22
Mar 19

Taking it to the Streets; Protesting Pakistan

by Abigail Drane 

‘Let’s take it to the streets’ isn’t just some cheesy line from a 00’s hip hop battle film. In fact, Pakistani women have been taking it to the streets long before Step Up 2 hit cinemas. Women’s right activist Leena Ghani recounts the famous demonstrations during military dictator Zia ul-Haq’s martial law in the 1980s, “many women before us have paved the way for us. There is a tradition of women being politically progressive in Pakistan.” International Women’s Day 2019 was no different; the streets across Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad were filled with a rallying cry, as women with bright sloganed placards marched along them. Under the banner of ‘Aurat March’, women gathered to show solidarity with their fellow women to push for accountability and restorative justice against violence, harassment, and injustice.

In Pakistan, women face discriminatory laws in many aspects of life, including child marriage, divorce, law of inheritance, while often vulnerable to violence such as acid attacks or honour killings, which are practiced in parts of Pakistan. Of the 22 million children who do not attend school, the significant majority are female, while the World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan as the second worst in its 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, with one of the lowest rates of female labour market participation in the world. Such discrimination has led to a wave of social media safe spaces for women, those identifying as women or non-binary. “Given the issues the average Pakistani woman faces – sometimes with nowhere to go – creating a space that recognises a woman’s right to be there is integral,” says Kanwal Ahmed, the founder behind the Facebook group Soul Sisters, with almost 150,000 group members.

 

IWD 2019 marked the second Aurat March, yet it took place among a tense geo-politcal backdrop. In February a suicide bombing took place in Kashmir, setting of a series of military and political escalations amongst India and Pakistan. Therefore, in addition to advocating for the rights of women through the march, and while ensuring not to detract from this, another call of the march was added to end tensions between the two countries, invoking a feminist opposition to war.

Subsequently, in the days leading up to IWD, Sehyr Mirza, a peace activist based in Lahore, began using a hastag #AntiHateChallenge to challenge terrorism and conflict within the region, and soon it went viral. “The #AntiHateChallenge campaign was solely led by women from Pakistan to express solidarity with Indian friends. We were the first ones to break the silence and talk about peace,” says Mirza. “We mostly get to see such campaigns initiated and led by men.” The use of social media allowed those involved in the movement to share their protest and thoughts directly with the government, but also crucially, connect with the other side; India. In fact, Mirza found many Indian women who were just as vehemently opposed to the escalation of conflict as she was.

 

Social platforms during such a tense time helped bridge the divide between feminists seeking peace; a divide which the diplomatic reasoning seemed to be unable to do. The digital platforms have also allowed for a fostering of dialogue amongst likeminded women; a channel which has not be used prior. Furthermore, it is a tangible representation of women able to occupy both the physical and digital space to promote and give a voice to their values. Immediately, Pakistan’s IWD march went beyond advocating for women’s right’s within the Pakistani public sphere, giving means to inject a women’s voice into diplomatic engagement; a voice that is not heard often enough.


20
Mar 19

Feminist Malmö through art, festivals and politics

by Caroline Ulvros

Where can you find local, creative feminism in Malmö? The international trend towards party politics becoming more professionalized and less dependent on volunteers also rings true for Sweden. Participation in traditional parties is decreasing. Citizens choose political engagement through protesting, signing petitions and participation in loose or informal networks. This professionalization manifests in how the feminist party Feministiskt Initiativ, Feminist Initiative in English, is often assumed to be an elitist movement.

Feministiskt Initiativ arranging a street party

In an earlier post, I compared a demonstration by this party with an extra-parliamentarian demonstration, but alternatives to traditional party politics go beyond these kinds of organizations. The radical left-wing in Sweden is not especially active online and prefer other ways of political communication, partly because of its demand of more straight forward communication.

So where are the feminist movements? To find dynamic, creative reinterpretations of messages, it could be an idea to look at more artistic and event-based feminist movements. It is safe to say that the comic art scene in Malmö is thriving. The city has tried to establish itself as the ”comic capital” of Sweden and is the home of a popular comic art school as well as an assortment of comic publishers and exhibition halls. On International Women’s Day, I participated in a demonstration with established political parties, but the poster for the demonstration is made by Dotterbolaget.

Dotterbolaget is a feminist, separatist comic art network counteracting patriarchal structures, working both as a professional network and as a social arena for artists. It prioritizes community and political statements above profit and has managed to maintain a rather flat organization. The Facebook group for its node in Malmö has 1,3 thousand likes, while the national network has around 770 followers on Twitter and over 2,6 thousand followers on Instagram. The network has gained attention in both TV and newspapers.

Although many hundreds mark themselves as attending their events on Facebook, they only arrange a few physical activities a year, mainly in the form of exhibitions and poetry readings. By looking at their active Instagram account, it is clear that a focus lies with participating in festivals and creating art rather than arranging meet-ups.

Just as the party Feministiskt Initiativ, Dotterbolaget has frequently participated in the yearly feminist festival in Malmö. This festival is organized by a non-party network for feminist organizations in Malmö, ”Malmö’s feministiska nätverk”, with 2,5 likes on their Facebook page. To celebrate International Women’s Day, this network organized another art and film event in Malmö with close to a thousand interested and around 170 people attending. The shifting, loose affiliations in these feminist networks is apparent by how the participants and content of the yearly feminist festival vary significantly with art, lectures, music, and standup being represented in various ways. The Facebook page for the festival has around 6,3 thousand likes and the festival has attracted thousands of visitors over the years.

Street art promoting the feminist network in Malmö

A remarkable feature of these organizations is the connections between them. Regarding reach and activity, the size of the local section of Feminist Initiative on Facebook could be compared to Dotterbolaget and the network for the feminist festival. The groups are clearly interlinked, as the members and supporters frequently like and attend each other’s events and comment on the same posts. To me, this implies a vivid interaction between different kinds of artistic expressions and different approaches to politics, both new and old.

When looking at these feminist efforts, it is important to keep in mind that they do not necessarily dominate the picture of feminism outside of established media. For example, right-wing movements constitute a large part of the alternative movements. The right-wing group ”Stå upp för Sverige” is one of the three most influential political non-party Facebook groups in Sweden with 166 thousand likes. A recent share of an article can illustrate how feminism is interpreted on this site. A news site wrote about the trial of a former leader of Feminist Initiative in an article which on “Stå upp för Sverige” received 1,3 thousand Facebook reactions, 150 shares and 430 comments, most of them obviously very negative. I tried to sketch a comic of my own to describe my feelings about this:


18
Mar 19

Swedish gender equality in the streets

by Caroline Ulvros

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I join the feminist party Feministiskt Initiativ, or ”Feminist Initiative” in English, for a demonstration in central Malmö. Different left oriented national party groups organize the protest together with leftist Iraqi and Chilean organizations and the global focus becomes obvious when I arrive at the square.

”International solidarity”, the slogan for the demonstration, is written on many banners including the main banner for Feministiskt Initiativ. Signs with Swedish slogans intermingle with international hashtags. I catch sight of #niunamenos, from the international movement ”Ni Una Menos” protesting violence against women, and signs written in English and Arabic. Like so many other speakers of the evening, the first orator for Feministiskt Initiativ puts emphasis on global inequalities and international unity.

The protesters, estimated to a thousand by a participating party while the police say five hundred, march towards another square where concluding speeches are held. After trying to listen to the speeches on both squares, it is clear that the global theme is central for all participating groups. I would argue that another common feature of the speeches is a will to connect broad gender issues to race, capitalism and a global power balance determined by colonial heritage.

The ideological foundation is evident which makes me wonder whether the political statements make the protest less appealing than causes presented within new types of social protests. As new kinds of protest often center around subject perceived as detached from traditional political stances, does the political context discourage potential protesters from participating?

While calls for international solidarity echoes of global justice objectives found within new social movements, the creativity within the event also agrees well with new forms of protest. One organizer is an institution for adult education that offers courses in comic art and creative writing. A panel discussion set up after the demonstration is mixed with poetry reading and musical performances. These artistic ambitions of the event could hint at a will to include cultural jamming, a characteristic of new social movements, in the event. The protesters are nevertheless reminded of a divide between different protest movements when the extra-parliamentarian demonstration arrives at the square during the final speeches.

Reaching out

So how did the evening reflect on social media? On Facebook, the most used social media site in Sweden, the smaller extra-parliamentarian demonstration gained a limited response. Three arranging groups received between 20-70 likes on their pictures and two groups affiliated with the protest did not post anything afterward to induce feedback. When looking at all groups protesting this evening, the most palpable response was directed towards the most established and numerous participant, which is also represented in Parliament. The Left Party received about 4,6 thousand views on one of their demonstration videos on Facebook and over 330 likes on their photo album of the evening. Their most liked picture on Instagram received more than 500 likes compared to the around 70 likes given to Feministiskt Initiativ.

