Actors, Structures and Law

Category: Blog (English) (Page 1 of 2)

The Istanbul Convention as a Response to Violence: Voices of a Young Generation

Johanna Niemi & Lourdes Peroni, guest contributors

On 20 July 2020, Monash University’s Gender Peace & Security Centre hosted a seminar on Niemi, Peroni & Stoyanova (eds), International Law and Violence against Women: Europe and the Istanbul Convention, Routledge (2020). This posting is a summary of this seminar. The audio recording of the seminar is available here.    

Introduction

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), opened for signature on 17 May 2011, has promoted many legal reforms but also sparked heated emotions. The book International Law and Violence against Women: Europe and the Istanbul Convention, edited by Johanna Niemi, Lourdes Peroni and Vladislava Stoyanova, was published on 8 March 2020, International Women’s Day. In drafting the book project and thinking about possible authors, we intended to give voice to a young generation of researchers with expertise in the field and from a diversity of European countries.

Photo: #IWD2018 – Mexico – Ending Violence Against Women. Source: UN Women Flickr/Dzilam Mendez

 

 

Violence Related to Inequality

The Istanbul Convention is part of broader developments in international law on the elimination of violence against women, including the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Belèm do Parà Convention), the 1993 United Nations General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendations, and the evolving case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

In their chapter, Lourdes Peroni and Lorena Sosa argue that the Istanbul Convention goes beyond previous international instruments in its demand for comprehensive and integrated policies and its emphasis on the relationship between inequality and violence. Drawing from feminist research on violence, the Istanbul Convention adopts a gendered understanding of violence in victim services and the judiciary. It encourages teaching about conflict resolution, mutual respect, non-violence and equality at all levels of education. Furthermore, the Convention requests that State Parties initiate a dialogue with the private sector to prevent violence against women.

The Istanbul Convention focuses on victims, protection and prevention, reflected in a dedicated chapter on criminal law and criminal procedure that requires States Parties to provide services to victims, including a 24/7 helpline, shelters and rape crisis centres. The Convention takes a similar approach to CEDAW in calling for changes in the social and cultural patterns that sustain the subordinate position of women in society. Stereotypical views are not present only in “other” cultures but require self-critical reflection on, for example, evidentiary requirements in all cultures.

Effects of the Convention

As of July 2020, thirty-four states have ratified the Istanbul Convention. An additional twelve states have signed, but not yet ratified. In 2017, the European Union also signed the Convention but has not ratified.

As Wojciech Burek explains in his chapter, the system of reservations in the Istanbul Convention is innovative. With the experience of countries having made an exceptional number of reservations to CEDAW, the Istanbul Convention allows reservations only to specific articles. However, some countries have made declarations that imply scepticism about the equality principle in the Convention. These declarations relate to attacks against the Convention by moral conservative and anti-LGBTI groups. The Turkish government, buoyed by these attacks, is considering leaving the Convention. Poland recently announced it would be making steps to withdraw from the Convention.

These objections, however, are not a reflection of the actual wording of the Convention, which does not define family in any specific way. It uses the term gender but mostly in reference to men and women. The limited definition of gender is a recognised limitation of the Convention. In their chapter, Johanna Niemi and Verdu Sanmartin criticise the Convention for this binary understanding of gender and call for a broader interpretation.

The Istanbul Convention as a Benchmarking Tool

The Istanbul Convention has led to profound discussions and several legal reforms in State Parties. We take up here three examples of the discussions inspired by the Convention: the role of feminist organisations, the definition of rape and sanctions.

The Convention underlines the importance of comprehensive and integrated policies and services. It also underlines the important role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the work and policy-making against violence. As Ulrika Andersson and Sara Bengtson show in their chapter, Swedish feminist CSOs have been vital in developing women’s shelters. However, the professionalisation of violence work promoted by the Convention, paradoxically, has undermined the role of feminist CSOs as municipalities provide services or outsource them after public tenders. In the spirit of the Istanbul Convention, attention must be paid to the quality of services, including the requirement that services adhere to a gendered understanding of violence.

The Istanbul Convention is quite clear on sexual crimes. Intercourse and other sexual interaction without the other participant’s consent must be a crime. One might expect this to be the case in European countries, especially since the European Court of Human Rights in 2003 adopted a similar stance in M.C. v Bulgaria. However, the criminal laws of many European countries still define rape as requiring the use or threat of violence and force. Minni Leskinen, in her chapter, follows the discussions and reforms that have taken place in Sweden, Germany and Iceland.

According to the Convention, sanctions must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. While the Convention does not elaborate on what this means, Article 46 lists factors that make a crime aggravated. One of such factors is that the perpetrator is a partner or a family member. This factor marks a historical turn in attitude towards family violence. Historically, violence inside a family was not recognised as a crime or minimised so that state intervention was unlikely. The Istanbul Conventions consolidates a trend to take violence inside the family seriously.

