Women, the invisible migrants

While the US election demonstrated that abject racist, anti women, xenophobic speeches lead to power; people continue to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Last month another 90 people died off the Libyan coast. 3800 persons seeking safe land drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since January 2016. The UN ‘s refugee agency predicts that 2016 will be the deadliest year despite about 700 000 fewer people having made the crossing compared to 2015. The likelihood of dying is one in 88 arrivals in 2016 while last year it was one in 269 arrivals.

The European obsession with stopping the crossing of people escaping war zones – signing shameful agreements with the violent and authoritarian Turkish president, increasing surveillance forcing smugglers to use less detectable rafts – has created more hazards for women, men, and children. The preservation of migrants’ lives come after catering to populist mindsets and vested interests.

This year, the number of women and children migrating for survival has outnumbered the number of men, with 60% of the refugees being women and children while they were about 30 % last year. Women face more hardship and gender-based violence with an increase of war violence committed on women.

None of this is new. In 2010 Smaïn Laarcher looked at the violence, persecution, and death threats that women faced on the road to exile. He described the various agents of violence denouncing the denial of humanity to women, which led to sexual torture committed in total impunity.

Meanwhile, once in Europe they can be stuck in places like Calais in France. In 2002, the UK demanded the closing of the Red Cross camp of Sangatte, on the pretext that the French authorities had been too lenient with the refugees. Then, in 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister of France, signed an agreement to control migration to the United Kingodm. The treaty is both complex and simple; it turns France into a police structure for the UK preventing the English-speaking wretched of the earth with family or friends in the UK from crossing. This treaty has created misery and the camp of Calais also called the “Jungle.” The latter was recently dismantled.

The hardship and suffering of the refugee women has been mostly invisible and ignored. Where are the women who are trying to escape violence in increasing number? According to the NGO France Terre d’Asile, in 2015, in the department of Pas de Calais about 1000 women migrants lived in various camps including in “the jungle”. 120 of those women were minors. Many NGOs have worked to help these women. All the aid workers say the same thing, “We don’t see them.” They only walk in groups at certain times of the day; some have created their own women-only campsite in a field.

There is a place in Calais, the Jules Ferry Center, that receives about 300 women in a safe environment. The doors are locked; only the women can decide to go in and out. Even personnel have to get clearance. A spokeperson for the center explained, “They don’t want journalists in because they don’t want people to look at them like circus freaks.” They are safe in this center; they have access to psychological support as well as medical care and they can stay with their children; but this is not enough. Women can be invisible and attacked in refugee centers that have not been conceived for the safety of women, as it has occured in Germany.

Gynecologie sans frontieres (gynecology without borders), or GSF, is a very active NGO in the camps. They provide care, sexual education and access to reproductive services including abortion, and they treat women with respect. In France, abortion is free for all women.

While women may have been raped and need and demand access to abortion when pregnant after the rape, they also face all kind of issues coming with constant patriarchal violence. They have a chance to talk when they meet these helpers.

Sometimes women sell their bodies for money; a network of pimps prowls the camps. They may be also the smugglers who get paid that way. The clients are not only the migrants but also the local inhabitants.

A world of silence is wrapped around the women’s bodies. The migrant women should be able to find their own words to explain what happened to them. GSF has designed methods to liberate these voices in an attempt to make the invisible migrant women visible. The volunteers of GSF or other NGOs want to help them to reclaim their rights and dignity but it should be again a collective responsibility.

As we have seen with the election of a sexual predator who is ignorant of UN treaties, the western elites are increasingly showing their disdain and disregard for international treaties to protect women, children, civilians, and the environment, in order to galvanize the most racist energies for electoral gain and power. In this period, women are becoming increasingly vulnerable and migrant women are invisibly dehumanized. Once again solidarity is required!

 

(Photo Credit: Gynécologie sans frontières)

He cannot be President. He cannot be my friends’ President.

In the United States this past Wednesday the relationship between politics and business based on sex, racism, xenophobia, ignorance, etc, became the rule of the master. I have been writing for Women In and Beyond the Global for some time to denounce, inform and reflect on many issues that are threats to human and women’s dignity in many places.

