In South Asia, a virtual platform to share and to heal for survivors of abuse

The Anju Project is an online community platform running in India and the global south; it is a place to connect with others, share stories of emotional abuse, and to find comfort for healing for people of marginalized genders who have experienced any form of abuse. Amruta Valiyaveetil imagined the need for such a platform out of her personal experience after an emotionally abusive relationship. She explains, “What broke me was not the relationship itself, but the fact that people around me didn’t believe what I was going through nor that my partner was capable of such actions.” She thought of The Anju Project as a platform for people whose natural support systems (family, friends, etc.) aren’t aware or ready to support others in emotional abuse situations. “What really helped me at that moment was reaching out to my partner’s ex-partners who were also abused by him, and I remember feeling very sane and supported in that process.” Hence, she began reaching out to more friends and family for support, which she says was much more meaningful than therapy.

Amruta combined her studies in Vet medicine, epidemiology with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive health and violence with her intersectional battle for gender rights and animal health.

She named the platform after her sister’s name “Anjana” which means “unknown” in Hindi. She remembers that Anjana was a special child and growing up she was always left behind; Anjana learned early what being marginalized meant and in time of need was always by Amruta’s side. 

This platform is crucial in the current context of Covid 19 and its gender implication: “India has a deep patriarchal system that has affected and continues to affect everyone, not just women but also men and the LGBT+ community. It is in the daily mundane violence that you find yourself defeated bit by bit, and that plays out in intimate partner violence. Growing up in India, we constantly hear about anecdotes of extreme forms of violence, legitimized by society. The violence that comes before is unknown, misidentified, ignored, and/or not considered societally `enough’ to be violence. We should talk about subtle forms of violence. Emotional and psychological abuse need to be considered as violence; we must not merely wait for the physical abuse to categorize it as such.”

The Anju Project is a virtual, safe sharing space. “With everything moving towards digitalization, the Anju Project is an easy to access safe community to share stories of abuse. Everyone has the choice to share privately, to receive a personal response from an advocate, or to share on our community platform and receive responses from the community. In both cases, the interaction with the platform may remain anonymous or not. The posts are checked by our team members who are intimate partners violence advocates who also moderate the posts to guarantee the person’s safety and eliminate hate posts.” The Anju Project also has a curated library of books and movies with various themes ranging from health to art, with an overarching theme of understanding violence as a system that spreads throughout the world as a result of a variety of systems of domination.

The Anju Project is now searching for partnerships to spread the message across and expand its network. The Anju Project is currently partnered with Sakhi, an organization working against gender-based violence for South Asian women in the United States, and now, with Women Included, a transnational feminist organization. We strongly encourage initiatives and organizations working on the rights of marginalized genders and battling sexual and gender-based violence and intimate partner violence to connect with us. We also have a need for advocates and professionals who want to contribute their expertise to one-time events of their choice,  as well as experienced digital social justice groups or personnel to support digitally.

Stay tuned for upcoming events on Instagram @theanjuproject or directly on the website TheAnjuProject.com:

  • Art therapy Session: Expressing Emotion in Times of Turmoil
  • Guided Creative Writing Session
  • Online Weekly Support Groups 

The creation of transnational feminist solidarity networks is crucial to transform society’s projections onto others’ differences, the differences that become cause for violence. As a member of both Women Included and The Anju Project, the interconnectedness driving the work we do became evident. It is nourished by our emotional and active engagement against all forms of domination and violence. We realize that violence is a devastating system connecting the entire Earth, and within that realization, we choose to emphasize and practice other systems that connect us – like compassion, innovation, togetherness, listening, art and voice – in our quest to eliminate violence against people.

by Mona Ayoub with Brigitte Marti

In Bolivia, words of wisdom, will they be heard?

Recently, Bolivia’s newly appointed vice president, David Choquehuanca, delivered a speech in the National Assembly of another type. He talked of the culture of life, interrelations between all beings, the Pachamama, and the cosmos. He spoke of harmony with Mother Earth. He also reminded the audience that the way of life and the understanding of indigenous peoples’ world vilified by the colonial power to allow their extermination. Still, as David Choquehuanca asserted, they have never strayed. 

He mixed in his speech indigenous words such as Ayllu that is an organizational system of all beings, all that exists and all should flow in harmony on our planet. The savvy and intelligent blend of genres unwraps a different perspective on our limited, violent world. 

