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Fighting violence against women: what happens when an organisation fails to follow its values

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/05/2017 - 6:42pm in

This is the anonymised true story of the premature death of one women's organisation. Its experience is not unique, and we must do better.

First class travel and priority tags. First class travel and priority tags. PA Images/Steve Parsons. All rights reserved.When Tendai* started Humura, an organisation fighting violence against women, she had passion but no financial resources, no staff, no office, no computer. As a young, first-year teacher, she had started a discussion group with students on issues of sex and sexuality and in the process identified many cases of sexual violence. She was determined to take action: other women should not suffer the way she did when, at the age of 16, she was raped by a close relative and had no one to tell.

She worked day and night, weekends and holidays to organise girls to expose and confront such violence. She made allies and resigned from her teaching job to start Humura. They had no formal systems, structures, plans, budgets or cars. They were a team, bound by trust and a shared vision. They built a critical mass of grassroots, community and institutional supporters. They even invaded homes and rescued young women and girls married off as minors without their consent.

A skilled orator, Tendai was in the limelight. She was advised to register as an NGO and money poured in from all kinds of funders. Huge cars were bought, consultants were hired, volunteers were dismissed, offices were built and soon there was an empire. Tendai acquired a new title: ‘Executive Director.’ She moved from her humble house to a posh suburb of electric fences and guard dogs. She began demanding business class tickets.

People danced to keep their jobs and chiefs in rural areas sang Tendai's praises in the hope of getting crumbs from her table. Donors paraded her from one country to the next showing off their ‘best practice.’ She shared platforms with the high and mighty. Any conference on violence against women was incomplete without her. But all was not well. Control, dominance and exclusion had taken over and the organisation's staff felt disempowered. Humura was losing its humanity.

People danced to keep their jobs... control, dominance and exclusion had taken over...

It was split into pieces: people, relationships, different aspects of the work. The board was chaired a patriarchal bishop. Staff whispered instead of talking; they hardly listened to or looked directly at each other, or the ‘clients’ who came to report violence. Praising the Director won you salary increases and other perks. A small group surrounded Tendai armed with malice, gossip, lies and desire for money, power and promotion.

Most lost confidence and security. Whistleblowers became outcasts. The organisation became a static entity contradicting the very values it stood for. No one knew how to move forward and eventually they let go and the once thriving Humura collapsed completely.

This is the true – but anonymised – story of the premature death of one women's organisation. But this group's experience is not unique and the questions it poses challenge us all: What kind of culture is needed inside organisations working to end gender-based violence?

Rituals and courage

Groups fighting violence against women must be mindful and watchful of drivers of oppression and violence within their own organisations too. All consultants, volunteers and even funders should be oriented in the organisation's unambiguous core values, stated clearly and followed with courage.

Rituals are important. Organisations should routinely reflect: are the group's stated values actually guiding its work? Power must be checked at all times and boring and draining routine work must be tackled too. The organisation's fire must be constantly tended to so that everyone remains engaged and energised and the group can be a nurturing place for all.

Organisations fighting violence against women must never become bureaucratic or doctrinaire. They should commit time and other resources to understanding themselves and how they see and act in the world. A strong governance board, instead of ‘yes’ people who sign blank cheques, is essential. Critical questions must be asked, and often.

Groups fighting gender-based violence must also feed their own souls, so that they have something to share with others.

Do systems and structures allow for individual staff and activists to share their own stories? Can individuals who have experienced violence share this in a trustful and supportive environment? Can one state her position even if it contradicts that of her superiors? Are people silent for fear of offending each other? Do they avoid putting difficult issues on the table in the process?

Is there room to discuss power dynamics related to age, sexual orientation, patriarchy, or location? What are the undiscussable issues? Is there room for co-creation, for harvesting each person’s talents and skills and ensuring their voices are heard and respected? Are team members encouraged to set milestones and personal development goals? How do they develop their skills?

Groups fighting gender-based violence must also feed their own souls, so that they have something to share with others. Organisations should create and institutionalise practices that support well-being and inclusiveness by planning and budgeting for them. This is crucial for our work today – and our ability to withstand withering and rusting tomorrow.

* Names have been changed to provide anonymity.

* An online campaign #Values2endVAW by the Gender Based Violence Prevention Network, coordinated by the Uganda-based organisation Raising Voices, launched in late May 2017.


Civil society


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Poem: For the mamas on the frontlines

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/05/2017 - 1:20am in


culture, Feminism

"I said, if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?" Helen Knott performed her poem at the 2017 Nobel Women's Initiative conference. Catch up on 50.50's coverage.

I wrote this poem, For the mamas on the frontlines, when I was in a challenging space of darkness. It is a space I believe so many of us find ourselves in when engaged in activism and so my words came from a place of necessity but also from a strong belief in the power of action taken by individuals.

We have stood on front lineswith our fists raised up on highwe’ve flooded city streetsin a collective streamheart to heart and side by sidewe have made ourselves alliesoffering up personal sacrificewe have filled up petition linestime after time... after time

We’ve seen movements because if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?swell, wax, wane, recede, and growwe have had our children in towor sometimes have left them homeexplaining on bended knee,Just why mama’s gotta leavebecause if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?I said, if mamas don’t fight for the children, then who will?

