Changing the discussion on sexual violence

Changing the discussion on sexual violence

Is sexual violence during war a gender or security issue? Deepthi Suresh investigates. 

Feminist scholarship on sexual violence during peacetime changed the way we talk about rape, making it a matter of public concern. Instead of a side effect or armed conflict, rape was seen as an integral part of the war time power struggle. This had important implications to the way we discuss rape that occurs outside armed conflict. Sexual violence is a form of social power, characterized by the gender power relations. Under feminist scholarship, rape became a politically charged discussion.

Then how do we assess wartime sexual violence?
Sara Meger has put forward the idea that, “Security approach to sexual violence unintentionally produces its fetishisation and that this process undermines efforts to address sexual violence”.

This fetishisation has directed policy towards security and protection, rather than addressing underlying attitudes.

The securitisation of sexual violence, therefore, has placed gender-based violence within the “high politics” of international security according to Sara Meger. By accepting that  gender-based violence committed in armed conflict is an inevitable consequence, it fits into traditional security paradigms. This understanding of gender-based violence somehow has lured policy makers into a fantasy of gender equity but in reality, only obscures the structures that may be the root causes of wartime sexual violence. By focusing instead on increasing security, we ignore the power structures that are vital to understanding rape

Why is feminist inquiry into sexual violence important?
Feminist inquiry certainly brought in a new mode of critical explanation that addressed issues of domestic violence and sexual violence both during wartime and peacetime. This non-conventional explanation recognised it as a political phenomenon. It also laid emphasis on gendered tropes and justifications that exist around why rapes exist.

Feminist researchers brought into the limelight evidence of brutal acts of sexual violence and strategic choices made by the perpetrators such as rape camps, genital mutilations, sexual torture, brutal accounts of soldiers who have perpetrators themselves, perpetrators who have been authority figures such as police officers and UN peacekeepers etc.

They also brought in enough empirical evidence on lack of intervention by agencies, the depiction of rape in popular media and by news agencies, the falsification of actual cases of rape in a particular place by international agencies or Non-governmental organisations etc. as well as the demand for an international collaboration to end rape.


Photo via Flickr.

Cameras in a war zone

Cameras in a war zone

Shivangi Dayal looks at the inspiring women who work hard to cover humanitarian crises around the world.

Alice Schalek (1874-1956)
She was an Austrian journalist, photographer, writer and public speaker. During the First World War, Schalek worked hard to get accredited as a war correspondent by the Kriegspressequartier (War Press Office) in 1915. Her first war assignment was at the alpine front in South Tyro. In 1917, Schalek received a decoration Goldenes Verdienstkreuz mit der Krone for her media coverage.

Camille Lepage (1988-2014)
Lepage started her career as a French photojournalist at a very early age, working independently in Egypt, South Sudan and Central Africa. She covered stories about the conflicts in Central African Republic. While covering conflict in the Central Africa Republic, Lepage was killed.

Lynsey Addario (1973 – Present)
Born in Connecticut (United States), Addario is an American photojournalist. Her work is a mixture of human rights issues and conflicts focusing the role of women in traditional societies. Addario traveled to Afghanistan to document the life of women living under the Taliban before 2001. She has covered almost every humanitarian crisis of her generation,  including conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and South Sudan. American Photo Magazine named her one of the five most influential photographers of the past 25 years in 2015.

Photo by Bimo Luki on Unsplash

The importance of female photographers

The importance of female photographers

In this competitive world no platform is left untouched from sexism. To provide female photographers with a platform, photographer Daniella Zalcman launched a website that promotes the work of 400 women from more than 67 different countries.

Through this website Zalcman values female photographers and their importance in the professional world. According to her, there is something different about female photographers that makes their work unique.

Why are female photographers important?
Good journalism is about sharing stories, stories coming from different people from different parts of the world that every individual has his or her own vision of capturing. Similarly, every female photographer holds her own genre of writing and story telling. They should be given equal opportunity.

How is a female photographer’s perspective different from others?
Women tend to be more sensitive and dedicated to long- form personal narration. They fill stories with emotions and build strong bonds with the subject. Nevertheless, there are incredible male social documentary photography and amazing female war photographers, it’s hard to differentiate and highlight what exactly female photographers are strong in.

Is there sexism in photojournalism?
The comparison between men and women photographers is too much when it comes to the photography world. Men believe they need to impart wisdom onto female photographers. There are also explicit acts of sexual harassment that occurs on regular basis which make female photographers change their decision and interest.

How can this change?
Efforts are needed in order to understand people and their stories. It’s important to give equal opportunities and share as many stories as possible. It is not about male and female but about information, story telling, reaching out to people. We need to improve our thought process.

This website by Daniella Zalcman is a stage where female photographers tell stories through a photo journalistic approach. It not only showcase their talent but also empowers them.

Photo by Ari He on Unsplash


Career Knowhow: Tara Brown, NWCI

Career Knowhow: Tara Brown, NWCI


STAND regularly brings you a quick fire Q&A from people who work in NGOs, with government or in community projects. This week, we speak to Tara Brown, ESHTE Project Co-ordinator with the National Women’s Council of Ireland, who works to end sexual harassment and violence in Third Level Education.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do?
I coordinate the EU funded ESHTE project for the National Women’ Council of Ireland which tackles the issue of sexual violence and harassment in third level institutes. This forms part of NWCI’s work on violence against women by addressing barriers to women’s safety and ensuring their full participation in society. NWCI are the lead partner and work with NGO’s in Scotland, Cyprus and Lithuania. As part of my work I chair a National Advisory Committee consisting of staff and student representatives from several Irish higher education institutes, USI, specialist NGO’s, Student Health Organisations and state partners such as An Garda Siochana and the Department of Justice.

