In Algeria, once again women shouting “Barakat! Ça suffit!” demand freedom!

Friday, March 29, tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Algiers and across Algeria, rejecting the Army’s version of “compromise” and insisting on popular democracy. This is the sixth mass demonstration in six Fridays, and there have been other, smaller ones during the weeks. Already, the people have removed the forever-and-a-day President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. What happens next is unclear, as it always is, but what is clear, both from reports and from the histories of Algerian people, is that once again women are key leaders and constituents of this uprising, insurgent demand for real democracy, real equality, and real freedom. Report after report after report after report has noted the presence of women “on the front lines”, the ways in which women have retaken and reshaped the public space. These women are part of a longstanding Algerian women’s movement. Like their sisters in Tunisia, in Algeria, women have always been in the forefront of the democratic struggle, have always been the revolutionary guards.

On March 16, Algerian Women for Movement Towards Equality released a statement-petition: “We are currently experiencing a magnificent, peaceful popular uprising against the political system in place. The massive presence of women in the processions testifies to the profound transformations of our society and demands recognition of women’s rights in an egalitarian Algeria.

“This system has reigned supreme since independence using coercive and autocratic means to defeat any desire for change and democratization. In addition to the destruction of the institutions of the Republic (health, education, justice, culture, etc.), the beggaring of political life, corruption, authoritarianism and social injustices, this system has also implemented a Machiavellian strategy sustaining and reinforcing inegalitarian thinking and practices. Algerian women have paid a high price, both symbolically, formally and realistically.

“The history of the Algerian struggles testifies to the massive commitment of women to all the just and decisive struggles that the country has carried out: the War of National Liberation, the building of the independent Algerian State, the revolt of October 1988, trade union, student and democratic struggles before and after October 1988, the struggle against armed fundamentalist groups during the 1990s, etc. Alongside men, women conceptualized, developed and conducted struggles in the hope of building an egalitarian society and seeing this concrete equality lived during these difficult moments become an indisputable achievement once the goals have been achieved.

“Unfortunately, this promised equality is not yet realized. The massive schooling of girls and its procession of competent graduates, our presence in the world of work as well as the legislative and regulatory changes wrenched by decades of struggle, have not yet taken women out of their minority status in society, which remains patriarchal, and in institutions.

“The active and unconditional participation of Algerian women in the February 22nd Movement encourages us to reaffirm our determination to change the system in place with all its components, including its sexist, patriarchal and misogynistic aspects.

“On March 16, 2019, a women’s meeting was held in Algiers. After a debate and a wide consultation, it is retained as follows:

• We, the women who signed this declaration, are convinced that the construction of our common future is nothing without full equality between citizens, regardless of gender, class, region or belief.

• We must continue to be present everywhere with our colleagues, our neighbors to maintain this beautiful diversity in all processions but also to make more visible our demand for equality.

• We decided to create a feminist space that will be positioned every Friday at the portal of the Central Faculty of Algiers.

• We support and encourage similar initiatives throughout the Algerian territory and fully subscribe to all statements that consider equality between women and men as one of the priorities for the change of the current system.

• We call on all women who recognize themselves in this call to join their signatures to ours, to integrate feminist spaces where they exist or to initiate them when conditions permit, and to participate in our next meetings.

• We call to take into account the equal representation of women in any citizen initiative for the exit of this crisis.

• We condemn any act of harassment during demonstrations.

Algiers, March 16, 2019” (You can read the original and sign the petition here.)

On February 22, 2014, just before Bouteflika was to formally announce his candidacy, Amira Bouraoui– a gynecologist, mother of two, “ordinary woman” – showed up at the gates of her local university, stood there alone with a placard, and said, STOP. She said, Barakat! Ça suffit! It’s enough! Around the world, people heard a woman saying, yet again, “¡Ya basta!” Within two days, that singular action sparked a movement. For the past ten years, the Collectif Féministe d’Alger(the feminist association of Algiers) has been organizing for women’s dignity, rights and power. 

