Reflections from the RGS-IBG Conference 2023
29 September 2023
Poppy Budworth, The University of Manchester.
It has been a couple of weeks since the RGS-IBG Annual Conference in London, where thousands of Geographers (and non-Geographers alike) came together to share new and exciting ideas and research within the discipline. Among various sessions, which expanded from animal geographies to the politics of hydrospaces, there was an abundance of gender and feminist geography to be explored. This blog uncovers some of my personal reflections from the week as the Gender and Feminist Geography Research Group’s (GFGRG) ‘Roving Reporter’.
After a leisurely stroll across Hyde Park on Wednesday morning, I arrived at the RGS and attended my first panel, a three-part GFGRG and Participatory Geographies Research Group (PYGYRG) sponsored session on the ‘Gendered resistances to violence: activism and research’, chaired by Dr Sonja Marzi. During the panel session we heard from a diverse group of scholars interested in forms of resistance and activism among women and marginalised communities. All of the papers effectively spoke to the theme, generating engaging conversations about feminist approaches, methods, and ethics of care. In the first session Sofia Beatriz Rivera, a Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) at Politecnico di Torino in Italy, presented on her ongoing research in San Salvador. Sofia care-fully discussed ‘The caregivers’ strike: caring resistances to extreme and chronic violence’, recounting participants experiences of trauma. Sofia’s research sparked interesting debate in the Q&A discussion leading to a thoughtful reflection, which positioned people who experience violence as “afraid, caring, and angry, all at the same time”.
After a small break between sessions, I found a seat in a café and logged onto the online conference platform, Fourwaves. The next session ‘Care and crises: reimagining 21st Century challenges through a feminist lens’ was chaired by Dr Hanna Baumann. This session was ‘online only’, yet there was no designated space at The Society or Imperial College London for in-person attendees to sit and watch these presentations. Despite a brief panic over where to watch this session, I found myself a spot in a local café where I sat with a coffee and cake and listened to the presentations. Dr Baumann chaired the session in a thoughtful and generative way.
The lack of space to watch online presentations was a topic of discussion amongst people attending the conference in person; with some travelling back to their accommodation to access sessions. Furthermore, I imagine for online attendees it was frustrating that the majority of sessions were not accessible to watch live online, or recorded and uploaded to the conference platform retrospectively.
There were similar issues with ‘hybrid’ sessions (where in-person and online attendees contributed to the same panel), as there seemed to be minimal tech support helping session chairs manage audio, video, and chat functions on Zoom. For an event to be truly ‘hybrid’, greater efforts need to be made to ensure online and in-person attendees are connected and that there is equal opportunity to explore the conference whether you were at home or at The Society. At the RGS-IBG Conference 2022 in Newcastle, a generous number of students were employed to support the hybrid conference; taking the same approach next year would massively improve accessibility for hybrid attendees.
The rest of Wednesday, and the two days which followed, were jam-packed with presentations uncovering innovative ideas, research, and approaches. I really enjoyed attending the ‘New and Emerging’ sessions, particularly the Emerging Queer and Sexualities and the New and Emerging Gender and Feminist Geographies sessions. These spaces, which are designed primarily for Postgraduate and Early Career researchers, are supportive, encouraging, and exciting. When sitting in the audience in these sessions I really felt the potential of ‘Geography’ as a discipline. Hearing from people in the midst of their research, sharing initial findings, or new methodological approaches they are experimenting with was inspiring. During my time roving, reporting, and presenting, I heard from Postgraduate Taught (PGT) students as well as Professors who all shared a passion and enthusiasm for geographical inquiry, and this is something to be celebrated and nurtured for future events.
The GFGRG sponsored a host of sessions across the three days, including: Sketching out the contours of feminist political ecology; Decolonialism, knowledge production and GRRIPP funded efforts; Constellations of co-resistance: reorienting alternative forms of resistance; and Mapping feminist approaches to climate change education. As can be gathered through the titles of the aforementioned panels and presentations, the discussions were broad and intersectional in nature but at the same time, care-fully reflected the intimate lives of the people involved in the research.
As well as GFGRG sponsored sessions, I attended other presentations which encapsulated feminist theory and practice. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Emotional geographies and the digital’ sessions on the Thursday as the discussions about online practices of care and community spoke directly to my research with young people living with an ostomy.
