Morning Star - Features 25 November 2015 p8-9
by Cristel Amiss
STARTING today, the UN has called for 16 days of action for the elimination of violence against women. This year’s theme is “prevention.”
According to UN Women, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
Who are the one in three? Is this figure accurate? Where did it come from? Does it include the majority of women and girls in the world who are of colour and grassroots, and the millions risking their lives to flee war? From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haiti, from Iraq to Uganda, from India to Peru, our struggle to end rape is largely invisible.
In 2012 a young woman studying medicine in Delhi was gang raped and murdered.
There were mass protests across India and internationally, highlighting women’s determination to end rape. The men were caught and convicted.
In villages across India dalit and tribal women and girls were also being raped, but according to our sisters in the campaign group Nawa Chhattisgarh Mahila Samiti (NCMS), their rapes get little media attention despite huge protests.
For many years in India there has been a grassroots movement of dalit and tribal women against rape.
NCMS is part of this and has been working against rape since 1987. Women and girls are raped by high caste men, landlords and policemen.
Sometimes up to 500 women go together to protest against a rapist, surround his house and shout against rape.
Then the activists go to the police station and demand the police file a report, gather evidence and punish the rapist.
Women have gone on hunger strikes to force the authorities to act. So far NCMS has won convictions in 25 cases.
Sadly, even in Britain, those who protested against the Delhi rape at the Indian embassy showed little interest in the rape of villagers. Class divisions seemed as sharp in London as in India.
In Britain too women have resorted to hunger strikes to expose brutal and inhuman treatment.
Seventy per cent of women contacting us from Yarl’s Wood Immigration and Removal Centre are victims of rape and other torture.
Since 2005 they have bravely spoken out against rape and other sexual violence by sexist and racist guards.
Following a mass hunger strike of over 70 women, over 20 were released and went on to win their status — they should never have been incarcerated.
In 2013 a woman made pregnant by one of the guards was deported. The guard was never prosecuted.
Asian and African women contact us in ever growing numbers. Many are mothers who have had their spousal status revoked when they reported domestic violence. Instead of getting protection, they are accused of lying, are detained and threatened with removal. We have been able to stop many deportations but not all.
One woman was raped again when she got back and is now in hiding. Together with the All African Women’s Group we protested when Angelina Jolie was hobnobbing with then foreign secretary William Hague at an anti-rape summit.
We insisted that she visit Yarl’s Wood and take a stand against deportation, instead of allowing the British authorities to claim concern for rape while deporting women back to the very countries where they had been raped and their children murdered or disappeared.
In India tribal and dalit women in bonded labour are raped and beaten by landlords. Many work from 4am to 11pm. They get 700g of rice — no wages — for their day’s labour.
Bonded labour is illegal but landlords are powerful and well connected. Mothers are malnourished and have no time to care for themselves and their children. Many work also in construction, making bricks for road building.
They have challenged abuses and exploitation, blocking roads for days until they won increased wages.
Their struggles are echoed elsewhere, as women everywhere are the backbone of campaigns for justice.
The British police have been found to be institutionally racist. What does that mean for women of colour who report rape or racist attacks, especially if we are also immigrants?
In one case we highlighted, a woman reported her rape to the police, but as they thought she was about to be deported they thought there was no need to investigate.
They didn’t care that a violent man would be left loose to attack others. We pointed out that the woman had papers and they were forced to arrest the man.
Unfortunately the case was so badly prosecuted that he got off. This is only too common, and a major reason rape convictions remain so low.
With growing poverty in Britain women and children of colour are increasingly at risk of violence. Over 50 per cent of children in colour live in poverty, many supported by single mothers working two and three shifts.
The last round of cuts hit 1.25 million families of colour — over four million people. Whether in Africa, India or Britain, those of us with least have to fight to get any justice. But as we are more able to be in touch and support each other we are also stronger.
Cristel Amiss is an activist with the Black Women’s Rape Action Project.