Recent Resources for Feminists
Pakistan ~ Sunday April 14 2013
“Poverty has a woman’s face”Hilda Saeed writes about how Pakistani women’s lives are affected by their economic deprivation
Hajra, Khatija and Sakina: three friends and neighbours living in Karachi’s Lyari area. Hajra lives alone with her three daughters: her husband left her when the youngest child was merely six months old, because she couldn’t give birth to a son. Khatija’s husband is as good as absent: he’s a drug addict. Survival, with a little daughter and a son, is one terrifying day after another. She lives in dread that her son may adopt the same path as his father. Sakina is divorced, without support from her former husband. She continues working to support her children; they’re not yet at the age where they could start earning a living.
Hajra and her friends are just a few of the millions of Pakistani women whose lives are constrained by extreme poverty. Studies, and even just observation, frequently highlight women’s disproportionately high representation among the country’s poor. As Dr Mahbub ul Haq once put it, “Women have been reduced to economic nonentities.”
Globally, poverty remains a challenge: the World Bank estimates that 1.29 billion people live in absolute poverty; the sad fact is that about 70 per cent of them are women. In Pakistan, it is no different, but without a national census, it isn’t even possible to gauge the correct picture. Poverty is difficult to quantify: the methodology used by the government has been challenged by the World Bank and the UNDP, while independent organisations consider poverty to be above 28.3pc.
However, according to the Human Development Index, 2009, 60.3pc of Pakistan’s population lives on $2 per day. According to Unesco, 71pc of eligible girls did not attend secondary school in 2009. Gender discriminatory practices shape poverty: as expected, more women are at the suffering end. They suffer poverty of opportunities far more than men. Poverty gives rise to social powerlessness and political disenfranchisement, and these add to the vulnerability of the poor.
The reasons for such high poverty levels are several: corruption, illicit capital flight, debt and loan conditionalities, high defence expenditures, and now, extremism.
Those are the general ones.
To quote Tahira Abdullah, “Poverty has a woman’s face.” Women face the triple burden of child-bearing, child rearing, and domestic unpaid labour; they have been denied opportunities for growth, are without access to adequate healthcare, education or income, and simultaneously forced to live in the tight bind of culture and tradition.
Their poverty is multidimensional; not only of lack of income, but also of nutrition and health; they are denied education and the ability to earn an adequate income, their vulnerability prevents them from advancing their innate capabilities. To add to that, gender biases and patriarchal/misogynist mindsets permeate every aspect of their lives. Living with discrimination and gender-based violence is a daily reality for many.
Poverty levels in the country have crept upwards and are considered to be among the highest in South Asia. Unfortunately, the Planning Commission does not reveal the exact data on female poverty. Women bear the brunt of appallingly high socio-economic disparities; their poverty extends from the small and large denials within the home to the wider denials they experience in the community. Often they’re not even recognised as heads of households; their labour in the agricultural sector is largely unremunerated; they remain exploited, deprived of income.
The Economic Survey of Pakistan barely acknowledges their presence and their contribution the female labour force participation rate is the lowest in the South Asian region. A survey by Yasir Amin (in Economistan, April 12, 2012) noted that women’s contribution to the labour force had actually shrunk from 33pc in 2000 to 21pc in 2011.
The risks of increasing poverty grow in parallel with the number of women-headed households. Single mothers are at highest risk, as are their children, who are likely to be deprived of adequate schooling and nutrition. Like most women, they have no alternative to poorly paid, informal employment.
It is no surprise that women are over-represented among the country’s poor; discrimination against them exists at all levels, within the family, with its unequal gendered division of responsibilities and labour, inequality in access to healthcare, to schooling, to social protection. Tradition ordains that their mobility be restricted.
Unsurprisingly, few poor women have hope of escaping this poverty as there are so many odds stacked against them. Despite laws that favour them, even richer women are regularly denied land inheritance by emotional coercion, forced marriage and even by ‘marriage’ to the Quran.
The current political situation prevailing in the country presents a mixed picture for women’s progress and development. On the one hand, there are several forward-looking laws and amendments, widespread provision of safety nets like the Benazir Income Support Programme and increased school enrolment for girls. On the other hand is the snail’s pace at which the bureaucracy moves to implement those laws. Then again, there’s society’s stubbornly ‘eyes shut’ attitude to women’s rights and progress, the lack of recognition that women’s progress requires an acceptance of their constitutionally guaranteed equal status as citizens of this country.
If women are to progress and participate effectively in the economy, they must receive equal education, equal training, in rural and urban sectors and equal dignity and income. Pakistan cannot achieve progress on the efforts of less than half its population.
Pakistan ~ Sunday April 14 2013
The glass ceilingTo decide whether it is poverty that leads to ill-health or poor heath that exacerbates poverty is like trying to solve the puzzle of what came first: chicken or egg. Regardless of what comes first, the link between health and poverty is deep-rooted and it has been firmly established that one leads to, or exacerbates, the other.
While the health of both men and women is adversely affected by poverty, higher proportion of women are affected by its effects because of increased poverty among women or what is termed as ‘feminisation of poverty’. But one of the factors of increased poverty in women is the immense or unique health problems they have to live with.
According to the World Health Organisation while health is one of the fundamental rights of every individual, many women across the world are being denied this basic right, and in many cases their health issues arise due to or are aggravated by their socio-economic condition. In most developed countries women lag behind men on virtually every social and economic indicator, and hence constitute a larger proportion of the poor.
