Feminism in the Scottish post-referendum movement – #the45plus feminists rising

Village Aunties were awful quiet on this blog for the last part of the Yes campaign. We, and other feminist and social justice fellow travellers, were mostly busy doing other stuff: leafleting; hosting stalls; canvassing; registering voters; going on marches and rallies; writing in other channels; helping with other #indyref groups like Women for Indy, Scottish Asians for Yes, etc.; discussing indy with relatives, co-workers, neighbours and friends; etc. etc.

In the wider movement, no real feminist challenge to the various campaign activities took hold. None of the pro-indy leaders and coordinators thought the issues important to intersectional feminism, beyond “reaching women so they vote Yes”, were important to Yes. “Wait until after the revolution”: the standard cry of patriarchal movements going back forever, was implicit.

This is a shame, and it is something we need to remedy now, as the Yes campaign morphs into a movement to achieve, come hell or high water, the things we wanted independence to give Scotland. It is early days and we, all 1.6 million (and growing) of us, are still reeling and weeping and raging and basically working through our grief as we evolve into something new and powerful. We are becoming excited again about the potential for a new Scotland.

But from Village Aunties’ point-of-view, let’s be clear about a few things first:

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A feminist analysis of the potentials and pitfalls of Scottish independence

Book coverThere’s a new book out, you may have heard: Scottish Independence: A Feminist Response by Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison – they have already had a launch in Edinburgh at the famous radical bookshop Word Power, and there is a Glasgow launch next week at Mono on Tuesday 26th, 6.30pm. I hear the Edinburgh launch was really successful with around 50 people squeezing themselves into that lovely wee space.

Disclaimer: Jenny is a pal of mine and I know very well how little time she and Cat had to write it- three weeks from start to publication. And I hope everyone will understand how tricky it was to reduce a potentially huge topic into something readable and useful for bringing undecided feminists over to considering a Yes vote (I know they didn’t want to just preach to the converted).

It is a very slim volume so don’t be afraid to pick it up and dip in. It still manages to cover a lot of ground and is, to my mind, a good primer on over-arching feminist approaches to and analyses of the issues around Scottish idependence.

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Organisational Response to Sexual Violence in Activist Groups: Six Common Mistakes

