Tag Archives: Women’s rights

Day 13- Women’s Activism in South America

Yesterday’s discussion explored women’s activism in Central America and the Caribbean; today’s post will look at women in South America; and tomorrow we will see how women in North America combat injustice and inequality. Together, Mexico, Central America and South America make up what is commonly referred to as Latin America, with Brazil being the only non-Spanish-speaking country included in this grouping. South America also includes three areas that are not historically “Latin,” Suriname where Dutch is the official language, English-speaking Guyana, and French Guiana which is an overseas territory of France. Every nation in South America has a history of indigenous peoples and conquest. Today we will learn how women on this continent fight for their human rights.

Colombia: In one of the countries with the most internally displaced people in the world, civil war has raged since the 1960s and women participate in every group in Colombia, violent or not. Ruta Pacifica is one women’s group working for peace. Women’s voices are often silenced when they protest for peace or human rights, by both left- and right-wing guerilla forces and sometimes even the government, all of whom use sexual violence to intimidate. Sadly, violence against women, especially women protesters, has escalated to assassinations in Colombia. Unionists, and journalists are also frequent targets of violence in Columbia.

Venezuela: Venezuela’s controversial president, Hugo Chavez, has many supporters, and dissenters, among women but the Venezeulan bourgeoise that thrives on the misogyny of the beauty industry is among his most virulent opponents. Sadly, for a country with one of the most gender-competent constitutions in the world, there are only two women’s shelters. In any case, the country’s capital, Caracas, hosted this year’s Global Grassroots Women’s Conference to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. These articles offer a balanced insight into the reality of life for ordinary Venezeulans.

Guyana: While Guyana has had a female president, politics in the country are still very male dominated. In honor of International Women’s Day Guyana’s Prime Minister addressed some of the obstacles women there face in achieving gender equality. This piece chronicles some of the important milestones of women’s rights in Guyana.

Brazil: Even though women in Brazil are not well represented in politics, November 2010 saw Brazil elect it’s first female President, but her candidacy and the race to the election was not without controversy over reproductive and social justice issues. Women’s groups in Brazil, possibly drawing inspiration from their newly elected President, are coming to understand the importance of organization and activism across all spectrums. Afro-Latina feminist activism in Brazil has deep roots that continue to inspire women there to fight for their rights, and disabled women activists in Brazil continue to fight for visibility and mobility there.

Peru: The quota systems in place to include women in government in Peru have proven to be ineffective, with women elected as puppets for male politicians. On the other hand, women in Peru are proving to be vital to ensuring the genetic biodiversity of the country’s food supply and protecting the country’s environment. Indigenous people in Peru have been the driving force behind holding everyone accountable for their environmental impact. Sadly, women’s bodily integrity has been a major issue in Peru, with women fearing for their safety if they bike to work, a number of women being sterilized against their will and women resulting to a national hotline for how to self-induce abortion because it is illegal there. This hip-hop artist is single-handedly taking on racism against the many varied peoples of Peru, and sexism through her music. One young Canadian woman tells her story of Peru here

Bolivia: 28% of Bolivia’s parliament seats are filled by women and half of President Evo Morales’s cabinet is women. Despite widespread violence against women (only in 2010 did the legal sentence for murdering a women finally equal the sentence for murdering a man!) and particular hardships for rural women, Bolivia’s President (oh how I love feminist men!) has pushed for gender equality and women’s land ownership. On International Women’s Day activist Maria Galindo was arrested for spray painting “No quiero ser la madre de Dios, de ese Dios blanco, civilizado, y conquistador” (I don’t want to be the mother of God, of this [masculine] white, civilized, and conquering God.) Go here for an academic analysis of the patriarchy of Bolivia.

Chile: The current leader of UNWomen, former Chilean President Michele Bachelet’s election in 2006 was a sign of hope for the women of Chile. In February of 2010 a massive earthquake struck Chile, and women were as much a part of the recovery process as they were victims of the tragedy. After the earthquake the government hired thousands of people to help rebuild and restore normalcy, but now the government says there is no room in the budget for these jobs. To demand the government continue to employ people to help in the earthquake recovery process 33 women in Chile have occupied a non-operational mine and are staging a hunger strike. Other activism takes place to combat forcible sterilization of HIV+ women and support feminist theology and women’s roles in spirituality.

