Women cleaners and domestic workers confront violence against women

From Hong Kong to Qatar to Greece to the United States, domestic workers and women cleaners are under attack. They are under attack because they are women. In South Africa this year, domestic workers and women cleaners have confronted the attack head on.

Delia Adonis works as a cleaner in a mall in Cape Town. Last month, Adonis saw five men attack a sixth. She called the police, who intervened. She then went to the parking lot, where the five men encircled her, knocked her to the ground, and beat her. Throughout the assault, the men used racist and sexist epithets.

Adonis called the police and laid charges on the five men. It turns out they’re UCT students. Adonis claims that the police came to her and offered her money to drop the case. The officer allegedly said that the men were afraid of being kicked out of school. Adonis rejected the offer, and all it represented: “I’m really angry about this. I’m traumatised and still in pain. These youngsters verbally abuse us every weekend, and now this? I’m a mother of six – how would they feel if someone beat up their mothers like that? There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see. When I washed my face. I just thought to myself: ‘Boys, you can run but I leave you in the hands of the Lord’.”

Cynthia Joni works as a domestic worker in Cape Town. One morning, Joni was walking to work, when a white man leapt out of his car, slapped and threw her to the ground. She screamed, and he drove away. He was later identified and charged. His `explanation’ was that he mistook Cynthia Joni for a sex worker and `snapped.’ To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Cynthia Joni is not the first woman he’s assaulted. Now others are coming forth.

While the toxic mix in both the physical violence and then the subsequent violence that passes for explanation are important, the women’s response is more important. Domestic workers, sex workers, women workers reject the violence and call on the State to address it … forcefully and immediately.

Gloria Kente is a live-in domestic worker in Cape Town. Last year, her employer’s then-boyfriend got angry with her, allegedly grabbed her, spat in her face, and screamed a racist epithet at her. Kente called the police and had him charged with both assault and a violation of her human and civil rights. She called him out for hate speech and harassment. When the man tried to extend `an apology’, Kente said, “NO!” If an apology meant not going to court, not having the State fully involved, then Gloria Kente wanted no part of it.

Today’s stories echo the past. Over six years ago, four white students at the University of the Free State videotaped their assault on five cleaners, Mothibedi Molete, Mankoe Phororo, Emmah Koko, Nkgapeng Adams and Sebuasengwe Ntlatseng. The video went viral, as did disgust, and the cleaners, four women and one man, fought back. This June, the five cleaners launched their own company.

Today, however, domestic workers and women cleaners are making demands on the State. Domestic workers and women cleaners reject the protectionism that would see them as a separate class in need of help. They are workers with rights, women with rights, and humans with rights. As women workers increasingly demand their civil, labor, and human rights be respected, they consolidate power. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust)

Love is all around

Love is all around

Love is all around
is my lyrical response
to a Vukani letter-writer
from out yonder KTC

Where is love
in the townships
is the question asked
(amidst partying and drinking
round our social grant days)

Love is all around
I declare as I ramble
in and about Site C Khayelitsha

A bustling Saturday morning
down Govan Mbeki Road
to the Whizz ICT Centre
for their Youth Centre Launch
and an end-user computer Graduation

(them a small light of hope
all about community sustainability
in a place overshadowed)

Love is all around (too)
at the Moses Mabhida Library
where I’ve been before
for a Reading Competition
(fall in love with learning
says a mural on their wall)

Love is all around
5 happy earthly hours I spend
(language notwithstanding)
as the Youth Centre is launched
and students joyously graduate

Love is all around

What stops you
from making it so too

 

“Where is love in the townships?” (Letters, Vukani community paper, October 30 2014)

 

(Photo Credit: Whizz ICT Centre/Rlabs.org)

Youth has constitutional significance: Ending life without parole

Sharon Wiggins died last year. Wiggins was a 62-year-old Black woman living with serious health problems. But it wasn’t her health that did her in. What killed Sharon Wiggins was the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania. Sharon Wiggins died behind bars at SCI-Muncy, the maximum security and intake `facility’ for all women prisoners in Pennsylvania, as well as the site of its death row for women.

