Violence is violence……

Gloria Amparo Arboleda, Maritza Asprilla, Mary Medina of the Mariposas Network

Gloria Amparo Arboleda, Maritza Asprilla, Mary Medina of the Mariposas Network

When a woman is knocked out by her partner, fiancé, or spouse and her assault is caught on camera, is there something to be done at the time of that assault instead of waiting for a tabloid media to use it to make profit?

In “For real equality between women and men,” recently passed in France, violence against women appeared as a component that keeps women dominated. The telephone “grand danger” was part of the tools used to address the immediate crisis and to guarantee the woman who is threatened that she won’t stand alone. In the case of Janay Rice, the “surveillance” camera of an elevator in a casino was not there to protect the woman.

Whether both were drunk is not the issue, the issue is violence and what should be done about it.

Now the video of the assault on Janay Rice is shown everywhere, many have commented and nothing is done to exit from this violence. The woman is re victimized, she is accused of many things from having married the man after the assault to having angered her fiancé and thereby triggering the attack. Meanwhile the main issue for women experiencing this violence is that they don’t have a space to speak.

In this case, Ray Rice, the perpetrator, is punished by the corporate sport organization, the NFL. The sport itself is a spectacle that uses violence to attract viewers. Some studies have suggested that the numerous injuries, mainly cranial injuries, have been overlooked. In a racialized way, the Bread and Circus of the Roman Empire is still a concept in men’s sport. Capitalist ventures in sport demand return on investment, and an organization like the NFL acts as if protecting its logo is more important than reducing the impact of violence on women’s lives. At the same time, players’ injuries may have a role in transporting violence from the playing fields to the everyday life of players. Although it is just one factor, it speaks volumes about the organization and what women who are with the players have to deal with as if it were their designated role.

Meanwhile, the statistics on domestic violence are staggering. In the United States and elsewhere, many don’t report their assaults for fear of repercussions, which take various forms but always affect women gravely, socially and physically.

Celebrity cases are unfortunately not about violence against women. Instead, they contribute to the overall normalization of violence. Many should learn from the women of Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro who received the UN Nansen prize on September 12, 2014 for helping and caring for victims of domestic violence in Bonaventura, a place where violence is rampant. As Mery Medina, a member of the group, declared, “The fight is to fight indifference. One way of protesting is not to keep our mouths shut.” It is the only way to form solutions to exit from the violence.

 

(Photo Credit: Radio Nacional de Colombia / EFE / Raquel Castán)

In Colombia, the Butterflies’ bravery beyond words

Members of la Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro

In 2010, in the Colombian Pacific port city and environs of Buenaventura, a small group of women decided that enough was too much. Too many women were suffering violence at the hands of too many armed groups. Too many children were being assaulted. Too much violence was becoming the air and water of everyday life in Buenaventura. And so they set out to create a space of healing. The started a group, a movement really, called “Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro”. The Network of Butterflies With New Wings Building the Future.

Today, they number around 120. One hundred twenty women go out each day and meet with women and child survivors and organize. They mobilize as they empower, yes empower, the women to, first, resist the violence, both internal and external, and then to turn the swords into ploughshares. This movement began with just a few women, like Gloria Amparo Arboleda and Mery Medina. Today, it includes women organizers and leaders such as Maritza Asprilla Cruz, Fabiola Rodríguez Salazar, Loira Cecilia Rosero, and many others.

Today, the United Nations recognized the Butterflies with the Nansen Refugee Award. In awarding the prize, the UN representative said, “Their bravery goes beyond words.” Yes and no. Their bravery is in words and deeds. As Gloria Amparo Arboleda explained, “Denouncing violence here is a risky business. But somebody has to. Besides, here you risk losing your life whether you put up a fight or not. It’s better to die fighting.”

Here’s how the Butterflies describe themselves: “We are a network of women and organizations that work to defend the rights and quality of life for women in Buenaventura, bringing tools for the eradication of all forms of violence against women. The `Butterflies with New Wings Building the Future’ envisions a Pacific region free of all forms of violence against women, contributing to the formulation of public policy, the formation, investigation and intervention for the visibility and eradication of this problem in the entire zone of Buenaventura.”

