The role of forced birth in intensifying dystopian labor forms

“A scold is paraded through the community wearing the “bridle,” an iron contraption used to punish women with a sharp tongue. Significantly, a similar device was used by European slavetraders in Africa to subdue their captives and carry them to their ships.”

The U.S. Supreme Court recently created a material and spectacular demonstration of how historical occlusions persist in the present. The people who were not the writers of enshrined documents, including those kidnapped from the African continent or related to them, people with disabilities and many others, are, were, and now will be even more so, at the elusive mercy of legislation, institutions, national borders and predilections of race and class.

As Jill Lepore wrote weeks before the overturn, “Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor… [A woman] herself does not exist but is instead, as Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, a ‘non-entity.'”

Since the onset of the pandemic, the idea of “essential work” has entered a general consciousness in that people who perform tasks that are crucial to the maintenance of life have become relatively more visible. During the pandemic, workers who do the work that has historically and traditionally fallen to women, including food deliverers and caregivers, continued to endure starvation wages. An understanding seemed to emerge that if their numbers thinned, an already en masse health crisis would significantly broaden. And yet, one year after social media bristled over food deliverers being exploited on the front lines of the virus, and days after SCOTUS paved the way to criminalize abortions and miscarriages, a Door Dash worker was shot by police, thereby putting the essential worker ‘back in his place’ of disposability.

I

Such categories of non-status, “hyper-exploited” or “informal” work, as Maria Mies and others have called them, have been barred from the “worker” definition because tasks that were historically assigned to the bodies associated with motherhood are conferred the same lack of prestige imposed onto those who raise or bear children. Even in contexts that talk about subsistence or workers rights, childbearing, domestic labor and multiple forms of informal labor are still not given minimal protections, or even (until recently) sufficient language for describing thankless conditions of work that are, as a matter of course, unacknowledged, erased, and gaslit.

The existence of a femmes, reproductive, and “housewifized” labor form is an historical reality, not a “natural” one. Although biology is largely founded on the idea that only some bodies bear children, the division of labor that surrounds reproduction is a product of historical and social relations; it is not a “natural” condition. That said, the appearance of ‘natural’ gender grants the authority to exploit gendered bodies as a site of experimentation towards the blueprint for mass violence, slavery and trafficking. Mass disposability is a consequence of the decimation of bodily autonomy.

If definitions of the ‘wage-worthy’ have been narrowly defined, then so has value. The war in Ukraine has also posed a considerable threat to the stability of the idea of value. National entities and representatives are currently pouring enormous sums of capital into visions of how future East/West European and world borders will be shaped. Where Russia follows a regime of sacrificing humanity for an abstract border, the West describes and re-describes the value of the human. Whether or not the ‘human’ is truly a concern for Western governing entities or merely a form of propaganda that veils the preservation of future accumulation remains to be seen, but the discourse itself has a public and social effect that has generated many formal policy-making discussions that involve accepting financial losses in the name of boycotts.

It would not be obstreperous to imagine that between the recently circulating iteration of essential labor under covid and the boycott of previously advantageous business deals with Russia, the global socius might be exhibiting a tendency towards evolving away from living and thinking the numerical values of money in the “normal,” linear or historically predictable sense. Even the possibility of such a development represents an unprecedented threat to entities that thrive on and continue to demand unbridled powers of accumulation.

II

In 1847, when Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in three weeks, he was commissioned by The Communist League, formerly The League of the Just, a group that was largely composed of guild worker artisans. One of the effects of this influential context is that “worker” in many texts still conjures images of White male woodworkers, bricklayers, stair builders and the like. The conditions of the creation of the Manifesto implicate a transition from the relative leverage that skilled guild artisan labor had against capital to the ‘worker hands’ who were tools of production, disposable, unskilled or de-skilled, and stripped of autonomy. Marx’s iteration of the “worker,” forged via a commission by reasonably nervous White male artisans as an expression of their fear of being instrumentalized as cogs, may well have supplied the material for a Right-wing contingent to abuse, in order to construct itself as the “authentic” worker body. This trace of relatively privileged artisans speaking on behalf of a much broader constituent of workers, in a kind of Napoleonic move according to Marx’s own early construction of the idea of class, re-appears in a mutilated and weaponized version in Steve Bannon’s view that the US remains an exploited colony of Europe in which only American-born White men need to be expressed by the “worker” notion. Entitlements to this definition are obviously at the catastrophic expense of others who perform other kinds of work including more essential and more socially occluded forms. The kinds of entitlements Bannon and other such figures easily reference have produced “replacement theory” and its accompanying gun violence, human abuses at borders, and violence in places structured towards xenophobia, as well as other sectors that have copyrighted authenticity in a multitude of dimensions, including but not limited to the arts, i.e., the masculinized elitism of “artistic technique” and so on.

That terms like “sex work” still require the qualifier “sex” in order to be inserted into the category of “work” testifies to an order of ‘true’ workers that obfuscate marginalized laborers and labor forms. Similarly, the work of slave labor in the 18th and 19th centuries, much of it domestic, was not seen as tool-bearing, which is one of the stipulations associated with what defines masculine labor against the feminine embodied labor that Maria Mies analyzed in the 1980s according to “work with the breasts and the womb.” Similarly, the idea of ‘slave’ is constructed as not a person who works, but as an inanimate tool of production in and of themselves, and is as such written out of the labor definition, with these practices carried into the present in prisons, unpaid overtime and the charge of laziness; an accusation that erases the possibility that a person with physical needs, such as sleep, or a psyche is connected to a body that is supposed to magically produce value for someone else without a personal or labor process. In “One is Not Born a Woman”, Monique Wittig links slave labor with gendered labor, arguing that the construction of gendered biology, including assumptions of ‘nurture’ projected onto childbearing bodies, produce invisibility and non-personhood in order to garner and quietly profit from the free labor value of the erased.

