When the neoliberal and globalization creed meets the virus

Did we see it coming? In the United States there was a presidential campaign taking place along with social unrest, immigration unrest and wall building. In Europe, countries were passing laws either to exclude people in exile, or people in vulnerable position, with no alternative! Then the novel coronavirus came to life creating Covid 19. We call it now a corona virus crisis. A new crisis in the series of crises that capitalism has been feeding itself from. At the beginning it was a Chinese made virus. But China is the iconic representation of globalization and all a sudden everything was in shambles. 

One should make the connection between globalization and the development of neoliberal economic dogma. However, this dogma initiated after WWII as the colonies were engaged in a struggle for independence from the imperial war mongering West, did not always exist. The response to the independence of former colonies was the creation of this new dogma of globalization, based also on the Western yearning for universalism. Toni Morrison reminds us that globalism “understands itself as historically progressive, enhancing, destined, unifying, utopian”. That is how it forms its delusional promise to allow itself to create a dehumanized system of deregulation, globalization and total competition. 

In the mid 1980s, Structural Adjustment Programs, SAPs, were imposed on poor countries, sometimes former colonies of the rich countries, often rich in natural resources needed in the rich countries. These SAPs were designed according to the logic of the Washington Consensus (growth at all cost and at the expense of public social services) to justify globalization. The IMF and the World Bank provided loans to poor countries under the aegis of development, but these loans came with conditionalities that required repaying these high interest loans in priority rather than developing social and health services. This complete overhaul of social structures with the development of competition for markets undermined women’s economy and women’s position.  

The Ebola virus outbreak in the 2010s shed light on the cruelty of these programs. By the same token, the austerity measures following the same neoliberal economic orthodoxy similarly stoked the elimination of public services in richer countries. The current pandemic, with the risk of infection as a common denominator, has reunited every social class and gender, with some variation according to age; therefore, it has become an international source of anxiety especially that the rich countries have become the epicenter of the epidemics. 

The national responses are different, as, for example, when the contamination of the virus is progressing rapidly in the US due social factors such as lack of a public-run health care system, lack of protection for workers under US labor laws, lack of social services, lack of access to medications. Only now is the US government considering paid sick leave for a number of people who are quarantined and whose jobs are on hold. The US hospital system has the fewest number of beds per 100 among the developed world.  The US pharmaceutical industry depends on its products and ingredients from companies in India and China. Tests for coronavirus are not widely available to identify people affected by this highly contagious disease. In the US only 11 000 tests were administered in the past few days whereas South Korea uses 20 000 tests every day.

If one wants to measure inequality concerning access to health care, one should look at the prison and immigration detention systems. “From a public health perspective, prisons [are] so dangerous because they’re overcrowded and their systems of care provision, such as they are, have intentionally gone from bad to worse”

This coronavirus pandemic reveals how a government’s callous disregard for human life and the environment relies on its “capacity to decide who may live and who must die.” Only this time the powerful are caught in their own game.

(Photo, image credit: Robert Metz and Matteo Paganelli)

In response to proposed pension changes, people in France are learning what solidarity means

Once again, the way the government presents a new law perpetuates gender/class disparity. Government officials use communication techniques to render this disparity invisible. Women’s unpaid domestic work, and women and men’s precarious work are marginalized and rendered invisible. French President Emmanuel  Macron and his government have been pushing neoliberal policies hidden behind the rhetoric of public policies made for the public good to save the country from imaginary disaster. France is still a rich country whose elite pulls the strings of a postcolonial world, and the goal of its market-oriented president is still to serve the market and move the wealth of public goods to private markets.

Since his election, Macron has undertaken “to reform” French public services, diminishing the publicly funded safety net. A safety net is of special importance for women who have typically had very little control over their career because of lower wages and interruptions to their careers because of family responsibilities: women receive an average of 42% less in pension money than their male spouses. Among the 10% of couples who have the lowest level of revenue, one finds the highest proportion of women with either no revenue at all or unemployed or working part time. 

Most recently, President Macron took on reforming the French system of pensions, which is based on solidarity and includes 42 exceptions according to levels of difficulty of work, replacing the solidarity system with a system based on points in which everyone can claim the same point regardless of their social conditions and difficulty of work. The French public noticed the discrepancy between the discourse of universality of the proposed system and the reality of growing economic disparities. The new so-called “universal” plan only pretended to be universal, failing to account for social and gender differences. In the difference of life expectancy between a factory worker and an executive, the latter may enjoy up to 10 more years in retirement because of life expectancy difference. Meanwhile, women’s unaccounted reproductive and domestic work were underrepresented in the 42 special schemes based on work difficulty.

While the reform purported to be more for women, some of the basic protections that widowed and/or divorced women could count on were removed. 

The pension reform triggered complete mayhem in the public transportation services and other services such as distribution of electricity and public education, with the longest strike ever. France has been known for its integrative public transportation, the jewel of the country. And still nothing is more fragile at this time of restrictive funding and austerity measures than challenges to publicly funded services. 

The scam of privatization was hidden in many reform proposals by then candidate Macron. He has changed many of these proposals for the worst claiming that he had been elected on the promise to change French society and to make the country more competitive. Actually, he won elected in the second round with a large number of votes from people who wanted to bar Marine Le Pen, an extreme right candidate who almost won. 

Many economists criticized the proposed pension reform plan, arguing that the system is not financially failing and does not require such an ill-prepared, unfair plan that might bring more privatization than social solidarity. Even the “Conseil d’Etat” declared that the plan was amateurish and opposed it. 

What was unforeseen, however, was the level of support from the general public for the strike and the social movement against this reform, despite the fact that it made going to work a real struggle. 

I had the experience several times of going to work in Paris, having to take my car (which I almost never do) and leave in the early morning (around 4:30), then find a parking space near the city line, then take the subway that would work only during rush hours (a few hours in the morning, a few hours in the evening). The platform was always overcrowded and a few trains passed before I could get on. But the conversations were lively, with people talking about the parts of the reform that were unacceptable. Despite being squeezed to a level I had never experienced before, the conversation on the train was all about the importance of fighting for our rights and the future of our children as well as the importance of remaining in solidarity with the movement. We were squashed in a friendly atmosphere, sharing humorous political jokes and helping each other, a rarity for Parisians. 

Although the current system is in financial equilibrium, that the government decided to rush to design this reform raised suspicion. While the pension system could have been improved and made more just, the government chose to ignore unions’ and economists’ proposals. The goal of this hastily proposed reform was not to gather consensus. The hidden piece concerns the incentive to subscribe to private retirement insurances for the higher revenue bracket, while encouraging feminization of poverty among older people. The Swedes, who passed a similar reform two decades ago, know that women getting older have lost rather than gained the comfort of retirement. 

Some American asset-manager firms, such as BlackRock, were identified as having lobbied the government to open the pension system to the marketplace and more business opportunities for their French branches. In January, when the head of the French branch of BlackRock was tapped to receive a Medal of Honor for service to the nation, there was an immediate outcry. Olivier Faure, the head of the socialist party, declared, “It is anything but anecdotal, BlackRock, it is quite simply the dark side of the pension reform”.

The government is currently introducing its reform to Parliament while the opposition brings thousands of amendments to the floor to block the process. Throughout this process, women are used as an adjusting variable; gender disparity between classes and ethnicities are systematically ignored. Yet again, women lose. Meanwhile, on subway trains they regrouped and talked about their unstable careers, the lack of consideration for their invisible yet crucial work. Women in the global south have done that for a long time and now that the neoliberal and pseudo adjustment programs are reaching the north, people in France are learning what solidarity means.

Solidarity in the French Alps

(Photos by Brigitte Marti)

The heartless in power: Making it impossible to seek refuge in the United States

We are living in a modern time. The president of the United States has been impeached by the House of Representatives. Two articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress were adopted. He was not impeached for having separated families of asylum seekers, sending children away from their parents, leading to child deaths and missing children. He received no official reproof for all kinds of suggestions he made to make the southern frontier of the United States a place of cruelty. When he suggested to shut down the border, his advisers, reportedly astonished, told him that this decision would trap American tourists in Mexico and would affect the precious asymmetrical NAFTA trade agreement and therefore the economy. The president made many other cruel suggestions, for instance, building an electrified wall with spikes to pierce human flesh (the precision is important), fortifying the wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators. He also had the idea of shooting the legs of people, of the wretched of the earth to use Franz Fanon’s terms, who are crossing the border without proper documentation.

This is the same president who ordered the veto of UN resolution 2467 on ending sexual violence in war unless the health section including sexual and reproductive health was removed. These decisions are real: they show the schism between rights and laws and rights, between precaritized women, children and men, and the laws of men of power. 

The heartless reveal themselves in their hypocritical policies, flouting basic ethical principles. The Trump administration has shaped a new level of cruelty with its immigration policies. The president explained in the simplistic and shallow language of his policy: “Our country is full—can’t take anymore—so turn around that’s the way it is.” They even came up with a senseless title for this policy, “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), which forces asylum seekers reaching the southern border of the United States to return to hazardous and dangerous areas in Mexico. There have been numerous reports of rape, kidnapping, and torture of asylum seekers stuck in Mexico. 

To prove the insensitive character of this policy, the acting commissioner Department of Homeland Security justified it as an alternative to family separation; communication is key in pushing heartless policies.  Alternative is a big word in neoliberal language, either we don’t have any and public systems have to be dismantled or the alternative is to dismantle the asylum system, claiming to “restore integrity in the immigration system.” Meanwhile Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), dismissed the numerous public reports (about 636) of rape, torture, kidnapping as “anecdotal stuff.” 

Meanwhile, asylum seekers have no chance to get a hearing that lasts more than a few minutes in the tent courts making it practically impossible to pass these screenings, according to US senator Jeff Merkley’s office. In the spirit of unfairness, fake hearing notices have been sent to asylum seekers. MPP combined with two other immigration policies will bar the asylum process, making it impossible to seek refuge in the United States, a country fully in the hands of white supremacist and heartless people. 

