She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Esraa Tayseer Kudair

Hebh Jamal, in New York, is seventeen years old. Esraa Tayseer Kudair, in Amman, is also seventeen years old. Around the world, young women are organizing and leading demonstrations, protests, movements for autonomy, solidarity, respect, peace, power and justice. They have been warned. They have been given explanations. Nevertheless, they have persisted. They are the teachers of justice and power: Hebh Jamal, Esraa Tayseer Kudair, and so many others.

Last week, protesters gathered in front of the Parliament, in Amman, Jordan, to call for the repeal of Articles 340 and 98 of the Jordanian Penal Code. These two articles allow for “mitigation” of sentences in so-called honor killings. Article 98 reads: “Whoever commits a crime while in a state of rage which is the result of an unjustifiable and dangerous act committed by the victim, benefits from a mitigating excuse.” Article 340 reads: “Whoever surprises his wife or one of his female decedents or ancestors or sisters in the act of adultery or in illegitimate bed and murders her immediately or her lover or both of them or assaulted her or both of them and the assault resulted in death or injury or harm or permanent disfiguration, he/she shall benefit from a mitigation excuse.” That he/she is misleading. All the reported honor killing victims in Jordan have been women. By October of last year, 26 women had been killed in so-called honor killings, compared to 17 in all of 2015.

Esraa Tayseer Kudair, a high school student, decided enough is too much, and, with her organization, I Change, organized the protest: “There are women that are being killed without doing anything wrong, and people are using this law to justify the killing these women.” When asked about I Change, Kudair explained, “I Change is a group of people that are gathered for a reason: to protect women from honour crimes and to educate people on this matter.” Around the world, young women students are promoting critical education, teaching and learning, all as part of the heart of the organizing agenda.

This week, in New York, Hebh Jamal, a high school student, was the lead organizer of a New York City-wide student walkout, which took place yesterday, February 7. For the past two years, Hebh Jamal has been a leading anti-racist, anti-Islamophobia organizer in New York. When the Muslim ban was announced, Hebh Jamal intensified her organizing efforts. Last week, she mobilized hundreds of people who marched from Foley Square to federal immigration offices in lower Manhattan. Yesterday, several hundred students from all over New York City showed up at Foley Square, to protest the Muslim Ban, to protest the assault on education that is embodied by Betsy DeVos, and to demonstrate their presence, wisdom, and commitment.

Two years ago, fifteen-year-old Hebh Jamal said, “If a Muslim hasn’t been called a terrorist in middle school, lower school or high school, then they’re probably in a really great school — and I’m happy for them!” This week, two years later, Hebh Jamal added, “I just want to say for me personally that I have gotten interview requests for the past week and I know it’s an interesting story because of my age, but it’s a movement of thousands, and I want to emphasize it isn’t about one person. I wanted to mention that, although it’s really great that I’m able to have a platform that a lot of Muslim women are not able to have, I really want to use it to emphasize that it needs to be a movement.”

The struggle continues, thanks to the young women everywhere who are warning, explaining, and persisting in movement building and justice creating.

Hebh Jamal


(Photo Credit 1: Global Voices / Nora B) (Photo Credit 2: Seventeen)

“Please don’t waste me”: Women, Mal(e)development, and Environmental Injustice

Majora Carter

In response to Kelly Cooper’s “Develop or Die”, I would add that the West’s self-image as a proponent of sustainable development also hides the realities of the environmental injustice within its own communities. As Majora Carter explains in her excellent talk, “Greening the Ghetto”, being forced to develop AND die is not something that just happens in less developed countries.

In the United States, race and class reliably predict one’s environmental health risk, with Black residents being twice as likely to have air pollution as their number 1 health risk and 5 times as likely to live within walking distance of power plants or chemical treatment facilities. Where Carter lives in the South Bronx, city planning has caused 40% of NYC’s commercial waste to end up in her neighborhood and, as a result, 1 in 4 children there have asthma. “From a planning perspective, economic degradation begets environmental degradation which begets social degradation. The disinvestment that began in the 1960s set the stage for all the environmental injustices that were to come- antiquated zoning and land-use regulations are still used to this day to continue putting polluting facilities in my neighborhood,” says Carter. In “Women’s Survival Economies and the Questions of Value”, Rachel Riedner writes about urban gardens in many parts of the world. Majora Carter’s South Bronx grassroots organizing also involved creating NYC’s first green and cool roof demonstration project- a roof covered with soil and living plants that could retain up to 75% of rainfall.

Although the environmental justice movement in the US has exposed serious race and class disparities related to pollution and health risk, until recently there was not much focus on how these issues affect women’s health. According to Jill Gay, “Few studies of pesticide exposure have been done concerning women. Farm women are often not classified as farmers but as farmers’ wives, excluding them from large studies of pesticide-induced cancer.” Still, evidence indicates that women are put at increased risk for environmental health problems for a number of reasons, including socio-economic status and gender roles. The Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment combines scholarship and activism to address these issues, pointing out that “Everywhere in the world, women do different work, in different places, and they fill different social roles, than do men. Women everywhere have primary responsibility for meeting the daily needs of their families. This often means that, literally, women are in the front lines of exposure to toxins in the environment. Because of their social location, (which also often has a real locational correlate), women are much more likely than their male counterparts to have early and prolonged exposure to water-borne pollutants, pollutants in the food chain, and household pollutants including indoor air pollution”. Yet, as you may have noticed, there is a growing concern in public media and discourse about the impacts of pollution on men’s health, especially in reference to male fertility- prompting discussion about the “vulnerability” of male reproduction, as in a recent article by Environmental Health News, entitled “Fish study proves “the pill” is NOT man’s best friend”.

Meanwhile disadvantaged groups of women continue to be pressured into coercive sterilization through programs like C.R.A.C.K. (“a national population control organization [in the US] that offers a $300 cash incentive to people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol to undergo a form of long-term (and often dangerous) birth control or permanent sterilization. C.R.A.C.K.’s tactics disproportionately targets poor women, incarcerated women, and women of color”.

Unlike the message propagated by the BBC and other media programs, the best examples of sustainable development come largely from outside the West. As others have pointed out here, women play a vital role in conserving the genetic diversity of crops like maize (as a 2002 study conducted in Guatemala by the UN and the International Plant Genetic Resource Institute established). Majora Carter’s inspiration came from Bogota where mayor Enrique Peñalosa “thinks cities in the developing world are at a critical moment where they can learn from the mistakes of industrialized nations and choose to develop in a way that is more people-friendly” and that “for these cities to prosper, they must provide happiness for their citizens”.

In the West, this is still a rare sentiment- as Carter says in her talk: “That development should not come at the expense of the majority of the population is still considered a radical idea here in the US, but Bogota’s example has the power to change that”. Mayor Peñalosa created walkways and bikes lanes, libraries, parks, and public plazas, planted trees, and produced one of the most efficient mass transit systems in the entire world, resulting in significantly reduced littering and crime rates. Carter notes that “His administration tackled several typical urban problems at one time and on a third world budget at that. We have no excuse in this country…”. Near the end of her talk, Ms. Carter argues for a bottom-up approach that incorporates grassroots movements into the development decision-making processes. Her words could apply equally well to the need for women’s involvement: “of the ninety-percent of the energy that Mr. Gore reminded us that we waste every day, don’t add wasting our energy, intelligence, and hard earned experience to that count….Please don’t waste me”, she says.

(Photo / Video Credit: TED)