Dove "Real Women" ads hit U.S.

by Catherine Redfern // 23 July 2005, 12:07 pm

The Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” adverts, which have been over here since April 2004 and again more recently have started to incite debate in the U.S. Msmusings has a good summary of the reaction.

When the ads were first released, members of London Third Wave Feminists (L3W) chatted about them online. Some of the discussion, containing many differing opinions, was summarised on the L3W website.

Iraqi women’s rights under threat

by Jess McCabe // 21 July 2005, 9:57 pm

Iraqi women could see their rights stripped away from them by their newly democratically elected government, Ms reports.

Plans to revise the Iraqi constitution would see the stipulation that women hold 25% of seats in the national assembly scrapped, and family law – which governs key areas such as marriage, divorce and inheritance – given over to the jurisdiction of religious courts.

The proposals would mean family law cases would be heard by the local religious sect, and would mean those women in communities that were resistant to egalitarian reform were even more vulnerable.

Women would also only have equal rights in so far as this conformed to sharia law.

So-called “family values” have come to be the byword of social conservatives concerned with pulling back free-ranging social change and returning us to a time when women were women and men were men. And they were married to each other.

In fact, this philosophy seems to be receeding in this country, with even the Conservative party stepping back somewhat from its disasterous ‘back to basics’ campaigns of the past. Instead, this Christmas will see the first civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Yesterday, Canada became the latest country to legalise gay marriage.

But in many ways this is still a European phenomenon . In the States, (from this side of the Atlantic) there appears to be a cultural war raging, which the right wing crowd may well be winning. Meanwhile, much of the developing world is struggling to combat poverty and disease in a climate of social conservatism that threatens to restrict access to crucial tools – such as a condoms.

So a book which reveals that the ‘traditional’ nuclear family is a relatively recent development in the history of marriage is still potentially powerful. Alternet has interviewed Stephanie Coontz about her contribution to the debate, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.

She argues that marriage is undergoing, has undergone, a step-change of the magnitude of the industrial revolution, as women and men come to expect more from of their relationships.

The interview ranges from the short history of the love-marriage and how those with strong “family values” are more likely to divorce to how an increasingly egalitarian culture is making marriages that work, work better.

‘Wife fattening farm’ force feeds Mauritanian girls

by Jess McCabe // 20 July 2005, 3:10 pm

Although in the West we are used to one standard of beauty – thin, mostly white – this has not yet spread world-wide. However, as this BBC reports reveals, that does not mean the rest of the world is any more enlightened.

In Mauritania, women have traditionally been seen as more attractive if they were fat, even obese. This is so well-established, that girls as young as seven are still being sent to ‘wife fattening farms’, where they are force fed until they weigh anywhere between 60 and 100 kg.

One woman who runs such a farm told the BBC: “Of course they cry – they scream. We grab them and we force them to eat. If they cry a lot we leave them sometimes for a day or two and then we come back to start again. They get used to it in the end.”

As Western ideas of beauty take hold, this practice has fallen out of favour, so that ‘only’ one in 10 girls are put through this ordeal.

Although some say that this is being replaced by a more “natural” look, one 19 year old man’s comments reveal that this is still defined by men – not be women: “We’re fed up of fat women here. Always fat women! Now we want thin women.”

George Bush has announced that John Roberts is his nomination for Supreme Court Justice, to replace Sandra Day O\x92Connor, who recently announced her retirement.

There has been huge concern among feminists over this nomination (we’ve written about it here and here) \x96 as Dubya himself pointed out, nominating a judge is "one of the most consequential decisions a president takes", as the Supreme Court are the ultimate arbiters of what is legal according to the US Constitution. The American legal system (as far as my sketchy legal knowledge allows me to understand) is based on case law, which means that what is legal in America is basically all about what other judges have decided about its constitutionality (is that a word?) in the past. This is different to the UK where Parliament passes legislation to determine what is and is not legal.

Hence, to take the most obvious example, the right to abortion in the USA was deemed constitutional, and therefore legal, by the Supreme Court in the infamous 1973 Roe vs Wade case.

An appointment to the Supreme Court lasts for life, and Supreme Court justices tend to out-stay individual presidents by some margin (the current membership has been unchanged in 11 years). Depending on retirements and deaths, a president may get to nominate several justices or none at all \x96 it\x92s all about luck of the draw. This is George W. Bush\x92s first nomination \x96 Clinton and Bush Snr both got to nominate two, Regan nominated four (including a Chief Justice), whilst poor old Jimmy Carter didn\x92t get to pick any.

It\x92s well documented that the right to abortion is increasingly under threat in the USA. In 1992, Sandra Day O\x92Connor voted to uphold the right to abortion, a vote which passed the Supreme Court with a margin of two. An anti-abortion replacement for O\x92Connor could, then, be extremely bad news for American women. Several other members of the Supreme Court are old and in ill health, notably Chief Justice William Rehnquist and, if there are other replacements in coming months or years, the face of American law may start to look very different indeed.

But back to John Roberts. Of course, nominating doesn\x92t necessarily mean he\x92s in \x96 Senate have to approve the nomination, and political wrangling will abound. But, if he were to be approved, what of this John Roberts?

Apparently he hasn\x92t left enough of a paper trail to know much about what he thinks. Many were expecting Bush to bow to pressure to appoint a woman, or an ethnic minority which he has not done. Mr Roberts is described as "a conservative but not an outspoken ideologue". On what the Guardian refers to as "the vexed question of abortion" his position is unclear. He has argued an anti-abortion stance in the past but, so he says, merely on the instructions of a client. When quizzed on his opinion, he refers to Roe vs Wade as "the settled law of the land" and said "there\x92s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent".

We\x92ll be watching this space.

It’s not feminism

by Catherine Redfern // 19 July 2005, 10:54 pm

Confusing article in the Guardian today entitled “Women getting rich faster than men“. It claims that “women are becoming increasingly more wealthy than men” and “it is estimated that by 2025, women will own 60% of the nation’s personal wealth”.

I’m not an economist so I’m going to leave aside the validity of those conclusions, which seem to be at odds with what most organisations such as the Fawcett Society and the Women and Equality Unit are saying about women and money.

What will really make feminists cringe about this article was the resort to sweeping sexist generalisations by various businesswomen to explain these developments. Veronica Lim said “men will be money-driven initially. But for most women it is their passion for a challenge which drives them – they are more practical.” Nighat Awan said: “women are natural multi-taskers who are used to hard work.” Jacqueline Gold said that “we are better at doing business than men… we work hard, are not agressive – but level-headed. We listen and take advice.” The article concludes with her explanation that “women are more sensible than men”.

Ugh. It’s infuriating that people feel the need to ascribe certain generic human characteristics to one gender or the other to explain success or failure. In this case, the not so subtle implication is that men as a class are naturally lazy, less sensible, less practical, less driven, less passionate, and just generally not as good as women are.

I’m with Andrea Dworkin (may she rest) who spoke out against this kind of complete drivel in her superb essay Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea.

Islamic feminists key to anti-terrorism

by Catherine Redfern // , 10:18 pm

Further to Louise’s post below about the London bombings, on Friday last week Johann Hari took an interesting perspective on this in The Independent, in a comment piece called “The best way to undermine the jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women“.

In it, he argues that the key to stopping terrorism is to undermine the ideology behind it, and he explains: “one of the central tenets of this ideology is the inherent inferiority and weakness of women.”

He goes on: “The best way to undermine the confidence and beliefs of jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women, their mothers and sisters and daughters. Where Muslim women are free to fight back against jihadists, they are already showing incredible tenacity and intellectual force. … Muslim women are offering the most effective critiques of Islamism.”

“The jihadists themselves know that Islamic feminism is the greatest threat to their future – that’s why, in Iraq, the “resistance” has been systematically hunting down and killing the leaders of Muslim women’s rights organisations. No ideology can survive on terrorising half the population indefinitely. When it comes, the Islamic Reformation will be drenched in oestrogen.”

But, he cautions that the process of undermining an ideology “is a glacially slow, slow fight.” Unfortunately, we feminists can testify to that, being in the Third Wave of feminist activism and still with unfinished business. Nevertheless, if you think about how much dramatic change there has been within living memory due to Western feminism, perhaps there is reason to be hopeful that similar progress can be made in the Islamic world.

Spectre of Renewed Racism?

by Louise Livesey // , 8:27 am

After the London Bombings on 7th July Muslim Women’s groups are concerned about the possible impact on the women they represent. The BNP capitalised on the bombings within days of them happening, using the image of the Tavistock Square bus on a flyer for a local council election in Becontree (see here and here). Nick Griffin of the BNP justified it by claiming it wasn’t about racial hatred but that New Labour had caused the bombings to happen through their foreign policy. Whatever our feelings on involvement in Iraq I doubt anyone can fail to see through Griffin and the BNPs opportunistic rhetoric. Now Muslim women’s groups are saying they are wary of other consequences of the bombings.

Network group Women Living Under Muslim Laws issued a statement, furthering their statement immediately after the bombing which condemned them, stating they are concerned about women bearing the brunt of a backlash in which Muslims are all branded as potential terrorists thus making Muslim women vulnerable to both branding “as part of extremist groups; at the same time, they will remain the target of fundamentalist forces within their own communities”. WLUML go on to say that the potential impact on women’s rights within Muslim communities, especially migrant communities in the UK was already visible. Warnings by community representatives that women wearing headscarves should avoid unnecessary journeys reinforces a paternalistic attitude which will curtail women’s rights within the community. So the souble threat of non-Muslim perception and traditionalist Muslim community attitudes will place the most vulnerable women in an even more tenuous situation. (You can read more the the WLUML statement here)

So surely the questions becomes how can we, as feminists, support other women at risk of a public backlast and a community backlash? A friend of mine told me how they had almost intervened when an American visitor began to berate a muslim they saw on the street for being a terrorist. “I almost went down and told them that the muslim was a doctor whilst he was just an idiot” reported said friend. I think we have to stop almost doing things and start doing them. It is inevitable we will see more racist incidents targetting Muslim and asian populations (particularly with an ex-Metropolitan Police Chief calling for more random stop-and-searches of the asian community) – after all as I remember we had appalling violence against German tourists following the England football defeat in 1996 including one Swiss tourist beaten to death “by mistake”. So lets start standing up to the bullies and the racists and showing we disapprove of their actions as much as we condemn the bombings.

US women skip treatment because of cost

by Jess McCabe // 13 July 2005, 10:21 pm

In the US, 27 per cent of women say they are have skipped doctors visits or delayed treatment, because they are afraid they cannot afford to pay, AJC reports (found via Lilith news round up).

Women are also failing to talk to their doctors about issues such as diet, exercise, HIV/AIDS and sexual history, which could prevent problems later on in life.

Careers advice failing Welsh girls

by Jess McCabe // , 3:40 pm

Girls in Wales are losing out on better-paid careers, because schools are channelling them into jobs traditionally dominated by women, the Equal Opportunities Commission said today.

A BBC report today reveals that Wales is worse than the rest of the UK when it comes to occupational segregation.

Three quarters of Welsh women work in low paid jobs that conform to gender expectations – such as cleaning, caring, catering and admin.

The EOC is calling for all school children to be given the option of work experience in non-traditional jobs for their gender.

Neil Wooding, EOC Commissioner for Wales, said: “Our research shows young people are unable to make genuine career choices and employers are unable to take best advantage of the talent available.”

The Beeb quotes Julia Zeal, a 32 year old Welsh woman who is now retraining as a plumber: “When I left school, going into construction wasn’t an option. I think probably it was something I would have liked to have done. A lot stems from careers teachers, they’re the people who need to get their act together and give better advice about what the options are.”

Woman to command first shuttle launch since Columbia

by Jess McCabe // 12 July 2005, 3:14 pm

The first space shuttle to launch since the Columbia exploded in February 2003 will be commanded by a woman, Women’s E-News reports.

Eileen Collins already has a number of firsts under her belt – she was NASA’s first female pilot in 1995 and its first shuttle commander in 1999.

But the gender gap is closing across NASA – 22% of its executives are women.

This is in stark contrast to its previous record – in 1962, NASA pulled its female astronauts out of the running for space flight, deciding that they could pose a ‘distraction’ to male astronauts and space might ‘drain’ their femininity. This led to the USSR beating the US to put the first woman in space.

In fact, women’s bodies have been found to be better suited to space flight than men.

If the shuttle launch goes off without a hitch, the crew will test new safety equipment, deliver supplies to the International Space Station, take three spacewalks and try twists, flips and flight maneuvers not yet attempted outside Earth’s atmosphere.

Late abortion survey

by Jess McCabe // , 9:07 am

Most women who have abortions between 19 and 24 weeks into pregnancy do so because they only realise they are pregnant late on, Marie Stropes International reveals today.

In a survey of more than 100 women who had undergone terminations close to the legal limit of 24 weeks, most had not realised they were pregnant until just before they sought an abortion.

Only 2% of abortions are carried out after 20 weeks in the UK. Anti-abortion campaigners have called for the legal limit of 24 weeks to be reduced, because medical advances have resulted in some premature babies surviving at 22 or 23 weeks. This was supported by Tory leader Michael Howard.

Some late detections of pregnancy were down to women using the mini-pill.

But some women terminated their pregnancy late after their relationships deteriorated – one woman was beaten with a baseball bat by her partner when he discovered she was pregnant.

Read more here.

Woman refused contraception

by Catherine Redfern // 11 July 2005, 9:53 pm

F Word reader Helen has alerted us to a shocking news item from early July. The BBC reports that in February, a Cardiff couple whose contraception failed went to buy emergency contraception from their local Asda store. The on-duty pharmacist refused to sell it to them, because of “high morals”.

Most women are probably not aware that The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Code of Ethics and Standards states that pharmacists can refuse to sell or dispense drugs because of their religious beliefs or personal convictions. However, they must not condemn or criticise a patient and they must advise a patient of alternative sources for the service. It appears that in some cases, even this is not happening.

The woman obtained emergency contraception from a different pharmacy the following morning, but it failed. She is now pregnant.

This is not even the first time this has happened. In 2004 at an Asda pharmacy in Stockport, a mother of four was denied access to the contraception. She said; "I understand the need for respect for employees and their religion, but when I visit a supposedly reputable store such as Asda, I do not expect to have staff impose their moral ethics on me or the choice of my purchases.”

I’ve read about this happening frequently in the U.S., where women’s right to reproductive choice hangs by a thread, but was blissfully unaware that it happened here too.

Helen writes: “Odd that we never hear of pharmacists inflicting their self-appointed morality on NHS patients by refusing to sell antibiotics for sexually transmitted diseases, or medications derived from embryo research, or the necessary drugs for people who’ve had organ transplants (which some religious denominations object to), or condoms to men. It’s only women’s contraception which is targeted as supposedly unacceptable.”

She continues: “Individual pharmacists are allowed, by the pharmacists self-regulation code, to refuse to dispense pills on the grounds of their personal beliefs but this doesn’t mean that pharmacies with NHS privileges should be allowed to fail to serve all NHS patients (which means all of us all of the time). I believe we should write to our MPs and the relevant government departments insisting that NHS privileges must be removed from any pharmacy which fails to serve all NHS patients with NHS approved pills.”

Abortion Rights is one orgaisation campaigning on a specific area of reproductive choice, but if anyone knows of any organisations campaigning on this issue, please contact us.

Cambridge Shorts

by Jess McCabe // , 3:59 pm

Are you in Cambridge this weekend? If so, you may want to check out Birds Eye View’s series of shorts being screened on Saturday as part of the Cambridge Film Festival.

More info here, but highlights include a samurai short by a British woman, a comedy about a sperm bank and an experimental documentary using a mix of live action footage and animation.

Historical buzz

by Jess McCabe // 10 July 2005, 10:06 pm

Did you know that the small electric motor was invented to power a vibrator? Or that it was the fifth electrical appliance to be sold for use in the home – after the sewing machine but before the electric iron? How about that in 1917, more Americans owned vibrators than toasters?

This article in Slate is packed full of interesting factoids about the history of the vibrator, from its origin as a treatment for ‘hysteria’, to its promotion as a safe-sex aid during the height of panic over HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, in the US. (Found via BoingBoing)

Emergency contraception use remains steady

by Jess McCabe // , 6:15 pm

Surprise surprise – making the morning after pill available over the counter in chemists has not resulted in a surge in unsafe sex, the BBC reports.

Researchers from Imperial College London surveyed women aged

16 to 49, both before and after emergency contraception was made available without a prescription, and found no change in condom use – and no increase in use of the morning after pill.

The number of women who have used emergency contraception has stayed relatively steady at eight per cent. But the way they got the morning after pill did change – a smaller number went to their GP or NHS clinic, and most bought it from their chemist.

Women with the highest incomes were five times more likely than women on low incomes to buy emergency contraception this way, prompting some to suggest that more women would use it if it was cheaper.

At present, over the counter emergency contraception costs £25 – although it can still be accessed more cheaply on prescription from a doctor. But Brook is arguing that it should be made available free of charge, without presciption for all.

Women Have a Lower Pain Threshold Than Men

by Lynne Miles // 5 July 2005, 1:48 pm

BBC News report on clinical testing which has shown women to have a lower pain threshold than men \x96 which leaves me wondering: "So What?"

Physical differences between males and females are really only interesting in terms of the ways in which we react to them. Women may have a lower pain threshold than men, but \x96 outside of the medical sphere \x96 I can\x92t think of many (any?) reasons why this might matter. How many instances can you think of in the modern world where the ability to withstand pain is an important criterion in getting the job done? No, *other* than childbirth.

Other than inform us of interesting snippets of biological fact, the more pernicious effect of articles such as these is to prompt us, subliminally, to take a physical or biological attribute (in this example, pain tolerance) and append a whole lot of non-physical qualities we positively associate with masculinity (power, courage, fortitude) \x96 as if women, through some cruel stroke of biology, can’t have those attributes \x96 or as if they were better attributes to have than those which are traditionally feminine.

That’s the crux of the issue – it’s not that men and women aren’t different at all – it’s that much of the \x91difference\x92 is socialised into us, and that many of the ways in which we are perceived to be different are valued differently according to the gender they \x91belong\x92 to.

US emergency update

by Jess McCabe // 4 July 2005, 4:16 pm

Ms Magazine have come up with a list of five rights Americans could be set to lose, if Bush elects a hard line right winger to the supreme court.

We all knew about abortion, but did you know that gender discrimination law is also at risk? The way Ms. tells it, the law is dealt out ruling by ruling.

US women face "state of emergency"

by Jess McCabe // 2 July 2005, 10:57 am

Women’s rights are facing a “state of emergency” in the US, NOW president Kim Gandy said yesterday.

She was referring to the retirement of supreme court justice Sandra Day O’Conner – the first woman ever to serve on the supreme court and, as a Republican, a surprise supporter of key women’s rights such as abortion.

It is feared that Bush will seize the opportunity of her retirement to appoint a hard liner, who could swing any vote on abortion.

Read the full story here.

Another week, another eviction. Maxwell and Saskia are up, and you just know that Saskia\x92s going to be for the chop. But why is it that when a woman comes up against a man in a Friday night vote, she\x92s virtually guaranteed to lose? BB enthusiasts, in a little corner of internet/reality TV geekdom* have been debating that question today, and have come out with a bunch of fascinating views on how gender politics plays out on the reality TV stage.

There\x92s a lot of debate about whether or not Saskia actually deserves to win \x96 a lot of opinions along the lines of \x91this isn\x92t a boy/girl thing, it\x92s just that Saskia\x92s hateful\x92. But underneath all the \x91SASKIA IS A SLUT! LOL! ANTHONY TO WIN :) :) :)\x92 rubbish there\x92s a string of fascinating debate about why, indeed, we hate Saskia so much.

Suggestions from the board are that women are labelled \x91manipulative\x92 (Saskia) whilst men \x91have a gameplan\x92 (Victor BB5). Or that, in the black and white world of reality TV, a female engaging in sexual activity is a slapper (Saskia), whilst one who doesn\x92t put out is a pricktease (Saskia again, poor love) \x96 but men are quickly forgiven either way.

But even if we are to accept that this particular eviction battle is all about the personalities and nothing about the gender politics, someone else rightly poses the question – why is it that women are virtually guaranteed to lose against men? In six series of BB, and another three of Celebrity BB, where a woman and a man have been pitted against each other in an eviction battle the woman has prevailed on just four occasions.

In response to this question, \x91Glenshane\x92 says it\x92s down to a combination of five factors \x96 i) the type of women the producers pick, ii) the type of women likely to apply, iii) the type of people who cast a vote, iv) that the women in BB are poor game players (is this as a result of i and ii, or just a natural failing of women?!) and, finally, v) that women don\x92t play to win.

It\x92s possible that all five of these explanations contain a grain of truth, but, with the exception of iii), the blame is firmly on either the women as individuals, or the characteristics of women in general. If a certain type of woman tends to apply, doesn\x92t the same type of man apply? So it must be more about the selection process than the applicants otherwise all the men and women would be of this \x91type\x92 and be winning votes 50:50. It seems to me that the producers must wilfully be picking the type of woman that the public don\x92t want to see win. I\x92m sure it makes great telly – I\x92m just not at all sure whether this says more about the producers or the public.

It\x92s a strange combination of the limitations of the range of female characters and the polarised way in which we react to them. There were quirky characters of both sexes this year – Mary the witch was odd and immediately booted out, yet Kemal gets to be flamboyant. Rather than being assertive, Saskia\x92s a bitch – but Maxwell is a chirpy cockney geezer (instead of a borderline racist, gobby hot-head), and Derek gets to be eccentric and entertaining (rather than patronising, snobbish and hypocritical).

Surely, then, the most fascinating thing about the Big Brother house is not personalities of the housemates busy fighting or fucking inside it, but the way in which the outside world responds to them? So I\x92ll be voting Max later, if only to try and redress the balance, but I bet y\x92all that at 10.05 I\x92ll be watching Saskia being booed all the way to the TV studio.

(thanks to Alastair for drawing this to my attention!)

*yes, yes, maybe I\x92m at home there!

Are there any female superheros? Yes!

by Jess McCabe // , 9:41 am

As Batman Begins hits the screens, Tanya Gold (writing for the Guardian), asks where are all the femal superheros?.

On the big screen, she’s right – they’re few and far between, and unconsciounably drippy. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Of course, Buffy is way up there.

But Gold, and anyone else in the mood for superhero(ine) action should also check out Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of superheroines. Of course, just because you’re a female superhero, doesn’t mean you’re an empowered woman. Here are some edited recommendations:

Tank Girl. The movie was so-so, but the comics are brilliant.

The Authority. Jenny Sparks – the spirit of the 20th century.

Promethea

Halo Jones

Skizz

If superheroines are not your thing, then the comic book/graphic novel world features increasing numbers of interesting characters written for and/or by women, such as:

Julie Doucet‘s dark and grimy diary of her time in New York.

and

Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore, a love/friendship story about two high school girls.

GPs voted yesterday against a motion to reduce the time limit for legal abortions in the UK, about which I had a proper rant last week.

77% of delegates at the British Medical Association\x92s Annual Conference voted against the motion, saying that whilst late abortions were distressing they were sometimes necessary in cases where pregnancy was deleted late or there were medical complications.

I don\x92t think I need mention how pleased I am at this outcome. Now all we need to do is secure our right to abortion on demand\x85 who\x92s up for it?!

Colombian women face prison for abortion

by Jess McCabe // 27 June 2005, 10:13 pm

Human Rights Watch have called for the Colombian government to repeal legislation which makes abortion – even in cases of rape – punishable by up to four and a half years in prison.

Recent amendments which allow judges to use their discretion in sentencing women in these cases had a sting in its tail – increasing the maximum punishment from three and a half to four and a half years.

Human Rights Watch says this is unconstitutional and contrary to Colombia’s obligations under international human rights agreements.

MOD forced to take action on sexual harassment

by Jess McCabe // 25 June 2005, 10:50 am

One in five female Navy personnel, one in eight Army personnel and nearly one in 10 RAF personel have been subject to sexual harassment, the Equal Opportunities Commission revealed yesterday.

In response to new evidence of the culture of sexual harassment in the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence has been forced to sign an agreement with the EOC to take action on the issue, in order to fend off massive, unprecedented legal action under the Sex Discrimination Act.

The agreement, signed by Defence Secretary John Reid, sets out a wide-ranging action plan to tackle the problem, including surveys and discussion groups with service men and women, reform of complaints procedures and increased awareness of sexual harassment and how it can damage operational effectiveness.

Dr Reid said: “We take our responsibility to prevent and deal effectively with sexual harassment extremely seriously and this Agreement demonstrates our commitment.

“A great deal of work has been done to get our diversity and equality policies right, but we recognise that sexual harassment stills exists in the Armed Forces and more needs to be done to embed our policies into Service culture at every level.”

Jenny Watson, acting chair of the EOC, said: “By signing this Agreement, the MOD has recognised the need to urgently and systematically tackle sexual harassment in the Armed Forces. We share a common view that nobody should have to suffer harassment \x96 and if they do, they should have the confidence that their complaints will be dealt with efficiently.

“On the basis of complaints received by the EOC, information supplied by the MOD, and the findings of the Armed Forces’ own surveys, there is clear evidence that, despite the efforts that have been made, significant sexual harassment still exists across the Armed Forces. This would justify a Formal Investigation using our legal powers, however, we have chosen to suspend the Investigation as the MOD has convinced us that they are going to take decisive and immediate action to tackle the problem.

“Creating a culture where everybody is treated fairly and decently, and dealing with complaints properly if they arise, is an essential part of building any successful modern organisation. The MOD is no exception. It needs to build a strong and highly-motivated team if it is to fulfil the commitments we ask of it.

“We are confident that their work over the next three years will improve working conditions for thousands of service women. We look forward to working with the MOD to help them bring about real and long-lasting organisational change.”

Teenagers in the United States could soon face a massive hurdle to accessing contraception, as new proposals would see clinics forced to notify their parents at least five days before writing a prescription.

The Feminist Majority Foundation reports that the “Parents Right to Know” Bill was put before both the Senate and the House of Representatives last Tuesday.

Although parents would not have the right to prevent a clinic writing a contraception prescription, this would in practice surely put teenage girls off trying to get the pill in the first place, leading to an explosion in unprotected sex.

This new attack on contraceptive rights comes only weeks after petitions to make the “morning after” pill available over the counter, as it is in the UK, received a contraversial blow when it was revealed that a vote by the US Food and Drugs Administration may have been swung by an evangelical doctor who “prescribes prayer for PMS”.

The doctor, David Hager, allegedly sexually abused his ex-wife repeatedly during the course of their marriage.

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