(Photo Credit 1: Loren Elliott / Reuters / Washington Post) (Photo Credit 2: Time)

Current mass movements protest violence against women

There is always a day assigned for us to think about the troubles of our world. November 25th was the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. In the spirit of the moment of uprising to demand respect, women and men took to the streets on Saturday, November 23rd , holding signs to express important messages and demands. Some signs read: “the end of violence against women,” “the end of patriarchy,” “neither women nor the earth are territories for conquest”, “the cup is full” accompanied by a picture of a cup full of blood, “educate children to respect women and girls,” and “feminism never killed anyone, machismo does.”

In France, this year, at the initiative of Nous Toutes (All of Us Women Movement), a large crowd of about 49,000 people hit the streets of Paris versus 12,000 last year, and about 150,000 demonstrated all over France that day. The demonstration was well planned, as the outrage was growing in France. With 138 women killed by their partner or ex at the time of the demonstration, France has seen a notorious increase of femicides this year, despite all the good intentions expressed by the authorities. Many organizations rallied with Nous Toutes, including UN Women France, Femen, the women of the Americas of Argentina and Mexico, Women in Solidarity, Amnesty International, and the National Union of Feminicide Families.

The demonstration started at 2pm, and at 4pm the tail of the demonstration had not moved yet. Men, along with many high school boys, joined the procession of demonstrators. Clearly a sign that something is budging—from merely women rallying to support each other to people rallying to support women.

The demonstrators’ signs and chants addressed the basic social injustice that violence against women and the impunity of the patriarchal system create. The experience of being swept up by this mass protest seemed dreamlike, but an anecdote brought us back to the reality that there is still a long way to go to deconstruct centuries of domination. As we were taking pictures of the demonstration from the sidewalk, two men in their forties who were just there to watch, asked us, “Is patriarchy a new word that has just been invented?” Then, they asked if we could explain to them what patriarchy actually is.

A similar demonstration took place in Madrid, where tens of thousands of people marched in the street chanting, “for those who aren’t with us” and “we demand Justice.” At the end, the 44 names of the women killed within the past twelve months in Madrid were read. 

In six European countries, including Belgium, feminists demanded that an official data collection of femicide be put in place. 

Mass demonstrations to make violence against women visible have been cropping up worldwide. Last weekend, large protests erupted all over India, stemming from Hyderabad, demanding the end of rape and murder of women and the need for justice in fast-track courts. The Nirbhaya protest in New Delhi, the largest of its kind in 2012, is now followed with the protest against the gang rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian. 

Why is violence against women a genocide that continues to be invisible globally? The unavailability of data feeds a supposedly gender-neutral approach to the law, which in turn works in connection with invisibility of the crimes against women, thereby enhancing the objectification and invisibility of women and their ordeal. This constitutes a denial of women’s rights and a normalization of this denial. 

By the same token, women have been objectified as their bodies have become weapons of war in many conflicts in the Global South. The international community has had the hardest time addressing the impunity with which this system has developed. The latest veto of the United States, last June, on the UN resolution 2467, that would have provided medical assistance to women survivors, is just one example of the lack of respect granted for the dignity of over half the world population

The keyword is violence. Violence is the foundation of the patriarchal system as it has developed in economics, medicine, politics, justifying colonization, invasions with never-ending destructive conflicts. Inequality is, as never before, affecting women’s emancipation and rights. It has continued to fragment the social fabric, making precarity a common feature that touches women first. The French government is supporting a series of measures to help individually the victims of violence and at the same time pushing a reform of the retirement programs that will continue to gravely disadvantage women. The Indian government acts with fast-track courts for one high profile victim at a time, without addressing violence against women as a whole.

Women and men globally are conscious of patriarchal domination, but this consciousness has yet to reach the layers of the social fabric and shake up our institutions that still follow outmoded processes. So, the answer is larger solidarity movements, vociferous protests, and voluble writings. Only a solidarity movement will hold the promise to create conditions for a transformational change.

The heartless in power: Targeting head scarfed women downgrades selected citizens

The first story takes place in France in the regional council of Bourgogne Franche-Comté, a region in the east of France. School children are invited to witness how democracy works. They embark on a fieldtrip. In need of chaperone for the field trip, the school teacher solicits the help of the mother of one of her students. She probably explained that it will be an interesting experience to attend a parliamentary session for the children and for the chaperones as well.

Once seated in the public gallery, she hears a representative from the extreme right wing Rassemblement National, National Rally (RN) Julien Odoul address the speaker of the council demanding the chaperone to remove her “Islamic veil.” She does not need to look around to know that she is being targeted since she is the only one who is wearing a headscarf. He erupts that it is the law of the republic and it is in defense of secularism or even in respect for the women who are fighting for their rights in Islamic nations. His rowdy fellow FN representatives shout at the speaker that it is the law. It is not the law, and, further, his party has never defended secularism and has no track record of defending women’s rights. Blinded by his own fundamentalism and drunk on his own power and authority he creates an environment of humiliation. Humiliation of a woman who is fully part of French society, humiliation for her young son who starts crying and humiliation for the entire school and community.   

The speaker of the parliament, Marie Guite Dufay shocked, retorts: “Are you done yet? cool off now.”

