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Back to the Grassroots: Building a Movement for Sexual & Economic Rights

12:34 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

 

By Anne Lim, interviewed by Deepa Panchang

Anne Lim is from Quezon City, Philippines, where she serves as Executive Director of GALANG, a lesbian-led organization that works with urban poor LBTs (lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people) in the city. She was recently nominated for the 2014 Baldwin Award, which recognizes human rights work outside the U.S. Anne gave this interview during the last Association for Women’s Rights in Development conference in Istanbul.

I’m Anne Lim and I’m a lesbian rights activist. Currently I’m running an organization called GALANG Philippines. Galang is the Filipino word for respect. We work to build leadership capacities of lesbians in metropolitan Manila, doing advocacy and forming LBT people’s organizations.

We felt from the beginning that in order to push policy, it was necessary to have a critical mass among those most affected by discrimination and violence against sexual minorities, which is poor people. We’re a very poor country. About a third of our population lives on less than a dollar a day and despite economic growth in recent years, unemployment remains at an alarming rate.

But the problem with the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] discourse in the Philippines, and maybe it is reflected elsewhere in the world, is that it’s mostly dominated by middle-class and educated people who have a different context altogether. Poor people’s voices are hardly ever heard in the discourse. Why? Because the people who are able to participate are those with access. Those who can afford to take a day off and go to these activities.

And language is another issue: we don’t even have a popular indigenous term for lesbian, and those discussions are mostly conducted in English. That in itself is threatening to those who are not familiar with English, and excludes a whole bunch of LGBTs who should be part of the discourse.

So what GALANG seeks to do is to bring these people to the table. Because how can we even call ourselves a movement when we’re only a handful speaking for an entire marginalized community? We have to push ourselves a little harder to make the movements more inclusive. Otherwise, it’s just talk, and talk is cheap.

So GALANG works to build the capacity of urban, poor LBTs in Quezon City through leadership development, capacity-building activities, and a platform to utilize and hone these skills through our help in forming their own people’s organizations.

Right now, we’re engaged in several initiatives documenting violence and discrimination specifically against urban poor LBTs. We are also documenting innovative ways that LBTs try to get around the lack of economic opportunities. We’ve recently co-conducted a policy audit of social protection policies where we tried to show how Filipino LBTs are often deprived of the protection offered by laws that were intended precisely to provide safety nets against poverty.

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Gender Equity For Rural Haitian Women: Kettly Alexandre & The Peasant Movement Of Papay

1:36 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Interviewed by Beverly Bell, Edited by Jessica Hsu

April 22, 2014

The Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) is one of the largest small-farmer associations in Haiti with 70,000 members, of whom close to half are women. MPP was founded in 1973 to improve the living conditions of small farmers while working for social and economic justice. Here, Kettly Alexandre of the MPP Women’s Committee speaks to advances made over 40 years for women’s rights, equity, and an end to violence.

Three smiling Haitian women

A “Peasant Movement” is making Haiti safer for women.

Even though the road has been long, we are seeing successes. We are leading a huge battle and hoping for victory. Our approach in the Women’s Committee is to meet problems head-on to promote social justice – combating violence against women, advocating for gender equity, providing scholarships for women, promoting reforestation, and working for personal health. Our programs allow women to lift up their heads, and give peasants a viable future.

One of our largest programs is a safe house for women who’ve been victims of violence. We’re the only group in the Central Plateau that offers women a supervised safe house, which also includes medical assistance or referrals, psychological support groups, and legal support. We have organizers in different zones, and if they hear of an instance of violence against a woman, they identify the victim and send them to our centers. All victims are welcome.

One of the most personally satisfying stories involves a woman who was being beaten by her husband. She told him if he didn’t stop, she was going to go tell MPP. He stopped immediately.

Although many people say the violence is on the rise in the Central Plateau, it is not true. What’s changing is that more and more people are standing up and denouncing the violence that has always been present. Not very long ago, it was hard to find people to speak out against this type of violence. Often even the peasant women who are the victims of rape, beatings, etc. feel ashamed [to say anything].

Prior to the earthquake, our legal support helped women in about 50 court cases. Following the earthquake, we’ve been able to help almost 300 cases, with the assistance of a Canadian organization that helped train more women to support victims of violence. Of those 300, there’ve been about 100 rulings handed down; close to 50 men found guilty, with the women being compensated; and many others awaiting judgment behind bars. These are victories for women. It’s encouraging.

