OXI! Greek women say NO to the Dictatorship of the Debt

For the last five years, Women In and Beyond the Global has maintained a series on Greek women, and women in Greece, during the ongoing `crisis’. These pieces have been written by Brigitte Marti, Sonia Mitralia, Dan Moshenberg. We’ve also provided translation for a video, Canaries in the Coalmine.

Given the weekend’s referendum, we thought it would be a good idea to put those pieces that focus exclusively on Greece together. The struggle continues!

Asylum-seeker Mandana Daneshnia and her daughter haunt democracy. Dan Moshenberg. October 24, 2010. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=710

We are all canaries in the coal mine. Brigitte Marti. December 4, 2013. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=6613

Deprivation in Greece … just an emotional issue??? Brigitte Marti. December 30, 2013. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=6670

Violence Against Women as a strategic weapon in a time of class war in Greece. Sonia Mitralia. January 3, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=6676

Women’s rights, labor rights did not cause the Greek mess. Brigitte Marti. February 2, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=7989

The urgency of an independent women’s movement against debt and austerity measures. Sonia Mitralia. February 4, 2014 http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=8146

In Greece, from debt to prison to death. Brigitte Marti. March 30, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=11293

In Athens, women cleaners reject austerity’s mess. Brigitte Marti. April 6, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=11785

The people do not celebrate Greece’s return to the debt market. Brigitte Marti. April 21, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=12642

Greek cleaning women demand an end to austerity. Dan Moshenberg. June 14 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15727

Solidarity with Greek women cleaners against austerity! Brigitte Marti. July 7, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15768

In Greece, austerity builds its own gulag. Dan Moshenberg. July 8, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15772

Cleaners: A handful of women show the way! Sonia Mitralia. August 6, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=15831

The experiment continues, and we are all still canaries in the coal mine. Brigitte Marti. November 19, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=16064

A new beginning for Greece and for Europe starts today! Brigitte Marti. February 18, 2014. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18325

Appeal to support the resisting Greek people and its Truth Commission on Public Debt. Sonia Mitralia. May 27, 2015 http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18751

Across Europe women campaign against the Dictatorship of the Debt. Brigitte Marti. June 15, 2015. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18866

In Greece, the women cleaners show the way! Brigitte Marti. June 25, 2015. http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=18914

#OXI! #GreeceIsTheWord!

 

(Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andreas Solaro) (Photo Credit: Getty Images / Christopher Furlong)

#ShutDownBerks: The mothers of Berks Family Detention Center demand justice now!

The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. The only thing “family” about Berks are the lies the State promulgates: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) established the Berks Family Residential Facility (“Berks”) in March 2001. Designed as a non-secure residential facility to accommodate the unique needs of undocumented children and their families, Berks became the first of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to keeping families and children together while undergoing immigration proceedings. Located in Leesport, PA, the eighty-five (85) bed facility that was once a nursing home is nestled in a quiet, small-town community. Berks … provides non-violent, non-criminal families with a variety of supportive services throughout their stay.” There is nothing supportive in or about Berks. That’s why the mothers of Berks Detention are on work strike. That’s why supporters will show up next Saturday, July 11, to demand the State shut it down … now.

While the U.S. immigration policy has swung back and forth between hang-em-high and hang-em-higher, the one constant since 2001 has been Berks Family Detention, and from the beginning it has been criticized for its inhumane treatment and general brutality towards its prison populations, largely women and children. Recently the women of Berks have been turning up the heat.

In April, seventeen mothers held, with their children, in Berks “camp” wrote a letter to ICE, demanding their release. ICE never responded. Cristina and her twelve-year-old son were held at Berks for 14 months: “When I started my journey to the US, all I could think about was keeping my son safe. But after several months locked up, my son didn’t even want to eat anymore. He cried all the time and kept telling me he wanted to leave, but he doesn’t understand the danger we’d face if we were sent back. He still wakes up shaking with nightmares from the trauma.” ICE continued to claim that Berks is top of the line.

