In India, school girls go on strike for education and respect … and win!

On May 10, 86 school girls decided to upset the sleep of the “sleepy hamlet” of Gothra Tappa Dahina in the Rewari district of the Haryana state, in India. Fed up with administrators and parents who thought less than nothing of the sexual harassment the girls endured every day on their way to and from school, the girls decided to go on strike, with 13 of them going on hunger strike. A week later, the administration gave in to the girls’ principal demands. Since then, other school girls have started similar strikes. As with the school girls in Malawi, the school girls of Rewari know that they deserve a decent education, and that that includes the trip to and from school. With that knowledge, they may have started a school girls’ movement that will do more than disrupt the sleep of many. It may be an awakening.

The story is straightforward. The local school stops at 10th grade. That means for 11th and 12th grades, the girls must walk about 3 kilometers to the next village. According to the girls, they complained about the abuse they received on their walk to and from school. They petitioned the administration to upgrade their local school to include 11th and 12th grades. They received no response. They urged their parents to push for upgrading the local school. Some told the girls it’s better to be quiet; sexual harassment of girls and women has been going on forever. Others were more supportive but couldn’t offer much else. And so, the girls took action. As Sheetal, one of the hunger strikes, explained, “Almost every day, we face eve teasing. Should we stop studying? Should we stop dreaming? Are only rich people and their children allowed to dream? The government should protect us or open a higher-secondary school in our village.” Parents joined the strike, laying down their work tools and protesting outside the school. On May 17, 10 of the hunger strikers were sent to hospital, as the Haryana state government agreed to upgrade the school.

In the subsequent days, this big win for the Rewari girls has been followed by similar strikes by school girls in Gurugram and Palwal districts, both in Haryana state. Sapna Kumari, one of striking students in Gurugram, explained, “Some girls have to drop out after Class 10th because their parents do not want to send them to school afar, fearing their safety. Those who manage to convince them face problems of eve-teasing everyday. Be it buses, autos, the problem does not end.” Her school is 4 kilometers away. Anjali, one of the striking students in Palwal district, asked, “How can daughters study when there was no government school up to senior secondary level in their village?”

These school girls know the meaning of education, and they know they deserve it. Period. They know that a state that creates unsafe conditions for girls on their way to and from school has no commitment to girls’ education. They also know that they have the power to move the State and change the world, and now the school girls of Haryana are teaching that lesson to the rest of the world.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Hindustan Times) (Photo Credit 2: Times of India)

#ShutDownBerks: The Mothers of Berks and their children do not want to die

Yesterday, ICE agents took a 25-year-old Honduran woman and her five-year-old son from Berks County “Residential” Center, dumped them on a plane and sent them back to Honduras. The two fled Honduras after the mother witnessed her cousin being murdered, after which local gangs threatened her life and that of her child. She and her son fled to the United States. They were detained initially in Texas, and then sent to Berks, in Pennsylvania, where they’ve spent a little more than the last 16 months. That means her son has spent a little over a quarter of his life imprisoned in Berks for the crime of living with a mother who only wants the best for her son.

Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey spent yesterday trying to prevent the deportation, to no avail: “If they are really, with limited resources, going to focus on 5-year-olds instead of criminals, what kind of homeland security is that?” Attorney Bridget Cambria spent yesterday in court trying to protect the child: “We applied for the child this week who had qualified for a special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) and brought it to ICE and the courts and we were in court today. We literally were arguing to include this child while immigration was watching the plane take off.” This is just another tragic story of yet another mother and child in Berks (or Dilley or Karnes), fleeing abuse, abused by the State. But then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stood up this morning and explained it all. No one deported that woman and that child, they were deported by something called the law: “You have to understand that ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, John Kelly, I don’t, we don’t deport people. The law deports people.”

The law deports people.

The law does not deport people. People with guns deport people. The law does not persuade a terrified woman and her terrorized five-year-old son to move from the misery of Berks to the hell awaiting her in Honduras. The law does not terrorize children and then call the architecture of terror a “residential center” or a “family center”. Men with guns do all that.

Someone once wrote,

“The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie.
What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die …
These lies mean that something in the nation wants to die.”

