The global patriarchal market and violence against women

Being a woman today is marked by violence.

On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, on a square between the cathedral and the train station, about 200 women were sexually assaulted and robbed after about thousand men circled them to isolate them from the rest of the crowd. This type of assault has been reported else where in Europe: Helsinki, Zurich, and others. It has also occurred in Cairo and Tunis.

On Tahrir Square in Egypt, in 2013, during demonstrations against the government, women who were present wielding their right to be in public spaces would be circled by hundreds of men and then undressed and raped. These attacks were constant. Women and men organized and formed groups wearing fluorescent yellow jackets and helmets, to liberate the women under attack. They knew that they could not rely on the authorities or the police. The military government also used violence against women.

The same occurred in Tunisia when women took to the streets of Tunis in support of a positive transformation of the society. Since then, they have been organizing and fighting to defend their rights to public spaces.

This violence belongs to a trend that has been ignored for too long. In Cologne, the police did not intervene right away despite the system of video surveillance that is part of the globalized economies with their security market. The assaults were publicly reported only five or six days after the fact.

The fact that in Cologne most of the aggressors were North Africans and/or asylum seekers blurred the big picture and fueled resentment against immigrants and refugees, thereby encouraging racist violence. German feminists have responded: no excuse for sexual predators or for racists. Other European feminists have simplistically associated this event with the rise of fundamentalist Islam.

That presentation is limited and ignores the globalized neoliberal economy’s reliance on various strains of neo-conservatism and religious fundamentalism including Islamic fundamentalism to increase its hold on society.

One could remember, how in 1936, the phalanges, Franco supporters, whose slogan was “viva la muerte” dispersed their cruelty against women and men. They violently commanded women to stay away from public spaces, to reproduce and take care of the household. All of that was supported and encouraged by capitalists.

Clearly, women’s emancipation is one of the biggest stakes of an oppressive society.

Today, the European militarization of its borders along with austerity measures within the context of fear of “terrorism” opens the temptation of a constant state of emergency. The ordeal of women in migration facing infinite sexual violence and death during their journey is rendered invisible. What is left is the growing rhetoric for more policing and more appearance-based prejudices, which allow security markets to develop. The current paradoxical protective and aggressive discourse of the authorities puts some women under surveillance, hidden behind security forces and at the same time normalizes the position of other women as victims of sexual violence, according to race and geographical locations and conflicts.

Similarly women’s reproductive bodies, again racially defined, are under surveillance in the United States, with the incarceration of women for miscarrying or having an abortion where it is more and more difficult to get one. These signs of patriarchal essence that justifies violence against women correlate with the expansion of the neoliberal economic order that disadvantages women and minorities and throws them into precarious situations, again rendered largely invisible.

The code of silence that covers the attacks against women in Europe is troubling. In France, a recent study on sexual harassment in public transportation revealed that 100% of the women’s answers indicated various levels of harassment. Generally in Europe sexual assaults have been reported around football games, and other public events. In Cologne few days ago, a journalist of the Belgian RTBF was reporting on the beginning of Carnival and the security measures to protect women participants, when a group of white men sexually assaulted her, all this in front of the cameras.

Without a broader transnational understanding of the causes for the regression of women’s social and political right to be in public spaces, the prospect for better women’s social and political equality with men are slim.

A large transnational solidarity movement, beyond judgment, must be the force against the current trend of violence against women, the basis of all violence that is fueled by the devastating unfettered market forces that consume bodies.

 

(Image Credit 1: Osez le féminisme 69) (Image Credit 2: Osez le féminisme)

For Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, we cannot stop marching!

On January 24th, in Cairo, Egypt, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, a 32 years old secular socialist activist, was assassinated by the police along with 20 other demonstrators. She was peacefully handing flowers to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the revolution of 2011. Shaimaa had demonstrated against Mubarak, and organized workers to defend their rights. She opposed the dictatorial Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) government and then was assassinated by the police of the current government of Abdel Fatah al Sisi.

