New member states lag behind on gender equality

by Jess McCabe // 5 May 2005, 10:10 am

The new EU member states are lagging behind the rest of Europe on gender equality, a report from Open Society Institute has revealed.

EUobserver.com reports that Bulgaria, Estonia and Slovakia performed the worst, with a 25-30% pay gap between men and women.

Zita Gurmai, a Hungarian vice-chair of the Parliament\x92s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, said: “These findings show us that we need to drastically increase our efforts to get legally binding EU instruments addressing gender equality in decision-making”.

Rapist proposes marriage

by Jess McCabe // , 9:36 am

A woman in India has rejected a courtroom plea from her rapist to marry him, the BBC reports today.

Unbelievably, the judge halted sentencing proceedings at the last minute, to allow the man, who had already been found guilty of raping and seriously injuring the 22 year-old nurse, to propose. She sustained a gouged eye and facial scarring during the attack.

The nurse rejected the proposition out of hand: “I will not marry him. It is horrible, audacious… he should be given the severest punishment.

“He should be hanged so that such a horrendous act is not repeated with any other girl.”

Women’s rights campaigners in India have said that the case may set a dangerous precident, with other rapists seeking to evade tough sentences by seeking marriage with their victims. Rape victims are highly stigmatised in India.

Need More Reasons?

by Catherine Redfern // 4 May 2005, 9:33 pm

Need even more inspiration to vote? Check out the women who fought for your right to do so, and the ones still fighting today.

Yeah, we know the system’s not perfect, but at least take some comfort from the fact that we can.

If you’re convinced the system is wrong and have consciously opted out from voting (or even if you are going to vote), then at the very least do something today to help change things. Show your support for the campaign to lower the voting age to 16, or sign the petition at the Electoral Reform Society‘s campaign, “Make My Vote Count“.

Vote!

by Jess McCabe // , 8:15 pm

Only people who have spent the last month on a space station can not know this, but tomorrow is the election.

Anyone who hasn’t made up their mind yet (just taking a minute here to beg you not to vote Tory), here are some nifty tools to help you make the most out of your vote:

How gay-friendly is your MP?

How the parties compare on women’s rights

Don’t know who to vote for, but know you don’t want to vote Tory?

And of course, Why you should vote

Masturbation, sex-ed and US development policy

by Jess McCabe // , 12:04 pm

Betty Dodson, masturbation activist and author of Sex for One is interviewed in AlterNet today.

It’s a really interesting, but short interview, in which talks she about feminism steeling her thunder in bringing back vibrators and the perils of modern day censorship and family values in America.

On the current trend towards abstinance-only sex-ed, she says: “Very few women know anything anyway, but now they are really going to know nothing. It’s a big fat zero. And we are going to have a lot of unplanned pregnancies. I grew up in Kansas. A lot of girls ended up getting married in high school. I think we might see that again.

“The idea that talking to young people about birth control will encourage partner sex is ridiculous. What would help is a discussion of masturbation.”

More seriously, the Guardian today reports that Brazil has refused US funding on HIV/AIDS, because of the restrictive terms that come attached on abortion, prostitution and contraception. Good on Brazil for standing up to the US on this issue, but what a tragedy for the people of Brazil who are loosing out on much needed aid.

Nine year maternity pay battle victory

by Jess McCabe // , 9:19 am

A woman won her nine year battle for fair maternity pay yesterday. Woolwich Building Society, now part of Barclays, had calculated her maternity pay too low, basing it on her income before a pay rise.

She finally received the £270 odd that she was owed, a symbolic victory, but one which could benefit thousands of other women. The case also means that it will be easier for women to claim sexual discrimination in maternity pay cases. In the past, such attempts had been scuppered by the need to find a male worker to compare pay.

This is good news, but how can it possibly have taken nine years to resolve?

The Guardian has the full story.

Hot Child in the City

by Catherine Redfern // 3 May 2005, 9:17 pm

Over the weekend The Observer ran a story about a trend for girls as young as 5 being taken by their mothers to salons and spas for facial treatments, manicures, pedicures and makeovers. All together now: BLECCH!

Apparently, “eyebrow shaping is particularly popular with 13 year olds”. Remind you of anyone?

This is just the latest in a string of “girls growing up too soon” stories. A couple of years ago, Bhs and Argos came under fire for selling padded bras and thongs to pre teens (Bhs’s line was called “Little Miss Naughty”).

This brings to mind something Naomi Wolf wrote in The Beauty Myth: “For a contemporary seven year old, to climb onto the [bathroom] scale and to exclaim with horror is as much a ritual of femininity… as my generation’s posing provacatively in high heels in front of mirrors.”

Depressing, isn’t it? I tried to find something positive to link to, but I couldn’t. I just hope there are some organisations out there working to counter all of this.

By the way, if you haven’t read The Beauty Myth yet, you really must. Even Johnny Vegas is a fan. (It’s true! I read it in the Radio Times once. I know that’s not the greatest endorsement in the world, but still…)

Equality under attack in Japan

by Jess McCabe // , 10:48 am

Women’s E-News reports that Japan is set to pass a constitutional amendment that will emphasise family values and undermine strides towards gender equality in government and business.

The story is a bit light on the details of the amendment, but quotes Hisako Motoyama, who is campaigning to stop it going ahead, as saying:

“The government is borrowing family values–which attack women–from the U.S. It’s the same thing, but the only difference is that we don’t use religious language, we use nationalistic language.

“This is an attack on women’s constitutional rights. They want to change the fundamental principles of the constitution..

“There is a backlash against feminism, and the ruling party is campaigning against gender and sex education. They are saying feminism is breaking down our social foundation. They are against gender equality.”

Trainee detectives put in charge of rape cases

by Jess McCabe // 1 May 2005, 8:58 am

Trainee detectives without enough experience for the job are being put in charge of investigating rape cases in London because of a lack of resources, The Observer reports today.

Could this be one of the reasons that rape convictions have hit an all time low? According to the Home Office, only 5.6% of recorded cases of rape end in conviction.

The rules state that only experienced detectives are allowed to serve in the Metropolitan police’s well-regarded Sapphire units, which deal with cases like rape, prostitution and trafficking. However, the Observer quotes one detective “Bob”:

“His first eight-month placement was on one of the busiest inner-city Sapphire units where, within two months, he had to take sole responsibility for highly complex rape investigations.

‘I simply didn’t have the experience and desperately wanted … to get it in a less stressful department before being put in a position of such responsibility,’ he said.”

A longer article in today’s Observer reveals that reforms in the Metropolitan police have not gone far enough, while moving through the criminal justice system remains a traumatic experience for victims.

Myths prevail, such as the majority of rape allegations are false. Only 3% of rape allegations are malicious or false, according to figures quoted in the Observer.

Poor women in the US denied abortions, even after rape, incest

by Jess McCabe // 29 April 2005, 12:33 pm

Poor American women who become pregnant after rape or incest are being denied access to abortion, according to Stephanie Poggi from the Centre for American Progress.

On AlterNet today, Poggi reports that legal protections that should allow women on Medicaid access to abortion in these circumstances are routinely flouted.

She says: “At least 9,100 abortions each year are attributed to pregnancies that occur because of forced sexual intercourse, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Yet, the vast majority of states that only cover abortion under the narrow exceptions report zero payments in any given year. In fiscal year 2001, the most recent year for which we have statistics, the number of abortions paid for by both federal and state Medicaid under the narrow exceptions totaled 81. This figure includes payments in cases of rape/incest, as well as in cases of life endangerment.”

Women fight it out to be Chile’s president

by Jess McCabe // , 12:03 pm

Two Chilian politicians are fighting it out for a chance to become the country’s first ever female president.

Michelle Bachelet and Soledad Alvear are only competing to be the presidential candidate for Chile’s centre-left coalition, but it is widely predicted that whichever woman comes out on top will win the presidency. The conservative opposition candidate is a man, and the party has lost the last three elections.

Women speak out about their abortions

by Jess McCabe // 28 April 2005, 11:15 pm

It’s often said that abortion is not given much in the way of airtime. And certainly not in a way that portrays the complex reasons behind women’s choice to have an abortion.

So, following on from I’m not sorry, the American internet phenomenum that gave women a chance to express the fact that, you guessed it, they’re not sorry they had an abortion, comes a new documentary film.

The Abortion Diaries has a similar premise (via SFist).

On the website, director Penny Lane explains:

“i had an abortion a few years ago. it was really, really hard. i made the right choice, and i am not at all apologetic about it. but the silence almost killed me. when i finally started to tell people what i was going though, something happened. it turned out that there were all these women around me who had had abortions too. all of our experiences were different, but none of our lives were ruined, none of us regretted it, and all of us had somehow made sense of it all.”

Daisy, Daisy ….

by Lynne Miles // , 11:08 am

The Guardian today reports concerns from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the newest sexual fad amongst schoolchildren is daisy chaining – the practice of group sex (in a circle, or so the rather romantic name for this decidedly non-romantic practice would have it).

Apparently London teenagers are increasingly notching up a number of sexual partners of an evening even before their parents get home from work.

Now the more mischievous part of me is looking back on my schooldays and wondering whether daisychaining went on back then and I just wasn’t invited. But there is a more serious note, the RCN have expressed concerns that young girls are being persuaded, pressured or even forced into group sex situations as teenage boys emulate the wilder and better publicised night time activities of professional footballers (for a remarkably awful article about that, see here).

In addition to this, there are concerns that the children in question are not adequately protecting themselves from disease and pregnancy – the RCN cites the case of one 14-year old boy who has contracted HIV through sexual activity, believing he was not at risk of catching the virus.

It’s not that young women are incapable of making adult decisions about being sexually active alone, with a partner, or with a group of people. But the mainstreaming of porn in popular culture, amongst other factors, is pressuring young women into behaving in ways they might not otherwise choose to do and blurring the boundaries around consent.

Half of voters will not have the option of voting for a woman

by Jess McCabe // 27 April 2005, 11:28 am

Just under half of voters in next weeks general election will be denied the opportunity to vote for a woman, the Fawcett Society said today.

None of the parties are doing that well, then, but Labour seems to do the best:

Conservatives – only 12% of its candidates in its most winnable seats are women

Lib Dems – only 34% of its candidates in winnable seats are women

Labour – 64% of candidates in winnable seats are women

This means that if no seats changed hands, there would still be 19 more female Labour MPs, while the Lib Dems and the Tories would have less women in the House of Commons. This is down to Labour’s use of all-women shortlists.

Dr Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society, said in a press release: “Increasing the proportion of women in parliament should not depend, as it currently does, on the electoral fortunes of one party It is the responsibility of all parties to play a part.”

A new shelter is being set up for elderly survivors of the sex trade in Mexico City, the Guardian reports today.

The site of the shelter is a grand, abandoned sports museums, which the local authorities are providing rent free. It’s being developed by a coalition of NGOs and local feminists, who have taken on the project as a personal cause.

Jo Tuckman interviewed some of the 120 elderly women who work the district, including Marilú Torres.

‘”This year is my golden anniversary as a sex worker,” laughed Marilú, who became a prostitute as a young widow with no other means of feeding her three children. “I’m not complaining, I’ve learned a lot about life in this job. But the old bones are turning to dust like the mummies, and it would be nice to be able to stop soon.”‘

Embroideries

by Jess McCabe // 26 April 2005, 11:39 pm

Nerve is running a really interesting interview with Iranian comic book artist/writer Marjane Satrapi, about her latest comic Embroideries.

The comic documents Satrapi and her female friends and relatives talking (mostly about sex) over tea one afternoon. From her comments in the interview and the snippets of the comic, it seems like she is working to counter-act the view of women in Iran as purely victims, showing them forging their own alternative space.

Despire the well known oppression of women in Iran, things are changing, she says. From the Thousand and One Nights (“it’s full of sex”) to the Shi’a (a form of temporary marriage), she portrays a far more progressive side of Iranian culture than we have got used to hearing about.

She also has some words of wisdom about the Western world’s contradictory attitude to sex and old age, as well as nudity, which she says women use as a way of “veiling who they are”.

Robert Downey Junior "compliments" Lorraine Kelly

by Louise Livesey // , 6:58 pm

Viewers of morning TV were apparently concerned by Robert Downey Junior’s “compliment” to presenter Lorraine Kelly on This Morning. Downey, in response to Kelly saying how well he looked, passed remark on Kelly’s “tits”. The outrage, obviously, is that he used the word “tits” at breakfast time rather than the perversity that he felt it OK to issue such a statement at any time.

Kelly has been praised for her handling of the situation in which, despite embarrassment, she thanked him for the compliment.

Maybe next time that twerp on the tube embarrasses us into silence we should rebuke him just in case he becomes another work famous Hollywood actor!

Be heard

by Jess McCabe // , 6:09 pm

Women in London have set up a sister site to provide a forum for women to express their views on political issues ahead of the general election.

The website, Women and e-democracy is pretty sparse, but includes an online survey.

Hopefully they will use the results to encourage politicians to think more about issues that affect and interest women.

Women to play golf alongside men

by Jess McCabe // , 2:41 pm

Women may compete alongside men for the first time at a prestigious golf tournament, the Open at St Andrews.

The tournament\x92s organisers have said that American teenager Michelle Wie willbe allowed to play if she qualifies this year.

Maybe this is just the first step towards women competing directly against men in sport, something that might well be what\x92s needed to end the ghettoisation of women\x92s sport.

Tick, Tock

by Catherine Redfern // 25 April 2005, 10:25 pm

So, the best age for women to start a family is apparently 34. You have to take all these soundbite generalisations with a pinch of salt of course, but at least it’s more refreshing than those doom laden, backlash inspired, panic inducing “oh-my-god I was so selfish in having an education and a career that I forgot that my only purpose in life is to breed” stories we’ve been hearing for the last, ooh… ten years?

“The social and economic benefits of delaying parenthood more than compensate for the ageing reproductive system,” said Prof Mirowsky, who led the research. You’d have thought it was obvious, really.

But what about men, I hear you cry? Well, men’s fertility starts to deteriorate at around age 35, apparently. No cause for panic, obviously, but isn’t it interesting how closely those ages match? Please let this be the end of biological clock scaremongering aimed solely at women.

But seriously, when is the best time to have a child? Whenever you choose to, if at all. Which brings me on to another recent story: a 20 year old Scottish woman, who had an abortion when she was 16, is suing a hospital trust because the procedure failed, leaving her with one child to care for but also to financially support. She had decided almost immediately not to go through with the pregnancy, and the abortion took place at 6 weeks. Incidentally, at this stage, the embryo/foetus is the size of a baked bean. Just thought I’d mention it.

Do it yourself teenage sex offending

by Barbara Felix // , 5:49 pm

Alistair Gillespie, of the governments net task force, is calling for a re-think on how we deal with underage sex offenders after the case was dropped against a teenage girl who had taken topless photos of her friends and posted them on the internet. As the law currently stand, had she been found guilty, she would have been put on the sex offenders register and possibly received a jail sentence.

Whilst this story explored the legal rammifications, it neatly sidestepped the social ones. This story reminds me of another story I read, a year or so back, about page 3 birthday girls in The Express. Since these girls were appearing topless in the newspaper on their sixteenth birthdays, surely this meant that the photo’s had been taken when they were fifteen or younger? the implication being that either the paper was breaking the law by printing the pix, or it was lying to it’s readers. I was more interested in why the girls involved in the above case had stuck their pix up on the net. Was it naivete? or was it a bid to advertise themselves?

Hidden army of girls uncovered

by Jess McCabe // , 10:23 am

Girls around the world are being abducted and forced to work in the army, as soldiers, porters, cooks and cleaners, according to a report by Save the Children. Most of them are also forced to serve as sex slaves or ‘wives’.

According to the report, 6,500 girls serve in Uganda’s rebel Lord Resistance Army. That’s 33% of the total army.

In the Democractic Republic of Congo, an estimated 12,000 girls are still associated with the armed forces

And in Tsunami torn Sri Lanka, 21,500 girls are considered to be associated with armed conflict (43% of all the children fighting).

Mike Aaronson, Director General for Save the Children said: “When people picture conflict they think of men in bloody combat, but it\x92s horrifyingly girls who are the hidden face of war. This report reveals a shocking and inhumane life for thousands of girls around the world who are failed by the international community.But our purpose is to do more than shock. We aim to change the system and ensure there is proper funding to help these girls so they can – with dignity – regain some sense of normal life. This appalling abuse of girl’s rights demands urgent action. Its time to stop the war on children.”

London women win recognition

by Jess McCabe // 24 April 2005, 8:41 pm

Southwark Council are giving the public a chance to vote for who should be the recipients (both people and places) of the next round of blue plaques, commemorating the history of the area.

There a couple of interesting ones, including the Cross Bones Graveyard where it is thought that Winchester Geese (prostitutes) were buried in medieval times.

You can also vote for Octavia Hill, the woman who founded the National Trust in 1895. Before that she worked at the Ladies’ Guild, a co-operative association, and was involved in giving classes to women at the Working Men’s College. She was also heavily involved in efforts to house poor people in the local area.

Other people up for recognition include the woman behind the A-Z and Connie Smith (an American music hall performer and one of Britain’s most famous black actresses). There’s even a chance to vote for yet more plaques to William Blake, the truly brilliant and visionary poet given to revolutionary verse and visions. He was a very early exponent of free love.

Fairytales are bad for you, it’s (kind of) official

by Jess McCabe // 23 April 2005, 12:26 pm

An American psychotherapist is to present a paper next month that suggests reading too many fairytales featuring submissive role models is bad for girls.

As reported in the Guardian, Susan Darker-Smith found that women who were stuck in abusive relationships identified more than other women with the female characters in Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, who rely on men to come and save them.

These fairytales also push the message that women can transform their ‘prince’.

Darker-Smith based her theory on interviews with women in abusive relationships and a control group of those that were not.

Whether or not it’s overplaying it to say that fairytales open up girls for abuse later in life, there’s surely an argument for more of the Buffy, less of the Rapunzel. Darker-Smith suggests reading Pocahontas and Paddington Bear to girls instead. I say this is all very well and good, but maybe the same rule should be applied to boys.

If girls can be influenced not to put up with abuse through fiction, maybe boys can be influenced not to be abusive, or at least not to see women as pathetic, weak figures in continual need of rescuing.

(UPDATE: It should be added, of course, that fairytales have been a favourite subject of feminists for quite some time. Here is an interesting discussion thread on the subject, which would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to find out more.)

Selfridges Boob?

by Catherine Redfern // , 11:57 am

The window displays at Selfridges, Oxford Street, London are “legendary” and “groundbreaking”; they also seem to have somewhat of an obsession with stripping and sex work. A few years ago, in collaboration with Stringfellows, the windows contained live pole dancers; later, supermodel Elle Macpherson stripped off in the window. This time they’ve gone for the neon variety of pole dancer, as part of the Vegas Supernova themed shopping experience.

The window display, celebrating “Sin City”, has been produced by celebrity photographer David LaChapelle, and features the aforementioned neon moving pole dancers, a neon stripper, and even more perturbingly, a window full of around 8 disembodied giant, pink inflatable boobs which inflate and deflate at regular intervals. These sit next to windows containing neon dollar signs, inflatable hot dogs and burgers, and flashing XXX signs.

The Evening Standard explains that “the Vegas showgirl look is enjoying something of a fashion moment this season … at Versace, skintight cocktail dresses and high showgirl hair looked like a deluxe take on hooker chic.”

Hm… so, what to conclude from all this? Could the inflatable boob window display be a satirical comment on the fake, superficial, plastic surgery culture? Why not check out some of the images on LaChapelle’s website, and draw your own conclusions about his attitude towards  women. (Fans of Moby may be advised to brace yourselves before doing this. Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

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