#NoMoreImpunity || Blog Symposium || Annotated Bibliography on Gender, Torture and Transitional Justice

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Annotated Bibliography on
Gender, Torture and Transitional Justice

Prepared by Mangalam Sridhar

 

  1. Gender  and  Torture  Conference  Report.  REDRESS  and  Amnesty International. October 2011. http://www.redress.org/downloads/publications/GenderandTortureConferenceReport-191011.pdf Accessed on 5/5/2016 at 1420 IST.

#Gender #Torture

The  report  is  a study  from  a  two-day  conference that   brought  in  people  from  different  dimensions like, representatives  from  Non – Governmental  Organisations  and  academics. The  report  focuses  on  the  definition  of  torture  as  per  the  international  law,  the  reasons  why  torture  is  considered  to  be  one  of  the most  serious  crimes  and  the  effects  of  the  different  forms  of  torture. It  looks  into  gender-based  violence  used  as  a  form  of  torture  by  state  actors  in  counter-terrorism  policies and  how  it  is  the  responsibility  of  the  state  when  torture  is  committed  by  the  non-state  actors. It  also  looks  at  the  international  legal  framework  implementing  the  prohibition  of  torture. They  discussed  on  the  role  that  legal  framework  on  torture  has  and  how  it  can  help  in  achieving  justice  for  women  and  those  from  marginalized  groups. It  also  considered  successes  in  advocacy  and  litigation  under  the  legal  framework  on  torture: it  recognised  the  forms  of  harms  by  state  and  non-state  actors  like,  female  genital  mutilation,  rape, etc. And  the  effects  this  recognition  has had.  It  also  focuses  on  the  responsibility  for  harms  by  non-state  actors.

  1. Torture  Research  Bibliography- Chris  Einolf, Assistant  Professor, DePaul University’s  School  of  Public  Service

https://tortureresearch.wordpress.com/Accessed on 6/5/2016 at 1930 IST

#Torture

This  research  bibliography  is  a  web  page  that  provides  academic  scholars, researchers  and  other  commoners  an  understanding  of  what  torture  is  and how  it  can  be  prevented.  It  provides  various  definitions  of  torture  including  the legal  definitions,  scholarly  definitions,  etc. It  also  provides  a  clear  study  on  the history  of  torture  in  the  different  eras. They  also  focus  on  the  micro  level  causes  that  facilitate  torture  like  military  training,  etc.  and  the  macro  level  causes. The  focus  on  gender is  given  in  the  study  about Rape  and  sexual  assault. And  they  have  finally  concluded  with  the  preventive  measures.

  1. Gender and Torture: Does it matter? Published by Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Johannesburg, South Africa

http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?ots591=0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233&lng=en&id=179350 – Link for the PDF of the report. Accessed on 7/5/2016 at 1435 IST

#Gender #Torture

This  report  looks  at  the  different  ways  in  which  Gender  influences  the  impact  of  torture. It  aimed  at  developing  the  African  Torture  Rehabilitation  Model-  a  contextually – informed,  evidence – based  psychosocial  model  for  the  rehabilitation  of  victims  of  torture. They  looked  at  the  likelihood  of  Torture  Victimization, Impact  of  sexual  violence/ torture. The  study  had  three methodologies. It  also  looked  at  the  impacts  separately  for  men  and  women. And  then  a  consensus  was  built  and  interventions  were  proposed.  The  interventions  were  given  based  on  the  real-life  experiences  of  individuals.

  1. Gender  differences  in  Victims  of  War  Torture: Types  of  torture  and  psychological  consequences

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20499736 Accessed on 7/5/2016 at 1545 IST

#Gender #Torture

The  study  focused  on  torture  for  political  reasons  on  men  and  women  and  the  various  psychological  impacts  faces  by  them. They  also  looked  at  the  types  of  torture  that  men  and  women  faced  and  found  that  there  were  28  types  of  tortures  frequently  faced  by  men  and  5  among  women. Torture  types  also  revealed  three factors- Common  torture, sadistic  torture  and  sexual  torture. They  concluded  with  a  study  on  torture  faced  by  women  and  men  in  wars.

