Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards: “Equality is a right, not a favor!”

Last week, women filled the streets to demand equal rights, women’s rights, civil rights, employment rights, social rights, human rights, and power. Indigenous women in Ecuador linked arms across the Atlantic with women in Turkey who, in turn, linked arms with women in South Sudan who linked arms with women in the Philippines who linked arms with women in Australia, and all points between and beyond. In Pakistan, women organized the Aurat March, or Women’s March, “a revolutionary feat for Pakistan”. Initially planned as a single march, by March 8, women across Pakistan were on the streets, marching, resisting misogyny and patriarchy. Women in Spain called for a 24-hour feminist strike, una huelga feminista, and the State shut down. More than five million joined the feminist strike. In Spain alone, women marched and refused to work and stopped work in over 120 cities. The Spanish feminist strike was a historic first for Spain … and beyond. On Saturday, March 11, in Tunisia, women marched in another historic first, a march for women’s equality in inheritance rights, a first-ever demand not only for Tunisia but for the Arab world. In Tunisia, equality is a right, not a favor.

On Saturday, in Tunis, women chanted, “Moitié, moitié ; c’est la pleine citoyenneté!”; “Pour garantir nos droits, il faut changer la loi!”; “L’égalité est un droit, pas une faveur!”. “50-50 equals full citizenship!” “ To guarantee our rights, we have to change the law!” “Equality is a right, not a favor!” As with the feminist strike in Spain, in Tunisia, women explicitly framed their action as a feminist intervention into patriarchy. As with the marches and actions everywhere, in Tunisia, the women understood their march to be local, national, regional and global. The immediate issue was inequality in inheritance, where men inherit twice as much as women. The women insisted that their action occur in a historical context, a historical context that encompasses the future as much as the past.

In January 2018, Tunisian women mobilized, protested and ignited the anti-austerity protests, under the banner, “What are we waiting for?” “Qu’attendons-nous?” “فاش نستناو ؟” In March, women are again filling the streets; rocking the nation; demanding autonomy, equality, power; seizing the moment. Today, as ever, women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Hassene Dridi / AP / SIPA / Jeune Afrique) (Photo Credit 2: Reuters / Zoubeir Suissi)

The Burkinabé women’s spatula uprising

 

Burkinabé civil society, opposition forces, students, youth, workers, and women have been taking to the streets to protest a parliamentary move to extend the president’s 27-year rule. These demonstrations are as much about one-party rule as they are about one man. Since August, youth have been organizing, under the banner of Le Balai citoyen, the Citizen Broom. Many have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and they have had enough.

This week, the broom hooked up with the spatula.

On Monday, hundreds of women took to the streets of Ouagadougou. In their raised fists, they carried broomsticks, spatulas, and some carried pestles. Why spatulas?

As one demonstrator explained, “The spatula is the most important cooking utensil for women. It has a symbolic weight in our traditions. When it is used to hit a man, it’s a sacrilege; the consequences are disastrous and irreversible. Hitting a man with a spatula automatically undercuts his power, his virility, which he cherishes above all. This is the reason the women came out with spatulas. Because of the President’s monarchic tendencies, his refusal to hear anyone but himself, the women came with spatulas to warn him, to bring him back to reason.”

According to Juliette Congo, of the Movement of People for Progress, “We came out with our spatulas to give a warning to a man hell-bent on destroying our country … If Blaise Compaoré does not change his tune, the women of Burkina Faso will rise in civil disobedience!”

Cendrine Nama, 28, agreed, “Burkinabé women came out, armed with our spatulas, October 27, to say NO to a constitutional coup d’etat planned by those in power, with the complicity of the Deputies elected to represent the people. I am proud of my people who rise today. It’s time we took an active role in the decisions that affect us, for the people are sovereign.”

Germaine agreed and added, “The time for discussion is over. We want him to leave and leave us in peace. We, the women, we weep for our children, we weep for our nation, we weep for the fate and future of the Burkinabé people. We came out with our spatulas to show him that when a woman comes with a spatula, that says it all. We came into the streets with our spatulas because we are burning inside. The next time we will strip and come naked and cry on the head of Blaise Compaoré.”

On Monday, hundreds of women marched, chanted, carried spatulas, and sparked an uprising, a spatula uprising. On Tuesday, tens of thousands marched in the streets. On Wednesday, a general strike was called. And tomorrow … ?

 

(Photo credit: Fasozine.com)

Léonarda Dibrani: Not French enough?

Léonarda Dibrani

A couple weeks ago, Léonarda Dibrani, a fifteen-year-old girl, was with her class on a field trip. Léonarda lived with her Kosovar Roma family in eastern France, in Levier. The Dibranis had applied for asylum years earlier. In the meantime, Léonarda went to school, grew up, made friends, and integrated herself into the community. Basically, Léonarda became French.

