JASS Blog Archives for March 2013

by Rosanna Langara on March 30, 2013 on 12:00 am

En las Filipinas hay un fuerte movimiento nacionalista, y me crié en ese contexto. Los movimientos y la construcción de movimientos no son conceptos nuevos para mí. En filipino, movimiento es kilusan, palabra que aprendí cuando estaba aprendiendo a leer y a contar. Nací y crecí cerca de Mendiola, a un paso del Palacio de Malacañang (sede de la presidencia de las Filipinas), verdadero campo de batalla donde tuvieron lugar sangrientas manifestaciones y protestas contra la ley marcial durante el régimen de Ferdinand Marcos, conocido en el país (y en todo el mundo) como el primer dictador de las Filipinas. 

Por eso, la oportunidad de participar en el Instituto CREA de Liderazgo Feminista, Construcción de Movimientos y Derechos-Asia Meridional me llenó de entusiasmo e incertidumbre al mismo tiempo. Sí, Asia Meridional tiene una larga trayectoria de luchas y una rica historia feminista. Actualmente hay una mezcla de distintos movimientos. Pero hay ese orgullo por el mismo legado de luchas por el cual se conoce a las Filipinas. Entonces, me pregunto: “¿Aprenderé algo nuevo?” 

Mi entusiasmo estaba bien fundamentado. Puedo nombrar toda una gama de cosas de las cuales el Instituto me hizo tomar conciencia: aprendí sobre procesos y contextos que existen fuera de mi propio país, fuera de mi propia región; vi movimientos desde una perspectiva más amplia. Conocí a mujeres cuya vida y cuyo trabajo giraban en torno a la mejora de la vida de las mujeres. Conocí a mujeres que arriesgaban la vida para que las mujeres vivieran en una sociedad más justa. Aprendí sobre movimientos emergentes y de larga data, desde la resistencia y la lucha de las mujeres adivasi, que son una minoría indígena de la región de Odisha, en la India, los Jamaat o consejos de mujeres en el sur de la India y el movimiento femenino de Sri Lanka hasta el movimiento de Ocupación de Baluwatar (en contra de la violencia contra la mujer) en Katmandú (Nepal). ¡El sur de Asia es un centro de tormentas! Con la presentación de estos movimientos diversos de distintos lugares del sur de Asia, el espacio de CREA me permitió comprender mejor cómo se construyen movimientos. El ambiente del Instituto era muy parecido al de JASS.

Mis dudas resultaron ser infundadas. En CREA me di cuenta de que, en algunos contextos, los procesos de creación de movimientos recién están comenzando. Una sola chispa puede desencadenar un movimiento, pero no todos los movimientos comienzan con una chispa. En CREA me di cuenta de que, en algunos contextos, ese proceso debe llevarse a cabo de manera diferente, no solo para adaptarse a los tiempos, sino también para proteger a las mujeres. El aprendizaje es un proceso dialéctico; en una situación de cambios constantes siempre descubrimos algo nuevo.  

No me gusta usar la palabra “fortuna”, de modo que diré simplemente que tuve el “privilegio” de heredar los avances y logros de las masas filipinas, de las mujeres filipinas, que construyeron movimientos antes que yo naciera. Son las constructoras de movimientos cuya sangre, sudor y lágrimas salpican la senda hacia la emancipación de la mujer. Son las constructoras de movimientos que abren camino para que la próxima generación pueda vivir en una sociedad mejor.  Son las constructoras de movimientos que guían a los jóvenes para que las llamas de la lucha sigan ardiendo.

Aunque los movimientos convierten a todas las mujeres en heroínas, no necesitamos monumentos para seguir luchando. Es un hecho que la construcción de movimientos es un proceso laborioso. Lo mismo se aplica al mantenimiento de movimientos.  Los movimientos feministas de todo el mundo dan fe de esta realidad.

