JASS Blog Archives for March 2013

by Niken Lestari on March 12, 2013 on 9:25 pm

One of my friends posted a question in her Facebook account about why there should be an International Women's Day (IWD).  For her, it is reflecting women's dualism: women feel oppressed and at the same time asking for a special treatment. Of course, she's not alone. Do we need to celebrate?  Sure!  Anytime!  But to pretend that this is some great feminist victory feels “fake,” as one woman wrote in the Guardian. 

I, indirectly, answered my friend by posting the website article “We must not be Indifferent to Women's Day” by Supriya Dwivedi, a Canadian who made good points on some of the women's issues in Third World countries and her own.  I also posted a reminder and a pledge on my Facebook account: Please, don't take your privilege as middle-class-educated woman for granted.  It took movements at varying degrees to come to what we have now.

I then feel obliged to write down my perspective on the International Women's Day (IWD).

I began to become aware about IWD in 2004, when I was studying in the Women's Studies department at the University of Indonesia.  Previously, I only know about Kartini's Day and Mother's Day, both celebrated locally in Indonesia.  Although there are many countries that celebrate Mother's Day, the dates of celebration vary.  Meanwhile, IWD is commemorated at the same date internationally, March 8.

So, why should I care about IWD?  Should every feminist celebrate IWD?  To celebrate or not is a matter of choice, but to reflect on it is a must.  I care about IWD because it serves as a moment to raise awareness, to remind ourselves, to strategize and to embrace more people into the movement.  It is a moment to bring personal reflection into public domain; being a woman is not “born”; instead, it's a process of "becoming."  It's a category on its own.

IWD is not merely a celebration of women's achievements. It's a moment we give to ourselves and others to reflect, to look back on the journey we have gone and have been going through as a group across the globe, to shape and claim our human rights.  By shaping, it means showing our differences, part of our humane characteristics that must be included into human rights perspective. For you can't talk about human rights without addressing the different realities of humans: sexes (women and men), classes, ages, disabilities, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc.

IWD is also a good moment for me, personally, to make the pledge I made on Facebook that any woman of privilege should not take her condition for granted. It is a moment to remind us that it took a long time and a lot of energy to organize ourselves at varying degrees to come to what we are today.  I have no problem if the poor couldn’t care less about the IWD.  They still have basic issues on their plates. But for us, it is a privilege to not be bothered with the basic needs. That privilege comes with responsibility.

Some Indonesian women like to point out that unlike the women in the US, Great Britain, or some Scandinavian countries who fought for a long time to get suffrage; women in Indonesia had been given the right to vote only since the Independence Day in 1945.  I'd like to say: Wake up girls! If it wasn't for those Dutch or English women activists who struggled for suffrage in their countries, we, women in the colonized land, would have to do it for ourselves. So for the greater part, they had done it for us. 

Of course, humans tend to forget.  It's part of our nature. Therefore, we create this mechanism of celebration to refresh our memory and be reminded back to our vision.  In an age where women can be leaders, we are also encouraged to be consumers.  In an era where media industry broadcast news about violence against women, we are the victims.  IWD is a space where we can reflect those numbers as our own and where the violence experienced by the victims could be ours. 

If someone greets you “Happy Women's Day,” treat it as if he/she says: Congratulations, you have freedom of speech, freedom of association, right to vote, freedom from fear, right to choose whom to marry, right to own land,” and you can add your own achievements here.

It's a reminder that everyone has a different starting point to get the most of competition. Can you say that as an urban, middle-class-educated woman, you have the same starting point to compete in the job market as your domestic helper?  This is not to say that I never questioned my activism.  The questioning itself is part of my activism. 

In the end, I want to make use of International Women's Day to call attention on the ways women and feminist movements are transforming the world for everyone.  We are "born" human but in reality we are in the process of "becoming" human.

Niken Lestari is an urban, middle-class-educated woman.  She has experienced verbal violence has survived sexual harassment.

Niken is currently one of the regional coordinating group (RCG) representatives of Indonesia.  She is also the national coordinator of the newly-formed Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda Indonesia (FAMM-Indonesia) or Indonesian Young Women Activist Forum, a women’s organization influenced and inspired by JASS. 

Comments: 0
by on March 7, 2013 on 1:40 pm

As an avid fan of the TV show, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, I couldn’t help but take interest in its latest episode which was receiving a lot of outrage over its portrayal of a fictional celebrity couple that mimicked real life couple, Rihanna and Chris Brown’s violent relationship. As I was browsing through different blogs and news websites, I began to notice common comments ranging from, “Rihanna is such a weak woman and bad role model for young women.” to “Rihanna is such a disgrace to all women.” Although I hadn’t watched the episode yet, the comments alone made me ask, “Are we missing the mark here?”

On one end, I understand some of the comments that I read which expressed anger, frustration and disbelief. But, having worked as a court/legal advocate for domestic violence survivors, I understand the cycle of domestic violence as a complex system situated within a patriarchal culture of violence which mediates and reinforces it. Therefore, to de-contextualize it and isolate it as an individual rather than pervasive social problem diminishes the continuous need to address it.

