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Feminist Times: Ten things I hate about feminism

Hate is a strong word, which is why we thought you’d read it! Don’t get me wrong – I love feminism – but there’s been plenty of frustration and confusion in my time as Editor of Feminist Times. So in my final word on Fem T I thought I’d break my own rule and start taking some sides.

1) Pluralism is the most radical option in feminism.
I went to a convent where the one lesson we had on abortion was conducted by a nun, in a chapel, with a projector flashing images of dead foutuses onto the alter. The Catholic church is known for being balanced like that. Since then I’ve been pro-choice and suspicious of people who are very sure they are completely right.

I wanted Feminist Times to not be sure, but to definitely be nice. Instead of telling people what to think we should be presenting lots of contrasting ideas for everyone to make their own mind up. From the off we were being asked to take a side. How can you use the word “cis”? Why did you allow sex work to be in inverted commas? She said we shouldn’t wear high heels! Shut her up!

We had lots of high profile feminists refuse to take part in real life discussions with their online nemeses. A movement like this isn’t moving. It’s entrenched. Stuck, like that song, with clowns and jokers, etc. Being prepared to have offline conversations with anybody, particularly those who disagree with us, might be the most progressive thing we could all do. Some of our best writers have been people I’ve approached because they criticised us, savagely, online. Every one of them was lovely in person.

2) Feminism is being co-opted and by 2016 it will be dead again.
In 2009 I launched a feminist act called Gaggle, a weird punk choir. We were often ridiculed for being out and proud feminist. It was just five years ago and yet you couldn’t find a columnist who would admit they were a feminist, hence the website the F-word – it was taboo. You could tie several cats together, swing them and not hit a single feminist.

Now you can’t. Feminist columns, T-shirts and events clog up the zeitgeist. Every night there’s another panel discussion about Women in Music, so much so that I can’t remember what it was like before this 4th wave? Something about cupcakes and burlesque, I think.

Anyway, feminism is so popular right now that it’s one of the biggest buzz words in marketing for 2015, hence why Pantene is selling us feminist shampoo and Special K’s gone all “Dove” with it’s cornflakes. Unfortunately everything in fashion will go out of fashion. Like Skip Its, environmentalism and hipster beards, if feminism is dead again by 2016 what do we want to have achieved during this brief spell in the limelight?

3) The transgender tipping point is good for women.
It could be the single most important ally in killing gender bias – not because it says anyone can be a woman, but because it forces us to ask what the fuck are women and men anyway?

GenderWeek is perhaps the part of my journey in Feminist Times I am most proud of. It is a direct result of my disgust at the levels of hatred towards transgender women and also my sympathy for the old guard who are naturally suspicious and scared. We tried to build a bridge between two hurt parties, but who were we to think we could do that?! And so, six months after I asked for a membership level to be named after her, Roseanne Barr was hurling abuse at us!

4) Trolling is the worst kind of activism.
Being keen on pluralism I’m sure you can figure out why I’m not into the polarisation of Twitter. A lot of precious time and ideas are swallowed up by those timelines which are forgotten in minutes. If you troll as a form of activism…. yeah, good luck with that.

5) The idea of “choice”.
Lynne Segal said all this a lot better for us in Gender Week, but hardly anyone read it. So, in a nutshell – we are not completely autonomous consciousnesses outside of culture and all its perversions.

Our choices are not purely determined by free will but are in many ways pre-determined by our culture. I “choose” to wear heels is like saying I “choose” to drink a flat white. Before 2012 no one knew you could mix coffee and milk in such a new fabulous way and so this is where I find myself with Larry David when it comes to “choice”: you can’t choose what isn’t there, and very often a new choice is an old one rehashed.

7) Where is the revolution?
Why are we so polite when we are trying to insist that some people give up their grip on power and share. Russell Brand wants us to have a humorous revolution, Uncut continues to march with masks on, the Keiser Report calls for hanging – what does a feminist revolution look like?

I’m longing for a feminist revolution, where culture catches up with the law in places like the UK and where the law catches up with basic humanity in other parts. A world with a socio-economic F-plan.

We’ve been trying to get an economist to write a feminist economic blueprint for the future but no luck. Without it though, any feminist movement will have limited effect, capitalism is part of the problem.

8 ) Never use the word austerity.
Like the F-Plan, I’ve been trying to commission a piece about finding an alternative for the word “austerity”, but we still haven’t published it.

“Austerity” can too easily conjure, mistakenly, nostalgic images of blitz spirit, 1950s home economics, virtuousness, instead of the economic political ideology and the pain it leaves in its wake. The word “austerity” can appear innocuous, but like all words it has power, it can put a spell on you. We need a new word. Until then it’s like calling a 13-year-old girl who is forced into marriage a “wife”; she’s not a wife, she’s a slave.

9) I’ve put on two stone in this job.
Feminist Times has been an all encompassing venture. I had to start putting in every therapist’s favourite, “boundaries”, from week one: Don’t always be on Twitter, don’t take things personally, don’t email at night or weekends, don’t work in someone’s house, don’t eat two lunches. You don’t think the pressure’s getting to you, then suddenly you’re buying size 24 knickers! Tomorrow I’ll be eating my own words and taking up running.

10) The rest will be one for the memoirs.
Thanks to everyone at Feminist Times and everyone who read Feminist Times.  It’s been thrilling, challenging and an experience of a lifetime. <3

Deborah is a writer, producer, editor and tunesmith. She founded and directs all-girl radical choir @Gaggle, writes occasionally for the Guardian and can be heard making very authored reports for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Founding Deputy Editor of Feminist Times, Deborah became Editor in December 2013 and leaves Feminist Times today for new projects. Follow her @deb_rahcoughlin

Photo: Taken by Jim Eyre. Lucie Evans, Gaggle.

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“The left has a tendency to eat itself. The anti-capitalist left, the feminist left”

The new Foyles cafe is like a model of the neo-liberal marketplace. Nothing is as nice as it used to be in the old shabby one; the menu is misleading – the ‘East End Salt Beef’ is plasticised pap with no sinews; and yet there is light and air and decent coffee.

I first met Laurie Penny in the old one, back in 2009, when she was working on a piece on trans issues, and soon afterwards, by her request, I adopted her and became her Fairy Godmother. In so many ways. We are dedicating-books-to-each-other close friends, in spite of the gap in our ages, and this interview makes no pretense otherise. We’re here to talk about her new book, Unspeakable Things.

I asked her why she felt she needed an Evil Aunt.

LP: Everyone needs an evil Auntie, just most people are not lucky enough to have one. Actually that’s an interesting question – you’re probably my most important female mentor. There’s a serious lack of mentors for writers my age, especially female ones. I used to find it hard to have personal and professional relationships with women of other generations. There’s massive hostility there.

RK: That’s weird because it used not to be the case. When I think back to my late 20s and early thirties, I had a wodge of them, Lorna Sage for example.

LP: The difference is that you’re not just a mentor, you’re socially a peer.

RK: That’s because one of the good things about your generation is that you don’t defer. It used to be taken for granted that you did. And the plus point with your generation is that you don’t defer and the minus is that people who had to, back in the day, and now expect their turn resent that.

LP: Absolutely. And there’s even more stock set right now on being young, on being a bright young thing. And so there’s more suspicion. One of the things I say in the book is that being a woman is seen like being your job. It’s the job that everyone has signed up for, anyone who is in any way female and every other woman is your competitor. And if being a woman is our job, we need to unionise.

RK: It’s unpaid work, as being a woman always was.

LP: In the movie All About Eve the central character, Margot Channing, the one played by Bette Davis, says: “That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it.” I thought that was so sad and so profound.

RK: Except your generation, you’re not just supposed to work at it, you’re supposed to work at monetising it.

LP: It’s more like a profession, and that’s what I mean in talking about neoliberalism in general.

RK: It’s a portfolio femininity. You’re supposed to be a walking CV.

LP: Back when I was young, very young, feminism was a lifestyle choice – it was all sort of sassy. It was a matter of “can you be a feminist and wear a white wedding dress or high heels?” And you still get those articles. It was all about identity rather than action. Politics didn’t come into it, and feminism was massively depoliticised and also massively dequeered. And that’s something that’s now reversed itself. A new generation of LGBT and genderqueer activists are making their voices heard. In the 90s, feminism seemed only to talk about straight women; if there was any sense of queer, it was just lesbian women, and it wasn’t an inclusive sense that we all live under heteropatriarchy. It was a politics of lesbian women, if at all, that was oriented around political lesbianism and that whole package. So it wasn’t about queer at all. That’s why it’s so great for my politics to know you and people like you. Because I could read it in books but I wouldn’t get the ‘History as gossip’ version.

RK: History as gossip is important because it means you know where the bodies were buried.

LP: There’s that wonderful article about Shulamith Firestone by Susan Faludi, because it’s not dry, it tells you about the personalities involved and the interactions, and what really broke Shulamith was disillusion with that movement and the way she was rejected.

RK: It’s really important to recognise that history, because trashing was what nearly destroyed second wave feminism, or at least seriously crippled it, in the 70s.

LP: Feminists started talking mainly to each other and it’s partly the trashing and partly the way it gets to be about the Perfect Line. And obviously I care about what feminists think of my book, but I am more interested in what fifteen year olds who are reading it in their bedroom think. It’s not about convincing people who are already my comrades that my politics are pure and perfect. That’s the scary thing about writing a book instead of a blog post – you can’t go back and change it.

RK: But there is no pure line, there’s never been a pure line, the pure line is a delusion.

LP: A lot of what’s important in seventies feminism is the stuff it got wrong. There’s the chapter about race in Dialectic of Sex in which Firestone talks as if she has never met anyone who wasn’t white. Yet if you write off the whole book on the basis of that, you’d have lost a lot of important thought. So it’s important to read it alongside feminists of colour writing at the same time, like Angela Davis and Alice Walker.

RK: You’ve learned a lot from feminists of colour. It took a lot of us ages to do that. Intersectionality, for example, as a clear concept and set of ideas.

LP: Intersectionality does crop up in the book. I do use the I word, not a lot. I ration all the other words – neo-liberalism, capitalism – that smack even a tiny bit of jargon. I went through the manuscript with the search function and wherever possible I changed them, rephrased the sentence, cut them down. So it said the same thing without using the words. There are a lot of schoolkids of every gender whose lives would be so much better if [Judith Butler’s] Gender Trouble had been written in a comprehensible manner, in a language that was exciting and accessible to people not already versed in the language of theory.

RK: The version of Gender Trouble explained in Lolcats is a great contribution to the welfare of humanity. Unspeakable Things works very hard at accessibility, at making the language new.

LP: That’s part of the reason it has so much memoir in there. It was difficult to strike a balance between that and polemic – because you have to have the personal gossip that moves polemic along, and there’s a lot of stuff that is straight up polemic. And the memoir bits explain where my politics come from and how they developed. If I were going to write straight memoir – but I’m 27 and far too young to write memoirs – here I barely talk about my family at all – and there are very good reasons for that – and I don’t talk about Oxford at all. University was my least political time, because I went there very young – I was just 17 and just out of hospital. I spent a couple of years just getting myself well and doing a lot of theatre and drinking gin and being a reprobate and scraping through my exams. It was a couple of years off serious politics. I needed to use the time for other things – self-care is radical. People go on at me about Oxford – and sure it’s important to acknowledge privilege.

RK: True, but in this country, privilege is as complex as class. And the language we use has to reflect that.

LP: There’s a failure to understand that privilege is not the same as power. There’s a lot of that in the chapter about boys, about their rage because they were promised things, they were raised to be able to live in a world which does not exist — never existed actually — less so now. There’s that very painful conflict between the stories they grew up with, in stories and films, in home and school, that they would grow up to be these powerful macho guys and their growing awareness, especially if they are moving in social justice circles, that that’s not an ethical way to be, it’s not a way to live your life. James Bond films are cool, but everyone knows now that James Bond is a total prick. You can’t now watch Connery’s Bond from a position of unwatching Craig. We have all these old ideas of what a masculine hero is meant to be and there isn’t much to replace it.

RK: Is it also because of the massive disillusion – and I feel this from the specific viewpoint of someone in their 60s – with the radical heroes of my generation and what became of them?

LP: It’s almost the opposite really. We had to get older and read a bit more before we understood what they used to be. Remember, I was only ten when Labour came to power. I remember kids in the playground talking about it and going “Labour! My mum and dad are voting Labour” And they were going “TONY BLAIR!” I was a Thatcher baby, but my sisters are both Major babies. Kids born when Labour came to power will be turning 18 this summer. I only started reading political papers at 13, and 9/11 was the first major event that registered with me. That was the thing for us.

RK: With me it was the Cuban missile crisis

LP: When you talk about political generations, it’s particular moments rather than purely chronological. Millennials have no idea of the Berlin Wall but are very clear about 9/11. The next generation won’t remember it.

I asked Laurie why she identifies as a geek.

LP: I’ve always been a geek. Stories have always fascinated me – the more engaged I’ve got with writing, the more I have realised that politics is a story we tell ourselves about what life is about, what identity is about, and the more you can change the story the more you can change the future. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of the single story – I’ve been reading her novels – and the danger of the single story. There’s a problem with the stories women have been allowed to tell themselves about themselves. And the reason I am so fascinated by geek feminism is that it interrogates narrative, the stories we are allowed to tell ourselves about identity and sexuality and gender and agency.

RK: Women’s stories have constantly to be fought for – did you see that article the other day about the Trinity version of the strong woman, the woman who is characterized as strong but does not actually do anything?

LP: All you have to do to be a Strong Woman is turn up wearing combat boots and fall for the hero. Surely we can do better than that in 2014. She can have amazing attributes but she never gets to kill the dragon. She is always a character in someone else’s story, the amazing woman who whisks the hero off to a fantasyland like Trinity in the Matrix. Women are encouraged to see themselves as characters in stories that happen to other people rather than the heroes of their own story. And in Doctor Who, maybe not River Song or Martha or Donna, but most of the other recent companions – they’re Manic Pixy Dream Girls. Amy Pond is definitively a Manic Pixy Dream Girl and so is the new one, Clara. They have quirks and eccentricities but what are they actually like? And if anyone uses the words sassy or spunky – or feisty – I hate feisty. Feisty is a word about women that’s a stand-in for having an actual personality. And they don’t have flaws, or if they have flaws, it’s like it is in New Girl, where they were sitting around thinking that the character ought to have a flaw and someone said “let’s make her clumsy”, which means she sometimes drops things. It’s not even actual dyspraxia which might generate plot.

Women are not allowed character development, let alone catharsis; there’s a big fight going on about who gets to tell stories. It’s not just women, it’s people of colour and LGBT people and there’s a struggle to be the subject of one’s own stories, not a point in other people’s. The internet has had a certain amount to do with this – and fan fiction. Especially now that fan writers are breaking into the mainstream. Some of the sci-fi awards lists are full of new interesting women writers telling stories about race and gender – the Hugo shortlist a bit less so – and of course sci-fi is ideal for that. The excitement for me about writing fiction is how many stories are there left to be told? How many lives and sorts of lives need to find narrative embodiment?

I ask Laurie about her role models from the earlier past.

LP: I’ve just reviewed a collection of Nellie Bly‘s writing. She’s the first gonzo journalist, she’s the first woman investigative reporter, and though there have been children’s books about her, and I think at least one television show – in the USA she’s the legend, the plucky girl reporter – but nobody bothered to collect her writing, nobody bothered to read what she actually wrote. She’s so much more radical than the legend – which is all: Young girl comes out of nothing, becomes ace reporter, does whatever a man can do, rarara – but her work about marriage, her work about the condition of working women across the US is really very radical.

RK: Of course, another great product of Bly’s era is London’s THE IRON HEEL – which Orwell thought was terrifyingly predictive in the 40s, but now…

LP: The future isn’t necessarily bright; there is everything to fight for. Stories are the only way we steal the children of the rich, they’re the only way we can fight apart from simply managing to survive. One of the things about the LGBT communities – that we have to give other communities – and also communities of colour have done this – is to realize that survival is the struggle. Self-care is radical, it is politics, and mutual care, and a solidarity that is not merely in name only. It’s not just a hashtag, it’s showing up and taking care of people. And not being a dick on the internet unless you absolutely have to. I wish more people realised this, because in fallow times the left has a tendency to eat itself. The anti-capitalist left, the feminist left…

RK: Which leads us to the queston of ‘what Laurie Penny did next’.

LP: I’m taking a year off. I am going to Harvard on the Nieman Foundation. I applied for it last year just after losing my father. I could no longer do this kind of unremitting engagement without a physical break. If I hadn’t got that fellowship, I would still have taken a year off of some kind. It’s been really difficult to fight my corner and look after myself and do the work – which doesn’t mean it’s not been worth doing, but I have to think long term and not burn out. That would be sad – no one wants to be in the 27 club. I’m 27 but my birthday’s in September, so I am probably all right.

This is my second interview and the first was with a woman who had eating disorders in her 30s and 40s and I realized that getting better is a process. I’d thought that you just got better, and then I’d be done. But you have to work at it your whole life.

Laurie Penny’s new book ‘Unspeakable Things’ was published on 3 July, by Bloomsbury.

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Trojan Horse: Ofsted & the media fall short on gender

Following the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of an Islamic extremist plot in British schools, the press has failed to focus on the fact that Ofsted inspections in fact unearthed findings about the way gender inequality can pervade a school culture. The report describes a culture of fear and intimidation within some of the schools, with some female staff members saying they feel intimidated by male members of the school and are treated unfairly because of their gender. Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage are not being adequately addressed, and there has been opposition to mixed-gender swimming lessons.

