Tag Archives international women´s day

Women’s Week 2023 |“I am a girl, not a woman”: how recognizing diverse girlhoods can foster the inclusion of young mothers in debates on womanhood and girlhood.

Women’s Week 2023 |“I am a girl, not a woman”: how recognizing diverse girlhoods can foster the inclusion of young mothers in debates on womanhood and girlhood.

In Uganda, young mothers are predominantly called women, although some young mothers contest that representation and prefer to be called girls.  The normative insistence on categorizing young mothers as women ...

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, here’s a list of articles we’ve published on women’s struggles for gender equality

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, here’s a list of articles we’ve published on women’s struggles for gender equality

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Today, International Women’s Day is celebrated globally. To mark the occasion, we’re showcasing the blog articles on women’s struggles for gender equality that we’ve published on Bliss over the past ...

There’s so much we still have to do to address gender injustices once and for all

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, but as always, there are some positive developments we can commend and others that we should be horrified about. The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly exacerbated gender injustices and created new gender inequalities. At the same time we can fortunately witness the strengthening of discussions on gender relations and things we’re still doing wrong (and those things we’re setting right). We’ve reached the tip of the iceberg and the rest – the assumptions and silences that perpetuate gender injustices – lurk beneath the surface, a silent colossus standing between us and real progress. In this post, we celebrate attempts to chip away at those parts of gender relations that are less visible, but just as crucial to address.

It’s International Women’s Day again! Who could’ve thought that we’d have gone through so much in just one year’s time? Last year on 8 March, they were still considering whether borders and public spaces should be closed and measures imposed. And here we are. All of us suffered the COVID-19 pandemic. No-one remained unaffected. And I think especially women had a hard time as schools closed, remained closed, and they had to balance jobs with childrearing and other tasks traditionally assigned to them. I take my hat off to each and every woman who has faced adverse circumstances over the past year and who has somehow managed to conquer them.

Bliss has received many contributions over the past year about the pandemic from our academics, who have diverse research interests. We’ve seen discussions about things we hadn’t considered. The vast array of articles on different dimensions of the pandemic helped us make sense of what’s happening and take stock of the bigger picture beyond our unhappiness with lockdown measures and the inconvenience they were causing. Inequalities were and still are worsening, and new injustices emerging as the pandemic rages on globally.

One of the articles that grabbed my attention was an article by ISS alumna María Gabriela Palacio, who flagged the rising inequality in academia due to the pandemic as gendered and racialised. In her article she described how women were struggling to fulfill their academic obligations due to the burden of unpaid work they had to shoulder in addition to their work as academics, which is known to be precarious and demanding. She quoted “a sizeable social gradient in the extent to which families feel able to support their children and provide home schooling”.

This growing inequality in academia, which is already highly unequal, needs to remain a topic of discussion. It shouldn’t be normalised or dismissed. Women who manage to do so much and remain standing are superheroes in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean that we should assume that they want to be superheroes.

Another regular author on Bliss, Professor Thea Hilhorst, is also talking about gender relations. But she has a somewhat different focus: the plight of men. At least in the article published today in Dutch newspaper Trouw, where she turned the notion of toxic masculinity ever so slightly on its head by arguing that men have feelings, too, and that we also need them to be involved in reconstructing societies ravaged by conflicts.

Hilhorst, Professor in Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at ISS, argues that men need to be included in post-conflict reconstruction efforts because conflict gives rise to new or perhaps worse forms of toxic masculinity that remain long after conflicts are over. New perceptions of masculinity may emerge as women’s role is strengthened during conflicts or wars when they assume duties typically considered those of men. And during wars, men also resort to sexual violence and the torturing of civilians – something that remains in their conscience and perceptions of masculinity once the war or conflict has passed.

Men need to find themselves in the post-war reconstruction, as they’ve lost their identity twice – when the conflict started, and when it ended. Neglecting them can lead to greater toxic masculinity as they feel worthless and invisibilised. Thus, not losing sight of men is necessary to strengthen the position of women in society – it’s a dual process in which toxic masculinity is addressed and men given the room to explore alternative identities while women are supported. “A bird needs both its wings to fly,” goes a saying from the DRC that Hilhorst quotes.

Linking to this discussion, in 2018 on Bliss, Hilhorst, Holly Porter and Rachel Gordon in an article titled ‘Challenging humanitarianism beyond gender as women and women as victims’ called on aid organisations to tread carefully in programming gender relations. Echoing Hilhorst’ argument above, they argued that forgetting about men could lead to problems “ranging from mental health problems […] to the (violent) re-assertion of men and masculinities”. And, they argued, by seeing women as primary victims and primarily as victims, “other realities in which men and women assume different and more complex roles” are obscured.