Meanwhile, the authentic, normative, standardized idea of “worker” produces a logic through which economies continue to deprive embodied workers, including starving artists, caregivers and others, of both wages and the dignity of personhood. In sum, a White male class to whom such historical texts referred retains a grip over the notion of ‘worker’ while others labor ‘outside’ or ‘behind’ the text and thus the historical and social. However, this recent attention given to essential work during lockdown highlights the possibility of re-distributing value within a regime in which value and visibility are intrinsically enmeshed.

III

The US Supreme Court majority now seeks to more intensively enforce the withdrawal and sanctioning of personhood of the exploited and unremunerated worker, of which one foundational category is the childbearer, and also those whose bodies are theoretically capable of bearing children but may choose not to birth. Much has been written about “back alley” abortions, and the many who have other talents and contributions but will be forced to become mothers and do the work of motherhood, laboring at domestic work without remuneration, and submitting to exploitative work in order to survive. Meanwhile those bodies who reject motherhood will be submitted to consequences that have been ‘updated’ by increased surveillance in the form of any number of high technology wars, mass violence, increased stalking, empowered white supremacist cells, and general forms of social pressure that can ensure the sanctioning of those who do not submit to norms complicit within patriarchal legitimacy. The surrounding structures that socially and institutionally police bodies are far more forceful today than they were when the constitution was written. And since then, multiple disciplines and fields of psychoanalysis and biology have naturalized hetero-procreation as the mandatory center of life, from Freud and Darwin to reddit discussion that anthropomorphize the natural world in terms of the procreative habits of varying species, and ‘riff’ on what “natural” gendered behavior should be according to imperializing whims.

The spectacle of misogyny in the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas several decades prior, including the “innocence” campaign waged by Johnny Depp or the general possibility of defamation and non-disclosure agreements for high profile rapists, form but a few of the exemplary chains of formal signs with increasing powers of social composition.

Making abortion less accessible will further conscript women into fields of invisible and unpaid labor, making childbearer bodies vulnerable to raising children at whichever level of poverty the State sanctions. The State has already realized billions of dollars in value in the unpaid labor of childbearers enduring toil in the name of “labors of love,” as well as the exploitative work of reproductive bodies coerced into states of desperation, as Sylvia Federici has pointed out. In her terms, profit from women’s unpaid and exploited labor, including but not limited to the production of future populations of workers, has been used to feed war machines, thereby moulding social reality into ever more virulent patriarchal forms.

IV

In Caliban and the Witch, Federici argues that these conditions are both historical and intentional: it was cheaper for the Catholic Church, who was for centuries the main land and wealth holder in Europe, to pay only a male laborer rather than the family supporting him. The Church thus organized the family unit and laws pertaining to the body, including marriage, accordingly. This meant that the wives of man-laborers, the people performing maintenance (food production and preparation, childcare, care for the sick and elderly, mental support) as support for the productivity of their wage-receiving husbands, and also caregiving, material tasks, and the work of the body involved in producing the next generation of workers, would never receive their own wage. By being naturalized into biology, the law-holding theistic institution that operated as the main boss and master, created an exploitation economy that has sprawled outward to consume almost all informal and marginalized labor forms. The production of a culture of silence around forced birth and all of the fallout that will follow for the lives of apparently ‘capable’ childbearing bodies will also have consequences across the entire informal labor economy, and for all genders therein.

In Federici’s account, the Church responded to the scarcity of workers in Europe as a result of the Plague by producing policies to benefit the maintenance of church properties and functions that required a plethora of human capital, and thus a social reality built on procreation. In order to create this economy of its own self-interest, the Church walled off common lands that had previously been used for autonomous food production, and created laws around sex, sodomy (ie non-procreative sex) and childbirth. This counter revolution over decades finally managed to force into submission a heretic movement of people who lived relatively more similarly to the so-called autonomies of current life in atheistic and non-fundamentalist contexts.

The Gutenberg Bible emerged to popularize, naturalize and sacralize the family unit and heterosexual marriage, to construct childbearing as the center of social reality in order to enforce procreation and therein the production of human capital.

Abortion has never been fully sanctioned or supported in the US. And yet, given the recent visibility of workers who served to protect and maintain life in the context of the pandemic, it seems no accident that the traditionalists further sanction the life necessities of bodies in this moment of the coronavirus, in which normally invisible forms of labor, including the toil of the body and the costs to the body in health and vitality, are being obviated. Such a sea change in what constitutes valuable and remunerable work would threaten the very basis of the profiteering economy. Moreover, the Church’s protocols, laws and doctrines that produced imperialization over the body, from the walling (‘hedging’) off of common lands to the sodomy laws to the mandate of ‘a marriage between a man and a woman,’ enforced domestic labor and forced birth, were all created during the plague; in the wake of an ebb of labor power in the context of mass death, illness and a worker re-thinking of the value of life over toil and submission. The historical reality of the plague bears similarities to the conditions produced by covid. The pandemic has intensified fundamentalist logic and brought to the fore the 500-800 year old period in which the Church began to realize its need for labor power/workers by re-organizing all elements of economy and a mutually composing social reality, including the relations of production of the present and the reproductive body as the key to controlling the labor relations of the future, especially the unborn worker. According to Federici, racism and misogyny also had to be created in order to keep laborers from uniting in protest, and people with wombs from controlling the future worker population, not only in number but also in temperament.

The fundamentalism that sees reproduction as profit in the form of unborn laborers is not interested in the personhood of women. Neither healthcare nor consent matter or are considered the responsibility or in the interest of the Christian State. While non-fundamentalist views understand forced birth as fiscally catastrophic as a result of what a multi-dimensional influx of traumatized bodies will cost, the traditionalists have a totally different calculation of profit, a different understanding of labor power, and of human aim. The fundamentalist algorithm of accumulation and functionality excise factors that non-fundamentalists find essential. It’s because of a calculation that ignores State responsibility for human life, leading to institutionalized rape and death and privation for religious aims, that even the most dogmatically capitalist arguments that are non-fundamentalist can find no equivalence or commensurability or appeal even along the most material or profiteering lines.

V

Bodies with the capacity to bear children are not responsible for the fact that they are fetishized for sexual abuse across the globe. Along with the elderly, people with disabilities and children, (all of whom are being raped in the Ukraine along with a program that targets everyone), people who get pregnant will suffer an increase in long term material consequences. What emerges in the next 20 years in Poland and the US after rape victims have been forced to bear the children of extreme trauma will shed light on the catastrophe such policies produce. One can only hope that the children of trauma and forced birth will not be compliant in perpetuating such a regime in the future, and that being born out of trauma will produce for them an alternative rather than static vision for the future.

Poland’s forced birth program is directly relevant to the US situation because, in the few States that offer rape exemptions, making use of them will be predicated on the safety of coming forward. A social reality that does not permit abortion is unlikely to provide a safe environment for rape victims to become vocal. Forced birth will strengthen masculine power by making sexual relations higher stakes and by making rape into a more lasting form of abuse, offering the rapist long term control of his victim. By re-instating a culture of shame, and by enforcing the mother role, the family unit, silent suffering and a rigid social experience will bring the capacity to ‘breathe’ well beneath the minimum at which it currently functions.

Women who are rape victims in particular along with any other abortion seekers have not consented to life with a child. The ruling is a crucial violation of life. Those who cannot abort are likely not to have the means or the mental and physical ability for such a life. Within the context of trauma, the State has an opportunity to steer the fate of children too damaged to perform any but the most exploitative labor, to also hyper-exploit mothers living in a state of desperation, or a subsequent population cut off from its familial culture by trauma, to untether and unmoor subjects in order to make them afresh as productive labor aka potential “tabula rasa” for State purposes. In this context, social networks will be necessary to help traumatized children withstand being alive as critical readers rather than menial cogs, and to create collectives of belonging that hold them away from a violent fate of disposability masquerading as depression, ideation or religious fundamentalism.

Materialist feminists have long observed that calculations of demographics place statistics of predicted pregnancies in relation to immigrant influx and other controls pertaining to material economy. Policies relating to abortion and what social discourse shames or encourages, and how that is engineered across forms of current media or in more historical or medieval forms of advertising, are generally steered by how heads of State require a work force or allocate resources. These practices of analysis for the purpose of policy are not dissimilar to the ideology of war in which the body and the human are subjugated for abstract experiments based on human predictions with unknown outcomes.

VI

The US has long fought over abortion as one of the last frontiers of bodily autonomy after what were reintroduced later as ‘rights,’ separated, severed, alienated via preciousness, specificity and class selection, and annihilated in Europe before the Enlightenment. In recent decades, the US holds immigrants at borders as it “processes them” while making considerations about whether to let them in based on demographics. If a class of mostly Black and Brown people too poor to travel to liberal States for abortions is forced to reproduce, the US can shut down its borders without losing out on the global competition for human capital.

Maria Mies summarized how programs such as forced birth are only limited to being misogynistic at their beginning. She wrote extensively on how bodies that have the capacity to bear children were targeted for the State’s experiments in exploitation, to be implemented later in different forms across broader swaths of population. Every non-capital owning body should become aware that policies of forced birth foreshadow an oncoming onslaught of aggression by owners of capital that will produce more categories of intensively exploited labor, that are likely to effect even privileged classes of the iterated White worker who meets the standard definition. It is here that ‘replacement theory’ must stand in as an alibi for the declining labor conditions of the heretofore relatively privileged White worker who uses this notion to retain a position as ‘the authentic’ as his own material stability crumbles.

I suggest that we turn to materialist feminism and its analysis of the evolution of gender constructs in relation to profit. For what Mies calls “time lag feminism,” or the body of work supporting the idea that women need to ‘catch up’ to men, or the idea of a linear history that ought to progress rather than ‘turn back’ can only yield short term gains in the endless tennis match that was designed by the Enlightenment to ensure that a regime of personality cults, class and identity hierarchies remain static. The idea that women are a generation ‘behind’ men constitutes a kind of white feminism in which women seek to supplant men in a machine that is built by imperializing desires and values.

Analyses might henceforth begin with the understanding that traditions are not going to protect the people they promise to exclude. The labor movements of the left must begin to take gender and reproduction much more seriously as intrinsic to how accumulation and profiteering maintain themselves, placing at the fore the understanding that reproduction is future labor power. Consent is also a crucial barometer for how to resist the historical and ideological imperialization with which the church has had a long-term agenda for recomposing a brutally disciplined and imperializing social reality. Consent literally checks in with the habitability of the body as well as its psychic and immaterial requirements.

Any movement that fails to understand that the battle to own and commandeer reproduction is the battle to own the labor, profit and accumulation of the future, and any movement that fails to understand the nuanced relationship between exploitation and consent is doomed to not only fail, but to play into the hands of imperial reality ad infinitum.

(Thanks to Cedrik Fermont for our conversations pertaining to the fact that every sexual identity has been raped in Ukraine, and the impact of abortion law in Poland for childbearing bodies.)

(By Dora Bleu)

(Image Credit: Caliban and the Witch)

The world is ruled by women who fight: The Sudanese women’s revolution continues

Yesterday, December 25, hundreds of thousands of protesters, led and impelled by women and youth, took to the streets of Khartoum, demanding freedom, full democracy, a revolution. This was the tenth major demonstrations in the past two months. These protests have gone on, lled and impelled by women and youth, for the past thirty years, demanding full democracy, freedom, a revolution. Women and youth, leading, demanding, grasping freedom and justice: this is what democracy looks like. The government cut communications, blocked roads, fired tear gas, arrested scores, injured who knows how many.

In Sudan, on December 19, 2018, women took to the streets to protest a precipitous rise in bread prices. Those protests persisted and grew. As so often in food uprisings, the price of food was the visible spark that revealed an undergrowth of fire, and, as so often, women set and sustained the spark. Three years later, Sunday, December 19, 2021, women led protests of hundreds of thousands to commemorate the 2018 uprising, the spark they set, and to demand much more than a `return to civilian control’. Women in the streets of Khartoum and beyond demanded full rights, equality, freedom and justice for women, youth, everyone. They government responded with live bullets and sexual violence against women. According to numerous reports, security forces raped 13 women and girls that day. In the following days, women returned to the streets to demand justice. Actually, they had never left the streets.

Shaihinza Jamal explained, “We are here to put pressure so that this could stop happening. We will not allow such things ever to happen, and we can stop them.” Women protesters chanted, “They won’t break you! They won’t break us!” Jihan el-Tahrir, longtime Sudanese feminist activist, added, “Because women’s role in mobilising the Sudanese society is well-known, one approach long adopted by the regime has been breaking the society by breaking women.”

These are the daughters of a long line of Sudanese women demanding freedom and democracy. RememberJune 2012, when women students responded to astronomical increases in transportation and food prices? A few university women students took to the streets, shouting “Girifna!” “Enough is enough!” Within days, their small demonstration inspired a sandstorm, which was met with severe State repression. Remember the Sudanese women of June 2012? Remember September 2013, when, again in response to austerity measures this time involving gasoline prices, women took to the streets? Again, those protests turned into a national crisis, which, again, was met by severe repression. Remember the Sudanese women of September 2013, and the Sudanese Women’s Union of the 1950s and 1960s, and the Sudanese who have organized continually from the 1950s on, for women’s autonomy and national dignity? Well, they’re back, and they remember. They remember every detail of their history; they are the guardians of the revolution.

In a mass demonstration in late October, women carried signs reading, “Total civil disobedience. The decision of the people.” In a recent smaller, silent protest in Khartoum, Rayan Nour held a sign that declared, “The world is ruled by a woman who fights”. She explained, “My mom always taught me to not let anyone take my rights away from me and for me to get that by my hand if I had to and not wait for anyone to get it for me …. The first protest was called in the newspaper protest of the whores and the gays. And I was like, OK, whores, gays, let’s go.” Mothers, daughters, whores, gays, OK, let’s go. They’re back and they remember not only the past but the future. The world is ruled by women who fight.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: BBC) Photo Credit 2: New York Times / AP  / Marwan Ali)

FCI Waseca did not fail to assure the safety of incarcerated women; it refused to do so

This week, Utah’s Legislative Auditor General submitted a performance of health care in Utah’s state prisons. The Auditor found “systemic deficiencies”: “The lack of follow-up and patient monitoring is a systemic concern that extends beyond the Covid pandemic.” Reading this report, it’s a wonder that anyone survives Utah’s prisons. In fact, they don’t. According to a report earlier this year, “people in Utah’s prisons were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the average Utahn.” While five times more likely is high, it’s not much higher than prisons across the United States, boasting four times the infection rate of the country’s general population. And then there’s FCI Waseca, a low-security Federal prison for women, located in Waseca, Minnesota. FCI Waseca houses 756 women, of whom, according to the latest number from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 132 are currently infected with Covid. That’s the most of any Federal prison. The next in line is a Federal prison in Pollock, Louisiana, with 30 incarcerated people infected. FCI Pollock houses 1,556 incarcerated people. Less than 2% of FCI Pollock is infected with Covid; 17% of those in Waseca are Covid-infected.  Waseca accounts for 47% of all infected incarcerated people in the U.S. Federal prison system. These numbers provide the profile for “low security”.

