What happened to Emily Hartley? The State murdered her.

On April 23, 2016, Emily Hartley, 21 years old, living with severe mental illness, was found dead in the exercise yard at HMP New Hall, near Wakefield. Emily Hartley was found hanging. According to reports, she entered the exercise yard at 3 pm. She was “found” two and a half hours later. Emily Hartley told the staff she wanted to end her life, and the staff left her unmonitored for two and a half hours. In 2015, seven women killed themselves in prisons in England and Wales. In 2016, 12 women prisoners committed suicide. Does anyone care? Yes. Family, friends, supporters care. Does the State care? Absolutely not. If it did, Emily Hartley would be alive and perhaps even thriving today.

Emily Hartley had a history of self-harm, suicide and drug addiction. In May 2015, Emily Hartley was living in a multiple occupancy building. She set fire to herself, her bed and curtains. She was charged with arson … for setting herself on fire. Rather than send her to a hospital, for the help and care she clearly needed, she was sent to a bail hostel, where she resumed taking drugs. This was considered a breach of bail conditions, and so Emily Hartley was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. She was sent to New Hall in November 2015. By the end of April, she was dead.

Emily Hartley was supposedly monitored under suicide and self-harm management protocols. That should have meant observation at regular intervals. Whether or not those occurred remains to be seen. What is known is that Emily Hartley continued to self-harm throughout her stay at New Hall. Emily Hartley repeatedly told the staff that she wanted to die. She complained that that staff bullied her and did not listen. The staff responded with repeated disciplinary procedures. On April 23, the day she died, Emily told her mother, by phone, that she was feeling manic and that no one was checking on her for hours on end.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, which advocates around deaths in custody, noted, “Emily was the youngest of 12 women to take her own life in prison in 2016. Just like the many women who died before her she should never have been in prison in the first place. This inquest must scrutinise her death and how such a vulnerable young woman was able to die whilst in the care of the state.”

In 2016, three women prisoners in HMP New Hall died by “self-inflicted” causes. INQUEST asks, “How many women need to die on the inside before Governments take action?” How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died? Government is taking action. It is building a tower of women prisoners’ cadavers. If history is any guide, Emily Hartley’s story, like that of Caroline Ann Hunt the year before, will soon be forgotten by most of us. This is who we are. We are the citizens and builders of the State of Abandonment. We are the people who see a woman on fire, begging for help, and we respond, “She should go to prison for arson.”

Emily Hartley

 

(Image Credit: INQUEST) (Photo Credit: Mirror / Sunday People)

The number of women sentenced to more than 1 year in prison increased from 2015 to 2016

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics released its report, “Prisoners in 2016.” By and large, the numbers are “encouraging” in that prison populations, by and large, are reducing. While certain states buck the trend, overall, thanks to criminal justice reform, fewer people are spending time in prison. That would be good news, except for this: “The number of females sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison increased by 500 from 2015 to 2016”. In a year of generally decreasing prison populations, this exception is noteworthy.

Here are the highlights of “Prisoners in 2016”: “The number of prisoners under state and federal jurisdiction at year-end 2016 (1,505,400) decreased by 21,200 (down more than 1%) from year-end 2015. The federal prison population decreased by 7,300 prisoners from 2015 to 2016 (down almost 4%), accounting for 34% of the total change in the U.S. prison population. The imprisonment rate in the United States decreased 2%, from 459 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages in 2015 to 450 per 100,000 in 2016. State and federal prisons admitted 2,300 fewer prisoners in 2016 than in 2015. The Federal Bureau of Prisons accounted for 96% of the decline in admissions (down 2,200 admissions). The number of prisoners held in private facilities in 2016 (128,300) increased 2% from year-end 2015 (up 2,100). The number of females sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison increased by 500 from 2015 to 2016.” Why are women the exception to the new rule? What’s going on?

At the end of 2016, women comprised 7% of the total national prison population. From end of 2015 to end of 2016, there were 69 fewer women prisoners, nationwide. In the same period, the number of male prisoners dropped by 21, 137. For women, that’s a .1% reduction, and for men .3%. Twenty states reduced their number of women prisoners while 26 states increased that number, and this is in one year. Kentucky, Washington and Ohio led the pack in increased incarceration of women.

