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‘It was civil war’: photographing Mexico’s women’s rights protests | Mexico

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On 8 March 2021, women across the world took part in protests to mark International Women’s Day. In Mexico, there is an added poignancy to the annual event, as at least 10 women are murdered in the country each day; in 2021 the date was was marred by additional violence.

In the runup to the day fences were erected around the national palace in Mexico City’s main square, where thousands of women were due to gather.

“There was this tension building,” says Mahé Elipe, a French photographer living in Mexico City. “Mexican politicians [have given the impression that they] don’t care about the rights of women. During the pandemic, cases of domestic violence went up while the government prioritised the economy. So many women were without any help.”

Mariel Velázquez, 23, a student and women’s rights activist, who was in the crowds protesting on 8 March, saw the fences as a direct affront and rejection of the feminist cause. “There was a metal wall,” she says. “We were mad when we saw that. In a symbolic way, it was a wall between our authorities and us. It’s like they didn’t want to listen to us, or hear anything about the protest.”

As women and children gathered in the square, they laid flowers, sang, shouted and chanted slogans, and wrote the names of female murder victims on the fences. In 2020, Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women. About 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides but the issue has been belittled by Mexican authorities. Last year, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said the topic of femicide had been “manipulated a lot in the media”.

Violence erupted and there were clashes between protesters and the police. “The police were really violent,” says Velázquez. “They started shooting at us with rubber bullets. In my head, I was like ‘I’m going to die’ because it sounded like a real gun. Mentally it was a shock for me. I felt pain in my back. They shot me from a distance of less than one metre.”

She adds: “I shouted at the police – ‘Stop it! Why are you doing this?’ Their answer was teargas. They threw it at me about 15 times.”

Activists tried to tear down the metal fences with hammers and wooden sticks. It was amid this chaos that Elipe took the photo of the unidentified woman in black wearing black goggles and a face mask with Ni una más (not one more) written on it.

“This was a moment. I had the impression, without romanticising things, that it was a civil war,” she says. “There was such enormous chaos; women were shouting everywhere, people were throwing teargas, nobody could breathe. The police threw bottles of piss at us. I was just there with my camera taking pictures.

“This woman in front of me was calling to others shouting: ‘They’re killing us!’”

More than 80 people were injured in the clashes. Velázquez walked home and arrived at around 9pm. Her mother saw her and was shocked. “I had scars everywhere, and the teargas had affected my eyes. I was covered in dirt,” says Velázquez. She is not sure she wants to continue protesting. “It got really dangerous. It’s one thing to protest, it’s another to expose your life to [danger].”

The day was also full of emotion for Elipe, whose work often focuses on women’s rights. “There were so many emotions that day. I cried. I can’t talk about it now without getting goosebumps.”

She adds: “I see something so beautiful in the idea of solidarity, in these women gathering together and continuing the fight … There’s an incredible strength in seeing what they’re doing, the danger they put themselves in. They’re young women – they make me hopeful for the future.”

Both she and Velázquez think women’s rights in Mexico are neglected by the government and don’t get enough attention. But, says Elipe: “Speaking about it, exposing what’s going on, putting the issue on the table – this is worth its weight in gold.”

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Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin

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US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge

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The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.

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