Friday, March 27, 2009

An Enduring Act of Political Violence

As we close Women's Month, let us revisit these words by Gerda Lerner: Women have always made history as much as men have, not 'contributed' to it, only they did not know what they had made and had no tools to interpret their own experience. What's new at this time is that women are fully claiming their past and shaping the tools by means of which they can interpret it.

Denial of the right to historical signification is an enduring act of political violence against women, who ironically actually comprise majority of the world's population. It occurs again and again, throughout historic time, with impunity. No one calls authority to account for the crime, because it is more comfortable to be a stand-in woman than a liberated one.

To appreciate the irony, consider that of the 50 persons designated by the Financial Times as framers of the debate on the future of capitalism, 5 (as in FIVE) are women. Meaning women have little or no say at all as to the shape of the future; they should only suffer in silence.

This denial of the right to history loops women's development into repeated beginnings -- because liberation for women is not possible while preserving, at the same time, patriarchal dominance. Hence, women's social and political evolution must be truncated again and again, the knowledge they accumulated through experience declared untenable, "out of line," wrong, etc., so that they can never reach that eureka moment of understanding that oh, liberation is comprehensive -- i.e., not only in terms of production but also reproduction; not only in terms of production relations but also in terms of social, political and gender relations.; that historically, women's experience of class itself has been arbitrated by gender; that there are specific characteristics of women's class oppression.

This act of political violence against women erases their history often at the instant of its making -- all words, all acts washed away upon the dictates of those who have arrogated unto themselves the right to decide what is history and what is not, what is significant and what is not. And their prime weapon in this act of political violence is the stand-in woman.

Remember this, if nothing else, about the 31 days of this month, March, in the year 2009. -- ##

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Open Letter to President Obama on the Nicole/VFA Case

I understand this was sent today. -- N

March 18, 2009

His Excellency, Barack H. Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20500

Cc: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Dear President Obama:

We write to you because we are disturbed and anguished by reports that the U.S. government was complicit in the attempt to frustrate the course of justice with regard to the rape conviction of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith in the Philippines.

A majority of our members are women of Philippine ancestry who already have to contend with the persistent reputation of Filipinas as among the most trafficked women in the world, both in the international labor and sex markets, and as among those so victimized by sexual and domestic violence.

Nine of the eleven women recently killed by intimate partners in Hawaii were Filipinas, who also comprise 40% of women killed by intimate partners in San Francisco. Filipino-American communities, from New Jersey to Honolulu, suffer a high rate of violence against women. This perception of Filipinas as "fair game" for sexual and other forms of violence was created, among other causes, by more than a hundred years of being prostituted to the U.S. military.

Enabling a member of the U.S. military now to avoid legal repercussions for having sex, to the rowdy cheers of his fellow soldiers, with an indisputably intoxicated 22-year-old woman, who was then tossed out of the van in a state of semi-undress and semi-consciousness, is certainly not the change we have been waiting nor looking for. These facts were not disputed at the trial in the Philippines that convicted Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith in 2006.

Many states in the United States itself accept by law the fact that an inebriated woman cannot consent to have sex. This inability to give consent supersedes any other circumstance that may appear to encourage sexual attention, like wearing a short skirt, being flirtatious, or even kissing the violator. In those states, what transpired between “Nicole” and Cpl. Smith would be considered rape, especially as nothing was brought forth at the trial that would imply consent on Nicole’s part.

We worry now that because of this bargain between the U.S. and Philippine governments, U.S. military personnel may return to the U.S. believing that soldiers have the right to force sex upon women in whatever circumstance. No doubt you are already familiar with the unconscionable rate of sexual harassment, rape and violence against women suffered by female soldiers and military wives. This will but add to the U.S. military’s mistaken impression that war, occupation or just being more powerful and with more weapons than anyone gives them the right to defy U.S. laws, host countries’ laws and international law.

The Nicole incident happened in November, 2005 and the following year, in September, 2006, 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza was gang-raped and murdered, along with her parents and younger sister, by U.S. troops in Iraq.

If, way back in November 2005, the U.S. government and the U.S. military had taken a strong stand against our troops inflicting sexual violence/violence upon women in general and upon women of host countries in particular, then we would not have this spectacle of avowed “liberators” gang-raping and killing those they purportedly “liberate.”

