The heartless in power: Targeting head scarfed women downgrades selected citizens

The first story takes place in France in the regional council of Bourgogne Franche-Comté, a region in the east of France. School children are invited to witness how democracy works. They embark on a fieldtrip. In need of chaperone for the field trip, the school teacher solicits the help of the mother of one of her students. She probably explained that it will be an interesting experience to attend a parliamentary session for the children and for the chaperones as well.

Once seated in the public gallery, she hears a representative from the extreme right wing Rassemblement National, National Rally (RN) Julien Odoul address the speaker of the council demanding the chaperone to remove her “Islamic veil.” She does not need to look around to know that she is being targeted since she is the only one who is wearing a headscarf. He erupts that it is the law of the republic and it is in defense of secularism or even in respect for the women who are fighting for their rights in Islamic nations. His rowdy fellow FN representatives shout at the speaker that it is the law. It is not the law, and, further, his party has never defended secularism and has no track record of defending women’s rights. Blinded by his own fundamentalism and drunk on his own power and authority he creates an environment of humiliation. Humiliation of a woman who is fully part of French society, humiliation for her young son who starts crying and humiliation for the entire school and community.   

The speaker of the parliament, Marie Guite Dufay shocked, retorts: “Are you done yet? cool off now.”

The Preamble of the Constitution states, “The French Republic is secular, (…) it protects all beliefs.” This means the Republic does not favor any religion but relegates all beliefs to the private sector. This also means that under the French law, no one must be discriminated based on their religion or their atheism. This guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom to manifest one’s religious affiliation. Religious freedom presupposes the freedom of everyone to express their religion, to practice it and to abandon it, while respecting public order. This requires for the Republic, and the representatives of the Republic, neutrality in the face of all religions and beliefs. This does not apply to citizens who are free to express their beliefs in the public space in the respect of the public. 

Women facing constant inequality in the west like elsewhere have to be saved by the men of that same society that based its colonial enterprise on a patriarchal view of domination and of redistribution of territories. This event made headlines, and rightwing politicians went on to demand restrictive laws for women who are involved in public life, directly targeting Muslim women. Julien Odoul’s comments were able to put in public space hatred of women’s right to be full citizens and hatred of Muslims, two of their favorite targets!

The second story occurred in the south west of France in the city of Bayonne. An 84-year-old man, a former National Rally member, attacked the city’s mosque, injuring two men who happened to be there. He felt that he had the mission of avenging the destruction of Notre Dame. A high-ranking member of the National Rally (RN), Jean Messiha, disseminated his poisonous question “Notre Dame didn’t burn by chance, the Islamic involvement hasn’t been explored enough.” His allegations are completely false and are part of the war path that has been developed against one group identified racially and attacked. Have we already seen this before? How many more déjà vu before the Global North learns its lesson from history? The city of Bayonne known for being an inclusive municipality immediately expressed its support of its Muslim community. 

The third story takes place in the United States. On October 19, 2019, high school cross country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram, found out that she was not on the list after she had finished her fastest 5K at the Division 1 Northwest District meet. Abukaram was disqualified on account of her hijab. As Abukaram told Sports Illustrated, “My race is supposed to be under my control, but that control was taken away from me because of my hijab, something I hold so close to my heart. I felt so let down by the sport that I had trained so hard to run in. It was humiliating and embarrassing and upsetting.” Rules have been changed by major sports organizations, including the Olympics, to include the diversity of participants. Why then does the Ohio High School Athletic Association enforce an outdated rule about headgear? Abukaram is asking precisely that, “I’m running just like everyone else. Why should you have to sacrifice your religion and a part of who you are to run, to do another thing that you’re very passionate about?”

Are the United States government’s current policies, such as the travel ban for Muslims and surveillance of Muslim families, now reaching their long arm into the arena of sports by attempting to exclude Muslim athletes who wear the hijab? This is not paranoia, but policy that is destructive of democracy.

These rightwing attacks on Muslim women are part of a war machine to impede a targeted community from living as full citizens in their countries. Targeting women in order to rally for some nationalist ideal has become the de facto line among right wing groups. If the chaperone had been a man wearing a beard, would the RN representative have articulated insulting comments? Imagine the result if an RN representative shouted, “Man with beard, shave it at once! It is against the law!”Destabilizing civil society is always a way to keep neoliberalist doctrine controlling the world. According to theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Fascism is when a war machine is hidden in every niche, when in every nook and in every cranny of daily life a war machine is hidden. This is fascism.”

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(Photo Credit: Luis Galvez)

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (2)

La poétesse Pramila Venkateswaran écrit des poèmes féministes qui avec humour et rigueur parlent de la vie des femmes et de leurs batailles pour leur émancipation et leurs droits. Pour elle son travail n’aurait que peu de sens si elle ne pouvait pas le lire à voix haute ce qui lui permet d’entrainer son audience dans l’expérience du poème en faisant vivre le texte.

Pour Mots Écrits il importe de donner vie aux archives de femmes, histoire des femmes qui étaient emprisonnées dans des cartons d’archives. Le son des voix donne à ce texte venu d’outre-tombe une vie sans filtre tel qu’il est. Sophie Bourel explique «on tire le bouchon de la lampe du génie et d’un coup il y a quelque chose qui surgit; c’est ce parfum-là, cette vie-là, cette trace et c’est cette trace qui va réveiller l’imaginaire des spectateurs qui ne font qu’écouter ce que la personne lit. Les archives deviennent vivantes!» 

