Tag Archives: 16 Days Against Violence Against Women

#16Days – Living with HIV

 

From the Daily Maverick [the Maverick just gets better and better] their series on 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women. The last day of the series focuses on the work of South African photographer Leonie Marinovich who has been photographing and speaking with people in rural communities who are living with HIV.

Pretty Blose

Born ’87, November 3

Diagnosed 2005

We were all sleeping down on the floor, in the room with Granny. I was screaming and nobody heard. They were snoring, and sleeping like they’re dead. Yes. I screamed. I said, Somebody!

I even called one girl who has since passed away, my other aunt — her name was Buhle, I said, Buhle, Buhle, is anyone there, anyone can you hear me?

And nobody heard. And the guy had a big knife. He put it on my neck and he

held my mouth when I was screaming. And then he just raped me. I was 10.

And I was wearing that dress my aunt gave me, when she came back from Joburg. And when the guy raped me, the dress didn’t have the blood. The blood was in a white panty that I was wearing, so I took the white panty and I made it look like a balloon.

I was scared to tell my mother the truth. My dad and my mom, they were brought up with the whip. So they decided, that’s the way for me.

I would just get a hiding for nothing.

I was young and very reckless and rebellious, I won’t lie. There was a time when I was very strict with using condoms. I used them, but then I dated this older guy, and we had a long-term relationship and then, because I loved him, and I trusted him, I felt, why should I use protection?

I just became dumb out of nowhere. And then I got infected.

So I gave birth to my son, then, a bunch of doctors came in the morning. They said, Ah, good morning, Pretty. And then they said, Sorry dear, we are so sad to say this, but you are HIV-positive.

And the moment they said that, it’s like, something was going on in my ears; like I was going blank and deaf.

So I’m like, Oh God, God hates me. Did I do something bad to Him or to people that I live with? Did I do any major sin that I don’t know of, and now He is punishing me?

My granny was dating these men. And then all of a sudden she gets sick and she resigns from work. When she goes for her check-ups for blood pressure they discover that she’s HIV-positive. And then I’m like, damn, Granny now, can you believe i?. How can I tell people that my mother is HIV-positive, my dad’s big brother?  And a lot of my relatives that I could count? The list goes on.

And my father’s sleeping around with a lot of young girls. He doesn’t want the older ones; he wants them young and fresh. Holding a Black Label, his beer, his friend, he says: These doctors don’t know what they’re doing. I say, Okay, Dad, ja.

My older sister is also HIV-positive. She’s busy trying to lower her CD4 count because she wants to get a grant. She will die trying to get the fucking grant.

Then I defaulted.

My dad was busy stealing my ARVs. Can you believe it?   Continued on the Daily Maverick

#16Days – Onwu Di

 

She dies and…

‘Oh! Take heart’

‘May God comfort you’

‘It’s one of those things’

 

He dies and it’s…

‘Aahh!!!’ ‘She has done her worst!’

Ajoo Nwanyi!

Amuusu!

 

On sick bed,

On wheels,

Beneath the sea,

In the air,

‘She was the cause!!!’

They always say.

 

The other people lament

‘What rubbish!’

‘Such injustice!!’

But to deaf ears they fall.

 

They come in troops

Lazy bones in disguise

To reap where they sowed not

in the name of kinship.

Day by day they saunter in, to cast your lot

And at times, battle over the remnants

Like vultures to the carcass.

 

Di,

Stand up!

Get up from your eternal slumber

and show us your slayer

For your home is falling apart.

Your kinsmen have ravaged your house.

 

Your wife has become a barbarian

Made to drink the juice of your corpse

Stripped of her beauty by her skinned head

Ruffled and tossed like a culprit.

 

They have sentenced her

to a dozen months imprisonment

In the confines of your ancestral home.

They gave her white this time

to cover her nakedness.

A change from the black

that used to be the uniform

 

And until she completes her days,

The light of the sun she dares not see again

Nor witness the joys of the world.

And when that happens,

A second wife we fear she may become.

 

The other people lament again,

‘What rubbish!’

‘Such injustice!!’

Yet to deaf ears they still fall.

 

Your children, we know not their fate

Chased away from your cocoon

Scattered like sheep

Destitute we fear they shall become.

 

Di,

If you do not arise

and prove the innocence of your wife,

Then your home we fear,

is doomed forever.

 

 

 

©  Chinwe Azubuike 2004

#16Days – African Women in the Age of War

From Open Democracy, Amina Mama on where African women should stand in the age of war.  [This article was first published in September 2011.]

 

The anniversary of 9/11 has filled the US-dominated media with action replays and detailed excavations of the events surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Centre and two other targets. More critical thinkers, such as Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and Robert Fisk, for example, have problematized the ubiquitous Western rhetoric of ‘terror’. This rhetoric justifies and underpins the massive military spending on a potentially endless global war, executed all over the world in the name of a narrow US-centred security doctrine. US feminist philosopher Iris Young also takes issue with these alarming developments, homing in on the ‘masculine logic of protection’ that provides ideological grist to the militarist mill. How do we, as Africans, make sense of this unprecedented escalation? How is it affecting Africa and African women in particular as we work to end war, re-build societies and economies already ravaged by years of conflict and military rule, and struggle to establish open and inclusive democracies?

