Archive for the ‘20th Century’ Category

Abigail, Lydia, Amanda, Elizabeth and Sara

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Abigail, daughter of Hazard and Mary Field.

Lydia, Old Baptist Church Cemetery, Yorktown, NY

Lydia, wife of David Knapp.

Amanda  M., wife of Hiram Williams and daughter of the late Jordan McCord.

Our mother, Elizabeth Hart, daughter of Samuel Hart, wife of Martin Brown.

Abigail died in 1874, aged 66 years, 5 mo. & 10 d.s. Lydia also died at 66 in 1853, and Amanda at 28 in 1832. Elizabeth was 52 when she died in 1849. 

Sara Fochee Huisvrouw, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, NY

 

Earlier tombstones sometimes have been engraved in Dutch, such as the one of Sara in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery: Sara Fochee Huisvrouw Van John Enters Geboren Den 20 October 1717 Gestorven Den 26 December 1769… Sara, John Enters’ wife, was therefore 52 year old when she died in 1769. 

Tombstones in American cemeteries reflect the extent to which women of the 18th and 19th centuries were subject to the rules of a patriarchal society.

Elizabeth Hart, mother, daughter, wife, Old Baptist Church Cemetary, Yorktown, NY

Elizabeth Hart, mother, daughter, wife, Old Baptist Church Cemetery, Yorktown, NY

Their identity is always defined in relation to a man: a husband, a father, or their children. Elizabeth Hart’s tombstone is sacred to the memory of our mother, daughter and wife, but is fortunate enough to have her maiden name mentioned. 

Lydia’s tomb stands just next to her husband’s. David Knapp however is remembered as himself, with no mention of his wife deemed required.

Stone Family Tombstones, Sleepy Hollow Cemetary, NY

Stone Family Tombstones, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, NY

Dudley and Mother, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Maybe even more striking is an ensemble of tombstones in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery erected to the memory of the Stone family. Next to Lawrence, Frederick, Sydney and Dudley is a nameless Mother, who will forever rest in anonymous peace next to her identified male relatives.

Women then did not have the right to vote, did not have the right to own property, had no reproductive rights, nor legal rights over their children, but could be taxed. As evidenced by the social testimony borne by their tombstones, they did not have a right to be remembered as individuals either.

If the comparison can be made, one century later, an Eleanor, who did not have to chose to retain her maiden name and is remembered as one of the staunchest advocates of human rights, is honoured on an equal basis to her husband.

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Hyde Park, NY

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Hyde Park, NY

Remember the ladies: last Monday was International Women’s Day

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Today’s post is dedicated to a friend, a long-time advocate of women’s rights, who just passed away this Thursday. When I visited her in Boston last fall, she took me to Faneuil Hall and told me about Lucy Stone.

March 8. For some, the date will immediately evoke formal ceremonies of all kinds, big panel discussions about the rights of women, or maybe images of women receiving flowers. At least, this is my experience, having been exposed (treated?), on that very day for a number of years, to the presentation of a rose handed by a beaming male colleague from one of the former Soviet Republics.

For others, the 8th of March is just another day. On Monday, I jokingly wished a male colleague “Happy Women’s Day” and was met with a totally blank stare. “What is she talking about (again)?”

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). When dit it start? What does it mean?

Right to vote, New York City

Reproductive rights campaign, New York City, 2001

Originally observed as a Socialist party event, the day has been marked since the early 1900’s. A National Woman’s Day was observed across the United States on 28 February 1909. A year later, at an International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen, German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin proposed that the day be marked internationally on the same day.  The first official IWD was honoured in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March with rallies advocating the rights of women to work, vote, vocational training, and hold public office.

Less than a week later, on 25 March, in New York, 140 working immigrant working girls lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The tragic event has been commemorated during subsequent IWDs and led to more attention being given to labour legislation and working conditions in the United States.

