Progressing and Regressing, But not Standing Still


Kate Mukungu writes about the recent workshop on Gender-Based Violence held at Northumbria University

Three weeks to the day after being part of Transforming Cultures: A Trans-Atlantic Conversation about Gender-Based Violence, I have given myself a maximum of 30 minutes to write down the impressions that have stayed with me from the session (I am a super slow writer so this is somewhat of an experiment!). If you are anything like me, you will see and hear about way more interesting events than time permits you to attend. These days I barely get along to any and I was inches away from giving this a miss. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Cullagh Warnock, an absolute mine of knowledge about activism, policy development and research on gender-based violence (GBV) in the North East of England and beyond, opened her talk with one of my favourite ever academic statements (from Htun and Weldon, 2013). Being reminded that feminist activism, above all else, drives progressive policy and practice on violence against women, made me smile – it was like an affirmation.

We were reminded by Cullagh about a whole host of challenges, many, but not all, caused by austerity. The difficulties of accessing justice following rape & other violence, and the postcode lottery of whether women have access to Rape Crisis support, were presented to us as appropriately troubling. The push back by groups such as the Centre for Women’s Justice, using strategic litigation as a tool to demand change, made me grateful for the energy and skill of others, to keep pushing on in this relentless relay.

The difficulties of accessing justice following rape & other violence, and the postcode lottery of whether women have access to Rape Crisis support, were presented to us as appropriately troubling.

I wasn’t familiar with Susan Maine’s work prior to the session, but my friend Sue, correctly, assured me that I would find her talk rewarding. I was felt sure that Susan had a depth and breadth of knowing of violence against women issues, which confirmed when I heard her responses to the questions from the floor. However, I appreciated her zooming in on a specific issue from her part of the world, so that those of us on this side of the water could better understand. If any of us were unsure about the significance of the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, we were soon relieved of that doubt. With the balance of votes tipped to the right, hard fought gains for women’s reproductive rights, workers’ safety rights and progressive legislation in general, now seem in grave risk.

In addition to naming the problem of ‘bro-culture’ and its acceptance through society (we might call it toxic masculinity), Susan posed some poignant questions for the group. In doing so she reflected an uncomfortable truth about the price paid by women survivors who step forward to share their experience, out of a sense of duty. That taking a stand about abuse, seems to invariably result in further abuse, was not lost on us. However, given the current President of the USA’s willingness to mock and deride Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, standards of decorum from the highest public official seems to be one area where regression is evident, since the testimony of Anita Hill in 1991.

The questions and comments from the floor showed how much people in the North East are thinking about gender justice, globally, as well as locally. Whether we were talking about patriarchy globally or right where we were, on campus, we seemed to keep coming back to one particular theme; for all the regressive and scary (oh so scary) developments happening, there are also grounds for hope. Such glimmers come in the activism of younger women and the willingness of people to engage, where previously they may have felt too removed. It felt quite Dickensian by the end of the conversation; that we are in the worst of times and indeed, the best of times.

Kate Mukungu is a PhD student at Northumbria University and Lecturer in Social Sciences at the University of Cumbria

Free Event: International Migration and Inclusive Development in India

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The impact of international migration on a country’s development is the focus of two international conferences taking place at Northumbria University next week.

With speakers coming from across Europe and India to attend, the two International Migration and Inclusive Development in India events have attracted significant interest from experts in the field.

Organised by Northumbria’s Centre for International Development, the workshops are part of a British Academy-funded project, which also includes a three-month visiting professorship by Professor S.I Rajan, from the Centre for Development Studies, in Kerala, India.

Professor Rajan will deliver talks at both workshops based on his research into the relationship between international migration and development in India, and its role in global, national and regional policy making.

He said: “I am having a wonderful and productive time working with colleagues here at Northumbria. We are already discussing future collaborations, funding bids, opportunities for PhD students and staff/student exchanges between Northumbria and Kerala. Migration, and its relationship to development, can now be seen as a key area of expertise of the Centre for International Development’.”

Steve Taylor, Professor of Sociology, a member of Northumbria’s Centre for International development and Professor Rajan’s principal host during his time here, has organised the workshops.

He said: “We are bringing world-leading academics and practitioners within this field to Northumbria. It is only the beginning of a research and policy network, with Northumbria at its centre.”