Anti-militarist activists around the world have traced the links between militarism and capitalism ever since the highly decorated US Military General Smedley Butler published a powerful anti-war statement ‘War is a Racket’(1935), in which he bitterly acknowledged how his outstanding military service had effectively cleansed the way for private profiteering in the colonised world — Mexico, Dominica, Cuba, Haiti, China, and “half a dozen Central American republics”. Years before Butler, feminist anti-war activists — Virginia Woolf among them — drew links between war and the male domination of political and economic arenas. Woolf may not have been fully aware of it, but she wrote The Three Guineas (1937) at a time when African women were losing sons, fathers, and husbands conscripted and recruited into colonial armies, dispatched around the world to fight for their European masters. Myron Echenberg’s Colonial Conscripts: Les Sénégalais Senegalais in French West Africa records over 175,000 French West African conscripts fought in the First World War, of whom at least 30,000 died in the trenches. In the Second World War too there where huge numbers of French West African conscripts, with as many as 20,000 participating in the allied landing of 1944 alone. The British also utilized large numbers of Africans, as the living memories in many communities confirm. Less well documented is that fact that those who returned did so as militarised men who saw Africa’s future in ways that reflected their training in all-male colonial armies. A detailed excavation leads us to see historical connections between colonial militarism and our post-independence proclivity for coups and civil wars, such that by the mid-1970’s more than half of Africa was under all-male military regimes. These rulers continued the exploitative colonial practices of serving transnational corporations instead of African people, looting national resources and stashing their profits away from public scrutiny in Western banks.

Many wars and several genocidal episodes later, the link between male domination, corporate profiteering, and militarisation holds true on both sides of the Atlantic. Women of the African diaspora in the US (its ranks regularly replenished by refugees from postcolonial conflicts) live the implications of these connections, as public services and social protections are cut, plunging more Black and ethnic minority families into deepening poverty. Their sons have limited options — large numbers facing jail terms or military service.

In early July this year, in the midst of the largest military spend in human history, the Watson Institute at Brown University released their research report on the costs of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Catherine Lutz and her colleagues reveals the same link between corporate interests and militarism. Among the facts they present:

- US military spending has reached an all-time high, with Iraq Afghanistan and Pakistan alone costing between $2.2-2.8 trillion so far.

- Most of this money has been borrowed, contributing significantly to the US’s larger-that-ever debt burden, and the US financial crisis.

- While the recession has taken its toll, military contractors have profited from significantly more public money, amounting to over 400 billion received in contract in 2008, their highest levels since World War II…Lockheed Martin alone received $29 billion in Pentagon contracts in 2008.

Lockheed Martin’s contracts draw significantly more public funding than the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.5 billion), the Department of Labor ($11.4 billion), or the Department of Transportation ($15.5 billion). This boom in money to private military contractors should not be viewed as separate from the US economic crisis, or the raced and gendered patterns of profit for some, pauperization for others.

Africans on the other side of the Atlantic excavate a different set of memories, not featured on CNN. On the African continent, 9/11 was preceded by the direct bombing of US embassies in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi three years earlier, on 7 August 1998, leaving 258 dead and over 5,000 injured. African memories include the US retaliation — the cruise missile attack on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan on 20 August 1998, number of casualties unknown. In other words, Africa was included in an escalating US war that respects no sovereignty but its own before 9/11.

Military power in Africa has been re-shaped since, in ways heralded by thelaunch of the US High Command for Africa, aka AFRICOM, Oct 1 2008. AFRICOM was designed to centralise US counter-terrorism operations in Africa, to ensure effective pursuit of US security interests defined to include securing access to African resources, notably oil. African governments and civil society initially responded by raising objections loud enough to keep AFRICOM head office in Stuttgart and force a change in the public relations strategy. AFRICOM has been re-packaged as a more collaborative and diffuse set of ‘joint operations’ that emphasize ‘training peacekeepers’ ‘humanitarian assistance’ and training exercises for African military forces. The dedicated website somewhat incongruously features US military personnel digging wells, offering medical assistance and reading to schoolchildren.

What must women do?

As military assistance looks set to displace old-fashioned development assistance, it behoves us to ask what this means for women. Women in Africa have endured the worst aspects of militarism in a long series of military regimes and conflicts that have wrecked lives, displaced countless families, disrupted livelihoods and left legacies of loss, abuse and violence and gender inequality that are both visible and indelible. Whether one is talking about the so-called ‘blood diamonds’ in Sierra Leone, the curse of ‘black gold’ in the Niger Delta, or the rapacious quest for coltan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the link between conflict and minerals sought after by transnational corporations is clearer than ever, as are the greatest human costs.

The costs to women have included loss of livelihoods, disrupted by violence, dislocation and other consequences of militarism. It has also cost women many of their fundamental rights as citizens whose definitions of security extend beyond declared ‘cessation of hostilities. Peace has not yielded the much hoped-for dividends to women. If we listen to African women’sperspectives on security, forged in the cauldron of conflict and military rule, we hear that these include economic and livelihood security as much as security from violence, security in their own homes as much as security from marauding military men.

