Responses to Reports
Professor Christine Piper, Expert Advisory Panel
Dr Pam Alldred and her colleagues in all the countries participating in this GAP WORK project deserve huge praise. To devise the detail of this project, to achieve such a high standard of theoretical, socio-legal and empirical research and analysis AND to deliver the training to around 200 practitioners in each country in only two years is incredible. Many aspects of the findings trigger important questions but, because of my background in Family Law, I was particularly fascinated by the number of times the feedback from participants in the training expressed a particular interest in, and usefulness of, the legal information given and would have liked to spend more time on the legal aspects.
On the face there were many more important areas - awareness-raising, different perspectives on equality, providing practical and conceptual tools - dealt with in the various training programmes and so this surprised me. The importance given to legal knowledge seems to suggest the professionals attending the courses held a belief in the efficacy of law to address the problems of gender related violence - which is oten unfounded. It would also suggest they had a sense that there is something ‘out there’ which they do not know and which, perhaps, undermines their confidence to act. This would be a useful area for further research.
Doctor Carlene Firmin, Expert Advisory Panel
The findings of the GAP programme demonstrate the importance of training on gender-related violence that is contextualised with reference to structural inequality and intersectionality. It outlines the importance of supporting practitioners to recognise that young people's experiences of violence and abuse do not occur in a vacuum and the gendered environments in which abuse occurs must also be held in mind. It provides a strong case for consistency at a strategic and operational level to ensure that those who receive training are working in an environment where their learning can be implemented. I intend to share the findings of this work amongst the local authorities that I am currently supporting to develop their responses to peer-on-peer abuse, particularly those who are focused on supporting professionals in mainstream and alternative education provision. It acts as a useful point of reference when considering the key components required to raise professional awareness of gender-based violence and building an appropriate response when working with young people.
Roberta Bosisio, Researcher, Culture Politics and Society Department, University of Turin
A first very innovative and original aspect of this project is the fact that it has imagined children and young people as potential protagonists of acted or experienced Gender Related Violence (not just participated) and that it has highlighted the need of interventions aimed to contrast this phenomenon. In fact, despite recent news stories relate about episodes of violence acted by minors against other minors for their sexual identity or orientation, rarely these episodes are classified as GRV acts and they are often mixed up with the generic phenomenon of bullying or cyberbullying, ignoring their specificity.
A second very interesting aspect is the idea to involve the GLBTQ Maurice Association as a training partner, together with the Demetra Centre – that provide assistance to the victims of violence. The participation of Maurice association, in fact, points out the clear will to go beyond, the wrong idea that gender violence corresponds to violence against women. And a project concerning the GRV addressed to practitioners who have everyday contact with general populations of children and young people, first of all, has to equip them of all the tools and instruments they need to think about “gender” as a social construction. With these tools they also can deconstruct the binary and heteronormative conception of gender (as precondition for relations based on the reception of diversity) and can receipt the right instruments to comfortably discuss about sexuality, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Of course, the knowledge of information concerning legal aspects and all the support services operating, on territories, in the area of gender violence, is extremely important too.
Dr Alison Phipps, Director of Gender Studies, University of Sussex
Gap Work is a valuable and impressive project which has had significant impact already and will undoubtedly continue to have more. Reading the final report, I was struck by how many interesting and useful learning points have emerged, and was fascinated by the differences but also the similarities between countries in relation to issues around gender-based violence. I am sure this will be useful for both practitioners and theorists attempting to understand how gender-based violence is both universal and always contextually bound.
The multi-country nature of the project added value to the exploration and evaluation of different training approaches, many of which could be adapted for other groups of frontline workers. For example, support and academic staff in universities, which are only just beginning to address the problems of gendered and sexual violence. The experiential approaches used by the project, encouraging training participants to reflect on their own life histories and current behaviours, are innovative and were obviously very effective. Findings in relation to the variety of opportunities practitioners might have to intervene are also promising in terms of future training and resource materials.
