Oct 252011

It has been almost ten years since I founded the Feminist Peace Network as a safe a supportive place to discuss how militarism, violence and misogyny impacts women’s lives.  While FPN has thrived and expanded, I am depressed beyond words to see  those very same issues of safety, sexism, misogynist power structures and lack of gendered analysis  within the growing Occupy movement.  Just as there was an urgent need for spaces such as FPN as a response to the military attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, it is now crucial to respond to issues of misogyny in the Occupy movement.

While occupying Wall Street is important, taking a step back, we are reminded that Wall Street is a manifestation and tool of the much larger problem of patriarchal control and power which has been plaguing us for thousands of years and which depends in large part on the exploitation, subjugation and control of women.  Put bluntly, the harms experienced by women as a result of global economic policies are, in aggregate, different and often far worse than those experienced by men.

The majority of people living in poverty are female, in this country women are lucky to make 77 cents on the male dollar (women of color often earn far less than that).  Women are forced to do the overwhelming majority of unpaid work such as child and elder care and housework.  In times of economic instability, women are more vulnerable to intimate violence while at the same time social services that could help them are cut.  We are still paying more for health care and our access to reproductive health services is under siege. And throughout the world women are more likely to go hungry and poverty forces women into sexual slavery.

If we truly want to change the economic paradigm, these issues must be integral to the agenda, yet they are being marginalized and all but invisible in the Occupy movement.  When women dare to bring them up, we are met with the very tired and patriarchy preserving saws about looking at the whole and not being divisive. In a blog post that is sadly reminiscent of Robin Morgan’s description in her book, Demon Lover of the same problem in the early days of second wave feminism,  Angie Becker Stevens writes about the phenomenon for Ms Magazine,

On the other side of the coin, though, the ‘Occupy’ movement needs to embrace feminism as part of its cause. The folks I know personally who have been working tirelessly for the movement in New York are committed to a platform opposing all forms of oppression. But those views are not necessarily a reflection of all who are “occupying” New York and elsewhere. In the short time I’ve been involved with the developing Occupy Detroit movement, I have already met with resistance from some people when trying to bring gender—as well as race and sexual orientation—into the dialogue. The arguments given are probably familiar to any feminist activist who has engaged in broader-based movements: that we will only dilute our message if we start talking about all these different issues at once; that we need to focus on this one big issue that affects all of us; that we’ll deal with all these “social issues” later.

Many—typically straight white men—claim that talking about gender and race will only divide us, when what we need is to be standing together and focusing on how we’re all the same. But the reality is that we do not all experience oppression in the same ways. There is value in uniting–the ‘Occupy’ movement’s slogan that “we are the 99%” is a powerful one–but our experiences still differ based on race, class, gender and sexual orientation. It is perhaps a well-intentioned notion to imagine that we can unite in a way that transcends these categories, but it’s a notion that has no basis in the reality of our society. Because these categories, however artificially constructed they might be, still play a huge role in how and to what degree we are exploited, it is impossible to fight oppressive forces without acknowledging the reality of how they function. We can stand in solidarity with one another without pretending that our experiences are identical. In fact, I would argue that the only true solidarity is one in which we fully recognize and respect both how our struggles are alike and how they differ.

Not surprisingly, there have also been blatant episodes of sexist, misogynistic objectivity such as Steven Greenstreet’s Hot Chicks of Wall Street video and blog which purports to attract guys to Occupy because there are “smart hot chicks” there.  Then there is this horrific tidbit from Peter J. Reilly at Forbes,

What better way is there to “neutralize” a dissenter than by having her and especially him sexually assaulted or even merely threatened.  The humiliation is unbearable.

“Especially him”?  The implication would seem to be that women are used to sexual assault so it is no big deal.

It is critical that we not let such statements pass unnoticed for the supposed greater good of the cause and it is also crucial that we insist that the needs of the 99% not be reduced to a homogenous white male centric vision of what is needed. Real change on Wall Street will only come from addressing the root problem of patriarchy.

Towards this end, the Feminist Peace Network has started a new project called Occupy Patriarchy which will work towards bringing together those of us who are confronting and addressing the issue of patriarchy within the Occupy movement.  The project was conceived of in partnership with feminist scholar and activist Kathy Miriam who was one of first people to begin to articulate what has been happening and whose work has been a catalyst in my own thinking.  We have set up both a website and a Facebook page where we will be posting links to work being done throughout the country and the world as well as commentary and guest posts from other activists.  We invite you to become part of this effort.


