Today’s witch-hunt: Caroline Mwatha and Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz

“The witch-hunt, then, was a war against women; it was a concerted attempt to degrade them, dehumanize them, and destroy their social power. At the same time, it was in the torture chambers and on the stakes on which the witches perished that the bourgeois ideals of womanhood and domesticity were forged. In this case, too, the witch-hunt amplified contemporary social trends. There is, in fact, an unmistakable continuity between the practices targeted by the witch-hunt and those banned by the new legislation that in the same years was introduced to regulate family life, gender and property relations.”            
Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

The news this week reminds us that the witch hunt is thriving and in process. In Kenya, human rights defender Caroline Mwatha disappeared and then was found, dead. Police quickly determined that the cause of Caroline Mwatha’s death was a “botched” abortion. While questions abound concerning that report, not in question is the severity of Kenya’s restrictions on abortions and on women’s access to reproductive health care and justice. In El Salvador, yesterday, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz walked out of the hellhole of Ilopango Women’s Prison, where she had been held for almost three years for “aggravated homicide”, which judgment was based on Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz not having sought prenatal care while she was pregnant. We live in the world that spins between Caroline Mwatha and Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz.

On February 6, Caroline Mwatha was reported missing. Caroline Mwatha lived and worked in the Dandora neighborhood of Nairobi, where she had founded the Dandora Community Justice Centre. Caroline Mwatha was well known for her investigations into extrajudicial killings, specifically, and police abuses more generally. She was a fierce and dedicated human and women’s rights defender and warrior. At the same time, she was a pregnant woman living in Kenya. According to certain reports, Caroline Mwatha chose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. According to all reports, Kenya is an especially dangerous place in which to make that choice. That danger is caused by especially harsh restrictions as well as by government political policies. In November 2018, Marie Stopes Kenya, the single largest provider of safe abortions in the country, was forced to close its abortion operations. Meanwhile, also last year, the government reported that every year in Kenya about 2,600 women die from unsafe abortions. That’s seven women every dayWhat killed Caroline Mwatha? Evelyn Opondo, Africa director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, put it simply: “Caroline did not have to die. Her death was preventable. She is just one of so many women who are killed needlessly due to unsafe abortion in clinics run by ‘quacks’.” Caroline Mwatha did not have to die, but she was executed by state policy.

In July 2017, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was found guilty of aggravated homicide. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was a high school student at the time, who was repeatedly raped by a gang member. She became pregnant. She didn’t know she was pregnant. She knew that she had stomach pains, but, because she also was bleeding, she thought she wasn’t pregnant. Then In April 2016, she gave birth in the bathroom of her family’s home. She passed out. When she regained consciousness, she was arrested. At the trial, medical experts couldn’t ascertain whether the fetus died in utero or after the birth. The prosecution maintained that Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz had not sought prenatal care because she didn’t want the child. The judge agreed, and sentenced Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz to thirty years in prison. After a little less than three years in the hellhole of Ilopango Women’s Prison, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was granted a new trial. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz can stay out of prison until a new trial, April 4. Mariana Moisa, of Agrupacion Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, or Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, noted, “In 2019 we shouldn’t be fighting for the presumption of innocence when a woman loses a pregnancy. We shouldn’t have to be proving that motherhood is not related to crime. We should have full human rights as Salvadoran women.”

Kenyan activists mourn the death of Caroline Mwatha. Salvadoran activists celebrate the release of Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz. These are pages in the history of the witch-hunt. While both Kenya and El Salvador explain their anti-abortion policies as a consequence of their being “religious”, the tie that binds the two is the marriage of patriarchy and capitalism at whose altar the power and knowledge of autonomous, self-aware women is demonized and criminalized. Caroline Mwatha wanted help, and instead she was given a death sentence. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz needed help, and instead she was given a 30-year-sentence, which is akin to a death sentence. That’s the modern witch-hunt, and it must end now. It’s time, it’s way past time, to demand justice for Caroline Mwatha, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, and all the women subjected to the witch-hunt. Shut it down … now!

Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz 

(Image Credit: Hivisasa) (Photo Credit: BBC / AFP)

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín leaves El Salvador’s hell for women, Ilopango Women’s Prison

Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and her father embrace

Around the world this week, the news reported that Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was finally free … or at least out of prison. Headlines read “Salvadoran woman jailed for stillbirth set free after 14 years”; “El Salvador woman freed after 15 years in jail for abortion”; “Salvadoran Woman, One of ‘Las 17,’ Freed After Spending 15 Years Behind Bars Following a Miscarriage”. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín is 34 years old. In 2003, Marroquín became pregnant and suffered a late-term miscarriage. She was arrested and convicted of aggravated homicide and sent to Ilopango Women’s Prison. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín has spent more than half her life in Ilopango. This week, her sentence was commuted, though not overturned, and she walked out and greeted her family, friends and supporters. Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín was greeted by Teodora Vasquez. In February, Teodora Vasquez was released, after ten years in Ilopango Women’s Prison. Teodora Vasquez is 35 years old. In El Salvador, the intersection of women’s rights, women’s autonomy, and the State is marked by el Centro de Readaptación para Mujeres de Ilopango, the Ilopango Center for Women’s Readaptation. Call it the Ilopango Women’s Prison, El Salvador’s special hell for women.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions. Previously, abortion had been illegal but generally not prosecuted.  El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women; any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted.  49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign, and the release of Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and Teodora Vasquez owes much to their persistent organizing.

Meanwhile, the absolute and total ban of abortions is predictably only partial: “The majority of the cases were referred to the police from hospitals—specifically, from public hospitals. Indeed, not a single hospital report to police came from the country’s private practice doctors or private hospitals.” The “totality” of the ban applies only to those women dependent on the public health system.

This is Ilopango Women’s Prison three years ago: “Ilopango is squalid and cramped: Overcrowding stands at nearly 1,000 percent, according to some estimates. Women sleep some 40 to a cell; one prison guard told me that over 100 children under five live there with their mothers.” In 2015, Ilopango held 2000 women; it was designed for 225 women, maximum. Women slept five to a bed, or on the floor. Water was scarce, and medical care even scarcer. Prisoners relied on their mostly impoverished families for pretty much everything. Since then, the situation has only worsened. Everyone “operates between resignation and despair.”

This week, Teodora Vasquez and Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín embraced and celebrated freedom. They also decried the 24 women convicted of homicide abortion who remain in Ilopango and promised to “continue supporting those women trapped inside who are paying for a crime we never committed.” For the women who suffered miscarriages, the viciousness of the State is a crime. For the women, all the women, who ended up in Ilopango, the sentence of death-in-life is the crime, not abortion, not miscarriage, not this or that act, not being a woman. Ilopango is the crime.

Ilopango Women’s Prison

 

(Photo Credit 1: Univision / Reuters / Jose Cabezas) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Meridith Kohut)

El Salvador built a special hell for women, Ilopango Women’s Prison

Ilopango Women’s Prison

El Salvador built as special hell for women, formally called el Centro de Readaptación para Mujeres de Ilopango, the Ilopango Center for Women’s Readaptation. Call it the Ilopango Women’s Prison. For the last few months, this prison has, and has not, received some notoriety because of El Salvador’s draconian anti-abortion laws, which have landed Las 17 in Ilopango. The story of the 17 women sent into the hell of Ilopango for having suffered miscarriages is important, as is the story of all the women in Ilopango. The abuse of the 17 is a crime, as is the abuse of all the women prisoners in Ilopango.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions, period. Today, El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. Additionally, El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women, so that any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted. 49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. A People’s Tribunal is going on right now to investigate the cases of three of those women: Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez Aldana, sentenced to 30 years and released after seven years; Maria Teresa Rivera, in for 40 years for aggravated homicide; Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, sentenced to 30 years.

Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign. Periodically, the case of Las 17 is picked up globally, and so the struggle continues.

The assault on pregnant women, the absolute and total ban, is predictably partial: “The majority of the cases were referred to the police from hospitals—specifically, from public hospitals. Indeed, not a single hospital report to police came from the country’s private practice doctors or private hospitals.” So, the “totality” of the ban applies only to those women dependent on the public health system.

Of equal importance is the prison itself: “Ilopango is squalid and cramped: Overcrowding stands at nearly 1,000 percent, according to some estimates. Women sleep some 40 to a cell; one prison guard told me that over 100 children under five live there with their mothers.” Ilopango was designed for 225 women, maximum. Last year it held 2000. Women sleep five to a bed, or on the floor. Water is scarce, and medical care even scarcer. Prisoners rely on their mostly impoverished families for pretty much everything.

These are the numbers of violence against women: Las 17 and 2000 in a space for 225. For the women who suffered miscarriages, the viciousness of the State is a crime. For the women, all the women, who ended up in Ilopango, the sentence of death-in-life is the crime, not abortion, not miscarriage, not this or that act, not being a woman. Ilopango is the crime.

Meanwhile, last month, Flor Sánchez was dumped in jail for the `crime’ of having endured a miscarriage.

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Meridith Kohut)

Domestics: I am myself and my circumstances

I am a member of a women’s group called Woman, Action and Change. We are part of Tenants and Workers United of Northern Virginia. We are predominantly Latina immigrant and migrant women from all parts of Latin America. Our members include Mexicans, Dominicanas, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Chileans, Argentines, many women from many countries. I am from Nicaragua. I have been living continuously in the United States for only 16 months.

When the group selected me to talk about domestic work, I was worried about how to approach a subject of which I am not an expert and then I remembered an expression of José Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, who said: “I am myself and my circumstances” so I decided to approach it from my own experience.

I’m from Nicaragua. My mother came from a poor farming family. As a single mother she raised 5 children alone. My mother was an entrepreneur. She had a store and all of us had to work ever since we could remember. I grew up with the image of a strong, working woman, and in an environment where domestic work was part of an effort to sustain the family. I grew up working and studying, got married and, as my mother did, I took care of my home and my children as part of my duties to support and protect my family.

Antecedents

As we all know, in developing countries, domestic work has been used as a mechanism to preserve machismo. In most of these countries, girls are educated to manage the home and boys are educated to have jobs and participate in the greater world.

Under these conditions, domestic work is a form of subjugation of women because their principle duty is to look after the home. Often, women are exploited and in the case of working women, they work the equivalent of triple shifts in order to manage a career and take care of the home. This represents an obstacle to professional development because many women drop out of school to find jobs to solve the needs of their family. For Latin American women like me, completing household chores in addition to our career responsibilities is a source of identity and pride.

There are countries that have incorporated legislation for domestic workers and social security. In some cases this is an appeal by the ruling parties to provide a progressive image and appear concerned about this part of the electorate marginalized by all public health policies.

This is a way to hide the inability to create better jobs. However, the inclusion of the domestic worker in the social security system provides them with medical care benefits and pension rights.

Domestic work in the USA

In this country domestic work has become a job for immigrant women to allow them to survive and meet the needs of their family. Except for in the movies, where we see an elegant butler, well trained and educated for these tasks, this “profession” seems to be exclusively for poor immigrant women.

A little while ago, the National Domestic Workers Alliance convened in Washington, D.C. This organization deals with the work of humanizing domestic work. It has brought to the table an interesting proposal to give more substance to this career.

Estimates are that the Baby Boomer generation reached 13 million in 2000 and in 2050 will be 27 million. This will require over 3 million healthcare workers to take care of them as they gradually age, making geriatric care a moral imperative for this country. Thousands of people, who have built the economic success of this country, will enter old age alone and without help as a result of globalization and the global economic crisis.

