Monthly Column January: Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven

Gender and violence: A conversation with Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven

⚠ TW: mentioning of violence, rape, murder

We wish to provide more than just informative articles about womxn who have done much for this society. One of our aims is to also inform about themes and issues surrounding womxn in our current society. So we want to pick up something next to the articles we publish: a monthly column. Here we hope to share insights in relevant topics such as the history of feminism, the use of pronouns and even the different positions womxn hold in different disciplines. Our wish is to provide those insights with the help of specialized guest writers. And good news: this month we will share two amazing pieces with you to start this project off with a bang. 💥

For our first column we have the honours to present to you an article written by Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven. She is someone who has shown interest and support for our project since we have started it. So we thought: to have her as our first guest, would be the appropriate way to show her our gratitude. And by this we also kind of add her to our timeline of womxn this month. For those who do not know her already we will provide a short introduction here:

Dr Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven, an educational sociologist and equity practitioner, who has held senior positions in the Ministries of Public Administration and Social Development, Trinidad and Tobago, worked as an independent consultant for ICDI the Netherlands and taught at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. She held the position of Director Diversity, Equity and Inclusion [DEI] at Durham College and then Director Equity, Communications and Community Partnership at Durham Children’s Aid Society, Canada. She is now the DEI Strategist at Radboud University Nijmegen. Rona also writes a column in the Durham Region News and is dedicated to advocating and agitating for change for marginalized communities and vulnerable groups in society.

We hope that you will enjoy the reading of her article as much as we do. It is a very interesting topic, but might be triggering for some, hence the trigger warnings. We added a link to the PDF of the article in its original format for you to access as well 📚

Link to the PDF: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HHX15mw5QwPOwy-UMQv4qouwGnFnJBaN/view?usp=sharing

I think I knew I was a girl before I knew anything else about myself and I think this holds true  for many of us attesting to the significance of gendered identity and roles and how it shaped,  informed and managed the society and social settings which we navigated. I recall growing  up in a Hindu household with a father who placed great emphasis on the education of his six girl-children but aware also that my mother by virtue of being born into a Hindu Brahmin  family was fated to have higher education overlooked as achievements only attainable by her  brothers. So I accepted this dissonance without ever truly understanding it. This gendered  reality when it comes to access to education has long been the common theme of many  Dutch, Indian, Caribbean and global households and was simply accepted as the norm; until  of course when it no longer was. Globally, disparities continue to characterize the gendered  landscape of many cultures. An era of upheaval did indeed occur whether it was seen as the  toppling of patriarchy, a feminist movement, a time when men were at risk, when women  were seemingly out of control in some countries, daring to move in spaces they were not  meant to be in. Yet even in these spaces gender parity seems a myth. 

When I am asked the question about my identity, I always reflect on when I was a young  teenager, having read James Joyce’s, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for the first time. 

“The soul is born, [Stephen] said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a  slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk  to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets. (5.1.117)

In the novel, the main character Stephen explains Ireland’s plight as a nation whose  interesting sense of nationhood puts it at risk of destroying itself, “Ireland is the old sow that  eats her farrow.” (5.1.118). I later wrote about my experience in Diversity Dialogue: An  Exercise in Inclusion:-1 

It was then that I realized that I was not powerless, that I was not doomed to being  constrained by the many societal nets that were being flung at me; that I could escape  the “isms”: ageism, classism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, racism, sexism, “islandism”  if I may, and the host of others that exist. I was the product of what Craig ( would call  interplay of diasporas and intertwining roots…. I did not have to be singularly defined  by my Hindu Indian ancestry; the Catholicism of my high school education; the bi-racial  relationships I would later be embraced in; the parenting of children with very diverse  racial, religious and ethnic identities; immersion in a very postmodern predominantly  Caucasian atheist dynamic. These trappings were to act as wings for flight, for freedom  from the boundaries, categorizations and delineations. Flying by those nets meant  forging a very fluid identity

You see for me, I didn’t consciously articulate the world view that being born a girl meant  being entrapped and always accountable to men, whether fraternal, filial, marital or paternal;  however, it was one that was internalised nonetheless. It was only through those words I  realised that being a girl, didn’t have to define me. It was simply another label, another  category that society was seeking to entrap me in and that all I had to do was fly. There are  so many things that were going to define us as women, female, cisgender, lesbian,  transwomen, queer, two-spirited. The basis of discrimination on the basis of sex and gender  has always existed and will honestly continue to exist. 