At 199 Covid infections per 100,000, Waseca County has the highest rate of Covid infection of any county in the United States. Minnesota state prisons house 7,323 incarcerated people. Of that population, 95 are currently Covid infected, far less than 1%, although one prison, MCF Lino Lakes, 70 of its 911 incarcerated residents are Covid infected, a little under 8%.

Since the start of the pandemic, around 450 incarcerated women have tested positive for Covid. On Wednesday, December 8, the ACLU sued both FCI Waseca’s warden and the Director of the U.S. Bureau of Federal Prisons, claiming that the prison failed to take measures to contain Covid. FCI Waseca failed to release women with medical conditions to home confinement and failed to reduce the prison population sufficient for any kind of social distancing. That was no failure, that was refusal.

FCI Waseca is organized as dormitories with bunk beds kept close together. Everything is done in fairly tight common, social spaces. None of that was changed in any way in response to Covid. In August, a group of around 40 women was transferred from a facility in Oklahoma, a facility which was reporting Covid infections. The women from Oklahoma were placed in bunk beds in a unit with other bunk bedded women right next to them. Within weeks, most of the women in that unit tested positive for Covid.

What is there to say? FCI Waseca refused to address Covid, refused to respect women’s Constitutional rights to safety, refused to imagine an alternative to packing them in until it’s time to go. “Low security” should not be a death sentence nor should it mean being endangered. In fact, nothing should be a death sentence, but there we are. Two years into a pandemic, and we continue to cling desperately to the charnel house as the only way. If nothing else, by this point, perhaps people will stop saying, “The prison failed” to do this or that. There was no failure, there was only refusal, in broad daylight for all to see and without any remorse whatsoever.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Kayla Salisbury / The Marshall Project)

A day in the life of `return to normal’: Women bear the brunt

Bearing the brunt” is back. Ok, it never really left, but today’s iterations of bearing the brunt demonstrate that the `return to normal’ is here or at least just around the proverbial corner, and for many women that’s particularly bad news.

In South Korea, in the past two years, large Korean corporations sliced their workforce, ostensibly in response to the coronavirus pandemic, although how firing people improves their chances of surviving a pandemic remains an open question. Nevertheless, who bore the brunt of those cuts: “Women took the brunt of the job reductions as they accounted for 67 percent of those laid off.” It’s not all doom and gloom. Although many full-time employees lost … everything, others were hired as “non-regular workers”. That’s not `market forces’ at work. That’s old fashioned corporate greed.

In South Africa, and across southern Africa, food insecurity aka hunger has stalked the landscape, largely due to climate change induced droughts, land oligopolies, Covid, and more. Who suffers most directly? “Women and girls bear the brunt of undernutrition, international conference told”. How does this happen? In food crises, women and girls reduce their food intake. Additionally, in many households, men and boys get preference, including access to food. Women often find it more difficult to access food, sometimes due to insecurity in public places, other times due to restrictions on women’s movements in public. In these situations, women’s food consumption is stigmatized. This is what bearing the brunt looks like on an average day. This is what return to normal means.

Globally, to no one’s surprise and as reported from the outset of the pandemic and its political economy, women have been positioned to be most vulnerable to the conditions of both public health and economic, political, social devastation: “Women bore brunt of social and economic impacts of Covid: Women were particularly affected by loss of income and education, rises in domestic violence, child marriage and trafficking, and responsibility for caring for children and sick relatives.” In other words, the world pretty much stayed the same … only worse: “Many countries lack social protection for many groups, from women and children to migrants and refugees. Those groups have been worst affected by the Covid pandemic, and unless things change, they will continue to bear the brunt of crises, and be the least likely to recover from them.” Who bears the brunt? Women. Girls. Women and girl migrants. Women and girl refugees. Girls. Women. Welcome to normal.

Finally, in the United States, a report, released today, examined the situation of low-income renters in the United States during Covid. In particular, the study focused on households receiving federal assistance in the form of Temporary Aid for Needy Families, TANF, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP: “Surprisingly, our research shows that low-income households already getting federal support may be more vulnerable to eviction than their counterparts who receive no social benefits … More households getting SNAP and TANF fell behind on rent, and those getting SNAP had a higher chance of being evicted.” Those getting SNAP had a higher chance of being evicted. Who are “those”? Women: women of color, women with disabilities, women elders, immigrant women. In 2018, 63% of nonelderly adult SNAP recipients were women. 61% of SNAP households with children were headed by a single adult. 91% of those adults were women. 33% of adult SNAP recipients was a woman of color. You know when women really bear the brunt? When their presence is ignored, avoided, forgotten, erased. Welcome back to normal. Same as it ever was.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Shonagh Rae / The New York Times)

In England, austerity killed close to 60,000 additional people in four years as it targeted women

The current government of England and Wales has announced its intention to implement yet another austerity program. Last week, a research report came out that documented that England’s four year experiment with austerity, 2010 to 2014, resulted in an additional 57,550 deaths. The report opens: “The rate of improvement in life expectancy in England and Wales has slowed markedly since 2010. This decline has been most marked for women aged over 85 years and these people tend to be the most physically frail and/or disadvantaged.” Women. Later in the week, a second research study was published that documented that in the poorest urban areas of England, life expectancy since 2010 had dropped, while it had improved in the wealthier areas. After a granular reading of the data from almost 7000 middle-layer super output areas, MSOAs, or postal code areas, the researchers conclude, “The decline … began around 2010 in women in some MSOAs, has spread and accelerated since 2014 …. The decline in life expectancy was more widespread in women than in men.”