We have heard a lot about the budget cuts to social services in the media and the only proposals for jobs seem to focus on technology. In my opinion, there is no effort being made to support real people living in this country today. This is very irresponsible. Domestic workers can help resolve major societal issues through the care of the elderly, disabled and young members of our community. In the long run, this is much more important for building our quality of life because each of us will eventually be old and need help, too.

Today anti-immigrants accuse immigrants of taking jobs from Americans. I don’t think anyone is taking anything from anybody. The jobs filled by immigrant women, in particular, are low-wage domestic workers. These women work in horrid conditions for the chance to feed their families.

It is important that we discuss the legislative opportunities available to improve working conditions and educational opportunities for domestic workers. Improvements in those areas are connected to the outcomes and improvements in the care and wellbeing of our health, for the elderly, disabled and children. By supporting the development of women we will make our society stronger.

 

(Photo Credit: D.C. Intersections / Kate Musselwhite)

El Salvador: Las Hermosas Factory Struggle – Background

[Editors’ note: Yesterday CISPES released an action alert concerning the struggle of workers at Las Hermosas maquila in El Salvador. We invited them to give us a background on the situation of women workers, who make up the majority of workers and of leaders in this struggle. They sent us the report below. Thanks to CISPES for its work, to Estelle Jamira Ramirez, and to the women workers at Las Hermosas, and do go to http://cispes.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=566&Itemid=27  for the action alert and things you can do in support.]

Beginning in 2005, a group of women workers at the Las Hermosas maquila, a factory that formerly produced university clothing for Nike, Adidas, and Russell, began to organize to change unjust working conditions, including forced overtime, verbal and sexual harassment, and wage violations. Immediately after the workers began to organize, the factory owner closed the factory, leaving over 60 worker organizers unemployed, blacklisted from neighboring maquilas, and owed over $825,000. This money accounts for legally-due severance pay, salaries, overtime, two years of vacation pay, bonus pay, disability pay, and compensation for maternity leave, as well as deductions that were taken from our paychecks for housing, bank credits, health care contributions, and pension funds. 

Since then, a determined group of 63 women workers have organized protests, participated in international speaking tours, and joined students in the US to pressure Adidas, Russell, Nike and the Salvadoran government to comply with Salvadoran labor law, to ensure payment of the outstanding wages, overtime payments and severance pay, and to respect the right to organize in a union. Despite international pressure, the brands have ignored these codes, refusing to compensate the Las Hermosas workers the money that they unjustly deducted from their paychecks. 

While the case has fallen from international attention, the workers are continuing to fight the factory owner in the Salvadoran court system for violations of Salvadoran labor law. Currently, the Las Hermosas organizers and allied organizations are preparing a socio-economic survey to compare the current living situations of the Las Hermosas workers with their economic and social experience prior to the factory´s closure.

Testimony from Estella Jamira Ramirez, Former Las Hermosas Factory Workers

On February 2005, a group of 10 women workers sought to organize. In November, 2003 the factory Hermosa had cut wages. Even before that conditions had been precarious. There were long hours. There was maltreatment physically and verbally. There were frequent incidents of sexual assault by the owner’s nephews and an open environment for the supervisors to do the same thing. There was little access to medical care. There was a clinic in the factory but the doctor would not allow us to get check-ups at the Social Security Hospital. Workers did not generally get care at the Social Security hospital. They punished pregnant workers saying that they were going to the bathroom more frequently, vomiting and therefore their production had fallen. Additionally, the company would take pregnant workers out and segregate them to work 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The company would only bring them out when there were foreign visitors. 

One day, one of the workers who had been there for 9 years mentioned a union and was fired immediately. After November 19, they began to not even pay our salary. They insisted that we work Saturday and Sunday and did not pay us extra. In 2004, the Social Security Administration cut gynecological, neurological, and optical treatment. So the women who were pregnant could not go to that hospital and had to go to the national hospital, where they had to pay the expenses themselves. We would come to work but did not have enough money to eat. At our rest periods we would talk about what were we going to do.

