The United Nations has declared February 20th as World Social Justice day. In this era, social justice is like a carrot dangling before humanity while the vast majority of us are being beaten with sticks. So, social justice is an aspirational desire, a desire to remediate the wrongs of past times and current ways of ruling. I hope every single day, to see signs of positive and crucial social change.
In the area of women’s rights, even as we expand our notions of “femininity” and “masculinity” to include non-biologically sexed people, there is so much to do. Women and trans-women who are the victims of violence all over the world, are really at the bottom of the barrel. Our lives are de facto worthless, if we are Indigenous, South Asian, of African descent, East Asian, even more so.
This is so evident when we examine murder statistics (flawed and manipulated, though statistical data may be) from Mexico ( 2,795 in 2017), India (between 8000-5000 dowry deaths per year), South Africa (2930 in 2017-18 ), Spain ( over one thousand women killed in 8 years), Australia ( approximately 52 women per year) and the United States (approximately 1600 in 2018 ) and Canada (118 in 11 months in 2018, or 1 murder every 2.5 days ). In Cuba, pressure from local women’s organizations and activists is pushing for statistics on violence against women and a new integrated law of gender violence that will allow the state and the social services sector to keep track of violence aginst women. 2016 saw about 50 women murdered by male partners and intimates.
Rape statistics and/ or lack of, are also horrifying. In India, over 300, 000 are reported to police, leaving another 3 million unreported annually, as experts have pointed out, due to social and familial stigma, rape and sexual assault are the most under-reported crimes. In Mexico, thousands of women are violated daily with a reported rape rate of 12.6 per 100, 000 and about 3 million reported rapes in the 2010-2015 period.
As we are well aware, rape and sexually motivated violence is the least reported, with official figures representing approximately 10% of actual cases globally. Biased and misogynist legal systems and law enforcement in every country in the world, makes sure that it will remain that way. In Canada, one in three women experiences some kind of partner assault in her lifetime. The violence against women of Indigenous descent has reached horrific proportions, a genocidal violence that is rooted in the making invisible of native cultures and nations.
Discussing women’s wages, social and economic opportunities and acquisitive power, we see that the gender gap prevails here as well throughout the world. I have seen how the gap in wages translates in housing vulnerability for women at even higher rates than for men, in one example. Disproportionately, women also shoulder child rearing and housing costs as well as actual child-care.
In terms of other social justice issues, and there are so many— racism and imperialism rank among the highest impactful issues on the planet. In North America and Europe, racism saves employers, corporations and states trillions of dollars in historical and current under/unemployment, substandard housing and education. Racism makes huge profits for war industries, law enforcement related industries and municipal developers, furnishing companies that supply concentration camps and public and private prisons, and has fostered generations of white supremacist involvement in armed foreces and armed law enforcement.
It is almost incomprehensible the ways in which “othering” and inferiorizing the lives of billions of people for the profit of a few white men and their families— global oligarchs— shapes our world view through the media and social networks. As many have argued the intersection of oppressions by race and gender as well as social class, account for the ways our very lives are shaped and the type of opportunities that may be afforded to us.
If we add disability to the mix, poverty is an almost constant factor in the lives of people with serious and or chronic health conditions, as employment seems the last place in our lives where we might expect accomodation, though we live in capitalist societies that measure all our worth in terms of what we “do” (read, earn) occupationally.
Even the left plays into this bourgeois meritocracy. That is why, we so rarely see images of disabled people speaking about the complexity of their lives or political belliefs. They ( by which I mean, we), are relegated to speaking only about “disability”. Having an affiliation to paid, and well-paid employment at that, certainly gives “privilege” to those who are able-bodied but within our own social class.
These horrific underlying social inequalities shape every aspect of our lives. Women, not safe in their homes, or on the streets, live in a state of permanent alert that starts when we are little children. People of colour, indigenous people, colonized communities and nations, are constantly prevented from lifting the yoke of subjugation that presses down on our human capacity and potential.
Social Justice Day is a day to take stock of all the work we have done in our countries and globally, while confronting the fact that we have barely begun to tackle the enormous overarching issues that literally, shape, and delimit our lives.
I’ll leave you with a poem from a writer whose words echoed in my head and got me through the cult-like environment of law school so many years ago. Chrystos is a Menominee lesbian poet whose work addresses our real lives. Instead of growing up on the reservation, she was reared in the city around Black, Latino, Asian, and White people, and identifies herself as an Urban Indian.
MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T MEET
IF THERE ARE NO THIRD WORLD WOMEN HERE
How can you miss our brown & golden
a thin red scream
in this sea of pink
But we’re here
meeting & didn’t contact the Black Lesbians or G.A.L.A. or Gay American Indians or the Disabled Women’s Coalition or Gay Asians or anyone I know
You’re the ones who don’t print your signs in Spanish or Chinese or any way but how you talk
You’re the ones standing three feet away from a Black woman saying
There are no Third World women here
Do you think we are Martians
All those workshops on racism won’t help you open your eyes & see how you don’t even see us
How can we come to your meetings ifwe are invisible
Don’t look at me with guilt Don’t apologize Don’t struggle with the problem of racism like algebra
Don’t write a paper on it for me to read or hold a meeting in
which you discuss what to do to get us to come to your
time & your place
We’re not your problems to understand & trivialize
We don’t line up in your filing cabinets under “R” for rights
Don t make the racist assumption that the issue of racism
is yours at me
Bitter boiling I can’t see you