Wiggins entered Muncy at the age of 17, convicted initially to death and then to life without parole. She spent 45 years behind bars. When she died she was the oldest and the longest serving woman prisoner in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has more prisoners who began as juvenile lifers than any other state in the Union. This means Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any place else in the world. It’s the Pennsylvania way.

South Carolina has a better way.

A couple weeks ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court took the United States another step towards ending life without parole, LWOP, for those convicted of having committed crimes while juveniles. The Court’s decision in Aiken et al v Byar has been described as “notable for its breadth” and “groundbreaking.” It could be.

Fifteen South Carolina prisoners, including Jennifer L. McSharry, petitioned the Court to reconsider the constitutionality of their having been sentenced to life without parole, to death-in-life, when they were children. The Court largely agreed with the fifteen, arguing, “Youth has constitutional significance. As such it must be afforded adequate weight in sentencing.”

The Court’s judgment is based on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miller v Alabama, which decided that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. That decision built on, and expanded, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v Florida, which found that life without parole for juveniles who had not committed murder was unconstitutional. Each decision has expanded the space for decency, common sense, and humanity, and these from a Court not renowned for any of those qualities.

The South Carolina Supreme Court had to decide on whether Miller v Alabama was retroactive. That is, if it’s wrong today, does that mean it was wrong before we came to our senses? The Court answered decidedly Yes: “We conclude Miller creates a new, substantive rule and should therefore apply retroactively. The rule plainly excludes a certain class of defendants— juveniles—from specific punishment—life without parole absent individualized considerations of youth. Failing to apply the Miller rule retroactively risks subjecting defendants to a legally invalid punishment.”

Sentences have consequences, and they too must be subjected to at least a constitutional review. There’s more to the South Carolina decision, and it all expands the application of Miller v Alabama. Would that earlier courts had decided that perhaps the impact of punishment should be thrown into the equation, rather than rely on mandatory sentences. Would that earlier courts had decided, and long ago, against a system that cared more waging a war on this and a war on that than it cared about the actual individuals and whole populations thrown into increasingly overcrowded, underfunded, toxic environments. Would that all of this had never had to come to courts at all.

Would that this had all happened long before Sharon Wiggins ever entered prison. Since 2008, the number of women sentenced to life without parole has risen precipitously, and who are they? “Among the females serving LWOP for offenses committed in their teenage years, the vast majority experienced sexual abuse in their childhood.” They are the abandoned, the sacrificed. But the end may be near. For Jennifer L. McSharry in South Carolina and thousands of women across the land, a change could be coming. They stand a chance, a bare chance, of not becoming another such sacrifice.

 

(Photo Credit: TakePart.com)

The experiment continues, and we are all still canaries in the coal mine

When Greek public debt exploded in 2010 some started asking, “Why Greece why now?”

The documentary “Les canaries dans la mine” (the Canaries in the Coal Mine), initially released in French in 2013, incorporates many voices from unionists, community health center managers, students, to journalists and politicians and more. They all conclude that what happened to Greece is an experiment to dismantle public services and democratic ideals. As Zoe says in the documentary: “Greece is a laboratory for those who think that human rights, human existence can be subjected to experiments.”

I recently talked with Sophia Tzitzikou on the occasion of the release of the documentary in English (with English subtitles). She runs a health community center in Athens and was interviewed in the documentary. I asked how the situation has evolved since the filming of the documentary: “It is worse.” As a result of the inhuman austerity measures that have destroyed public services and employment, poverty in on the rise. “There are no policies in favor of the poor, and public hospitals continue to be shut down.” The situation is especially dire for psychiatric hospitals: “Three of them were recently closed in Athens. The patients were simply sent to the streets.”

