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 Earlier in the month, building on the passage of a progressive law in Tunisia, both Jordan and Lebanon repealed laws that allowed rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims.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)

Women indignadas carry Tahrir Square and Spring, and occupy prison

Occupy, along with Indignados and Spring, is spreading, to new places, and so takes different, local and yet global forms.

In Nigeria this week, in response to fuel prices and, even more, to astronomical unemployment and crushing hopelessness among young people, protests, and more, have punctuated the landscape. Occupy Nigeria. Labor unions, women’s groups, farmers’ groups and others have joined, and to a certain extent followed, the lead of their younger comrades. In Kano, for example, the youth have established what they call “Tahrir Square”. Elsewhere, some say that an “Arab Spring” is coming to Sudan, to Zimbabwe, to a theater of engagement near you.

In Haiti, as in Chile as in the United Kingdom as in Spain, students are protesting the inequality of education and the crushing hopelessness it produces. As various forces attempt to privatize a university opening in Limonade, the students of the University of Haiti, l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, have declared themselves indignés. Indignados.

We are all, or almost all, moving towards our own Tahrir Square; we are all, or almost all, indignés, indignados. Language, concepts, actions not only exceed the borders they cross, they redefine notions of nationhood, identity. Or such is the dream and hope. Indignados articulate with Zapatistas articulate with Arab Spring and Tahrir Square articulate with indigenous movements and keep sending out new feelers, new shoots, new threads that somehow link new and old into something possible, something happening right now.

And so in northern Venezuela this week, 800 women and 150 children occupied the Yare prison complex. They came to visit their loved ones, who suffer overcrowding and overly long waits for trials, as so many do in so many prisons around the world.  Then, they simply refused to leave. They `self-kidnapped.’ They invaded and occupied the prison space with their indignation.

950 women and children looked at armed guards and said, “Nope, we’re not moving.” They invented Spring, the beginning of a kind of liberation.

You want to know what this Spring could mean? Ask the many immigrant women in US immigrant detention centers, women like Julie, who are told they have no right to legal representation, no right to due process, because, well, they’re not in `prison’. They’re in `detention.’ And so they sit, watched, and often sexually harassed and worse, by guards. Most of the detention centers are privately owned. Profit flows from the time women, mostly women of color, sit and wait.

Many of the women live with mental health illnesses. Actually, many are in crisis. Many of the women struggle with the consequences and scars of domestic violence. Many of the women know they are in `detention’ because their English `failed’ them, and because, though they lived in neighborhoods in which English was a second language, somehow the police only spoke English. Who’s failing whom here?

This week, the young women and men of Nigeria have urged us to occupy and liberate public policy. The young women and men of Haiti have urged us to occupy and liberate education. And the young women and children of Venezuela have called on us to occupy prison.

Occupy prison. We have been occupied by the global prison for far too long. Follow the lead of the women and children of Venezuela. Occupy prison. It’s time.

 

(Photo Credit: Fernando Llano/AP)

Young women refuse to be sacrifices

Welcome to 2012. The Arab Spring, the Occupy Spring, the Indignado Spring continue. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and beyond, women are on the move, on the march. In Saudi Arabia, women are on the drive as well. Young women.

Across the United States and Canada and beyond, young women are leading and expanding the Occupy movement. In Chile, women high school and university students are pushing to end the privatization of education, to open the schools to freedom, democracy, universal opportunity.

In India, young rural women are leading resistance campaigns to stop major land grabs.  In Afghanistan, teams of young women athletes are punching their way through centuries-old as well as recently devised glass ceilings.

In Kenya, young women are entering into local electoral politics. In Mauritius as well.

Women everywhere are on the move, keeping on keeping on, filling spaces with their voices, their bodies, their energy, their aspirations, their collective and singular power.

At the same time, women struggle with a master narrative in which they only function as sacrifices. In India, two farmers sacrifice a seven-year-old girl, Lalita, in order to ensure good crops. In Afghanistan, a fifteen-year-old girl, Sahar Gul, struggles to survive, and to live with dignity, having fled the torture inflicted on her by her husband and his mother and sister. When she first fled, the State actually returned her to `the family.

