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)

 

The dead shall not walk through those open doors

Andries Tatane's Wife

Who is the stranger in our midst? Ask the police.

There was a protest, a service delivery protest, on Wednesday in Setseto, outside of  Ficksburg, in the eastern part of the Free State, in South Africa. During the protest, Andries Tatane, a 33 year old activist, approached the police. Either he approached the police to plead for some consideration for an elderly man who was not part of the protest or he approached the police to ask them to stop using water cannons because there were elderly people in the protest. Tatane was shirtless, unarmed, unthreatening. About six or seven riot police attacked him, beat and kicked him. Then Andries Tatane was shot. Finally he collapsed, and died, 20 minutes later. By the time the ambulance arrived, Andries Tatane was dead, and the mourning, and outrage, had begun.

There was a protest, a student protest, on Monday in Kabale district, in southwestern Uganda. Students at Bubaare Secondary School went on strike, protesting a policy shift affecting the disposition of male and female students. During the protest, Judith Ntegyerize, a senior, walked by, on her way to classes. The riot police showed up just then, allegedly shot their rifles in the air, and a `stray’ bullet hit Ntegyerize in the head and killed her, instantly.

These are only two stories, only two stories from the past week. In the past year, there have been similar stories of unarmed innocents killed by police fire everywhere. Around the world there are murals to the martyrs, more often than not young women and men, such as Oscar Grant, in the United States, or Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran, or the young women and men killed by live fire in protests in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt. Sometimes, their names become known, more often they remain anonymous. Sometimes, the State apologizes, but usually it just spins.

Whenever police are armed with live bullets and sent to a protest, the State has decreed that deadly force is an acceptable means to an end. But what is the end? It is the identification of the strangers, the strangers in our midst. Only the strangers can be so blithely beaten, kicked, shot, disposed of, dumped like so much garbage, killed. That is the nation-State’s rule of law, the law that protects `citizens’ against the threat, the pathogen, of strangers.

In a poem entitled “Passover”, Primo Levi enjoined us, all of us, to “light the lamp, open the door wide so the pilgrim can come in”. That poem ends with these words: “This year in fear and shame, next year in virtue and in justice.” Open the door, open it wide, and when you do, remember Andries Tatane and Judith Ntegyerize. Remember. The dead shall not walk through those open doors.

 

Zimbabwe, Haiti, just go …

What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die.”

Haitians, Zimbabweans, everything at home is just fine. So say the United States and the United Kingdom. Everything is just fine and you must just go.

Except that everything is not just fine.

In Harare yesterday, Saturday, April 9, 2011, thousands met at a church service at St Peters Kubatana in Highfield. They engaged in a peaceful demonstration to pray for peace. They came together to pray to end the escalating violence in Zimbabwe. Police threw tear-gas canisters into the church, and when the parishioners and congregants ran out or leapt through the windows, the police attacked them, beating them with batons.

This is peace and unity in Zimbabwe today.

But, according to the UK, Zimbabwe is a-ok, so much so that it’s time to start deporting all those pesky `failed’ and `undocumented’ asylum seekers, people like Nyasha Musvingo. Musvingo fled Zimbabwe after her husband was beaten, tortured, and then died as a result. She knows she can’t return, because of `the situation’.

The UK would disagree. Last month, on March 14, the most senior immigration judge in the country, Mr. Justice Blake of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), ruled that Zimbabwe is fine. The violence is over. People need not live in fear in Zimbabwe nor need they fear returning. So what if disappearances, indefinite detention, torture and violence have returned and are on the rise? Zimbabwe is `safe’ enough.

Likewise, in Haiti, everything is not just fine.

In Haiti, high levels of violence continue. Rape is epidemic. Over a million people remain homeless. Everyday, the so-called temporary camps seem to become more and more permanent. Cholera is on the rise. A recent study suggests that by November the number of cholera cases in Haiti will be close to 800,000, and the number of deaths will reach a little over 11,000. The crisis is worsening in Haiti.

The United States would disagree. This week, the United States government announced it has formally resumed deportations to Haiti. Haiti is `safe’ enough.

Cholera is on the rise in Zimbabwe as well.

In 2008 – 2009, in large part due to the intensification of political violence, Zimbabwe suffered a cholera epidemic that killed over 4000 people. Close to 100,000 cases were reported, and, according to a recent report, a rapid response, once the 400 cases were reported, would have reduced the number of cases by 34,900, or 40%, and the number of deaths by 1,695 deaths, also 40%. Why was nothing done, why were so many allowed to die? `The political situation.’

But that was then. This past Friday it was reported that over the last month, 36 people died of cholera in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces, in Zimbabwe. In the past week alone, 13 died, and the Ministry of Health notes that the death toll could be higher, as records are not up to date.

Sending people back to Zimbabwe is a death sentence. The United Kingdom would disagree … or would it? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office describes Zimbabwe:  violence on the farms, in the streets, random and targeted; abominable prison conditions; torture; and a culture of impunity. The most recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights report, from 2009, paints an equally grim picture.

The Department for International Development describes the state as `unstable’. 25% of Zimbabwean children are described as `vulnerable’. Most live in households, and neighborhoods, built of poverty, HIV/AIDS and State violence. Well over half live in households headed by single women or girls. Of special concern are children living alongside incarcerated mothers and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

All of these statements come from United Kingdom government websites. And yet, somehow, Zimbabwe is now `safe enough’ for asylum seekers to return to.

Sending people back to Haiti is a death sentence. The United States would disagree … or would it? This past week the US State Department released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Haiti? “Alarming increases of sexual violence” against women and girls. Alarming increases of domestic violence. No effective agency to deal with sexual or domestic violence, and not much of a plan to do so. “Corrupt judges often release suspects for domestic violence and rape.” Often. LGBT persons face constant violence. The prisons are a hotspot for violence, torture, cholera, and worse.

All of this comes from the US State Department.

If the government of the United Kingdom finds Zimbabwe perilous and the government of the United States finds Haiti perilous, how is it possible in the same breath to determine that Zimbabwe and Haiti are `safe’? In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, the prisons are a nightmare. Deportees to both countries typically `return’ through an extended stay in prison. In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, cholera is on the rise, violence is epidemic, violence against women and girls is more than epidemic, and not only sexual violence.

Sending asylum seekers and prisoners to Zimbabwe and to Haiti is a death sentence. Whether the individual persons live or die matters … terribly. At the same time, the political economy of this moment is that the lives of Zimbabweans and of Haitians to the so-called democracies of the world are of no value. If you are Haitian, if you are Zimbabwean, you must just go. If you die, you die. If you live, perhaps you were fortunate, perhaps not. Either way, you are no longer `our problem’. Your country is `safe enough’. Just go.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.marieclaire.co.uk)

Inside her soul: echoes II

Inside her soul: echoes II

unmade beds,
dirty clothes,
the stench of yesterday’s garbage
in my nose
and my man wonders why
i don’t love him
no more
well, he should read this poem
she’ll speak of my grief
of how I
toss and turn
toss and turn
wondering why
why?
HE took me
from the afric’s shore
i died that day
you shackled me with your shame
violated
my ancestral rite
of chastity
only to label me
i need purity
so I rise every morn
before the SON
to make the beds
to wash the clothes
to try and remove
the stench of garbage from my nose
noon time comes
all to soon
back broken
flesh weary
babies sold for a small sum of gold
at night
i conversate with the moon
hoping he will
give me direction
and I pray for
the resurrection
of me
pray for the day
your love no longer enslaves me
pray for the day when echoes of the past no longer haunt me…

 

Kenya Imagine Women: Why Justice Must Be Served

Ruth Njeri

Ruth Njeri

Thanks to the reminders of the violence that was meted on thousands of innocent Kenyans in the period that is now known as Post Election Violence I am unlikely to sleep tonight. Two years ago seated in my Minnesota living room I listened in horror (emails and phone calls) to stories about women being raped. The reports on rape first started with the attacks that followed soon after the election results were announced — and continued as displaced women moved into camps away from their homes.

I was thousands of miles away, but so grossly affected by the unnecessary violence that that year I did not celebrate New Year’s Day. In fact, I was very angry with Kenyans who went out to celebrate the New Year that night.

