Why does the United States hate Roxana Hernández?

Roxana Hernández

Roxana Hernández died, or was murdered, last Friday. Roxana Hernández was a 33 year-old transgender woman from Honduras. Roxana Hernández was one of about 60 transgender women who participated in the migrant caravan that brought together asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The vast majority were from Honduras, because Honduras is the epicenter of violence in Central America, and in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all gender nonconforming people. Some call it the Refugee Caravan, and others call it the Stations of the Cross Caravan. Having traveled over 2000 miles – on foot, by train, by bus – Roxana Hernández arrived at the United States border where she presented herself, applied for asylum, was detained and thrown into the infamous icebox for five days, transported to a detention center, transported to a hospital, transported to death. Roxana Hernández did not die of pneumonia nor did she die of HIV-related causes. She was murdered, by the United States. The Stations of the Cross begin with betrayal. We betrayed Roxana Hernández and condemned her to a slow, agonizing, torturous death.

Roxana Hernández fled the general violence of Honduras and, especially, the violence against transgender women. Hers is the story of hope. She made it to the United States. On May 9th, she presented herself as an applicant for asylum. She was held for five days in the freezing cells, known as the icebox. Three years ago, the American Immigration Council reported on the deplorable, abusive, inhumane conditions in the cells known as the icebox. At that time, three years ago, the Council noted that the conditions of the icebox had been decried in 2013, and then again before that. Last year, Amnesty issued a report describing Honduras as one of the most dangerous places on earth for transgender women. In their report, Amnesty noted that the violence against Honduras was [a] not new and [b] had been fully documented for years. None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Roxana Hernández should have been an easy and welcome candidate for asylum. Instead, she was dumped into a freezer.

After five days, Roxana Hernández was transferred. She had physically, emotionally and spiritually deteriorated terribly in the short span of five days. On May 17, Roxana Hernández was transported to the hospital. On May 25, Roxana Hernández was dead. In their report, ICE agents identify Roxana Hernández as Jeffry Hernández. Even in death, Roxana Hernández was not allowed even a scintilla of dignity … and that is precisely the point. Her name was and is Roxana Hernández, and her friends called her Roxy.

According to Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Al Otro Lado and Diversidad Sin Fronteras, who together organized the Caravan, “Roxy died due to medical negligence by US immigration authorities. In other words, she was murdered, much like Claudia Gómez González was murdered by a Border Patrol agent’s bullet less than a week ago. Roxy died in the country she had sought to start a new life in, she died for being a transgender woman, a migrant who was treated neither with respect nor with dignity.”

This is the land of #JusticiaPara and #JusticeFor. #JusticiaParaRoxana. #JusticiaParaClaudia. #JusticeForRoxana. #JusticeForClaudia. A land without mercy, redemption, love or humanity. A land where we greet the vulnerable, the stranger, with death by freezer or death by bullet. And all the people shall say, Amen.

 

(Photo Credit: Guardian / Transgender Law Center)

Berta Cáceres: “We have to take action”

 

Berta Cáceres, Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, COPINH, human rights defender, environmental activist, indigenous rights leader was murdered. It was a murder foretold. Threats against Cáceres had mounted over recent weeks, but there had always been threats and danger: “The army has an assassination list of 18 wanted human rights fighters with my name at the top. I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world. I take precautions, but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity I am vulnerable. When they want to kill me, they will do it.”

Yesterday, they did it. Despite constant calls for State protection, Berta Cáceres was put in further danger by the State, by the Honduran government and by U.S. support of that government. Berta Cáceres struggled for the rights of people, all people, to live in peace and with justice. That means that no entity can treat a community like dirt, to be moved this way for a big dam and that way for a highway or airport runway and the other way for a shopping mall or an upscale housing development. She fought for the dignity of women and of all indigenous peoples.

When Berta Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, she explained, “We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action. The Honduran people, along with international solidarity, can get out of this unjust situation, promoting hope, rebellion and organising ourselves for the protection of life.”

