Thursday, May 28, 2009

Live blogging the sex workers' debate in the FC house

the first issue is to understand the diversity of sex-work (paid intercourse, phone sex, internet sex...)

The second thing that is often overlooked is male sex-work and how a great majority is from non-white men, another great percentage is transgender individuals.

I had students that worked as escorts. From these conversations I realised that often sex is not involved. Sometimes escortship evolves into sex.

If we want to look at sex-work rights as labor rights, then we need to work on it in order to establish sex-workers unions in order to get rights. Because there is a lot of exploitation and exploitation needs to stop.

Why is there this so much exploitation, according to radical feminist theorists this is the nature of sex-work. According to Marxist feminism it's because there are very little rights, most of this work is done in the dark.

I don't know how this form of activism takes place on the ground, but I know one case study is from the UK where the unions worked to provide english language courses to the sex-workers, the language is one way to help them acquire the material they need to protect themselves (condoms and STDs for example). But also to push them to lobby.

Live-blogging the sex workers' debate in the feminist collective's house

Our speaker is Sarah Bracke a gender studies background. next generation, a feminist network in europe, there were an issue with sex work.

At some point NG, first network that evolved in europe in the social forum.

The conflict started in the 2nd forum, in 2003, in paris. That social forum started with the women's day. The day became de-politicized, which was a problem for us. The 2 great issues were: the headscarf and the sex-work. There was a law-project against "passive soliciting. It was supported by many feminists in the forum. We had proposed a woman that worked a lot on trafficking for a panel. They wanted a young eastern european woman from a trafficking issue.

Then they asked about an abstract, so she was going to talk about how this problem is used for anti-immigration. SHe was excluded.

Then there was a workshop about gender-based violence. As we predicted there was a lot on sex-work (more than work).

We found it problematic that sex work is only discussed as a form of violence against women. So when one woman of our group that wanted to voice her opinion they cut the electricity from the mic.

There was a final report that was very miserable and negative, so a couple of us (in the mass of 3000) stood up and started shouting that they are not saying everything.

A group from barcelona, that had pink umbrellas (for another project) so those who couldn't shout they opened the umbrella... and then women with other umbrellas started opening theirs.

So they had to give us the mic, so I spoke and said that there is an official line before the debate. Then we started talking about the scarf and sex work.

So on the spot, we improvised a position and we refused to answer that, but they wouldn't listen and it degenerated into a "you take our husbands" kind of conversation.
After this we had to go home, over the years we tried to continue the conversation and to reflect on the issue.

Definition of trafficking:
There are different legal definition of traficking. It's usually when people are exploited because they are smuggled or helped by traffickers to come and lose their papers. This work can be anything, but it is usually associated with sex work.

We had a position about trafficking, since everyone has "policies and position" about it. The woman, (get her name) would explain to you, how these women that wish to migrate, they don't have access to routs of migration other than trafficking. They don't want to go home! These women keep on coming back, time after time.

For us it is clear to us, this "saving" project is a feminist political issue. So we decided to go and talk to them, to inform them if they don't know or expose their complicity with anti-migration policies.

There is a great problematic gendered view on trafficking.

It was clear for us that this position of "saving the poor other" holds a very sad history, colonialism and such.

But still we were not prepared to the prostitute debate. People concluded that we were the "prostitutes collective".

A dichotomy emerged for us: it's either you're a pro-prostitution or you're an abolition. For us this was not interesting. We said, wait maybe the problem is the way we see it. Sex work is an umbrella term for very different situations. So we voiced our interest in looking at it different.
In feminism it matters a great deal how you imagine the source of gender oppression. This is why there are so many feminisms.

This fear of economics and this fear of sexuality, are both represented as two separate things. This separation is something we could say really works against the feminist debate. hence the sex-work's difficulty.

If you combine these fears, we start looking at other things, like marriage where economics and sexuality come together. So sex-work is not just this marginalized groups, it's maybe marriage.
And when you start looking at it this way, you start seeing it differently.

Marxist feminism also looks at reproductive rights. And this idea that all the affection and care, that are seen as unpaid work, and it is very much gendered.

What we also see in europe, as women start entering the working field, where the traditional women is replaced by another "type" of women, that are economically and ethnically inferior!

