JASS Blog

by JASS on August 14, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Ahoy macomrades Ahoy.

This was the call to action on June 13 as hundreds of Zimbabweans converged in the nation’s capital at the Harare Magistrates Court to support the release of Pastor Evans Mawarire who had been charged for “inciting” violence through what we have now come to know as the #ThisFlag campaign. Among those leading this rallying call was 31-year-old political activist and student, Maureen Kademaunga. Maureen is one of the many Zimbabwean women who have been vocal about the impacts of the ongoing economic instability in Zimbabwe. She stood and negotiated with the police, calling them to action every 30 minutes to give an update on what was taking place in the court room. Holding their Zimbabwean flags, women and men from all walks of life sang, danced and prayed into the night as they waited to hear the verdict. Around 8pm, the charges against Pastor Mawarire were dismissed.

How did we get to this moment of frustration and hope? Let’s rewind.

Zimbabwe is on its Knees

We find ourselves in a crisis. There are no jobs. There is no cash. Basically everything is a problem.” – Mai Sputi

Mai Sputi’s sentiment is shared by many and protest movements such as #ThisFlag, #Tajamuka, #OccupyAfricaUnitySquare, and #beatthepot have emerged because citizens have had enough.

Over the past 20 years, Zimbabwe has been experiencing political and economic upheaval. These include: a deteriorating health system, corrupt government officials, a decaying educational system, lack of revenue to pay civil servants, increased militarization, introduction of statutory instruments banning the import of certain goods perceived as locally produced, regardless of a defunct manufacturing sector. More recently, due to looming cash shortages—now a daily reality—the Reserve Bank Governor announced the introduction of bond notes, legal tender that can only be used in Zimbabwe.

Women are Bearing the Brunt

“We are hungry and we need food,” has become a mantra that is chanted every day in Zimbabwe. Women are among the most affected, but due to different socio-economic backgrounds, the brunt is experienced differently. For example, the cash crisis has seen escalated violence among sex workers and between sex workers and their clients. “Sister Winnet, I am so desperate, these days I am accepting clients who pay even if they refuse to put on a condom,” expressed Jane*

Women who survive through cross-border trading have also been affected by the introduction of the importation ban. This ban. which was introduced using statutory instrument number 64 of 2016, prohibits the importation of specific basic commodities such as food (cereals, baked beans, peanut butter etc.) without licenses. Mai Nzuma a cross-border trader lamented, “women are the ones who are mostly affected by the ban on importation of goods. Most women who are widows, single parents and married have been sustaining their families using proceeds from cross-border trading, but now how [will we] sustain [our] families?”

Women are also part of the Struggle

Women are adding their voices to the different campaigns and protests that have erupted throughout Zimbabwe in many ways, including on social media.

Maureen Kademaunga has participated in dialogues calling for Zimbabweans to think about a transitional government led by bureaucrats as a solution to the problems we currently face. She believes that a transitional government that can be in power for at least two years will help stabilize things as people prepare for an election.

Linda Masarira, a single mother of five who is currently awaiting trial, is one of the few people who occupied Africa Unity Square in Harare for 16 days, demanding for the government to step down and address the issues affecting the nation.

Lawyers such as Fadzayi Mahere and Lucy Chivasa have been offering their personal time by writing on the legality of some of the issues affecting Zimbabwe, such as the call to introduce bond notes.

More recently women gathered to show their frustration through beating pots – a symbol of the hunger facing the nation. The #beatthepots protest which was held in Zimbabwe’s 2nd largest city, Bulawayo has received its fair share of backlash for reinforcing stereotypes about women and their place in the home, particularly their role in cooking and taking care of the family.

However, it is critical to honor and celebrate the many women who have been speaking out, taking a stand and equally putting their lives and those of their loved ones at risk in the process.

Now What?

In the wake of the protest movements in Zimbabwe, the question that many keep asking is, now what? In one of her Facebook posts, Advocate Fadzayi Mahere notes that the even if the #ThisFlag movement does not culminate into anything more, it has managed to shift citizen apathy. Citizens in Zimbabwe are speaking, they have realized the power they have—power to voice and challenge. And that is important.

For feminist activist Rudo Chigudu, while the different protest movements have opened up space to break citizen apathy, they are also problematic. For example, the very foundation of #ThisFlag which is the national flag is a symbol of nationalism and nationalism is one of the greatest sites of patriarchy, misogyny and sexism. “…When we look at the #ThisFlag campaign for example, the national flag is our rallying point, we are all seen as equal citizens of this country, however, women and men are expected to uphold national norms that are very gendered. In a nationalist discourse, women are seen as child bearers and uphold a certain moral standard, while men are expected to be strong and take leadership. I am therefore concerned about how the #ThisFlag movement reflects the needs of women and many other marginalized groups of people” explains Rudo.

Having spoken to many women and also through following social media updates by various women, Rudo’s analysis left me thinking about this moment. Like many other Zimbabweans, I got caught up in the frenzy of the moment, the power I had to voice issues from my perspective, but I am left with a deep desire to stir conversation and thinking that allows for a movement that addresses my needs as a woman, and the needs of many other marginalized groups. And more importantly, a movement that challenges power and questions the many systems of oppression.

