In Poland “ladies are not playing”, they are fighting for their rights

In Poland last year, the Federation for Women and Family Planning celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was created to defend the reproductive laws that existed in 1991. Its director, Krystyna Kacpura, reflects, “This is the only organization in the country whose focus is sexual and reproductive rights, of course we have many NGOs working on women’s issues such as violence against women but not on reproductive rights. So, for a country of 10 million women in reproductive age, it’s nothing!”

At the end of “the cold war” world order, the process of democratization of eastern Europe, including with the reunification of Germany, was accompanied by a decline in sexual and reproductive rights and women’s rights in general. Poland has taken this to the extreme. With Ireland and Malta, Poland is the country with the most restrictive laws as regards abortion.

Recently, the passing of the French political feminist figure Simone Veil has triggered numerous reflections on the important right to universal access to free contraception and abortion. Feminist philosopher Genevieve Fraisse wrote, “Abortion is not murder. It is exercising the right to be free.”

Meanwhile, in 2016, the newly elected extreme right Polish government tried to pass a total “ban on abortion” law. Krystyna Kacpura is Executive Director of the Federation of Women and Family Planning, and she is also a member of the Sexual Rights Initiative, European Society for Contraception and Reproductive Rights, and the Programme Council of the Congress of Polish Women.

Krystyna Kacpura met with and recalled for Women In and Beyond the Global the history of the solidarity movement that rejected this law. But the battle is not over, and some similarities are easy to establish with the US anti-abortion movement as she explains:

Krystyna Kacpura

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Janek Skarżyński /AFP /Getty Images) (Photo Credit 2: Wyborcza / Albert Zawada)

Hats off Madame Simone Veil!

In France, feminists and humanists are mourning Simone Veil, the emblematic woman who in 1975 presented and defended her abortion bill in the almost exclusively masculine French parliament.

She has been perceived as a rebel and she would say that she never accepted that women had restrictive rights. As a young magistrate in charge of prisons from 1957 to 1964, she changed the extremely repressive conditions of women in prison. During the Algerian War, she acted for the rights of Algerian political prisoners putting in place a strategy to curtail the execution of male Algerian prisoners on death row. Meanwhile she also worked to stop the mistreatment of Algerian female political prisoners, regrouping them in a special unit under far better conditions where they were able to pursue their education.

Simone Veil knew what being in prison meant, having been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau when she was 16 along with one of her sisters and her mother, who died in 1945 from exhaustion and typhus after they had been transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She survived the worst with an extreme desire to salute and respect life. She always said that she kept the memory of her inspiring mother at her side always, especially in her fight for the respect of women’s and human rights.

Among her other achievements at her various positions in the French administration was the recognition of dual parental control and family legal matters, rights for single mothers and their children, and adoption rights for women.

In 1974 Simone Veil became the first female full minister in a French government. The previous attempt to have women in an administration occurred during Leon Blum’s Front Populaire government in 1936 with 3 women nominated “sous secretaire d’etat” (Undersecretary of State). At the time women did not have the right to vote in France.

Simone Veil’s first legislation was to have contraception recognized in the French Health care system, removing the financial burden of contraception.

The event that made her feminist stand highly visible was “la loi Veil”, the bill to legalize abortion in France, that passed on January 17, 1975. Remarkably, she was in a center right government. The bill was fully supported by the left but not by the members of her own party and she needed some of their votes to pass it.

The bill itself was cautious and called for improvement but it represented a necessary start. France had some of the most restrictive laws for women with the Code Napoleon still wielding its patriarchal control of the nation. However, things were changing, feminist movements were increasingly visible and the solidarity for the recognition of sexual and reproductive rights in the French law was total.

Importantly, the principles for the existence of the bill didn’t revolve around the right to privacy but rather around the social impact of the code of silence and hypocritical stand against women’s right to access abortion. About 300 women would die every year in France from botched abortions. The slogan “abortion to the rich and punishment for the poor” was chanted in demonstrations for abortion rights.

With this bill, Simone Veil placed abortion in a context of contraception and not murder while addressing the responsibility of society in confronting the social needs of women of all socio-economic backgrounds, including elements such as financial coverage of pregnancies, childcare, and health care. She later established paid maternity-leave.