Feminist activists working against conflict and militarism in Africa bring these together to rethink the meaning of ‘peace’ and ‘conflict’, and to enhance women’s movement capacities for contributing to democratization and social justice. This is the agenda now being pursued by ABANTU for Development, the Mano River Women’s Peace Union and the Women’s Peace and Security Network, and other partners working in an activist research collaboration‘Strengthening Women’s Activism Against Conflict and Militarism’ (SWACM), launched in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria’s Oil Delta a year ago. It is an agenda that women across Africa articulate, inspired as we are by our collective survival through decades of conflict and military rule, and the accumulated experience of mobilizing for peace and equality.

If the US war on terror is the ‘father of all wars’, Africa’s conflicts are his angry and rebellious offspring, sharing the same disrespect for borders and the close connections to private profiteering. Open conflict is only the surface eruption of much deeper-seated contradictions, vivid ulcers on the skin of an unhealthy body politic governed by a militarist mindset. The roots of these eruptions include complicated webs of economic, cultural and political malaise. Militarism is not just about men with guns, or wars, or the blistering legacies of the past. It lays out a future ordained by economic decisions that neglect social development and justice, and perpetuate the stark stratifications and gendered inequalities that militarism at once relies on and perpetuates.

All this gives African women particular cause for concern. It tells us why African women must take a stand in the transnational movement to dismantle militarism. Whether one considers the direct effects of military rule and conflict on women, or the global economic implications of US war-making, militarism threatens to strip away all the 20th century gains in women’s rights, dispossessing us once more. African women have good cause to renew their struggle for peaceful, radical, creative, and ultimately solutions that will bring social justice considerations to the fore once again, and finally understand that security cannot be built without women, without economic and social justice.

More articles from 16 Days here. 

 

 

#16Days: AWID Condemns Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) strongly condemns the repeated efforts, now for the third time, to introduce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda’s Parliament. We stand in solidarity with Ugandans who are calling for their government to withdraw this bill, once and for all, and respect the human rights of everyone.

The latest introduction of the bill, on November 21, 2012 could see the bill discussed and passed before the middle of December 2012. If passed, the bill would represent a grave assault on the human rights of all Ugandans, and in particular, would further sanction discrimination against those who are, or who are believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI). Furthermore, repeated efforts to pass this bill contribute to an environment that heightens stigma, discrimination, and violence targeted towards the LGBTI community, their family, friends, and supporters.

We stand in solidarity with the Ugandan LGBTI community and the tremendous pan-African response against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, including from African LGBTI organizations, feminist, women’s rights and human rights organizations, the HIV and AIDS sector, and religious leaders. As an international women’s rights organization led by and engaging a majority constituency in the global South, we also note that the struggle for human rights for all including LGBTI people is universal. Countries in the global South such as Brazil, India, and South Africa have all taken leadership in the past two decades in legal and policy reform to support and respect LGBTI people’s rights. We urge the government of Uganda to do the same and take positive action in rejecting this bill and in protecting human rights for all.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill seeks to introduce draconian provisions reinforcing Uganda’s existing prohibitions on consensual same-sex relations. According to some reports, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee appears to have removed the death penalty from the original draft of the bill. Not withstanding these or any other changes, we condemn the bill in its entirety, as well as existing measures which seek to criminalise, stigmatise, persecute, and punish people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

AWID’s research on religious fundamentalisms clearly demonstrates that across regions and religions, sexual orientation and gender identity are lightning rods for fundamentalist forces. As in the case of Uganda, those who do not fit rigid norms as defined by fundamentalists are seen as threatening the social fabric, notions of ‘morality’ and the ‘family’- discourses that are often deployed by such actors to harness power. Although couched in the discourse of protecting family, children, and traditional values, this bill in fact spreads hatred and violence. Far from being about authentic cultural values, the bill has been strongly influenced by resources and hate-speech by Christian Right groups from the United States.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill not only violates multiple protections guaranteed by the Constitution of Uganda, but also contravenes the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and other international human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party. The bill also seriously contradicts the strong call made in theJoint Statement to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2011, signed by 84 member states (including Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Africa, and Rwanda), which called for states to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions, and related human rights violations against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

AWID stands in solidarity with the people of Uganda who are fighting for human rights and justice. We believe that full respect for sexual rights is part of guaranteeing human rights for all, and we therefore call upon the government of Uganda to immediately withdraw the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and uphold the universality of human rights.

For more information and to take action:

#16Days: I am a Genderqueer Peculiarite.

500 years ago a formidable army descended on the university city of Sankore in Timbucktu. When they left the Peculiarites emerged from the spoils. The inhabitants viewed by the Spanish as a strange   skin colour,  their strange language (if it could be called that thought the Spanish conquistador), and their ways earned their land mass the place name , Peculium and it stuck.  Everything about Peculium, as far as the militaristic guests were concerned, had more than a hint of the peculiar, so they named the land mass.

In the time before I underwent a procedure,  I was prescribed natural estrogen by the famous Dr. Aramanda who made it his duty to protect me from the herd of insane soldiers who had come to town. Most trans were rounded up to be used as game like foxes during the hunt or paraded as a marker of wealth. The times were truly vile. They still are.

