Brock University

Bound to Protect? Perspectives on State Responsibility in addressing Gendered Violence and protecting Womens Human Rights

This panel examines competing interpretations of state responsibility being mobilized by state and non-state actors. Although there exists a specific legal definition of state responsibility, feminist and human rights scholars and activists have deployed a variety of strategies for expanding (and in some cases contracting or displacing) the role of states in addressing gendered violence and protecting womens human rights. These efforts have drawn from alternative understandings of due diligence rooted not solely in law, but also in normative human rights frameworks and emerging social movement discourses. In this series of papers, we bring into conversation multiple and potentially conflicting interpretations of the limits or boundaries of a states obligation to its citizens as well as to non-citizens in cases of gendered violence. To what extent can states be held accountable both legally and normatively for failing to protect, prevent and/or prosecute acts of violence against women? How are understandings of state responsibility being negotiated or reconfigured at the national and international levels? We invite papers that bring local, transnational, and/or postnational perspectives to bear on this issue.

Session Organizer: Salina Abji, University of Toronto, ; Paulina Garcia Del Moral, University of Toronto,


State Responsibility and Gendered Violence: a case study of efforts to address violence against non-status women in Toronto, Canada

Salina Abji, University of Toronto,

This research examines competing interpretations of state responsibility for addressing gendered violence. I define state responsibility broadly as the legal and moral obligations of a state for protecting, preventing, and prosecuting acts of violence against women (VAW). I offer a case analysis of how the boundaries of state responsibility are being negotiated within women’s shelters and other anti-violence spaces in Toronto, Canada. My findings identified competing understandings of state responsibility that  are mobilized by state actors at different jurisdictional levels (i.e. between city and state), as well as among social movement actors (i.e. between state-centred and postnational logics of citizenship). These contradictory notions of state responsibility have implications for how acts of violence are interpreted and addressed, such as, for example, who is considered the victim/ perpetrator, and in terms of policy implementation, who or what gets protected and who does the protection. I show how tensions between these competing understandings come to the fore when women with precarious immigration statuses seek or attain access to state-funded VAW spaces such as women’s shelters while they are simultaneously at risk of deportation or under investigation by the immigration enforcement arm of the state.


Low Risk, High Gains: Sex Trafficking after the Era of the Exotic Dancer Visa. Where do we go from here?

Lauren Montgomery, Carleton University,

This paper seeks to understand the consequences and implications of the existence of the Exotic Dancer Visa and the subsequent elimination of the Exotic Dancer Visa in 2012. This paper intends to study how the specific policy of the Exotic Dancer Visa and the policy to remove the Visa could impact the issue of sex trafficking and sex work in Canada. This paper is driven by the research question: “what are the implications of the removal of the Exotic Dancer Visa, and was it the most effective way of combatting sex trafficking in Canada?” This paper will argue that overall the decision to remove the exotic dancer visa was short-sighted and did not have a good understanding of the complexity of the issue of sex trafficking, and may have led to some potential dangers for women and those who have been trafficked and for those who work in sex work in Canada. This is exemplified by the fact that gender and ethnic factors were not taken into consideration by the government, that a prohibitionist and disciplinary approach in immigration does not eradicate the issue of sex trafficking, and that this has set a potentially troubling precedent for those who work in the sex work sector in Canada.


Revisiting the 1951 Refugee Convention: Adding 'gender' to Article 1

Jean-Sébastien Marier, Saint Paul University ,

Should foreign states be compelled to offer asylum to women when their home-state fails to protect them from gender-based persecution? Some observers and stakeholders, such as Amnesty International, believe so and advocate for the addition of ‘gender’ to the definition of a refugee offered by Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.

But others object this amendment. Nahla Valji and Deborah Anker (in Valji, 2000), for instance, claim that the travaux préparatoires of the Convention show that the inclusion of the term ‘particular social group’ “was meant to protect groups and individuals that did not fall within the categories of race, religion, and political opinion”. Thus, according to them, ‘gender’ was intended to be protected.

Yet, even if one accepts that the Convention implicitly intended to include women as potential members of a 'particular social group', many actors, namely states, do not accept this interpretation.

This paper borrows from international refugee law literature to argue that a substantial need exists for the inclusion of 'gender' alongside race, nationality, religion, membership of a particular social group, and political opinion as a recognized ground of persecution by the 1951 Convention.


Valji, N. (2000). Women and the 1951 Refugee Convention: fifty years of seeking visibility. Refuge, 19(5), 25-35.


Neither Here Nor There : Leela’s Response to Trauma in Anita Rau Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?

Sanchari Sur, Queen's University,

In the majority of ethnographic research, Indian women are portrayed as passive victims of violence and, due to a variety of cultural taboos, many women chose not to answer back to these claims directly -though their stories of violence, strength, resistance and trauma, either to researchers or in autobiographical form- because they risk dishonor in their families and communities (Menon & Bhasin). Veena Das and Gyanendra Pandey argue that Indian women respond to trauma either through rigid silence or by creating fictionalized narratives around their experiences. These fictionalized accounts illustrate the rich and varied responses that Indian women have to trauma in the background of communal violence. Trauma, according to Leigh Gilmore, is a self-altering, sometimes self- shattering event that is resistant to the harsh lens of detached factual disclosures that demand times, dates and locations. While ethnographic research seeks answers from traumatized victims, a fictional text frees authors from the scrutiny of factual accounts and offers a myriad of conflicting, paradoxical and, at times contested, responses to these events. I explore a fictional account of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Anita Rau Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? (2007), and argue that a woman’s differential responses to trauma have to be understood in the context of their gendered upbringing and socio-historical circumstances that are temporal and contingent. Through the character of Leela, my paper shows the ways in which trauma crosses national and international borders, and opens up possibilities for envisioning changing national allegiances in the background of violence.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie