Letter from Uganda

I’ve just been in Uganda in East Africa, a country bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the southwest by Rwanda, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to the south by Tanzania.

Jane Sloane / PWABC - Uganda

 

This is a country that has the distinction of being the world’s second most populous landlocked country after Ethiopia. It is home to a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, one of Africa’s Great Lakes and once thought to be the source of the Nile.

It’s also a country where less than 10% of the land that can be owned in this country is owned by women. According to a report by The Forum for African Women Educationalists, (FAWE), Uganda tops the list in Africa of the number of child marriages with 40% of girls marrying before the legal age for marriage which is 18 years. A report by the Population Secretariat states that 300,000 girls get pregnant prematurely each year.

One of the groups supported by Global Fund for Women is Pastoral Women’s Alliance to Break Cultural Chains (PWABC) which was established in 2003 in Kiboga District in northwest Uganda. With a membership of over 2,000 women organized into 13 village groups, the network advocates for pastoralist women’s socio-economic and political rights by reforming cultural practices and traditions that discriminate against women. The group works with male community leaders and elders to advocate for women’s rights and cultural reform at the community level. It also mobilizes and trains members on women’s rights and links members with lawyers, law enforcement and local government departments to shift attitudes and change laws.

One of our advisors in Uganda, Debbie Serwadda joined me on this trip and we left Kampala to travel a few hours through rural villages until we arrived at PWABC’s office.

As we gathered with core members of the group in their office, I remembered Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee’s words at the African Grantmakers Network forum in Tanzania a few days earlier, when she said “The ten year old African girl, rural or urban, is who we need to focus on.” If we don’t pay attention then these girls’ lives play out in a depressingly similar trajectory.

Take, for example, Sylvia Nalwada who had her first baby at 15 when she was a fifth grade primary school student in Kayunga District, Kampala, Uganda. The father was a 27 year old man. Sylvia’s parents reported the case to the police and the man was arrested. Then the man’s parents visited the police station and convinced the police to release their son after a few days. Sylvia was left literally holding the baby, single and in deep poverty, while the father ran free. In other cases girls are kidnapped and forced to marry.

PWABC is working to change this trajectory. The group started in 2003 by working with elders and convincing them of the reasons why the practice of forced marriage and girl kidnappings had to change. The group’s Deputy Director, Dusabe Teo, shared the organization’s genesis with me and showed me photos of herself with a smashed face and black eye that was inflicted by her husband when she started PWABC with some other women.

“Men were working to break our character and to undermine our rights as women and we women wanted to change that. A man talks once and if you don’t listen to him and he talks again then you know you will be beaten. We wanted to change a situation where a woman kneels for the man as God and serves him chicken and eggs and everything nutritious while she is denied this. We wanted girls and women to be valued rather than treated as slaves.”

In Western and Central Uganda many marriages are by abduction. Even if a girl is under 14 and a man is 70 or older the marriage can take place as long as he has cows to pay the bride price. Also cows trump education. Given that cows are regarded as infinitely more valuable than a girl and her education, a girl is often required to forgo an education in order to tend the cow.

In the beginning with PWABC it was ten women who started sensitizing other women, and soon a man joined them in this work. “It was not easy,” said Dusabe, “since many people said ‘you young girls, what are you doing! Just because of some education you have an idea that we’re doing bad things.’ These people in the community thought we had been brainwashed and they were furious that we were challenging their traditions. Most elders and other men first looked at us as becoming unruly!”

The women ramped up their work by engaging girls and women to ‘sensitize’ them of their rights and men to the law and the impact of their behavior. The women in the group started supporting young women who were at risk of being kidnapped and also sensitizing men who wanted to marry girls, including men who practiced polygamy and men who were HIV positive. PWABC wanted to address the reality of girls forced into marriage and forced to pleasure multiple sex partners, then having a high risk of becoming HIV positive.

These PWABC women also worked to support women who had been violated and to challenge men’s belief that it was their right to buy, batter, rape and violate women. Mugabe Herbat Jordan, a teacher, also joined the group after continually witnessing his mother being beaten and after his sister was abducted. “I felt a pinch in my heart, and that we were all diminished by these cultural practices and I wanted to work to change this.”

“Now,” Dusabe says, pointing to a man in the group, “my husband is one of our advocates. He too has changed…It’s not easy for male leaders and community members to join us as these harmful cultural practices run deep. But they could see the effect our work was having in our community and so they decided to support us.”

Today, a whole infrastructure of processes is in place to ensure that girls’ human rights are upheld. This includes an oversight committee that deals with any charges or instances of domestic violence or forced marriage or polygamy. It involves custodians of culture, elders, teachers, paralegals and men in positions of authority being strong advocates for girls’ and women’s rights. In this community this includes a police commissioner who has put in place a process to hold government officials to account for ensuring that they enforce the laws of protection for girls and young women and with harsh penalties for negligence and bribery. It includes the election of young men to counsel other men and tell them the benefits of girls staying in schools and also about their accountability to the group if he or any member of his family seeks out a girl for sexual activity. Young women are also elected to mobilize other young women to be aware of their rights and the power of education.

“Global Fund for Women made this possible,” said Dusabe. “You were our first funder. You gave us our second grant. You gave us our third grant. It wasn’t until after our third grant that the group was able to attract the interest and support of other funders both within Africa and globally. Now we have eight paid staff including a security guard, a counsellor for HIV positive women and children, an accountant, three project officers, an administrator, a paralegal lawyer and many volunteers. Our focus remains on the girl child in the very poor rural villages of Rukoola Bushland, Kisagai and Nsala Nsozi “Mountain” areas, Kasejjere Forests and other villages that are difficult to access and where harmful traditional practices have deep roots.”

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_20150616_081838256_HDRWe left PWABC’s offices and headed down a dirt track toward one of the villages to meet some of the community members involved with PWABC. One elder joined us in our vehicle. He is the embodiment of accompaniment and he is there to give his support, as much in presence as in voice. He has been convinced by this work and is a strong advocate for it. “We need the vital confidence of elders,” says Dusabe. “When elders talk, people listen. When elders listen to girls, people listen to girls.”

This dirt track was the only track leading from the village to the nearest hospital. Beyond the violence of early marriage, many girls and young women have problems giving birth because the hospital is so far away and the very basic facilities don’t allow it to cater to complications.

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_20150616_070208806One of the women elders spoke of the consequences of this situation. “My sister died in childbirth in 2012 after she went into a complicated labor at 2:00am in the morning and she died enroute to the hospital.” PWABC secured some funding to create a ‘People’s Ambulance’, a contraption similar to a motorized pedi-cab with a mattress attached so the woman in labor can position herself in the most comfortable way possible. She is then transported to the hospital on the deeply rutted tracks that serve as the tributaries to these communities.

We finally arrived at the local community and many women, men, girls and boys were on hand to greet us. We walked up an incline to a meeting place where there were drummers and dancing. The kind of dancing where everyone is jiving. The beat was infectious and, to the delight of the community, Debbie and I joined the group in clapping, turning, bumping and singing. After some time everyone quieted and Debbie and I were given seats for the formal meeting to commence. Then some of the male and female elders of the community spoke including another Jane, Ms. Jane Kacuiculi, Chairperson of the Board and Mr. Mugabe Herbert Joram, field Coordinator and Paralegal Lawyer.

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_20150616_091601951_HDR“We are a strong community of women and men who came out to fight and transform practices that defile girls and women and deny our human rights,” Jane said. “Men have joined hands with women to reform culture and affirm girl child rights. We have worked to end cultural practices that marginalize women. These practices include lack of access to land and ownership of land, sexual ownership of girls and young women by men in the community, and a belief that girls are unimportant and must be submissive to male desire and need.”

“In our culture, whatever a girl or woman has is for the man, whether it’s cows, goats, money or land. When you are about to give birth you are sent back to your father’s home so that he can send you back both with your child and with a cow for your husband.   Women become like children in their own homes, as they are passed between husband and father who determine their behavior and their rights. Women become commodities for their husbands to dominate and order as they please. Instead of a girl studying at aged 14, she is locked into a bride price. She is forced into marriage and often gets pregnant soon after which often causes complications and sometimes death.”

We then heard testimony from women and men as to the level of change PWABC had helped to make possible.

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_1279One of the men in the group was a man called Teddy Kyeye, a Government Official who had previously said “Sex is like a Cup of Tea among us pastoralists. There is no way a girl can reach the age of 16 before having sex.” He added that sharing a wife is considered normal in pastoralist culture. One pastoralist confessed that he had sex with the wife of his son shortly after their marriage as he wanted to see what the bride price had bought his son. Kind of like testing the stock after purchase to ensure it was a good deal. Except in such cases it is an old man raping the girl who has been forced to marry his son. Now Teddy Kyeke and the other men at the meeting no longer do this and they are strong advocates for cultural change. He has joined other men in the community who are standing up for women, no longer beating women, no longer controlling women, and advocating for the rights of women and girls.

PWABC has been focused on shifting attitudes and behavior and it has been equally focused on increasing economic opportunity and security for girls and women. “We have many practical ideas about what we can do to generate income and we need capital to make these ideas a reality and, in other cases, to access to markets to connect the creator to the buyer.” The group established Balissa House to provide training in business skills and PWABC also established Balissa Farm as a demonstration farm to be able to support women to become self-sufficient through access to small plots of land. Women are now using milk from cows to make ghee and cheese to generate income and with the hope of creating social enterprises. They are also involved in group savings programs to invest in group projects.

