Saturday, May 10, 2008

Virgins Of Paradise

Saudi cleric Omar Al-Sweilem recently decided to remind the faithful of the true rewards of paradise. Thats right, for a life of submission you will be rewarded with virgins. Pay special attention because you are not going to get your everyday run of the mill virgins, oh no, that would never do. Your reward will be white virgins.

The following appeared in a MEMRI Transcript:

Omar Al-Sweilem: Harith Ibn Al-Muhasibi told us what would happen when we meet the black-eyed virgin with her black hair and white face – praised be He who created night and day. What hair! What a chest! What a mouth! What cheeks! What a figure! What breasts! What thighs! What legs! What whiteness! What softness! Without any creams – no Nivea, no vaseline. No nothing! He said that faces would be soft that day. Even your own face will be soft without any powder or makeup. You yourself will be soflt, so how soft will a black-eyed virgin be, when she comes to you so tall and with her beautiful face, her black hair and white face - praised be He who created night and day. Just feel her palm, Sheik! He said: How soft will a fingertip be, after being softened in paradise for thousands of years! There is no god but Allah. He told us that if you entered one of the palaces, you would find ten black-eyed virgins sprawled on musk cushions. Where is Abu Khaled? Here, he has arrived! When they see you, they will get up and run to you. Lucky is the one who gets to put her thumb in your hand. When they get hold of you, they will push you onto your back, on the musk cushions. They will push you onto your back, Jamal! Allah Akbar! I wish this on all people present here. He said that one of them would place her mouth on yours. Do whatever you want. Another one would press her cheek against yours, yet another would press her chest against yours, and the others would await their turn. There is no god but Allah. He told us that one black-eyed virgin would give you a glass of wine. Wine in Paradise is a reward for your good deeds. The wine of this world is destructive, but not the wine of the world to come.

The full video can be seen HERE.

It is clear that not only is Omar Al-Sweilem a raving misogynist but a racist as well. Two for the price of one. Isn't it wonderful how it is acceptable under the mantra of religion? In a shining example of bodies that matter, the cleric makes it clear that certain women should be reducible to body parts, and that dark women are not even worth exploiting. Not that I am complaining, as serving men has never been an aspiration of mine.

He does not care for the millions of black or dark skinned Muslim women that would find his commentary insulting and degrading. All that matters is the quest for pure white flesh. Once again white womanhood is presented as desirable, and pure while black or dark skinned women are disregarded and ignored. Those that internalize a message like this will see a division where non exists. Whether through invisibility, or a division into desirable body parts, this is a verbal assault on all women.

To reaffirm the inclusivity of this message, let us look at the sexual aspect of this. Women are reduced to body parts, so that they can serve the sexual desires of man. This happens throughout the world and is not specific to countries and or regions that practice Islam. He says, "Lucky is the one who gets to put her thumb in your hand". Thus women should feel honored to be able to be exploited. Can we say sexist male privilege. Come on say it with me.. sexist male privilege. Omar is using womens bodies to "sell" heaven. Be obedient and you shall reap the rewards.

I am not picking on Omar. I am well aware that patriarchy routinely uses womens bodies to "sell" ideas and commodities. Women can be found in western advertisements splayed across cars, or pitching BBQ sauce with their breasts hanging out. This is no different than Omars little Koranic sell job. He like everyone in the west is aware that sex sells. The bottom line is, whether black, brown, or white, womens bodies only matter to the extent by which they can be exploited. Perhaps if Omars sales pitch is successful in Saudi Arabia the Christian Right will find a way to use it in a western context. Coming to a church near you....

Jesse Jackson, Hunger and The IMF

Jesse Jackson met with U.S. ambassador, Janet Sanderson; Haitian President Rene PrĂ©val; parliamentarians; and leaders of the aid groups in Haiti at the end of April to discuss the food shortage. According to a press release from PUSH, Jackson’s organization, “Before the delegation left Port-au-Prince, they began discussing ways to provide children with school supplies in the fall and to convince Congress and the Bush administration to facilitate food relief.”

Haitians have been surviving by eating mud fried with butter and salt, while in the West people complain about limits on rice purchases as Sams Club. Even the poorest among western inhabitants, are not as poor as the citizens of Haiti. We readily throw food away, and for some what we consider garbage, would be thought of as richness.