We have to take action, in the memory of Berta Cáceres. No more devastation of the earth, no more global assault on indigenous peoples, no more systematic violence against women, no more silence. We must undertake the struggle.

 

(Photo Credit: AWID / Goldman Prize)

(Video Credit 1: YouTube / Goldman Environmental Prize) (Video Credit 2: YouTube / Nobel Women’s Initiative)

The World Bank is (still) bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures

The World Bank is still bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures. While not surprising news, it is the result of a mammoth research project carried on by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their partners. Journalists pored through more than 6000 World Bank documents and interviewed past and current World Bank employees and government officials involved in World Bank funded projects. They found that, in the past decade, an investment of over 60 billion dollars directly fueled the loss of land and livelihood for 3.4 million slum dwellers, farmers, and villagers. That’s a pretty impressive rate of non-return, all in the name of modernization, villagization, electrification, and, of course, empowerment. Along with sowing displacement and devastation, the World Bank has also invested heavily in fossil-based fuels. All of this is in violation of its own rules.

Women are at the core of this narrative, and at every stage. There’s Gladys Chepkemoi and Paulina Sanyaga, indigenous Sengwer who lost their homes and houses, livestock and livelihoods, and almost lost their lives to a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. In 2013, Bimbo Omowole Osobe, a resident of Badia East, a slum in Lagos, lost nearly everything to a World Bank funded urban renewal zone. Osobe was one of thousands who suffered “involuntary resettlement” when Badia East was razed in no time flat. Today, she’s an organizes with Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, a group of slum dwellers fighting mass evictions. Aduma Omot lost everything in the villagization program in Ethiopia, a World Bank funded campaign that has displaced and demeaned untold Anuak women in the state of Gambella. In the highlands of Peru, Elvira Flores watched as her entire herd of sheep suddenly died, thanks to the cyanide that pours out of the World Bank funded Yanachocha Gold mine, the same mine that Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have battled.

The people at ICIJ promise further reports from India, Honduras, and Kosovo. While the vast majority of the 3.4 million people physically or economically displaced by World Bank-backed projects live in Africa or Asia, no continent goes untouched. Here’s the tally of the evicted, in a mere decade: Asia: 2,897,872 people; Africa: 417,363 people; South America: 26,262 people; Europe: 5,524 people; Oceania: 2,483 people; North America: 855 people; and Island States: 90 people. The national leaders of the pack are, in descending order: Vietnam, China, India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. It’s one giant global round of hunger games, brought to you by the World Bank.

None of this is new. In 2011, Gender Action and Friends of the Earth reported on the gendered broken promises of the World Bank financed Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline and West African Gas Pipelines: “The pipelines increased women’s poverty and dependence on men; caused ecological degradation that destroyed women’s livelihoods; discriminated against women in employment and compensation; excluded women in consultation processes; and led to increased prostitution … Women in developing countries have paid too high a price.” The bill is too damn high.

In 2006, Gender Action and the CEE Bankwatch Network found that women suffered directly from World Bank funded oil pipeline projects in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin: “Increased poverty, hindered access to subsistence resources, increased occurrence of still births, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in local communities.”

There’s the impact on women of ignoring, or refusing to consider, unpaid care work in Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Rwanda, and the catastrophic impacts on women of World Bank funded austerity programs in Greece. And the list goes on.

So, what is to be done? Past experience suggests that the World Bank is too big to jail. How about beginning by challenging and changing the development paradigms and projects on the ground? No development that begins from outside. Absolutely no development that isn’t run by local women and other vulnerable sectors. While the World Bank refuses to forgive debts, globally women are forced to forgive the World Bank’s extraordinary debt each and every second of each and every day. This must end. Stop all mass evictions. Start listening to the women, all over the world, who say, “We need our voices heard.”