The first workshop took place on Tuesday 13th of November. The second will take place on Friday 16 November. They are the second and third in a series of four such events. The first took place at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London on 3 November, with the final workshop in the series due to take place at the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, India on 27 November.

The event on Friday the 16th of November is free, with some limited funding available to support the attendance of PGRs and ECRs. Please contact for more information.

Northumbria’s Centre for International Development brings together academics, practitioners and students to promote research, consultancy, teaching, training and public engagement on issues of global poverty and inequality, the communities and individuals who experience this, and the policies, practices and approaches that seek to address it.

Details for Friday’s workshop are:

Workshop 3: Labour and Skill Mobility From and to India: Contemporary Practice and Governance

Friday 16th November 2018 10am-4pm

Room 304E, Business Hub, Sandyford Building, Northumbria University Main Campus, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 8ST


10.00-10.15 – Welcome and Introduction

10.15 – 11.00 – ‘Skilled and Unskilled Labour Migration: Evidence from the Kerala Migration Survey’. Professor S.I. Rajan, Centre for Development Studies, Kerala, India

11.00 – 11.45 – ‘Indian Skilled Migration and the IT Sector: A Gendered Analysis’. Dr. Gunjan Sondhi, The Open University, UK

11.45 -12.30 – ‘Indian Skilled Mobility and Transnationalism’. Dr. Gabriela Tejada, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland

12.30 – 1.30: Lunch 1.30 – 2.15 – ‘Unskilled and Low-Skilled Migration from Bihar’. Dr. Rani Kumari, SOAS, University of London

2.15 – 3.00 ‘Indian Migration to Italy, Human Trafficking and Unskilled Labour ’. Dr. Pina Sodano and Dr. Marco Omizzolo, University of Roma, Italy This is a FREE event. Some limited funding to support the attendance of PGRs and ECRs may be available – contact

My volunteering experience in Nigeria: a life changing journey

Northumbria Sociology Student Elias Elia speaks about his recent experience of volunteering abroad

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This experience was something totally different from any other.  The aim of this blog is to try and uncover some of the realities that exist somewhere on our planet, try to give a tiny taste of how amazing and special this journey was as well as try to inspire “just one” person to do the same.

On the 7th of June 2018, I travelled to Nigeria with international development organisation VSO as part of the UK International Citizen Service programme, where I spent 11 weeks working alongside young volunteers from Nigeria and the UK on a project aiming to improve the quality of education in the schools that we were allocated.

Being part of this team and this journey has been an unimaginable experience.

I wasn’t living in a luxury five stars hotel with a spa and jacuzzi but instead I was living with a local host family so that I was fully immersed into the community and was able to gain a better understanding of the challenges people face there.  As Richard Dowden states in his book ‘Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles’, “the best way to find out is to go, not as a tourist in a bubble of Western Luxury and safety, but as a traveller to meet people and engage with them” (2009, 9). Regardless of the different, difficult and challenging life conditions, I had an incredible and unique time in Nigeria, and I really felt that our project was making a difference in the community and the schools that we were working.

During our first days at the school we had observed the situation and concluded that there were some things, such as around teaching methods, discipline, and school infrastructure, that we could provide some input on. What was also very hard to dismiss was the inequality amongst the two genders that was taking place in the school and in the whole of Nigeria in general. From a very young age boys are socialized in a way that makes them superior to the girls. For example, during break times at the school, boys were allowed immediately to go and play football or do anything else they like. Girls had first to tidy up and clean the classrooms and then go for break time.  This observation can be backed up by Meyer’s and Milestone’s (2012) argument about gender presentation that men are presented in a way for aiming for goals or for example playing football. After doing a session to the kids on gender equality I realized that most of the gender roles and divisions in the Nigerian society are so imbedded and part of people’s everyday lives that many do not even see gender inequality as a problem. We also organised some teacher training workshops to help give the teachers skills and make our impact here sustainable. Topics ranged from teacher motivation to different student learning styles. In the end, it is great to think that teachers took seriously what we had to give them and that will help these kids get better quality of education. Also, through fundraising we managed to collect a specific amount of money which gave us the ability to transform an empty room of the school into a beautiful and functional library with all the practical work done by volunteers (book sorting, cleaning, painting etc).

Working on the field of education in Nigeria, it is easy to observe that many young people often miss out on a quality education because the education system suffers from wider inequalities as well as from corruption. Some people do not have any education at all. This means many young people do not have the basic knowledge around various sensitive issues which has a big knock on effect on their employment and life opportunities. As Fiyin Durojaiye argue, “corruption is everywhere in Nigeria and it is the major cause of poverty” (The Sun Nigeria, 2017).

