#JusticePourThéo: We must end police impunity and call their violence rape

Tongues are starting to loosen after the sexual police aggression on Théo in Aulnay-sous-Bois, France. More young men regularly stopped for ID check have come forward to talk about the violence always more humiliating and sexual, the insults of the police forces. They feel lawlessly trapped. Only 5% of the young people violently searched after ID checks file a complaint.

Moreover, as the press release from feminist group Femmes Solidaires pointed out, “What this crime tells us…is when a man wants to humiliate and dominate another man, he resorts to the same type of brutality as the one used to dominate a woman: rape.” They also note the uneasiness of the media to accurately identify this crime. For Femmes Solidaires, in the scale of police violence, pushing a baton in the rectum of a young man is a most serious crime and feminists must name what happened to Théo and other young men with the right word: rape. They exhort people not to turn a blind eye on this crime and conclude, “Silence tortures, impunity kills, invisibility condemns the victim to relive the same crimes.”

In addition to using rape, the police forces use homophobic and racist slurs regularly. The word “bamboula”, commonly uttered by police, carries its own colonial history. During a TV program, a police union representative admitted that although this word could be considered an insult, it remained tolerable. The anchor immediately reacted, saying “no” it is intolerable. In fact, “bamboula” is undoubtedly racist. As historian Mathilde Larrère explained, Bamboula is the name of a drum, which name became an expression of colonial racism. As she clarified, racism was born from the violence of domination and enslavement of populations to justify this very violence.

These expressions of racism shed light on identity politics as a way to differentiate the rights-bearing population from the rest that loses rights and can be mistreated, attacked and insulted. The ID checks are expressions of identity politics and the use of rape the expression of masculinity as a brutal authority.

Recently, a court decision in Bobigny, asuburb of Paris, on a similar case that occurred in 2015 has clearly stated that from now on a rape with a baton or something else committed by a police officer or not will be judged as a rape instead of violence. That decision signals what many have lounged for: police will no longer be granted impunity.

This is not over and the mobilization against violence and sexual violence cannot end with this decision.  More integrative measures should be taken to break the isolation and sense of abandonment of many “real” French residents who have been left out by the republic.

 

(Photo Credit: Liberation / Denis Allard)

#BlackLivesMatter, this time in France. #JusticePourTheo

Once more police violence makes the headlines. In France, Theo a 22-year-old young resident of Aulnay-sous-Bois, a northern Paris suburban city, was stop-searched by four special forces police officers few days ago. The search was aggressive verbally and physically; the telescopic (expandable) baton of one of the police officer was forced in the anus of the young man. Theo, who is black, was insulted with slang racial words including the N-word.

The police officers sprayed tear gas into Theo’s mouth, then dragged him, handcuffed, to their car. Theo was in excruciating pain covered with his own blood. Once in the police station, another police officer immediately called the SAMU (emergency medical unit). The doctors were appalled to see the damage on his body with a 10cm (3.5 inches) tear in the rectal region, with a perforated rectum; he was rushed to a hospital operating room. His injuries are serious with possible life damage. He has to keep a fecal diversion with colostomy probably for the next few months.

From Aulnay to the rest of France, the outcry was broad. Mothers of “the city of the 3000”, the neighborhood where Theo lives with his family, led demonstrations. Singing the Marseillaise to affirm that France was their nation, they also said that they were fed up with the police acting like “cowboys”. They expressed their immediate concern, demanding if their sons would be the next one to be raped by police. Some said “we are not here to be on television; here we have doctors, engineers, but we are suffocating.”

They want justice not only for Theo but for all the youth of “les quartiers,” these suburban neighborhoods that have been left out of urban policies. Meanwhile, Theo’s case is in the hand of a lawyer ready to address police violence with his case.

A former police union leader, in charge of security for the right wing political party “les Republicains” was recently elected mayor of Aulnay sous Bois. He based his campaign on law and order. Although he extolled the virtue of strong police presence, he condemned this police violence calling it unbearable and unacceptable. He understood that this time the usual argument that the victim because of his police record somehow deserved the treatment inflicted on him would not work as Theo and his entire family have had exemplary lives. In his surprise visit, even President Francois Hollande played the good guy argument in an attempt to calm down the boiling cities fed up with state and police violence.