The Butterfly women work towards complete transformation. They intend to do more than heal individual women and children, although that would be accomplishment enough, and they have already worked closely with 1000 families in their short four-year history. They aim to transform Buenaventura, Colombia’s new horror capital, into a place of peace that will inform the rest of the country, the national government, every single household in the country, and the world.

Their work is precisely not bravery beyond words. Their work is the work of ordinary women everywhere, who address the violence and, first, say no more, and then work, every day, to heal, to create peace, to build the future … today.

Gloria Amparo Arboleda builds a new future

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: United Nations) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / UNHCR / J. Arredondo)

For rural women around the world, NOW IS THE TIME!

Around the world, rural women are organizing and mobilizing, and leading agrarian movements, land rights movement, farm workers and peasant movements, and more. From the farmlands and highlands of Peru and Colombia to the farmlands of Zimbabwe and the United States, to the polling stations of India, and beyond, rural women are taking charge.

In the highlands of Peru, in Cajamarca, women are fighting to stop a multinational mining consortium from devastating their waters, lands, and lives. At the helm of this struggle are Máxima Acuña Chaupe, who began her campaign as an attempt to secure her family’s land; and Mirtha Vasquez Chuquilin, a lawyer who works for Comprehensive Training for Sustainable Development (Grupo de Formación Integral para el Desarrollo Sostenible, GRUFIDES). Together, these two women are bringing together popular forces, women’s groups and knowledge, and legal and technical skills. They combat the mining security forces as well as the mining companies’ lawyers while they also combat State security forces and other, more anonymous agents.

The risk to their lives is great, but the risk of not struggling is greater.

Likewise, in Colombia, peasant farmers are engaged in an agrarian strike that has paralyzed much of the country. At the helm of this campaign is Olga Quintero, a leader of the Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, which was on strike last year for 52 days. Last December, two armed masked men broke into Quintero’s home. She wasn’t there, and so they bound and gagged her three-year-old daughter. Quintero’s response: “Ni el dinero ni la tierra. El miedo fue lo único que quedó bien repartido entre todos en Colombia.” “Neither money nor land. Fear was the only thing well distributed among all in Colombia.”

Her response is to meet fear with courage, hope, love, and mass organization.

In Zimbabwe, Lena Murembwe, saw a problem. Rural women didn’t know their rights to land. More to the point, rural women didn’t know they had any rights. And so Murembwe’s organization, the Women’s Resource Foundation, began giving workshops and trainings to women in their own rural districts. Widows like Lucia Makawa, 43 years old and the mother of five children, grabbed the opportunity, studied hard, organized, met with traditional chiefs, and took claim to their land. Now Makawa owns six hectares of land, and can see something like a future: “As women we were not even allowed to own a piece of land. But with support from WRF, we have managed to mobilise the support of the chiefs and we have helped solve cases where women were deprived of their right to own land. Now I have my own land and I am in the process of sourcing materials to start building structures. I also have enough space to do my farming.”

Other women, such as Beulah Muchabveyo, studied, learned their rights, and organized to create a dignified, safe space for themselves: “In the past my husband was not treating me as a person at all. He was abusive and never helped with farming work but expected me to give him money after selling our produce. Things are now different in my family after I underwent training in gender and human rights. The training has also given us a platform to meet and discuss issues affecting our lives as women.”

These women know and teach: there is power in knowledge, in union, and in organizing.

In India, as the elections proceed, there’s unprecedented movement among rural women, and unprecedented discussion of `what rural women want.’ What do rural women want? Everything! Rural women say they want public dialogue. They want to be heard. They want a say. They want respect and dignity. They want decent jobs, education, health care. They want an end to violence against women and girls. They want an end to violence. They want an end to predatory lending that targets rural populations and often sends them headlong into bondage or death. They want their own representatives – like Dayamani Barla or Soni Sori – and their proven allies, like Medha Patkar, in Parliament. They want the State. They want democracy. They want it all.

