Special Feature: 2013 Gandhi Memorial Lecture by Dr. Lee Lakeman
I was thinking about Gandhi, as my Air India flight landed in Delhi about 3 am in 1993, a generation after Gandhi’s work, almost two weeks before my planned car trip across northern India and almost three weeks from the Violence against Women seminar in which I had been invited to participate.
By then I had been answering rape crisis phones, sheltering women in transition houses and advocating for our shared liberty for two decades, since opening one of the first houses in Canada.
Culture shock lifted from me in the Diwali street fires, in the splendid New Delhi circle bookstores and the flight of the parakeets at afternoon tea in the walled garden of the old Imperial Hotel.
I was born as the Second World War ended in 1946; Gandhi died two years later from an assassin’s bullet. Like many “second wave” feminists, Canadian- raised, I came of age amid the American civil rights struggle that, through Martin Luther King, was so influenced by Gandhi. In those days we seemed protected by a border from the political assassins of our time. Those years of Canadian nationalism coloured Trudeau’s repatriation the constitution from British colonial control and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms imbedded in it.
Gandhi laboured in both England and South Africa more than twenty years before his life work as an effective activist. His thinking and strategies were those of a middle aged man, an educated, sophisticated lawyer. His simplicity, humility and material modesty were chosen disciplines displaying chosen alliances.
Gandhi learned to meld Hindu, Muslim and Sheikh prayer in his communal daily devotion to avoid religious divisions. That afforded some respect and his personal protections to the religious minorities of his country. He used both religion and nationalism to achieve anti- colonial anti-imperial aims.
But neither of those tools would be acceptable to me. Nationalism and religion across the globe having not only divided women but excused, bolstered and authorized male supremacy. Unlike Gandhi, I do not look to nation or religion or even spirituality to guide my struggle.
As a feminist I argue for the legal and social right of any woman, and at this moment especially for any Moslem woman, to express her personal choices of religion and community or nation but my feminist fight is focused on her and our access to public space, to sexual autonomy, to self organized civil society and to freedom from male violence. All these natural and inalienable rights are under threat in Canada and elsewhere as they were in Gandhi’s sub-continent.
While we have a state I prefer mine secular. While we have a state, I prefer mine disassociated from any imagined separate nation of people. And I take my feminism without state or church approval.
On a day trip in 1993, my tour bus stopped in old Delhi market. A dirty little girl appeared below the bus windows, calling to men on the bus; “sugar daddy” and smiling a provocation. She was no more than 8 or 10 and did not speak English. What would I do if a man on the bus moved? What would I do to save her from the next bus? As the bus prepared to move off she was hurried back into her stall and shoved under a filthy rug covered table. There was no doubt what she was sent to sell and no doubt that she was not the profiteer. Obviously sometimes the bus brought buyers.
And if that child had been born in Vancouver in those years? Might she have been one of the children sold in the West End “Kiddy Stroll”? Might she have been killed in the underground garage off Broadway where teenaged Linda Tatrai was killed? Grown now, might she be among the Missing Women? Or advertised on the internet or the back pages of the Georgia Straight?
It’s a story I’ve learned: the authorities were appalled; usually the girls survive and sometimes are believed. No men are arrested.
On my India trip I met daughters of children raised in Gandhi’s ashram, I left my shoes at the gate and paid my respects at the Gandhi memorial fire, I explored Nehru’s house and Ambedkar’s center. I bought Khadi cloth and tried to imagine similar campaigns. What would women be willing to do without in order to throw off Patriarchy including capitalism?
I travelled by touring car across the hot interior plain going north among the camel carts then through Rajasthan and some of Gujarat with five women in two cars completely dependent on two male drivers with whom we could not speak, who could not read maps or texts in any language and who had never been out of their own territory.
We visited the cool hilltop stations where minor royalties ruled in Gandhi’s era, we heard the calls of the minarets and the temple bells across the peaks. In one we shared a fire lit evening with a young man guiding his blind father a superb musician whose blindness was the consequence of the scarcity of simple antibiotics a scarcity created by modern commercialization.
Along the roadsides women carried on their heads flat brass pans heaped with bricks, beasts of burden, glad to have one of the cash paying jobs promised in the national agreements secured by Dr Ambedkar to the dispossessed.