The delinquent deserving police aggression is a political argument that has been used repeatedly in recent years to justify increasingly violent police intervention and ID checks based on profiling, including statistical profiling.

Theo’s case was referred to the Defender of the Rights, “an independent administrative authority that oversees the protection of rights and freedoms and promotes equality to ensure access to rights”. This authority had warned President Hollande about the unnecessary character and lack of supervision of ID checks, to no avail. In 2016 the Defender of Rights published a report stating that the youth that had the color of Africa, north and sub-Saharan, were 20 times more subject to ID checks. The report documents discrepancies in the treatment of populations, based on appearance, age and location of the control. The numbers show a degradation of the situation in the suburban areas with only 5% of these young pursuing legal actions against police abuse. The president of this authority declared that Theo’s affair was not a short news affair but a societal and political affair. He insisted on the importance to question these “random” ID checks poorly reported with no actual legal justification,” adding that the police of the republic should be the police for equality.

In 2009, the National Center for Scientific Research showed that in general the police control is determined by the clothes worn as well as the color of their skin, rather than something that done by the young people checked.

Part of the stigmatization or disqualification as full human being is in the language and attitude of the state authority. They are systematically addressed with “tu,” the informal you. According to the Defender of Rights, the informal “you” is used in 40% of the control of the young men of these neighborhoods compared to 16% for the general population. They are also insulted in 21% of the cases compared to 7% for the rest of the population.

The vast majority of the ID checks have no legal or investigative basis, but they are very effective in making feel the young person not belonging and always under scrutiny. Despite the recent riots, the inhabitants of these neighborhoods are committed to assert their proud presence against the constant humiliation and stigmatization encountered. People nationwide are supporting their call for dignity.

ACAT, an association dedicated to fight torture, produced a comprehensive review of the situation in France. Between 2005 and 2015, they counted 26 casualties caused by police, of whom 22 were people of color. Last summer, for example, Adama Traoré died in police custody after. The family is still demanding an explanation as to why he died.

Depoliticizing state violence is a way of justifying it. Many reports have demonstrated that something needs to change in the national policies that mistreat and racialize the youth in France. In this electoral period the stakes are high and the struggle to stop the disqualification of citizens calls for solidarity, as the mothers of Aulnay-sous-Bois demanded. It is part of the struggle for immigrants’, refugees’ and women’s rights. In this time of enmity when victims are made the culprits, people in France need to join the resistance.

 

(Photos Credit: Bondy Blog)

The Women’s March: “Our march forward does not end here”

In this moment in which we see racism and State violence unleashed against some of us, the Muslim citizens of our world, let us return to an event that said NO to sexism and therefore racism. On January 21, the women’s march on Washington launched the day after the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. The march brought together a multitude of demonstrators in Washington DC as well as in every other major city in the US.  Additionally, sister marches in 100 other cities in the world were formed. According to the Women’s March organizers, about 5 million groups walked in unison that day.

In France, the march was preceded, on January 20th, by a “day of engagement with women” on France Culture, a public radio station, which called the event “the long march of women” and suggested that we are seeing a great leap behind. Each program addressed various sections of the struggle for women to be a full being, whether they had been revolutionary, colonized, proletarian, mothers, and the list went on.

While the march was not announced in many other media, the demonstration in Paris numbered in the tens of thousands. All the signs expressed the various feelings and worries about the struggles past and to come. For instance, one sign, held by an African American woman living in Paris, said “Impeach that creep” on one side and “vote out Le Pen” on the other.

Another sign, in French said, “Together against all the Trumps, visible or invisible, of France, the United States and of the world”.

 

The United States’ example reminded many that every right gained after long fights can always be threatened and dismantled by the patriarchal order like the right to sexual and reproductive health, including the right to have access to free abortion and contraception. For this reason, the French Movement for Family Planning was widely represented, knowing that although this right is part of the French constitution and actively enforced, the extreme right looms over it ready to use deceitful strategies to dismantle it.

We met with three young Americans, English teachers in Marseille, who came to Paris to demonstrate. They were from New York City; Richmond, Virginia; and Birmingham, Alabama. They talked about racism, inequality, and intersectionality. They sang, “We shall overcome.” We also met with Genevieve Fraisse, a renowned French philosopher and historian specializing in feminist thoughts. She reminded us of the importance of organizing and that she had been an active demonstrator before being a philosopher. She talked about disqualification rather than discrimination. Today with the official realization that refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim countries are banned, the notion of disqualification of some as not having the same quality as human beings as others resonates.