Trigger Warning: This post discusses Sexual Assault

Recently, the issue of sexual violence in activist circles has very much come into the fore. A number of attacks have come to light and a lot of people have been wrestling with the hard fact of sexual predators in the scene.
In light of all this, I’ve decided to write a post, on the some of the  most common mistakes and pitfalls I’ve noticed in activist organisations trying to deal with these issues. Here are my top 6 common mistakes to avoid:
  1. Not having a policy.
The most basic mistake is not to have a policy. Perhaps you hope you will never need one and I certainly hope you are right. The fact is however, that sexual violence is as prevalent amongst the activist community as it is in wider society and failing to prepare will certainly not protect you from having to deal with it.
Perhaps you don’t feel qualified to write one. This is natural enough, but think about it: if sexual violence is a difficult subject to broach now, how much harder will it be to deal with when it happens. Better to think it through now and be prepared.
  1. Ill defined Responsibilities
Activist spaces are often places where new methods and structures of organisation are pioneered and experimented with. This can mean a very loose structure where responsibility and decision making is shared. The flip side of this is that sometimes no one takes responsibility and important issues fall through the cracks.
It is not acceptable for anyone’s safety to be left up to chance.
Regardless of organisational structure: It should always be clear to all participants, who they should speak to if they feel uncomfortable with someone’s presence or behaviour or if they have information which may be important to the safety of others.
That person tasked with this role should be competent to carry out the task, should be clear about the response required and should be supported to carry it out.
  1. Open/large meetings
Some activist spaces make decisions in large open meetings. These can be empowering and fun but also unpredictable and intimidating.
Large open meetings are not safe places to disclose personal, sensitive or painful information and it should go without saying that survivors should not be expected to bring instances of sexual assault in activist spaces to meetings like this.
  1. Not believing women who report a sexual assault
This is possibly the single most damaging mistake. The worst possible thing you can do to someone who has been sexually assaulted is to not believe her.
  1.  Hearing “both sides”
Activists like to feel they are fair. They don’t like to jump to conclusions about people. A common error is to attempt to achieve fairness by making space for a person accused of sexual assault, harassment or rape a “right of reply”
It should be obvious that this is inconsistent with point 4, but since a surprising number of people have trouble with this, I’ll go into more depth.
What “hearing both sides” amounts to is setting up a quasi judicial process, within an activist group. This is not something any activist group is really qualified to do, and neither should they try.
The reason a real court adopts this approach is that they have a responsibility to ascertain exactly what happened, beyond reasonable doubt and the power to send someone to prison.
Putting aside the woefully low conviction rate for rape, which is a subject for another day, consider this: as an activist group, do you have the same power or the same responsibility?
You don’t of course. Your only responsibility in this situation is to keep your own members safe and your only real sanction against people who threaten that safety is to exclude them from your events.
Even if we accept the judicial “hear both sides” type approach from the legal system therefore, it doesn’t follow that we need to adopt it ourselves.
More sensible and pragmatic then, given that you will NEVER know for an absolute certainty what went on between two other people in private, is to work from the understanding that false accusations are vanishingly rare.
Believe the survivor, thank her for bringing this important public safety information to your attention and then act on it as appropriate, hopefully in line with her wishes and the sensible policy you already drew up.
  1. Letting everyone having their say
It’s understandable that when information about a sexual assault comes out, everyone is shocked and upset. They want to know details of what happened and they want to have their say. This is particularly true of those who are close friends or comrades of the perpetrator.
It’s understandable that they want these things, but they should never be allowed to have it. Any conversation about the rights and wrongs of a particular incident puts the word of the survivor up for question and this cannot be tolerated.
Plus, if you allow everyone to have a say, rape culture will tend to rear its ugly head and all sorts of hurtful and wrong headed stuff will be said.
This is where that written policy is so important, because you can point to it and say
 “Look this is the policy. We agreed democratically to adopt this and now we will have to implement it.”
This hopefully takes some of the heat out of the situation and gets everyone people to back off before they inadvertently and for the most understandable of reasons, fuck things up worse than they already are.
 So, What should we be doing instead?
This is a question, no one person is qualified to answer in full.
The truth is that collectively we need to improve our response to these situations. I would like to us build a consensus across the movement on some basic principles that should, in all cases govern a response, adopting a survivor centred approach.
I would also like to see some formal lines of coordination between different activist groups, similar to the pubwatch scheme so that if someone has been a sexual predator in one activist group, it shouldn’t be possible for them to simply move on to the next.
The fractured and sectarian nature of some of our scene is a major structural weakness, but in this case it is a danger to our members as well.

 

Feminism and the Scottish Radical Left

This was written by Glasgow feminist Amy Westwell, and was originally posted here.

Feminism and the Scottish Radical Left

Scottish national identity will crystallise and develop in the run up to the referendum. The left are well aware of this, and will likely revive some old Scottish left ghosts, playing on some political anti-establishment nationalism, and on the existing political identity which holds to the mantra that Scotland is more left wing than England.

Indeed, there are already talks of a broad left party, from various sectors, and several movements might spring up in the next two years, which may be creative and original. Yet I’m wary of the left, and especially of left movements in Scotland, because of what I believe to be its structural misogyny.

I am wary of the potential for a left movement to carry on a trend which not only ignores feminism, but actively represses women in the movement. I don’t want to stand by and watch the next generation of strong, committed women pour all their energy and strength into a left movement which systematically ignores them, which is run by misogynists, and which, in conjuring up spirits of the past relies on the historical basis of a patriarchal movement.

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