That is not right

Chanelle McCrawl

That is not right

A paternal grandfather
can’t get much sleep
as yet another
young one is killed

(she thrown on a field
like a piece of garbage)

That is not right
she is a human being

(a local library colleague
wonders whether children
are growing up too quickly)

elsewhere a besuited one
declares that gangs
are using weapons
of war

blustering on about
never failing our people
and liberating our people
from prisons of fear

is the mind not
that dangerous place
that weapon of war

male suspects appear
and are charged
while we fill that
other concrete prison

then tick off boxes
for political statisticians
and the statistics
of politicians

Is that right

“Another girl killed, another tenant held” (Cape Times, October 24 2017), “Charnelle’s mom shares her grief” (Argus, October 24 2017), “Another child found dead” (Athlone News, October 25 2017), and “Gangs using ‘weapons of war’” (Athlone News, October 18 2017).

(Photo Credit: David Ritchie / ANA / Cape Argus)

From Mumbai to Paris and Beyond: Transnational Solidarity In the Face of Violence

The following conversation took place right after we received news of the Paris attacks. We were in Milwaukee at the National Women’s Studies Association conference, where we were presenting on a panel on the invisibility of mothers in the U.S. and in India, made more so by social policies, particularly pregnant women in U.S. prisons who are shackled during pregnancy and labor. When the horrific news reached us, taking time out of the conference to respond to each other was the only way we knew to attend to our emotions and thoughts.

B: Yesterday, the news came. Something happened in Paris, the city I know well and where many of my relatives and friends live. The first pop-up news stated, “40 killed.” What? And then there was an avalanche of dreadful messages from friends and family. Then began the task of looking for everyone there. Pramila, with whom I presented that afternoon in Milwaukee, was with me and I clung to her to stay afloat.

P: My heart was in my mouth when I heard of the attacks when we finished our panel on the invisibility of women.  Over the next two hours, we got the news in dribs and drabs on CNN. My feeling of tragedy was overwhelming, especially because my friend Brigitte lives near Paris and visits there often, and it only happened she was currently in the U.S. and presenting at our panel. What were the chances that she and her family were not at that particular site of one of the attacks? What are the chances that any one of us is at the wrong place at the wrong time? But even as I think this way, I am already guilty of surviving. I am also witnessing another kind of suffering that is unfolding before my eyes—the sorrow of the witnesses.

B: Yes, the link to precarity struck me as well. My thoughts went to the family from Syria I met on the train to Thessaloniki. They left Syria to go on this very dangerous journey, crossed the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy boat, scared. They were abandoned and ended up in the water, from where they were rescued. Yesterday in Paris, people stepped on pools of blood as they ran for their lives. It was difficult to locate friends and family certainly and my heart was pounding at times, but I felt that we had an urge for human connection, for solidarity. We wandered in the hotel and met our friend Sherry who hadn’t heard the news. We told her. Her first words were “Bush and his team opened a Pandora’s box!”

P: I, too, am thinking about how precarious our lives have become, even more so after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Daesh is no accident—it is the horrific outcome of a violent situation created by the invasion of Iraq under the false rhetoric of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. The irony of this is not lost as we witness not simply the hardship brought about by the violence witnessed everyday by the Iraqis—a violence that was perpetuated by the U.S. presence and now by Daesh; the spreading of this violence into France that upholds liberty, equality, fraternity in its social policies and its political philosophy.  So it is not surprising that President Hollande’s first word after the shock of the attacks last night was “Compassion.”  Not revenge, not an eye-for-an-eye argument. Because the way out of the revenge equation is more liberty, compassion, empathy toward the marginalized—values that are anathema to fundamentalism everywhere. Because fundamentalism thrives on divisiveness, subjugation and fear.

B: The work of compassion was expressed by one of my interviewees in the documentary “What Do You Mean Shackled?” That is one of the values that we share and forget about so quickly when profit and money animate the elite and put us at risk of violence. Compassion and solidarity work together. Shackling pregnant women is simply horrific, as it was horrific to enslave people from another continent. But we continue to talk about “our values.” What and where are they? This morning, besides the probably necessary forceful responses, everybody in France is talking about the values of compassion and solidarity. How can we reinforce these values in actions instead of acting in opposition to them?