Simone Veil relied on a strong feminist movement of solidarity to achieve the advancement of women’s rights. For instance, in 1972, the lawyer Gisèle Alimi transformed a trial against a young woman who had an abortion after a rape and the women who helped her, including her mother, into a political scene for the cause of women’s rights. She had supported Simone Veil in defending the rights of the Algerian women prisoners, and remained her eternal ally and vice versa, although being from different political sides.

During the debate, Simone Veil asserted that the fetus was not yet a full human being. She used the WHO statistics about pregnancies and the flimsiness of life, to remind that 45 pregnancies out of 100 miscarried during the 2 first weeks of pregnancy. She emphasized the embryo as a becoming not a being, as opposed to the woman who is pregnant. She claimed that the legalization of abortion was an absolute necessity to keep order while normalizing the role of women in the society.

Despite all her precautions, she had to face the most violent opposition from her own party, with anti-Semitic, racist and sexist slurs invoking images of Nazi times against her. She explained later that she found her strength in the memory of her mother and her own battle to stay alive. In 2008, in an interview, she said that she still received hate mail for her role in the liberalization of abortion in France. But she never flinched.

While Minister of Health she continued her battle for the women’s workplace rights, imposing recognition of the status of nurses and other positions in majority held by women. She also pushed for the increased presence of women in medical institutions at the upper level.

She was also a staunch supporter of reconciliation between France and Germany and an architect of the European Union. In 1979, she became the first woman President of the European Parliament. There she worked restlessly for male-female parity in politics. She always believed that affirmative action was the only way to change the mentalities and to guarantee better presence of women in every section of the society. She always reminded people that it would benefit the entire society.

In 1995, after the scandalous episode of the “juppettes” (short skirt) terms that symbolized the exclusion of women from Chirac’s administration, Simone Veil was part of group of ten women, five from the right and five from the left, who had held ministerial responsibilities to work on a manifesto to obtain female-male parity in public representation. They asked the candidates to the next presidential election to sign it. The female-male parity is now in the Constitution.

In 2008 after being elected at the Académie Francaise, she reflected on the situation of women in society, acknowledging that although access to contraception and abortion were crucial for the independence of women, women were still the target of basic discriminations: workplace inequality, underrepresentation in positions of power, undervalued societal roles and often perceived as fillers.  She ended that interview by recognizing that the way for women’s rights was long and added that the climate was still not in favor of women.

Simone Veil has been described as a radical feminist and a radical humanist. She described herself as French Jewish laic woman who rebelled against male domination and all sorts of domination and adopted the European ideal “united in diversity.” She practiced solidarity with a resolute vigor always joining the cause of the defense of the most vulnerable.  May her courage and unshakable capacity to denounce sexism and xenophobia and to build coherent resistance be an inspiration at the time of constant challenges for human and women’s dignity. Hats off Madame Veil!

 

(Photo Credit: Le Monde)

A reminder of the responsibility of the state to guarantee rights and dignity to all people

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has stepped up the offensive against the dignity and rights of immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants who are caught in the web of ever harsher immigration laws. Candidate Trump pledged to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants, and let’s not forget that under President Obama, 2.4 million undocumented immigrants were deported. Attorney General Jeff Session, whose racist stands are no secret, has engaged in a trial of strength with the people who believe that respect for rights and dignity of all people is the responsibility of the state.  All of these policies aim at marketing a more xenophobic vision of the society that pits the “elected citizens” against the most vulnerable members of this society.

Patrick Young, an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York presents the possible responses to the collusion between ICE and the police in making arrests and then deporting undocumented immigrants.

He also expounds on the impact on the immigrant community.

Finally, we asked him what were the main issues that immigrant women face in these particular times in the United States.

This continues our series of interviews with Patrick Young. You can read and hear the earlier interviews here and here. Along with being an attorney for Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, Patrick is also an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigration communities.

 

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins)

No safe status for immigrants and refugees

Patrick Young is an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York. We asked Patrick Young, “What are the options for organizations, such as CARECEN, to act in protecting the people who are under threat of deportation?”

In addition, deportation is also a threat to people living legally in the United States under the Temporary Protection Status, TPS, as this program is up for renewal. The latter is decided by the President only. The production of temporary status is certainly problematic in making the fate of people at the mercy of one “man” such as the president of the United States. We discussed the issue of TPS with Patrick Young as well.

This continues our series of interviews with Patrick Young. Along with being an attorney for Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN), Patrick is also an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigration community.

We talked with Patrick Young about the increasingly alarming issue of deportation for many living in the United States.