And there is the desire to diversify and increase income streams in the time ahead. As Dusabe explained, “These women also make beautiful textiles and handicrafts and we’d like to establish a handicraft selling center in Kampala so that this could be a base for income for women. We know we could have even greater impact if we have more access to funds and resources to support women to become self-sufficient.

Dusabe also said that many women would also benefit from simple hand tools to improve the backbreaking work on the land and from solar power to support their work at home, if they could afford the installation cost. Having access to land was key to girls and women having dependable income and becoming economically secure. This would open up options for their children to be educated, and for access to transport that would also mean they were mobile in sourcing potential markets and buyers for their work.

Another woman was fiercer and more direct in her advocacy. “Let the harvest belong to women and not be owned by men. Let the woman have her own harvest!” There were many feisty women in this community, old and young. Yes, they were engaged in powerful healing work and yet they were also impatient for change. These women were determined to hold their men to account for their collective behavior and attitudes, and to assume the leadership needed for the level of change sought.

Jane Sloane - Uganda - Nyabare SalaIt has been this vigilance at every level that has resulted in an increase in the number of girls attending school. I was transfixed by one girl in the meeting, Nyabare Sala, who was a 7 year old girl in the community who is attending school and hopes to complete her education. She is one of the direct beneficiaries of PWABC’s work. A few years earlier it was girls only a few years older than Nyabare who were being kidnapped on the way to school as they have to walk many miles down that isolated dirt track and they can easily be scooped up by motorcyclists or stopped by cars and taken into a life of sexual slavery. It’s also why some of the money PWABC received from Global Fund went toward buying a motorcycle to intercept such abductors and to not lose another generation of girls while PWABC was doing the work to ensure long term attitudinal change and legal protection.

“What would you like to do if money was no object?” I asked the group. We would like to become a national network and bring this work and approach to every community in Uganda,” said Dusabe. We know this approach works and we just need the funds to make this possible.” This would be a way of democratizing many communities across Uganda and engaging them in a national public dialogue on conflict resolution, gender equality and community building. The work in each community would start by winning the trust of the elders and then other leaders in the community, and then conducting sessions with all members of the community regarding rights of girls, establishing community committees and introducing all other elements of economic support.

Later, I reflected on the strength of this idea of creating a network when I was talking to a friend and mentor, Michaela Walsh, founder of Women’s World Banking. “The idea of bigness in this world is wrong!” she said to me. “Supporting women in their countries to assume their own leadership and adopt a network model of working is what will really make a difference.”

When it came time for me to speak to the group I said that girls have the right to the same opportunities given to men and boys, and girls have the right to dream as boys do dream. There is a quote by the philosopher, Goethe, that boldness has genius and magic in it, and this community has demonstrated its ability to be bold and the result is a kind of alchemy and magic. There would be no Global Fund for Women without groups like this one. And this community also has the power of Global Fund backing them – the power of hundreds of thousands of women who are a voice of conscience and invoking the power of witness as much as activism for change.

I said that the profound healing the community had been practicing was inspirational as much as transformational. “Your community may be experiencing economic poverty, however, many people in the west are suffering from spiritual poverty whereas your community has been through a spiritual transformation and renewal.” I said that while this community was expressing its gratitude for the funding made possible from Global Fund for Women, they needed to know that there were many donors themselves experienced profound change as a result of giving to women’s groups such as PWABC. “I have met donors who have themselves experienced violence, isolation and discrimination, and when they have seen the powerful outcomes achieved by the groups they have funded it has healed something deep in them and instilled in them a strong sense of hope, and belief that change is possible.

 

A few days after I returned to the United States I received an email from Dusabe profusely thanking me for visiting the community.

Oh dear Jane it was a day of joy to host you at our PWABC Office and most importantly thank you for your time to share with our beneficiaries on grassroot in the rural Communities. You mean much to us women/girls of Kiboga and the whole World Jane!…Indeed with you we shall break these chains further more and even reach out to other communities in and outside Uganda to also open the eyes of our fellow women/girls harassed sexually and generally marginalized by their own cultures to stand up, break the chains too by reforming their cultures too…We enjoyed you Jane and the community people enjoyed you so so and so much. Thank you for that parental love! Your visit left us empowered the more spiritually Jane and God bless you. Faithfully yours in the campaign of our rights as women/girls of Kiboga.

As someone who has often grieved the fact that I haven’t been a parent it felt like a precious gift to be thanked for my parenting.

A day later Jane Kacuculi, the Chairperson Board of Directors, PWABC wrote to me:

the best we can do is…STRONGLY ensuring that women/girl child rights are observed, recognized and respected socially, economically and politically through our initiative of Reforming Cultures to eliminate negative harsh and dangerous Practices/Beliefs here in our rukoola communities and take the initiative to other communities where women/girl child(ren) are equally suffering and marginalized because of their own cultures…

What can we say about your love and support? We wish all Donors had your appreciative…character then most grantees would be psychologically strengthened in the important work they try to do. To be honest Jane you left us Psychologically strengthened and feeling important in our work …We therefore credit your visit as a turning point for our advocacy…

20150717-Jane-ChookGift-DSOnce formal business and speeches had ended the drums started again and this time as we danced a live chicken was lifted up and held out to me, “a great honor,” Debbie whispered to me as I dubiously opened my arms to receive the squawking squirming chook. And so we danced, that chook and I, and the community erupted in laughter and clapping and stepped up the beat until it became a throbbing sea of bodies and ululation, or udhalili, as it is called in Swahili. It reminded me of being in Arnhem Land, Aboriginal land in Australia, and experiencing the incredible energy of the Chookie Dancers as they created their own version of Zorba the Greek.

I reached out to Nyabare to shake her hand and say goodbye. Her mother was with her and they both smiled. I would not forget her. The ten year old African girl is who we need to be focusing on, Leymah Gbowe said. Nyabare was a little younger, there was still time to support this extraordinary group and their dream to become a national movement. Perhaps it would be Nyarabe leading it.

The warmth of many hands and hearts farewelled Debbie and I as we drove off in our vehicle and headed back down the rutted track from which we came. We were quiet, each lost in our own thoughts after what to me seemed akin to a spiritual experience, such was the force of the people and their mission for change.

Suddenly I heard a squawk from the back of the vehicle. It was the chook.
We may have left the community but the chook was here to stay.

Jane Sloane
Uganda

20150717-Jane-ChookHen

Photos

 

Letter from San Francisco #10

Golden Gate Bridge at Duskby Thomas hawk http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/
I’m back in San Francisco after a trip to New York in a week where a lot has happened in politics, everywhere in the world.

I was on the plane headed back to San Francisco when I received the first tweets about the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, being deposed by the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. It’s one of those times you don’t want to be surrounded by a plane full of strangers; instead you want to talk about what’s happened. I looked around at people on the plane.  Everything seemed so normal and yet…just in the winged time of a plane trip there’d been a change of prime minister in my country.

Giving her farewell speech, Julia Gillard spoke of her belief that, “Being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership .” She also said that, as a result of her being the first woman prime minister, it would be easier for the next female prime minister, and easier again for the next female prime minister after her.

Since Gillard has said she will not re-contest her seat at the September Federal elections, it remains speculative as to what she’ll do next, at a relatively young age. Many other women leaders, older than Julia Gillard, have left their role as prime minister or president of their country and have gone on to international leadership positions.  This includes Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, now heading the United Nations Development Program, and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, who became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and is now heading her own international, and highly effective, Climate Change Foundation.

Meanwhile, in the United States it’s been a week of Supreme Court rulings, one ruling resulting in marriage equality taking a great stride forward when the Supreme Court held that the federal government could no longer deny recognition to legally married same-sex couples.  It was also the week of an 11 hour filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis in the state senate in Texas in order to thwart draconian abortion legislation introduced by Texas Republicans that drew national attention and citizen action across America.

Wendy Davis, stood for 11 hours without being able to take a break or sit down in order to stop this legislation being passed before the pumpkin deadline of midnight.  She was cheered on by hundreds of supporters who filled the Capital Building and who broke into song (‘Eyes of Texas’) when it was clear that the bill would not be passed by the end of the special session. The passing of this law would have meant that even women who had been raped would be unable to secure an abortion and it would also defund Planned Parenthood thus vastly reducing access to contraception for women who are poor.  This was also after a Texas Republican state senator, Jodie Laubenberg, caused outrage when she said that rape crisis kits could ‘clean out’ a victim thus suggesting that a kit designed to assist forensic testing could morph into an abortion procedure.

Even as many women and men celebrated a tenuous victory in Texas (the Governor of Texas proposed a new special session to get the legislation passed), others were gearing up in the state of Ohio where sweeping new anti-abortion legislation was being pushed through by Ohio Republicans.

“This bill that we defeated in Texas was part of a much bigger narrative,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in an interview The New York Times columnist, Gail Collins. “This opposition had been growing for months with the attacks on Planned Parenthood, the closing of women’s health centers, a whole series of events that just hit the tipping point and really lit a fuse in the state of Texas. This wasn’t just an isolated incident or isolated piece of legislation.”