And in the United States, the women of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers want it all as well. When women in the tomato fields of Florida, women like Lupe Gonzalo and Isabel, organize for farm worker’s rights and dignity, they put the struggle to end sexual violence and harassment front and center. They say they cannot wait til after the vote, after the contract, after the revolution for their bodily and spiritual well being to become `an issue.’ They say now is the time.

From Peru and Colombia to Zimbabwe to India to the United States, and beyond and between, rural women, peasant women, women farm workers are organizing intensely because their lives matter urgently: NOW IS THE TIME!

(Photo Credit: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

In Colombia, Fernando César Niebles Fernández died today

 

Fernando César Niebles Fernández died today … or was it Monday. It’s hard to tell. Anyway, he didn’t die. He was murdered.

This past Monday, January 27, a fire broke out in the Modelo prison, in Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. By day’s end, ten prisoners were reported dead, over 40 injured, many seriously. Today, the death toll rose to 11.

The fire has been described as an inferno, but the real inferno, the real hell, is the prison itself. Designed to hold around 400 prisoners, at the time of the fire, Modelo held close to 1200. The cellblock where the fire broke out was designed to hold 196. At the time of the fire, it held 716 That’s 265 percent of capacity. Modelo was and is a death trap, pure and simple. Colombia prison system is at almost 200 percent capacity.

When the fire broke out, it was thought to be a conflict between different groups. And so the staff shot tear gas into the cells and that was that. As the fire intensified, the bars remained closed. The inferno was not the fire. The inferno was `protocol.’

And now? The stories of the families pour forth, with photos and videos and words, words, words. Mothers and fathers, like Rocío Cantillo Torres  and Atanasio Mutis, wait for their sons. Sisters, wives, daughters, friends, neighbors, strangers wait for news, wait for death. Modelo was and is inferno. The event of death is important, but the death itself was long foretold. Who could survive such conditions?

And today, it’s Mercedes María Suarez’s turn. She’s Fernando César Niebles Fernández’s mother. Her son lived with severe mental health issues, caused by a road accident four years ago. He needed help. Instead, he got prison. It’s a common enough story. She weeps for her son, and asks how the State could have done this, could have come to this pass.

The ordinariness of the story of Fernando César Niebles Fernández and Mercedes María Suarez doesn’t reduce the suffering, the personal and individual tragedy, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s a national or historical tragedy. It’s not. It’s happened too many times, in Colombia and Brazil, in January, and around the world. Stuff the prisons to beyond bursting and what do you think will happen? The deaths at Barranquilla, like the deaths earlier this month in Maranhão in Brazil, were no accident. They were public policy. As James Baldwin once argued, “It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”

There will be more fires, and some day the fire, the fire next time, will not be the fire of the criminally innocent: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more fire, the fire next time!” But today, weep for Fernando César Niebles Fernández, weep with Mercedes María Suarez.

 

(Photo Credit: El Universal (Colombia))

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)

Jakadrien Turner: there was no mistake

 

Jakadrien Turner walks with grandmother Lorene Turner and mother Johnisa Turner

Jakadrien Turner is a United States citizen. She is fifteen years old. She speaks no Spanish. She is African American. Last year, she responded to the death of her grandfather and the divorce of her parents by running away from her home in Dallas. Her grandmother immediately started to search for her.

At some point, Jakadrien Turner was picked up by police in Houston, apparently for theft of some sort. She gave police a false name. Remember, Jakadrien was fourteen years old at the time. The name she gave turned out to be that of a Colombian undocumented resident.

And so, Jakadrien Turner, at the age of fourteen, speaking no Spanish and with no contacts in Colombia, was deported. Yes, she was.

Today, finally, Jakadrien Turner was returned to the United States and to her grandmother, Lorene Turner’s, custody.

The news media and the blogs all agree that Jakadrien Turner was “mistakenly deported”. From Colorlines to Feministing to CNN to local Texas media, they all say the same thing. Mistakenly deported.

There was no mistake.

A system that puts children in prison for life, a system that deports unaccompanied minors, a system that treats women and girls of color as just so much opportunity for private-prison profit and for abuse, that system always was designed to deport Jakadrien Turner.

This is the immigration system, which imprisons and deports thousands of United States citizens, and does so ferociously. There was no mistake. The immigration system did what it does, what it is designed to do. It deported a fourteen-year-old African American girl, this time named Jakadrien Turner, who spoke no Spanish, who had no contacts, who was unaccompanied, and is and was a United States citizen.

Deal with it. Occupy the immigration prison system. There was no mistake.

 

(Photo Credit:  AP Photo/Mike Fuentes)

Kenyan Women on a Sex Strike: Why They Did It

[Editors’ note: There’s been much talk and writing on the current `sex strike’ in Kenya. Here’s one version. Thanks to Kenyaimagine, www.kenyaimagine.com, and to the author, Nekessa Opoti, for permission to publish and for sharing.]

I must be getting wrong. Or maybe most people are missing the point of the sex strike.My first reaction when I heard about the sex strike was: how bold! what a statement! Still, I questioned their use of sex as a tool. And then I began to watch in dismay as the country reacted. Perhaps we all agree that Kenyan politicians need to get their act together. But sex is still a taboo; unspoken.

The backlash from Kenyans is not surprising. The chatter on social networking sites, and in email conversations, shows that many Kenyans do not believe that this was the right strategy.  But first let’s look at examples in recent history where women have gone on sex strikes to make political, human rights and economic statements.

In Naples last year, Neapolitan women sought to prevent their men from exploding fireworks at Christmas and New Year celebrations by denying them their conjugal rights. The campaign had the support of the local authorities as well as the Church; it seems to have succeeded.

In Colombia, there have been two serious attempts at the Lysistrata strategy.

In 1997 the BBC reported that, “Studies found that local gang members were drawn to criminality by the desire for status, power, and sexual attractiveness, not economic necessity, Colombian radio reported.”:

the chief of the Colombian army, appealed on national television to the wives and girlfriends of the Colombian left-wing guerrillas, drug traffickers, and paramilitaries. He urged them to deny sex to their menfolk until a cease fire was reached. At the same time, the mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus Civicas, declared the city a women-only zone for a night, suggesting men stay at home to reflect on violence. The Communists ridiculed these initiatives, pointing out that they numbered more than 2,000 females among their own ranks. Nonetheless, the measure, combined with democratic and diplomatic approaches, achieved a brief cease fire.

And in 2006,

…dozens of wives and girlfriends of gang members from Pereira (Colombia), started a sex strike called “La huelga de las piernas cruzadas” (the strike of crossed legs) to curb gang violence, in response to 480 deaths due to gang violence in that coffee region. According to spokesman Jennifer Bayer, the specific target was the strike was to force gang members to turn in their weapons in compliance with the law. According to them, many gang members were involved in violent crime for status and sexual attractiveness, and the strike sent the message that refusing to turn in the guns was not sexy.

In Poland in 1992:

….a newly elected Catholic prime minister made abortions illegal for the first time since the 1950s: since contraception was not widely available in the country, abortions had traditionally been the most prevalent method of birth control. When this became illegal, birth rates fell dramatically: Polish women refused sex for fear of getting pregnant. Since then, an anti-clerical government has replaced the Catholic one, at least in part as a result of the pro-choice backlash.

The following two cases have perhaps been the most effective.

In Liberia while the peace talks that eventually ended the civil war were in progress, it became clear to a group of concerned women that Charles Taylor’s side wasn’t taking the talks with the seriousness they deserved. So the women camped outside the parties’ door and refused to leave until a deal was made. The Ghanaian president met with the women, assured them of his support for their initiative, and promised that he would do his best to ensure that the talks would be taken seriously. The women, then, had external support. Watch (video below) the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” where the women explain how their sex strike worked: pressures in personal relationships pushed men to action against rebel leaders and prayer. Atieno Demo makes a powerful case for why the personal is political.

Iceland’s movement in in 1975 also received national prominence resulting in one of the first equality legislation in the world. Known as the “Women’s Day Off “, this was more than a sex strike: women stayed home from work to protest discriminatory wages.

