THE FARCHANA MANIFESTO: The Courage and Resilience of Women Refugees Against Despair and Confinement

“Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.”
—Margaret Mead

As the very gratifying Muhammad Ali film (Facing Ali) slowly winds towards finishing, finishing, finishing etc, I’ve been doing a few smaller projects.

One short film piece just posted is called The Farchana Manifesto: Women Fighting For Refugee Rights.

The piece arose from my friend Ivan (the same Ivan from Darfur In 10 Minutes) doing humanitarian work in eastern Chad last summer at the Farchana refugee camp—a camp for Darfuri/Sudanese refugees.

The camp was supposed to be transitional, like all refugee camps. Unfortunately, six months has expanded to five years, and with this prolongation comes, predictably, increased depression, oppression and hopelessness (and, it turns out, stunning resilience and courage).

The short film is here. Feel free to pass it on. Actually, please pass it on.

As for refugee status, Mahmood Mamdani offers thought-provoking ideas on what he calls The New Humanitarian Order, in a paragraph worth being re-read:

The international humanitarian order…does not acknowledge citizenship. Instead, it turns citizens into wards. The language of humanitarian intervention has cut its ties with the language of citizen rights.

To the extent the global humanitarian order claims to stand for rights, these are residual rights of the human and not the full range of rights of the citizen.

If the rights of the citizen are pointedly political, the rights of the human pertain to sheer survival; they are summed up in one word: protection. The new language refers to its subjects not as bearers of rights—and thus active agents in their emancipation—but as passive beneficiaries of an external “responsibility to protect.” Rather than rights-bearing citizens, beneficiaries of the humanitarian order are akin to recipients of charity.

Humanitarianism does not claim to reinforce agency, only to sustain bare life. If anything, its tendency is to promote dependence. Humanitarianism heralds a system of trusteeship.

What I’m about to suggest may be obvious, in a sense, but it seems to me that the longer—and I will generalize here—men are left without self-determination, a certain freedom of action, the ability to feed or protect their loved ones or the opportunity of work, then the more oppressive, depressive and non-functioning men become. What is striking, it seems to me from observation and reading, is that women (for whatever reason) are able to withstand these pressures to a much greater degree, and hold together, even rebuild, whatever remains—under shockingly distressing conditions.

This, in my opinion, should be a recognized phenomenon. It is repeatedly seen in refugee camps, under extreme poverty, external occupation, and with opportunities like micro-financing.

The wonderful Dr Erin Baines, whom we interviewed for Uganda Rising, had spent months at a time at camps in Northern Uganda, and explained an example of the despair this way:

“When the [IDP] camps were created, it completely disrupted the gender division of labour, because men could no longer work, and they certainly didn’t have a political voice in things. What happened is you had men become completely disempowered, lose their identity not only as Acholi, but also as men.

The only way they could continue to feel they had any kind of power was vis-a-vis the women. So they could at least say this is my woman and you will do this for me.

All of this is compounded by the fact in order to fill their day or despair, men have turned to drink. And there is a high prevalence of alcoholism in the camps—which women brew. Which intensifies the level of anxiety and agitation that men feel, which is then again unleashed on women and children in the form of violence.”

This profound resilience, from the Darfuri women who spoke out in Farchana, is seen in spades.

FARCHANA

But back to Ivan and his experience in Chad. One night at the camp—after a night of physical terror imposed by a group of men (refugees) on seven women within the camp (to teach a moral lesson)—a group of women who witnessed the brutality decided to speak out. These courageous women actually got together and wrote a 14-point document calling for their rights, the rights of women and the rights of refugees. It has come to be called The Farchana Manifesto.

Despite great danger, one of these women was also willing to speak on camera. Ivan filmed this remarkable moment and brought the interview back home. The interview took place in a makeshift tent, fully accompanied by the bustle of people, crying babies and shrieking donkeys (assuming donkeys shriek). I then interviewed Ivan—here, of course—and with additional footage from a few generous others, put together this ten-minute piece.

The underlying message is this: Refugee camps are meant to be transitional. When they become what are called semi-permanent locations, they become refuges for hopelessness and violence—with women facing the brunt of the violence.

This is contrary to both human dignity and the stated goals of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is to protect and support refugees and assist in their return or resettlement.

The main goal of the piece is to answer the women’s plea to “bring this message to the outside world.” It seems the least we can all do. Awareness is the first step. Awareness of the situation, we hope, will also increase the safety of those who spoke out.

The film is here. I hope you find the women and the film inspiring and informative, and a call to action and understanding,

Lots of love to you,

Pete

See also, for example, the UNHCR and Physicians for Human Rights, our Darfur In 10 Minutes on youtube and Mahmood Mamdani‘s The New Humanitarian Order.

Credits:

Ton Koene for his photos, Jacky Essombe for her voice, Karin Muller and Ivan for additional background footage, Stephen Cohen for the additional interview, thanks to Sarah Estacaille for the B-cam help, and Dr. Amin Jalloh for translation.

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6 Responses to “THE FARCHANA MANIFESTO: The Courage and Resilience of Women Refugees Against Despair and Confinement”

  1. Erynn says:

    Pete — nothing to do with the post, but this evening I was at the Seattle Asian Art Museum to see “Garden & Cosmos” and, if you can get down to see it, it’s really fantastic. It’s a lot of paintings from Jodhpur, many of which are yogic in nature. Lovely exhibition.

  2. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    What a beautiful and courageous woman. Consider the video passed on.

    When segments of society lose direction and purpose, women and children often suffer. Our town paper ran an article last week about the marked increase locally in both shoplifting and domestic violence since unemployment spiked. It’s sadly a well documented international phenomenon and not restricted by social or economic strata.

    You got me thinking about women’s resiliency… Studies show men are “hardwired” to see the big picture better, and women are “hardwired” to see details. In the context of refugee camps, might men’s tendency to focus on the big picture possibly trigger depression and self-destructive behavior more readily; where women, focused on the details of day to day survival tend to keep moving forward, seeing each day as some small progress. That’s not to say some men don’t focus on daily survival; nor would all women ignore the bigger situation. Then, when conditions improve, women, having been so closely focused, are better able to begin the rebuilding process. In turn, the male ability to see the bigger overall picture becomes indispensable during the long-term rebuilding.

    Don’t mind me; just playing with my mental blocks. This is all very nice and good if true, but doesn’t really offer an immediate solution. Perhaps a well-worded letter or email to the UNHCR as a start? Drop a line to our respective UN ambassadors?

    Anyway, consider their message passed on.

    Love to you and those you love.

  3. Tim says:

    Outstanding piece Pete. Beautifully and respectfully crafted.

    Which professional musician did you get to score it?

    Nice job again my friend.

  4. Tim!

    Thanks, man. May it help keep her safe! What a world…as for the composer—I think you know—but it was some very argumentative ego maniac named Mete PcCormack. Don’t work with that fella, if he happens to, you know, offer his “services.” Big trouble.

    Lots o’ love to you and that tribe of yours,

    Pete

  5. Dear Karen,

    Thanks for the great comments. It sure is interesting, the differences under pressure. Indeed, as you say:

    “…might men’s tendency to focus on the big picture possibly trigger depression and self-destructive behavior more readily.”

    Or an inability to any longer see, envision, or act according to some bigger picture—an end to their dharma, to use the Sanskrit word (that which a person by their intrinsic nature would do). What a world, my god. All I know is that woman hold the details together so much more, of course with many exceptions both ways, but even consider in a privileged society, the planning and manifesting of holiday gatherings. It’s at least 90% women.

    My little nephew is so cute. I remember when he was seven or eight, my sister would tell him or leave a note: “When you get home, take the clothes out of the washing machine and put them in the dryer.” He would do it. But of course, not turn it on! “You never told me to turn it on!” That’s gotta be a male-brain thing…

    Hope all is super well. And letters are a good thing to send to politicians, I think, if only to get us active. But I don’t underestimate awareness, and the sharing of information, and it landing on the right person, inspiring great and even little-great things. It also fosters, hopefully, solidarity, gratitude, outrage, and other often useful emotions…

    Lots of love and joy to you,

    Pete

    Pete xo

  6. [...] parts, around an interview that Ivan did, and brought back from the Farchana Refugee Camp in Chad (see my previous blog). The interview was with a remarkable woman who, with a group of other Darfuri refugee women, had [...]

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