From Survivors to Defenders: Women Crossing the Line and Confronting Violence In Mexico, Honduras And Guatemala

By Cristina Hardaga Fernández

JASS (Just Associates) is an international women’s rights organization dedicated to strengthening the voice, visibility, and collective power of women to create a just and sustainable world for all. Anchored and driven by our regional networks in Mesoamerica, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia—comprised of local activists with ties to diverse groups and movements—JASS trains and accompanies activists, women human right’s defenders and their organizations in 27 countries who are building movements to address diverse justice issues including LBGTI rights, HIV and reproductive health, indigenous land rights, and violence against women human rights defenders.

For the Mesoamerica Region, but particularly in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras where we work, the diagnosis is very clear: women are increasingly the victims of violence. This reflects the discrimination they suffer in society, which views them as objects for manipulation and subjects them to gender-specific forms of violence that are particularly cruel and demeaning. In these countries both governments and non-state actors are systematically committing crimes against women—and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Their security forces and institutions frequently act to support political interests and the economic interests of private sector companies rather than the public good, eroding public safety and blocking access to justice.

The lack of a gender perspective deepens discrimination on all levels of government. This creates even greater barriers to justice for women and leads to attacks on them when they defend their rights and seek justice. In addition, the wave of violence in Mexico and Central America has deep economic, social and political roots. In Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, bloodshed is accompanied by silent forms of violence—hunger, poverty, inequality, and illiteracy—all of which affect women more deeply due to discrimination and the fact that so often women are the main caregivers for families.

In this context JASS Mesoamerica’s movement-building strategy links activist training and analysis with political organizing, communications and action and focus on the strategic importance of increasing women’s individual and collective citizen power in order to fight against human rights violations and for gender equality.

For us the network is a key resource and that’s why JASS Mesoamerica began focusing on building strategic alliances in order to join regional efforts to protect Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs). One such alliance is the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (known for its Spanish acronym “IMD”). Created in 2010, by JASS, UDEFEGUA, AWID, La Colectiva Feminista, Consorcio Oaxaca, FCAM and Red de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras,[1] the IMD creates alternative holistic protection, safety and self-care mechanisms in order to respond to the violence WHRDs face in the region. We’ve also made significant progress through Mexico and Honduras’ national WHRD networks comprised of numerous organizations and activists in both countries.

Recognizing that almost all social constructs (including the theory of holistic human rights protection and its instruments and mechanisms) are created according to the needs of men, reaffirms our belief that prioritizing WHRDs is necessary in the context of exclusion, discrimination and inequality that all women have and continue to suffer. Based on JASS Mesoamerica’s experience using a feminist approach within the women’s movement, we have created spaces for open dialogue with our allies to better understand the specific experiences of WHRDs in the region. We have learned how WHRDs are carrying out their activism safely, and we have identified their principal concerns.

In Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, we prioritize bringing attention to women human rights defenders, the work and contribution they make in different contexts and social and political levels. That is why it is also important for us to focus on the effects that the work of a WHRDs has and the impacts on their lives, since becoming a woman human rights defender means taking risks and facing violence in these countries. For many women, it also means breaking internalized chains and stereotypes. Social and community norms teach women that they are next to worthless. Making decisions as simple as what to stitch on a blouse becomes an act of self-affirmation.

Women from Ciudad Juarez on the US-Mexico border to San Pedro Sula, Honduras are organizing to assure security for their families and themselves, to seek justice and to defend their homes. Often not recognized as human rights defenders, they have few allies and many opponents. JASS believes in continuing to highlight the importance of driving attention on and design of gendered protection strategies that are adequate for the particular realities of WHRDs. We aim to reduce some of the differences and inequalities between women and men by contributing towards adequate protection mechanisms which will allow WHRDs to continue with their work in more equitable environments. For us the unfulfilled promise of women’s equality cannot be realized without mobilizing the power of women’s voices, knowledge and numbers for sustained pressure and influence on policies, institutions and social norms. With growing backlash and violence today, organizing women is also about protecting activists and their organizations.

