Haunts: Who will write a requiem for Josefa Rauluni?

Once upon a time a man named Josefa Rauluni left the island nation of Fiji for Australia, where he applied for asylum, or “protection”. He was turned down. He was taken to Villawood Detention Centre, a private facility run by Serco. He continually appealed the decision. He continually appealed to the State for asylum, for protection. He maintained he feared for his life if he returned to Fiji. The State responded with a deportation notice. The State told Josefa Rauluni that he would be deported on September 20, 2010.

The night of September 19, Josefa Raulini sent two faxes to the Ministerial Intervention Unit at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. They read, ”If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body”. The State did nothing.

And so, on the morning of September 20, 2010, Josefa Raulini informed the guards, “I’m not going, if anyone goes near me, I will jump“. The guards did nothing. They did not try to reason with him. They did not try to calm him down. Finally, they tried to use force. As they moved in, Josefa Raulini jumped from a first floor balcony railing. He dove, head first, hit the ground, and died.

And the State did nothing to stop him.

It turns out the State could only do nothing because the Villawood staff has no suicide prevention training. Imagine a prison for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected and who are awaiting imminent deportation.

Now imagine no one with suicide prevention training. The State `forgot’.

Today is the second day of an inquest into Josefa Rauluni’s death. It is the first of three such inquests into Villawood `suicides’. Josefa Rauluni did not commit suicide. He was pushed. Not by a physical hand but rather by a State whose efficiencies include the absence of mental health care providers in a place designed to drive its residents suicidal and mad.

“”If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body”.

Who will write a requiem for Josefa Raulini and for all the imprisoned asylum seekers  who have perished in State custody? Who will write a requiem for the terrible years?

Fifty years ago, in 1961, the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova concluded writing “Requiem”, an account of “the terrible years of the Yezhov terror”, 1935 – 1940, during which she spent seventeen months, every day, waiting in a line outside the Leningrad prison, waiting for someone who would never return.

The poem begins:

“No foreign sky protected me,
no stranger’s wing shielded my face.
I stand as witness to the common lot,
survivor of that time, that place.”

Who will stand for the time and place, who will give witness to the life and death, of Josefa Raulini? Will we have to wait thirty years, and more, for the foreign sky that offers haven rather than death? Until then, Josefa Raulini haunts the contemporary prison-State.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

The Big Box Store

When my partner and I were on our honeymoon, in upstate New York, we were craving a set of playing cards. We drove around this big “small town” and saw a familiar sign: “Wal-Mart.”  Unperturbed, my partner drove right into the parking lot.  I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going in and he wasn’t either.  He started laughing, but it died in his throat when he saw the scowl on my face.

In 2005, I assisted a law school professor on a paper she was writing on the issues of employment-based sex discrimination. My task was to read through hundreds of declarations by women who either worked or work at Wal-Mart as part of a class action suit against the world’s largest private sector employer and summarize each declaration.  These women not only had the courage and conviction to come forward, but many did at the expense of being chastised by their community.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in Wal-Mart v. Dukes essentially destroys class actions against corporate America.  As a result, the most marginalized sector of the labor force – working-class to poor women-will suffer the most.

In rural and small town America, Wal-Mart is one of the biggest, if not only, sustainable employer. While reading the declarations, I learned of single moms who sustained a family of four.  Many of these women looked at Wal-Mart as a place to grow, to become educated, and create a better life for their family.  They thought the story of Sam Walton, an up-by-his-bootstraps narrative revered by Wal-Mart as the archetype of the American dream, would apply to them.  But theirs was a dream deferred, as they watched their male cohorts, who often worked the same amount of hours, obtain higher pay and quicker promotions. 

With the Supreme Court’s decision, the last vestiges of that dream may have vanished. True, the Court did not decide the substantive issue of whether Wal-Mart discriminated on the basis of gender. But by preventing women from forming a class, they eviscerated the only effective tool in confronting a corporation whose revenues dwarf the GDP of many small countries. Now, each individual class member will have to come forward and sue Wal-Mart (an unlikely scenario), or the 1.6 million women will need to create smaller classes based on commonality other than gender.  In the latter scenario, it is almost certain that this class too will be challenged, and challenged again, until the class is so small, making it not worth the money and effort.

Sadly, Monday’s decision follows a long history of rejecting gender as a potential class against corporations. Decisions like Wal-Mart urges us to think of how we cannot rely on the legal system to recognize bias in corporate structures. The power is up to the consumers, advocates, journalists, activists, artists to make Wal-Mart, and other corporations listen to their constituents.  So, we found playing cards in a locally run business a few blocks from the glowing Wal-Mart sign.

Chai Shenoy is a DC-based attorney, activist, and adjunct lecturer who works on gender-based violence issues.

A Better Half: Young Feminists Can Rewrite Half the Sky

In many ways, Half the Sky has occupied much of the consciousness of what can loosely be defined as the newest “generation” of Western feminists. It is assigned routinely in college classrooms. While it has stimulated students in the U.S. to think about women’s issues at a global level, it does so at the expense of feminisms that have, over the past few decades, attempted to recognize and correct abuses of privilege by Westerners conducted in the name of “third world women”.

Looking at the bestseller from the vantage point of a young feminist, one passage captures much of what is problematic about Half the Sky. Discussing ways that readers could get involved, the authors warn, “American feminism must become less parochial, so that it is every bit as concerned with sex slavery in Asia as with Title IX in Illinois… Likewise, Americans of faith should try as hard to save the lives of African women as the lives of unborn fetuses.”

Somehow discussing the obstacles faced by women globally without any mention of colonialism, past or present, Kristof and WuDunn systematically dichotomize the West and “the rest” through such passages.

First, the passage reduces American feminism to an issue that barely begins to shed light on various forms of oppression in many women’s lives today – forms of oppression that are gendered, and also defined by race, class, able-bodiedness, and so forth.

Second, the passage relieves the reader of undertaking any immediate action by creating distance between her (and her apparently post-feminist American existence) and the issues at hand.

Third, Kristof and WuDunn fail to emphasize the importance of Westerners acting as facilitators or supporters of actions led by women at the grassroots themselves. By stepping in, and effectively stepping on local women, to create their own initiatives, the chance for cross-border solidarity is destroyed. This dichotomy reprises the historical legacies of colonial calls to action revolving around purportedly irreconcilable differences between “civilizer” and “uncivilized.”

The passage also argues for a space in global feminism for people who believe that the lives of unborn fetuses are equivalent to those of African women.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, out of the 5.6 million abortions carried out in Africa in 2003, only 100,000 were performed under safe conditions, a direct result of the fact that 92% of female-bodied people of childbearing age in Africa live in countries that have restrictive abortion laws. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 7 maternal deaths in Africa are caused by unsafe abortions. Including anti-choice politics in a book that spends two full chapters on the gravity of maternal mortality seems contradictory, given the statistics. More to the point, it stymies any productive discussion on the struggle for control over women’s bodies and bodily agency as part of all issues examined in Half the Sky.

Throughout Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn refuse to acknowledge any relationships among capitalism, colonial and postcolonial globalized economies, and gendered inequality. For example, at one point they argue, “The factories prefer young women, perhaps because they’re more docile and perhaps because their small fingers are more nimble for assembly or sewing. So the rise of manufacturing has generally raised the opportunities and the status of women. The implication is that instead of denouncing sweatshops, we in the west should be encouraging manufacturing in poor countries, particularly in Africa and the Muslim world.”

Half the Sky argues that sexism is to be found only in far-removed places, that the noble effort of combating sexism in these far-removed places is available to everyone and requires no critical self-analysis or questioning of one’s understanding of women as they exist in their own locality or politics, and that by replacing one kind of oppression with one that benefits industrialized countries, sexism has somehow been defeated.

This cannot become the dominant narrative for young feminists.

And yet it is.

Half the Sky has succeeded in garnering attention towards women’s issues, but its strategies are limiting and ultimately dangerous. How do we retain the momentum and critically, and politically, address the problems?

