Joséphine Ouédraogo’s long slow burn to democracy

For some, it’s the end of the year, and so a time for reflection and celebration. 2014 has been a year of brave, inspiring young feminists. It has also been a year in which women, young and old and in between, have pushed out long-standing rulers and sparked the process of State transformation. In Burkina Faso, women sparked a revolution with their presence in the streets and their raised spatulas. Joséphine Ouédraogo was there, as she has been for decades.

A number of commentators have identified Burkina Faso as a bright spot for the year, even though they seldom, if ever, recognize women’s role in that brightness:

For protesters in Burkina Faso who have known only one ruler for the last 27 years, 2014 was a very good year. The peaceful overthrow of Blaise Compaoré at the end of October was a victory for democracy.”

Large segments of society were demanding the benefits of genuine representation. Democracy could not be reduced to a facade while old authoritarian networks remained. It was a striking warning to other African autocrats who might be tempted to stay in power indefinitely.”

Over the course of a couple of days in late October, an awe-inspiring display of people power in Burkina Faso forced President Blaise Compaore to scuttle into exile, his tail firmly between his legs. It was a humiliating exit for the man who had ruled Burkina Faso since 1987 … This was a magnificent example that power is not immutable; that people can be in control of their own destinies.”

Call it Spring, call it harmattan, women’s protests led to mass protests led to hope and the promise of democracy. Inside Burkina Faso and around the world, people spoke once again of Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina from 1983 to 1987, when he was assassinated. In particular, people were reminded of Sankara’s commitment to women’s emancipation. He wrote and spoke of women’s liberation often: “The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.” More to the point, Sankara acted. His government outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy; encouraged women to work outside the home; encouraged girls and women to stay in school, even if pregnant; promoted the distribution of contraceptives. Finally, he appointed many women to high governmental positions. Joséphine Ouédraogo was one of those women.

During the Sankara years, Ouédraogo was Minister of Family Development and Solidarity. Every attempt to transform women’s status and place in Burkina Faso came out of and was implemented by Ouédraogo’s office, including State support for the Women’s Strike of 1984.

When Sankara was overthrown and murdered, Ouédraogo went into exile. She worked as a consultant on development and gender. She continued to work as a sociologist, researching areas that others overlooked, such as the role of women heads of households in rural Burkina Faso. In 1997, Ouédraogo became Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, followed by a stint as Secretary General of Enda-Third World, based in Dakar. In both positions, she spoke forcefully and directly of the central position of women in any program to improve the world or any of its parts.

And now, Joséphine Ouédraogo is back in Burkina Faso, and back in the government. She is a self-described militant feminist and militant anti-globalization activist, and she is now the Minister of Justice of Burkina Faso. From 1987 to the present, Joséphine Ouédraogo never forgot the revolution she had helped start, and she never tired of working to create the new spaces for militant democratic practice and for women’s emancipation. As she has known all along, the two need each other. And today, Joséphine Ouédraogo’s long slow burn has been a key part of the Burkinabé women’s spark that set off a revolution.

 

(Photo Credit: UNESCO.org)

Texas built a special hell for immigrant women and children

Today, December 18, 2014, is International Migrants Day. On December 18, 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. What better way to honor that convention than to build the biggest, baddest prison for migrant women and children? Welcome to Texas, welcome to the United States of America, welcome to hell.

Here’s how the United States builds hell. First, constitute migrants and immigrants as a threat. Include asylum seekers and refugees in this. Then, quickly translate threat into criminal element. Then build the prisons, et voilà! Hell! Homeland Security keeps building prisons for immigrants and migrants. It builds “family detention centers” for women and children. It then outsources the job to a limited number of mega companies. They keep failing at the job and then keep getting new contracts. The prisons keep “running into difficulties”, ranging from lack of health care and education and recreational facilities to overcrowding to sexual exploitation and violence by the staff.

Early this week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson toured a site in Dilley, Texas, that `promises’ to be the largest “family residential center” in the country. By end of May, it will hold 2400 “family members,” overwhelmingly women and children, overwhelmingly from Central America. Meanwhile, earlier in December, after some debate and resistance, Karnes County agreed to expand its “family residence” from under 600 to close to 1200 beds. Forcing children and women to live behind razor wire is a growth industry in south Texas this year. Homeland Security sees dropping children into cages as “a deterrent.”

