In Thailand, seven women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation … and won!

Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna

Yesterday, in Thailand, a court ruled that seven rural women activists – Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna – are innocent of accusations of having organized an illegal assembly and of having coerced individuals to act against their will. Those charges stemmed from a meeting in November 2016, but the story goes back much further and radiates far beyond the Loei Province, in northern Thailand. It’s another story of local women, in this case local rural women organizing, organizing, organizing, no matter the odds, no matter the enormity of the opposition … organizing, organizing, organizing … and winning!

The Tongkah Harbour Public Company Limited has been around since 1906. In 1907, the company started offshore tin mining. Today, the company is involved in all sorts of mineral mining and in real estate. In 1991, the Tongkah Harbour Public Company founded Tungkum Limited, with the express purpose of mining gold in Loei Province, in northeastern Thailand. Loei Province is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Thailand, an area described as idyllic. In 2003, the Thai Ministry of Industry gave Tungkum the green light, and mining began.

What followed was an altogether familiar tale of mining and environmental contamination and devastation. What had been a hard life became an impossible life and then death-in-life, another instance of necropolitical economic development. Thanks to leaks from the mines, rarely controlled, rarely admitted to by the company, rarely investigated by the State, local water and soil started showing high levels of arsenic, manganese, chromium, cyanide, mercury and cadmium. None of this was unexpected. These are by-products of gold mining and, if improperly contained, they will poison the surrounding communities of people and the environments in which they dwell.

Local communities formed Khon Rak Ban Kerd, People Love their Hometown, KRBK. From the beginning, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna, Mae Rot and other women have been the central driving force for the organizing effort. They have withstood armed attacks, lawsuits, public defamation, and all forms of available intimidation. They have responded with rallies, blockades, petitions, and organizing. In November 2016, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna were invited to a meeting to discuss their views. When they arrived, with their friends, they were accused of blocking access to the meeting place and of unlawful assembly. This week, the court decided that, instead, the seven women had “innocently expressed their opinions, which is within their basic rights under the system of democracy.”

Their lawyer, Teerapun Phankeeree, said the women “are likely to continue to oppose the mining operations … The community not only wanted the company to stop operating, they wanted the company and government agencies to restore the environment, as well.” One of the activists, Pornthip Hongchai, explained, “There is still contamination within our six villages surrounding the mine. No officials or any department have come to seriously fix or address the problem yet. Villagers know that the water is contaminated and we have to be careful and look after ourselves. We still have to buy water to drink and cook with. We’ve been buying water since 2009 when there was a public health announcement.” As Mae Rot explained, “We have nowhere else to go. This is our land and we have been here for a hundred years. We have a right to live peacefully. We can’t eat the food we grow, we can’t drink the water. All we can do is keep fighting for justice. We pray to our ancestors in the mountains for help. Recently the miners drilled but found nothing. Maybe our ancestors are listening.” Maybe the ancestors are listening, and maybe the world as well. In Thailand, seven rural women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation, said NO! to some of the most powerful men and organizations in the world, said YES to democracy … and won!

 

(Photo Credit: The Nation) (Video Credit: YouTube / CIEE Khon Kaen)

Why did the English government murder Nancy Motsamai?

Nancy and Fusi Motsamai

On March 12, 35-year-old South African Nancy Motsamai died. Actually, she was killed by the English government. Why did the English government hate this woman so?  According to her husband, Fusi Motsamai, “Nancy was the kind of person who would light up the room with her smile. She loved helping others and volunteered to help at the church with different youth programmes. She believed in justice and used to get cross when injustice happened to others and no one was held accountable for it.” Rest in peace and power Nancy Motsamai. Hamba kahle.

