UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 7: Kathryn Barber

Today’s activist is Kathryn (‘Kate’) Barber, whose important research informs on right-wing religious ideologies. We underestimate these toxic ideologies at our peril.

Tell us about yourself!

I’m Kate Barber, a mature PhD student at Cardiff University, studying in the Centre for Language and Communication Research. I am back behind a desk after seventeen years as a lecturer in Further Education and Higher Education institutions and nearly twenty years since I was an undergraduate doing my Law degree. As much as I miss teaching, I am really enjoying the academic challenges that PhD study presents and having the chance to meet others involved in interesting research. I’ve also been able to participate in projects such as Assuming Gender, a multidisciplinary student-led project based in Cardiff, which examines issues relating to gender in contemporary society.

 I’ve been studying in Cardiff for three years now as I did a part-time Masters degree here in Forensic Linguistics before starting my PhD in 2017. During my MA, I looked at linguistic issues relating to anti-Muslim hate speech, sexual violence and harassment, rape myths, and consent in rape cases. Many of these themes also feature in my PhD research as I am currently looking athow rape and sexual assault is reframed by far-right extremists on websites and personal blogs, and how this relates to political and social radicalization. My study involves conducting a corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis on extremist online sites which intersect networks associated with the Alternative Right and those that belong to what’s known as the Manosphere (a group of sites that promote men’s rights and issues but which often includes extreme misogynistic and anti-feminist discourses). Interwoven among these networks are numerous sites that tap into extreme right-wing religious ideologies such as those associated with Christian Identity and sites run by groups identifying as Evangelical Christians and Christian Fundamentalists. By looking at how rape and sexual assault is reframed and how narratives about sexual violence on these sites are used, I’m aiming to analyse if and how the ideologies of these different groups overlap and how counternarratives can be constructed to challenge these online discourses.

 How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today?

In my opinion, The Shiloh Project is doing invaluable work in bringing discussions about religion and rape culture to the fore, especially in the way it challenges representations of sexual violence in media and within a diverse range of communities. Importantly, the project encourages collaboration between scholars, from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, who are similarly motivated to challenge sexual violence and rape culture. The Religion and Rape Culture Conference in July 2018 was the perfect example of this and offered a supportive environment within which several issues were explored by an inspiring group of academics.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

The next year involves a lot of data analysis for me but I will be following The Shiloh Project with interest as well as writing a post for their blog and getting involved in some interesting initiatives I heard about during the July conference. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to contribute some insights into the influence of extreme right-wing Christian groups on the rape culture perpetuated by far-right extremists online.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 6: Rachel Starr

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, my name is Rachel Starr and I teach biblical studies, gender and theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. Queen’s is ecumenical and we have students exploring theology, discipleship and ministry from Anglican, Methodist and Pentecostal churches.

 It would be hard to say what subject I enjoy teaching most, but I love the energy and creativity of the Masters module on global theologies and migration. Faced with the scale and complexity of migration today, we need more theological resources to help us respond to and receive from migrants. In addition, it is important to make visible the migration of traditions and communities of faith throughout history. The work of Argentine theologian Nancy Bedford has been invaluable in exploring the particular experience of Latin American women migrants and the violence they encounter along the way, as well as naming the multiple forms of resistance and strategies of survival they employ. A powerful example of communal resistance to the death-dealing structures and monstrous borders that confront many undocumented migrants is that of Las Patronas, a group of Mexican women who cook and carry food to the tracks where each day trains carrying hundreds of migrants pass by (watch here).

 I completed my doctorate at Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I learnt much from organizations such as Movimiento Ecuménico por los Derechos Humanos, spending time with local women’s groups that sought to resist and challenge both domestic, and more public forms of, violence. My book, Reimagining Theologies of Marriage in Contexts of Domestic Violence: When Salvation is Survival (Routledge, 2018) explores how Christian accounts of marriage are often static and idealized, failing to take account of violence and gender inequality within relationships.

 The work of Latin American women theologians and activists continues to inspire and challenge me. Doing theology in another language is a means of resisting dominant theological traditions and ensuring we don’t rely on familiar readings of texts and traditions. Last year, I spent a month in Central America, meeting with theologians and activists working on a range of interrelated issues: increasing access to reproductive health care, a life-or-death issue for women in Central America; facilitating debate around masculinity and violence; and challenging street harassment. The image of birds flying in front of the cathedral in the Nicaraguan city of León speaks to me of how even then most static religious structures are in constant and dynamic relationship with lived experience and movements for change.  

 How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

 The creativity, commitment and community generated by the Shiloh Project seem to me to be important resources for challenging gender-based violence. At the conference last summer, the creativity of the presentations and discussion reminded me of the gift of collaboration between academics and artists, and how creativity is often a source of resistance to violence and oppression. The passionate commitment around naming and shaming violence within the biblical texts and within our own lived contexts was energizing. In particular, I was struck bythe naming of Abraham as a rapist (see a blog post about this paper by Zanne Domoney-Lyttle here). Why is Abraham (and Sarah’s) abuse of Hagar not identified as sexual violence? It reminded me how fiercely faith communities seek to protect the male ‘heroes’ within the biblical text, and how difficult it can be to name what is clearly stated in the text. Finally, the conference enabled me to connect with other scholars and activists working to challenge gender-based violence. The welcoming and supportive atmosphere of the conference reminded me of how important I had found similar networks, such as the Catholic women theologians’ network, Teologanda, of which I had loved being part while living in Argentina.