Haitians are struggling to repay an odious date incurred by the Duvalier's. Over half of the $6 million a month Haiti pays to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—scheduled to increase soon to $8 million a month—pays for the Duvaliers’ loans. According to Workers World, "Since 1980 when the loans started to flow, its per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has shrunk by nearly 40 percent. Haiti became the poorest country in the Americas, and one of the hungriest countries in the world. Over half of all Haitians struggle to survive on $1 a day or less, 70 percent make less than $2 a day, and few poor people live past the age of 55."

"The main reason why Haiti can’t feed itself is that the World Bank and the IMF insisted as a condition for the loans they granted Haiti that it open its markets to the rice, corn and beans that U.S. agribusiness gets substantial subsidies to produce. These cheap imports drove local producers from the markets, which meant Haiti was at the mercy of the world market."

Western politicians have sold the world on the notion of a level playing field. This has never been possible, as the rules of trade inherently favor western capitalist nations. It is also important to note that the so-called third world countries can never achieve the gains of the west, as western hegemony was predicated on colonies. Third world nations have no people to colonize. How can trade be considered fair, and or equal when the basis of it, is one country exploiting another. By using economic power western nations have re-colonized third world nations. Consider that while the west routinely subsidizes agribusiness, third world nations are banned from doing so due to loan agreements signed with the IMF and World Bank. This causes many countries to import food that it should be growing.

The current food crises is man created. Food rots in Hatti's markets because people cannot afford to pay for it. The currency has been so devalued as to be worthless. In the meantime we sup happily without realizing the degree to which western economic privilege causes starvation to the bulk of the worlds people. Money, a social construction stands between people and healthy nutritious life sustaining food. Parents openly weep at the distended stomachs of their children. Where is the justice or equality in this situation?

I sometimes wonder if it is easier to bear the images of the starving, because the people by enlarged are darker skinned. Historically the brown and black peoples of this world have been disregarded, while whites have lived in privilege and in some cases overwhelming opulence. In fact the relations of trade are structured such that peoples of the Third World can be considered modern day slave workers, for what is a wage of a dollar a day but slave wages?

The common refrain heard in the west is take care of "our own" first. Who exactly make up "our own" kind? We know it is not blacks, and certainly not natives...perhaps "our kind" refers to whites. This kind of thinking is used to justify creating so-called third world bodies as "other". Western nations spew the rhetoric of multiculturalism while the darker skinned inhabitants live in poverty. Is it shocking that those that live outside the borders of luxury who are bodies of color are dehumanized and devalued?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Missing and Black

On an early spring evening in 2003 Ramona Moore went missing on her way to a Burger King. Until recently her name has been absent from the media. There were no national alerts, no hourly updates on CNN, in fact no media attention at all. According to the village voice even the killers were upset by the lack of coverage.

"They put people on the news for doing stupid shit like jumping off roofs," she heard one of the men tell the other. "After this, we better get on the news."

When Ramona's mother questioned reporters, about why her daughters disappearance was not getting any press, she was told that the police were saying that she was just another run away.

From almost the very beginning the police refused to assigned sufficient manpower, or take the case seriously. When Carmichael called to report her daughter missing after the initial 24 hour waiting period she was told, "Lady, why are you calling here? Your daughter is 21. These officers should not have taken the report in the first place." The next day, April 26, the complaint was marked "closed." Her family repeatedly begged officers to investigate Ramona's case. It took a plea from a local politician that was contacted by the family for a case to even be "re-opened".

No one cared about case No. 2003-067-65609. Romona was just another missing black woman. It is only in the aftermath of torture, rape and murder that the media and the police are finally paying attention. Justice has been served in that her killers are behind bars for life without the possibility of parole, but would it even have had a role to play had the police done their jobs from the very beginning?

Carmichael, Romonas mother is fighting to make sure that this does not happen to anyone else. She has filed a civil rights law suit charging that the NYPD has a "practice of not making a prompt investigation of missing-persons claims of African-Americans, while making a prompt investigation for white individuals." Judge Nina Gershon's ruling is believed to be the first of its kind in the city.

Without looking at the research statistics I feel within my heart that bias will be proven. As I sit and think of the nightly news reports that I have watched for years, I cannot recall missing stories on Blacks of any gender, or age being heavily reported. Blacks make the news when we commit crime, not when a crime is committed against us.