His speech was premised on indigenous baselines, which also implied a particular vision of the sacred role. Moreover, his words reminded the struggle against “all form of subjugation against colonial thoughts, against patriarchal thoughts…” 

He insisted on the nature of this power that distorts the minds of politicians. How did it come to be? 

Far too many westerners like to believe that they control all things; in fact, the encumbered pattern that accompanies this belief tends to force upon other people what will work to their own interest. They have been worshiping their civilization, foisting this power relationship on others to worship it, to the point of absence of sight for its disharmony. The shock of civilization has another side! 

The “heartless” people in charge of state affairs in the United States during the past four years with all the extravagances of their commander in chief trampled all humane ethics, rights, and intelligence of life. But they were the pure product of this disharmonious civilization. American Indians have mobilized in significant number in Arizona to reverse the usual conservative claim of the state. But their votes were not even labeled as Native American votes as Jodi Archambault, a citizen of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, remarked, they were called “something else” on the CNN infographic. Native Americans are rendered invisible as the history of the bloodshed that built the United States, remarked Archambault. 

Invisible again, the fight for respect of the Shinnecock of New York state, as their land and way of life, including their fisheries, are always compromised by the State. They created Sovereignty Camp 2020 to remind the State and its inhabitants that they were a real nation.  

American Indian women of the United States have led the fight against the whites’ nefarious plans to exploit them and their land, consequently, Mother Earth, and to eliminate their way of life from the picture of life itself. Native Americans, women, and men have been at the forefront of climate and environmental fights. Water is life, they shouted. They formed squads of water protectors, for protection of life. They organized ceremonies and fought and won legally.

We see now the resurgence of the smallpox contamination strategy. As a reminder, white settlers gave smallpox contaminated blankets to American Indians in the 18th century. Only this time, it has taken a different form. Covid 19 didn’t affect the reservations during the first wave as much as it is doing now. Tribal power has tried to isolate the reservations to protect their populations with the highest rate of underlying conditions. The Navajo nation is also talking about their elders’ weakening conditions due to the wanton uranium mining, leaving contaminated waters for Native American communities. They observe in many reservations the highest rate of contamination and deaths, killing the elders who are the teachers for the young generation. They are afraid of losing the heart of their language in the process. The land is to be seized. The strategy is always the same, isolate and create a series of rationales to put hassles for these communities. The colonial power is still looming over the indigenous populations.

The neoliberal profit-making political climate has not admitted the nature of this equilibrium that David Choquehuanca described in his speech. The harmony is disharmony; life is a series of crises. The feminine is removed from the public sphere and left to exploitation and violence in the process, and in whole so is the Earth. There is a part of politics only concerned with masculinized images of technology, financial power, and progress as soul saviors, to let the ugly happening. It is this ugliness that Bolivia’s Vice President identified and provoked with the people heritage and cultural power to call for deep transformation of power with the Bolivian State which should be a lesson for all of us.

(Photo Credit: Sandro Cenni / Medium) (Image Credit: Jordan Singh / Twitter)

The heartless in power: Making it impossible to seek refuge in the United States

We are living in a modern time. The president of the United States has been impeached by the House of Representatives. Two articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress were adopted. He was not impeached for having separated families of asylum seekers, sending children away from their parents, leading to child deaths and missing children. He received no official reproof for all kinds of suggestions he made to make the southern frontier of the United States a place of cruelty. When he suggested to shut down the border, his advisers, reportedly astonished, told him that this decision would trap American tourists in Mexico and would affect the precious asymmetrical NAFTA trade agreement and therefore the economy. The president made many other cruel suggestions, for instance, building an electrified wall with spikes to pierce human flesh (the precision is important), fortifying the wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators. He also had the idea of shooting the legs of people, of the wretched of the earth to use Franz Fanon’s terms, who are crossing the border without proper documentation.

This is the same president who ordered the veto of UN resolution 2467 on ending sexual violence in war unless the health section including sexual and reproductive health was removed. These decisions are real: they show the schism between rights and laws and rights, between precaritized women, children and men, and the laws of men of power. 

The heartless reveal themselves in their hypocritical policies, flouting basic ethical principles. The Trump administration has shaped a new level of cruelty with its immigration policies. The president explained in the simplistic and shallow language of his policy: “Our country is full—can’t take anymore—so turn around that’s the way it is.” They even came up with a senseless title for this policy, “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), which forces asylum seekers reaching the southern border of the United States to return to hazardous and dangerous areas in Mexico. There have been numerous reports of rape, kidnapping, and torture of asylum seekers stuck in Mexico. 

