The World Bank is (still) bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures

The World Bank is still bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures. While not surprising news, it is the result of a mammoth research project carried on by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their partners. Journalists pored through more than 6000 World Bank documents and interviewed past and current World Bank employees and government officials involved in World Bank funded projects. They found that, in the past decade, an investment of over 60 billion dollars directly fueled the loss of land and livelihood for 3.4 million slum dwellers, farmers, and villagers. That’s a pretty impressive rate of non-return, all in the name of modernization, villagization, electrification, and, of course, empowerment. Along with sowing displacement and devastation, the World Bank has also invested heavily in fossil-based fuels. All of this is in violation of its own rules.

Women are at the core of this narrative, and at every stage. There’s Gladys Chepkemoi and Paulina Sanyaga, indigenous Sengwer who lost their homes and houses, livestock and livelihoods, and almost lost their lives to a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. In 2013, Bimbo Omowole Osobe, a resident of Badia East, a slum in Lagos, lost nearly everything to a World Bank funded urban renewal zone. Osobe was one of thousands who suffered “involuntary resettlement” when Badia East was razed in no time flat. Today, she’s an organizes with Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, a group of slum dwellers fighting mass evictions. Aduma Omot lost everything in the villagization program in Ethiopia, a World Bank funded campaign that has displaced and demeaned untold Anuak women in the state of Gambella. In the highlands of Peru, Elvira Flores watched as her entire herd of sheep suddenly died, thanks to the cyanide that pours out of the World Bank funded Yanachocha Gold mine, the same mine that Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have battled.

The people at ICIJ promise further reports from India, Honduras, and Kosovo. While the vast majority of the 3.4 million people physically or economically displaced by World Bank-backed projects live in Africa or Asia, no continent goes untouched. Here’s the tally of the evicted, in a mere decade: Asia: 2,897,872 people; Africa: 417,363 people; South America: 26,262 people; Europe: 5,524 people; Oceania: 2,483 people; North America: 855 people; and Island States: 90 people. The national leaders of the pack are, in descending order: Vietnam, China, India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. It’s one giant global round of hunger games, brought to you by the World Bank.

None of this is new. In 2011, Gender Action and Friends of the Earth reported on the gendered broken promises of the World Bank financed Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline and West African Gas Pipelines: “The pipelines increased women’s poverty and dependence on men; caused ecological degradation that destroyed women’s livelihoods; discriminated against women in employment and compensation; excluded women in consultation processes; and led to increased prostitution … Women in developing countries have paid too high a price.” The bill is too damn high.

In 2006, Gender Action and the CEE Bankwatch Network found that women suffered directly from World Bank funded oil pipeline projects in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin: “Increased poverty, hindered access to subsistence resources, increased occurrence of still births, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in local communities.”

There’s the impact on women of ignoring, or refusing to consider, unpaid care work in Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Rwanda, and the catastrophic impacts on women of World Bank funded austerity programs in Greece. And the list goes on.

So, what is to be done? Past experience suggests that the World Bank is too big to jail. How about beginning by challenging and changing the development paradigms and projects on the ground? No development that begins from outside. Absolutely no development that isn’t run by local women and other vulnerable sectors. While the World Bank refuses to forgive debts, globally women are forced to forgive the World Bank’s extraordinary debt each and every second of each and every day. This must end. Stop all mass evictions. Start listening to the women, all over the world, who say, “We need our voices heard.”

 

(Photo credit: El Pais / SERAC)

When Ethiopia `villagizes’, women suffer

The Oakland Institute released a major report today, We Say the Land is Not Yours: Breaking the Silence against Forced Displacement in Ethiopia. The report is comprised of oral testimony of individuals who have been violently displaced by the Ethiopian government’s ongoing villagization program. The Ethiopian government says it hopes to `resettle’ as many as 1.5 million people, all in the name of development … and direct foreign investment. Three years ago, Human Rights Watch released a major report, “Waiting Here for Death”: Forced Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region.

Villagization is “the clustering of agropastoral and/or shifting cultivator populations into more permanent, sedentary settlements.” Families and communities that have lived on the land for centuries are “resettled” into “permanent” settlements. Settlements, bantustans, locations, encampments, prison colonies … you choose. What is clear in the miasma of scare quotes is that the years’ long campaign in “resettlement” benefits only foreign investors and their State clients.

In Gambella, in the westernmost part of Ethiopia, whole swaths of semi-nomadic, indigenous Nuer and Anuak people and communities have been targeted for “resettlement”, to “free” their land up. The Nuer and the Anuak have been moved, often at gunpoint and worse, to `new’ and `modern’ villages, where there’s little to no food, farmland, healthcare, or educational facilities. Ultimately, the plans are for 70,000 to be removed, out of a population of some 300,000. When Human Rights Watch reported on these forced removals, it was removed from the country. Likewise, the Ethiopian government has charged that the Oakland Institute is campaigning to perpetuate people’s poverty.

Where are the women in Gambella, and in villagization more generally? Everywhere and nowhere. In general, the news media ignores the gender implications of villagization and mass forced resettlement. The Oakland Institute has long argued that women and children have a particularly dire space in this program. Both Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute found that the new relocation sites, the “villages”, lacked schools, clinics, and running water, and so their infrastructure, in its lacks, targeted and condemned women to further hardships. Meanwhile, concentrating the land in the hands of a very few large-scale producers has meant the end of women dominated small hold farming, which means greater food insecurity, deeper and wider hunger, and impossibly greater amounts of unpaid and uncounted labor for women, as cash crops displace local food crops.

Today’s report does more than break the silence. It creates a space for voices, including women’s voices and stories. An eighty-year old refugee in Kenya tells a story: “A family I know was told that they had reached the final stage and were told to go back home. The wife refused. Her husband said that they should go to Uganda and try again for refugee status from another country. The wife was tired of moving and stayed. She has nothing. She sold her gold earrings to go back to the refugee camp. She tried to register with a new name, but the biometric gadget reflected her earlier record. They said she was trying to commit fraud and arrested her. She is now with us and has threatened to commit suicide if not granted the refugee status. The UNHCR decision [to not award refugee status] broke up the family. We try to watch over her.”

A woman refugee in Kenya tells her own story: “During the relocation, I was given a piece of land. I moved because I was forced. We had to build the tukul, our new home, ourselves. This does not mean we are content with it. According to our Anuak customs, we share everything. Our home country treats us as if we have no use, even though we were born and raised here. Our great-great-grandparents were there. We have suffered so much at the hands of the Ethiopian regime. After the villagization program, I was … sent for training. The main purpose of our training was to show us what the investors are doing and how they are cultivating our lands. We have seen only help for the investors. We were taken early morning and were brought back in the afternoon. Thirty minutes were given to eat lunch and we were not even provided water. We saw our lands worked by the others.

There are so many like me and whenever we speak, people don’t listen. The Ethiopian government uses us and our land. I’m not the only one. My brother and husband were killed by Ethiopian forces. When you move deep down in Gambella, life is hard. So we fled to Kenya for safety. I was in the camp 2 to 3 weeks ago, when 50 families seeking refuge were rejected. I don’t know what awaits us. We need help. We need our voices heard.”

At every step, the story of villagization is particularly a women’s story: “We need our voices heard.” The women are speaking. Who is listening?

 

(Photo Credit: Andreea Campeanu/ICIJ)

They have no names: Europe’s unmournable women

There is the work of mourning, and then there is the labor of the unmournable. Two weeks ago, the Institute of Race Relations published Unwanted, Unnoticed: an audit of 160 asylum and immigration-related deaths in Europe. Of 160 deaths from January 2010 to December 2014, 123 resulted from the immigration and asylum system. While the numbers are chilling, this is pure ice: “Because migrants who suffer inside Europe are denied access to welfare, entombed within detention centres or forced into a sub-subsistence life at the very margins of society, their deaths are unmournable, or, to use a phrase that one would have hoped would be obsolete, ‘Life unworthy of life’ (Lebensunwertes Leben).”