In the summer of 2004, the majority of workers quit. Out of 600 workers, 250 stayed. These workers left with a promise that the owner would pay the salary, overtime and vacation that was owed. But to this time, none of those have been paid. In 2005, we were in deep debt. The company was taking out money from workers’ checks to pay their mortgages but was not paying their mortgages. Many were evicted including Norma. We went to FENASTRAS, the union that represented us.  

After the Peace Accords, the government had been able to buy off the heads of these unions. They organized us but then sold us out and negotiated with the owner of the factory. We had legal standing that we were the union. We made our demands against the company with the ministry of labor. We denounced all the things that Hermosa owed us and all the violations that had occurred. They scheduled two appointments but it was hard to get the company to come to them. It wasn’t until the last one that the company came. 

The Minister of Labor said that the company would have a month to pay us. In the same week, the company took out all of the materials from the factory. The owner had another maquila set up north of San Salvador. He completely closed the factory. On May 11, we stopped our work and took control of the factory. We were 14 women and one man. We divided into two groups. One went to the gates of the factory. The other went to the offices and began to demonstrate there. We were few people but very courageous. The police came. We said we are the ones who work this factory we decide who comes and leaves and at this moment nobody leaves. The police began to shake and said OK you run the factory just give me the key. 

We did everything so quickly and we took hold of the locks and we said to the women “Come and unite with us this man is trying to close the factory and has not complied with the agreement.” At this moment there was a big group of women – 64 women and seven men. The police came to kick us out and they accused us of taking private property. But we took the locks and put them in our pockets so they couldn’t see them. They said we were guerrillas and we kept screaming “We want them to pay us.” 

They went into their offices. There was a group that didn’t support us that told the police to take us out of there. We spoke to the police and said we haven’t done anything and there were no locks to begin with and what would you do if your children had nothing to eat. He finally left. We said to the owner “From this moment we are on strike and we are not going to work until you pay us.”

For a month, we cooked there, slept on the floor and had a committee to find resources. After a month the company asked for certification of the strike as a legal strike. The government ruled that the strike was not legal and ordered us back to work on June 19. We had to leave. We couldn’t risk going to jail for violating the order. They kicked us out but we stayed out on the street in front of the factory for five months. The owner hired a woman to follow us every day. FENASTRAS was saying that you already negotiated with the company. At first it didn’t matter, we were out on the streets making a huge ruckus. But we couldn’t get the press to cover us. From there, we started to look for other organizations and that is how we found the STS. 

We met a friend who was a journalist who helped us write letters to different social organizations and unions. That is how we found out about different organizations. They invited us to participate in the closing of a street in front of the Minister of Labor. There were 15 of us. We were there screaming “Minister of Labor – we are starving in the streets and you caused us to be starving in the street.” We saw a woman with green eyes. We came up to her and said “Are you here helping us?” She said “Why are you protesting?” We said “Because the Department of Labor doesn’t do anything for the workers.”  She was interested and went to look at the protest in front of the factory She asked a lot of questions about the brands we made. She came back with two compañeros – two real big guys. They did a whole video of us. They took us to eat at Mr. Donut which was nice because we hadn’t eaten for days. They said they were going to take our demands to Adidas which was really responsible.

They gave us $125 for food but asked for a receipt to show that we received the money. We asked what organizations they were with and they said Christian Romero in Germany and we said so you are not gringos. We felt a lot of fear because of the repression we had been through. When they asked us to sign the receipt, I thought “What if the owner had sent them to mess with us. We talked to them again on the phone and they said that Lauren from the Workers Rights Consortium was coming. This was the way our struggle moved to an international way. We continued marching in the streets but also had started judicial procedures.  The Germans helped us take the campaign internationally.

 Contact elsalvador@cispes.org for more information or call (202) 521-2510