As a queer feminist activist from the United States, I urgently choose to speak to the U.S. influences of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently in debate within Ugandan Parliament. I feel it critical to highlight the complexity of neo-colonialist opposition to sexual rights and freedoms in Uganda in order to justly align myself with the feminist and sexual rights movements in the country . I also believe it crucial to point to the bill’s effects on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, trans, and intersex) identified persons within the country, but, also too, the layered implications for gender justice in Uganda. Despite the hard work and brilliance of the Uganda Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (an incredible Coalition of feminist, sexworker, LGBTI, Trans, and refugee organizations in Uganda),(www.ugandans4rights.org) an anti-homosexuality bill is due to be reviewed in the Ugandan Parliament within the following few days.
The tabled bill would legislate life imprisonment for Ugandans committing “acts against nature”, or “promoting homosexuality”. This criminalization of behaviors opens up a state-sponsored homophobic witch hunt, allowing for nuanced state and localized violence against all individuals and communities who may be accused of speaking out against gender and sexualized injustices, or whom may also enact described “acts against nature” which would be up to the scrutiny and interpretation of police officers in Uganda.
I stand in solidarity with the Coalition, with LGBTI identified Ugandans, and with all Ugandans who face criminalization, violation of privacy, and threatened security and well being because of this bill. The bill will create horrific realities in regards to access to healthcare, equality, and will infringe upon hard won constitutional rights of activists and civil society in Uganda, realized in the 1995 Ugandan Constitution, including “gender balance and fair representation of marginalized groups.” (http://ugandaembassy.com/Constitution_of_Uganda.pdf)
The Coalition has currently issued a call to all global sexual rights and human rights activists, organizations, partners, politicians, and influential actors to engage with members of the Ugandan parliament to vote against the AH bill, and to demonstrate, write, and announce their fear that some forces may succeed in pushing the Ugandan government to violate the human rights and freedoms of fellow Ugandans.
In my response to this call for solidarity, I am interested in repeated discourse of some Ugandan politicians and religious leaders of their immediate concern over the “promotion of homosexuality”, and its alleged imminent threat against Ugandan culture, traditions and family. While this discourse of the “promotion of homosexuality” by Ugandan activists has been declared by Ugandan AH Bill supporters as an import from the west, the truth is that this “promotion of homosexuality” discourse comes straight from the mouths of U.S. Evangelicals, including Scott Lively, a proselytizing Evangelical Christian from Southern California, and self proclaimed “grandfather” of the anti-homosexuality campaign within Uganda. There is nothing traditionally African about this kind of neo-colonization.
This discourse has legitimized the promotion of the AH bill, but also, the harassment and criminalization of human rights defenders in the country, and has enabled the Minister of Ethics, Simon Likodo, to interrogate human rights activists and shut down human rights workshops in the country, a gross violation of the freedom to assemble.
Responsibility and accountability for the AH Bill must be evenly shared with Ugandan clergy, governmental and religious leaders, but it is also critical to highlight the neo-colonial influences of Lively and the Evangelical right, which directly feed off Ugandan post-colonial resentments of ‘the West’ promising to relieve a Ugandan nationalist desire to be free of Western paternalistic imposition in regards to LGBTI rights, and more specifically, the allegedly Western notion of “promoting homosexuality”.
This concern with the “promotion of homosexuality”, has been referred to by Ugandan President Musevini as the main concern of Ugandans in support of the AH Bill, and the main impetus for the tabling of the draconian anti-homosexuality bill in the Ugandan Parliament.
The direct obsession with the “promotion of homosexuality” has been used as a legitimating climate and space to create the bill. In fact, David Bahati, Ugandan MP and parliamentarian, introduced the bill in Parliament directly following a Family Life Seminar, hosted by Scott Lively. Lively, the author of Pink Swastika, has campaigned for the passage of the bill and has supported the anti-homosexuality movement in Uganda directly. Ironically, Lively’s book, Pink Swastika, posits that homosexuals led Nazi Germany and the holocaust, in an outrageous mixing of symbolisms of the ‘pink triangle’ with the black and white Nazi cross (against a blood-red backdrop).
While this atrocious literature uses radicalized hate speech guised as a human rights issue, Lively’s anti-homosexuality campaign has moved from hate-filled literature into the domain of Ugandan state-sponsored homophobia. Lively’s interest in Uganda as a place in which to enact American “culture wars,” (more particularly, I am referring to the right wing conservative U.S. Evangelical “renewal movement”, which promotes stances such as: pro-family, anti-gay, and anti-Islam in opposition to new sexual rights advancements in the form of gay marriage advancement in the U.S). In fact, according to The Anti-gay Agenda: Orthodox Vision and the Christian Right” by Didi Herman (www.amazon.com/The-Antigay-Agenda-Orthodox-Christian/dp/0226327647), these issues such as pro-family, anti-gay, and anti-Islam are used to unite conservative groups in the U.S.