Five years later Amira Bouraoui is joined by 83-year-old Djamila Bouhired, a guerrilla combatant in Algeria’s war of independence; 17-year-old ballet dancer Melissa Ziad;  Zoubida Assoul, president of the Network of Arab Women Lawyers; Louisa Hanoune, Secretary General of the Workers Party; and hundreds of thousands of women of all ages and from all sectors of the country. They carry their decades and centuries of resistance into the spaces they seize and create. The future is now. 

(Photo Credit: NPA2009 / DR)

Radio WIBG: Women’s voices from the Mediterranean: the state of play in Algeria

In 2011, women were in the forefront of the democratic movements in Mediterranean countries. Those movements of liberation didn’t fulfill the promises for women’s emancipation. In countries such as Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, the response of authoritarian patriarchal powers has been brutal. Women have paid a heavy price during these uprisings facing now a counterblast that sends them back to basic fights for gender equality. Nevertheless, they gained determination. In 2008, women activists founded the Mediterranean Women’s Fund (MedWF) to support and strengthen women’s organizations around the Mediterranean region. The MedWF has become an important articulation to shore up women’s movements in the regions.

The MedWF has adapted its action to the new needs of Mediterranean women’s organizations. Relying on networking and collective intelligence training for activists, the MedWF has worked on developing strategies to respond to the continuous attacks on women’s rights. In its efforts to provide a comprehensive support to these organizations the fund has organized meetings to gather women activists in six countries, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Croatia, Libya, and, last summer, France.

Amina, an Algerian activist with the Collectif Féministe d’Alger (the feminist association of Algiers) an organization that campaigns to stop violence against women, presented the situation in Algeria. She described the everyday struggle of Algerian women for recognition, organizing to gain emancipation and sexual and reproductive rights. A code of silence has been muffling women’s voices for women’s rights. Women demand to be heard and respected as full citizen with equal legal rights.

 

Brigitte Marti

In collaboration with MedWF and 50 50 magazine

 

(Photo and Image Credit: Mediterranean Women’s Fund)

Being sick is deadly for women

In Algeria, about 4000 women are repudiated by their husbands every year. The reason: they have contracted breast cancer! A third of Algerian breast cancer patients are thrown out and made precarious with no guarantee of treatment as they lose their social coverage. Additionally, they endure severe psychological upheaval.

Hamida Khatab, President of the Association El-Amel, which supports cancer patients, explains that many men refuse to accept the physical changes of their sick wives. She adds that these men consider that they cannot fulfill their conjugal duty anymore. There is a certain code of silence around the condition of women’s dependency. For instance, reproductive rights in Algeria are very limited; access to abortion is restricted to women whose lives are in danger.

Nonetheless, Algeria has been lauded for its progressive Constitution, especially with regards to women’s rights. The Constitution guarantees equal rights, mentions gender and includes a non-discriminatory clause. However, while the Constitution purports to give rights, laws and their application suggest something else. For example, there are no laws to protect women in case of domestic violence in Algeria.

The UN and the World Bank recently published data on women’s rights country by country. Reading the data critically reveals the difficulties of simply summarizing women’s rights. For example, on abortion rights, the data show that the United States guarantees access to reproductive services such as abortion, and yet we know that access is not only difficult to impossible in many states, but also prohibitively expensive.

The World Bank refers to Country as Economy, which makes the financial materiality the “raison d’être” of a country. In that logic, women become even more dependent. In Algeria, for example, women and men do not have the same inheritance rights to property, whether they are daughters, sons or spouses. Seen from the perspective of Country as Economy, the repudiation of women with diagnosed breast cancer is embedded in inequality and discrimination, the Constitution notwithstanding.

Hamida Khatab and her organization have demanded legal protection to shield women with breast cancer from being divorced, thereby maintaining access to free treatment through social coverage.