With the team, we also ran a number of Community Action Days (CADs) to raise awareness on sensitive issues amongst the people in the community. For example, drug abuse, litter and environment, gender abuse, sanitation and hygiene as well as diet and nutrition.  This gave us the opportunity to take our message regarding sensitive issues out to reach a wider range of people of varying ages, sexes and backgrounds.

Being part of this team and this journey has been an unimaginable experience. The diversity of backgrounds, cultures and personalities within the team was an asset. Our diversity allowed us to see life’s challenges not as stumbling blocks, but rather, as stepping stones to the solutions.  We were a group of people from various different religions, countries, cultures, races, ethnicities and gender.  Also, the fact that I lived and was part of a local community for so long, gave me the chance to experience a whole new culture and make some new friends for life; and what I kept from that, is that people there are still humans, humanity is still alive. Whereas us in the West, amid our wasteful wealth and time-pressed lives we have lost some basic human values like for example happiness, truth and love that still abound in Nigeria.

…the fact that I lived and was part of a local community for so long, gave me the chance to experience a whole new culture and make some new friends for life

I think it’s important that young people, including other sociology students, get involved in projects like this, as it can give them a clear understanding of the inequalities around the world and help them gain a better understanding of how society as a whole, functions, so they can take actions. More than half the world’s population is under 25 and we are the generation of tomorrow, so we’re the ones with the power to change things! I’d really encourage others to think about applying for programs similar to this.

In the classroom

Finally, I want to sum up with a noun that exists within Filipino vocabulary and perfectly describes the outcome of my whole journey as a volunteer in Nigeria.  I am referring to “Volunesia” which means “that moment when you forget you’re volunteering to help change lives, because it’s changing yours”.

To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit

Public Seminar – Transforming Cultures: A Trans-Atlantic Conversation about Gender-Based Violence.


Transforming Cultures: A Trans-Atlantic Conversation about Gender-Based Violence

We’ve recently seen unprecedented attention to cultures that support or challenge gender-based violence: disclosures about violence and abuse by Harvey Weinstein and others; the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns; plans to outlaw ‘upskirting’; Dr Christine Ford’s accusations about Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to name just a few.

Northumbria University will host a seminar which will reflect on these developments in the UK and the US and is delighted to welcome two eminent scholars/activsts/practitioners:

Professor Susan Marine, Merrimack College, US will speak about how the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings are shaping discourse about sexual violence in high school and college.

Ms Cullagh Warnock, expert on gender-based violence, will talk about the role of specialist women’s organisations in improving services and policy around gender-based violence.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018,

5-6.30pm, Lipman Building, Lecture Theatre 03


Book your place via Eventbrite:

Hosted by the Department of Social Sciences andthe Gender and Society Research Hub, Northumbria University, Department of Social Sciences

GBV seminar 24 Oct advert

Tackling gender-based violence in universities

Ruth Lewis reflects on progress on this social problem, covered in her recently published book.

9781447336594-488867-800x600Harvey Weisntein. #Times Up. #MeToo. Abuse by clergy, sports coaches and politicians. We’re in the midst of a newly-energised conversation about abuse, harassment, sexual violence, and conduct between women and men. For those of us who’ve worked in this field for decades, the new attention to this issue is astonishing. The revelations that men’s abuse of women is widespread and frequent are not.

While activists, service-providers, scholars and policy-makers have worked for years to tackle many forms of gender-based violence, few have focused on the university context. That is gradually changing. Since the publication in 2010 of the NUS study, Hidden Marks, that revealed that 14% of women students experienced serious physical or sexual assault and 68% experienced verbal harassment while they were at university, increasing attention is being paid to this problem. These rates of gender-based violence are similar in other countries where research has been conducted – the US, Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany. Overall, these studies shows that between a fifth and a quarter of women students have experienced some form of unwanted physical sexual experience and about two thirds experience sexual harassment. Clearly, gender-based violence, which can have devastating impacts, is an aspect of university life for far too many students.

