Category: Current Affairs (page 1 of 8)

a luta continua.

It’s been a rough week and a bit for the world: so much tragedy and anger and hurt and senselessness. Even Mandela Day couldn’t usher in enough hope for all of us.

A lot of it has hit close to home: one. two. and it feels like a personal blow. You worry about your movements and the struggles, you worry about your friends, you worry about how to continue struggling when it all feels so bereft of point, of hope, of purpose. The HIV/AIDS communities, the LGBTQI communities, the feminist movements… none of us are strangers to loss, to the shock of losing loved ones, the knowledge of death- dying young, unexpectedly, unfairly, too soon, brutally, violently, alone, forgotten. None of us are strangers to impotent governments or intra-governmental processes. None of us are strangers to the politics of death, the ‘how does one make sense of this?’.

The refrain in our movements is to ‘continue the struggle’ so we can honour their memories, their lives; so we can say ‘never again'; ‘one more is too many’. I too am guilty of this- too many e-mails and posts that end in ‘A luta continua‘. I do not mean it cynically- I doubt that any of us do- or as a way to say something when words are hard to find. I think we all genuinely believe this, that it is a way to channel grief and rage into something concrete, into something positive, into something transformative.

But increasingly, I’m worried about what this means and what this says. I worry that we do not create space to grieve, that we do not make space to mourn all that we have lost personally and what a loss it is for our movements. I have learnt that grief changes us, that it shifts how we understand and interact with the world. How loss can sometimes create a hole and we cannot just ignore it, pretend it is not there; but that we must work with it, we must give it the space to be for a while, and we must accept it. It is the last that is the most cruel, because acceptance is difficult; acceptance demands a part of you; acceptance requires time and patience and care. Acceptance is a small, quiet room. We are short on time in our movements, we have begun to treat ‘care’ as a luxury, and small; quiet rooms are hard to come by.

I worry that we are not really acknowledging how this shifts our movements, that it is a larger issue of not taking the time/not having the time to reassess our movements. We have become depoliticised, we have been coopted, our focus has been subverted, we are now multifractioned; and when tragedy like this strikes, when our false silos are revealed to us, and our grief stretches across and wraps itself around the world; it is clear the larger geopolitics that are at play are creating these lines, are fracturing our movements and are shifting our focus. It is this depoliticisation we need to tackle, we cannot continue to pretend that the larger politics have somehow been shut out, that they are not swirling amongst us even now.

I cannot deal with more posts from so-called human rights activists who do not question the role of the Israeli state, but throw around ‘Hamas’ as though it is a justification for Gaza, for the display of Israeli might, for the continued oppression of people, for an apartheid state; and pretend that it has no impact on what we say our struggles are. Madiba knew that all our struggles are interlinked, that we cannot be free while another languishes; that our humanity is tied to each other; that without one we cannot be complete.

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No doubt, it is difficult to politicise. It is rejecting what has become the norm, it is denying what is all to easy to take, and it is remaining vigilant to one’s own culpability; one’s own quiet betrayals; to one’s own unthinkingness. It is uncomfortable and it is a conscious decision to challenge, to disturb, to disrupt; and it can get exhausting, tiring, awkward, unsafe. It is asking the question that causes discomfort, it is the refusing to sit down to obey to stop being hysterical to give in to might to just take a joke. But this is what solidarity is. This is the work of allyship.

And this is the struggle.

A luta continua.

tomorrow is a long time

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I struggled with writer’s block (I don’t know if I can still call it that if I don’t actually write anymore), jet lag, exhaustion, and ridiculous hours of flying to try and come up with something halfway decent to say at the High Level Debate. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever written and it doesn’t fully capture my thoughts and opinions; but it’s a fairly decent first attempt. I’ve been thinking about all the things I left out and didn’t think to say and all that I believe in and I wish I could’ve had a bit longer to think it all through, but I suppose this is what it is and I’ve just got to deal.

The video of the full debate it available here, and I speak (really fast!) at roughly about an hour and fifty minutes in; after the Indonesian Parliamentarian. You can read my remarks (more or less) by downloading this PDF: Youth, SRHR, Dev_v.3.

I’m actually most proud of the fact that I draped my sari by myself (after last minute pointers from my mum before I jumped on my flight to NYC) and that I didn’t do too bad of a job with it.

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after the debate & after battling a particularly strong gust of wind…

I stayed on for the actual Commission and the related-civil society events that took place. I have a fair number of mixed feelings about everything: from being there to issues of ownership to issues of legitimacy to issues of ‘what the fuck’.

There is always the post-event letdown that makes you a bit melancholy, makes you a bit blurry around the edges. Throw in jet lag, utter exhaustion, and a deep sense of betrayal and I’m not sure I have any edges left; I’m not sure I’m solid as much as I am quickly disappearing into nothingness.

It has been an eventful few days and I am still trying to wrap my head around it all; still trying to make sense of what actually happened; how I feel about it all; and where I stand now- how much I have moved away, and how much I have walked away from it.

It is always difficult to walk away from something you have always loved, always believed in. It’s especially hard to walk away when it betrays you in the worst possible way. When it looks at you and tells you that everything you thought was true and good and beautiful and right about it was a lie. When you look around you and you realise that you were the only one naïve enough to think that this was any different from all the other things in the world.

Betrayal stings.

I’ve written before, quite opaquely, about some of the things that bother me about the SRHR ‘movement’. Since I first voiced my issues with it, I’ve gotten more cynical; more distressed by it and I realise that I am at a point where I have moved away from saying anything constructive, from contributing to shifting things to a positive space. I realise I only bring negativity with me now; only bring frustration and irritation and sharp questions that poke rather than gently prod.