Meanwhile, in the United States, where profit runs the health system, there is no free treatment for breast cancer patients. Women depend on employer-sponsored health insurance through their spouses or their own jobs. According to a study that considered gender role in “partner abandonment” in the United States, “A married man is six times more likely to separate from or divorce his wife soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than a married woman in the same situation.”

Additionally, the out of pocket cost of treatment for insured women can easily reach $6000. For the woman who is uninsured, the numbers skyrocket. The single greatest factor of disparity in survival rates for breast cancer is whether the woman is insured or uninsured, and that is heavily determined by ethnicity, social and immigration status. This disparity is growing.

Women’s dependency is articulated around economic and cultural patriarchal polarities and carries deadly consequences for their lives. In a period of austerity and reduction of public services, women’s precariousness is racially and economically organized. The fight is broad and requires a larger sense of solidarity.

 

(Photo credit: El Mouajahid)

Amira Bouraoui: Barakat! Ça suffit! Enough! ¡Ya basta!

 

Enough! That’s Amira Bouraoui’s message for Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in office now for 15 years and running for another term. Bouraoui started a new, and yet not so new, movement in Algeria, a movement of  “Algériens indignés”. Indignant Algerians. Algerians who refuse to be counted out or, worse, counted among the dead: “L’Algérien n’est pas mort, il réfléchit et il n’est pas d’accord.” The Algerian is not dead. He thinks about what’s happening, and he does not agree.

Amira Bouraoui is a gynecologist, a mother of two, and an ordinary woman. On February 22, before Bouteflika had formally announced his candidacy, Bouraoui showed up at the gates of her local university, stood there alone with a placard, and said, STOP. She said, Barakat! Ça suffit! It’s enough! Around the world, people heard a woman saying, yet again, “¡Ya basta!”

Within two days, that singular action sparked a movement.

On Thursday, hundreds gathered in a peaceful demonstration and were met with police intimidation and, for some, brutality. Bouraoui was arrested. Of Thursday’s demonstration, Bouraoui said, “We organized this protest not only to say NO! to a fourth term for Bouteflika, which would be a shame for Algeria, but also to promote the struggle to dispel people’s fear of expressing ourselves freely and openly in our own country.”

Around the world, women, individually and singularly and collectively and together, organize to say NO to patriarchy, domination, oppression, violence. Women organize to say YES to expression, sharing, collaboration, real peace, love.

Amira Bouraoui got up one day, kissed her children, and walked out the door. Alone, she carried a sign to the local university, because she thought and thinks students matter and education matters, and she said, NO! Barakat! Enough is enough! Ça suffit! And around the world … the world heard a woman saying, yet again, “¡Ya basta!” It was a woman’s solitary, small gesture that lit up the sky.

That’s the message for March 8, 2014, International Women’s Day. ¡Ya basta! Enough! Ça suffit! Barakat!

 

(Photo Credit: Le Portail des Hommes Libres)

Revealing the code of silence that rules reproductive rights

In Algeria abortion is simply illegal. A woman can be punished by six months to two years in prison and a fine. The abortionist is subject to one to five years in prison and a hefty fine.

According to the president of a women’s rights association, as reported in the Algerian newspaper L’Expression, there are about 80 000 abortions a year for 775 000 pregnancies in Algeria. The police reported only 27 cases in 2012. So what is happening in Algeria?

The code of silence is the rule.

Women who seek help with unwanted pregnancies have few options and they all imply a sense of shame and fear. The rule is to use word of mouth information and have enough money, on average $400, which is high price in Algeria.

The journalist of L’Expression follows the same principle of word of mouth to investigate the providers’ identities, how women get information and how the procedure is performed. It leads him and his partner to doctors who are militant and outraged by the situation as well as to charlatans who take advantage of women’s desperate search for relief. In any case, women are ashamed, isolated and have no protection and no recourse as they face horrendous medical consequences.

The article sends a clear message that this situation is shameful for society and that it has to change. As the reporters note, there have been changes, especially with the advent of the Internet. Women in Algeria have begun to engage in a public forum to break the rule of silence. We have seen the possibilities of these strong women’s voices in neighboring countries.

The code of silence has become the rule as well for many women in the United States seeking reproductive services where, law after law, women’s right are being restricted, putting many women to precarious situations. In 42 states restrictions on abortion rights have already been anticipated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will be enacted in 2014.

2012 has been the second year with the greatest number of new legislation to restrict access to reproductive services such as abortion, with about 122 provisions related to restrict access to reproductive health. Being a woman at the age of reproduction is a risky condition … in the United States as in Algeria.

Stop the code of silence, let’s hear women’s voices and respect their right to be.

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Zohra Bensemra)

 

Women pay for rising food prices

Youth in Algeria are `rioting’ to protest, and change the conditions of, high unemployment and high and quickly rising food prices. In Egypt, where food inflation is running at a staggering 17 percent, the women are talking once again of the food lines, and the food riots and uprisings, of 2008.

In Bolivia, shopkeepers, such as Pilar Calisaya, are battling with police because of quickly rising bread prices. As she explains, “I am not at fault”.

In China, as Xu Shengru shops for food to feed her family, she notes that cabbage, a staple, has doubled in price since last year. That’s actually the good news. Recently, rice prices rose 30 percent in just 10 days.  Pepper prices rocketed an astonishing 1,000 percent.  In Indonesia, where pepper prices are also scaling new heights at new speeds, the government is imploring citizens to plant chilies in their backyards.

In India, food inflation has `zoomed’ to 18.32 percent this week alone, spurred by onion, vegetable and milk price rises. Last year alone, the price of onions rose 40 percent.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices in 2010 hit a new high, especially cereals and sugar. Wheat prices soared, corn as well. The price of meat and of milk also rose precipitously. These are the highest prices in thirty years. Put differently, well over half the world’s population has never lived with such high prices. It’s no surprise the youth of Algeria are protesting.

The brunt is back, and yet again the analysts inform us that it’s the world’s poorest who will bear the brunt.  And yet again there will be stories of individual women, such as Pilar Calisaya, or the unnamed woman in Egypt, or the unnamed woman in Algeria facing down a row of police, or Xu Shengru, and their struggles with food political economies, but there will be no analysis or reporting on the place of women in the `danger territory’ of food provision and consumption.

As the discussions of food prices, food riots, food protests, food markets, and food counter-markets spiral, keep an eye out for structural analyses of women’s positions.

One woman who knows something about women, food, crisis, is Jenga Mwendo.   Mwendo is the founder of the Backyard Gardens Network in New Orleans. After Katrina, she began rebuilding her own home, in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, and began building a new food political economy in the middle of food desert and in the midst of a food desertification.  She organized the rebuilding of two community gardens, the planting of fruit trees, and more. Mwendo understands that the only buffer against the predations of market control of food is community production. For some, this would be community gardens, for others, coops. In all of these, and other alternative community food experiments and projects, women historically have been the principal agents and constituency. Women still are.

Jenga Mwendo is precisely not exceptional. Women do not only bear the brunt of the devastating food market economies. Women are neither the victims nor the survivors of food catastrophes and crises. Instead, women are the change agents, from food uprisings to community gardens, and beyond.

Meanwhile, “fresh rioting broke out in Algiers today.”

 

(Photo Credit: Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune)

Democracy beyond asylum

On July 14, during the second day of hearings for Judge Sonia Sotamayor, Senator Charles Schumer noted, smiling: “in the nearly 850 cases you have decided in the 2nd Circuit, you ruled in favor of the government — that is, against the petitioners seeking asylum, the immigrants seeking asylum — 83 percent of the time. That happens to be the exact statistical median rate for your court. It’s not one way or the other.” These numbers are meant to assure us that, when it comes to foreigners and asylum seekers, the Judge is ok. She has a balanced record.

Asylum is a legal court procedure with rules and codes and whatever else. But it’s also about sanctuary, an inviolable place of refuge, of safety from seizure. The people who seek that asylum, the asylum of refuge, are not all immigrants, nor are they all `foreigners’. Where in this country can the seekers go to find asylum?

Not Santa Monica. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Santa Monica this week for violating homeless peoples’ rights by harassing and arresting them, all while the city cuts back on beds for the homeless. They call it “a deportation program for the homeless”. It sounds like the poorhouses of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the State fenced off the common land and forced peasants to move to find work, and then passed anti-vagabond laws, which criminalized unregulated popular movement. And so a cheap, reserve labor force came into being. What profit does Santa Monica wrest from the bodies of the twenty first century imprisoned poors?

Nadine Chlubna is a 56 year old schizophrenic paranoid woman who fears spaceships and the Santa Monica police force. Only the police have actually ever done her any harm, having arrested her three times and mocked her delusional fears of interplanetary aliens. Where is asylum for Nadine Chlubna? Not in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. You can read all about her in The Confessions. It’s good stuff. And you know where Monica and her son Augustine were born and lived much of their lives? North Africa. They were Berbers from what is today called Algeria. Augustine moved to Italy, and, after her husband died, Monica followed. As immigrants, they found asylum. Would the same happen in Santa Monica or in Italy? I doubt it.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless just released a report, Homes Not Handcuffs, which lists the ten meanest cities in the United States, those that most viciously and thoroughly criminalize the homeless and militarize the streets and all public spaces. Number one? Los Angeles, just down the road from Santa Monica: “A study by UCLA released in September 2007 found that Los Angeles was spending $6 million a year to pay for fifty extra police officers to crack down on crime in the Skid Row area at a time when the city budgeted only $5.7 million for homeless services.” Six million for 50 cops, 5.7 for all the homeless. It’s a delicate balance. You know what the crimes were? Jaywalking. Loitering. Serious stuff.

Here’s what six million dollars buys: “Police brutality against homeless people intensified during the crackdown on crime in Skid Row.  In June 2007, the Los Angeles County Community Action Network reported one example: two L.A. Police officers attacked a petite homeless woman, who may have been mentally disabled, with clubs and pepper spray.  Police reportedly beat her and tied her down.” Six million dollars doesn’t buy asylum, doesn’t buy security. It buys beat-downs, tie-downs, lock downs, and fear. At six million, it’s a bargain.

In Bradenton, Florida, the ninth meanest city in the U.S., a police officer arrested a homeless woman, and tried to help her maintain her possessions. Everything she owned was in a shopping cart. The officer, Nicholas Evans, pulled the cart alongside his car for the 12-mile drive to the county jail. Imagine that. He was punished. Imagine that. I hope he learned his lesson.

In Denver, “two women were confronted by police at the 16th Street Mall when trying to help out homeless individuals.  One of the women gave a homeless man a hamburger and a dollar in front of two undercover police officers.  One of the police officers proceeded to chase her down and forced her back to where she gave the homeless man the burger.  One undercover officer said that he could arrest her for giving money and food to a panhandler after dark.  When she questioned that such a law exists and asked to see his badge, the police refused to do so and told her to leave.” Another woman bought a fleece blanket for a man in wheelchair, outside the same mall. Denver winters, high in the Rocky Mountains, are cold, in more ways than one: “when she tried to give the man the blanket, an officer told her to stop and asked her for identification.  While the police confronted her, the man in the wheelchair left.  She was subsequently arrested for interfering with law enforcement.”

From sea to shining sea, undercover and uniformed police are harassing the homeless and anyone who tries to offer assistance. Where is asylum in this world? What is the word for the system in which women and men who need help and women and men who want to help are made to feel the full heat and weight of the security State? In the United States, it’s called democracy, democracy beyond asylum.

(Image Credit: https://cangress.wordpress.com)

How do you like your torture, fast or slow?

Saleyha Ahsan has been visiting Y, an Algerian who fled Algeria for the United Kingdom, seeking asylum. His story is being enacted in a video on the Guardian website. He can’t see it, because he’s “a threat to national security”, and so he can’t access a computer, much less the internet or a mobile phone. His crime? “Y was tortured in Algeria – the evidence is clear from the scars on the front and back of his head. His crime was to speak out against human rights abuses in the early 1990s. When it was clear that he had to leave he came to the UK, and with his powerful testimony he was given full rights to remain. Not a false passport or fake name in sight. Leaving saved his life. Not long after, he was issued with a death sentence in absentia in Algeria.” Wait. That can’t be right. His crime is that he `agreed’ to be tortured? Yes, that made him a threat. However one parses the niceties, Ahsan has watched “an isolated edgy young man turned old through the “slow torture” of these last eight years in the UK. Detained for a total of 57 months in prison – first for the ricin case, for which he was fully acquitted, then detained again based on…? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s called secret evidence and neither Y or his lawyers have any idea what it is.”

This practice of slow torture is particular to women and takes many forms.

In the UK, according to the most recent Prison Reform Trust Fact Files, “The number of women in prison has increased by 60% over the past decade, compared to 28% for men. On 12 June 2009 the women’s prison population stood at 4,269. In 1997 the mid-year female prison population was 2,672. In 2007, 11,847 women were received into prison.” Twelve years of step-by-step, rung-by-rung escalating incarceration of women. Twelve years of silence. Slow torture.

Nadera Shalhoub Kevorkian has been thinking and writing about the slow torture of Palestinian women. Palestinian women have been placed in a condition of betweeness: “we as women are in a state of betweeness, we are kind of border patrolling everything, we are border patrolling the border between the outside and the inside, the private and the public – our bodies, our lives, our future are all in the state of betweeness….Look at the example of the checkpoints …; I was dropping my partner off at his clinic… they stopped us and they put the men on the right side and the women on the left side, and they told the men to raise their hands and body searched them, and we were on the other side, and this kind of not knowing, this uncertainty that we were all living at that moment, this geography of fear that they created in a very small space, our space as women, all of a sudden it became militarized and they kind of stole our space from us. We became exilic in our own space and the men became dehumanized and demonized in front of our very eyes….This militarization … ends up putting us, as women, as boundary markers, so we are the punching bag for the men outside and the punching bag for the men inside, and we want to move and change the situation, but we are in a state of ‘betweeness’.” The checkpoints are the fast and the quick of torture. The slow torture is the state of exile in one’s own home. How many decades of silence before a new language and a new home are fully established?

Slow torture is a product of a particular application of the rule of law to women and men deemed to be foreigners, and so [a] menace to society and [b] meant to be grateful for whatever juridical crumbs they can get.

In California, for example, activists have targeted undocumented residents and their U.S.-born children. They want to cut off public services to undocumented residents, to challenge the citizenship of any U.S. born citizens of undocumented residents, and set harsh new standards for birth certificates. Who’s targeted here? Women. Making pregnant women worry about what will happen, to them and their children, if they go to hospital in labor is that same as shackling women prisoners while in labor and childbirth. It’s criminal, and it happens all the time. It’s slow torture.

Veronica Lopez  is from Guatemala. She lives in California. She lived with a violent and abusive partner. She reported him. He was tried and deported to Guatemala. Lopez then spent nine months in immigration detention, terrified that she would be deported back to the reach of her abusive husband. Only at the eleventh hour, and then some, did the State come through and grant her a U-Visa, which is designed precisely for women in Lopez’s situation. Others have not been so lucky, and have been deported. The state of betweeness for women stretches across the world. The practice of slow torture haunts us.

(Photo Credit: Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice)