JASS Blog Archives for April 2015

by JASS on April 30, 2015 on 7:39 pm

Written by Sreymom Loem

I have learned from my experience and I am going to encourage more women garment workers to stand up for our rights and power. Our rights have been gravely abused; women workers’ voices need to be heard. Women workers have always demanded for a common solution to the plight of garment workers. Laws should not remain only in paper; these must be respected by all Cambodian people – even the rich and the elite.

Rural Women as Factory Workers in the City

When we imagine the picture of the city, we have an exciting image in mind. But for me, that was not the case. Right from the start, I never had this feeling because I was determined to fulfill my mission – to earn money to help my family.  And like all Cambodian women from the rural areas, I am determined to earn for my family. While there were a thousand reasons why I decided to leave my hometown to work in Phnom Penh City, poverty was the main reason.

My family can't grow rice in the field because we don't have an irrigation system. Instead, we grew vegetables, but we didn’t make much profit from them because they sold for less at the market. In turn, basic goods that we needed were very expensive that my family couldn't afford them. During that time, my mother also got very ill.  That was when I decided to give up school after I passed secondary school in 2003.

So in 2006, I started to work as a factory worker in Phnom Penh City. I was just a teenager then; I was 17 years old. It was my first time to move to Phnom Penh to find a job. At that time, garment factories in Cambodia were growing—even women and girls from other provinces in Cambodia were migrating too. Most of the community people mistakenly believed that their children will have a good-paying job, maintain a good life, and build a good future. They all believed that the Cambodian government is starting to develop the country by constructing tall buildings and expensive bridges. 

And so did I. I believed it so much that when I got a job in a garment factory, I was filled with new hope that I would be able to save my earnings—US$61 a month—for my family back home.

Women Workers’ Daily Routine

At first, I found everything in the factory exciting. Everything was new—the environment and the machines. We all focused on our work and did not speak to each other while working.  

When I received my first salary – it added to my thrill! I couldn’t sleep for many nights after I got it. I saved a big percentage of my income for my family. I also bought new clothes for myself.  It was a very fresh experience for me!

My daily routine consisted of waking up very early in the morning – around 5:30 am because I had to be in a group (group transportation) to get to the workplace.  I was so afraid of being left behind. I was so afraid of being late too! If we were late, even by a minute, management would deduct 1,000 Cambodian riels (equivalent to 25c US$).   Even garment workers who often go to the toilet would have salary deductions too.

After a while, I began to realize how bad these working conditions were, and I wasn’t the only one. Other women felt it too. Having low wages, working under miserable work conditions, forced to work long hours, having heavy workload, lack of occupational safety in the factory, lack of fresh air, having dirty toilets, difficulty in making friends with each other or caring about each other, feeling alone, experiencing different kinds of abuse – these are the daily grind of a garment worker in Phnom Penh.

My living situation wasn’t any better. I lived with four to five people in a tiny room where we washed, ate and slept. I never took a bath before going to bed because I worried about my safety. Our male neighbors would always watch women take a bath because the dormitories did not have secure bathroom walls. 

Some women factory workers I know also experienced abuse from male workers in our workplace and in our house. I just kept silent; back then I was not brave to tell anyone so I continued living and working without any solution in sight.

Our employers refused to understand the challenges we were facing. They forced us to work more. Some of our friends contracted work-related diseases such as typhoid and heavy cough, but the management did not care at all.  

When auditors and inspectors would come, the workers were provided with masks, facility, clean toilet but one or two days after inspection, they would stop distributing the masks. Also, the manager tried to lobby workers to give good speeches in support of the factory when they were interviewed by the auditor. They forced them to give good comments about the work conditions in the factory. If workers refused, they would threaten them.

Breaking Out of the Factory 

I heard about the organization, Women Agenda for Change (WAC) – which is now changed to Workers’ Information Center (WIC). I know WIC from my friends who learned about workers’ rights through them.

My friends introduced them to me. Through WIC, I found out about different views from outside of the factory.  So, I started to change myself. I joined with them. They gave me the space to talk and share about the challenges that I faced. I learned a lot from them. They let me know about our rights, labor laws, what workers can do, why we are together, how and why we have to challenge the company.

It was WIC who tapped my leadership potential and passion. Every time I attended the WIC dialogues – I did not feel alone. I felt I had many friends whom I can share my experiences with, whom I can talk to – warm and closely. In 2010, I stopped working for factories and went back to high school to complete my education because the living and working conditions only got worse, as did the wage.  After a series of trainings, I volunteered with WIC. I realized that I like this volunteer work and it fit me.

Uniting with Women Workers

I have been working with WIC for five years now. As a facilitator – I am responsible for organizing garment workers’ communities, providing training and information, and providing health care awareness, coaching, and discussion. I use popular education tools (some of which I learned from JASS) that empower women workers to speak out, break the culture of silence, share information, and discuss Cambodian laws – especially labor laws.