But not French enough. While on the field trip, police stopped the school bus, asked the fifteen-year-old to get down, and then took her away. With her family, she was immediately deported to Kosovo, a place she doesn’t know, a place whose languages she doesn’t speak.

And so now, Léonarda sits in Mitrovica, in Kosovo, gives interviews and pushes to return to Levier, to France, to her school, to her friends, to her community.

Meanwhile, as the adults dither about whether Léonarda was taken `properly’, because apparently there are strict rules for State abductions of minors; about whether the Interior Minister is still `of the Left’; about whether the Left is still … the Left, the high school students have taken to the streets in protest.

Across France yesterday, thousands of high school students marched, shouted, demonstrated, closed schools and boulevards. Their message? “Documented or undocumented, they are like us. They are students!” “They” are Léonarda and Khatchik Kachatryan, a 19-year-old Paris student who, on Saturday, was deported to Armenia.

High school students said clearly, “These deportations touch people just like us.” They argued that education is a universal human right, not merely a civil right bestowed by any particular nation-State. They look at Léonarda and Khatchik and, rightly, see themselves.

The high school students of France are arguing, and demonstrating, for the sake of humanity. As the story develops, more details will emerge that will serve to complicate and obfuscate the simple truth of the students’ message: We are all humans, and no human being is illegal.

Like so many other children, Léonarda Dibrani was abducted by the State. No list of rules followed will alter that. Let’s hope the State hears and listens to its schoolchildren and returns Léonarda, Khatchik, and so many other children to France, to their homes and to their friends … now.

Women demand cities that value women

In this season of mass protests and demonstrations, much of the news media has decided that this global phenomenon is an expression of `middle-class rage’. It’s not. The waves of mass protests are a creative response to the form of urbanization that now covers the globe. Remember, already more than half the world population lives in urban zones, and, according to the United Nations, soon more than half the world population will live in urban slums. This means the urban local is global. That’s the lesson that protesters, and in particular women protesters, are once again bringing to the streets and beyond.

The march of protests is a global urban uprising. Ask the women, and their colleagues and friends, who, through policy brutality, have become icons of the protest movements.

When Ceyda Sungur, Gezi Park’s `woman in the red dress’, was interviewed, after the police pepper sprayed her in the face, she deflected personal attention: “A lot of people no different from me were out protecting the park, defending their rights, defending democracy. They also got gassed.”

How does protecting a park equal defending rights equal defending democracy? On one hand, in the specifics of the moment, the equation is part of the pro-democracy rhetoric. On the other, more pertinent hand, Ceyda Sungur is an urban planner. When Sungur says, “For me this is about freedom of speech and the power of the people”, she means the struggle for the park, rights, democracy, freedom, power, is an urban struggle, a struggle against authoritarian, anti-human, anti-woman urban development.

Then there’s Liv Nicolsky Lagerblad de Oliveira. She lives in Rio. One night, she was standing alone on a street corner where there had been demonstrations earlier. Hours earlier, the riot police had forcefully removed all the protesters, but they were still hungry. They descended upon Oliveira, alone, late at night, just standing, and pepper sprayed her full in the face at close range. Yet again, the riot police created a new icon, yet again a woman.

And yet again the message, this time Oliveira’s, was urban: “The city is being gentrified. The poor can no longer afford to live in some favelas and the elite is taking their place. The cost of life is increasing and the increase in bus fare was just the last straw.”

Around the world, thanks to `urban development’, the working poor can’t afford to live in the slums. Women know this story, because they’re the central, disallowed subjects.

Repeatedly, protestors argue the City has become the epicenter of debt-and-death. Worldwide women are protesting the designed hostility of `the new Jerusalem’ to women and girls. Women, like Ellen Woodsworth, the founder of Women Transforming Cities, are organizing with women to address the complete and systemic lack of gender equity lens that marks city planning and governance. Urban public lighting, transportation, access to medical care, access to police, affordable housing, green common spaces, toilets, living wages, decent working conditions, violence, crime, peace, well being, inequality, equality are all particular to women and are all feminist issues. For example, in Japan, the environmental recycling movement had to rethink everything when women challenged the assumptions of their mandated unpaid, unrecognized, `informal’ labor … in the name of a green economy. The women in Japan said, “No gender equity, no peace.” The women in Istanbul, Ankara, Dhaka, Rio, São Paolo, Vancouver, Cape Town, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and beyond, are saying so as well.

The last green space in Istanbul is an urban women’s issue, and a feminist crisis. The rise in public transport fares and the pricing of slums out of the reach of the working poor in Rio de Janeiro is an urban women’s issue, and a feminist crisis. Thais Gomes, Brazilian `shantytown dweller’, understands that. It’s not “middle class rage”. It’s urban.

Around the world, women are saying “Hell no!” to the “gift” of global hyper-urbanization and “Hell yes!” to cities that respect all living beings as valuable, to city administrators and planners who see value in the social, to those who value women as humans, neighbors, partners.

 

(Photo Credit: Bianet)