In my mind’s eye five women are still laughing across the dusty fields together, in saris lit with the newly available chemical dyes, their heads covered and ears chained to their noses with loops the colour of gold. I saw flat pans again in the pollution grey streets of the cities beaming the sunshine yellow of marigolds. I saw the misery of flower pickers sitting for hours on hard packed earth sorting mounds of insecticide loaded rose petals for paper making. I met with the cloth printers and the overnight garbage sorters and the union activists who tried to better their lives.
Travel sharpens perceptions. On my trip across 1993 India, threads of beauty and hardship wove a lasting aesthetic. By the time I saw the Taj Mahal, I was repulsed by any monumental use of slave labour, by the child bride practices that we maintain, by memorializing in death what was not properly cared for in life, by the romantic exchange of love for death that women everywhere bear. No beauty in this for me.
This was 1993, so I witnessed the end of India’s concessions to regional industry in legislated protections of local products including soft drinks with bans against importing multinational products like coca cola. Global capital was restructuring all our worlds. Those committed to profits were overpowering our local markets but also our constitutions in both India and Canada, overpowering our popular consensus and historic values. These were the years Canada was losing the mechanisms assigned to improve the status of women and losing the federal cost sharing that supported welfare, health care and education.
I am embarrassed by the memory of my awkward responses on that trip, to those assigned by caste and class and imperialism to clean up after me to bow and scrape in front of me, to refer to me as memsahib, to perform for me or to beg from me. In Canada they picked my lettuce, grew my cucumbers with their children in the fields beside them without unions or safety from pesticides but at a distance. And I knew how to ally with Canadian farm workers.
Canada embarrasses me now with racist immigration policies that impede women and guest worker programs that take the labour of third world peoples and withhold Canadian citizenship: the unholy linking of sex, nation, citizenship and entitlement.
We left the cars in Ahmadabad and entrained to Mumbai rolling in over the huge flat swampy plain that floats the greater Mumbai slums. I motored through Mumbai in a rickshaw against the advice of my hosts, one of the nights of riots in January 1993. Endangering my driver and myself, I made my way back to the Gandhi labour institute to sleep, ignorant of the earlier deadly bombing of the Mosque and the subsequent riots in what was called “communal violence”, the term, close to what we would call race riots, suggesting one community against another.
But I had come to discuss another form of violence: one sex against another. I met in seminar for a week at the SNDT University with twenty women from India and twenty from Canada to compare understanding and strategies on how to end Male Violence against Women.
Some of us, informally and carefully, compared our count of that violence and named the relationships that institutionalized it. Husbands assaulting, raping and murdering wives were comparable in number if slightly different in form. Fathers and men in the family committing incest were more visible in Canada but also present in India. Street harassment and stranger rape were more common in India but “date rape” or “casual acquaintance” or sexual harassment at school or on the job including rape seemed to be more common in the west. Prostituted women were always in danger of further violence and in India, where women were centralized into brothel communities; prostituted women birthed their children into an almost inescapable slave trade that Martin Luther King could have recognized. Police responded in the more rural areas of India with punishing contempt similar to what had been true thirty years earlier in Canada and was still true near reserves but that police behaviour had mostly softened into dismissive neglect in Canadian cities. Indigenous women on both continents bore the brunt of men’s planned raids, gang rapes and beatings, police violence and too often death.
All of us had learned the stories: politicians were appalled. Most women survived and sometimes were not blamed. No men were arrested
Women from across the Indian sub continent organized conferences with and massed women in the multiple thousands in multiple languages to protest and plan. Long before Occupy, these women fed and sheltered, translated and human micro-phoned their discussions across the fields.
I traded our thirty year experience and expertise in creating rape crisis centres and transition houses in almost every Canadian population centre, as permanent sites of woman to woman assistance, documentation and struggle.
In both strategies women adapted to our situations and learned to help each other recover, learned to organize, learned to organize across differences, learned to practice democracy, learned to think critically about our lives and the autonomy we lack, learned to speak truth to power, to create alternatives and to demand change, learned to do it for ourselves by doing it for each other.