Photos and videos captured her murder as she collapsed in her partner’s arms. Around Egypt and around the world, many have watched in horror. Despite the images that show masked policemen shooting her, the Sisi government has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being behind this murder. The police obstructed anyone who came to give her medical assistance. Maher Nassar, present at the scene, identified himself as a doctor and was promptly pushed away. Her companions who came to help were arrested and shoved into an armored vehicle. Azza Soliman, who was seated at a café nearby, witnessed the murder. When she went to court to give testimony, she was arrested. She later declared, “The regime has decided to shut up all voices even those who say the truth through a testimony.”

After this tragedy, women in Egypt took the streets chanting, “ Police are thugs” and “Down with every president so long as blood is cheap.” Women in Tunis joined the march. They protested in front the Egyptian embassy against the repressive Egyptian regime in support of freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate peacefully.

In Alexandria, where Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was from, factory workers deployed a banner with her picture to remind people what she stood for.

Women are still marching against the impunity of state violence that also killed a woman from the Muslim Brotherhood days before this tragedy. Women are often the target of these acts of violence and political intimidation.

In this harsh neoliberal order, accents of totalitarianism emerge to “Shut up all voices” and crack down on dissent with no shame. On January 11, over 4 million of people marched against violence and for freedom of expression in France. The leaders of the world came to Paris supposedly to support the same things. The Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs along with other representatives of governments known for their forceful way to control the truth were in Paris for the march. They only walked a very short 100 meters/yards. The demonstrators who continued to march tried to show them the power of dignity, but that was not enough, and less than two weeks later, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was killed.

We can’t stop marching to defend these fragile civil rights to free expression, to speech itself, as states increasingly organize new, and old, discriminatory security apparatuses to suffocate the civil consciousness that has allowed dissent.

 

(Photo Credits: Photo of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh: Egypt Independent. Photo of Cairo demonstrators: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA)

John Greyson, Tarek Loubani, and the Notorious Tora Prison

Tora Prison, in Cairo, has long been notorious. Over seven weeks ago, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, on their way to Gaza, were arrested in Cairo, never charged, and thrown into the `notorious’ Tora Prison. They protested. Others protested. They are now in an extended hunger strike. This weekend, it appears the Egyptian State has decided to keep them in `the notorious’ for another 45 days.

(In 2005, the George Washington University Women’s Studies Program brought John Greyson, Jack Lewis, Siphokhazi Mthathi, Shereen Essof, Amit Rai, Patricia Clough and others for three days of films, discussions, engagements, and more. The highlight, or keynote, of the festival was a showing and discussion of Proteus, a terrific movie collaboration between Greyson and Lewis, a film about Robben Island prison … in the eighteenth century, a meditation, through historical and archival and visual assemblage, on prison, sexuality, justice. And now … John Greyson and too many others sit in the notorious Tora Prison.)

Here’s John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, a couple of citizens of the Republic of Tora, in their own words:

“We are on the 12th day of our hunger strike at Tora, Cairo’s main prison, located on the banks of the Nile. We’ve been held here since August 16 in ridiculous conditions: no phone calls, little to no exercise, sharing a 3m x 10m cell with 36 other political prisoners, sleeping like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches; sharing a single tap of earthy Nile water.

“We never planned to stay in Egypt longer than overnight. We arrived in Cairo on the 15th with transit visas and all the necessary paperwork to proceed to our destination: Gaza. Tarek volunteers at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and brings people with him each time. John intended to shoot a short film about Tarek’s work.

“Because of the coup, the official Rafah border was opening and closing randomly, and we were stuck in Cairo for the day. We were carrying portable camera gear (one light, one microphone, John’s HD Canon, two Go-Pros) and gear for the hospital (routers for a much-needed wifi network and two disassembled toy-sized helicopters for testing the transportation of medical samples).