“The imprisonment rate for the U.S. population of all ages was the lowest since 1997 … On December 31, 2016, a total of 1% of adult males living in the United States were serving prison sentences of more than 1 year (1,108 per 100,000 adult male residents), a decrease of 2% from year-end 2015 (1,135 per 100,000).  The imprisonment rates for females of all ages and adult females in 2016 were unchanged from year-end 2015 (64 per 100,000 female residents of all ages and 82 per 100,000 adult female residents).”

Once again, Oklahoma had the highest rate of women’s imprisonment: 149 per 100,000 women residents. Kentucky, South Dakota and Idaho follow close behind.

“The imprisonment rate for black females (96 per 100,000 black female residents) was almost double that for white females (49 per 100,000 white female residents). Among females ages 18 to 19, black females were 3.1 times more likely than white females and 2.2 times more likely than Hispanic females to be imprisoned in 2016.”

The war on drugs continues to be a war on women: “A quarter (25%) of females serving time in state prison on December 31, 2015, had been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 14% of males … More than half (56% or 6,300) of female federal prisoners were serving sentences for a drug offense, compared to 47% of males (75,600).”

While rates of incarceration and raw numbers of incarcerated people decline, rates of incarceration for women increase and raw numbers of women sentenced to more than a year increase. That is not an oversight. That is public policy. The war on women, waged through police, courts, and prison, continues. If the report were to include immigrant detention, the profile would be that much clearer. It’s time to stop the war on women, to pay greater attention to the reasons that the State targets women for imprisonment. It’s time to end the national witch hunt.

 

(Image Credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards: What are we waiting for? Fech Nestannew?

On December 17,2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set himself on fire and ignited Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. It was a desperate act that lit the sky and the world. His act reflected a general sense of despair, and in that reflected despair, people saw transformative change as their only hope. Within a month, on January 14, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dissolved his government. From its first flicker, the Jasmine Revolution was more than the ouster of a dictator. It was an assault on patriarchy that emerged from decades of women and youth organizing. Seven years later, it still is. Ask the women who have ignited the current wave of protests across Tunisia, protests that demand a practical, material response to their question: “Fech Nestannew?” “What are we waiting for?” “Qu’attendons-nous?” “فاش نستناو ؟”

For Tunisia, the past seven years have been “interesting,” and particularly for women. The government has seesawed repeatedly on its position vis-à-vis women’s rights, equality, and roles. The State and parts of Civil Society have colluded in trying to diminish the significance of women’s work and contributions. And women have pushed back. In this last round of push-back, women have responded to an IMF-imposed budget, agreed on in December and implemented as of January 1. This budget follows the tried and true, or better failed and false, austerity menu: increase taxes, slice subsidies, subject the civil service to “efficiencies”, raise food prices, stop recruiting and hiring for public sector jobs. The IMF declared the new budget is bold and ambitious. Tunisian women thought otherwise. They asked, “When do we get the jobs we struggled for and were promised? When will food become generally affordable? Where is our housing? What are we waiting for?” Women demanded a better menu than that offered by the IMF: “Travail, pain, liberté et dignité” “Employment, bread, liberty, and dignity”.

The Fech Nestannew? movement describes itself as horizontal, but it does have spokespeople, most notably Henda Chennaoui and Warda Atig. Warda Atig explained that Fech Nestannew? activists held their first action on January 3: “We were waiting for the government to make the law official and we chose the date of our first action to be January 3. The date is very symbolic because, on January 3, 1984, there was the Intifada al-Khubez (bread uprising) in Tunisia [over an increase in the price of bread]. On January 3, we made a declaration in front of the municipal theatre [on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis] and we distributed pamphlets with our demands. We were about 50 activists.” On January 3, they were about 50 activists. As of Monday, mass demonstrations, and small ones as well, have rocked Tunisia from one end to the other. As Atig explains, while the activists are demanding that the State “end the increase in prices, cancel the moratorium on recruiting in the public sector, provide security and healthcare, end privatisation and put forward a national strategy to counter corruption”, at its heart, it’s a bread uprising. Austerity targets the stomach, and in so doing, always targets women first, most directly and most intensely.

