by on April 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm

“When you’re an ‘activist’ you are labelled all sorts of things, [you are seen as someone] who is ‘rebellious’,” says long-time Zimbabwean student rights activist, Evernice Munando. 

Students across the globe are rising up and rebelling. From #GrantsNotDebt in the UK to #FeesMustFall in South Africa, students have mobilised in their thousands to fight back on a range of issues, hikes in school fees and living expenses that marginalise poor students as well as institutionalised racism and sexism as they manifest in tertiary institutions. Education, a basic human right, is not a guarantee for anyone, and especially for women. 

As an activist, Evernice Munando has faced expulsion, intimidation and persecution in the fight for education and women’s rights. Director of JASS Southern Africa ally, Female Students Network Trust (FSNT), a feminist organisation that supports over 20,000 women students at 36 of Zimbabwe’s universities, polytechnics and colleges, she reflects on some of the critical challenges for young women and lessons drawn from inspirational movements around the globe.

What has your journey, first as a student activist at Mupfure Technical College to now been?

I have a very strong personality in terms of activism and I’m someone who just cannot give up easily, no matter what the situation is. When I was a young student back in the early 2000s, I was the only woman on the student council surrounded by men. That taught me a lot. It taught me to stand my ground because there was no other choice. I became the student council vice president at my college at a time when the politics of the country were getting tense. The MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) had just been formed and as students, we were seen as supporters of the regime change agenda. That put us right in the line of fire.

I was victimised in various ways. I was expelled. I stayed in a safe house with my kids. When I became an activist proper, it got even worse. I had to make sure that my voice was heard, I would always want to speak out against violence against women because I suffered victimisation in my marriage and as a student. I faced brutality from the police. I would sleep overnight in cells with male activists, often the only woman activist there. These difficult experiences built me as an activist. It was not easy. There were times when I thought about walking away from it all and renouncing my politics. But I realised that I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless, even if it meant that I would lose my future.

Female students were afraid of being involved, they’d say, ‘Are you a man? Do you want to be part of this activism?’ But to me there was no choice, the student relied on the SRC (student representative council) to represent them and convey their demands.

What are the big issues young women are facing in institutions in Zimbabwe?

I think women students face two big challenges right now. The first is about economics, and what it means to survive in Zimbabwe. Tuition fees at every level (even junior school and so on) are exorbitant and many people simply cannot afford to pay these big sums of money. In such situations, the priorities are almost always given to male students or the boy child. Parents are more willing to invest in their male children. This economic situation is linked to a lot of other issues—access to adequate student housing, surviving from day to day, the text books that students need. Even when students do have housing, how do they pay for it?  Many young women do use transactional relationships as a way to sustain themselves in terms of income but these relationships come with levels of violence for women.

Masvingo Teachers College March Against Sexual Harassment and GBV

Sexual harassment is a major issue in Zimbabwean institutions. The major perpetrators are male lecturers, and sometimes other students. There are few to no sexual harassment policies or mechanisms to protect students in tertiary institutions. So many lecturers in positions get away with it because there are no avenues to report and if a student does try, they are not taken seriously. It’s even harder when there are no female students on student representative councils or anything who can voice out on these issues. But even when women are on student councils, they don’t always have the clout. They’re sometimes there to fill quotas and they have to really fight to be heard.

And even within the tertiary institution governance structures, you see that there’s almost a protection network for lecturers. If one colleague comes up in a case, then they’ll protect them even if they know that they are guilty of sexual harassment. And that goes a long way to perpetuating the sexual violence we see because people in power take care of each other and the students pay the price.

How does FSNT confront these issues?

We use public awareness. We carried out a national baseline survey on sexual harassment between June and August 2015 and the survey revealed that 98% of female students are sexually harassed every day, largely by male lecturers.  Out of the 21 sampled institutions, only 4 have sexual harassment in place which clearly shows the vulnerability of female students in failing to get recourse on the predicament. We’ve used that survey as a basis for an advocacy agenda, for example, we’ve initiated a nationwide public awareness campaign to sensitise and support women students. Some of the students said they could not identify harassment, in other words, they didn’t have the language for it. So we have been supporting them to understand what these different kinds of abuses and violations look like so they can identify for themselves and feel that they have a right to report. We are also trying to make sure that all students can understand, that even male students get the role they play by normalising sexist behaviour.Men wear high heels in march against Sexism

At heart, our strategy is about consciousness-raising on many levels. We talk to students, we talk to student organisations, lecturers and tertiary governance structures and we’re talking to policymakers and parliamentary representatives to make sure sexual harassment policies are taken on across the country. And through radio talk shows and media engagement, we’re reaching the general public as well.