London felt delicious after dry dry frigging Bath. As soon as it got off the coach It felt like feeding. Most genderqueer peculiarites couldn’t help the urge to feed. That night was the ten thousandth birthday of a distant relative so “It” hadn’t a choice. Genderqueer peculiarites were a close knit folk like that. Although I came from Bath (at least that’s what we told ourselves to keep our real stories safe from the wanderings glances from our human food chain) the furtherest I ventured from the roman architectured city of my birth the closer I felt to the university of Sankore in Timbucktu some 500 years ago in the heart of deepest Africa.

My name is Tantoloun-Yin Misaki of the one million year old clan of the Misakis of Peculium. Most of the family lineage were lost to famine, war, pillage and plunder over the centuries that it was a wonder the name survived to this day.

“I am 5,000 years old this day and I know the ways of the world,” said Tantoloun as if “It” had cracked a joke in the vein of a seasoned standup comedian’s mould. “Imagine that,” mused Tantoloun as “It” pondered the food on display. It didn’t matter the strength of the gang thought Tantoloun as “It” took the Pasha boy in particular in. The boy’s struggle made Tantoloun’s hunt that more interesting.

Suddenly “It” is over come by a convulsive spasms that reminded “It” of the capitulation into the bloodlust that imprisoned peculiarites till this day. However that night was like most nights to the people of that area of London. “It,” the youth thought, “doesn’t deserve the privilege of walking the streets!” commanded a bevy of youths amusement starved and eager for a laugh or something to fill the empty time on their hands. Their raucous was such that Tantoloun’s Peculiarites form threatened to surface; to show itself for what it was but it held back somehow. Scaring the food off wasn’t an option. Tantoloun’s thirst was overpowering to the point that ordinarily nerves might have snapped but “it” was only a matter of time, decorum and a healthy degree of discretion.

Meanwhile every time Tantoloun spoke in the Avon and Somerset accent the gang of young adults vent berserk hooting and hurling insulting abuse:

“Foreigner, go back where you come from. Nobody speaks foreign here,” shouted a six three hulk of a boy from within the gang. Tantoloun’s sensitive eyesight was on him immediately. In spite of the boy’s height he couldn’t be more than 18 years on the face of the earth. The boy thought he knew all there was to know in life. Tantoloun smiled despite the growing rage brewing in “its” entire essence. “It” saw as much as sensed the boy’s fear long before the boy spoke those vile words. Cowardly, vain and insecure the boy joined a gang in order to seem less conspicuous but his build plotted against him. Apart from that there was also his high pitched voice that had an ultra femme ring to it making for an incongruity the boy himself was deeply ashamed of. To mask this the boy started smoking cigars to deepen his voice. An unhealthy habit for one so young. How he came by them was anyone’s guess but Tantoloun saw him steal them from the newsagent’s across the 17 storey high rise council building where the boy lived. Tantoloun laughed so heartily “it” inadvertently drew attention in spite of “itself.”

“Once I was male I became female with the help of Dr. Aramanda now because of your conquistador forebear I’m here,” said Tantoloun without seeming to say a word. Nobody in the gang heard “It” except the Pasha boy. “I was the young girl beaten they said for daring to suggest my kind existed long before the binary conflation that has enslaved all mankind in production line procreation since the beginning of time. “You have a choice,” said Pasha’s army, “become one of our whores and you won’t want for anything. Turn down this offer and we condemn you to a very slow and painful death.” I wouldn’t so I was sent down for something called, ‘corrective rape. I was beaten, raped and beaten again then tossed in a cell for the night. That night a mob of soldiers came. They took turns again. That night I felt the fangs sink in and I went into a coma. They were going to throw me into one of their mass graves when I flew away forever. After that I couldn’t be female or male I became a genderqueer Peculiarite and I have not looked back since.

Meanwhile some members of the gang were girls, one of whom walked with a bragadosio left-right tilt of her shoulders as she walked. She seemed intent on making sure that everyone in the world knew Tantoloun was a genderqueer Peculiarite. She walked fast pass Tantoloun and said out loud, “I’m not like that there. That there is a man!” but her swagger drew more attention than what could have been the sting of words. Other gang members around cackled, jeered and made merry at Tantolorun’s expense shouting, “you are a fucking foreigner. Go back where you came from,” at Tantolorun but “it” kept “its” head up. They were all so engrossed in the terror they assumed they were that they missed the Peculiarites’ peculiarities.

At that point something odd happened. A sudden chill descended. Tantoloun seemed swift as a flash of light as “It” swooped right up towards the juiciest of the gang members and Tantoloun’s eyes were as fearsome as that of the oldest Peculiarite in myth out for a snack. The buff boy’s realisation took the form of a fang bearing, blood sucking fiend bent on eliciting maximum fear while still keeping his prey oblivious. The boy-prey barely moved let alone understood what stood before him nor did he realise the act of wetting himself until it was too late to conceal. As Tantoloun came close the boy tried to scream but no voice came from him. He could have been dreaming but he could have sworn he hadn’t fallen asleep. Fearing imminent death -his- he put up what looked like a struggle to no avail. He found himself rooted to the spot as if by some magnetic force. Just then as he had glimpsed the futility of his efforts he gave up to the inevitable.

