Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
16-days-in-focus-hero ;

Women resisting violence: capturing their voices through research and community engagement

Professor Cathy McIlwaine

Professor of Geography

07 December 2022

Each year, the United Nations encourages 16 days of activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This year, we speak to Professor Cathy McIlwaine about her research and community work with migrant women in London and Rio de Janeiro resisting multiple forms of direct and indirect gender-based violence.

The 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence starts every year on 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends of 10 December on Human Rights Day.

The 25 November has been observed by women’s rights activists in Latin America throughout the 1970s and 1980s to honour the Mirabal sisters (Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa). They were political activists in the Dominican Republic who were assassinated in 1960 by the secret police on the orders of the dictator, Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

The Mirabal sisters came to represent feminist resistance to all types of gender-based violence. In 1999, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence was proposed by the Dominican Republic alongside the 25 November, and the period of activism was officially designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999.

The 16 Days of Activism are especially important for my collaborative research given its focus on Latin American women, especially in Brazil and among Brazilian migrants in London.

What do you hope the campaign raises awareness of?

The 16 Days of Activism campaign is celebrated throughout the world and calls for the elimination of gender-based violence against women through awareness raising, pressuring governments to commit to elimination, and showing solidarity with women globally.

Many feminist organisations use the campaign as a way to raise awareness of the issue and also to highlight how women are actively resisting such gender-based violence in their homes, in the streets, and at the hands of governments.

How does this tie into the research you have been doing?

This year we published a book called Women Resisting Violence as part of the Women Resisting Violence Collective. This is a collaboration between King’s (myself and Jelke Boesten) and the Latin America Bureau (Marilyn Thomson, Louise Morris, Patricia Cabrera Muñoz and Rebecca Wilson) together with Moniza Rizzini Ansari and Andrea Espinoza.

The book tells the stories of Latin American women throughout the continent and in the diaspora who have resisted multiple forms of direct and indirect gender-based violence. The aim is to highlight the energy, the innovative strategies and the power that women have to work towards eliminating violence. The history of the 16 Days is fitting as the work of the Mirabal sisters continues.

It also links with our multilingual podcast that we launched last year, which coves stories from Guatemala, Brazil and Latin American women migrants in London.

Talk us through the different work being done in London and Brazil

The Women Resisting Violence book and podcast includes my research in the favelas of Maré in Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with the organisation Redes da Maré (Casa das Mulheres) (and with People’s Palace Projects and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro).

The platforms also highlight my work with Brazilian migrant women in London, which I’ve been doing since 2016 with the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and more recently with Migrants in Action.

In both places, the research has shifted from mapping gender-based violence to understanding it (supported by a ESRC-Newton funded project), to outlining women’s individual and collective forms of resistance to it (supported by the British Academy, ESRC-IAA and faculty funds).

Central to all this work is using the arts to enhance understanding and using creativity as a positive force for change. We Still Fight in the Dark (with Migrants in Action) has been a major success and we have shown the film/staged the performance at a wider range of different places in the UK as well as in Rio de Janeiro.

We are delighted to start a new project: Tackling Gendered Violence Transnationally (supported by the UKRI). This is an impact project to do 3 key things:

  1. map the impact of my work in Brazil and the UK since 2016 on gender-based violence
  2. develop a transnational mutual learning visit and network between the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Redes da Maré
  3. rrun a series of Photovoice projects with Redes da Mare (Casa das Mulheres) in Rio and Migrants in Action in London.

Can you explain how you observe intersecting crises influencing violence against women and girls?

In the UK and Brazil, the COVID-19 crisis affected women adversely in terms of growing incidence of domestic violence during lockdowns. However, women were also the ones who developed ways to cope with the pandemic more broadly. In the case of Brazil, we developed an idea of women ‘building emotional-political communities’ to deal with the pandemic and wider gendered urban violence. This could be applied to the UK too.

The crisis of state interventions affects both constituencies. In Brazil, police violence against favela residents affects women badly – they may not be directly targeted but get caught in crossfire, have their houses invaded by police, and deal with the fallout of their male friends and family members being killed.

In the UK, the hostile immigration environment makes it very difficult for migrant women to seek and secure support as victims/survivors of gender-based violence. This is especially the case when they have insecure immigration status.

What is the work you’ve done with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and how does this support the elimination of violence against women and girls?

I have been working with the Step Up Migrant Women campaign run by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service – their campaign is ongoing – to try to get migrant women included in the legislation.

If people want to find out more, where should they look?

For more information on this body of work see the Transnational Violence Against Women website.

In this story

Cathy McIlwaine

Cathy McIlwaine

Vice Dean (Research), Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy

Latest news