From the March-April 2020 issue of News & Letters
Editor’s note: In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month we are publishing an expanded “Women WorldWide” to show a small part of the diverse and militant global women’s movement. As we go to press at the end of February, we will cover International Women’s Day events in the March-April issue.
In February, in British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested several hereditary chief matriarchs of the Unist’ot’en house, a subgroup of the Wet’suwet’en people. Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. had obtained a B.C. Supreme Court injunction to build a pipeline across unceded lands belonging to the Indigenous people. In January, the chiefs had delivered an eviction notice to the corporation, stating it was the one violating Wet’suwet’en law and that the land was necessary to their survival. Wet’suwet’en women blocked the path of the pipeline, holding a ceremony to honor the Indigenous women and girls missing and murdered in epidemic levels in the area. The RCMP removed numerous red dresses hanging on wires as memorials. The chiefs had filed a request for a judicial review of B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office’s decision to extend the corporation’s environmental certificate, partly because it did not consider the findings of Canada’s National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women that work camps—also called “man camps”—are associated with greatly increased murder and sexual violence against women.
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In Kenya, women’s savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs) normally pool their members’ money so they can take turns funding their own farms and small businesses. The 25,000 members of Murang’a County Women SACCO (MCWS) instead used their communal savings to build a 102-room apartment building to be rented to university students. Some of the women did construction work to help raise funds, then built the apartment building themselves. Proceeds from the rent will be used to buy 2,000 acres of land which the women will divide among themselves to start farms and other businesses. In a country where only about 6% of women own land, they can also use their status as landowners to get bigger loans from banks. MCWS has accepted invitations from women in seven other counties to teach them how to create similar SACCOs.
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“Nr. 1 Tourist Attraction” is a current exhibition by artist Jimini Hignett at the Amsterdam Museum. “The Prostitution Monologues” are a series of videos of actors reading interviews Hignett had done with survivors of prostitution and photos of them wearing masks they had painted. “A Small Collection of Innocuous Objects” displays Red Light District souvenirs that “instill the idea that paid sex is as innocuous as a kitchen sink.” Accompanying text links these to facts and statistics. Hignett had intended to include an emotional video of a previous exhibit in which people were invited to carve their initials into a wooden copy of “Belle,” a famous sex-worker statue in Amsterdam, to represent complicity of citizens ignoring the harm of prostitution. She removed this due to pressure from the Prostitution Information Center and other pro-sex-work lobbyists who claimed it would incite violence. She said she “had not anticipated the ferocity and abusiveness” of their continued online protests of the exhibit and herself but that comments in the visitors’ book are overwhelmingly positive.
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In 2019, Yumi Ishikawa complained on Twitter that her job, like most in Japan, had a dress code requiring women to wear high-heeled shoes, which she found painful. Her comment received over 30,000 retweets and 60,000 likes, and women shared photos of their own foot injuries from the shoes. She started a movement called #Kutoo, a play on the Japanese words for “pain” and “shoes,” with a nod to the #MeToo movement. Ishikawa collected over 150,000 signatures on a petition to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to declare this dress code requirement a form of harassment. She stated, “the root cause of the problem is that (there are companies) that have rules for women only—such as a ban on wearing glasses or a requirement to wear make-up.”
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In India, for the past two months, millions of people, especially women, have been demonstrating against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new racist citizenship law undermining India’s secular constitution by attempting to redefine India as a purely Hindu country. A nationwide citizenship test, the NRC, could cause millions of legal Muslim citizens to be declared illegal aliens. Women would be most affected because they are poorer and less likely to have legal documentation or property ownership. Activist Karuna Nundy stated, “Being a woman feeds into the experience of and resistance to oppression. We know oppression and we know it viscerally. But, it’s important to see how the rise of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) has been powered in part by a toxic masculinity…violent, explicitly supremacist, and hostile to women.” Previously apolitical elderly housewives from conservative families have joined long-term, road-blocking sit-ins where Muslim and Hindu women of all ages stand together, even when assaulted by police.