Our CEO Lilia Giugni and her co-author Paul Tracey (University of Cambridge) have been awarded the prestigious EGOS Best Paper Award for their research on gender washing (the appropriation of feminism by multi-national corporations). At GenPol, we thoroughly reflect on the use of feminist themes and languages within private firms, and particularly on how this may have the effect of diluting and de-politicising core gender equality messages. If you want to know more, you can watch the presentation Lilia gave on this topic to University of Cambridge students and staff.
On September 18th, 2020 GenPol launched a survey on the impacts of Covid-19 on Women and Non-Binary internet-users navigating digital spaces in Covid-19, to carry out data analysis from users in Italy and the UK.
The survey was shared through GenPol’s social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn) and further promoted via the social media accounts of GenPol staff and followers.
The results give a valuable insight into the lessons that Covid-19 taught us about online spaces. You can read the full report here.
Our CEO Dr Lilia Giugni has addressed G20 international
delegates at the High Level Parliamentary Consultation, hosted by the Italian All-Party Parliamentary Group in collaboration with the women’s rights NGO AIDOS and the Italian G20 Presidency. Among other things, Lilia has spoken of gender injustice in cities and of possible solutions to gender-based inequalities and violence in urban contexts. Watch her remarks, together with those of other speakers from academia, UN agencies and various world parliaments here.
We are so grateful to the Foundation of European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and Fondation Jean Jaurès for inviting us to be part of their #StopGBV series.
In a collaborative article commissioned for the series, Chiara and Lilia consider the far-reaching impact of #DigitalGenderBasedViolence and its systemic roots. They explain how and why very different manifestations of online misogynistic behaviours are connected and what their implications are for #policy and social action within the #EU. Drawing on this they also propose a set of multi-level recommendations.
Other interesting articles from the series can be found here: https://lnkd.in/d3GvGPY
Confinement during COVID: the devastating effects of the pandemic on women’s incarceration in the U.S.
Melissa Ann Horn died from the coronavirus on 14 April 2020. She is one of the over 210,000 people making up the United States’ COVID-19 death count. Like many, she suffered from pre-existing health complications. Unlike many others who have tragically died from the virus, though, Melissa did not die a free citizen: she was in prison.
Incarcerated women are a high risk and much neglected population during the pandemic. Though activists have worked hard to make known the nefarious gender dynamics of the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on women, very few people have included incarcerated women in this analysis. Women in prison are rendered invisible by society at the best of times; during the pandemic, they have suffered the effects of the coronavirus with no recourse to help and few voices on the outside to amplify their struggles.
There are over 200,000 incarcerated women in the United States. These women are disproportionately women of colour, disproportionately poor, and have predominantly been convicted of non-violent offenses. Moreover, many of these women have struggled with substance abuse issues, mental illness, and histories of sexual and physical violence. Recent surges in discourse on mass incarceration in the U.S. have tended to focus on men—who are incarcerated at greater rates than women—thus neglecting the specific issues that women in prison face. The discourse on the pandemic is no different.
No matter who we are and no matter what we have done, we all deserve to live in conditions that do not put us at risk of death. International human rights law outlines every person’s right to live in dignity, whether or not their freedom is curtailed, and each country is responsible for upholding that obligation with respect to its citizens. It is clear that in the U.S., however, women in prison are living in catastrophic conditions that increase their risk of contracting COVID-19 and adding to the U.S.’s shameful death toll.
During the pandemic, women in prison continue to live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions with little protection against the virus’s spread and with little support for their deteriorating mental health. In the largest women’s prison in the world, situated in California, women are attempting to keep their surroundings virus-free by cleaning surfaces with unused sanitary pads. The guards responsible for keeping these women safe do not wear masks. In Indiana, women have been kept in quarantine in their cells for most of the day, even though the cells do not contain toilets, running water, or air ventilation systems. One positive case in such conditions can spread rapidly among the prison population. Where prisons are taking COVID precautions, these compound many women’s mental health complications. For example, prisons across the U.S. have shut down visitation systems and legal visits, further isolating women who are cut off from society.
