RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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315 Geographies of Safe Space (2): Spaces of refuge, shelter and contact
Affiliation Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Janet Bowstead (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Katherine Brickell (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Mary Cobbett (University of York, UK)
Naomi Graham (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Chair(s) Janet Bowstead (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 207
Session abstract The sessions open up critical discussion on ‘safe space’ – a label and practice which has attracted celebration, derision and controversy at the highest of political levels. Safe space raises a series of urgent academic questions of relevance across sub-fields of geography. How is safe space imagined, designated, deployed, materialised, co-opted, and experienced by different actors, institutions and governments? What are the positive as well as putative effects of safe space in its multiple guises? How are safe spaces materially and/or emotionally manifest, maintained and endangered? What power geometries do safe spaces exclude and harbour? What are the (shifting) everyday geopolitics of safe spaces?
Linked Sessions Geographies of Safe Space (1): Spaces of embodiment, identity and education
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Promoting community-led responses to violence against immigrant and refugee women in metropolitan and regional Australia. The ASPIRE Project (Analysing Safety and Place in Immigrant and Refugee Experience)
Linda Murray (University of Tasmania, Australia)
Cathy Vaughan (The University of Melbourne, Australia)
Jasmin Chen (Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, Australia)
Adele Murdolo (Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, Australia)
Deborah Warr (The University of Melbourne, Australia)
Regina Quiazon (Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, Australia)
Karen Block (The University of Melbourne, Australia)
Erin Davis (The University of Melbourne, Australia)
Background: Immigrant and refugee women in Australia are known to face unique barriers when accessing family violence services. However there is limited evidence about how such barriers affect women’s perceptions of a service being ‘safe’. We explored the experiences of immigrant and refugee women when seeking help after family violence in two Australian states (Tasmania and Victoria). Methodology and Resulting Participation: This research was conducted in eight sites in urban and regional settings. Sites included inner city Melbourne, Brimbank, Dandenong, Bendigo and La Trobe city (Victoria), and inner city Hobart, Glenorchy and Launceston (Tasmania). The research design was based on principles of participatory research and an intersectional feminist approach. Data collected included: 46 interviews with women of immigrant or refugee background who had experienced family violence; 46 interviews with service providers; and twenty six focus groups with members of immigrant and refugee communities (eighteen with women and eight with men). Ten women also participated in a photovoice exercise. Ethics approval was granted from both the University of Melbourne and the University of Tasmania. Findings: After family violence, some women travelled long distances to access help, or had to relocate many times to feel safe. Geographical areas closer to the city, and regional areas with more multicultural populations had more police, interpreters, and services to assist with family violence. However women who left relationships in these locations often found it hard to remain living there because people they felt judged or shamed by other members of their cultural community. Language barriers affected women’s ability to access services. Services did not consistently provide interpreters, and the technical skills and professional ethics of interpreters influenced women’s perception of safety. Women often feared that interpreters could breach confidentiality, especially in regional areas where there were few speakers of the same language.