The numbers and data come from largely from local media reports and from local migrant and anti-racist support groups. Many governments don’t keep records of migrant deaths, and the ones that do are filled with black holes. The 160 is both a snapshot and the tip of a growing iceberg, and here’s a picture of the world of the unmournable: “In too many cases, those who die are unidentified. Sometimes only a nationality and an age are recorded, sometimes not even that. None of the twenty-three who died in Norway’s reception centres are identified, and we know the names of only four of the eighteen who died, mostly in direct provision hostels, in Ireland in the past five years. Eight of those who died in Greece are unidentified, seven of the dead in France, eleven of those who died in Germany. In such cases, the dead are in a very literal sense ‘unmournable’.”

The dead are in a very literal sense unmournable, and among those dead, the women are even more so. Of the 123 who died as a consequence of the immigration-and-asylum system, 13 were women. Some of them, like Samba Martine and Christine Case, are well known. Others, like Alta Ming, Tatiana Serykh, and Yeni P. should be. And the remaining 8, more than half of the group, are “unidentified.” These women are the unmournable unmournables. Their families may not know, their friends and even those who hunted them down don’t know, and the nation-States where they died refuse to know.

Of the 123 people who died as a result of the immigration-and-asylum system, 60 committed suicide. Of the 13 women who died in this nightmare, only three committed suicide. Three others died of “illnesses”, which means they were left to die. Christine Case was left to die in Yarl’s Wood. Samba Martine was left to die in the Aluche immigration detention center in Madrid. Alta Ming was left to die by both France and the Netherlands. One woman, an unidentified Nepalese undocumented migrant in Cyprus, heard police enter her building. Thinking it was a raid and fearing deportation, she jumped from a fifth-floor balcony to her death. There was no raid, and there has been no subsequent investigation. That was 2012. Three years later, she remains “unidentified.” Undocumented even in death.

And then there’s the Irish Five: five unidentified women asylum seekers who died of “unknown causes”. Two died in 2010, two in 2012, and one in 2013. Unidentified, unknown, unmournable.

This is the house of unmourning, and within its walls women are. They have no names.

 

(Photo Credit: David Sleator / The Irish Times)

Garissa: There must be more than grief

Garissa. There must be more than reports of smoke and explosions and flying bullets and destruction and carnage. There must be more than `eye witness accounts’ and there must be more than smart analyses of why Kenya, why now.

There must be other than agony and tales of hiding and emergence, of atrocity. There must be more than parades of corpses and mournful gatherings at funerals and memorials. The work of mourning must build a better road, because the road to Garissa is one of violence, and not only by those who attacked the university this week.

As in the aftermath of the assault on the Westgate Mall, the world performs mourning, and world leaders and their messengers claim `We all stand with,’ and now will say, “Je suis Kenya.” It’s not true. We do not mourn, and we are not Kenya. We watch a spectacle of grief at a distance, as a distance, and, with the Kenyan government, deny that Garissa is a station on a highway built by all of us. We do not study our own responsibility in the bloodshed.

From the beginning of the “Somali adventure”, Kenyan artists in particular warned that all Kenyans would pay. The Kenyan poet Shailja Patel has provided a road map to Garissa. It begins in 1962, when Somali-Northeast votes to join Somalia. It passes through one massacre after another, and through one invasion of Somalia after another, and through one unheeded warning after another.

The road to Garissa does not end at Garissa. It merely pauses, here, in Shailja Patel’s poem, in the morning after a massacre

Garissa

the morning after a massacre
a country wakes nauseous

no food stays down
no chai comforts

on the roads
they drag crosses

blood is given
blood invoked
blood sanctified
blood is our national language

on TV the men
talk blood and markets

tears
stay out of the newsrooms

there will be more killing
there will always be
more killing

a state will punish survivors
with pogroms

an army will terrorize
the terrorized, traumatize
the traumatized

the merchants of war
have already moved on
to the next transaction

the death-profiteers spent the night
reviewing cost-benefit reports

a country stares at its amputation stumps
the morning after a massacre

There must be more to life than grief, more killing, and the worldwide collective acceptance of reports of smoke and carnage and loss in the distance.

