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

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

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

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

 

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

Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards: What are we waiting for? Fech Nestannew?

On December 17,2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set himself on fire and ignited Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. It was a desperate act that lit the sky and the world. His act reflected a general sense of despair, and in that reflected despair, people saw transformative change as their only hope. Within a month, on January 14, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dissolved his government. From its first flicker, the Jasmine Revolution was more than the ouster of a dictator. It was an assault on patriarchy that emerged from decades of women and youth organizing. Seven years later, it still is. Ask the women who have ignited the current wave of protests across Tunisia, protests that demand a practical, material response to their question: “Fech Nestannew?” “What are we waiting for?” “Qu’attendons-nous?” “فاش نستناو ؟”

For Tunisia, the past seven years have been “interesting,” and particularly for women. The government has seesawed repeatedly on its position vis-à-vis women’s rights, equality, and roles. The State and parts of Civil Society have colluded in trying to diminish the significance of women’s work and contributions. And women have pushed back. In this last round of push-back, women have responded to an IMF-imposed budget, agreed on in December and implemented as of January 1. This budget follows the tried and true, or better failed and false, austerity menu: increase taxes, slice subsidies, subject the civil service to “efficiencies”, raise food prices, stop recruiting and hiring for public sector jobs. The IMF declared the new budget is bold and ambitious. Tunisian women thought otherwise. They asked, “When do we get the jobs we struggled for and were promised? When will food become generally affordable? Where is our housing? What are we waiting for?” Women demanded a better menu than that offered by the IMF: “Travail, pain, liberté et dignité” “Employment, bread, liberty, and dignity”.

The Fech Nestannew? movement describes itself as horizontal, but it does have spokespeople, most notably Henda Chennaoui and Warda Atig. Warda Atig explained that Fech Nestannew? activists held their first action on January 3: “We were waiting for the government to make the law official and we chose the date of our first action to be January 3. The date is very symbolic because, on January 3, 1984, there was the Intifada al-Khubez (bread uprising) in Tunisia [over an increase in the price of bread]. On January 3, we made a declaration in front of the municipal theatre [on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis] and we distributed pamphlets with our demands. We were about 50 activists.” On January 3, they were about 50 activists. As of Monday, mass demonstrations, and small ones as well, have rocked Tunisia from one end to the other. As Atig explains, while the activists are demanding that the State “end the increase in prices, cancel the moratorium on recruiting in the public sector, provide security and healthcare, end privatisation and put forward a national strategy to counter corruption”, at its heart, it’s a bread uprising. Austerity targets the stomach, and in so doing, always targets women first, most directly and most intensely.

Henda Chennaoui contextualizes the current situation: “Gas oil has increased by 2.85 percent which has an impact on the price of food. The minimum wage has not changed for years. It is 326 dinars ($131) per month. That equates to about two weeks of groceries for a family of four. To understand the fed-up, we must know that after 2011, a kind of contract was made between Tunisians and politicians. The latter were committed, after the political transition, to satisfy all the demands of the population, especially to improve the economic situation. We waited. In 2014, nothing happened. In 2015 either, neither in 2016, nor in 2017. The political class showed no sign that it was doing anything. That’s why we called our campaign ‘What are we waiting for?’.”

Thirty-three years ago, Tunisian women led the January Bread Revolt. Seven years ago, Tunisian women led the Jasmine Revolution. Today, Tunisian women are in the streets, and everywhere else, organizing, pushing, demanding, rocking the country, rejecting corruption, and taking on the fundamental tenets of austerity as development. Women are saying that any budget in which “the poor pay the bill” is no budget at all. The time is now. What are we waiting for? Fech Nestannew?

Warda Atig

 

(Photo Credit 1: Jeune Afrique / Sipa AP / Hassene Dridi) (Photo Credit 2: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours / Al Jazeera)

The global patriarchal market and violence against women

Being a woman today is marked by violence.

On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, on a square between the cathedral and the train station, about 200 women were sexually assaulted and robbed after about thousand men circled them to isolate them from the rest of the crowd. This type of assault has been reported else where in Europe: Helsinki, Zurich, and others. It has also occurred in Cairo and Tunis.

On Tahrir Square in Egypt, in 2013, during demonstrations against the government, women who were present wielding their right to be in public spaces would be circled by hundreds of men and then undressed and raped. These attacks were constant. Women and men organized and formed groups wearing fluorescent yellow jackets and helmets, to liberate the women under attack. They knew that they could not rely on the authorities or the police. The military government also used violence against women.