On June 10, ten mothers launched a work strike. The women demand to be released and that Berks be shut down. They also demand the “free world” take responsibility for the systematic abuses taking place inside Berks: exploitation, harassment, violence. ICE continues to claim that Berks is top of the line … and perhaps it is, but it’s a line that must end today.

On Friday, June 19, at 3 a.m., one of the Mothers of Berks, 34-year-old Ana and her 12-year-old daughter were awakened and sent off to the airport, where they were whisked back to Guatemala. A judge has since ordered that Ana and her daughter be returned to the United States, citing a violation of “due process.” When Ana, in Guatemala, heard of the judge’s order, she responded, “I just want to come back.” Ana and her daughter. fled Guatemala because of partner domestic abuse. Ana and her daughter have already spent over a year in Berks.

The State tries to pass off “family detention centers” as an attempt to preserve the family, but the women and children inside those jails know better. They are prisons designed to punish immigrant women, overwhelmingly women of color, Latinas, indigenous from the Global South, for being women: “The treatment of immigrants … signals, both to immigrant communities, and to the neighbors and other citizens who observe them, that these families can be disrupted at will: children can be separated from their parents, parents can be deprived of their ability to care for or even to discipline their children without findings of inadequacy and without recourse. These families are in fact abjected: expelled from the community symbolically, before they are expelled concretely. They are reduced to beings for whom the quintessentially human imperatives of care and nurturance, and the possibilities of family formation and preservation, seem not to apply.”

As one mother inside Berks explained, “When I left the violence of my county, I never thought I would end up in a place like this. It is safer here, yes, but it is just as bad. I’m crying because I just want to leave. I don’t know when I will.” #ShutDownBerks. Do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: http://aldianews.com) (Image Credit: http://vamosjuntos.org)

Sacrificing women asylum seekers on the altar of speed and convenience

 

Since 2003, those seeking asylum who come to the United Kingdom are greeted with what the State delicately refers to as the Detained Fast-Track Asylum System, or DFT. The only thing systematic in DFT is violence, and in particular violence against women. Two weeks ago, the High Court found the system unlawful and should be ended immediately. The State replied that stopping the system would be “inconvenient”, and the high court agreed, granting a stay on the order. Detention Action appealed the delay, and last Friday, the Court of Appeals agreed with them, meaning the system has to close down. The Home Office is in chaos.

The State loves throwing asylum seekers behind bars. In 2013, the latest figures available show 4,286 asylum seekers locked up, via DFT, in Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook or Harmondsworth. 4,286 human beings seeking help and haven end up in cages. In 2012, Detained Fast Track sent 2,477 asylum seekers to Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth. That’s an increase of 73% in one year. Cruelty and inhumanity are a growth industry.

This is the third time Detained Fast Track has been found unlawful. As Detention Action noted, “The High Court first ruled in July 2014 that the operation of the Detained Fast Track was at the time unlawful. Then, on 16th December 2014 the Court of Appeal found that the detention of asylum seekers who were not at risk of absconding whilst their appeals are pending was unlawful. Yet still the Fast Track continues.”

Now asylum seekers might be able to apply for bail. Having faced war, destitution, sexual violence in their home countries, and often in their homes, having made it to England only to be jailed, having often undergone further intimidation, brutality, including sexual violence, at the hands of the prison staff, these `dangers to society’ might be able to approach the shadowlands of due process. It’s not justice, but at least it’s due process.

The latest High Court trial was heard before High Court Justice Andrew Nicol, who concluded, “In my judgment the FTR [Fast Track Rules] do incorporate structural unfairness. They put the Appellant at a serious procedural disadvantage … What seems to me to make the FTR structurally unfair is the serious procedural disadvantage which comes from the abbreviated timetable and curtailed case management powers together with the imposition of this disadvantage on the appellant by the respondent to the appeal.”

Justice Nicol goes on to discuss what happens when `efficiency’ trumps justice:

“I recall that the SSHD [Secretary of State for the Home Department] opposed the TPC’s [Tribunal Procedure Committee] preliminary view that separate Fast Track Rules should be abolished and the Tribunal judiciary be left with discretion to shorten time limits either on an individual basis or through Practice Directions from the Chamber Presidents. As the TPC’s consultation document had said, `the Home Office is concerned that leaving procedures to the discretion of Tribunal Judges would not deliver the clear, consistent and truncated timetable that the current rules provide for.’