Critique of the Convention

The consensus among the authors is that the Istanbul Convention is not a radical document. Several of the authors propose that more concrete measures are needed. While all of the contributors to the volume see the Istanbul Convention as a useful and needed tool in work on violence against women, two critiques emerge. First, several of the authors point out that many of the obligations in the Convention are vague and allow for different interpretations. As an example, Article 2.3 recognises that the Convention is applicable in times of peace and situations of armed conflict. Thus, the Convention extends the obligations of states beyond those defined in the Rome Statute and international humanitarian law to all forms of violence against women. However, the Convention does not specify how, for example, the obligation to provide services would be implemented during an armed conflict. The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) as the monitoring body, therefore, has a vital role in the interpretation and implementation of the Convention.

A second common failing of the Convention set out by the authors is its failure to pay adequate attention to intersectionality and interacting structures of inequality. Daniela Alaattinoğlu, in her chapter, notes how forced sterilisations cause harm to whole communities, in addition to the harm inflicted on individual women. In her chapter on the migrant women, Fulvia Staiano argues that immigration laws expose women to violence by requiring that women are dependent on their husband’s migration status when seeking temporary immigration permits. On the Istanbul Convention itself, Ruth Mestre I Mestre argues that specific criminalisation of female genital mutilation can have the effect of stigmatising whole communities.

The editors and contributors to the volume argue that the Istanbul Convention is a much-needed tool to progress towards the elimination of violence against women while emphasising that much work still needs to be done. Realising the Convention’s potential depends mainly on the monitoring work of GREVIO, the implementation of the Convention by State Parties, and the continued support by civil society organisations.

CFP/Gender Studies Conference 2020

Queering the future for law?

Chairs: Juho Aalto, University of Turku (juho.j.aalto@utu.fi), Aleida Luján Pinelo, University of Turku & Marjo Rantala, University of Helsinki

In dominant legal thinking, modern legal systems are perceived neutral, both in terms of language and power. The modernist ideas of objectivity, neutrality, functionality, and formal equality have affected the formation of modern law in domestic legislation and in international law and governance. Feminist legal scholars, notwithstanding, have challenged these ideas pointing out how the individual as the rights-holder is based on male perceptions of the reality. On one hand, despite law itself is held partly responsible for oppression, law is often considered as a useful tool for social change. On the other hand, post-feminist movements in human sciences have demonstrated how heteronormativity and binary understanding of sex are so embedded in law that it seems impossible to strive for justice through litigation and legal reforms. Courts appear incapable of recognizing non-heterosexual human relations, and non-binary identities and bodies.

In this working group, we want to discuss the future of law both from the perspectives of “in law” and “about law” in addressing and dismantling power hierarchies and structural inequality related to sex/gender and sexuality. We encourage you to queer curiosity for asking questions about everything that “at odds with the normal” taken as granted by deploying indeterminate concepts as “normality”, “tradition”, “naturality” and “public opinion”. Thus, we call for papers that touch upon, for instance, intersectionality, identity politics, personal integrity, self-determination, reproduction, vulnerability, and harm. We wish to bring together different critical approaches to law including new materialism, contextual, socio-legal, and discourse analysis.

Read more about the conference from here

Great Expectations towards Fundamental Rights Agency

Johanna Niemi

The speeches today give evidence that there are great expectations, even demands towards FRA, the Agency for Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This is welcome. In the eyes of the European citizens, the legitimacy of the EU is largely dependent on how the Union is protecting human and fundamental rights.

The question I was asked to address in my speech is Why rights-based policy is insufficient? I think that most of us who are engaged in human rights work are well familiar with the limitations of individualist approach and of the individual complaint procedures in particular. These procedures take a long time and, if the complaint goes to an international court or committee, several years have passed when the final decision is given. Even if the decision is in favour of the claimant, there is no guarantee that the claimant gets compensation for a violation and even less of restitution. Moreover, even if some decisions by courts lead to changes in laws and policies, such wider changes are in no way certain.

Regarding the rights of the Roma, of which I had the honour to write together with José Manuel Fresno in the book, these experiences are evident. The European Roma Rights Centre, together with other actors, has done a superb job in bringing cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Processes have taken several years and even if they have had policy implications, discrimination continues.  With a long history, the discrimination of the Roma is embedded so deeply in the structures of the European societies that it is not abolished with individual cases.  Discrimination occurs both public and private sector, for example in access to housing. FRA together with other actors has made the discrimination visible in extensive surveys, which show that Roma children and youth increasingly participate in education. After secondary education, the young people meet discrimination in access to employment. It is easy to understand that this leads to deep frustration and risk of exclusion. We must become better in recognizing structural discrimination and in analysing structures that lead to discriminating outcomes. FRA’s work has greatly contributed to putting the Roma rights on the agenda of the European and international bodies.