Here’s our interview with Genevieve Fraisse:

(Photos and interview by Brigitte Marti)

 

In Syria, women as weapons of war is a crime against humanity!

After the tragic end of East Aleppo and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of survivors from horrific bombings, that included hospitals and typical civilian’s landmarks such as schools, who would pay attention to the violence inflicted on women in Syria? With the insurrection and the rebellion against the authoritative regime of Bashar al-Assad, women have served as weapons of war as has been increasingly the case in the many places torn apart by conflicts.

The sexual abuses committed against women from Da’esh/Isis are notorious and exposed under the antiterrorism narrative, but the strategically organized sexual violence against women set up by the regime of Bashar al Assad against the opposition has not been narrated as such. Some few have identified “rape” as Bashar’s secret weapon or weapon of mass destruction.

Once again, women’s bodies are the stakes of political violence while women see their participation as full citizens with rights to political and social debate systematically impugned or rendered impossible. Additionally, religious and social patriarchal discrimination against women have put women in a position of intensified vulnerability.

During the conflict that partitioned Yugoslavia Bosnia in the 1990s, sexualized violence against Muslim women became a strategy of war. In the middle of the killing, “rape camps” were established in which women were raped, had their breasts cut if they resisted or slaughtered. Women’s bodies instrumentalized by elite strategists were tortured by Serbian militias, soldiers; the goal was to make them forget that those bodies were/are women beings. Margot Wallström, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, estimated that about 60 000 women suffered sexualized violence in Bosnia and Croatia.

Today, one wonders yet again about the international community’s position.

UN resolution 1820 of 2008, entitled Women and Peace and Security, was described as a “step in the right direction.” The expectations with this resolution were that sexual violence during conflicts would be recognized as a weapon of war violating the rules of war and therefore could be punished in a tribunal. This resolution raised the question of the impunity of the perpetrators of these atrocities that typically left deep scars and pushed women to commit suicide. As a former UN peace keeping forces major general declared, “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

And still after this resolution, rape and humiliation of women has remained a formal strategy, as we have seen in Syria. Moreover, the impunity with which some atrocities have taken place underlies the failure of the UN Security Council to refer the regime of Bashar to the International Criminal court.

Annick Cojean, who exposed the sexual abuses in Gadhafi’s circles, has investigated the Syrian case. She explains that women have been arrested in great numbers for various reasons for demonstrating peacefully or for being related to an opponent to the regime, simply because the regime has been dictatorial and brutal. Being in custody means that sexual torture. A teenage girl recalls that during her time in a detention center, she along with all the women there would be raped and sexually tortured, burned and more everyday but every day a doctor would give her a pill and check her periods. One day she was late and received another pill that triggered strong pain in the abdomen; she wouldn’t be pregnant despite the numerous rapes. Some witnesses claim that the guards and soldiers receive “performance enhancing” stimulants.

In this patriarchal environment, women who are being humiliated and shown and sometimes filmed naked and raped in their own communities in front of their children and husband are being utilized “to dishonor” their family or community. They often face rejection instead of compassion and support.

They become the culprit instead of the victim. They are crushed under this double threat. Annick Cojean emphasizes that for them to come forward and testify is sometimes an impossible task. She met some of them in Jordan in a refugee camp or in Lebanon; each time the stories were more horrific.

It is hard to know how many women have faced this ordeal. The Syrian representative of the human rights league now estimates that about 100 000 women have been thrown in jail or in detention centers. A great number of them have been sexually tortured. But do we need the number to know that this is a crime?

The ruthless economic and political order followed by many world leaders is an alibi to humiliate and rape women and establish this practice as a normal war strategy along with bombing starving civil populations and targeting and bombing hospitals.

After the ordeal that women went through in Bosnia, many Bosnian leaders and some Imams recognized that women had been victim of war crimes, breaking the patriarchal code of silence that surrounds the mistreatment of women because of religious and “cultural” definitions of honor. That probably helped in getting The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia working. It was “the first international criminal tribunal to enter convictions for rape as a form of torture and for sexual enslavement as crime against humanity.”

