For women, ending slavery and involuntary servitude would be a benefit. A greater benefit would be ending prison.

On January 31, 1865, the U.S Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads in its entirety: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. According to the National Archives, “With the adoption of the 13th Amendment, the United States found a final constitutional solution to the issue of slavery.” Not altogether. There’s the matter of the exception clause, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” which makes it perfectly legal, even Constitutional, to force incarcerated people to work for little or no pay. Yesterday, January 31, 2024, 159 years later, advocacy group Worth Rises released a study, “A Cost-Benefit Analysis: The Impact of Ending Slavery and Involuntary Servitude as Criminal Punishment and Paying Incarcerated Workers Fair Wages”. Where are the women in this study and in the current world(s) constructed and codified by the 13th Amendment’s exception? Where are the women, and where should they be?

According to the study, “This study projects that while society overall will benefit from abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude in prison, and from paying fair wages for prison labor, those gains will fall disproportionately to groups and communities that have been most impacted by mass incarceration, specifically Black and Brown people, low-income people, and women …. Roughly 47% of incarcerated men and 58% of incarcerated women are the parents of minor children …. 58% of women in state or federal prisons have minor children,103 and most of them are single mothers, thus bearing sole responsibility for their young children …. Women — and Black and Hispanic women in particular — shoulder most of the financial costs of incarceration burdening families and loved ones. A recent study, for instance, showed that family members paid for court-related costs in 63% of criminal cases, and that 83% of these family members were women. The same study also found that 87% of the costs of staying connected through calls and visits similarly fell on women. Based on these data, this study projects that women will indirectly receive much of the economic benefit from fair wage payments to incarcerated workers.” Where are the women? Everywhere all at once and under attack.

While ending slavery and involuntary servitude are worthwhile, laudable and practical goals, is it enough? Consider the news just from the past week.

On Wednesday, the same day the study was issued, The Seattle Times reported, “Washington state has paid $9.9 million to settle a lawsuit by a woman whose cervical cancer grew terminal while she was incarcerated after prison doctors failed to adequately diagnose and treat the disease. In the latest of a series of deadly and expensive health care failures in state prisons, Paula Gardner, who was serving time for drug and burglary convictions, didn’t receive appropriate medical care for more than two years despite tests showing signs of possible cancer — and eventually a scan revealing a growth inside her uterus …. The settlement money will benefit Gardner for what remains of her life, as well as her two sons, who were also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.”

On Monday, The Argus Leader reported, “The state [South Dakota] is facing a record average daily population of more than 600 women in the state’s two women prisons. That’s nearly double the prisons’ daily capacity.” Department of Corrections Secretary Kellie Wasko commented, “I do worry a little bit about the female institution if we don’t do something.”

Do something. More often than not, the response to overcrowding is to build more prisons, this even though Secretary Wasko made it clear that sentencing guidelines and, secondarily, substance abuse account for the fact that people were incarcerated in the first place. Building more prisons won’t address the injustice of the sentencing system nor will it address substance abuse.

Do something. Two weeks ago, in England, a court of appeals did something: “The court of appeal has quashed the prison sentence of a heavily pregnant woman so that she can give birth safely, in a case hailed as a landmark by campaigners.” Instead of the sentence she had received from a criminal court, five years for possession of a firearm and ammunition and serving two and a half years in prison, the judges gave the woman a two-year suspended sentence with a rehabilitation requirement.

The case occurred at all because the pregnant woman’s mother feared for her daughter’s life and contacted Level Up, “a feminist community campaigning for gender justice in the UK”. Level Up campaigns to keep pregnant women out of prison. Level Up gave the pregnant woman support and assistance. After the judges’ decision was rendered, Janey Starling, Level Up co-director, said: “This landmark judgment marks a sea change in sentencing practices. Several other countries do not imprison pregnant women or new mothers and England’s courts are beginning to catch up. Prison will never be a safe place to be pregnant. The prison ombudsman, Ministry of Justice and NHS have declared all pregnancies in prison as high risk. This means that when a judge sentences a pregnant woman to prison, they are sentencing her to a high-risk pregnancy. That is unconscionable.”