This leads me to be inclined to write about some interesting research that I did on violence – the all-encompassing redefining of violence and its multidimensionality of direct, structural  and cultural violence and to explain why gender inequities in this manner translates into  cultural, systemic or structural, and direct violence.  

Conceptualising Violence2 

Conceptually, for many, ‘violence’ conjures up images of direct or physical force and violence  discourse has for a long time been focused on personal violence, looking at violence and its  physical and psychological effects, the effects of violence on the individual and society,  violence versus the threat of violence, violence and wars, and violence whether intended or unintended. Johan Galtung (1930- ), explored the many faces of violence and created a flurry  of discussions and debates on violence and its multifaceted dimensions.  

“I understand violence as the unavoidable impairment of fundamental human needs  or,…the impairment of human life, which lowers the actual degree to which someone  is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible. The threat  of violence is also violence.” (Quoted by Müller n.d, 1). 

A consideration of the theoretical dimensions of violence extends the definition further than  the previously held narrow concept to include the notion of violence as being a disparity  between an individual’s actual somatic and mental realizations and their potential  realizations. Accordingly, violence is “defined as the cause of the difference between the  potential and the actual” (Ibid). In today’s society, according to this definition, violence is  when someone dies from malnutrition because the resources exist to prevent such a  situation; the situation is avoidable. Violence is when young girls are denied education simply  because it is deemed as a right entitlement of the boy child; violence is the exploitation of  boys and girls for labour by factory owners depriving them of their right to education and  play. Violence is forcing young girls into early marriages; statistics show that “girls younger  than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s and that  pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19”.  

“In other words, when the potential is higher than the actual is by definition avoidable and  when it is avoidable, then violence is present.” (Galtung 1969, 169). A parallel logic can be  drawn to the phenomena such as the glass ceiling and the underrepresentation of young  women in STEM research or in positions of leadership or holding the titles of professors in  universities. 

Structural Violence 

Structural violence is a term introduced by Galtung (1969). He refers to a form of violence  where the social structure or social institution harms people by preventing them from  meeting their basic needs. He cites also elitism, ethnocentrism, classism, racism, sexism, adultism, nationalism, heterosexism and ageism as examples of structural violence. Galtung  (1969) claims that structural violence and direct violence are interdependent and include such  direct outcomes as domestic violence, racial violence, hate crimes, terrorism, genocide and  war. He argues that,  

cultural violence is connected to the cultural paradigms and guidelines which rule  socially accepted behaviour, whether consciously (explicitly) or unconsciously  (implicitly). Thus he argues, cultural violence supports and perpetuates violence  through cultural guidelines materialized through religion, language, art, and the  different manifestations of culture. Structural violence meanwhile pertains to the  injustice within society that allows negative situations to persist. “Symbolic violence  built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into  the structure. However, it is used to legitimize either or both, as for instance in the  theory of a Herrenvolk, or a superior race.” (Galtung 1990, 292) 

Gender Violence  

In this context then, I will elaborate a bit about gender violence. At its most basic and obvious  level, violence is an act that is carried out with the intention or perceived intention of  physically hurting another person (Gelles and Straus 1979). The gender dimension amplifies the definition to include violent acts perpetrated on women because they are women. For  example, being female subjects a woman to rape, female circumcision/genital mutilation,  female infanticide, and sex-related crimes. Dunkle et al. (2004) and Russo and Pirlott (2006),  drawing on international data, come to the same view: women, of whatever nation, bear most  of the burden when there are risks around and they point out how strongly factors such as  gender, sexuality, power, and intimate violence are interwoven. One point of irony though is  that in spite of the almost universal discrimination of women, wherever, women outlive men.3 The life expectance rates at birth for the Netherlands are: females: 82.4 years, men: 77.1  years. 4 