Living in a culture obsessed with celebrities reminds me of Guy Debord’s theory on the notion of the spectacle. When events are presented and constructed from a certain angle and agenda, the space to converse about issues in a critical manner is obscured. A few examples of this come to mind – President Jacob Zuma’s rape trial in 2005 which is more famous for his infamous assertion that he took a shower to minimize his risk of contracting HIV or the current “trendy” case of South African Olympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius who is accused of murdering his girlfriend but whose story has focused more on the legal system’s preferential treatment of his celebrity status. 

When events like this happen, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the bigger conversation here?” Often times, we are stuck on details which although important tend to gloss over issues and eliminate our capacity to engage in deeper critical conversations. This is not to say that HIV prevention or differential treatment based on celebrity status is not an important issue to discuss, however, it is to say that when the discussion becomes one of other politics without any relation to the bigger issue of male violence/abuse/power, it de-politizes a very political issue. So, while such celebrity stories provide a public forum for discussion and debate of important social problems, they are also complicit with systems that perpetuate and make violence against women possible, normal and acceptable.

We also live in a neo-liberal culture which epitomizes individualism and choice. It is a paradigm that has extended itself beyond economics and into the private realm of people’s identities. People become responsible for their actions/inaction without any connection to the larger context that they live in. For example, victim-blaming in cases of domestic violence becomes rational. Interestingly enough, in the case of women, we perpetuate a process of othering by differentiating ourselves from other women with statements such as, “I would never put myself in such a situation.” Discussions that emanate from such statements negate to look at the bigger systems at play and they deepen stigma and shame. They tend to simplify domestic violence and fail to understand its complex nature and connection to the culture of male violence and sexism. For instance, they simplify domestic violence as an issue that is only experienced by poor women without access to financial resources. 

So where does activism & advocacy come in? At a time when there are different movements going on around ending violence against women such as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, this discussion becomes pertinent. How do we continue to amplify our voices in a culture that has the ability to potentially silence them? How do we strategically use the media to our advantage in cases such as Oscar Pistorius or the jabs at Rihanna & Chris Brown’s relationship? These are difficult ongoing challenges that we are facing. As JASS, we encourage critical understanding of issues that affect women. It is not just the conversation itself that matters, but rather the conversation as it is situated within a bigger context. Blogs such as these create a space for questioning and debating important issues that affect us as women. So, the next time you read a story, ask yourself, “What is the real story here?”

Comments: 0
by Daysi Yamileth Flores Hernandez on March 1, 2013 on 12:00 am

caminata-Honduras-jassWhen life can only be half-lived, it’s hard to keep hope.

When soldiers, churches, governments, death, crime and fear all conspire to choke off life like the heavy blow of the midday sun or a forest fire that consumes green trees, words become tangled and cannot be set down in black and white on these pages.

How does one explain in a few lines what it means to live under a dictatorship? How can we not simply break down in tears? How can we ignore every woman who dies and the family she leaves behind? How can we not feel the frozen fear that accompanies women who stand up to defend human rights? How can we not rebel against death that cruelly and constantly invades our lives? How can we not die a little with every tree, woman, river, man, community, teenager or transsexual that is violated, murdered, left for dead or raped? How can we not feel overwhelming anger at the messages that blame the victims, justify the impunity, rape the motherland with a smile on the lips, use the word of God to impose their ideas while robbing us of our right to a secular society and the sovereignty of our bodies and our territories? How can we not feel like crawling in to a shell or hibernating until it's all over? How can we not seek to escape this reality, which can only be endured by adopting a perverse schizophrenia that helps maintain the insanity? How to explain that we continue struggling for liberty even when it seems that nothing will change? … STEP BY STEP. YES, STEP BY STEP.

This reality is too overwhelming to remain seated, to resist with just one body - this reality can only be confronted collectively. So the Honduran people have begun a journey for national sovereignty. They launched the walk, called Step by Step, on the Pan-American Highway, by La Barca, where women and men from diverse movements across the country set off, walking and demanding national sovereignty. Step by Step will travel by foot 200 km. to the steps of the National Congress, but just as rivers flow together to gather force before reaching the sea, walks from other communities will join in and come together in Siguatepeque, Comayagua.

The word “Siguatepeque” comes from the Nahuatl word “Cihuatepetl” – “Land of Women” and it is here that feminists from the north, the south, center, east and west will meet to become part of the Step by Step walk and march to Tegucigalpa, demanding Sovereignty for our Peoples, Women with Autonomy.

Some will walk from their communities and villages, giving us their gifts of deep, beautiful stories steeped in experience; others joined up in caravans to participate from day one, sharing color and joy through their images. Some will travel north to furnish equipment and material support to the march, while others will remain to accompany the walk with the other women, shoulder to shoulder with the people.

Others wait in the city, looking forward to March 8, International Women's Day, like every year and yet like no year before this one.

It doesn’t matter where we come from, where we wait, or how far we walk, the truth is that we are together; giving away and giving ourselves our joy, our political commitment, our fury, our struggles, our knowledge and our strength.

Once again, we feminists will walk together with the people, repeating tirelessly: There is no revolution without a feminist revolution


Comments: 0