In light of recent events in Mexico, we want to add that despite international pressure and public outrage, the forty-three students who were disappeared by the police in Ayotzinapa, Mexico on September 26th are yet to be found. At the moment, JASS is joining with allies at home and around the globe to keep the focus on the role of the Mexican government in the violence and complicity with organized crime. We ask the international community to join with us in demanding that the forty-three school students be returned alive and to join the chorus of voices yelling from the marches “they took them alive and we want them alive”.

 

Cristina Hardaga Fernández is a feminist dedicated to the defense and promotion of human rights. Bringing years of experience, Cristina has an International Relations degree from the Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA) and a post-graduate degree in Human Rights and Democracy from the Universidad de Chile and the International Transitional Justice Center (ICTJ). Before joining JASS in 2013, Cristina worked as the International Area Coordinator with Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña “Tlachinollan” in the state of Guerrero, Mexico for four years. She also worked as a Human Rights Advisor with the LX session of the House of Representatives and as a researcher for the UIA Human Rights Program. Since August 2013, Cristina joined the JASS Mesoamerica team to lead regional and international solidarity and political engagement.

 

[1] The title of the article comes from our report: From Survivors to Defenders: Women Confronting Violence in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala: http://www.justassociates.org/sites/justassociates.org/files/americas_report_low_res_july2012.pdf

[2] This article is the perspective of Cristina Hardaga Fernández, Strategic and Political Engagement Coordinator. The article is based on elements of the fact finding mission organized by JASS with the Nobel Women Prize Initiative and the work with the Mesoamerican Initiative for Women Human Right’s Defenders. For more information: http://www.justassociates.org/en/about-us

[3] For more information about the IMD online: facebook IM_Defensoras and twitter @IM_Defensoras. To submit to the IMD’s Scribd account, http://www.scribd.com/IM_DEFENSORAS, email imdefensoras@gmail.com. To learn more about the Red de Defensoras Honduras we recommend: http://redefensorashn.blogspot.com  to learn more about Red-México please reach out to: rednacionaldedefensorasmexico@gmail.com. Facebook: Red Defensoras Dh México Twitter:@RedDefensorasMx   Recent IMD publications: Travesías para pensar y actuar. Experiencias de Autocuidado de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos: http://es.scribd.com/doc/223570458/TRAVESIAS-PARA-PENSAR-Y-ACTUAR-EXPERIENCIAS-DE-AUTOCUIDADO-DE-DEFENSORAS-DE-DERECHOS-HUMANOS-EN-MESOAMERICA; IMD report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2014: http://es.scribd.com/doc/214940590/Informe-de-la-IM-Defensoras-ante-CIDH-27-03-2014 Diagnóstico 2012: Violence against WHRDs; http://es.scribd.com/doc/166580906/DIAGNOSTICO-2012-VIOLENCIA-CONTRA-DEFENSORAS-DE-DERECHOS-HUMANOS-EN-MESOAMERICA-IM-DEFENSORAS. Marusia López, Regional Director of JASS Mesoamerica was a co-founders and at the moment the co-coordinator of the IMDefensoras.

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Defeating militarization, gaining hope: women as political actors

By Rosa Emilia Salamanca

Due to the armed conflict in Colombia, the effect that militarization has had on our society is profound. We have lived for so long in situations where the military has been dominant that it has become natural. However, in the path in which we have been advancing in the recognition and defense of human rights we have identified that the militarization of the country has been the way in which the national elite has made use of weapons for their own benefit, deepened social inequality, political exclusion, concentration of land, and very low income redistribution.

During the decades of the 1960s to 1980s, many social and political sectors influenced by the great socialist revolutions of the world, believed that structural changes were to be made through the use of weapons as in other countries in the world, and thus in Colombia more than five guerrilla groups arose between rural, urban, semi-urban, and indigenous sectors. During this period, State repression by armed forces was mainly focused on workers, farmers, students’ movements and characterized by extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearance and imprisonment of left wing militants or political parties.

Photo: Spacio Libre
Photo: Spacio Libre

The guerrillas also installed their own military mentality: political retention, kidnapping, extortion, murder, reproducing the war which has always been present in Colombia. At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the drug trafficking problem emerged and with it the mentality of the use of weapons for individual causes without any political premise, but rather with the premise of business, of easy money. There was a rupture of any ethical structure which although complex, was still present in the midst of confrontations.

Changes in the world, the fall of the Berlin wall and reflections from various political currents and new social movements, including the feminist movement, began to severely question this form of confrontation. Some of the main guerrilla groups of the country left weapons and warfare during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

However two of the most important guerrilla groups in the country, the FARC and the ELN continued their exercise of armed confrontation, in a setting in which drug trafficking is a new factor and also the emergence at the end of the 1990s of right-wing paramilitary groups as a way of dealing with guerrillas. This setting progresses into even more complex levels with the rise of global interests in both the agro-extractive business and the mining and energy business, which adds new elements and the interest in large scale exploitation with the need of land for that implementation.

The conjunction between paramilitaries and drug trafficking lords and its armed expression has shaped the most violent, inhumane and cruel moments that the country has lived. The guerrillas also began to see a source of income in drug trafficking to sustain the warfare. Thus, the control of illicit crops and the corridors of illegal marketing and general expressions of illegal economy became new targets, and many times and in many ways almost the main confrontation between the different groups.

With these elements, the internal armed conflict deepened and began to affect much more of civil society. This is a conflict where the civil society has been the main target. Forced displacement, enforced disappearances, extra judicial executions, permanent threats to human rights defenders, kidnapping, terrorist actions, political genocide in a population of forty-seven million inhabitants, where seven million are victims and this number continues to grow. This complex conflict with multiple actors shows us a polarized society, with militarized hearts and minds in permanent war. The search of the enemy everywhere has made us a society that understands the use of force as a necessary tool to guarantee security in a strongly patriarchal society.

Of the seven million victims of countless crimes and multiple actors, 75% are women of different conditions and age. One woman could have been the victim of forced displacement, victim of direct sexual violence, victim of forced recruitment, and symbolic violence, among many other perverse combinations. Violence against women has been a weapon of war. Women have been used scandalously as instruments to damage the enemy, and the enemy has not always been the armed opposition; many times the enemy has been the community itself, which did not obey the orders distributed by the legal or illegal armed actors.

The violent acts against women regardless of the harm placed on them, seek to intimidate an entire community with terrifying impacts. In this environment, the Colombians have been victims of multiple forms of violence, in a continuum that exists throughout society materialized in all the social dynamics and exacerbated by the contexts of today’s conflict. The militarization of our minds and hearts has been deep. Our culture has become violent and we naturalize everything: death, violence against women, the physical or symbolic disappearance of the other, and the crisis is huge in our society. Everything can be justified. The militarization of our society has made it ill, and we are a society in need of intensive care.

However, in every crisis there is hope and a different way of looking at life. Despite the thought that although this is a huge tragedy there are ways to get out of it. If the current peace process with the FARC succeeds and negotiations with the ELN are achieved, there will be an opportunity for the social, cultural and economic changes that we need to defeat the structural causes of our conflicts.

In this sense, the task of the institutions and civil society is immense. More than rebuilding a country, we have to build one that we have never had: a democratic, just and inclusive country. Us women, who have been empowered significantly through the past decades, we recognize ourselves as strategic actors for such renovation. We have achieved (despite the hostile environment) important multilevel organizational levels. Our discourse and practice of lobbying and advocacy, has allowed us to have significant legislative achievements. Today we have a number of laws in the fields of political participation, sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict, integral violence against women and victims expressing our achievements as a movement.

We are now looking at the peace process and negotiations between the national government and the FARC with an inter-locution that we have gained, and the achievement of having affected in the decision of having women participate in the process.

Undoubtedly, the challenges are to achieve a peaceful environment and to have these laws and public policies taken to the local level and practiced every day. This requires political will, institutional seriousness that is to be respectful of women’s rights and with sufficient resources. For example, an objective to be met is for the Colombian Government to accept and have a national plan of action on resolution 1325 and related resolutions implemented and coordinated intra-State and at all levels with strategies of protection, prevention and participation of women.

The international, national and local political world has to understand that women, in addition to victims, are political, social and cultural actors, who in the majority of cases we are tireless weavers of peace for our societies. Our experiences today are sources for the theory of non-violence and reconstruction policy throughout the world. As subject of rights we are central in the resolution of these conflicts and the construction of a society whose values and principles are totally different to the ones that are currently in practice. Among the new values and principles, we can name non-discrimination for any reason, a resounding NO to the use of arms as means to exert power over others; a resounding NO to a military jurisdiction that leads or amnesties that will lead to impunity on responsibilities over what has happened. The practice of democracy as a setting of the confrontation of ideas in the public debate, the defense of everyone’s human rights, and a resounding NO to the continuation of the militarization of our minds, our bodies and our hearts.

Women in today’s world are part of the solution not the problem. Our voices in every corner of the globe must be heard.

Rosa Emilia Salamanca’s work is dedicated to strengthening the participation of women and civil society in decision-making processes in Colombia. She has worked with indigenous communities, feminists and a number of women’s organizations. Ms. Salamanca is Executive Director of Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica (CIASE) in Colombia, a member of the Women, Peace and Security Collective for Reflection and Action, which calls for a transformation towards a more peaceful Colombian society.

The Missing Queen

By Dyuti

Conflict is a subjective reality both in terms of what the conflict is all about and also in terms of the way it is experienced. Women, men, and children experience conflict differently. These experiences of violence get further conflated with the social locations within which people exist.

This piece is located in the context of India and I choose to call this piece the ‘missing queen’ as a way to trace the missing narrative of the women living in conflict areas in the country. It seeks to bring to fore the lived reality of women in the context of violence. The attempt is to take the discussion forward on 1325, and highlight the lived reality of women in conflict and post conflict situations. India as we understand today—a geographical, social-cultural political- conglomeration of states, cultures and people stands on a history of struggle and conflict. Conflict in India is predominantly about land. The basic root cause of conflict is access and control over land, the laws of the land (socio-economic-political and cultural laws of the land) and the relations of people of this land. It has ranged from changing land relations to controlling cultures.

In speaking of conflict, one often hears of women’s experiences or through statistics, instances of injured, raped, widowed, orphaned women; as either a case study or a heart-wrenching story. Women are either forgotten in history or find a place in footnotes in discussions on conflict. Seldom do these discussions speak of the effects of violence and conflict on the everyday life of women. In the post UN Security Council Resolution 1325 era, much of these discussions have tended to focus on the sexual violence women face during conflict. While it is a gruesome lived reality, it often brushes aside women’s lived reality as a result of not being recognized as right-holders, while dispensing compensation.

The challenges women face when we are not seen as individual right holders are visible including the home and in public spaces like education and access to medical facilities.

In much of feminist writing the romanticized idea of home has been critiqued and questioned. It has been recognized as a place of violence. However in areas affected by conflict, home comes to be associated with a stable life and security. With burning of homes, families lose property and documentation. Often they are pushed into camps and have to rebuild their lives. This involves many a times getting fresh identity based documents made. The State responds to this through compensation. In India, compensation for burnt (fully or partially) homes is given to the family as a unit and is usually dispensed in the name of the head of the family or the heir. In a patriarchal society such as India this often translates into compensation being given to the man. Women end up receiving little to nothing in their own name. The same holds true when compensations are being dispensed for lost property. Private land is most often in the name of the male members of the family–father and the sons. The women (daughters, daughter-in-laws, mothers) have seldom any ownership to the land. They are most often treated as a unit with the husband. Further, in case a woman loses her husband in the conflict—either dead or missing—it finds her in a situation where her claim and that of her children is found to be competing with other members of the family. Absence of property and resources in her name makes her economically vulnerable.

Constitutionally every citizen has a right to education and access to medical facilities. In post conflict and conflict situations these are some of the facilities that get affected first. Women who are seen to be markers of culture are confined to home, their education is affected and they often don’t find access to basic medication and health care. Women are often married off young in order to keep them safe in conflict and post conflict scenarios (however the same holds true for ‘non-conflict’ situations).

There is a complete absence of these narratives and voices while speaking of conflict and post conflict situations. This is true because women are seldom seen as individual right holders. The State often conflates them with family and home and ceases to see them individual beings. These everyday lived realities and struggles of women in conflict areas needs to be fore-grounded in discussions and narratives around conflict and peacebuilding.

A lot of myriad kinds of work are happening in India in ensuring women’s access to social justice. Women’s role in peace processes is being increasingly recognised. In a country plagued with rampant communal violence, laws (Prevention of Communal Violence Act) and polices (such as 15 Point Program of the PM) link provisions of compensation and relief with affected women. The Justice Verma Commission set up following the December 2012 rape case recognised sexual violence on women in law and compelled the states to take necessary actions. Women are being collectivised in order to ensure access to social justice.

Dyuti is a feminist activist from India. Her interests lie in issues around gender and sexuality looking more specifically at conflict areas. From a young age matters related to gender and sexuality have been central to her and this comes across in her engagement with people and politics. Currently she is associated with Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR).

The Revolution is Not a Hashtag

By Nebila Abdulmelik

We often try to find new, innovative and creative ways of organizing and mobilizing around pertinent issues such as sexual and gender based violence, insecurity and conflict. Various mediums have been utilized – and more recently, with greater frequency, we make use of new media to express our outrage, to garner solidarity across borders and across thematic silos, and to spur action by our policy makers. The #JusticeForLiz campaign was a prime example of the power of social media in garnering global media and public attention and subsequently getting duty bearers to act, although not as quickly or as comprehensively as we would have liked. Liz was a 16 year old who was gang-raped on her way home from her grand-father’s funeral. The police responded woefully. The online petition on Avaaz’s site which garnered close to two million signatures from across the globe was a testament to the power of new technologies in spreading and sharing information and mobilizing global citizens to act. If nothing other than saving their public image, Kenyan authorities began to take action around Liz’s case which proceeded to court and is still awaiting a final conclusion with the arrest of two of the perpetrators.

Similarly, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which began locally in Nigeria to agitate for the immediate and safe return of hundreds of girls who were abducted from their schools in April, has since mobilized countless citizens across the globe from all walks of life. The world witnessed daily vigils, sit-ins, marches and protests in Nigeria and solidarity actions taking place on and offline in cities across Africa and across the globe. New communications channels were key, but not sufficient in mobilizing people to act and to amplify calls to bring back our girls. Similar to the previous example of the Justice For Liz campaign, if nothing else, the global attention and pressure on the Nigerian government shines a light on the injustices and the inadequacies of the government to respond to the needs of its citizens, and particularly that of its female ones. This campaign has been undertaken in the run up to elections in January which has complicated matters, although it does serve as an opportunity for the electorate to show its leaders what really matters and that promises must be delivered on. The mass mobilization is a form of ensuring accountability and at the very least, to say, “We are watching, and we will not be silent.”

Useful, engaging, vibrant and dynamic conversations are also taking place around #TheAfricaWeWant – Africans from across the globe defining and shaping the Africa they envision – both for the Global Post-2015 development agenda and Agenda 2063, Africa’s development trajectory for the next 50 years. This has also been linked with the African Union led #DGTrends focusing conversations and actions around instituting a culture of peace, democracy, good governance and human rights, ultimately #SilencingTheGuns – an ambitious goal that African Heads of State have committed to realizing by 2020.

While new forms of communication and media channels and platforms are useful in mobilizing, coordinating, drawing synergy and solidarity – they are not a panacea for our many problems. They also are limited in their utility when used in isolation – but become powerful when complementing offline actions. The revolution is not a hashtag. The revolution simply is.

Nebila Abdulmelik is the Head of Communications at FEMNET, a pan-African organization working to advance the rights of women and girls since inception in 1988. Nebila is a pan-Africanist and a feminist passionate about advancing the cause of social justice and amplifying marginalized voices in that process. She is also a poet who uses her poetry to speak her peace. Connect with her @aliben86, communication@femnet.or.ke or http://aliben86.wordpress.com.

Rethinking the Asia Pivot: Challenging Everyday Militarisms & Bridging Communities of Women

By Annie Isabel Fukushima, PhD

On November 25, the Institute for Research on Women, the department of Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Libraries at Rutgers University will host our first event of three events with regard to “Rethinking the Asia Pivot: Challenging Everyday Militarisms & Bridging Communities of Women.” The first event is an international webinar that brings together activists from Guam, Japan, Mexico, Okinawa, the Philippines, and South Korea. The activists will discuss the impact of militarisms on communities and how they work to build peace and genuine security in their communities. The event is in collaboration with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership to coincide with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

ASIAPACIFICPIVOTposter18x243The United States has had a long interest in the Asia-Pacific. From the illegal annexation of Hawaii (1898), the occupation of the Philippines and Guam (as well as Puerto Rico and Cuba) at the end of the Spanish American War, and the occupation of Japan, South Korea, among other countries during and after World War II. The United States has long been turning towards Asia. Whether it is for economic reasons, as seen in the development of Transpacific Partnerships, or the build up of military bases as seen in Jeju Island or Heneko, Okinawa, the U.S. has interests in Asia. The pivot to Asia is part of the U.S. military strategy to contain China, and this intervention is commonly referred to as the “Asia Pivot.”

As the United States turns to Asia through military might and neoliberal economic maneuvers, what are its implications for the people, the land, and other species in the region?

There are lessons to be learned about military exercises; bombing in the Pacific has rendered Bikini Atoll unlivable. Others compare present-day Guam (or Guahan) to the Bikini Atoll. As people are displaced by military buildup, others are displaced by the environmental side-effects of buildup. And place between the Americas and Asia is a sea of islands with people, species, and land. Places where U.S. citizens settle are not immune. As tourists see places like Hawai`i as a vacation destination, the reality of Hawaii is its history and ongoing presence of the U.S. military that has led to the destruction of indigenous lands from Koho`olawe, to Makua Valley, and Pohakuloa. Indigenous peoples like Terri Keko`olani are speaking out about the human costs, impact on the land, and the rights denied due to military expansion and culture. Military exercises are known to leave behind contaminants such as depleted uranium. And some of the waste has yet to be unburied; Agent Orange was discovered in rusty barrels buried in cities in Okinawa – a legacy that the Vietnam War was not only about Southeast Asia. The health consequences of military contaminants are generational; the Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses has been at the forefront exposing the longterm effects of militarization even after demilitarization; Viequenses exhibit high rates of cancer, hypertension, asthma, cirrhosis, and other respiratory illnesses related to military contamination of environments.

The violence of military cultures is not only environmental, but also has material effects that come to the fore during crises. The International Women’s Network Against Militarism, a network of scholars and activists, was founded in 1997 in response to violence occurring on military bases. In particular, the rape of an Okinawan girl by U.S. military servicemen led to public outcry sparking the birth of an international women’s network to address human rights violations related to military buildup. As Cynthia Enloe has demonstrated, military violence that takes the shape of acts such as rape, cannot be seen as the actions of a “few bad apples.” Instead, sexual violence, rape, and trafficking must be contextualized by race, gender, and nation, that have visual, textual and material effects. Sexual violence has been a long-time concern for activists – from rape of military personnel to civilians; sexual violence is just as present on the frontline as it is on the fenceline of military bases. “Unknowable” numbers paint a picture of the politics surrounding U.S. actions and inactions towards rape, sexual violence, and trafficking – who is to be protected? Who and what is expendable? In fact the 21st century inheritance of war and sexual violence is not only a battle of weapons, but also history and memory. As Japan attempts to sweep its militarized sexual slavery under the rug, what do the visible narratives about U.S. military culture, rape, and (sexual) violence say about us? In 2006 Filipinas organized to raise visibility surrounding the rape by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith. The rape led to media and political discussions surrounding the Visiting Forces Agreement, Philippine sovereignty, gender-based violence, and military cultures. Gendered-base violence, such as the events surrounding rape cannot be disaggregated from the geopolitics of a U.S. turn to Asia as tied to neoliberal policies, military interventions, gendered and national subjectivities, and the transnational flow of people, goods, and ideas, in the region and to the U.S.

To call our event “Rethinking the Asia Pivot,” is to call for new interventions in thinking and practice. Therefore, the inspiration for the events include scholarly thinking and activism, as well as the role of the visual in (re)shaping how one may see (or not see) a military turn to Asia.

In 2013, I received an email regarding Sonoma County Museum’s “Camellia has Fallen.” The exhibit featured the works of artists reflecting on 1948, where the army executed thousands of residents on the island (~60,000) because the island was seen as Communist. From acrylic to video installations the artists uncovered histories of trauma. The exhibit is named for a “1991 painting of red camellias in the snow by South Korean artist Kang Yo Bae, recalling a folk story of the flowers falling like drops of blood in the massacre.” In late 2013, the artists and curators were looking for the next home for the exhibit. Where would these important works travel to next? Why not Rutgers? And so, we were able to bring some of the digital works to Rutgers.

At the time Obama was making plans to visit Asian countries to discuss the Transpacific Partnership, as military buildup continued aon Jeju Island and Okinawa, and rape of military personnel by their peers made regular headline news. What does the turn to Asia mean for the people in Asia and the Pacific? What does it hold for the Americas?

Therefore, in late 2013, I convened a small committee: myself, Suzy Kim (author of Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945 – 1950) and Kayo Denda (head librarian, Margery Somers Foster Center, Douglass Library). We reached out to the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and “Rethinking the Asia Pivot” was born. “Rethinking the Asia Pivot” at Rutgers University is possible due to the solidarity and organizing amongst women of color faculty at Rutgers in service to our community and students.

Our collaboration led us to ask important questions surrounding the Asia pivot: How will the pivot impact Asia and the Americas broadly (and how has it historically impacted the Americas)? How do women, scholars, activists, and political leaders respond to the changing climate of security and increased securitization through the military? What’s at stake for women, human rights, the environment, and nations? What are the health implications of militarisms from environmental impacts to physiological and psychological impacts of living near or on military bases? How are such health impacts gendered? What are the environmental consequences of natural disasters and the subsequent impact of disaster militarism on local communities? What are the generational impacts of military policies – for young people recruited, veterans, their families, local communities and nations?

Through digital works on display, transnational discussions in a webinar, and scholarly and activist discussions in panels, we hope to critically engage together with event participants “rethinking the Asia pivot.” The events comprise of artists, scholars, and activists from Denmark, Guam, Japan, Massachusetts, Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Okinawa, the Philippines, and South Korea. To kick off 16 Days of Activism Campaign, we begin with an international webinar on November 25, 6PM EST. On December 3, films will be screened. The films discuss the ghosts of Jeju that haunt the present, the migrations, dislocations and spectacles produced through the making of the Panama Canal, and the relation between water, sexual economies, and bases in the Philippines. Artist works featured include: Michelle Dizon’s Basing Landscapes, Dalida Maria Benfield’s Hotel Panama, Kakyoung Lee’s Burning Island, The Dawn of Jeju 4.3 by Manamongs, Im Heung Soon’s Sungsi, and Reiterations of Dissent by Jane Jin Kaisen. To rethink the pivot towards Asia requires conversations that bring in history, representation, policy, and practice. Therefore, the finale event occurs on December 4: it is our international symposium featuring Cynthia Enloe as the keynote. Panelists will discuss themes related to history, technology, visuality, narrativity, representation, strategies, policy and violence. To engage with the visual culture of the pivot to Asia, digital works will be on display throughout the entire day.

We invite you to join us during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign to address gendered-violence and human rights.

Please visit: rethinkingasiapivot.com for more information.

Sister events are occurring in New York City, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

Annie Isabel Fukushima is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow with the Institute for Research on Women and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University (2013 – 2015). Dr. Fukushima’s chapters appears in Human Trafficking Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem, Envisioning New Solutions (2014) edited by sociologists Rhacel Salazar Parrenas and Kimberly Kay Hoang and in Documenting Gendered Violence edited by Lisa Cuklanz and Heather McIntosh. Her work discusses an array of issues on race, gender, and sexuality with regard to trafficking, intimacy, violence, and militarisms. Currently she is revising her manuscript Migrant Crossings.