In Ecuador, Indigenous people shut down the austerity program. Women were key

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! In the future, this day should be remembered as the day in which Indigenous peoples of Ecuador stopped cold an IMF-sponsored austerity program. Today, October 14, 2019, Lenín Moreno, Ecuador’s President, and leaders of the Indigenous Peoples’ movements announced that they had reached a deal to cancel the austerity package. It took almost two weeks of protest and seven deaths, but in the end Indigenous peoples and their allies succeeded. As Rosa Matango responded to the news, “I am happy as a mother, happy for our future. We indigenous people fought and lost so many brothers, but we’ll keep going forward.” Jaime Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations, added, “From our heart, we declare that we, the peoples and nations, have risen up in search of liberty. We recognise the bravery of the men and women who rose up.” Indigenous women have been key to the success of this mass mobilization against austerity and for dignity and decency.

What happened? On October 1, Moreno cut a deal, known familiarly as “el paquetazo”, with the IMF. The IMF insisted on austerity if Ecuador wanted loans and `assistance’. This package included a frontal assault on public sector workers: 20% wage cuts; decrease in vacation pay; and the `donation’ by public sector works of one day a month to the government. What the IMF calls donation, the rest of the world calls wage theft. Additionally, the package included an end to fuel subsidies, that had been in place for 40 years. Within hours, diesel fuel prices doubled, and regular fuel prices shot up 30 percent.

On October 2, labor unions, women’s groups, student unions, and Indigenous peoples’ groups announced their intent to protest. On October 3, the protests began, with transportation unions striking. Ecuador was shut down for two days, October 3 and 4. After talks between the government and transportation unions, the strike was called off. On October 4, Moreno declared a state of emergency. Mass protests continued and intensified. From October 3 to Saturday, October 12, protests grew and intensified. The country was at a standstill. Moreno moved his government from the capital city, Quito, to Guayaquil, on the coast.

Where are the women in all this? Everywhere and at the forefront.

From the moment the Indigenous masses began pouring into Quito, people started noticing the large presence of women and children in the protests. Indigenous women from all parts of the country made it clear that they were in for the long haul. They made this clear in words and actions. Many brought food and cooking utensils and set up kitchens to feed the ever growing populations. As Marta Chango, provincial coordinator for the political movement Pachakutic in the Tungurahua province, explained, “We are here to resist to the last moment, we are mothers, women and daughters who have come from provinces from across the country to proclaim that the State, in its abuse of power, will not succeed in murdering our people. We will not let that happen.”

They came by the tens of thousands and continued to shut down the country. When the State attempted to respond with severe repression, with bullets and tear gas, the women organized, and on Saturday, they organized a women’s march which linked State violence and repression with State austerity. Indigenous intersectionality was everywhere, as women explained their choices in clothing to why they brought children. Repeatedly the answer was the same: this is women’s resistance, this is the community’s resistance. We will not be massacred, exterminated, or erased. When Indigenous women marched, they were joined and supported by a variety of non-Indigenous women’s movements. Together, women, led and organized by Indigenous women, filled the streets of Quito, filled the sky with their chants, “No more deaths!” “Not one more bomb! Not one more rock!” On Saturday, as State and Indigenous leaders began to meet, Indigenous women turned Quito into an Indigenous women’s temporary autonomous zone, and they threatened to make it last for as long as necessary. On Sunday, the talks continued. Today, a pact was announced. 

As has happened frequently in Ecuador, the Indigenous women are united. When they say, “No!”, they mean, “NO!” The people united and demanded attention, dignity and justice. They demanded that the State belongs to the country’s residents, and not to the IMF. They demanded peace. And they won. Women were key to this victory. Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2019!

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera / Fernando Vergara / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / Matías Zibell)

Will Ohio stop shackling pregnant women prisoners?

Yesterday, October 9, 2019, Ohio’s Statehouse News Bureau reported, “The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved changes to a bill, SB18, that would ban prison guards from shackling pregnant inmates. The amended legislation would eliminate the practice for an entire pregnancy instead of just the third trimester, which was the original proposal.” The primary sponsors of this bill are Nickie Antonio, Democrat; and Peggy Lehner, Republican. Speaking of shackling pregnant women prisoners, Nickie Antonio noted, “I think it’s harsh. It really comes up against ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment when a woman’s pregnant to do that. To move her from place to place … All of the practice and policies in the department of corrections, originated for male prisoners. There was not consideration of women in jail, in prison.” 

Last year, when she was still a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, Nickie Antonio sponsored a similar bill. That bill was co-sponsored by eight Democrats. No Republicans supported the bill, and, after one hearing, it died … or, better, was killed. Elections matter. Thus far, in the Ohio Senate, no one has testified against the proposal. When Nickie Antonio sponsored the new bill in the Senate, she explained that when she first heard of the practice from Maureen Sweeney, a nurse in Ohio, she thought, “It’s barbaric, it’s humiliating for the woman.”

How usual is this cruel and humiliating practice in Ohio? “No one tracks how many pregnant inmates are shackled in Ohio so it’s impossible to know how common the practice is. Women who were restrained often don’t want to talk about the experience. But more and more women are entering Ohio’s jails and prisons – an increase driven by drug-related offenses.” No one knows because those in charge don’t care.

How usual is this cruel and humiliating practice across the United States? Although the United States is home to 4% of the world’s female population, it houses over 30% of the world’s incarcerated women (this does not include women in immigrant detention centers). Women’s incarceration in the United States is at an all-time high. Incarcerated women are disproportionately located in local jails, and a large proportion are awaiting trial. For pregnant women, this means those who have not been convicted of anything are thrown into facilities where the staffs are untrained and unprepared to make any kind of informed decisions concerning pregnancy or childbirth. The women may be formally innocent until proven guilty, but as pregnant women they have been condemned.

For pregnant women behind bars, the State of Condemnation is a State of Abandonment. As noted by Carolyn Sufrin, the lead author of Pregnancy Outcomes in US Prisons, 2016–2017a groundbreaking study published earlier this year, “There are barely any data, aside from a 2004 survey, on prison pregnancy rates. The only publicly available statistics about prison births are from a 1999 report. And there is no systematic information, not even outdated data, about miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, maternal deaths or other pregnancy outcomes in prison. This is a profound omission. Women who don’t count don’t get counted. And women who don’t get counted don’t count. This lack of statistics shows just how little we care for incarcerated pregnant people.”

How usual is the cruel and humiliating practice of shackling pregnant women across the United States? On one hand, who cares? No one in charge. On the other hand, little by little, more and more states, like Ohio, are moving forward. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG, “32 states currently restrict the use of restraints for limited duration, but few states broadly restrict the practice throughout pregnancy and postpartum.” Thirteen states “broadly restrict restraints throughout pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum, including transport to a medical facility”: California, Connecticut, Nebraska, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. That list was published in June 2019. Since then, Georgia passed the Georgia Dignity Act, which bans the shackling of pregnant and postpartum women. Formerly incarcerated women, led by Pamela Winn, a formerly incarcerated woman who had experienced the horror of being shackled in childbirth, pushed and testified, until the legislature’s walls came tumbling down.

Across the United States, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their supporters reject the logic of “women are America’s fast-growing segment of prisoners”, a logic that says that the cruelty and horror visited upon their bodies and selves is merely a consequence of the gendered mathematics of the American decades long experiment in mass incarceration. They say that dignity for women is justice for women; it is time to let dignity and justice roll down like waters, across the land. Prison is bad for pregnant women. Shackling pregnant women, sending pregnant women and post-partum women into solitary are atrocities. Meanwhile, in Ohio, “the bill could get a vote on the Senate floor as early as this month.”

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: Colorlines / Stokely Baksh)

The Black Woman in the basement: A note on segregated reading

It only really hit me after coming to the United States to study. It had always been there at the back of my mind, dispersed as unconnected memories of conversations with friends. But now those memories have cohered to form a narrative. The catalyzing event that facilitated this fusion was, and continues to be, my experience of segregation in Washington DC. This is the narrative of segregated reading practices across axes of race and gender. White readers self-segregate in ways that reflect and reinforce physical boundaries that account for persisting racialized gender tensions and inequalities across the country. Segregated reading practices involve avoiding literature by other races and genders, particularly those who have been historically subjected to discrimination. It is a form of literary solipsism where the self, and close approximations to it, is the only candidate worthy of attention in a book of fiction. This literary self-segregation engenders a narrow reading of the world that does little to dismantle prejudicial attitudes and unconscious biases held by those in power. 