We sponsor radio broadcasts concerning violence against women. We also hold workshops with leaders of the community, including houngans [vodou priests], pastors, and priests, to build awareness around the problem so they can in turn make others aware. We invite police officers, judges and lawyers. Their reactions are all over the place. Some say, “Aha! You’re the ones who are making women think they have all this power!” But for every negative reaction, we see more positive reactions. These efforts have made it easier for women to come to our offices, report and act.

But even though we’re working diligently and have taken big strides in making the population aware of violence against women and its consequences, the authorities need to be involved. If we really want to eradicate the problem, it needs to be dealt with on a national level.

We also do a lot of advocacy that involves both men and women, not just in the area of violence against women, but also for gender equity and women’s rights. There’s a lot of respect for women in MPP. We involve a lot of people in discussions around these issues.

One of our biggest successes is that peasant women are no longer ashamed to identify as peasant woman. We’re putting value in our culture and saying proudly that we are farmers and producers.

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Without Our Land, We Cease To Be a People: Defending Indigenous Territory and Resources in Honduras

7:45 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Flag of the Garifuna

Miriam Miranda is a leader of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), which works with the 46 communities of the Afro-indigenous Garífuna of Honduras, to defend their territories, natural resources, identity, and rights. Miriam’s narrative below is from an interview with Beverly Bell in Washington, D.C.

We live on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. We are a mix of African descendants and indigenous peoples who came about more than 200 years ago in the island of San Vicente. Without our land, we cease to be a people. Our lands and identities are critical to our lives, our waters, our forests, our culture, our global commons, our territories. For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.

The people, for their way of being, were declared part of the Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2004. We don’t know what that means exactly, but we suppose it implies that the state must take action to protect and preserve the Garífuna people’s identity.

What we Garífuna face is largely the same things faced by people all over Latin America, and in fact the world. Also, the problems of the South are not a problem just for us, but of all of us and the whole planet.

If you map out the conflicts that are threatening our country, you’ll see they reflect exactly where transnational capital is trying to take more resources from indigenous peoples. Maybe you believe that president Mel Zelaya was ousted in a coup d’état [in 2009] because he was a leftist. No. It was because [those with wealth] wanted to take land and resources, which they are now doing. Look at the search for so-called alternatives to oil – through mining, the mega-dams, the biofuels, the production of African palm oil. All these resources are being taken from indigenous areas. There is more pressure on us every day for our territories, our resources, and our global commons.

In Honduras, they’re taking land that we were using to grow beans and rice so they can grow African palm for bio-fuel. The intention is to stop the production of food that humans need so they can produce fuel that cars need. The more food scarcity that exists, the more expensive food will become. The mono-cultivation of some of these crops [for bio-fuel] requires thousands of millions of acres of land. Food sovereignty is being threatened everywhere.

Also we have a problem that is rarely spoken of: narco-trafficking. The Atlantic Coast of Honduras is the main trafficking route. A study showed that almost 90% of the drugs that are going to the North pass through Honduras. We’re exactly in the way of the trafficking and we’re so vulnerable. Honduras has one of the highest levels of crime and violence [per capita] of any country that is not actually at war. We have to fight not only for the permanence of our community, but also to not be kidnapped by traffickers.

Another of our main challenges is the tourism industry. We live almost on the sea, right on the beach. It’s a blessing but recently it’s also become a curse, because of course all those with power want to have a place on the beach. The Honduran government has started on some tourism mega-projects. The displacement of communities and the loss of cultures that come with the development of tourism [is increasing].

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Meet Up, Eat Up, Act Up: Consumers Join the Movement for Food Workers’ Rights

12:04 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Part 19 of the Harvesting Justice series

Behind the Kitchen Door

Behind The Kitchen Door follows the lives of several restaurant workers.

“This is a muddler,” said Danielle, grinding mint into the bottom of a metal cup. With the straightforward demeanor of a good bartender, Danielle was explaining how to make a mojito. But this was not just a fancy drink demo. After the cocktail, she talked with the audience about her working life at an upscale steakhouse chain restaurant, including the steady sexual harassment and the uneasy feeling of being viewed by management as a number more than a person.

The two dozen folks listening to Danielle were part of a trial run “eat-up,” an event that some food movement organizers hope will soon crop up in homes, restaurants, and bars around the country. The events are part of a new push by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and others. (See our previous article for more about these organizations.) The goal is to bring awareness and action for workers’ rights, wages, and conditions into the heart of the food movement.

“We are trying to have workers become as trendy as local and organic has become in the industry,” Saru Jayaraman, co-director and co-founder of ROC, told us. “It’s going to take the three stakeholders – workers, good employers, and consumers – working together to actually change things. Any one of those things, if it’s missing, it’s not going to work. Which is why the consumer piece is so critical, and it’s been missing. We’ve actually organized the workers and we’ve organized the employers. We’ve never organized the consumers. There’s a diners’ club that’s basically a credit card, but there’s no organized voice of restaurant consumers demanding change.”