In Romanas case there is a connection between race, class and gender. Occupying the body of a black female made it all the more likely for her disappearance to be ignored. Women that make the news are by enlarged white and middle class. People are shocked when a white female body is defiled but when that body is black, it is the acceptable norm. Black bodies do not matter socially, and the bodies of black women matter even less.

As I have repeatedly posted black women historically have been characterized as the ultimate "un-woman". It is this social construction that makes our bodies ripe for exploitation in all forms. We are invisible until we are being used and abused. Considered to be without value, and recourse to make effective change we have been relegated to the bottom layers of society. Ramona is just one woman, but her death symbolizes the senseless deaths of black women since we first stepped foot on this harsh continent.

When we cry out with a mothers grief at the loss of our children, we are ignored. When we scream with a womans rage, when our bodies are brutalized, and raped we are silenced. When our stomachs burn with the bile of rejection, we are created as less than human. My blood boils with the rage of confronting daily, the scurrility of this system of human apathy and conceit. May Carmichael find true justice for her daughter, and for all of the brown and black daughters of the earth, who wait in silence and anguish for the cleansing justice of realizing their humanity in the light of day.

Murdered For Love

Murdered Activists: Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa

On July 8 2007 the bodies of Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were found murdered. At their memorial services the women were praised for their dedication to women. This is small recompense for the fact that they were raped and tortured after already living a life of fear. Their lives were brought to a brutal end because they dared to publicly love.
Though their deaths raised awareness of the fact that specific hate crimes legislation is needed it has not been drafted. Women who identify as lesbians are still being murdered in South Africa.
Nine men are currently standing trial for the death of 19 year old Zoliswa Nkonyana, who was also living openly as a lesbian. Due to the violence that was inspired with hatred lesbians have been to afraid to protest in Khayelitsha where the trial is taking place. According to the Cape times Campaign 777 named for the date on which Sigasa and Masooa were murdered, have approached police to convene a meeting with Khayelitsha's LGBTI community to "hear concerns" relating to the investigation of hate crimes, victimisation of gay men and lesbians, and homophobia.It also called on police to create a system of recording hate crimes and collecting statistics related to hate crimes. Keegan Lakay, of the Commission for Gender Equality, said the organisation was "frustrated" by the delays in bringing Nkonyana's alleged killers to trial. The trial has been postponed until May 19

There has been increasing violence against lesbians in South Africa. The fact that women are being raped before being murdered, implies that it is their rejection of men that has led to this violence. Rape prior to their murders suggest punishment for sexual orientation. Since rape is an expression of power over women it is possible to assume that the alleged perpetrators of these crimes were attempting to enforce mandatory heterosexuality as well as solidify the male right to female bodies.

Globally women are taught to be sexually available to men at all times. When a woman identifies as a lesbian she is declaring her allegiance to women, and therefore a rejection of patriarchal control. Some men are unable to "own" both male and heterosexual privilege, and as such find lesbians to be threatening. The penis in these instances comes to represent male hatred of women as it is used as the ultimate weapon of submission. Not only were these women openly lesbian, they were active in the GLBTI community, thus their rejection was not limited to the private sphere. Rape was a tactic to enforce the submission that these women refused to grant publicly. A way to "normalize" their behavior to the patriarchal standard.

To some degree the alleged murderers have accomplished their goal, as lesbians are now afraid to protest a crime that was clearly aimed at the heart of their community. Despite the gains of the GLBTI movement, many are still closeted because of fear of violence. For lesbians the fear is two fold in that they are subject to violence not only for their sexual identity, but for their gender. Despite attempts to increase awareness, and education campaigns, men continue to kill women at alarming rates. Each murder, and each act of sexual violence are not isolated incidents, rather they are a connection of a wider belief in female devalument and male entitlement. Patriarchy is a tenacious global foe, that refuses to go gently into the good night. I wish I had a solution to the violence. It leaves me impotent with rage, for how can loving someone and being born a woman be so terrible as to merit death. The beauty that exists in this world is tempered by hatred, ignorance and horror. I lament with a womans soul and in solidarity with Sizakele Sigasa, Salome Masooa,Zoliswa Nkonyana as well as those of have gone to a nameless cold grave, I demand the cessation of the rivers of blood.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Patriarchy Speaks

This next post is going to be a rant as there is no other way to respond to what I just had the misfortune to read. I visited The blog KALAGENESIS only to be confronted by some of the most sexist diatribe I have had the misfortune to read in the blogosphere for awhile.

