Tufts University, Sotheby’s, WeWork and the war on women workers

Former WeWork cleaners’ vigil at WeWork headquarters on Monday

In the United States, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day. On Aug. 26, 1920, the amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for women officially became part of the U.S. Constitution. That equality does not extend to the workplace. Ask the women who clean offices. They’ll tell you of rampant sexual violence, harassment, persecution, and dismissal for speaking up or trying to organize. This is part of the global condition of women workers in the shining not-so-new economy of global cities.

In Boston, Tufts University “employs” around 200 janitors. The workers officially work for DTZ. DTZ describes itself as “a global leader in commercial real estate services.” DTZ boasts “facilities management for Harvard, Stanford, Florida State universities and many more colleges and universities across North America, Australia and Asia.”

Tufts claims DTZ began plans for reorganizing its custodial staff a while ago. Tufts also claims the university “planned the layoffs because it found out it was paying more for cleaning services than other similar universities … The restructuring will save the university about $900,000.” Both stories could be true at the same time.

Tufts would not speak with the janitors because the janitors don’t work for Tufts. They work for DTZ. When the notices finally came, janitors, students, the Service Employees International Union and other supporters began a months’ long campaign, which resulted in a temporary stay of eviction. But then the school year ended, the students went off, and the workers remained.

In July, DTZ told all the workers they had to change their schedules. Paula Castillo, 67-years-old, has worked as a janitor at Tufts for 19 years. She describes the impact of changed hours and increased workloads, “The shift in our work plus the change of our schedules have had a large impact on us. I used to schedule my weekly hospital appointments around 4 p.m. after work, but now that my hours were changed, I can’t go at 4 … The problem is that I won’t be able to clean the 120 bathrooms, and four buildings with three to five floors that I’m assigned to. We won’t be able to finish all the work they’ve assigned us. What they want is to take out all the elders, and it’s difficult to find a job because of my age. I won’t be able to.”

This is not particular to Tufts or to DTZ. It’s the same-old and new norm, all at once. At Sotheby’s in London, four Latin American workers joined a protest asking for livable sick leave. The next day, they were fired, but they don’t work for Sotheby’s. They work for Servest, “one of the largest cleaning services companies in the UK with experience in every setting you can imagine … With us, you can also expect a completely flexible approach.” Servest also flexibly “maintains” Cambridge University.

In New York, WeWork “released” its sub-contracted cleaners this past Monday, and announced it would be hiring new workers in “an exciting transition.” The new hires will be called Community Service Associates, and they must now demonstrate an “ability to communicate in English.” There is no mention of the metrics for evaluating that ability. Carlos Angulo has worked as a cleaner at WeWork for two years: “If I talk to the toilet in English it’s not going to answer. The printer doesn’t ask me to talk to it in English.”

These work forces are overwhelmingly women of color, and more often than not immigrant and transnational women of color. From dismissals to changed schedules to reduced hours and work speedups, efficiency and paying-more-for-services-than-our-brothers always provides cover for the systemic assault on women’s dignity and well being: office cleaners, garment workers, home health care workers, domestic workers, restaurant workers, teachers, nurses, women farm workers, women.



(Photo Credit: SEIU 32BJ / Gothamist)

The treatment of Sulma Franco is a national disgrace

The signs read, “SULMA IS WELCOME HERE”, but for how long, and what is welcome? Ask Sulma Franco, a 31-year-old LGBT activist from Guatemala who has lived in Texas for six years, part of that in San Antonio, much of it in Austin. In Austin, she owned a thriving food truck business, La Ilusión. No longer.

In 2009, Sulma Franco applied for asylum as an open lesbian who faced violence if she returned home. She passed her initial interview with immigration officers, who determined she had a “credible fear” of returning to Guatemala. Released from detention, she was allowed to work. For years, she reported to immigration officers every three months. In June 2014, she was arrested and faced deportation. She says her former attorney failed to file some papers, and so her asylum case ended, abruptly and without her knowledge: “I didn’t have any problems until then. The immigration official said to me, ‘You know what, I want to tell you your case is closed and you’ll be detained.’ As simple as that. My record is clean. I’m not a criminal … I was paying taxes on my business, and was contributing to society. I had a work permit, driver’s license, business permits that were all in my name.”

