CHILD SOLDIERS: Where are the girls?

CHILD SOLDIERS: Where are the girls?  Kids, guns and the Patriarchy

By Marie Penicaut

Much has been written lately about African child soldiers.[1] We, in the West, are all familiar with the image of an eight or ten year old boy, holding an AK-47 too big for him, in a pseudo-military uniform, his eyes crying for help. We see him in newspapers and on television. We hear his horrifying story in documentaries, interviews, and sometimes self-written memoirs. Since Blood Diamond[2], we also see him in fiction films, poignant and stereotypical representations of these kids’ tragic lives that we too readily take for granted. And, as Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wonderfully puts it in an inspiring TedTalk, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make the single story become the only story”.[3]

 

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The ‘typical’ child soldier

But where are the girls in all of that? Why don’t we see pictures of little girls carrying AK-47s? Why is there virtually no girl – not a single one – in Netflix’s critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation[4], while many studies have proven that they constitute up to 40% of all child soldiers in some African contexts? Why are they so often completely ignored by academic literature, governments, international organisations and NGOs alike?

 

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Agu’s all-boys unit marching towards combat. Screenshot from Beasts of No Nation.

The answer should not come as a surprise. Once again, the Patriarchy strikes: society puts us in two clear-cut categories, where according to our biological sex – male or female[5] – we are expected to behave in a certain way. Girls will naturally be peaceful, pacifist, and passive; boys will be inherently violent, aggressive, and impulsive. Hence the common belief that on one side, ‘girls don’t fight’, while on the other, ‘boys will be boys’ – which inevitably leads to the idea that war is the realm of men, and of men uniquely.

No wonder, then, that girl child soldiers are invisible, even when confronted with evidence that 10 to 30% of child soldiers worldwide are female, and 30 to 40% in recent African conflicts.[6]

When – and if – mentioned, it is only as simple camp followers. As the ‘good little women’ they are, they cook, do the laundry and take care of the youngest. But in reality, many receive military training and fight just like the boys.[7] During the Mozambican War of Independence (1964-74), which opposed the Portuguese government and FREMILO (The Mozambique Liberation Front), the rebels had mixed and female-only military units where girls and young women fought for the liberation of their country.[8] War was an opportunity for them to escape their gender roles. They were treated just the same as men. But once the country became independent in 1975, it was not long before they were sent back to the kitchen, and the crucial role they played was progressively forgotten.

 

 

Johnny Mad Dog or the stereotypical child soldier narrative

We should not underestimate the power of the media and of pop-culture. They both represent and influence the way we make sense of the world. The first thing I did when I started researching child soldiering in Africa (for my master’s dissertation) was to try to find as many fiction films and documentaries on the topic I could. Before entering the more nuanced and detailed academic discussion, I wanted to have the exact same perception of the phenomenon as everyone else.

I was shocked when I watched Johnny Mad Dog[9], the ultraviolent and ultra-clichéd adaptation of the eponymous novel by Emmanuel Dongala[10]. It tells Johnny’s story, abducted at 9 by rebels, now 15, in yet another unnamed African country torn by a senseless conflict – the Western discourse on African child soldiers is also profoundly racist: most movies are entirely decontextualized, as if the story could take place anywhere on the continent, negating the vast diversity of its 54 countries and the complex reasons that lead to armed conflict.

In the book, there are two narrators: Johnny and Laokolé, a strong and smart girl, who manages her way through a world of violence and chaos. But Sauvaire completely silences her to put Johnny at the centre of the story. She becomes a character of secondary importance. Even worse: while in the book she cold-bloodedly plans to kill Johnny, and does it, as she knows he intends to rape and kill her, the film ends on her indecision whether to shoot at him in self-defence. Her originally strong agency is simply erased.

Dongala’s resistant discourse is violated and distorted to conform to the expectations of a public for which violence is the monopoly of males.

 

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Johnny Mad Dog’s last image: Laokolé pointing a gun towards Johnny, breathing heavily, undecided.

 

Girl soldiers, the “ultimate victim[s] in need of rescue”[11]

If you are active on social media, there is a good chance that you have heard of the Kony2012[12] phenomenon. The 30-minute video posted on YouTube by Invisible Children, an NGO built by three American missionaries, was created with the aim of fighting the child-soldiering the three “discovered” in Uganda. The viral video – which gained 100 million views in less than a week – sums up pretty well all the stereotypes on child combatants. It also illustrates the difference of treatment between girls and boys in the global discourse: “the girls are turned into sex slaves, and the boys into child soldiers”. Things are simple. Girls do all the chores and are sex slaves. Boys are forced to fight and to commit atrocities. Girls don’t fight and boys don’t get raped. Even more than their male counterparts, girls are voiceless victims in need of rescue by the West.

 

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Kony and his ‘army of children’. Source: Screenshot of Kony2012

Many girls and women are victims of sexual violence, especially in the climate of conflict and instability that has affected a number of African countries in the past decades. But stories of rape and abuse too often eclipse other stories of bravery, resilience and survival.

Even more than boys, girls are denied any agency, any voice; they are denied the possibility to speak out and tell their story as they experienced it and not as we want to hear it.

In some contexts, becoming a soldier can be empowering for them. They can gain power, a surrogate family where they had none, and escape their traditional gender roles.[13] Their experience is too often reduced to the sexual violence they may or may not have undergone. In virtually every documentary I have watched for my dissertation project, girls are interviewed uniquely to talk about their experience of sexual violence, and often asked to provide gruesome details to satisfy the journalist’s, and the public’s, morbid curiosity.

It is not the first and certainly not the last time that women have been misunderstood and misrepresented because of sexist stereotypes. But the tragedy lies in the consequences this has on the ground, for real girls that have served weeks, months, and sometimes years in militias. Because ‘girls don’t fight’, many demobilisation, disintegration and rehabilitation programmes[14] exclude them. Only 5% benefit from them.[15] And when they do, their special needs are rarely addressed: no female clothing in the aid packages, no tampons or pads, no reproductive healthcare, etc. Skills training and camp activities are often biased towards males – learning masonry, carpentry, mechanics etc.[16] When going back to civilian life, because they are labelled as sexual victims, they are affected by a stigma of sexual activity. Whether real or not, this stigma leads to social exclusion. Many girls hide their rebel lives from their family and community and decide not to register for demobilisation because they are too afraid of the consequences – of being seen as monsters, as dangerous rebels, as ‘bush wives’[17] that can no longer marry.

More than anything else, girl child soldiers are victims of the Patriarchy. In the West, which ignores and silences them; and in their own societies that stigmatise and exclude them both as rebels and as trespassers of their gender roles. The child soldier phenomenon is a complex one. Its gender dimension is only one aspect of the issue, but one that deserves much more attention than it gets now.

Movies like Beasts of No Nation, Blood Diamond and Johnny Mad Dog, with a large audience and good critiques, are missed opportunities to challenge a simplistic, essentialist and dangerous understanding of child soldiers.

They perpetuate many harmful ideas and are representative of the status quo on the place of women in war: none.  “Just as these films were made mostly by whites and thus show a white bias, so were they made mostly by men and show a male bias.”[18]

 

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[1] Understood as “any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used a fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes” (The Paris Principles, 2007).

[2] Blood Diamond, 2006. Directed by Edward Zwick.

[3] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg.

[4] Beasts of No Nation, 2015. Directed by Cary J. Fukunaga.

[5] Many do not identify with these two categories.

[6] Denov, 2010, p. 13.

[7] Keairns, 2002, p. 13; Annan et al., 2009, p. 9.

[8] West, 2005.

[9] Johnny Mad Dog, 2008. Directed by Jean-Sébastien Sauvaire.

[10] Dongala, E. (2002) Johnny Chién Méchant. Paris: Le Serpent à Plumes.

[11] Macdonald, 2008, p. 136.

[12] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc.

[13] Valder, 2014, p. 44.

[14] UN-led child-specific programmes whose goal is to facilitate their return to civilian life. NGOs often intervene and collaborate at different steps of the process (UNDDR Resource Centre).

[15] Taylor-Jones, 2016, p. 185.

[16] Coutler, 2009, p. 64.

[17] Girls and women forced to ‘marry’ within the rebel group.

[18] Cameron, 1994, p. 188.

