Last week the Muvman Liberasyon Fam (Women's Liberation Movement) had the fourth in a series of meetings between the Association and groups of women on the question of a new Manifesto.
After over 30 years existence, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam is at the moment, during a twelve month period, holding a monthly meeting with different women and groups of women from all walks of life in Mauritius so as to prepare a new manifesto. The manifesto, MLF members explain, is in three parts: it will, firstly, be an analysis of today's reality in historical perspective, then a list of demands that have positive dynamics, and thirdly it will hopefully explain how to develop actions that bring more and more conscious support from women for the manifesto. And, says Rajni Lallah who is MLF Secretary, it is a continuing process. "It will not be a once-and-for-all document," of course, "just like the original MLF manifesto wasn't."
"There were two methodologies we considered," explained Rajni Lallah. "Either we would take our original Manifesto which was prepared during some 12 meetings between 1976 and 1977 and update it by re-appraising and adding all the lessons learnt in action and in theory over the 30-33 years of our existence. Or alternatively, and we have decided on this course of action, we have meetings as though we were preparing a manifesto today, and then as it takes shape, towards the end of the process, we will reconcile it with the original manifesto, and also with the fruits of the rich series of actions, documents and demands that have developed along the way."
At the fourth meeting, the emphasis turned out to be on the way in which various demands that were very clear and supported by mobilized women have been re-interpreted (and "recuperated" or "assimilated") by the status quo during the last 15 to 20 years of downturn, to a point at which they almost become their opposite. Various examples were given.
One woman present on behalf of her Association said that the women's movement worldwide has always wanted emancipation and liberation which implied, she argued, equality and went hand-in-glove with equality. "Emancipation" and "liberation" meant the struggle against patriarchy and patriarchal hierarchies. Once the downturn began, this struggle was turned by the status quo, by patriarchy, and by the media, she said, into the struggle for "women to get into positions of power" or for "gender equity". The effect of this is to re-enforce patriarchy by recruiting a layer of women to it, not attacking this kind of social hierarchy. Everyone present agreed that the women's movement never sought for individual women to be put in positions of power, nor does it want it. And yet, there is an ideological current that pretends this, and it is stronger than we in the women's movement are at the moment.
Ragini Kistnasamy, an MLF leading member, said that another example of this kind of distortion of the demands of the women's movement is the example concerning the struggle in the women's movement for women to be freed from the burden of never-ending household tasks so that we can participate in the affairs of society like politics and associations. Our demand was clear and, she said, still is. We want twice as many people to be free to enter the public sphere of collective action for change. We want as much as possible of household drudgery to be socialized: with creches and laundries open at appropriate times and in convenient places; with contraception and abortion as a right guaranteed by society; with housing for all women, and indeed for everyone. Yet, the demand has been deformed. The right-wing and the status quo have distorted our demand as being one to "make men take their responsibilities", and "make men to their share of the housework". This false interpretation of our demand then makes us seem, she said, to be some kind of repressive force making men do things they do not want to do. It is not the work of the women's movement to make men be decent. However the falsification of our real demand (for socializing household work to the maximum possible) into making men do their share of housework, has an effect exactly the opposite of our aim: there are now actually men who are oppressed by housework and the part of it that is drudgery. So, instead of twice as many people being freed from drudgery so that they can enter the political arena together, she joked, there are half as many! As every woman knows, she said, "luvraz zame fini" or housework is never-ending.
A third and related example was given by Lindsey Collen who was chairing. She said that the women's movement had called on society to take charge of providing women (and families in general where the man is helpful) with child support. The right wing, and she gave the example of the Thatcher government, turned this demand for child support into a vendetta against "biological fathers" who the State then hunts down and takes money from individually for their children. We do not agree with this. Of course, Lindsey Collen pointed out, it is very nice if a man contributes generously to the upbringing of his own children, but if repression is used against him, the direct effect, in the experience of the women's movement, is often to cause a new round of beating of the woman and the children. And it is certainly not the role of the women's movement to support this kind of harmful "moral brigade", she said. Because all children will grow up to serve society as a whole, so society as a whole has the responsibility, she said, to contribute to the costs of caring for all its children. "Any child is my child," she said, as the South African saying goes.
This fourth meeting followed three on very different topics, but all interrelated.
The first Manifesto session held some four months ago tended to be mainly on the subject of the continuation of violence and harassment of women, after all these years of the women's movement. The conclusion was that the level of harassment and violence had decreased at the high point of social mobilization, not just in the women's movement but in the immense social and political movements of the 1970's, including the insurrectionary strike movement of 1979. Women participated in all these movements, and for some ten years the level of street harassment and domestic violence went down, the women present concluded. The future will thus, the meeting predicted, depend upon the degree of mobilization around highly political programmes, and this in turn will depend, to a great extent, on the economic situation.
The second Manifesto session focused more on the economy, and in particular on the issue of work and the right to access to land, or decisions about land use. The whole session was on how women's oppression is closely linked to humans being dispossessed of land and of the produce of past labour, which creates jobs for now. The effect of the collapse of the financial system and the effect this will continue to have on the economy was also discussed.
The third session was a viewing of the 6-hour film La Commune (Paris 1871) about the Paris Commune and a discussion of it. It was an all-day meeting on a Sunday with a picnic in the middle! The Peter Watkins film focusing quite closely on the women's role in this taking of power for two months in 1871, before the notorious repression of the bourgeois State, which executed the men, women and children of Paris, by tens of thousands. The film showed the necessity to put into practice a political action to take power as working people whenever the time becomes ripe, as it did for a brief time in 1871 in Paris.
The fourth session ended with a discussion of women's role in the Palestinian struggle and in the struggle to close down the United States military base on Diego Garcia. MLF has taken an active role in both struggles since 1970's and both struggles will be centre-stage in the coming months and years.
The meeting ended with a bring-and-share end-of-the-year party.
The next Manifesto session will be next year. In all some 60-70 women have participated in the sessions. The women present have been from different currents in the women's movement, including local town and village associations, women who are also in workers' struggles, women from the human rights movement, academics, and from the current promoting contraception and abortion rights. Those present include teachers at all levels from pre-primary to university, factory workers, lawyers, labourers, housewives, nurses, cleaners, domestic workers, researchers, artists.
Anyone wanting to join in, please contact any MLF member.