Faced with gender bias from birth, especially when it comes to allocation of resources, due to their lower social status women have fewer opportunities to access healthcare. Since traditions relegate women and girls to the background, in many families, especially where food is limited, the choicest portions are given to men and boys and women eat last, often surviving on leftovers; because of this they suffer from anaemia and chronic malnutrition, which increases their susceptibility to infection which further compromises their health. According to the National Nutrition Survey of Pakistan over 35 per cent women are nutrient deficient.
Despite an extensive Expanded Programme on Immunisation, and immunisation against polio and Hepatitis B, outreach to all parts of the country has not been fully achieved. Lack of immunisation leads to disability, leaving the person unable to work, thus pushing him further down the poverty ladder. It is rightly said that while disability is crippling, if a woman is disabled it is a lethal combination; a disabled woman is sure to miss out all chances of improving her life and is forced to lead a miserable life.
Another factor that contributes to women’s ill-health is early marriage; despite the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 early marriages account for 25-30pc of all marriages in the country. Due to this, fertility rates especially in rural areas and among the poor are still quite high. Only 30pc of women use contraceptives while there is a 30pc unmet need. Repeated pregnancies, too early and too late, take a toll on women’s health. When they don’t need more children but have no access to family planning services they resort to unsafe abortion, which is often detrimental to their health.
The case of S.A. can be taken as an example: S.A. got married at the age of 14 and within a period of 10 years had eight children. She didn’t want any more children because she could barely feed them working in three homes, but she was not aware of family planning and didn’t know where to go. While trying to get an abortion when she got pregnant again she almost lost her life. Unable to work for months she and her children survived on charity and neighbours’ kindness, who like S.A. were not financially strong.
To add to this women in our country often are either not aware of its importance or do not have access to proper maternal health facilities; this further impacts their health. The mortality rate in Pakistan is about 260 per 100,000 live births, and is nearly twice as high in rural areas than in urban areas. Poor maternal health due to repeated pregnancies also hinders women from pursuing productive pursuits, thus they remain poor.
Due to social and cultural practices men are considered breadwinners and women unpaid caregivers. As a result of women’s child rearing and caregiving responsibilities they are hardly able to pursue a career and do not have an income of their own. Since she has to rely on her husband she often ignores her health needs and suffers silently.
Even when a woman enters the waged labour market it is mostly low-paying work and of lower status. Themselves suffering from poor health and burdened with caregiving responsibilities, it might be difficult for them to access healthcare for themselves or their children as they might have mobility issues and also because they can’t frequently stay away from work as in that case they are faced with loss of job, which pushes them further into the clutches of poverty.
Whatever may be the cause of ill-health, women who are suffering from poor health are more vulnerable to slide down the poverty ladder. Not only they themselves but their children also suffer from the consequences of poor health and poverty. If women enjoy better health status they can not only take better care of their children and families and make better use of available resources. They will also be able to take up some means of employment to supplement the family income, thus bringing themselves and their family out of poverty and misery.
In a nutshell it can be concluded safely that women’s health is central to poverty alleviation. If we want to reduce poverty taking care of women’s health needs is imperative.
Edited by Padmini Swaminathan, Professor, Centre for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Price : Rs. 645.00
ISBN : 978-81-250-4777-3
Pages : 408
Binding : Paperback
Book Size : 158 x 240 mm
Year : 2012
Series : Readings on the Economy, Polity and Society
Territorial Rights : World
About the Book
The notion of ‘work and employment’ of ‘work and employment’ for women is complex. While economic factors predominantly determine a man’s participation in employment, the reasons why women work, or do not work, or whether they work part-time or full-time, can be diverse and are often rooted in a complex interplay of economic, cultural, social and personal factors.
In India, as in most other parts of the world, fewer women participate in employment compared to men. This is the backdrop against which Women and Work analyses a wide range of issuesfrom what counts for ‘work’ to the economic contribution of women to how gendering of work has many significant and related consequences.
The introduction talks of how oppression faced by wage-earning women is the result of patriarchal norms and capitalist relations of production. It also demonstrates how policies and programmes anchored around data based on national income accounts and/or labour force surveys seriously disadvantage women in more ways than one.
Divided into four sections, the articles focus on women engaged in varied workpaddy-growers in West Bengal, beedi-rollers in Tamil Nadu, laceworkers in Andhra Pradesh and bardancers in Maharashtraall of whom live and work in dismal conditions, and earn paltry incomes.
Bringing together well-known sociologists and economists, this volume will be useful for students and scholars of sociology, economics, political science and women’s studies.
List of Tables and Figures
Introduction Padmini Swaminathan
Section I: Conceptualising Work, Mapping Complexity
- 1. Women Craft Workers as Security for Family Subsistence
- Maithreyi Krishnaraj
- 2. Dynamics of Sexual Division of Labour and Capital Accumulation: Women Lace-Workers of Narsapur
- Maria Mies
- 3. Work Participation of Rural Women in the Third World: Some Data and Conceptual Biases
- Bina Agarwal
- 4. High Participation, Low Evaluation: Women and Work in Rural Haryana
- Prem Chowdhry
- 5. Tracing a Timeline for Work and Family Research in India
- Ujvala Rajadhyaksksha and Swati Smita
Section II: Imparting Visibility, Interrogating Data Systems
- 6. Muddy Feet, Dirty Hands: Rice Production and Female Agricultural Labour
- Joan P. Mencher and K. Saradamoni
- 7. Valuing Work: Time as a Measure
- Devaki Jain
- 8. Employment and Unemployment Situation in the 1990s: How Good is NSS Data?