“I don’t blame any of you. Five thousand years ago, I became a genderqueer Peculiarite.

“In your language, that is, Peculiarites are synonymous with what you call, vampires. You had better watch out or I’d have you for a snack. Five thousand years ago I became a Peculiarite at the hands of one of Judas Pasha’s army the day Sankore fell. Did you know you are the last known descendant of the Spanish general? The news of the day had the news if you know where to look. That day Dr. Aramanda was shot and the world hadn’t known light since.

When I woke up everything was different. What I noticed was the deep craving to feed…

Mia Nikasimo (c) November 2012

#16Days: – Nigeria’s Memory Hole*

In the early hours of the morning of the 20th November, 1999, 27 trucks carrying over 2000 soldiers plus 4 armored personnel carriers mounted with machine guns drove into Odi Town in Bayelsa State. Between 2pm that afternoon and 6pm the following day, the town was bombarded with artillery fire. By the end of the two days, practically every building in the town was flattened, set on fire and/or looted. In all 2,483 persons – mainly women, children and the elderly were massacred in 24 hours. Thousands more fled in canoes or on foot to the forests where they hid, some up to a week with no food or shelter.

The order to invade and destroy Odi town was given by the then head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The reason given for the attack at the time was that two weeks before, 9 policemen had been kidnapped and killed in the town by a criminal gang.

Odi was not the only town in the Niger Delta where people were massacred and property destroyed during the Obasanjo years. Kaiama just a few miles from Odi was attacked January and later Oleh Town, in Delta State and Erema in Rivers State were also invaded to name a few. Then there was the terrible rape that took place in Choba, Rivers state where Nigerian army soldiers were photographed raping women. No one has ever been held to account for these past and present crimes against women and other civilians.

In the original report on the invasion of Odi the term used for those who killed the police was “criminal gang’. This has now been revised in line with the ubiquitous use of the ‘war on terror’ narrative, to ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’ by both President Obasanjo and Jonathan. Remember this was in 1999 and rather than put an end to militancy – there wasn’t any at this time, it is very likely the action gave birth to the militancy they now claim was the reason for the invasion. In response to Jonathan’s claim that the massacre of Odi people did not put an end to “terrorist’ acts Femi Fani-Kayode wrote

“The Governor [Alamieyeseigha, the then Bayelsa State governor] said that he was unable to do so and President Obasanjo, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, took the position that security personnel could not be killed with impunity under his watch without a strong and appropriate response from the Federal Government. Consequently he sent the military in, to uproot and kill the terrorists and to destroy their operational base which was the town of Odi. The operation was carried out with military precision and efficiency and it’s objectives were fully achieved. The terrorists were either killed and those that were not killed fled their operational base in Odi.” The people of Odi town have denied the charge that the men were militants and that Odi was ‘an operational base’.

I use the invasion of Odi as an example of the extent to which militarism pervades governance and all aspects of Nigerian society – cultural, social, economic and gender justice, in Nigeria. Successive Nigerian governments both military and civilian have always chosen violent responses, under the guise of protecting citizens, to silence political protests, punish ethnic and religious conflict, evict street vendors, destroy informal settlements and remove beggars from the streets.

The award winning environmental and human rights activist, Nnimmo Bassey describes the responses to the Odi massacre and destruction of property and livelihoods in the Niger Delta as a’Blanket of Silence”. The impunity with which the murder of civilians and the extra judicial execution of alleged  criminals is never questioned.  Such is the desensitization to violence. No where in the media reports or in any other statement on the invasion, does anyone question the use of collective punishment – the massacre of 2,483 people and the total destruction of a town which can only be described as a war crime.  What arrogance and shamefulness it is that an ex-President can attempt to justify the murder of 2,483 unarmed women, children and elderly men.

When I speak of violence, I am speaking of an inclusive violence. Women have been at the center of this violence and they continue to be so.   Women have always been at the center of these acts of violence which are psychological, sexual, physical, emotional and verbal, as well as  the fear of those acts.   The true nature of the gendered violence which comes from the relationship between the militarized ruling elite and multinational oil companies, is obscured by the focus on supposed militants and or criminal gangs. In June 2009 the government of the late President Yar’Adua bombed Oporoza town, Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Delta state supposedly to ‘root out’ militants. Yet not a single militant was killed and there is no real evidence that any were present. Once again women, children and elderly men were killed and driven out of the town to hide in the swamps. Many trekked for days before reaching the city.  Later some 2000 women and children were placed in a refugee camp outside Warri run by women’s rights activists from Rivers State.

In the post amnesty period, 2009 to the present much of the violence against women has come from cultist and criminal gangs empowered by the culture of violence around the protection of oil production and bunkering. At the same time women have become increasingly disempowered through the perpetual violence and the loss of their livelihoods as market traders, farmers and fishing. Many women have had to move to Port Harcourt and despite the hardship and poverty of living in the city, they remain fearful of returning to their villages.