The Government has paid some attention to this problem. It tasked Universities UK (UUK, an umbrella organisation of university ice-chancellors) with examining ‘violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students, with a focus on sexual violence and harassment’ (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2015). In their report, UUK made a series of recommendations, including that university leaders should afford tackling violence against women and harassment the priority it deserves. UUK also recommended universities identify staff training needs to address this issue effectively and fairly, and improve reporting and recording systems. One year on, UUK published a follow-up report (UUK2017) which found that “significant but highly variable progress” (p6) had been made in universities.

Since the publication in 2010 of the NUS study, Hidden Marks, that revealed that 14% of women students experienced serious physical or sexual assault and 68% experienced verbal harassment while they were at university, increasing attention is being paid to this problem.

Here at Northumbria University, I have led a team of staff to train colleagues across the university about how to deal with disclosures of gender-based violence. This initiative is part of a project run from York University by Professor Vanita Sundaram; Northumbria University has piloted the training package designed by Professor Sundaram and her team. So far, about 70 non-academic staff in Accommodation, Security, Student Support and Library Services have been trained; the plan is to train academic staff in the coming year. Staff have been overwhelmingly positive about the training. Feedback includes: “Really helpful training, thanks very much.” “Course was very well run. Best course/training session I have attended in the past few year.” “Excellent. Trainers were brilliant. Lots of interaction with the group.” “I found the whole training very good although stats sometimes shocked. I will take a lot away on how to react and empathise.”

With my colleague Dr Anitha Sundari at Lincoln University, I have just published a book, Gender based violence in university communities: Policy, prevention and educational initiatives – the first in the UK to address this issue. It brings together analysis from scholars and practitioners who are working to improve responses to students affected by GBV and to prevent it happening. Guided by a feminist understanding of the problem, and drawing on a rich body of knowledge from scholars, activists and practitioners, we argue that future work should focus not only on sexual violence, but on gender-based violence in all its forms. That includes sexual harassment and violence as well as intimate partner violence, homophobic and transphobic abuse. It also includes attention to, not only behaviours, but also attitudes and cultural norms which support sexism and misogyny. It might surprise some people that intimate partner violence is a problem amongst university students. But the tragic death of Emily Drouet, student at Aberdeen University, whose boyfriend, Angus Milligan, also a student, was abusive to her, reveals the sad truth that intimate partner violence is not the preserve of older people. National Union of Students Scotland launched the ‘#emilytest’ campaign to bring attention to this problem. The campaign uses some of the text messages she sent friends, which are full of self-blame – “It’s my fault.” “I made him so angry” “I deserve it”. The aim is to draw attention to the dynamics of abuse and to help students and staff to see and name GBV so that no other students suffer as Emily did.

In the book, we also argue that, to make sure that strategies to prevent and respond to gender- are effective, we need to address the gaps in knowledge. This includes research to assess the prevalence of all forms of gender-based violence, including that committed by university students and staff. Attention to factors such as class, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality and dis/ability will be important to reveal the different experiences of students who are differently positioned in terms of social status. Research also needs to examine higher education institutions where there are higher and lower rates of gender-based violence to help understand which factors may prevent or facilitate it.

Enacting social change can feel like an uphill battle. Thousands of activists, service-providers and scholars working against gender-based violence can attest to this. In this work we have seen gradual rather than dramatic change over the last few decades, But change has happened. Institutions such as the police, social work, and schools have improved their understanding of gender-based violence and their responses to it. And social attitudes and norms are gradually changing too, so that gender-based violence is more often talked about, criticised and challenged. But these shifts are far from seismic; they are happening more gradually than the current attention to these issues might suggest. Research by Vanita Sundaram reported in our book, shows that young people label violence as wrong but also see it as acceptable in some situations. Their views are heavily influenced by ideas about what is appropriate or ‘normal’ gender behaviour, so in scenarios where young women sexually rejected young men, cheat on them or do not comply with them, the men’s violence was excused.

Enacting social change can feel like an uphill battle… But change has happened. Institutions such as the police, social work, and schools have improved their understanding of gender-based violence and their responses to it. And social attitudes and norms are gradually changing too, so that gender-based violence is more often talked about, criticised and challenged.

Studying at university should be an exciting, intellectually challenging, socially rewarding time. Violence and abuse has marred the experiences of too many, especially women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students. In other areas of life, attitudes, norms and practices are changing so that gender-based violence is seen as a throw-back to an outdated past.  It is now the turn of universities to bring about social change in their environments. We hope this book will help contribute to that movement that eradicates gender-based violence in universities.

Ruth Lewis is Associate-Professor of Sociology at Northumbria University.

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