The Mothers of Berks do not want to die, they are not the something in the nation that wants to die. Last October, 17 U.S. Senators, including Senator Casey, sent a letter to the previous Homeland Security Secretary urging him to close Berks, for the sake of the women and children inside Berks … and outside as well. This Tuesday, Senator Casey led nine other senators and 13 members of the House of Representatives in calling for the release of four mothers and their children, ranging in age from 3 to 16 years. Wednesday, he received his response. The law deported a 25-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son. Not us, not us, the law. You must understand. #ShutDownBerks

 

(Image Credit 1: End Family Detention) (Image Credit 2: PRI / Dan Carino)

Bondita Acharya and Micaela Garcia refuse to let women be crushed

In case we needed any reminder, this week has already demonstrated that rape culture is expanding, intensifying and globalizing. Yesterday, across Argentina, thousands marched and protested violence against women, femicide, and rape. They marched under the banner of Ni Una Menos and Justicia Para Micaela. Micaela Garcia was a 21-year-old feminist activist who dedicated her life to the struggle to end femicide and violence against women. Last week, she was raped and murdered. In India, human rights activist Bondita Acharya criticized the arrests of three people for the crime of possessing beef. Very quickly after Bondita Acharya expressed her views, she was threatened with acid attacks, rape, and death. According to Bondita Acharya, “They threatened me with death, rape, acid attacks, and also hurled sexually explicit abuse to defame me … I also feel the anger was directed at me because I am a Brahmin and a woman.”  And in South Africa, yesterday, a prominent cartoonist decided to make his point by graphically describing the gang “rape” of South Africa. The nation was drawn as a Black South African woman, held down by three men.

Women have responded forcibly and directly to each and all of these atrocities. In Argentina, women mobilized by the thousands. As Marta Dillon, of Ni Una Menos, explained, “It is a day of mourning, but we know how to turn pain into power.” Nina Brugo added, “We are going to take revenge for Micaela by getting organized.” In India, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression strongly condemned the persecution and harassment of Bondita Acharya, and are pushing the State to take action. Others have joined in the cause. In South Africa, women have led the charge against the abuse of their bodies and lives. Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, capturing the feelings of many, wrote, “The impact of rape on survivors is severe, many will lie awake at night and are not be able to sleep or eat properly for days because of the powerful emotions they feel. Feelings of fear, anxiety and vulnerability in particular provide the kind of undermining emotional preoccupation that often prevents women from working, studying or parenting effectively. Reliving rape is easily triggered. It disturbs and disrupts everything rape survivors do and distresses the people close to them who feel helpless to do anything to mitigate these powerful feelings. The fact that these same women often face the stigma of being socially disgraced when they speak out about being raped is another example of rape culture. Challenging rape culture in South Africa and asking ourselves what a culture of consent might look like and how we would build that culture instead would be a worthy subject for the media.”

It would be a worthy subject indeed. In 1986, feminist political economist Maria Mies wrote, “It is a peculiar experience of many women that they are engaged in various struggles and actions, the deeper historical significance of which they themselves are often not able to grasp. Thus, they do in fact bring about certain changes, but they do not ‘understand’ that the changes they are aiming at are much more far-reaching and radical than they dare to dream. Take the example of the worldwide anti-rape campaign. By focussing on the male violence against women, coming to the surface in rape, and by trying to make this a public issue, feminists have unwittingly touched one of the taboos of civilized society, namely that this is a ‘peaceful society’. Although most women were mainly concerned with helping the victims or with bringing about legal reforms, the very fact that rape has now become a public issue has helped to tear the veil from the facade of so-called civilized society and has laid bare its hidden, brutal, violent foundations. Many women when they begin to understand the depth and breadth of the feminist revolution, are afraid of their own courage and close their eyes to what they have seen because they feel powerless vis-à-vis [the] task of overthrowing several thousand years of patriarchy. Yet the issues remain. Whether we – women and men – are ready or not to respond to the historic questions raised, they will remain on the agenda of history. And we have to find answers to them which make sense and which will help us to restructure social relations in such a way that our ‘human nature’ is furthered and not crushed.”

Thirty-one years later, rape remains on the agenda of history but too often not on the agendas of nation-States nor organizations nor the media. We still await that revolution.

 

(Photo Credit: José Granata / EFE / El Pais)

As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis

As we scramble to understand and “articulate” the true nature of our political crisis, unpacking strategies and the “political programme”, how to position ourselves and what positioning this or that way means for where you are perceived to be sitting in the political ideological spectrum (i.e are you woke or not/ radical or liberal/ coconut or sellout…).