I wrote about Dominique Strauss Kahn aka DSK, the former director of the IMF and pretender to presidential election in France, who used his power to attack and humiliate women for sex. His scandalous behavior was disparaged worldwide, especially after his arrest in New York City for abusing a woman of color in the hotel where he was a client and where she was a maid. Even his own political party in France declared that they should erect a statue to Nafissatou Diallo for her strength and determination. I concluded : “From New York, Washington, Paris to Lille, the DSK saga magnifies the story of violence against women that epitomizes the power of patriarchal capitalism over women’s bodies.”

What did we witness last Wednesday? Donald Trump has done all this and was able to get the votes that he needed to become the President of the United States.

Then, about the massive displacement of people escaping war zones created by the US and its allies’ politics, which triggered a remilitarization of the borders, I wrote: “The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means.” Indifference to dehumanization is now going to be United States public policy.

While NAFTA guarantees the “free” circulation of capital, people, especially people from the southern border of the United States, have been impoverished by this treaty and dismissed if not eliminated. The border with Mexico has two sides, as I reported in 2014: “On the US – Mexico border, US border patrols are under investigation for having recently killed more people than ever before. An independent review, leaked to the Los Angeles Times, considered 67 shootings by US Border patrols at the Mexican border between January 2010 and October 2012. These resulted in 19 civilian deaths.” I added the story of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16 year-old boy who was on his way home when he was killed by US officers, from the other side of the fence. The officers on the US side shot him 10 times. He was killed with two bullets in his head and then butchered with eight more bullets in his back.”

The billionaire candidate Trump has had the most demeaning words to an entire population, normalizing hatred.

In one of the numerous articles that Women In and Beyond the Global published about sexual and reproductive rights, I wrote: “How the `life’ of the unborn has toppled the life of a woman is no mystery: a great dose of political cynicism serves vested interest and neoliberal economics to create a geography of increasing discrimination and vulnerability.”

Now, in terms of sexual reproductive rights the next move is not going to be to repeal the Hyde Amendment that was once hoped, but rather to overturn Roe v Wade! That is only going to be one aspect of it. The other part goes with the incarceration of women, “the deviant women.” The torture will continue!

Many have compared this election with Brexit. We should remember Jo Cox, the MP woman who was assassinated by the hand of hatred just few days before the election day, but she is not the only one to have died from patriarchal violence. In Egypt on January 24th, in Cairo, Egypt, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, a 32 years old secular socialist activist, was assassinated by the police along with 20 other demonstrators. I remarked: “In this harsh neoliberal order, accents of totalitarianism emerge to “Shut up all voices” and crackdown on dissent with no shame. Women are often the target of these acts of violence and political intimidation.”

The countless attacks on women particularly women of color since the election are violent political intimidation.

Finally, the reality of the not so natural disasters that are looming over us somehow prompted some important reaction of solidarity last year at the Cop 21 in Paris. I wrote then in the introduction to the interview with Sascha Gabizon, one of the co-facilitators of the Women Gender Constituency, a large coalition of feminists and women’s movements: “Climate disasters target women. As Sascha recalled, in the 1991 floods in Bangladesh 90% of the casualties were women. As climate disasters occur regularly, as in the Philippines, they impact in majority women, mainly because of gendered distribution of labor and roles. As a result, we see all kinds of radicalization against women with the widespread expansion of brutal practices against women, in their home, in their everyday life, in prisons and jails, as well as the erosion of women’s rights especially sexual and reproductive rights in an increasing number of countries.”

This is more than a sad time it is a time of unleashed global violence with enormous consequences. This neoliberal world that has treated economic and outrageous policy makers as priests has accepted a ruthless billionaire as a prophet! He cannot be a president and not my friends’ president.

 

(Photo Credit: Vocative / Ryan Beckler)

WIBG Radio: Luz Mora: Women’s rights are in danger with the rise of extreme right propaganda

In France, a collective of feminist organizations, unions and political parties brought the press, including Women In and Beyond the Global, together to launch an important website, Women’s Rights Against Extreme Rights. This website is a response to the deceitful ambiguities that the extreme right movements have developed to seduce the disenchanted electorate, especially women voters who have traditionally voted in lower numbers for the extreme right.