Mais avant de pouvoir lire à haute voix, il faut constituer le corpus de textes. Quand nous l’avions rencontré un matin, c’était une belle journée pour elle, elle venait de recevoir des documents d’un département français. Elle nous accueillit avec un bonjour de joie comme si elle venait de découvrir un trésor. 

Ce qui l’avait réjoui était l’arrivée d’une archive anonymisée comme elles doivent l’être lorsqu’elles viennent de fonds d’archive de moins de 75 ans. Il s’agissait d’un crime sur une femme survenu après des années d’alertes et comme encore aujourd’hui une femme qui se retrouve seule devant son agresseur qu’elle ne connait que trop bien. Le 16 septembre 2019, la 105ème victime de féminicide de l’année, a été frappée par son ex conjoint de 14 coups de couteau, au Havre en plein jour dans un supermarché devant ses enfants de 2, 4 et 6 ans. Elle s’appelait Johanna. Elle avait déjà déposé deux plaintes dont la dernière en aout 2019 toutes deux classées sans suite. 

Les femmes victimes de féminicide ont prévenu, appelé à l’aide, et elles sont restées seules, elles sont mortes, abattues avec un fusil de chasse, une arme à feu, poignardées, étranglées, battues à mort. 

Au début de son travail Sophie Bourel voulait mettre en relation toutes les femmes tuées de façon similaire à travers les temps. Elle avait créé une liste de tombeaux, comme elle l’avait appelée, de femmes tuées, il y en avait 78 puis 80 et cela ne s’arrêtait pas. L’idée était de former une sorte d’écho, entre la femme tuée il y a cinquante ans ou avant et la femme décédée de la même manière en 2019, elle voulait les relier dans la mort par le mode opératoire, par le lieu où elles avaient été trouvées, etc. Et puis son projet a évolué. Sans renoncement, elle l’a transformé en raison de l’inévitabilité des meurtres de femmes, du caractère inexorable du décompte des corps tombés sous les coups des hommes. L’artiste constate que la liste des femmes féminicidées en 2019 ne s’arrête jamais.

En poursuivant sa recherche dans les archives, elle s’est aperçue que les assassinats de femmes au 19ème siècle étaient si nombreux que les mises en relation entre femmes féminicidées auraient été incommodes et « de toute façon cette liste n’a ni commencement ni fin» précise-t-elle.

La composition du corpus est la vraie difficulté du projet; il faut une diversité d’archives, de matériaux, pour que 50 minutes de performance de lecture à voix haute ouvrent les consciences, les réflexions sur l’omerta qui a si longtemps régnée sur la vie des femmes, leurs histoires invisibles. 

De ce travail de puzzle elle veut montrer que les morts sont chargées de signaux sociétaux qui en disent long sur le silence entourant la subjectivation des femmes. L’artiste se demande pourquoi nous en sommes toujours là. Ce qui lui est intolérable c’est ce système qui consiste à faire d’une différence une hiérarchie ; suivant les mots d’Édouard Glissant, elle ajoute, «je cherche donc à agir dans mon lieu et à penser avec le monde dans lequel je vis.»

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (1)

Chaque premier janvier, les bonnes résolutions sont prises, et puis il y a la première de l’année, assassinée par son conjoint ou ex.  Le 12 aout elle était la 88ème ou peut être la 89ème elle avait 71 ans. Il n’y a pas d’âge pour être tuée par son partenaire ou ex. Le 27 septembre 2019, la nouvelle tombait, la 111ème victime de féminicide de l’année en cours avait été découverte. 

L’épidémie est mondiale et quasi permanente pratiquement invisible à l’œil politico économique, dominée par le patriarcat, habitué à ne voir que les enjeux stratégiques, «sécuritaires,» qui occupent le devant de la scène publique. En France, le gouvernement organise cette année un Grenelle (Une conférence regroupant de nombreuses organisations) «violence contre les femmes» du 3 septembre au 25 novembre arguant qu’il faut trouver des solutions globales à ce fléau, mais sans envisager jusqu’à présent le déblocage de nouveaux financements.

L’Espagne a consacré 200 millions d’euros pour lutter contre les violences conjugales considérées parfois comme du «terrorisme misogyne.» L’Espagne a reformée son système pénal en 2004, créant 106 tribunaux et un parquet spécialisé. En 15 ans le nombre de femmes tuées par leur conjoint chaque année est passé de 71 à 43.  En comparaison, la France affiche des résultats médiocres avec ses 79 millions d’euros promis. Or, la Fondation des Femmes estime qu’il faudrait entre 500 millions et 1 milliard d’euros de budget pour lutter efficacement contre les violences conjugales à elles seules. Le budget alloué au Secrétariat à l’Égalité femmes-hommes présenté le 25 septembre 2019 pour l’année 2020 a baissé de 25.750€ par rapport à 2019 (budget 2019:  29.871.581€ ; budget 2020: 29.845.831€). Comment une telle réalité de vie et de mort pour plus de la moitié de la population peut-elle non seulement avoir persisté mais ne pas constituer une priorité sociétale? Et pourtant, il y a eu écrits, études et autres formes de recherches et d’information sur ce fléau qui s’abat sur des femmes prises dans un tourbillon de violences de la part de leur proches ou ex, et pour quels effets?

L’invisibilité des crimes sur les femmes vient du fait qu’ils sont mal nommés comme le rappelle Amélie Gallois dans «On tue une femme,» pire encore ajoute-t-elle, «mal nommer un objet c’est lui en substituer un autre.»