The effects of the pandemic on women in prison are all the more important for the racial dynamic involved. The United States locks up women of colour, especially Black women, at rates which are disproportionate to their white counterparts. In 2019, Black women made up 26% of the female prison population when Black people of all genders made up 13.4% of the U.S. population. Many scholars describe incarceration as a continuation of slavery. Police brutality against African Americans, the prison industrial complex, Jim Crow, and the enslavement of Black people in the U.S. are all linked. When the state neglects to create safe prison conditions during the pandemic it continues to perpetuate the control of Black bodies by controlling women’s very access to healthy conditions and healthcare.
Incarceration is killing women. So what can be done? The pandemic sheds light on an issue that has long existed: overcrowding in prisons and poor conditions of confinement. To start with, all states in the U.S. must seek to decongest their prisons and jails. Far too many women are incarcerated for minor offenses, such as shoplifting, that attracted overly severe sentences. These women need not remain incarcerated. With fewer women in prison, the state can seek to create human living conditions in the inhuman structure of the prison by ensuring sanitary living conditions, safe social distances, and access to protective equipment for prisoners.
Finally, and most importantly, the state must invest in communities to prevent the conditions that lead to incarceration in the first place. Women are locked up because they are poor, because they were denied opportunity in their lives, and because of racist policing and criminal justice practices. When the state invests in women’s communities to address those factors, fewer women will come into contact with the carceral state. The recent call to “defund the police” extends to defunding the carceral system, too.
With the pandemic showing no signs of abating in the US, we can expect more women like Melissa Ann Horn to die. These women need our advocacy, too. We must fight for the living conditions and the lives of women on the inside as we seek to shape governments’ responses to Covid.
 ACLU, Women In Prison (last visited 19 October 2020) available at https://www.aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights/women-prison.
 Prison Policy Initiative, Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie (2019) available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019women.html.
 ACLU, Women In Prison (last visited 19 October 2020) available at https://www.aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights/women-prison.
 U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx.
 PBS News Hour, Inside the Largest COVID Unit at the World’s Largest Women’s Prison (2020) available at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/inside-the-covid-unit-at-the-worlds-largest-womens-prison.
 PBS, Indiana Women’s Prison Locked Down Following New Covid Cases (2020) available at https://www.wfyi.org/news/articles/indiana-womens-prison-locked-down-following-new-covid-19-cases.
 AP, Covid Outbreak Reported at South Dakota Women’s Prison (2020) available at https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-south-dakota-pierre-prisons-1a2e68cfd642f923c79ec5d9c680f464.
 Prison Policy Initiative, Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie (2019) available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019women.html; US Census data, available at: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219.
 Lakshita Handa, Racism, Police Violence, and Mass Incarceration (2020) available at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/humanrights/2020/08/12/racism-police-violence-and-mass-incarceration-the-legacies-of-slavery-and-segregation-in-the-united-states/.
Tackling gender-based violence, it has been anticipated, will be a key priority of the 2020-2024 EU Gender Equality Strategy.
At GenPol we think it is vital that abuse against women is understood and addressed comprehensively. This means, first of all, taking into account intersections between forms of violence based on gender and other oppressive dynamics motivated by race, class, religion, and various forms of economic and social vulnerability. It is also important to pay attention to new and pernicious manifestations of violence.
This is why we welcome the efforts that European institutions have been recently devoting to tackling violent acts that result not only in physical and sexual harm, but in psychological and economic suffering to women. We also applaud any attempt to raise awareness around gender-based discrimination and harassment at all levels.
In order for the new Strategy to be success, it is crucial that digital gender-based violence is openly recognised as one the latest manifestation of patriarchal abuse. It must become a key area of work within the forthcoming EU Gender Equality Strategy.
Even though online vitriol can be directed against people of all genders, existing research clearly indicates that the attacks that women (especially BAME, LGBTQAI+ and disabled ones) face on the Internet are disproportionately more intense, and extremely sexualised. We also know that online and offline violence have a remarkably similar impact on the target, and that they constantly intersect, as digital technologies are increasingly used by both organised misogynistic groups, as well as by perpetrators of domestic violence.
Building on these considerations (which we outline extensively in our policy paper), we suggest that interventions in this area can be usefully incorporated in the forthcoming EU Gender Equality Strategy in at least four ways.
