Women and Mass Violence
Although all groups of people are affected by large-scale violence, women experience it in specific ways. We need only think of the systematic murders of Indigenous women and girls in North America and Latin America, or of the many armed conflicts (in Syria, Libya, Myanmar, and others) where rape is used as a weapon of war. These two phenomena may also overlap: one of the first cases of feminicide to be named and documented as such in the Americas was that of Mayan women during the Guatemalan civil war in the early 1980s. Women are not only victims of mass violence, however, they are also the first to speak out, denounce, and oppose it. This second Spirale Special Issue, co-edited by Nadia Myre and Jean-Philippe Uzel, brings together articles and visual projects in which gender-related mass violence is described and analyzed. Contributors seek to raise awareness of the way in which this violence is represented, especially since patriarchy, colonialism, political interests and official incompetence often render it invisible and inaudible.
A print edition of this issue was released in Montreal in December 2018. It includes essays, artworks, exhibition reviews, and poems. Here are English and French translations of the texts included in the magazine, which appeared in their original versions.
Teresa Margolles, Pesquisas (Inquiries), 2016. Installation, 33 color prints of photographs of street signs showing missing women that cover the walls of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico from the nineties until today, 100 x 70 cm (each); 301 x 704,5 cm (allover). Installation view at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2017.Photo : Richard-Max Tremblay. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich.
I’d like to begin this exchange by discussing the hesitations we had at the beginning of this editorial project. Should we, as we had initially imagined, devote this special issue of Spirale exclusively to the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women and girls in Canada or should we include all types of mass violence targeting women during forced displacement, armed conflict or genocide? The first idea started germinating in the wake of the Teresa Margolles: Mundos exhibit presented at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal from February 16 to May 14, 2017, as the femicide in Mexico shares similarities with the situation in Canada. The news in late 2016 and early 2017 (the testimony of women from Val-d’Or that aired on Radio-Canada and the complete absence of legal response that followed, the opening of the national inquiry under the authority of Judge Marion Buller, the proliferation of works and exhibits about femicide, etc.) encouraged us to continue along this path. However, it was Teresa Margolles’ exhibition, and more specifically one of the pieces, that finally convinced us to embrace a global scope. The video that opened the exhibition, Mujeres bordando junto al Lago Atitlán [Women Embroidering Next to Atitlán Lake] (2012), showed Indigenous Guatemalan women activists working on a traditional embroidery which had as its canvas a piece of cloth stained with the blood of a woman killed in the capital city, Ciudad de Guatemala. In the midst of tributes to the deceased and to the redemptive power of her death, we could hear one woman say: “This fabric will then speak on behalf of the sister who has her blood on it, and it will speak on behalf of all of us who need peace in this place, but not only in Guatemala, also on behalf of our sisters in Mexico. Through the news we learn that they are also suffering violence, like our sisters in Afghanistan, and in other countries where violence is still extreme.”i The fact that these Mayan women, who’ve suffered endemic violence for decades (as we may recall, the first documented femicide that was qualified as such in the Americas targeted Mayan women during the Guatemalan civil war in the early 1980s), spare a thought for other women who experience violence due to armed conflict in Afghanistan and elsewhere is a real lesson in humanity. It highlights, in my opinion, that beyond differences of culture, nationality or class, these women are aware of being the female victims of male violence. Would you agree with this interpretation?
Translated by Émilie Robertson
Je te remercie de ta question. Oui, le travail de Teresa Margolles a été au cœur de nos discussions sur l’orientation que devrait prendre ce numéro spécial de Spirale. À l’origine, nous avions l’intention d’aborder directement la violence systémique contre les femmes autochtones au Canada, mais l’œuvre puissante de Teresa nous a incités à ouvrir la discussion et à parler de violence faite aux femmes au sens large. Les épreuves que traversent les femmes des Premières Nations du Canada sont semblables à celles auxquelles sont confrontées les femmes autochtones à travers le monde dans leur lutte pour l’agentivité. Le travail de Teresa évoque aussi le rôle des femmes en tant que bâtisseuses de communautés. Le fait qu’elles aient toujours réussi à se frayer un chemin dans l’histoire – tout en portant et en élevant des enfants, en bâtissant des foyers et des communautés face à la répression patriarcale, à l’assujettissement et à la violence – témoigne de leur force et de leur résilience.
Les mouvements de contestation initiés et dirigés par des femmes, tels que #MeToo, Black Lives Matter et Idle No More, se caractérisent par un double militantisme. Tout en contestant une situation politique particulière, ces mouvements visent à transformer les mentalités et à en appeler à la fin d’un monde mené par les hommes et par la violence. Des événements récents, tels que les manifestations de Standing Rock, font voir la résistance tranquille des femmes devant la violence d’État perpétrée à coups de canons à eau et de véhicules blindés; plus près d’ici, les Algonquins ont tenu tête aux bulldozers dans le parc de la Vérendrye, leurs corps formant une barrière humaine contre les coupes à blanc. Dans ces cas et dans d’autres (Oka, Elsipogtog, Ipperwash, pour ne nommer que ceux-là), les femmes portent la parole du territoire tout en mobilisant leurs communautés.
À l’échelle mondiale, la violence de genre qui a historiquement ciblé nos corps est maintenant dirigée contre notre Terre. Les États et les multinationales voraces déciment l’environnement tandis que les effets des changements climatiques menacent de dégénérer jusqu’à devenir incontrôlables. La culture du viol et le capitalisme vont de pair : ce sont deux armes de guerre contre nos corps et notre planète. Parallèlement, le progrès social est ponctué de contrecoups réactionnaires qui visent à réaffirmer l’ordre établi. Au Québec, des groupes comme La Meute s’inscrivent dans un vaste mouvement nationaliste blanc qui se bat contre l’avenir. Nos voisins du Sud ont élu un Prédateur en chef plutôt qu’une première femme présidente, et dans tout le monde occidental, des personnes terrifiées (lire : des hommes blancs) s’attaquent à la démocratie, car ils préfèrent voir renaître le fascisme que d’accepter que les femmes, les Autochtones et les personnes de couleur se dotent d’une véritable agentivité.
Tout au long de l’histoire, les femmes ont rencontré, sur tous les plans, des obstacles effarants à leur sécurité et à leur succès. De la discrimination salariale au harcèlement sexuel et au viol, en passant par le trafic humain, les déplacements forcés et le féminicide, les femmes continuent de lutter pour l’égalité, traçant la voie vers un monde équitable et post-capitaliste. Et peu à peu, le monde change. Comme l’écrit Steven Pinker dans son livre Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, le xxe siècle a vu d’importantes avancées partout dans le monde, comme la montée de l’alphabétisation et la chute du taux de pauvreté extrême. Néanmoins, il reste beaucoup de progrès à accomplir. Grâce à leur savoir et à leur sagesse matriarcales, les femmes nous guideront vers un avenir où tous et toutes seront relié.e.s par l’esprit de communauté, de coopération et de collectivité, et où nous partagerons le monde de manière entièrement équitable.
Traduit par Luba Markovskaia
Nadia Myre is an Indigenous and Québécois artist from Montreal who is interested in having conversations about identity, resilience, and politics of belonging. A graduate of Camosun College (1995), Emily Carr University (1997), and Concordia University (MFA, 2002), Myre has received numerous awards, including the Banff Centre for Arts Walter Phillips Gallery Indigenous Commission Award (2016) and the Sobey Art Award (2014). Recent exhibitions include Nadia Myre: Code Switching and Other Work (Glasgow International Biennale, 2018) and Tout ce qui reste / Scattered Remains (Montreal Museum of Fine Art, 2017). In 2017, Myre became an assistant professor and the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Art Practices at Concordia University.
Jean-Philippe Uzel is a professor of art history at the Université du Québec à Montréal and member of the Montreal hub of CIÉRA – Centre interuniversitaire d’études et de recherches autochtones. His area of expertise is history and theory of modern and contemporary art with a focus on the relations between art and politics. It is from this angle that he has been exploring contemporary North American Indigenous art for almost twenty years. Early in 2018 he published a study for the Conseil des arts de Montréal titled Pratiques professionnelles en arts visuels issues de l’autochtonie et de la diversité à Montréal and in 2018 he edited an issue of the magazine Captures on the notion of “Indigeneity” in literature and contemporary visual arts.
Each iteration of a mass-violence phenomenon corresponds to specific places and objects that characterize and symbolize it. With the thousands of victims of the Syrian conflict, we associate, among other things, smashed residential buildings and bombed hospitals; with migrants trying to reach Europe, makeshift boats and perfunctory life jackets; with those making their way to the American border, border walls, arid landscapes, and empty water bottles; with genocides of Indigenous peoples, contaminated blankets, residential schools, and golf courses; with violence against African Americans, armed police officers and overpopulated prisons; with terrorist attacks, airliners and vehicles used as ramming weapons. But what places and objects would be characteristic of mass violence against women? This violence is taking place at such a scale, is so ubiquitous and has been so for such a long time, and intersects with so many other forms of violence among those listed above that it seems almost useless to try to locate it on the fine markings of a scale or to identify specific objects that embody it. “We have to follow the things themselves, for their meanings are inscribed in their forms, their uses, their trajectories,” wrote Arjun Appadurai in 1986. “It is only through the analysis of these trajectories that we can interpret the human interactions and calculations that enliven things.”
