One billion women and men rising … for a better world

Published on Pambazuka News, by Ama Biney, March 7, 2013 (see also: Women’s Rights, savety and self determination, on Humanitarian Texts, Feb 16, 2013).

In honour of International Women’ Day (8 March), a global examination of the problems and issues facing women in the last few years is presented. In order for these issues to be eradicated, progressive women need to work alongside progressive men for a better world.

8 March 2013 marks the 102nd anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD), first established by the German socialist and activist, Clara Zetkin in 1911. If she were alive today, what would she make of the conditions and achievements of women around the world? 

It is unlikely she would hail her compatriot Angela Merkel, Germany’s first female Chancellor, who is zealously committed to neo-liberal capitalism that has created the world’s current financial crisis of which the global working class are paying for. Zetkin sided with the working masses of the world. Zetkin would also have opposed Merkel’s support of the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as her removing barriers to laying off employees in addition to increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week … //

… WESTERN FEMINISM AS ANOTHER FORM OF DOMINATION:

  • It is the assumption of whiteness as the norm and the experiences of white women being universalized in Western feminism that is a form of pernicious cultural imperialism. It extends to the international NGO (INGO) world that is also dominated by European women alongside European men. The implicit paternalism of these fields towards African women as a homogenous mass necessitates we critically question the nature of ‘sisterhood.’ For just as there can be no equality and justice between women and men when men consciously or unconsciously consider they are superior to women; discriminate against women in covert and overt ways, similarly in celebrating and reflecting on the meaning of International Women’s Day, requires us to consider relationships of power between different women within national boundaries and cross-culturally i.e. between European women feminists and African women.

FEAR AND HARASSMENT AS WEAPONS OF OPPRESSING WOMEN:

  • It is also necessary to address the fear and harassment that pervades the lives of many women around the world. For example, since the ‘Arab Spring’ in North Africa, women in Egypt and Tunisia are considering whether the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism will undermine the freedoms of women in these countries. Many women in Afghanistan are afraid of the future with the retreat of international forces and agencies in 2014 for the vaunted promises of change pledged by the US and UK invaders has yet to materialise. According to a report in the UK based Guardian: ‘Half the female prison population are convicted of “moral crimes” – which include running away from violent husbands, fathers or in-laws. Federal law is universally ignored in the local courts, where nearly 90% of all criminal and civil legal disputes are settled, and where girls are bartered to settle family disputes and a man who kills his wife can expect a fine.’ [30]
  • Such fear also pervades communities where women are labelled and stigmatised as ‘witches.’ Recently in Papua New Guinea 20 year old Kepari Leniata was burned alive after being accused of sorcery on 6 February 2013. [31] In parts of the Pacific nation, and many parts of Africa, such as in Ghana, unexpected deaths and illnesses are blamed on women who are labelled as ‘witches’ and socially ostracised within the community. [32]
  • Meanwhile in the highly conservative monarchical kingdom of Swaziland in December 2012 the female police spokeswoman announced that women risked arrest if they were to wear mini-skirts or clothes that revealed their stomachs as according to a colonial law of 1889 this was deemed to be ‘immoral dressing.’ The crime is punishable with a $10 (£6) or a jail-term of up to six months if they failed to pay the fine. [33] In November 2012 women in the second city, Manzini protested against rape of a woman and they wore mini-skirts to make a point. The internalized views of blaming the victim are held just as fervently by some men as they are by some women. For instance, the female police spokeswoman said: ‘The act of the rapist is made easy because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women.’ [34]
  • In the UK a big news story of the Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard being accused of sexual harassment by several women within the Liberal Democrat Party in 2008, has recently rocked the party that is in a coalition government with the Conservatives. There is grassroots anger within the Liberal Democratic Party that the allegations were not given the serious attention they demanded when they transpired in 2008. As Naomi Smith, co-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum, which is a group on the left of the party, put it, if there is veracity in the allegations, it will reveal a ‘serious abuse of power.’ [35]
  • Sexual harassment of women is also prevalent in parts of Africa; in the workplace and particularly at secondary schools and universities. It is referred to as ‘sex for grades’ or ‘transactional sex.’ In countries such as Liberia, Ghana, Uganda and Malawi, young women are subjected to having sex with their male lecturers in order to academically progress. It is another serious abuse of power in which the tutor can refuse to allow the young woman to progress unless she relents. A 2011 report by ActionAid entitled ‘Destined to Fail? How violence against women is undoing development’ reports that ‘every year 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on en route to school.’
  • There is the sad and recent case of 48 year old Frances Andrade in the UK who took her own life a few days after testifying in the trial against her music teacher who is alleged to have sexually abused her as a child. She was accused of being a fantasist by the prosecution. Her tragic death in early February 2013 has raised debate as to how the UK courts handle such cases, particularly as the former solicitor general, Vera Baird QC has questioned why the police advised against Andrade receiving counselling on the basis that it may affect her evidence. [36]
  • In addition to fear, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, there are indeed other forms of silent violence against women.

OTHER FORMS OF SILENT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN:

  • Poor diet, inadequate healthcare, mothers dying while giving birth to life, HIV/AIDS and inaccessible access to anti-retroviral drugs have immense impacts on women. The highest regional rate of unsafe abortions per capita in the world at 31 per 1,000 women, aged 15 to 44 is in Caribbean and Latin America. [37] The consequence of this is that particularly poor rural and lower income women risk their lives in illegal back street abortions.
  • Since the 1990s the increase in suicides among Indian farmers has risen to shocking statistics i.e. 270,000 since 1995.[38] It has been fuelled by international food speculators manipulating cereal prices; farmers getting into escalating debt through the seductiveness of micro-financed loans; and GM companies such as Monsanto selling costly cotton seeds and fertilisers. As the Indian writer Vandana Shiva argues: ‘Monsanto’s GM seeds create a suicide economy by transforming seed from a renewable resource to a non-renewable input which must be bought every year at high prices.’ [39] The impact of these suicides is felt primarily by women who become widows with even greater burden to provide for themselves and their children in the neoliberal economic environment that places profits before people … //
  • … In May 2011, an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics, Satoshi Kanazawa wrote an article entitled ‘Why are black women rated less physically attractive than other women, but black men are rated better looking than other men?’ in the seemingly reputable ‘Psychology Today’ journal. It ignited a controversy. Accusations of the article pandering to racist pseudo-science led to the journal being quickly pulled off the shelves. However, the damage has already been done to many young women of African descent in reinforcing and manufacturing a black inferiority complex based on white supremacist aesthetics. The silent damage also extends not only to these young women of African descent but black/African males are likely to internalise such notions as well.
  • Then there are the silent anguishes of women around the world who experience the pain of losing their sons, brothers, husbands, killed brutally due to racism, or such males (and females) languishing in prison, death row, or juvenile detention centres or at Guantanamo.

WAYS FORWARD:

  • There is much work to be done in counselling and healing the minds and bodies of women who have been raped and sexually assaulted as a result of war. There is also considerable work to be done in terms of men and male child soldiers from the on-going conflict regions such as the DRC and Central African Republic in terms of post-conflict work that will seek to reintegrate these individuals into society. Exemplary work in the radio shows that enabled young child soldiers to tell how they became involved in the war in Liberia and carried out atrocities is conveyed in the memoir of Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna. It is entitled ‘And Still Peace Did Not Come.’ Similarly the commendable work that Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee carried out with girl fighters in Liberia; women who were survivors of war in both Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as her setting up of an alliance of Christian and Muslim women who peacefully campaigned for an end to the war in Liberia are documented in her memoir entitled ‘Mighty be Our Powers.’ These two African women provide concrete examples through their own efforts of the practical work at grassroots level that needs to be done to address the psychological wounds of conflict; provide material assistance in terms of empowering individuals to become employable in societies in need of both psychological and socio-economic reconstruction.
  • In the fight against HIV/AIDS ‘there is a need for African men already involved in gender-equality advocacy work to forge collaborations and alliances between themselves and HIV-infected men, aimed specifically at encouraging other male colleagues to change their general attitudes and behaviour towards women.’ [41] There is a need to see and hear more progressive men campaigning alongside women against GBV; against rape as there was in the demands for swift justice for Jyoti Singh in India; speaking and acting against not only GBV but against covert forms of discrimination and inferiorisation of women and girls in all spheres of society. Programmes such as those organised by former perpetrators of domestic violence, such as Luke Daniels who has written ‘Pulling the Punches: Defeating Domestic Violence’ as a manual to be used in workshops with men who are doers of violence, point the way forward. The workshops that were held by the ‘One Man Can’ Campaign with confessed rapists in the township of Alexandria, near Johannesburg are profoundly needed. Dumisani Rebombo, a confessed rapist who led the workshop is correct in stating that men ‘must stand up and work with women’ in the battle against rape. [42]
  • There is a long way to go in combating the insidious forms of oppression that women live under around the globe. Patriarchy and imperialism in various forms continue to shadow the lives of women in the world today, despite the fact that the African continent – particularly, Rwanda and Uganda – continues to have the highest number of female parliamentarians compared to their counterparts in the so-called developed world. In 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first female head of state with much fanfare and was later joined by Joyce Banda in Malawi in April 2012. Whilst this is heralded as progress for women, there is a need to examine in whose interests do female leaders serve? Do they continue to serve neo-liberal capitalism and imperialism in similar ways to their male counterparts or are they seeking to genuinely transform the lives of the poorest people in their societies? Similar questions could be asked of 61 year old Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president who was inaugurated in February 2013. She hails from a conservative background with her father having occupied the Presidential Blue House as a military dictator in the 1960s and 1970s before he was assassinated.
  • To inspire us on this occasion of the 102nd anniversary of IWD there is the case of 32-year-old Yemini human rights activist and journalist Tawakkul Karman, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Liberians Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee. Karman camped out in Yemen’s Change Square in early February 2011 in central Sana’a demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule. She has been jailed many times. [43] She will undoubtedly inspire the women of her country and women globally to fight for socio-political change in their societies, despite the seeming odds against them. Another inspirational case is the case of Hawa Akhter Jui, a 21 year old Bangladeshi woman, whose husband used a machete to hack off her right hand when she refused to give up her college studies in 2011. He blindfolded her and gagged her as he carried out the amputation. With quiet resolution, Hawa Jui has started to learn to write using her left hand. She said: ‘My right hand has been cut off, but I can use my other hand.’ [44]

Such women, alongside the billions of ordinary women around the globe seeking to better our world must be remembered on this day and every day.

(full long text and notes 1 to 44).

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