Slavery is unconscionable. Involuntary servitude is unconscionable. Refusing care is unconscionable. Toxic, life endangering overcrowding is unconscionable. Sentencing someone to high-risk pregnancy is unconscionable. Do something about it. Close the prisons and create the scales of justice anew. 159 years is too long.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image credit: 2nd Life Media Alamogordo Town News) (Photo Credit: Level Up / Elizabeth Dalziel)

Femicide, and it still is news

 

2024 begins as so many previous years have, with reports of and reflections concerning femicides. Here are just a few headlines from the past few days, each followed by the country or countries involved:  “Femicides up in Argentina as Milei seeks to weaken protections” (Argentina); “The femicide of Julieta Hernández, a Venezuelan migrant in Brazil, sparks outrage across South America” (Brazil); “SJC Urges Government to Strengthen Preventive Measures Against Femicide” (Georgia); “Pregnant Woman’s Brutal Killing Fuels Femicide Debate in Greece” (Greece); “Kenya femicide: A woman’s murder exposes the country’s toxic online misogyny” (Kenya); “Femicide in Kenya a national crisis, say rights groups” (Kenya); “Exigen justicia para Mafer, víctima de feminicidio en Morelos” (Mexico). In France, early this month, the Minister of Justice announced that, with “only” 94 femicides in 2023, the French government had achieved success. Feminist and women’s organization, using a different method, a method previously used by the French government, found the number to be higher. Even if the number was 94, what kind of “success” is that? Yet again, we are facing a “global femicide epidemic”.

Near the end of last year, the United Nations released its second Femicide Report, Gender-Related Killings of Women and Girls (Femicide/Feminicide): Global estimates of female intimate partner/family related homicides in 2022. The study found that while homicide numbers had fallen, femicide numbers remained the same or rose. Most of the killings were gender-related and committed by intimate partners or other family relations. “The risks of gender-based violence and femicide are only rising as our world is engulfed in conflict, humanitarian emergencies, environmental and economic crises and displacement.” That was in 2022. What does one imagine 2023 and 2024 will look like? Finally, “women and girls in all regions across the world are affected by this type of gender-based violence.” What else is there to say?

Quite a bit, actually. “While the overwhelming majority of male homicides occur outside the home, for women and girls the most dangerous place is the home.” For women and girls, the most dangerous place is the home. During the pandemic, in every part of the world without any exceptions, the number and rate of femicides increased. Well, the pandemic is over, but the number and rate of femicides continue to increase, or, at the very least, remain at the elevated levels. Why? The causes are many, but one overarching reason, along with patriarchy, is government indifference. For example. Italy passed laws ten years ago and invested considerably large amounts of money, and yet the number and rate of femicides remained relatively stable. Why? According to a recent report, the Italian government put all of its money in attending to victims and survivors of femicide, and little on prevention. The title of that report is “PREVENZIONE SOTTOCOSTO: La miopia della politica italiana nella lotta alla violenza maschile contro le donne”. Low-cost prevention: The myopia of Italian politics in the struggle against male violence against women.” Myopia is a form of blindness, but this `short-sightedness’ is willful.

Until domestic violence is seen as a priority, femicides, in raw numbers and rates of commission, will continue to rise, while governments will find new methods of counting and declare success, if not victory. Around the world, this year will see a storm of national elections. Watch to see where domestic violence, violence against women and girls, and femicide figure in the various campaigns. Remember, ten or one hundred or one thousand fewer is not good enough. #NotOneMore #NiUnaMas #NiUnaMenos

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: “Una Ogni Tre Giorni” by Laila / Wanted in Rome)

Domestic workers organized, and the New Jersey General Assembly passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights!

On Monday, January 8, 2023, after more than two and a half years of deliberating, and not deliberating, the New Jersey General Assembly finally voted on and passed the New Jersey Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, 47 – 26. Monday was the last day of the legislative session. The bill was passed out of committee on January 4, the last day the committee could hear and decide on whether or not to pass the bill onto the general body. As one domestic worker/organizer said, “They put us last minute because we were there with our presence”. This bill was first introduced June 2021. For two and a half years, and longer, domestic workers showed up, pushed, persisted, shouted, whispered, sang, linked arms, advocated, mobilized, organized, organized, and organized. They were there with their presence. As domestic worker/organizer Sandy Castro explained, “It’s a very big win for us. It feels good to see it come to fruition after sacrificing so much time, so many days, to continue this fight”.