 

(Photo credit: El Pais / SERAC)

Not On Our Land: Land Recovery Kicks Off in Honduras

Vallecito, Honduras

Carla Garcia
Introduction by Beverly Bell and Lauren Elliott

In what many indigenous people call a “second coming of Columbus,” globalization and its twin offspring of resource exploitation and mega development threaten the survival of indigenous and small-farming communities all over our world. But as widespread as the threat is the response by organized peoples. The strategies for stopping the destruction of their land, claiming their rights to it, and protecting their way of life are diverse – land occupations, protests, and legal claims. Though movements are challenged at every step and are still on the defensive, victories in their own communities dot the world map. Meanwhile, they are gathering strength through cross-border alliances.

In Honduras, 300 leaders of the Afro-Indigenous Garífuna people are saying, “Not on our land.” On Monday, they and their allies around the world launched the Land Recovery Campaign in the village of Vallecito which, with 2,500 acres, is the largest single landholding of the Garífuna people. There, they are occupying land that has been taken from them to build mega-tourism projects.

“In strength, the Garífuna community in Honduras fought to defend the country against invasion and, in strength, the Garífuna community fights today to defend our land,” says Carla Garcia, a human rights organizer with the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras, OFRANEH.

In 2009, the Honduran elite backed a military coup d’état in an effort to suppress the strengthening grassroots movements for land reform and indigenous sovereignty. The US government went on to tacitly support the coup regime even though WikiLeak documents show it knew the coup was illegal and unconstitutional. [i] Since the coup, developers have been emboldened to take land from small-farming and indigenous communities. When communities have peacefully resisted these land grabs, they’ve faced intimidation and assassinations. Just this month, the Garífuna community of Trujillo awakened one morning to find their fresh-water lagoon – their main water source – poisoned, with all the life of the lagoon floating dead at the surface.

Just this morning OFRANEH wrote to their international allies about the ongoing intimidation in Vallecito,where their Defense of the Land campaign is underway.

“Another long night of machine gun fire and armed men entering the Garífuna camp in Vallecito… Despite owning titles to six cooperatives, the Garifunas is unable to exercise their right to this property…”

Below, Carla Garcia speaks about the ongoing land struggle in the Garífuna communities. An open conference call with Carla and OFRANEH’s president Miriam Miranda from the occupation in Vallecito will take place on Wednesday, August 29 at 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. To get information on joining this call or to offer financial support to OFRANEH, contact Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions at sbartlett@ag-missions.org or (502) 896-9171. Please consider calling Honduran government officials and asking them to ensure the safety of the campaign participants – in the past two days international pressure has proven essential.

For 215 years we have lived in harmony with the environment. We know that without land we have no future.

We’ve taken care of our surroundings and now our region is really desirable. Economically powerful men and women want to build [what we call] ‘industry without smokestacks,’ the tourist industry, here. Our titles say that Garífuna land is nontransferable because it is common land. It doesn’t belong to any one person. So through deceit and fraud, [developers have] acquired Garífuna land for tourism development, but it’s not development that’s benefiting the surrounding community.

OFRANEH has been working principally with land issues for more than 30 years. Today we’re well-organized. We struggle, we fight, we write letters and try to tell people about our struggle. Even during the coup d’état, OFRANEH never stopped protesting.

But the coup taught us a big lesson. It taught us to fear. If they could do that to the president, what could they do to us? But we also learned that fear won’t get us anywhere, and now people are back to protesting, fighting for their rights, stronger than ever.

But there is so much maneuvering… They [the government and developers] try to weaken us from one side and then the other but we’re going to keep fighting.

We have a problem with the Charter City, which is going to be inside Garífuna land. They say that region is sparsely populated, but there are about 20,000 of us living there. Twenty thousand Garífunas would have to leave and find somewhere else to live, only coming back when the Charter City is built to see if they can work there. There is one community with many elderly people who wouldn’t be able to work in the Charter City.