Furthermore, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain. In some specific cases girls are discouraged from conversing with boys, undertaking extra circular activities and receive religious education separately from boys. The recommendations emphasise the need for schools to “carry out their statutory responsibility for safeguarding all children”, but fall short of ensuring that there is gender equality.

Where is the debate about the implications for gender equality? The narrative behind separation of girls and boys (in religious education, in swimming, etc.) is that girls are considered to be less equal to boys. Boys and girls are taught different subject material in religious and personal development lessons. If teachers expect certain modes of behaviour from girls – for example discouraging them from talking to boys – and if these attitudes underpin the social values of the teachers and parents alike, what actions can schools, governors, local authorities and the Government take to ensure that gender inequality is not promoted and that boys and girls are being prepared for life in modern Britain?

During the inspections and subsequent storm, I have been asking myself if we really have drawn back the curtain that hides the truth between the expectations of boys over girls. The initial claim was about an alleged Muslim plot to take over these schools; although this was not found to be the case in the Ofsted inspections, the subsequent media storm makes it difficult to separate out the Ofsted inspection, Islamic extremism and these schools.

The ensuing furore and the fallout between Theresa May and Michael Gove about the leaking of a private letter, as well as accusations and counter accusations over who is to blame for what  happened in Birmingham, has meant that the real issues remain under the radar. Add to this the fact that the majority of contributors to news and comments in the national media are men – specifically white men – and it comes as no surprise that the black feminist discourse around the findings and concerns for girls in schools is being missed.

But gender inequality is not just an issue for these schools in Birmingham; the control of girls’ behaviour, particularly when there is a match in attitudes between teachers and parents, has been going on for decades and this is why a feminist perspective is needed.

I attended a mainstream state school not very far from the schools in Birmingham. Not only did I have to deal with overtly racist teachers but I also had to contend with teachers who, though they did not display racism openly, nevertheless had low expectations of me ingrained in their stereotypical view, despite my academic ability. But the biggest challenge I faced on a daily basis was controlling my behaviour to avoid the attention of a male Sikh teacher.

This teacher took it as his ‘duty’ to ensure that Sikh girls ‘behaved’ according to his values and beliefs, which mirrored that of many Sikh parents. He did not consider it an inconvenience, let alone an infringement of child protection, to visit the girls’ homes after school and relay in detail to parents if he had seen or heard their daughter talking to boys, wearing skirts, make-up, etc.  This was not a Sikh school, nor indeed a school with a predominantly Sikh or Asian population, in the same way the schools in the Trojan Horse affair were not faith schools. However this teacher was able to monitor our behaviour and had the authority of the local Asian parental population to exercise his power over us as Sikh girl pupils.

What I was left with was a sense of fear. I did not feel safe at school. I did not feel I could go to another teacher and explain my fears. I did not have the confidence or autonomy to do this. I battled with feelings of ‘letting my parents down’, and the ‘whistleblowing’ of a teacher who not only was a professional in the school but also enjoyed a certain status within the community. I would not have been heard nor supported by any authority figure, be it my parents or the white teachers in the school.

This teacher harassed and behaved in a sexist manner towards me within the classroom. I was always careful to abide by his expectations of personal conduct at school. The last thing I wanted was for him to inform my parents of any perceived misdemeanours, because a very real consequence was that I could lose out on further education and be forced in to an early marriage.

Some of the findings of the Ofsted inspection mirror my own experiences as a Sikh girl pupil in a state school. The findings refer to senior leaders within the school feeling intimidated and fearful. Then what, might one ask, are girls experiencing? Those girls who are expected to behave in a certain way, dictated by the social values of governors and parents, which may be at odds with what the girls themselves would like? The girls and their views have been invisible in all the discussions in the media and in the narrative of an Islamic extremist plot.

If the norm of conduct within a school is that girls’ position in relation to boys is enforced through implicit rules and modes of behaviour, then it seems unlikely that the gendered nature of control of girls will be addressed. Is it therefore surprising that gendered violence, such as female genital mutilation or forced marriage, is not being adequately addressed? Tackling gender inequality and addressing violence against women and girls go hand-in-hand. The two need to be addressed together.

The equalities issue is not being caught in the net of this Islam extremism fishing expedition.  That’s a huge cost and a missed opportunity to society. Where are we talking about the actions and the culture in schools that perpetuates a mindset that girls must behave in a certain way, under the guise of faith – and, more importantly, shaping their own thinking and expectations for the future? What if parents collude in the control of their daughters? How are we bringing up these girls to participate and contribute to society as working adults, as positive role models, and as agents of cultural change?

Kalwinder Sandhu is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer and a local feminist activist in Coventry. Follow her @KindySandhu.

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Land of Smiles: exploring Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement

When people hear the word “trafficking” they often think of young women held in bondage, forced into prostitution against their will. This is certainly a circumstance that takes place around the globe—one that is real, and very serious. But often sex workers, many of whom are migrants seeking a better life in a country far from home, know what they are getting into when they enter the trade. The real problem they face comes from the industry working to “save” them.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), funded by private donors and the U.S. State Department, are working hard to fight trafficking. But the problem is that many do this by trying to eradicate prostitution and curb migration—resulting in policies that are harmful, rather than helpful, to women.

Recently, important revelations have come out about the anti-trafficking movement’s problematic policies. Last month, Newsweek broke a story about the Somaly Mam Foundation, a famous Cambodian-based anti-trafficking NGO that has been fabricating stories of sex trafficking to appeal to their donor base. The story was shocking, but to those who understand the contested terrain of the anti-trafficking movement, it wasn’t surprising.

The question of what role NGOs should play in “rescuing” women from the sex industry has been debated by feminists for years. Only now, these debates are heating up because the voices of migrant women, supposed trafficking “victims,” are finally coming out.

It was these women’s voices—voices that have been silenced and overshadowed by a movement supposedly intended to “help” them—that inspired me to travel to Thailand to research the issue of sex trafficking. I wanted to learn about the issue not only from the perspective of advocates working to stop it, but from migrant women themselves—women whose experiences can offer tremendous insight into creating policies that will better serve their needs.

Over the course of three years I conducted over 50 interviews with NGO employees, female migrants, sex workers rights advocates, members of government and others as part of my PhD at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The discoveries I made would ultimately lead me to write and compose Land of Smiles, a musical whose goal was to turn the narrative about trafficking on its head.

Land of Smiles is a fictional, full-length musical about the trafficking of women in Thailand, which dramatises what I call the “dominant trafficking narrative”: a story told by Western anti-trafficking advocates that reinforces our moralisms about intimacy, rights, women’s proper roles, as well as ideas about individualism, and a modernisation framework that is at the root of development thinking.

Taking issue with the assumptions Western advocates often make about women in the developing world, I created a story that I hoped would expose the flaws of these assumptions, and raise awareness about the problematic policies being enacted by members of the movement.

The story focuses on the aftermath of a brothel raid in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. Lipoh, a young Kachin (ethnic minority) migrant from Burma, seems to be underage, making her an automatic “trafficking victim” in the eyes of the law. Emma Gable, an NGO case worker from Cedar Falls, Indiana, is sent to prepare Lipoh to be a witness in a trial to prosecute her trafficker. Emma must convince Lipoh to be the person everyone sees: a trafficking victim. But Lipoh is unwilling to cooperate. She insists that she is eighteen and was working in the brothel willingly. Not only that—she wants to go back.

What transpires is a journey into Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement—a world burdened with politics, morality and the rhetoric of human rights. Through hearing Lipoh’s story, Emma discovers that grave atrocities are being committed against the Kachin people of Burma. But these atrocities are overshadowed by a narrative about trafficking that serves the needs of the anti-trafficking movement, rather than the women it is trying to help.

In writing Land of Smiles I wanted to problematise the discourse on trafficking that circulates among feminist scholars studying trafficking. I sought to unpack the Western “gaze” that views female migrant sex workers as “victims,” and turn this trope around by shedding light on that gaze itself—the lens through which Western advocates see the issue of trafficking. I wanted to expose that the trafficking of women in Thailand is not an isolated human rights abuse that takes place in a separate sphere from Western behavior, structures and thoughts. Rather, the West is complicit in this human rights drama because of the way we objectify third world “victims.”

Land of Smiles is intended to be a platform for dialogue. As the audience makes their way out of the theatre, I hope the show will have caused questioning among those who have the power to change anti-trafficking policy and adopt a more holistic approach to implementing solutions.

Land of Smiles runs from July 31 to 25 August at Assembly, George Square, Edinburgh. For more details/booking visit: http://www.assemblyfestival.com or call 0131 623 3030

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We need more women in politics.

Following the West Midlands Feminist Times panel and Q&A event “Do we need more women in politics“, we are publishing the speeches of some of the panelists. First we hear from Ruth Jones OBE.

Do we need more women in politics? The answer of course is yes! I would like to think that this is obvious if only on the basis of equality, but even if we had an equal number of men and women in politics this would still not be representative of the population. The 2011 census showed a population of 56.1 million in England and Wales. 27.6 million were male and 28.5 female. This equates to almost a million more women than men in England and Wales and yet these women are overwhelmingly represented by men in politics. The majority are represented by the minority. A UN report of women in global politics launched as part of International Women’s Day 2014 showed that the UK had 650 MPs with 147 (22.6%) being women. This ranks us 65th of 189 countries.