*Jane not her real name. Real name concealed for her privacy.

This blog was written by Winnet Shamuyarira

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by JASS on June 2, 2016 at 3:18 pm

The WoMin-JASS Southern Africa Feminist Movement Builders School (1-10 March) was a meeting like no other: 32 women from seven countries across Africa, representing a diversity of languages, ages, backgrounds and more. The one thing these women activists had in common is that all of them work in and fight against big business, corporate mining interests and other extractives industries.

On the first day, we sat together in a circle, each woman taking the floor to introduce themselves in song and dance, with laughter and stories about their activist journeys. Every single woman human rights defender (WHRD) in the room had a story of the violence they face in their fight against extractive industries. From Marange in Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Nigeria, they each spoke about what it means to be women human rights defenders, wrestling with how to sustain themselves in the face of often overwhelming challenges. Their commitment to their “vocation” as defenders always brings to mind the words of Mexican ecologist, sociologist and activist, Gustavo Castro reflecting on the assassination of environmental and human rights campaigner, Berta Caceres, “Berta didn’t die for a river. Her work wasn’t limited to local issues. She died for something we’re all responsible for; the biodiversity of the planet. We can’t turn our backs on her cause.”

Making a space for women’s voices…

As women struggle for the biodiversity of the planet, defend livelihoods threatened by mining and extractives, and put their lives on the line, we need to prioritise the protection of WHRDs. This starts with creating safe spaces, real or virtual for defenders to learn, share and build solidarities together. The value of spaces to revitalise our activism, re-focus our strategies and reconnect with other defenders is immeasurable.  Aimée Espérance Matungulu Nduwa who works with the Rural Women for Development Collective in DRC to fight against extractive industries and their devastating impact on people and the environment despite facing threats from big mining companies highlights the need to carve out space for women’s voices to be heard:

Firstly, there’s an absence of women’s involvement in mining activities and resistance against such due to women’s lack of knowledge of extractives industries. Women are seen as ‘victims’ but not as people with a voice and stake in community decisions. But they are the most directly affected once these industries have settled in. For instance, women are forcibly removed from the places where minerals are found and lose the lands that are their means of subsistence. They become poor, displaced and often pushed into … marginal enterprises in order to survive.

The face of patriarchy…

WoMin-JASS schoolThe mining and extractives sector has the face of patriarchy, neo-colonialism and capitalism. While women human rights defenders’ contexts may look different, many of their struggles are the same. Whether you are talking about militarised diamond fields in Marange, Zimbabwe, oil pollution in the Niger Delta, coal mining in Mpumalanga South Africa, or hydro-power dam constructions in Bandundu, The Democratic Republic of Congo. In many cases, mining companies are predominantly owned by white males, with mostly Black male labourers in the mines. The mining companies are concerned with profits first and foremost. So it’s not surprising that women, particularly Black women and other women of colour, have no input in most deals and decisions, and that they bear the brunt of these industries.  

Take a look at Marange, Zimbabwe where diamond mining really does impact women miners differently to men.  Women are expected to ‘carry the kitchen down the mining shafts’ in other words, performing gender roles such as preparing food for the men on top of their expected work. Salary scales tend to be determined by gender rather than work done, for instance, women miners earn an average of $100-$200 for a job that would compensate their male counterparts with $400-$500. Sexual violence is rampant in Marange, a highly-militarised government-protected area in which there have been many reported cases of state security agents using rape to ‘punish’ women who are seen as ‘stubborn.’ There is high incidence of sexual harassment and almost complete lack of legal recourse for sexual violence survivors.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is another example of the devastating effects of extractivism on women. The INGA Dam project is set to be the biggest hydroelectric power generator in Africa by 2020. However, communities, particularly women, and their livelihoods and lands are at risk.  Challenging the INGA Dam initiative has become dangerous for activists who suffer threats, assassinations, sexualised violence and some have been forced into hiding to protect themselves.

Women’s agency; against all odds

WoMin-JASS schoolIn spite of the threats to their personhood, women human rights defenders continue to resist this narrative and demand accountability from their states and corporate interests. Their work challenges power and capitalism, and is often met with violent reprisals because activists are a threat to the status quo. For Aimée, giving up or walking away from this struggle is not an option: “We are activists and we are defending rights…. For us it is a vocation that we cannot abandon because of threats.”

During the school, Berta Caceres, a Honduran activist was assassinated for her work to protect her community and ancestral lands from transnational corporate interests. Berta’s assassination is a familiar story for many defenders who are challenging the system. The assassination resonated with many of the women in the WoMin-JASS school, some of whom remembered meeting Berta over the years—a comrade in the struggle. And others, like WHRDs from the DRC, who are facing high levels of violence in their fight against government-backed hydroelectricity projects. Many of the participants at the school shared their own tributes to Berta and messages of encouragement to defenders around the world, a reminder that in the face of violence we can and must find ways to reach out to strengthen our movements and build solidarity across borders.

