JASS Blog Archives for May 2013

by Rosanna Langara on May 12, 2013 on 7:59 am

Women are wooed. Women are raped. Women are impregnated.
Women are abducted. Women are raped. Women become mentally ill.

Women are wrongly accused. Women are raped. Women get death threats.
Women are raped. Women are raped. Women are raped.
Different women, same stories: sexual violence in conflict.

In Southeast Asia, there are civil wars going on. In fact, the region is touted as “home to the world’s longest ongoing civil wars.” Burma, Philippines, and south of Thailand – these are just few of the countries in the region with wars in progress.

Why do wars happen? War is about owning and controlling the natural and mineral resources of the region, as the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) has stated in its international paper presentation on militarization in Southeast Asia (2008 and 2010). Aside from resource exploitation, it is also about political control. As the imperialist powers of the West are now in economic depression, they have an urgent need to gain hegemonic control in resource-rich Asia. Concurrently, national despotic governments welcome and encourage imperialist intervention because they are also gaining from it.

The real objective of economic plunder and political control has been guised as “war on terror”. Alarmingly, this has also labelled Southeast Asia as the second front of terror, thus legitimizing the intervention of imperialist troops in the region.

The ensuing deaths and displacements in conflict areas are inevitable. But over and above these casualties of war is another horrendous phenomenon: the use of rape as a tool of war.  According to a report published by the Nobel Women's Initiative in 2011, sexual violence is widespread in armed conflicts around the world, and the perpetrators of these war crimes are benefitting from a culture of impunity.

In Southeast Asia, the perpetrators are almost always state agents – the military, the police, and the state’s auxiliary armed groups. end military and police rape

The terrorism scare has intensified the horror experienced by Southeast Asian women. As the CWR paper has stated, war has displayed the patriarchal modes of abuse like rape and other forms of sexual exploitation. Thus, with a patriarchal mindset of perpetrators, rape and other sexual abuses are used:

  • As a trophy of triumph/ victory;
  • Especially among communities that are rebel strongholds, to crush a male rebel’s pride, his wife, mother, sister, or daughter would be raped, a mindset of “to destroy a warrior, debase his woman”; and
  • Women and girls are considered as part of the soldiers’ rest and recreation. 

The Burma Army, for instance, has had a long record of appalling human rights abuses, especially in the conflict zones of ethnic states.

In the rural areas, there is so much trafficking and rape cases and sexual abuse.  Women who are living in the Kachin state, who are living in the midst of the civil war – are raped by soldiers and the military,” says JASS’ Wendy Maw, a young human rights advocate from Burma.  

Moon Nay Li of the Kachin Women’s Association (KWA), who has documented gang rapes in Kachin State, highlighted that victims are as young as nine years old, and half of the victims in cases she documented in 2011 were killed after being raped. The rape of women, committed rampantly in and around Kachin State, is recognized as a “systemic and calculated war tactic” rather than a random act of violence.

“Not only is the government not protecting civilians or stopping the Burmese troops, Thein Sein and Aung Min are denying human rights abuses. Now that the fighting has increased, the government troops will use this pretext to continue raping, torturing and killing,” says Moon Nay Li in a 2011 news report.

In the Philippines, cases of sexual abuse against women and girls living in militarized areas are being committed by no less than Philippine military personnel. From 2010 to 2012, CWR has documented at least seven cases of abuse, ranging from sexual harassment, rape and gang rape by the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP’s) regular units and its paramilitary wing the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). Majority of the victims are minors. 

The incidence of rape in the Philippines is indeed alarming. But this situation is being exacerbated when the supposed protector of human rights -- the state machinery such as the military, police and its auxiliary armed groups, is directly involved as perpetrators,” says an excerpt from a statement released by GABRIELA, a national alliance of grassroots organizations in the Philippines.

