Background of Åsa Ekvall
After a Master’s Degree in African contemporary history at Sorbonne and a Master’s Degree in Peace and conflict research at Uppsala University I went to work in the field of development aid. I have worked many years in both post-conflict and conflict settings (South Africa, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chad and Sudan). This work was mainly focused on gender equality, women’s empowerment and gender-based violence. This experience made me start thinking about the relationship between gender equality, or rather gender inequality, and the acceptance of various forms of violence. It seemed to me the that the bigger the gender inequalities there were in a society, the more violence there was at different levels in the same society and the more individuals seemed to normalize this violence.
A few years ago, I decided to quit my job and start thinking about these issues full-time by doing a PhD at the University of Antwerp. In 2015 it bacme a Joint PhD with the International Institute of Social Studies of the Erasmus University in The Hague. I defended my PhD on 14 March 2018 in The Hague. My thesis “Gender inequality, homophobia and violence: the three pillars of patriarchal norms and their relations” shows that the more people in a society approve of gender equality and the more they accept homosexuality, the less violence of all sorts there are in that society – from violent crime to internal armed conflict. The countries that are the most gender unequal and homophobic are the ones that are the most likely to experience armed conflict on their own territory. And the other way around, the countries that are the most gender equal and accepting of homosexuality are the ones the least likely to experience armed conflict on their own territory. However, these egalitarian countries are also the ones the most likely to send troops abroad to fight on other countries territories and to sell arms to other countries – thus exporting violence.
Still, gender equality and acceptance of homosexuality are very strongly correlated to low levels of violence in the society and the theory suggests that it is causal. This would mean that in a society where we treat everyone as an equal, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, we also think that it’s wrong to use violence against other people. Increasing attitudes that are accepting of and positive to gender equality and homosexuality would therefore make people think more negatively about the use of violence.
I tested this using a gender training for young men in India. The participants got input on gender equality, patriarchal norms and masculinities but not on violence other than violence against women. After the training most participants had more positive views on gender equality and more accepting views of homosexuality. Surprisingly, they also had less accepting views on state violence (torture by the police), ethnic and political violence and militarization, despite the fact that these types of violence had not been mentioned at all during the training. This strongly suggests a causal link between patriarchal norms on gender and sexuality and violence. And that shows the importance on working to increase gender equality and reduce homophobia when addressing violence at all levels.
During 2016 I was part of founding a Dutch national committee of UN Women, see unwomen.nl. UN Women Netherlands has the double aim to help fundraise for UN Women International and to advocate for gender equality – including against gender-based violence – in the Netherlands. I am now coordinating our Safe Streets program – helping Dutch municipalities to make the public space safer for women and girls (and indirectly for everyone else…).
I am working with the Nedworc Foundation since 2013 as an independent consultant on gender issues. During my years as a PhD researcher I have been doing a number of consultancies on the side. These include projects for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the MC Group and the European Union sponsored Program for Reform of the Justice System (PARJ) in Kinshasa, DRC.