The analysis of the trajectory of spatial objects involved in mass-violence phenomena was the subject of two exhibitions presented simultaneously at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, which were the starting point for the Topographies de la violence de masse project, of which this publication is part. Teresa Margolles’s exhibition Mundos highlighted certain objects that somehow gave materiality to the violence against women and transgender people in Mexico, whether it was by moving the remains from a house abandoned by the family of a dead woman, by recovering the neon lights from an old bar in Ciudad Juárez—the city where so many women were murdered—by photographing the ruins of dance floors in discotheques previously visited by transgender people who are now dead, or by archiving the wanted posters put up by the families of women who have disappeared. Margolles, taking on the role of medium, was able to make places and objects speak.What they had to tell us was frightening. My exhibition Et maintenant regardez cette machine looked at a range of different roles played by “war hotels” in the representation of conflicts. When a conflict breaks out, and when it is possible, international journalists swoop in to cover the event. They tend to gather in the same hotels to live and work. That is where they meet up with other protagonists of the conflict, thus endowing these places with a strategic function.
During the different stages of Topographies de la violence de masse—exhibitions, day-long seminars, a conference, film screenings, and reading the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada—we wondered how seemingly innocuous spatial objects such as houses, schools, walls, trees, boats, clinics, cameras, and smartphones, to name just a few, could be transformed into dangerous tools, used against those whom they were supposed to help, even to the point of denying their very humanity. In parallel, we observed that in order to escape the polarization of the media between unrepresentability and spectacularization, a great number of artists and filmmakers become topographers by describing, recording, and portraying the traces of this violence in places that are steeped in it, directly or indirectly.
As part of my research on war hotels, I had identified this aspect of the instrumentation of conflict representation as another “power-knowledge” institution. Here, I was following the concept developed by Michel Foucault, who established close parallels between certain spatial objects and discourses related to power. In Archaeology of Power (2002), Foucault defined discourse as a communal opinion that emanates from a series of “statements,” which are not sourced exclusively in linguistics. In Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1995), he wrote, “Surveillance is expressed in the architecture by innumerable petty mechanisms” that strengthen knowledge and, by implication, a certain form of productive power. Consistent with my research on the agency of war hotels as aid spaces, my current film project explores the 4×4 vehicles used in humanitarian missions and the aid that they help deliver. These vehicles are often painted white, signalling the possibility of assistance and of finding refuge. They transport representatives of expertise and skill, as well as equipment and medication. In this sense, they confer power upon those who drive them. The “all-terrain” nature of the vehicles enables them to reach remote zones, and their technical capacities create ways of being and acting: used as a tool, they produce means of action and ways of thinking. The 4x4s are objects and spaces that define distinctions between the privileged and the afflicted, between the helpers and the helped, between the powerful and the weak. The closed space of the car is a protected and mobile space for those who come and go, who are there with no obligation to be there or stay there.
Shipment of equipment for a Red Cross emergency mission. Red Cross Emergency Items catalogue.
Preparatory research for the film took me to Haiti, which I chose because it is the country hosting the largest number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the world. Some Haitians even call their country, ironically, the “Republic of NGOs.” There, in February 2018, a scandal broke out involving management employees of the humanitarian organization Oxfam, who had hired Haitian sex workers for parties in their official villas during the aid mission following the earthquake of January 2010 that killed more than 230,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless. These actions were universally condemned. Oxfam, which was aware of them at the time they took place, was criticized for not reporting them to the local authorities, as prostitution is illegal in Haiti and international organizations are required to respect the laws of the countries in which they operate. Many people also commented that there was nothing new or surprising there, and that abusive sexual conduct by certain employees of humanitarian aid organizations was common, even systemic, and had been for many years (Khan,2018; Aziz, 2018). In the colonial era, it had been claimed that white men living in the tropics suffered from what CharlesWoodruff, an American army physician in the Philippines, called “tropical neurasthenia,” the symptoms of which included melancholy, alcoholism, paranoia, and sexual deviancies (Woodruff,1905). In other words, due to heat and humidity, cultural confusion, and lack of distractions, white men succumbed to the temptation of having sex with local women.
These habits developed in the colonies were maintained and adapted in the era of humanitarian aid. In 1995, a guide for humanitarian workers written by the United Nations Agency for Refugees (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR) recognized the involvement of international humanitarian workers in cases of sexual violence against refugee populations and noted that in many cases, sexual services had been required in exchange for assistance, food, or attribution of refugee status. My search for spatial objects that characterize violence against women therefore involved following humanitarian aid itself—which, in a complete reversal of expectations, is sometimes used to exploit rather than help the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
In 2002, a report by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services acknowledged the existence of a large-scale problem of sexual exploitation in West Africa, defined in the report as a situation in which an employee of an NGO or international humanitarian aid organization in a position of power uses this power to demand sexual services in exchange for goods, food, or services that refugees would otherwise have the right to receive free of charge. How can we fathom that exploitation of and violence toward women, including minors, can exist in parallel with humanitarian aid? This aid is deployed with major logistical assistance from organizations that—theoretically—hold universal human rights values at their core. Entities such as Oxfam and the UNHCR develop processes for reflecting on the ethics of intervention, the results of which are published year after year in guides and detailed reports (Rowlands, 2014). For instance, Oxfam has published 1,458 documents on the question of gender, 582 on issues of governance and citizenship, 471 on human rights, and 212 on inequalities. This plethora of publications helps to reinforce the impression of both the general public and accreditation bodies that these organizations are in complete control of the ethical process involved in their interactions with vulnerable populations. One can assume that such trust tends to reduce the level of vigilance that might otherwise make it possible to detect certain abusive and exploitative behaviours more quickly and effectively. It is therefore understandable why the Haitian government, when it withdrew Oxfam Great Britain’s NGO status on June 13, 2018, also announced that a bill was being prepared to authorize better oversight of the activities of NGOs working in the country.
Mechanisms for detecting and controlling sexual exploitation can be effective only with the full cooperation of international NGOs, which are mandated by privileged populations to provide aid to vulnerable ones. The former are responsible for ensuring that this mandate is respected on behalf of the latter. Therefore, they must receive the necessary information, and the external oversight mechanisms must function properly, so that results of internal inquiries are not quashed, as they were by Oxfam in Haiti. It is important for the media to ensure that NGOs are held responsible for their actions in their different missions in the field, within the legislative frameworks that vary from country to country. NGO workers’ continuous presence in what can be very dangerous territories makes them particularly important to journalists, who count on these contacts to organize the logistics of their travels and provide them with information for their reports (Meyer et al., 2018). In the early 2000s, when the United States invaded Iraq, there was strong criticism of the practice of embedding journalists: because they were travelling with American troops, they were able to see only one aspect of the conflict and were totally dependent on the military for all aspects of daily life (transportation, provision of food and lodging, access to communications technologies). This proximity and dependence raised the fear that a sense of complicity would develop between soldiers and journalists and that the latter would be less rigorous in their reporting of the actions of the former. Similar questions should be asked about the relations between the media and international NGOs.
In contexts in which the rape of women is used as a weapon of war to terrorize and control populations, arriving in refugee camps should mean, for persecuted populations and for women in particular, the end of exploitation and the beginning of a return to a situation in which their physical and mental integrity is no longer threatened. The presence of humanitarian aid organizations in areas that have become lawless zones sometimes offers local populations their only hope for improving their living conditions, or even for survival. It is clear that this state of affairs places humanitarian workers in a position of power over disadvantaged populations. Abuses of power are so frequent that simply sanctioning the offending humanitarian workers is obviously not enough. The problem lies upstream, in the governance structures of these NGOs.Because 79 percent of the activities of international NGOs are conducted in low- or middle-income countries and 66 percent of their leaders, a large majority of whom are men, are of European origin, it is urgent, even before subsidies to NGOs involved in sex scandals are cut,that these organizations challenge their own governance structures, too many of which are run by white men. This will enable international NGOs to consistently apply their values of respect, equity, and equality in their field missions, and to ensure that the trajectory of the aid provided does not lead to more violence.
Translated by Käthe Roth
Appadurai, Arjun, ed. (1986), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspectives,Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Aziz, Shaista (2018), “As a Former Aid Worker, I’m Not Shocked by the Oxfam Revelations,”The Guardian,February 12, 2018.
Foucault, Michel (2002), Archaeology of Knowledge, Translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith, London and New York, Routledge. Originally published as L’archéologie du savoir(Paris: Gallimard, 1969).
Foucault, Michel (1995), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Translated by Alan Sheridan, New York, Random House. Originally published as Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison(Paris: Gallimard, 1993).
Jarboe, Norma (2012), Charity Leaders 2012: Benchmarking the Participation of Women in the UK’s Largest Charities, U.K., WomenCount. https://womencountblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/women_count_report_2012.pdf.
Khan, Mishal S. (2018), “Oxfam: Sex Scandal or Governance Failure?,” The Lancet391 (10125), 1019–20.
Licha, Emanuel (2018), “On Re-enacting a Hotel Space,”Intermédialités,no28–29 (Fall 2017–Spring 2018). https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/im/2016-n28-29-im03201/1041089ar/.
Licha, Emanuel (2017), “Un hôtel de guerre est bien plus qu’un bâtiment, In Et maintenant regardez cette machine, Montreal, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 73–78.
Meyer, Christoph O., Eric Sangar, and Eva Michaels (2018), “How Do Non-governmental Organizations Influence Media Coverage of Conflict? The Case of the Syrian Conflict, 2011–2014,” Media, War & Conflict 11 (1), 149–71.
United Nations (2002), Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the Investigation into Sexual Exploitation of Refugees by Aid Workers in West Africa. http://www.un.org/news/dh/infocus/a-57-465.pdf.