I had the privilege of presenting in one of the new and emerging sessions on Friday, alongside Dr Sinead O’Connor, Dr Taneesha Mohan, and Saanchi Saxena. I felt encouraged and supported by the chair of the session, Dr Kate Maclean, who also chairs the GFGRG. Like most people, I feel nervous before presenting at conferences and events. For me, it is not necessarily the presentation itself but the Q&A which follows which causes worry. However, the end of my presentation was met with a care-full question from Dr Cordelia Freeman about my methodological approach and how to manage wellbeing when doing flexible research. From this question, I was able to share my thoughts around reciprocal practices of flexibility and care between researcher and participants, and touch upon the value of such approaches for everyone involved.
As well as paper sessions, I also attended the ‘Area as a journal for the geography community’ panel session which hosted the current Area (Wiley) editors, Professor Sarah Marie Hall and Professor Julian Leyland, alongside PGRs, guest editors, contributors, and Area’s ‘classics’ authors. As a PGR with only a small experience of academic publishing, I found the discussions during this session eye-opening and informative; it quickly became clear that the intention behind this panel was to create a safe and friendly space to discuss publishing, to improve transparency, and to humanise the process and the people involved.
It was really interesting to attend a range of talks at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference this year, as this was not something I had done previously. As well as the Area Journal panel on the Wednesday, I also attended the GFGRG Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday. During this meeting the GFGRG voted on the groups’ new members which included Dr Margot Rubin as Dissertation Prize Co-ordinator, and myself, Poppy Budworth, as Social Media Co-ordinator. We talked about exciting upcoming events and potential ideas for the next year, which included discussions about ways we can support Undergraduate and Postgraduate Feminist Geographers, as well as developing mentoring opportunities for people at different stages in their careers. For example, in September the GFGRG hosted an online event titled ‘Dealing with the knock-backs: challenging the scripts of ‘failure’ in academia’.
Overall, the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2023 was a great opportunity to share and learn more about brilliant research and practice within Geography at the moment. As a PGR coming to the end of my doctorate, the conference felt like an encouraging space which re-affirmed my excitement for the future of the discipline, and the future of gender and feminist geographies. During the conference, I proudly took my own advice from the previous GFGRG blog about scheduling time to rest during the conference, as this meant I had time to digest the new information from the presentations and panel discussions. All the people I encountered, particularly members of the GFGRG, were kind and collegial which really made a difference to my experience. On that note, I look forward to seeing what next year’s RGS-IBG Annual Conference brings.
About the author: Poppy Budworth (she/her) is a final year Postgraduate Researcher at The University of Manchester, undertaking doctoral research in Human Geography. Poppy worked as the GFGRG’s Roving Reporter during the RGS Annual Conference 2023, and has now been appointed GFGRG Social Media Co-ordinator. All images used in this blog were captured by Poppy during her time at the conference. To contact Poppy, follow her on Twitter/X: @BudworthPoppy, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One: The Royal Geographical Society with IBG sign which is positioned on a wall outside of the The Society in Kensington. The sign is orange with white righting, and the wall is red brick.
Two: A photograph of Sofia’s opening slide: the caregivers’ strike: caring resistances to extreme and chronic violence.
Three: A photograph of a slide from the ‘care and crises’ session online, the image is of a computer screen and the slide reads: ‘Towards an ethics of care in climate change research’ presented by Katriona McGlade.
Four: A photograph of the Area panel, from right to left: Rosie Hampton, Dr Dan Hammett, Professor James Esson, Professor Parvati Raghuram, Professor Julian Leyland, and Professor Sarah Marie Hall. All the panel are sitting on chairs and talking together.
Taking Care: Navigating the RGS Annual Conference as Feminist Geographers
Poppy Budworth, Manchester University
Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG) Roving Reporter
For the first time since 2019, the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) Annual Conference will return to London for a three-day, hybrid event. The conference runs from Wednesday 30th August to Friday 1st September, with an opening plenary on Tuesday 29th August. We at the GFGRG have written this reflective blog to help you make the most of your conference experience. Taking inspiration from Maedhbh Nic Lochlainn’s blog (a fantastic pre-conference read!), this short piece encourages attendees to take care of themselves and of others when navigating this year’s conference.
