Reform of the labor code in France threatens increased precarity for women


In France, a tumultuous election season has brought to power a new president Emmanuel Macron and a new majority in the parliament from his new party. During his campaign, he presented himself to be neither from the left nor for the right therefore creating the image of the impartial candidate the best capable to reform the country and restore the place of France as a competitive and innovative country. In the communication era, language is everything. The master words were innovation and liberation. He wanted to place the beginning of his presidency under the aegis of decisiveness to mark his difference with his predecessor Francois Hollande accused of being a weak president. As Ministers of the Economy and Labor, respectively, Emmanuel Macron and Myriam El Khomri passed the first bills that changed the balance of power between unions and employers in France.

France has a labor code in which various labor protections negotiated by workers and gained since its inception in 1910 have been registered as laws. Over the past decades the labor code has been presented, especially by the MEDEF (the French Employer Federation), as a heavy book getting heavier making it proportionally responsible for a “heavy” unemployment rate. Although some simplifications of the code could be necessary, the direct link between unemployment and the labor code has never been established. Nonetheless, Emmanuel Macron made reform of the labor code one of his priorities, a way “to liberate France’s energies.” Did his election give him a clear mandate for such drastic action? No, especially since many voted for him in the second round of the election to bar the extreme right wing candidate, Marine Le Pen, from becoming president.

The question of high unemployment rate remained central to the presidential campaign. The idea that the employers were afraid to hire because it was too difficult to fire employees because of the labor code was constantly hammered. More recently, the language of flexibility in labor laws has been associated with the notion of labor well-being. Once again the variable of adjustment in profit making is labor.

We should question the position of women’s employment as it is a magnifier of the inequalities in the distribution of work in a society.

Before the summer a bill was passed to allow this reform to be enacted by decrees. Then, the government of Edouard Philippe (Macron’s Prime Minister) with his Minister of Labor and Unemployment, Muriel Pénicaud, started a three-months-negotiation process with every union including the French Employer Federation MEDEF. Although unions appreciated the process, some were wary at the start that the liberal imprint of this government will force negative transformations of the labor code. The general secretary of Force Ouvrière, (Workers’ Force), who had opposed the previous labor law of the previous government noticed that this government had a real desire to negotiate with the unions. Was it a clever move to lower resistance or a sincere desire for dialogue? In all these negotiations, women’s employment conditions were not taken directly into account.

Because France has a high rate of women fully employed compared to neighboring countries that have moved to more partial time work system, will this reform level down women’s employment? This reform claims to bring flexi-security to the labor market, will it fulfill the promise of the second term for women workers?

In the 1990s, when Germany underwent an even more radical reform of its labor laws, putting “business first” switched most of the burden of social contributions to the employees as opposed to the employers.  The official justification was to reduce the unemployment rate. Germany did that with the creation of 4 million jobs but without changing the number of hours worked, 58 billion hours. The reform created “minijobs”, part time work with lower wages and no social protection. We have seen this in the United States. As a result, women have been over-represented in these jobs, increasing gendered precarity in Germany. In contract, France has fewer working poor than Germany today, while Germany boasts one of the highest pay gaps between women and men is Europe today.

French officials claim that they will not implement exactly the same measures as in Germany, but the extension of the use of fixed-term contracts as opposed to permanent contracts belongs to the same thinking. Women are overrepresented in this type of contracts. This means the possible renegotiation of maternity leave, days off for sick children, work conditions for pregnant women, to name but a few.

The reform with its clear commitment to put “business first” rejects the Nordic model which insists on “fair” social and gendered negotiations. When choices have to be made between profit making and the well-being of women employees, women lose.

At the same time, the reform threatens to reduce the importance of currently functioning committees created to protect women’s rights against gender disparity and harassment in the workplace. The reform cuts the financing of the councils that monitor the progress made by companies in reducing inequalities between women and men.  Additionally, the cap in the labor court put on compensation for illegal layoffs undermines the power of the labor court to protect workers against abusive employers’ behaviors.

Fifty feminist organizations called on their members to join the September 12th mass demonstrations of against the labor code reforms. They emphasized that there have been three deceptive actions from this government for women’s rights. First candidate Macron promised to keep a full Minister of Women’s Rights in his administration with the same level of budget as before. The Minister has been downsized to a State Secretariat. Second the Minister budget was cut by 27%. The third deception is a “labor code reform” that threaten increased precarity for women who are already make up the majority of those employed in lower wage jobs. They demand that the president Macron respects his engagement toward women’s rights.

 

(Photo Credit 1; Le Monde) (Photo Credit 2: L’Humanité / Miguel Medina / AFP)

What made Gauri Lankesh so dangerous?

Gauri Lankesh

Recently, India has experienced a spike in violence against journalists, women and critics of the increasingly dominant religious right.  On Tuesday, September 5, that violence claimed the life of feminist activist and journalist Gauri Lankesh as she entered her home, in Bengaluru, in the south of India. Protests exploded across India, partly because of the murder of Gauri Lankesh herself and partly because of its familiarity. Men on motorcycles drove past and fired seven shots, three of which hit and killed Gauri Lankesh. That was exactly the fate of three other prominent so-called secularists: Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi, both in 2015. What made Gauri Lankesh so dangerous?

Gauri Lankesh was 55 years old, the editor and publisher of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada-language weekly paper which served, and roused, the local populations across the state of Karnataka. A “feisty leftist” and “staunch and vocal critic of the ruling BJP government and of Hindu right-wing extremism”, Gauri Lankesh “raged like a fire”. “Known for her vocal stand against India’s growing right-wing ideology, communal politics and majoritarian policies”, Gauri Lankesh was “one of India’s most outspoken journalists.” She was “fearless” and “fearfully courageous.” Gauri Lankesh was an “imperfectly perfect feminist icon – courageous, independent, contradictory, inspiring … to always do what is right; an inspiration in otherwise tiring, scary times.”

Gauri Lankesh railed against the rise of fascist, communalist, right wing religious zealots as she insisted on the centrality of building inter-caste and inter-faith unions rather than walls. In “Highest Good and Lowest Lives”, Gauri Lankesh described the lives of those who clean sewers: “According to estimates, there are about one million manual scavengers in India. Needless to say most of them – if not all – are ‘untouchables’. They live and work in shit for a measly monthly pay of about three or four thousand rupees. Because of their jobs, they suffer from skin and organ infections. In order to overcome the horror of their ‘profession’, they find succour in alcoholism. They cannot form a union to fight for their rights since these days most city corporations or municipalities have outsourced scavenging jobs to private contractors.”

The feudalism of caste embraces the neoliberalism of outsourcing, and the result is 20,000 “scavengers” die every year in the manholes of India. And the response? Silence. Where is the uproar? Where is the concern? Why does no one care? Gauri Lankesh made her readers ask those questions and then act in response.

In writing about the rising tide of violence against women, in her home town of Bengaluru, or the long history of attacks on freedom of the press, in her home state of Karnataka, Gauri Lankesh pointed to the intersection of modernity’s toxic masculinity of the Big Man at Home and the colonial legacy of the Big Man in the State House, and in each instance, her verdict was straightforward: “This … should not even exist in a democracy.”

The murder of Gauri Lankesh was not surprising. She had received death threats every day, and she persisted. She was attacked by the State, and she persisted. In a world built increasingly on rising violence against women, journalists, and critics, martyrdom has become our daily bread. Gauri Lankesh was a woman who chose to write, speak, dissent, analyze, research, and believe in democracy. Gauri Lankesh chose to work locally and regionally, chose to write primarily in Kannada rather than English, and chose to believe that democracy comes up from the sewers and is a song sung by the chorus of little voices: “Little voices, like that of a Gauri Lankesh, will not be allowed to defy. That is why she had to be killed.” This should not even exist in a democracy.

Protest in Karnataka

 

(Photo Credit 1: FeminismInIndia / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: The Wire / PTI)

Why does Australia hate pregnant and abused women asylum seekers?

Nauru

Why does Australia hate pregnant women asylum seekers? August began with a report that three pregnant women asylum seekers on Nauru had applied for termination of their pregnancies and were being denied medical transfer. This denial of medical transfer is typical on Nauru. An additional 50 asylum seekers who need medical care that they cannot receive on the island have also been denied medical transfer. This week, to close August off, 100 asylum seekers currently in Australia have been informed that they are about to lose … everything. Money, housing, the works. On Monday, August 28, about 40 men and women met with immigration officials and were informed of the new regime. Among the women are pregnant women and women who had come to Australia for treatment after having been sexually assaulted on Nauru. Meanwhile, the Immigration Minister thinks that the attorneys who represent asylum seekers, and in particular those in medical distress, are “unAustralian”. UnAustralian. What is the opposite of a commonwealth? Australia.

Yasaman Bagheri is 19 years old. She is from Iran. She has been detained on Nauru since she was 15 years old, and harsh living conditions and bleak prospects for the future are causing her to lose all hope: “They don’t care about people. They are willing to sacrifice innocent people, women and children to make their political point.” Why has this girl-child, now a young woman, been held in such dire and inhumane circumstances? No doubt because she is unAustralian.

The Australian medical profession’s position on those seeking medical care is clear. They must be transferred to Australia, immediately. Australian Medical Association President, and obstetrician, Dr Michael Gannon explained, “The ethical principles are very clear. People seeking the protection of the Australian government are entitled to healthcare standards the same as Australian citizens. So, that’s a matter of ethics and that’s a matter of law … I am not an immigration expert. But I like to think I am expert in medical ethics and I’ve stated our position very clearly as to the health standard that is we would expect.” Royal Australasian College of Physicians President Dr Catherine Yelland agreed, “We are very concerned by reports that asylum seekers are being refused medical transfers to hospitals in Australia where they would be able to get the care they need. The Australian government has a responsibility to ensure people in detention have access to the same level of care in Australian hospitals. It’s abundantly clear that they can’t receive the quality healthcare they need in these facilities. Doctors’ advice in these instances must be followed. We’ve too often seen the tragic outcomes that can occur when this advice is ignored.”

Australia recently changed the process for medical transfer from Nauru to Australia, and Nauru staff claim that this change, which requires going through Nauru hospital’s overseas medical referral committee, has meant no transfers. The committee seldom meets, keeps no records, and is altogether unreliable. The one Nauru hospital is a small operation. Nauruan women with complicated pregnancies are usually sent to Australia, Fiji or Singapore. Furthermore, Nauru prohibits abortions. The new medical non-transfer policy is a catastrophe generally, and it is an explicit assault on women, on women’s bodies.

Why does Australia hate pregnant women asylum seekers? Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen offered an answer, “Australia has reduced the men, women and children on the islands to namelessness, referring to them by registration numbers. Asked their names, kids often give a number. It’s all they know. At least the digits are not tattooed.” At least the digits are not tattooed … yet.

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: Al Jazeera)

South Africa, who are the poors, and how do we understand the causes of their poverty?

Stats SA says there “30.4-million of South Africa’s 55-million citizens in 2015 live in poverty, or below the upper poverty line of R992 per person per month. One in three South Africans lived on less than R797 per month, or half of the country’s 2015 mean annual household income of R19,120, with more women affected than men, and children and the elderly hardest hit, while racial inequalities continue to define poverty as a largely a black African problem.” Who are these poors? Not in terms of race and gender but as Individuals, as communities, how do we understand the micro and macro causes of their poverty from their perspective?

I see the Stats SA report, its methodologies and thus accuracies or lack thereof. are being hotly debated. I’m more interested in the story as I believe that whilst we must refine our data collection instruments so that they can deliver as accurate a picture to inform us as a society, as well as possible, no one can deny that things are getting tougher, and I believe “the poors” have a lot to say about how this is happening. I’m not inclined to debate whether it’s 30 million or 15 million at this point. I’m sure “experts” will do that well enough as they would find it more entertaining. I’m more interested in the fact that we have a deep and fundamental problem to solve.

It is tempting therefore to call for an additional approach, one that centers the voices of “these poors” in telling the story of the nature, extent and dynamics of “the poverty that is described in the Stats SA report.

Listening to some of the stories of “the poors and the insights of those who “work with them”, I am of the view that we have a lot of opportunity in addressing the immediate/ micro and localized causes of poverty that do not need us to have completed the process of figuring out how we are going to take on the big dark forces of local and global capital. So then, I am convinced that the causes, including the structural, are multi-dimensional – social, economic, cultural, political. Much of what we could immediately do better is to govern effectively the good intentions we have on paper. To do more to toughen the fabric of “resilience” that communities, families need when “macro factors” hit us as they will continue to do.

If you listen to a lot of stories of “the poors”, it is often about a breakdown in the accountability of communal/ governance structures, that then precipitates conditions for shocks to hit those with little privilege of cushions even harder. I am not convinced that simply designing better economic policy frameworks will help us solve localized breakdowns, and that good economic policies will solve the crisis of how we govern delivery of “solutions”. I am convinced that a deep appreciation of the interaction of both micro and macro factors is key. As always, it is all local and global.

(Infographic 1 Credit: Stats SA / Twitter) (Infographic 2 Credit: Stats SA)

Gentle Justice

Gentle Justice

justice
awaits
victims wait
for some

whilst Special Ones
and the blindly faithful
get their way
and get away

Gentle Justice
an escape
from the glare
of the public

Gentle Justice
is what you get
when you are

well-known
well-resourced
well-connected
(pockets well-lined too)

(this in spite of our
Constitution lauded
and our Bill of Rights
and the like
on paper)

Gentle Justice
a higher-up gets
during Women’s Month

his just reward
for knowing
his place

(no shoot first or
fight fire
with fire)

justice awaits
and victims wait

A legal NGO’s spokesperson on morning SAFM radio has it that our Rainbow Nation’s night-clubbing higher-up deputy-male has gotten himself “gentle justice”.

(Photo Credit: Joseph Chirume / GroundUp)

On Women’s Day, who sings for Brenda Sithole? And tomorrow?

Brenda Sithole

August 9, 2017. It’s Women’s Day in South Africa, a national holiday that commemorates the 1956 women’s anti-pass march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria: “Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed.”Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom! wathint’ abafazi,wathint’ imbokodo,uza kufa!” The women, 20,000 strong, sang that song on that historic day, and it has inspired, and continues to inspire. Inspirational as it is, it is a song of survivors, of those who lived to attend. Two weeks ago, in Gauteng not too far from Pretoria, 17-year-old Brenda Sithole committed suicide, or was killed, because she didn’t have proper papers to attend school, and so … she’s dead. She was not a rock. No boulder was dislodged. Brenda Sithole is dead. There was little notice at her death, and, today, August 9, 2017, who sings for Brenda Sithole?

Brenda Sithole’s personal story is brief. When Brenda Sithole was three months old, her mother left. Her mother died before registering her daughter’s birth. Brenda Sithole was raised by her aunt, Terry Sithole, and her father. Only recently was it discovered that Brenda Sithole didn’t have a birth certificate. When they were about to sort things out, Brenda’s father died. Brenda Sithole returned to school, explained the circumstances, and the school replied. According to Terry Sithole, “When school opened last Monday, she was told that the school wanted a birth certificate by the next day or she shouldn’t come back.”

That night, Brenda Sithole, by all accounts a happy child, a good student, a young girl with dreams for the future, went home, cut a piece of paper into the shape of a heart, wrote a note on that heart, and ended her life. The note reads: “”Am sorry. I do not mean to hurt anyone. Am sorry. I had loved and respected you all. I give my best to everyone but I felt like I did not belong here with you. I am only an embarrassment to you my family. I did not have a future even [though] I had big dreams that I wanted to see them come true but that was not going to happen because I was going to go to be kicked out of school because I did not have the rights like having an ID to show where I belong. I was just a normal person living my life at the [mercy] of God but yet that didn’t pay up. Am just useless.”

This is what happens in the state of abandonment. The State says that students must have birth certificates, and if a student doesn’t, she’s out. That’s it. Brenda Sithole was seventeen years old, a child. She had big dreams. For her, there was no rock, there was no boulder. Today, on Women’s Day, who sings for Brenda Sithole? And tomorrow?