‘Safe spaces’ and ‘bad’ girls: Experiences of child-marriage and human trafficking ‘victims’ from a shelter home in Eastern India
Mima Guha (University of East Anglia, UK)
This paper contests the notion of women’s shelter homes as unquestioned ‘safe spaces’ for women at-risk of sexual exploitation in Eastern India. It speaks to the problematic construction of the ‘victim’ within the anti-trafficking discourse, which reinforces patriarchal notions of femininity and female sexuality and punishes behaviour that falls outside these paradigms. This is carried out within ‘rehabilitation’ interventions at women’s shelter homes intended to provide refuge to victims of sexual violence and human trafficking. Through this, the shelter home is reconfigured as a site of contested victimhood, framed within a larger power-play between community organisations, state agencies and families of the shelter home’s residents. This paper’s argument is based on the analysis of life-history interviews collected from child-marriage and human trafficking ‘victims’ living within a women’s shelter home in eastern India, across two weeks in November 2014; the home was founded originally as an anti-trafficking shelter home and is run by a prominent anti-trafficking NGO in Eastern India. The data presented in this paper was collected as part of a larger doctoral research project on the lives of women in sex work in Eastern India. The findings of this project reveal how government ‘child-protection’ schemes and anti-trafficking interventions are misused by the state and families to punish young women below the age of 18 years, for eloping with partners of their choice against their families’ wishes, and/or for entering sex work voluntarily. These accounts challenge the framing of young women’s negotiations with familial conflict and violence through love, marriage and/or entry into sex work as ‘victimhood’. They highlight how the young women feel ‘punished’ for being sexually deviant and their struggles to have their agency acknowledged. Additionally, they negotiate their imposed ‘victimhood’ in ways that recall Butler (1997)’s theory on the Foucauldian concept of ‘subjectification’. This paper concludes that in reframing young women’s subversive sexual behaviour as ‘victimhood’, so-called ‘safe spaces’ such as shelter homes function to police women’s agency in the guise of family and state-mandated ‘protection’ and ‘rehabilitation.’
‘I’m safe but I still worry… I don’t tell anyone’: physical and emotional safe spaces for women in safe shelters in Cambodia
Naomi Graham (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Safe shelters in Cambodia offer women and children refuge from various forms of violence, as well as working to equip women with the skills needed to live independent lives. This paper will present data from in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with women survivors of violence in Cambodia to argue that while shelter spaces offer refuge and security, little consideration is given to the idea of safe shelters as emotionally safe spaces. Counselling is provided, but women lack autonomy and the freedom to express themselves within the safe shelter. Drawing on literature on safe spaces, I argue that making safe shelters physically and emotionally safe spaces plays a key role in providing transformative holistic care.
Homeless youth and intersectionality: safe shelter for who?
Philip Mullen (Durham University, UK)
Shelters (in their various forms) for homeless youth are complex spaces of care. While some youth may feel included and safe, others may feel excluded, isolated and un-cared for. With an estimated 20-40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ+, it is critical to interrogate the extent to which shelters provide a sense of safety of care for queer youth. It is also crucial to consider the intersectional identities of homeless youth in order to further explore, interrogate and re-negotiate care and safety in these spaces. To do so, I draw on participatory and ethnographic research with homeless and precariously housed youth across two case studies.

I will seek to unpick the notion of the shelter as a ‘safe space’ by exploring how individuals (both members of staff and youth) each negotiate and experience the ‘safe shelter’ differently. In so doing, I will discuss the reciprocal relationships of care and safety between shelter staff and homeless youth, and I will also explore the difficulties in creating and maintaining a bounded caring and safe space, as care takes place in a range of settings beyond the shelter. These include the street, the outreach centre, friendship networks and the internet. Just as each of these spaces holds different possibilities for caring, individual youth or members of staff may experience each of these spaces as spaces of care or fear. To end, I will also reflect on how we can begin to rethink these spaces, in collaboration with youth, service staff and local government, to create safer and more caring experiences for homeless youth.
Safe spaces for participatory work in women’s refuges
Janet Bowstead (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Many women escaping domestic violence spend time in women’s refuges whilst they deal with practical and emotional issues in a safe space. Such spaces are therefore an important place for women’s recovery and empowerment after abuse, but also challenging spaces of displacement. In the UK, there is a wide range of refuge providers, and different models of accommodation and support provision in refuges. Differences, such as those between refuges providing self-contained flats and those with communal facilities and communal activities, can provide very different experiences for the women and their children who live there. The paper will draw on interviews with women in the Midlands, South Coast and London, and on participatory creative groupwork with women in the Midlands and South Coast to explore the different kinds of spaces women experience on their journeys to escape domestic violence. The creative processes enable processes of collaboration and support, as well as outputs that enable communication to wider audiences. The paper will reflect on how creative practices enable women’s storytelling in images and text, and how the safe spaces of refuges can enable processes of self-help and collective support to counteract the isolation of abuse and to help prepare women for their lives after the refuge.