In Chile, a victory for HIV-positive women, for all women, everywhere!

In 2002, a 20-year-old, married rural woman now known as Francisca discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner were elated. When, early in the pregnancy, Francisca went in for tests, she discovered that she was HIV positive. She immediately began a protocol of antiretrovirals. She had a caesarean delivery, successfully, and the child was HIV negative. That child, now 22 years old himself, is still HIV negative. When Francisca emerged from the surgery, a nurse informed her that the surgeon had sterilized her.  Francisca never asked for or wanted to be sterilized and had never consented. In 2007, Francisca sued the doctor. In 2008, the case was dismissed; the court decided the doctor’s actions were not criminal. In 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo took the case, on Francisca’s behalf, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In August 2021, the Chilean government signed a settlement accepting responsibility and offering something like reparations: a housing subsidy and healthcare for both Francisca and her son as well as a commitment to raise awareness of HIV and reproductive rights. After eleven years of intensive struggle and labor, Francisca responded, “I receive the apology offered to me by the Chilean state… [but] it must be clear that I was not the only one. I am happy to know that my case can serve to end stereotypes about people living with HIV, and to improve healthcare for other women.” Francisca knew and knows: her struggle is a collective struggle is a universal struggle.

From 1935 to 1976, Sweden sterilized women it deemed socially or racially inferior. `No one’ knew about this program until it was revealed in 1997. In 1999, Sweden agreed to pay victim-survivors a one-off payment of $22,6000. Then, in 2012, it was `revealed’ that Sweden required transgender people to undergo sterilization. The law requiring sterilization was passed in 1972, but “no one” knew. In February 2012, thirty years after its passage, the law was repealed.

In 2009, three women, all HIV positive, sued the Namibian government for engaging in forced and coerced sterilizationIn 2014, five women, all HIV positive, sued the Kenyan government, two maternity hospitals, and two international ngo’s for engaging in forced and coerced sterilization. In 2014, in Chhattisgarh, India, 15 women died in a `sterilization camp’. Fifty others went in hospital, with at least 20 in critical condition. The world was forced to `discover’ the widespread policy of forced sterilization … yet again. In 2014, California formally banned forced and coerced sterilization of women prisoners. In 2015, the Virginia legislature agreed to pay $25,000 in compensation to those who had suffered forced sterilization during the Commonwealth’s decades long adventure in eugenics. In 2015, in South Africa, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS who had suffered forced sterilization lodged a formal complaint against the South African government. In 2018, former President of Peru Alberto Fujimoro was formally informed he would be charged with having engaged in forced sterilizations on thousands of indigenous women, during his reign of terror. That case is still pending. In 2018, Native and Indigenous women in Canada filed a class action lawsuit for decades of forced sterilizations in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba. In 2019, the Japanese legislature offered a one-off compensation of around $28,770 to victim-survivors of forced sterilization. That was the result of a 23-year campaign.

Francisca and her supporters know this long and arduous history. They knew all along that no state has ever willingly, easily acknowledged the torture, violation, cruelty of decades of forced sterilization. They knew that doctors always claimed, as did Francisca’s, that they knew what was right and wrong, and that the forced sterilization was the ethical route. The ostensible reasons differed from one area to another, from one period to another, but the underlying current was always the same. The women were subhuman and needed, demanded, to be violated.

On May 26, 2022, newly elected President Gabriel Boric announced, “I would like to start by apologising to Francisca ….  for the serious violation of your rights and also for the denial of justice and for all the time you had to wait for this. How many people like you do we not know? It hurts to think that the state, which today I have the honour to represent, is responsible for these cases. I pledge to you, and to those who today represent you here in person, that while we govern, we will give the best of each one of us as authorities so that something like this will never happen again and certainly so that in cases where these atrocities have already been committed, they will be properly redressed.”. Boric went on to promise to provide specialist training to medical workers on HIV/AIDS to curb discrimination and to ensure that judges and lawyers are aware that affected women have a right to reparations.