 In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

 I’m currently working on a new edition of SCM Studyguide to Biblical Hermeneutics (2006), co-written with David Holgate. The revised edition will deepen and develop material on how we read the Bible attentive to multiple identities and contexts, as well as exploring resistant readings of the text, drawing on the work of scholars such as Phyllis Trible and Oral A. W. Thomas. Inspired by Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar’s presentation at the Shiloh Project’s Religion and Rape Conference (see a blog post on this presentation here), we ask what kinds of stories do we allow the Bible to tell? And making further use of the work of Gina Hens-Piazza, we suggest ways of seeing, denouncing and resisting violence present within biblical texts and their interpretation. Hens-Piazza’s commentary on Lamentations, part of the new Wisdom Commentary series, is a powerful testimony to the importance of resisting the violence of the text.

With Dulcie Dixon Mckenzie, Director of the Centre for Black Theology at Queen’s, I recently developed a new module for the Common Awards programme, entitled Intersectional Theologies (see here). While the notion of intersectionality has been part of academic discourse for some time, there has been less attention within theology to the complexities of identity and dynamics of power. A particular hope is that the module will generate theological resources appropriate to contemporary British contexts. This module has the potential to be used by any of the nineteen theological institutions working with Durham University as part of Common Awards. At Queen’s, this module will help students make deeper connections between earlier modules focused on Black Theology and on Theology and Gender.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 5: Rachel Muers

Today’s activist is theologian and Quaker Rachel Muers.

Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rachel Muers, a UK-based academic theologian working at the University of Leeds. My specialism is in modern Christian theology and ethics. I’m very fortunate to be part of a group of scholars at Leeds who approach questions about contemporary religion from many different academic perspectives, and I’ve learned an enormous amount by co-teaching and conversing with these colleagues and with a diverse group of students over the years – especially when we can also bring in our shared commitments to social justice, as with a new course on human rights and religion. I’ve taught courses on theology, religion and gender, and have written on issues of feminism and theology.

Given the history of my subject, I’ve always spent a lot of time reading, and writing about, great works by great men from centuries gone by. I don’t think scholars always realise the cumulative effect that such an experience can have; as women we get the message, on some level, that we’re not really meant to be in this conversation, or at least that we showed up really late.Although I’ve been enthusiastic about feminist theology since I was a student, it still felt like I was breathing new fresh air a few years ago when I finally had a project that let me quote and cite lots of women from history as theological authorities. It was a book on Quaker theology, and since I’m a Quaker it was partly also the pleasure of spending time with ‘foremothers’. Given half a chance, I’ll enthuse at length about the formidable seventeenth-century English women – from all social classes – who were preaching in public and travelling enormous distances, conducting furious theological debates in print and in person, and facing down everything that was thrown at them for their infringements of religious norms – especially gender norms.

People who know me will tell you I’m passionate about a lot of things. One of them is promoting my academic subject, in schools and universities and to the general public; I hope to have more opportunities to do that over the next couple of years as president of a UK learned society. I’d love there to be more spaces where more people feel confident enough to join in with seriouscritical discussion of religion – and I think that’s a feminist issue, because the alternative tends to be that ‘shouty men’ in positions of authority dominate the conversation.

I’ve recently become a co-chair of the Women at Leeds Network, which organizes events and networking opportunities for women across the whole (very large) institution – women academics, research students, professional and managerial staff, technical staff. The greatest power of the network, as I see it, comes from putting women from different contexts in the same room for the first time, and letting them discover connections between their experiences, their challenges and their insights. It’s not exactly revolutionary in itself, but it’s probably the way a lot of change starts.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today?

Working on the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order commission, with a genuinely international group of theologians and church representatives, has made me more aware both of how important it is to keep talking about gender justice in Christian theology – and how difficult it can be, when in some contexts even the mention of ‘gender’ is heard as an attempt to impose some sort of Western liberal agenda. The Shiloh Project is enormously valuable here both because it’s hosting an international conversation where diverse voices are heard, and because – with the focus on rape culture – it makes it very clear why these questions matter across the world, why gender justice isn’t optional or trivial.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

One of my academic writing projects at the moment is a chapter on ‘war and peace’ in modern Christian theology. As a Quaker I’ve always been interested in bringing critical questions about power, violence and nonviolence – including about the links between violence and economic and social injustice – closer to the centre of theological conversation. And I’m increasingly struck, not in a good way, by how much the language and imagery of warfare shows up in theological texts, even when war isn’t the theme. Invading, conscripting, overpowering, conquering are all just fine, apparently, if they are God’s actions. I don’t think you need to be either a pacifist or a feminist to worry about what effect it has within a religious community when the symbolic space is dominated by images of male power. The other thing I’m noticing is that the way questions about ‘war and peace’ are often framed, in theological ethics, leaves gender-based violence out of the picture. Violence only seems to become interesting for ethics when it’s organized groups of men against men; not only rape as a war crime, but the enormous scale of gender-based violence in ‘peacetime’, receives much less attention. I want to ask what that says about the academic conversation, but also what effects it might have in practice.

I’m looking forward to teaching the human rights and religion course again, and – as part of that – working with my colleagues to get students talking and thinking about the complex relationships between religion and violence against women. I’m going to try to keep up with my commitment to read, cite and ‘lift up’ women’s scholarship.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 3: Jo Sadgrove

Today’s activist is Jo Sadgrove!

 Tell us about yourself.  Who are you and what do you do?

I am Jo and over the past 20 years I have developed a hybrid portfolio of work incorporating both practitioner and scholarly aspects. I seek to facilitate dialogue and transliteration across what are often very distinct ways of thinking, feeling and knowing. I am a Research Fellow in the Centre for Religion and Public Life at Leeds University and I have a job as Research and Policy Advisor at USPG, a 300-year-old Anglican Mission agency working in partnership with local churches around the world. With colleagues, we connect our overseas partners to global policy makers to ensure that their voices are represented in conversations about faith and community development.