It has been suggested that women do not get involved in politics. I beg to differ. The reality is that few women are elected but many are political and this has always been the case. Take my subject for instance (Gender Based Violence). Women lobbied for over two hundred years to get successive governments to take gender based violence (GBV) seriously. This gradually resulted in changes to legislation, the implementation of policy and more recently to funding for services. Women are political. So why aren’t there more women in politics and why don’t more women vote?

More women are not in politics due to a number of issues that include the structure in which politics operates which is patriarchal in nature and is a public sphere. Political life is structured around unsociable, long hours that don’t make it easy for women with caring responsibilities in a society in which women don’t ‘have it all’ but have to ‘do it all’. Political women also need to feel confident in having a voice. Historian Mary Beard has highlighted how women’s voices have been silenced and/or ridiculed. Recent comments aimed at women by politicians include the patronising ‘sit down dear’ (David Cameron, 2011), the idea that “there is a danger this feminism thing is getting a bit ludicrous” (Douglas Hurd, 2014). Women in politics have to be thick skinned and determined.

When women do get into politics, they have historically been given what is commonly termed ‘soft portfolios’ based on ‘women’s issues’. While I believe (and evidence shows) that such issues would not be addressed without women MPs, I also argue that issues termed ‘women’s issues’ such as GBV are everyone’s issues and every issue is a women’s issue. By separating ‘women’s issues’ we are colluding with discrimination. It is not ‘women’s issues’ that are missing from politics but women’s perspectives on a multitude of issues.

I also argue that women are generally reluctant to vote for male MPs who do not understand the realities of women’s lives, many of which don’t want to as evidenced by the mass exodus of male MPs (and some women) when Yvette Cooper called for a debate on how Coalition government policy is impacting on women. To engage women the political message has to have meaning for women.

Ruth Jones OBE, Director of the National Centre for the Study and Prevention of Violence and Abuse, University of Worcester
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Forget fascists for a moment as Sweden’s Feminist party make history in the EU

On Sunday, the European elections took a historical turn when voters took a lurch to the right. Press across Europe reported on how nationalist parties gained a stable body of supporters and changed the demographics of the EU through a startling percentage of conservative, right-wing wins.

But European voters did not only vote nationalist, they also voted for a counter-movement: feminism.  A quieter historic moment was taking form. The European Parliament’s first independent feminist party entered the political arena.  Swedish party Feminist Initiative made history, with a final percentage count of 5.3% gaining a chair in the parliament for member Soraya Post.

Feminist Initiative’s journey started in April 2005. Rumour had it that a new feminist party was taking shape on the Swedish political landscape growing around Gudrun Schyman, the former leader of the Left Party. By 2008, the organization was formally a political party that competed in both the Swedish national election of 2010 and the European Parliamentary election of 2009. In the EU election, they gained 2.2% of the vote, but a did not make it into either the European or Swedish parliaments.

The feminist movement seemed defeated. Feminist Initiative disappeared from the political scene, becoming increasingly quiet. Perhaps feminism was not as strong as some may have initially thought – maybe even Sweden was not ready for a feminist political party.

Five years on, and nationalism and racism were taking grip of European politics. In Sweden, the media declared 2014 as the ‘super election year’, with both European elections and general Swedish parliamentary elections taking place in the same year. With this, the battle between the parties began. Who would take the fight against racism and nationalism? Whilst the larger parties began to look increasingly similar, Feminist Initiative was building it’s own agenda, selecting Soraya Post as its first name for the EU election. Her background of a Jewish father and Romani mother gave her a historical name on the election folders – the first Romani topping the lists on a ballot. With this, Feminist Initiative made their agenda clear: they wanted to be the party to fight discrimination, nationalism and racism.

After a threat of extinction, Feminist Initiative was back on the map. A counter movement started to take shape in Sweden that could be seen everywhere: particularly on social and print media. The feminist spring was coming. But the party were not invited to participate in national television debates, and were not taken seriously amongst their political peers. Would a vote for Feminist Initiative be considered a protest vote? Despite the doubts, something had started to simmer. Voters had started to take notice of this flowering movement and wanted to be a part of it. Feminist Initiative’s membership increased from 1500 in October 2013 to around 6000 in February 2014. Two weeks before the election, Feminist Initiative’s membership increased by 200 new members a day, totaling 14000 on the day of the election. In an opinion poll, one in four women were considering voting for the party.

The first election forecasts arrived on Sunday evening. The last three months had been one massive campaign, with the production of a feminist record and the creation of a feminist anthology – all designed to draw artists, writers, authors and journalists into Feminist Initiative’s feminist and anti-racist campaign. Sunday was the peak of the feminist spring, and the party was everywhere. Standing as an MEP candidate, Soraya Post urged people to vote for equality, women’s rights and anti-racism, and she was heard. Feminist Initiative won a seat in European Parliament, gaining 5.3% of the vote. The party made history – not only for being the first independent feminist party ever elected to the European Parliament, but for standing for politics drastically different to the current trend.

Feminist Initiative’s win is a small victory in a bigger battle for women’s rights and equality. Just hours after the election, Soraya Post was included in a list of right wing extremists by The Sun Newspaper, with the headline ‘Neo-Nazis, gun carriers, arsonists…and now MEPs’. But despite Soraya Post’s principally equality focused politics being thrown in amongst a list of extremists, Feminist Initiative’s win represents hope in an otherwise dismal election. There remains a lot to be done, but the confidence of Swedish voters is a big step towards combating attitudes of racism and nationalism. On September the 14th, the date of the next Swedish general election, we will know if Feminist Initiative establish themselves as a party to count on.

Sofia Landström is currently studying an MA in Exhibition Studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She researches inequality in the arts and writes about representation and separatism.

Photo: Feminist Initiative

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Mothers and babies will die

OFFERED: Fabulous boutique room, freshly painted, king size bed, 24-hour staff, pool.
REQUIRED: vaginal delivery of a perfect baby.

Of course, you’ll be lucky to make it through the doors of this little piece of heaven within the NHS. If you have any hint of a complication you’ll be sent packing to your standard local obstetric-led maternity suite. Oh, but hold on – there’s no room at the inn: all of the obstetric-led units have been shut!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for natural childbirth. Women should be supported to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit as advised in new guidelines from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence); let’s make sure every baby’s first moments are skin-to-skin, suckling at the breast. But the harsh reality is that the sweet, sweet words from NICE are nothing more than a whispered lullaby to lull women into thinking that they have a heart and that they’ve listened to mums and midwives. With a shortage of nearly 5,000 midwives nationally and a maternity service in tatters thanks to countless hospitals being downgraded, there is no way that a move to a midwife-led model of maternity care is a serious proposition.

So, let’s get serious. Women need an individual service tailored to their needs. Home birth requires two midwives to be present but is otherwise cheap as chips and has very good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Birth Centre delivery requires one midwife, with very little intervention, is slightly more expensive and also has good, reliable outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Acute Obstetric care is on a graded scale of expense with increasing intervention and has good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason).

Reason, skill and medical training decide where it is most appropriate for a woman to give birth. In a service where the mother is at the centre of care, this should be a fairly straightforward decision – but in a service where profit and a confusing web of tariffs, CQUINS (and I’m not talking disco here) and penalties take centre stage, then the woman and her ever-expanding waistline are left to the mercy of a lottery of the market.

NICE can say what they like but the Department of Health are no longer accountable for our care and, with the advent of the CCG, they have no control of a national maternity strategy. When asked in a recent government report the Department of Health were not able to name a national policy for maternity. It’s still Maternity Matters, by the way, Jeremy.

The Health and Social Care Act untethered the Department of Health from the NHS. It claimed to hand over power to the Clinical Commissioning Groups, but in reality they are at best confused and at worst rife with corruption. All of this while introducing an open market that is spiraling out of control. The result for women is that maternity services are floundering. In that government report it was found that the Department of Health is no longer responsible even for such basic and fundamental aspects of care such as how many midwives are employed by the NHS. So, who is? No one.

With Public Health banished to the savaged hinterland of the Local Authority there is no longer a powerful body integrated into either the NHS or the CCGs to ensure that local commissioning of maternity services is in line with Department of Health Policy. Even if they knew what that is. By breaking up the NHS, the Department of Health has made it perfectly clear that it is not remotely interested in having a public health policy at all. They prefer to focus on forcing hospitals into becoming Foundation Trusts as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Hunt and his cronies may not care about boring epidemiological studies and evidence-based care, but for us mums the fragmentation of services is a catastrophic blow to choice, continuity of care and equal access to healthcare. With the desperate shortfall of 4,800 midwives (The Royal College of Midwives ‘State of Maternity Services’ Report 2013) and almost half (47 per cent) of UK hospitals lacking enough consultant obstetricians, along with a steady baby boom in England over the past decade, there is increasing strain on maternity services. Midwives and obstetricians look after women with much more complex needs.