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“It puts you in a place like a bottle”: Stigma, shame, and gender based violence

By Carol Ballantine

I’m fascinated by stigma. It’s the way that social judgements, seemingly innocuous and even random in themselves, can determine the whole lives of individuals. Stigma increases HIV infections, it isolates people who need human support, it results in cruel discrimination. One Kenyan woman put it powerfully, in a conversation with researchers for the NGO Trócaire:

Stigma … it puts you in a place like in a bottle. You don’t know how you can get out of it… It’s like something that kills you slowly. It follows you everywhere you go ‘til it finishes you.”[1]

We all do it. We all stigmatise without even realising it. Identifying stigma is the first step to taking away its power.

Stigma

Stigma refers to the social judgement that particular characteristics or attributes are undesirable. The first theorist of the subject, Erving Goffman, referred to stigma as a “spoiled social identity”. This captures the sense that, owing to public judgement, one’s entire identity can be devalued – in the eyes of others, and even in one’s own eyes.

Stigmas attach to all sorts of attributes: behaviours; conditions; diseases and beliefs. The subject most closely associated with stigma in the popular mind, particularly in countries like Ireland, is mental health and mental illness. Certain diseases are also heavily stigmatised, such as HIV, leprosy and TB.

My research is beginning to look at how we can understand the impact of gender based violence by understanding the stigma that goes along with it.

In recent decades, the importance of stigma has been well established in the field of public health. Epidemiologists aim to understand how human interactions and behaviours affect health and disease conditions. Stigma is a crucial piece of this puzzle. Stigma prevents people from accessing the medical and psycho-social services that they need to overcome their afflictions. For example, estimates indicate that nearly two thirds of all Americans with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek help. This is particularly problematic when it comes to infectious diseases. In the case of HIV, not only does pervasive stigma prevent people from seeking medical care, it also prevents people from disclosing their HIV status to others, or discussing HIV with others. This tendency to conceal and avoid mention of the virus enables new infections and confounds attempts to control transmission.

silence-please

If we are ever to address large-scale public health issues like mental illness and HIV (among many others), the importance of tackling stigma is well established. But that’s not the only – nor even the most important – reason to address stigma. Because stigma has a corrosive effect on individual lives. It causes isolation and exclusion, the loss of family and friends at the very time when they’re most needed. It can cause self-doubt, self-blame, self-hatred. In the course of my work, I’ve spent time with lots of people who are (among other things) HIV positive, in Ireland and Honduras, Kenya and Ethiopia. When they’ve talked about their diagnosis, they’ve unfailingly talked about the stigma that goes with it. Sometimes it sounds like stigma is a symptom of the disease. Sometimes it sounds like stigma is worse than the disease.

Stigma and Gender Based Violence

I am working on a research project investigating the social impacts of gender based violence (GBV) against women. The term GBV refers to violence directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex[2]. While women, men, boys and girls can be the victims of gender-based violence, women and girls are the main victims. Like mental illness or HIV, violence against women is a global public health concern, since it is the cause of both morbidity and mortality in women of all ages. It’s also a global human rights concern: women worldwide can’t live their lives to the fullness of their potential because of physical, sexual, financial and emotional insecurity and trauma.

Womenareboring

Stigma is relevant when it comes to understanding gender based violence: both how the violence continues to be perpetrated, and how it impacts people.

Recent analysis of data across thirty low income countries showed that on average, only 6% of women exposed to intimate partner violence approached formal services such as health care or police.

While there are many reasons for women to avoid formal services, one of these is definitely a sense of judgement, of blame, and anticipation of gossip and social rejection. In one study, twenty so-called battered women from Israel discussed their feelings of self-stigma. Here is one woman speaking:

“In fact, why doesn’t a woman complain? She is ashamed that people would find out that she is beaten. She is ashamed to go to the police. This shame is one of the reasons that she doesn’t complain.” [3]

And another woman who was assaulted, from the same Kenya study as before:

“I fear that I will tell them [neighbours and friends] and they will start talking about me and laughing. I do not like that because they will know what is happening in my home and they will go around telling everyone about it.”[4]

We are living in a moment where this stigma is beginning to be recognised and named: that’s why concepts like rape culture and victim blaming are becoming commonplace in some communities and spaces. But stigma is a sticky phenomenon, and shifting it means seeing its many differing dimensions.

Complicating the public stigma that attaches to GBV is the shame that is an almost constant state for many women. Shame is not the same thing as stigma: it is a painful emotion involving a negative self-judgement that affects the whole self. Stigma produces shame, and this can be the most insidious impact of stigma, as it turns a person against herself. And there is good evidence that shame affects women more than men, and differently to men. For Freud, shame was “the feminine emotion par excellence”. Sandra Bartky argues that for many women it may be “the pervasive affective taste of a life”. Triggered by stigmatising public attitudes and gendered emotional dispositions (that is, emotional dispositions that are patriarchally constructed and shaped), shame can take hold on women. It silences them. It makes them complicit in their own victimisation. It enables the abuse and the violence to continue.

As with all other stigmatised conditions, stigma related to GBV is important for at least two reasons. First, for the undeniable impact that it has on individuals: the limitations that it places on their own physical and mental health (through failing to seek help, and loss of self-esteem) and through the isolation and mistreatment it often provokes, the gossip, cruelty and exclusion. And second, for the insidious role that stigma plays in enabling violence to continue. Stigma keeps women in abusive situations, blaming themselves for the violence, or fearing the judgement of others if they leave. It tells perpetrators that they are less than fully responsible, that the victim bears at least some, if not all of the blame. Of course stigma is not the only thing that holds gender based violence in place – but it’s a powerful contributor.

Stigma is a profoundly conservative force, policing the norms that are open to discussion. Because it operates internally in the psyche of stigmatised individuals, it often militates against solidarity, organising and collective action. And yet it works the other way too.

At times, the best reaction to having a label applied to you without your consent is to embrace the label, claim it, and use it as the basis of new forms of solidarity. This has happened to good effect with HIV – though nobody could say that the stigma has evaporated as a result. Stigmatised identities are often reactive and defensive (who would choose to define themselves as a survivor of domestic violence unless they felt they had to?). The support that develops within the community can stand in marked contrast to the continuing derision outside it. The responsibility for shifting the norms, attitudes and beliefs that inform stigma can’t be left to the victims of stigma alone.

Researching GBV stigma

My PhD research is looking at the impacts of gender-based violence, and the role of stigma and shame in amplifying and multiplying these impacts. One element of stigma is that, while it attaches to GBV almost everywhere, the dynamic is very different depending on the norms that prevail, the ways that people interact, and people’s material conditions and values. In my research, I’m focusing on migrant women living in Ireland. They already confront stigma and shame related to their migrant status, and often their status as women in their own communities. I want to know about how gender based violence has affected their lives, and the role stigma has played in this.

enjoy_the_silence

In spite of a critical absence of comprehensive data on experiences of violence, small studies emerge and shed light on this situation, as I hope my research will. This year Wezesha, an African diaspora organisation, released a damning report on the experiences of migrant women affected by conflict living in Ireland. The report is full of disturbing detail about migrant lives in Ireland, and the layers of trauma, victimisation and strength that emerge don’t fit in any easy frameworks. Nonetheless, the ring of stigma and shame sounds clearly through the noise:

“Women have even expressed how they are fearful of speaking with their doctor about their past experience of trauma, depression and stress saying that once it is entered into hospital records it will impact on their possibility of accessing jobs in the future. They indicated that all they want is to move on with their lives.” The threat of social opprobrium, holding people down.

I plan to investigate lifetime experiences of GBV among a small group of migrants in Ireland. I want to examine the ways that GBV has affected their lives and their communities, and the part that stigma and shame have played.

Implications

Spending four years on a research study feels a bit like self- indulgence. Like any apprenticeship, the deepest implications are personal. I am meeting myself in new ways, and of course encountering the ways in which this line of enquiry was prompted by my own extreme proclivity to shame.

I see the insidious power of stigma everywhere – and the dazzling strength of shamelessness.

While activists have done an excellent job of popularising the idea of victim-blaming, using a public health model to understand the patterns and effects of stigma enables us to view it clearly as a policy issue. This study will contribute to an understanding of how violence is experienced by marginalised individuals and the interventions that can help promote prevention, protection and punishment. Here in Ireland, we don’t have detailed knowledge about gender based violence (who is most affected, where and when?) – largely because of savage cuts to all but frontline services (the last comprehensive study on sexual violence in Ireland, for example, was conducted in 2002, when levels of migration into Ireland were far lower than they currently are, and migrants were not even included among the marginalised groups identified). This qualitative study will give an insight into one largely under-served group in the population, their experiences and the barriers they face to seeking help.