However, Feministiskt Initiativ got 1,6 and 4,3 thousand views respectively on two Facebook videos of speeches and over 600 views of their video of the panel discussion. Neither the youth section nor the educational section of the Left Party posted on Facebook directly related to the demonstration and received around 120 likes and 40 likes respectively on Instagram pictures. If this reach could indicate agency in social media, Feministiskt Initiativ is proportionally more influential than other participants.

banner for the extra-parliamentarian protest

As neither the largest local newspaper nor the most influential news sites in Sweden covered the demonstration, the reach in traditional media was very limited. The only serious news coverage is a short text on the site of the largest tv news network in Sweden. This could reflect the problems Feministiskt Initiativ has had with gaining political legitimacy in traditional media, as the party is often either depoliticized or described as extremist.

Since five of the ten most influential Twitter accounts in Sweden belongs to traditional news channels, traditional media actors are still very influential in the media landscape. Among the top ten Facebook pages regarding national influence, three represents traditional news channels and one represents ”alternative” news sites. This ”alternative” site together with two traditional news sites are the only societally oriented actors among the top ten most influential actors on Swedish social media.

As the means for influence as well as the issues and narratives of Feministiskt Initiativ can be compatible with new forms of social movements, the party can hardly be unequivocally categorized as a traditional political movement. Since the group however also contain a traditional party structure, no total dichotomy between traditional and new or alternative politics seems evident.

The ambiguity of the movement does not end there. The small size of the party could indicate that trends in new movements for gender equality cannot be derived from it. At the same time, it is very successful in an international comparison of feminist political parties. Even a skin-deep understanding of feminist movements clearly needs more than an early evening march through central Malmö.


16
Mar 19

Non Una di Meno – the reason why Italy striked

By Zandra Nilsson

For the third year in a row Non Una Di Meno organized a strike and demonstration on the international women’s day on the 8th of March. Public transports, schools, health services and hundreds of other public and private workplaces got affected in Italy by the strike. People travelling to Italy from abroad got affected too since pilots, flight attendants, airport ground staff, ferry employees and employees of train companies were joining the strike which delayed the international traffic. Non Una Di Meno, a women’s movement, was organizing the strike action and the so called grassroot trade union responded to their call. In the evening hundreds of thousands gathered in the bigger and smaller cities across the country to demonstrate against gender discrimination, violence against women and the unequal working conditions. And many directed their anger to the vice prime minister Salvini and the government’s anti-feminist policies. According to the organizers themselves more people are joining for each year and the demonstrations are getting better and better organized.

Non Una Di Meno translates to not one woman less, that indicates that not one more woman should be murdered by men. The group originated from the Argentinian group Ni Una Menos that started in October 2016 after the murder of the 16-year-old Lucía Pérez. The group spread around South and Central America: Mexico, El Salvador, Chile and Brazil and also further international. The Italian organization spreads their messages and reaches out to their supporters through blogging, social media and using the hashtag #nonunadimeno. Their Facebook account has over 85 thousand followers and almost 40 thousand users have used their hashtag on Instagram.

“We strike because they kill us, at home or on the streets. We strike because they pay us less, because they exploit us and discriminate against us” specified activists from Non Una di Meno.

 

Violence against women

In 2017, 121 women got murdered and 59 % of the cases showed that the killer was a current or former partner. 44 % of adult women in Italy have experienced sexual harassment and 4 261 cases of sexual violence got reported in 2017 – where 54 % of those took place on the street or in a car. And those are only the reported cases…

Unfortunately, the injustice does not end with the statistics. How are men punished for the violence against women? A couple of days ago two convicted rapists were cleared of their charges in Ancona, Italy. The men were convicted in 2016, but Italy’s highest appeal court ordered a retrial of the case. During the investigation several doctors had clear evidence that the victim’s injuries were consistent with rape and in her blood, they found traces of a date rape drug. The judges still found a reason to free the men – the victim was ”too masculine” and therefore not attractive. “The photograph present in her file would appear to confirm this” one of judges said during the trail. The men were free to go.

Non Di Una Meno also fights for the right to access a safe and legal abortion. Abortions in Italy are not illegal, but the doctors have the right to deny to carry out the procedure. According to Italy’s health minister over 70 % of Italy’s doctors are objecting abortions and in some areas the rate is over 90 %. Looking at other countries in Europe the rate for denying abortions is very different: 6 % in Germany, 3 % in France and it is 0 % in Sweden and Finland. One case was reported where a woman in Padua got turned down from 23 hospitals! The Italian General Confederation of Labour describes the abortion process as dangerously long because it forces women to turn to private structures or do unsafe abortions.

