Feminist Spotlight: Nada Elia & Zeina Zaatari

Elia is an academic and advocate against sexual and domestic violence in Arab communities. Her work includes themes ofnadiaelia globalization, narratives of resistance, social movements, and migration. She spent three years as a war journalist documenting the impact of war on Arab women’s lives before joining the academic ranks. She has multiple publications including articles in feminist publications like Incite!‘s The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, for which she was one of the Editors, the NWSA Journal, and MIT’s Journal on the Middle East Special Edition on Arab Feminism (in pdf below).

Her essays include: “Islamophobia and the ‘Privileging’ of Arab American Women” (you’ll need access to project muse to read) in which she questions the simultaneous nationalistic support for the war “to save Arab women” and the opening of space to discuss Muslim women in N. America. She argues that in reducing the conversation to fundamentalism, both discourses negate an opportunity to talk about nationalist projects impacts on women’s rights, the impact of war on women, and the multiple and intersecting issues of oppression that Arab women face and confront as feminists and/or as women.

Her work and commitments focus on violence and resistance and like others featured on this blog throughout its history she has expanded the definitions of violence to include not only domestic and sexual violence but interpersonal and colonial violence, militarism, and other forms that helps us think through how violence as a tool of oppression is interconnected. Elia sits on the National Steering Committee for Incite! and is a member of The Defense of Civil Rights in Academia Project. She is also the President of The Association of Middle East Women’s Studies, founding member of the Radical Arab Women’s Activist Network (RAWAN), and on the Editorial Board of Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. She also has given talks on women, resistance, and political participation in the context of liberation struggles. She is currently working on putting together a conference on the status of Middle East Women’s Studies.

  • MIT Journal of Middle East Studies Special Edition: Gender, Nation, and Belonging.

Zaatari is a Lebanese American feminist who is also a founding member of RAWAN. She has a PhD in Anthropology zeina_zaatariwhich she used to do research on Southern Lebanese women’s organizing. As a scholar she taught courses on Arab feminism, gender, and sexuality and published on women’s freedom in Lebanon as well as spoke on both Araba women’s movements and Arab feminism. She also conducted research on gender, youth, and citizenship to learn the gendered avenues through which people identify with nations and become members of a nation. She was also the project coordinator for the Defense of Civil Rights in Academia (the link to their web page from the page I have linked to does not work, but all the info is on the page I link to anyway). Zatari is currently Senior Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa at the Global Fund for Women. And is also a founding member of Sunbula: Arab Feminists for Change as well as a board member of the Partnership for Immigrant Leadership and Action.

Feminist Spotlight: Laila Lalami

lailaLalami is a Moroccan-American creative writer and academic. She was the first Moroccan author to publish on a major US commercial press. I am enthralled and grateful for much of the information on her blog: Moorish Girl, which I have linked to before. She was the one who broke the story that Persepolis was being made into a movie, long before it hit theaters and she often has book reviews up by feminist writers, especially Muslim and international ones, moments after their books go to print. She is a dedicated journalist whose work has appeared in notable places like The Globe, The LA Times and NY Times, The Nation and the Huffington Post. Thus her blog offers a quick, international, journalistic voice about critical issues. Like other feminist bloggers, her blog is part of our/woc writers’ serious political work.

She is also an Oregon Literary Arts Grant and Fulbright recipient and currently teaches at UC Riverside.

Lalami’s book Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits about Moroccan immigrants to Spain has been widely praised. In discussing it, she says it contains both nostalgia for home and also more reflective analysis home because she is working in her second language and having to be “critical” about what she writes. The stories offer a complex understanding of the immigrant experience, showing some success and some heartbreak. They also critique both western and the Moroccan cultures. One particularly controversial story in the collection is about the decisions behind head covering which Lalami refuses to see in the reductive terms it has often be discussed. Instead she claims covering is a complex issue including class, faith, and peer pressure among other things and that she feels that a woman has “a right to do what she wants with her body unless it also infringes on [her] body.” She says the story is about hypocrisy on all sides and not just simply the modernity vs. tradition argument many of her readers think is there.

  • Read her post on terrorism and activism in Morocco here.
  • Read her insightful piece on veiling and the French “Beyond the Veil” here.
  • Read her piece on Anti-Arab imagery in Hollywood (then check it against Iron Man, note it was written over 10 years ago when you do), “Arab Bashing for Fun and Profit” here.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones Dies (Feminist Spotlight)

Congressional MainlingsOhio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, suffered an aneurysm while driving her car last night in OH. She was rushed to the hospital but did not recover. She was a Super Delegate who campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

Tubbs Jones was an important feminist inspiration marking several firsts in her career. Before becoming a Congresswoman, she served as the first African-American and the first female Cuyahoga County, Ohio Prosecutor. She was the first African-American woman to sit on the Common Pleas bench in the State of Ohio and was a Municipal Court Judge in the City of Cleveland.

In Congress, Tubbs Jones was the first African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives tubbshomelessnessfrom Ohio. She was also first African-American woman to chair the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics) and the first African-American woman to serve on the Ways and Means Committee.

Recently she worked alongside others to help with the mortgage crisis by helping to pass the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Act and urging banking bail out discussions to include funds for community stabilization. Her eye on housing also included active work for homeless people’s rights and access to safe housing. She supported health care reform especially for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, and ensuring military and veterans benefits and tubbsjonesdifferentlyabledspending that supported the troops but capped perpetual war. She also supported immigration reform and educational spending and was a long time advocate for workers’ rights including differently-abled workers.

Tubbs Jones was also a strong advocate of GLBTQ rights in Congress. She co-sponsored inclusive legislation for the GLBTQ rights at work and supported legislation to repeal don’t ask don’t tell. She also helped expand federal hate crimes to include the GLBTQ community. And she was currently supporting legislation to provide same sex couples the same rights of sponsorship andtubbsworkerrally increased asylum as other immigrants. Given the overarching conservative approach to queer issues in OH her voice was particularly significant at the local level as well as a needed voice on Capital Hill.

She was serving her 5th term in Congress and despite being a Congresswoman, never moved out of the depressed local area where she lived most of her life. She was an important advocate for women of all ethnic and racial backgrounds bu especially poor women, women of color, and local women.

to learn more about her see her website here.

Learn more about signs of a brain aneurysm here

—-

images
  • Tubbs Jones speaking at meeting in Cleveland. Stock Photo. Unattributed
  • Tubbs Jones with homeless advocates. unattributed
  • Tubbs Jones meeting with differently-abled workers. unattributed.
  • Tubbs Jones at Rally for workers. unattributed.

Feminist Spotlight: LATINAS

LATINAS is a newly formed organization of religious, labor, political, and community organizers to center Latina issues in local and national politics. As part of their efforts they are oganizing a committee to evaluate the promises for the first 100 days in office of all of the major candidates for president which they will announce at the DNC. They are also working to get Latinas registered and educated about the issues in the upcoming national election as well as forming local chapters to keep Latinas informed about local issues and active in ensuring that Latina rights are covered.

They are committed to immigration reform, the end of NAFTA, and active voice in the US government and its laws.

WE ARE A NEW GENERATION. WE ARE THE FUTURE OF THIS NATION. WE WILL NOT TOLERATE INJUSTICE OR HATRED IN THAT FUTURE.

Their most recent action was this past Monday in Pottsville Pa to protest the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez and ensure proper charging of the 4 football players accused of the crime. They stood outside the courtroom chanting for justice.

 

The judge later dtermined that Walsh 17 and Piekarsky 16 would be tried for third degree murder and ethnic intimidation (which implies hate crime), Donchak 18, will be tried with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Like in the death of Satender Singh, the defense is claiming it was “a street fight” and that Ramirez’s attempts to defend himself constitute “both sides throwing punches.” Also like the Singh case, friends of the defendents are claiming Ramirez said “something intimidating in Spanish” but admit none of them speak Spanish. Their “witness testimony” has been completely undermined by another witness who said:

“We made up a plan that we we’re going to tell the cops that nobody kicked him, that there were no racial slurs, there was no booze, and Brian got hit first.”

On Aug 22nd they will protest outside ICE offices in Chicago as part of the national demand for a moratorium on the war on immigrants and the criminalization of immigration.

