[The main organization for women’s emancipation in Mauritius, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, held an “open evening meeting” to look back on the year 2017 for women on 12 December, and about a week later held an executive Committee meeting to consolidate the discussion. The MLF submitted this article to LALIT for publication on our website.]
As 2017 closes, the MLF has pleasure in giving a report on how we, collectively at two meetings, summarized and analysed our monthly “open women’s meetings ”, which are usually structured around a particular theme each month – taken from a women’s point of view.
The open end-of-year evening meeting began with Secretary Rajni Lallah giving a summary she had prepared of the Minutes of all the monthly meetings. This was followed by members speaking – in any order, on any theme related to the year 2017 for women – and then the evening ended by drawing together some threads of the struggle, so as to help progress for women in 2018. This article is based on these discussions, and on the MLF’s executive Committee Meeting held a week later.
Members agreed that our meetings over the year 2017 had been focussed on themes that seemed on the surface to be diverse: popularizing the rape crisis units in hospitals (a gain that we have finally won) – as one-stop-shops after any sexual assault; domestic violence; control of the country’s land, control over job creation, housing struggles; against military occupation in Diego Garcia and Palestine; and it has been a year of world-wide denunciation of sexual and sexist abuse – at work, in politics, in media firms. MLF, as member of the Komite Diego called for a Regional Council for Chagos and a Constituency.
The important thing, members agreed, was that we had, at our meetings during the year, consciously linked all these apparently diverse themes to the on-going struggle against patriarchy. In the MLF, over the past decades, we have first identified, and then opposed the “gender equity strategy” which does not understand, and therefore cannot really oppose, patriarchy itself. We identify the gender equity strategy as a risk of reinforcement of the very patriarchy that is the cause of women’s oppression. The “gender equity strategy” accepts patriarchal hierarchies on condition that women get to climb the ladders within them. In the MLF, we have continued to make progress by constantly contrasting our actual demands with those of the right-wing gender equity current in the women’s movement. We no longer agree to be forced by mainstream media to be a sub-category of this erroneous interpretation of the women’s movement. It is not easy, however. Each women journalist needs about two hours of explanation to “see” the difference – so hegemonic has the right-wing current become. So long as they do not see the difference, whatever we say in an interview, they write up (in good faith) the opposite. (Journalists, and others of the elite, are unlike working class women, who see the difference between the two currents on the spot in our meetings.)
We distributed a leaflet to women’s organizations coming to the Swami Vivekananda meeting on 8 March this year. The title was: New Charter for Emancipation. The leaflet confronted the gender equity strategy head on. Earlier, to include other associations in the move, we had issued the document calling for a “Women’s Movement Revival of Struggle for Emancipation and Liberation”, as opposed to gender equity.
Link all “single issues” to revolutionary change
In addition to linking single issues to the struggle against patriarchy, because of celebrating, as an organization, the 100 years since the Russian Revolution and women’s key role in it, we also began, from the October celebrations onwards, at the suggestion of a member Rukaya, for the first time to link all women’s struggles both to the reforms we seek for now and at the same time to the revolutionary change we aim at – one that overthrows both patriarchy and its hierarchies and also private property. (By “private property”, we mean private ownership and control of “land” and “capital” as productive forces, not people’s tooth brushes or mango trees!)
The land issue
In 2017, more than ever before, we saw that the ownership and control of arable land (at present land is prey to real estate speculation, gated communities for millionaires, so-called Smart Cities) as a theme that is central to women’s struggles. Before the end of Diego Garcia and the whole of Chagos escaping the control by the British colonial State, we have a re-colonization taking place where the land of Mauritius main island is being sold off – in exchange for permanent residence and even citizenship – to the highest bidder. This year we linked the land issue, not just to Chagos, Palestine, Puerto Rico, the pipe lines in the US, but also to job creation, to housing, to food security – all of which are also women’s issues.
The Patriarchal, Capitalist State
This year, we looked at how on earth both patriarchy and capitalism, being so domineering, manage to maintain their reign in what is apparently a “democratic society”. How is this? The answer is these two systems are kept in place constantly and without let-up, by the Mauritian State apparatus – “State” in its broad Marxist sense, including all education, media, religious organizations, the type of “family” promoted, laws, the permanent state – which has only a very small democratic part, with elections only 5-yearly, and not even allowing revocation! So, the State, by a combination of repression-and-minor-concessions, depending on the degree of mobilization at the grassroots of the working class and amongst women, maintains both capitalism and patriarchy in place. The State also maintains the general taboo of challenging these systems head-on! Instead of opposing the “capitalist class”, you may oppose some of its subservient “elites”; instead of opposing patriarchy, you can seek to rise within it!
And it is not just in Mauritius that patriarchy and capitalism reign. These reigns have become worldwide, interlinked systems, the patriarchy being 5,000 to 10,000 in some places on the globe, and capitalism, at most in power for 250 years in Europe, and gradually spreading until it became totally hegemonic at the beginning of the 3rd millennium. So, to fight an international system, we need to maintain internationalism on our own agenda.
The nature of Patriarchy
We have developed a new awareness of how the patriarchal system is not limited to macho domination by a handful of men in the top tiers of hierarchy over all women and over most men, too: these patriarchal hierarchies systematically work together with each other, covering-up for each other when attacked. The exposure (finally) of Weinstein and other abusive men's decades of sexual abuse has also brought to light how ex-Secret Service agents, law firms, US Presidents, secret Senate funds, political parties, Hollywood magnates, chief editors have systematically knit up (as one of our members put it) support systems to protect macho men from exposure and attack. All this despite the number of women, journalists, film industry staff who over the years, bravely tried to denounce Weinstein, and even did denounce him! Our understanding of the nature of patriarchy and its modus operandi has deepened.
The internationalist aspect of the MLF’s double struggle was also clear throughout 2017. We have been active in the Palestinian struggle, where young girls have now, since our end-of-year meeting, begun to attack Israeli soldiers by slapping them – not even the sling of David against the giant Goliath anymore – but the palm of the hand of an adolescent girl as the only weapon against the massive firing power of the Israeli State male soldiers! MLF having a member who has been a volunteer twice in the Occupied Territories means we get to understand the issues – like Trump declaring Jerusalem capital of Israel – for what they really are: old-fashioned colonization and genocide in the 21st century.
The Past can bless or haunt the present
And we have linked MLF’s past internationalist contributions with the present. Here’s one example we discussed.
When Clinton abused a young woman intern or “stagiaire” in the mid-1990s, MLF insisted in two open letters to the USA women’s movement that they call for him to step down at once.
Most of the women’s organizations in the USA did not, however, in the end do so, at the time.
Clinton was finally subjected to impeachment proceedings anyway, in a country where women had often claimed they were “liberated”.
Anyway, in 2017, we in the MLF linked our past participation in debates with US feminists about Clinton’s unacceptable behaviour to the present context of Donald Trump’s first year in office, after his election despite his predatory nature being public knowledge.
The value of recording past struggles
We, in MLF, had searched through our documentation centre, found and read out copies of our letters sent to American women’s associations at the time of the Clinton sex abuse of his “stagiare” Monica Lewinsky, in which we called for US women’s organizations to demand his resignation. We also found copies of their pathetic replies in our archives. The National Organization of Women (NOW) was then trapped still in the patriarchal strait-jacket of seeing Clinton’s sexual abuse as a result of his irresistible sex appeal, and they even referred to “the aphrodisiac nature of power”. Women were thus, in their view, not abused but somehow bewitched! Anyway, it was the women’s fault – even to women’s organizations like the NOW. MLF was way ahead already then, talking of the power dynamics – that are only today becoming mainstream analyses in the USA. They also said that Clinton nominated women to positions of power! (As if this was “more important” than him abusing the odd intern.) They also said it was a Republican plot. (As if this exculpated Clinton.)
We now see how the collapse of a principled stand (to denounce Clinton in public at the time) proved a fatal handicap to the women’s movement in its attempt decades later to prevent Donald Trump being elected. How could they succeed, after having colluded with Bill Clinton so abjectly? It was not just a Republican plot then, nor is it now. The mainstream women’s movement in the USA has also been forced into the embarrassing position of being a “tail-ender” to the movement of abused women in Hollywood and in the US media outlets – for the same reason.
Donald Trump’s election has also, in some diagonal way, helped encourage the brave exposure by women actors of Disney’s and Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein -- plus dozens of other powerful males – as predators who abuse power. Sexual abuse, as MLF has been arguing for nearly 40 years now, is about power (and violence) more than about sex. In 2017, we in the women’s movement in Mauritius, and women world-wide, have been particularly focussed on the exposure of sexual and sexist abuse by powerful males in political positions and in media positions.
We distributed copies of the French President, Emmanuel Macron’s long speech against violence against women, which we see as a major advance for French society and, because of the upper classes in Mauritius being Francophile, for Mauritian society, by ricochet. The progress from the decades of accepting DSK’s abuse of women (he is known as the ex-future President of France) before he was finally exposed, to this fine speech by Macron is immense. MLF ran a campaign at the time of the cover-up of DSK’s predation.
Local Media and Political Parties make some progress
In Mauritius, we have this year, at long last, seen some little progress in the media and in political parties in terms of speaking out against the sex abuse and sexist abuse of men in politics – Mamade Kodabaccus, Ravi Rutnah, Tarolah and, in the press to a lesser extent, Miko Arunasalom in his sexist outburst against two Mouvement Patriotique women colleagues of his. However, this is not yet a principled stand for most commentators. Instead, they only speak out against these men because of party-political expediency or because a colleague journalist was victim: their stand coincides with their interest. But we are watching.
Avoid Depending on the Patriarchal State for Redress
We found this year that if we need to make use of patriarchal hierarchical structures for defence, for example, we should use them only when necessary, in addition to the broader federating strategies that aim at the overthrow of patriarchy.
In fact, this “relativization” of the importance of “going to the police” has become the leitmotif of the recent US movement against predatory males: it is now at long last recognized that the important thing is to speak out against these males, and to have this right – without expecting retribution, punishment, humiliation, and further criticism – and that the recourse to State institutions for punishment and redress, though it can sometimes be useful, is not the main aim of the women’s movement. Whether to lay charges against abusers of power, or to sue these predators, depends on your chances of winning in these patriarchal institutions, and on whether a particular case, if in the Courts, may help other future cases.
Wrong analysis, wrong strategy, wrong demands
Increasingly, this year we in the MLF have concluded with a new confidence, that the current in the women’s movement that seeks only for women to rise to positions of power within existing patriarchal hierarchies is not only useless to women’s liberation, but often actually harmful. It produces not only unprincipled stands that are later in practice a handicap, but also the wrong demands i.e. demands, and then, in turn, strategies and tactics that may, and often do, strengthen patriarchy! In order to weaken patriarchal structures, we know that we have to recognise them, for a start, and then aim to weaken them, and aim to “flatten” all hierarchical structures. That is why we want a classless society.
End of year party
At the end of the evening, we shared a meal together – a bring-and-share style meal.
Beginning to plan for 2018
At the executive Committee meeting that followed the next week, a plan for 2018 began to take shape, based on the conclusions of the open meeting. There will be continued emphasis on the importance of mobilizing women on the land and housing issues, including dangerous housing – like asbestos housing – and on land for job creation, food security and pleasure activities. There will also be an accentuation of the Diego Garcia issue, which will involve demonstrations and actions as the issue now finally goes before the UN International Court of Justice at The Hague. At the same time, it is a crucial year for the exposure and principled stands on sexual and sexist abuse by powerful men like bosses at the work place, men who get access to women in distress when in the justice system (probation officers, lawyers, magistrates and judges), in politics, in the media and even in trade unions.
January 2018 Review of 2017
So far, the MLF has only reviewed our open meetings. In January we will be taking a wider view of 2017 and put it in the context of the decades and centuries of women’s struggle, here and worldwide, at an annual all-day executive Committee “bilan”.
MLF executive Committee