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)

Where Have All Trump’s Victims Gone?

 


It is barely two weeks since Trump won the election and suddenly the media attention on the women who came forward about being sexually assaulted by him has vanished. The networks are now intent on normalizing Trump and are not touching the questions: How did we elect a sexual predator as President? How come the women who came forward with their stories have now disappeared? Will our judicial system throw out cases brought forward by women who have experienced rape? Will students in fraternities be emboldened to rape with impunity on the basis of the precedent set by Trump?

At a recent National Organization of Women’s New York convention. Jane Manning and Emma Slane, prosecuting attorneys for two women who were raped after being drugged unconscious spoke about their cases. They described their cases as difficult particularly because they had to prove that because the victims were unconscious they had no memory. They won their cases because the victims had used the rape kit, and the attorneys were able to use techniques such as the hair test, where the DNA matched the hair sample from the attacker.

In Trump’s case, the women not only remember being assaulted by him, but they had told their close friends about it; therefore, we also have credible testimonies. So isn’t it bizarre that at a time when prosecuting attorneys are able to win difficult cases, Trump’s victims have vanished into the woodwork? What’s more, in New York the statute of limitations has been lifted, a victory that should make some of Trump’s victims press charges more easily.

The woman who said she was raped by Trump when she was 13 has now withdrawn her charge on account of receiving death threats from Trump’s supporters. Does this mean women will be more afraid now to bring cases against attackers who are powerful, because they will be threatened by a society that sees the victim as the “problem,” not the rapist? So, what is the difference between this current crisis and of sexual assault that goes unpunished in countries like Pakistan that we are quick to criticize for the same problem?

Remember Dominique Strauss Kahn who assaulted a maid in a New York hotel? His trial lasted 4 years and it prevented him from running for the Presidency in France. It is indeed deplorable that Trump who is more powerful is not held accountable. And the media’s silence is deafening.

And why aren’t we taking any action, even if major women’s organizations like NOW have devoted much of their energy to fight sexual violence and bring perpetrators to justice? Why aren’t millions marching outside Trump Tower so a sexual predator is not elected President? How come millions are marching in South Korea to impeach their President for her criminal offences while we who believe ourselves to be a superpower are laboring under a pall of silence about this horrendous double crime—that of sexual assault and the crime of electing a perpetrator?

Just when we thought we are finally able to fight against hegemonies such as economic class and status of perpetrators of sexual violence, we are now encountering someone who indeed believes, along with a puppet media, that he is immune from the law.

 

(Photo Credit: Cisternyard)

Musasa: A sheltering tree for and of women of Zimbabwe

 

In Zimbabwe, two out of every three women and girls have experienced a form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. According to a 2006 study, 32% of women in Zimbabwe reported physical abuse by marital partners since the age of 16 years. That was then. Now it’s worse.

The 2006 study was conducted for the Musasa Project, one of the oldest women’s and feminist organizations in Zimbabwe. The Musasa Project was founded in 1988 in response to the escalating violence against women. Immediately, the women of the Musasa Project recognized that their work would involve service provision, advocacy, community organizing, and often raising a ruckus. The women of the Musasa Project have been leaders in every step of the women’s struggles in Zimbabwe. At the national level, this has meant from the earlier Constitutional processes to the domestic violence legislation campaigns to the more recent Constitutional processes to today.

According to their Executive Director Netty Musanhu. “I am sure you are aware of the crisis that the country has been in for the last decade. Things are getting worse – women are bearing the brunt of all that. We are seeing an increase in rape and sexual violence. We ask ourselves the question, if we are having high levels of sexual violence in times of relative peace, what does this mean?”

Despite an ongoing war on women, in which one in three girls is raped before the age of 18, Zimbabwe is officially a post-conflict country. It’s `at peace.’ Crisis is not conflict, according to the men who lead multinational agencies and form public opinion and governmental policy.

Meanwhile, by the government’s own assessment, at least 1500 children were raped in the first five months of 2014. To no one’s surprise, the overwhelming majority of rapes was committed by close relatives, parents or guardians.