As the movement for gay marriage and civil rights legislation in the U.S. is growing, so too is the “culture war”. Herman explains the anti-gay agenda is one amongst many, including “pro-capitalist, pro-military, and broadly anti-welfarist politics.” In recent years, several direct anti-gay and pro-family seminars have taken place within Uganda, hosted by Evangelical leaders such as Lively.
Kapya Koama has an incredible collection of research on the topic in the report, “Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia”, (www.publiceye.org/publications/globalizing-the-culture-wars/pdf/africa-full-report.pdf) a publication of the U.S. progressive think tank, Political Research Associates. Koama, a Nigerian born pastor and researcher critically exposes the “renewal movements”, currently active within countries such as Uganda. Such renewal movements are described as “theologically and socially conservative groupings in mainline protestant churches.” Koama traces the renewal movement and it’s influence on the legislation of the AH Bill in Uganda. He expresses the urgency of the report as “part of the larger discourse needed to address the social and political influence of the Right both in Africa and around the world.” (Koama, vi:2009)
In response to Lively’s campaigning, the CSCHRCL took immediate lawsuit, and currently awaits a time in court in which Lively will stand trail. Currently, sexual minorities and those of multiple gender identities within Uganda are facing the repercussions of tangible U.S. homophobic and hate filled influences. But also at risk are hard won rights gained by the Ugandan feminist and gender justice movements, as any act against homosexuality would institutionalize violence for those persons transgressing “tradition”, “family values” and heterosexual norms.
This project to criminalize, demonize, and feed a culture of hate and violence within Uganda has its roots (as well as much of its financial backing) on U.S. soil, and direct accountability for this influence is critical and essential to add into the larger debate.
While I much appreciate the efforts of sexual rights groups in the U.S. to speak out against the HR Bill, it is vital that movements critically engage with the complexities of the debate and the origins of the issue, for an informed analysis of the racism and neo-colonial influences that currently threaten the lives and well being of Ugandans.
The urgency to build pressure within progressive Christian churches to speak out against the AH Bill is critical. Such advancements and unity would include a more comprehensive approach to sexual and gender justice in Uganda, and in many other regions of the world in which the name of “tradition” and “family” justifies violence, discrimination, and hate. A Ugandan bishop, Christopher Senyonjo, despite repeated death threats, and his being expelled from the Church of Uganda, continues to support the LGBTI movement and the movement for human rights in Uganda. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has spoken out to Ugandan leaders urging those who identify as Christian to protect all of God’s children. (http://www.redpepper.co.ug/?p=3254)
Posted: December 7th, 2012
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“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”
I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.
Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.
And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
― Audre Lorde
Posted: May 3rd, 2012
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Contesting Neo-colonial Subjectivities,
Making Room for Politicized Empowerment in Development
This is part of a larger paper I wrote for my Gender and Development course. It’s full of jargony words, however, Spivak, Mohanty, and Butler, as I state below, are extremelly useful in analyzing our current neoliberal paradigm, including our neoliberal development paradigm.
“On the other side of the international division of labor from socialized capital, inside and outside the circuit of the epistemic violence of imperialist law and education supplementing an earlier economic text, can the subaltern speak?” Guyantri Spivak
My goal with this paper is to highlight discourses that are part of the development agenda in order to suggest how these discourses limit the scope of current development goals, and to offer alternative “language” that can enhance development discourse. Part of the limitations of these development discourses is that they rely on the production of categories of subjects, which are in themselves limited and negatively so. I find that in order for development to remain a relevant practice, a critical analysis and resistance to its historically normative discourses is vital in order to establish a more politicized notion of development, and inviting concepts from postcolonial feminism and queer theory to engage with development’s notion of empowerment.
While gender is now a new topic of concern within the development field, and women’s empowerment is a notion that allows us to approach and ameliorate gender inequity, there is major concern from feminist thinkers that major development ngo’s and governmental bodies are simply “ticking the gender box” within the empowerment agenda. But, this ticking of the box so to speak neglects to analyze the instrumentalist approaches to empowerment that rely on power to be given to an assumed dis empowered individual or collective through economic means. While economic empowerment is a crucial element of wellbeing, it nevertheless retains devastating traces of colonialism, including the creation of a victimhood subjectivity.