The same occurred in Tunisia when women took to the streets of Tunis in support of a positive transformation of the society. Since then, they have been organizing and fighting to defend their rights to public spaces.

This violence belongs to a trend that has been ignored for too long. In Cologne, the police did not intervene right away despite the system of video surveillance that is part of the globalized economies with their security market. The assaults were publicly reported only five or six days after the fact.

The fact that in Cologne most of the aggressors were North Africans and/or asylum seekers blurred the big picture and fueled resentment against immigrants and refugees, thereby encouraging racist violence. German feminists have responded: no excuse for sexual predators or for racists. Other European feminists have simplistically associated this event with the rise of fundamentalist Islam.

That presentation is limited and ignores the globalized neoliberal economy’s reliance on various strains of neo-conservatism and religious fundamentalism including Islamic fundamentalism to increase its hold on society.

One could remember, how in 1936, the phalanges, Franco supporters, whose slogan was “viva la muerte” dispersed their cruelty against women and men. They violently commanded women to stay away from public spaces, to reproduce and take care of the household. All of that was supported and encouraged by capitalists.

Clearly, women’s emancipation is one of the biggest stakes of an oppressive society.

Today, the European militarization of its borders along with austerity measures within the context of fear of “terrorism” opens the temptation of a constant state of emergency. The ordeal of women in migration facing infinite sexual violence and death during their journey is rendered invisible. What is left is the growing rhetoric for more policing and more appearance-based prejudices, which allow security markets to develop. The current paradoxical protective and aggressive discourse of the authorities puts some women under surveillance, hidden behind security forces and at the same time normalizes the position of other women as victims of sexual violence, according to race and geographical locations and conflicts.

Similarly women’s reproductive bodies, again racially defined, are under surveillance in the United States, with the incarceration of women for miscarrying or having an abortion where it is more and more difficult to get one. These signs of patriarchal essence that justifies violence against women correlate with the expansion of the neoliberal economic order that disadvantages women and minorities and throws them into precarious situations, again rendered largely invisible.

The code of silence that covers the attacks against women in Europe is troubling. In France, a recent study on sexual harassment in public transportation revealed that 100% of the women’s answers indicated various levels of harassment. Generally in Europe sexual assaults have been reported around football games, and other public events. In Cologne few days ago, a journalist of the Belgian RTBF was reporting on the beginning of Carnival and the security measures to protect women participants, when a group of white men sexually assaulted her, all this in front of the cameras.

Without a broader transnational understanding of the causes for the regression of women’s social and political right to be in public spaces, the prospect for better women’s social and political equality with men are slim.

A large transnational solidarity movement, beyond judgment, must be the force against the current trend of violence against women, the basis of all violence that is fueled by the devastating unfettered market forces that consume bodies.

 

(Image Credit 1: Osez le féminisme 69) (Image Credit 2: Osez le féminisme)

Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards

 

Three years ago, December 17, 2010, something happened in Tunisia: the Jasmine Revolution. Remember? On December 17, Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire. It was a desperate act that lit the sky and the world. His act reflected a general sense of despair, and in that reflected despair, people saw transformative change as their only hope. Within 28 days, on January 11, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned.

From its first flicker, the Jasmine Revolution was more than the ouster of a dictator. It was an assault on patriarchy that emerged from decades of women and youth organizing. Three years later, it still is.

For Tunisia, the past three years have been “interesting,” and particularly for women. The government has seesawed repeatedly on its position vis-à-vis women’s rights, equality, and roles. The State and parts of Civil Society have colluded in trying to diminish the significance of women’s work and contributions. And women have pushed back.

When the Ben Ali regime was in its last days, the State unleashed its dogs. Women, especially those in poorer areas, were sexually harassed, assaulted, and raped by security forces.  Women pushed back, and helped push Ben Ali out.

Once the unity of the first phase of the Jasmine Revolution dissipated, fractures emerged. In the intervening three years, women have reported increased attacks on women ostensibly for their attire. In some instances, women were attacked for not wearing a veil or for wearing jeans; in other instances, women were attacked for wearing veils.

The policing of women’s bodies intensified until last year, when a young woman was raped by police officers. She took the officers to court, where she was charged with public indecency. Across much of Tunisia, women and men said, “We are not going back!” Women pushed back, and continue to do so.

Women are organizing. They’re running for office, training, mobilizing, and generally opening common spaces and freer zones. According to the Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates, ATFD, a majority of women participating in revolutionary activities had suffered violence as women. This included secular feminists, such as those in the ATFD or the Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche sur le Développment; Ennahda women, especially those who had been imprisoned; the anti-heroic women youth insurgents who kept coming out into the streets and squares; women trade unionists and women homemakers; rural women and urban women; women who had extensive formal education and those who had been systematically denied access to education. Women.