Image by Rama Krishna Karumanchi, Pixabay

I want to draw attention to two other groups that have been central in FRA’s work but have not received a dedicated chapter in the book, namely children and disabled persons, whose voices are seldom heard in human and fundamental rights discourses. Especially in international human rights bodies, children and disabled persons are seldom complainants. Usually when child rights are processed, the children are represented by or as an appendix of their parents. 

FRA’s large interview studies among children and disabled persons are ground breaking both methodologically and with their results. These studies show that both children and disabled persons can express their views and concerns when they asked in a friendly manner. Besides, as responsible members of the societies, they wanted to participate in research to make processes better for someone who is in the same situation as they have been.

As opposed to courts that only can say retroactively what went wrong and grant compensation, FRA has the privilege that it can advise on how to change things. It can also collect evidence of best practices and spread it wider. Therefore, it is not surprising that we have great expectations towards FRA. FRA has already done such work but it should be brave and do more of it.

Johanna Niemi is a professor of procedural law at the University of Turku

A speech at the launch of the book (22.1.2020) Rosemary Byrne & Han Entzinger (eds), Human Rights Law and Evidence-based Policy. The Impact of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. Routledge 2019.

Usury – A Forgotten Concept?

Johanna Niemi

The Woman from Sarajevo (Gospodjića, 1945), a novel by the 1961 Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić, starts with a lonely death, first suspected as a murder. The deceased turns out to be a usurer who has just met her lonely end. The teaching of the novel is that greed leads to misery. Thus, Andrić joins the literary tradition of Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice), Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment) and Dickens in depicting the usurer as a greedy, morally despicable creature. Interestingly, Shakespeare wrote well before the industrial revolution, while Dickens and Dostoyevsky more or less coincide with it and Andrić’s novel tells about the time around the First World War, a time when the role of credit was quickly expanding.

The world literature does not explain what usury is. There is a strong historical sentiment in Christianity and still existing in Islam that all money lending for interest is morally reprehensible, if not outright forbidden. According to this line of thinking all money lending would be usury – a standpoint that would be untenable in an industrial market economy. Nor do the great writers suggest that all money lending would be usury, just the particularly heinous and greedy practices. In the contemporary credit society credit given by greedy individuals plays a rather marginal role, nor does it appear to be popular theme in contemporary fiction.

In credit societies, credit is generally available from institutional sources. Increasingly it is cross-border. For example, the newspapers reported just before Christmas that already fourth Norwegian internet bank starts to offer consumer credit in Finland. Typically the credits are between one thousand and 50.000 euros, with an interest of 20-50 per cent for loans below € 10.000 and between 12-20 per cent for loans below that amount. On special offer are consolidating loans to pay off several outstanding consumer credits. There is no discussion about whether these interest rates are reasonable. Rather, the Finnish government is worried because Finland has no positive credit register and has commissioned a study whether such a register would be desirable.

Reading news like this those of us whose interest in consumer credit derives from work with over-indebted debtors and households wonder what kind of debtors are willing to agree to these kinds of interest when the market rate for many credit forms has for a long time been very low, even close to zero.

Image by Jörg Hertle from Pixabay 

Luckily, Udo Reifner has given us the necessary tools to contemplate about this. If you have not yet read the book Usury Laws by Udo and Michael Schröder (2012), I recommend to do so. The book has the most boring subtitle of an EU project: ‘A legal and economic Evaluation of Interest Rate Restrictions in the European Union’ but it is dynamite.

It turns out that the European countries have a strong tradition and sentiment against usury, both historically and in present time. However, what practical conclusion should be drawn from that sentiment seem to be lost in the contemporary credit economy. There is no common European policy or law, but the member states have set up their own policies, which vary widely.

Actually, usury may just be a catchy title for the more boring regulation: Interest Rate Restrictions (IRR). Interest Rate Restriction, however, indicates that there should be some legally set rate to the highest acceptable interest level but that is not the case, nor do the authors propose that there should be one. Usury as a term suggests that there is some kind of limit to what is acceptable in individual cases. And that seems to be the opinion of most legislators.

So, what is usury and why the concept has been marginalized in credit societies? Looking at examples from fiction, the answer is clear: Usury refers to situations of individual exploitation in which the usurer knows the vulnerabilities of the exploited person. In a credit society this is rarely the case.

Based on the information compiled in Usury Laws, regulation of usury can be systematized into three types: the civil law tradition, the criminal law and the administrative/consumer protection regulation. These three disciplines of law approach usury in different ways and with different sanctions. This is interesting in itself, and a further study should evaluate how the choices between different legislative strategies have been made and how these choices affect the credit market and the debt problems. Here I just want to summarize some of the findings of Udo’s and Michael’s study.