The story is short, brutal and all too familiar. The couple had worked in the United Kingdom for over a decade. When they tried to renew their visa, they ran into unspecified difficulties. As a result, they had to report regularly to Eaton House, a Home Office center in west London. On March 7, they showed up for a regular check-in and were told they were to be deported to South Africa that day. While at Eaton House, Nancy Motsamai said she felt unwell. At Heathrow, Nancy Motsamai collapsed. An immigration officer accused her of faking illness. According to Fusi Motsamai, “He told Nancy that he would handcuff her hands and feet and make her walk to the plane like a penguin, and that he would put her onto the plane even if he had to carry her.” He would make her walk to the plane like a penguin.

Fusi and Nancy Motsamai were detained, separately, for a night. A nurse said Nancy Motsamai was too sick to be detained. The nurse was overruled. The next day, Fusi and Nancy Motsamai were released. Nancy Motsamai collapsed. Five days later, March 12, Nancy Motsamai died … of a pulmonary embolism. Then, the English government failed, or refused, to return Nancy Motsamai’s passport to her husband, which meant she could not be transported to South Africa for burial. Despite numerous requests from the family, the so-called Home Office never returned Nancy Motsamai’s passport. Instead, the country’s high commission provided a special travel document, and so, only on April 5, Nancy Motsamai returned to South Africa.

Meanwhile, on March 30, 18 days after her death, the Home Office did manage to text a warming to … Nancy Motsamai, informing her of dire consequences if she did not show up for an April 5th appointment. Fusi Motsamai explained, “I am still so angry inside about what the Home Office did … I just hope that my going public about this might stop the Home Office from treating others in this way.”

The Home Office responds, “Our thoughts and condolences are with Mrs Motsamai’s family at this difficult time. We take our responsibilities towards detainees’ health and welfare seriously. When there are claims that the highest standards have not been met these will be investigated thoroughly.”

Will a “thorough investigation” bring Nancy Motsamai back? Did it bring Angolan asylum seeker Jimmy Mubenga? Did it bring Jamaican Christine Case? No, and now the children just can’t stop crying.  Home Office, keep your thoughts and condolences to yourself. Nancy Motsamai would light up the room. Your “responsibility” blots out the sun.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Teri Pengilley)

Adila Chowan’s victory over racist sexism affects women “not just in South Africa but internationally as well”

Adila Chowan

Last week, the North Gauteng High Court of South Africa handed down a decision in Adila Chowan vs. Mark Lamberti & Co. Adila Chowan sued her former employers – Associated Motor Holdings and Imperial Holdings – and her boss, Mark Lamberti, for economic loss, suffered through wrongful and intentional acts, and for injuries to her reputation and her sense of self-worth, or dignity. Adila Chowan, an Indian Muslim woman, claimed that she was bypassed for promotions, for which she was eminently qualified, in favor of white male candidates. When pressed for reasons, Mark Lamberti told Adila Chowan that she was “a female, employment equity, technically competent, they would like to keep her but if she wants to go she must go, others have left this management and done better outside the company, and that she required three to four years to develop her leadership skills.” In court, Adila Chowan explained, “Because I pride myself on the fact that I am a qualified professional chartered accountant. I had built my career. I had been a CFO. And in Mark Lamberti’s eyes I was being narrowed down because of my colour and being female.” The court agreed with Adila Chowan and found in her favor.

The Court found that Adila Chowan had struggled in a toxic work environment in which white males could reduce her, repeatedly and with impunity, to the status of racialized sexualized object. At the same time, the Court found that, when Adila Chowan filed a grievance, the process was corrupted by the involvement of precisely the supervisor she was accusing. From the smallest detail to the largest structure, everything was wrong.

In his decision, Judge Pieter Meyer noted, “The present matter, in my view, is a classroom example of an appropriate case where delictual liability should be imposed. There are ample public-policy reasons in favour of imposing liability. The constitutional rights to equality and against unfair discrimination are compelling normative considerations. There is a great public interest in ensuring that the existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities in respect of race and gender be eradicated. As blatant and patent as discrimination was in the days of apartheid, so subtle and latent does it also manifests itself today. The protection afforded to an employee, such as Ms Chowan, by the PDA [Protected Disclosures Act] against occupational detriments by her employer on account of having made a protected disclosure that was ‘likely’ to show unfair racial and gender discrimination, is one of the measures taken by the legislature to eradicate the existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities. If employers are too easily insulated from claims for harms, such as the occupational detriments to which Ms Chowan was subjected to on account of having made a protected disclosure to her employer, they would have little incentive to conduct themselves in a way that complies with the provisions of s 3 of the PDA.”