This morning in Paris, people were hugging and kissing each other. My friend there told me how they want to take care of each other, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Christians simply because they are human beings and nothing else.

P: I am recalling the terrorist attacks that happen in cities like Mumbai, the most recent being in 2008. Although the terrorists from Pakistan claimed responsibility, the Indian government followed the legal steps to achieve justice, instead of launching attacks on Pakistan, for it knew that violence only begets more violence. Remarkably, each time a riot happens, the plural citizenry of Mumbai stick with each other, offering support and solidarity. So it is only solidarity that can be the single most effective strategy against violence.

Words of sympathy from strangers…so simple, so natural.

This morning as we were having breakfast in the hotel, the waiter brought us the bill and on it he had written, “Our heartfelt sympathy for the French people.” This simple gesture brought tears to our eyes. Brigitte said, “We need to treasure these moments…such as the moment of solidarity I experienced with the Syrian refugees and the Greek women on the train to Thessaloniki.”

Solidarity and compassion are the only antidote to violence and hatred.

And one must go on. That sense of carrying on with our purpose is best expressed in  W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”. The opening line goes, “About suffering they were never wrong.” In the poem, Auden describes the fall of Icarus from the sky into the water; the ships and people keep going on despite the suffering of the fallen boy. One can read the poem as people turning away from the suffering person. They see what happens; they absorb it; and they continue with their task. I want to add a few lines to this poem, depicting the folks on the shore turning toward each other and extending a comforting hand, rather than remaining isolated. Being isolated when suffering unfolds around you diminishes the spirit. What is spectacularly humane is for people to turn toward each other to offer comfort.

B: I watched on French TV the reaction of people in the iconic Place de la République. Some targeted Muslim people to give them kisses and hugs and to tell them thank you. One man said that he was appalled by the distortion of his faith and asserted that he felt more like a citizen. Certainly, people are looking for a common humanity.

Some people and the French press examined how Daesh came to be.

In the name of which god did the U.S. invade a country, with oil in its soil, so far away a country named Iraq?

In the name of which god did they incarcerate so many in jails like Abu Ghraib and carry their violence with them?

They instilled the indistinguishable sense of injustice, detained the innocent with the angry. They tortured, pronouncing that it was fair to torture bodies from another place.

They believe in this competition for violence; competition–another word that negates solidarity and compassion, the basis of justice.

We are listening to countless stories of violence perpetrated in the name of which god? Stories of violence on farmers, women, and the ones who live and enjoy life in Paris.

This violence comes from nearby and far away–this is what deterritorialization of mode of production has produced. It comes from greed, from controlling faith, from competition. I think of your words about Mumbai as a place of laicity; I think of Paris as a place of laicity, a place for resistance maybe. I remember the French President saying no to war in 2001, no to the invasion of Iraq…Will he be remembered for saying the words of the people who never want war?

P: Yesterday I heard from a friend who said she was so disturbed by the Paris attacks that she wanted to reach out to her friends and embrace them. I was touched. In the same email, she said that only one religion is responsible for creating so much bloodshed. I want to tell those who are blaming the Muslim faith, we need to look at the set of circumstances that produced the current violence in Europe.  We need to see the chain of events, beginning with the first Gulf War, then the attack on Iraq as retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, the massive breakdown of infrastructure in Iraq, its repercussions across the region, the vacuum of power that was filled with a government that was divided across sectarian lines, the daily carnage in Iraq, unemployment, loss of hope for young people facing a bleak future.  The ousted government of Saddam Hussein became the Islamic State. Their establishment is not based on religion—it is based on an ideology of violence in order to build territory and acquire totalitarian power. William McCants, author of Isis Apocalypse, says the Islamic State’s territory is shrinking and they are losing much of their money in undertaking organized violence. At the same time, places that are unstable will become the breeding grounds for ISIS recruits and for the establishment of their government. So what can we do to counter this maddening expansion of Islamic State members in our midst?

