by Sylvia Marcos
I have heard here the voices of women’s pain and suffering , their testimonies of exploitation of destitution and desperation caused by extreme hardship.
I have also heard about their courage and their strength.
How have they actively resisted and escaped torture and sexual enslavement . I am a witness of their self reconstruction and of the resource to their capacities for brave responses to abuse, the search for a dignified life, and the standing proud claiming their rights in spite of the humiliations suffered.
I have also heard their silences, the issues they would like not to have been forced to accept, or have accepted, their personal regrets and the paths they have been courageous to choose-however difficult and painful- to be here and give a public testimony of their experiences. A testimony that has enhanced their power to master their lives and to be
an inspiration for others that are subjected to the same or similar situations.
We know by statistics that the vast majority of people trafficked are women, girls, children. Societies, values, construct women as helpless, vulnerable, easy to abuse,and be abused without public outrage. All this is often considerd part and parcel of a woman’s life.
Human trafficking, migration and violence , we now know, have increased exponentially in South East Asia as forces often having to do with neo liberal globalization policies.
Why are women more easily trafficked than men? Why in a couple man-woman , a woman can find easier an overseas “job” than a man? Why is it that in a majority of cases-the one that has to migrate in a household or extended family , to earn a living is often the girl or a woman?
Women are often left alone in the responsibility of sustaining children. They carry the weight of their childrens’ future. Even siblings and parents are their lot. Many of the testimonies have showed this obligtion. Women will go to any extreme so their children have a better life than theirs. But their larger than life “ethics of care” goes much beyond their own kin. We have witnessed the capacity, bravery and dedication of most of the women here. It has turned them into eminent activists for the rights of other women subjected to the same exploitation and deceit as they had to go through. Now they guide, support, inspire and enlighten women through Associations and NGO’s that are present here as “expert witnesses” (sustaining) They have become the heroines of their own destiny (fate). “ The key”, acknowledged one of them , “is to be part of an organization”
Values that underpin societies - I have also recognized the social construction of vulnerability as part of women’s role in patriarchalsocieties.This context of male dominant values, in every level of life , constrains women to be reduced , thought of, considered and valued by our bodies only.
And these bodies, ours, are constructed socially as catering to men’s needs and whims mainly. Women can find work abroad mostly as bodies to use and abuse, to enslave, bodies to rape: massagists, domestic workers, “private therapists”, sex workers, factory workers.
This is mostly the experience of the testimonies we have heard here today.
Women are thought of as dependent, as passive, easily manipulated, as fearful, we are thought of and constructed socially as weak.
All the abuses of trafficking and migrations-like rape, persecution, enslavement, torture, transfer and deportation- get inscribed on these basic assumptions shared by men and women of patriarchal misogynist values.
Girls are expendable. They have been created to be obedient to parents and men in the household and to be responsible (in charge) of men’s, elders, or children’s well being.
Their recruitment builds on these assumptions. Their extortion and deception (deceptive practices they suffer) are based on the same.
Unfortunately it is a male dominated system that includes women who represent it.
Destitution as a Context
Poverty encroaches on women’s destinies leading them to accept conditions deemed non human and impossible to tolerate. Global economic policies incorporate and profit from abuse of women. Feminization of poverty is an actual fact.
Poverty leads women to decisions otherwise unbearable.It offers no choice
Extreme poverty and destitution increases desperation as we have heard here.
Apparently women have “chosen” to migrate, and to accept “voluntarily” the conditions of employment agencies but this is a superficial appreciation of the economic misery from which they have to escape. They have to “hire themselves” out of no other “choice”. It also does not take into account how difficult-read impossible- it is often for them to be able to do the paper work and collect the documents that are required. Often the women come from the countryside of the poorest countries in Asia and the Pacific and have suffered the lack of schooling possibilities and lack of minimal bearable living conditions. This increases their gender vulnerability.
This poverty line is created and sustained by an unjust economic system,corporate values and policies of greed and endless material ambitions.
We have listened to testimonies of women violently marginalized by the subtle or overt collaboration and corruption of nation-states (via “legal” employment agencies) multinationals, and international legal conventions. But we must take into consideration that all of these get built on top (have a root on) of patriarchal values of male dominance. Through listening to many of the abuses of all orders suffered by these women, we can detect how they get built on the aforementioned patriarchal values of male dominance in conjunction with extreme poverty, marginalization and destitution.
Coerced by poverty and marginalization, now we heard how these women are “legally” considered the perpetrators of the crimes against which they have been able to survive.
But, importantly, we must beware of considering victims these true “heroines” that have been able not only to survive their own lotbut to act as liberators of others suffering like them.
The Courts of Women as a Process of achieving Justice and Dignity.
Listen and learn from the oppressed. “Escuchar y aprender” ( Listen , Learn)is the maxim of social justice movements today among them the Zapatista leader: Sub Commander Marcos. The educator Paulo Freire and Carlos Lenkesdorf the Mayan philosopher emphasize this also.
This is what we have been doing here. The Courts of Women are a space for listening and learning. Listen to learn, learn to listen. A multidimensional practice of listening, of contextualizing , of analyzing and responding which are effective in creating new modes of knowledge production. A knowledge that begins by listening to the juridically invisible women. From their subjective voices and their individual and personal testimony a new way of knowing emerges and is brought into the public arena.
It is built on their use of symbols and their perceptions. Creating other references, returning ethics to politics reclaiming the original voices. Thus it isa place for knowledges and wisdomsthat have been excluded.
By this particular process of the Courts of Women, we have been forced to listen in a new way and to hear the silences…
The Courts of Women are a place and a state of being. A place for denouncing uncovering and connecting patterns and intensities of violence against women that call for a radical reconceptualization of the hegemonic paradigm of “human rights”. A search for dignity not equality.
A practice of a communitarian, restorative, and multidimensional concept of social justice. A non state alternative to the exclusionary, retributive, and highly patriarchal justice paradigm rooted in the episteme and ethics of the security state. A justice with healing not only individual but for communities.
Open ended sacred spaces, where social categories are suspended, roles become fluid and interaction is privileged.
A Jury member could also serve as witness, participants are translators, an “expert witness” is a testifier, a testifier is a “judge” when she dares to expose the series of injustices covered up by the regional, national and international institutions. In the space of the Courts of Women one person can become the other in a horizontal interrelation.
A sacred symbolic space. A place for lyric, emotion, personal testimony
Painting, singing, dancing, drumming are incorporated to enhance the atmosphere of the space of the Courts of Women. Intended to favor the atmosphere where they will take place and signal that the space of this tribunal is not a mere conventional jurisprudential space. This is also an expression of the Courts methodology where you include multiple ways of feeling, speaking, learning, relating.
A space for regaining dignity in spite of all the horrors and injustices suffered by these women testifiers.
They are listened to with care and silence. They are never subjected to insult, recrimination or doubt over their testimonies. By the methodology, they are simply listened to as probably never before in their lives.
This careful and attentive listening provides them with personal healing insights..
“From their tears, another political landscape is drawn” (Corinne Kumar)
A place for collective consciousness. The repeated testimony that evidences the similarities in the situations of violence and abuse suffered by the women inevitably leads us, jury, participants, and public auditors, to go beyond particularities and to comprehend the contextual, political, economic, and patriarchal issues/values (favoring, supporting )behind the abuses heard by us and suffered by the testifiers.
A place for reason with compassion to discern new insights and create a “new imaginary”
A place where the intensification of violence against women in the contemporary world
is seen as not merely incidental and singular but provoked by an economic system,that can be conceived beyond the limited meanings of professional languages of traffic and migration and jusrisprudence.
A place to expose the horrors of state terrorism , economic exploitation that trickle down and get embodied capturing women :destitute and desperate women.
A safe space that ensures that women whose stories create the basis of new knowledge
and that choose to witness at the Court will be fully supported before, during and after giving their testimony, as belonging to a larger community.
A space, also, where their powerful testimonies gives them and us strength and courage.
The space here has been a healing space for the women testifiers, for all those committed to help and support them, and also for us the Jury, and for the visionary who conceivedthese spaces, Corinne Kumar. It has also been a healing space for the collective voices of all those men and women that have been and seen how this Courts of Women can and are an alternative process for healing and a step forward in achieving another world, another path, an Other justice,
NOTE: This Court of Women is already the 37th to be implemented and to take place, in spite of all the struggles, difficulties, impediments that have to be solved. Achieved with iron will and a deep commitment of everyone involved, NGO’s Organizers, Expert witnesses, women testifiers, Jury members