We start seeing things differently, we look back at marital love is not so just affection, economics come into the picture too... and sex-work is not that isolated from marriage after all.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Women and elections

After the "Sois-belle et vote" turmoil, adnkronos an Iranian presidential candidate, Mohsen Rezaie, also targets women. But Mohsen on the other hand is not just stating that pretty women should vote [for him], he is pledging to pay house-wives for being housewives.

Women are often an ignored minority in most society, and even more in the Middle East. In our patriarchal systems, it is the man's eyes that see the world, therefore a virtuous man would have virtuous eyes that don't give women indecent attention. Which often leads to women getting no attention at all.
But in fact we are there, in societies like Lebanon and Iran, women have almost equal chances of education and unsurprisingly they are eager to get an education. So we fill up universities, in Lebanon I can't really find statistics (if someone has information about this issue it would be greatly apreciated), but if we were to believe adnkronos, then about 70% of annual graduates in Iran are women.
These female graduates are not translated into the money generating sector. Why? Stupid tradition, gender-based underpayment, sexual harassment, lack of social support for family units... The list is long, too long even. But the truth on the ground is that women often end up as housewife (aka overworked, underrespected, unpaid individuals for the great majority).
This is exactly what Rezaie is talking about and/or exploiting. Women are educated and they are housewives, if he can draw their attention and convince them to vote for him then he is winning the votes of a a very big target group.
Resaie is not the first one to see this potential in women. The issue is how to convince the women to vote for him. And that is one of the three interesting points about this statement.
Resaie wants to pay women for being housewives, is he trying to appeal to women? Is he trying to improve women's status? That is not certain, in the end, upperclass society doesn't care if women make money or not. It is the working class that would care the most. So in fact, Resaie is appealing more to the more deprived layers of the iranian society rather than women per se.
And the million dollar question is: Hypothetically speaking, if Resaie wins the presidency and implements this plan, will that improve women's situation in Iran?
The answer is unfortunately no. Women's will not have a better life if their work at home is validated more. The problem is not that women's work is not legally rewarded (afterall, Islam does valorize women's labor and imposes on her man to pay her). The real issue is that women are just housewives. Framing housewiness into a money-generating business will reinforce that idea, women will be even more forced into becoming housewives and sexists will have an additional argument to convince women they should stay at home.
Hm, this is even trickier than I initially thought :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sex work. What’s feminism got to do with it? - Discussion

We don't usually promote events or discussions on the blog, but this discussion is different. This is one of the most controversial issues that we are supposed to deal with as the feminist collective per se, or as feminists in general.
Please find below the invitation to the discussion.

Sex work often puts feminists in difficult positions. On the one hand, many feminists consider that ‘selling one’s body’ cannot be understood outside of patriarchal mechanisms that keep women, and gender non-conform persons, oppressed. That it amounts to violence against women. On the other hand, many feminists know that self-organizing and claiming one’s rights is the way to transform the world. And that this by no means differs for sex workers. “Only rights can stop the wrongs,” says the slogan of sex workers groups all over the world. This talk tells the story of how within a transnational European queer feminist and anti-racist network, called NextGenderation, we came to wrap our heads and hearts around sex work, when we were confronted with the strong refusal of a mainstream women’s movement to acknowledge the complexities and the issues at stake in sex work. We’d like to share our trajectory until now, in order to continue the discussion together.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I am not my hair - pseudo-review

As I was running around the Internet and youtube, I stumbled upon a song for a certain India.Arie, the song is "I am not my hair" I had never heard of either the song or the singer.

The message is clear, she is not her hair, she is the person behind the appearances.
In theory we all agree that we are not our hair, we are not our appearances we are the humans within. A human being is a human being regardless of the color of the sink, the fair, the shape of the head, the waste and anything else related to appearances.
But what is interesting about this song (and the message behind it) is not the simple statement, it should be common knowledge. I agree that it's sadly not true when it comes to the actual life, but in theory everyone agrees we should be seen according to who we are not to the way we look.
But anyway, put that aside, what is interesting about this song, is the way the message is formulated. The singer is not arguing with the gossipy-gossip girls gossiping about the way she looks and the way her hair is done... No she is saying who she is!
So thumbs-up for Arie, you are not your hair, you are the person behind those appearances and judging from this first encounter, it's an awesome person behind.
Interesting fact #2: in the third paragraph, India mentions women struggling with cancer. And not surprisingly, this song became a symbol for women's struggle against cancer. With this paragraph Adrie certainly hits the right cord. A woman is so used to putting so much importance into appearances that when she loses a fundamental component to that beauty (such as a woman's crown aka her hair) she loses a lot, though she is fighting for her life she finds herself attacked with either disgust or pity, because she "lost her hair" when did hair become more important than life?