In order to gain these votes, the extreme right National Front party has adopted a slightly different strategy compared to its counterparts in Eastern Europe. The president of the National Front, FN, Marine Le Pen, daughter of the former president of the party, has pursued a campaign of “de-demonization” to soften her image compared to her father’s antisemitic, racist and anti-women diatribes. She managed to evict him from the party while still receiving financial support from his side. She has even presented herself as a feminist invoking the words of Simone De Beauvoir, the French iconic feminist intellectual. Le Pen likes to show herself as a normal working mom who divorced twice and who shares the value of most feminists.

But there is a lot to worry about with this cunning double talk, said Suzy Rojtman, one of the three spokespeople for the group at the press conference. She added that women’s rights are an important voting argument for the extreme right parties since women’s issues are often defended across party lines, in a country that provides free access to abortion and contraception.

When Marine Le Pen declares that she will respect the abortion decision of 1975 she also added that abortion will be de-reimbursed, throwing in that she would combat “comfort abortions” suggesting that it is too easy to get an abortion in France. She commonly blurs the discourses on reproductive rights and unemployment, basically proposing to create a minimum revenue so women won’t have to work while claiming abortion rights are too costly for the nation, therefore damaging the social system.

She even modernized her discourse about homosexuality. But none of that is confirmed by the votes of the FN’s MPs. The FN representatives voted against the bill on real equality and against the bill against sexual and social harassment in the French parliament, and in the European Parliament they voted with their colleagues from the extreme right from Poland, Hungary, Malta, and elsewhere, against the Estela report, the Zuber report and the Tarabella report respectively addressing the respect of reproductive rights and equality between women and men in Europe.

The FN also presents itself as an anti-system party while actually voting for austerity and neoliberal measures.

One thing Marine Le Pen expresses clearly is that the perpetrators of violence against women are immigrants and the lack of respect for family values. Ludicrous assertion, says Suzy Rojtman, and how can she said that since in France ethnic data are not allowed. Their claims in favor of the defense of Laicity hides their basic xenophobic approach opposing real non-Christian based laicity.

The new website shows the solidarity of feminist organizations with unions and political parties that do not always work together. This website will also provide tools for activists on the ground.

Luz Mora, from the Association VISA, an anti-fascist association of unions, discussed these issues with us.

 

(Image Credit 1: Women’s Rights Against Extreme Rights) (Image Credit 2: A l’encontre)

In Poland, women in black strike for women’s and human rights

In Poland last week women went on a general strike, dressed in black. Thousands demonstrated in the streets of cities to defend their remaining right to abortion as the government pushed for a total ban on abortion. The concept of women’s general strike was first used in Iceland on October 25, 1975 when 90% of women stopped working, taking care of children, cooking etc. They wanted equality and were fed up with low wages, low consideration, low everything. The entire country stopped. The effect was profound. The Polish women were after the same effect, fed up with seeing political and economic manipulations control their sexual and reproductive rights and putting their lives in jeopardy.

Since Poland transitioned to a capitalist system, reproductive rights including the right to abortion have been the recurrent issue, and women have seen their rights steadily reduced. Women in Poland won the right to abortion for social reasons in 1956. Nina Sankari for 50-50 magazine, recounts the work of Maria Jaszczuk, the MP who sponsored the original bill. She put in the public debate the crude reality of women’s right to decide for their lives, breaking the code of silence. At the time, more than 300 000 illegal abortions were practiced a year with 80 000 of them ending up in the hospital leading to a 2% death toll. Thanks to this bill, Polish women had enjoyed this reproductive right for over 36 years. But the so called democratic process gloated about by the capitalist order demanded the end of this basic women’s right to decide for themselves. Nina Sankari recalls that in 2007 shortly before her death at 90 years old, Maria Jaszczuk expressed her sadness to see all these basic women’s rights being wiped out.

