NI,  and Dr Fiona Bloomer, a major expert in reproductive justice and abortion policy from Ulster University. 

Having been at forefront of research and pro-choice  activism,  our speakers shared information on current provisions and highlighted outstanding challenges to the full realization of reproductive justice in Northern Ireland. 

The conversation also offered an opportunity to situate existing obstacles to abortion access in Northern Ireland in relation to wider concerns over reproductive justice. Namely, we considered the ambivalent implications the current public health responses to Covid-19 might have on reproductive rights worldwide and reflected on  the attacks on abortion provision experienced globally.

Alliance for Choice continues to mobilise to ensure access to reproductive rights for all women and pregnant people. Make sure to keep up to date with their work on  social media. You can also support their activities through their fundraising campaign.

Below is the recording of our webinar: