5 take home messages from Pathways of Women’s Empowerment: Beyond 2015

30/06/2014

Kate HawkinsKate Hawkins

The life of a meeting report writer is a lonely one. It is easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement of an issue when surrounded by fascinating and challenging speakers. But once everyone has flown home and you are wading through 50 pages of meeting notes, trying to decipher acronyms and cryptic quotes you sometimes feel like you are drowning in a mass of information you will never make legible to those who didn’t have the privilege of attending. So to give myself a bit of impetus and help order my thoughts I have come up with a list of what I consider the top 5 take home messages from the recent Pathways of Women’s Empowerment meeting.

To add to the complexity of synthesising simple messages, the meeting made it clear that there is no single feminist nor a single development actor. Those involved in this field inhabit very different worlds, subject positions, politics, and positionalities. When we sit outside the places that people live and look in on them, we can fail to make sense of, listen to, and resonate with women’s lives. Those caveats aside, here are the messages:

1. That there is a gulf between policy advocates engaged in post-2015 agenda setting and the fears, dreams and demands of many women organising in disparate settings. The skills required to track and influence advocacy at the global level are very technical and a particular cadre of feminists occupies this space doing vital and necessary work. But somehow, post-Beijing, the parallel structures which enable these staff to adequately network with women at the grass roots have been lost. (Re)building this dynamic and organic network of links and entry-points for dialogue is a key priority.

2. There is a translational issue. Women’s movements have been just as good as any other advocacy group in developing clear messages for policy. However, what is understood by the term ‘women’s empowerment’ differs between large development institutions and social movements struggling for justice. All too often empowerment is instrumentalised – as exemplified by catchphrases like ‘gender equality is smart economics’. The reductionism and sloganeering of the development sector sometimes strips the politics out of the work.

3. Feminist networks and monitoring, learning and evaluation experts need to work together. Participants at the meeting decried the difficulty of generating indicators and systems which would allow them to trace the impact of strategies like collective organising and consciousness raising. They also rightly pushed back against a value for money and results agenda which inadequately traces the types of change in women’s lives which women believe are important. More could be done to foster partnerships between feminist activists and progressive evaluation experts who are trialling methodologies such as process tracing and realist evaluation to strengthen this area of work.

4. Research has failed to adequately deal with the implications of global capitalism for women’s empowerment. The global financial crisis has had a very debilitating effect on global policy spaces. At first people with a progressive slant to their politics thought that it would highlight the failure of capitalism and provide an opportunity to create a new world. But the opposite has happened and neo-patriarchialism has been enforced. Moving forward this needs to be central to research agendas.

5.Forging new alliances and intersectionality will be central to the future of feminist activism. The importance of partnering and working together with men, sexual rights activists, the creative industries, workers movements, revolutionaries and legal and religious scholars with an interest in social justice all came through strongly in the meeting. As did the idea that women have complex identities which encompass a number of interests and issues beyond women’s rights. There is a need to be strategic about these alliances and understand that there will be instances where interests do not necessarily collide. Furthermore, women’s movements need to guard against instrumentalising others in the push for women’s empowerment.

I hope that this blog gives a flavour of some of the issues that we discussed. I am relying on my co-author Jenny Edwards to add a bit of oomph to the text I have come up with. And we are planning to bring together some of the multi-media content from the meeting which will make it all the more engaging. Join the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment mailing list to get a notification of when the report and the multi-media contents go live and watch this space for details of how to learn more…

Kate Hawkins is a member of the Sexuality and Development Programme International Advisory Group and the Director of Pamoja Communications.

Read previous blog posts by Kate Hawkins


What is sexual liberation? And is it safe?

26/06/2014

Anne Philpott

We often forget that safer sex can feel good. Putting on a condom could be like squeezing into your favourite sexy boots or latex dress, ready for action. Telling your lover what you want and your desire to be safe could be foreplay. Sexual health campaigns could focus on the positives of good safe sex. Sex education could include creative masturbation techniques. After all, what’s safer than a good wank?

‘Pleasure is arguably, if not definitively, the single most powerful motivating factor for sexual behaviour.’ – World Association for Sexual Health, 2008

While it’s important to discuss distorting images of sex, consent, and abuse, society’s focus only on saying ‘no’ leaves little room to highlight how we can learn to say yes to good, safe sex. Sex that fulfils us, makes us happy, satisfies us and bonds us to others. Recognising that we can create new types of safe, pleasurable sex, in which multi-faceted desires are recognised, should give us confidence that other forms of liberation are possible.

However today models of development focus on saving victims of violence or negative consequences of sexual risk. Whilst models of sexual liberation emphasize narrow goals of individual pleasure, focusing on lithe, heterosexual, monogamous bodies galloping towards orgasm. The politics of broader sexual liberation or a broader definition of sexual health are rarely discussed.

We need a new model of safer sex promotion
Sexual pleasure remains a highly significant, if not primary, motivating factor for sexual behaviour. There is strong evidence that the pursuit of pleasure is one of the primary reasons people have sex, and that fear of disease is not a strong motivator for safer sex. In ignoring pleasure, the development community is ignoring one of its most potent tools in stopping the spread of disease. It is also stopping the broader discussion of sexuality rights, including the recognition of individual agency, especially when it comes to those most affected by HIV. Female pleasure taboo obviously plays a huge role in female genital mutilation (FGM) practices however this is rarely discussed in terms of pleasure promotion to ensure communities accept that young women have as much right to feel pleasure as young men. Instead campaigns tend to focus on ending a terrible human rights abuse, and rarely mention how women can still feel pleasure post FGM or that the key motivator for carrying out female genital cutting (FGC) is societal fear of women’s pleasure.

Safer sex campaigns have focused almost exclusively on fear-based messages to promote safer sex, to the extent that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is seen either as destructive or even as a major contributor to the spread of HIV. Pleasure can also be about power, and men and women are expected to behave in certain ways to fit in with societal expectations. In many cultures wanting sex makes you ‘too easy’ or ‘a slag’, if you are a woman. In many cultures being too lubricated is a sign of being promiscuous, resulting in a preference for dry sex, whereas for men experience is respected. Women are also burdened with needing to appear always passive or ignorant. We risk violence, death or ostracism if we ‘enjoy sex too much’ or are not virgins when we are meant to be.

So how do we transform ourselves, creating more meaningful, good, safer sex lives? Sexual liberation is not only about more sex for some people, or more orgasms, but should prioritise pleasure, consent, and respect for a wide range of sexualities, (dis)abilities and body types.

Explicit safer sex campaigns that eroticise good, safe sex have been shown to make people feel good and be safer (pdf) with their lovers. Studies comparing American and Dutch young people (pdf) showed that the Dutch sex education, which focused on mutually enjoyable, responsible sex, leads to lower rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

talk dirty postcard

One of the postcards from the Pleasure Project

We at The Pleasure Project work to try and ensure that there are examples of erotic materials that are safe and that sexual health and training materials include discussions of pleasure. To this end, we wrote The Global Mapping of Pleasure to collect together examples of community groups, sex bloggers, porn film makers who are doing just that.

We profiled the Sensuousness Action Research Project (pdf) in West Bengal in India: they train gay male masseurs and clients in safe, sensual, satisfying pleasure techniques, aiming to provide economic security and life stability for the sex workers. Another project, St James Infirmary, in San Francisco, is a sex worker health service where workers are asked about what they enjoy at work in order to expand discussions of good safe sex.

We also profiled erotic safer-sex tea towels for gay men in Australia, dildo-making contests for marriage counselling nuns in Mozambique, and ‘seduction’ training modules for couples in Nigeria. Many groups work to enhance the sexual repertoire of heterosexual monogamous relationships, encouraging a less traditional view of the kind of sex you have with your marriage or long term partner. One slogan read: ‘Many positions with one, not one position with many’.

Avoid negativity – focus on desire and pleasure
All our case studies avoid sex negativity, promoting safer sex with a focus on desire and pleasure, at the same time working to reduce the shame people feel in pleasure. Most of the community groups in the mapping recognise that a focus on pleasure and safety means liberation from traditional perceptions of their sexuality and lives.

Dorothy Aken’Ova, founder of the Nigerian International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights says:

‘People thought we were wasting time talking about sex and pleasure, when maternal mortality is so high … But I was convinced that if this delicate, taboo thing – sexual pleasure – could be negotiated by women, then almost anything can be negotiated (…and that idea gave me multiple orgasms!)’