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins) (Interview by authors)

Responding to the first President of the United States elected on an anti-immigrant platform

 

Patrick Young marches with CARECEN

Patrick Young is an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), located in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York. He is an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigrant communities.

CARECEN is working with immigrants, offering them legal assistance with TPS, DACA, application for green cards and renewal and adjustment of status, as well as other kinds of legal advocacy, citizenship classes, and English language instruction.

Immigration is a vexed issue in the United States, heightened by an election marked by racism and political alliances. In 1948, President Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act, which included many restrictions. This was the first attempt toward a standard refugee entry policy. 1967 saw the UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The US signed the protocol and passed enabling legislation in 1980, but it was not enforced until 10 years later. The selection of refugees was arbitrary. People coming from the Eastern Bloc, for example, would be protected, whereas people coming from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras would not.

The following series of interviews draws attention to many aspects of immigration under the current president who is the first president elected on an anti-immigrant platform.

 

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins) (Interview by authors)

It’s election time in France, and women’s rights are on the agenda!

Laura Slimani

It is election time in France! It is a decidedly contested race, and women’s rights have gained some visibility in this unsettled political context.

Marine Le Pen, the extreme right wing candidate has used deceiving methods to attract women’s votes while her party’s anti women’s rights vote at the European parliament reach a perfect score. The website “Womens’rights against extreme rights” was launched at the beginning of the campaign to debunk her fraudulent claims.

In an unusual move for France, the right wing candidate Francois Fillon made religious claims on women’s right to abortion, demonstrating its reluctance to apply strong public policies to improve women’s rights.

The center right candidate Emmanuel Macron former minister of Finance in Hollande’s administration has defended measures that have increased women’s precarity. Still, as a candidate he claims that he will support women’s rights in general terms.

Candidates on the left, such as Benoit Hamon or Jean Luc Melenchon have shown more determination to articulate a program that includes important feminist demands. Melenchon’s campaign published a document entitled: “Equality between women and men, to abolish patriarchy”. Hamon’s campaign has produced documents as well. Both are very similar in their approach to increase representation of women.

We talked with Laura Slimani, a spokesperson in Hamon’s campaign, and she shared with us some of their vision on women’s rights.

 

(Photo Credit: Huffington Post / AFP) (Interview by author)

For women’s rights and gender equality, the State must spend time and energy to change people’s minds

Najat Vallaud Belkacem

Najat Vallaud Belkacem’s first position in government was as Minister of Women’s Rights, in Francois Hollande’s administration.  She became only the second Minister of Women’s Rights ever in France. The first, Yvette Roudy, served under President Mitterrand in the 1980s. Najat Vallaud Belkacem became the first woman Minister of National Education, her current position. We met her in her office to discuss what has to be defended and improved in the realm of gender equality and women’s rights in this period of electoral uncertainty.

As Minister of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, her actions were marked by her commitment to collective work with women’s groups and associations, prodding legislators into enacting laws for the furtherance of women’s rights and gender equality. Under her administration, legislation against sexual harassment, in favor of additional protection for women victims of violence, and to make abortion and contraception completely free was passed. Protection for abortion centers has been reinforced. She asserted that “abortion is a right in itself and not something dependent on conditions.” She also worked for legislation to reinforce the notion of education of gender equality starting in “maternelle” (pre-kindergarten, a public school in France). She accomplished much despite a meager budget. The politics of austerity also hindered access to public services such as abortion centers. In the deleterious political climate with the rise of the extreme right, she also faced racist slurs. Nonetheless, she secured important headways for women.

Sincere and relentless political engagement became her way of action for gender equality and women’s rights. Her message for us is that, to secure women’s rights and gender equality, the State must spend time and energy to change people’s minds. Here’s our interview:

 

(Photo Credit 1: Mounir Belhidaoui/RespectMag) (Photo Credit 2: Phototèque Rouge/Marc Paris/ RespectMag)

In and beyond prison, reproductive justice is a State responsibility

Christiane Taubira the former French minister of justice likes to remind the public of the government’s responsibility toward the vulnerable.  She had to defend this position while trying to make the penal system in France more comprehensive. She was only partially successful. The state of vulnerability comes very fast when unwanted pregnancy starts. Even though such situations are produced by a man and a woman, the burden remains entirely on the woman. If we add another layer to the state of vulnerability, such as poverty, things become immediately more complicated for the woman.