If you google the song you might find dedication made by women to women fighting cancer and those who have lost their hair if not their lives in this battle. India wrote this passage as a dedication to Melissa Etheridge (Female rock star, Lesbian activist, Environmentalist, survivor of cancer in 2007, mother of 4, blond... you pick the identity you want to label her with) inspired by the latter's triumphant performance during the Grammy awards where she appeared bald and alive.
Her performance brought tears to my eyes," Arie says. "At that moment in time, her performance was a juxtaposition of pain and beauty. It symbolized the beauty of strength

Interesting fact #3: check out the lyrics of "I am not my hair"... there's an adsense bar at the bottom of the page, I would bet you anything that it is an ad for cosmetics, non? You see, even if the singer is literally attacking shallowness and attachment to appearances, a robot like google ads would assume that the people reading this article would also be interesting in reading about products that help them cheat to improve the appearances.

Just thought like sharing :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Event Review: Taste of Culture

On May 2nd, the “Taste of Culture” festival was held in Souk el Tayeb to honour the labour of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, followed by panel discussions in the evening in Masrah al Madina, a photography exhibition, and a hip hop/reggae concert to end the long day with.

FC members, Zainab and deema, sat down and talked about the event.

deema: So how did the taste culture festival at souk al Tayeb go?

Zainab: It was good. Good food, good music. Simba Rousseau, who was responsible for organizing the event, said that she was very satisfied. Basically, it was Saturday, it was Souk Al Tayeb, and there were many people there, from Lebanon and other countries; they weren’t there for that particular event per se, but people seemed interested in approaching the people who were offering the food, asking about the dishes and then buying. And those who were selling the food—cultural dishes from six different countries, seemed to be enjoying their time selling what they had prepared. I tasted the Sri Lankan food, chilli chicken with rice—very delicious!

deema: The event was held to honour migrant domestic workers on Labour Day. Were there many migrant workers there?

Zainab: No, not so much, which is understandable, because many workers are not free to leave the houses they work at, or to attend events. And how about the panels at Masrah Al Madina. There were two panels there, right? What were the topics discussed?

deema: Yeah, there were two panels. The first one was a “Lebanese panel,” of “experts” giving an overview of the situation of migrant workers, presenting a gendered look at how racism and sexism of the Lebanese society is working against migrant workers, and talking about the efforts caritas is doing to help.

The other panel, which was by far the more interesting, and the more important panel, had the leaders of the migrant communities in Lebanon to speak about their situation. The first speaker, from Madagascar, told about her work with migrant women, how she listens to them and offers them affection. As she told us, these women have sad stories to tell, not just about their lives in Lebanon, but back in their home countries as well.

The second speaker, a woman from Sudan, also went over the particularities of the Sudanese migrants’ case, where they willingly flee their country and come to Lebanon with their families, but their visas expire and for political reasons, don’t get extended. And so they become unregistered. Sudanese migrants may not live in their employers’ houses, but they face similar attacks of racism from society: from harassment on the streets, to bad treatment and underpayment where they work, with their children also experiencing racism at their schools.

The speaker from the Philippines added her perspective, telling us that the minute migrant workers step off the plane, the bad treatment begins. Employers expect her to work all day, she said, from the moment she opens her eyes till they decide to go to sleep. And she has not yet found the family that treats her as a human.

Zainab: Could you talk a bit about what went wrong? Cos some of us, and not just from the FC, expressed dissatisfaction during the panels.

Yeah, what went wrong was that we seem to think that the migrants can’t speak for themselves. That we need “experts” to introduce the issue and to give us an overview. But those women know their own situation pretty well, they know about the law that doesn’t protect them, that throws them in prisons under the worst conditions and forgets about them there. So that first panel—the “Lebanese panel” was not really necessary. It lasted too long, and we didn’t really learn much from it. It should’ve been all by migrant women. So that’s a lesson for us for our next event!