 October 25, 2011  Posted by on October 25, 2011 5 Responses »
Oct 092011

Before I write another word, I feel a need to apologize.  What you are about to see is about taking care of your car and curing cancer all at the same time and it is pink.  Very pink.  It  started with a banner ad that popped up on a website I was looking at this morning:

There is little I like less than companies who make things that are linked with cancer (such as car exhaust) making money on breast cancer cause branding and I couldn’t figure out how getting a $10 dollar rebate on a very pricey oil change was going to cure breast cancer, so much against my better judgement,  I clicked the ad.

Which led to this:

Wow, did they just up the ante on possibly the pinkest car ad ever?  Forget the oil change, now they are suggesting we have to buy a whole car?  Still not a word on how this fights breast cancer.  So I decided to go googling and found this:

Join the fight against Breast Cancer | Washington, MI

The copy below the banner reads,

When you submit a service rebate for service performed in October, you can help change a woman’s life when you elect to waive some or all of your eligible rebate(1). Whether it’s $5, $10 or $25. Chevrolet will contribute the money to the American Cancer Society®(2). Join Chevrolet in the fight against breast cancer.

Talk about generosity–if we buy their overpriced service, they will send our money to ACS.  Not one word about an actual donation from Chevrolet itself.

You can contact Chevrolet here and tell them what you think of their self-serving, ungenerous, pink-washed ad campaign here.  Chevrolet owes an apology to everyone who has ever had breast cancer and while we’re at it, a plan to cut cancer causing auto emissions.


Chevy isn’t the only automaker to run campaigns like this.  I had to get new windshield wipers awhile back and the guy at the Toyota service center told me that half of the purchase price for the wipers would go to breast cancer.  I started loudly saying that I was opposed to companies that make cancer producing products doing this sort of cause branding and I’d prefer to buy the wipers at half the price.  Which they quickly agreed to if for no other reason than to get me to shut up. Of course half the price is what the wipers should have been in the first place, not the jacked up price that forces the customer to be generously overcharged so that the company looks like it cares.

 October 9, 2011  Posted by on October 9, 2011 2 Responses »
Oct 072011

The Feminist Peace Network congratulates Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakul Karman of Yemen on winning the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. It has been seven years since a woman won this prize and now finally, we can celebrate the bounty of three courageous women winning the prize at once!

There have been so many years when this prize has gone to men responsible for horrendous acts of war and violence while so many brave women throughout the world work to end war and achieve peace even as bullets fly around them and they themselves are victims of horrendous personal violence such as rape.  It is time for the Nobel Peace Prize to only be given to those who wage peace, not those who use it as a hollow excuse for war.

As we celebrate this prize, let us also celebrate and honor the work of women throughout the world who work for peace and give them the recognition they also deserve.

 October 7, 2011  Posted by on October 7, 2011 1 Response »
Oct 052011

When the United States attacked Afghanistan ten years ago, we were told that not only were we going after those who had attacked us but also that we would liberate Afghan women from the Taliban.  It was a very effective selling point, there is nothing we tend to like better than rescuing helpless women.  But let’s be clear–that was not the reason we invaded Afghanistan–women had been being abused by the Taliban and the warlords before them for quite some time by then.  As we observe the 10th anniversary of what now seems like an endless war, it is important to look at what Afghan women have experienced since the U.S. invasion and what needs to be considered going forward.

ActionAid and Oxfam have both issued lengthy reports addressing these issues.  In a survey of 1000 Afghan women, ActionAid found that,

72% of Afghan women believe their lives are better now than they were 10 years ago, while 37% think Afghanistan will become a worse place if international troops leave. A massive 86% are worried about a return to Taliban-style government, with one in five citing their daughter’s education as the main concern…

…However women’s rights groups in Afghanistan say they are being kept in the dark regarding the talks with the Taliban, as well as being frozen out of an important international conference on the country’s future and transition of power, which will take place in Bonn, Germany in December 2011…

…Women who have stood up for women’s rights in the past 10 years are also worried about their own personal safety if the Taliban returns to power, with some activists making plans to leave the country.

The report goes on to say that today,

  • 39% of children who attend school are girls
  • 27% of MPs are women (higher than the world average)
  • 5% of positions in the army and police force are filled by women
  • 25% of government jobs are filled by women

These achievements are real and should not be underestimated. Yet huge challenges remain and too many women are still denied rights that should be taken for granted. Even now, a woman who runs away from home to escape domestic abuse is seen as dishonouring her family and often loses the right to see her children.

Forced and child marriage are common and only 13% of women are literate (the figure for men is 43%). Eighty-seven per cent of all women in Afghanistan suffer domestic abuse, according to a UN survey and life expectancy for both men and women is around 45 – more than 20 years lower than the world average. The Save the Children index this May described Afghanistan as the worst place in the world to be a mother – one in 11 women perishes in pregnancy (one every 30 minutes) while one child in every five dies before reaching its fifth birthday. This means that every mother in Afghanistan is likely to face the loss of a child. And many women remain isolated. The ActionAid poll found that four in 10 women never leave their village or neighbourhood.