 

(Image Credit: The New Inquiry)

The Parable of Karnes Immigration Detention Center

In the spirit of Holy Week, the mothers of Karnes Immigration Detention Center, in south Texas, are on work and hunger strike. With their bodies, they are asserting their humanity, sisterhood, dignity, and, as so often, with their bodies they are protecting their children. This is the highway to hell we have constructed over the last few decades. Women and children fleeing violence, pleading for help and haven, are criminalized, vilified, and thrown into prisons. The site-specific irony, and tragedy, is that when Karnes was opened in 2012 the Obama administration hailed it as a model for more humane and less penal treatment of immigrants. All hail the new model.

Karnes is so great that when Victoria Rossi, a paralegal, recently described the conditions therein, she was rewarded by being barred from the establishment. The conditions at Karnes are neither new nor unknown. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others wrote letters, filed complaints, and sued the Federal government because of the conditions at Karnes. MALDEF documented numerous cases of sexual abuse, extortion and harassment of women. The ACLU cited numerous women, who fled domestic violence at home, only to be locked behind bars in Texas.

People heard. Individuals and communities heard. The State shrugged.

And so now the women of Karnes are on hunger and work strike, and that is the story, the miracle of humanity. The mothers of Karnes have written a letter, which reads, in part: “In the name of the mothers, residents of the Center for Detentions in Karnes City, we are writing this petition whereby we ask to be set free with our children. There are mothers here who have been locked in this place for as long as 10 months … We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents. We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country. You should know that this is only the beginning and we will not stop until we achieve our objectives. This strike will continue until every one of us is freed. The conditions, in which our children find themselves, are not good. Our children are not eating well and every day they are losing weight. Their health is deteriorating. We know that any mother would do what we are doing for their children. We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, be respected.”

You can support the women by signing their petition to ICE director Sarah Saldaña and ICE San Antonio Office Director Norma Lacy. The demand is pretty straightforward: Grant discretion & RELEASE the children and mothers detained at Karnes!

Once, providing asylum to those who needed it was considered a sacred act. In the Book of Numbers, God ordered Moses to create “cities of refuge” or “cities of asylum,” for those fleeing unjust punishment. Women, like Ruth and Naomi, strangers in a strange land, could hope to take refuge in the shadow of the wings of a divinity embodied in human acts of mutual recognition. Today, the descendants of Ruth and Naomi live in Karnes, and they demand their freedom to be human beings: “We will keep refusing food until our demands for release are recognized. We will fight until we are granted our liberty. We’re tired of the treatment we’re receiving here. Our children are all losing weight because they’ve lost their appetites. It’s like we’re living in a jail.” Today, Ruth is named Kenia, and she’s 26 and from Honduras.

 

(Image Credit: Christopher Cardinale / San Antonio Current)

Who remembers Purvi Patel? Where’s the outrage?

Who remembers Purvi Patel? On February 6th this year we discussed her conviction on two contradictory charges of first killing her fetus and then neglecting her baby.

Now she is sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court that never believed that her baby was stillborn, that she was scared and panicked, that she did not know when she became pregnant, that she had no intention of being pregnant, that nobody talked about her as a person.

The sentence was determined by the age of the “victim” said the judge. Of course, from her point of view the victim was not Purvi Patel.

In this competition of morality over whose life is worth being protected everybody loses, but Purvi Patel’s life is destroyed. She and the genitor needed classes on reproductive health, access to contraception and abortion services. She got prison, and he remains free.

