Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, by Audre Lorde (complete text)

Image taken from Autostraddle - click through to see an interesting article on the evolution of book covers.
two images of Audre Lorde's classic feminist text are from here
The full text of the Audre Lorde speech and essay appears below my intro.
So many people I know fight the debilitating, paralysing fear of speaking out, of being themselves to the best of their knowledge and fierceness, of being grounded in their own liberatory power as they work to share that power to make radical and transformative change collectively and responsibly. 
How do we continue these political struggles and campaigns when fear grips us and draws us repeatedly into silence? Is it more important to know what is underneath our fear, or to find ways to move with it? My tendency is to want the understanding before moving into action; it is a useful and self-defeating way to postpone the action. 
Due to the above questions and concerns, the following writing surfaces perennially in my life and in the lives of so many women I know. In order to share it with you, I found it as a PDF document online and have replicated it here, as it appears in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Crossing Press, 1984; republished in 2007 with a foreword by Cheryl Clarke).  
I have, I hope faithfully, corrected one minor typo from the original and several others that showed up in the pasting process. If you find any other typos, please send me a comment or email so that I may correct it. Note: Audre intentionally does not capitalise 'america'. 
This is earnestly presented here under Fair Use law, without any commercial interest and with the sole intention of sharing Lorde's written and spoken wisdom and political efforts to make the lives of Black lesbians and other women of color central to our revolutionary work. That work has been and remains the heart of this blog. 
If you have not as yet, I shall greatly and joyfully encourage you to read all fifteen chapters of Sister Outsider. For now,

The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action*

I HAVE COME to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect. I am standing here as a Black lesbian poet, and the meaning of all that waits upon the fact that I am still alive, and might not have been. Less than two months ago I was told by two doctors, one female and one male, that I would have to have breast surgery, and that there was a 60 to 80 percent chance that the tumor was malignant. Between that telling and the actual surgery, there was a three-week period of the agony of an involuntary reorganization of my entire life. The surgery was completed, and the growth was benign.

But within those three weeks, I was forced to look upon myself and my living with a harsh and urgent clarity that has left me still shaken but much stronger. This is a situation faced by many women, by some of you here today. Some of what I experienced during that time has helped elucidate for me much of what I feel concerning the transformation of silence into language and action.

In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else's words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my living.

The women who sustained me through that period were Black and white, old and young, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual, and we all shared a war against the tyrannies of silence. They all gave me a strength and concern without which I could not have survived intact. Within those weeks of acute fear came the knowledge  within the war we are all waging with the forces of death, subtle and otherwise, conscious or not  I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself  a Black woman warrior poet doing my work  come to ask you, are you doing yours?

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, "Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don't speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside."

In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear  fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live. Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, Black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism. Even within the women's movement, we have had to fight and still do, for that very visibility which also renders us most vulnerable, our Blackness. For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we  all america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson  that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings. And neither were most of you here today, Black or not. And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.

In my house this year we are celebrating the feast of Kwanza, the African-american festival of harvest which begins the day after Christmas and lasts for seven days. There are seven principles of Kwanza, one for each day. The first principle is Umoja, which means unity, the decision to strive for and maintain unity in self and community. The principle for yesterday, the second day, was Kujichagulia  self-determination  the decision to define ourselves, name ourselves, and speak for ourselves, instead of being defined and spoken for by others. Today is the third day of Kwanza, and the principle for today is Ujima  collective work and responsibility  the decision to build and maintain ourselves and our communities together and to recognize and solve our problems together.

Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.

For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.

And it is never without fear  of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgment, of pain, of death. But we have lived through all of those already, in silence, except death. And I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life long for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective.

And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives. That we not hide behind the mockeries of separations that have been imposed upon us and which so often we accept as our own. For instance, "I can't possibly teach Black women's writing  their experience is so different from mine." Yet how many years have you spent teaching Plato and Shakespeare and Proust? Or another, "She's a white woman and what could she possibly have to say to me?" Or, "She's a lesbian, what would my husband say, or my chairman?" Or again, "This woman writes of her sons and I have no children." And all the other endless ways in which we rob ourselves of ourselves and each other.

We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.

The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.


* Paper delivered at the Modern Language Association's "Lesbian and Literature Panel," Chicago, Illinois, December 28, 1977. First published in Sinister Wisdom 6 (1978) and The Cancer Journals (Spinsters Ink, San Francisco, 1980).