We’ve learned to navigate the political currentsplacing pressure on PMs, MPs and MLAscabinet ministers, and deputies of whatever department keeps messing upsome of us have broken man made laws and have gone and got ourselves arrestedwe have sat in vigil of our ownsometimes our flickering candles we hold... are the only light we seeYet we hold the belief that one day the darkness will have no choice but to recedewe have stood in defense of lands, of waters,for our sons,for our daughtersfor something bigger than ourselves

No matter the historical struggle from which we risemany of us have realizedwe are in this together, and when we collectively defywe actively redefine... loveSometimes that love gives us the ability to move mountainsand other times it gives us enough drive to persist for one more dayIn the face of any revolutionthere are many pauses, stalls, and startsthere are many tears, unspoken of fears, and the breaking of heartsSometimes if you listen hard enough you can actually hear it...the sound of your heart trying not to give up on itselfBecause let’s be honest darling,sometimes fighting for change is a lot like putting yourself through hell
So what is it that makes us persist?When its apparent that ignorance walks hand in hand with blissIs it becausesometimes doing nothing just don’t sit right with the soul?or that we believe power is not absoluteand there is no submitting to those who appear to be in control?Do we stand for treaties and promises made and broken long ago?For the voiceless? For the choiceless?Or are we grounded by science or facts?Perhaps our faith demands that we move to react?Whichever it is, there is strength in our choice to stand together
One thing I do know for sure to be true and the giants that they speak of, well my dear they will be usis that I would not be standing and talking freely as I doif not for those who came before mebecause they did not admit defeatthey stood grounded in what they believedthey fought, they bled, they sacrificedand it is because of this that I can sleep at nightknowing all of these actions are not done in vainbecause I stand on the shoulders of these giantsand the next generation will one day say the sameand the giants that they speak of, well my dear they will be usso never underestimatethe power of your voiceor the strength in a collective moving kind of love

The Nobel Women's Initiative conference took place in Germany 13-16 May. See 50.50's coverage of the event.




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Video: Voices from the 2017 Nobel Women's Initiative conference

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/05/2017 - 7:04pm in


Feminism, gender

Participants at the 2017 Nobel Women's Initiative conference talk about memory, activism after trauma, what women's movements can learn from each other – and much more.

Yanar Mohammed is president of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, which has recently established women's shelters in Mosul to aid survivors of ISIS enslavement and women affected by conflict in the area. Read her 2015 interview with Jennifer Allsopp.

Mairead Maguire was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1976, with Betty Williams, for her work to end the political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. She is co-founder of Peace People, a movement to build a just and peaceful society through nonviolent social action.

Joanna Maycock is Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby. A lifelong feminist, she previously led ActionAid International’s work in Europe, served as president of CONCORD, and worked for the International Organisation for Migration in Brussels.

Leila Alikarami is an Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate who has represented dozens of prisoners of conscience in Iran's Revolutionary Courts. She was also an active member of Iran's One Million Signatures campaign challenging discriminatory laws against women.

Mariama Sonko is a member and general treasurer of the Young Farmers’ Association of Casamance, in the south of Senegal. She promotes the knowledge and practices of local farmers and advocates for better governance of genetic property rights.

Sarah Clements is a student activist at Georgetown University. Following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook School, which her mother survived, Sarah became active in struggles against gun violence. Read her article on how to fight gun violence in Trump's America.

Sarah Jewell is the inaugural director of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa-USA. Sarah works on women’s rights, youth affairs, and social justice. She is from Australia and previously worked in the Australian civil service.

The Nobel Women's Initiative conference took place in Germany 13-16 May. See 50.50's coverage of the event.


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Mike’s Campaign for Justice Rejected by Police, Who Can’t Get their Excuses Right

Last night, Mike over at Vox Political has posted a piece reporting that the police have declined to investigate those, who libelled him as a anti-Semite the other week in order to prevent his election as a local councillor for Radnorshire. Mike had asked the Powys police to investigate them, as libelling someone’s personal character and behaviour to interfere with their chances in an election is a crime under the 1983 Local Government Act.

However, Mike received a message from the local rozzers stating that they had contacted John Stolliday of the Labour Party Compliance Unit, who told them that make had been suspended pending a formal investigation. The flatfeet therefore concluded that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to engage in an investigation.

Mike has replied to them, stating that this excuse does not stand up as the libels were made against him personally for his activities outside the Labour party, and asked for the name of his superior officer if the plod he has been dealing with so far is not up to the job.

He concludes

You can’t see this but I am actually shaking with rage at the injustice of this.

It seems to me that the officer concerned either can’t be bothered or is actually seeking to pervert the course of justice.

I am extremely disappointed, like Mike’s many other friends and supporters, to hear this. But I am not surprised. It seems to me that the reason the cops don’t want to pursue this investigation is because it’s too much of a hot potato. This is just my speculation, but it strikes me that they don’t want to run the risk of being seen to interfere in a complex political dispute involving accusations of racism. The police force generally down the years has acquired something of a reputation for institutional racism – not, I should mentioned, in Powys, but simply generally – and it strikes me strongly that this officer is afraid that if he defends Mike, he risks his career by being accused of anti-Semitism himself.

And so he hopes that if he doesn’t do anything, somehow it’ll all blow over and he can go back to solving normal crimes, which won’t have unpleasant political consequences.

I hope, however, that this will only be a temporary setback for Mike, and that he will manage to get those who smeared him with these appalling allegations brought to account for their crimes.