Chilean activist Elayne Leyton responded, “For years, no one has talked about women living with HIV. We’ve had to hide in our houses like rats, suffer discrimination, and practically eliminate ourselves from society. At last, someone is taking responsibility.” Elayne Leyton has lived with HIV since the late 1990s. Sara Araya, Coordinator of Vivo Positivo, added, “Finally, justice was done; through this case we call on all governments to continue to invest in the elimination of HIV discrimination in all services, including health care”. Finally, Francisca, who, in order to protect her anonymity, was not at the announcement, sent this message, “I would love to have been me, with my voice, my face and my body, the one who after so many years of struggle stood present to lead this act in my own name. However, making my identity known would have closed endless doors for me. To this day, people who carry HIV are still looked down upon with contempt as if it was our decision to become infected. However, I want to believe with conviction that this will change.”

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Jennifer Leason / Canadian Family Physician)

Hope in the time of choler: Nigeria, South Korea, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, Chile

The Green Wave, Bogota, February 2022

Welcome to March 2022, International Women’s Month; welcome to March 8, International Women’s Day; welcome to … the Thunderdome where, amidst all the recognition and all the ceremonies honoring women’s accomplishments and very being, one government, Nigeria’s, rejects Constitutional amendments designed to begin the process of gender parity, equity, equality. Another country, South Korea, elects a new President largely because he’s not only misogynist but explicitly anti-feminist. In a third country, Guatemala, on March 8, the legislature passed a law which extended the prison term for terminating a pregnancy from three to ten years, banned the teaching of sexual diversity, and, for good measure, in the name of the “protection of life and family”, banned same-sex marriages. So, basically, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in Texas. Welcome to the Thunderdome.

On Sunday, the newly elected President of South Korea reiterated his determination to eliminate the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. He argued, first, that the work of the ministry had been completed. There was complete and total gender equality in South Korea. No matter that employment numbers, prior to the pandemic and even more, paint a different picture. No matter that violence against women and non-binary people is on the rise. What really matters is that `feminists’ have gone too far, and that’s the reason the new President is shutting the machinery, such as it is, down. It’s also a reason he was elected. He campaigned explicitly as an anti-feminist, who argued that gender based quotas stand in the way of “national unity”; that feminism caused South Korea’s low birth rate; that women falsely report sexual violence, and they must be punished, severely. Exit polls suggest that men in their 20s and 30s voted overwhelmingly for the anti-feminist.

These are grim times. But they are not without hope. There is light, there is real and serious opposition in the Thunderdome.

February ended with a landmark decision in Colombia decriminalizing abortion and setting the stage for the government to go further to codify and secure women’s access to reproductive health services as well as to dignity and autonomy. This victory in court was the product of numerous women’s organizations and movements doing the arduous, and joyful, work of reaching out and reaching in, of engaging with all parts of the society, with demanding while also educating while also learning. This is part of the great Green Wave that is surging across Latin America. It is also part of the electoral politics of Colombia, and so it is worth noting that in yesterday’s primary elections, leftist candidate Gustavo Petro has taken a resounding lead. The elections are in May. Further, on March 8, the Congress of Sinaloa, a state in northwest Mexico, decriminalized abortion.

And speaking of elections, in December, Chile elected 36-year-old, leftist, pro-feminist Gabriel Boric to be President of Chile. Boric is the youngest person to ever hold that position. Perhaps more importantly, he won with the largest majority ever recorded in a Chilean election. On Friday, March 11, Gabriel Boric was sworn in. He stood with his progressive, majority-women Cabinet by his side. Bread and roses, words and deeds. Hope springs in the place that served as the proving ground for neoliberal devastation, and not only for Chile, for all of Latin America and beyond. Even now, even here, there is hope and optimism, being found, being made.