No one disputes that Sulma Franco, as an open lesbian and prominent LGBT activist, faces peril if she returns to Guatemala. According to a 2012 study, Guatemala is a world leader in “the frequency and severity of violence against women — including lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender (LBT) women”. Sulma Franco already knows this: “The most difficult situation is that I would end up dead. The discrimination, the hate due to my sexual orientation … In my country, these are things that happen because of sexual orientation. That’s why I fear returning. They can’t tolerate the idea that two women can fall in love, have a child, run a business. If I fled this, why would I want to return? Here, I was able to take my girlfriend to a restaurant and have no problems … I don’t want to go back. I’ve suffered enough there. I’ve been discriminated against, abused and beaten up in every form because of my lifestyle … I can be tortured. I can be sexually abused. I can also be killed.”

On June 11, Sulma Franco was given sanctuary in an Austin church. Faith based groups joined immigrant rights organizers and women’s groups to push for a stay in deportation. On Tuesday, August 18, Sulma Franco was granted an order of supervision, which allows her to stay in the United States “for the time being.” Meanwhile, La Ilusión is no more, thanks to months in detention.

The treatment of Sulma Franco is a national disgrace, and it’s far from over. Yet again, for one woman to arrive at a precarious for-the-time-being, hundreds of people have to invest thousands of hours. In a famous scene in The Elephant Man, John Merrick, the protagonist, asks his mentor, “If your mercy is so cruel, what do you have for justice?” His mentor replies, “I am sorry. It is just the way things are.” Sulma Franco knows the way things are: cruel mercy, injustice posing as rule of law, and massive and intensive exploitation of those women who dare to dream. As simple as that.

Sulma Franco



(Photo Credit 1: Mari Hernandez / The Austin Chronicle) (Photo Credit 2: Alberto Martinez / San Antonio Current)

In New Zealand’s prisons, Māori women’s lives don’t matter

#NativeLivesMatter. Native women’s lives matter. Tell that to New Zealand Aotearoa. The island nation increasingly uses both names. Aotearoa, the Māori name, is being used with greater frequency. That may be so, but at the same time, the prisons of that island nation are overwhelmingly Māori, and in particular Māori women, and the State doesn’t care.

The active lack of concern for Māori women is shown in the new Te Tirohanga, or Focus, program in the prisons, a new program based on Māori principles: “With 8,500 prisoners among a national population of 4.5 million, New Zealand ranks as one of the highest jailers in the developed world. But as has been repeatedly highlighted in reports by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Māori component is staggering. While those who identify as Māori make up about 15% of the New Zealand population, the corresponding figure behind bars is more than 50%. Among women, for whom there is no Te Tirohanga option, it is higher still, at 60%.”

60 percent of the women in prison in New Zealand are Māori, and for them, there is no Te Tirohanga option. Why are Māori women excluded from this option?

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has long noted the dire mathematics of New Zealand’s prisons. In its 2014 report, the Working Group identified five areas of concern: over-incarceration; detention of Māori; detention of refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants; detention of persons with mental or intellectual disabilities; detention of children and young persons. The only people not over incarcerated are White adults not living with mental or intellectual disabilities. For Māori women, however, the situation is dire: “The over-representation of Māori in the prison population poses a significant challenge as recognised in New Zealand’s National Report to the 2014 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the Human Rights Council. Māori make up more than 50 per cent of the prison population while Māori comprise some 15 per cent of the population of New Zealand. In the case of Maõri women, they account for more than 65 per cent of the prison population … The Working Group recalls that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Human Rights Committee and, in two reports, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, have recommended that New Zealand increase its efforts to prevent the discrimination against Māori in the administration of justice. Particular concerns have been raised in relation to the overrepresentation of Māori women.”