Safer sex is promoted best through positive incentives and building communities of practise, learning from people who constantly negotiate safer sex, like sex workers, with people who are seen as the experts, like sex educators.

By opening up aspirations for safe pleasure in a wider range of relationships, or for people not traditionally expected to experience pleasure – women and people with disabilities, for example – we can unearth a much wider range of political freedoms.

Getting in touch with what we want from our sex lives might unearth much broader visions of liberation, the kind that moves beyond the individual to recognise collective visions of change.

Anne Philpott is the founder of The Pleasure Project, established in 2004 to challenge the public health approach to sexual health by highlighting the importance of pleasure and good safe sex through advocacy, training, research and general being the ‘guerrilla girls of HiV prevention’.The Pleasure  Project has a long standing partnership with the IDS Sexuality and Development programme that spans joint work on academic papers, some funding and providing joint long term advisory functions. Both the Global Mapping project and training resources were made possible with IDS funding 

This is an amended version of an article that first appeared on Open Democracy.

Read more recent blog articles about sexuality and development


Tackling gender-based violence through citizen action in Cape Town’s townships

25/06/2014

Joanna Wheeler and Thea Shahrokh

Joanna WheelerGender-based violence is both routine and extreme across South Africa. In Cape Town, cases such as the rape and murder of nine-year-old Elihle Hlanjwa  continue to highlight the seriousness of this issue in the lives of women, men and children living in the city’s townships.

Sustained activist pressure on legislative and judicial bodies shows the challenges involved in responding to the issue, with opportunities for mitigation, redress and healing limited by an ineffectual justice system. The current inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha township has been driven by residents’ deep-rooted mistrust in law enforcement institutions, which is in part, a response to the failures of the police in addressing the issue. The violence that permeates township communities is also connected to economic insecurity and marginality of the spaces where people live. This has been acknowledged to a certainThea Shahrokh extent in municipal policy, such as the city-led Violence Prevention and Urban Upgrading scheme. However, the significance of the how violence is used to enforce discriminatory social norms such as those surrounding gender, age, race, religion and ethnicity have received less attention.

A recent pilot evaluation by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, the University of Western Cape and the Institute of Development Studies was undertaken to learn from citizen activists taking action against gender-based violence in Khayelitsha township. The lived experience of these activists provides an example of how community responses to violence are contributing to a sense of democratic citizenship and the transformation of inequitable relations of power, attitudes and behaviours at the local level.

Citizen-led innovations in addressing urban violence demand greater attention in policy and programming. This requires seeing those living in contexts of violence as potential active citizens, who are able to claim their rights to security and demand greater accountability, as well as act directly to mitigate violence. In this evaluation an in-depth understanding of the life choices and life chances of community activists meant that we were able to understand more about what enables people to take action against violence, within their homes, communities and cities, and importantly what sustains this activism.

Activists found value in opportunities to reflect on their own lives and relationships before trying to influence others, seeing their own life journeys and personal transformations as important catalysts of change. Activist networks were essential for engaging people across all levels of society, helping to reshape and rethink societal norms around violence. Police responsiveness and accountability on issues of gender-based violence within intimate, community and institutional spaces were seen as crucial for rebuilding trusting relationships with citizens and in catalysing wider citizen action.

‘If there was a wife calling the police saying that there is a husband beating me up then they will take their own time to come because they know the husband. Sometimes they say ‘we don’t interfere with marriage, so you just need to go to the centres, or to those organisations that deal with marriages or abusive relationships’. But now we are working with them, because we introduced them and we are wanting them to become a part of the community committee.’ (Woman, Community Activist, Khayelitsha).

Activism against violence does not exist in a vacuum. Citizen action against violence that is informed by the local context, its constraints and its possibilities will be more sustainable and will have greater impact when combined with interventions that address wider systemic issues that drive poverty and inequality. Furthermore, it is important that policies addressing violence prevention and mitigation link between local, provincial and national levels. Learning needs to take place between each level to ensure that policies are responsive to, and enabling for the grass roots activists. The National Strategic Plan to End Gender Based Violence which is currently in development provides a platform for this kind of transformative policymaking. In order to realise this vision it will be critical that the policymaking process learns from community action, and enables citizens of South Africa to have a stake in the response.