Jusqu’en 1975, l’adultère était considéré comme une circonstance atténuante dans le cas d’un meurtre commis par l’époux sur son épouse : seuls les époux étaient excusables. En Italie, le crime d’honneur n’est aboli que depuis 1981. Dans sa thèse intitulée «Le crime passionnel. Étude du processus de passage à l’acte et de sa répression», Me Habiba Touré explique «à l’époque, l’homme qui tuait sa femme était un romantique».

En France, ce n’est que depuis 25 ans, que le crime conjugal est devenu une circonstance aggravante du meurtre/assassinat (Décret no 94-167 du 25 février 1994 modifiant certaines dispositions de droit pénal et de procédure pénale). En 2006, cette disposition sera élargie aux concubins, «pacsés» et aux «ex», le meurtre sur un conjoint, pacsé concubin ou ex étant puni de la réclusion criminelle à perpétuité (à noter que le code pénal ne pose que des peines plafonds et non des peines planchers; le juge étant libre de condamner « le mis en cause » à une peine bien moindre). Depuis quelques années, les associations féministes emploient le terme «féminicide» (le meurtre d’une femme/fille pour le fait qu’elle soit femme/fille, que ce soit dans la sphère intime, non intime ou publique) pour parler des violences conjugales et militent pour sa reconnaissance pénale.

Comme souvent, l’art doit venir à la rescousse pour sortir des mythes qui ont permis le patriarcat, et revenir à la réalité.  La performance dans les lieux publics possède les qualités de la dissidence et aussi de la conscientisation nécessaire.  

Suite à la grande collecte des archives de femmes de 2018, l’artiste Sophie Bourel a conceptualisé un projet de mise en espace de lecture à voix haute intitulé Mots Écrits, à partir de la réalité des textes d’archives de femmes pour mettre sur la scène une histoire des femmes qui a été invisibilisée. Les textes seront lus à voix haute par des amateur.es qui auront été formées par l’artiste. Sophie Bourel croit, en effet, en la force de la lecture à voix haute qui est à la fois un art exigeant et accessible à toutes et tous, «et cela fait du bien mécaniquement.» 

Disinterring Women’s Words (Mots Ecrits)

In France, on August 12, she was the 88th or maybe the 89th victim. She was 71 years old. There is no age limit to being killed by your partner, husband or ex. There are now 101 women victims of feminicide since January and the death toll will continue to grow. The epidemic is worldwide and almost permanently active. In France the government declared its intention to organize a conference in September to address the issue widely but failed to announce more funding. Compared to the 200 million euros Spain devoted for a national pact against domestic violence that is also called machismo terrorism, France scores poorly with its promised 79 million euros. It is time to face the reality of feminicide in France, and elsewhere.

The theatrical project Mots Ecrits, conceptualized by the actress Sophie Bourel from a collection of archives on women’s lives, makes visible invisibilized violence against women. Bourel decided that the first part of her project will concern the issue of feminicides, an issue that brings the everlasting danger for women of being killed as well as a sense of urgency.  For Mots Ecrits, Bourel collects a corpus of archives on feminicides and creates a theatrical performance based on these written words. With a wide variety of documents, what she calls “de la matière” (raw material), she is able to give life to the words to make the performance live fully and independently.

Sophie Bourel feels that she has an enormous responsibility since feminicide still ravages society. When we met her one morning, she was all excited because she received documents from the archives of a French department. She welcomed us with “Hello I am so happy,” as if she had found a treasure. In fact, for her it was a treasure, since finding anything about women including about their assassination by partners, lovers etc. is so difficult. The invisibility of women is multifaceted and the invisibility of their elimination is at the source of their absence in public space. The files she received that morning concerned a crime that occurred January 16, 1975 in a French town on the Loire river. The woman killed that day first appeared in police records in July 1968. She went to the police station to report violence in her home and her son had a head injury; her neighbor also testified. This ended up in a murder attempt in June 1975, when the perpetrator raped and locked her up. She filed a complaint and got an apartment to which she moved with her children. But she was not safe. At the end of 1975, he visited her. She went to the police station to say that she was scared. On January 16, 1976, he waited outside her apartment building, grabbed her, dragged her to the riverbank and shot her twice.

Sophie Bourel doesn’t see this as an isolated case. She created a list of 78 and then 80 graves. She says, “If I look at my list, I am going to find a woman who has been killed in a similar way: 2 pistol or gun shots! I am going to put the two women in contact with one another to create a sort of echo, the one who died 50 years ago with the one who died in 2019. Killed in the same manner. It is as if one opened her casket to welcome the newly killed.” She adds that it is also a way to fight because we must fight, for if we don’t, nothing will happen to save women. Men should be afraid of killing women.

Within the archive she received, there was also a petition sent to Francoise Giroud, Secretary of State in charge of the condition of women from 1974 to 1976, the first ever ministry established in France that concerned women’s issues The text said:

Reasons for the choice of this type of petition:

The Judicial procedures and the possibilities of intervention of the bodies in charge of people’s safety seem to be able to work only after the crime has been committed. This procedure has the inconvenience of requiring the death of the person first before being able to activate the wheels of law. On the other hand, it has the advantage of not forcing the judges to make preventative decisions (that can be traumatic for the perpetrators).

