Julia Gillard & Feminist Freedom Fighters

  • Monday, October 29, 2012

    Socialist Alliance activist and feminist Liah Lazarou gave the speech below to Adelaide’s Reclaim the Night rally on October 26.

    * * *

    I’d like to say a big thank you to the Reclaim the Night Collective for organising this important event and everybody who is here tonight to reclaim the streets and to fight against the violence and sexism women face on a daily basis. Tonight is our night, to unite as women and to bring attention to the struggles of our sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, grandmothers and the structural oppression that is so embedded in our everyday lives.

    Tonight has come in a really interesting time. It has come when the recent political landscape has been suddenly concerned with the language of feminism, no more evident than when Julia Gillard proclaimed Tony Abbott a misogynist, something I’m sure many of us were delighted to finally see and hear and a message that spoke to many of us – Tony Abbott the misogynist called out in parliament for what he really is.

    But what was hardly reported was that on the same day the Senate passed through a new law cutting single parent payments by between $56 and $150 a week, which will mostly affect women, women from the already marginalised sections of our society and putting them more at risk of violence. As a single mother myself, I was outraged at this blatant contradiction because further entrenching poverty is violence against women.

    So when we rejoice at Julia Gillard’s speech against sexism, let us take it for what is really is. Fighting against sexism is not about making one speech in parliament and in the same day attacking some of the most vulnerable women in our society.

    The reason Julia Gillard was able to make that speech was because of the feminist movements of the past. It was because of the feminist freedom fighters who came before us and who struggled and fought for women’s liberation.

    Women have been saying for a long, long time that discrimination against women and sexism does not just exist in a bubble: we are subject to oppressive gender norms at all levels of society and it is completely institutionalised in the home, the workforce, the media, the judiciary, religious and educational institutions and of course in parliament.

    Today women still only earn 82% of a males wage, the majority of unpaid work is done by women,
    most sexual violence is perpetrated by men against women, 1 in 3 women will experience intimate partner violence in her life time, violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness of women aged 15 to 44 years in Victoria, the police don’t take women’s claims of violence and harassment seriously and that most rape cases that go to court don’t end up with a conviction.

    On the back of the horrific Jill Meagher crime and the recent murder of a young South Australian woman by her partner, we have seen rising concerns around rape and male violence reigniting public concern around women’s safety.

    But more CCTV cameras will not stop violence against women. Male violence begins in the home, in the institution of the family. The cornerstone of class society which treats women like property, allowing them to be owned, used and exploited. This is where our first conceptions of sexism are learned and this is reinforced by the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls and by our sexist corporate media.

    For decades we have been sold the myth that feminism is no longer relevant. That we have gained equality. We know this to be false. We know that this is false and that it works to stifle our voices and our ability to be organised and fight back.

    A new study on violence against women, conducted over four decades in 70 countries, reveals the mobilisation of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. So the onus is on us. It is up to us to keep coming out on the streets and to create a strong feminist movement.

    Feminism is not just about calling out sexism. We need a feminism which makes real demands. We need to create a feminist movement that aspires for real change, which challenges the exploitation and oppression of women and of all people by the wealthy minority and the system which profits from our suffering. Solutions will come from women coming together, educating and organising towards this end for there is nothing more empowering than the act of solidarity and women involved in collective action together. Unity is strength. Until we have created a world where we are not attacked, abused and discriminated against because of our gender, where gender is irrelevant and we are recognised with respect as human beings, our struggle continues.

    Until there is no wage gap, until we have complete control over our bodies, until the police and the judicial system takes domestic violence and sexual assault seriously, until there are adequate facilities for all women in need, until there are compulsory education programs against violence, until we create a culture where men are taught to respect women, until we do not invade other countries and kill our sisters, until no refugee is locked in detention centres, until our indigenous sisters have their culture respected and true land rights, until we have a safe climate future and our global sisters are no longer the victims of the big polluters who are destroying the earth and its ecosystems and until there is no more violence in the street and in the home…

    Until then our struggle continues. But I believe that if we fight, we can win!

Women Unite, Defeat the Right!

In his 2008 article “Facism Anyone?”, Laurence W. Britt enumerated the key elements of facism under well-known historical regimes such as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia.  Number 5 on Britt’s list: 

Rampant sexism.  Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses. 

Stephen Harper began his CON regime by cutting funding to the Ministry of the Status of Women and to countless women’s groups across the country, including the highly successful Court Challenges Programme which LEAF had used effectively to challenge government actions and legislation that it believed breached the Charter rights of women.  Of course, Harper also gave us the charming Helena Guergis to perform as his talking doll in the Ministry, though she has proven less than charming

But let’s have a look at more recent HarperCON activities that fit into the “blatant sexism” category. 

Let’s begin with the federal budget for 2010.  Most commentators said it was the “do nothing” budget but of course, all budgets do something, even if by neglect.  Professor Kathleen Lahey from Queen’s University Law School did the math.  Here’s her over-all assessment: 

The big picture: Women are half the population in Canada and nearly half the official labour force – but still do 62% of all unpaid work, and receive only 40% of after-tax incomes. 

This Budget: The government claims that it is providing one last $19 billion ‘stimulus’ package this year, shorn of new tax cuts or spending items. This is highly misleading. New corporate tax cuts and continued huge PIT and GST cuts bring the total to $41.9 billion for 2010/11. 

Gender gaps: This $41.9 billion is being delivered in forms that will benefit far more in Budget 2010: men than women, widen gender gaps even further, and continue to drive up poverty rates among women and single parents. 

Of course, women were unattended to in the “Stimulus Budget” as well: 

 Budget 2009 not only fails to target the most vulnerable, but it seems to have been carefully crafted to exclude women from as much of the $64 billion in new deficit-financed spending and tax cuts as possible … [see how

Then there’s the issue of child care.  HarperCON carefully eliminated the 5 billion dollar daycare agreement that the Paul Martin government had reached with the provinces before it lost the 2006  election and replaced it with a $100 per month per child benefit that Jim Flaherty said was meant to emphasize “choice” for families with daycare aged children – in terms of social policy conservatives have always insisted that individuals be responsible for the full costs of reproduction and the tiny benefit they extended did little to ameliorate those costs for working families or single parent families, most of which are headed by women.  In his most recent budget Flaherty added $100 per month per child under the age of six.  I don’t think there’s anybody who believes that will be truly helpful. 

In addition, the money Flaherty is extending is counted as taxable income in the hands of lower income parents so its true value is actually less than its face value: 

Because the child care allowance will increase their income, families will pay more federal and provincial/territorial income taxes, while at the same time receiving less from geared-to-income benefits such as the federal Canada Child Tax Benefit and GST credit as well as provincial/territorial child benefits and tax credits. Thus the true value of the child care scheme will be considerably less than its $1,200 a year face value – significantly less in the case of many working poor and modest-income families, who will get a smaller after-tax benefit than middle- and upper-income families. One-earner families with a parent who stays home will do better than lone-parent and two-earner families. But even for one-earner couples with children, those who earn the most would get to keep more of the proposed benefit.  [here]   

The women of Canada thank you for that cool “choice” Jim.  Helena Guergis seems to have another solution, though she won’t give details: 

Then why did status of women minister Helena Guergis tell Canadian delegates at the 54th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women this month that Israel has such “strong family values there that they don’t need a national daycare plan! Wouldn’t it be great to figure out how they’re doing that?” 