 

Low gender pay gap – but women need to be working to get paid

Italy can proudly say they have the second lowest gender pay gap in Europe – with “only” 5,3 % lower hourly pay for woman than men. But if we take a closer look at the Italian gender equality there is nothing to be proud of. The truth behind the good number is: Italy has fewer women in the workforce than almost all the other developed country – less than half of working-age women in Italy has an employment. Lack of education is clearly not the excuse for this since 59 % of bachelor’s graduates and 52 % of PhD grads were female in 2017.

If we keep looking at the statistics it gets clearer and clearer that the low gender pay gap has nothing to do with gender equality in Italy. Only 16 % of decision-making bodies around the country was made up by women. The board members of companies are 33 % today, after Italy introduced a new ration that demands 33 % of the board to be female. Just 31 % of the last parliament was female. Furthermore, when asking women about sexual harassment, 9 % answer that they have been sexually harassed or sexually blackmailed at their working place.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2017 Italy is placed as the 82nd most gender equal country out of 144. And looking closer at the economic participation and opportunity it is ranked as the 118th. Unfortunately, the situation for the women in Italy is only getting worse – 2016 it was ranked in 50th place. Therefore, Non Di Una Meno is more important than ever before and their strikes and demonstrations are helping to bring attention to women’s rights – in a country that is considered among the most economically developed, but still has such a long way to go before reaching a true gender equality.

 

 


14
Mar 19

Women´s Strike

By Vesna Vukoja

Wales Women´s strike day poster 2019

International Women’s Day this year has been linked with the Global Women’s Strike, a global movement coordinated across over 50 countries calling for solidarity between women of different race, religion and cultural backgrounds.

On 8th of March women and men in Cardiff, joined worldwide demonstrations, engaging in strike and demonstration, and other collective actions to draw attention to women’s labor— both in the workplace and in the home.

The manifesto was read in front of the Cardiff Central Library.

If striking is the weapon of those who work, then the Global Women’s Strike is a weapon to challenge to the belief that women’s labour should be underpaid or performed for free and with a smile.

As part of its International Women’s Day celebration, Cardiff hosted the Women`s Strike at Trinity Centre. The event presented a varied programme of music, banner making, women’s art and self-care workshops as well as food and opportunities for debate. Self-care refers to the idea that caring for yourself is not luxury, but a necessity to keep going and looking after anyone else. For women, who often are in the position of nurturers and carers, practicing self-care is essential.

The rain didn’t stop all age people to attend the demonstration.

Women´s Strike day, led by women but open to all individuals and community groups, provided Cardiff’s women’s movement and activist scene with a temporary home and the opportunities to make connections, build relationships and take action on the many issues affecting women in Wales and worldwide. The response of both women and men running workshops, offering to exhibit their work and as well as those attending was a true reflection of Cardiff’s diversity and hugely positive.

Recent online #MeToo movement showed epidemic proportion of sexual harassment and abuse against women. But there is still need for offline need for physical spaces that empower, protect and connect human beings in community. This is particularly true for women, who are not only disproportionately affected by austerity as well as sexual and gender-based violence, but who are also socialised into and take on much of the caring for others. Wales continues to have need for more vibrant community-led spaces to educate, celebrate and empower people to make real connections. Women´s Strike day was an attempt to make activism accessible to a variety of groups including parents, refugees, carers and other groups underrepresented in the women’s and activist movements through creating affordable and inclusive and family friendly events. The success of the Women´s Strike day and the overwhelming positive response from those who participated and attended made a powerful case for long-term, accessible and affordable community spaces.

The Global Women’s Strike is only the beginning of a fight for sustainable community development and empowerment of Welsh women and communities worldwide to make real and lasting change. Despite the immense opportunities of social media to educate and raise awareness and connect people across the world, the #MeToo movement being one example, online activism requires real-life action to have a lasting impact.

Universal Credit requires couples to nominate a single bank account and there is a concern that Universal’s Credit single payment has implications for women and for survivors of domestic abuse. The single payment could result in less equal couple relationships, and risks further financial abuse. The reduction of women’s financial autonomy could result in main carers (usually in practice mothers) losing clearly-labeled child payments, which sometimes provide a lifeline to survivors of domestic abuse.