“From the perspective of an executive department that is a perfectly understandable objective, but it is not consistent with a procedural scheme which must give an element of priority to fairness and seeing that justice is done. On the contrary, it looks uncomfortably akin to what Sedley LJ in Refugee Legal Centre said should not happen, namely sacrificing fairness on the altar of speed and convenience.”

Fine words, and a good decision, but there is neither altar nor sacrifice in this tragedy. There was a determination that too many Black and Brown women – mostly African and Middle Eastern – would tip the boat, and so speed and `convenience’ justified the construction of a charnel-house network for those, and especially those women, “Black as if bereav’d of light,” whose only value is to enact death-in-life and then die, either behind bars or somewhere else. Shut it down. #SetHerFree

 

(Image Credit: Detention Action)

Takbar Haddi’s hunger strike for her son and Saharawi independence

Takbar Haddi begins her hunger strike

For forty-one years, we have never known liberty,” says Takbar Haddi as she explains the brutal murder – assassination of her son, Mohamed Lamine Haidala, at the hands of Moroccan settlers. For thirty-six days, Takbar Haddi was on a hunger strike, sitting at the doorsteps of the Moroccan Consulate in Las Palmas, Gran Canarias, where she now lives in exile. She was demanding something as simple, complex, and powerful as simple justice. On June 19, at the insistence of doctors and supporters, she ended her individual hunger strike, but others have taken it up, and so now people across Spain are on one-day hunger strikes. The hunger strike continues.

On January 30, 2015, 21-year-old Mohamed Lamine Haidala came to the rescue of a woman, a neighbor, who was being harassed by five Moroccan settlers. According to many reports, later that night Mohamed Lamine Haidala was killed by those same five settlers, stabbed numerous times. Haidala, who lived in El Aaiun, the capital of occupied Western Sahara, was an activist for Saharawi independence.

Seriously injured, Mohamed Lamine Haidala was taken to hospital, where he was denied anesthesia and painkillers during the procedure; arrested; and hauled off to the police station, where he spent the night sleeping on the floor. He was released the next day.

His situation deteriorated. The family took him from one hospital to another, and each refused treatment. Finally, he was taken, by ambulance, to Agadir, almost 400 miles away, where, again, he was denied treatment repeatedly. On February 8, Mohamed Lamine Haidala died in a hospital waiting room.

The story of occupation continues. Police confiscated Mohamed Lamine Haidala’s body. As of now, authorities still hold his body, and no autopsy has been performed. Takbar Haddi returned to Western Sahara, to no avail. When Takbar Haddi entered into her hunger strike, she demanded that an independent body conduct an autopsy and that her son’s body be returned to the family, so that they might honor his life and memory properly.

During her hunger strike, Takbar Haddi received support and visits from Saharawi independence activists such as Hmad Hmad, Brahime Dahane and Aminatou Haidar. Takbar Haddi said her son visited her in a dream and said, “Mother, find justice for me, mother, find justice for my body.” She then went on to explain, “Every mother knows the pain that one must feel at losing a child and not even knowing where his body lies. My heart is breaking.”

Since Takbar Haddi ended her hunger strike, others have taken it up, beginning with Teresa Rodríguez, Regional Deputy for Podemos Andalucía. They are joining with Takbar Haddi in her pursuit of justice: “For 41 years, the Saharawi have had no right to justice, to life, to anything.”

It is time. It is way past time to listen to the women of Western Sahara and end the occupation and the reign of torture. It is time to break the silence surrounding the violence. How many more must die before we realize our part in the deaths? How many more sons and mothers must suffer torture before we realize our role in the commission of terror? How many more Saharawi women must endure State violence before we realize that we are that State?

What happened to Mohamed Lamine Haidala? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Just another day in the occupation.

 

(Photo Credit: https://www.diagonalperiodico.net)

Turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe. Do it now!

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If you live in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, California, or Washington, you might live near Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. That’s right. From sea to shining sea, from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border, Jefferson Davis is “honored” and, presumably, you are honored to drive in his memory.

In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy designed, planned and sponsored the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway system, which was to extend from Washington, DC, to San Diego. Their plan was to overlay the Confederacy onto the map of the United States, an ocean-to-ocean highway that would compete with the Lincoln Highway. While the coordinated highway system no longer exists, in each of the states mentioned above, parts of it survive, and under the name Jefferson Davis Highway.

In 2002, when Washington State Representative Hans Dunshee proposed changing the name of Washington’s Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, he ran into a whirlwind of opposition, because nothing says the Pacific Northwest like … the Confederacy and the war to preserve slavery. As Dunshee noted, “People are saying, ‘Oh, Jeff Davis was into roads for the Northwest.’ That’s their cover. But let’s be clear. This memorial was not put up by the AAA. It was put up to glorify the Confederacy.” The president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy weighed in, complaining that the change would “cause more hard feelings and certainly will not unify our country.”

When Dunshee first discovered the presence of the Confederacy in his home state, he said, “I was astonished that it was there. And then I was disgusted.” Disgust is a good response. Dunshee’s disgust only deepened, once he received calls telling him “to go back to Africa and take all of his kind with him.” Hans Dunshee’s “kind” would be German and Irish.

Nine years later, in 2011, in Arlington, Virginia, the Arlington County Board renamed a part called the Old Jefferson Davis Highway. It’s now the Long Bridge Drive. Why the name change? As then-County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman explained, “I have a problem with ‘Jefferson Davis’ [in the road’s name]. There are aspects of our history I’m not particularly interested in celebrating.”

While the “Old Jefferson Davis Highway” was part of the original Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, it wasn’t included in the Commonwealth’s 1922 designation of the Jefferson Davis Highway, and so Arlington County could change the name, once it convinced opponents that perhaps the real “importance of history” is not its repetition but rather its analysis and critique.

Meanwhile, the rest of Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in Virginia falls under the Commonwealth administration, and so any change there must go through Richmond.

The lesson of history has to be that people can change their histories and themselves for the better; that we don’t happen upon progress, we make progress happen. From Washington, DC, to Charleston to Washington State, make freedom ring. Move from astonishment to disgust to astonishment. Tear down the flag; rewrite the name. In Virginia, turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe, a proud son of Virginia of whom we are all proud. Do it now. It’s the least we can do.

 

(`Jeff Davis’ Photo Credit: author’s photo) (Arthur Ashe Photo Credit: Charles Tasnadi / Associated Press)

I went from solitary confinement straight to my Mom’s

Brian Nelson spent 28 years in prison. The last twelve he spent in solitary confinement at the notorious Tamms supermax, in Illinois. He was never told the reason he was moved from a minimum security prison in another state to a supermax in Illinois. Then, one day, the door to his isolation cell opened, “I went from solitary confinement straight to my Mom’s.” There are tens of thousands of Brian Nelson’s released straight from years in solitary confinement to the street, and the overwhelming majority go straight to their mothers, grandmothers, and other women caregivers.

According to an NPRMarshall Project collaborative report, across the United States every year, prisons send thousands of people directly from solitary confinement to the streets. If, as if often the case, the solitary-to-street citizen has served her or his full sentence, “maxed out”, then there is no supervision and no assistance whatsoever. S/he must simply deal or die, and death is the State’s preferred option. NPR and the Marshall Project surveyed all 50 states and the Federal Government, and found 26 states don’t count how many prisoners they’ve released directly from solitary. Neither does the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Of the 24 that do, in 2014, at least 10,000 were released directly from solitary to the street.

Solitary confinement has become the default for prisoners of color, as well as for those living with mental illnesses. One study of the use of solitary confinement, isolation and “supermax” in Arizona noted: “All of these statistics are of course made more outrageous by the glaring fact that the white male prisoner population in supermax facilities is dramatically lower, only 25 percent, than in the general prison population, where it is 39 percent. For white female prisoners it is even more disparate, with the drop from 52 percent in the general prison population to 29 percent in Lumley SMA. Meanwhile, whites make up 73 percent of the Arizona state population. Put simply, persons of color are consistently placed in conditions of isolation at much higher rates than their white prisoner counterparts. Thus the negative impacts of supermax while incarcerated and upon re-entry are disproportionately levied against populations of color in Arizona.” As Arizona cages, so cages the nation.