Nina Sankari notes the irony of the infamous democratic transition bringing the Catholic Church with its conservative neoliberal allies back to power. In 1989, when the new constitution was being designed, the Church vetoed the concept of separation of church and state, of laicity or neutrality of the church. The Polish Catholic establishment was ready to play a crucial political role in the country.

Consequently, in 1993 one of the most regressive anti-abortion laws in Europe passed, allowing abortion in only three cases: if the woman’s life is in danger, if the fetus has serious disabilities, and if the pregnancy is the result of a rape including incestuous rape. But that was not enough for the conservative forces led by Jarosław Kaczinski. He is the leader of Law and Justice party that won the elections in October 2015.

Currently, the xenophobic religious neoliberal right is looming large in Europe. The current Polish leadership is in line with Viktor Orbán’s leadership in Hungary proclaiming religious notions on family as divinely imposed and reducing public services, especially when women’s rights are at risk. These changes constitute a breach in European laws. Recently three cases from Poland have been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. The latter found that women and girls in Poland “encountered unacceptable obstacles to access to safe and legal abortion.” It put Poland in violation with its responsibilities and obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Malta and Ireland are also in this position. Meanwhile, no official actions have changed this status quo. Only women and men’s street demonstrations have brought change.

This time, the Polish women’s strike defeated the bill that would have led to a total ban on abortion, including jail time for women seeking abortion and for doctors who would dare help them. As Gauri Van Gulik of Amnesty International said, “This is a huge victory for the millions of women and girls who mobilized, showed their fury, and successfully blocked a law which would have taken away their rights and endangered their health.”

This victory should lead to more actions in support of women’s rights and human rights. Each year in Poland, 1000 legal abortions are performed while an estimated 150, 000 clandestine abortions occur behind closed doors, not to forget that the lethal danger of clandestine abortion is spread according to social lines. The reduction of women’s rights accompanies many social and political restrictions. The women of Poland have shown the possibilities to counter the rise of the deadly combination of xenophobic, neoliberal and religious power.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Czarek Sokolowski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

(This article is part of the on-going collaboration between Women In and Beyond the Global and 50-50 magazine. Click here for 50-50’s coverage of Poland’s women in black.)

In France, Urvoas’ prison decision: More prisons, less humanity

Fresnes Prison

Fresnes Prison

In France, last August, Prime Minister Manuel Valls with his Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas advertized that a feasible and concrete plan would be announced soon to remedy the carceral disgrace of French prisons and jails, plagued with overpopulation and squalid conditions. They talked about building 6000 cells. This week, the Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas declared that 10 000 to 16 500 prisons cells will be added.

The minister made the announcement from Fresnes prison, an aging prison with about 200% occupation rate. As a congressman Mr. Urvoas opposed the building of additional prisons. Now as Minister of Justice he has succumbed to the populist vision sweeping Europe of increased imprisonment for more security. Consequently, the budget of 3 billion Euros would be mainly invested in bricks rather than in alternative restorative justice programs, as inscribed in the last bill passed by former Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira.

Instead, Mr. Urvoas declared that the administration would be adding cells, not places or spaces in an attempt to nuance the decision. This rhetoric comes from a principle of law conceived in 1875 in the French legal system that said that each detainee should have his or her own cell. In Fresne for instance they are 3 prisoners in a 9 square meter cell (30 square feet).

On the day of the announcement the French Public Radio France Inter recorded its programs in Fresnes in an effort to bring to public attention the reality of this shameful situation. They interviewed former detainees, a warden’s union representative, judges and penal counselors for reintegration, and Adeline Hazan, the president of the magistrate union, an independent body that controls all places where people are deprived of liberty.

The former detainees and wardens made clear that the place looks like a 19th century prison, filthy and sordid. They called prisons like Fresnes a pressure cooker for disaster. The union representative insisted that their mission should be to work with the detainees on their reintegration. This mission is made unattainable. In addition, in Fresnes, women’s quarters are 6 times smaller. Women are the forgotten population in prison.