 

If you are Latina and are interested in being part of their important political work, please contact somosLatinas@gmail.com

—–

article consulted: Chicago Tribune and La Nueva Raza

 

Feminist Spotlight: Nawal Ammar and Restorative Justice

Ammar was a Women’s Studies professor at Kent State University and is now at University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She works on restorative justice and domestic violence in Muslim women’s lives, writes against stereotypingammar the community, and also works on environmental justice. She was originally from Lebanon and moved here in the early 80s expecting, like so many other immigrants, to be able to go back. She has published work on terrorism, anti-immigration issues, domestic and sexual violence, and war violence with relation to Muslims throughout the world. Her work on domestic violence in immigrant communities has been invaluable in re-evaluating combating DSV and the impact and handling of child witnesses, while also giving an important insight into non-service seeking Muslim communities. It has been used by both the U.N. and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Her activism work includes work with several NGOs in the Middle East. She was also consultant to the following governments on domestic and sexual violence and development issues: Bahrain, Lebanon, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. More recently she has been writing about environmental degredation and crisis through the lens of Islam and what the moral responsibility of Muslims may or may not be.

  • listen to podcasts of her activism work here.
  • Read her introduction to the online anthology she edited on Democracy and Homeland [In]Security as part of an annual conference of the same name here
  • Read excerpt from her essay on Islam and the environmental crisis, entitled “An Islamic Response to the Manifest Ecological Crisis: Issues of Justice” here
  • Read an excerpt from her essay on Islam, spirituality, and the environmental crisis, entitled “Islam and Deep Ecology” here

Unlike some readers of this blog, I do believe that you can be critical of the religion to which you belong and still call yourself a member. As a Catholic myself, I know that my moral fiber is wrapped in a socio-cultural faith base that cannot be separated out from my criticisms of the Vatican, conservative elements within the church, predatory acts, etc. I would expect nothing less from any critical thinker who is also engaged in a faith community regardless of what faith it may be.

WHM: Maysoon Zayid

Maysoon Zayid is a Palestinian American activist with palsy whose comedy and acting work has been aboutmaysoon “bringing a human face to Arab Muslim women.” She was the first comedian to perform stand-up live in Palestine. After 9/11 she felt it was important to counter the images of Islam, Arabs, and Arab Americans in NYC and the nation as a whole, so she started the Annual New York Arab American Comedy Festival with a fellow comedian. The show highlights the diversity of the Arab community and features as many female comedians as possible. All though it has been criticized for having sexist comedians in its line up, its impact has been appreciated by both Arab and Arab American women who see Zayid as an important voice in changing the image of Muslim & Arab women and in highlighting the normalcy of their lives. Zayid is also a child advocate.

In 2001 she founded Palestinian based Maysoon’s Kids which works to support disabled and refugee youth living in camps with medical care, clothing, and social programs. In order to support local products, all of the resources provided are made in the country. She works there 3 months of the year running art programs out of 11 different camps. She is also currently promoting youth education by providing tutors for high school completion and creating a donor base to send youth to college.

If you would like to support her efforts, you can donate: here.

Zayid has said that all of her work has been about “supporting positive images of Muslim women” and ensuring equality for the marginalized.

Here is a sneak peek at her upcoming release Little AMerican Whore, which explores Palestinian women’s roles in Palestine and the U.S. from a comedic perspective:

WHM: COMISIÓN Femenil Mexicana Nacional

Today’s Women’s History Month Spotlight is Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional


cfmnlogo

The Women’s Comision (CFMN) was founded in October 1970 after it was determined that the National Chicano Issues Conference that same year was focused on men leaving women’s issues out of the cause. The goals of the CFMN were to encourage female leadership of the Chican@  Movement, to increase knowledge about women’s issues, and provide programs, services, and networking that increased women’s overall success.

While still at the National Conference, with Founding President Francisca Flores at the helm, they passed the following 9 point resolution:

  • The effort and work of Chicana/Mexican women in the Chicano movement is generally obscured because women are not accepted as community leaders, either by the Chicano movement or by the Anglo establishment.
  • The existing myopic attitude does not prove that women are not capable or willing to participate. It does not prove that women are not active, indispensable (representing over 50% of the population), experienced and knowledgeable in organizing tactics and strategy of a people’s movement.
  • THEREFORE, in order to terminate exclusion of female leadership in the Chicano/Mexican movement and in the community, be it RESOLVED that a Chicana/Mexican Women’s Commission be established at this conference which will represent women, in all areas where Mexicans prevail, and;
  • That this commission be known as the Comisión Femenil Mexicana, and;
  • That the Comisión direct its efforts to organizing women to assume leadership positions within the Chicano movement and in community life, and;
  • That the Comisión disseminate news and information regarding the work and achievement of Mexican/Chicana women, and;
  • That the Comisión concern itself in promoting programs which specifically lend themselves to help, assist and promote solutions to female type problems and problems confronting the Mexican family, and;
  • That the Comisión spell out issues to support, and explore ways to establish relationships with other women’s organizations and movements.

In 1972 they established the Chicana Service Action Center which provided training, education, and employment opportunities by and for women. It continues to be active in several California counties to this day.

In 1973 they founded bilingual school programs, day care, and child development programs to support working class mothers who worked or were attending school.  They also held their first conference to set an agenda for the organization with full membership input.

In 1975 they worked to obtain culturally competent reproductive rights for Chicanas. They managed to get a moratorium on sterilizations without established informed consent, bilingual consent forms, and an established waiting period to ensure the material had been appropriately explained and understood. Given the number of Latinas forceable sterilized without their consent this success was critical to women’s rights.

In the late 1970s they joined other feminist efforts trying to educate mainstream feminists about Chicana women’s issues and to create a decolonized feminist coalition.  To that end, they attended the National Women’s Conference in Houston, the National Equal Rights Amendment March, The UN International Decade of Women’s Year Conference in Mexico Cit, and the follow up UN Mid-Decade Conference on Women in Copenhagen.

By 1980 they were influential enough that they were invited to the White House to discuss Chicana issues with then-President Jimmy Carter.

Throughout the 80s and 90s they focused on women’s health, labor, and activism. They had 24 chapters and the largest membership and success rate of any Chicana organization founded in the same period. In 1982 they established Casa Victoria, a residential treatment center for adolescent girls. They also continued to be active with the UN global feminism initiatives, attending the UN End of the Decade conference in Nairobi that same year.

Though their membership began to wane in the 1990s, CFMN continues to have an active California Chapter which celebrated its 30th year anniversary a few years ago.  The organization and its various leaders have also been cited as inspirations to other important Chicana and Latina groups around the nation.

 

 

WHM: Luna Fest

Do you eat those Luna bars? Ok, yes, I like that lemony one. Anyway . . . the same company also sponsors Lunafest, a traveling film series by women directors. The films center stories about women’s lives around the world and the festival itself is imagined as a celebration of women. This years films include stories about: sexuality, ecology, motherhood, athleticism, and class. 100% of the proceeds go to charity: 15% is designated for breast cancer research, a cause also supported by Luna Bars, and the other 85% goes to local charities designated by the fest host. It is too late to sign up to be a fest host for 2008 but fests are still being held all across the country well into May.

WHM: Amalia Ortiz

I think it is important while highlighting women in feminism(s) that we move between past and present, amongst those we have lost, the elders that remain, and those who represent the hope and promise of a new future. As I think about Latina feminism(s) on this day, I could not help but think about the promise of feminist activist, poet, performers like amaliagirlAmalia Ortiz.

Amalia’s work addresses issues of women’s rights, class, race, etc. with insight, humor, and a keen eye for characterization. She has written and starred in several multi-media plays including: Otra Esa on the Public Transit, Women of Ill Repute: Refute!, and co-authored Fear of a Brown Planet. Each of these plays represented a different way of addressing Chicana (& Tejana) existence – Otra Esa was a one woman play where Amalia embodied multiple characters whose lives intertwine on a bus ride. It highlighted issues of race, class, and gender, and the dailiness of oppression, passion, and living. Women of Ill Repute was an all-female cast questioning the images and treatment of women and celebrating their lives in San Antonio. Fear of a Brown Planet in which 3 Chican@ archetypes wake up to find themselves interned for unknown reasons and work through fear and displacement in order to find enlightenment. The play once again delves into the meaning of culture, gender and raced oppression, and the place of Latinas in the N. American imaginary as well as their own.

She has also starred in plays by accomplished Chicana feminists like Maria Ibarra and activist theater plays throughout the American Southwest and West Coast. Her humorous turn in the independent film Speeder Kills always reminds me of the celebrations of colonialism turned “Hispanic pride festivals” in my area of the world. It has become an important teachable film for discussing how colonialism gets rewritten through elitism, the female body, and the erasure of accountability.

Amalia is also an accomplished poet. She has toured the country with Def Poetry Jam and the Slam American National Bus Tour. She was the first Latina to make it to the slam finals and took second place in the national poetry slam. She co-formed the all female, multi-cultural, poetry group Diva Diction with fellow poets Bassey and Ishle Park. Their hope was to bring a new feminist vision and voice to college campuses and poetry venues alike. She has been featured on multiple poetry CDs including her own. She also performed her poems at NAACP Image Awards and for the First Lady. Her moving poem on the Women of Juarez also reminds us of the connections between women who by nature of gender, as well as race, class, status, etc. live in the borderlands where physical and sexual violence are always options to control or erase us.amaliacharacter

Her work is not only part of a growing movement to address Xicanisma in both new and tried ways but also represents her commitment to social justice. Amalia’s performances have often been tied to women’s funding raising against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Rape Awareness, and Women’s Health. She has consistently done workshops and performances for Women’s and Cultural Centers around the country. And she centers women’s experiences and empowerment in her written/spoken work as well as the mentorship of others. She currently works as part of an artist mentorship collective that not only produces plays and poetry in collaboration with Chican@ youth but encourages them to find their own voices. The very human way in which she interacts with her audience and invites them to be participants is part of her appeal and her contribution to feminist and cultural consciousness raising in a world where it is still sorely needed.

Her poem about the women of Juarez is one that I often start my classes on femicide with. I turn the recording on and do not have to ask my students to draw still, they do it on their own. After we listen, I pass out the words and ask them to read it in small groups, thinking back to the recent somatic experience of hearing it. While they talk, I write the definition of femicide on the board. It is one of the most powerful exercises we do in class. And I love turning to my students and telling them, Amelia Ortiz is a young feminist like them. You should see their minds explode with the recognition of the potential of their own voices.

The Return of For Colored Girls!

forcoloredgirlsThere was a time, not so long ago, when everyone knew Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow isn’t Enuf. It’s powerful meditation on violence against women, the intersections of oppressions, reproductive rights, and the resilience of women was often powerfully evoked during Domestic Violence Awareness events on college campuses and in community theaters alike. It premiered outside of Berkeley in 1975. The Tony nominated play (and its Tony winning lead) also ran for 3 months off-Broadway before a two year run on Broadway from 1976-1978. It also had a brief revival in 2000 off-Broadway. Other feminist venues have performed it sporadically across N. America including its most recent production at Out Ch’yonda in Albuquerque NM. It has also enjoyed global success being performed in venues around the world.

The choreopoem not only sheds light on violence but also the powerful resilience and the pain of women’s daily lives in the face of interlocking oppressions and violence. It shows them surviving on their own and coming together to support one another through the issues that continue to plague us despite “four waves” in the movement. As one reviewer put it “wounds and dreams intermingle” in For Colored Girls; for many women who remember it’s annual performance, reading it aloud, or teaching it, it is that intermingling that made it such a powerful feminist work. It’s impact has been wide enough to be appropriated for the titles of conferences, books, and articles.

Though it has been eclipsed by less diversely focused scripts on college campuses, it continues to be a powerfulindiasinging healing tool for women in shelter and recovery arts programs, touching on the realities of poverty, domestic and sexual violence, and trying to survive. For Colored Girls gendered themes also continued to strike powerful chords outside of N. America. It has been performed/imagined as an all black as well as a multicultural cast by Shange herself as well as other directors.

For Colored Girls returns to Broadway proper this summer. Though the cast has yet to be solidified, India Arie has already signed on. 3 time Tony winner Hinton Battle will choreograph the play and Shirley Jo Finney will direct it.