- Indira Hirway
- 9. Girl Children in the Care Economy: Domestics in West Bengal
- Deepita Chakravarty and Ishita Chakravarty
Section III: Forms of Labour, Conditions of Work: Sectoral Perspectives
- 10. Women’s Paid Domestic Work and 243
- Rural Transformation: A Study in South Gujarat
- Uma Kothari
- 11. Resilience of Gender Inequities: Women and Employment in Chennai
- J. Jeyaranjan and Padmini Swaminathan
- 12. Disempowered despite Wage Work: Women Workers in Beedi Industry
- Meena Gopal
- 13. Development Process and the Status of Women: Tanning Industry in Tamil Nadu
- Millie Nihila
- 14. Feminist Contributions from the Margins: Shifting Conceptions of Work and Performance of the Bar Dancers of Mumbai
- Forum against Oppression of Women
Section IV: Critiquing Policies: Implications and Consequences for Work
- 15. Rural Energy Scarcity and Nutrition: A New Perspective
- Srilatha Bathiwala
- 16. Women’s Work is Never Done: Dairy ‘Development’ and Health in the Lives of Rural Women in Rajasthan
- Miriam Sharma with the assistance of Urmila Vanjani
- 17. Women and Pro-Poor Policies in Rural Tamil Nadu: An Examination of Practices and Responses
- J. Jeyaranjan
List of Authors
Volume 30 - Issue 07 :: April 06-19, 2013
Invisible labour By T.K. RAJALAKSHMI
The book argues for a gendered and political perspective on the trajectory of development and its impact on women.
Is work necessarily emancipatory and empowering for women in a context of patriarchal structures and capitalist mode of production? Do national surveys capture and enumerate women’s work and the value of this work to the national income adequately? These are some of the questions posed in the compendium of articles selected from Economic and Political Weekly that focus on the multifarious dimensions of the world of work for women. Questions which remains invisible to policymakers, not only in terms of computing this work and its value in an academic sense but also in terms of addressing the macro-level issues about the growing size of informal work and the high participation of women in such work. The articles, carefully selected and edited by Padmini Swaminathan, a professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, cover a range of women’s work, the policies, or the lack of policies, that shape and influence such work and the need for a gendered and political perspective on the trajectory of development and the consequences it has had for women. The articles have been written over a two-and-a-half-decade period. The oldest one in the series, “Dynamics of Sexual Division of Labour and Capital Accumulation”, written by Maria Mies, was published in 1981.
The collection is divided into four sections which, on the face of it, look disparate but are in fact connected in the way each section looks at the world of work of women, first conceptually and then interrogating the data systems that themselves incorporate invisibility. The third section is about sectoral perspectives that look at the myriad forms of labour and the conditions of work where women can be disempowered despite being employed. Finally, there is the section on critiquing the policies themselves. The introduction, by the editor, begins aptly with an excerpt from the seminal report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (1975), the first such report to emerge in post-Independence India. It underscored how the debate on women’s employment was not only a social or economic issue, but one with deep political and cultural dimensions. Therefore, many of the papers embody the notion that the nature of women’s work, whether as farm labour, in the export processing zone, in the bidi industry or even as bar girls, constitutes economic exploitation characterised by low wages. Hence, Pamini Swaminathan writes that “we do not have to labour the point that almost all the articles included in the volume in different ways allude to deteriorating work and living conditions”.
In fact, what is lacking is a broad and specific theoretical framework that locates all these experiences of exploitative work in a capitalist mode of production. Questions of political economy, then, are just relegated to the background while micro-level details and experiences dominate. This is not to say that all the essays lack a theoretical framework; in fact, most of the papers do encompass a broad political understanding, which may or may not be rooted in an economic doctrine. Padmini Swaminathan rightly points out that the concern regarding the paradigm of development needed far more and in-depth investigations integrated with gender concerns. A lot of time, she says, has been spent in policy evaluation studies that went no further than giving information about women being beneficiaries. The problem is that the policies themselves need to be critiqued much more harshly than is being done at present. For instance, a major part of the government’s efforts at creating employment are directed at creating scheme-based work at low wage rates. Much of these scheme-based work employed women, poor women mainly, and have largely tackled the social determinants of well-being without addressing the well-being of the workers themselves. These are issues that may need to be explored in the coming years given the increased and exaggerated emphasis by the Indian state on social policy interventions.
Modes of production
The first section explores the consequences of what Padmini Swaminathan calls the enmeshing of capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production. In fact, the coexistence of these two forms has had devastating consequences in social relations, the expressions of which have been seen in increased violence against women, a trend that has become all-pervasive. However, the central argument in the paper by Maithreyi Krishnaraj on women craft workers shows how craft, characterised by low returns, is reserved exclusively for women, while mobility is the preserve of men. She writes that the women are not helpers in the family craft but the main contributors; they perform the role of risk-bearers, providing the household with the basic minimum subsistence that allows the male members to seek alternatives. The craft labour is in addition to all the domestic tasks. The important argument here is that when macro changes, through a loss of demand for traditional products, competition-induced displacement, loss in resources through land policies, and urban-based industrialisation, reduce the opportunities for remunerative employment for a whole section of the population, women, like the craft workers in the study, reduce the severity of the impact of these macro changes on the household through their subsistence activities. Yet, they are undervalued by both the market and the household.