There must be a way to gain support for feminism that doesn’t rely on easily “marketable” ideas. For now, Half the Sky is the platform we have. We must surround it with other conversations, discussions that press global feminist activists to take responsibility for our actions, including our mistakes. That would be a first step.

Chiara Corso, ccorso@gwmail.gwu.edu

Haunts: Domestic workers declare war on the War on Women

Last week, domestic workers declared war on the War on Women.

The current domestic laborers’ market has been forged in the most recent phase of globalization – understood, too briefly, as the political economy of globalized production serving a global market – that began in the 1970s. The last four decades have been marked by the rise of global cities, and mega-slums. Already, more than half the world population is urban. Soon, very soon, more than half the world population will live in slums. A planet of slums beckons.

Cities are the place, and slums are the face of urban poverty in the new millennium. And that face is a woman’s face “Women bear the brunt of problems associated with slum life.”

Global cities produce mega-slums and slum cities. Meanwhile, global cities’ 25-hour-a-day, 8-day-a-week so-called service economies require large numbers of easily available, and replaceable, and cheap domestic workers who make sure the beds are made; the food prepared and tasty; the children and the elders cared for; the houses swept; and the structures of household, community, regional, national and global patriarchy solidified and intensified. Political economists tell us that the new economies produced social workers, workers in the information sector whose work is more than and different from the binary of boss and worker. Tell that to the maids and nannies, childcare and eldercare providers (as well as the hotel and office cleaners, and sex workers) across the globe who every day, and every night, make sure everything is neat, tidy and available. It’s a world economy in which women, especially women of color, are forced to care.

In order to meet this demand, nation-States, the Philippines most notably, have turned themselves inside out and, presto, turned into mega-brokerage houses for mass migrations of domestic workers. Global cities demanded, and created, transnational domestic labor, which became one of the fastest growing, and largest, labor sectors of the world economy.

Women workers built the global economy, which came to rely, violently, on women workers. The feminization of the new industrial workforce produced the feminization of migration, which in turn produced the feminization of survival, and all of it, the whole system, sits heavily, and precariously, on the shoulders and in the arms of domestic workers.

That is one reason that the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, passed last week, is called a landmark treaty, a milestone. Here is a key section from that document:

“Considering that domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights, and

Considering also that in developing countries with historically scarce opportunities for formal employment, domestic workers constitute a significant proportion of the national workforce and remain among the most marginalized …

Recognizing the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out that make it desirable to supplement the general standards with standards specific to domestic workers so as to enable them to enjoy their rights fully.”

Women and girls are “the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out.”

“Special conditions”.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, W.E.B Du Bois famously noted “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” For Du Bois the color line came down to a simple, and impossible, question: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Today, the problem of the Twenty First Century continues to be the problem of the color line, and the question now is, “How does it feel to be a special condition?”

Domestic workers around the world, and in our neighborhoods, recognize that question as part of a global War on Women, and they have had enough. Domestic workers refuse to be ghosts in the machinery of “special conditions.” They have declared war on the War on Women. Step up, step up, it’s not too late to enlist.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Women and girl refugees haunt the world

Today, June 20, 2011, is World Refugee Day. To honor this, the United Nations Refugee Agency released a report, UNHCR Global Trends 2010: 60 Years and Still Counting. According to the report, there are no 43.7million refugees and internally displaced persons. That’s the highest number in 15 years. 27.5 million people are internally displaced persons, the highest number in a decade. Globally, fewer than 200,000 refugees voluntarily returned home, the lowest number in twenty years.

Children make up more than 50% of the global displaced population. 55% of stateless people are children. 55% of returnees are children. 48% of Internally Displaced Persons are children. 44% of refugees are children. 31% of asylum seekers are children.  55% of “others of concern” are children. If children are the future, what is the present?

Women and girls? “Women and girls represented, on average, 49 per cent of persons of concern to UNHCR. They constituted 47 per cent of refugees, and half of all IDPs and returnees (former refugees).”