On Monday, at the most heavily covered Status of Women Committee meeting ever, Liberal status of women critic Anita Neville tried to pin the beleaguered Guergis down on what she meant by “family values.”  [more

Onward then.  Over the course of the prorogation HarperCON’s mouthpiece, Bev Oda (he sure knows how to get women to work for him) announced that her government would work to promote maternal health by targetting foreign aid for this purpose.  What could be wrong with that?  Well, in the first place, Flaherty’s budget will freeze foreign aid next year and that just can’t help.  On top of that, both Oda and Lawrence Cannon have now made it clear that “maternal health care” does NOT include contraception and access to safe abortionCannon says the government’s initiative on maternal health care is mean to save lives, not provide birth control. 

These are actually contradictory policies.  The best way to reduce the abortion rate is to provide sex education and contraception.  That much seems obvious.  Perhaps less obvious (to men) is the fact that when women get pregnant and don’t want to continue their pregnancies, they have always and always will find ways to terminate them.  Unfortunately, in countries where abortion isn’t legal or accessible, this leads to unsafe abortions and the deaths of approximately 68,000 women worldwide, per year.  When mothers die their children have an increased risk of dying within a few years.  The government has also failed to extend funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation through CIDA.  So the question for HarperCON is, do pregnant women have a right to live?  Just to cite an obvious recent example, what about the women of Haiti

A lack of education, limited access to reproductive health care, and the rape and violence that Haitian women face have led to a country with a staggeringly poor set of vital statistics. These include a high maternal and infant mortality rate and a high illiteracy rate, with only half the population able to read and write. Because of the high birth rate and abject poverty, hundreds of thousands of children are given up to over-burdened orphanages. Before the quake, an estimated 380,000 children had been placed in just 167 orphanages and care centers; that number of orphans, observers say, may have doubled as a result of the quake and could now be as many as one million! 

HarperCON isn’t offering real help to boost maternal health in its foreign aid policy.  What about the health of Canadian women and infants?  Well, unsurprisingly, the money isn’t forthcoming here either.  The Canada Prenatal Nutrition Programme, for instance, has been effective in helping women who suffer from extremes of poverty, isolation, abuse  and addiction to improve outcomes for their newborns.  But the Programme hasn’t had a funding boost since 1999.  As Dean Beeby reports, 

After a decade of inflation, that represents an effective cut of $4 million, without accounting for population growth. And spending in 2008-09 was down by $200,000 from the previous year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which runs the program. 

Add to that the fact that neither the government nor the media has had anything to say about a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that fetal and infant mortality rates are 2.7% higher among Inuit women than elsewhere in the country and you should get some sense of the depth of HarperCON’s commitment to the health of mothers and their infants in this country. 

Another way of helping women in developing countries to stay alive would be an effective strategy for combatting violence against women.  HarperCON seems aware that they should have such a commitment, they just don’t take it seriously.  Through CIDA, Canada has invested $15 million dollars into a campaign against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: 

An internal Canadian government report obtained by The Globe and Mail concluded that Canada was spending too much money on T-shirts, vests, caps, cardboard folders and gaudy posters while failing to make progress on the bigger issues of prevention and justice. Ms. Bihamba chuckled grimly as she described the foreign- aid projects. The simple problem with the campaign, she said, is that most perpetrators of sexual violence are illiterate – they can’t read the printed messages. 

This despite the fact that gender violence blocks progress in every major development target. 

… violence–from rape during armed conflicts to domestic violence–is a leading cause of death and disability among women of all ages, and costs nations billions of dollars as it drains public resources and lowers economic productivity. 

In his own country, PM Harper indicated in the Speech from the Throne that his government intends to support a Private Member’s Bill to abolish the long-gun registry – one small measure that has actually had some impact in preventing and intervening in domestic violence against women.  And there’s little doubt that he will re-introduce the crime legislation that includes increased and extended mandatory minimum jail sentences for certain crimes including small-time drug offences.  That will mean more Aboriginal and African Canadian women in jail for longer periods of time (men too) and discrimination against other vulnerable groups as well.  [link to Facebook Note] 

The women of Canada have no reason to be grateful to HarperCON and every reason to protest its actions while it remains the government of this country.  Even more reason to be active and stay active in every movement they can find that wants to oust the creep and his coterie in the next election – according to some pundits, not far off. 

