Women should stop working now!

Since the 3rd of November 2021 at 9.22 am women in France have been working for free. This year, the pay gap between women and men is estimated to be around 16.5% and has worsened since 2020. Women are also in more precarious jobs since they are 83% of the part-timers. Generally in the OECD, the average pay gap is 15%. In the UK eight companies out of ten pay women less than men.

Additionally, a report by PWC shows the pandemic has also impacted women greatly since women have been losing their jobs faster than men. These inequalities are also obviously intersectional as this gap is worse for people and women of colour. For instance, NHS data reveals that black men are paid 84p for every £1 earned by their white male counterparts. Women of colour are also less likely than white women to receive a higher education certificate, which means that from the start they are disadvantaged when it comes to equal opportunity and higher salaries.

This concept of equal opportunity is better understood with the idea of the glass-ceiling, a term coined by Marilyn Loden in 1978 which plays a significant part in society today, as women are far from receiving salaries and positions equal to their male counterparts. Indeed, it is not only the pay gaps that matter, but the opportunities women have and how women perceive themselves in the working environment. It is not only the patriarchal system that slows us from accessing equal pay, but also psychological barriers that restrain us from seeing ourselves at the top.

This notion is very much intertwined with a problem of representation in pop culture among other things. Women are less often in positions of power and are too often sexualised. For instance, in over 1300 movies in 2019 women and girls represented only 34% of the speaking characters. In the top 100 films, 68% of female characters were white and 94% of these films had no female-identified LGBTQ characters.

We are also used to identifying with male characters in movies and series because women are still very much invisibilised* in mainstream movies and series. I recently came across the work of Jennifer Padjemi, a French journalist who explains the difference between the visibility (visibilité) and representation concept in pop culture. She sees a difference in how movies and series often make minorities visible but less often represent them in detail by giving them a back story and a real voice. I think this process of increasing the representation of people of colour and women in pop culture is needed in today’s world. We can give as much data as we want on how women and minority groups get paid less than white cis-het men but if we do not show that everyone can do the same job,  how are we even supposed to understand that we can do it?

*This word is here to understand the notion of visibility/invisibility, the notion was coined by J.Padjemi, even though it is not a proper English word it is important to use it to understand her argument. 

Image: Wikicommons

South Africa and its ‘Staggering Economy’

https://commons.wikimedia.org/

South Africa’s ‘Rainbow nation’, defined by its generational struggle for racial equality, has one of the  highest inequality rates in the world.  South Africa is unfortunately a country in which violence and state dysfunction continues to grow, and over many years these conditions have produced imminent mass unrest. 

Jacob Zuma has been described as both a tyrant and a saviour, but his supporters and detractors agree on one thing: he is a political survivor. Since apartheid, South Africa has done everything it could to move on from its turbulent and violent past, presenting an example of viable, if not successful, political transition. Leading that process in 1994 was the former president Nelson Mandela and his party the ANC. More than twenty years later, the ANC remains in power, currently on its fifth consecutive election victory, led by their second term President, Jacob Zuma. However, during this election cycle, South Africa was confronted with a governance crisis and a stagnating economy, with Zuma at the centre of it all. 

Although Zuma is known to have been involved in corruption in the past, including money laundering and racketeering stemming from a $2.5 billion (£1.98bn) in 1999, as well as accusations of raping a family friend in 2005 (albeit acquitted a year later), harming the reputation of the ANC and himself, it is his current activities which have done serious damage to South Africa to which his corruption nonetheless translates today. 

It was not the poverty, violence in the streets or rising unemployment that triggered the worst unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid. Rather, it was the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma on July 7th, 2021 that unleashed mayhem in South Africa’s two most popular provinces, Gauteng and Zuma’s hometown, KwaZulu-Natal. Lootings, violence, and the burning of vehicles, buildings and shopping centres, has left over one billion rand worth of damage and destruction. Protests, clashes with the police, vigilante attacks and stampedes have killed more than 330 people and the army, 25,000 South African National Defense Force soldiers being deployed by South Africa’s current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to quell the violence to afflicted areas, the largest deployment of troops since the advent of democracy in 1994.