My interest in questions of gender, faith and power emerged out of my upbringing as the daughter of an Anglican priest in a church which did not ordain women until 1994. My parents were passionate advocates for women’s ordination, and I was always aware that this was an important issue, but that didn’t alter the fact that I grew up in a church in which only men possessed ritual power. Looking back, it was probably exposure to the Church of England inhabiting itstheological colleges, churches, cathedrals and the strange semi-public spaces of vicarages and deaneries – that fostered my ethnographic interests. You live on the boundary between public and private when you grow up in a vicarage and there is a very permeable membrane between the family and the wider community.

When I was 18 I went to Uganda and spent time living amongst different communities of women. The contexts were diverse, ranging from the staff quarters of a large urban hotel to remote rural Roman Catholic convents. These intimate domestic experiences brought me face-to-face with starkly gendered issues of power, labour, economics, mobility, pregnancy and child-rearing, violence, embodiment and HIV. They also shot through any emergent assumptions I was developing about the ways that women can and do have agency within different patriarchal power structures. I learned more about western patriarchies and the ways that they constitute women’s bodies and imaginations refracted through the teachings of Ugandan women than I ever did in the context of my British education. These experiences radicalised my thinking, and I remain focussed on the ways that different worldviews be they ‘cultural’, ‘religious’, biomedical, rights-based both operate as entirely coherent epistemic totalities that need to be understood on their own terms,and intersect with and antagonise each other. It is in such antagonisms that the underpinning assumptions of different worldviews reveal themselves.

Living in Ugandan communities in the 1990s when many were dying of HIV exposed to me the high costs of the misunderstandings between (western) biomedical approaches and the ethos of Ganda community life. The former is premised, amongst other things, on economically independent atomised individuals who perform particular types of health-seeking behaviour. The ethos of Ganda community life is underpinned by social interconnections and respectability, which position men and women differently and can heavily disadvantage women in the negotiation of their own protection from HIV.

My doctorate analysed sexual and religious youth identities in a Pentecostal community in Kampala in the context of the HIV pandemic. I then went on to work on debates about homosexuality in different parts of the Anglican Communion. This project incorporated a period of time working with Gerald West at the Ujamaa Centre which afforded me my first experience of Contextual Bible Study work, something of which I am only now beginning to understand the importance and value. Eventually I left full-time academia in a desire to work more closely with local communities, the context in which I find myself doing my best learning and thinking, and I got a job undertakingresearch with USPG.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

My work with USPG bridges the worlds of research and policy. With colleagues in the UK and South Africa I have recently engaged in a piece of research to map and analyze the Anglican Church in Southern Africa’s (ACSA) responses to sexual and gender-based violence, in particular following the death of Anene Booysen in 2013. The next year will see us disseminating this work alongside our international partners to a variety of different audiences, beginning with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March.

On 2nd February 2013, 17-year-old Anene Booysen was gang raped and disemboweled in the small town of Bredasdorp, Western Cape, South Africa. Anene was found by a security guard at a construction site near to her home and she later died in hospital from her injuries. This brutal rape and murder horrified the country and re-focused the attention of leaders as to the catastrophic consequences of violence for women and girls in South Africa. At the time of the murder, ACSA’s development arm Hope Africa and staff in False Bay Diocese (in which Bredasdorp is situated)were engaging in community-based work around gender justice. Hope Africa was also part of theinternational We Will Speak Out coalition of Christian-based NGOs, churches and organizations against gender-based violence. The murder of Anene generated a number of responses on the part of the Anglican Church engaging different constituent groups.  Survivors of rape and sexual violence were brought together for counselling, peer support and to speak out about their experiences to raise national and international awareness. A number of Christian students at Cape Town’s universities have been involved in Contextual Bible Studies engaging questions of gender using the Tamar Campaign resource. A series of masculinity workshops have engaged men in the Western Cape to think about their own experiences of violence in childhood and reflect on the ways that patterns of violence have been replicated in their own lives, in the lives of their communities and in the churches.

The experiences of those engaged in this work, have revealed a number of things to me about where and how the church both facilitates and mitigates gender parity and abuses of power. When we (and development practitioners) talk about working with ‘the church’ and its leaders we need to think critically about where we locate and identify them. We need to incorporate into our understandings the many different spaces in which groups experience themselves as members of the church and through which ‘the church’ looks and feels very different. The space of Sunday worship, we heard,is a context in which it is very rare to hear anyone talking about gender-based violence, despite the fact that congregations are dealing with it daily. Due to contextual social pressures, parish priests are frequently unwilling to open up conversations that might alienate them from congregants and in turn jeopardize their stipends. On the other hand those who have experienced the masculinities workshops perceive the church to be offering unique homosocial spaces in which men can think and talk about their experiences in ways that are inconceivable in any of the other socialenvironments in which they find themselves. The church here has offered something unique and valuable – a reflective space in which to talk about the violence of apartheid, the violence of childhood and how that violence had, for some, been carried into adult relationships and parenting. Wellness groups for women offer a space of psychosocial support in which women can share the troubles and threats that they face daily, not just in relation to themselves, but also those of the children within their communities. Contextual Bible Study groups using the story of Tamar have opened up discussions between male and female students at local universities as to the complexities of negotiating the differing gender norms of ‘culture’, the Bible and the rights-based constitution. These Bible studies have enabled male and female students to critique the church as lagging behind society, to evaluate the challenges and opportunities of western rights based frameworks and to question the nature of ‘cultural’ authority as embodied by the elders ‘back home’.

