From November 25 to December 10, the UvA participated in Orange the World, the UN led international campaign to end violence against women and girls.
During those 16 days of activism, the UvA’s Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) Team, in partnership with the College van Bestuur, lit up the bridge at Roeterseiland in orange. During this time the team hosted a panel discussion, and in partnership with Stichting Our Bodies Our Voice, delivered two workshops around sexual violence prevention. In addition to self-organized events, the CDO Team also supported and sponsored student-led events and initiatives. If you missed out on it, you can learn more about the campaign here. Thank you to all staff and students who participated in this campaign, and to all those who are actively spreading these important conversations.
Throughout these 16 days of activism at the UvA, one central question emerged: What does it mean to be committed to ending violence against women & girls? The events during this campaign highlighted three core pillars: Raising Awareness, Deepening Understanding and Prompting Introspection, and Leveraging Tools to Spread these Conversations.
Content Warning: This article will discuss sexual violence and rape culture.
- Raising Awareness
The first step is raising awareness about violence against women and girls. Raising awareness means spreading knowledge about this topic through statistics, but it also means defining violence and explaining the various aspects of violence. Spreading knowledge to demystify the topic of violence is a necessary step toward understanding that these statistics are not describing remote cases of violence, but that this happens—if not to yourself directly, then to the people around you. Someone from your family, your circle of friends, classmates, or colleagues is likely to have experienced some form of violence.
We first need to understand the scope of the issue, and relate it back to our own surroundings, before analyzing in depth why it happens and how to prevent the violence. As long as this topic is perceived as being far removed from us, little change will come about. When we think violence happens far from us, we have no agency on bringing about change. Yet in reality, it happens everywhere, and very close to us too. 55% of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15 in the European Union. Source Violence against women: An EU-wide survey, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014. If you would like to read more about the statistics on this topic, look here.
Orange the World events at the UvA that raised awareness
1.November 25, 2019: Lighting Ceremony
2. Display for the international day for Elimination of Violence Against Women by AISA
Raising awareness is the first step in being committed to ending violence against women and girls. However, awareness is not sufficient, there needs to be an overarching framework that incorporates further concrete actions.
2. Deepening Understanding and Prompting Introspection
Beyond awareness, deepening understanding of the structural dynamics that enable this violence, and prompting introspection are key to committing to ending violence against women and girls. Understanding and introspection are closely linked, and both are needed to bring about meaningful change. On the one hand, spreading knowledge on structural dynamics is crucial to understanding that marginalized groups experience systemic violence. Sharing information on the rape culture is necessary to understanding the continuum of violence, which links seemingly “innocent jokes” to more physical and explicit forms of violence as illustrated in the graph below.
On the other hand, knowledge about structural violence is not enough, we need to relate these structural dynamics back to our beliefs and values. Here are a few prompt questions that were asked during our events.
- Individual level: Which beliefs about marginalized groups do I still have which may be enabling violence ? Which implicit bias of mine have I not confronted yet? How can I be a pro-active ally on these topics?
- If you are interested in these topics, this online test can be a starting point: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html. The CDO team offers workshops around implicit bias, and in partnership with Our Bodies Our Voice, workshops around bystander intervention, boundaries, communication and consent are also available. The workshops are free for all UvA staff and students. More information can be found here.
- Group level: What are the norms in our groups (of friends; colleagues etc.)? Are there inappropriate comments that encourage sexually aggressive behaviors which are normalized? Do we sexualize, ridicule, dehumanize groups of society under humoristic pretense? How can I address these toxic in-group norms?
- Institutional level: Is the environment of the institution conducive to power abuse and violence? Does the pressure of performance outweigh the wellbeing of the people who are part of the institution? Do we have checks and balances for power dynamics within our institutions? Are we able to hold accountable powerful researchers/staff members?
Orange the World events at the UvA that deepened understanding and prompted introspection:
The CDO team hosted a panel discussion: “Beyond Awareness: Opening steps and concrete suggestions towards a world without violence against women and girls”
There were many student-led panel discussions as well.
1. Let’s talk about domestic violence by Unicef student team
2. Building a safer UvA: The role of educational institutions in sexual violence prevention by Our Bodies Our Voice student board UvA
3. Megan Twohey on breaking the Weinstein story by Room for Discussion.
3. Leveraging Tools to Spread these Conversations
- Spreading these conversations:
- Through lectures, workshops and trainings on these topics, that not only normalize discussing this topic but also provide tools for introspection and allyship.
- Through artistic expression around these topics. To reach as many people as possible, we need to diversify the tools we use to talk about these topics, be it through art exhibition, poetry nights, storytelling, podcasts and so on. Academic knowledge is not the only source of expertise on this topic.
- Overall, through a mix of bottom-up and top-down initiatives.
- Initiatives from students and staff; peers holding each other accountable and spreading these conversations;
- Initiatives and policy work from institutions to address structural issues such as improving reporting structures, accessibility of help-seeking resources and improving prevention of violence.
Orange the World events at the UvA that helped spread these conversations:
1.Art exhibition during the lighting ceremony:
2. Workshops hosted by Our Bodies Our Voice:
- December 2nd, 2019 – Workshop ‘Teaching for Social Safety’, for UvA staff.
- December 4th, 2019- Workshop – ‘Boundaries, Communication & Consent, for UvA students
3. Two boxes:
During all OTW events, two boxes were present. One was about social safety suggestions (how do we keep each other safe), and one was about #hearmetoo (stories of violence). Many UvA students and staff wrote, anonymously, safety suggestions. An article will soon be published about the top suggestions on how to make each other feel safer, based on UvA student and staff suggestions,.
So what is next?
The Social Safety Taskforce is actively researching these topics and will make recommendations on how to improve social safety at the UvA. In addition, the interim ombudsperson will also contribute to social safety by giving suggestions around the UvA’s system of investigating cases. More information about the taskforce can be found here, and the ombusperson position here.
If you have your own project relating to Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, and are in need of funding, look into the CDO team’s grassroot funds.