The New Jersey Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights provides domestic workers protection against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; ensures mandatory meal and rest breaks; and requires written agreements that establish, detail, and document hours, wages and duties. Employers will have to pay workers no less than the state minimum wage, $15.13 an hour. The new law creates a board to monitor and review the implementation of the legislation and make recommendations to improve it and provides for the enforcement of domestic worker rights. Finally, the new law ensures advance notice of termination and provides other protections for live-in workers, such as privacy and anti-trafficking safeguards. In other words, domestic workers are workers. The centuries long era of exclusion is coming to an end … finally.

In 2020, Rutgers University Center for Women and Work issued a report, Domestic Workers in New Jersey, which found, unsurprisingly, “domestic workers are predominately female with a high proportion of immigrants and women of color. This is especially true for New Jersey, where domestic workers are even more likely to be female, immigrant, and non-white compared to the U.S. national average. In New Jersey, 97 percent of all domestic workers are female, 52 percent are immigrants, and 60 percent are non-white.” The report also found that the top three reasons domestic workers did not take action against labor violations were, in descending order, “Did not know how”; “Did not know I could”; “Afraid I would lose my job”. The new law establishes structures to educate both workers and employers concerning the law. Eliminate not knowing and fear, you eliminate over 60% of the respondents’ reasons for not contesting and reporting labor violations.

New Jersey joins ten other states that have some version of a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights: New York, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, and Virginia. New York passed its Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in 2010; Virginia, in 2021. As domestic worker/organizer Evelyn Saz explained, “This bill is a critical step toward justice, not only for us in New Jersey but for domestic workers across the nation. We deserve to work with protections, dignity and the respect we have rightfully earned.” They came with their presence … and they won for workers across the nation.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: National Domestic Workers Alliance)

In the name of dignity, Pennsylvania stops shackling pregnant women, women in childbirth

 

On December 13, 2023, the Pennsylvania Senate and House voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 900, known as the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. The new law prohibits shackling any pregnant, laboring or post-partum incarcerated individual; prohibits the use of solitary confinement for incarcerated pregnant people; and provides up to three days of post-delivery bonding time between the mother and the newborn. The new law also prohibits full body searches of incarcerated women by male guards. The new law requires and provides trauma-informed training for all corrections officers interacting with incarcerated pregnant people. The new law also provides free feminine hygiene products for incarcerated people and provides for accommodation of adequate visitation time between minor children and incarcerated individuals (male or female) who were the sole legal guardian of those minor children at the time of their arrest. As the law’s principal sponsors — Representatives Morgan Cephas, Mike Jones, and Tina Davis – wrote, “Over the past three decades Pennsylvania has seen a significant increase in the number of incarcerated women. While we believe in supporting a system that serves justice, women who are incarcerated face a number of unique issues regarding their heath and the health of their children. Despite being incarcerated, these women are still our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, and it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure we treat them with dignity.”

This is good news, to be celebrated. On December 14, 2023, Governor Josh Shapiro signed the bill into law. At the same time, it must be recognized that it took seven years of advocacy in the state legislature combined with advocacy and mobilization on the ground. Why does such legislation always take so long? And why does it always have loopholes, so-called discretionary clauses that leave so much up to the discretion of precisely the groups that have willingly leapt to broach women’s dignity for years, for decades? At this point, most states ban the use of restraints on incarcerated individuals, and yet it continues to occur … often: “Confusion over the laws, lack of sanctions for violations, and wide loopholes are contributing to the continued shackling of pregnant women in custody. But it’s nearly impossible to get an accurate picture of the prevalence because of limited data collection and little independent oversight.”

The new Pennsylvania law does include provisions for recording any use of restraints or of restrictive housing. The law has been passed. Now is the time for implementation. How many incarcerated pregnant women suffered `indignity’ during the seven-year period, and what becomes of their trauma and pain? State after state has passed, or delayed or refused to pass, a Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. Perhaps it’s time, past time, to have a national discussion of the meaning(s) of dignity for women.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula)  (Image Credit 2: New York Times / Andrea Dezsö)

As 2023 ends, where are the women? Increasingly, in prisons and jails and under attack

A year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics released two reports, Jail Inmates in 2021 and Prisoners in 2021. From June 2020 to June 2021, the number of people held in jails rose 16%: “The number of males confined in local jails increased 15% from 2020 to 2021, while females increased 22%.” From June 2020 to June 2021, the number of people in prisons decreased by 1%: “The overall decline reflected a decrease in prison populations in 32 states that was offset by an increase in 17 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).” Where were the women in this modestly decreasing population? “Twenty-three states and the BOP each had more female prisoners at yearend 2021 than at yearend 2020. The number of females in the BOP prison population increased more than 7% (up almost 800) from yearend 2020 to yearend 2021 … The BOP had approximately 5% more sentenced females and 1% more sentenced males at yearend 2021 than at yearend 2020.”  Well, it’s a year later, at the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics released two reports, Jail Inmates in 2022 and Prisoners in 2022. Where are the women? Increasingly, in prisons and jails and under attack. Everywhere and nowhere, all at once.