In the United States, girls like seventeen-year-old Nga Truong, are routinely forced into confessing crimes they didn’t commit and then are sent off to prison. In the United States, seventeen-year-old girls like Samantha L. are sent to prison for life, without possibility of parole.

In Australia, teen-age girls, like Danielle Troy, have to plead for compassion rather than punishment. Their crime? Being mothers.

And in South Africa, two teenage girls are attacked by a crowd of 50 or 60 `adult’ men. Why? Because one of them was wearing a mini-skirt. Four years ago, another young woman, Nwabisa Ngcukana, was stripped and assaulted for exactly the same `crime’, at exactly the same taxi rank.

From domestic violence to more general sexual violence to mob violence to State violence and beyond, the patriarchal story of young women is the story of being-sacrificed. If a man is told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his son, we are told that is a tragedy. A moral and ethical crisis. But where is the mother of that son in the story? And what if, instead, the father was told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his daughter? Would that too be considered a tragedy? An ethical and moral crisis?

Not by the patriarchs, it wouldn’t, as the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac so aptly demonstrates: “It is difficult not to be struck by the absence of woman… It is a story of father and son, of masculine figures, of hierarchies among men… Would the logic of sacrificial responsibility within the implacable universality of the law… be altered… if a woman were to intervene in some consequential manner? Does the system of this sacrificial responsibility and of the double `gift of death’ imply at its very basis an exclusion of woman or sacrifice of woman? A woman’s sacrifice or a sacrifice of woman? Let us leave the question in suspense.”

Women, and in particular young women, are saying, “No.” They reject the story that excludes them and the  `suspense’ that reduces them. They are saying – with their bodies, voices, actions and deeds – women and girls are not to be sacrificed. If `the Law’ says they must be, the Law is wrong. Women are making a better Law, living out a better story, and creating a better world. Another, better world is possible.

 

(Video Credit: WBUR)

Indignant women and girls ignite the Chilean Winter

Hunger strikers at a secondary school in Buin, near Santiago.

For two days this week, the streets of Chile filled with indignation … and indignados. These protests are the latest event in a movement that began over three months ago, with a scattered series of classroom boycotts and protests. Since then, students from secondary and tertiary institutions have led teachers and professors, parents and custodians, trade unionists and government workers in protest, in action, in song and dance, in hunger strike, in organizing. The State has responded by arresting 14,000. Already one 16-year-old has been shot and killed. And now, after waves of protest, after State-sponsored bloodshed and belligerence, the State claims it wants a dialogue.

The students began their protests to challenge and change the inequalities within the educational systems and structures, inequalities that are funded, or better de-funded, by mass privatization, on one hand, and a tax structure that sends relatively little money into the schools. Most students attend grossly underfunded public universities while the wealthy few attend the very few exclusive and exclusionary private universities. At present, Chilean university education is one of the most expensive in the world. Students assume extraordinarily high debts, with 50% of them considered heavily indebted. The schools are both expensive and lousy.

As inequality has grown in Chile, so has segregation. According to some, Chile is the second most socially segregated country in the world. The rich study – and play and live — only with the rich, the poor with the poor.

Students began to see the inequality gap as well as the increasing barriers and increasingly high walls as the State condemning them to a slow death sentence. Rather than roll over, they responded with outrage.

Women and girls lead the student movement. 23-year-old Camila Vallejo, for example, is the president of the University of Chile’s student union and the principal spokesperson for the Confederation of Chilean University Students. 18-year-old Francia Gárate is on hunger strike. So are 17-year-olds Johanna Choapa and Maura Roque. María José Zúñiga is spokeswoman for secondary school students at Liceo A-131, high school in Buin next to the capital, Santiago. Pictures and articles show innumerable unnamed women and girls on the front lines, at the bullhorns, on the various stages, in the hunger strikes.