Rowlands, Jo. (2014),Making the Impossible Possible: An Overview of Governance Programming in Fragile Contexts, Oxfam GB. https://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/making-the-impossible-possible-an-overview-of-governance-programming-in-fragile-331984.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (1995), Sexual Violence Against Refugees: Guidelines on Prevention and Response. http://www.unhcr.org/publications/operations/3b9cc26c4/sexual-violence-against-refugees-guidelines-prevention-response-unhcr.html.
Woodruff, Charles (1905), The Effects of Tropical Light on White Men, Rebman Company. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924029901208.
 The practice of embedded journalism consists of incorporating journalists into a military unit on which they depend for transportation—and for survival. See Stephen Farrell, “Embedistan,” New York Times, June 25, 2010; Terence Smith, “The Real-Time War: Defining News in theMiddle East,” Columbia Journalism Review 42 (May/June 2003): 26–28.
 For example, among the largest NGOs in the United States, fewer than 14 percent are led by women, as compared to 27 percent in Great Britain. See Jennifer T. Nozawa, “The Glass Ceiling of Nonprofits: A Review of Gender Inequality in U.S. Nonprofit Organization Executives,” policy brief, Center for Public Policy & Administration(University of Utah, 2010); Fairouz El Tom, “Diversity and Inclusion on NGO Boards: What the Stats Say,” The Guardian,May 7, 2013; and DonnaBryson, “Diversifying NGO Leadership,” Stanford Social Innovation Review (Spring 2013).
 Vulnerable populations will still pay the price. As a result of the scandal involving Oxfam Great Britain in Haiti, the British government cut off part of its grants. For more information, see Nick Hopkins, “Oxfam to Axe Jobs and Aid Programmes in £16m Cuts after Scandal,” The Guardian,June 15, 2018.
Emanuel Licha is an artist and filmmaker, with an education first in urban geography and then in visual arts. In his films and video installations, he explores the roles of certain sites and spatial objects as mediators in the representation and comprehension of geopolitical events. He envisages objects in the urban landscape as social, historical, and political indices. In his recent projects, he challenges the means used to observe and report on violent and traumatic events. Licha holds a doctorate in visual cultures from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a professor in the department of art history and film studies at the Université de Montréal.
This article was principally based on the global study “Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace: A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325” (hereinafter called Study on 1325) mandated by resolution 2122 of the Security Council in order to take stock of the application of resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions about women and their protection during conflicts involving the UN.
Other reports and studies on the subject were consulted, but few were as exhaustive, as frankly written or as resolutely feminist as Study on 1325.
The United Nations Security Council convened a committee of experts to assess the related resolutions 15 years after the application of resolution 1325. The acknowledgement of failure is scathing and the recommendations, numerous. By summarizing this 2015 study, I will attempt to retrace the steps of the resolutions that aimed to involve women in decisions regarding peace and conflict resolution, as well as in the fight against the rape of women and girls as a war weapon. While I agree with many of the observations and recommendations made by this important study and analysis commissioned by the Security Council, I would argue that it is the paradigm used by the United Nations in developing and implementing the resolutions that is flawed at its very root and will fail to foster the involvement of women in decision-making processes, the protection of women and girls against individual and collective rape, and conflict prevention.
RESOLUTION 1325, A FEMINIST VICTORY
With the adoption of resolution 1325 in 2000, for the first time ever, the United Nations Security Council recognized that war and conflict impacted women and girls differently, and recognized the importance in joining forces with them at every stage of a conflict, as well as specifically targeting the sexual violence that often targets them. This is shown in a Wikigender article (2012): “It is generally agreed that resolution 1325 hinges on four implementation pillars: 1.Prevention: preventing a resumption of conflict and all forms of structural or physical violence against women and girls. 2. Participation: women taking part in the decision-making process at every stage of prevention, conflict management and resolution, within national, regional and international mechanisms.3. Protection:the security, physical and mental integrity, and economic independence of women and girls, as well as the respect of their fundamental rights are guaranteed.4. Rescue operations and recovery efforts: the particular needs of women and girls being met during the rescue phase (in refugee camps, for example) and post-conflict recovery efforts, including transitional justice.”
It should be pointed out that the adoption of thisresolution was preceded by a long appeal from feminist groups around the world and was celebrated as a great victory for women’s equality:“It came about thanks to a truly global collective of women’s organizations and defenders and became one of the strongest organizing instruments. Its adoption was a historic step and a major victory after decades of activism that resulted in a revolutionary idea, an idea that became the standard around the world and the official policy of the highest authority charged with maintaining international peace and security. This simple yet revolutionary idea is based on recognizing that lasting peace isn’t possible without the full inclusion of women and is inseparable from gender equality.”
Many researchers (Miller et al.,Women in Peace and Security Through United Nations Security Resolution 1325: Literature Review, Content Analysis of National Action Plans, and Implementation,2014) reckon that the Security Council’s adoption of resolution1325 is testament to a shift in terms of women’s right to equality, which began with the adoption of the Beijing Action Plan in 1995, at the United Nations’ fourth conference on women. Following this conference, the women’s movement went from demanding the right to equality to a fight to cement women’s right to equality. The unanimously adopted Beijing Action Plan stipulated that states must systematically conduct gender mainstreaming before adopting laws or public policies in order to ensure equality between men and women, and that public funds serve the needs of women as well as men.
Moreover, the action program adopted during the Beijing Conference in 1995 decried rape against women as a systemic atrocity that remained largely unpunished, and the report showed that women accounted for 80% of the world’s refugees.
The feminists and pacifists who fought for the adoption of resolution 1325 were convinced that without the involvement of women and without taking into account the specific needs of women during conflicts, lasting peace was impossible. They truly believed that including women in every step of conflict resolution could make a difference for peace.“When women spoke up in favour of a program for women, peace and security (WPS) before the Security Council in 2000, they insisted that preventing war be the foremost priority on the Security Council’s agenda, along with recognizing their ability, as women making up half the world’s population, to resolve the complex issues of international peace and security.”
Ever since resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000 and up until 2013, six other resolutions concerning women and peace were adopted by the Security Council—resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013).
It is important to appreciate the impact of the change of approach that led the United Nations Security Council to systematically consider women’s right to equality. The adoption of this resolution, by its intention and symbolic weight, created hope that preventing conflicts would become a priority, that sexual violence against women and girls would cease, and that women’s needs would be taken into account, as would their involvement in conflict resolution.
In the wake of the adoption of resolution 1325, the International Committee of the Red Cross presented a meticulous study titled Women and War (2002). This inquiry showed without a doubt that women make up a larger number of conflict victims because of the systemic sexual inequality already existing in the country or area at war. The fact that women are often the symbolic custodians of culture and of patriotic and family honour also means that they’re a major strategic target during conflicts.
This situation still exists, as the authors of Study on 1325 observed: “Crises exacerbate pre-existing discrimination against women and girls, reducing their chance of having access to the most basic rights, including the right to healthcare, education, food, housing and even a nationality.”
This, in a nutshell is the context surrounding the adoption of this resolution and those that followed. The adoption of these six resolutions by the Security Council encouraged other multilateral organizations to pass similar resolutions, such as the European Union, the African Union, and NATO.
FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT THE RESOLUTION
Since resolution 1325 was adopted, there have been some promising results. Previously, only 11% of peace agreements mentioned women, compared to 27% after 2000. In 2014, the UN noted that 50% of peace agreements mentioned women in the context of peace and security.
Despite the hope raised by these resolutions, the chief author of Study on 1325 comes to the sad conclusion that there has been very little progress in terms of the protection of women and girls against violence, especially in regard to sexual violence, conflict prevention, and the participation of women in peace negotiations.
In 2010, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recognized the difficulty in bringing about the inclusion and protection of women and girls during conflicts:“But today we must admit that we have failed to build sufficiently on these conceptual foundations. Women still face obstacles to engagement at all stages of the peace process. Sexual violence remains an all-too-common tactic of war and often continues well after the guns fall silent.”
Even after this clear-headed admission, the UN was unable to tackle obstacles to applying resolutions in order to help women become instruments of peace by acting as negotiators and mediators, ensuring sexual violence is condemned and punished and the specific needs of women and girls during and after conflicts is taken into account.
The conflict in Mali, although recent, is an example that shows the considerable difficulty in including women as protagonists on the same level as men, as the Study on 1325 highlighted:“A dozen co-mediators, notably the UN, EU and AU, are currently taking part in the peace process in Mali, but the chief mediator and several co-mediators have not prioritized the participation of female representatives in the peace process, despite the significant mobilization of Malian women. Their reticence is justified by cultural arguments, concern that it would delay negotiations, and a preference for limiting women to the reconciliation phase, after the agreement has been concluded. The diplomats involved in the international mediation team are all men over the age of 55. The 100-person delegation from three organizations taking part in talks and negotiations include only five women, and the number of women in the mediation teams is equally negligible.”
In 2017, the assessment of the protection of women and girls, their participation in security and peace processes, and conflict prevention is also negative. The latest report from the UN Secretary General to this effect, in October 2017, is terse: “Despite the transformative power that this question could stir, the clear and detailed roadmap proposed in the recommendations of the global study about women and peace and security in 2015, the 2015 inquiries into questions of peace and security, and the increasing need to find effective solutions to world problems that keep getting worse, we are still far from implementing priorities concerning women and peace and security in any concrete manner.”
These terrible results produced a strong reaction from the Secretary of the International Organisation of the Francophonie, Michaëlle Jean (2017): “How many more resolutions, studies, meetings of high-level independent groups and expert advisory panels before we’re done with this shameful figure of 9% of women among the participants of some 30 major negotiations in the past 25 years? What are we afraid of? Being more efficient?”
This declaration by the IOF Secretary General expresses the disappointment of women and organizations that work towards implementing the Study on 1325 and the UN’s Women, Peace, and Security agenda.
