As part of International Women’s Day celebrations and at the beginning of the political surge towards General Elections expected later this year, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam brought together women from different currents to a brainstorming session on Sunday 10 March at the Mother Earth Hall in Grand River North West, Port Louis.
The purpose of the meeting was to come up with the outlines of a shared program or Women’s Common Platform for Emancipation to hand to all political party leaderships before they draw up their Electoral Programs, and so as to influence them. The method used in the meeting was, after a short introduction by the Chair, just simply brainstorming for 90 minutes.
Discussion was very lively, as conversation roamed from women living in the violence of generations stacking into an “heirs’ house” with less rights than a tenant, to the deleterious effects of social media controlled by profit-making companies, from getting police to back off from women who have abortions to the constant rebelliousness of school children at present portrayed in the media as “violence”, from the repression of education in foreign tongues to the social problems of those living with disabilities.
A 10-point platform is now being drawn up on the basis of the discussion and, once the drafting is agreed upon, will be published at the same time as it is presented formally to political parties.
Here, for the interests of our web visitors, is an outline of the introduction given by Lindsey Collen who chaired the informal meeting in the name of the Muvman Liberasyon Fam.
She began by outlining the aim of the women’s meeting – as described above. She then gave MLF’s credentials for calling such a meeting. After 45 years’ struggle, she said, even with a particularly either bad or non-existent media coverage – vacillating in fact between bad and non-existent – the Association’s momentum over time has finally claimed for it a place in the mainstream media. She referred to articles in the two main dailies that featured women’s emancipation work done by two members, Ragini Kistnasamy and Rajni Lallah respectively in the previous week as a sign of this.
A brief history of Women’s Common Platforms
Lindsey Collen said how the first Manifesto for women in modern times was drawn up during the French Revolution, 220 or so years ago. She referred to Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelley)’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” of 1792. Upturns in women’s struggles and the appearance of women’s programs, she argued, coincide often with revolutions. So, it was a big women’s protest march that, in a way, detonated what would become the Russian Revolution 100 years ago, with fine demands for emancipation.
In Mauritius, the MLF’s history can be seen, she said, as a history of its programs, manifestos, common platforms, woven in with petitions, women’s parties, and demonstrations, of course. She recounted an anecdote as to how, in preparation for this brainstorming, the MLF committee members had thought they would just put together a few of the programs prepared over the 45 years of MLF’s history, and how the task ended up being too huge. There are so many programs and programmatic issues on paper that it could not be done in one session. We all just got spell-bound by the few documents we had picked up from the 1,000 or so pages related to programs that we had extricated from our files!
On another tack, she said how the recent findings of the International Court of Justice at the Hague on Chagos were a vindication of MLF’s struggles and demands over Chagos, and how base-closure remains on our agenda. She also said how the commemoration of 20 years since Kaya’s death in police cells being so high profile this year vindicates our 20-year campaign against police violence and for a Commission of Inquiry into Kaya’s death.
On Manifestos, she said MLF began in 1976 and over one year had a dozen or so neighbourhood meetings to prepare our founding Manifesto for 1977. And that from 1978 to about 2001, MLF had spear-headed the Solidarite Fam common platform for women which every year, around a constantly updated program, celebrated International Women’s Day together. In the early years, it was at a big outdoor public women’s meeting in the Company Gardens. In parallel, Lindsey said how the 1981 big demonstrations on Diego Garcia of Chagossian, LALIT and MLF women, led to the confrontation with the Riot Police brought to break up the demonstrations, the arrest of three MLF members, Ragini Kistnasamy, Roselee Pakion and herself, and this was the key moment that forced the British to pay compensation.
In 2011, over the course of many meetings, the MLF brought out two booklets, New Women’s Manifesto and Nuvo Manifesto Fam. This new wave brought criticism of the way part of the women’s movement had been “bought in to” patriarchy by seeking merely to rise in existing patriarchal power hierarchies, the so-called “gender-gender” strategy.
In 2014, the MLF presented a Challenge Charter against domestic violence to all the parties heading for the last general elections. The then Prime Minister, Navin Ramgoolam, publicly agreed to take up the point about housing for women being available, so that if there was any sign of domestic violence and in order to prevent it, women could always have alternative housing. The other four points were, she said, work for all women and a regular income, that the whole of society take on responsibility for children abandoned by their fathers (instead of the police running after the fathers, thus making matters worse), to publish the Thea Mendelsohn Report on Domestic Violence, and to denounce and sanction men in their own parties who are predators.
In 2018, in the middle of the #MeToo movement, the MLF organized 50 women signatories against predatory males, to mark 50 years of Mauritian Independence. She said many of those present were signatories.
She said the MLF had spanned two epochs: the first half of our existence as an association was very much as a movement. It was a movement for emancipation and liberation, in the tradition since the French and then Russian revolutions, and also in the momentum of the national context of Mauritius’ independence movement. The second half, from around the year 2000, and in the epoch of neo-liberalist capitalism, the thrust of the mainstream self-appointed spokeswomen for women, no longer so much “in any movement”, shifted to “gender” as a strategy. Now “gender” is obviously a useful analytical category and always has been in academia, but as a strategy it is not much use to those already moving on emancipation and liberation. It is static. It was invented as a strategy, we think, by the IMF and World Bank around the 1970s and taken up by the UN system in about 2000, and certainly was not born of any women’s struggle.
Over this second half of our lives as an association, Lindsey said, we have maintained, kept alive, the struggle for emancipation and liberation around manifestos like those born in the French and then Russian revolutions – but as a minority voice.
So, today, downturn in the struggle or not, we are here to brainstorm about thinking big! We are not here to demand one or two new shelters for battered women, important as these are. We are here to change the balance of forces so that women, all of us, can defend ourselves, and emancipate and liberate ourselves, by our common struggles.
Then the debate began.
The Women’s Common Platform will be published soon, the LALIT web-site has been told. So, we will keep our web-site visitors informed.