The original political term of empowerment was used as a political tool by feminist movements as well as civil rights movements, intended to ignite a crucial analysis and resistance to structural inequalities. The original task, therefore, of empowerment was to challenge hegemonic discourses. Thus, to critically engage and enact empowerment, a first step is to continue to challenge the creation of subjectivities by the west, imposed upon the rest of the world, produced in the name of saving the victim of the “under-developed” world. According to Pathways of Empowerment, an international research and communications programme, empowerment is the action that “happens when individuals and organized groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realize that vision by changing the relations of power that have limited their capacity to enjoy a good life.” This would include challenging relations of power such as neocolonial exploitation and gender inequity.
Development is an industry historically influenced and directed by positivist and neoclassical economic theoretical influences. Practical Marxist-feminist-deconstructionist Guyantri Spivak uses the term “positivist empiricism’, of which explains the colonial and neo-colonial project of neglecting the material realities of communities and individuals within the south. Spivak provides the lens of viewing these discourses in her definition of positivist empiricism as “the justifying foundation of advanced capitalist neocolonialism- to define its own arena as “concrete experience” (Spivak 1998: 4). Spivak’s positivist empiricism offers a feminist deconstructionist lens of which to view reductionist views of subordination and power that fail to analyze the history of empiricism that the west has used to subordinate the rest of the world of which it continues to seek to develop. Positivist empiricism denies the necessity for an equal distribution of global resources, and blames the victim for their lack of ability to claim these resources.
Chela Bulbeck further provides us with the definition of ‘instrumentalism’, as the process of which the ‘“dominated person’s interests are defined as those of the master or in terms of the master’s ends” (Bulbeck 2003: 46). This process of creating the heterogeneous subject is part of the instrumentalist agenda. We can further take note that the notion of instrumentalism is active within the current development industry’s discourse. Rosalind Eyben explains this instrumentalism within the current hypocrisy of development’s agenda to “empower” individuals rather than negotiating a neoclassical economy. She explains, “Gender equality is not smart economics. Rather, a truly smart economics delivers gender equality” (Eyben 2008: 33).
Cartesian dualistic or binaric discourses permeate neocolonial concepts of gendered categories, relying on the man/woman opposition to simplify an incredibly complex array of gendered experiences throughout the globe. This woman/man dualism further relies on a heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is defined as “the idea that only heterosexual relations are normal, and that only particular kinds of heterosexual relations are normal (Lynch, 2008).
Furthermore, dualistic discourses or western binaries rely on a victimhood subjectivity that derives from the historical colonial discourse of victim and savior, hence legitimizing the need for a savior, or western hero/heroine. I argue that this victimhood subjectivity is necessary for the development agenda, as it stands to make room for a need for the act of development. Without the myth of a victim as subject, there would be no need for the inflated western attempt to save her. In an excerpt from Cornwall and Whitehead, they address this notion of myth making, explaining that the power of “fables”, and their “persuasive power that comes from defining the problem as well as the solution,” they continue to explain that ‘fables also offer development actors a place within the story, requiring, as well as justifying, their intervention” (Cornwall: Harrison: Whitehead 2007:6). Post colonial feminist Chandra Mohanty contests that the categorical production of the ‘average third world woman’ assumes that the subject “leads an essentially truncated life based on her feminine gender (read: sexually constrained) and her being “third world” (read: ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, domestic, family –oriented, victimized, etc.)” Mohanty further elaborates that this is in “contrast to the (implicit) self-representation of Western women as educated, as modern, as having control over their own bodies and sexualities, and the freedom to make their own decisions (Mohanty 1991: 56.) Thus, not only the assumed category of woman is problematic, but also the production of the categorical third world woman creates a tangible victimization process of which current development discourses rely on in which to continue the goal of an instrumentalist “empowerment.”
This categorization of the third world woman who lacks power is set in mirror to the ‘empowered’ western woman, a fabled dualism of which continued subordination in the victim/savior duality is further allowed, when in fact, western women have multiple dimensions of gender subordination of which they are “victim” to.
Spivak adds that “between patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is the displaced figuration of the “third-world woman” caught between tradition and modernization” (Spivak 1988: 306). Development discourse utilizes this notion of the third-world woman, using the lens of neo-colonialism, which neglects to identify agency, complexity, and power within individuals and collectives.
Western liberal feminism, in its response to gender subordination in neo-colonail terms has also played a part in continuing neocolonial discourses, and has responsible in recreating dis-empowering notions of victimhood fables in its approach to women in the rest of the world.