Beyond my small study cohort, I hope to show that stigma has an impact of its own on people’s lives, an impact that is additional to and separate from the violence itself. In as much as violence prevents people from taking part in community life, I want to examine the role that stigma plays. This has implications for the priority that we give to eliminating gender based violence – and for the ways in which we do so. I’m hoping that I can also shed more light on the seemingly intractable persistence of gender based violence, in every society in the world.

…..

[1] From an unpublished research study by Jessica Penwell Barnett and Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale, 2013

[2] This definition is drawn from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

[3] Buchbinder and Eisikovits, 2003

[4] Barnett and Matcika-Tyndale, 2013

What now for UK academia? Twelve academics on Brexit

Union_Jack_and_the_european_flag

Photo: Dave Kellam
by Catherine Connolly, co-founder of Women Are Boring

We put a call out on our Twitter and Facebook accounts on Friday afternoon asking for contributions to this special feature on what the EU has meant to women working in academia in the UK, and their thoughts on the referendum result. We received a huge response. But first, some background – I was in London last week, and woke at 6am the morning after the UK’s EU membership referendum to hear Nigel Farage’s voice coming from my friend’s radio, hailing a ‘historic day’ for the UK. My immediate reaction was one of shock – going to bed the night before, it had seemed to all of us in the house that “Remain” was going to take it, albeit by a slim margin. Following the disbelief came the sadness and worry for the friends I have living all over the UK – what would happen now? Four women live in the house I was staying in, located in south London – two of whom are Scottish, one English and one Welsh. All are devastated by the referendum result.

I would not know any of these women had I not gone abroad to Paris on Erasmus during my third year of undergraduate study. One of the Scots was the first person I met when I moved to Paris, and today she is one of my best and closest friends. My Erasmus year set me on my career path and opened up so many opportunities for me, from studying for my MA in London, to living and working in Brussels, and then returning to work in London again in the year before I began my PhD in Dublin. Without the EU, much of this would not have been possible, and so many of the friends I have I would never have met. I am lucky to be from Ireland and to be researching in Ireland – my Irish passport means I don’t have to worry about my freedom of movement or any of the other many benefits which EU membership affords me. But my friends, and many academics around the UK, no longer feel so lucky.

EU funding is vital to the UK’s higher education institutions, as are EU and international citizens. EU and international citizens, whether as students, researchers or lecturers, along with EU funding, have made the UK’s higher education sector one of the most lively and exciting environments to work in, and study at, in the world.

What follows are the words of twelve female academics in different fields, from the UK and elsewhere in the EU, working in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. They demonstrate the massive importance and influence that the EU has on academic research, and elucidate the doubt and worry that many now feel, both in and outside academia.

Professor Fiona de Londras, Chair in Global Legal Studies, University of Birmingham.

de-londras-profile

“Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU.”

All of my university education was in Ireland. In fact, all of it was in UCC where I studied law for seven very happy years. And so, it was a (not unwelcome) shock to the system when I moved first to a chair in Durham and then to my current post at Professor of Global Legal Studies in the University of Birmingham to discover, be challenged by, and ultimately relish in the intellectually diverse and internationally-oriented world of UK higher education. While international and European law had been important in my education and work in Ireland, the richness that Europeanism brought to the student body, my academic community, and the vision and ambition in legal research of the institutions in which I have worked in the UK was energising, challenging and enthralling. That is the first way in which the EU has impacted my career in the UK. It has been a force for diversification of the people, ideas, institutions and challenges with which I try to pursue the key question in which I am interested: what happens to power, law and politico-legal institutions when crises put them under pressure?

For much of my career I have explored this question in the very particular context or counter-terrorism and security, including leading a major cross-national, inter-disciplinary and empirical project entitled SECILE (Securing Europe through Counter-Terrorism: Impact, legitimacy, and effectiveness). With generous funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme I led a consortium of researchers, NGOs and SMEs in the UK, Ireland, Norway and Latvia in a project that both mapped and analysed EU counter-terrorism and, through interviews with major stakeholders in the EU’s institutions and the member states, tried to understand their real world impact on everyday operations and the experience of living in the European Union. This could not have been achieved without EU membership: that created the opportunity to secure the funding, the relationships that underpinned and made possible our consortium, and the access to high level officials in Europe that helped us both access information and gain traction for our findings.

Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU. If Brexit brings us out of these funding structures our ability to ask ‘big questions’ in ‘big contexts’ will be sharply constrained. And what, then, will incentivise the very best researchers who have other possibilities through EU or other citizenship, to remain with the UK’s universities? Will national funding structures, already so stretched, step in to compensate? Will the UK retain sufficient influence in Europe to secure access to these key actors and institutions? Will our colleagues from other EU countries, whose impact on law schools all over this country has been such a key part in diversifying our enquiries and deepening our intellectual ambitions, move on? Will possibilities for staff and student exchange shrink, impoverishing our everyday intellectual environment? And if so, what will be the motivation for people who, like me, have Irish citizenship to stay?

For now many, like me, will be committed to staying and to contributing to the task of thinking our way out of the corner Brexit has placed higher education and legal research in, but one suspects we will also remain deeply aware of the Irish passport that leaves open possibilities for mobility that we may, reluctantly, find ourselves exercising in coming years.

Dr. Diletta De Cristofaro, Teaching Fellow in British Studies, Harlaxton College.

Diletta

“Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach.”

A few months ago, I was walking on Brighton beach with a fellow EU academic migrant. Reflecting on our academic lives, he observed that mine was a “very European trajectory”. I replied that indeed it was, and I was proud of it.

I feel strongly about my European identity. As part of the Italian diaspora, my family has been scattered in North America, South America, and Australia for generations. My own parents were living and working in the US when my mother got pregnant with me. However, they decided to move back to Italy because they wanted me to be born there – and, thus, in Europe.

Like many others, my academic “European trajectory” began with an Erasmus. I studied for one year of my master’s in Paris, and, thanks to the EU Erasmus Programme, the credits I gained at Paris IV Sorbonne were recognised by my Italian home Institution, Università degli Studi di Milano. Today, 26th June 2016, the homepage of the largest student-led online resource on the programme reads:

Erasmus

EU mobility programmes, to and from the UK, would be a huge post-Brexit lost opportunity for future academics. The idea for my PhD project – temporality in contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction – was born in Paris, when I discovered Michel Houellebecq’s La possibilité d’une île in a second-hand bookshop near my university. The project was then developed in another European country, the UK, where it was funded by the University of Nottingham’s European Union Research Excellence Scholarship. My research also benefited from a period, funded by Erasmus Mundus, spent at the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University. In short, my scholarship was nurtured by the EU and by the education systems of four of its countries.

Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach. My visceral reaction was that I would go back to Europe – but even typing this sentence feels odd: the UK is still, technically, part of the EU and is certainly part of Europe geographically and historically. Yet it is undoubtable that the country is moving in a direction I am uncomfortable with, a sentiment shared by that 48% which voted Remain, including friends and colleagues. I have a life in the UK and a three-year teaching fellowship starting on 1st August, but uncertainty looms large: what rights will I have in this country? Can my new institution renege the contract if/when the UK leaves the EU? What happens with my UK-based job applications in the supposed two-year period needed to negotiate Brexit: will they be immediately discarded, as my right to work in this country remains unclear? This is all very imponderable, disempowering, and scary – especially as an Early Career Researcher.

When I was offered my new job at Harlaxton College, I was struck by the irony of a European teaching a module on British identity to US students coming to the UK. Post-referendum, this is a much stronger feeling. And so, in the face of uncertainty, I am working to incorporate in the syllabus Rupert Thomson’s Divided Kingdom, a dystopian novel in which the UK has been divided into four Quarters, each one based upon different humors and personality types. How appropriate.

Diljeet Bhachu, doctoral student, Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh.

Diljeet photo (c Vivek Vishwanathan)

“I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it?’

As a very early-career researcher  − mid-PhD − the impact of the UK leaving the EU on my future plans and job prospects hasn’t quite sunk in yet.  I can’t say I’d done much planning, because on Wednesday I felt like the world was my oyster, I could look for post-PhD jobs anywhere, there were options both in and out of the academy. Now? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find work abroad. I don’t know if there will be jobs outside of academia.

