Global Roundup: Activists and Femcees Fight the Patriarchy

Compiled and written by Sahra

Photo via DW

CW: sexual violence, rape 

The COVID19 pandemic has resulted in an alarming increase in violence against women and girls around the world. Activists in countries across Africa are urging governments to take steps now to stem rising rates of sexual violence and femicide. The United Nations calls gender-based violence a “shadow pandemic.”

Liberia has recorded a 50% increase in gender-based violence from January to June. The number of reported rape cases was 600, in comparison to the total number or reported rape cases in 2018 which was 803. In Nigeria sexual violence towards women increased during curfews; two cases in June in which young women were raped and killed shocked the country and led to protests. In Kenya almost 4,000 school age girls were raped and became pregnant after the closure of schools during lockdown. The UN’s mission in the Central African Republic has reported a 27% increase in rape and 69% increase in cases where women and young children were hurt. In May, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: "The scourge of gender-based violence continues to stalk our country, as the men of our country declared war on the women". South African Police Service statistics show that every three hours a woman is murdered in the country.

Lesley Ann Foster, chair of the Masimanyane Women's Rights International in South Africa, is clear about what to blame for the violence.

"It's about patriarchy, it's about strength and power, it's about social norms and standards. The latter are so weak when it comes to women, that women are easily disposed of. They're killed, they're raped, they're beaten up. The country is not addressing this. There isn't enough of a push to advance gender equality, -Lesley Ann Foster

Gender-based violence is not new. It is endemic and it is sustained by patriarchy. It is clear more than ever that young girls and women are not safe in their homes, in the streets or beyond. Laws are not enough. All countries must address the roots of gender-based violence. 

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Some women are opting out of the work force as the multiple burdens between work and home become too great to bear.Credit...Brittany Hosea-Small/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images via New York Times

Recent data shows the growing impact of covid-19 on the workforce is gendered. Of the 1.1 million people ages 20 and over who left the work force in the United States between August and September, over 800,000 were women and 216,000 men. More women are leaving the workforce due to the pandemic for several reasons. Women dominate industries that have been most impacted by the pandemic. Another reason is that women have to deal with the burden of the double shift—in addition to working and participating in the labour force women also perform most of the unpaid labour that is required in maintaining a home and raising a family. In addition to working from home, the limited/ lack of childcare and the move online of schools means that parents—mostly mothers—are spending more time taking care of children, making it hard to maintain a job let alone balance it in the midst of all other duties.

That is a very worrisome story…We’ve now lost a lot of ground that we had gained very, very slowly over the last decade - Kweilin Ellingrud, a senior partner at McKinsey.

Lastly, the gender wage gap plays an astronomical role in the significant number of women exiting the labour force. As more families are trying to cope with the challenges of the pandemic and the demands that follow, the parent who earns the lower wage in the partnership typically leaves their job. In most cases it is the woman who leaves her job behind as male partners on average earn more. This new development raises a lot of questions for the future of work and the role of women in society as their participation in the paid labour force declines. 

The impact of the pandemic on the workforce in the US is also racialized. Experts say that white families “tend to have higher wealth and higher average income so they can afford to reduce labor supply.”

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“Before the pandemic, life was simple and better. I used to do activities at the beach, such as cleaning fish, helping people load and clean their boats, and they would pay me. I would help my daughter wash her clothes; I would escort her to school and cook food for her. Life was simple,” said Doroth Hassan as she sits in the office of SALVAGE, a sister organization of the Tanzania Network for People who Use Drugs (TaNPUD), in Kigamboni, Dar es Salaam via UNAIDS

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a massive change to our basic structures, disrupting everything and redefining how we live. It has exacerbated existing inequalities, impacting groups who are already vulnerable under the current structures of our societies. Among those groups who are impacted the most are women especially those that are already at the margins of society due to class, race, sexuality. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania community-based organizations are providing vulnerable women with basic needs to alleviate the difficulties onset by the pandemic. With the assistance of UNAIDS, the Tanzania Network for People who Use Drugs (TaNPUD) and their sister organization SALVAGE are raising awareness and helping women who use drugs. Women such as Doroth Hassan, who prior to the pandemic relied on sex work and other irregular jobs to support themselves and their families. Because of the pandemic, those irregular jobs are virtually non-existent and sex work is less safe. 

Now life has changed. I live in fear and worry. People who I worked for don’t want to pay, with the excuse that they have no cash because of the coronavirus. Everything changed. Life is tough. Clients disappeared, vanished. And the few who are still coming cheat; they pay less for sex - Dorth Hassan

In addition to disrupting their means of financial support, the pandemic has also halted other support programs such as condom distribution. Leaving women at a greater risk during an already high-risk time. The support from TaNPUD and SALVAGE has reached 55 Women and their families. The support comes in the form of providing women and their families with food, hygiene and sanitary products to ensure that their basic needs are met and he[ping them to prevent unsafe sex or additional harm in order to feed their families.

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Wives of Islamic state fighters with their children at al-Hol camp for refugees EPA/AHMED MARDNLI via infomigrants

Kurdish authorities say they will be releasing thousands of women and children who have been held in ISIS detention camps. A year and half after the fall of the group there are approximately 70,000 people still living in detention camps in Syria. Most of the detainees are women and children who are related to ISIS fighters. The bigger camp holds about 9,500 foreign women and their children. Some of them brought their children with them and others who’ve had children in Syria.  It also holds thousands of Iraqis and Syrians most of whom (34,000) are young children under the age of 11. The conditions in these camps fail to meet the basic needs for young children and things have gotten worse since the start of the pandemic. Some aid groups stopped operating there while others are limited in what they can do. The Kurdish administration which has since taken over the camp with the backing of the U.S government says it is the responsibility of foreign governments to claim their citizens and resettle them. While some governments (U.S., Russia, Uzbekistan) have and continue to do so others (U.K & Canada) are refusing on the basis that they could be a terror threat. Experts say that abandoning young children behind in these detention camps could lead to their future radicalization.

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Left to right, Boston rappers Chelley Marie, Lord Ju, Kweeng Doll and CakeSwagg via wbur

The success of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s proudly sexually explicit “WAP” exposed—again—the double standard that female rappers are subjected to when it comes to who can rap about sex and women’s bodies. In an interview with wbur, female rappers (Femcees) from Boston Chelley Marie, Lord Ju, Kweeng Doll and CakeSwagg discuss “why sex is an inherent part of their discography and they dissected the backlash they face for not being modest about it.”

As a genre, rap is well known and admired for its lyrical art form, intentionally vulgar attitude, and its ability to narrate the Black experience in the US. But what about female rappers in the industry? They have fought long and hard to be taken seriously in an industry that undermines their artistic ability and in which their art is overshadowed by men. A major aspect that made rap music what it is today is the attractive women in music videos who were subjects of the pimp lifestyle that rappers wanted to project as a status symbol for their wealth and success. But what about how female rappers want to use their own bodies? Black women are subjected to the double fuckery that is racism and sexism. Their bodies are too often considered for the consumption of the public - for men to enjoy and for other (too often non-Black) women to duplicate and appropriate.

They try to control us and say ‘oh, you’re a ho’ or ‘you’re this and that.’ But women are embracing it and don't give a fuck anymore — so now what? When I'm calling myself a ho — you can't do nothing to me. You can't even hurt me no more. It's not that we don’t care…but it’s getting to the point where women are just fed up - Lord Ju:

Although Black beauty ideals are now part of mainstream culture, too often everyone but Black women themselves exercise power and ownership over their own bodies - how they are portrayed, celebrated, or capitalized on. Femcess who openly challenge racialized patriarchal norms use their power to push back. Black women in rap are continually pushing the boundaries, reclaiming their bodies and using their platform to create an inclusive space. 

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Sahra is currently pursuing her undergrad in Sociology, Feminism and Gender studies. She plans to redefine the terms of life to suit her needs and those around her by challenging the patriarchy and other oppressive systems that shape our world. She loves to paint, laugh and spend time with her loved ones.