The United Nations refusal to address women’s safety is another casualty of war

The heartless who initiated the heartbeat bills being passed across the United State have also worked hard to dehumanize women victims of sexual crimes in wars.  UN Resolution 2467 introduced in the Security Council on ending sexual violence in war has been passed, stripped of its most important parts. The original rationale was to protect victims of sexual war crimes, but, thanks to a threatened US veto, the final passed resolution is a shadow if its original intent. The entire health section, which included reproductive and sexual services, was stripped out because it implied right to abortion.  Language, such as “the establishment of a formal mechanism to monitor and report atrocities…”, was also removed. These disastrous changes of language occurred after afew days of stalemate between the US, China and Russia. 

The most effective opponent of a resolution that would have added useful tools to protect women in war came from Trump’s ambassador, Jonathan Cohen. The Trump administration is attempting to wrest control from vulnerable women’s bodies in war and is instead waging war against women in the United Nations. The feeling of impunity of the most powerful state-members in the United Nations is notorious, and the United States is no exception. Although the United States has been involved in the building of international treaties against torture, violence, or discrimination, it has failed to fully ratify them. For instance, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, which asserts fundamental political and civil rights, was never fully ratified. The ICCPR treaty comprises the formation of a group of experts for monitoring governments’ implementation of the treaty. Under a treaty entitled The Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, the Human Rights Committee may receive complaints from individuals. Individuals from the United States cannot have access to this body. Similarly, the United States is not fully bound to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment. Furthermore, the United States never ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW. 

The debates concerning Resolution 2467 involved about 90 delegates, numerous dignitaries, two 2018 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad with her legal councilor, Amal Clooney, and the Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege. They were outraged and decried the international community’s failure to act. The Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres emphasized that despite two precedent resolutions and work on the ground, the situation has not improved: “Advocacy groups have demonstrated beyond a doubt that sexual violence is deliberately used as a tactic of war, to terrorize people, dehumanize communities and destabilize societies, so that they struggle to recover for years or even decades.” Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict had these strong words: “Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls.” Everyone hoped that the resolution would bring some momentum to actions to stop this cycle of violence and give victims a way to become again full human beings. 

Although the international community seemed to have realized the gravity of the situation, the lack of protection and help for the victims and the lack of implementation of accountability mechanisms have remained the main issue. It seemed that the issue was doomed from the get-go. This resolution will become yet another political tool in words and not deeds, and yet another frustratingly futile attempt at rectifying a clear injustice.

At this time of mounting far right intolerance, there is a discrepancy between the political reality of the lives of these women and the level of actions by the leaders of the most economically powerful and largest countries.

That the heartless were at war with justice was anticipated by many in the field. Celine Bardet, founder of “We are weapons of war”, didn’t make the trip to New York. She declared that what happened to the resolution reflects the overall US policy. Since assuming office, Trump has imposed the strongest version ever implemented of the Global Gag Rule, with its dreadful consequences for the most precarious women of the global South. Meanwhile, the ongoing battle against women’s health, reproductive and sexual health in the United States has reached new levels of cruelty. 

Some expressed outrage, for example the UN French Ambassador: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict — and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant — should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

Noting that today victims have no access to medical services, Celine Bardet argued that nobody should have voted for this resolution since it was stripped of its most important content. Bardet believes money should be directed to victims on the ground; helping victims to reclaim their dignity is the only way to make a difference, as survivors, unlike the international political community, will not give up. 

The lack of will to protect women victims of sexual war crimes is a political issue ingrained in the heart of the patriarchal capitalist/neoliberal system.  Wars open up a cornucopia of markets, such as the security market, the rebuilding market, “the global smart weapons” market; the list goes on. Control over women’s reproductive bodies must be understood as the elimination of women’s political bodies. When the global gag rule makes women’s lives precarious, so does a UN resolution that has no ability to protect women from sexual war crimes. These political instruments render women’s racialized and gendered bodies invisible, and this is what mainstream feminism sometimes has difficulty understanding. 

While these heartless policies are currently being enacted against women, on the ground other voices are surfacing to uphold women’s rights and the right to live on a planet without fear of climate catastrophes and war. These voices are rising up in the younger generation in the U.S. Congress, in the current run up to the European Commission election, in the fringe parties in India, in the counter protests in Venezuela, and so on. As, worldwide, far right voices are trending, this is the time to keep our ears to the ground. 

(Image Credit: CICC Global Justice)

Women pay for rising food prices

Youth in Algeria are `rioting’ to protest, and change the conditions of, high unemployment and high and quickly rising food prices. In Egypt, where food inflation is running at a staggering 17 percent, the women are talking once again of the food lines, and the food riots and uprisings, of 2008.

In Bolivia, shopkeepers, such as Pilar Calisaya, are battling with police because of quickly rising bread prices. As she explains, “I am not at fault”.

In China, as Xu Shengru shops for food to feed her family, she notes that cabbage, a staple, has doubled in price since last year. That’s actually the good news. Recently, rice prices rose 30 percent in just 10 days.  Pepper prices rocketed an astonishing 1,000 percent.  In Indonesia, where pepper prices are also scaling new heights at new speeds, the government is imploring citizens to plant chilies in their backyards.

In India, food inflation has `zoomed’ to 18.32 percent this week alone, spurred by onion, vegetable and milk price rises. Last year alone, the price of onions rose 40 percent.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices in 2010 hit a new high, especially cereals and sugar. Wheat prices soared, corn as well. The price of meat and of milk also rose precipitously. These are the highest prices in thirty years. Put differently, well over half the world’s population has never lived with such high prices. It’s no surprise the youth of Algeria are protesting.