Instead, the U.S. military threatened the Philippine government with cancellation of humanitarian aid, with cancellation of joint military exercises, and the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines did everything possible to frustrate the carrying out of justice for the rape of Nicole.

This is not the change we waited for.

In this era of change you vowed to bring with your inauguration as president, at the very least, we are asking for specific provisions protective of women, and against violence against women, trafficking and prostitution in each and every military agreement, every Status of Forces and Visiting Forces Agreement, that U.S. enacts with another country.

This would help institutionalize, on a global scale, the pro-women stance that your administration made visible through your signing of the Ledbetter Act and the creation of the White House Women’s Council.

Thank you. We await your reply – preferably with action.

Respectfully yours,

Annalisa Enrile (interim Chair) Candace Custodio (Chair-elect)
Jollene G. Levid (Secretary-General)


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Nicole

Suzette’s (aka Nicole) sworn affidavit was carefully crafted to provide “mitigating circumstances.” It is possible for this to become the basis of a reduction in sentence (like "time-served" in the U.S. embassy; or the 30 days in a Makati jail) or a presidential pardon for the convicted Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith.

It’s a shadow-play which solves nothing regarding the one-sided Visiting Forces Agreement and the underlying U.S. military’s perception and treatment of Filipinas in general as five-letter women good only for prostitution.

Remember the U.S. troops' statement that they thought Suzette was "a professional." -- ##

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Washing Machine Liberated Women

So said the Vatican, in its first International Women's Day message.

What do you make of that?

Women's Day in the Sun

March 8th – and looks like the 20,000 words per day women use (as opposed to men’s 7,000) were all deployed to celebrate IWD. A few men did use their 7T to say something about women but by today, 09 of March, they have likely forgotten all about us, except in terms of – ah well, you know what.

In any case, silence was my choice for IWD. Went here and there, was impressed by many talks, speeches, statements; savored every dish in the usual wall-to-wall buffet of the migrant workers who will open their first training on gender rights for domestic workers next month (email or call 212 592 3507, if you want to participate). Checked the Internet, radio, TV, for news of marches, demonstrations, tried to respond to questions verbal, email and otherwise, and was assailed by an unbearable mood, suddenly recalling driving through the redwood forest of California with Mirk and telling her, if we don’t make it this time, let’s just come back and do it again and again and again, to the end of time – it being women’s liberation.

Looks like we might just have to be reincarnated, because though IWD is 100 years old in the US and 98 for the rest of the world, the questions, doubts and hesitancies remain the same, as though women’s history and women’s struggles lie outside the pale of dialectics and must loop back to square one, hit the re-set button periodically, so we do Herstory every 20 years or so, re-inventing the wheel, as it were. It’s enough to cause us to tear our hair and call ourselves WMD (women of mass destruction) as we lay down the narratives created out of women’s blood, sweat and tears to the god of amnesia as demanded by patriarchal authority.

This is the only history I know of that is perceived as without a continuum. In other words, the questions and discourse remain the same, hay naku!

Isn’t asking for women’s equality under this exploitative system simply asking for the right to be equally exploited? Yes, if one believes that equality can be achieved under an exploitative system (which is of course ridiculous); no, if one knows that no exploitative system can provide complete equality because it is organized on the basis of disenfranchisement, deprivation and marginalization. Hence complete equality demands the dismantling of the system of exploitation. However, it is important to ask for equality under any system because doing so is part and parcel of the historical process of women developing a sense of their collective Self as women.

If this were the argument, that equality is simply the right to be equally exploited, what was the point in asking for the right to vote? Only the ruling class and its minions prevail in the electoral process, anyway. Or for the right to go to school? Or even the right to drive a vehicle? Why bother fielding such campaigns as “take back the night” in the face of the nihilistic argument that there’s no point to being safe from rape and assault in a society maintained by the violence of exploitation?

On the other hand, the last two decades showed us that trying to develop a non-exploiting system without working toward women’s equality is NOT possible -- as so many ambitious experiments in re-organizing society discovered to their own chagrin when their societies collapsed. And there’s a historical reason for that.

More next time. -- ##