A high school friend had just graduated from medical school and was now a doctor in a Kenyan hospital. Her voice broke every time she told me of the people she saw at the local hospitals. Thus began my email conversations with the wonderful women at the Gender Violence Recovery Centre  of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. I learned that in just a little over two weeks (December 27th 2007 to 13th January 2008) the hospital had seen 100 victims of sexual violence: 40 of them were under 18. Children. The youngest of these was only four. A baby.

It is these true stories that inspired me to write about this violence that was largely unspoken off: to give a voice in these women’s words. This violence against women that is time and time again used in time of conflict.

So it is with renewed horror that I read in yesterday’s Daily Nation about Ruth Njeri whose husband was killed during the PEV. What’s more, she was raped several times, scalded with hot water and left for dead. As if this defilement of her person were not enough, Njeri discovered she was pregnant. That her counselors kept her pregnancy a secret from her is a subject for a different discussion:

She was tested, but the medical staff were evasive about the results although they continued counselling her.  After six months, Njeri wanted to terminate the pregnancy but was not allowed to.

Before all that Njeri and her husband were working-class Kenyans: business people

Here she describes how they raided her home. From her account it is obvious that their only interest was to kill her and her family; adding to the growing evidence that most of the PEV incidents were planned.  It is also curious that they were all dressed similarly.

“They were howling like dogs and were dressed in white T-shirts and red shorts,” she recalls. “I stood rooted to the ground with fear, knowing that these were the men my husband had referred to earlier. About seven of the men entered the compound and began kicking and pushing me into the house while the rest went away.”

Once inside the house, they took the little boy from Njeri’s husband and flung him against the wall. They then attacked her husband. “They were prepared and well-armed,” recalls Njeri. “They had machetes, rungus, arrows and whips. I cried for mercy, then pleaded, but they would not listen. I ran to the bedroom and got them Sh40,000.  I begged them to take the money and leave us but they just laughed.

“One of them snatched the money from me, smelt it and threw it in my face. He reached into his pockets and pulled out many Sh1,000 notes, ‘We don’t need your money, we have been paid well to do our job,’” he said.

And then like savages her attackers molested her. In turns.

Njeri was barely conscious when they began raping her in turns. But she remembers that each one would finish with her then help himself to some of the food she had cooked. Her last memory of that night is of the men pouring hot water on her naked body before leaving her for dead.

Perhaps, at the end of the day when we are done debating politics and laughing at the idiocy of the political elite, perhaps then we will think of Njeri and thousands of internally displaced persons whose only wish is that their lives might return to some normalcy and that those who masterminded the PEV would pay.

And for Njeri and her children the struggle continues.

Njeri finds herself swinging between depression and the will to rebuild her life.  “At times I look at our condition and wonder whether it will ever end, or what kind of punishment this is,” she cries. “Then I look at others who are worse off… for women who were raped and contracted Aids, it is a sure death sentence. Then I count my blessings and console myself that although I lost my husband and my property, I still have the son of the man I loved, and I consider Wanjiru a blessing and another reason for me to live.” 

This post appeared originally at Kenya Imagine: http://www.kenyaimagine.coedim/23-Fresh-Content/Politics-and-Governance/Why-Justice-Must-Be-Served.html/

(Photo Credit: Daily Nation)

Baring the brunt

September, the song was, “Women hold up half the sky.” By the look of news reports this week, October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the tune might well be “Women and children bear the brunt”. From households and intimate relations to the armed forces to global poverty, women bear the brunt, children bear the brunt. This is not good news.

The new song began last Friday, with an article that centered on LeAnna M. Washington, Pennsylvania State Senator from the 4th District, which covers part of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Senator Washington’s official Senate biography reports, “Washington has triumphed over many personal challenges in her life. She was a high school dropout, teen parent, and victim of domestic violence early in her marriage. Her tenacity, perseverance and faith in God allowed her to transform victimhood to victory. Washington, who earned a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University said of the road she has traveled: “I will go where there is no path and I will leave a trail for others to follow.””

In Friday’s article, Senator Washington is described as having been married at 18, and then living with the big secret of domestic violence, of spousal abuse. She is described as one of `many black women across the country….It’s about absorbing the reality that close to five in every 1,000 black women aged 12 and up are victims of domestic violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s understanding that among those abused aged 15 to 34, murder by a husband or boyfriend remains a leading cause of death. More importantly, it’s about actively working on changing those outcomes….Verbal, sexual and physical abuse are forms familiar to a large swath of black females. Historically so…. These are the scars of slavery, lack of education, discrimination, unemployment and other frustrations that have been exacerbated among African-Americans. Poverty tends to be an indicator for abuse, though violence is not confined to one social class. The difference is having options and resources to escape – options not always afforded by those struggling to survive day-to-day. Feeling trapped leads many women to stay put – and in peril.”

The article is titled “Black women bear the brunt of domestic violence,” and it appeared in blackamericaweb. In every community, women bear the brunt of domestic violence. In every community, the language of that particular brunt, of that bearing, is silence.

And those communities are not only defined by race and ethne. For example, on Thursday we `learned’ that in the U.S. military “lesbians bear brunt of military discharges….Every military branch dismissed a disproportionate number of women in 2008 under the policy banning openly gay service members. But the discrepancy was particularly marked in the Air Force, where women were a majority of those let go under the policy, even though they made up only 20 percent of personnel.”

On the same day, Thursday, it was reported that in Lesotho, “children bear the brunt of the deepening economic crisis…”Adult frustration” translated into a grim reality of child abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation, with thousands left to fend for themselves, excluded from crucial services such as hospitals and schools.” The next day, the Africa Child Policy Forum sent out a press release, announcing a new publication, Child Poverty: African and International Perspectives. Here’s what they said in the release: “Poor children to bear the brunt of global economic crisis. New book looks at the brutal reality of child poverty….The book also includes analysis of the impact of the current financial crises on child poverty in the face of increased estimates of the actual number of newly poor and reduced economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa estimated to be down to 3.5 percent – implying a 7 percent increase in poverty in Africa, of which children will bear a huge brunt.”

From one community to another, what exactly is meant by “bearing the brunt”, and why is it always women and children who are endowed with that particular role and capacity? Can community exist without women and children bearing a, or the, brunt? A brunt is “An assault, charge, onset, violent attack….The shock, violence, or force (of an attack)…. The chief stress or violence; crisis.” To bear can mean so many things, from carry to bring forth fruit or offspring, but when it comes to bearing the brunt, it means “to suffer without succumbing, to sustain without giving way, to endure.” Bearing the brunt as an acceptable facet of everyday life, as an acceptable `neutral’ phrase, is a perversion of any vision of sustainability as articulated with wellbeing.

Domestic Violence Awareness must transform the language and the logic of the brunt. It’s time to stop talking about bearing the brunt and start talking and acting on baring the brunt. What is the attack, who and what are the assailants, what is the violence, the force, the stress, the crisis? All must be addressed as part of the same question and part of the same solution. And it begins and ends with women, not majestically holding up half the sky but rather ordinarily and daily populating and sustaining all the daily world. Bare the brunt now, today, and always.

(Photo credit: Precious Jones in NCKU)

Martyring the ‘Ballbreakers’

Shrine in memory of Tyli’a ‘NaNa Boo’ Mack

Last Wednesday, August 28th, residents of the 200 block of Q St. NW in Washington, DC were shocked by a brutal assault against two women, one of whom was killed.  Violence is nothing alien to DC, the District was once known as the ‘murder capital’ of the U.S., but this act stands out.  The motive, officially, is unknown.  The act occurred at 2:30 in the afternoon in broad daylight after the assailant had followed both women for several blocks and was exceptionally brutal. Tyli’a ‘NaNa Boo’ Mack was stabbed in throat; her injuries were fatal. The women involved were also both African-American, male-to-female transgender, were possibly been sex workers and there were supposedly several anti-LGBT epithets used by the assailant. The scene was also only a few blocks from a local transgender health center.  Yet, the motive is said to be unclear.

What is clear, other than that the attacker saw them as less than human, is that the media is not entirely sure how to talk about these women.  Different news outlets used several different ways of referring the Mack’s and the other victim’s gender.  A local television affiliate of Fox utilizes no uniform language at all.  Aside from one line mentioning that the victims were transgender women, the piece contains quotes utilizing exclusively male pronouns and refers to Mack by her birth name, Joshua, while focusing almost exclusively on the reactions of neighbors.  The focus is not on the victims but rather fear and the violent disruption of a normally tranquil area.  Coverage by the Washington Post, however, is a step worse.  The Post article refers to the women as transgender people and biological men living as women throughout the piece, again only referring to Mack by her birth name.  The writer, Paul Duggan, seems to be scraping for some shred of objectivity, but his own discomfort is readily apparent.  On the other end of the news spectrum, the Washington Blade, a local LGBT newspaper, utilizes Mack’s taken name and gender while focusing much more on what happened to these women, family’s and friends’ reactions and violence against transgender people more generally. All of these articles relate to the same incident but provide radically different information.  The kicker is that all of this criticism is possible after all of the articles, save Chibarro’s article in the Blade, had already been re-edited.  The original versions all referred to Mack and her friend as “transgender men”. News articles that blatantly disregard the gender identity of Mack and the other victim are no less policing than the act of violence itself.  One is simply more subtle, hiding behind science and journalistic integrity, and reinforces the fears that feed these acts of violence.

On the other side of the world, the media and science are policing gender more overtly.  Over the last couple of weeks, Caster Semenya has been ever-present in the international press, not because of her 800m win which would have garnered little attention in mainstream press, but because her sex was under scrutiny.  The media’s scrutiny and judgment of Semenya is more obvious perhaps because it is not tempered by a major act of violence.  But words are weapons and they feed already active fires that are raging against women outside of and within the LGBT community.  Semenya was required to take a gender test in order to be eligible to compete because she did ‘too well’ in recent competitions.  Such athleticism is not thought possible for women and Semenya’s muscular body was used as additional evidence to justify the testing.  The fact that she is a professional athlete and that most female athlete’s are muscular does not seem to dissuade the judging officials.

This case is disturbing and unsurprising for several reasons.  First, Semenya’s sex is called into question due to the combination of her athleticism and her apparently masculine or nonfeminine presentation and features.  The assumption is transparent; women are supposed to be soft, white and frail.  It is an assumption and argument that has been at the core of colonial politics and postcolonial politics.  There is actually not a chance in hell that Meadows would have been tested had she ran as well as Semenya did.  Second, Semenya’s family, like President Obama in a surprisingly parallel situation with the birthers, was able to furnish a birth certificate.  However, the documentation provided by a poorer black community in South Africa is apparently not reliable enough to be considered proof of the girl’s sex.  Would it have been has the runner come from a wealthy, Western and white family?  Third, the media has chosen to not only vilify and attempt to embarrass this young woman, but has likewise conflated several unrelated and yet entirely related issues: sex, gender and sexual orientation.  The latter two categories are not actually relevant to the IAAF’s argument of fairness.  The only thing they relate to is heteronormative notions of what it means to be a woman.

The results of Semenya’s test later revealed that she had 3 times the ‘normal’ female amount of testosterone in her system.  This was released on the same day as a BBC article claiming that high levels of testosterone turn women into “risk takers” and “ballbreakers”.  The implication is that ‘masculine’ women are practically not even women and that only masculinity can and should be able to compete in our society. Thus, by questioning her sex so publicly and utilizing gossip and conjecture as evidence, the media has placed Semenya on the 21st century’s version of the pillory.  She is meant to be an example for all young girls, especially if they are darker skinned and athletic, of what they can’t be: strong. In the same way, Tyli’a Mack was publicly murdered to warn against those born male being anything other than hypermasculine.

Caster Semenya

(Photo Credit 1: Washington’s Other Monuments) (Photo Credit 2: John Giles / PA / The Guardian)

Security of Sex: Legally Bound (and Gagged)