Preparing for the conference:
Attending academic conferences is an important and exciting way to share and learn about what is going on in your field. The RGS-IBG comprises three full-on days of brilliant talks, thought provoking paper sessions, and fun social events. Although difficult to admit, conferences can be an emotional rollercoaster; excitement, nerves, and exhaustion weave together often leaving people feeling overwhelmed at times. This is not to say you will experience these feelings, but if you do, it is important to recognise you are not the only one!
There are things you can do to help quieten worry and reduce exhaustion whilst attending academic conferences, such as taking time out in your day to rest. Taking time out looks different for everyone, but staying well-nourished and hydrated, sitting outside or taking a walk (if the weather permits), meeting a friend for coffee (and cake!), could be some tools you adopt to stay well.
On this topic, we have collated some advice and tips about how to navigate this year’s RGS-IBG conference in a positive, and care-full way:
- 1) Before you arrive, take a look at the conference programme
Familiarise yourself with the structure of the day, including when and where to register, lunch time, and breaks between sessions. Write down one panel, presentation, or talk that you are going to each day, as well as two or three you would like to attend if you have time, energy, and capacity. Don’t forget to keep note of any sessions you are presenting at! In addition to attending talks and presentations directly related to your interests/expertise, pick at least one session outside of your subdiscipline that intrigues or excites you.
- 2) Rest is productive…
Alongside planning which sessions you are going to, mark out time to rest during the day. This could be an hour to go for a walk, get a coffee, read a book, whatever sparks joy and makes you feel at ease. For in person attendees, the RGS-IBG has quiet space available throughout the week for decompression, as well as private space (e.g., for breastfeeding, prayer, reflection, meditation).
- 3) If you are new to the conference…
Take a look at the RGS-IBG Newcomers’ Guide, as well as Maedhbh’s blog which answers pressing conference related questions like ‘what to wear?’ and how to plan and deliver a conference presentation for the first time. If you are a Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) attending the conference, keep an eye out for news and events for PGRs by following @PGF_RGSIBG. For example, the RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum are hosting a social event on Wednesday 30th August.
- 4) Attend a social event (if you have capacity)
In the evenings there are social events organised by research groups, these usually take place after the last session of the day. Social events are a more relaxed way to meet and get to know your colleagues. The best way to keep up to date with social events during the RGS-IBG is to subscribe to research group listservs and follow research groups on Twitter/X (…go and follow @GFG_RGSIBG).
- 5) Take time to re-imagine what it means to ‘network’.
Taking a more care-full and people-oriented approach to connecting with others makes for a kinder and more considerate conference experience. Smile and/or say hello to people on their own, congratulate speakers on their hard work and interesting reflections, let someone know they asked a thoughtful question in person, or on Zoom. With those you do connect with, remember to exchange contact details so you can keep in touch and champion each other after the conference has ended (i.e., social media handles, email addresses, LinkedIn details).
There are many ways to connect with people at conferences, lots of which can be considered small and gentle acts of kindness and solidarity. Of course, conferences create space to develop ideas and research/writing opportunities, but they are also a place to enact feminist practices of care.
GFGRG Sessions, AGM, and Celebrations:
The RGS-IBG Annual Conference has been designed in a way to support people at different stages in their career, however, some sessions have been created to amplify the work of Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) and Early Career Researchers (ECRs). These targeted sessions have a positive and collegial feel, they are also an exciting opportunity to see where Geography as a discipline is growing and evolving. Come along to the GFGRG ‘new and emerging research in Gender and feminist geographies’ sessions which celebrate exciting new projects and researchers in the field of Feminist Geography. These sessions will be held in person on Friday 1st of September at 9am and in hybrid format at 11:10am.
In addition, the GFGRG will be holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday 31st August (18.15-19.15) at the RGS-IBG in London (in the Sunbury Room, at the RGS-IBG). The event will be hybrid so you will be able to join either in person or online. The aim of the GFGRG AGM is to take stock of what the group has done this year, and to make plans for 2023-2024. We will be advertising positions on the committee, and we are always looking for new voices and ideas. There will be drinks and nibbles and a social event afterwards, so please come along if you are interested in meeting like-minded feminist geographers. If you would like to come to the AGM but are not attending the conference, please contact Kate (email@example.com) who will provide an AGM pass and/or hybrid link to the meeting.
As well as the AGM, the GFGRG are holding an informal celebration of the life and work of Janet Townsend, where Janet will be remembered and celebrated as a feminist geographer, a scholar, mentor, and much valued friend. There will be a few opening words of welcome from colleagues who knew her well, and the chance to share your memories of Janet with others. This event will be held at the Members’ Room at the Society on August 30th, 19:00 -20:00, please come along.
Exploring the RGS-IBG and the local area:
Exploring the local area is a fun and exciting part of attending a conference. Here are some suggestions of things to do whilst visiting The Society:
- Enjoy local green spaces such as Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and Albert Memorial Garden.
- Visit the Natural History Museum, and relax in the Museum Café. Admission to the Museum is FREE.
- Visit the Science Museum, where admission is also FREE.
- This LondonXLondon blog details some the best cafés near Kensington, so grab yourself a delicious coffee in your down time.
- Visit local bookshops like South Kensington Books.
- Have a wander round Portobello Market. If you visit Portobello Market, there are lots of charity shops in the area to explore and grab a bargain!
Important information for all attendees:
For those attending the conference in person, sessions will be held at the Royal Geographical Society and Imperial College London. Take note that registration and name badge collection will be at the Exhibition Road entrance of the Society. A delicious vegetarian/vegan lunch is provided by the RGS-IBG, with 100% of any food waste being recycled as part of the Society’s sustainability efforts. You can learn more about how to find the Society here. In terms of getting to the conference, there are lots of ways to travel around London, which are detailed on the Transport for London website.
Those who are attending virtually will have access to livestreams of the Chair’s plenary talks and keynote lectures held in the Ondaatje Theatre, as well as online access to virtual and hybrid sessions, to any pre-uploaded content, and to session recordings. The virtual conference will be facilitated by the platform Fourwaves, and access granted through the email account you used to register. If you have any questions or concerns about attending the conference virtually, contact the RGS-IBG at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also information about accessibility at the conference, on the RGS-IBG website.
The RGS-IBG uphold a clear Code of Conduct which is designed to protect everyone attending the conference, online and in person; it is important to familiarise yourself with this code of conduct before arriving at the conference. The RGS-IBG website outlines contact details you might need during your visit. Here is a link to the FAQs which may be a useful point of reference before, and during, the conference.
About the author:
Poppy Budworth (she/her) is a final year Postgraduate Researcher at The University of Manchester, undertaking doctoral research in Human Geography. Poppy’s research explores the everyday lives of young people living with an Ileostomy or Colostomy in the UK, focusing on encounters, relationships and Disabled youth identity making. Poppy is working as the GFGRG’s Roving Reporter during the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2023. To contact Poppy, follow her on Twitter/X: @BudworthPoppy, or email email@example.com.
Publication to Protests: A Geographical Exploration of Power and Resistance in The Handmaid’s Tale
Guest post by Georgia Silva from the University of Nottingham who won the 2020 dissertation prize.
This dissertation uses Margaret Atwood’s novels The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and The Testaments (2019) alongside Hulu’s television adaptation as sites for geographical research. It explores textual and visual representations of power and resistance within the fictional world of Gilead and within society today. The Republic of Gilead is a totalitarian, theocratic, oppressively patriarchal state which segregates society into social classes subsequently limiting people’s rights, especially those of women who are unable to read, write, work or control their own reproductive functions.
This dissertation opens with the examination of power representations in Gilead at where power becomes capillary; at societal level through social hierarchies and coded public space, at the domestic level through spatial partitioning of the home and relegating women to the domestic sphere and finally at the site of body through violence, clothing and biopolitical forces.
An example of textual analysis is shown here; Gilead’s public space is thoroughly imbued with power relations.By assigning citizens to particular places and limiting access to public spaces Gilead supervises its citizen’s mobility an converts place into extensions of authority. for example, the socio-political exclusion of Gileadean women is reflected by the spatial restrictions of their mobility through overtly masculine public space. This can be understood through analysing the Handmaid’s daily walk to the shops: ‘We smile and move off, in tandem, travelling smoothly along our daily track…A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere as long as it stays inside the maze.’ (Atwood, 1985: 165, emphasis added). Firstly, ‘in tandem’ recognises how Handmaids are assigned ‘walking partners’ as they are disallowed to travel ‘except in twos’ (Atwood, 1985: 19). This incarcerates Handmaids into the surveillance state as ‘she is my spy, as I am hers’ (Atwood, 1985: 19) creating a system of ultimate control and isolation. Additionally, the fact the Handmaids are walking represents their lowly status as ‘you don’t see Commanders’ Wives on the sidewalks, only in cars’ (Atwood, 1985: 24). This reveals the intersectional, tiered nature of female hierarchies as the ability to get somewhere quickly is associated with exclusivity (Creswell, 2010). Secondly, ‘daily track’ recognises this movement as a habitual spatial behaviour, somewhat of a ‘time-space routine’ or ‘body ballet’ (Seamon, 1980: 158) timetabled into Handmaids’ everyday routine as a form of control. This is epitomised by the metaphor ‘rat in a maze’, rendering Handmaids immobile as their movement is watched, scheduled and routed in a ‘tunnelling effect’ (Graham and Marvin, 2001: 201).
An example of visual analysis is shown here; The role of the wings as restrictive ‘blinkers’ (Atwood, 1985: 30), physically impeding Handmaid’s vision is depicted in Figure 1 where a ‘reverse-angle shot’ (Rose, 2016: 75) utilises ‘logics of perception’ to reflect the Handmaid’s limited and controlled perspective, or ‘way of seeing’ (Carter and McCormack, 2006: 232). Furthermore, Offred comments, ‘I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object’ (Atwood: 1985: 73). By metaphorically reducing her sense of self to a cloud Offred dissociates herself from her body, revealing her internalisation of the dominant ‘docile bodies’ ideology, confirming how clothing can act as a ‘technology of self’ (Foucault, 1988b).
After examining representations of power and resistance, this dissertation shifted focus, making use of data mining methodologies to reflect upon how The Handmaid’s Tale has interacted with recent politics, at the intersection of the ‘literary world’ and the ‘real world’. The Handmaid’s Tale is remarkable in the twenty-first century for how successfully it has been mobilised to disturb the boundaries between ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’. Audiences from across the globe have taken Atwood’s story from publication to protests, using The Handmaid’s Tale as a cultural vehicle with which to conceptualize, and formulate a resistance to social change, with public protesters dressing up as Handmaids buoyed by viral notions of hashtag activism. The Handmaid’s Tale, then, has clearly been a direct inspiration for real-world protests today as the handmaid has been successfully appropriated as a feminist symbol (Kraft, 2010). Figure 2 shows images of numerous protests utilising The Handmaid’s Tale, the majority protesting abortion laws.
This dissertation concludes the importance of geographical explorations of representations from imaginative sources because of the profound impact they have on the material world. Crucially, while fictive and film geographies have considered at length the content of imaginary representations, the ‘geographies of reception’ that result have often been overlooked (Rupke,1999: 226). This research ultimately fills a gap in the literature by providing a valuable contribution that considers the interplay between fictional texts, visual content, existing social realities and real-world attempts to overcome those realities.
In the current political climate, where protests of women clad in red and hooded in white proliferate, we should not underestimate the possibility of finding real-world commentary, possibly even real-world solutions, in the imaginary world. This dissertation offers a starting point for such endeavours.
Atwood, M. (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale. London: Penguin Random House.
Atwood, M. (2019). The Testaments. London: Penguin Random House.
Creswell, T. (2010). Towards a Politics of Mobility. Environment and Planning D Society and Space, 28, pp.19.
Foucault, M. and Martin, L.L. (1988b). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock, pp.16-49.
Graham, S. and Marvin, S. (2001). Splintering Urbanism: networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition. London and New York: Routledge.
Kraft, P. (2010). Architectural movements, utopian movements: (in)coherent renderings of the Hundertwasser-Haus, Vienna. Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography, 92, 327-345.
Rupke, N. (1999). A geography of Enlightenment: the critical reception of Alexander von Humboldt’s Mexico work. In: Livingstone, D. and Withers, C (eds.). Geography and Enlightenment, pp.231-94.
Rose, G. (2016). Visual methodologies (4th edition). London: Sage Publications.
Academia in Covid-19 times: Reflections on practice
As a group of feminist researchers we thought it pertinent to provide our reflections on how our current practices are being impacted by Covid-19 and the uncertainties surrounding the new conditions in which we find ourselves. The views posted below are individual reflections on one’s own circumstances. In publishing these, we hope to create a sense of solidarity around the struggles that some researchers are finding themselves immersed in.
Should you wish to present your own story/ reflection for inclusion on the website please email our web coordinator, Lucy Jackson, at Lucy.Jackson@Sheffield.ac.uk
“The middle of March was the last time I went to the swimming pool, it was independent study week and it was my 27th week being pregnant. It was about that time that the government in the country of the satellite campus I work for decided to implement distance learning for all education institutions. That early decision in comparison to what was happening in the UK instilled me with a sense of confidence that I would be looked after. Of course, it was a struggle to get online distance learning up and running at such short notice, but I suppose I quite enjoyed it. The students appeared to take it in their stride and all was good.
Then the home campus extended deadlines by two weeks, and this meant that I could not take my leave as I had been previously planning (I should point out that I had meticulously planned conception so that if all was well the baby would arrive after term), as who would do my marking? I, of course, stressed this, but everybody appeared to have their own issues that needed dealing with, and the lack of support was quite obvious to me but not to anyone else. Borders were closed everywhere and I had to find a new doctor. The water birth I had planned went out the window due to new policies, and I began to get incredibly homesick watching friends have their families visit in weird and wonderfully social distanced ways to see their newborns.
I knew that having a baby would be difficult to juggle with academic life, I knew it would be hard to do away from friends and families, in a place where the health care is great but not always logical to me, but I didn’t know it would be this hard. I want to go home, I want to go on leave, I want to go to prenatal Pilates, antenatal classes with my partner, I want a water birth without a mask… When you read the birthing books it appears that giving birth should make you feel empowered, I don’t and I am not sure any of us do in amongst this pandemic”. (Anonymous)
Barriers for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students During COVID-19
By: Sawyer Phinney
PhD Student, Department of Geography, University of Manchester
The COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted lives around the world, including those of many marginalized people, who unexpectedly face added burdens and vulnerabilities. The impact of COVID 19 is particularly challenging for transgender and gender non-conforming communities.
In the middle of my PhD at the University of Manchester, I decided that I wanted to start hormones and begin my transition after internalizing and suffering from gender dysphoria for most of my life. I was nervous, anxious and utterly afraid to do this during my studies as I was unaware how staff and other students might react and if it could jeopardize my safety, and my career in academia because of it. When I looked through my university’s website, I was disappointed but not surprised to find very little resources for trans and gender non-conforming PhD students.
I first visited my GP in June 2019 to consult about my gender dysphoria and starting hormones. My GP explained the process to begin my journey and that I would need to be referred to an NHS Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) that would take several appointments with gender-specialized therapists that would deem me ‘fit’ enough to begin testosterone. My GP also mentioned the waitlist for the initial consultation was now over three years, and it could be nearly four until I could start hormone therapy. Dysphoria is not easy to deal with, and especially to finally muster the courage to openly discuss it with your GP, only to be told that my transition would have to wait many years.
Trans and gender non-conforming people face difficult barriers to access healthcare, from GP and medical professionals lack of training and in some cases, discrimination and refusal of care, to gatekeeping protocols to funding cuts. Due to decades of Tory government austerity and transphobic health care practices, funding has been cut to Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) and nearly half have closed down over the last few years.
As other trans and gender non-conforming folks in the UK, many of us have been forced to seek hormones and gender-affirming care in private clinics or the black market, paying out of our own pocket and going into debt because of it. In the UK, hormones can cost £100 per month through a private clinic. So, in other words, if you have some money, you can bypass the barriers of GIC clinics. This has created a two-tier system of those who can afford to pay to seek care from private gender clinics and those who cannot.
As a PhD student living on near poverty wages and working precariously, this has posed serious financial challenges that have only been exacerbated by COVID 19. The threat of job losses, hours, and the reduction of teaching assistant positions announced by UK universities places many trans and gender non-conforming students, like me, at risk who heavily rely on teaching and/or research assistant income to pay for hormones and gender-affirming care, such as medical surgeries. Other folks have had their surgeries or gender-affirming care delayed or postponed due to the virus, or because of loss of income, have had to reschedule for a later date. Statistics show that 90 percent of transgender people do not have access to a formal job and the assistance measures taken by many countries support unemployed people. Therefore, many LGBTQ people who are not part of the formal economy, are left out of government employment aid without the possibility to earn income. Moreover, some trans and gender non-conforming students may not be able to access health care and hormones at all due to closure of clinics and medical providers prioritizing COVID-related care. This can pose serious challenges to mental health contributing to increasing gender dysphoria and can be particularly stressful for gender non-conforming and trans PhD students who are forced to pause their hormone therapy or cannot access needed medical and psychological care.
The UKRI recently published an equalities impact assessment for PhD funding extensions in light of COVID 19. The impact for trans students (who they list as ‘gender reassignment’) is reported as ‘unlikely’ because trans and gender non-conforming students ‘schedule to transition’ upon the completion of their PhD. This assumes trans health care is readily made accessible in the UK and it is overtly obvious that they failed to consult or speak to a single trans or gender non-conforming student for this assessment or they would have been privy to the reality that transitioning does not happen on a scheduled date and in a vacuum.
Part of my transition will involve top surgery. I was lucky to find a surgeon through a private clinic in Germany to do this at an affordable rate (still costing me thousands of dollars), arranged to take place in September 2020. Although I have been saving funds from the wages that I was making as a teaching assistant over the last year and a half, my university recently announced that teaching assistant positions and hours will be reduced significantly next fall in light of COVID 19, and as many other PGR students transitioning, I am uncertain if I will be able to meet the costs to pay for my surgery.
I call on all universities and research funding bodies to assess the unequal impact of COVID 19 on trans and gender non-conforming PGR students who cannot access or afford care and provide needed support through funding and additional extension during these times.
We have been told repeatedly that this virus is a great leveller, that it does not discriminate; but it does. The death rate from the disease is twice as high for men as women, Black men in the UK are 4.2 times as likely to be killed by the disease than white men of the same age, Black women 4.3 times as likely as white women. Disable and chronically ill people are not only at higher risk of death from the virus itself, but also as a result of the institutionalised ableism in health care policy and medical ethics. COVID-19 has hit the most deprived neighbourhoods and the most deprived people hardest. Inequality has shaped the pandemic, its course through the country and responses to it.
Our ability to adjust to the pandemic, to protect ourselves or to find a ‘new normal’ is unequal too. Women and young people have been most likely to lose paid work, low-paid workers in personal services most likely to have to continue working, in close contact with others, often without adequate protection. People with the highest incomes (disproportionately white men) are the most likely to be able to work from home and to have the space and equipment to do so. Staying home is not the same for a household with a big house and garden as it is for a large family in a small flat. COVID-19 and the social response to the pandemic have caused population-level anxiety, which is being experienced variable ant the individual level. We are perhaps in the same storm but different in boats. In the UK domestic abuse helpline have risen by 49 per cent and charities assisting vulnerable families have seen an exponential surge in demand for their services. In India the ‘world’s most dangerous country for women’, the scale of domestic violence has escalated to such an extent that the National Commission for Women (NCW) has launched a Whatsapp service in addition to supporting online complaints. These examples show the need to examine and understand how the geopolitical dimensions of the pandemic are impacting individual’ homelife and how homelife is also characterising individual experiences of the pandemic (see Brickell 2012). For some this will be a period of deep trauma and we may only learn the extent of what people have suffered over the years to come.
For academics these inequalities have been felt in the threat of job losses and cut hours for casualized staff, PhD students coming to the end of their studies face bleak prospects for employment in universities, or elsewhere, while staff and students with caring responsibilities have seen demands on their time multiply. Unsurprisingly, women are doing the majority of the increased childcare and housework that lockdown has brought, with domestic pressures even greater for parents of disable children with complex care needs, who have lost access to respite and other support services. The effects of this are measurable in a reduced ability to do research, to write and to publish – the things that ‘count’ for promotions and job security. Around the world, as universities move their teaching online, existing inequalities are being strengthened and social and gender divides between students are widening.
This virus is not an equaliser, it does discriminate. We call on universities and other actors in Higher Education to monitor and ameliorate this discrimination. Covid-19 could undo decades of work towards equality within the academy, we must not let this happen. Instead, we can use this opportunity to imagine a new future, where the value of caring is recognised, work is flexible and the environmental gains of our new ways of working continued. We could embrace an ethic of care within academia, redefine what is important, and build an academic world that is sustainable, caring, and respectful to all.