More often than not the Black people I see within and around my university’s campus are often working in positions of servitude. On seeing this, I wondered whether this accounts for the few times that white students or professionals in the area engage with Black people on a daily basis. Can you imagine that almost every time you see a Black person – especially if you are white – it is to be served by them? And then, when speaking to people about their favorite novels you realize that they rarely ever mention reading books about women and men of color? Can you imagine living in a country where everyone who is not white is flattened and exists outside the range of a white person’s engagement with fully realized human beings, both in the realms of the physical and fictional? 

Men do not read enough novels by and about women. This is a simple truism that can be expanded through a race and gender disaggregation. White men do not read enough novels about white women or people of color, white women do not read enough novels about people of color, men of color do not read enough novels about women of color. Women of color, especially Black women, and especially Black women who are queer, occupy the bottom of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s metaphorical basement and have had to read up the ladder of human experience with little reciprocity. This isn’t to say that fiction is a panacea for society’s ills or that it can or should function as a replacement for engaging with actual people. There is certainly a performative aspect to some people’s reading practices, as though reading about Black women, and acquiring the language to speak about them and their experiences, are enough. It isn’t.

However, there is something to be said about the way that people’s lives are separated in the physical realm, and how that gets translated to their reading of the world. There have been too many conversations with men, both white and Black, who would rattle off their favorite books of fiction by other white and Black men while failing to mention a single novel by a white or Black woman. I’ve also often read several online pieces, such as The New York Times’ By the Book, where public figures proudly list the books that impacted them most in life. The majority, if not all, of those books center a white male imprint on human experience.

Another note on segregation. Trains in DC, at least the ones I take, perform a sort of magic. When I get onto the train in central DC there are crowds of white people who are tired after a long day of work, eager to get home, like me, to relax. As the train travels further away from central DC, this crowd slowly disperses until all the Black people – previously hidden among a sea of white – are revealed. Except, this isn’t a magic trick. I almost always know when the last white person in the train car will get up to leave before it ventures into more “dangerous” locales. This is the work of systemic racism that bleeds into how neighborhoods are organized. It bleeds into who we associate with, live next to, empathize with, humanize, and spend time with in books. I knew about segregation and gentrification prior to moving to the U.S. Knowing that didn’t diminish the culture shock. 

I’m somewhat pleased to note that efforts are now being made to include more women of color – within and beyond the global – into the fold of lionized literary wunderkinds. Recall former President Barack Obama’s summer reading lists, this year’s Booker Prizes long and short lists, this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the ever-increasing number of “woke” Bookstagrammers sharing their favorite books by women of color and discussing intersectionality. That most of these Bookstagrammers are women is not surprising, but it is my hope that, with time, the effort to read more books by Black and Brown women will occur in tandem with increased efforts to desegregate neighborhoods and dismantle systemic racism. Whether it’s Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo, Beloved or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat, Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, or Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie, it’s time to destabilize privileged locations of storytelling by reading about the constellations of women’s experiences; of women who continue to exist in the margins in the mind of country plagued by a white pathology.

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: ThoughtCo / Robert Alexander / Getty)

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (1)

Chaque premier janvier, les bonnes résolutions sont prises, et puis il y a la première de l’année, assassinée par son conjoint ou ex.  Le 12 aout elle était la 88ème ou peut être la 89ème elle avait 71 ans. Il n’y a pas d’âge pour être tuée par son partenaire ou ex. Le 27 septembre 2019, la nouvelle tombait, la 111ème victime de féminicide de l’année en cours avait été découverte. 

L’épidémie est mondiale et quasi permanente pratiquement invisible à l’œil politico économique, dominée par le patriarcat, habitué à ne voir que les enjeux stratégiques, «sécuritaires,» qui occupent le devant de la scène publique. En France, le gouvernement organise cette année un Grenelle (Une conférence regroupant de nombreuses organisations) «violence contre les femmes» du 3 septembre au 25 novembre arguant qu’il faut trouver des solutions globales à ce fléau, mais sans envisager jusqu’à présent le déblocage de nouveaux financements.

L’Espagne a consacré 200 millions d’euros pour lutter contre les violences conjugales considérées parfois comme du «terrorisme misogyne.» L’Espagne a reformée son système pénal en 2004, créant 106 tribunaux et un parquet spécialisé. En 15 ans le nombre de femmes tuées par leur conjoint chaque année est passé de 71 à 43.  En comparaison, la France affiche des résultats médiocres avec ses 79 millions d’euros promis. Or, la Fondation des Femmes estime qu’il faudrait entre 500 millions et 1 milliard d’euros de budget pour lutter efficacement contre les violences conjugales à elles seules. Le budget alloué au Secrétariat à l’Égalité femmes-hommes présenté le 25 septembre 2019 pour l’année 2020 a baissé de 25.750€ par rapport à 2019 (budget 2019:  29.871.581€ ; budget 2020: 29.845.831€). Comment une telle réalité de vie et de mort pour plus de la moitié de la population peut-elle non seulement avoir persisté mais ne pas constituer une priorité sociétale? Et pourtant, il y a eu écrits, études et autres formes de recherches et d’information sur ce fléau qui s’abat sur des femmes prises dans un tourbillon de violences de la part de leur proches ou ex, et pour quels effets?

L’invisibilité des crimes sur les femmes vient du fait qu’ils sont mal nommés comme le rappelle Amélie Gallois dans «On tue une femme,» pire encore ajoute-t-elle, «mal nommer un objet c’est lui en substituer un autre.»

Jusqu’en 1975, l’adultère était considéré comme une circonstance atténuante dans le cas d’un meurtre commis par l’époux sur son épouse : seuls les époux étaient excusables. En Italie, le crime d’honneur n’est aboli que depuis 1981. Dans sa thèse intitulée «Le crime passionnel. Étude du processus de passage à l’acte et de sa répression», Me Habiba Touré explique «à l’époque, l’homme qui tuait sa femme était un romantique».

En France, ce n’est que depuis 25 ans, que le crime conjugal est devenu une circonstance aggravante du meurtre/assassinat (Décret no 94-167 du 25 février 1994 modifiant certaines dispositions de droit pénal et de procédure pénale). En 2006, cette disposition sera élargie aux concubins, «pacsés» et aux «ex», le meurtre sur un conjoint, pacsé concubin ou ex étant puni de la réclusion criminelle à perpétuité (à noter que le code pénal ne pose que des peines plafonds et non des peines planchers; le juge étant libre de condamner « le mis en cause » à une peine bien moindre). Depuis quelques années, les associations féministes emploient le terme «féminicide» (le meurtre d’une femme/fille pour le fait qu’elle soit femme/fille, que ce soit dans la sphère intime, non intime ou publique) pour parler des violences conjugales et militent pour sa reconnaissance pénale.

Comme souvent, l’art doit venir à la rescousse pour sortir des mythes qui ont permis le patriarcat, et revenir à la réalité.  La performance dans les lieux publics possède les qualités de la dissidence et aussi de la conscientisation nécessaire.  

Suite à la grande collecte des archives de femmes de 2018, l’artiste Sophie Bourel a conceptualisé un projet de mise en espace de lecture à voix haute intitulé Mots Écrits, à partir de la réalité des textes d’archives de femmes pour mettre sur la scène une histoire des femmes qui a été invisibilisée. Les textes seront lus à voix haute par des amateur.es qui auront été formées par l’artiste. Sophie Bourel croit, en effet, en la force de la lecture à voix haute qui est à la fois un art exigeant et accessible à toutes et tous, «et cela fait du bien mécaniquement.» 

Another atrocity in the hellhole that is HMP Bronzefield: Shut it down!

HMP Bronzefield, in Surrey, England, is England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison. It is run by Sodexo “Justice Services” (because irony is really truly dead). On September 27, a woman, alone in her cell, gave birth to a child. The child died. The Director says, “We are supporting the mother through this distressing time and our thoughts are with her, her family and our staff involved.” Sodexo is “undertaking a review”. The Prisons & Probation Ombudsman, which is supposed to be the agency that investigates deaths in prisons and detention centers, is not conducting an investigation. Surrey Police are investigating the death, because it is as yet “unexplained.” End of story. HMP Bronzefield, In Surrey, England, is England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison.

Less than a year ago, the Chief Inspector of Prison conducted an unannounced inspection of HMP Bronzefield. He found the prison “to be an excellent institution … an overwhelmingly safe prison”. The Inspector went on the explain this overwhelming safety: “Recorded violence had increased markedly since our last inspection, but most incidents were not serious … Self-harm among prisoners remained high, but overall the care for those in crisis was good.” The prison is overwhelmingly safe except “that the population of prisoners held had become more challenging in recent years”. Where is the safety in increased recorded violence and high rates of self-harm?