On July 28, 1951, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In 2000, the United Nations adopted June 20 as World Refugee Day. It chose that day so as to coincide with Africa Refugee Day, June 20. Starting in 2001, June 20 has been `celebrated’ as World Refugee Day.

From 2001 to 2011, ten years is too many. From 1951 to 2011, sixty years is too many too many. Last week, in a nationally broadcast public forum, Dan Pfeiffer, White House Director of Communications, was asked, directly and repeatedly, “Is there a war on women?” He equivocated and obfuscated and generally avoided the question. The question can’t be avoided. Is there a war on women? Yes, there is a war on women. Part of that war is the production of huge populations of refugee and internally displaced women and girls. Stakeholders must be called to account. When asked the question, answer directly. Yes, there is a war on women. Yes, sixty years is too many too many. But hey … who’s counting?

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Women haunt the War on Drugs

Yesterday, June 17, 2011, Dan Pfeiffer, White House Director of Communications, was asked, directly and repeatedly, “Is there a war on women?”

Of course, he did not answer, but his non-answer is all the answer one needs.

Especially when one considers that yesterday, June 17, 2011, marked the fortieth anniversary of the War on Drugs. But that was yesterday.

Today is June 18, 2011, and so begins the forty-first year of the campaign against women, called the War on Drugs. As part of the forty years of the war on drugs, women have become the fastest growing prison population, nationally, globally, and probably in your neighborhood. The forty-year long and ongoing `spike’ was no accident and was altogether predictable, and was predicted. There have been calls this week to end the global War on Drugs and the national War on Drugs, but few of those calls have noted that the War on Drugs has been an explicit frontline in the war on women.

The mass incarceration that is the War on Drugs, and its outsourcing and privatization, are one part of the larger War on Women. Women of color suffer higher rates of incarceration, for often minor offenses. All women suffer lack of women’s health services in prison. Women in some states are still being shackled in childbirth. Women are dying of thoroughly treatable illnesses. More than half of female inmates report having been sexually or physically abused prior to imprisonment. The vast majority of women prisoners are living with mental illnesses, and there’s no one to care for them. Women suffer isolation from family and community more often than men. The post prison conditionalities practically assure women will return to prison.

The War on Drugs has targeted women, and women have driven the campaigns against the War on Drugs and the larger War on Women.

But, as the soldiers sing at the very end of Bertolt Brecht’s play, Mother Courage and Her Children: A Chronicle of the Thirty Years’ War, thirty years of war in never enough:

“The war moves on but will not quit.
And though it last three generations,
We shall get nothing out of it.
Starvation, filth and cold enslave us.
The army robs us of our pay.
But God may come down and save us:
His holy war won’t end today.”

Today, June 18, 2011, by Brecht’s generational calculation, the fifth generation of the War on Drugs front in the War on Women moves forward and moves deeper inward. Is there a War on Women? Yes, yes there is.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Saheli Women, New Delhi: After the fire update and appeal

Saheli is a women’s “collective” in New Delhi that started out as a crisis intervention center thirty years ago.  It was a time when the women’s movement had been mobilized by many national events that brought women’s vulnerability to the fore.  One of these was the forced sterilization campaign that Mrs. Gandhi’s government had imposed during the Emergency in the mid-1970s.

I came to know the women of Saheli through their opposition to all forms of coercive contraception directed especially against poor vulnerable women. In 1997 they were co-plaintiffs in a public interest lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court against the promotion of quinacrine sterilization, introduced by two American men who worked with local doctors to sterilize women without their consent.  [It was an off-label use of the drug (made into pellets for insertion in the uterus) that the FDA had not approved.  In the US the men were associated with the anti-immigration lobby].

Saheli Women have challenged laws and policies, demonstrated against all forms of injustice, and supported sister organizations in the women’s movement.  They are “autonomous” which in the context of the Indian women’s movement generally implies that they are not aligned with a political party.  They do not take funds from NGO’s, funders, donors or any institutional source.  They do accept support from individuals.  Consequently, I wanted to bring their appeal to the readers and supporters of Women In and Beyond the Global. Saheli Women would appreciate a note of support even if you do not send a check. To me they have always epitomized feminist solidarity and strength.  Thanks for reading this note and their appeal below.  And do go to www.saheliwomen.org for their stories and accounts in their own words.