"But many Black women like Angela Davis bought the communist/feminist line about male oppression.For Black girls the chance to sit next to Blond women who they've worshiped since they've gotten their first doll was a chance many could not resist.Am I making some of you uncomfortable?Good the truth always do.So to is the myth about the strong Black woman.This myth is designed to humiliate Black men and boys.Black men are still running most of the successful Black households,not women.It is Black men who are building businesses at the highest rate among any other group in America."

The reason that WOC identified with feminism is that they realized that they were/are subject to sexism. It is not about admiring white women. Many WOC have been very critical of white women in the feminist movement, therefore your declaration that our desire to identify with feminism due to our innate love of white womanhood is patently false. Perhaps you should read the work of an anti-racist feminist like bell hooks before making such wild declarations.
The strong black woman was not designed to emasculate black men as you contend. It is a social construction to encourage the belief that black female body did not constitute womanhood. In times of slavery black women worked side by side with the men in the fields simply because their femininity was not acknowledge while conversely white femininity was perceived as delicate and fragile. Creating the myth of the strong black female was based on a desire to to ensure a super exploitable workforce.

Finally, if black men are more successful in business (and I say if, because your assertion has not been proven by reliable data) it is because of the systemic nature of sexism. According to bell hooks, "black women are in an unusual position in this society, for not only are we collectively at the bottom of the occupational ladder, but our status is lower than that of any other group. Occupying such a position we bear the brunt of sexist, racist, and classist oppression. At the same time, we are the group that has not been socialized to assume the role of exploiter/oppressor in that we are allowed no institutionalized "other" that we can exploit or oppress."

It is Black men who are building businesses at the highest rate among any other group in America.Most African American organizations,churches,charities,businesses are run by Black men.This is in spite of opposition from a racist White America.Black females are helped by the government.After 1968 White feminist convinced the proleteriate Black women that being'independent' was the key and the result is every thug mama's boys,gangsta rapper you see.Get rid of strong men and the young bucks will rule.Now a solution to all of this is to mentor young men in your community.Lets fight these entertainers who are encouraging the thug criminal life just to peddle a few clown records.

In what ways are black females helped by the government? I do recall Reagan referring to black women as "welfare queens". Since women have always borne the brunt of child rearing I find your assertion that the rise of the single mother has anything to do with increased prison rate. In your analysis you fail to consider the war on drugs, the exploitative capitalist economy, and systemic racism. Oh no, it is far easier to blame the black woman. We, who hold the least power in society are responsible for societies ills. I would suggest to you, that issues are two fold, capitalism and patriarchy. The so-called young bucks will not rule if they are raised to respect women, society and given an equal opportunity. Men are currently ruling this world and what is the result: Famine, disease, hate crimes, wars, systemic rape, child abuse, pollution coupled with environmental degradation and the list goes on and on. You want change, advocate for a systems change, advocate for gender equality. Until those two things are achieved you can expect the state of the world to remain stationary. Blaming women for that which we neither consented to, or had any part in, is nothing but a sexist cop out to explain the status of the world.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Homosexuality In A Colonial Framework

(Pics: Pramod Samantray, BBC News)

Wetka and Melka, have declared their love for one another in a marriage ceremony in the Indian district of Koraput. Homosexuality has been criminalized since India was a colony of England. The 1861 law states:

Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Though the government does not prosecute these offenses there is still an extremely high level of homophobia in India. According to the BBC their tribes were not initially pleased with the pairs decision to marry. The villagers were concerned that they would not be able to support themselves without the help of men. Apparently due to the obvious love between the couple they were "forgiven". Wetka and Melka were ordered to pay a fine consisting of a barrel of country liquor, a pair of oxen, and a sack of rice and hosted a family feast.

By holding on to this dated statue, the Indian government is identifying with its colonial roots. Acts of homosexuality are no longer illegal in Britain. Despite an appeal lead by the Naz Foundation India Trust, in the, Delhi High Court challenging the constitutionality of this law, the Indian government continues to uphold this archaic prejudicial law. According to the ILGA the government response was as follows:

42nd and the 156th reports of the Indian Law Commission states that society does not approve of homosexuality and that therefore there is a justification in retaining the section 377 IPC in the books of statutes, while conveniently ignoring to mention that the same law commission in a later report namely the 172nd report of the Commission has actually recommended that the rape laws be changed to [a] make it gender neutral; [b] make special provisions for child sexual abuse; and [c] repeal section 377 of the IPC.
In paragraph 32 of the reply the government states: “In fact, the purpose of this section 377 IPC is to provide a healthy environment in the society by criminalizing unnatural sexual activities against the order of nature.” And then goes on to add in Paragraph 33: “If this provision is taken out of the statute book, a public display of such affection would, at the most, attract charges of indecent exposure which carry a lesser jail sentence than the existing imprisonment for life or imprisonment of 10 years and fine. While the Government cannot police morality, in a civil society criminal law has to express and reflect public morality and concerns about harm to the society at large. If this is not observed, whatever little respect of law is left would disappear, as law would have lost its legitimacy”.

