Rural Women. Period.

October 15 is the International Day of Rural Women. This year marks the fourth celebration. According to the United Nations, the day “recognizes `the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’”

Rural women do a bit more than ”enhance” and “improve”, and the do so in more areas than “the rural”.

Who, and where, exactly, are “rural women”?

On one hand, they are women in rural zones. As such, they are the heart of the current food crisis. They are the women working the sugar farms, or sweatshops, in KwaZulu-Natal and the citrus farms of the Western Cape, both in South Africa, too often overlooked or forgotten by the trade unions, the State, and, to a certain extent, large swathes of the women’s movement. They are also the South African women who comprise Sikhula Sonke and the Surplus Peoples Project, women who struggle, organize, keep on keeping on.

They are the rural and indigenous women in Argentina who speak out about and who organize to stop the environmental and economic devastation of climate change, a process they see and live with every day.

They are the rural and indigenous women across Asia who struggle with the intensification of patriarchal exclusion the emerges from the embrace of local power brokers, national governments and multinational corporations, especially but not exclusively those engaged in agriculture. They are women, like Rajkala Devi, who have broken glass, linen, silk, and concrete ceilings to attain public office in villages, as in hers in Rajasthan, India, and to move more than the village into more than recognition of women’s rights.

They are the fisherwomen like Rehema Bavuma, from Uganda, who struggle, along with their Asian and Latin American sisters, to do more and better than merely stop land grabs, to change the entire system. These women know, without the `benefit’ of longitudinal studies, that girls and women are the key to food security, to well being. They also know that girls and women are the key to food sovereignty, to something more and better than an end to hunger and an end to threat of starvation.

They are women who struggle with patriarchal governments, like Lind Bara-Weaver, a stone’s throw from Washington. Bara-Weaver struggles with the economy, as do all farmers. But she also struggles with the US federal government’s policies concerning loans to women farmers.

They are Dina Apomayta, in the highlands of Peru, the seed keepers, the guardians of diversity, the last station against what some call “Holocene extinction”, the end of diversity. And they are everywhere.

Rural women are not just in rural areas. They are in cities, too. They are women like Somali farmer Khadija Musame and Liberian farmer Sarah Salie, both now living and providing food for residents of San Diego … in the United States. They are women like Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardeners Network in New Orleans, and women like Regina Fhiceka, a garden and community organizer in Philippi, just outside of Cape Town.

Rural women are everywhere. They are in rural areas and they are in cities. They are the world. That’s the message we should carry on the International Day of Rural Women, today, and into tomorrow, World Food Day … and beyond. Rural women. Period.

 

(Image Credit: American Dairy Association of Indiana)

Women pay for rising food prices

Youth in Algeria are `rioting’ to protest, and change the conditions of, high unemployment and high and quickly rising food prices. In Egypt, where food inflation is running at a staggering 17 percent, the women are talking once again of the food lines, and the food riots and uprisings, of 2008.

In Bolivia, shopkeepers, such as Pilar Calisaya, are battling with police because of quickly rising bread prices. As she explains, “I am not at fault”.

In China, as Xu Shengru shops for food to feed her family, she notes that cabbage, a staple, has doubled in price since last year. That’s actually the good news. Recently, rice prices rose 30 percent in just 10 days.  Pepper prices rocketed an astonishing 1,000 percent.  In Indonesia, where pepper prices are also scaling new heights at new speeds, the government is imploring citizens to plant chilies in their backyards.

In India, food inflation has `zoomed’ to 18.32 percent this week alone, spurred by onion, vegetable and milk price rises. Last year alone, the price of onions rose 40 percent.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices in 2010 hit a new high, especially cereals and sugar. Wheat prices soared, corn as well. The price of meat and of milk also rose precipitously. These are the highest prices in thirty years. Put differently, well over half the world’s population has never lived with such high prices. It’s no surprise the youth of Algeria are protesting.

The brunt is back, and yet again the analysts inform us that it’s the world’s poorest who will bear the brunt.  And yet again there will be stories of individual women, such as Pilar Calisaya, or the unnamed woman in Egypt, or the unnamed woman in Algeria facing down a row of police, or Xu Shengru, and their struggles with food political economies, but there will be no analysis or reporting on the place of women in the `danger territory’ of food provision and consumption.

As the discussions of food prices, food riots, food protests, food markets, and food counter-markets spiral, keep an eye out for structural analyses of women’s positions.

One woman who knows something about women, food, crisis, is Jenga Mwendo.   Mwendo is the founder of the Backyard Gardens Network in New Orleans. After Katrina, she began rebuilding her own home, in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, and began building a new food political economy in the middle of food desert and in the midst of a food desertification.  She organized the rebuilding of two community gardens, the planting of fruit trees, and more. Mwendo understands that the only buffer against the predations of market control of food is community production. For some, this would be community gardens, for others, coops. In all of these, and other alternative community food experiments and projects, women historically have been the principal agents and constituency. Women still are.

Jenga Mwendo is precisely not exceptional. Women do not only bear the brunt of the devastating food market economies. Women are neither the victims nor the survivors of food catastrophes and crises. Instead, women are the change agents, from food uprisings to community gardens, and beyond.

Meanwhile, “fresh rioting broke out in Algiers today.”

 

(Photo Credit: Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune)

Scatterlings: “Shoot to kill”

At this time four years ago, New Orleans residents of color were being hunted like animals by white citizens and National Guardsmen alike as the waters of Katrina receded…

…and now ZA has its own “shoot to kill” policy. On the anniversary of 9/11, it really makes me wonder about how “we” define terrorism. Brutality by the state = law and order, mean to protect “football fans [that] could become easy targets during next year’s World Cup“. The low income (or no income) citizens of South Africa, of course, are always easy targets in the state’s shooting range. Oh wait, did I say citizens? Turns out “those who use illegal weapons would lose their normal rights as citizens“. Is this not terrorism?

It certainly is terrifying, and there are so many more layers yet: the resources being allotted to “security” and construction for this event instead of towards economic justice, the high rates of crime seen as unacceptable for Western tourists but the price of admission for South Africans…and where is the speech at an ANC dinner, the huge push of resources, regarding violence against women and rape?

(Photo Credit: The Telegraph / AFP)

Here’s what isn’t in dispute: Dymond and Clara

Dymond Milburn

Dymond Milburn is in dispute with more than the police force of Galveston, Texas. On Wednesday, The Houston Press reported an incident, two years earlier, involving Dymond, African American, 12 at the time, in front of her family home: “a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, `You’re a prostitute. You’re coming with me.’ Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, `Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’ One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat. As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.” Three weeks later, the police came to Dymond’s school, where Dymond is an honors student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant.

On Thursday, Radley Balko picked up on the story, and then it took off into the blogosphere. Later, Balko updated his account: “Here’s what isn’t in dispute:  Milburn was wrongly targeted during a prostitution raid.  The police were looking for white prostitutes.  Milburn is black.  She was apprehended by plain-clothes narcotics officers who emerged from a van as she stood outside her home.  She resisted.  The police have acknowledged they targeted the wrong house.  Three weeks later, Milburn was arrested at  her school, in front of her classmates, for `assaulting a public official.’  At some point, her father was arrested on a similar charge.  The judge declared a mistrial on the first day of Milburn’s trial.  According to Vogel [the Houston Press reporter], she’s scheduled to be tried again in February.”

J.D. Tucille, writing in response, concluded: “So the Galveston Police Department’s position is that it’s a criminal act for a little girl to resist being dragged into a van by strange men? If that’s the lesson the police want to send to the community, then it’s nothing more than an association of thugs intolerant of the slightest challenge to its authority. It’s certainly not an agency for preserving the peace and defending the rights of local residents. A police department like that shouldn’t just be sued; it should be disbanded.”

We already heard, the week that Dymond Milburn `became news’, that sex workers in the United States face police violence, and if you didn’t already know that African American women and girls face police violence and, even more, police sanctioned violence, A.C. Thompson’s “Katrina’s Hidden Race War” and Rebecca Solnit’s “The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn’t Hear About in Hurricane Katrina” would remind you. Brent Staples has seen “Without Sanctuary”, an exhibition that exposes U.S. lynching cultural histories, and knows that “lynching … was a method of social control”. A Black girl in Texas, a state notorious for the quantity and quality of lynchings, hung to a tree for safety and freedom. Welcome to the 21st century.

White supremacist violence against Black people, Black communities, Black knowledge and culture, is not new. State violence against Black girls is not new. State use of sex and sexuality – what were you doing on that street or what were you doing out at that late hour – to justify violence against women, and in particular against Black women, is not new and is not news.

The occlusion of sexual violence that lies at the heart of all power relationships and hierarchies is also not new and never makes the news. Writing about the case of Brian Gene Nichols, accused and convicted to many life sentences without parole, for having beaten a courthouse sheriff’s deputy, and having killed a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy, and an off-duty federal officer,  Marie Tesler finds that what is continually scanted, or not reported at all, is that Nichol’s initial charge was one of sexual assault, and it’s one that proved exceedingly difficult for a jury to take seriously. When it comes to sexual violence, the jury is always out. For Tesler, “Domestic violence and sexual violence are the DNA of violence throughout society. It’s where violence begins.”

What if the story involved the DRC, rather than Texas, and the Black girl was Clara, instead of Dymond: “That night I was coming back from my sister’s home when I was accosted by men in civilian clothes in a jeep with blacked-out windows at about 8pm. They showed me police badges,” she said. The men told Clara she was not allowed to be outside in the night and she climbed into their car expecting to be driven home to her parents. But the men drove her to the Ngaba district of Kinshasa where they ordered her to pay a 70 000 CDF ($120) fine. “I told them: ‘I am young. I do not have that kind of money.’ But they took the 1 500 CDF (about $3) that I had on me and my gold chain as money for transport,” she said. “Then they took me to a dark place. As two men raped me, the driver watched,” she said, adding that the men “gave me a lot of pain. I still have pain”.” What’s the distance between men who are police and men who claim to be police, between men who rape and men who `merely’ beat and injure, between fines and arrests, between Kinshasa and Galveston or Atlanta or New Orleans or wherever you are at this moment? The distance is important, and so is the shared space.

As more men commit more rape and sexual violence more intensely and furiously in one part of a country, others begin to do so in another. Call it liquidity. The cleansing niceties of geopolitical distance, rural – metropolitan or periphery – capital or dangerous – safe or bare life – my life, are worse than alibis. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the democratic United States of America, sexual violence, and even more the refusal by State and civil society to acknowledge and address sexual violence, `inspires’ rampage, and then the world expresses shock and horror, again, at the brutes and savages, once more. Pain is the currency, it is a quantity: “they gave me a lot of pain.” Pain is the trace, it is a quality: “I still have pain.” In patriarchy, pain has ever been the gift women are meant to receive. In global capital, women’s pain, in particular the pain of Black women, in particular the police sanctioned pain of Black women, is identity. Because the pain is identical and cannot be in dispute, no distance divides Dymond from Clara. Where is the State that acknowledges their pain and does more than acknowledge? Where are the reparations? Where is the place where justice, rather than violence, begins?

 

(Photo Credit: Breaking Brown)