And women are pushing back. They’re organizing tribunals to hear, publicize and respond to testimony on the forms of violence against women. There will be one taking place next week. Prominent women, such as Wided Bouchamaoui, Maya Jribi, Basma Khalfaoui, Salma Baccar, Amira Yahyaoui, Kalthoum Kennou, Leïla Ben Debba, Dalila Ben Mbarek, Mbarka Brahmi, Yamina Thabet, Néjiba Hamrouni, Amel Grami, Latifa Lakhdar, Olfa Youssef join women across the country in rejecting what Tunisian feminist Lilia Labidi named “féminisme au masculin.” Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards, and the revolution continues.

 

(Photo credit: Fethi Belaid / AFP / Jeune Afrique)

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)

Young women refuse to be sacrifices

Welcome to 2012. The Arab Spring, the Occupy Spring, the Indignado Spring continue. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and beyond, women are on the move, on the march. In Saudi Arabia, women are on the drive as well. Young women.

Across the United States and Canada and beyond, young women are leading and expanding the Occupy movement. In Chile, women high school and university students are pushing to end the privatization of education, to open the schools to freedom, democracy, universal opportunity.

In India, young rural women are leading resistance campaigns to stop major land grabs.  In Afghanistan, teams of young women athletes are punching their way through centuries-old as well as recently devised glass ceilings.

In Kenya, young women are entering into local electoral politics. In Mauritius as well.

Women everywhere are on the move, keeping on keeping on, filling spaces with their voices, their bodies, their energy, their aspirations, their collective and singular power.

At the same time, women struggle with a master narrative in which they only function as sacrifices. In India, two farmers sacrifice a seven-year-old girl, Lalita, in order to ensure good crops. In Afghanistan, a fifteen-year-old girl, Sahar Gul, struggles to survive, and to live with dignity, having fled the torture inflicted on her by her husband and his mother and sister. When she first fled, the State actually returned her to `the family.

In the United States, girls like seventeen-year-old Nga Truong, are routinely forced into confessing crimes they didn’t commit and then are sent off to prison. In the United States, seventeen-year-old girls like Samantha L. are sent to prison for life, without possibility of parole.

In Australia, teen-age girls, like Danielle Troy, have to plead for compassion rather than punishment. Their crime? Being mothers.

And in South Africa, two teenage girls are attacked by a crowd of 50 or 60 `adult’ men. Why? Because one of them was wearing a mini-skirt. Four years ago, another young woman, Nwabisa Ngcukana, was stripped and assaulted for exactly the same `crime’, at exactly the same taxi rank.

From domestic violence to more general sexual violence to mob violence to State violence and beyond, the patriarchal story of young women is the story of being-sacrificed. If a man is told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his son, we are told that is a tragedy. A moral and ethical crisis. But where is the mother of that son in the story? And what if, instead, the father was told, by no less than God, to sacrifice his daughter? Would that too be considered a tragedy? An ethical and moral crisis?

Not by the patriarchs, it wouldn’t, as the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac so aptly demonstrates: “It is difficult not to be struck by the absence of woman… It is a story of father and son, of masculine figures, of hierarchies among men… Would the logic of sacrificial responsibility within the implacable universality of the law… be altered… if a woman were to intervene in some consequential manner? Does the system of this sacrificial responsibility and of the double `gift of death’ imply at its very basis an exclusion of woman or sacrifice of woman? A woman’s sacrifice or a sacrifice of woman? Let us leave the question in suspense.”

Women, and in particular young women, are saying, “No.” They reject the story that excludes them and the  `suspense’ that reduces them. They are saying – with their bodies, voices, actions and deeds – women and girls are not to be sacrificed. If `the Law’ says they must be, the Law is wrong. Women are making a better Law, living out a better story, and creating a better world. Another, better world is possible.

 

(Video Credit: WBUR)

Violence against women haunts independence

 

Egyptian men and women in one hand

“After the revolution”. In Egypt and Tunisia, women who made the revolution, women who pushed Mubarak out, are now facing the struggle for more rights, autonomy, and physical safety. This should come as no surprise to the rest of the so-called independent world.

Yesterday, August 6, Jamaica celebrated 49 years of independence from the United Kingdom. There were celebrations. At the same time, sexual violence against girls is both increasing and intensifying.

Across the African continent, August is celebrated as Women’s Month. August was chosen to commemorate the August 9, 1956, women’s march in Pretoria, in protest of the infamous pass laws. The women chanted, shouted, screamed: “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!”. “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!”

That was 55 years ago. Today, the women are still being `touched’, and in the most violent ways. Across the nation, campaigns, such as the One in Nine Campaign, and organizations, such as the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, struggle to address and end violence agains women. Organizations such as Free Gender struggle to address and end violence against lesbian, and in particular Black lesbian, women. All of these women’s organizations, all of these women, all of these feminists, struggle to address and end the hatred that is rape.

In many places, such as in the United States, that hatred often takes the form of legislation. For example, in 2005 Wisconsin passed a law that barred access to hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for prison inmates and others in state custody. Three transgender women prisoners, Andrea Fields, Jessica Davison, Vankemah Moaton, challenged the law, and this week, after six years, won their case in a federal appeals court.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, transgender women are hunted, attacked, often killed. For the crime of being transgender women. For the crime of being women.

What is independence? What is a revolution? Across the globe, women continue to struggle for the basics of independence, of autonomy. That begins with real recognition, that begins with the State as well as the citizenry and the population ensuring women’s safety. Women are not specters and are not promises to be met. Until women’s simple physical integrity is ensured, rather than promised, violence against women will continue to haunt independence.

 

(Photo Credit: NPR / STR / AP)

In Zimbabwe, the revolution will be …

Trevor Ncube is a Zimbabwean. On Friday, February 18, 2011, Trevor Ncube, owner of The Mail & Guardian, and publisher of the Zimbabwean The Standard, The Zimbabwe Independent and NewsDay, published a piece he’d written, entitled “We are our own liberators.” In this piece, Ncube reflected on the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia, and who knows where else by now, for Zimbabwe, for Zimbabweans. He noted, “I have written before about the need for a “Third Way” in Zimbabwe’s politics. Egypt and Tunisia tell us that perhaps the people constitute that Third Way in resolving our political impasse. Only a new beginning will suffice…. Tunisia and Egypt have restored our collective faith in the power of the people.”

That was Friday.

Munyaradzi Gwisai is a Zimbabwean. Gwisai has been a member of the Zimbabwe National Parliament, is a lead member of the Zimbabwe branch of the International Socialist Organisation, and is the director of the Labour Law Centre, in Harare. Gwisai is also a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

On Saturday, the Zimbabwe branch of the International Socialist Organisation apparently held a meeting at the Labour Law Centre. Individuals and organizations were invited to a discussion. On the agenda was something like “What lessons can be learnt by the working class in Zimbabwe and Africa?” Gwisai and 50 some others were arrested for “plotting an Egypt”, or, more formally, “subverting the government.”

Fifty or so people were arrested, and for what? They were arrested for “normal academic debate,” or for the crime of discussing politics, or perhaps, as the government representative said, for having “attempted to inspire and motivate people to demonstrate.” Included among those arrested were passersby and others in the building who had nothing to do with the meeting.

Roselyn Hanzi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) reports that eight of the activists claim to have been tortured, beaten, starved. They have been allowed little contact with their attorneys. Shantha Bloemen, Munyaradzi Gwisai’s wife and a prominent figure in her own right, reports that the arrestees are being interviewed individually. Those determined to be `ringleaders’ are then beaten. It is reported that Gwisai is now unable to walk on his own.

Tafadzwa Choto was among the fifty or so arrested. Choto is a prominent ISO figure, a national coordinator in Zimbabwe. In 2001, at a May Day Rally in Harare, Choto was savagely beaten by “Mugabe’s thugs”. What is the distance between Mubarak’s thugs and Mugabe’s thugs? Ask Tafadzwa Choto.

According to Choto, two events served to politicize her. The first occurred in 1993: “A woman at the University of Zimbabwe was stripped of her skirt. It was said to be a miniskirt and was publicly ripped off her. I was disgusted.” The second was in 1995: “In Harare, in the city center, … three civilians were shot by the police, while the police were chasing after some thieves who had stolen a manual typewriter. Three civilians were shot dead and for what?”

Women were attacked, and for what? Civilians were shot dead, and for what? Fifty were arrested, and for what? Among them many were beaten, tortured, starved, and for what? For daring to inspire and motivate people to demonstrate? For daring to inspire and motivate people to become the people? In Zimbabwe, the revolutions of far off lands are being discussed and will be debated, and someday, hopefully someday soon, the reckoning of the `for what’ will begin. The `for what’ haunts Zimbabwe.

 

(Video Credit: Union Solidarity International / YouTube.com)