Despite its claim that it is not attempting to legislate morality, the governments position supports heteronormativity, by positing displays of public affection of same sex couples would lead to moral decay. Discursively heterosexuality can only be maintained as positive (read:normal) by creating homosexuality as somehow perverse and or deviant. To support its position the government refers to "unnatural" sex acts. The fact that the same statue is used to prosecute pedophilia further encourages the social acceptance of homosexuality as something that should be reviled despite the fact that the two have nothing in common. This essentially marginalizes, and silences a minority of Indian citizens. What we are seeing is truly the tyranny of majority at work.

In the example of Wetka and Melka we can see how patriarchy and homophobia can work together to limit human relations. Their of act of love, was denied because there was concern for two women supporting themselves. From this we can infer a justification of mandatory heterosexuality based in a patriarchal understanding of gender roles. Indian society still sees men as providers, and women as nurtures. Though we are far removed from a hunter gather society, women are still relegated to roles that bare no relevance to the way that modern society functions. This patriarchal understanding not only affects those that identify as lesbians, it further curtails opportunities for women to be self supporting. Without access to the money market economy women become slaves through financial dependency. In fact it was necessary to Wetka and Melka to prove that they could be self sustaining to achieve a small form of approval that should not have been required for their relationship. In this it is clear what is defined as "natural" supports traditional gender roles.

By holding on to its colonial past rather than using traditional understandings of gender, and sexuality as written by the Hindu sage Vatsayana, the Indian government in actuality is governing contrary to its own national history. The kamasutra dedicates an entire chapter to homosexual love acts. The very existence of the Kamasutra challenges the idea of "natural" sex acts, on the continent. It is also worth noting that during the Mughal period, homosexuality was well received in Muslim courts. Normalizing behavior only serves to create a docile populace. The state is creating conformity through ignorance, hate and fear. When societies learn to hate based in ignorance, they are less likely to challenge legislation that seeks to supplant personal agency unless they can recognize an individual link. In this instance by holding on to its colonial past long after India's oppressors have publicly decried such ideals, stops India from reconnecting with a past that does not involve western construction. In its desire to progress on the global stage supplanting false social constructions as normal does not in anyway equate to the progress that it is trying to achieve. Progress cannot be borne on the backs of the stigmatized bodies of women, and or specifically the GLBT community. Obedience to social construction does not allow for fluidity or experimentation. When we stop growing as a people, societies become stagnate and are subject to decay. Equal participation allows for a continual influx of new ideas. Looking backward in this instance may be a key to future progress.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Breast Ironing

"Before this breast band, my mother used the grinding tone—heated in the fire—to massage my chest. Every night my mother examines my chest (and) massages me, sometimes with the pestle," Matia adds. "Although I cry hard because of the pain, she tells me: 'Endure, my daughter; you are young and there is no point in having breasts at your age'."
Josaine Matia, 11 years old
Yaounde, Cameroon

Words cannot aptly convey my horror at discovering this practice.

What is Breast Ironing?
Breast ironing is a traditional practice that involves massaging or pressing the breasts of adolescent girls in order to suppress and reverse their development. The rationale is to prevent girls from developing breasts in the belief that a flat, child-like chest will discourage unwanted male attention, rape and pre-marital pregnancy.

