JASS Blog

by Carrie Wilson on December 12, 2014 at 3:22 pm

During 16 Days of Activism on December 9, JASS Crossregional Program Director, Carrie Wilson spoke at a White House Rally on behalf of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflictwhich JASS is a member of the advisory committee. This rally called on U.S. President, Barack Obama to break barriers to post-rape care for women and girls in conflict countries.

I’m speaking here today on behalf of the more than 5,000 individuals and 800 organizations worldwide that make up The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in conflict situations, including my own organizationJASS.

The campaign is the first-ever global collaboration between Nobel Peace Laureates, international advocacy organizations and groups working at the regional and community levels to amplify the voices and efforts of women to end rape & gender violence in conflict.

In contexts where women’s bodies have become the battleground in the struggle for power, the Campaign calls for bold and urgent political action to PREVENT and PROSECUTE perpetrators of sexual violence, as well as PROTECT communities and sexual violence survivors including sustained resources for local women’s organizations that provide survivors with medical and psychological care. 

From Myanmar to Syria to the Congo and beyond, rape is used as a deliberate tactic to humiliate, control and instill fear. In these conflicts, women and girls who experience the horror of rape have to not only watch their attackers go free and be left to deal with the effect of rape on their body, mind and spirit, but when a woman becomes pregnant by her rapist, she can’t access safe abortion.

As we’ve seen time and time again throughout history in every country of the world, when a woman can’t access a safe and legal abortion, she has no choice but to turn to dangerous methodsputting her health and life at risk or else live with the constant reminder of the trauma from her rape. Haven’t these women and the communities that they are rebuilding dealt with enough death and destruction?

Amazingly, local women and women’s groups are leading a range of efforts to end sexual violence in conflict and provide survivors with essential support.

In Central America and Mexico, where JASS works, women doing frontline human rights workwho are experiencing violence at alarming ratesare forming informal networks at the local, national and regional level to protect themselves, strengthen their activism and mobilize solidarity and resources for women. In the absence of the most basic protection or care by their governments and in the face of corrupt or collapsed justice systems, these networks are connecting women to legal services, risk assessments, psychological support, safe houses and urgent medical services including abortion.

International support for these critical efforts to help those affected by sexual violence must not only denounce violence against women but must ensure that aid money doesn’t force local groups to choose between offering abortion services or accepting much-needed funding to do their work.

The US claims to be a world leader in the fight against wartime rape and yet it is lagging behind the rest of the international community in supporting post rape care. President Obama, don’t let politics get in the way of doing the right thing. Eliminate barriers to women’s safe abortion access. If you do not act when you have the power to act, then you bear responsibility too.

In the words of Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate from Liberia:

"If the survivors of such horrific crimes are doing things differently to repair their lives, it is time for those of us who have vowed to journey with them to take the cue: we must start to do things differently.”

“WE STAND WITH WOMEN AND GIRLS!”

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by JASS on November 11, 2014 at 4:10 am

Written by Pin Marin

I have long dreamed of living in a “prosperous” Cambodia – where everyone contributes to the country’s development, where women and men are active and equal participants, and where we finally attain peace and justice.

But this dream seems elusive when I look at the situation in Cambodia right now. The lack of respect for basic human rights has been the Cambodian government’s trademark given our Khmer Rouge history and even our current political context – where political harassment is common, and where workers’ rights and land rights are disregarded. The lack of respect for women’s basic human rights is a reality that we Cambodian women have to face on a daily basis.

But fortunately, there is still hope; there are alternatives to make this dream possible. Despite being deliberately silenced for a long time, more women are now standing up for their rights, while young women’s organizations are also multiplying.

I am a proud member of the youth organization Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN). CYWEN is a youth alliance formed in 2010 following a national-level leadership training process carried out by JASS in 2009.  JASS continues to be a supportive partner and mentor of CYWEN in both leadership skills building and in mobilizing young women. Before I joined CYWEN, I was unaware of the different women’s issues in Cambodia. I was unaware of what feminism is and feminist leadership means. Now things are clearer for me.

In CYWEN, we talk about pressing political issues and linking these to our daily lives. We really want to see women’s status change and for women to become more involved in decision-making in the private and public spheres. We create our own safe spaces where we build women’s confidence, talk about the power of choice and discuss women’s rights.

I share the same vision of the future as CYWEN’s. I want to push for change! I am especially interested about changing Cambodian women’s lower status and in challenging cultural barriers that prevent women from exercising their rights. Ultimately, CYWEN gave me the chance to share my similar concerns with other young women like me.

Through sharing sessions among the team, I constantly learn a lot from other members’ experiences and from different women’s contexts in other sectors. CYWEN currently has more than 200 student (individual) networks in Cambodia. It is also building its network with women in other Southeast Asian countries.

One of the most unforgettable experiences I had this year was when I joined the Asia-Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF) to represent CYWEN and Cambodia. The Young Feminist Spaces facilitated by JASS and FRIDA, as well as the JASS workshop on “shadow power” – struck my feminist chord!

In JASS and FRIDA workshop, I learned more about JASS’ power framework as a tool to analyze women’s situation.  Women Win’s workshop on digital storytelling  taught me how to make digital stories and how they are a good way to share women’s stories of change.  During JASS’ workshop on “Challenging Shadow Power with our Movements”, I learned a lot from all the presenters. I found Niken Lestari’s (from JASS-inspired FAMM-Indonesia) testimony particularly powerful.  She talked about how she deals with and navigates the culture and traditions in her family. From Bandana Danuwar, a young woman from Nepal who uses community radio to end child marriage, I realized the importance of using a popular medium to advance our causes. I think it is inspiring how she mobilizes young women to join with her given her organization’s limited resources. These are just a few examples.

In the future, I want to see CYWEN organize more young women leaders to strengthen their capacity and build their confidence. I also want CYWEN to collaborate with other networks in and outside Cambodia to fight against injustice.

I strongly believe that young women can play an important role in changing Cambodian society. In recent months, the young women of CYWEN are linking up with grassroots women – on the streets – in peace protests – and in feminist spaces that JASS facilitates. I think this connection is necessary because we learn a lot from grassroots women’s experiences and strategies.  Even though local women face many problems, they have a lot of solutions to contribute. CYWEN, together with grassroots women, can make pushing for women’s rights stronger.

These experiences and influences continue to inspire me as I continue to claim my power and my rights – amid violence and political tensions. In the near future, given the rising number of empowered women, hopefully, achieving peace and justice will no longer be just a dream.

About the Author

Pin Marin is a 25-year-old non-government organization (NGO) worker from Cambodia. She is currently a project assistant of the Women Leaders at Sub-national Level (WLSN) Program at SILAKA – a local NGO based in Phnom Penh. SILAKA works hard to identify and provide quality programs and training opportunities for individuals and organizations in Cambodia. One of SILAKA’s visions is to set out to establish, build and strengthen the capacity of Cambodians.

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by on September 30, 2014 at 8:58 am

Ask a roomful of people to stand up if any of them have ever experienced violence personally or know of a woman who has experienced violence. They’ll all stand. Ask this same group if they or the women they’re thinking about have ever experienced justice—what justice tastes like, what it feels like­­ and almost every single woman in the room will sit down.

When activist, Ananda* of the One in Nine Campaign led this exercise at a recent workshop in which I took part along with over thirty activists from all over the world, every single person in the room (including the two men) stood up for the first question. The second question garnered a slightly more interesting response: two people were left standing, one was a white woman from Canada and the other was a land rights activist from just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. I didn’t get to ask either of these women why they kept standing, and the circumstances of the cases they were thinking of but it got me thinking.

We talk about justice all the time as feminists, but what do we actually mean by it? How do we even begin to imagine what justice looks like?

We’ve fought for laws. As of 2013, Zimbabwe “[has a] (new) constitution[s] which generally [has] good frameworks to promote and protect women’s rights” (Everjoice Win, Between Jesus, the Generals and the Invisibles, 2013) but this has not stopped 1 in 3 Zimbabwean women from experiencing physical and/or sexual violence. South Africa has one of the world’s most progressive constitutions that grants full marriage equality and protection to LGBTI citizens and yet there have been over 30 reported murders of lesbians in the last fifteen years.  A lot of our struggles for justice take place at a high policy level: we go to the United Nations; we leverage conventions like CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) and craft protocols on this, that and the other. These strategies are powerful and critical to our feminist movements. But they have their place, and in isolation, disconnected from movements of women and men working together to create alternatives, they aren’t going to take us where we need to go.

