Recent Resources for Feminists
US: Supreme Court strikes down 2013 Law aimed at closing majority of Texas's abortion clinics Print E-mail
 Tuesday JUNE 28 2016 , page A22

A Major Victory for Abortion Rights


  (Lilli Carré)
In the most significant victory in a generation for a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, the Supreme Court on Monday struck down Texas’s harsh and dishonest anti-abortion law by a vote of 5 to 3.

The justices’ reasoning in overturning the law applies to hundreds of other attempts in recent years by Republican lawmakers around the country to restrict or destroy constitutionally protected reproductive rights.

While the decision was unquestionably correct, the vote should have been unanimous. The 2013 Texas law ­ which forced abortion clinics and their doctors to meet absurd, pointlessly strict medical standards ­ was the textbook definition of what the court had prohibited in a major 1992 ruling on abortion: “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.”

In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court relied on that earlier decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, to invalidate the requirement that abortion clinics meet the strict equipment and staffing standards of ambulatory surgical centers, and that doctors working at those clinics have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Because “neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Breyer wrote, both violate the Constitution by placing “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.”

The admitting-privileges requirement has no bearing on the level of care that a woman receives, and Texas could not provide any evidence that it does. Likewise, the strict surgical standards are unrelated to the actual risk of complications stemming from a legal abortion, which is among the safest medical procedures. Texas does not, for instance, impose such standards on many riskier procedures, including colonoscopies, tonsillectomies and liposuction.

If there were any lingering doubt that the point of Texas’ law was to make safe and legal abortions nearly impossible to obtain, it was dispelled by the declarations of top state officials. The former governor Rick Perry, in pushing for the law, said it was one step toward an “ideal world” where there was no abortion. Immediately after the State Senate passed its version of the law, known as SB5, David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor at the time, posted a map on Twitter showing the expected closure of most abortion clinics across the state. “We fought to pass SB5 through the Senate last night, and this is why!” he wrote.

Both men knew what they were talking about: More than half of the state’s roughly 40 abortion clinics, unable to meet the admitting-privileges requirement, closed ­ 11 on the day the law was enacted. Had the justices upheld the entire law, as few as seven clinics would have remained, all in major metropolitan areas. Hundreds of thousands of women living in the vast rural stretches of Texas have already been forced to travel great distances to exercise their constitutional right. This actually increased the health risks of abortion, since women in this position are more likely to choose illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a concurring opinion, “it is beyond rational belief” that the law “could genuinely protect the health of women.” Beyond rational belief, perhaps ­ but not beyond the polemics of Justice Samuel Alito Jr. In a lengthy dissent, Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas, offered unconvincing explanations for clinic closures. Perhaps, he postulated, older doctors in those clinics had decided to retire ­ on the very same day.

For years, the court has looked the other way as lawmakers around the country have grown increasingly bold in their efforts to weaken or obliterate a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Versions of the Texas law are on the books in 23 other states, and other laws have tried to block abortion rights even more directly ­ for instance, by banning all abortions six weeks after conception, when many women don’t even know they are pregnant.

Monday’s ruling should spell the end for many if not most of these regressive, unconstitutional laws.

 Tuesday JUNE 28 2016 , page A23

The Facts Win Out on Abortion

By Linda Greenhouse

 Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on Monday. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

SOMEONE landing from Mars on Monday and coming upon Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s majority Supreme Court opinion in the Texas abortion case would have had no hint of the decades-long battle over women’s right to abortion and the dogged efforts by states to put obstacles in their way.

There is no poetry in the 40-page opinion, which strikes down a Texas law that would have closed most abortion clinics in the state in the name of protecting women’s health. The dry, almost clinical tone could scarcely be more different from the meditative mood the Supreme Court struck the last time it stood up for abortion rights, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 24 years ago this week. “Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt” was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s mysterious opening line in that opinion.

There was no mystery in what the five justices in the majority, crucially including Justice Kennedy, accomplished this time, nor in the decision’s impact. By holding the state’s asserted rationale for its clinic-decimating regulations up to the light and finding it specious and counterproductive, the court has shut down one of abortion opponents’ main recent strategies: enacting “targeted regulation of abortion providers” laws that impose on doctors who perform abortions special restrictions not placed on doctors who do procedures of equal or greater risk.