The media told her story using populist assumptions to draw attention to details that were either unproven or irrelevant. By contrast, none of them focused on the discrepancies of the evidence presented by the prosecutor during the trial. None of them questioned the pathology report that used a dubious test to determine that the baby was alive at birth. Even the determination of the age of the pregnancy was unclear. What was clear was the determination of the prosecutor to erase the voice of Purvi Patel.

As Lynn Paltrow declared, “What the Patel case demonstrates is both women who have abortion and those who experience pregnancy loss may now be subject to investigation, arrest, public trial and incarceration.”

The real tragedy is that the State never fulfilled its responsibility to provide any help to Purvi Patel. Instead it chose to destroy her life. Where’s the outrage?

 

 

(Image Credit: Kostsov/Thinkstock)  (Original drawing by Pierre Colin Thibert)

Dying for Justice: Joy Gardner, We Remember You

Last week, the Institute of Race Relations launched Dying for Justice, an account of Black and Minority Ethnic persons’ suspicious deaths in custody between 1991 and 2014: 509 dead; 0 convictions. The geography of suspicious deaths is 348 in prison; 137 in police custody; 24 in immigration detention. “Only two people have died following restraint in the deportation process itself in the UK, the first was Joy Gardner in 1993, the second Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010.” Only two? This is the story of Joy Gardner.

Gardner died four days after going into a coma following a deportation raid. During the raid, an immigration official and five metropolitan police officers gagged her with thirteen feet of adhesive tape and applied a body belt and handcuffs. She had come to the UK in 1987 on a six-month tourist visa, and given birth to a son. In 1990 when she married, she applied to regularise her stay on compassionate grounds, but was refused.

A deportation order was issued in 1992 but she was not located. Then, in 1993, when she had been, her lawyer was told of her proposed deportation in two letters dated 26 and 27 July. On 28 July, before the letters had even been opened or Joy had any idea of what was planned, three police officers (from the alien deportation Group/ So1(3)), two uniformed local police officers and an immigration officer called early in the morning at her home in Crouch End to put her and her son on a 3pm flight to Jamaica. A struggle ensued, part of which was witnessed by her son. Joy apparently removed her t-shirt and began shouting that she would rather die than go back, and was shoved to the floor where the two local police officers sat across her legs, the female ADG officer across her midriff and another near her head. One of the ADG officers placed the body belt around her waist, her wrists were secured to the handcuffs which were in turn secured to the body belt. Her ankles and thighs were further bound with two leather belts. Thirteen feet of elastic adhesive bandage were then wrapped around Joy’s head and across her mouth as she was ‘still shouting or screaming’ … A post-mortem ordered by Joy’s mother found that she had died as a result of oxygen starvation. Other post-mortems also found that the lack of oxygen in combination with being gagged led to her death.”

Three officers were charged with manslaughter. In 1995, all were cleared.

Joy Gardner’s mother, Myrna Simpson, has campaigned ever since to secure something like justice. She describes going into the hospital to see her dead daughter: “I asked one officer there ‘Why didn’t you all get her solicitors? Why did you do her bad? She’s not a criminal, she’s not done any crime. She’s a mother of two children. Why did you do that?’ I spoke and said I wouldn’t like it to happen to no one else but police is killing people and more so black people … we are not bad people. I’ve come to this country and I’ve worked in this country, myself, my husband, my brothers, my sisters. My father came to this country and we build up this country. We have worked hard to make this country what it is today. We are the ones who have worked and built up this country to what it is so that people can come here and be free in this country. I am now a pensioner. I came here when my first born was in this country and I’ve worked hard in this country and I’ve not got in trouble with the law and I’ve abided by the law of this country and they’ve killed my daughter. They have taken my daughter from me, my first child that I had. The most time I had with her was when she came to this country because I left her in Jamaica to go to send back for her, but things didn’t work out the way I’d planned it because things were very cheap then. Labour was cheap, we was cheap labourers and we laboured from eight o’clock in the morning until six o’clock in the evening. On Saturday we went to work as well until one o’clock just to make up the money maybe for five or six pounds a week and we had to work and sacrifice ourselves and still there’s no justice. But we need justice for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.”