Here’s a typical story from Karnes: “Ana and Victor are from El Salvador, and along with their mother, Alta Gracias, and their 2-year-old brother, Martín, they have been held at the Karnes detention facility for over two months … As the years passed and her children grew up, Alta worried about raising her children in an environment rife with extreme poverty and violence … She was afraid her daughter’s pretty face and her son’s rambunctious spirit would get them into trouble. So she did what any good parent would do: look for a brighter future for her children. Because her husband was already in the United States, it seemed like the best option, despite the hazardous journey.”

Here’s another typical story from Karnes: “This fall, Zadia and her son Jose came to the United States to escape years of physical abuse by her common-law husband. With the help of members of their church, Zadia and Jose fled Honduras. But rather than find refuge, they have been locked up for the last seven weeks in Karnes City, Texas, at one of the federal government’s new detention centers for migrant families.”

The typical is actually worse. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others have written letters, filed complaints, and sued the Federal government because of the conditions at Karnes. MALDEF has documented numerous cases of sexual abuse, extortion and harassment of women. The ACLU cites numerous women, who fled domestic violence at home, only to be locked behind bars in Texas.

None of this is new. It repeats the violence against women that marked T. Don Hutto Residential Center, five years ago also in Texas, and the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona and the Artesia “Family Residential Center” in New Mexico. Everyone of them a colossal snake pit of sexual violence, extortion, harassment of women and children. Everyone of them a death-in-life sentence for hundreds and thousands of children and their mothers. Each time the violence is “discovered”, the “residents” are shipped like so much cargo to the next killing field.

Honor International Migrants Day by celebrating the miracle of freedom, freedom of movement, association, life, choice and love. Celebrate the miracle of being truly human. Close the prisons. Tear down the walls. Beat the guns into plowshares and the barbed wire and batons into pruning hooks. Welcome the migrants with open arms. Welcome the stranger as yourself.

 

(Image Credit: NewInt.org)

No crime, no trial, indefinite detention: Happy birthday Glory Anawa

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” We have traveled far, and quickly, from such notions of childhood, tenderness, and caring. Instead, we now have prison camouflaged as `detention’, and hell powder puffed as “indefinite detention.” Indefinite detention is not indefinite. It’s eternal damnation, and we, not the children, are the damned.

Glory Anawa fled Cameroon after a threat of Female Genital Mutilation. She sought refuge. Now she sits in a Canadian immigration detention center with little to no hope of seeing anything like freedom ever again.

Anawa’s story is long and complicated, and yet quite simple. At the age of 23 and pregnant, Glory Anawa was sent to Yarl’s Wood, where she remained until she was 8 months and 2 weeks pregnant. Then she was released … for a matter of weeks, after which it was back to Yarl’s Wood for the young mother and her 6-week-old daughter, Tracy. From there, things went downhill, as they had for other mothers and daughters in Yarl’s Wood. Finally, Glory Anawa and daughter Tracy were released.

In February 2013, Glory Anawa, pregnant, sought refuge in Canada. She was immediately taken into custody. In August 2013, Glory gave birth to her son, Alpha Ochigbo. Since birth, Alpha, a Canadian citizen, has been with his mother in prison. The authorities have tried to deport Glory, but Cameroon won’t provide papers. So, Glory Anawa is stuck, because Canada does not have a limit on how long it can detain immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers, or refugees. Glory is not stuck. She has been firmly planted by Canada into a new rung of hell, that of the women who seek asylum, refuge, or help. Welcome to the neoliberal world order.

I don’t even have words to express how I feel. It makes me speechless. I’ve been robbed of my life,” says Glory Anawa. Suffering beyond expression followed by silence followed by a total and global theft that results in death-in-life. Around the world, this is the formula for those who seek asylum, generally, and for women in particular. Canada adds the twist of indefinite detention. Glory Anawa is one of 145 migrants in Canada who are under indefinite detention. Why? Why hold anyone indefinitely? Why hold those who have committed no crime indefinitely? Why hold those who have never been tried indefinitely?

Today, December 15, 2014, is Glory Anawa’s 29th birthday. She should not be condemned to indefinite anything. No one should. And we should not be condemned for eternity for the crime of looking the other way. Tear down more than the walls. Tear down the processes, tear down the consciousness that allows us to think it’s right to condemn women, children, men, all who seek haven from a life of pain and suffering.