“As blatant and patent as discrimination was in the days of apartheid, so subtle and latent does it also manifests itself today.”

That “subtle and latent” discrimination doesn’t end with Court. Read the articles following the Court decision, and, with rare exception, the focus is on Mark Lamberti and whatever will he do now. One article has a photo of Adila Chowan. All the others picture Mark Lamberti. Adila Chowan has noted that Lamberti apologized to the media, never to her. In reflecting on the case, Adila Chowan said, “For me, I was trying to come out there and tell women that you can make a difference, and you can be heard and can stand up for yourself … Remember, being an Indian Muslim woman, you are seen as marginalised and [you are] basically invisible behind the scarf … This is not just in South Africa but internationally as well, where you see a differentiation between [the attitudes towards] men and women.”

Adila Chowan has waged a mighty struggle at the crossroads of racism and sexism, and she has won, and yet, somehow, even now, she must struggle, again, to have her name and her story told. Adila Chowan is the story. This is Adila Chowan’s story. Remember that.

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian)

What happened to Marilyn Lucille Palmer? Just another jail suicide in Michigan

What happened to 36-year-old Marilyn Lucille Palmer? On February 28, 2018, Marilyn Lucille Palmer, mother of a 13-year-old son, was “found” hanging in her jail cell shower, in the Grand Traverse County jail, in Traverse City, Michigan. According to the Sheriff’s Office, “She was unresponsive and not breathing.” Since then, the Sheriff has maintained that the jail could use some help and funds, but basically everything is ok. Everything is decidedly not ok, not in the Traverse County Jail nor in jails across the United States.

On January 12, Marilyn Lucille Palmer pled guilty to one count of identity theft. She was sentenced to three months. She was to be released in May. The day before she died, she was denied a request for an early release. There is no early release possible for three-month sentences. Marilyn Lucille Palmer told her cell mates that she was distraught about missing Easter with her family and missing her son’s thirteenth birthday. Additionally, Marilyn Lucille Palmer used Trazadone, an anti-anxiety medication. A little over a week before her death, Marilyn Lucille Palmer filled out a health service request: “I think I’m having detox symptoms because I have really restless legs and my anxiety is through the roof.” On February 28, Marilyn Lucille Palmer filled out yet another health request: “Need to refill prescription for Trazadone … Been out for several days.” Hours later, in response to cell mates’ “panicked screams”, Marilyn Lucille Palmer was found “unresponsive and not breathing.”

What happened to Marilyn Lucille Palmer? She was dumped in a local, and nationwide, hole of systemic unresponsiveness … to women, to people of color, to those living with mental health needs, to those living with any health needs, to people.

In 2003, Amy Lynn Ford was sent to the Traverse County jail. Amy Lynn Ford was a recovering alcoholic who lived with epilepsy. She took Dilantin to control the seizures, but on the day she was booked, Amy Lynn Ford had not taken her Dilantin, because she had been drinking alcohol. She reported all of this to the intake official who noted the fact and then ignored it. Amy Lynn Ford was never given Dilantin. She was placed in an upper bunk, where she suffered a seizure, fell to the floor, and was seriously injured. She sued the jail, successfully, and, in 2007, was awarded $214,000. Judges and jury found that the County “exhibited deliberate indifference to and was the proximate cause of Ford’s injuries.”

Amy Lynn Ford was injured due to deliberate indifference. On July 22, 2017, Alan Halloway was “found” unresponsive and not breathing in the same Traverse County jail. Apparently, Halloway, who also hanged himself, was found for some three hours. The Halloway family is suing the County and jail. Their attorney, who has offered to represent the Palmer family as well, said, “Everybody wants to know what led up to this and how this was possible again. The whole place is dysfunctional from the top down. … We’ve been dealing with these problems for years and this all just needs to come to an end. How many more mentally ill people are going to kill themselves in that jail?”