Will it be possible to move to this type of resolution for the women of Syria? When the mechanisms of power associate themselves with hyper-masculinity, making the sword work with sexual domination, life has no value. Only domination to serve vested interests remains.

When is the dignity of women going to be restored in a world of forceful leaders showing their unabashed machismo, while making their little patriarchal arrangements between themselves keeping the defense of corporate power and financial interests in mind? Women must be included in peace resolutions.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Daily Beast / Nordic Photos / Alamy) (Photo Credit 2: The Daily Beast)

Women, the invisible migrants

While the US election demonstrated that abject racist, anti women, xenophobic speeches lead to power; people continue to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Last month another 90 people died off the Libyan coast. 3800 persons seeking safe land drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since January 2016. The UN ‘s refugee agency predicts that 2016 will be the deadliest year despite about 700 000 fewer people having made the crossing compared to 2015. The likelihood of dying is one in 88 arrivals in 2016 while last year it was one in 269 arrivals.

The European obsession with stopping the crossing of people escaping war zones – signing shameful agreements with the violent and authoritarian Turkish president, increasing surveillance forcing smugglers to use less detectable rafts – has created more hazards for women, men, and children. The preservation of migrants’ lives come after catering to populist mindsets and vested interests.

This year, the number of women and children migrating for survival has outnumbered the number of men, with 60% of the refugees being women and children while they were about 30 % last year. Women face more hardship and gender-based violence with an increase of war violence committed on women.

None of this is new. In 2010 Smaïn Laarcher looked at the violence, persecution, and death threats that women faced on the road to exile. He described the various agents of violence denouncing the denial of humanity to women, which led to sexual torture committed in total impunity.

Meanwhile, once in Europe they can be stuck in places like Calais in France. In 2002, the UK demanded the closing of the Red Cross camp of Sangatte, on the pretext that the French authorities had been too lenient with the refugees. Then, in 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister of France, signed an agreement to control migration to the United Kingodm. The treaty is both complex and simple; it turns France into a police structure for the UK preventing the English-speaking wretched of the earth with family or friends in the UK from crossing. This treaty has created misery and the camp of Calais also called the “Jungle.” The latter was recently dismantled.

The hardship and suffering of the refugee women has been mostly invisible and ignored. Where are the women who are trying to escape violence in increasing number? According to the NGO France Terre d’Asile, in 2015, in the department of Pas de Calais about 1000 women migrants lived in various camps including in “the jungle”. 120 of those women were minors. Many NGOs have worked to help these women. All the aid workers say the same thing, “We don’t see them.” They only walk in groups at certain times of the day; some have created their own women-only campsite in a field.

There is a place in Calais, the Jules Ferry Center, that receives about 300 women in a safe environment. The doors are locked; only the women can decide to go in and out. Even personnel have to get clearance. A spokeperson for the center explained, “They don’t want journalists in because they don’t want people to look at them like circus freaks.” They are safe in this center; they have access to psychological support as well as medical care and they can stay with their children; but this is not enough. Women can be invisible and attacked in refugee centers that have not been conceived for the safety of women, as it has occured in Germany.

Gynecologie sans frontieres (gynecology without borders), or GSF, is a very active NGO in the camps. They provide care, sexual education and access to reproductive services including abortion, and they treat women with respect. In France, abortion is free for all women.

While women may have been raped and need and demand access to abortion when pregnant after the rape, they also face all kind of issues coming with constant patriarchal violence. They have a chance to talk when they meet these helpers.

Sometimes women sell their bodies for money; a network of pimps prowls the camps. They may be also the smugglers who get paid that way. The clients are not only the migrants but also the local inhabitants.

A world of silence is wrapped around the women’s bodies. The migrant women should be able to find their own words to explain what happened to them. GSF has designed methods to liberate these voices in an attempt to make the invisible migrant women visible. The volunteers of GSF or other NGOs want to help them to reclaim their rights and dignity but it should be again a collective responsibility.

As we have seen with the election of a sexual predator who is ignorant of UN treaties, the western elites are increasingly showing their disdain and disregard for international treaties to protect women, children, civilians, and the environment, in order to galvanize the most racist energies for electoral gain and power. In this period, women are becoming increasingly vulnerable and migrant women are invisibly dehumanized. Once again solidarity is required!