I have chosen to strengthen my power and leadership skills by learning through my own experiences, by working with other non-government organizations (NGO’s), workers’ associations, different groups like cross-sector groups, United Sisterhood, and young women’s groups in Cambodia such as Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN), and JASS. I see a lot of women who have similar passion and agenda. It is amazing how we can learn to find common ways to build new and dynamic movements.

About the Author

Sreymom Loem joined a JASS workshop in Cambodia in 2014. She was one of the facilitators of JASS’ regional campaign One Day, One Voice (ODOV) in 2014. 

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by on April 30, 2015 on 11:30 am

Sister ko mabva matakura masofa acho mukati rega ndifambe ndakasenga (Sister, your body looks like you carried the couch with you into town).
Hure (prostitute)
Eish mukoma vari kunakirwa kumba uku (Eish, your husband/boyfriend should be having the time of his life, sexually, with you)

Those are just some of the things I hear when I am on the street. That’s what we all hear as women living in urban centres in Zimbabwe. When we take taxis to work, or when we cross the road, or when we stop at a traffic light to buy some air time for our mobile phones. Some people have it upside down; they call this kind of unwanted commentary "compliments." But they’re not. It’s street harassment and we are all familiar with it in some way.

In September 2014, a young woman at Harare's main bus terminal was sitting in a minibus taxi when she was attacked. She was dragged out of the minibus and brutally assaulted by a group of about forty people, mostly male touts (bus conductors). They beat her and stripped off her clothes while hurling abuse at her for the “crime” of “improper” dress. Some passers-by tried to intervene on her behalf. But a lot more people joined in with the angry mob—all outraged at the fact that this woman had had the gall to wear “inappropriate” clothing. And there I was thinking that wearing inappropriate clothes meant putting on a summer dress in the middle of winter, or donning a pair of shorts to a board meeting.

Even though the attack drew national attention, most of us figured that the response would be the same lacklustre one we’ve come to expect from cases of street harassment and assault. After all, in Zimbabwe, a sex offender can get off by paying a fine as little as $5.

What’s really interesting is how this case and another attack in December captured the imagination of those using social media—many of whom supported the attackers and wrote messages that reinforced the idea that women can and should be told what to wear; and if not, face violent consequences. But this is also how two men implicated in the crime were caught and arrested, after video footage of the assault went viral online.

In late March 2015, in an unprecedented court decision, a Harare magistrate sentenced the two men to twelve months in jail with the possibility of a four-month suspension on condition of good behaviour. I was shocked—the judiciary was actually taking a stand against this violent behaviour and sentencing those involved? The punishment should have been stiffer but it’s a good first step for Zimbabwean women. I felt like my experiences of harassment were being recognised; like I was not crazy to think this is not okay.

This verdict is good news for activists who face even higher levels of harassment and violence in public spaces. “Our laws have been formed in such a way that women can be protected in private spaces, for example the Domestic Violence Act,” says Winnet Shamuyarira of Katswe Sistahood. “But a lot of violence is taking place in public spaces so this is a landmark ruling in the sense that it sends a message to would-be violators of women that you can’t just take a woman and think that it’s a piece of flesh that you can just decide to abuse, harass and do as you wish.”

Zimbabwean feminists, led by Katswe Sistahood, took to the streets in protest of the September incident and other such violent acts.  Their actions sparked a national conversation, shining a spotlight on the violence that women experience every day, whether in the streets or the home such that when the attack in December took place, people were enraged by the continuous wars perpetrated on women’s bodies in public spaces. 

But is it good enough? Just days after the historic sentencing, 51 year-old Lessie Tenai was beaten to death by her partner and his two friends. Why? Because she was “wearing a miniskirt that was too short for her age.” This vicious attack reinforces the truth that the struggle for ownership of our own bodies goes beyond age or location—Tenai came from the rural village of Madzyiya.

The fact is, no matter who you are, where you’re from—urban or rural, young or old on the age spectrum—you’re in trouble. Katswe Sistahood activist, Mary, puts it like this: “The word ‘hure’ (Shona: for whore) is used to refer to any woman no matter what you do. If you’re buying fish, you’re a hure. If you’re going to the market, you’re a hure. If you’re doing anything at all—you’re a hure. No matter what we wear. So just say, ‘Yes, I am a hure. Now what are you going to do about it?’”

Even Vice President, formerly Minister of Defence, Emerson Mnangagwa, a man known for his less-than-progressive politics condemned the attacks on women, or at least tried to:

Some of us … who were there around 1918 [know that] women used to wear nhembe (women’s traditional clothing) but no one protested. The men would put on madhumbu and no one protested. Then came the whites with clothes that covered the whole body. If a woman parades herself in a miniskirt, leave her. That is what she wants. We went to war for freedom, fighting so that all people would be free. So the new Constitution speaks of freedom of choice and freedom of expression. What matters are her morals, not dressing, it is her right.