Reports suggest that attacks on the streets were part of an effort to sabotage the economy, and destabilise South Africa’s democracy, raising a bigger question: were the riots politically motivated action taken by defenders of  Zuma? As Ramaphosa has said, “…the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack…”. Alternatively, the riots may have been the expression of outrage at insufficient punishments imposed on Zuma. 

On the 29th of June, the constitutional court issued a fifteen-month prison sentence to Zuma for failing to provide evidence of his innocence to numerous corruption scandals during his presidency. To which, many of those scandals are closely related to the two brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta who own one of the largest enterprises in Johannesburg, Oakbay Investments Ltd – which range from mining to real-estate to news and media. Their relationship with Zuma has caused issues over the years and is without doubt, complicated. Reports suggest that the relationship between the Gupta brothers and Zuma was more business than personal; Zuma would finance them with state funds in exchange for positive representation through Gupta’s media outlets. Therefore, anything close to the truth would be kept hidden and the world would be none-the-wiser until it’s too late. 

However, systemic economic corruption has always been a concern for South Africa particularly among politicians and businessmen, fat-cats, who draw their wealth from state funds, whilst neglecting a staggering economic crisis. The combination of mass unemployment and rises in the cost of living has resulted in citizens, young and old, being forced into starvation. So as the wealthy drain state funds and line their pockets, the impoverished suffer, having food taken out of their hands with opportunities for work few and far between. 

A notable example of such corruption is Gavin Watson, also known as the Kingpin of Bribes, who became headline news in 2019 for bribing officials. The testimony of four whistleblowers showed that Watson’s company, Bosasa (notably, prison services) garnered state contracts worth $140 million dollars between 2000 and 2016; all former Bosasa executives were paid around $5 million dollars in bribes. The whistleblowers alleged an operation that generated cash through money laundering and then distributed it to buy influence, secure contracts and prevent prosecutions. Transactions were described as cash stuffed into Louis Vuitton bags as gifts and handed over in monthly installments on the side of the highway. Unsurprisingly, Zuma was also at the centre of this scheme, playing a role in Watson’s case during investigations in 2007. Officials have gone as far as confirming that Watson paid Zuma a fee to stop the prosecution of his company and himself. Even Ramaphosa, elected on the promise of being a voice of reason and sweeping away systemic corruption, also accepted a fee from Watson to help with his campaign strategy. 

Moreover, this corruption expresses itself in a nation that is still deeply affected by its recent colonial past, amplifying the consequences of injustice along racial lines. So as African resources are developed and sold ostensibly to give greater share to the Black population, the economy remains overwhelmingly in the control of White owners. 
The evidence presented here shows how easy it is to manipulate the system. Just like Watson, his colleagues, former and current Presidents, and the Gupta Brothers, have all abused the system to the exclusive benefit of themselves and ‘have captured the organs of the state to do so’.

Save Sheikh Jarrah: Forced Expulsions of Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem

The Palestinian neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, north of the Old City, is yet again at the forefront of Israeli settler colonialism, as dozens of Palestinians are facing forced expulsion from their homes. Simultaneously, footage of Palestinian protests against the dispossession, Israeli border police firing skunk water at Palestinian sit-ins, and Israeli police assaulting unarmed Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan have been shared (and partly censored) on social media globally. 

But why are Palestinian families who have lived in their houses for decades facing eviction to make way for Israeli settlers? And how is the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which has triggered recent escalations, related to the general policies of Apartheid Israel? 

