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Activists Tie Occupy Movement to Global Gender Rights

Sandra Siagian

A woman holds a sign at Occupy Wall Street. Credit: Timothy Krause/CC BY 2.0

A woman holds a sign at Occupy Wall Street. Credit: Timothy Krause/CC BY 2.0

NEW YORK, Nov 21 2011 (IPS) - On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25, a group of feminist organisations will unite to launch a campaign calling for an end of the “immoral and unethical economy of Wall Street” against women and people of colour.

The Clear Action for/by Women (CLAW) coalition, which includes AF3IRM, Black Women’s Blueprint, Feminism Now Podcast, ANSWER/PSL and Sister Song, are demanding a more “ethical and equitable economy and to end the deliberate victimisation of women and of communities and even nations of colour.”

Organisers are planning to take advantage of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement by injecting some feminist and women of colour perspective, with their own speak-out assembly, rally and march from New York’s Battery Park to Zuccotti Park Friday.

“The other organisations realised they were working on the same idea, so we decided to kick off the 16 days against gender violence with a joint campaign,” Leilani Montes, an organiser from AF3IRM, told IPS. “Not only will this be a great way to start the campaign, but it will also be a great opportunity to be part of the OWS movement.”

Farah Tanis, co-founder and executive director of Black Women’s Blueprint, told IPS that she viewed their human rights campaign, in a context over 16 days, in the same light as the OWS movement.

“Basically centring women’s issues and anti-racism race issues right within the context of the economic justice movement is how I’m seeing the OWS movement,” said Tanis. “To place women and place people of colour squarely within the context of that economic justice movement and that to us is really a human rights approach. I mean you can’t really separate the right to an adequate standard of living is what we’re talking about.”

Tanis said their campaign would amplify the voices of women and focus on different intersections with women.

“This is about years and centuries of abuse, economic abuse against women, economic abuse against people of colour,” Tanis told IPS.

“This has sort of been swept under the rug and that’s why not too many of us have been represented in movements like the occupy, so we’re bringing in the historical context and we’re trying to highlight and show that historically, we have been kept out of the economic justice movement and we see this as an extension of the civil rights movement in terms of economic justice and economic equity that takes into consideration our race and gender.”

Bridging the gap

According to AF3IRM, Wall Street’s war against women has left 21 million impoverished women in the U.S. and a 500-percent increase in the number of jailed women. Their figures also revealed that more than 200,000 women are sexually assaulted every year, with women under 24 showing the highest rates of abuse.

In a New York Women’s Foundation 2009 report, “The Economic Status of Women of Color in New York State”, found that despite having the highest rate of participation in the labour force, black and Latina women lagged behind white and Asian women in terms of earnings.

2010 Census data supported the reality that women were poorer than men in all racial and ethnic groups, with the gap in poverty rates between men and women wider in the United States than anywhere else in the Western world.

Women of colour earned lower wages than white women as well as their male counterparts. U.S. Bureau of Labor Stats 2011 revealed that the median weekly wage for black women was 605 dollars and 510 dollars for Latina women, compared to 695 dollars for white women.

Tanis said beyond the financial ties, healthcare was another strong element that lacked equal support.

“What poverty means to a woman is very different to what poverty means to a man or for someone who has white privileges or access to resources,” Tanis said.

“For women in poverty, lack of healthcare means the lack of a gynaecologist and reproductive care. Therefore there is an increased risk for reproductive cancers, an increased inability to do preventative care in terms of hearth health, HIV screening. All of these things are linked together for us at the intersection.”

While Tanis and Montes both have strong support for the OWS movement, one of their concerns regarded the violence and reported sexism or discrimination against women at the protests.

“While we support the core message in terms of the 99 percent, we want to make sure there are safe places for people of colour,” Montes told IPS. “These need to be safe spaces for women and these are really the messages that we want to take down there and frame it within the historical context in terms of when we talk about truth commission.

Continuous space

While the organisers admit they don’t know the exact direction or longevity of their campaign, they did make the decision to remain active and create a space where women could come together and be proactive around the issues of violence against women.

“There are other spaces of existence, but we can never have enough spaces to continue our work,” Montes told IPS. “I would like to see the Nov. 25 coalition, we may need to call it something else as it continues to evolve, but I would like to see us continue to strategise for years to come and not just be reactive but be proactive around those.”

“The event will raise the potential for us to move forward with confidence and a learning pad. This is just the beginning,” she said.

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