There was a project to build a dock for cruise ships supported by the government. The president even came to inaugurate it. They chose to develop in Rio Negro, where the land was titled individually. The people were pressured to sell their plots, told that if they didn’t, tourism and development would never come to their community. They were paid a small amount for their land and promised jobs and 10% of the profits of the dock after it was built. [Then, the developers] fenced off the beach and wouldn’t let the community of Rio Negro access it. For a community that lives off fishing and the ocean, not having access to the beach is a huge problem in terms of basic subsistence. Today, the dock project hasn’t even started. This is an example of problems the whole Garífuna community is facing.

The government is also taking away our right to be Garífunas. It’s a great way for the government to keep taking our land, by making us disappear as a people with a culture. They want to categorize us as “African-descent.” We reject the term because we have our indigenous mother. We’re Afro-Indigenous. We’re Garífuna.

Nobody is going to give up here. In each community we have Defense of the Land Committees. And through community radio, people can now open their eyes and see what’s happening in their communities. Through the radio we’re saying, “We’re against those that sell their land, we’re against those that buy land. We are starting international proceedings [against those taking our land].” Before it was very difficult to communicate this to everyone.

Last year we started legal proceedings against Randy Jorgensen [one of the major developers on Garífuna land] because his purchase of Garífuna lands has no legal basis. We’re also prosecuting the Garífuna people and community leaders that sell their land. We don’t want them to go to jail, but we do want them to learn their lesson and for our children and young people to learn that we have to take care of our land.

But we have many deficiencies because we don’t have enough money to do everything. Our poverty marks the difference between us and our aggressors. We are forced to struggle precisely because we’re poor. The government has money, foreign investors have money. We have our mission: we’re from the people, with the people, for the people and any organization that doesn’t have that mission is not one with whom we relate.

Well, we know the people of the United States have the same cultural value that we do: open doors, where everyone can live in communion and solidarity. However, just like we have people in our communities that are undesirable, so too does the US. There are people there with a lot of money, to whom destroying a community or a way of life matters very little. And we know, even as we go to the US to make international demands against Washington, that the people of the US can help us. We need you to tell people that we’re having problems. And not just us; this is happening to all the African and Indigenous communities of Latin America. Don’t stay quiet.

The Garífuna community is very strong, always. In strength, [indigenous] men and women left [their original land in] Orinoco because of fights with other tribes and went to San Vicente [where the Garífuna people originated] to survive. In strength, our African men escaped from their slave ships and came to San Vicente. In strength, the Garífuna community fought the French and the English. In strength, the Garífuna community in Honduras fought to defend the country against invasion and, in strength, the Garífuna community fights today to defend our land.

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/wikileaks-honduras-state_b_789282.html

Many thanks to Tim Burke for volunteering his time to transcribe and translate this and many other interviews.

This was first published at Other Worlds. Thanks to Beverly Bell and Lauren Elliott of permission to cross-post and for their collaborative work and labor.

(Photo Credit: OFRANEH)

The group, mostly women, entered the morgue

There is nothing to say about last week’s fire in Comayagua, Honduras. Nothing. A prison at 200 percent capacity is a tinderbox. A prison in Honduras, like prisons all over the world, are not only `congested’. They are filled with people awaiting trial. This detail somehow `complicates’ the situation, adds some sort of `irony’.

Because if they were convicted of crimes, well then … there would be no presumption of innocence.

There is nothing to say about last week’s fire in Comayagua, Honduras. It was a catastrophe long foretold. It was simply another sign of the chaos that is Honduras.

And you know … Honduras … it’s a banana republic, after all. Notorious for its prisons and violence.

There is nothing to say about this week’s fire in a factory in Bhalwani village, in Solapur, Maharashtra, India. Nothing. On Monday, a fireworks factory `suffered’ a fire. Five women workers, at least, were burnt alive, at least nine women workers were injured, and 40 women workers were trapped inside the burning complex. Trapped.

