Thursday, 16 July 2009

Green Belt Movement

One thing is for certain, throughout the world, poverty is many times more likely to happen to men than to women. Moreover, due to political, structural, and cultural issues worldwide, women are often in a position where changing poverty status or procuring resources is significantly more difficult.

In Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangar Maathai, has found a way to make a difference with women in poverty. As founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM) she has sought to assist women in poverty in connecting with one another and gaining resources in the process. Based in Kenya, the Green Belt movement has mixed ecology with feminism in a way such that both platforms benefit.

Although the ecology and women's rights seem somewhat detached, they go together quite well. The GBM, established in 1976 was response to Maathai the environmental damage afflicting Kenya. Additionally, it was predominately women paid to do the work of caring for the seedlings, distributing, and many times planting the trees. This gave many women an economic resource which they did not previously have access to. By 1986 this movement had moved to 15 counties.

The GBM has also given birth to the The group Women for Change. Based in Kenya, this human rights group which focuses from the perspective of women becoming empowered. Woemen in change works diligently for the the rights, Green Belt Movement works with schools in Kenya to provide natural health and welfare of women in Kenya. Focus on education for young girls, AIDS education, and of course networking with other women's groups. The GBM works towards providing resources which would assist women in leaving poverty.

Please note that this type of activism does not go without some sort of struggle. Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangar Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt movement, has faced threats for her work, and many of those who work with her have been subject to profound violence. Those involved-in the movement have been and sometimes are subject to counter-protests, threats, and of course direct violence.

So really, what does a feminist movement on the other side of the world have to do with someone in a country like the United States. Sometimes, we do not see the structural violence, that violence being poverty. The women who has to walk 2 to five miles a a day just to get firewood to cook for her family in a small village in Africa, the women who is struggling to keep her land as a member of the MST in Brazil, and of course the "welfare mother" in the United States unable to feed her family healthy food because she has $213 in food stamps to last the entire month.

The focus in more western cultures becomes the more overt violence such as rape, assault, unequal wages, and political systems which are still grossly absent women's input and voice. When this happens structural violence is overlooked, and those who are placed at the will of a faulty structure feel alone and marginalized. We forget those women who face daily exhaustion, just trying to get through the day and provide for themselves or their family members. However, it is when we forget these women that they are no longer included in the struggle for all women's rights.

It is all about respect and loving all of our sisters.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Network meeting notes - 12th July 2009

The topic for this week’s meeting was women and poverty.

We heard about the Green Belt movement in Kenya.
It is a human rights group which focuses on the perspective of women planting trees, becoming stewards of the environment and subsequently gaining empowerment. The Green Belt Movement works with schools in Kenya to provide natural resource education. And the group works for the rights, health and welfare of women in Kenya including on education for young girls, AIDS education, and of course networking with other women's groups.

We discussed whether the impact of poverty was greater in women’s lives and whether women were more likely to be poor.
There was a view that contemporary feminism did not address the issues faced by women having to walk miles for firewood and water or women having to survive and feed their children on meagre state benefits/welfare. Does it concentrate too much on issues such as sexuality and equality in the workplace and not on the daily exhausting struggle many women face just in order to survive?
Many of us present had suffered from a shortage of money, or had seen our mothers suffer that way; nevertheless we had never experienced the extreme poverty which so many women in the world have to endure.
However are we more effective when we connect with women with shared life experience?
We heard that studies show that the greatest factor in poverty among older women is the absence of a husband. This is depressing but not surprising since earning potential among women is still lower and welfare and pension systems assume the contribution of an effective ‘bread winner’.
To make the point one member came in an old woman avi.

: last week you were a pink scuba diver
: And I had a better time than as an old lady, let me tell you
: That's...interesting in a disappointing way. D:

We considered how we make these issues more visible as feminists and what are the examples of good practice that we can learn from.
There are the living wage movement and labour unions. In Canada there is the New Democratic Party, which deals a lot with work and poverty issues, but we were not really sure the Democratic Party in the US is quite the same.
Some views :-
I'd argue, though, that feminism does take into consideration the globalization of poverty as well as welfare issues.
I agree that it’s important to have a global political analysis .... However I also believe that to engage others in activity means each individual focusing on issues that have real relevance in their own lives.