Chile

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: Nathalia Angarita / New York Times) (Photo Credit 2: Carolina Pérez Dattari / Open Democracy)

Chile’s Constitutional Reformation From a Feminist Perspective

Chile’s new constitution will be the first drafted in the aftermath of the global #MeToo movements and a wave of feminist activism across Latin America confronting strict abortion laws, violence against women, and femicide. The conception of the new document will be crucial in the fight for gender equality and political representation in Chile. The new constitution will spur progress for women in Chile and potentially set a new global standard for gender equality in politics. 

Generations of Chilean women have long fought for social, gender, and class equality—beginning under the two most decisive periods of Chilean history, the socialist government of President Salvador Allende and the military government of General Augusto Pinochet. More recently, feminists and LGBT organizations have mobilized to confront a brutal neoliberal and increasingly authoritarian state. Chilean feminists have protested state violence, anti-statism, and anti-capitalist beliefs. These movements centered on accessibility to legal abortion, violence against women, and femicide have ignited broader demands for social equity outside the parameters of gender and reproductive issues in Latin America. 

The 2019 Chilean feminist anthem, “Un Violador en Tu Camino” (“Rapist in your Path”), which is fundamentally rooted in the feminist theory and anti-statism, demands the Chilean state to claim responsibility and accountability for Chilean women’s violence and deaths. First performed in Chile by the interdisciplinary, intersectional, and trans-inclusive feminist collective, Las Tesis, the anthem and performance quickly became viral and spread from France, Mexico to Kenya, and India, igniting a global feminist movement against violence. 

In the wake of recent feminist movements such as “Un Violador en Tu Camino” and similar movements in Latin America, Chile has elected 155 members, 77 women and 78 men. The members will be in charge of writing Chile’s new Magna Carta and decide on fundamental issues as social rights, the country’s private property regime, and the state’s role. This process emerged in response to the demands of the social outbreak that shook the country in October 2019. The procedure, supported by 78% of the voters in a referendum in October 2020, will end in 2022 with another widespread consultation that will approve or reject the text that will replace the 1980 Constitution written under the military regime of Augusto Pinochet.

With the new constitution, what does that mean for women? The structural reformation will prove pivotal in creating a more inclusive and representative body. The nearly perfect, 77 women and 78 men, gender parity provides a step in the right direction. Feminist activists and organizers consider this provision a historic victory for women in obtaining political visibility. Activists believe the gender parity will create visibility for minority communities, including the country’s Indigenous communities, LGBT groups, and gender non-conforming people. 

Though the outcome of this gender parity and the new body of laws remains yet to be seen, one thing is certain—feminist grassroots organizers globally are eagerly awaiting the long-overdue seat(s) at the table that has the potential to set a new global standard of politics.

 

(By Tatiana Ruiz)

(Image Credit: Emily Matteson / Anthropology News)

In the Streets of Chile, the People are Singing: El Derecho de Vivir en Paz

Under the military dictatorship of Pinochet in the 1970s, economic austerity was placed on the people of Chile. Under the guise of reform, neoliberalist measures on the people of Chile were implemented, resulting in widespread economic hardship and massive wealth inequality. For thirty years, the working class and indigenous populations in Chile suffered under Pinochet’s market-driven economic model, which privatized pensions, health and education. Unions were decimated as was the public education system, and public services were shifted to private enterprises. Chile remains a country with the highest cost of living in South America and is considered one of the most unequal in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development group of nations. 

The recent uprising occurring in the country began as a protest against a hike in metro ticket prices and quickly escalated into a massive revolt against the significant income inequality in the country. The proposed transit fare rate would have risen to nearly 1.20 a ride, a 4% increase; a significant burden placed on low-income families who spend 13% of their budgets on transportation, and retirees who are forced to survive on a pension that is below the minimum wage. 

The response to the simmering anger over the rising cost for the poor and old? That they just get up earlier and leave for work before seven in the morning to avoid paying the rush hour rate. Now after a million people took part in a demonstration on October 25th, thousands of other protests from poor, young, students, indigenous populations, and union workers, the government has finally realized that squeezing more money and work and time out of the poor may not be the most competent economic model. 