“Because of the protests in Ramses Square and around the country on the 16th, our car couldn’t proceed to Gaza. We decided to check out the Square, five blocks from our hotel, carrying our passports and John’s HD camera. The protest was just starting – peaceful chanting, the faint odour of tear gas, a helicopter lazily circling overhead – when suddenly calls of “doctor”. A young man carried by others from God-knows-where, bleeding from a bullet wound. Tarek snapped into doctor mode…and started to work doing emergency response, trying to save lives, while John did video documentation, shooting a record of the carnage that was unfolding. The wounded and dying never stopped coming. Between us, we saw over fifty Egyptians die: students, workers, professionals, professors, all shapes, all ages, unarmed. We later learned the body count for the day was 102.

“We left in the evening when it was safe, trying to get back to our hotel on the Nile. We stopped for ice cream. We couldn’t find a way through the police cordon though, and finally asked for help at a check point.

“That’s when we were: arrested, searched, caged, questioned, interrogated, videotaped with a ‘Syrian terrorist’, slapped, beaten, ridiculed, hot-boxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being foreign mercenaries. Was it our Canadian passports, or the footage of Tarek performing CPR, or our ice cream wrappers that set them off? They screamed ‘Canadian’ as they kicked and hit us. John had a precisely etched bootprint bruise on his back for a week.

“We were two of 602 arrested that night, all 602 potentially facing the same grab-bag of ludicrous charges: arson, conspiracy, terrorism, possession of weapons, firearms, explosives, attacking a police station. The arrest stories of our Egyptian cellmates are remarkably similar to ours: Egyptians who were picked up on dark streets after the protest, by thugs or cops, blocks or miles from the police station that is the alleged site of our alleged crimes.

“We’ve been here in Tora prison for six weeks, and are now in a new cell (3.5m x 5.5m) that we share with ‘only’ six others. We’re still sleeping on concrete with the cockroaches, and still share a single tap of Nile water, but now we get (almost) daily exercise and showers. Still no phone calls. The prosecutor won’t say if there’s some outstanding issue that’s holding things up. The routers, the film equipment, or the footage of Tarek treating bullet wounds through that long bloody afternoon? Indeed, we would welcome our day in a real court with the real evidence, because then this footage would provide us with our alibi and serve as a witness to the massacre.

“We deserve due process, not cockroaches on concrete. We demand to be released.

“Peace, John & Tarek”

CONTACT: Cecilia Greyson, cgreyson@gmail.com, Justin Podur, justin@podur.org

Peace … and an end to `the notorious’. Now.

Tora Prison

 

(Photo Credit 1: IndieWire) (Photo Credit 2: Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters)

Tahrir meant liberation. It still does. Ask the women

In 2011, the women of Egypt pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power. One of those women was Sanaa El-Seif, who at the time was 17 years old. She moved to Tahrir Square, with friends. With a fellow classmate, Ziad Tareq, she created a space in which to produce a regular newspaper, for distribution in and beyond Tahrir Square. In so doing, Sanaa El-Seif pulled together and then retied all sorts of insurgent and revolutionary trains: feminist organizing cultures, women’s organizing cultures, youth organizing cultures. Centuries of revolutionary broadsheets, reading clubs, manifestoes, samizdat, night schools, you name it, came together in the work of Sanaa El-Seif.

Mubarak left office. The world media, by and large, left Tahrir Square, except for those regular moments of implosion, and Sanaa El-Seif stayed. She stayed as so many women have, to push the revolution forward, to materialize real transformation in Egypt now.

Sanaa El-Seif, now 19, says it simply and directly: Staying matters. This is not about disputes between exiles and those who stayed in whatever site. It is about staying with the energies of change, staying with the promises of building autonomous transformative spaces, communities, nation, and worlds.

Today is January 25, 2012, two years later. Two years is a short time and an impossibly long one as well. Many debate today the progress and the reversals of `Egypt’ since Tahrir Square became, for a short while, the center of a universe.

Two years ago, Tahrir meant liberation. It still does. Ask the women.

In the last year, women have assessed the situation on the ground and have organized, and continue to organize. A national women’s movement is slowly but decidedly taking place, at times quite publically, at other times in the shadows. But the point is that it’s a national women’s movement, one that was in many ways impossible prior to 2011 because of the State ideological and surveillance apparatuses.

