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					                      **This article reflects only the views of the authors and not of CARE**

good women bad women
Addressing violence in women’s lives by examining social constructs of gender
and sexuality within CARE

Veronica Magar1 and Graeme Storer2

At CARE’s regional violence against women meeting, the question arose - can we empower
women and protect them simultaneously? Are these not dual and contradictory goals?

CARE has been exploring ways to address underlying causes of poverty and social inequity
with an emphasis on gender and power for the last several years. A review of the literature,
documentation of our violence against women projects, consultations with regional activists
and a four-day synthesis meeting enabled us to explore ways to understand and strengthen
our work in the Asia region. For some time we have been concerned that an emphasis on
mainstreaming gender within development work has resulted in ‘gender’ losing its edge and
sharpness as an analytical tool. As we explored power relations within the context of gender
inequities, we also came to realize that sexuality was a missing component of our analysis,
and that omitting a sexuality orientation further restrained ‘gender’ as both transformation
and resistance concepts. In this paper we discuss how country offices are taking steps to
incorporate sexuality into gender programs and development more widely. We describe
what we mean by sexuality and sexual rights and how sexuality can be approached through
a gender lens, in the Asia region at CARE. In particular, we focus on violence against
women, as an entry point to addressing sexual rights and women’s empowerment.
From victims to women with agency
Shifting perceptions from woman as victim to woman as agent requires that we move away
from blaming men to examining social constructs that control women and in fact also weigh
heavily on men. By taking an approach in which we defend women, largely but not only
                                     through criminal-justice and legal policy, we inadvertently
  “CARE has an explicit focus on     frame women as needing protection (Miller, 2004). An
  women. It is not about
                                     approach such as this runs the risk of reinforcing gendered
  undermining or not recognising
                                     power relations - the very constructs we want to transform.
  other groups but we can make a
  choice and say „we are about this, Social change and women’s empowerment become
  reducing violence against women‟.” tangential to the urgency of changing laws and
                                     criminalizing male violence perpetrated against women.
  Usha Kiran, CARE India

1   Sexual and Reproductive Health Advisor, Asia, CARE International
2   Senior advisor, Learning and Organizational Development, CARE International

Moreover it sets women in polar opposition to men when in fact collective community
efforts are called for.
CARE-Cambodia is exploring concepts of pleasure and sexuality in the context of their youth
reproductive health programs. The Play Safe project works with young men, at risk of
perpetrating violence against sex workers. In so doing, it helps them re-examine normative
constructs of masculinity. Through most significant change story-telling methods and a
subordinate-dominant diversity lens, young men look at and acknowledge their potential
contribution to promoting gender equity as well as the limitations (and dangers) of these

In India and Vietnam, CARE staff are challenging constructs of the ‚ideal‛ and ‘typical’ man
and woman with the aim to confront widely held perceptions of the ‚victim woman‛ and the
‚violent, womanizing husband.‛ Cartooning exercises help in identifying ways men and
women conform to the idealized gendered (and sexualized) image of man and woman.
Identifying social behaviour that is considered more ‚typical‛ has led us to discussions on
                                                   definitions lying underneath the cartoon
                                                   representations. For example, the fair, quiet and
                                                   obedient Indian housewife disinterested in sex,
                                                   widely considered the idealized woman in rural
                                                   Indian communities in Uttar Pradesh, is often
                                                   required to play the victim role. CARE’s workshop
                                                   processes provided a space for women participants
                                                   to openly discuss experiences of pleasure and
                                                   power during sex, despite role expectations
   From a cartooning exercise with CARE staff with
      MSM group in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
                                                   otherwise mentioned. As one mother-in-law related,
                                                   ‚the vagina never gets old.‛ Similarly, the imagined
                                                   and idealized muscle-laden Indian husband
wearing a thick moustache is often prescribed to be violent, idle and negligent, a widely held
perception within Lucknow rural communities. Interestingly, cartooning exercises among
truckers and conductors revealed many men often feel vulnerable in relation to sex and not
all men are violent. As one man reported ‚the art of sex is *actually+ women’s power, not
men’s. It is man’s biggest weakness… not being able to please a woman is a man’s biggest

Social constraints against sexuality restrict women’s
                                                                 All of the things which society
mobility                                                         says make a „good woman‟
The ways in which violence against women is                      contributed to women‟s deaths
associated with constraints on mobility and linked               [during the tsunami].             with
sexuality was starkly revealed during the Tsunami in             Sunila Abeyesekera,               Sri
Lanka. Reports show that an over-represented number              Inform, Sri Lanka                 of
women were killed during the Tsunami. CARE’s

violence against women program and sister organizations facilitated forums in which men
recounted stories of their painful realization that the deaths of their sisters, mothers, wives
and daughters were a result of patriarchal systems in which they were complicit. Unlike
men, women were rendered less mobile. They could not climb trees. They would not run
unclothed when the wave tore off their clothing, opting instead to crouch in shame. Other
women, who had never walked outside their home alone, were too disoriented to know
where to run when it was urgent to do so. Others waited respectfully for the men in their
family to transport them to safety.

