In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Norway and terrorism as a daily event.

In the West, we seem to have at least a double standard when it comes to violence and mayhem.

When violence and mayhem involves People Who Look Like Us (“us” in this case generally translating to: ethnically European/white, not-poor, citizens of a Western-style democracy) — we experience society-wide woe. When it involves People Who Don’t Look Like Us? Often, not so much.

We see this in the semi-annual “OMG heroin has reached the suburbs” stories, we see it in the stories of missing mothers or schoolyard shootings that take place somewhere outside our inner cities or meth-riddled mountains — and I think we saw it again in the wake of the terrorist attack in Norway.

I am not, in any way, suggesting a sliding scale of pain. Pain is pain, loss is loss — if your child, partner, friend, parent, loved one was killed, in Oslo, on her way home from work, or in some random Columbine-like horror, your grief is no less because your skin is pale or your bank account full.

But as someone who follows the news out of the Middle East and Southwest Asia, as someone who once-upon-a-time covered terrorism’s aftermath as a reporter, as someone who has seen up close and personal the damage that bombs can do, I couldn’t help but feel the vast difference between America’s response to the terrorism in Norway, and our response that with which the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan live on a nearly daily basis.

Part of this is, of course, because in Norway, the line between good and evil was clear, shining and bright. One terrorist, 77 innocents. We know, in a heartbeat, how to direct our horror and revulsion, and to whom to offer our prayers and support.

This is not the case in the Af-Pak region. First of all, the West isn’t even sure of its own role anymore, if it ever was. Are we good guys or bad guys? When children are killed as our soldiers aim for the Taliban — who are we? Should we even be there? Are we imperialists, or did we fail to go after the Taliban hard enough in the first place?

But beyond the complexities of the war and a porous border — Western soldiers are not the ones purposely blowing people up in the middle of busy cities. Surely the people doing that are the bad guys, right? But what if their fight is just? And wait — who gets to decide what “just” means? Throw in the endlessly complex cultural and political realities of the two societies, the fact that Westerners tend to expect Muslims to be violent (though Muslims might disagree) — we throw up our hands. Another 27 dead. Another 22. An 8 year old boy. Those people.

One need only scroll through the Twitter feed of Foreign Policy’s Af-Pak Channel to see that a good deal more than 77 Afghans and Pakistanis were killed in the month of July alone, not on a battlefield, but while trying to live their lives. Hell, nearly 100 were killed in the Pakistani city of Karachi in the first week of July.

Some of these were combatants. Some were violent misogynists. Some were trying to go to the market. Some were children. Some of the “innocents” probably deserved to die, and some of the fighters had probably been involved in trying to bring peace. The lines are neither clear, nor shining, nor bright.

But I do know this: Dead is dead. The tears of a Pakistani mother are no less excruciating than those of a Norwegian father. The pain in these faces is as human and as raw as the pain in these.

I don’t have any grand conclusion to draw or act of advocacy to recommend. I know that no human being can carry all the world’s pain without buckling under the weight, and if a geek like me can’t always keep all the warring parties straight in Af-Pak, I surely don’t expect anyone else to manage it.

I just think that as we mourn the losses in Oslo, as we send our prayers and our white light and our best wishes to our Norwegian sisters and brothers, it matters that we also remember those for whom the Norway attacks look horrifyingly familiar. We need to find a way to manage to bear witness to the humanity of those living and dying in Afghanistan and Pakistan, too. As the holy month of Ramadan begins, perhaps we owe the living and the dead at least that much.


If you want to learn more about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the violence that has marked the history of both, here are two great books to get you started: Invisible History by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, and Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (both of which I reviewed for the Dallas Morning News).

Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Addressing Women’s Needs and Rights on the Frontlines

Well. This has been the most inspiring, frustrating, overwhelming, depressing and hopeful few days. I hope to collect my thoughts for you on it next week. For now, the third (and last) plenary at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict starts at 10:00AM ET (give or take a few minutes) today, and I’ll be liveblogging it right here. I really hope you’ll join in the conversation.