(Paper) Academia in the Time of COVID-19: Towards an Ethics of Care
Esteve Corbera, Isabelle Anguelovski, Jordi Honey-Rosés, &Isabel Ruiz-Mallén (2020)
The global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people’s work-life balance across the world. For academics, confinement policies enacted by most countries have implied a sudden switch to home-work, a transition to online teaching and mentoring, and an adjustment of research activities. In this article we discuss how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting our profession and how it may change it in the future. We argue that academia must foster a culture of care, help us refocus on what is most important, and redefine excellence in teaching and research. Such re-orientation can make academic practice more respectful and sustainable, now during confinement but also once the pandemic has passed. We conclude providing practical suggestions on how to renew our practice, which inevitably entails re-assessing the social-psychological, political, and environmental implications of academic activities and our value systems.
Jess Bostock is a member of ‘Misogyny IS Hate’, a student led activist group working with Greater Manchester Citizens to improve the lived experience of women in the city through legislative equality. Jess presented her research on Misogyny hate crime in Greater Manchester in the GFGRG session ‘New and emerging research in gender and feminist geographies’ at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2019.
Twitter link for the campaign: https://twitter.com/misogynyishate?lang=en
Words by Jess Bostock
Research on women’s experiences of misogyny in Greater Manchester
In a survey I conducted in 2019, with 520 respondents from within Greater Manchester (GM) and a further 232 nationally, 75% of respondents stated that they had been groped, 65% had been followed, and 83% had been harassed in a public place. The data also highlighted the intersectionality of misogyny as the experiences of BAME women, visibly religious women and older women were often rooted in their identity as women, as well as their race, religion or age. These results highlight the severity of misogyny with Greater Manchester and indicate how normalised misogyny is, considering its widespread nature. Respondents also highlighted key spaces and temporalities in which misogynistic instances occur. The most common spaces were workplaces and on public transport, often at night-time.
The proliferation of such lived experiences for women, and the lasting impacts these can have on their wellbeing, mental health and use of public spaces, highlights the need for Misogyny Hate Crime in Greater Manchester. In fact, 90% of survey respondents stated that they believe such a policy should be implemented.
Contributions of the research to national and local action
Through the ‘Misogyny IS Hate’ campaign I have had the opportunity to give a national voice to the experiences of the women who participated in my research; first at the Manchester Law Commission of England and Wales hearing of Hate Crime (Figure 1) and now through the inclusion of my research within the Citizen’s UK National Hate Crime report. However, whilst the national strategy awaits the Law Commission’s recommendation, we continue to strive for local change.
The research was presented to Supt. Rick Jackson Head of Hate Crime within Greater Manchester Police (Figure 2), to enable him to garner internal support for the legislation. In late 2019 Greater Manchester Combined Authority released a public consultation on Hate Crime, with the first question asking whether GM authorities should recognise hate against women and girls. At the GM Hate Crime Awareness Week Launch in February 2020 (Figure 3) the overwhelming support for the inclusion of this category was announced. This gives Greater Manchester authorities and the Chief Constable a unique opportunity to take the transformative step of recognising women are disportionately targeted due to their gender.
Misogyny is a complex issue, rooted in patriarchy, Othering and the systemic oppression of women and minority groups. Hate crime legislation is a key progression in a wider picture of tackling gender inequality. Criado-Perez (2019) argues that ‘whether unthinkingly or not, we just aren’t prioritising women’ and therefore live alongside an ‘endemic of sexual violence’ towards women in a ‘Misogynation’ (Bates, 2018). I argue that recognising the disproportionate threat and violence that women face, through the implementation of misogyny hate crime, is the first key step in tackling gender inequality of the 21st century.
As a campaign group, we hope to continue working closely with GM authorities to see Manchester take the lead on such an important issue for women once again, as the Suffragette City.
Bates, L. (2018) Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism. London: Simon and Schuster.
Citizens UK (2019) Making misogyny a hate crime. Available at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW8jCOuuXWQ (Accessed: 9 February 2020)
Criado-Perez, Caroline (2019) Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men. London: Chatto & Windus.
Mullany, L and Tricket, L. (2018) Misogyny hate crime: new research reveals true scale of issue – and how the public are united against it. Available at: https://theconversation.com/misogyny-hate-crime-new-research-reveals-true-scale-of-issue-and-how-the-public-are-united-against-it-100265 (Accessed: 9 February 2020)
 The draft proposal of findings is due to be published in early 2020