By Team FI
India’s veteran feminist activist Kamla Bhasin delivered the keynote speech at a conference organised by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in Berlin on May 22. The conference was part of BMZ’s initiative to launch a new gender equality policy
Excerpts from the keynote address;
In the name of Justice, Equality, Human Rights and Peace!
I wish to begin by remembering millions, NO, billions of women and girls who have been discriminated, insulted and violated by Patriarchy over the years, all over the world.
I also wish to remember and salute all our feminist foremothers and forefathers who fought for women’s rights all over the world and on whose shoulders we stand tall today.
It is an honour for me to be standing here and sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. Thank you Dr Mueller and Team, for this honour.
As a feminist activist I agree with everything Dr Mueller, you have just said. Thanks for sharing the highlights of the new Gender Policy of BMZ. I congratulate you and your team for adopting this progressive Policy and for showing your commitment to Justice, Women’s Rights and Sustainable Development by organizing this Conference. I totally agree with you Dr Mueller that without gender equality and women’s rights, no country, no community can progress.
I come from South Asia, which is one of the most patriarchal regions in the world. The women to men ratio has been going down, women’s employment rate in the formal sector has gone down; privatization of essential services has increased the burden of women; there are only 11% women in the new Parliament just elected. I can go on in this vain.
However, unfortunately patriarchy, violence against women and gender discrimination do not exist only in the poor countries. I wish progress and education automatically made us gender equal, but they do not.
There is NO country in the world where patriarchy does not exist. Patriarchy is a global system. It exists everywhere, although in different forms and degrees.
I came to Germany as a 21 year old in 1967 ,that means 47 years ago. I did not expect to see patriarchy in a developed country but I saw it all around. For example I came from Mutterland India but found Vaterland Deutchland here. I came from the land of Mutter Ganga and found Vater Rheine here. I came from the land of many Goddesses but found mainly Der Herr Gott here.
I was quite shocked to see naked women as objects of sex on so many Magazines in every kiosk. Women’s bodies were on sale all around, in a democratic country where on paper men and women were equal.
I found the German language also to be quite patriarchal. An unmarried woman was a Fraulein, or a small woman, even if she was 80 years old. A man was a Herr, married, widower, and unmarried or divorced!!
Women Professors were a rare site at the University. Die Herren haben ueberall geherrscht.
Even after over 200 years of democracy the US has not yet had a woman President. The family lineage continues to go from father to son – Bush senior, Bush Junior. Kennedy Senior Kennedy junior. Excuse me, where are your daughters, Gentlemen?
Look at the family names in Scandinavia. So many of them end with Son. Ericson, Johanson. Noch mal- Wo sind die toechtern, bitte schoen?
The Women’s Movement everywhere has been challenging all this and many things have improved. We had to fight for every little improvement and we had to pay a price for every change.
Friends, the biggest and most brutal war ever is Patriarchy’s violence against women and girls.
According to the UN, one in every three women experiences violence in her life time. This means one billion women are being violated. What is worse is that this war takes place within the home and at the hands of people closest to us. This is domestic terrorism which is global.
The two great Civilizations India and China have killed close to 100 million women and girls because of patriarchal reasons
This has been done using the latest technology and done mainly by educated and well off people!! Millions of women were killed in Europe as witches between the 16th and 18th centuries. The story goes on- millions trafficked, millions forced to undergo genital mutilation, millions sick with anorexia in order to look like Barbie doll, millions raped. As a result of all this, for the first time in human history there are less women than men on this Planet.
A new EU study of March 2014 conducted by Joanna Goodey of the European Fundamental Rights Agency states that one third of the women in the EU i.e. 62 million women, have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Germany is even above average, with 35%. 55% women have experienced sexual harassment, among them 75% women in leadership positions. This clearly reveals that sexualised violence is not a result of economic ‘backwardness”.
I have just been informed that in highly developed Germany women get 22% less wages than men and there are only 3% women in top positions. According to several German feminists, the German rape law needs to be revised urgently and made more effective an in line with the European law.
A German feminist scholar has correctly said that women are the last colony. Their bodies, sexuality, reproductive capacity, labour capacity are still colonised. UNDP Human Development report of 1995 reported that the unpaid household work done by women all over the world is worth 11 Trillion Dollars annually.
The 20 year old ILO statistics have been reconfirmed in 2012 by the World Development Report, which states that women do 66% of all the work done in the world, produce 50% of the food, but receive 10% of the income distributed and own 1% property.
One of the questions raised for this Conference by BMZ team is what the challenges we face for achieving gender equality are. In response I mention three challenges. These challenges can also be called root causes. Friends we cannot correct consequences. We have to remove the causes.
Gender discrimination and violence against women and girls is a consequence of various systems and structures, Patriarchy, Class, Race, and Caste. We need to challenge all of them.