Here’s the description of our charge for this session:

What does a survivor-centered strategy look like? How are women activists on the frontline defending and surviving violence and risk? This panel is meant to spark discussions around possibilities and approaches for a comprehensive response for women activists and survivors of sexual violence in conflict. By drawing the links between trauma, justice, health, livelihoods, security and reconciliation, participants reflect on what is needed to support women in finding their voice and reclaiming their lives to forge a new security.

And here are the featured presenters:

Moderator: Lisa VeneKlasen – Just Associates, USA
Wangu Kanja – Wangu Kanja Foundation, Kenya
Shereen Essof – Just Associates Southern Africa, South Africa
Parvin Najafgholi – Iranian Women Cultural Center and One Million Signatures campaign, Iran
Patricia Ardon – Sinergia N’oj, Guatemala

And here’s the liveblog!

You can also follow me tweeting from the conference this morning (including from a conversation with the Nobel Laureates at 9:15am) at @jaclynf, and follow the conference hashtag on twitter at #endrapeinwar. And don’t forget — we’re all taking action together tomorrow.

Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Justice and Accountability

Whew. What an overwhelming first day. Second plenary at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict starts at 3:00PM ET today, and I’ll be liveblogging it right here. Hoping to get some of your questions in live!

Here’s the description of our charge for the afternoon:

This panel aims to give a round up of efforts to prosecute perpetrators at the international and local levels. From the International Criminal Court to grassroots mobile courts, women have spearheaded various alternative and innovative forms of justice. What is needed to strengthen these efforts to ensure greater accountability and prosecution?

And here are the featured presenters:

Moderator: Susannah Sirkin – Physicians for Human Rights, USA
Anuradha Bhagwati – Service Women’s Action Network, US
Naw K’nway Paw Nimrod – Women’s League of Burma, Thailand
Andrea Medina Rosas – Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

And here’s the liveblog!

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Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Prevention and Protection

OK, folks, it’s time to dig in. First plenary at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict starts at 11:00AM ET today, and I’ll be liveblogging it right here. Hoping to get some of your questions in live!

Here’s the description of our charge for the AM:

Where are we now and what needs to be done? This panel will review what is being done and what needs to be done to prevent sexual violence in conflict. Reflecting on successes and obstacles, speakers will discuss initiatives/techniques at the international, national and local level to prevent atrocities and protect women.

And here are the featured presenters:

Moderator: Joanna Kerr – Action Aid International, South Africa
Joanne Sandler – UN Women, USA
Charlotte Isaksson – Armed Forces, Sweden
Godelieve Mukasarasi – SEVOTA, Rwanda
Binalakshmi Nepram – Manipur Women Gun Survivor Network, India

And here’s the liveblog!

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Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Liveblogging the NWI Conference

Greetings, Feministe-rs! Jaclyn Friedman here.

I’m beyond honored to be attending the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, at which over 100 women from around the world – activists, academics, security experts, corporate leaders, and Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebdai and Mairead Maguire – are coming together next week to forge a new security, and a future free of sexual violence in conflict. You can read a great (though definitely trigger-warning-worthy) overview of the issue and the conference’s approach to it here.

I’m also super excited that I’ve been given permission to liveblog and livetweet some of the proceedings, so that y’all can listen in and I can share some of your comments and questions with this incredible group. I’ll be doing the liveblogging right here (as well as at Yes Means Yes), and I’ll be focusing on the three overview panels, which are:

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black girls like us

look. i am not abusive to my kid. not even close. and neither is her father.

she is a happy, healthy three year old. she speaks three languages, loves to dance middle eastern style, and explains to strangers that ‘mama is from america’ but she is from bumblebee (the name of her preschool).

but, us american society, history, government is abusive to black children.

and egyptian society and government is abusive to black children. i know this cause i worked with sub saharan african refugees in cairo. i worked with ex child soldiers and teenage sex workers from sudan, refugees from eritrea and ethiopia. they are stuck here in limbo, cairo, legally segregated from the rest of egyptian society, not allowed to attend public schools, hospitals, racially profiled by the police, making 150 dollars a month is a considered a good job, living in ghettos, and struggling to either be repatriated or moved to europe, the usa, or australia.