It is important to note, which this report does not, that not only do women run away from home to escape domestic abuse, but all too often they attempt suicide to escape, frequently setting themselves on fire to do so.  The abuse itself is often horrific beyond description, including brutal disfigurement and outright murder.

As for where we are now, ActionAid reports,

“After the fall of the Taliban things got better. But then gradually, after 2006, the situation got worse,” says Selay Ghaffar, executive director of ActionAid partner HAWCA. “All these efforts were undermined because of security and the presence of people who committed crimes and abuses in the past who are still in power. Girls’ schools shut down, acid was thrown in girls’ faces, schools were burnt down.”…

…And despite the early statements from international leaders, women’s rights seem to have been deprioritised as the military operation against the Taliban and other insurgents has been stepped up…

This is  delusional phrasing–women’s rights have never been the priority in Afghanistan except to the extent that they are politically expedient towards other ends.  The report continues,

…In September last year the Afghan government set up a High Peace Council – a 79-member body which is tasked with talking to the Taliban. There are just nine women on the council and many women’s rights activists say they hold merely symbolic positions and are not part of the real negotiations.

…The international community can also support Afghan women through deeper engagement with women’s civil society and community-based organisations. Direct funding to women’s organisations to build their capacity as advocates and leaders will enable funds to aid transformation to a more democratic society, not just facilitate transition without the promise of sustainable change…

…However, providing this support will require a fresh look at funding priorities, and methods to ensure aid reaches women and can address the root causes of women’s inequality. Women’s organisations working to reduce poverty and empower women and girls say they receive little or no funding, forcing them to operate hand to mouth and limit activities to practical services rather than also being able to lobby for long-term changes for women….

…In addition the international community should broaden diplomatic efforts to include consultations and information sharing with women’s organisations. Amplifying the concerns of women’s organisations and ensuring women’s voices are heard is a valuable role the international community can play.

Conspicuously absent in ActionAid’s analysis is the existence of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1889 as  framework for conflict resolution and peace negotiating which are however addressed by Oxfam (see below).

According to Oxfam,

Western leaders have a responsibility toward Afghan women, not least because protection of women’s rights was sold as a positive outcome of the international intervention in October 2001. Ten years on, however, time is running out to fulfill these promises.

The Afghan government and the international community must:

  • Ensure women’s rights are not sacrificed, by publicly pledging that any political settlement must explicitly guarantee women’s rights;
  • Make a genuine commitment to meaningful participation of women in all phases and levels of any peace processes.

The Afghan government must:

  • Enhance efforts to increase representation of women in elected bodies and government institutions at all levels to 30 per cent;
  • Encourage religious leaders to speak out on women’s rights in Islam;
  • Intensify efforts to promote female access to education, health, justice, and other basic services.

The Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence must:

  • Improve awareness of women’s rights and human rights law in the justice and security sector, and ensure effective imple- mentation of these laws;
  • Increase substantially women recruits in the security and justice sectors.

The international community must:

  • Support expanded civic education programmes to raise awareness of women’s rights at community level;
  • Support efforts to improve female leadership;
  • Intensify support to promote access to education and other key services, and ensure this support will continue at current or in- creased levels even as international military forces prepare to withdraw.

The UN must:

  • Continue to monitor all government actions including the peace processes and provide increased support to the Afghan government on all negotiation, reconciliation, and reintegra- tion processes.

The report points to the dichotomy between the current lip-service regarding Afghan women and the realities of how the issue is being approached,

Publicly, Western politicians are still backing Afghan women. In July 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her commitment to women, saying: ‘Any potential for peace will be subverted if women and ethnic minorities are marginalised or silenced…And so when we look at what will happen in Afghanistan, the United States will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the progress that has been made in the past decade.’ But behind the scenes it is less clear what will happen if the Taliban make demands that require compromise on women’s rights, as the US government prepares to withdraw the majority of its troops by the end of 2014 and seeks a political settlement to bring an end to the fighting. In July 2011, a Washington Post article reported one USAID official as saying ‘gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities’.This reflects ‘growing realism’ tempering expectations of what they can achieve on the ground after ten years. As one analysis puts it, ‘On this list of priorities, ‘gender’ is generally seen as a luxury to be left aside until the supposedly gender-neutral objectives in the domains of security and governance have been achieved.’ (Emphasis mine.)