The Preamble of the Constitution states, “The French Republic is secular, (…) it protects all beliefs.” This means the Republic does not favor any religion but relegates all beliefs to the private sector. This also means that under the French law, no one must be discriminated based on their religion or their atheism. This guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom to manifest one’s religious affiliation. Religious freedom presupposes the freedom of everyone to express their religion, to practice it and to abandon it, while respecting public order. This requires for the Republic, and the representatives of the Republic, neutrality in the face of all religions and beliefs. This does not apply to citizens who are free to express their beliefs in the public space in the respect of the public. 

Women facing constant inequality in the west like elsewhere have to be saved by the men of that same society that based its colonial enterprise on a patriarchal view of domination and of redistribution of territories. This event made headlines, and rightwing politicians went on to demand restrictive laws for women who are involved in public life, directly targeting Muslim women. Julien Odoul’s comments were able to put in public space hatred of women’s right to be full citizens and hatred of Muslims, two of their favorite targets!

The second story occurred in the south west of France in the city of Bayonne. An 84-year-old man, a former National Rally member, attacked the city’s mosque, injuring two men who happened to be there. He felt that he had the mission of avenging the destruction of Notre Dame. A high-ranking member of the National Rally (RN), Jean Messiha, disseminated his poisonous question “Notre Dame didn’t burn by chance, the Islamic involvement hasn’t been explored enough.” His allegations are completely false and are part of the war path that has been developed against one group identified racially and attacked. Have we already seen this before? How many more déjà vu before the Global North learns its lesson from history? The city of Bayonne known for being an inclusive municipality immediately expressed its support of its Muslim community. 

The third story takes place in the United States. On October 19, 2019, high school cross country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram, found out that she was not on the list after she had finished her fastest 5K at the Division 1 Northwest District meet. Abukaram was disqualified on account of her hijab. As Abukaram told Sports Illustrated, “My race is supposed to be under my control, but that control was taken away from me because of my hijab, something I hold so close to my heart. I felt so let down by the sport that I had trained so hard to run in. It was humiliating and embarrassing and upsetting.” Rules have been changed by major sports organizations, including the Olympics, to include the diversity of participants. Why then does the Ohio High School Athletic Association enforce an outdated rule about headgear? Abukaram is asking precisely that, “I’m running just like everyone else. Why should you have to sacrifice your religion and a part of who you are to run, to do another thing that you’re very passionate about?”

Are the United States government’s current policies, such as the travel ban for Muslims and surveillance of Muslim families, now reaching their long arm into the arena of sports by attempting to exclude Muslim athletes who wear the hijab? This is not paranoia, but policy that is destructive of democracy.

These rightwing attacks on Muslim women are part of a war machine to impede a targeted community from living as full citizens in their countries. Targeting women in order to rally for some nationalist ideal has become the de facto line among right wing groups. If the chaperone had been a man wearing a beard, would the RN representative have articulated insulting comments? Imagine the result if an RN representative shouted, “Man with beard, shave it at once! It is against the law!”Destabilizing civil society is always a way to keep neoliberalist doctrine controlling the world. According to theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Fascism is when a war machine is hidden in every niche, when in every nook and in every cranny of daily life a war machine is hidden. This is fascism.”

https://instagram.com/women.included

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(Photo Credit: Luis Galvez)

The heartless and immigrants: Blindness about the reality of healthcare in the United States

Let’s examine what the heartless are doing. From his position of power, Trump made a de facto decision, issuing a proclamation, on October 4, 2019, that immigrants coming to the United States will have to purchase private health insurance or prove that they have enough funds to pay for their healthcare cost. Taking effect on November 3, this will concern visa applications.

Trump’s position about making immigrants and asylum seekers pay for their health insurance is based on the Republicans’ view of discriminating between who lives and who dies, which life is valued and which life is not. He tweeted, “Let’s take care of our own instead of paying for the undocumented.” But that’s wrong. Let’s look at the numbers of Americans who have been neglected by the health care system: the poor, African Americans, youth, the aged, people who work multiple jobs without benefits, the homeless, the unemployed and precaritized women. Since the health care system in the US is based on private policies that are profit driven, health itself is the casualty. What’s more, there is a false notion harbored by many Republicans that the United States would receive an influx of medical tourists if we offered healthcare to all immigrants entering the country. The reality is that the outrageous health costs force many American citizens to seek care as medical tourists in countries like Mexico, Thailand, India and many others.

So why pit immigrants against citizens and residents? 

Trump’s decision fuels the anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric that have permitted the most cruel actions against people looking for safer ground. Between 2016 and 2019 under the Trump administration the number of immigrant deaths detention centers has increased due to ICE’s poor medical standards. As Human Rights Watch has described:  “ICE has proven unable or unwilling to provide adequately for the health and safety of the people it detains.”   These detention centers are expanding across the country. This part of the business of controlling bodies at the border is based on violence, humiliation and redefinition of bodies, as children are put in cages and babies are snatched from their mothers’ arms. Achille Mbembé has developed the concept of borderization to address the treatment that has been randomly applied to undesirables, to immigrants’ bodies, in our world of quantification and digitalization, leading to division between immigrants and citizens who are as a result oblivious to their own deprivation of rights and health care. 