To prove the insensitive character of this policy, the acting commissioner Department of Homeland Security justified it as an alternative to family separation; communication is key in pushing heartless policies.  Alternative is a big word in neoliberal language, either we don’t have any and public systems have to be dismantled or the alternative is to dismantle the asylum system, claiming to “restore integrity in the immigration system.” Meanwhile Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), dismissed the numerous public reports (about 636) of rape, torture, kidnapping as “anecdotal stuff.” 

Meanwhile, asylum seekers have no chance to get a hearing that lasts more than a few minutes in the tent courts making it practically impossible to pass these screenings, according to US senator Jeff Merkley’s office. In the spirit of unfairness, fake hearing notices have been sent to asylum seekers. MPP combined with two other immigration policies will bar the asylum process, making it impossible to seek refuge in the United States, a country fully in the hands of white supremacist and heartless people. 

(Photo Credit 1: Loren Elliott / Reuters / Washington Post) (Photo Credit 2: Time)

Current mass movements protest violence against women

There is always a day assigned for us to think about the troubles of our world. November 25th was the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. In the spirit of the moment of uprising to demand respect, women and men took to the streets on Saturday, November 23rd , holding signs to express important messages and demands. Some signs read: “the end of violence against women,” “the end of patriarchy,” “neither women nor the earth are territories for conquest”, “the cup is full” accompanied by a picture of a cup full of blood, “educate children to respect women and girls,” and “feminism never killed anyone, machismo does.”

In France, this year, at the initiative of Nous Toutes (All of Us Women Movement), a large crowd of about 49,000 people hit the streets of Paris versus 12,000 last year, and about 150,000 demonstrated all over France that day. The demonstration was well planned, as the outrage was growing in France. With 138 women killed by their partner or ex at the time of the demonstration, France has seen a notorious increase of femicides this year, despite all the good intentions expressed by the authorities. Many organizations rallied with Nous Toutes, including UN Women France, Femen, the women of the Americas of Argentina and Mexico, Women in Solidarity, Amnesty International, and the National Union of Feminicide Families.

The demonstration started at 2pm, and at 4pm the tail of the demonstration had not moved yet. Men, along with many high school boys, joined the procession of demonstrators. Clearly a sign that something is budging—from merely women rallying to support each other to people rallying to support women.

The demonstrators’ signs and chants addressed the basic social injustice that violence against women and the impunity of the patriarchal system create. The experience of being swept up by this mass protest seemed dreamlike, but an anecdote brought us back to the reality that there is still a long way to go to deconstruct centuries of domination. As we were taking pictures of the demonstration from the sidewalk, two men in their forties who were just there to watch, asked us, “Is patriarchy a new word that has just been invented?” Then, they asked if we could explain to them what patriarchy actually is.

A similar demonstration took place in Madrid, where tens of thousands of people marched in the street chanting, “for those who aren’t with us” and “we demand Justice.” At the end, the 44 names of the women killed within the past twelve months in Madrid were read. 

In six European countries, including Belgium, feminists demanded that an official data collection of femicide be put in place. 

Mass demonstrations to make violence against women visible have been cropping up worldwide. Last weekend, large protests erupted all over India, stemming from Hyderabad, demanding the end of rape and murder of women and the need for justice in fast-track courts. The Nirbhaya protest in New Delhi, the largest of its kind in 2012, is now followed with the protest against the gang rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian. 

Why is violence against women a genocide that continues to be invisible globally? The unavailability of data feeds a supposedly gender-neutral approach to the law, which in turn works in connection with invisibility of the crimes against women, thereby enhancing the objectification and invisibility of women and their ordeal. This constitutes a denial of women’s rights and a normalization of this denial. 

By the same token, women have been objectified as their bodies have become weapons of war in many conflicts in the Global South. The international community has had the hardest time addressing the impunity with which this system has developed. The latest veto of the United States, last June, on the UN resolution 2467, that would have provided medical assistance to women survivors, is just one example of the lack of respect granted for the dignity of over half the world population

The keyword is violence. Violence is the foundation of the patriarchal system as it has developed in economics, medicine, politics, justifying colonization, invasions with never-ending destructive conflicts. Inequality is, as never before, affecting women’s emancipation and rights. It has continued to fragment the social fabric, making precarity a common feature that touches women first. The French government is supporting a series of measures to help individually the victims of violence and at the same time pushing a reform of the retirement programs that will continue to gravely disadvantage women. The Indian government acts with fast-track courts for one high profile victim at a time, without addressing violence against women as a whole.

