European Elections: Let’s organize hope with a feminist voice!

The campaign for this weekend’s European elections has seen the formation of lists that express a strong resistance to conservative, neoliberal and nationalistic attempts to control the European Parliament. Among these newly formed political entities is the Feminist Party for a Europe of Solidarity. This election is an opportunity for feminists to argue in the political realm. The public campaign system allows them to have their campaign clip filmed by professionals and mandates space for them in the media.

Each country in Europe will vote to elect their Members of the European Parliament (MEP). Then the MEPs regroup according to political visions and agreements to form groups. In the past Parliament several issues concerning women’s rights were downplayed.

The 2008 Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1607 showed how the EU has delayed a clear positioning on women’s rights to control their own bodies. In December 2013, the European parliament failed to vote for the Estrela report that stated that reproductive rights are human rights. The reports spoke about the role of access to contraception and abortion especially for young women in the advancement of gender and economic equality in Europe. These lists demand the right to abortion to be inscribed in the European Charter, which, ideally, woud constrain the countries (Poland, Ireland and Malta) that have no such right to take action.

In France, Caroline de Haas, the top candidate for the Paris region, affirms that public policies are not neutral. In the rise of neoliberal debt economies, women are the most vulnerable to their policies. The austerity measures that have swept European countries recommend cuts on public services. Women are the most dependent on public services, which include reproductive services. Across Europe, women constitute an average of 70% of civil servants. When pay cuts and hiring freeze are the economic tools that governments adopt, the consequences for women and ultimately for society are dire. We have seen the devastation of these policies in Greece. In this destabilization of the civil society, violence against women has increased and the difficulties to report these crimes remain significant across Europe.

The Feminist Party program demands that the EU protect migrant women’s work conditions, whether for pay or not. Women are generally underpaid compared to their male counterparts, but when their immigration status is uncertain, the gap increases. The “ represent half of the migrants residing in Europe. Feminists in the Green party have also been critical of the immigration and refugee’s policies resulting in mistreatment of migrants.

The European feminist candidates, half of whom are men, assert that the feminist project is a political project in which both women and men must work together. That project is vast. The lists have been formed in Sweden with one candidate likely to have a seat, as well as Germany and France. In other countries, feminist political voices are heard in the Green Party, in other smaller progressive lists and in socialist coalitions. Feminists are realistic and clear: “Before changing the mentalities, which will take a long time, direct actions have to be taken. That is why feminism has to become a political matter.” The goal is to fight for new majorities and new solidarities and to fight the political apathy that the TINA (there is no alternative) doctrine has encouraged.

The fight is real, as nationalist parties have progressed all over Europe. Feminists know that gender does not guarantee feminism. Angela Merkel has fostered neoliberal policies with dire consequences for women’s rights and reproduction rights. Marine Le Pen the leader of the French nationalist party is promoting hatred and is ready to support the Spanish government’s breach on reproductive rights.

These lists have triggered positive reactions also among other progressive candidates who perceive the importance of building coalitions to force women’s rights and organize resistance to neoliberal infringement on public policies. Clearly, the threats of nationalistic and neoliberal demons are real. But as Paulo Freire stated, “Despair is unconvincing…and hope is reliable.” Let’s organize hope with a feminist voice!


(Image Credit: Féministes pour une Europe solidaire)

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.


Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.


(Photo Credit: BeBlogerra)

Maids: bais, confiage, mujeres unidas y activas, pigavdrag, vårdnadsbidrag

Mumbai’s bais, domestic workers, received a modicum of recognition when the state of Maharastra passed the Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board Bill at the end of December. Maharastra is the seventh state to pass a domestic workers’ bill. There are an estimated 500,000 domestic workers, mainly women, in Mumbai alone, and over a million across the state, according to government estimates. Domestic worker unions and associations, who have been lobbying for such a bill for twenty years, are supportive. Meanwhile, “State labour minister Nawab Malik, though, has termed this a “welfare measure”, adding that enforcement (punishment for violation) would not be considered at this stage.”  When it comes to domestic workers, the rule of law always translates them into recipients, or worse clients, of welfare.  The legislation emerged from women domestic workers’ decades long sustained campaigns.

There’s the rule of law and there’s the rule of household. Togo has confiage, or entrustment. Rural families send their daughters to live with urban relatives. The girls are supposed to get education, and in exchange they are to `perform’ domestic chores. Here’s what’s been documented: beatings, deprivation, rape. Guess what? The conditions of adult domestic workers, all women, is just as bad. In 2007 the Togolese government categorized domestic labor as one of the worst forms of labor. So, CARE International worked with a recruitment agency to help them improve their working conditions. Then the agency helped the domestic workers to organize a domestic workers’ union. Workers complain to the agency, and the agency places them in a different household. The offending household loses a domestic, for two seconds. No negotiations, no consultations, no strikes, no change in dominant order. No unions.

In the United States: “Employed mostly in private homes, domestic workers experience levels of exploitation and physical abuse rarely seen elsewhere. Mostly women and of color, they face those conditions without the protection of collective bargaining or other union tactics. As nannies, caregivers for the elderly, and housekeepers, they have remained almost invisible, their lives often akin to modern-day slavery. An estimated 1.5 million (U.S. Census Bureau) face these conditions.” As in Togo, as in India, domestic workers, mostly women, are organizing. In the U.S., the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Domestic Workers Congress, a myriad of local and regional organizations are women pulling women together. Mujeres unidas y activas.

In India, Togo, the United States, in recent decades, domestic labor has become a key of neoliberal economic `development.’ In Sweden, the neoliberal assault on women involved pigavdrag, maid deductions, and vårdnadsbidrag, care support. The state subsidizes private, individual childcare. Who suffers? Working class and low income women. What is under assault? Feminist political economy: “Vårdnadsbidraget delivers the final blow meant to send women back into the household. After the long struggle to free women from their homes, women are now offered 3000 Swedish crowns (ca 320 ) per month to stay at home with their children. This is obviously not an offer aimed at single mothers: it is impossible to survive on this sum in Sweden. Those lucky women who have a real man who brings home a big salary, however, can contentedly stay at home and accept the pocket money. And so women are again made financially dependent on men. The pigavdrag and the vårdnadsbidrag are both solutions only for the upper classes, who don’t want to pay the real price for a maid or send their children to a kindergarten. They represent the government’s mobilization of several types of oppression, which they have the guts to call a new `gender equality politics’.”

When it comes to domestic workers, the State translates labor law into welfare or goes on the attack. In India, Togo, the United States, Sweden, and everywhere else, women domestic workers are organizing their own structures.

(Photo Credit: The Hindu)