Particular concerns have been raised in relation to the overrepresentation of Māori women. How has the State responded? For Māori women, there is no Te Tirohanga option. In its most recent Census Report, the New Zealand government includes prison populations under Living outside the norm: An analysis of people living in temporary and communal dwellings. Too often, prisons come up as “outside the norm”, but for Māori women, it’s exactly the opposite. Prison is the norm, and, for prisons, Māori women are the norm. Neil Campbell, the director of Māori for the New Zealand Aotearoa Department of Corrections looks at the Te Tirohanga program and wonders, “If this is such a great program, why are we limiting it to the five whare [units]? Why aren’t we running it in the community? Why don’t women have access to it?” Why don’t Māori women have access to it? Because, for the State, Māori women’s lives don’t matter.


(Photo Credit: UNDP)

Burundi “where living is an act of resistance”: Ketty Nivyabandi

Ketty Nivyabandi during a protest on May 13, 2015, in Bujumbura

In May, women brought the struggle for democracy to the Burundi’s capital’s city Center. In the first major protest in Bujumbura, the women protested much more than President Pierre Nkurunziza’s move to take a third term. They demanded peace, unity, democracy, and recognition of their own power. As Ketty Nivyabandi, Burundian poet and activist, declared, “We came here to express our distress. We, the women, we are made helpless in this country because women are always the first victims of conflict. We are always the first to be affected by the situation, and we are tired. We want respect from our nation, we want freedom of expression for all Burundians.” In the aftermath, Ketty Nivyabandi was forced into exile, but not into silence. She continues to express, demand, and organize. According to Nivyabandi, the Bujumbura has become more and more like Oran in Camus’s The Plague, “a city where living is an act of resistance.”

In this season of bare life, silence is impossible: “It is impossible to remain silent in the face of all that’s happening in Burundi. We are a generation of Africans who did not live throught the struggle for independence, and we were too young to understand what was going on during the struggles for multi-party democracy. But today, we bear the responsibility to struggle for liberty in our countries. I feel responsible. I don’t want to look at my children, later, and tell them there was nothing I could do during this period in our history.”

Ketty Nivyabandi sees the current moment in Burundi as part of an African wave, “There is a wave blowing across Africa where a new generation demands greatness. We want excellence. We want leaders who deliver, and we want our laws to be upheld.” Call it Spring, call it harmattan, women’s protests have led to mass protests have led to hope and the promise of democracy.

For Ketty Nivyabandi, the push for expanded democracy is always already a push for democracy itself, and the “Burundi crisis” is a global crisis, “If the justice system, the judicial system, is not independent, and is not able to function freely, how is this a democracy? Democracy is not about going to vote. It’s not just about voting. It’s all the conditions that allow for the freedom of every citizen to express their views and to choose the way they’d like to be led. Right now there is no choice. Our responsibility as global citizens is to ensure that this doesn’t go on. That this is stopped as soon as possible. Urgently. We need to act urgently.”

We need to act urgently, because the very substance of peace is at stake: “My hopes for Burundi are as big and wide as the sky. But most of all, especially this year, I hope for peace. Not the kind of peace that is signed by a few, on a loose sheet of paper. The kind that sits in people’s bellies. A sense of freedom and possibility. The kind that secures and liberates every Burundian to be what they wish to be. All that artists and poets like me can do is to be so true with our art, that through it, Burundi is able see itself, and to keep stirring its heart alive.”



(Photo Credit 1: Ketty Nivyabandi / VICE) (Photo Credit 2: aufeminin.com)

From fast track to rocket dockets: On the assembly line of rejected women asylum seekers

Another week, another `discovery’ that the liberal democratic State is in the business of torturing women asylum seekers. This week’s offering, Report on an unannounced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, opens: “Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire held 354 detainees at the time of this inspection. Most of those held were single women … The centre has been controversial since it opened in 2001 and in recent months it has been the subject of new allegations about the treatment of women held there and the conduct of staff. We last inspected the centre in June 2013 … This inspection found that in some important areas the treatment and conditions of those held at the centre had deteriorated significantly, the main concerns we had in 2013 had not been resolved and there was greater evidence of the distress caused to vulnerable women by their detention.” Yarl’s Wood has always been bad, and now it’s `deteriorated.’

