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

Nela Pamukovic

In 2008, women activists founded the Mediterranean Women’s Fund (MedWF) to support and strengthen women’s organizations around the Mediterranean region. The Mediterranean Women’s Fund (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. They invited a delegation from Croatia, Rada Boric and Nela Pamukovic, to describe the situation and priorities of their women’s group.

Rada Boric and Nela Pamukovic are Croatian members of the Women’s Court created in 2010 in the Balkans. The Women’s Court is a space where women’s voices are heard; women can give their testimonies of the injustices they have experienced during the war and after. It is a space where resistance is organized.

Croatian women’s groups’ members have been on every front since the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, during which women were used as weapons of war. Since then, women, such as Nela Pamukovic, have organized to have this humiliating and devastating crime recognized as a war crime. About 20 years after the war’s end, Croati passed a law meant to compensate survivors of sexual war violence. Thus far, few women have been able to obtain that status and receive their rightful regular financial stipend. Meanwhile the war criminals have been released for good behavior, often being praised as Croatian heroes. They now  even receive government benefits and social welfare.

Croatian women have also fought on the turf of sexual and reproductive rights to protect women facing the increasing involvement of the church in the political arena. Church politics is based on the subordination of the woman’s body, constraining access to contraception, to abortion, as well as undermining the justice process for cases of sexual harassment, rape and all sorts of violence.

Although women compose 51% of Croatia’s population, they find their status to be in line with that of minorities.

Rada Boric

Brigitte Marti in collaboration with MedWF and 50 50 magazine

 

(Photo Credit 1: Global Fund for Women) (Photo Credit 2: One Billion Rising)

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)

For women migrants and refugees, justice instead of policing!

 


“They are conscious of their impending death, still they would rather float out to sea. That makes one ponder the conditions of life for many in the world,” a woman rescuer on the Aquarius told me. The Aquarius is one of the rare vessels still rescuing people on the border of the territorial waters of Libya. The women, men, and children who embarked on flimsy dinghies after having been dispossessed by all the agents of this drama finally land in Europe. The reasons of the conditions that made them flee are not discussed; what is discussed is constraining the flow they form and managing those people. Although they experienced many levels of torture, they still must “convince the authorities” of their need for protection.

In 1951 in Geneva, the international community agreed on a convention on the protection of refugees. They decided that asylum should be granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country. It was the time of post WWII international conventions, when the narrative was “never again.” The convention affirms that no one should be expelled against her or his will to a territory where she or he fears threats to life or freedom.

The main industrial countries have reinterpreted the convention they ratified. As Patrick Young, an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), told us, in the United States this is the worst period for immigrants in his lifetime and he has been working in immigration for decades. He also told us that they had seen no refugees coming since the election.

The European governments have been designing policies to close their borders to refugees and migrants. In countries previously known to welcome migrants – such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Hungary – anti-immigrant parties have reached unprecedented levels of representation. As a result, those countries have aligned their immigration policies with the more conservative countries. In 2015, the Swedish population grew by an additional 1.6 %, thanks largely to the arrival of 163 000 refugees. As elsewhere, Sweden’s discourse of public debt and unemployment rates has included immigrants as an aggravating factor. This triggered horribly restrictive asylum policies, placing Sweden at the bottom of the 32 European countries. Meanwhile, the Schengen free circulation agreement in EU countries has fallen apart. Now the Swedish border patrol requires passport or photo IDs, even at the iconic Øresund Bridge border between Copenhagen and Malmö.

While asylum policies vary from country to country, they have all been tightened, especially in countries where these policies had been rather generous. Most recently, the newly elected French President announced that he wanted to reform France’s asylum process. He claimed this would provide a more human and just process and at the same time insisted on the importance of managing the problem of smugglers as well as discouraging people from trying to reach Europe.

While President Macron spoke fine words about humanizing French asylum policies, his Interior Minister was showing a “tough on immigration” face. France has not been very welcoming to asylum seekers and the application of its asylum policies does not respect the notion of protection that the Geneva Convention commands.

The Paris-based Primo Levi Center assists women, men, and children who have faced political violence, rape, torture, humiliation, persecution. They provide long term treatments to their patients. Typically, their patients are referred to them up to 3 years after having drifted onto the coast of Europe. Despite having been tortured, 50 % of their patients saw their asylum applications rejected in the first round. The Center published a report that identified the breaches in the process that should have provided protection. They made strong recommendations, among them a reform of Ofpra, the office in charge of first addressing asylum applications, demanding that the office be put under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice as opposed to the current Ministry of the Interior. They demanded justice instead of policing.

The report identified variances of results between the different judges in charge of reviewing the cases and granting asylum, showing that judges’ biases about migrants are a determining factor. In the current climate of “de-welcoming” refugees, refugees are often seen as liars who mislead the officers recording their testimony. This perception obscures the reality of torture that the asylum seeker has lived through. Torture excludes people. Once in Europe the torture continues as the refugees continued to be excluded. As one of the Primo Levi’s patients explained, “How do you make them believe that I was forced to eat parts of a fetus pulled out of the body of a woman who had been executed in front of me by a soldier.” Half of the refugees/migrants are women, who have been raped, abused during their trip, used as weapon of war and then face gender inequality when applying for asylum.