As Collins says, ‘State-level abortion battles are a bit like a game of whack-a-mole—even if one is defeated, another immediately pops up somewhere else.’ In the case of Ohio, the legislation is so extreme that even rape victims and those women carrying babies with deformities that would not likely survive a full term pregnancy would be refused an abortion.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

During this same week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg continued to demonstrate the power of dissent, as she had, memorably, in the Lilly Ledbetter case where she read her dissent from the bench and included in it her advice on how to protect future Lilly Ledbetters’.  The first bill that Barack Obama signed as President became the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. In major Supreme Court rulings for the 2012-13 term, Justice Ginsburg has been in the minority for the following Supreme Court decisions: striking down part of the Voting Rights Act; letting stand a race-conscious admissions program in Texas; ruling against human rights groups; reporters and lawyers being able to challenge a government surveillance program; ruling that the police can collect DNA samples from arrestees; ruling that companies can avoid class actions through arbitration agreements.

In response to the majority Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, Justice Ginsburg again chose to summarize her dissent from the bench, demonstrating the depth of her disagreement with the majority ruling.  She called on Congress to ‘correct this Court’s wayward interpretation’, as it had with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. “For a half century, a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made….The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective.” “The court errs egregiously,” she concluded, “by overriding Congress’s decision.”

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg evoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. “The great man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery and there called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act foresaw progress, even in Alabama,” she said. “’The arc of the moral universe is long,’ he said, but ‘it bends toward justice, if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion…’”

What some people don’t know is that King paraphrased his quote from an original quote from Theodore Parker, published in the 1850s. Parker said “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Parker’s words are compelling in encouraging us to view every act of moral courage as one that expands the sphere of justice. As ethicist Jonathan Parker has said, ‘In other words, morality shows a preference toward truth and justice that far exceeds the countervailing arc of immorality and injustice.’

Ginsburg’s evocation of Martin Luther King Jr’s words in her dissent brings to mind an article written by Peniel E Joseph, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy in The New York Times on June 11th 2013 about an event that took place 50 years ago. In June 1963, President John F Kennedy, responding to the racial segregation in Alabama, instructed the National Guard to peacefully enroll two black students at the University of Alabama over the Governor of Alabama’s strident objections.

Kennedy spoke on national television on the evening of June 11th ‘when he asked “every American, regardless of where he lives” to stop and examine his conscience.’ The president spoke about the race revolution sweeping the land and Joseph reports that ‘Kennedy not only reported the revolution but invited Americans of all backgrounds to engage in the kind of civic activism that reflects the tough work of democracy. “A great change is at hand and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.” Kennedy then announced comprehensive civil right legislation to secure school desegregation and to address other civil rights abuses occurring across the country.

The civil rights bill was finally signed into law by President Johnson on July 2nd 1964 after Kennedy’s assassination. As Joseph says ‘without the moral forcefulness of the June 11th address the bill might never have gone anywhere… Kennedys’ words anticipated some of the key themes found in King’s soaring March on Washington address two months later. And that shared moral force, that commonality of thinking between the two speeches…reminds us of…when presidential leadership and grass roots activism worked in creative tension to turn the narrative of civil rights from a regional issue into a national story promoting racial equality and national renewal.’

Holding governments and corporations to account for laws and behavior that should never be tolerated is critical.  Ensuring that governments uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is essential.  Ensuring that people know their rights and how to seek justice when their rights, or children’s rights, have been violated is one of the most important actions we can take at this time.

Last week we heard of a 12 year old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her father, uncle and godfather in the San Pedro prison in La Paz.  She is now pregnant.  This in a prison where hundreds of children are taken to be close to their parents who have been sentenced to prison for their crimes and where these children are required to share space with murderers, rapists, gang members and drug dealers. This happened in a country where cocaine usage and dealing is so widespread that it is normalized and mainstreamed into everyday life and where even visitors to this prison could buy cocaine while the police turn a blind eye.

How is it that innocent girls are locked up, and then further violated by criminals while other criminals remain on the streets and are protected by the normalizing of the drug trade in that country?

“The problem is not that children are inside prisons – the problem is that there are no state policies for the protection of children,” says Yolanda Herrera, president of the independent Human Rights Assembly.  “It is traumatic to live in a place like this,” said Stefano Toricini, a volunteer for an Italian non-governmental organization who has provided counseling to children at San Pedro for the past decade. “The kids live in a state of constant psychological pressure, and the culture of violence that pervades. “

At least in Bolivia, women can now use a new law that was promulgated on March 9th 2013 which broadens protection of women against various forms of violence and establishes the eradication of violence against women as a priority of the State. The law also includes the crime of ‘femicide’ – in which a woman is murdered due to the fact that she is female, with a prison term of 30 years without pardon. This in a country that has the highest gender based violence in Latin America.

This comprehensive law was made possible due to the courageous, brilliant and persistent work of women’s rights organizations working with the government to ensure its effective content, drafting and passing.  This is why the work of the Global Fund for Women is so important in sustaining the work of women’s rights organizations over many years to ensure the adoption of the necessary legal frameworks to protect women against violence, trafficking and gender-motivated killings and to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators.

It also again speaks to the potent fusion of grass roots activism working in creative tension with political and government leadership to get laws passed to secure justice, equality and renewal.

There are so many other battles to be fought in this regard.  Such as justice for undocumented women farm workers, and their daughters in the United States and many other countries where many women and their daughters have been sexually harassed and/or raped in the field by other workers and by supervisors and managers.  Even when undocumented women do summon the courage to take their case to court, they’re often laid off from their jobs at this time and they must secure legal support and be prepared to go the long mile to have their case heard in court. And even if the company settles out of court, the perpetrator is not subject to criminal action in the US and so he remains free and at large.

Without companies being held to account by governments for the protection of their workers’ human rights while they are working, women farm workers, and their daughters, will continue to be vulnerable to abuse. Without governments committed to protecting all their citizens and not just the powerful, not just those financing political campaigns, not just those who voted them into power, not just those who comprise the majority ethnic or religious group in a country, not just those of one sex or sexuality, we will not see justice for women and girls – or indeed peace in our time.

We can take note of the power of disruption and the power of dissent to realize a different world.  We can take heart from those who have worked so long for women’s human rights and who are inherent parts of this moral arc curving toward truth and justice.

I was glad to have a weekend back in Sausalito.  As I walked the coastline, I saw a man juggling on the top of a cliff top with the ocean as a backdrop.  Nearby, a man balanced rocks on top of each other – I held my breath.   It was a fine balance.  He smiled at me and gave me one of his postcards

I walked on to the houseboat arts collective where two girls were selling lemonade that they’d made.  “Would you like some lemonade? It’s fifty cents a glass,” one of the girls asked me. “Sure, I’d love some,” I said smiling.

I walked along further to my favorite street where, in a shop front window, there was a black and white photo of a young girl facing a wide inviting space. I was transfixed. “Can you please tell me about this image?” I asked the woman in the shop. “It’s a picture that my husband took of our daughter, Audrey, at the Museum of Modern Art,” she said. ‘I’m so glad you like it’

So, ‘Audrey at the MoMA’ affirmed for me an image of a girl’s innocence, hope, humanity and happiness – a blank canvas for her to run towards, hopscotch, encircle or complete in any way she chooses.

“Cut not the wings of your dreams, for they are the heartbeat and the freedom of your soul.” Flavia

“The best protection any woman can have … is courage.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Jane Sloane – San Francisco

Letter In The World #4

Jane Sloane-Front Yard
I’m currently back in Australia, having a few precious days at my cottage in Piccadilly and time with my family and friends.

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An informed and active citizen movement in Australia is what has moved the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) from being a great idea to an almost certain reality.  There’s been a groundswell of support for this insurance for a long time now, with many Australians agitating for action to make it happen.  The promise of a Federal election in the next few months was the Australian community’s ace card to get it across the line.  Every politician, parliamentarian and future Prime Minister wants the popular vote and this legislation will win favor with many Australians. With the proposal to pass laws for a 0.5 percentage point increase to the Medicare levy to partially pay for the scheme the legislation will be introduced in the next fortnight. About 410,000 people with disabilities around the country are likely to receive lifelong support from the insurance scheme.

Aside from the human rights argument, the intention of the NDIS is to increase the economic and social participation, and therefore productivity, of Australians who have a severe disability. According to John Della Bosca, national campaign director for Every Australian Counts, the NDIS Advocacy campaign Australia has one of the lowest rates of employment participation in the OECD for people with disabilities, despite Australia being an affluent country.  Consequently, 45 per cent of people with a disability live in, or near, poverty as compared to the OECD average of 22 per cent.

With an NDIS in place it will mean that those Australians with a disability will have access to the equipment or support they need to increase the quality of their life.  Australians with a disability will no longer be left for extended periods in acute hospital beds as they’ll be able to access support in the community at a fraction of the cost. Children with disabilities will gain access to early intervention to maximize their development and capacity for independent living. The NDIS will double the skilled workforce providing services to people with severe disability.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers found that, with NDIS support, increased employment participation by people with disability would be an additional 370,000 people by 2050. Families and the economy would benefit from increased employment participation, with 80,000 family carers entering the workforce or increasing the hours worked, resulting in a fiscal gain of $1.5 billion in GDP a year.