Women Unite, Defeat the Right

Women in Pants Riding Bicycles

The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. ~ Susan B. Anthony, 1896
It’s been 100 years since the idea of setting aside a day for the celebration of the world’s women and demanding their equality was first proposed.

In 1869 British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women’s right to vote. On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

The very first International Women’s Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on 19 March (not 8 March). The date was chosen because on 19 March in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.  [here]

So even then it was about promises broken and the work of (mostly) women to force equitable, if not revolutionary, change.  If women today wonder why Susan B. Anthony would point to the bicycle as a liberator of women, we need only think back to the extreme limitations on women’s mobility that she had seen go by the wayside in her lifetime.  The bicycle and its female riders once evoked extreme anxiety in folk worried about women’s sexual innocence and purity.  Seems like the sight of women astride a bike with those saddles between their legs could only mean one thing to some peope – women feelin’ happy,  Oh my pearls!

The problem was exacerbated if women leaned forward, rode fast or did not maintain an upright posture when riding.  Special ‘hygienic’ saddles with no inner core that could rub against a woman’s ‘delicate parts’ were offered by manufacturers to circumnavigate this problem.  [here]

Even so, women achieved their right to ride bikes partly as a result of their willingness to ride sitting bolt upright.

The growing numbers of middle class women riding bikes in awkward, long flowing skirts eventually resulted in a revolution in clothing.  In Britain, dress reform was advocated and, to some extent, won – by the mid 1890s women were wearing bicycle trousers and culottes.  When your clothes get out of the way, many things are possible beyond bike riding.

Riding a bike and wearing pants can make a difference.  I wonder what difference changing the words of Canada’s national anthem might have made.  It was a strange, HarperCON kind of offer from Canada’s government and not one they took seriously themselves – apparently Harper cabinet ministers had not been consulted and they made short work of clearing up any possible confusion: no way were they supporting it.  Peter MacKay and Tony Clement said so publicly and Jim Flaherty, asked about the change in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on the budget, could not possibly have been less enthused.  When you make a proposal like this you have to explain, justify and sell it.  Instead, the CONs sold it out. 

Did the howls of outrage from “redneck” members of the CON base scuttle the deal?

“My guess is that while Stephen was out swanning around Vancouver for the Olympics and a lot of women were doing great there and winning a lot of medals and probably some feminist got to him and said, ‘We ought to revise the national anthem,”‘ Flanagan said in an interview.

“He’s always looking for things that can reach out to other constituencies without alienating the Conservative base. So I’m not surprised that he might have seen it in that light, say(ing), ‘Well, here’s something we can do to show that we’re open toward women, particularly women who vote.’

“And maybe he didn’t think through or forsee the reaction that would draw from rednecks like me.” 

Flanagan applauded the about-face. He said national symbols, like the anthem and flag, should “arouse a sense of awe and mystery” and that stems from the fact that they are enduring symbols for the ages.  [here]

Of course it would be “sons” and other “enduring” things that arouse that “awe and mystery” – daughters apparently don’t have the same symbolic power.  It can’t be the issue of change itself that provoked the outcry because the words to the anthem have changed several times and can hardly be called lasting – it’s only a 30 year-long tradition in its present form.  I think the CONs are averse to anything that even sounds politically correct and I think they’re averse to women in pants on bicycles too.