Let’s begin with the Bureau’s prisoner summary: “In 2022, combined state and federal prisoner population increased for first time in almost a decade …. The number of females in state or federal prison increased almost 5% from yearend 2021 (83,700) to yearend 2022 (87,800).” Here’s the Bureau’s jail inmates summary: “Local jails held 4% more people in 2022 than in 2021 … From 2021 to 2022, the number of females in jail increased 9%, while the number of males increased 3%”

The overall prison population increased by 2%; the number of women increased by 5%. From 2021 to 2022, the number of females in jail increased 9%, while the number of males increased 3%. Why are women `winning’ the race to the bottom? Overwhelmingly they are convicted, or better condemned, for non-violent acts, mostly property or drug-related, mostly generated by poverty, drugs, or trauma. This is the second year in a row that women’s incarceration rate increases have exceeded those of men. What does that say? In October, in Uganda, the Commissioner General of Prison Service bemoaned the sorry state of women’s incarceration, noting, “We have a policy that all women are entitled to beds. We might not be meeting it but that is our policy.” We have a policy. We might not be meeting it but that is our policy. Unlike Uganda, the United States has a policy, which it is meeting. That policy is called witch hunt. For woman in distress, ailing, abused, in need of assistance, the place is a cage … with a bed … perhaps. We have a policy, and we are proud to say we are meeting it. What wonders will next year’s report reveal?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Images Credit: Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage / Aimee Wissman)

In Uganda, the Prisons Service decries and worries about fatal prison overcrowding … again

In the past two months, the heads of Uganda’s prison system have discovered and decried the intense prison overcrowding in their own prisons. In October, the headline read, “Prisons worry over increased number of female inmates”. Today’s headline reads, “Prisons boss decries abuse of prisoners’ rights”. The abuse is overcrowding. Will this performative articulation of attention make any difference? If history is any guide … no. As of September 2023, Uganda’s prisons were the third most congested in the world, after the Republic of Congo and Haiti. Uganda’s prisons are at 367.4% of capacity. In 2021, Uganda’s prison density was 319%. From 2000 to 2020, year after year, Uganda’s prison population has grown. In 2000, the prisons were already at over-capacity. In 2005, two-thirds of Uganda’s 18,000 prisoners were awaiting trial. Some had been caged for years, for no reason other than not being able to post bond. Of the 18,000, prisoners, 5,000 were in Luzira, built in the 1950’s, designed for a capacity of 500. That’s ten people for every one person’s space. For years. In 2010, the prison system reported over 30,000 prisoners, of whom a little over 1,000 were women. In March 2010, Luzira Upper was at 366% of approved capacity; Luzira Women’s at 357%. In 2013, members of civil society called on the State to “exempt women offenders with babies and expectant mothers from long custodial sentences”. At that time, 161 children of women prisoners were guests of the Ugandan State. In March 2012, Luzira Women’s Prison was at 357% capacity. In October 2016, Uganda’s notoriously overcrowded prisons recorded an occupancy rate of 293%, more than half of whom were pre-trial or remand prisoners.

It’s a bit late to be `discovering’ the problem. It has been there all along, in plain sight and fully documented. What’s going on? The State agencies have a simple answer: too many remand prisoners. What’s really going on? At the very least, the problem is no problem at all. Heads of prison staff routinely discover the overcrowding, lament the overcrowding, explain the overcrowding, and then do absolutely nothing.

According to the Commissioner General of the Uganda Prison Service, Can. Dr. Johnson Omuhunde Rwashote Byabashaija, in the last ten years, there has been a 125% increase in the number of incarcerated women, from 1591 in 2013 to 3585 today. The Commissioner’s response? “We have a policy that all women are entitled to beds. We might not be meeting it but that is our policy. Even when they are in prison, they are mothers of the nation. We can’t handle them the way we handle the other inmates. It is very terrible to see mothers congested, mothers need a lot of space to accommodate the children and themselves.” We might not be meeting the policy, but we definitely do have a policy, and so it’s fine.