To quote Jojo Guan, CWR’s executive director, in the paper “Militarization in Southeast Asia: The Myth of Terrorism, the Reality of Resource Wars”:

Southeast Asian Women have experienced different abuses such as rape, forced prostitution, sex trafficking, and health-related threats. Women are considered as ‘spoils of war’ and rape is seen as inevitable, though unfortunate, by-products of armed conflict. Rape is systematically used for various purposes including intimidation, humiliation, political terror, extracting information, rewarding of soldiers, and “ethnic cleansing”. Those who are raped or sexually abused can hardly find a support system for counselling and processing of their traumatic experience.”

In the two countries mentioned, sustained efforts to assist and give justice to the women victims are ongoing. In Burma, the Kachin Women’s Association has been documenting the sexual violence that is happening in the Kachin conflict areas. It has also been active in condemning the Burma Army and releasing its findings and statements in the international community. In the Philippines, some of the victims are given psycho-social counselling by psychologists of GABRIELA. Local and international campaigns led by GABRIELA, with a call to criminalize the perpetrators, are also ongoing. Petition letters and solidarity statements are part of this campaign.

no to rape as a tool of war jass philippinesThe most recent One Day, One Voice (ODOV) regional campaign of JASS Southeast Asia carried “ending rape as a tool of war” as one of the calls of the JASS network in the Philippines. “One Fight, One Voice: Women, Assert Your Rights” was the overarching theme of the ODOV and JASS network in the Philippines’ December 2012 photo opportunity activity was one among the string of activities in commemoration of the global 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women.  

“With JASS’ responsive regional and international structure and processes, local-to-global solidarity and action which place frontline activists and agendas at the heart of our social justice work, crusade against rape, initiated by our JASS partners in Southeast Asia, is definitely one campaign that we will focus on in the future,” says Nani Zulminarni, JASS Southeast Asia’s regional director.

Beyond the call to criminalize the state agents involved is the wider call to stop the broader state strategy of militarization of communities that make women easy targets of sexual violence.

The campaigns launched by different Southeast Asian women’s groups are just the beginning. Their message will resonate in the days to come: women’s bodies are NOT war booties!

Photo credit: Macky Macaspac of Pinoy Weekly, Janess Ann J. Ellao of www.bulatlat.com

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by on May 7, 2013 on 2:09 pm

A few weeks ago, I attended a discussion on Land Grabbing in Zimbabwe. As a Zimbabwean who grew up on a farm, I assumed I knew everything there was to know about this issue. Yet, like most people, I had understood this process from a racial, class & historical perspective because the debates around this issue focus almost entirely on the infamous brutality of the “fast track” resettlement program in 2000.

However, after this discussion, I realized that there was an untold story to the land issue in Zimbabwe – an untold story that has always existed even before colonization. This is the story of women – my grandmothers, aunts and sisters who I grew up watching primarily work on this land – but who have been denied a chapter to this story. Since the debates around the land reform are largely constructed around race and economic growth, gender issues are either ignored or unanalyzed. So, as I pondered away in thought, I was led to ask, “If women play a central role in farming, why is their access to land minimal?”

It is clear that other issues are at play here. Despite women’s central role in farming, their subordinate position mediated by cultural and social expectations often inhibits their ability to own land. In a culture that privileges men, it is no surprise that women’s entitlement to land and home comes through marriage. This immediately draws me to memories of my grandmother working the rural field to produce crops and vegetables to feed her family while my grandfather worked in the city. I even remember the few times where my grandmother tried albeit futilely to show me how to hold and use garden hoe every time I went to visit her because it was viewed as an important trait to have to be considered “marriage” material. Therefore, not only are women expected to play certain roles in order to be considered “worthy” of marriage, but these same roles are used to further entrench their position. In this context, marriage then takes on deeper and symbolic implications for women’s access to resources i.e. land.

If women’s access to land is mediated through male power and control, how then do we address their plight? Clearly, simply advocating for a land reform program is not enough because even though Zimbabwe has been in the process of redistributing land (although problematic), it is estimated that only 20% of women have received land. While the current land reform, divided into two parts A1 and A2 shows women as significant beneficiaries in the former, it is still not clear whether these are just women who have been able to capitalize on their use of social networks and political party affiliations to acquire land. In any case, the need to give women more access to land remains an extremely important and controversial issue in Zimbabwe.