Social and vulnerability mapping exercises in northern Uttar Pradesh India has revealed that
like Sri Lankan women who died in the Tsunami, regulation of sexuality among sex workers
and young women is closely linked to restricted mobility and violence. Sex workers
encounter abuse as they assume sexual agency in public space, who report extreme levels of
state-perpetrated abuse when selling sex in streets, parks and railway stations. Similarly,
restriction on young women’s mobility is manifested by reports from community members
in Uttra Pradesh that young women are getting married earlier and earlier. The recurrent
reason for this, according to both adults and youth, is fear by the family and community that
a young woman will succumb to sexual desire and become pregnant when she steps
unprotected outside the boundaries of her home. She carries the burden of chastity not only
for herself but her entire family. As one young woman reported, ‚I must stay home and obey
my parents to protect their honour.‛

Social mapping exercises conducted by CARE and groups of young women in India revealed
that the costs a young woman pays by yielding to restrictions on her mobility includes loss of
opportunities to formal education, increased early pregnancy and greater exposure to
violence. Women’s restricted mobility leads us to a critical question. Is it possible that
women’s restricted mobility may be more about protecting a woman’s virtue than protecting
her against impending violence or unintended pregnancy?

Application of protection: implications for rights-based interventions
Working in communities in which restrictions on women’s mobility exist should lead us to ask
ourselves something more fundamental. That is, are we protecting women or protecting
women’s rights (Miller, 2004)? Gender-equity and sexual health programs have focused largely
on women’s vulnerability, emphasizing danger and violence with the consequent (and
assumed) need for protection. But this is only half of the equation. The other side of women’s
sexuality concerns pleasure and exploration, potentially leading to women’s agency (Vance,
1992). Indeed, if women are denied mobility to protect family honour then it may be that
                                        providing opportunities to expand women’s erotic spaces, as
 Pleasure brings people closer together described by Ratna Kapur (2005), may represent formerly
 and makes our relationships more       unrecognized pathways to their liberation (Vance, 1992).
 intimate. Sex is not just penetration
 there is a whole body attached to the
 penis or vagina.
 Sophea Khun, CARE-Cambodia                                                                       3
 (transcript from Radio WMC,
Work in this area requires us to facilitate transformation of social norms and cultural values
related to women’s and men’s sexuality—which, we hypothesise, will ultimately promote
sexual practices that are safer within a context of choice, less violence and greater agency
among both women and men. CARE Cambodia held a pleasure workshop for their
reproductive health program staff. When asked to speak about safer sex on a youth talk-show,
CARE Cambodia’s youth reproductive health project manager proposed to speak about
pleasure instead of expected narrations of condom use. She felt it was important to inform
Cambodian youth about non-conventional safer sex practices. On air she reported, ‚There are
other ways to practice safer sex - one does not have to have penetrative sexual intercourse to
reach orgasm; there are many places on the body that could give us pleasure.‛ This statement
led to flurries of phone requests from the audience who asked for information on the (so called)
dangers of masturbation and pleasure.

Similarly, body mapping exercises with CARE staff, government and rural and urban women
and men in Lucknow, India and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam revealed that after initial
embarrassment, there was a strong sense of connection and liberation when the participants
identified sources of pleasure, power, shame and vulnerability among themselves. Working
together and supported by development agencies, young men and women are provided space
to build solidarity related to common concerns. In the context of sexuality, young women in
urban Lucknow, India reported, on our own we cannot do much, but if we come together in a group,
we can do a lot. Together we can change society.”

“Other” sexualities
Definitions of gender as they relate to sexualities have helped us understand both concepts
more fully. We recognize that individuals who do not conform to gender and sexual norms
have either been rendered invisible or considered unimportant, despite severe forms of
violence perpetrated against them. Sex workers, gay men, lesbians and transgendered
individuals all deviate from normative gender roles in many societies worldwide. According
to Sunila Abeyesekera (Director of Inform, A Human Rights Dcoumentation Center in Sri
Lanka), ‚if you understand gender not just as a social construction of oppositional views of
masculinity and femininity, but …as a continuous and changing process, then talking about
gender-based violence allows you to address the range of violence that is inflicted on people
of diverse genders and sexualities…. It shifts the understanding of male/female possibilities
for everyone to have fluid, changing sexual identities.‛