According to the Inspector’s report, “Pregnant prisoners were identified and immediately referred to midwifery support. Links with midwife and specialist perinatal services were good. Antenatal services were of the same standard as those in the community.” Where was the midwifery support last week? Nowhere to be seen.

In 2017, Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca was pregnant and a prisoner in HMP Bronzefield. Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca also gave birth alone, unattended, in her cell. Her child survived. What happened to Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

In 2018, Laura Jane Abbott submitted her Ph.D. dissertation, The Incarcerated Pregnancy: An Ethnographic Study of Perinatal Women in English Prisons. Abbott relates the experiences of Layla, who gave “birth in her cell without midwifery care.” Abbott notes, “Layla’s testimony highlights the ‘institutional ignominy’ and ‘institutional thoughtlessness’ of a woman going into labour and birthing her baby inside her prison cell. Staff portray their experiences of childbirth inside prison and my field notes support other conversations with informants. Layla’s distress as her labour progresses to the birth of her child in a prison cell at night reveals alarming and inappropriate behaviour on the part of the staff.”

What happened a week ago in a cell in HMP Bronzefield? Woman gave birth, alone, unattended. Baby died. Nothing new. The overwhelming majority of women in HMP Bronzefield are living with mental illnesses and economic challenges to their wellbeing. They don’t belong in prison. As long as HMP Bronzefield stands, whether it’s public or private, the State will pretend to try to “fix” it, while using it as dumping ground for women it deems disposable. When HMP Holloway was closed, because of its insufferable conditions, where were many women sent? Bronzefield. As long as “justice services” means “criminal justice”, so long shall women in the care of the State give birth alone, unattended, in prison cells. Begin the process of restorative justice by shutting down HMP Bronzefield and opening the gates. Remember this, no prison ever was, ever is, or ever can be “overwhelmingly safe”. 

(Photo Credit: SurreyLive)

Remember the women in labor, because no one else will

In August, I lost my great-aunt.

She was 95 years old and was in relatively good health at the time. She worked from the moment she turned 13, and then, after she retired, went on to perform unpaid reproductive labor, taking care of her nieces and nephews, their children, and their children’s children. She was also an avid smoker, and we had assumed (at least partially correctly) that the new diagnosis of lung cancer was because of that. However, as we spoke more clearly with the hospice nurse, we realized that it was not only the two packs of Pall Mall golds she inhaled into her lungs a day that did her in, but her nearly 40 year career as a seamstress in a sweatshop, with the small particles of fabric every single day on her industrial grade sewing machine. 

How many people have received such dramatic diagnoses, and had it blamed on preconceived personal failings? How many people have injuries that are from years of the same, monotonous work without the employer taking the blame? And what about the women who face being labeled as invisible in the labor movements to address these issues? Because women need to remain a rather loud voice in the labor movement. We have always been the face of precarious labor.

I worked in a supermarket. Our union consisted largely of women, since it represented the bakery department. Highly gendered, as the creation of delicate pastries and pies is quintessentially a woman’s job, if they aren’t baking it home. Seriously, look at your local grocery store and you’ll see how gendered something as simple as picking up loaves of bread can really be. But…I digress.

The union rep was a man. The union president is a man. The union leaders remain men. Men who most likely have been out of the industry for a good twenty to thirty years. The secretaries are the women. And the people they represent are women. 

Do they understand the injuries we face daily? Do they understand that, after constant years of heavy lifting and labor, we face burns that never quite heal, carpal tunnel from squeezing pastry bags that require surgery down the line? Are they fighting for the long term physical issues we will have?

I have severe carpal tunnel in my left hands. I have muscles that hurt like a sixty year old woman. At 27, it is probably caused by my standing every day in the same place, or lifting heavy boxes. 

Those pains and injuries are not thought of, especially after we’re gone. They are labeled as inconsequential. Well, would you look at that! You have bad arthritis. Must’ve been your job, eh? Our injuries persist because of our labor and, as women, we bear that brunt because we are moved into the precarious workforce, where injuries exist, but are rarely seen until it’s too late. 