 

(Photo Credit: Gynécologie sans frontières)

He cannot be President. He cannot be my friends’ President.

In the United States this past Wednesday the relationship between politics and business based on sex, racism, xenophobia, ignorance, etc, became the rule of the master. I have been writing for Women In and Beyond the Global for some time to denounce, inform and reflect on many issues that are threats to human and women’s dignity in many places.

I wrote about Dominique Strauss Kahn aka DSK, the former director of the IMF and pretender to presidential election in France, who used his power to attack and humiliate women for sex. His scandalous behavior was disparaged worldwide, especially after his arrest in New York City for abusing a woman of color in the hotel where he was a client and where she was a maid. Even his own political party in France declared that they should erect a statue to Nafissatou Diallo for her strength and determination. I concluded : “From New York, Washington, Paris to Lille, the DSK saga magnifies the story of violence against women that epitomizes the power of patriarchal capitalism over women’s bodies.”

What did we witness last Wednesday? Donald Trump has done all this and was able to get the votes that he needed to become the President of the United States.

Then, about the massive displacement of people escaping war zones created by the US and its allies’ politics, which triggered a remilitarization of the borders, I wrote: “The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means.” Indifference to dehumanization is now going to be United States public policy.

While NAFTA guarantees the “free” circulation of capital, people, especially people from the southern border of the United States, have been impoverished by this treaty and dismissed if not eliminated. The border with Mexico has two sides, as I reported in 2014: “On the US – Mexico border, US border patrols are under investigation for having recently killed more people than ever before. An independent review, leaked to the Los Angeles Times, considered 67 shootings by US Border patrols at the Mexican border between January 2010 and October 2012. These resulted in 19 civilian deaths.” I added the story of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16 year-old boy who was on his way home when he was killed by US officers, from the other side of the fence. The officers on the US side shot him 10 times. He was killed with two bullets in his head and then butchered with eight more bullets in his back.”

The billionaire candidate Trump has had the most demeaning words to an entire population, normalizing hatred.

In one of the numerous articles that Women In and Beyond the Global published about sexual and reproductive rights, I wrote: “How the `life’ of the unborn has toppled the life of a woman is no mystery: a great dose of political cynicism serves vested interest and neoliberal economics to create a geography of increasing discrimination and vulnerability.”

Now, in terms of sexual reproductive rights the next move is not going to be to repeal the Hyde Amendment that was once hoped, but rather to overturn Roe v Wade! That is only going to be one aspect of it. The other part goes with the incarceration of women, “the deviant women.” The torture will continue!

Many have compared this election with Brexit. We should remember Jo Cox, the MP woman who was assassinated by the hand of hatred just few days before the election day, but she is not the only one to have died from patriarchal violence. In Egypt on January 24th, in Cairo, Egypt, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, a 32 years old secular socialist activist, was assassinated by the police along with 20 other demonstrators. I remarked: “In this harsh neoliberal order, accents of totalitarianism emerge to “Shut up all voices” and crackdown on dissent with no shame. Women are often the target of these acts of violence and political intimidation.”

The countless attacks on women particularly women of color since the election are violent political intimidation.

Finally, the reality of the not so natural disasters that are looming over us somehow prompted some important reaction of solidarity last year at the Cop 21 in Paris. I wrote then in the introduction to the interview with Sascha Gabizon, one of the co-facilitators of the Women Gender Constituency, a large coalition of feminists and women’s movements: “Climate disasters target women. As Sascha recalled, in the 1991 floods in Bangladesh 90% of the casualties were women. As climate disasters occur regularly, as in the Philippines, they impact in majority women, mainly because of gendered distribution of labor and roles. As a result, we see all kinds of radicalization against women with the widespread expansion of brutal practices against women, in their home, in their everyday life, in prisons and jails, as well as the erosion of women’s rights especially sexual and reproductive rights in an increasing number of countries.”

This is more than a sad time it is a time of unleashed global violence with enormous consequences. This neoliberal world that has treated economic and outrageous policy makers as priests has accepted a ruthless billionaire as a prophet! He cannot be a president and not my friends’ president.

 

(Photo Credit: Vocative / Ryan Beckler)

WIBG Radio: Luz Mora: Women’s rights are in danger with the rise of extreme right propaganda

In France, a collective of feminist organizations, unions and political parties brought the press, including Women In and Beyond the Global, together to launch an important website, Women’s Rights Against Extreme Rights. This website is a response to the deceitful ambiguities that the extreme right movements have developed to seduce the disenchanted electorate, especially women voters who have traditionally voted in lower numbers for the extreme right.

In order to gain these votes, the extreme right National Front party has adopted a slightly different strategy compared to its counterparts in Eastern Europe. The president of the National Front, FN, Marine Le Pen, daughter of the former president of the party, has pursued a campaign of “de-demonization” to soften her image compared to her father’s antisemitic, racist and anti-women diatribes. She managed to evict him from the party while still receiving financial support from his side. She has even presented herself as a feminist invoking the words of Simone De Beauvoir, the French iconic feminist intellectual. Le Pen likes to show herself as a normal working mom who divorced twice and who shares the value of most feminists.

But there is a lot to worry about with this cunning double talk, said Suzy Rojtman, one of the three spokespeople for the group at the press conference. She added that women’s rights are an important voting argument for the extreme right parties since women’s issues are often defended across party lines, in a country that provides free access to abortion and contraception.

When Marine Le Pen declares that she will respect the abortion decision of 1975 she also added that abortion will be de-reimbursed, throwing in that she would combat “comfort abortions” suggesting that it is too easy to get an abortion in France. She commonly blurs the discourses on reproductive rights and unemployment, basically proposing to create a minimum revenue so women won’t have to work while claiming abortion rights are too costly for the nation, therefore damaging the social system.

She even modernized her discourse about homosexuality. But none of that is confirmed by the votes of the FN’s MPs. The FN representatives voted against the bill on real equality and against the bill against sexual and social harassment in the French parliament, and in the European Parliament they voted with their colleagues from the extreme right from Poland, Hungary, Malta, and elsewhere, against the Estela report, the Zuber report and the Tarabella report respectively addressing the respect of reproductive rights and equality between women and men in Europe.

The FN also presents itself as an anti-system party while actually voting for austerity and neoliberal measures.

One thing Marine Le Pen expresses clearly is that the perpetrators of violence against women are immigrants and the lack of respect for family values. Ludicrous assertion, says Suzy Rojtman, and how can she said that since in France ethnic data are not allowed. Their claims in favor of the defense of Laicity hides their basic xenophobic approach opposing real non-Christian based laicity.

The new website shows the solidarity of feminist organizations with unions and political parties that do not always work together. This website will also provide tools for activists on the ground.

Luz Mora, from the Association VISA, an anti-fascist association of unions, discussed these issues with us.

 

(Image Credit 1: Women’s Rights Against Extreme Rights) (Image Credit 2: A l’encontre)

In Poland, women in black strike for women’s and human rights

In Poland last week women went on a general strike, dressed in black. Thousands demonstrated in the streets of cities to defend their remaining right to abortion as the government pushed for a total ban on abortion. The concept of women’s general strike was first used in Iceland on October 25, 1975 when 90% of women stopped working, taking care of children, cooking etc. They wanted equality and were fed up with low wages, low consideration, low everything. The entire country stopped. The effect was profound. The Polish women were after the same effect, fed up with seeing political and economic manipulations control their sexual and reproductive rights and putting their lives in jeopardy.

Since Poland transitioned to a capitalist system, reproductive rights including the right to abortion have been the recurrent issue, and women have seen their rights steadily reduced. Women in Poland won the right to abortion for social reasons in 1956. Nina Sankari for 50-50 magazine, recounts the work of Maria Jaszczuk, the MP who sponsored the original bill. She put in the public debate the crude reality of women’s right to decide for their lives, breaking the code of silence. At the time, more than 300 000 illegal abortions were practiced a year with 80 000 of them ending up in the hospital leading to a 2% death toll. Thanks to this bill, Polish women had enjoyed this reproductive right for over 36 years. But the so called democratic process gloated about by the capitalist order demanded the end of this basic women’s right to decide for themselves. Nina Sankari recalls that in 2007 shortly before her death at 90 years old, Maria Jaszczuk expressed her sadness to see all these basic women’s rights being wiped out.

Nina Sankari notes the irony of the infamous democratic transition bringing the Catholic Church with its conservative neoliberal allies back to power. In 1989, when the new constitution was being designed, the Church vetoed the concept of separation of church and state, of laicity or neutrality of the church. The Polish Catholic establishment was ready to play a crucial political role in the country.