One of the organisations chiefly responsible for these smears is the woefully misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. This claims to be tackling anti-Jewish hatred in the UK. In reality, it is a Zionist organisation that has no interest whatsoever in combating the real anti-Semites in the NF, BNP, the former National Action and other Fascist groups and parties. It exists solely to silence critics of Israel’s barbarous policy of brutal persecution and expulsion against the indigenous Palestinians. Its tactic in this is to smear decent people making entirely reasonable criticisms and protests as anti-Semites, even when they are sincere anti-racists, including self-respecting secular or Torah observant Jews and their friends and gentile allies.

Their other tactic has been to exaggerate grossly the real level of anti-Semitism amongst the general British and European populations, in order to make Jews feel unsafe and suspicious of the gentile neighbours and compatriots. This is done with the explicit agenda of getting more European Jews to migrate to Israel.

The organisation is also deeply Islamophobic, and has published many articles claiming that British Muslims in particular are anti-Semitic, in ways which, if they were said about Jews, would have them screaming ‘Anti-Semitism!’

See the following article by Tony Greenstein:

Mr Greenstein is a trade unionist, Labour party member, anti-racist and anti-Zionist. He states that he has written a book, The Struggle Against Fascism in Brighton and Hove. While this doesn’t sound very impressive compared to legendary confrontation with the Blackshirts, such as the Battle of Cable Street and the other fights in London’s East End, it does actually show how committed he was to combating the real, jackbooted racism and anti-Semitism when it showed its head. One of the leaders of the NF lived for a time in Brighton back in the 1970s, and its thugs attacked trade unionists, feminists and other left-wing or minority organisations with their habitual violence. They physically attacked the offices of a feminist organisation, which I believed also helped unmarried mothers, and published the names and addresses of local trade unionists in their magazine, until local trade unionists and ethnic minority organisations hit back. So Mr Greenstein and his brothers and sisters in the unions, Labour party and the Left in general did an excellent job of standing up to real, physical thuggery and beating.

Mr Greenstein has also set up an internet petition on asking the Charity Commission to remove the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’s charitable status, as it is a political organisation that does no public good. The petition is at

I’ve signed it, and if you feel strongly about the way Mike, and other decent people like him are being outrageously smeared by this vile, pernicious group, you may also like to.

In the meantime, I wish Mike and everyone else in the Labour party, who has been libelled as an anti-Semite the very best in their campaigns for justice, and to Tony Greenstein for his efforts also to bring them to some kind of account.

And I will certainly be posting more critical articles about them, and similar organisations, and the way they lie and vilify decent, sincerely anti-racist men and women, who genuinely stand up against those who spread hatred against Jews.


Fight fundamentalism in all its guises: a call to action from Yemen to Germany

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/05/2017 - 8:52pm in



“Be close to people’s dreams, their aspirations and their suffering...fight for a society of equal citizenship” - Nobel Peace laureate Tawakkol Karman. Jennifer Allsopp reports for 50.50 from the third day of the Nobel Women's Initiative conference.

 author. Women human rights defenders meet at the 2017 Nobel Women's Initiative Conference. Credit: author.“It’s just inspiring to have this in our city,” says Jana. She’s 16
years old and has come from Dusseldorf with her mother to the public talk by
five female Nobel Peace Prize laureates hosted at the historic Kaiser-Friedrich-Halle in Mönchengladbach, Germany.

Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman have come to address the 900 attendees about their
work fighting totalitarianism and fundamentalism in its many global guises in
order to build a more peaceful, just and equal world.

The public event took place on the final evening of the sixth
international conference of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Over the
last three days, more than 50 women human rights defenders have been in Mönchengladbach to discuss the future of the feminist
movement in collaboration with Initiativikreis

Jana studies at Volkshochschule.
I asked her what made her come to hear the Nobel laureates speak: “I’m interested in helping people,” she declares
enthusiastically, “I want peace all over the world, and so having women here
who have won the Nobel Peace prize is fantastic.”

There are many high school students among the crowd and I
chat to a few of them in the lobby. Victoria is 17 and studies at the International School of Dusseldorf.
She became interested in human rights issues after studying the issues at
school, but also through her experience helping at a local refugee shelter.

The global response to refugees has been a key theme of the
conference over the past three days and is a concern of all the laureates. One
of the reasons the delegates decided to hold the conference in Germany was to
come and congratulate Germany for its policies, explained
Tawakko Karman, Yemeni human rights activist and 2011 Nobel Peace laureate.

Since the beginning of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in
Europe, Germany has welcomed more than one million refugees, more than any
other country in Europe. For 2016 and 2017 alone, the government has set aside 28.7
euros of funding for their accommodation and integration.

Victoria is proud to welcome the migrants. Her school has
paired her with a young boy from Syria who she helps with homework and German
conversation skills. “We meet and chat,” she explains, “it’s going well.”

I ask Victoria and her friends about how their peers have
responded to the arrival of refugees to their region. Do they agree with Angela
Merkel’s public statements that Germany should welcome people fleeing the
conflict in Syria? Lea, 16, tells me that she is proud of the policy, but at
first some people were scared.

“Even me to be honest, when I heard they were coming close to
my house I didn’t know, like, I just didn’t know about it. But now I feel safe,
really safe. There are always kids around and it’s nice.” Another student Lea
is a keen footballer, she chips in. “The refugees come to the facilities at our
school and we play football together, it’s great.”

