Since Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism Project in April 2012, it has led to a huge debate on the prevalence of sexism in everyday life. Laura contributed to a Fringe event at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. She spoke to AOAV about the importance of not just considering sexual violence in conflict, but in also tackling sexual harassment and violence in peacetime and post-conflict situations.
Can you explain a little bit about the background of the Everyday Sexism Project, and why you decided to establish it?
The project grew out of a lot of personal experiences of sexism, discrimination, sexual harassment. These experiences led me to talk to other women and girls and ask them if they had had similar experiences. I was completely overwhelmed by the response. I couldn’t believe how many women had so many stories and how bad they were.
But when I tried to talk about the problem, I came up against the same response again and again and again. The response that ‘no, women are equal now, sexism doesn’t exist any more. The project was very simply a kind of pragmatic idea to try and raise awareness of how bad the problem still was, and to force people to acknowledge that it was still a big issue.
How have men responded to the project? Have you found that their response has been largely positive?
The attitudes have been quite polarised. A huge number of men have been really supportive. They’ve written to say that it’s changed their views, that it’s opened their eyes, that it’s made them aware and that now they’ll be taking steps to try to be part of a solution. Lots of men have written with specific things that they have done to make a difference since learning about it. From challenging street harassers, to writing to the chairman of their football club to ask if they could stop chanting misogynistic chants for example. On the other hand, there has been a small minority of men who have obviously found it really threatening and responded with very graphic abuse and a lot of rape and death threats to try and stop me from doing the project. (Laura has received hundreds of threats since she established the project, including death threats.)
Why are you interested in this Summit, and in speaking about sexual violence in conflict situations?
Three things really.
Firstly, the work that I’ve done through Everyday Sexism has made it so clear that there are such strong links between these attitudes around gender equality and violence, and the actual perpetration of sexual violence. For example, we hear the same words and phrases said to women on the street who are being verbally harassed, used to victims of rape and sexual assault. Or we see cases where an instance of verbal harassment escalates into sexual assault, a dispute, or physical assault when the victim tries to ignore it or to rebut the advances. So partly because it’s really clear what those connections are. I was really interested in being involved in this particular session, which is about looking at how grassroots attitudes around gender and violence might contribute to some of the problems of sexual violence in conflict. I am particularly interested in the problems that happen afterwards, in post-conflict scenarios where, for example, victims and survivors of sexual violence are stigmatised and that kind of thing.
Secondly, I went to Kosovo recently to see a programme that is being pioneered by Care International alongside local grassroots organisations looking at engaging men and boys in breaking the cycle of violence. Specifically, the programme uses education to try to change attitudes and ideas around gender stereotypes and around violence. It really confirmed for me the potential of getting men and boys involved in the broader fight against sexual and gender based violence.
Thirdly, I work as a contributor for Women Under Siege. Through my work for them I’ve been involved in the consultation stages of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative for some time, so I’ve had some input into the shaping the strategy, and am obviously excited to see the Summit to see what kind of commitments come out of it.
What are the key messages you would like to come out of the Summit?
The important thing we want to get across is that it’s not possible to cut off the head of the monster without looking at the whole body. In order to really make progress against sexual and gender based violence in conflict and post-conflict settings, but also more widely, we have to tackle it at its roots. We have to look at the social attitudes and norms which contribute to gender inequality if we want to really look at ending the problem.
To read more about the Everyday Sexism Project, click here.
To find out more about AOAV’s work on sexual violence in conflict and armed violence situations, click here.
If you have any questions please contact:
Jane Hunter, Armed Violence Researcher – firstname.lastname@example.org
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