In the United States, the state does not assume its responsibility toward the vulnerable, who are sexualized, racialized and declassified instead of being supported. The state uses the vulnerable as a source of surplus value through its imprisonment making the institution an industrial complex with contractors running the game. They even charge women prisoners for their basic amenities, such as soap. In this combination of neoliberal development of consumerism and unfettered capital gain, punishing women as members of the vulnerable combines growing inequalities with awesome wealth building.

Trump and his team have brought this idea to its paroxysm, but everything was in place before this election.

The right to abort is a constitutional right that should be respected everywhere, but the case of access to abortion points to the lack of reproductive justice, inside prison and outside. Women in need of abortion often experience stigmatization, reinforcing the sentiment of disqualification as full citizens. In prison, the challenge to wield this right to abortion is real, with enormous discrepancies from state to state and from county to county.

Worldwide, 33% of women prisoners are in the US, and so it is important to examine the reasons for the push to punish women with the detention conditions worsening the punishment itself. The number of incarcerated women in the United States has increased 700% between 1980 and 2014. Being poor is a condition for incarceration and particularly affects women. As the Prison Policy Initiative exposed in its latest report 72% of incarcerated women had an income less than $22 500 while the rate is 48% for non-incarcerated women, and for men 23% for non-incarcerated men compared to 57% for incarcerated men.

Pregnant women are sent to prison, jail, or immigration detention centers. In federal prisons 1 in 33 women and 1 in 25 in state prisons are pregnant. The number is hard to establish in other kinds of detention facility.

If women decide or are intimidated to pursue their pregnancy behind bars, they face harsh conditions with disastrous prenatal conditions in detention facilities in general. In 2011, 38 states had no prenatal policies and 41 states did not require prenatal nutrition. Children born in prison are removed from their mothers right after birth, which demonstrates that a child’s well-being has no meaning when the child is born in prison, another double standard.

In addition, there is no adequate health care for inmates in the United States, though, based on the 8th Amendment, prisoners are the only ones who have a constitutional right to medical care. Instead, medical care in prison is often decided through court orders by penal and judicial personnel who have no medical expertise, and so treatments are delayed, ignored, or never performed.

If women inmates don’t want to become mothers, although it is their constitutional right to have access to abortion, few states offer comprehensive solutions. In most of states, the women must deal with a hodgepodge of rules and regulations, all defined from the male-standard of incarceration. Generally, the hurdles are numerous, high, and burdensome. From having access to a clinic to payment to transport, every step is an “undue burden” for women prisoners in most states. As ACLU attorneys recall, the US Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision clearly said “laws that restrict abortion access cannot create an `undue burden.’”

The legal dispute around abortion in prison should be taken seriously by everyone outside of prison who believe that respecting the dignity of women as full citizens means ensuring they control their reproduction. Women have been sentenced to jail for the failure of the state to provide abortion or prenatal services to the vulnerable. The Purvi Patel case is one of too many cases that proves that the State is not concerned with women’s well-being, especially when in a state of vulnerability.

ACLU and other groups have called for more research on the application of reproductive rights inside the United States penal systems. Although this demand is important to resist the conservative anti-abortion wave, the invisibility of living conditions of women behind bars is full of lessons about the way attacks on women’s right and reproductive justice is waged in general and its social meaning. When state leaders are ready to fulfill their responsibilities to serve the vulnerable, often women and more often women of color and/or women prisoners, they will serve all women and the society better.

 

(Photo Credit: National Women’s Law Center) (Infographic credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

More than a single International Women’s Day, this is an international movement

Every year, since the 1900s, International Women’s Day has been offered as a celebration of women’s achievements. This year was different. Women went to the streets not to celebrate but to demand. The international women’s strike also called “a day without a woman” has been organized in more than 50 countries. Women took the streets in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

In 1975, Icelandic women showed that if women stopped all their activities at home and at work, the country could not function. That day started an important movement in Iceland, certainly, since the country elected the first female president, and elsewhere as well.

In October 2016, women in Poland, threatened by a total ban on abortion, organized. They were followed by women in South Korea, Argentina and Sweden. On January 21st, after inauguration of the new sinister president in the United States, women went to the streets and women around the world took the streets in solidarity.

On March 8th, women again showed their solidarity. They called a strike. The strike was a call to end unfair wages, austerity, inequalities and wage inequalities in particular, precarious work, patriarchal control of women’s bodies, femicides, and more.

It should be the responsibility of the state to bring these demands to reality. Instead, many states have moved away from their responsibilities, which is why women took the streets worldwide. The state is now more involved in supporting the neoliberal economic order than to be the guarantor of the well-being of women and men. Every year, the World Economic Forum publishes The Global Gender Gap Report. This year’s report says that the economic gender gap has regressed to the level of 2008. According to the report, equal pay between women and men is now unattainable for another 170 years.

There is no natural evolution to equality, justice and dignity for women. This strike is the beginning of an international organizing and solidarity movement for women.

In many countries, it is not always easy to strike for women. In the United States, many school systems shut down, as in Alexandria, Virgnia; Princes Georges County, Maryland; and many other counties, because women called in to take the day off. In the United States, with each day’s executive order, the danger for women and humanity becomes more real. Responding to this clear and present danger, the United States-based organizers aimed to repoliticize the day.

In Washington, DC, the crowd gathered wearing red, the color of active and political dissent. Among the marchers, women from Latin America talked to us in front of the Department of Labor where the march started.

When the march reached a plaza with a podium, people were invited to reflect on the importance of the work of women in unions and their role in wage negotiations and in stopping the abuse of workers, all workers.

A speaker addressed the threat for women that the current “predator in chief” represents: “This regime cannot be taken lightly and the fight has to be taken to the next level.” The next level entails forming strong solidarity movements. Women are in thrall of the abusive patriarchal order that uses them as cheap labor, weapons of war, reproductive slave, and more. Solidarity must be international as well as national and local.

The sisters in solidarity from the restaurant industry reminded the audience what it means to work for tips: sexual harassment, and all kinds of assaults and threats. They called for fair wages. Some Congresswomen, who were in white for Trump’s first address to the Congress, came in solidarity with the movement.

The place was joyful and serious about forming new solidarities, conscious of the racial and social divisions that keep women in danger of being raped, killed, degraded, ignored, in their own rights and dignity.

Yes, Women’s Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Lives Matter.

A number of women took the stage to honor the women who lost their lives in historical and contemporary struggles, shouting “Say her name!” Listen to their voices and say their names:

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Hill) (Photo Credit 2: Slate / Reuters / Brendan McDermid)

#JusticePourThéo: We must end police impunity and call their violence rape

Tongues are starting to loosen after the sexual police aggression on Théo in Aulnay-sous-Bois, France. More young men regularly stopped for ID check have come forward to talk about the violence always more humiliating and sexual, the insults of the police forces. They feel lawlessly trapped. Only 5% of the young people violently searched after ID checks file a complaint.

Moreover, as the press release from feminist group Femmes Solidaires pointed out, “What this crime tells us…is when a man wants to humiliate and dominate another man, he resorts to the same type of brutality as the one used to dominate a woman: rape.” They also note the uneasiness of the media to accurately identify this crime. For Femmes Solidaires, in the scale of police violence, pushing a baton in the rectum of a young man is a most serious crime and feminists must name what happened to Théo and other young men with the right word: rape. They exhort people not to turn a blind eye on this crime and conclude, “Silence tortures, impunity kills, invisibility condemns the victim to relive the same crimes.”

In addition to using rape, the police forces use homophobic and racist slurs regularly. The word “bamboula”, commonly uttered by police, carries its own colonial history. During a TV program, a police union representative admitted that although this word could be considered an insult, it remained tolerable. The anchor immediately reacted, saying “no” it is intolerable. In fact, “bamboula” is undoubtedly racist. As historian Mathilde Larrère explained, Bamboula is the name of a drum, which name became an expression of colonial racism. As she clarified, racism was born from the violence of domination and enslavement of populations to justify this very violence.

These expressions of racism shed light on identity politics as a way to differentiate the rights-bearing population from the rest that loses rights and can be mistreated, attacked and insulted. The ID checks are expressions of identity politics and the use of rape the expression of masculinity as a brutal authority.

Recently, a court decision in Bobigny, asuburb of Paris, on a similar case that occurred in 2015 has clearly stated that from now on a rape with a baton or something else committed by a police officer or not will be judged as a rape instead of violence. That decision signals what many have lounged for: police will no longer be granted impunity.

This is not over and the mobilization against violence and sexual violence cannot end with this decision.  More integrative measures should be taken to break the isolation and sense of abandonment of many “real” French residents who have been left out by the republic.

 

(Photo Credit: Liberation / Denis Allard)