Do you see opportunities or hope within this big picture?

Yes. I think it will just take time. We have presented these issues at parliament, we are lobbying for better laws to protect women students, and while this is not the whole work—it’s a big step. We have had the opportunity to put out there what women and women students are up against, economic hardship, the prioritisation of male students in families and beyond. In 2014, the enrolment of women students decreased by 42% and that is about patriarchy and the fact that women are not a priority when it comes to access to education, especially when times are hard. And these are things we must talk about.

Have you been inspired by some of the student movements in South Africa and elsewhere in the world? How? What do you feel you could learn from them?

We learnt a lot from #feesmustfall, and one thing that inspired us is that it was female students leading all the demonstrations and campaigns. I think it would be great for FSNT to learn from strategies from South African students. Sexism and sexual harassment in tertiary institutions is a global issue, so we need to be in communication with sisters to understand how they are mobilising around these issues.

All pictures courtesy of Female Students Network Trust.

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by JASS on February 1, 2016 at 1:37 am

Written by Noni Tuharea

Have you ever heard of Seram Island?

It is an island rich in natural resources located north of Ambon Island in Indonesia. Since 2003, Seram Island has been divided into three regencies: Central Maluku with Masohi as its capital, Eastern Seram (SBT), and Western Seram (SBB).

Despite the abundant natural resources, poverty and lack of education are two of the major problems in Central Maluku. Communal conflicts often arise as a result of a succession of village chiefs (conflict among villages), drunkenness, limited economic resources, and disputed region territory. This situation gets worse during famine or drought season. In these circumstances, women play a greater role to meet the families' needs despite limited job opportunities. Women primarily bear the burden of making ends meet for their families. For the women, they have been impoverished by the system.

In Western Seram, my work entails assisting in developing the women’s communities. At the start, the abundant natural resources of Seram have been generally ignored because of “mismanagement”. The region is also infamous for its high crime rates and communal conflict among indigenous communities.

Nuruwe village is one of the indigenous villages of Western Seram that is “trapped” in this situation. Fortunately, the sea in Nuruwe is very clean, the waves are not so big, and the beach is not polluted. It is a perfect location for seaweed nurseries. It provides a distinct advantage for villagers to increase their income from dried seaweed. The Nuruwe residents needed technical skills, not only to cultivate seaweed, but also management skills. To meet their needs, Lembaga Partisipasi Pembangunan Masyarakat (LPPM or Community Development Participation Institution), the organization where I work, conducted a vocational training for women on seaweed processing in the coastal village of Nuruwe.

The training modules on seaweed processing consisted of building business character, marketing, and simple bookkeeping. The training participants were encouraged to participate actively and communicate their ideas to form business groups. The training was done by raising the participation of the village government and villagers who work as seaweed farmers. Through LPPM, we provided farmers’ groups with dried seaweed until they become independent.

Women, There is Always Hope 

After the training, the participants formed a group they named Bina Masadah. Bina in Nuruwe means “women”, while Masadah stands for “there is always hope”. Therefore, Bina Masadah reflects the struggle of women who ‘advance’ their selves amid a culture that subordinates them. women of Seram Islands Indonesia The group also received support from the Western Seram Department of Industry and Trade in the form of packaging and product labels for the group’s products such as sticks of seaweed, seaweed pudding, and fruit-flavored syrup.

Initially, Bina Masadah launched their products on a small scale. They also obtained their PIRT or Licensing for Household Industry. Bina Masadah has been able to organize a group initiative from the planning, production, and marketing, and to practice the good production process. Group revenue or equitable sharing is calculated based on the workload and the amount of product produced by each group member. The most important is that members receive the full support of their families.

It is a proud moment for me to see the Bina Masadah members try to maintain their commitment and motivation to participate actively in the trainings and in post-trainings in running a business. Nuruwe residents are likewise proud of Bina Masadah products because these will change the stereotype of the Nuruwe village as a poor village with high crime rates.

The biggest challenge I experienced during the process is fostering teamwork. Maluku residents are renowned for their lack of trust among themselves as well as their unclear division of labor. Therefore, we constantly encourage groups to actively establish interpersonal communication and independently evaluate the achievement of the group. Another challenge is the limited availability of cash in order to increase production, so their turnover is very small.

But I strongly believe that with collective action, we can grow bigger from these small steps.