In 1913-1914, women rallied for peace in Russia and all over Europe, and the date retained to mark IWD was 8 March. With more than two million soldiers dead in the war, Russian women in 1917 started a strike for bread and peace, which four days later resulted in the Czar’s abdication. The provisional government established to run the country immediately granted women the right to vote.

Until the 1960s, IWD was mostly observed in Socialist Europe, when it was revived in the West with the rise of feminism. The United Nations has been officially marking the day since 1975 to recognize the struggles of women worldwide to be granted political and civil rights.

Such struggles have taken many forms. With her famous Remember the ladies, Abigail Adams in 1776 invited her husband, John Adams, one of the Massachussets delegates to the Continental Congress, to take into account the interests of women, when drafting the American Declaration of Independence, or else…

…remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

In last year’s post on IWD, in addition to Abigail Adams, I also mentioned Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft. This year, I would like to feature another early day suffragist: Lucy Stone. 

Lucy Stone, Faneuil Hall, Boston

Lucy Stone, Faneuil Hall, Boston

The first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree (in 1839), Lucy Stone is also the first American woman to retain her maiden name after marriage, leading to the late 19th Century term a “Lucy Stoner”. An abolitionist and a suffragist, Lucy Stone spent her life fighting for women’s rights. She is also the only woman to be honoured in Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

In 1858, to protest taxation without representation, she refused to pay property taxes on her home. On the 100th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, in December 1873, she called for a New England Women Tea Party in Faneuil Hall in Boston and told the crowd that attended the meeting:

We are taxed, and we have no representation. We are governed without our consent. We are fined, imprisoned, and hung with no jury trial by our peers. We have no legal right to our children, nor power to sell our land, nor will our money.”

Reproductive rights campaign, New York City, 2001

Reproductive rights campaign, New York City, 2001

Almost a century and a half after  the New England Women Tea Party, one decade into a new millennium, where do we stand? This week, a text was given to me by a 23-year old for posting on Rights from the Start.  It is included below and provides a young European woman’s perspective on the status of women’s rights today.

Women’s day.

Today is the 8th of March. Does it mean anything to you? Well, I must admit that it also took me a few years to realize that this was a very special event as it is… International Women’s day!

And every year I ask myself why there has to be a special day to remind the world that women have to be treated equally to men.

In 1791, French activist Olympe de Gouge wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women. Her purpose in writing such a text was not only to affirm that women had/have the same rights as men (article 1) but also to fight to obtain new ones.

This was 219 years ago, and yet it’s impossible to affirm today that women’s rights are respected.

From an historical perspective, we can distinguish between two categories of women in this world. The ones lucky enough to be born with a set of rights recognized to them and the ones that
still have to fight for those rights. But in the end, both categories are threatened.

If the last generations gained many powerful rights, such as the right to vote, to own a bank account, divorce, abortion, birth control or just work, new generations have to fight to retain these rights. This is true for the lucky women category. The other category still has a long way to go. The opportunity to study and work is still a luxury for a number of women. And, being able to represent themselves is to this day only a dream for many others.

What frightens me the most today is not the fact that there’s still a lot to do, because fighting to gain something is always a positive motivation to obtain new opportunities; it is more that we might lose all the chances that we had to fight for over so many years.

Let’s take the right to abortion for instance. If it took a long time to obtain, and mostly to accept, it’s not a given any longer. In Italy, if women can freely ask for an abortion, the physician is always entitled to a « droit de regard » and can refuse to perform such an act if it is against his/her convictions. And I’m absolutely devastated when I hear politicians (and most of the time women politicians) saying that abortion should be prohibited again. Here, I cannot help myself from thinking that, it’s not homo homini lupus but women who are dangerous to women.

When will we stop religion beliefs to influence our choices? When will we be entirely free to dispose of our body?

