#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina women made history by insisting women’s autonomy must matter


In Argentina today, the lower legislative house, la Cámara de los Diputados, after long and intensive debate, voted to decriminalize abortion. The vote was 129 in favor, 125 opposed. The bill now goes on to the Senate, which is not expected to pass, but these days … who knows? Across Latin America and the Caribbean, where 97 percent of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, today’s legislative step by the Argentine lower house is viewed as a clear breakthrough, a historicmoment. Around the world, women and their supporters are watching and hailing the event as historic as well. Today’s vote is historic because of what it portends for women’s access to real reproductive health services, rights and power. Today’s vote is equally historic because it indicates that women are making historic, step by step, year by year. Today’s Argentine vote occurred at all because of the work of Ni Una Menos and their supporters, who began breaking rules and making history when they refused to accept femicide and other forms of violence against women as an “unfortunate but inevitable” aspect of Argentina machismo. They said, No more! They yelled, Ni una menos! And they have caused the ground to tremble and the walls to shake. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos!

Two years ago, in October, under the banner of Ni Una Menos, women declared a general strike against all violence against women. Women had already been organizing against violence against women for two years. Argentine women had been organizing as well for thirty years, in various encuentros and other structures. They decided, Enough is enough! They organized the first national women’s strike in Argentine history, and they shut the nation down. At the time Ni Una Menos argued, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.” At the center of the web of intersections lay women’s autonomy.

Two years later, Ni Una Menos women, and their supporters, brought that argument to halls of Argentina’s congress. They filled the streets. They told story after story after story of those who had had to endure the pain and danger of illegal abortions. Studentsled, occupying schools, filling the streets. Workers joined in. From the mass demonstrations two years to today’s vote, the women of Argentina, as an organized self-identified autonomous political movement, have mobilized in every way, day by day by day. They have taken the stories and turned them into educative moments. They have taken the educative moments and turned them into votes. They have taken the swords and plowshares and turned them into women’s power. At the center of all this is the simple and complex understanding that women’s autonomy lies at the center of everything … or there is nothing.

When today’s vote was announced, the shouting inside and outside the legislature was described as “louder than when Lionel Messi scores a goal.” Today’s vote was historicand, for some, revolutionary. In Argentina today, women made revolutionary history possible, once again, by insisting and forcing the State to take on that women’s autonomy must matter. Ni Una menos! #NiUnaMenos

 

(Photo Credit: Pagina12 / Bernardino Avila) (Image Credit: Le Monde)

In Thailand, seven women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation … and won!

Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna

Yesterday, in Thailand, a court ruled that seven rural women activists – Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna – are innocent of accusations of having organized an illegal assembly and of having coerced individuals to act against their will. Those charges stemmed from a meeting in November 2016, but the story goes back much further and radiates far beyond the Loei Province, in northern Thailand. It’s another story of local women, in this case local rural women organizing, organizing, organizing, no matter the odds, no matter the enormity of the opposition … organizing, organizing, organizing … and winning!

The Tongkah Harbour Public Company Limited has been around since 1906. In 1907, the company started offshore tin mining. Today, the company is involved in all sorts of mineral mining and in real estate. In 1991, the Tongkah Harbour Public Company founded Tungkum Limited, with the express purpose of mining gold in Loei Province, in northeastern Thailand. Loei Province is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Thailand, an area described as idyllic. In 2003, the Thai Ministry of Industry gave Tungkum the green light, and mining began.

What followed was an altogether familiar tale of mining and environmental contamination and devastation. What had been a hard life became an impossible life and then death-in-life, another instance of necropolitical economic development. Thanks to leaks from the mines, rarely controlled, rarely admitted to by the company, rarely investigated by the State, local water and soil started showing high levels of arsenic, manganese, chromium, cyanide, mercury and cadmium. None of this was unexpected. These are by-products of gold mining and, if improperly contained, they will poison the surrounding communities of people and the environments in which they dwell.

Local communities formed Khon Rak Ban Kerd, People Love their Hometown, KRBK. From the beginning, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna, Mae Rot and other women have been the central driving force for the organizing effort. They have withstood armed attacks, lawsuits, public defamation, and all forms of available intimidation. They have responded with rallies, blockades, petitions, and organizing. In November 2016, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna were invited to a meeting to discuss their views. When they arrived, with their friends, they were accused of blocking access to the meeting place and of unlawful assembly. This week, the court decided that, instead, the seven women had “innocently expressed their opinions, which is within their basic rights under the system of democracy.”

Their lawyer, Teerapun Phankeeree, said the women “are likely to continue to oppose the mining operations … The community not only wanted the company to stop operating, they wanted the company and government agencies to restore the environment, as well.” One of the activists, Pornthip Hongchai, explained, “There is still contamination within our six villages surrounding the mine. No officials or any department have come to seriously fix or address the problem yet. Villagers know that the water is contaminated and we have to be careful and look after ourselves. We still have to buy water to drink and cook with. We’ve been buying water since 2009 when there was a public health announcement.” As Mae Rot explained, “We have nowhere else to go. This is our land and we have been here for a hundred years. We have a right to live peacefully. We can’t eat the food we grow, we can’t drink the water. All we can do is keep fighting for justice. We pray to our ancestors in the mountains for help. Recently the miners drilled but found nothing. Maybe our ancestors are listening.” Maybe the ancestors are listening, and maybe the world as well. In Thailand, seven rural women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation, said NO! to some of the most powerful men and organizations in the world, said YES to democracy … and won!

 

(Photo Credit: The Nation) (Video Credit: YouTube / CIEE Khon Kaen)

Thailand bus fire kills 20 migrant workers from Myanmar. 18 were women. Who cares?

Early Friday morning, March 30, in Tak Province, a bus carrying workers from Myanmar to a factory district caught fire. The bus was carrying 48 workers, plus the driver and his wife. 20 workers were killed, 18 women, 2 men. Once again, despite the overwhelming gender composition of this event, the international press described the dead as simply “migrant workers” and then proceeded to focus on Thailand’s hazardous roads and the shoddy condition of the bus. Thailand has dangerous roads, but this incident was a rolling factory fire. As in Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation; Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines; Bawana Industrial Area, India, and so many others, this bus fire was a planned massacre of women workers. And, as so often in these cases, the news media generally glosses over the massacre as an assault on women.

What happened? A bus carrying 48 women workers, a bus driver and his wife, was on route  from Myanmar to the Nava Nakorn Industrial Zone, near Bangkok. The bus was without air conditioning. Around 1:40, a fire broke out in the middle of the bus and spread quickly. Those in the front managed to escape. Those in the back were burnt to death.

Pa Pa Hlaing, a 19-year-old woman worker survivor, said, “When we were asleep, some people from the back of the bus started shouting and screaming ‘fire, fire’ and as we awoke, the smoke was already filling the bus. We couldn’t see anything or breathe. We just tried to get out of the bus as soon as possible. We were just rushing toward the bus door. I don’t even remember how I actually got out of that bus. There were bruises all over my legs as I was just randomly running around. Then, three minutes right after we got out of the bus, the flames just swallowed the bus.”

According to reports, the workers, from Myanmar, were all properly registered migrant workers. According to the Thai Labor Ministry, Thailand has about 2.7 million registered migrant workers, primarily from Myanmar and Cambodia. Women migrant workers figure prominently in the industrial and agricultural sector as well as among domestic workers. There is no surprise when, of 20 people killed in a factory fire, 18 are women. There is no surprise that the bus was in such bad shape it would have to be described as equipped to kill at least 20 people in the event of a fire or other catastrophe. There is no surprise here, none of this is new. It’s all part of the development model the entire world has signed on to. Apparently, the women workers in this particular bus were heading to work in a Japanese-owned toy factory.

At what point do women matter to the world at large? At what point do the world media begin to consider the high numbers of women killed in the disasters built into our built landscapes, from the garbage dumps of Maputo, Mozambique, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the earthquake struck buildings of Mexico City, Mexico, to the factories across the globe? This past week, a bus in Thailand caught fire. 20 migrant workers from Myanmar were killed. 18 were women. Who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Bangkok Post)

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

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

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

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

 

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

At the Hulene garbage dump collapse, most of the dead were women

The Hulene garbage dump, also known as the Bocario dump, is the only garbage dump in Maputo, Mozambique, a city of over a million people and growing. Thousands of people live in the shadow of the dump’s mountains of trash. Many live on the sides of the trash mountain itself. Those who pick through the garbage in search of food and something to sell are called catadores. Predictably, catadores are mostly women, children, the disabled, the elderly, and immigrants. Last Monday, February 19, the mountain collapsed, and sixteen or seventeen people were killed. Initial state reports say sixteen died: 12 women, 4 men. Mozambicans want answers. We all should.

Many will ask what happened? What causes garbage mountains to collapse? What caused this particular mountain of trash to collapse? Urban development? Construction? What causes garbage mountains to grow? Who builds a city in which hundreds of people spend their lives as scavengers, climbing, descending and burrowing into mountains of trash? What happened last Monday in Hulene?

What happened, as well, to women and children? How is that 16 die, and 12 are women? How is that that ratio is almost precisely the same as the ratio at the Koshe Garbage Landfill collapse, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a year ago?  How is that human stampedes and urban garbage landslides have the same toxic gender mathematics of mortality? What does it mean that women are sacrifices to forces that built and build landfills choked by ever-rising mountains of trash?

None of this is new. Scholars, activists, and residents have long decried the conditions in and around the Hulene dump. In a 2011 WIEGO report, researchers noted, “It is likely that the Hulene dump will remain in use until 2015, when development of the new land is expected to be complete.” In 2013, in response to local community pressure, the Maputo government agreed to close the Hulene rubbish dump. It’s 2018. The dump is open, and now it’s a graveyard. Call it the price of urban development.

The planet of slums has produced a global archipelago of garbage mountains on which mostly women work and live. There is no surprise allowed when the mountains collapse, as they regularly do, and the overwhelming majority of the dead are women. There was no accident in Hulene, also known as Bocario, last Monday. There was a planned massacre of women. Mozambicans demand answers. We all should, and we all should have long ago.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Club of Mozambique) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian / Shaun Swingler)

To the next generations, from a millennial

This is a letter for all the next generations, terrified of the world and dismissed by the older generations. I remember being in Middle School and participating in lockdown drills, hiding in the back of the school while pretending that the school was under attack. I remember moving to different schools after there was a bomb threat that had been called into the school. I didn’t think anything of it, and most likely neither did my parents; it was just protocol, it’s not like anything like that would happen anyway. I remember everyone scoffing at participation trophies, and mocking the hurt Millennials who were too much of an emotional mess. And as I watch the next generations growing into adulthood, I am terrified to see some of my generation taking up their mantle.

We laugh at tide pods, forgetting we grew up with Jackass and the Cinnamon Challenge, the Gallon Milk Challenge, and every stupid thing we did for notoriety and our minutes of fame. We call the next generation Snowflakes, forgetting we were the original Snowflakes. I am watching, horrified, that seventeen year old kids are begging for some action by Congress after the bomb threats and lockdowns from my generation have turned into an all-out massacre of the newest generation. And more than likely, we’ll all forget what happened in the next two days, to be shelved until forty or fifty kids are killed in the next shooting.

To whoever comes after us, you are already better. You have not given up where 26-year-olds like myself have scoffed at the world, because it isn’t our problem; but it is. It will forever be our problem. We condemned the generations before us, the Baby Boomers and the like, for destroying the economy, bankrupting social welfare programs, demanding more in their ever-increasing narcissism, but we have been falling back on their ways. That cannot happen.

To the students who are calling for action from Congress because you are losing friends and teachers from the alarming increase in mass shootings, don’t give up. To the kids who are resisting the destruction of our environment and the rise of intolerance and hate, don’t give up; we all want a better world to give to our children and future generations. To students who fight for debt-free education and knowledge, don’t throw in the towel; knowledge and education is a human right. To younger generations demanding a living wage, we are all there with you; all jobs where we sell our labor should at least equal the cost of living. To the girls and young women protesting unfair dress codes and lack of access to birth control, your body is yours, not something to be controlled and censored by boys and men. You are already better than us for so many reasons, for your optimism and activism in the face of ever growing hatred.

Please continue this, and fight for a better world: a world without hate, violence and death; a world without people working and barely making ends meet; a world where a child can get an education free of the burden of debt and the fear of not making it home that day.

And Millennials, remember that once, not too long ago, we were those “stupid kids” who demanded everything and gave nothing. Our goal in a society is to improve upon it for the generations that come after us. That should forever be our mantra, and right now, that is not our mantra. Instead, we are posting on Facebook about guns and mental illness and making fun of the high school kids without taking a step back into ways we can fight for ourselves and the generations to come. It’s not too late, it’s never too late.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Affinity) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Zachary Fagenson / Reuters)

At Yarl’s Wood, 120 women prisoners are on hunger strike! #ShutYarlsWood


England built a special hell for women: Yarl’s Wood. This week, 120 Yarl’s Wood women prisoners are on hunger strike. The women are protesting indefinite detention, abysmal healthcare services, abuse, and denial of personal and collective dignity and humanity. Today, after being denied entry for a year, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott was finally allowed inside the complex. Abbott was accompanied by Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general. Eight years ago, to the day, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood engaged in a hunger strike from February 5 to March 19, 2010. That same year, in January, Bita Ghaedi entered into a weeks long individual hunger strike, out of fear of certain death if she was returned to Iran. In March 2015, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood went on a hunger strike. Why does England, or the government of England, want to demean, abuse and traumatized so many vulnerable already traumatized women, most of women are African and Asian? Why does England hate so many women so intensely? When will this reign of terror end?

One hunger striker, an Algerian woman who has lived in England since she was 11 years old, explained, “Every day I wake up and I have to think of a reason to go on. I’ve given up thinking about the outside – I’ve given up thinking about it. I feel like I’m in someone’s dungeon and no one is letting me out. I might as well be blindfolded in a van going 100 miles an hour in a direction I don’t know. The indefinite detention causes people so much stress. People are breaking down psychologically. We have no fight left. They break you down. It’s inhumane. And there’s no psychological help. I’ve tried speaking to a psychological nurse in the centre about issues I have, and he advised me to speak to my solicitor about it.” This woman has been in Yarl’s Wood for three months. She has no idea if and when she will be released.

In 2017, `Voke’ spent eight months in Yarl’s Wood. While imprisoned there, she attempted suicide: “It was such a relief to get out of there. But I don’t understand why they had to put me through it at all. I hope I will start to feel better soon, but I will never forget being detained. I will never forget Yarl’s Wood.”

Eight years ago, Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers – including Denise McNeil, 35 year old Jamaican asylum seeker; Mojirola Daniels, Nigerian asylum seeker; Leila, Iranian asylum seeker; Victoria Odeleye, 32 year old Nigerian asylum seeker –  reported torture, rape, starvation, other forms of abuse. They described the devastating impact of Yarl’s Wood on imprisoned children, such as 10-year-old Egyptian Nardin Mansour. They mourned and protested the suicides as they explained that Yarl’s Wood was intent on killing them. As Laura A, a Sierra Leonean and former Yarl’s Wood prisoner, noted: “I am a fighter, I am used to fight to live, but to be told, ‘You faked your life,’ is a little like death.”

The Yarl’s Wood women hunger strikers took the calculus of the killing and turned it on its head, saying they were better than that. They said they were women, fighters used to fighting, peacemakers used to making peace, and no one could decide that it was right for them to be slaughtered. They called out, shouted, screamed, fasted, demanded to be heard … and here we are eight years later.

Over 80 percent of the women in Yarl’s Wood are survivors fleeing sexual or gender-based violence. The vast majority of women in Yarl’s Wood end up being released into the community. What sort of factory is designed to produce damage: damaged bodies, souls, psyches, lives? Yarl’s Wood. The time for concern and for discussion is over. The time for justice, and for reparations, is long overdue. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: Politics.co.uk) (Image Credit: Detained Voices)

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”

A cell at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre

Human Rights Watch released a report today, I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished: Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia, that describes the horror of prison for those living with disabilities. Prisoners living with disabilities are tortured in every way possible, from extended and extensive use of solitary confinement to sexual violence to physical and psychological torture to … The list is endless. One prisoner spent 19 years in solitary confinement. Prison-carers provide care for prisoners with high support needs. In one prison, six of the eight prison-carers are convicted sex offenders. At the center of this garden of earthly evil are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. At the center of that center are Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait women: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”. None of this is new.

HRW researchers reached women at Bandyup Women’s Prison, in West Swan, Western Australia, and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, in Wacol, Brisbane, Queensland. Both are infamous for chronic overcrowding and the occasional death in custody. Today’s report largely reiterates earlier findings. The hyper-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait women is “integrally linked to the social and economic disadvantages that result from years of structural discrimination.”

Many people with disabilities that we interviewed, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities, had experienced family and sexual violence multiple times in their lives. Facing sexual, physical, and verbal violence in prison, particularly from staff, perpetuates this cycle of violence and creates distrust between staff and prisoners. One woman with a disability told Human Rights Watch: “The officers [use] intimidation tactics. Especially for us girls, that just reminds us of our domestic violence back home, it scares us. If you want to get through to us, they should be nice to us.” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have high rates of psychosocial disabilities, intellectual disability, and trauma: “About 73 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and 86 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison have a diagnosed mental health condition …. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland prisons, 73 percent of male and 86 percent of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners had a diagnosed psychosocial disability”.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait women have more contact with police, generally, and the contact starts at a younger age. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities “experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, domestic and sexual violence, and abuse than non-indigenous peers and peers without disabilities.”

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.”

None of this is new. These very issues came up in major reports published in  2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and last year. It’s a new year, and so we have another study that reports that Australia, like the United States, has invested a great deal in intensifying the vulnerability of the most vulnerable, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The more vulnerable women become, the more they are told to shoulder responsibility, individually and as a group, for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, body and soul. Women suffer repeated trauma, and it’s their fault. Prisons are cruel and ineffective, especially for women, and that’s just fine. Mass incarceration is destroying indigenous women and families, and that’s just fine. Everything is fine. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC)

From Palestine to Kashmir, women are taking their space against occupation and patriarchy

Reversing decades of foreign policy tradition, Donald Trump announced the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In so doing, Trump fanned the flames of a region already embroiled in intense conflict. Muslim leaders from 57 countries condemned the decision, calling on the world to recognize “Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.” Protests erupted worldwide in solidarity with the Palestinian nation, whose de-jure territories—Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights—are treated as illegitimate by both Trump and Israel. Protests erupted within the walls of occupied Palestine following the pronouncement. In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Palestinians are fighting the declaration, which they see as further legitimizing Israel’s apartheid takeover. Israel responded with its usual destructive military violence.

In colonized states, military violence is commonplace. Crackdowns, disappearances, violence, and intimidation are the norm. Palestine is no exception. Since 1948, Israel has routinely practiced human rights abuses in attempts to quell the Palestinian State. What do these crackdowns mean for the women of Palestine?

In 2010, journalist Freny Manecksha asked a similar question regarding Kashmir, a region occupied by Indian military police. For seven years, Manecksha collected and compiled dozens of first-hand accounts from women of Kashmir. She details how space is lost to women subjected to military violence.

Torture, rape, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings are tools the Indian military police use to deny Kashmir political sovereignty. To women in Kashmir, crackdowns are synonymous with sexual violence. The once free-roaming, awe-inspiring hills of Kashmir have transformed into a cold, barbaric warning. Kashmir was once a land of mysticism. Its breathtaking natural landscape inspired poets like Habba Khatun to write of girls picking chinar leaves, of wandering spaces, and of the wild flowers that dotted the hillsides.

Those verses are reminders of a time of freedom stolen from women. Cold metal, tear gas, and military uniforms proliferate amongst the cities and trees. Mysticism was transformed into barbarism. Women are no longer free to gather violets – doing so risks sexual harassment, violence, or abduction. Privacy is lost. Riflemen “legally” barge into homes, smash pots and pans, take up common rooms, and destroy the sanctity of the home. Only in shrines do women find the sacred space “just to be.” Shrines serve as places of “secrets, fears, and angst”, places of “abreaction.” They are the last accessible places that allow women to release their emotions while offering an important “spiritual anchor.” They are the last spaces still reminiscent of Habba Khatun’s Kashmir.

In Palestine, women face a similar problem. Since 1948, the Israeli military has asserted its dominance through borders, checkpoints, and brute displays of force. Along with the military colonizing their spaces, Israeli developers have capitalized on the forced removal of Palestinian citizens. Old olive orchards, the source of income for many families, are now white, concrete eyesores. Checkpoints dictate how women maneuver through the land, deciding if they can access schools, hospitals, relatives: “Occupying the material space of the frontline, these women must often carry the burdens of the outcome of the fighting. These women survive both the daily assaults against their quotidian activities and the psychological warfare that is endemic to a militarized zone.”

Movement and security are luxuries. Like the women of Kashmir, Palestinian women find themselves suffocated by military occupation. They are without legal rights, government help, or societal help. Internalized colonization and the weaponization of their bodies has increased the strength of the patriarchy. Palestinian authorities view sexual abuse as a national issue—speaking about that abuse makes the woman complicit with the outside forces aimed at destroying the nation. More so, Palestine sees sexual violence as a direct confrontation with its honor. In the need to defend national honor from invaders, women who are sexually abused are treated as dishonorable, often ostracized from their communities.

This is colonialism, the occupation of space by an invader, and it is patriarchy, the need to assert dominance over a feminine body: “This  is  the  point  where  two  systems  of  subordination – occupation  and  patriarchy – converge  in  the  Occupied Palestinian Territories: women in confronting the former submit to the latter.” War, conquest, and the hunger for land work in tandem with the worst types of oppression. Denial of state freedom is denial of women’s freedom.

Despite the reality of occupation, Palestine should have hope. In Kashmir, young women are actively fighting against both patriarchal and military occupation. Women like Essar Batool, Natasha Rather, Farhana Latief, and Inshah Malik question Kashmiri societal predispositions and how gender, sexuality, and freedom of expression are linked to the Azadi movement. These women promote a fiery new hope, recentering the activist conversation on those who most need Azadi—women. For them, it is not enough to have freedom from India. They demand freedom from patriarchy.

Palestinian women are also not backing down. Determined to “create their own meaning and build agency, sometimes literally from the nothingness around them; all the while being cognizant of their roots and history, they offer counter-discourses, counter-spaces, and counter-narratives.” They are taking their space by force, both within Palestine itself and in the greater activist movement.

In the words of feminist peace activist legislator Jihad Abu Zneid, “This is our country and we will save it. We will save our capital and our sovereignty here in Jerusalem.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Al Jazeera / Mohammed Salem / Reuters) (Photo Credit 2: Women’s Media Center / Bilal Bahadur)

It’s Time to Recognize Food Industry Work as Work!

An imbalance of power has come into play with union member food service workers, unions, and the corporate elites who run business. Attempting to control and manipulate employees, employers have exerted their will over employees, trying to extract value from labor without paying enough for that labor. That happened with my old employer, A&P, which went into bankruptcy twice before closing its doors in 2015. The supermarket chain manipulated its employee by demanding they give back parts of their benefits, including pay cuts, vacation and sick days, while the corporate elites received six figure bonuses as incentive money to keep the business afloat.

Corporates use their power to control employees in several ways: by adhering to the stereotype of workers being young lazy workers who only work for disposable income; by promoting a more familial relationship so that more labor is extracted from the employee who then feels obliged to the team and family; and by obscuring rights and privileges that many employees could take advantage of. This way, when things go awry, unions are held accountable for not working hard enough.

As the food service industry has transitioned to an informal workforce, that workforce has been stereotyped as teenagers in entry level positions, lazy without any commitment to the company and who only use their paycheck as disposable income. Further, much food service work is described as mechanical and only done by unintelligent people. Of course, this is untrue. Nevertheless, these stereotypes justify low pay and extreme exploitation.

Working at a supermarket, I have seen the physical and mental, not to mention emotional, labor that goes into every day’s work. Work at grocery stores and fast food establishments keeps others fed and clean; without them people could not function. The job is physically and mentally demanding, and injuries run rampant, from carpal tunnel to back pain and bad knees. The job requires physical stamina, completely different from the stereotype of a lazy teenager ringing someone up behind a counter waiting only for payday.

While working as a part time worker, I was required to perform nearly four jobs in my title of bakery clerk. I was a cake decorator, customer service representative, stocker, and manager. At New Jersey’s minimum wage at the time, $8.50 an hour, I was on hand as a manager while my manager went out on disability. Managerial duties require knowledge of conducting inventories, ordering product, and onerous amounts of paperwork that were never checked but demanded to be done, and breaking down multiple 50 to 75lb boxes when loads are delivered, either three days a week in the winter to every day in the summer time. I had to complete all my tasks at 28 hours a week, the maximum hours for part timers. I did so to prove myself worthy of some full-time position that never came to fruition, and because the store manager trusted me with a higher-level task I felt honored to complete it.

Employers personalize relationships with their employees in order to extract more labor from them. By making them feel obligated outside of any contractual agreement, employees may feel the need to work harder, or work what wasn’t considered in their job descriptions. Many of my coworkers and I fell prey to this. We would feel obligated to work much hard than needs be, especially for the rate of pay we were given. A dairy clerk would act as a closing manager for $9.50 an hour; at a $10.00 rate, well below the living wage in the state of New Jersey, another woman worked as a front-end manager, book keeper, and handled customers at customer service. Those who worked the hardest for the lowest pay were women; thrust into jobs not technically in their contracts but paid substantially less than their male counterparts in the same jobs.

Despite the hard and draining work that is involved with providing food to the American people, food service workers are often overlooked, underappreciated, or consistently abused both by upper level management and customers alike. If we begin by legitimizing food service work as work, and not a starting off point for teenagers who need pocket money, and by discussing the gendered divisions that keep women working for less pay then men, we can begin to fight for better working conditions and pay with benefits for every worker in the commercial food industry.

(Image Credit: UFCW)