Aside from the moral policing—it shouldn’t matter whether a woman is “good” or “morally acceptable” at all and as we know from the statistics, it doesn’t—the substance of his comment hits upon some key truths.

Thirty years ago, Zimbabwean women took to the streets to fight for the right to be considered legal adults. The reason I’m allowed to drive a car or own a house is because of the battle those women who came before me fought. They were also called names, they were mocked and harassed but they won. Now, in 2015, Zimbabwean women still have a long way to go to actually enjoy all the rights of a legal adult—and that includes having the choice to wear whatever the hell we want.

Photo: An image from the MyDressMyChoice march in Kenya, Al Jazeera

This blog post was co-written with Winnet Shamuyarira of Katswe Sistahood.

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by Marusia López Cruz on April 6, 2015 on 7:48 pm

Primera de tres partes: diversidad e inclusión


“…la diversidad que se expresa en el movimiento feminista es una diversidad politizada, que reconoce las diferentes ubicaciones sociales, económicas, culturales, sexuales, geopolíticas, de conocimiento, de posicionamiento y de estrategias, que contiene el universo feminista de esta región. Que reconoce las diferencias y los desbalances de poder al interior de los feminismos y que se esfuerza en cuestionarlos y en escuchar…” (Declaración Final 13ª EFLAC)

El pasado mes de noviembre se llevó a cabo el 13º Encuentro Feminista de América Latina y el Caribe en Lima, Perú, con la presencia de más de mil mujeres de toda la región.

Este Encuentro se realizó en un momento donde el contexto de la mayoría de los países de la región  está marcado por la exacerbación de la violencia, la violación generalizada de derechos y por Estados que, en beneficio de intereses privados, han renunciado a su obligación de proteger derechos y garantías ciudadanas  y han roto pactos que, con grandes sacrificios, se habían logrado para hacer posible una transición democrática que trajera la justicia social y la igualdad.

Ante esta situación,  parece que las claves de interpretación de la realidad y las estrategias políticas de las organizaciones y movimientos sociales resultan insuficientes para entender y generar procesos de cambio que reviertan la lógica de muerte y despojo en la que vivimos. Y es precisamente por ello que el feminismo es más necesario que nunca para entender la complejidad de lo que ocurre y generar cambios sustantivos en la sociedad.

En este marco, el 13º Encuentro Feminista, al igual que todos los anteriores, dejó sobre la mesa importantes desafíos teóricos  y políticos que cabe analizar y abordar  de manera personal y colectiva. Para tal fin se presentan tres artículos, en el primero de los cuales  abordaremos uno de los temas más recurrentes y desafiantes de los Encuentros Feministas: la triada diversidad e inclusión.

Hasta ahora, no he encontrado otro movimiento que, como el feminismo, contenga, exprese y busque de diferentes formas reconocer y entender la diversidad social de expresada en las mujeres. La agenda política feminista se cuestiona y amplía permanentemente a la luz de las demandas y análisis que las mujeres diversas traen,  hecho que se hace evidente al formar parte reiterada de  los debates de los Encuentros Feministas. En este último Encuentro, por ejemplo, algunos de los reclamos fueron la falta de presencia de todas las personas trans, y no solo de quienes se identifican como mujeres; la falta de protagonismo en los páneles de las plenarias de las mujeres afrodescendientes; el pleno reconocimiento de las trabajadoras sexuales como sujetos políticos y de derechos; e, incluso, se llegó a poner  sobre la mesa la participación de hombres que se asumen feministas.

No obstante,  esta capacidad que históricamente ha tenido el feminismo para abordar la diversidad en sus distintas expresiones es poco reconocida y, en cada Encuentro, son muchas las compañeras que acusan al movimiento de poco inclusivo, elitista o sectario. Si bien es cierto que todavía tenemos fuertes retos,  también lo es que uno de estos retos  es, sin duda, el de  reconocer esta capacidad construida como movimiento pues, de lo contrario, cerramos  espacios de diálogo y debate entre nosotras y contribuimos a perpetuar los estereotipos negativos del feminismo y de las mujeres que son usados para deslegitimarnos. Parece como si el hecho mismo de estar juntas y en el mismo espacio tantas y tan diversas no tuviera ningún valor o no fuera producto de la maduración del movimiento; como si  las luchas históricas de las mujeres diversas para ampliar y complejizar la agenda feminista, y que tienen hoy presencia clara en los discursos y estrategias, no fueran válidas.

