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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Back in April, Mervyn King announced that Winston Churchill would be replacing Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note.

There is, I imagine, little argument about the significance of Churchill’s contribution to British history, nor his suitability for a place on one of our bank notes. I am sure, too, that this was meant to be swansong gesture designed to fix King in our memories as the man who put Churchill in our pockets. However, he rather runs the risk of being remembered as the man who sought to remove women from the faces of our bank notes.

Thank goodness for the Canadians (more on that in a moment). Principally, though, thank goodness for Caroline Criado-Perez who, on spotting the implications of what the bank was planning, started an online petition through change.org to force the bank to rethink. Her campaign was featured in The Guardian, on the BBC and in The Telegraph.

Her reasoning was simple and right:

“An all-male line-up on our banknotes sends out the damaging message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear. This is patently untrue. Not only have numerous women emerged as leading figures in their fields, they have done so against the historic odds stacked against them which denied women a public voice and relegated them to the private sphere – making their emergence into public life all the more impressive and worthy of celebration.”

And she has pulled it off.

Today, Mark Carney, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, announced that Jane Austen would be the face of the new ten pound note.

Why does any of this matter?

Because it does.

Because it is not right for an institution as central to the organisation of our economic and political life as the Bank of England to believe it can operate in its own entitled bubble, failing to recognise that this country has been built on the hard work of men and women, the latter often, as Criado-Perez says, with the historic odds against them. I would go further and say that their hard work has often been in the face of hostility from privileged men who have struggled to reconcile themselves to the reality that politics, the workplace and the economy are as much the domains of women as they are of men.

If you think that such attitudes are a thing of the past, take a moment to think how on earth the Bank of England reach a position where no women were to be recognised on its bank notes? In Mervyn King’s own words at the time of the Churchill announcement: “Our banknotes acknowledge the life and work of great Britons.” It is clear from that the pictures are intended as a statement of significance. In 2010 there were around £48 billion pounds’ worth of notes in circulation. That is a lot of pieces of paper.

So why at no point did anyone appear to say to King: “Er, why are they all men?”

How did the design teams, the PR department, senior management and the Governor’s own office, not to mention King himself, let it happen?

It could, of course, be accident. However, most institutions and companies have strict policies and procedures to avoid such obvious idiocies. Or it could, of course, be a sub-concious, corporate mindset that still downplays the contribution of women in our national life in comparison to the contributions of men.

The sad reality is that entitlement and casual discrimination is still a force to be reckoned with, whether it is on our bank notes or, more banally, on our station platforms. Take a look at Everyday Sexism and its twitter feed to see a depressing stream of witless and offensive behaviour that demonstrates how disrespectful we still are to each other as a society.

Society looks to its leading institutions to lead change. When they fail, it takes the active grass roots of society to put pressure on those institutions.

Thank you Caroline Criado-Perez for saving us from looking like idiots.

And thank you Mark Carney for listening. (Now there’s just the little matter of the Canadian banknotes from which he removed women. Perhaps he was attempting to make amends for that as well as King’s faux pas?)

You can read the Bank of England background note on Jane Austen here.

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I was going to say I came across A Girl Called Jack on one of my regular trawls of the Internet.

I didn’t.

It probably isn’t the sort of thing that would leap out of the search engine at me when I am looking for astronomy, Forteana, weird art, gaming or ordinary politics. It was recommended to me by someone who does pay more attention to the realities of life – and particularly the realities of other people’s lives.

Living in Southend, Jack brings the reality of living on the breadline very close to home. It makes for sobering reading – as well as prompting a long and hard think about the way we use (and abuse) food.

As usual in our cynical age, there are plenty of people, even in the hallowed forums of The Guardian, no doubt liberally-minded sorts comfortable in their middle-class family homes, who are quick to pour scorn and deride. I think that probably says more about them than her, failing to recognise that circumstances change and that you can lose a standard of living, as well as improve it.

Her recipes are obviously to be commended, especially if you are on a tight budget. Her post, Hunger Hurts, is a blistering read. It should be required reading for anyone engaged in politics – in any party and none.

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According to figures released by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics, more and more incidents of women being raped in England and Wales are being recorded:

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

Rape of a female

13,902

14,589

14,767

Rape of a male

1,172

1,303

1,274

That is a total of 47,007 incidents of recorded rape over a three year period.

And the number of convictions for rape in that same period (and yes, I know there is no absolute read-across between the offences and convictions)?

1,372.

Yet these figures don’t reveal the horrific extent of rape and serious sexual offences in England and Wales: the report also shows that 57% of women told someone but not the police of a rape or serious sexual assault. 28% told no-one.

And then the questions…

There were “only” 40 non-custodial sentences for rape in 2011. Excuse me? Why were there any?

Apparently “Since 2005, there have been fewer than seven Suspended Sentences Orders (SSOs) given each year for rape of a female and none have been given for rape of a male.” What does the fact that any SSOs have been given  say about differences in perceptions between rape of a female and rape of a male?

Another shocking statistic is that, on average, it is 722 days from the moment someone is raped until the completion of the case. That is almost two years of reliving the hell of what happened in order to secure justice. Why should someone have to wait so long?

There are  so many important questions that arise from this report it is difficult to know where to start.

The figures should hit home like an iron bar hammered in your face.

They should be screamed across the  front page of every newspaper. They are utterly appalling – and reveal a shocking affront to justice that reminds us we are light years from ensuring that rape victims receive the support they need to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

And now, in the wake of Leveson, is the ideal time for the press to demonstrate their worth. After all, we’ve had plenty of self-indulgent hand-wringing in recent months, most notably about the important role played by our newspapers in our public life and democracy. In his evidence to Leveson, The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, extolled his paper’s virtues (Para. 60):

“It distils complex important issues of the day, including politics, finance and law into concise readable copy which educates and entertains.”

So, on a day when official statistics reveal such a shocking failure of our investigative and legal processes, on an issue that clearly straddles law and politics, what was this bastion of our free press’s front page?

The_Sun_newspaper_front_page

Perhaps we would expect such crassness and double-standards from The Sun. But what were the front pages of most the other main UK papers today?

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Only two national newspapers ran the story on their front pages: The Independent and i – the quality tabloid off-shoot of The Independent:

Metro, the newspaper given out free in major cities, also had it on its front page.

Where were all the others?

Where was The Guardian,  never usually bashful in its self-promotion as the left-wing champion of women’s rights and awareness of issues that particularly affect women? Who knows. It certainly doesn’t consider this report front page news. Even after the Savile report was released, The Independent still had this story as a second headline on its website. By contrast, it was the 17th headline on The Guardian Online – appalling.

What does this lack of interest say about a media more concerned with itself than getting to the core of issues that affect hundreds of thousands of people in the most horrendous ways?

It is a corroboration of the silence and inaction that characterises our society’s approach to rape – an approach that continues to allow rapists to escape justice. With Savile, with the horrors of Steubenville and Delhi, perhaps this might just change. Perhaps. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that any of these are, in and of themselves, the answer.

As Deborah McIlveen, policy and services manager at Women’s Aid, told the Independent:

“Despite all that is known about rape and sexual violence, the justice system still fails to hold most rapists to account and so fails to deliver victim safety, public protection and management of perpetrator risk. These men are free to continue to rape and this is unacceptable, harmful and illegal.

“Most rape victims can identify their abuser, and many of these will be their partners or ex-partners.  This ongoing failure to secure convictions will continue to leave women and young people vulnerable and in potentially risky situations.”

And as spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales told the Independent:

“The figures are shocking but sadly not that surprising. There has been lots of publicity and measures put in place to try and increase the conviction rate around rape and sexual abuse. But it looks like it is not having as much effect as we would like.