The brunt is back, and yet again the analysts inform us that it’s the world’s poorest who will bear the brunt.  And yet again there will be stories of individual women, such as Pilar Calisaya, or the unnamed woman in Egypt, or the unnamed woman in Algeria facing down a row of police, or Xu Shengru, and their struggles with food political economies, but there will be no analysis or reporting on the place of women in the `danger territory’ of food provision and consumption.

As the discussions of food prices, food riots, food protests, food markets, and food counter-markets spiral, keep an eye out for structural analyses of women’s positions.

One woman who knows something about women, food, crisis, is Jenga Mwendo.   Mwendo is the founder of the Backyard Gardens Network in New Orleans. After Katrina, she began rebuilding her own home, in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, and began building a new food political economy in the middle of food desert and in the midst of a food desertification.  She organized the rebuilding of two community gardens, the planting of fruit trees, and more. Mwendo understands that the only buffer against the predations of market control of food is community production. For some, this would be community gardens, for others, coops. In all of these, and other alternative community food experiments and projects, women historically have been the principal agents and constituency. Women still are.

Jenga Mwendo is precisely not exceptional. Women do not only bear the brunt of the devastating food market economies. Women are neither the victims nor the survivors of food catastrophes and crises. Instead, women are the change agents, from food uprisings to community gardens, and beyond.

Meanwhile, “fresh rioting broke out in Algiers today.”

 

(Photo Credit: Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune)

Regret haunts the world

Regret is in the air this week. You might say, regret is the name of the game and, even more, the game of the name. From Geneva to the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in Zimbabwe, to Guinea, it’s been a week of declarations of regret.

On Monday, in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, thousands gathered in peaceful, and courageous, protest, to demonstrate their opposition to the military dictatorship of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power in a military coup last December. Reports suggest that as many as 157 people were killed by soldiers who opened fire on them. Survivors and witnesses also reported, “A number of women taking part in the demonstration were stripped naked and sexually assaulted by security forces”. This has been described as “most shocking to the wearied citizens in this predominantly Muslim nation” who were “`profoundly traumatized’ by what had happened to the women in the stadium”.

The government of neighboring Liberia, a country that knows something about militarized sexual violence, issued a statement: ““The government of the Republic of Liberia has expressed grave concern at the events unfolding in neighboring Republic of Guinea, and has learned with profound regrets of the deaths of over 90 persons during a demonstration in Conakry on Monday, September 28, 2009”.

From Conakry, “Guinea’s military junta leader has expressed regret over the bloodshed in the clash between the opposition and security forces in the capital Conakry, Radio Senegal reported on Tuesday.” Death merits “merits” regret. Rape and sexual violence are clothed in silence, deep and profound.

In the same week, it was revealed that Nestlé had been purchasing dairy products from the Gushungo Dairy Estate, in the Mazowe Valley, about 20 kilometers north of Harare, a dairy farm recently taken over by Grace Mugabe. Once this was discovered, other connections were revealed. For example, DeLaval: “DeLaval, a leading equipment firm based in Sweden, is part of the giant Tetra Laval group owned by the Rausing dynasty”. They had sold a ton, actually tons, of equipment to Gushungo. Their response: “.Jörgen Haglind, a spokesman for Tetra Laval, said: “Tetra Laval was not previously aware of this transaction and we can only regret that the control functions within DeLaval have failed as this transaction should never have been approved.””  On Tuesday, “Delaval’s international spokesperson and vice-president of marketing and communications, Benoit Passard, said….”We regret that this has happened. We first made contact with the SA Dairy Association and then a long list of investors. The Mugabe name was never mentioned. This has come as a surprise to us and we would never have done business with them had we known this was who we were dealing with.””

Tuesday was a big day for expressions of regret. On Thursday, Nestlé Zimbabwe “ditched” Gushungo, without any expression of regret but rather an explanation of market forces. Perhaps those would include the threatened global boycott. We’ll never know. By Thursday, the government of Guinea was no longer expressing regret for anything, but rather claiming outside agitators and other nefarious forces were at work in Monday’s demonstration.

What is regret? “To remember, think of (something lost), with distress or longing; to feel (or express) sorrow for the loss of (a person or thing)…. To grieve at, feel mental distress on account of (some event, fact, action, etc.).” Regret is lamentation, grief, sorrow. Regret is loss.

In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith, Cherokee scholar, feminist, rape crisis counselor, activist, woman, tells a story of regret: “`Assimilation’ into white society …only increased Native women’s vulnerability to violence. For instance, when the Cherokee nation was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth century, soldiers targeted for sexual violence Cherokee women who spoke English and had attended mission schools….They were routinely gang-raped causing one missionary to the Cherokee, Daniel Butrick, to regret that any Cherokee had ever been taught English.”

As Smith records for Native women in the United States, as the women of Guinea and Zimbabwe understand deeply, as women in Sweden and Switzerland might know as well when they consider DeLaval and Nestlé as elements of their own well being and comfort, sexual violence is a State policy. It is not an exceptional event, but rather is woven into the very fiber of State security and national development. Ask the Sudanese women refugees in eastern Chad, who have no place to hide from or escape the daily sexual violence.

The United Nations Security Council this week voted to request the appointment of a special representative to address sexual violence in armed conflict zones. After the vote, “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon … immediately following the text’s adoption…. expressed regret that previous responses to sexual violence had not been able to stem the scourge.”

Were the Security General to express regret, or the leader of Guinea, or the corporate representatives, or the clergy, or anyone in public office or private spaces, for sexual violence, it would have to be more than a simple pro forma apology. The one expressing regret must perform and demonstrate grief, lamentation, sorrow, must understand and teach a lesson of loss. Until then, regret haunts the world … profoundly.

(Photo Credit: Rhizome) (Video Credit: Yoko Ono, Maysles Films, Inc / YouTube)