It is crucial to note the heartlessness of the Trump administration’s treatments of immigrants at the border. Although ICE declares that its medical care in detention centers has in fact improved under the Trump administration and provide statistics to support their claim, many organizations including Human Rights Watch provide different detailed accounts that show the rise of immigrant deaths, children and adults, as the result of untimely and poor medical care. Meanwhile, the Trump administration seeks to expand immigration detention centers, which will put more people at risk.  

This dehumanization of the undesirable migrants is occurring around the world. While in France, under the “Fight against Exclusion” program the state provides free health care, Aide Medical d’Etat (AME), to undocumented immigrants with immediate coverage for minors, the conservatives have been calling this program into question. The Health Minister immediately declared that this program is “an absolute necessity”; nonetheless, the President agreed on an audit of the program that can open it to lowering the level of coverage. France is one of the rare if not the last country to provide health care to undocumented immigrants. 

(Image Credit 1: Immigration Impact) (Image Credit 2: Mitch Blunt / Human Rights Watch)

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (2)

La poétesse Pramila Venkateswaran écrit des poèmes féministes qui avec humour et rigueur parlent de la vie des femmes et de leurs batailles pour leur émancipation et leurs droits. Pour elle son travail n’aurait que peu de sens si elle ne pouvait pas le lire à voix haute ce qui lui permet d’entrainer son audience dans l’expérience du poème en faisant vivre le texte.

Pour Mots Écrits il importe de donner vie aux archives de femmes, histoire des femmes qui étaient emprisonnées dans des cartons d’archives. Le son des voix donne à ce texte venu d’outre-tombe une vie sans filtre tel qu’il est. Sophie Bourel explique «on tire le bouchon de la lampe du génie et d’un coup il y a quelque chose qui surgit; c’est ce parfum-là, cette vie-là, cette trace et c’est cette trace qui va réveiller l’imaginaire des spectateurs qui ne font qu’écouter ce que la personne lit. Les archives deviennent vivantes!» 

Mais avant de pouvoir lire à haute voix, il faut constituer le corpus de textes. Quand nous l’avions rencontré un matin, c’était une belle journée pour elle, elle venait de recevoir des documents d’un département français. Elle nous accueillit avec un bonjour de joie comme si elle venait de découvrir un trésor. 

Ce qui l’avait réjoui était l’arrivée d’une archive anonymisée comme elles doivent l’être lorsqu’elles viennent de fonds d’archive de moins de 75 ans. Il s’agissait d’un crime sur une femme survenu après des années d’alertes et comme encore aujourd’hui une femme qui se retrouve seule devant son agresseur qu’elle ne connait que trop bien. Le 16 septembre 2019, la 105ème victime de féminicide de l’année, a été frappée par son ex conjoint de 14 coups de couteau, au Havre en plein jour dans un supermarché devant ses enfants de 2, 4 et 6 ans. Elle s’appelait Johanna. Elle avait déjà déposé deux plaintes dont la dernière en aout 2019 toutes deux classées sans suite. 

Les femmes victimes de féminicide ont prévenu, appelé à l’aide, et elles sont restées seules, elles sont mortes, abattues avec un fusil de chasse, une arme à feu, poignardées, étranglées, battues à mort. 

Au début de son travail Sophie Bourel voulait mettre en relation toutes les femmes tuées de façon similaire à travers les temps. Elle avait créé une liste de tombeaux, comme elle l’avait appelée, de femmes tuées, il y en avait 78 puis 80 et cela ne s’arrêtait pas. L’idée était de former une sorte d’écho, entre la femme tuée il y a cinquante ans ou avant et la femme décédée de la même manière en 2019, elle voulait les relier dans la mort par le mode opératoire, par le lieu où elles avaient été trouvées, etc. Et puis son projet a évolué. Sans renoncement, elle l’a transformé en raison de l’inévitabilité des meurtres de femmes, du caractère inexorable du décompte des corps tombés sous les coups des hommes. L’artiste constate que la liste des femmes féminicidées en 2019 ne s’arrête jamais.

En poursuivant sa recherche dans les archives, elle s’est aperçue que les assassinats de femmes au 19ème siècle étaient si nombreux que les mises en relation entre femmes féminicidées auraient été incommodes et « de toute façon cette liste n’a ni commencement ni fin» précise-t-elle.

La composition du corpus est la vraie difficulté du projet; il faut une diversité d’archives, de matériaux, pour que 50 minutes de performance de lecture à voix haute ouvrent les consciences, les réflexions sur l’omerta qui a si longtemps régnée sur la vie des femmes, leurs histoires invisibles. 

De ce travail de puzzle elle veut montrer que les morts sont chargées de signaux sociétaux qui en disent long sur le silence entourant la subjectivation des femmes. L’artiste se demande pourquoi nous en sommes toujours là. Ce qui lui est intolérable c’est ce système qui consiste à faire d’une différence une hiérarchie ; suivant les mots d’Édouard Glissant, elle ajoute, «je cherche donc à agir dans mon lieu et à penser avec le monde dans lequel je vis.»