 Several women organizations in Kenya, including FIDA, have banded together in a week-long sex ban in protest over the infighting plaguing the national unity government. Other groups in the coalition are Caucus for Women’s Leadership and Maendeleo ya Wanawake. (You can read their press release here ). The following are the demands from these women’s groups:

  • President Kibaki and Mr Odinga respect the people and nation of Kenya by “ending forthwith the little power games” that undermine the dignity, safety and democratic spaces of our country;
  • The President and PM give respect, full intent, interpretation and observation to the spirit and letter of the National Accord and Reconciliation;
  • A responsive, sensitive and people-driven leadership and coalition government that is decisive, clear about the country’s priorities, willing to sacrifice individual ambition for the greater good of the nation, a leadership that inspires confidence amongst the country’s people;
  • Fast-tracking of the reforms agenda, and,
  • Resignation of Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and refusal by him to be used to defeat the National Accord.

In Kenya, the situation is not as extreme as in Liberia; the behaviour which they want to stop has no direct connection with sex, as it seems to have had in Colombia; and, unlike Iceland, Colombia, Poland and Italy, Kenyan women don’t already have the power that might make the threat a threat a plausible one. Still, all that is necessary for the strike to succeed is for it to have an impact. And that it certainly will. It has drawn attention to the difficulties which Kenyan women face, and it has shown that they will not hesitate to use what power they have to collectively improve their lot.

There’s an argument to be made that Kenyan men interact with women intimately only when having, or seeking, sex. Women are deliberately shut out of almost every other influential position: decisions in the home, and state, are not only not theirs to make, they cannot even significantly influence them. So it seems that a woman’s power is limited to her relationship(s). But not even always, since we know that many women do not have the right to say no to sex, with their husbands, boyfriends, or bosses.

The feminists of G10 want them to use it, since that’s a key part of the power that women are able to command. It could be argued that this choice plays directly into the hands of antifeminists who will take it as confirmation of the stereotype that women are wily, good for nothing and so on. On the other hand, women are entitled to use the weapons at their disposal, within reason. There is nothing wrong, of itself, in witholding sex. And the antifeminists would find reason to oppose conceding women their rights whether or not women chose this strategy.

So why think that the strike will be a success? And, if it isn’t a success, what’s the point of engaging in it?

A double-edged sword: sex and power. By forcing a national conversation on a taboo topic, these Kenyan women have turned the lens back to Kenyans.

A theme begins to resonate: that a woman’s power only lies in her sexuality. The Daily Nation runs this headline: “The Strength of a Woman,” casting women as sex objects, that even when they are denying men sex, they can essentially only give and take away sex.

But sex is not what the strike is about. The strike is calling to action a government that is  not serving people.

A white-haired man, interviewed on television the next day, proclaimed, with no shame or embarrassment, that a woman’s duty from birth is to serve God and her man. And because women were denying men their rights, well, they should be beaten up. Several other comments I have seen are unworthy of discussion. But I will mention them nonetheless. That feminists are breakers of homes. Yes, the very feminists who are on strike because they are afraid of a repeat of the post election violence. That they might be lesbians and have no husbands or boyfriends; a very tired and irrelevant argument. That Kenyan politicians only sleep with their wives once or twice a year: power displaced.

Many people have wondered why non-political men should be “punished” for the sins of Kenya’s political class. If we are to use this argument then teachers, nurses, doctors, policemen and other civil servants should never go on strike because their pupils, patients et al are not responsible for their grievances.  Sex, unlike medical treatment and education, is not even a right. But wouldn’t it be great if men supported this strike, and demanded more from their government? The beginning of the framing of a continuing national crisis: a self-serving political class. But this, I understand, is wishful thinking on my part.

It is not just men who have missed the point of the strike. Muslim women in Mombasa, and Kenyan churches, have called the strike a reckless pronouncement that would lead to men divorcing their wives. A shame isn’t it? That sex, the kind in which a woman has no choice, is the glue that holds our families together.

I am afraid the joke is on us.

In Nigeria, Ekiti women have taken to a more expressive strike: women took to the streets half-naked last week as they protested delayed election results hoping to shame them into action, afterall noone wants to see their mother, grandmother, or aunts naked.

(Photo Credit: Pewee Flomoku / SFGate)