Sunday, November 15, 2015

Terrorist Attacks, ISIS, ISIL, and U.S.-Western Complicity


quote by Noam Chomsky is from here

French president vows war without pity on terroristsNov. 14, 2015 - 1:25 - Francois Hollande addresses media after visiting the Bataclan concert hall

(Source: http://video.foxnews.com/v/4614516815001/french-officials--2-jihadi-sites-destroyed-in-raqqa-syria/?playlist_id=trending#sp=show-clips) 

As I'm sure most of you have heard and seen, terrorist atrocities were committed in Paris this past Friday. Also in Beirut on Thursday. What I am hearing in corporate media is that the white West will even more militantly go after terrorist groups formed in Western, Central, and Southern Asia. What is abbreviated as "ISIS", "ISIL", and any other militant terrorist groups formed in those regions are targeted to be wiped out. So far, the West has not only been unsuccessful at this aim, but has acted in ways that only fuel more terrorism, including our own.

The West's inept effort to stop ISIS and ISIL becomes even more of a sham when we learn that we have a hand in training members of those organizations.

June 26, 2014:
“The United States itself has been complicit in training the members of ISIS in Syria who later came to Iraq and began to input their essentially reign of terror on the Iraqis,” William Beeman, professor of anthropology at The University of Minnesota, told Press TV from Minneapolis. (Source: http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/06/26/368780/us-complicit-in-training-isil-members/)

June 3, 2015:
A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

The revelations contradict the official line of Western governments on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and crackdowns on civil liberties at home.
(Source: https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/secret-pentagon-report-reveals-west-saw-isis-as-strategic-asset-b99ad7a29092)

This is U.S. and Western history across the vast continent of Asia: terrorizing and otherwise destablizing regions of the world, through invasion, occupation, economic exploitation and slavery, resource theft, poisoning military warfare, mass murder, genocide, or all of the above. This is also the history of Europeans in the Americas. 

The West has committed this terrorism for hundreds of years, without pity.






Monday, November 2, 2015

'Other' Black Lives Matter


Photo of the leaders of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza (left), 
Opal Tometi (center) and Patrisse Cullors (right) is from here


In a recent exchange with S Baldwin, here on the blog, SB pointed out that in addition to Black men's lives, and those of Black male youth, there are other lives that also don't matter as far as mainstream media outlets are concerned: those of Black women and Black girls.

What is not new is that Black women's lives get subsumed in the lives of others who are oppressed and systematically killed. "Black people", too often, are sexistly assumed to only be "Black men". In too many dominant social spaces, trans people of any gender are assumed to be white.

All the Women are White, all the Blacks are Men... comes to mind.

I have had the great honor to hear Alicia Garza speak. To me, she is a solid example of "a great leader". She is also the kind of leader the white and male supremacist mainstream, in media or out of it, will unlikely acknowledge as such. Media doesn't like shared titles. Media likes 'the' leader. But Alicia speaks inclusively, which is in itself rare among white progressives or male radicals. She speaks of all the people, past and present, who art part of political struggles. Keeping with that tradition is not conducive to the Great White Male Leader narrative. Alicia speaks of the leadership and purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement, here:
http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29813-building-movements-without-shedding-differences-alicia-garza

An excerpt:
It's really hard for people to wrap their heads around a movement that is full of leaders. That's how our homes work; that's how our communities work; that's how our workplaces work, whether or not we want to talk about it. We're just trying to reflect our own realities. We're trying to create more pathways for more people to participate and engage. If we want a full democracy in this country, we can't just have people following one person. Everyone has to feel like they have a stake in shaping the kind of world that we live in. Otherwise, we get into a situation like the one that we're living in now, where nobody's happy with the leadership that we're getting.  -- Alicia Garza

Here are some links detailing the atrocities. There are many and there are not enough, but few of them come from the white male mainstream.

http://www.theroot.com/articles/news/2015/07/at_least_5_black_women_have_died_in_police_custody_in_july_wtf.html

http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/12/whose-lives-matter-trans-women-color-police-violence/

http://www.womankind.org.uk/2015/05/sayhername-police-brutality-against-black-women-in-the-us/

I have thought often about the fact--to me a truthful one--that whites and men cannot lead us--the whole us--anywhere that is radically life-affirming and justice-bringing.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bill O'Reilly and the Problem of CRAP-loaded Propaganda

The image of Bill O'Reilly is from here

[CRAP is an acronym standing for Corporate Racist Atrocious Patriarchy]

Bill O'Reilly wants your mind.