“Specious” is my word, not the court’s. Justice Breyer was careful not to call out the Texas Legislature for placing a health-related veneer on laws whose true intent is to make access to abortion more difficult. Judges are extremely reluctant to accuse legislatures of acting in bad faith, and Justice Breyer didn’t have to do that. He simply had to show, carefully and methodically, the “virtual absence of any health benefit” from requiring doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals or requiring abortion clinics to retrofit themselves as mini-hospitals at huge cost.

Why does the absence of a health benefit matter? Because, as suggested in Casey and made explicit here, a court confronting a state-devised obstacle to abortion has to balance the burden the law imposes against the benefit it provides. Not the benefit the state claims for it ­ we’re only trying to protect women’s health, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, and attorney general, Ken Paxton, avowed lamely on Monday ­ but the benefit the law actually conveys. In the decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, evidence-based medicine meets evidence-based law.

The logic of the opinion is so clear as to seem self-evident; indeed, two of the three dissenters, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., didn’t even try to confront it, arguing instead and at length that the clinics’ appeal was flawed for procedural reasons. The Casey decision established the “undue burden” standard for judging abortion laws, and the word “undue” itself implies a comparison: undue as compared to what? The answer: An undue burden is one that outweighs a benefit.

But the almost laughably conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit didn’t understand it that way in the decision that the Supreme Court overturned Monday. That court rebuked the district court judge, Lee Yeakel of Austin, Tex., an appointee of President George W. Bush, for having the nerve to insist on evidence for the state’s health-related claims. “In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the court. In an earlier phase of the case, another Fifth Circuit judge, Edith Jones, declared that the court would defer to the Legislature even if the law was based on “rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data.”

Those days are now over. The provisions of the Texas law, Justice Breyer concluded, “vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health capable of withstanding any meaningful scrutiny.”

Although nearly one- third of American women will have an abortion in their lifetime, a goal of abortion opponents has been to carve out abortion practice from ordinary health care, to ghettoize and delegitimize it. Those days are now over, too. Singling out abortion for regulation that can’t be justified on medical grounds is unacceptable, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized in a concurring opinion.

When I first read Justice Breyer’s opinion, my sense of relief struggled against a feeling that something nonetheless was missing: not necessarily the aspirational rhetoric of the Casey decision but some explicit acknowledgment of what it means to women’s equality and dignity not to be trapped in an unwanted pregnancy.

Then I realized that while the court in Casey called upon “the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution,” it didn’t really work out. Maybe, after all, this is not a moment for poetry, but for facts. There’s not much in Justice Breyer’s opinion that’s quotable. But there’s not much that’s debatable either, and that’s what matters.
 Monday JUNE 27, 2016

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that would have severely limited abortion access in the state. Activists outside the Supreme Court reacted to the news.

WASHINGTON ­ The Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed and strengthened constitutional protections for abortion rights, striking down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have drastically reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state, leaving them only in the largest metropolitan areas.

The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. It found that Texas’ restrictions ­ requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers ­ violated Casey’s prohibition on placing an “undue burden” on the ability to obtain an abortion.

If Casey limited the right established in Roe, allowing states to regulate abortion in ways Roe had barred, Monday’s decision effectively expanded that right. It means that similar requirements in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion. It is also sure to energize anti-abortion forces and make abortion a central issue in the presidential campaign.

The decision concerned two parts of a law that imposed strict requirements on abortion providers in Texas signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

One required all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

“We conclude,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, “that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

In the Casey decision, he joined Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter in a joint opinion that reaffirmed the core of Roe v. Wade. But Justice Kennedy’s reputation as an abortion rights champion had otherwise been undeserved, said David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University, as Casey was the only case in which he had found an abortion restriction unconstitutional in his 28 years on the Supreme Court.

Professor Cohen said Justice Kennedy’s vote in Monday’s case was a puzzle. He may have been swayed by the burdens placed on women having to drive hundreds of miles to obtain abortions, Professor Cohen said, or by the lack of medical evidence justifying the restrictions ­ or both.

Many states have enacted restrictions in recent years that test the limits of the constitutional right to abortion, and the ruling in the new case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, No. 15-274, enunciated principles that will apply to all of the ones said to be justified by a concern for women’s health.

In a message posted on Twitter, President Obama said he was “pleased to see the Supreme Court reaffirm” that “every woman has a constitutional right to make her own reproductive choices.”

Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, said, “The court is becoming a default medical board for the nation, with no deference being given to state law.”

The Texas law was passed in 2013 by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and turned a Democratic state senator, Wendy Davis, who conducted an 11-hour filibuster against the law, into a national political star.

Last June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, largely upheld the contested provisions of the Texas law, saying it had to accept lawmakers’ assertions about the health benefits of abortion restrictions. The appeals court ruled that the law, with minor exceptions, did not place an undue burden on the right to abortion.

Justice Breyer said the appeals court’s approach was at odds with the proper application of the undue-burden standard. The Casey decision, he said, “requires that courts consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer.”
Australia: Forget Equal Pay - truth instead women pocket significantly less money in today's economy Print E-mail
 Friday June 9, 2016

Australia's top 10 jobs with the biggest gender pay gap revealed

By Jessica Irvine

Video: 'I'm really happy to put career first'
Account director Betsy Oyler would like to see more young women fight for better pay and the jobs they want.
Everyone knows the gender pay gap is just a myth, right? Once you control for experience, seniority, hours worked and the industries they work in, women receive equal pay for equal work. So what are we ladies yapping about?

Dismissing the gender pay gap has become fashionable of late.

It's true there are a lot of measurement issues when it comes to calculating the true size of the pay gap between men and women for work of equal value.

: Female barristers face the biggest hurdle in gaining equal pay. (Jessica Shapiro)

But what remains overwhelmingly true is that women pocket significantly less money in today's economy.

And a new analysis reveals where the biggest pay gaps are.

Previous studies have drawn on earnings data from a variety of sources, including the Bureau of Statistics' earnings surveys, Census data and workplace data collected by the Workplace Gender Equity Agency.

But one of the best untapped sources is what Aussies tell the taxman.

When men and women come to confess their income to the tax man each year, they are sorted into 350 different occupational titles. According to an analysis of 2013-14 raw figures by Ben Phillips, a principal research fellow at the Australian National University's Centre for Social Research and Methods, men out-earn women in all but 14 occupations. Interestingly, females earn more than men working as bookkeepers, library assistants, kitchenhands, receptionists, dental assistants and housekeepers – occupations which bring in a whopping annual taxable income of about $30,000.

Across all those reporting income to the ATO, the average taxable income – after deductions - for men is $75,500 and for women it's $48,900, giving a raw gap of 38 per cent. Of course, we know that many women work part-time. Adjusting for the hours gap, using Census data, reduces the raw wage gap down to 19 per cent.

The point here is not that a woman doing the same job earns 19 per cent less. It's that money is power, and women have exactly 19 per cent less power in the economy. A woman may share in her husband's income, but her personal earning capacity is less.

These raw figures are also affected by the different occupations and industries women work in and their level of experience. Men tend to work in higher paid industries and jobs. Looking at the occupation level, the adjusted for hours pay gap shrinks again to about 11.5 per cent.

However, "there are some occupations with significantly larger gaps than typical, such as finance, medical and legal professions," observes Phillips.

It would surprise absolutely no one on Phillip Street to learn that barristers exhibit the biggest gender pay gap on these figures.

The average male barrister who does his taxes declares a taxable annual income of $169,000 and the average female barrister just $60,000 – a gender pay gap of a whopping 184 per cent. Take a male barrister's taxable income, then halve it, then almost halve it again. Adjusting for the fact that male barristers work on average 44 hours a week, compared to 37 hours for female barristers, the pay gap shrinks to 141 per cent, but remains the biggest of all occupations.

In second place, on the hours adjusted pay gap, come stockbrokers and futures traders and other "financial dealers". You can take a male stockbroker's annual taxable income of $254,000 and halve it to get the average female's $125,000.

Surgeons have the fourth biggest pay gap, with an average taxable income of $405,000 for men – the fattest pay cheque of any occupation - and $215,000 for women.

Rounding out the top 10 most sexist jobs are sportspeople, pilots, obstetricians, electrical trades workers, finance and insurance brokers, crane operators and metal machinists.

Again, the figures don't distinguish between seniority in those jobs or experience.
: Female athletes such as cricketer Ellyse Perry also face a big gender pay gap. (Paul Kane)

For barristers, the most senior in the profession become "senior counsel" or "silks", dramatically increasing their earning power. Nine in 10 silks are men.

