Resistance, Backlash and Power: Gender Equality and Feminist New Practice in EU and Global Discourse

International Symposium
European Union Centre Network NZ (EUCN NZ)
National Centre for Research on Europe (NCRE) and the University of Canterbury
April 1, 2016

Many thanks to Associate Professor Annick Masselot for organizing this symposium and extending a warm welcome to those of us who wanted to come and listen. It was an enjoyable educational experience with issues from both Europe and New Zealand that I had not considered previously. I took some limited notes and have assembled them below – several of the presenters have forthcoming books if you are interested in more details on their topic.

Revisiting Intersectionality under EU Anti-Discrimination Law: Lessons from the Crisis? A Critical Legal Studies Perspective
By Professor Dagmar Schiek (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Schiek discussed how efforts remain disjointed in EU anti-discrimination laws. There are gender experts, the disability lobby, and the European anti-racism movement. She proposed three nodes to address the gap between anti-discrimination laws—Gender, Race, and Disability—and explained why class was not one of them. She said that from a legal perspective, intersectionality and class are mutually exclusive. Issues of class are addressed in other areas of the law.

The Construction of Vulnerability: Disabled Women and Predatory Abuse
By Debbie Hagar (Auckland University)

Hagar interviewed dozens of people related to the title issue and found that people said that they were not vulnerable, rather the system makes situations where they are made to feel vulnerable. There was a sense of inevitability, an expectation that vulnerable people will be harmed, and this seeps into the thinking around the issue. In New Zealand, the law allows for women with intellectual disabilities to be sterilized if they are at risk of sexual abuse, thus ignoring the perpetrators. She emphasized that we are all able to be harmed because we are embodied, regardless of disability. Vulnerability is a construction, a label we put on people. She said that we need to reframe the paradigm so we are not continually labelled as vulnerable. Recent example was given of yet another group of boys not being convicted of rape because it is seen as harming their future life endeavors).

The Impact of Gender Neutrality on Gender Equality: How Should New Zealand Law Define Rape?
By Elisabeth McDonald (Victoria University)

McDonald looked at the May 2005 Select Committee in New Zealand which decided to keep rape as a gender specific offense in Section 128. Whereas other parts of the law are becoming gender-neutral, in this case it was specifically decided to keep the definition of rape. There are consequences for those who do not fit the gender binary then, including for trans women and men. Other actions can fall under the ‘unlawful sexual connection’ clauses, but not the rape one. It raises issues regarding the power of language and words and how they impact on sentencing.

Showing Judges How to Walk the Walk: The Feminist Judgments Project Aotearoa
By Rhonda Powell (University of Canterbury)

In 2008, R. Hunter asked “Can Feminist Judges Make a Difference” in the International Journal of the Legal Profession, looking at whether adding feminism rather than adding women would make a difference in law. Powell discussed bringing this project, which has been implemented elsewhere in the world, to New Zealand, where 29.9% of New Zealand judges are women. She and others are asking what would a feminist judge do in certain historical cases which seem to have had no consideration of women’s perspectives or interests. So what would we expect a feminist judge to do? Ask the ‘woman question’, take into account women’s interest, listen to women’s perspectives, tell women’s stories, challenge gender bias, contextualize legal decision, and address injustice and inequality. One can see feminist judging as a refusal to accept the concept of legal/law neutrality. They hope to have a publication out within the next year – looks to be a very interesting project (and makes me want to read about the other ones in the world!).

Victims of Sexual Exploitation by Peacekeepers: The Question of Agency in the UN’s Zero-Tolerance Policy
By Cassandra Mudgway

In looking at how the UN deals with sexual exploitation by its peacekeepers, arguably it is treating sex as the problem, rather than the context. It removes agency for women to not look at the context. A big issue is that the UN doesn’t have the capacity to criminally prosecute – it must rely on the nations to carry out that task, which doesn’t necessarily happen. Victims are literally last on the list for assistance, so even if the perpetrator is removed, the victims are often not given care or support. High-level discussions at the UN do not include sex work or sex-for-food issues, which need to be addressed. Mudgway discussed the need for victim-centered policies.

Beholden: (To Olympia): An Artists’s Response to Unveiling, Agency and the Pornographic Gaze
By Sorcia Forgan

Forgan opened with a discussion of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (~1463) as being a shift in the depiction of the female nude, breaking away from the Church. She detailed her performance piece wherein people are confronted with the gaze and literally write in pen on the performer, which prompts reflection. She assembled a small-scale viewing room next to the main room for symposium participants to look at and watch a recording of the performance.

Gender Equality and a Policy Challenge in the Public and Private Spheres (Paid Parental Leave)
By Suzy Morrissey (Victoria University)

Morrissey’s research question is what is the process of ‘problematization’ that led to the Paid Parental Leave (PPL) policies of New Zealand and Norway? She compared the policy discourse in both countries and found them to be quite different. In general, there are dynamic changes depending on which area of policy something is in. For example, there is usually no problem with employer-paid annual leave or sick leave, as that is now taken for granted in many countries. However, welfare is in a different sphere and is used with the language of dependency, cost, and being a burden on society. The difference in the discourse around PPL in the two countries was that in New Zealand, it was argued that women needed a paid break because it was assumed that they would be the primary carer, while in Norway, they intentionally wanted to move away from the old model to a new dual-carer model. Morrissey discussed the What’s the Problem Represented to Be (WPR) framework as offering a new way of looking at issues like this.

European Union Gender Action Plan 2016-2020: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations
By Ana Gilling (Victoria University)

Gilling discussed the refugee/immigration crisis in Europe as overwhelming, with lots of disturbing images online to be encountered by those doing research, especially into the gender aspect, which is what she was doing. She said that organizations are now saying that trafficking and refugee problems can no longer be separated due to enormity of the problems. There were no women at the table at the Syrian peace talks (which is disturbing), and that the issue of gender is being sidelined because of the crisis (now used as an excuse). Funding is more likely to go toward dealing with this issue than specific gender ones.

Equality and Opportunity: Educational Reform and Its Workplace Legacies
By Sarah Christie (Otago University)

Christie gave a historical overview of education in relation to women in New Zealand. Women’s work was still seen as temporary in spite of women being afforded more educational opportunities. Essentially there were three streams: academic, commercial, and homecraft. One of the interesting facts she related was that until 1942, girls were required to take Home Science courses and these took the place of other Science courses (except for Botany).

Identity Politics, Bourgeois Feminism, and Postmodernism
By Sionainn Byrnes

Byrnes opened with two clips, one of a New Zealand morning talk-show interview with a female University of Canterbury Entrepreneurship student, and the other of Madeleine Albright endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. She used these to frame her discussion of identity politics (women, gays, Latinos, etc.) seeming to now force people to support others ‘like them’ based on their identity, even if they don’t necessarily agree (she gave the example of New Zealand politician Paula Bennett). Both clips had made reference to the need to support other women so as not to be petty and jealous or betray the cause. She proposed using postmodern theory as a more productive way of finding support for progress by avoiding some of the issues with identity politics.

Changing Features of ‘Ethnic’ Migration, Gender and Multi-layered Belonging in Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany
By Ulrike M. Vieten

Vieten looked at what she called the ‘New Europeans’, those with post-cosmopolitan and trans-national local identities. She interviewed a variety of people from different backgrounds in Europe and found that they had different and difficult outlooks on Europe. One example was interviewing a person of Turkish descent in Germany and asking how they classify themselves (like do they identify as a German or not). This tied in with the earlier discussions of the refugee crisis and how this and following generations will integrate or not integrate in European societies.

Q&A Session
It came up that the discourse here in New Zealand is not on fire or on the same level like it is in Europe and elsewhere (“when you look at what passes for media…”). It is also interesting that the arguments against making the EU any larger use gender for political ends but only when it suits them (as in, Turkey doesn’t treat women as well as we do in Europe or the UK, so it shouldn’t be let into the EU).

Added to the Agenda: How Intersectional Groups Can Gain Policy Makers’ Attention
By Louise K. Davidson-Schmich (University of Miami)

The question Davidson-Schmich asked was how can citizens belonging to two or more marginalized groups capture policy makers’ attention? Germany was used as a crucial case as it was one that she and her co-authors were familiar with. They used process tracing to determine who speaks for the group, and documented silence: who doesn’t speak? what is not said? She said that they found that intersectional groups need allies, and there are three ways of doing this: top down (using existing policies like those of the EU or UN), convergence with policy maker interests (when politicians appropriate concerns for their own needs – like being concerned with immigrant women when they’re really against immigration), and bottom up (unions getting on board with minimum wage when it looks to benefit them).

Whose Stories Get Told? Feminist Adventures in Feature Film Development
By Marian Evans

Evans used her time to present and then engage the audience in reflecting on the films they consume. She said that only 14.5% of the New Zealand taxpayer-funded films since 2003 have been directed by women. And there was no work written and directed by a Maori woman. There are best practice models available now in Norway, Iceland, and elsewhere. The last Women’s Film Festival was in 2003 and it seems like there is still no demand for another one. One prohibiting factor in women in film development is that it takes 7-13 years, so it is a lot of time and effort to do so. She asked the audience for suggestions on how to increase women’s participation, as it seemed like progress has stalled. Several in the audience admitted that they don’t consider the gender of directors or other roles involved with films – one noted that they are conscious of that when it comes to their books but not movies.

Leading by Feminist Example? The EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
By Serena Kelly (University of Canterbury)

Kelly looked at images of powerful women, specifically Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini, two female HRVPs of the EU, in the New Zealand media. It was interesting that no specific mention was made in the New Zealand media about women’s rights. Kelly noted that although there is the power of hostile images, positive images must also be cultivated.

The Problem of Articulating ‘Unfreedom’ as a Global Feminist Discourse
By Cindy Zeiher (University of Canterbury)

Zeiher discussed the concept of unfreedom and how choice feminism relies on it to maintain itself; choice feminism is motivated by a fear of politics and does not seek to change the status quo. She acknowledged that it is difficult and demanding to be a politically engaged feminist, but that we should take pleasure in listening to our critics and using what they say to think critically about feminism (and try to encourage them to get engaged in it because they see us taking pleasure in it).