This week Assistant Commissioner General of Prisons Samuel Akena explained, in a similar vein, “It is not fair for you to claim that I am responsible for poor food, poor housing, or poor clothing. Our responsibility is to ensure that the human rights of these people are observed. Congestion is caused by remand. The capacity I have is only for 20,000 prisoners, but we have 77,089 as of today.” We have a policy that says that our responsibility is to ensure human rights. We have a policy, which we might not be meeting, ok, we’re not meeting, but we have a policy … and so it’s fine.

It’s not fine. It’s not fine to discover, year in and year out, the violations and the violence that ensues therefrom. It’s not fine to continually discover the dangerous to fatal conditions to which so many are condemned, more often than not because they can’t post bail, and then claim the articulation of a policy bathes individuals and institutions of any guilt. A policy without implementation is no policy at all, in fact it’s worse than no policy. What will be discovered next year? This year, the occasion of the Assistant General’s remarks was the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 of that Declaration reads, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” We have a policy. We might not be meeting it.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Karim Mantra / Unsplash)

In Kenya, the women said, “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights”. Nine years later, they were heard. Why did it take so long?

Nine years ago, almost to the day, five women wearing t-shirts walked into a Nairobi court. On the back, the t-shirts read: “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights.” On the front, the t-shirts read, “END FORCED AND COERCED STERILIZATION OF WOMEN LIVING WITH HIV”. In September, finally, Kenya’s High Court ruled in their favor, awarding each 3,000,000 Kenyan shilling, or approximately $20,000. This is the second such case in Kenyan history. In December 2022, another Kenyan woman was also awarded 3,000,000 shilling, also for a sterilization without informed consent. So, 3,000,000 shilling, or $20,0000, is the going rate of `compensation’ for violence against women.

We wrote about the case nine years ago. We began writing about forced sterilization in 2012, concerning a case in Namibia, a case to which we returned in 2014. At that time, we argued that the decision in favor of the three women who had sued the State was “a victory for HIV-positive women, for all women, everywhere”. A decade later, we wonder if that declaratino of victory was perhaps a bit premature. Why does it take nine years for the High Court in Nairobi to decide the case, especially when one considers that the final decision absolves the State of all responsibility?

In 2014, we wrote, “The news this week from Chhattisgarh, India, is tragic. At latest count, 15 women have .died in a `sterilization camp’. Fifty others are in hospital, with at least 20 in critical condition. At first the operations were widely described as `botched.’ After only preliminary investigations, the response moved from `botched’ to `criminal’ and `corrupt’. Finally, the reporting has landed on how Indian this all is. It’s not. Forced sterilization of women is a global phenomenon, actually a global campaign, and it needs to be addressed, immediately. The women, all poor, of Chhattisgarh are part of a global public policy in which women’s bodies are, at best, disposable and, more often, detritus.” It’s now 2023, moving into 2024. Why did it take nine years for a High Court to decide?

In late September 2014, California formally banned forced and coerced sterilization of women prisoners … again. Then Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill No. 1135 into law. The bill read, in part: “This bill would prohibit sterilization for the purpose of birth control of an individual under the control of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or a county correctional facility, as specified.” Not forcing sterilization on women prisoners seemed pretty straightforward. Some would even say a no-brainer. And yet, that law took a lot of brains, and muscle and organizing and history. Think about the brains, muscle, organizing and history it took and takes for a group of women, say in Kenya, to discover they’ve been sterilized, without their knowledge much less informed consent; find the means to take the State and so-called health providers to court; and then to wait, not idly but rather mobilizing the entire time, for nine years.

That all happened before the Kenyan women went to court. Since then …

On February 26, 2015 the Virginia legislature agreed to pay $25,000 in compensation to those who had suffered forced sterilization during the Commonwealth’s decades long adventure in eugenics. What’s the rate of exchange between 2015 and 2023? Apparently $25,000 to $20,000.

In March 2015 in South Africa, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS responded to the indignity and abuse of forced sterilization. Represented by Her Rights Initiative, Oxfam, and the Women’s Legal Centre, 48 women who had suffered forced sterilization in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal came forward and lodged a formal complaint. These 48 `cases’ were from 1986 to 2014. Their case has been reported on, fully researched, and documented. As of now, they have received neither compensation nor a formal apology of any sort.

