It’s election time in France, and women’s rights are on the agenda!

Laura Slimani

It is election time in France! It is a decidedly contested race, and women’s rights have gained some visibility in this unsettled political context.

Marine Le Pen, the extreme right wing candidate has used deceiving methods to attract women’s votes while her party’s anti women’s rights vote at the European parliament reach a perfect score. The website “Womens’rights against extreme rights” was launched at the beginning of the campaign to debunk her fraudulent claims.

In an unusual move for France, the right wing candidate Francois Fillon made religious claims on women’s right to abortion, demonstrating its reluctance to apply strong public policies to improve women’s rights.

The center right candidate Emmanuel Macron former minister of Finance in Hollande’s administration has defended measures that have increased women’s precarity. Still, as a candidate he claims that he will support women’s rights in general terms.

Candidates on the left, such as Benoit Hamon or Jean Luc Melenchon have shown more determination to articulate a program that includes important feminist demands. Melenchon’s campaign published a document entitled: “Equality between women and men, to abolish patriarchy”. Hamon’s campaign has produced documents as well. Both are very similar in their approach to increase representation of women.

We talked with Laura Slimani, a spokesperson in Hamon’s campaign, and she shared with us some of their vision on women’s rights.


(Photo Credit: Huffington Post / AFP) (Interview by author)

Whether they vote or not, the excluded, oppressed and routinely killed are NOT stupid!


If previous trends continue, millions of people will choose not to vote on 3 August in the local elections across South Africa. According to Eusebius McKaiser people abstain from voting because they either think voting will not make a difference, or they think it will implicate them morally in a system they do not agree with. These reasons are ‘stupid’, according to McKaiser.

It is breathtakingly arrogant to judge people stupid without knowledge of their goals, and, unlike McKaiser, I do not presume to know the goals of the millions who will not be voting. It is however necessary to say that it is not at all stupid to refrain from doing something you believe will not change anything. To do or not do something for moral reasons, even if it affects you materially in bad ways, only seems stupid to people who believe material self-interest should always be the only or main motivation for political actions.

Perhaps it is more important to remember that there are good practical reasons to abstain from voting for an important group among those who are staying away from the polls. In their case we have a good idea of what their goals are, because they have been articulating it since at least the elections of 2004. I am referring to the various social movements and protest groups that have arisen against the neoliberal capitalist approach of the state and taking positions like ‘no land, no vote’ or ‘no housing, no vote.’ Examples of these movements include the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum.

While the early post-2000 social movements have become much weakened or defunct, their line of thinking has continued to find resonance. The latest group to take it up powerfully is organizing under the hashtag #IamSpoilingMyBallotWithMyBlood in the Cape Town township of Bonteheuwel. This campaign is led by a group of activists mainly associated with the Joint Peace Forum. They are resisting the waves of gang violence that killed thousands of Bonteheuwel residents with the complicity of the police and politicians of all stripes.

The most important idea behind the actions of these activists is that the system oppresses them to such a degree that they need to build movements as alternative sources of power capable of fighting the system as a whole. This does not mean voting and working within the system is morally wrong or does not make any difference. It means that the changes possible within the system still leave people trapped in the hellhole Bonteheuwel has become. It is also based on the calculation that whoever is in power of those on offer, people are better off when they have strong grassroots movements.

Far from being stupid, the decision to refrain from voting serves this movement building agenda perfectly. As we learned from boycotting the tricameral parliament and other Apartheid institutions, building effective liberation movements require foregoing the marginal benefits of working within the system, in favor of the more important benefits of drawing a clear line between oppressor and oppressed. McKaiser cannot see this, because his watered down liberalism tells him we have the best possible form of democracy. Those excluded, oppressed and killed routinely, beg to differ. It’s stupid to think of them as stupid.

(This series is about the unbreakable link between means and ends in politics – the tyranny of politics.)


(Image Credit: IOL)


Kadi Sesay, a Sierra Leonean feminist leader and builder of democracy

All eyes are on Sierra Leone and its cliffhanger elections tomorrow. It actually is a crucial election, with a great deal at stake (even if The New York Times has thus far not mentioned a word). And one group that is precariously positioned in this election is women.

Out of 538 candidates for Parliament, only 38 are women. Of 1,283 candidates for local council seats, a mere 337 are women. Many women activists, such as Barbara Bangura, the director of the women’s organisation Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance, lay much of the blame on current women parliamentarians who failed to get the Parliament to pass, or even seriously consider, the Gender Equality Bill. The Gender Equality Bill would have mandated that 30% of the legislators be women.