The Chief Inspector concludes, “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern … Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held … We have raised many of the concerns in this report before. Pregnant detainees and women with mental health problems should only be held in the most exceptional circumstances. Rule 35 processes are meant to protect people from detention when they have been tortured and traumatised or are extremely vulnerable in other ways. Staff should have the training and support they need to better understand the experiences of the women for whom they are responsible. There are not enough female staff. This inspection has also identified new concerns. Health care needs to improve urgently. Staffing levels as a whole are just too low to meet the needs of the population. Yarl’s Wood has deteriorated since our last inspection and the needs of the women held have grown. In my view, decisive action is needed to ensure women are only detained as a last resort. Procedures to ensure the most vulnerable women are never detained should be strengthened and managers held accountable for ensuring they are applied consistently. Depriving anyone of their liberty should be an exceptional and serious step. Other well-respected bodies have recently called for time limits on administrative detention. In my view, the rigorously evidenced concerns we have identified in this inspection provide strong support for these calls, and a strict time limit must now be introduced on the length of time that anyone can be administratively detained.”

None of this is new; we have raised many of the concerns before. One by one by one, women tell their stories of life, and death, inside Yarl’s Wood, and, after a momentary shuffle, Yarl’s Wood remains. A year ago today, in response to the abuse rained upon Nigerian lesbian, feminist, asylum seeker Aderonke Apata, we wrote, “End the United Kingdom’s current witch-hunt against African lesbians, against African women asylum seekers, against African women generally. Shut down Yarl’s Wood. Don’t delay, don’t pretend it’s complicated. It’s not. The `conditions in there are very bad.’ Every day Yarl’s Wood is open, women living trauma are forced to engage with their past traumas wrapped into new ones, with the pain intensifying by the second. Every day Yarl’s Wood is open, women who sought help are exploited and then exploited again more intensively. It’s not complicated. Shut down Yarl’s Wood, because it’s bad and wrong, and every day it’s open, we are steeped deeper and deeper into guilt and shame. All of us are. Shut down Yarl’s Wood. Do it today.”

365 days later, the protest numbers grow, and Yarl’s Wood stands, solid as ever.

Yarl’s Wood is part of the global economy of miserable efficiencies, in which women who seek haven are criminalized and then forced to pay for “the troubles” they have caused. From fast track in the UK to rocket dockets in the USA, time is money. The assembly line of rejected women, and children, asylum seekers, overwhelmingly racially and ethnically identified, must continually accelerate. No time for health care. These women can’t afford that, anyway. No time to hire adequate staff. These women can’t afford to pay for proper staff. Why are women seeking asylum put in prison? Because these women can’t afford to live here. That’s the law.


(Photo Credit: Sally Hayden / VICE News)

Michelle Cusseaux’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave

On August 14, 2014, just days after Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona fatally shot Michelle Cusseaux, a 50-year-old Black woman living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. Michelle Cusseaux had called for a taxi to take her to the hospital. When the taxi didn’t show, she called her case manager. The case manager called the police to take her to an inpatient mental health facility. Four police officers came. Words were exchanged. Police took the door down. A few minutes later, Michelle Cusseaux lay with a single bullet in her chest. She died soon after. A week later, on August 22, activists carried Michelle Cusseaux’s casket to City Hall. The march was led by Frances Garrett, Michelle Cusseaux’s mother. Michelle Cusseaux’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but her soul goes marching on.

The Phoenix police knew why they were going to Michelle Cusseaux’s residence. They called Frances Garrett to determine if she had ever had a gun. She had not. They knew this situation. Their knowledge made no difference; their knowledge executed another Black women, another Black woman living with mental illness. Michelle Cusseaux’s death echoes that of Shereese Francis, in Brooklyn, in 2012.