I’m not sure about how to be constructive about my criticisms anymore. I’m not sure that I can be. I am increasingly convinced of the need to openly challenge some of the systems of bullshit that we operate within; for the desperate need to call each other out and hold each other accountable to the so-called principles we profess to hold true, to actively question and peel back our assumptions; our truths.

The question is not about the issues- it is not about whether sexual rights, abortion, women’s rights, gender equality, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, young peoples’ rights, comprehensive sexuality education- the entire gamut of things that SRHR includes- is important; is true; is valid- of course they are. The question is about those of us who work on these issues, who champion it, who wear their ‘activist’ / ‘advocate’ tags with pride, who wave the flags, who have forgotten what it is to self-reflect; what it means to stand in ‘solidarity'; what it means to not be a hypocritical little cow. It’s time we hold ourselves accountable to it too; our movement is struggling; is stifled because we refuse to.

I’m not sure about how to go about addressing this. I’m not sure I have the right to even say these things. I’m not sure I ought to- there are so many delicate processes and tensions that abound right now: will I jeopardise something by saying something now? Will I jeopardise the bigger picture by remaining silent?

I am afraid of being shut down, of not being heard, of destroying something rather than re-creating. Of breaking something open before it was ready to be shattered.

For now, perhaps it is best that I take a step back; that I reflect on what frustrates me; that I identify the fissures and the cracks in our spaces. Perhaps it is best that I understand it before I try to transform it.

on forms, gender identities and authenticity

I’ve been struggling with how my feminist politics bump up against my academic ambitions, the realities of funding, and where I ought to draw my lines. I’m still working my way through these uncomfortable spaces, questioning myself, and attempting to hold myself accountable. These aren’t decisions (not every single one, anyway) that have any impact beyond myself and my ambitions and interests, but I still think it’s important to hold myself to what I believe in; even if (especially when?) it may work to my disadvantage*.

The other day, I was working on PhD applications and after looking at yet-another form that has only two options (male or female) under ‘gender’, I tweeted:

My research interests are particularly related to the issues that most Gender departments work on/are interested in. Seeing such a binary understanding of gender reflected in the application forms makes me question what sort of inclusivity these universities are on about, makes me question if this is a safe space at all, and it makes me feel that academia is continuing in its bubble of exclusivity and continuing to uphold institutions and systems of oppression**.

It also makes me question the strength of and the work of the Gender departments*** in the first place. How can you produce progressive and critical research on gender, if the application forms are stuck in a binary understanding? Does that mean that research stays research with no implications on the real world? I feel as though it creates a space where cis folk continue to opine upon everyone elses’ identities and continue to ‘other’ people for their own gains and academic points, it feels like it then shuts out voices and peoples whose lived experiences these are; whose realities are being ‘researched'; and it reduces them to ‘subjects’ only.

I don’t think I want to work with a Gender department that doesn’t recognise (and implicitly, at the very least, excludes) peoples’ identities and requires them to work within a binary. I don’t think that this is a space for me and for my research. I decided against applying to these universities. And this is a difficult decision to take when they do produce great work on my specific interests, or have funding for it*.

Some universities give you the option of ‘Other’, which is still deeply problematic. Even in supposed ‘inclusivity’, it (literally!) others anyone that doesn’t identify with constructions of ‘male’ or ‘female’. I suppose I should give them some credit for effort, but I really feel as though they ought to know better than this; they ought to be better than this, and they really ought to have worked on creating safer, inclusive spaces.

That tweet sparked a small discussion and the Women Coding Collective linked me to this excellent piece on handling gender in forms and websites. It’s a really good read and it raises some truly excellent points, and offers a way forward that I think universities ought to look into to address some of the considerations they may have and still work towards a more inclusive space.

Yesterday, Facebook added more than 50 custom gender options for users and allows you to assign the appropriate/preferred pronoun for yourself. It may seem silly because it’s facebook, but it’s a huge company and it’s a social platform and it ensures that people can express themselves authentically. It recognises you and you’re able to proclaim that to your family and friends and colleagues and professors, if that’s what you want to do (and allows you to filter that so you have control over your privacy). And I think that’s so important, because one’s authenticity is about love, it’s about affirmation, it’s about identity and these are important; important things.

And, if Facebook can begin to do this and is learning and trying and growing; then why can’t academia? Why can’t universities attempt to create such spaces? I realise that the Facebook gender options list is still new and we’re still waiting to see how it works and what needs to shift and change and what isn’t working… but this is a step towards  embracing and celebrating and loving the diversity of our worlds, of our identities, of our lives. This can only be a good thing, I think.

*I don’t want to come off sounding as though this is some sort of sacrifice on my part. It really isn’t. I’ve just been thinking about it and how refusing to apply to a place has an impact on my academic ambitions; but my ambitions aren’t all that important if it comes at the price of my own beliefs. I also want to emphasise that, as a cis-gendered, (usually)stupidly privileged person I’m aware of how I actually have the luxury of choice and of these options that many people do not. I’m just attempting to reflect on the privileged spaces I occupy and have access to, and how I navigate that. I’m still learning and unpacking things, so discussion and commentary and criticism is welcome. 

** And while this post is limited to academia, I think it’s also relevant to development/aid spaces. That’s a rather huge discussion on its own and deserving of its own post, so I’ll sit on that one for now. 

*** In my, admittedly biased, opinion; gender departments are usually the ones with the least amount of funds; where a lot of progressive thought and action takes places; where issues that challenge and the subvert the patriarchy and kyriarchy are tackled (see: gender identity, sexual orientation, feminist theories, abortion rights…). So, I find it especially disappointing (perhaps naïvely) when it doesn’t live up to my expectations.  

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