(Photo Credit: News24) (Image credit: SA History)

In Poland “ladies are not playing”, they are fighting for their rights

In Poland last year, the Federation for Women and Family Planning celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was created to defend the reproductive laws that existed in 1991. Its director, Krystyna Kacpura, reflects, “This is the only organization in the country whose focus is sexual and reproductive rights, of course we have many NGOs working on women’s issues such as violence against women but not on reproductive rights. So, for a country of 10 million women in reproductive age, it’s nothing!”

At the end of “the cold war” world order, the process of democratization of eastern Europe, including with the reunification of Germany, was accompanied by a decline in sexual and reproductive rights and women’s rights in general. Poland has taken this to the extreme. With Ireland and Malta, Poland is the country with the most restrictive laws as regards abortion.

Recently, the passing of the French political feminist figure Simone Veil has triggered numerous reflections on the important right to universal access to free contraception and abortion. Feminist philosopher Genevieve Fraisse wrote, “Abortion is not murder. It is exercising the right to be free.”

Meanwhile, in 2016, the newly elected extreme right Polish government tried to pass a total “ban on abortion” law. Krystyna Kacpura is Executive Director of the Federation of Women and Family Planning, and she is also a member of the Sexual Rights Initiative, European Society for Contraception and Reproductive Rights, and the Programme Council of the Congress of Polish Women.

Krystyna Kacpura met with and recalled for Women In and Beyond the Global the history of the solidarity movement that rejected this law. But the battle is not over, and some similarities are easy to establish with the US anti-abortion movement as she explains:

Krystyna Kacpura

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Janek Skarżyński /AFP /Getty Images) (Photo Credit 2: Wyborcza / Albert Zawada)

Florida’s special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution, ran out of water

Florida built a special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution. In 2015, Lowell housed, or better caged, 2696 women, surpassing the Central California Women’s Facility and thus becoming the largest women’s prison in the United States. From the start, in 1956, to today, the place has been a nightmare: overcrowded, rampant with staff abuse of prisoners and institutional abuse of staff, severely under resourced, violent, toxic and lethal. In 2014, Michelle Tierney, Latandra Ellington, Regina A. Cooper, and Affricka G. Jean died “under suspicious circumstances.” They did not die; they were killed by the institution. From the outset, death-in-life has been the everyday norm for Lowell. Last week, Lowell hit a new low, no water for days. The Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of inhumane practices, became the Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of `subhuman’ conditions.

Here’s the official version: Lightning struck a water pump on Saturday, July 8. It shut down water and a geothermal line, which meant no water and no `air conditioning’. On Monday, July 10, the Florida Department of Correction released a statement: “Storm damage over the weekend caused maintenance issues that effected the well pumps and geothermal line at Lowell Correctional Institution. Institution maintenance staff responded immediately and have been on scene trying to resolve the issues with assistance from the local fire department and contractors. The geothermal line has been repaired and a replacement pump for the well is expected to arrive today. All inmates have access to drinking water. Toilets and sinks are operational using non-potable water being brought in to the institution.”

On Thursday, July 13, The Miami Herald reported that drinking water was still unavailable, and would be unavailable for at least another three days.

Lowell Correctional Institution doesn’t have air conditioning. Instead it relies on geo-thermal cooling. The State admits that the system is faulty, at best. Prison staff say the system doesn’t work at all in a number of the dormitories. Now, it officially doesn’t work anywhere. Meanwhile, Lowell has been cited repeatedly for unhygienic conditions, including worms and mold in the showers and sinks. Last week, for at least three days, the showers and sinks were officially shut off. Toilets were also `inoperational’, which prisoners explained means toilets overflowing with feces.

One staff member said, “It’s a disgusting mess; the women are living in subhuman conditions.” Another added, “I don’t understand why the health department doesn’t get involved. There’s been a constant problem here with sanitation. Toilets that don’t work — sometimes only one works for 160 inmates.”

Florida maintains that the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution is under control and just fine. Florida can make that claim because the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution has been subhuman for years, and who complained? Prisoners, their families and friends, staff members, and the occasional activist. Where’s the hue and cry over the abysmal conditions in the nation’s largest women’s prison? Florida built a special hell for women, Lowell Correctional Institution, and really, who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Miami Herald / Emily Michot)

a petite woman

a petite woman

Emma Mashinini was
we get to hear
on morning radio

a petite woman
that’s what she was

diminutive little elfin
tiny small short

Emma Mashinini has passed
trade unionist pioneer
pioneer trade unionist

a petite woman
that’s what she was

anti-apartheid fighter
fighter for women’s rights
a warrior on all fronts

women described
a woman described
differently to others
to men

(did we see
that appendaged
to late unionist
Ronald (Bernie) Bernickow
or music giant Ray Phiri)

a petite woman
that’s what she was

we have a long way

 

(Emma Mashinini’s short tribute (read by a woman) on SAFM’s (morning) AM Live gets this one going.)

(Photo Credit: Buzz South Africa)

In elections from the State of Mexico to the councils of Cambodia, women are on the move

Delfina Gómez Álvarez

This weekend saw three major elections. In Lesotho, people went to the polls to elect a Prime Minister … for the third time in three years. Despite a heavy presence of military at the polls, generally reports are that everything was orderly and reasonably fair and free. The other two elections, for the Governor of the State of Mexico and for council and commune seats in Cambodia, the electoral story is all about women: Delfina Gómez Álvarez in Mexico, and in Cambodia, Mu Sochua, Tep Vanny, Preah Vihear, Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara and countless others. While the particularities from Mexico to Cambodia my change, the story of the insurgent ascendancy of women in response to neoliberal models of so-called development that tally women as so many disposable bodies is the same. From Mexico to Cambodia, women are saying NO!

In the State of Mexico, known as Edomex, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, of the relatively new leftist Morena party, has been running a fierce campaign against a candidate who is president Enrique Peña Nieto’s cousin and whose party has ruled Edomex for 90 years. Additionally, his father and grandfather were governors of Edomex. So, it was a done deal, right? Wrong. Delfina Gómez covered the state, from one end to the other and all points in between, and the State of Mexico is Mexico’s most populous and most densely populated state. Not a member of an illustrious family, Delfina Gómez had spent most of her adult life as a teacher. When she entered politics, in 2012, she ran for Municipal President of Texcoco, and won. Delfina Gómez Álvarez was the first woman to win a municipal election in Texcoco. Now she’s taking that to the State level. It’s unclear, as of now, who won the election. Both sides are claiming victory, and the margins are narrow. What is clear is Delfina Gómez Álvarez, standing loud and proud, and urging the people onward.

In Cambodia, women –  like Yorm Bopha, Tep Vanny, Phan Chhunreth, Song Srey Leap, and Bo Chhorvy and thousands of others – have led the campaigns against land grabs, mass evictions, and other forms of `urban development.’ With the elections coming up, many activists – such as Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara – decided to join Mu Sochua and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Woman after woman told a version of the same story. They had had enough of both the patriarchal national form of so-called development AND the patriarchal forms of opposition. Despite the difficulties of moving up in any Cambodia party bureaucracy, they decided the time is now. They had pushed for so long, and still the bulldozers came, whole communities were removed, and if there was any public outcry, it was short lived and then forgotten.

As in Edomex, the results of the elections are not altogether clear. The national ruling party seems to have won at the national level, but in many regions, the CNRP did well, and women candidates did well.

Winning an election is important, terrifically and often terribly important, but so is entering the race, and in Mexico and Cambodia this weekend, that’s what women did. Where are the women? They’re in the garment factories and, like activist Tep Vanny, in the prisons, and they’re in the polling booths, on the election posters, on the platform and dais, in the meetings, and soon, very soon, they will be in the governor’s estate, in the council and commune bodies, and beyond. Soon, very soon, and not just in Cambodia and Mexico.

Khum Rany

 

(Photo Credit 1: Excelsior / Cuartoscuro) (Photo Credit 2: Phnom Penh Post / Pha Lina)