While women make up a minority of those in supermax, those leaving solitary for home end up being taken care of by mothers, grandmothers, and wives. And that’s the point of the entire project, in which extended solitary confinement is the beating heart. The overwhelming majority of prisoners come from a small number of metropolitan neighborhoods of working people of color. The survivors of extended solitary confinement are the distillation of that political economic geography: Black, Brown, working poor.

But they can go home again. In fact, they have to, because there are no social services to help them: no medical care, no education, no counseling, nothing but charity. So they go home, where they don’t have to beg to get help. They go to their mothers, women like Sara Garcia and Brian Nelson’s mother, women who look at them and cry and ask, “Oh my God, what have they done to him?”. They go to their grandmothers. And their mothers and grandmothers take care of them. They engage in labor intensive, grueling work, for years and decades, and no one pays them a dime. This is urban redevelopment in the United States. Remove targeted people and populations from productive or creative pursuits, and then extract value out of their struggles to survive, to care for one another, to love, all the while writing treatises on the collapse of the urban community and how a new influx of capital and white folks will fix all that.

 

(Photo Credit: redpowermedia.wordpress.com)

 

In South Africa, the forced sterilization of HIV positive women is part of the plan

In March of this year, we wrote: “In South Africa this week, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS responded to the indignity and abuse of forced sterilization. Represented by Her Rights Initiative, Oxfam, and the Women’s Legal Centre, 48 women who had suffered forced sterilization in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal came forward and lodged a formal complaint. These 48 `cases’ were from 1986 to 2014. These 48 women are the tip of a rumbling volcano.” Yesterday, the volcano rumbled, as a report indicated that, of 6719 HIV positive women interviewed, 498 said they had been forcibly sterilized. “It is the largest number of reported forced sterilisation cases ever uncovered in the country.”

The report, The People Living With HIV Stigma Index: South Africa 2014, noted, under Sexual Reproductive Health: “Of concern is that 7% of respondents reported that they were forced to be sterilized. In addition, 37% of the respondents said that access to ARV treatment was conditional on use of contraceptives.” Sindisiwe Blose, a research project manager and a member of the Treatment Action Campaign, elaborated, “We heard from people living with HIV who had refused marriage due to stigma, had avoided work promotion, or had been coerced into undergoing sterilization. Behind the figures lies a depth of suffering that struggles to be addressed.”

Close to 500 women forcibly sterilized doesn’t just happen. In this instance, the incidents were distributed all over, with the hotspots in three provinces: Eden, in the Western Cape, accounted for 22%; Buffalo City, in the Eastern Cape, 20%; and Sedibeng, in Gauteng, 19%.

Sethembiso Mthembu, of Her Rights Initiative, responded to the numbers: “The data of 498 cases basically confirms the practice is widespread. It is systematic. It is not a few rotten apples.” The Women’s Legal Centre also described the sterilization as systemic, with Jody-Lee Fredericks, of the Centre, adding, “This is horrific.”

The horrific this is the banality of the policy. As Helen Rees of the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute recently explained, the biggest concern right now is young women, ages 15 to 24, and women sex workers. Many of the young women who are “placed in this situation” are poor, vulnerable and “prey to sexual exploitation.” In other words, none of this is surprising.

Yesterday, Nkhensani Mavasa, the Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, addressed the opening session of the South Africa Aids Conference 2015. She spoke of a new denialism among the leadership of the nation, and she warned, “If you choose to ignore the crisis in the healthcare system, this crisis that is a fact of our daily lives, you may, like those other denialists in the past, end up on the wrong side of history.”

The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of that new denialism. In the complaint filed in March, 48 women and their supporters rejected the double stigma of being HIV positive and being unable to have children. They also rejected the third stigma of having failed the nation-State. Women who are HIV positive are viewed as failed citizens. That’s why they can be treated this way, despite Constitutional and legal protections to the contrary. The Department of Health says forced sterilization is not department policy, but it is practiced, in the open, regularly. The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of State violence against women, and it is never accidental or incidental. It is part of the plan.

 

(Photo Credit: The Star / Chris Collingridge)

Lilian Oliva Bardales: “In prison when I haven’t committed any crime”

Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, 19 years old, and her four-year-old son have been held in KarnesFamily Detention Center” since last October. She had applied for asylum, explaining that she had fled Honduras to escape an abusive ex-partner, six years older than she, who had beaten her regularly since she was 13. Her application was denied. Last Wednesday, she locked herself in a bathroom and cut her wrists. She was removed from the bathroom, held for four days under medical “supervision” during which she was denied access to her attorneys, and then, on Monday, suddenly moved from Karnes, presumably for deportation. From beginning to now, the treatment of Lilian Oliva Bardales has been a national disgrace.

Oliva Bardales left a note, the translation of which reads, in part: “I write this letter so you know how it feels to be in this damn place for 8 months. You don’t understand that people’s lives have no price and you cannot buy it with money. You don’t have a heart for anybody. You just lie and humiliate all of us who have come to this country … I do this because only God knows what I have suffered in my country. I come here so this country can help me but here you’ve been killing me little by little with punishment and lies in prison when I haven’t committed any crime. What hurts me the most is that I saw how my brother was killed and how it’s hurt my son and all the abuse that we suffered in my country. You don’t believe me you never wanted to give me my freedom. I do this because I would rather be dead than seeing my son fail along with me. Maybe you are not fathers or mothers to understand the reasons and the suffering that we live in this place together with our children. You would not like to be locked up in a place like this the way we are here suffering with our children. What I tell you is that nobody lives forever in this world one day we are all going to die and give an account to God. I do this because I don’t feel any life going back to my country. That’s why I waited so long so you could take a decision on my case but you have treated us worse than an animal …That’s why I do this because you were bad to me and my son. We did not deserve this. now you want to deport me after spending 8 months here.”

That’s “family detention”. It is the place where mercy dies a slow, tortured, mean, evil death:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”

When mercy seasons justice. When degradation, abuse, torture and despair season the appeal for asylum … what then? Where are Lilian Oliva Bardales and her four-year-old son?

 

(Image Credit: McClatchydc.com)

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is the first woman President of Mauritius!

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the new President of Mauritius

Last Friday, June 5, 2015, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim became the President of Mauritius. Gurib-Fakim is the first woman to hold that office. Maya Hanoomanjee, currently the Speaker of the National Assembly of Mauritius and the first woman to hold that post, described Gurib-Fakim’s ascension as an historic moment. Monique Ohsan-Bellepeau, the Vice-President of Mauritius and the first woman to hold that post, agreed.

Gurib-Fakim promises to break more than the gender barrier, although that would have been enough, and her life history suggests she’s not kidding. Gurib-Fakim is an internationally renowned biologist and chemist, with a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Exeter. She is currently Director of the Centre for Phytotherapy and Research and Professor of Organic Chemistry with an endowed chair at the University of Mauritius. From 2004 to 2010, she was Dean of the Faculty of Science and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Mauritius. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was the first woman professor at the University of Mauritius, where she was also the first woman Dean.

Gurib-Fakim is the leading scientist studying medicinal and aromatic plants and determining their health, nutritional and cosmetic uses. She’s all about respecting not only the local and indigenous flora but also those who care for the flora, more often than not women: “For a long time, people were suspicious of the `bad plants’ that I was studying for their medical properties. Some called me `witch’, and one night 20 years ago my lab was burned down.”

What do you call a feminist scientist witch? In Mauritius, you call her Madame President.

Since her nomination, Gurib-Fakim has been interviewed all over the place. In one interview, she talked of scientific diplomacy; bioparks and technology centers; the need for scientific data to be used as the basis for decisions in climate, agriculture and environmental policy; and her commitment to “reconcile scientific data with traditional practices”. Those traditional practices are women’s practices, largely.

