behind closed doors.jpg

This morning I heard a news item on Radio 4. It featured a studio discussion/debate around the increase in community resolution as a way of resolving domestic abuse situations rather than prosecution. In typical 'Today' programme fashion, it was set up as a head to head with Yvette Cooper speaking against and a police officer speaking for the resolution method. After driving several hours over the weekend my head was hardly in a state to focus clearly but the subject of domestic abuse/violence and the way perpetrators of this sickening crime are treated, is a subject close to my heart.

The police officer in question was trying to play down the use of resolution. He said this was only used in a tiny percentage of cases e.g. to deal with Facebook/Twitter abuse or similar or if someone had got angry and broken the mirror off a car. Interesting examples I thought to myself. Isn't he aware that if someone gets so angry they commit an act of violence against a car then surely this is a sign that they have serious aggression issues? Domestic abuse often, although not always, begins as a small moment. A chance comment or remark, an over reaction, a slamming of a door or banging of a fist. If this is then normalised then it tends to escalate and fast. Crimes are often not reported until the situation has got to crisis point and bodily harm resulting from assault is reported. And as for internet abuse via email or social media - well an experience like this can be terrifying. The men who perpetrate this kind of abuse can be just as intimidating as someone who carries out physical abuse. We live so much of our lives online that knowing someone can post images or abusive words about you without your knowledge is a massive intrusion into a person's life. And the effects literally last for years - if not a lifetime. They can hardly be sorted out over a cup of tea and an apology.

I am no legal expert but when I hear about crimes against a women I think that really we need either a complete overhaul of our current legal system or indeed a legal framework that deals entirely with female related crime - whether that be domestic abuse, rape or any other form of criminal activity carried out against a woman or women. Surely that would be much fairer than to try and adapt the current legal constitution to deal with crimes that demand a very specific approach. In fact, we need a whole new language and set of laws to even begin to offer a fair and decent solution. The way the media report these attacks also needs to be overhauled. Semantics can make all the difference to the way a crime is reported in a newspaper. I propose banning the use of the word 'victim' for starters. Yes the definition is correct when applied to the experience of the crime but the after effects of this term can be incredibly damaging.

But what of the current situation and Ms Cooper's speech? If you only needed one reason to vote for a new government then start with this. Resolution can never work in a domestic abuse situation. The very idea is laughable. The men who carry out these crimes are at the very least damaged individuals often with other abuse issues going on and at the very worst, violent psychotic criminals. How on earth can the police expect men like this to sort out an abusive situation amicably? In my experience, men who carry out abuse can be incredibly devious and manipulative. They will say or do anything to appear to be making the peace. Things may go quiet briefly but then they will hit out again. Often much harder than on the previous occasion. These men are sick and yes they may need help but the last option they should be given is a resolution option.

Domestic violence will never be eradicated until the sentences are far tougher and the women who report the crimes are able to do so in the full knowledge that they will receive the support and protection they need. The mental and psychological damage sustained during a relationship that features domestic violence cannot be quantified. It is an unimaginable living hell and the most frightening point for the woman can be when she has no choice but to report it. Because, if an afterwards becomes available then this is when men can turn into killers. Listen to Yvette. Listen to women. Because there can be no more needless deaths in the name of the legal systems ignorance and inability to tackle these crimes - every one with the seriousness they deserve.

Picture shows part of a brown wooden front door. Pressed against the window of the door is a hand with the wrd "help" written on it in black ink. Photo taken by Flikr user Jaybird, used under a Creative Comons Licence.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Asiya Islam // 27 July 2014, 21:39


Welcome to this week's round up and open thread! Below are some links that we came across that we thought were interesting. As ever, this does not imply endorsement. Feel free to add links of articles that you've been reading and comment on the ones we've posted here.

The anti-abortion activists waging war on vulnerable women (Guardian)

'Decriminalise prostitution': Top medical journal Lancet calls for global action to protect sex workers from HIV (Independent)

The Tulisa sting wasn't just classist, it was informed by a racism that associated her with criminality (Noisey)

The Gender Gap in Cystic Fibrosis (Marika's Motorcycle Diaries)

No anti-abortion activist should be able to mislead women to "rescue" them (Guardian)

Model Andreja Pejic comes out publicly as a transgender woman, shares her experience with media and Facebook fans (Glaad)

David Ruffley's apology for domestic abuse is not enough. He must go (Guardian)

The image shows a lake in St James' Park in London with London Eye in the background, shared under the Creative Commons Licence, uploaded by JenniKate Wallace.


This is a guest post by Anne Daly, who wrote and co-produced Mothers Against The Odds (directed and co-produced by Ronan Tynan), a documentary by Esperanza Productions that can be watched at

Mothers Against the Odds examines maternal rights in Ireland and Kenya, showing what happens when women's rights are ignored. Making this film took director Ronan Tynan and I on a three-year odyssey that opened our eyes to one of the great unresolved injustices against women in modern Irish history: the symphysiotomy scandal we only became aware of when we sought to compare the experiences of Kenyan and Irish mothers.

Mothers Against the Odds was initially conceived as an attempt to compare maternal rights in Ireland and Kenya, in keeping with our approach to directly link the so-called 'developed' and 'developing' worlds, and did not expect to spend so much time uncovering a great injustice against Irish mothers.

The UN statistics suggest Ireland is one of the safest places in the world to deliver a baby, while in Kenya a mother has a one in 25 chance of surviving childbirth. However, we found the Irish experience much more traumatic than the statistics suggest as we discovered the untold stories of mothers forced to endure a level of cruelty, up to recent times, that was both shocking and incomprehensible. Both the procedure of symphysiotomy in Ireland and FGM in Kenya show that when any culture ignores or fails to respect the rights of women and girls, unimaginable cruelty can be inflicted on them.


Symphysiotomy is a brutal medical procedure that was performed on Irish mothers up to 1984. Described by one Irish politician in the film as "medicine from the dark ages", it involves breaking the mother's pelvis to facilitate childbirth when problems arise. The key question that survivors and campaigners raise in the film is why such a painful and medically unnecessary intervention was allowed in response to a prolonged labour when the Cesarean section was the safe and available alternative at the time. The symphysiotomy procedure is described by some survivors as "torture" as in sundering the mother's pelvic bone during childbirth, she is left with lifelong medical problems including severe pain, mental trauma, walking difficulties and incontinence.

Campaigning group Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) claims that these operations were carried out without the prior knowledge or consent of the mothers and mainly for religious reasons by obstetricians who were opposed to family planning. Today, there are 250 elderly survivors who endure many severe health problems and filming the stories of some of these survivors was not easy as recalling their stories is very traumatic and painful for them. Our film shows not just the emotional and physical toll this surgery has had on survivors but it also examines the Irish cultural context that allowed such brutal procedure to take place unchallenged up to very recently. The question which still remains unanswered is why symphysiotomy, banned in the rest of Europe, was reintroduced in Ireland in 1944 and performed in some of Ireland's top maternity hospitals.

In Kenya today and Ireland a few decades ago it always seems to be economically vulnerable women who are subjected to appalling treatment when they seek to give birth. One Kenyan lawyer cited the examples of women being "slapped, pinched, and told to shut up" if they complained. Without resources or rights, many Kenyan mothers are forced to remain in the maternity hospital until someone produces the money to pay the hospital for the delivery. In Nairobi's Kibera - one of Africa's largest slums - we discovered that many women are refused help by doctors with the delivery until the money is paid in advance. It was shocking to see the "pay first" sign outside Pumwani maternity hospital in Nairobi, the largest one in the country, where thousands of women deliver their babies each year. One woman told me that if you are unable to pay the hospital bill, your mobile phone and other possessions can be accepted in lieu of payment.

Similarly to Ireland in the 1950s, Kenya today is a very conservative country in terms of women's rights. In Mutomo Mission Hospital - in the district of Kitiu, run by the Sisters of Mercy - a young male paediatric nurse explained how women have " little or no say" over their reproductive health. In many cases when a woman became ill, even during pregnancy, her husband would do the talking for her, especially in rural areas. Women are making progress in asserting their rights in Kenya but they have some way to go: as we are reminded by one very progressive midwife, they are still "traded like cattle" in too many situations.

Talking to women in Kenya about how they are treated during pregnancy, we almost felt we learned more about Ireland than we did at home.

The first picture is a portrait of Anne Daly.

The second picture is from the launch of documentary at Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin. From the left: Anne Daly; Marian Finnucane (RTE presenter & one of Ireland's leading broadcasters); former midwife Laura Mann, who features prominently in the documentary; Ronan Tynan, co-founder of Esperanza and the director of Mothers Against the Odds.

I love being a feminist because...

by Amber Collins // 27 July 2014, 09:05

Tags: feminism

Happy Heart - fauxto_digit.jpg

Recently the "Who Needs Feminism?" tumblr was set up in response to a similarly-named meme by women who didn't understand feminism very well. These women posted pictures of themselves holding up paper bearing such words of wisdom as "I need feminism because I love being a victim!" and "I need feminism because I hate equality!" (Paraphrased, but might actually be real.) "Who Needs Feminism?" has done a great job highlighting the problems we still face in a world that does not yet address the imbalances faced by marginalised people, including women. Feminists help to ensure these problems are recognised, the first step to the eventual goal of getting them fixed.

I've been struggling with the fact that being a feminist blogger means that the vast majority of what you write about is, by necessity, unpleasant. I've caught myself searching for blog topic ideas through newspaper misery, comment rage, anecdotes of injustice, all of which yield essential, worthy posts that can effect real change - but few of which I feel qualified to write about. It can get a little overwhelming.

I'm not going to make that kind of post today. Instead I'd like to talk about the specific positive impact that being a feminist has on your life.

Yes, I need feminism. We all do. But I also LIKE feminism, and I LOVE being a feminist.

When in the middle of a heated discussion with a friend or family member being a feminist can feel like a burden. In fact, it has added more value to my life than any other principle I hold, and I don't appreciate or celebrate that nearly enough.

I love being a feminist because it instantly connects me to a community of people I like, respect and have fun with.

I love being a feminist because it has given me the vocabulary and context to tear apart and neutralise concepts like "bitch" and "slut" that used to make me feel bad.

I love being a feminist because sometimes, when I stand up for what I believe in, unexpected people thank me afterwards for saying what they could not.

I could go on and on, but I'd rather hear from you about the positive impact being a feminist has had on your life. Why do you love being a feminist? Please comment with your experiences!

Image is of a small, 3D, red heart shape with a smiley face on it is held up in front of a blurred background of trees against a blue sky. Image by fauxto_digit, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Natasha Khan - July 2014 - MEDIUM.jpg

Feeling the heat, feminists? Martha and the Vandella's 'Heatwave' struck me as a glaringly obvious, but entirely appropriate choice, along with Marlena Shaw's 'California Soul' - a song surely made for the sunshine.

The Claude Violante and 10LEC6 tracks were both taken from a compilation called Colette Loves Andrea Crews. A bit of research suggests that Andrea Crews is a fashion-art collective. I don't have a clue who Colette is - answers on a postcard, please. The compilation is well worth a listen and pretty amazing, with the exception of one track which, despite having some good and bouncy bass, gets tired get pretty quickly with its "I got pussy on my mind/all the time/all the time" refrain. Change the record, kids. Claude Violante is one half of Haussmann, who some listeners might be familiar with - read an interview with her here.

You may already be familiar with Beverly, the all-female super-group composed of Frankie Rose, formerly of Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and Crystal Stilts and Drew Citron, formerly of Avan Lava. You can watch Frankie talking about their new album Careers released earlier this year here.

Bat For Lashes' 'Sarah' reminds me of wailing sirens, mermaids and swimming underwater. A dreamy song to cool off to when it gets too warm.

Click here to be re-directed to this month's Spotify playlist. You can also view the track-list here.

Stay cool.

The image is of Natasha Khan from the band Bat For Lashes. The image is an upper-body shot of her wearing a black and white top, with stripes on the arms and blocks of black and white down the front. Her hands are held in front of her chest, touching at the tips, with her palms facing down. She looks towards the sky. Image by Neil Krug, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Knickers: mandatory or meaningless?

by Isadora Vibes // 22 July 2014, 11:30

Tags: clothing, health

hanging bloomers.jpg

At a recent party, I got talking to a friend about the relative benefits of going sans knickers, panties, undergarments - whatever you wish to call them. She was, in the main, all for it but did draw attention to certain biological factors that perhaps required the protection of a gusset. And no, I won't go into details on this as I am sure we are all familiar with the practicalities of the female condition. Rather, I am interested in the reasons the majority of us wear knickers every day. Is it for hygiene or is it just learnt behavior? Do we reach for the knicker drawer because it's what we are taught to do when we could be just as comfortable (if not more so) without? And what does it say about us as women if we choose not to wear knickers? Is there a direct correlation then made about our attitudes to sex?

The relationship we have as women to our knickers/underwear has been going on for centuries. And as always, I must point out that I am writing this article only through my known experience as a European woman. Culturally, I am not aware of undergarments other than my own (!). Prior to the French Revolution, women simply wore heavy skirts with petticoats under their dresses. It was only in the Regency era when pantaloons were invented, that a need to cover up and keep warm was instigated. Early forms of underwear were very long and similar in style to ankle-length men's trousers. As time went on and fashions changed, so knickers and underwear developed until by the 1970's 'no leg' knickers were born and have continued to be adapted into smaller and smaller versions ever since.

But what are knickers really for? Yes they keep us warm (thongs excluded) and yes they keep us protected (thongs excluded again!) but do we actually need to wear them everyday? I would argue not. And if many of us actually chose not to wear knickers then would we perhaps feel more comfortable and liberated? The sensation of being without pants is one to be celebrated and of course it saves on washing. I have been choosing to wear knickers less and less as time goes on. In fact some weeks I do not wear them at all. And it feels good! Not just because it is my personal preference but I also feel a sense of empowerment. I am choosing this. I am choosing not to wear a piece of clothing that I think is loaded with meaning. If we knowingly choose to walk around with unclothed genitals does this sexualize us more? Are we judged as sexually promiscuous if our vaginas have one less layer covering them? Of course not! Why would this make us any more open to sex than if we were wearing knickers? Ridiculous.

Going commando - and what that means - is an oft told joke. It is a male centric term from army days which has been stretched to include women. Whenever I hear it being used it is usually with a giggle and a whisper behind closed doors. I also discovered when researching this piece, that the act of not wearing underwear in Chile has been called "andar a lo gringo" (to go gringo-style) for decades. Perhaps the Chileans caught on to the fact that not wearing underwear is incredibly comfortable long before we did. And yes, not wearing underwear can be arousing on occasion. But as women isn't it important to own this arousal without judgment or discrimination? And let's not forget that not wearing underwear is practical in many ways - particularly if you are conscious of lines showing (although why that should matter I don't know). Now I have started this piece I can see what a political minefield knickers can be. The VPL debate could be a whole article on its own!

So - mandatory or meaningless? I guess it all comes down to personal choice. What I would like to remove from the decision is any reference to sexual morality or indeed judgment of hygiene. With thrush infections on the increase perhaps not wearing knickers is a health benefit rather than a hindrance. I think I fall part way in between. Some days I want to, some days I don't. And that is entirely my choice. So let's think again about what underwear really means to us as women. Protection or privilege - it's up to you.

Photo shows three pairs of off white bloomers pegged up onto a washing line. Photo taken by Flikr user compresif, used under a Creative Commons Licence.


Sophie Mayer reports back from this year's Sheffield Doc/Fest, highlighting documentaries by women and about amazing women activists and filmmakers from all over the world.

Read Sophie's review and comment.

The photo is a logo of Sheffield Doc/Fest, taken from the festival's official website.

westminster bridge.jpgI've heard a lot over the past week about Cameron's cabinet reshuffle. This time, it's all about the women, I've been told. That's what coverage focuses on, whether it's The Guardian saying it's too late, The Express hoping for new role models for girls or Clegg decrying the Daily Mail's sexist coverage.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that, this time around, there were actually rather a lot of women in the cabinet.

You'd be wrong.

There are now five women cabinet ministers. That's out of 22 in total, which comes to a hearty 23%. I can see how that might look smashing after the previous numbers, when only three out of 24 were women: a mere 13%. When 84% of Conservative MPs are men, this could indeed be a brave new world. In fact, in a rather gasp-worthy turn of events, the percentage of women cabinet ministers actually matches the percentage of MPs who are women.

If you add up the women who didn't quite make the ministerial cut but are going to be permitted to attend cabinet meetings, things get even brighter. There are three more hiding in this section, which veritably balloons the proportion of women cramming into the cabinet-related area to, er, 24%.

OK, so it's progress. An area that was very recently catastrophically bad in terms of representing women is now less so. But let's get some perspective. It can have escaped nobody's notice that women still make up a hefty half of the population. Yet to pay attention to the media hubbub, you'd think that it wasn't just the case that a couple of women were added to the cabinet - by the sounds of it, we've practically taken over.

Here's a fun game (and yes, I'm great at parties). Head over to the BBC's visualisation of the new cabinet line-up. Click the tab that says "Women". Click back to "All". Click back to "Women". Now try to wrap your head around the fact that this is what represents a reshuffle that has been called "female-friendly". And then try not to throw whatever device you're reading this on against the wall.

Why is it that a net gain of two women has generated such focused coverage? It's an improvement, but surely if we're totally honest with ourselves, this is still...kind of outrageous? And having five white women (who as far as I'm aware are also straight, cis and not disabled) in one of the most important groups in the country makes a mockery of representation?

But instead, the messages we're getting are that women have arrived. And that upsets me. Not just because it's so obviously not true, but because all this discussion is a distraction. For meaningful change in parliament, there has to be outrage. People have to be able to look at what's happening and say - no, this is not right, no, I do not want this. Whether that's through tweets to MPs, petitions, protests or a cross scratched with fury on a ballot paper, we need the passion to pursue change.

What happens instead when the discourse changes so that it's in the back of most people's minds that there's been some sort of elemental shift in power towards women in parliament? I, for one, doubt that there will be as many retweets or people ready to march in the streets. I imagine that articles debating the merits of gender quotas will be met with more eye-rolling and page-turning. I can just hear the patronising tone of the next person to tell me we don't need feminism in the UK.

The media coverage of the reshuffle has been sexist; it's been demeaning; it's been childish. But it's also been just about as misrepresentative as the cabinet itself.

There are many deeper questions about this specific reshuffle, as well as some of the concerning records and beliefs of the individual women and men who are now part of it.

But on a very basic level, I think we need to keep saying this:

Five is not enough.

The photo is by Lucy Hill and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. It shows the Houses of Parliament on the bank of the Thames and the start of Westminster Bridge, with dark clouds in the sky.


So many times as an activist I have run into the conflict between pragmatism and idealism. One of the more useful people on the doomed Yes to Fairer Votes campaign for instance was Nigel Farage - a man whom otherwise I find thoroughly despicable. Another example is my work on QUILTBAG+ issues in the workplace. It's easy, when confronted with a corporate environment, to tackle the "low-hanging fruit" of lesbian and gay issues first and save what a friend of mine calls "the gold-plated conversation" for a "later" that somehow never comes.

I've been guilty of this myself. Last year I very nearly stood up in front of an LGB conference to talk about bisexual issues and played the respectability card of "Well, I am the good monogamous kind of bisexual." I was saved from myself at the last minute by another friend.

The urge to simplify issues, as well as to present ourselves in the "best" possible light to the powers that be, is understandable. If said powers can see that we (no matter who that "we" is in any particular context) are not that different, that we too are human and that our issues are reasonably straight-forward and easily solved without a lot of effort on their part, some success can be achieved.

The problem with this approach is that the line between pragmatism (focusing on finding quick and practical solutions to specific issues) and respectability politics (making ourselves look "respectable" in the eyes of those with power, often by disavowing the more marginalised members of our own community) is in places very thin indeed. I have learned over the years that pragmatism which isn't built on a solid foundation of principles and ideals generally yields the wrong solutions and that there is a fine art to practising pragmatism without engaging in respectability politics.

The second(!) step is to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. Not sure if a particular group should be part of your community? Invite them in, open the dialogue and work it out together. One of the tricks I learned from the above conference incident is how to use language to open up spaces even when trying to present a united front to those in power. If your language firmly presents the "respectable" side of your community only, then chances are you are throwing people under the bus and the oppressors will rightly conclude that they have divided and conquered you. If your language, however subtly, leaves an open space for the diversity within your community, then your community will be stronger and you will open minds.

Another step is to realise that while pragmatism demands a certain amount of focus on particular issues, it can never be a question of either/or. When we campaign for better representation of women in leadership positions, we cannot stop campaigning for equal pay and better conditions for the millions of women in low-paid jobs. When we campaign against and provide services for those experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence, we cannot ignore the simple facts that trans women of colour are by far at the greatest risk of such violence, or that in some cases the perpetrators of domestic abuse are women too. When we campaign against trafficking and sexual exploitation, we cannot deny the agency and jeopardise the safety of sex workers who are in the industry voluntarily.

And the very first step when trying to practise pragmatism without the respectability politics? Simple: be an idealist. Take the time to work out what your ideals and principles are, what you are trying to achieve, why and for whom. Talk them through with others in and outside your group, take feedback, listen, rework them if necessary; and when you're happy, write them down and put them up for everyone to see. That way, whenever you have to make a pragmatic choice, you can look at your principles and ideals and ask one simple question: Given those, what is the right thing to do? Once you know that, you'll work out how to do it.

Not doing harm to parts of our community is never a gold-plated conversation. Sometimes we need to make pragmatic choices, to simplify in order to engage, but there is always a way to do that without throwing people under the bus. Our diversity is not a weakness that we must eradicate in order or present a united front - it is a strength that we must build on in everything we do.

The photo is by JerodW and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. It shows two silhouetted hands reaching for each other.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Shiha Kaur // 21 July 2014, 16:30

Tags: weekly round-up and open thread

Bilbao black.jpg

Welcome to this week's round-up and open thread. The following are links that we have found that might interest you. If you have found anything that you think other readers will enjoy, please add links in the comments section below. As usual, please note that a link here doesn't imply endorsement or agreement, and some links might be triggering.

Why women's aid is no safe haven for trans staff(Gay Star News)

Most rapists and murderers aren't ill. Don't call misogynists "mad" (Feminist Times)

Rapists aren't monsters (and that's why they're scary) - on the Cards Against Humanity creator's response to being accused of rape (The World of Lilith T. Bell) There is a statement from the woman alleging rape in the above case.

Why does everyone feel so sorry for men accused of being predators? (The Guardian)

Bounty Mutiny victory for Mumsnet: sales reps should be banned from NHS maternity wards (Telegraph)

10 reasons to fight the 'Assisted Dying' Bill (Disabled People Fight Back)

An Orthodox Brooklyn clothing line shared a photo of a woman in a hijab and their customers flipped out (The Village Voice Blogs)

The attack by self-identified radical feminists on trans people's participation in feminism and the LGBT movement has never been a response to any bad behavior by trans women or trans men. (The Advocate)

Men only?! A couple experience gender discrimination at a Sikh holy site (Kaur Life)

Single mothers 'do just as good a job as couples' (Guardian)

Photo shows a street art stencil of a woman and a priest. They are having a tug of war over a key. The woman has a keyhole in her stomach area. The figures are in black against a white background. Photo taken by Denis Bocquet
on Flikr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

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