Q&A with Christine Chinkin

We speak to the inaugural director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics

March 26, 2015

Source: LSE

UK estimates for 2011-12 are that two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week; 1.2m are victims of domestic abuse; 400,000 are sexually assaulted; there are 1,500 cases of forced marriage

Christine Chinkin is a barrister and emeritus professor of international law at the London School of Economics. In 2006 she was joint winner of the Goler T. Butcher Medal, awarded by the American Society of International Law for outstanding contributions to the development or effective realisation of international human rights law. In February she was named director of the UK’s first academic Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the LSE.

Where and when were you born?
1949 in Herne Bay, Kent.

How has this shaped you?
I have been shaped far more by where I have lived since. I lived and worked in the US, Singapore and Australia for 15 years. These different academic and cultural environments shaped my disciplinary outlook and have allowed me to develop a network of colleagues and friends.

As its inaugural director, what are your aims for the centre?
To develop a leading centre for teaching and research on women, peace and security and gender-based violence in armed conflict that combines a strong practical as well as academic perspective. I hope it will become a major hub for activists, opinion formers, policymakers and researchers.

Abuse of women, both physical and psychological, is frequently reported in the UK. Can you quantify how large a problem it is globally?
No – much depends on how abuse is defined, the level of reporting (or under-reporting) and the likelihood of follow-up action. But UK Home Office estimates for 2011-12 are that two women are killed by a partner, ex-partner or lover every week; 1.2 million are victims of domestic abuse; 400,000 women are sexually assaulted or raped; there are 1,500 cases of forced marriage and 66,000 cases of female genital mutilation. The United Nations has termed violence against women a “global pandemic” in diverse forms.

Angelina Jolie Pitt is a vocal advocate for women’s rights. What has been her role in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security?
As co-founder with William Hague, Ms Jolie Pitt was instrumental in creating the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative from which the centre was developed. She is a supporter of the centre, as evidenced by her participation in its launch in February.

How grave an issue is gender inequality in the UK?
Inequality, discrimination on the basis of sex and gender, and adverse stereotyping persist throughout all strata of society – through, for instance, unequal participation in public life, through the effects of austerity, through the continued gender pay gap, through the representation of women in the media and the incidence of gender-based violence.

How much of a problem is gender inequality in the academy?
We certainly can’t be complacent. It is difficult to generalise across institutions but some aspects include inadequate attention to gender issues in the “mainstream” curriculum; stereotyping of gender roles; pressures put on female students by a “laddish” culture; too few senior female academics; pressure on female academics to take on pastoral roles and to provide a woman’s presence on committees.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To be far more confident and to be less readily swayed by other people’s agendas rather than pursuing my own.

What has changed most in higher education in the past 10 years?
Obviously the introduction of fees and with it the “consumer” culture of students; the number of forms to fill in; the amount of information available on the internet and the decreased length of time spent in the library.

What keeps you awake at night?
Too hot a bedroom and a glass of white wine too many.

What do you do for fun?
Walking (I am currently walking Offa’s Dyke with my husband over a number of weekends); reading mystery thrillers; supporting the Saints (Southampton FC) – although this last is not always fun!

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
Elizabeth Evatt was a former judge in Australia and a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. She, along with other Australian colleagues, notably Hilary Charlesworth, was an inspiration when I first began working on women’s human rights in the late 1980s.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
The sort of undergraduate I find difficult from the other side of the desk – quiet and unwilling to speak in tutorials, but active in student societies, notably as a member of the University of London Women’s Boat Club.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best: having the space and time to pursue research interests within and outside the academy and to do so with a range of remarkable people – students, colleagues and others working in the field. The worst: missing deadlines and feeling that too many tasks are rushed and not completed as well as should have been possible.

john.elmes@tesglobal.com

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