It is thus important to create a land reform program that addresses the inequalities that women suffer. Yet, this is not an easy task because the very act of distributing more land to women implies challenging the spaces were men are in control. In this patriarchal culture, men's power is derived from their ability to not only control resources, but also, who has access to them. As a result, fighting for equal rights for women often contradicts their main cultural identities as married women, mothers, etc, while threatening men’s identity and power.

Consequently, there is a conflict between cultural practices, attitudes and laws that constrict women’s role and individual modern rights that seek to broaden this role. Hopefully the new Referendum will provide a changing landscape for women in Zimbabwe to challenge programs and laws that either discriminate against them or simply ignore them as citizens worthy of the same resources that the government declares belongs to its “citizens”. With the help of organizations such as Women and Land Lobby Group (WLLG), women’s plight when it comes to land will continue to be put on the table and eventually be included in the narrative for land rights in Zimbabwe.

Photo credit: Actionaid

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by Alda Facio on May 6, 2013 on 1:46 pm

El sábado 26 de enero, cumplí 65 años. Es decir, paso oficialmente a ser una adulta mayor y lo quiero celebrar con ustedes recordándonos que mi generación, como las anteriores, construimos grandes y pequeños movimientos feministas en todo el mundo. Al reflexionar sobre mi vida me siento muy orgullosa de ser parte de este gran movimiento milenario. Insisto en su carácter milenario porque no me gusta invisibilizar a las mujeres que lucharon contra la instauración del patriarcado desde sus inicios hace más o menos seis mil años. Creo indispensable reconocer que la lucha se inició en ese momento y no después de siglos de subordinación como afirman algunas porque hablar del feminismo como un movimiento que se inició en la Ilustración europea es condenar a millones de ancestras de todas partes del mundo al olvido. Aunque no las conozca a todas porque el Patriarcado las ha borrado, sé que lucharon porque todas las mujeres que hoy estamos vivas y disfrutando de ser reconocidas como seres humanos aunque todavía no disfrutemos plenamente de ningún derecho humano, lo hacemos gracias a que otras mujeres, antes que nosotras, nos abrieron el camino con su lucha, su amor por la vida, su anhelo de igualdad y libertad, su esfuerzo, sus iniciativas, su valentía, su creatividad, su esperanza y su imaginación. 

Provengo de una familia donde mi madre y mi abuela se rebelaron contra los roles que la sociedad les imponía a pesar de no llamarse feministas. Mi abuela me insistía en que yo podía superar todas las barreras que me encontrara en el camino y mi mamá me educó bajo el precepto de que las mujeres teníamos derechos como lo declaraba mi congénere, la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos. Crecí con esta Declaración como mi guía espiritual y reconociendo que fueron mujeres las que lograron que la misma declarara la igualdad entre hombres y mujeres junto con la prohibición de discriminación por sexo. Gracias a estos antecedentes y a esa Declaración, pertenezco a una generación de mujeres que entendió que para lograr esa igualdad primero había que visibilizar su mayor obstáculo, el patriarcado.  Así mi generación desenmascaró la misoginia detrás de los piropos, el amor romántico y la historia y demostró que hasta las ciencias más duras eran androcéntricas. Denunciamos la violencia de género contra las mujeres en todo el mundo y obligamos a los Estados a reconocer que los derechos de las mujeres eran derechos humanos.  Junto con las feministas de mi generación, grité por las calles de Nueva York que lo personal es político porque entendimos que nuestra subordinación era muy diferente a la de otros grupos porque empezaba en nuestras propias familias.  Pertenezco a una generación que quiso desmantelar mitos tan arraigados en nuestra psique como que nuestros cuerpos femeninos eran sucios y por ende, que la sexualidad femenina es pecado, despreciable o inexistente.  Juntas, las feministas que hoy somos viejas pero que en ese entonces éramos jóvenes, superamos tantos obstáculos y rompimos tantos  estereotipos que no los puedo enumerar en unas cuantas líneas pero que hoy me hacen sentirme enormemente agradecida de haber pertenecido al movimiento más importante del Siglo XX.

