Editorial | Reflections on Our Countries | 3rd Edition, 2023

December 4, 2023

BY Oriana López Uribe

Can we ever imagine a future of Gender-Based Violence advocacy that goes beyond criminalization?

In the tapestry of feminist theory and practices, our collective journey has unfolded across diverse landscapes, guided by the stories and reflections of voices echoing resilience and resistance. For this #16DaysOfActivism, we invited our members and allies to share with us their reflections on the challenges we face in addressing gender based violence (GBV). In this edition of Reflections on Our Countries, we weave together the reflections of Aarushi Mahajan, Lisa Owino, Umba Zalira, Nana Abuelsoud, Laura Valenciano, Jasmine George, Sachini Perera, Nadia Mohd Rasidi, Saritha Irugalbandara, and Madiha Latif to chart a course towards an intersectional response to GBV beyond criminalization. 

With this edition, our aim is not merely to critique the direction of feminist mobilizations addressing GBV, but to spark introspection and much needed conversations within our communities. Why are we doing this? Because we need to animate our imagination for a future where justice is rooted in compassion, care, and inclusivity. We need to remind ourselves of what the current and real consequences of our beaten paths are, and we need to discuss and nuance our views to create new and alternative systems that address the root causes of violence and the systems that feed them, instead of punishing individuals as if they are isolated and singular cases.

Stop, breathe and change; Umba’s reflection on her own attempts at thinking beyond criminalization takes us on a journey into the heart of transformation, urging us to recognize the complexities of how we as feminists have learned about GBV and how we must give ourselves spaces to unlearn and acknowledge challenges. She also pushes us to adopt survivor-centric approaches in our strategies and support systems.

Reimagining approaches to GBV, both Jasmine and Lisa challenge the efficacy of punitive measures in addressing GBV as they throw down the expectation that with punishment, people would abstain from commiting gender-based violent acts both in India and Kenya. They show us different landscapes painted with the complexities of legal frameworks that can sometimes contradict or do further harm, the challenge of impunity, and also the clear measures that are much needed to help survivors escape from gender based violence. 

Jasmine, co-founder of Hidden Pockets Collective in India, invites us to explore community-led strategies that prioritize care, support, healing, and redefining justice for survivors in “On state and non-state/community-based approaches to GBV – Is punishment still a common denominator?”. Moreover, Lisa, who is a feminist researcher from Kenya, invites us through a reflection titled “WHEN WILL WE GET WHAT WE NEED?” to think of the role of the government as a major actor that should foster a more sustainable response in caring for the survivors. Both feminists center adolescents and young people by reflecting on how their sexuality and autonomy are undermined by the lack of tools, respect, and policies that center their rights and agency. 

In “When our desire for protection turns into protectionism”, Aarushi, a feminist lawyer from India, guides us to a deeper reflection in the same direction. Throughout her piece, she challenges the age of consent laws in India, which undermines and dismisses the evolving capacities of adolescents through the use of protectionist laws that are racist, classist, homo-lesbo-bi/pan-transphobic and which are weaponized by parents. Her analysis gives a very deep and structured intersectional argument that can inform our collective advocacy efforts at the local level. It pushes us to ask the right, thoughtful questions that do not have easy answers, but which are necessary to ask for that particular reason. As it’s very clear and easy to translate those concerns to other countries facing the same narrative and trend to “protect” children and adolescents through protectionist consent laws and other restrictive measures to control young people’s sexuality. 

Advocacy addressing GBV at UN spaces can feel contentious when you are unable to have a nuanced informed discussion among member states. However, Nadia, a RESURJ ally in Malaysia, makes sure that we see the structures and the systems that uphold and reinforce gender based violence. So that we can address the root causes and understand how we re-enact carcerality and punitivism. Nadia challenges the hyper-focus on and pronounced exceptionalism of  sexual violence and advocates for transformative, rights-based frameworks that extend beyond the limitations of punitive measures.

Madiha, a RESURJ member from Pakistan, reminds us of another aspect of systemic or institutional GBV through the lens of our right to determine our reproductive life and the different ways institutions and cultures impose maternity and lack of access to a wide variety of contraceptives, abortion and a people-centered approach to reproductive healthcare, which is a type of GBV that we tend to overlook when we demand states to address GBV. A change of narrative around our role as women or people that can get pregnant in society, would meaningfully transform gender dynamics and therefore reduce power imbalances and inequalities.

How can we transform our realities when we answer extreme violations with capital punishment? Nana, a RESURJ member from Egypt, looks at chants for death sentences as an easy fix for gender based violence. “Retribution is not justice” questions how feminists in Egypt project and dismiss survivor/victims’ needs for justice. Who do we have to hold accountable when everyone is dead?   

Many women’s rights groups cheer for increased employment of women police officers as a marker of gender equality. In “Who enforces what?”, Laura who is a RESURJ member from Costa Rica, shares examples of how women officers have been instrumentalized by the police to mitigate feminist mobilizations on the street. In her piece, Laura invites us to scrutinize our strategies aiming at ending gender based violence.  

Saritha from Hashtag Generation was interviewed by RESURJ member and EC Sachini Perera about her work on tech-facilitated gender based violence. Throughout the interview, Saritha honestly reflects on the trials and tribulations of addressing online acts of violence. What do survivors actually want when they experience harm online? As feminists, how can we do a better job of listening? With those experiences being traumatizing enough already, survivors often just want to be taken care of gently and consistently, instead of going through retraumatization when seeking law enforcement or help from the police. She also provides a handful of real-life-experience tips for young feminists about to start advocacy work on TFGBV. 

Sachini, a RESURJ member from Sri Lanka, questions our punitive impulses within our personal realm and feminist organizing. To build a movement rooted in care, compassion, and justice, Sachini encourages us to critically examine if our need for consequences and punitive measures generates a system in feminist organizing that ends up making us feel “alone, ashamed, ostracized and punished rather than in care, compassion and trying to get to personal and structural root causes”. 

In this symphony of feminist reflections, these critical voices from Malawi, Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Costa Rica, Egypt, and Malaysia beckon us towards a future where intersectionality is our guiding light and punitive impulses are interrogated. 

During the preparation of this edition and to the moment of writing this editorial, we have seen calls provoking empathy with the victims of the genocide unrolling in Gaza since October 7, 2023. In an attempt to push rusty buttons, many calls made by feminists, lobbying groups, UN leaders, media and state representatives tried to stress the direness of the situation by highlighting that “women and children are being killed”. This insinuates a collective approval of killing Palestinian men and/or leaving them to die too. Singling out women as worthy of international protection as if they are inherently vulnerable, while sidelining men as if they are inherently violent/aggressors and, in the case of Palestinans, “terrorists”, is another endorsement to oppressive systems dictating whom of us is worthy of living, on what terms, and under which conditions. More accumulative harm befalls women in the long term when they are not being recognized as part of the critical mass fighting for liberation and against settler colonialism. This is what distinguishes feminist movements from women’s rights movements. Knowing that we in all our diversity should be free to be truly liberated. We must dismantle all gender stereotypes so that we can fully stop gender based violence.

Together, let’s forge a feminism that is transformative, compassionate, and committed to dismantling the structures of oppression. This editorial is not just a reflection; it’s a call to action to build a feminist future; it’s a seed for a toolkit to add on and contribute together, as feminists from the Global South.