But accepting the reductionist arguments about whether women get equal pay for work of equal value involves ignoring a host of other important questions, like: Why aren't women in more senior roles? Why do they lack as much experience? Why do they work fewer hours? Why do they cluster in low-paid industries?

If men and women are truly equal, if they desire success, wealth and power in equal measure, if they have equal capabilities to perform both caring and paid work, why do women consistently take home less pay?

And must ask more difficult questions still. Do we, as a society, still not trust women to wear the wig and gown, to wield the scalpel, to gamble our money on the stockmarket or to deliver our babies?

Or, is it that the men in those professions, and the networks they have developed, are so strong, they actively resist women?

Certainly, we're talking about some of the most demanding jobs in the economy, with the longest and least predictable working hours, volatile income and high upfront costs to rent chambers or suites.

The demands of these jobs make them better suited to a primary income earner, with a partner at home to take care of the domestic side. No doubt female professionals find it harder to find a potential partner to fill that role than their male counterparts do.

And it's true that, from a business case point of view, sometimes a professional's ability to their job is influenced by the prevailing sex of the industries they deal with. Stockbrokers are employed to network with clients and the companies they research – professions which are dominated by upper class white men. It's easier then, to do your job if you are also an upper class white male, able to tap into old boys networks and stay out to all hours drinking and otherwise cavorting.

But let's not discount the existence of outright sexism in these workplaces. A close friend who worked as a stockbroker – the only female on the floor – recounts turning up to a meeting to present her research only to be thanked for "making an effort for us" with her attire and makeup.

Make no mistake: sexism is alive and well in our most respected and trusted professions.

Australia: Foreign Aid, in contrast to Sweden & other wealthy nations, getting chronically stingier Print E-mail
 Tuesday May 31, 2016

Why Australia is stingy and getting stingier

By Matt Wade /Senior writer

Video: Budget 2015: cuts to foreign aid 'tragic'
Foreign aid saves lives, argues Greens senator Scott Ludlam as he criticises Hockey's "directionless" budget.

Australians like to think their government is a big-hearted foreign aid donor.

A recent opinion poll found voters believed our overseas aid budget to be about 10 times bigger, on average, than it actually was.

In fact, Australia has never been an especially open-handed donor compared with many other wealthy countries. And during this term of government, foreign aid spending has shifted from moderately generous to downright miserly with little prospect for improvement any time soon.

Illustration: Simon Letch

While aid is only about 1 per cent of budget expenditure it has made up around 25 per cent of all budget cuts announced by the government for the period 2013-14 to 2018-19.

As a result we've tumbled down the international league table that ranks wealthy countries according to their generosity. We were in 13th place a few years back but we'll slump to 19th by the end of the decade even though Australia is at one of the wealthiest moments in its history.

For every $100 dollars we earn as a nation we now give little more than a 20 cent piece in overseas aid - the least generous share on record.

Foreign aid has always been an easy option for budget savings. The main beneficiaries are very poor people who don't vote and, unlike most other savings options, foreign aid cuts don't need parliamentary approval and so can't be blocked in the Senate. While Australia's foreign aid program has been effective overall, it gets relatively little public attention.

The Abbott and Turnbull governments have not held back on this soft target - since the last election more than $11 billion has been slashed from the assistance Australia had promised to developing nations over the five years from 2013. No other significant area of Commonwealth expenditure has been harder hit.

As Australia hacked away at foreign aid spending, many other wealthy nations were doing the opposite, despite their own budget pressures. A report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in April said 22 donor nations increased their aid spending last year, largely in response to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean region. Australia and Portugal were the world's biggest foreign aid cutters in proportional terms.

The Coalition's approach to foreign aid is in striking contrast to their conservative counterparts in Britain. Even though the UK budget was hit hard by the global financial crisis, David Cameron's government has lifted foreign aid spending to 0.7 per cent of gross national income. It has pledged not to "balance the books on the backs of the world's poorest people." Now the political party in Britain with a position closest to Australia's aid policy is the far-right, anti-immigration UKIP which wants aid to be cut to 0.2 per

The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, has previously voiced strong support for foreign aid and called for more spending on it during his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008. Speaking at the National Press Club a day after last month's budget, Mr Morrison said it "grieves" him to preside over Australia's least generous foreign aid spending.