As a member of Greece’s UNICEF delegation, Sophia emphasized, “36% off Greek children now live in poverty, with 340 000 of them in conditions of social exclusion.” Her tone expressed her anger, as she added that the abortion rate has never been so high. Sophia explained, “Women simply don’t want to bring life into this misery.” Not to forget that in Greece giving birth used to be covered within a decent public health care system that has been taken apart by austerity measures imposed by The Troika, the financiers of Europe.

Even these numbers hardly describe the new reality. As Sophia said, “We have the feeling that our lives don’t belong to us anymore. Human rights are violated everyday, rights to work, rights to health, rights to have children, rights to live. We are now removed from all of that.”

The experiment continues. Puerto Rico is one of the last casualties of this neoliberal attack on the public and its services. This time, the order to enforce austerity measures on the US territory came directly from Wall Street with no shame. The credit-rating agencies like Standard & Poor set the tone as they “downgraded” the territory. Then, using the same tools as the Troika did in Greece, the remedy was made self-evident: cut public budgets, close public schools and reduce public services. The US financial markets have their grip on the island. Again, unions have been equally targeted. We see the same tools being used to discard public services over and over.

Watch the Canaries in the Coal Mine, it will inform you about these neoliberal attacks on workers, women and the public at large…us. We are all still canaries in the coal mine.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube/Yannick Bovy)

My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih

Over the weekend, hundreds of feminist and women’s rights organizations and networks gathered in Bangkok, Thailand, for the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20. Participants strategized, organized, talked and listened. They listened to former domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. Here’s what Erwiana said:

“My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. I am 23 years old, and come from a poor peasant family of Indonesia and am a former domestic worker from Hong Kong. I did my high school and then wanted to go to the University, but because my family had no money for this I started working as a restaurant service worker in Jakarta. The pay was very low. I still dreamt of going to the University because with a graduation degree it would be easier for me to find a good job. As I really wanted to bring a change in my life, and the pay in Jakarta was not enough I decided to be a migrant worker abroad.

“I chose Hong Kong because it is said to be a safe country and I had heard no news about migrant workers being abused there. So I applied through a private recruitment agency and I stayed in a training centre for 8 months and finally I flew to Hong Kong in 2013. When I arrived in Hong Kong all my papers, such as my passport and employment contract, were taken by my agency and I began working as a domestic help. My employer was very rude, beat me up, would only let me sleep only for 4 hours a day and did not give me sufficient food to eat. I was not allowed to go out or speak with other people or use the telephone. So I decided to run away from her. I called up the agency in Hong Kong for help. But they told me to go back to the employer’s house. 8 months of abuse and torture left my body badly bruised and in pain. So one day she decided to send me back to Indonesia. She brought me to the airport, helped me check-in, and then left. She threatened to kill my family if I ever spoke of my plight to any other person. Abandoned at the airport and unable to walk, I luckily met an Indonesian lady who not only helped me reach home but also took a photograph of my injuries and posted it on her Facebook.

“Finally my case was taken up by the Indonesian Network of Migrant Workers and Asian Migrant Workers’ Coordinating Body to fight for justice for me. Around 5000 people marched on the streets of Hong Kong demanding justice, and finally the Hong Kong government took up my case. My case is under investigation and the trial will be held in December next month (December 2014) in Hong Kong.

“The system enforced by my own government and Hong Kong government has made me suffer this way. In my orientation done at the training centre I was not given any information about my rights and about the justice system in Hong Kong. There is no direct hiring and we are given only 14 days to stay after visa termination and have to leave to re-apply if we want to find another job. These unjust government policies damage our lives as migrant workers. It is not only me who has suffered exploitation, but there are thousands of migrant workers who get into similar situations and are forced to stay in silence”.

“My case was finally exposed because of the unity of the migrant workers’ movement in Hong Kong. I am happy that through my case more such cases of exploitation are being exposed and given more attention. I hope that both—the sending as well as receiving governments– will give more attention to the protection of migrant workers. I hope there is no more exploitation against migrant workers, against women and no more cases like me”.