Desde que me hice feminista en 1970, mis colegas feministas y yo iniciamos proyectos lindísimos como la primera revista feminista de Costa Rica, el Comité Latinoamericano para la defensa de los derechos de las mujeres, CLADEM, la Fundación Justicia y Género y el Caucus de mujeres por una justicia de género en la Corte Penal Internacional por nombrar sólo algunos. Más recientemente, junto con otras ecofeministas, iniciamos mis dos proyectos preferidos: la Comuna de la Luna Llena y el WHRI, curso intensivo que se imparte hoy en la Universidad de Toronto pero que en el futuro se hará en la Comuna. También tuve la enorme satisfacción de trabajar en FEMPRESS, la primera red informativa feminista de Latinoamérica con sede en Chile y hoy trabajo junto a un grupo de mujeres fantásticas en JASS, una organización dedicada a apoyar los esfuerzos feministas en distintas partes del mundo.  Durante mis ya más de cuatro décadas de ser feminista he pertenecido a diversos grupos que me han llenado de esperanza en el poder transformador del feminismo como lo fueron Ventana y Las Entendidas y hoy, Petateras. 

Por supuesto que no todo ha sido positivo en mi vida: he vivido la violencia sexual en mi propio cuerpo y sufrido la violencia estructural, social y cultural de un sistema que me ha ninguneado. De joven tuve que combinar el rol de madre y esposa con el de activista feminista y estudiante de derecho. Y lo logré gracias a las teorías feministas que me daban esperanza en un mundo más feliz e igualitario aunque durmiera tan poco. Pero aunque no todo ha sido color de rosas, ahora que soy oficialmente vieja puedo decir con toda certeza que “valió la pena”. 

Les cuento esto para recordarles a todas las que hoy son jóvenes y no tan jóvenes feministas que un día ustedes serán las mayores de otras jóvenes que vendrán después porque falta mucho para erradicar al Patriarcado capitalista de nuestras mentes y corazones y ni qué decir de nuestras comunidades, sociedades y estados. Aún queda por delante un largo camino de esperanzas y miedos, de retrocesos y avances pero sí les digo que para seguir avanzando es necesario conocer el camino andado.  Sólo conociendo la historia de las luchas por la vida de nuestras antepasadas, podremos construir sobre sus bases. No se dejen engañar con historias falsas de que el feminismo ya no es necesario o que las feministas de antes no luchábamos contra el racismo, la homofobia, las guerras y el consumismo.  No se crean que ustedes son las primeras en descubrir la diversidad entre mujeres, la complejidad del género o la pobreza de la mayoría de nosotras como nos quieren hacer creer tanto los/las antifeministas como las/los feministas posmodernos. Las mujeres de hoy sabemos y disfrutamos muchas cosas porque nuestras ancestras lucharon por ello. Con equivocaciones claro, pero también con pasión y tenacidad. Gracias a ellas, ustedes las mayores del mañana y nosotras, las viejas de hoy, no sólo podemos apoyarnos las unas en las otras sino que además, contamos con teorías increíbles para fundamentar nuestras exigencias y sueños; experiencias que nos pueden guiar en nuestras nuevas luchas; leyes e instituciones con las que nos podemos más o menos defender y un movimiento feminista internacional y local al que nos podemos unir para hacerlo más cohesionado, más diverso y más poderoso.

Mi deseo más grande en este día es que todas podamos decir “gracias”. Gracias a todas las mujeres que me abrieron el camino, gracias a todas las que caminaron y caminan conmigo y gracias a las que seguirán caminándolo una vez que ya yo me haya ido.

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