In the following summary I proceed with the degree of individualization vs. general standard setting by the regulation. I start with criminal law, which is most focused on the individual liability, proceed to civil law and finally to administrative/consumer protection law, which is market regulation by nature. My analysis is illustrated in a table below.

The allocation of criminal liability is based on individual culpa. There is no crime nor punishment without a basis in the law, nulla poena sine lege. This principle requires that the elements of a crime are precisely enough defined in law. In addition, to be held liable the accused person must have known about the factual criminal elements, such as the vulnerability of the victim, and s/he must have had the criminal intent. Thus, the criminal law is suited for situations in which the creditor has detailed knowledge about an individual debtor and her circumstances, not for anonymous market transactions.

The criminal law is mostly oriented towards the natural persons. However, there is increasing discussion about the criminal liability of corporations in criminal law. Some jurisdictions do have a criminal fine on a corporation, a sanction that could be efficient in usury type of actions by corporations.

The criminal sanctions do not address the problems of unbalanced credit transactions. The criminal sanctions, typically fines, prison sentence and community service with or without rehabilitative aspect, do not modify the credit transaction per se. A civil law remedy, such as compensation or damage payment or annulment of a contract, can be adjudicated in the criminal procedure but the procedure does not necessarily favor an individually adapted remedy.

In civil law usury can be prohibited in the form of a prohibition against extortionate contract stipulations and in particular against the exploitation of the vulnerable situation of another person. Such a prohibition may require that the creditor knew about the vulnerable situation of the debtor.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 

The civil law remedies are designed for contractual relations and allow for annulment or adjustment of a contract or a specific part of the contract, such as interest. However, only some jurisdictions have explicit legal provisions that regulate how an extortionate interest clause affects the validity of the contract, ranging from the annulment of the whole contract to total and partial disregard of the obligation to pay interest.

Reifner and Schröder see a shift from this kind of morally based regulation of contracts towards a market evaluation model, in which the evaluation of the contracted interest is done against the market rate of interest. Historically, this type of regulation has been more common in Romance countries than in continental countries. The reference to market rate has been formulated, for example, so that an interested above double the market rate has been forbidden. There is no universal norm in contemporary Europe, but Reifner and Schröder found several examples of market based standards of interest rate restrictions, connected to different market rates with varying percentages. There seems to be no common policy when the rate ceilings vary from some six percentage to over four hundred (that is four time the capital of the loan). The regulations also vary according to the type of credit.

Finally, an administrative setting of interest rate restriction comes close to civil law regulation but the focus is on regulating the whole market instead of individual contracts. Substantially the difference to civil law approach is not necessarily big, but the institutional and procedural settings are different.

In traditional contract law the evaluation of the acceptable interest rate ceiling is set up by courts in individual cases. In consumer protection approach an administrative body or a central bank regulates the interest rates. Thus, information about a defined highest interest rate(s) is publicly available.

In addition, the supervision of the system is tasked to institutions that specialize in consumer protection or market regulation. Such an institution may take action either on its own initiative or on the basis of complaints. The concept of sanctions is related to market behavior and can include loss of license, prohibition to use an illegal standard contract clause foe example.

Table. Three traditions of usury regulation.

Regulation Rationale Creditor Debtor Sanction
Criminal Code Prevent exploitation Individual, culpa Individual vulnerability Penal sanctions
Civil Code Good morals; market Individual, bad faith Individual, weak Contract or interest is void, total or partly
Administrative/ Consumer law Protect consumers, standard contracts Institution Consumers as (a) group Loss of licence; prohibition of clause

 

The economic part of the book, analyzing the impact of interest rate restrictions is written by Michael Schröder. A very rough summary of this analysis is that overall impact on the credit market is not that big since usury ceiling is well above normal competitive market rates. However, there may be an impact on the position of vulnerable groups of debtors and on certain credit forms. The interest rate restrictions may exclude high risk debtors from access to credit. The interesting question from the perspective of over-indebted debtors and households is, do caps on interests reduce or increase the risk of over-indebtedness. There is no conclusive evidence to answer this point, however.

With Reifner and Schröder’s book we are much better equipped to contemplate on usury, acceptable interest rates and the impact of regulating them. The book should be compulsory reading to all law drafters, students of contract and market law, researchers on debt problems and comparative law scholars. So, basically to everyone.

Johanna Niemi is Minna Canth Academy professor and professor of procedural law at University of Turku

Co-operation with the Nicaraguan Embassy

ASLA-project held a very successful meeting with Nicaraguan Ambassador H.E. Dr Ricardo José Alvarado Noguera and Minister Council Ms Renee Patricia Gómez Blandon in sunny Turku.

Pictured from the left: Ambassador H.E. Dr Ricardo José Alvarado Noguera, Academy Professor Johanna Niemi, PhD Candidates Pia Eskelinen, Aleida Luján Pinelo, Amalia Verdu and Minister Council Ms Renee Patricia Gómez Blandon.