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (1)

Chaque premier janvier, les bonnes résolutions sont prises, et puis il y a la première de l’année, assassinée par son conjoint ou ex.  Le 12 aout elle était la 88ème ou peut être la 89ème elle avait 71 ans. Il n’y a pas d’âge pour être tuée par son partenaire ou ex. Le 27 septembre 2019, la nouvelle tombait, la 111ème victime de féminicide de l’année en cours avait été découverte. 

L’épidémie est mondiale et quasi permanente pratiquement invisible à l’œil politico économique, dominée par le patriarcat, habitué à ne voir que les enjeux stratégiques, «sécuritaires,» qui occupent le devant de la scène publique. En France, le gouvernement organise cette année un Grenelle (Une conférence regroupant de nombreuses organisations) «violence contre les femmes» du 3 septembre au 25 novembre arguant qu’il faut trouver des solutions globales à ce fléau, mais sans envisager jusqu’à présent le déblocage de nouveaux financements.

L’Espagne a consacré 200 millions d’euros pour lutter contre les violences conjugales considérées parfois comme du «terrorisme misogyne.» L’Espagne a reformée son système pénal en 2004, créant 106 tribunaux et un parquet spécialisé. En 15 ans le nombre de femmes tuées par leur conjoint chaque année est passé de 71 à 43.  En comparaison, la France affiche des résultats médiocres avec ses 79 millions d’euros promis. Or, la Fondation des Femmes estime qu’il faudrait entre 500 millions et 1 milliard d’euros de budget pour lutter efficacement contre les violences conjugales à elles seules. Le budget alloué au Secrétariat à l’Égalité femmes-hommes présenté le 25 septembre 2019 pour l’année 2020 a baissé de 25.750€ par rapport à 2019 (budget 2019:  29.871.581€ ; budget 2020: 29.845.831€). Comment une telle réalité de vie et de mort pour plus de la moitié de la population peut-elle non seulement avoir persisté mais ne pas constituer une priorité sociétale? Et pourtant, il y a eu écrits, études et autres formes de recherches et d’information sur ce fléau qui s’abat sur des femmes prises dans un tourbillon de violences de la part de leur proches ou ex, et pour quels effets?

L’invisibilité des crimes sur les femmes vient du fait qu’ils sont mal nommés comme le rappelle Amélie Gallois dans «On tue une femme,» pire encore ajoute-t-elle, «mal nommer un objet c’est lui en substituer un autre.»

Jusqu’en 1975, l’adultère était considéré comme une circonstance atténuante dans le cas d’un meurtre commis par l’époux sur son épouse : seuls les époux étaient excusables. En Italie, le crime d’honneur n’est aboli que depuis 1981. Dans sa thèse intitulée «Le crime passionnel. Étude du processus de passage à l’acte et de sa répression», Me Habiba Touré explique «à l’époque, l’homme qui tuait sa femme était un romantique».

En France, ce n’est que depuis 25 ans, que le crime conjugal est devenu une circonstance aggravante du meurtre/assassinat (Décret no 94-167 du 25 février 1994 modifiant certaines dispositions de droit pénal et de procédure pénale). En 2006, cette disposition sera élargie aux concubins, «pacsés» et aux «ex», le meurtre sur un conjoint, pacsé concubin ou ex étant puni de la réclusion criminelle à perpétuité (à noter que le code pénal ne pose que des peines plafonds et non des peines planchers; le juge étant libre de condamner « le mis en cause » à une peine bien moindre). Depuis quelques années, les associations féministes emploient le terme «féminicide» (le meurtre d’une femme/fille pour le fait qu’elle soit femme/fille, que ce soit dans la sphère intime, non intime ou publique) pour parler des violences conjugales et militent pour sa reconnaissance pénale.

Comme souvent, l’art doit venir à la rescousse pour sortir des mythes qui ont permis le patriarcat, et revenir à la réalité.  La performance dans les lieux publics possède les qualités de la dissidence et aussi de la conscientisation nécessaire.  

Suite à la grande collecte des archives de femmes de 2018, l’artiste Sophie Bourel a conceptualisé un projet de mise en espace de lecture à voix haute intitulé Mots Écrits, à partir de la réalité des textes d’archives de femmes pour mettre sur la scène une histoire des femmes qui a été invisibilisée. Les textes seront lus à voix haute par des amateur.es qui auront été formées par l’artiste. Sophie Bourel croit, en effet, en la force de la lecture à voix haute qui est à la fois un art exigeant et accessible à toutes et tous, «et cela fait du bien mécaniquement.» 

Disinterring Women’s Words (Mots Ecrits)

In France, on August 12, she was the 88th or maybe the 89th victim. She was 71 years old. There is no age limit to being killed by your partner, husband or ex. There are now 101 women victims of feminicide since January and the death toll will continue to grow. The epidemic is worldwide and almost permanently active. In France the government declared its intention to organize a conference in September to address the issue widely but failed to announce more funding. Compared to the 200 million euros Spain devoted for a national pact against domestic violence that is also called machismo terrorism, France scores poorly with its promised 79 million euros. It is time to face the reality of feminicide in France, and elsewhere.