Why did the Bill fail? Some in the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus claim there was confusion. Others say intimidation of women candidates and office holders is all too common.

Whatever the reason, there will be a sharp decline in the number of women in Parliament and in local offices. For that reason alone, women are already organizing to re-table it post election.

While the numbers are fairly dismal, there’s one number that shows some promise: 2. And that number 2 has a woman’s name: Kadi Sesay. The opposition party, Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), is running Kadi Sesay as vice-president. If Julius Maada Bio becomes President, Sierra Leone will have a woman Vice-President for the first time.

Sesay has been a first woman on a number of occasions, from academic head of department to National Commission head to Ministerial positions. She’s a groundbreaker Sierra Leonean feminist leader and feminist builder of real democracy who, for decades and at every step, has worked closely with women’s groups, women’s movements, women.

While the election of one woman to a high office won’t resolve the extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone, nor the crisis of women’s high indebtedness, nor the challenges women farmers face either in the rural zones or in the cities, nor the inequities women face in the courts,  it’s still something.

According to the BBC tomorrow’s election is all about becoming an adult: “Sierra Leone may be about to prove it has grown up.”

The possible accession of Kadi Sesay to the Vice-Presidency of Sierra Leone is not a passage into adulthood. Sierra Leone is not a child. Tell the BBC. Tell them, as well, about Kadi Sesay, an African feminist leader.


(Photo Credit:

“We have voted but our governments have not delivered”: sex workers speak out and organize

On Wednesday, 22 April 2009, South Africans will head for the polls to cast their democratic vote for the fourth time. With a flurry of pre-election activities: from increased campaigning and media coverage to some comic relief from the likes of Evita Bezuidenhout’s Elections and Erections. Of course when raising the issue of elections and sex work one can expect sexual innuendos like this to flourish. However sex workers across the world have engaged with election processes.

In the run up to elections in the USA last year, sex workers started an election awareness campaign called: “Grind the vote”. This campaign was spearheaded by SPREAD, a magazine by sex workers for sex workers. It raised a list of issues, concerns and demands by sex workers, analysed various political parties’ manifestoes and embarked on extensive voter education with sex workers across the country.

Similarly Indonesia held their elections on 9 April.  According to an AFP article, Indonesia has about 170 million voters eligible and over 38 parties to choose from. What has all of this got to do with sex work? Approximately 50 sex workers were trained by election officials to do voter education with other sex workers and clients. This was in an attempt to engage hard to reach groups in the election process. Interestingly no mention was made of sex workers’ rights or the various political parties’ position on sex work.

In Kolkata, India sex workers attempted to respond to the elections holistically. They lobbied for sex workers to be involved in the election process and they used the opportunity to highlight sex worker demands to political parties and society at large. Durbar Mahila Samanya Committee (DMSC), boasting a membership of 65000 sex workers, approached the chief electoral officer to create the space for sex worker involvement.  Six sex workers in this region will be working at polling booths during the elections. The DMSC heralds this as a step in the right direction in recognising sex workers as equal citizens. In addition the DSMC have been demanding, from political parties, that sex work be seen as work. Sex workers have placed a charter of demands before each political party in the region.

Meanwhile in South Africa earlier this year 153 sex workers from 10 African countries converged at a sex worker conference held in Johannesburg. They released a statement demanding their governments honour the rights of sex workers.

When our governments are campaigning for our votes they say “vote for us and we will deliver “. We have voted but our governments have not delivered. We try to raise our voices about human rights violations that we face on a daily basis, no one listens.  Once we have voted they forget us. From our government we need law reform and the decriminalisation of sex work so that we have the spaces to access our rights. We demand rights and not rescue. 

In Cape Town, sex workers interrogated three of the main political parties on their position on decriminalising sex work. This took place at an event organised by the African Gender Institute of the University of Cape Town, The International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) and the Gender Equity Unit of the University of the Western Cape. The focus of this event was to have an interactive discussion with different political parties on women’s rights, gender justice and their political manifestos. In preparing for this event sex workers met and agreed that they really would like political parties to be clear on their position on decriminalising sex work. Sex workers asked SWEAT to table their question at the event. The ANC representative stated that the ANC does not support sex work and seemed surprised by the audience’s negative response to her comments. The DA implied that they would support the criminalisation of the client. It was not clear if they would support the decriminalisation of the sex worker. The ID clearly stated that they support the decriminalisation of sex work.


(Photo Credit: EWN / Nardus Engelbrecht / SAPA)