This petition clearly shows the objectification of women and sadly points to the State as engendering such a view. Representation of human beings in the State means visibility and therefore the opportunity to be heard and seen. It means conferring the person or group with an identity, or a face. If a human being is not recognized by the State, that person is an object and can be killed. As Hannah Arendt points out, when people are objectified, they can be eliminated. Objectification of humans or the environment is the precondition to destruction. Conscience or ethical responsibility is tossed. 

When Pramila’s mother, disabled and sick, was threatened by a family member, she had to get the help of police and lawyers. In one instance, the police said that she could be left alone with the violent family member. When Pramila objected that her mother is in danger of being hurt or even killed, the police responded, “Then we can bring a case against the perpetrator. No problem.” She was aghast. To even suggest that an old, ill and disabled woman should be killed in order to bring her perpetrator to justice is unconscionable.

When Nirbhaya’s rape, known as the Delhi rape case in 2012 led to mass movement for justice for women, a British journalist interviewed the rapists for the BBC. Recounting the incident in which Nirbhaya was sexually assaulted, one of the rapists, Singh, said “While being raped, she shouldn’t have fought back. She should have remained silent and allowed the rape.”  We know that passivity would not have saved Nirbhaya’s life. 

Worse yet is the law’s weakness when it comes to justice for women. Nirbhaya had to die after the gruesome mauling of her body in order for her case to go to the fast-track court! Alive, she had no protection against her assaulters. 

French law has evolved very slowly, and has repeatedly failed to protect women. In March 1994, France introduced a series of laws against violence (in general), but it is only in 2003 that domestic violence is seen as an aggravating circumstance by the law. Since then, almost every year, a new amendment was passed in the desperate attempt to tackle the number of women killed by their partners and exes, but to no avail (articles 221-4222-12 and 222-13 of the French criminal code). 

In comparison, in 2004 Spain reformed its criminal court system to bring down domestic violence, creating 106 specialized courts and an adapted prosecution bringing the rate of Spanish women killed by their husbands from 71 to 43. In Canada, because of the nature of the harm of domestic violence, the judges can provide for release conditions such as “no contact” until the trial or appeal even where no offence has been committed. Yet, where personal injury or damage is feared, courts can also order “peace bonds or recognizances.” The French Criminal laws also contain a number of special provisions that serve to protect victims, but these means are almost never used by the judges and the police. 

How many women have to die in order to change the mentality about the role and rights of women? How many women have to show the scars, the badges of abuse, in order to be heard, and in order for the law to be comprehensively enforced? Laws regarding “national” security are immediately carried out and enforced! The urgency of the situation should have forced us to act a long time ago. Meanwhile, in France, 93 women have died since January 1st. Every week, 3 women are killed by their respective partners. For 3000 years women have been abused by men. In many countries, our laws have been written by men and (un)enforced by men. This is not acceptable.

(Photo Credit 1: France Culture / Denis Meyer / Hans Lucas / AFP)

For the world that abandons children, the future is the house of the dead

“Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease.”   Fyodor Dostoevsky

“I stay stuck on this point. There is a new outrage every day, but I try to remember children. If I were one of them, away in a strange place, all alone, surrounded by strangers, and my mother or father or both were taken away, how could I possibly cope? If I were the father of a child taken away from me to who knows where, and I had no idea if I would see my child again, how could I continue to function?” Charles Blow

Welcome to the horror show of contemporary “life”. Around the world, reports indicate that nation-States, so-called democratic nation-States, have formally, finally, and once again decided it’s time to abandon children, to criminalize their childhood, and to turn the future into so much rotted carnage. In Loiret, the government plans to “release” 150 unacccompanied migrant teenagers from State servicesThe plan is no plan. Put them out and let them fend for themselves. Australia anticipates “removing” triple the number of Aboriginal children within 20 years.Over thirty children are being forced to suffer “searing temperatures” on board a ship in the Mediterranean because Italy and Malta refuse to let them disembark. Yesterday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 680 people, workers in various plants in Mississippi. Hundreds of children of all ages were left behind, without a moment’s notice or concern. Children are not the concern of the State. Families are scared to death. Story after story appears of children of immigrant workers in Mississippi left at school with no one knowing what to do; children on board a boat in the Mediterranean with no one knowing what to do; Aboriginal children in Australia being removed from families with absolutely no consultation with the community and, again, no one knowing what to do; already precarious, isolated children in France being thrown into the streets and no one knowing what to do. This is our knowledge, the knowledge of no one knowing what to do. This is the future. Cover the mirrors with black sheets. Turn off the lights. Close the door. But first, remember to devastate the children. 

(Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press / New York Times)

Feminicide, misogynist terrorism and extraordinary courts: France tackles women’s murder by men

For the last few weeks, French newspapers have started using the word «feminicide» to address the killing of women and girls. In France, every 2.5 days, a woman is murdered by her partner. 77 women have been killed between January 1st and July 15th 2019. Voices everywhere in the country have demanded change. They point to the inefficiency of the French government in its attempt to protect women against men’s violence. While some feminist organizations ask for legal recognition of feminicide as a gender hate crime, with the creation of a special court, an approach adopted in Spain 15 years ago,others prefer to stick to «ordinary law» to effectively prosecute and punish those crimes. They argue that the already comprehensive criminal apparatus would be efficient enough to tackle violence against women, if it were used correctly. The public opinion questions its criminal legal system, wondering what is the best judicial forum to prosecute, judge and repair the crime of feminicide? How to prevent those crimes? What legal apparatus will later fully grant reparation to the victims and victims’ family?

