The World Courts of Women Against Poverty in the United States began at the 2010 United States Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan. A People’s Movement Assembly Resolution of Action was developed from discussions among activists, and a plan was launched to host three regional World Courts of Women Against Poverty across the United States. The first such court took place in Oakland, California in May of 2012, and it was led by the Women’s Economic Agenda Project. Organizers in Pennsylvania led by the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign have been working to organize a second US World Court of Women Against Poverty in Philadelphia in October, 2013.
The Courts of Women are where people can come to share stories that are heard and recorded, with the aim of making them visible in a world, in a nation that wishes to silence, hide and ignore them. These words of people’s lives, and even wisdoms, are to shape both a social and political movement for the recognition of the U.S. as a nation that creates poverty in the world, including in its own backyard. It ignores its history of producing poverty and everyday violences that people live in cities, in rural communities, in reservations, on borderlands. The WCW is to pull back the curtain on what the U.S. has been ignoring through fore-fronting those voices and presences that come from the margins.
The World Courts of Women exist to rewrite our histories, reclaim our memories, and find new visions for our times. The Courts of Women are public hearings that exist to share voices of survival and resistance from the margins. Those gathered at the World Court on Poverty in the United States: Disappeared in America People’s Movement Assembly, along with the host organizations, seek to break the silence on poverty as a violation of both women’s rights and human rights. We reject the myth that dire poverty only exists outside of the boundaries of the US and demand an end to the tremendous violence of poverty that impacts our children, our families, and our communities. The effects of globalization, the increase in wealth disparity, and dismantling of the social safety net have pushed our communities into destitution while corporate powers and banking institutions have profited tremendously at our expense.
We link our struggles here in the United States to the struggles of poor people throughout the World. We are committed to uniting the poor as the leadership base for a broad movement to abolish poverty everywhere and forever. This resolution of action is a reflection of decades of work and we are lifted up by the efforts of many organizations that have fought tirelessly to eliminate injustice.
To find out more about the histories of the World Courts of Women, please check out Professor Marguerite Waller’s piece entitled “The Courts of Women.”
The World Courts of Women have been inspired and promoted by activist Corinne Kumar, a leader in the Tunis-based international human rights advocacy group, El Taller. The Courts build upon a long history of efforts by people to speak truth to power. In other words, to hold their governments accountable to both international law and basic human ethics. While such courts lack legal standing, they aim to increase popular pressure on elites and to delegitimize institutions and groups accused of violations in the eyes of the larger public. They typically are part of larger social movements aimed at mobilizing popular pressure for social change.
People’s tribunals recognize that judicial systems in most countries and internationally fail to provide accessible means for relatively powerless groups to prosecute violations of laws and basic human rights. They also recognize that the laws recognized by states often overlook basic principles of human rights and dignity, and they seek to raise the standards to which governments and other powerful groups are held. The first International People’s Tribunals have been used to shed light on U.S. war crimes in Vietnam (Russell Tribunal, 1966), Crimes against women (1976), the 1986 Bhopal chemical spill, and other actions by states and corporations that violate basic human rights or environmental protections.