In some Asian societies, because of a woman’s dependence on a man, she is vulnerable to  specific domestic violence, such as dowry murder and sati, and the reason relates to society’s  concept of woman as property of the man (Jilani 1992). Gendered violence also relates a great  deal to society’s construction of both female and male sexuality. Jilani (1992) writes of  Pakistan that the argument that violence is cultural or personal is erroneous, since in Pakistan  she claims, the issue is more political and results from the structural pattern of control and  dominance of the social institutions that exist. She argues that perpetual fear of violence in  the home, at work, and in the streets is an obstacle to social participation and a hindrance to women’s development but, at the same time, she acknowledges that the issue of violence  against women is becoming a global human rights concern.  

For many of us the news of an eight-year old Yemeni child bride dying on her wedding night  from internal haemorrhaging seems fiction and something out of a movie because it is a  violence that is beyond comprehension so therefore we compartmentalize it in a section of  our mind that does not allow it to be transformed into a real issue: “many poor families in  Yemen marry off young daughters to save on the costs of bringing up a child and earn extra  money from the dowry given to a girl” (Ghobari and Davenport 2013). It becomes simply  news. 

Similarly, news that the Maldivian government will appeal against a court decision to publicly  flog a 15-year-old rape victim convicted of having premarital sex. It is clear that what is  considered ‘violence’ is highly debatable under cultural norms and practices. Interestingly  many traditions are translated into legal and state-sanctioned systems, such as marriages,  education acts, societal laws or accepted medical practice. This cultural and structural  violence is also manifested in the form of indirect violence against women that plagues many  societies daily, for example, the fact that the HIV/AIDS infection rate is going up in Uganda  mainly because more Ugandans (mostly men) are having multiple sex partners (Heuler 2013). 

Newsworthy also, Italy’s lower chamber of parliament has ratified a European treaty to  protect women and girls from gender violence, as the latest victim — a 15-year-old girl  stabbed 20 times and burnt alive. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women,  Rashida Manjoo, said 78 per cent of all cases of violence against women in Italy are domestic  in nature, with gender stereotypes “deeply rooted”. A 23-year-old Indian student was fatally gang-raped inside a bus in the capital, Delhi, in December 2012. Her father says: 

That is what poverty does to you…think about money all the time. Think about  whether you have enough money in your pocket to take your daughter’s body  home…We just want to keep her memory alive as long as it’s possible. I know one day  people will forget her. But they will remember her death led to changes – changes in  the anti-rape laws, change in consciousness.”  

It must be acknowledged that great strides are being made in society by our women and young  girls despite many of the obstacles faced. A case in point: “A Saudi woman has made history  by reaching the summit of the world’s highest mountain: Raha Moharrak 25 years, not only  became the first Saudi woman to attempt the climb but also the youngest Arab to make it to  the top of Everest.” And there are many more such acts of girls and women that challenge  the traditional views on what they can and should do. In a similar vein, the decision by the  House of Representatives to give final approval to a renewal of the ‘Violence Against Women  Act’, should be seen as yet another expression of a worldwide emerging wish to combat this  form of violence. The Act also holds for gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic  abuse, as well as gives the right to American Indian women who are violated on reservations by non-Indians to take their cases to tribal courts; until now courts did not have jurisdiction  over assailants who did not live on tribal land (Parker 2013). 