The reports will say the fires were accidental. The one in Honduras, the one in India. The reports will say the death of those burnt alive is `tragic’. But the relatives and friends, and the survivors of the flames, the ones who walked out somehow, they know better. They know the work of mourning, they know the architecture of being-trapped.

They know that the burning factories and the burning prisons are part of the everyday of the global economy. These buildings in flames and the human bodies within them are not some ritual drama nor are they resistant pockets of primitive capitalism. They are the Shining Globe that has replaced the Brave New World. Shining India. Shining Free Trade Zones, such as the DR-CAFTA, Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement. Smoke and ashes from sea to shining sea.

And every time the fire explodes, it is described as somehow exceptional. A throwback. It’s not. It’s the globe itself, today, now, here.

The women who come for their loved ones, they already know all this. They were struggling for their loved ones before the fire, and they will continue after the world’s attention has drifted elsewhere.

That is why the women stormed the morgue in Comayagua on Monday, the same day of the fire in Bhalwani.  That is why their demand for justice is total. Every corner of the prison, every corner of the nation-State that runs the prison, every corner of the Empire-State that runs the world economies on violence, must be swept clean.

But first … begin by honoring the dead, by reclaiming their bodies, by cleaning them of the ash and the gash, and returning them to the earth.

In the landscape of smoke and ashes, women must storm the morgues to reclaim their loved ones. There is nothing to say. Nothing.

 

(Photo Credit: NPR / Esteban Felix / AP)

Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions

Oxfam came out with a major report this week on land grabs in five countries, Uganda, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Sudan. In Uganda, over 20,000 people were evicted from land they had farmed for decades, evicted so that a British corporation, New Forests Company, could come in, create tree plantations, earn carbon credits, sell timber.

The residents were never consulted. Quite to the contrary, tales of violence abound. For example, Olivia Mukamperezida, whose house was burned to the ground. Her eldest son, Friday, was at home because he was sick. He was killed in the fire. She buried Friday, and now is not sure if he’s even in his grave. “They are planting trees,” she says.

Christine was forced off her land as well: “We lost everything we had .… I was threatened – they told me they were going to beat me if we didn’t leave.”

Christine lost more than everything she had. She lost the future. Before she and her family lived in a six-room house, farmed six hectares, sold produce, sent their kids to school. They had been doing so for twenty years. Now, they live in two rooms, eke subsistence living out of a small plot, eat once a day, and the children no longer attend school.

The Oxfam report highlights the particular vulnerabilities of women, and the specific impact of eviction on women around the world. They note that in Africa, the situation is particularly dire: “Women’s land rights are less secure and more easily targeted. They also depend more on secondary uses of land, which tend to be ignored in large-scale acquisitions. Furthermore, although women comprise the majority of farmers, men effectively control the land and the income derived from it, even if it is the fruit of women’s labour. In practice, a new commercial opportunity often means that men assume control of the land at the expense of women’s access. Thus, new sources of income from the land are likely to burden women and benefit men. The new competition for land between biofuels and food crops, leading to less availability of food and higher prices, is also likely to affect women more than men, as women tend to take responsibility for feeding the family.”

From direct physical and verbal assaults to the processes to the consequences, the entire land grabbing machinery is violence against women.

None of this is new. Previous researchers have issued reports on that describe the gendered impacts of commercial pressures on land, that wonder if land grabs aren’t simply, and intentionally, another bigger, badder yoke on women’s land rights. Activists, such as Esther Obaikol, Executive Director of the Uganda Land Alliance, have also been organizing with women farmers … for decades.