 

(Photo Credit: TheMainlander.com)

In Kenya, the women say, “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights”

In Nairobi this week, five women wearing t-shirts walked into court. On the back, the t-shirts read: “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights.” On the front, the t-shirts read, “END FORCED AND COERCED STERILIZATION OF WOMEN LIVING WITH HIV”

The five women, all HIV positive, are suing the Kenyan government, two maternity hospitals, and two international ngo’s for engaging in forced and coerced sterilization. They join women living with HIV in Namibia who recently won a similar case, and who had an identical rallying cry. They join the women of Chhattisgarh and across India who have survived the `sterilization camps.’ They refuse to join the women who died in those camps, though they honor them. They have joined the women prisoners across California who this year finally won the end to forced sterilization of women prisoners in that state. They join women, poor and minority, in North Carolina who finally are receiving some sort of compensation for their mistreatment, to put it gently, in forced sterilization campaigns. They join women living with disabilities in Belgium who resist coerced sterilization. They join women in Peru who eighteen years after the cessation of formal forced sterilization programs still struggle for justice. They join the Aboriginal and Indigenous women and girls across the Americas and Australia who still wait for an accounting of forced sterilization program. They join these women, all of them shouting, “NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body, my women, my rights.”

One of the women, Teresia Otieno, explained, “I went in for an operation to give birth to my first child. By the time I was leaving the operation the doctor told me I had been sterilized.” According to Benta Agola, another one of the women, the medical staff misinformed her every step of the way, and then proceeded onto the sterilization: “I wasn’t involved in decisions.” One woman reports she was threatened with a cut off of baby formula milk if she didn’t go through with the tubal ligation: “The nurse said I could not continue giving birth in the future as giving birth would compromise my immunity and as a result I would die. I eventually gave in but after the procedure I have always had pain in my abdomen especially during the cold season and also cannot undertake heavy chores.” One of the women discovered she had undergone tubal ligation four years after the procedure.

The women are represented by lawyers from KELIN, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the rights of those living with HIV, and activists from the African Gender and Media Initiative, or GEM. Two years ago, GEM released a report, Robbed of Choice: Forced and Coerced Sterilization Experiences of Women Living with HIV in Kenya. The report documented the forced sterilization of 40 women living with HIV, or WLHIV: “In many cultures including the African, motherhood is at the core of femininity and status in society. The narratives documented here illustrate how WLHIV who have undergone nonconsensual sterilization are no longer considered, women, in their respective communities as these sterilizations are permanent and irreversible in most cases. We hope that this publication will commit the government of Kenya to act by putting in place appropriate measures to prevent and respond to forced and coerced sterilization and ultimately stop torture of WLHIV in healthcare facilities.”

These five women in Kenya are part of a global movement of women challenging the global program of forced sterilization of women. It’s past time to end it. Codify and pay just compensation to survivors of forced sterilization. Establish serious global structures to enforce informed consent. Listen to the women: NON-NEGOTIABLE: my body my womb my rights!

 

(Photo Credit: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk)

Women are the unexplained unexplained of the global wage gap

Last week, the International Labour Organization published Global Wage Report 2014/5. The largely report confirms what many already know and live. First and last, wages matter: “Wages are a major source of household income in both developed economies and emerging and developing economies.” Second, wages in so-called developed economies have been fairly flat, while wages in so-called emerging and developing economies are moving at a better pace. In fact, global wage growth, such as it is, has been driven almost exclusively by the emerging and developing economies. For example, if China is taken out of the mix, the global wage growth is cut in half. But the real growth, globally and regionally and locally, is in inequality. There’s big money in the production of every widening wage gaps. And here’s where women come in:

“In almost all countries studied there are wage gaps between men and women as well as between national and migrant workers…These wage gaps can be divided into an `explained’ part, which is accounted for by observed human capital and labour market characteristics, and an `unexplained’ part, which captures wage discrimination and includes characteristics (e.g. having children) that should in principle have no effect on wages. The report shows that if this unexplained wage penalty was eliminated, the mean gender wage gap would actually reverse in Brazil, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Slovenia and Sweden, where the labour market characteristics of the disadvantaged groups should result in higher wages. It would also nearly disappear in about half the countries in the sample of developed economies.”

There’s a gender wage gap, and it’s growing; a motherhood wage gap, and it’s growing; an immigrant wage gap, and it’s growing and for the immigrant mother worker’s wages, there’s a special place. The new world order has a new triple burden for women, a trifecta of gaps that women carry not on their shoulders but in their bodies. The ILO calls these burdens unexplained gender wage penalties. Women are being punished and fined for being women, and the penalty fines are getting steeper by the day.