But why does achieving these goals seem impossible, even utopian? The Study on 1325 identifies several problems that prevent the protection of women and girls and their inclusion as partners in managing and resolving conflicts.
Among the causes mentioned by the authors of the Study on 1325, the lack of coordination among the UN’s various actors, combined with the lack of integration of comparative analyses of the sexes in the UN’s bodies, including the Security Council, is noted.
On the systematic rape of women as a war crime, the Study points out that, despite a comprehensive legal framework, perpetrators of rape and gender-based violence are rarely prosecuted at the international level, and even less so at the national level. Once the conflict is over, these crimes go unpunished.
Finally, the meagre financial resources allocated to women’s groups and to questions of peace by or for women are also identified as a source of the problem. Only 6% of aid is intended for women in fragile countries and of that, only 2% is intended for peace and security.
PATRIARCHY AND THE MILITARIZATION OF CONFLICTS: THE TRUE CAUSES OF FAILURE
However, according to the author, the number one obstacle to the participation and protection of women is indisputably the militarization of conflicts. The Study recommends that the UN support conflict prevention, which is the best way to involve women at every stage and allow them to exercise leadership that is otherwise silenced when militarization is chosen: “No to militarization, yes to prevention! The clear conclusion that came from consulting women around the world as part of the Global Study is that we must put an end to the current cycle of conflict militarization and the exorbitant military spending that goes with it, and that the international community and member states must only intervene militarily as a last resort.”
The chief author of the Study reminds us that preventing conflicts is a guarantee for women’s right to equality, which in turn influences whether civil or regional wars emerge. Contrary to the military approach, the preventative approach touches on the causes of war while supporting peaceful methods to ensure the respect of people’s rights:“As we had previously noted, an increased level of domestic violence is often a sign of increased violence in general, and it has been revealed that increased risk and vulnerability to aggressions outside the home are indicators of a nascent conflict.”
The Study shows that social status and economic inequality are often the cause of conflicts that degenerate into war and are ignored when seeking solutions.Furthermore, Study on 1325 expertsconclude that women’s inferior position (due to culture or religion) are reinforced by conflict: “Resorting to violence as a normalized way of settling differences can be explained by militarism and militarized masculine cultures that underscore political decision making. Militarism takes forms other than merely traditional armed conflict. […] On a more fundamental level, militarism serves to perpetuate and enforce respect of structural inequalities that exclude women and girls from the public good while consolidating their exclusion and marginalization, and brings together all the larger ingredients for inequality that increase the risks of violent conflict.”
As a feminist, it is fair to conclude that the main reason why it is impossible to apply resolutions such as resolution 1325 is the fact that we aren’t tackling the patriarchal system that holds sway over the societies where these conflicts occur. The UN tries to apply these resolutions without questioning the place of women in these societies and their gendered roles, or the minorization of women, which plays an important role in the violence they suffer. Also, waiting for the emergence of conflict to fight the patriarchy is completely pointless because conflict is fuelled by patriarchal power structures and ways of organizing society.
The chief author of the Study on 1325 addresses the socioeconomic systems that prevail before conflicts as fundamental to understanding women’s situations during wars. However, the Study does not specifically identify the patriarchal system as the way of organizing socioeconomic relationships within conflict areas and as the inherent cause of the systematic rape of women and girls, their exclusion from key positions in resolving conflict, and the lack of consequences for those responsible for sexual violence. The Study quotes the Special Rapporteur handling the question of sexual violence committed during conflicts, Zainab Hawa Ganbura: “If women aren’t protected in peacetime, they will be even less so during a conflict. It’s clear that the problem of sexual violence doesn’t occur by accident, but is related to the structure of the society and community.” The author adds: “Prevention strategies require recognizing and better understanding the scope of gender-specific influence, gender relations, and gender inequality on the potential for conflict.”
The Study puts forth the idea that the fight for female equality is a way of preventing conflict and that the patriarchal system underscoring the norms, religion and local culture are obstacles to women’s specific needs being taken into account. But denouncing the patriarchy and fighting for women’s equality do not appear as ways to fulfill the goals of the UN resolutions in question.
It is fruitless to hope to bring women to the table as decision makers when they are still considered minors in their own country. They are always the poorest, the least educated, and subject to a patriarchal system that imposes men as legal guardians and makes women beholden to older men: fathers, husbands, brothers or brothers-in-law.
Unfortunately, as anthropologist Françoise Héritier established in her research (Masculin/Féminin. La pensée de la différence,1986 and “Qu’est-ce que l’Homme ?: 100 scientifiques répondent”,2012), the patriarchal system, which deems women to be inferior, is a universal fact dating from Palaeolithic times and still in effect today. She showed man’s will to have mastery over women’s bodies in order to exert control over heirs, and it is this will that leads to the literal appropriation of women and their permanent dependence on a man. This system, as she said in 2012, “is also accompanied by the appropriation by specific men of specific women and the will to have exclusive use of [their] sexual, procreative and productive abilities, and thus a right to subjugation that goes so far as to include murder.”
It is fundamental to recognize that the patriarchal structure, which still characterizes most of the world and particularly areas at war, is at the root of the impossibility of applying and deploying measures to implement resolution 1325 and the others that followed.
Moreover, the patriarchal model is evidenced in the militarization of conflicts. The colossal sums invested to militarize conflicts and the minuscule amounts allotted by the United Nations to questions related to women and peace are also consequences of a traditional and outmoded approach that clearly does not yield results. As demonstrated throughout the Study and the record of the last 15 years of resolutions, not to mention all the other documents consulted, we cannot but conclude that resolution 1325’s objectives have failed.
The authors of the Study and the committee of experts demonstrate great insight and frankness at the end of the report: “Despite abundant evidence showing the benefits that can be reaped from investing in women in terms of preventing conflicts and crisis and peace interventions, the inability to allocate sufficient resources and funds may represent the biggest and most persistent obstacle to the implementation of the program for women, peace and security over the last 15 years. The scarcity of funds for the WPC program is a reflection of the enormous lack of financing worldwide for gender equality.”
The UN and its members must face the facts. As long as women’s equality is not a right respected around the world, such resolutions will never bear fruit. Fragile countries must be given priority in terms of receiving aid to fight the patriarchy, above all! As the Study showed, in countries where women enjoy the greatest equality, there is less war, less violent conflict and women are active in keeping the peace. When the approach involving gender equality is discarded, conflicts are militarized, as commanded by the patriarchal society, which decrees that women are inferior. The UN must change its paradigm and seek women’s equality if it wants to achieve the objectives of its laudable resolution 1325.
It is clear that the gender-neutral approach leads to systematic militarization, which is as ineffective in creating lasting peace as it is in ensuring the participation and protection of women.
Translated by Émilie Robertson
Ban, Ki-Moon (2010), “Women integral for peace, Ban stresses,” UN News. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=36526#.WmdsyJOdXjA
International Committee of the Red Cross (2002), Women and War,ICRC. https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/women_war_special_report_8-3-03.pdf
United Nations Security Council (2000), Resolution 1325 (2000) adopted by the Security Council at its 4213th session, October 31, 2000, S/RES/1325. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/ods/S-RES-1325(2000)-E.pdf
United Nations Security Council (2017), Secretary General Report on Women, Peace and Security.http://undocs.org/en/S/2017/861
Héritier, Françoise (1996), Masculin/Féminin. La pensée de la différence, Paris, Odile Jacob.
Héritier, Françoise (2012), “Qu’est-ce que l’Homme ? : 100 scientifiques répondent,”Sciences et Avenir, n° 169.
Jean, Michaëlle (2017), “Speech by Michaëlle Jean in New York, October 27, 2017,” International Organisation of the Francophonie.
Miller, Barbara, Milad Pournik and Aisling Swaine (2014), “Women in Peace and Security Through United Nations Security Resolution 1325: Literature Review, Content Analysis of National Action Plans, and Implementation,” Working Paper 13, Institute for Global and International Studies, Washington, DC, George Washington University.
UN Women(2015), Preventing Conflicts, Transforming Justice, Securing Peace: A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.http://wps.unwomen.org/pdf/en/GlobalStudy_EN_Web.pdf
Wikigender, UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
Christiane Pelchat is a lawyer specializing in administrative law, human rights, and women’s equal rights at the Novalex law firm in Montreal. She is also an external member of the Chaire Raoul-Dandurand at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Former Quebec delegate general to Mexico, she has also been country director of the UN National Democratic Institute of International Affairs in several countries in West Africa. From 2006 to 2011, she was chair of the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec. She received the Women of Distinction Award from the Women’s Y Foundation of Montreal in 2011, the Medal of The Bar of Montreal in 2012, and the Prix Condorcet Dessaules, awarded by the Mouvement laïque québécois, in 2012. She was appointed a Fellow of the Montreal Institute of International Studies in the fall of 2018.
Few intellectual works about the genocide that decimated Rwanda in 1994 take a feminist approach to understanding the victimization of women in that context. Yet within the Tutsi genocide was a large-scale feminicide. Attacks against Tutsi women have a particular character, at the crossroads of gender, ethnicism and colonialism. Highlighting the importance of understanding the power dynamics at work during violent episodes, this text uncovers a central cog in the genocidal machine dealing with the gendered construction of the enemy, as the female enemy appears different from the enemy plain and simple.
My research about the experiences of women who escaped the Tutsi genocidei in Rwanda stemmed from a desire to understand not only how and why a million people were massacred, but also how and why hundreds of thousands of women and girls were raped during those 100 days, from April 6 to July 4, 1994 (according to the tragedy’s official timeline). Facing such excess, there has been a strong temptation to invoke collective madness, the barbarity of a “naturally savage” Africa, or a frenzy unleashed by “black furies.” This absurd vision tinged with the orientalism contained in certain interpretations of machete genocide has perhaps not yet been sufficiently denounced.