I am constantly thinking of my Tanty, of her aches and pains. The arthritis that caused her to walk with a limp and be unable to lift her arm above her head. The chronic bronchitis and heart failures, and trips to the emergency room for more of a tune-up than anything. Because she couldn’t get better. Her labor and work in the sweatshop is what killed her. Imagine where that labor has been shipped off to if it’s no longer in the United States. And the women who are laboring under worse conditions for those pieces of commodities. The women who most definitely will not make it to 95.

We need to defend our insurance, we need to continue to organize for women’s right and organize for women workers. Because at this point, who else will?

What happened to Joyce Clarke? Nothing. An Aboriginal woman died in “police presence”

What is the value of a human life? It that human is an Aboriginal woman living in Australia, and especially in Western Australia, very little … and decreasing by the day. Consider the life story of Joyce Clarke, a 29-year-old Yamatji mother of a seven-year-old child. In Geraldton, Western Australia, on Tuesday, September 17, a few days out of prison and before that mental institution, Joyce Clarke started acting strangely. Not knowing what to do and fearing that Joyce Clarke might harm herself, the family called the police and asked them for assistance, asked the police to help them transport to Joyce Clarke to hospital so that someone could take care of her. They called the police. The police came. The police saw Joyce Clarke outside the house, ostensibly holding a knife. The police told Joyce Clarke to drop the knife, she did not, the police fired and killed Joyce Clarke. That’s it. That’s the story, and that’s the value of a human life if that human is an Aboriginal woman living, and dying, in Australia, and especially Western Australia. Yet again.

People want to know why the police immediately used lethal force. Now the police express “sympathy and condolences” as they urge calm, ban takeaway alcohol sales, and made clear that Joyce Clarke’s death would be “classed as a death in police presence, not in police custody”. Meanwhile a family friend, Marianne Mallard, create a GoFundMe page to help the family pay for Joyce Clarke’s funeral.  If interested, you can donate here. Now the various stories about Joyce Clarke’s difficult and her loving life emerge. Likewise, now we hear, yet again, about how the police officer who shot and killed Joyce Clarke is devastated, on leave and receiving support and counseling from the police department. Yet again, we hear of the abysmal lack of any mental health support for Aboriginal and Indigenous people.

In November 2012, Maureen Mandijarra, a 44-year-old Aboriginal woman, died in police custody in Western Australia. In August 2014, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, called Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. Ms. Dhu was Yamatji. Ms. Dhu’s family are from and continue to live in Geraldton. They live under the menacing sky of Yet Again. To this day, they await something like justice. In April 2019, Cherdeena Wynne died in police custody in Western Australia. Cherdeena Wynne was Noongar and Yamatji. Yet Again.

In Western Australia, Debbie Kilroy co-founded Sisters Inside to stop the abuse and incarceration of Aboriginal women, specifically, and Aboriginal people and communities, generally. Sisters Inside works to turn Yet Again into Never Again, but that requires a transformation of state. Meanwhile, this past weekend, Noongar woman Keennan Dickie was attacked, robbed, beaten, injured. She called the police for help. The police came, noted her injuries, and told her that, because she had outstanding fines, she’d have to go to the police station, once she healed, to report the assault and robbery. Keennan Dickie spent Saturday night in hospital. Still in pain, Keennan Dickie went to the police station the next day. They arrested her for unpaid fines and shipped her to Melaleuca Women’s Prison. As Debbie Kilroy noted, “We are seeing over and over again the arrest of women living in poverty who cannot pay their fines. It is not that they don’t want to pay their fines. We are seeing the criminalisation of poverty and the default response to that is prison.” Yet Again 

What is the value of an Aboriginal woman’s life, in Australia, in Western Australia, anywhere? Yet Again. Never Again. Yet Again. Never Again? Never Again.

(Photo Credit 1: Green Left Weekly / Deborah Green) (Photo Credit 2: West Australian / Geraldton Guardian / Francesca Mann)

Climate Strike: Women cannot bear the brunt … still … again … still!