When Erwiana left Hong Kong, she weighed around 55 pounds. She was covered with burns and scars. She was so weak and injured she couldn’t walk. How could an injured, incapacitated woman pass through immigration without any officer wondering about her condition? The Immigration Department’s Director explained: “It is difficult to judge whether there were injuries because of her complexion. We cannot blame the officer.”

We cannot blame the officer … because of her complexion. This is the complexion of violence against women workers that empowers employers to torture and inspires the State to pretend to look the other way while academics and pundits go on about the `invisible workforce.’ There is no invisible workforce. Women workers are part of an altogether visible and public regime of violence that airbrushes the scars, bruises and burns, and then declares itself blame free. The women know better, and that’s why they flooded the streets of Hong Kong and will do so again.

 

(Photo Credit: Nora Tam/South China Morning Post)

Chhattisgarh is everywhere: The global state of forced sterilization of women

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.

Consider the last two months from the perspective of forced sterilization of women.

In November, the Namibian Supreme Court upheld a 2012 High Court decision that health workers sterilized HIV-positive women without their consent. Switzerland was called upon to consider compensation for survivors of its “contract children” program, which included forced sterilization of girls.

In October, Belgium faced UN scrutiny, under the CEDAW procedures, concerning forced sterilization of women living with disabilities. Women in Peru complained that, eighteen years after the formal cessation of forced sterilization programs, they have seen no justice. Promises, yes. Justice, no. North Carolina began paying compensation to survivors, poor and minority women, of its forced sterilization program. After much debate, the California legislature passed a bill formally banning the forced sterilization of women prisoners.

And this doesn’t take into account ongoing inquiries and discussions of forced sterilization of Aboriginal and Indigenous women across the Americas as well as Australia. This list is not even the tip of the global iceberg.

And so the charge of coercion, as raised by Kerry McBroom, director of the Reproductive Rights Initiative at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi, comes as no surprise. That the coercion flows through cash incentives to desperately poor women rather than cudgels and batons is merely a facet of the current world order. There is no informed consent in so-called sterilisation camps. There are quotas, cash incentives, and the occasional pile up of women’s corpses. Monetizing and incentivizing the assault on women’s bodies is key to the modern democratic nation-state, thanks to the Washington Consensus.

Along with local investigation into the individual cases, as in Chhattisgarh, what is called for is immediate global action to change the global public policy that trashes women’s bodies and lives. The global state of forced sterilization of women is dire, and it’s expanding. It’s past time to address the global crisis of forced sterilization of women: impose an immediate moratorium on all programs of mass sterilization, everywhere; codify just compensation for survivors of such programs; pay just compensation to survivors of such programs; and establish serious global structures to enforce informed consent. Remember, Chhattisgarh is everywhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Indian Express)

DC Will Vote Wednesday on a Bill to Keep Teens Out of Adult Jails

In America’s capital, juveniles in the criminal justice system are treated badly. Federal prosecutors in Washington, DC have “unfettered discretion” to send youth to adult court and correctional facilities, and they often do.

Take Alisha, for example, who was tried and charged as an adult in DC Superior Court when she was only 16 years old. She was sent to DC’s Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF). There are no special units for female youth at CTF, so Alisha was sent to solitary confinement. For weeks at a time, she was on lockdown for 23 hours a day, was unable to attend school, and could not participate in any programming available at the jail. Her attorney fought to move her to a more appropriate place that could also address her mental health concerns, but she remained here for a year and a half. Understandably, Alisha was depressed as lonely. In solitary confinement, she attempted suicide.

Alisha is not alone. “Youth who are incarcerated in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers in juvenile facilities,” according to Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director at Campaign for Youth Justice. They are also much likelier to be physically and sexually assaulted. “The adult system is no place for kids,” Daugherty declared.

A May 2014 report by DC Lawyers for Youth and Campaign for Youth Justice stated that “incarcerating youth in the adult system is developmentally inappropriate, unsafe, and does not decrease recidivism.” In fact, the report found that trying youth in the adult system actually increases recidivism.