All our present day religions are patriarchal. All of them are started, defined, interpreted and controlled by men. They create, justify and promote patriarchy
If I start chronologically, then I would say Religion is the first challenge. By definition none of them accepts a woman to be a Pope, a Shankracharya, a Dalai Lama etc. In their practice and I think also in their theory they create a hierarchy between men and women. If God is man, then man is God. Because they create this unholy hierarchy between men and women, these religions violate our national Constitutions; they violate UN Human Rights declaration. Yet, many of our political parties, even in Europe, are connected to these religions. Many European governments support Religions directly or indirectly.
The US and the Vatican is amongst the few countries that have NOT ratified CEDAW.
Friends, many of us feminists believe that without challenging patriarchal religions, we cannot achieve our dream of gender equality. So, our left hand has to know what the right hand is doing.
I am encouraged to know that organizations like the World Council of Churches and Bread for the World are challenging these patriarchal biases in the Church.
The second challenge according to me is Capitalist Patriarchy. Today pornography and child pornography are a billion dollar industry. Trafficking of girls and women is a billion dollar industry. Cosmetics are a billion dollar industry. Barbie dolls and guns and supermen and violent computer games are a huge industry. Hollywood, Indian Bollywood and Corporate media are all huge industries. All of them objectify women, make them sexual objects, subservient, and turn men in to macho, aggressive, dominating beings. Therefore, in my opinion, all of them violate our Constitutions and Human Rights Declarations.
The third big challenge is the present economic paradigm being practiced and pushed by the developed world. This paradigm is masculinist and violent in nature. It is based on PURE GREED. It is based on and promotes cut throat competition, dog eat dog attitude. Therefore, It has spread inequalities, destroyed the environment and ecology, marginalized women, indigenous people and economically poor people; it has created large scale unemployment. All this has been said by the UNDP and every other responsible body.
This paradigm cannot, will not allow us to achieve gender equality, women’s rights, justice and sustainable development, about which we are talking this evening. A recent study of the Paritaetischer Wohlfahrtsverband in Germany concludes that despite economic growth and increasing private wealth in Germany the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing and the poverty rate has reached a peak with 15.2%. The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the US said similar things.
If this paradigm and economic system cannot provide jobs and dignity, gender equality, in your countries, how can it do so in our countries?
We have to look in to other issues also like wars and fundamentalism in all religions, not just in Islam, which lead to violence against women and restricted spaces and participation for them despite SC Resolution 1325 etc. The US and EU continue to be actively involved with wars. The main members of the UN Security Council are the biggest producers and sellers of weapons.
Friends, many of us, and also the BMZ, are proposing Mainstreaming Gender. But, as I have shown, there are problems with the Mainstream. This mainstream is MANstream. The mainstream itself is at the root of many problems the BMZ wishes and claims to fight. So, instead of getting absorbed in the mainstream, becoming part of it, we have to challenge many, many parts of it. Are we ready for this?
Mahatma Gandhi knew the problems with the present economic mainstream 80-90 years ago. Once a journalist asked him, Mr. Gandhi, would you like India to have the same standard of living as that of Great Britain? Gandhiji replied, “That tiny country Great Britain had to exploit half the globe to have its standard of living. How many globes will India have to exploit?”
The poor of the world and the progressive Civil Society Organisations also know this. This is why in response to the World Economic Forum; we started the World Social Forum, to demand a pro people, pro women, pro Mother Nature economic and political paradigm. The main slogan of the World Social forum is, Other Worlds are Possible.
This, friends, was the analysis. Now I come to the Solutions and the work we have been doing in India and in South Asia. In ten minutes I will tell you about my 44 years work.
Because patriarchy, neo liberal economic paradigm, conflicts and wars are all global, our struggles for justice, human rights and sustainable development also have to be global
We need global solidarity and partnerships. I am in Berlin with all of you in search of this global solidarity. I am the global co chair of Peace Women across the Globe, an organization which came out of our global campaign called 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize, 2005. I am the South Asian Coordinator of the global campaign called One Billion Rising. We give a lot of importance to global work and solidarity. Next month I will be with Terre des Femmes Switzerland for a five day lecture tour.
We want to link with the Women’s Movement in Germany, but it seems the Movement is not so strong and vibrant anymore. Many women today feel that Feminism is no more needed. I think they are wrong. Patriarchy is still all around us and we have to keep hammering at it.
Today men and boys have to join the movement for gender equality and justice. Men have to understand all the ways in which patriarchy harms them also. Patriarchy does give men privileges and power but it also dehumanizes them, it brutalizes them, it robs them of their gentleness, of their humanity. 40% Indian husbands beat their wives. This means 40% men in India are criminals in the eyes of the law. All men are not rapists, but all rapists are men. About 99% terrorists are men. It is boys and young men in the US, never a young woman, who pick up a gun every few months and go around shooting and killing in schools.
Friends, these boys and men are not born violent. They are born innocent. The society or all of us, give them a gun to play with when they are 2-3. We tell them because they are boys they can do what they like. We tell them boys do not cry, men do not have emotions. We make little boys sit in front of the TV and watch violence for 5-8 hours a day. Systematically we make them aggressive, violent, and dominating. No wonder they find it difficult to have equal relationships with women, to look after children and sick people, to manage their emotions.
