The beautiful game: the multiscalar experiences of women footballers playing a male-dominated game

GFGRG dissertation joint 1st prize winner

Isobel Phillips, University of Nottingham

With the best piece of pre-dissertation advice ringing in my ears – “Write about something you enjoy”, I decided to focus my research on a sport I have grown up loving, football. Combined with an interest in gender geographies that had developed through lectures, the challenge was initially daunting, with preliminary research finding sociology as the anchor of what I wanted to focus on. The benefit of conducting my own primary research however was I could find the geography within people’s experiences.

My primary methodology was 10 one to one semi-structured interviews, walking on the pitch, near a pitch, utilising a bird’s eye view and over the phone with a range of female university and civic players. Using some prompts as well as bouncing off the interviewees’ responses, a range of themes emerged including gender, sexuality, media, spaces, performance and stereotypes to name but a few. Due to my complex position as a double insider (I am both a football player and some participants were teammates), I also kept a reflexive diary throughout the process to understand my subjectivity, recording often some uncomfortable thoughts but ones that ultimately helped my research. I drew on a range of literature to give a thorough geographical grounding to my work, including key thinkers like Foucault, Massey and McDowell, as well as incorporating research outside of the usual discipline, giving it a new geographical spin.

I grouped my findings into three main scales, the overall sport, the pitch, and the body scale.

Within football itself, gender differences were such an influencing factor as female footballers struggle against a narrative that puts football as “more acceptable for boys” (Sally, an interviewee), a territory that’s not encouraged. The large-scale gender inequality; with the annual pay of the top 1,693 women footballers equivalent to one of the highest paying male footballer’s playing only contract in 2017-18 (Kelner, 2017). This trickles down, discouraging girls from an early age to play. The media emerged as a key factor in women’s football, with newspapers actively choosing how much space – column inches in fact – they give to women’s sport, historically very low, but slowly improving. Increasingly though social media, a new but hugely growing online space offers a geographically distant but strongly networked resistance to the masculine hegemony, as seen here in the Chelsea men’s and women’s teams sharing online space.

Figure 1: Chelsea Women and Men’s double header Instagram post (@chelseafwc)

The pitch was a crucial element to my work, raising some real geographical connotations I wasn’t expecting. Yi-Fu Tuan’s concept of topophilia was explored and I found that for these players the strength of connection was increased by an emotional connection, primarily when playing games as that’s where the winning and losing occurred, in comparison to training. Playing at home was still preferred, but with the increasing placelessness of sporting arenas due to artificialisation, the difference is becoming less pronounced. Analysing sub-pitch space was something new I hadn’t come across but I found through mapping the player’s comfort zones within the pitch, as shown below. This revealed an atypical link between Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Just as gender is re-enacted until seemingly natural, by playing football for many years and repeating scripts, the performance comes naturally to them. Non-visual senses, originally overlooked in geographical research were also prominent; the feeling of “standing in the cold” and “the smell of muddy football boots” highlighted the importance of senses in creating a richer sense of place. What was also interesting was the rubber crumb of 3G pitches travelled with the players back to their houses and cars, expanding the bounded space of the pitch.

The third results chapter discusses the impact of football on the body. The power of stereotypes was clear here, from being ‘tomboyish’ as a girl, viewed as a softer form of masculinity, with less of a threat to sporting patriarchal power. Hitting adolescence however this changes into “everyone thinks you’re gay!” (Sally – a participant). Using Foucault’s (1975) theory of normalisation within a sporting context; just as heterosexuality is positioned as natural, the association of lesbianism with women footballers, society also controls women athletes by being “doubly abnormal”. This idea is also caught up with being a “woman” as being a lesbian and to an extent, a women footballer, challenge the category of woman as they don’t have a socially sanctioned relationship to men (Caudwell, 2003). Women footballers are disciplined by the woman-feminine-heterosexual imperative, when in fact many employ woman-masculine-lesbian as well as embodying typically masculine aspects such as strength, power, muscles and short hair, disrupting the gender construct.   