The project’s use of a broad and intersectional definition of gender-based violence was appropriate and is essential in order to encompass the range of different experiences young people may have. Intersectionality is something we need to work hard to understand and fully apply in our violence-prevention work, and Gap Work has the potential to make a real contribution here. The project’s findings also reinforce the point that the backlash against women’s increased equality in society has partly taken the guise of sexualisation (which actually limits women’s self-actualisation by confining them to normative sexual scripts). This is useful to those attempting to navigate the perilous terrain around young people’s sexual behaviour, which is often characterised by moral panic or simplistic views of sexual empowerment, with nothing in between.
It would be lovely to see a follow-up project evaluating the longer-term impact of the training, as well as research exploring how it might be adapted for other frontline workers.
Claire Maxwell, reader in the sociology of education, Institute of Education, University of London
This project was a very important initiative for the field of preventing gender-related violence. Despite a wide range of interventions taking place across many parts of the world, there are still significant gaps in our understanding of what kinds of initiatives ‘work’ and why they have an impact. Expecting that practitioners and communities tackle gender-related violence, requires a number of facilitative factors – not least, well-trained, expert practitioners working in organisations committed to this work and able to sustain its development and implementation long-term.
Having been part of two important initiatives in England and Wales which sought to develop the commitment and preparedness of schools to undertake gender-related violence prevention work – the lack of opportunity and time given by schools to enable education professionals to participate in training was one of the most significant challenges to developing strong interventions. The GAP Project has sought to examine what can be done around training and best practice in this regard across four countries, demonstrating it is possible to develop innovative training that has an impact on participants. Yet, this can only be the first step in a much longer process of getting countries, local areas, organisations and communities working with young people to tackle the unacceptably high levels of gender-related violence.
The two key findings from the GAP report which struck me as most significant were:
The suggestion made by the Irish team that training seek to engage practitioners in three areas:
Raising personal awareness of the embeddedness of gender inequality in our own everyday practices – our assumptions and how these are often reinforced through our interactions with others. Understanding gender-related violence as a continuum as originally developed by Liz Kelly (19881) is helpful.
Developing a stronger understanding of how society – how discursive, affective and more material structures reinforce gender inequality, in turn driving gender-related violence. The theoretical frameworks of poststructuralism and intersectionality are, in my view, most productive for understanding societal structures and how everyday practices are shaped by, and in turn, reproduce these, while at the same time emphasising there is always the potential to unsettle these structures.
Focusing on sharing good practice around interventions in the workplace/with young people and practising the skills needed to implement them.
The emphasis placed within the findings that spaces should be created long-term, following such training intervention, to promote and facilitate individual but also collective reflection on practice is critical – to embed, strengthen and sustain this kind of work.
The debate over whether theoretical congruence is important in the development of training. I would strongly advocate a clear, theoretical framework that is drawn on throughout the training – to inform participants’ understandings and examine the kind of local contexts and practices they are seeking to intervene in.
Such a starting point is imperative if we want to offer practitioners a more in-depth understanding and self-awareness of how gender shapes our everyday practices and gender inequality drives gender-related violence. But it also then makes it easier to facilitate training for a diverse group of practitioners who have their own priorities within the broad area of gender-related violence that they wish to focus on. First, all participants are offered a similar input, which can deepen their awareness of their own practices, but also how society shapes the experiences of individual young people and young people as a group. It also then offers practitioners the tools with which to think about their own context and specific gender-related violence issues within these that they wish to tackle – be it promoting healthy and respectful relationships with young people in schools, tackling sexual exploitation in gangs and so forth.
Finally, a key message from the report which we must all take heed of – is the importance of balancing the way this work is approached – acknowledging the desperate situation, while offering hope – that with commitment, expertise and resources – we can begin to initiate a change, thereby reducing gender-related violence.
1 Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Candice Wallace Henry, Child Development Specialist
Silvia Migueiz, Agencia Catalana de la Juventut, Catalan Youth Agency.