Nalini Visvanathan, alamel10@yahoo.com

———-

From: Saheli Women <saheliwomen@gmail.com>

Dear friends,

As you know, on 13th May 2011, a raging fire gutted many shops and along with that, our Saheli office. The devastation has been incredible, with much of our documents and other material collected over 30 years gone.

Many of you have been with us through these trying times  ̶ to keep our spirits up, to help clear the remains and to celebrate the spirit of ‘moving on’ on Saturday the 28th! Thanks so much for a fabulous evening, and for those of you who weren’t there, here’s a picture of what some called our “hip new york bar’ look!

But seriously speaking, the damage to the structure has been severe, and the Public Works Department says it will take them about 4 months to do their bit. In the meantime we taken temporary measures so we can begin to use the office in some form… so we actually have bricked up some sections and got ourselves a door with a lock to secure the place as ours!And we are now getting our first cabinet and bookshelf from friends.

But there is still a lot to be done: Civil works, re-furnishing the place, cataloguing and reprinting documents, scanning and uploading them, etc. Many of you have made specific offers and we will be sorting through our mails to get back to you for that…

Other help:

Physical work: For those of you who can help with sorting documents etc, we plan an intense spell again this coming week – so do call Vani @ 9891128911 to tie up. Once this work is done, we should be able to ask you all to dive into your archives for documents/reports etc we can’t trace at all…

Donations: Many thanks to all of you who have already made invaluable contributions, but we’re still quite short of our needs, so would be great if those of you who would like to donate, do it now, so that we can stop worrying at least on that one account.

Cheques: All cheques [personal ones only, of course] need to be in the name of ‘Saheli Women’s Resource Centre’ and sent with a letter/email stating they are meant for “rebuilding Saheli” along with your address and phone number/email to:

Saheli Women’s Resource Centre
C/o Ms Satnam Kaur
P-9/B, Ground Floor
Jangpura Extension
Near Eros Cinema
New Delhi 110014
Ph: 9899212066
saheliwomen@gmail.com

Bank Transfers: If this is easier, drop us a line and we’ll send you the details.

Cash donations, of course, you can give to any Saheli you know or meet…

All donations to Saheli are exempt under 80G, and yes, and new receipt books have been our first ‘print’ job, so expect them in the mail!

Thank you once again for your continued support, love and solidarity and hope to see you soon under the flyover.

All of us in Saheli
www.saheliwomen.org

Saheli Women’s Resource Centre
Above Unit 105-108
Defence Colony Flyover Market
New Delhi 100 024

A Better Half: A New Nose, And a Life Changed?

In Afghan culture noses symbolize respect and pride. A man who feels stripped of his pride by “his woman’s” immoral act of trespassing cultural limits and ignoring traditional norms conceptualizes this as his nose being cut. He in turn cuts “his woman’s” nose. Looking at a beautiful but “noseless” face with piercing eyes looking at you, how can anyone resist sympathy, compassion and an eagerness to help in any way possible?

Helping may be a general human instinct. However most “helpers” make choices on their own assumptions concerning the situation of the ones who need help. How could we know that our help is the help which is needed; how do we know our help is effective?

I agree with Krisof and WuDunn who claim in their book Half the Sky that saving one woman makes a difference, at least in that woman’s life.  However, it also makes me think about Bibi Ayesha, the girl with a mutilated nose on the cover of Time magazine in August 2010. She was maimed; punished for running away from an abusing, baad marriage (a marriage in which a girl is given to solve a dispute). She was helped by American doctors in Kabul and then sent to the United States to undergo plastic surgery to be “given“ a new nose.

Those who do not /cannot speak for themselves – someone will speak for them. Where is Ayesha’s voice? A deeper epistemological and political analysis comes through by replacing the term image with that of representation, representation as providing a likeness or replica for that which it is subject. Representation does not stand for, or as, the original subject itself but rather for its meaning. Representation poses the question of who speaks for whom and which one person stands for the entire group.

