Sunday, December 20, 2009

Writing about gender violence

I have been struggling to get an article written on internal displacement and gender violence. Part of the struggle, a large part, has had to do with my preoccupation? absorption? consumption by the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign preparation and programmes. Another part, which I am now experiencing, now that I am actually sitting with articles and trying to get started, has to do with some of the analytical and political challenges of writing about gender violence.
Let's start with writing about gender (and some of this is partly a response to having read FMR December 2000 a short while ago): Having never formally studied feminist theory and never quite having mastered the artifice of talking about gender, I myself default to talking about women when I say gender. I am really much more concerned about women in most situations. With the campaign, we struggle with this as a 'gender violence' campaign because most of our programmes end up being about women rather than men, transgenders, etc. But we actually have taken to clarifying that we mean the rubric to indicate our recognition that violence is experienced by all genders. With my own writing, I pretty much don't adopt the 'gender' rubric, and try and speak/write as simply as my mind thinks: I just use the word 'women' to mean 'women.' But the reality is the problem does go beyond just what women and girls experience.
The articles I read today in FMR described situations in which disempowered twice over by conflict displacement and by relief agencies (run by white men) taking over the caretaker's role in their families, men were feeling disempowered and out of place in their own families. Younger men replaced them as community leaders because they were more mobile, enterprising and able to quickly pick up and speak other languages. A couple of the articles highlighted the downside of women's empowerment--the sidelining of men. Or so it seemed. I found these both interesting and perturbing.
Must women's empowerment be part of a zero-sum equation? That seems to land us at the point where we begin, the point we seek to escape.
And that's the utility of 'gender': that we can attempt to find a non-zero-sum solution we can all live with. At least, we hope we can.
Another issue that feels like a stumbling block is the question of victimhood. When an act of sexual or gender violence is committed, someone suffers it. To call them a victim is to recognize that they did not cause or invite this act. On the other hand, victimhood is not a desirable condition or identity or tag. Survivor doesn't always work; not all victims survive.
Moreover, does casting women in victim mode preclude their agency? Or does recognising their journey towards greater agency diminish their victimhood.

I don't actually know the answers to any of these questions and yet, I do. There is a way in which these things will disentangle in my brain. I just hope that happens soon so I can get this article written before long.