 

5.  Accountability  for  Past  Abuse- Juan  E.  Mendez, September 1996.

http://kellogg.nd.edu/publications/workingpapers/WPS/233.pdf Accessed on  8/5/2016  at  0015  IST

#TransitionalJustice

It  looks  into  the  massive  human  rights  violations  and  abuse  in  the  past  and  attempts  to  restore  truth  and  justice  to  the  legacy  of  abuse  in  the  recent  past. It  also  looks  at  various  dimensions  of  the  problem-  legal, political  and  ethical  dimensions. It  focuses  on  ways  to  look  into  these  problems  and  how  to  tackle  them.  It  also  mentions  the  different  measures  taken  by  various  countries  to  curb  these  problems,  and  looks  at  the  international  law. It  looks  for  ways  to  avoid  false  dilemmas  and  looks  for  moral  justifications  for  prosecutions  for  all  kinds  of  violations  committed  or  faced. Lastly,  it  looks  at  universal  principles  and  the  differences  between  countries  while  trying  to  find  solutions  for  the  violations  and  crimes.

 

  1. Gender  and  Transitional  Justice  in  Africa:  Progress  and  Prospects- Helen  Scanlon  and  Kelli  Muddell

http://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajcr/article/viewFile/52170/40796 Accessed  on  8/5/2016  at  1200 IST

#Africa #Gender #TransitionalJustice

This  study  looks  at  the  needs  to  address  the  gender-based  violations  and  the  needs  to  address  the  kinds  of  violations  that women  face.  It  also  looks  at  negative  impacts  that  follow  when  gender – based  violations  are  neglected. It  focuses  on  the  legal  mechanisms  and  the  international  law- its  importance  and  contributions. Then,  it  looks  at  providing  amends  or  reparations,  security  sector  reform (SSR), mechanisms, emerging  concerns  and  the  challenges  for  Gender  and Transitional  Justice.

 

  1. Convention  Against  Torture: A  viable  alternative  legal  remedy  for  domestic  violence  victims- Barbara  Cochrane  Alexander

http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1277&context=auilr Accessed on 8/5/2016 at 1415 IST

#Gender #Torture

The  study  first  looks  at  torture – conventions  and  prohibitions, both  international  and  domestic. Then,  focuses  on  domestic  violence.  It  compares  Asylum  with  convention  against  torture(CAT)  relief  where, it  focuses  on  the  benefits  the  asylum provides  for  domestic  violence  victims, looks  at  the  requirements  for  the  survivor  of  domestic  violence  to  receive  CAT  reliefs  as  an  alternative  remedy.  There  is   a  detailed  study  on  domestic  violence, it  looks  into  case  studies  and  how  domestic  violence  is  a  form  of  torture.

 

  1. Gender  Inequality  and  its  effects  in  female  torture  survivors- Scientific  Research

http://file.scirp.org/pdf/PSYCH20120400009_94389582.pdf Accessed  on  8/5/2016  at  1420  IST

#Gender #Torture

It  gives  an  introduction  about  gender  inequality  and  torture  from  a  feminist  perspective, looks  at  gender  discrimination  as  a  form  of  trauma  that  has  adverse  effects  on  the  individual-  among  the  types  of  traumas,  this  focuses  on  type  III  trauma  which  is  one  of  the  most  serious  kinds. It  also  looks  at  the  different  dynamics  and  dimensions  of  gender  discrimination. And  there  is  study  conducted  on  gender  discrimination  for  females  and  males  in  different  areas.

 

  1. Transitional  Justice  in   Sri  Lanka  and  ways  forward- Centre  for  policy  alternatives- July  2005.

http://www.cpalanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Transitional-Justice-in-Sri-Lanka-and-Ways-Forward.pdf Accessed  on  8/5/2016  at  1600  IST\

#SriLanka #TransitionalJustice

The  report  focuses  on  4  main  aspects  or  areas  for  study. They  are: Recruitment  and  conscription  of  Child  Soldiers,  Disappearances, Sexual  Violence  and  Displacement. Under  the  Recruitment  and  conscription  of  Child  Soldiers, they  look  at  the  definition  of  a  child  soldier,  use  of  child  soldiers, look  into  a  case  study  and  look  at  implementing  methods  to  stop  this  kind  of  a  violation  with the  involvement  of  the  truth  and  reconciliation  commission. Under  Disappearances, they  look  at  the  definition  of  enforced  disappearance,  the  issue  in  Sri  Lanka  and  look  into  a  case  study  where  they  focus  on  various  aspects  like, transition  of  leadership,  involvement  of  the  commission  of  inquiry,etc.  and  suggest  necessary  methods  to  avoid  these  problems. Under  Sexual  Violence, they  only  do  a  brief  study  on  Sexual  Violence  in  Sri  Lanka  and  look  into  a  case  study. Under  Internal  Displacement,  there  is  a  study  on the  issues  in  Sri  Lanka, how  it  has  affected  individuals  and  then  there  is  a  case  study  which  involves  the  National  Recovery  Strategy. Then,  the  importance  of  the  state’s  involvement  and  IDPs  involvement  is  looked  into.