DC is a particularly bad place for juveniles, as the report shows. A criminal justice consulting firm assessed the Juvenile Unit at CTF in 2013. They found that: “1) the facility space is too limited to provide adequate programming or sufficient physical activity, 2) most youth are not able to have in-person visitation with their family members, 3) some staff working the unit are inadequately trained to address the needs of youth, and 4) the amount of structured programming offered to youth is inadequate.” Yet, children continue to be sentenced here.

Who are the youth most affected by DC’s current practices? Disproportionately, they come from the most under-resourced neighborhoods in the district: low-income communities of color. A staggering 97% of the youth incarcerated at CTF between 2007 and 2012 were African American and 3% were Latino. Almost all of them come from the eastern half of the district or identified as homeless.

Twenty-three states have taken steps to decrease reliance on the adult justice systems in youth cases. Yet, the nation’s capital continues to prosecute youth as adults. Public policy in Washington, DC needs to change.

This Wednesday, November 12, the DC Council’s Judiciary Committee is voting on The Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 2014 (Bill 20-825). YOARA would keep teenagers awaiting trial out of adult jails, keep more juvenile cases in family court, and end the practice of “once an adult, always an adult,” which allows teens’ prior offenses to be used against them. Contact DC Councilmembers and urge them to pass YOARA here!

 

(Photo Credit: African Globe)

In Namibia, a victory for HIV-positive women, for all women, everywhere

Pushed by women’s organizations, by women organizing, courts and legislatures around the world are forcing the end to coerced sterilization of women. A little over a month ago, the California legislature finally outlawed the forced sterilization of women prisoners. This month, Namibia’s Supreme Court upheld a 2012 High Court ruling that health workers sterilized HIV-positive women without their consent. As Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, noted, “This is a great victory for all women in Namibia and the world. This decision reinforces the right to sexual and reproductive health for all women, irrespective of their HIV status.”

This latest chapter began, formally, in 2009, when three Namibian women sued the State. They claimed they had been forcibly sterilized and that they had been sterilized because they were HIV positive, and so were victims of discrimination. Three separate women, ranging in age from 20s to 40s, at the height of labor, were presented with the sterilization `option’. In one case, the woman had been in labor for over four days and was in severe pain. She was led to believe that her caesarean could only take place if she signed the form. In such circumstances, what is the gender of informed consent?

In 2012, Judge Elton Hoff took two hours to read the decision. He argued there was clearly no informed consent. He noted that the women were Oshiwambo-speaking and that none of the health staff spoke Oshiwambo. He further noted that the forms the women signed were filled with acronyms no one, other than a specialist, could be expected to understand. In all three cases, the women only discovered the meaning of “BTL”, bilateral tubal ligation, long after they had undergone the surgery. Judge Hoff concluded, “There could not have been counselling in those circumstances.” When, after two hours, Judge Hoff looked up from his papers, he faced a courtroom packed with women in black t-shirts that read, “Non negotiable: my body, my womb, my rights”.

The three women are members of the Namibian Women’s Health Network. During a routine inspection of post-treatment papers, Network members started noticing BTL on members’ treatment cards. No one knew what BTL was, and absolutely no woman knew that this had happened to her. The women then hooked up with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and in particular with Priti Patel, then deputy director and HIV program manager, who managed the case.

According to Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, Director of the Namibian Women’s Health Network, “The three women at the heart of this case are just the tip of the iceberg. We have documented dozens of similar cases of women living with HIV being sterilised without their informed consent. This judgment presents the strongest possibility that the Government of Namibia will be held to account for subjecting HIV-positive women to coerced sterilisation,” said Mallet.

Priti Patel added, “Monday’s decision will have far-reaching consequences not only for the three women at the heart of this case, but for the dozens of other HIV-positive women who have been subjected to coerced sterilisation in Namibia and throughout southern Africa.”