As Della Bosca says, for the first time people with disabilities and their families will become a large, informed consumer market able to pay for a variety of reasonably-priced goods and services to support their lives. In the US, Fifth Quadrant Analytics’ report The Global Economics of Disability 2012 describes the global market of 1.1 billion people with disabilities as an emerging market the size of China, with friends and family, whose lives they directly affect, adding another 1.9 billion potential consumers.

For many years we’ve expected a family to carry the cost of someone’s disability rather than the broader community sharing this cost and the load.  Now this will be a shared load by all Australians and, as a result, we’ll likely see a more active Australian community of people with disabilities as they claim their place in the workforce and in the broader social and cultural life of this nation. One would hope that what might emerge from this greater engagement and embrace is a country of increased compassion, connectivity, community and grace.

One can only hope that in the US a future President possessing similar vision and determination to President Obama might go the next round and see a similar kind of disability insurance program operational in America.

My evening meditation over the last few months in Sausalito is to run a bath, tip in French lavender oil and sink in with a copy of Andrew Solomon’s profoundly moving (700+ page) book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (in the new edition, the subtitle is A Dozen Kinds of Love).

Solomon interviewed over 300 families over a ten year period to learn how they coped with a child who was different in some way, due to disability or different ability and to understand more about illness, identity and difference.  As he says,

‘The children I describe here have horizontal conditions that are alien to their parents. They are deaf or dwarfs; they have Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or multiple severe disabilities; they are prodigies; they are people conceived in rape or who commit crimes; they are transgender. The timeworn adage says that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, meaning that a child resembles his or her parents; these children are apples that have fallen elsewhere—some a couple of orchards away, some on the other side of the world. Yet myriad families learn to tolerate, accept, and finally celebrate children who are not what they originally had in mind. ‘

‘Broadcasting these parents’ learned happiness is vital to sustaining identities that are now vulnerable to eradication. Their stories point a way for all of us to expand our definitions of the human family. It’s important to know how autistic people feel about autism, or dwarfs about dwarfism. Self-acceptance is part of the ideal, but without familial and societal acceptance, it cannot ameliorate the relentless injustices to which many horizontal identity groups are subject and will not bring about adequate reform. We live in xenophobic times, when legislation with majority support abrogates the rights of women, LGBT people, illegal immigrants, and the poor. Despite this crisis in empathy, compassion thrives at home, and most of the parents I have profiled love across the divide. Understanding how they came to think well of their own children may give the rest of us motive and insight to do the same. To look deep into your child’s eyes and see in him (her) both yourself and something utterly strange, and then to develop a zealous attachment to every aspect of him (her), is to achieve parenthood’s self-regarding, yet unselfish, abandon. It is astonishing how often such mutuality has been realized—how frequently parents who had supposed that they couldn’t care for an exceptional child discover that they can. The parental predisposition to love prevails in the most harrowing of circumstances. There is more imagination in the world than one might think.’

In his introduction, Solomon includes a quote from the writer, Clara Claiborne Park who said in the 1970s of her autistic daughter,

“I write now what 15 years past I would still not have thought possible to write: that if today I were given the choice to accept the experience, with everything that it entails, or to refuse the bitter largesse, I would have to stretch out my hands—because out of it has come, for all of us, an unimagined life. And I will not change the last word of the story. It is still love.”

One of Solomon’s ten chapters is on those who are deaf and the countercultures it creates. His writing and insights from his own experiences with the deaf community challenged me to think about what I would do if I had a child who was born deaf and whether I would make similar decisions to some of those parents whose stories we read.  Such as whether I would ensure my child had cochlear implants at an early age so that they could feel and be as ‘normal’ as possible or instead allow them to be absorbed in a world of Sign that I could only partially embrace in order that my child feel totally connected with a rich community of those who are deaf, some of whom hold fiercely to the unique experiences they have by being deaf. Solomon observes:

“Communicating in Sign is more meaningful to many deaf people than being unable to hear. Those who sign love their language, often even if they have access to the languages of the hearing world. The writer Lennard Davis, a “child of deaf adults” (CODA) who teaches disability studies, wrote, “To this day if I sign ‘milk,’ I feel more milky than if I say the word. Signing is like speech set to dance. There is a constant pas de deux between the fingers and the face. Those who do not know sign language can only see the movements as distant and unnuanced. But those who understand signing can see the finest shade of meaning in a gesture.”

Solomon goes on to describe his experience of being present at a national convention for the deaf:

‘Shortly after Lexington’s graduation in 1994, I attended the NAD (National Association of the Deaf) convention in Knoxville, Tennessee, with almost two thousand deaf participants. During the Lexington protests, I had visited deaf households. I had learned how deaf telecommunications work; I had met dogs who understood Sign; I had discussed mainstreaming and oralism and the integrity of visual language; I had become accustomed to doorbells that flashed lights instead of ringing. I had observed differences between British and American Deaf culture. I had stayed in a dorm at Gallaudet. Yet I was unprepared for the Deaf world of the NAD.’

‘The NAD has been at the center of Deaf self-realization and power since it was founded in 1880, and the convention is where the most committed Deaf gather for political focus and social exchange. At the President’s Reception, the lights were turned up high because deaf people lapse into speechlessness in semidarkness. Across the room, it seemed almost as though some strange human sea were breaking into waves and glinting in the light, as thousands of hands moved at stunning speed, describing a spatial grammar with sharply individual voices and accents. The crowd was nearly silent; you heard the claps that are part of the language, the clicks and puffing noises that the deaf make when they sign, and occasionally their big, uncontrolled laughter. Deaf people touch each other more than the hearing, but I had to be careful of the difference between a friendly and a forward embrace. I had to be careful of everything because I knew none of the etiquette of these new circumstances.’

Thinking about this world of the deaf and disability and difference made me also look to the human rights work on disability that the Global Fund for Women supports.  In so many developing countries, women with disabilities are struggling to stay alive and the idea of a government funded disability insurance program would seem like a distant dream.  So too the kinds of conversations and decisions that parents featured in Solomon’s book are able to make regarding the care and choices of people with disabilities, or people who are experiencing profound difference in some way.  Women and their families and children are barely surviving rather than having any choices to support them thriving.   Many people with disabilities live out their lives in institutions or in conditions akin to a Dickensian tale.

In developing countries, women with disabilities are two to three times more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than women without disabilities.  A staggering 98 percent of children with disabilities do not attend schools, and girls with disabilities are less likely to attend school than boys with disabilities.

Globally, over 20 million women a year become disabled as a consequence of unsafe conditions surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. According to a Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre report, over 40 percent of women in Fiji are battered while pregnant. This increases the possibility of women and children becoming disabled due to complications during childbirth. A 2009 UNDP pacific Centre Report titled Pacific Sisters with Disabilities – at the intersection of discrimination by Daniel Stubbs and Sainimili Tawake reported that women with disabilities may experience forced sterilization and forced abortion due to discriminatory attitudes about their capacity and denial of information about sexual, reproductive health and contraceptives.

To address the discrimination experienced by women with disabilities, over the last two decades, the Global Fund for Women has provided over $1.6 million in grants to 114 grassroots organizations in 61 countries led by women with disabilities.  Many women with disabilities face multiple layers of discrimination as they work both to ensure that the human rights of those who have a disability are protected and that women’s rights are ensured within the disability community.

Some of the organizations supported by the Global Fund have included Hayot, the first organization in Samarkand, Uzbekistan established by and for women with disabilities believes that the “the moral health of a society is determined by its attitude towards people with disabilities. Meliya Asanova, the founder said “Hayot received their first grant from the Global Fund in our second year of operation, when our annual operating budget was just $8,000. Today, Hayot’s annual budget exceeds $200,000 and includes a diverse group of funders. Hayot is a key resource center in the region, providing legal literacy classes, counseling, campaigns for accessible buildings, advocacy on behalf of disabled women’s rights, and assistance to new organizations as they establish themselves.

Global Fund grants have also been provided to women’s rights organizations in order to conduct legislative advocacy and change the laws to ensure protection of the rights of those with disabilities. These organizations have included Shumuu Association for Human Rights and Care for the Disabled in Cairo, Zambia National Association of Disabled Women, and the Georgian Disabled Women’s International Association. In Kenya, the Kenya Association for Empowerment of Disabled People monitors the implementation of the People with Disabilities Act and other parliamentary bills to ensure there are no clauses that discriminate against women with disabilities.  The Association works to ensure that critical information such as on HIV/AIDS prevention can be made available in formats accessible to all people.

In Gaza, the Bureij Association for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped, the only organization of its kind is led by, and works with, women and girls with disabilities in the Bureij Refugee camp. The Association’s week-long health education and disabilities seminars have engaged over 100 women and 80 young women with disabilities and their mothers have participated in the Association’s first aid, general education, homeopathic medicine, and sign language workshops.

Jane Sloane - Cottage

A world away, here in Piccadilly in the Adelaide Hills, I step out onto my balcony and tilt my head to the Milky Way.

My loft bedroom is near to the tree. A tree whose branches I can almost reach from my balcony and where I can sometimes spot koalas sleeping.  A tree that represents the constancy of my connection to home and a place in the world.