While liberal feminism has been critical as a move towards gender equity in the west, there must also be a critical engagement with the problematic assumption of a “universal structure of patriarchy” as Naila Kabeer explains (Kabeer 1994: 58). It is important to consider the category of woman of which western liberal feminism has sought to mobilize based on assumed shared experiences under a notion of a universal patriarchy. This categorization neglects to include an analysis of power beyond gender subordination, and must include an analysis of issues such as gender –based division of labor, gendered violence, and the creation of the public and private spheres with a localized and intersectional analysis.
Post structuralist and queer theory contributor Butler asserts that, “it becomes impossible to separate out “gender” from the political and cultural intersections in which it is invariably produced and maintained” (Butler 1990: 3). This begins Butler’s theory that gender is a production or construction, which means, simultaneously, that there is room for resistance to this construction. In addition to the simplification of woman as a category of analysis, the creation of the identifier of woman as a category neglects to examine the complexities of gendered experiences, as well as sexual experiences, and relies on the same hegemonic discourses that simultaneously produce hetero (normativity) as in fact, the norm.
I pose this question:
Is it possible for empowerment to take place as a “product” of the colonizer, provided to a homogeneous subject, the “third world woman”? And subsequently, if so, what would politicized empowerment work look like in the development industry? An example of a project within development that seeks to support politicized empowerment is Pathways to Women’s Empowerment. Pathways prioritizes space for individuals and organized groups to imagine their world differently, and to realize that vision by changing the relations of power that have limited their capacity to enjoy a good life. Through support of narrative as resistance, participatory methods, access to technologies, careful research and ethnographical approaches, and support of collective organizing, Pathways seeks to disrupt hegemonic discourses in development, as well as the categorizes they produce.
In addition, Pathways acknowledges the “one-size-fits-all” approach to women’s empowerment. And suggests that to avoid these instrumentalist approaches, careful ethnographic research and donor support is needed. These approaches must focus on a localized, nuanced approach to successful empowerment work.
In addition, Pathways explains that support and research on collective action allows for a encompassing of longer- term concerns”(Pathways 2006: 26). This notion of empowerment is crucial in contesting neo-colonial discourses in development. Neoliberalism, in the guise of the state and it’s “invited Spaces” (Sardenberg 2009) that have been used to delegitimize” so called ‘invented spaces’ (Miraftab 2004) of social mobilization, and therefore ‘empowerment’ has come to be associated with individual self- improvement and donor interventions rather than collective struggle (Sardenberg 2009).
In conclusion, considering the multitude of ways in which a victimization subjectivity of the third world heteronormative woman is constructed in discourse, is there a voice available to the subaltern, to the subject created through positivist empiricism, through instrumentalism? Does development allow a space for this voice? Narratives from those whom development seeks to empower is a place of resistance to and reclaiming of, a place in which the “subaltern “can speak. It is crucial for development to create the space within empowerment approaches to become less about donor’s comfortability, and more about challenging neo-colonial norms. Empowerment can in fact be about challenging unequal powers if this sub-altern is given space for voice.
Posted: March 19th, 2012
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The Occupy Movement:
Have we occupied ourselves of recent?
The bankers, they store the riches,
But we benefit too –
Greed and ignorance play in multitude, breathing
The voices of the unheard
In Tharir square
They pitched an idea
The chorus goes
Fight for what you believe in
The wise take deep
To powerful caution
In every step –
Reflect on yourself
Where did your water come from today?
How did you get to work?
Governmental systems at play
I will talk till I’m red
Thinking in circles to decide
It’s going to be a long,
This revolution –
We are getting somewhere
From Tharir square
From a dream
But takes steps with caution to
Who gets this voice?
Can we share it?
Have we occupied ourselves of recent?
Posted: December 6th, 2011
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I’m aware that I have abandoned the blogging for quite sometime. My new surroundings have been full of wonderful distraction! Arriving in London nearly one month ago was much more of a physical shock than a cultural one: the lack of sleep and the starchy foods on the plane ride left me wandering my way through the tunnel to my hosts flat. My hosts in all of my destinations throughout England have been more than welcoming, opening up their homes to a friend of a friend who just wanders in, stumbling from jet lag and too much starch. Everyone on my journey has shown me kindness through various means: good tea, good food, transport know hows and the best pubs.