Uruguay: La Maleta Roja (the Red Suitcase) is an organization in Uruguay that helps liberate women’s sexuality. Other women, including activist Maria Esther Gatti de Islas, have helped liberate political dissenters from government-forced disappearances. The Instituto Nacional de las Muejeres and Cotidiano Mujer are following in Gatti’s footsteps and continue to fight for women’s rights in Uruguay.

Argentina: Uruguayan activist Gatti also worked closely with the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and Argentina to fight for the rights of los desaparecidos. In July, 2010 Argentina became the first country in Latin America and the only country in the Western Hemisphere, besides Canada, to recognize marriage equality. The activist group Las Juanas is hoping to incite the writ of Habeus Corpus to legalize abortion in Argentina and also fights against femicides. Some activists have been attacked for merely starting discussions about contraception and abortion. Other activists fight against human trafficking, showing that the situation for women in Argentina needs improvement but the women there are not afraid to take on that work.

Day 12- Women’s Activism in Central America and the Caribbean

Central America and the island nations adjacent to it in the Caribbean Sea are often an unknown or forgotten part of the world. The biodiversity and fragile, supple ecosystems of these countries are under attack but so too are the people of this region. The high rates of violence in Central America and the damaging effects of climate change in the Caribbean mean that everyone here is on high alert. Two organizations that operate around the world to help women, but are particularly active in Central America are Vital Voices, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and MADRE. Though I will attempt to find as much as possible in English, a number of the links today may be in Spanish, if they are, it will be clear.

Guatemala: The murder rate in Guatemala is 49 of every 100,000 people. Frighteningly, it is not the highest in the region. But the rate of violence against women in this Central American country was enough to prompt a United States federal court to rule that immigration officials should reconsider the asylum request of a woman because she would suffer violence and possibly death if she returned to Guatemala. But some Guatemalan women are using activism within the US to demand a review of America’s policies. Norma Cruz, founder of Fundacion Sobrevivientes, “staged a hunger strike in front of the US Supreme Court to protest the illegal adoption of stolen children from Guatemala….”

Belize: A relatively new country, Belize’s social stratification is a complex web of ethnicity and race. Gender based violence is also problem in Belize, one of the many countries last year to participate in the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. The other major problem for Belize is destruction of its ecosystem: Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world but the delicacy of this ecosystem means that any changes in the global temperature or sea levels can be disastrous.

El Salvador: In a country plagued by civil war, internal terrorism and political violence, it may be hard to imagine that life for women is more dangerous after the peace accords were signed, but it’s true for El Salvador- the country with the highest murder rate in the world in 2009. In a country where women’s average salary is 28% lower than men’s, rates of murder and rape of women rose after the war. Salvadoreños also deal with US intervention, especially when it comes to mining, on a regular basis. Go here to send support to activists from Cispes El Salvador who have received death threats because of their vocal objections to US intervention there. Unsurprisingly, LGBTQAI rights in El Salvador are also under attack, but Entre Amigos (in English) is not afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Honduras: Lower than El Salvador but higher than Guatemala, Honduras’s murder rate is 67/100,000 inhabitants. The 2009 coup that expelled the former-President has left women in political limbo, but they are still in the streets demanding their human rights. Activists in El Frente are frequently targeted for their participation in anti-Lobo (the new President) demonstrations. If you are interesting in participating in a training session for the health and safety of activists fighting for the rights of sweatshop workers in Honduras, go here.

Nicaragua: The feminist movement in Nicaragua has the same generational aches and growing pains as the women’s movement in the US but some young Nica women are actively working to make the label “feminist” a positive one. Women’s rights activists in Nicaragua have been persecuted by the Catholic Church but support letters from Amnesty International followers gave them the strength to continue their fight. This page concisely explains women’s grim reality in Nicaragua. This blog highlights the work of one of my colleagues who is volunteering his time to help the street children of Nicaragua.