The Coalition, UKIP and other misguided souls push an identity parade of people to blame: Immigrants (the Polish get a hard time despite working legally, paying taxes, and therefore being no different from Mr and Mrs Smith born and bred in Tunbridge Wells); The Poor (to listen to George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, one could be forgiven for thinking that eugenics may well be on the cards for the next election manifesto); The Needy (we might as well kick the disabled while they’re reeling from ATOS); and finally, The Labour Party (they gave those pesky women far too much with their tax credits, Child Benefit, Children’s Centres and Maternity Matters).

Amid the frenzied dismemberment of the NHS we are hurtling towards an insurance-based system for our maternity care, which embraces intervention rather than holistic, aromatherapy and massage amongst caring midwives handy with a birth stool. We need to ask ourselves, do we seriously want to live in a society in which only the super-rich can afford to have babies while the rest of us lucky enough to have health insurance count the pennies to calculate whether we can afford for the stork to pay us a call?

Never forget that pre-NHS women died in their droves in cavernous lying-in wards, or for want of an experienced midwife. The idea that all women are going to have the opportunity to lie-in in a luxurious birth centre would be a joke if it weren’t so utterly terrifying that the back-up intensive obstetric care is being closed down. We mothers need to fight and fight hard for our hard-won maternity services. We need to join together and fight those seeking dismantle the NHS and fight them we shall: we shall fight them on the labour wards, we shall fight in the midwife-led units and we shall fight in the birthing pools; we shall never surrender. We shall go on to the end.

Jessica Ormerod is the parents’ representative on the Lewisham Maternity Committee and a candidate for the National Health Action Party in tomorrow’s European election.

Photo: Wikimedia

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Hackney’s Active Citizens

Shoreditch Trust delivers the Active Citizens programme in partnership with the British Council. The programme aims to increase the contribution of community leaders towards improving the environment around them, setting up enterprising initiatives to solve problems and creating sustainable change both locally and globally. They hope to encourage in their participants:

  • A strong sense of your own culture and identity
  • Knowledge and understanding of your local community
  • Project planning, leadership and management skills
  • Responsibility towards sustainable development
  • Recognise value in, and work effectively with, difference

Last month Editor Deborah Coughlin and Deputy Editor Sarah Graham led a workshop for the Active Citizens programme. Our workshop focused on how young people living in Hackney today can make themselves heard – how they can communicate effectively about issues that affect them, whether that be in a newspaper article or in a letter to their local council.

We asked everyone on the programme to think of something they feel passionately about that they would like to change; their concerns ranged from voluntary work while on JSA, to the lack of access to employment in theatre, and the abundance of cheap junk food on sale in their area. We then asked them to go and find one fact or quote on the internet that would back up their argument for change, before presenting it back to the group. The results from the workshop were amazing, with some of the participants feeling they could argue their case effectively for the first time, and we all came away feeling empowered.

We asked Active Citizens if they would allow us to print some of the resulting pieces to see what Feminist Times readers make of their arguments.

 

Kenneth Grinell, 26 years old, trainee chef

Kenneth

What I care about: support for job seekers on training courses

Recently I have been frustrated with the unemployment figures in the country vs the systems put in place by our government to aid people in finding work. My biggest gripe would have to be that people, like myself, who are attending a training course (non-paid) in order to gain employment in their desired field, are not entitled to get Job Seeker’s Allowance if the course is over 16 hours per week. This catch 22, that a lot of people are caught in, penalises those who are actively looking for work for no good reason. If the benefit is called Job Seeker’s, they should not discourage the public from doing so.

According to FE Week, “The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has called for a new look at how the government’s flagship youth unemployment scheme will affect Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA).” They are also in talks with the DWP regarding the 16 hour rule. Although the various government departments are working together to solve this problem, no deadline has been given for a resolution.

Meanwhile, companies such as CDG (Careers Development Group), who have been hired because of the failing job centres around the country, are sending the unemployed on courses such as, “Employability Skills”, which exceed the 16 hours per week rule and provide you with a qualification that is not exactly sort after. This is only worsened by the fact that George Osborne announced his “work for dole” scheme, as stated by Channel 4 news. This basically means the long term unemployed will have to do 30 hours of community service per week, almost double the allowance for a trainee course. A fact they failed to mention in his party’s manifesto prior to their election. To me this is more of a hypocrisy than a democracy.

 

Lara Rodriguez, 19 years old, Open School East Student and Active Citizen

Lara

What I care about: young people being ignored by the government

Being a young adult in London is extremely difficult. We are not being heard. Danny Dorling (New Statesman 2013) agrees: “If you are young in Britain today you are taken for a ride”.

We are already at risk of growing up and being worse off than the previous generation. The younger generation are not being made aware of changes that are being made that will affect us; personally, I think it’s because the government does not target the younger generation as a voting primary, thereafter we are left in the dark.

Instead they target the older generations, who they know are keeping tabs on current events and are aware that their views matter and need to be heard. In 2010 only 44 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted in the General Election, compared to 76 per cent of those aged 65 and over. Watchdog has also revealed that 56% of voters aged between 17-24 are yet to be registered.

Compulsory voting would help keep away from this biased targeting and, according to the Think Tank IPPR: “Voting should be compulsory for your first election”. Even Shadow Lord Chancellor Sadiq Khan is considering making first time voting compulsory; this would be a very beneficial step to give young people their rightful voice to be heard, especially if the Labour party (if elected) plan to move the voting age to 16.

 

Marvin Davidson, 26 years old, Engagement and Training Programme Coordinator

Marvin

What I care about: Black History in education

I believe that it’s unfair to have Black history folded into such a small segment of the UK’s  educational curriculum where it’s all covered in the space  of a month (October). The majority of Black History in most westernised countries is fixated on slavery with little focus on or mention of inventors, leaders, change makers, scientists, freedom  fighters. I believe that there are numerous BME people who have made significant contributions to British history and place shaping – they are either mentioned briefly in Black History month or not at all.

I believe all children should be taught more about BME history and about what happened before and after slavery which hopefully might empower more BME children to see themselves in other positive lights.

I woud also challenge London’s museums and galleries to not only exhibition the work of BME citizens in one month of the year but to integrate this information into permanent collections and museum and gallery policy.

Significant leaders include the founder of Britain’s first black weekly newspaper The Westindian Gazette, Claudia Jones – a feminist, black nationalist, political activist, community leader, communist and journalist.

The Runnymede Trust has developed a Real Histories teaching resource to support and encourage cultural diversity.

According to the Guardian, “one of the recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report on the Stephen Lawrence case was a: “National curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism,” in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society. This is something the vast majority of teachers would unreservedly support whatever our views on the new curriculum. Yet we need to be clear that the draft national curriculum for history, if it comes into force, is very likely to set this cause back at least a generation. In fact it is hard to see how the Department for Education can have taken into account its legal obligations with regard to equality when devising it.”

 

Renalzo Palmer, 24 years old, trainee commi chef

Renalzo

What I care about: youth unemployment

I have recognised the struggle young people have to face in today’s society in order to find work. I believe if there was more opportunity for disadvantaged young people to access apprenticeships and structured volunteering that actually lead to employment or a career our government statistics would be a lot more acceptable.

This is a report from Newlonfusion.org in February 2013 stating that “there are over 954,000 16-24 year old in England who are not in education or employment (NEET) representing 1 in 5 of all young people of those (about 13%) live in London.”

I am a trainee chef at Shoreditch Trust and this is where I recognised the important work that is being done to help deprived young people in London. The Trust opened a restaurant to train young people like me to have the necessary skills needed in the catering and hospitality industry, which has been running successfully for 5 years now.

Renalzo

Trainees on Shoreditch Trust’s Blue Marble Training scheme at Waterhouse Restaurant, Hackney

 

Samuel Santulu, 25 years old, Assistant Producer/Session Musician

Samuel

What I care about: youth club closures

I believe that many children and young people in London really benefitted from youth clubs and investment in structured activities including myself. When I was a teen I witnessed a lot of my friends deteriorate when our club got shut down. Street life became a normal thing for them and older people took advantage of the young people.

Is there a link between funding cuts for local authorities and closure of structured youth clubs and activities? Youth clubs could be a safe haven for young people to go to when they want to socialise.

