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)