Piñera has walked back on the neoliberal policies that have entrenched inequality in Chile, but they are not enough. As the last nail in the coffin of Pinochet’s cruelty, his constitution is echoes the continuing destruction of working people and the elderly in the country. While Piñera has moved to raise the minimum wage and pensions, demand pay cuts from government officials, and fired his entire cabinet, many see these gestures as token and symbolic at best – Pinochet’s constitution is still in play – and have demanded a truly democratic society, where the power is not vested only in the hands of the wealthiest and the out of touch. And the people are not backing down, even after the president’s paltry promises.

Meanwhile, how are American citizens reacting to our overwhelming inequality; where are the uprisings that should have been in place after the NYC’s fare enforcement? Where is the anger when poor men and women are tackled and tased for not paying $2.00 while the city employees four cops at almost $80,000 a year to brutalize them? Will we ever be as revolutionary, or will it happen too late?

(Photo Credit: CanalC)

Women’s Month 2017: Victories for women in Chile, Lebanon, Jordan, India

Wafa Bani Mustafa

In South Africa, August 9 is Women’s Day, a national holiday that commemorates the 1956 women’s anti-pass march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria: “Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed.”Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom! wathint’ abafazi,wathint’ imbokodo,uza kufa!” The women, 20,000 strong, sang that song on that historic day, and it has inspired, and continues to inspire. August is Women’s Month in South Africa and so, with that in mind, globally this month, and along with bad and terrible news, there’s still much to celebrate, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, Chile and India. Within 48 hours this week, Chile eased its ban on abortion and India eliminated the triple talaq instant divorce. Earlier in the month, building on the passage of a progressive law in Tunisia, both Jordan and Lebanon repealed laws that allowed rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. From Asia to Africa to South America, women are on the move.

On August 4, 2017, Jordanian lawmakers voted to repeal Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code. This article was one of the many “marry-your-rapist” laws around the world. Tunisia abolished its version of that law in late July. While many women mobilized over years to end the law, the current leader of the movement to abolish Article 308 has been Wafa Bani Mustafa, a lawyer and Member of the Parliament, head of the Women’s Caucus and Chairperson of the Coalition of Women MPs to Combat Violence against Women. According to Wafa Bani Mustafa, “Article 308 has its roots in French and Latin laws. European countries only fairly recently abolished similar clauses. In France, that happened in 1994; in Italy, 1981. The introduction of such laws in the Arab world happened largely through a mix of colonialism and through the experiences of other countries in the region. Many of the countries used Egypt as an example, which got its laws through the Ottomans and the French colonial involvement in Egypt. But in essence, it is a European product. The important thing to focus on is that such articles have no religious or societal justification – they only discriminate against women.”

For Wafa Bani Mustafa, abolition of Article 308 is part of a multinational feminist decolonization project. Two weeks after the Jordanian lawmakers’ vote, on August 16, 2017, Lebanese lawmakers abolished Article 522 of Lebanon’s penal code, which also allowed a rapist to escape prosecution and punishment if he married his victim.

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a Chilean court ruled that a law easing restrictions on abortion is Constitutional. Michele Bachelet had promised and worked hard to pass the law. According to Bachelet, who had introduced the first version of the law in 2015, “Today, women have won, democracy has won, all of Chile has won.” The law allows women to seek abortions if the fetus is not violable, if the woman’s life is in danger, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

The next day, August 22, 2017, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the so-called triple talaq, which allowed men the power to instantly divorce their wives, unconstitutional. Five women brought this case forward. One of them, Shayara Bano, said, “Finally, I feel free today. I have the order that will liberate many Muslim women.”