From the European witch-hunting in the 15th 16th and 17th centuries to the Chinese traditional biases against women combined with the strict “one-child” policy leading to the almost systematic abortion of female fetuses, to the dowry crimes of girls in India, to domestic violence resulting in the mass murder of women by male partners, feminicide is a phenomenon as old as patriarchy. It was first used by the women’s rights activist Diana E. H. Russel, in «Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing », to explain the misogynist killing of women by men. Jill Radford thenbegan using the term in her classes during the eighties at the University of Teeside, defining feminicide as the misogynous killing of women by men. Today, misogyny, stigmatization of women and the belief that women’s bodies are disposable are seen as serving to justify killing women. 

The two most commonly cited examples of feminicide occurred in Mexico and Canada. In Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez,  since 1993 approximately 500 women and girls have been murdered; the large majority of these crimes remain unsolved). In Canada, on December 6th 1989 Marc Lépine stormed into the School of Engineering of the University of Montréal, separated women from men, and opened fire on the women, shouting “You’re all fucking feminists.”

UN Women France is currently working on an advocacy campaign aiming to change the French criminal law by introducing the crime of feminicide that would be judged in a special court, with a distinctive prosecution, special prosecutors and judges following the model of the judicial system of Latin America and Spain. The philosophy behind this campaign is that when the «ordinary law » and ordinary courts have failed to effectively prosecute crimes, when the feeling of impunity has risen, the State must create an «extraordinary juridiction» to tackle those crimes. A special court is necessary when the State has failed to effectively prosecute a crime, and therefore has created a feeling of impunity. 

To support this philosophy, some describe feminicide as «misogynist terrorism», taking into account the extreme violence of the crimes and the hateful ideological discourses that support them. Whether it is a husband murdering his wife attempting to escape from his control or Alek Minassian, a man who believed that women unjustly denied sex to him and plowed a rental van through a Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 women, in every case, those men believe that women owe them obedience and that women are inferior to men.  This is the core of misogynist hateful violent ideology.  As terrorism is considered by the society and the legal system as an «extraordinary crime» which needs to be prosecuted in front of an extraordinary court, prosecuted feminicide should follow the same procedure.

In 2004 Spain reformed its criminal court system to bring down domestic violence; it created 106 specialized courts and a distinctive prosecution. As a result, from 2003 to 2018, the rate of Spanish women killed by their husband annually has dropped from 71 to 43. In addition to legal measures, the Spanish law targets victim support (emergency telephone numbers, social centres for assistance of victims and their children, free specialized juridical assistance, special financial assistance and employment help), administrative measures (specialized corps of the Local police and the “Guardia Civil” with agents trained for dealing with domestic violence cases, a national observatory of the violence against women in charge of the statistical follow up, in order to analyse the effect of the new laws on Spanish society) and the education of the Spanish society. In recent years, France has developed a similar but incomplete  approach. Incomplete in that these means are rarely used by police, judges, or prosecutors and therefore become inadequate. In the last case of feminicide in France, the woman went to the police the night before, fearing for her life, did not get the assistance needed and required by law: and was murdered the following day.

The judicial system cannot transform societal behavior by itself: it is neither its role, nor is it in its power. The role of the criminal judge is to judge, nothing more. It can contribute to repair prejudice against victims, protect society and rehabilitate the criminal who served his sentence. The law and the administration of justice cannot guarantee the establishment of societal peace, nor can it carry by itself the responsibility of transforming the mentality of the society. It can, however, give a framework for people to maintain respect in society, to provide moral redress to victims, restore their personal dignity and allow them to be recognized as victims by the rest of society. In that regard, the full recognition of feminicide will contribute to righting and writing the narrative of women killed by men. Women’s lives matter. 

(Photo Credit: France Culture / Denis Meyer / Hans Lucas / AFP)

Death and teaching in Paris

Après les angoisses du début d’année
T’as travaillé trois mois, toujours pas payée
Et les heures supprimées, pas rémunérées
T’auras pas de contrat, c’est l’Etat
N’attends pas le syndicat, il est pas là
Gare à toi, sois toujours sympa
C’est le règne de l’arbitraire, du pouvoir discrétionnaire
Si ça te plaît pas, tu peux rentrer chez ta mère
Tu comprends pas, ouvre le dictionnaire, t’es vacataire;

Refrain : Tu ne peux rien changer
Si tu protestes, tu te fais virer
Des bottes, tu devras lécher[
– Song of the Vacataire en colère from le Blog de Carmen

After the anxieties of the new academic year
You’ve worked three months, still not paid
And hours dropped, never remunerated
You will not have a contract, it’s the state
Do not wait for the union, it’s not there
Watch yourself, always be nice
It’s the reign of arbitrariness, discretionary power
If you do not like it, go back to your mother’s house
If you do not understand, open the dictionary, you’re a temporary worker

Chorus: You can not change anything
If you protest, you get fired
Boots, you’ll have to lick them.
(Author’s translation)

I was preparing to leave my apartment, to make the usual commute to teach courses at a private university on the outskirts of Paris, when a text message appeared on my phone.  The message was brief.  In French, it merely said a grave incident had occurred on campus involving a professor. All classes were canceled and the campus was closed. I immediately wondered if someone I knew was hurt.  No other messages followed for the rest of the day and I was unable to reach anyone in my department by phone.  Googling the name of the school, it slowly became evident from news sources that one of my colleagues had been stabbed by a former student.  As the evening wore on, more details were made available on news sites and I realised who the victim was.  But it wasn’t until late at night that an official email was sent to university faculty about the tragedy. One of our colleagues, a fellow English professor, had been brutally murdered on the steps of the school by a former student who had failed his courses in 2017. In the following paragraph, we were informed that our classes would resume in the morning. 

