Archive for April, 2012
As I was casually browsing the many booths with information and goods from the various women’s organisations at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Conference in Istanbul, Turkey last week, I spotted some T-shirts that grabbed my attention. Although I had already walked past the booth, the message on the T-shirts made me do an about face. Just as I was turning around, a voice from the booth said, “Stella?” The thought struck me as to how unusual it was to hear my name being spoken in Istanbul by someone besides my Guyanese colleague. It was a Sister from Jamaica who is also a Facebook friend and, as it turned out, the person who created the T-shirts that grabbed my attention.
The message on the shirts stopped me because it was obvious it could only have come from a Caribbean Sister. The shirts read, “The Revolution Should Be Feminised!” After chatting with my Jamaican Sister, I bought a T-shirt to hang in the S4 Foundation office as a reminder that any revolution that does not include women is not a valid revolution.
On the topic of revolutions, today in the US there will be marches in many cities around that nation by women (and men who care about women) who are fighting back against the injustices meted out to them. They are taking a stand. They are making their voices heard as their very own government representatives try to take away their reproductive rights. It is sickening to me how something as priceless as a “right” or justice can be used as political tools, as if men should be able to give and take these precious commodities whenever it strikes their fancy.
In America, the women are now struggling for their right to choose when they reproduce. I’m not talking about abortion alone; I am also talking about access to birth control. The desire for men to control women’s bodies seems insatiable. This struggle in the US will have global consequences and the American women cannot fail. They must persevere and win this war.
In the past year in the US there have been a record number of laws passed to infringe on women’s reproductive rights. This is going backwards, but it is true. Decades ago, Margaret Sanger said, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”
In other words, by taking away a woman’s right to choose when she procreates, you are taking away her freedom as well. And to what end? To sate the egos of men who cannot handle the likes of a woman who thinks and makes decisions for herself? Or to hold all women to the most extreme versions of religious theology, even if they do not practice that religion themselves?
It is no wonder more and more women are walking away from religion. There is currently a global revival of extremism in most of the world’s religions and that intemperance is accomplishing one of two things: it is either shackling women even further or chasing them away. Both consequences are not good for religion–or for women.
Today is also the start of a sex strike in the US in response to the trouncing of women’s reproductive rights. A sex strike is a method of non-violent resistance in which one or multiple persons refrain from sex with their partner(s) to achieve certain goals. It is a form of temporary sexual abstinence. The sex strike runs through May 5 with the thought that if women’s reproductive rights are denied, so will men’s.
In Guyana, women won a shallow victory when Henry Greene, the former Police Commissioner accused of rape, retired from his post. The good news is that he is finally and permanently out of that important position. But that is the only good news.
The bad news is that Greene was allowed by the government to subvert the justice system and retain his pension and benefits (paid by taxpayers). This is no real victory for Guyana’s women. In fact, it is the complete opposite of a victory.
Indeed, any revolution that does not include women is not a valid revolution. The opposition and the government can go head-to-head in dramatic fashion all they want, but if they neglect the women and their children in the process, their efforts are counterproductive to the overall health of the nation. The revolution should be feminised!
Picture this: the world’s brightest women on economics coming together with thousands of women’s rights advocates from around the world to address the global economic situation as it applies to the female half of the world’s population. What a dream!
This dream is reality for me this weekend in Istanbul, Turkey as I attend the Association for Women’s Rights and Development’s (AWID) 12th forum entitled, “Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice.”
AWID is an international feminist membership organisation that works to strengthen the voice, impact and influence ofwomen’s rights advocates, organisations and movements internationally to effectively advance the rights of women.
I came to this forum to get a better sense of the global scope of the women’s rights movement. With 2,200 women’s rights advocates from over 100 nations, I am getting that and so much more. It is beyond my ability to describe the feeling of seeing a sea of Sisters from around the world greet and encourage each other.
Although I love to travel, this is the first time I have ventured to a country where I cannot speak even one word of the native language, which in this case is Turkish. It has been only a slight inconvenience. I am here with another human rights advocate from Guyana to learn as much as we can to take back to our work in Guyana.
This is my first time attending an event of this size on an international level. We have met Sisters from India, the Congo, Australia, Greece, Turkistan, Sudan, Mexico, and Guatemala; in fact, we have met so many Sisters from so many countries that I can not even remember them all to make a proper list.
You would think that with the convergence of so many cultures into one conference centre there would be an element of fragmented suspicion at least, and, at worst, open hostility over bitter international relations. That is absolutely not the case. On the contrary, we greet each other with a hug and a kiss. There is genuine affection and concern for each other and marked interest in the work each Sister does in her respective country.
This conference has inspired me to believe that a global Sisterhood is not only a possibility, but to understand that it already exists. One of the primary reasons I came to Istanbul was to learn more about how global and local economics impact women. I can easily grasp social and political aspects as they apply to women, but understanding economics has always been a problem for me, even in general, much less on a more specific basis concerning women.
Yet I am not one to be daunted by a subject I do not understand. The answer to everything we want to learn rests in study and research. I came to Turkey with the clear intention of leaving with a better understanding of how economic issues apply to women.
Imagine my extreme pleasure to realise there are so many brilliant women who not only comprehend the economic situation in their own countries, but also have in-depth knowledge about economics on a broader, worldwide scale. It was also a pleasure to realise that these women want to teach the rest of us what they know so we can use this information to improve the lives of other women.
In fact, as my colleague and I left a particular interactive session on Thursday a bit confused and befuddled about some of the views expressed on micro-financing, we happened across the path of a brilliant woman who was a speaker at the first general session. She took the time to listen to our queries and explain the other views we had encountered, which in turn helped us to see possible pitfalls that should be avoided.
To be sure, women are often left out of economic decisions. The world’s dominant economic systems were built by the patriarchy, giving little thought to the significant roles women play in the financial well-being of the world. For example, the unpaid labour produced by women (i.e., childcare and housekeeping, cooking) can be seen as subsidies to the capitalist system practiced in many countries around the world. Without such subsidies, capitalism would fall.
In fact, according to UN gender reports, women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of its food, earn just 10% of its income and own only 1% of its property. I have one word for these statistics: FAIL.
In fact, it was not too long ago when women themselves were seen as property (and still are in some countries). Why on earth would a man’s property need to own property, right? Again, FAIL.
As it becomes clearer that the present economic systems are not fair to the world’s overall population and the 99% begin to demand a change in financial distribution, it is women who continue to suffer most.
In Istanbul this weekend, these Sisters gathered from all over the world know that as we continue to struggle for gender equality in our social, political and religious environs, we must also battle for equality in economic policies and development.