Hope in a time of choler: Sierra Leone, Kenya, Antigua and Barbuda

Mothers and children in Sierra Leone, with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world

In streets and legislatures as well as in representations in news and social media, from Hungary to India to Brazil to Zimbabwe to the United States and beyond and between, these are trying times in which a threat of totalitarianism looms around us. Welcome to July 2022, where, on one hand, the Thunderdome continues to dominate our attention, but it’s not all gloom and doom. These are grim times. But they are not without hope. There is light, there is real and serious opposition in the Thunderdome. Consider the news this past week from Sierra Leone, Kenya, Antigua and Barbuda.

In Sierra Leone this week, President Julius Maada Bio and his cabinet announced their unanimous support for the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act which would decriminalize abortion, expand access to contraceptives, post-abortion care and other reproductive health services. On one hand, the support is important in and of itself for women and girls in Sierra Leone and beyond. At the same time, support for the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act is seen as part of the process of decolonization. The current law dates from 1861, during the English occupation of what became Sierra Leone. As President Bio pointedly noted, “At a time when sexual and reproductive health rights for women are either being overturned or threatened, we are proud that Sierra Leone can once again lead with progressive reforms. My government has unanimously approved a safe motherhood bill that will include a range of critical provisions to ensure the health and dignity of all girls and women of reproductive age in this country.” Sierra Leone joins Benin, which legalized abortion last year.

In March 2022 a High Court in Malindi, in Kenya, found abortion related arrests to be illegal. “The court noted that abortion care is a fundamental right under the Constitution of Kenya and that protecting access to abortion impacts vital Constitutional values, including dignity, autonomy, equality, and bodily integrity. It also ruled that criminalizing abortion under Penal Code without Constitutional statutory framework is an impairment to the enjoyment of women’s reproductive right”

This week, still in Kenya, Justice Okong’o Samson Odhiambo, appearing before the Judicial Service Commission during the Court of Appeal judges interviews, when asked about his views on abortion, responded, “My personal view is that people have the freedom to decide on what to do with their lives.”

Meanwhile, in Antigua and Barbuda this week, the High Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-sex acts between consulting adults. The case was brought before the court by Orden David, an openly gay man; and Women Against Rape. High Court Judge Marissa Robertson ruled, “The right to privacy extends beyond the right to be left alone and includes the concept of dignity of the individual, aspects of physical and social identity, and the right to develop and establish relationships with other human beings.” Alexandrina Wong, President of Women Against Rape, agreed, noting “We are very much hoping the Antigua ruling will prompt other legal systems in the Caribbean to review their laws and policies, and how they impact on vulnerable populations.” Lucien Govaard, Co-Chair of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities, added, “We reiterate that it is time governments in the region let go of these colonial structures as they have no place in a modern, diverse, and developing the Caribbean.” According to the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, ECADE, three more Caribbean national courts will decide on similar cases by the end of 2022: St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Barbados.

The struggle for expansion of rights, decolonization, respect for human dignity is regional, transnational, and global. This week, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Antigua and Barbuda shine the light. It is time, way past time, governments, nation-State, societies, people let go of colonial structures.

A rainbow in Antigua

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: AfricaNews) (Photo Credit 2: LGBTQ Nation)

In a victory for human dignity and hope, Botswana decriminalizes same-sex relationships

On Monday, November 29, Botswana’s Court of Appeal unanimously upheld an earlier 2019 ruling which had decriminalized same-sex relationships. In so doing, the court upheld judiciary independence, democracy, the centrality of Constitutionally protected and established rights, as it hammered another nail into the coffin of colonial and neocolonial law and culture. Within a 24-hour span, Barbados declared itself a full republic, with no need of an English Queen; Honduras elected its first woman president, and a democratic socialist at that; and Botswana rejected homophobia and the persecution of LGBTQI+ persons and communities. Talk about conjunctural moments, sing about decolonization.

Botswana gained formal independence from Britain on September 30, 1966. The new republic adopted the penal code written, largely by British hands, in 1964, a Penal Code in force to this day. Botswana’s Constitution was written in 1966. In the 1964 Penal Code, Article 164 addresses “Unnatural offences”. In particular Article 164, Sections a and c declare: “Any person who has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; … or permits any other person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.” This law and language formed part of the grand British imperial obsession with rooting out `carnal’ corruption in the colonies, an obsession that dated back to 1860. A prison term of no more than seven years is but one of the gifts the British left behind.

In 2016, Letsweletse Motshidiemang, a young gay man, applied to the High Court to have the laws repealed. He described growing up as a gay boy and then young gay man in Botswana, and argued, essentially, that the Constitution protected his right to be who he was and that Botswana itself had changed in the intervening decades. He relied on the Court to respect the Constitution, and he was not disappointed. On June 11, 2019, the High Court agreed and declared that the articles under discussion violated the Constitution, in substance and spirit. The Government appealed. This Monday, the Appeal Court, the highest court in the land, declared, “Those sections have outlived their usefulness, and serve only to incentivise law enforcement agents to become key-hole peepers and intruders into the private space of citizens.”

In previous cases, the Court of Appeal has consistently declared the Constitution a living document central to the democratic project. In 1994, in the Unity Dow case, the Court of Appeal declared, “The Constitution … cannot be allowed to be a lifeless museum piece … the courts must continue to breathe growth and development of the state through it … The primary duty of judges is to make the Constitution grow and develop in order to meet the just demands and aspirations of an ever developing society, which is part of the wider and larger human society governed by some acceptable concept of human dignity.” From Honduras to Barbados to Botswana, and beyond, this week has brought a victory for human dignity.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Jurist)

The struggle for queer liberation is bound up in the struggle for decolonization

The struggle for queer liberation is bound up in the struggle for decolonization.

The notion, as tweeted by Trump, that queer and trans folx living in the United States should be grateful that they “don’t live in a country that punishes, imprisons, or even executes” them is not only false, it perpetuates a colonial narrative that positions the US and other nations governed by white, western power structures as the civilized and all others as requiring civilizing.

For centuries colonial powers actively exported and imposed queer and transphobic statutes around the globe, and today continue to export missionaries, diplomats, corporations, and more that espouse these same views and maintain a colonial relationship.

Pinkwashing, using LGBTQ ‘window dressing’ to distract from oppressive policies or actions (to LGBTQ folx or otherwise), becomes a useful tool in promoting settler colonialism in Palestine and elsewhere; bolstering racist and Islamophobic narratives and actions; justifying military intervention in countries deemed by the US to be “backwards,” and more. Where queer and trans identities become a tool to maintain power and control over others, there can be no liberation.

 

(Image Credit: Active History / Kara Sievewright / Gary Kinsman)

Indigenous women liberate the Americas

Sheyla Juruna

Indigenous people are trying to liberate the Americas, and they are led by women. In Brazil yesterday, hundreds of indigenous leaders, fisherfolk and others from the Xingu River basin gathered to occupy the Belo Monte Dam construction site in a peaceful protest to stop its construction in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Belo Monte is one of those mega-dams that cost billions of dollars, displace whole communities, wipe out acres and acres of forest, all in the name of “necessary energy production.”

Ealier this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tried to create a space for the indigenous communities, and their supporters, and the Brazilian government to enter into dialogue. The Juruna people sent their leader, Sheyla Juruna, who travelled days to get to Washington. The much wealthier, much more popular, and much better resourced Brazilian government sent … no one.

And so indigenous communities of the Xingu, and their supporters, took to the dam site, and they were, and are, led by women. Sheyla Juruna. Juma Xipaia. Roberta Amanajás. Antonia Melo. Some, like Juruna and Xiapaia, are indigenous leaders. Some, like Amanajás, are human rights advocates and activists. Some, like Melo, are leaders of movements, in this instance the Xingu Forever Alive Movement.

Cherokee feminist activist and author Andrea Smith once wrote, “The primary reason for the continuing genocide of Native peoples has less to do with ignorance and more to do with material conditions. Non-Indians continue to oppress Indians because Indians occupy land resources that the dominant society wants.”

The indigenous women leaders and communities of the Xingu River basin know, and live, this history today. They know the genocide takes many forms. Sometimes it’s flat out extermination campaigns. At other times, it’s removal, person by person, nation by nation, child by child.

In the United States, for example, a Federal law states that if Native American children are taken from their homes, they must be placed with their family members, relatives, their tribes or other Native Americans. And native children are taken from their homes, at a much higher rate than children of other races and communities. Some studies suggest the rate is twice as high. Furthermore, of the native children taken from their homes, a remarkably low percentage have experienced sexual or physical abuse. So, why are they taken? “For their own good” … of course.

A report this week highlighted the situation of these stolen children in South Dakota. Nearly 90 percent are placed in non-Native households or group settings. Those non-native group settings are private, and making good profit off of the “poor” native children.

Who cares? Well, the children care. Their families care. Their communities care. And while the caring of the children isn’t particularly gendered, the caring by the adults is. Women. Women like Janice Howe, a grandmother who refused to let the State get away with kidnapping, who fought for over a year and a half to get her grandkids back. Four children, including Antoinette, 6 years old, and Raushana, 5 years old. When they returned, 18 months later, they were each a full dress size smaller. Only now are the stories of their sojourn beginning to emerge.

There are native Grandmothers’ Groups, native foster home providers, native foster parents, tribal social workers, and they are everywhere on the reservation. There are also mothers who mourn and wait and, if they’re very “lucky”, may, just may some day meet their children. In the case of Dwayne Stenstrom, kidnapped by the State at the age of 8 years old, this reunion occurred decades later … six months before his mother died of cancer.

And no one ever receives an apology, ever receives an acknowledgment. This is what military occupation looks like.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread, or effloresced, across the United States and Canada, indigenous people across both countries have criticized the term “occupation”. Some have suggested replacing it with “decolonize” or “(un)occupy”, others have noted the painful nationalism and racism of their supposed, or potential, allies in the current movement.

And others have said, instead, “Defend Mother Earth.” At the Belo Monte Dam site yesterday, Juma Xipaia explained, “We will not be silent. We will shout out loud and we will do it now.” The Mothers, Grandmothers, Daughters, Sisters, Aunts, Women are gathering, out loud, now, to Defend Mother Earth. Another occupation is possible. Shout out loud, do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: Amazon Watch)