- The new Gender Equality Strategy should integrate inter-State data and information sharing, legal and technical skill exchange, and EU-level training of national legal personnel on digital violence. In order to do this, legislative intervention that falls outside the legislative remit of the EU may be needed to address legal loopholes (in many European states this is the case, for example, with image-based abuse). However, several existing provisions at national, international and EU-levels can be effectively used to respond to digital attacks. In other words, it is crucial that legal personnel and other stakeholders across the continent are trained to recognise the gendered nature of digital abuse, and to apply existing legislation accordingly.
- EU institutions can effectively build on existing EU-level legislation (for example, the Equal Treatment Directive, the Code of Best Practices for Women in ICT, GDPR) to push tech companies to adopt more effective reporting mechanisms, as well as take down and moderation procedures. There is also a need for more transparent data policies and internal gender equality commitments. This last point is particularly important, as gender inequalities in tech companies can translate into a dismissive attitude towards digital harm. Online abuse concerns should thus be incorporated not only in the section of the Gender Equality Strategy that addresses violence against women, but also in those that consider how to advance women’s rights in the context of digital innovation.
- The new Strategy should explicitly cite digital violence survivors (and the groups that work with them) as beneficiaries of specific forms of support. Not only do women’s rights organisations tend to be painfully underfunded, but tackling online harm also adds another layer of difficulty. Domestic and sexual violence charities (together with employers) need specialised training and resources to best withstand digital attacks. In particular, there is evidence that female politicians, journalists and human rights advocates are amongst the principal targets of online assaults. Whilst this leads some to quit their job, it also dissuades younger women from engaging in public life. Awareness raising, training and capacity building initiatives are thus urgently needed for organisations that employ, or work with, professionals in public facing roles. Crucially, this should be a part of EU-sponsored measures to address gender-based violence, as well as of those sections of the new Strategy dealing with gender equality at work and in decision-making.
- Educational interventions, and especially comprehensive sexuality education designed to eradicate the stereotypes and social norms that inform violence are the single most effective, long-term strategy to challenge online violence – and indeed any type of abuse. Coordination of best practices and capacity building in this area are key.
Whilst the 2020-2024 EU Gender Strategy could mark a significant stride towards the eventual eradication of gender-based violence, this intervention must incorporate multi-level solutions targeting digital attacks and online abuse. An awareness of the pernicious nature of digital violence- and its tangible real-world impacts- will help to inform a truly transformational strategy for the new decade.
The GenPol Team
When Technology Meets Misogyny: Multi-level, Intersectional Solutions to Digital Gender-Based Violence
GenPol’s new policy paper provides nuanced insights into the growing phenomenon of digital gender-based violence, and the multi-level solutions needed to tackle this.
The study adopts an intersectional feminist perspective and focuses on the best practices introduced by organisations such as British charity Glitch! and Childnet, as well as Brussels-based European Women’s Lobby, Romanian grassroots media Casa Jurnalistului, and Australian policymakers. Based on these case studies, the report calls for cooperation between public, third and private sector interventions. Leading on from recent reforms on “revenge porn” and “up-skirting”, we argue that policy change is needed to address legal loopholes, but that it is crucial to train judges and law enforcement personnel to apply existing legislation. We also call for greater recognition of the violent nature, as well as the huge mental and physical health costs and socio-economic repercussions, of digital abuse.
We also pay special attention to training and prevention initiatives in fields such as the tech industry, journalism and academia, and make a particular case for digital platforms to protect the safety and digital rights of women and vulnerable communities.
You can read the paper here
You can access our English infographics here
Consultate la nostra infografica qua
The issue of child marriage in Mexico is particularly grave. Across the country, about one in four girls are married before the age of 18. On a global scale, Mexico ranks seventh in the absolute number of child brides. Consequently, in the hope of eliminating child marriage, Mexico introduced the General Law on the Rights of Children and Adolescents (‘Ley General de los Derechos de Niñas, Niños y Adolescentes’) in 2014, in line with target 5.3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, the law raised the minimum marriageable age to 18 without exceptions and was implemented in the majority of Mexican states by 2017.
One of the main reasons why child marriage is detrimental to adolescent girls’ welfare, among other factors, is because it has been linked to teenage pregnancy. Whereas most OECD countries have experienced increases in the mean childbearing age, Mexico has seen an opposite trend where the average age of childbirth has decreased by about 3.6 years since 1970.
In the second chapter of my PhD dissertation, I examine the effectiveness of Mexico’s minimum marriageable age laws in mitigating child marriage rates and teenage birth rates between 2014 and 2017. I do so specifically by exploiting the differential timing in the law implementation across Mexican states. This approach allows me to estimate the difference in child marriage and teenage birth rates between states that had enacted the law and those that had not. The results from my analysis show that while child marriage rates decreased, teenage birth rates increased. Given the positive relationship between child marriage and teenage pregnancy, this finding is surprising as one would expect the latter to decrease along with the former. Upon further investigation, I find that the rise in total teenage birth rates partially stemmed from the increase in teenage birth rates among girls in consensual unions (girls who were cohabitating with their partners without being formally married). Additional results show that the law was effective in increasing the probability of girls’ school attendance.
There are three possible channels that could have led to the unexpected increase in teenage birth rates among girls in consensual unions. Firstly, the prohibition of marriage could have encouraged girls to enter informal consensual unions (before pregnancy), which would have effectively re-allocated births from married girls to girls in consensual unions. Secondly, it could be that teenage girls chose to get pregnant to make up for the loss of marriage as a commitment device, which in turn could have resulted in a consensual union thereafter. Thirdly, girls who were pregnant during the time of the legal reforms could have also been coerced into entering a consensual union post-pregnancy as marriage was no longer an option.
In order to differentiate between the three potential mechanisms at play, I draw from a Child Labor Module (MTI) survey which contains nationally representative information on the marital statuses of girls below 18. Specifically, I analyze if the law had an effect on the probability of a girl being in a consensual union. The results suggest that the law decreased the probability of a girl being in a consensual union, indicating that the first channel is unlikely. This is because if the law had pushed girls into consensual unions, one should see an increase in the probability of a girl being in one, which is not what is observed. More importantly, this implies that the latter two channels are possibly responsible for the rise in teenage birth rates.
Altogether, the findings imply that while minimum marriageable age laws are useful in curbing child marriage practices and increasing girls’ school attendance, they could have unintended consequences for adolescent fertility. If indeed the latter two channels are true, where girls are encouraged to have children earlier or are forced to enter consensual unions post pregnancy, girls would be left even less protected than before in cases related to domestic violence for example. Over the last decade, states across Mexico began to allow domestic violence as grounds for divorce and introduced unilateral and no-fault divorce where proof for cause and mutual agreement was no longer required. Therefore, because minimum marriageable age laws obstruct girls’ access to such marriage-related rights that could enhance their well-being, they may be subject to even greater susceptibility in certain situations.
Lastly, my results also confirm that the rise in teenage birth rates was driven by girls from lower socio-economic classes (those who are lowly educated, in domestic work, have 1 or more existing children, or are unemployed). The intuition behind this finding is that poorer girls are more likely to choose the pregnancy path to gain commitment and financial support from their partners, given their low income earning potential. Altogether, this further suggests that marriage age law reforms may disproportionately affect vulnerable and economically disadvantaged girls by perpetuating the cycle of poverty and leaving them less protected from domestic violence, among other things.
It should be noted that the aim of this study is not to disregard the benefits of minimum marriageable age laws in enhancing girls’ welfare. My results show that Mexico’s marriage age law reforms were effective in mitigating child marriage rates, increasing the probability of girls attending school and also decreasing the likelihood of girls entering both formal and informal unions at a young age. Altogether, these outcomes have long-run positive effects on girls’ human capital accumulation, health and nutrition, among other factors.
Audrey Au Yong Lyn
Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich (Economics)
We are thrilled to announce a forthcoming policy-paper, produced in conjunction with the Foundation of European Progressive Studies.
The paper, entitled ‘Tackling Online Misogyny: Multi-level, Intersectional Solutions to Digital Gender-Based Violence’ will be launched in Brussels this November (date and location TBC). The paper will be available to access on our website shortly after for those of you who cannot make the event.
….watch this space!
Yours in solidarity,
The GenPol Team
TW: references to sexual violence and abuse and gender binary.
Women are about twice as likely as men to develop depression (Kuehner C 2003), which is a very disabling disease. But, how can we explain the gender gap in depression?
Would it be because of a difference between “female” and “male” brain? By exploring cutting-edge neuroscience, the neuroscientist Gina Rippon claimed the need to move beyond this binary view of brains , suggesting that we need to see them as highly individualised and profoundly adaptable (Rippon G. 2019). Human brain development is not just a biological matter: other factors influence it, including “gender”. Epigenetic studies have highlighted that genes predisposed to mental health disorders could be modulated by environmental factors and phenotypically express as ‘internalising or externalising disorders, according to gender’ (Kuehner C. 2017).
Sexual hormones are believed to contribute to the gender gap in depression. Recent evidence suggests that a variation in the levels of ovarian hormones, especially the reduction of estrogens, may contribute to the prevalence of depression and anxiety in women (Albert P.R. 2015). However, other factors seem to interact with hormones. For example, female adolescents’ high susceptibility to depression could be mainly linked to the interaction of sex hormones with intrapersonal and interpersonal factors, such as a negative self-perception due to body changes, stress related to puberty, even sexual abuse (Kuehner C. 2003, Graber J.A. 2013). Could it be possible that, in a (Western) society where the “dominant observing eye” is male, the physical change that occurs during puberty would expose girls to distress and embarrassment, as well as to the sense of a loss of control on their own bodies which are sexualised and objectified? Then, to what extent do feelings of judgement and pressure increase the risk of body dissatisfaction and discomfort in interpersonal relationships?
Another factor to be considered is ‘neuroticism’, a personality trait defined as a tendency towards negative feelings following frustrations and stress. Neuroticism is a recognised risk factor for depression (Klein D.N. 2011), and females score higher in neuroticism than males (Costa P.T. Jr 2001). May this have something to do with the gendered education of children? During childhood, for instance, girls show a conspicuous tendency to self-control and impulse inhibition compared to boys (Else-Quest N.M. 2006) and low self-esteem and insecurity (Bian L. 2017).
A fundamental determinant for women’s health is gender violence, which is recognised not only as a human’s rights violation but also as a global health problem (UN General Assembly 1979, Council of Europe 2011). Women who are victims of violence are twice as likely to experience depression (WHO 2013). Interesting evidence is that psychological domestic violence can be as damaging for mental health as physical violence (Pico-Alfonso M.A. 2006). International guidelines (WHO, NICE) recommend that mental health professionals are adequately trained about this issue and facilitate the disclosure of domestic violence, offer support and safety, avoid pathologising and medicalising suffering, provide treatment for physical and mental disorders resulting from violence (WHO 2013, NICE 2014). Some studies (Humphreys C. 2003, Trevillion K. 2014) have found that, in the context of violence, psychiatric symptoms could be better interpreted as understandable chronic anxiety of further abuses, even if they satisfy the criteria for a mental health disorder diagnosis.
Social determinants of health must therefore be considered in contributing to the gender gap in depression. The levels of gender equity in a society, which are measured as political participation, economic autonomy and reproductive rights, have an effect on the gender gap in depression. In the USA, women living in states with lower gender equity showed higher depressive symptoms than women living in states with better gender equity (Chen Y.Y. 2005). Same results were found in Europe (Van de Velde S. 2013). Social determinants don’t act as independent factors but interact with each other to affect health; therefore, intersectionality (Crenshaw K. 1989) must be always practised. In general, poverty is a social determinant influencing negatively mental health. Moreover, many factors are responsible for the feminization of poverty: fthe gender pay gap, reduced number of women at the leadership job positions, unpaid care work, and women’s employment discontinuity (Freixas A. 2012). Being employed generally represents a protective factor for mental health. However, a study on a sample of Dutch adults (Plaisier I. 2008) showed that paid work was a protective factor for the development of depression among all men and among women but without children. Although the increased number of women working, the sharing of housework remained often unchanged. Performing multiple social roles, which is characteristic of the so-called ‘ female condition’, causes stress and responsibility overload that negatively affect women’s mental health (Bambra C. 2009). A study on a sample of Canadian women (Glynn K. 2009) highlighted a negative correlation between role overload and mental well-being, more significant than that of other social determinants. With regards to paid job, a report in the UK carried out over a 3 year period (2014-2017) showed that the prevalence of job-related stress, depression and anxiety, was statistically superior among women than among men (Health and Safety Executive 2017). It is not surprising due to the striking discrepancy between women and men in the workplace (World Economic Forum 2017).