Joy Gardner, 1993; Jimmy Mubenga, 2010; Christine Case, 2014. How many more Black women and men will have to die for justice?

 

(Photo Credit: https://stopdeportations.wordpress.com/jamaica/)

In Nigeria’s election, Remi Sonaiya cracks a glass ceiling

Nigeria goes to the polls tomorrow, finally, and the top three contenders for President are Goodluck Jonathan, no surprise there; Muhammadu Buhari, also no surprise; and Comfort Remi Sonaiya … What? A woman is running third in the Presidential elections of the most populous country on the African continent? Yes, she is.

While it’s easy, and accurate, to frame the story as a long list of men and only one woman, it’s equally important to acknowledge that Remi Sonaiya is the first woman to qualify to run for President, and as such deserves more than praise, although a bit of praise wouldn’t hurt.

A published scholar and longstanding critic of both leading candidates, Remi Sonaiya is representing the Kowa Party, whose ideology is described as two-pronged: social welfare and modernism. That basically means that evidence-based approaches would be used to ensure a decent life for everyone and for all communities by transforming the Nigerian economy from one based on consumption to one based on production. Not surprisingly, given Remi Sonaiya’s history as a teaching and research scholar, she insists on expanding and improving education at the same time that she insists on “engaging with the Nigerian public on seeking to bring to an end age-old cultural and traditional practices which degrade the human person.” Sonaiya’s description of the Kowa Part ideology concludes with this telling sentence: “All of the above, needless to say, leaves absolutely no room for corruption or graft.” Needless to say, and yet it very much needs to be said.

Remi Sonaiya has been a tireless critic of State and bureaucratic corruption, at the same time that she has worked to ensure women’s rights, equality and power. As she noted in Lagos in January, “We have done enough of cheerleading. Women cannot keep on being cheerleaders in this country.” Elsewhere, Sonaiya expanded on this message: “I have a stake in Nigeria. I am qualified to run for the presidency of Nigeria. Like what Barack Obama said, he thought there was a skinny little black boy who thought that America had room for him. Well, this not so skinny woman thinks that Nigeria has a place for her, at the leadership level also.”

Many agree, and in particular a number of Nigerian women have taken notice. As one Nigerian writer commented, “Prof. Comfort Remi Sonaiya is the only woman contesting for the presidency in the forthcoming Nigerian elections in February 2015. Unfortunately, not many of us have heard of her, her running mate, Saidu Bobboi or her party, Kowa. I say unfortunately, not because she’s a woman like me, but because watching this video of her I found on Youtube, I get her, and she feels so much more capable, approachable and qualified than both Goodluck and GMB. The prof is an intellectual and in 2008, she was named an International Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Sonaiya became the National Public Relations Officer of KOWA Party soon after she resigned as Professor of Foreign Languages at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. In the video, is a speech made at the 2013 TedexIfe where she speaks the language of the youth which included singing and rapping.”

Check out her 2013 talk, “How Could You Have Power and Not Use It?” Tomorrow, almost certainly, either “Goodluck or GMB” will be elected to the Presidency, but the future is in the race run by Comfort Remi Sonaiya. Listen. You can hear Nigerian women singing, rapping and asking hard and necessary questions through the cracks in the glass ceiling of the most populous country on the African continent.

 

(Photo Credit: YouTube / Kowa Party) (Video Credit: YouTube / Tedx Talks)

In Zimbabwe and South Africa, girls say NO! to coercion and exploitation

In November last year, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi filed a suit in Zimbabwe in which they charged that the situation of “child brides” violated girls’ constitutional rights. They named Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community and the Attorney General’s Office as respondents responsible for implementation of the Customary Marriages Act, which allows for girls to be married at 16.