This statement offers food for thought as allow ourselves to understand social behaviour
outside boundaries of what is considered normative. For example, participatory exercises
that took place in Vietnam among vulnerable groups, including sex workers, youth and
people living with HIVAIDS, were asked to rank group categories (ethnicity, age, marital
status and non-normative sexual identities) according to power and privilege. We found that
gays, lesbians, and sex workers consistently were ranked lower than categories falling within
normative sexual behaviour, such as ‚married woman without children‛ and ‚young boy.‛

Lesbians generally ranked lowest, just under gay men, perhaps demonstrating gendered
perceptions of power and privilege among minority sexualities. We also recognized, when
redefining gender more broadly, that the nature of violations perpetrated against women
and others are affected not only by gender, but also by caste, class and religion among other
constructs associated with exclusion. CARE Bangladesh has responded to this challenge by
seeking out ways to co-engage Imams and legal aid organizations around violence against
women and women’s mobility and security as an entry point to more sensitive issues related
to dowry and women’s inheritance rights. At the same time, the Gender Equity and
Diversity Advisor is leading discussions within CARE about the centrality of diversity to
CARE’s programming. In a recent diversity workshop, a male to female trans-sexual staff
spoke out about the support she had received from some colleagues when joining CARE as
well as the ridicule and gossip she had had to bear.

Gender-based violence or violence against women?
Re-examination of these definitions led us to examine the     Many women choose to
                                                              marry because it provides
differences between the meanings of ‘gender-based
                                                              them with a standard of
violence’ and ‘violence against women’. On the one hand                                    the
                                                              living and some security –
more inclusive term of gender-based violence provides         in return, they provide sex. an
entry point for people with sexual orientations that fall     This is the same reason that
outside societal norms to obtain social support and           many women choose
government accountability when they encounter                 sex work.
violence. But re-shifting the focus to gender-based           Jayasree Kumaran,
violence carries with it the potential risk of losing the     CARE-India
emphasis on women, who experience a disproportionate
amount of violence situated largely within the private domain. CARE Sri Lanka’s former
violence against women program represents one such example. In re-defining itself as a
gender-based violence program, the doors opened to a wider beneficiary base which
included men and children. However, half way into the program most of the cases and
interventions were focused on child abuse interventions with little discussion about violence
against women. Anecdotal stories revealed that staff felt it was much easier and safer to
address child abuse than to tackle power issues related to women’s rights.

A similar phenomenon has been observed in the CARE Cambodia Play Safe project
(described above), which was originally designed as a project working with male youth and
later, was shifted to work with both young women and men. This shift was motivated by
the understanding that we need to find ways to break down the opposition between women
and men and to bring them together in conversations. The end result though has been that
more difficult conversations, those about patriarchy and dominance, have been watered
                                  down or even overlooked. One reason for this is that the
                                  cultural norms for what is appropriate conversation for
  Violence is often caused by
                                  groups of men and women together constrain the open
  oppression of „deviance‟, as a
                                  dialogue we are looking for.
 backlash against challenges to the
 social norm.”
 Andrea Roderick, CARE-UK                                                                        5
By the end of our gender-based violence synthesis meeting, participants agreed that there
was no one easy solution to defining our work, that we should not constrain ourselves to one
definition, but should continue exploring, probing and communicating together.

Sex workers, stigma and strength
CARE programs reveal that stigma against sex workers remains deeply entrenched and
contribute to recurrent violence they encounter. Such discrimination, however, can not be
isolated from the underlying causes related to stigma and other kinds of inequities including
class, sexual choices, gender and HIV status. Through their HIV program, CARE Bangladesh
                                challenges negative perceptions against sex workers and
  Some people sell dead skin to accompanying biases among CARE staff as well as the larger
  make shoes, we sell live skin community.
 for your enjoyment; why
                              As part of a larger social process, stigma and discrimination are
 should we be discriminated for
 this?                        manifested largely by violent acts against sex workers. They are
 Reported by sex worker-      not isolated phenomena or the expression of individual attitudes,
 collective leader            but rather social processes used to create and maintain social
                              control over sex workers and thereby to produce and reproduce
social inequality. As one sex worker reports, ‘*local hooligans+ are prepared to kill us if they
want...‛ Resistance through sex workers’ collective strength is evident through the development
of two Bangladeshi civil society organizations, Durjoy and Nari Mukti Shangha. Cooperative
resistance opens a space for political participation which in this case challenged the underlying
causes of violence —namely, stigma and discrimination. The work of both Durjoy and Nari
Mukti Shangha has provided a space for talking about women’s right to sexuality. This has
been invaluable in informing our own understanding of the sexual rights framework and the
links between prohibitions on sexuality and violence.
                                                               For myself, I struggle with finding
                                                               a safe space to look at the issue of
Engagement of the “self” to advance gender and
                                                               being a good woman or a bad
sexuality work                                                 woman, within my cultural norm.
CARE’s global gender and diversity work has revealed           Even within our country office. I
that it is through personal challenges that we can obtain      want to enlarge the safe space so we
programmatic changes and ultimately shift an entire            can talk more about other things,
organization. Country offices are beginning to include         especially gender and sexuality.
concepts of pleasure and sexual rights in creating             …„am I a bad woman if I talk
                                                               about that? Should I say that
programs which promote women’s agency, reflected by
                                                               openly?‟ How can we talk openly,
images of resiliency rather than victim-hood. At the global    and not be judged?
level, the gender advisor is developing a gender and
                                                               CARE Staff
sexuality curriculum for country directors and senior

