From North to South, we are witnessing a global backlash against women’s rights progress. Perhaps the most visible example of this worldwide trend is the White House’s newest resident and his administration.
With the election of Donald J. Trump, the global balance of power appears to be shifting. Since taking office, the Trump administration has proposed two executive orders barring travel and immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa. Though the bans are now in court, they hurt attendance at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), held in New York, 13 March – 24 March. According to Passblue, not one country listed in either executive order (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen) sent civil-society delegations to the CSW61.
As Passblue’s Laura Kirkpatrick points out, “[T]he role that the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took at the conference – minimal and guarded – symbolized how much the US has turned away from providing strong support for women’s equal rights and moved toward restricting those opportunities.” Not only did Haley not engage in any of the 290-plus side events held at CSW61 this year, but the United States, which usually sponsors two–three of these side events, hosted only one– an event on indigenous women originally organized by Mexico and Canada.
Alongside CSW61, we interviewed twelve women whose countries, regions, and work, stand to be affected by this new administration. As these women speak out about the possible effects of Trump’s policies – mainly the reinstatement of the most expansive Global Gag Rule yet, and the legitimizing influence of his hate speech – a complex and unstable picture is drawn, not just for these activists’ individual work, or countries, or even regions, but for women and girls around the world, and the persistent global women’s movement.
From Mali, to Venezuela; Turkey to the Marshall Islands; Syria to the United States, local and global women’s rights activists, public health advocates, and climate change champions discussed and explained the shifting relationship between feminist movements in the US and the world; and addressed the question of who – which countries or institutions – might come to fill the vacuum left by a United States withdrawal from the global stage.
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, Ghana
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is an African feminist from Ghana. She is also a writer, an award-winning blogger, and the curator of ‘Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women.’ Nana is also the Communications Manager for the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), a global feminist membership organization.
Centre, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah.
As an African woman, I am concerned about the Trump administration for a number of reasons. An issue of concern at the moment is the reinstatement of the global gag rule in its most extreme form. It’s well known that the global gag rule affects women across the board. In terms of reproductive health and rights, because of the nature of the gag itself, it prevents any funding from going to any sort of services that also offer abortion care or even speaks about abortion care, so it impacts on family-planning and sex education, and this will affect women everywhere. It will mean less resources to clinics, less resources for women’s reproductive health and rights.
But then also the travel ban.
One of the things that I’m hearing from a lot of activists, activists who would have been able to come to join us [at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UN-CSW)] somehow didn’t get visas this time around, even when they received UN Women invitation letters. So, I think it’s quite obvious that there’s something pernicious going on.
One of the other big issues we are looking at is corporate power. AWID and the Solidarity Center last year produced a report that speaks to the negative impact that corporate power has on women’s economic justice and the way that corporations and global elites have so much more power than most of the world’s countries. At the moment there are six men, literally, who hold more wealth than 50 per cent of the world’s population. There’s also a huge issue of illicit financial flows leaving countries like my own, Ghana, and what that basically means is a loss of income for the country. It’s money that doesn’t go to social services, and to education, and to health. When those sectors are affected it's women and children, and the most marginalised and poor communities, that tend to be most impacted.
So, that’s something that I’m also concerned about, the increase in power that transnational corporations have, even in spaces like the UN. Everybody is expecting the Trump administration to cut funding to the UN and other institutions, which means they will rely more on corporations for money, which gives those corporations an undue influence on institutions that really should be independent and funded by member states.
Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Marshall Islands
Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner with her family.
The thing is that the Marshall Islands is so far away so a lot of times we don’t realize the ripples that affect our nation.
But as far as climate change goes there is a bit of an existential worry, that if Trump completely derails the climate path – the path we’re on as far as making the changes necessary to save the planet – if he completely derails that, and we do end up having to move, and lose our islands, one issue that will impact women is the fact that we trace our land and lineage through our mothers, we inherit our land through our mothers. So, what would happen to the strength of women in our culture if that land is no longer there? We would no longer be the holders of that land, and we would lose a significant level of power within our own community, within our families.
Yakin Ertürk, Turkey
Yakin Ertürk is a retired professor of sociology from the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. She currently supervises an 11-country research project on family law reform for Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP). She has served as Director of the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) (1997–1999), then as Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) (1999–2001), and as the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (2003–2009).
Trump is a newcomer to what has been building up globally towards the establishment of right-wing conservative political governance, which has become particularly prominent since 9/11. The case of Turkey, among others, may offer insights as to what can happen under the Trump administration as there are distinct parallels in the character and approach of the leadership.