In 2008, the Secretary of State for Health asked Michael Marmot to chair an independent review to address health inequities in the United Kingdom. The Marmot Review was published February 2010. Last year, Michael Marmot released a ten-year review, which opens: “Among women, particularly, life expectancy declined in the more deprived areas of the country.”

For ten years, and more, it has been evidence-based public knowledge that austerity kills the poor, workers, people of color, immigrants, those living with disabilities, women. Study after study has demonstrated the impact of cutting social and public services on entire communities. Writ small, austerity is genocide, because its purpose is to wipe out entire local communities. Writ large, austerity is femicide, because, as a policy, austerity always reduces women’s life span and life expectancy as it increases the number of women’s deaths. To hell with austerity!

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Artscamp / The Relitics)

In Australia, Aboriginal women and girls disproportionately sent to prison and jail are disproportionately strip-searched. We know. What are we going to do about it?

The Alexander Maconochie Centre 

Excessive strip-searching shines light on discrimination of Aboriginal women in the criminal justice system”. An article with that headline appeared yesterday. While the research and argument of the article is unimpeachable, one wonders about the shining light. The discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women by and in the Australian so-called criminal justice program is a longstanding open secret. In 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report, which noted, “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.” A version of that statement, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”, had appeared in major reports in 201020112012201320142015,2016, and 2017. Now it’s 2021, and where are we … and who are we?

Last year, the Redfern Legal Centre reported that police in New South Wales continued to strip search children, some as young as 11 years old. In one year alone, NSW police conducted 96 strip searches of children. To no one’s surprise, those strip searches disproportionately assaulted Aboriginal children. This was no surprise, because strip searches generally target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and especially women and girls. Not only was the practice continuing, it was actually rising in number for Aboriginal children. Redfern is pursuing a landmark class action suit against the New South Wales police. While that would be important, these searches have occurred, for decades, in plain sight. Where are we … and who are we?

In January of this year, former Western Australia and New South Wales police came forward to discuss their experiences as police officers. They described a routine, and cynical, process of boosting arrest numbers by targeting Aboriginal communities, and especially children. Although strip searches are supposed to be only for “exceptional and extreme circumstances”, Aboriginal children were routinely strip searched. Their crime, their exceptionality, their extreme circumstance, was their bodies, their culture, their identity. One police officer remembered that strip searching a 10-year-old Aboriginal child was “one of the worst moments” of his eight-year career as a police officer. What was that moment for that 10-year-old child, one wonders, and where is he … and who is he now?

In March, it was reported that, earlier in the year, a 37-year-old Aboriginal woman was strip searched by four guards, in riot gear, in front of male detainees. Why? Because. This occurred at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, in the Australian Capital Territory. The Australian government boasts that the Alexander Maconochie Centre is “a human rights compliant” facility. Aboriginal leaders disagree. So does the woman, who wrote, “Here I ask you to remember that I am a rape victim, so you can only imagine the horror, the screams, the degrading feeling, the absolute fear and shame I was experiencing.”

Here I ask you to remember. 

In the first week of July, the Human Rights Legal Centre reported that from October 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, there had been 208 strip searches conducted on women detainees at the same Alexander Maconochie Centre. Of those, 121, or 58%, were performed on Aboriginal women. At that time, Aboriginal women comprised 44% of the women held at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Just being Aboriginal women made them exceptional and extreme. Again to no one’s surprise, of the 208 searches, three resulted in the discovery of contraband. The others were the price Aboriginal women pay for being Aboriginal women in Australia.

The lack of surprise is the point. In 2003, Debbie Kilroy, Director of Sisters Inside Inc, wrote, “Prisoners are strip-searched because it is a highly effective way to control women … Routine and random strip-searching is conducted in order to punish women and to control them.” The strip searching of women in Australia’s prisons is routine, but hardly random, in that it targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, who are sent in disproportionate numbers into “human rights compliant’ prison and jail hellholes. We know. We’ve known for a long time. What are we going to do about it?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Andrew Finch / City News)

In Cornton Vale, Scotland’s one women’s prison, women with complex mental health needs are routinely thrown into solitary for days on end

Today, Scotland’s Mental Welfare Commission released the findings of their investigation into the treatment of women with complex mental health needs who have the great misfortune of ending up in Scotland’s one all-women’s prison. The Commission reports that women with mental health needs were sent into solitary confinement, euphemistically called Separation and Reintegration Units, for anywhere from a day to 82 days. The cells are described as “sparse and lacking in comfort. The narratives in women’s notes suggested there was little in the way of positive sensory stimulation in the environment of the SRU. There was limited human contact and if other women in the SRU were distressed or unwell, their vocalisations were likely to be audible, disturbing and distressing. When women’s self-care deteriorated, they may also have experienced physical and sensory discomfort in this context.”

The report goes on to note, “Part of the ethos, and indeed the name of SRUs, is that offenders are reintegrated into the mainstream environment after a period of time. Reintegration did not appear to feature in the majority of cases we reviewed …. For women who were floridly unwell with acute psychosis or manic psychosis, the severity of their symptoms and level of disturbance significantly worsened in the SRU.”