While I haven’t looked at the details, I imagine it’ll likely be more difficult to get research funding, travel for fieldwork and conferences, and it’s quite possible that the diversity of staff and students at UK HEIs will also suffer. I don’t yet know exactly what Brexit means for university funding both through core and research grant funding, and income from tuition fees. What I do know is that there will be inevitable change in the demographics of our student bodies, if not from changes in access to opportunity, but from the indirect effects of removing the UKs status as a place where non-UK students are welcome. While Universities and other HEIs have been quick to release statements showing support for all students, particularly those from EU countries, and pledging no change to terms of study in the near future, can we guarantee that the cities and towns in which these students will live will be as supportive?  Never mind the economic impact of living in a country where the currency has faced its biggest drop in value for 30 years.

With the growing visibility of the far-right, xenophobic, racist views in UK society, my concern now turns towards my research interests.  As a #proudchildofanimmigrant (of two immigrants, actually), I question how research that attempts to embrace all cultures, and cater to the increasingly diverse classrooms created by immigration over the past century or so, fits in a country where many, albeit not all, Leave voters are clinging onto an idea of British Nationalism that reads as White British Nationalism. Where is the space in this new reality of an “independent” Britain for post-colonial critique – following a campaign that laughed in the face of many British citizens who are here as the very result of Britain’s colonial past. Why is my curriculum white?  Is this a question “independent” Britain still wants to ask? Only time will tell, maybe I’m over-reacting, but is it really unrealistic to consider that some of this might be a possibility?

This may represent the views of a few, but their fires have been fuelled by this “victory” and I’m not sure they can be extinguished.

As I’ve said, it’s early days – who knows what will happen.  But while I’ve been writing this, a few bits of information have come to light. Education research gets 43.13% of its funding from the EU. This is a sector that already bore the brunt of cuts.  Add to that my position as a researcher of music education. I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it? We can’t pretend music and music education are separate things. Without the ability to tour easily, are we going to see a decline in the music profession in the UK?

Dr. Jessica Meyer, University Academic Fellow in Legacies of War, University of Leeds.

Headshot

“24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.”

February 2015 was a good month for me. On the 3rd I was offered a permanent job at the university where I had been working on a temporary contract for the previous four years.  Two weeks later I received a European Research Council Starting Grant, worth €1.07 million, to undertake a project examining the medical and social care provided to disabled British ex-servicemen of the First World War.  Within a fortnight, I had not only achieved a measure of professional and personal security, but I had also been given the opportunity to pursue a project that I had conceived as a PhD student ten years earlier, a project which I never thought would ever be funded.

This project involves creating a database of information held in 22,8289 personal pension files created by the Ministry of Pensions and now held at the National Archive.  The goal is to make analysis of this archive easier and the archive itself more searchable. In creating the database, my team and I (there are four of us altogether) are also identifying files which contain material suitable for further close reading, including letters from pensioners and their friends and family, medical reports and official documentation. We are particularly interested in the stories that these files have to tell about the roles that families, particularly women, played in providing care to these men, and how these women’s work shaped cultural understandings of medical caregiving as a gendered practice. Eventually, I hope to expand the project to include comparative discussions of the care provided to ex-servicemen in other European nations in the aftermath of the Great War.

This is a huge project, and one which no British grant making body would fund. Neither the AHRC nor the ESRC allow for postgraduate funding to be built into grants, and the remits of even their large individual grants are relatively narrow.  The Leverhulme Trust, which funds projects with a similar sort of boundary-pushing ambition as the ERC, does not have a scheme that enables team building on the scale necessary to complete this project.  If I were not funded by the ERC, this project would not happen.

So 24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.  The Vice Chancellor of my university put out a reassuring statement to the effect that ‘We also believe that the University’s study abroad programmes and our involvement in Horizon 2020 [which includes the ERC] … will remain unchanged during this period of transition.’ But belief is not certainty, particularly not in a period where nothing feels certain, and the period of transition may not cover the entirety of the period of my grant. The money has been committed, I am told, and so I email my team members to reassure them that their post-docs and PhD studies will go ahead as planned. I hope I am right.

And even if the funding remains, what about the terms?  ERC grant-holders are expected to spend 6 months of every 12 in an EU member state.  Will I have to relocate to Ireland for 6 months of every year after 2018?  I have a young family.  What are the implications for that hard-won personal security that seemed so sure 15 months ago? Everything that I have worked for in my academic career feels directly threatened by the referendum result.

For the moment I carry on, trying to believe that the work I am doing, which I believe passionately in, will be funded for the term and at the terms agreed.  But I don’t know, and that insecurity will shape my research for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Kate Wicks, postdoctoral researcher, University of Manchester.

Kate photo

“Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist.”

I work on inflammation. To put it simply, that’s one process by which the body restores the status quo when it detects that something’s amiss, whether that’s a cut to the hand or a cold virus in the nose. An army of white blood cells is mobilised to deal with the problem, and when it’s resolved, it stands down again. Except sometimes it doesn’t, and the inflammation becomes chronic. That’s what I’m interested in: uncontrolled inflammation, how it starts, and what happens when it doesn’t end.

Back in 2004, though, I was a second-year undergraduate, and I didn’t have research interests yet.Not really. I was studying Genetics with German (‘Did you pick it for the alliteration,’ people asked), which allowed me to combine studying the finer points of gene regulation with German language, literature and history, and I was about to go off on my year abroad through the Erasmus scheme. A rite of passage for modern languages students, for me, it would involve a year working in a German lab. The application form asked what kind of lab I wanted to be placed in. ‘Genetics. Please not plants,’ I wrote. I ended up at the University of Heidelberg, working on the genetics of diabetes-related kidney disease, and that was my future career settled. Ten and more years later, I’m still researching the complications of diabetes, albeit from a different angle.

Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist. By that, I mean the lab and analysis skills that I use every day – how to plan, perform, analyse, evaluate and write up an experiment – but also about the importance of the international community to which I belong. The lab I worked in was funded by the EU; we had collaborators in the Czech Republic; I trained a student from Slovakia; my boss was Dutch. My friends in another lab spanned a multitude of nationalities. In the UK, being a British scientist who spoke fluent German was a novelty; in Germany, every scientist had a good command of at least one extra language, usually more.  I suddenly realised how inward looking the UK could be, and that if I wanted to be a successful scientist, I mustn’t be like that. I needed to connect with people, with as many people as possible from as many places as possible, and discuss ideas and plans and visions. That was how to grow.

I am upset about the referendum result for many reasons, but a big one is the thought that future generations of UK-born scientists won’t have the chances that I had. I had the freedom then to go off and study abroad; I have the freedom now to go and work in a lab anywhere in the EU. I worry about what that means for the development of young scientists. I worry too about the future of science in the UK: how attractive will our universities be to the very best, when our immigration policies grow ever more restrictive? And I worry for my country, which has just seen victory for a campaign based on the idea that shrinking our horizons is a positive thing. It isn’t.

In a month or so, my research is taking me to Heidelberg again, this time for a conference. I am sadder than I can say that this might be the last time I go as an EU citizen.

Dr. Arianna Andreangeli, lecturer in Competition Law, University of Edinburgh.

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“After the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in.”

The result of the Brexit referendum caught a lot of people by complete surprise.  It left many of us in tears, in deep uncertainty and has led us to question our life choices.  This surely happened to me. I am Italian by birth, live in Scotland now, having moved there in 2011: my husband is Scottish but we actually met in England. I am a proud graduate from University College Dublin, in Ireland, where I read for a Masters’ degree in European Law, and of the University of Birmingham, where I gained my PhD in Law, and my first lecturing post was in the University of Liverpool, in the beating, anarchic heart of the North West of England (sorry, Manchester, but the Scousers win it hands down with me). It is not an exaggeration to say that the “EU made me”, personally, professionally and in some of the aspects of my deepest being. I am a strongly minded European: my birth in Italy has given me the passion for the Classics, the Opera and the boundless love of my wonderful family, yet Ireland and the United Kingdom formed me as an academic.

My area of expertise is also deeply imbued by the European project: I am a competition lawyer. I research market dynamics and how the law ensures that they remain genuine, unhindered by outside pressures, such as monopoly positions that may be abused or concerted behaviour aimed at reaping higher, unjustified profits to the detriment of citizens. Yet, I am not, in the best European tradition, a free-marketer: I think that markets should be protected and cherished to the extent that, and because, they secure best outcomes, in terms of quality and of prices, for individuals and for the societies that they touch with their functioning. Ultimately, they must work to nurture individual freedom, not the pockets of the few: they must function in harmony with the environment, not to destroy it; they must uphold the needs of the communities they affect, not secure lower levels of protection for them.