Exploration of sexuality has until now remained largely unexplored within the development
community. We firmly believe/posit that development practitioners must begin to explore
these areas of inquiry in order to become more equipped to address the root causes of
violence women encounter in Asia. But while there has been much success in building
awareness and commitment in CARE country offices, particularly among field staff, the
political climate and individual sensitivities around sexuality remain points of concern. Some
senior staff complain that we are focusing on gender and sexuality at the expense of technical
quality in reproductive health programming. As one reported, ‚How can you discuss
pleasure when women are dying of maternal deaths by the thousands?‛ Added to this, the
conservative climate among donors is causing us to re-examine how much to engage
deliberately in sexuality interventions.

Obviously, the combination of concerned staff and traditionalist focus areas of the
development community requires us to begin doing our work differently. We have had to
reflect and take stock. When things go wrong, we have learned to ask how we are
contributing to the problem. We now recognize that interventions need to be measured and
slower than we had hoped. We understand that passion and zeal sometimes create
resistance rather than reception. But we are also learning to view resistance as a sign of
engagement, to appreciate where people are starting from, and to look for collaborative
strategies while being true to our stand. Kartini, the Asia Representative for Network of
Sexwork Projects and a transgender activist in Malaysia, advises thus: ‚we look for points of
agreement and collaboration and by doing so we co-opt important stakeholders who then
become our allies.‛

The key here is to continue to enrol others in our conversations, working slowly and
deliberately while using gender and reproductive health as entry points to addressing sexual
rights. The CARE Cambodia staff (above) who decided to speak out on public radio about
sexuality and pleasure did not approach the challenge lightly. She first talked to her
husband and colleagues about what she was planning and the possible backlash associated
with breaking a norm about what is considered appropriate female talk. She informed the
radio manager and her supervisor in advance, so that there would be no surprises. She held
on to her conviction throughout. Later she spoke of the pride she felt. As women who
challenge ‚acceptable‛ behaviour often see, speaking out does not come without a cost.
Another staff person in the same office, for example, reported how men in the office distance
or make light of sexuality work. During a training on sexuality, she reported male staff as
taunting her, saying ‚you are the sexuality expert, then you can practice this.‛

Developing a Community of Practice in Asia
Learning through reflective practice is a way forward. Through a few pilots CARE is
integrating gender and sexuality interventions at the community level. Participatory,
learning and action (PLA) methods have helped us achieve greater depth and commitment
to transformation in this area at the community. On going reflective dialogues are taking

place at the country office level in India and Vietnam. These quarterly dialogues provide
space to build on intensive gender and sexuality perspective-building and PLA experiences
(Kambou, 2005). Programs are in turn enhanced through reflection. Regionally, a gender-
sexuality learning group is now emerging. Regular engagement through phone, email and
face-to-face meetings provides the space for participants to explore these new concepts, and
exchange experiences about initiating social change inside and outside CARE. Moreover, it
also allows the participants to draw strength from each other when the going gets tough.
The CARE staff and activists with whom we work continue to encourage us with their
commitment and action; and with their stand on the importance of sexuality and power,
particularly among women and girls, in the struggle against violence and other social
inequities. And they inspire us with their openness to learn, grow and change:

       “The way one of our colleagues asked herself how can I internalise this; how do I feel if
       this happens to my daughter’s life – it was really excellent, it really encouraged me and
       inspired me. If I am serious about this work I have to challenge myself; how am I going to
       internalise this, how am I going to reflect this in my life and in my household.”
                                 Male CARE Bangladesh staff

       “To all this discussion we also really need to understand the fact that people love each
       other and want to have stable human relationships no matter what point they are on in
       the sexuality and gender continuum. It is important to think about that. Remember the
       good part – that in the middle of all this, people are loving each other as best they can,
       considering everything that is destabilising and hostile.”
                                Sunila Abeyesekera, Inform