Friday, 26 November 2010

Bristol City Council let down women survivors

Nearly a week later and Councillors Poultney and Janke have not replied to my letter. They have also not responded to other letters from other women who were that day.
I do not believe my letter was aggressive or unfair. Neither was my behaviour towards the councillors on the day. Either they are ashamed and embarrassed by their own behaviour, or they simply don't care. They don't care about survivors, they don't care about the women in their city. They care about photo calls in the newspaper.

 yesterday i attended an exhibition of art work by women survivors of male violence. it was beautiful and moving, and gave female survivors of violence a voice.
i was shocked then by the blatant 'what about the men' attitude of two of the councillors in attendance. i have written about the experience below, and hope to outline why responding to the UN's day to eliminate violence against women and girls by asking why no male survivors were represented was inappropriate and callous.

domestic violence against men is awful, a tragedy, just as all gender bases violence is. if there was an exhibition of work by male survivors i would support it whole heartedly. i would wear a ribbon and support a UN awareness raising day. but the 25th November was about women. And the council appeared to want to silence those women, by refusing to acknowledge their experiences and invalidating an attempt to give women a voice.

Here you go:

I was really pleased that the council had chosen to host this moving and important exhibition that gave a voice to the women survivors of violence of Bristol. I assumed that the council understood that yesterday (25th November) was the UN International Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls day ( Therefore I was shocked by the hostility from the leader of the council when she realised that the art and writing on display came from women only workshops, and were recognising, remembering and offering a voice to women victims. Rather than paying respect to the women who had bravely told their stories, the exhibition was instead criticised for being 'exclusive'.

The UN dedicates the 25th November to recognising violence against women and girls, and the need to combat it. This is not a Bristol Feminist Network or Bristol Fawcett or Rape Crisis Centre or Avon and Somerset Police or Women's Forum initiative, but an international event that says to the world that violence against women and girls is one of the 'greatest human rights violations of our time' (Amnesty International). It is not about being exclusive or ignoring that men are victims of violence too (as was intimated by the councillor) but about recognising that violence against women and girls is an issue, a gender based issue, and one that needs to be treated as an issue on its own. It is recognising that the scale of violence against women and girls is so huge, and pledging to do something about it. There are 100 million women missing in the world, as a result of male violence against women and girls (Half the Sky,, 1 in 3 women internationally will be subject to sexual assault or rape, 1.5 women a week in the UK are killed by a former or current partner, 100,000 women a year in the UK are raped and 6500 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM. The 25th November is the one day when this is internationally recognised. To try and make out that there was something wrong with this international UN led initiative showed a troubling lack of understanding about the issues of violence against women and girls. It also left me very concerned about the council's commitment to tackling gender based violence, and supporting victims.

Women are too often left to suffer in silence. This exhibition gave the women of Bristol a voice. It gave them a chance to speak out about what has happened to them. To draw attention away from this, in order to criticise its 'exclusivity', did a great disservice to the women in the exhibition and the women in Bristol. It showed a refusal to engage with the art on display and the issues that are so relevant to the women of this city every day, not just on the 25th November. Furthermore, I felt the tone of the conversation was rude and disrespectful towards the time, effort and money that the organiser of the exhibition had invested in running the workshops, printing the zines and creating the event.

It seemed to me that the Bristol City Councillors were more concerned about having their faces seen and their voices heard in the local press, than listening to the voices of women survivors, on a day dedicated to ending the humanitarian crisis that is violence against women and girls.



Nothing preventing men from working together and challenging male on male violence is there? Oh yes there is - men don't want to do this work because they'd rather women once again put men's issues, men's needs and men's lives first, second and last.

When male on male violence equals the numbers of women and girls who have and continue to be subjected to male sexual/physical/psychological violence then we can begin to make the claim that exhibitions focusing on women survivors' of men's callous and vicious violence is 'discrimination.'

Try telling non-white women their experiences of white men's callousness and hatred is 'discrimiantory' because white men too are subjected to the same sexualised and degrading insults.

But of course male supremacy must be maintained at all costs and this includes promoting the lie that 'men suffer violence in equal amounts to women.' Have any men ever been subjected to sadistic sexual violence simply because they are male not female? None because male = the default human whereas women are what? Not human according to male supremacy.

Or to put it another way - male domination must be maintained over women but at the same time it must never be recognised or challenged.

Sue said...

Movingly and well said Sian.
I think this should be sent as hard copy to all Councillors.

lewisworld said...

The UN do not care about the rights of women. They have just allowed Saudia Arabia onto their "UN Agency for Women". This is a country wherer women are jailed for disobeying their fathers, where a pregnant gang-rape victim is sentenced to 100 lashes for committing adultery, where women are not allowed to drive, where women are lashed for being in the company of any male who is not a relative, where they are flogged for breaching sex segregation rules, and where fathers can marry off their 10 year old daughters to their paedophile friends. There is a deafening silence amongst most UK feminists when it comes to the rights of women in countries living under Sharia law, and I doubt you will even print this post.

sian and crooked rib said...

hi jennifer

i disagree i'm afraid. men have been subjected to sadistic sexual violence throughout history.

just look at abu ghraib for recent examples.

i don't think we gain anything from denying male victims of violence, and to say that no man has ever been a victim of sexual violence is undermining the very worthy cause of empowering male victims of sexual and domestic violence to come forward, report the crime and support one another.

what the council did and said was unacceptable. the 25th november is about women, not men. i don't want there to be as many male victims of violence as there are female. but i want the council and the powers that be to recognise that the issues surrounding violence against women are complex and need to be considered as an issue on its own.

sianandcrookedrib said...

lewis - there is a very loud condemnation of the treatment of women living in countries such as saudi arabia by UK feminists, think about the outcry against Iran's proposed stoning of sakineh ashtiani.

i totally disagree with the way the west cosies up to saudi arabia because of its oil.

please don't accuse people/feminists of not saying anything about an issue when they clearly are. i don't know why you would think i wouldn't print your post. it is vital to raise awareness of the persecution of women worldwide.

Alocin said...

I am so angry about the reported councillors response to the exhibition.

November was widely publicised as "Movember" to raise money for prostate cancer, which affects men. No one would say "why are people spending November raising money for one type of cancer, we should be fighting all cancers". Having specific campaigns to target specific aspects of a wider problem is necessary in order to raise awareness of the causes of that particular type of the problem and also the "symptoms" to look for. I think this is just as applicable to types of cancer as it is to types of violence.

On a slightly unrelated note . . . I was upset to read in the Evening Standard on the train this evening that Jesse Norman, conservative MP, joked that "I am pleased to report that I have managed to overcome the quadruple handicaps of being tall, white, English and male". I think this type of attitude is akin to that which makes Bristol councillors question the need to tackle violence against women: "what about the men?".

So frustrating.

Alocin said...

I should clarify my comment . . . of course everyone would agree we should tackle all types of cancer (just as we should tackle all types of violence). But no one denies the advantage of having specific campaigns for specific types of cancer which largely only affect one portion of society (some men do get breast cancer but it is largely promoted as a "women's cancer" with pink events, etc). Specific campaigns help raise awareness about the nuances of that one particular type which may help in diagnosing it earlier, etc.

Okay think you get what I'm saying . . .

This is just one analogy. But basically whatever way you look at it the councillors reasoning is flawed and illogical and very very very frustrating.

So frustrated.

Sorry to rant on but I am seriously frustrated.

Thanks for making me aware of this Sian.


sian and crooked rib said...

thanks for your comments nicola, i totally agree. one analogy i always use is that no one goes to a 'save the whales' rally and cries out 'what about the seals!' but women are expected to fight for men's rights as well as their own.

that tory comment is disgusting. the sooner people understand their privilege, the better!

ihatesexism said...

Great to see two councillors so committed to genuine equality. 40% of domestic violence vicitms are men, so it is extremely sexist to ignore them in almost all domestic violence campaigns

In Scotland for every pound they spend helping males victims some £3,500 gets spent on women.

Thanks for highlighting this issue, I will be writing to the two councillors commending them for standing up for all abuse victims. It really is good to see outdated sexism gender feminist attitudes finally being challenged.

ihatesexism said...

btw congrats on using more accurate and up to date domestic violence stats. There are far too many people out there exaggerating the number of women killed each week (using downplaying the number of male deaths at the same time). It's genuinely refreshing to see someone using more accurate figures.

sian and crooked rib said...

i hate sexism, you're comments are not appreciated.

this post is about violence against women and girls.

1.5 women are killed every week as a result of DV. 6500 girls in the Uk are at risk of FGM. 100,000 women are raped very year. worldwide 100 million women are missing.

if i ever write a blog post about violence against men i will let you know but for now please can we discuss violence against women and girls. the 25th november is a day to remember and recognise that.

ihatesexism said...

Yes but almost every single event, day, ribbon, charity, shelter, post, pound goes on female vicitms of abuse.

It's blatant sexism wherever you look.

I don't care if the day is supposedly for women - until there's equal recognition of male vicitms and a day for them responses like mine and that of the councillors are inevitable, justified and extremely commendable.

Also for genital mutilation I'd again suggest being gender neutral and discussing all forms of such mutilation. When we chop of important parts of boys genitals without their consent people still don't call it mutilation yet and in fact in some cities the taxpayer even funds such crimes!

Anyway thanks again for sharing this story - do you know how I can contact the councillors?

sian and crooked rib said...

your comments about genital mutilation are grossly misinformed.

although i disagree with what we do to male children because no child should have non essential surgery without consent, THEY ARE NOT THE SAME.

they are not the same because mgm is not about controlling female sexuality. because it does not reduce and remove female sexual pleasure. it doesn't cause endless and life threatening health problems.

if you want to contact the councillors you can use google.

sian and crooked rib said...

FYI i won't be publishing any more of your comments as they are derailing the conversation, which is about councillors' rudeness in disregarding the experiences of survivors of violence, not about how men are victims of violence too.

if a male survivor organised workshops to recognise male survivors and victims, and hosted an exhibition i would support that. i wouldn't go and rant on and on and on about women victims and survivors. men need to lead the way in empowering male victims and survivors. it is not women's jobs to do that for them. we can support it but we can't do it for them.