The religiously-tinted ruling party in Turkey (AKP) and its leader – President Erdogan – came to power in 2002, pretty much taking the liberals, secularists, and progressives by surprise. We thought our secular republic was intact and religiously oriented politics had no chance of coming to power. Many Americans lived a similar shock when what started as a joke became a reality in the last election. While the performance of AKP during their first two terms, in the area of women’s rights, peace initiatives, as well as other human rights concerns, somewhat eased the initial tensions, since 2010, Erdogan and his party have systematically been deviating from rule of law, democracy, secular, and human rights principles; thus, polarizing the country and silencing all dissent. In this context, feminists were among the first to come under attack as being alien to “our values”; “gender justice” as opposed to “gender equality” became promoted as an official state line; appeasing and reducing women to a motherhood status.
What is happening in Turkey may not have caused much alarm globally. The US, however, is different; what happens there is immediately felt around the world. As a super power, the policies and implementations of the Trump administration will reinforce and legitimize what is already happening in Turkey and elsewhere. Given Trump’s direct attack on Islam it will also deepen the North/South, Islam/Christian divide, making women’s struggle for rights in Muslim majority countries – particularly in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region – more difficult.
However, women around the world are not easily going to give up on the human rights culture, and as the Women’s March demonstrated, the resistance may be growing and widening its reach to people who may have not been politically engaged before. I believe, the Trump phenomenon is a wakeup call, particularly for women in the global North, where violation of women’s human rights/violence against women has become increasingly perceived as a problem of the “other”, thus fragmenting the global women’s movement. The Trump administration, while tightening borders, may in fact help bring back the common platform we need to strengthen our global solidarity and struggle more than ever before.
Dr. Maria Al Abdeh, Syria
Dr. Maria Al Abdeh is a self-defined Syrian fighter for liberty and democracy. She is also a feminist. Before the crisis in Syria began, Maria was a doctoral researcher in microbiology in France. Today, Maria is the Executive Director of Women Now for Development (SFD), a Syrian non-governmental organization working to empower Syrian women inside Syria and its neighboring countries.
Maria did not attend the UNCSW this year. We included her voice as one of many women blocked or dissuaded from travelling to New York.
Dr. Maria Al Abdeh
I don’t make any distinction between women inside Syria and women outside Syria, because it’s the vision Trump has of the region and the people. We have some colleagues who are living in Turkey and we were planning for them to join an advocacy meeting during March in the USA and because of the ban none of them could travel. How can we think about solidarity [with the US] when there isn’t even any respect?
I sometimes feel that it’s humiliating for me to talk about [the travel ban] because it’s like ‘we don’t want you here’ and you are feeling like ‘I don’t want to be there either’. It’s just that you have the United Nations [headquarters in New York]. When you are going to the USA as an activist, it is because you have work to do there. So now we don’t have access. We already don’t have access to a lot of meetings about Syria and gender, and now we don’t have access to the UN in New York.
However, we are completely determined to continue our work [at Women Now]. My colleagues inside Syria continue their work in spite of the bombing, the siege, the chemical attacks. So we have to continue supporting them. But sometimes you’re getting very angry that there are women inside Syria who are able to continue under all these circumstances and you cannot do your job to support them because of the travel ban, because of anti-terrorist laws that for example can stop funds from getting to a Syrian organisation. This is a big issue. When you are a Syrian organisation your funds can take months to arrive; that means cutting money from women who are inside Syria and people who are doing all the work because of the counter-terrorism banking issue. And I don’t think the terrorist organisations have the same problem as us in transferring their funds!
Everything is getting more complicated for Syrian organisations, even organisations working with women.
Françoise Girard, Global Health
Françoise is a longtime advocate and expert on women’s health, human rights, sexuality, and HIV/AIDS. She has played a key role in advocacy on reproductive health and women’s rights with UN agencies and at UN Conferences such as Beijing+5, General Assembly Special Sessions on HIV/AIDS and on Children, and the 2005 World Summit (Millennium Development Goals). Françoise currently serves on the Civil Society External Advisory Panel of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and on the Advisory Committee of the Health and Human Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. She has been President of the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) since February 2012.