B: Additionally, the South, where Iraq and Syria are, has been affected by climate change generated in the North. The discriminatory system of the current economic system is also at work. Maybe that is the biggest hidden issue in the invasion of Iraq, the destabilization of the region, and as a result, the building of Daesh with the role of war capability as a rationale. Deleuze and Guattari said fascism requires a war machine. Fascism formed in the Western countries and it imposed a world war on populations in the Pacific Ocean and in Africa and many other places. Maybe the greatest threat for humanity is our divisiveness. We should not lower our guard as many forces would like to use these events to threaten the social and civil cohesiveness that is more than ever needed.

Solidarity and compassion should be viewed as crucial components for organizing, if we want to counter the maddening expansion of the Islamic State power and the maddening often concealed violence of the neoliberal order. Both require resistance.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Oliver Hardcore /  The Guardian)(Photo Credit 2: Enzo Dkndt / The Guardian

Can Violence Against Women be “Cultural”?

Recently, I was discussing with a colleague some of the current rape cases in India and in the U.S., when she said that rape and other violence against women in countries like India is a cultural problem, whereas rape in the U.S. is not. What did she mean by “culture?” Culture, as most anthropologists define it, is a set of mores and customs that human beings follow within institutions, such as family, religion, and so on. So, the U.S. would not be exempt from “culture,” as it is glue that holds humans together socially. Perhaps my colleague meant that outside the U.S., cultural norms find violence against women to be acceptable, even normal, whereas, in the U.S. there are definite proscriptions against it, both in our laws and in the social system. She is not alone in thinking that women are easy prey elsewhere; whereas, in the U.S. violence against women, especially rape, is an aberration, as a result of inebriation or drug abuse.

This kind of binary drawn between the U.S. and not-U.S. is problematic, for it sets up the former as an exemplar of superior humans who have somehow conquered “culture”! Since this conversation rose out of talking about the rape cases in two different countries, how is a gang rape in New Delhi different from one in New York? According to Uma Narayan, sensationalism surrounds violence against women outside the U.S. She cites examples, such as “honor killing” and “dowry death,” both of which, according to her, are domestic violence cases. In the U.S. we call death at the hands of a lover / husband domestic violence, whereas the same kind of murder when it pertains to Indian women is called “sati” or “wife burning” or “dowry death.” Such nomenclature immediately makes the same kind of violence in two countries “seem” very different. To call a homicide “honor killing” exoticizes it, and explains it away as something expected out of the religious tradition, when in fact the phenomenon may have nothing to do with the religion. Narayan questions the “cultural explanation” that alludes to Sita or sati or the Laws of Manu, none of which add any illumination to the violence under examination. Narayan calls these shorthand explanations “death by culture.” She remarks that when we see huge statistics on American women dying as a result of gun violence, we don’t tar this with the cultural brush.

I wonder why my colleague did not see the obvious: the role played by patriarchal culture that sees the woman as inferior in society. Any rape in any geographical area shows power and control that the victimizer has over the victim.

Even if we allow that some societies condone violence against women, and further victimize women through ostracism, there are forces at play that demand justice and make communities and the government recognize the violence. No society uniformly accepts oppression.

 

(Photo Credit: STR / AFP / Getty Image / Slate)

Pregnancy or abortion: Either way, women face violence

In the United States, violence is often the current reality for women seeking reproductive services. Access to abortion is becoming more difficult, more costly, and almost always associated with numerous procedures or circumstances that shame women. Giving birth is similarly costly and often a place for extraordinary controlling power over the women’s devaluated bodies. When women attempt to make decisions about their own bodies, they are rarely trusted as intelligent human beings, especially when they are women of color or/and of lower income status.

Medical and legal institutions embody the authority of the state. They hold the right and ability to decide for women and to send them to jail for not complying with orders over their own bodies. Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin recently provided a long list of women, across the country, who experienced violence during pregnancy. Each time, their lives were judged inconsequential compared to the life of the fetus they were carrying. The process is simple: the woman’s body is scrutinized, the doctor or medical personnel denounce the woman to the legal power when she demands other options other than induction or c section, then the judge orders and the fetus existence and rights overweigh the women’s.