In the good ‘ol US of A, we’ve been seeing some odd juggling around not just civil but human rights under the new administration. President Obama has been under fire for reneging on his campaign promise to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and for offering support of DOMA, though Obama recently issued a statement negating his previous statement. And the good news has been that there has been vigorous debate and even some voting regarding the Matthew Shepard Act.  These three issues are supposed to represent the pinnacle of LGBTQ rights in America: the right to shoot people for my country, the ability to legally enter into a heteronormative institution and the ability to put more people in jail for longer. OK.  These are considered basic civil rights that affect the entire ‘community’.   The problem is that none of these topics actually relate to the needs of the larger LGBTQ community, because is there is no community, no consensus.  The only thing uniform about this community is that there are individuals across every major racial group, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion and class that consider the ability to discriminate and even harm LGBTQ persons a necessary right.  Such universal disempowerment only exists for one other group: women.  Despite this, the larger issues affecting the LGBTQ community of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, unusually high suicide rates, under-education, harassment both generally and by police, discrimination, heteronormativity, etc. are overwhelmed by marriage, military and prison. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the struggle for ‘equality’ looks a little different in South Africa, but only a little. Africa’s largest economy has had full legal equality for LGB persons since the ratification of the post-Apartheid constitution, gender identity and expression or transgender rights are not listed.  Despite having one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, South African LGBTQ persons are commonly subject to brutal acts of violence.  And they aren’t the only ones.  In particular, African lesbians in South Africa have been explicitly targeted for gang-rapes.  I’ve talked about this particular situation before, that women and specifically queer women are targeted is no accident.  That these acts are not causing mass outcry or even being consistently investigated is no accident.

The United States of course is no better we just have a legal term for these types of acts. Individuals who commit these ‘hate crimes’ are often portrayed as either marginal and extreme or victims themselves of an awkward circumstance, in South Africa they are generally faceless groups of males, assumedly black.  Such portrayals justify larger apathy and inaction by removing these acts from the larger debate. When violence against LGBTQ persons is mentioned as being part of larger systemic prejudices, it is usually to say that violence is caused by laws against LGBTQ persons, that it will wane once there is full legal equality.   It is the same argument that has been used for women for more than a century.  Yet, the elephant in the room is the fact that South Africa has those legal rights that the mainstream American LGBTQ organizations are hung up on and not only are LGBTQ persons in South Africa not equal, they are the subjects of intense discrimination and violence.  Full legal equality, whatever that means, will not magically create a society of equals because the issue is only in part about laws.  It’s like giving someone painkillers and saying it will cure cancer.  No amount of legal progressivism will undo the damage of a country’s President making a mockery of rape and being elected despite it.  It is primarily about power and how disempowered groups are balkanized and ranked creating a system in which low class African males in Johannesburg and minority males in California gain power through the gang-rape of lesbians.

Reliance on law, regardless of whether or not the laws are good, has not accounted for a lack of willingness to enforce.  The U.S. is established as the imprisonment capital of the world and South Africa is playing catch up.  If a state emphasizes that criminalization and long sentences equal justice but refuses to actually prosecute or even investigate acts of violence against LGBT persons, of color and women especially, then that government not only seems to condone these actions but sends the message these are just actions.  They are public services.  It’s the same message that both the Apartheid and Jim Crow governments sent in their heydays.  Yet, now the messages are masked by so called legal progresses. The moral of the story remains the same as it has always been, ‘no one’ cares if you are poor, black, queer and/or female, no matter where you are.

(Photo Credit: DavidMixner.com)

`I still live in fear’

The borders are everywhere, especially for women. Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua taught that lesson, the borders are not only geographically everywhere, but they are also everywhere in our bodies, in our selves. Every act of violence is another border establishment. Every act of border is another act of violence. Let’s talk about fear, violence, specters, justice.

A year ago, xenophobic pogroms swept across and dug into South Africa, dug into the landscape, dug into the consciousness, and some want to know if that violence dug into the very fabric of the country. Ramaphosaville, in the East Rand, was one of the places named, a place that “exploded into horrific and shameful violence”. “Places like Alexandra, Ramaphosaville and Khayelitsha have become the dumping grounds of the marginalised and alienated. Daily, poor people eke out an existence in the insalubrious warrens of congested squatter camps or the dilapidated prison-like hostels. These environs subject people to the most degrading conditions, resulting in poor fight against poor.”

And today? “I still live in fear” In Ramaphosaville, both the fear and anger, and the potential for more violence, do more than linger. They simmer: ““What do you do if people come and tell you they have more rights than you because you are a foreigner? I choose to give them what they want to save my life. “I still live in fear.”” But who is articulated in this statement? Miro Mavila and Benet Oguda, Mozambican nationals, express their fear of South African violence, Prince Mofokeng, a South African national, expresses his fear of living in “a little Maputo”.