Each time, the family mourns and calls for independent investigations. Each time, a mother stands up and asks, “Why?” Shereese Francis’s mother, Eleen Francis, faces Michelle Cusseaux’s mother, Frances Garrett. The nation is blanketed with Mothers of Mourning who had nowhere to go, who called the police to help them, and now …

They knew. They knew, because of the orders, the orders to pick her up and take her in to a facility,” Frances Garrett explains. They knew, they knew. On March 18, 2015, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the killing of Michelle Cusseaux was justified. They knew, they knew, and they continue to know. #SayHerName


(Image Credit: Tara Jacoby / http://justice.gawker.com) (Photo Credit: Matthew Hendley / http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com)

The women in Yarl’s Wood demand FREEDOM. Don’t you?

Movement for Justice Freedom

The women imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood wore homemade t-shirts today. The shirts said FREEDOM. Though invisible to those outside, the message was heard loud and clear. Brought together by the Movement for Justice, hundreds of people showed up at Yarl’s Wood today, with one message. FREEDOM! Shut it down now! Never open it again! Set her free! #SetHerFree #ShutItDown. Dignity! FREEDOM! The crowd united diverse communities and organizations. Women chanted from one side of the fence surrounding the prison, and the women inside Yarl’s Wood responded, amplifying the demand to shut it down, now and forever. Women inside, women formerly inside, and women never inside are organizing, and each day, their numbers grow and, more importantly, each day they grow closer and closer. A lesson of this movement to shut down immigration detention centers, once and for all, is written in diminishing spaces-between. The State chose an architecture of division and conquest, and the people responded, FREEDOM! Freedom unites. Since last year, each demonstration at Yarl’s Wood has literally been closer to the prison than the preceding one. FREEDOM is drawing nigh.

Increasingly, the women inside Yarl’s Wood are communicating directly with their sister supporters surrounding Yarl’s Wood. Today, for example, when those outside shouted, “What do you want?” The women inside responded, “We want FREEDOM!” And their shouts were heard and then broadcast. When the women inside Yarl’s Wood waved clothes, banners, signs reading SOS, they were legible to those outside. They were legible and audible because the distances-between are being eroded. Demonstrations are coming closer and closer; under cover news cameras are entering with greater facility; and former Yarl’s Wood prisoners are bringing the call for FREEDOM not only to the gates of Yarl’s Wood but also to the heart of the public.

Today, for example, Raja Khouja, 56 years old, recalled her time inside, “Along with my husband, Mahmoud, and all of the other detainees we were treated like animals. My husband is a diabetic and had his medication withheld for hours, we were unable to get the money given to us by a friend so we could contact the outside world, it was awful. There were women in there who were pregnant, or who had been detained while their children were put into the social care, and it was heart-breaking to see them just breaking down.”

In March, 2015, the women in Yarl’s Wood wore t-shirts they’d made, which read, “We are not animals.” Today, their message is shorter: FREEDOM! The women in Yarl’s Wood demand FREEDOM. Don’t you?


(Photo Credit: http://www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk) (Video Credit: Vimeo.com / Movement for Justice)

In Uganda, women say NO! to bride price violence against women

Yesterday, Uganda’s Supreme Court ruled that refunding a bride price when customary marriages end is unconstitutional and should be banned: “Refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman.” The judges unanimously agreed that referring to bridal gifts as bride price reduces its significance to market value. On the other hand, the judges decided that bride price itself is not (yet) unconstitutional. This victory for women’s rights, power and dignity emerges from the persistent organizing work of MIFUMI, a Uganda based women’s organization that, since its establishment in 1994, has focused on domestic violence and bride price, which, they argue, is a form of structural domestic violence.

In 2004 MIFUMI organized the first international conference on bride price, which produced the International Kampala Declaration on Bride Price. The Ugandan government responded by saying bride price belongs to customary laws and courts.