Henda Chennaoui contextualizes the current situation: “Gas oil has increased by 2.85 percent which has an impact on the price of food. The minimum wage has not changed for years. It is 326 dinars ($131) per month. That equates to about two weeks of groceries for a family of four. To understand the fed-up, we must know that after 2011, a kind of contract was made between Tunisians and politicians. The latter were committed, after the political transition, to satisfy all the demands of the population, especially to improve the economic situation. We waited. In 2014, nothing happened. In 2015 either, neither in 2016, nor in 2017. The political class showed no sign that it was doing anything. That’s why we called our campaign ‘What are we waiting for?’.”

Thirty-three years ago, Tunisian women led the January Bread Revolt. Seven years ago, Tunisian women led the Jasmine Revolution. Today, Tunisian women are in the streets, and everywhere else, organizing, pushing, demanding, rocking the country, rejecting corruption, and taking on the fundamental tenets of austerity as development. Women are saying that any budget in which “the poor pay the bill” is no budget at all. The time is now. What are we waiting for? Fech Nestannew?

Warda Atig

 

(Photo Credit 1: Jeune Afrique / Sipa AP / Hassene Dridi) (Photo Credit 2: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours / Al Jazeera)

Radio WIBG: In Egypt, women resist State-sponsored patriarchal oppression

Egyptian feminist activists Eba’a El-Tamami and Farah Barqawi are among those activists challenged by the current authoritarian patriarchal government of Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. In the first year after the coup, the government spent about $20 billion to establish military supremacy in Egypt. This money is part of an international annuity for the “anti-terrorism” new market developed out of the concept of security, which produces ever more insecurity.

Despite political violence, the women of the Mediterranean Women’s Fund (MedWF) have sustained projects in Egypt. Eba’a and Farah are recipients of that support. Eba’a is the founder of an association called Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault. She is also a filmmaker and is currently producing a film on domestic violence in Egypt. Farah Barqawi is a women’s rights activist, writer, and translator. She co-founded “uprising of women in the Arab World” to create a free, secular space for women in Arab countries. She also created “WikiGender” a feminist knowledge database in Arabic. As she told 50 50 Magazine, “Most of the feminist knowledge to which we have access is produced in non-Arabic languages.”

Eba’a El-Tamami adds, “In 2011 we had a revolution, and then in 2012-2013 we had a pick of NGO’s expanding huge mobilizations in the streets of Cairo and beyond, lots of feminist groups focused on sexual violence.”

Eba’a explains further:

The Sissi government used legislation, aptly named the NGO law, to crackdown on NGOs. The law was designed to suppress dissent and has created new challenges. These challenges are met by many activists in countries where governments are forcibly changing the possibilities for Women/Human rights and environmental activists to carry out their work in favor of subsistence and life. For example, the current US situation has some points of similarity with Egypt. The attempt by the current administration to stifle the active work of Women/Human rights and environmental protectors through a number of executive orders and bills such as the recent tax bill, while transferring public goods and assets to conservative business establishments is telling.

Eba’a and Farah identify some of the challenges for activists in Egypt, additionally sharing how creativity and arts support resistance in any circumstances:

How to bring funding is also a challenge when the reins of power hamper solidarity and aim at choking the civil society:

Farah was born in a Palestinian camp in Syria and lived in Gaza. She shares with us the challenges of getting funding to women in Palestine:

 

 

(Brigitte Marti in collaboration with the Mediterranean Women’s Fund (MedWF) and 50-50 Magazine. Thank you to Eba’a El-Tamami and Farah Barqawi.)