The national government this week launched a National Action Plan on rape, which could be a good thing. It has said it is declaring war on rape, which cannot be a good thing. Sexual violence generally, and rape specifically, cannot be addressed with the means or mentality of warfare.

What exactly would war on rape mean, anywhere? What specifically would it mean in Zimbabwe, in which remand prisons are choking with women and men awaiting trial for years in cages in which, often, there is no usable water, food, electricity, or health care, in which people have died of starvation while awaiting trial?

In Shona, musasa means sheltering tree. The women knew what they were doing when they chose that name. The organization works from an explicitly intersectional place, in which domestic violence is HIV and AIDS which are poverty and wealth, which are access to safe spaces. For that reason, the Musasa Project continually supports evidence-based research to see what the situation is, while they sustain a physical shelter for women and children; meet and work with the government, especially legislators and police; run a hotline; monitor communities; and generally try to keep ahead of the arcs of violence. They always keep their eyes on the prize: women’s emancipation through the establishment of women’s power.

In Zimbabwe, elections loom large, and the patriarch is going to go out with a bang. Women who oppose violence, women who work their whole lives to transform violence into justice and peace know that a war on violence is not the answer. Musasa is the answer: a growing, flowing, sheltering tree that connects, one day, sheltering earth to sheltering sky.

 

(Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/musasazim)

Sexual violence, human rights and the media

Sexual violence is usually not covered as a human rights issue.  As the archetypical normalized, invisible, overlooked and structural human right violation, it is more often treated as an everyday, normal problem rather than a violation of women’s rights to health, life, bodily integrity, education, and more. The culture of impunity that surrounds sexual violence, and the fact that rape is notoriously underreported, can hardly be detached from the media’s failure to communicate to people that they actually can report these as crimes.

It is a missed opportunity, and a troubling one, because the way the media chooses to frame sexual violence influences how people think about rape. They can shape, challenge and perpetuate dominant perceptions or illuminate harmful misconceptions and shed a light on the contestations and anxieties that surround the topic. Moreover, they can channel the outrage and disgust towards, for example, child-rapists into anger and calls for accountability towards our governments.  Making sexual violence newsworthy as a human rights violation, rather than something that happens to happen as long as bad men are around, matters.

Making rape newsworthy is not where the media’s responsibility ends. Exposing power-relations that underlie human rights violations also counts. As feminists have long demonstrated, rape is about power. Coverage of sexual violence shouldn’t end with a narrow description of what has happened to whom and how, but should also contextualize the events with an explanation of gendered power relations. Sexual violence should be seen as a violent performance of patriarchy and an enactment of masculinity; both pervasive and structural forces, but also fluid and therefore changeable. Focusing on the violent masculinities doesn’t mean identifying it as the sole cause; the blame must still be placed on the perpetrator. But not without mentioning the power structures that enabled or encouraged him to commit this crime; and the responsibility of the government to take action and show political will to fix these pervasive social ills. If the media would educate us all a bit better around patriarchy and masculinity, we might actually tell our governments to put political will behind their human rights talk.

The media’s ability to either encourage or discourage rape survivors to report their crimes to the police matters as well. Reading about arrests, trials and convictions and the laws that are violated with an act of nonconsensual sex is more likely to incline women to report rape to the police than grim media narratives that simply describe place, time and brutality.

The media have a responsibility to make sexual violence a human rights issue. Human rights education, then, should also include an education of the educators. Both editors and reporters need to know and understand what human rights are if a ‘rights culture’ is to be built.

 

(Photo Credit: Pinterest)

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa, and we went down to hear a friend of mine speak at a local event. It was faintly cheering: we got to sing Malibongwe, which is the one struggle song white people can actually sing. There was clapping, and a bit of praying, which went down well. We then settled in for a desperately dull morning, in which we all bemoaned the general state of women in South Africa, and the wave, torrent, oh all right, tsunami of violence that is unleashed on us every day.

Yawn.

Yes, we agreed, we are dying. In fact, more than we can count, because the statistics are so unhelpful, given the level of underreporting of rape. Yes, we agreed, it’s very bad. We must fight patriarchy. We nodded our heads. Yes, indeed we must.

And speaker after speaker belaboured this, as though we had just woken up, and decided to talk about this for the first time. Lordy, it was dull. Except for one moment, one interesting electrifying moment. A woman academic, and feminist, and part of the national Commission on Gender Equality said, in one of the tightest, most frustrated voices I have ever heard, ‘We should go and stop the traffic. We should go to the nearest national road, and protest, and stop the traffic.”

And the hall of women groaned and rumbled, and it seemed like for a moment, for a flicker of time, that they would rise up as one and march, limping and dancing, out into the streets and burn things, and break things, and generally get seriously out of hand. It seemed to me that this wave of the possible reached her across the stage and she caught herself, aware of her responsibilities, and said, ‘No, not that I am suggesting violence or anything. But we must do something.’

The hall settled back down. We went to lunch. But that thought spoken aloud is still ringing in my ears.

 

(Photo Credit: http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/)

So we were sitting around

So we were sitting around, chatting about stuff, and the conversation turned to crime, as it does, and my colleague mentioned a rape involving a number of policemen which had apparently taken place recently. She couldn’t recall how many policemen had been involved so I googled for more information, as one does, using “policeman rape za” as my search terms.

Well, I had to read quite a bit to get to the one my colleague meant, as the search threw up several news media links, hours or days old. There was one article on timeslive.co.za by journalist Philani Nombembe, which usefully summarized the most current cases – a 28-year-old constable based at Touwsriver police station was charged with rape 3 days ago. Last week a 41-year-old policeman appeared in the Paarl Magistrate’s Court charged with raping a 14-year-old girl on a number of occasions in April. The warrant officer is said to be a priest.In Gauteng, a 30-year-old constable was arrested in Vereeniging for allegedly kidnapping and raping a 13-year-old girl on July 2.A 46-year-old police captain appeared in the Worcester Magistrate’s Court charged with raping a woman in a police vehicle in June.Another policeman appeared yesterday in the Randburg Regional Court, in Johannesburg, to be charge for a string of crimes, including 14 of rape.In addition to the reports in the timeslive article, a former Melkbos police station commander was found guilty a month ago of raping a woman and sexually assaulting another while both were in custody.

Did I miss something? Was there some kind of order that was misconstrued? Has the police force lost its collective mind? Did some important politician say something about rape being ok? (OK, never mind that one.) Do their communications people not realize that after Marikana the SAPS have what might be termed ‘reputational issues’? Which can only be exacerbated by the apparent silence of the cops on this phenomenon?

The SAPS Twitter feed is silent on the issue for the last three days, and doesn’t mention these cases either in that time. An oversight? In terms of media releases, the Minister did commend the police for catching a rape suspect in KZN two days ago, who is described as someone ‘who has been committing various murder and rape crimes around the Tongaat area.’ I assume the suspect isn’t a cop, as nothing is mentioned about this plague of biblical proportions which has hit our police services. Can someone comment on these startling events? Or is my worst suspicion true – there’s no comment because it isn’t news, just business as usual?

 

(Photo Credit: Gallo Images / Thinkstock /Times)

How not to study sexualized violence in the DRC

“Soldiers and militiamen have raped women around Bukavu.” New York Times

Judging by the volumes of media productions and the increasing attention devoted to the topic by various organizations, interest in and awareness of sexualized violence that rages armed conflicts have amplified these past few years. The narrative of sexualized violence has also evolved. At first, ‘rape as a weapon of war’ used to dominate popular understandings of sexualized violence in conflict. That was later criticized for being reductionist in emphasizing the assumed psychological strategy of humiliating the enemy. Understanding rapes that occur in war zones as exclusively underpinned by a particular combatant motive now seems to offer little. However, thanks to many studies and reports, we know that armed conflicts alter and intensify a society’s patterns of rape. The civil wars in Spain and Sri Lanka, Second World War Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Nazi Germany: the list goes on and on and on….

Despite the overabundance of examples, many today associate wartime rape primarily or exclusively with the DRC. Depending on international media to shape our grasp of worldwide human rights violations, many of us have learned to identify wartime sexualized violence with women in the DRC’s North Kivu region.