It was decided that a seminar style workshop is to be held in co-operation between the ASLA-project and the Nicaraguan Embassy on the issue of Gender and Law. The seminar will take place in Helsinki, in September 2019. It as also agreed that a series of workshops might take place later this year and early next year.

March 8: celebrate, commemorate or to strike?

Aleida Luján Pinelo

March 8 is gone, and debates around this issue have calmed down in the media. However, I want to make a brief review about this day as experienced from Turku.

Maybe not many of our readers are familiar with the genealogy of this day, there are many places like Wikipedia, where one can access to have an overview of the institutionalization of this day. Still, I will offer a brief abstract of it, since it would help for the sake of this writing. The narrative says that, in 1908 textile women workers of the Cotton Textile Factory in New York went on strike, some of their demands covered: decrease of working hours to 10 hours per day, equal salary, one day off a week, and the right to breastfeed. The owner refused the strike and put the fabric on fire, as result 129 worker women died. One year later, as commemoration of that tragic event, socialist women marched in New York demanding for labor and vote rights.

Picture: Aleida Luján Pinelo

In 1910, during the International Socialist Women’s Conference Clara Zetkin promoted the establishment of “one day in the year as International Women’s Day as a day to campaign for women’s right to vote and for the political emancipation of women,”[1] the proposal was accepted and March 8 was chosen for that purpose after the conference. The first international women’s day was held one year later but on March 19, it was celebrated by few countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland; rallies were organized and some of the demands were right to vote, to occupy public positions, labor rights, education and non-labor discrimination.

Another relevant event, occurred on March 1917, when Russian women demonstrated under the excuse of the Women’s Day; their main concern was starvation conditions after the war. The rallies escalated and transformed in a popular uprising that ended up with the overthrown of the Russian monarchy. Thanks to Alexandra Kollontai March 8―women’s day―was declared a national holiday in Russia. The United Nations celebrated in 1975 the International Women’s Day and, two years later, the celebration was made extensive to all state’s members.[2] There were many interesting events in between these years around the globe, but for reasons of time I cannot address all of them.

Picture: Aleida Luján Pinelo, Facebook, Buenos Aires

For some people March 8 is a day for campaigning in favor of labor rights of women―International Working Women’s Day―for others is a day to celebrate, some celebrate the achievement of some rights for women, and many others simple celebrate “womanhood” (whatever that means to them). On occasion of the International Women’s Day to commemorate women’s struggles to gain work-related rights, a movement of striking women spread across the world, huge demonstrations were organized worldwide, making visible that not all people think that there is something to celebrate but that there is still something to fight for, the demands have historically changed but some remain, as that of equal pay, new ones have been incorporated such as that to end violence towards women. In the pictures one is able to see the magnitude of some of these demonstrations that took place this year.

Because of this context, a colleague and I, made an extensive invitation for people in our Faculty to informally discuss about how this day is experienced in the Finnish context. Some of the questions that we wanted to address were, do Finnish women have reasons to strike too? Do they, for instance, earn the same salary for the same jobs as their male counterparts at all levels? Are unpaid care jobs equally distributed between all parties involved? Or has the glass ceiling been broken already so that women in Finland can access the same positions and equal opportunities as their male counterparts? What about childcare, control of women’s own bodies, and violence against women? Or could it be that equality has been achieved in Finland so that this day is to be, instead, celebrated for that achievement?

Picture: Aleida Luján Pinelo, Facebook, Madrid

Our call did not receive great attendance, but still some subjects came to the table. The fact that in Finland―which according to the 2019 World Happiest Report, is the happiest place to live―women still earn less than their men peers, and they face high levels of violence (Finland has one of the higher numbers of violence against women in the EU). Another relevant issue that was mentioned, was the subject of care. I guess this is one of the challenges we have to face as society if one wants to make a revolutionary change. Some years ago between 2013 and 2014, in a MA course in Granada with Dr. María Ángeles Duran Heras, we addressed the issue of the economy of care, Dr. Duran made us analyze, how much should a state have to pay for care in real numbers, for the elderly, the sick ones, and the children, the costs are so high that states cannot fully assume that task; historically, the family, and in particular women, has been the institution that has taken that responsibility. Usually, women are the ones that care about the others; we, those who have been educated as “women”, are most prompt to take care of the ones we love without even thinking about; if one of the parents get sick, if children get sick, if the sibling is in need of assistance, who are usually there even when no one asked for their help? Having a calendar of birthdays and calling/writing people for their birthday, to remind the list of the shopping, to schedule and remember all the appointments, all that is work that could be shared. Some people raised as men argue in many of these situations “but she did not tell me”, the work of having to tell someone is already tiring for many women, so many of us just do not tell them and rather, do the work. It is not a matter of telling “them” what to do or not but, that “them” act from their own initiative and share all this care work which is also emotional work. I do not remember who said this, but I recall it was something like this, women have achieved to gain more presence in the public sphere but who has overtaken their seat in the private sphere?