One key to understanding these events can be found in the thinking that categorizes the 1994 genocide and sexual torture as a crazed and unpredictable outburst of violence. The rationale that drives mass violence cannot be found in an individual or their character. “Facing the extreme,” to borrow the title of a Tzvetan Todorov essay (1994), “the explanation will be political and social.” In general terms and as many feminist works have expertly shown, the psychologization and pathologization of violence tends to individualize social realities at the expense of an analysis of the power dynamics that make acts of cruelty possible. Feminists have also exposed the limits of the war rape theory as a spontaneous or individual act, challenging the myth that invokes the overpowering instincts of men supposedly frustrated by war and its privations.
Neither genocide nor feminicide are uncontrollable calamities—they are entirely controlled situations, executed by order of political, military, or religious authorities. Considered as acts of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, sexual violence was an integral strategy and tactic deliberately employed in order to repress and destroy the enemy, both individually and collectively. The very concept of genocide, which appeared during the Second World War, “to describe and analyze the immediate reality of a large-scale extermination, emphasizes a specificity in the thinking and the doing” (Bernard Bruneteau, The Century of Genocides: Violence, Massacres and Genocidal Processes from Armenia to Rwanda, 2004).
THE TUTSI COCKROACH: CONSTRUCTING PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE
In his study of extreme violence, Jacques Sémelin (2002) analyzes constructs of the Enemy developed in order to destroy It, based on the imaginary opposition between “Them” and “Us,” that are extremely polarizing in situations of (pre)genocide. To understand how these men, and sometimes even women, from Rwanda, a tiny culturally and linguistically homogenous country, came to commit such monstrous acts, it might be useful to examine the representations of Tutsi women, figures of the Other deemed responsible for political and economic problems. The Rwandan state orchestrated a process of stigmatizing the Tutsi enemy, on the pretext of preventing them from re-establishing the monarchy overthrown during the Hutu Revolution of 1959. In the years leading up to the genocide, most of the Rwandan population had neither land nor employment, and made up a lumpenproletariat of delinquent, unemployed, and homeless people, who could not marry, nor achieve the same status that their parents enjoyed. Beyond socioeconomic misery, many specialists explain the mass response to the calls for genocide by pointing to the exaggerated obedience of an illiterate population to authority and the intelligentsia.
The Rwandan Hutu elite, whom African scholar Jean-Pierre Chrétien calls “the well-dressed assassins,” did not wait until April 1994 to call upon the Hutu population to unite and track down the common enemy. As journalist Maria Malagardis said in 2012, “A genocide never happens without warning, without some signs of what’s to come. It asserts itself in stages, testing the reaction to violence. The weaker the reaction, the greater the impunity to go further and hit harder.” The transfer of hatred from the political enemy to the Tutsi happened gradually but inevitably, starting in the 1960s, marked by pogroms and the assassination of various opposition politicians with the full knowledge of the international community.
In the 1990s, extremists set in motion a formidable propaganda machine to convince the Hutu population of the danger posed by the Tutsi. The media of hate galvanized the masses by evoking the coming genocide of Hutu, the majority group presented as victims of the minority Tutsi hegemony, referred to as serpents and inyenzi (cockroaches). Tutsi soldiers were also depicted with horns or a tail in popular illustrations. By virtue of a conspiracy theory employing bestial representations of the enemy to dehumanize the Tutsi, this minority group became the common enemy onto whom one’s rage could be discharged with impunity. Dehumanization is a classic strategy for both genocide and male violence towards women, “an essential phase to remorselessly carry out acts of cruelty,” as Patrizia Romito (2006) put it.
WHEN GENOCIDAL PROPAGANDA TARGETS TUTSI WOMEN
The study of the process of demonization and dehumanization shows that the ethnicist message was combined with misogynous representations to incite people to murder and rape Tutsi women. The collective demonization of the Tutsi was combined with local mythology that attributed an almost malevolent charm to women of that “race,” regarded as arrogant and tyrannical. Deemed “different” from Hutu women, “haughty and inaccessible,” but also portrayed as husband-stealers, Tutsi women became the incarnation of evil. The extremist ideology called on Hutu people to exterminate inyenzi and other “snakes,” and specifically targeted women, responsible for their proliferation. Amplified by organs of hateful propaganda, such talk crystalized ethnic hate and hatred of women, a kind of Rwandan-style rape culture.
The extremist journal Kangura (Wake Others Up) published The Ten Commandments of the Bahutu in 1990, considered a pivotal text in the Tutsi genocide. This sordid Decalogue revolves around three central figures of the genocidal ideology: the malicious Tutsi, the naive Hutu, and the Tutsi woman, venal agent “in thrall to her ethnic group.” In February 1994, a caricature titled “General Dallaire and his army have fallen in the trap of the femmes fatales” appeared in Kangura, showing two half-dressed women embracing a character who is recognizably Dallaire, under the watchful and complicit gaze of one of his soldiers. Several months earlier in December 1993, there was another caricature along the same lines in the extremist paper Power. It explicitly illustrates an orgiastic scene in which a United Nations soldier has his head between the legs of a naked woman who is fellating a second Blue Beret, who is guzzling milk squirted from the left breast of a second woman, also nude, while she is being straddled by a third UN soldier. Like The Ten Commandments of the Bahutu, these defamatory caricatures disqualify Tutsi women by reducing them to their (hyper)sexuality and their legendary power of seduction. The woman-enemy can only be envisioned as participating in the political conflict as a prostitute or a spy in thrall to her hegemony-seeking brethren.
A GENOCIDAL AND FEMICIDAL LOGIC
As the death count does not distinguish between the sexes, we may never know exact figures for the feminicide that took place in Rwanda. However, we do know that at least 500,000 women were victims of sexual violence during the three-month genocide. And sexual torture doesn’t necessarily end in murder. In such cases, the perpetrator’s aim is to ensure the victim suffers long after the attack (due to pregnancy, illness, mutilation, etc.) or feels as if she is dead, as many survivors attest. As men are murdered, women slowly agonize, even more so when they’re deliberately infected with HIV/AIDS. The goal of destroying a group or community includes the annihilation of their ability to procreate. There is also a focus on the long-term effects of shame produced by the assault and the social exclusion that follows, especially after “pure” young girls are attacked or women are made to parade nude.
Sexual violence towards women in the context of the Rwandan genocide appears as both a strategy stemming from the will to eradicate the Tutsi, and as a no less political manifestation of power dynamics based on gender. Women were the target of sexual violence because they had sought refuge in public spaces like churches or shut themselves in their homes, at the mercy of militias. Tales of survivors bear witness to the superhuman efforts made by women, weighed down by a child on their back or in their womb, to leave threatening places. This reality raises the issue about the gendered division of labour that, in wartime as in peacetime, assigns women the task of caring for children and, by extension, the elderly.
A LARGELY UNPUNISHED CONTINUUM OF PATRIARCHAL VIOLENCE
Bringing to light the feminicide woven into the Tutsi genocide involves the idea of a continuum of these cases of mass violence with assaults against women committed in “ordinary” times. Patriarchal violence does not suddenly appear alongside genocide or war, nor does it disappear with the end of such conflicts. A weapon of mass destruction during times of war or genocide, rape is the expression of the ownership rights of the male class over the female class. Therefore, to understand what can too quickly be called “war rape,” these attacks have to be seen as an extreme intensification of masculine aggression of all kinds committed against women in times of “peace.”
By highlighting the concept of feminicide, we aim to hold accountable not only the aggressors and persecutors, but also the state and institutions that normalize misogyny or play a direct role in the perpetration of violence against women. The editor-in-chief of Kangura was found guilty of genocidal crimes, including conspiracy and direct public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. Despite his leading role in encouraging sexual violence against women, he was not specifically condemned for these crimes, which simply do not appear in the indictment issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. This leads one to believe that despite judicial progress, notably in terms of the definition of sexual violence, the widespread abuse of women in situations of war or genocide is still more or less considered collateral damage. Contributing to updating the logic of feminicide committed in the context of Rwanda in 1994, the feminist perspective helps frame sexual violence as a weapon of mass destruction.
Translated by Émilie Robertson
Bruneteau, Bernard (2004), The Century of Genocides: Violence, Massacres and Genocidal Processes from Armenia to Rwanda, Paris, Armand Colin.
Chrétien, Jean-Pierre (1999), « Le Nœud du génocide rwandais », Esprit (254), p. 35-43.
Malagardis, Maria (2012), Sur la piste des tueurs rwandais, Paris, Flammarion.
Romito, Patrizia (2006), Un silence de mortes, Paris, Syllepse.
Sémelin, Jacques (2002), Analyser le massacre. Réflexions comparatives, Questions de recherche no 7. http://www2.cnrs.fr/sites/thema/fichier/analyser_le_massacre.pdf.
Todorov, Tzvetan (1994), Facing the Extreme, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.
Sandrine Ricci is a feminist sociologist specializing in sexual violence in different contexts. She is currently a member of the ESSIMU team, which investigates sexual violence in university environments. The subject of her doctoral research project is the notion of rape culture: its genesis, social representations, and contribution to feminist scholarship. She published Avant de tuer les femmes, vous devez les violer! Rapports de sexe et génocide des Tutsi in 2014and contributed to the edited books Le sujet du féministe est-il blanc? (2015) and Dictionnaire critique du sexisme linguistique (2017).