This article was originally published in www.famm.or.id in Indonesian language. See: http://famm.or.id/archives/2016/01/1189/

About the Author

Noni Tuharea first joined JASS’ movement building institute (MBI) in Indonesia in 2011. In 2013, Noni took part in JASS’ and FAMM-Indonesia’s writeshop (writing workshop). In 2012 and 2014, representing FAMM-Indonesia, Noni joined the digital security workshop organized by Erotics Indonesia.

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by Niken Lestari on June 25, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Two Indonesian women on death row in Saudi Arabia, 47-year-old Siti Binti Zaenab and 37-year-old Karni Medi Tarsim were executed recently. In November 1999, Siti Zaenab admitted to stabbing her female employer 18 times because of alleged “mistreatment”. Before her arrest, she sent two letters in which she said that her employer and her employer’s son had been mistreating her. Siti Zaenab reportedly made this “confession” during police interrogation where she had no legal representation at any stage and did not have access to a consular representative during the police interrogation. Both Siti and Karni were suspected of suffering from mental illness.

An Indonesian migrant worker, Tuti Tursilawati, the breadwinner of her family, also went to work in Saudi Arabia with her mother. She was convicted and sentenced to qishas (beheading) but her case was reopened. In her plea, she said that she was defending herself from her employer who was sexually abusing her. When Tuti fled from her employer's home and went hitchhiking, she was brutally raped by nine Saudi men. The rapists were given a light sentence by the court.

Their stories are repeated tales of migrant workers who are mistreated while working abroad and received minimal or worse, no protection and defense from the Indonesian government. The government often responded a little too late to address these cases.

Since a few years ago, dozens of migrant workers were given death sentences without being served notice. Take Satinah's case where she was sentenced to death. Or Nasiroh who was raped by her employers in Saudi Arabia but her trial was so hasty that she did not know she had been convicted and she had no idea for what “crime” she was imprisoned for five years. Women lack the legal and psychological support while working abroad. They have to work long hours in poor conditions. They are also denied many basic workers’ rights. For the same reasons, women fall prey to and become easy targets of drug cartels to serve as drug mules.

Elusive Justice

These migrant women mostly come from poor families in rural areas and are breadwinners of their extended families. Many of them rely on debts to survive. With limited education and skills, working abroad is a desperate option knowing that they have little or no legal protection.

The Indonesian government often appears helpless in trying to save Indonesian migrant workers abroad. These are the same migrant workers who brought US$8.55 billion remittances in 2014 to support the economy in rural areas. With the death penalty regulation in Indonesia, it will be difficult to help Indonesian migrant workers who are on death row abroad. Their death will bring their families deeper into poverty.

Up to February 2015, there are 229 Indonesian citizens facing death penalty in seven countries. Many of them are migrant workers. The top three countries are: Saudi Arabia, 36 persons (all migrant workers) imprisoned on charges of murder, adultery, and witchcraft; Malaysia, 168 persons (less than 50% are migrant workers) charged with murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and gun possession; and China (including Hong Kong and Macau), 16 persons - all because of drug trafficking cases.

#SayNoToDeathPenalty Campaign

In line with our vision of building women's collective power for justice, we in Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda (FAMM-Indonesia or Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum) seek to address a few arguments in support of the #SayNoToDeathPenalty campaign opposing capital punishment in Indonesia. 

Up to 2006, there were 11 regulations that mention the death penalty, such as the Criminal Code, the Act on Narcotic Drugs, the Anti-Corruption Act, the Act of Terrorism, and the Law of the Court of Human Rights. This list continues to grow with the impending passage of the Intelligence Bill and the Bill of State Secrets which also pose as threats to activists especially those who work in agrarian or land ownership and ethnic minorities. 

There are many cases where similar crimes have gotten different indictments and court rulings, not to mention different media attention as well. The difference is often the result of the defendant’s access to good quality legal counsel at the cost of a huge amount of money and support from powerful political and/or religious figures in society.

Recently, an employee of Cipinang State Prison was fired for being an accomplice of Freddy Budiman, a drug kingpin. In December 2014, the Law and Human Rights Ministry acknowledged that there have been six drug dealers who control the circulation of drugs through prisons, one of them in Nusakambangan, Central Java, a renowned prison for high degree crimes. Yet, these people can “buy” justice which shows the discrimination in the application of the death penalty.

We are devastated to see our government, as the sending country, being less capable to fight and protect citizen's rights. Our government has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” In Article 4, it says, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

#SayNoToDeathPenalty is one of the recurring issues that we in FAMM-Indonesia are advocating in our grassroots organizing of women and youth in communities. We likewise demand that the governments of ASEAN countries review their imposition of death penalty by considering and appreciating the lives of victims, the defendants, their families, and the human rights conventions.


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