It is now 2012, the militants have been given amnesty yet the region remains heavily militarised and it is impossible to move by water or land from village to village or town to town without facing a checkpoint. In a 2011 audit of security forces carried out by myself and Emem Okon of Kebetkachie Womens Resource Center, Port Harcourt,  we listed the following security in the region.

Nigerian security forces: The River’s State Internal Security Task Force – used against the Ogoni people. The Special Naval Task Force, regular forces of the Nigerian Army, Mobile Police and police units, and more recently the Joint Task Force [JTF].

On the militant’s side there were [are] two main militias: the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force led by Asari Dokobo and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [which has a number of splinter groups]. In addition there are various other militias some being splinter groups of the main two such as the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (CMND), South-South Liberation Movement (SSLM), Movement for the Sovereign State of the Niger Delta (MOSSEND), DE Gbam, DE Well, Niger Delta Vigilante, and Meninbutus. There has also been at various times a Joint Revolutionary Council whose aim was to bring together leaders from all the militias.

The multinationals [Shell, Chevron, Agip, Elf, Mobil] all have their own private security personnel as well as a close political, economic and general working relationship with the various Nigerian security forces. Since the 2009 amnesty many of the ex militants have been employed by oil companies as security. In addition there are criminal / cultist gangs at work in urban centers and villages especially in those where there are oil facilities; There are also ex militants, church and other institutional security forces.

The culture of militarism is thus an all pervasive one which impacts directly on the rights of women as it extends into the domestic sphere, traditional spaces and the environment through a systemic destruction of the ecological system.

* The phrase ‘Memory Hole’ is taken from an article by William Finnegan in the New Yorker.

Of course; they have a lot to hide!

When I first heard this piece of news I was shocked, then I became angry and then I turned defiant and decided that I would chart my own destiny. The piece of news is that out of the 192 member states of the United Nations, Zimbabwe has decided to declare itself so special, setting itself apart by changing the theme on the Commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence to suit its own ‘context.’

The official United Nations and global theme for this year’s commemorations is supposed to be:

“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”

The new (Indigenous) Zimbabwean theme now reads:

“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge All Forms of Gender-based Violence.”

To back-step a little bit let me start from the beginning…
Continue reading

Normalisation of violence against women

From Witness – how militarism, masculinity and the media contribute and facilitate the normalization of violence against women..

Images of masculinity and militarism pervade mass media across the world, with aggressive male behavior, sexually exploited feminine bodies, and pictures of conflict saturating visual culture. These images contribute to the normalization of violence in our everyday lives. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign seeks to highlight the links between the culture of militarism and gender-based violence through our 2011 Campaign theme, “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”
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Bleeding in progress – making public the violence of rape

Visual activist, Zanele Muholi discusses her most recent photographic installation “Isilumo Siyaluma

Haiti – Feminist Series 1, Women’s movement building and creating community in Haiti

Thousands of words have been written about Haiti in the past 12 months covering everything from the NGOisation of the country, the politics of humanitarian aid, endless questions and discussion on what  happened to the  $ millions donated by individuals and countries, the horrendous conditions in the camps where some 1.2 million IDP are forced to live and particularly for women and children hundreds of whom have been raped, trafficked to the Dominican Republic and forced into prostitution to survive.  In addition to the earthquake, Haitians have had to live through another devastating hurricane and now cholera which as of today has affected 30,000 people.  And to add to the frustration and anger, an election which by all independent accounts was fraudulent and farcical.

As I write, protests calling for the annulment of the elections are planned this afternoon.   If one is to judge from the many radio phone-ins, people are angry and concerned that the the much hated Preval will announce  his preferred candidate, Jude Celestine as the new leader despite the fact that so far the majority votes appear to be for “Micky” Matterly and Madam Manigat — but all of this can change in a moment.  For women organising in the community the elections are a distraction.  For women organising in the community the elections are a distraction as whoever is declared winner will make little difference in their lives.

One of the stories least reported has been the one about Haitians organising for themselves, particularly stories presented within a framework of feminist organising and movement building.   This is one woman’s story of how she, her family and the people in the various communities in which she works, came together collectively to care for each other’s needs and how that struggle has become the foundation of a new movement  of the poor for  change in education and the material lives of women and men — a struggle for dignity.   Their personal and collective humanitarian response was completely off the radar of NGOs, international institutions and the Haitian government.  Even Save The Children, whose office is located right next to the school did nothing to help SOPUDEP.      However ultimately this was an aside for Rea.   What was important was that those who needed help of whatever kind, received it and beyond that the struggle for dignity and self-determination for the poor people of Haiti.

A mere five minutes passed between the death of one one of the school teachers and the life given to Rea and her teenage daughter — on of three children.

“I was in the school when it happened and I cannot describe the horror around me. The school was empty and did not fall, but the neighbourhood collapsed. Five people were crushed to death just meters from me when one of the outer walls of the school grounds collapsed. My first responsibility was to my family, so I had to get home, but the streets were chaotic. People were panicking and screaming. I had to run home ten kilometers through those streets to find my family. The phones weren’t working. It was horrible. “

Once it was established Rea’s family were all safe — a house just five minutes walk from Rea’s own home collapsed — she set about caring for the many in her community and where ever she was needed.   Everyone was in shock but there was no time to think about what had happened as people were injured.   Many people — students, families knowing about her community work, flocked to Rea’s home and at one point there were some 60 people in her home.  People feared to sleep indoors so they removed all the mattresses, blankets, pillows, whatever they could find and spread them outside.  It was January and freezing cold during the night but anything was preferable to being inside.  Rea said it took her months before she stopped waking up with nightmares of being crushed.  Even now one wakes up and gives thanks that you made it through the night.  I too find myself staring at the ceiling every night and wondering which part would collapse first and how I would get out.

The first day after the quake, Rea went to the shop were she usually bought the school supplies and asked if they would give her credit as she needed to buy food. They told her to take whatever she needed and not to worry.  As much food as possible was collected and everyone in the house, the children, students, guests neighbours, set about making food packs. They worked all night making the packs which they then distributed to anyone on the streets during the day.  As donations from friends of SOPUDEP and organisations such as the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF), theHaiti Action Committee, Sawatzky Family Foundation (SFF) began to arrive, Rea was able to buy more food and medical supplies and continue the distribution.

Food which was only being given to women and mostly bags of rice were available for those prepared to queue for up to 4 hours.   Rea said she did not have the time to queue for 25lbs of rice and preferred to go and buy it with whatever money she had to hand.   Besides, fights often broke out with people tired and hungry and everyone trying to push their way forward.  The military would then beat the women and children.    In total food and water were distributed to 31 centers by Rea’s team.

In addition to financial donations, SOPUDEP received a lot of medical supplies which were taken to the various mobile clinics which had been set up in camps and other locations.    Though the number of recipients decreased over time, the food collection and distribution last for three months.   At a point in time Rea realised this dependency created out of a crisis could not continue.   They would forever be in a state of oppression and remain in the clutches of NGOs, beggars in their own land.

No one ever knew when money would arrive which meant any kind of systematic planning was impossible. It was like waiting for the tooth fairy to arrive and besides what humanitarian aid was being distributed was not reaching Rea’s community.  It was all too ad hoc to be sustainable.
The next money she received was a sum of $3000 and she began to think of another way.  Instead of buying  food but she would deposit the money in the bank and start a small micro-credit-saving programme. It took courage and was a huge risk because people were hungry but determined to create some degree of sustainability and stability, in a moment she made up her mind.     A meeting was called and the idea  put to the 21 women with whom she had been working over the past months and though there were doubts  they trusted Rea.

The Micro-Credit scheme “Fanm SOPUDEP AN AKSYON” [SOPUDEP Women in Action] begun with $3000 and 21 women.
I was surprised when I heard Rea had started a Micro-Credit scheme as there were so many negative reports on schemes which rather than enhance and empower women, ended up impoverishing them even more.   So I was interested to find out more about the SOPUDEP scheme, whether it was working and why it worked and I will write about this later after meeting with the various women’s group.

Rea’s philosophy is that each individual has to take responsibility for themselves and the notion of something for free is neither healthy nor sustainable.   Both the school and the women’s project are framed within the idea of personal and collective responsibility.   Education in Haiti must be available for all and everyone encouraged to attend and no one is turned away from SOPUDEP because they cannot pay.   However everyone is asked to try to contribute something when they can, even if it is 5 gouds or helping in the school somehow [$1=40Gds appx].    The school operates two sessions — the main one in the morning and an afternoon session for those who have never attended schools both older children and adults.

The elections are a distraction.    Leaders have the power to bring change but no one believes any leader will do anything for the poor.  Everyone I asked about Aristide wanted him back because they believed he was one leader who could change their lives for the better.  Right now the only way is for communities to reach out to each other and create alliances which is what SOPUDEP is beginning to do.  Rea’s vision is one I share.  We cannot fix Haiti, but we can fix our community and help others fix theirs.  Eventually as all these communities build alliances amongst themselves, they will become strong and then maybe begin to fix Haiti.

Since the earthquake there has been an increase in the awareness that communities have to help each other and work together.  People are not only more determined to improve their lives and that of their community, they truly believe it is possible.  Two more schools for the poor have come under the umbrella of SOPUDEP.   One in Bobin with 250 students, children and adults and one in  Boucan Lapli with about 60 children.   The main school which started in 2002 with 182 children from Petion-Ville presently has 486 students.

I have spent two days at the school with the freedom to roam.  I came across a class whose teacher was absent and I ended up teaching English for 45 minutes followed by the students giving me a lesson in Kreyol.   Now I have been asked by them  to teach the same class for the next couple of weeks till they break up for holidays.  The school is truly like  family. Since the Micro-credit scheme, parents and school staff have all been encouraged to open savings account.   The children are continuously greeting and kissing Madam Rea. Her office which she shares with the accountant / office manager, Billy Bataille, is a constant hive of activity with women coming to deposit their repayments, students wanting things fixed or asking advice from Madam Rea or Billy.  Outside the office, women clean beans and rice in preparation for tomorrow’s food — the door is always open. Yesterday Rea opened a suitcase of books she had bought with donations from a partner school in the US.  She now has some 15,000 books [mostly in French so more Kreyol and English books are needed] which have to be indexed and will form the school library.   A volunteer teacher from the US has promised to take on the task.