This is not a case of the poors against the poors, although certainly class and poverty have been stirred into the pot. It is a case of the affect of border, the ways in which border breeds and intensifies the logic of fear as an alibi for `justifiable’ homicide, torture, violence. And patriarchy. Even in this article, only men are interviewed. Women? Silently walking away, carrying the daily water, carrying the remains of the day. Look at the picture that accompanies the article; what do you see?

“I still live in fear”. The South African government announced it is scrapping visas for Zimbabweans, in effect more or less opening the border. This should be good news, right? Yes and no. As long as the border exists, fear exists: “The news of the scrapping of visas for Zimbabweans entering South Africa has been received with mixed feelings by citizens of the two countries. Many of those from north of the Limpopo gave a sigh of relief with regard to the difficulties they had endured over the years whenever they wanted to cross the border into South Africa. On the other hand, many people in South Africa now fear a new influx of refugees who may not have entered the country because of the very restrictions that have just been lifted. This has heightened fears of the revival of the xenophobic attacks experienced last May when South African mobs turned on their neighbours, killing many.” Previously, the South African immigration policy towards Zimbabweans was “arguably the toughest visa regime in post-colonial Africa, especially between countries that were not at war.” It also was good business for those working the border, 5000 crossing legally every day and who knows how many crossing through `informal’ entry points: “a well-oiled corruption system has reportedly developed at the Beitbridge border, the main beneficiaries being the low-paid officials on both sides of the border who have to “assist” desperate Zimbabweans for a fee.”

What never gets mentioned, again? Women. Zimbabwean women are the principal cross border traders at Beitbridge. Zimbabwean women have suffered much of the greatest violence, State and `informal sector’, in Musina, in Lindela. When do women enter into the border picture? As long as borders define nation, define citizenship, define `the human’, that human will be man. Watch closely the agreements between the governments of South Africa and Zimbabwe over the next months, concerning the rights of migrant and immigrant populations.

But the border is not only between nations, it’s across nations. Xenophobic violence is not only `civilian’. It’s also State. A year ago, agents of State came into Postville, Iowa, and `swept’ the meatpacking plants of its `dangerous elements’, underpaid, abused workers without legal documents. Real danger there, I tell you. This week, 20 of those workers received U Visas: “Twenty undocumented workers arrested a year ago at a meatpacking plant have received visas through a law that protects victims of crime, reports La Opinión. The immigrants arrested 
last year at Agriprocessors Inc. received U visas from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), which allow them to stay and work legally in the country for four years. In their third year, they may apply for permanent residence. “A government agency is admitting that these women and children have been subjected to physical and emotional harm by Agriprocessors,” said attorney Sonia Parras-Konrad. “These people have been exploited, assaulted, humiliated, verbally and emotionally abused by this employer.””

Women and children have been subjected to harm by their employers and then by the State. Here are the faces of menace and danger. Look closely. What do you see?

They are still afraid. The borders are not the peripheries nor are they the margins. They are the core … of the nation and of every resident, and they define women as other-than-human and not worth discussing or representing. Borders must be opened, removed, and completely transformed. Until then, I still live in fear.

(Image Credits: Shubnum Khan / IOLS Commentary) (Photo Credit: https://durbanaction.wordpress.com)

Here’s what isn’t in dispute: Dymond and Clara

Dymond Milburn

Dymond Milburn is in dispute with more than the police force of Galveston, Texas. On Wednesday, The Houston Press reported an incident, two years earlier, involving Dymond, African American, 12 at the time, in front of her family home: “a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, `You’re a prostitute. You’re coming with me.’ Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, `Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’ One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat. As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.” Three weeks later, the police came to Dymond’s school, where Dymond is an honors student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant.

On Thursday, Radley Balko picked up on the story, and then it took off into the blogosphere. Later, Balko updated his account: “Here’s what isn’t in dispute:  Milburn was wrongly targeted during a prostitution raid.  The police were looking for white prostitutes.  Milburn is black.  She was apprehended by plain-clothes narcotics officers who emerged from a van as she stood outside her home.  She resisted.  The police have acknowledged they targeted the wrong house.  Three weeks later, Milburn was arrested at  her school, in front of her classmates, for `assaulting a public official.’  At some point, her father was arrested on a similar charge.  The judge declared a mistrial on the first day of Milburn’s trial.  According to Vogel [the Houston Press reporter], she’s scheduled to be tried again in February.”