None of this is surprising or new. That solitary confinement, for anyone, is torture is not new. That solitary confinement as a response to women’s health needs is torture is not new. That solitary confinement as a response to women in need is, nevertheless, altogether ordinary also is not new. That solitary confinement worsens everything is also not new. That Cornton Vale is a toxic hot mess, with high levels of suicide and self-harm is also not new. Due to its high rates of suicide and self-harm, Cornton Vale has been called the “vale of death”. None of this is new or surprising.

In 2018, the European Commission on the Prevention of Torture visited Cornton Vale: “The CPT raises serious concerns about the treatment of women prisoners held in segregation at Cornton Vale Prison …. The CPT found women who clearly were in need of urgent care and treatment in a psychiatric facility, and should not have been in a prison environment, let alone segregated for extended periods in solitary confinement under Rules 95 and 41 (accommodation in specified conditions for health or welfare reasons). Prison staff were not trained to manage the highly disturbed women.” When they returned, in 2019, they found that the situation was somewhat improved, in some senses, but that the use of segregation, and in particular long-term isolation, persisted. None of this is new or surprising.

What is new is that this is not new. On July 10, 2017, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote, “Tomorrow sees a major milestone in the transformation of our justice system. We will begin the demolition of Cornton Vale women’s prison, a move that marks the next stage in our plans to ensure Scotland’s penal policy doesn’t just punish people who’ve committed crimes – important though that is – but helps deliver safer communities in the long term.” What happened? Why, four years later, is Cornton Vale still standing? What happened to the alternatives — an 80-bed prison, five regional 20-bed facilities, community sentencing and service, and much greater funding for mental health, drug abuse, counseling? What is the investment in Cornton Vale’s catastrophic failure, such that, four years later, the vale of death, the vale of women’s slow and painful death and deaths? Haven’t there been enough inquiries and enough `discoveries’, enough corpses and enough ruined lives?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

In South Africa, women assert the Constitutional right to breathe fresh air is a State responsibility

Promise Mabilo

Section 24a of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa declares, “Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.” Everyone means, or should mean, everyone. For decades, coal mining and coal-fired power plants have turned the Mpumalanga Highveld into the site of the most polluted air in the world. Two years ago, Greenpeace reported that the area was the world’s largest power plant emission hotspot. In 2007, the South African government created the Highveld Priority Area to respond to the deadly situation. Nothing changed. If anything, the air became more deadly. This year, women in Mpumalanga, most of them members of the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, decided enough was already way too much, and, with another environmental justice organization, groundWork, sued the South African government. The women declared they knew what was happening to their children, neighbors, community, and to themselves, and they said that they had pushed every other way conceivable and now, it was time for the South African government to abide by its Constitution. Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. Everyone means everyone. The case is known as the “Deadly Air” case. In May, the Pretoria High Court heard the case, and the decision could come out any day.

After the case was heard, Promise Mabilo, coordinator of Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action and one of the claimants, explained, “For me, this case is very important because people around the Highveld are really suffering. I have a son who is suffering from asthma and I feel the pain when I look at him. His childhood had limitations because he couldn’t play with other children, run around or carry heavy objects. I also noticed his school performance dropping because he wasn’t attending school regularly as he would be sick for one week then be okay the next …. The more I see the results of breathing in this polluted air and the people I live with in the community who are also sick and suffering from asthma, I feel abused and violated because I know what the cause is … We wish for the government departments to work together with other departments, such as the Department of Health. We do not just want compliance from the polluters because once we get sick, we even struggle to get proper healthcare because we don’t have money.”

Mbali Vosmang added, “I live with my  two children. Princess is seven, and Asemahle is three years old. When they were born, they were not sick but since living Emalahleni, we have become sick. It is very tough to sleep in hospitals due to COVID-19. The beds are full, and our children are put on oxygen tanks from the bench. The Deadly Air case is very important because I do not want others to continue to suffer the same issues as we do.”

When the government tried to explain that cleaning up an area takes time and that the claimants, majority women, were being emotional rather than rational, their attorney, Steven Budlender, responded, “The Constitutional Court has spoken with great force and passion about the need to … make a difference in ordinary people’s lives, and when you speak about 10 000  deaths of predominantly poor people in an area, that’s not emotional, it’s not irrational. It is the fact and the facts give rise to a constitutional violation.”

The facts give rise to a constitutional violation. The women of the Mpumalanga Highveld know the cause of the rampaging death in their communities. It is the air and it is the refusal of the State to care sufficiently. A state that can save its airline industry and its tourist industry is able to address the deadly air, produced by mines and power plants, in its rural areas. In Mpumalanga, in the northeast of South Africa, the women want the world to know, everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. The women want the world to know, everyone means everyone.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / Daylin Paul / Life After Coal)

 

Chile’s Constitutional Reformation From a Feminist Perspective

Chile’s new constitution will be the first drafted in the aftermath of the global #MeToo movements and a wave of feminist activism across Latin America confronting strict abortion laws, violence against women, and femicide. The conception of the new document will be crucial in the fight for gender equality and political representation in Chile. The new constitution will spur progress for women in Chile and potentially set a new global standard for gender equality in politics. 

Generations of Chilean women have long fought for social, gender, and class equality—beginning under the two most decisive periods of Chilean history, the socialist government of President Salvador Allende and the military government of General Augusto Pinochet. More recently, feminists and LGBT organizations have mobilized to confront a brutal neoliberal and increasingly authoritarian state. Chilean feminists have protested state violence, anti-statism, and anti-capitalist beliefs. These movements centered on accessibility to legal abortion, violence against women, and femicide have ignited broader demands for social equity outside the parameters of gender and reproductive issues in Latin America. 