SOPUDEP nevertheless faces many challenges.   The building survived the earthquake but remains in disrepair.  All the external walls of the compound collapsed along with most of the surrounding buildings with the exception of the Save The Children building.  The building housing the school dates back to the Duvalier days and was always structurally superior to others in the neighbourhood.   All the classrooms are open to the elements as there are no windows.  There is no water and since the earthquake, no electricity.   Recently a group of NGOs met to discuss how to  control the spread of cholera within the country’s 22,000 schools.  The idea is to hold training sessions for district heads and some school directors on precautions to take.  Many schools are already doing this but a more coordinated effort would improve the situation.  However as Rea pointed out, we can do all we can in the schools but what happens when the children return to their homes where they are reliant on standpipes and no sanitary facilities?  The majority of people are unemployed yet there is masses of rubbish and rubble to clear — the solution seems quite simple really.

Through donations, SOPUDEP has purchased a piece of land in Delmas 83 and have so far managed to build the fencing wall. It will take six months to build but all that depends on how quick they can raise the money needed to complete the project.  I find it sad that an organisation like SOPUDEP which is real and which has a history has to rely on small donations from international friends and parents to survive.  If they are not deserving of more sustained support then I wonder who is.

“I am just doing my job” – eating the female body

Zanele Muholi’s installation on the objectification and commodification of the female body – “I’m Just Doing My Job” at the Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town. The installation uses raw meat parts in mimicking the women in Japan whose bodies are used to serve sushi for the pleasures of men and some women.

As well as used computers being dumped on the continent, used panties and other underwear are shipped out to Africa where they are bought by poor women. We’ve all seen them on the street, Haiti too is full of used underwear, shoes and other artifacts of western over consumption. Here Zanele searches and climbs the mountain of panties to cover her naked body. The struggle is like climbing a mountain and searching for the right moments, ideas and strategies to get to the top – to bring down the mountain of hate and oppression that destroys the lives of lesbians like Ncumisa Mzamelo

Lesbian activist, Ncumisa Mzamelo found murdered

Three weeks after Ncumisa Mzamelo was found dead her story was published on page 16 of the South African newspaper, The Star. This is a story of a brutal murder of a Black lesbian from Bhambayi in KwaZula Natal, whose remains were found in a deserted toilet. Ncumisa was a 21 year old activist who worked on an HIV/AIDS project, Project Empower. A police case has been opened but her friends are determined that she not only gets justice but the crime is tried as a hate crime.

Ncumisa, murder needs to be seen in the context of the two recent decisions by human rights instittuions. First the African Commission for People and Human Rights which refused observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] and secondly the decision by the UN General Assembly Human Rights Committee who voted to delete specific reference to killings due to sexual orientation from a resolution condemning unjustified executions. The two decisions not only directly prevent justice for LGBTI people like Ncumisa but create an environment where such violent hate crimes can take place with impunity.

The Beads Around Her Head

THE BEADS AROUND HER HEAD by Donald Molosi

what more could it have been
(rooted in role-play and obligation as it was)
but a sad longing undefined?
what good could it have done to have called it “idiotic” if institution eschews freedom,
and culture refuses to accuse tradition of demonizing spinsterhood?

that’s right -

once upon a time fond tears spilled out of her face. and she would
dangerously slip on them past the reality of her own strength and sanctity.
but to reality she now returns to march and question, seize her wasted armor
and realize that marriage implies a joy your bastille painfully lacked.
like a woman savagely vanquished or a shaman infatuated with prophecy,
she has already begun to speak answers to questions she never asked the God in her.
she has started to collect her tainted fragments so that she may reincarnate herself at the next sunrise.
she has already re-learnt how to smile, and soothe the beads around her head, for peace.

that’s right -

she is going to go out tonight, and feel nice tonight, and stay out all night like it’s 1992.
and because she is with me, the looming clouds of yesterday will part before her, dust will make way for
clarity and Love herself will fiercely hold us in her womb.
you may curse and disgrace her in the most colorful Tswana or the most abrasive English, but
she kisses me like this
because i simply love her;
because unlike you, i will never
splatter her worth against the walls of her loving heart -
a shivery heart now aimlessly loving, but still loving for new beginnings’ sake.

Donald Molosi © November 2010

Remembering Busi

Today is Busi’s birthday, she would have been 29 but she died on the 12th March 2007.

Busi was 25, a survivor or rape, HIV+ with diabetes and other complications. This photo was taken by me on the 18th February 2007 – one of those happy days of just hanging out with friends – I love this photo cause she looks so happy and so strong!

Busi_looking_cool.jpg

This is the last text I received from Busi wishing me safe travels to Durban. I am happy I kept it.

“8 things God does in Ps107. He Redeems. He Gathers. He Delivers. He Leads. He Satisfies. He Saves. He Heals. He Blesses. May he continue 2 shower u wit his glorious love ! Hope u having a gudday & have a safe one 2 Durban. Love”

She died. Dear Busi – she was also happy because she was having a story published, she had so much to live for despite her illness and pain.

Busi’s story