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Lindsey Collen speaks at Nursing Association

28.03.2017

The Women’s Section of the main nurses’ union, the Nursing Association, held a symposium at the Municipality of Port Louis for about 100 of its women members to celebrate International Women’s Day. It was on 22 March, 2017. Lalit member Lindsey Collen spoke at the gathering. The other guest speaker was Pramila Patten, who now works at CEDAW. She spoke on the legal and bureaucratic responses to Domestic Violence so far in Mauritius, and their inadequacy. Before the guest speakers took the floor, the Vice-President of the union and the Chair of the Women’s section also gave short addresses, as did the Chief executive of the Health Ministry and the Director of Nursing.


 Here are the notes to which Lindsey spoke, translated into English:


 By the year 2000, in both Lalit, in whose name I’m speaking today, especially in our Women’s Commission, and in the Muvman Liberasyon Fam I am a member of, we realized that there was something very seriously wrong with the direction in which part of the women’s movement – world-wide – had been moving, and is still now moving. We even came to question whether this part of the women’s movement was in the women’s movement at all, so far had its direction diverged from the historical path of “emancipation”.


 It is a political current that, we noted, was becoming completely disconnected from the women’s struggle for emancipation – 200 years of struggle – and from the women’s struggle for liberation – 50 years’ struggle. Behind this new current were two or three related phenomena:


 - The NGO-ization of what had previously been an autonomous movement i.e. groups were now funded from outside their membership, and thus became disconnected from challenging the structures of patriarchy, and answerable to funders and the programs of their funders. Elite women were doing something “for” other women’s emancipation. It was not “we are struggling to emancipate ourselves”.


- The related phenomenon of the glorification of single-issue struggles i.e. seeing violence against women, or oppression in the media, or reproductive rights, as separate from the overall struggle against patriarchy. This makes it easier to follow tactics that go in the wrong direction, i.e. against your aim to do away with patriarchal rule.


-  The deadweight concept of “gender” replacing the “movement” concept in “emancipation” and “liberation”; the word “gender” as a strategic concept was not even born in the struggle – but seems to have come from the World Bank or the IMF or something like that, as far as our research shows us. Women started looking not at huge movements but at what various UN structures and meetings (Rio, Nairobi, Beijing, etc) did, or what different Governments did (this law in this year, etc).


 So, today I might find that I am not speaking the same language you might hear from representatives of WIN or Gender Links or SOS Femmes. This is a very different time today from the women’s movement of the 1970’s, say, when we were all standing up against patriarchy – however different our organizations might have been.


 Before moving on to the main subject of my talk, “demands on the issue of rape”, I’d like to recall that it was with the help of the Nursing Association, Lalit and the MLF, that the new law, less draconian, on abortion was voted in – in the presence of these organizations – in 2012. That was the last time I was with you. We won a new law. But in that victory, there was a huge bit of defeat: the grounds for abortion are very narrow indeed. But, the victory is not just the new law, but the fact that your then Secretary, now President, Ram Nowzadick, made a public call in a Press Conference to women who are ill after a clandestine abortion not to hesitate, but to come to hospital at once. He said nursing staff are there for you. This is a victory. Its effects remain until today.


 And before that we were together, your union and us Lalit members, in struggles against the commercialization and the privatization of health care, in the time of All Workers’ Conference, 1996-1999.


 I’d also like to say that my links with health are varied: I worked as a Nurses’ Aid in the Johannesburg General Hospital in University holidays, I worked as a Temporary Typist at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London, and again on a University Placement when at the LSE, I was a collector in perhaps the only Health Service run by a village for 25 years, in Bambous. And I have been admitted on the gynae ward at Jeetoo – which was a good experience thanks to the nursing care.


 Let us talk about one issue that affects you as women and as unionized nurses:


- Rape


And let us look at what demands might be – from the point of view of genuine emancipation/liberation from patriarchy.


There are two diametrically opposed sets of demands on what would help.  And they teach us a lot.


One current says: “Let’s get Government to recruit women police officers! This way 24-hours-a-day in all police stations, there is a woman!” Then, when a woman reports a rape, she finds at least one woman in the male atmosphere of the police station. It sounds fair enough at a superficial level.


But what does it mean?


Remember that the police hierarchy is one of patriarchy’s main structures. So, the demand actually calls for an increase in the size of the police force. (We are not calling for any sackings, it goes without saying           !) But if the police force increases by, say, 15%, this means strengthening patriarchy, not weakening it. It also means women are still forced into the patriarchal space of a police station every time they are assaulted sexually. What is called “the second rape”. Nothing is changed for women. We are not in any way emancipated.


When we look closely, we at once see that this demand was erroneous, at best a bureaucratic response to women’s suffering.


In the MLF we had, by the time this demand was put on the agenda, been involved in public meetings denouncing rape and even in a demonstration against rape by police officers – e.g. at Petite Riviere police station. Hands-on experienced taught us that this was a very bad demand. So, we worked on finding a better demand.


Basically, rape gets less when the overall balance of forces is more in favour of women. So full employment, housing for all women, and so on, is what really helps.


But, what transitional demand. In LALIT, we invented this:


“Let’s have women not have to go to a police station at all, after being raped!”  This demand was born in LALIT, a male member thought it up, and in the MLF, it was adopted.


A victim of sexual assault should be able to go to the hospital immediately. She should not have to even think about the police.


So, we called for a “Rape Crisis Unit” in each hospital in Mauritius and Rodrigues – a Unit that comes into action the minute a rape victim turns up at Casualty. Immediate physical care, anti-pregnancy care, STDs care, a plan for psychological follow-up  and should the woman want to report the matter to the police, a woman officer comes to the Unit for an interview. Here, by this demand, we are pushing patriarchy back.