In March 2019, all major parties in Japan agreed to pass a measure that would “deeply apologize” and offer compensation to victim-survivors of forced sterilization. The compensation would be a one-off payment of around $28,700. Now we know the value of life in Japan … and beyond. What is the price of a `deep apology’ when made to women?

On May 26, 2022, Colombia’s newly elected President Gabriel Boric announced, “I would like to start by apologising to Francisca ….  for the serious violation of your rights and also for the denial of justice and for all the time you had to wait for this. How many people like you do we not know? It hurts to think that the state, which today I have the honour to represent, is responsible for these cases. I pledge to you, and to those who today represent you here in person, that while we govern, we will give the best of each one of us as authorities so that something like this will never happen again and certainly so that in cases where these atrocities have already been committed, they will be properly redressed.”. Boric went on to promise to provide specialist training to medical workers on HIV/AIDS to curb discrimination and to ensure that judges and lawyers are aware that affected women have a right to reparations. Who is Francisca?

In 2002, a 20-year-old, married rural woman known as Francisca discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner were elated. When, early in the pregnancy, Francisca went in for tests, she discovered that she was HIV positive. She immediately began a protocol of antiretrovirals. She had a caesarean delivery, successfully, and the child was HIV negative. That child, now 22 years old himself, is still HIV negative. When Francisca emerged from the surgery, a nurse informed her that the surgeon had sterilized her.  Francisca never asked for or wanted to be sterilized and had never consented. In 2007, Francisca sued the doctor. In 2008, the case was dismissed. In 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo took the case, on Francisca’s behalf, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In August 2021, the Chilean government signed a settlement accepting responsibility and offering something like reparations: a housing subsidy and healthcare for both Francisca and her son as well as a commitment to raise awareness of HIV and reproductive rights … after thirteen years.

In Peru, from 1996 to 2001, the Peruvian government, under the leadership of Alberto Fujimori, forced at least 2000 indigenous women to undergo forced sterilization … all in the name of family planning. In 2018, Fujimori and his accomplices were informed they would be facing charges. That case basically ended in mistrial. In September 2023, the same month in which the Kenyan women heard they would be receiving `compensation’, the daughters of Celia Ramos, who died in 1997 days after being forcibly sterilized, learned the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hear the case.

In all of these cases, the justification, if any was even given, included public health, family planning, protection of the individual women. Society must be protected. In each case, the procedure was conducted by trained medical personnel. Women have been subjected to the torture of forced sterilization for a myriad of reasons and, ultimately, for no reason at all. You want to know why it takes the court so many years to adjudicate these women’s complaints? You want to know why it takes so long for these women to find even a modicum of justice? No reason at all.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: BBC)

Who will remember the women and children of Gaza?

“Write my name on my leg, Mama
When the bomb hits our house
When the walls crush our skulls and bones
our legs will tell our story, how
there was nowhere for us to run”
Zeina Azzam

Once more we `discover’ that `indiscriminate bombing’, just like so-called stampedes and so-called natural disasters, is never indiscriminate. The bombs and missiles seek out children and women. This is the case in Gaza. On November 3, the World Health Organization reported, “As of 3 November, according to Ministry of Health data, 2326 women and 3760 children have been killed in the Gaza strip, representing 67% of all casualties, while thousands more have been injured. This means that 420 children are killed or injured every day, some of them only a few months old.” And this week, under the headline “Gaza Civilians, Under Israeli Barrage, Are Being Killed at Historic Pace”, The New York Times reports, “People are being killed in Gaza more quickly, they say, than in even the deadliest moments of U.S.-led attacks in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, which were themselves widely criticized by human rights groups.”  The article goes on to explain, “It is not just the scale of the strikes — Israel said it had engaged more than 15,000 targets before reaching a brief cease-fire in recent days. It is also the nature of the weaponry itself.” Israel has chosen to use specific armaments that would cause the most damage and death. And who are the overwhelming majority of those killed and injured? Women and children. More women and children have been killed in the shortest period of time ever recorded.

As Neta C. Crawford, a University of Oxford professor and co-director of Brown University’s Costs of War Project, noted, “This is a scale of immiseration over such a short period of time that it’s really difficult to comprehend.” According to Marc Garlasco, a military adviser for the Dutch organization PAX and a former senior intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, to comprehend the devastation of, and the death toll among, women and children, one would ““have to go back to Vietnam, or the Second World War.” We have gone back to Vietnam or the Second World War.

