If you cannot include more than one woman on your panel, then you are not worthy of my time

I will be speaking at an event in South Africa next week. I was actually going to turn it down, but am glad I did not because if I had, it would have been another bloody manel. As it is, I am the only woman speaking on this one. Far from being a solution it is actually a problem.

So …

After much reflection, I have decided that this will be the last such panel I do. I have decided that I will no longer appear on any panel anywhere in the world where I am the only woman speaking with a bunch of men.

If I am the only woman invited to speak on a panel, I will not speak. I will turn it down. I have no interest in being a statistic in a gender ticking exercises, in being there for skewed “gender balance”. And I have no interest in working with people of such little imagination that they willfully exclude half the population.

If you cannot include more than one woman on your panel, then you are not worthy of my time.

That is all.

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Jennifer Glass)

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem fighting racism and sexism in France for real equality

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

Not long ago, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, then the French Minister of Women’s Rights, introduced and successfully defended a bill entitled “For Real Equality Between Women and Men.” This bill supported the normalization of parity. After the recent reshuffle of the government, Vallaud-Belkacem has become France’s Education Minister. This position is the fourth most important in the ranking of ministers in France. She is also the first woman to hold this major ministry.

Her nomination could have been a sign that something was working toward real parity in the highest political representation in France, but alas no. Immediately after her nomination, Vallaud-Belkacacem was targeted in right wing magazines by sexist and xenophobic attacks. These attacks used her dual Moroccan and French citizenship, her Muslim origin, her youth (she is 36), her sex, her support for same sex marriage, her support for the inclusion of gender theory in regular primary and secondary education, and, finally, her active feminist support for women’s rights.

Valeurs Actuelles, a magazine that the former president Nicolas Sarkozy uses regularly to make statements about his eventual return to politics, staged her as “the Ayatollah” on its front page, with an edited photo that accentuates the darkness of her eyes, making the portrait loaded with negative representations of Islam. The subtitle uses play on words to suggest that she is going redesign the National Education system. The title of another magazine “Minute” does the rest: “A Moroccan Muslim at the National Education, the Najat Vallaud Belkacem provocation.”

None of these displays of hatred is new. The latest was Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, whose origins and skin color sparked off racist and sexist slurs. Both women epitomize the fight against all inequality, including gender, ethnic and social inequality. Christiane Taubira reacted and wrote to her colleague in a tweet, “They must have nothing in their heads, be empty in their heart, and have hardened souls. Najat, you’re flying high with our ambitions for schools. Thanks.”

Meanwhile, the line between right and extreme right becomes increasingly blurred. In a tweet by a right wing city counselor of Neuilly sur Seine, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was accused of using her femininity, also called “skirt promotion”, to access this position. The counselor, of course, added a suggestive picture. Another right wing enclase, the city of Puteaux, in a charity effort to support families with children returning to school, distributed strong blue backpacks to boys and strong pink one to girls, making clear the separation in colors and roles of girls and boys in a binary society.

“Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is the ideal target for all those who would like to distill the idea that an immigrant woman could not legitimately be part of a government” says SOS Racism, an association that denounces all sorts of racism. These attacks go beyond that. They exploit the old demon of colonial countries to block advances in women’s rights and human rights and to achieve various goals: controlling the population at large, curtail all debates, policing the whole of the neoliberal environment.

When Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was Minister of Women’s Rights, she declared that we needed to be politically proactive to address gender inequalities. She was right about that. When she said that gender, class, ethnicity are the bases of inequality and that hatred is the way “to emptied hearts and hardened souls” where inequalities grow, she was right again.

 

 

(Photo Credit: RTL.fr)

We two too

 

We two too

We two too
would have been
out Blomvlei Primary way
had we remembered
to be

We two too
Lansdowne librarian Ian Gordon
and left-handed I, David Kapp

We two too
support the cause
of Equal Education’s
Campaign for School Libraries

1 school 1 library
less than 1%
of the education budget
is all it would take

less than 1%
of the education budget
for a library in every school
in the country (over 10 years)

We two too
then read about
your home from home
(out Hanover Park way)
where you will grow
after the school day

We two too
the two of us
we too
forgot

How many more
have forgotten
(or not yet discovered)
the joy of books
and libraries too

Quite mortified am I, at our forgetfulness, reminded by the Cape Times article “Equal Education opens another library” (CT, February 28 2011) of the grand event.

