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New journal focuses on curbing violence against women in India

September 28, 2020
In response to gender-based violence, protesters decry the Indian government.Protesters decry the Indian government's reaction to rape cases. A new peer-reviewed journal—launched with the help of the University's Susan B. Anthony Center—addresses sexual and gender-based violence in South Asia while connecting researchers with legal practitioners and policy makers. (Getty Images photo)
The University’s Susan B. Anthony Center is instrumental in starting an academic journal for best practices and scientific research on combating gender-based violence in South Asia.

In the fall of 2018, Catherine Cerulli, director of the University of Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony Center and the Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization (LIVV), packed her suitcase to travel to India. Under the Fulbright Specialist Program by the US Department of State, Cerulli—who is also a professor of psychiatry at the University—was going to spend the month of September teaching courses on the intersection of law, policy, and social science to students at the law school of Jamia Millia Islamia, a central university in New Delhi.

A renowned researcher on domestic violence, the former assistant district attorney is well aware of the region’s acute problems with gender-based violence and the urgent need to improve women’s safety. Horrific stories of gang rape, sometimes involving very young victims, continue to rock Indian society and keep making for shocking headlines worldwide. Once on the ground, Cerulli noticed immediately her students’ thirst for information on how to tackle the region’s most pressing public health problems.

Read the inaugural issue

Check out the South Asian Journal of Law, Policy, and Social Research, a peer-reviewed journal that fosters solutions to legal and social issues in South Asia while connecting researchers with legal practitioners and policy makers.

Two students in particular stood out: not only did they sit in the front row and attend every class, but they also sometimes even repeated them. Toward the end of her stay, the two young men, Naseer Husain Jafri and Umair Ahmed Andrabi, asked Cerulli for help in starting an academic journal. The duo had already created a not-for-profit called FAITH—the Foundation for Academia, Innovation & Thought—to host a peer-reviewed journal, as well as colloquia and other pilot projects that would focus on the intersection of law, public policy, and evidence-based science to address pressing social justice issues.

When Cerulli returned to Rochester, the team continued to meet via Zoom for the next several months. Soon the group grew to include the assistant director of the University’s Susan B. Anthony Center, Catherine Faurot, who has extensive editorial and academic writing experience. Together, Cerulli and Faurot became the editors-in-chief for the journal’s inaugural edition that was to focus on violence against women.

“It’s a harrowing situation for girls and women in South Asia,” says Faurot. “In the face of a patriarchal culture that devalues women profoundly—there are women, girls, men working to transform that culture, working to transform women’s lives. It’s is profoundly inspiring to see what these women and girls face just trying to get to school or trying to get to work.”

Their hard work paid off: the first of two inaugural issues of the South Asian Journal of Law, Policy, and Social Research is now out. Accessible online, the peer-reviewed journal focuses on how to respond to gender-based violence with articles ranging from navigating sexual harassment on the Delhi metro, to unpacking the role of women’s collectives in addressing intimate partner violence in South Asia, to engaging boys in a comprehensive model to address sexual and gender-based violence in schools.

A Rochester alumna, Sachi Inoue ’19, a microbiology major who is now pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University, is one of the contributors, writing about the state and future directions of gender-based sexual violence against women in India.

‘Bridging the communication gap’ on gender-based violence

Noting the imperative that research be accessible to policy makers at all levels of government in order to change approaches to pressing social problems, Cerulli says there is a tremendous amount of international research already available about gender-based violence.

Group photo of the team that helped put together the new journal "South Asian Journal of Law, Policy, and Social Research."

The team that helped create and launch the new journal “South Asian Journal of Law, Policy, and Social Research” includes Naseer Husain Jafri (fourth from left), Catherine Cerulli (center), Umair Ahmed Andrabi (fourth from right), and Catherine Faurot (right).

“However, there is also important research being conducted in Asia that can help shape interventions prior to their being created, implemented, tested, and refined. The journal provides an opportunity to bring together all kinds of different sectors,” says Cerulli.

Pointing to the apparent gap in sharing research across South Asian countries, the FAITH founders Andrabi and Jafri say they wanted to create a mechanism to come together for “debate, discussion, and sharing ideas, and to contribute information backed by facts and sources to the world.”

They write in the prologue of the first issue that “often a research gap can impede progress towards dialogue.” According to Faurot, the two students sought to bypass the misinformation that’s being spread on social media and by a politically influenced press in the region. “We believe that bridging the communication gap between the academicians of these countries, in partnership with legal practitioners and policy makers, through an interdisciplinary research platform, is a means to finding solutions to multiple regional issues,” write Jafri and Andrabi.

Finding qualified authors was a surprisingly quick undertaking, recalls Faurot. As the team put out the call for submissions, they were overwhelmed with interest from authors across a variety of disciplines, despite a quick deadline. That’s why the Susan B. Anthony Center decided to host two inaugural issues instead of just one, says Faurot.

Pulling together an international editorial board and peer reviewers also went smoothly because people could get behind the focus of the issue—to move from an idea to direct implementation, adds Cerulli. In Rochester, John Cullen—currently the SBAC’s acting director while Cerulli is in Washington, DC, as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow—and Diane Morse, an internal medicine physician and researcher, along with medical students from the University of Rochester Medical Center pitched in, too.

Anchored in science, available to all

From the get-go the founders had an overriding principle in mind: not only was the journal to be firmly anchored in scientific, research-tested best practices—it was also to be widely accessible. Open access meant that everyone would have access to the articles while the authors maintained ownership over their work. But that was easier said than done.

Meanwhile, the Susan B. Anthony Center successfully applied for a grant to the University’s Office for Global Engagement to host Jafri and Andrabi for a few weeks in Rochester, New York, in September 2019. That way the two students could attend research meetings, complete their human research subjects training, and meet with potential hosts for the journal.

“Our office was thrilled to see this work coming from the ground up and echoing on a global level,” says Ruth Levenkron, director of global affairs and engagement. “We are delighted to provide support and can’t wait to see what continues to develop for this project.”

While free access is important, there’s hardly ever such a thing as a “free lunch.” Often, the online hosting charge is simply passed on to the authors. Yet academics in developing countries frequently lack the funds to pay such a fee. That’s where SSRN, originally founded in Rochester, stepped in and agreed to provide the online hosting for free. SSRN, formerly known as Social Science Research Network, is an Elsevier-owned repository for preprints and international journals devoted to the rapid dissemination of scholarly research in the social sciences and humanities.

Originally, the journal was set to be printed and officially launched in New Delhi in early March of this year. Cerulli and Faurot were already in India, still feverishly making last copy changes from their hotel rooms, when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic. The two returned home; the physical launch was scrapped. Five months later, however, the journal was ready for prime time.

Since its launch in late August, the journal has experienced tremendous responses: within a few days, the online publication had already climbed to SSRN’s top ten on three separate download lists. Indian news outlets were taking note, too, reporting positively on the journal.

Cerulli says there clearly is a need for this topic to be addressed in a thoughtful, academic way and then to be translated into effective policies and plans of action. “We at the Susan B. Anthony Center are grateful that we were able to act as a catalyst to help launch this important initiative and offer our students and faculty a chance to partner with other international participants.”

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