J.D. Tucille, writing in response, concluded: “So the Galveston Police Department’s position is that it’s a criminal act for a little girl to resist being dragged into a van by strange men? If that’s the lesson the police want to send to the community, then it’s nothing more than an association of thugs intolerant of the slightest challenge to its authority. It’s certainly not an agency for preserving the peace and defending the rights of local residents. A police department like that shouldn’t just be sued; it should be disbanded.”

We already heard, the week that Dymond Milburn `became news’, that sex workers in the United States face police violence, and if you didn’t already know that African American women and girls face police violence and, even more, police sanctioned violence, A.C. Thompson’s “Katrina’s Hidden Race War” and Rebecca Solnit’s “The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn’t Hear About in Hurricane Katrina” would remind you. Brent Staples has seen “Without Sanctuary”, an exhibition that exposes U.S. lynching cultural histories, and knows that “lynching … was a method of social control”. A Black girl in Texas, a state notorious for the quantity and quality of lynchings, hung to a tree for safety and freedom. Welcome to the 21st century.

White supremacist violence against Black people, Black communities, Black knowledge and culture, is not new. State violence against Black girls is not new. State use of sex and sexuality – what were you doing on that street or what were you doing out at that late hour – to justify violence against women, and in particular against Black women, is not new and is not news.

The occlusion of sexual violence that lies at the heart of all power relationships and hierarchies is also not new and never makes the news. Writing about the case of Brian Gene Nichols, accused and convicted to many life sentences without parole, for having beaten a courthouse sheriff’s deputy, and having killed a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy, and an off-duty federal officer,  Marie Tesler finds that what is continually scanted, or not reported at all, is that Nichol’s initial charge was one of sexual assault, and it’s one that proved exceedingly difficult for a jury to take seriously. When it comes to sexual violence, the jury is always out. For Tesler, “Domestic violence and sexual violence are the DNA of violence throughout society. It’s where violence begins.”

What if the story involved the DRC, rather than Texas, and the Black girl was Clara, instead of Dymond: “That night I was coming back from my sister’s home when I was accosted by men in civilian clothes in a jeep with blacked-out windows at about 8pm. They showed me police badges,” she said. The men told Clara she was not allowed to be outside in the night and she climbed into their car expecting to be driven home to her parents. But the men drove her to the Ngaba district of Kinshasa where they ordered her to pay a 70 000 CDF ($120) fine. “I told them: ‘I am young. I do not have that kind of money.’ But they took the 1 500 CDF (about $3) that I had on me and my gold chain as money for transport,” she said. “Then they took me to a dark place. As two men raped me, the driver watched,” she said, adding that the men “gave me a lot of pain. I still have pain”.” What’s the distance between men who are police and men who claim to be police, between men who rape and men who `merely’ beat and injure, between fines and arrests, between Kinshasa and Galveston or Atlanta or New Orleans or wherever you are at this moment? The distance is important, and so is the shared space.

As more men commit more rape and sexual violence more intensely and furiously in one part of a country, others begin to do so in another. Call it liquidity. The cleansing niceties of geopolitical distance, rural – metropolitan or periphery – capital or dangerous – safe or bare life – my life, are worse than alibis. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the democratic United States of America, sexual violence, and even more the refusal by State and civil society to acknowledge and address sexual violence, `inspires’ rampage, and then the world expresses shock and horror, again, at the brutes and savages, once more. Pain is the currency, it is a quantity: “they gave me a lot of pain.” Pain is the trace, it is a quality: “I still have pain.” In patriarchy, pain has ever been the gift women are meant to receive. In global capital, women’s pain, in particular the pain of Black women, in particular the police sanctioned pain of Black women, is identity. Because the pain is identical and cannot be in dispute, no distance divides Dymond from Clara. Where is the State that acknowledges their pain and does more than acknowledge? Where are the reparations? Where is the place where justice, rather than violence, begins?

 

(Photo Credit: Breaking Brown)