Women whose names gained prominence in the 2011 Tahrir manifestations are still there, today, in the marches and protests. Women like Mona Seif, co-founder of the No To Military Trials For Civilians campaign. Seif has been challenging the military at every step, and, even more, has been challenging and attacking the militarization of civil society, of State, of intimate spaces, of everything. That challenge to militarization emerges from and returns to decades of Egyptian women and feminist thinkers and activists, such as Doria Shafik and, of course, Nawal el Saadawi.

Every day women including Nehad Abul Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights; union activist organizer and leader Abir Ibrahim; Mozn Hassan, Director of Nazra Center for Feminist Studies; women’s rights activists Yara Sallam and Asmaa Gomaa; `revolutionary-turned-activist’ Nada Wahid; women graffiti artists Aya Tarek and Hend Kheera; and anti-violence organizer Eba’a El-Tamami work to create new spaces, new publics, for women, for autonomy, for freedom and power, for dreaming and doing.

Someone recently described the `Woman in the Blue Brassiere’ as “all too actual, real, and bodily, not just a symbol, but a flesh-and-blood human being who becomes virtual and goes viral, returning within a few days to haunt the real space of Tahrir Square as the banner of the Egyptian women’s movement.”

She does not haunt. She stays. The work of the revolution stays as it moves forward and expands, under the banner of the Egyptian women’s movement. Tahrir means liberation. Ask the women.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube.com)

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 

(Photo Credit: Adital.com.br)

Women indignadas carry Tahrir Square and Spring, and occupy prison

Occupy, along with Indignados and Spring, is spreading, to new places, and so takes different, local and yet global forms.

In Nigeria this week, in response to fuel prices and, even more, to astronomical unemployment and crushing hopelessness among young people, protests, and more, have punctuated the landscape. Occupy Nigeria. Labor unions, women’s groups, farmers’ groups and others have joined, and to a certain extent followed, the lead of their younger comrades. In Kano, for example, the youth have established what they call “Tahrir Square”. Elsewhere, some say that an “Arab Spring” is coming to Sudan, to Zimbabwe, to a theater of engagement near you.

In Haiti, as in Chile as in the United Kingdom as in Spain, students are protesting the inequality of education and the crushing hopelessness it produces. As various forces attempt to privatize a university opening in Limonade, the students of the University of Haiti, l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, have declared themselves indignés. Indignados.

We are all, or almost all, moving towards our own Tahrir Square; we are all, or almost all, indignés, indignados. Language, concepts, actions not only exceed the borders they cross, they redefine notions of nationhood, identity. Or such is the dream and hope. Indignados articulate with Zapatistas articulate with Arab Spring and Tahrir Square articulate with indigenous movements and keep sending out new feelers, new shoots, new threads that somehow link new and old into something possible, something happening right now.

And so in northern Venezuela this week, 800 women and 150 children occupied the Yare prison complex. They came to visit their loved ones, who suffer overcrowding and overly long waits for trials, as so many do in so many prisons around the world.  Then, they simply refused to leave. They `self-kidnapped.’ They invaded and occupied the prison space with their indignation.

950 women and children looked at armed guards and said, “Nope, we’re not moving.” They invented Spring, the beginning of a kind of liberation.

You want to know what this Spring could mean? Ask the many immigrant women in US immigrant detention centers, women like Julie, who are told they have no right to legal representation, no right to due process, because, well, they’re not in `prison’. They’re in `detention.’ And so they sit, watched, and often sexually harassed and worse, by guards. Most of the detention centers are privately owned. Profit flows from the time women, mostly women of color, sit and wait.

Many of the women live with mental health illnesses. Actually, many are in crisis. Many of the women struggle with the consequences and scars of domestic violence. Many of the women know they are in `detention’ because their English `failed’ them, and because, though they lived in neighborhoods in which English was a second language, somehow the police only spoke English. Who’s failing whom here?

This week, the young women and men of Nigeria have urged us to occupy and liberate public policy. The young women and men of Haiti have urged us to occupy and liberate education. And the young women and children of Venezuela have called on us to occupy prison.

