The Polish fight for abortion rights

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Ana Oppenheim

coat-hangers abortion rights protestPoland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Ending a pregnancy is only allowed in cases when it resulted from rape or incest, when the mother’s life or health is at a serious risk, or when the foetus is deformed. And even in those exceptional cases, doctors can refuse to to perform a termination under conscience clause, meaning that some women (and other pregnant people) are denied access to legal, safe abortions even in the most desperate need.

This does not mean that abortions don’t take place. Those who are able to afford it often choose to have one abroad, the UK being one of the most popular destinations. In 2010, British tabloids were outraged over a poster designed by a feminist group, informing Polish women that they could get abortions on the NHS. How dare those bloody foreigners come over here, asking for an essential medical procedure? Those who can’t, resort to backstreet or self-induced abortions, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Ever since I can remember, abortion has been a subject of the most heated public debate. During religious ed at school, I remember learning that abortion is murder before I had much of an idea about human reproduction. I remember marches of opposing groups clashing with an almost seasonal regularity, and Serious, Important Men on TV calling women “witches” for demanding the right to choose. The voices least heard of the debate were of those directly affected.

Then the 2015 elections happened, and with them the ultra-conservative government of the Law and Justice party. Their victory further empowered anti-choice groups, including the conservative lawyers association Ordo Iuris who proposed a bill to outlaw abortion completely. The ruling party voted in favour and the bill kept progressing through Parliament. The prospect of it becoming law get terrifyingly real.

This provoked some of the biggest protests that Poland has seen in a generation. Women of all ages and backgrounds were out in the streets. Although some of the first protests were organised by the small socialist party Razem, it would be impossible name one group responsible for the mass mobilisation, and the movement attracted people of all and no political persuasion. Demonstrations took place in all major cities, as well as many European capitals, including London. Someone mentioned on Facebook the idea of a women’s strike, similar to the one that took place in 1975 in Iceland – and it caught on. Hundreds of thousands of women dressed in black in mourning of their reproductive rights, carrying coathangers to symbolise the horrific termination methods that many resort to, walked out of their classes and workplaces.

As a result, the government backed down, with a minister admitting that the protests ‘taught us humility’.

Never had the word “feminism” been said so openly in Poland. For a lot of women, this was their first experience of standing up for their rights. In many cases, demands went beyond opposing the bill and talked about free abortion on demand, sex education, access to contraception and more widely – the position of women in society. The long-term effects of this uprising are yet to be seen. Are we back to business as usual or are we now able to reclaim the debate and turn the tide?

Read the rest of the zine here

The Women’s Movement in Argentina

This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.

By Zoe Salanitro

#NiUnaMenos demonstration, outside the Argentine Congress 03/06/2015

#NiUnaMenos demonstration, outside the Argentine Congress 03/06/2015

Right now the feminist movement in Argentina is at a really exciting place. There has always been a strong history women’s organising in the South American country led, most famously, by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of the May Square). The Madres are the mothers of Argentina’s disappeared: the 30,000 activists, dissidents, students, lawyers and journalists who were disappeared and murdered under the last and most brutal dictatorship in Argentina between 1976-85. Every Thursday they protest in the Plaza de Mayo, the main square in front of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, for justice and for the truth of what happened to their children.

Moreover, for the last thirty years women activists in Argentina have gathered every year for the “Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres” or the National Women’s Meeting where they discuss all the issues in society and how they affect women. Chief among them is reproductive rights. In Argentina abortion is illegal, anti-contraceptives are difficult to come by in rural areas dominated by the Catholic Church and sex education isn’t a compulsory part of the school curriculum, and in many places not covered at all. The Encuentro has traditionally attracted numbers of 40,000 or 50,000 women and is a unique phenomenon to Argentina.

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo protesting

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo protesting

Despite the previous president being a woman, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, many women activists still felt women were getting nowhere. There was no move from Kirchner to introduce abortion legislation and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio becomming Pope Francis empowered conservative movements in the country. It’s important to note that while Pope Francis’ enjoys a progressive reputation in the West, he was involved in the repression of dissidents during the military dictatorship and has had a reactionary influence on women’s reproductive rights, among other issues, in Argentina where the Catholic Church remains a powerful institution.

Campaña Nacional por el Derecho del Aborto (The National Campaign for the right for abortions) outside the national congress Buenos Aires, Argentina. The banner reads their demand: Not one single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion.

Campaña Nacional por el Derecho del Aborto (The National Campaign for the right for abortions) outside the national congress Buenos Aires, Argentina. The banner reads their demand: Not one single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion.