Here's a synopsis of what he wants everyone to believe, or at least tries to convince others of:

The poor are a threat to the rich, in that they allegedly exploit the rich to get things they don't deserve or aren't entitled to. Capitalism is good. Being a billionaire is enviable and desirable.

Undocumented workers, immigrants, and refugees, particularly if from Mexico or Syria--not of European descent--are a threat to the employment and rule of white/U.S./European working and middle class people, and to mythic ideas about such political/regional heritages. And, again, 'they' exploit the system to garner advantages they are supposedly not entitled to and that ruling classes supposedly do not have.

Black and Brown people allegedly threaten the relative well-being and entitlements of whites.

Women are allegedly threat to men, sexually, economically, socially, and politically. What they threaten is the dominant standing of men and unbridled sexually violent, abusive, harassing, or coercive actions of men.

Islam is allegedly purportedly evil. There are variations on this theme. Muslims allegedly threaten the safety and well-being of non-Muslims, globally. Arab Muslims are allegedly aligned with extremist terrorist's ideologies and practices. The Koran allegedly only promotes violence, especially against the West.

LGBT people are presented, generally, as a joke or source of entertainment for het folks. The socially conservative anti-queer perspective is that we are also a threat to the alleged sanctity of dominant institutions, both religious and secular. Especially marriage. We also pose a risk of recruiting, sexually abusing, or morally corrupting youth.

The globe and all its life is not threatened by corporate environmental destruction.

Now, for some truths:

The rich don't work to increase their wealth. They invest. They don't work to maintain their lives; they hire people for that. The rich exploit corporate capitalism in every way conceivable, through tax loopholes, inheritance, off-shore bank accounts, shared awareness of how the system works, using social connections, arranged marriage, and inheritance laws to hoard wealth. The resources made available to some poor people are paltry and punishing, and are paid for by the labor of other poor people who support the economy rich people exploit. The rich do not generously fund a healthy economy. They greedily ruin it for everyone except themselves.

This economy always has been built on and rests heavily on the unpaid or exploitively paid labor of people who are not white. Work conditions for poorer people are intended to be brutal, exhausting, and dehumanizing. Nothing has changed. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are under attack and continuously are threatened with genocide, which is on-going.

Men's wealth depends on white women's and women of color's unpaid or exploitively paid labor. Men's identities depend on sexual access to, and abuse of, women. Women of color

Islam is a rich complex religious and multi-cultural practice and system of belief rooted in history, like Christianity and Judaism.

LGBT people present alternatives to the dehumanizing reality of heterosexist existence. We are targeted for harassment and murder, particularly and disproportionately when Black and/or poor.

Corporate exploitation of the Earth is the practice of ecocide.

What this reveals to me is something far too many of us in the U.S. may already know: it perpetuates the most typical narratives of this dominant culture. But with particular focus on perpetuating and further entrenching xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and heterosexual normalcy.

Not only that, but such media outlets and popular spokespeople are engaged in very well-crafted propaganda techniques which include:
Panic mongering
Character assassination
Projection
Rewriting history and reinforcing false cultural myths
Scapegoating and 'othering'
Naming resistance to oppression as being dangerous violence or terrorism
Naming U.S. militarized foreign and domestic policy as necessary and peace-making
Bullying of anti-status quo truth-tellers and overt hostility to truths that undermine the status quo
An assault on higher education as a means of truth-gathering; a rejection of academic 'experts' as only biased by liberalism
Diversion and avoidance of substantive engaged subjective sharing of experience and theory-naming

For more on that, see here: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/1964:fourteen-propaganda-techniques-fox-news-uses-to-brainwash-americans

I conclude that Bill O'Reilly is thuggish and bullying propaganda-pusher, along with all Right-wing corporate media and extremist Christian and Jewish media and spokespeople. Their terrorism goes unnamed as such by their media, not surprisingly. They perpetrate all significant manifestations of Earthly evil.



Thursday, April 9, 2015

Andrea Dworkin: Ten Years Gone (September 26, 1946 - April 9, 2005)

image of Andrea's book covers is from here

Ten years ago Nikki Craft got the news and delivered it to me, so sadly.

Andrea died.

There was shock. Disbelief. Questions. Grief.