Within the body work, injuries were a powerful component. The mind has often been prioritised over the body in dualistic thinking, so bodily emotions have often been excluded from geography (Antoninetti and Garrett, 2012). I found that through injury, players experienced ‘place panic’, an anxiety with feeling out of place in one’s usual comfort zone. This challenges Ettinger’s (2004) work on how mobility is linked to all emotions, as here immobility produces the stronger reaction. Bodies may also be subject to temporary spatial deprivation in which the ground may be physically inaccessible to crutches or wheelchairs, adding work to exclusionary space that has until now mainly focused on chronic disability. In addition, women footballer’s bodies were often subject to performativity. The male gaze acted as a form of surveillance that appeared in women’s football from a young age, making women feel out of place and like their body had to change. They had the contrasting experiences of wanting to feel attractive but the shame that when a female player made a mistake, it was representative of their entire gender.

My research addressed how gender differences are enacted at multiple scales; the sport, the pitch and the body. I hope I showed that although there are gendered challenges that come with playing football there is a volume of positive emotions that have contributed to women playing to high levels and for many years. Four main themes emerged; the strong sense of home, consciousness of their gender, contrasts between and within women’s experiences and resistance to stereotypes.

The future is exciting for women’s football; viewing figures for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France hit 1.12 billion, the Australian women’s national team just announced they would be paid on parity to the men’s squad and England Ladies played for the first time ever in front of a sold-out crowd (86,000 people) at Wembley this November. There’s plenty of work still to be done, but the time is right to be studying both geography and football.

Antoninetti, M. and Garrett, M. (2012). Body capital and the geography of aging. Area, 44(3), pp. 364-370.

Caudwell, J. (2003). Sporting Gender: Women’s Footballing Bodies as Sites/Sights for the [Re]Articulation of Sex, Gender and Desire. Sociology of Sport Journal, 20, pp. 371–386.

Ettlinger, N. (2004). Toward a Critical Theory of Untidy Geographies: The Spatiality of Emotions in Consumption and Production. Feminist Economics, 10(3), pp. 21-54.

Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin.

Kelner, M. (2017). Football’s gender pay gap worse than in politics, medicine and space. The Guardian. [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/nov/26/football-gender-pay-gap-worse-than-inpolitics-medicine-and-space. [Accessed: 1/6/18].

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Emotional geographies of breastfeeding: Private and public spaces of support and stress

GFGRG dissertation joint 1st prize winner

Tabitha Shell, QMUL

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that all new mothers breastfeed their child exclusively for 6 months and states the factors that a woman needs to successfully breastfeed: consistent and correct information, personal, professional and societal support. However, these have also proven to be the root causes of pressure, stress and judgement around breastfeeding for a new mother, varying through different private and public spaces. Although Mahon-Daly and Andrews (2002) suggested that breastfeeding women are more comfortable breastfeeding in private spaces like the home, rather than public space, this research has challenged this. In several circumstances breastfeeding in public space was the solution to the entrapment, isolation and intrusion of others in the private space of the home.

Exisiting literature around breastfeeding is extensive in terms of statistics but more limited regarding breastfeeding mothers’ embodied experiences of breastfeeding in public. Particularly there is a need to understand how breastfeeding mothers engage with different forms of public space and certainly how private space can affect their experience of breastfeeding through feelings of isolation and intrusion from visitors. There is little discussed regarding the impacts of the interactions between the breastfeeding mother and professional support beyond the mention in work by Larson et al., (2008), which may have serious implications for the mother’s experience of breastfeeding, particularly between the private spaces of the hospital and the home. Similarly, the importance of the personal support networks in the experience of a breastfeeding mother is relatively neglected by academic literature (Bailey and Pain, 2001). Furthermore, there is less research on breastfeeding mothers’ engagement with activism, despite an increasing proportion of mother’s engaging with breastfeeding activism through social media, literature has not explored this or other more achievable, inclusive solutions to make breastfeeding mothers feel more than tolerated when breastfeeding in public. Literature should reflect the complex relationship between a society that does not seem to understand nor respect the hard work, stress and guilt of breastfeeding for women who are giving their all for their child, and an unsupportive but simultaneously pro-breastfeeding culture, mentioned by Knaak’s (2010) research.

Through the application of Emotional Geographies we can explore the emotions produced through experiences in various spaces. As Anderson and Smith (2001) conclude, to neglect emotions in academic research is to exclude a key part of how lives are lived and societies made. The report focuses on how these public and private spaces interact with the challenges a mother faces during her time breastfeeding within the context of a pro-breastfeeding culture, with key findings of support and stress in the private space of the home. Finally, the report discusses the possible solutions to the pressure and stresses of breastfeeding in public and private space, namely activism and public health policy reform respectively. The issues and challenges raised throughout the research for a breastfeeding mother emerged from in-depth, semi-structured interviews about the lived experiences of eight women, who are currently breastfeeding or have been in the last two years. It was necessary to carry out qualitative research to secure the greatest understanding of the complexities and contradictions of real-world experiences of the participants (Valentine, 2008) during their time breastfeeding in different private and public spaces. Interviews are both a reliable and flexible form of qualitative research method due to their socially interactive nature, although this can make them unpredictable (Byrne, 2012). Although the issues of breastfeeding have traditionally been categorised as a ‘women’s issue’, the low breastfeeding rates begin to drop drastically after the six-week mark in the UK.

Woman breastfeeding in a park

I chose this idealised image for the cover of the report from an article by BBC news showing a woman breastfeeding happily and demurely in presumably public open space. The media commentary on issues such as these has a significant impact on the communities within which women feed their children and therefore impact how comfortable women feel breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Breastfeeding in public is a necessary aspect of a mother’s breastfeeding experience but with recent headlines of “breastfeeding shamers” (Mail Online, 2018) in newspapers and on our screens, the relationship between breastfeeding women and the public sphere has become increasingly complex. This was reflected in the negative encounters of the majority of participants when breastfeeding in public. These ranged from “people look at you funny,” (Helen), to people saying something negative within earshot (Emma; Helen), to members of the public directly telling a breastfeeding woman to go elsewhere (Fay).

The significant findings of this research were the major challenges faced in the private space of the home. Generally, the most stressful moments of the breastfeeding experience are concealed from public gaze in the home. Additionally, the home acts as the site of stress and decision when breastfeeding women choose to stop breastfeeding or start topping-up with formula. The major issues were found to be inconsistencies in advice, especially regarding weight gain of the baby as well as feelings of entrapment and intrusion in the home.  Although this data has been analysed from a geographical, feminist perspective, this is an issue for all that affects the physical health of the next generation and the mental health of current mothers. These women are giving their all to put into the practice the professional advice they are given, with little professional support to assist them.

I agree with the perspective of strong pro-breastfeeding women in this report who argue that the invisibility of this problem is huge, but the pressure the mother then feels to be more visible is unjust and the mother and the child’s comfort must come first.

A supportive personal network has proven crucial through this research but giving the mother time to establish breastfeeding alone with her child, without isolating her, can also not be underrated. Her emotional wellbeing is as vital as the child’s physical health, but its importance seems to dissipate after the birth. We cannot continue to expect the weight of their children to weigh on a mother’s mind emotionlessly, or struggle with physical pain silently. The encouragement of health professionals, who are also concerned for the mother’s wellbeing, may make all the difference, if this is only a text a week asking how the mother is doing. Cath’s statement of, “It’s a minefield” regarding professional breastfeeding support rings true with the majority of women’s experiences as the stresses and pressures of the pro-breastfeeding context complicates the morality of breastfeeding, as discussed by Knaak (2010).

References

Anderson, K. and Smith, S. (2001). Editorial: Emotional Geographies. The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), pp.7-10.

Bailey, C. and Pain, R. (2001). Geographies of infant feeding and access to primary health-care. Health and Social Care in the Community, 9(5), pp.309-317.

Byrne, B., (2012). ‘Qualitative interviewing’, pp. 180-192 cited in Seale. C., (2012) ‘Researching society and culture’ Sage Publications, London.

Knaak, S. (2010). Contextualising risk, constructing choice: Breastfeeding and good mothering in risk society. Health, Risk & Society, 12(4), pp.345-355.

Larsen, J., Hall, E. and Aagaard, H. (2008). Shattered expectations: when mothers’ confidence in breastfeeding is undermined – a metasynthesis. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 22(4), pp.653-661.

Mahon-Daly, P. and Andrews, G. (2002). Liminality and breastfeeding: women negotiating space and two bodies. Health & Place, 8(2), pp.61-76.

Mail Online. (2018). ‘Woman hits out at breastfeeding shamers by nursing while naked’. 1 October, [online] Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-6227941/Woman-hits-breastfeeding-shamers-nursing-naked.html [Accessed 18 Nov. 2018].

Valentine, G., (2008) ‘Living with difference: reflections on geographies of encounter’ Progress in Human Geography, 32(3) pp. 323–337.

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‘Bloody Injustice: Period Poverty, Power and Shame in 21st Century Britain’

GFGRG dissertation 3rd prize winner

Bronwen Butler, UCL

Menstruation, somewhat unexpectedly, has become a high-profile issue in the UK over the last couple of years. From ‘the pink protest’ outside the Westminster Parliament in December 2017 to Bodyform’s advert campaign #bloodnormal, from tampon selfies and campaigns against the luxury taxing of tampons, to a day dedicated to menstrual hygiene, menstrual issues have been firmly put on the map. Now, a growing number of charities and social enterprises, such as, Bloody Good Period, #FreePeriods, the Red Box Project, The Homeless Period, Hey Girls and Freda have all coalesced around a fight against what is termed ‘period poverty’ – a lack of access to menstrual products due to financial constraints. Even certain multinational companies, such as Procter and Gamble’s Always who launched their #endperiodpoverty campaign in March 2018; are promising consumers that they can help bring menstrual products to women and girls who cannot afford them.

Text Box:   
The Pink Protest on 20th December 2017
Figure a (left): Bloody Good Period Charity at the 20 December 2017 march outside Downing Street. Source: BBC, 2017
Figure b (right): Tampon Tax references during the #freeperiod protest 20 December 2017. Source: Free Periods https://www.freeperiods.org/the-protest

The UK seems to have taken hold of such actions under the phrase ‘period poverty’ and a surge in conversation among activists, media outlets, companies and politicians, utilising this term. It has subsequently been debated in parliament where Labour MP Danielle Rowley declared to the House of Commons ‘I am on my period’ and spoke about her experience as a woman on her period to highlight the issue within the UK. Furthermore, after outcry around period poverty across social media, supermarkets like Tesco have reduced the cost of menstrual products by five percent to cover the cost of the once 20% ‘Tampon Tax’ (Tesco PLC, 2017).

My research centres around the term ‘Period Poverty’ and the recent proliferation of this idiom in the United Kingdom. Much of the geographical and sociological research completed so far around the ideas contained in the phrase ‘period poverty’ have been within the context of sanitation in the Global South (Thorton, 2013; Jewitt & Ryley, 2014). While in both this, and the UK context, social problems around menstruation are symptomatic of patriarchal induced taboo, I noticed that the ‘Period Poverty’ proliferating media in the UK was portrayed in a distinctly different way to the Menstrual Hygiene issues of the Global South and therefore felt it merited attention in its own right.  

This research is situated as part of a growing crop of critical feminist geographies that explore the power behind discourses affecting gendered inequality, like that of shame and taboo in menstrual discourses. I explore ‘period poverty’ as a counter-discourse to typically entrenched representations of both menstruation and women.

The effects of period poverty are a clear example of how gendered geographies of the everyday can produce and reinforce social inequalities and therefore this term needs to be investigated in its various contexts. I analyse ‘period poverty’ in these contexts; its development through research; use by advertisers and use activists in creation of a movement of menstrual activism. I situate this work as part of a growing crop of critical feminist geographies that explore the power behind discourses affecting gendered inequality, like that of shame and taboo.

Text Box:  Image from HeyGirl's Instragram of a person's bloody underwear while on their period.
Source: HeyGirls’s Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/p/Bspyp0lnoEF/

I use a multi-sited critical discourse analysis to dissect the work that the drive around ‘period poverty’ has done in challenging patriarchal power, by revealing a symptomatic silence, and confronting social norms around menstruating women’s’ bodies. I trace the work of this term throughout research, advertising and popular media. Throughout this dissertation I explore what work ‘period poverty’, as a concept, does in enabling mainstream conversation of a taboo subject. How it challenges the history by which menstrual taboo has been reinforced. How period poverty differs to discussions of Menstrual Hygiene Management; and the work period poverty does in assembling a powerful alliance for the visibility of menstruation/menstruating bodies.

Text Box: Bodyform Blood Normal Campaign
  
Figure a (left): Blood Normal Advertisement showing red menstrual blood on a pad for the first time.
Figure b (right): Blood Normal Advertisement showing red menstrual blood on a real person for the first time.
Source: ‘Periods are Normal, showing them should be too’, Available at: https://www.bodyform.co.uk/our-world/bloodnormal// 	(Accessed: 30 September 2018).

My first section uses Plan International UK-based period poverty research to understand the production of ‘period poverty’ as a category. The research they undertook brought the issues of period poverty in 21st Century Britain into the public consciousness (Russell & Smith, 2018: 4). This is to understand the evolution of period poverty and the extent to which the work under ‘period poverty’ deviates from ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management’ discourse commonly seen in Development geographies. In the following chapter I analyse the embodied politics of web-based brand-generated promotional contents. The historic silencing of menstruation in mainstream culture limits visible cultural representations of menstruation to menstrual product advertising. Advertising reaches huge audience and holds incredible power to spread stigma or inform/empower watchers. I dissect advertisement representations in order to understand how period poverty is characterised by the wider media. This section looks to the gendered representations within advertising and patriarchal induced censoring. It unearths the extent to which ‘period poverty’ has contributed to a transition in menstrual product
advertising.

The final chapter uncovers how a popular movement has arisen in 21st century Britain to tackle a lack of access to menstrual products and the taboo that has caused this issue to go relatively unnoticed until recent years. Here, I explore the embodied politics of ‘period poverty’ as a movement. This is to understand what work this phrase does in assembling a powerful alliance of menstrual activism to combat taboo and gendered inequality. In order to complete a picture of period poverty I ascertain the extent to which it is part of a broader societal, liberal feminist movement and provides new visibility for a counter-discourse around all menstrual issues.

My analyses allow for a few grounded conclusions: I contend that ‘period poverty’ is a politicised term and category that differs from menstrual hygiene management and from other forms of menstrual activism. While, ‘period poverty’ has been used to some extent as a promotional device and can replicate development discourses of menstrual hygiene or the ‘girling of development’, it has done much politicalised work in creating a counter discourse to the menstrual taboo that reinforces gendered inequality. 

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GFGRG dissertation prize winners 2019

We are delighted to announce the winners of the GFGRG’s dissertation prize for 2019. We received a number of fantastic dissertations for consideration for this year’s award and want to thank all of the entries for their hard work and thorough engagement with feminist geography. As always, the standard for the competition was very high making judging a pleasure (we love reading your projects) but also incredibly difficult (such great projects to shortlist!)

The winners for this year are:-

Joint first prize:

Tabitha Shell, The emotional geographies of breastfeeding: public and private spaces of support and stress (Queen Mary, University of London)

Isobel Phillips, The beautiful game: the multiscalar experiences of women footballers playing a male-dominated game (University of Nottingham)

Third place:

Bronwen Butler, Bloody injustice: period poverty, power and shame in the 21st century (University College London).

Congratulations to our winners!

The GFGRG committee

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GFGRG sponsored posts at the RGS-IBG 2019

The GFGRG is proud to be involved with the RGS-IBG annual conference 2019. https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/ 

The conference will take place at the RGS-IBG in London from 28-30th August 2019.

The GFGRG are proudly sponsoring 12 sessions which cover a range of topics including family, race and nation, geographies of trouble and hope, hydrofeminism, migration, fertility, reproduction and family planning, and sexuality and gender identity. We will also be celebrating the contributions of renowned feminist geographers Linda McDowell and Ron Martin. for further information on the sessions being sponsored please visit http://conference.rgs.org/Conference/Sessions/SearchResults.aspx?conference=AC2019&rg=GFGRG

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GFGRG committee posts up for renewal

We have a number of Committee roles up for renewal (see terms of service below).

  1. Dissertation prize coordinator (2019 – 2022) (you would become part of a team of 3)

The dissertation coordinator is responsible for advertising the undergraduate dissertation competition in July each year. They will receive nominations directly and then liaise with other committee members to arrange for the reading, evaluation and ranking of dissertations before nominating a short list for the Chair to judge.

  • 2 postgrad members (2019 – 2020)

PG members will jointly organise the RGS sessions. PG members will encourage and support PG involvement with the group and perhaps identify / organise events and activities that would be useful to PGs.

  • 3 ordinary members (2019 – 2022)

Ordinary members will be expected to attend the AGM (in person if possible) and committee meetings (by skype), propose, attend and sometimes be involved in the organisation of GFGRG events, publicise the work of the group to others. 

  • Social media coordinator (2019-2022)

We are looking for a social media coordinator to support the role of the web office in promoting GFGRG news, related events, related research, and keep up to date with current affairs on the GFGRG’s social media pages.

If you are interested in taking on any of these roles please email expressions of interest to Rosie Cox and Jo Waters. Each post will be voted on by existing committee members at the GFGRG AGM at the RGS-IBG (details to follow). You do not necessarily need to attend the AGM in person to be considered for one of the roles.

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GFGRG 2017-2018 Dissertation prize

We are delighted to announce the winners of the GFGRG 2017-2018 dissertation prize

1st prize: Jessica Pandian (LSE) ‘Colombian Women in London: Shaping Collective Memory through Art in the Post-Conflict Era’. 

 joint 2nd prize: Isabelle Green (University of Oxford) ‘The Gendered Geographies of Rebuilding: Worlding Women’s Experiences of Post-Katrina New Orleans.’ 

Joint 2nd prize. Charlotte Lindley (University of Bangor). “How is the changing status of women altering the culture and heritage of brass bands?”. 

Here you will find summaries of all 3 fantastic projects.

Colombian Women in London. Shaping Collective Memory through Art in the Post-Conflict Era. By Jessica Pandian

How is the Changing Status of Women Altering the Culture and Heritage of Brass Bands. By Charlotte Lindley

The Gendered Geographies of Rebuilding. Worlding Women’s Experiences of Post-Katrina New Orleans. By Isabelle Green.

Congratulations to our winners and many thanks to all for submitting such interesting and varied dissertations for us all to read.

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Vacancies on the GFGRG committee

We currently have a number of opportunities to join the GFGRG committee.  Applications are open for Chair, Web Coordinator and a Postgraduate Representative. These vacancies will be filled via a vote at our forthcoming AGM, which will be held at the RGS-IBG event in Cardiff this year. See: https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/
 
The AGM is on WEDNESDAY 29th August at 13.10 – 14.45 in the Main Building, Wallace Lecture Theatre.  
 
More details on the roles:
 
Chair (for 3 years): has oversight of everything!

Web-coordinator (1): This individual will have responsibility for: managing and moderating communications on behalf of the Research Group, across a variety of media (including, but not limited to, the group’s website, Twitter account, any manual mailing lists or automated list-servers and newsletters).
 
Postgraduate members (1): We are looking for one postgraduate to be on our committee to represent postgraduate needs and concerns, to initiate GFGRG events for postgraduates, be an active member of our committee (see above) and to also organise and lead the GFGRG postgraduate sessions at the annual RGS-IBG conference. Preference may be given to RGS-IBG members. This post is for one year.
  
Expressions of interest in the above posts can be given up until the start of the AGM either in person or by email to myself (johanna.waters@ucl.ac.uk) and/or to our Chair, Katherine Brickell (katherine.brickell@rhul.ac.uk). If you are not able to attend our AGM but you would like to stand for one of the above posts, please email us a short paragraph outlining which position you are interested in and what experience/skills you have that you think would be useful for the post. 

 

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Women and resistance in Kashmir. By Yogesh Mishra.

While looking for some material on women and resistance in the context of Kashmir conflict, I came across a ‘call for resistance poetry’ celebrating Kashmiri Women’s Resistance day. This blog on Kashmir Lit says “23rd February is observed as Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day. The day commemorates the survivors of the mass rape and torture in the two villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Kashmir. The survivors from Kunan and Poshpora have become an iconic symbols of Kashmir’s struggle against the Indian rule”.

(Source: http://www.kashmirlit.org/2018-annual-kashmiri-womens-resistance-day/)

There is no other way of putting it, the Kashmir conflict is a lived reality, an everyday struggle embedded in the lives of those thousands of men, women, and children, who have been living in one of the most contested zones in the world. A constant struggle and resistance between the state and Kashmiris have marked this place with vagaries of human nature; a landscape dotted with army bunkers, barricades, security checkpoints and several other apparatuses of surveillance and control.

The armed insurgency in this region broke out in 1989. Although women were not a part of this armed insurgency, they were at the forefront supporting the militants. For example, writing about Kashmiri women’s expressions of resistance situated in the realm of the everyday, Rita Manchanda (2001) notes that women will sing songs of celebration, intertwining couplets in praise of local mujahideen (militants)….their voices excitedly shouting “oh, you holy fighters, rise and awake! The time of your martyrdom has come” (p. 50-51).

Kashmiri women were always a part of the movement even before 1989. Way back in 1947, when Kashmir was under attack by Pashtuns from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, women of the valley participated in the war against the tribesmen. During this time, under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Women’s Self-Defence Corps (WSDC), a women’s defense corps was formed. This volunteer force of women was planned to train women for self- defense and to resist invaders. Zooni Gujjri a milkmaid, became famous as a WSDC volunteer, dressed in traditional Kashmiri clothes and carrying a gun around her shoulders; she symbolized the WDSC (Khan, 2010).