Pero el feminismo ha evolucionado con los años. Antes se ponían de relieve las diferencias, en vez de las similitudes. Ahora se trata de crear espacios donde las mujeres se unan a pesar de la diversidad, como en los procesos de JASS.

Pese a las enseñanzas, me gustaría ver el día en que, en los espacios feministas, se den explicaciones claras de los errores del feminismo y de las enseñanzas que podemos extraer de ellos. Es una experiencia definitivamente positiva ver que en la agenda siempre figura la necesidad de avanzar. Pero creo que, a la larga, un movimiento no podrá alcanzar su pleno potencial hasta que aprenda a ser autocrítico. Y el movimiento feminista no está exento.

Foto: http://remembering-lorenabarros.blogspot.com

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by Shereen Essof on March 27, 2013 on 11:54 am

"You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child. Well it takes many people to build a movement." At least that's what we re-discovered over the three days JASS Southern Africa met with Katswe Sistahood, a dynamic movement of young women who are challenging the boundaries around ‘taboo’ issues like sex and sexuality as well as women’s bodily autonomy. They’re opening up revolutionary spaces that they call ‘pachoto’ in high density suburbs (low income housing and informal settlements) across Harare where women come together to re-claim their bodies.  “Saying the word ‘vagina’ in Shona culture is considered shameful, re-learning how to claim parts of our bodies as our own is a vital step in self-actualization and conscientization brings our personal lives and experiences to the table” say Rudo Chigudu from Katswe Sistahood. It’s a powerful movement building strategy that politicizes women’s personal experiences.

We (Katswe and JASS) have walked a long journey apart and together, placing emphasis on an activist agenda, building relationships, shared learning and forging a mutual understanding of what feminist transformation, in private and public spaces, looks like. As one participant said, “The resonances between us, the fierce spirit of courage to fight the power and fight together are no small thing. Already separately we are doing powerful, exciting and vital work—but together there are even more possibilities.”

The three-day process saw staff and allies from both organisations come together to grapple with the idea of partnerships for movement building. Why formalize a partnership? What should it look like? What contributes to its success? What are the opportunities and challenges that come with them? How long should they last and how do you let go? We didn't answer all those questions but they generated a lot of food for thought.

If a deep and collective analysis of our contexts and of women’s lives as political sits at the heart of movements, then partnerships and alliances, however they look, are the limbs by which we do the work.

Here’s a mosaic of insights on the meaning of partnerships...

"You need to have a common goal that you would like to address. You need to spend time to learn about each other, what have been the joys and sorrows in the evolution of your organisations? Where are you going now? The challenges and triumphs, the growing pains and visions. You need to find ways of establishing clear communication mechanisms and structures that inspire you both as you embark on implementing a shared plan. You need to learn of each other’s contexts. Determine the pace, spend time in each other’s organisational spaces, break bread together, figure out ways to resolve conflict or misunderstandings. Most importantly see this as an opportunity to grow. Have fun, dance, celebrate your achievements however small. Enjoy the journey."Katswe the Zimbabwe Constitution Matters t-shirt

"It is critical for you to know what partnerships are grounded upon. For me, what should be the number 1 priority is the heart, mind and body foundation. The heart shows the level of commitment to feed to the soul of the organisation. It’s a strong symbol of how connected the people in the organisation are and their ability to remain focused even if the waters are stirred. The mind shows clarity, a shared vision and understanding. The body shows how much significance the health of people in the organisation matters."

"Partnership allows you to bring the best of yourselves into one place and harness this into the most amazing results. Through sharing responsibilities you lighten each other’s load towards achieving a goal. Partnership gives you companionship as you walk the journey, constantly reflecting and supporting each other."

"Partnerships are not forever. We are done when the goals are achieved, I guess! We are done when the partnerships has outlived its usefulness. We are done when the financial resources run out. But the work to dismantle patriarchy is never done."

"When all in the partnership feel that they are giving and taking from each other in a way that benefits both, then you can be sure that there is something to celebrate. Where you feel you haven’t lost yourself but still managed to achieve more than you know together, you have reason to celebrate."