In this section, Maria Mies, writing on the women lace workers of Narsapur in West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, says how the social definition of women as housewives was a necessary precondition for the unlimited exploitation of their labour in the domestic industries and the informal sector. And production for the world market has made the sexual division of labour both in society and in the family not more equal but more unequal. In the process, women have become the losers on all the fronts, writes Maria Mies. Through their reproductive and productive work, they enable the family to survive, even when the men’s income is insufficient. While men free themselves from the act of production itself by becoming agents, traders, etc., women are not able to do so. Maria Mies writes that it was not only the traditional ideology that kept women domesticated; modern, material forces were equally responsible. The division of labour between men and women was not static and the dynamics of change sometimes reinforced, legitimised and maintained the asymmetric and unequal relationship between men and women.
Rabha tribal women digging sand from the Batha river in the Loharghat forest, about 60 km from Guwahati. (RITU RAJ KONWAR A file photograph)
Other papers in this section include Bina Agarwal’s “Work Participation of Rural Women in the Third World” (published in 1985) which focusses on the need for taking corrective measures in the data-gathering process and calls for re-examining analytical concepts as they relate to women; Prem Chowdhury’s paper on “Women and Work in Rural Haryana”, written in the early 1990s, which shows how, despite high participation by women in agricultural activities, their cultural and social evaluation has always been on the lower side; Ujvala Rajadhyaksha and Swati Smita’s “Tracing a Timeline for Work and Family Research in India”, which reviews the literature on women’s studies and social sciences in India, beginning from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s. This chapter offers a historical insight into the gradual change that came in the understanding of women’s studies and social sciences and the separate trajectories they followed in the areas of work and family research. It laments an apparent disconnect and gaps of perception between the women’s studies perspective and psychosocial research, where the focus has been more on the individual. This paper as such does not add much to the overall debate.
In Section II, which is about women’s invisibility in data systems, all the four articles throw considerable light on how national data systems not only ignore or under-enumerate the economic contribution of women but also are not conceptually and technically equipped to deal with the peculiar circumstances where women are forced to take up activities to sustain the household. Joan Mencher and K. Saradamoni’s article, written in 1982, on women rice cultivators in three States, emphasises how every innovation in paddy cultivation threw women out of work even as there was an urgent need to create additional employment for the women. In the next article, “Valuing Work” by Devaki Jain, published in 1996, the author wonders whether time can be used as an appropriate measure to evaluate work, especially of women who lack assets. There are problems in the manner in which questionnaires on employment and unemployment enumerated female work. The system was not designed to capture the myriad productive activities that women engaged in. Further, looking at the employment and unemployment situation in the 1990s, Indira Hirway focusses on the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, saying there has been no satisfactory explanation for the decline in the work participation rates in the 1990s. NSSO data did not capture satisfactorily, she says, work in the subsistence sector and informal or home-based sector.
Deepita Chakravarty and Ishita Chakravarty’s paper on “Girl Children in the Care Economy”, published in 2008, looks at the paradoxically high proportion of girl children engaged as domestic workers even as work opportunities for adult women have been shrinking. The fact is that this phenomenon is not confined to West Bengal alone and could be a pointer to a larger crisis of survival in society, where both girl children and adult women have been forced to sell their family labour for domestic or other work. In urban areas, even where there are schools, the number of out-of-school children among the poor continues to be high.
The essays in Section III, comprising five papers, look at the actual working conditions in sectors such as domestic labour, the bidi industry and the leather tanning industry; the breakdown of traditional jajmani relationships; and the interplay of patriarchal structures and capitalist relations of production which results in both empowering and disempowering situations for women.
Going beyond working class women, one paper looks at the problems faced by women scientists in four institutes of excellence. Uma Kothari’s paper looks at women’s paid work and rural transformation, J. Jeyaranjan and Padmini Swaminathan look at the resilience of gender inequities in a Chennai setting, Meena Gopal’s work is on women bidi workers, Millie Nihila looks at the tanning industry, and the paper by the Forum Against Oppression of Women studies the specific case of the bar dancers of Mumbai.
Section IV, the last section, explains the conceptual underpinning for the selection of the articles in the volume, critiquing policy and its implications and consequences for work. The most interesting essay in this section is the one by J. Jeyaranjan, who looks at the pro-poor policies for women in Tamil Nadu, especially the working of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. It argues effectively how dovetailing the MGNREGA with other pro-poor social schemes like the highly subsidised rations or self-help credit programmes has contributed to its success here despite the fact that it is quite organically delinked from the main macroeconomic policies of the government. Jeyaranjan’s village-based study, located in Thanjavur district, argues that the transformatory potential of the MGNREGA is limited as it is a “social policy which is distinctive from and unrelated to the economic and industrial policy of the country”. He says that while welfare policies like the MGNREGA, the public distribution system (PDS) and the State-sponsored SHG credit programmes may alleviate poverty when implemented in letter and spirit and thereby empower women, it cannot transform rural economies characterised by low economic growth, poor investments in infrastructure and nil generation of decent employment.
