III Transformative gender justice?

Memories of violence against women and girls across borders: Transformative gender justice through the arts among Brazilian women migrants in London

Cathy Mcllwaine


It’s difficult to know what to say. I want to applaud the bravery, but that feels trite. This needs to be seen, to be heard, to be felt. Because, in a way, everyone needs to know this hurt, to feel this pain, until nobody does. I count my blessings that I have never suffered this much, and desperately hope for the day that no-one will.

This is the response from an audience member to the verbatim theatre play, Efémera, after a performance at the Brighton Fringe Festival in the United Kingdom in May 2018.' Efémera was written and performed by Gael le Cornee (with Rosie McPherson) as part of a collaboration with CASA, a Latin American theatre organisation, based on the testimonies of Brazilian migrant women living in London who had experienced gender-based violence. Efémera formed part of a larger research project on violence against women and girls (VAWG) in London and in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and this reaction to it from a member of the audience was in many ways what Gael (as writeractor) and I (as director of the research and producer of the play) were aiming for with the play and with the research more broadly. At its most basic, the research in London was focused on exploring the meanings of violence against women and girls among Brazilian migrants, understanding their experiences, and raising awareness of the issue (Mcllwaine and Evans 2018). The research in London was also conducted in close collaboration with the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), a feminist and human rights organisation working with, and led by, Latin American women. LAWRS aims to address migrant women’s needs through service provision and through advocacy, and works together with the People’s Palace Projects — an arts organisation based in London working mainly, but not exclusively, in Brazil using participatory art as performance to address a range of social justice issues.

More broadly, this collaborative project and the discussion here is embedded within a wider body of feminist thinking around transformative social change (Cornwall and Rivas 2015; Moser 2016) and specifically in relation to gender-based violence (UN Women 2015). It also makes some direct links with the emerging agenda on transformative gender justice that focuses primarily on gendered violence in conflict situations but is not limited to this (Boesten and Wilding 2015). It reiterates the case for making fruitful connections between research on gender-based violence in conflict and conflict transition contexts with that on everyday gendered violence in low-intensity conflict situations (Boesten and Wilding 2015; Wilding 2012). Yet it suggests this be extended to encompass violence against women within a different type of transition - over space as well as time — through international migration that can be a response to, disruption of, and potential facilitating force for everyday gender-based violence. While migration has long been identified as a reaction to armed conflict or crisis migration (Lindley 2014), there has been much less attention paid to the ways in which everyday violence has prompted mobility across borders (Mcllwaine 2014), especially in terms of gender. Furthermore, only recently have there been calls to acknowledge migration as a core concern within transitional justice processes (Hovil 2019). It is therefore essential to recognise that gender-based violence is often a core dimension of mobility processes, not least because migration destabilises, reinforces, and remakes gender norms and the structural gendered power inequalities that underpin violence against women (Dominguez and Menjivar 2014; Mcllwaine 2010). The unsettling of gender norms linked with international migration therefore has some parallels with the disruptions of armed conflicts and post-conflict transitions. It therefore makes sense to think about how a transformative gender justice approach that aims to address the gendered power inequities during times of transitions (Boesten and Wilding 2015) can be relevant to understanding experiences of violence among women migrants moving across borders.

In keeping with the themes of this book, gender-based violence among migrants is explored here with reference to ideas around memories and how a feminist transformative gender justice approach can be enacted and advanced with a view to improving the lives of women in the short- and longer-terms. It examines the nature of violence against women among Brazilian migrant women in London and how memories are deeply imbued within their experiences. It also considers the role of performance art in understanding gender-based violence and raising awareness of its endemic nature among migrants in ways that speak to feminist transformative change. This entails communicating through theatre, in this case, through the play Efémera. While not quite a form of symbolic reparation in a traditional sense of providing voice, redress, and compensation for acts of harm that have been committed against women (Rubio-Marin 2009), this chapter discusses how Efémera and a recent campaign around the rights of migrant women with irregular immigration status led by LAWRS constitute forms of reparations that are processes of remembering, commemorating, and visibilising everyday experiences of gendered violence (Hamber, Sevcenko, and Naidu, 2010). It suggests that this needs to be done in ways that reflect women’s agency across borders among specific migrant groups, but also with women

Memories of violence across borders 213 more widely as a form of transnational feminist alliance that challenges existing gender inequalities (see also Boesten, 2019).

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