 

  1.  Transitional  Justice  in  Sexual  and  Gender-based  Violence- Makau Mutua

http://www.pambazuka.org/gen//der-minorities/transitional-justice-sexual-and-gender-based-violence Accessed  on  8/5/2016  at  1930 IST

#TransitionalJustice #Gender

It  looks  at  the  need  and  the  importance  of  transitional  justice  to  solve  gender-based  problems. Looks  at  the  problems  women  face  due  to  patriarchy  and  male  centeredness. Focuses  on  early  stage  of  life, learning  and  socialisation  that  plays  an  important  role.  Looks  at  Sexual  and  gender  based  violence- women  and  girls  being  the  main  targets. And  then, legal  and  political  responses  are  looked  into.

 

  1. Gender  Justice-ICTJ

https://www.ictj.org/our-work/transitional-justice-issues/gender-justice Accessed on 8/5/2016  at  2300

#TransitionalJustice #Gender

Looks  at  the  prevalence  of  gender- based  violence  as  a  major  concern  and  looks  at  the  role  of  the  transitional  justice- its  mechanisms. They  also  mention  the  role  of  the  ICTJ like, how  they  support  local  women’s  groups, bring  activists  together,  etc.

 

  1. The  Gender  dimension  of  Transitional  Justice  Mechanisms: Laura.C.Turano

http://nyujilp.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/43.4-Turano.pdf Accessed  on  9/5/2016  at  0700  IST

#TransitionalJustice #Gender

Looks  at  the  war  crimes, violence  committed  against  women  during  armed  conflicts, etc. It  focuses  on  the  historical  treatment  of  crimes  committed  against  women  during  armed  conflict  where  we  can  see  that, rape  is  the  least  condemned  war  crime. And  it  also  looks  at  characterizing  the  crimes committed against  women  and  there  is  a  detailed  study, investigation  and  looking  at  ways  to  respect  and  respond  properly  to  the  victims.

 

  1. Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and degrading treatment of Women: Psychological Consequences- Libby Tata Arcel

http://ojs.statsbiblioteket.dk/index.php/psyke/article/viewFile/8530/7087 Accessed  on  11/05/2016  at  1000  IST

#Torture #Gender

This  report  starts  with  an  introduction  on  Torture  and  gender-specific  forms  of  torture. They  look  at  the  important  reason  for  focusing  general  societal  violence  against  women  and  it  looks  at  the  branch  of  human  rights  law. They focus  on  the  World  Conference  on  Human  Rights. Then, they  look  at  the  definition  of  gender-based  violence  and  how  this  definition  is  connected  to  the  definition  of  torture.  They  focus  on  sexual  torture  and  Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading, Treatment  and  Punishment (CIDTP) of  women  by  State  Agents-  This  looks  at  the  definitions  and  forms  of  Sexual  Assault.  It  also  focuses  on   specific  contexts  of  Sexual  Torture  and  CIDTP  like,  Armed  Conflict,  detention  for  various  reasons, etc. Then, they  focus  on  impunity  for  sexual  torturers, recognition  of  rape  as  a  sexual  torture  and  finally  looks  at  the  experience   of  sexual  torture.

 

  1.   Report  on  Gender  Perspectives  on  Torture  and  other  cruel,  inhuman  and degrading  treatment:  Juan.E.Mendez

http://antitorture.org/gender-perspectives-2/ Accessed  on  15/05/2016  at  1530 IST

#Gender #Torture

Firstly, it  talks  about  the  gender  perspectives  on  torture and  other  cruel  or  inhuman  treatment. The  rapporteur  stresses  on  the  applicability  of  the  prohibition  of  torture  and  other  inhuman  treatment  in  international  law  to  the  experiences  of  women, men, transgenders, lesbian, etc. It  focuses  on  the  legal  framework  for  the  need  to  apply  the  convention  against  torture  and  other  inhuman  treatment. They  also  look  at  how  violence, discrimination, etc.  is  not  just  faced  by  women  but  also  by  men,  looks  at  the  purpose  of  the  definition  of  torture  and  how  it  is  fulfilled. Then, it  separately  focuses  on  the  torture  and  other  kinds  of  ill-treatment  faced  by  women, transgenders, lesbian, etc. in detention, health  care  settings, looks  at  the  different kinds  of  abuse  or  violence  like  Rape, Domestic  violence, etc.  and  looks  at  the  various  measures  like,  health  care  and  sanitation, security, etc. It  also  focuses  on  the  different  harmful  practices  like  female genital mutilation, honour- based  violence,  etc. and  the  access  for  women, transgenders, etc  to  justice.

