I was honored to have the opportunity to participate in the Civicus “Amplifying Marginalised And Muted Voices” virtual consultation on June 20th. Here is the prepared text of my remarks about Occupy and Patriarchy and a description of the consultation follows. The other presenters were Ennie Chipembere of Action Aid, Patrick Anderson of the Forest Peoples’ Programme in Indonesia. The consultation was moderated by Ciana-Marie Pegus of Civicus. When the podcast becomes available I will post the link.
Thank you for inviting me to join you today.
In the remarks that I am sharing with you, I will primarily be discussing the Occupy movement in the United States, but with the understanding that this movement for social and economic change takes place in the much broader global context.
The Occupy Patriarchy.org website of which I am the primary author, was begun last October as a forum for fostering a feminist informed discussion of the Occupy agenda and has focused on 2 key issues–sexism and misogyny within Occupy and secondly, why feminist analysis is so crucial to achieving the goals of the Occupy movement.
When the Occupy Patriarchy website ramped up, the intention was to really focus on that second point, but it didn’t take very long to realize that we weren’t going to be able to do that until we addressed the very problematic atmosphere of misogyny that was being reported at Occupy camps in numerous locations both in the U.S. and other countries.
Report after report started surfacing about sexist power dynamics, of women being harassed, shouted down, sexually assaulted and raped. The sheer number of reports made it all too clear that these weren’t isolated incidents but rather something that was happening systemically throughout the Occupy movement.
The thing that nails me about that is my sense of déjà vu because what we’ve seen at Occupy is a lot like what led me to start the Feminist Peace Network eleven years ago and I’d like to briefly share that history with you because I think it is important background for the discussion of patriarchy in the Occupy context.
Back in late 2001, as the U.S. was getting ready to invade Afghanistan, I was concerned about President Bush’s use of the plight of Afghan women as part of his call to war, because prior to 9/11, we had almost completely ignored their problems. And I was also concerned about the gender-specific impacts of war and felt that there was a need for a feminist pacifist presence in the peace movement.
It was also quite clear that the mainstream of the anti-war movement that was ramping up then was for the most part, dismissive of those issues and when I brought them up, I was told that I was off-topic and divisive and that those issues could be addressed later. I began to feel uncomfortable in those discussions and felt there needed to be a space where those issues could be discussed in a supportive atmosphere. And thus was born the Feminist Peace Network. Unfortunately, within the context of the Occupy movement, feminists have once again been hearing those conversation stoppers.
The misogynist blowback experienced at Occupy is also disturbingly reminiscent of what women in what we refer to as Second Wave Feminism experienced in the 60’s and 70’s.
In fact feminist icon Robin Morgan, who wrote the seminal book, “Sisterhood is Powerful”, wrote to tell me how thrilled she was to see a website like Occupy Patriarchy and how livid she was to see all this happening again. I interviewed her at length about this and you can find a link to that interview on both the Feminist Peace Network and Occupy Patriarchy websites. Morgan also pointed to the global context of misogyny in Occupy, something that I think is crucial to understand.
As we all know, women played a pivotal role in the Arab Spring, which preceded Occupy. But what we have seen since has been discouraging, with women protesters in Egypt for example being arrested, beaten and forced to undergo virginity tests, and with very little progress in women’s rights and in some cases very blatant statements from those who have stepped in to take over the power void to the effect that women’s rights are most definitely not on the agenda.
Nor have women’s human rights been an integral part of the Occupy movement. In retrospect, looking back to 2001 when I formed FPN, it was probably pretty naïve that I thought the peace movement would be concerned about the impact militarism would have on women’s lives. But ever the optimist, in 2011, I really was excited because I felt sure the Occupy movement in the U.S. would be concerned with things like the Equal Rights Amendment, equal pay, childcare and so on.
But it quickly became apparent that not only were these issues not a de facto part of the Occupy agenda, when women tried to bring them up, or for that matter tried to speak up about anything, they were hearing the same reaction that feminists have heard time and time again.
And here we get to the crux of the problem which is that like too many progressive movements before, women’s rights and agency have not been seen as an integral part of the Occupy movement and all too often, women have been seen as sexy eye candy, not significant participants in the movement.
Clearly, if Occupy, as it goes forward, wants to really change the world, it will have to have a zero tolerance for misogyny and violence against women and for that matter, violence against anyone. But as the articulation of that vision develops, we also need to look at what feminism brings to Occupy and why it is so crucial for the success of the movement.
It seems to me to be beyond obvious that if you want true structural economic reform, issues like equal pay, access to childcare, paid maternity leave, etc. have to be an integral part of the Occupy agenda because women are half of the world’s population and without those things, we are not able to participate fully in society.
We also need to address sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking.
Occupy needs to not only call out predatory banks, but also be very clear that the people who were hit the worst by subprime mortgages were poor women of color and it will take women longer to pay off student loans if they are earning less than men. Economic and social decisions almost always have a gendered impact and addressing that needs to always be a part of our work for social change.
And we absolutely must work to get the Equal Rights Amendment through, as well as implementation of the U.S.’s new National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and it is well past time to insist that the U.S. Senate ratify CEDAW, the Convention On The Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
We need to confront the fact that women make up the overwhelming majority of people living in poverty and do the overwhelming majority of unpaid work on which everyone’s lives depend.
And most definitely, we need to put an end once and for all to the horrendous assault on our reproductive rights.
For any real, substantive change for the better to occur, it is critical that issues such as these be addressed.
It bears remembering that feminism has in fact been addressing these issues for a long time. We know what is at stake and we bring that expertise and experience to the table. Institutions such as Wall Street are manifestations of the far deeper and greater problem of patriarchy, which depends in large measure on the exploitation, disempowerment, and subjugation of women. For any real economic and social justice to be gained for the 99 percent, those issues certainly need to be addressed.
It is encouraging that there will be a Feminist General Assembly on July 1rst when the Occupy National General Assembly is held in Philadelphia, the symbolic birthplace of American democracy. As the Occupy movement continues, I think that there is a real opportunity to develop a broader commitment from progressives to work on issues such as those that I have discussed here from the understanding of a feminist lens.
But that opportunity will not be easily realized and must be predicated on the understanding that Wall Street is a manifestation of the problems we face, not the root cause, and real change must also include confronting misogyny in the movement itself.
That concludes my remarks and I look forward to your questions and comments. I also encourage you to visit occupypatriarchy.org and feministpeacenetwork.org and to join in our Facebook discussion. Thank you!
The work of organised civil society sometimes serves to reinforce existing paradigms of power and of exclusion. Global alliances such as CIVICUS must live their values by practicing and promoting diversity within our organisations, networks and programmatic work. As a platform organisation, CIVICUS needs to facilitate access for muted voices in order to ensure just processes and decisions, particularly in the global arena to ensure the inclusion of traditionally excluded, exploited, and marginalised groups. The challenge lies in moving beyond shallow, box-ticking approaches and towards forming legitimate partnerships with marginalised groups and mainstreaming their issues and concerns into our core work.
Join us as we explore how can CIVICUS increase access for muted voices locally, regionally and globally and how CSOs can form genuine partnerships marginalised groups.
The session is expected to last for 90 minutes. 50 minutes will be dedicated to an open discussion during which you are invited to share your experiences and perspectives.
If you have any further questions about the webinar, please contact Ciana-Marie Pegus (firstname.lastname@example.org).