There is no time in these interviews to recognize the psychological trauma of the victims of torture. Now, the President’s reform will accelerate that process. If the improvement of protection rate observed in 2016 with an increase of 35 % compared to 2015 should continue, acceleration of the process shouldn’t mean officers are obsessed with identifying the good refugee from the fake refugee, essentially the economic refugee. Instead, they should give refugees the benefit of the doubt.

The paradigm must change, as determined defender of human rights Giusi Nicollini, Mayor of Lampedusa, declared when she received the Simone de Beauvoir Award, “The people who fled violence defied death, they are a modern example of heroism.” She identified the situation of migrants/refugees to be the new apartheid, a new holocaust. Giusi Nicollini lost her seat in the last election to someone who campaigned on tougher measures toward refugees. The role of conventions and their legality must be reinforced. We must switch the rationale from the balance of power to the balance of justice.

 

(Photo Credit: Yahoo / AFP / Carlo Hermann)

Reform of the labor code in France threatens increased precarity for women


In France, a tumultuous election season has brought to power a new president Emmanuel Macron and a new majority in the parliament from his new party. During his campaign, he presented himself to be neither from the left nor for the right therefore creating the image of the impartial candidate the best capable to reform the country and restore the place of France as a competitive and innovative country. In the communication era, language is everything. The master words were innovation and liberation. He wanted to place the beginning of his presidency under the aegis of decisiveness to mark his difference with his predecessor Francois Hollande accused of being a weak president. As Ministers of the Economy and Labor, respectively, Emmanuel Macron and Myriam El Khomri passed the first bills that changed the balance of power between unions and employers in France.

France has a labor code in which various labor protections negotiated by workers and gained since its inception in 1910 have been registered as laws. Over the past decades the labor code has been presented, especially by the MEDEF (the French Employer Federation), as a heavy book getting heavier making it proportionally responsible for a “heavy” unemployment rate. Although some simplifications of the code could be necessary, the direct link between unemployment and the labor code has never been established. Nonetheless, Emmanuel Macron made reform of the labor code one of his priorities, a way “to liberate France’s energies.” Did his election give him a clear mandate for such drastic action? No, especially since many voted for him in the second round of the election to bar the extreme right wing candidate, Marine Le Pen, from becoming president.

The question of high unemployment rate remained central to the presidential campaign. The idea that the employers were afraid to hire because it was too difficult to fire employees because of the labor code was constantly hammered. More recently, the language of flexibility in labor laws has been associated with the notion of labor well-being. Once again the variable of adjustment in profit making is labor.

We should question the position of women’s employment as it is a magnifier of the inequalities in the distribution of work in a society.

Before the summer a bill was passed to allow this reform to be enacted by decrees. Then, the government of Edouard Philippe (Macron’s Prime Minister) with his Minister of Labor and Unemployment, Muriel Pénicaud, started a three-months-negotiation process with every union including the French Employer Federation MEDEF. Although unions appreciated the process, some were wary at the start that the liberal imprint of this government will force negative transformations of the labor code. The general secretary of Force Ouvrière, (Workers’ Force), who had opposed the previous labor law of the previous government noticed that this government had a real desire to negotiate with the unions. Was it a clever move to lower resistance or a sincere desire for dialogue? In all these negotiations, women’s employment conditions were not taken directly into account.

Because France has a high rate of women fully employed compared to neighboring countries that have moved to more partial time work system, will this reform level down women’s employment? This reform claims to bring flexi-security to the labor market, will it fulfill the promise of the second term for women workers?

In the 1990s, when Germany underwent an even more radical reform of its labor laws, putting “business first” switched most of the burden of social contributions to the employees as opposed to the employers.  The official justification was to reduce the unemployment rate. Germany did that with the creation of 4 million jobs but without changing the number of hours worked, 58 billion hours. The reform created “minijobs”, part time work with lower wages and no social protection. We have seen this in the United States. As a result, women have been over-represented in these jobs, increasing gendered precarity in Germany. In contract, France has fewer working poor than Germany today, while Germany boasts one of the highest pay gaps between women and men is Europe today.

French officials claim that they will not implement exactly the same measures as in Germany, but the extension of the use of fixed-term contracts as opposed to permanent contracts belongs to the same thinking. Women are overrepresented in this type of contracts. This means the possible renegotiation of maternity leave, days off for sick children, work conditions for pregnant women, to name but a few.

The reform with its clear commitment to put “business first” rejects the Nordic model which insists on “fair” social and gendered negotiations. When choices have to be made between profit making and the well-being of women employees, women lose.

At the same time, the reform threatens to reduce the importance of currently functioning committees created to protect women’s rights against gender disparity and harassment in the workplace. The reform cuts the financing of the councils that monitor the progress made by companies in reducing inequalities between women and men.  Additionally, the cap in the labor court put on compensation for illegal layoffs undermines the power of the labor court to protect workers against abusive employers’ behaviors.

Fifty feminist organizations called on their members to join the September 12th mass demonstrations of against the labor code reforms. They emphasized that there have been three deceptive actions from this government for women’s rights. First candidate Macron promised to keep a full Minister of Women’s Rights in his administration with the same level of budget as before. The Minister has been downsized to a State Secretariat. Second the Minister budget was cut by 27%. The third deception is a “labor code reform” that threaten increased precarity for women who are already make up the majority of those employed in lower wage jobs. They demand that the president Macron respects his engagement toward women’s rights.

 

(Photo Credit 1; Le Monde) (Photo Credit 2: L’Humanité / Miguel Medina / AFP)

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)