“It is a chicken and egg situation: women do not report offences because they know they are very unlikely to get a conviction. They know they would have to put themselves through a system which is very traumatic and are likely to come out at the other end with no justice.”

If it matters to you, read the report for yourself. Ask questions.

And don’t be silent.

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I’m a Facebook follower of Upworthy, the social media site that sets out its mission: “To make meaningful stories go viral.” A particular story arrived today, clipping an interview on Monday night between Piers Morgan and Alex Jones, a pro-gun campaigner and radio host who co-organised a petition to deport Morgan from the USA (where he has a regular presenter’s slot on CNN) for offering supportive gun-control comments in the wake of Sandy Hook.

I’m not a fan of Morgan – but he exemplifies everything that is right in a calm and measured presenter. By contrast, Jones is frankly terrifying.

I hope Upworthy don’t mind – I am going to reproduce their commentary in full.

Piers Morgan decided to advocate gun control after Sandy Hook. That caused this radio host, Alex Jones, who has millions of listeners (listeners I’d prefer to never meet), to create a petition to have Piers deported.

Being the reasonable bloke he is, Piers invited Alex on his show to have a civil debate about guns. What follows is the most jaw-droppingly incoherent interview I have ever seen, in two deranged parts. The fact that this interview actually made Piers Morgan the most tolerable person on TV for 14 minutes isn’t even the craziest thing about it.

If this is what we’re up against in the reasonable gun law debate, no wonder nothing gets done. Piers should get the Medal of Honor for not requesting a medical team to come tranquilize Alex and have him committed.

Upworthy – Act I: The Dumbening

  • At :30, in a hint at what’s about to happen, Jones gets things started by changing the subject completely, and then crafting a disconnected slew of sentence fragments.
  • At 2:10-2:36, Alex threatens to burn America to the ground if he doesn’t get his way.
  • At 2:50, Alex reminds Piers (for the first of many times) that Americans once fought a war against the British. Piers responds with the kind of scathing, passive-aggressive restraint that the British have spent centuries mastering.
  • At 3:48, Alex talks about marine biology.
  • At 4:25, Alex talks about his favorite part of “Mad Max.”
  • At 6:40, Piers gives up on getting anything coherent out of him.

Act II: All Aboard The Conspiracy Train

  • From 0-0:18, Piers suggests calming things down and actually having something resembling a coherent conversation. And then Alex starts speaking again, thus anything resembling healthy discourse ceases to exist.
  • At 1:33, Alex thinks an AR-15 will protect him from the largest military in the world and accuses all American soldiers of being potential traitors. Also, HITLER.
  • At 2:35, no judgment here, I just want to transcribe what Jones just managed to say, “A study out of Hawaii killed 292 million people.” He also requests that you google “Democide”, so for balance sake, click here.
  • At 4:22, Alex quotes his favorite part of “Soylent Green” or “Dawn of the Dead.”
  • From 4:51-5:40, Piers decides to let America in on the inner workings of Alex’s brain.
  • At 5:40 … 5:40. Don’t cheat and skip ahead to this. Just be ready for it. Trust me on this one. It’s like “Masterpiece Theatre.”
  • Aaaaand at 6:27, Piers finally says what the rest of us are thinking.

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The phrase “The law is an ass” was coined in a play entitled “Revenge for Honour” that was probably written by Henry Glapthorne and published by (and frequently mistakenly attributed to)  George Chapman in 1654.

Both the title and the wrangle over identity are bitterly ironic, following the decision of the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal to overturn a three-year sentence for rape on the basis of an arcane legal anomaly dating back to 1872.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Court of Appeal has interpreted the statute thus:

A man who impersonates someone in order to have sexual intercourse may be guilty of rape only if the victim was married and the man was pretending to be her husband.