Related research on citizen action and community-led innovations against gender-based violence in South Africa

The SLF Project ‘SafeShebeens’, which seeks to reduce the risks of violence to women in public drinking venues, was recently short-listed for the OpenIDEO Amplify Challenge.

Case study research with SLF and Sonke Gender Justice has been initiated to explore how collective action contributes to addressing the discriminatory social norms that perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence, and the role of men and boys in enabling transformative change.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS. Joanna Wheeler is a Senior Research Associate at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, previously she was a Research Fellow at IDS.

Read more blogs by Thea Shahrokh and Joanna Wheeler


The emerging LGBT movement in Vietnam: lessons in negotiating legal spaces

23/06/2014

Tu-Anh Hoang

Thirty years ago, before the economic reform which is known as Doi Moi in Vietnam in 1986, it was hard for people who know the politics in Vietnam to imagine or even think about the existence of civil society in the country, let alone a civil society movement. Today the Vietnamese government not only recognises the existence of thousands of registered and unregistered NGOs and groups but also acknowledges the contribution these organisations make to the development of the country. This emergent civil society includes LGTB groups which until the 1990s were invisible.

Homosexuality though not illegal, used to be seen as social-evil together with other illegal phenomena such as drug use, gamble and prostitution. A HIV epidemic helped make the LGBT community visible and known to the media and public. However, the government’s health risk management approach did not help empower the community to affirm their rights on sexual orientation and identity nor reduce related stigma and discriminations. Much of the public and policy makers still think about homosexuality and transgender as phenomena that affect some (unlucky) individuals and if society keeps a close eye on this, they can control and somehow eliminate these ‘deviants’.

However, in 2012 the VietPride bicycle rally with rainbow flags on the streets in Ha Noi and the Ministry of Justice’s proposal to revise the Marriage and Family Law to take into account same-sex relationship awakened the country. LGBT people are no longer isolated and marginalised groups but have organised and engage successfully with media and policy makers.

As a result of this engagement Vietnam became the first country in Asia to discuss same-sex marriage at the national level. The revised Marriage and Family law that passed on 19 June 2014 does not recognise these rights. This is a setback not just for the movement in Vietnam but also for other groups in the region who had hoped to use the legalisation in Vietnam to open the door in other countries. While this is disappointing it should be seen in perspective of a turbulent political context and process with setbacks and successes. The movement with the LGBT organisations and their supporters is still strong. Their engagement and negotiation abilities are not diminished.

The recent report Negotiating public and legal spaces: the emergence of an LGBT movement in Vietnam – co-authored by researchers from the Institute for Social Development and the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, a local NGO in Hanoi – documents the process of the emergence of the movement.

Three strategies made the engagement and negotiation possible:

Depoliticising the LGBT movement to create space for civil association and engagement
Creating emotion is considered a key term in the mobilisation for both public presentation in VietPride and the legalization of same-sex cohabitation and marriage. Rights for love, for having a family and for pursuing happiness are centred in the arguments of LGBT activists and groups. Instead of criticising sexual politics, slogans and messages are adapted to somehow match with the country development goals regarding equity and well-being. This strategy is criticised by some activists as ‘too safe’ and may hamper the linkage of LGBT movement with other human rights and democracy movement in Vietnam, it is recognised by majority that this is relevant and effective in current Vietnam political context.

Broad rights-based framework on LGBT rather than employing a limited special interest LGBT group framework
The number of organisations and groups working exclusively or focally on same-sex relationship in Vietnam is still modest and most unregistered, which imply the limit in term of legal power. However, this disadvantage is made up of a coalition with other well-established and registered organisations working on gender, domestic violence and sexuality in Vietnam. This linkage is possible through a shared broad framework on gender equity and human rights. This coalition does not only bring more legal power to LGBT movement but also makes it more acceptable to the public and policy makers.

Building positive wholesome images of LGBT
This is a key strategy of the LGBT rights movement in Vietnam. LGBT activists see this as characteristic that distinguishes their movement from the work of HIV. While this strategy seems successful, the positive images and stories of mainly young, healthy, middle-class, university-degree not reflect the wholeness and diversity of LGBT communities.