When it comes to land grabs in Uganda, as elsewhere, women farmers have been pushed harder, deeper, further. They are the first and final targets of land grabbing. Mass evictions attack women. Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions … everywhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Sven Torfinn for The New York Times)

Nascent Collectivities 2

Everlyn Masha Koya

In my previous posting, I looked at testimony of Everlyn Masha Koya, a twenty two year old sex worker-turned-peer educator from Isiolo, Kenya. Ms Koya’s failure to persuade women who have children to leave the sex trade led me to reflect upon contradiction between women’s economic contributions to nation-state and the nation-state’s desire to control women’s behavior and women’s sexuality. Yet it is also a story about state efforts to provide women with different economic opportunities and about women’s efforts to negotiate better lives for themselves and for other women. What else could Ms Koya’s story tell us?

Ms Koya’s grant from the state suggests that it, or its agents, have an interest in expanding women’s economic opportunities. As Rajeswari Sunder Rajan points out, the state isn’t a monolithic structure. It is made up of different institutions and individuals who do different, sometimes competing, things. While one arm of the state might be securing its sovereignty by making it possible for sex workers to have access to military bases, another arm of the state might be securing grants to give women training so they have a wider range of economic opportunities. As Sunder Rajan argues, “any understanding of state-citizen relations requires…attention to the microlevel workings of state regimes” (6).

Ms Koya’s testimony suggests that the state might participate in the exploitation and oppression of women’s bodies and lives. But if we look at different branches of the state, and different individuals who work for it, the state also can be used to improve women’s lives. As Ms Koya reports, “Then in July [2009], officials from the [government’s] Arid Lands Office held a meeting for sex workers at the Isiolo stadium. We were asked to quit. They asked us to identify what kind of business we wanted to start, trained us in how to conduct business, budgeting, keep a record of our sales, savings and also asked us to go for HIV testing. I was lucky to test negative.”

What else can we learn from this story?  Within the situations that she has inherited, Ms Koya’s efforts to transform her own life and the lives of other women, to work for freedom from violence tells us about what women are doing within, and against, epistemic violence. In some locations, because of their economic contributions and their perceived social role of servicing male sexual need, sex workers have been able to emerge as a collective and make demands on the state. As Cynthia Enloe points out, there have been efforts by women in Kenya and in the Philippines to create networks of women in countries that host American military bases. This is a step towards addressing and dismantling the global gender structures on which military bases depend. There are other transnational and local efforts, including daily work of survival by growing gardens and recycling waste, organizing gender forum; occupying leftist organizations which don’t address gender and gendered labor; fighting back through state institutions and on the streets; union organizing; reporting which reframes issues as women’s issues; reporting which reframes issues as more than just women’s issues; story telling; women, and people around them, saying “enough,” and many other activities for dignity and well-being.

If we look closely, we see women actively participating in public life. Women are at the forefront of resistance movements in places like Honduras and South Africa. Women protest the failure of the state to investigate the systematic murder of women in Vancouver and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Women challenge the meaning of public space and public mourning in Argentina and Iran. Women organize feminist media in Costa Rica. And there is the more quiet, everyday work of women to improve the daily conditions and work to enable themselves and their families to survive in the face of everyday poverty or ‘natural’ disasters. This happens just about everywhere and has different contexts but let’s point to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as one place where women struggle to survive.

Paying attention to gendered violence and power, all forms and mixes of it, that work through the family, the community, the state and its institutions, and through economic structures and arrangements is important work. But so is paying attention to women’s individual and collective efforts, in the context of gendered power, all forms and mixes of it, to “transform the conditions of their lives” (Kabeer, 54). Women are not just victims of material forces, state power and cultural patriarchy. Women actively seek to work for the health and well being of their families, their children, other women, and their communities. In the context of structural constraints, we see women like Ms Koya struggling, negotiating, working, and, even, organizing. It’s important to pay attention to what women are doing, their activities and obstacles to their activities, in relation to the gender-structured conditions that they’ve inherited.

 

(Photo Credit: Noor Ali / IRIN)

Brunt: somewhere between rights and reconciliation, women

Yesterday was 16 December 2009. In South Africa, it’s the Day of Reconciliation. President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma spoke, in Tshwane, about reconciliation. The President spoke at length about the military, about veterans and about serving members of the South African National Defence Force. Reconciliation.