There are no easy analyses here and no coherent narratives. The intersections of ‘Biblical’, ‘cultural’ and rightsbased norms for gender in South Africa, as everywhere else, are highly complex and varied – mutually reinforcing in certain spaces and highly antagonistic in others. I see the same contests in related work that I am doing within the Church of England around institutional power and sexuality. Across the generations people are struggling with shifting patterns of authority, processes of individuation and the implications for gender norms and the socialization of men and women. I see my own challenge and role in this work as dual and somewhat contradictory; to listen to and amplify the voices that are working hard to redeem the church as irredeemably patriarchal at the same time as broadcasting ever more loudly the critique of all institutions that use their power to marginalize and stratify. We need to remain vigilant and recognize the violent patriarchal biases in the cultural, social and institutional worlds which we inhabit, whilst exploring how norms can be challenged and faith groups can open up distinct spaces of solidarity in which hegemonic gendered worldviews can be resisted.

All this work aside, I actually feel that the most important thing I will continue to do is engage conversations with men and women about gender and power in the home, at the school gate, in the pub, in interactions with colleagues and students and in all of the social contexts in which I find myself. I have benefitted immeasurably from a powerhouse of older female mentors who have gently challenged and steered me through and around my own blind spots. They have helped me to recognize what I might be negotiating as a woman and as a mother and offered me different ways of thinking about what it is to be a feminist in such a challenging set of institutional structures – the church, the university, motherhood. I am supremely grateful to the women whom I meet from around the world who have spent their lives challenging unjust structures and taught me much about how to use my privilege to do my part.

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16 Days of Activism – Day 3: Anna Rowlands

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

I’m Anna Rowlands and I am an academic based at Durham University, UK. I work in the area of Political Theology and have been involved for the last ten years in researching refugee policy and forced migrant experiences. I got involved with this following a life-changing experience volunteering at an immigration ‘reception’ centre near where I was living (at that time) in the South East of England. I was volunteering in a personal capacity, helping with chapel services, visitingdetainees and seeking to offer some human contact with the local community. I was deeply affected by this experience and as a result became involved in grassroots community organizing, working eventually alongside the 2010 coalition government seeking an end to the detention of children and families for immigration purposes. This was a – not altogether successful – experience of learning how to bring together my academic interests in theological ethics, activism and public policy work. Nonetheless, what I saw and heard convinced me that migration is, and will continue to be, one of the key social realities and challenges facing our generation.

Over the course of the last decade immigration has become a massively politicized issue in Europe and North America and new conflicts have caused massive displacement of peoples. Religion, religious belief, and faith-based humanitarian action have become central to the ‘story’ of contemporary migration, as well as to the increasingly political ‘story’ we tell ourselves about migration and the nation-state. I am currently pursuing two main projects addressing questions of religion and forced migration the first is a 4 year AHRC/ERSC funded project that we have called ‘Refugee Hosts’ ( We are looking at conflict displacement from Syria into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and the role of local communities in refugee ‘hosting’. Often this hosting can involve previous generations of refugees hosting a new generation of refugees. Our Principal Investigator (lead researcher) for the project Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh has written widely on the gender-based challenges facing refugees, and our project administrator is pursuing groundbreaking research on the experience of LBGT refugees. We have a great project blog on our website if you want to read more, and also some incredibly powerful poetry written by our poet in residence Yousif M. Qasmiyeh.

Credit: Elena Fiddian Qasmiyeh

My second main project is UK-based and is a partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service. I’m investigating the experience of asylum seekers in the UK who face destitution, some of whom have also experienced immigration detention as part of their claims process. I’ve interviewed around 30 people who work for and are part of JRS’s day centre for people living in destitution. We’ve talked about the human ‘goods’ (public, private, common) that those seeking asylum see as most important and the ways in which systems either support or frustrate the pursuit of these goods. I asked no formal questions about religion or faith in the interviews, however, all but one interviewee mentioned religion as a key source of resilience and meaning that had sustained them during their asylum process. For many interviewees faith had been tested, changed, found anew, lost and refound. Above all interviewees told me about the ways that their faith traditions offered them texts and narratives that spoke directly to experiences of violence and trauma. The most commonly cited text was Jeremiah 29: as one interview said, echoing many others who cited the same passage, ‘God has a plan for our welfare, a good plan, but it is a plan with unexpected ends.’ Others noted that they were drawn to the Psalms, that they felt they had walked through the valley of death, seen what evil looked like but also known that the presence of God was real for them in this most violent of spaces. The resilience of religious belief itself was a key finding. The interviews had striking echoes of the writing of feminist and self-described indecenttheologian Marcella Althaus Reid who noted in response to her own forced migration experience that she had come to find reading the Psalms as akin to reading ‘letters from our mothers.’ The interviews have also highlighted the extent to which asylum destitution is a profoundly gendered experience, with many women subjected to sexual violence and coercion in order to survivematerially. Women also report the disturbing and difficult ‘choices’ they find themselves making in order to feel more secure whilst living on the streets and sleeping on night buses, attempting to minimise the risk of sexual violence. This work will lead to the publication of a public report on the impact of destitution on the freedom those seeking asylum have to pursue human ‘goods’.

These experiences of moving between research, activism and policy have proved – perhaps inevitably – messy, non-linear and even at times tense processes. But I remain convinced of their necessary co-belonging.

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Outlander Soul Podcast: Sexual Violence in Outlander (discussion with Emma Nagouse)

Outlander Soul continues part 2 of their conversation with Emma Nagouse, whose research at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at the University of Sheffield (UK) focuses on religion and sexual violence. In this episode, Emma and Jayme Reaves discuss Christ imagery and suffering, the Geneva & Laoghaire question, Fergus, and sexual violence as depicted in Outlander more generally.