they have been my teachers, my students, my friends.

some of them are mothers, and many of them didn’t have a real choice in the matter.

a lot of them look like me.

a lot of them don’t have the luxury of child free spaces, because many of them are children, themselves.

i know what abuse is. i grew up with it, day after day, year after year. and there are times when i would rather have my daughter with me at a bar, than with a babysitter that i barely know.

i work really hard so that my daughter knows that she is a person. because it is rare for black girls or women to be allowed to be people, a full fledged person, in this world.

being a mother isnt always a choice, not yet.

so, when i was in the west bank back in the summer of 2006, israel was bombing lebanon, and i realized i might be pregnant. my partner was in the states at the time, so i had to rely on a couple of friends to help me procure a home pregnancy test in israel since we couldnt find one in the west bank. as we were sitting in the park in jerusalem at night, eating cake, and hiding from the guards, one of my friends explained that she would most likely not be able to have kids. i nodded my head. and then she went on a small rant about how immoral it was to have kids, and be a breeder.
whoa. that word, breeder, was like a smack in the face. i wont go deep into the racial implications of that word, but as bfp pointed out earlier this week, black women in the states have historically been forced to be pregnant and to produce offspring, but not to be a mother. being able to not choose to bear a child can be a privilege. and so can being allowed to be a mother.
later that night when i was finally home, i saw the two pink lines appear on the plastic wand. and my suspicions were confirmed, i was ‘with child’.

i was pro choice before i became pregnant, but it was being pregnant for ten months that made me proclaim, loudly, to anyone who would listen: i am so pro-abortion because no one, and i mean no one, should have to be pregnant if they dont want to! anyone who thinks that adoption is an alternative to an abortion is nuts, it totally ignores that you have to be fucking pregnant for a fucking year first.

i know that giving birth, and/or being a mother is not always a choice. in a lot of the world a safe abortion is not necessarily available. here in egypt, is in a lot of the world, abortion is outlawed. and even in countries where abortion is legal, it can be out of the price range for the majority of women. in a lot of countries, an abortion is not feasible for a woman because of the red tape that she needs to go through. or the distance that the nearest clinic is. or if her family or partner discover that she has had an abortion she will be turned out of her house with no resources, no money, no job, no safety net, nothing. or she will be beaten. or the only type of abortion available are so dangerous to the woman’s health that she risks her very life in having one.

in the eastern congo, rape is used as a primary weapon of war. and women are kidnapped and raped for months until they become pregnant, then they are set free in the mountainous jungle. abortion is illegal in this country. and i talked with methodist christian ladies who were working day and night to be able to provide the morning after pill for every woman they can in their region. the work they do is but a drop in the bucket. they never have enough supplies.

maybe its because i grew up around girls in the states who didnt have a choice to become a mother. they had sex. they got pregnant by accident. and then they were stuck, threatened, beatened with no resources to be able to get to a clinic, that i dont assume that a woman chose to give birth; simply because she cares for her child. nor do i know what kind of internal choices she has made to be able to love a child.

i do know that it took everything inside of me to not start crying and never stop when i sat in rooms full of congolese rape survivors nursing their children. i know that they told me that their children were a gift, and i believed them.

this is why i work hard to do what i do. why i created the lilith plan. provide alternatives to clinical abortions that are not always available and can be traumatizing even if available. i research plants, herbs, flowers for their abortifacient qualities. i study acupressure texts. i build del-ems. i make the information available through any means i can find. cause a lot of women, women that we see everyday with their children never had the choice whether or not to become pregnant or be a mother. they walk by us, not screaming their life stories at us. and we judge them, not even with the little facts about them that we have, but with the stories and narratives that we make up about them in our heads.

i saw the lilith plan in a vision one night as i was meditating. and am slowly working to make it a reality.