In an attempt to control female sexuality, and reduce male violence against women, the bodies of young girls are being mutilated. Clearly what is needed is more education regarding sexuality and rape. Incidents of teenage pregnancy would be reduced if they had access to good, reliable birth control. Most humans are sexual beings and the scaring or mutilation of the body will not in any way reduce the desire. One of the options that could be taught to the young is masturbation. It should be presented as a good alternative to engaging in sex with another person. Not only is it natural, it will teach young girls about their bodies. Adolescents also need to be aware that there are other ways to be sexual with each other, that do not necessarily require intercourse. This includes, but is not limited to, heavy petting, mutual masturbation, oral sex, and anal sex. With each of the aforementioned there is no risk of pregnancy ( though in some instances risk of STD's), and yet their sexual urges would be fulfilled. Informing them that there are kinds of sex that do not privilege intercourse, would also open the door to discuss the ways in which intercourse privileges male sexuality. A more female centric understanding of sex could be perpetuated this way.
A greater understanding of rape is also clearly needed. Rape is not about men wanting to have sex. Men rape women to express power. Deforming the bodies of young women will not reduce the incidents of rape. Stronger penalties for rapists, would go along way to reducing the incidents of rape.

Breast ironing is a well-kept secret between the young girl and her mother. Often the father remains completely unaware. The girl believes that what her mother is doing is for her own good and keeps silent. This silence perpetuates the practice and all of its consequences. Breast ‘ironing’ involves massaging the growing breasts of young girls in order to make them disappear, usually by using a stone, a hammer or a spatula that has been heated over coals.

Just as with FGM, this is a crime against young women committed by their mothers. Can there be nothing more damaging, than having the mutilation orchestrated by one that loves you? This is clearly a painful procedure. If this is a generational issue, I find it hard to believe that fathers are unaware of what is happening to their daughters. If they are married to women whose breasts have been ironed, why are they not discussing this issue with their wives?
I believe that fathers are willfully ignorant of this practice in their homes. Framing this as a womans issue, allows men to be absolved of their responsibility. The mutilation of young girls is something that both genders need to take responsibility for.

Proponents say they do this to discourage male interference in young girls, to prevent girls themselves from pursuing men, to discourage girls from engaging in sexual intercourse at a very young age and to reduce the risk of pregnancy. Because the topic of sex is taboo, young girls remain ignorant of how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Young people make up most of the 5.5 per cent of the population living with HIV, and teenage pregnancy is a growing concern—thus increasing reliance on breast ironing to deter sexual activity.
Proponents also argue that discouraging male attention will ensure that the girl’s studies will not be interrupted.

I find it interesting that the mutilation is occurring because of biology (read: womans ability to bear children) and male aggression and or "attention". Breast ironing reifies the ways in which patriarchy is inscribed on the bodies of girls and women. Notice that the genesis of this mutilation is the control of female sexuality, unwanted pregnancy and rape. There is no suggestion that the male body be similarly marked, and or disciplined.
It is also disturbing that it is justified as a way to increase female agency because it "allows" a girl to study. If education is truly a concern, why is the most basic form of education denied to these young girls? Surely accurate scientific information of the reproductive system, a class in sexuality, and a good class regarding global gender disparity would go along way to address the issues that parents are concerned about. Education that does not include the aforementioned leads to these harmful practices being acceptable.

Breast ironing appears to be most widely-practiced in Cameroon. It's more common in the Christian and animist south of the country than the Muslim north, where only 10 per cent of women are affected.
It also occurs in Guinea-Bissau, West and Central Africa, including Chad, Togo, Benin, Guinea-Conakry.
Some 24 per cent of girls in Cameroon, about one girl in four, undergo breast ironing.
Breast ironing occurs extensively in the 10 provinces throughout Cameroon.
A sample survey published in January 2006 of 5000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 in Cameroon, estimates that 4 million women had suffered the process.
Today, 3.8 million teenagers are threatened with the practice.
Up to 53 per cent of women and girls interviewed in the coastal Littoral province in the southeast, where the country's main port, Douala, is situated, admit to having had their breasts 'ironed'.
More than half (58 per cent) of cases breast ironing were undertaken by mothers. Other relatives also participate.

These are only the stats for one country. How many womens lives are impacted by this cruel practice? We must reach out to our sisters in solidarity. Their cries of pain must be heard by all.

Health and Socio-Economic Implications
Breast ironing is terribly painful and violates a young girl’s physical integrity.
Breast ironing exposes girls to numerous health problems such as abscesses, itching, discharge of milk, infection, dissymmetry of the breasts, cysts, breast infections, severe fever, tissue damage and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts.
This painful form of mutilation could not only have negative health consequences for the girls, but often proves futile when it comes to deterring teenage sexual activity.