As for the right to vote or to work, if it is absolutely obvious nowadays, women are still underrepresented, not only in politics but also in the work place. And, when women succeed in reaching higher responsibility jobs they will always be submitted to higher pressure than their male colleagues. Not only should we be clever and efficient, we should also be beautiful, a good mother, a good wife when we shouldn’t also be a good cook or house hostess! And all this without even being guaranteed to have the same salary as our dear males.

But, you got it, this is for group number one, the shiny group. Our second group, as I said, has a long way to go. The right to be educated should be the priority for everyone in this world. This is our only way to have wings and to be able to progress not only in the public but also in the private arenas.

Every woman in this world should have the possibility to be educated, to study, to work, to be a mother, to refuse to be one, in one word: to gain independence. Choice shouldn’t be a luxury.

And for all of these reasons, we cannot use the 8th of March as the only day to claim and fight for our rights. Every single day has to be a fight for freedom and equality.

Reproductive rights campaign, New York City, 2001

Reproductive rights campaign, New York City, 2001

The most iniquitous of all taxes

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Sea salt

Sea salt

Salt started being taxed in China, around 300 B.C. Salt being essential to daily sustenance, the proponents of taxation argued that people would be willing to pay a higher price to ensure this vital commodity would remain available.

Revenues derived from the salt tax at one point represented half of the State income, and over the years were used to build armies, as well as defensive structures including the Great Wall. In 9th Century Canton, the main sources of revenue were the duties on tea and salt.

In Ancient Rome, the Via Salaria, Salt Road, was built to ensure that a constant supply of salt could be transported to the soldiers and horses of the Roman armies. According to many sources, that are now disputed, salt was also used to pay soldiers, and the latin word sal is at the origin of the English word salary, the French word solde, from which the word soldier is derived. Rather than taxing salt, the Romans actually subsidized it so that it would be available to plebeians.  

India had an ancient tradition of salt making and trading. The West Coast Gujarat marshland is famous for its solar-evaporated sea salt, while two kinds of salt are found in Orissa, on the East Coast: the naturally evaporated kartach and the much sought after panga, a salt produced by the malangis (salt labourers) by boiling salty soil in sea water. Orissa salt had a large market in neighbouring Bengal.

Salt taxation existed in India from early on, with differences in the way it was imposed. In Bengal, during the time of the Mughals,  it was not uniformally applied: while Muslims paid a 2.5% tax, Hindus were imposed at 5% of the cost.  

Starting in 1759, the British East India Company repeatedly tried to derive income from salt and to bring its trade under the Company’s control. Orissa salt was in high demand, including to manufacture gunpowder that was necessary for the British army. 

In 1780, a new tax system was introduced. The malangis would sell their salt to Agents, who managed Agencies, under which the salt works were now placed. The buying price was set at two rupees a maund, while a maund would in turn be sold with an additional tax of 1.1 to 1.5 rupee per maund. With the new tax, the Company saw its revenue increase from 80,000 rupees in 1780 to over 6 million rupees for the period 1784-1785. The tax was later further raised to bring the price of a maund to about 4 rupees.

Meanwhile, in Cheshire, England salt was also being produced in large quantities and new markets had become necessary. There was however no comparison between the Cheshire salt and the higher quality and cheaper Orissa salt: to ensure a market for the Cheshire product, the British banned Orissa salt from Bengal. Smuggling of the better salt ensued, which eventually resulted in 1803 in the annexion of Orissa by the British. The goal was to control smuggling, and on 1 November 1804, Orissa salt became a British monopoly. Salt could only be sold by the government at a fixed price.

With no direct source of income, malangis had no choice but to work for the British authorities who would pay them in advance for future salt production. Paying their debt became a heavy burden for the malangis, many of whom ended up leaving.

Custom checkpoints were established throughout Bengal to stop smuggling activities, and gradually, a thick thorn hedge was built. This eventually grew into the Great Hedge of India, covering more than 2,500 miles and guarded by close to 12,000 men.

It had become illegal to engage in any activity related to salt: even scraping salt for private consumption was considered a punishable offence.

The British Raj took over administration of the salt trade, which by 1880 was bringing in seven million pounds, representing close to 10% of the nation’s income. 

Indian rupees and sea salt

Indian rupees and sea salt

In 1878, it was decided to impose a uniform salt tax of two rupees and eight annas to the whole of India, resulting in certain cases in a decrease.

The taxation on salt had a serious impact on the health of the population of India, who for the most part could not afford the high price of the iodine rich commodity. More than in other countries, the high temperatures that can be reached in India made it imperative for people to increase their salt intake.

Protest against the salt tax started in India with a mention during the first session of the Indian National Congress, in 1885 in Bombay. In February 1888, the first public meeting to protest the salt tax took place in Cuttack. From 1888 forward, the tax was discussed in various sessions of the Congress.

It is while he was in South Africa,  in 1891, that Mohandas Gandhi wrote first against the salt tax: according to him, ”salt is an essential article in our diatery. It could be said that the increasing incidence of leprosy in India was due to the salt tax.”

Thanks to Gandhi, protest against the salt tax became part of the Indian National Congress strategy in its fight for independence. On 31 December, 1929, in Lahore, the Indian National Congress had raised the flag of India, and on 26 January, 1930, the Congress issued the Purna Swaraj, a Declaration of Independence from the British Government. “We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth.” 

As a sign of independence, a symbolic act of civil disobedience had to be planned. Gandhi suggested to target the Salt Act, in a nonviolent protest, the Salt Satyagraha, which was based on his previous attempts at using strength through nonviolence.

In a highly publicized campaign, which reached out to the world, Gandhi prepared a 23-day march that was to leave from his ashram on March 12, pass through 48 villages and reach the coastal village of Dandi, in his native Gujarat.

Gandhi gave ample time to the British authorities to grant his 11 demands, one of which was the abolition of the salt tax. He would stop the march were his demands to be met. Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, ignored Gandhi’s letter.

On March 12, as scheduled, Gandhi left his ashram. He was accompanied by 78 male satyagrahis: the decision had been made not to include women, as the risks were too high. He was met on the way by growing crowds, and by the time they reached Dandi, thousands had joined the march, including women, and thousands more were waiting for them.

International media coverage was sustained throughout the march. Gandhi was well aware of the impact such coverage would mean for their cause, and as the satyagrahis were about to reach Dandi, he declared: “I want world sympathy in this battle of Right against Might.”

Gandhi, Union Square, New York

Gandhi, Union Square, New York

On April 6, Gandhi walked to the sea and picked up salty mud from which he produced illegal salt. He then asked his fellow Indians to follow his example. Millions listened to him who made or bought illegal salt. The movement was rapidly joined by women of all ages, a turning point in the fight for independence.

By the end of April, the British authorities had arrested over sixty thousand people. The salt satyagraha then turned into a mass campaign of civil disobedience, with British goods, including cloth, being boycotted, and Indians refusing to pay taxes all over the country. The Indian National Congress was declared illegal.

As part of Gandhi’s plans, the fight against the salt tax was to continue with a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works in Gujarat. Again he informed Lord Irwin who this time reacted by having him arrested on May 4. Gandhi’s arrest did not stop the plans, even though more leaders - including Gandhi’s own wife, Kasturba - were arrested on the way to Dharasana. The march was then led by a woman, Sarojini Naidi, who reminded the marchers that they were neither to resist nor to try to protect themselves. Marchers were repelled by British soldiers armed with steel tipped wooden clubs.

From Dharasana again, the world media reported on the protest. The British authorities unsuccessfully tried to censor United Press Webb Miller’s story, which got picked up in 1,350 newspapers around the world. Time Magazine compared Gandhi’s Dandi march “to defy Britain’s salt tax as some New Englanders once defied a British tea tax” with the Boston tea party.  

The British authorities finally gave in to the civil disobedience campaign, and in early 1931, Gandhi, along with all other political prisoners, was released from prison and invited, as the sole representative of the ndian National Congress, to attend a conference in London. They were to discuss the issue of Indian independence.