a force more powerful

“We may not currently have the might of the Israeli army and the power of traditions confine us in certain roles, however, we know that one woman standing behind another in a line of solidarity is a force more powerful than both.”
–kefah, speaking in at-tuwani village, west bank, palestine

i am going to start with kefah. kefah will be on a speaking tour in italy this fall.

i met kefah in the fall of 2004 under horrible circumstances. we were living in the southern west bank. and a couple of international friends had been walking with palestinian children passed an israeli settlement, when the israeli settlers jumped out of the woods and beat my two friends down. luckily, the kids weren’t physically hurt, but they were scared, very scared. but my two friends were taken to the hospital with a punctured lung, broken knee and arm, and psychological trauma. so i and a couple of other internationals who were living in palestine went to at tuwani and walked with the children the next day passed the settlement. and the day after that.
those kids were amazing. they faced death just so they could go to elementary school.
the israeli soldiers told us that if the settlers attacked us, they would not protect us. and we believed them since a lot of the soldiers were from neighboring israeli settlements.
at night we slept in the women’s museum, a palestinian women’s craft co-op started by kefah.
kefah is amazing. she is a wife, a mother to four sons, a self-avowed feminist, a leader in her village, a visionary, a business woman, a community organizer. when i think of revolutionary motherhood, i think of kefah.
and she has a great raunchy sense of humor.
kefah expanded for me what i understood motherhood to mean. well, actually not just kefah, a lot of palestinian women did that for me. women who daily confront israeli soldiers just so they can work in their fields, harvest plants, leave their house, go to the clinic, go to the neighboring town. women who do it with a babe riding on their shoulders. women who do it with little money and a lot of strength. women. who. do. it.
dont get me wrong, i dont romanticize living under an occupation. its not pretty. its too little food, and too many people dying. its your husband, your son, your father, your brother in jail and you trying to figure out how to get the money to get him out, if that is even allowed. its eid under curfew. its watching your house be demolished simply because it was standing and then rebuilding it just to watch it be demolished again. its your mosque, your school be demolished. apartment buildings being shelled. its never having enough. its living on the breath of survival. its life. and its painful.
revolution aint pretty and it doesnt come cheap.
but it was kefah that i became friends with. and kefah who i watched as she organized women while mothering young boys.
and it was kefah and her village, at tuwani, that i wanted to return to when i tried to return to palestine in the winter of 2009.


in late december of 2009 israel decided to bomb gaza. and bomb her and bomb her. my lil family and i traveled during the bombing. first to scotland to see our friends theresa and jim. and then we got on a plane in mid january and flew to tel aviv, israel. (you have to enter israel in order to enter the west bank). instead of allowing us to enter israel, the airport security put me, my partner, and my one year old daughter in israeli jail for three days. (and no, we dont know why they would not allow us to enter israel, israel is like that, we have some good guesses, but no hard facts…)
there is a lot i can say from those three days in jail. i can tell you that all the guards are hopped up on speed and uppers and live in a world of paranoia that wafts through the jail like cigarette smoke. i can tell you that they refused to give us diapers for aza so she had to piss on the floor for a day until the cleaning lady came in and told the guards to give us diapers or else. i can tell you that in the cell next to us was an eight month dutch nigerian pregnant lady with her husband who had their passports confiscated. and that through the vents aza and i heard the guards torturing him while they videotaped it.
and there are things i cannot tell you. i cannot tell you the sound of aza screaming because she was locked in a room for over twenty four hours, ill never forget it, but ill never be able to describe it either. i cannot tell you the soft look in aza’s eyes when the guard told me: i dont care what happens to your daughter, whatever happens to her is your fault. because you are in here.
even though i had spent the past couple of days trying to get the fuck out of there.
i can tell you how by the end of that experience, no matter how horrifying many of the guards had been, i was so grateful that i was not them. that i still walked with my humanity. that i still could feel compassion for them even if they could not afford to do so for me.
i can though tell you that what we experienced was normal. and whatever was abnormal about our experience in jail was due to the privilege we were extended as us citizens.
after three days they let us go and flew us to amsterdam.
the bombing of gaza ended while we were in jail. and obama was inaugurated a day after we got out. i can tell you that i wasnt feeling very much hope as i watched pieces of the inauguration celebration from our hotel room television set.
i was missing palestine deeply. i wanted kefah to meet aza.