In 2014, the National Institute of Corrections issued a report on the Traverse County jail. They found the jail ill equipped for “special populations”. They found the cells worsened the health of those living with mental illness. They estimated that around 80% of inmates were living with mental illness; they found that suicide attempts had become a common occurrence. What’s the word for an institution that exhibits deliberate indifference and in which suicide attempts have become the new normal? Jail.

In 2015, more people committed suicide in U.S. jails than over the preceding decade. In its most recent report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics notes, “In 2014, there were 1,053 deaths in local jails, an 8% increase from 2013 … Suicides, the leading cause of death, increased 13% between 2013 and 2014, from 328 to 372 … The suicide rate increased 8% between 2013 and 2014 to 50 suicides per 100,000 local jail inmates. Males accounted for the majority (900 deaths) of jail inmate deaths in 2014, but the number of female deaths (152) increased 22% between 2013 and 2014.”

What happened to Marilyn Lucille Palmer, in 2018? She went to jail. She needed and asked for help; none came. She killed herself. She was found unresponsive. She went to jail.

 

(Photo Credit: Traverse City Record Eagle)

Thailand bus fire kills 20 migrant workers from Myanmar. 18 were women. Who cares?

Early Friday morning, March 30, in Tak Province, a bus carrying workers from Myanmar to a factory district caught fire. The bus was carrying 48 workers, plus the driver and his wife. 20 workers were killed, 18 women, 2 men. Once again, despite the overwhelming gender composition of this event, the international press described the dead as simply “migrant workers” and then proceeded to focus on Thailand’s hazardous roads and the shoddy condition of the bus. Thailand has dangerous roads, but this incident was a rolling factory fire. As in Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation; Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines; Bawana Industrial Area, India, and so many others, this bus fire was a planned massacre of women workers. And, as so often in these cases, the news media generally glosses over the massacre as an assault on women.

What happened? A bus carrying 48 women workers, a bus driver and his wife, was on route  from Myanmar to the Nava Nakorn Industrial Zone, near Bangkok. The bus was without air conditioning. Around 1:40, a fire broke out in the middle of the bus and spread quickly. Those in the front managed to escape. Those in the back were burnt to death.

Pa Pa Hlaing, a 19-year-old woman worker survivor, said, “When we were asleep, some people from the back of the bus started shouting and screaming ‘fire, fire’ and as we awoke, the smoke was already filling the bus. We couldn’t see anything or breathe. We just tried to get out of the bus as soon as possible. We were just rushing toward the bus door. I don’t even remember how I actually got out of that bus. There were bruises all over my legs as I was just randomly running around. Then, three minutes right after we got out of the bus, the flames just swallowed the bus.”

According to reports, the workers, from Myanmar, were all properly registered migrant workers. According to the Thai Labor Ministry, Thailand has about 2.7 million registered migrant workers, primarily from Myanmar and Cambodia. Women migrant workers figure prominently in the industrial and agricultural sector as well as among domestic workers. There is no surprise when, of 20 people killed in a factory fire, 18 are women. There is no surprise that the bus was in such bad shape it would have to be described as equipped to kill at least 20 people in the event of a fire or other catastrophe. There is no surprise here, none of this is new. It’s all part of the development model the entire world has signed on to. Apparently, the women workers in this particular bus were heading to work in a Japanese-owned toy factory.

At what point do women matter to the world at large? At what point do the world media begin to consider the high numbers of women killed in the disasters built into our built landscapes, from the garbage dumps of Maputo, Mozambique, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the earthquake struck buildings of Mexico City, Mexico, to the factories across the globe? This past week, a bus in Thailand caught fire. 20 migrant workers from Myanmar were killed. 18 were women. Who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Bangkok Post)

North Carolina Stops Shackling Women (Prisoners) in Childbirth!