The 2019 Chilean feminist anthem, “Un Violador en Tu Camino” (“Rapist in your Path”), which is fundamentally rooted in the feminist theory and anti-statism, demands the Chilean state to claim responsibility and accountability for Chilean women’s violence and deaths. First performed in Chile by the interdisciplinary, intersectional, and trans-inclusive feminist collective, Las Tesis, the anthem and performance quickly became viral and spread from France, Mexico to Kenya, and India, igniting a global feminist movement against violence. 

In the wake of recent feminist movements such as “Un Violador en Tu Camino” and similar movements in Latin America, Chile has elected 155 members, 77 women and 78 men. The members will be in charge of writing Chile’s new Magna Carta and decide on fundamental issues as social rights, the country’s private property regime, and the state’s role. This process emerged in response to the demands of the social outbreak that shook the country in October 2019. The procedure, supported by 78% of the voters in a referendum in October 2020, will end in 2022 with another widespread consultation that will approve or reject the text that will replace the 1980 Constitution written under the military regime of Augusto Pinochet.

With the new constitution, what does that mean for women? The structural reformation will prove pivotal in creating a more inclusive and representative body. The nearly perfect, 77 women and 78 men, gender parity provides a step in the right direction. Feminist activists and organizers consider this provision a historic victory for women in obtaining political visibility. Activists believe the gender parity will create visibility for minority communities, including the country’s Indigenous communities, LGBT groups, and gender non-conforming people. 

Though the outcome of this gender parity and the new body of laws remains yet to be seen, one thing is certain—feminist grassroots organizers globally are eagerly awaiting the long-overdue seat(s) at the table that has the potential to set a new global standard of politics.

 

(By Tatiana Ruiz)

(Image Credit: Emily Matteson / Anthropology News)

In Turkey, women refuse to go back: ‘It is women who will win this war’

Around the world, the past year has seen astronomical increases in the incidence of domestic violence. According to United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data and reports have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified in what we have called the Shadow Pandemic.” While the explosion of violence against women and girls may be a shadow, around the world – from the Americas to Asia and Africa to Europe and beyond – women are refusing to be rendered shadows or specters, are organizing, militating, demonstrating and protesting, and demanding a just and better world. Women are the story. Remember that.

In Turkey, women have always organized against violence against women and girls, femicide, and silence. When women discovered that the Turkish government didn’t think the murder of women important enough to record, they set up their own platform, We Will Stop Femicide. Last summer, when yet another woman was brutally tortured to death, in this instance by her ex-boyfriend, women organized, insisting on justice for Pınar Gültekin, which justice would include contextualizing her death among the large number of women attacked, murdered, intimidated, harassed: “We are here Pınar, we will hold them accountable”. They used every means available, including famously Instagram, asking, “What is happening to women in Turkey? (and what is the Istanbul Convention?)”.

The Istanbul Convention is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Last July, in the midst of rising and intensifying violence against women and girls, in Turkey as elsewhere, Turkey’s President Erdogan began making noises that he wanted to leave the Istanbul Convention, because leaving the one structure that actually addresses violence against women and girls seemed the most reasonable State response, given the Shadow Pandemic. 

Friday night, at midnight, the Turkish government issued a decree claiming to withdraw its membership in the Istanbul Convention. While the announcement was “a surprise”, it wasn’t surprising. Recall that last year, in May, Hungary’s Parliament refused to sign the Istanbul Convention, and then, in July, Poland threatened to pull out. While the move was “a surprise”, it wasn’t creative or original or clever. If anything, it was both predictable and trite. Poland passes more and more draconian laws outlawing and criminalizing abortion and reproductive rights more generally, Hungary goes after its LGBTIQ+ communities and individuals, and Turkey promotes violence against women. The pogrom is alive and well in Europe.

While the media largely focuses on the so-called Big Men, the real story here is that of the women of Turkey, mobilizing, organizing, militating as ever. The moment the decree appeared,  at midnight, women organized. Individual women and women’s organizations responded immediately. Feminist attorney Hülya Gülbahar was among many who noted, “It is not possible to withdraw from an international convention with a Presidential decree. You withdraw from a convention in the same way you became a party to it. The İstanbul Convention was unanimously approved at the Parliament. We call on the Parliament to reclaim its own will, the people’s will. Parliament to duty, to lay claim to İstanbul Convention”. Canan Güllü, the chair of the Federation of Women’s Associations of Turkey, added, “This is a consequence of the one-man regime. They put women on the table of politics. This means “Rape women, beat women, abuse children.” The next day, in demonstrations across the country, women chanted, “İstanbul Convention saves lives” and “We don’t recognize the one man’s decision”. Others chanted, “We are not scared, we are not afraid. We shall not obey.” One placard said it all, “It is women who will win this war.”

1956, South Africa, in response to State violence, the women chanted, ”Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom! wathint’ abafazi,wathint’ imbokodo,uza kufa!” “Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed.” 2019, Chile, in response to State violence, the women pointed to the Supreme Court and chanted, “El violador eres tú!” “The rapist is you!” 2021, Turkey, in response to State violence, the women say, “It is women who will win this war!” Women are the center of this center.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Bianet / Evrim Kepenek & Ayşegül Özbek)