So, what is to be done? For the ILO, the way forward is fairly straightforward. Raise the minimum wage. Promote job creation. Promote equal pay for work of equal value: “provide for the right to equal remuneration for work of equal value and effective access to justice to claim this right…Equal pay between men and women needs to be promoted through strong policies to promote gender equality, including combating gender-based stereotypes about women’s roles and aspirations, strengthening policies on maternity and paternity as well as parental leave, and advocacy for better sharing of family responsibilities.”

In 2002, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded to a question concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s ostensible support for terrorist organizations: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Twelve years later, there are explained parts of wage gaps, and there are unexplained parts of wage gaps, and then there are the unexplained unexplained parts of wage gaps, and those are the ones who live at the juncture of the explained and the unexplained, the ones we do know: women. Rumsfeld’s gone, but the war continues, the global war on women.

 

(Image credit: Ilo.org)

You’re killing me. I can’t breathe.

Many murals will emerge bearing the words, “I can’t breathe.” Maybe one of them will show Charles Jason Toll, Jimmy Mubenga, and Eric Garner, brothers in arms, tender comrades in a war they never declared but which killed them nevertheless. Perhaps another will show Jane Luna, Adrienne Kambana, and Esaw Garner and their combined struggle for justice.

Charles Jason Toll, Jimmy Mubenga, Eric Garner all died, or were killed, by `criminal justice officers.’ In each case, according to witnesses, they repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” In all three cases, coroners concluded the death was a homicide. In the cases of Charles Jason Toll and Eric Garner, those charged were acquitted. The trial for those involved in the death of Jimmy Mubenga is going on right now.

2010: Charles Jason Toll was 33, diabetic and living with mental illness. One hot August night, in Riverbend Maximum Security, in Tennessee, where Toll was in solitary confinement, guards rushed into his cell, pushed him to the floor, handcuffed and shackled him. When he repeatedly begged, “I can’t breathe”, he was told, “You wanted this.” A little while later, he died. Toll was in prison for a parole violation. Why was he in solitary? Why did no one in charge know his medical history? Part of Charles Jason Toll’s story is the vindictive system in which a slip can send you down a hole from which there is no escape, and for which there is no accountability. Toll’s mother, Jane Luna, is suing Tennessee for having killed, and tortured, her son. Jane Luna didn’t even know her son was arrested until she received notice of his death.

2010: Jimmy Mubenga had fled Angola and gone to England seeking asylum. According to his wife, Adrienne Makenda Kambana, he was on a government hit list, “They killed my father and they threatened to kill Jimmy. They were looking for him. We had no choice but to leave.” On October 12, 2010, having lost his last battle for asylum in the UK, Jimmy Mubenga boarded a plane for Angola. Within 50 minutes on the plane, he was dead.

Witnesses report that the guards, G4S private deportation `escorts’, jumped on Mubenga and throttled him to death.  Escort deportation has become big business. This week, in court, witnesses on the plane testified that they could hear Jimmy Mubenga screaming, “You’re killing me” and “I can’t breathe.” Passenger David Brown was sitting 15 rows from Jimmy Mubenga: “I could hear that things were still happening. I could still hear him saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe‘.” Brown said he heard Mubenga scream and, again, cry, “I can’t breathe.” When Brown spoke to the guards, one responded: “He (Mubenga) is OK, once we take off he will be all right. He is on his way home.”

He is on his way home but he is not quite there yet.

In July of this year, Eric Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” as a police officer ignored and held him in an outlawed chokehold. Garner died, speaking those words. When Eric Garner’s widow, Esaw Gardner was asked if she accepted the apology of the man who killed her husband, she replied, “Hell no. The time for remorse for the death of my husband was when he was yelling to breathe.”

This is what happens when prisons become zones of abandonment, including abandonment of any rule of law or sense of humanity, and then the streets become extensions of prison. When almost nobody can breathe – Black men, Latinos, Black women, Latinas, Native men, Native women, working people, youth, those living with mental illness, elders, the poor, the homeless, trans women, trans men, lesbians, gay men, those living with HIV, `heavyset people’, diabetics, asthmatics, women on the streets `at the wrong time’, people with shadows, people without shadows – when almost nobody can breathe, the time for remorse is over. I can’t breathe. You’re killing me.

 

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

They were never meant to survive

Do you know these Black women’s names? They are part of a national tradition, from sea to shining sea. And this is only a very partial list.