Evidence:

Professor John Pitts, who has researched gang behaviour for more than 40 years, says the “annihilation” of youth services, coupled with academies likely to favour middle-class students over disadvantaged children, could further disconnect young people from society and result in more entrenched gangs. “Services are not just being taken away from young people, they are being taken from poor young people,” he said. (Guardian, July 2011)

Hackney riots: ‘The message when youth clubs close is that no one cares’. Half the borough’s children live in poverty. Missing, too, are the summer courses that kept minds and hands busy. Many youth projects across London’s inner city estates have closed down due to funding cuts. Yet the capital dominates the child poverty statistics, with far higher proportions of poor children than other European cities – 44% of Hackney’s children live in poverty. For Candy, 14, on the Whitmore estate off Hoxton Street, that’s a poverty that sees her sleep each night under a coat on a bare mattress on a bare floor. “Sometimes we have food, and sometimes not much,” she says, opening an old, scratched fridge. Her mother is asleep on a plastic-covered sofa in front of an old TV. “She is not very well, she gets depressed,” explains Candy. Next door three children under nine are home alone. Their mother will feed Candy when she gets back from work for keeping an eye on them.” (Observer, August 2011) 

 

Timoney James, 23 years old, trainee commi chef

Timoney

What I care about: immigration

I’m particularly passionate about the balance of fairness and equal rights in obtaining a visa to work in the UK; I believe there is as huge deficit in terms of measuring how many people and family’s lives are being affected as a result of unfair immigration policies.

Evidence:

“The parliamentary group says immigration rules are too restrictive and a review is needed. New financial rules for migrants from outside the European Union are tearing UK families apart and causing anguish, a group of MPs and peers have said. They said thousands of Britons had been unable to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK since July 2012, when minimum earnings requirements were introduced.Children have also been separated from a parent, the parliamentary group said.” (BBC News)

To find out more about any of the projects run by Shoreditch Trust, visit http://www.shoreditchtrust.org.uk or follow @ShoreditchTrust

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Saviors

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Saviors

The experience of sex work is more than just the experience of violence; to reduce all sex work to such an experience is to deny that anything but violence is even possible. By doing so, there is no need to listen to sex workers; if we already know their fate, their usefulness lies solely in providing more evidence for the readers’ preconceptions. For those working in the antiprostitution rescue industry, sex workers are limited to performing as stock characters in a story they are not otherwise a part of, in the pity porn which the “expert” journalists, filmmakers, and NGO staff will produce, profit from, and build their power on.

Meanwhile, when sex workers do face discrimination, harassment, or violence, these can be explained away as experiences intrinsic to sex work—and therefore, however horrifically, to be expected. Though this antiprostitution perspective claims to be more sympathetic to sex workers, it produces the same ideology as the usual distrust and discarding of them: Both claim that abuse comes with the territory in sex work. If a sex worker reports a rape, well, what did she expect?

I have not worked as a sex worker in Cambodia, so my knowledge is limited to what I’ve observed firsthand, what others have told me, and what I have found comparing the various official publications of governments with the NGOs who attempt to uncover abuses. But what I have that Nicholas Kristof does not is trust. Through my relationships with sex workers and sex worker activists in the United States, I met several from Cambodia. When I visited a brothel outside Phnom Penh, it was at their invitation, with no grand welcome or melodramatic conclusion.

Arriving with activists and outreach workers, we were greeted by sex workers who weren’t otherwise occupied, dropped off some boxes of condoms, and then gathered in an open courtyard. They brought us cold scented cloths with which to dab our faces and pitchers of water. I didn’t bring a camera crew, unlike NBC’s Dateline, or countless well-meaning documentary filmmakers. Nor did we bring the police and the promise of rescue. Instead, we sat together on plastic patio chairs under the stars and talked there, openly.

Back in my hotel room in Phnom Penh there was a sign in English on the door, posted where I could read it in bed: sex workers are strictly forbidden in the hotel. I could look out across the road from my window, swollen with motorbikes and tuk-tuk traffic at sunset, passing by the river where the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU) offi ce’s boat was docked. Earlier I had sat on its wooden fl oor with a few of their members, circled around a MacBook, watching videos they’d made themselves and were posting on YouTube.

As we watched videos—stop-motion animations that used Barbie dolls in the roles of sex workers who wanted to remain anonymous but still speak out, and another, a work-in-progress about the abuse of mandatory health-check programs to extort bribes from workers—banners hung overhead moved gently in the breeze coming in off the water: don’t talk to me about sewing machines. talk to me about workers’ rights.

The hit was a karaoke video, a slide show of images casting then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” as a troubled ballad directed to President George W. Bush. At the time the State Department was pressuring the Cambodian government to take a stand against sex work or else lose aid from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Cambodian police, who had long been cracking down on sex workers, were now working in concert with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation; they were hauling sex workers out of brothels, loading them onto the backs of trucks en route to “rehabilitation” centers. They didn’t anticipate that sex workers would snap photos of these raids on their cell phones. One of these pictures showed up on placards and on buttons made by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), with USAID renamed ‘‘USRAID.’’

What happened once the sex workers rounded up in brothel raids were unloaded from the trucks and moved to the so-called rehabilitation centers? They were illegally detained for months at a time without charges, as were others who worked in public parks and had been chased, beaten, and dragged into vans by police. The Cambodian human rights organization LICADHO captured chilling photographs of sex workers caught in sweeps locked together in a cage—thirty or forty people in one cell.

Sex workers who had been detained reported being beaten and sexually assaulted by guards in interviews with LICADHO, Women’s Network for Unity, and Human Rights Watch. Some living with HIV, who had been illegally held in facilities described by the local NGOs that ran them as ‘‘shelters,’’ were denied access to antiretroviral medication. In one facility sex workers were “only able to leave their rooms to bathe twice a day in dirty pond water,” Human Rights Watch reported, “or, accompanied by a guard, to go to the toilet.”

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers reported that a common theme in interviews with detainees was the appalling food delivered in plastic bags which they then retained to use as toilets, disposing of them by hurling them from windows. Through eyewitness accounts, human rights observers established that at least three detainees were beaten to death by guards. Observers from LICADHO witnessed the body of one woman, left to die after advocates found her just the day before comatose on the floor of a detention room where she had been locked in with twenty other people. This occured at a facility on Koh Kor, an island that had once served as a prison under the Khmer Rouge.

“The government needs to find real solutions to the economic and social problems which cause people to live and work on the streets,” LICADHO stated in their 2008 report on conditions at Koh Kor and a second facility at Prey Speu. “It cannot simply round these people up and throw them into detention camps.”  If the sex workers standing in the doorways in Phnom Penh’s red-light district looked out on the street with fear, it could be just as likely from the prospect of rescue as due to any customer.

As is the case for much of industry, accurate data on how many sex workers are in Cambodia are hard to come by and difficult to trust. One study USAID funded themselves found that of a sample of roughly 20,000, 88 percent were not forced into sex work, whether through physical force or debt contracts. It’s especially tough to know how accurate figures on coercion are. But these are the figures found in the USAID commissioned study and were presumably available to all those in the State Department who were agitating for crackdowns on all Cambodian sex work as a means to end trafficking.

These crackdowns are no corrective to abusive conditions in sex work, and can expose sex workers to yet more abuse, including those who want out. But this is of no concern to the American government, which not only wishes to “eradicate prostitution” (as a US attorney testified on USAID’s behalf before the US Supreme Court in 2013), but requires those receiving foreign aid to agree with them. When the Cambodian government sought to demonstrate their commitment to these American values, they had in no way “eradicated prostitution”—they had simply taken action, through detention and violence, to eradicate sex workers themselves.

The State Department, in turn, upgraded Cambodia’s compliance ranking, and in its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, offered only a weak admonishment that “raids against ‘immoral’ activities were not conducted in a manner sensitive to trafficking victims,” and recommend further “training,” not investigations or sanctions. The US has spoken: They see no meaningful difference between the elimination of sex work and the elimination of sex workers themselves.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

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A guide to being a woman in 21st century Israel

David Cameron today makes his first trip to Israel since becoming UK prime minister has backed peace talks between Israel and Palestine. To mark his visit, Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist Hila Beyovits-Hoffman writes for us about her view on the state of Israel for women today.

Mazel Tov, you’re 18! For a young Jewish Israeli this means it’s time for military service. You will be drafted to the Israeli Defense Forces or face prison, as a conscientious objector or defector. So blow out the candles and it’s off to boot camp, young lady.

Like all Israeli children, you were taught since preschool that military service is the essence of your civic duty as an Israeli patriot. State schools taught you about the Goyim constantly killing Jews; about how the Holocaust wiped out six million Jews; about how Israel was established as a sanctuary for the persecuted Jews.

Israeli education is meticulously designed to imprint students with an overwhelming sense of persecution and righteous indignation at the historical wrongdoings toward Jews. We grow up with a constant, unrelenting fear for our lives, paranoia on a national scale. The army must be held sacred and protected at all costs because, we are constantly told, it is the only thing standing between us and total annihilation.

Thus indoctrinated, you join the army proudly.

And it’s a necessary step on your career path! Most of Israel’s political leaders were high-ranking officers, going directly from the IDF to the Knesset; employers often seek specific military training, reflected on a resume. On a personal and national level, this service is important for your future.

Alas… When you do join the army, you quickly discover that it’s a man’s game. Positions and career paths are only open to men. Men can become high-ranking officers. Men will call the shots; you will serve their coffee.

