It’s hard to believe that this wonderful year is already coming to an end! Without a doubt, this has been the most incredible year of my life – I’ve had opportunities to study alongside leading global scholars in the field of conflict transformation, to meet fellow students interested in the topic from all over the world, to dive into the complex topic of the inter-relationship between conflict, in-group violence, and violence against women, and to travel around Europe whenever possible to witness history and culture first-hand.
Right now, I am in the middle of writing my final papers for my classes. I have chosen some exceedingly interesting topics (well, at least they are interesting to me…): one paper, written as a blog post for lawyers, is on the international and regional laws addressing forced prostitution (and what that even means). Another is addressing the extent to which human trafficking is a migration issue, focusing on how international law attempts (and arguably fails) to protect the human rights of those affected. A third is on the potential of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women, compared to the Convention of Belém do Pará.
If you know me at all, you’d know that the theme uniting my topic choices is not a surprise. I’ve long been interested in the academic study of violence against women, particularly in methods of prevention and victim protection. This year, I’ve tried to approach that topic from a variety of perspectives. Instead of focusing solely on campus sexual assault, as I did as an undergraduate, I’ve sought to understand violence against women on an international scale as it exists within communities, in systematic transnational organized crime, as a result of trafficking, forced prostitution, and sexual exploitation, and especially during and after conflict. More on that last part: for the rest of the summer, I will be completing interviews, coding, analyzing data, and ultimately writing my dissertation, which explores the environment of violence against women in Belfast. I hope to discuss the extent to which the past conflict here has impacted current patterns of violence against women.
Now that I’ve written about my school activities – enough academic stuff!! I’d like to share a little bit about my major takeaways from the year, now that it’s nearly over. I came to Belfast hoping to learn more about the world, about Ireland and the UK, about how women are represented in different cultures, and about violence against women in its many forms. I will finish this year having spent my time split between learning in Belfast and traveling Europe to broaden and strengthen my understanding of the world. I think both aspects of my experience here have been vital to my understanding of the world that women face.
Violence against women seems, to many, to be a niche topic – “there are shelters for that, right?” But it’s not a neat little topic that you can fit into a box or chat about amiably at Thanksgiving Dinner. And because I want to spend my life combatting it, learning how to prevent it, and working to improve protections and services for victims and survivors, I feel that I have a responsibility to learn about its many facets and interrelated topics. Violence relates to nearly every aspect of society – and an academic approaching the topic needs to understand gender theory, conflict, violence theory, politics, law, cultural differences, historical patterns, and much more. Being able to dive into many of these topics during this year, both inside and outside the classroom (while I’ve traveled, visiting museums and exhibits about women, conflict, and forms of gendered violence have been a priority), has helped me appreciate the depth and breadth of this topic – and the challenges I have in my future if I truly want to make a difference. It is impossible to describe how grateful I am to have had this opportunity to expand my understanding of this topic, and of the world, this year through the Mitchell Scholarship.