Yvette Smith (Bastrop, TX) 2014: Bastrop woman’s family, friends say she was unarmed when she was killed by deputy

Miriam Carey (Washington, DC) 2013: Her name was Miriam Carey

Malissa Williams (Cleveland, OH) 2012: Deadly police chase from Cleveland into East Cleveland brings questions, leaves families sorrowful

Rekia Boyd (Chicago, IL) 2012: Off-Duty Chicago Police Officer Shoots Couple On Chicago’s West Side

Shantel Davis (New York, NY) 2012: The Shantel Davis Story Ignites Protests in Brooklyn

Shereese Francis (New York, NY) 2012: Did The NYPD Suffocate a Mentally Ill Woman To Death While Trying to Cuff Her?

Aiyana Jones (Detroit, MI) 2010: How a Police Officer Shot a Sleeping 7-Year Old to Death

Tarika Wilson (Lima, OH) 2008: Police Shooting of Mother and Infant Exposes a City’s Racial Tension

Alberta Spruill (New York, NY) 2003: Woman Dies After Police Mistakenly Raid Her Apartment

“So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive”

Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival”, The Black Unicorn

They were never meant to survive.

 

(Image Credit: BougieBlackGirl.com)

Pregnant women refugees Maryam and Tahere refuse Australia’s prisons

Maryam and Tahere, two Iranian women, each heavily into the eight month of pregnancy, are spending a third night on a bus outside the Wickham Point Detention Centre, in the blistering heat of Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia, Australia’s refugee detention capital. They refuse to get off the bus and subject themselves to the indignities of the Australian prison system. Their story is the latest chapter in Australia’s shameful trade in refugees and asylum seekers.

Maryam and Tahere are Iranians who, with their families, have spent the last fifteen months in detention on Nauru. The Australian government found them to be `credible’ refugees, and so were “resettled” within Nauruan communities earlier this year. When their pregnancies turned out to be too complex for the hospital on Nauru, they were flown to Australia … where they were put on a bus headed for the detention center. Their families offered to pay for a motel in the area, and the authorities refused. Apparently, the women are more valuable as `guests of the State’ than on their own. And so the women said, “Enough. No more. No!” They refused to leave the bus and enter, or better re-enter, confinement.

No good news comes from inside the walls of Wickham Point. At the beginning of the year, it was the focus of a campaign protesting the humiliating treatment of women asylum seekers and refugees. The treatment of asylum seekers in Wickham Point is often called dehumanizing, inhumane and shameful, and each report highlights the particular indignities that women are forced to undergo. Suicides, such as that of Haidar Ali Ikhtiyar last year, and self harm, such as that of the 17-year-old woman asylum seeker who jumped from a second story window three months ago, are regular features at Wickham.

Maryam and Tahere may or may not know the details of what’s been transpiring at Wickham Point, but they know. They know it’s a bad place. They know they deserve better. And so they have said, “Either take me to a hospital here or ship me back to Nauru. Better a hellhole than this.” They know. They know that the desperate one here is the State, desperate to incarcerate and cage by any and all means. And they say, loudly and clearly, No!

No good news comes from inside the walls of Wickham Point Detention Centre, but perhaps something like good news will come from outside the walls, the news of women’s refusal and of women’s insistence on their dignity.

 

(Photo Credit: Refugee Action Coalition)

End the epidemic of mass incarceration of women!

Once again, the celebration of Thanksgiving, in the United States, coincides with the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. One way to acknowledge that intersection could be to address the place of mass incarceration of women. The New York Times lead editorial today, “Mass Imprisonment and Public Health”, argues that incarceration has reached epidemic proportions, and, they insist, when they say “epidemic”, they mean that as literal, not figurative. Nebraska legislators this week heard that, in their state, prisons and jails have become the leading institutions for health care provision for those living with mental illness: “In Nebraska, the Douglas County Jail holds the most mentally ill people.” The legislators heard of the mental illness of people as they enter prison and jail, and they heard of the mental health crises engendered by rampant use of solitary confinement. In Boston, on Tuesday, when over a thousand people marched in solidarity with Ferguson residents and protesters, they marched to the South Bay House of Corrections, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “We see you!”

We see you. Where are the women in this vision?

On Tuesday, inmates at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women reached a settlement with the Virginia women’s prison. In 2012, five prisoners, represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center, sued the prison, claiming that the medical care was so bad that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week, a Federal judge extended the suit to a class action suit, covering all 1200 prisoners. The judge also ruled that hiring a contractor doesn’t absolve state prison officials of their responsibility to provide adequate health care. He further ruled that the women had serious medical needs. When the State heard that, they caved, and the settlement ensued.