You can read the full opinion of The People v. Julio Morales here, where a picture is painted of a young woman (identified only as “Jane Doe”) enjoying a night out with friends, going home, deciding not to have sex with her boyfriend as they had no condoms – and then being raped by a man pretending to be her boyfriend. It is quite clear that in any right-thinking understanding of the concept of rape, Julio Morales is guilty without question. Indeed, reading the judgement, the prosecution contend that he admitted his guilt. Yet, because she was unmarried, and he was impersonating a boyfriend, not a husband, he is apparently not guilty of rape.

So what the hell sort of legal system allows this sort of specious contention to come between a young woman, whose life has been wrecked, and justice?

As a non-lawyer, who could scarcely believe what he was hearing on the radio this morning, I can only think that it is a legal system in which the moral compass of those who interpret the law is subordinated to the irrelevant technicalities of archaic legislation, almost certainly written by men, to benefit men, at a time when General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby was chasing Indians back across Lost River in the Modoc War. Had you heard of General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby? I hadn’t until I started looking at this case and what else was going on in California in 1872. I doubt that “Jane Doe” had either.

Take time to read the opinion.

And forget the technicalities for a moment. Think about those involved as merely people. The victim. The lawyers. The perpetrator. Think about them as merely people in a civilised society. Think about the purpose of the law in that civilised society. Think about its purpose in a modern, socially-aware Western democracy that contends it is working to make its communities secure places in which everyone, regardless of gender, can live, love, play and work safely. Contrast that purpose with what we can only imagine its nascent role to be in the early 1870s, four years before the last stand of George Armstrong Custer and the Sioux Nation at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

Which of those lawyers behind the appeal could possibly look that woman in the eye and say that the in 21st Century Los Angeles of today they were acting in all good conscience, believing that their client did not actually rape her?

So there we have it. A young woman in 2012 is brutalised and subsequently denied justice because legislators and lawyers derive their basis for legal decision from a past that is completely irrelevant to her life experience today.

Yes, the Court of Appeal urged legislators to act. Yes, legislators have agreed to act.

And yes. The law is an ass.

I hope the retrial of Julio Morales proves otherwise – and provides a measure of justice for “Jane Doe”.

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It should have been a bipartisan no-brainer, something that politicians from all sides could unite around when there is so much else on the political agenda that is a source of division.

After all, it had spent eighteen years on the statute book with support from both the GOP and the Democrats. Indeed, when it was renewed in 2005, it passed the House of Representatives 415-4 and served as a legislative beacon in the civilised world of the real difference law-makers can have on the lives of the vulnerable and damaged.

Yet, this week, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refused to take up the bipartisan Senate renewal bill S.1925 and its proposed revisions and so, for the first time since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act is no longer on the statute book. Stop Street Harassment and other bloggers have reacted with understandable fury.

So what did the Violence Against Women Act do?

It wasn’t some wishy-washy social liberal piece of over-regulation. It was making a real difference to the lives of people that otherwise would have suffered silently, unable to seek redress against those that abused them. The Hotline, the national domestic violence hotline website, is clear about the progress that the Violence Against Women Act achieved in tackling domestic violence and other violence against women:

VAWA 1994 – Congress, in passing VAWA 1994, envisioned a nation with an engaged criminal justice system and coordinated community responses. VAWA 1994 fostered:

  • Community-coordinated responses that brought together, for the first time, the criminal justice system, the social services system, and private nonprofit organizations responding to domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Recognition and support for the efforts of domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and other community organizations nationwide working everyday to end this violence
  • Federal prosecution of interstate domestic violence and sexual assault crimes
  • Federal guarantees of interstate enforcement of protection orders
  • Protections for battered immigrants
  • A new focus on underserved populations and Native victims of domestic violence and sexual assault

VAWA 2000 – Congress improved on the foundation established in VAWA 1994, including:

  • Identifying the additional related crimes of dating violence and stalking
  • The creation of a much-needed legal assistance program for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Promoting supervised visitation programs for families experiencing violence
  • Further protecting immigrants experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, by establishing U- and T-visas and by focusing on trafficking of persons

VAWA 2005 – Congress took a more holistic approach to addressing violence against women. In addition to enhancing criminal and civil justice and community-based responses to violence, VAWA 2005 created notable new focus areas such as:

  • Containing provisions that exclusively serve to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence but also include immigration protections to alleviate violence against immigrant women that previous legislation had tried, but failed to alleviate
  • Developing prevention strategies to stop violence before it starts
  • Protecting individuals from unfair eviction due to their status as victims  of domestic violence or stalking
  • Creating the first federal funding stream to support rape crisis centers
  • Developing culturally-and linguistically-specific services for communities
  • Enhancing programs and services for victims with disabilities
  • Broadening VAWA service provisions to include children and teenagers

So what was it about the Senate bill, proposed in April 2012 by senators Pat Leahy (Democrat) and Mike Crapo (Republican) and approved by the Senate by 68 votes to 31, that was so objectionable? It ensured that there was proper protection for immigrants, LGBT communities and Native Americans. Clearly, this is something that the majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives found objectionable and so they introduced their own bill,  H.R. 4970, which gutted the Senate bill of those provisions – even though the President had already indicated he would veto it for its inadequacies. Congressman Michael E. Capuano (Democrat) has a simple yet devastating summary of H.R. 4970’s weaknesses on his home page:

Among other provisions, the 1994 VAWA allowed immigrants who were being abused to petition for their own independent legal status. This part of the law protected individuals who were living in the country legally as the spouse of a citizen or a lawful permanent resident. It gave them the ability to report the abuse and remove themselves from a dangerous environment without fear of deportation.

H.R. 4970 weakens that provision in an important way. It eliminates a requirement that abuser-provided testimony or evidence be corroborated before denying a petition for independent legal status. What does this mean? Currently, abusers who deny that they are inflicting harm must submit some evidence that they are actually telling the truth – testimony from a family member, counselor or law enforcement personnel, something besides their own statement.

H.R. 4970 rolls back that provision. Instead of requiring some supporting evidence, this bill simply requires that the word of the alleged abuser be weighed against the word of the abused. Just on the basis of that, a petition for independent legal status can be denied. I want to be very clear; this has nothing to do with illegal immigration. Anyone covered by this provision is already here legally. There is no credible reason to weaken a part of the law that has been in place since 1994.

H.R. 4970 does not include provisions that would protect Native Americans who are being abused. Currently more than 50% of all Native American women are either married to or living with someone who is not a Native American. However, tribal courts do not have the authority to pursue charges against non-Native Americans. Instead, someone who is abused is forced to seek help through federal or state law enforcement. That help is all too often located hours away, creating a barrier when it comes to reporting abuse. The Senate bill would simply have given tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Native Americans who are accused of domestic violence against Native Americans.

H.R. 4970 also fails to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) victims. It does not include Senate-passed provisions that would prohibit VAWA-funded programs from discriminating based on sexual orientation. And it doesn’t add LGBT victims to the STOP Grant program, which funds domestic violence support initiatives. Studies have shown that members of the LGBT community do face discrimination when seeking services, including being turned away from domestic violence shelters. These provisions are simply about equality. Sexual orientation shouldn’t matter. Abuse is abuse and help should be there for everyone who needs it.

Over 100 organizations oppose the House version, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Women’s Law Center, the American Bar Association, the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Congress of American Indians. I voted NO.

The debate on House Resolution 656 of 12th May 2012, seeking to authorise H.R. 4970, makes for depressing reading and gives a clear indication of the ideological divide that has led to the politicisation of an issue that should unite politicians, not divide them. In the words of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke:

This egregious bill is another example of this Republican-led Congress waging political warfare on women.

H.R. 4970 would roll back years of progress and bipartisan commitment on the part of Congress to protect vulnerable immigrant victims of domestic violence, stalking, sex crimes, other serious crimes, and trafficking. Choosing one type of victim over the other.

So the Violence Against Women Act has expired. The Senate Bill attempting to renew it with necessary extensions has been abandoned. And, rightly, the Republican-gutted substitute will go nowhere.

In the end though, whilst politicians wrangle, it is the victims of domestic and sexual violence who will suffer.

And for those of us across the Atlantic, who often see our cousins leading where in a few years’ time we follow, we should pay particular attention to the societal signals that this determination to put ideological considerations above the safety of women and communities sends us. Rather, we should be relentless in our desire to work across the political divide to tackle violence against women and recognise that by prioritising spending and political attention in this area all of society benefits.

To do otherwise is shameful.

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Someone I am close to recently sent me the link to One Billion Rising. The statistics are absolutely shocking.

One in three women on our planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Just think about that for a moment. Think of the number of people that means. It is a staggering and numbing statistic which should be a call to arms for right-minded people everywhere.

One Billion Rising is an Internet movement harnessing the power of global social networking to take a peaceful stand across the world against violence against women, using the power of dance.

Surely it must be the responsibility of those of us who think we are right-minded to consider the consequences of cultural norms and narratives that perpetuate the circumstances in which such violence is perpetrated? Rape culture is not a figment of the feminist imagination. Yes, it is a shocking term  that makes many of us feel uncomfortable. Yes, it switches many people off. But it is very real and silence is safety’s worst enemy.

And rape culture is not always overt. It is the rolled eyes of good people who embarrassedly dismiss the lecherous remarks and whistling of “mates” as offensive but harmless, effectively validating the objectification of women through inaction. It is the zealous liberalism that subordinates the fear felt by women on the street to the ‘right’ to say what we want, to whom we want, all in the name of ‘free speech’. It is the badly-lit subway or council estate built and not maintained without thought given to the safety of those who use them, providing instead havens for harassers and predators. It is the everyday language that excludes and belittles and generates a sense of inferiority.

John Stuart Mill’s ‘Harm principle‘ has been fundamental to my liberalism since I first stumbled across it: the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against  their will, is to prevent harm to others. It is not an academic exercise. It is a practical guide to organising our communities and society and we urgently need to develop an understanding of how damaging our failure to act on behaviour that can lead to such statistics as those highlighted by One Billion Rising.

Why do I care? Why do I “bang on about it” (as one friend put it)?

Because it matters. Simple as.

Everyone is entitled to live their lives peaceably and as they choose – and without fear, particularly of this most vile and humiliating crime.

So.

Join One Billion Rising. In their words:

RISE!

  • It is February 14, 2013. Leave your work, leave your school, interrupt the day, dance, and demand an end to the violence!

  • Make February 14, 2013 a “day of action” by organizing your friends or colleagues to volunteer at local women’s shelters or service centers – promote your plan on the OBR Facebook page and across your own social networks.

  • Consider the impact of your rising. What mark can you and those who rise with you leave behind in your community?  Organize to change a law, get more funding for women’s programs, or model new non-violent ways of being in your city, office, or college.

This is the message  I received on signing up:

Thank you for joining ONE BILLION RISING, V-Day’s most ambitious campaign yet.

When we started V-Day 14 years ago, we had the outrageous idea that we could end violence against women. Since then, hundreds of thousands of V-Day activists in audiences and on stages in over 140 countries have come together to demand an end to violence against women and girls. The funds we’ve raised together have kept organizations’ doors open, and the issue front and center in local media.

But still today, the United Nations states that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime that’s more than one billion women and girls alive today.

V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, showing them exactly what one billion looks like.

ONE BILLION RISING is a promise that on February 14th, 2013, we will ensure that millions of women and men rise up around the world to say, “ENOUGH. The violence ends NOW.”

Ben, there is so much more to come. But for right now, you can help us launch ONE BILLION RISING with a few simple actions:

ONE BILLION RISING will make the earth move by uniting us through dance across every country.

Ben, I look forward to dancing, striking and rising to end violence against women and girls together with you.

In solidarity,

Eve Ensler
Playwright, Founder of V-Day
One Billion Rising

Find your local Rising here.

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