Why Palestinian families face eviction in Sheikh Jarrah

The decision made by the Jerusalem District Court to forcibly dispossess six Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in May and another seven families in August, is based on developments dating back to 1956. During that time, when the West Bank and East Jerusalem were still under the mandate of Jordan, a deal between Jordan, the UNRWA and Palestinian refugees from Yafa and Haifa displaced in the 1948 war was reached. With this deal, 28 Palestinian refugee families were promised deeds to houses they would receive as part of a humanitarian initiative in return for the revocation of their refugee status. However, the promise of property deeds has never materialised, and after the 1967 war East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel. Ever since, Israeli settler organisations have filed legal actions to claim the houses as their own (despite the fact that East Jerusalem is Palestinian land which is only occupied by Israel), leading Palestinian families to live in their homes with the constant fear of “if they steal our land”

Israeli settlers in front of the house of the Palestinian Ghawi family seized by the Israeli occupation

Ethnic cleansing vs. Real estate dispute

The most recent Jerusalem District Court decision and the impending evictions put Palestinian Jerusalemites at risk of not only losing their homes, but also one of their remaining neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, which is still resisting Israeli settler colonialism. At the same time, the court decision represents just one among a long history of legally sanctioned eviction and dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Following a policy dating back to the time of Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, the gradual expulsion and settler colonialism have successfully obscured the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Accordingly, the Israeli government now tries yet again to hide its settler colonial project by preventing large parts of the press and society from entering the neighbourhood. Palestinians like Mohammed el-Kurd, a member of one of the families facing evictions, however, counteract that policy by sharing their struggle over social media.  

Mohammed el-Kurd, 7 May on Twitter

Mohammed el-Kurd, 7 May on Twitter

Mohammed el-Kurd, 7 May on Twitter

Rather than trying to save face in this situation, the Israeli Foreign Minister’s description of  the evictions as a “real estate dispute between private parties” underlines Israel’s open and systemic racism. 

While Palestinians, whose very existence is threatened, are still waiting for a final decision by the Jerusalem District Court on the appeal against the expulsions, a number of European governments are issuing statements calling “on both sides to […] resume a credible and meaningful dialogue”. The only question is how long it will take before the world finally realises that this is not about “two sides”, but about an Apartheid system which will continue to commit war crimes unless the international community finally recognises the systematic ethnic cleansing and takes actions. 

Note: This article has been written before the most recent escalations in Jerusalem and Gaza. For more information on the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, visit here:
Mohammed el-Kurd
Muna el-Kurd


It’s the fact that…

Sign at Women’s March 2019, Kuala Lumpur.

Taken from https://unsplash.com/photos/LXUR8IWa0i0

It’s the fact that…

It’s the fact that growing up I was repeatedly told “Don’t talk to strange men”, “Don’t walk home alone at night”, “Don’t take the same road from and to school”, “Don’t leave your drink out of your sight when you are out”, “Don’t walk alone with your headphones on” “Don’t…”, “Don’t…”, “Don’t…”

It’s the fact that when I do walk alone I always overthink it. I am always afraid, I see everyone as a threat. I think of all the possible escape routes or the ninja moves I’ll use to defend myself, I call my friends, I share my location, I put my keys around my fingers, I wear my trainers so I can run, I hide my hair under my hoodie, I cross the road so I won’t be catcalled, I am doing my best to be invisible.

It’s the fact that I have to do all this in the first place. Why do I have to do all this? Why?

It’s the fact that I can’t enjoy walking alone, especially at night, because I drown in anxiety, my heart beats out of my chest louder than the footsteps behind me. My palms sweat and my mouth dries.

It’s the fact that I have to feel like this in the first place. Why do I have to feel like this? Why?

It’s the fact that I know there is an invisible fear lurking around the corner, just a thread away from becoming a reality.

It’s the fact that if my fear leaves its corner I will be blamed for it. “What were you wearing?”, “How much did you drink?”, “Why were you walking alone?” … “Oh honey, it happens all the time.”

It’s the fact that society always tells me how to dress, how much I am allowed to drink, how and where to walk, how to behave in public, how to have fun…how to exist.

It’s the fact that just like that my freedom is being taken away from me.