Now, you won’t believe this but we won this demand in the 2002.


The Minister of Women’s Rights Navarre and the Minister of Health at the time introduced RCUs in two hospitals – Jeetoo and Candos as from 20 November 2002.


But neither Ministry did anything whatsoever to popularize them. We did in the MLF. We sent out over 2,000 letters, two to each of 500 or so Women’s Associations, and another 1,000 we distributed as activists. But, women continued to think they had to go to the Police.


So, very soon the Sexual Assault units fell into disuse and disappeared.


We had to mobilize again, in the MLF, and put pressure on the new Women’s Rights Minister, Ms. Seeburn, in 2006. We won a protocol (See Appendix, which was distributed to those present). This gives women the choice of going directly to a “Sexual assault unit”, in each of the five main hospitals on Mauritius Island and the hospital in Rodrigues, through the records’ clerk.


Until today there are people supposedly in the women’s movement who advise women to go to police stations! 15 years later. Is this possible? When everyone now knows that the most important thing is for women to speak openly about sexual assault as soon as possible after the trauma? And getting this Protocol into use could be a major contribution that women nurses could make.


[She read Scenario 2 of the Protocol out aloud – see below.]


What could be your role, as nurses in a union, in getting this going country-wide, and keeping it going? In discussion afterwards, women present suggested putting pressure on the Health Minister to get the Protocol publicised widely by a campaign – like the campaign on malaria. It could be done jointly with the Gender Ministry (as it is now named) and the Police Commissioner, who helped come to an agreement on the “Protocol”.


So, as well as learning something about proper “transitional demands” – where we address women’s suffering on the spot, and at the same time weaken, instead of strengthening, patriarchy – we have also learned another lesson: In victory, there is always a grain of defeat (did we not win the Rape Crisis Units in 2002, and the Sexual Assault Units in 2006, allowing women and girls and any victims of sexual assault to go direct to hospitals?) And, in defeat, if a struggle is well conducted, there are seeds for future victory. So, the fact that this fell into disuse can be remedied and from today at this meeting we can begin to work towards a more lasting victory. Let’s do just that.


 


Appendix


Protocol of Assistance to Victims of Sexual Assault


Main Provisions


With the application of the Protocol (since March 2006), adult victims of sexual assault may call:


- (Scenario 1) At the Police station found in the area where the offence has been committed; or


- (SCENARIO 2) Directly at any of the Sexual Assault Units of the 5 regional hospitals (Jeetoo, SSRN, Flacq, J.Nehru & Victoria).


Scenario 2: When a victim of sexual assault goes directly to any of the 5 regional hospitals:


- The victims goes directly to the Casualty Department.


- The Medical Records Officer (Casualty) will immediately inform the Ward Manager or the Charge Nurse of the Casualty about the case so that arrangement will be made forthwith to receive the victim who is then seen, on a fast track, by the doctor for emergency treatment, if required;


- The Ward Manager/Charge Nurse will inform other medical officers, Ward Manager, Charge Nurse of designated Wards for admission of victims (Gynecologist, Psychologist, Medical Social Worker) about the case so that they arrange to see the victim at the hospital;


-A specific place is being earmarked by the Ministry of health and Quality of Life in one Ward for female adults where the team mentioned above will see the victim as and when required. Arrangements will be made at the level of the hospital for victims to be treated in the presence of a close female relative;


- The Ward Manager/Charge Nurse will inform the Police Post which in turn contacts the Police Station in the locality of the hospital and makes arrangements for a statement of the victim to be taken;


- A Woman Police Officer from the Police Station of the locality of the hospital will take the preliminary statement of the victim. Further statements would need to be taken, at a later stage, by officers of the Police Station of the region where the offence took place;


- The medical examination is undertaken and swabs are taken by the Police Medical Officer at the hospital;


- Appropriate treatment for HIV/AIDS should be given to the victim.


- The Police Post informs the Ministry of Women’s Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection of the case of sexual assault. Subject to their consent, adult victims will be provided with psychological assistance by the Psychologists of the Ministry of Women’s Rights, Child Development, family Welfare and Consumer Protection.


Scenario 1: When a victim of sexual assault reports the case to the Police Station in the locality where the offence has been committed:


- Victim gives a regular declaration regarding only the gist of the offence. The full statement may be taken, at a later stage, at the hospital. Thereafter, the victim proceeds to the nearest regional hospital;


- The Police Station contacts the Police Medical Officer and makes arrangements for the early examination of the victim;


- The Medical Records Officer (Casualty) will immediately inform the Ward Manager or the Charge Nurse of the Casualty about the case so that arrangement will be made forthwith to receive the victim who is then seen, on a fast track, by the doctor for emergency treatment, if required;


- The Ward Manager/Charge Nurse will inform other medical officers, Ward Manager, Charge Nurse of designated Wards for admission of victims (Gynecologist, Psychologist, medical Social Worker) about the case so that they arrange to see the victim at the hospital;


- A specific place has been earmarked by the Ministry of health and Quality of Life in one Ward for female adults where the team mentioned above will see the victim as and when required. Arrangements will be made at the level of the hospital for victims to be treated in the presence of a close female relative;


- The medical examination is undertaken and swabs are taken by the Police Medical Officer at the hospital;


- Appropriate treatment for HIV/AIDS should be given to the victim.


- The Police Station informs the Ministry of Women’s Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection of the case of sexual assault. Subject to their consent, adult victims will be provided with psychological assistance by the Psychologists of the ministry of Women’s Rights, Child Development, family Welfare and Consumer Protection.