From Jordan to Lebanon to Chile to India and beyond, women pushed the State to revoke prohibitions that endangered women’s lives. In every instance, the victory this month is both landmark and partial. As Wafa Bani Mustafa explained, “This issue isn’t specific to Jordan or to the Arab world. There are countries around the world that continue to stigmatise women. There are countries that have very developed legislation, yet in practice do not treat women equally. There are countries out there where women suffer way more than they do in the Arab world in similar crimes.” The struggle continues, and women are taking it forward. Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed … in all the languages of the world.

Celebrations in Chile

 

(Photo Credit 1: Al Jazeera / Wafa Bani Mustafa) (Photo Credit 2: Guardian / Esteban Felix / AP)

“International Women’s Day” in Paillaco (CHILE): A Story of Chiaroscuros

Basta de violencia

The active verb “to celebrate” is not the same as “to commemorate”. Commemoration implies the exertion or practice of our memory; it calls to the remembering of something that is significant to a single person or a group of people. I believe it is important to linger on this distinction considering that on March 8th I repeatedly heard these two phrases: “Congratulations on your day” and “Congratulations for being a woman”. Naturally I was not the recipient of these praises, since I am a heavily bearded and somewhat sturdy man; nevertheless I repeatedly heard these words both on the radio and in the cafe I usually go to work in. Even though they respond to the “International Women’s Day” –universally declared by the United Nations- such commemoration does not originally refer to all the women in the world. I believe March 8th immortalizes a bold, daring, and brave group of women who fought for a set of ideals and rights that were not yet enshrined in our modern societies. The 1911 fire in Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in the state of New York moved the hearts of people all over the globe, for this tragedy exposed the precariousness and fragility in which women exposed themselves daily in private and public spaces.

One hundred and five years have not passed fruitlessly. In Chile, women have conquered an array of political and social rights that have -in part- corrected their historically disadvantaged position in society. The multiple abuses and the asymmetrical circumstances existent between men and women have decreased over time, for these social anomalies have been present in our culture and social structures for far too long. Yet we can all agree that we have a long road ahead towards gender equality.

This year I had the privilege of commemorating “Women’s Day” with a wonderful group of peasant women in Paillaco: a rural village in the south of Chile. Paillaco uncovers the light and the dark present in the life of many Chilean women. This township, located in the region with the highest rates of violence against women in the country, drags a sad history of mistreatments and abuses. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that Paillaco became the first municipality in Chile to inaugurate a Center for Women (Centro de la Mujer), dedicated to support and aid abused women. During 2014, in less than two moths, two homicides alerted the community to act upon a situation that seemed untenable. This reveals the reality and the dark surroundings of rural Chilean women. It is a social pathology that befalls to one out of three women in the country according to the statistics of the National Service for Women or “Servicio Nacional de la Mujer” (SERNAM), victims of physical, sexual, and/or psychological violence. Due to incessant arrangements made by the city’s mayor, Paillaco has the first “Centro de la Mujer” in the country out of 23 “Centros” originated by the current administration led by President Michelle Bachelet to abused women.

Yet, the dark lives with the light; these atrocities coexist with a promising and enlightened local initiative. Paillaco now has the first public educational program aiming towards gender equality from preschool to high school: developing and implementing workshops involving students, parents, teachers, all following a solid curriculum that assess students undergoing gender issues. The proud city of Paillaco is commencing a profound path of social transformations through education.

If I had to tell a story that would reflect faithfully chiaroscuro phenomena in the present life of fighting Chilean women, I would speak of doña Rosa Barrientos Torres, a 90-year-old peasant. All of us, attendees to her commemoration, applauded in her honor due to her fortitude, tenacity and resilience against adversity. During the macabre coup of September 11th 1973, Rosa’s husband was killed together with 16 other peasants in the vicinities of Paillaco. The democratically elected president was being overthrown, and Rosa, alone faced distress and abandonment with nine children to be taken care of. Relentless in her struggle to feed, dress, and educate her children, Rosa managed to work day and night tackling deprivations, fear, and anguish for losing her life companion. The luminosity of her story comes with her message, which she shared with us that day: The struggle for a better living shall continue without hesitations. Forgiveness and reconciliation shall be our guide towards reaching true peace. Her wish was that her story served as an example of what shall never happen again, because life is a miracle that is well above all political, religious, economical or social considerations. At that moment, the room was static and speechless. I witnessed faces filled with emotion, watery eyes in all of us present. It was then when I understood the beauty, the powerful moral and righteousness of the courageous women that deserve to be commemorated all over the world. From her humbleness, doña Rosa shared with us a fraction of her wisdom and hope for humanity, and I was left with nothing but hope and gratitude.