 

#NoMoreImpunity || Blog Symposium || Gender, Torture & Political Reconciliation

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GENDER, TORTURE, AND POLITICAL RECONCILIATION

Colleen Murphy

June 26 marks United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.[1] I offer below my reflections on some of the gendered aspects of torture, and the implications of torture for both reconciliation and transitional justice.  I focus specifically on torture committed in conflict and repression, for it is in transitions from such periods that the moral aims of political reconciliation and transitional justice are often invoked.

Gender influences the nature of the harm inflicted and the consequences of torture, as well as access to justice in the aftermath of torture.[2]  One form of torture is gender-based sexual violence, including but not limited to rape. Girls and women as well as men and boys are subject to such torture.[3]  The consequences of being a victim of such torture are gendered, influenced by background structural inequality and entrenched gender roles. For women and girls, the consequences of rape can include ostracism from family and community, social stigma, forced marriage to their rapists, pregnancy, infertility, and increased poverty as economic opportunities are foreclosed as a result of stigma and ostracism. For men and boys, consequences include physical problems with urination or sexual problems, a perception of being weak (and as such “emasculated”), stigmatization, and ostracism.[4]  Attention to the gendered dimensions of the consequences of torture is important to get an accurate and complete characterization of the harm experienced by those tortured.

Appeal to reconciliation is common following extended periods of conflict and repression.  Reconciliation is the repair or bettering of a relationship among parties previously in conflict.[5] I focus here specifically on societal reconciliation, improving the relationships among citizens and between citizens and officials. [6]  Conflict and repression significantly damage such relationships, and processes of reconciliation and transitional justice typically aim to repair this damage.  Stated in very broad terms, political relationships suffer because of an erosion of the conditions of respect for agency and reciprocity. Conflict and repression specifically undermine (1) the rule of law (for example, declared legal rules do not govern the conduct of officials and citizens in practice), (2) the reasonableness of minimal trust in the competence and lack of ill-will of citizens or officials, and (3) the genuine opportunities of some or all citizens to be respected, recognized as a member of a political community, participate as equals in economic and political processes, and avoid poverty.

Torture contributes to these forms of relational damage.  It is characteristically not sanctioned by declared legal rules, and so its sanctioning or commission by officials itself constitutes a violation of the rule of law.  Torture, when widespread, creates an environment of uncertainty, where citizens cannot turn to declared legal rules as the basis for their expectations of the treatment they are likely to receive by other citizens or officials.  This in turn is one important source of distrust.  The political purposes or functions of torture are paradigmatically to erode agency by creating an incentive for individuals to refrain from political engagement or interaction and to accept the status quo no matter how unequal that might be.

The immediate subject matter of processes of transitional justice (such as reparations, criminal trials, and truth commissions) is particular violations of human rights.  However, such processes typically aim at broader objectives like reconciliation as well.  There are recurring worries and objections voiced about the treatment of the victims whose violation are the subject of such transitional justice processes.  Underlying such worries is a concern that victims not be treated instrumentally, that is, as important only insofar as their testimony contributes to the achievement of broader societal aims.

Such worries point to the importance of two distinct, but interrelated, dimensions of transitional justice.  Transitional justice, as I argue in my forthcoming book, is at its core about the just pursuit of societal transformation.[7]  Societal transformation entails relational transformation or political reconciliation of the kind described above.  The “just pursuit” of transformation requires respect for the independent moral claims that victims of torture have, which processes must aim to satisfy.  It is important to keep both aspects in mind when evaluating processes of transitional justice.  Such processes can fail to be just in one of two ways: by failing to contribute to societal transformation or by failing to satisfy the claims of victims or demands vis-à-vis perpetrators.  This duality is familiar from other contexts, including theorizing about war.  As many versions of just war theory recognize, wars can fail to be justified in two ways: by failing to be initiated in a way that satisfies the requirements of jus ad bellum or by failing to satisfy the moral constraints for conduct in war required by jus in bello.

The moral aims associated with responding to victims include acknowledgement of the wrong done, recognition of the status of victims as moral agents who are rights bearers, recognition of their status as members of a political community, and reparation.  Promoting these aims requires attention to the gendered dimensions of violations. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing must acknowledge the specificity of the wrong done and its subsequent consequences.  Similarly, appropriate reparation of harm depends on an accurate characterization of the harm suffered.