What else is there to say? Who will remember the ultimately uncounted, uncountable women and children? When the world `returns to normal’ in the great promised `after the war ends’? When the discussions turn to public policy and `reconstruction’ and `national security’, who will lift the stones and whisper or shriek or simply speak the names, the lives, the …

Instead of conclusion, a poem, once more, from and by Paul Celan …

Whichever stone you lift

Whichever stone you lift –
you lay bare
those who need the protection of stones:
naked,
now they renew their entwinement.

Whichever tree you fell –
you frame
the bedstead where
souls are stayed once again,
as if this aeon too
did not
tremble.

Whichever word you speak –
you owe to
destruction

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Ad Reinhardt / Tate)

Art is the way

Hlelo Kana, a grade 4 learner at Samora Machel Primary School, won second place at the Philippi Arts Centre’s book quiz

Art is the way

Art is the way
is what they say
those bookworms
out Philippi Arts Centre way

(though art seems
only to matter
come vote-catching time)

Art is the way
where 40 or so
grade 3s and 4s
ace a book quiz

A book quiz
where they show
they can read
for meaning
(in isiXhosa)

Notwithstanding the ritual
of those PIRLS studies
that go the other way

What might the bookworms
have to say

Book worms : Philippi learners ace Arts Centre book quiz

(By David Kapp)

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Qaqamba Falithenjwa)

Code Red: Period Poverty is an Imperative Public Health Issue

 

Whenever my mother got her period during her adolescent years in India, she was prohibited from entering the temples in her community. She was instructed to stay out of the kitchen until after her cycle was over because a period of menstruation was thought of as a dirty and unholy time for a young woman. Feminine products were expensive, so she would have to wear and reuse one singular piece of cheesecloth or gauze instead. She could not discuss her cramping, nausea, or other effects with anyone, because it would be improper. For a long time, she thought it was abnormal to be feeling these things, making her unsure of her place as a woman in society and lowering her confidence to thrive in her environment.

Reproduction and anything related to it has always been stigmatized, particularly in places where cultural/religious norms surrounding it are associated with shame and embarrassment. Because menstruation is associated with reproduction, this creates a disparity in global menstrual health (MH). According to the NIH, Period-poverty, which can be defined as limited access to MH resources and education, is experienced worldwide, even in underserved communities in the United States, such as areas with lower socioeconomic statuses, correctional facilities, etc. This includes physical/financial access to period products, sanitation facilities, and knowledge, all of which should be basic human rights for those who menstruate. Moreover, period-products are inelastic, expensive goods, made even more costly by luxury sales taxes.While cloth provides a modest alternative to synthetic product material, a lack of adequate locked and private water and hygiene facilities in underprivileged areas makes it unsafe for repeated use.

While there are humanitarian campaigns working towards these MH goals of alleviating the physical issue across the globe, the core of the MH epidemic lies in the gender inequality that plagues it. If there was less of a taboo on menstruation and overall reproductive health for women throughout history, women everywhere today would be able to express their natural rights safely.

In terms of physical resources, luxury taxes on period-products must be repealed, and distribution of products must be made a priority. Second, our governments must support developments of sanitation facilities ensuring safe changing/bathing spaces for those who menstruate, and waste-management systems that will properly dispose of used products.

More importantly, we should advocate for legislation to be passed that would actively work towards shifting societal attitudes regarding menstruation. For example, educational policy could be enacted that would ensure a well-rounded sex education for all students, not just female students. In order for society to shift away from the taboo, those of all genders should receive a comprehensive biological and social sex-education. Moreover, such policies endorsed by public figures would promote the deinstitutionalization of the stigmas against periods. Normalizing safe conversations between all genders contributes to reducing the patriarchal prejudice about periods, allowing society to move away from systematic ignorance about menstruation.

Hearing my mother’s story, I recognized how privileged I am that my family and socioeconomic status have allowed me to live in an environment where I can be safe, sanitary, and informed with my menstruation, and how imperative it is that all girls have this protection. As members of our global community, we should strive to protect our women in all facets. Gender inequality is the primary factor in determining the social accessibility of MH. Working towards closing that gap through education-policy is an important step for the safety and health of women who face period-poverty.

(By Radha Vinayak)

(Image Credit: Galchester / Saskia Tolka)

(Radha Vinayak, a Public Health student, is passionate about bridging the health equity gap for women across different socioeconomic positions all over the globe)