I am reminded of the lonely days of struggle as an activist in the Treatment Action Campaign. I was a young person full of the beautiful dreams of liberation. Coming from a working-class family, watching other young, working class people like me die whilst the powerful ones used their power to let them die. This wasn’t Apartheid South Africa. Leaders of our ruling party and democratic government and Tripartite Alliance partners were labelling us agents of drug companies and all manner of descriptors to delegitimise our struggle. There is a particular NEC/alliance meeting we were once “invited” to after we launched our civil disobedience campaign, where I watched the big men of the then ANC Top 6 and alliance partners (Lekotas, Blades, etc were there), perform power in the grossest, most nauseating way. Having been summoned, we were made to sit for hours waiting for them to deliberate important things, then we were given a few minutes to be interrogated, then sent off with nothing. We warned them we would not back down and left. That meeting shuttered all my hopes, it showed the depth of callousness of our leaders, how self-obsessed they have always been…!

Then, as now, the “clever” ones debated, analysed, researched, “articulated” whilst young working class black people, many of them young women, in villages, townships, servants’ quarters in white middle class suburbs, were dying like flies. The clever ones criticized our campaign for not being “systemic”, because we were not speaking in clever phrases about how “neoliberalism must fall”. Mandela’s ANC had chosen GEAR, that meant that public goods like lifesaving medical treatment would remain for-profit commodities, to be traded at the highest margins for shareholders, and government had to toe the line of those who control the rules of international trade, that Government wouldn’t defy WTO rules in defence of their people…

Organizing was all complex then, as now. But then, as now, government had a choice, power to make that choice in favor of justice, accountability for a just future for all, particularly the poor. It was black working class people who were dying, who’d been left to own devices, those with money were dying because of denial and fear of stigma not inability to afford medical care. It was black working class people who showed up, filled the picket lines and fought for their lives and won. Many of the black-like-me’s with education who could interpret medical science to help people understand how to save their lives, who could have given their education privilege to contribute, many did not. As Edwin Cameron said, being “white, privileged and middle class meant he could access lifesaving drugs” at a time when one month’s treatment cost more than a year’s wages of a black working class family. It is unforgivable what our leaders did, the silence and hubris of the middle class illustrated how as the middle class we’re fickle, trapped in our parochial class lens and interests, and are not to be trusted, even when we spew revolutionary rhetoric. The issues were raced and classed and gendered then as they are now. The betrayals from soapbox podiums often dominated by men happened then as they are now.

So then, let’s organize, and march to end racialised, gendered inequality. Let’s organize to end white supremacy, for land, for neoliberalism to fall, for the black young women set up for infection and who still die to live with dignity. For mine-workers to get their fair share of the wealth they dig. For domestic workers not to live in servants’ quarters not even dogs live in and be sent off into the wilderness with nothing when their old legs and hands can no longer hold the weight of the labour needed to prop up white and elite black capital. For men who rape to not be rewarded with more power. For corrupt, captured politicians and their parties to be ejected from power. For women to not live their lives like we’re in a war zone, under brutal patriarchal rule. For an intersectional struggle against corrupt power, in all its manifestations. A society that sustains life and dignity for all. And then, all of us middle class, black white and whatever shade, to have an honest interrogation of our own complicity in the mess. Our cronyism and rent seeking and what it has made of us, and life for many who’re on the wrong side of the game Board. So, I will join the action for intersectional justice Bethuna. And no I don’t mean who’s twittering about it? Who’s organizing it? And no, I have no interest in going to Saxonworld!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Council on Foreign Relations/Reuters/Mike Hutchings) (Photo Credit 2: South Africa News Today)

In and beyond prison, reproductive justice is a State responsibility

Christiane Taubira the former French minister of justice likes to remind the public of the government’s responsibility toward the vulnerable.  She had to defend this position while trying to make the penal system in France more comprehensive. She was only partially successful. The state of vulnerability comes very fast when unwanted pregnancy starts. Even though such situations are produced by a man and a woman, the burden remains entirely on the woman. If we add another layer to the state of vulnerability, such as poverty, things become immediately more complicated for the woman.

In the United States, the state does not assume its responsibility toward the vulnerable, who are sexualized, racialized and declassified instead of being supported. The state uses the vulnerable as a source of surplus value through its imprisonment making the institution an industrial complex with contractors running the game. They even charge women prisoners for their basic amenities, such as soap. In this combination of neoliberal development of consumerism and unfettered capital gain, punishing women as members of the vulnerable combines growing inequalities with awesome wealth building.

Trump and his team have brought this idea to its paroxysm, but everything was in place before this election.