Gandhi’s personal actions and non violent mass strategies aimed for more than the one reform of eliminating imperial control. He hoped to revolutionize life in India: to unify that agrarian population, in a vision and practice of a simple generous life, to build village level democracy, to unite against industrialization that he foresaw as the endless over production of unnecessary things. He hoped to assure religious peace between Sikhs, Muslims and Hindis. He spoke of a truthful revolution, a worthy revolution. An important part of that struggle was to force the occupying army of the British to “quit India”.
Women across the world also live with an army of occupation in their homes in their workplaces and in the streets. We know that any woman presuming freedom and acting on it may bring down men’s punitive violence on her. But compliance, even servitude to men does not guarantee women’s safety.
Gandhi used non violence as tactical criteria in the civil disobedience weaponry against the colonial powers. Punishing violence in response to non violent civil disobedience is expected. In Gandhian tactics one plans to passively endure it for the sake of collective dignity and the common struggle. The sacrifice of the endurance speaks to both earthly and heavenly powers.
Gandhi it seems could not conceive of an end to the caste system although he tried very hard to defang it in reforms of its horrors. That reformism cost him the support of the destitute.
In mirror thinking sometimes feminists worry about alienating men or women of wealth and privilege or religious women by being too direct about our conditions and our demands. While the majority are not always wise, radicalism is attractive to the dispossessed. And the majority are dispossessed.
Religious and metaphysical influences a hundred years ago led Gandhi to believe that he personally embodied the struggle to the extent that he believed that his mastery over his own violent impulses, his own sexuality his hungers, even over his own wish to live, could, in and of itself, influence the struggle for Indian independence. He believed that his worthiness at some level would make it so.
Women too sometimes twist and contort trying to make believe that enduring men’s blows is saintly; that being good enough will end the blows. There is no evidence for martyrdom. Men stop when someone stops them or women escape. And to escape women often leave, relinquish home, job, street, community even children to make the bullying or violence end.
What are we to do? What authority on earth or above it will intervene on our behalf? Women, each in our own house, office and street, perceive the injustice of women’s depressed status and of all the violence against women. We share a righteous collective longing and ambition to end it. How can we stop tolerating our individual punishment for disobedience to the rule of patriarchy? What mass non-violent civil disobedience shall we construct to end it?
Gandhi then, as feminists now, meant to unify those whom he wished to empower.
It’s the acting together in civil disobedience that drives the struggle not the individual insurrection or backlash violence. Collective civil disobedience warns of un-governability.
The mass non violent disobedience that faced down British troops and Sheriff Bull Conner ‘s fire hoses and dogs disempowered wrongful authority with the growing strength of the oppressed organized in a movements of wilful politicized individuals. They were massed but not mindless.
There have been moments when the outrage of the women of Canada pressed successfully for changes but the moments have been rare and the changes minimal. And none of those changes mean men stop raping. Only that the legal and social aftermath of male violence is somewhat less gruesome.
Violent men and men in authority over violent men and the broader public that authorizes those men are not yet shamed by the harm of coercive control of women. The First World War sped Indian independence. What can we hope for?
Maybe we can rest some hope on the growing activity of men of good willing calling on each other to change. When that group hits a critical mass the majority of men will be more likely to want to change.
Meanwhile we will not relinquish self defence. Women who bare their throats to an abusive husband, rapist, boyfriend or pimp have very little reason to feel confident that their non violent response will save them or any women after them. Better to use stealth, quiet of the workaday morning, and masculinist self- involvement to escape with your babies while he sleeps, while he drinks, while he adores his other possessions while he searches the internet for other targets.
Sometimes our frustration with Canadian half hearted implementation of law leads to community tactics against violent men in extra-legal postering of their behaviour, community meetings of exposure, in Take Back the Night marches and in tactics called Confrontation: we hear a woman’s story, write with her and her friends a script to guide ourselves, then gather at his door or office or store and speak truth to his individual power. Men hear that women despise their violence and believe each other. They are sometimes embarrassed enough in front of their colleagues or neighbours to use the literature we leave and seek help to change. But of course, these are men who had committed opportunistic rapes often seductive rapes and who we judge will not be criminalized and who might be more likely to change. It is in the interests of feminists to believe men can change.
In India a Red and Black brigade of young assaulted women has emerged that does much the same tactic. They even have team uniforms.
On the last day of that women’s meeting in Mumbai, we stood together and sang. It took me a moment to recognize in this context, across language and accent, in that open air room half way around the world that the Indian women were singing “We shall overcome”.