Françoise Girard. Credit: International Women’s Health Coalition
At the global level we see two things. One is an attack on sexual reproductive rights from the get-go with the global gag rule, and the other is an attack on multilateralism and international agreements. Together, combined, what they are trying to do is affect global commitments on women’s rights. But they’re starting with reproductive rights and that’s why I call [reproductive rights] ‘the Canary in the Coal Mine’ because that is usually what these authoritarian types go for first.
The global gag rule is cutting funding to organisations that provide comprehensive care abroad - which are the organisations that provide contraception, sexuality education, counselling to women, and so on. Often we see women who have been subject to sexual violence. If you were only concerned about not wanting US government funding to go to abortion, that was already done in the 1970s. What they are really going after here is the entire field of sexual health and reproductive rights, and groups that have integrity and ethics and actually want to give comprehensive care, will not agree to this. They will not agree not to speak about abortion because women are dying of unsafe abortions, and in places like Africa where the global gag rule will have the most impact, that’s still a significant cause of maternal mortality. And the global gag rule affects all the money of the organisation, it seeks to affect the money the organisation receives from other donors. If you take US funding you cannot speak about abortion, you can’t engage in debates in your own country; you cannot counsel women, you can’t refer them, even if you have money from another donor for comprehensive care.
It’s really seeking to condition the entire field. It was bad already when it affected the funding that came for family planning from the US government. Now it [the global gag rule] seeks to affect all global health funding from the US government, which is a much bigger pot of money. We’ll see exactly what shape that takes when we get the final set of regulations but it’s potentially more than 9 billion dollars of US funding, that when it hits the ground, affects all the organisations receiving that money, and all the other funding they receive. It’s really quite arrogant as an approach, to say to other donors that we’re going to try to affect your funding too … It puts organisations in difficult situations– a Catch 22.
For women to have access to education, to employment, to political participation, to engagement in their community, they need to be able to control their fertility. If we can’t control our bodies and fertility and sexuality, a lot of other things won’t be possible– it’s the basis of women’s equality. To depict it as some kind of luxury thing, which is what we often hear from the right-wing, that these are concerns of ‘women in the US’– it’s not. We work side-by-side with women from all over the world and they tell you this is fundamental, it’s crucial, it’s the basis of everything.
Kavita N. Ramdas, India
Kavita Ramdas is a Global Feminist Activist and Philanthropy Advisor, originally from India. She has served as President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women (1996-2010), and then as the Ford Foundation’s representative in New Delhi. Currently, she serves as a trustee of Princeton University, Mount Holyoke College, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and sits on the board of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Planned Parenthood Global, and the African Women’s Development Fund USA.
Centre, Kavita N. Ramdas.
I first would like to say that I consider myself a humble outside observer of India’s Women’s Movement. I cannot comment in a manner comparable with far better informed, engaged and on the ground, Indian women’s movement activists …
I don’t think the election of Trump will have a strong effect on the Women’s Movement in India. Trump is merely following on the previous administration’s efforts to woo India and gain access to its significant markets. Barack Obama began courting Modi as soon as he was elected. India offers the US a huge market for products with its huge middle class of close to 250 million people who have a new access to disposable incomes. Over the past few years numerous agreements have been signed to open India as a market for American goods and cultural products…I don’t think the new administration and basic US foreign policy towards India, which uses it as a balance to China, is going to shift in any significant way.
What does concern me, however, is the impact of the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric that Trump and his supporters are using. The growing alliance between Trump, right wing forces in Israel and the Hindu-nationalist leaders in India in what is called a ‘Global Alliance Against Terror’, can be used by the Modi government to justify its anti-minority strategies across India. This kind of anti-Muslim policy will disproportionally affect Muslim women in India. All women face patriarchal structures in India within the confines of their own religious structures, but as a minority religion in India, Islam has traditionally been protected under provisions of the Indian constitution that allow for distinct family codes regulating each religious community. I worry that now Hindu nationalists can claim to be “liberating Muslim women” as they effectively move to dismantle minority protections. You can hear echoes of the language that the United States used to justify its invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Also worrying are this administration’s deeply misogynist and retrograde attitudes about abortion, rape and sexuality. India has offered women legal access to abortion since the early 70s… for many years it was never a divisive issue, but in the recent past, the dreadful bias against baby girls is being used by evangelicals and others who are really mobilizing against abortion saying, “How can you be for women’s rights and abortion when abortion is used to kill baby girls?”
Yet, despite these challenges, I believe India’s women’s movements have never been stronger because of the growing recognition that women are playing increasingly critical roles in the economy of India. While a majority of poor women work in the informal sector and remain vulnerable to abuse, India actually has strong laws on the books that protect labour and women’s rights but there is poor enforcement. The combination of this, along with deep patriarchal structures and beliefs and very few opportunities for women, makes it an uphill battle for equality. At the same time, more and more women are going to school and getting jobs and finding places in the service economy that is defining 21C India.
Frances Raday, US/Global
Frances Raday is the former Chairperson and current member of the five-person UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice. The Group finalized its country mission to the United States in December 2015, resulting in a “myth-shattering” report stating that women in the US are “lagging behind in human rights.” Frances has also acted as legal counsel on precedent-setting human rights, including women's rights, cases in Israel’s Supreme Court.
I think that the Trump election certainly excludes for the time being the chance of highly independent, feminist women getting power anywhere [in the US government] … It is going to make the whole administration far more chauvinist. So, that’s from the top-down. From the bottom-up, we know that had only women voted, Trump would not have got in. Many women have been shocked by the kind of rhetoric and behaviour that Trump gets away with, as we have seen in the Women’s March, and that that may make more women in America aware of the need to be activist as feminists
One of the things we found in our report [of the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in practice] in America was a considerable lack of awareness even amongst highly educated women and women working in gender of what is going on around the world in terms of women’s rights. American women do not realise that they lag behind in legal rights in comparison with women elsewhere around the world. Not that they live at a worse level than women in the rest of the world; I’m not talking about their material means, I am talking about their rights, their right to paid maternity leave for example. We had women who deal with gender issues telling us that federal employees had paid maternity leave, and we said ‘No. They don’t.’ What they meant was they were entitled to use accumulated holiday leave and sick leave when they had a baby. That is not paid maternity leave. And these women, even though they were working in women’s rights, did not realise this.
We came to the conclusion that probably one of the reasons is that America has not ratified the CEDAW Convention, and therefore the [US] government does not have to report every four years to CEDAW and get feedback. Even government officials dealing with gender issues don’t have to regularly analyse what American women do and do not have in terms of rights compared to international legal standards.
Marchu Girma, Refugee Women / UK
Marchu Girma is the Grassroots Coordinator for Women for Refugee Women, UK. The UK-based organization challenges the injustices experienced by women who cross borders to seek safety in the UK by working at the grassroots-level to support and empower women who are seeking asylum, support women to tell their stories, and, by publishing research and informing politicians to help create a fairer asylum process. Marchu Girma
I think Trump’s election reaffirmed what people feel they already know about the world. Anything became possible, right, in 2016. But in the UK there has been mass opposition to Trump, to Brexit, especially within the feminist movement. Because we work with women we have received so many requests from feminist organisations.
Even the Women’s March [on 21 January 2017] – we did one in London and we [Women for Refugee Women] were asked to speak at that; the refugee women we work with spoke at that. Because more and more it seems that if you’re a feminist you have to fight for the most excluded. So yes, after the Trump election there has been a hardening and movement to the right, but there’s been a lot of grassroots support.
We just had a National Women’s Refugee Conference about two weeks ago [1 March 2017], and one of the things that came up is that we would really like to make International Women’s Day 2018 International Refugee Women’s Day and get all the young activists organising around that. We’re thinking about doing a mass lobby of the government, so that’s our calling really.
Kavita N. Ramdas, Sub-Saharan Africa
(See bio and image above).
Ourania: You just returned from a trip to Africa, visiting projects and partner organizations of Planned Parenthood Global, as a member of its Global Advisory Board. From what you observed there, how might women’s work in African countries, which are more reliant on foreign U.S. aid, be more or differently affected by the Trump Administration than countries in South Asia, like India?
I just got back from a trip to Burkina Faso and Senegal. In Burkina Faso (50/50 Christians/Muslims) and Senegal (majority Muslim), the Trump-led anti-Muslim rhetoric is hitting hard, coupled with Trump’s overall commitment to cut aid. But the Global Gag Rule and cutting funding is just one among many challenges. There is a significant difference between this Global Gag Rule and those implemented by past governments. This will place a heavier burden on those organizations that are not willing to sign the Global Gag Rule such as Marie Stopes International and Planned Parenthood Global. The amount of pressure on those organizations will be much higher, and it won’t immediately improve as a result of the generous additional money pledged from the Dutch and Canadian governments.
For me, this also points to a larger issue – a lack of U.S. awareness about how our changes in administration have impacts far beyond our borders on the lives of poor women and girls. Maybe this is an issue that should be put in front of our legislators in the U.S. House and Senate. It is not a pretty thing for a poor nation to be so dependent on U.S. funding when every four years there could be a potential shift in policy. We need to see a long term move away from such dependency on U.S. funding. Smaller countries are disproportionally influenced by the power of the United States because they rely way too much on what the U.S. says and does and on its funding.
Finally, private philanthropic programs need to do more creative thinking about how to shift and change their traditionally slow and cautious response to crises like this. Progressive foundations need to do a much better job of recognizing the serious threats facing critical social justice and human rights organizations and movements and act boldly and decisively to channel more resources to them, including to support their efforts to build the financial future of non-profits with endowments.
At the UN level, many more nations and donors need to step up and invest the 1 Billion USD initially dedicated to UN Women, which currently reflects the vulnerability of the global women’s movement. It is unacceptable how little funding UN Women receives from both donor nations and the UN secretariat. That would be a great step for the new SG to take in support of women and girls across the globe.
Mirta Moragas, Paraguay
Mirta Moragas is a Paraguayan feminist activist and a human rights lawyer. She has served as the regional coordinator for the Campaign for an Inter-American Convention on Sexual and Reproductive Rights. She also belongs to “Feminist Neighbors for Sexual Justice and Reproductive Justice in Latin American and the Caribbean”. In Paraguay, she is part of the feminist group Las Ramonas and the Red Contra Toda forma de Discriminación (Network against all forms of discrimination).
The United States is one of the biggest donors to the O.A.S [Organization of American States], and the United Nations, and the agencies that work on gender equality. They’ve already announced that they will cut those funds so it’s definitely going to be hard to do gender work in Paraguay. On the other hand, I think it’s an opportunity because other countries need to take the system in their own hands and not just wait for the big donors.
It is also going to be hard because of the spread of hate speech which is very harmful because it legitimises discrimination against women, against black people, against indigenous people. It’s kind of terrifying. Our government [in Paraguay] is already conservative but I think [since the Trump election] the right-wing opposition has become more vocal.
At the same time, this year we had the biggest march for women’s rights in [national] history; almost 10,000 people in Asunción, which is so many for us. We have many issues around sexual violence, reproductive rights, sexual discrimination. We also participated in the international women’s strike. All types of women came: peasants, indigenous women, of all ages. It was beautiful because it was also families– a big demonstration. I think it was a moment where, even though we already knew all these things, society made a sort of ‘click’ and went to demonstrate. We’ve never had such a big demonstration about women’s issues so we’re very excited and happy.
Madame Assetou Sy Traore, Mali
Madame Assetou Sy Traore
Assetou Sy is a native of Mali and an American citizen who has been long-involved in the politics of empowering women. After moving to the United States 30 years ago, Assetou founded America’s first-ever Malian Cultural Center. She is also the founder of “Finally Girls Matter,” a movement that attempts to bring international and local resources to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The campaign was created out of a personal family crisis when her daughter was faced with FGM in the US.
The Trump Presidency and his policies are scary and it will never advance America. His presidency is scary -- for all women. A lot of women in Africa send their kids here so they can be something one day. So these women are suffering now. Families are suffering now too.
As a Malian American living under Trumps administration, I have a few concerns. I was and will always be a strong supporter of Hilary Clinton and the campaign she led. Her views aligned strongly with my own, the belief in educating and empowering our youth, especially girls. With this election behind us, I ask the Trump administration to focus on the same theme and listen to the diaspora community. I strongly propose the appointment of a diaspora community leader to be in the White House. Trump’s platform is to put America first and my suggestion ties into that concept. There are millions of Americans who are also part of the African Diaspora community and still deal with harmful practices such as FGM in America. This is now an American issue. Centers and campaigns like my own need the support of all people to end FGM in America but also we need support and endorsement from the White House to bring this matter to a national level.
We ask the Trump administration to not cut financial support from UNFPA and other organizations fighting FGM.
Jean Krasno, UN/US
Jean Krasno is a part-time Lecturer of international law and the United Nations at Columbia University and at Yale University. She is also a tenured member of the faculty as a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the City College of New York. From her work as Founder and Chairwoman of the Campaign to Elect a Woman UN Secretary-General (WomanSG), Jean was selected by current UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to support his efforts to identify qualified women for high-level leadership positions in the United Nations Secretariat.
Jean Krasno and former UNSG Ban Ki-moon.
Luckily, [UN Secretary General] António Guterres is completely independent of Trump. And his commitment to gender parity [within the institution] is not influenced in any way. Because these [appointments of women to high-level leadership positions] don’t have to be confirmed; they’re his appointments. So, he’s fairly free to do this.
In the broader picture, the idea of the US as the ‘shining star’ for women’s rights and human rights…We’re going to lose a lot of credibility around the world, we are already losing credibility. But that doesn’t mean that other countries can’t just move forward. And they will. They will gain more in soft power while we lose it.
We’re gutting EPA [the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency]. He wants to reduce the State Department by over 30 per cent, and he wants to add funding to the military at around 50 billion dollars…He’s going to shift money from finding peaceful solutions to war. He’s going to cut funding to women’s issues. Any organisation that even hints at family planning is going to get cut. Any kind of education specifically towards women and girls, they’re all going to get cut. And saying that we’re going to cut our funding to the UN? What are the other 192 countries going to say? They’re going to be resentful and they’re not going to look to the US for leadership. We’re going to create a vacuum of trust, and other countries are going to just step in.
But, also, women in the US are starting to step up and take responsibility. There are more women who now want to run for office. Women are stepping up while they figure out what it is that they are going to do, and so that pressure is building.
To some degree Trump’s negativity towards women combined with racism and discrimination against different religions has energised women [in the US]. I mean the march in Washington; I was at that march, and the energy was just so amazing. There were supposed to be 200,000 people there and there were 1.2 million.
And we’re looking more now towards the UN. If you care about other people and you want to address poverty and you want to address the common good; take care of the world, take care of the earth, where are we going to look? We’re going to look to the UN.
So I’m glad that António Guterres is there to do it and he seems to be taking it up. I still think there would have been wonderful women who could have filled the role. But I do think Guterres will do a good job.
Maria Herminia Graterol, Venezuela
Maria Herminia Graterol is an expert in international women’s human rights law, as well as gender and development. She is the Co-Founder of Venezuelan Women in Action, an organization that seeks to inspire people to stand in solidarity with Venezuelan women by informing the public about the violence they have faced and continue to endure in Venezuela today.
Maria Herminia Graterol
In terms of Trump, I have been here in the US for eight years and for the first time I am personally affected. They chose to start with the first six, but I have a feeling that at some point Venezuela will be part of that [travel] ban. I predict that at some point [President of Venezuela] Maduro and Trump are going to have some sort of … [disagreement].
In my most recent visit to Venezuela, I found that many people were scavenging for food in the streets. I asked around and many believe ‘it is because of the U.S. embargo.’ So, the government has been misinforming the poor, when the situation is more complicated and nuanced than they are led to believe. Trump and Maduro are the same type of leader with different agendas. They are self-serving and follow capital, where the money is. I foresee the level of conflict escalating – and they both use spaces for ranting such as Twitter for Trump, and national TV and radio for Maduro.
Q: Do you see this dynamic affecting women in Venezuela?
Women leaders that are political, or are in human rights organisations, already have travel restrictions from Venezuela. I do think there’s a clear gender lens in that it’s violence against women in all public spaces, by all kinds of public actors, including people that you know in your private life. And with the political space shrinking, that’s scary. And with the potential differences and debates between Trump and Maduro, when they start, knowing both of their personalities, they will start talking about spies… And who will be spies? Those women receiving funding from the US? Or that are registered here [in the US]? I think in those narratives there will be many casualties.
My experience with human rights with the previous [Obama] administration is that they still didn’t recognise economic and social rights or ratify CEDAW. So, there was more dialogue and inclusion, but when it came to real state action, I didn’t see that change. Now we see regression. Now it’s really about holding space. It’s an administration that thinks it knows it all. It’s not open to dialogue and it has a very clear agenda.
But that’s how administrations change. Everybody is undoing everyone else’s work and it’s a trend in global politics. It’s not necessarily that the US is the most powerful state. It’s a very visible state with a very rapid change.
When it comes to women’s human rights, if we’re constantly doing and undoing, then are we really moving forward? What is success and how do we measure it? And how do we create a movement again that survives these political transitions every four years?
All interviews for this article were conducted by Ourania S. Yancopoulos.
This article is part of our coverage of the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women, New York, March 2017
Where there is no photo credit, the copyright belongs to the women pictured.
With special thanks to Alexia Eastwood for her transcription work.