The CONs weren’t the ones who concerned me this time ’round.  I heard more than enough howls of protest in a place that’s been a bit of a safe haunt for me since late December – Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP).  There were regular knee-jerk comments about the change being merely symbolic (merely?) and a trivial issue and an attempt to win women’s votes by fooling us into thinking the CON’s care.  Women, of course, could not be relied upon to notice that HarperCON really doesn’t give a crappie about women’s equality – even though many of the women CAPPers are also members of an anti-Harper group called “Proud to Be a Member of That Left-Wing Fringe Group Women” and have been working equally hard and for longer than members of CAPP to point out the effects of Harper’s fiscal and social conservatism on women, minority groups, Aboriginal people, children, the disAbled, members of LGBTTQI communities, poor people and just generally groups whose rights are guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  We were not about to be bought off by an offer of a bright and shiny thing but it appeared to me that teh menz – and too many womenz – thought our heads could be turned by the promise of  a pretty geegaw.  How’s that for respect? 

There isn’t a woman/feminist I know who had it in her mind that the next issue we would tackle ought to be making our national anthem “gender neutral”.  It’s not that some of us haven’t thought about it from time to time and certainly after having our ears assaulted by the tune for two weeks while the Olympics ran on.  But as others have pointed out (repeatedly and ad nauseum) I don’t think it occurred to any of us that it was either that important an issue or a winnable proposition.  Still, when something is offered that is only right and good, why should we not have accepted?

Symbols are important.  The national anthem is supposed to include all Canadians and it specifically excludes women by mentioning “sons”.  Language is important and gender inclusive language is important.  Solidarity is important too and after being called a feminazi by a man of supposed liberal leanings, I’ve lost a bit of my new-found trust in the importance of “women’s issues” for some of my bro-friends.

But hey, it’s true.  I’d rather have a bicycle and a pair of pants than one of Stephen Harpers flying sparkle ponies.  So shut up!

Ya Can’t Find Equality from the Kitchen

Family structure in the United States magnifies class-based inequality and undermines the human capital of the next generation. Yet, the ideas that helped secure a Nobel Prize in economics for Chicago economist Gary Becker still provide the starting point for every discussion of the economics of the family, and if followed, would produce an economy that looks like Yemen’s.Becker won the Nobel Prize at least in part because of his identification of marriage with specialization and trade: men “specialize” in the market and women in the home. His critical prediction: with the wholesale movement of women into the labor market, the gains from marriage would decline and family instability would rise. Yet, it is the blue states — and the families who combine dual careers with egalitarian relationships — that show the biggest drop in divorce rates and brightest spots in in a failing economy.

Yeah baby!  More from June Carbone

And then there’s Feminomics at New Deal 2.0

Not Just Indifference to Reproductive Justice

I’ve often heard it said that the power of the Roman Catholic Church in countries like Canada and the US is waning.  The bishops hardly seemed powerless in crafting Nancy Pelosi’s health care reform bill in the US House of Representatives.  But the places where it’s clear that the Church’s power is actually on the rise and will continue to grow are developing countries.  The Church’s position on reproductive justice is having a profound impact on the quality of many women’s lives in those countries.  And has a negative impact on climate change activism among “faith groups”:

The Catholic Church has studied and worked on issues of protecting the poor from climate change disaster for at least the last ten years. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is one of four members of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), which also includes the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the National Council of Churches of Christ and the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN). The NRPE is part of a broader non-religious coalition, the Alliance for Climate Protection, whose board chairman is Al Gore, and which includes progressive groups such as 350.org, the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, Green for All and the U.S. Climate Action Network.

“Never has there been such conviction and commitment across the entire denominational and ideological spectrum as there is on this issue, and not least because of its impact on those who are most vulnerable to climate change but are the least responsible for it,” says Paul Gorman, executive director of NRPE.

But in some of those same vulnerable nations where Catholic Relief Services is often found caring for indigent communities, there are many unplanned or unwanted pregnancies—due to rape, lack of sexual and reproductive education, forbidden or faulty abortion procedures, or poor access to contraception. Most in the climate change struggle are not advocating for population control, but many agree that a reduction in unwanted pregnancies in destitute nations would help them better adapt to climate change problems. As RD contributing editor Michelle Goldberg wrote in a recent Daily Beast column, “Climate change isn’t a reason to force unwanted interventions on women. It’s a reason to mobilize an often-indifferent world to give women what they need.”

In a conversation with Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change (CCCC), which is affiliated with the Catholic Church, he championed the “rights of women.” Misleh maintained there “has to be empowerment of women and proper education… because those are the prime causes of poverty.” But he added that empowerment would not include women’s rights to access contraception and abortion.

More from Brentin Mock

And see Karen Hardee on climate change and reproductive health

License to Blog?

I’ve been running in to blogs written by men from the “Men’s Rights Movement”.  I don’t know how it happened, where the first link came from.  But once one popped up others followed.  Too many others.

Some people say “Ignore this nonsense.”  Wish I could.  I notice that many if not most of these blogs have lots more people commenting than I do.  That is if they’re not generating comments themselves.  The point is, some of the attitudes displayed on these blogs are more common than I’d wish.  Some of these attitudes find their way into public policy and even legislation.  For instance, child custody and divorce legislation.  [for instance, this pdf]

So, we’d better pay attention.  For instance, here’s “MarkyMark” on domestic violence or “DV” as he calls it:

DV basically is anything Wifey doesn’t like, guys! Did you deny her money for that fancy, new SUV she wants, even though you can’t afford it? Guess what, you’re guilty of withholding funds! Did you prevent her from leaving with the car keys while under the influence? Guess what, you’re guilty of DV! Being a man and putting your foot down = DV these days guys. IOW, putting a stop to Wifey’s excessive spending can land you in jail.

Needless to say this is a stunning display of ignorance.  And misogyny.  Feminists have put “economic abuse” on a continuum of spousal control that often leads to or is part of actual violence.  No one that I know has ever said that it is violence in itself and it sure isn’t a criminal offense.  Scoffing a woman’s car keys isn’t an offense either though I’m sure we can all imagine circumstances in which it would be controlling and abusive.   

What’s interesting about all this?  Men constructing themselves as victims of powerful women who have usurped male privilege and legislators and the law itself.  Haha.  Ha.  Choke.  Matriarchy has broken out!  What planet am I on then?

Notice though that the all-powerful woman is referred to in a way that diminishes her.  Wifey.  Wow.  Sounds like a ballbuster.  It doesn’t seem to take much to intimidate poor Marky.

BTW his blog is called MarkyMark’s Thoughts on Various Things.  I think it’s going to be a long time before Marky has any actual thoughts.  Contradict yourself much?

Emily’s Hat

emily-hat

From Annie Finch at harriet:

I propose that what those of us who think about poetry will find most deeply startling about this piece of photoshopping, inspired by the “Aretha’s hat” post-inauguration website, is neither its humor (everyone knows Dickinson had a great sense of humor), nor the chronological workout it puts us through, nor even the implications about Dickinson’s political views. What is most profoundly startling, most unprecedented, is that the photo situates Dickinson blatantly in relation to another woman’s ideas. And this is not how we normally think of Dickinson.

Dickinson, after all, famously claimed that “she never had a mother.” This remark, with its combination of defiance and wistfulness, surely applies to the literary and intellectual as well as to the familial realm. Dickinson passionately admired Barrett Browning and hung her picture on her wall—but this fact is not part of the Dickinson myth, nor does it affect the way in which her poems are usually read. To think of the Emily of this portrait as not only digging on Aretha, but publicly sporting her affiliation with the older woman, does violence to the usual idea of Dickinson as the perpetual daughter, the rootless wonder, the eternal anomaly, sprung Athena-like from the brow of patriarchal culture.

I have written elsewhere online and in print about Dickinson’s relation to the long-forgotten “poetesses” who were the literary source of much that seems to us odd and singular about her. As Dickinson’s letters attest, these are the poets that she, now considered without question one of our greatest poets, most often read, learned from, and rated herself against. Wouldn’t you expect that the work of these, her influences, would be combed over, studied, valued, if only for its influence on her? And yet it is, in general, not even physically available to us (in dusty, gold-carved volumes sold for their bindings) —and if we do encounter bits of it, they are not poems written in a tradition we have any idea how to approach, to read, but only caricatures set up in contradistinction to her.  [more]

Iraq’s War Widows

Here’s a story that’s easy to read if you don’t think about it:

Her twin sisters were killed trying to flee Falluja in 2004. Then her husband was killed by a car bomb in Baghdad just after she had become pregnant. When her own twins were 5 months old, one was killed by an explosive planted in a Baghdad market.

Now, Nacham Jaleel Kadim, 23, lives with her remaining daughter in a trailer park for war widows and their families in one of the poorest parts of Iraqs capital.

That makes her one of the lucky ones. The trailer park, called Al Waffa, or “Park of the Grateful,” is among the few aid programs available for Iraq’s estimated 740,000 widows. It houses 750 people.  [emphasis mine]

As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency.

Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors and mosques.

But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.

With the economy limping along, dependent almost entirely on the price of crude oil, and the government preoccupied with rebuilding and quelling sectarian violence, officials acknowledge that little is likely to change soon. [emphasis mine]

I thought that one motivation for the US invasion of Iraq was to make life better for the poor sods living under the rule of the terrible tyrant Sadaam?  Good work so far eh?  “… little is likely to change soon.” 

More:

In large cities like Baghdad, the presence of war widows is difficult to ignore. Cloaked in black abayas, they wade through columns of cars idling at security checkpoints, asking for money or food. They wait in line outside mosques for free blankets, or sift through mounds of garbage piled along the street. Some live with their children in public parks or inside gas station restrooms.

Officials at social service agencies tell of widows coerced into “temporary marriages” — relationships sanctioned by Shiite tradition, often based on sex, which can last from an hour to years — to get financial help from government, religious or tribal leaders.

Other war widows have become prostitutes, and some have joined the insurgency in exchange for steady pay. The Iraqi military estimates that the number of widows who have become suicide bombers may be in the dozens.

In the past several weeks, even as the government has formed commissions to study the problem, it has begun a campaign to arrest beggars and the homeless, including war widows.  [still more]

Because Women Are Only Incubators

A Baptist pastor who violated an Oakland, CA ordinance that prohibits anti-abortion protesters from coming within eight feet of women entering an abortion clinic for a legal surgical procedure has been fined $1000. and put on three years’ probation.  His crime could have led to a two-year jail sentence.

The court noted that the pastor didn’t “lay hands” on anyone [um, that would have been assault] and asked him if he would obey an order to stay 100 feet away from the Oakland clinic.  The pastor said “no”.  The judge let him go anyway.  Because this law isn’t serious, the “victims” aren’t real.  They’re only women incubating babies.  It’s pretty clear the law was drafted to prevent disorder around abortion clinics and not to protect its patients. 

The anti-abortionists call this a “free speech” case.  I don’t even think they believe themselves on this one.  These are people who try to exploit whatever “right” or “freedom” suits their overriding wish for control over women’s bodies.  The justice system, in this case, is more sympathetic to them than it is to the women harassed by fundies carrying mendacious posters of baby bits.

The pastor’s lawyer was at pains to point out the “conspicuous absence” of patients at the trial to testify that they felt threatened by him.  Of course, the law doesn’t require the presence of threatened patients.  The fact that the pastor was inside the “protected zone” with his sign is enough.  It doesn’t require a woman who’s visited an abortion clinic and been harassed to show up in court – an obvious invasion of the very privacy, safety and security that’s put at risk by people like the pastor.

Here’s what a women’s health specialist had to say:

When anyone restricts access to reproductive health services, every woman affected is a living example of a colonized body.

I suppose we’re expected to be grateful that there’s any protective law at all, even when it’s taken so lightly that a man standing in a courtroom who says he’s going to break it again is given the “all clear”.