Moreover, women in the army are constantly exposed to sexual harassment and abuse. Countless cases of abuse or rape by senior officers are met with a cover up, or a wrist slap for perpetrators.

Conventional sexual harassment exists alongside religious discrimination. Formerly more secular, the IDF increasingly adheres to rabbinical strictures. According to Halacha, the Jewish religious code of law, women should be neither seen nor heard. Want to train troops? Military rabbis say you may not give out orders to men, because it is “immodest”. Want to be a combat soldier, alongside the men? The rabbis shudder and say any touching is forbidden. Want to sing to the soldiers in special events or holidays, as military entertainment? “Gewalt!” say the rabbis, “a woman must only sing for her husband, or it’s prostitution!”

Both religious and secular male-dominated institutions work to deny you an equal place in Israeli society. Military service won’t buy you equality.

*                *                *

But let’s look at the other side of the Shekel. What if you resist the draft?

You’re an 18 year old Jewish woman in 21st century Israel, which has become an apartheid state. You believe that the occupation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank is illegal and immoral. You see the corruption that this occupation causes, the violence, the ruthlessness, the hopelessness. You believe your country can and should become a morally superior place, an example of coexistence and peace, a true “light unto the nations”.

Rather than cooperating with the “Israel Offensive Forces” you avoid being drafted, working instead with a leftist, anarchist movement. You protest the unjust occupation and the brutality of the soldiers towards the civilian Palestinian population at demonstrations.

But then, male peers ask you not to wear T-shirts or shorts, “because the locals consider it immodest; it’s against their religion”. You swallow your pride and defer to the greater goal, dress “modestly” and show up at the demonstration, where you are sexually harassed by the locals, by your fellow leftist protesters, and of course, by Israeli soldiers, who already consider you to be a traitor. Thus, the pecking order is preserved, same as in the army. So much for deferring for the greater good.

*                *                *

From its very inception, the feminist movement has suffered from CDD – Constant Deferral Disorder. Women have constantly been asked to put their dignity, their rights, their very lives aside, defer them for “the greater cause”. Feminism in Israel is no different. Many people would say that “surely, the problem of women’s rights in Israel pales in comparison to the occupation!”

I contend that women’s issues should never take the back seat. I contend that allowing 51% of the population to always be seen as lesser human beings is precisely what leads to the philosophy and mindset that allows, even encourages, one nation to believe it has a right to control and oppress another.

And yes, Palestinian woman have it even worse, because they’re doubly oppressed, but notice what this system does even to the so-called privileged Jewish woman. Treating one group of people as inferior and denying its members equal rights, while fighting for the equal rights of the members of another group, such behavior does not stand the test of reason, nor of ethics.

While we allow this injustice to keep happening in the name of “the greater good”, Israel will never be able to function as a democracy. One form of oppression does not and cannot justify another. If women are never equal, we can have no significant influence on foreign policy, the occupation, the peace process, or social issues. We will always lag several steps behind, and with us will lag the dreams and hopes for a better future for all people living in Israel and Palestine.

Hila Beyovits-Hoffman is an Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist, writing on social and political issues, the LGBT community and gender issues. Follow her on Twitter: @vandersister

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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How the youths’ villain went from Thatcher to Harry Styles

When Orwell created Big Brother and IngSoc in the 40s, 1984 was but a mere teeny tiny dot on the landscape – a far away dystopian future. In 2014 we’ve traveled almost as far past that dot and once again it seems a very long way away, a faded dystopian past. The real 1984 mirrors many of the situations we find ourselves facing in 2014 and some would argue are just as disconcerting as an Orwellian nightmare.

The Tories were in power and the privatisation of public-owned resources was on the agenda. It was the time of Wall Street where, just like in the movie, everyone knew there were bankers who acted like corrupt arseholes but nobody really knew what to do about it. Our current Con-Dem coalition is heavily influenced by beliefs embodied by the 80s.

But there are differences too: 30 years ago the miners went on a year-long strike. This painful, sacrificial action was felt across the country. Entertainers, mainstream “alternative” comedians like Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and musicians like The Smiths referenced it and made calls to arms; NME wrote a brilliant piece on the music Thatcher inspired. So anyone of thinking age and above was very aware of what was going on and collectively they expressed how they felt about it on the streets and in their magazines and papers.

During the 1980s Margaret Thatcher won the “Creep of the Year” award in every NME Poll from 1980 to 1989, except 1981 when she was toppled by Adam Ant, and in 1989 when the title was changed to “Bastard of the Year” – which she also won. In 1990 her resignation was voted “Highlight of the Year” and Saddam Hussein took over the mantel of number one Bastard. NME readers used the award as a way they could show solidarity with the miners; a way that would get in the papers and stick two fingers up at Thatcher, literally.

The 90s saw NME readers, youngish music fans of this country, take a more lighthearted approach to choosing their Bastard – which would late become, rather pantomine like, their “Villain” – with Robbie Williams and Liam Gallagher taking turns, and John Major popping up every now and again. By now we were of course hurtling into the midst of Cool Britannia, where every pop icon was invited for champers at Tony’s, the good times were rolling and Chumbawumba throwing water on John Prescott is as political as it got.

In the noughties George Dubya Bush got his fair share but since then political figures have been low on the ground, with David Cameron only winning “Villain of the Year” once, in 2011. This year, 2014, Harry Styles won NME’s “Villain of the Year” for the second year running, beating both homophobic tyrant Putin and Cameron. Why have the kids gone for the joke vote? Why not, on paper at least, show Putin you won’t stand for LGBT “hunting”?

Since the crash in 2008, and during this last six years of cuts, you occasionally see a think piece asking where the protest songs, the political music have gone? The grown-ups in the mainstream broadsheets have been concerned that there isn’t the level of action they saw in the 80s. Whether NME, which has seen sales fall, can be considered a dipstick for the “yoof” of the country is highly debatable, but haven’t we got to wonder why the young people of the UK aren’t showing they feel – even in this small almost trivial way – the pain of those suffering from the Bedroom Tax or those being imprisoned and bullied in Russia?

Why aren’t there more visible political statements from the mass of people under 30 in the mainstream media – rather than exceptional individuals, particularly in feminism, like Caroline Criado-Perez, Owen Jones and Laura Bates? Is following an issue on Twitter or reading it online “engaging” with an issue in the same way as protesting was? OR is this depoliticisation?

Being (as one woman said to me on the train the other day) the wrong side of 25, I thought I should find an expert who is on the right side, so I spoke to Sam Wolfson, Exec Editor of Noisey, which is part of the Vice empire:

“One of the worst things about old people saying young people are disengaged from politics is that they only understand engagement in the terms they had when they were young. The miners strike was 30 years ago and that’s a good representation of how meaningless it is to today’s young people.”

“If you want to see engaged youth, look at these people trying to make sure people are allowed to keep their council flats or come to Vice, where almost everyone is under 30 and putting their own lives in danger to report on struggles around the world.”

He’s right. Vice has an international news output to rival the majors and that’s why it’s launching its own TV channel. On my Facebook feed they were the one of the first news sources reporting from the ground in Syria, one of the first in Ukraine, and the only embedded in Venezuela when no one else was talking about Venezuela.

“Lorde’s music says more about the anonymity of global capitalism and the subtle ways in which consumerism creates false perceptions of wealth than any 30-year-old punk song. But people who read Q magazine won’t accept her music as political because when they say ‘politics’ they actually mean campfire songs about miners.”

The people who read Q magazine are people over 30. I’m over 30 but still too young to have been involved in the miners’ strike. My first protest was standing on a roundabout causing cars to crash with a tasteless banner saying: “Open your eyes Blunkett”, on the eve of student fees being implemented, and my second big political protest was the march against the Iraq War, followed by dozens of smaller union marches and reclaim the nights.

What I do know about my generation is that we have been demoralised by our action being so woefully unsuccessful. And while the year-long miners’ strike in 1984 was powerful in its strength of will and the show of courage, it did not achieve everything it set out to and the jobs still went.

I understand why traditional protest seems futile. But this “engagement” Wolfson describes, what happens after watching or reading about something online? If that’s where young people are, what do they do with what they find out on Twitter? Is a retweet enough?

Under 25s are moreishly eating up big issues from the media they love, so I think we can assume they are passionate and have thoughts and ideas about Putin and Cameron. But now is a less innocent time, when those voting for the NME villain think they have more chance upsetting Harry Styles than they ever would the Government; when they live in a country where big marches, while allowed, are not listened too; when the people who fight for the biggest change are very often not even invited to the table, and when our comedians and entertainers call for revolution, but they have no idea how to start one!

 Photos: TheMikeRoberts & Byzantine K

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A year in Black Feminism

It’s been an interesting year for black feminism, with a very current spotlight shone on black feminism as a political identity, and eagerness to openly discuss what this means. The sudden popularity of intersectionality has resulted in very public discussions of day to day manifestations of white supremacy, and honesty about structural racism and exclusion.

However, we have not come to this point without a great personal cost to the black women who have stuck their necks on the line to challenge the status quo. As the year draws to a close, I’d like to pay homage to some pivotal moments for black feminism in 2013.