Picture: Aleida Luján Pinelo, Facebook, Berlin

I did not attend the demonstration scheduled in Turku, maybe the rain influenced in my mood, or maybe is because I did not feel this huge energy of sorority that in many regions of the world put thousands of women into the streets. The truth is that, from my perspective, there are some things to celebrate but there are still many things to strike for, such as for changing the economy of care. As the picture 1 suggest, I, like many others, do not want roses for one day, I want a life in which we―subjects identify women―are not afraid of being raped, killed, harass, abused, paid less, over exploited (at work and at home), infantilized. I do not want roses, I want not having to worry about how we dress, when at night we walk alone, the possibility of being incarcerated for deciding not to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, and the list goes on. Here, from a small town in the happiest country to live, women still have motives to not just celebrate.

Aleida Luján Pinelo is a PhD candidate at the University of Turku

[1] My emphasis. The Socialist International Women, “A Brief History,” Socialist International Women, http://www.socintwomen.org/en/history.html 

[2] Wikipedia, “International Women’s Day,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women%27s_Day 

AI and its Power to eliminate women

Sonal Makhija

Apparently, AI can do everything – it can change the world, eliminate human error, automate boring tasks, essentially make us ‘humans’ irrelevant. That we don’t have a common understanding of what is ‘artificial’ or what is ‘intelligent’ is largely pushed under the carpet given the hype surrounding AI and the manner in which social media accelerates and reifies everything (or is equally quick to demonise). This is not in any way to undermine the power of AI and what it can do. Yet, my interest here lies in how the lure of AI to eliminate human biases and errors has been presumed. 

Picture: Pixabay

A recent Reuter’s article reported on how Amazon’s resume search engine discriminated against women  based on what words the algorithms taught itself to recognise based on successful applicants employed by Amazon. The ideal applicants, not surprisingly, were mostly men, as is the case in tech industries. So, contrary to eliminating biases, AI generated discriminatory practices that preferred men, and possibly men of a certain race and with certain experience and qualifications.

How can we then ensure that AI guards against the same biases and enables diversity which is key to organisations whether that be racial, gender, linguistic, ethnic or professional?  Given algorithms and the data it is taught to recognise is based on the historical data, AI will mimic our biases and prejudices into the future too. The goal of AI is to accurately replicate what has been done in the past. By doing so, the AI cannot make ‘better’ decisions, but it will reproduce the past fallacies and stereotypes. The patterns that emerge from that data will do essentially that, recognise successful candidates all of who happen to be of a particular category. AI as tech-anthropologist Genevie Bell recognises will inherit our biases, prejudices and be as ‘human.’ After all isn’t the goal that AI is as ‘human as it can be’ so much so that we cannot differentiate whether it is a machine or a human we are talking to? The fear of AI replacing humans then is not what we should concern ourselves with, instead our worry should be who does it leave behind, and will we be leaving women aside, this includes ensuring that women of a particular racial, age, linguistic diversity. How do we change the future while relying on historical data is a tricky one given we don’t want to repeat past mistakes and biases. Will ensuring diversity in creating algorithms change the nature of what becomes of AI? Bell, particularly challenges us to ask what the AI is supposed to do and what is its purpose. What goes into the data and what data is fed and what are the determining factors, she argues are important questions to ask. As Bell says, the systems replicate our cultural and societal biases and the ideal human they are designed for is rarely us and thus what we need to do is question and interrogate and beware of the biases and demand greater transparency.

Picture: Pixabay

This ideal human does not exist. Back in 2003 when I was ethnographically mapping how women navigate urban spaces in Mumbai for a research project, what we fascinatingly discovered via ethnographic research was that women access spaces differently from men and their access is determined by who they are and where they come from. Not only that, the ideal ‘human’ (implying abled bodied young men) that architects design spaces for do not exist. It is this ‘ideal human’ that architects imagine use spaces, that often fail to match up to those who actually use these spaces, like pregnant women, children, old, disabled who fail to meet the human ideal. Similarly, when we talk of AI, Bell warns us to guard against this unconscious bias and this imagined ideal human and somehow the false belief that AI has the power to eliminate are foibles and inequities. Let’s not assume the accuracy and objectivity of AI as ‘superhuman’. Anthropologists Sarah Pink and Minna Ruckenstein and Robert Willim have argued that we need to rethink the accuracy of Big Data and reliability, given we have little insight into how datasets are created. On the contrary AI will replicate what we do and how we do it and that includes our biases, that is, if we let it.