 

(Image Credit 1: The Uprising of Women in the Arab World / Facebook) (Image Credit 2: Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault / World Pulse)

New Zealand declares seclusion rooms are unreasonable and oppressive

The seclusion room door

In December 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman ruled that a school should pay $3000 and issue a formal apology to the family of an 11-year-old autistic child who was put in a “seclusion room” 13 times in nine days. The seclusion room was a dark cell, without windows or light. The treatment of the child came to his parents’ attention, and then to that of the public, when a behavior therapist came to the school, and found the child alone, unmonitored, and crying for help. That was in October 2016. Soon after, it was “discovered” that the use of seclusion rooms was fairly common in so-called special schools across New Zealand. In November 2016, the Education Minister proposed banning the use of seclusion rooms in schools. That became law in early 2017.  At the end of 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman declared the school had acted “unreasonably and oppressively”. Later the Ombudsman explained, “I just think we’ve got to be careful and sensitive about those times when the going gets tough and when we need to, in schools, manage difficult, challenging behaviour like this. This report of ours is a reminder of the need for dignity and humanity at all times and it’s just something we should never ever forget and we should not take our eye off the ball.”

While the decision of the Ombudsman is a positive result, why does it take so much effort to recognize that seclusion rooms are an affront to dignity and humanity? As the Chief Ombudsman noted in his decision, the result only occurred because the child’s parents were furious when they discovered how their child was being abused and, critically, raised a ruckus. Why must parents raise a ruckus to have their children treated decently and humanely?

This isn’t only about minors. Ashley Peacock is an adult living with intellectual disability, autism and mental illness. Under New Zealand’s Mental Health Act, Ashley Peacock was a compulsory, institutionalized patient. In that capacity, Ashley Peacock had been placed in solitary confinement, “seclusion rooms,” for years on end. In 2016, his parents started a national and international campaign to get their son out of the hellhole of solitary confinement and into more appropriate community based services. In 2016, Ashley Peacock was 38 years old. He had spent ten years in “care” institutions. Most of that time, he spent in isolation. In 2017, Ashley Peacock was moved to a community location. In December 2017, New Zealand announced it would phase out seclusion rooms in psychiatric institutions within two years.

Advocates for autistic children worry that, despite the law, schools might still use seclusion rooms. Consider this: no one knows how many hours that eleven-year-old child spent in solitary confinement, crying and pleading for help, because there are no records kept. In other schools, teachers refused to talk to police about their use of seclusion rooms. Hopefully, New Zealand will invest in enforcement of the new laws, but more will be needed. We must ask ourselves about our investment in torture that passes for education, on one hand, and for care, on the other. Why should parents have to be furious in order to keep their children, at all ages, from being tortured? When did solitary confinement become an integral part of education? When did the vulnerable become the execrable, the cursed?

 

(Photo Credit: New Zealand Herald)

Ahed Tamimi, African migrants and Israeli apartheid

Holot Detention Center

Israel persecutes a 16-year-old girl, Ahed Tamimi, at the same time that it persecutes African immigrants, telling the latter that their choice is a ticket “home” or jail. Both of these actions are justified by “security” and “sovereignty”. Ahed Tamimi has not attacked Israel nor have African migrants. If anyone ever needed evidence that Israel is an apartheid state, the conjuncture of the persecution of Ahed Tamimi, and her family, and of African migrants should do.

Ahed Tamimi’s “case” has been widely circulated. Faced with soldiers in her front yard, Ahed Tamimi, 16 years old, confronted the soldiers. She slapped a soldier. Less than an hour earlier, Ahed Tamimi’s 14-year-old cousin, Mohammad Tamimi, was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers. Maybe that matters. Maybe the devastation of an entire generation of girls and boys matters. Ahed Tamimi was arrested, has been indicted, and now faces the prospect of years in prison. Ahed Tamimi is sixteen years old. She slapped someone. She is a threat to national security and sovereignty. When a Jewish teenager slapped an Israeli soldier, what happened? Nothing.

Three years ago, thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese women and children asylum seekers marched through the streets of Tel Aviv, protesting Israel’s new `immigration policies’ and new `open’ immigrant detention center, Holot. On Wednesday, January 3, Israel updated its “immigration policies”. Go home. Refugee? Whatever. Person? Not so much. Explanation: the Africans are “infiltrators.”