Ayesha became an image that represents Afghan women, all Afghan women. And when we see an empty hole on a face where a nose should be, the first thing that comes to minds is covering it.  And now our part is done. Ayesha has a new plastic nose.

But have we really helped? What have we changed? It reminds me of a joke. A man was at the beach when he heard a drowning person cry for help. He jumped into the water and saved him. He had just reached the shore when he heard another cry for help. He saved this one, too. This happened several times and he was saving one after another. What’s the joke? The man never realized that there was someone on a cliff near by pushing people into the sea.

How many noses can we give to “noseless women”? Kristof and WuDunn claim that donating a goat can make a change in a family’s lives, or educating women can make them autonomous. Maybe, but what if the new nose makes her face itch? The irritation might make her throw it away.

Women live not only in families. We live in a larger political, economic and cultural domain. Most developing countries are war torn, entangled in poor economies, and caught amidst international or regional politics. This has left those countries with a continuum of the culture of patriarchy and violation against women. How effective could it be to help individual women by giving them loans, donating a goat, or giving a new nose; whilst in most of these societies according to De Beauvoir, “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded an autonomous being”? How can a dependent “other” be addressed while ignoring the “self”?

When I became a feminist and became engaged in women’s rights advocacy, I wanted to change people’s minds, to help or at least “save” one friend. But sometimes when we don’t consider the pros and cons and do not understand the situation and the culture, we might make things worse rather than better. I ended up trying to encourage a friend to step up against her parents and say no to a forced marriage. My only intention was to help, but my ideas and beliefs, coming from an educated and open-minded family, ended up in a broken friendship and a forced marriage. I learned the hard way. There are people on the cliffs pushing women into the sea. We should not forget them.

Leeda Mehran, lmehran@gwmail.gwu.edu

Haunts: My name is Ayat al-Qurmozi. I am a student

In Bahrain yesterday, thousands filled the streets in pro-democracy protests. In Bahrain today, Ayat al-Qurmozi was sentenced to a year in prison. Her crime is poetry. In February, the twenty-year-old teacher trainee, a student at the Teacher’s College of Bahrain, attended a pro-democracy rally in the Pearl Roundabout. She read a poem to the crowd. The crowd went wild. Then the State did as well. It hunted her down. She went into hiding. Police, by the busload, flooded into her parents’ home and promised to kill her brothers first, and then the parents, if she wasn’t located … promptly. She turned herself in. That was March. Since then, Ayat al-Qurmozi has been tortured, held incommunicado for long periods, blindfolded and forced to sign a document which claims to be a confession. Today, June 12, she was sentenced to a year in prison. The State has invested quite a bit of energy and resources into the education of this young Shia woman student poet’s education.

Some now call the young Ayat al-Qurmozi the Revolution Poet. Others call her the Freedom Poet. What did Ayat al-Qurmozi say to the crowd? In part, the following:

“My name is Ayat al-Qurmozi. I am a student at the Teachers’ College of Bahrain, and I have a message. It is short. It is for those who think they will dance on our pain and suffering, built from sectarian strife and led by the one-eyed TV channel:

We do not want to live in a palace and we do not want to live like the President.
We are the people.
We are the people who kill humiliation and assassinate misery.
We are the people!
We are the people who use peace to destroy the foundation of injustice.
We, the people, do not want our brothers and sisters to remain in suffering and despair.
One day, a spirit came to the King and said, O Hamad!
They have touched me, your people. Do you not hear?
Do you not hear their cries?
Do you not hear?
Do you not hear their screams?
Sunni, Shia, brothers, sisters, God cares for you without distinction.”

And the crowd went wild. And so did the State. Today, Ayat’s mother asks, “What did she do? She wrote a poem.” Is the price of poetry really martyrdom?