It was not only hard to believe, but raised a new fear about the future: losing such a pivotal feminist figure in the fight against sexual violence, giving voice to her and other women's past and present, she refused to call male supremacist violence anything other than that. Who would continue to name it and speak against it with such literary passion?

What has happened in the last ten years is the continued proliferation of pornography, and other systems of sexual exploitation and abuse: pimping, brothel-keeping, and trafficking, for example. Hand-held devices mean people of many ages have visual access to raped children and adults, literally at one's fingertips.

Genocides continue against Indigenous people around the world.

There is more slavery than ever.

Corporate greed continues to destroy the Earth, increasingly swiftly.

The Global North and West continues to colonize and exploit the Global South and East.

50 years after Bloody Sunday, white male supremacist atrocities against Black and Brown people is still endemic and normal in the U.S.; the only difference may be some level of recognition and disgust by whites to the ritual harassment and mass murder of Black people by well-organized racist white police forces.

*                    *                    *

April 10th, 2005, Nikki and I got to work immediately--it helped--to create a website, a memorial page, where people could share their grief, memories, and how their lives were effected constructively by Andrea and her writing: http://www.andreadworkin.net/messages/

I got to know her writing starting in my early twenties, like many of my generation. I consumed her essays, books, wanting to read anything and everything she ever wrote.

She shifted my perspective on so many issues, or gave political meaning to experiences I hadn't understood that way.

She effected the trajectory of my activism.

I want to focus, today, on another effect, one not necessarily highlighted when people talk about her.

What I most learned from Andrea, is the necessity of facing painful truths denied by the status quo. And challenging the status quo to stop reinforcing and fueling horror. Of course for that to happen, my society would have to radically change: all white and male supremacist institutions would have to be transformed; violent hierarchies dissolved; systemic exploitation, including from sex and work, deconstructed.

What I learned was to make a perspective into something flexible; to always challenge oneself to stay open to voices of people more marginalised, more silenced. And to use what one knows to inform activism in all spheres of one's life.
The purpose of theory is to clarify the world in which we live, how it works, why things happen as they do. The purpose of theory is understanding. Understanding is energizing. It energizes to action. When theory becomes an impediment to action, it is time to discard the theory and return naked, that is, without theory, to the world of reality. People become slaves to theory because people are used to meeting expectations they have not originated—to doing what they are told, to having everything mapped out, to having reality prepackaged. People can have an antiauthoritarian intention and yet function in a way totally consonant with the demands of authority. The deepest struggle is to root out of us and the institutions in which we participate the requirement that we slavishly conform. But an adherence to ideology, to any ideology, can give us the grand illusion of freedom when in fact we are being manipulated and used by those whom the theory serves. The struggle for freedom has to be a struggle toward integrity defined in every possible sphere of reality—sexual integrity, economic integrity, psychological integrity, integrity of expression, integrity of faith and loyalty and heart. Anything that shortcuts us away from viewing integrity as an essential goal or anything that diverts our attention from integrity as a revolutionary value serves only to reinforce the authoritarian values of the world in which we live.  —  Andrea Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone, U.S. edition, pages 127-128 [Quote added 1/8/2016]
What I have done in the last ten years is decenter whiteness from my political perspective, and from how I see and understand the world. What I have found is that any effort to do this is met with aggressive resistance, just as any challenge to male supremacy is met with hostility.

What I have continued to examine, is the relationship and degree of overlap between white and male supremacy. And to see intersectionality as having to do with multiple positions of marginalisation and powerlessness, beyond identity.

I believe the only way through the atrocities--to end them--is to center the lives and voices of people who virtually never make it into corporate media. To center the forms of resistance and social/economic/political transformation invisibilised people have been employing for decades and centuries. To not assume any expression of whiteness or maleness is universal, transcultural, or ahistorical, even while some forms of oppression have existed for millennia: whenever I have seen this done, it both recenters and redenies the ways whiteness permeates everything as male power permeates everything: differently, similarly, and in ways that shift and transmute.

To honor her, I will continue to listen, learn, remember, and do my work in collaboration with people who don't have the unearned privileges I too often take for granted.

To view the quote more easily, you may click here.








Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Life without Privileges, part 3. A Sweeping Success: The Patna High Court Ruling in favor of Apne Aap's position on prostitution

image of the Patna High Court, Bihar, India

This is the 3rd of a three-part post.
Part 1: click here
Part 2: click here

In a great sweeping judgment, Apne Aap won at the High Court in Patna, Bihar. Please copy and paste what is below and spread it through social media. What follows was written by Ruchira Gupta.