Though distinct, the two dimensions of transitional justice are often interrelated in practice.  Failure to appropriately and fittingly respond to victims can negatively impact prospects for the recognition of members of a marginalized group from which the victim comes as rights bearers and members of a political community.  Conversely, the failure to pursue broader relational reform can impact the ability of a specific transitional justice process to meet the victim oriented demands. When the source of the denial of membership is not just individual acts of torture but also institutional rules and norms, including but not limited to gender norms, recognition of stigmatized rape victims as rights bearers and equal members of a political community becomes tied to changing norms.  One implication of these interdependencies is that transitional justice processes should be designed, implemented, and evaluated not in isolation, but rather holistically, taking into account the range of response(s) to wrongdoing that are (or are not) being pursued in a given context.

Colleen Murphy is Professor of Law, Philosophy & Politics, and Director of Women & Gender in Global Perspectives (WGGP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

[1] The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx.

[2] Juan Mendez, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, January 5, 2016, http://antitorture.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Gender_Report_A_HRC_31_57_E-5.pdf

[3] Heleen Touquet and Ellen Gorris, “Out of the shadows? The inclusion of men and boys in conceptualisations of wartime sexual violence,” Reproductive Health Matters DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rhm.2016.04.007

[4] I am grateful to Heleen Touquet for very helpful comments on this section.

[5] Linda Radzik and Colleen Murphy, “Reconciliation,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/reconciliation/.

[6] The view of reconciliation outlined here is described in detail in Colleen Murphy, A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[7] Colleen Murphy, The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

#NoMoreImpunity || A Blog Symposium on Gender, Torture and Transitional Justice

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INTRODUCTION

Swarna Rajagopalan

Today, June 26, is United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. As Prajnya’s observance of this date, we have curated a small blog symposium on ‘Gender, Torture and Transitional Justice.’

Where we sit, in southern India, these sometimes seem like distant, irrelevant topics–a view made possible by our unflagging commitment to denial. Across the Palk Strait, denial is not an option. Sri Lanka is in the process of charting a transition out of war. Where that transition will lead depends largely on the outcome of the lively discussions underway there about issues of transitional justice.

This is one reason we partnered with the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka to put together these blogposts on gender, torture and transitional justice. NPC has been working with grassroots communities to promote dialogue for over two decades and in recent years, has used this network to promote a discussion about transitional justice and the shape and form of the peace that is being built in Sri Lanka.

This is not to say these issues are not important in India. Torture, and gender-based violence as torture, are not unknown in India. And whether or not we consider ourselves conflict-torn or post-conflict, the values of truth, accountability and justice, apply to our political discourse and practice just as well. For Prajnya, that is why it was important to create and curate this resource.

What is a blog symposium and why do we bother with it? A blog symposium is nothing but an invited collection of blogposts on different aspects of a particular topic or issue. The writers have different backgrounds, different expertise and quite likely, different points of view. Our only filter was that the posts had to address the broader symposium rubric. We are not concerned with presenting a single consensus “correct” view.

Rather, Prajnya’s purpose is to offer information and a range of views so readers, especially those reading about the issue for the first time, can start to find their way through the debates. This is intended to be, not the last word, but the first set of resources you access on a topic.

The last post in this blog symposium is an Annotated Bibliography that we hope will be useful to you for further reading.

Blogposts in this symposium (links will be added when they are all published):

  1. GENDER, TORTURE, AND POLITICAL RECONCILIATIONColleen Murphy
  2. CUSTODIAL TORTURE: A SPECIAL HELLNitya Ramakrishnan
  3. IMPUNITY AND TRUST: TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE IN SRI LANKANimalka Fernando
  4. WOMEN AND MISSING PERSONSNational Peace Council of Sri Lanka Team
  5. CRIMINAL TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF CONFLICT-RELATED SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST MENAnjali Manivannan
  6. WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: STILL FAR TO GOSumadhu Weerawarne-Perera
  7. RE-IMAGINING JUSTICE: THE COURTS OF WOMEN STORY, Corinne Kumar
  8. Annotated Bibliography on Gender, Torture and Transitional Justice, prepared by Mangalam Sridhar 

Posts 1, 2, 5, 7 and the Annotated Bibliography were commissioned by Prajnya. Posts 3, 4 and 6 were commissioned or authored by the National Peace Council.

Prajnya would like to thank the National Peace Council team for its openness and cooperation.

Campaigning Like it’s 1969: Thoughts on the American Election Season

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A few months ago, I was at a bookstore and a conversation started between myself and another woman who was probably in her 60s.  Discussion turned to the already divisive political scene, especially with regard to women’s issues.  “I marched for the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] and there were a lot of people who did not agree with me, but I have never felt as under-attack as a women as I do right now.”

Listening to politicians discuss rape, abortion, and equal pay in the months since that conversation has given me sad insight to what it must have been like for women over forty years ago.    An all too real joke has been going around this weekend with our time change: “Remember on Sunday to set your clocks back one hour.  On Tuesday, be careful you don’t set the country back 50 years.”

Locally, I have been doing my part for the past three months giving much of my free time campaigning for a female Democrat candidate for State Representative here in Michigan.  She is running on Campaign Reform- so no special interest or PAC money helping her out.  In other words, she is a long shot.  What saddens me even more than seeing a principled female fighting so hard for every vote is knowing her opponent has not been held accountable for his chauvinistic behavior.

In Michigan, where the Legislative branch and Governor are Republican, a lot of legislation has been fast tracked with little or no debate.  Back in June, the House was doing just that with a set of bills which would have made it virtually impossible for any abortion clinic in the state to stay open.   Democrats in the House spoke up and forced a debate on the issue.  At one point during discussion on the floor, Brown commented, “I’m flattered you’re all so concerned about my vagina, but no means no.”

Representative Lisa Brown and her colleague, Representative  Barb Byrum, were censured and told they would not be recognized on the House floor the next day for throwing “a temper tantrum”.

When asked about the incident on a radio show that week, Representative Wayne Schmidt said, on more than one occasion, “It’s like giving a kid a timeout for a day.”  That’s right, my Representative in the Michigan House referred to his two female colleagues as one would refer to children.

Of course, anyone following the U.S. elections even passively has surely heard one of any number of candidates’ rants about women and rape.  Todd Akin opened up this absurd and completely unscientific dialogue when he claimed abortion was not really an issue because victims of “legitimate rape” rarely became pregnant.  A week ago, Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock said he does not support abortion for victims of rape because the resulting pregnancies are “something God intended.”  Just this week, Washington Republican candidate John Koster was quoted as referring the the criminal act as “the rape thing”.  When asked whether he would support abortion for rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life, he replied allowances should be made for a mother’s life, but “…on the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better?”

The truth is Akin, Mourdock, and Koster are not nearly as frightening to me as the other Republican candidates running for national office who believe in the same no exceptions rules for rape.  The three in the press sound absurd, these others are not even being scrutinized for their extreme views.

Yet, it really comes as no surprise considering the example being set at the national level.  Governor Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. Many Americans have either forgotten or never knew Paul Ryan supported a bill in the US House that would redefine rape as “forcible” or not.  In other words, if a woman wanted an abortion, she would have to prove the rape was forced.  An unconscious woman, for whatever reason, would not qualify as a rape victim under the proposed new rules.  The bill failed, but Ryan’s belief rape is only acceptable if the mother’s life is in danger lives on.

There is also a movement in some states here–Arizona and Colorado so far– to allow employers to deny women birth control coverage if said employer does not believe a woman should take The Pill.  Women would have to present their case for birth control to their employer, not their doctor, reversing forty years of medical practice. Politicians are putting themselves between women and their doctors in the most personal decisions a woman can make.  At the same time, many politicians are propose to trim budgets by de-funding Planned Parenthood, an organization which provides birth control, STD testing, and cancer screenings (among other medical care) for the poor and uninsured.  More and more women are feeling cornered when it comes to their health care in some of these areas.

But it is not just about reproductive rights. Much has also been made of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women”.  Romney’s response to a question during the second Presidential debate about whether he supports equal pay prompted his story about wanting to hire a woman for an open position and calling for his staff (presumably men) to bring him viable women candidates.  They brought him binders of qualified women and he selected one.

The reality is, women are the majority of breadwinners in America now.  If we are not paid fairly, this entire nation now suffers.  President Obama answered this question by pointing to the fact he signed into law the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (a bill which allowed women to sue for discrepancy in wages when it was discovered, not in a limited time period as before) and his attempts to get the Fair Pay Act passed in Congress.  Governor Romney’s response to the question of equal pay was to say he hired a couple women while in office and he wants to create more jobs in America, some of which will go to women.  While the binders of women comment has become a punchline in many circles, the harsh reality of his answer has become lost.