This victory in the Namibian Supreme Court extends beyond hospitals and prison and before human rights to women everywhere organizing to sustain their dignity as women, and in so doing, pushing the State to do more than pay lip service to women’s rights and equality. This is a victory for women’s autonomy and power, everywhere. The State, and not just Namibia, did more than fail to stop forced sterilization. The State engaged for decades, and centuries, in medical pogroms against women. It’s way past time for the State to be held to account for violence committed against women across the African continent and around the world.

 

(Photo Credit: Classic105.com)

Love and Moral Panic in India

kiss-of-love-protest.jpg.image.784.410-4

A couple kissing inside a police van while they were being taken away by the police from the protest site in Kochi.

In August 2013, a 22-year-old Hindu woman in Meerut, a town India’s Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, claimed she had been abducted, gang-raped, and forcibly converted to Islam. Right-wing Hindu groups held her up as an example of their campaign against love-jihad, or the alleged rape of Hindu girls by Muslim men to force them into marriage and convert them to Islam.

With a national election expected in April 2014, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigning in UP, the timing of the Meerut case was significant. It spurred Hindu-Muslim violence in UP in August and September 2013. Around 60 people were killed, 93 injured, and tens of thousands displaced (link opens PDF), many permanently. In the May 2014 election, the BJP made substantial gains not just in UP but nationwide, and its candidate, Narendra Modi, became India’s Prime Minister.

Less than five months into Modi’s tenure, the Meerut woman revealed that the “love-jihad” was in fact a love story. She informed the police that she had not been abducted or gang-raped, but had eloped with a Muslim man. Fearing that her family and society would harm her, she sought refuge in a women’s shelter.

Her dramatic volte face blew a huge hole through the BJP’s election campaign. But it would be naïve to conclude that the “love-jihad” rhetoric will now subside, or that the BJP is substantially weakened. To understand why, we must consider both sides of the hyphen.

The “jihad” part is significant in India’s largely Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim, and often anti-western context. Prime Minister Modi, often portrayed as modern, forward-looking, and statesman-like has refused to apologize for the pogrom that occurred on his watch in 2002, in which around 1,000 Muslims were killed. Today, Modi enjoys rock-star status at home and among the Indian diaspora (many Indian-Americans, for instance, feel a connection because they share Modi’s Gujarati heritage). However, his party’s growing grassroots base in India consists overwhelmingly of ultra-conservative, often violent, Hindu groups, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Stirring Hindu-Muslim animosity has become a replicable and increasingly efficient political strategy for the BJP. This is, of course, not to deny that Muslims also contribute to growing communalism (in the South Asian context, “communalism” refers to Hindu-Muslim animosity) and violence.

But the other side of the hyphen – love – is perhaps more revealing. The threat is not just jihad; it is as vast and amorphous as love itself. At a recent public meeting on “love-jihad” in New Delhi, film maker Nakul Sawhney shared video footage of election campaigns in riot-affected UP. It showed how the BJP had made a concerted effort to woo khaps (councils of local caste patriarchs). Khaps have long regulated relationship choices in many villages by endorsing child marriage, sentencing women to be raped, murdering defiant couples and persecuting others. Khaps have no legal authority, and their methods are, of course, criminal. Sawhney said the BJP had wooed the khaps – hitherto unconcerned with anti-Muslim politics – to gain mass support for the election, and thus fused violent local patriarchy with its communal agenda.

The other speaker at the event, Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, added that if people were free to choose whom they marry, caste boundaries would be erased, and so would the power that maintained them. She likened the fear of this erasure to the Nazis’ fear of miscegenation. She also argued that the collusion of communalism and patriarchy was not confined to Hindus or Muslims. Two decades of economic liberalization in India had increasingly drawn women into the workforce. Their growing independence was a threat to patriarchy, and this has caused the violent backlash that seeks to keep women in a state of dependence and “protection”.

As another example of how love threatened the patriarchy, she noted that leaders of several faiths stood united in their support for Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era law that makes “unnatural” sexual acts illegal and thus makes all homosexual relationships criminal.

On November 2, a protest in Kerala state drew national attention to this fear of love. After a BJP youth group attacked a café where a couple was kissing, a handful of people organized #KissOfLove, a mass kissing event, in Kochi. The goal was to protest “moral policing” and demand the right to express love in public spaces.