Two women who played a major role in bringing the systematic rape of Congolese women by soldiers into the world’s conscience are the former U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who pushed the topic on the US’s foreign policy agenda in 2009, and Margaret Wallström, who, during her term as the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, coined the now famous term ‘Rape Capital of the World’ in reference to the DRC in April 2010. Former UN Special Envoy and current co-director of AIDS-Free World Stephen Lewis also argued that “there is no precedent for the intense brutality of the war on women in Congo” and that “the world has never dealt with such a twisted and blistering phenomenon”.

War, sadistic gang rape, vicious killing, violence deserve prioritization across the social, political and legislative agendas. Two spaces in which these issues are focused on are development and postgraduate gender and development programs, both of which are largely occupied by those privileged with access to universities, travel grants, research positions, international development jobs. In reality, we’re talking about white middle-class European and American women with a strong sense of idealism and a soft spot for difference and `the other’. Not surprisingly, when the realities of sexualized rape in eastern DRC began to emerge, more than a few were drawn to the topic.

In a world where violations of women’s rights continue to be marginalized, normalized and invisibilized, demanding attention for the brutalities women face is a good thing. After all, it takes exposure, shock, outrage, solidarity and a sense of urgency to mobilize resources and political will to investigate the crisis and take action. However, when one particular group of Western women comes to study and define the `truth’ of a less privileged group of `other’ women, how does their positionality and their inevitably chalenged grasp of context `on the ground’ affect the subject women, the women are being studied, `empowered’, `supported

In what ways ways is their interest connected to the longstanding colonial fascination with subaltern brutalities and Black rapists? Such questions might seem like a futile, even galling exercise in the face of the high rape estimates and the urgency with which the crisis must be addressed. Surely the fear for racially stereotyping certain groups by researching their perpetration shouldn’t lead to a neglect of massive human suffering? That’s right; it shouldn’t.

However, not all research carried out is actually helpful or constructive in reducing the violence, as Marsha Henry, points out, in her piece, `Ten Reasons not To Write your Masters Dissertation on Sexual Violence in War’: “Here’s another important reason not to write a dissertation on sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC. It’s been done already! Students continually ask me ‘can you suggest a couple of books on the subject?’. Where to start? There is so much to be said about gender and violence in militarised contexts more generally, but there has also been a great deal written about by a number of scholars. And it is precisely this body of knowledge that has sometimes been misanalysed by students. That is, although much of this writing has politically exposed the issue, students often read it as a holistic canon on the subject, interpreting the text as they wish. Dissertations often become regurgitated and simplistic snapshots of other work, reinforcing particular perspectives and portrayals and therefore contributing to the reification of the subject (missing a cogent assessment of narrative forms). A rhetorical stasis is created, where certain material and citations are circulated and re-circulated, with little new insight or critical perspective provided”.

One explanation for the disproportionately large interest in the DRC, compared to other conflicts, is the horror at the brutalities women have faced. If indeed this horror plays a key role in igniting students’ interest, how does that shape the findings and value of the final work? According to Henry, it does so in a troubling way: “Honing in on the bodily experience of rape, for example, can remove rape in war from the wider social, cultural, economic and political context in which it always takes place. It can be an abstraction of the total experience. The affective impact is that readers of these dissertations distance themselves from subjects in the studies”.

Is the topic compelling because of the opportunity to contribute towards understanding and ending the violence? At what point is this opportunity compromised by sensationalizing thick descriptions? If this type of research adds neither value nor insight, what might be its negative effects? For example, imagine a future generation of students googling ‘rape and war in the early 2000s’ and being bombarded by references to the DRC, while reading little about all the other conflicts where similar violence occurred. Wouldn’t that tell them rape-and-war was unique to the DRC? To Africa? Wouldn’t that particular type of disproportional interest inevitably lead to a distorted, and racist, version of the truth? The point is not for students to ignore the topic, but to critically check the roots, aim and fruitfulness of its appeal and to consider the effects it may have.

 

(Image Credit: The New York Times)

The women of Namibia say, “Rape is not NAMIBIAN”

We mean business, and we really are serious. We are just tired of being disempowered, being talked to like little children.”

In Namibia last week, Police Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga issued a ban on miniskirts. He warned women that too short and revealing clothes are not African. He acknowledged that in Namibia there’s something called a Constitution, but then went on to explain that “culture” trumps constitutional rights. He then warned that wearing clothes that are too revealing would lead to arrest.

The Namibia Press Agency reports that 40 women were arrested, over the festive season, for wearing “hot-pants.” The women were held in custody overnight and then released to their parents, with lectures on public indecency. As the Police Inspector explained, “I don’t want to prescribe how people should wear, even if it’s new fashion style, it should be within our tradition.”

While women have been threatened with arrest for wearing miniskirts, it has been noted that no men have been threatened with arrest for wearing sagging pants. Apparently `culture’ and `tradition’ only `protect’ women.

Not surprisingly, the women rejected the ban, and even more its political context, vociferously and boisterously. Women’s organizations filed protests. Women, and men, wrote in opposition. Women and men organized public demonstrations. Finally, the Inspector General claimed, predictably, that he had been misquoted. The actual arrests of women in hot pants can’t be brushed away quite so conveniently.

Namibian women understand “culture” and “tradition” and know that assaults on their clothing are never what they seem. Banning the miniskirt, of course, is itself a long and often violent tradition. Edith Head banned the miniskirt from the Academy Awards. (Somewhere Seth MacFarlane is singing, “We saw your knees”, and it’s still not funny.) At various times, the governments of Swaziland, Russia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have outlawed or come close to outlawing miniskirts. In recent years, women wearing miniskirts have been attacked because of their attire in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa.

In each case, the women rose, organized, and attacked, because in each case, the women understood that the attack on their clothes was an attack on their bodies and themselves.

In the recent past, Namibian women have been organizing, working at the unfinished business of creating national and local democracy. Herero and Nama women have been organizing for the rights and realities of indigenous populations as they have organized to increase the presence and power and expand the rights of Herero and Nama women. Namibian women farmers have been organizing and developing sustainable agriculture political economies. And Namibian women, who were forcibly sterilized, without their consent, have been organizing, organizing, organizing, and gaining ground.

When Namibian women heard of the Inspector General’s remarks, they understood the context immediately: sexual violence. Namibian women know about the sexual harassment, violence and threats they often face, for example at taxi ranks, and they know it has nothing to do with their clothing. Namibian women know about rape and other forms of sexual assault, including what gets called “corrective punishment”. They know about the everydayness of date rape. They know about the often-limited access to sexual and reproductive health services, and the severe restrictions concerning abortion, and they know that lack of access and prohibition is part of a structure of violence against women. HIV-positive women know about the reproductive and sexual rights violations they suffer repeatedly, and in particular in doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals. Women know they are tired partly because all matters of contraception and family planning are left to them. They take the burden and the blame.

They know all that. They know the miniskirt is a diversion, on one hand, and serious, on the other.

And they said as much at the protest rally in Windhoek:

There is no excuse to rape a woman, no excuse, no matter what she wears.”

The women of Namibia refused to be limited to a discussion of clothing, of mini this and hot that. Instead, they put the issue forward directly and squarely. As one placard said, “Rape is not NAMIBIAN.”

 

(Video Credit: OATV News / YouTube)

Letter To The Decent Guy

Dear Mr. Decent Normal Guy,

For a long time, I’ve been longing to have this talk with you, but was at a loss for the right words. I wanted to ask you stuff in a respectful and cordial manner, a manner that encourages dialogue and open answers. I wanted to be able to trust in the safety of your goodness, to bare my soul and be vulnerable with you without my twitter account being hacked or overwhelmed with cyber aggression. The last thing I want is to attack you, for I need your strength and solidarity more than ever.

Let’s talk about the issue of violence and abuse towards women. I need to ask you certain questions, I need to know where you stand on this.

You are the good husbands, sons and fathers. The men we love, who make us proud. The men we dream of marrying, the heroes we hope our sons will become. You are the breadwinner and the job holder; the decent guy who supports, respects and honors women. The man who pulls his weight at home.

Still my question is about a problem that also concerns you. It concerns the plethoric display of violence, abuse and undiluted misogyny which the “bad guy”,  your fellow specimen of the male species, (let’s call him) your evil twin, has been dishing out to women worldwide.

You know, for a long time, I was convinced that you and your brother are not identical at all. It seemed easy enough to tell you both apart. You were as different as night and day.

But today I am not so sure I know who you are. I can no longer blindly vouch for the honor of your convictions. Today, in this age of internet anonymity, the situation has changed. Thanks to the wonders of internet your brother and you now deploy the same avatar. One can no longer tell you apart.

It is hard to say where one brother ends and the other begins. I thought I knew you so well; that I would always recognize you inspite of any given circumstances.

Today I have come to realize that I don’t know you at all. I can’t in all certainty identify what you stand for, it seems you and your brother have morphed into a bizarre siamese entity.

Recently, I saw the Tedxwomen video of Anita Sarkeesian. It was about cyber harassment and misogynism. The magnitude of rape threats, murder threats and other acts of cyber aggression channelled to this woman was staggering. The lengths to which hundreds of men went, to try to make her life hell makes one speechless.

I wonder at the identity of the guys who did this.  Are they the same guys as the rapists in the Congo, South Africa and Srebrenica? Of course not. Those are the “bad” guys. Those are the savages. The monstrous, kingless, uninitiated creatures who have never learned that the quality of a true warrior lies in the fact that he is a protector of boundaries and is in service to a purpose greater than himself. These gruesome and pathetic manimals, these wretched creatures enslaved by testosterone and madness. These underachievers, losers who evolution left behind. Surely, these blights on humanity can’t be “our” men, right?

Uhm…. wrong.

I wish the answer was all that easy and concise.

You, the normal men, are the guys who did all that stuff to Ms.Sarkeesian. You, the very same decent guys we are married to, the same guys who call us mom and grandma, the very ones who work in offices beside us and raise our kids together with us. You, the guys we make love to at night, the guys who take out the trash in the morning. You, the normal, decent, savage, good, bad guy. Of course there is no evil twin. You are all of it; he’s all contained in You.

For as far back as history goes, women have been struggling with issues of gender equality. We have fought to obtain every right, every privilege, every square inch of equality that we possess today. It was never handed over freely, it has been an eternal struggle with you.

Granted, you have supported us along the way and without you, the struggle would have been futile. It was you, the decent man, who convinced the other men to open their eyes, to expand their intellect, to hasten their evolution so as to comprehend the urgency of our plight.

Today females all over the world are still victims of grand scale violence and abuse. Today women all over the world are regrouping and fighting back by educating themselves; by empowering one another and externalizing these issues. Women have made this problem a women’s issue and men like you have supported us from the sidelines.

But you know what?

What I miss the most in this whole violence-from-men-against-women-issue; what profoundly breaks my heart, is the absence of the avalanche of outrage from normal men like you. How come this male perpetrated problem is perceived by all as a women’s issue? Why aren’t men rising up in masses, hitting the streets and taking a stand against this horrific misrepresentation of their gender?

Why are decent normal men like you not publicly rising up in multitudes and redefining manhood and saying: “We don’t want to be associated with these monsters!” Why aren’t men teaching their sons, brothers and peers what real manhood is all about?

Why aren’t men volunteering their time en masse, in service to their communities to intensely re-educate and initiate boys into what real, hate-free manhood is all about? Why aren’t the decent men voluntarily spreading the gospel, going to- and speaking up in prisons, educational centers, sport clubs and offices?  Where are the male evangelists preaching love and respect of women to their fellow men?

Why do female crisis- and domestic violence centers exist worldwide and not one male-initiated prevention center? Why on earth is this male generated problem still a women’s problem?