Featured Image: Leyla Hussein on the Cruel Cut.

1. FGM hit the headlines

Daughters of Eve (Leyla Hussein, Nimko Ali and Sainab Abdi) is dedicated to end the practice of female genital mutilation, a practice that disproportionality affects women and girls from the African, Asian and Middle Eastern diaspora. In June of this year, Daughters of Eve teamed up with the NSPCC to launch a helpline to protect girls at risk from the abuse. In November, Leyla Hussein broadcast a powerful documentary about the abuse with Channel 4, entitled The Cruel Cut, taking FGM to the front of public consciousness. A Daughters of Eve’s petition, aimed at decision makers in the Home Office, is rapidly nearing the 100,000 signatures required to see the topic discussed in parliament.

2. Intersectionality went mainstream

Just a year ago, you’d be hard pressed to find an article discussing the personal impact of structural racism in the mainstream media. Now, an increasing number of women are redefining themselves as intersectional, as the broad church of feminism recognises a need to embrace a critical analysis that includes, but is not limited to, gendered oppression. 2013 saw high profile cases involving white female pop stars such as Lily Allen preaching feminism but using black women’s bodies to make a political point.

Earlier in the year, Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen trended on twitter, inadvertently serving as a tool for black women to air out some of the issues from years of putting up with racism and whiteness in feminist spaces. There is still a long way to go and much self-reflection to be had before all our feminisms are truly inclusive, but this year saw a tidal wave of change.

3. Muslim women said no to FEMEN

Topless Ukrainian group FEMEN bared their breasts in a number of protests this year, but their activism has been consistently marred by Islamophobic themes in their messaging. In May, FEMEN organised International Topless Jihad Day- a protest against what they called Islam’s mistreatment of women. But Muslim women swiftly bit back, culminating in a popular Facebook page called ‘Muslim Women Against FEMEN’. On the page, they said ‘We have had enough of western feminists imposing their values on us. We are taking a stand to make our voices heard and reclaim our agency.’ Then, in August, Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Sbou left the group, telling the Huffington Post: “I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organisation.”

Muslim Women Against Femen

Image courtesy of Muslim Women Against Femen

4. Southall Black Sisters took on the UK Border Agency

For decades, Southall Black Sisters have worked with immigrant women escaping for abusive relationships, and their work recognises the impact political attitudes to immigration have on the lives of these women. This year state approved racial profiling resulted in document checks at tube stations. White men in uniforms yielded their power to stop and search anyone who looked vaguely ‘illegal’ – a physical act of othering that stoked racial tensions in a context where the likes of the EDL’s Tommy Robinson and UKIP’s Nigel Farage already get disproportionate airtime on our television screens. When a UKBA van parked up outside their office this year, Southall Black Sisters fought back with direct action, and when the Home Office launched its anti-immigrant ‘Go Home’ campaign, SBS organised a mass protest.

Feminist Times visits Southall Balck Sisters protest against current immigration policy. from Feminist Times on Vimeo.

5. Dark Girls premiered in the UK

Dark Girls, a US-based film about the impact of white supremacist beauty ideals on black and brown women and girls across the globe, was released. In September, Dr Jude Smith Rachele, CEO of Abundant Sun brought the film to the UK. The film’s premiere ignited conversations about the consequences of beauty ideals, even bringing a short discussion of the topic to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. For black women, Dark Girls stirred memories of shadeism in our own communities and the importance of principled resistance to toxic beauty ideals that were never meant for us in the first place.

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni

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Who runs this place?

Bring back feudalism! This may not be a very populist sentiment, but it would be less confusing to be a peasant grubbing around in the dirt for some inbred overlord than it is to be a citizen today.

These days I’ve no idea at whose carriage to sling dung because most of the people who run the world are nameless and faceless; it would be easier to get a date with Keyser Soze. Power now resides with majority shareholders; lobbyists; distant business leaders; people who run eye-watering investment portfolios, inscrutable banks and insurance companies.

These shadowy few run supranational organisations which have little responsibility to the countries in which they do business – as evidenced by the way many of them use offshore tax havens. They can be opaque, unaccountable and more powerful than elected leaders.

Take Thames Water for example, it’s owned by Kemble Water Holdings whose investors include pension funds, the Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund and institutions from Australia, China, the Middle East, the UK and Canada. Pretty straightforward, then.

It’s a very generous company. In 2010/11 Thames Water paid its shareholders dividends of £271.4m out of a profit of £225.2m and in 2011/12 declared a dividend of £279.5m out of that year’s profit of £247.2m.

So now, having thrown its money around like a drunk trying to make friends in a bar, Thames Water has gone cap-in-hand to Ofwat to ask permission to add a one-off charge of £29 to its customers’ bills to pay for its much-needed super sewer. The drunk has sobered up and doesn’t fancy paying the bar tab. He’d rather you and I pay it. And remember, it’s a regional monopoly, so it’s not as though people who live in the Thames area can decide to get their water from anyone else.

Fortunately its request was denied by Ofwat, so in response Thames Water is proposing to hike bills by about £40 plus inflation by 2020. You have to admire their chutzpah.

And how long has Thames Water known it would have to find funding for a super sewer? Since at least 2010. Enough time to squirrel away some of those profits, you’d think.

A spokeswoman for Thames Water said, “Thames Water is delivering record levels of investment in its treatment works, pipes and sewers, together with improved operational performance and steadily improving customer service while keeping the average household bill the second-lowest in England and Wales. This represents good value for Thames Water customers.” She was also keen to point out that the super sewer is an “Exceptional Government-mandated project … water companies do not decide to build £4bn tunnels – Governments do.”

The Australian Macquarie Group (Macquarie-managed funds hold a 26% investment in Thames Water) is itself head-spinningly vast. It has assets under management of $US 359 billion; they manage more than 3.6 million hectares of land, that’s almost twice the size of Wales (the standard unit of land measurement) and have clients across the globe including China, UAE and Brazil.

It would be moronic to be alarmed by a company by virtue of its size, but let’s look at its potential influence in the UK. This time last year Macquarie raised $500 million to invest in UK infrastructure projects (it already manages funds which own UK assets such as Bristol airport and the M6 toll road). Macquarie itself also holds a 5% shareholding in IGas, which holds the largest number of drilling rights in the UK along with couple of power stations and is now expanding its own power trading business over here too.

And there’s more. Macquarie Capital’s Jonathan Harris sits on the advisory board for David Cameron’s Regeneration Investment Organisation, which according to the PM, “Will act as a one-stop-shop for our major inward investment opportunities – with £100 billion of possible projects on the table”. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to love a bit of infrastructure investment but doesn’t it become problematic when ownership of crucial assets is allowed to be so opaque, diffuse and consequently unaccountable?

The now infamous Australian, Lynton Crosby, is David Cameron’s campaign advisor and Crosby’s communications firm, Crosby Textor International, is run by Remo Nogarotto, previously of Macquarie, and who continues to sit on Macquarie Banks European Advisory Board. Guy Robinson, Special Advisor to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, used to work for Crosby Textor. There’s an enormous amount of cross pollination going on. Like one big happy bee family. It’s really quite sweet.

And last week – not long after Cameron’s recent trade mission to China – the Government announced its National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) which involves the sale of about £375bn of the UK’s assets in energy, transport, communications, and water projects. It’s the sale of the century. Get ready to see your bills and fares rise even further.

I asked Macquarie if they would be taking advantage of the NIP. “Macquarie has a long track record of facilitating investment in infrastructure companies in the UK through its advisory and funds management businesses”, came the inscrutable reply.

So do you know who’s running our utilities, infrastructure or who owns our land? Or who’s about to buy up the UK’s remaining assets? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a capitalist and I believe the corporation can be a phenomenal power for good. However, I think that dispersed ownership creates a veil of anonymity behind which individuals and institutions are emboldened to act irresponsibly. And I’m frustrated by the oft trotted out argument that many of these shareholders are actually our pension funds so we’d better not complain about it unless we want to spend our dotage in a ditch.

The people who are running their companies responsibly should be lauded as heroes and those who are running them at cross purposes to society’s needs should to be named and shamed. Governments across the globe need to stand together and legislate for greater transparency and regulation.

That’s why I’d rather feel swindled by an old fashioned boot-in-your-face despot. It would be so much easier to storm the castle.

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What is Feminism? banner

Arthur McDonald: Feminism is…

Name: Arthur McDonald 

Age: 63 

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne   

Bio: Artist/co-founder Gothic Moon Records

Feminism is at its most historically uncompromised, self-expressive, political and vivid in 21st century culture in the double-edged cultural sword that is Pussy Riot art and Femen art. The strongest and most aesthetically engaging philosophical propositions continue to be made by them and their allies. Events, internet sites, books, films, cajones, exhibitions, humour, paintings, posters, music… the lot. Join in 24/7. A self-defining, fledgling, self-educating culture, enriching and challenging the broader movement and the world.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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