Many of the young people here have been politicised to defend
human rights more broadly because of personal experiences of getting to know
refugees in Germany. It heartens me because I know
this experience will stay with them for life. I saw the same transformation
time and time again myself as a national coordinator with Student Action for Refugees. The UK NGO supports students to set up volunteering and campaigning projects in
their local communities.

But unlike Germany, the UK – and other countries who are now turning
their backs
on refugees – is training the next generation to look
inwards rather than out. They’re turning away from fostering international
consciousness among citizens. This, Jody Williams has repeated over the last
three days, is “the real fake news.” Jody won the 1997 Nobel Peace prize for her work to ban antipersonnel landmines.

Germany’s decision to welcome refugees has nevertheless not
come without challenges, especially in terms of the far right explains Brigitte
Schuster, a German teacher who has come along to hear the Nobel laureates speak.
She teaches as part of a network of state funded programmes run by BAMF
(the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees). Despite some “teething problems” in
the provision of services, Bridgette insists that people are now moving
forward with their lives. They are contributing a lot to the community, she
explains, including through sharing their stories and fostering consciousness
of totalitarianism in other parts of the world.

“Over time they learn to tell their stories in German,” Bridgette tells
me. “Sometimes we have breakfast before class and share food, flowers, stories.
Sometimes I see students a year later and they have lots to tell about their
progress. They have babies, jobs. They’ve reached a higher level.”

Victoria tells me that she doesn’t discuss politics or “his
story” with the Syrian student she is partnered with through her volunteering –
“he has been through a lot so he just wants to move forward with his life”. But, she explains, “coming to events like this and hearing from the Nobel women
helps people to understand the kind of situations of persecution they might
have fled.”

After the event, in the foyer, it appears that the laureates' message has got through. Attendees have been issued a call to action. The laureates
have thanked the German people for welcoming refugees but also asked them to
keep up the pressure on the totalitarian regimes that they have fled. They're also summoned to fix
the gaps in European democracies. Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni human rights
activist, has called on those present not to victimise people but to “be close to
people’s dreams, their aspirations and their suffering.” And she’s
issued an order: “you will fight for a society of equal citizenship for men and

Five boys, all aged 15, jump over one another to tell me what
they found most inspiring when I ask them in the foyer, after the event. They’ve
been brought along by their English teacher, Meike Barth, from the Gymnasium an der Gartenstraße. They are curious to learn about human rights struggles in other
parts of the world and how they can support them because of what they have learnt in their studies, they explain.

Ahmet says he was especially touched when Shirin Ebadi, who
received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote human rights
in Iran, mentioned the Berlin Wall. “She said that the wall Trump wants to build is like the Berlin Wall and we can bring it down,” he
recounts. But Ahmet is also struck by her message about breaking down the walls
between people ideologically. “It’s not just physical walls but walls in our
hearts. People can always find ways to talk across physical walls, but what’s
more hard is what she said about solidarity and people, the politicians trying
to stop that connection. Actually,” he reflects, “I was thinking of this
different metaphor of a different kind of wall we all build together with that
hope, like bricks but you also need cement….It’s a metaphor in progress!”

Ahmet is also inspired by Jody Williams' work to erase
landmines. “There are still landmines in Vietman”, he tells me, “actually I
read about that just last week and I was sat there thinking we need to do
something about that.” I ask him what he’s going to do: he’s going to organise
a local event and write to politicians.

Sebastian meanwhile tells me what stuck with him was the
message, advanced by Northern Irish peace activist and 1976 Nobel Peace Prize
laurate Mairead Maguire, to use academic learning to advance the cause of peace,
whatever the discipline. He enjoys chemistry, biology and maths and wants to
help tackle climate change. He explains, "people think human rights is just a subject but
it’s actually about everything, the whole environment. It’s not just
politicians saying this and that.” He’s been inspired by the public meeting
tonight to organise his own event. Benjamin, another student, wants to get
active on social media and says he is going to help him.

I ask the boys if they are feminists and they
enthusiastically agree. Is that tough, being a young male feminist in Germany? I ask them.

“Sometimes when I say I’m a feminist people are looking at me
like, eh,” jokes Florian, “but I think people have misconceptions about
feminism, that’s the problem. It’s common sense. Donald Trump is a big sexist
and it’s, well, we don’t want any walls also between men and women. We can’t
tolerate it.”

I leave the boys taking pictures with the Nobel laureates,
leaning towards them enthusiastically to tell them about their plans to take
their messages forward in their city and beyond. 

Young feminists from the Gymnasium an der Gartenstraße with Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire. Credit: author.

Related stories: 

Women fight back: from survive to thrive

Lessons from farmers and indigenous women: cultivate democracy

Visible players: the power and the risks for young feminists

Without global solidarity the women’s movement will collapse

The framework of democracy is human rights law

The meaning of peace in the 21st century

What would a world without barriers to feminist solidarity look like?

Refugee women in the UK: fighting back from behind bars

Theresa May and the love police

Lessons from Syria on women's empowerment during conflict

The refugee crisis: demilitarising masculinities

Erdogan's war on women

Building a bridge to the future: towards a feminist UN


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The World of Adrienne Rich

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/05/2017 - 2:00pm in

Born eighty-eight years ago this week, Adrienne Rich developed a distinctive brand of feminism over her many years as a poet—becoming, unusually, both more self-questioning and more combative as she aged.

