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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

To the next generations, from a millennial

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A cell at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Photo Credit: ABC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image Credit: UFCW)

The number of women sentenced to more than 1 year in prison increased from 2015 to 2016

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics released its report, “Prisoners in 2016.” By and large, the numbers are “encouraging” in that prison populations, by and large, are reducing. While certain states buck the trend, overall, thanks to criminal justice reform, fewer people are spending time in prison. That would be good news, except for this: “The number of females sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison increased by 500 from 2015 to 2016”. In a year of generally decreasing prison populations, this exception is noteworthy.

Here are the highlights of “Prisoners in 2016”: “The number of prisoners under state and federal jurisdiction at year-end 2016 (1,505,400) decreased by 21,200 (down more than 1%) from year-end 2015. The federal prison population decreased by 7,300 prisoners from 2015 to 2016 (down almost 4%), accounting for 34% of the total change in the U.S. prison population. The imprisonment rate in the United States decreased 2%, from 459 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages in 2015 to 450 per 100,000 in 2016. State and federal prisons admitted 2,300 fewer prisoners in 2016 than in 2015. The Federal Bureau of Prisons accounted for 96% of the decline in admissions (down 2,200 admissions). The number of prisoners held in private facilities in 2016 (128,300) increased 2% from year-end 2015 (up 2,100). The number of females sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison increased by 500 from 2015 to 2016.” Why are women the exception to the new rule? What’s going on?

At the end of 2016, women comprised 7% of the total national prison population. From end of 2015 to end of 2016, there were 69 fewer women prisoners, nationwide. In the same period, the number of male prisoners dropped by 21, 137. For women, that’s a .1% reduction, and for men .3%. Twenty states reduced their number of women prisoners while 26 states increased that number, and this is in one year. Kentucky, Washington and Ohio led the pack in increased incarceration of women.

“The imprisonment rate for the U.S. population of all ages was the lowest since 1997 … On December 31, 2016, a total of 1% of adult males living in the United States were serving prison sentences of more than 1 year (1,108 per 100,000 adult male residents), a decrease of 2% from year-end 2015 (1,135 per 100,000).  The imprisonment rates for females of all ages and adult females in 2016 were unchanged from year-end 2015 (64 per 100,000 female residents of all ages and 82 per 100,000 adult female residents).”

Once again, Oklahoma had the highest rate of women’s imprisonment: 149 per 100,000 women residents. Kentucky, South Dakota and Idaho follow close behind.

“The imprisonment rate for black females (96 per 100,000 black female residents) was almost double that for white females (49 per 100,000 white female residents). Among females ages 18 to 19, black females were 3.1 times more likely than white females and 2.2 times more likely than Hispanic females to be imprisoned in 2016.”

The war on drugs continues to be a war on women: “A quarter (25%) of females serving time in state prison on December 31, 2015, had been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 14% of males … More than half (56% or 6,300) of female federal prisoners were serving sentences for a drug offense, compared to 47% of males (75,600).”

While rates of incarceration and raw numbers of incarcerated people decline, rates of incarceration for women increase and raw numbers of women sentenced to more than a year increase. That is not an oversight. That is public policy. The war on women, waged through police, courts, and prison, continues. If the report were to include immigrant detention, the profile would be that much clearer. It’s time to stop the war on women, to pay greater attention to the reasons that the State targets women for imprisonment. It’s time to end the national witch hunt.

 

(Image Credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

Women are Tunisia’s revolutionary guards: What are we waiting for? Fech Nestannew?

On December 17,2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set himself on fire and ignited Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. It was a desperate act that lit the sky and the world. His act reflected a general sense of despair, and in that reflected despair, people saw transformative change as their only hope. Within a month, on January 14, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dissolved his government. From its first flicker, the Jasmine Revolution was more than the ouster of a dictator. It was an assault on patriarchy that emerged from decades of women and youth organizing. Seven years later, it still is. Ask the women who have ignited the current wave of protests across Tunisia, protests that demand a practical, material response to their question: “Fech Nestannew?” “What are we waiting for?” “Qu’attendons-nous?” “فاش نستناو ؟”

For Tunisia, the past seven years have been “interesting,” and particularly for women. The government has seesawed repeatedly on its position vis-à-vis women’s rights, equality, and roles. The State and parts of Civil Society have colluded in trying to diminish the significance of women’s work and contributions. And women have pushed back. In this last round of push-back, women have responded to an IMF-imposed budget, agreed on in December and implemented as of January 1. This budget follows the tried and true, or better failed and false, austerity menu: increase taxes, slice subsidies, subject the civil service to “efficiencies”, raise food prices, stop recruiting and hiring for public sector jobs. The IMF declared the new budget is bold and ambitious. Tunisian women thought otherwise. They asked, “When do we get the jobs we struggled for and were promised? When will food become generally affordable? Where is our housing? What are we waiting for?” Women demanded a better menu than that offered by the IMF: “Travail, pain, liberté et dignité” “Employment, bread, liberty, and dignity”.

The Fech Nestannew? movement describes itself as horizontal, but it does have spokespeople, most notably Henda Chennaoui and Warda Atig. Warda Atig explained that Fech Nestannew? activists held their first action on January 3: “We were waiting for the government to make the law official and we chose the date of our first action to be January 3. The date is very symbolic because, on January 3, 1984, there was the Intifada al-Khubez (bread uprising) in Tunisia [over an increase in the price of bread]. On January 3, we made a declaration in front of the municipal theatre [on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis] and we distributed pamphlets with our demands. We were about 50 activists.” On January 3, they were about 50 activists. As of Monday, mass demonstrations, and small ones as well, have rocked Tunisia from one end to the other. As Atig explains, while the activists are demanding that the State “end the increase in prices, cancel the moratorium on recruiting in the public sector, provide security and healthcare, end privatisation and put forward a national strategy to counter corruption”, at its heart, it’s a bread uprising. Austerity targets the stomach, and in so doing, always targets women first, most directly and most intensely.

Henda Chennaoui contextualizes the current situation: “Gas oil has increased by 2.85 percent which has an impact on the price of food. The minimum wage has not changed for years. It is 326 dinars ($131) per month. That equates to about two weeks of groceries for a family of four. To understand the fed-up, we must know that after 2011, a kind of contract was made between Tunisians and politicians. The latter were committed, after the political transition, to satisfy all the demands of the population, especially to improve the economic situation. We waited. In 2014, nothing happened. In 2015 either, neither in 2016, nor in 2017. The political class showed no sign that it was doing anything. That’s why we called our campaign ‘What are we waiting for?’.”

Thirty-three years ago, Tunisian women led the January Bread Revolt. Seven years ago, Tunisian women led the Jasmine Revolution. Today, Tunisian women are in the streets, and everywhere else, organizing, pushing, demanding, rocking the country, rejecting corruption, and taking on the fundamental tenets of austerity as development. Women are saying that any budget in which “the poor pay the bill” is no budget at all. The time is now. What are we waiting for? Fech Nestannew?

Warda Atig

 

(Photo Credit 1: Jeune Afrique / Sipa AP / Hassene Dridi) (Photo Credit 2: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours / Al Jazeera)

Gretchen Carlson, Fox News, U.S foreign policy, and the women of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria


Gretchen Carlson, sexual harassment, Fox News, POTUS, women’s lives in war-torn Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Let’s connect the dots.

Fox News is the mouthpiece of POTUS; it is a brainwashing machine that spins the POTUS’ view, backing the U.S wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Syria, makes the public believe that the country is fighting for freedom, and promotes white privilege ideology and American exceptionalism. Fox news anchors are expected to toe this political line, and they do, paying homage to the supreme leader, the troops, the NRA, pro-life. Fox is a right wing enterprise that supports unquestioningly the collateral damage of U.S. led wars—the overwhelming number of civilian casualties in Iraq, the number of females who are refugees in Syria and Jordan, some of them forced into prostitution in order to survive.

Gretchen Carlson, as one of these Fox news anchors, toed this line, barely blinking an eye at the extreme suffering of the Iraqi and Afghan women at the mercy of U.S. air strikes. Fox news only made the audience aware of American troop deaths, not the terrible loss of life of Iraqis and the plight of the survivors.

Fox News Corporation, built on the patriarchal, capitalist model, is a greenhouse for sexual oppression. Just as it views the outside world as inferior to a white, Christian U.S., so too does it have a hierarchy where victims would not be able to complain readily because of the stakes stacked against them. I am not sure if Gretchen was beginning to see the connection between Fox news’ attitude to U.S. policies toward the world and its own internal politics of how powerful males treated their female employees. Perhaps she was beginning to see the connection when she said last year that assault weapons ought to be banned, totally out of line for a Fox anchor to articulate. And filing the sexual harassment lawsuit against Aisles was another shock.

Gretchen, after her resignation from Fox, has now written a book, is advocating for women, speaking at women’s rights events, and so on. I am glad that she filed a lawsuit against Roger Aisles for sexual harassment. But does she see the larger picture of Fox’s vision of the world that ignores women under U.S. tyranny who have died, who have lost everything, their countries reduced, and infrastructure ruined? Can these women ever file lawsuits against the U.S. government?

 

(Photo Credit: Vox / Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)