The health emergency of alcohol abuse in Scotland prompted me to embark on my most recent piece of work: the controversy on whether the Scottish Parliament can enact rules setting minimum prices for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages with a view to pricing out of the market the cheapest, strongest and thus most dangerous drinks seemed to me perhaps the best example of evidence-based policy. Backed by a number of independent studies, this legislation was poised to make a true contribution to addressing alcohol misuse, especially among the poorest and most disadvantaged.  Yet, the snag, which was picked up by none other than the Scotch Whisky Association, who have eventually taken the Scottish Ministers to court in Scotland and also in Luxembourg, was that setting floor prices can actually interfere with the flow of trade among Member States… by making imported goods instantly not as attractive as they could otherwise be in their country of origin, where lower prices than the statutory minimum can be applied.

This instantly made me wonder whether competition on grounds of prices is after all so important: at the end of the day, do the EU treaties not say that achieving goals of high levels of, among others, public health protection is central to the European project? This is what I have been trying to find out, and on Friday, namely the fateful day after the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU, I finished the second draft of this paper. Yet, is it still going to be relevant? Surely, competition law is very much part of domestic law in the UK, and these issues will always remain alive.  They say that the UK economy is an open and market-minded one: yet, it was only thanks to the impact of the European project that mechanisms for the enforcement of the competition rules and the avoidance of the creation of harmful position of market powers eventually were legislated for; the UK Competition Act is also fundamentally influenced by the EU Treaties.

I sit here in Edinburgh, a city with a strong European heart: Mary Stuart lived literally ten minutes away from my front room, and she was French.  Yet, after the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in, just that tiny bit more for me to feel comfortable and serene personally, as well as confident in my academic outlook, on the way in which I look at and study markets and try to contribute to public debate with my scholarship.  I had so many plans as to how to bring this agenda forward: the impact of the new EU rules on tobacco trade on competition within the internal market, as well as on the freedom to express “commercial ideas” was up next, yet I am now unsure whether it is now a viable project.  All of a sudden, being on a tiny island does not make it fun for me anymore.

Lucy Greenhill, researcher, Scottish Association for Marine Sciences.

Lucy Greenhill

“Oceans do not respect national boundaries.”

As a researcher into how governance of our oceans can adapt to enable society to respond to the complex challenges of sustainable development, I can only see ‘Brexit’ as a huge backwards step. Simply put, addressing big challenges requires co-operation, openness, long-term thinking and integration, particularly when dealing with issues that are transboundary. These progressive features were supported by the EU, and will be extremely compromised outside of it.

Sustainable development is, by its nature, a complicated concept, and is interpreted differently by individuals according to their values, culture and what they represent in society. How do we protect the environment, but still enable economic development and gathering of resources to support communities? Should we conserve ecosystems for their intrinsic value, or is it acceptable to treat nature as a service-provider for humanity? What if our market-based economy is incompatible with maintaining a healthy natural environment? These questions are not easy to grapple with, but what I have learnt is that we need to talk about it to get anywhere. In my research I am exploring how we start to address these issues on a smaller scale, and related to our use of the seas.

I focus specifically on an increasingly utilised governance tool called marine spatial planning (MSP), which provides a ‘real world’ situation, where we (as a society made up of the state, NGOs, scientists, communities and others) can look at ‘sustainable development’ in the context of activities that relate to our own situation – our jobs, our view from the house, the fish we eat. Briefly, MSP provides a process of planning ahead for various marine activities and ecosystem protection in a particular region of sea, in an integrated way. This has the benefit of moving away from fragmented management of different industries and interests and explore the most ‘sustainable’ combination of development in an area and involving civil society in the process. Using social science, I am looking at the methods that we can use to explore future possible scenarios through MSP, identify how we manage potential conflicts for space or resources and debate how ecological and social limits are respected. At least that’s the idea…

Conceptually, MSP makes sense, but it faces key challenges, made harder following a vote by the UK to leave the EU. Oceans do not respect national boundaries. Our human activities (shipping, tourism, etc.) and habitats and species operate across boundaries hence the committed drive to increasingly co-operate and integrate between countries of the EU. This includes sharing data and information, aligning our processes, sharing experience and knowledge, collaboratively funding the science essential to improving practice, developing joint ‘visions’ to drive national policy and motivate industries and stakeholders, and many, many more. It saddens me greatly that the UK may now not be a leading participant in such co-operation and which compromises our ability to progress in answering these fundamental questions which define our future. But I am determined to fight for ensuring support for science, to improving the voice of scientists in the political arena and maintaining co-operation with European institutions and organisations on these issues.

Dr. Lauren Redhead, composer and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Lauren Redhead Photo 1 Richard Lee-Hair

“Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work.”

I am a practice-researcher: my research includes performing and composing both as its methodology and its outputs. This type of research is different from written research because it can’t necessarily be enacted without its public-facing and collaborative dimensions (this is not to say that these aren’t important to other researchers, but that they are more often central to practice research). My personal research directions involve the performance of sound in space, iterative processes of composition, and the enactment of extended open notation by partly improvising musicians. As my career has progressed this research has taken place on a global, and particularly European stage. I have recently returned from a tour of performances in Germany and Scotland, working with musicians from the UK, Germany, America, and Iceland. My most recent commission has come from an international contemporary music festival in Belgium; the piece will be performed alongside music by other composers from the UK, Belgium and Portugal by a pianist, Ian Pace, who has made his career on the international stage, performing music from most continents.

This serves to illustrate that research in the arts, by its nature, crosses borders. The collaborations that I have made have been central to the development and dissemination of my ideas. Music cannot be realised without musicians and practice research can’t exist without its practice. But these collaborations are not arbitrary either: the musical tradition that I work in (often called New Music (Neue Musik, derived from a definition made by Theodor Adorno) is, essentially, a Central European tradition, albeit one that draws musicians from America, Australia and Asia. The contemporary musical traditions in the UK, outside of key institutions like the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, have not historically supported this music as other EU countries have done.

Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work: the ability for me to travel to Europe, to have the right to work and play there, and to be able to invite European musicians to work and perform in the UK means that this work can take place without administrative hurdles that would obscure the research aims. I am worried about the future possibilities for my collaborators in the UK, and for the future potential for me to continue to develop my work in Europe. The potential for the arts to flourish without our European partners is narrow, and this will also impact the development of the arts and therefore the development of research in the arts. As a postgraduate student of composition I was advised by my supervisors to look to Europe as my workplace, and this is advice I’ve continued to give my postgraduate students. I now wonder what the future for their work, as well as mine, will be.

Dr. Rita Singer, Research Assistant for the AHRC-funded project ‘European Travellers to Wales, 1750-2010’.

“Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today.”

Rita photo cropped

Just a little of under three years ago, I moved to the UK as a freshly recruited researcher working on a major project between three Welsh universities investigating 260 years of travel from mainland Europe to Wales. Since then, this all-female team of researchers have unearthed an unanticipated amount of accounts from 17 countries, written in 15 languages. Needless to say, if I coloured in a map according to the countries of origin for each of these travellers, I’d look at something that would not be much different from the EU. We are still in the middle of evaluating our sources, but one thing is clear: the reasons why people come to Wales were as diverse two hundred years ago as they are today. There are holiday makers scrambling across rocky mountain terrain in all sorts of weather; there are refugees escaping political persecution and wars; there are lovers who establish their family lives in this country; there are engineers who marvel at the great bridges and industry of Wales; there are the artists who have painted and sketched every inch of this country; and – this is where I find myself coming into the picture – there are the scholars investigating Welsh literature, history and language. Two-hundred and sixty years of all these different paths of life connecting the mainland with these islands and as of Friday morning, it seems like this proud tradition is coming undone.

My own history as a German in this country is not exclusively tied to this research project but took off in a roundabout manner in Berlin during a night-time press conference in November 1989. That night, a high-ranking East German politician ‘miss-spoke’ in front of dozens of cameras when an Italian reporter pressed him on the status of the East German border. Less than a year later, the GDR was wiped off the face of the European map as it reunited with West Germany and thus joined the European Community.

Fast-forward sixteen-years to my time as an MA student at Leipzig University where I was enrolled in British Studies as my first major and German as a Second Language as my second subject. When I was given the opportunity in 2005 to apply for the ERASMUS programme, I jumped on the opportunity for one of two precious placements available at Bangor University. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated studying abroad, let alone studying in the UK with its tuition fees way beyond my financial means. If it hadn’t been for the EU, studying English Literature and teaching German to undergrad students at Bangor University would have forever remained a pipe dream. It probably would have also meant that I would not have been introduced to the rich and beautiful literature coming from Wales which formed the basis for my later PhD research.

Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today. The freedom of movement guaranteed by the EU allowed me to return to the UK during my time as PhD student when I dug my way through the Bangor University Archive and Special Collection, the National Library of Wales and the British Library on multiple occasions. The freedom of movement also meant that I could travel to conferences across Europe while being spared the exasperating experience of applying for visitors’ visas, like my German colleagues who travelled to Russia for their research.

Without the EU, I would most likely not have felt encouraged to pursue work as an academic and I would have missed out on this great international network of intellectual exchange and the building of cultural bridges. Learning Welsh would have been much more difficult, too, as schools providing classes for adult learners are heavily dependent on EU funding. So is the National Library of Wales, one of the main collaborators for the current project, or the museums in Wales with whom I teamed up over the course of the previous two years to create a free travelling exhibition. With the Brexit on all of our doorsteps, it seems these institutions, who already struggle for survival owing to chronic underfunding during these years of austerity, will fade into the inevitable cultural twilight.

I am not a politician and can therefore make no predictions about my future in this country. All I know is that as of Friday, all bets are off and I am looking at setting up a ‘Plan B’ down the road which does not rule out a return to Germany, hoping that I may be able to continue with my research on the culture and history of Wales.

Rena Maguire, Doctoral Scholar, Queen’s University Belfast.

Rena Maguire

“It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option.”

Had there been a more stable and competent government, I may have voted for an arrangement similar to that of Norway and the EU. I initially kept an open mind on Brexit, and did my research on what the key issues would be for my career, family and quality of life. It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option. Archaeologists are the international wanderers of academia, with constant global collaboration on shared projects. It’s a facet of the profession I’ve loved – learning and being accepted on a world-wide basis. If anything, all the travel and research has reinforced just how much we all have in common across Europe.

The EU has reciprocated that constant interaction of archaeologists by offering funding to heritage and research sectors. The Times Higher Education supplement of June 24th 2016 placed that funding contribution to UK archaeology as around 28%. Leaving the EU means that effectively we have almost a third less available finance to stimulate new projects, consolidate old ones and create employment. It’s obvious that the Brexit vote will have an extremely negative influence on the education sector of the UK, although with statements from people like Michael Gove, there’s a strong feeling of anti-intellectualism or academic specialisation within those who voted to leave the EU. I can only presume they don’t realise that new research stimulates employment across all sectors, not just academia. Universities have already accepted too many cut-backs and perhaps I am being pessimistic, but cannot see a Far-Right Brexit-led government being far-sighted enough to replace the 28% funding we shall lose from Europe.

I worked in the media before entering academia and if I’m capable of any talent in this, it’s translating the past into something relevant and vibrant for the present, making academic issues accessible to all. People love heritage and archaeology because it is fascinating. But it’s also so important to show how much we have in common. The entire heritage sector feels exceptionally apprehensive at the moment, that we will have no fiscal value under such a Far-Right government. I am lucky in that I am Irish/Northern Irish; my passport is Irish and as such I remain a member of the European Union. I can still work with colleagues in Europe, though I fear I may never be employed in the UK. That 28% will take a terrible toll in jobs, and I suspect my own future waits for me on the Continent – I’ll be one of the new breed of Wild Geese which this political event will generate. I am overwhelmingly sad and angry for UK colleagues who do not have this option. However, I know that universities in the UK will do all they can (especially my alma mater of QUB), so am hopeful – academics are an altruistic lot, and resourceful too. I reckon we just need to keep hoping and teaching to overcome all the vitriol.

Dr. Viviane Gravey, Senior Research Associate, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

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“Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore.”

As a political scientist working on EU policies and politics, the European Union is not only a potential funder for both my research and that of my colleagues but also the object of my study. As a French citizen living and working in the UK, the European Union not only shapes my professional life but also my private life: rights to work, access the health service, protection against discrimination, right to vote in local and European election. A Brexit puts all of these in question. It will also cast a long shadow on my teaching EU politics in the UK: how will my students, some of whom won’t have been old enough to vote on Thursday, engage with the EU in the coming years and months?

In the last few months I have been involved in efforts by social scientists across the UK to provide facts to voters, trying to raise the profile of environmental issues in this campaign – I am one of these “experts” Michael Gove argued the public is tired of hearing from.  We studied different Brexit scenarios.  We will now have the dubious privilege of seeing whether the environmental protections and rights which we identified as at risk in case of a vote to Leave, will indeed be weakened or removed.  Great for our research, potentially not so great for the environment in the UK…

That someone like me – studying the European Union – is to be affected by Thursday’s vote is really a no-brainer. And while the impacts on my private life and rights will be negative (if I stay in the UK I will be disenfranchised, lose some protections), the vote could open interesting avenues for further research for public policy scholars, as the UK will have to renegotiate so many international agreements and revise so many of its own laws.

I am far less sanguine for my colleagues working in other fields, both hard and social scientists, both from the UK or long-term residents in this country. On Friday, two senior colleagues shared what would normally have been very good news: they had both secured EU Horizon 2020 funding for their research. These grants would effectively pay their wages for part of the year for the next three years. But then, what next? Would these grants be the last EU funding for which they’d be eligible?

The full force of a Brexit impact on research in the UK won’t be felt for many months or even years. For permanent staff, this could mean losing out on cutting edge research funding. For early career researchers on short-term contracts, for PhD students trying to get their first post-docs, this means an even smaller pool of jobs to compete for in the UK. Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore, and as we discussed the referendum over coffee, many started openly contemplating continuing their work abroad, be it to the rest of Europe, the US or Commonwealth countries.

Dr. Roberta Guerrina, Reader in Politics, University of Surrey.

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“The outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.”

One of the big silences in the recent EU referendum has been the impact of a possible Brexit on British women and European women residing in the UK. Now that the verdict is out, many of us have been left wondering what Brexit actually means for us. Gender equality was never one of the key issues in the Referendum. Now that the UK is facing a new political and economic environment made up of economic and constitutional challenges, it is unlikely to surface at the top of the political agenda. Yet, the outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.

 I completed my PhD on the UK and Italian implementation of the 1992 Pregnant Worker Directive many years ago. My understanding of the relationship between national politics and European institutions seems more relevant now than ever. I spent the next twenty years looking at the development of the European equality agenda, and like many others I focused on the shortcomings and unfulfilled promises. This year’s Referendum campaign, however, forced me to look at the EU’s role as a gender actor in a completely different light.

Looking at the relationship between UK equality policies and the EU draws attention to the role and influence of the transnational feminist movement and the importance of finding a platform for women’s rights advocacy beyond the state.  The UK’s withdrawal clearly poses additional obstacles to women’s right organisations seeking to expand the equality agenda at the national level.

The recent economic crisis of 2008 had a detrimental impact on women’s position in the labour market. Austerity policies have weakened women’s position in the public sphere and the official labour market. Key services aimed at women’s activation have been depleted by various rounds of austerity measures.  The crisis allowed policy makers to side-line gender equality in the pursuit of higher political and economic goals.

 The result of the Referendum brings into question the longevity of key equality policies, e.g. maternity rights, introduced to fulfil the requirements of European legislation.  Focus on cutting red tape during the campaign did not address one key issue: equal rights, maternity rights and equal opportunity policies are often seen as red tape by those seeking to liberalise the market.  The UK has a well established body of equality legislation, but in a post-Brexit environment it not clear which institutional structures and mechanisms will be put in place to ensure basic standards are maintained.

 The EU’s role as a gender actor has not lived up to feminists’ expectations. Equality is one of its fundamental values, but there is a growing gulf between rhetoric and reality. The kind of equality agenda produced has been largely driven by economic imperatives. However, it has produced a body of legislation that normalised the idea of gender equality in the labour market. It has provided a platform for feminist organisations to lobby beyond the Member States. It has given space to Femocrats (feminist bureaucrats) to promoting far reaching legislation in the area of pregnancy protection.  The question now for women is: can UK actors/policy agencies fill the void left by European institutions?

Gender Equality in Northern Ireland – in urgent need of a ‘Fresh Start’

by Michelle Rouse

Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement contains many references to equality and human rights, and one specific reference to the “full and equal participation of women in public life”. Women were also involved at important points in the negotiating process, leading many to believe that the Agreement could significantly transform women’s roles in Northern Ireland. Michelle Rouse argues, however, that in the 18 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, parties to the process have failed to capitalise on that potential and in its absence a particularly negative legal and political discourse on gender now dominates Northern Ireland.