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What would a world without barriers to feminist solidarity look like?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/05/2017 - 7:24pm in

is a duty that transcends borders. Jennifer Allsopp reports for 50.50 from the first day of of the 2017 Nobel Women's Initiative conference. 

 John Murphy Aurora PA. Six Nobel peace laureates meet in Belfast in 2013. Credit: John Murphy Aurora PA.“We want all the
barriers down,” declared Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire yesterday,
opening the 10th anniversary of the Nobel Women’s Initiative
gathering in Dusseldorf, Germany. She was, incidentally, joking, referring to
the fact that – due to variations in height and levels of jet leg –  some of the five Nobel peace prize winners at
the summit would be standing to
deliver their opening address, while others would be sitting. But as the laureates spoke, the room moved from laugher to
respectful silence as each laid out her vision for what a world without
barriers to feminist solidarity might look like.

laureates have gathered from across the globe – Guatemala, Ireland, USA, Iran
and Yemen – and they have assembled an international team of activists here to
plan the future of the global feminist resistance.

Tawakkol Karman,
who won the peace prize in 2011 for her work fighting for democracy in Yemen,
explains why they have chosen Germany as the site for this year’s meeting. “Germany
is ruled by a strong woman. She has a lot of commitment and promise for
refugees. We wanted to go to Germany to give support for her policies on
supporting and hosting refugees.” Yet disappointingly, as Karman goes on to
explain, in a Europe of closing borders, the culture of welcome the Nobel
laureates sought to celebrate has not been extended to its own delegation.

All four other
participants to the conference from Yemen have been denied visas, as were three
other participants from Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. ”Why?” Tawakkol asked.
“There is no good reason.”

All of those
denied visas are high profile human rights activists in their home countries.
Among them is Aswan Mohammed from Women Journalists Without Chains and Misk
Al-Junai, a TV producer who works with Karman’s own foundation. “Perhaps”, Karman
opined, “Europe is imposing its own unwritten travel ban? Perhaps Trump just
announced it, and other countries didn’t?”

Iranian Nobel
peace prize laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi was similarly
indignant: “there are countries that are in crisis and at war, and the people
are suffering in these countries, their lives are at risk and they are hungry.
Some Western countries, instead of helping these people are making limitations
for them. It’s time for Europe, and for us who are gathered here, to help these
people in war-torn areas; not to build walls and to not even permit them to
participate in a simple peace seminar. This is not good behaviour with
countries that are at war. And we protest this.”

The true
cost of erecting such barriers at borders – and the fundamental need to protest
them – is also stressed by American Nobel peace prize laureate Jody Williams.
She speaks of the work of Northern Americans assisting Muslim families to
reunite following the fallout from Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ earlier this year. “In
such resistance,” she stresses, “we’re rediscovering what citizenship is.” For the fifty plus activist women in the room
here in Germany, it’s clear that citizenship is a duty – and it’s one that
transcends barriers and borders.

Citizenship without borders

It is her
citizen duty, Shirin explains to me, that leads her to approach Majed Sharbajy,
a Syrian activist in exile who is currently working in Lebanon near the Syrian
border. Breaching the rules of the ‘ice breaker exercise’ carefully crafted by
the conference organisers, Shirin makes Majed’s acquaintance by looking her
directly in the eyes with a piercing sincerity, and saying the words “I’m

Majed has
just recounted to a small group of us how she was detained by the Assad regime
for seven months. Her husband was also detained, and murdered. She has been
temporarily separated from her children – aged 4, 11 and 3 –  who have sought sanctuary in Sweden with
their grandmother. Her work is simply too dangerous and puts them at risk. But
her work is also too important to leave.

In prison, Majed educated other women detainees. Now in exile in
Lebanon, the activists have four training centres for Syrian women to give them
skills to enter the labour market and participate in society. In her
experience, 60% of women Syrian refugees have lost their male partners and must
support themselves.

“The Syrian
regime is the biggest dictatorship of all the regimes,” Majed explains to a small group of us who are leaning in intently, to
listen. “They don’t just torture people,
really, they take pleasure in it.”

It’s at
this point that Shirin apologises.

“As an Iranian,
I’m sorry,” she says. “My government has trained Syrians how to torture

respectful silence momentarily reigns while each of us takes in these words and
crafts our own apologies, weighing the responsibility. Letting it sink in. Then
the discussion continues. Time is short and information must be gathered and

Syria is
strategically important to Iran: “they need it to get arms to Hezbollah” explains
Ebadi – arms, it has
been pointed out several times already, that travel more easily across borders
than people.

from Guatemala, Germany, UK and Lebanon hastily scribble on notepads, desperate
to listen, and to record every word so that they might take it back to their
communities, like smuggled goods. Because the international community has been
clear – we are not meant to be here, meeting like this.

reflects that she once met Michelle Obama and gave her a letter to pass on to her
husband. “It was all there,” she explains. “I told him, ‘you know what is
happening. And now history will judge you. You can be remembered as a man of
peace, or you can be remembered as a man of war.’” But the USA has its
interests. “No”, she tells us, “he never replied.” It is up to women like this,
and gatherings like, this to share the truth.