Yesterday, March 26, 2018, the North Carolina Director of Prisons officially ended the shackling of women (prisoners) in childbirth. This came after SisterSong and other members of the Coalitions to End Shackling in North Carolina sent a letter to the North Carolina Director of Prisons, which read, in part: “The North Carolina Department of Public Safety prohibits the use of shackling during delivery and yet in recent weeks at least two people from North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women were restrained throughout their laboring process at a local medical center. This was in spite of the concerns of medical staff and the fact that it was in violation of NC Department of Public Safety written policies and legal precedent.” After two months `deliberation’, the North Carolina Director of Prisons agreed. In so doing, North Carolina joins 22 states that currently prohibit or limit the shackling of pregnant women. While there is cause for celebration, why do more than half the states in the United States allow women (prisoners) to be shackled during childbirth?

The letter from SisterSong and the coalition noted that shackling people during and after childbirth is “inhumane and unsafe”; that no state that has banned shackling has suffered any negative consequences; that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has long opposed shackling; that “shackling interferes with the ability to properly treat and care for people and to respond to crisis situations”. Along with doctors, the courts have found that shackling violates the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Further, “with people of color overrepresented in the prison system, this issue falls hardest on people who already struggle with health disparities and higher rates of pregnancy complications and maternal mortality.”

The letter concluded, “We are demanding that the policy be updated to be brought in line with the best practices and recommendations of health professionals and that training be provided to ensure that it is implemented consistently. This practice serves no public benefit. It does, however, risk harmful impacts on individuals and their children. It is not only bad health policy, it is a violation of individual’s human rights.”

Last year in North Carolina, 81 women (prisoners) gave birth … shackled. As of a month ago, North Carolina prisons “boasted” 50 pregnant women.

According to Omisade Burney-Scott, director of strategic partnerships and advocacy for SisterSong, explained, SisterSong wants to ban shackling “throughout the entire pregnancy, so during prenatal care, labor and delivery, postnatal, out to eight weeks and also during breast feeding.” In Kentucky, State Senator Julie Raque Adams filed Senate Bill 133, known as the “Dignity Bill,” which would prohibit shackling of women prisoners in childbirth. Currently, the bill is “one floor vote away” from passage. Georgia and Connecticut are considering bills that would ban the shackling of women in childbirth.

Women prisoners are women. It is wrong and harmful to shackle pregnant women. It is right to support women’s right to health, well-being, and being women. So, thank you to SisterSong and their allies. Thank you to State Senator Julie Raque Adams and her allies. Thank you to North Carolina and Kentucky. Last year, Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, “requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to consider the location of children when placing mothers behind bars, expanding visitation policies for primary caretakers, banning shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women, and prohibiting prisons from charging for essential health care items, such as tampons and pads.” The clock is ticking. End the shackling of pregnant from sea to shining sea.

 

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Infographic Credit: Nursing for Women’s Health Journal)

What happened to Jessica DiCesare? Just another jail suicide in Massachusetts

Jessica DiCesare and her two sons, now 15 and 7 years old

What happened to 35-year-old Jessica DiCesare last year? On July 8, 2017, Jessica DiCesare, mother of two, was “found” dead in her cell in the Barnstable County Correctional Facility, in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. The investigation officer found a note, which read, in part, “This place is so fucked … this is not justice, nor innocent until proven guilty, nor `good for the common wealth’. We are treated like sub-animals here …. I’m losing my mind / I want to die.” On July 7, following a panic attack, Jessica DiCesare wrote a note to the jail staff, which read, in part, “Being in segregation is deteriorating my mental status, as well as my physical health. I have no prior convictions, no prior jail time, and was placed here almost one month ago. I have PTSD … Being locked in here is bringing my mental health status back 10 years … also having been taken off my meds I have been on. I went from running a successful business to mental deterioration because of being locked up 23 hours a day … I also suffer major depression, bipolar disorder, prior hospitalizations for suicidal feelings and am losing my mind in here.” Am losing my mind in here. Despite the pleas from a social worker who had read the note, the supervisor of mental health clinicians decided that DiCesare did not require any special attention.  What happened to Jessica DiCesare? The routine torture of women in jails in Massachusetts and across the United States. On July 11, 2017, Jessica DiCesare was pronounced dead.