The more mentions this gets online, the more encouraged the judge who worked closely with us would be. It would also support other judges doing something similar.

Here is the link to the judgment by the Patna High Court http://indiankanoon.org/doc/83172639/ on a public interest litigation filed by Apne Aap.

We had asked for the court to ask the police to arrest traffickers and not activists, have special police officers for trafficking cases, social welfare services for both victims and @risk girls in every panchayat (village council), boarding schools for @risk girls, health, education, housing and legal services as well citizenship and subsidy documents for all victims.

We shared Apne Aap's Ten Asset Approach to enroll an @risk girl or victim of trafficking into an Apne Aap network and then help her gain a safe space, education through KGBV (government supported) boarding schools, to karate class, to government IDs and subsidies, to livelihood support, bank accounts and wrap around services for victims including more shelters and more police action against traffickers and clients.

In a sweeping judgment, the court has asked the government of Bihar to tackle trafficking from every angle in every village--from identifying at risk girls in marginalized communities, to keeping track of missing children, to ensuring school for @risk children, to arresting traffickers and clients, to providing citizenship papers and subsidies to @risk women and victims, to providing seed money for small business, to setting up more shelters, to reporting back, to link victims and @risk girls, to wrap around services like housing and counselling. It is truly one of the most comprehensive anti-trafficking judgments in the poorest state of India with a population of 82,998,509 of which 23,852,828 are girls!

This judgment can transform the lives of the most marginalized of them by gaining them access to citizenship and services and justice which has evaded them for centuries.

Ruchira Gupta


The Life without Privilege: the Inhumane Consequences of Pro-Prostitution Politics, part 2. Ruchira Gupta's challenge to the UN


photo of Ruchira Gupta is from here
This is the 2nd in a three-part post.

Part 1: click here
Part 3: click here

What follows is the writing of Ruchira Gupta. Anything in brackets and italics was written by me.  -- Julian

I was the 2015 Woman of Distinction Awardee by the United Nations NGO CSW/NY. I gave the  Keynote speech on International Women's Day, March 8, at Apollo Theatre to 1500 feminist activists from the whole world, who had come to the New York to offer advice and consult with the United Nations at the 59th session of the United Nations meeting on the Commission on the Status of Women.

[The speech may be viewed and heard here, or by clicking on the link @ "Keynote speech" above:]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpnUgqgpXLY

This was 20 years after the big Beijing Women's meeting in 1995 which created a platform for action for the UN and governments to improve the status of women. I had attended the Beijing as a young reporter. Inspired by the survivor testimonies of victims of Domestic Violence I heard at Beijing, I went back in 1996 and completed a documentary,  The Selling of Innocents highlighting the voices of victims of prostitution and sex trafficking. I won an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism and quit journalism to form an NGO, Apne Aap (self-empowerment) Women Worldwide, with the 22 women who had told their stories in my documentary, and had at one time formed a circle around me to protect me from a pimp who had stuck a knife at my throat when I was filming. This was 14 years ago. Apne Aap now has reached more than 20,000 girls, women and their family members  

And now I was honoured by my peer group of NGOs who had given me the CSW NGO/NY Woman of Distinction  award at the UN. I was thrilled. To my dismay I got an email from them on the eve of my keynote speech saying that UN Women had asked them to tell me that " I should not speak on prostitution or put UN Women, " on the spot. I was surprised that the UN was trying to censor an NGO and that they should tell me not to speak on prostitution when my work was with victims of prostitution.

I went ahead and gave a speech which was a call to action to all UN policy makers, governments and NGOs to include the "last" girl as they were drawing up policies and not just represent the viewpoint of the "first" girl. I also asked us as a global family to watch out for backdoor policy creation by some people in the UN who sent out notes and reports by independent experts asking for governments to legalize pimping and brothel keeping. I mentioned how this contradicted  the UN's own Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Protocol to end Trafficking in Persons. 

By asking for legalization of pimping, the UN Women note and an independent UNAIDS report let down the rights of the "last" girl who needed those who exploited her to be punished not protected and certainly not legalized. 

We have still to get an appointment with the UN on this, though we have been trying for two years!