 

(Photo Credit: Equal Education)

 

Security of Sex: Legally Bound (and Gagged)

In the good ‘ol US of A, we’ve been seeing some odd juggling around not just civil but human rights under the new administration. President Obama has been under fire for reneging on his campaign promise to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and for offering support of DOMA, though Obama recently issued a statement negating his previous statement. And the good news has been that there has been vigorous debate and even some voting regarding the Matthew Shepard Act.  These three issues are supposed to represent the pinnacle of LGBTQ rights in America: the right to shoot people for my country, the ability to legally enter into a heteronormative institution and the ability to put more people in jail for longer. OK.  These are considered basic civil rights that affect the entire ‘community’.   The problem is that none of these topics actually relate to the needs of the larger LGBTQ community, because is there is no community, no consensus.  The only thing uniform about this community is that there are individuals across every major racial group, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion and class that consider the ability to discriminate and even harm LGBTQ persons a necessary right.  Such universal disempowerment only exists for one other group: women.  Despite this, the larger issues affecting the LGBTQ community of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, unusually high suicide rates, under-education, harassment both generally and by police, discrimination, heteronormativity, etc. are overwhelmed by marriage, military and prison. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the struggle for ‘equality’ looks a little different in South Africa, but only a little. Africa’s largest economy has had full legal equality for LGB persons since the ratification of the post-Apartheid constitution, gender identity and expression or transgender rights are not listed.  Despite having one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, South African LGBTQ persons are commonly subject to brutal acts of violence.  And they aren’t the only ones.  In particular, African lesbians in South Africa have been explicitly targeted for gang-rapes.  I’ve talked about this particular situation before, that women and specifically queer women are targeted is no accident.  That these acts are not causing mass outcry or even being consistently investigated is no accident.

The United States of course is no better we just have a legal term for these types of acts. Individuals who commit these ‘hate crimes’ are often portrayed as either marginal and extreme or victims themselves of an awkward circumstance, in South Africa they are generally faceless groups of males, assumedly black.  Such portrayals justify larger apathy and inaction by removing these acts from the larger debate. When violence against LGBTQ persons is mentioned as being part of larger systemic prejudices, it is usually to say that violence is caused by laws against LGBTQ persons, that it will wane once there is full legal equality.   It is the same argument that has been used for women for more than a century.  Yet, the elephant in the room is the fact that South Africa has those legal rights that the mainstream American LGBTQ organizations are hung up on and not only are LGBTQ persons in South Africa not equal, they are the subjects of intense discrimination and violence.  Full legal equality, whatever that means, will not magically create a society of equals because the issue is only in part about laws.  It’s like giving someone painkillers and saying it will cure cancer.  No amount of legal progressivism will undo the damage of a country’s President making a mockery of rape and being elected despite it.  It is primarily about power and how disempowered groups are balkanized and ranked creating a system in which low class African males in Johannesburg and minority males in California gain power through the gang-rape of lesbians.

Reliance on law, regardless of whether or not the laws are good, has not accounted for a lack of willingness to enforce.  The U.S. is established as the imprisonment capital of the world and South Africa is playing catch up.  If a state emphasizes that criminalization and long sentences equal justice but refuses to actually prosecute or even investigate acts of violence against LGBT persons, of color and women especially, then that government not only seems to condone these actions but sends the message these are just actions.  They are public services.  It’s the same message that both the Apartheid and Jim Crow governments sent in their heydays.  Yet, now the messages are masked by so called legal progresses. The moral of the story remains the same as it has always been, ‘no one’ cares if you are poor, black, queer and/or female, no matter where you are.

(Photo Credit: DavidMixner.com)