What’s going on here? A Vera Institute report issued last week gives one version, under the title GREATER HEALTH DISPARITIES FOR WOMEN: “The number of women imprisoned in the U.S. increased nearly 6.5-fold from 1980 to 2010. Today, women comprise about 7 percent of all prisoners and 13 percent of all local jail populations, and face a greater burden of disease than incarcerated men, which is partly explained by disturbingly high rates of sexual victimization, substance use, and trauma. An estimated 6 percent are preg­nant, with the majority having conceived within 3 months of release from a prior incarceration. A significant percentage of these women have not seen an obstetrician on a regular basis prior to incarceration and are in unhealthy states due to substance use and malnutrition prior to entering custody. While a structured environment, regular meals, and access to care can improve birth outcomes, according to a recent survey, state prisons often fail to use best prac­tices and established standards when caring for pregnant women.”

Additionally, “Today, about 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in jails have a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder, compared to 3.2 and 4.9 percent respectively in the general population … Women experience higher rates of sexual victimization than men. A 2008 survey found three times as many females (13.7 percent) reported being sexually victimized by another prisoner than males (4.2 percent); and that twice as many women reported being sexually victimized by staff.”

All of this happens under the title of “correction.” What exactly is the State “correcting” when it violates women’s rights, bodies, lives, hopes and dreams, and does so without compunction? What is the public policy here that condemns women on the basis of their gender? Want to end violence against women? End the epidemic of mass incarceration of women. Do it now.

 

(Image Credit: Vera Institute of Justice)

Women cleaners and domestic workers confront violence against women

From Hong Kong to Qatar to Greece to the United States, domestic workers and women cleaners are under attack. They are under attack because they are women. In South Africa this year, domestic workers and women cleaners have confronted the attack head on.

Delia Adonis works as a cleaner in a mall in Cape Town. Last month, Adonis saw five men attack a sixth. She called the police, who intervened. She then went to the parking lot, where the five men encircled her, knocked her to the ground, and beat her. Throughout the assault, the men used racist and sexist epithets.

Adonis called the police and laid charges on the five men. It turns out they’re UCT students. Adonis claims that the police came to her and offered her money to drop the case. The officer allegedly said that the men were afraid of being kicked out of school. Adonis rejected the offer, and all it represented: “I’m really angry about this. I’m traumatised and still in pain. These youngsters verbally abuse us every weekend, and now this? I’m a mother of six – how would they feel if someone beat up their mothers like that? There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see. When I washed my face. I just thought to myself: ‘Boys, you can run but I leave you in the hands of the Lord’.”

Cynthia Joni works as a domestic worker in Cape Town. One morning, Joni was walking to work, when a white man leapt out of his car, slapped and threw her to the ground. She screamed, and he drove away. He was later identified and charged. His `explanation’ was that he mistook Cynthia Joni for a sex worker and `snapped.’ To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Cynthia Joni is not the first woman he’s assaulted. Now others are coming forth.

While the toxic mix in both the physical violence and then the subsequent violence that passes for explanation are important, the women’s response is more important. Domestic workers, sex workers, women workers reject the violence and call on the State to address it … forcefully and immediately.

Gloria Kente is a live-in domestic worker in Cape Town. Last year, her employer’s then-boyfriend got angry with her, allegedly grabbed her, spat in her face, and screamed a racist epithet at her. Kente called the police and had him charged with both assault and a violation of her human and civil rights. She called him out for hate speech and harassment. When the man tried to extend `an apology’, Kente said, “NO!” If an apology meant not going to court, not having the State fully involved, then Gloria Kente wanted no part of it.

Today’s stories echo the past. Over six years ago, four white students at the University of the Free State videotaped their assault on five cleaners, Mothibedi Molete, Mankoe Phororo, Emmah Koko, Nkgapeng Adams and Sebuasengwe Ntlatseng. The video went viral, as did disgust, and the cleaners, four women and one man, fought back. This June, the five cleaners launched their own company.

Today, however, domestic workers and women cleaners are making demands on the State. Domestic workers and women cleaners reject the protectionism that would see them as a separate class in need of help. They are workers with rights, women with rights, and humans with rights. As women workers increasingly demand their civil, labor, and human rights be respected, they consolidate power. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust)