JASS Blog

by Lisa VeneKlasen on September 25, 2014 at 11:35 am

As a global capital, New York City is accustomed to high-level discussions on earth-shaking issues. But something different is happening. 

Two events in a single week - the UN Climate Summit and the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples along with discussions on new global goals on development and women and girl's human rights, are rocking even the jaded city. Deeply interrelated, these events raise debates that will determine what kind of a world we live in this generation - or even a few years from now.

Add to that, the People's Climate March on 21 September, where more than 310,000 people took part in what's been deemed "the largest climate march in history," and we could have what historians call a "defining moment".  It's not that we shall see big decisions come out of any of this. The wheels of international bureaucracies are slow and creaky, and the differences profound.

Far more important than the official declarations will be the real dispute: Who gets to decide and how?

There are some voices that have been silenced for centuries - in the home, in the community, in governments. These are the voices of indigenous women.  Unless these voices gain strength in the discussions and deliberations, no decision -  no matter how enlightened it may appear - can be balanced, informed or legitimate.

And we'll also miss out on some of the most innovative and effective solutions around. Without fanfare and against all odds, indigenous women are developing practices that can be replicated to confront the toughest issues of our day: climate change, inequality, development, democracy and security.

To give some examples: Maria Ricca Llanes is a young, indigenous woman from Cordillera region of the Philippines. She works with a regional alliance of women's organizations that delivers relief and helps rebuild communities devastated by a series of off-season typhoons linked to global warming.

indeginous women at climate change marchOn the other side of the world, Felicitas Martinez, an indigenous Me'phaa, works to counter poverty and government neglect in her home community in one of Mexico's poorest regions. She's a member of the community police, an indigenous law enforcement and justice system that has proved to be far more effective than corrupt government security forces in controlling crime and ensuring justice.

Up north, the indigenous women at the forefront of Idle No More, a First Nations movement set off by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s dismantling of environmental protections, have become headline news as they push back to protect rivers and forests, making important legal gains in reasserting their historic rights. 

Just Associates (JASS) has worked with women like Maria and Felicitas throughout the world. Many fight corporations that are polluting or illegally occupying their land. We see disconcerting similarities throughout the world: the mining boom, for example, has set indigenous women up against transnational companies, often backed by governments eager for the foreign investment with total disregard for basic environmental and labor standards.

Many pay a high price for their community activism. In Guatemala, indigenous communities held community consultations and voted to reject large-scale mining projects on their land, as is their right according to international law. Indigenous leader Lolita Chávez, Guatemalan K’iche’, and a group of her sister activists were ambushed on a bus by a group of men armed with machetes and knives. Four of the women were wounded. Lolita also has an arrest warrant out against her for her work in defense of the communities' right to be heard.

There's a clash of worldviews here. It's no coincidence that indigenous territories contain the vast majority of the earth's remaining natural resources. Indigenous communities have a long tradition of conserving and respecting Mother Earth.  And within those communities, women play a key role in transmitting cultural knowledge, adapting to often difficult conditions and maintaining a balance between the environment and human needs.

The rush to exploit those resources as thoroughly and quickly as possible is foreign to them. As one woman from the lush Guna Yala in Panama (Graciela) remarked about developers coming into her islands, "When they see green, all they see is money."

Indigenous women remind us that it's time the colour green took back a living connotation. We have to at least balance economic interests with longer-term considerations, and with a healthy respect for other people and other living things.

We're hearing many opinions, ideas and controverting facts bandied about over the next few days. In the end, it comes down to who is allowed to speak and be heard. Whose voice matters.

Taking into account indigenous women's voices is not just a question of historical justice after centuries of discrimination, although that's important. It offers the  opportunity to tap a millennia-old source of knowledge that has been constantly evolving. Far from the podiums, in small villages in mountains, lowlands and plains, indigenous women are innovators in developing new solutions to the most pressing needs of today's world.

They've been muted by centuries of racism and sexism, but many courageous indigenous women have travelled to New York this week to speak out.

We can't afford not to listen.

This article was originally published on openDemocracy.

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by Everjoice Win on September 10, 2014 at 9:37 am

A Look at Positive Women’s Organising in Malawi, 2005 to 2014

It is hard to conceive the magnitude of what Malawian women activist leaders with whom JASS works and the hundreds of women they represent in their communities have accomplished through their organising and the Our Bodies, Our Lives Campaign for Better ARVs.

The numbers are certainly there with over 6000 people directly reached by the campaign; awareness-raising radio programmes and talk shows that reach approximately 75% of Malawi’s 16 million population; women activists in 22 districts of the country advocating not just for access to treatment but also for targeted healthcare that responds to women’s needs without discrimination. That’s not all, women activists are also standing up in their communities to access the kinds of resources they need for survival in a context that is increasingly difficult for women economically, and challenging their local leadership and chiefs to make provision for women’s livelihoods so that they can lead fulfilled lives.

But these numbers and achievements only tell a fraction of the story. What of the personal, what of the individual women and collectives and their experiences and stories of transformation? Of women like Judith, a woman activist leader from northern Malawi, who proudly declared at a recent campaign meeting:

“I know now that I must not remain in the master’s house [code for patriarchal society that oppresses women; based on Audre Lorde’s The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House] and I know how to move out from it. In my community I have helped many people who have been violated. They don’t go to the village head, they come to my house because [they know I will fight for them]. That’s why I call myself ‘the local lawyer’.”

Or Tiwonge, who stood up to the chief of her district when he refused to give HIV positive women access to vital seeds and fertilisers:

“The rage I felt in my heart, the anger at being belittled catalysed my courage, consciousness, and integrity to the fullest; this made me rise in rebellion against what obeying the chief, it prompted me to reject all the rewards for such obedience.  Having seen that my position was not shifting, he agreed to declare his status openly. He apologised to the community and today he talks and behaves like an HIV activist.”

Judith and Tiwonge are just two examples of the radical steps women are taking in their communities as leaders, as change agents not just in their own lives but in their households, their communities, their districts and their country.Women activists at the JASS Malawi Feminist Movement Builders School

We asked Everjoice Win, JASS Southern Africa (JASS SNA) advisor, to reflect on the parts of the story which she’s experienced as someone who took part in the initial conversations  about JASS’ HIV agenda in the southern African region way back in 2005-2007 and who is now involved again, working alongside women activists through JASS SNA’s feminist movement builders’ schools. In Malawi, JASS has hosted three regional feminist movement builders’ schools with over 60 women from across the country, as popular education spaces that grapple with critical issues such as power, feminism, feminist movement building, sex, sexuality and HIV treatment literacy for activists.

Maggie Mapondera: Given your experience with JASS’ work in Malawi, from the beginning to the schools you have co-facilitated (the latest regional school took place in Blantyre, Malawi in August 2014), what are your thoughts?  What has struck you?

Everjoice Win: As you know, I was involved in the beginnings of this conversation going back to 2005, when at the time (and not just in Malawi but in the region as well), there was a concern that although the world had woken up to “discover” women living with HIV and that these very women were on the frontline of the struggle given they were the most affected on multiple axes—when it came to money and programming, there was very little happening. At the time, JASS was not the only organisation grappling with how to work with positive women and indeed with women on all sorts of issues.

For me coming from that time [at the nascent stages], seeing now all the women organising, women standing up as a collective, individual women whom I’d met in 2007 who’ve come so far in their journeys. And when you say that, a donor or other development people immediately want to ask, “Give us some ideas? Give us indicators? What has changed?” And that is always so difficult to describe because you have to have been there, then and now, and you have to have seen this woman, how she was speaking then and how she’s speaking now, what she’s speaking now compared to what she was speaking about then and to whom she was speaking.

And for me that’s been phenomenal.

We can talk about an individual woman, Judith or Tiwonge or Linnah but it goes beyond them, they serve as a proxy. And, it’s not that she was downtrodden, face-down, poor—or whatever other words people like to use—at the time. Even at the time, she was a leader in her community and already working with women, already identifying critical issues in her community. Economically, you could see signs that she and many of the women were struggling, they would talk livelihoods, the money they didn’t have, their farming activities and how they were struggling to sustain those because they couldn’t get the inputs they needed. But these weren’t front and centre of the conversation.

And now I’ve participated in conversations with women where the words “donor” or the words “if only the government would do X, Y and Z” aren’t heard. In the school and in the campaign meetings, it is women driving the process, the conversation is framed as “this is what we are doing and this is how we are doing it” and “this is what we demand.”

There’s a difference there.

Someone like Judith or Tiwonge understands where decisions are made, how they’re made and who makes them. She is doing an analysis of her context, she is examining what has changed in her district now that alternative ARVs have been made available for all Malawians, she is assessing whether the Ministry of Health is delivering on its commitment to ensure access to ARVs in health clinics at the community level.

It is women talking about the action they took, or thinking about strategies to take action together.

For me just that experience has been empowering—to see women making demands of the institutions that have power over them.

That said, although I’m talking about how far women have come, at the same time, I am struck by just how much we still have to do and the mountains women have to climb. Here we are in 2014, in the age of Twitter, Facebook and Africa Rising and all of that, and there is a woman who has nine children who doesn’t know how her body works. And if she does, there are very few places where it’s okay to talk about her body—to talk about pleasure and pain, sex and sexuality.

And that makes me ask: what exactly are development practitioners doing? How are certain approaches short-changing women by telling them only half the story—maybe not even half?

But you can see in the feminist movement builders’ schools how women take to concepts, how they use them to analyse their own lived realities, identify how power (invisible and hidden as well as the usual suspects like the government or the police) is the crux of the matter. Because we all know that the government can provide ARVs and have them be available, the truth is that unless women are in a place to take those ARVs, make use of them [without discrimination], then it isn’t going to work. The schools are three days’ long, which means they are just the beginning of a conversation—an important beginning.

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by Natalia Escruceria Price on September 4, 2014 at 3:39 pm

This. This interview pulled at almost every one of my emotions—laughter, confusion, anger, frustration, and sadness BUT, it missed happiness. Watch the video, but if you can’t now here is a quick synopsis, although I guarantee you will want to watch it by the time you finish reading this blog just to see if they really said that.

The nationally televised program Fox & Friends featured the three hosts of Politichicks.tv, Ann-Marie Murrell, Morgan Brittany, and Gina Loudon on their Tuesday September 2, 2014 show to promote their new book “What Women Really Want.” In the four minute interview, the authors gave their take on how the feminist movement has demoralized the U.S. culture and how they are “redefining feminism” based on what women really want (hence the presumptuous title).

Hang on to your intellectual cells, because you may lose a few while watching the video. Luckily, I have compiled their key points below, with a few of my thoughts of course.

The three women authors claim that the feminist movement has not been about equality but instead has set its sights on sexualizing women’s bodies. In one sentence they claim to be dispelling the lies of the deceiving feminists of the past: “Nothing to do with equality.” At this point, I cringed and bit my tongue—I think there may have been steam coming out on the top of my head too (not sure though, too irritated to look). It gets worse. They go on to say, hey, we already have the vote and have equality in the workplace…we’re equal! Well, damn! How come no one told me? Oh, that’s right because it’s not true!

Let’s be clear here, yes women have the right to vote in the U.S. but let’s not forget why—it’s thanks to decades of feminist activism, from Seneca Falls, Lucy Stone and the other National Woman's Rights Conventions in the late 1840s and 1850s to Susan B. Anthony and the thirty thousand woman march in 1915, the 19th amendment was possible only because of the feminist movement. Let’s also be clear that some political equality—like the right to vote—does not equate to equality in other areas of women’s lives, especially in the home, school, office, in the bedroom and on the streets. Gaining the right to vote has not stopped 1 in 5 women from being raped and assaulted; going to the ballet box has not stopped the rude and often vulgar names I get called while walking to the metro; and being counted as 1:1 with my male counterpart in the national elections does not mean that my male boss will pay me 1:1 to the male employee sitting next to me for the same job.

According to the American Association of University Women, women are paid 77% of what men were paid in 2002 and in 2012; it’s even worse in some states, like Wyoming, where women were paid just 64% of what men were paid. For women of color, the gap is worse, with Hispanic women—that means me!—being paid 53% of what white men were paid.

Which brings me to my next thought—or to be honest my first thought in the first 30 seconds of the interview. Clearly, my life’s trajectory and these four women’s are polar opposites. They are thin, white, straight haired, and privileged. How do I know they are privileged? Simple, the three women are promoting a rather non-news worthy book on a national television show (connections? Yes.). But also, one women said she “worked for Bobby Kennedy” a former presidential candidate—not an easy job to land. I don’t disregard their experiences as false, but I do think they are frighteningly misinformed and incredibly ignorant to deny their racial and economic privilege and assume that this unique position they have lived in gives them a better understanding of what women really want, as their book title reads. According to the authors, they spoke to thousands of women across the country but I would bet that they preached to the choir and heard a lot of their own views repeated back to them—which in itself is a scary thought. Yikes, let’s move on.

But alas, it was the last four points that were made that really had my head spinning and blood boiling.

Is it really a problem for well educated women, even with a law degree, to stay home with their kids…yes, what about them? The host asks this question, then the three authors all nod their heads with a roaring yes, women absolutely do. Funny, they act as if that’s not what feminism is all about—to choose what you want to do as a woman without backlash or condemnation. If a woman wants to get a law degree, kick some criminal ass and then stay at home as a mother, great. If she wants to have kids early, then go back to school and get her degree, great. If she doesn’t want kids and spends her time travelling the world with her partner, great. These women have chosen their path, without backlash from their families or coworkers, and without condemnation of their friends. That is the whole freaking point of feminism—having the freedom to choose your path, not feeling ashamed or belittled or scared to choose what makes sense for you and makes you happy. The fact that the guests on the show don’t or refuse to see this is insulting. If you are going to try to redefine feminism, for God’s sake, please understand what it means first or at least try before going on national television.

They want less government in their lives, they want to make their own decisions, they want freedom to choose for their children and their families. Really? Coming from a U.S. conservative this is laughable and insulting at the same time since it is the conservative base that tried passing a law that would force women in Virginia to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion. Women deserve to have their rights respected by everyone, unfortunately some people don’t agree or don’t seem to act this way, which is exactly why we need laws that women can use as a tool for holding these idiots accountable. This is what women need from government. We do want less government in our business and the right to choose what we want for our bodies and family—I want to scream this because I don’t think the three authors have made this connection: I DON’T WANT THE CONSERVATIVES TO DECIDE WHAT I DO WITH MY BODY. This is a decision for my family. The government’s job is to make sure no one gets to decide for us. Since one of the women on the couch is credited as one of the founding members of the U.S. tea party, I know for a fact that they didn’t think to include access to birth control and safe abortion; likewise, I assume they are conveniently leaving out childcare too, especially, how it was the women’s movement that moved mountains for childcare oversight laws that ensure safe and healthy centers and care givers.

Women want real men. Oh God. I won’t touch this one because I would need another three pages to do so, but I will ask, what is a real man? Who defines it?

Politicizing our bodies and what happens in the bedroom is all that “feminist movement” has successfully done. Hold up, first of all, why air quote feminist movement, does she think it’s imaginary? Like a unicorn? Secondly, politicizing our bodies is a bad thing? Does this Dr. Loudon (PhD in psychology) even know what this is and how it has impacted her life? Think domestic violence— had the oh-so fictitious feminist movement not politicized what happens to women’s bodies in the home, then laws sanctioning domestic violence and martial rape would not exist. Breaking the taboo of women’s sexuality is exactly what was needed to begin shedding misconceptions and outright lies about women’s sexual and bodily agency.

Thinking through all that was said and where it was said, I can’t stress enough how dangerous this is. You may be asking yourself, how could a four minute book promotion be dangerous? Well my friends, this is scary because they will be heard and listened to be thousands of women and men in the US. They will influence thousands. They have been given a rare opportunity in the U.S., to speak about women, feminism and equality for four minutes on a national televised platform, and no matter how big the bag of bullshit was, they did it well. They were charismatic, light, and their messaging was spot on—they used what the conservative base in this country already think and fear, that feminists hate men, are anti-feminine, and are overly sexualized and therefore immoral. They are speaking to the choir and the choir is signing their praise. As one commenter said, “these ladies do their job well—misinformation at its finest.”

Photo credit: Asian Scientist

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