This book has been carefully compiled and what it shows is that more such studies need to be done, locating the micro within the framework of macro policies which, despite the veneer of various social policy schemes, continue to be directed at the unbridled accumulation of capital and profits at the cost of labour. The social policy schemes themselves need to be exposed for what they are the measly entitlements they encompass and how they have successfully managed to shift the debate from basic demands like land reforms, decent wages, decent and stable employment and social security.
March 8 2013
TO ALL THE WOMEN & GIRLS RISING : THANK YOU
For further inspiring photographs visit HERE
A big thank you to all the women who attended and supported the Million Women Rise March and Rally. It was estimated that there were over 10,000 of us on the streets of London marching and celebrating to see an end to male violence against women.
Thank you to the Million Women Rise stewards, the speakers and performers and to you. Every year we get bigger, stronger and closer as women and as a movement and lets continue to work together to end male violence against women in all it’s forms.
Be Ready, Get Ready Stay Ready until we meet again women for the big one next year Saturday The 8th March 2014.
Onwards and Uprising!
It is Good!
March 8 2013
MWR STATEMENT OF DEMANDSThe Million Women Rise Coalition welcomes the support of ALL women who wish to join the March and sign up to our statement of demands.
The Million Women Rise Coalition is gathering support for the Statement of Demands and invites you/your organisation to consider being a signatory.
By supporting the Statement of Demands attached you will be asking the Government and societies, both at home and internationally:
To acknowledge the continued discrimination faced by all women, the additional discrimination faced by Black women and women from other minority groups, and reflect this in all public policy in the UK and internationally
The prevention of violence against women and children is a cultural, social and political issue and must be a priority for all levels of Government. Action for a national strategy to oppose men’s violence is the responsibility of all political parties and must encompass:
- For the adoption of a broad definition of violence against women, which makes the links between domestic abuse, rape and commercial sexual exploitation
- To pledge support and resources to the women’s not-for-profit sector which is at the forefront of supporting survivors of discrimination, abuse and violence. Women’s services are essential to a woman’s healing and empowerment
- To support the demands of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) and End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes International Forum (ECPAT) for the protection of children and to adopt a cross government strategy addressing all forms of violence against women
- To abolish the ‘no recourse’ requirement for abused women who have insecure immigration status
- For all trafficked women and children to have a guaranteed minimum reflection period, specialist support and medical assistance, specialist safe houses for child and adult victims of trafficking and the right to a temporary residence permit if deemed at risk
- To commit to changing public attitudes and behavior towards women and girls through education initiatives and public awareness campaigns as set out by school programs such as Womankind Worldwide initiatives
- To hold the media accountable for the continued misrepresentation, misappropriation and abuse of the female body throughout all forms of media
- To recognise that global war and conflict perpetuates violence against women and to stop all wars now. Three out of four fatalities of war are women and children
- For International Women’s Day to become a National Bank Holiday in the UK and Ireland in recognition of and to celebrate women’s achievements
- PREVENTION: Active prevention of violence against women and children.
- PROVISION: Adequate provision of quality women-only support services for women and children.
- PROTECTION: Appropriate and effective legal protection for women and children.
SIGN THE MWR STATEMENT OF DEMANDS HERE
March 8 2013
PRESS RELEASE: EUROPES BIGGEST WOMEN'S MARCH CALLS FOR AN END TO MALE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
More than 10,000 women and children will take to the streets of central London on Saturday, 9 March, 2013. The march, organised by Million Women Rise (MWR), is holding up a mirror to the truth of male violence against women in all its forms, bringing women together to say enough is enough.
Women from across the UK will meet at 12 noon outside Selfridges on Oxford Street making their way to Trafalgar Square at 3pm for the rally.
This year we have already seen the rape of millions of women throughout the world and we are only in March. We have heard the German authority’s apologies to a teenage girl for sending her to a brothel to get work. We saw the gang rape and murder of a 17 year old girl in South Africa and the protest from our sisters there. We have witnessed the Irish government commit murder of a woman who was denied her human right to an abortion. Indian women continue to expose the violence they experience after the gang rape of a young woman who is now dead. Women in Egypt have spoken out against state sponsored violence against women. UK Government statistics revealed less than one rape survivor in 30, who goes to the Police in the UK, will see her attacker brought to justice. We cannot forget women in DR Congo or the British Government support for Rwanda and Uganda, two Governments named by the UN as assisting, arming and directing militia’s in the east of DR Congo responsible for mass rape in this war for mineral wealth.
Friday March 29 2013
Gender justice, interruptedBy Ratna Kapur
Death or longer prison terms for rape under a new law will not empower women; what they need is the safety to walk on the streets free from the fear of sexual violence The adoption of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 by the Indian Parliament is a moment to be neither celebrated nor mourned. It is a moment to pause and reflect over what exactly has been achieved ever since the Delhi gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old student, and what has been lost. The Act converges with the recent global spotlighting of violence against women, including the adoption of a declaration on the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls at the recently concluded U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Both these interventions highlight how the safety and security of women and girls around the world remains an elusive goal.