Sonal Makhija is an anthropologist and lawyer who specialises in sensory-anthropology. She has an MSC. from the London School of Economics & Political Science and has recently submitted her doctoral thesis for pre-examination at the University of Helsinki. She has a wide range of interests from questions relating to AI, digital culture, digital humanities and sensory engagements with climate change.

10th European Feminist Research Conference

Aleida Lujan Pinelo

The meeting point for the tour “Science with charm: women write history” is the Gänseliesel fountain, just at the heart of the medieval city. The tour guide explains us, why the goose girl statue has become the most kissed girl, at least in Germany. This is because just after defending successfully a doctorate exam, students in Göttingen climb the fountain, leave a bouquet of flowers, and finally they kiss the statue of the girl. The tour aims to make the audience understand how the life of women in ancient Göttingen was. To have a feeling of this; we are brought to different buildings, spaces that invite us to open our imagination and try to experience a time traveling to the past.

Picture: Dorothea Schlözer, Wikipedia

Among many stories discovered in this tour, I bring up that of Dorothea Schlözer, 1787-1825. She was an outstanding women of her time, from a wealthy academic family. But not because of this her life was always easy, still, she enojyed of many priviliges that were only reserved for men by that time. She is well-known nowdays for being the first German woman in obtaining a doctorate degree in Philosophy, she did it at the age of 17 and at the university of Göttingen. Another name that I want to mention here is that of Maria Goeppert-Mayer, 1906-1972, the second women in earning the Nobel Prize in physics―after Marie Curie, she graduated from the same university as Dorothea.

This was a good introdution to the town and university that were hosting the 10th European Feminist Research Conference between September 12-15, 2018. This conference has been taking place since 1991, and nowdays is ordanized every three years in diffent European locations.This conference was a big event―for a feminist conference. More than 600 presentations were scheduled, 190 planels were organized, four keynote speakers were invited, a book presentation was held during lunch break, movies were screend, cultural events―such as the tour I mentioned―were ofered, and a night party was arranged. In sum, a variety of events, but, as discussed with other attendees, it was difficult to make a choise to which planels to go and what events to enroll in. I wish I could had had more energy to be able to attend many other activities.

Picture: Maria Goeppert Mayer,  Wikipedia

I was happy to see familiar names such as that of Nina Lykke, Clare Hemmings, Christine Quinan and Beerteke Waaldijk. But I was even more happy to have as keynote speakers four names that were not familiar to me at all. Alexandre Baril introduced his argument for merging discourses of transness and disability, a challenging approach that lead to a good discusion. Noémi Michel made a critical approach to discurses of intersectionally, and formulated alternative concepts devepoled by black feminists. Niharika Banerjea argued for the power of decolonial methodolodies for both feminist research and activism; I felt more connected with this talk because the spakear made visisble her effort to bring into conversation different locations of knoledge production, which is one of my interests too. Agnieszka Graff and Elżbieta Korolczuk addressed the very lively problem of right wind movements in Europe against what they call  “the ebola from Brussels”, that is, what they call: “genderism”. This final keynote talk was if not for all, at leats for the mayority a touching one.

I also attended the movie “Reflections unheard: Black women in civil rights” by Nevline Nnaji, sadly the filmmaker cancelled her participation so we were not enable to have a conversation with her. The documentary offers the possibility to hear some of the voices of black feminists, particularly those that were members of the Black Panther’s movement in USA. What I find relevant in this work, is that it by hearing the demands of black feminists and other feminist “of color”, enables us to reflect on how much the feminist movement has earned from those women’s experiences, many times without being acknowledged by white, middle-class feminists. A reminder of the embedded coloniality that affects in our own feminist knowledge production!

I will not address the content of all panels I attended, but I want to mention some of the project’s that are going on, such as the work of Femmes for Freedom. This organization fights against ‘marital captivity’, and is trying to push the legal recognition of this phenomenon. Marital captivity refers to situations, in which women cannot terminate a religious marriage, such as catholic, jewish, muslim and hindu women that worldwide are facing this situation in different locations. Another project that I want to address is that of the European observatory of Femicide. It was important to me to stablish a dialogue with this project since my own project is concerned with this phenomenon in the European context; few people were attending this panel, not interest? Many other interesting panels happening at the same time? People do not know about this problem? One cannot know what really made people not to attend this panel but I found the small talk really productive.

Picture: Aleida Lujan

I am happy I was able to attend this privileged gathering, it was a good, productive and emotional time, talking with scholars that are working in the field of “gender”―whatever that means―and still addressing it from many different perspectives and locations, it is simply inspiring and motivating because it reminds us that “we are not alone.” I am particularly happy to have met other scholar from other locations of the global South such as from Pakistan, India, Chile, Brazil, Algeria, and Ethiopia, some of them working in European context.