Women and men globally are conscious of patriarchal domination, but this consciousness has yet to reach the layers of the social fabric and shake up our institutions that still follow outmoded processes. So, the answer is larger solidarity movements, vociferous protests, and voluble writings. Only a solidarity movement will hold the promise to create conditions for a transformational change.

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (2)

La poétesse Pramila Venkateswaran écrit des poèmes féministes qui avec humour et rigueur parlent de la vie des femmes et de leurs batailles pour leur émancipation et leurs droits. Pour elle son travail n’aurait que peu de sens si elle ne pouvait pas le lire à voix haute ce qui lui permet d’entrainer son audience dans l’expérience du poème en faisant vivre le texte.

Pour Mots Écrits il importe de donner vie aux archives de femmes, histoire des femmes qui étaient emprisonnées dans des cartons d’archives. Le son des voix donne à ce texte venu d’outre-tombe une vie sans filtre tel qu’il est. Sophie Bourel explique «on tire le bouchon de la lampe du génie et d’un coup il y a quelque chose qui surgit; c’est ce parfum-là, cette vie-là, cette trace et c’est cette trace qui va réveiller l’imaginaire des spectateurs qui ne font qu’écouter ce que la personne lit. Les archives deviennent vivantes!» 

Mais avant de pouvoir lire à haute voix, il faut constituer le corpus de textes. Quand nous l’avions rencontré un matin, c’était une belle journée pour elle, elle venait de recevoir des documents d’un département français. Elle nous accueillit avec un bonjour de joie comme si elle venait de découvrir un trésor. 

Ce qui l’avait réjoui était l’arrivée d’une archive anonymisée comme elles doivent l’être lorsqu’elles viennent de fonds d’archive de moins de 75 ans. Il s’agissait d’un crime sur une femme survenu après des années d’alertes et comme encore aujourd’hui une femme qui se retrouve seule devant son agresseur qu’elle ne connait que trop bien. Le 16 septembre 2019, la 105ème victime de féminicide de l’année, a été frappée par son ex conjoint de 14 coups de couteau, au Havre en plein jour dans un supermarché devant ses enfants de 2, 4 et 6 ans. Elle s’appelait Johanna. Elle avait déjà déposé deux plaintes dont la dernière en aout 2019 toutes deux classées sans suite. 

Les femmes victimes de féminicide ont prévenu, appelé à l’aide, et elles sont restées seules, elles sont mortes, abattues avec un fusil de chasse, une arme à feu, poignardées, étranglées, battues à mort. 

Au début de son travail Sophie Bourel voulait mettre en relation toutes les femmes tuées de façon similaire à travers les temps. Elle avait créé une liste de tombeaux, comme elle l’avait appelée, de femmes tuées, il y en avait 78 puis 80 et cela ne s’arrêtait pas. L’idée était de former une sorte d’écho, entre la femme tuée il y a cinquante ans ou avant et la femme décédée de la même manière en 2019, elle voulait les relier dans la mort par le mode opératoire, par le lieu où elles avaient été trouvées, etc. Et puis son projet a évolué. Sans renoncement, elle l’a transformé en raison de l’inévitabilité des meurtres de femmes, du caractère inexorable du décompte des corps tombés sous les coups des hommes. L’artiste constate que la liste des femmes féminicidées en 2019 ne s’arrête jamais.

En poursuivant sa recherche dans les archives, elle s’est aperçue que les assassinats de femmes au 19ème siècle étaient si nombreux que les mises en relation entre femmes féminicidées auraient été incommodes et « de toute façon cette liste n’a ni commencement ni fin» précise-t-elle.

La composition du corpus est la vraie difficulté du projet; il faut une diversité d’archives, de matériaux, pour que 50 minutes de performance de lecture à voix haute ouvrent les consciences, les réflexions sur l’omerta qui a si longtemps régnée sur la vie des femmes, leurs histoires invisibles. 

De ce travail de puzzle elle veut montrer que les morts sont chargées de signaux sociétaux qui en disent long sur le silence entourant la subjectivation des femmes. L’artiste se demande pourquoi nous en sommes toujours là. Ce qui lui est intolérable c’est ce système qui consiste à faire d’une différence une hiérarchie ; suivant les mots d’Édouard Glissant, elle ajoute, «je cherche donc à agir dans mon lieu et à penser avec le monde dans lequel je vis.»

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (1)

Chaque premier janvier, les bonnes résolutions sont prises, et puis il y a la première de l’année, assassinée par son conjoint ou ex.  Le 12 aout elle était la 88ème ou peut être la 89ème elle avait 71 ans. Il n’y a pas d’âge pour être tuée par son partenaire ou ex. Le 27 septembre 2019, la nouvelle tombait, la 111ème victime de féminicide de l’année en cours avait été découverte. 

L’épidémie est mondiale et quasi permanente pratiquement invisible à l’œil politico économique, dominée par le patriarcat, habitué à ne voir que les enjeux stratégiques, «sécuritaires,» qui occupent le devant de la scène publique. En France, le gouvernement organise cette année un Grenelle (Une conférence regroupant de nombreuses organisations) «violence contre les femmes» du 3 septembre au 25 novembre arguant qu’il faut trouver des solutions globales à ce fléau, mais sans envisager jusqu’à présent le déblocage de nouveaux financements.

L’Espagne a consacré 200 millions d’euros pour lutter contre les violences conjugales considérées parfois comme du «terrorisme misogyne.» L’Espagne a reformée son système pénal en 2004, créant 106 tribunaux et un parquet spécialisé. En 15 ans le nombre de femmes tuées par leur conjoint chaque année est passé de 71 à 43.  En comparaison, la France affiche des résultats médiocres avec ses 79 millions d’euros promis. Or, la Fondation des Femmes estime qu’il faudrait entre 500 millions et 1 milliard d’euros de budget pour lutter efficacement contre les violences conjugales à elles seules. Le budget alloué au Secrétariat à l’Égalité femmes-hommes présenté le 25 septembre 2019 pour l’année 2020 a baissé de 25.750€ par rapport à 2019 (budget 2019:  29.871.581€ ; budget 2020: 29.845.831€). Comment une telle réalité de vie et de mort pour plus de la moitié de la population peut-elle non seulement avoir persisté mais ne pas constituer une priorité sociétale? Et pourtant, il y a eu écrits, études et autres formes de recherches et d’information sur ce fléau qui s’abat sur des femmes prises dans un tourbillon de violences de la part de leur proches ou ex, et pour quels effets?

L’invisibilité des crimes sur les femmes vient du fait qu’ils sont mal nommés comme le rappelle Amélie Gallois dans «On tue une femme,» pire encore ajoute-t-elle, «mal nommer un objet c’est lui en substituer un autre.»

Jusqu’en 1975, l’adultère était considéré comme une circonstance atténuante dans le cas d’un meurtre commis par l’époux sur son épouse : seuls les époux étaient excusables. En Italie, le crime d’honneur n’est aboli que depuis 1981. Dans sa thèse intitulée «Le crime passionnel. Étude du processus de passage à l’acte et de sa répression», Me Habiba Touré explique «à l’époque, l’homme qui tuait sa femme était un romantique».

En France, ce n’est que depuis 25 ans, que le crime conjugal est devenu une circonstance aggravante du meurtre/assassinat (Décret no 94-167 du 25 février 1994 modifiant certaines dispositions de droit pénal et de procédure pénale). En 2006, cette disposition sera élargie aux concubins, «pacsés» et aux «ex», le meurtre sur un conjoint, pacsé concubin ou ex étant puni de la réclusion criminelle à perpétuité (à noter que le code pénal ne pose que des peines plafonds et non des peines planchers; le juge étant libre de condamner « le mis en cause » à une peine bien moindre). Depuis quelques années, les associations féministes emploient le terme «féminicide» (le meurtre d’une femme/fille pour le fait qu’elle soit femme/fille, que ce soit dans la sphère intime, non intime ou publique) pour parler des violences conjugales et militent pour sa reconnaissance pénale.

Comme souvent, l’art doit venir à la rescousse pour sortir des mythes qui ont permis le patriarcat, et revenir à la réalité.  La performance dans les lieux publics possède les qualités de la dissidence et aussi de la conscientisation nécessaire.  

Suite à la grande collecte des archives de femmes de 2018, l’artiste Sophie Bourel a conceptualisé un projet de mise en espace de lecture à voix haute intitulé Mots Écrits, à partir de la réalité des textes d’archives de femmes pour mettre sur la scène une histoire des femmes qui a été invisibilisée. Les textes seront lus à voix haute par des amateur.es qui auront été formées par l’artiste. Sophie Bourel croit, en effet, en la force de la lecture à voix haute qui est à la fois un art exigeant et accessible à toutes et tous, «et cela fait du bien mécaniquement.»