The specific question that arises is just exactly how state and non-state actors achieve this goal. There are at least two dominant formulas that have emerged in this arena over the decades. The first is a rights agenda, where the rights of women and others oppressed by sexual violence are specifically recognised and then a legal and policy agenda for protecting these rights formulated. The rights to equality, bodily integrity and sexual autonomy, freedom of speech, including sexual speech, and safe mobility, would be amongst those rights to be foregrounded and secured. The Verma committee, mandated with the task of recommending legal reforms to ensure women’s safety, in part adopted this approach. The right to consensual adult sexual relations was the key area to be protected from discrimination and infringement through the adoption of a broad array of legal, policy, and educational initiatives.
The second approach is to foreground the state’s role in ensuring the safety of its citizens by strengthening its security apparatus, including border controls, intensifying the sexual surveillance of citizens, disciplining the sexual behaviour of individuals and regulating and monitoring sexual conduct through law enforcement agencies. While autocratic states already pursue this route, there is a worrying trend of liberal democracies also adopting such an approach, including India. The move towards equating justice with the imposition of the death penalty or stringent prison sentences constitutes the lynchpin of this approach.
At least two factors have facilitated this approach towards security. Ever since the global war on terror, states have been accorded a justification for curbing human rights in the interests of the security of the nation and its citizens. Rendition, water boarding, incarceration without due process, have all been justified on this ground. A second factor is that non-governmental organisations, including those women’s groups with a zealous focus on the issue of sexual violence against women, have not paid sufficient attention to the promotion of women’s sexual rights, except for some forays into the area of reproductive rights. This focus on violence against women has been warmly welcomed by dominant players in the international legal arena. Global violence against women has been recognised as a human rights violation; rape has been incorporated as a war crime in the Rome Statute; and sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict has been specifically addressed by Security Council resolutions. While the focus on violence is important, the mechanism through which it has been addressed has not necessarily been empowering for women. These interventions have not destabilised the dominant understanding of women as victims and female sexuality as passive; nor have they toppled the gender stereotypes that inform all of these initiatives.
The constant justification for a focus on the criminal law to address violence against women has been that prevention will take time. However, criminal law initiatives that further entrench a sexually sanitised regime fail to distinguish between sexual speech and unwelcome remarks, and target all sexual behaviour that does not conform to a sexually conservative script as reprehensible, make the battle to centre rights all that much harder. The new law in India retains the language and provisions dealing with the “outraging of the modesty” and chastity of a woman and then simply expands the range of activities that threaten or blemish this antiquated understanding of female sexuality. This approach cannot be a recipe for empowerment nor foster progressive change in thinking on matters of sex and sexuality.
Perhaps the most significant and pervasive issue left unaddressed by the new law is the everyday sexism that pervades the workplace, the public arena, the media and the educational system. No amount of censorship of sexual images can address the problem of sexism, the performance of which was on full display in the Indian Parliament during the debates on the new law. While sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexually coloured remarks, is criminalised, a focus on deterrence does not eradicate sexism nor produce respect for women. It merely empowers the state and the criminal law.
Leaving sexism and gender stereotypes unchallenged is likely to have a boomerang effect. The new laws will be used to go after individuals and communities who transgress or challenge established norms, or are already sexually stigmatised, marginalised, and viewed with suspicion. Sex workers rights groups have criticised the new anti- trafficking provisions that treat every sex worker as trafficked. Merely extending the tentacles of the criminal law into their everyday lives without affording them rights with which to fight the violence and the exploitation they experience will force these women into more clandestine and exploitative situations and, ironically, increase their vulnerability to being trafficked. Similarly, gay men might be left with little protection from the sexual violence they experience as they have not been accorded the right to consensual sexual relationships. In fact, the new sexual regime will leave them more vulnerable to allegations of criminality, perversion and continued stigma. Muslim men might continue to be targeted as being more rapacious and lascivious especially in the States ruled by the Hindu Right. Female migrants will be targeted as trafficked victims and continue to be incarcerated in the name of protection; and young people will continue to have “pre-marital” sex, clandestinely, and often under unsafe conditions, now that the age of statutory rape has been retained at 18.
The exclusion of marital rape from the purview of the new law reinforces the sexual prerogative of husbands, leaving some women wondering why they should get married if it means they would enjoy fewer rights. And the fundamental question remains whether this expanded legal edifice will be able to stop the kind of attack that occurred on the Delhi bus last December.
The reactions to the U.N. Declaration and debates on the new criminal law in India furnish telling insights on the extraordinary levels of resistance to the very idea of the right to sexual autonomy and gender justice on the part of dominant groups, and the subsequent scramble to reinforce the rights of an already overprotected male elite. In New York this was evident in the debate on the declaration. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed that the declaration would lead to a “complete disintegration of society” and decried the possibilities of allowing women to prosecute husbands for rape or sexual harassment. Others such as the Vatican were concerned over references to access to emergency abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases.
In India, the new law represents a trend in South Asia to equate justice with the death penalty and stringent imprisonment terms. Yet empowerment for women cannot lie in merely attaching a death sentence on to the crime of rape, or increasing the mandatory minimum sentences for rape. How will these measures act as deterrents when indeed such changes will see the already low conviction rate for rape plummet even further? Empowerment rests in the ability of women, sexual minorities, and religious minorities to be able to walk on the streets free from the fear of sexual violence, sexual harassment and rape.