(An obvious trigger warning that there will be discussion of rape, sexual violence, and rape culture in this episode).


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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 2: Heather McKay

Today’s activist is Heather McKay.

Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

I am Professor Heather A. McKay (née Ayre), MSc, BD, PhD, FHEA.

In education, I am a product of an all-female grammar school in Glasgow where we were taught that we could easily achieve what males achieve. Then I studied at Glasgow University and earned two Science degrees (BSc and MSc) as a young woman and, as a mature woman, two degrees in Biblical Studies (BD and PhD inDivinity). In between I was a horse rider for leisure and a hospital laboratory worker and researcher, a mother and a National Childbirth Trust Breast-feeding Counsellor and Teacher of Antenatal Preparation classes, both of the lattermost for several years in Glasgow, and then, Sheffield. In the late sixties, I worked as a schoolteacher in Ely (Cambridgeshire) and, later, in Glasgow, sandwiching four years as a lecturer in Biological Sciences at Napier University, Edinburgh. After gaining my Bachelor of Divinity, I worked as a student minister for a year then became a schoolteacher again, this time in Religious Studies and Religious Education. After a few more years in schools and John Leggott Sixth Form College in Scunthorpe, I became Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Edge Hill University, Lancashire and worked there till my retirement having been granted a personal chair meanwhile. I particularly enjoyed, there, teaching the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education for new lecturers at Edge Hill.

My second husband is David Clines, of much Biblical Studies fame, and my younger son, Dr Robert McKay, is Senior Lecturer in English Literature (also at Sheffield University), specializing in Animal Studies. My older son, Kevin McKay, works in the music industry in London.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

I think that the Shiloh Project makes a vital contribution. I believe that any young women nowadays delude themselves that the feminist battles have been won. I believe that most of women’s gains in bodily freedom and mobility and time at their own disposal have been gained by scientific advances, namely, the provision of simple and easy sanitary protection and choices of contraception. Both give women greater control and offer options that women may make for themselves. But the idea that men have ceded 50% of their power of the public spheres of action to women is risible. But then, it must be a daunting prospect to reduce one’s power in life to a half; only the very best of men seem to be capable of embracing that idea wholeheartedly. Hence the clear, unambiguous focus provided by the Shiloh Project cuts through the doublespeak that sugarcoats many unpleasant ‘pills’ of women’s life in the public sphere. The Shiloh Project must use its cutting edge to show women where their key vulnerabilities lie both here in the UK and globally.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

It is hard to be specific but, as you can see from my thoughts outlined above, these issues are always at the forefront of my mind. Memories well up of antenatal classes where the fathers were sometimes unwilling to massage their wives backs and/or bellies in the particular different ways that would alleviate their aches and pains, then, the transforming joy on their faces as their actions produced those relaxed sighs as pain receded and their partners’ faces melted into a gentle smile and look of love. I wish that change to happen also to the pains of the workplace and of other public spheres where partnership enriches rather than undercuts the common project.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 2: Saima Afzal

Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

 My name is Saima Afzal and I am founder and leader of a community organization called SAS RIGHTS CIC, founded in November 2016. I have worked in the field of the intersections of gender and religion both as an activist and as practitioner since the age of 18. Most of this has been undertaken in a volunteer capacity. I still to this day undertake volunteer work but in 2016 I founded SAS RIGHTS CIC, together with my partner Sven Richter. This community interest company invests its time and energies in raising awareness of the issues that have an adverse impact upon a number of marginalized communities – including women and men vulnerable to sexual violence. 

The SAS RIGHTS CIC team is not averse to starting difficult conversations and tries to deal with what comes out of these in a sensitive manner in order to bring about positive change. I myself was in a so-called Forced ‘Marriage’ – though I categorially state that I have never been married and I will stop and correct those that refer to my abuser as my ‘husband’. I continue to speak about discrimination and inequality and unlawful practices without fear. I am a registered ‘Cultural’ Subject Matter Expert and I am registered on the National Crime Agency Database.

 I am often called to assist Police Forces or, increasingly, Children Social Care Services to help advise and also to produce reports for both the Criminal and Family Courts.

 I have worked very closely with the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWAG) agenda – not least because of my own forced ‘marriage’. I always state clearly that I have never been married and that I was forced into a situation beyond my control. This does offend some ‘communities’, especially those where faith plays a key role. It offends, for example, that I have a child from my forced ‘marriage’, because being Muslim and having a child out of ‘wedlock’ is widely considered a ‘sin’. I am often encouraged to say I was married, for the sake of my child, or my reputation, but that is offensive to me. It suggests that I did something wrong, or that I should bear the burden of shame. My passion is to help any person, male or female, who has been abused, controlled or coerced, so they, too, can find support and speak out with confidence.

 I understand the realities of speaking out. Adverse and/or unlawful consequences are often faced by those that challenge cultural norms, including gender norms. I try and help not only in situations of crisis but before crisis occurs. So much work has been undertaken to identify and address crises but not enough to prevent, intervene and to engage with families, individuals and communities trapped in cycles of damaging behaviours that lead up to and precipitate crises. SAS RIGHTS CIC tries to do just that.

 How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

I would love to hear more about how the notions of marriage and consent within faith-based communities are understood, and about how these inhibit the reporting of sexual abuse. I wish to explore and understand, in collaboration with the Shiloh Project if viable, the impact that the notion of ‘being married’ has on first-response practitioners. Some anecdotal accounts from victims, suggest that when they have mentioned that they were raped by their husband (and it is most often women who have disclosed sexual abuse to me), the responding officer has not appeared to understand or has not confirmed that rape within marriage is real and acutely harmful. In some cases they have informed the victim, ‘your husband can’t rape you’, or have said undermining things like, ‘are you sure that was rape?’.