Costa Rica: Many unique international organizations working for women’s rights operate out of Costa Rica, including the Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE), and the UN-mandated University for Peace which offers a MA in Gender & Peacebuilding. Also in CR the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres and the Centro de Investigacion en Estudios de la Mujer Universidad de Costa Rica are working academically to shape and improve women’s realities.

Panama: Panama’s first lady, on International Women’s Day, called for a nonviolent revolution to bring about gender equality in the country. Gender based violence and poverty are two major concerns for Panamanian women, in addition to “unequal access to education, and lack of political activism.” But many women in Panama do take to the streets in a different form of activism.

The Bahamas: Spousal rape and the ability to transfer citizenship to their children are two of the most contentious issues Bahamian women are fighting against and for, respectively. Part of the frustration of feminists in the Bahamas comes from women simply following men’s lead in politics. Rest assured though that if and when Bahamian women stand up for their rights, they will not be denied.

Cuba: The Revista Mujeres highlights the work and inequalities women face in Cuba today. One of the most vocal groups in Cuba Las Damas de Blanco visibly protest the government’s detention of their sons and husbands for their own political protests.

Jamaica: Homophobia is Jamaica has garnered the ire of LGBTQAI activists in the US but activists in Jamaica have their own hands full battling “corrective rape” of lesbians and violence against women in general. Racism is also still prevalent in Jamaica, but activists are speaking out against that too.

Haiti: Poor Haiti. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, diseases, and violence have marked Haiti’s recent history, with women suffering the most for it. Haiti lost three of its most influential women’s rights activists to the 2010 earthquake. The women who made rape a crime in Haiti, only in 2005, would have been heartbroken to hear the tragic tales of sexual violence in the makeshift camps that were constructed after the earthquake. Those women left behind continue to fight against violence, and rape (including testifying at the UN Court of Human Rights) and to have their voices heard. This year’s V-Day campaign also alerts the world to the plight of women in Haiti.

Puerto Rico: Although this island is not an independent nation, and is in fact, under the authority of the US, Puerto Rican women face unique challenges. This Master’s thesis by Matthew Perez of Ohio University explores the intersectionality of oppression that Puerto Ricans face. Activists in Puerto Rico two years ago seized the capital in a peaceful protest to decry the laws there that they say promote female submission to men and violence against women.

St. Lucia: The St. Lucia Crisis Center has participated for years in activities to bring about an end to violence against women, including AIDS awareness workshops. One of St. Lucia’s most vocal women’s rights activists, Flavia Cherry, spoke out about discrimination she has faced from the Minister of Gender Relations because of her political association.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: As in the US, many, if not most rapes in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a tiny island nation in the Caribbean Sea, are not reported. But when a female police officer accuses the Prime Minister of rape and the charges are dropped without investigation, it is too disheartening. This article is a good recent historical summary of the obstacles women face in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Trinidad and Tobago: The environment is one area that has been difficult for female activists in Trinidad and Tobago to break into, but Yvonne Ashby has managed to make her voice heard. Gender and feminism in the black power movement are explored in this essay, and at least one activist in this country has been harassed by the police for her vocal objections to the treatment of children and women. Trinidad and Tobago’s female Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has promised that this year the country will establish a national Commission on the Status of Women, hopefully this will help address the concerns of the women and activists of Trinidad and Tobago.

Day 9- Women’s Activism in Africa

A composed satellite photograph of Africa.

Image via Wikipedia

North Africa has been in the news recently for its people’s uprisings. Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are all currently in very precarious situations but the people of these nations, men and women, have shown that they want democracy and are willing to give their lives to earn it.

Sub-Saharan Africa is largely ignored by America unless the political events that occur will affect the US, such a high-profile oil spill in Nigeria which could raise gas prices in the States. The tragedies and travesties of the rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the upheaval in Sudan and its Darfur region, and the poverty and desperation in Somalia go largely unnoticed by American news outlets and the American people.

Today I’d like to give a sample of what women (and feminist men) are doing across the African continent to advance social justice and true equality.