The director of the prison explained that the detainees are eager to participate in activities, but, because of the lack of personnel, access to them is limited although mandated by law. Many would like to work; there too there are limitations including low wages and the non-respect of labor laws applied outside. In this environment of frustration and humiliation, it is not surprising that 62% reoffend within 5 years after their release. By comparison, only 32 to 34% who have received alternative sentences reoffend.

Many criticized Mr. Urvoas’ proposition. Magistrates explained that the judicial system is becoming harsher, emphasizing that because of the lack of appropriate budget and public pressure in this period of instability the judges are often forced to send the convicted or pretrial person to prison and jail.

In 2014, Christiane Taubira passed a bill that should have made alternative sentences the common law. Her idea relied on another principle: the principle that prison should be the last resort. Despite claims of good intentions, this law has not been enforced with adequate financial means. Meanwhile, private contractors are entering the jail and prison world, following the neoliberal search for investments with fast returns.

In France, 11 000 out of the 68 000 detainees are sentenced to 6 months and 28 % of the carceral population is in pretrial detention. If most of these sentences were commuted into open-space alternative individualized sentences, as prescribed by the Taubira’s bill, the population in jails would decline rapidly.

The approach adopted by the French Government signals yet another alignment to the logic of incarceration and tough-on-crime policies in the context of pre presidential election, with the combination of fear, security and neoliberal investments looming in the background.

 

(Photo Credit: BrunodesBaumettes)

From Jacqueline Sauvage to Bresha Meadows, the State abuses women victims of violence

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Two weeks before her 15th birthday Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her father in his sleep with the gun he used to threaten her and her mother. She was defending her mother and herself and still the first response from the state was to imprison Bresha. Despite all evidence of domestic extreme violence the state unleashed more violence on a child who had already experienced and witnessed violent mental and physical abuse. This time prosecution of the victim takes place in Ohio close to Cleveland, where the child Bresha Meadows is facing the unbearably violent vicious US penal system.

As Bresha turned 15 while incarcerated at the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center, no visitors for her birthday were allowed, signaling a clear lack of interest for her well being after everything she had been through. Her mother, Brandi, had been beaten since her first pregnancy and almost lost it due to the severity of her injuries. Year after year, for 22 years of marriage, her husband, Jonathan Meadow, used brutal, emotional and physical isolation techniques to control his wife, regularly threatening to kill her children, especially in recent years.

Bresha Meadows suffered directly from these conditions. As she grew older, she realized her father could eliminate anyone at anytime. Bresha escaped her home twice to seek help with her aunt Latessa, telling her how their father was trying to isolate their mom from her children as well as the constant physical abuse.

Despite all the evidence Bresha’s act was not judged as an act of defense. Instead, she had to be harshly punished. There is a manifest differential of punishment between a case like hers and male killing their partners or committing racist crimes.

Why does the state want to punish not only battered girls and women like Bresha but also pregnant women or women wielding their right to control their reproduction? 75% to 80% of women incarcerated for murder were battered and killed in self-defense, not to forget that class and race play a crucial role in their incarceration generally. Moreover, 84% of the US girls in custody were victims of abuse or experienced domestic violence. Even scarier is that the last comprehensive data on US children who killed their parents was published in 1990 and at that time 90% of the 280 children who killed their parents were abused.

According to Michel Foucault, “Systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain political economy of the body.” Bresha Meadow’s incarceration had nothing to do with reducing crime, had less than nothing to do with ending violence against women. The latter is a crime that has international recognition with a day, November 25th the international day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to raise awareness.

As opposed to Jacqueline Sauvage, the French woman also incarcerated for killing her husband, Bresha, if prosecuted as an adult, will face life in prison because of mandatory sentencing while Sauvage is going to be released in January since France does not have mandatory sentencing anymore and uses a system of sentence remission. Even if the judge decides to keep her case in juvenile court, she will still face a harsh sentence thanks to the complicated legal system in Ohio. In both cases the judges demonstrate a vision of the political economy of the woman’s body in which violence against women is permitted and women are on their own.