It would be wonderful to undertake research with the Shiloh Project and to bring together the  expertise of researchers and of practitioners who help victims of gender-based violence in marginalized and vulnerable communities

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

I and my organization with willing volunteers hope to continue to work directly with those affected, to capture their experiences, to support them to overcome and challenge unacceptable norms, whilst also raising awareness amongst practitioners, communities and society as a whole of the challenges faced by those that are in abusive and violent situations.

In the coming years we hope to undertake some of the following: 

We would like to work in collaboration with like-minded individuals and organizations and welcome co-production to help maximize the impact of activities.

We will submit bids to undertake engagement and knowledge activities, as well as community empowerment work. We wish to access funding for film making with a view to  bringing to life the day-to-day struggles of those who are trapped in either abusive relationship or ‘cultures’.

We will continue to work with men in addressing and exploring the reasons why some abuse and control women in their communities. We particularly wish to focus on Visible Minority Ethnic and faith-driven communities. I have already undertaken significant work over the years in this area and have developed some impactful resources to explore some of the reasons some men are more likely to participate in abusive and controlling culturally-based norms.

We wish also to explore further Minority Ethnic Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual communities and to address the the culturally-based discrimination, abuse and control inflicted on members of these communities.

I have an established history of over 25 years of tackling controversial, taboo and sensitive issues. I will not stop any time soon.

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International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2018: Interview with Professor Musa Dube

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, designated as Orange Day by the UN Women campaign Say No, UNiTE launched in 2009 to mobilize civil society, activists, governments and the UN system in order amplify the impact of the UN Secretary-General’s campaign, UNiTE to End Violence against Women. Participants the world over are encouraged to wear a touch of orange in solidarity with the cause – the colour symbolizes a brighter future and a world free from violence against women and girls.

The 2018 theme is Orange the World: #HearMeToo and like previous editions, today marks the launch of 16 days of activism that will conclude on 10 December 2018, International Human Rights Day.

To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and to kick off our daily interviews with activists during the 16 Days of Activism period, we speak to Professor Musa Dube (University of Botswana) about her academic activism and her hopes for the future.


Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Musa W. Dube from Botswana. I work for the University of Botswana as a scholar of the New Testament. My research interest is primarily in reading the New Testament for liberation, which often involves reading for gender, postcolonial, cultural, Earth and international justice. I often interrogate texts for various forms of oppression as well as make attempts to re-read for liberation.

For the past twenty-one years, I have been active working with religious communities  in the struggle against HIV and AIDS. This epidemic, which has claimed millions of lives in three decades, is an epidemic within other epidemics that is driven and propelled by social inequalities. These inequalities include economic, gender, racial and age dimensions, as well as inequalities of sexual orientation and identity. With HIV and AIDS we learnt that the biggest violence we unleash on any group of people, and on the whole Creation Community, begins with structural sins that silence and marginalize creation members from their dignity and liberation to live whole lives. Violence is therefore founded upon the structural sins of patriarchy, imperialism, racism, heteronormativity, anthropocentricism etc., which propound worldviews that legitimize the marginalization of the Other. Gender-based violence, sexism and rape are merely symptoms of the foundational structural sin, which is patriarchy.  

HIV and AIDS activism has stood up to patriarchy and has called for the re-imagination of masculinities. And so, three years ago, I got involved in a movement that culminated in the formation of Pitso ya Banna, an association that seeks to provide space for men to discuss what it means to be a man, as well as to interrogate troubling masculinities and to provide models for liberating masculinities, that do not embrace violence, or depend on subjugation of women.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

Since religion remains a space that gathers communities under some agreed high ethical reflections, a project that looks into religion and rape is definitely important and stands a great chance towards building communities of gender justice. Most religious traditions and communities need conversations, regarding their scriptures, beliefs and practices concerning gender-based violence, and rape in particular. They need skills of naming and recognizing sexual violence and naming it as unacceptable sin. 

It is commonly assumed that members of religious communities are not sexually violent, but research indicates otherwise. It is also common that holy texts that deal with rape and gender-based violence more generally do not get read in worship, or if they are read, they often get interpreted from perspectives that normalize violence against women. Empowering faith communities to break the silence concerning rape and to equip them with skills of reading such texts to expose ideological structures that embrace sexual violence and gender inequalities is vital. Further, religious communities, at least here in Botswana, need to be empowered with skills of counselling survivors of rape.   

Recent rape scandals in a Pentecostal church in South Africa, where young teenagers were subjugated to rape by their pastor, seemingly with the knowledge of the congregation, indicate that both religious leaders and their congregants need to be trained to confront and resist rape. This must include training to empower them to blow the whistle when violence happens.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project? 

Theology and Religious Studies members of the University of Botswana are active members of the Shiloh Project. Indeed, the Project is partly hosted in my home department. I am committed to and skilled in reading and re-reading texts for exposing all forms of oppressions. Moreover, I can offer positive models of justice and gender justice in particular. Last year I read the story of the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34), exploring how it intersects with colonial desires and ethnic difference. Therefore, I am already strategically placed to interact and collaborate with the Shiloh Project in multiple ways that can advance its aims and goals.

I am also hoping that through Pitso ya Banna, we will collaborate in reaching faith communities and expanding the spaces where discussions concerning non-violent masculinities can be opened. Collaborating with the Shiloh Project might allow us to break the silence concerning rape in faith communities and to empower religious communities to speak out against rape and other forms of violence, within their congregations and in the general public.