This conference edition was accessible for many people since fees were not needed this time and even some grants were available. This was possible thanks to the co-organizers efforts, the German Gender Studies Association and the University of Göttingen, and for managing to get external funding. Last, but not least, if someone is interested in taking part of the spring annual conferences of ATGENDER; the next one is taking place in Gijon, Spain, hosted by University of Oviedo between May 8-10, 2019. The title of the conference is “Feminist Teaching (Through) Emotions, Feelings and Affects.”

Aleida Lujan Pinelo is a PhD candidate at the University of Turku

22nd Biennal Conference of the Association for Chinese Studies, Glasgow, Scotland

Pia Eskelinen

The European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS)  is an international organization representing China scholars from all over Europe. One of the Association’s major activities are the biennial conferences hosted by various centres of Chinese Studies in different European countries. The papers presented at these conferences comprise all fields from traditional Sinology to studies of modern China.

Kuva: Pia Eskelinen

My own research on Chinese rural women’s land rights was presented in the gender studies session and discussion in the session was very fruitful. First, Daria Berg (co-author Giorgio Strafella) presented their analyses on the rise of China’s new women cultural entrepreneurs (wenhua qiyejia) in China’s new mediasphere. And after my presentation, Yunyun Zhou told us stories of women cadres in leading positions in China’s local politics and their negotiations with the male-dominated political world.

In my presentation I had several key themes that I pointed out. The first, and in a way most important one, was the hierarchy in legislation and the problems there are in implementing national level legislation in the lower level governments and administrative bodies such as the village councils. The second theme was rural women themselves and how they are, not really deleted but diminished, from the scene of land rights in rural areas. My research wants to point out that rural women are a group of their own with their owns distinctive problems. And that they should be separated from rural people which normally equals to rural men.  The third theme involved culture and its effects on legislation and patterns of administration the village councils use in land rights cases.

Picture: Pia Eskelinen, University of Glasgow, cloisters

The wide range of sessions included in the Conference were Chinese literature, politics, linguistics, law, modern history, sociology & anthropology, just to mention few. Glasgow University  offered a spectacular setting for the conference. Established in 1451, participants were able to feel the atmosphere of traditions. Not least because the spectacular bell tower and beautiful archways, cloisters as they are actually called. The organizers of the conference did an amazing job in coordinating the over 80 parallel sessions and guiding over 250 presenters!

Pia Eskelinen is a PhD candidate at the University of Turku

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gender Violence – A Hot Topic?

Johanna Niemi

Recently hiking in the Croatian mountains I thought I was disconnected from everything job-related. I just happened to mention to our local guide, a young man, that I had attended a conference on violence against women in the Balkan area. He thought about it and when we after a while again walked side by side, he cautiously asked whether I know about the Istanbul Convention. An interesting discussion ensued.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Picture:  Pixabay

For those who do not know about the Istanbul Convention, and there is no particular reason to know, it is the Council of Europe Convention on Violence against women and domestic violence, agreed upon in 2011 in Istanbul and in force since 2015. Matters about these issues are regulated in national laws, so basic knowledge that beating your wife or forcing anyone to sex is criminal is enough for most of us. If you know where to call for help, you are well informed.

Well, our guide told us that the Istanbul Convention is a hot topic in the Croatian media and politics, like it is in some other Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Russia. Not that anyone wants to defend wife beaters or sex offenders but the concept of family is a cause for concern. “What?” was my reaction; the Convention is not about family (law). It is gender, explained our guide, there is an assumption that the Convention requires member states to recognize gay marriage.

The truth is that the Convention has no position on who are part of a family. Such a definition has deliberately left out of the Convention. Actually, my critique of the Convention would go the other way: it has been too tightly tied to a heterosexual organization of relations. It is about men and women; it does not pay attention persons with different sex and gender identities, nor to different women and men.

Picture: Pixabay

Even more generally, the Convention does not appear radical at all. The legislative and policy checks it has prompted in the member states have been relevant and good but in no way radical or excessive. Check whether your country has enough shelters, support to the victims, training of professionals, are the criminal definitions up-to-date. The Convention has led to evaluations of laws and practices in many countries and reforms have been implemented. For example, the Nordic countries have assessed their rape laws. Sweden and Iceland have changed theirs to include non-consent as an element of rape. Such assessments and adjustments should have been done notwithstanding the Convention and cannot be regarded as radical at all.

The opposition to Istanbul Convention has been part of the conservative protection of “family values”. Protection of women as victims of violence should not be contrary to such protection of families. Therefore, there is all the reason to ratify the Convention and continue work to improve responses to violence. The discussion in the Eastern European countries may have done a service to this work; it has heightened general knowledge of violence and the need to do something about it. If people know what the Istanbul Convention is, they should also know that there are a number of things we can do about it.

Johanna Niemi is Minna Canth Academy professor and professor of procedural law at University of Turku

 

« Older posts

© 2020 ASLA

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