(Source: http://www.andrewwhitehead.net/kashmir-47-images.html)

The above pamphlet portrays a picture where Zooni is carrying a rifle as a part of women’s militia. Although a lot has changed since then in the socio-cultural and political landscape of Kashmir, women are still an integral part of the resistance movement and have been participating in different ways. For example, Parveena Ahanger, founder of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), have been holding the sit-in protests for the last 24 years. The Indian Armed forces picked up Parveena Ahanger’s son in 1990, never to be returned to his family. Fighting against such injustice, she has brought people together to seek justice – asking questions about the whereabouts of the victims of enforced disappearance.

In 2017, the protest movement witnessed a new turn where college girls were witnessed clashing with police and throwing stones at security personnel. The following picture captures one such moment of strength and resistance by the women in the valley. These young women were called as the new face of protests.

(Source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/students-clash-with-security-forces-protests-rock-srinagar-again/story-ysHZjiNQvUySi9ZdOoMilL.html)

Commenting on the changing scenario, Toufiq Rashid, a journalist form Srinagar, writes: “Instead of running for cover, they picked up stones and targeted the police. Every shell was countered with a scream for azadi (freedom). This was unprecedented. Like their teenaged male counterparts, these girls too seemed to not fear death”.

In the changing landscape of the valley and in the wake of new intifada (some call it ‘radicalization of the populace’) in Kashmir, I see an emerging need to extend the analysis and diverting energies towards accounting for the perspectives of women who participate in anti-state armed movements for self-determination. Scholars like Parashar, Shekhawat, Kazi who focus upon the everyday realities, discuss the invisibility of women in Kashmir challenging the militarised masculinities and contesting the binaries like “agency/victimhood, speech/silence” (Parashar, 2014). Perhaps by focusing on the narratives of lived realities, we can go beyond the already fixed narratives, binaries and can innovate new methodological openings to challenge women’s role as survivors, marginalized, and relegated to spaces of victimhood.

References:

Kazi, S. (2009). Between democracy & nation: gender and militarisation in Kashmir. Women Unlimited.

Khan, N. A. (2010). Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Manchanda, R. (Ed.). (2001). Women, war and peace in South Asia: Beyond victimhood to agency. New Delhi: Sage.

Parashar, S. (2014). Women and militant wars: The politics of injury. Routledge.

Rashid, T. (2016). Then and now: When girls in Kashmir took to Srinagar’s Lal Chowk to protest. Retrieved from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/then-and-now-when-girls-in-kashmir-took-to-srinagar-s-lal-chowk-to-protest/story-rFDG5Pj00XJpDbxOi8XtPM.html

Shekhawat, S. (2014). Gender, Conflict and Peace in Kashmir. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Yogesh Mishra is a Post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi (India). His doctoral research entitled ‘Beautiful Prison: Geopolitics of everyday life in Kashmir’ focused on the mundane, prosaic, and ordinary aspects of daily life to highlight the constant struggle and negotiation hidden beneath the apparent routine in a conflict zone. His research interests include feminist political geography, sociology of everyday life, and feminist research methods. Yogesh’s postdoctoral research focuses on the representation of marginal groups in a wider context of Indian civil society organizations around women’s rights.

Contact: anhalak@gmail.com

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GFGRG Undergraduate Dissertation Prize – Entries now open

The competition is now open and accepting entries for the best dissertation on any issue relating to geographies and gender. The dissertations should usually be 10,000 words or more and should be submitted as a PDF file, along with a copy of the appropriate departmental dissertation regulations and a (post-September) contact address for the student to: elg26@aber.ac.uk.

For any further details or questions please contact Dr Elizabeth Gagen, Aberystwyth University, elg26@aber.ac.uk

Please note that departments may not submit more than one entry.

PRIZES: 1st prize – £60; 2nd prize – £30; 3rd prize – £20.

Deadline: Friday July 6th 2018 

For last year’s winners:

The gendered working culture of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry: A study of women’s experiences of the ‘downturn’. By Georgia Smith

A Bosnian girl: Understanding the female gender and nationality, in post-conflict, post-socialist Sarajevo. By Rebecca Collinson

Women’s empowerment, development discourse and shifting subjectivities: Everyday performances of gender in rural Uganda. By Caragh Bennet.

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