There was no day of mourning. Grief counselors were brought on campus for several days and a free hotline was set up for students and faculty to call in for a period of two weeks.  At the end of the term, the university hosted an evening memorial to honor the life of the slain professor and his dedicated service to the institution where he taught for over two decades.  (He had planned to retire at the end of the academic year).  He was a beloved teacher and hundreds of students, faculty and staff were present to pay their respects.   But there was no special meeting scheduled for those of us in the Languages Department who knew him – some people had worked with him for many years and were friends as well as colleagues – nor were assurances made that additional security would be put in place.  We emailed one another in the days following his death, sharing our concerns and knowledge of the circumstances of our colleague’s death. The former student had blamed the English faculty for his academic failure, and targeted one of us.  Some of us confessed we were afraid to be alone in an elevator with students.  Others couldn’t sleep, had difficulty walking past the site of the murder and felt physically ill.  Everyone was distressed, sad or fearful but felt compelled for practical reasons to continue to work as we all lack paid personal or sick leave.  Looking back at this, it’s difficult to convey in words my shock over what happened as well as the school’s callous handling of it.

‘La galère du vacataire’

I teach at three schools in the Paris metro region as an adjunct professor – what’s called a ‘vacataire’ or ‘chargé d’enseignement’ in French vernacular.[ii] My students number 200 – although this fluctuates – and I teach about six courses annually – usually with several sections for each course and between 20 to 40 students in each section. My salary ranges from 39 to 45 euros an hour before taxes.  After taxes, I earn less than 10,000 euros a year.  If I take a day off because my child is ill, I’m not paid.  I’m only remunerated for the time I’m in the classroom, teaching.  This does not include course design and preparation, grading, faculty meetings, nor do I receive transportation subsidies from the schools where I teach. When I asked for a raise last year at one school, after three years of teaching there, I was told that ‘vacataire’ salaries are set by the university administration and, I learned, if the university is public, by the Minister of National Education.  The majority of adjunct faculty in France, like me, earn approximately the same hourly wage as twenty years ago, a rate set by the government (41 euros/hour).  When our salaries are averaged out to include all the unpaid work we do, we make less than the national minimum wage (SMIC).  

On structural violence

It’s a common misperception that there are strong labor protections in France; although this is shifting with the advent of the ‘yellow vest’ movement in November 2018.  Likewise, when we think of violence in schools or on university campuses, the United States comes to mind first, usually not European countries.  

In 2019, the majority of university professors in North America are part-time adjuncts; this is on trend in Europe as well.  While France still has a higher ratio of tenured professors [‘maîtres de conférences’] to adjuncts – slightly more than half compared to the US where about 75% of faculty are contingent – these posts are increasingly replaced by part-time adjuncts as people retire.  Adjunct professors in France work without permanent contracts – and many of us work with no contract at all – or benefits (including access to unemployment insurance, maternity and sick leave, and paid holidays).  Due to our status as ‘vacataires’, we are also often limited in the number of hours we can teach at one institution (96 hours per annum) so most of us teach at three or even four schools.  We are routinely informed weeks or even mere days before the academic term begins whether courses and class schedules have been confirmed, changed or canceled; the number of students in classrooms increases each year; we wait months – sometimes until the following summer – to be paid; and endure persistently chaotic work environments.  All of these examples constitute forms of structural violence.

‘Low-paid seasonal workers with Ph.D.s’

There have been a number of excellent articles and books published recently on the crisis of education in North America and the United Kingdom, extending from primary schools to university.  Based on my own experiences as a teacher and a mother in France, the crisis extends to Europe where austerity measures slash budgets for public education.  The crisis is – at least in part – an outcome of neoliberalism which imposes ‘free market’ models on schools, commodifying education, seeking ‘returns’ at the lowest possible cost, and transforms teachers – with advanced degrees – into temporary, low-paid labourers. 

I have no hopeful solutions with which to conclude.  In France, adjunct professors don’t have union representation – which contributes to our situation.  In recent years, adjuncts at a number of public universities across the country have protested, demanding better work conditions, permanent contracts and regular paychecks, including at public universities in Paris, Lille, Nantes, Lyon and Poitiers.  As I write this, we enter ‘Act 22’ of the ‘yellow vest’ protests for economic justice. Primary and secondary school teachers are protesting and striking regularly against draconian changes to the labor laws, and a women’s strike was held on 8 March for equal pay (for the same work as men).  It’s unclear if these actions will stop or even slow the neoliberal onslaught.

I’m saddened by the death of my colleague – someone I knew for a short three months but whose murder still haunts me.  In my view, it’s crucial to emphasise the continuum between forms of structural violence which culminate in bursts of direct violence.  Our struggles against different forms of structural violence must also be linked. Neoliberal reforms, including the privatisation of public goods like education, transportation, infrastructure, and healthcare, that are being rammed down our throats in France, impact all of us whether we are primary school teachers, students, university adjuncts, railway workers, taxi drivers or airplane pilots.  Organising, in (and outside of) unions, striking, refusing to cooperate in mass demonstrations of civil disobedience, appear to be our most effective and direct path, for now, toward a recognition of our collective demands. 