Hard to believe almost two months ago I sat at the desk of a non profit in San Diego, and here I wander, relearning the ins and outs of a city, diving into new theoretical literature, discovering meaty pies and the glory of biscuits and tea, drinking pints, discovering new coins and their worth, and slowly adjusting to reality of a living dream. The Institute of Development Studies, my school, is sort of an island of incredibly interesting and gracious souls. I’ve found myself just the other day having lunch and discussing climate change, or Sudanese conflict, or both. I tend to leave my gender class with my heart beating fast, and my mind wandering rapidly about which tactics to use to change the world. My first day of school left me with this thought: my world has changed, forever. So far, I’ve met other students from Nigeria, Mozambique, Japan, Korea, Iran, Indonesia, Brazil, Spain, Sweden, Germany, India, Mexico, Sudan, Kenya, Zambia, Australia, Pakistan, and the U.S. So far I’ve listened to perspectives on feminism, politics, and development from cultural contexts I have never engaged with personally. Any book I may read or could potentially read will and would fail in comparison to the power of individual stories from those who are passionate about changing the way the world works.
Brighton is beautiful. A seaside town with historical small brick lanes and bike lanes, it’s incredibly charming. There’s plenty of distraction here from grad school: thrift stores, cafe’s, pubs (as mentioned a few times before), seaside ventures, music, art, and a general bohemian atmosphere made up of mostly the English and the traveling European. Just the other night, I experienced the moonlight on the water at the pebble beach while listening to a live Brazilian band. It seems every corner has an historical pub, each one claiming to have the best Sunday roast in town. And every “off license” store to claim to have the cheapest $10 American Spirit cigarettes. Time to roll my own. My favorite part of being here is the accent. Just the other day I heard someone actually say “blimey,” I busted out laughing. It was my professor, so probably not the best thing to do.
London is only 40 minutes by train, so naturally some friends and I ventured over for the Occupy London Stock Exchange, in solidarity with the global Occupy movement. At first I was incredibly frustrated that the London police had actually circled in the demonstration area, and were policing who went in and who went out. I was anxious at first about joining in the protest since the policeman I talked to informed me that they would lock down the exits if for any reason they felt there was a threatening protestor. So, being on a visa – it took me a couple minutes to decide whether to go in to “the circle”. Once I did it was a sight of energetic, creative, and fed up demonstrators. No chants were going on while I was there, but I would assume around 1,000 people had showed up. Later on, while watching the news at the train station from London to Brighton, we realized that we had just missed Julian Assange speak. That would have been incredible.
I am proud of my people occupying in the U.S. The system we have has a long way to go, and I’m so embarrassed by our foreign policies and how they have affected the world, but I have to say, it’s beautiful to talk with others about the fact that my people are organizing and taking back the streets. The spirit of creativity and love and progressive development for a more balanced society is filling the air, the airwaves, and the hearts of so many. I know this struggle will continue, as change is in the air. The earth needs it, our spiritualities need it, and certainly, the next generations need it.
So this blog is a hello, I made it, I found the necessities, I’m feeding myself, my heart is expanding, and my mind is getting blown sort of update. My love and thankfulness goes out to all who made it easier for this to happen, and for all of you who I miss dearly. The venture here was a journey filled with so many gifts of love. The generosity of friends, family, and total strangers has blown me away. It’s the sort of love boosting you need to get your feet onto another continent all by your lonesome.
And as said before, you are all welcome wear I roam!
Posted: October 16th, 2011
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I have been blessed to work every week, 40 hours a week, for the past 2 years with some of the most hard working, intelligent, and compassionate people I’ve ever known. It’s no easy thing to balance compassion with intelligent social work, all along knowing that sometimes you have to say no. This poem is dedicated to the co-workers at Jewish Family Service who fight the frontline battle to provide services to the county of San Diego’s most desperate and impoverished invididuals. I call it, “An ode to my tribe of love warriors.”
The work has been done,
Hundreds of lives changed
before my eyes
the goodness I get to do, with all of you
has never, not once, been a waste of time.
You know when to give,
And when to just think,
and you know when giving by thinking
to teach lessons
to learn to teach lessons for life
to teach to learn those with desperate times and troubles
what they never knew they needed.
You do it everyday,
Every hour, a new urgency emergency
Every new week filled with crisis
And hands tied
But with grace
Before my eyes
To teach lessons
With hands wide
I’ve been wowed, marked, molded and nourished
by a crew of warriors, love warriors I call them…
before my eyes
hearts AND their heads
and deep belly and dark and twisted humor
to do the work of what some call angels
or social workers
I’d like to say love warriors.
It becomes a philosophy.
And as I trek out, deemed worthy
By my tribe,
With confidence now –
My feeling alone
Or overwhelmed can always be
Love you all. The work is never done.
You are all welcome wear I roam.
Posted: August 26th, 2011
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