March 7, 2012
“When I got to work that day, I heard a lot of laughter and jokes, including a manager that was around. When I got up close to look at what they were laughing at, what I saw were a bunch of pictures that were extremely humiliating and shameful. And I just felt so ashamed and humiliated as a woman that I got extremely upset and took down my picture and that of my sister.”
On Oct. 14, two weeks after Martha Reyes tore down the pictures, she and Lorena Reyes were fired from their positions as housekeepers at the Hyatt Santa Clara. Both have worked in hotels for more than two decades.
The pictures that started it all? Cartoon images of skinny white women wearing bikinis, with the faces of the hotel’s housekeepers tacked on.
“The pictures were pictures of women in bikinis with our faces pasted on. To be honest, for me as a woman it was—imagine, I’m a mom of five kids and nine grandkids. To be put in that kind of picture is extremely uncomfortable,” Martha told the Guardian.
When they were fired, the sisters were told that they were wasting company time by combining their ten-minute and lunch breaks. But the sisters believe that they were targeted after Martha tore down the pictures—and later, when confronted by a superior who demanded the images back, refused to return them.
As for the too-long lunch break claim: “We haven’t come across anyone else who’s been fired for it,” said Adam Zapala, an attorney with the firm Davis, Cowell, and Bowe, who is representing the sisters. “So it raises the suspicion in our mind.”
As we reported in November, the sisters have filed complaints against the hotel with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are asking for their jobs back and for back pay, saying they were wrongly terminated.
The complaints are specific to the Reyes’s case. On March 8, UNITE HERE Local 2, which represents Hyatt workers in several Bay Area hotels, will push back at Hyatt on a different level.
The group is planning an International Women’s Day protest at the Grand Hyatt in Union Square.
“On March 8, 1911, garment workers, all women, took to the streets demanding a 10 hr work day and an end to child labor. It was after that year that people started to celebrate March 8 as International Working Women’s Day. This action comes out of that tradition,” explains Julia Wong, an organizer with UNITE HERE.
International Women’s Day no longer specifically honors workers. But the bikini pictures bring up an issue that affects all women; sexual objectification. “It’s making fun of what women’s bodies look like, sexualizing them, in an industry where its not safe to be sexualizing housekeepers,” said Wong, referring to widespread sexual harassment of hotel housekeepers. The extent of this issue was revealed to a degree last year in the aftermath of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal.
“It’s really a fight for women’s rights in the workplace,” said Wong.
If you are interested, please help by signing this petition at: http://sumofus.org/campaigns/hyatt/?sub=taf
Martha Reyes walked in the employee entrance of the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency to the sound of her male colleagues laughing.
She believed they were laughing at her.
It was “Housekeeping Appreciation Week” at the Hyatt and to celebrate, a digitally altered photo collage of Hyatt Housekeepers’ faces — including Martha’s and her sister Lorena’s — superimposed on bikini-clad cartoon-bodies was posted on a bulletin board at work.
She felt humiliated and embarrassed. But she knew her sister Lorena — also a housekeeper at Hyatt — would be even more so. Martha tore the posters of her and her sister down.Then, with management present, a coworker told Martha she needed to return the photos.
She refused and said if they wanted it back, they’d have to take her to court.
Hyatt management fired Martha and Lorena just a few weeks later.
Sign our petition to Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian asking him to apologize to Martha and Lorena and reinstate them with full back-pay. The Reyes sisters and community allies will deliver it next week to Hyatt officials.
They were fired for allegedly taking too long on their lunch break. But we don’t buy that excuse for a second. Here’s why:
Martha and Lorena worked at that hotel as housekeepers for 7 and 24 years respectively. During that time, the Reyes sisters were good employees. On the day she was fired, the HR Director told Martha she was an “excellent worker” and that there hadn’t been any complaints about her. Before the day Lorena was fired, she had never in her 24 years been written up for a single break violation.
The firing of the Reyes sisters is a new low, even for Hyatt.
What happened to the Reyes sisters is just another example of Hyatt’s culture of disrespect for its workers: Hyatt housekeepers have high rates of injury, and in 2011 various state and federal agencies issued 18 citations against Hyatt for alleged safety violations. Hyatt has even lobbied against new laws that would make housekeeping work safer.
Martha is the mother of five children and fears she may lose her house. Lorena is a mother of three and is struggling as the sole supporter of her family. As long-time employees of Hyatt, the Reyes sisters deserve some basic decency and the right to complain about their workplace without being fired.