In a separate interview, she answered the question of what her being a biologist brings to the Presidency: “I think not just as a biologist, but as a woman biologist. I’ve gone through the glass ceiling, and that’s an important message to send to young women and girls. Increasingly, young people are leaving the sciences, so I hope to be a role model to promote the learning of science, to make it interesting and sexy. I want to tell people, `Yes, it’s possible if you are a woman.’”

When asked about her entrance into government, Gurib-Fakim explained, “I did not choose politics but politics chose me.” Elsewhere, Gurib-Fakim noted that she was taken by surprise. Upon being inaugurated, Gurib-Fakim’s first statement was, “I feel great pride and humility. Those who reach the highest level of the State have no right to make mistakes. There’s great work ahead, especially as concerns women.”

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim may have been chosen by politics, but she’s been choosing all along, and, hopefully, will continue to do so.

 

(Photo Credit: AFP)

#SetHerFree: We want Yarl’s Wood to close, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever!

Hundreds of people showed up at Yarl’s Wood today, with one message. Shut it down now! Never open it again! Set her free! #SetHerFree. The hundreds included activists, organizers, advocates, and unusual suspects. Green Party and Conservative Party members showed up in support. 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 immediately and permanently. Lively protesters successfully pulled down parts of the outside perimeter fence, to the cheering of those inside as well as outside. Action unites.

The event was organized primarily by Women for Refugee Women, in coalition with other groups. Delighted at the numbers and energy of the turnout, Women for Refugee Women spokeswoman Sophie Radice commented, “The time was right for this protest because now people know what’s going on they want to take action. People come here to seek asylum and we lock them up like criminals. We will not stop campaigning until it is shut down … The atmosphere is defiant and it’s been a real show of force. We’ll carry on until the abomination that is Yarl’s Wood is shut down.”

When asked about the “problem with illegal immigration”, Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights organization Liberty, responded, “There is a problem in the world with turmoil and war and also for displaced people who need who need support and protection. But why should human rights abuses only be a justification for wars `over there’ and not refugee and human rights laws over here? … These brave women – some pregnant; some survivors of rape and torture; some suffering from mental or physical health problems – are indefinitely detained in a prison where abuse is endemic. Yarl’s Wood shames our great nation of immigrants – elsewhere criminal suspects detained without charge must be released after 14 days. Shut it down and set them free.”

As a local Conservative MP explained, 15 years ago, detention of asylum seekers was rare. Now “it’s the default.” It’s costly, ineffective, and inhumane, and that’s from a tough-on-immigration Conservative.

Yarl’s Wood is supposed to be the house of the dead, a factory that churns out packets of pain, suffering, and ultimately death. But the women of Yarl’s Wood have refused to lie down and die. They have rejected the special hell slotted for them. In 2010, at the age of 16, former Yarl’s Wood prisoner Meltem Avcil began campaigning to shut it down. In 2007, women asylum seekers banded together to take care of each other, help one another with anti-deportation campaigns, and to publicize the particulars of being a woman asylum seeker in Britain in 2007. They formed Women Asylum Seekers Together, WAST, as a women only safe space for those threatened every second of every day, women asylum seekers. Today, eight years later, they are all over the country.

Lydia Besong left Yarl’s Wood and wrote a play, How I Became an Asylum Seeker, which WAST took up and performed across the country. Nigerian lesbian feminist Aderonke Apata was dumped into Yarl’s Wood, or so they thought. She organized, founded Manchester MiSol, Manchester Migrant Solidarity, who hooked up with WAST, and today Yarl’s Wood was surrounded by chants, songs, and bodies pushing against the fence. Shut it down! Shut it down! Set her free!

Not long ago, WAST formed a choir, the Nightingales, who sing of women’s rights, women’s power, women’s dreams, and they begin, but it’s only a beginning, with this: “We want Yarl’s Wood to close, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever”. Sing it loud, sing it proud, shut it down, set her free, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever. Amen.

 

(Photo Credit: David Horn / eXtreme / Bedfordshire News) (Video Credit: Channel 4 / YouTube)