Jessica DiCesare was initially picked up for drug and theft charges. Her bail was set at $500. Her mother, Sue DiCesare, and brother, Richard DiCesare decided not to pay. Since high school, Jessica DiCesare had struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. Mother and brother both thought Jessica DiCesare would be safer and maybe get some help while in jail awaiting trial. Now, Sue DiCesare says, “The guilt we feel for not bailing her out is huge.”

From schools to streets to courts to jails and prison, everyone who comes into contact with the aptly named criminal justice system is meant to struggle with this guilt. It’s an additional fee levied on “those who chose”, chose to be poor or of color or immigrant or woman or LGBTIQ or living with mental illness or living with drug addiction. Those who “made poor choices” carry an impossible debt they never incurred. You know who doesn’t feel huge guilt. The medical supervisor at Barnstable County Correctional Facility, who insisted that Jessica DiCesare did not warrant special attention.

And so now, jail officials intone their version of “prayers and thoughts”, namely that jail is not designed to be a mental health institution nor an addiction treatment facility . “Every suicide is a tragedy.” How long before the individual tragedies are seen, collectively, as an epidemic? At what point do we recognize that jail is the public health crisis? When do Sue and Richard DiCesare stop being made to feel guilty?

In 2017, fourteen people died of suicide in Massachusetts’ prisons and jails, the highest number since the last peak, in 2014. Of the 14, 4 were in Massachusetts prisons and 10 were in Massachusetts jails, where prisoners include people awaiting trial and people sentenced to up to 2 ½ years. Massachusetts houses about 20,000 people in jails and prisons, with about 10,000 in each. Three weeks prior to Jessica DiCesare’s death, 21-year-old William Jarosiewicz “was found dead” in his cell at the same Barnstable County Correctional Facility. Jessica DiCesare joins the circle of  Tanna Jo Fillmore, Madison Jensen, Madaline Christine PitkinSarah Lee Circle BearChristina TahhahwahAmy Lynn CowlingAshley EllisKellsie GreenJoyce CurnellSandra BlandKindra Chapman, Kellsie Green and so many other women who have “been found” in America’s jails. Jessica DiCesare begged for help; her family pleaded for help. When did asking for help become a death sentence?

 

(Photo Credit: Cape Cod Times) (Infographic Credit: New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

Who will honor 5-year-old Lumka Mketwa, another State execution by pit latrine?

Lumka Mketwa

“Who will honor the city without a name
If so many are dead … “ Czeslaw Milosz, “City Without a Name

“Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?”  Li-Young Lee, “A Hymn to Childhood

On Monday, March 12, 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa went to the toilet at her school, Luna Primary School, in Bizana‚ in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She never returned. She wasn’t found until the next day. When authorities “reported” her death, they said her name was Viwe Jali. Lumka Mketwa went to the bathroom and drowned in a pool of human shit. No one even noticed until she didn’t show up for her after school transport. Then her parents and the community searched frantically. They found her the next day. The State never came. The parents did, and when they finally found her, the State refused her the dignity of her own name. They might as well have named her Michael Komape, the five-year-old child who, in 2014, drowned to death in a pit latrine at the Mahlodumela Primary School, in Limpopo, South Africa. In the Eastern Cape, as in Limpopo, the State never came. The State refused to acknowledge and refused to act. As with Michael Komape, Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death in a pit latrine. She was pushed, by a State that decided it had more important issues to deal with. In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape did not fall to his death. He was murdered. In 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death. She was murdered.

