Joseph Robertson (host): Good morning, and welcome to the 5th day of the NOW Labz CSW 2013 talks, hosted by Quipu.cc and the HotSpring Network.
Having examined questions relating to education, climate justice, lending, and participation, we now turn to the more elusive, but more essential question of sovereignty. It will be necessary to look for definition(s) of this word, but I think we need to say at the outset, this is a moment when we need to address, in some way, the question of gender-based violence (GBV), along with the structural violence that can severely limit the ability of women and girls to exercise their talents, their character and their moral, creative, emotional and practical sovereignty, in a given environment. We welcome any and all insights relating to these topics, and any relevant experience anyone might like to share.
We have had some requests for the opportunity to come back to previous themes, and there will be input from participants eager to do so. Also, we will be posting, through the Quipu.cc account, as before, comments from participants not using this service, but who are contributing via email and chat.
Welcome, Susanna. We also have Riga Listin posting via email and Anne Stapleton Smyrna, who joined us yesterday, via chat.
Susanna Cafaro: Thank you, Joseph.
For clarity, I will add an … between comments from different participants, when we post them through the same Quipu.cc account. It might be worth starting with a couple of key discussion points: 1) the ways in which the week’s other topics relate to this question of personal and interpersonal sovereignty and 2) the recent re-instatement of the Violence Against Women Act in the US. How these kind of questions / laws / initiatives impact sovereignty. Thoughts?
Riga Listin: Hello all. I am happy to be able to make it for today’s discussion.
Susanna: Hello, Riga.
Riga: I think the VAWA is important for many reasons: 1) it is an expanded version of the previous law; 2) it is a necessary supplement to a flawed system of gender violence justice; 3) it is VERY significant that we need to have this law, and we have to recognize that we do and how significant that is.
Susanna: I am very much interested in the topic sovereignty as a qualification of State and supra-State actors, but I never referred it before to the individual sphere, how it differs from personal freedom or capacity?
Riga: Hi, Susanna. Can I take this one, Joseph?
Joseph: Of course, go ahead…
Riga: We have been looking at ways in which this macro-scale initiatives and subject areas relate to the personal condition of individuals, families and communities, whether women are, say, whole persons under the law, at the human scale.
Joseph: Perfectly said, Riga, thank you.
Susanna: Thank you, Riga.
Joseph: So, Susanna, it may be interesting to ask whether a more centralized or decentralized political structure, at the state or suprastate levels, might impact personal liberty or the advancement of the rights of women and girls in a multilateral setting.
Susanna: I don’t know much about the new US law, but I can testify that there is a big debate actually in Italy on the need of a specific law about violence on women
Joseph: How do you read the situation in Italy?
Susanna: Numbers of women killed are actually impressive in italy (killed by their own violent partner or former partners) and what is even worse, in almost all of the cases, those women reacted to violence or even called the police.
Anne Stapleton Smyrna: That is the kind of thing we most need to eliminate, if we are to really move forward on the question of personal sovereignty—the right to govern one’s own fate.
Anne: But the police did not intervene? Or the intervention is deferential to the abuser / attacker?
Susanna: yes, but there aren’t real means to enter in the private sphere, if there is merely the statement of a judge to stay at due distance… it isn’t clearly enough
Joseph: We have that problem here in the US as well.
Susanna: so, it’s also a problem of means
Joseph: Court orders, restraining orders, often do not work… in some cases, they appear to provoke more violence, but where they seem to work well enough, the woman is really not protected; the police rush to her aid only after an attack. The order serves only to make a sentence more likely or longer. This is important… I can say that the justice system is often seen as a tool that is automatically open to all, but it is often not, when it comes to this kind of situation. Women often have a struggle to even get a real hearing in the courts, let along a significant judicial action that would really prevent an attack.
Susanna: actually there isn’t a specific law to protect women, in criminal law there are generic provisions about violence, so a specific provision would help, but…
Joseph: What means can we add, like VAWA in the US or CEDAW, internationally, or something more, that could help?
Susanna: in my opinion, a policy with specific social assistance for those women who don’t have economic means to start a new life would be even more helpful
houses to host them, for instance
Anne: I have often wondered if law enforcement should be required to act. Required, instead of suggested as a possible option for victims. There are places in the US where this is already true: where the police and District Attorneys are required to prosecute domestic violence, whether the victim wants it or not.
Susanna: in some European countries this model already works
Anne: Safe houses or halfway houses… perhaps with armed protection for the most severe cases?
Joseph: I am wondering if we are talking about something here that really does bring the week’s discussions together: what means is afforded to individuals (women) to make change happen in their own environment? What political leverage does a woman have?
Riga: I think this is an issue of social significance…
Susanna: there is clearly also a cultural problem…
Riga: I mean, in relation to the way society, broadly, treats women and the problems that may be more common to women than to men. Susanna, can you elaborate on that?
Susanna: It would be a cultural approach to work also on education, not only to prevent violence from men, but also to teach women do not tolerate violence inside the family, because behind murders there is often an history of small and less small abuses
Riga: Yes. I write about the persecution of journalists and rights advocates and it is often the case there as well that when there is an escalating campaign of violence, and an atmosphere of impunity, it has grown up over time, like an infection.
Susanna: I can imagine that
Joseph: We discussed this, the other day, in terms of education. Can we hold events, create institutions, where we bring more than one generation, of men and women both, forward together?
Susanna: good question. I think that openess and exchanges are great remedies
Angela Dorian: Hi all, I’m back!
Susanna: Hello Angela. Personal exchanges and cultural exchanges, violence grow more easily in restricted environments
Angela: This is a great forum, and Hank is laughing at me for how eager I have been to get back into these talks after he brought me in the other day. I totally agree with Susanna. There is a way to talk, maybe, about how something like a “New Day, New World” program could happen, where everyone comes in knowing they will be taught to be and to think differently, there may be some “truth and reconciliation”, and afterward, things will be more open and equal.
Angela: I could imagine something like the previous discussion about “de facto leadership”, where women are now more sovereign, simply because we have established that we all understand this to be so, and men and women in a given community agree to work together toward that.
Susanna: I’m an optimist, I tend to think that new generations, beeing grown in the internet era, shoud be better at respecting each other and feel more equal
Anne: I like that idea. Would this be organized by government, by an NGO, by a local community? Could we set forth some stanards?
Joseph: What Susanna says is true. Polls in the US show clearly that among young people who self-identify as “conservative” or “very conservative”, a majority still support more progressive social policy, including same-sex couples’ rights. So women are already better off in that group, in theory.
Anne: I am an optimist, too, but I think we have to recognize how hard this work is.
Susanna: you can find some interesting example here http://www.eige.europa.eu/
Joseph: Thank you, Susanna.
Susanna: there isn’t much real power behind it, I mean competence to adopt legislation
Joseph: I think the goal of working toward some standards for setting up those workshops is a great idea.
Riga: We have been talking about restrictive environments, and how that invites abuse and diminishes sovereignty. Susanna, do you feel the overall structure of the EU can play a role in how these issues work, at the human scale?
Susanna: I think so. At least, I think it could work through the channel fundamental rights. EU, as everybody knows is a big trade partner for most of the world, what is interesting…
Joseph: In this report, from the page Susanna posted, we find that the EU structure does allow for an overview and for reporting on the state of violence against women across multiple nations: http://www.eige.europa.eu/content/document/violence-against-women-victim-support-main-findings
Susanna: most of trade agreements have the so called conditionality cklause on human rights
Joseph: Is that more effective, because the EU is a bigger bloc?
Susanna: this allows EU to have a say on the respect of human rights in the partner countries
Joseph: Do you feel, as an EU citizen, that this, in a sense, gives you some influence over the conditions faced by people in those partner countries?
Susanna: I think so Joseph, even if this allows to have a say on major human rights violations, but some are against women, like genital mutilations, for instance, there are some european parliament’s resolutions about that
Joseph: A few years ago, at CSW, I had the chance to interview a member of the Sudanese parliament, a woman from Khartoum. It was just weeks after Bashir was indicted, and the session, on rape in Darfur, was clearly a whitewash. When the standards for examining, responding to and reporting real cases of real violence are shown to be X, it is harder to do more hollow, less effective reporting. So, through partnerships in trade, the EU can drive change by getting more information, putting out there, moving more NGOs in, etc. Do we need to spend more time at events like the World Bank / IMF Civl Society Forum, to better structure the means we, as citizens, have for keeping tabs on these processes?
Angela: I would like to chime in here with something…
Susanna: I think the conditionality in IFIs too should be more rights oriented
Angela: I think we have to look at how those standards are shaped. For instance, in some US trade agreements, the rights requirements are oriented toward humane development, but development means money, which means foreign investment, which tends to mean the presence of foreign corporations, and often, “humane development” or some variation of that notion is treated as the right to earn “competitive wages”, where competitive means very low, but very low is treated as good, because one is employed.
Riga: And, forgive me for focus on my own area here, but media freedoms are vital.
We need transparency. We need a way to know what is happening, which is leverage. Information is leverage. And sovereignty requires leverage.
Joseph: Wow. Thank you, Riga… that’s a great way to say it. Does everyone here agree with that idea? That “sovereignty requires leverage”…?
Susanna: I agree that information is leverage
Anne: I like it. I think it reminds us to focus on means, on structures and on practical application of these aims.
Joseph: Can we specify that there is a difference between leverage as force and human leverage? For instance, we want to transcend the Hobbesian state of nature, in which there are no rights and there is no truth; we are all simply running around being hunted by a chaotic world where might makes right and force is strength and strength is temporary… and we want to get to a place where we leave that notion of force behind entirely, and by “leverage”, then we would mean something like moral standing, with the reliable effort of a human society to back up that moral standing with social leverage?
Anne: I like that. It’s complicated, but important. Leverage is a good word, but we can’t resort to the idea that we can correct injustices born of the brute force concept of power by aiming to capture that flag.
Susanna: Information and participation give real content to rights, so I think we can define them as forces or leverages to increase the individual voice
Joseph: So we measure sovereignty, or leverage, even, as the degree to which one is informed, free to access information and also to participate and to act.
Riga: And to speak.
Riga: I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that people who know what is happening be allowed to share that truth. What about this particular problem of information and education being filtered through the conventions of a place and time?
Susanna: It’s actually the problem of half of the world
Joseph: That’s a great point, Riga. I think it is also a good question to lead us into the summation of our work here this week. Susanna, could you explore that a bit further? Do we have to trace an arc between education and sovereignty, recognizing that we need to push more open ideas through a system that wants to exclude them?
Susanna: I mean, if you look at women right, you see there is a number of countries, mostly the western ones, where there are a number of rights and public policies to encourage equality but here and there a poor enforcement, then there are different cultures, and some of them discriminate women even in the access to schools. there are even Islam charts of fundamental rights which make women rights less fundamental
Anne: We talked the other day about Mary Wollstonecraft, and Joseph, you teach her writing, so I know you know… she argues that the evolution of culture with respect to the sovereignty of women requires women to give up some of the perceived leverage to be gained from exercising certain “feminine powers”. Do we have to talk about creating a consciousness where women are not willing to give up the straightforward judge-me-as-I-am way of doing business in the world, that would, ultimately, equate to liberation?
Evelyn Winston Perez: hello to the group! I’m throwing in one or two thoughts on what I have seen in remote areas of Africa, where Islam is, paradoxically, a modernizing and a fundamentalizing force. You have a situation, at times, where women are learning more, not less, reading more, not less, because they are in a situation in which learning about the faith is imperative, and because there might be elders who take seriously the equality requirements of Islam… but then, of course, they are also in local societies that are intensely traditionalist, and so this leads to isolationism, patriarchy and xenophobia, which all tend to diminish the rights and the sovereignty of women.
Anne: I had no idea there were places where Islam played both of those roles, but it is an interesting point.
Joseph: So, education is in part about educating the system itself… to allow the right ideas, and the right law, to drive enforcement, to be put into practice, to be the standard by which people—men and women—demand to govern their environments. Can we say it like that? We need the system to tell the truth? We need to make sure education does not mean the selective filtering out of useful and important goals and strategies?
Riga: I think so.
Joseph: It’s time to start wrapping up. Would everyone like to have their say on what sovereignty means to them, and how we can do better?
Susanna: well, right ides and right laws may be dangerous concepts in the wrong hands, I think we should stick to the UN charters of fundamental rights as common ground
and disseminate the best practice to enforce those rights
Joseph: I suppose by “right” we mean the accepted UN goals for fundamental rights… which, unfortunately, are not universally adopted… and sharing best practices is a great way to do it…
Riga: I think it is having a voice, and I think more sovereignty means two things: 1) more open information; 2) more freedom to take action in disseminating information… sovereignty flows from these.
Susanna: I agree Riga, and advocacy for public policies at all levels comes out from that
Evelyn: I agree with Riga. I would say sovereignty is deciding for yourself, and actually doing right by your true interests, and doing so without infringing the sovereignty of others. Laws and standards are helpful, but this is always a personal experience.
I, for instance, write, because advocacy is instrumental to building a harmonious civil society in which people can be whole persons.
Susanna: good point Evelyn
Angela: I have said before, and I will say again, I think finding my own voice, as an advocate for environmental justice has been crucial to guiding my own experience of sovereignty. I am more myself, because I have a voice, and I am more myself because I share my principles in a way that helps to effect change. Every person has to be able to do that. We cannot be afraid of integrating competing perspectives or of hearing stakeholders.
Susanna: I have to go now, it was a pleasure to be part of this conversation
Anne: I have a hard time with this idea. I think sovereignty is an interesting concept, but it rings to me of monarchy. And yes, each of us would like to be the queen of her domain, the ruler of her fate, but I think it follows a little to closely the idea that we are either governed by another or governed by an inner ruler.
Joseph: Thank you, Susanna, for joining. This has been great and your insights are important and integral. I hope we can have you back for future NOW Labz or Quipu events.
Susanna: thank you Joseph, bye all, I will participate when possible with much pleasure
Anne: Yes, I would like to hear more from Susanna in the future as well. I hope we do more of these, and keep the conversation open. As I was saying, I think sovereignty is a great concept, but rooted in our feudal past. I know from some of Joseph’s writing that he may share this view.
Joseph: Actually, I do. To me, it is useful to make the word an integral part of this week’s discussion, precisely so we can get to this problem of how we redefine it to work better in our times.
Riga: So, I like Anne’s point, and thank you, Joseph, for including that planning point… I think it matters a lot whether we know what we are talking about, and I think this talk, today, is in part about that… do we know what we are aiming for, when we aim for something like what we might call sovereignty? Is that, for instance, any different from talking about “personhood”?
Evelyn: I think, Riga, and Joseph, that this is a fabulous way to bring this all together: we are talking in part about the I/you barrier: when we ask ourselves what our own personhood requires, it requires every liberty, every right, every dignity; when we ask about the personhood of the other, however, we tend to be less permissive. It is even possible to say, as we discuss those who do not want to come along to join a more open society that they somehow “deserve” less consideration… and that may be, given the injustice that can flow from the more narrow view of personhood, but it remains an I/you barrier, and that is the heart of the problem.
Joseph: Thank you, Evelyn. That is a great analysis. In the end, we want all people to be whole persons, not only in their hearts and minds, and in their relationships but also before the law and in socio-political practice. We all have a right to be the “I” that demands full personhood.
We have gone over for the day, but I think that is a credit to the complexity of the topic and to the aptitude of our participants. Thank you, everyone, for joining today’s Quipu.cc NOW Labz CSW talk on Sovereignty.
The discussion will be posted on Quipu.cc at the shortlink: http://bit.ly/nowlabz-csw-sov