It’s the fact that I sometimes wonder if I could ever be free. Am I free? Is any woman ever, really free?

It’s the fact that I feel defeated.

And I am sick of it…

Refugees Welcome? Islamophobia and the US Refugee Admissions Program

Author’s photo

There was a time, not long ago, when demonstrating support for the United States refugee resettlement program was not considered an overtly political statement. This is no longer the case. 

The issue has gained unprecedented political salience in the last five years. In the US, the Trump administration used Islamophobia to systematically dismantle the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). How have these Islamophobic policies impacted international and domestic refugee partners? And how can the program rebuild? 

Anti-Muslim discourse has been growing in the US since 2001. As Hanna Uihlein pointed out in a recent piece, politicians on both sides of the Congressional aisle have frequently used coded Islamophobic discourse as policy justification. This Anti-Muslim rhetoric was operationalised more explicitly under the Trump administration. As the anti-immigration platform led to shouts for a wall and the proliferation of derogatory stereotypes, ‘refugee’ and ‘Syria’ became articulated alongside calls for a ‘Muslim ban’ (1). Fueled by an administration vehemently opposed to the USRAP, the ban became official US policy. The presidential order prohibited the entry of foreign nationals from a number of Muslim-majority countries and simultaneously halted all refugee resettlement to the US for 120 days. A subsequent order blocked the resettlement (and all entry) of Syrian and Somalian individuals indefinitely. 

These executive orders were followed by years of historically low numbers of individuals approved for resettlement under the annual presidential directive. USRAP had experienced a high degree of bipartisan support since its inception in 1980, and resettlement numbers had remained relatively stable regardless of the party in power.  USRAP was already the most difficult and extensively vetted channel by which an individual could enter the US. Nevertheless ‘extreme vetting’ became a Trumpian trope-cum-policy that introduced processes so restrictive as to be effectively prohibitive. New restrictions targeted nationals from “high-risk countries” to submit to additional screenings. The removal of the ‘needs-based’ component in favor of categories such as ‘certain religious minorities’ also served to limit prospects for resettlement among Muslim refugees. Domestic resettlement agencies were intentionally dismantled through the introduction of several arbitrary restrictions. In some instances, agencies were forced to closed as a result of these new policies.  

As a result of Islamophobic policies aimed at destroying the USRAP, many individuals and families previously approved for resettlement have been left in limbo for years. Time-sensitive security clearances and medical checks have since expired and will have to be re-administered before departure. More troubling, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would be closing the agency’s international offices, and in doing so recalling agents who conduct required interviews for refugee applicants. 

This startling national reversal had the presumably desired impact of drastically reducing both overall refugee admissions and further slashing arrivals from Muslim countries. This is an especially startling trend considering that in “each year over the past decade, about two-thirds of refugees living outside of their birth country have come from Muslim-majority countries” (Pew). Now, only a handful of individuals are currently approved for departure via the US resettlement pipeline. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the situation. Here it is worth returning to the point that hateful rhetoric and discrimination on the grounds of religion were the primary, if not the exclusive, basis and justification for this legislation.

The impact of Islamophobia on USRAP will have far-reaching implications for the resettlement program for years to come.Rebuilding this program will require dedicated policy changes. Although the incoming administration faces a number of daunting challenges in the coming weeks, Joe Biden has not ranked the USRAP as a priority for his first 100 days in office. This is regrettable as the program will require ample time to resume operations at its previous capacity. International processes have to be restaffed before the backlog of applications can be addressed. Domestic agencies will need additional support to reinstate operational capacity. Finally, rebuilding USRAP will require inclusive rhetoric on every level to dismantle the Islamophobic discourse – coded and overt – propagated by the Trump administration in an effort to build more welcoming communities.

