Groundbreaking Researcher Nicole Westmarland Endorses Global Rights for Women
By Patricia Cumbie, Communications Manager
February 16, 2021
Nicole Westmarland is an academic with both feet grounded in lived experience, which makes her work as a professor of criminology and director of the Durham Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse at Durham University in the UK even more impactful.
The list of published research papers she’s written is as long as your arm, and she is one of the youngest people to be offered a full professorship at Durham University in its 180+ year history. She’s got the cred, but there’s oh so much more.
The coolest thing about Nicole is that she uses her research to change lives, because her personal experience with gender based violence fuels her passion. She’s absolutely one of the world’s heroes as an academic researching violence against women.
As a young person growing up, this was something she never would have predicted for herself.
Nicole started her career path as 15-year-old dropout working as a taxi driver. Her unlikely journey into academia began when she decided to get an education, driving at night to support herself. That’s when she took her first women’s studies class.
“I didn’t know women’s studies existed. It was a real eye-opener. You see the world in a different way once you know this stuff. There are some things you can’t unlearn.” Her first project was researching the dynamics of gender-based violence women taxi drivers experience from both customers and co-workers.
Nicole has a bracing and fresh approach to research. She is totally real about the day-to-day barriers women face economically and socially, grounded in her own experiences with gender-based violence on the job. Today she is known for her work on rape, domestic violence and prostitution, which has led to a number of policy changes, and Nicole has spoken about them all over the world.
All of her gender-based violence projects have been ground-breaking, but Project Mirabal, where she worked to study the efficacy of batterer intervention programs is where her work directly intersects with Global Rights for Women and the men’s batterer intervention program Pathways to Family Peace.
Nicole invited our director of international training, Melissa Scaia, to Durham University in June of 2017 to lecture about coordinated community responses (CCR) to domestic violence. After they met, Melissa asked Nicole if she would consider being a researcher on videoconference software covering men’s groups.
When asked about Melissa’s work, Nicole said: “What Melissa and Global Rights for Women does is brave and was seen as radical at the time. Once Covid hit, it allowed us to get knowledge out very quickly because of the initial lessons we learned pre-Covid.”
As part of Project Mirabal, Nicole wanted to address the controversy around whether batterer intervention programs (BIP) work and was willing to let the research guide her outcomes. “I’ll be honest, initially I was sceptical that those programs could be successful, but in nearly all cases they do make lives better for both women and men.”
She believes that the debate about whether BIPs work or not is bound up in binary yes-no thinking. “We don’t put that kind of pressure on other interventions. For example, if a person took a painkiller for a headache and it didn’t work, we don’t say we will never take painkillers ever again because they didn’t work. The information delivered in perpetrator programs is helpful to lots of people, especially around gender roles and parenting. We want to add nuance to the conversation.”
One of the things Nicole is keenly aware of in all her research on gender-based violence is how complacent world societies are about its inevitability and the pressures on survivors to keep silent. “I’m very driven to create change and reduce violence and abuse.”
She said the ‘switch flipped’ when she saw through her research the power inherent in creating programs that provide equality-based education, not just for men, but for women, too. “Give people knowledge to apply to their own lives. This allows us to think more creatively about people using violence and new levels of opportunity to act responsibly with that. We need to take the knowledge Global Rights for Women has and see that it is shared across the world.”
Patricia Cumbie is the communications manager for Global Rights for Women.