What I see here is a list of the possible physical ramifications of this practice, without any discussion of the mental trauma. Just because something is common in society, does not mean that it does not leave an individual with psychological damage. Clearly to truly heal these women will need counseling. Not only have their bodies undergone trauma, but it is a trauma that has come from the women in their lives that they are supposed to be able to trust. Breast Ironing is not a one time event like FGM, it happens repeatedly throughout a young girls adolescence. I believe it is fair to assume that having undergone this kind of repeated torture, a vast majority of women would suffer from some form of post traumatic stress disorder.

The Network of Aunties Association, RENATA, made up of members who have undergone the practice are drawing public attention to the psychological trauma and other ensuing health risks in order to protect young girls from this form of bodily mutilation.
RENATA has produced radio and television spots, and several radio and television journalists have joined in spreading information about breast ironing. Leaflets and calendars outlining the types of objects used in breast ironing, the extent of the practice and its consequences have also been produced.

When I first heard about this, I was filled with impotent rage. What could a western woman living half a world away do to help this cause? I decided to blog about it to help raise awareness, and to write a letter to my local representative encouraging him to bring what ever political pressure he could to this issue. I encourage whoever reads this blog to spread the word, and write their representative. Perhaps if globally more people are aware and western governments put pressure on countries akin to Cameroon, an end can be brought to this. I believe that no effort in the pursuit of justice is ever wasted.

Governments in affected countries should raise public awareness of the dangers of breast ironing and why it needs to be stopped. Awareness raising should also include frank discussions of sexuality. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for many parents to talk to their children about sex owing to modesty or for cultural reasons. Some expert theorize that parents prefer instead, to rid their children of the bodily signs of puberty in order to avoid potentially embarrassing discussions. The onset of adolescence, however, is exactly the right time to start such dialogues.
Prosecution of perpetrators

I do not agree with prosecution of the perpetrators. If women were made aware of exactly how harmful these practices are, they would over time refuse to do this to their daughters. Already there is a reduction in FGM through educational programs. If parents are not comfortable discussing sexuality with their children, it should be the responsibility of the education system to offer classes to their students. What is not being taught in the home, needs to be addressed. It will take a combined effort of women and men to raise the status of women in society. Education is the first step to realizing the end of this form of mutilation. You cannot persecute a well intentioned mother for deforming her child when she does so out of ignorance.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Is Planned Parenthood Racist?

Recently there has been quite the publicity storm regarding an experiment at University of California at Los Angeles newspaper, The Advocate. An actor posed as a donor who specifically wanted to fund the donation of an abortion for a black woman. This request was repeated at several clinics and in each instance Planned Parenthood agreed to accept the donation.

The second part of the video can also be seen on youtube. According to FOX News, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has declared this a race issue. He is quoted as saying, "Every day … over 1,500 black babies are murdered inside the black woman’s womb." The Rev. Clenard Childress, is quoted as saying, "I think the media, and I think America, and certainly black folks, need to start thinking about race and Planned Parenthood." According to pro-life Concerned Women of America, Planned Parenthood received $65 million for the fiscal year 2007 from federal Title X funding and has received $300 million in government contracts and grants in the current fiscal year. The pastors and activists are urging Congress to end the government funding of the organization.

Planned Parenthood responded with the following statement:

The national office of Planned Parenthood provided FOX News with a lengthy statement on Thursday in which it said its role in the African-American community is widespread because the need is greater.

“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) revealed that a shocking number of teenage African-American girls — nearly half — carry a sexually transmitted infection," reads the statement. "This compares to an overall average rate for all teenage girls of at least one in four.

“The largest increases in the teen birthrate were reported for non-Hispanic black teens, whose overall rate rose five percent in 2006. In addition, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than the general population,” it said.

Planned Parenthood further argues that 97% of its services are focused on providing contraceptives, breast and cervical cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.

"Those services are more important than ever as this country faces a health care crisis — too many women can't afford birth control, too many families don’t have adequate health insurance coverage and too many young people are faced with unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections," the organization stated. "As a safety-net provider, it is Planned Parenthood's mission to provide women, men and teens with affordable access to reproductive health care services and information, regardless of income."

Since first becoming aware of this story in the news I have ruminated on it. As a woman I firmly believe in a womans right to choose, and as a person of color I was filled with conflicting emotions at the thought that we might be targeted for abortions. I thought about the history of racism. I thought about the forced sterilizations of black women. I thought about the social construction of women, and womens sexuality. This lead me to the conclusion that this is not a race issue.