I am in my early 30s and have been politically active (though on different sides of the aisle at times) since a fairly young age, but I find myself thinking more about my gender over the past couple years than I ever have before.  In my life, women have been able to march forward towards equality.  As I write this, we are hours away from our elections here in the U.S.  I hope my nation is with me and we continue to go forward.

Being Dalit-American: Article

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Thenmozhi Soundararajan writes about growing up Dalit in the caste-conscious Indian-American community:

The Black Indians,” August 20, 2012.

“We were also Dalits living underground. Caste exists wherever Indians exist and it manifests itself in a myriad of ways. The Indian diaspora thrives on caste because it is the atom that animates the molecule of their existence. In the face of xenophobia and racism abroad, many become more fundamentalist in their traditions and caste is part of that reactionary package. So, what does caste look like in the US?”

Women’s History Roundtable: Nithya Raman on urban planning for women in India

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Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

Nithya Raman of Transparent Chennai addressed the Prajnya Roundtable on 14th July. Transparent Chennai was launched in October 2010 in order to collect data related to the city, and share it with the public.

The first question addressed by Raman was the importance of urban planning for women. She pointed out that with the economic growth in cities (due to the boom in the service sector), there is an ever-increasing demand for better infrastructure.

Before 2005, management of cities was in the hands of the State governments. However, in 2005, the central government intervened in this area by setting up JNNURM – the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Fifty thousand crore rupees has been earmarked for JNNURM in development funds.

With the establishment of JNNURM came the implementation of data-driven governance; the introduction of central government-mandated reforms in various areas by gathering and using more data about cities as a base line for reforms. While this is a sound approach to development, the problem lies in the execution of this program. Raman showed us that the quality of the data collected is usually poor; and though data collected by the central government is slightly better than that collected by the states, data gathered at the city level is found to be of the worst quality and extremely difficult to access.

Raman told us that in her experience, city-level data has become progressively worse since the 1970s. The records are poorly maintained, stored in less-than-optimum conditions, and not available for public access. Apart from these obvious shortcomings, Raman pointed out that all these records exclude the vast population that constitutes the urban poor.

She referred to statistics related to malaria as an example of poor record-keeping. Government statistics show that the incidence of malaria has decreased progressively. However, this data is collected by the corporation health inspectors, which means that it is collected from Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and other government hospitals. This kind of data collection overlooks the fact that only a small portion of the public actually uses these PHCs (as the quality of healthcare is quite substandard). Most people prefer to be treated at private hospitals – not all of which are registered. Many individuals even simply go to the nearest pharmacist, list out their symptoms and procure the medicine suggested by him. Thus, we can see that the government data collection ignores these informal providers of medical care. Raman estimated that 60-70% of medical establishments are unregistered. This limited approach towards data collection is reflected in the numbers: the Indian government estimates 2 million malaria cases per annum, but the WHO estimates this figure to be around 10 million per annum.

Raman then moved on to address the question of slums in Chennai. An early survey of slums in Chennai was done in 1971. The findings revealed that one-third of the population lived in slums. Acting on these findings, the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) built a number of tenement houses. A second survey was conducted in 1986, and more slums were added to the list.

Shockingly, no slums have been added to the list of slums in Chennai since 1986! In fact, census officers were only allowed to enumerate the population in officially recognized slums in Chennai. This means that JNNURM funding can only be used for officially recognized slums – which are a small percentage of the slums in the city, given its rapid expansion. Hence, the housing plan by TNSCB provides housing for a meager 20% of slum dwellers.

Raman concluded that all these instances are further proof that it’s impossible to have an effective strategy for urban planning without real data. Relocation doesn’t seem to be a viable long-term solution when we only have limited data to work with.

The final point of discussion was perhaps the most important: sanitation in the city. Raman presented us with a disturbing fact: the Corporation of Chennai doesn’t maintain a register of the number and location of public toilets in the city. After filing an RTI, Transparent Chennai found that there were over 700 toilets as per the official record, but only 572 of these seem to actually exist.

Apart from the discrepancy in data; it also emerged that most public toilets are not used by women for various reasons such as lack of water supply, safety etc. In fact, people have even taken up residence in some unused toilet blocks!

The TNSCB undertook a survey of unofficial slums, and found that toilets were only built where municipal land was available. In a state where land is acquired for almost any industry; it seems absurd that the government will not or cannot acquire land to build public toilets.

Raman concluded her talk but mentioning a few possible methods of intervention to ensure safety of women in urban areas (which is always under-reported). She suggested mapping harassment in Chennai, to identify locations and times which are particularly dangerous for women; and also generating data to fill in the gaps and ensure that harassment is adequately reported in the city.