In general, my assumption concerning violence is that it begins with structural sin, which is then manifested in various forms, including acts such as rape. The core of addressing gender-based violence, and rape in particular, should therefore begin by empowering religious communities to name patriarchy as a foundational sin, which is inconsistent with any form of acknowledging the Divine Creator. 

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Conversation about male rape, masculinity and religion

Conversation about Male Rape, Masculinities and Religion

Dr Aliraza Javaid is senior lecturer in Criminology and programme leader for Criminology at the University of East London. He recently published the book Male Rape, Masculinities, and Sexualities: Understanding, Policing, and Overcoming Male Sexual Victimisation (New York: Palgrave MacMillan 2018). On behalf of the Shiloh Project, Adriaan van Klinken arranged an interview to discuss the book and the question of male rape. (Adriaan teaches and researches in religion and African studies at the University of Leeds. He is also Director of the Centre for Religion and Public Life.)

Congratulations, Ali, on the publication of your latest book, and many thanks for making yourself available for the interview. Could you summarise in a few sentences what the book is about?

Thank you so much for having me. The book is essentially a critical exploration of the relationship between gender, sexuality and male rape. In particular, it attempts to make sense of how state and voluntary agencies serve male rape victims and aims to identify any gendered male rape myths. Similar to female rape myths, these can potentially inform police practice and third sector practitioners’ response to male victims of rape. The book is about rape of men by other men, rather than focusing predominantly on male child sexual abuse, sexual violence committed by women, and other forms of sexual violence, though these are briefly touched upon to provide some context.

In the introduction to the book, you refer to a Master’s course about Sexual Violence you once took while at university, in which the topic of male rape was not touched upon at all. I’m afraid that also in the Shiloh Project so far, we have paid little attention to this issue (for one exception see here). Why do you think male rape and male sexual assault is often left out of discussions about rape and sexual violence?

I think this serves to maintain the status quo of heterosexuality and hegemonic formations of masculinity. To put it another way, the active invisibility of male sexual violence acts as a way of perpetuating gender norms and institutionalizing heterosexuality. Heterosexuality as ‘normal’ and ‘normative’ is so embedded in everyday discourse – including conversations about sexual violence – ingrained in institutions, such as the family, education systems, and religious establishments, that to discuss the unspoken or the tabooed is to invert gendered scripts and heteronormativity. The dichotomy between hetero/homo still remains strongly intact in social life, so by bringing male rape to the fore, female sexual violence and the construction of the ‘real’ rape norm becomes threatened or destabilised in terms of how we think about rape and sexual assault, both of which are expected to happen only to women and girls. However, when a man is sexually assaulted or raped, his masculinity is undermined, and male power and authority become contested. Male domination exists and gender inequality is clearly reproduced in all areas of life, but, when we discuss male sexual victimisation, we are discussing that men can also be victims; however, we are led to believe that men are expected to be invulnerable, unemotional, strong and powerful. This narrative overlooks that power is not distributed equally amongst men, that there are different masculinities that do no always equate to power and domination, and that men can be victims, too. When we speak about men in particular ways that challenge gender norms, such as the possibility of men being able to enact love and romance, which I discuss in my other book, Masculinities, Sexualities and Love (2018, Routledge), we almost become scapegoated as the ‘other’, the abnormal, the deviant, which often brings about backlash and produces barriers to career progression, questioning whether we can be accepted as a ‘real’ scholar. These issues, and more, I have encountered, which I detail in the book.

You argue that male rape is a critical social and legal issue, and is on the increase. Can you give us some background to the size and impact of the problem we are talking about, here in the UK?

In societies, we are made to believe that male rape does not exist or that it is not a ‘real’ issue. However, it is more common than we are led to believe. For example, in 2013, the Crime Survey for England and Wales roughly estimated that 75,000 men are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault a year, while 9000 men are victims of rape or attempted rape each year (Ministry of Justice 2014). Relatedly, each year, 72,000 men are estimated to becoming victims of sexual crime, whether reported or not (Ministry of Justice 2014). Much more recently, the Crime Survey for England and Wales in 2017 estimates that, while 3.1% of women (510,000) suffered sexual assault in the last year, 0.8% of men (138,000) aged 16–59 experienced it in the last year. This estimation is made regarding the year ending March 2017. The figures are striking and deeply concerning, since there is no major change from the previous year’s survey. We know that male rape is on the increase. This might be down to two things; first, some male victims are now reporting at higher levels, with a slow increase in confidence in the police; second, because of changes in police practice, such as developments of ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advisers), SARCs (Sexual Assault Referral Centres), and specially trained officers, and so on, the victims are able to tell their stories and are encouraged to do so. Recently, male rape in the media, such as the recent Coronation Street storyline involving David Platt as the male rape victim, has also helped to increase reporting levels, as other stats have shown. We need to bear in mind, though, what lies beneath the figures are more incidents of rape and sexual assault against men, given that many victims continue to not come forward to report. There is a ‘dark’ figure of crime. These figures just represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Many incidents of male rape and male sexual assault continue to not get reported.


Of course, statistics only tell part of the story. Many cases of male rape and sexual assault remain unreported. What are the cultural, social and political factors that contribute to the culture of un-reporting?