[Details:]

1. On October, 2012, UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS released a report by independent experts titled: ”Sex Work and the Law in Asia and Pacific": On Page 7 of that report, they ask all countries to change laws to decriminalize pimping and brothel keeping. The exact quote is:

"Decriminalization of sex work requires the repeal of laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, including removal of offences relating to soliciting; living on the earnings of sex work; procuring; pimping; the management and operation of brothels; and promoting or advertising services".

2. Apne Aap was shocked by this. Decriminalizing pimping and brothel would give impunity to all those who enslaved hundreds and thousand of girls and lived off selling them to 8-10 customers every night. In January, 2013, We wrote a letter to the head of UN Women saying:

"We ask that UN Women advocate with other UN agencies, as the agency charged with representing the voices of women, to recognize that commercial rape is the same as non-commercial rape and to remove all demands advocating for decriminalizing pimping and brothel-keeping. We want an end to impunity for all those who take advantage of our vulnerabilities to sexually exploit us. We want them to be held accountable and we want laws that penalize and punish them. By calling for the decriminalization of pimping, UN agencies are effectively helping the sex-industry and impeding our access to justice."

This was signed by 61 organizations representing the most vulnerable groups in South Asia and at the very minimum representing more than 150,00,00 people. 

3. We got a note from  UN Women saying they stood by the UNAIDS report:

"UN Women also supports the regulation of sex work in order to protect sex workers from abuse and violence."

4. We asked UN Women to clarify if they meant that regulation of sex work meant decriminalizing pimping and brothel keeping. If they did not agree with this recommendation of UNAIDS they should say so. We were told that we would get a meeting in August, 2013. It is March, 2014 and we have not heard anything. In the meantime, the Chair of the NCW in India says she wants to legalize prostitution by decriminalizing pimping and brothel keeping because that is a UN recommendation.

I have asked UN women to not to recognize JUST the rights of privileged and powerful women, but also of the weakest and last girls as they develop policies and decide budget allocations. I have said while they recognize the right of those with choices to be sex workers, they should recognize the absence of choices of hundred and thousands of prostituted women and girls.

I have also asked UN women not to create the dangerous precedent of creating policies through the backdoor, through notes and reports by independent experts and dilute agreed upon conventions and protocols by member states and civil society.

Ruchira Gupta


The Life without Privilege: the Inhumane Consequences of Pro-Prostitution Politics, part 1

photo of girls learning techniques for empowerment is from here
I sit here now in North America, typing, with a great deal of privilege. Here are a few ways that privilege exhibits itself:
  • I have clean water to drink.
  • I have enough food to eat.
  • I am not economically insecure.
  • I am not designated as dangerous due to my race.
  • I am not presumed a terrorist due to my religious and cultural ethnicity.
  • I am not assumed to be lazy due to my class.
  • I have good health care and choices about who I see for treatment.
  • I have a safe home to live and sleep in.
  • I have privacy when I want it.
  • My socially perceived gender does not target me as 'rapable'.
  • I am not raped daily.
  • My sexual life is not a function of pimps', brothel-keepers', and procurers' economic and sexual demands.
  • I have choices about when and where I am sexually available. I choose not to be sexually available to anyone and am not harassed, beaten, or murdered because of that decision.
  • My body belongs to me.
  • I am generally regarded as a human being with rights to be treated humanely.
  • When I am harmed, what happens to me is seen as harm.
  • Criminal justice systems and prison industrial complexes don't punish and imprison me for unjust reasons.
  • I can see similarly privileged people in the media portrayed as good, honorable, and moral.
  • Men across the globe do not assume I exist for the sole purpose of meeting the demand too many men have for gross sexual exploitation of female human beings, including unlimited visual and physical access to female incest and rape survivors of all ages.
If we went down the list and removed each form of privilege, what might the conditions be that define and limit my life?

I would be poor or economically insecure. Available clean water and nutritious food would not be givens, or easy to get, or reliably available. I'd be perceived and portrayed as a threat to the health and well-being of more privileged people. I'd be seen as someone who ought to endure serial rape and slavery but it would be called something else by the rapists and their apologists: it would be called sex, or sex work, or men having fun with me with my consent. I would not be safe. Violation, denigration, and other forms of violence would be a routine part of daily and nightly life. I would not have a place to sleep that was without threat of invasion, capture, and horrific mistreatment. I would not have any assurance of living another day. In the social-political sense, I would not be human to most people; I'd be invisible, unheard, and disposable.