Occupy prison. We have been occupied by the global prison for far too long. Follow the lead of the women and children of Venezuela. Occupy prison. It’s time.

 

(Photo Credit: Fernando Llano/AP)

Young women refuse to be sacrifices

Welcome to 2012. The Arab Spring, the Occupy Spring, the Indignado Spring continue. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and beyond, women are on the move, on the march. In Saudi Arabia, women are on the drive as well. Young women.

Across the United States and Canada and beyond, young women are leading and expanding the Occupy movement. In Chile, women high school and university students are pushing to end the privatization of education, to open the schools to freedom, democracy, universal opportunity.

In India, young rural women are leading resistance campaigns to stop major land grabs.  In Afghanistan, teams of young women athletes are punching their way through centuries-old as well as recently devised glass ceilings.

In Kenya, young women are entering into local electoral politics. In Mauritius as well.

Women everywhere are on the move, keeping on keeping on, filling spaces with their voices, their bodies, their energy, their aspirations, their collective and singular power.

At the same time, women struggle with a master narrative in which they only function as sacrifices. In India, two farmers sacrifice a seven-year-old girl, Lalita, in order to ensure good crops. In Afghanistan, a fifteen-year-old girl, Sahar Gul, struggles to survive, and to live with dignity, having fled the torture inflicted on her by her husband and his mother and sister. When she first fled, the State actually returned her to `the family.

In the United States, girls like seventeen-year-old Nga Truong, are routinely forced into confessing crimes they didn’t commit and then are sent off to prison. In the United States, seventeen-year-old girls like Samantha L. are sent to prison for life, without possibility of parole.

In Australia, teen-age girls, like Danielle Troy, have to plead for compassion rather than punishment. Their crime? Being mothers.

And in South Africa, two teenage girls are attacked by a crowd of 50 or 60 `adult’ men. Why? Because one of them was wearing a mini-skirt. Four years ago, another young woman, Nwabisa Ngcukana, was stripped and assaulted for exactly the same `crime’, at exactly the same taxi rank.

From domestic violence to more general sexual violence to mob violence to State violence and beyond, the patriarchal story of young women is the story of being-sacrificed. If a man is told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his son, we are told that is a tragedy. A moral and ethical crisis. But where is the mother of that son in the story? And what if, instead, the father was told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his daughter? Would that too be considered a tragedy? An ethical and moral crisis?

Not by the patriarchs, it wouldn’t, as the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac so aptly demonstrates: “It is difficult not to be struck by the absence of woman… It is a story of father and son, of masculine figures, of hierarchies among men… Would the logic of sacrificial responsibility within the implacable universality of the law… be altered… if a woman were to intervene in some consequential manner? Does the system of this sacrificial responsibility and of the double `gift of death’ imply at its very basis an exclusion of woman or sacrifice of woman? A woman’s sacrifice or a sacrifice of woman? Let us leave the question in suspense.”

Women, and in particular young women, are saying, “No.” They reject the story that excludes them and the  `suspense’ that reduces them. They are saying – with their bodies, voices, actions and deeds – women and girls are not to be sacrificed. If `the Law’ says they must be, the Law is wrong. Women are making a better Law, living out a better story, and creating a better world. Another, better world is possible.

 

(Video Credit: WBUR)

Thank you to the women of Egypt

A court in Egypt ruled yesterday, December 27, 2011, that imposing `virginity tests’ on women prisoners in military prisons is wrong and unconstitutional. The court is expected to further decide that such tests are completely illegal, which would open the possibility of financial compensation for the wrongs committed.

This is one of two cases filed by Samira Ibrahim and Maha Mohamed, two of the women who had been subjected to the test. The other, equally important case challenges the referral of prisoners to a military court.

The court’s decision was a great one. The greater act, however, was that of Samira Ibrahim, Maha Mohamed, Salwa al-Hosseini and all the women across Egypt who have organized, pushed, repelled attacks, and kept on keeping on. When they have been attacked, they have said, publically, “I tell female activists go to the square and don’t be afraid, this is our square.” And then, they have gone to the square, to all the squares and all the streets.

Women pushed Mubarak out of office, and women today are pushing at more than the military. Egyptian women are pushing at patriarchy itself.

Much of the focus of the last day has been on Samira Ibrahim, a woman who refused to stay silent, refused to submit, refused to behave. While Samira Ibrahim is indeed a courageous and feminist woman, she is not “the woman” behind the ban nor is she “one brave woman.” Rather Samira Ibrahim is one of the women, one of the brave women, who have opposed the assaults on women and continue to do so.

At the beginning of the year, when the women of Egypt pushed Mubarak out, the world watched, and shared and cherished, their names. Today, as the year closes and the women of Egypt assault the very foundations of State patriarchy, we again remind ourselves that behind every individually named women – such as Ghada Kamal Abdel Khaleq, Sanaa Youssef, Samira Ibrahim, Maha Mohamed, Salwa al-Hosseini, Mona Eltahawy, Mona Seif – and behind every named women’s organization, such as Nazra for Feminist Studies or the New Woman Foundation, there is a world of women, on the march.

They know the military, they know the violence, they know the patriarchy, and they reject them, one and all. The women of Egypt are neither surprised nor daunted when a military prosecutor condemns the end to `virginity tests.’ They are, instead, in the streets, affirming their womanhood and their humanity, “I will not give up my rights as a woman or as a human being.”

So, as the year ends, let’s say, as Samira Ibrahim did after she heard the verdict, “Thank you to the people, thank you to Tahrir Square that taught me to challenge, thank you to the revolution that taught me perseverance.” Thank you to the women of Egypt.

 

(Photo Credit: ElMundo.es/AFP)

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa – part 4

The lesson for the makers of the Egyptian Women’s Charter is that the South African charter came up short not for what it contained but for what it left out.  In capitalist societies such as Egypt and South Africa, the state concentrates power among few, capital concentrates wealth, and both these institutions play a crucial role in maintaining the patriarchal power of men over women, to the extent of nullifying legal victories as we have seen in South Africa. Historically the socialist movement fought to end capital as an institution, and anarchism fought to end the state, while feminism or women’s movements veered between taking on these struggles and maintaining neutrality. The South African Women’s Charter stayed silent on whether capital and the state are compatible with the liberation of women. The present role of these institutions in imposing increasing misery on women arguably indicates that such a silence in the Egyptian Women’s Charter would be a mistake.

Inserting into the Women’s Charter a commitment to struggle against capital and the state would not necessarily spell the end for these institutions in Egypt, and neither would it necessarily have done so in South Africa in 1994. However, this is precisely where the South African experience speaks the loudest. When the demands of the Women’s Charter became part of South African law and policy from 1994 onwards, the Women’s National Coalition disbanded and its leading members took up positions in political parties and the state. When from 1996 the neo-liberal onslaught came, there was no national women’s movement to oppose it. Up to today South Africa has no national women’s movement, which is part of the reason for the confidence behind the reassertion of patriarchy. So no, a declaration in a charter will not end capital and the state, and yes, such a declaration might scare of those activists with a strong attachment to capital and the state, but it will provide a rallying point for a women’s movement that cannot be neutralized by paper concessions. It is in such a women’s movement, and not in capitalist laws and policies, that women in Egypt will find the best protection against the marginalization the men in charge of the state and business surely have planned for them.

Egypt today, being in a transitional phase, offers vast scope for a women’s movement not just to mobilize political pressure against patriarchy and its supporting institutions, but to launch direct actions and take over significant resources to dedicate to the liberation of women. With the police discredited and the military nervous about antagonizing the people, an action to take over, for example, a hotel owned by a multi-national or by the elite of the Mubarak era and use it as a women’s shelter, communal kitchen or feminist school has more chance of succeeding than at any other time in the recent past. It is such direct actions that will enable the Egypt women activists to transcend the dependence on the state that has proved so terribly costly for their South African counterparts. Of course women activists have to be prepared politically to take such actions. A giant step in such preparation would be to place the necessity for direct actions in a prime spot within the Egyptian Women’s Charter.