interlude. Majed has given us a huge duty: to ‘be our voice’. For, she
explains, “the media is mediating everything. Everyone is focusing on ISIS,
eyes are off the regime.” Children are drowning, they are choking to death on
the fumes of illegal weapons. No one is stopping this. Treaties must be
redrafted and implemented. “We cannot fall
into negative history where history repeats itself,” Tawakkol reminded us in
her opening speech. “Behind every great revolution there are bold women,
courageous women. We need to be leaders of change. We need development, rule of
law, democracy. We need to fight extremism, corruption, hatred, racism and

Taking down barriers means taking back power from the states that claim
to represent us. “Turkey, Iran and Russia are meeting for peace negotiations on
Syria and there isn’t a single person from Syria,” Majed warns our smaller
group. “The media keep saying that it’s a civil war, but it’s a war between
other countries in Syria”. Shirin gives a knowing nod: “a proxy war”.

The beginning of justice?

The act of
apologising in itself will not start a revolution but it is, to me, the core of
the feminist resistance that this conference seeks to strengthen. It is the
beginning of justice. It says: I am a human, and I see you as a human. I see
your injustice and your pain and I accept responsibility as a global citizen
and I will use my power to try and help you. It is the antithesis to impunity.
It is opposite to the Guatemalan courts that, until women seized justice and
won, as Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchù Tum explained in her
speech, “never gave victims the chance to tell the true story.”

It’s up
to us to reclaim citizenship, with barriers down, Shirin reminds us. Because “governments don’t like peace. The arms
manufacturers of the UK, Europe and the US have to sell their arms. It’s us,
the people, who have to resist our governments. This is my duty as an Iranian,
to tell the government of Iran not to help Bashir Al Assad and to stay away
from Syria. It’s your duty as European citizens to tell the EU, to protest at
the fact they refrain from issuing visas. It’s the duty of people of the UK to
tell them to stop selling arms so that they can throw them on innocent people.”

I look around at
the women I am with. It’s the first night and the sixth edition of the Nobel
Women’s Initiative biennial gatherings and 50.50 has been here from the start. Many
of the women have become close friends, ‘sisters’ across borders. As they steal off to bed, tired from their
travels (and for some, long interrogations at the border) I notice that some
are wearing jewelry, brought in luggage across continents as gifts to one
another. Like arms and capital, gifts and words fly across the same continents
as the women meet, plot and share information in the global feminist

Related stories: 

A feminist revolution demands climate justice

Women fight back: from survive to thrive

Conflict in Syria: stop instrumentalising women’s rights

Iraq's female citizens: prisoners of war

"We want peace. We’re tired of war"

At the margins of visibility: recognising women human rights defenders

How to fight gun violence in Trump’s America

Time for a Fifth World Conference on Women?

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PODCAST: Sylvia Federici on Capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/05/2017 - 4:25pm in



94.1 KPFA, a community radio station in Berkley, CA, USA, broadcasted Sylvia Fedetici’s talk on How Capitalism Endures on 26 April 2017. The podcast can be currently listened to here.   Federici was one of founders of the International Campaign for Wages for Housework, along with Maria Rosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, and others. She advocates an unconditional basic income.

The post PODCAST: Sylvia Federici on Capitalism appeared first on BIEN.

A feminist revolution demands climate justice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/05/2017 - 5:03pm in


Feminism, gender

To change everything, it takes everyone, and to fight oppression, we must fight it in all forms, at all times. This article is part of 50.50's coverage of the 2017 Nobel Women's Initiative conference. 

Women for Climate Justice contingent at the People’s Climate March. Women for Climate Justice contingent at the People’s Climate March. Credit: Emily Arasim/WECAN.“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,” said Audre Lorde. She was right, of course, and this quote still resonates today. Globally movements of movements are intersecting and coalescing and working together. And this is crucial. Because it takes everyone to change everything, and we must fight oppression in all its forms, at all times.

On 29 April, I joined 300,000 people in Washington DC for the People’s Climate March. A march for climate, justice and jobs. It was a sweltering hot day, record-breaking for this time of year. (Though, such records are now broken each year, with temperatures continuing to rise).

I was in DC to join the march’s ‘Women for Climate Justice’ contingent, challenging, as per our statement, “a new US administration that promotes climate skepticism, the advancement of fossil fuels, an extractive economy, environmental racism, bigotry and inequitable treatment of women and girls” – and rising up for a healthy, just and thriving world.

In 2014, the first large-scale People’s Climate March was held in New York City. Then, as now, we were mobilising women’s rights and feminist groups to participate. Making climate change a feminist issue and centering environment in the women’s rights movement has been core to the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) since its founding in 1992.

While not immutable, binary nor universal, gender shapes expectations, attributes, roles, capacities and rights of women and men around the world. We see that environmental degradation and increasing climate chaos work to further entrench already existing inequalities. Women often have more limited access to resources and more restricted rights, including to land, mobility, and voice in shaping decisions and influencing policy.

...environmental degradation and increasing climate chaos work to further entrench inequalities.

At the same time, gender roles generally ascribed to women such as informal, reproductive work often relate to caregiving for households and communities, caretaking of seeds and soils, maintaining traditional agricultural knowledge, and responsibility for natural resource management such as firewood and water.

These roles create opportunity for developing more effective climate change interventions and policies at all levels, when women are equally engaged in decision-making and project implementation. As highlighted in a 2016 report, “There is a growing body of research highlighting the unique role of women in maintaining crop diversity in countries such as Nepal, and Bangladesh, often through saving and exchanging seeds and maintaining home gardens, serving as a source of household food security.”

This is the context in which women are challenging our environmental crises – fighting always against multiple forms of injustice. It is also why it’s critical for feminist analysis to include a strong focus on environmental and climate justice.

Of course, for women in communities around the world, indigenous women, land defenders and water protectors, the linkages in these multiple forms of oppression are not new.

For years, from the Chipko movement in India, to the fights of the peoples of COPINH in Honduras and the Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock – grassroots movements have been articulating and documenting the intersectional nature of resistance. But in governance, financing and mainstream development arenas, a siloed system has often challenged the development of a more intersectional global feminist resistance.

Indigenous Women’s Day at COP21. Indigenous Women’s Day at COP21, sharing stories on resistance and solutions to environmental struggles. Credit: Christine Irvine/ Survival Media Agency.Last year, for example, I attended the 2016 World Conservation Congress, entitled ‘Planet at a Crossroads’, held in Hawaii, USA and attended by over 8,000 conservation practitioners and scientists. The conference outcomes were to provide a blueprint for the next 30 years of conservation. Yet, despite having a very strong mandate for gender equality and women’s rights to be included in that agenda, and despite strong advocacy by groups like the Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network, not one Congress motion made mention of women or gender issues.

From that meeting, I traveled directly to the AWID Feminist Forum in Brazil, discussing our ‘Feminist Futures’. In this progressive feminist space, real progress has been made in terms of drawing links with environmental issues, and ‘climate and environmental justice’ was one of the main umbrella themes. (This was notable as the previous edition, three years prior, had very little space for environmental issues, despite being held in parallel to Earth Day and right before the Rio+20 Earth Summit).

There is no doubt in my mind that while this is a moment of great uncertainty, it is also a moment for great global movement-building and feminist revolution. On 13 May, I will join a group of feminist activists at the 2017 Nobel Women’s Initiative conference to discuss strategies and tactics for feminist resistance amidst the growing global backlash against women’s rights, human rights and peace. We must draw upon feminist analysis and vision to resist authoritarianism and violence – and shape our calls and work for a just, peaceful and healthy planet for all.

Movements are becoming increasingly intersectional and this must continue. The People’s Climate March (PCM) felt transformative not because of the numbers in the street, but because of the diversity of voices. Adopting a frontlines-first approach, it was led by indigenous peoples, immigrants, grassroots organisers, people of colour, refugees, unions, and workers. Chants called for ending fossil fuels as loudly as they called for justice for black lives, indigenous rights and women’s rights. At one point, a group of anti-abortion protesters were deafened as marchers joined in unison to declare, “My body, my choice” echoed with “Her body, her choice”.

Intersectional feminist leadership is essential to address structures, systems and values that undermine gender equality and women's rights.

Intersectional feminist leadership is essential to address the global structures, systems and values that undermine gender equality and women’s human rights and stand in the way of transformative development justice. In a world ravaged by countless, connected crises, injustices, and inequalities, we need champions of women’s human rights and all human rights. In the past year, we have witnessed the shrinking of space for civil society, the infringement of corporate greed on the rights of people and the killings of human rights defenders.

Feminists leading on climate and environmental justice must also be heard in spaces like the World Conservation Congress, at UN climate negotiations, summits on energy and economy, and financing mechanisms like the Green Climate Fund. Women’s full and equal participation is a basic tenant of women’s human rights, and initiatives to increase women’s leadership in politics via training and campaign skills, or in diverse sectors such as science, technology, engineering, and math should be applauded. WEDO’s own Women Delegates Fund works to improve the representation of women leaders in climate negotiations.

Activists demanding women’s voices be heard at COP22 Activists demanding women’s voices be heard at COP22. Credit: Annabelle Avril.We must further resist the corporatisation of feminism and gender equality. After all, the crux of our climate challenge can be summed up by profit over planet and people. Whether it’s the over-consumption of the developed world in general, or inequality within countries, for a global feminist resistance to truly work and demand climate justice it must challenge a capitalist economic system and private sector initiatives which claim to be supporting women’s rights.

For example, when UN Women chooses to partner with a corporation like Coca-Cola with the aim of women’s economic empowerment, it must equally challenge the corporation’s role in driving environmental instability, as well as impacts on health. Public-private partnerships which bolster the image of corporations while undermining political critique, and overshadowing negative environmental impacts, will not fuel the feminist revolution we need.

Demanding climate justice means calling for systemic change.

Demanding climate justice means we are calling for systemic change. It is not a call for individual actions to protect the environment. Protecting funding for Planned Parenthood is just as critical as ensuring the country fulfills and strengthens its commitments to the Paris Agreement, ensuring funding for developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change as both a legal and moral obligation. Feminist movements in developed countries must also tackle issues of overconsumption as part of organising for women’s rights.

Feminist leaders, particularly indigenous women and grassroots organisers, have to be at the frontlines of climate change decision-making. Examples highlighted in the 2016 WEDO report, Gender-Just Climate Solutions – including women-led clean-cookstove and solar installation projects in Tanzania, women-owned and operated energy cooperatives in Germany, and female entrepreneurial “energy shop” initiatives in Mozambique – women are already developing solutions to climate change which ensure rights and promote equality.