Undeterred, in 2007, MIFUMI petitioned Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking to have “bride prices” declared unconstitutional: “The payment of bride price by men for their wives as demanded by custom from several tribes in Uganda leads men to treat their women as mere possessions from whom maximum obedience is extracted, thus perpetuating conditions of inequality between men and women”. In 2010, the Constitutional Court overwhelming rejected MIFUMI’s petition. MIFUMI appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 2011, leading Ugandan feminist jurist Sylvia Tamale noted, “Strategic action litigation in the area of gender and sexuality is … in its infancy … Its process is brutal and controversial. Most women’s rights NGOs that engage this strategy take their cases to mainstream lawyers due to limited capacity and the fact that most female lawyers shy away from overly aggressive lawyering. This means that lawyers who argue such cases in court lack the requisite empathy with feminist issues and methods … This, for example, happened in the recent Ugandan case of Mifumi (U) Ltd. & 12 Others v. Attorney General & Another (Const. Petition No. 12 of 2010) where the women’s rights NGO, Mifumi unsuccessfully challenged the traditional practice of bridewealth, associating it with domestic violence. Instead of directly challenging the deeply entrenched practice per se, perhaps it may have been more strategic to focus on and argue against its oppressive aspect that requires a wife to `reimburse’ bride price in full in order to gain divorce from her abusive husband.”

A mere four years later, and here’s MIFUMI again, one step closer to full abolition. Leah Nabunnya, a spokeswoman for MIFUMI declared, “The court’s pronouncement is a win for us.” Solomy Awiidi, a legal officer with MIFUMI, agreed, “There are fathers and brothers of brides facing civil suit because they failed to return the bride price, while thousand if not millions of women across the country who have been abused because of failure to refund the bride price. This ruling will liberate many of them.” MIFUMI Director for Communications Evelyn Schiller added, “Women are no longer going to be chained in abusive marriages. They have been given a choice. This court declaration means that women can escape from a marriage if it is abusive without fear that I have to refund the price that was paid for me 20 years ago or that my father and brothers will pay the repercussions for this if I leave this marriage.”

Atika Turner, Executive Director of MIFUMI, concluded: “A woman is turned into an object that is not taken into account during those discussions, she does not have a say in how much is paid. The man feels he is entitled to his wife’s obedience, reproductive capacity and labor. So anytime she resists his demands, he feels he is entitled to mistreat her and this forces many women to endure violence.”

Yesterday’s court decision in Uganda demonstrates the real potential for women’s material liberation everywhere. Women are organizing in the streets, households, courts, conference halls, legislatures, and beyond. Undeterred by impediments, they study the situation, analyze the defeats, and hone their tools and weapons. Thanks to MIFUMI and their sisters everywhere, the struggle continues!


(Photo Credit: http://www.mifumi.org)

The gender of death: How (many) women die in jails

Yesterday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS, released a report, Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000–2013 – Statistical Tables. Suicide is the leading cause of death in U.S. jails. Also yesterday, the Spokane County Jail, in Washington State, requested that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate its recent rash of prisoner suicides. Today, reluctantly and under pressure from the Federal government, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agreed to reforms in the L.A. County Jail that would finally begin to address “chronically poor treatment for mentally ill inmates and … years of abusive behavior by jailers.” Across much of the country, jurisdictions are finally beginning to focus on mental illness in jails.

From how one dies to how many ones die, jail deaths are gendered: “In 2013, a total of 967 jail inmates died while in the custody of local jails. The number of deaths increased from 958 deaths in 2012 to 967 in 2013, while the jail population decreased 4%. As a result, the overall mortality rate in local jails increased from 128 per 100,000 jail inmates in 2012 to 135 per 100,000 in 2013.”

Last year, a BJS report noted, “The number of deaths in local jails increased, from 889 in 2011 to 958 in 2012, which marked the first increase since 2009. The increase in deaths in local jails was primarily due to an increase in illness-related deaths (up 24%) … Suicide continued to be the leading cause of death in local jails”.

In 2000 and 2001, 91 women died in jail. In 2012, 122 women died in local jails; in 2013, 124. Starting in 2003, the number of women dying in local jails has never dipped below 110. More women are dying in jail, and women in jail are making up, year by year, a greater percentage of jail deaths, from 10.1% in 2000 to 12.8% in 2013.