 

(This post originally appeared here: http://permanentrebel.blogspot.com/2011/09/making-womens-charters-in-egypt-and_14.html. Thanks to Ronald for the collaboration!)

(Photo Credit: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom)

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa – part 3

South Africa’s constitution receives a lot of praise for enshrining human rights. A big part of the reason is its commitment to achieve gender equality by eliminating discrimination against women in the present as well as the effects of such discrimination in the past. This aspect of the constitution, plus the associated laws, policies and institutions making up the National Gender Policy Framework and the National Gender Machinery testify to the great success of the Women’s National Coalition. There is nothing in this coalition’s Women’s Charter that was not inserted in either the constitution or the laws and policies designed to carry it out. A hundred percent success therefore. Why, then, are women’s social conditions deteriorating?

According to the diagnostic overview of the National Planning Commission – a presidentially appointed commission under the leadership of Trevor Manuel, the Minister of Planning, whose task is to develop a long term development plan for the country – the reasons are ‘cultural “norms” and patriarchy’, ‘social fragmentation and passive citizenry’, and unemployment and a lack of access to an enabling social wage, which combine to undermine the aspiration of the constitution towards “Healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”. In this diagnosis the problems of women are getting worse in spite, not because of the constitution. Government is not alone in having this view; it is in fact a near universal consensus.

A critical look, however, reveals the central responsibility of South Africa’s constitutional order for the worsening oppression of women here. For a start, take the three reasons put forward by the National Planning Commission. Cultural norms that underwrite patriarchy all depend for reproduction on institutions such as churches, traditional (tribal) leadership and families. None of these institutions were created in South Africa through free association. Christianity was imposed through violent dispossession and racist indoctrination. The current traditional leaders are the political heirs, not of Shaka and Hintsa, but of the chiefs that administered the violently imposed Bantustan system that was rejected over and over by black liberation movements. Families that teach women and children to submit to patriarchal authority also impose themselves through violence, abuse and the capacity to deny care, particularly when challenged; the wife/daughter that obeys out of fear and the one that gets beaten are both victims of this. The constitution ostensibly protects the victims of patriarchy, but it also protects these institutions, which are patriarchy’s perpetrators, and are much richer and more powerful than their victims.

What are the causes of social fragmentation and the alleged passivity among citizens? Certainly the way the political system is structured plays the major role. The state carefully assigns a particular status to every individual in the territory of South Africa. This status determines the relationship of this individual to the state as a whole – this one is a president, that one a prisoner, that one a police officer on duty, that one an ordinary citizen, and that one an undocumented immigrant. Everyone gets a position in a strictly constitutionally designated hierarchy where power is concentrated at the top. The competition and conflict that this concentration of power engenders is responsible for a major part of the social fragmentation in South Africa and other societies with a similar political structure. It also induces the alleged passivity, because people are not really passive politically, they are (sometimes) pacified by repression or by the frustration of being ignored or fobbed off. The power that South Africa’s political elite uses for socially fragmenting competition for more power, and to repress, ignore and fob off those of lower political status is given to them by none other than the constitution.

Growing unemployment, poverty and economic inequality are probably among the most acute of all the reasons fuelling the worsening position of women. A large part of the power of churches, chiefs and family heads flow from the fact that women have to submit to misery or face destitution. It is not possible to envisage the liberation of women without a radical redistribution of society’s wealth that would give black women control over most of it, and that would deny patriarchal institutions any of it. The constitution, of course, is dead set against such a redistribution. Instead it protects the property rights of the rich and facilitates neo-liberal policies that take even more from the poor to give to the rich, with devastating consequences for women.

The constitution and the gender laws and policies contain everything the makers of the Women’s Charter asked for, but it also contains and protects the cultural, political and economic institutions that destroy the hopes of this charter. It is like serving the women of South Africa a meal, full of delicious and nutritious ingredients, liberally sprinkled with poison.

 

(This post originally appeared here: http://permanentrebel.blogspot.com/2011/09/making-womens-charters-in-egypt-and.html. Thanks to Ronald for the collaboration!)