ROC’s efforts to change conditions in the restaurant industry include campaigns to get basic benefits such as paid sick days, and to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers. The group and their allies are gathering signatures and raising support for the Miller-Harkin Fair Minimum Wage Act. If passed, the law would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 and the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 to 70% of the regular minimum wage.

ROC also aims to fundamentally shift the power structures that allow the inequities to exist in the first place. “In the long run, it’s really about having a powerful voice of restaurant workers that can counterbalance the power of the National Restaurant Association,” said Jayaraman. “Because these two issues, low wages and lack of paid sick days, are symptoms of the bigger problem of an imbalance of power between this huge powerful industry lobby and restaurant workers. The long-term vision is an industry where workers have an equal voice to employers, have dignity and respect on the job, and have the ability to move up to livable wage jobs regardless of the color of their skin or their gender.”

In order to shift this power, ROC says, consumers must join forces with workers.Throughout the country, ROC is helping restaurant diners understand the reality behind their meals. “Say you’re a waitress at an IHOP in Texas, and you’re working a graveyard shift,” Jayaraman said. “Maybe sometimes you get tips, maybe sometimes you don’t. Which means you may be earning $2.13 per hour, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers.

“That means maybe sometimes you can pay the rent, maybe sometimes you can’t. And 70% of the people earning this wage are women. They’re not these wealthy steakhouse servers you might think about in a large urban city. They’re women with children working at Denny’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden. And a lot of times they struggle to put food on the table. The people who put food on our tables cannot afford to feed themselves.

“It’s super important for us to expand the definition of sustainability and sustainable food,” she said. “Sustainability has to include taking care of everybody who is a part of the food system, who picks, plants, processes, prepares it, and the people who consume it. We all need to be connected and understand our interconnectivity.”

Jayaraman has just published a book Behind the Kitchen Door, which follows the lives of more than a dozen restaurant workers. The book exposes conditions in the industry, such as the facts that 90% of restaurant workers don’t have paid sick leave, restaurant jobs make up seven of the 10 lowest paying occupations in the US, and restaurant workers are twice as likely as the rest of the workforce to be on food stamps.

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BIRTHING JUSTICE: The Link to Humanity — Gift Economies

1:10 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Beverly Bell
April 23, 2012

Welcome to Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives. The series features twelve alternative social and economic models which expand the possibilities for justice, equity, and strong community. They are based in the US, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Some are national-level, some global-level. Some are propelled by people’s movements, some forced or adopted into government policy. In first-hand narratives, women describe their role in having created the models and show us their unique perspectives and challenges in the movements.

Below is the fourth narrative of Birthing Justice.

Photo by openDemocracy

Coumba Toure | Bamako, Mali

All of Coumba Toure’s work is aimed at keeping African values alive. As part of this, she is deeply involved in a women-led movement to keep the gift economy thriving. West African gifting is based on the interrelated values that all humanity is linked and that one’s well-being is only as strong as that of one’s neighbor. Profit and exchange are trumped by a commitment to care for community.

“African values” refers to a set of values that people share. How do you recognize a human being? How do you treat people? What do you do with what you have? We are talking about a universal, positive way of life. What Africa has to give the world is a reclaiming of humanity. It teaches that there are other ways of living and doing and being with each other. We share values with those everywhere who believe in the dignity of the human being.

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BIRTHING JUSTICE: Without Firing an Arm, We Created a Revolution

10:52 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Beverly Bell
April 6, 2012

Welcome to Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives. The series features twelve alternative social and economic models which expand the possibilities for justice, equity, and strong community. They are based in the US, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Some are national-level, some global-level. Some are propelled by people’s movements, some forced or adopted into government policy. In first-hand narratives, women describe their role in having created the models and show us their unique perspectives and challenges in the movements.

Below is the second narrative of
Birthing Justice.


Without Firing an Arm, We Created a Revolution

“We take the land from one hand and put it in the hands of a thousand…landowners would only use this land for cattle, and now we produce beans, milk, food, for the entire population.” – Ilda Martines de Souza

Long before the Crusades, through centuries of colonization, to the oil-motivated wars of the present day, land has been the currency of religious, imperial, and national power. Farmers have been made landless by economic and political forces within their own countries, as well as those from far reaches of the globe. Spikes in food prices over recent years have triggered the latest wave of international land grabs, with investment firms snapping up agricultural land, hoping to turn a profit for their investors in the next food crisis. An estimated 50 to 80 million hectares of land have been a part of international investment deals in recent years—approximately two-thirds of them in Africa.