The young women and men born in the crucible of globalisation and neo-liberal economic reforms are unlikely to be discouraged from demanding a gender-friendly and egalitarian workspace. And there is still a possibility that the new law in India will be challenged in the Supreme Court for violating women’s right to equality as well as excluding sexual minorities from its protection. The protests after the Delhi rape were demanding justice in the form of more freedom not autocracy, respect not fear, and a more egalitarian society, not a reaffirmation of the established gender and sexual hierarchies of power. The old order has definitely been shaken, and its values based on exclusion and prejudice have undoubtedly passed their expiry date.
(Ratna Kapur is Global Professor of Law, Jindal Global Law School)
Monday, March 18, 2013
Arundhati Roy on Iraq War’s 10th: Bush May Be Gone, But "Psychosis" of U.S. Foreign Policy PrevailsOn the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the global justice activist and author Arundhati Roy joins us to discuss the war’s legacy. Roy is the author of many books, including "The God of Small Things," "Walking with the Comrades," and "Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers." Roy argues the imperial mentality that enabled the United States to invade Iraq continues today unabated across the world. "We are being given lessons in morality [by world leaders] while tens of thousands are being killed, while whole countries are shattered, while whole civilizations are driven back decades, if not centuries," Roy says. "And everything continues as normal."
TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: March 19th marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. According to a new report by Brown University, a decade of war led to the deaths of roughly 134,000 Iraqi civilians and potentially contributed to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands more. According to the report, the Iraq War has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion, including half-a-trillion dollars in benefits owed to veterans. The report says the war has devastated rather than helped Iraq, spurring militant violence, setting back women’s rights and hurting the healthcare system. Most of the more than $200 billion supposedly set aside for reconstruction in Iraq was actually used for security or lost amid rampant fraud and waste. Many in Iraq continue to suffer the consequences of the invasion. This is Basma Najem, whose husband was shot dead by U.S. forces in Basra in 2011.
BASMA NAJEM: [translated] We expected that we would live in a better situation when the occupation forces, the U.S. forces, came to Iraq. We expected that the situation would be improved. But contrary to our expectation, the situation deteriorated. And at the end, I lost my husband. I have no breadwinner in this world now, and I have six kids. I could not imagine my life would be changed like this. I do not know how it happened.
AMY GOODMAN: The consequences of the war are still visible here in the United States, as well. Military veterans continue to face extremely high levels of unemployment, traumatic brain injury, PTSD and homelessness. Almost a quarter of recent veterans come home injured either physically or emotionally, and an estimated 18 veterans commit suicide every day. This is Ed Colley, whose son, Army Private Stephen Colley, took his own life in 2007.
EDWARD COLLEY: We lost our son shortly after he returned from Iraq. He had asked for help, but he didn’t get the help that he needed. And clearly, he was trying to do what he could for himself and could think of no other cure, obviously, than to take his own life.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about this 10th anniversary, we’re joined by the award-winning writer and activist Arundhati Roy, one of the most vocal critics of the Iraq War. In a moment, she’ll join us from Chicago. But first let’s go back to 2003 to a speech she gave at Riverside Church here in New York.
ARUNDHATI ROY: When the United States invaded Iraq, a New York Times/CBS News survey estimated that 42 percent of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And an ABC News poll said that 55 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported al-Qaeda. None of this opinion is based on evidence, because there isn’t any. All of it is based on insinuation or to suggestion and outright lies circulated by the U.S. corporate media, otherwise known as the "free press," that hollow pillar on which contemporary American democracy rests. Public support in the U.S. for the war against Iraq was founded on a multitiered edifice of falsehood and deceit, coordinated by the U.S. government and faithfully amplified by the corporate media.
Apart from the invented links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, we had the manufactured frenzy about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. George Bush the Lesser went to the extent—went to the extent of saying it would be suicidal for Iraq—for the U.S. not to attack Iraq. We once again witnessed the paranoia that a starved, bombed, besieged country was about to annihilate almighty America. Iraq was only the latest in a succession of countries. Earlier, there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Granada, Panama. But this time it wasn’t just your ordinary brand of friendly neighborhood frenzy. It was frenzy with a purpose. It ushered in an old doctrine in a new bottle: the doctrine of preemptive strike, also known as the United States can do whatever the hell it wants, and that’s official. The war against Iraq has been fought and won, and no weapons of mass destruction have been found, not even a little one.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, speaking in October of 2003 at Riverside Church here in New York, seven months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Arundhati has written many books, including The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize. Her other books include Walking with the Comrades and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, among others. She now joins us from Chicago.
Arundhati Roy, welcome to Democracy Now! As you watch yourself 10 years ago and reflect back 10 years ago to this week when the U.S. invaded Iraq, your thoughts today?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, Amy, before that, we remember how—I think it was 50 million people across the world who marched against the war in Iraq. It was perhaps the biggest display of public morality in the world—you know, I mean, before the war happened. Before the war happened, everybody knew that they were being fed lies. I remember saying, you know, it’s just the quality of the lies that is so insulting, because we are being—used to being lied to.
But, unfortunately, now, all these years later, we have to ask ourselves two questions. One is: Who benefited from this war? You know, we know who paid the price. I heard—I heard you talking about that, so I won’t get into that again. But who benefited from this war? Did the U.S. government? Did the U.S. people benefit? Did they get the oil contracts that they wanted, in the way that they wanted? The answer is no. And yet, today you hear Dick Cheney saying he would do it all over again in a second.