In some political groups, there appears to be a pressing need to define something one way for everyone, regardless of how various people name their own experiences. For example, straight white men typically define prostitution as harmless and consensual and as something that ought to be legal for all involved. I find such a viewpoint spiritually callous and politically self-serving.


In various parts of the world, different conditions intertwine to make practices with the same name quite different in experience. I accept that each nation and state has its own historic, geographical, cultural, and social dynamics. Challenging and ending various forms of subjugation and terrorism by men against children and women require their own respective approaches. And of course women will define their conditions differently, in part because the conditions are different. So too are the structural locations of various groups of women.


Some identify and experience prostitution as slavery; some identify and experience it as sex work. It certainly is not for me to tell any woman how to define her experience. But engaged conversation can happen and I have asked several women, all young, how their respective plans to be a stripper, or a performer for a pornographer, gets them closer to achieving their longer-term goals. I ask them to consider the consequences of being repeatedly viewed or engaged with as an object of sexist men's desires. I ask them if they'd support their best friends making the same choices.


Promoting international human rights policy is a different matter than engaging with various populations about oppression. I'd argue that any human rights organization created to address globally oppressive conditions ought to be sure the most invisible and most silenced among us are brought into the center of our conversations, considerations, recommendations, and policies. If the organization is male-dominated, it ought to center the experiences of women. If it is majority-white, it ought to centralize the experiences of people of color. As I live in a society that is both, I see no reason not to center the experiences of women of color within and outside this country, especially groups of women generally invisible to the majority of U.S. citizens.


There are on-going efforts in various parts of the world to respond to the reality of prostitution as different populations experience it. There is often confusion among many about the difference between legalization and decriminalization as approaches; there are wide differences about who it is that is needing protection. 


For procuring and pimping men, the protection needed is a condom and appropriate laws making what they do legal. But those men want it also to be legal everywhere they prey. See this link for details on how 100 countries understand and legally deal with prostitution: http://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000772


Legalization of prostitution sometimes means legalizing pimping and brothel-keeping, sometimes not. It sometimes means working to protect only traffickers and procurers from negative consequences, but not always. 


If pimps and procurers in 'First World' countries embrace their nations' efforts to legalize prostitution, or if it is already legal, the lack of accountability to committing rape 'at home' may serve to embolden their predation abroad. If it is not legal, they may travel to countries where it is, in order to commit those rapes with impunity. I support laws that render actions, such as the following, illegal and criminal: purchasing, renting, and physically and sexually abusing children and women--as those children and women define and describe it, not as it is defined for them by men or other more privileged people.


To frame prostitution primarily as a health crisis for predatory men in need of condoms and (even more) liberties is to abandon the human rights abuses endemic in places where trafficking, pimping, procuring, and brothel-keeping are done. Decentering or completely ignoring the perspectives and experiences of female and/or transgender human beings is wrong generally. But to do so from a position of structural or institutional power, even relative power, within human rights organizations, can too easily be utterly callous to the realities done to people who have identified their conditions as deplorable and atrocious.


I believe more privileged people ought to listen carefully to what less privileged people have to say about what is going on in the world. Not only that, but design their laws and policies to support the human rights of the least privileged. This blog exists to challenge and support the uprooting of core wrongs such as male and white supremacy, globalized exploitive capitalism, and 'First World' and anti-Indigenous colonialism, occupation, and genocide.


Newer approaches introduced in the last several years, such as one in Norway, identify a core problem when naming the problem of prostitution:

"A new law has come into force in Norway making the purchase of sex illegal.
Norwegian citizens caught paying for prostitutes at home or abroad could face a hefty fine or a six-month prison sentence, authorities say.
The prison sentence could be extended to three years in cases of child prostitution.
The Norwegian authorities say they want to stamp out sex tourism and street prostitution by targeting clients rather than prostitutes...
The tough new measures go further than similar ones introduced by other Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland.
There has already been a visible decrease in women working on the streets of central Oslo, local media report...
Prostitutes will be offered access to free education and health treatment for those with alcohol or drugs problems."
BBC News, "New Norway Law Bans Buying of Sex," www.news.bbc.co.uk, Jan. 1, 2009
This approach rises out of the work of activists such as Ruchira Gupta and the girls and women who are part of it. In part 2, I shall place her voice, and her experiences with those other women and girls, at the center of this discussion.

Part 2: click here
Part 3: click here