And then the speeches began. The South African Human Rights Commission pronounced, “Only three years after the tragic and preventable death of 5-year-old Michael Komape‚ the failure of the State to prevent a reoccurrence and to eradicate the prevalence of pit latrines in schools is unacceptable.” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed “shock”, “The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable and incredibly disturbing.” The provincial education spokesperson first noted that the Executive Council had donated to the child’s funeral and then went on to say that what was truly “shocking” was that Luna Primary is “a state-of-the-art school, with good toilets” and yet, somehow, pit latrine toilets. Everyone is “shocked.”

According to the most recent National Education Infrastructure Management System report, published in January 2018, 37 Eastern Cape schools have no toilets whatsoever. None. 1,945 Eastern Cape schools have plain pit latrines, and 2,585 have so-called ventilated pit latrines. The Eastern Cape has 5393 schools.

Of the nine provinces, only the Eastern Cape has schools with no toilets whatsoever. But, of the 23,471 schools under the aegis of the national Department of Basic Education, 4358 have only pit latrines. KwaZulu-Natal’s 5840 schools boast 1337 schools with only pit latrines, while of Limpopo’s 3834 schools, 916 have only pit latrines. Of the 4056 schools in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, none has only a pit latrine. None. Zero. This is the state of the art.

Lumka Mketwa’s family has serious questions. We all should have serious questions, rather than hollow condolences. Let’s start with the children who have not yet fallen to their deaths into schoolhouse pit latrines. At the very least, where is the map of these latrines? Where is the actual action plan to remove all of those death traps? Where is the Day Zero for school house pit latrines? Why is this not a national emergency? How many more children have to die and how many more families have to be haunted? Michael Komape’s family is haunted, to this day. Lumka Mketwa’s family is haunted. The State is not haunted. If it were, it would act.

Her name is Lumka Mketwa and she is five years old.” She now resides in that city without a name where so many children are dead. Which children? Which childhoods? Who will honor Michael Komape? Who will honor Lumka Mketwa?

 

(Photo Credit: Times Live)

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)

Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards: “Equality is a right, not a favor!”

Last week, women filled the streets to demand equal rights, women’s rights, civil rights, employment rights, social rights, human rights, and power. Indigenous women in Ecuador linked arms across the Atlantic with women in Turkey who, in turn, linked arms with women in South Sudan who linked arms with women in the Philippines who linked arms with women in Australia, and all points between and beyond. In Pakistan, women organized the Aurat March, or Women’s March, “a revolutionary feat for Pakistan”. Initially planned as a single march, by March 8, women across Pakistan were on the streets, marching, resisting misogyny and patriarchy. Women in Spain called for a 24-hour feminist strike, una huelga feminista, and the State shut down. More than five million joined the feminist strike. In Spain alone, women marched and refused to work and stopped work in over 120 cities. The Spanish feminist strike was a historic first for Spain … and beyond. On Saturday, March 11, in Tunisia, women marched in another historic first, a march for women’s equality in inheritance rights, a first-ever demand not only for Tunisia but for the Arab world. In Tunisia, equality is a right, not a favor.

On Saturday, in Tunis, women chanted, “Moitié, moitié ; c’est la pleine citoyenneté!”; “Pour garantir nos droits, il faut changer la loi!”; “L’égalité est un droit, pas une faveur!”. “50-50 equals full citizenship!” “ To guarantee our rights, we have to change the law!” “Equality is a right, not a favor!” As with the feminist strike in Spain, in Tunisia, women explicitly framed their action as a feminist intervention into patriarchy. As with the marches and actions everywhere, in Tunisia, the women understood their march to be local, national, regional and global. The immediate issue was inequality in inheritance, where men inherit twice as much as women. The women insisted that their action occur in a historical context, a historical context that encompasses the future as much as the past.

In January 2018, Tunisian women mobilized, protested and ignited the anti-austerity protests, under the banner, “What are we waiting for?” “Qu’attendons-nous?” “فاش نستناو ؟” In March, women are again filling the streets; rocking the nation; demanding autonomy, equality, power; seizing the moment. Today, as ever, women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Hassene Dridi / AP / SIPA / Jeune Afrique) (Photo Credit 2: Reuters / Zoubeir Suissi)