 

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Jane Sloane – Piccadilly

Fierce Courage: Muslim Women’s Transformative Activism – CIIS Speech

California Institute of Integral Studies Speech: April  25, 2013

Fierce Courage: Muslim Women’s Transformative Activism – Jane Sloane

The changing political landscape over the last year, fueled by an active citizenry, has shown us why the fierce courage of Muslim women is important for them, their countries and for ourselves. The focus of this activism — in opening up options for peacemaking and peace-building, in pursuing the creation of democratic societies that are inclusive — diverse in voice and choice and in embracing a moderate form of Islam – is to secure a global transformation of power as much as a regional or country specific transformation.

By working to increase the influence of moderate Islam, and to open up the spaces for women’s engagement in all aspects of public life, these Muslim women are actively working to defuse the influence and reach of extremist and fundamentalist Muslim groups. They’re also working to shift power and to increase the participation of women so that their views and contribution can help shape new political, social and economic systems in their country.
This is the kind of work that the Global Fund is invested in and it’s why we have supported the work of so many Muslim women’s organizations over the past 25 years.

The Global Fund for Women was founded by four visionary women in 1986. They recognized the need to invest in women’s rights organizations by providing general support grants rather than project focused grants. These women believed that not enough was being done to sustain the work of women’s human rights organizations in terms of funding to sustain the staff and operational costs of the organization for the long-term work required to secure women’s and girls’ full human rights. We’ve seen the value of this approach in terms of the laws that have been passed and the policies that have been introduced over this time to protect and support women, together with increased numbers of women in parliaments and public life.

And yet much more is required if we’re to see the shifts in power required to rebalance the world. That’s why there is a need to accelerate and deepen support for women’s rights organizations at a time when space for women’s organizing and advocacy in many countries is diminishing. This is especially true for Muslim women. Building connections among women’s groups is a critical factor in ensuring the success of larger movements, and the Global Fund makes this possible by raising funds from donors and directing these funds to grass roots women’s organizations. We know from the important study released last year by social scientists’, Mala Htun and Laurel Weldon, that independent feminist movements have had the greatest impact, of any of the possible factors, on whether or not a country has good legislation against violence.

A fundamental part of Global Fund grant-making is its commitment to collective leadership in sustaining a global women’s movement as well as its investment in networks of advisors and grantee groups. Rather than direct investment to individuals, Global Fund grants are evaluated by the extent to which they build relationships and collective power in the pursuit of common goals relevant to women’s human rights. After years of funding specific networks of advisors and grantee groups, the Global Fund has contributed to creating and sustaining a strong feminist movement comprised of diverse populations and perspectives. This includes grants given to Muslim women’s organizations in order to support them in their rights based work.

According to a 2009 PEW Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life report, 61.9% of the world’s Muslim population resides in Asia. Despite Asia being home to a majority of the world’s Muslim population, it’s also the regional home of many countries where Muslim populations live as a minority within their countries borders; most notably India, whose Muslim population is the third highest world-wide, but only comprises 13.4% of its population in-country.

The Global Fund’s support for Muslim women and girls has been overwhelmingly focused on themes of Building Peace and Ending Gender Based Violence and on Expanding Civic and Political Participation. In 1997 the Global Fund launched a Promoting Women’s Rights within Religious and Cultural Traditions Initiative to ensure the provision of flexible, timely support for those projects specifically implemented by women working within their own faith communities and cultural traditions. Although the Initiative later expanded its scope to include all religious groups, it originally focused on Muslim women’s efforts to protect their human rights within the context of their cultural and religious traditions.

To receive funding under the Initiative, groups demonstrated that they were working on emerging, controversial, or ground-breaking issues to promote women’s rights within religious and cultural traditions. Activities eligible for support under the Initiative included interpretation and study of religious texts and accounts of women’s experiences; changing religious or cultural traditions that are harmful to women; gender training for religious leaders, court personnel, police, and community educators; and connecting other social change movements with the faith-based community. This initiative contributed to the launch of the MENA initiative in 2005 to provide dedicated funding to women’s rights organizations in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2009, the Global Fund established a formal Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program to allow for a greater investment in women’s rights organizations and advisers in the region. The three-year period of 2009-2012 witnessed significant social unrest across MENA, as a series of political events in conjunction with worsening socioeconomic conditions created varying degrees of upheaval across the region. These forces have posed a challenge to women, whose participation in the “Arab Spring” as activists, organizers, and protesters was unprecedented. Their challenge now is to ensure their equal participation in the societies that emerge from these transitions.

While women were participating in movements that demanded, among other things, greater gender parity in political, social, and economic rights, many now fear that these rights will be further jeopardized in post-revolutionary societies. Others feel that the contribution that women have made to these revolutions and political transitions may also be forgotten. In Egypt women are creating a gender sensitive archive of the revolution in recognition of the importance of retaining the fragments of stories that include the voices of minorities. In this revolution, these fragments include personal testimonies and songs captured by citizen journalists. This is done in recognition of the fact that power is found in the way revolutionary material is archived. Testimonies are never free flowing – the very process of narration guides historical meaning. The women involved are documenting history and it’s very dynamic; the revolution was young women’s main entry to activism.

More than anything the recent revolutions and uprisings in Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Egypt have mobilized younger Muslim women who have been passionate in their desire for change and who have been at the frontline as citizen journalists, blogging and tweeting and on the streets, both veiled and unveiled, marching and protesting. Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the end of 2011 saw the largest demonstration of women in Egypt since 1919, when women mobilized under the leadership of feminist Hoda Shaarawi when they protested against British Colonial rule. The fierce courage of these Muslim women has been met by astonishment and awe by many in the West who retained their view of Muslim women as being submissive in their faith and acquiescence to men and to authority.

And yet, Tahrir Square was not utopia, it was also a place of mass sexual harassment and violence. Gender based violence is one of the most overlooked issues in conflict situations; we don’t find the stories of sexual violence that women experience in revolution. Women were sexually violated by revolutionaries and the military. During the UN Commission on the Status of Women this year we heard from one young woman who said “I thought I was in a protected space in Tahrir Square but I wasn’t, I was surrounded by hundreds of men who stripped me naked and finger raped me; we were subject to both political violence and sexual violence – it was an attempt to take away our political participation as well as to violate our bodies. The attempt to silence us has failed. I promise that I will not be silent.”

This physical stripping of women’s power by military and revolutionaries alike is another weapon of war against female journalists, citizen journalists, women human rights defenders – all of whom seek to be part of the political change in Egypt and in other countries in the Middle East. We need to protect the rights of these women to participate in this movement for change without fear of violence, rape and assault. We need to honor the courage of all the girls and women who have gone public about these sexual assaults. As one woman from Egypt said recently “It needs the courage of one girl or woman to go public to create a different revolution.”

As long-suppressed religious parties rise up, we’re seeing the demarcation of boundaries emerge and the urgency of reconciling demands for Sharia with women’s rights. Muslim women want to practice their faith while retaining their economic, political and social rights. Many Muslim women see their faith as a touchstone for these rights. This is especially so for young women who are often more overtly religious as well as being better educated than their parents. They also have more choice and voice when it comes to marriage, career and children. It’s not surprising, then, that they hold fiercely to their freedom as much as to their faith.

Women are rising up against the deep seated patriarchy and religious conservatism and are appealing to a progressive Islamic faith in order that women assume their place as equal partners in all aspects of decision-making affecting their lives. The way progressive Islamists respond will determine the potential for women to participate in a new world order. This is happening in an environment where women’s rights are being challenged by newly empowered conservative Islamists who are reintroducing Sharia Law including making such practices as polygamy legal.
Muslim women in the Middle East are also transitioning from revolutionary engagement in public squares to citizen engagement in political circles. For instance, Libyan women fought for preferential placement on party lists in the first post-Gaddafi national election in July 2012. As a result they won nearly 17 percent of the seats in parliament. They also voted in large numbers for moderate candidates. Muslim women have also been recognized on the global stage for their critical and sustained work to bring about political and social change in their countries, most notably with the three women who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

When Tawakkul Karman of Yemen became the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, she acknowledged the millions of women across the region that joined her in the fight for greater freedom. Karman shared the award with Liberian President, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, and Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, and both organizations had been supported in their vital work with general support grants from the Global Fund.
With her reputation as the “mother of the revolution, Karman has been a conservative woman fighting for change in a conservative Muslim and tribal society and has been the iconic voice and face of the mass uprising against the authoritarian regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Just 32-year-old at the time of the uprising, Karman has been an activist for human rights in Yemen for many years, and her arrest in January triggered protests by hundreds of thousands demanding that Saleh be ousted and that a democratic government be formed.

Karman had organized protests and sit-ins since 2007, calling these gatherings the “Freedom Square.” She advocated for greater rights for women and headed Women Journalists without Chains, an organization advocating for press freedoms without harassment and whose organization also received general support funding from the Global Fund for Women.

In December 2010, the uprising erupted in Tunisia after a local fruit vendor in the North African nation, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire. In Yemen, Karman led protests in support of the Tunisians, sending out mobile phone texts to urge people to join. The small protests, comprising no more than 200 people, were broken up with water cannons and batons and then on January 23rd, authorities arrested Karman. This resulted in women protesters flowing into the streets of Sanaa and other cities, a rare sight in Yemen. The following day Karman was released and by the afternoon she was leading another protest.