Berta didn’t die for a river. Her work wasn’t limited to local issues. She died for something we’re all responsible for; the biodiversity of the planet. We can’t turn our backs on her cause….

This blog was written by Winnet Shamuyarira.

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by Niken Lestari on May 31, 2016 at 3:39 am

What drives indigenous Indonesian activist Pipi Supeni to fight for indigenous women’s rights?

The prevailing discrimination towards indigenous women is at the top of her list of reasons. Indigenous women and indigenous peoples in general are deemed and often portrayed as lacking higher education, poor and unable to participate in the modern economic system, anti-development, tradition-oriented, rebellious, and the list goes on. The government and the media perpetuate negative messages  about them, along with other messages which negatively impact the self-confidence of indigenous women.

The discrimination is the result of the long and systematic oppression of indigenous peoples’ rights,” says Pipi.

Pipi, a 29-year-old woman from East Kalimantan, Indonesia, is a community organizer for the Dayak Benuaq Ohokng tribe in two villages – Mamcong and Muara Tae village. She is a community organizer for Perempuan AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara or Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago) or AMAN Women-East Kalimantan, an organization that focuses on indigenous women's rights. More specifically, she is a “cadre” organizer – a specially-trained community organizer – mobilizing and organizing “cadres” or activists of Perempuan AMAN. She is also a member of the JASS-inspired youth organization Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda Indonesia (FAMM-Indonesia or Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum).

AMAN estimates that the number of indigenous peoples in Indonesia falls between 50 and 70 million people. Pipi’s tribe, Dayak, is a name of tribes that identifies the various indigenous peoples on the island of Borneo by the Kalimantan part of Indonesian. They are divided into about 450 ethno-linguistic groups. The original Dayak identity – the cultural, economic, religious and political life – has been preserved through their oral tradition.

But the Dayak traditions are in danger of slowly disappearing. They often feel intimidated when mingling with society, with people outside of their communities, Pipi observes. Because of the discrimination that they experience, they become ashamed of their identity and their culture. Some even make drastic changes in their appearance and demeanor by following the trends of other cultures so that they can be accepted, especially those who reside in the urban areas.

Pipi laments over the fact that indigenous women have been marginalized from economic activities, although they are rich in knowledge and skills on natural resources management. There are even unfortunate times when some indigenous people hide their identity to avoid further marginalization.

I am making every effort so that indigenous women gain respect and that indigenous women’s knowledge and skills are recognized. Indigenous women of Indonesia continue to demand to take an active part in the management of natural resources and in reclaiming our culture and spiritual lives, says Pipi.

Pipi sees that one of the main problems that indigenous peoples face is that Indonesia, their own beloved country, does not recognize them as indigenous peoples. They refer to us only as local community residents. Therefore, there is no recognition from the Indonesian government to protect our rights as indigenous peoples, especially indigenous women,” Pipi adds.

Indonesia's boosting economy and its matching development goals have put indigenous peoples’ lives behind and at risk. Many indigenous peoples remain passive spectators of development. Their voices are often silenced and ignored.

The situation is far worse among indigenous women. Many elders and tribes’ customs prescribe that young women should not get a higher education because their main role is domestic care. This role, the elders say, does not require being highly-skilled. However, there are some elders who are open to accept the changing roles and aspiration of young women to get better education, broaden their social lives, and join organizations. As Pipi puts it, There should be changes in indigenous people's values toward women's role so that women can realize their potential for the benefit of communities.”

The corporate investments bring in a lot of problems for indigenous women. These have become a threat to their survival. Indigenous women’s reproductive health, as well as the children’s health becomes affected; their food becomes contaminated; and the plants in the forests that serve as their medicine become extinct. “Due to these resulting situations, I was motivated to rise up and speak up for the rights of indigenous women,” says Pipi.

Through her involvement in JASS’ 2013 Movement Building Institute (MBI) workshop organized by FAMM-Indonesia and JASS Southeast Asia, Pipi learned about power analysis as a tool for making sense of the indigenous women’s situation. Now she is more aware of indigenous women’s rights. One of her goals is for indigenous to women gain decision-making power in natural resource management, customary law, and traditional organizations.

At JASS’ MBI workshop, Pipi met plenty of young women activists from different sectors and backgrounds in Indonesia. Like her, they also struggle for social justice. This integration and exposure gave her more confidence to speak in public as an indigenous woman.

Pipi is extremely grateful that her family supports her activism. So far, none of them are against her actions and decisions because they see the benefit of her struggle to bring social justice to indigenous peoples, especially indigenous women. Pipi sees FAMM-Indonesia and JASS as allies to further build her confidence and start appreciating her culture and knowledge. Recently, she began to use natural ingredients in her food and is now using natural dyes for fabrics.

Indigenous peoples can no longer ignore women's voice and wisdom. We cannot regard one interest as more important than others. We need to unite to fight for our rights, concludes Pipi.

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