Elizabeth Wirtz 

In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Gender Based Violence (GBV) has become a hot-button issue. These movements bring to the forefront the prevalence of sexual abuse and demand due attention to the ways in which GBV is embedded in every institution, including anthropology. The 2018 American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting saw an unprecedented number of panels, roundtables, and events focused on sexual harassment and assault in academic departments, field schools/sites, and even our annual conferences. #MeTooAnthro represents an awakening for the discipline as we shift our gaze inward to examine our own abuses of power.

Gender Based Violence is not a new phenomenon, nor is the anthropological exploration thereof. Brief mentions of or allusions to GBV are scattered throughout early ethnographic writings. The rise of feminist anthropology in the 1970s encouraged anthropologists to critically engage with gender as not only a cultural construct and individually enacted identity, but at a system of power. Along with that focus emerged a recognition that violence is an integral part of the construction of gender and the maintenance of gendered systems of power and inequity. 

What is relatively new is an appreciation for the importance of a sustained and in-depth focus on GBV as an object of anthropological inquiry. Established in 2008, the Gender-Based Violence Topical Interest Group (GBV TIG) is the longest running TIG of the Society for Applied Anthropology. The founding of the TIG, by Hillary Haldane and Jennifer Wies, drew together small crowds of dedicated scholars. Through their determination to create a space to critically engage each other, involve activists and practitioners, and amplify scholarship on GBV, our community was born. 

A little over a decade later, the GBV TIG is no longer a small group seeking to emerge from the shadows. We are now a network of over 75 listserv members and 250 Facebook followers. At the 2018 SfAA meetings we sponsored 11 panels that brought together scholars of all stages and multiple countries to discuss their work and engage in a collective process of knowledge production surrounding issues of GBV that spanned topics such as clinical encounters, commercial sex work, intersectional approaches to GBV, and the politics of writing about GBV. At the 2018 AAAs we hosted our first GBV TIG Social Networking Event to facilitate connections and collaborations among our members. At the upcoming 2019 SfAA conference, we are sponsoring 12 panels, a business meeting, and a Social Networking Event. 

Our members and their work are increasingly recognized as essential to our anthropological community and the construction of anthropological knowledge. Gabriella Torres was awarded the 2018 Gender Equity in Anthropology Award for her efforts in crafting the association’s sexual harassment and assault policies. Sameena Mulla was named the 2017 Margaret Mead Award winner for her book, The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention. Co-founders Wies and Haldane produced two edited volumes, Anthropology at the Front Lines of Gender-Based Violence and Applying Anthropology to Gender-Based Violence: Global Responses, Local Practices, that highlight the diverse work of GBV scholars. They are now co-editing a book series specifically devoted to GBV. The GBV TIG has also produced a special issue of Practicing Anthropology. These mentions represent only a small portion of the magnificent achievements of our members.  

In Mulla’s award acceptance speech, she stressed the importance of supportive communities in sustaining the work we do, saying “When you work on the devastating, and I don’t know too many anthropologists who have terribly cheerful projects, it is so important to do this in community… I am so grateful to the GBV-TIG for being that space where it was possible to discuss, with courage and freedom, some of the most complicated and difficult aspects of the human experience, with compassion and understanding…I’m glad we’ve all found each other.” I too share Mulla’s sentiments. I ‘came-of-age’ as a scholar in the GBV TIG. I began attending GBV TIG sponsored panels and business meetings as an early graduate student and quickly found myself embedded in a welcoming community of inspiring scholar-activists who actively seek to empower each other and to amplify the work we do within anthropology and beyond. 

As I reflect back on the past ten years of the GBV TIG, I am awed at how far we have come and the impact we have made in the field of anthropology and our theoretical, methodological, and applied approaches to gendered violence. But our work is far from over. If there is anything the #MeToo movement has taught us, it is that there is a great need for critical interrogations of GBV and the development of effective solutions. Our TIG has grown a lot in the past ten years, but this work requires continued efforts from more people and diverse voices. By supporting enduring and emerging collaborations among scholars, activists, and practitioners, the GBV TIG is dedicated to fostering a space to address the challenges surrounding gendered violence.  

We invite you to join us for the next ten years and beyond. For more information on the GBV TIG or to join our listserv, please drop us an e-mail at gbvanth@gmail.com

Elizabeth Wirtz is the co-chair of the GBV TIG (with April Petillo and Allison Bloom). She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University. Her research centers on: refugees/forced migration, humanitarianism in relief and development, sexual and gender based violence, reproductive health, human centered design in technology and engineering, and STEM higher education.

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