Since Paltrow and Flavin published an important study last year revealing the outrageous inhuman treatments of women at the time of reproduction, including incarceration of women, nothing has really changed. Judges still order c-sections on women, and women are forcibly taken to the operation room often handcuffed. The very real feticide laws are the pretext for these decisions as well as a misinterpretation of Roe v Wade, which results in women losing their rights.

The number of forced procedures on pregnant women is astonishing. For example, in Florida, Jennifer Goodall wanted to have a vaginal birth after previous c-sections. Her decision was informed. She received a letter from the chief financial officer of the Hospital that dictated a cesarean surgery to deliver her baby against her informed wish to have a vaginal delivery. Jennifer was forced to the operation room after a judge ordered the c-section.

In New York, Rinat Dray experienced similar violence as she was delivering her baby. As she was laboring, the doctor told her that the delivery was progressing fine, “but he just didn’t have all day.” She did not want the c-section he ordered, she begged for mercy. The doctor responded that he wasn’t bargaining, told Rinat Dray to be silent, and performed the c-section.

In privatized medical care, finance and profit are key. Cesarean procedures are moneymakers. A recent study shows that physician mothers receive fewer c-sections than equally educated women. While the study establishes the relationship between social status, economic status, and treatment, by framing the issue as a simple choice of treatment, it misses the violent control over women that is inscribed in the neoliberal political economy of health care in the United States. Furthermore, deliveries should not be considered treatments, as pregnancy does not require treatment but assistance. Instead, there is a constant fear factor that is played on women. Childbirth has evolved to become a surgical event in the United States as Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English noted years ago. Not to forget the differential of care that is linked to citizenship and insurance membership, undocumented immigrants are simply barred from medical assistance in many states.

Paltrow and Flavin argue that if “we want to end these unjust and inhumane arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women we need to stop focusing only on abortion…. Start working to protect the personhood of pregnant women.” There is no need to oppose abortion to pregnancy, even if many pregnant women in these cases are opposed to abortion. The questions are neither about the technicality of delivery nor about safety as the US has the worst records in infant and maternal mortality and one of the highest rates of forced procedures (32.8% c-section) in the developed world. While the WHO does not provide exact recommendations, it suggests that a caesarean delivery rate of 15% should be taken as a threshold not to be exceeded.

At issue is State legitimized violence against women, with guaranteed immunity to the State and its representatives. It is also about the control of women’s bodies at the time of reduced public services and fewer protections against market hegemony. Women face a medical criminal justice system that is growing, and the tentacles of which reach ever more deeply into every nook and cranny of women’s reproductive bodies.

 

(Photo Credit: Change.org/ImprovingBirth.org)

Violence is violence……

Gloria Amparo Arboleda, Maritza Asprilla, Mary Medina of the Mariposas Network

Gloria Amparo Arboleda, Maritza Asprilla, Mary Medina of the Mariposas Network

When a woman is knocked out by her partner, fiancé, or spouse and her assault is caught on camera, is there something to be done at the time of that assault instead of waiting for a tabloid media to use it to make profit?

In “For real equality between women and men,” recently passed in France, violence against women appeared as a component that keeps women dominated. The telephone “grand danger” was part of the tools used to address the immediate crisis and to guarantee the woman who is threatened that she won’t stand alone. In the case of Janay Rice, the “surveillance” camera of an elevator in a casino was not there to protect the woman.

Whether both were drunk is not the issue, the issue is violence and what should be done about it.

Now the video of the assault on Janay Rice is shown everywhere, many have commented and nothing is done to exit from this violence. The woman is re victimized, she is accused of many things from having married the man after the assault to having angered her fiancé and thereby triggering the attack. Meanwhile the main issue for women experiencing this violence is that they don’t have a space to speak.

In this case, Ray Rice, the perpetrator, is punished by the corporate sport organization, the NFL. The sport itself is a spectacle that uses violence to attract viewers. Some studies have suggested that the numerous injuries, mainly cranial injuries, have been overlooked. In a racialized way, the Bread and Circus of the Roman Empire is still a concept in men’s sport. Capitalist ventures in sport demand return on investment, and an organization like the NFL acts as if protecting its logo is more important than reducing the impact of violence on women’s lives. At the same time, players’ injuries may have a role in transporting violence from the playing fields to the everyday life of players. Although it is just one factor, it speaks volumes about the organization and what women who are with the players have to deal with as if it were their designated role.

Meanwhile, the statistics on domestic violence are staggering. In the United States and elsewhere, many don’t report their assaults for fear of repercussions, which take various forms but always affect women gravely, socially and physically.

Celebrity cases are unfortunately not about violence against women. Instead, they contribute to the overall normalization of violence. Many should learn from the women of Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro who received the UN Nansen prize on September 12, 2014 for helping and caring for victims of domestic violence in Bonaventura, a place where violence is rampant. As Mery Medina, a member of the group, declared, “The fight is to fight indifference. One way of protesting is not to keep our mouths shut.” It is the only way to form solutions to exit from the violence.

 

(Photo Credit: Radio Nacional de Colombia / EFE / Raquel Castán)

The power of the broken hearted

 

 

Since I started making my own way in the world, I’ve generally considered myself to be a strong woman. I am by and large tough, resourceful, and not afraid to feel things deeply: to be vulnerable … especially in my work with people who have suffered trauma. I have thought of myself as a successful survivor of a violent childhood, a litany of losses and what is termed “ordinary human suffering”. And it was probably this self assurance and my often foolhardy courage that enabled me to begin counselling asylum seekers and refugees from the African Diaspora.

I began in earnest in early 2009, shortly after the xenophobic attacks of 2008. I started one-on-one sessions with refugees who came into Rape Crisis Trust for free counselling. I then moved on to any referral that was given me, from other organisations and from former clients. I felt compelled to try to atone for the shame of how my country treats these people.

However, counselling people who have witnessed and survived a genocide, who have come from the ongoing horror that is happening in Congo DRC and who again suffered rape and murder in the land they had fled to for safety, became much more than simply about rape. It is about rape culture: ways of thinking that allow people to be brutalised; that leave people with the deep underlying belief that they are no longer a person… no longer human.

I have worked with people who thought that happiness is impossible and that hope is fatal. And they found the courage to keep on going. Every day they would get up to a strange world, where few could speak their language, none or very little of the favourite foods of home are available, there is no family to turn to. And in this world, they have been denied work, left to wait for days in queues watching people die of hunger beside them, only to receive another postponement, another insult, another dismissal. People who often can’t find work without a South African ID, can’t open a bank account and who are now being told that they have to travel from their shacks in Cape Town townships all the way to Mesina every three months, just to be denied refugee status or face another extension, which means more travelling.

I have witnessed a mother give up her children (after carrying them for weeks through dark forests, bleeding from multiple rapes and with hardly any food or water to get here) because she could not feed them or care for them in South Africa. I have witnessed a woman fall to her knees in gratitude for simply being spoken to as a person who has feelings and has needs. How can we let this happen to people? This too seems to be more of rape culture: the ability to see others as less deserving of human rights.

And truth be told after these few years of working with refugees, I am tired. I have worked with a constantly breaking heart, knowing terrible things. Here as I sit in my comfortable, quiet, rented cottage, with its pretty garden and three meals a day, I feel ready to give up. With my good education, the inherent power and privilege of being white and English speaking, I want to stop. To rest ….and I am going to for some time.

And while I rest in comfort, many of my former clients will continue to grow, to love, to hope and to get up again and again. These women and men use the power of their constantly breaking hearts to believe that there can again be good in the world, that there can be safety somewhere, that they can create another and better life. And I know now that I am not nearly as strong as them, as courageous as them. Their resilience leaves me in awe. As does the resilience and love of the counsellors at Rape Crisis and other organisations who continue to do this work. I hope to find my powerful broken heart again and I know you all will help me.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town and Women In and Beyond the Global. Thanks to Rape Crisis for their work. The original version can be found here.)

 

(Image Credit: Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust)

In `the Congo’, the `truth’ takes time, rather than a parachute

In October 2012, The Guardian reported a dramatic rise in sexual violence in the eastern Congo. Five months later, Foreign Policy published, “What happened in Luvungi? On rape and truth in Congo”. What exactly is `the truth’, according to Foreign Policy? It’s a `spectacle’: “When the interviews were over and we were out of earshot, my colleague and I stood in confused silence. I had interviewed survivors of rape in eastern Congo before; a psychological element seemed to be missing in these interactions. Before I managed to articulate the uncomfortable feeling that we had just been lied to, my Congolese colleague spit it out: `Those women have been coached’.”

The FP author supports her suspicion by visiting a local health care professional, who tells her that during the insurgency he only treated six rape survivors. Yet when the UN came in, the numbers soared into the hundreds. This drastic increase seemed odd at best and outright manipulative at worst. One way in which the numbers could have been distorted, he figured, was that the large majority of female patients were listed as rape victims, regardless of the actual cause of their injury or illness.

Was the clinic purposefully cheating in the numbers game, and if so, to what effect? The author suggests that fabricated high numbers will cause aid to flow disproportionately towards sexual violence to the neglect of other urgent needs. She further suggests that over-reporting induces both aid workers and Congolese women to frame their work and suffering as sexual violence, because this increases aid workers’ chances for funding and Congolese women’s access to medical care, credit and housing.

Have ‘we’, donors, sympathizers, aid workers and readers all been fooled? According to the UN and the service provider at the clinic, no, we have not. The sudden rise in reporting is neither manufactured nor difficult to understand. The numbers soared because it took a while for most women to feel safe enough to leave their homes.

Whereas the various drivers of sexualized violence in conflict areas are complicated and riddled with contextually specific complexities, the reason that in any society rape is underreported is fairly straightforward. It’s not difficult to imagine why rape survivors hesitate to report their suffering. Sexual assaults are extremely personal and heavily sensitive types of violations, which render them difficult to discuss with authorities, especially with men. Additionally, often the women are not taken seriously or are blamed for the crimes. Thus, the rapes that actually get reported most likely only cover the tip of the iceberg. In the context of a war-torn eastern DRC, stigma and social shame can lead to social exclusion and rejection from their partners. And when soldiers are still around, incentives to venture out to a clinic or authority to report on the abuse can be crushed by fear.

Nonetheless, the sensitive and horrendous nature of rape shouldn’t stand in the way of critically examining the efficacy and side effects of support, be it media attention or monetary aid. And if experiences and conversations in one location (Luvungi), in a particular point in time (after a recent armed invasion), reveal problems around the role and impact of the media, politicians and international organizations alike, critical questions must be raised.

As an outsider, you should have to ask such questions with great caution. Especially in the context of a highly complex conflict in a nation as vast as the DRC, you may want to ask the question “is it really that bad?” carefully. Caution means not generalizing from micro-contextual findings about one insurgency to a national rape epidemic that has been going on for many years. Every district and town is different. No matter, the FP author moves seamlessly from the particular context of what happened in Luvungi to make broader assumptions about the scale of current and past rape exaggeration in the country as a whole: “Even in Luvungi, ground zero of Congo’s rape epidemic, things aren’t exactly what they’ve been made out to be”.

Does lifting out one allegedly staged group interview to make such claims actually arrive at and reflect the truth? According to former journalist and UN official Iain Guest, who works with and for sexual violence survivors in the DRC, the truth lies not only elsewhere but anywhere but. In November 2012, he sought to counter exaggeration claims by the UN and others. Guest argued that rape is systematically underreported. For example, he noted, the UN doesn’t visit areas such as Fizi, in south Kivu, for the simple reason that it’s too dangerous: “This may explain why the UN’s January report only confirmed 167 cases in the whole of south Kivu last year- a ridiculously low figure”.

So, the UN pressures the Congolese government to suspend some senior army officials for having been involved in mass rape, but the Congolese government can’t be expected to be on top of things when its own troops are key players. According to Guest, the world was more or less forced to pay attention for two years, 2009 and 2010: “That sort of publicity is impossible to sustain”. The attention diminishes, the violence continues. According to some reports, the UN’s suggested rape rate in the DRC might have been 26 times too low.

The point is that the `truth’ takes time, rather than a parachute. Reporters, researchers, and readers alike must resist the temptation to hop from observation to generalization and (jump) from conversation to conclusion.

Many women in Eastern DRC are facing, and have faced, horrible levels of sexualized violence, and that’s the truth.

 

(Photo Credit: Peter Muller / AP / http://www.osisa.org)

Never so (few)

Never so (few)

Never so (few)
says our emperor
on the very same earth
(no second one yet)

Never so (few)
giving the country
a bad name through
their violent acts

It’s a minority
the majority is not
(we are peace-loving people)
(is poverty not the worst
form of violence in your town)

We are peace-loving people
apartheid was sustained
through entrenched violence
(we have the moral high now)

We are peace-loving people
a woman or girl is raped
every 25 seconds down here

(Was the brutal gang-rape and murder
of a 17-year old Bredasdorp girl
an extreme example of ourselves)

Femicide is the order
women brow-beaten and besieged
sexual assault the daily custom
(though this seems not to count)

At least our emperor did not
resort to the dodgy tradition
of we are all so pious
and even religious too

Never so (few)
Never so
Never

An Editor on SAFM’s Sunday morning The Editors programme wonders what planet our president inhabits: “Most South Africans peace-loving, Zuma tells opening of house” (Cape Times, March 8 2013). The said “house” is the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament.

In the United States, when the police attack, “it’s the women’s fault”

 

Many have watched the video of Lt. John Pike, of the University of California Davis police department, casually spray a line of seated, peaceful protesters, and many have expressed horror. Many have expressed horror as well at the decision by the University President Linda Katehi to call in the police in the first place.

The horror is real and well deserved, as are the condemnations. But the surprise and shock are something else altogether. The violence committed was absolutely ordinary. Ask people of color across the United States. In particular, ask immigrant women of color.

Violence by police officers, by detention center staff, by the State, against immigrant women of color happens every day. The United States has declared war on immigrant women of color, and like so many wars of recent years, the war is identified as a form of peace making. Thus, the United States is `really’ waging peace against immigrant women of color. If they have scars, if they suffer trauma, if they lose their children or their partners, if they are sexually abused … it’s the women’s fault. They shouldn’t have opposed the peace process.

Institutional violence against women of color immigrants is ordinary. It happens every day in immigrant detention centers, like T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. Sara, Kimberly and Raquel `Doe’ are three asylum seekers currently suing Hutto’s owner/operator, Corrections Corporation of America, CCA, for the sexual violence and abuse they suffered while `guests of the system.’ They are part of a fast growing sisterhood, a nation of Does.

Police and State violence against women of color immigrants happens every day on the streets. Ask Susana Ramirez, who never had trouble with the law in either the US or Mexico, until one night she was stopped for … basically for nothing. She changed lanes without signaling. Next thing, her daughters were whisked away, and Ramirez faced deportation. Threatened in Durango, Ramirez was threatened in Illinois. She is part of a fast growing sisterhood as well, of women of color immigrants who face, and often face down, the culture of fear and intimidation.

State violence against women of color immigrants happens every day, when families are split up by ICE, when children are taken away and lost into the so-called foster care system. Those children are disappeared, kidnapped, and their parents are left to search for them. In the first six months of 2011, 46,000 parents of US-born citizens were deported. What happened to their children? What is happening to their children?

Sometimes, the mothers, like Clara and Josefina, sisters, are taken away, and the children, effectively, vanish. Other times, the mothers are US-citizen partners to men who are deported and are left stranded. That the children are US citizens is irrelevant to the State. Where once nations recognized citoyens du sang, citizens of blood, now they create immigrants of blood. Citizenship doesn’t matter: it’s what in your bones, in your blood, in your DNA.

Some say the brutality of the immigration detention system is inhumane. It’s worse than inhumane. It’s humanity-to-come, the promised land. Militarized police, militarized borders, increased sexual violence and abuse against immigrant women of color, increased and intensified systemic racist and sexist violence directed at immigrant women of color … and for what? To keep the nation safe, free and democratic. Behind those words is the real promise: this is what humanity will look like.

In Davis, police and University have committed violence casually and even comfortably. In so doing, they are not alone and they are not exceptional. In fact, they’re quite ordinary, and therein is the horror.

 

(Image Credit: PBS Frontline)

Afghan feminists haunt the liberation narrative

Malalai Joya

On October 7, the world will “celebrate” the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Why did the United States send air and land troops into Afghanistan? To save the women … of course. How’s that working out?

Girls are going to school, and in big numbers. As many as 2.4 million girls have entered primary school. Few have finished, very few have gone on to secondary school. Girls’ schools are under attack. Women teachers are as well. The assaults can be physical and deadly, or verbal and “cultural” … and as deadly.

Recently, the Afghan government announced it would take over shelters for battered and abused women. The shelters had been accused of serving as a front for the sex work industry. If the government had taken over the shelters, women would have needed government approval and a virginity test before entering the shelter.  Afghan women’s groups and feminists leapt into action and defeated much of the proposal. It was “a rare victory.” Even now, the remaining regulation states that a woman can only leave the shelter if she is moving to the residence of a male relative. The laws governing women’s movement may have changed, but women report that walking in the streets without male escort invites physical harm.

Some swell victory.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, the sex workers, part of a thriving sector, come and go, speaking of Michelangelo.

When it comes to “saving Afghan women”, there is only blur. The government shades into the Taliban. The aid agencies nestle in the embrace of the military until they are one and the same. All in the name of the liberation of Afghan women.

Afghan feminist Leeda Mehran recently described the “joke” of the current state of Afghan women’s liberation: “A man was at the beach when he heard a drowning person cry for help. He jumped into the water and saved him. He had just reached the shore when he heard another cry for help. He saved this one, too. This happened several times and he was saving one after another. What’s the joke? The man never realized that there was someone on a cliff near by pushing people into the sea…. There are people on the cliffs pushing women into the sea. We should not forget them.”

Inconvenient” Afghan feminists have not forgotten and have never stopped organizing. As a member of the Loya Jirga, the Afghan Parliament, Malalai Joya argued against the power of the warlords. As a member of the world, Joya has protested the so-called world powers’ continued support of warlords, who claim to be against the Taliban. For Joya, those who leave warlords in power become warlords themselves. The Afghan blur has become the global blur.

Farzana Wahidy’s photographs focus attention on the complexities of Afghan women’s lives. Wahidy has photographed the dire – attempted suicide by self immolation; the everyday –  women shopping, relaxing, doing what women do; the iconic – burqas; the joyful – weddings. She attempts to make the complex networks of context visual. Wahidy tries to show the common moments as she teaches the world how to see, how to look at, how to envision Afghan women.

Three years ago, the “charismatic” Sima Goryani founded the Ghoryan Women’s Saffron Association, an all-female co-op near Heart, with the slogan, “Why poppies, let us plant saffron!” At its inception, the cooperative had 72 members. Now they are close to 500. Five hundred women growers who are now taking on the misogyny of the marketplace, including that of international so-called saviors of whatever stripe, military or assistance.

One version of the Afghan women’s liberation story has been that Afghanistan is a great battle in which the lines are clear. On one side stand freedom, democracy and women’s rights. On the other the forces of evil line up under the banner of the Taliban. The real struggle is between progressive Afghan women and men, on one side, and a vast array of regressive forces, on the other. Which side are you on? Which side is your government, or your non-governmental organization, on?  Afghan feminists want to know. No joke.

 

(Photo Credit: Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan)