Criminalisation of social movements and poverty: a feminist outlook

21 July 2009 by Tárzia Medeiros

The headway made by globalised capitalism, especially in Latin America,
has set this region in the eye of the hurricane of social protest and
the convergence of different anticapitalist struggles. A few years ago,
sectors of the anticapitalist feminist movement joined in with this
convergence, thereby contributing the transversal nature of feminist
analysis in many debates and articles. The convergence of these forms of
popular resistance has been fundamental to break through the blinders
portraying “savage capitalism” as the only alternative. As Claudio Katz
says, “the workers, the exploited and the oppressed of the entire planet
are the antagonists of 21st-Century imperialism”. However the repeated
attempts to criminalise social movements and poverty via State apparatus
(police, sectors of the judicial power, etc.) and the major
communications media, as well as jailing and killing activists, place us
up against several crossroads. In a world where there is more and more
exclusion and violence, where 70% of poor people are females, the role
of women in anticapitalist movements and the repercussions of
criminalisation on their lives warrant a brief reflection.

Women against privatisation and destruction of natural resources

The macabre combination of production restructuring, suspension of
rights, military intervention in countries of the periphery and takeover
of natural resources, overseen by patriarchal capitalism has a harsh
impact on women. This is why the struggle against “green deserts”,
against agribusiness transnationals and against privatisation of water
have a women’s face, as women are the people who also ensure food
sovereignty through their subsistence activities; and it is women who
walk for many kilometres in the heat of the Nordeste region’s semi-arid
earth in search of the water their families will use. The action by Via
Campesina women in Brazil, who destroyed the Aracruz Celulosa
substitution for eucalyptus, was a victorious example of women playing a
leading role. The struggle for the preservation of forests and rivers
resulted in the sentencing of the “women burners of coco and women
living along riverbanks, whose sustainable way of life based on fishing
and extractive activities assures their survival and the survival of our
Amazonia. In all the corners of “Our America”, in Oaxaca or Ciudad
Juárez, in Caracas neighbourhoods or Quito streets, women’s
participation can be perceived, along with their determination not to
submit to the imperialist neocolonisation of our continent, also
speaking out against Latin-American pro-imperialist governments
complicit with these aims.

The struggle for legalised abortion is the focus of criminalisation

Despite various initiatives by the Latin-American movement and some
important victories – such as the decriminalisation of abortion in
Mexico until the twelfth week of gestation – we are being subjected to a
strong offensive by religious and conservative sectors who, putting into
practice the “Campaigns for Life”, are implementing a strong lobby Lobby
A lobby is an entity organized to represent and defend the interests of a specific group by exerting pressure or influence on persons or institutions that hold power. Lobbying consists in conducting actions aimed at influencing, directly or indirectly, the drafting, application or interpretation of legislative measures, standards, regulations and more generally any intervention or decision by the Public Authorities.

campaign to get laws criminalising abortion tightened up further still.
This is what happened in Nicaragua slightly more than one year ago when
criminalisation of therapeutic abortion was voted. Here in Brazil, women
are harassed by the three State powers. President Lula continues to
compromise with the Vatican, sending signals, including about the
possibility of putting religious education on the school curriculum. At
the end of 2008, Congress chairman MP Arlindo Chinaglia brought in the
creation of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI, for the
initials in Portuguese) of abortion, with as a mandate lo less than the
institutionalisation of criminalisation of women who defend legalisation
of abortion and those who are obliged to carry it out. Moreover, we were
recently surprised by an arbitrary action by the Judiciary of the State
of Mato Grosso do Sul, in the town of Campo Grande, which cited more
than ten thousand women for practising abortion, using as proof the
medical records requisitioned in a clandestine clinic. Out of these
women, some 1,200 are facing trial, reliving their personal dramas,
cruelly exposed.

Thus, if we analyse the way capitalism commoditises and
controls basic aspects of women’s lives, using them as instruments and
exploiting them on the basis of the foundations of patriarchy, then we
can understand why the active part taken by women has become so
noteworthy in anticapitalist movements. In consequence, it can be taken
for granted that they are in the sights of criminalisation due to their
participation in these movements.

Tárzia Medeiros is a brazilian feminist activist with the World March
of Women and a national leader of the Partido Socialismo y Libertad
(PSOL – Socialism and Freedom Party) in Brazil.



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