Just over a year ago Christo Gorpudolo also argued on Bliss for the need to move beyond the notion of women as victims of war. She focused on a transitional justice mechanism in Liberia following the country’s long period of civil war and how framing women as victims was not helping the process. Importantly, she highlighted the need to equalize men and women in the peacebuilding process. “A way of approaching peacebuilding in Liberia in order to achieve a gender-just peacebuilding process would be to incorporate both men and women in the peacebuilding process based on their lived experiences—as equals and not necessarily according to a victim-perpetrator dichotomy,” she commented.

And besides reconsidering those who remain women throughout their lives are framed in gender programs and other interventions, we also need to consider the particular problems that queer women face. Back in November 2017, Heather Tucker on Bliss discussed the need to focus on the needs of queer women in Ghana in their own right. Tucker’s ethnographic study in Accra revealed that broader approaches to tackling issues affecting LBGTI+ communities fail to adequately recognise the particularity of problems affecting queer women.

Labeling is just one problematic aspect of the experiences of queer women. For example, the term ‘lesbian’ as it has come to be understood does not adequately reflect the dynamics of same-sex relationships in Ghana, where the term supi is used (she writes how it describes a relationship, not an identity, and how this relationship is defined as one between two women that is intimate and might or might not be sexual in nature). “It is therefore critically important,” Tucker argued, “that donors who are involved in funding queer projects pay attention to the specific nuances, needs, and desires of those they are trying to support.”

This small selection of articles on Bliss (there are many others that are just as interesting – see here and here and here, for example), shows just how much we still need to discuss about gender, and how much we still have to do to change it.

But we are starting to make the change ourselves – and this is crucial. The sentence above (‘how much we still have to do to change it’) is an invitation not to sit back and think of ‘what needs to be changed’, but for each and every one of us to get involved in redressing gender injustices.

Lastly, I want to particularly thank the female academics who have written for Bliss on gender-related, but also on other issues. It’s inspiring to know that the conversation on gender is continuing, but also that women are driving conversations in academia. Chapeau! And happy International Womens’ Day to all women!

About the author:

Lize Swartz

Lize Swartz is the editor-in-chief of ISS Blog Bliss and a PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, where she researches political dynamics of socio-hydrological systems. She is part of the newly formed Transformative Methodologies Working Group situated in the Civic Innovation Research Group

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Women’s Month 2019 | Sex selection: an ordinary or violent act? by Christo Gorpudolo

Women’s Month 2019 | Sex selection: an ordinary or violent act? by Christo Gorpudolo

According to the United Nations Population Fund, there is a variation in the ratio of male to female birth—since the 1990s, 25% more male births than female have been recorded ...

Women’s Month 2019 | ‘Empty’ laws and Peruvian women’s ongoing struggle for therapeutic abortion by Zoya Waheed and Romina Manga Cambria

Women’s Month 2019 | ‘Empty’ laws and Peruvian women’s ongoing struggle for therapeutic abortion by Zoya Waheed and Romina Manga Cambria

Laws and regulations are policy tools that are seen as strong and effective in securing rights, but should we assume that this is always the case? Looking at therapeutic abortion, ...

Women’s Month 2019 | Seed keepers, memory keepers: native women and food sovereignty by Leila Rezvani

When North America was colonised, the relationship of indigenous people with food was also colonised. But a group of women acting as seed keepers for their communities are fighting back, practicing decolonisation in their daily work and addressing the legacy of food colonisation through the reclamation of seeds and the traditions, practices, and affective relations that nurture human-plant-environment relationships and keep Native communities thriving, healthy, and connected.

Understanding the colonisation of North America begins with understanding food. Europeans thought that Natives could be ‘civilized’ through their stomachs. Targeting Native diets and methods of food provisioning was a way to control and disempower. Native populations of humans, non-human animals, and plants were decimated due to disease and violence. In what is now called the United States, native groups were forced onto individual allotments, often marginal land away from ancestral homes. Sedentary farming was viewed as the rational form of land use, shaping the native in the white yeoman farmer’s image.

And in residential schools, Native languages, dress and diets were forcefully repressed and replaced with English, European clothing and foods like wheat and dairy, which were largely absent from Native diets previously (Vernon 2015).

The legacy of this physical and cultural violence is clear: today, at least 60 Native reservations struggle with food insecurity, and Native families are four times as likely as other US families to report having not enough to eat (PWNA 2017). This places many Native communities in a relationship of dependence with the US Government: the USDA provides canned goods, powdered milk, processed cheese and white sugar, contributing directly to high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (Vernon 2015).

Fighting back

Native women are addressing the legacy of food colonisation by asserting their communities’ right to grow food for themselves—food that nourishes human bodies, cultural tradition, and the wider web of non-human species and environments. These women and the groups they work with not only promote food sovereignty but practice it: Winona La Duke of the Anishinnaabe founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which bought back 1,200 acres of tribal land that had been appropriated by the US government and began a project to revive the collection of wild rice, an important traditional food.