It took close to another 17 years before India would become independent following World War II, on August 15, 1947. The salt tax was only abolished in October 1946 by the Interim Government led by Jawaharlal Nerhu.

From slavery to trafficking in persons

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Blue Hearts against human trafficking

Blue Hearts against human trafficking

Alright, so it had been decided practically universally that slavery was a no-no. Practically universally. Meaning that in most parts of the world, the act of selling a person for a sum of money, on a public market, had become a thing of the past.

Toussaint Louverture had won. William Wilberforce had won. Victor Schoelcher had won. Harriet Beecher-Stowe had won. Abraham Lincoln had won.

Slaves being freed, Jose Maria Sert

Slaves being freed, Jose Maria Sert, detail

As proof of their victory, places and objects have been preserved, a testimony to what once happened. In various parts of the world the old slave quarters, the old slave markets can still be visited.

Fragments of chains that held them, parts of ships that transported them, tools they used, baskets they weaved, pots in which they cooked, bowls in which they ate, all are kept and displayed as evidence of this crime of a not so distant past.

The fact that evidence is collected should be proof enough that slavery is gone, that the slave trade has been abolished and declared illegal, that slaves have been emancipated. A not so distant past, but still the past. The 19th century is the determining moment in history when little by little abolition happened, costing a nation a civil war.

And then… And then came new, contemporary forms of slavery. Then came the sweat shops, and the forced labour, and the sexual exploitation, then came new ways for human beings to exploit the bodies of other human beings. Then came what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) calls the crime that shames us all: human trafficking, or trafficking in persons.

Trafficking may include the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons. The goal of trafficking is exploitation, and the exploitation can include prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery - an indication that it has then not been totally abolished -, and the removal of organs.

Women and men who are smuggled across borders to get a job as house servants, in houses from which they cannot escape, are the victims of human trafficking. Young girls and women who are offered a plane ticket to take a well-paying job in another country to find out upon arrival that the job is nothing better than prostitution, and who cannot escape until they have reimbursed the investment that was made in them, are the victims of human trafficking.

Join the Blue Heart Campaign against human trafficking!

Blue Heart Campaign Against Human Trafficking

UNODC Blue Heart Campaign Against Human Trafficking

Initial Hearing in the First case of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia - February 17, 2009

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Photographs of victims at S-21, Pnomh Penh

Photographs of victims at S-21, Pnomh Penh

More than the piled up and/or systematically arranged skulls one can see at the Choeung Ek extermination Centre - now a memorial to the people who were killed there -  it is the high quality photographs of the victims on display at S-21 that to me evokes the real horror of a genocide.

Three of us visited these two sombre reminders of Cambodia’s history under the Khmer Rouge regime. S-21 (short for Security Prison 21) , a former high school, was used as a prison and interrogation centre. Of an estimated 17,000 people who were sent to S-21, there are only 12 known survivors. Many of the prisoners were taken to the Choeung Ek extermination centre, the best known of the killing fields. Mass graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered there after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.

At S-21,  we just could not talk. Having started the visit together, we gradually separated and went our separate way, needing to be alone to silently take in what we were seeing.

Several rooms still displayed the iron beds and some of the torture equipment that had been used there, but what made the most impression were the seemingly endless displays of large photographs portraying all those who came to S-21.

Skulls on display at Choeng Ek Memorial

Skulls on display at Choeung Ek Memorial

I only realized today that by showing real people, alive and systematically arranged by gender, or age group, the photographs made the reality of the genocide a much more vivid one. I don’t think we fully understood at the time the meticulous care with which the victims had been so systematically documented. It is only later that one remembered the quality of the photographs. Sophisticated equipment had been used to ensure the best possible definition.

Even though similar preciseness is displayed in the systematic arrangement of the skulls at Choeung Ek - Male Kampuchean, 30-40 year old, Juvenile Female Kampuchean, from 15 to 20 year old - showing the scale of the elimination, the skulls do not have the same immediacy as the photographs.

The skulls have been arranged to honour and remember the anonymous victims - anonymous in as much as they cannot be readily identified.

The pictures show real people - who sometimes even smiled at the camera and the jail photographer - the very people, with a name, a face, an identity, who the Khmer Rouge regime had identified as those they needed to eliminate. The pictures attest to the cold determination of the Khmer Rouge doctrine, looking to create a new Cambodia, Year One, and eliminating anyone likely to oppose this doctrine. This systematic process of elimination of the opponents falls under the definition of genocide.

Pieces of fabric, teeth and bones at Choeng Ek Memorial, Cambodia

Pieces of fabric, teeth and bones at Choeung Ek Memorial, Cambodia

While the official memorial, the skull tower, at Choeung Ek is therefore maybe less evocative than S-21, there are still some really morbid details in the killing field. As one walks around the memorial grounds, on paths linking mass graves, it is difficult not to step over pieces of bones, teeth or fragments of fabric that have surfaced up.  These may just have resurfaced, after the rain: the burial process was rather hasty. And from these fragments on the ground, or from the collection of clothes that have been found when the mass graves were dug up - which are also on display at Choeung Ek - you may be able to recognize a fabric pattern that you would have noticed in one of the photographs at S-21. It is easy enough to recognize, few of the victims were wearing distinctive clothes, most of them wore uniforms. Recognizing these specific fabric patterns makes the reality of the genocide even more vivid because it is likely you will remember the features of the victims.

On Februrary 17, 2009, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia held the initial hearing in its first case: Kaing Guek Eav, known as “Duch”, the former S-21 prison chief, faces charges of crimes against humanity.

Why rights from the start

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Amnesty International 2000 Campaign - Vanity Fair

Amnesty International 2000 Campaign - Vanity Fair

Last week, in Albany, NY, dozens of Protestants were forced from their church at gunpoint by local authorities. Three ministers and 23 others were executed and buried in a mass grave a few miles west of town. Thousands more were forced to abandon their homes and leave the state or risk execution.

The surprising news, published in January 2001 in Vanity Fair, must have come as a shock to the magazine readership, more used to the latest from Hollywood or the world of fashion.  Both text and layout looked like the beginning of a regular article. The second paragraph immediately reassured the potentially alarmed reader.

This didn’t happen in Albany. Or Chicago. Or Tucson. But what if it did? How would you feel? What would you do? Horrible acts against human rights are committed all over the world every day. This one actually happened in East Timor in 1999 to 26 people including women, children and three Catholic priests. They were seeking sanctuary in their church from anti-independence militia units organized by the Indonesian military. Tens of thousands who fled the region to save their lives remain trapped in refugee camps.

What can you do to help? Write a letter. Write an e-mail. Write a check. Become one of Amnesty International’s one million members today… Human rights violations can happen anytime, anywhere - even here.

Such acts are violations of human rights, whether they happen in the United States or elsewhere. And similar events actually happen in other parts of the world, and sometimes are part of daily life for citizens of some countries. Once this reality established, Amnesty International reveals itself and calls for support. If the news were reported as happening in country where these may be daily almost ordinary occurences, it is likely that they would have attracted less attention. For the reader to  perceive them as extraordinary, the facts were transposed to a context where they are going to be truly shocking : as part of the advocacy campaign, the events were transposed from East Timor to Albany, NY.

A single word was sufficient to make the events even worse: Protestant. In an American context, the alleged victims had to be Protestant. Why was this change of religion necessary: would Catholic victims not have been considered as equally worthy of compassion?

This necessary double transposition of the facts, location and religion, started me thinking  about the universal recognition of human rights. And I decided to look at the extent to which human rights concepts are recognized in every part of the world, by different cultures and religions, and also whether - if recognized - human rights were to be applied across the board, without any discrimination.