The ultimate action should not be to only find ways to bypass mandatory sentencing in the US or influence judges in France. Rather, we need to expose the patriarchal rules and economy that use prison as an instrument of control of women’s bodies, which is exactly the reason Bresha’s father thought that it was fine to put his wife and family in a box. As Latessa explained, “If they stepped out of that box, they were reprimanded and put right back in that box.”

Meanwhile Bresha who was living in hell with no help from the state to change the situation of violence in her family is now living in the hell of the state jail.

Please consider signing the petition that calls for the immediate release of Bresha and demands the withdrawal of all charges.

https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/free-bresha-meadows

 

(Photo Credit: Lena Cooper / Cleveland Plain Dealer)

 

 

Free Jacqueline Sauvage, domestic violence survivor, patriarchal (in)justice prisoner!

In France, the case of Jacqueline Sauvage captures the inability of the justice system to do away with patriarchal rules and with prison as the essential means to assert punitive power. Jacqueline Sauvage’s story is the archetype of the effects of repetitive domestic violence. In September 2012, Sauvage, the daughter of a victim of domestic violence, shot her husband in the back, thinking that this time he would carry out his brutal threats, after 47 years of constant and ferocious abuses. She feared for her life one time too many.

The couple had four children, one boy and three girls, all raised in a climate of violence orchestrated by the father. The family is a middle-class family that runs a small business in Montargis, in central France; all these years of abuse, nobody dared say anything. The daughters were sexually abused and the son verbally abused. The son reproduced the climate of violence in his own life. He committed suicide the night before his mother killed her husband, but she did not know that when she killed her abusive husband.

Jacqueline Sauvage was accused by the prosecutor of faking or lying, arguing that she and her daughters never pressed charges against the husband/father oppressor. She lived in fear of retaliations; moreover she was under his control.

In France only 14 % of the women who declare having been a victim of violence file a complaint. Every year, 134 women are killed by their respective partner. In addition, 90% of rapists are known by their victims; 37% are their husbands.

Jacqueline Sauvage’s defense attorneys relied on a self-defense argument to save their client from more punishment. The court dismissed the argument and sentenced her to 10 years for aggravated murder. Another court dismissed the argument a second time in appeal. Meanwhile, the case became emblematic of the lack of support for women victims of domestic violence.

Then, Jacqueline Sauvage’s lawyers sought presidential pardon. They obtained a partial pardon, which means that it allows the justice system to grant remission but does not change the charges. She was still convicted of aggravated murder. The pardon skillfully did not challenge the status quo.

Finally, two weeks ago, a court decided that Jacqueline Sauvage would remain in prison despite the presidential pardon. The judge declared that self-defense cannot be applied, and she should have responded to the violence of her husband with proportionate action. With mass support, Jacqueline Sauvage is now appealing this last decision.

In the patriarchal code of justice women are still held responsible of their situation, particularly cases of abuse. In refusing to free Jacqueline Sauvage, the judge has normalized violence against women, making clear that revolt for abused women is unacceptable, even unfathomable. This long and painful story demonstrates one more time that women’s well being and rights are still a burden that lies on women’s shoulders, no matter what outfit they are wearing!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Grazia) (Photo Credit 2: 20 minutes)

Will France choose to follow the U.S. and build and overcrowd more prisons?

Adeline Hazan
Last week, with media in tow, Manuel Valls
accompanied Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas, who replaced Christiane Taubira, to Nimes prison, one of many overcrowded French prisons. Located in southeast France, Nimes prison is designed to receive 192 prisoners but currently holds 406 prisoners. Nationally, the number of detainees has reached record levels. Since 2010 the number of convicted prisoners went from 45 583 to 49 340 in 2016, but more significantly the number of remand detainees has moved from 15 395 in 2010 to 20 035 in 2016.

The previous president Nicolas Sarkozy instituted a martial discourse of intimidating governance based on penal populism and social ostracizing of social and racial minorities. He envisioned building new prisons to “accommodate” 80 000 more inmates.

Urvoa’s predecessor, Christiane Taubira tried to reverse this trend with her reform, passed in August 2014, to make incarceration the last result. Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, Taubira’s reform created penal counselors for reintegration as well as alternative sentences. The reform passed, but implementation has been to slow to none, thanks to a justice system that has followed the global trend of imprisonment as a social and governing instrument in a time of global violence. Recruitment of the counselors has been slow and underfunded while alternative sentencing has been ignored by a hardened justice system that has responded positively to the populist call for a repressive justice. The number of liberations under the control of the counselors has been reduced by 20% in one year. A Union representative declared that, instead of emptying prisons, the reform has filled them because the magistrates don’t play fair.

At the end of their visit to the Nimes prison, the head of government and his minister of justice declared that they would come up with a “specific, concrete and financed plan” to remedy the problem. They announced the building of more prisons to add 6000 beds, still largely inferior to what the right and extreme right political elite is demanding. Despite the few good moves such as the opening of “observatoire de la récidive et de la désistance” (Observatory of repeating offense and crime exit), as well as Jean Jacques Urvoas’ stated commitment to enforce the sentencing reduction bill, the funds have not been allocated.

In a climate of fear in which the “radicalization” of Muslim youth in France is offered as a source of violence that has to be fought in the most brutal manner, the political elite has given a radical and superficial picture of the situation in order to impose prison as the immediate and natural solution to all problems.

Meanwhile, a regime of urban marginality is reinforced with increased incarceration, making prisons and jails the instruments of violent isolation and ostracism. The over representation of populations of Muslim descent in prison mirrors the over representation of minorities in US prisons, with some differences of course. Will French elite choose to follow the American model of building and overcrowding more prisons?

In response, Adeline Hazan, the “contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté” (an independent body that monitors all places where people are deprived of liberty, and checks that fundamental rights of people in these places are respected) insisted “the more prisons we build, p the more we will fill them.” She added that carceral inflation year after year is not the solution and lamented that the law of 2014 has not been applied properly, and case-by-case sentencing, which was the heart of the Taubira’s bill, has not been implemented.

In a public radio program Hazan explained that according to French law, prison should remain the last result. The quantum leap in the number of short sentences demonstrates the opposite. The prison suicide rate is also rising with 90 attempts a month. Most of the attempts occur during the first days in prison. The suicide rate in French prisons has increased from 4 to 19 between 1945 and 2010, seven times more than outside of prison. The number of pretrial detainees is also on the rise. The state of emergency and its violent policing of demonstrations has sent many to pretrial detention.

Adeline Hazan remarked that women, who are only 3.8% of the detainees, have seen the degradation of their conditions of detention as a consequence of the over populated male prisons. She added that it is like a double sentence for women. The institution that she presides has produced numerous reports to alert the authorities about these situations. She noted that it is hard to be heard in this context of hard line security propaganda. Nonetheless, she acknowledged one of their recent victories in the elimination of incarceration of pregnant women.

In 2017, France will hold presidential elections. In France’s pre election climate of fear of terrorist attacks, the tough on crime approach seems to be the main message used by the political elite while neoliberal budget restrictions of public services increase and aggravate the inequality and abuse of those left behind in French society. In his most recent book Achille Mbembe has called this the “politics of enmity”. Prisons are places of enmity and gender racial discrimination: we don’t need more of them.

(Photo Credit: Liberation / Jacques Demarthon / AFP)

Radio WIBG: In France, in Saint Denis, Ghada Hatem opens a Women’s House

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

Two years ago Ghada Hatem, head of OBGYN at the Delafontaine Hospital, in Saint Denis, envisioned a Women’s House in Saint Denis, in the heart of the suburb of Paris that symbolizes immigration tensions and social precarity in France. Last Friday, the Women’s House was formally inaugurated.

Born in Lebanon, Ghada Hatem was fifteen when the civil war started in 1975: “It is probably what gave rise to a medical and social vocation in me.” She came to France to study medicine and choosing OBGYN as a specialty came naturally. She has always imagined exercising her “art” within a team.

Thanks to extraordinary teamwork, the Women’s House project went to completion. The day of the inauguration, a passionate and committed crowd was present along with some officials, all of them inspired by the project.

The Malian/French artist and singer Inna Modja has decided to be the benefactress of the Women’s House of Saint Denis. In her commitment to social justice, she has used her artistic expression to denounce female cutting, linking it to her engagement to end violence against women in general. As she explained, after she was cut in Mali when she was 5 against the will of her parents, “I fought to heal myself,” she remembered, first through surgery and then “step by step, I found the energy to become a woman again.”

Ghada and her colleagues received the surgical training to “repair” women who have been cut but as Ghada explains the repair is both physical and psychological and it is never a full restitution, the “scar” remains.

The House will offer many ways to address the trauma including support groups with the collaboration of Inna Modja.

While located within the hospital compound, the House has an independent entrance open to the street. Its role is to allow a free, intimate access to women who have already experienced all sorts of violence and humiliations: a place for them and with them. The need is enormous. The OBGYN department receives about 120 different nationalities and amid the 4500 births and 1000 abortions every year, and about 14% of the women had been cut. The medical system is not enough to help these women to recover their dignity.

This house should serve as a model to be reproduced everywhere it is needed.

Let’s listen to Ghada Hatem’s interview.

Ghada Hatem

Ghada Hatem

 

(Interview and photos by Brigitte Marti)

For Europe and beyond, there is no alternative: Asylum or barbarism

There is no beyond for the people who are fleeing wars and conflicts. They are caught in the net of inhumanity with borders erected to remove human rights, political representation, citizenship, and any existence from racialized women, men and children. The European inhabitants once believed that the Schengen zone was a place of no borders; of course, it was a false promise, at least for people. Nonetheless, the circulation of goods and merchandise has remained unaffected.

More borders than before the Schengen zone have been put in place. More walls and barbed wire have been installed around dubious borders to control the movements of people, whose status has evolved from the wretched of the world to the undesirables. Now, Europe is comprised of about 500 000 unwanted/undesirable people who live in camps around various borders of Europe, with 53 000 stranded in Greece.

We are watching the regularization of dehumanization and the deregulation of human rights and women rights. Refugee women are particularly in danger, an Afghan journalist who escaped brutal death after having been shot by the Taliban talks about her life in a Greek refugee camp with Amnesty international: “We are treated like animals. I’d rather be shot again than endure these conditions.” Additionally, sexual harassment is a constant issue in these camps.

With its numerous islands, Greece has been the main country of entry. Greece was also the target of Troika-managed neoliberal structural adjustment programs. The result is a dismantling of the social and political Greek society. While the undesirables are landing on the Greek islands, many of those same islands are now for sale to satisfy luxury investments and speculations. The European Union has created a hypocritical hell for human conditions, on one hand impoverishing an entire population in Greece under the aegis of fabricated debt economy and on the other hand stopping refugees on Greek soil.

Journalist and photographer Bulen Kiliç has been covering the refugee exodus since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, and, recently, he wanted to talk about the reality of living in these camps, the pestilential odor, the rain, the absence of sanitary conditions, the lack of food, the extreme precarity in which children are brought up or should we say brought down. He talked about and showed the “utter despair” that is being organized in the middle of Europe. 11000 to 12000 people, among them countless children, are stuck in the camp of Idonemi, in Greece. The camp of Idomeni is at the border with Macedonia. It is a ‘waiting’ camp, formed after the Macedonian government closed the borders violently, despite the condemnations of the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The people had nowhere to go. They may have escaped death, unlike the 2892 women, men and children who died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, but they live with no hope, treated like human waste, creating the perfect conditions for depression that leads one to lose one’s mind.

A group of international intellectuals and activists have signed a document “pas d’alternative, droit d’asile ou barbarie” ‘No alternative, asylum or barbarianism’. Indeed, there is no alternative. Europeans must organize to have asylum rights respected or they will face more barbaric reactions including their own. According to anthropologist Michel Agier, who signed the petition, one of the ways to fight this situation is to make these camps famous, because invisibility is an instrument of oppression.

In that spirit, here is Bulen Kiliç’s testimony about the camp of Idomeni: Losing their minds.

 

(Photo Credits: AFP / Bulen Kiliç)