Incluir y debatir sobre la diversidad en los Encuentros Feministas implica también asumir que la diversidad no solo refiere a las diferencias identitarias y las necesidades y derechos emanados de dichas diferencias, sino que refiere también a desigualdades y relaciones de poder que tenemos que poner sobre la mesa con claridad. El problema, desde mi punto de vista, es que no hemos encontrado una manera de hacerlo que no caiga en descalificaciones que poco o nada ayudan a la deconstrucción de las prácticas discriminatorias o relaciones desiguales que todas reproducimos, en mayor o menor medida,  por el hecho de vivir bajo el marco del patriarcado capitalista.

No se trata de negar que vivimos en una sociedad que hace a unas mujeres más privilegiadas que otras por el hecho de pertenecer a una clase, a una etnia o tener cierta edad; pero tampoco podemos negar que es justamente gracias al feminismo que hay mujeres que han podido ejercer más derechos personal y colectivamente, y que no podemos confundir derechos conquistados con privilegios generados por las estructuras de desigualdad. Ante ello, la cuestión que se plantea es: ¿cómo lograr que cada vez más mujeres ejerzan más derechos y, al mismo tiempo,  construir entre nosotras, al interior del movimiento feminista, relaciones que no hagan de la diferencia sinónimo de desigualdad?

Por otro lado, para que las diversidades dialoguen y vayan articulándose en un sujeto político feminista, en los Encuentros debemos contribuir a la construcción de un piso común de entendimiento entre las mujeres que se van acercando a los espacios feministas y aquellas que ya llevan más tiempo en ellos. Si bien debemos celebrar que en cada Encuentro Feminista hay nuevas compañeras y que día a día, gracias a las luchas feministas por la igualdad, cada vez más mujeres se asumen como sujetas de derechos, falta propiciar un mayor intercambio y acercamiento que permita tanto transmitir la historia, las agendas y los principios feministas como aprender de las experiencias y saberes de estas nuevas compañeras.

Por otro lado, tenemos que hacer un trabajo más consciente de reconocimiento y acercamiento con mujeres que están jugando un rol importante en otros movimientos sociales, y que pese  a estar desafiando a algunos de los poderes más retrógrados de nuestros tiempos, no cuentan con el respaldo, no han encontrado sentido o, simplemente, no han conocido al movimiento feminista y, por lo tanto, no participan de nuestros Encuentros.

Me refiero a compañeras como las familiares de personas desaparecidas en México que buscan y exigen justicia, a las mujeres que asisten a personas migrantes en su ruta, a las trabajadoras sexuales que se organizan contra la trata de personas y por mejores condiciones de vida, a las mujeres indígenas que se oponen a la minería, a las abogadas y otras profesionistas que acompañan casos en organizaciones de derechos humanos, etc. Muchas de ellas están en riesgo, no son plenamente reconocidas en sus organizaciones o trabajan en condiciones de suma precariedad. Ellas, como nosotras, tendrían que encontrar en nuestro movimiento un espacio para el empoderamiento personal y el fortalecimiento de su trabajo y organizaciones.

También debemos profundizar la reflexión respecto a lo que significa la participación de personas y organizaciones trans en los Encuentros Feministas y la forma en que su participación nutre e interpela al sujeto mismo del feminismo construido hasta ahora. Si bien es cierto que es el feminismo el que planteó que la identidad de género es una construcción cultural que puede y debe ser transformada para no constituir el objeto más antiguo de la desigualdad, también es verdad que en la actualidad la deconstrucción de esta identidad tiene formas y significados diferentes que debemos entender y cuestionar para que podamos estar juntas. En el IX Encuentro feminista se acordó la inclusión de las personas trans y debemos asumir ese acuerdo, pero también debemos escuchar a las compañeras que lo cuestionan y abrir espacios para acompañarnos en el proceso de deconstrucción de la identidad de género, entendiendo que es un proceso complejo que nos es difícil a todas, tanto si nos asumimos como trans como si no.

Quizá lo único que para mí no tendría que estar en discusión es la entrada o no de compañeros hombres. Como dijo el papá de mi hijo, quien lo cuidó mientras yo participaba en el Encuentro: “un hombre que se asume feminista entendería que los Encuentro Feministas son espacios legítimos y necesarios para las mujeres y no se plantearía  si tiene o no derecho a participar en ellos”. Es sin duda necesario que tengamos cada vez más y más fructíferos diálogos con los compañeros que se asumen feministas y reconozcamos los esfuerzos de hombres que en lo individual y colectivamente están cuestionando los privilegios patriarcales y trabajando en la construcción de relaciones de igualdad, pero las mujeres, como otros colectivos que han sido históricamente excluidos y condenados al aislamiento, requieren espacios para reconocerse y empoderarse como sujetos de derechos; espacios que deben ser respetados y alentados por los otros colectivos.

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