There is nothing new under the sun, or so the idiom goes at least, and the gender dynamics which lurk beneath the surface of the Northern Irish peace process would certainly appear to support this assessment. It is an enduring truth that women remain the most historically marginalised and excluded group across all conflicts and all jurisdictions. It is equally true that women and men will experience conflict in different ways and will have very different needs in the post-conflict period. Feminist analysis of conflict suggests that applying a gender lens to how specific issues of human rights, security and political participation are framed in peace agreements may provide an effective litmus test for how women’s specific needs will be addressed in the post-conflict system. In other words, we need to give specific attention to the issue of gender if we are to fully understand the ways in which women are served or underserved by the Good Friday Agreement and the current system in Northern Ireland.  This piece shines a spotlight on a significant failing of Northern Ireland’s world renowned peace process – namely, that it has systematically failed to address the post-conflict needs of women.

‘Northern Ireland’s world renowned peace process…has systematically failed to address the post-conflict needs of women.’

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Stormont, Belfast – the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

How are Human Rights and Gender Equality spelled out in the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement affirms “the right of equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity’.  This “duty” is located within the Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity Section of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). This was enacted in legislation by Section 75 of the subsequent 1998 Northern Ireland Act.  The section 75 duty was exalted by many as ‘unique and world leading’, earning the impressive moniker of the ‘single most extensive positive duty imposed in the UK’.

The statutory equality duty has not delivered in respect of gendered inequality: reasons why

The available evidence however, overwhelmingly indicates that the statutory equality duty has not reduced gendered inequality. Conversely, problems with implementation may have actually compounded discrimination and inequality for the most marginalised women.

Critiques of the duty cite ‘institutional resistance’ as a key impediment. Theories range from the benign, attributing this to an inherently conservative civil service resistant to innovation; to the more malign, suggestive of tolerance for the promotion of equality further down the food chain but resistant to implementation at the top.

‘Available evidence…overwhelmingly indicates that the statutory equality duty has not delivered in respect of gendered inequality.’

Budgets:

Certainly when it comes to the ‘big’ decisions, there is ample evidence of a systematic failure to subject policy to full impact assessment. For instance, the Investment strategy for Northern Ireland and the Budget have not once, in 18 years, been subject to a proper Equality Impact Assessment process. Instead, a bespoke ‘high level impact assessment’ has been crafted to cover this. The Equality Commission has emphatically rejected the use of high level impact assessment, but without enforcement powers it can do little about it. What is beyond dispute is the stark fact that no significant budget decisions have been re-profiled or adjusted as a result of identified gender impacts.

Intersectionality:

Section 75 has also been critiqued on the basis of a failure to be responsive to intersectionality of discrimination in the lives of women in general, and in particular, its failure to acknowledge the distinct interplay of gender, religious belief and political opinion which exists in NI.

Evidence of a worsening situation in terms of the intersectionality of women’s inequality can be determined from the statistics of housing need in North Belfast. The women who are most impacted by social housing inequalities are statistically more likely to be lone parents, have less disposable income and less control over family income. They constitute the ‘low paid and unofficial labour market’.

Catholics represented 73% of those on waiting lists, but only 35.7% of those awarded accommodation, whereas Protestant applicants constituted 26.2% of the waiting lists but represented 64% of those offered accommodation. The stark nature of these statistics has been significant enough to draw the attention of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

There have been suggestions that NGOs and Women’s Groups too, may be consciously avoiding combining religious and political inequalities in reports and lobbying as a tactical approach to their own survival.  If groups are seen to be divisive, overtly political or departing from the narrative of ‘balance, their funding and broad based appeal could be put in jeopardy.

‘Section 75 has failed to be responsive to intersectionality of discrimination in the lives of women in general, and in particular, to acknowledge the distinct interplay of gender, religious belief and political opinion which exists in Northern Ireland.’

Ireland-Capitals

For those who may not be familiar with it, this map shows Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Security

Issues of security, while central to any peace agreement, are not typically dealt with in a way that takes account of the particular post-conflict threats to women’s security. The application of a gender lens to issues of women’s security in post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland is very revealing.

Physical Security

Arguably, one of the most pressing risks to women’s physical security and integrity is intimate partner violence (IPV). Mc Williams and Ni Aoláin note that IPV can actually increase in the post-conflict setting and may take on particular features as a result of access to legal and illegal weaponry. This means that policy responses to intimate partner violence in post-conflict institutional arrangements must be robust and created for the specific context which they will address.

The ‘Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse Regional Strategy‘, however, failed at the most basic level to acknowledge the transitional context it was created for, and the particularities of the problem it ostensibly seeks to address. It further failed to identify and situate government-related responses within a human rights framework of state obligations. The effect of which, according to McWilliams and Ni Aoláin was to make individuals ‘pleaders for protection’ rather than bearers of rights and status.

The Strategy’s approach to domestic violence as ‘irrespective of gender’ has led to the capture of other forms of abuse which can occur in the domestic setting.  This composite approach has obscured the unequal power dynamics in intimate partner relationships, which form the kernel of the problem.

‘The “Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse Regional Strategy”…failed at the most basic level to acknowledge the transitional context it was created for…’

Legal Security

Feminist analysis also recommends that the reform of substantive law, i.e. the law defining rights and duties, must also involve the reform of law enforcement. In conflicts which have featured an ethnic divide, scholars recommend that agreements must examine compositional issues including gender requirements.

The Good Friday Agreement established an Independent Commission on Policing. Compositional data illustrated that 8% of the RUC (the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland’s police force from 1922 to 2001) identified as Catholic and 13% as female. Female officers were over represented in the part-time reserve and underrepresented at senior levels. The Equal Opportunities Commission did advocate that a gender quota should be included, but this advice was disregarded. The Police Act 2000 which followed made provision for 50/50 Catholic/Protestant recruitment quotas, but committed only to a ‘gender action plan’.

The distinction in the two approaches taken to create compositional change could hardly be starker. The religious element was considered so politically important that it necessitated the immediate introduction of quotas, in order to make massive change occur rapidly. The issue of gender representation however was not similarly regarded, in spite of the UK’s obligations under CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women)]. The Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also noted its concern about the failure to introduce ‘temporary special measures to address the under representation of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors as well as in political life.’

Ulster PM Blair/Ahern sign
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998. www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/good_friday_agreement

Economic Security

The Montreal principles on women’s rights hold that economic, social and cultural rights have a particular significance for women and further acknowledge that women’s pre-disposition to socio-economic deprivation is worsened in conflict and post- conflict settings. As such, women clearly have the most to gain from the articulation of socio-economic rights within any Bill of Rights.

The creation of legally enforceable economic and social rights would go right to the core of pervasive structural inequalities, which subordinate women as ‘lesser’. Justiciable rights, i.e. rights which are subject to trail in a court of law, have the potential to be truly redistributive. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission recommended the inclusion of legally enforceable socio-economic rights in a Bill of Rights, a position supported by over 90% of those polled by Millward Brown Ulster. The Northern Ireland Office however determined that the conferral of socio- economic rights in Northern Ireland would give rise to unjustified inequality across the UK. The current British Government’s commitment to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act bodes ill for rights enhancement, and indeed it  suggests that regression on existing civil and political rights is more likely.

Political Participation

In contrast to its myriad of provisions and technical devices aimed at ensuring representation of the different political traditions, the agreement contains no provisions which would give effect to women’s ‘full and equal participation’.

As a consequence, women have remained largely marginalised from participation in public life and in particular remain excluded from positions of power and influence in Northern Ireland.

Notwithstanding recent Assembly election results which saw the number of women elected rise from 19.4% to 28%, an increase of almost 50%, the Northern Ireland Assembly lags well behind other devolved legislatures which polled on the same day. Women comprise 48% of the incoming Welsh Assembly and 35% of the incoming Scottish Parliament. The absence of legal quotas from the framework agreement has been a defining structural inhibitor which has resulted in a ‘catch 22’ situation; unless more women are elected to the Assembly, it is unlikely to generate a more inclusive political agenda.

‘Women have remained largely marginalised from participation in public life and in particular remain excluded from positions of power and influence in Northern Ireland.’


Acknowledging then the paucity of female representation in the political institutions and public life here in general, the concept of a Civic Forum provided an unparalleled opportunity to ensure that women could impact on the decision making process. It was envisaged that representatives from a wide range of sectors, including the women’s sector, would sit alongside the NI Assembly, working as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural matters.