As potential Hyatt customers, we have to draw the line. Sexually degrading housekeeping staff is unacceptable by any measure and the CEO of should take responsibility for Hyatt’s culture of disrespect for its workers now.
With May Day just passed — a day when people all over the world pause to acknowledge the work of people like Martha and Lorena — we at SumOfUs.org are humbled by workers like the Reyes sisters who dare to stand up for their rights. We are proud to stand with them, and join our partners at UNITE-HERE, in demanding justice for the two sisters.
March 6, 2012
Flayed by a fire she began herself, Aatifa’s childlike frame is painstakingly wrapped in thick bandages — her shrieks of “Allah” echoing around the hospital ward where surgeons prepare to graft skin back on to her skeletal torso.
Her wide blue eyes alternating between flashes of anger and wells of tears, the 16-year-old Afghan girl struggles to explain what led her to douse her own body in petrol, step outside and light a match.
Married at the age of 14, the young carpet-weaver, who has nine brothers and sisters, said her mother-in-law criticized her housework and encouraged her mechanic husband to beat her for allowing her mother to visit too often. She complained to authorities but was berated for causing trouble. Later told that her husband hated her and would marry a second woman, she swung between anger and depression before carrying out her masochistic deed.
Aatifa poured petrol over her head and, once outside her home, lit the flames that engulfed two thirds of her body. Her brother found her and smothered her with his clothes before neighbors took her to hospital. ”I just wanted to kill myself, this was my goal,” she said, her bone-thin arm etched with flaring purple burn scars. “What can I do? I’m not useful anymore. I want to get a divorce, it’s better to stop everything.”
Bound by early marriage into a life of domestic disharmony, dozens of girls like Aatifa in Afghanistan’s sophisticated but conservative main western city of Herat are choosing a brutal form of escape by setting themselves on fire.
In the past one year alone, doctors at a burns unit at the city hospital have seen 83 cases of self-immolation, with nearly two-thirds proving fatal.
The disturbing phenomenon is considered to be a cultural import from neighboring Iran. But feuding between poor and uneducated families who marry off their daughters as young teens is usually at the heart of the problem. ”Sometimes it’s for very small reason they burn themselves, and most of them complain about the in-law’s family,” said chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the burns unit, Ghafar Khan Bawa. ”There’s an accumulation of depression, stress and domestic violation and then the woman just seeks a way of getting out of the situation. A way of expressing their anger, a way of expressing their depression.”
Police, tribal elders, Mullahs and courts all exist to resolve family disputes which are common within Afghanistan’s impoverished and illiterate societies. But it is considered culturally taboo for a woman to complain. ”There’s a defect in the system because a woman cannot complain here. And if they were not accepted before burning themselves, then how will they be accepted with disfigurement and deformities and disabilities?” added Bawa.
Sitting propped up on a pillow at home across town, 18-year-old Zarkhuna’s occasional smile is largely concealed by an enveloping neck brace, while her body scarred by 65 percent burns is clothed in a black burqa and red blanket.
She said the family of her husband, a rickshaw driver, had seemed nice before marriage, but when his mother and sister moved into their family compound fighting erupted. Now banned from seeing their 10-month-old baby since she set herself on fire four months ago, she said she hopes not to divorce, but for her near-fatal action to provoke a peace settlement between the families. ”My husband wasn’t cruel to me. But my mother and sister-in-law were complaining all the time about my job — they became jealous,” she said. ”The mother and sister wanted me to be under their control not under my husband’s. If he behaves nicely with me I will continue with him.”
Her father has said she must not take the case to the authorities, but leave their fate to God’s will. ”I leave those people to God. I just want them to pray for my daughter because they’re also poor people and I didn’t do anything against them because they’re also poor,” said her father, Khor Mohammad, moving prayer beads and wearing a thick white turban. “I don’t think the government can help us.”
Herati women’s rights advocate Suraya Pakzad said that early marriage and family feuds commonly caused dangerous levels of stress for women in the home, with many too young to cope with the wifely roles expected of them. ”Maybe not all of them decide to die, it’s just a warning for their family to stop, and they never thought fire would immediately go to all of their body,” said the head of the Voice of Women’s Organisation in Herat.
The organisation operates two shelters for women, although all cases must be referred through the government. Once they realize there could be other options for escape she said the self-harming teens all wish things could be different.
“Whenever we meet them and talk to them they say they really regret what they did.”
“Whenever we meet them and talk to them they say they really regret what they did.” For some reason, this last line really bothers me. The question then is who is telling this story? Do all women feel this remorse? Is this an attempt at a cover-up? How objective is this observation?
It forces me to remember that no article is objective, and that each one we read must be read with a critical mind and perspective.
December 3, 2011
Afghanistan has pardoned a woman who was raped by a family member but then jailed for adultery, a statement from the presidential palace has said, in a case that highlights deep concerns about women’s rights in the country. It remained unclear whether the 21-year-old-woman, known as Gulnaz, would still have to marry the man who attacked her, her cousin’s husband, after an earlier release offer which stipulated they must marry.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s palace issued the statement pardoning Gulnaz late on Thursday, a rare pardon in such a case in staunchly conservative Muslim Afghanistan. “After assessing Gulnaz’s case, (they) decided that her remaining sentence in jail should be pardoned under the current rules and regulations of the country and she should be released,” the palace statement said.
Her case attracted international attention after she took part in a documentary film commissioned by the European Union but later withheld.
Gulnaz had eventually agreed to the condition she marry her attacker but it was not clear whether she still intended to marry the man, her lawyer, Kimberley Motley, said. Her attacker is serving a 7-year prison term for the crime.
October 7, 2011
REPORTING FROM CAIRO – The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women from Africa and the Middle East who symbolized the nonviolent struggle to improve their nations and advance the role of women’s rights throughout the world.
The winners were Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president; her countrywoman Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist who challenged warlords; and Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni human rights leader seeking to overthrow an autocratic regime as part of the so-called Arab Spring. “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” said the citation read by Thorbjorn Jagland, head of the Nobel committee based in Oslo, Norway.
The award for Johnson-Sirleaf, who is known as the Iron Lady, comes as the 72-year-old president is facing re-election on Tuesday. A Harvard-educated economist, Johnson-Sirleaf has been criticized for supporting former Liberian President Charles Taylor. She has since backed his prosecution as a war criminal, turning him over to a United Nations tribunal. “Since her inauguration in 2006,” the Nobel citation read, Johnson-Sirleaf “has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women.” The Nobel committee praised Johnson-Sirleaf’s compatriot, Gbowee, for organizing “women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end [in 2003] to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war”. During the civil war, Gbowee organized a “sex strike” to urge men to stop fighting. She told National Public Radio in 2009: “We didn’t have the power to go to peace talks, so we just thought, what else do we have to lose? Our bodies are their battlefield. Let’s just put our bodies out there because it was just about at that point in time, all of us, the mind-set was we need to do something to change the situation if our children must live in this country.”
The Nobel committee’s selection of Karman, a journalist and longtime human rights activist, is a nod to the democratic revolutions sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Karman has organized anti-government protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and in 2005 founded Women Journalists Without Chains to demand wider freedom of expression. ”I am very, very happy about this prize,” Karman told The Associated Press. “I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people.” A 32-year-old mother of three, Karman has inspired youth rallies for civil rights and economic opportunities in a conservative and impoverished Muslim nation. She has often criticized religious extremists, including those in the Islamic Islah Party, which she joined years ago. The party is run by radical Sheik Abdul Majeed Zindani. Karman stunned many in the country when she removed her face veil during a human rights conference in 2004. “I discovered that wearing the veil is not suitable for a woman who wants to work in activism and the public domain,” she told The Yemen Times. “People need to see you, to associate and relate to you. It is not stated in my religion [Islam] to wear the veil, it is a traditional practice so I took it off.” Her activism and protests have agitated Saleh’s regime. The government has refused to grant Women Journalists Without Chains a license to start a newspaper. The Ministry of Information blocked Karman from sending out SMS bulletins on human rights. Last winter, as the so-called Arab Spring spread across the region, Karman camped with tens of thousands of demonstrators in what became known as Change Square. Those peaceful protests, which have been eclipsed by tribal fighting and government offensives, have shaken the country but have not dislodged Saleh from his 33-year rule. The country is slipping closer to civil war and government soldiers and loyalists have increasingly fired on unarmed protesters. “I was threatened through phone calls, letters, and other means of communication. I was threatened to be imprisoned and even killed,” she told The Yemen Times in June. “So far, the threats have not been fulfilled although I consider that taking away my right to expression is worse than any form of physical violence.”
The many activists in the still unfinished revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other countries complicated the Nobel committee’s efforts to award the prize to one person who would symbolize the impact the youth and social media have had on inspiring the uprisings.
In announcing the award, Prize committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said of Karman: “Many years before the revolutions started she stood up against one of the most authoritarian and autocratic regimes in the world.”