In sister speak, it was another demonstration of United we stand, Divided we fall.
Karman and other organizers were further inspired by Egypt, where protesters seized control of Cairo’s central Tahrir Square demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Days after Mubarak stepped down in February, Yemeni protesters, with Karman and other male protest organizers at the helm, seized a major intersection in the heart of Sanaa, which then came to be known as Change Square. Karman has been part of a council grouping the disparate protest groups and an organization representing the youth of revolution.
In her Nobel Peace Prize speech, Karman said:

“This prize is not for Tawakkul, it is for the whole Yemeni people, for the martyrs, for the cause of standing up to (Saleh) and his gangs. Every tyrant and dictator is upset by this prize because it confronts injustice.”

Karman and the other women who have been at the frontline of Yemen’s uprising have created a movement that is exceptional in a nation of deep poverty and deep tribal allegiance. A country where the majority of the public sees violence as a natural form of protection – with a gun in most homes – and where most people are religiously conservative.

Until recently, Karman wore similar conservative garb to most Yemeni women – the niqab, that covers a woman’s face with a veil and hides her body in thick robes, with slots for the eyes to remain visible. Then Karman started to instead wear a headscarf so that she could see her colleagues and engage with them directly.

Through all of this work, Karman and the many other women who have participated in so many protests in Yemen have remained peaceful, despite the violence around them. Despite the fact that Saleh’s security forces have continually fired on protesters, killing at least 225 people according to a Human Rights Watch report. In fact, as many of you probably saw, President Saleh berated female protesters for participating in the protests, telling them that being associated with men in this way was forbidden under Sharia, or Islamic law.

Karman has been resolute in her response: “Neither Ali nor his gangs will drag Yemen toward war and infighting. We chose peace, we could have resorted to violence in this revolution and we could have settled it in days and not months by resorting to our weapons. … But we chose peace and only peace…Don’t worry about Yemen. Yemen started in peace and it will end its revolution in peace, and it will start its new civil state with peace,” she said.

Importantly, Karman has the support of many men, including her husband, Mohammed al-Nahmi. When she won the Nobel Peace Prize his response to journalists was “This is a prize she deserves. Before she is my wife, she is a colleague, and a companion in the struggle.”
Alaa Murabit, the 23 year old Founder and President, The Voice of Libyan Women worked with
women who began wearing purple as a campaign to end domestic violence. They also conducted seminars that included verses from the Koran that denounced violence. As Murabit said, “We needed to do it this for people who are bound to their religion. We needed to fight fire with fire. We are now seeking to ensure that women have a strong voice in the writing of our new constitution.”

In Syria Dr Mouna Ghanem, Cofounder and Deputy to the President, Building of the Syrian State Movement, said recently at the Women in the World conference “Women are not in the negotiation process and there’s no democracy without women. Islamicist power is the rising power in the region; Assad should go in a way that doesn’t cause the disintegration of the country. Women in the camps are experiencing forced marriages, prostitution, exposure to HIV/AIDS and children are literally freezing to death. Enough is enough. We want peace. We want democracy. We want human rights.”

In this constantly changing socio-political environment, the fight for women’s full human rights has become more challenging in an arena where Islamic parties are claiming new authority and influence. Women are challenging Islamist positions on women’s human rights, freedom of expression and of religious tradition. Thus women are moving from revolutionary squares to the political circles in order to ensure that women’s human rights are integrated into the broader fabric of social, economic and political change sweeping Egypt and so many other countries in the Middle East.

And also in Asia, as we have seen most recently in India with the Government’s changes to criminal laws on the back of citizen uprisings and outrage at the brutal rape and subsequent death of the young student there. Some of the largest grants from the Global Fund have been to Muslim women’s organizations in India and in other countries in Asia. Particularly in Asian countries where Muslim women are in the minority. For instance in Cambodia, CHAM Women of Cambodia was formed during the 2002 first commune elections to promote the participation of Cham (Muslim) women. The group’s mission is to “fully engage ourselves in transforming local governance through actions that lead us out of extreme poverty and towards rights for a total recognition of our roles as Muslim women and as a minority group.”

As an Australian working for a relief agency after the Asian Tsunami occurred in December 2004, there was one statistic that stuck with me – for every man and boy who died, four women and girls died – for cultural and religious reasons such as they hadn’t been allowed to learn how to swim, or they didn’t feel they could leave their homes without their husband’s permission or the right dress. The attitudes and oratory of religious leaders contributed to women dying and there needed to be a focus on engaging religious and faith based leaders in changing their attitudes and becoming advocates for women’s full participation in society.

In 2009 while I was Executive Director of International Women’s Development Agency, in Melbourne, Australia, we organized an event called Asia Pacific Breakthrough on the eve of the Parliament of the World’s Religions so that these religious and faith based leaders could hear directly from women in Asian and Pacific countries about how their attitudes and actions directly affected the quality of women’s lives and calling for a commitment to a pledge. We also attracted $1.2 billion in new funding for initiatives that were at the intersection of women, faith and development. And we ensure that women from Asia and the Pacific addressed the predominantly male Parliament of the World’s Religions in order that religious and faith based leaders hear directly from these women and be challenged to publicly support women’s rights.

Since then we’ve seen Muslim women in Asia as well as in the Middle East, claim truth to power within their religion as well as their rights as women.

For instance, we’ve provided sustained funding to Women’s Dignity, in Chechnya, a women-led organization, where women are Muslim in culture and tradition, and which works on changing traditional cultural practices and dealing with rising Sharia law.

Women’s Dignity was founded in 2002, following the Chechen wars that resulted in the deaths of approximately 150,000 Chechen civilians and the forced relocation of nearly half of the Chechen population to refugee villages in Ingushetia and other parts of Russia. Libkan Bazaeva, the Director of Women’s Dignity has spoken of the importance of dismantling militarism and oil and the power and corruption inherent in this interplay.

Women’s Dignity was created to be a refuge and an advocate for women facing extremely high levels of gender-based violence in the aftermath of the war. But it was also founded because the decades of war had transformed women’s role in Chechen life. Facing the threat of being killed or disappeared during the war, Chechen men had gone underground, while women took responsibility for leadership in the home, for sustaining the family, and helping the community.
Even amidst catastrophic circumstances, women had had a taste of their own freedom, and Women’s Dignity was also founded to advocate for their rights, so that they would not have to return to a second-class existence.

Today, Women’s Dignity provides counseling, legal aid and other services to over 1,000 women each year. It helps women navigate the three separate legal frameworks that regulate their lives: the Russian Constitution, Islamic Sharia Law, and the Adat, a culturally based legal framework unique to Chechnya. The group’s counselors help women push for their rights and navigate where the three legal frameworks are in conflict with one another. For example, under the Russian constitution, women are granted the right to ask for a divorce. However, both Sharia Law and the Adat deny women the right to ask for a divorce. Women’s Dignity helps women who want to get a divorce to use their rights under the constitution to achieve this. Under Sharia Law, women in Chechnya have no inheritance rights. Women’s Dignity helps widows to remain in their homes after their husbands have died by appealing to constitutional law. With Sharia Law on the rise (recently women who were not wearing headscarves in public during Ramadan were shot with rubber bullets), such efforts are courageous and they help women to use the Constitution to advocate for themselves.

With support from the Global Fund, Libkan and Women’s Dignity led a campaign against the practice of bride-stealing, or “marriage by abduction”, a practice which increased in Chechnya following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In this practice, men kidnap women (acquaintances or strangers), and as long as the kidnapping is “for the purpose of marriage”, it is overlooked by authorities, not prosecuted, and the woman is forced to marry her kidnapper.
Libkan knew that she would have to do more than appeal to legislators, she needed to change hearts and minds. With the GFW grant, she organized six roundtables on the issue within the span of six months, while growing Women’s Dignity’s networks and upping its engagement with government. Libkan chose a strategy that appealed to Chechen traditions, reminding Chechens of the “Chechen tradition of equality” (Chechnya never had a feudal system and historically, was considered more equal in issues of class or caste than other parts of Europe) and asking Chechens to consider that “our traditions come not only from history – we can create new traditions. Which traditions will we leave behind? Which will we take forward?” Ultimately, Putin’s office came out with a statement supporting the full implementation of the law in Chechnya, which punishes bride stealing with a $1M rouble fine and up to 9 years in prison.
These victories are remarkable in Chechnya, but the situation is far from optimistic. Recently the Chechen President indicated he supports so-called “honor killings”, saying that a women who has “loose morals” deserves to be shot. In February this year, a 16 year old girl was murdered after she spent a night at her boyfriend’s house. While her male relatives are suspected of the crime, no prosecution or investigation into the killing has occurred. In this context, organizations such as Women’s Dignity play a crucial, courageous role.

I want to now share with you a quick snapshot of just a few of the Muslim women’s organizations we support so that you can sense the depth and reach of this movement building across the globe.
Sisters in Islam is our longest-standing grantee with a focus on Muslim women and girls. SIS works in Malaysia to promote an understanding of Islam that recognizes that principles of justice, equality, freedom, and dignity. Advocating for legal reform and strategic policy formulation, the group promotes religious interpretation that takes into consideration women’s experiences and realities, eliminates injustice and discrimination against women, and challenges religious and cultural practices and values regarding women. Other women’s rights organizations we support that are doing similar work includes Aawaaz E Niswaan which has been leading the formation of a Muslim Women’s Rights Network in India.

