Lupe Gonzalo: “We are women, and nobody is going to keep stepping on our dignity.”

For women farmworkers seeking an end to workplace sexual violence, now is the time! On January 6, 1941, in his State of the Union Address, Franklin Roosevelt elucidated the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The Monday before Thanksgiving, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Women’s Group declared it’s time to demand a Fifth Freedom: freedom from sexual violence. With other members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and with supporters, including the T’ruah Tomato Rabbis, women tomato pickers from Florida stormed the Park Avenue office building where Wendy’s Board Chairman, Nelson Peltz, holds court. They chanted, “Nelson Peltz, escucha, mujeres en la lucha!” and “Nelson Peltz, shame on you, farmworkers are people, too!” Denied entry to the building, they shouted their message to the streets and to the world. Workplace sexual violence must end. Now is the time!

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been working with the Fair Food Program to secure real dignity and justice in the tomato fields of Florida and beyond. At this point, Wendy’s is the only large restaurant chain to refuse to sign onto the Fair Food Program code of conduct. Why? They say they have their own code … which is precisely the problem. McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway, and Burger King have signed onto the code, and have found that it works. Whole Foods, Aramark, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s have also signed. All these major players find that a worker-run code of conduct works. Report after report after report after report after report demonstrate that the Fair Food Program works. And yet Wendy’s continues to hold out.

In the decades’ long process of organizing and of developing strategies and structures, women tomato pickers and farmworkers – such as Lupe Gonzalo, Silvia Perez, Nely Rodriguez, and scores of others – began organizing a quiet revolution. As the Coalition of Immokalee Workers organized, the Immokalee Women’s Group pushed the recognition of women as central to the struggle for farm workers’ rights, dignity and power. Recognizing women’s centrality meant recognizing that the struggle for rights, dignity, and power is a community wide struggle rather than strictly a `shop’ issue. From exorbitantly expensive, predatory housing to food deserts in the midst of farmlands to rampant, and often illegal, use of pesticides to sexual abuse at work, women were particular targets.

On Saturday, March 8, 2014, the women of Immokalee wrote and delivered a letter to Wendy’s, “Hear the voice of the woman, who today dares to defend her dignity in the fields. A new day is coming to Florida’s fields, with the Fair Food Program. It guarantees that dignity of women is respected. We have to keep fighting, and we have to keep shouting, at Wendy’s and other corporations, that the hour has arrived. NOW IS THE TIME!”

They have kept fighting. Lupe Gonzalo was one of the leaders then, as she is today. On Monday she had a message for Nelson Peltz, for Wendy’s and for all of us: “It doesn’t matter which country we’re from, which language we speak, which color is our skin. We are human beings, we are women, and nobody is going to keep stepping on our dignity. It’s time to take the hand of the person that’s next to you, to walk together.  Let us not abandon each other, let us not leave each other.  Wendy’s will sign.  Sooner or later, they will come to the table of dialogue, and we will feel so proud to walk together with them in this struggle.”

Today, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. That sounds big, and it is. But it’s also realizable. Ask Lupe Gonzalo and the other members of the CIW Women’s Group. It takes commitment, clarity, concrete structures and collective action. It’s time to walk together. Now is the time!

Lupe Gonzalo

(Photo Credit 1: Forest Woodward / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Violence against women has many faces

November 25th is marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This date was decided upon in the United Nations to remember the assassination of the Mirabal sisters by the Trujillo regime, in the Dominican Republic, November 25, 1960.

This day is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape and domestic violence and other forms of violence. The secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon declared: “Millions of women and girls around the world are assaulted, beaten, raped, mutilated or even murdered in what constitutes appalling violations of their human rights. […] We must fundamentally challenge the culture of discrimination that allows violence to continue. On this International Day, I call on all governments to make good on their pledges to end all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world, and I urge all people to support this important goal.”

Should the European Union support this important goal and challenge the culture of discrimination within its behavior as an institution, as crimes against women are committed in member states? The death of Savita Halappanavar for denied therapeutic abortion in Ireland is only one of numerous cases of women being killed or injured because some States still have laws denying reproductive care to women. Those laws have remained the same sometimes since the 19th century. For instance in Ireland, doctors or nurses who help women who seek an abortion are punishable under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 that prescribes a minimum sentence of two years hard labor and can result in a life sentence.

The nomination of Tonio Borg (overtly against women and LGBT’s rights) as the new commissioner for Health will accentuate the impossibility for the European commission to stop state-legitimized violence against women in Member States with anti abortion, restrictive reproduction laws, such as Ireland, Poland,  and Malta. These laws are generalized in many countries from Africa to the Americas, including the United States.

Restrictions for women are economic as well. Where contraceptives are expensive or simply difficult to obtain, abortion services are generally illegal or restricted. Meanwhile, women are in the main still economically dependent.

Having a weak health commission in the Europe Union is no surprise. It results from lobbying from member states that don’t want to see the European convention on human rights and parliamentary resolutions applied to health care and in particular to women’s reproductive health. If women’s reproductive health were seen as a human right, those members who are inconsistent with EU conventions would finally be held accountable.

Violence against women has many faces. Often the violence stems from state denial of services or state practices of humiliated access to important services. In Baltimore, Maryland, for example, as in much of the United States, incarcerated pregnant women travel shackled to medical appointments.  These women are seen in regular hospitals walking among other patients with their guards and shackles.  Their treatment and humiliation is shaped by federal, state or local policies, which even force them to deliver their babies in chains, putting their lives at risk exactly as Savita Halappanavar lost hers.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: AP / Shawn Pogatchnik / Salon) (Photo Credit 2: Reuters / Cathal Mcnaughton / Salon)

Violence against women is global, not regional

Friday, November 25, 2011, was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the twelfth one since the United Nations 1999 resolution. November 25 is the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a campaign which formally began November 25, 1991, twenty years ago.

Around the world, women and men are organizing events, workshops, vigils. Artists, such as Zanele Muholi, are articulating both the horror and the hope in their works and exhibitions. Activists and healers, like those of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, journey by bus to the homes and communities of their neighbors, near and distant, and engage in intensive discussions about sexual violence, about sexual freedom, about democracy.

Violence against women is global. It occurs everywhere and all the time. In households, in work places, in schools and hospitals, in police stations and prisons, in social movements, in political parties, in trade unions. Everywhere. All the time. The threat of violence against women is always already in the air. It’s an environmental hazard women face every day.

So, it is with some confusion that one notes the invitation by the Guardian, issued on November 25: “16 days of activism to stop global violence against women begins today. We want you to write for us about how change can be brought about in developing countries”.

Setting aside the division of the globe into “developing” and “developed”, the question remains, “Why?” Why “developing countries”? Do the Native women of the United States and Canada not count? Do the women of color, especially migrant and immigrant women, across Europe, Canada, the United States not count? Do all the women and girls across Europe, in the United States and Canada, who suffer, and organize to end and eliminate, domestic violence, do they not count?

The 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence emerged from a conversation among 23 women … from around the world. They spoke as a united group who recognized their differences and their shared experiences. They continue to do so. Violence against women is not a function of “under-development.” It doesn’t happen `over there’. It happens here … and here … and here … and here … and …

So, write to, and for, the Guardian, wherever you are. Share the news of the mixed things of organizing efforts, of the difficulties, successes, despondencies, joys. Make sure they find out that, when it comes to violence against women, the whole world is “developing.”

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)