So, unfortunately, we are dealing with psychosis. We are dealing with a psychopathic situation. And all of us, including myself, we can’t do anything but keep being reasonable, keep saying what needs to be said. But that doesn’t seem to help the situation, because, of course, as we know, after Iraq, there’s been Libya, there’s Syria, and the rhetoric of, you know, democracy versus radical Islam. When you look at the countries that were attacked, none of them were Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalist countries. Those ones are supported, financed by the U.S., so there is a real collusion between radical Islam and capitalism. What is going on is really a different kind of battle.
And, you know, most people are led up a path which keeps them busy. And in a way, all of us are being kept busy, while the real business at the heart of it—I mean, apart from the people who suffered during the war. Let’s not forget the sanctions. Let’s not forget Madeleine Albright saying that a million children dying in Iraq because of the sanctions was a hard price but worth it. I mean, she was the victim, it seems, of the sanctions; you know, her softness was called upon, and she had to brazen herself to do it. And today, you have the Democrats bombing Pakistan, destroying that country, too. So, just in this last decade, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria—all these countries have been—have been shattered.
You know, we heard a lot about why—you know, the war in Afghanistan was fought for feminist reasons, and the Marines were really on this feminist mission. But today, all the women in all these countries have been driven back into medieval situations. Women who were liberated, women who were doctors and lawyers and poets and writers and—you know, pushed back into this Shia set against Sunnis. The U.S. is supporting al-Qaeda militias all over this region and pretending that it’s fighting Islam. So we are in a situation of—it is psychopathic.
And while anyone who resisted is being given moral lessons about armed struggle or violence or whatever it is, at the heart of this operation is an immorality and a violence and a—as I keep using this word—psychopathic violence, which even the people in the United States are now suffering for. You know, there is a connection, after all, between all these wars and people being thrown out of their homes in this country. And yet, of course we know who benefits from these wars. May not be the oil contracts, but certainly the weapons industry on which this economy depends for—you know, for a great part. So, all over, even between India and Pakistan now, people are advocating war. And the weapons industry is in with the corporations in India.
So, we are really being made fools of. You know, this is what is so insulting. We are being, you know, given lessons in morality while tens of thousands are being killed, while whole countries are shattered, while whole civilizations are driven back decades, if not centuries. And everything continues as normal. And you have—you have people, like criminals, really, like Cheney, saying, "I’ll do it again. I’ll do it again. I won’t think about it. I’ll do it again." And so that’s the situation we are in now.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, a decade after the invasion of Iraq, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood by his decision to go to war, saying it saved Iraq from a fate worse than Syria’s at the moment.
TONY BLAIR: I think if we’d—if we’d backed off and we’d left him in power, you just imagine, with what is happening in Syria now, if you’d left Saddam in charge of Iraq, you would have had carnage on an even worse scale in Syria and with no end in sight. So, you know, this was the most difficult decision I ever took and the most balanced decision. But I still—personally, I still believe we were better to remove him than leave him.
AMY GOODMAN: That was British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former prime minister. Arundhati Roy, your response?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, you know, I don’t know. Maybe they need to be put into a padded cell and given some real news to read, you know? I mean, how can you say this, after creating a situation in Iraq where no—I mean, every day people are being blown up? There are—you know, mosques are being attacked. Thousands are being killed. People have been made to hate each other. In Iraq, women were amongst the most liberated women in the world, and they have been driven back into having to wear burqas and be safe, because of the situation. And this man is saying, "Oh, we did such a wonderful thing. We saved these people." Now, isn’t that like—isn’t it insane? I mean, I don’t know how to respond to something like that, because it’s like somebody looking at somebody being slaughtered and saying, "Oh, he must be enjoying it. We are really helping him," you know? So, how do you argue rationally against these people?
AMY GOODMAN: Can you—
ARUNDHATI ROY: We just have to think about what we need to do, you know? But we can’t have a conversation with them in this—at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see President Obama going in a different direction?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Of course not. I don’t see him going in a different direction at all. I mean, the real question to ask is: When was the last time the United States won a war? You know, it lost in Vietnam. It’s lost in Afghanistan. It’s lost in Iraq. And it will not be able to contain the situation. It is hemorrhaging. It is now—you know, of course you can continue with drone attacks, and you can continue these targeted killings, but on the ground, a situation is being created which no army—not America, not anybody—can control. And it’s just, you know, a combination of such foolishness, such a lack of understanding of culture in the world.
And Obama just goes on, you know, coming out with these smooth, mercurial sentences that are completely meaningless. I was—I remember when he was sworn in for the second time, and he came on stage with his daughters and his wife, and it was all really nice, and he said, you know, "Should my daughters have another dog, or should they not?" And a man who had lost his entire family in the drone attacks just a couple of weeks ago said, "What am I supposed to think? What am I supposed to think of this exhibition of love and family values and good fatherhood and good husbandhood?" I mean, we’re not morons, you know? It’s about time that we stopped acting so reasonable. I just don’t feel reasonable about this anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back and talk about what’s happening in Kashmir, a place you’ve been focusing on recently, Arundhati. Arundhati Roy is the award-winning writer, renowned global justice activist. Among her books, The God of Small Things, her most recent book, Walking with the Comrades, and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
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