(Photo Credit: l’Humanité)

France’s protest over a gas tax takes on new meaning

Europe has been thrown into disarray for the past several weeks. In France, the Yellow Vests Protests, at first protesting their objection to Macron’s gas tax– a step in the right direction to combat climate change – have now risen to address the needs of poor working-class families, including calls for higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions and easier university entry requirements. While the protests may be co-opted by far-right leaders, especially at the behest of climate-change deniers in large corporations that are to blame for CO2 emissions, Macron’s austerity measures laid the foundation for the Yellow Vests. The gas tax was that straw that broke the camel’s back.

President Macron, a centrist millionaire who has no understanding of the struggles of the working class in France, came into power — thankfully ousting far-right candidate Marie La Pen —  “vowing to face down protestors and drive through long-postponed economic reforms.” His policy reforms were the austerity measures that are sweeping across the globe as capitalist elites consolidate power and wealth and working-class families pay the price. 

In his 18 months in office, Macron has reduced the power of the unions in workplace relations, ending the special benefits enjoyed by railway workers, and made it easier for companies to hire and fire staff. He ended the wealth tax on all assets from property — a whopping 70% cut in the tax for France’s millionaires: “It was meant to boost investment in the economy, but it was seen by many poorer voters as further proof that this former banker-turned-president was still primarily a friend of business, not of the squeezed working and middle class.” The biggest winners of the tax cut has been the richest 1% in France. 

The protests have largely moved hard-left, as demonstrators demand more funding for social programs. It remains to be seen whether far-right leaders will capitalize on the protests for their own gain. Given how close La Pen was to winning in the previous election, it remains to be seen if the shift of economic blame would push on La Pen’s anti-migrant and racist undertones. For now, however, it seems that the anger is at the political elite, who have largely ignored the sufferings of the working-class.

What does this mean for climate change? Attempting to lower CO2 emissions is essential in combating the damaging effects of the planet’s rising temperatures. At the same time, it is necessary that we understand the ways in which capitalism is the driving force of the rise of carbon emissions. The report issued by the United Nations scientific panel on climate change points to the rectification that “requires transforming the world economy within just a few years … Capitalism’s legacy is climate change. It’s logically impossible to claim that capitalism is a sustainable economic system and that climate change is real. Asserting both is the definition of trying to have your cake and eat it too. There is no debate as to who is to blame for climate change. Our economic masters have chosen to accumulate as much money as possibly while spending a sizable chunk on propaganda telling you that the certainty scientists have on this topic is actually just some big liberal hoax perpetrated by Al Gore.” 

The fight for the working-class and for the environment are inherently linked — alongside women’s demand for equality, because women will be damaged the worst by the climate change. The struggles for working class power, women’s power and the environment together require a struggle to end the economic system of capitalism before it consumes all the world’s resources and destroys the earth that we need to survive. Macron’s gas tax will not effectively change the problem. The forces of corporations that destroy the environment are the true culprit of climate change. We must demand and force their end, because if the world is irreparably damaged, if we are all on this sinking ship together, then the capitalists had best worry, not about their bottom line but rather the cliff the global proletariat will through them off of. A specter haunts the environment … 

The impact of Macron’s proposed budget on working people

(Image Credit: Femmes en Lutte 93) (Infographic Credit: BBC)

France contracts the epidemic of “tough on immigration” laws

Some issues come back to the scene of “democratic” states at the time of neoliberal battles. In this time of globalization, there is a disparity of sanctions between movements of vulture capital and movements of people, themselves often victims of the economics of globalization.  While no one of late has offered a bill against vulture venture capital, in France, the Minister of the Interior Gérard Collomb has offered Parliament a new bill on asylum and immigration, nicknamed the law of shame.  Fitting into the European Union eagerness to crack down on the rights of people in exile, the bill aims to cut down the appeal time for asylum seekers as well as increase the time in immigration detention center. With an eye to society-market language, the bill promises “controlled immigration, effective asylum rights, and successful integration”.

While the Minister of the Interior claims the bill is balanced, NGOs involved in immigration services, such as la Cimade, warn of the danger of increasing levels of dehumanization with a law that treats everyone reaching France with suspicion. The Minister responds, repeatedly, that France cannot receive all the misery of the world. Remember the Geneva Convention? The Geneva Convention defines rights for refugees, not rights for countries to get rid of refugees.  This “controlled immigration”  bill has already passed the first chamber.

The bill doubles the maximum number of days spent in detention center from 45 to 90 days. Ostensibly, that gives the authorities more time to find solutions other than allowing the person in exile to stay in France, in other words, reaching an agreement with the refugee’s original country about the possibility for return.

According to Mireille Delmas-Marty, French law scholar and professor, before the end of the 1970s there was no separate notion of immigration, and no detention center existed for administrative detention, but, over time, the confusion between immigration, being illegal and delinquency has changed with changes in the law. In 1980 the “Bonnet Bill” marked the beginning of the criminalization of immigration. The bill allowed 7 days of administrative detention under specific conditions. France’s Supreme Court ruled that was too long and censured the bill. In 2018, 90 days is described as a reasonable length of time behind bars for non-criminal people. “Administrative” incarceration for people who are accused of nothing other than traveling without documentation should be challenged in the context of a record number of incarcerations in French prisons with 70,367 behind bars, 21 000 awaiting trial, and 120% occupation rate.

French civil society has resisted the principle of administrative detention on immigration issues. Recently, parents, students and teachers united to demand and obtain the liberation of the father of two high school students from Kosovo who was placed in administrative detention for his immigration status. Such acts of resistance have occurred repeatedly.

Collomb’s bill accelerates asylum procedures so people will have to apply for asylum within 90 days instead of the current 120 days. If their application is denied, they will have 15 days instead of 30 to appeal. The asylum process is already extremely difficult to maneuver for most people in need. Many NGOs, such as the Primo Levy Center, describe the process as too fast and shallow to be fair. Right now, judges and employees of the court of appeal for refugees and the immigration lawyers’ guild are on strike, denouncing the impossibility of treating everyone given the lack of resources.

The bill contained some progressive elements such as a better protection for women victim of sexual mutilations, stateless people, reunification with their family for minors traveling alone, and removing countries denying rights to homosexuals from the list of safe countries.  But the debate in Parliament revealed a larger resistance as the positive sections didn’t make up for the overall lack of protection for the dignity of people in exile. Many MPs from the majority opposed the bill and denounced the absence of necessary altruism and benevolence. With the bill, France is neither a land of integration nor of hospitality. Christiane Taubira remarked that the bill catered to a certain sector of French voters rather than taking into account the human reality of the migrations of our time.

Can numbers change the suspicious side of the law of shame on immigration? At a recent conference on migration, refugees, and exile, French historian Patrick Boucheron argued that more statistics are necessary to understand the human reality of today’s migrations. The world is made of 244 million migrants, with 100 million forced to migrate, 21 million refugees under the status of the Geneva Convention, and 3 million migrating to developed countries. The 10 countries that receive over 50 % of people migrating make up 2 % of the world’s GDP. Boucheron explained that in a time of capitalist crisis accompanied by environmental crisis, hospitality becomes a key political question.

What will transform the vision and understanding of people who are migrating from the perspective of the people who migrated before them?  President Emmanuel Macron’s nickname is Jupiter, a mythological god that reigned over other gods. Jupiter was also the god of hospitality. We should remind the young President of France of that. How can people and the government transform distrust into trust?  What will make a politics of hospitality possible?

 

(Photo Credit 1, 2: La Cimade)

Paris chambermaids strike against the cleaning inequalities of the neoliberal state

In Paris the chambermaids of the Holiday inn of Clichy in the Northern district of Paris are striking in a struggle for dignity in the face of increasing dehumanization of service workers. They have decried their work conditions with the company Héméra that contract their work to the Holiday Inn. The workers went on strike after they realized that some of their colleagues had been redirected to another hotel far away, and that workloads had increased while wages stagnated. This is part of a general workers’ response to mounting inequality.

Recently, inequality has resurfaced as a major issue in “democratic” as well as in non-democratic nations. Last week, the Word Inequality Report brought to light a multilayer study of the global rise in inequality. Although Europe has seen a slower increase of inequality, compared to the rest of the world, the increase is still significant and even more troublesome since the European model supposedly relied on a system of protections against inequality.

Employment deregulation and privatization have been touted as a rational means to resist competition in Western Europe.  In the process of privatizing services, cleaners who were employed by hotels or public services are now generally employed by service companies that contract their work. This process lowers the conditions of employment. Service provider companies have multiplied, fragmenting the gained negotiating power of workers and unions. The majority of the people thus employed are women as are 70% of the poor in the world.

Within Europe, until recently France had retained some of the best labor protections, but in recent years the labor code has been reshaped under the pretext that it was too complicated. Most recently, President Macron struck the final blow, redefining labor protection.

At the Holiday Inn in Clichy, the chambermaids said, “NO!”. Blandine Laurenjolla, a chambermaid at the Holiday Inn in Clichy with 10 years seniority, was being forced to transfer to a hotel a few hours away from her home. She is a mother of four, the youngest is only 11 months old. When she complained that she would have to leave her home every day at 4 AM, she was told that with young children she should stay home. In total 2 women were forced to transfer. These transfers and the constant pressure of Héméra company on their domestic workers was such that the strike was voted and supported by a large movement of solidarity. Even some customers of the hotel showed their support.

Thus far, Héméra and the Holiday Inn have turned a blind eye to the demand for dignity and respect for work. Additionally, the workers face constant police pressure, as a chambermaid told us: “I am a chambermaid, we are picketing and demonstrating every day. The management ignores us they send the police every day.” The district’s congresswoman has said that they were not the most visible and “important” personnel of the Hotel, not the people who count. Language opposing people who count to people who are invisible has increased. This language signifies inequality.

The struggle against invisibility is constant in the cleaning service as this crucial work is in patriarchy traditionally attributed to women.

The contracted cleaners of 75 train stations of the northern “transilien” Paris railroad network went on strike after their company was sold to another service provider company in November. The companies merge, sale and buy and the workers’lives are negotiated to a lower grade. After 44 days of strike, the movement succeeded in obtaining their affiliation to the railroad collective agreement with an increase in their bonuses, a guarantee of not being transferred without their agreement and other small advantages.

This strike was a success because the train stations were visibly dirty and dirtier every day. The work of the cleaners was visible in the absence of it. Then, the public train service was more willing to push for a better ending than the warped service businesses left alone.

These movements of resistance by the invisible contracted women workers reminds us of the importance of solidarity. Contracting work is a process key in transferring public power and money into private hands that practice individualism with no concern for a sense of human dignity. The world has never been so rich and the public wealth never so low. That is the source of a human catastrophe.

 

(Photo Credit: Julien Jaulin / Hanslucas / Humanité)