One of the greatest injustice done to mankind is the imposition of the social constructs of race  and gendered narratives. The harm, pain and trauma that these have spiralled can hardly be  articulated but the struggle is an endless one that will survive. This month we celebrate some  great women who made some landmark strides navigating their lived spaces. These include:  

o Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916 – 2000)→ first female prime minister in the world.  Sirimavo Bandaranaike was three times prime minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka. She  advocated for women’s rights and during her political career she fought for women  and girls; 

o Laverne Cox (1972 -) → actress, LGBTQ+ advocate. The 48 year old woman, who was  raised only by her mother and grandmother, does not only play an important role in  the representation of the trans community in the film industry, she also helps to raise  awareness and gives a voice to members of the trans community; 

o Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020) → mathematician, critical at NASA for first space  flight. Katherine was a black research mathematician who started working at NASA in  1953 in the West Area Computing group in Langley and had significant influence on  crucial missions for NASA such as the GEMINI mission and MERCURY mission; 

o Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011) → first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist. She was  the first African Woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for all  of her achievements in 2004;

o Hadewijch → 13th Century Dutch writer and poet. Hadewijch was a Dutch poet who  lived in the 13th century. Most of her writings are written in Brabantian which is a  form of Middle Dutch; 

o Sarah Breedlove (1867 – 1919) → first female self-made millionaire, philanthropist,  activist. Sarah Breedlove, also known as Madame C.J. Walker, was an Afro-American  woman and the first of her family to be born free. She was able to create a line of  cosmetic and hair products designed for black women – allowing her to become an  affluent activist for black women; 

o Anna Pavlova (1881 -1931)→ Russian prima ballerina (known as the most popular  ballet dancer in history). Anna worked at the Imperial Russian Ballet and was also part  of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The Dying Swan is one of her most known  performances; 

o Miep Gies (1909-2010) → Dutch resistance fighter in World War 2. Miep was one of  the Dutch citizens who hid Anne Frank and her family, as well as four other Dutch Jews from the Nazis during World War 2; 

o Aretha Franklin (1942 – 2018) → Singer, songwriter and civil rights activist. Aretha was  an American singer, songwriter, actress and civil rights activist. By the end of the 1960s  she had come to be known as the “Queen of Soul”;

o Hypatia (circa 350/70 – 415 AD) → Philosopher and Astronomer. Hypatia grew up  learning from her father and assisting him in his work. She corrected and prepared  Theon’s texts Almagest and a new edition of Ptolemy’s Handy Tables; 

o Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938 – ) → Former President of Liberia (First female head of  state); Ellen is a Liberian politician who served as the 24th President of Liberia from  2006 to 2018. This made her the first elected female head of state in Africa. In 2011  she won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her efforts to bring women into the  peacekeeping process; 

o Boudicca (30 – 61A) → celtic warrior, queen of tribe. Boudicca was a queen of the  British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the conquering forces of the  Roman Empire in AD 60/61. She is considered a British folk hero; 

o Margaret Fuller (1810 – 1850)→ journalist, editor, critic, women’s right activist. Margaret was an American journalist, editor, critic, translator and women’s rights  advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement. She was the  first American female war correspondent. Her book Women in the Nineteenth  Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States; 

o Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven – First Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategist at  Radnboud Univeristy in Nijmegen. Her pronouns are she, her, hers. She is an author,  researcher, a first-generation Canadian immigrant, and has now lived in three  countries and has published widely. She has navigated a gendered, racialized and disidentified identity all her life. She is an advocate for change and social justice.

1 https://www.managementboek.nl/boek/9789044135206/diversity-dialogue-rona-jualla-van oudenhoven

2 https://www.amazon.ca/Violence-Against-Children-Rights-Based-Discourse/dp/9044133594

3 https://www.who.int/gho/women_and_health/mortality/life_expectancy_text/en 

4 https://countrymeters.info/en/Netherlands#:~:text=Male%20life%20expectancy%20at%20birth,at%20b irth%20is%2082.4%20years.

Credits:

Author: Rona Jualla van Ouderhoven
Image: Marjolein van Diejen

Find us also on our social media platforms where you can always reach out if you have any question or suggestions.  

Instagram: @w_o_t_t 

Facebook: @WomenOnTheTimeline 

Mail: womenonthetimeline@gmail.com 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s