Understanding and Resisting Gender-Based Violence

In June, the AAA released its latest report on the 2016 member survey, “Sexual Harassment: A Stubborn Fact of Anthropologists’ Work Life?” This report provides an opportunity to propose concrete actions that members of our discipline can take to build an anthropology community that is safe and equitable for all its members.

Figure 1: How well does your institution handle claims of sexual harassment? Daniel Ginsberg

The report summarizes the responses to the hostile workplace, sexual harassment and sexual assault experiences section of the 2016 Membership Survey. The results are uncomfortably unsurprising. Among survey respondents, about one in three women, and 15 percent of men, experienced some form of unwanted behavior in their workplace, ranging from sexual remarks to assault. Among those who experienced these behaviors, only 22.7 percent reported them. They also tended to have a much less favorable impression of how their institutions handle claims of sexual harassment (Figure 1), with an astonishing 41 percent of men and 45 percent of women surveyed responding, “I don’t know / Not applicable.”

These responses reiterate the persistence of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in anthropologists’ work lives and the need to establish and support safe working and learning environments. We encourage anthropologists to learn the literature to help us understand gender-based violence; build a community to respond to and prevent violence; and make a statement establishing shared norms and expectations.

Learn the Literature

Understanding how anthropologists theorize, investigate, and work with communities about issues of sexual harassment, discrimination, and violence provides useful frameworks for our professional communities. Of note, Madelaine Adelman’s Battering States: The Politics of Domestic Violence in Israel chronicles the intersection of statecraft and domestic violence, analyzing the mechanisms of state authority and the impact on victims, frontline workers, advocates, and state agents. By engaging with multiple actors involved with domestic violence at different levels, she exposes the invisible ways in which constituents respond to domestic violence.

Our own communities also include a broad scope of constituents affected by violence, harassment, and discrimination, and we must engage as many people as possible in solution building. Considering these issues through an anthropological lens also compels us to connect them with larger political-economic arrangements that influence identity and power within our communities.

We must acknowledge the persistence of sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault as a social problem.
Build a Community

Responding to and ultimately preventing hostile experiences requires collaboration. To support safe and equitable environments, anthropologists can get to know the colleagues responsible for responding to complaints, understand the organization’s policies and procedures, and work with frontline responders to ensure that all complaints are properly and compassionately addressed.

In nonprofit, government, and private settings, Human Resources or contract entities serving multiple workplaces often house responsive entities. “Equal opportunity” or “affirmative action” officers often outline workplace expectations, and investigate discrimination and harassment complaints. In educational settings receiving federal financial support, US Department of Education guidelines require a Title IX coordinator to take on these responsibilities. Study abroad coordinators also communicate expectations and respond to complaints when students, faculty, and staff travel for educational purposes.

Make a Statement

Statements about establishing safe, equitable, and violence-free workplaces and learning environments are a useful way to share expectations. These statements can be posted in laboratory or office facilities and on course syllabi, as this example from an Eastern Kentucky University syllabus illustrates:

The Anthropology Program is committed to supporting and encouraging safe and equitable educational environments for our students. Students are expected to be civil and treat each other with dignity and respect. As such, harassment and/or discrimination of any kind will not be permitted or tolerated.

Contact information for campus and local authorities for reporting harassment and/or violence concludes the statement.

Several professional organizations have adopted statements, including the AAA’s Statement of Professional Responsibilities, the Society for Applied Anthropology’s Commitment to Safe and Equitable Work and Educational Conditions, the Society for American Archaeology’s Statement on Sexual Harassment and Violence, and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists Statement on Sexual Harassment and Assault. Membership often approves such documents, which in turn provide an informed starting place to create institution-specific statements.

We encourage anthropologists to mobilize around learning the anthropology literature on violence, harassment, and discrimination; getting involved in prevention and intervention; and creating safe environment statements. We must acknowledge the persistence of sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault as a social problem. As a community of researchers, teachers, colleagues, advocates, and activists, we advance research concerning these issues, bring people together to create and maintain safe and equitable working and learning environments, and ultimately contribute to the alleviation of suffering caused by violence.

Further readings

Beske, Melissa. 2016. Intimate Partner Violence and Advocate Response: Redefining Love in Western Belize. Lexington Books.  

Mulla, Sameena. 2015. The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention. New York University Press.

Jennifer R. Wies, PhD, is professor and chair at Ball State University. She co-edited Applying Anthropology to Gender-Based Violence and Anthropology at the Front Lines of Gender-Based Violence.

Daniel Ginsberg, PhD, is Manager of Education, Research and Professional Development at AAA.

Cite as: Weis, Jennifer R. and Daniel Ginsberg. 2017. “Understanding and Resisting Gender-Based Violence.” Anthropology News website, September 8, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.618

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Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.