The Civic Forum was suspended in 2002 with the devolved institutions. Unlike the other institutions provided for by the GFA, the Civic Forum was never re-activated. The recent ‘Fresh Start” Agreement makes provision for a ‘compact civic panel’ of 6 members. Appointed directly by the First and deputy First Ministers they will be tasked ‘to consider specific issues relevant to the Programme for Government’. This circumscribed ‘intermediary’ model is far removed from the model of participative governance envisaged by the GFA. Compelling evidence of exclusion of women from the decision-making process within the civil service is illustrated by the profile of the North’s most senior civil servants – the Permanent Secretaries (who head Stormont’s departments) are exclusively male.

‘Women’s demand for equal status has been largely sidelined by politicians and civil servants, who continue to prioritise central power issues.’

While power sharing and consociational arrangements undoubtedly provide stability in transitions from violent conflict, the Northern Ireland experience suggests they may also constrain deeper aspects of political transformation. Women’s demand for equal status has been largely sidelined by politicians and civil servants, who continue to prioritise central power issues. Since the Good Friday Agreement there have been a succession of further negotiations and agreements: Weston Park in 2001, St Andrews in 2006, Hillsborough Castle in 2010, Stormont House in 2015, and a Fresh Start in 2016.  Each of these Agreements has been precipitated by a political crisis arising from outstanding commitments and/or allegations of default by one side or another. Issues have included the impasse over the transfer of policing and justice powers, allegations of armed group activity and problems arising within the complex power-sharing architecture. Ongoing default however in respect of key equality and human rights provisions has not, of itself, been regarded as sufficiently important to precipitate a crisis within the Stormont body politic.

On the contrary, in each successive negotiation since 1998 there has been a steadily declining focus on equality and human rights provisions.  At each successive stage of the implementation process, the process itself has become more exclusive and the agenda too has narrowed considerably, largely at the expense of those measures with inherent transformative potential. Human rights elements have been consistently eroded and power issues aggrandised.

‘…Eighteen years on from 1998, the promise of ‘full and equal participation of women’ may be even more elusive now than it was then.’

The Stormont House Agreement last January –  collapsed all of the outstanding Good Friday Agreement commitments in respect of Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity into one catch –all, generic paragraph. Unsurprisingly, this attrition has coincided with the absence of a specific voice for women at most of the negotiations which have followed the Good Friday Agreement.  The continued absence of this specific voice suggests that eighteen years on from 1998, the promise of ‘full and equal participation of women’ may be even more elusive now than it was then.’

For more on women’s participation in peace processes, and consociational and power-sharing peace agreements, read Tajma Kapic’s piece on women’s political participation in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Political Participation of Women in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Tajma Kapic

Mostar during war

Mostar, Tajma’s home town, during the conflict.

I was 26 and had just finished university when the war broke out. I vividly remember my terror, alone in my apartment, when the shelling started. I witnessed first hand the horror of war.

My personal experience as a survivor of the Balkans war and my continuing concern for the welfare of women in post-conflict situations lead me to my PhD research . My project is a comparative analysis of the impact of the Good Friday Peace Agreement (1998) and the Dayton Peace Agreement (1995) on the political participation of women in the post-conflict societies of Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After the initial shock, I started working in the local children’s aid organisation, distributing aid to children across the lines of division in my hometown of Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the end of the war, I have been either learning about, or working towards improving the lives of women and girls in the countries affected by war and disasters.

While undertaking a Master’s degree in Development Studies, my thesis centred on the integration of Bosnian women refugees into three European countries: Ireland, Norway and Sweden. I focused on a comparative analysis of refugee laws and policies in those countries and their ability to provide services for refugees. The research gave me an insight into refugees’ own experiences of integration and the difficulties they were faced with in this process. My first project looked at women who were forced to leave their homes and their country as a result of the violent conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina but I always felt that it was equally important to answer the question of what happened to the women who remained.

What are power-sharing agreements, and where are the women?

International norms on democracy and women’s rights agree that the presence of women in political institutions, as well as their participation in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction is undoubtedly important. Two of the most celebrated power-sharing peace settlements in history, are the Dayton Peace Agreement that administratively determined today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Good Friday Peace Agreement, that ended a long running low-level conflict in Northern Ireland. These agreements have had varying impacts on the space available for women’s political participation.

Both countries are still deeply divided post-conflict societies and they both have peace agreements based on principles of power-sharing. So why, then, is the political position of women in post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina weaker than that of women in post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland?

In order to answer this question we should perhaps explain what power-sharing peace agreements are. These types of arrangements are also referred to as consociational peace agreements and they are becoming the international community’s, and the UN’s in particular, preferred solution for ending civil wars through peace negotiations as well as the main tool for building durable peace and democracy in war-torn and divided societies. The main tenets of consociational arrangements are: institutional representation for all significant groups, cross-community executive power-sharing, mutual veto powers in order to protect group’s vital interests and a high degree of autonomy for each community. Although these types of peace agreements are implemented and positively accepted around the globe, women are often ill-served by such settlements. Ethnicity and nationality lead consociational considerations and thus, considerations of gender equality suffer.

Mostar_bridge

Mostar, today.

The Dayton Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement: Differences and Similarities

The Dayton Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement are inarguably similar, but also unique in their own right. Both agreements are power-sharing arrangements between communities that are still divided. Moreover, they are similar in that were brokered under the influence and active participation of the international community, during the same US administration. Despite these similarities, there is a significant difference in the form of power-sharing arrangements contained in the agreements. They also differ in the outcome for women, with the political position of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina being weaker than that of women in Northern Ireland.

The Dayton Peace Agreement, which stopped the three-year long conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is often described in academic literature as the new ‘social contract’ that was to set the standards for post-conflict societies. This peace agreement however, gave insufficient attention to women’s political rights. Further, since there was a complete absence of women in the peace process, it became a ‘dialogue of men’ which in turn created a conservative backlash and became a characteristic of women’s post-conflict experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The women of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the course of the twentieth century, have lived under six very different political systems, including two different kingdoms, two major wars, a socialist political system and a transitional democracy. Each of them developed its own notion of gender relations. Very few political systems include women in their apparatus, especially beyond the minimal numbers. First multi-party elections in many post-socialist societies in Europe manifested itself in a considerable reduction in number of women in parliament. The post-socialist states that emerged from the former Yugoslavia are certainly not an exception. The socialist’s one party rule in Yugoslavia had at least some egalitarian idea in relation to the inclusion of women in the political sphere, on principle, if nothing else. But amongst the nationalist parties in the former Yugoslav republics, there is not even an abstract egalitarian idea with regards to women and their political representation. The nationalist leaders of these former socialist states believe women should be seen but not heard, as the saying goes.

Women, who have during the conflict held a family and very often whole communities together, taking full responsibility for their survival and integrity, are very often left out in the processes of post-conflict economic, political and social reconstruction. While these processes are going on in their absence, and decisions are being made by their male national political leaders and in the presence of the international community representatives, women are told to go back to their ‘normal’ lives and activities. This has been especially evident in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This has real-life implications for women in the political sphere today. So women’s participation in decision making bodies in Bosnia and Herzegovina went from having a female Prime Minister of Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia in 1983 to not having one single female minister in 2008. The post peace agreement elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina had a near catastrophic result for women’s representation in the parliament and went from zero women representatives in the 1996 and 1998 elections to 7.14% in the 2000 general elections. The two following elections, in 2002 and 2006 had the same percentage of 14.29% of elected women parliamentarians, while elections in 2010, showed a slight increase to 16.67%. In the last general elections in 2014, women numbered 21.40% of representatives to the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Dayton Peace Agreement has also been criticised for not including gender within its framework and therefore disadvantaging women. It has also been criticised for the fact that its focus on ethnicity has meant that up to the present ethnic divisions have been privileged at the expense of other forms of social identity, including gender.

In the end, although it may seem that there are no implications that these two conflicts and their consequences are directly comparable, there are many theoretical similarities in the manner individuals, especially women, respond to their impacts and how they observe their place in the post-conflict setting. That being said, in relation to peace settlements, the Dayton Peace Agreement was less successful, since it reinforced patriarchal relations of power and traditional gender roles in this society through the subjugation of women. Considering that societies who fail to incorporate gender equality in all segments of its public and private spheres are likely to be submerged into a conflict, the gender blindness of the Dayton Peace Agreement can have extremely negative consequences for this still divided society.

With my research I hope to compare the routes to political office of women and the experience of women politicians, candidates and political activists in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. Through this research, I also aim to contribute to a discussion on the reforms necessary to implement gender equality in political representation in these states and to contribute to the wider discussion on integrating gender equality into consociational peace agreements.