 

(Photo Credit: Benjamín Elizalde)

In Chile, lunch ladies beaten and detained

Lunch ladies beaten and detained

Last week women who work as manipuladoras de alimentos for public schools in Chile met with the government in Santiago to negotiate contract issues that have been going on for over a year.  To show support for the negotiators, manipuladoras from regions throughout Chile organized a peaceful demonstration outside the government offices.  Special forces showed up in buses wearing riot gear and sprayed the crowd with hoses.  They beat one woman for “blocking traffic” and detained her along with twelve others.

When the police hauled these twelve women away, the union leaders withdrew from negotiations until they were released.  At that point, the union was able to get the government to agree to an across-the-board salary increase to $300.000 CLP per month ($441 US per month for a full-time job — this in a nation that strives to attain “developed” status in the international economic community by 2020), and a yearly bonus of $67.500 CLP ($99 US).  Importantly, the union was also able to stop the government from reclassifying many of the manipuladoras as “maids” who would receive lower wages.

While the government is the target here, the manipuladoras have had to appeal to them because the private companies that actually employ the women have repeatedly broken their contractual agreements without recourse.  Some of these companies are under investigation for fraud, and one company that went out of business after a fraud investigation simply stopped paying the women.  Because their job is to provide food for children, they continued to show up for work for two months without being paid.

Now the government has made a splashy announcement that October 30 will be the national Dia de la Manipuladora.  The women are not impressed, and they vow to continue to fight for their own rights and protections:

“We will not give up!  We’re not just machines that generate profits to the national and foreign companies that have been sold the feeding of our students.  We’re not statistics, much less maids.  We are people and we are demanding what rightfully belongs to us.”

¡Arriba las que luchan!

 

(Photo Credit: Sandra Carola Olivares Martinez)

In Chile, women shut down Monsanto’s Law

Good news! Women across Chile organized, mobilized and shut down, at least for now, the dreaded Monsanto Law. The law would have given multinational corporations the power to patent seeds they discover, develop or modify. For small and mid-sized farmers, which is to say for the rural 99%, this would have been catastrophic. It would have been disastrous for Chile’s `seed heritage’ as well. Women lead the campaign to stop the law, and last week, the government withdrew the bill.

On Monday, March 17, Secretary General to the Presidency Ximena Rincón announced the withdrawal. Rincón had long been a leading critic of the bill, both in Parliament and in government more generally.

ANAMURI, Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas or the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women, was a central organizer and mobilizer in the campaign. ANAMURI co-director Alicia Muñoz explained, “All of the resistance that rural organizations, principally indigenous communities, led during these past years was a success. We were able to convey to the parliament how harmful the law would be for the indigenous communities and farmers who feed us all. Big agriculture, or agro-business is just that, a business. It doesn’t feed our country.” In their organizing and mobilizing, ANAMURI explicitly linked the capitalization and commoditization of food and of seeds to capital and to patriarchy. Repeatedly, they stressed that the right to food and the struggle for biodiversity is part of the women’s liberation struggle in Chile and everywhere.