Now Ayat al-Qurmozi sits with Zainab al-Khawaja, Dr. Fareeda al-Dallal, Eman Abdulaziz Alaswam, Roqaya Jassim Abu Rwais, Fadhila Mubarak Ahmed, and all the unnamed and all the unknown women and girls in Bahrain who have been targeted for repression, who receive special attention when seized, arrested, interrogated, incarcerated. The women of Bahrain are paying dearly for freedom of expression, for expression and for freedom. The State is investing a great deal in their education. But as elsewhere the revolution will not be educated.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: When the State cares enough to kill and maim the very best

In Ireland, today, the court heard about a 15-year-old boy who was “institutionalized” in the Ballydowd Special Care Unit. Special Care. A Special Care Unit is a place in which the State can imprison children who are “troubled.” For their own welfare and safety. Ireland has three such units: Ballydowd, Coovagh House, and Gleann Alainn.

The court today heard that the boy has been diagnosed as living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He has trouble with `regular’ classrooms. He spent much of his time at Ballydowd “detained for long periods of time by himself.” How the State care for `troubled’ children? Isolation. And now, according to the boy’s parents, attorneys and psychologists, he is “unfit for mainstream education”.

Two years ago, on August 31, 2009, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, issued a report stating unequivocally that Ballydowd must be closed. That report was a follow-up to a November 2008 report in which Ballydowd was deemed “no longer fit for purposes.” From practices to material conditions, the place was a disaster, and a danger to children.

The government pledged to close Ballydowd, and move the children to a nearby facility. In 2010, Ballydowd had twelve beds. In the most recent HIQA inspection, on October 27, 2010, Ballydowd housed seven children, four boys, three girls, all between 13 and 16 years old. And now, the Republic of Ireland claims it cannot find decent and adequate places for seven children who may or may not require “special care”.

In Australia, the State’s special care often proves fatal, especially for Black residents.

Consider the story of Mr. Ward, an Aboriginal elder. In January 2008, Mr. Ward, 46 years old, was taken on a 220 mile ride across the blistering Central Desert to face a drunk driving charge. Mr. Ward was a respected Aboriginal. He  had represented the Ngaanyatjarra lands across Australia as well as at international fora. The two people who drove Mr. Ward worked for a subsidiary of G4S. They did not see an Aboriginal elder nor a statesman. They saw “a man in his 40’s, 50’s, Aboriginal with a dark skin. He was dirty.”

They threw Mr. Ward into the back of a Mazda van, into the security “pod” with metal seating and no air conditioning. All male remand prisoners are considered dangerous, or “high risk”. The fact that Mr. Ward was known to be cooperative and congenial was irrelevant. For his own safety and welfare, he had to go in the back. The trip took almost four hours. The temperatures that day were 40 degrees Celsius, 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. Ward died of heatstroke. He died with third degrees, presumably from where he touched the metal floor of the van. Mr. Ward cooked to death, slowly and in excruciating pain.

There was no possibility for Mr. Ward to survive that trip. There was no working panic button. There was no means of communication between the security section and the drivers in the cabin. He had one small bottle of water. He was destined to the death he suffered. It is Australia’s form of special care. It must be, because Australia pays a hefty price, literally, for the G4S services.

Again, every aspect of this story had been publicly described in earlier studies. In a 2001 government study, identical Mazda `pods’ were described as  “not fit for humans to be transported in.” They were seen as “a death waiting to happen.”

In the intervening decade, there have been other major reports, two in 2005, in 2006. To no avail. In 2008, Mr. Ward was dumped into the oven of the back of that Mazda. In 2009, G4S was awarded the contract for prisoner transport.

When asked about the implications of Mr. Ward’s story, Keith Hamburger, the principal author of the 2005 report, responded, “That’s a matter of great concern because this is not rocket science, we’re dealing here with duty of care.”

Duty of care.

Duty of care is a legal concept that ensures that people should not cause one another unreasonable harm or loss. But what is “unreasonable”?  Ballydowd is still open and consuming  children. G4S continues to ferry prisoners across the desert. Why? Because they have been deemed not “unreasonable”. Where is justice in that measure of reasonable and unreasonable suffering?

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com