When a woman walks into a place like Planned Parenthood she is well aware of the THREE options that exist: keep the child, give the child up for adoption or have an abortion. Irregardless of the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood, when each individual walked into that agency they were will aware of their options. Despite the fact that religious leaders have used inflammatory language like murder to describe abortion, what we are essentially talking about is the primacy of the body. If the ministers get their wish, and Planned Parenthood losses their federal funding, the abortions will not stop. What will happen is that women will risk their lives in back alley abortions. Forty percent of American women have had abortions and the only way to reduce that figure is to offer better forms of birth control, and sex education.

The charge of racism is reflective of the current battle of reproduction that is being waged. Whether it is the quiverfull movement, represented by families like the Duggars, or PM Erdogan’s repeated calls for Turkish women to give birth to more children, globally each race and culture seems to be engaged in a competition to reproduce. The quiverfull movement bases its foundation in Christianity, with a thinly veiled racist mantra of being overrun by the dark hordes. Erdogan views reproduction as a victory over Islams enemies. Each group seems to have a justification as to why women should reject birth control and refuse to have abortions. Each presents motherhood as the ultimate goal, responsibility and desire of women. Biology therefore becomes the determinant of ones life path, irregardless of desire or suitability for parenthood. This kind of thinking reduces women to walking uterus's, without individual agency. I for one, am more than my reproductive organs.

Pro-Life advocates are attempting to turn this into a racial issue in order to further restrict a womans right to choose. If statistics from the CDC are to be trusted, the reason that WOC are having more abortions is because we are the ones who are having unplanned pregnancies. The rate of sexually transmitted disease within the African American community attests to the fact that many are engaging in unprotected sex. Many are offended that Planned Parenthood would accept a donation from someone who clearly advocated the genocide of black people, I however do not care where the money comes from. If the bottom line means that women who would not have otherwise had access to an abortion are able to have one now, then contrary to the wishes of the donor they have actually done a social service. The average cost of an abortion is four hundred and eighty dollars, and for a woman living in poverty this amount of money could be difficult to raise. For some it could mean making a choice between paying rent, buying food or funding an abortion.

These pro-life protesters all refuse to deal with the real issues behind why the rate of abortion is so high for African American women. Blacks are subject to systemic racism, high rates of poverty and high rates of imprisonment. This is the social world that black children are born into. No where do I see these ministers advocating for things like socialized health care, education, daycare and flexible working hours for mothers. Even when men are participating in the rearing of a child, most of the labor is still performed by women. It seems to me that if the goal is to encourage women to have more children, it would make sense to advocate that which would make it easier for a woman to raise them. Instead they are focusing on birth which is a false starting point, as parenthood is a lifelong occupation. Race in this case is being used as a mechanism of control, to instill fear in the black population. As we have witnessed with the passage of legislation like the patriot act, fear can be effective in convincing people to give up rights guaranteed by law.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Is Mandela A Terrorist?

During the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa, the ANC was considered a terrorist organization. The US, in full support of the South African government also declared the ANC a terrorist organization. In further support the US government sold weapons to Israel, that it knew were being resold to South Africa to help quash the revolution that blacks were trying to accomplish.

Flash forward to 2008. South Africa is no longer an apartheid regime and openly criticizes Israels policy towards the Palestinians ( a bit of bitting the hand that fed you there). Its most famous political prisoner has been released and actually formed the first free government in South African History. How has the US reacted to the change?

Nelson Mandela though a former president, and a Nobel Peace prize winner sits on the US terror watch list. Each time he enters the country, he needs special permission. According to USA today, Rice told a Senate committee recently, her department has to issue waivers for ANC members to travel to the USA.

"This is a country with which we now have excellent relations, South Africa, but it's frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela," Rice said.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, is pushing a bill that would remove current and former ANC leaders from the watch lists. Supporters hope to get it passed before Mandela's 90th birthday July 18.

How magnanimous of the US government, to remove the terrorist tag on Mandela before he turns 90. Globally Mandela is viewed as a visionary, and an emissary of peace. After being imprisoned for 27 years and watching the suffering of his people, Mandela did not call for revenge, no he called for reconciliation and forgiveness. Yet this man sits on a terrorist watch list.

Obviously this is a matter that could have been rectified long ago had the US government chosen to change his status. Maybe it was just a small oversight, after all President Bush at one time declared Mandela dead. Why remove a dead man from a terrorist watch list?