Must we as feminists love microfinance and leaning in? No!

Why do we love the concept of microfinance? For the same reasons we embraced Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s “how-to” corporate guidebook sold under the auspices of feminism, with open hearts. In a capitalist society, money equates power. And, with recent increases in awareness of the patriarchal capitalist structures that disproportionately disadvantage and harm women, there has been a resulting push for economic solutions, quick fixes meant to help women lift themselves out of poverty. This desire for straightforward solutions, coupled with an individualist view of poverty-eradication, has led to an embrace of microfinance for women in developing countries around the world.

At first glance, microfinance seems like a quick, clever solution. The rush of donating $25 to microfinance donor websites like Kiva.org provides the illusion that you are doing good works, without the strain of a larger donation of money, time, organizing power, etc. Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work as the founder of Grameen Bank, the first major microfinance institution, is a compelling figure, one providing solutions that seem entirely doable and possible, to solve a problem that seems unconquerable.

But how could microfinance be the solution when, just like Sheryl Sandberg’s trickle down feminism, it embraces a capitalist structure and places the onus on the individual? Microfinance has been presented as the method through which we can “solve” poverty; in Sandberg’s vision of feminism, telling women to lean in and close the ambition gap in order to better their work and financial lives can be seen as the Western, middle- and upper class equivalent to microfinance. In Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh, Lamia Karim explains the ills of microfinance:

“By giving loans to people who could not invest the money properly, and by telling them that they would materially improve their condition, the NGOs induced poor people into risk taking that often had…unforeseen consequences on their lives. The problems faced by [a microfinance loan recipient] reflected the unregulated and rapid growth of the microfinance programs in Bangladesh that emphasized an increase in member enrollments, loan disbursements, and installment collections over training and social investment in the lives of the borrowers”.

The capitalist market is considered more important to those in power than ending the problems microfinance claims to be solving. Lifting women out of poverty, helping them build a steady career, and guaranteeing a woman’s own agency are cast aside in favor of a return on investments.

Academia and the media have lauded both microfinance and Sandberg’s trickledown feminism, respectively, but when you dig into them, whom are they helping? Microfinance and Lean In are simply buying into the individual view of success for women in a capitalist society, and as such, both benefit the capitalist market.

In Lean Out, Dawn Foster responds to Sandberg’s consumer/capitalist/individualized feminism and calls instead for direct political and protest action that challenge oppressive systems, rather than individual focus on ambition or profiting from the use of feminist rhetoric or identity.

Foster urges us to lean out of the corporate capitalist model that systematically exploits women: “‘Leaning out’ of the capitalist model is far more effective at securing attention, provoking change, and ensuring demands are met than ‘leaning in’. Few people ever get anything radical accomplished by continuing to play the game”. Microfinance continues to ‘play the game’. Microfinance will never challenge the oppressive structures of power that perpetrate and maintain women’s oppression, nor will Sandberg’s brand-name feminism. Lean out!

 

(Image Credit: Repeater Books) (Video Credit: Heinemann Media / YouTube)

In Syria, women as weapons of war is a crime against humanity!

After the tragic end of East Aleppo and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of survivors from horrific bombings, that included hospitals and typical civilian’s landmarks such as schools, who would pay attention to the violence inflicted on women in Syria? With the insurrection and the rebellion against the authoritative regime of Bashar al-Assad, women have served as weapons of war as has been increasingly the case in the many places torn apart by conflicts.

The sexual abuses committed against women from Da’esh/Isis are notorious and exposed under the antiterrorism narrative, but the strategically organized sexual violence against women set up by the regime of Bashar al Assad against the opposition has not been narrated as such. Some few have identified “rape” as Bashar’s secret weapon or weapon of mass destruction.

Once again, women’s bodies are the stakes of political violence while women see their participation as full citizens with rights to political and social debate systematically impugned or rendered impossible. Additionally, religious and social patriarchal discrimination against women have put women in a position of intensified vulnerability.

During the conflict that partitioned Yugoslavia Bosnia in the 1990s, sexualized violence against Muslim women became a strategy of war. In the middle of the killing, “rape camps” were established in which women were raped, had their breasts cut if they resisted or slaughtered. Women’s bodies instrumentalized by elite strategists were tortured by Serbian militias, soldiers; the goal was to make them forget that those bodies were/are women beings. Margot Wallström, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, estimated that about 60 000 women suffered sexualized violence in Bosnia and Croatia.

Today, one wonders yet again about the international community’s position.

UN resolution 1820 of 2008, entitled Women and Peace and Security, was described as a “step in the right direction.” The expectations with this resolution were that sexual violence during conflicts would be recognized as a weapon of war violating the rules of war and therefore could be punished in a tribunal. This resolution raised the question of the impunity of the perpetrators of these atrocities that typically left deep scars and pushed women to commit suicide. As a former UN peace keeping forces major general declared, “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

And still after this resolution, rape and humiliation of women has remained a formal strategy, as we have seen in Syria. Moreover, the impunity with which some atrocities have taken place underlies the failure of the UN Security Council to refer the regime of Bashar to the International Criminal court.

Annick Cojean, who exposed the sexual abuses in Gadhafi’s circles, has investigated the Syrian case. She explains that women have been arrested in great numbers for various reasons for demonstrating peacefully or for being related to an opponent to the regime, simply because the regime has been dictatorial and brutal. Being in custody means that sexual torture. A teenage girl recalls that during her time in a detention center, she along with all the women there would be raped and sexually tortured, burned and more everyday but every day a doctor would give her a pill and check her periods. One day she was late and received another pill that triggered strong pain in the abdomen; she wouldn’t be pregnant despite the numerous rapes. Some witnesses claim that the guards and soldiers receive “performance enhancing” stimulants.

In this patriarchal environment, women who are being humiliated and shown and sometimes filmed naked and raped in their own communities in front of their children and husband are being utilized “to dishonor” their family or community. They often face rejection instead of compassion and support.

They become the culprit instead of the victim. They are crushed under this double threat. Annick Cojean emphasizes that for them to come forward and testify is sometimes an impossible task. She met some of them in Jordan in a refugee camp or in Lebanon; each time the stories were more horrific.

It is hard to know how many women have faced this ordeal. The Syrian representative of the human rights league now estimates that about 100 000 women have been thrown in jail or in detention centers. A great number of them have been sexually tortured. But do we need the number to know that this is a crime?

The ruthless economic and political order followed by many world leaders is an alibi to humiliate and rape women and establish this practice as a normal war strategy along with bombing starving civil populations and targeting and bombing hospitals.

After the ordeal that women went through in Bosnia, many Bosnian leaders and some Imams recognized that women had been victim of war crimes, breaking the patriarchal code of silence that surrounds the mistreatment of women because of religious and “cultural” definitions of honor. That probably helped in getting The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia working. It was “the first international criminal tribunal to enter convictions for rape as a form of torture and for sexual enslavement as crime against humanity.”

Will it be possible to move to this type of resolution for the women of Syria? When the mechanisms of power associate themselves with hyper-masculinity, making the sword work with sexual domination, life has no value. Only domination to serve vested interests remains.

When is the dignity of women going to be restored in a world of forceful leaders showing their unabashed machismo, while making their little patriarchal arrangements between themselves keeping the defense of corporate power and financial interests in mind? Women must be included in peace resolutions.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Daily Beast / Nordic Photos / Alamy) (Photo Credit 2: The Daily Beast)

Daphne Banai: “From an oppressed people we’ve turned into an oppressive people”

The MachsomWatch is a group of Israeli women volunteers who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as well as the denial of Palestinian rights. They are women taking notes, documenting all the actions that eliminate the humanity of the Palestinians, and advocating for them, calling politicians for support. With their eyes and their voices, they reshape the checkpoints; they show the soldiers the compassion they have lost. The checkpoints are part of the surveillance of a system of separation based on militaristic power.

These women are transnational from within. Their connection with the people who are isolated by a system of separation is the gist of their action. They demand explanation from the blind “kids” (soldiers) who humiliate Palestinians who are just returning home or going to their fields. The Machsom Watch women create a free space that the militaristic state cannot see since the goal is to close up all spaces. But their very presence at the checkpoints forces the Netanyahu government to “see” them; the resisters are acting in the face of oppressive rule, despite their physical vulnerability.

The reality of the checkpoints (Machsom) and the occupation appeared to Daphne Banai, an activist of MachsomWatch, as an impossibility for her enjoyment of life. 70% of the checkpoints are deep inside the territories and so are materially violent disruptors of everyday life. Meanwhile, the justification given to the Israeli public for the presence of checkpoints is precisely to avoid disruption of life because of terrorist attacks.

Daphne Banai explains that when her daughter could have lost her life because of a terrorist attack, she realized that she was on the same side as the Palestinians. All kind of mythologies have created this impossibility to receive the other. Daphne talks about her own mother, a far-right woman who never saw the other side of the story: “She never talked to an Arab person. At her funeral, there were many of my Arab friends.”

Daphne Banai sees the absurdity of the situation for Palestinian refugees to live sometimes just a mile away from their original village. She recalls the time she encountered an old man returning to his home in Palestine from Jordan with a big suitcase. She and her friend offered to drive him to his village, but a curfew had just been established that the old man was unaware of. They arrived at another checkpoint, where despite the old man having all his papers in order, the soldier didn’t want to let him through. They could see his house from the checkpoint. The two women argued with the soldiers for hours, she said. Daphne remembers the conversation, particularly the soldier’s response that he was following orders and he would shoot her if those were the orders. The old man was 80 and that night she was invited to her uncle’s 80th birthday. The old man was now crying; he had no place to spend the night. They managed to go to another village, explained to a family the situation and dropped him off for the night. Then she drove to her uncle’s birthday party and couldn’t stop thinking about the old man crying. The checkpoints are not there for protection; they are there to assert a position of domination guarded by dehumanized robot-type soldiers.

Women’s bodies at the checkpoints brings up layers of meanings, such as the domination over them, their surveillance, and the violence done to them. Their exposure to the ammunition targeting them accentuates the vulnerability of the Palestinian women and children who are humiliated and violated daily. MachsomWatch defies the sexual and economic exploitation that is the basis of surveillance, as it challenges the formation of memorial historical righteousness that make the ethical relation between the self and the other an impossible story. As historian Shlomo Sand asserts, no history is superior to another.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Palestine Primer) (Photo Credit 2:  Flickr / Michael Rose)

Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves?

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Today’s news out of England and Wales is predictably grim: “2016 becomes worst year ever recorded for suicides in prisons.” According to the Howard League, “The Howard League for Penal Reform has been notified of 102 people dying by suicide behind bars since the beginning of 2016 – one every three days. With five weeks remaining until the end of the year, it is already the highest death toll in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978. The previous high was in 2004, when 96 deaths by suicide were recorded.” And so now another end-of-year Round of Concern occurs. Absolutely none of this is new, and absolutely nothing positive will happen until the concern is manifested by more than the usual suspects.

From incarcerated refugee women in India to women prisoners in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Den- mark, England and Wales, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, and Sweden to women in prisons in the United States and Canada, the news is and has been the same, and for quite a while. Reporting on suicide rates in Canada in 1999, scholars noted, “The fact remains, however, that the suicide rate among female prisoners is abnormally high.” In 2010, scholars reported, “In England and Wales over a quarter of a century, suicide rates in prisoners were reported to be approximately five times higher in men than age-standardised general population rates.” And here it is, the end of 2016, “with around 3,900, mainly vulnerable, women locked up in English jails and 19 deaths already recorded this year (the highest for 12 years)” … and that was three weeks ago.

Today, the Howard League and the Centre for Mental Health released Preventing Prison Suicide, “the latest in a series of reports published by the two charities as part of a joint programme aimed at saving lives in prison.” Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote, “Whilst the government has promised (yet again) to recruit additional staff, we cannot wait months for them to appear, especially as such promises have proved empty in the past. The only way to save lives, make prisons safe for inmates and staff and help people to live law abiding lives on release is to reduce the number of prisoners. Once the number of prisoners is down, the challenge is to make prisons work properly in the public interest but that is such a distant prospect at the moment. Today’s challenge is simply to keep people alive.”

Scotland said NO! to the casual wreckage of women’s lives and provided alternatives, which include tearing down many women’s prisons, sending women who need help to places where they will receive assistance and where their dignity, as women, will be respected. Women don’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of carceral efficiency in which the challenge is simply to keep people alive. How have we arrived at a place where the challenge is simply to keep people alive? By turning our backs on the imprisoned women. Suicides in prisons and jails have risen more or less steadily over the past decade, at least, and that rise has been noted and documented, occasionally deplored, and then generally forgotten. Now is the time to stop forgetting, to remember in advance what you will say when someone, years from or tomorrow or tonight, looks at you and asks, “Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves? What did you? What have we done?”

 

(Photo Credit: New Statesman / Don McPhee/ Guardian) (Image Credit: Inquest)

Women, the invisible migrants

While the US election demonstrated that abject racist, anti women, xenophobic speeches lead to power; people continue to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Last month another 90 people died off the Libyan coast. 3800 persons seeking safe land drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since January 2016. The UN ‘s refugee agency predicts that 2016 will be the deadliest year despite about 700 000 fewer people having made the crossing compared to 2015. The likelihood of dying is one in 88 arrivals in 2016 while last year it was one in 269 arrivals.

The European obsession with stopping the crossing of people escaping war zones – signing shameful agreements with the violent and authoritarian Turkish president, increasing surveillance forcing smugglers to use less detectable rafts – has created more hazards for women, men, and children. The preservation of migrants’ lives come after catering to populist mindsets and vested interests.

This year, the number of women and children migrating for survival has outnumbered the number of men, with 60% of the refugees being women and children while they were about 30 % last year. Women face more hardship and gender-based violence with an increase of war violence committed on women.

None of this is new. In 2010 Smaïn Laarcher looked at the violence, persecution, and death threats that women faced on the road to exile. He described the various agents of violence denouncing the denial of humanity to women, which led to sexual torture committed in total impunity.

Meanwhile, once in Europe they can be stuck in places like Calais in France. In 2002, the UK demanded the closing of the Red Cross camp of Sangatte, on the pretext that the French authorities had been too lenient with the refugees. Then, in 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister of France, signed an agreement to control migration to the United Kingodm. The treaty is both complex and simple; it turns France into a police structure for the UK preventing the English-speaking wretched of the earth with family or friends in the UK from crossing. This treaty has created misery and the camp of Calais also called the “Jungle.” The latter was recently dismantled.

The hardship and suffering of the refugee women has been mostly invisible and ignored. Where are the women who are trying to escape violence in increasing number? According to the NGO France Terre d’Asile, in 2015, in the department of Pas de Calais about 1000 women migrants lived in various camps including in “the jungle”. 120 of those women were minors. Many NGOs have worked to help these women. All the aid workers say the same thing, “We don’t see them.” They only walk in groups at certain times of the day; some have created their own women-only campsite in a field.

There is a place in Calais, the Jules Ferry Center, that receives about 300 women in a safe environment. The doors are locked; only the women can decide to go in and out. Even personnel have to get clearance. A spokeperson for the center explained, “They don’t want journalists in because they don’t want people to look at them like circus freaks.” They are safe in this center; they have access to psychological support as well as medical care and they can stay with their children; but this is not enough. Women can be invisible and attacked in refugee centers that have not been conceived for the safety of women, as it has occured in Germany.

Gynecologie sans frontieres (gynecology without borders), or GSF, is a very active NGO in the camps. They provide care, sexual education and access to reproductive services including abortion, and they treat women with respect. In France, abortion is free for all women.

While women may have been raped and need and demand access to abortion when pregnant after the rape, they also face all kind of issues coming with constant patriarchal violence. They have a chance to talk when they meet these helpers.

Sometimes women sell their bodies for money; a network of pimps prowls the camps. They may be also the smugglers who get paid that way. The clients are not only the migrants but also the local inhabitants.

A world of silence is wrapped around the women’s bodies. The migrant women should be able to find their own words to explain what happened to them. GSF has designed methods to liberate these voices in an attempt to make the invisible migrant women visible. The volunteers of GSF or other NGOs want to help them to reclaim their rights and dignity but it should be again a collective responsibility.

As we have seen with the election of a sexual predator who is ignorant of UN treaties, the western elites are increasingly showing their disdain and disregard for international treaties to protect women, children, civilians, and the environment, in order to galvanize the most racist energies for electoral gain and power. In this period, women are becoming increasingly vulnerable and migrant women are invisibly dehumanized. Once again solidarity is required!

 

(Photo Credit: Gynécologie sans frontières)

Where Have All Trump’s Victims Gone?

It is barely two weeks since Trump won the election and suddenly the media attention on the women who came forward about being sexually assaulted by him has vanished. The networks are now intent on normalizing Trump and are not touching the questions: How did we elect a sexual predator as President? How come the women who came forward with their stories have now disappeared? Will our judicial system throw out cases brought forward by women who have experienced rape? Will students in fraternities be emboldened to rape with impunity on the basis of the precedent set by Trump?

At a recent National Organization of Women’s New York convention. Jane Manning and Emma Slane, prosecuting attorneys for two women who were raped after being drugged unconscious spoke about their cases. They described their cases as difficult particularly because they had to prove that because the victims were unconscious they had no memory. They won their cases because the victims had used the rape kit, and the attorneys were able to use techniques such as the hair test, where the DNA matched the hair sample from the attacker.

In Trump’s case, the women not only remember being assaulted by him, but they had told their close friends about it; therefore, we also have credible testimonies. So isn’t it bizarre that at a time when prosecuting attorneys are able to win difficult cases, Trump’s victims have vanished into the woodwork? What’s more, in New York the statute of limitations has been lifted, a victory that should make some of Trump’s victims press charges more easily.

The woman who said she was raped by Trump when she was 13 has now withdrawn her charge on account of receiving death threats from Trump’s supporters. Does this mean women will be more afraid now to bring cases against attackers who are powerful, because they will be threatened by a society that sees the victim as the “problem,” not the rapist? So, what is the difference between this current crisis and of sexual assault that goes unpunished in countries like Pakistan that we are quick to criticize for the same problem?

Remember Dominique Strauss Kahn who assaulted a maid in a New York hotel? His trial lasted 4 years and it prevented him from running for the Presidency in France. It is indeed deplorable that Trump who is more powerful is not held accountable. And the media’s silence is deafening.

And why aren’t we taking any action, even if major women’s organizations like NOW have devoted much of their energy to fight sexual violence and bring perpetrators to justice? Why aren’t millions marching outside Trump Tower so a sexual predator is not elected President? How come millions are marching in South Korea to impeach their President for her criminal offences while we who believe ourselves to be a superpower are laboring under a pall of silence about this horrendous double crime—that of sexual assault and the crime of electing a perpetrator?

Just when we thought we are finally able to fight against hegemonies such as economic class and status of perpetrators of sexual violence, we are now encountering someone who indeed believes, along with a puppet media, that he is immune from the law.

 

(Photo Credit: Cisternyard)

A river of disenfranchisement runs through the elections

 

On Tuesday, November 8, Americans go to the polls. That’s the story line, but a river of disenfranchisement runs through those elections, and in some states, that river is a lake, if not ocean. Across the United States, over 6 million United States citizens are barred from voting because of “felony disenfranchisement”, laws that forever restrict voting rights for those who have ever been convicted of felony-level crimes. The good news is that more people are aware of this injustice, and, in states like Virginia and Maryland, governments or, in the case of Virginia, a governor is doing something about that. The bad news is a bit more voluminous: The numbers of felony disenfranchised have risen precipitously and steadily over the last few decades. 1 in 40 adults, or 2.5 of the total voting age population is currently barred from voting due to felony disenfranchisement. One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised. Black Lives Matter. Black Voters Matter, too. Felony disenfranchisement has been a war on Black and Brown communities, and it has targeted women of color particularly.

Like all wars, this war has its special geographies. In Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia, more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised. Florida alone accounts for 27 percent of the disenfranchised population nationally. In Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

Eight states deny voting rights more or less permanently: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee. Arizona permanently disenfranchises persons with two or more felony convictions. Mississippi permanently disenfranchises persons convicted of certain felonies. In Delaware people convicted of murder, bribery, and sexual offenses are permanently disenfranchised.

Iowa presents a particularly painful theater of cruelty. In 2005, Governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to those who had completed their sentences via executive order on July 4, 2005. In 2011, Governor Terry Branstad reversed the executive order and returned many to permanent disenfranchisement.

In 2015, in Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear restored voting rights to individuals with former non-violent felony convictions via executive order. Later in 2015, when Governor Matt Bevin took office, he reversed this executive order.

Tennessee offers an entire menu of options for disenfranchisement. Those convicted of certain felonies since 1981 and those convicted of certain felonies prior to 1973 are permanently disenfranchised.

Nevada disenfranchises anyone convicted of one or more violent felonies and anyone convicted of two or more felonies of any type. In Nevada, two strikes and you’re out … for good.

These policies have a face and body to them, and it’s Black, Brown, and female. The so-called War on Drugs has resulted in women being the fastest growing prison and jail population in the United States, and the vast majority of those women have been convicted of non-violent felonies that previously would not have resulted in prison or jail time or in disenfranchisement.

But it’s not all bad news.

This year, Alabama, California, Maryland, and Wyoming eased various restrictions. For example, Maryland restored voting rights to people on probation or parole. With that, they restored the voting rights to around 40,000 people.

In Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting and civil rights to 206,000 people who had been disenfranchised permanently. Republicans objected, sued in the Virginia Supreme Court, which overturned Governor McAuliffe’s restoration of voting rights for people who had completed their sentences. So, Terry McAuliffe pulled a gubernatorial all-nighter, and, in August 2016, individually restored the voting rights of 12,832 individuals.

Meanwhile, Maine and Vermont have no restrictions. None. In prison? Your vote counts. On parole or probation? Your vote counts. Served all your time, including prison and parole? Your vote counts. Your vote counts. Period.

A river of disenfranchisement runs through the electoral process, but people are refusing to drown in it. Across the country, organizations are pushing for an end to felony disenfranchisement and a recognition of the injustice that has been put upon communities of color, and in particular women of color. Whatever happens on Tuesday, over 6 million people deserved better. Democracy matters.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Atlanta Black Star) (Video Credit: The Atlantic / YouTube) (Photo Credit 2: Louisiana Justice Institute)

In Poland, women in black strike for women’s and human rights

In Poland last week women went on a general strike, dressed in black. Thousands demonstrated in the streets of cities to defend their remaining right to abortion as the government pushed for a total ban on abortion. The concept of women’s general strike was first used in Iceland on October 25, 1975 when 90% of women stopped working, taking care of children, cooking etc. They wanted equality and were fed up with low wages, low consideration, low everything. The entire country stopped. The effect was profound. The Polish women were after the same effect, fed up with seeing political and economic manipulations control their sexual and reproductive rights and putting their lives in jeopardy.

Since Poland transitioned to a capitalist system, reproductive rights including the right to abortion have been the recurrent issue, and women have seen their rights steadily reduced. Women in Poland won the right to abortion for social reasons in 1956. Nina Sankari for 50-50 magazine, recounts the work of Maria Jaszczuk, the MP who sponsored the original bill. She put in the public debate the crude reality of women’s right to decide for their lives, breaking the code of silence. At the time, more than 300 000 illegal abortions were practiced a year with 80 000 of them ending up in the hospital leading to a 2% death toll. Thanks to this bill, Polish women had enjoyed this reproductive right for over 36 years. But the so called democratic process gloated about by the capitalist order demanded the end of this basic women’s right to decide for themselves. Nina Sankari recalls that in 2007 shortly before her death at 90 years old, Maria Jaszczuk expressed her sadness to see all these basic women’s rights being wiped out.

Nina Sankari notes the irony of the infamous democratic transition bringing the Catholic Church with its conservative neoliberal allies back to power. In 1989, when the new constitution was being designed, the Church vetoed the concept of separation of church and state, of laicity or neutrality of the church. The Polish Catholic establishment was ready to play a crucial political role in the country.

Consequently, in 1993 one of the most regressive anti-abortion laws in Europe passed, allowing abortion in only three cases: if the woman’s life is in danger, if the fetus has serious disabilities, and if the pregnancy is the result of a rape including incestuous rape. But that was not enough for the conservative forces led by Jarosław Kaczinski. He is the leader of Law and Justice party that won the elections in October 2015.

Currently, the xenophobic religious neoliberal right is looming large in Europe. The current Polish leadership is in line with Viktor Orbán’s leadership in Hungary proclaiming religious notions on family as divinely imposed and reducing public services, especially when women’s rights are at risk. These changes constitute a breach in European laws. Recently three cases from Poland have been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. The latter found that women and girls in Poland “encountered unacceptable obstacles to access to safe and legal abortion.” It put Poland in violation with its responsibilities and obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Malta and Ireland are also in this position. Meanwhile, no official actions have changed this status quo. Only women and men’s street demonstrations have brought change.

This time, the Polish women’s strike defeated the bill that would have led to a total ban on abortion, including jail time for women seeking abortion and for doctors who would dare help them. As Gauri Van Gulik of Amnesty International said, “This is a huge victory for the millions of women and girls who mobilized, showed their fury, and successfully blocked a law which would have taken away their rights and endangered their health.”

This victory should lead to more actions in support of women’s rights and human rights. Each year in Poland, 1000 legal abortions are performed while an estimated 150, 000 clandestine abortions occur behind closed doors, not to forget that the lethal danger of clandestine abortion is spread according to social lines. The reduction of women’s rights accompanies many social and political restrictions. The women of Poland have shown the possibilities to counter the rise of the deadly combination of xenophobic, neoliberal and religious power.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Czarek Sokolowski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

(This article is part of the on-going collaboration between Women In and Beyond the Global and 50-50 magazine. Click here for 50-50’s coverage of Poland’s women in black.)

In Spain, three women win a battle for workers’ dignity everywhere

Workers in the October 12 Hospital in Madrid

Workers in the October 12 Hospital in Madrid

Florentina Martínez Andrés, María Elena Pérez López, and Ana de Diego Porras did not know each other, but are linked in a struggle for workers’ dignity. All three worked for years on temporary replacement contracts. After years of working for the same employer, each woman was dismissed and informed that, under the law, she was not entitled to any compensation at all, because she was “temporary.” Florentina Martínez Andrés had worked full time for the same employer for two years. María Elena Pérez López had worked full time for the same employer for four years. Ana de Diego Porras had worked full-time for the same employer for nine years. But each was temporary and so … And so, each woman took their employers and the State to court, and last month, they all won, and so did Spanish workers generally.

Spanish labor law creates a formal three-tier structure: permanent workers, fixed term workers, and temporary workers. At termination of contract, permanent workers receive 20 days’ salary per year of service; fixed term workers receive 12 days salary; and temporary workers receive nothing. Ana de Diego Porras worked as an administrative secretary for Spain’s Ministry of Defense; Florentina Martínez Andrés worked as an administrative secretary for Osakidetza, the public health service of the Basque Country; María Elena Pérez López worked as a nurse for SERMAS, Madrid’s public health service. All three argued that workers received compensation upon termination of contract because they earned it through their labor, and that the hierarchical categories constituted a shell game used to divide workers and thereby to steal from some. In late September, the European Court of Justice, in three separate and linked opinions, agreed with the women workers.