I don’t think we should overlook however that women who live in poverty also suffer sexual exploitation and will find it even more difficult to escape it
Environmental issues are not seen as women's issues. Until they are, I believe the fight against poverty will be unsuccessful. Taking an ecofeminist approach, a hierarchical, dominance-based philosophy won’t work environmentally and it also keeps women down. So you don't have to decide whether you want to be a feminist or an environmentalist.
The discussion then took a new turn:-

I'm wondering if there's an undercurrent in this conversation - has academic feminism let women down? Do you feel that academic feminists do a lot of talking, but you don't see them on the streets?
Well, I am an academic who used to be in poverty and I am ashamed to say I still hold a lot of resentment towards the academic world.
I would think their main role would be to inform and enlighten people on subjects and issues they weren't necessarily aware of.
Feminist praxis - reflection and action - and the process of conscientization - a critical consciousness - that freire (liberation theologist and radical educator) are ways that people can be engaged to change their own worlds. starting to look at our own situations and understand the politics behind it. The personal as political in other words.

NB "There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."
—Jane Thompson, drawing on Paulo Freire

I believe there is a place for rigorous intellectual analysis of political issues ...when it comes to actually making changes ... these will only come about ...I believe ...when people get together to make changes in their own lives and communities
like consciousness raising groups .... and the Chinese speak bitterness meetings .... and that whole realisation, wait, it's not just me it's the systems and structures we live under.. the light bulb moment.

There was so much more ...including discussion on how we can have an impact as feminists in SL ....impossible to distil into notes. If you want to be part of the discussion do come to the meetings which are held every Sunday at 1pm SLT.
Next week the topic will be Women of Iran.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Network Meeting - June 28, 2009

This day's meeting of the SLLU Feminist Network was held at the group's exhibit for SL6B (Second Life's 6th Birthday celebration), entitled "Working Together for Fair and Inclusive Communities in Second Life." The exhibit, which is on display in one of 21 SL6B sims especially erected for the birthday celebration, continues to be on display until July 6. Thereafter, it is likely that it will be moved for at least some time to a new location, as yet to be determined. At some point in the near future, the text and some pictures of the exhibit will also be posted on this blog.

The first order of business concerned one element of the group's strategy for combating depictions of violence against women in SL. TR, who is coordinating the group's work to put together a teach-in on the subject of violence, sexual violence, and representations of violence in SL, facilitated this part of the discussion. TR explained that "teach-ins" are events where there are speakers and other forms of information available for people to learn about and talk through. One person suggested that the heated discussions that have been taking place in groups like Amnesty International in-world demonstrate that there is an appetite in SL for more exploration of these issues.

TR sought input from the group about content and themes for the teach-in. The following ideas were suggested:

  • Psychological violence in SL

  • Problems with the Abuse Reporting system, which is inadequate and unsatisfactory. In particular, it was suggested that the current system "reviolates" the victim, in that it is alienating in and of itself, and revictimizes those who seek to use it by (for example) ignoring complaints or the input of complainants.

  • Pornography and social harm

  • How to read images of violence

  • Rules and Regulations in SL regarding depictions of violence, including most obviously the Terms of Service and Community Standards documents
The hope was expressed that the teach-in would involve direct participation from representatives of Linden Lab, and should, ideally, feature speakers from LL, or at least have one or two Lindens in attendance for the proceedings. It was also suggested that participation from representatives of one or more RL organizations working on this issue would be beneficial for a number of reasons.

Another subject of discussion at the meeting was the need to produce a "history" of the SLLUFN, along with an archive, as an institutional record of the group. This would likely appear on the group's blog or wiki, as well as in-world in some form. Part of that history to be explored is the SLLUFN's relationship with its parent organization, the SLLU.

LC, explained that the origin of the group lay in the suggestion from members of the SLLU that the feminist issues raised there be formalized within a separate group. L went on to suggest that there might well be some opposing perspectives to the SLLUFN's approach to SL and violent porn, but noted as well that there was debate within our own group about this.

It was noted that, since its founding in January of 2009, the group has held weekly meetings, engaged in in-world activism, created an ongoing blog, published the Newbie Woman's SL Survival Kit, and created an exhibit for the SL6B celebrations.

Present at the meeting were two representatives from a new feminist group, "Stop Violence against Women." The group was created about a month ago; its founder, PA, explained that it had amassed a membership of over 400 since that time. She further explained that the group would soon start holding meetings, and that it would be featured in an SL radio show soon. The hope was expressed by members of both groups that the future would see cooperation between the SLLUFN and Stop the Violence against Women. It was suggested that this might include participation by the new group in the SLLUFN's teach-in.