The right to abort is a constitutional right that should be respected everywhere, but the case of access to abortion points to the lack of reproductive justice, inside prison and outside. Women in need of abortion often experience stigmatization, reinforcing the sentiment of disqualification as full citizens. In prison, the challenge to wield this right to abortion is real, with enormous discrepancies from state to state and from county to county.

Worldwide, 33% of women prisoners are in the US, and so it is important to examine the reasons for the push to punish women with the detention conditions worsening the punishment itself. The number of incarcerated women in the United States has increased 700% between 1980 and 2014. Being poor is a condition for incarceration and particularly affects women. As the Prison Policy Initiative exposed in its latest report 72% of incarcerated women had an income less than $22 500 while the rate is 48% for non-incarcerated women, and for men 23% for non-incarcerated men compared to 57% for incarcerated men.

Pregnant women are sent to prison, jail, or immigration detention centers. In federal prisons 1 in 33 women and 1 in 25 in state prisons are pregnant. The number is hard to establish in other kinds of detention facility.

If women decide or are intimidated to pursue their pregnancy behind bars, they face harsh conditions with disastrous prenatal conditions in detention facilities in general. In 2011, 38 states had no prenatal policies and 41 states did not require prenatal nutrition. Children born in prison are removed from their mothers right after birth, which demonstrates that a child’s well-being has no meaning when the child is born in prison, another double standard.

In addition, there is no adequate health care for inmates in the United States, though, based on the 8th Amendment, prisoners are the only ones who have a constitutional right to medical care. Instead, medical care in prison is often decided through court orders by penal and judicial personnel who have no medical expertise, and so treatments are delayed, ignored, or never performed.

If women inmates don’t want to become mothers, although it is their constitutional right to have access to abortion, few states offer comprehensive solutions. In most of states, the women must deal with a hodgepodge of rules and regulations, all defined from the male-standard of incarceration. Generally, the hurdles are numerous, high, and burdensome. From having access to a clinic to payment to transport, every step is an “undue burden” for women prisoners in most states. As ACLU attorneys recall, the US Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision clearly said “laws that restrict abortion access cannot create an `undue burden.’”

The legal dispute around abortion in prison should be taken seriously by everyone outside of prison who believe that respecting the dignity of women as full citizens means ensuring they control their reproduction. Women have been sentenced to jail for the failure of the state to provide abortion or prenatal services to the vulnerable. The Purvi Patel case is one of too many cases that proves that the State is not concerned with women’s well-being, especially when in a state of vulnerability.

ACLU and other groups have called for more research on the application of reproductive rights inside the United States penal systems. Although this demand is important to resist the conservative anti-abortion wave, the invisibility of living conditions of women behind bars is full of lessons about the way attacks on women’s right and reproductive justice is waged in general and its social meaning. When state leaders are ready to fulfill their responsibilities to serve the vulnerable, often women and more often women of color and/or women prisoners, they will serve all women and the society better.

 

(Photo Credit: National Women’s Law Center) (Infographic credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

Yukon First Nation women water protectors organize to save the Peel Watershed, the planet … and our soul

Protect the Peel

Today, March 22, World Water Day, Canada’s Supreme Court heard a case concerning the fate of the Peel River Watershed and of the three Yukon First Nations who live with the river. This case has gone through the courts for three years, but it has gone through the land for centuries. First Nation women water protectors decided enough was way too much, and they’ve organized, for the water, for their nations and communities, for the planet, and for our soul.

For Roberta Joseph, Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the struggle engages betrayal and redemption: “Six rivers flow from the Yukon’s northern mountains down through boreal forest, tundra and wetlands to the Peel River, which runs north to the Arctic Ocean. Along the way, these rivers drain 68,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Nova Scotia. The Peel Watershed is intimately known by three Yukon First Nations—the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation—and the Tetlit Gwich’in in the Northwest Territories, who have hunted, harvested, and lived on the land and the rivers for millennia. The parties ended up in court due to the Yukon government’s betrayal of its agreements with the three First Nations. In 1973, Yukon Chiefs presented Canada with the historic document Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow, convincing the federal government to begin negotiating a modern-day treaty with Yukon First Nations.

“Today, most Yukon First Nations have reached agreements with the Yukon and Canadian governments. The First Nations whose traditional territory includes parts of the Peel River watershed signed their Final Agreements in the 1990s. In these agreements, First Nations yielded control of much of their traditional territory in exchange for a meaningful role in land-use planning for these settlement lands and guaranteed surface and subsurface rights to smaller fractions of their traditional territory.”

In 2004, the Yukon government established a land use commission to consider the disposition of the Peel Watershed. In 2011, the commission issued its final report. According to Roberta Joseph, “The ‘Final Recommended Land Use Plan’ called for 80 per cent protection of the watershed (55 per cent permanent protection, 25 per cent interim protection), with 20 per cent open to roads and industrial development. First Nations have always called for 100 per cent protection of the watershed, but accepted this compromise. Then, the betrayal occurred.”

In July 2014, the Yukon government released its own report, without consultation with First Nations, and it called for 29 per cent protection, and leaving the remaining 71 per cent open to “development”. There are currently nearly 8000 mining claims waiting for the floodgates to open. In 2014, the Yukon First Nations joined with conservationist groups CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society and sued the government.

As Roberta Joseph explains, “We do not want the government to carve up the Peel Watershed with roads and industry. We do not want the government to be rewarded for betrayal with a second chance to overturn the collaborative, democratic land-use planning process. The Final Agreements are supposed to be a meaningful partnership, and the Yukon government did not honour the spirit of these agreements. That is why we appealed to the highest court in the land.”

Elaine Alexie, a Tetlit Gwich’in First Nation member, adds, “What’s most precious to us is the water. If anything should happen to that water, it will directly affect us … I spent half my childhood in the Peel. I see it as a place that I have a connection to as a Tetlit Gwich’in woman. Once a year I go up the Peel, because it’s such a part of who we are.”

Roberta Joseph agrees, “The Peel Watershed is a place where the rivers run clear, the herds of caribou are healthy, and grizzlies have the room to roam. Please visit www.protectpeel.ca to learn more about this irreplaceable landscape and how you can help support the campaign to protect it.”

Roberta Joseph

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Tyler Kuhn) (Photo Credit 2: CBC News / Cheryl Kawaja)

At the Koshe Garbage Landfill, most of the dead were women and children

Koshe Garbage Landfill is the only landfill site in Addis Ababa. Hundreds of people live in the shadow of the dump’s mountains of trash. Their communities are on the landfill itself. Hundreds of people, adults and children, work on sides of those mountains of trash. On Saturday, March 11, one of the mountains of trash in the Koshe Garbage Landfill collapsed. As of today’s count, 115 corpses have been pulled out from the rubble. 75 of them were women. Of the initial 35 who were pulled out, almost all were women and children. Now the streets are filled with the wailing of women. Ethiopians demand answers. We all should.

Many will ask what happened? What causes garbage mountains to collapse? What caused this particular mountain of trash to collapse? Urban development? Construction? “A simple failure of an oversteepened slope”? What causes garbage mountains to grow? Who builds a city in which hundreds of people spend their lives as scavengers, climbing, descending and burrowing into mountains of trash? What happened Saturday in the Koshe Garbage Landfill?

What happened, as well, to women and children? How is that slightly over 65% of the dead are women and children? How is that human stampedes and urban garbage landslides have the same toxic gender mathematics of mortality? What does it mean that women and children are the sacrifices to the human forces that built and build landfills choked by ever-rising mountains of trash?

The planet of slums has produced a global archipelago of garbage mountains on which mostly women and children work and live. And in that brave new world, there is never a surprise that when the mountains collapse, as they regularly do, the overwhelming majority of the dead are women and children. There was no accident in the Koshe Garbage Landfill last Saturday; there was instead a planned massacre of women and children. Ethiopians demand answers. We all should.

 

(Photo Credits: Tesfa News)

Watch where you walk

Watch where you walk

Watch where you walk
we are advised
by folks in the know

don’t do a midnight
or an early hours one

(boyfriends bury
their girlfriends
in backyards)

don’t frequent the hotspots
police cannot be everywhere

behind closed doors
in gated mansions
in ivory towers
be-suited in committees

(you know dangerous areas
places like home like school
like the workplace like)

Watch where you walk
twin knifes mom and sister
famine on the horizon
for millions of children
(what way our grant fiasco)

femicide is the order
women besieged
sexual assault the daily custom
(in the broad light of day)

(a woman or girl raped
every 25 seconds down here)

Watch where you walk
International Women’s Day
and our 16 days anti-abuse campaign
has long since passed us by

Watch where you walk

‘Watch where you walk’ – cops (People’s Post Athlone, 14 March 2017). “Boyfriends bury their girlfriends in backyards” (Cape Times, January 31 2017), “Twin ‘knifes’ mom, sister” (Cape Times, February 6 2017); and “Millions of children are facing famine” (Sunday Argus, January 29 2017)

(Image Credit: 702)

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)