From 2000 to 2013, 1630 women died in local jails. Of that number, 347 committed suicide.

On any average day in 2013, 100,000 women were in local jails. That’s up from 68,000 in 2000, and from 2000 to 2005, the numbers stayed well below 100,000. Today, 100,000 is the norm. Last year, the “good news” was that the suicide rate among women in jail had gone down from 30 out of 100,000 to 26 out of 100,000. In 2013, that rate rose to 30.

In a separate report, the BJS notes, “The female inmate population increased 18.1% between midyear 2010 and 2014, while the male population declined 3.2% … Males have made up at least 85% of the jail population since 2000. The female inmate population increased 18.1% (up 16,700 inmates) between midyear 2010 and 2014, while the male population declined 3.2% (down 20,900 inmates). The female jail population grew by an average of about 1.6% every year between 2005 and 2014. In comparison, the male jail population declined by 0.3% every year since 2005.” In 2000, 70, 987 women and girls were in jail; in 2014, 109,100. In 2000, women and girls made up 11.4% of the jail population; in 2014, 14.7%.

None of this is new. Girls end up in jail for status offenses; boys don’t. Women end up in jail, and dead, because they live with mental illnesses, and, when they need help, the police arrive. That’s the cruel and usual punishment of women in jails. How many more federal reports, scholarly studies, grieving families and dead women’s bodies are needed for the nation to act?


(Graph credit: Bureau of Justice Statistics / http://www.prisonpolicy.org)

The forgotten grave of Nadia Vera, Yesenia Quiroz, Nicole, Alejandra, Ruben Espinosa

On Friday, July 31, five people, four women and one man, were tortured and murdered, in the Navarte neighborhood of Mexico City. The women were raped and tortured and then shot. The women are Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, a student from Michoacan; Nicole, a Colombian activist; Alejandra, a domestic worker; and Nadia Vera, a human rights activist. The man was Ruben Espinosa, a photojournalist for Proceso, a leading news magazine. Both Espinosa and Vera were public in their investigations and critiques of the powerful in Veracruz, which is one reason they had both fled that state for the presumed safety of the Federal District. Because of the sexual violence and torture against the four women, the State may pursue a case of femicide.

Nadia Vera was a leading member of the Xalapa, Veracruz, section of the #YoSoy132 student and youth movement. She was a social anthropologist. A year ago, after having been beaten by the police and after receiving anonymous death threats, Nadia Vera left Veracruz. In Mexico City, she worked as a cultural promoter in a cultural center and was, by many accounts, “happy for the first time in a long time.” At the same time, she continued her social justice work. When Ruben Espinosa fled Xalapa, he went to stay with his friend and comrade, Nadia Vera.

Nadia Vera was happy, but she also knew that the State was responsible for the violence and death in Veracruz and would crush those who called it out. Eight months ago, she gave an interview with Rompeviento Televisión, which concluded with this statement, “I hold Javier Duarte, the governor of the state of Veracruz, and his entire Cabinet responsible for anything that happens to me and my family … I want to be absolutely clear that it is the responsibility of the State, not of the security forces, because it is the State that is directly responsible for sending them to repress us.”

It is the State that raped and butchered four women in Navarte last Friday, and everyone knows that. As Vera said earlier in the same interview, “How many journalists have been assassinated, and absolutely nothing has been done? How many students? How many activists? How many human rights defenders have been assassinated or disappeared? We have an impressively high level of disappearances.” Nadia Vera went on to explain that in Xalapa, and in Veracruz generally, the State and the narcotraffickers worked hand in glove, and that journalists, students, activists, human rights defenders were trying to survive and thrive somewhere in the spaces between the State hand and the narco glove.

That interview was titled, “Veracruz: la fosa olvidada”. Veracruz: the forgotten grave. Five more people are being laid into that forgotten grave, four women, one man. I want to be absolutely clear that it is the responsibility of the State.


(Video Credits: Vimeo / Rompimiento Televisión)