In order to do well in the present mainstream, many strong and powerful women are also becoming masculine. This is a dangerous trend. We need to help men become gentle and caring rather than we women becoming power hungry and dominating.
For the last over 15 years I have been doing gender sensitization workshops with men in positions of power and policy making, in NGOs, international NGOs. UN, governments, even Members of Parliament. I have written a book on men and masculinity which has been translated by women’s organizations in 10-12 countries.
A global research also found out that the single most important factor which makes organizations gender sensitive and effective, is the presence of strong and committed feminists.
My main work for the last 44 years has therefore been to develop the capacities of people, to sharpen their analytical skills, to enhance their social skills and emotional intelligence. I have been a trainer/ facilitator all my life.
Friends, my first formal job was with the Deutsche Stiftung fuer Entwicklungszusammanarbeit, in Uhlhof, Bad Honnef, as a Dozent. This was in 1970. DSE is today part of GIZ. I lectured there for 11 months, then resigned and went back to India to work with an NGO in Rajasthan. I worked there for four years with the marginalized people. That is where my real education took place. In 1975 I was invited by FAO of the UN to coordinate a training program for people working for development, justice and rights with NGOS in Asia. Through this work I got to know innovative NGOs all over Asia. Through the trainings I organized we created a network of these NGOs. We documented the work of these NGOs, they learnt from each other; we did advocacy work; we influenced the policies of our governments, UN etc. I worked with the UN for 27 years. In 2002, I resigned from the UN because of differences. Since then I do the same work through an NGO network called Sangat- A South Asian Feminist Network.
Friends, from personal experience I can tell you that it is people’s movements and NGOs who push for changes in official policies. It takes about 20-25 years for us to convince the people in power. Concepts like gender equality, justice and human rights, participatory development, transparency, good governance, all that what is today part of the BMZ policy, are the creations of people’s movements.
I have been organizing one month long feminist capacity building courses for women activists from South Asia for the last 30 years. These courses are for women from the 8 countries of South Asia but now women also come from Iran, Turkey, Sudan, Myanmar, Vietnam etc. This is South- South cooperation. We are dreaming of creating a People’s Union of South Asia.
These courses are in English and we can take no more than 40 women in a course. NGOs demanded that we also do courses in local languages. For the last 7-8 years we organize two week long courses in Hindi for people from India, Nepal and Pakistan; in Bangla for people from Bangladesh and West Bengal in India and in Tamil for people from Tamil Nadu in India and Tamils from Sri Lanka.
These courses provide the basis for networking and cooperation across borders for building solidarity.
Production and distribution of educational materials for NGOs is another important part of our work. I have written many books in question and answer form and in a simple language for activists on issues like patriarchy, gender, men and masculinity, human rights, peace etc. These books have been now translated by NGOS in over 25 languages.
I have also written detailed reports on our innovative training programs so that others can learn from our strengths and mistakes.
For our campaigns and public education we have created audio visual materials. A large number of the economically marginalized people of South Asia are not able to read and write. For them we have been making posters and banners to give the messages visually.
I have been writing songs for the women’s movements and also for other people’s movements. We have made ten music cassettes which have now been turned in to CDs. These songs are sung all over the Hindi /Urdu speaking South Asia. Nothing works like songs. In addition to giving messages they energize and empower, they build bonds of solidarity, they unite us.
Humour has also been very important for me in my work. Because our struggles are going to be very long, we need humour. I have made feminist humour books in Hindi and English. Ohne spass und lachen geht es garnicht.
In addition to doing this South Asian work I am a founder of two national organizations in India and I work quite closely with them. These organizations are Jagori Resource and Training Centre in Delhi and Jagori Rural in Himachal, North India. These organizations work with local communities and also do capacity building and networking within India and produce educational materials in Hindi and English.
Jagori Delhi has pioneered a safe City Campaign in Delhi and we are now taking it to other cities of South Asia. Jagori Delhi was given a prestigious award last year by Roland Berger Foundation, Berlin. My two colleagues were here to receive the award.
Through these organizations we have built the capacities of hundreds of organizations in South Asia.
Friends, because patriarchy is in every institution and it is at every level, we have to work everywhere, work through networking and cooperation. We need feminist writers, poets, film makers; feminist theologians, historians; feminist politicians and bureaucrats. And both women and men can be feminist.
Friends, my work are based on LOVE and FRIENDSHIP. Professionalism should not mean being without emotions and love. To have passion for and in our work we need emotions and we need love. This world needs more love to heal. My main slogan in the One Billion Rising campaign is -Not love of power but Power of Love.
In conclusion, I wish to say that the present wounded world needs a new global ethic. We need to work with both our mind and heart. More than the World economic Forum we need a world ETHIC Forum
In addition to social and ecological reforms humankind urgently needs SPRITUAL RENEWAL.
We need a commitment to a culture of inter-dependence, non violence and respect for life, dignity, freedom and justice for each and every individual and for Mother Nature.
More than dollar and Euro Values we need Human Values.