(1)This articulation relied heavily on misconstruing and manipulating tragic events to fit amongst existing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration framework/discourse. This ability of discursive power to spread misinformation through brute force and repetition was recently demonstrated at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

Violence and Dissent in Modi’s India

2014 was a turning point for India. The year marked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victory. The BJP government not only won, but also dominated the election by winning with a majority–the first of this kind of majority in twenty years. Though the election was won on the promises of development, the creation of different employment opportunities, and agricultural reforms, the BJP-led government has failed at keeping these promises.

Instead of the creation of a better society, the country has witnessed a rise in intolerance towards minorities, increased violence, and suppression of any form of dissent against the party in power. Furthermore, the conflict within Kashmir has further deteriorated under Modi’s rule, with an increase in civilian as well as military officials’ deaths.

In Modi’s India, questioning the state has led to online trolling, arrests, and even killings of those who dare to publicly voice their dissent against the government. The Bhima Koregoan commemoration emphasizes the silencing of dissent and violence in Modi’s India and demonstrates why the Modi government is a threat to the diversity and democracy in India.

In order to shed light on the recent atrocities being committed by the government, the SOAS India Society organized an panel titled, ‘Violence and Dissent in Modi’s India,’ to discuss the violence surrounding the Bhima Koregoan case. On New Year’s Eve, 2017, thousands of lower-caste Hindus–who are known as Dalits–gathered at the Bhima Koregoan war memorial to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Anglo-Maratha war.

The commemoration is significant; it was organized to pay respects to the fighters of the Mahar regiment who fought against the upper-caste regiment and won the battle. Though the commemoration was a peaceful celebration, it soon turned violent when the attendees were attacked by upper-caste Maratha groups. Following the violence, instead of the arrests of those who incited the violence, local police arrested various activists and attendees.

Though the violence was only perpetrated against harmless attendees, it was followed by nation-wide harassment and the arrests of scholars and activists who publicly spoke against the crushing of dissent and curbing of freedom of speech in Modi’s India.

The panel at Violence and Dissent in Modi’s India consisted of three panellists who explored on the violence surrounding the Bhima Koregoan case. The first speaker, Dr Mayur Suresh, is a lecturer in Law at SOAS, University of London. Due to his law background, Dr Suresh focused on the law under which those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case were charged by the police: the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Put into effect following the second emergency period in India (1967), UAPA was enacted as a response to two separatist campaigns.

A recent amendment was made to the law in 2002, which expanded UAPA to include POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act). Hence, with the introduction of this act, the events of Bhima Koregaon or lower-caste assertion were being linked to terrorism. This is evident as the first information report (FIR) filed by the upper-caste Maratha group,s who attacked the attendees of the Bhima Koregoan commemoration event, emphasized the violence as a response to the speeches being made at the event.

The law is highly problematic as it enables the state to arrest the accused for a time period of six months of longer without providing the accused with the relevant information about the charges for which they are being convicted.

Furthermore, arrestees cannot attain the granting of bail. Not only does this law act as a threat to freedom of speech, it also enables the state to practice draconian laws and arrest any individual they view as a threat without substantial evidence. Dr Suresh highlighted how the law is a key tool used by the state to curb dissent.

The second speaker, advocate Susan Abraham, is a lawyer and human rights activist. She emphasizes how the violence that was unleashed on the attendees on 1 January led to a greater movement of people from the Dalit community, who came together for a state-wide strike in protest of the violence perpetrated by Hindutva groups. No action was taken, nor was any judgement passed in January.

Following the violence that occurred during the Bhima Koregoan commemoration, months later on 6June, the government of Maharashtra issued the arrests of prominent scholars and activists related to the Bhima Koregaon commemoration violence, including Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Surendra Gadling, and Shoma Sen. They were arrested, with terrorism related charges, under UAPA five months after the event. In addition to the brutality unleashed by the state by imposing this law, the five individuals were arrested on the premise that they were plotting collectively to assassinate Prime Minister Modi. During the arrests, not only were they assaulted by the police, but their laptops and documents were seized.

Despite wide-scale protests domestically and on an international level, the government refused to allow bail for the activists involved and declared war on “urban naxals.” This term is used to label those who dissent against the government in power and the enemies within India who “act as a threat to the integrity and unity of the country.” Following a second round of arrests and raids by the police, on 28 August 2018, Dr. Abraham’s own house was raided by the authorities and her husband Vernon Gonsalves was arrested.  

The third speaker, Professor Romila Thapar, is a renowned historian and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. In a recorded video, Professor Thapar emphasized the role of government in changing the content of school textbooks in order to glorify the role of Hindus in Indian history. In history textbooks across Maharashtra and Rajasthan, the role of Mughals and Muslim rulers is being erased and replaced with the accomplishments of Hindu Maratha and Rajput rulers.

She stressed the silencing of dissent with a clear focus on university campuses, noting how dissent is met with violence. She highlighted how fear is being spread specifically within universities by Hindutva forces, who perpetrate violence with impunity.

Professor Thapar’s contribution is important as it highlights how the education sector is being widely targeted by the Modi government to suit their interests and to magnify the role of Hindus. This deliberate rewriting of history according to the interests of the ruling party is a threat to the learning process of students who are forced to learn a distorted version of history.

The election of Narendra Modi has not only led to an increase in hate crimes against minorities and lower-caste Hindus, but also in the legitimization of violence without any repercussions. Dr Suresh, Advocate Abraham, and Professor Thapar provide different reasoning for why the Modi government is a threat to the unity of the country. Laws such as UAPA, arrests of activists for voicing their dissent, and the changing of school textbooks are systematically employed by the Modi government to crush dissent.  The violence at the Bhima Koregaon commemoration is a clear example of the rise of the Hindutva groups and the rise of politics of repression in all forms, ranging from the public sphere to even a private declaration of dissent against the state. Minority groups, students, scholars, and activists are under a clear threat.

The attacks on university campuses and changing of school textbooks are a clear reflection of this. Any form of dissent is met with abuse, arrests and even deaths of those who publicly oppose the government in power. The curbing of dissent has taken various forms and the application of laws, such as UAPA, which entails a form of institutionalized discrimination and violence.

Hence, the targeting of minorities and suppression of dissent isn’t just a threat to the well-being of the citizens of India, but also a threat to our constitution, which allows all citizens of India with the right to question authority, dissent, and requires tolerance of the diverse groups living in our nation.

The four pillars of democracy–the Executive, Judiciary, Legislature, and Media–are constantly being used by the government to silence any form of dissent. Not only has the Prime Minister failed to fulfill the promises on the basis of which he was elected in 2014, but his government has become the root cause of the growing intolerance and rise in communal violence across India.

Unfortunately, in Modi’s India, being critical of the Prime Minister is conflated with being an enemy of India. Therefore, in light of the escalating tensions with Pakistan, the conflict in Kashmir and the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, it is important now more than ever to come together as a secular and democratic nation to fight against intolerance, hate, and prejudices, collectively. The upcoming elections are the only chance for the citizens of India to come together and use the power of the ballot to vote this hateful, intolerant, and fascist government out of power and save our democracy.

Further Reading:  

1. Shantha, Sukanya. (2018), ‘The People’s Fighters: Meet the Five Arrested in the Bhima Koregoan Case’. The Wire. Available from: https://thewire.in/caste/meet-the-five-arrested-in-the-bhima-koregaon-case

2. Torgalkaer, Varsha. (2018), ‘One Killed in Clashes at Bhima Koregoan Battle Anniversary Event in Pune; Situation Tense in Maharashtra’. The Wire. Available from: https://thewire.in/caste/one-killed-clashes-bhima-koregaon-battle-anniversary-event-pune

3. The Wire Staff. (2018), ‘In Nationwide Swoop, Five Rights Activists Arrested, Several More Raided’. The Wire. Available from: https://thewire.in/rights/police-take-sudha-bharadwaj-into-custody-raid-homes-of-lawyers-activists-across-cities

Image Credit: Frederick Noronha