The strategy of depolitisation might be reconsidered by LGBT groups and their network of partners. What’s important to keep in mind is that this broad rights based network is still there in spite of this setback. The friends of the LGBT activists are still their friends even though their enemies might still be there. The image of LGBT today is also much more positive and diverse than it was a few years ago. LGBT are no longer portrayed as sick social deviants; instead images of young wholesome LGBT are found in the official and on social media. It is likely to be a long process. Vietnamese are probably the world’s experts at thinking strategically, playing a long game and winning unlikely wars. Losing battles along the way is part of this path and will not change the determination of the LGBT movements and their friends for equal rights. In fact it may fuel it.

This blog was written by Tu-Anh Hoang as part of the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme.

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Understanding food security through a gendered lens

16/06/2014

Georgina Aboud

At the heart of the IDS Knowledge Services’ gender team – BRIDGE – is a passion for understanding and promoting gender justice through participatory approaches. BRIDGE’s latest publication – the Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Food Security – due to be published in autumn 2014, is an excellent example of this. The team recently convened a highly engaging 48 hour online discussion, from 13-14th May, with the main objective of allowing experts to share and exchange ideas on the most current thinking and practice on the issue in order to inform and strengthen the publication.

women selling fish

Key themes to emerge from discussions:

Food Security needs to be understood as much more than just food production: Emerging strongly from discussions was the extent to which, in policy, ‘food security’ is being conflated with and reduced to food production, driven by an economic growth agenda – described as the ‘productivist’ trend. Success is measured in crop yields, disconnected from people, power and inequalities, but very much connected to market solutions and agricultural profit. Food insecurity is more complex than simply not enough food, so increased food production does not necessarily mean enhanced food security, and enhanced food security for women.

Women’s lived realities need to be fully understood and integrated: Thus, calls for more holistic approaches to food security and gender equality emerged from our discussions, where the popular policy response of ‘invest in poor women farmers’ is seen as only part of the solution to a complex problem. A close connection to women’s lived realities is needed – where women are not just mothers, or farmers, or farmworkers, they have multiple roles and needs.

Identifying the interconnections between policies is key for effectiveness: Key recommendations to emerge in terms of ensuring policy change move beyond words into action, is that policy makers need to see and develop the interconnections between policy areas so that policies strengthen each other. For example, interconnections should be made between food security and climate change, and between food security, gender and HIV/AIDS. It was also identified that a rights-based lens, a clear understanding of the problem, political will and robust monitoring are also essential elements to success.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment must be central in action and practice: Overwhelmingly the discussions saw calls for holistic approaches, with the need for food and nutrition security approaches to not only tackle women’s nutritional status but also their ‘position’ in families and society. Discussions linked women’s earning power and control over land resources, to strengthened decision-making power in the household and greater control of women’s social and physical security.

Learning from good practice: Examples from India, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were given of successful initiatives using a more holistic approach, which essentially created safe spaces for women to talk and reflect. These were an important step in women gaining confidence and made way for more decision-making opportunities within the household. Other fascinating examples included several initiatives on value-chains.

Training and skills promotion, for women in particular, is key: A key theme running through much of the discussion was the importance of training, skills promotion – the idea that ‘new skills will add to a woman’s status, and decision-making’.

More research on food security using a gendered lens is vital (and access to it): many participants pointed to the persistent and yawning research gaps: from the need for more contextualised household-level data, to sex-disaggregated time allocation surveys; from research into the impact of female extension workers, to research that unpacks the disconnects between rights to food and women’s rights, amongst others.

Understanding the value of gendered research: We also need evidence that demonstrates the value of investing in gathering these types of data, and the costs of failing to do so, from a food security and a gender equality perspective.

The Gender and Food Security Cutting Edge Pack will incorporate, and build on, these points to ensure that relevant policymakers and practitioners have a clearer understanding of the key issues and a set of recommendations sign posting the best way forward. For more information about the Cutting Edge programme, please visit the BRIDGE Gender and Food Security Cutting Edge page .

Cutting Edge Pack Series

Written and produced in collaboration with partners, Cutting Edge Packs provide accessible overviews of the latest thinking on a cutting edge gender theme in development research, policy and practice. Each pack includes:

  • Overview Report, outlining the main issues, examples of innovative practice and recommendations;
  • Supporting Resources Collection including summaries of case studies, tools, online resources, and contact details for relevant organisations;
  • Gender and Development In Brief comprising a short overview of the theme and two inspiring case-study articles by Southern-focused practitioners

We usually translate packs into at least French and Spanish to reach a broader global audience.

The Cutting Edge Pack Series is available online on the BRIDGE website.

Georgina Aboud is a Gender and Food Security Convenor at BRIDGE, a research and knowledge mobilisation programme located within IDS Knowledge Services. BRIDGE supports gender advocacy and mainstreaming efforts by bridging the gaps between theory, policy and practice.

Photo credit: C. Schubert (CCAFS) under the creative commons license

Read previous blog posts on gender and sexuality

 


Bridging the gap: strengthening the sexuality and poverty evidence base

11/06/2014

Stephen WoodStephen_Wood200

One benefit of working on a programme that spans several years is that (if things go to plan) the partnerships that you build and the concrete outputs that emerge can add up to something that mutually reinforces itself in effecting transformative impact and change. Two important moments in the lifespan of our Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme (SPL) over the past few weeks have underscored this potential in a striking fashion.

Our work in the last couple of years has focused on exploring how conceptions of sexuality are coded into the DNA of poverty alleviation policies, in ways that exclude those individuals marginalised as a consequence of their sexuality or gender identity. My colleagues and I co-constructed the focus and methodological approaches of the resultant ‘policy audits’ with our international partners, providing space for partners to turn a forensic eye to often neglected, yet crucial debates they felt needed wrestling with, as well as putting reflexive evaluation at the heart of our working relationships to inform the planning of future activity over the course of our programme.

The work has certainly been timely. Linkages between sexuality and poverty have never been more topical, as an appetite for alternative entry points by which Western Governments can engage their Southern peers around sexual equality has increased steadily. Research about to be published by the World Bank by Dr M.V.Lee Badgett is already making headlines in estimating a conservative financial cost to India’s economy of between 0.1% – 0.7% GDP per year as a result of homophobia.

One aspiration of the SPL Programme from its inception has been to redress the historic paucity of evidence to show that sexual minorities suffer a double-bind of prejudice and exclusion from economic security, rather than the aspirational, privileged ‘Pink Rupee’ clichés that are lazily reported in the press. Our approach of linking narratives and personal testimonies from grassroots experience with nuanced policy interventions has hopefully contributed in some small way to a qualitative foundation from which the now-growing quantitative research base has gathered momentum.

Policy-influencing in action: the success of GALANG

Last month GALANG, our partner in the Philippines, convened a national advocacy meeting ‘Policy Audits for Inclusive Development’ in Quezon City, co-sponsored by Mama Cash and IDS. The event allowed space for politicians, policy-makers and civil society actors from across the country to interrogate the role of sexuality across a wide range of policy arenas such as education, disability, housing and health policy. GALANG invited domestic specialists in each field to act as discussants, responding to the common challenges highlighted by each country’s Policy Audit and locating these in policy debates taking place within the Philippines. The resulting richness of dialogue underscored the advantages of brokering South-South collaborations further and clearly spoke to an appetite amongst policy-makers for further evidence to bolster the case for reform.

I could easily have spent this entire blog post rhapsodizing about how impressive the GALANG team were in identifying strategically important participants over a period of several months, of building a programme for their meeting that spoke to the audience’s appetite for practical policy-programming recommendations and the quiet brokering of concrete policy changes and commitments from attendees at the national, regional and local level. Rest assured, both myself and my IDS colleagues have never seen such a seamlessly, pitch perfect exemplar of stakeholder-mapping and policy-influencing in action. Seeing them in action has certainly been a highlight of my work on the Programme.

Going live with the Sexuality and Social Justice Toolkit

Hot on the heels of our return from the Philippines, the Sexuality, Law and Poverty Programme undertook a global launch of our new Sexuality and Social Justice toolkit – an interactive platform that synthesizes much of the reflexive, collaborative learning undertaken with partners so far in the Programme. It provides resources that allow donors, policy-makers and activists to follow in the recent footsteps of our Policy Audit authors, providing guides by which they might navigate and structure their own examination of these hidden exclusions within poverty reduction programming, whilst hopefully providing insights that help negotiate and avoid the pitfalls.

By using our experiences working collaboratively on the development of a diverse set of Policy Audits (each employing radically different methodologies and negotiating vastly differing actors and spaces) we are gradually building an archive of case studies that speak to the concrete realities of undertaking this work. Now that we have gone live, we are beginning to gain feedback from our target audiences about the additional resources and practical tools they would find helpful and the site will be supplemented with new material regularly. I’d encourage anyone interested to sign up for ongoing updates and contribute to this ongoing dialogue.

The last two years have involved being part of a collective enterprise to reinforce and strengthen the case for a step-change in how those concerned with the ‘bread and butter’ issues of development consider individuals who experience their sexuality and gender outside of cultural norms. By designing similar interventions that result in multiple outcomes, reach diverse sets of actors and loop around to catalyse each other, I’m hopeful that the second half of the Programme can have an enduring legacy in helping shifting the terms of debate around sexuality from the margins to the heart of poverty eradication.

Stephen Wood is a Research Officer on the Sexuality and Development Programme within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

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Barcelona: The conflict of Can Vies and its political significance

06/06/2014

Alison Carney and Maria Olivella Quintana

‘Politics is the art of resolving problems and here a problem has been created, instead of being resolved, at many levels: a security problem, the destruction of a meeting/cohesion/training space… With many people being thrown out of the system, Can Vies was not part of the problem, but part of the solution.’ (Gemma Galdon, Political Scientist, University of Barcelona, Interview with El Pais 29th May 2014)

One week ago the Catalan police entered and evicted the famous squat and community centre in the Sants neighbourhood of Barcelona, called Can Vies. This event, and the disproportionate brutality used by the police against demonstrators later that day, have sparked some of the biggest riots and public demonstrations in Barcelona since the Indignados in 2011. The social significance and strength of the movement that is loudly protesting the eviction of Can Vies is far greater than this one incident. Although the significance of these demonstrations and resistance is being discussed in Catalan and Spanish media, sadly the English speaking media around the world has limited their coverage of the event and continuing movement to some very short, page-three articles that fail to even address the complexities and potential of what is happening in Barcelona this past week[1].

The building that is now known as Can Vies[2] was constructed in the 19th century is located near the Barcelona Sants train station. It is owned by the TMB (metro) company in Barcelona and by the 1990s it was abandoned. In 1997 a group of young people occupied the building and organised it so that part of the building was used as a living space, and the other part as a social centre that has been used as a political organising space, and a community centre for dance, music and other activities[3].

In 1998 and again in 2007 the TMB company filed complaints against the squatters in Can Vies in an attempt to evict them. After both of these complaints were rejected by the courts, the TMB company filed complaint again in 2013 and the Can Vies Assembly[4] has been negotiating with the city council since. The negotiations continued until the day before the eviction.

Can Vies is one of a number of occupied buildings throughout Barcelona (and Spain) that serve as community centres and political gathering places that are completely unmediated by the state. These centres provide resources and alternative spaces to communities that the city council has failed to provide.

Image of Can Vies before the eviction

Can Vies before the eviction

The Eviction
In March 2014, the city council and the court made a joint decision that the TMB company could evict Can Vies. TMB had already stated that when they evicted Can Vies they would tear down the building and leave an empty lot. This eviction happened first thing in the morning on Monday, May 26, 2014. The police were extremely aggressive towards the neighbours and supporters of Can Vies who gathered outside the building in solidarity with the occupants. A large demonstration was organized for 8 pm Monday evening to denounce the eviction and protest the destruction of the building.

The demonstration had not made it more than 500 meters before the Catalan police cut off the march and dissipated the crowd by driving their fleets of vans into the middle of the demonstration, with armoured police officers jumping out of the vans and beating anyone near them. People were forced to run into the narrow streets in the neighbourhood, chased by the armoured police officers who were wielding weapons. Conflicts with the police broke out as a result.

Image of demonstration

Demonstration against Can Vies eviction on the 26 May 2014

On Tuesday morning, the TMB company brought a bulldozer to the Can Vies site and immediately began to tear down the building. In reaction, people gathered around the site, banging pots and pans to draw attention to the issue[5].  This resistance lasted most of the day and at 11 pm, half of the building had been torn down, the police had finally left, and protesters set fire to the bulldozer. This led to more police violence and riots in neighbourhoods throughout Barcelona. The police were incredibly aggressive in the neighbourhoods. Militarization in dealing with demonstrators and angry citizens has been a growing problem in Catalonia.  Armoured police who are armed and who do not hesitate to beat any person in their way is common at any public political gathering. This level of violence is what sparks riots and more violence, not the other way around[6].

During the week, as demonstrations continued to be organized throughout the city in different neighbourhoods and the numbers of supporters grew to over 20,000 at a demonstration on Saturday, police violence escalated. By Friday, over 60 people had been arrested, 1 of them in prison and more than 200 people injured.

The bulldozer burning on the night of the 27 May 2014

The bulldozer burning on the night of the 27 May 2014

The Significance
The significance of this public fight and demonstrations goes far beyond simply wanting to protect a building. The city council and TMB have claimed their right by the legal argument of the ownership of the building, but it seems that this claim is only a façade for a deeper intention to discourage political organising that challenges the traditional government spaces. As we can see, the building has already been mostly destroyed, and yet the numbers of supporters of this movement continues to grow daily. We see this fight and the demonstrations as symbolic of support for alternative solutions to the current crisis in Spain (and elsewhere for that matter).

A well-known political scientist in Spain (Joan Subirats) has argued that the destruction of Can Vies is a destruction of a symbolic capital for a certain type of population. This type of social capital is extremely important. In the context of crisis (as in Spain), it is significant that citizens have not stopped self-organising.  There are centres like Can Vies all around Barcelona that demonstrate a resistance and coping with the crisis that is outside the market, the individual and the state. These spaces are a network that has found a way to exist and support a community precisely because they exist outside of the state rules. The growing solidarity and demonstrations since Monday is proof that people are perplexed by why the council is threatened by such a space as Can Vies (aside from the private property issue), and it is symbolic of the growing need and support for such spaces.

In addition the rise of alternative political parties in recent elections such the CUP[7] in Catalonia or Podemos[8] in Spain demonstrate that the politics of self-organisation is gaining traction and presenting alternative options to the traditional politics in Spain. We see that more and more people are drawn to self-organised politics, rather than party driven or state mediated politics.

The movement that has led to the growing support for self-organised politics in Spain has a long history, has taken enormous work and is far from being spontaneous. The creation of alternatives that strive to exist outside of the market and of traditional politics is not something that can happen overnight, or without a lot of building. Although the context and history of this type of organizing in Spain, and even specifically in Barcelona, is particular, there are lessons to be learned by communities in other countries who are equally fed-up with the same old political options that have driven many of our counties to this point of crisis and abhorrent social conservatism.

Maria Olivella Quintana and Alison Carney are both IDS alumni.
Alison is a sport and development consultant, social activist and researcher.  She has extensive experience working with sport for social change, as well as research on the role of sport for supporting the realisation of gender equality and sexual rights.
Maria  is a feminist activist currently carrying out PhD research in Anthropology in Spain, on the transition from ‘family planning interventions’ to ‘sexual and reproductive health’. She is part of Gap Work (http://sites.brunel.ac.uk/gap), a European research project addressing gender based violence, homophobia and transphobia in educational spaces. She has a MA in Gender and Development from IDS and has been part of the Unruly Politics thinking since then. Feedback welcome at:  M.OlivellaQuintana@ids.ac.uk

 

[1] The New York TimesThe Guardian:
[2] For more information about the community center you can check Can Vies website
[3] Almost all squats in Spain are social centers, providing a space for youth to meet and organize, which was something that was missing in the 1990s.
[4] The Can Vies Assembly is the name for the community group that orginizes and engages in politics.  They are based at Can Vies, this includes squatters who live there as well as other community members.
[5] The banging of pots and pans is a tradition in the region as a way for a community to show their solidarity during demonstrations – video
[6] Documentary filmed by the Guardian on the campaign “Ojo con tu ojo” that has denounced the use by Catalan police of rubber balls as an anti-riot weapon
[7] The Popular Unity Candidates (Catalan: Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, CUP) are left-wing Catalan independentist political party active in Catalonia. The CUP have traditionally concentrated on municipal politics, and are made up of a series of autonomous candidatures that run in local elections. More information here 
[8]Podemos (meaning ‘We can’ in Spanish) is a Spanish political party created on 11 March 2014 by Spanish leftist activists associated with the 15-M movement that emerged from the 2011–12 Spanish protests. More information here