More recently we’ve supported the YP Foundation – which formed in 2002 in the aftermath of the sectarian violence in Gujarat, involving majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities in order to support young Muslim women to realize and claim their rights. Then there’s Shirkat Gah in Pakistan, which is currently working in very militarized parts of Pakistan to end gender based violence. And Women Living Under Muslim Law (WLUML), a network organization working in 70 countries to promote and improve women’s human rights and gender equality within Muslim contexts. The Women’s Research and Action Group (WRAG), another grantee, was established in 1993 in response to growing levels of communal violence and the need to create space for a collective effort to raise the issues of Muslim women.

The Global Fund also supports Muslim women’s organizations focused on sexual and reproductive rights and justice – such as Women for Women’s Human Rights in Turkey, which has worked to increase Muslim women’s access to reproductive rights and sexuality within Muslim societies. Disha Social Organization was founded in 1984 in Uttar Pradesh, India. It works in 50 villages in this predominantly Muslim and lower-caste area to educate adolescent girls about women’s rights and reproductive health and address cases of violence against women (VAW). A major program is the Nari Adalat, the Women’s Court, which is held monthly to review cases of violence against women. The group is able to work with men on ending gender-based violence, as well as government and other civil society groups.

Children of Srikandi is a group of female filmmaker activists in Jakarta, Indonesia. Formed in 2010, the group uses visual media to “challenge stereotypes” about sexuality. Many of the filmmakers belong to the LBT community themselves, and see film as a way to “spark dialogue, encourage civic engagement, and point out the diversity within Indonesia society and showcase what it means to be a queer woman in the country of the world’s largest Muslim population.” The group organizes filmmaking workshops and participates in several film festivals.
Supporting Muslim women to know their rights under Sharia Law has also been an important component of the work for many Muslim women’s organizations funded by the Global Fund. This includes Gender and Human Values Proactive in Kaduna, Nigeria and Nissa Wa Aafaq- Women and Horizons in Israel. This group seeks to expose the Palestinian community to the existence of modern interpretations of the Islamic holy texts regarding women’s rights, believing that raising awareness among women will in the long run improve their status in society. Sahiba Sisters Foundation in Tanzania works to address the absence of Muslim women from mainstream development initiatives due to conservative interpretations of Islam that justify women’s second-class status. SOS Fédération des Femmes Musulmanes (SOS FFM) [SOS Federation of Muslim Women] in the Democratic Republic of Congo mobilizes Muslim women to advance their rights, creates community dialogues on gender based violence, women’s rights, reproductive health, and family planning, and provides legal rights education to imams.

Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF) in Sri Lanka works to reform Muslim personal laws to ensure gender equality through teachings of Islam. Musawah was launched in February 2009 at a meeting in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, with over 250 participants from 47 countries. Musawah is defined by its founders as a movement of women and men who publicly seek to reclaim “Islam’s spirit of justice and equality for all”. Based in Malaysia, with GFW grantee partner Sisters in Islam as secretariat, Musawah uses a holistic framework that “integrates Islamic teachings, universal human rights, national constitutional guarantees of equality, and lived realities of women and men today”.

The gains we’ve seen for women and girls — in terms of new laws and legislation to protect their rights and opportunities for greater civil and political engagement of Muslim women have only been possible because of a sustained commitment to rights based organizing by many Muslim women’s organizations and by fierce and resilient Muslim women leaders in all parts of the globe.

These organizations have been linked and tightly networked in order to keep the energy, momentum and support high. The breadth and depth of issues addressed by these organizations has served to ensure a strong and flexible foundation, able to adapt to political circumstances and tipping points and to train young Muslim women in how to be confident and skilled advocates for women’s rights. Many Muslim women’s organizations and leaders have sought out men, and partnerships with male leaders, in order to strengthen their work and to expand the support base for their advocacy and approach.

By holding fast to a vision for a new world order while also maintaining a commitment to a conflict resolving societal approach of opening up options and focusing on the points of commonality rather than difference, these fierce and visionary Muslim women and their organizations have been working to transform the world and, by extension, Muslim women’s place in this new world. These women have been doing it by working both within the women’s movement and influencing the wider movements for change and embedding themselves in these movements. They do this in order to shape the direction and to define the assumptions underpinning these movements. They also do it in a form that embraces a moderate Islamic faith rather than one steeped in extremist and fundamentalist beliefs.

This is movement building in action. And it cannot fail. It cannot fail because the stakes are too high. We need to more deeply invest in, and support, Muslim women’s movement building not just because it is the right thing to do – the work these women are doing deserves our moral support. But also, because, if we do not, then the continuous violence these women are seeking to mitigate in their own countries will become our daily lived reality here in the US as the violence, beliefs and attitudes of extremist religious leaders and their followers permeate this country more deeply and more widely than we’ve seen to date.

And so we need to stand in solidarity with these courageous Muslim women who hold fiercely to a vision of what their country might be and what their religion might represent in their own lives. As these women work to support the rights of all women to dignity and freedom from violence, the opportunity for education and livelihoods, the right to equal participation in decision-making and the right to voice and choice and to freedom of expression, we need to stand with them. In solidarity with those who are working to create a new world, one worthy of our daughters and our sons, where women and men, boys and girls, can grow into their full humanity.

I hope to leave this lecturn with your feeling the fire of these women and appreciating why they burn the way they do. I hope we can all to maintain this fire in our own lives and in our own commitments and direction as we turn toward justice. In this spirit, I want to finish with a paraphrased quote from Shirin Ebadi, Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate. As a Muslim woman, her lifetime of advocacy has been infused with a fierceness and fire that is so much needed at this time:

“I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam has been cited as saying: ‘Thou shalt believe in thine faith and I in my religion’. That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, too, Iran’s civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Rumi and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami, are emissaries of this humanitarian culture.” Their message manifests itself in these two reflections by Rumi: “There’s a tradition that Muhammad said, “A wise man will listen and be led by a woman, while an ignorant man will not.” ~ “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”

And without fear.

Jane Sloane

 

Letter from the UN

International Womens Day outside the UN
2013 International Womens Day outside the UN from Global Fund for Women archive

I was in New York to attend the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The priority theme this year was Prevention and Elimination of Violence to Women and Girls (VAWG). This was in response to the fact that almost 70 per cent of the world’s women have suffered some form of violence.

Representatives of Governments came to report on their progress to advance the rights of women and girls and to report on their implementation of the commitments they’d made under the Beijing Platform For Action (PFA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The final document from CSW is usually an Outcomes document although there’s been no such agreed document from the last two sessions. We were hopeful this year of having an Outcomes document, although of course it was better to have no document than one that diminished the gains secured.

A large NGO contingent made the trek to CSW to hold governments’ accountable for the rights of women and girls globally. We came to demand that governments do more to ensure the rights of women and girls to be safe and secure and for the perpetrators of violence to be held to account. We came to seek campaigns to engage men and boys as advocates to end violence against women. We came to demand that women and girls be supported to have their views and voices heard and to live their lives free of violence including domestic violence, trafficking, torture, harassment, rape and slavery.

Inside the UN, the official proceedings for the Commission were taking place. Already the Vatican was seeking to reverse language in the draft Outcomes document that was aimed at securing and sustaining women’s sexual and reproductive rights without religion or culture being an excuse to prevent these rights. Here the Holy See was joined by countries including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Bangladesh, Yemen and Malta. Meanwhile, Norway’s Ministerial representative provided a spirited rebuke of such attempts by stating unequivocally that

“violence against women is a global disgrace. Violence against women is not about culture, not about religion, it is about power, inequality and lack of political will. Let us start at the top, with our own political leaders, mainly men, and demand action.”

More than 6,000 NGOS registered to attend this 57th Session however each NGO only received two passes to enter the UN building and so most NGO representatives got to hear little of the official UN proceedings. Opposite the UN building, at the UN Church Center, and in many nearby buildings, were the parallel NGO sessions where the majority of NGO representatives presented and attended sessions.

Here we spoke truth to power. Women told of their accounts of rape, beheadings of women human rights defenders; girls being trafficked, dowry acid burning, young women being abused in refugee camps and war zones, women imprisoned for fleeing forced marriage and women killed for honor and then passed off as suicides.

DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era)1In the South Pacific, 3.5 million women out of a population of 10 million suffer gender based violence in their lifetime. We heard that people are afraid of the word sex in parts of the Pacific Islands and so it’s hard to get traction on sexual and reproductive health and rights for women. In Papua New Guinea, safety and security for girls and women is almost nonexistent. This in a country where a woman was recently stripped, tortured and torched as a sorcerer in front of school children. A young woman from Chuuk, in the Federated States of Micronesia, told us that 75 percent of the population here was under 30 and the policies developed needed to recognize this reality. This is the time to get serious in the text at CSW57, said one woman – “We refuse to go backwards, we are going forward. We need negotiators with fire in their eyes.”