Liberia: The women of Liberia bravely stood up against dictator and war criminal Charles Taylor and helped bring about an end to their country’s brutal civil war in 2003. Their story was told in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Subsequently Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa. An all women UN peacekeeping unit from India still provides inspiration for Liberian women and shows them that women can do or be anything they set their minds to. Today the women of Liberia are still working for peace in their region and in the world. These women are raising their voices for the women of neighboring Ivory Coast.

Cotê d’Ivoire: In honor of International Women’s Day, and to protest the killing of women protesting Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize the November 2010 elections, thousands of Ivorians marched yesterday in an event that left three men and one woman dead.

Nigeria: Last year at this time women in Nigeria were protesting a religious massacre. Last week (2 March 2011) Nigerian women found themselves protesting the presence of cattle herders on of their farm land. In February a small group of women protested the imposing of a female candidate into a federal position for which they elected a man. These women recognize that simply because a candidate is a woman does not necessarily mean she will represent women or fight for women’s rights.

Sudan: Women in Sudan, especially in the Darfur region, understand what it means to be completely ignored and have their rights denied. In the recent referendum however, women turned out in large numbers to show their support for the cessation of Southern Sudan. OftenSudanese women’s stories go untold, but small groups of women are slowly finding their voices and demanding justice. For the second time in two weeks a group of women staged protests against the government’s detention of protesters.

Ethiopia: One of my favorite feminists, native Ethiopian Billene Seyoum Woldeyes, is helping to bring gender equality to her motherland through her blog Ethiopian Feminist.

Kenya: Wangari Maathai is perhaps one of the most well-known women in the world. The 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Greenbelt Movement, Maathai continues to improve the world around her both through her environmental activism and her women’s rights advocacy.

Uganda: One of Uganda’s favorite journalists, Rosebell Kagumire, covers stories and brings attention to everything from vote rigging to violence against women, both in Uganda and around Africa, in her blog.

Somalia: Women in Somalia suffer under some of the worst poverty in the world. Often left without a means to support themselves, many women-heads-of-household work all day and resort to begging to feed their families, often going hungry themselves. Despite this, Somali women make the time to protest the lack of women in parliament and push for higher quotas.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Because of the efforts of the V-Day campaign the atrocities committed in the DRC have been given at least a little public attention in the US. The widespread use of rape in the DRC as a weapon of war has drawn the sharp criticism of the UN and organizations around the world, like Amnesty International. The women of the DRC have joined forces with these international organizations and demanded safety and dignity.

Mozambique: While Mozambique is making significant progress in gender issues, one of the most dire problems women there are fighting against today is climate change. Because of the feminization of poverty and the differential affects of climate change, rising sea levels and land degradation on women, the people of Mozambique have begun to pay attention to solutions that specifically address women’s relationship to the environment.

Namibia: Forced sterilization of women is not a new concept, but HIV+ women in Namibia who were sterilized without their knowledge or consent have demanded justice. Staging sit-ins with the slogan my body, my womb, my rights thousands of women have shown their support and raised their voices in solidarity with their HIV+ sisters.

South Africa: The shameful “rape capital of the world” (a title South Africa dubiously shares with the DRC) has come a long way since apartheid, but the country’s lesbians are constantly at great risk. So called “corrective rape” of lesbians in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions with police refusing to take complaints seriously, but women around the world have demanded an end to this inhumane practice.

To learn more about women’s roles and rights in Africa, visit Solidarity for African Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch, All Africa, Women of Africa and the newly formed UN Women.

Day 7- Waves of the Women’s Movement in the US

Feminist suffrage parade in New York City, May...

Image via Wikipedia

First Wave: The first major organized women’s resistance to sexism and patriarchy in the US sprung out of the abolitionist movement. White women who opposed the institution of slavery soon realized that they were also suffering inequalities under the racist, sexist, classist system of government in the United States. The defining moment of the First Wave was passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 that gave women the right to vote. The victory of the 19th Amendment came after decades of hard work and struggle, including educating the public with writings by and about (upper-class) women’s status, marches, protests, fasting, and intentional arrest and imprisonment. Unfortunately, the women (and men) who had been working so hard for women’s suffrage in this time could not sustain the momentum of social change, and thus, the next “wave” of the women’s movement would not come for another 40 years.

Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, Victoria Woodhull, Sojourner Truth, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida B. Wells, Margaret Sanger, and Lucy Burns, among thousands of other women whom history has forgotten, forever changed the way Americans viewed women’s participation in politics and the “public” sphere.

Second Wave: The Women’s Liberation Movement, or Second Wave of Feminism, came about in a tumultuous time for American history. Women in the US had been on a roller coaster of freedoms and limitations since the First Wave had crashed: the Roaring ’20s brought, for the first time, women’s votes into play, and the advent of jazz culture and the flapper allowed women unprecedented freedoms in appearance and behavior; the Great Depression of the 1930s following the Stock Market Crash was a poignant example of how the feminization of poverty works;WWII in the 1940s brought white women into the workforce like never before; the baby booming 1950s saw that women returned to the domestic sphere to try to achieve the June Cleaver ideal that society demanded; and the 1960s kicked off the Second Wave with the oral contraceptive pill made available in 1961 and Betty Friedan’s surprising (albeit racist) critique of women’s roles in 1963 with The Feminine Mystique.

During the 1960s and 1970s organizations were formed that changed the way women viewed themselves and each other but the major victories of the Second Wave came in the form of legislation designed to give women more equal opportunities on par with men, and gave women (at least on paper) autonomy over their own bodies. JFK’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, Title IX, the passage of WIC in 1972, Roe v. Wade, the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the 1974 election of Elaine Noble in Massachusetts as the first openly gay person to serve on a state legislature; Taylor v. Louisiana, Nebraska passing in 1976 the first law against marital rape, and the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act are just some of the important legal battles won for women’s equality during the Second Wave.

Important individual or non-legal milestones include 50,000 women participating in Women Strike for Peace in 1961, “Sex and Caste” written by Casey Hayden and Mary King in 1965, the National Organization for Women forming in 1966, the 1968 protest of the Miss America Pageant (which incorrectly coined the phrase “bra-burners”), The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) forming in 1968, Our Bodies, Ourselves published in 1970, the August 26 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality, Gloria Steinem‘s 1972 founding of Ms. magazine and the National Women’s Political Caucus and the opening of the first battered women’s shelter. Sadly the consumerism of the 1980s lead many to believe that feminism was “dead” and no longer necessary. This, combined with the loss of hope after the failure of the US to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, caused the Second Wave to slowly trickled away.

Third Wave: The relatively few women who were still fighting the good fight in the 1980s became the backbone of the Third Wave. Recognizing that the views presented previously were overwhelmingly homogenous and exclusionary, women of color feminism, womanism and other more inclusive and worldly views of in/equality came to the forefront. Women of color who felt marginalized during the Second Wave began to demand their voices be heard and their opinions valued: Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Audre Lord, Beverly Smith, Barbara Smith, and Cherríe Moraga, to name very few.

The Third Wave is an ongoing process which I am proud to be a part of. The discussion of feminisms can be contentious but for me the simple definition is one who believes in the equality of all people, while recognizing that until and unless (all) women are equal to men, justice cannot be achieved. It is also necessary, however, to fight against racism, ableism, classism, homophobia, ageism, environmental degradation, militarization, and animal abuse. I fully believe in the power of strategic nonviolent action (SNVA) to bring about social justice and equality.

What You can do to Advance Equality:

1) VOTE! Women did not work their asses off for decades so you could forget to make your voice heard on election day.
2) Educate yourself–about the women who made the freedoms you enjoy possible, about your national/ethnic ancestors and their ancient views of women, about the laws that affect your rights as an individual, about strategic nonviolent action, and about anything and everything else!
3) Educate those around you: Tell anyone who will listen what matters to you, what needs to change, and how they can help.
4) Get together: There is power in numbers and “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead

Tomorrow’s entry for International Women’s Day(!) will kick off a week of discussion of women’s use of SNVA around the world while focusing on the women of the recent Arab revolutions.

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