None of this new … to those who have studied or remember apartheid. Unarmed sixteen-year-old girls facing off fully armed soldiers are “terrorists”. African refugees are “infiltrators”, “borders” are everywhere and they must be “protected.” None of this is new.

Watch the videos, read the statements “justifying” the abuse of Ahed Tamimi, watch the videos, read the statements “justifying” the abuse of African migrants. “Migrants”. Anwar Suleiman Arbab is 38 years old. He left Darfur in 2003. He arrived in Israel in 2008. He applied for asylum and has not heard. He has a “temporary” visa. He has been in the country for nine years, but he’s still a “migrant”, worse an “infiltrator”. Why? Because he’s African. Watch the videos, read the statements concerning “sovereignty” and “security”. You’ll see the unblemished face of masculinity, yelling that its “it” must be protected.

Writing of the Israeli persecution of Ahed Tamimi, Uri Avnery concluded, “Occupation makes you stupid. In the end, this stupidity will bring us down.” Occupation does make a people and its nation-State stupid, as do racism, xenophobia, White Supremacy, misogyny and other forms of hatred. What’s going on in Israel right now is both the Occupation and something that precedes that occupation, the masculinist doctrine of protection of sovereignty. We see this in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Austria, and beyond,  the call to making it great again. There’s a name for the public policy of reclamation justifying violence and atrocity: apartheid.

Ahed Tamimi with her mother Nariman

 

(Photo Credit 1: Middle East Eye / AFP) (Photo Credit 2: Al Jazeera)

Marcelina Gaingos, Victoria Ugalde, and Destiny Hoffman refuse to be forgotten in jails and holding cells

Marcelina Gaingos

On Friday, December 8, 2017, in Windhoek, Namibia, Marcelina Gaingos was picked up for violating a restriction order. Police deposited her in a cell at the police station and left. Marcelina Gaingos stayed in that cell for three days, without food or water and without a bed. Marcelina Gaingos is 34 years old, and was pregnant at the time of her arrest. Marcelina Gaingos was released after three days, largely, perhaps only, because her family raised a ruckus. Traumatized, weak, starving, she was taken to hospital. Then she was immediately taken into custody, and released again, two days later, without any charges being filed. Two weeks later, she went to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor informed her that the fetus had died. According to Marcelina Gaingos, ““The doctors say it was due to the cold and dehydration.” What happened to Marcelina Gaingos? The police “forgot”?

In January 2017, Denver, Colorado, police arrested Victoria Ugalde for an unpaid parking ticket. The police took Victoria Ugalde to a holding cell, handcuffed her to a bench, and left, for 13 hours. Although there was a toilet in the cell, because she was chained to the bench, Victoria Ugalde couldn’t use it. Victoria Ugalde recalls, “They forgot about me. I was looking in the camera, I was [saying] ‘Can anybody help me?’ And then, nobody … I was crying. I cried a lot. Because I had to use the bathroom right there. I started praying and talked to God and he told me, ‘I’m here … don’t worry, I’m with you.'” A month later, another unnamed woman suffered the same experience in the same holding cells. They “forgot”.

In 2014, Destiny Hoffman, 34 at the time, was sentenced to 48 hours in the Clark County, Indiana, jail, for having violated a drug court program. Destiny Hoffman spent 154 days behind bars. Why? The judge “forgot”. The judge also “forgot” to hold a hearing or provide Destiny Hoffman with legal counsel. The only reason Destiny Hoffman was released, after 154, was that a Clark County Deputy Prosecutor looked at her file and realized that everything was wrong. Now Destiny Hoffman is part of a civil rights law suit against Clark County. She’s one of 40 plaintiffs. Ashleigh Hendricks-Santiago was sentenced to 72 days in jail, and spent more than five months behind bars. The judge “forgot”.