Camila Montecinos, of GRAIN, focuses on biodiversity and food sovereignty. Her organization worked with CLOC, la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo, to organize rural women, workers, and indigenous communities to educate the members of government and the general population as to what is at stake, and again not only for Chile: “This struggle has not ended. Certainly the agrobusiness sector is going to lobby fiercely. We’re ready for that. Sometimes Chile looks like one of the most submissive countries, but if we can win here, others can win elsewhere where similar laws are in place.” In Argentina, for example, women like Sofía Gatica are leading a similar campaign against Monsanto and Monsanto Laws.

Lucía Sepúlveda, of Rapal, la Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y sus Alternativas or Alliance for a Better Quality of Life/Pesticide Action Network, has been organizing to stop the destruction of small farms and the resultant production of rural food deserts, in the heart of the farmlands. At the same time, when the bill was pulled, Sepúlveda reminded the women around her that it was originally Michelle Bachelet, in 2009, who originally presented the bill to Parliament.

After years of organizing, cajoling, mobilizing, and meeting, Bachelet’s emissary pulled the bill for reconsideration. At the same time, Bachelet announced this week her intention to establish a Ministry for Women and Gender Equality. Alicia Muñoz noted that ANAMURI has been organizing and lobbying for this Ministry since the advent of democracy in Chile.

In Chile, women are on the move: in the government, the fields and factories, the schools, the households and the streets: “We won because we organized an enormous collective effort and massively broadcast and shared our position.” In the words of an earlier Chilean popular movement, “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”

 

(Image Credit: ANAMURI)

Chilean resort worker Luz Herrera says `NO!’ to austerity

A funny thing happened on the way to austerity. Women workers said, `NO!” And won. This week, it happened in Chile.

Sebastián Piñera is the president of Chile. He is Chile’s first billionaire president. He is a family man. He says he is a “Christian humanist.”

In December of last year, Piñera was at a summit meeting in Mexico when, to `lighten’ the mood, he told a joke concerning the difference between a politician and a woman. The joke ends as follows: “When a lady says no, she means maybe; when she says maybe, she means yes; when she says yes, then she’s not a woman.” No one in the Chilean women’s movements or sectors laughed. Even Carolina Schmidt, Piñera’s Minister for Women’s Services, publically criticized the President.

Sexual violence is not funny. Neither is the exploitation of women workers.

This past Sunday, Piñera and his family were on their way to Mass, when three women workers from the Bahía Coique resort stopped him and started shouting. They explained that they had been working for years, were receiving criminally sub-standard and illegal wages, were forced to work too long hours with no time off. Piñera is part-owner of Bahía Coique, in the southern part of Chile.

The leader of the trio seems to have been Luz Herrera. She explained that she is a laundry worker who has worked at the resort for nine years. She hasn’t received a raise in three years. The salaries are below the minimum wage. She can’t take care of her family on the money she earns. There’s no contract, there’s no protections, there’s workers’ comp or health insurance. She’s forced to work without breaks and without days off, in the very place that the President goes `to relax’.

Piñera vacations, often, at Bahía Coique. That’s where he was when the women workers approached him. He was, no doubt, getting some down time after his grueling time making jokes on the summit.

The government response was textbook classic. First, they tried to ignore the women. Then they claimed that Piñera didn’t have any holdings in the resort. Then they argued that the President can’t be expected to pay attention to every detail of his vast holdings. It’s hard to see the workers from the commanding heights.

That was yesterday.

Today, Luz Herrera announced that she and her fellow workers had received a raise that would bring the company in compliance with the law. Herrera is neither impressed nor grateful: “For us, life is hard, but for him, as President, he always washes his hands of us. He’s rich, he has money, and so for him, it’s all fine and dandy. But for us, it’s not good. In fact, it’s very bad. I am not afraid of anyone. I began this, and I will see it to its conclusion, because it’s not just about me. It’s about all workers.”

The women students of Chile are indignant. The women workers of Chile are as well. And they are not afraid of anyone or anything. They have begun this, and they will see it to its conclusion. Ask Luz Herrera.

 

(Photo Credit: Radio Biobio)

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 


Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 

(Photo Credit: BeBlogerra)