I wept the relief of familiarity, overcome with my good fortune to have my place in the world, my work in the struggle and my obligations to the future. These politics are as deeply personal as any other love. I understood in that moment that my feminist politics were globally consequential.
I grasped that these anti-imperial politics had moved from Gandhi to King and back to these women of India with whom I was now allied in a feminist global struggle for peace and wellbeing for justice, including liberation from global male tyranny.
As I travelled home from India a new book travelled from Wales. Written by Dobash and Dobash and called Women, Violence and Social Change this text recognized, perhaps for the first time, the rape crisis centers and transition houses as significant collective social change agents.
The book jacket introduction says that the authors, “demonstrate how refuges and shelters stand as the core of the battered women’s’ movement providing a basis for pragmatic support, political action and radical renewal. From this base”, it says “women have challenged the police courts and social services to provide greater assistance to women”.
I was so flattered by the recognition of our collective advocacy that I failed to notice in the thesis of the book, the diminishing of, in fact the disappearance of our feminist world view and our aims for liberation.
Gandhi lost his struggle for an egalitarian and more democratic future at least in part to the concentrations of power in the nation state. And that danger persists for us.
We were never a “battered women’s movement” but a women’s movement or a wing of the movement that shared with other wings a comprehensive understanding of male supremacy of patriarchy as oppressive and we shared a determination to build a better world.
The writers Dobash linked the constitutions and economic approaches of the national governments of Britain and of the USA to the shape of the local feminist anti-violence work and credited us with achieving changes in the story in these two circumstances: one of the crumbling and intrusive welfare state with the sexist common law approach of Britain and one of the constitutionally based civil rights approach of the USA in which women had not even won the ERA and in which women could win civil rights but still starve for lack of economic rights.
The authors overlooked that as a wing or as a movement we certainly had never agreed to accept as a victorious ending a liberal democratic nation state, with minimal reorganization, that made a few concessions to treat women better after sexist violence. We hope for, envision and assume much more on two levels. We intend to end the violence against women. We intend to do that in a manner that contributes to women’s transnational liberty including global economic well-being.
When I read that book, in the glow of the flattery, I thought Canada had it all. We had a new constitutional right to equality in the Charter or Rights and Freedoms that recognized women as a group, noted historical disadvantage and promised better. We imagined using that in the courts to argue for substantive change. We had a government with national standards and mechanisms that still admitted basic entitlements and an economic obligation to some redistribution of resources among its citizens including women.
We had laws against sexist violence and everyone was entitled to health care, education, food and shelter. By law and policy none could be left in squalor or destitution. Collectively we had enough. We had an aversion to war and some commitments to aid other parts of the world. There were promises to clean up a colonial past and to integrate a multinational population. Canada never fully delivered on those promises: ask the Aboriginal people, but also remember the intrusions women suffered from social workers, psychology and police alike if we needed welfare or any kind of assistance, remember too, the many incidents, then as now, of criminal violence against women and the normalcy of police declaring legal cases “unfounded” in spite of the evidence.
We were only three years past Marc Lepine’s massacre of young women in Montreal punishing women for our feminist accomplishments and his suicide. In response, thousands of women moved men aside, went to the streets in every Canadian town and city weeping and demanding an end to violence against women. That public outrage hurried parliamentary committees and hustled many professions to claim they would redress violence against women.
They were appalled: usually women survive and women are often not to blame. Too bad he could not be arrested.
In that atmosphere, Canada agreed to consult with the independent women’s movement on how to achieve an end to sexist violence. For several years beginning with Kim Campbell and ending with Anne McClellan, as Ministers of Justice, I represented the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers calling together about 100 delegated women from across the country to meet in Ottawa to advise at least the Justice Minister (and sometimes as many as five national cabinet Ministers), on matters affecting Violence Against Women.
Feminists constructed an annual three day process, the most inclusive meeting yet achieved in Canada on Violence against Women. We came together centering on rape: Inuit nurses, constitutional lawyers, anti-rape crisis workers, academics, labour activists, women escaping prostitution, abused wives and domestic workers, disability activists, immigrant women’s groups, women’s center delegates, anti-prison activists and transition house workers. Feminists all.
As a starting point, a basis of unity for those meetings, I proposed “99 Federal Steps Toward and End to Violence against Women”. While I typed it in the basement, with assistance from Bonnie Agnew and Johanna Pilot, women on the floors above continued to listen to women on the phone and at the kitchen table of the transition house and in the collective gatherings of workers.
In Vancouver and across the country women record in notes and tapes in house meeting minutes, collective meeting minutes and meetings with allies not only what harm is done to her but which man did it and his method of controlling that caller, that woman. You might expect that we record a therapeutic counselling record but it is more like a study book of women’s insurrectionary behaviour and the ongoing evaluation of its impact. We had no intention of just servicing victims of male violence or punishing the men who commit it.
The booklet was approved by regional representative of CASAC in a Montreal meeting. It went on to be accepted by the wider Canadian women’s movement at NAC, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. And in that meeting with women in Mumbai India I relied on the same little tract as an example of Canadian women’s movement approaches to proposing policy change.
We did achieve some immediate changes but when required to answer the whole of “99 Steps” Canadian officials quickly applied the invisablizing ink of bureaucracy. They first disintegrated it into a senseless list of recommendations without reasons then, to perfect confusion, re-arranged those recommendations into alphabetical order. No one reading their responses could possibly decode and reconnect the dots back to the reality we were there to address much less to the plan of action in our original message to government.
But even as we met in consultations neo-liberalism restructured Canada, sacrificing what benefits ordinary Canadians had achieved since the depression in social programs, national standards and federal provincial relations. Within a few short years, NAC was smashed by an angry federal government, CASAC struggled under the weight of women’s increased needs and most of the women’s advocacy groups that had gathered to inform government in those 5 years of consultations were starved or bullied out of existence.
In the same 1993 year that I went to India, Holly Johnson a Canadian statistician managed to use her Stats Canada post to complete the ground breaking survey revealing that 51% of Canadian women experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical assault since they turned 16. It also revealed that those women endured not one but multiple acts of violence from Canadian men.
The science based research confirmed the three decades of assertions of feminist rape crisis centers and transition houses. We claimed one in four women suffered sexual assault up to and including rape, that most rape and most all violence against women goes unreported and that police crown and courts dismiss valid cases, that violence against women is a normalized activity of ordinary men against ordinary women. Holly’s study found our claims too modest. There it was: achieved. No further research or education needed. The consequent change?
Despite international kudos for its methodology and importance to the liberty of women that research was hidden by changing methods and getting rid of the political science on this question; a technique of neo-liberalism that has been applied many times since.
Holly Johnson’s Statistic s Canada research and methods are not repeated, but even the much more limited and conservative national Crime victimization survey of 2009 indicates 600.000 wives were victimized 2004-2009 and 178,000 were assaulted by their partners in 2008. In addition some 460,000 women reported being sexually assaulted by men other than their partners each year.
Wife murders are running at about one a week and some 600 Aboriginal women are missing from our communities and many are presumed dead. United Nations World Health statistics released over the last few years confirm our speculations worldwide.
And still you are forced to publicly witness the publicized individual cases of rapes, of wife murders, of prostitution, of the ravages of disaster rapes and war rapes: a kind of pornography of sexually focused individualized, disconnected, conveniently crazy-seeming incidents, a propaganda of “nothing can be done”, “senseless acts of violence”. But we get the sense of it. We get the message: women are on our own against this brutality.
In every country, that has the beginnings of the rule of law; feminists demand the rule of law be applied to violence against women. But the police refuse their jobs. Investigations are inadequate at every level in every country, certainly in ours where rape cases have a lower conviction rate than almost all serious crime, where roughly one wife a week is murdered, where johns and pimps with help some police and academics pretend that prostitution is legal. Prosecutions are selectively unfair to women in every country and that is no less true here. The courts are so full of documented bias against women that Supreme Court judges admit it.
This week Harper refused the suggestions from the United Nations to examine in a formal inquiry the failures of those responsible for the missing women aboriginal women. I can’t say that I trusted that any such inquiry would be fair or politically productive. The BC Inquiry into the Missing Women by Wally Oppal protected the provincial government and the services for which they are responsible and the police they employ with an army of lawyers and public relations strategies.
