Friday, 23 March 2012

She Who Shall Be Named

To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment. For posts by Anouchka, Lola, rashné, Simi, Steph and Charmaine please see NYE, 'Are you even black?', Refusal(S): Street Harassment in Bombay... Under 'Western' Eyes, Something Happened, 'You make me happy' and Once bitten; twice, and you're nicked.


I met Zaria “Cinderella” Harris at the queer youth center I used to attend in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. She like many other youth activists at JASMYN was truly committed to extending the safe space that was so persistently advocated for beyond the walls of the JASMYN house and into the larger Jacksonville community. Usually, there was an unspoken rule that if anyone left the JASMYN house to run an errand, one should bring a buddy along to make the journey safer. During my buddy walks with Zaria and several other trans women, it would never fail that someone in need of filling their transphobic transgressions for the day would have something offensive to say. I witnessed all too often the way that my friend was the subject of chilling stares, grade school-esque whispers, the target of transmysogynistic retorts, or worst of all, threatened with violence.

Unfortunately, these types of offences are something that trans women encounter on a daily basis in the U.S. According to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are the most vulnerable targets of violence and discrimination. There is a direct relationship of transphobia to the violence that is happening in our communities. There are countless incidents of trans women being misgendered, brutally attacked, and even murdered in the U.S. because of their gender identity or gender presentations. These types of egregious acts are happening in the streets of major cities like NY, Baltimore, D.C., and Chicago. An equally disturbing reality is that more often than not, there is an overwhelming amount of invisibility to these occurrences. There are usually no vigils held in remembrance to the loss of a life, no floods of new stories, or public outcry. It is a sad and heartbreaking reality. Just this month, 18-year-old Bianca Feliciano of Cicero, Illinois was profiled as a prostitute, physically threatened, verbally assaulted, and subsequently arrested by two police officers because of her gender identity. Chrissy Polis of Baltimore, Maryland was physically attacked by two McDonald’s employees while attempting to use the restaurant restroom. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the attack was recorded and posted on Youtube. On Feb. 2, a trans woman was stabbed to death while waiting at a bus stop in D.C. Yes, the incident was covered in the news; however, several media outlets used transphobic language when referring to Deoni Jones.

When incidents such as the above cases happen and nothing is done about, it sends a message that this type of violence is acceptable. It sends a message that trans women are not worthy of having basic human rights protections. No trans woman should ever be gawked at, misgendered, threatened with violence, or brutally murdered because of her gender presentation or gender identity. Any inkling of this type of invasive, oppressive, and violent behavior must be checked. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want in any way to paint a picture of trans women as helpless victims incapable of holding their own. I simply want to call out to the need for solidarity in truly having our trans sister’s backs with greater hopes that it will counter the needless violence which is connected to the pervasive transphobia in our communities. It’s time for the silence and violence to end. No trans woman should have to walk down the streets with fear, terror, and anxiety in her heart that she will be a target or nameless victim.

In the spirit of sisterhood, I would like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Zaria “Cinderella” Harris, a fierce and beautiful soul who was tragically killed in Miami in 2011 at the age of 25. I mention this incident not only because I want the name and memory of Zaria to live on, but also because all too often, the violent and hateful verbal and physical attacks of trans women go unnoticed.

- Jardyn Lake

Once bitten; twice and you’re nicked

To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment.

The walk home from school was short, and the strip of shops with the little green on the way was even shorter.

But it petrified me.

There was a bench just on the green, and two or three men (old men) would sit all afternoon, drink cans of beer and shout absurdities at little girls walking by. ‘Hello sweetheart’, ‘you’re beautiful’ etc etc.

But it wasn’t their words, it was that feeling of being watched that upset me. The gaze searing into my skin, my back, my legs, my bum, my breasts. It weighed so heavy on me.

I changed my route.

But they were everywhere. Men everywhere staring at me, saying things, making me feel obliged to hide, or respond faintly, in the hope that it would just go away.

I was only eight or nine years old, and it hasn’t let up since. I have felt real fear so many times I can’t remember, but some of them I can. I remember telling men my age (‘but I’m 13, but I’m 14, but I’m 12 YEARS OLD. TWELVE!’) and it never seemed to matter. Aaliyah’s hit tune ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ was the bane of my life. It gave these lecherous men the fuel they needed, fully sanctioned paedophilic harassment. But my friends and I were strong, when I reflect on it, we batted them all off and would walk away saying ‘nonce’, ‘paedophile’ and laugh at how sad these men were, pitying their wives, glad we weren’t their daughters.

We didn’t really think about it being a crime. It was a daily thing, two or three times daily, sometimes hourly. On the way to school, to college, to the shop, in the shop, in the bar, on the way to the loo – why do some men wait outside the women’s toilet, that’s not attractive, is it? Ok, actually, I know why. You get to ogle ALL of the girls in the club that way.

Anyway, the last time a man thought he deserved my number for talking to me when I hadn’t requested it, sent no signal, was just walking down the street was within the last seven days, and there have been some days this week that I haven’t left the house because I’ve been kinda busy. So t hat’s very telling.

I usually manage to just pretend I didn’t hear anything, but on one occasion I couldn’t. I had to stop and listen. I had to look him in the face, in the eyes. I had to stand there and do what he said. And I hated him for it. On my way to university, late evening, heavy bags, dashing from one platform to another on the Underground, an Underground worker spotted me and gave me That Look. He motioned to me, maybe he said something like ‘hello’, but, I’m running for my train, it’s in sight, I don’t have time, so I did the usual see-no-evil-hear-no-evil, but when he clocked that I was ignoring him he called me up on it. ‘Hey, hey. STOP! I want to see your ticket’.

What? What? Now? I couldn’t believe it. I pretended I couldn’t see him, I pretended I couldn’t hear, but he shouted louder and people could hear. I had a valid ticket, but I stopped. He sauntered up to me, spoke slowly, requested to see my ticket, inspected it on one side, and then on the other. Then when he was sure that my train had gone, just as it had pulled off he said ‘next time, stop immediately when you are called’. And with that he turned and left, triumphant.

I missed my train back to uni, so I turned away and went back to my parents eaten up with rage chewed up by that complete abuse of power that I felt I could do nothing about. Oh, the frustration! Oh the fury! The kind of feeling that drives one to think those intrusive thoughts we are ashamed of – you know, BAAAAD thoughts.

That’s what some men do to me.

Now I know that if a man consistently harasses me, on the street, on the Underground, on my way to or from my destination (home, school, work, shopping), wherever. If he does it twice and I have evidence (witnesses, CCTV, anything that can show he has harassed me on two or more occasions) he is committing a crime that I can push for prosecution for quite easily under the Protection from Harassment Act, 1997.

Once bitten, but twice and he’s nicked (and an arrest, jail and fine could be on the cards).

That’s how I’ll live my life from now on.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

First discovering you are pregnant

This is the first in a series of posts by Yasmin, a pregnant feminist who will be sharing her experiences of pregnancy with us, in the hope that she is not alone in her thinking! This blog originally appeared on The F Word.

The word freedom traced into sand on the edge of the sea

When I first discovered I was pregnant, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of shock. I am 32 this year but in no way felt ready to become a mother. For years, I had resisted all 'innocent' remarks about the fact that I continued to remain childless (childfree!) despite having been with my partner for nearly 8 years. Members of my family would talk about this openly and, when friends became pregnant, they would assure me that I too would be overcome with joy at this most 'beautiful' of moments.

The belief, particularly when you are my age, is that you should be grateful that you can still conceive. This, however, was not how I felt. I worried about the loss of freedom, but when I voiced this I was quickly dismissed. 'You can't be young forever!' 'It'll be fine once the baby gets here'. I resented the assumption that by critically considering the far-reaching consequences of this momentous event, I was necessarily being selfish, Western, in my family's eyes. Though my shock subsided and was later replaced with an excitement about what would be happening to me, I have not lost the underlying sense of fear.

This, I guess, was my first experience of the ways in which pregnant women become a body other than their own. People come to not hear you as an individual; rather, they would prefer to see you as a representation of pregnant WOMAN. A special identity to which you are supposed to readily subsume the one you have painstakingly been constructing over the last 31 years!

Whatever the case, you are not really given a space to voice your fears and concerns because this is supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness. Should you experience joy yet have this tinged with worry and sadness at the loss of your former self, this is frowned upon. Indeed, people squirm in your presence because the pattern of pregnant woman conversation is not following its usual and 'natural' course.

This early pathologising of what to me seems one of many, logical reactions to pregnancy signals, as I see it, the ways in which pregnant women are from the very beginning, public property. If you do not instantly feel maternal then something is inherently wrong. You cannot possibly want or feel something different to the patriarchal construction of all women as aspirant mothers.

And what a mother should be is anything but critical of the process and all that it entails. At my first antenatal appointment, the one in which you are given the picture of your baby, I was 'able to find something to complain about' because, I am an 'angry feminist' whose rational thinking brain has long since gone out of the window. Apparently, I should not have been so 'put out' by the fact that the instructional videos aired for expectant parents continuously referred to the baby as HE. When I mentioned this to a pregnant friend I was made to feel like this was no time for my feminist gripes, I was pregnant and should be damn happy about it too!

How, I wondered, was the fact that I was pregnant supposed to act as a buffer to my feminist ideals? How could this old friend, who knows exactly how important feminism is to me, blithely tell me to discount my indignation? Well, the answer was simple; pregnancy is not a time for critical reflection about gender. In fact, it is the point at which you return to your natural and instinctual self. Why, at this point, be critical of the fact that boys are presented as the human default? It is just harmless, nothing to be worried about. As though this is not in some way related to the sad reality which has millions of female foetuses selectively aborted. Nothing can or should derail my 100% mirth at being part of the 'special club'!

"You make me happy"

To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment. For posts by Anouchka, Lola, rashné and Simi, please see NYE, 'Are you even black?', Refusal(S): Street Harassment in Bombay... Under 'Western' Eyes and Something Happened


When I was asked to write this post for Street Harassment Week I thought it was an impossible task because in my mind I had never experienced street harassment. You see, I live in my own little world and generally spend my time skipping through the streets of London with a smile on my face and a Pixies song in my head (it’s Tame at the moment). While this is an enjoyable experience I realised I probably wasn’t seeing the world for what it really is. Lo and behold when I went over my many repressed memories I realised that I had been a victim of street harassment.

One day when I was on my lunch break, walking through the banker-polluted streets of Farringdon, I passed the crossrail construction site. There were two builders standing outside and when I walked towards them one guy opened up his arms, smiled broadly and said to me, “You make me happy”. I should have thought of a good comeback or questioned him about why he felt it necessary to say that to me but being my naturally cold self I just ignored him and walked past.

You’re probably thinking that wasn’t a particularly dramatic or hurtful experience. As he said I made him happy and, really, if all I had accomplished in one day was to make someone happy then I’d be pretty proud but we have to think about the privilege behind the act. Even though masked in a friendly manner it is an egotistical act, born out of misogyny, which makes a man think a woman needs to know that he finds her physically attractive. It will make her day when she hears she has nice tits. Just because something is hidden in friendliness, jokes or banter does not mean it cannot be vicious.

The worst part is that I can’t even recall half the times someone has called out to me on the street because it has become so normalised in my mind. It could have happened ten times. It could have happened 100 times, I can’t recall, and if you can’t recall what was wrong it makes it harder to see it the next time. This is why initiatives like Street Harassment Week are so important because it gives women time and space to think about what happened to them and gives them the courage they need to fight back in the future.

- Steph Phillips

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Something happened

To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment. For posts by Anouchka, Lola and rashné, please see NYE, 'Are you even black?' and Refusal(S): Street Harassment in Bombay... Under 'Western' Eyes


A man followed me from the tube one winter’s evening in 2005. He was white, middle-aged, non-descript. I had noticed him on the train staring at me. When I got off at my stop, he suddenly darted off the train as the doors closed. It seemed spur of the moment, that it was not his intended stop. As I walked up the stairs, I turned twice and saw him still staring at me, now furtively. I began to wonder if he could be following me. Most people head right, to nearby houses, when they exit the tube station, but my route was left, a few yards down a depopulated stretch of a major road before turning on to quiet backstreets. When I exited the station, I saw that the man had not veered right with the crowd but was still behind me. I slowed to a virtual halt to let him pass by. He did, then stopped steps ahead and turned back to me, as if waiting. After some seconds, he continued walking so I did too.

Now certain that this man was following me and now petrified to walk home, I decided to wait at a bus stop right by the station where, fortunately, there were a few other people. I also called my house and a male friend there jumped on a bicycle to come and get me. The man from the tube remained a few paces away, looking at me huddling as close to the people at the bus stop as I possibly could. After some minutes, he shrugged at me as if to say “oh well,” then casually sauntered away. So, yes, not even a word was spoken... yet I have possibly never been so scared. Who was he? Why was he following me? What did he want? If I walked home, would he stalk me down my quiet route? If I got on a bus, would he also? How would I then shake him off? Where would it all end?

Another man – young and black this time – followed me one evening earlier this month. We had made eye contact as I crossed a busy road toward him, so he presumed to come after me, tap on my shoulder and ‘compliment’ my appearance. I put these two experiences and my countless daily others like them here, in Nigeria, in America, in South Africa, on a continuum of sexual harassment and ultimately violence. Their structural logic is that women and their bodies are always available to men, so they can come after us as they like. The logic follows that if male strangers stop you on the street with a supposedly nice remark or a whistle or a rude catcall, or even if they shadow you from the tube but soon tire of it, count yourself lucky, “nothing happened.” No. I will not accept that my peace and safety as I walk down the street are contingent on some unknown man’s approach.

- Simidele Dosekun

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Refusal(S): Street Harassment in Bombay… Under ‘Western’ Eyes*

To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment. For posts by Anouchka and Lola, please see NYE and 'Are you even black?'


On a recent trip back home, I was walking around the neighborhood with a friend, catching-up on the various goings-on in Bombay. There was nothing particularly unusual about this stroll – it was part of the routine growing-up, and a ritual, now, on my visits back. The nights in my neighborhood are dimly lit, but the streets feel familiar, even as you walk past numerous unfamiliar faces.

On this particular evening, as I chatted to my friend, I noticed a young man walking towards us. A few seconds later, he had cupped me and was well on his escape. I yelled a curse and began chasing after him. A few steps later, I had stopped, recognizing its futility.

The odd thing is, I saw this coming. Having grown up in Bombay, my instincts told me something was up when I noticed his approach. But having spent too many years away, I had let my reflexes slacken.

Verbal harassment – whether in Bombay, London, or the States – is not at all an uncommon experience. Most often I mutter ‘idiot’ or ‘asshole’ and keep moving. Physical harassment though, while not unfamiliar, is a more intense and lingering experience. The humiliation that follows is not merely an effect of corporeal shame – what is it about my body that provokes such behavior? – but more so of (a perceived) mental weakness – how could I let this happen to me… again? How could I let him run away… again? Why have I not learned to protect myself… still?

Past this humiliation lies aggravating confusion – an effect of the intellectual work that follows. I know that, had I kept screaming and running after the man, it would probably have brought out some of the younger folks that hang out in the area. A couple of young kids on bikes would probably have been happy to chase after the guy and perhaps give him a good beating. But that is precisely the problem. Had anyone from the neighborhood gotten involved, I believe that the ‘punishment’ meted out would not merely have been for the violating act but also perhaps because of who the perpetrator was – a young, most likely working class man, an ethnically lesser other.

We know that middle-class masculinities are often performed on the backs – literally and figuratively – of working-class men. I know the violence done to me. But I can also guess at the violence that the perpetrator might have been subjected to. The two are not mutually exclusive, but they appear irreconcilable. I refuse to enable some perverse performance of ethno-class masculinity, or ethno-classism in general, under the guise of redressing sexist or misogynistic behavior. What, then, is it to ‘justly’ hold the perpetrator accountable, without reproducing various forms of ethnic and class prejudices?

This, for me, is not a purely theoretically issue… or distraction. Indeed, speaking (or writing) of such issues is itself a complex task. As a Third World woman residing in the West, I am acutely conscious of the pathologization of Third World cultures. Much of this occurs through the paradigm of man=oppressor/woman=victim. I reject any attempt to deny the pervasiveness of patriarchy, and its often violent manifestations, in our communities – I have nothing against ‘airing dirty laundry’. Yet, I am equally wary of the reproduction of a colonial/racial logic in confronting the ‘social ills’ of Third World cultures – whether they be the Indian ‘epidemic’ of eve-teasing or the practices of genital cutting and ‘honor killing’. (This applies as much to ethnic and class structures within Third World communities/societies, as it does to the East-West/North-South power structures.)

What is at stake here is (stereotyped) representations of people of color. My issue with stereotypes is not purely about content, per se, but the power that they wield in producing generalized ‘truths’ – truths that permit a range of responses from reifications of dominant masculinities (and femininities), as I described above, to the militarization of ‘social justice’, as evidenced most recently in the KONY2012 campaign.

There is no doubt that street harassment is a huge issue in India. In fact, even in London, when I walk past South Asian men, I pray that they do not say anything, or behave in anyway, that confirms their stereotyped images. Yet, again, my anxieties are an effect not so much of their (potential) behavior as of the gaze they/we are subject to.

I could catalogue here all my experiences of street harassment – from men about my school, exposing themselves, to the gropes, smacks, and never-ending cat-calls. Yet, to recount these in any detail would seem to (re)produce a spectacle which offers emotive/affective power to already existent representations. I don’t believe such engagements to be politically or ethically productive – and, personally, I find them quite disempowering. Instead, what concerns me more, are the terms upon/through which we develop such engagements. That is, if we are to speak of patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, then let’s do so with an eye to racial and colonial power… and our consequent gaze… as well.

I am a bit tired of being asked told how bad things are in India – whether it is a feminist of color in the States who could never imagine herself in a place like Bombay because all the touching would just make her so mad, or the white British guy who informed me (with a pat on my back, no less…) that I should visit Scandinavia because then I’d see that patriarchy isn’t really universal. I am frustrated at attempts to hierarchize subjugation and violence; sickened by gestures that (re)position black and brown folks, men especially, as yet awaiting some form of moral enlightenment. That is the reproduction of the colonial, and I cannot stand (for) it.

It may seem odd, perhaps, that a post (by a woman) on street-harassment (primarily enacted by men) appears invested in the recuperation of the male figure. But recuperation is not the same as protection. I have no desire to ‘protect’ eve-teasers in Bombay from accusations of sexism, misogyny or patriarchy. But equally, even as I pose such critiques, I have no desire to pander to, or satisfy, a colonial/racial gaze. Thus, for me, any recuperative gesture is also, and precisely, a refusal. A thick refusal, in fact, of all that, ultimately, has been imposed upon me.

* I borrow part of this title from Chandra Mohanty’s essay (1988) ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse’ (Feminist Review, No. 30). Also, I use the term Western to describe contemporary racial/colonial logic that is not specific to the geo-political ‘West’ but rather is reiterated and performed across a global elite, however described.

- rashné limki

Monday, 19 March 2012

'Are you even black?'

To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment. Yesterday, Anouchka wrote about her experiences on NYE.


As I'm sure many of the other posts on this blog will say, street harassment is something as a woman you become, sadly, very accustomed to. The most memorable however took place when I was on a three month holiday with a friend whose family lived in Tokyo.

Each day, after teaching my English classes, I would go on to meet two of my friends working as hostesses in Tokyo's numerous hostess bars. The time would usually be anywhere from 11pm onwards. And, every night, I would walk past a nightclub with a group of hard faced bouncers weeding out the potential clientele.

Each night as I would walk past , without fail, one of them would say something along the lines of 'hey, sister'. My response would always be to continue ahead. At first I was flattered. Here I was in an amazing city across the world, where no one seemed to notice me apart from these cool looking ADULT men. By virtue of being migrant workers, it seemed that they were adventurers just like me, daring to go somewhere new and different. I had respect for these men because I felt that I knew something of their struggle. I didn't respond because I was shy and didn't know how to even begin a dialogue, let's face it, life is not what it is made out to be in American TV movies.

Once the novelty of this wore off and, it did very quickly, I started to get annoyed that that they refused to accept my silence as a sign that I wasn't interested. Before reaching the stretch that they would be standing on, I would brace myself for the cat calls. Ignoring them meant that there was now a bitter tone to their usual comments and they would look at me as though I was something off. Soon I began to walk on the other side of the street, to avoid them altogether.

One night I happened to be walking with one of my friends on her night off. Unaware that there was a problem with the side of road our usual hangout was on, she assumed that this was our easiest route. I felt too awkward to go into a long explanation of what seemed to be nothing. After all, it was only some guys expressing how they thought I was attractive, I should have been flattered not intimidated. As we came along to the bouncers the usual calling out began. I continued my conversation with my friend, looking at her or straight ahead. Before we had gone out of hearing range, I heard one shout out 'are you even black?'

It may seem like an insignificant comment that I should have been smart enough and strong enough to dismiss. But it was not. I had grown up the only black girl on my street, in my school, a handful of the ones at my uni. For me, this comment and my sense of anger and hurt at it has taken up a lot of my time. Some of it good. My sense of being expected to 'act black' by both white and black people became properly crystallised at that moment. It was something I had spent much of my late teens thinking about. How do you act black? In this case my blackness was directly related to the fact that these handful of black men felt a sense of ownership towards me that I obviously did not share.

For all it's distinctive qualities, my street harassment story is ridiculously prototypical. Men, strange men, feel and believe they have a right to your body, to attempt to own it with their whistles, stares and words. When their sense of entitlement is challenged you are made to feel as though there is something deviant about withholding the correct complying response. You become the problem. An uppity woman who thinks she is better than she actually is. It is, yet another, daily form of violence against women.

- Lola Okolosie

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Street harassment is one of the topics that comes up most often when we are talking. As a result, it was a natural decision to decide to co-sponsor International Anti-Street Harassment Week which starts today. To mark the week, we will be taking it in turns to share our experiences of street harassment - one for each day of the week.


On New Year's Eve, before I went out to celebrate the arrival of 2012 (ohhh Olympics!), I prayed that I would have a good night, get home safely, and not get raped. It’s actually a regular prayer: God please keep me safe on London's streets. I don't pray about the familiar ones - like Oxford Street with porny Soho at one end and posh Mayfair at the other, drunk arseholes throughout - I mean God please keep me safe on my road, and the one next to it, and the one next to that.

At last year's Reclaim the Night march, I, along with a thousand other women, chanted, “Whose streets? Our Streets!” Our streets. But it isn’t true, not at all.

Anyway. Back to New Years. On my way home from my NYE party, after negotiating the wretchedness that is public transport at 3am on 1st January, a man followed me in his car while I walked down a local street, imploring me to join him in the vehicle. "Babe. Babe! Oi! Where you going? Where you going? Y'wan lift? Come for a drink. Babe! Oi" and so on. He actually reversed his car down the road to keep pace with me, gesticulating and shouting until eventually he got bored and drove away.

It pissed me off, of course.

But what made me even angrier was that completely I forgot about the incident until hours after I woke up the next day. Let’s hear that again: I forgot that in the early hours of the morning, a man chased me down a dark street, with no intervention by the one (male) witness – what did I expect? – making increasingly aggressive remarks. Had he got out and grabbed me I'm pretty sure he could have dragged me into his car. And the reason I forgot about it is because this sort of sexual harassment in the street (whose streets? Our streets!) is so normal to me, so ordinary, so bloody commonplace, that I barely registered it as an incident of note.

As well as this campaigning week, there are groups around, such as Hollaback and ASH campaign, that aim to challenge and combat street harassment in the UK. All helpful, supportive communities of women sharing their stories and lobbying for an effective government response to the problem.

I can't bear a "what about the menz" response to feminist issues, yet I can’t help but think that we also need to hear a male voice here. Because this isn't solely a woman's issue, actually. Actually, this is an issue that must be highlighted and challenged through every corner of society. As a woman, I already know I shouldn't have to put up with this shit. We all do. So where are the men saying that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable?

Since puberty – not adulthood, PUBERTY- I have been routinely subject to sexual, agressive comments by men in the street, on public transport, in the workplace, day and night. Walking home from work, I run a gauntlet of barber shops, pubs, cafes, bookies, outside each one a group of men smoking, watching, staring, every day every day (please please please don't notice me, please don't say anything to me)...

Sometimes, men have touched me around my waist, breasts, arse… often, without speaking to me (not that it makes a difference). Once, in a bar a man grabbed me between my legs – labia, everything – then laughed when I turned around: "I was only're really fit..."

NYE man also probably thought he was paying me a compliment of some sort. Or maybe he thought that because I was walking down the street (our streets!) on my own I was also up for a shag. I don’t know. Someone explain it to me please. Where are the men - the good ones, right? the ones I'm mates with, yeah? - speaking to other men and calling them out for what this is? HARASSMENT.

- Anouchka Burton

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I first went to Gulu

by Samantha Mgbele-Asumadu

I first went to Gulu, Northern Uganda in 2007 to film a 'peace conference' various tribal and religious leaders, MPs, Law & Order and a King, (bussed in from Oxford where he was studying) had gathered to discuss peace going forwards. It was a muted atmosphere with a lot of kind and well intentioned people gathered. Lots of excitement when President Museveni arrived with his entourage, fleet of shiny cars and of course the PBG – Museveni’s Private Army within an army, very clever chaps, far more astute than the UPDF accused of human rights abuses in Karamoja. The elephant in the room was Sam Kolo - a former brutal leader in the LRA who had laid down his arms/machete and been embraced back in to the fold. This course of action was preferred i.e. Amnesty, so that fighters would be more likely to desert. Though I qualify that by saying there are very few willing participants in Kony’s orgies of murder, and pillage. Most were either abducted, had nowhere else to go when their families had been killed or their families had turned their back on them. All are brainwashed.

However this is not a history lesson on the Lords Resistance Army it has been an over 20-year conflict that has moved from Uganda, to Sudan, to Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is plenty written about it that has been articulated far better than I could do here and now. However I will say briefly that the LRA was formed after the failed attempt by Joseph Kony’s Aunt Alice Lakwena & her ‘Holy Spirit Movement’ to take on the Uganda state. Before every battle her fighters would cover themselves with butter as this she said would be enough to protect them from bullets. She herself would ride a bicycle in to battle.

Kony based the formation of his ‘Army’ on the 10 commandments, with his own strange interpretation. In his words "Is it bad? It is not against human rights. And that commandment was not given by Joseph. It was not given by LRA. No, those commandments were given by God."

His goal was to liberate the Acholi people from the State run by Museveni’s tribe; the Ankole. Members of President Museveni’s ethnic group, Bahiima populate the upper ranks of Uganda’s government He is likened to a cultural leader who favours his own tribe and often the Ankole are blamed for nepotism, corruption and land stealing. In socio economic sense they are at the top of the tribal pile in Uganda. Meaning that many have migrated to Kampala, the capital city.

However Kony’s ‘good’ intentions did not last long, he learnt well from Museveni’s armed insurgency of the 70’s & 80’s that Child soldiers were a useful tool to brainwash and use as they were in his eyes disposable. He had learnt well from his masters, (former colonials and what is now known as the political party the NRM, National Resistance Movement, which Museveni is the head of) His 10 commandments were a mess of mysticism and misogyny. For a very long time now he has had no political rhyme or reason and his brutal parallel reign has been foremost about creating and sustaining his own personal fiefdom. Kony has few very supporters apart from those he brainwashed when he captured them, who live in fear of him and his prophecies. I worked for years with a former child soldier who still talks about him with reverence, because she was brainwashed.

Now you get my drift, but it is 2012, so you may ask what has changed?

So in 2007 I went there for peace building, in 2008 I went there to film part six of the series 'Jazz My Life’ for a Kampala based, Ugandan owned production company. I was production manager and scriptwriter and general dogsbody but I did hold the budget so was able to sneak away for a steak at the Acholi Inn at one point: ) The live road show was taken around different major cities in Uganda, live music, dancing, comedy for university students competing to be 'jazzed' Think of our own makeover shows and multiply the buzz by ten as it was the first show of its kind in Uganda. The generators failing did curtail the night around midnight, but we were happy to go to bed after a long day filming with Gulu University students. My last visit to Gulu was in 2010; my boyfriend had been on a 2-month working trip to South Sudan. So two friends and I drove up to meet him as Gulu was in the middle. We went for a holiday and break from Kampala. The weekend consisted of good food, booze, dancing and reconnecting with old friends. I was even told some months ago by Laura Seay @texasinafrica that there was a hotel in an IDP camp (I’ll discuss the camps in the second article of this series) which was owned by one of the locals (she did qualify that she'd come across some creepy crawlies i.e. bed begs so don't see this as a recommendation) You may wonder why I'd wish to expose my past life? Here's why, does any of this sound like the Northern Uganda that Invisible Children 'exposed'? No? That’s because they misrepresented and lied about Uganda, causing its people hurt and potentially damaging its economy going forward. I hope the damage is repairable.

#KONY2012 came to my notice late one night I was traversing between facebook and twitter as you do and someone had posted the video on both saying this film needed donations. My eyebrows raised and then raised even further when I realised whom the donations would go to 'Invisible Children'. They had long been exposed as self-promoters who had no sense of the danger they put ordinary Ugandans in. I wrote this comment under the post:
Kony could have been caught 20 years ago, it was politically convenient for the Uganda government to let him terrorize the Acholi people, the U.S colluded with that. The U.S now has troops apparently helping Uganda troops in CAR & DRC to catch him, how does this film help that? Genuinely interested.

I got no reply, I think the poster had not counted on anyone questioning his well intentioned video post So from then until now I have been answering questions, writing pithy ripostes, refusing CNN phone interviews, (they hadn't realised I was no longer in Uganda I left in 2010 after 3 very good years. I miss all that rushing about breaking news gathering stuff, but am sure I was just the go to girl as a black face in an African country with an English accent and it went down well in the U.S! Last time I did interviews for them and filming was for the terror attack - AlShabab perpetuated in 2010 at the final minutes of the of the World Cup Final. I gave them some numbers and emailed them with addresses of journo friends that are still there both foreign & local, ones that I know DON'T support Invisible Children!)

When the BBC broadcasted the 2nd in command of the FDLR (DRC/Rwanda) saying that their insurgency was not finished and was far from being over it served as a rallying of FDLR troops. This helps explain why I am always tweeting about responsible journalism. The FDLR were finished, their leader no longer leading but soldiers (one radio between them I envision) in the bush heard the worldservice report and were reinvigorated. Now we need an immediate campaign to make NGOs responsible, & transparent. Who funds them and how do they spend their donations? #KONY2012

The 7th of March was a BIG day online for Africa, It trended on Twitter all day, (please read Samira Musa’s article) and that’s never happened before. Whether you're on the right or the wrong side of this situation, having Africa on your mind is a good thing. So it should have been a day for humility in the West as in the empire's name Africa has been raped and pillaged for centuries and its ongoing. I have included three posts that were made on my facebook page on the 7th March by Samira Musa, Daniel Renwick and Garakai Chengu in response to a neo colonialist who made some pretty ignorant comments about Samira's article, race and intervention. They went in. We saw the light and dark side of social networks that day in response to that ridiculous war propaganda video.

Oh you're one of them types. Them 'something is better than nothing, we have to do SOMETHING cause our morals tell us to' but your morals are non-existent when our governments embark on destructive and murderous wars and invasions in our name. And you really shouldn't comment on me on a personal level cause you don't me and frankly, you're wrong. So check yourself and come correct yeah. And have you not learnt from history that if you're a westerner than YES chances are you have bad intentions. Not your average Joe, I'm talking companies and governments. You don't have to be black or African to fight injustices but you have to *acknowledge* the tools used by the west and white supremacy in order to knock down sovereign states. Also, AS AN AFRICAN (woops, offended?) I want AFRICAN states to be able to handle AFRICAN affairs on AFRICAN on the other hand clearly want western involvement which, as history shows, is regressive and detrimental to MY continent :) you're so concerned with 'saving' Africa but do you even know what you're saving it FROM? You sound like an ignorant Uncle Tom begging for Westerners to free us from the mess THEY put us in. Sitting and holding hands singing 'kumbaya' aunt gonna get us nowhere. If you knew me, you'd know my solutions and opinions on a wide range of issues but you don't so again - come correct and don't spew out bullshit. Perhaps you and your friends should donate to that dodgy charity and go beg for western intervention and see how far that gets you. You're clearly a puppet and fail to see the bigger picture of imperialism that these governments are embarking upon. I'm gonna end it here cause you're obviously a waste of time who thinks you can work *with* the enemy to get what you want. NEVER GONNA HAPPEN you silly child. Wake up! And keep that propaganda video to yourself. You're so concerned with a black man in Africa but not a bunch of white men in Westminster. You're a joke. Check yourself
Interesting exchange. Original Moogsta, where to start? Hmmm...maybe "the world's most dangerous psychopath"? A highly subjective claim with little to no substantiation. Then, the retort to Sam, where you claim the fact that Kony is out of Uganda is irrelevant? Why is that? Look at the history of character assassination, you needn't look far. The demonisation of political leaders Saddam, Gadaffi, Assad (currently), Lamumba, etc precipitates their covert assassination by special forces or the invasion of their territory. So, the linking of a leader with a territory he no longer occupies, in the call for the US army to invade, as your posts call for, is highly naive at best and colonialist at the worst. What was that thing about Osama Bin Laden and Afghanistan again? Why are we still there?

I like to use Hanlon's razor when assessing interlocutors in debate: "never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance". But, you'd probably be more affronted to being called ignorant to being called a colonist. It can't be colonialism or even neo-colonialism, that's of the past, isn't it?! Not exactly. Aid and the economics of dependency is a major area of post-colonial analysis, the writing is extensive and varied, but to see it as the saving grace of Africa or any third world or "developing" country is ignorant. Just look at the World Bank and IMF policies of structural adjustment. Look at how much debt is repaid to the West per year in comparison to the aid we donate or how much is spent on military technology, warfare, occupation and "aid" to allies like Israel. This is all A, B, C stuff, but you're too "smart" to fall into the trap of seeing the world in a perpetual state of conflict. For you've seen the light, the world is no longer run by evil, evil rules the world, no matter the geography or skin colour. That's great, but the statistics fly in the face of your analysis, as do state department documents, wikileaks, presidential speeches, congress reports, etc.

 I do not doubt that you are a man of good intentions. You are, however, ensnared on the propaganda of the new colonialism/imperialism. You flatly deny it and focus your attentions in areas of the world where you have no agency. You empower military forces that have committed mass abuses and created states of civil war wherever their boots fell. You call younger, inspiring artists and writers ignorant for showing moral and emotional response to atrocities across this world; history, recent history and present.

 You believe you schooled Samira, I wouldn't be so cocksure. The world may not be black and white, but it's in a state of war and being raped by an empire brutally concerned with the interests of a small few, who just to happen to be white. We do not live in post-racial times and those who fail to learn the lessons of history have their roles cast for them. Your role, my well-meaning friend, is imperialist, and you play it well. But your cherry picking of history and intellectual snobbery doesn't intimidate those committed to challenging this world order.

All considerations about whether or not to release the dogs of war begin and end with the spoils
Uganda sits atop the geo-strategically important intersection of 7 oil rich African nations which Senior US Dept of Energy Analyst Sally Kornfeld has called "the future Gulf" ""I am amazed by what I have seen in Uganda, it might rival Saudi Arabia" she notes.
Mr. Kony is a bad, bad man but are hundreds of US Navy SEALs running around the African bush to stop him or to secure the biggest African onshore oil discovery in recorded history? 2 billion barrels no less.After the recent “Friends of Somalia” meeting - also on the back of an oil discovery - I cant help but muse that if only Palestine could discover...More on the spoils - lets remember that AFRICOM was created for two main reasons, oil and China. This century America will look to cart 3 Cs out of Africa: Crude, Capital and China. Stopping Kony is as much about killing an evil man as it is about stopping China’s advance into the continent.
China controls 97% of the Rare Earth Element (REE) market. US Geological Survey says Central Africa is home to high-grade full spectrum REEs not to mention diamonds, gold, platinum, copper, cobalt, tin, phosphates, tantalite, magnetite, uranium etc etc etc

“Ok so America is going in party for oil, I knew that and isn’t it worth it to leave with Kony’s head on a stick?” I hear you say.

Well, no.

Fact is the three previous US military Ops in Uganda - Operation North (1991) Operation Iron Fist (2002) and Operation Lightning Thunder (2008-2009) - have been unmitigated disasters, the military equivalent of poking a bee’s nest with a stick - Kony escaped, and in the ensuing reprisal and rampage 1,900 civilians were butchered and over 100,000 were displaced. As a consequence, local tribal, religious and community leaders all unanimously say military intervention is not the way. Mr Tomahawk will make things worse.

They propose all stakeholder seven nation talks, a regional force, pressure on Mr. Kony and eventual dialogue to end the nightmare. But alas, this solution remains a dream so long as the puppet President, America and the most sophisticated propaganda machine in history is drowning out local voices of reason.

Stop Kony! Stop Kony! Stop Kony! - by the time anyone sits down to discuss HOW to stop Mr Kony, they are tarred as a “political prostitute” a “dictator’s bum boy” or other such accolades my ilk have been showered with.

In short, lets “Stop Kony!” but lets do so by listening to the locals, regarding a non US military solution. And for goodness sake lets not wait for oil to be discovered in Palestine, Soweto or Qatar before we free the people. Oh oops.

My next piece will address all the Twitter Facebook responses I got from the 7th March onwards. It will be published on what I was told this morning was Joseph Kony Day?! The 30th April. I will address the ignorance of Imperialists and Anti imperialist on #KONY2012, the neo– colonial intentions of America, Africom, Invisible Children (and their funding) and of course OIL. The U.S influence has grown markedly in Uganda since 1986 when president Yoweri Museveini came to power and there are fears that under their guidance Uganda has become less and less democratic.

I want to thank the following people Samira Musa, Garikai Chengu ,Daniel Renwick, Robert Kazandjian, Afshin Shermirani, Angelo Izama, Richard Hall, Jerome Taylor, Laura Seay, Musa Okwanga, Anthony Anaxorouga, Jason D’Jehuti, Michael Hottag, Charles Oyango Obbo, Max Bilbow and Carlos Martinez who in the last week have spent their time firefighting this man made crisis. I reach out in solidarity they did some stellar work! In the meantime please read the links to the articles I have posted. Thank you.

Lastly Uganda you are in my heart, I miss you and I’ll be back soon.

Article Links:

KONY 2012, Invisible Children's Pro-AFRICOM and Museveni Propaganda
Co-Founder Admits Invisible Children Is Not A Charity