Rowen White of the Mohawk Nation founded Sierra Seeds, a company selling locally adapted and heritage varieties, and directs the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network (ISKN). In the winter of 2018, the ISKN came to an agreement with Seed Savers Exchange, a public access seedbank of rare and heritage varieties, to identify and rematriate[1] varieties of corn, beans and squash that originated in Native communities (White, n.d.).

Rufina Juarez, a Chicana Indigenous woman, helped organise the 14-acere South Central Farm, maintained by 350 primarily Central American families as a space to grow culturally appropriate, nourishing food in 20-by-30-foot plots. The farm was a haven for immigrants to grow food that connected them to the places they left behind: nopales, corn, squash, tlapanche and papalo greens, lettuces, strawberries, cabbages (Mark 2006). The farm was bulldozed in 2006 even after farm advocates were able to raise money to meet the $16 million asking price. (Juarez 2010, Gordon 2006).

And still, new challenges constantly arise: climate change alters traditional migratory routes of important game animals like caribou, land grabbing for industrial monocropping or extraction removes land from indigenous stewardship, and biopiracy[2] and corporate consolidation of the seed industry deteriorates crop biodiversity (Cultural Survival 2013). Native women continue to organise in the face of these challenges, recognising that colonisation is an ongoing, evolving process, deeply tied to the machinations of globalised capital.

Enduring practices

The work of seed keeping and the maintenance of community tradition it entails is often, but not exclusively, spearheaded by women. Collaboration between many stakeholders, Native or not, young and old, male, female, or otherwise, is key. I chose to highlight these initiatives because women are central and powerful, but are not burdened with speaking for ‘nature’, from an essentialised, gender-based position. Rather, their work builds on traditions of care, affectivity, and community network building that women and others have performed for generations, throughout the trauma of colonisation and the attempted, but unsuccessful, erasure of native foodways.

[1] “Rematriate” means returning the seeds to their place of origin. “Repatriate” is more commonly used, but here I chose to retain the word used in White’s article, which consciously imputes a feminine quality to the seed and the land to which it is returning.

[2] Biopiracy describes the process by which biological or genetic material (commonly from medicinal or crop plant or animal species) is obtained and exploited for commercial use without the knowledge or consent of the original ‘owners’ or stewards of the material. The most common situation is multinational pharmaceutical or agrochemical/seed companies using indigenous plant knowledge to locate commercially valuable species, stela them, and then patent them so they become exclusive property of the corporation. The term was originally coined by Pat Mooney of the ETC Group and popularized by Vandana Shiva of Navdanya.

‘Combating Food Insecurity on Native American Reservations'(2017) , pp. 1-4Partnership with Native Americans and Northern Plains Reservation Aid.
‘Maintaining the Ways of our Ancestors: Indigenous Women Address Food Sovereignty’ (Last updated 13 October 2013) (a webpage of Cultural Survival). Accessed 16 February 2019 <https://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/maintaining-ways-our-ancestors-indigenous-women-address-food-sovereignty>.
Alvarez, L. (Last updated 2019) ‘Colonization, Food, and the Practice of Eating’ (a webpage of The Food Empowerment Project). Accessed 13 February 2019 <http://www.foodispower.org/colonization-food-and-the-practice-of-eating/>.
Gordon (14 June 2006) ‘LA’s South Central Farm Shut Down and Bulldozed’ Tree Hugger. Accessed 16 February 2019 <https://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/las-south-central-farm-shut-down-and-bulldozed.html>.
Mark (9 June 2006) ‘Could the battle for South Central Farm be coming to a close?’ Grist. Accessed 25 February 2019 <https://grist.org/article/mark2/>.
Juarez, R. (2010) ‘Indigenous Women in the Food Justice and Sovereignty Movement: Lessons from the South Central Farm’, NACCS Annual Conference: Chicana/o Environmental Justice Struggles for a Post-Neoliberal Age, 1 April 2010. San Jose State University pp1-10.
Vernon, R.V. (2015) ‘A Native Perspective: Food is More than Consumption’, Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 5(4): 137-142.
White, R. ‘Indigenous Seed Keepers Network: The Long Way Home; Seed Rematriation at Taos Pueblo’ (a webpage of Native Food Alliance). Accessed 13 February 2019 <https://nativefoodalliance.org/indigenous-seedkeepers-network/>.

This article is part of the series `Women´s Month 2019´, in which members of the ISS gender committee reflect on women´s issues on Bliss.

Image Credit: https://www.stopthewall.org/apartheid-wrong

About the author:

leilaLeila Rezvani is a Master’s student in the AFES major. She comes from Southern Vermont, USA, and is interested in the politics of scientific knowledge production, seed systems, plant breeding and thinking about how the agro-food system could be more just for plants, people and non-human animals. She misses the mountains and hopes to work for a small seed company or farm someday (soon).