It’s a story we’ve all learned: the authorities are appalled: usually women survive and they are not always to blame. No men have been arrested.
Equality seeking women’s groups in feminist coalition including the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC ) were intentionally disabled with self referential legal processes, refusals to fund our legal representation, and elitist patriarchal knowledge bases. Police escaped scrutiny. The province mediated all discoveries. Lawyers set the terms and collected the profits. And the results, as shameful as the process legitimated prostitution, praised police shim sham and told us to live with the colonialism and violence against women that women endure along The Highway of Tears and in Vancouver ghettoes.
We have entered a period in which those who benefit from the status quo have to mask, hide, or camouflage the reality exposed by feminists; alternately they divert us to legal and social changes that will never move us forward.
The more social work like approach of handing men diversion from the courts in restraining orders, family counselling, johns’ schools and anger management courses are ‘get one free’ passes. On the other hand “Law and Order” proposes extreme police, court and prison powers that override the rights of both men and women.
No such powers are needed in order to catch convict and restrain men who commit violence against women. We ask for no unfairness, no loss of rights for others, and we reject the notion that our right to the protection of law requires that.
Anti violence feminists demand equality minded and effective criminalization: adequate police responses in the form of proper investigations and protection, avoidance of pre court diversion to counselling or education, appropriate prosecutions measured by appropriate overall numbers of convictions in fair courts, judgments registered in writing and followed up with progressive sentencing. All open to public scrutiny.
There is nothing regressive in our demand for the rule of law against violence against women. We have a human right, a moral right and a political right to call on the state to stop individual men, to strip them of the impunity with which they are empowered. Our demand is transformative: for Canada to respond to violence against women would require diverting resources away from poverty crime, from harmless immigrants from hounding prostituted women, from protecting lavish commercial interests, and from over policing dissent.
Harper has his clones on the International scene: those who offer to draw and quarter or otherwise dismember the very few men they choose to convict of sexist violence. Medieval prison sentences or death penalties are a fool’s game for freedom loving women.
Patriarchy is always willing to throw some men under the bus in order to keep rolling on.
It is not feminists that promote longer and more barbaric punishments. That’s the cynical offering of patriarchy itself: anything to redirect us from provisioning and emancipating women.
But offering us vengeance instead of freedom serves another function. It debases those who fall for it. About this Gandhi and I agree. There is something in the nature of the struggle for liberty that requires the best of us but also builds the best in us. Struggle ennobles those who participate with an eye on the prize of a future of freedom for all. The means conditions the ends achieved but also conditions those who conduct the struggle.
The young women speaking on North American campuses, on twitter and internet blogs, have taken to saying “the culture of rape” or “the rape culture” when protesting the slut- shaming of police, the internet bullying by young adult men, the gang rapes at college parties and the ubiquitous date rapes.
Are you aware that “Rape Culture” is a term from my generation? It was coined when women chose to publicly testify and publicly witness each other’s rape stories from incest to wife abuse from street harassment to prostitution at the first Speak Out Against Rape in 1970 New York.
It expressed our finding that each man was enabled if not encouraged in his violence by the culture around him, not only by a culture of impunity for rapists created by excuse- makers and silent witnesses but also by a culture of contempt for women. Holding each man accountable, the term also points to community but then to government and corporate responsibility for culture.
Gandhi understood that interpersonal violence enforces oppression in much the same way that military and police gun violence enforced colonial rule. It is not exactly the same in that the violence women endure is not at the orders of one imposing government (although sometimes it is), but it is the same in that it serves to repress the group women for the rulers, men. In some ways it functions more like a right wing terror squad in any dictatorship. No direct or known orders need be issued (although sometimes they are) but everyone knows their job of enforcing the tyranny and they know which violence will be rewarded and which will be tolerated and which will be punished. Andrea Dworkin suggested that in patriarchy it was as though each man was deputized in maintaining women’s oppression.
By the term Rape Culture we also meant to refer to our understanding that to end rape will require a total transformation of society. Material feminism including the anti- violence wing resists the enforced economic, social and sexual control of men over women, resists the physical brutality that enforces that control, resists the institutions that regulate that control and resists the rape culture that renders that system of patriarchy invisible to many.
Gandhi rejected British imperialism for the sake of Indian autonomy. Mine is a rejection of global patriarchy for the sake of women’s autonomy. But in neither case was that a stand- alone goal.