a lot of people want to quibble over israel and palestine. they want to start with the right of israel to exist. they want to start dividing up land for a two state solution. they want it over with. done with. cause they are tired of it.
no body i have ever met is more tired of the occupation than palestinians. bone tired. they dont get a day off from genocide.
and that means they dont get a day away from struggle.
people ask me what do i think about hamas and their refusal to acknowledge israel’s right to exist.
ummm…i have a lot of critiques of hamas. a lot. but israel does not have a right to exist. no nation based on occupation and genocide does (and that most definitely includes my home country the us of a). and no one should require that the oppressed acknowledge the ‘right’ of the oppressor to abuse, violate, and murder. no real peace can be bought at such a price. (i do not believe in rewriting history and so israel does exist, whether or not it has a right to. and we have to deal with it as it exists. but damn, dont ask for the natives to thank the conquerors for their chains…)
and there are few places where this is better articulated than in palestinian hip hop.

so i will end with darg (da revolutionary arabian guys) team. a few amazing mc’s from gaza. they had been trying for months to be allowed to leave gaza and after the massacre on the mavi marmara a couple of months ago and in response israel opening the gazan borders, darg team was able to escape to switzerland where they are hanging out now, planning to come to the states in september and go on tour. if we can get the visas and the funds for them to do so.

“on December 27th 2008 Israel started it’s first strike on Gaza killing hundrends no thousands of lives for 23 days. DARG TEAM after the war recorded and filmed it’s first video clip ‘23 yoom”.
today, one year after the war and DARG TEAM steps in again but this time calling every one to participate and start rebuilding what the war left behind.”

rebuild by us

(it’s in arabic. i really can’t translate it.)

the question i hate the most when i write or speak about palestine is: but is there any hope? did you feel any hope when you were there?
what. the. fuck?
hope? fuck hope.
i saw mamas breastfeeding babies. and old men tending flocks of sheep in full defiance of the israeli military. i saw wild poppies covering a graveyard. and a boy etching graffiti on the apartheid wall. and a 12 year old girl in hijab and school uniform sing umm kulthum with a tenor that would make the stoic weep. i have seen a full bellied palestinian pregnant woman turn her back to an israeli soldier who had a gun pointed at her so she could talk on the cell phone to her four year old son and tell him that she would be home soon. and communities get together and remove the large earth mound road blocks that the israeli army puts down in the middle of highways to cut off transportation between neighboring cities. and grandmothers who will yell at soldiers and lock arms protecting their sons. thrown rocks off of mountains with seven year olds (who had a much better arm than me) and drank tea in front of the rubble that used to be my hosts bedroom.
hope? i have seen much more than hope.
i have seen life. and love. and revolution.

and someday i will see kefah again.

Women in Uniform

I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for slideshows. Add a feminist theme, and I’m all over it. So I really enjoyed stumbling upon this collection of images of women in the military, starting way back with the American Revolution. Here are some of my faves:

An unidentified Civil War women's volunteer unit of 24 women in 3 rows wearing dresses and holding guns
A women’s volunteer unit in the Civil War. I wonder exactly what these women were allowed to do – any war buffs out there who can let us know?

Group of 20 women dressed in white who were the first women to formally serve in the Navy
This is “The Sacred Twenty” – the first women to serve in the Navy.

Three women working on an aircraft engine, learning how to disassemble it
Women and heavy machinery! So cool! Apparently these women are learning how to disassemble aircraft engines which sounds (and looks) hella intense and complicated.

Woman standing several feet in front of an aircraft and repairing another at her side, off-camera, smiling at the camera
According to the story that goes along with this image, this is Sharon Hanley Disher and she’s part of “the first [family] in American history to send every member to the Naval Academy” – which is pretty awesome, I say. Her story is pretty cool, I suggest you read it if you have some time.

We’ve covered the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) before, but what are your favorite stories of women in the military?