"The ability to reach an Oh shit moment and still continue with a partnership.  The ability to surf through 10 meter waves and tunnels and resurface after crashing—that’s what leadership in partnerships is all about."

"Partnerships are intense and dynamic arrangements and commitments; I wonder to what extent our socialisation into a capitalist and patriarchal world hinders or facilitates our ability to imagine partnerships that can look different to those that we’re most familiar with."

"Firstly, why do you want to enter into a partnership? This is important and you need to clarify and list your reasons. Secondly, what are the benefits of entering into a partnership and what could be the potential challenges? Thirdly, how do you go about entering into a partnership? Fourthly, there needs to be clear, open and strong communication between both partners."

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by on March 14, 2013 on 11:58 am

I am sitting in a private taxi. Earlier, when I stepped into it, I noticed the cab driver’s gaze run over my body—the kind of look that makes my skin crawl and my fingers dig into the strap of my shoulder bag before I quickly tell myself that it’s fine, it’s daylight and I’m perfectly safe.

As we drive through the leafy suburbs of Cape Town, I notice a steady stream of University of Cape Town students making their way to some important rugby game or festival. At a traffic light, a cavalcade of them passes in front of our cab, dressed in comfortable summer clothes (shorts, skirts, dresses, vests, t-shirts, long dresses that skim the ankles, jeans and so on). The driver says, “Don’t they feel shame dressed like that?”

I’ve been determined to avoid conversation with him but I can’t help but ask, “Dressed like what?”

His eyelids flicker over the clump of students. “Like that—with their legs showing and arms. You can see the whole buttocks of a woman bared in the open—it’s not right.”

My hackles have not just risen, they are jumping up and down and banging on the car window—I will not let this one go. “But surely women have the right to wear what they want, however they want?” I ask. I am measuring my words, trying to keep calm and rational because there is no quicker way to get dismissed by men, I’ve found, than screaming at them and attempting to gouge their eyes out with a pen (my initial instinct).

He shakes his head adamantly, “No. No—it’s wearing clothes like that, to tempt a man, that’s what causes problems for these women.”

For the taxi driver, ‘problems’ encompass everything from getting hit on, heckled and hissed at on the street to rape and other forms of sexual violence—I’m clenching my fists. What follows is a discussion that makes my blood boil even as I turn cold.

Driver: Look, you can put in as much civilisation as you want but you can’t change the essential nature of a man—it’s a primitive thing… it’s in our DNA. You need to know how your actions will make you be seen and what your actions will provoke. And if you walk down the street dressed like that, you’re inviting men to approach you.

Me: Don’t women then have the choice to refuse? And isn’t it the responsibility of men to control their ‘urges’ and respect people, to respect women as fellow human beings?

Driver: If a woman is on the street and she is dressed alluringly, like, if you were walking down the street, wearing a bikini, wouldn’t you want men to desire you?

Me: Maybe I just enjoy wearing a bikini or a short dress for myself and I don’t give a damn what men are thinking of me when I walk down the street.

Driver: Let me tell you, I was a young man once, I walked down the street in tight-fitting clothing because you know what? I wanted the girls to look at me. And I know that I’m no different than any other man.

I lose my cool fairly quickly because I can’t argue about this rationally or coolly the way I would in a paper or a report. This is personal. It’s a fight that I and every woman in the world are waging daily: the right to our bodies. The right to choose—not just what to wear but whether we want sex, when to have it, with whom, and how. The right to walk down the street and not feel threatened and not be violated because we somehow deserve it, because our dresses are too tight and our heels too high, because we’re asking for it.

When I tell this taxi driver that he’s repeating the basic assumptions of a woman-hating rape culture—a culture that naturalises sexism and violence against women so that our jokes, the adverts we see on TV, our laws, our words and imagery, our music and films make violence and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe rape is inevitable and that, specifically, women are to blame—he gets angry. He bangs his hand on the steering wheel so hard that I flinch, and I’m back to clutching my purse-strap.

A green light pops up and he hoots impatiently at a pair of straggling pedestrians, the car jerks forward and he tells me, “That type of attire is an invitation. The image that’s been presented, I respond to that image.” I suggest that a woman can be raped whether she’s wearing a nun’s habit or a short skirt, that what she wears has nothing to do with anything. He’s not hearing any of it.

Instead, the conversation veers in a weird direction when he informs me that “all rapists should be hanged” and that, “in an open society where you have people prey on others, you need strong measures to dissuade rapists because they will not adhere to the rules.”

Across South Africa and the world, people are still reeling from the brutal gang-rape and murder of Anene Booysens. The reactions have spanned the spectrum, from President Zuma’s rather limp condemnation of the attack as “shocking, cruel and most inhumane” to South Africa’s biggest labour union, COSATU (the Congress of South African Trade Unions) calling for mass action over rape in South Africa and a UN statement strongly reproving the rape and murder. One very vocal strand of reactionary debate to the incident has had many people calling for the death penalty for rapists.

But that’s not going to solve the problem. Anene’s violation isn’t an isolated one, not in a country that by last count records 6 cases of reported rape every hour (the highest in the world)—it forms part of a larger culture of violence intersecting with ingrained sexism and misogyny and a host of other socio-economic and political factors. Embedded in what the taxi driver’s saying is a mentality we are all too familiar with—that he is not in any way a part of the problem. That there is a special group of evil rapist men and if we corral them into a room and set them on fire that will put an end to all our problems. Any attempts I make to disabuse him of this dangerous fairy tale—to even broach the idea of larger systems and structures that form the conditions for violence on multiple levels and perpetuate it; to try to talk about how hyper-violent masculinities are complex and far bigger than the individual or these 'primordial' urges—are roundly dismissed. Activist and writer, Jay Naidoo puts it well:

…We need to look at the root causes. Men are not born as rapists. Something happens that makes these men violent and vengeful against women. Our role as parents is the biggest influence on what our children will become. That cannot be outsourced to government. The home is the place where we learn love, compassion, tolerance and integrity. The home is where we are taught respect for each other, the ability to listen with humility and to learn from our mistakes. Gender equality needs to start in the home. Respect for the rights of girls and women begin in the home. And men have to learn that a real man's place starts off with changing napkins, preparing the family meals and playing a role in raising their children…. What happens in our homes happens in our society.

I can see from the way he’s looking at me in his rear-view mirror that he thinks I’m an unhinged, hysterical virago—a bitch basically. When I tell him that I’m a feminist, he rolls his eyes. Really, what I should have said, is that I’m a woman, sitting in the back of his window-tinted car, wearing a short and revealing dress and he has just informed me that I’m awakening the ‘primordial urges’ of every passing male on the street including him and possibly inciting them to sexual violence. I am not really a person, I'm an object to be desired and potentially victimized. That disturbs me. Even more, this reasoning makes me angry.

As we near our destination, I ask him one last question.

Me: Okay, are your ideas based on morality or what?

Driver: Moral reasons? Well, it is partly that. But I believe that the relationship between a male and female can never be platonic because there is this essential, psychological, primordial urge that we have and that will always influence the relationships between male and female. It’s never going to be possible for a man to look at the body of a woman and not respond in a sexual manner. Unless he’s gay. And, you know, women take advantage of that, that’s why they work in these strip clubs. I think that in society, I want to respect the woman as a person. And if she dresses… scantily it’s a bit difficult for me to focus.

Me: Perhaps you need to work on your focus.

Driver: Sweetheart, I have no control over that.

When I step out of the vehicle after handing my money to him as politely as possible, I don’t ask for change. I stand and I breathe in deeply as if I’ve just stepped out of an airless box. There is the cheap comfort of crowds, so I shake my head, pull surreptitiously at the skirt of my dress and walk away.

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