There is a host of reasons. Men may have a much harder time acknowledging or recognising that what has happened to them was actually rape and that it can be reported, especially when sexual assault and rape are generally thought to only happen to females. The notion that sexual assault and rape occur only to females or that ‘real’ men cannot be raped can induce men’s risk of stigma, embarrassment, and shame; this may make male rape victims reluctant to report. Men hesitating to report may be feeling shame for not being able to sustain hegemonic masculinities, which I define as those masculinities that legitimate unequal gender relations between men and women, between masculinity and femininity, and amongst masculinities. Male rape situationally feminizes men, so this makes it difficult for them to momentarily embody power and dominance through the enactment of hegemonic masculinities. Men, unlike women, are expected to be strong, powerful, invulnerable, macho, unemotional, violent, and capable of protecting themselves. The omnipotent threat of homophobia can also prevent many men from reporting rape, especially for those men who are not out of the closet or heterosexual male rape victims fearing that they will be seen as gay, both of which somehow interlink with homophobia. Further, it is a common misconception that, if men ejaculate or have erections when being raped, they must have somehow ‘consented’. Getting an erection and ejaculating are involuntary physiological reactions to male rape, though, but this could prevent some victims from coming forward for fearing that they might be seen as having ‘enjoyed’ the rape, that they instigated it, or ‘wanted it’. They might, therefore, be blamed for their sexual victimisation.

An important focus of your book is concerned with the way in which state agencies, in particular the police, respond (or fail to respond) to the problem of male rape and deal with male rape victims? What are your key findings in this regard?

With the support of empirical police data, I have shown that the police do not regard themselves as a support provider, but rather as a criminal justice agency that are there to try to get a prosecution. While some officers attempt to adopt a multi-agency approach, working with voluntary agencies to support victims throughout the police investigation process, many officers do not take this approach so leaving male rape victims unsupported. The victims are often treated more as a statistic, a number, rather than as a victim. This is because of constructs of hegemonic masculinity in the police; a gender order is present in the police, reproducing—materially, discursively, metaphorically, and symbolically—hegemonic masculinities at the local and regional levels across police forces in England. For example, I argue that police training reproduces hegemonic masculinities through police discourse at the local level. Thus, police training can enable officers to choose hegemonic discursive positions to assist them in warding off anxiety and avoid feelings of powerlessness; this is so that the police can address the threat of male rape or the possibility of it. By producing a ‘silence discourse’ about male rape, emanating from the absence of formal police training on male sexual victimisation, the police can deny the existence of male rape while perpetuating the male rape myths that ‘men cannot be raped’ and that ‘female rape is “real” rape’, thus reproducing gender inequalities.

One of the arguments you make is that male rape myths are born out of gender and sexuality norms that are created in the midst of social structures, including religious institutions. For the readers of the Shiloh Project blog, who have a particular interest in religion vis-à-vis rape culture, could you elaborate on the role of religion in relation to male rape?

That’s correct. I argue in the book that hegemony is not only attained through sexual violence, or even through violence more generally, but also through non-violent means to create and reproduce privilege and unequal gender relations, such as through religion. In conservative religious establishments, hegemony is often attained through the gendered division of labour. For example, in the Muslim milieu I grew up in myself, women are often positioned as those who do the childcare work while men go out to bring in the money. This dichotomy can also be seen in the example of bodies; Muslim men’s bodies are constructed as those that penetrate, while Muslim women’s bodies are those that are penetrated. This religious construction of Muslim bodies gives no capacity to even think about the existence of ‘male sexual victimisation’ because Muslim men’s bodies are regarded as non-penetrable. The penetrated body is often associated with femininity and powerlessness, and so women within Islam will only likely to be considered as ‘real’ rape victims for rape has connotations of weakness and subordination; words that are antithetical to Muslim men’s bodies. Similar dynamics can be observed in other conservative religious circles. I think, therefore, we need to think about how bodies are constructed not only in religious establishments, such as Islam, but also in everyday public life.

How do you think your book, and in particular the raw and honest account of your own experience beautifully narrated in the preface, may help to break the silence and stigma surrounding male rape victims? What are the conditions for a #MeToo movement of victims of male rape to emerge?

I would like my book to open up a platform in which to have a conversation about the existence of male sexual violence. It happens in our everyday life, but, because of gender and sexuality norms, we are not supposed to speak about it; to do so would disrupt the gender order. I took a risk, being susceptible to on-going backlash and being constructed as ‘deviant’ or the ‘other’, which has affected me in my personal life as I detail in the book, but I had to speak the unspoken in order to challenge gender inequalities. I hope my words encourage other male victims to speak of their painful silences.

That said, the movement for women rape victims has been enormous on a grand scale, with many historic victims of rape coming forward to report and to speak out. I think that a MeToo movement for male victims of sexual violence is possible. It will take courage and bravery, though, to get a conversation started. We are slowly seeing some adult men who were victims of child sexual abuse coming forward, so this is a start. I don’t know which direction this will take in the future, but it will be a slow journey since to speak out against male sexual violence is, as I say, to dismantle the gender order; but many men do not want this because it threatens to take away men’s power and privilege. Although not all men can embody hegemonic masculinities at the same time, they are often complicit in its manifestation, meaning that they benefit from the cultural and symbolic power that men as a social group hold. However, we know that not all men hold equal amounts of power at the same time, and that there are multiple masculinities during a given context, so there is always contestation in the gender order, but not enough to completely eradicate gender and sexuality norms in societies. It’s the same for women; we can’t simply argue that women are completely expelled from power, since power works in complicated ways, meaning that some women can and do configure patterns of hegemonic masculinities at particular contexts, times, and places. To suggest that women as a social group are powerless is to determine and essentialize women in this way and to reinforce their subordination, without considering the complexity of power and that it is negotiated between male-male and male-female bodies. The battle for gender equality remains: I am certain that we will see changes in patterns of gender social practices, but whether this will be for better or worse remains to be seen.

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