Let’s be very clear here–gender issues have always taken a back seat.  This isn’t a question of ‘growing realism’, it is a question of persistent, pandemic misogyny that has infested and damaged life on this planet since the dawn of patriarchy.  It is precisely the stupidity of seeing these issues as a luxury that undermines any realistic achievement of security since the day men first started going to war.  But as Oxfam points out,

The vital role of women in peace-building at the national level and in peace negotiations has been recognised in UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1889, applicable to all UN member states, including Afghanistan. The Afghan government reaffirmed its support for women’s role in peace-building in its national peace plan, the donor-funded Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP), which began to be rolled out nationwide in early 2011.

Yet women are currently under-represented or not represented at all in the APRP, which augurs poorly for female participation in any future formal peace talks with the Taliban. There are just nine women on the 70-member High Peace Council (HPC), which was created to lead the peace process. Many of the male members are former warlords and powerbrokers who do not take their female counterparts seriously. The APRP has also established provincial peace councils under the HPC, composed of between 20 and 35 members, with a minimum of three women, one of whom must be a representative from the Department of Women’s Affairs (DoWA). However, no council as yet has more than three female members. Women at the community level have little understanding of APRP; their formal role, at the moment, is unclear but is likely to be limited to involvement in community development programmes. According to a provincial DoWA head, ‘although women have great potential as negotiators and peacebuilders, the will and commitment from Kabul to involve them is almost nil.’

In their conclusions, Oxfam writes that, “words must be matched with action and firm guarantees,” and this is indeed true but not sufficient.  Our words in regard to Afghan women were used in 2001 as a tool to garner support for the invasion of Afghanistan, not a call on its own merits to address Afghan human rights issues.  Just bringing women to the table will not be enough–it must be insured that the women who come to the table are not puppet window dressing proxies for warlords or the Taliban and that they are allowed to safely speak freely and that their words be taken seriously.

The most crucial point to be made however is that while women’s human rights, progress and security are a huge concern, they should not be construed as a reason for continued, never ending foreign military presence in Afghanistan, which is only aggravating the continuing violence that pervades the country.  Killing and maiming people does not secure human rights, it destroys them.  There is no possibility of living in peace until the violence ends.  It is time to disarm the warring factions within Afghanistan and for the U.S. military to leave–only then will there be a realistic chance for women’s human rights in Afghanistan.


 October 5, 2011  Posted by on October 5, 2011 Comments Off on Ten Years Later–The ‘Liberation’ Of Afghan Women
Oct 022011

I had harbored a fantasy of enjoying at least one day of October before getting irritated by the Pepto pink bombardment of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month merchandising.  Alas, this was not to be  While the usefulness of suggesting that we all be aware of breast cancer is questionable (as in seriously, how can you not be aware), the lucrative cause-branding that goes with it is an unquestionable abomination and the ad circulars which were tucked into my Saturday morning Washington Post were tricked out in pink to the max.  Perhaps the worst was a multi-page Proctor&Gamble ad:

How Much Are You Really Donating?

P&G offers three ways to “give”–if you use one of the coupons, they’ll donate $.02.  If you spend $50, they’ll rebate you $10 and donate $10, and (they may regret this one) if you ‘like’ their Facebook page, they’ll give $.10 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NCBF), which funds mammograms for women who can’t afford them and research (although I couldn’t figure out research into what on their webpage).  Not my choice of the best way to address breast cancer, but for the sake of using this as a math problem, let’s say that donating to them is a good idea.

So off you go to your favorite store and buy Olay Regenerist Moisturizer which costs about $19.00 (quick price check on drugstore.com) and use the $3.00 coupon.  You spend $16.00, but how much of it goes to P&G and how much goes towards something breast cancer related?  Bottom line for NBCF–$.02  Bottom line for P&G–$15.98.  Now if you buy two moisturizers and something else that costs $10.00, then you spend  $40.00 after the rebate and NBCF gets $10.00.  But P&G is still the big winner with $30.00.  So mostly your hard earned cash has gone to enrich the coffers of P&G, not to a good cause.

The point is this, just because it is pink doesn’t mean it is helpful–yes it is good that corporations give to good causes, but let’s be clear that it is very, very profitable for them to do so.  If you really want to give money to address breast cancer, do some research, decide what organization is doing the most important work and send them a check unless you really were going to buy the moisturizer anyway (and if so, check to be sure that the products in it aren’t toxic or carcinogenic because it really blows how many companies use products like this to pinkwash themselves).


PS–please feel free to share links to any pink offenders you may run across–let’s help call these boob sponging profiteers out.


 October 2, 2011  Posted by on October 2, 2011 Comments Off on Pink-Washed Profits