Does gender add to insecurities?

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Appeared in the Comment section of TOI-Crest earlier this week

Hell hath no fury
Moniben Gupta
May 19, 2012

Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa – two tempestuous and enigmatic women chief ministers currently dominating Indian politics – share two significant markers: gender and power. Feeding into and strengthening each other, both these elements have contributed to constructing their cult personalities in bewildering and striking ways. A year ago, the two leaders swept to power in their respective states of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, defeating powerful political adversaries. Mamata even achieved what had at the time appeared to be an unattainable feat: she defeated the potent 34-year-old Left Front government with a sweeping majority.

While the Trinamool Congress leader finally made the transition from being a volatile, feisty street-fighter to Kolkata’s Writer’s Building, the scenario for her Tamil Nadu counterpart was somewhat different. The AIADMK supremo was anointed chief minister for the third time in her long and fractious political career. But unlike Mamata, Jayalalithaa was no stranger to state power and the advantages of leveraging its controls.

With both the leaders now marking the first anniversaries of their recent ascendancy to power, it is a good time to take another look at their personality cults. At the heart of the debate around Mamata and Jayalalithaa are several important and unresolved questions hinging on gender, and the complex power relations inhabiting the domain of politics. Are women politicians expected to be less competitive and aggressive, and more nurturing and compassionate than men? Or is it just a question of power corrupting those who wield it? To properly understand leaders like the women in question here, we need to locate them in a framework moving beyond gender, and then decode the inherent logic of power and how women negotiate it: especially when they alone are in supreme control of their parties and governments.

The narratives of Mamata’s and Jayalalithaa’s political lives are far from similar. Despite the varying trajectories however, both have shared comparable experiences, stemming from the overwhelmingly male political worlds they have inhabited. Both have encountered a fair bit of humiliation – political, as well as personal and physical. But that’s also where their differences begin. Tamil Nadu’s actress-turned politician shared an intense relationship with another icon, M G Ramachandran. Besides being the better half of a popular onscreen pairing, Jayalalithaa was later MGR’s political protêgê. The unconventional alliance brought her heaps of abuse and slander from political detractors, patently shaping in that process her dictatorial style of transacting politics as a way of reinforcing her position of authority – when she finally got it.

Mamata, however, has maintained a scrupulously chaste image: a woman politician who, seemingly, hasn’t ever been involved in a romantic relationship;and even more significantly, hasn’t had a male patron hovering in the background to promote her political career. But this hasn’t spared her the cut of male chauvinism. For most of her political life, Mamata has had to put up with intemperate, sexist comments and ridicule from her opponents.

Instances of patriarchal politics impinging on both women are fairly numerous. Like the shocking outrage witnessed on the floor of the Tamil Nadu assembly on March 25, 1989: when M Karunanidhi, then chief minister, rose to present the budget, and opposition leader Jayalalithaa, raised a privilege issue. What subsequently unraveled on the assembly floor was testimony to the state’s crude and sexist political culture. It is recounted by many that DMK MLAs attacked Jayalalithaa with paperweights. One pulled her sari, another her hair. But such behaviour is not unique to Tamil Nadu. One could argue that all strong, independent political women have to face the brunt of it in one form or another in India. Before coming to power, Mamata too, encountered CPM sponsored violent physical assaults. Most prominent among them was the vicious attack at Kolkata’s Hazra junction in July 1990, which left the Trinamool leader hanging on to her life by a thread.

Getting the better of a political system run mostly by men groomed in the school of patriarchy is perhaps the strongest testimony to the fortitude of both these women. In the process of coming to power in such a polity, however, both women appear to have internalised some of the worst attributes of a masculine political culture. These women have clearly found it difficult to inhabit a male political world. Their constant struggle has even, evidently, contributed to their penchant for political vendetta and megalomania. Mamata and Jayalalithaa have fiercely attacked their opponents and cultivated strong personality cults conveying that they are the final word on matters political. Mamata’s outrage over a cartoon and her imprisonment of opponents, and Jayalalithaa’s infamous midnight raid on DMK leaders are examples of their intolerance.

Yet, gender is not the only prism through which we can explain such tendencies. Women are not intrinsically more compassionate because they are women. Power, especially when unchallenged, evokes similar responses from women and men alike. It nurtures megalomania, greed, authoritarianism, and corruption. Mamata and Jayalalithaa are two exemplary products of such a complex system. Gender adds to their insecurities; it is not a cause of it.

http://www.timescrest.com/opinion/hell-hath-no-fury-7942