JASS Blog Archives for May 2009

by JASS on May 29, 2009 on 12:56 pm

By Vyjayanthi Vadrevu

Carrie, Carmen and I had the privilege of meeting with Ms. Roula Deeb, Director and Co-Founder of the Israeli-based feminist organization Kayan. Prior to Kayan, Ms. Deeb worked at Isha L’Isha- Haifa Feminist Center, whose aim is to achieve “equality for all women and” to promote “peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jewish women.”

Kayan seeks to empower Arab-Israeli women, who often face “double discrimination” as women and as Arabs, through grassroots capacity building mostly in the northern Arab-dominated regions of Israel. Kayan’s scope of work includes community action, legal aid, governmental policy change and advocacy. They primarily empower women through workshops, community meetings, lectures and publications. Kayan was also the incubator for ASWAD- the Palestinian gay rights organization.

Prior to delving into Kayan's work, Ms. Deeb enlightened us with a background on Arabs in Israel (total population 7.7 million) and religious differences that exist within the Arab community. Of the 1.2 million Arabs living in Israel, 80% are Muslim, 10% are Christian and 10% are Druze, which is an offshoot of Islam. Civil marriages do not exist in Israel; all marriages are religious institutions and are governed by the laws of Israelis' respective religions.

Interestingly enough, some of Kayan's largest donors are Jewish organizations based in Israel, Europe and the U.S. For the past three years, a Jewish organization has been the main financial support for perhaps Kayan's largest achievement: the expansion of the public transport system to the Arab dominated northwest. This implementation of infrastructure has literally mobilized the Israeli-Arab women in the community, who had previously been very confined in their homes.

Through our lively discussion, we realized that Kayan and JASS share many key similarities in strategy and vision. Particularly interesting was Kayan's approach to getting people involved in the movement. Kayan inspires women who are leaders in their communities to "energize" other women in their communities to get involved in the public sphere. These women in turn go out and advocate women's rights issues throughout Israel, building movements and creating waves throughout Arab communities in Israel. One example of their work was a protest against a high-level mayor who essentially condoned an honor killing in his town. Though the mayor was not prosecuted in the end, Kayan's members were especially empowered by this event because they worked through their own fears and doubts to speak out against injustice, and became stronger in the process. Ms. Deeb and her colleagues at Kayan are proud to call themselves feminists, but are equally proud to let everyone define feminism in their own terms.

In short, our meeting with Ms. Deeb was inspiring, heart-warming and eye-opening. We hope to work with Ms. Deeb and our Middle Eastern counterparts in the very near future, sharing in our endeavors to empower women across the globe.

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by JASS on May 28, 2009 on 12:17 pm
Declaration of the Nobel Women's Initiative Conference
Women Redefining Democracy for Peace, Justice and Equality
Antigua, Guatemala
May 10-12, 2009


[The declaration was drafted by JASS board members: Malena de Montis and Srilatha Batliwala with input from all participants.]

We call upon all states and multilateral institutions to recognize that the democratization process is incomplete, and does not end with elections. No country or society can claim to be democratic when the women who form half its citizens are denied their right to life, to their human rights and entitlements, and to safety and security. Despite this, we women have made extraordinary efforts to democratize the institutions of society that frame our lives and the well-being of all humanity – the family, the community, clan, tribe, ethnic or religious group, political, legal, economic, social and cultural structures, and the media and communications systems. But our search for justice is continually overwhelmed by the violence perpetrated upon us, by the exploitation and colonization of our bodies, our labor, and our lands; by militarization, war and civil conflict; by persistent and increasing poverty; and by environmental degradation. All of these forces affect us, and our children, far more severely and in unique ways. We know that democracy that comes from the heart is not the rule of the majority, but safeguards dissent and difference with equal rights, and fosters a culture of peace. We are in search of democracy that transforms not just our lives, but all society – and we will not be silenced until it is achieved in every part of the world.
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by Alejandra Bergemann on May 22, 2009 on 2:02 pm

After the Nobel Women’s Initiative Conference in Antigua, a group of us – Petateras, JASS, FIRE, and key international allies – conducted an Observatorio and Fact-Finding Mission on the situation of violence against women in Guatemala. 

As we heard accounts, statistics and testimony from indigenous women leaders, organizers, activists and human rights defenders, I was struck by the level of violence and the level of impunity that prevails in Guatemala. We kept hearing from the women we spoke to that the levels of violence in general are even higher today, 13 years after the signing of the Peace Accords, than they were during the internal armed conflict. I also found myself thinking about why, what are some of the root causes for the violence targeted against women - and in the Guatemalan context forms of violence that target and are especially vicious towards indigenous women, pointing to a deep-seated racism that is prevalent not only there but throughout the region. 

I remember one of the panelists at the NWI Conference, Eva Mappy Morgan from Liberia, spoke about how part of the work that they are doing is on a grassroots and society-wide level changing the way that women - women's lives, women’s roles, women’s bodies - are perceived. Creating a shift in consciousness - through education efforts and effective law-enforcement and prosecution - whereby it is no longer seen as an acceptable solution/act to rape or kill women. In the Liberian context, having a woman president and other women in all levels of decision-making is, according to Morgan, beginning to create that shift in perception, with men (and other women) accepting and seeing the added value of women in leadership roles. This was one of the things that Rigoberta Menchú spoke about as well - changing the perception of politics from being automatically corrupt and "dirty" to a shift whereby it would be plausible for a Mayan woman, not tied to corporate, military or other traditional/corrupt power structures, to be president of Guatemala. 

There is work to be done in terms of challenging images and discourse, which have an immediate, life-or-death impact on women. 

An article that I received today, about Femicide in Baja California, reminded me of that as well. The last paragraph states:

“Most local reporting on women’s murders in Baja California could be classified as falling within the school of sensationalistic crime reporting, with very little follow-up investigation or analysis of the deeper causes of violence against women.
An unscientific, online-poll conducted May 18 by the Baja California Internet news site Lacronica.com asked readers to select from several possible explanations of the murders of sex workers. Of 1092 responses, 81 percent selected two answers that explained the murders in terms of the women’s lifestyles. Slightly more than 9 percent of responses picked a serial killer as a possible reason, while a small minority- just above three percent- considered lack of law enforcement or public security as reasons for the homicides."

There are some key opportunities both to deepen and regionalize the analysis, and also to look at some of the strategies that are already in place or being developed to combat the corruption, impunity, and begin to combat some of the root causes of violence. 

During the fact-finding mission, we heard about some key strategies -- around the elections, electing new magistrates who are not tied to trafficking rings and prosecuting lawyers who are part of trafficking rings; a lot of the work that UNAMG, Actoras de Cambio and other orgs are doing around healing and empowerment for women survivors of rape and other forms of violence; the work that Moloj is doing in different areas, including indigenous women's political participation. These and other strategies should also be highlighted - it's the "trabajo de hormiga" that women do that does have an impact on individuals', families' and communities' lives, but often goes unrecognized.

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