These projects provide solutions to transitioning to low-carbon economies in a just way. Crucially, they can also contribute to rethinking the current sexual division of labour, promoting decent work, the revaluing and redistribution of care work and the promotion of locally-driven sustainable economic structures. As WEDO co-founder “battling Bella” Abzug often said: “All issues are women’s issues.”

The Nobel Women's Initiative conference takes place in Germany 13-16
May. Follow
50.50's coverage of the event.


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Are Feminism and Islam Mutually Exclusive? Fighting Hislam

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/05/2017 - 2:53pm in


Feminism, Islam, Women

By Susan Carland | (The Conversation) | – –

Islam is not unique in having theological interpretations that centre on men. Christian, Jewish and Buddhist women (and men) have grappled with the overt and covert sexism within their own sacred texts and traditions in numerous ways. This is because where there are people there is often sexism, and sexism within societies is frequently echoed by, and transplanted on to, social institutions: the law, politics and, of course, religion. The Conversation

We cannot help but bring our own biases and experiences to the world we interpret. So, when religious texts are viewed through the sexist (or racist or pacifist or neoliberal or pluralist or anything else) lens of the reader, the outcome is obvious.

As the scriptures of many religions have been used either to empower or crush women, Muslims today are facing a similar struggle. What would be surprising to scores of people, however, is that many Muslims see the Qur’an and hadith as a defence for their arguments against sexism, not as a stumbling block to women’s liberation.

In the research for my book, Fighting Hislam, I was particularly interested in speaking to Muslim women about the role faith played in their fight against sexism. This is because one of the central criticisms of the sexism experienced by Muslim women is that it is inherent to Islam.

Yet many Muslim women seem to have a different attitude. In a comparative study of American, religious Christian and Muslim women, researchers found that:

it was typical for Muslim women to report that their religion supported feminism and, interestingly, it was typical of Christian women to report that their religion does not support feminist ideals.

They also found that:

Most of the Christian women in this study rejected the label of feminist, but espoused feminist values. In contrast, most of the Muslim women were willing to endorse the label of feminist, and actually identified Islam as a feminist religion.

More tellingly still:

The majority of Muslim women identified as feminist. This finding is in stark contrast to the common perception of Muslim women in American society.

Many of my interviewees echoed these findings. Even if they do not all subscribe to the word “feminist”, they still believe that Islam has an inherently anti-sexist core.

Of my participants, the vast majority were adamantly working from within a religious paradigm in their efforts to fight sexism. Australian participant Zafreen told me:

Islam and its teachings are capable of giving women an equal footing in society to men, and that Islam does not relegate women to the private sphere. I really believe some Muslims have distorted our teachings and forgotten our heritage. I believe that Islam can be used as a source of empowerment for women.

Other women felt differently. Asifa and Ghayda, for example, both said they drew equally from a religious and secular feminist framework. Ghayda confessed that she did not believe that “all problems can be solved within an Islamic framework because not all problems are strictly Islamic”. Asifa is more circumspect when explaining how and why she switches between approaches depending on her audience:

If I’m speaking to a completely secular feminist audience, I’m not going to be making Islamic law, faith-based arguments for general topics like women’s education or leadership. But if I’m speaking to audience where I know this might be a stumbling block for them for religious reasons, then I need I take on those religious reasons. So then I would speak from a more pro-faith perspective explicitly.

The vast majority of interviewees believed religion was the most effective tool to challenge and change sexism within Muslim communities. Nahida spoke about feminism being one of the key reasons for divine revelation in Islam, and the need to reclaim religious texts previously used for women’s oppression:

I am definitely of the perspective that religion is the key to liberating women — that feminist purpose was its very objective in revelation. Religion does not belong to men, it simply needs to be reclaimed by women to be employed for the very cause that it was introduced: to free the oppressed and bring peacefulness and goodness.

It was not only non-Muslims who viewed Muslim women fighting sexism with scepticism – other Muslims also viewed it with distrust. There was pressure on participants from Muslims and non-Muslims alike to consider themselves either a “proper” Muslim or someone who fights actively against sexism, but not both. One interviewee, Amina, said:

We were forced to choose — either Islam or human rights. And of course all the secular feminists went with human rights and said, “we’ll do without Islam”, and all the Islamists took Islam and said, “we’ll do without human rights”, and there we were in the middle with no name and no program. And at this point now we’ve managed to make a program, an agenda, a methodology, an epistemology, written books and the position is: we do not accept either/or at all. We have to have full human rights and Islam and that’s what you call pro-faith feminism.

Ayesha spoke of her own reconciliation with Islam and feminism, which came from greater immersion in religious texts:

For a long time I did feel like feminism and Islam were different … But once I started reading the mystical poets and reading a lot more about women who were deeply integrated into the Islamic tradition and yet were fighting for the rights of women, it started coming together for me, and giving me a living example of that.

Much of the non-Muslim world appears dismissive of the value Islam can have in Muslim women’s lives — and truly aghast at the notion it could play any role in eradicating the sexism in Muslim communities. The women I interviewed demonstrate otherwise. For them, Islam is a crucial tool in the work of gender justice and, in many instances, it is the only realistic option for transformation.

Susan Carland, Lecturer, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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