Book Review: “Violence against Women and Ethnicity: Commonalities and Differences across Europe”

Buch BlogbeitragThe volume “Violence against Women and Ethnicity: Communalities and Differences across Europe” was edited by Ravi K. Thiara, Stephanie A. Condon and Monika Schröttle and published by Barbara Budrich Publishers in 2011 in Germany (426 pages, ISBN: 978-3866494091). The collection brings together 23 contributions – scientific work undertaken by scholars who focus on questions linked to violence towards immigrant and minority ethnic women in Europe. Across Europe, the immigration status as well as the lack of citizenship are still a major cause of an unequal access to help and protection for women suffering from violence against them. The cases collected for this volume study the link between violence against women (VAW), ethnicity and specific contexts in European countries. As mentioned in the book’s introduction, women from different racial and ethnic minorities live within different cultural, economic and legal contexts depending on which European country they live in. Public debates on gender, women, ethnicity and violence are shaped by national discourses concerning citizenship. Thus, the book aims to bring together different case studies and data analyses in order to show the diversity of violence against this specific group of women and the different debates and mechanisms connected to them in specific countries and regions in Europe. In some countries, the issue is more deeply developed than in other countries, but the attempt is here to give a voice to different European countries despite of this disparity. The book is devided into five parts: The first part presents the progress made considering the issue of violence against women as well as the current challenges; the second part aims to draw links between gender, ethnicity and violence and to outline different forms of violence against minority women; the third part observes forms and effects of VAW; the fourth part is a critical look into different responses to violence against minority ethnic women; the fifth part critically studies debates which use “culture” and “honour” to intervene or to not intervene on issues linked to VAW.

While much scientific work on violence against women had already been completed, the specific issue concerning theory and practice on minority and migrant women and gendered violence were not adressed very much in the European context before the publication of this book. In the introduction, the editors insist on the fact that they made the choice to focus on ethnicity and violence against women, but they underline that they are aware that ethnicity and gender are more encompassing and that these issues do not only focus on minority ethnic groups or on women. This specific research unit is a choice for the analyses in this volume. The intersectional approach is the basis of the different cases and data studies the volume offers. The aim of this volume is to even broaden these intersectional approaches from the early focus of intersectional approaches on race, class and gender to other aspects in order to be able to incorporate the challenges which cultural relativism as well as security discourses bring. According to the editors, such observations have been lacking in other analyses, the issue has been rather invisible. Thus, the book adresses the topic ‘ethnicity and violence against women within and across country-specific contexts in Europe’. The aim is to illustrate how ethnicity and VAW are situated, but also discoursively constructed within these precise contexts. The collection of contributions made by scholars from different academic fields such as social sciences, political sciences, but also health sciences as well as by activists aims to give a multi-focused insight into the topic. The innovation which this volume offers is thus the combination of research and writing on issues of violence against women and ethnicity across Europe. Beforehand, there had been a separation between theoretical and empirical studies on gender and ethnicity in Europe. Analyses were rather limited to material and symbolic impacts of VAW support services for example, and migrant and minority women had mostly been absent in those debates. There has been some available material, but it has rather focused on women’s experiences of “culturally specific forms” of violence, and VAW has rather been seen as an issue of culture rather than as an issue of gender, which is very critical in the eyes of the authors of this volume. Some of them strongly criticize in their work such culturalist stereotypes.

This volume has brought together different studies on ethnicity and violence against women in Europe. Each of the cases and data analyses shows that there is a link and that it is indeed relevant to observe the issue. As for the choice of intersectionality in this book, it was certainly a useful decision in order to create a general line for those diverse studies. It also helped avoiding culturalist approaches which would have been quite problematic and controversial especially with regards to this topic. Nonetheless, the idea to broaden even more the definition of intersectionality as suggested by Lehmann for example seems to be too complex. It is certainly right that there is much complexity with regards to (migrant and non-migrant) persons who experienced (domestic) violence, but it might be complicated to analyse the issue under even more variables – the intersectional approach is already quite wide and it would be very unprecise. In my opinion, there should be one clear prevailing theory where intervening variables are possible – depending on the case -, but not including every possible intersection in each case, which seems impossible anyway.

The topics follow a general line with intersectional theories as a basis, but each article makes its own contribution. Together, they show that there are indeed similarities concerning the situations the immigrant and minority women have to face, privately but also publicly. Even though it is not mentioned explicitly, the question of space is quite obvious here. One can indeed see the problematic situation in which those women are, as they find obstacles on the private and on the public sphere. In fact, to get out of one discriminatory or even violent situation, they would have to face another one. The link between the private sphere (intimate partner violence; violence experienced by other family members) and the public sphere (for example fear to be confronted to the administration and/or to the police because of identification papers and/or discrimination) but also the national and European sphere (the different cases illustrate this) becomes very clear, and it might have been enriching to insist more on that spatial dimension in the studies.

In fact, most of the articles focus on domestic violence even though not all titles say this. It might have been useful to express that more clearly from the beginning, as this seems to be an indicator of the type of violence which migrant and minority women mostly suffer from.

Despite the general line, the volume is nonetheless multifaceted. It does not only give an insight into commonalities, but also into specific national and local mechanisms and discourses. That is why this book seems to be a useful introductory work for those who aim to study the issue. Since its publication in 2011, there have been other studies, and the topic has been analysed more deeply. Many experts and organisations in different countries have contributed to that. Academically, the issue is now evolving into newer directions. The editors of the book clearly state that they decided on working exclusively on violence against women and ethnicity. The volume meets this demand. Now, one could go further and include other issues linked to gender and ethnicity. Who are for instance the offenders in these studies and which backgrounds do they have? This might say something about gender and power relations. Recently, in some European countries, the question of male victims of intimate partner violence has also been raised. A focus on migrant man who are victims, on the tabooisation of the topic and on what it says about gender and power relations could be very interesting as well.

Photo: Marion Uhle; Buchcover Verlag Barbara Budrich

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