Consequently, in 1993 one of the most regressive anti-abortion laws in Europe passed, allowing abortion in only three cases: if the woman’s life is in danger, if the fetus has serious disabilities, and if the pregnancy is the result of a rape including incestuous rape. But that was not enough for the conservative forces led by Jarosław Kaczinski. He is the leader of Law and Justice party that won the elections in October 2015.

Currently, the xenophobic religious neoliberal right is looming large in Europe. The current Polish leadership is in line with Viktor Orbán’s leadership in Hungary proclaiming religious notions on family as divinely imposed and reducing public services, especially when women’s rights are at risk. These changes constitute a breach in European laws. Recently three cases from Poland have been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. The latter found that women and girls in Poland “encountered unacceptable obstacles to access to safe and legal abortion.” It put Poland in violation with its responsibilities and obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Malta and Ireland are also in this position. Meanwhile, no official actions have changed this status quo. Only women and men’s street demonstrations have brought change.

This time, the Polish women’s strike defeated the bill that would have led to a total ban on abortion, including jail time for women seeking abortion and for doctors who would dare help them. As Gauri Van Gulik of Amnesty International said, “This is a huge victory for the millions of women and girls who mobilized, showed their fury, and successfully blocked a law which would have taken away their rights and endangered their health.”

This victory should lead to more actions in support of women’s rights and human rights. Each year in Poland, 1000 legal abortions are performed while an estimated 150, 000 clandestine abortions occur behind closed doors, not to forget that the lethal danger of clandestine abortion is spread according to social lines. The reduction of women’s rights accompanies many social and political restrictions. The women of Poland have shown the possibilities to counter the rise of the deadly combination of xenophobic, neoliberal and religious power.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Czarek Sokolowski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

(This article is part of the on-going collaboration between Women In and Beyond the Global and 50-50 magazine. Click here for 50-50’s coverage of Poland’s women in black.)

In France, Urvoas’ prison decision: More prisons, less humanity

Fresnes Prison

Fresnes Prison

In France, last August, Prime Minister Manuel Valls with his Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas advertized that a feasible and concrete plan would be announced soon to remedy the carceral disgrace of French prisons and jails, plagued with overpopulation and squalid conditions. They talked about building 6000 cells. This week, the Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas declared that 10 000 to 16 500 prisons cells will be added.

The minister made the announcement from Fresnes prison, an aging prison with about 200% occupation rate. As a congressman Mr. Urvoas opposed the building of additional prisons. Now as Minister of Justice he has succumbed to the populist vision sweeping Europe of increased imprisonment for more security. Consequently, the budget of 3 billion Euros would be mainly invested in bricks rather than in alternative restorative justice programs, as inscribed in the last bill passed by former Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira.

Instead, Mr. Urvoas declared that the administration would be adding cells, not places or spaces in an attempt to nuance the decision. This rhetoric comes from a principle of law conceived in 1875 in the French legal system that said that each detainee should have his or her own cell. In Fresne for instance they are 3 prisoners in a 9 square meter cell (30 square feet).

On the day of the announcement the French Public Radio France Inter recorded its programs in Fresnes in an effort to bring to public attention the reality of this shameful situation. They interviewed former detainees, a warden’s union representative, judges and penal counselors for reintegration, and Adeline Hazan, the president of the magistrate union, an independent body that controls all places where people are deprived of liberty.

The former detainees and wardens made clear that the place looks like a 19th century prison, filthy and sordid. They called prisons like Fresnes a pressure cooker for disaster. The union representative insisted that their mission should be to work with the detainees on their reintegration. This mission is made unattainable. In addition, in Fresnes, women’s quarters are 6 times smaller. Women are the forgotten population in prison.

The director of the prison explained that the detainees are eager to participate in activities, but, because of the lack of personnel, access to them is limited although mandated by law. Many would like to work; there too there are limitations including low wages and the non-respect of labor laws applied outside. In this environment of frustration and humiliation, it is not surprising that 62% reoffend within 5 years after their release. By comparison, only 32 to 34% who have received alternative sentences reoffend.

Many criticized Mr. Urvoas’ proposition. Magistrates explained that the judicial system is becoming harsher, emphasizing that because of the lack of appropriate budget and public pressure in this period of instability the judges are often forced to send the convicted or pretrial person to prison and jail.

In 2014, Christiane Taubira passed a bill that should have made alternative sentences the common law. Her idea relied on another principle: the principle that prison should be the last resort. Despite claims of good intentions, this law has not been enforced with adequate financial means. Meanwhile, private contractors are entering the jail and prison world, following the neoliberal search for investments with fast returns.

In France, 11 000 out of the 68 000 detainees are sentenced to 6 months and 28 % of the carceral population is in pretrial detention. If most of these sentences were commuted into open-space alternative individualized sentences, as prescribed by the Taubira’s bill, the population in jails would decline rapidly.

The approach adopted by the French Government signals yet another alignment to the logic of incarceration and tough-on-crime policies in the context of pre presidential election, with the combination of fear, security and neoliberal investments looming in the background.

 

(Photo Credit: BrunodesBaumettes)

From Jacqueline Sauvage to Bresha Meadows, the State abuses women victims of violence

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Bresha Meadows in 2015

Two weeks before her 15th birthday Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her father in his sleep with the gun he used to threaten her and her mother. She was defending her mother and herself and still the first response from the state was to imprison Bresha. Despite all evidence of domestic extreme violence the state unleashed more violence on a child who had already experienced and witnessed violent mental and physical abuse. This time prosecution of the victim takes place in Ohio close to Cleveland, where the child Bresha Meadows is facing the unbearably violent vicious US penal system.

As Bresha turned 15 while incarcerated at the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center, no visitors for her birthday were allowed, signaling a clear lack of interest for her well being after everything she had been through. Her mother, Brandi, had been beaten since her first pregnancy and almost lost it due to the severity of her injuries. Year after year, for 22 years of marriage, her husband, Jonathan Meadow, used brutal, emotional and physical isolation techniques to control his wife, regularly threatening to kill her children, especially in recent years.

Bresha Meadows suffered directly from these conditions. As she grew older, she realized her father could eliminate anyone at anytime. Bresha escaped her home twice to seek help with her aunt Latessa, telling her how their father was trying to isolate their mom from her children as well as the constant physical abuse.

Despite all the evidence Bresha’s act was not judged as an act of defense. Instead, she had to be harshly punished. There is a manifest differential of punishment between a case like hers and male killing their partners or committing racist crimes.

Why does the state want to punish not only battered girls and women like Bresha but also pregnant women or women wielding their right to control their reproduction? 75% to 80% of women incarcerated for murder were battered and killed in self-defense, not to forget that class and race play a crucial role in their incarceration generally. Moreover, 84% of the US girls in custody were victims of abuse or experienced domestic violence. Even scarier is that the last comprehensive data on US children who killed their parents was published in 1990 and at that time 90% of the 280 children who killed their parents were abused.

According to Michel Foucault, “Systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain political economy of the body.” Bresha Meadow’s incarceration had nothing to do with reducing crime, had less than nothing to do with ending violence against women. The latter is a crime that has international recognition with a day, November 25th the international day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to raise awareness.

As opposed to Jacqueline Sauvage, the French woman also incarcerated for killing her husband, Bresha, if prosecuted as an adult, will face life in prison because of mandatory sentencing while Sauvage is going to be released in January since France does not have mandatory sentencing anymore and uses a system of sentence remission. Even if the judge decides to keep her case in juvenile court, she will still face a harsh sentence thanks to the complicated legal system in Ohio. In both cases the judges demonstrate a vision of the political economy of the woman’s body in which violence against women is permitted and women are on their own.

The ultimate action should not be to only find ways to bypass mandatory sentencing in the US or influence judges in France. Rather, we need to expose the patriarchal rules and economy that use prison as an instrument of control of women’s bodies, which is exactly the reason Bresha’s father thought that it was fine to put his wife and family in a box. As Latessa explained, “If they stepped out of that box, they were reprimanded and put right back in that box.”

Meanwhile Bresha who was living in hell with no help from the state to change the situation of violence in her family is now living in the hell of the state jail.

Please consider signing the petition that calls for the immediate release of Bresha and demands the withdrawal of all charges.

https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/free-bresha-meadows

 

(Photo Credit: Lena Cooper / Cleveland Plain Dealer)