For me, I’m asking myself, what does justice look like in my body (which is coded as ‘female’)? What does it look like when I navigate my sexuality within my largely conservative family and communities? What does it look like in our churches? What does it look like when we negotiate condom use with intimate partners? What does it look like when a woman walks down the street at the end of her day and gets heckled by a group of hwindis (minibus taxi drivers), and instead of speaking up and telling them off, she swallows her words and pulls into herself, walks a little quicker and tries to quash the fear churning in her stomach because we all know what ‘happens’ to women on dark streets? More than that, we know what ‘happens’ to women who walk on streets in broad daylight.

Unless we’re ready to confront and define justice as it cuts across every part of our lives and every fragment of our identities so that we can live in dignity, free from even the threat of violence and discrimination, to the fullest of our ability, capacity and desires—then we’re never going to achieve it, not really. And unless women, those on the very frontlines of struggles for gender justice, are right at the table, dreaming up alternatives and crafting a different way to imagine a ‘just’ world then nothing’s going to change. We can make all the laws and policies we want; we can spend all day picketing on the streets; we can spend our nights praying on our knees for some god to make things better—but it won’t matter.

C-A-U-T-I-O-N: Feminist justice is NOT comfort food…

I’ve looked askance at the recent (but not entirely new) efforts to re-brand feminism, package it in ever shinier, glossier trappings that are more palatable and comforting. It’s the kind of feminism a small and privileged elite can swallow with a cup of tea every morning and never have to think about for the rest of the day.

It takes multiple forms like a mythological chimera—it might be a well-known fashion magazine notorious  for its overwhelming whiteness and heavy-handed airbrushing that doesn’t do much to promote body diversity claiming to be “deeply feminist” or it might be a recently-launched global solidarity campaign helmed by the U.N., #HeforShe, that posits that one of the biggest reasons to care about gender equality and women’s rights is because of how much patriarchy hurts men. Now while it is true that patriarchy hurts everyone, putting men at the centre of the conversation isn’t going to help the feminist cause. Why? Because men have been at the centre of the conversation for centuries and we can all see how well that’s worked out for us. A fact someone ought to tell Iceland’s foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, who just announced that his country (along with Suriname) would be hosting a "Barbershop" conference in January 2015 to bring "men and boys" together to talk about gender equality, particularly violence against women in a "positive way."

I’m sure I don’t have to say it but I will anyway: any conversation about inequality that deliberately excludes the voices of those most affected is an incredible waste of valuable time, energy and resources.

The first thing to realise is that these trends aren’t coming out of nowhere—backlash takes multiple forms and this is just one of its more insidious and sometimes less obvious one. After all, what better way to demobilise feminist movements for transformative change and genuine gender justice than co-opt the political term ‘feminism’ and co-opt feminist spaces so that some people can feel more ‘welcome’.

There has always been and there will always be a push from the mainstream and whoever defines it, usually white men, to make feminism less scary. Less thorny. Less messy. Less challenging. And far less demanding on all of us in forcing us to question ourselves and our privileges—whether they be of racial, gender or sexual identity; social standing, location or class.

Any time we hear that message it should rouse a red alert alarm in our heads because guess what? Feminism was never meant to be this easy. Feminism isn’t always about leaving us with a nice warm feeling in the pit of our bellies (although that’s great, and in a violent and frankly terrifying world, it’s cool to feel good about something). 

It’s on me to deal with my privileges, to confront and unpack them just as it’s on you to grapple with yours. We can’t allow hurt feelings to get in the way of that individual and collective project. 

I’d like to go back to JASS’ most recognisable rallying cry because it’s always resonated with me but it didn’t really hit me until this latest onslaught on feminism why.

Caution, women crossing the line.  It’s a warning sign. It’s a foghorn blaring and it’s telling the world that we’re coming. We are going to transgress the norms of what it means to be ‘woman’ and blow up your binaries, we are going to break your institutions and rules and build new ones, we’re going to carve out the meaning of justice for ourselves—and if you won’t give it to us, we’ll just have to take it. You are probably not going to like this and you’re probably going to try to stop us, discourage us, beat us back into the tiniest box you can find where we’ll sit down and keep our mouths closed like ‘good women’—

But we will keep coming.

 

*Ananda requested that her name be withheld.

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