The main activities of the ESHTE project over the next year will be to roll out our ‘It Stops Now’ video/poster campaign in October 2018 across universities in Ireland, Scotland, Cyprus and Lithuania. Secondly we will be launching a toolkit for Higher Education Institutes with resources such as training modules and policies as a roadmap to addressing sexual violence and harassment in an institute wide manner. Finally we will be holding a conference in Dublin in March 2019 bringing experts from across Europe together to share learning and expertise in relation to creating a zero tolerance culture towards sexual violence and harassment in third level education.

What do you love most about your job?
I love working collaboratively with so many energised groups to create a social change and work towards a common goal; equality. Being involved in the field of human rights, gender equality and violence against women allows me to get up every day and work on issues that are personally important to me. One of the aspects about this role I particularly enjoy is having the opportunity to engage with so many engaged students and young people. They have deeply enriched the project through sharing their experiences, ideas and spirit of activism.

What do you dislike most?
The pace of progress is always a challenge, it can take can take decades of incremental measures to implement social change. There is a significant issue of underreporting in relation to sexual violence as a gender based crime. In research by the Union of Students of Ireland and COSC only 3 percent of students surveyed said they reported sexual violence or harassment to someone ‘official’.

It’s positive to witness survivors of sexual violence and harassment find a platform for their voice through #metoo and other movements but there are still countless others that are forced into silence. We need stronger justice systems to protect victims, we need to challenge harmful gender stereotypes that perpetuate victim blaming and excuse or minimise the actions of perpetrators and we need to all work together every day to ensure we move closer to a vision of equality, safety and full participation of all.

How did you get into this area?
I initially studied Law in UCC as an undergraduate and then completed a Masters in Human Rights Law in Queen’s University Belfast.  I had a strong interest in social justice but developed a particular passion for women’s rights, while volunteering on the Women’s Aid Helpline in Belfast. I felt it was important to work at a grassroots level to understand how law, policy and societal structures impact the day to day lives of a broad range of women in order to effectively develop policies, campaign and advocate. Over the past 14 years I’ve worked directly with women on the issues such as addiction, migrant and ethnic minority rights, HIV, prostitution and trafficking and other forms of gender based violence, homelessness and now specifically on sexual violence and harassment.

What advice would you give to students who want to work in this area?
There’s as many capacities in which people can work in the NGO sector as there are types of causes. The first step might be to figure out what you love doing whether it’s supporting people, communications or digital media, administration,  event management etc. I recommend volunteering on an issue you feel passionate about for which there’s an abundance of local NGO’s all over Ireland that would welcome your support. This is a great way to learn more, build up your experience and see if a particular sector is a good fit for you. You may even find that there’s isn’t anyone working on an issue that you feel passionate about and decide to build something yourself as a social entrepreneur.


See here for more on the ESHTE Project or the National Women’s Council of Ireland
Click here to read the previous instalment, with Jennifer DeWan, who works as Campaigns and Communications Manager with Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre.

Photo courtesy of It Stops Now campaign. 

Spotlight: Female broadcasters

Spotlight: Female broadcasters

Broadcasting in both radio and television has consistently been an area within the journalism industry that has presented a lack of female representation at home and abroad. It is an issue that unfortunately is not researched on an annual basis.

The most recent study available is a survey of gender balance in the Irish and UK media in 2015. It was conducted by Dublin City University’s Institute for the Future of Journalism alongside the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), as part of the Global Media Monitoring Project.

The report called “Hearing Women’s Voices,” found female voices on radio got an average of only 28 percent of broadcasting time on current affairs shows, with Newstalk at 18 percent female representation.

Furthermore, research led by City University in the UK found that the on main news bulletins across BBC and ITV, male experts being interviewed outnumbered their female counterparts by almost four to one. An Elon University study in 2013 found that in the US, male reporters had 5.5 male sources for every one female source.

At home, the NWCI called upon the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to monitor the Irish airwaves for gender balance on a yearly basis in January of this year. The authority has yet to confirm that they will follow through with this.


Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

Weaving a new future

Weaving a new future

Above: Awamaki encourage women to use only natural dyes as synthetic dyes can be harmful to the environment. Photo: Laoise McGrath.

In 2017, Laoise McGrath volunteered in Peru with Awamaki, learning about the culture of female Incan weavers and how their livelihood is being undermined. This is the final in a series about her experiences.

Who are the women?
Awamaki helps women in indigenous rural communities. These communities speak their native Incan language, Quecha. Even though they make up 45% of the Peruvian population they are severely under-represented in government and often marginalised, some even lack basic needs such as access to clean running water. Awamaki realised that women were the heart of these communities; they understand what their families and children need. Thus by helping the women, they help the wider community.

How does Awamaki help?
Awamaki began by starting one co-operative in the rural town of Patacancha. It educated women in business and sustainability and also gave them access to classes where they could improve the skills of their trade. It worked with designers and international traders to help women enter the international market and connected the women directly to international clients. The aim was to educate women to the point where they could successfully run their own business without the need to depend on Awamaki further. It also teaches women the ethical practice of using natural, local dyes to dye their wool, instead of synthetic dyes, which can be harmful to the environment.

Today Awamaki has 11 co-operatives in different rural communities and sells the work of its women internationally via its website. More can be found about the work, the women and volunteering at

To see more images of Laoise’s volunteering in Peru see here or to read the previous instalment, click here.