Despite demands to ban the protest, the court refused to interfere with the November 2 protest (a legal precedent (PDF) has established that kissing in public is not illegal). Despite this, the protest did not take place, as its opponents reportedly outnumbered the would-be kissers and tried to attack them, and its organizers were arrested as a preventative measure. So although the court saw no reason to intervene, the vigilante “moral police” and the actual police closed ranks against the protest. Those arrested were not charged with any crime.

#KissOfLove did not go as planned, but there have been more such protests in quick succession. Love is becoming a political issue in India, where 46% of the population is 15 to 44 years old. Valentine’s Day – always a fraught occasion in India – is still months away, but it promises to be interesting.

 

(Photo credit: Josekutty Panackal/Manorama)

Chambermaids in Paris reject precariousness

The dirty secret of the European “developed economies” adjustment to the rules of the neoliberal market is being increasingly questioned. The neoliberal ideological tool of work flexibility has reached the welfare states to dismantle the social protection laws and produce social vulnerability. The cost of labor is now presented as the reason for unemployment and public deficit while the number of billionaires has doubled since the beginning of the financial crisis.

After the revelations of the precarious condition of over 7 million German workers who live with about 400 Euros (about $ 500) in a country with growing inequalities and poor protection of women workers with regards to pregnancy and child care, here comes the “Zero hour contracts” of the United Kingdom. Le Monde recently published an investigation of these contracts.

“Zero hour” already signals hopelessness for working people, especially women. The contracts keep workers underemployed, without work or benefits. The workers are summarily summoned to work when their labor is needed. Between jobs, they receive no pay. The materialistic order has reached a new height of mechanistic denial of life for the women and men whose lives are dictated by a “zero hour contract (ZHC).”

Every day, workers stare at their cell phones, waiting for a text message tol tell them if they’ll work or not, if they’ll make money or not.

In Great Britain, companies receive about 1900 Euros ($2200) for a new employment contract. Thus, in order to receive this precious subsidy, some companies don’t call their ZHC workers and make room for new workers with the same dreadful contract. “We, the contracted workers, we are like the cookies that we pack at the factory; we move on a conveyer belt and then we fall in a box to leave room for the next one.” declared one of these workers. For instance Mac Donald UK has enrolled 90% of its work force under ZHC.

Of course, the wage/hour is lower than full time wages, and, without benefits, workers’ precariousness is higher as is as their state of stress. In the northern suburbs of Liverpool where there is a high ZHC employment rate, 45% of children live in poverty. These destabilizing conditions keep people in fear and contribute to heightened an anti immigrant sentiment.

In France, chambermaids, mostly women of color, of five stars hotels in Paris have been fighting to stop this kind of contracted work and to demand full employment contracts. They have been demonstrating in the streets of Paris and are still demonstrating, although their colleagues from the Luxury Hyatt of Place Vendome and Madeleine have obtained a serious raise ($ 350/month) with full time work guarantees.

Other luxury hotels, such as the Park Hyatt, continue to contract chambermaid work. Under these conditions, the pace of work is intense, the wages are meager, and overtime work is never paid. They have minimum health coverage compared to average French workers.

These hotel workers have received the support of the Mairie (City Hall) de Paris. Recently, at the forum “Feminist Struggles and Reflections to Advance Society”, the deputy mayor of Paris, Helene Bidard declared that it is urgent to fight along with these workers because they symbolize the situation of the women constantly facing precarious work. They dared bring to light these shady practices that take advantage of the most vulnerable populations, women and in particular immigrant women. She further announced that the City of Paris is negotiating strong measures with the Ministry of Tourism to remove stars from hotels that contract chambermaid work.

The current neoliberal frenzy that bestows to labor cost numbers a justificatory power that mistreats populations increasing inequalities needs to come to an end. We need to raise the spatula like the Burkinabe women.

 

(Photo credit: Rue 89/ Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff)