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.”

https://instagram.com/women.included

Instagram / Twitter

(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)

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)

How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 2: India and beyond

In India, although Modi failed to deliver on election promises of economic growth, he drew public through hypocritical arguments about the importance of protecting the Hindu nation against Pakistan. The elections came at a crucial time when two Indian Army pilots captured by the Pakistani military were released back into India. The fanfare around their release gave the BJP and Modi enough momentum to stoke nationalist fires. Parties associated with the BJP had already done plenty to fan communalism through social media, and so Pakistan’s capture of the pilots created the means to continue nationalist messaging in public spaces to keep the fervor at fever pitch. The supremacy of the far-right Hindu nationalists is becoming widespread and overt in its reach under the Modi government. Modi openly articulates his allegiance with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS, and its divisive nationalism and Hindu militancy.

Besides masking economic growth with nationalism, Modi and the BJP have used the figure of the woman as a symbol of nationalism. This ploy has been enacted since before India’s struggle for independence from British rule. In the last election, Modi promised that he would make sure women had rights but did nothing to curb violence against women. While the BJP under Modi talks about Hindu womanhood and protecting women, drawing upon the religious trope of worshiping goddesses, we see the government’s hypocrisy in turning a blind eye to the rape of young women and children, particularly in Muslim, Adivasi and Dalit communities. Witness the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl by 9 Hindu youth, four of them police officers; the crime was politicized and although the rapists were charged, Hindu right-wing protesters, Modi silently lending them support, wanted the rapists exonerated: “Some of the staunchest defenders of the suspects in the girl’s killing have been high-level officials in Mr. Modi’s party. Analysts said this was consistent with how the party has operated for years.”Throughout the country it has become an increasingly onerous task for any sexual abuse victim to get justice. 

While the government won re-election based on national security, the country has become unsafe for women, Muslims and Dalits. Dissenting voices are in danger of being assassinated, as we have already seen in the murder of prominent journalists and writers for their critique of the government: Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and M.M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh and many more.

While abortion is legal up to 20 weeks, many women around the country do not have access to safe abortions. Maternal deaths from pregnancy and abortion continue to plague the country. A recent report from Mumbai showed a sudden dip in the numbers of abortion among girls 13-15. While this may sound like a good thing, a senior gynecologist from one of the BMC hospitals thinks that the dip could mean that young girls may be getting unsafe abortions. No statistics are available on the number of abortions as a result of the abortion pill. In short, unsafe abortions are prevalent, including self-selective abortion, which is unlawful.

What does all this mean? Within a neoliberal philosophy we see an increase in right-wing political parties in Europe and in India. Many scholars have made connections between this current political climate with the 1930s as the EU has gone through various turbulences that have exposed the fragility of the principle of democracy in society. In his book “Recidive,”(Recurrence), Michaël Fœssel uses press and journal articles to analyze the dynamics that prevailed in the year 1938, noting, “I didn’t research 1938 with 1940 in mind, but rather with 2018 and the years before.” He remarks that French women in 1938 were mostly invisible; one would have thought that France was inhabited only by men “whose only ambition was to become chief.” Men forbade women to vote until 1944, which is a significant difference compared to 2019. In addition, Fœssel observes that in 1938 many principles were challenged. France had passed new labor protection laws and progressive social laws 2 years earlier. In 1938, with a new government elected on negative campaigns to restore order, the goal was to weaken social protection and the new rights of middle and lower classes. Although women were not allowed to vote, two women held ministry positions in the previous government, and still progress stopped there. With the more conservative government of 1938, women were sent back to the private home and family duty. 

In a time of crisis, we observe the reoccurrence of these discourses of rights and protections reductions, making the vulnerable more precarious and supporting right-wing messages of nationalism and dominant powers. Besides the obvious differences between both electoral situations (in India and in the EU), the commonalities are important to identify. 

For the time being, patriarchy as a system of control and accumulation has reinforced its power. The heartless leaders are patriarchal leaders. Their networks of influence have, through social media, disseminated their discourses using the mythology of virility to legitimize inequality between genders and unleash intolerance toward everyone outside of their normative view of human society. They have successfully eliminated the ethics of reciprocity and care from the political discourse. The destruction wrought by climate change that affects the most vulnerable in society is a casualty in this patriarchal power grab in the elections in Hungary, Poland, Italy and India. Ending the power of the heartless demand constant criticism of the patriarchal order that outrageously begets inequality and suffering. 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Mukesh Gupta / The Guardian)

How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 1: In Europe

In the past month, around the world, heartless populist leaders have had successes in numerous elections. The Indian election occurred over 6 weeks, with 900 million registered voters, and 63 percent actively voting. The European elections were organized in 28 countries to renew the European Parliament where European laws are discussed and passed or not. It comprises 751 Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs. The European Elections presented a great danger for women and minorities. European populist groups have organized since 2013, creating a structure called “Agenda Europe”, promising to “restore the natural order”. This fabricated argument about a “natural order” is precisely unnatural and threatens violence against women, minorities and Nature.  Despite all its shortcomings, the European Parliament has, in general, over the years pushed for more progressive laws. In response, the current generation of heartless leaders have developed ultra conservative doctrines to curtail any possibility for inclusive and progressive evolution.  

As political scientist Rosalind Pollack Petchesky has noted, “Abortion acquires political volatility in periods when the social position of women generally is under siege.” Today, access to sexual and reproductive health has been challenged by the heartless leaders even in places where one would have thought these rights inalienable. The heartless movement materialized with neoliberal austerity measures and structural reforms. Neoliberalism opportunistically aligns itself with various strandsof neoconservatism and religious fundamentalism. 

Heartless populist leaders bear common features: an opportunistic mind guided by big data algorithm systems and an unfettered desire for power. They use nationalist – racist messages through social media without concern forethics or veracity. Theirtargets have included immigrants, feminists, Romas, Muslims, and more. The European and Indian elections have brought these neoliberal, conservative, propagandist, and rights-unraveling elementstogether. In Europe a resistance has also strongly emerged. In some countries, Socialists and European Green parties gained seats. Meanwhile populist parties having difficulty agreeing to form one group in parliament; their divisions appear deeper than expected. 

In France, the populist party, Rassemblement National, RN, finished with less than 1 % ahead of the center liberal party. Marine Le Pen’s RN party list led by Jordan Bardella garnered votes from the popular discontent represented by the Yellow Vest movement, mostly a vote of rejection of the liberal doctrine of the current President Emmanuel Macron. The surprise came from the Greens who became the third party ahead of the regular conservative and socialist parties. The German Green party became the second party in Germany this time, ahead of the populist party. Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark sent more socialist and social democrats to the parliament with, again, a representation of the Green party.    

In Poland, the extreme right-wing/populist Law and Justice party (PIS) won 45.6% of the vote, sending 26 MEPs to the European Parliament, while the opposition European Coalition (Social Democrats) won 17 seats and the leftist coalition obtained 8 seats. The Law and Justice party increased its representation compared to the previous European election. Their conservative campaign was based on imaginary Polish values which included strict control of sexual and reproductive rights, reducing health services for women.  Although Polish women have had total access to abortion until 1993, conservative religious leaders in Polish politics have made Poland one of the European countries with the most restrictive laws on abortion. Currently, each year 150 000 Polish women get back-alley abortions. Women in Poland have organized to block a total ban on abortion. The PIS based its campaign on repetition of social media slogans against immigration, supporting family values and energy independence. Actually, they implemented the most xenophobic and anti-women’s rights policies, including lowering protection against domestic violence, reducing access to contraception, and keeping coal energy production, refusing to comply with reducing CO2 emissions according to the Paris Agreement. 

In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s ruling party won a landslide victory with 52.3%, giving 13 seats to Orban’s EEP, 7 seats to the opposition and 1 seat to the Fascist party. When Viktor Orban was first elected, only 3% of the Hungarian population thought that immigration was an issue. Orban’s domination took off when he met Arthur Finkelstein, an arch conservative Jewish American homosexual, just to challenge common assumptions. Finkelstein has built a discreet career using invisible parallel means of communication, such as negative messaging in public spaces and social media. He has been behind many elections of conservatives around the world from Ronald Reagan to Benjamin Netanyahu. The Hungarian slogan for the European elections was similar to the Polish one. Women had to curtail their desire for emancipation to serve the great country of Hungary, migrants had to back off from entering the country, and environmental issues were irrelevant in comparison with the rebuilding of Hungary’s great past.

According to Ludmila Acone, in Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian right-wing party ‘The League,’ and current co-vice Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, won the most seats with 34,3%,which gave ‘Identity and Democracy’ 28 seats. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Stars movement, with whom Salvini shares executive power, received 17,1% of the votes, or 14 seats. Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the democratic party, came in second with 22,7%, or 19 seats. These elections strengthened Salvini’s power in Italy. At the last European election in 2014, The League only received 6.2% of the ballots and sent 5 MEPs to Brussels. His success is based on his ability to «speak to people’s guts. » Bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Italy is the main land of arrival, and often a place of transit, for migrants and refugees traveling by sea and seeking asylum in Europe. Salvini based most of his political program on the urgency of fighting immigration and the right to defend oneself against migrants who are supposedly more violent. The League, supported by Steve Bannon, extended its power by producing fake news, thanks to social media. Negative messages annihilated the discourse on climate change: Italy is not sending an MEPs of the European Green Party.

The League’s political agenda rests on ‘replacement theory.’ This approach claims to protect «the traditional family» against the danger of abortion, divorce, contraception, and gender equality. Salvini pretends to protect women, thanks to one of the Five Stars movement’s legislative initiatives: the code red laws, protective measures against domestic violence. Italy has one femicide every two days.

(Image Credit: European Views)