Age prohibitions are like speed limits. There’s the letter of the law and then there’s the car on the road. Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, now 18, was married off at 15: “I’ve faced so many challenges. My husband beat me. I wanted to stay in school but he refused. It was very, very terrible. I want to take this action to make a difference. There are a lot of children getting married.” Tsopodzi is the mother of one child.

Loveness Mudzuru, now 19, was married off at 16. By the time she was 18, she had given birth to two children: “Young girls who marry early and often in poor families are then forced to produce young children in a sea of poverty and the cycle begins again. My life is really tough. Raising a child when you are a child yourself is hard. I should be going to school.”

Across the border, in South Africa, the Western Cape High Court this week upheld the conviction of a 32-year-old man on various charges related to the trafficking and rape of a 14-year-old Eastern Cape girl. He tried to argue that the girl was not kidnapped and that there was no rape, but rather they were husband and wife, by a customary practice known as ukuthwala.

The Court rejected the man’s appeal and, more broadly, the argument that customary or traditional law allows for violence against girls and women: “The practice of ukuthwala has in recent years received considerable public attention… inasmuch as its current practice is regarded as an abuse of traditional custom and a cloak for the commission of violent acts of assault, abduction and rape of not only women but children as young as eleven years old by older men.”

Speaking of so-called child marriages, African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, commented: “We cannot downplay or neglect the harmful practice of child marriage, as it has long-term and devastating effects on these girls whose health is at risk.”

While these stories describe girls living in poverty and struggling against physical and structural violence, they also speak of the courage and determination of precisely those girls, who speak for themselves. They say they deserve education, health, well being, safety, and peace. They say as well that individual and collective dignity and justice begin and end with informed consent. They say NO! to all forms of coercion and exploitation of girls, and boys, and they mean it.

 

(Photo Credit: Lipco.co.za)

Life & Times of Ms K

Ms K is dead. Her death was exemplary. A woman enters prison for the first time, a troublesome woman, and within weeks is found hanging in her cell. Here’s her story, as recounted in Learning from PPO Investigations: self-inflicted deaths of prisoners – 2013/14, the most recent report from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales:

Ms K had a history of mental ill health. After a long period of stability she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after a number of attempts to kill herself.

She was discharged to the care of the community team but was arrested almost immediately, when she threatened to kill her former partner.

She was remanded to prison after a doctor decided she would not benefit from further hospital treatment. It was her first time in prison.

A nurse immediately began ACCT procedures and recommended constant supervision. However, prison staff set four observations an hour.

She tried to hang herself twice in the first evening, and was moved to a safer cell and constantly supervised. Nearly two weeks after arriving in prison she was referred to a psychiatrist, who did not believe she should be in prison and immediately began to organise a transfer back to hospital. Tragically, Ms K died before this could take place.

Frequent ACCT case reviews were held and most were multi-disciplinary. However, there were several occasions when prison managers chose not to follow, and sometimes not to ask, the advice of clinical staff. Clinicians said that their opinion was not listened to, which was particularly troubling for a prisoner with such severe mental health problems.

Ms K was difficult to manage and her moods were unpredictable, extreme and liable to change quickly. She made a number of serious and determined attempts to hang herself.

An enhanced case review process could have helped ensure more consistency in the staff involved in her care, and made sure all input was given sufficient weight.

For the Ombudsman researchers, Ms K’s case is “one example” of the “failure” to “consider enhanced case review process” when a prisoner’s history suggests “wide ranging and deep seated problems.” Ms K’s death was, and is, exemplary.

Last year, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high. The majority of prisoners who engaged in suicide were White men. For men and women of all group, hanging was the preferred method of dying. Ms K’s death was, and is, exemplary.

There is no tragedy here, and, despite the Ombudsman’s best intentions, there is nothing to learn. Ms K’s death is a miniscule part of a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore. The prisons of England and Wales, with their mounting piles of prisoners’ corpses, are a tiny part of the global work of necropower: “I have put forward the notion of necropolitics and necropower to account for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.”

Ms K is dead. Her death is an example. Nothing more.

 

(Image Credit: guerillapolicy.org)