September 20, 2019: Global Climate Strike! GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE! #ClimateStrike! Thanks to the great work and leadership of Greta Thunberg and her young and youthful sistren and brethren across the globe, business as usual stopped, or at least slowed down, for a bit today to take account of the climate crisis surrounding and inhabiting all of us. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people, led, again, by young people took to the streets to demand action on the part, first, of national governments, as well as corporations, and people more generally. The crisis is here. The time is now. While young people flipped the script in so many ways, the news media and academy relied on the same, frankly tired rhetoric of `discovery’, specifically of discovering that women and children bear the brunt of climate devastation. And so, once again and still, we must slow down and unpack this business of bearing the brunt. 

But first, what did reporters, advocates, academics discover? Here’s a brief overview from the last few weeks. “Bangladesh’s rural families bear the brunt of climate change … Households headed by women are under even greater pressure.” “Women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power.” “Women and children often bear the brunt of water shortages.” “The female population is more likely to bear the brunt of natural disasters.” “In less-developed regions, it falls to women to gather food and water for their families. If crops can’t grow, those women will lose both their livelihoods and their food source. At the same time, as extreme weather events become more frequent, huge populations of women and families are forced to leave their homes. Women will bear the brunt of the crisis.” “It is the world’s most vulnerable people who are made to bear the brunt of climate change, though they are the least responsible for causing it, and are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences.” The list goes on forever, but you get the picture.

Occasionally, the brunt is evoked in a more intersectional and even ideological sense. “Feminism helps me understand what underpins our climate crisis — systems like extractivism, patriarchy, and capitalism. Feminism helps us see the genderdifferentiated impacts of climate breakdown and how women disproportionately bear the brunt of the harm.” “Women farmers bear the brunt of the crisis—and may be the key to limiting its impact. But that’s only possible if there is gender equality in the agriculture sector.” “Those with fewer resources are bearing the brunt of the crisis, and many of the world’s poorest are women. In times of scarcity it’s often mothers who go without to make sure their families can eat. When extreme weather hits, because women still primarily look after children and the elderly, they are the last to evacuate; leading to higher female death tolls. Around 90% of the 150,000 people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women.”

What is this brunt, and what is bearing? A brunt is “An attack or onslaught … a military assault … the shock, violence, or impact of an attack or onslaught … The chief shock or force of a military attack; the chief impact of an abstract agency; the chief stress or burden.” While bearing has multiple meanings, in bearing the brunt, it means “to sustain (anything painful or trying); to suffer, endure, pass through.” Women are described, and discovered, as `bearing the brunt’, and are thereby placed in an inevitable logic and political economy of sharp blow, assault, violence, shock, and military force as the norm.

Thankfully, Greta Thunberg and her rightly impatient sistren and brethren are flipping that script. They demand climate justice now. No more discoveries of the already known, no more sympathetic invocations of the unfortunate inevitable brunt that women are universally slotted to bear. No more evasions, no more explanations. The State must take action now: listen to the scientists and act; listen to the women farmers and act. Listen to women, who reject and refuse the brunt, as they always have, and act. The time is now! September 20, 2019: Global Climate Strike! Climate Justice! #ClimateStrike!

(Photo Credit: BBC)

Cyril means well. He’s been compelled by womxn making life uncomfortable

This story about amending laws to solve the problem. Cyril means well. He’s been compelled by womxn making life uncomfortable to see that this issue is serious. But fixing bail, sentencing laws as a solution in and of itself, no. The laws already tried to do that quite well in the late 90s – no one really cared to implement them well. They don’t have an impact because you’ve got to change the criminal procedure act. That’s a more radical change, shift the power in the courts towards survivors ‘complainants’ give them standing, more control in the court. You’ve got to change that they are dependent on prosecutors that get their ‘sensitivity’ training, but are not held to account when they treat womxn like a hassel. The laws changed so that the rules of courts could be more alive to the patriarchal construction of rape, but the magistrates, they let the old way of doing things carry on, the prosecutors are weak, they don’t fight, and the defence attorneys, the rapists – well they just laugh and commit more violence on the womxn who stand there further humiliated. That’s got to change. Zero tolerance that. Hold them to account for the laws already changed – show that the standards already in place are worth fighting for, then, by all means, add some new layers. 

Then this sensitivity training. Really, that’s the best that you can do. We worked in the 90s on that. It doesn’t work if you don’t also show leadership on those standards presented in this training – from the Preseident, Ministers, MECs to the station commissioner, the senior prosecutor, the health facility manager. It doesn’t work if you spend a bit of money (never enough) and get some person who doesn’t really ‘get it’ to talk the rank and file through the 20 points of sensitivity and then send them back into the same fucking system. It doesn’t fucking work.

(Image Credit: The Daily Vox)

Generation Cry: Taitu Kai Goodwin was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in Anguilla

Taitu Kai Goodwin

There is something unsettling in having the world’s eyes turned toward your community. My community. The world temporarily turned its focus toward the latest victims of the climate crisis in The Bahamas and rekindled sweeping debates about the human costs of environmental degradation. This is the reality of the Caribbean community during the hurricane season. We are tired and frustrated, but, as Kamau Brathwaite notes, the hurricane does not roar in pentameters.  Our grief cannot be measured. I watched the video clips from a Bahamian acquaintance of homes being inundated by storm surges. Facebook itself became flooded with posts by other folks from the Caribbean and its diaspora. It is Facebook that constitutes one of the lenses through which I frequently see and engage this community while I study in the United States capital. The United States capital; that place where the decision to refuse Bahamians temporary protected status was made. Facebook is also one of the main platforms on which I navigate global narratives about climate change, race relations, gender, and their intersections. The timeline comes alive. The world speaks. I listen. Everyone is committed to expressing the requisite amount of anguish, sorrow, and compassion. I’m pretty sure a lot of it is genuine. However, soon enough, posts about The Bahamas peter out, as most trending topics, no matter how grave, are wont to on these platforms. 

A few days pass and I find myself walking through the streets of downtown Manhattan after one in the morning. The reason doesn’t matter. I am alone and wary. I’m suddenly overcome with the fear that I could be attacked and so I quicken my pace and phone a friend, a St. Lucian, also studying in the US, to keep me company until I arrive at my destination. I make it home in one piece. I am safe…but home and safe are not synonymous. I eventually make my way back to DC and soon enough I fall back into the rhythm of my daily routine: I log onto Facebook. The timeline is flooded with eulogies for someone I attended high school with in Antigua over a decade ago. Her name was Taitu Kai Goodwin and she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in Anguilla. Taitu Kai Goodwin. Taitu. Daughter of the Soil. Antigua Girls’ High School Alumna. Former Ambassador’s daughter. Miss Anguilla. Someone I knew. Taitu. Her murder is preceded by the killing of another woman in a domestic dispute, Carissa Chandler, in Antigua earlier this year. Carissa’s death is preceded by another. Taitu’s death is followed by another. And another, and another. I do not know all of their names. Life in Leggings and Walking into Walls will tell you. Taitu. Someone I knew was a victim of gender-based violence. I remember Taitu very well. I recall her bubbly personality and incandescent grins. Some classmates even joked at the time that we could pass for twins. I am shocked and overcome. Verklempt. Taitu.

Facebook is flooded with an outpouring of grief from Antiguans and Anguillans. This time it isn’t the global, or rather, the regional gaze that unsettles me but the way that Facebook prompts us to give shape to dialogues around violence and death. For a given person there is an earnest post about the tragedy of her death and of the scourge that is violence against women. In five minutes, something else has caught that person’s attention: a meme, another social issue, a life experience. But Taitu. While someone’s posting habits are hardly an indicator of how they feel internally, and while I cannot presume to tell anyone how to grieve, or how to express that grief, there is something disconcerting about the patterns of discourse on social media in times of tragedy. The Lorde, Audre that is, reminds us that we do not live single-issue lives. However, in stepping back to scrutinize these patterns, it is clear that, like the devastation in The Bahamas, violence against women is often reduced to a trending topic. For a few days we lament the prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence as a group. At the individual level, we are quickly compelled to move on and shelve violence against women for another day. For another tragedy. For another Taitu. In  “Generation Why”, Zadie Smith says that “when a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everyone shrinks…one nation under a format”. Not only are the complexities of character reduced, but our attention and range of empathy. And while Facebook does not necessarily create the conditions whereby we are reduced, it acts as a conduit that amplifies. Reduction squared. We can only care if we knew her. If we knew her, we can only be sad for so long. It’s time to move on to something else. But I wanted time to stop. I wanted that moment, the focus on Taitu, and on violence against women, to freeze. I wanted that moment to swell with the rage of women across the Caribbean until it spilled over and drowned the misogyny that keeps killing us. But it was not to be. The posts are petering out again. It’s something else now.

(Photo Credit: The Antigua Daily Observer)