"We will continue to build our budget back up and I hope to one day be able to achieve what I said in my maiden speech, that we can once again be strong and prosperous and also generous," he said.

A fortnight ago the ALP's deputy leader and shadow foreign minister, Tanya Plibersek, said a Labor government would increase foreign aid spending a little. But the timidity of the pledge underscored to how difficult it will be for any future government to haul foreign aid spending out of the doldrums.

It's a far cry from a decade ago when both major parties pledged to lift Australia's aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income. Those commitments were made when Australia had a big budget surplus, no net debt and no interest costs. Now there's a sizeable deficit and the Commonwealth's annual interest bill alone is more than the aid budget.

The sheer scale of recent cuts means the damage is very long-term.

Analysis by Garth Luke, a consultant researcher on aid and development policy, shows that Australian governments have never increased aid as a share of gross national income when net Commonwealth debt has been above 10 per cent of GDP. That ratio is now 17 per cent and rising.

"In other words, it is very hard, perhaps impossible, to achieve growth in the aid program when the Commonwealth is seen to have significant debt," writes Luke.

The budget papers predict the Commonwealth net debt will peak at close to 20 per cent of GDP in 2017-18 and not to fall back below 10 per cent of GDP until at least 2026-27.

Government's will also be seeking to fund major commitments including defence projects, the full implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and growing health costs driven by the ageing population.

Will foreign aid ever get a look in? Australia's recent stinginess is set to last.

Sweden: National Action Plan prioritises support for Women's Rights in Burma & conflicted nations Print E-mail
 Monday, May 30, 2016


Sweden Lends Women of Burma Its Support


Women and children take shelter as they flee fighting in Burma’s Kachin State. (The Irrawaddy)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden ­ The Swedish government says women in Burma can count on its support in furthering gender equality and protecting them from violence over the next four years.

Under Sweden’s recently adopted National Action Plan for 2016-20, Burma has been identified as one of 12 specially prioritized conflict or post-conflict countries struggling to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

With Burma home to the world’s longest-running ongoing armed conflict, Burmese women have suffered sexual violence and other forms of abuse in conflict-affected areas for decades. In the country’s ongoing peace process, women have largely been excluded from participation, and women’s rights advocates say the few women who are officially involved in negotiations are not accorded the same voice as their male counterparts.

The action plan adopted earlier this month is mainly focused on strengthening women’s participation in the country’s peace process and state-building, and protecting them from harm.

Efforts will be underpinned by the crux of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325: Passed in 2000, it highlights “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

The structure of the action plan emphasizes approaching issues of Women, Peace and Security from a gendered perspective.

“We have decided to prioritize the works in focused countries,” Disa Kammars Larsson from Kvinna till Kvinna, a Swedish foundation focused on peace and gender equality that was involved in drawing up and implementing the action plan, told The Irrawaddy.

She said that unlike Sweden’s previous two National Action Plans, the 2016-20 iteration has much stronger “political ownership,” with the inclusion of the Swedish Foreign Ministry in implementation of the plan allowing it the opportunity to better wield influence with Burma and the other targeted countries with respect to women’s rights.

“It clearly included political dialogue; that if Swedish diplomats and ministers visit to the focus countries, he or she has a responsibility to raise this issue and the Swedish Embassy in the country has the responsibility to report back to Sweden annually on the situation.”

The National Action Plan would require regular consultation with women’s rights defenders on the ground in Burma, she added.

Thandar Oo, a women’s rights and peace activist from Shan State, urged the international community to support women’s advocates working at the grassroots level to enhance these activists’ capacity to increase women’s participation in all realms of society.

Under the action plan, Burma is joined by Afghanistan in Asia; Iraq, Palestine and Syria in the Middle East; Colombia in Latin America; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mali and Somalia in Africa; and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine in Europe, as priority nations.

Vandana Shiva: Monsanto & Co's Seeds destroy biodiversity, & push farmers to suicide Print E-mail
 Monday May 23 2016

Small Farmers Are Foundation to Food Security, Not Corporations Like Monsanto

Dr. Vandana Shiva

May 22 has been declared International Biodiversity Day by the United Nations. It gives us an opportunity to become aware of the rich biodiversity that has been evolved by our farmers as co-creators with nature. It also provides an opportunity to acknowledge the threats to our biodiversity and our rights from IPR monopolies and monocultures.

Just as our Vedas and Upanishads have no individual authors, our rich biodiversity, including seeds, have been evolved cumulatively. They are a common heritage of present and future farm communities who have evolved them collectively. I recently joined tribals in Central India who have evolved thousands of rice varieties for their festival of "Akti." Akti is a celebration of the relationship of the seed and the soil and the sharing of the seed as a sacred duty to the Earth and the community.

"Why do farmers adopt Bt cotton which harms them? But farmers do not choose Bt cotton," Shiva writes. "They have to buy Bt cotton as all other choices are destroyed." (Kimberly Vardeman / Flickr)

In addition to learning about seeds from women and peasants, I had the honor to participate and contribute to international and national laws on biodiversity. I worked closely with our government in the run-up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, when the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) was adopted by the international community. Three key commitments in the CBD are protection of the sovereign rights of countries to their biodiversity, the traditional knowledge of communities and biosafety in the context of genetically-modified foods.

The UN appointed me on the expert panel for the framework for the biosafety protocol, now adopted as the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. I was appointed a member of the expert group to draft the National Biodiversity Act, as well as the Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act. We ensured that farmers rights are recognized in our laws. "A farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce, including seed of a variety protected under this act, in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this act", it says.

We have worked for the past three decades to protect the diversity and integrity of our seeds, the rights of farmers and resist and challenge the illegitimate IPR monopolies of companies like Monsanto which do genetic engineering to claim patents and royalties.

Patents on seeds are unjust and unjustified. A patent or any intellectual property right is a monopoly granted by society in exchange for benefits. But society has no benefit in toxic, non-renewable seeds. We are losing biodiversity and cultural diversity, we are losing nutrition, taste and quality of our food. Above all, we are losing our fundamental freedom to decide what seeds we will sow, how we will grow our food and what we will eat.

Seed as a common good has become a commodity of private seed companies. Unless protected and put back in the hands of our farmers, it is at risk of being lost forever.

Across the world, communities are saving and exchanging seeds in diverse ways, appropriate to their context. They are creating and recreating freedom­for the seed, for seed keepers and for all life and all people. When we save the seed, we also reclaim and rejuvenate knowledge­the knowledge of breeding and conservation, the knowledge of food and farming. Uniformity as a pseudo-scientific measure has been used to establish unjust IPR monopolies on seed. Once a company has patents on seeds, it pushes its patented crops on farmers in order to collect royalties.

Humanity has been eating thousands and thousands (8,500) of plant species. Today we are being condemned to eat GM corn and soya in various forms. Four primary crops­corn, soya, canola and cotton­have all been grown at the cost of other crops because they generate a royalty for every acre planted. For example, India had 1,500 different kinds of cotton, now 95 percent of the cotton planted is GMO Bt Cotton for which Monsanto collects royalties. More than 11 million hectares of land are used to cultivate cotton, of which 9.5 million hectares is used to grow Monsanto’s Bt variety.

A common question is: Why do farmers adopt Bt cotton which harms them? But farmers do not choose Bt cotton. They have to buy Bt cotton as all other choices are destroyed. Monsanto establishes its seed monopoly through three mechanisms:
1. Make farmers give up old seed, called "seed replacement" in industry jargon.
2. Influence public institutions to stop breeding. According to information received through RTI, the Central Cotton Research Institute did not release cotton varieties for Vidharba after Monsanto entered with its Bt cotton seeds.
3. Lock Indian companies into licensing agreements.
These coercive, corrupt mechanisms are now falling apart. Navdanya created community seed banks and farmers have access to open pollinated, native organic seeds. The CCIR, under the leadership of Dr. Keshav Kranti, is developing native cotton varieties. Finally, the government also intervened to regulate Monsanto’s monopoly. On March 8, it passed a seed price control order regulating the price of seed under the Essential Commodities Act.

Monsanto and the biotechnology industry challenged the government order. We were impleaded in the Karnataka high court. On May 3, Justice Bopanna gave an order reaffirming that the government has a duty to regulate seed prices and Monsanto does not have a right to seed monopoly. Biodiversity and small farmers are the foundation of food security, not corporations like Monsanto which are destroying biodiversity and pushing farmers to suicide. These crimes against humanity must stop. That is why on Oct. 16, International Food Day, we will organize a Monsanto Tribunal at The Hague to "try" Monsanto for its various crimes.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and  eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.
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