In another session on Women and the Egyptian Revolution we heard from a panel of women who were creating a gender sensitive archive of the revolution. They spoke about the importance of including fragments of stories that feature the voices of minorities. As one woman said, “In our revolutions these fragments include personal testimonies and songs captured by citizen journalists.

” Another woman added that “power is found in the way revolutionary material is archived; testimonies are never free flowing – the very process of narration guides historical meaning; we are documenting history and its very dynamic.”

We heard from women on this panel that gender based violence is one of the most overlooked issues in conflict situations; we don’t often find the stories of sexual violence that women experience in revolution. One young woman told us of being sexually violated by revolutionaries.

“The revolution was our main entry to activism; I thought I was in a protected space in Tahir Square but I wasn’t, I was separated from my friend and we were each surrounded by hundreds of men who stripped us naked and finger raped us; my friend and I were subject to both political violence and sexual violence. This was an attempt to take away our political participation as well as to violate our bodies. This attempt to silence us has failed. I will not be silent.”

Another woman on this panel said

“We are talking about new weapons of war against female citizen journalists, who seek to be part of the political change in Egypt. We have to keep our hands together for the courage of all the girls and women who have gone public about these sexual assaults. It needs the courage of one girl or woman to go public for a different revolution.”

At a session on violence against women and intersections with the environment we heard from women who had seen the results of contaminated water from mining leading to miscarriages, abortions, malformations and child mortality.

One woman spoke of the destruction of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity resulting in loss of livelihoods for women and the devastation of food sovereignty rendering food unusable for food production. We heard of armed men engaged in land grabbing and sexual violence to reclaim land, and of women who were forced to migrate to cities where a lack of jobs resulted in some ending up as prostitutes. In other situations, death threats to families resulted in men being killed and women becoming widows and new heads of households with quadruple burdens.

Other women spoke of land restitution programs that didn’t have built-in safeguards for women and where it’s often difficult for them to prove that they once lived there, and of increased impoverishment in rural areas resulting in increased domestic violence. One woman asked that the ‘green economy’ terminology claimed by the corporate sector be replaced by what was valued by women – “we want humanitarian and biodiversity zones.” We heard of women leaders in these struggles being murdered or having disappeared, including Sandra Viviana Cuellar Gallega, 26 years, an environmental activist who has been missing for two years from Cali, Colombia.

Women spoke of the need for sustainable development – the kind that takes into account the needs of local communities and holds polluters accountable. As one woman said, “We cannot separate our bodies from structures and our rights from development; we cannot separate out sexual and reproductive health and rights from the political economy.”

She went on to say that she came from the South Pacific which comprised 22 states and territories spread across one third of the earth’s surface – from 4 million people in PNG to a few thousand in micro states. There was an existential threat to Pacific Island states: some of these islands won’t be here in a few years.

In the Pacific, women face a triple crisis: finance; food and water; militarization; in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, rental prices are higher than in Manhattan due to international development consultants, transnational industries and extractive industries moving in. Representatives from transnational and extractive industries are setting up in peoples’ homes which have practical impacts on the lives of women and their families.

The Pacific has the lowest representation of women in national parliaments – currently at 2.5% representation. Women’s contributions aren’t being recognized while they’re dealing with the consequences of transnational corporations whose motivation is profit. As one panelist said “People ask, where are the women? The women are there but they are exhausted.”
Another woman said “There is mining throughout the Pacific, with $25-30 billion in income generated annually and yet the flow on impact on women – rape, sexually transmitted infections and sexual violence – isn’t addressed. Two out of three women and girls in the Pacific experience some form of violence in their lifetime. In Papua New Guinea, excess bride prices are being asked due to the transnational corporations paying local men for land and the men having the money to buy girls and young women. One woman told us that girls as young as 10 are now being bought by local men as brides, some bought by men working for transnational corporations and multilateral agencies.

We heard from another woman from the Pacific that “It is about an enforced economic code that weighs heavily on the bodies of women and girls. There is a small arms trade happening across Papua New Guinea where women and girls are heavily exposed. Women are practicing many forms of resistance in the Pacific, as they are in the Amazon, The Congo and Philippines – above and below strategies and those moving between. We heard how important it was, in this CSW 57 text, to talk about addressing economic and structural violence, restoring sexual and reproductive health and rights and designing development policies with women at the center.

In another forum, there was an important conversation about women’s organizations and corporate partnerships. This had become an increasingly prevalent theme as the focus on girls and women had continued to ratchet up a new level of engagement by the private sector. Walmart Foundation was investing millions of dollars in partnerships focused on women, while Coca Cola was aligning women’s empowerment with women’s entrepreneurship, and by extension women entrepreneurs in developing countries selling Coca Cola. Exxon Mobil Foundation was courting women in countries where the company had active mining leases, including women whom I’d met in Papua New Guinea.
Board members and staff of many women’s organizations were engaged in an ongoing dialogue over whether to accept money from the corporate sector or not.

Personally, I felt there was a big difference between a major corporation approaching an NGO, or a group of NGOs, and saying “we realize we’ve got to change our business practices that are proving to be detrimental (environmentally, in relation to labor practices, in terms of equity) and we’d like to work with you in order to help us change the way we work”— as compared to a corporation with questionable practices providing large scale funding to an NGO on the basis of business as usual and in a way that further legitimized its approach.

Of course, I was aware of the complexity of the situation. “There is no such thing as clean money,” said one woman. “Would you take money from an individual donor who had earned her money from Chevron or Exxon or Walmart?” I thought that was a very different situation to affirming a corporation by aligning with them as a partner by accepting their funding. “What about the major financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Barclays and HSBC – would you take money from those companies? I didn’t have answers to some of these questions and yet neither did I think it helpful to unilaterally adopt the approach of “we can do more good by working on the inside than the outside” which one international NGO justified as the rationale for taking money from tobacco companies and alcohol companies and from many pharmaceutical companies.

It seemed that it would be worthwhile for a coalition of NGOs and women’s rights organizations to agree on some assumptions, criteria and standards that could be adopted in relation to such partnerships and with a clear rationale for how and why such criteria had been formed. It seemed equally obvious that an informed global citizen movement and citizen journalists could be asking critical questions of the NGOs they were thinking about supporting and funding, so that they understood the rationale and basis for the partnerships formed. This, while continuing to advocate for changes to those companies that continued to adopt exploitative environmental and labor practices.

I realized that different women’s organizations in different countries would likely make very different decisions. “We need the money to stay afloat and we’ll take the money from any company that offers to support us,” said a woman from one women’s organization in Asia. “We could have done with the amazing amount of money offered to us, however, when we talked to the women in rural areas we learnt how much their livelihoods were being affected by this company’s investment practices and we couldn’t take the money. It would have canceled out the work we were doing and been a betrayal of those women who trust us to make the right decisions,” said a woman from a Latin American country.

I also don’t want to be misunderstood in what I’m saying. I think it’s vital that NGOs and women’s rights organizations engage with corporations to influence gender inclusive approaches to policy and programming decisions and to adopt gender budgeting accountabilities. It’s only by engaging in a wider movement beyond the women’s movement that the influence will be deep enough to change the equation and trajectory as far as advancing women’s and girls’ human rights. That said, it can’t be corporations setting the agenda and defining the vision of what women’s empowerment means. Rather, I would hope that corporations could sign on to a gender pact that defines rights and responsibilities that will move us toward a world where women and girls assume their full human rights and have the freedom, confidence and security to realize their potential. I would hope that women’s organizations would claim their own power and constituencies globally and assume the leadership and citizen influence here rather than responding to an agenda set by others.

sausalito gardenI left New York in a heavy snowstorm and arrived back in San Francisco to a blue-sky Friday evening and an enchanted weekend. On Saturday I walked along Sausalito’s back lanes feeling light and happy. Down by the water were sections of land that had become communal vegetable gardens for the families living on houseboats.

Next to rows and rows of hand painted letterboxes were colorful signs, masks, totems and dream catchers in amongst the plots of land carefully planted out with seeds and shrubs. In other areas were shade houses and makeshift greenhouses as hot spaces for wild foods and fruits. The messy gorgeousness of it all made me smile – it reminded me of Piggy Lane in the Adelaide Hills and of my late friend Charles’ own studio space with its garden run amok and a duck pond that I loved.

I expected any minute to see Paul Hawken make an appearance. I knew he lived in Sausalito and his book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World, and, more recently, The Natural Capital Institute and wiser.org, both of which he founded, continue to inspire me. Or perhaps I’d see Bill McKibben, whom I’d heard speak at the 2012 Bioneers Conference and whose writing and 350.org was sparking the global eco-activism needed for real traction in relation to environmental sustainability and climate change action.

Instead I saw a woman, in her late 70s, maybe early 80s, climb down from her houseboat and lower herself into a kayak on the water. I walked closer to watch her as she gathered her paddles and straightened her craft. She paddled toward me as she began to turn the kayak toward the bay. “Great day to be on the water,” she said, lifting her arm in greeting. I saw the red slogan on her t-shirt as she spoke: ‘Old Woman Rising’, and I pumped my own arm in a cheer as she headed out and made rapid strokes on the waves.

It is this belief in a power larger than myself and other than myself, which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable. Maya Angelou

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. Harriet Beecher Stowe

Jane Sloane
New York