The theatrical project Mots Ecrits, conceptualized by the actress Sophie Bourel from a collection of archives on women’s lives, makes visible invisibilized violence against women. Bourel decided that the first part of her project will concern the issue of feminicides, an issue that brings the everlasting danger for women of being killed as well as a sense of urgency.  For Mots Ecrits, Bourel collects a corpus of archives on feminicides and creates a theatrical performance based on these written words. With a wide variety of documents, what she calls “de la matière” (raw material), she is able to give life to the words to make the performance live fully and independently.

Sophie Bourel feels that she has an enormous responsibility since feminicide still ravages society. When we met her one morning, she was all excited because she received documents from the archives of a French department. She welcomed us with “Hello I am so happy,” as if she had found a treasure. In fact, for her it was a treasure, since finding anything about women including about their assassination by partners, lovers etc. is so difficult. The invisibility of women is multifaceted and the invisibility of their elimination is at the source of their absence in public space. The files she received that morning concerned a crime that occurred January 16, 1975 in a French town on the Loire river. The woman killed that day first appeared in police records in July 1968. She went to the police station to report violence in her home and her son had a head injury; her neighbor also testified. This ended up in a murder attempt in June 1975, when the perpetrator raped and locked her up. She filed a complaint and got an apartment to which she moved with her children. But she was not safe. At the end of 1975, he visited her. She went to the police station to say that she was scared. On January 16, 1976, he waited outside her apartment building, grabbed her, dragged her to the riverbank and shot her twice.

Sophie Bourel doesn’t see this as an isolated case. She created a list of 78 and then 80 graves. She says, “If I look at my list, I am going to find a woman who has been killed in a similar way: 2 pistol or gun shots! I am going to put the two women in contact with one another to create a sort of echo, the one who died 50 years ago with the one who died in 2019. Killed in the same manner. It is as if one opened her casket to welcome the newly killed.” She adds that it is also a way to fight because we must fight, for if we don’t, nothing will happen to save women. Men should be afraid of killing women.

Within the archive she received, there was also a petition sent to Francoise Giroud, Secretary of State in charge of the condition of women from 1974 to 1976, the first ever ministry established in France that concerned women’s issues The text said:

Reasons for the choice of this type of petition:

The Judicial procedures and the possibilities of intervention of the bodies in charge of people’s safety seem to be able to work only after the crime has been committed. This procedure has the inconvenience of requiring the death of the person first before being able to activate the wheels of law. On the other hand, it has the advantage of not forcing the judges to make preventative decisions (that can be traumatic for the perpetrators).

This petition clearly shows the objectification of women and sadly points to the State as engendering such a view. Representation of human beings in the State means visibility and therefore the opportunity to be heard and seen. It means conferring the person or group with an identity, or a face. If a human being is not recognized by the State, that person is an object and can be killed. As Hannah Arendt points out, when people are objectified, they can be eliminated. Objectification of humans or the environment is the precondition to destruction. Conscience or ethical responsibility is tossed. 

When Pramila’s mother, disabled and sick, was threatened by a family member, she had to get the help of police and lawyers. In one instance, the police said that she could be left alone with the violent family member. When Pramila objected that her mother is in danger of being hurt or even killed, the police responded, “Then we can bring a case against the perpetrator. No problem.” She was aghast. To even suggest that an old, ill and disabled woman should be killed in order to bring her perpetrator to justice is unconscionable.

When Nirbhaya’s rape, known as the Delhi rape case in 2012 led to mass movement for justice for women, a British journalist interviewed the rapists for the BBC. Recounting the incident in which Nirbhaya was sexually assaulted, one of the rapists, Singh, said “While being raped, she shouldn’t have fought back. She should have remained silent and allowed the rape.”  We know that passivity would not have saved Nirbhaya’s life. 

Worse yet is the law’s weakness when it comes to justice for women. Nirbhaya had to die after the gruesome mauling of her body in order for her case to go to the fast-track court! Alive, she had no protection against her assaulters. 

French law has evolved very slowly, and has repeatedly failed to protect women. In March 1994, France introduced a series of laws against violence (in general), but it is only in 2003 that domestic violence is seen as an aggravating circumstance by the law. Since then, almost every year, a new amendment was passed in the desperate attempt to tackle the number of women killed by their partners and exes, but to no avail (articles 221-4222-12 and 222-13 of the French criminal code). 

In comparison, in 2004 Spain reformed its criminal court system to bring down domestic violence, creating 106 specialized courts and an adapted prosecution bringing the rate of Spanish women killed by their husbands from 71 to 43. In Canada, because of the nature of the harm of domestic violence, the judges can provide for release conditions such as “no contact” until the trial or appeal even where no offence has been committed. Yet, where personal injury or damage is feared, courts can also order “peace bonds or recognizances.” The French Criminal laws also contain a number of special provisions that serve to protect victims, but these means are almost never used by the judges and the police. 

How many women have to die in order to change the mentality about the role and rights of women? How many women have to show the scars, the badges of abuse, in order to be heard, and in order for the law to be comprehensively enforced? Laws regarding “national” security are immediately carried out and enforced! The urgency of the situation should have forced us to act a long time ago. Meanwhile, in France, 93 women have died since January 1st. Every week, 3 women are killed by their respective partners. For 3000 years women have been abused by men. In many countries, our laws have been written by men and (un)enforced by men. This is not acceptable.

(Photo Credit 1: France Culture / Denis Meyer / Hans Lucas / AFP)

On (mis)representation: Baltimore, El Paso, violence, death

I moved from Europe to Baltimore more than 25 years ago. I came to develop a kind of chauvinistic attachment to this peculiar city. After all its nickname is Charm City. Baltimore is slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, post slavery. 2/3 of the city is black. The white establishment of the city and the state incessantly try to sweep under the carpet these elements of its past and present. A segregated city with liberal feelings, Baltimore developed as an industrial city in the 19thcentury with one of the most active ports in the United States. Certainly, the tensions from the industrial revolution to deindustrialization are colored by the stigmata of slavery, racism. 

Baltimore got its international fame with the series The Wire described by its author David Simon as a “Greek tragedy for the new millennium,” in which institutions such as the police had increasing power with growing impunity, in part due to the lack of oversight from the state government which has controlled the Police Department since its inception. David Simon explained that the series showed “the triumph of capitalism over human value.” Nevertheless, Baltimore is a place of resistance and debate, a place where people are trying to imagine a sense of community despite class, gender, race/ethne systems that are part of the history of Baltimore and the United States.  

On July 30th, the 45thpresident of the United States missed a chance to celebrate the 290th anniversary of the creation of the city of Baltimore, but he never misses an occasion to express his basic racism and xenophobic political ideals. His attacks on Baltimore particularly the Baltimore of Elijah Cummings, in short Black Baltimore (Cummings represents the 7thMaryland’s district, which encompasses over half of the city of Baltimore), is his latest strike on humanity. For a president who has made a career in reality shows, it is difficult to understand the true reality of an abusive system of police, justice, poverty and violence generated by a capitalistic society that reduces human dignity to a racialized, gendered determination of human value. The murder by police of Freddie Gray in the streets of Baltimore is one example. Why did Freddie Gray decide to run away from police?  When people demanded justice for Freddie Gray, the entire city was punished. Remember, Baltimore is where Central Booking was invented, where the parallel economy of narcotics trafficking is a variable to undermine any emancipation of the Black community. But none of that was expressed by the president of the nation, because he is just president for the racist and xenophobic part of the population oblivious to its history.  

There is a special spirit of resistance in Baltimore, as the day that followed the last presidential election reminded me. A bar near Penn Station, the train station of Baltimore, put a sign on the sidewalk saying: “Happy Hours, it’s a terrible day”. The sign was inviting in the bleak context of the day and the years to come to enter a nondescript place. The crowd inside was mainly Black and some White, the discussion was about resisting and the sense of solidarity was present. 

Donald Trump was designated 45thpresident of the United States. He immediately demonstrated an unapologetic and nasty understanding of what wielding power means. His caricatural, white supremacist, misogynistic position is not new but as the president, he supposedly must have attempted to be the representative of the people of the United States, all of them. I am joking!  His base is white, some are supremacist, other have simply grown up cajoled by the idea of the natural superiority of their race or their social position. His base and his financial and business supporters are now the only nation. 

On this basis, he aimed at four women of color, duly elected members of Congress, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar.  The four congressmembers have been the target of outrageous utterances and threats coming from the occupant of the White House. He accused them of hating the United States, advising them to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they come. For clarity, three are American born and Omar came as a refugee when she was 11. These muckraking comments indicate that xenophobic, anti-feminist hatred is part of his campaign strategies for 2020, but beyond this is a sign of the desperate attempt to maintain white supremacy as well as the supremacy of the capitalist neoliberal system that has been under the control of the “non-representative” leaders of this world. 

Instead of being vilified, the four women should have been applauded for their achievements, their commitment against oppression and marginalization. Their constant engagement against the villainy of the current immigration policies pushed by the president, the violence of the treatment of refugees. They should be an inspiration for anyone who thinks about representing a population. 

Representation is at the heart of the current political tensions surrounding elections. These women were elected on a ticket that demanded health care not health insurance, respect for the dignity of asylum seekers, respect for women’s rights and for the principle of the law and justice. 

Representation is a gendered and racialized battle field. When the leader does not obey the community, he (rarely she) commands the community in response to their votes. The struggle is global, the rise of extreme right intolerant voices has many causes; the responses should encompass the ideals of an open participatory democracy. This utopian vision is far from the reality in Baltimore and elsewhere in the United States. Black lives still don’t matter, women are still persecuted for wanting to decide when to be pregnant and keep their body safe, all that in the reality of climate change. Vested interests still manage the system of representation in the United States and in the globalized world. It’s time to end misrepresentation. In the United States, after this deadly week-end, we see once more that racist, xenophobic representatives entail xenophobic violence that leads to killing. End misrepresentation now. 

(Photo Credit 1: Baltimore Sun / Julio Cortez / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Vox / Mario Tama / Getty Images)