Alongside this, women experience a higher percentage of episodes of everyday sexism than men, being everywhere victims of comments and behaviours that reflect and strengthen gender stereotypes, degrading and humiliating comments and behaviours, sexist language, sexual objectification (Swin J.K. 2001). Everyday sexism negatively affects women’s psychological well being, causing feelings of anger, discomfort, sadness, anxiety, low self-esteem (Swim J.K. 2001) and increasing stress, anxiety and depression (Foster M.D. 2000, Borrell C. 2011). In addition, a moderately strong relationship between the experience of everyday sexism and post-traumatic stress disorder in women was reported (Berg S.H. 2006). The perceptions of gender discrimination partially explained the gap between working men’s and women’s mental health in the United States (Harnois C.E. 2018). Everyday sexism produces a chronic perception of being discriminated and constantly judged, therefore undermines self-esteem, causes social anxiety, determines chronic stress with a further weakening of mental health. In addition, since everyday sexism is widespread and repeatedly perpetrated, can be interiorised and affect women’s sense of agency. Benevolent sexism, which is often unnoticed, must be tackled too.
It must be said that a psychiatric gender-sensitive evaluation may increase the diagnosis of depression among men (Cavanagh A. 2017). It is recognised that depressed males are more likely to report externalised symptoms, such as alcohol abuse, substance abuse, reduced impulse control, risky behaviours. Social expectations, different for women and men, play a role in the perception and expression of depressive symptoms; for instance, depressed men may consider alcohol or substance abuse as a more gender-appropriate way to express suffering than cry or being sad (Ridge D. 2011). Furthermore, it is known a general scarce men’s tendency to seek professional help at mental health service (Pederson E.L. 2007, Gouwy A. 2008). Among men, levels of stigma for seeking professional mental health help is high in terms of both social and personal stigma (Nam S.K. 2013, Vogel D.L., 2011). This could be related to traditional gender norms which would encourage men to repress mental health problems, reduce emotional expression, considering asking for help as a feminine activity and a sign of weakness and lack of virility (Johnson J.L. 2012). Even women “perform” gender norms giving different advice depending on sex. Moreover, it seems that the patient’s gender would influence the diagnosis and treatment proposed by (female and male) doctors (Loring M. 1988).
The “gender gap” in depression should be interpreted according to a multifactorial perspective, in which social determinants, psychological factors and socialisation process play an important role. The gender factor itself, which is prescriptive and normative, affects mental health. An interesting theory (Bem S.L. 1974) showed that people who were able to move from “masculine” to “feminine” behaviours depending to contexts, called “androgyny”, were psychologically more adaptive than people who strictly align to stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. A study (Juster R.P. 2016) found that androgyny people reported higher self-esteem and well-being as well as less depressive symptoms, regardless of sex. The question, then, is whether the deconstruction of gender stereotypes, coupled with education against gender discrimination, can play a role in improving people’s mental health?
The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.
Ilaria Galizia completed a degree in Medicine and Surgery and specialised in General Adult Psychiatry. She also obtained a Master’s degree in Gender Studies and Politics, writing a dissertation about the impact of gender as a risk factor for depression. She has worked as a visiting researcher at the Psychological Medicine Department of King’s College London, collaborating with Cochrane Collaboration. As a clinician, she gained experience working at Mental Health Services in Italy. During her clinical activity, she has always maintained a gender and intersectional approach. Ilaria has a very keen interest in investigating the impact of gender on mental health. She is a member of the Global Health 50/50 where she is currently working on the GH5050 journal review.