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SVRI Forum 2022 - listening, learning, connecting and celebrating the power of collective activism

Updated: Jan 9

The SVRI Forum is the world's leading research conference on violence against women and children and other forms of violence driven by gender inequality in low and middle-income countries.

Location: Cancún, Mexico

SVRI Forum 2022 Banner. It reads: 'SVRI Forum 2022, Cancun, Mexico. 19-23 September 2022.
SVRI Forum 2022

SVRI Forum provides a space where delegates, researchers, practitioners, program managers, funders, policymakers, activists and journalists, among other actors from across the world, can build knowledge, expand their networks, collaborate and share knowledge with key decision-makers in the field of violence against women.

Below are some wonderful people I met at the Forum who are working to address sexual violence on tertiary campuses.

1. Jennifer Wagman - United States

Jennifer founded the Global Campus Violence Prevention Network (GCVP Network) to build global partnerships to ensure college and university campuses are safe and equitable worldwide. The GCVP Network unites individuals and groups conducting (or intending to conduct) implementation research to inform and advocate for policies, programs and practices to prevent and improve responses to campus-based violence. They have members located in Mexico, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Zambia, Kingdom of Eswatini, Colombia, South Africa and the United States.

The GCVP Network provide grants to global university partners to conduct research to strengthen their campus’ prevention and response to sexual assault, harassment, stalking, dating violence and other forms of gender-based violence. Many of the recipients of these grants were at the SVRI Forum - the first time the current members of the global network have all met in person!

2. Laura Castrillón-Guerrero and Diana Ojeda - Colombia

The second I met Laura and Diana, I was in awe of how they spoke about their activism in Colombia and how their research is grounded in being feminist, connective, intersectional and collaborative with activists, scholars, collectives and students. Through connective ethnography (integrating research through online and offline situations), participant observation, interviews, focus groups, social mapping and memory workshops with four universities in Colombia, they aim to:

  1. Identify the most frequent forms of gender-based violence

  2. Analyse the process for the design and implementation of the existing protocols in each of the universities

  3. Build a bank of knowledge and actions that have been taken to address gender-based violence in each of the universities

  4. Analyse the tensions between institutional and non-institutional justice.

Some of their key takeaways so far are that:

  • Feminist collectives are doing the hard work

  • Institutions create protocols as a way of keeping themselves safe

  • Retaliation towards advocates is a new form of gender-based violence

  • Institutions try to separate activists/advocates working to address gender-based violence on campus so this problem stays in the private dimension

  • We need to talk about justice beyond the institutional framework.

We need to make our care network visible!

3. Eunhee Park - United States

I met Eunhee at a participant-led discussion about ethical storytelling when sharing the stories of sexual and gender-based violence victim-survivors. She is the co-principal investigator of the Double Jeopardy project, as part of UC Speaks Up. The project seeks to:

  1. Explore the types and context of sexual violence Asian students have experienced during their time as a University of California (UC) student

  2. Assess relationships between UC Asian students' experiences of sexual violence, anti-Asian racism, discrimination and xenophobia

  3. Understand how the rise of anti-Asian discrimination, hate and violence has impacted Asian students' help-seeking behaviours, resilience and coping strategies after their experience of sexual violence

  4. Develop materials to raise awareness about and inform development of culturally-specific advocacy materials and violence prevention and health promotion services for Asian students across the UC system.

At the SVRI Forum, Eunhee set up an exhibition which shared some of the students' stories using PhotoVOICE - a participatory research method that engages and empowers participants to tell their own personal, lived stories through photography and group dialogue.

4. Elisabet Le Roux - South Africa

Elisabet is an inspirational researcher who has done work on gender-based violence internationally. However, at the SVRI Forum she was presenting on research she had done in her own community - at Stellenbosch University. Her research question: How are the drivers of campus rape culture understood and experienced by women students at Stellenbosch University? Using PhotoVOICE 2.0, young women trained as student researchers were tasked with taking photos and making voice notes to document their experiences, emotions and reflections of rape culture on campus. These reflections are available in an online exhibition, allowing viewers to experience the stories and emotions of women students in a firsthand, unfiltered way and to stimulate honest conversations about what is going on and the need for change. One of the main goals of the research was for it to be an empowering experience for everyone involved - with safety and care embedded in the design. The six key themes that arose from the research are: student residences, fear, alcohol, masculinity, social norms and responses.

Because that is what the University does: the University sweeps things under the rug, like nothing happened.

- Ainsley, Student Researcher

You can support the student researchers by engaging in the exhibition and sharing further. We can only change campus rape culture if we all take responsibility as being part of the solution to the problem and use our relative power to influence others.

5. Elena Kim - Kyrgyzstan

Elena is a researcher from the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan advocating for improved institutional responses to sexual violence on campus. She found that some of the main barriers to effective institutional responses to sexual violence on campus include:

  • Over-sexualisation of the problem

  • Over-reliance on fast fixes

  • Over-emphasis on formal legal compliance.

Elena describes the sexual misconduct policy as the university's 'bargaining chip' and 'neglected child' - used strategically by the university to control staff, support shifting discourses about strategic orientations of university and to legitimate the university's changing leadership. The policy was never designed with student wellbeing in mind and all it has achieved is silence and impunity - ultimately leaving students unprotected.

Sexual harassment policy is a political process, not a technical one. It privileges some interests over others and perpetuates inequality with power imbalances. We need a radical re-design to address sexual harassment in higher education.

One of the main themes across all of these which I relate to in my own work is that we have all experienced considerable backlash from senior levels of university executive management for advocating for change and supporting students. Another main theme is how powerful storytelling is to create change and that despite the efforts of senior university executives to belittle and silence us - we refuse to stop. The power of coming together to form a collective of activists and researchers against campus sexual violence is a type of solidarity that institutions cannot break.

Some other inspiring people and organisations I met that I encourage you to look at include:

  • NO MORE - a global initiative dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault by increasing awareness, inspiring action and fuelling culture change. They work to amplify and grow the movement to stop and prevent domestic violence and sexual assault, in homes, schools, workplaces and communities around the world by creating and supporting innovative campaigns, partnerships and tools that leverage the power of the media, entertainment, sports, technology and collective action.

  • Adam Joe - a filmmaker and video producer based in Guatemala, focusing on storytelling with child survivors of sexual violence. Adam seeks to centre survivor voices and use participatory filmmaking as a process of resilience building and trauma healing. Storytelling has taken Adam to meet resilient survivors of slavery and violence in Ghana, Philippines, Dominican Republic, Uganda and India. Through film, Adam seeks to humanise the other and dignify the neglected.

  • Community for Understanding Scale Up (CUSP) - a group of nine organisations working across Africa, the Pacific, the Caribbean and South Asia that have created social norms change methodologies that are being expanded and scaled up to address gender-based violence. Co-convened by Raising Voices and Salamander Trust, CUSP draws on a broader collective of experiences on interventions focused on changing social norms to prevent violence against women and girls and improve sexual and reproductive health and rights.

  • Equality Now - a feminist organisation using the law to protect and promote the human rights of all women and girls. They are an international network of lawyers, activists and supporters aiming to create, reform, challenge and apply the law to establish enduring equality for women and girls everywhere.

There are so many other incredible activists that I met at the Forum, but I'll leave it at this for now. The SVRI Forum brought together so many wonderful people working towards a world free from all forms of gender-based violence and stigmatisation. It truly was a privilege to be able to listen, learn, connect and celebrate the power of collective activism.

In solidarity,

Camille Schloeffel

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