Seven days earlier, 10 December, was Human Rights Day. President of the United States Barack Obama spoke in Oslo, Norway, as this year’s Nobel Peace Laureate. He spoke of just war. Peace.

Both presidents spoke of responsibility. For one, it was the responsibility of nation building, for the other the responsibility of peace. This was a week then that began with war as peace and ended with the military as agent of reconciliation.

Women know better. Women `bear the brunt’ of these speeches.

Women often bear the brunt of poverty and human rights abuses; but as activists they use these roles to trigger positive social change”. Women bear the brunt of poverty because they are the target of discrimination, oppression, exploitation, violence. Here’s how Amnesty describes the world of women: “Over 70 per cent of the world’s poor are women. Women earn only 10 per cent of the world’s income but do two thirds of the world’s work. Three quarters of the world’s illiterate are women. Women produce up to 80 per cent of the food in developing countries but own only one per cent of the land.”

Treated as objects, women refuse to be abject. Around the world women are mobilizing, gathering, celebrating, organizing. Women like Ugandan human rights activists Jacqueline Kasha, Solome Kimbugwe Nakawesi, Sylvia Tamale, speaking out and organizing against the homophobic bill in Uganda’s parliament; or Val Kalende, an out lesbian in Uganda who has the courage to speak truth to power, and the truth is she simply wants to live a full and joyful life.

Women like Terra K, Joan S, Michelle M, pregnant women prisoners in the U.S. struggling for decent health care and for decency and dignity. Women like Nepalese widows Bhagwati Adhikari, Lily Thapa, Rekha Subedi, Nisha Swar, members of Women for Human Rights who reject the oppression of widows and of all women.

Women like Annise Parker, new mayor of Houston and first elected out gay mayor of a major U.S. city, or Elizabeth Simbiwa Sogbo-Tortu, campaigning to become the first paramount chieftain in the country.

Women like Zimbabwean activist Kuda Chitsike, women who dare to organize, women who dare to win.

These are a few women who were reported on during the week that began with a peace speech justifying war and ended with a reconciliation speech focusing on military well being.

We found out this week that, in KwaZulu Natal, urban women `bear the brunt’ of AIDS: “The face of HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu-Natal is a woman in her thirties living in eThekwini, according to a study released this week. Urban women in the province are far more likely to be HIV positive than their rural sisters, while over half (54%) of all pregnant women in their thirties were HIV positive….Despite levels of poverty being higher in the rural districts, social scientists believe that there is more social cohesion in rural communities that protects against women against HIV.…People living in informal settlements have the highest HIV prevalence.” How do you reconcile the urban and rural sisters? Call in the military?

We found out this week that, in Honduras, women `bear the brunt’ of human rights abuses at the hands of the coup regime, and the Obama regime is doing little to stop that: “Repercussions from this summer’s coup in Honduras are far from over….The brunt of …abuses is borne by the women….Women make up the majority of the vast resistance movement in Honduras, playing a critical leadership role in civil disobedience and citizen protection. For their tireless and courageous support of democracy, they have received death threats and been attacked with nail-studded police batons, tear gas, and bullets. Detained by police or military for hours and even days without charges or access to legal counsel, women have been deprived of medicine, food, and water. At least two cases have resulted in death. Lawless violence against women has pervaded Honduras since the coup.” When war is peace, violence against women is national security.

This is the logic of the brunt, of the sharp blow, the assault, the violence, the shock, the force. Women `bear the brunt’ because men understand peace and reconciliation as military engagements, from the bedroom to the boardroom and beyond. Women are meant to inhabit the space between hollow rights and empty reconciliation, And beyond? As one necessarily anonymous writer opined recently, looking at the current situation in Uganda, “You want gay rights? Get more women elected.” You want real peace, real reconciliation? Look to women’s organizing histories, stories, lives.

Today is 17 December. A new week begins.

 

Val Kalende