The police forgot. The judge forgot. The State forgot. This forgetting is public policy, and it happens to women in jails and police stations around the world. When the State “forgets” that your living, breathing, human body is in its custody, that’s abandonment. Across the globe, police station holding cells and jails – the real wilderness of criminal justice – constitute a global archipelago of zones of abandonment, which appear temporary but are not. Ask the women who were abandoned for hours and days in holding cells; ask the women who were abandoned for months in jails. They’ll tell you. The experience of State abandonment is meant to leave permanent scars in individuals, families and whole communities. It’s a State policy that identifies individuals and communities as already dead and forgotten. Victoria Ugalde is suing the Denver police. Destiny Hoffman, Ashleigh Hendricks-Santiago and 38 others are suing Clark County. Marcelina Gaingos is considering action. These women refuse to forget and refuse to be forgotten. Never forget.

Victoria Ugalde

Helena Maleno Garzón refuses to let all that is human drown in the Mediterranean

Helena Maleno Garzón at a workshop

The year ends with the surface of the Mediterranean concealing thousands of humans lost, sinking into the sea bottom as it reveals the sinking of our own collective humanity. Last year, over 5000 women, children and men drowned in the Mediterranean. The year before close to 4000, and the year before that, a little over 3000. This year, the reported death toll hovers just over 3000. That “success” is largely due to draconian measures that have sent refugees back to slave markets and brutal prisons in Libya and life-in-death in Morocco. Spain has replaced Italy as the preferred port of entry for those seeking a life, be they called migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers. Such is today’s morbid mathematics that over 3000 innocents drowned in one body of water in one year is touted as “success”. This is who we are … or not. Helena Maleno Garzón is a Spanish activist and journalist based in Tangiers. Working with Caminando Fronteras, a human rights group founded in 2002 that monitors and reports on the Spanish – Moroccan borders, Helena Maleno Garzón has spent the last years documenting, working with, rescuing and insisting on the dignity of migrant, refugees and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. Helena Maleno Garzón refuses to let all that is human drown in the Mediterranean, and for that refusal, she is described as a criminal by both Morocco and Spain.

Two Spanish cities – Ceuta and Mellila – sit on Morocco’s coast. In 2015, Helena Maleno Garzón described the two enclaves as “the most heavily guarded borders in the EU to keep out African migrants.” Two years ago, Helena Maleno Garzón described a scene of mounting violence, excessive and illegal use of force, and preventable tragedies, such as the massacre of 15 African migrants on February 6, 2014, at the El Tarajal beach, in Ceuta. As a Liberian woman refugee explained, “We are subjected to ongoing institutional violence when we reach the border. This can range from denial of access to basic rights, to torture, physical abuse, and even sexual violence. What you see on the Melilla fence is only a fraction of what we suffer in transit.” In the intervening years, that fraction has grown as it has intensified. After 15 years of engagement in the area, Helena Maleno Garzón and her colleagues at Caminando Fronteras have declared that the area is now a war zone.

And so, the Moroccan government, at the behest of the Spanish government, has charged Helena Maleno Garzón with smuggling and human trafficking. The Spanish government tried the same trick a few years ago, but had to withdraw the charges earlier this year. Earlier this week, the Moroccan court postponed Helena Maleno Garzón’s trial until January 10 of next year. In Morocco and in Spain, many are rising to Helena Maleno Garzón’s defense. Across Spanish social media, #DefendiendoAMaleno appears next to #NoEsDelito. The defense of Helena Maleno Garzón rejects the criminalization of assisting others in need.

Helena Maleno Garzón stands trial for asking which is the greater crime, to cross a border, to assist crossing a border or to maintain that border with lethal force?  Spanish policy mirrors European policy, and “what you see on the Melilla fence is only a fraction of what we suffer.” Look into the mirror. Let us move closer to the water’s edge, grasp one another’s hands, encircle the Mediterranean, and speak the names of every child, woman, and man who died in the sea or at the hands of border guards while trying to find haven. Let us do so for the sake of humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: El Pais / Caminando Borders)

Why does England hate Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker Lazia Nabbanja? #SetHerFree

Why does England hate Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker Lazia Nabbanja? For that matter, why has England hated Ugandan lesbian asylum seekers Brenda Namigadde, Jackie Nanyonjo, Betty Tibikawa, Anne Nasozzi and so many others? Why has England invested so much time, energy, resources into torturing these women who have already been tortured by their families, neighbors and the State? Why does England continue to subject lesbian asylum seekers to the degradations and humiliations of the society of the queer spectacle? What threat do these Black lesbian women pose to the security of England and Wales? Today, Lazia Nabbanja, just another Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker, sits in Yarl’s Wood awaiting deportation. Why?

Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar. In 2009, Lazia Nabbanja’s family forced her to marry a man. Seven years later he discovered her with her girlfriend. He beat her and left her unconscious. She fled, first to her grandparents’ house and then to the United Kingdom, where she applied for asylum. In England, Home Affairs decided that Lazia Nabbanja is not sufficiently lesbian to warrant asylum and sent her to Yarl’s Wood. Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar.

Despite Lazia Nabbanja’s story, including photos, being spread across Ugandan media, Home Affairs claims that she would not be in danger if she returned “home.” Again, Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar. This is the story of Brenda Namigadde, Jackie Nanyonjo, Betty Tibikawa, Anne Nasozzi, and now Lazia Nabbanja.

An online petition is circulating: URGENT: STOP THE REMOVAL OF LAZIA NABBANJA (A LESBIAN WOMAN) TO UGANDA. Please consider signing it. Consider, as well, the urgency of this question: Why does England hate Lazia Nabbanja?

 

(Photo Credit: The Independent / The Petition Site)

In Botswana, a great victory for Tshepo Ricki Kgositau and women everywhere

Tshepo Ricki Kgositau

On Tuesday, December 12, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau heard the news she has struggled to hear for years. Botswana’s High Court ruled that Tshepo Ricki Kgositau is who she says she is, who her family and friends and colleagues have long said she is. A woman. High Court Justice Leatile Dambe gave the Registrar of Births and Deaths seven days to amend Kgositau’s birth certificate to identify her as female. The High Court also gave Botswana’s Director of the Registrar of National Registration 21 days to issue a new Identity Document identifying her as female. This is a major victory for Tshepo Ricki Kgositau; transgender women in Botswana and across the continent; and women everywhere. In every generation, a woman stands up, asks “Ain’t I a woman?”, and then gets to work.

Thirty years old, born in Gaborone, raised between Botswana and South Africa, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau helped found the Rainbow Identity Association in Botswana. From there she moved on to work with Gender DynamiX, based in Cape Town, where she is now Executive Director.

In 2011, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau applied to the Civil and National Registration to have her gender marker changed from male to female. She was then rejected, ostensibly because at that time Botswana’s laws did not recognize transgender people. And so, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau sued to have her identity recognized and her identity card and birth certificate corrected. Last December, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau underwent gender confirmation surgery, in Thailand. Her family and childhood friends confirmed her female identity from her childhood, and confirmed their love for her as well. A psychologist confirmed her “innate” identity. The case was to be heard in August, but had to be postponed because Justice Dambe was unavailable.

Justice Dambe’s decision follows on another landmark decision, in September of this year, in which a transgender man, known as ND, won a ten-year battle to have his gender marker changed. That decision followed upon a court decision, in 2014, that forced the government to unban and formally register Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, or Legabibo. It’s been a year for transgender rights in Botswana, and a decade for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Botswana.

Thanks to the High Court and, even more, to the work and labor of hundreds and thousands of women and their supporters, it’s been a decade for women in Botswana, and through them, across the continent and the globe.  On October 12, 2012, the High Court ruled that Edith Mmusi and her sisters, Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang could continue to live in the house they had always inhabited. In a landmark ruling, the Court ruled that women should be allowed to inherit by customary law; that Edith Mmusi, who had lived continuously in her house and home, should not be excluded from inheriting … her own home. On December 12, 2017, the same Court ruled that Tshepo Ricki Kgositau should not be excluded from the identity and body that she had inhabited for almost all of her life. In both instances, women – Edith Mmusi and her sisters, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau – said they would not haunt their own lives. They would be present, active, alive … and they forced the State to agree. Just as five years ago, so today, it’s a great day for Tshepo Ricki Kgositau, for women across Botswana, across southern Africa … and beyond.

 

(Photo Credit: Tshepo Ricki Kgositau / The Independent)