Close to 4,000,000 workers in Spain are formally “temporary” workers, and so these decisions will have immediately significant impact. Additionally, the decisions suggest that the different between “full time” and “fixed term” will also have to be reconsidered. For example, 40% of doctors in public health institutions currently don’t have permanent positions. The lawyers representing María Elena Pérez López already have over 400 cases ready to go.

Taken together, the three judgments deliver a direct and frontal assault on public and private employer abuses and a labor system in which some workers are protected and others are abandoned. Further, the judgments undermine the common sense of precarious labor, which says that workers must be satisfied with living contingently, with zero security and zero dignity. Florentina Martínez Andrés, María Elena Pérez López, and Ana de Diego Porras said “No to the Zero!” … and they won! Actually, we all won.

 

(Photo Credit: Periódico Diagonal / David Fernández)

For the women of Atenco, today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom

In 2001, Mexico’s federal government joined with the local government of the State of Mexico and “expropriated” the land wherein lay the village of San Salvador Atenco. In order to build a new airport, the State, with little to no consultation, decided to forcibly remove thousands of people, mostly indigenous, from the lands they had inhabited for generations. The people of San Salvador Atenco organized a massive resistance to this plan. In May 2006, the Governor of the State of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto, sent in the police “to clean up the mess.” Two people were killed and 217 detained, of whom more than 50 women were tortured and sexually violated. Though haunted by the experience, the women refused to become specters. For a decade they have refused every government attempt to silence them, from intimidation to bribes. They have said, every day, we want justice and freedom, and that means we want the truth to be known. This week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to pursue the case of “Mariana Selvas Gómez y others”. These are the women of Atenco: Mariana Selvas Gómez, Georgina Edith Rosales Gutiérrez, María Patricia Romero Hernández, Norma Aidé Jiménez Osorio, Claudia Hernández Martínez, Bárbara Italia Méndez Moreno, Ana María Velasco Rodríguez, Yolanda Muñoz Diosdada, Cristina Sánchez Hernández, Patricia Torres Linares and Suhelen Gabriela Cuevas Jaramillo.

Working with the Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, better known as the Centro Prodh, the women fought, day in and day out, for one thing, “a public reckoning of what happened to them and who ordered it.” During the last decade, they say they have met many other Mexican women, and in particular indigenous Mexican women, who have suffered State-administered sexual torture. For that reason, they joined the campaign, “Breaking the silence. All against sexual torture.”

For ten years, the women of Atenco lived with trauma and memory, watching the men who tortured them walk free and empowered, watching the State do worse and less than nothing, and they refused to accept any of that. When the State tried to threaten and intimidate them, they pushed back. When the State offered them free homes and scholarships, they refused. They said, like the land, like the Earth itself, they were not merchandise, and they were not for sale.

In 2011, Martha Pérez Pineda, of the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land, an organization begun in 2002 in San Salvador Atenco, explained, “Today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom … It was the women who led the fight against the government’s imposition of constructing a new airport on our land. It was we, women, who decided that nothing was going to be constructed there. It was us who decided that those lands were going to keep on being farmlands. We stood firm even when the government tried to subjugate us and to break up the social movement, we, the women said you are not going to subjugate us. We are going out to the streets, in spite of the risk to our lives and our integrity, we are not going to be quiet, we are going to keep on demanding freedom and justice … in Atenco we women say no, we will keep on raising our machete, we will keep on raising our bush of maize that symbolizes life. Those symbols give us a lot of strength … Everything comes from the land, she is so generous. When we walked in our territory during these ten years of fight we see how ourselves in our personal territory as women, have also taken a long journey. In Atenco we are no longer the same women who began the fight. This fight has changed our behavior in front of the male comrades, it has transformed our decisions and our life plans. This fight has helped us to understand that we are not the only women who are living or who lived this violence in 2006, even if violence against women continues.”

That was 2011. Five years later, for the women of Atenco and for the women they stand for, the struggle and the transformation continue.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Somos el medio) (Photo Credit 2: Proceso / Miguel Dimayuga)