Campaña Nacional por el Derecho del Aborto (The National Campaign for the right for abortions) outside the national congress Buenos Aires, Argentina. The banner reads their demand: Not one single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion.

Everything changed in June 2015. 14 year old Chiara Páez, became pregnant by her boyfriend. When he found out, he beat her and buried her alive under the patio of his house, in the Santa Fe province of Argentina, whilst his parents helped cover up the crime. Outraged at the news, women across Argentina took to the streets on 3rd June demanding #NiUnaMenos (not one woman less). Around 250,000 women marched, making it the biggest feminist march in generations. This was the last straw: a woman or girl is killed every 18 hours in Argentina by a partner, ex-partner or family member. In the last seven years there have been only five convictions for femicide and the Argentine government only began ‘officially’ counting rates of femicide last year, as a result of pressure from women.

#NiUnaMenos has had a huge affect on feminism in Argentina: numbers attending the Encuentro de Mujeres in the last two years has been 80,000 – 100,000 and 3rd June has become annual march against femicides. Since then there has also been marches across Latin America: in Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia and Mexico to name just a few. In 2016 the demand for legal abortions was also incorporated into the demand of #NiUnaMenos after Bélen, a young woman in the rural Tucúman province went to hospital because she was miscarrying. The doctors, affiliated with the Catholic Church, accused her of having an abortion and she was sentenced by the courts to seven years in prison. This proved another another flashpoint for Argentine women.

As did the murder of 16 year old Lucía Perez in the seaside city Mar del Plata. Lucía was drugged and raped causing her to die of a heart attack. Horrified by the murder, in November women once again to the streets – this time 500,000 in Buenos Aires alone – in the pouring rain to say enough. This march was also inspired by the Polish Women’s strike and women wore black and some even took an hour out of work to protest. This was the beginning of the momentum that led to the Women’s Strike early this month for International Women’s Day.

The two biggest demands for feminists in Argentina are around #NiUnaMenos and reproductive rights, however, their demands have expanded to equal pay for equal work, an end to sexual and labour trafficking, demands for domestic violence services which are funded and an end to gendered discrimination in work. International Women’s Day was the culmination of this: with women across the country marching and, where they had the support of the unions, walking out of work.

In the wider context of Argentina, the women’s march was the third march in the capital that week. With teachers (who are mostly women), parents and pupils marching on Monday 6th March: the teachers are fighting with the government for pay which matches inflation (last year inflation in Argentina was 40% and it looks like it will be again this year) whereas the government want a measly 18%. Public sector employees marched on 7th March and women culminated the action on 8th. As a result the CGT (Argentina’s TUC) and the CTA (most similar to UNISON) have called for a general strike on 6th April against the neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri, who is seeking to introduce austerity measures and turn the argentine economy into a cheap labour economy like Brazil. Macri’s economic plans will especially affect women who are already in some of the lowest paid and precarious work. It was heartening to hear chants for a general strike at the women’s march – a recognition of the gendered effects of the current government’s programme. We must recognise the way that capitalism and the patriarchy are intertwined and we need to defeat both if women are to be truly liberated.

This is certainly a time to be watching Argentina’s women movement: women are shaping much of the national and international picture politically. It powerful and it’s coming from below, not from women in charge, like Kirchner who demonstrated just having a woman in leadership is not enough to cause real meaningful change. Argentinean women are angry and are taking to the streets, we should follow their example and say Not One Woman Less.

Read the rest of the zine here

Solidarity with the West Papuan struggle

free west papuaNCAFC expresses solidarity with the people and students of West Papua, who have struggled for liberation, human rights and freedom since their land was invaded by Indonesia in 1962.

As the Dutch pulled out of the region, Indonesia’s international allies – Australia, Britain and the US – assisted Indonesia militarily, economically and diplomatically as it created a military occupation and police state in Papua. The 1969 Act of Free Choice was a sham vote in which 1,022 Papuan tribal leaders were hand-picked by the Indonesian army and threatened, bribed and cajoled into voting in favour of incorporation into Indonesia. The Western powers were well aware of the undemocratic nature of the proceedings, yet gave Indonesia a wink and a nudge and voted to legitimate its rule at the UN. Military equipment, police training and public diplomatic support have ensued ever since.

Although international media and NGOs are banned from entering by Indonesia, we know that over 100,000 indigenous Papuans have been killed, torture is routine, and even raising the West Papuan national flag can land you with 15 years in jail. Several scholars have studied whether the situation meets the criteria for a genocide. In the urban areas Papuan students often lead the struggle for human rights, self-determination and dignity, and they have our full support. Britain should cease training Indonesian ‘counter-terrorism’ units like Detachment 88 that are implicated in massacres and torture, halt all arms supplies, and follow Jeremy Corbyn’s lead in calling for a referendum on independence, supervised by international observers.

Following a historic meeting in Westminster in May and the release of a report on the conflict by the University of Warwick, thousands of Papuans have been rounded up and arrested during mass mobilisations. The global media has been silent on the issue. We support the efforts of the Oxford-based Free West Papua Campaign in sounding the alarm and working to stop Western support for Indonesian rule.

Papua merdeka!

Romanian students’ university occupation

Comment by Ioana Cerasella Chis, a Romanian student studying in the UK

On the 26th of March thirty students at the Babes Bolyai University in Cluj occupied a lecture theatre in response to the government not implementing their promised education policies and the declining quality of education. Meanwhile, other students at the University of Bucharest occupied their History Building in solidarity, making similar demands.

[Read more…]

10,000 demonstrators kick start student fightback

10,000 students from across the country demonstrated in London today on the national demonstration against cuts to education and public services organised by the NCAFC. [Read more…]

Students plan fresh wave of mass protest

See the full Guardian report by clicking here.

Contact: 07964791663

 

This letter will be published in the Guardian tomorrow, 17/09/11

As student campaigners, we fully support the trade union movement’s campaign against austerity, including the biggest wave of strike action since 1926. The government’s plans for universities represent a threat to the very purpose of education, with the poor being priced out of a marketised system of private providers, while school and FE students are being robbed of basic support. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has now called a national education demonstration for Wednesday November 9th, and we will organise for a day of mass direct action and walkouts to coincide with the strike. We will not allow this government to abolish the welfare state and destroy our futures.

Michael Chessum, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and NUS NEC

Maev McDaid, Liverpool Guild of Students President

Luke Durigan, UCL Union Education and Campaigns Officer

Daniel Lemberger-Cooper, Royal Holloway Students’ Union President, NCAFC National Committee

Claire Locke, London Met Students’ Union President

James Haywood, Goldsmith’s Students’ Union President

Edward Bauer, Birmingham Guild Education Officer and NCAFC National Committee

Sean Rillo Raczka, University of London Union Vice President

Alusine Alpha, Bradford Students’ Union Treasurer and NCAFC National Committee

Mike Williamson, Edinburgh Students’ Association Education Officer

Alan Bailey, NUS LGBT Officer (Open Place)

Matthew Bond, NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign and NEC and NCAFC National Committee

Alex Peters-Day, LSE Students’ Union General Secretary

Liam Turbett, Aiden Turner and Liam McCombes, Free Hetherington Glasgow Occupation

James McAsh, NCAFC National Committee, Edinburgh University

Shakira Akther, University of East London Vice President Campaigns

Gordon Maloney, NCAFC National Committee and NUS Scotland Executive

Bob Sutton, Liverpool Guild of Students Vice President and NCAFC National Committee

Aaron Peters, NCAFC National Committee

Claire Lister, NCAFC National Committee, Birmingham University

Alasdair Thompson, STUC Youth Committee and NCAFC National Committee

Alice Swift, NCAFC National Committee, Birmingham University

Arianna Tassinari, SOAS Students’ Union Co-President for Education and Welfare

Amena Amer, LSE Students’ Union Education Officer

Edward Maltby, NCAFC National Committee, London

Lukas Slothuus, LSE Students’ Union Welfare and Community Officer

Noam Chomsky supports Aberystwyth occupiers

Occupiers at Aberyswyth University have received a message of solidarity from Noam Chomsky. Aberystwyth University went into occupation on February 22nd in protest against the ongoing marketisation of higher education in the UK and the lack of transparency and political engagement of senior management at Aberystwyth University specifically. The full message can be read below:

“The attack on public education in the US and UK — higher education in particular — may bring short-term benefits to small sectors of concentrated wealth and power, but it is a very serious blow to the population at large, and to prospects for a decent society in the future. The protestors [sic] in Aberystwyth — like those in Tahrir Square, Madison Wisconsin, and many other parts of the world — are in the forefront of global struggles for basic rights, freedom, and democracy, and merit full and committed support.”

http://aberoccupied.blogspot.com/

Fb: Occupied Aberystwyth

Aber Students Against Cuts

Solidarity from students in Bulgaria

A letter of support for British students fighting government policy to increase tuition fees has been issued by Bulgarian student group Studenski Glas.

The letter was posted through the International Students’ Movement, a global network of students fighting for free and emancipatory education.

It reads as follows:

Dear friends,

We have been following the current situation in the UK with great interest
and we sincerely admire your unity and purposefulness in the fight against
tuition fee raises and the privatization of education. We would like to
express our support for this endeavor. Your unfaltering and resolute actions
against government policies in the field of education inspire us to continue
our own fight with even more determined steps.

We are facing issues similar to your own. Currently serious cut-backs in
education system finance, enforcements of private interests and criminal
violation of university autonomy have been undertaken. Many institutions of
higher education in Bulgaria have been forced to shut down for the winter
months due to a lack of finance. Gradually the student body here began
displaying our discontentment – we have organized a few protests against the
government’s lunacy, but as yet without significant results. In January we
plan to renew the protests and we feel ready to take more radical action in
our efforts to achieve our common goal.

We, the students of Bulgaria, would like to declare our solidarity with you
and your struggle. We would be happy to stay in contact with you in the
future.

In solidarity,

Students’ Organization
Studentski Glas,
Bulgaria

www.studentskiglas.org

Скъпи приятели,

Следим с голям интерес ситуацията във Великобритания в момента и се
възхищаваме на вашата единност и целеустременост в борбата ви срещу
увеличаването на таксите за обучение и приватизацията на образованието.
Искаме да изкажем нашата подкрепа в това начинание. Непоколебимите ви и
решителни действия срещу правителствената политика в сферата на
образованието ни окуражава да продължим нашата собствена борба с още
по-решителни стъпки.

Ние сме изправени пред подобни на вашите проблеми. В момента в България тече
процес на тежки орязвания на финансите в образователната система, налагане
на частните интереси и престъпно погазване на университетската автономия.
Много български висши училища са принудени да затворят врати за зимните
месаеци поради липса на финансови средства. Постепенно и тук започна да се
надига студентското недоволство - организирахме няколко протеста срещу
правителствените безумия, но засега без особени резултати. През януари месец
ще възобновим протестните действия като сме готови на по-радикални мерки за
постигане на общата ни цел.

Ние, българските студенти, искаме да заявим солидарността си с вас и вашата
борба! Вашата непримиримост и самоотверженост могат да ни служат само за
пример.  Ще се радваме да осъществим трайни контакти занапред.

Студентска организация „Студентски глас”, България

www.studentskiglas.org

NCAFC receives the letter gratefully and reciprocates its message of international solidarity. Victory to Bulgaria’s students!

Solidarity from Pakistan

The last seven months have seen intense protests in the Punjab region of Pakistan with police attacking and arresting students fighting the privatisation of colleges, and fees rising as much as eight times higher (sound familiar?)

Back in 2003 wholesale privatisation of public services by the General Musharraf dictatorship was beaten back by a mass movement, but now the government are having another go, at first attacking colleges one by one – now privatising them hundreds at a time.

Shehzad from the city of Lahore said students in Pakistan have been inspired by images of the British student movement reaching Pakistan, and in the face of extreme brutality by police and security services, they’ve been spurred on to fight even harder until they win.

Shehzad sent us this letter:

Dear NCAFC

Students in Punjab, Pakistan are also fighting against the cuts that the government is making.

The growing movement in Britain is very inspiring for us – particularly the occupations, and the occupation of the Tory party HQ! We think these are the kinds of methods we need to use in Pakistan too – this is the way to win!

We are struggling because capitalism all over the world is in crisis and the rich want to make the poor pay for it.

Students all over the world need to unite, organise internationally against the attacks of all our governments together.

Solidarity!

Shehzad, Punjab

***

Dear students of the Punjab province,

It too gives us great confidence to hear about the struggles happening in Pakistan, particularly the bravery of students and teachers facing the Punjabi police force.

The attacks in Pakistan – the privatisation of colleges into institutions that are run for profit and only affordable for the rich is a story we strongly identify with.

The Tory government here are attacking the very idea that education is a force for good and want to transform it into being only a provider of trainees for big business.

Many students in Britain are furious that whilst our government claim they have no money to fund learning, they have spent many billions on the so-called “war on terror” that has led to so many lives being lost in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Let’s unite together and fight for education!

NCAFC

National demonstration – 29 January 2011, London

The first parliamentary vote might have gone through, but this is not the end! That is why, in the absence of action by NUS, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has called a second national demonstration in London, on Saturday 29 January. [Read more…]