Friday, February 14, 2014

N. Jerin Arifa on Real Justice for Women in America

What would real justice look like for women in America? That was the question on everyone’s mind during V-Day’s public forum on how and why American women experience economic, racial, and cultural violence. Titled “The State of Female Justice in America” the panel consisted of diverse women – unique both in their backgrounds, and the issues they primarily address. Laura Flanders of GritTV brilliantly hosted the New York event, which I had the privilege of attending with members of the Young Feminists and Allies NOW chapter. I am still meditating on everything they discussed, long after we reflected on the event during our chapter’s monthly conference call.

I was not the only one moved by this event. Audience members cheered, gasped and cried after hearing the presenters and watching the touching eight-minute documentary on last year’s One Billon Rising activities. When founding V-Day, Eve hoped she would retire by now, with violence against women becoming an unpleasant memory. She urged us to consider the idea of Quantum Feminism, i.e., an equality movement that is truly intersectional and light years ahead of the current tactics we are using to combat patriarchy. I have been ruminating on what that might look like.

As a young, immigrant, Muslim, woman-of-color feminist, I thought I was pretty hip to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s idea of intersectional feminism. Even with these minority identities, I understand my privilege as an able bodied/cisgender/heterosexual/married/etc. woman. Donna Hylton of STEPS to End Family Violence reminded me of a group I still forgot – incarcerated women. Whatever we may think of incarcerated women – the majority of whom are there for nonviolent offenses – it should alarm us that women in prison can be shackled during childbirth in all but 13 states, and the majority of these mothers will be immediately separated from their children. Audience members gasped when Ms. Hylton informed us of how 2.3 million people – American prisoners – can be left to die in their cells in the case of a natural disaster. Our tax dollars are paying for the inhumane prison industrial complex.

Continuing on the theme of intersectionality, Cathy Albisa of the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative discussed the successful Vermont campaign for universal health care, where organizers refused to throw any group under the bus to gain momentum – including undocumented workers. I am proud of the Violence Against Women Act organizers who recently refused to give into demands to remove protections for groups including the LGBTQAI community, Native American women, women on college campuses and immigrant women. We stayed the course and passed an inclusive VAWA for everyone.

Sylvia McAdam, a Canadian First Nations activist and co-founder of Idle No More, brought to light another group most often forgotten – indigenous women. She explained how colonialism, neo-colonialism and corporate greed violate both women and Mother Earth. Conservative Canadian lawmakers are overwriting indigenous sovereignty that protects the environment. Countless indigenous women in Canada are missing or being murdered, with the government doing little to help. Eve reminded us how violence against women has been used as a cheap and effective tool for corporate greed in the Congo. Armed militias enter Congolese villages and rape their women, knowing it will destroy the communal structure. Then, they can mine the valuable minerals in those grounds – minerals we use in cell phones. Ms. McAdam reminded us that our silence against these injustices equals consent.

Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United identified the one common enemy we can all fight against – corporate control of major sectors of the economy and other vital domains of life. Whether it’s the military industrial complex killing thousands and destroying nations through wars, the prison industrial complex slowly or quickly killing 2.3 million Americans, corporations assaulting our planet for profit, or sanctioning the killing and raping of women, it is corporate power that is the biggest ally of patriarchy. Just as the world joined together for One Billion Rising, we must come together to fight this global evil.

When discussing injustices against women, we often give examples of grave abuses. Ms. Albisa reminded us that we do ourselves a disservice by overlooking the “smaller” inequities. She discussed the story of two farm worker parents who were finally able to walk their child to school in the mornings after winning the right to better working conditions. When asking for justice, why should we aim to curb only the most violent offenses? We deserve full equality.

-N. Jerin Arifa Rise4JusticeBlog

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