Women and the Political Struggle

By Tess Andrea

Systematic dismantling of a government system is a righteous concept. Political protests have manifested from the bull-horn’s mouth to occupation of avenues and street corners where general assemblies transfuse life back into depleted people. Direct action, non-violent, violent, general strike, sit-in’s and teach-ins; the public gets fed up and those who can, revolt. People being fed up with the systems that rule them is as common as strikes in France, but seen in the internal make-up and mind-set of these non-conformists is a microcosm for the reason of the protest at large. The same is true for the Occupy Wall Street movement: many occupiers would deem their lack of  a common goal as symbolic in itself, that having a fixed agenda pre-determines whose voice is heard and therefore whose problems are solved and that the OWS movement focuses on the direct democracy of each person/group’s troubles becoming everyone’s troubles. This notion that all problems are prioritized equally with the same attentiveness and readiness to solve has become problematic in our neo-liberal capitalistic society where partial domination is regarded by most as more effective then general cohesion.  Yet, with Occupy Wall Street, an economic protest turned rejection of a forced federal U.S. democracy, we see social issues up in the air, and on the grounds.

Many of the gender/race blockades of Occupy Wall Street created by a white-male dominated stigma have strong ties to what is happening in the American political, economic, and social systems. The most persistent voice for reason and change throughout social and political protests has been women as they seem to keenly understand how to simultaneously be a majority and represent a minority. Historically, women hold half the population, 51% (US Consensus), in numbers but have still been treated legally as a minority group. The women occupying Wall Street recognize this societal norm and in solidarity with their male counterparts and other minority groups such as people of color and LGBT activists are attempting to reverse the role as second-class to society and the government by tackling the microcosm of patriarchy in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Women Occupying Wall Street is a feminist group inside of the general occupation of Wall Street dedicated to vocalizing and mobilizing gender issues.  They arranged their first Feminist General Assembly on May 17 with the goal to “Rise up! Stand for gender justice. Disarm the War on Women.”

“Gender justice is crucial to economic justice, “ say WOW organizers, “No society is truly democratic without sexual and gender-identity freedom.” This General Assembly, and others like it, have been reactions to what women feel is the most substancial issue to current gender politics and an outright attack on the female gender, the War on Women. Included in the War on Women are various Congressional bills and political moves to limit or entirely cut federal spending on abortions. Called the “No Tax-payer Funding for Abortion Act,” Rep. Chris  H. Smith wrote the fiscally conservative bill that “prohibits federally- funded abortions and providing for conscious protection” and the “emlimination of certain tax benefits relating to abortion.” Not only could this bill eliminate federal funding for abortion coverage and abortion clinics, but also looks to disallow tax exemptions of small businesses who offer health care plans that include abortion coverage.

Title X is another controversial government funded program that House Republicans are looking to ban with their economic plan. Title X offers low-income families money for family-planning services with the main attack against Title X being that although recipients are not allowed to use the money to provide abortions, Planned Parenthood of America is the number one recipient of Title X money. Rep. Mike Pence has presented a bill that bans any abortion providers from receiving Title X money stating, “The largest abortion provider in America should not be the largest receiver of federal funding under Title X. The time has come to deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America.”

However, just three percent of all Planned Parenthood services are used for abortions, because they also offer reproductive and sexual education quintessential to a woman’s health such as Pap tests and breast exams for detecting cancer, and tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases. These bills are direct attacks against women because the health and economic status of the male gender is not directly affected by lack of funding for abortion clinics or contraceptive plans, nor are they at a higher risk for health complications from reduced ability to receive a necessary abortion or physical examination.

Another issue at large for women Occupiers is turning the United States society’s attention to CEDAW. CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly about 30 years ago as the national bill of rights for women. The bill defines what constitutes as discrimination against women and composes an agenda to end such discrimination. Countries and states  join the CEDAW pledge to undergo a series of political, social, and economic measures whose sole focus is the elimination and continued abdication of discrimination against women and to “incorporate the principles of equality for men and women in their legal system,” according to the CEDAW website.

Currently, 187 out of 193 countries have ratified CEDAW. Among those who have not ratified CEDAW is the United States of America, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Palua and Tonga, two small Pacific Island nations . It is very interesting that the United States is the economic and political leader of the world, yet our politicians fall on equal playing field with second and third world countires when it comes to social issues (but not strictly bound by such) like women’s rights. Ratifying CEDAW has been on the agenda for feminist groups and women Occupiers so that there is some political guarentee that women will not be discriminated against legally.

All direct action must start with a central issue and a primary goal no matter how general. The women occupying Wall Street are attempting to bring to light problems that may be strictly feminine or gender exclusive, but with the idea that inequality for one portion of society will result in continued and unabridged inequality for others. If a woman’s voice is restricted within the context of a political protest, then it will never be heard in a political arena.  Without a woman’s voice representative of most, if not all minority groups, American society will continue to be plagued with discriminating economic, social, and political practices.

There is a certain creativity that is inspired by oppression, and it has become necessary for women to become crafty and ingenuiously inventive along with incredibly resilient in order to expose the underlying cause of their civil unrest to the public. This may seem a bit exclusionary or detracting from Occupy Wall Street as a whole, but the message is simple: “We’ve long understood the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression, that one cannot dismantle one form of inequality without dismantling them all.” Let the dismantling begin.