Feb 24, 2012

Bodies, Borders, and Territory

I'm at the AAG (geographer's conference) and looking forward to the Bodies, Borders, and Territory Sessions on Sunday - I'm on the panel at the end. Here's the great description of the sessions:

Feminist geographers are engaging foundational, long-standing geopolitical debates through the lens of the body, both as a scale and a site of study, while also introducing previously neglected questions and perspectives. An attention to bodies has revealed that geopolitical conflicts are felt in a variety of ways at micro-scales, and that these conflicts are often shaped by the everyday experiences of bodies on the ground. At the same time, scholars have effectively demonstrated that bodies themselves are frequently contested in much the same ways as territory: they are treated as frontiers and interiors, they are counted and managed, and they are often invoked to represent the fate or well-being of territory and imagined communities at larger scales.

This session aims to explore the intersections of bodies and territory, with a particular focus on borders and boundaries. Some of the questions we aim to address include: Through what sorts of structures and processes is the body made into territory? How are borders enforced through bodies, and how do bodies themselves become borders? How are bodies mapped onto territory and how are territories mapped or marked onto bodies? In what ways do bodies make borders porous, and how are bodies themselves unbounded? How might bodies expand the possibilities of resistance to uneven power structures and oppressive political projects, and how do people resist being used as objects for geopolitical ends? In the spirit of feminist geopolitics, papers in this session are informed by fieldwork and that engage critically with methodologies and researcher subjectivities.

Feb 18, 2012

women only accompaniment team

The International Women’s Peace Service is the only all-women international accompaniment team in the world. It is run entirely by volunteers, who make a 3 year commitment to IWPS, serving a minimum of one 3 month term in the West Bank, Palestine, followed by further terms in Palestine of one to three months in their 2nd and 3rd year.The IWPS original mission statement explains that,

"Having a single-sex living space will make it easier to integrate into the local Moslem culture, but this is not the prime reason for the women-only structure. Nor is it indicative of a view that women any more than men are natural born peace makers. However, the decision does reflect an observation that women often inhabit different cultures than men, are disproportionately involved in caring work and often have greater insight into creative ways of resolving conflicts. Women are often at the receiving end of gendered violence both in peace and war. A feminist view sees masculine cultures as especially prone to violence and so feminist women tend to have a particular perspective on security, safety, violence and war. Women's different and varied voices can often be drowned out in a mixed structure but in women-only spaces their voices can be heard more clearly. Our project will therefore be an experiment in feminist peace and justice work."

A volunteer with IWPS wrote to me that,

“being a women only team actually helps us having a closer relationship with women and women's organizations in the area we work in, while I do not have the impression that it is an obstacle in terms of contact and cooperation with Palestinian institutions or organisations that are male dominated. We do all the work the other mixed international teams in Palestine also do, but we try to have a women's focus in choosing local contacts and partner organizations and in some of our report writing. IWPS has supported the founding of a Salfit area women's organization, Women for Life, that developed out of women from different villages actively taking part in the popular resistance against the Apartheid Wall.”

Feb 8, 2012

building connection with stories

Tony Macias over at Witness for Peace has done up a beautiful video (below) with testimony and photos of Inocencio Hernandez, a Oaxacan farmworker, talking about why he went to the US to work, and why he went back. It's well worth watching. But what struck me is that on the page where he introduces the video he starts with one of these calls to build empathy by relating it to your own experience that I've posted about before. He writes

"One of life's big truths is that most things don't matter until they happen to us. From the momentous (say, loss of a loved one) to the trifling (hair loss), we just don't focus in on realities until they become personal to us. The phenomenon of migration is global, historical, and complex, and it's inconsequential to people who aren't forced into it.

But that's not really true, is it? Maybe we're all migrants: In 2006, 50 million US Americans changed homes and 8 million of those changed states when they did. Ok, moving across town involves absolutely zero danger and loss when you compare it to what undocumented migrants struggle through each year (Read here, here, and here if you don't believe me). But what remains true is that we know something about uprooting ourselves, and we do it for similar reasons (economic motivation, for instance). This doesn't make us all the same, but it's a chance for us to relate better to one another."

Now this is a comparison I think works to build solidarity more than appropriate - because it also highlights how the experiences are different, and because of that magic last line.

Feb 1, 2012

welfare empathy experiment

I regularly post here about the pros and cons of stimulating empathy to inspire solidarity. Here is another take.

This article ran under the headline "Welfare experiment brings tears to Surrey MLA’s eyes"

[For those not from Canada, an MLA is a member of the Assembly of the Province, in this case of British Columbia. It's like being a Representative in the State Legislature in the US. MLA Brar represents a Vancouver suburb and has gotten a ton of media attention in the Vancouver area for spending the month of January trying to get by on what as single adult gets if they are on welfare.]

"Five days into his Welfare Challenge, Surrey Fleetwood NDP MLA Jagrup Brar is looking tired.

He admitted to being in tears earlier this week.

On Thursday, he showed off where he is living and the food he has bought as he tries to live on the $610 a month a single adult receives while on social assistance.

“Living in poverty is hard and demoralizing. Looking for food makes your body tired,” said Brar, who undertook the experiment in response to a challenge by Raise the Rates, a coalition of social groups that wants the B.C. government to raise welfare payments.

On Wednesday, he was out looking for a place to stay aided by a worker from Hyland House, a Surrey-based organization that runs a homeless shelter.

Brar had put together a list of possible rooms he could rent for the $375 government housing allowance, but was shocked at what he found.

“The first house had four little rooms and was a dirty and filthy looking old house,” said Brar.

He said the room available for rent had no laundry facilities and the landlord wanted $450 a month “for a place no one would want to stay for one day.”

The next home he visited was similar.

This landlord then showed Brar another room on the side of the house.

“That was heartbreaking, shocking for me. This was a room like a closet. It was three feet wide, seven feet long with a single bed in it occupying the whole space,” he said.

“You could barely step in and go straight to your bed. There was no window. The landlord told me the person who was going to occupy that room was a patient coming from hospital after an operation.

“It was unimaginable for me to hear that people have to chose to live in those kinds of places, tears started falling out of my eyes,” he said.

This room rented for $300 a month.

“The person who showed me that closet-like room owns 50 rooms. She is making $20,000 a month on the backs of the poor of B.C. with the help of the ministry. It’s unacceptable and immoral,” he said.

Brar settled for staying in an illegal rooming house on 136A St. that is clean and well-kept and has seven other tenants. The spacious room rents for $400 a month, but he will only pay for the part of the month he will stay there.

“This is like a seven-star hotel compared to the other places,” said Brar.

On Wednesday, he went shopping for food, spending $32.87 for a variety of packaged foods, some milk, vegetables, fruit, bread and peanut butter.

Brar said he would stay in the Surrey rooming house for 16 days and then look for a place to live in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

After other expenses, he figures he has about $67 left for food for the rest of the month.

“It’s hard for me to realize that we have 137,000 children living in poverty in this province,” he said."

- I have such mixed feelings about this. Of course he can never really "know" what it is like, and he's much more able to cope than most who are getting by on $610. For starters, he got a worker to go out and look for housing with him?! How often does that happen? And he's not recovering from illness or trauma or whatever might have pushed him on to welfare. But gripes about the dangers of appropriative empathy aside, I have been appreciating how this stunt is getting the media to pay more attention to the realities and struggles of the poor and have some real hope that it could lead to change - raising the rates for a start.