We are your mothers and your sisters. Your daughters; for crying out loud! We are in this together, as your only partners on the planet. According to an ancient african proverb, “When the eyes weep, the nose cannot fail to join”. We need you as much as you need us. How can you claim to love us and yet stand at the sidelines, watching your brothers maim and destroy us? Don’t you care about us at all?

Aren’t we worth fighting for?

Until men make this a MALE problem, until you, the decent guy, stops being an accidental tourist, until you step out of the secondary supportive role, into the primary protagonists’ role; unless you take the full responsibility for this culture of violence towards women,  I am afraid that all the efforts we women have been making will never be more than that and misogynist inspired violence will never end.

It is alright to try to cure the “symptoms” of an illness: making women self aware and empowered: battered women’s shelters and assertivity classes, pepper spray and self defence lessons; blah, blah, blah.  But the crux of the problem, the missing link in this issue sadly remains the absence of primary male involvement and the fact that enough men do not feel enough outrage, shame and compassion to own and prioritize this issue.

Yes I know that even women are violent too, that there are enough cases of women battering men. This too is very wrong. Nevertheless, compared to the magnitude of the atrocities that men have and are perpetrating, these cases are practically non-existent.

I believe that until men wake up with the burning conviction that these acts are an insult to manhood and everything humanity stands for; until most men evolve to a level of compassion where the wellbeing of humanity becomes priority number one; until the unlikely hero, the unobtrusive decent guy, steps into the gaping vacancy and assumes his cataclysmic role in the process, there will never be an end to rape and violence towards women.

Chinello Ifebigh

How the corporate university exploits sexual assault

Sexual assault happens on university and college campuses.  It happens a lot.  More often than not, women are on the receiving end of this violence.

How does the university respond when it becomes aware of such violence?  It responds with blaming and insulting survivors, with bogus advice about not drinking alcohol, and with purposely underfunding resources for survivors.  One way or another, the university removes itself from the narrative and responsibility, and places the work of preventing sexual assault on individual students, often individual women.

This is institutional violence, the violence that flows from institutions like the university through the active neglect of certain groups deemed extra, or surplus.  The story of institutional violence is the story of a crisis, and that crisis is a lack: a lack of institutional responsibility, a lack of proper safety measures, a lack of proper resources for survivors, and a supposed lack of a proper amount of time for the university to put together a proper response.  The university actively creates these lacks, crises, and violence.

Stories of sexual assault and university neglect repeat, campus to campus.  These cases of sexual assault appear to fit the model of the “crisis ordinary,” when crisis is everywhere and inescapable.  The crisis ordinary gives the university the excuse to hide behind resources it fails to provide or else provides paltry, inadequate sums.  The crisis ordinary of sexual assault lets us see the inherent instability in the university’s bumbling, ineffective responses to this violence.  It also allows us to re-narrate the crisis, and the new narration might go something like this:

There are women who have been sexually assaulted.  These women do the work of finding and utilizing resources for survivors, the work of telling and re-telling their stories, and the work of demanding accountability from the university and its administration.

The university increasingly wants diversity.  But it has not provided adequate resources to survivors of sexual assault and further pressures survivors to do their own work of coordinating resources.  Then, the university shows its cruelty by insulting survivors for not following “widely accepted” advice.  Within the supposedly diverse community of the university, survivors and their labor are produced as victims, as extra, as surplus, as valueless, as the university backs away slowly.

The university passes off the actual work of diversity, of maintaining a safe and inclusive community, onto survivors of sexual assault—and it makes a profit!  It diverts the savings from this unpaid work to projects that are in its real interests: accumulating as much capital in as little time as possible.  The university is not merely the university, but the corporate university.

The corporate university appears diverse through the spectacle of branding, but this hides the violence underneath: the violence of sexual assault, the violence of workers’ rights abuses on its ever-expanding campuses, and the violence of producing women, people of color, LGBTIQ people, disabled people, and others as key members of its so-called diverse community at the same it produces them as victims.  None of this is shocking—it’s business as usual, ordinary business, for the corporate university.

To abolish institutional violence, we must abolish the farce of the institution that is the corporate university.  It is in organizing for abolition that we find alternatives.

 

(Photo Credit: Nicholas Mirzoeff)