Land and development experts Shalmali Guttal, Maria Luisa Mendonça, and Peter Rosset write, “Fair and equitable access to land and other resources like water, forests, and biodiversity is perhaps the most fundamental prerequisite for… a decent standard of living and… ecologically sustainable management of natural resources.” Today, land access remains largely unfair and inequitable. Never has such a high percentage of the world’s population been displaced from their indigenous or ancestral lands, left without land, a secure home, or the ability to feed themselves.

As the consolidation of land as a private resource for profit-making is global, so is the movement to relate to land in an alternative way, one which meets everyone’s needs. Landless, peasant, family, and indigenous farmers worldwide have long been engaged in land reclamation and land reform movements—either seizing unfairly owned or consolidated land or winning laws mandating redistribution. (The same concepts often underlie the struggle for fair housing.) Examples range from Americans fighting foreclosures as a part of “Occupy Our Homes” to Indians lying down in rows to block corporate tractors encroaching on their villages, Haitians still living in tents since the earthquake two years ago marching for their right to housing, and indigenous Hondurans reclaiming their territories in the face of violent repression.

Newer movements have much to learn from groups that have been mobilizing for decades, such as the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST by its Portuguese acronym) in Brazil, a country with one of the highest levels of land and income inequality in the world. The MST’s response to poverty, hunger, and landlessness is to put fallow land back into production in the hands of small farmers. It does this by organizing landless, unemployed, and slum-dwelling people to gain legal title to the nation’s vast unused land. Roughly one and a half to two million MST members have created about 2,000 cooperatively-run, democratic communities on tens of thousands of reclaimed acres. On them, they have established their own models of self-government, restorative justice, self-produced media, ecologically sound agriculture, collective production, law, social relations, cultural expression, and education. Read the rest of this entry →

BIRTHING JUSTICE: Women in Peace-Building: Peace amidst War for Resource Control

8:51 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Emem Okon Speakling at the True Cost of Chevron Press Conference (photo: rainforestactionnetwork, flickr)

Emem Okon Speakling at the True Cost of Chevron Press Conference (photo: rainforestactionnetwork, flickr)

Welcome to Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives. The series features twelve alternative social and economic models which expand the possibilities for justice, equity, and strong community. They are based in the US, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Some are national-level, some global-level. Some are propelled by people’s movements, some forced or adopted into government policy. In first-hand narratives, women describe their role in having created the models and show us their unique perspectives and challenges in the movements.

Below is the first narrative of Birthing Justice.

Women in Peace-Building: Peace amidst War for Resource Control

Accelerating commodification of water, oil, land, and nature over the past few decades has resulted in a global power play, wresting precious resources away from communities that have lived sustainably with them for centuries. Oil is one example where the domination of multinational companies has led to mass displacement, seeded social conflict, and fundamentally disrupted the relationship between indigenous communities and their environment.

Groups the world over are striving to defend an alternate understanding of the earth and how we should treat it, however. They view entities such as oil as part of the global commons – the set of natural resources, basic services, public spaces, and cultural traditions that should be part of a public trust to be enjoyed by all – rather than as commodities to be bought and sold. Another way to conceive of these assets is through the Spanish term for them: el bien común, the common good. Behind the commons is the fundamental idea that life, information, human relationships, popular culture, and the earth’s riches are sacrosanct and not for sale.

Everywhere, indigenous peoples are claiming their autonomy over their territories, which includes the right to self-government and control of everything over, on, and in their lands. At this moment, some 30,000 indigenous peoples from the Ecuadorian Amazon are embroiled in legal battles with Chevron for contaminating their water and destroying the health of entire villages. This past January, a broad-based coalition of US and Canadian groups stalled the Keystone X-L pipeline project and are working to uphold this decision. And for decades, indigenous people everywhere have been defending their lands and the earth’s resources in epic battles.

On top of this, communities are working to repair the divisions that corporate and governmental repression has wrought. Women have been central to these efforts. Throughout the world, women are working to make peace in areas torn by war and resource conflicts. Sometimes this means creating a peace zone, a space of safety in the midst of violence. In other places, women are at the forefront of efforts to end national or regional conflicts.

Emem Okon is part of one such endeavor in the Niger Delta, where oil companies and government have created a climate of violence and fear. We’re excited to kick off the Birthing Justice series with Emem’s story, and we hope it will inspire you to be a part of the movement to honor, share, and celebrate the earth’s resources. Read the rest of this entry →