Kavita Srivastava is not a saint, she’s a feminist


Kavita Srivastava addresses the press

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara was a Brazilian Archbishop, a liberation theologian, who famously said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.” Kavita Srivastava could take that a step further. She might say, “If I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are the poor hungry, they call me a Maoist … and send the riot squads to my house.”

Today, October 3, 2011, the Indian government sent a truckload of Special Task Force police to the home of Kavita Srivastava, allegedly to find a woman who had aided the Naxalite movement. The implications, for Srivastava and for many others, were clear. This was meant as a threat, as intimidation, for her leading role in the Right to Food Campaign; for her leading role in questioning the draconian, and worse, conditions in Chhattisgarh, all in the name of rooting out the Maoists, the Naxalites, the `dangerous ones’; for her leading role in the pursuits of women’s rights, civil right, human rights, democracy. In fact, right now, Kavita Srivastava is locked in battle with the State around the very issue of how poverty itself is to be determined. Who’s poor? Ask that, and truckload of heavily armed men may visit your house early some morning.

Kavita Srivastava is the General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a 35-year-old Ghandian-socialist (of sorts) organization. In that capacity, she witnessed, and documented, the trial of Binayak Sen, also charged with complicity with Maoists, in a highly publicized trial. Srivatasa wrote of the “sinister ways of the Chhattisgarh Police”. She described the climate of threat, violence, and vindictiveness the local police create. Even in a very public trial, the police assumed they could tamper with evidence and never be found out, or if found out, never be punished. Never is a long time, but it seems that in the long arc of the short term, the police may have been right.

Kavita Srivastava is a feminist researcher and activist who has researched the intricacies of so-called women-centered development program in Rajasthan; who has researched, and challenged, the impact of irrigation mega-projects, again in Rajasthan, on rural women and men, focused a laser beam on the ways in which such so-called development projects further marginalized women in particular; has researched gender politics, development, and women’s agency. Kavita Srivatasa has advised and counseled on ways to take the Right to Food to court … and beyond.

And that is why Kavita Srivastava is a dangerous woman, because of her simple and radical refusal. She refuses to accept hunger. She refuses to accept starvation. She refuses to accept anything less than justice, for women, for men, for all beings. No Naxalite was found in Kavita Srivastava’s home. No one, including the police, ever thought one would be found. But there was, and is, something there, something dangerous, more dangerous than the State can imagine or control. The question and practice of justice. Kavita Srivastava is not a saint, she’s a feminist.


(Video Credit: The Hindu / Rohit Jain Paras)

Domestic workers declare war on the War on Women

Last week, domestic workers declared war on the War on Women.

The current domestic laborers’ market has been forged in the most recent phase of globalization – understood, too briefly, as the political economy of globalized production serving a global market – that began in the 1970s. The last four decades have been marked by the rise of global cities, and mega-slums. Already, more than half the world population is urban. Soon, very soon, more than half the world population will live in slums. A planet of slums beckons.

Cities are the place, and slums are the face of urban poverty in the new millennium. And that face is a woman’s face “Women bear the brunt of problems associated with slum life.”

Global cities produce mega-slums and slum cities. Meanwhile, global cities’ 25-hour-a-day, 8-day-a-week so-called service economies require large numbers of easily available, and replaceable, and cheap domestic workers who make sure the beds are made; the food prepared and tasty; the children and the elders cared for; the houses swept; and the structures of household, community, regional, national and global patriarchy solidified and intensified. Political economists tell us that the new economies produced social workers, workers in the information sector whose work is more than and different from the binary of boss and worker. Tell that to the maids and nannies, childcare and eldercare providers (as well as the hotel and office cleaners, and sex workers) across the globe who every day, and every night, make sure everything is neat, tidy and available. It’s a world economy in which women, especially women of color, are forced to care.

In order to meet this demand, nation-States, the Philippines most notably, have turned themselves inside out and, presto, turned into mega-brokerage houses for mass migrations of domestic workers. Global cities demanded, and created, transnational domestic labor, which became one of the fastest growing, and largest, labor sectors of the world economy.

Women workers built the global economy, which came to rely, violently, on women workers. The feminization of the new industrial workforce produced the feminization of migration, which in turn produced the feminization of survival, and all of it, the whole system, sits heavily, and precariously, on the shoulders and in the arms of domestic workers.

That is one reason that the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, passed last week, is called a landmark treaty, a milestone. Here is a key section from that document:

“Considering that domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights, and

Considering also that in developing countries with historically scarce opportunities for formal employment, domestic workers constitute a significant proportion of the national workforce and remain among the most marginalized …

Recognizing the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out that make it desirable to supplement the general standards with standards specific to domestic workers so as to enable them to enjoy their rights fully.”

Women and girls are “the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out.”

“Special conditions”.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, W.E.B Du Bois famously noted “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” For Du Bois the color line came down to a simple, and impossible, question: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Today, the problem of the Twenty First Century continues to be the problem of the color line, and the question now is, “How does it feel to be a special condition?”

Domestic workers around the world, and in our neighborhoods, recognize that question as part of a global War on Women, and they have had enough. Domestic workers refuse to be ghosts in the machinery of “special conditions.” They have declared war on the War on Women. Step up, step up, it’s not too late to enlist.

(Photo Credit: David Swanson / IRIN / The New Humanitarian)

Develop or Die

A refrain keeps repeating in my head: ¨Develop or Die. Develop or Die.¨ I heard that haunting, yet attractively alliterative, phrase on BBC a few weeks ago. Because the cryptic words have been stuck in my head, I began to contemplate whether I would/should chose to die or develop, whatever that means.  However, when I finally searched the BBC website, I realized that develop or die was not a question being posed to me, the viewer. ¨Develop or Die¨ is the name of a ¨new series on BBC World News tackling the challenge now facing Asia; how to develop their economies whilst at the same time handling the growing pressure from the West to protect the environment.¨ (I have not seen advertisements for the show on BBC Mundo, which is in Spanish and tends to cover mainly Latin American headlines, but I digress.) 

In contrast to my initial interpretation, BBC presents ¨develop or die¨ not as a question, not even a rhetorical one, but rather a bottom line, a global imperative concerning Development, capital D. The series presents an opportunity for viewers of BBC (in English) to think about the challenges faced by Asia, as if all or even most of ¨Asia¨ faces the same challenges and risks. ¨Filmed on location in India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam. . .[and] Mumbai,¨ the series discusses tensions between the West’s desire to protect the environment through sustainable development projects, and Asia’s supposedly ravenous desire to achieve ¨development¨ through any means possible, regardless of ecological costs.  This uncomplicated rendering of a historical (needless to say gruesome) East-meets-West dichotomy is a little, well, irresponsible, to say the least; perhaps perverted would be a better word? 

The marketing of the series is symptomatic of how mainstream news presents development as something the West chooses for the non-West.  That is, individual news watchers in the global North are represented as permitting/allowing un- or underdeveloped throngs in other parts of the world to work toward achieving a developed lifestyle according to a linear development schema that the western governments have already discovered, perfected, and continue to enjoy.  Given the influence and power that multinational and transnational companies possess to shape and influence not only domestic public policy, but also the decisions of international and supranational governing entities, the idea that the ¨challenge to develop¨ exists over there in Asia is a bit shortsighted.

To continue the popular theme of developed people in the West making choices for everyone else, I note an interesting story from Democracy Now!: ¨Hampshire College Becomes First U.S. College To Divest From Israel.¨ The college ¨has become the first of any college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine,¨ including Caterpillar, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola.¨ For more companies that are ¨directly involved in the occupation,¨ such as General Mills, Ace Hardware, Pizza Hut, Chemonics International, Hewlett Packard, Chevrolet, RE/MAX, check out Who Profits, a database organized by The Coalition of Women for Peace.

As the happy, content, free-market-loving West considers the consequences of development in underdeveloped countries, it turns out the story is a little more complicated. While divestment plays an important role in the shifting processes of globalization, media portrayals of ethical business practices often propagate dominant discourses of development as beginning in the global North/West and undulating out to the rest of the world.  As mainstream pundits continue to ponder not only what it means to develop, but also the who, what, when, where, and how of development, transnational feminists work to understand what it means to develop or die—often develop AND die—in Asia, Palestine, Israel, Darfur, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran, Burma, the Mexico-U.S. Border, and beyond.


(Image Credit: BBC)