The majority of the women of the world are impoverished and racialized and live under conditions imposed by imperialism and colonialism. All women live under male supremacy. The man with his jack boot on the neck of women comes in the form of husband or father but also in the form of street bully, boss, landowner, factory owner, flesh trader and human breeder, war monger, religious authority and racist and politician. It follows that when we say liberation or emancipation for women we mean from all these men and their deadly hierarchies.
In my battle it is not just the cotton that is picked and shipped to profit others or even the woman- made clothing that is shipped but women themselves. Women shipped as guest labourers, women made available as rented wombs for the children of others, women shipped as mail order brides, women poorly paid if at all to clean houses and care for the sick in Canadian homes and institutions, women shipped to satisfy the prurient sexuality of self indulgent men, women who travel willingly and those who don’t. The brutality of rape and the fear of rape, of incest and the denial of incest, of wife assault and the legal impunity of wife assault and of the everydayness of prostitution’s brutality hold all of that in place.
In spite of media controls and government dissembling, the world knows:
- The mother of Amanda Todd of Rehteah Parsons, the father of the girl in Pitt Meadows and other girls ‘pornofied’ and destroyed on the internet, are screaming
- Women in India have massed in the streets in the thousands against the rape and femicide
- UBC students women rallied in support of a wife blinded and battered and were again hit with a campus rapist on Saturday morning
- Women at UBC and St Mary’s rampage against the rape chants
- SFU students rallied this week over their women dead
- Vancouver Feminists railed against the trafficking of Asian women in city brothels
- Indigenous women denounce the colonialism of street prostitution and all forms of violence against women that are killing their sisters and mothers alike
- 160 Kenyan girls complained bitterly to the courts to protest the police neglect of their rape cases
- The chamber maids and service industry women who fall prey to those DSK style brutes who rape them in hotel rooms and road side restaurants and resorts refuse to be quiet now even with those incredible power differentials
- Everywhere women complain of the lack of due diligence of states in protecting them
- Women are protesting the assaults on girls and women victimized by politicians whether or not the victims are recognizing that exploitation. From the World Bank officials to the UN peace keeping soldiers to Wiki leader to the Italian president and the residential school principal.
- Women in France have created a website called “I know a rapist” on which women expose their attackers
- Both the men of the right and the men of the left are exposed in their personal tyranny over women whether they exercise it with fists and guns, with money and property, with the emotional blackmail of love loyalty or political charisma or they exercise it with the social power of a priest, patriarch or pimp
- Moreover women are recognizing and protesting the links between the men who assault and those who create the impunity with which those rapists live.
There is no need for the work of “breaking the silence” as we used to call it or for “making them understand” as some still fall into saying. They get it. Every authority gets it. If they don’t it’s because they don’t want to.
Our tactics and strategies must now shift to reflect that documented reality.
Women are more than half the population of the world and in no country of the world do women have freedom from men’s sexist violence or equal citizenship by any measure. And in no country of the world have women relinquished their demand for that freedom.
We seek our own alliances across ideologies and across those boundaries and beyond those nations only in part because we have been openly abandoned if not betrayed in this by every nation and every government. Authorities believe they can afford not to care not to see the protests and not to believe they are threatened by the growing solidarity of women.
Since 1993, the women at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter have met and worked with women from England and Congo, Ireland and Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, Russia and China, Egypt, and Israel, Trinidad, Costa Rica, Mexico and Cameroon, France and Spain, Brazil and Columbia, Guatemala and Peru, South Africa and Nicaragua, Haiti and Sweden Norway and Japan. Sometimes we are invited to them and sometimes they walk in the basement door and sometimes we meet only by internet or phone. But we are no longer surprised by our common lot, our common resistance, our common analysis and our shared determination.
“On a gray day in 1989 an activist from a local transition house”, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, “stood outside the pub at Simon Fraser University handing out fact sheets and taking donations”. So begins the preface by Laurel Weldon of her book Protest, Policy and Problems of Violence against women.
Laurel Weldon is co-author of the ground breaking transnational study released in 2012 that claims that over four decades and in 70 countries that the mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, than left-wing political parties, or than the number of women politicians.