On the margins of American hyper-power, in the very heart of North America, women are dying—because they are women. In this sad geography of feminicide, the border town of Ciudad Juárez has become a symbol. In “We Want to Stay Alive”: Ending Feminicide in Juárez, Mexico, Alice Driver notes that almost fifteen hundred women have disappeared or died there since 1993. The normalization of violence, which is both generalized (eleven thousand victims of drug cartels have been counted) and specific in that it disproportionately affects women (the murder rate for women is four times higher in Ciudad Juárez than in the rest of Mexico), is now part of the reality of the border zone.
It has reached the point that many residents of El Paso—the twin city of Ciudad Juárez on the American side—rarely cross the border, and when they do, it is usually during daytime, to go directly to the airport. They no longer go there to shop or dine at a restaurant, as they had done for so many years. Yet, behind the remains of this bygone world that do not reflect the contemporary vitality of Ciudad Juárez (some of which are highlighted by artist Teresa Margolles in works such as her installation featuring the neon sign Mundos), there is the persistent normalization of violence against women.
Mundos (Worlds), 2016
Installation, neon sign from a bar in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, speaker, 87,5 x 522 x 20,5 cm
Installation view at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2017. Photo: Rafael Burillo
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich
Unique in the way that she tackles this theme and in her own proximity to the subject,Margolles puts the morbid reality of feminicide in Ciudad Juárez into perspective by bringing to light the world of the women who have died—butchered, mutilated, tortured, autopsied. Murders, mutilations, and mass graves in ditches shape the reality of this border zone, the recent history of which is tied to free trade, the establishment ofmaquiladoras,the disengagement of the Mexican state, and the grip of drug cartels such as the Aztecas. In fact, feminicide in this region—and feminicides in general—are based partly on “political, social, economic, cultural inequalities,” as Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano wrote in 2010: the true geography of this mass violence is linked to the poorest neighbourhoods, with the fewest services and street lights, around factories.
The space where this violence is expressed is important in the sense that it illustrates the close link between globalization and feminicide based on substantial changes to the role of women, which have upset the established order. Indeed, maquiladoras are instrumental in the redefinition of the place of women, in two ways. First, they offer jobs that encourage women to leave the most isolated regions of Mexico, many of which suffer from a high unemployment rate. Second, they change the structure of the job market by feminizing it, which ends up altering the very notion of the female head of family, as women are earning their own income. This upheaval of the established order runs headlong into the terms of Mexican patriarchal society, imbued with machismo and marianismo.”This socioeconomic collision offers a partial explanation for the mass violence, in a context where the brutality of the maquiladoras is in any case omnipresent—beyond the fact that at least one third of murdered women were connected to one of these factories—and ranges from the control over bodies (obligatory urine tests, inspection of sanitary napkins, forced contraception) to disappearances during trips to or from the factory.
The grip of this patriarchal culture also explains the decisive role of the state in the reality of this mass violence. It is manifested both by government inaction (corruption or denial by police officers, slowness or inadequacy of the legal system, absence of legal characterization of the facts, trivialization of homicides) and by the way in which the legal system orders and classifies homicide cases. In this context, as Amnesty International showed in a 2005 report, mass violence is anchored in institutional and state practices, which makes it systemic in nature.
Of course, the phenomenon is not exclusive to the border town of Ciudad Juárez, nor to the state of Chihuahua, nor even to Mexico. The geography of feminicides goes well beyond, extending across the Northern Triangle,including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, a space marked by omnipresent gangs, the stigma of civil wars, and internal tensions solidifying the lack of a constitutional state. And although certain countries have tried to adjust their penal and legal systems to this reality, violence against women explains, in large part, today’s feminization of migratory flows; increasingly, women, alone or with children, are undertaking the journey northward.
In this context, the gradual hardening of the American border—the strengthening of surveillance, the deportations, the erection of ever-more impenetrable walls and the intensification of patrols in zones without a physical barrier—only increases women’s vulnerability. Like all migrants, they must opt for more dangerous strategies, riskier journeys that require them to cross through hostile territory and force them to use the services of human smugglers called coyotes.
Continuous wall on the Arizona border, Douglas zone, 2016
Photo: Élisabeth Vallet
Under these circumstances, they may have to use their own bodies as a safe-conduct, submitting to the desires of the traffickers in order to gain passage—rape constituting what Ruiz Marrujo calls “the price of freedom.” In fact, the violence of migration is such that 80 percent of women and girls coming from Central America testify that they were sexually assaulted at least once during their migratory passage; NGOs estimate that the real numbers are probably higher. This explains why those involved in the migratory process suggest that women systematically take contraception—the question is not whether women will be assaulted but when—before even starting their trip.
The border weighs disproportionately on migrant women, as it defines a space both denationalized and hyper-nationalized in which women are caught in a vise. This tension logically leads to a hyper-militarization of the border area, now perceived as a conflict zone, as evidenced by the headlines on news television channels that regularly speak of the “front,” or National Geographic Channel’s “Border Wars” series. In this space, ever-more violent in the South and ever-more militarized in the North, women are exposed to exacerbated violence on both sides of the border. At a time when migratory policies in the United States and the practice of externalization of the border in Mexico strengthen this mass violence, deported women now live in fear of having to face precisely what they are fleeing in their home countries.
Barbed wire, wall, and surveillance at the border, Nogales border crossing, 2016
Photo: Élisabeth Vallet
With this in mind, artist Susan Harbage Page gathers, along the paths traced by the passage of migrants—north of the border—the objects that they leave behind: empty water bottles, jackets that become too warm when the sun roasts the desert, photographs, identity papers, and so on. But, she says, when she finds women’s undergarments, the story changes in tone: where they have been dropped, a rape has been committed. Harbage Page refers to “rape trees,” trees at the border on which women’s undergarments are hung, themselves bearers of symbolic violence, both an illustration of reality and a performative discourse exploited by border patrols to conveniently denounce the coyotes’ violence without evoking that of the border agents or the Minutemen.
Susan Harbage Page
Object No. 8. found near Brownsville, Texas, 2008,from Anti-Archive of Human Trauma on the U.S.-Mexico Border, U.S.-Mexico Border Project, 2007–ongoing
Courtesy of the artist
The vulnerability of female migrants is obvious in the North, including at the hands of border-control agents, who promise to release them in exchange for sex. Because denunciations are rare, as evidenced by the few charges laid against border and immigration agents—and given the current climate, they will be even scarcer—the agents’ feeling of impunity is real. One of the tasks of Mark Morgan, ex-chief of the Border Patrol appointed by Barack Obama, was to get rid of the shadow zone in which border patrols had no accountability: he was forced to resign by the new president in January 2017.
This violence is also state violence: it authorizes the incarceration of raped women in cold cells without treatment, forces them to give birth in handcuffs, and provides for their separation from their children after they have clandestinely crossed the border by incarcerating them and placing their children in distant facilities. In this framework, and in the contemporary context of an anti-migration administration, it follows that women are denied access even to basic services—gynecology, family planning, or abortion clinics—with little regard for whether or not they have been assaulted.
Because “culture wars” have abandoned other issues to focus on women’s bodies (through debates linked to access to pre- and post-natal care, abortion, and contraception), which have become targets of choice of American legislators at both the federal and state levels, the violence against women at the border is implicitly tolerated; further, it is systematized. Yet, in the 1990s, the visibility of feminicide in Ciudad Juárez opened the way to feminist human-rights movements that go well beyond the border zone—as evidenced by the Women’s Marches, a movement started on January 20, 2017. This resistance movement enabled Martha Patricia Castañeda Salgado to discuss, in “Feminicide in Mexico: An Approach through Academic, Activist and Artistic Work” (2016), the complexity of mass violence against women, which requires a transdisciplinary approach combining activism, academic research, and artworks.
Bissonnette, Andréanne, and Elisabeth Vallet (2017), “Migration, Border Crossing and Women: Female Migrant Sexualities Between Objectification and Empowerment,” In Women and Borders: Refugees, Migrants and Communities,edited by Seema Shekhawat and Debidatta Aurobinda, London and New York, I.B. Tauris, 151–73.
Cantú, Francisco (2018), The Line Becomes a River—Dispatches from the Border, New York, Riverhead Books.
Castañeda Salgado, Martha Patricia (2016), “Feminicide in Mexico: An Approach through Academic, Activist and Artistic Work,” Current Sociology 64 (7), 1054–70.
Driver, Alice (2016), “‘We Want to Stay Alive’: Ending Feminicide in Juárez, Mexico,” World Policy Journal 33 (4), 39–46.
Livingston, Jessica (2004), “Murder in Juárez: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Global Assembly Line,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies25 (1), 59–76.
Menjívar, Cecilia, and Shannon D. Walsh (2017), “The Architecture of Feminicide: The State, Inequalities, and Everyday Gender Violence in Honduras,” Latin American Research Review 52 (2), 221–40.
Miller, Todd (2014), Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, San Francisco, City Lights Publishers.
Ruiz Marrujo, Olivia T. (2009), “Women, Migration and Sexual Violence—Lessons from Mexico’s Borders,” In Human Rights Along the U.S.-Mexico Border: Gendered Violence and Insecurity, edited by Kathleen A. Staudt, Tony Payan, Z. and Anthony Kruszewski,Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 31–47.
Schatz, Sara (2017), Sexual Homicide of Women on the U.S.–Mexican Border, New York, Springer.
Staudt, Kathleen, and Zulma Y. Méndez (2015), Courage, Resistance, and Women in Ciudad Juárez: Challenges to Militarization, Austin, University of Texas Press.
 Maquiladoras are factories that were first set up in northern Mexico in the 1960s and have proliferated since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. They are exempt from duties on the import of goods used to assemble merchandise bound for exportation.
 This nuance has developed in the analysis of gender relations in the Latin-American world, distinguishing a “macho” culture, in which the woman submits to the man, and a “Marianista” culture, in which the woman must remain pure. See Julia Monarrez Fragoso (2008), “An Analysis of Feminicide in Ciudad Juárez: 1993–2007,” In Strengthening Understanding of Feminicide: Using Research to Galvanize Action and Accountability, meeting proceedings (Washington, DC, PATH et al.), 57–65.
 See Amnesty International (2005), Mexico: Justice Fails in Ciudad Juárez and the City of Chihuahua,and Comision para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia contre las Mujeres en Ciudad Juárez (2005), Segunda Informe de gestión – mayo 2004–abril 2005.
Élisabeth Vallet is scientific director of the Chaire Raoul-Dandurand and an associate professor in the department of geography at UQAM. She directs the Quebec section of the pan-Canadian Borders in Civilization study group and the Frontières research group of the Chaire Raoul-Dandurand – both funded by SSHRC. She is a member of the board of the Association for Borderland Studies. Her works on border walls, published by Ashgate,in the Journal of Borderland Studies, and in Études internationales, have served as the basis for computer graphics developed by The Economist, theWashington Post, and Courrier international. She received the Richard Morrill Outreach Award from the American Association of Geographers in 2017.
This contribution is available in the print issue.
In the fall of 2014, I was approached by Sylvie Paré to create a work for an exhibition she was curating as part of Printemps autochtone 2015 at the Maison de la culture Frontenac. What I remember most from our conversation is the way she reached out to invite me to collaborate on her project. Instead of picking a pre-existing work or giving me carte blanche as curators often do, she asked me to respond to her vision, which she had grounded in a piece of dreamlike prose she had written and shared with me, calling upon me to make a video work that would both respond to her dream and set the tone of the exhibition. When Jean-Philippe invited me to guest edit this special issue, I felt it necessary that Sylvie be a contributor since her curating of Oubliées ou disparues: Akonessen, Zitya, Tina, Marie et les autresis one of the few exhibitions I am aware of that is explicitly about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. What follows is a seldom-seen curatorial and creative process, nourished by dreams, events and artistic responses.
The case of murdered and missing Indigenous women also concerns us as living women. One does not preclude the other, and it is our responsibility to make their voices heard.
I decided to write this text… freely. Since this exhibition took place over a single year, I wanted to come back to these works while scoffing at the time factor that conflates past, present and future.As a commissioner invited by Les Productions Ondinnok, I created Oubliées ou disparues: Akonessen, Zitya, Tina, Marie et les autres.This exhibition attempts to consider three types of violence: the first, institutional, is that of the instruments of remembering or forgetting often embodied by museums; the second is social and media violence, such as that surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women in Canada; the third is the violence experienced within the intimate sphere, inflicted by loved ones. If exposing pieces that reveal the violence against women is perilous, writing about it is equally so. Considering some of these pieces from a poetic perspective was the only way I could discuss the violence: too present, too disturbing, it’s always more than we can bear and risks paralyzing us. That’s why I chose the literary form of the diary, which allowed me to put thoughts and inspirations to paper, but most of all to ward off night terrors, the Goya-esque ghosts flying over my body.
April 29, 2015.Today, while we were setting up the Disparition institutionnalisée installation,hundreds of kilometres away in Nova Scotia a trial was taking place for the murders of Victoria Hennebery and Blake Legette. The accused had already been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Loretta Saunders. The event coincided with the opening of the exhibition. The installation that I created includes a text inspired by Emmanuelle Walter’s book Sœursvolées: enquête sur un féminicide au Canada[Stolen Sisters: Investigating a Femicide in Canada] (Lux Éditeurs, 2014). The work is a way of bringing Loretta to life within us, to make her heard, to resurrect her. It provoked an unexpected conflict within me, a breath sent from who knows where, through the simple chain of events or by an organization unknown in time and space, a light touch, a gentle whisper, an inner voice in passing… a simple obsession related to the very process of creating.
Anonymous artist, Disparition institutionnalisée [Institutionalized Disappearance],2015
Inkjet print on canvas, wood and metal. City of Montréal art collection.
Photo: Martine Doyon
February 12, 2016. In a breath left on a mane in the sky, I’m seeking the shadows of these filthy gestures. Previously suspended, this always-swaying time mocks the inner quiet. I danced. Often beneath the trees, sometimes in the rain or gathering fog, my feet ablaze with sparks propelled me towards the sky’s black hole. My clothes spun with each step. At daybreak, I hung sacred symbols in recognition of this invisible world, perhaps destined for spirits, animal deities, entities, life forces, or something more subtle: bacteria or molecules? Back to earth, at dusk, I danced no more. My body knotted, gagged, I fainted. The shadow was watching me.
Diane Blacksmith, Shawl of Kukum, 2015
Moose hide and beaded pearls with cotton string andbirch
Photo: Martine Doyon
Courtesy of the artist
September 6, 2008. This faceless woman reminds me of all those women seeking to exist, to dive, and to surface once again in this world. The circle dance of broken bodies just keeps turning. This head has the universal face of non-existence, barely an object slipping from the hands, forgotten on the sidewalk and exposed to any use: wiping off, spitting, hitting, then sweeping it away with a final kick. This empty face can also be the receptacle of a variation of stains and lines: bruises, hematomas, scratches disappearing on the surface of the paper and reappearing, in us, in the shape of body memory. If a body is so difficult for women to bear, it’s because a body neither belongs to us nor involves us. Although we are the creators, it is a body invented for others and possessed by others. A total flattening of the very substance of living. An insult on two legs. Insult: feminine noun.
Diane Robertson, Études de corps [Body Studies], undated
Pencil crayons, red chalk, charcoal, soft pastels on sketching paper
Loan from the Fondation Diane Robertson Inc., Musée amérindien de Mashteuiatsh
Photo: Martine Doyon
Courtesy of the Fondation Diane Robertson
March 20, 2012. Everything started with a dream. One night, a reverie appeared, as a wave carried by its foam. I slept, I woke, I turned over, and the night enveloped me. I have trouble remembering, but I know it will return. It always returns, often during bafflingly trivial moments, early in the morning for example, in my car on the way to work. My spirit travels and this vision comes back to me. A road at night, very dark and scarcely travelled, punctuated by solitary streetlights that plunge everything beyond their perimeter in an even darker blackness. In the distance, I see a car with its headlights on; in front of these rays of light, young girls pass, seeming unattainable, wrecked and graceful all at once, free from danger. I think I see my niece, walking in slow motion, absorbed by the contours of the forest. The lighting is dramatic; everything seems overexposed. The whiteness, more luminous than ever, blinds me for a few moments. I try to reach her, but she can neither see nor hear me, so I slip beneath the car and come up near the windshield and write on the foggy window with the tips of my fingers: SAVE YOURSELF!
Nadia Myre, Untitled/Anonymes, 2015
Video, 8 min 5 s
City of Montréal art collection
Photo: Martine Doyon
Courtesy of the artist
April 13, 2018. When I look back, I consider the objectification of my emotions. Like a beast seeing its reflection in a river, I attempted to catch the deceptive waters’ beauties and miseries in my net. From east to west, north to south, I notice the same basic systems of oppression, the same tools of destruction, used to control, humiliate, and make the Other give up and submit. The most worrisome is that this colonial, religious, and State violence, perpetrated on a grand scale, continues to penetrate our intimate sphere (or is it the other way around?). I’ve inhabited many worlds—the world of drugs, prostitution—worked on reservations and villages up north, travelled the Americas and Europe. The harsh living conditions often felt like getting punched—and sometimes those punches were very real, like that one from a stranger in the street that time. Despite everything, I’ve experienced great moments of rapture in the face of this world’s shape-shifting reality. Nevertheless, the history of violence towards women in our societies is taboo, tucked into some kind of blind spot. While recently the tide has begun to turn, the statistics of female victims of violence would overshadow those of any war.
Translated by Émilie Robertson The exhibition Oubliées ou disparues: Akonessen, Zitya, Tina, Marie et les autresis at the Musée de la civilisation in Québec City until February 2019. I’d like to thank all the artists involved in that exhibition: Lise Bibeau, who left us in December 2017, Sylvie Bernard, Diane Blacksmith, Hannah Claus, Mariette Manigouche, Nadia Myre, Annette Nolett, and Diane Robertson. This project was made possible by the support of La Boîte Rouge Vif, which coordinated the exhibition’s cross-Canada tour and created a cultural mediation kit that contributed to a better understanding of these social issues by allowing each to become an influential actor in order to inform, raise awareness and deconstruct prejudices stemming from intercultural relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. La Boîte Rouge Vif is an Indigenous non-profit organization founded in 1998. The exhibition tour and the mediation kit were financed by Heritage Canada’s Museums Assistance Program, the National Indian Brotherhood Trust Fund, the Canadian Council for the Arts, the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec and the Secrétariat à la condition féminine.  With the exception of April 13 and 29, the dates in this text correspond to a disappearance or murder. To our stolen sisters: Marilyn Rose Munroe, 41; Shannon Alexander, 17; Maisy Marie Odjick, 16; Rowena Mae Sharpe, 38; and all the others.
Sylvie Paré is a Huron-Wendat Métis artist. She holds a doctorate in adult education (specialty in museum education) and a master’s degree in museology from the Université de Montréal. She has been curator of contemporary Indigenous art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She received a grant from the Millennium Arts Fund of the Canada Council for the Arts for La chaîne d’alliance,a work inspired by her Huron-Wendat and European heritage. As guest curator, museographer, and artist, she organized the exhibition Oubliées ou disparues: Akonessen, Zytia, Tina, Marie et les autresat the Maison de la culture Frontenac in 2015; the exhibition is continuing at the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City until February 2019.
This contribution is available in the print issue.
In the collective work Keetsahnak: Our Missing and Murdered Sisters,Métis artist and activist Christi Belcourt reflects on the origins of the Walking With Our Sistersproject. Of all the disturbing posters she saw go by on social media and along highways, one photo moved her. The faces of two young women, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, missing from the Maniwaki area in Québec, reminded her of her daughter. Out of a surge of empathy for the loved ones of missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people, Belcourt created a commemorative art project. In 2012, she initiated Walking With Our Sistersby launching an appeal over social media to bring together works that pay tribute to those who are gone. She called on loved ones, artists and anyone touched by the subject to decorate moccasin vamps. By only choosing the tops of the shoe, Belcourt sought to symbolize the unfinished, interrupted lives. This also allowed her to invoke traditional Indigenous female artistic knowledge.
Over the following year, the participative process was structured by the digital medium and local initiatives. The public Facebook group Walking With Our Sisters is a dynamic space with over 22,000 members who can recruit, network and share every step of the project despite geographic distances. Furthermore, over 65 beading groups were started to transmit know-how, share creative processes, and teach the basics of the craft. On the Walking With Our Sisters website, 1,763 pairs of vamps have been submitted by nearly1,300 participants. All of these pieces are now part of a travellingcommemorative exhibit. The vamps are placed directly on the floor so that the public can walk alongside the women represented, bringing to life the title Walking With Our Sisters(WWOS). The WWOS organization is focused on decentralization and horizontality by means of a national organizing committee consisting of artists, activists, and educators, created in order to coordinate this large-scale project. The installation is shown in communities that organize locally to welcome it, involving 24 cities and reservations to date. This makes it a truly travelling exhibit, crisscrossing Canada and the US exclusively by land.
In Keetsahnak,Christi Belcourt explained that she offered Elder Maria Campbell tobacco in order to get her advice about how the project should play out. Campbell and Belcourt are both Métis, artists, and activists. They both also share the desire to reassert the value of female networks woven by Indigenous communities in order to face feminicide.
The main objective is to honour the murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people. From the moment the Sacred Pouch is brought into the space, the community begins a ritual process that ensures the protection of the sisters, as well as the installation’s sacred items. For the feminist Indigenous author Paula Gunn Allen, the term “sacred pouch” comes from Indigenous oral traditions—the first mythical women, such as Spider Grandmother (or the Spider Woman or Old Woman), possessed sacred pouches, baskets that held spirits, creatures, plants, and natural elements that they sang to in order to keep them alive. A woman named by the local organizing committee, preferably a grandmother, watches over the sacred pouch until the installation takes place. Morning and night, she sings and purifies it by burning medicinal herbs, like sage and sweet grass. When the contents of the installation are put in place, volunteers must respect certain protocols, such as fumigation and avoiding having any physical contact with the pieces (by wearing gloves at all times and not standing over or straddling the vamps). During the exhibit, the public is required to remove their shoes, turn off their phones and put away their cameras. A watchwoman invites them to purify themselves and hold a tobacco pouch as they go through the installation, which is then left in a box at the exit. The watchwoman is available to share, discuss, and listen. The participants explain that these rituals ensure the protection of the “sisters,” while encouraging the public to show respect to the murdered and missing women. The vamps become active, living objects through their relationship with the public as well as with the volunteers and watchwomen, who thus earn the status of sisters. In this sense, they are essential actors in the collective healing process.
As Julie Perreault posits in Féminisme du care et féminisme autochtone: une approche phénoménologique de la violence en Occident[Care feminism and Indigenous feminism: a phenomenological approach to Western violence], women creating community spaces that are consistent with their values is in itself an answer to the systemic violence leading to the erasure of their existence. These places become rallying points that allow them to experiment with taking power and speaking up (be it verbally, visually, musically, etc.). Indigenous women who mediate the presentation of WWOS ensure that the presence of the dead is recognized and felt by forging bonds of empathy between the public and the works. Several participants said that this task is a significant commitment requiring daily emotional preparation. Some added that the essential job of supporting and caring for each other within the local organizing committee allowed them to get through the public presentation of Walking With Our Sisters. Moreover, through this dialogue motivated by mutual care, the Indigenous female mediators encouraged reciprocal symbolic recognition and re-examined the violence that targets them. Indeed, one of the effects WWOS has had for non-Indigenous people is to humanize the missing and murdered women beyond mere statistics. Lucie DuFresne, a participant I spoke to, expressed it clearly: “One of the women in Ottawa arrived in tears [during the exhibit] with a pair of vamps. A few days earlier, there had been a news report that the body of an Indigenous woman was found in suspicious circumstances. In reaction to this, she made vamps using plastic garbage bags and embroidered ‘I am not a piece of garbage’ […] on them. The exhibit helped her deal with her feeling of helplessness and, in a sense, emotionally involve others in the same release. It was a cry from the heart. How many women have felt like that, at one time or another? ‘I have value, even if you do not see any value in me.’”
SUPPORTING FAMILIES AND LOVED ONES
The second objective is to support the family members and loved ones of missing and murdered people and to make them feel comfortable and welcome in the installation space. The participants underscored the challenge posed by the context of the city of Ottawa, the national capital and an urban centre that includes several Indigenous communities. It was impossible for local organizers to acknowledge each and every family member and loved one. To counter this difficulty, several community discussions were held in preparation for the installation opening that dealt with creating a safe and inclusive space for all. These discussions helped recognize the various life paths of the missing and murdered people in order to avoid reproducing forms of stigmatization and rejection. Several subjects were broached, including alcohol and drug use, sex work, and Two-Spirit people. Gabriella Richichi Fried, a non-Indigenous participant who was one of the co-leaders of the local organizing committee, discussed the project’s underlying considerations for family and loved ones: “There was a focus on family members and we all made sure to take care of them. But how many people went through the lodge who are survivors? How do we take care of those people not necessarily knowing who they are? How many people are family members who didn’t identify themselves as family members? So, it was central and foundational to care for each other. There was an understanding of trauma and how trauma affects people. And […] it meant taking care of the sisters in that space as well.”
For many participants, getting involved with WWOS helped them look back at their own family history and realize the extent to which the situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women hits home. This realization makes way for a transformation within communities in the face of feminicide. As Julie Perreault explained, solidifying community bonds based on family systems is a central issue among Indigenous feminists. It’s in these specific, even traditional forms of networks that they draw their political strength.
RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS
The installation’s third objective is to raise public awareness, creating a collective and societal wake-up call anchored in caring for others. Several participants mentioned that WWOS led to feelings of unease and discomfort. Everyone deals with their suffering, pain, and grief in their own way. I was particularly interested in the outlook suggested by one participant, who viewed the emotional experience differently: crying is a healthy process that purifies the body of what it’s going through—difficult thoughts and emotions. I noticed the important role emotions played in WWOS, be it through tobacco pouches given to the public as vessels to infuse with their thoughts and feelings, tissue boxes placed within easy reach around the room, or the presence of watchwomen and a contemplation room near the installation. Reconnecting with one’s emotions is a necessary step in getting through personal, collective, and intergenerational trauma.
For Julie Perreault, the cornerstone of patriarchal violence as problematized by care and Indigenous feminists is the gendered separation of care and emotion, which produces sexist and colonialist power dynamics. By proposing a holistic vision that seeks balance between the psychic, emotional, spiritual, and political spheres, these types of feminism help offer a countermodel celebrating the emancipation and empowerment of women.
The interpersonal and emotional dimension is fundamental for understanding the community process that is at the root of Walking With Our Sisters. Caring for your fellow humans helps bring the project’s three objectives together, i.e. paying tribute to the missing and dead, supporting families and loved ones, and raising public awareness. Each vamp wordlessly shows the unique story of a person who was dear and who is now gone, and serves as an emblem of collective suffering. The ambivalence between biography and allegory helps draw parallels between individual memory, memories, and values. The vamps become objects that weave together personal and collective ways of remembering, as well as those of families and communities. These stories show the significance of the loss of family, community, and cultural bonds, and the loss of dignity and self-esteem, but they also show the courage, resilience, and resistance of survivors in the face of atrocities.As Louise Profeit Leblanc explained in an interview, while for some people grieving is not yet possible, the fact that people have taken the time to create and donate vamps is in itself an act of generosity and kindness. In this way, WWOS is a river of healing.
Translated by Émilie Robertson
Anderson, Kim; Campbell, Maria and Belcourt, Christi (2018). Keetsahnak: Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters,Edmonton, University of Alberta Press.
Perreault, Julie (2013). Féminisme du care et féminisme autochtone : une approche phénoménologique de la violence en Occident,Thesis, University of Ottawa.
Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) (2017), “About.” walkingwithoursisters.ca/about.
Julie Bruneau is studying for her master’s degree in art history (concentration in feminist studies) at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her thesis is on the art installation Walking With Our Sisters, a community project commemorating the Indigenous femicide. She is a member of the Centre interuniversitaire d’études sur les lettres, les arts et les traditions, the Centre interuniversitaire d’études et de recherches autochtones, the Groupe de recherche interdisciplinaire sur les affirmations autochtones contemporaines, and the Équipe de recherche sur les spiritualités amérindiennes et inuites.
Nadia Myre et Jean-Philippe Uzel
Sébastien Dulude, Zéa Beaulieu April
Sébastien Dulude, Brigitte Faivre-Duboz, Kevin Lambert, Véronique Leblanc
Véronique Leblanc, Daoud Najm
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