Why are women leading the charge? For almost four decades, Chile has “manufactured modernity” by relentlessly pursuing a neoliberal economic policy: privatization, free trade, the works. And who “bears the brunt” and who literally does “the dirty work of neoliberalism” in Chile? Women. Who looks at the promises of an `emerging’ first world national economy and sees that the money goes for teargas canisters rather than books, for corporate palaces and hotels rather than classrooms? Who looks at the gap and sees who’s making those decisions? Women.

Indignant, insightful women and girls are igniting the Chilean Winter with their outrage.

 

(Photo Credit: Fernando Fiedler / IPS)

 

Domestics: I am myself and my circumstances

I am a member of a women’s group called Woman, Action and Change. We are part of Tenants and Workers United of Northern Virginia. We are predominantly Latina immigrant and migrant women from all parts of Latin America. Our members include Mexicans, Dominicanas, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Chileans, Argentines, many women from many countries. I am from Nicaragua. I have been living continuously in the United States for only 16 months.

When the group selected me to talk about domestic work, I was worried about how to approach a subject of which I am not an expert and then I remembered an expression of José Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, who said: “I am myself and my circumstances” so I decided to approach it from my own experience.

I’m from Nicaragua. My mother came from a poor farming family. As a single mother she raised 5 children alone. My mother was an entrepreneur. She had a store and all of us had to work ever since we could remember. I grew up with the image of a strong, working woman, and in an environment where domestic work was part of an effort to sustain the family. I grew up working and studying, got married and, as my mother did, I took care of my home and my children as part of my duties to support and protect my family.

Antecedents

As we all know, in developing countries, domestic work has been used as a mechanism to preserve machismo. In most of these countries, girls are educated to manage the home and boys are educated to have jobs and participate in the greater world.

Under these conditions, domestic work is a form of subjugation of women because their principle duty is to look after the home. Often, women are exploited and in the case of working women, they work the equivalent of triple shifts in order to manage a career and take care of the home. This represents an obstacle to professional development because many women drop out of school to find jobs to solve the needs of their family. For Latin American women like me, completing household chores in addition to our career responsibilities is a source of identity and pride.

There are countries that have incorporated legislation for domestic workers and social security. In some cases this is an appeal by the ruling parties to provide a progressive image and appear concerned about this part of the electorate marginalized by all public health policies.

This is a way to hide the inability to create better jobs. However, the inclusion of the domestic worker in the social security system provides them with medical care benefits and pension rights.

Domestic work in the USA

In this country domestic work has become a job for immigrant women to allow them to survive and meet the needs of their family. Except for in the movies, where we see an elegant butler, well trained and educated for these tasks, this “profession” seems to be exclusively for poor immigrant women.

A little while ago, the National Domestic Workers Alliance convened in Washington, D.C. This organization deals with the work of humanizing domestic work. It has brought to the table an interesting proposal to give more substance to this career.

Estimates are that the Baby Boomer generation reached 13 million in 2000 and in 2050 will be 27 million. This will require over 3 million healthcare workers to take care of them as they gradually age, making geriatric care a moral imperative for this country. Thousands of people, who have built the economic success of this country, will enter old age alone and without help as a result of globalization and the global economic crisis.

We have heard a lot about the budget cuts to social services in the media and the only proposals for jobs seem to focus on technology. In my opinion, there is no effort being made to support real people living in this country today. This is very irresponsible. Domestic workers can help resolve major societal issues through the care of the elderly, disabled and young members of our community. In the long run, this is much more important for building our quality of life because each of us will eventually be old and need help, too.

Today anti-immigrants accuse immigrants of taking jobs from Americans. I don’t think anyone is taking anything from anybody. The jobs filled by immigrant women, in particular, are low-wage domestic workers. These women work in horrid conditions for the chance to feed their families.

It is important that we discuss the legislative opportunities available to improve working conditions and educational opportunities for domestic workers. Improvements in those areas are connected to the outcomes and improvements in the care and wellbeing of our health, for the elderly, disabled and children. By supporting the development of women we will make our society stronger.

 

(Photo Credit: D.C. Intersections / Kate Musselwhite)