Weldon said: “Violence against women is a global problem. Research from North America, Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia has found astonishingly high rates of sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, violence in intimate relationships, and other violations of women’s bodies and psyches. In Europe it is a bigger danger to women than cancer, with 45 per cent of European women experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence. Rates are similar in North America, Australia and New Zealand and studies in Asia, Latin America and Africa show that violence towards women there is ubiquitous.”
The scope of data for the study is unprecedented. The study includes every region of the world, varying degrees of democracy, rich and poor countries, and a variety of world religions – it encompasses 85 per cent of the world’s population. Analyzing the data took five years, which is why the most recent year covered is 2005.
Like Gandhi’s dreams, ours are in conflict with men’s behaviour in patriarchy including global capital and are not well served by our national governments or by the emerging international governments. Shall we imagine that finally they will use these studies to institute mechanisms to monitor and achieve systemic change for women? Do you think that funding and engaging consultations will become available? While we are flattered by this confirmation in this book, how can we ignore that national governments have already uploaded much of their power to multinationals, unmoved by our claims for liberty?
Academics have yet to document the relationship between the violence against women done and the freedom imperilled or lost to women everywhere.
Neither have they fully documented that the praxis toward freedom and responsibility practiced in the women’s movement paves the way for human advances in democratic decision making, transnational organizing and inclusive nonviolent social change, peace. But when we can ‘prove’ it with academic studies will government or business more willingly support our women’s movement?
Where are the young women who will organize the nonviolent strategies that take aim at the tyrannical corporate powers that shape manhood in their own image? Who will make it costly to business to attack national governments from the top and dissolve their humanitarian components?
Who will fund this alternative ending to the rape story?
Meanwhile we build and save lives. Remember the little girls on sale in Vancouver streets of the 90’s? One of them survived. She works in the collective at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. Remember the women who couldn’t get effective police response to rapists? One of them was me. Now I am telling a story.
Our anti-violence work based on the Consciousness Raising groups in which Second Wave women first organized ourselves, begins by believing the individual woman and continues until and unless there is sufficient reason not to. It begins too by seeking her assessment of her own situation. It requires us to immediately ally with her as equals to record, complain and resist the male violence targeting her, limiting all of us. So begins our work in each call to bridge nationality, class, race and religion in the truth- telling, democracy- making movement- building between women. Our joint work exposes her tyrant and ours. It exposes the collusion of every man culpable of constructing women’s vulnerability and culpable of the harms done to us. It connects her and us to other wings of the women’s movement to expose those guilty of exercising men’s unnatural privilege and power against her and all of us in global unequal and unpaid labour and in global disproportionate responsibility for the sick, the old and the children, in global reproductive controls and in the global controls over our sexuality.
That movement, my movement, the independent women’s movement like Gandhi, calls for no brutality in our name. But it does name the brutes and brutality done to each of us and it exposes that brutality as impairing the liberty of all women, the enforcer of women’s oppression: Violence against Women.
Ms. Lakeman is one of Canada’s most dedicated, knowledgeable and articulate public educators in the cause of ending violence against women.
For the past 35 years, she has directly, and in collaboration with others, responded to some 40,000 abused women callers to the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.
In addition to her dedication on the front-lines, she has undertaken national and international leadership challenges in a tireless pursuit of social justice, ultimately guided by her unflagging conviction that equality for women is a fundamental pre-condition to ending gender-based violence.
As the regional representative of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers, she has shared vast hands-on experience with colleagues across Canada, and assisted parliamentary, legal and social institutions to bring previously hidden issues to light, to address enormous harm, and to inform Supreme Court decisions concerning violence against women.
Lee Lakeman is one of Canada’s most dedicated, knowledgeable and articulate public educators in the cause of ending violence against women. For the past 35 years, she has directly, and in collaboration with others, responded to some 40,000 abused women callers to the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. In addition to her dedication on the front-lines, she has undertaken national and international leadership challenges in a tireless pursuit of social justice, ultimately guided by her unflagging conviction that equality for women is a fundamental pre-condition to ending gender-based violence.
As the regional representative of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers, she has shared vast hands-on experience with colleagues across Canada, and assisted parliamentary, legal and social institutions to bring previously hidden issues to light, to address enormous harm, and to inform Supreme Court decisions concerning violence against women.