Tag Archives: women’s rights

Iranian women’s stealthy freedom

On 17 June the British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that circumstances were right to reopen Britain’s embassy in Iran, three years since it was closed in 2011.

The thing about circumstances is they can never be right for everyone. If they’re finally right for William Hague and President Hassan Rouhani, one can’t help but ask when the circumstances will be right for the women of Iran.

While Hague and Rouhani are “stepping forward”, Iranian women are still stuck, struggling for the freedom to make their own choices. Free from veils (if they wish), artistic suppression and imprisonment.

If this month marks a step forward for softened relations between Britain and Iran, it also highlights the continuing shuffle backwards for women like imprisoned filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi. As men in suits shake hands, Iranian women are continuing to fight for the right to make their own choices. For those who are unaware, just 10 days before William Hague announced closer ties between the UK and Iran, Mahnaz Mohammadi packed her bag for a five-year stay in Evin jailhouse, located just north of Tehran. Her “crime” is as baffling as Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s latest World Cup 2014 Twitter selfie: “collaborating” with the Persian BBC and plotting “propaganda” against the Iranian regime.

Not only are women fighting for the right to express their internal identities through art, they are also fighting for the right to express their external identities – with or without the hijab. It is worth noting that just two days prior to the diplomatic thaw, two thirds of Iran’s MPs wrote to the president demanding stronger veil enforcement for women. Yet on Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of Iranian women have been posting selfies without their veil, optimising their campaign with hashtag #MyStealthyFreedom. Their hashtag is just like their break for freedom: a contradiction in terms.

When talking about the veil, it is worth noting that throughout Iran’s long history women have lacked the choice to determine their own outwards identity, both under the Islamic governance of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2014 yet also under the western-backed, Imperial leadership of Rezā Shah pre-revolution. Male hands have always dictated female identity. Iran’s forces of westernization forcibly removed and tore chadors off women who resisted the ban on public hijabs during the Women’s Awakening in the late 1930s. A lack of freedom of choice for women didn’t begin with an Islamic Republic in 1979. In the conflict between eastern and western values, free will and self-determinism for women in Iran has always been a struggle and the veil a symbolic bargaining tool.

In an eastern-versus-western world that strives to constantly define in terms of right and wrong, Iran has constantly defied such definitions. Eastern interior lives and western exterior eyes are in a state of constant flux. What truly lies beneath the veil has become a beguiling fascination to us all and the women beneath them an emblem of an Islamic Republic we can’t quite understand.

In a recent article for the New York Times artist Haleh Anvari writes about the western fetish of staring at Iranian women. “How wonderful,” she deadpans, “we had become Iran’s Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.” Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iranian women have been viewed as monuments, not citizens. The skyline is defined, not by architecture but by a sea of black chadors. Iranian women’s identities continue to lack humanity – both through the eyes of the east and west. The western postcard is a stylised design when our vision frames black cloth against powder blue Persian tiles. As Anvari rightly identifies, “in a country where the word feminism is pejorative, there is no inkling that the values of both fundamentalism and Western consumerism are two sides of the same coin — the female body as an icon defining Iranian culture.”

Iranian women aren’t looking for western liberation, but freedom of choice. For many women, the solution isn’t to ban hijabs altogether but to give women the choice to wear or discard. As one woman on the #MyStealthyFreedom page explains: “I believe in Hijab, but hate obligatory hijab!” For Mahnaz Mohammadi, and her contemporary filmmakers, her choice is to keep making films that challenge her environment and give fellow Iranian women a voice. In her own words, “I am a woman, I am a filmmaker, two sufficient grounds to be guilty in this country.” As I type, women like Mahnaz Mohammadi are risking imprisonment and exile in order to speak as a woman. Their choices are limited.

So, as Hague and Rouhani exercise their own freedoms of choice, it’s important to remember women in Iran who lack the same freedom. Women who are campaigning for the right to remove their hijabs on Facebook’s My Stealthy Freedom page. Women like Mahnaz Mohammadi, who is now serving a five-year sentence for simply making art. Her voice has been silenced – she now needs yours.

You can speak up for Mahnaz Mohammadi by emailing your full name to the French Directors Guild who are campaigning for her immediate release: hrosiaux@la-srf.fr

You can like the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page or follow #MyStealthyFreedom on Twitter.

Kat Lister is a Contributing Editor at Feminist Times and a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

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End Sexual Violence in Conflict: Slow steps towards progress

Last week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit saw dignitaries from 155 nations descend on London’s ExCel Centre.  A magnificent effort from both Angelina Jolie and Foreign Secretary William Hague, the four-day summit highlighted the atrocities and dangers that women (and indeed, men and boys) face in conflict times. The event’s fringe was fantastic, with incredible collections of artwork beautifully complimented by engaging and emotional discussions, as well as innovative and powerful theatre discussions.

I was moved to tears by Save the Children’s performance highlighting the stories of three very different girls, all affected by rape. I could not help but be inspired listening to Congolese gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege speak on how his resolve to end sexual violence in conflict only grew following the assassination attempt on his life in 2012. There were also some incredibly painful testimonies that will stay with me for some time. Hague and Jolie are to be commended for successfully getting the world to momentarily sit up and take notice of a humanitarian issue long accepted as a just another byproduct of war.

There were some great ideas and initiatives discussed and put forward during the summit. One in particular was the push to implement a mixed court in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the judiciary is badly letting women down by not holding perpetrators properly to account. This means that generals, who often order the rapes to happen, are routinely escaping justice. A mixed court system, with the international community supporting the existing system, would operate at a higher level of efficiency. Another excellent initiative put forward during the week was Care International’s long standing project of engaging men in conflict nations.  Their work tackles gender inequality and gender stereotypes, with the aim of reducing instances of sexual violence through an amplification of women’s rights and equality. Women for Women International’s policy of empowering women through economic independence is also worthy , as is the protocol itself.

This protocol is the result of extensive consultation with various expert working groups and reviewers, with editorial authority resting with the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office. According to the document, the International Protocol has the main aim of promoting accountability for crimes of sexual violence under international law. Whilst the protocol isn’t binding on states, it can serve as an effective tool to properly document sexual violence as a war crime, a crime against humanity or an act of genocide- all enshrined under international law.

The protocol recognises that it will not tackle every sexual violence crime. Instead it focuses on those that occur under international criminal law. But survivors of sexual violence crimes outside of this context are still in chronic need of support. It is hoped that the protocol will be a springboard for increased action on prevention and accountability for all forms of sexual violence in conflict.

However, there are some criticisms of this that must be addressed. Whilst the aim and launch of the protocol itself is admirable, there is some conflict with our own domestic policy here in the UK. On the opening day of the summit’s fringe, both the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and the All African Women’s Group held a brutally honest demonstration. Their demonstration sought to highlight the conflict between the UK’s treatment of survivors of sexual violence claiming asylum and the aims of the summit. They called for an end to the disbelief and slandering of asylum seekers.

I spoke to two of the demonstrators. They explained to me that the UK was currently detaining survivors of sexual violence in immigration detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood – women who, having fled their home nation, were claiming asylum. How then, could the UK lead the way on sexual violence in conflict, when it was deporting and treating survivors in such a manner? The abuses at Yarl’s Wood are well documented and show the level of honesty that will be required from all the signatory nations if we are to truly help survivors across the world. How can we hope to tackle sexual violence on a global stage when domestically, we are failing women?

There’s also the question of efficiency. The international community is failing to make the most of it’s current resources. How then, can we be confident the protocol will not go the same way? There is a vast range of international legislation on peace and security, women’s rights, protecting women from violence and gender-based violence. They’re simply not being properly implemented. A commitment is laudable, but without real progress it is merely words. The time has come for action.

Countries need to be seen to be doing better. States need to work with women’s rights organisations in their respective countries to ensure the resources on offer, be it through funding or policy, are being efficiently used. In 2010, there was a coalition of 50 non governmental organisations all working together and sharing resources, with a focus on DRC. This coalition eventually folded due to a lack of funding. It’s initiatives like this that the UK, who announced a further £6 million in funding to help survivors of sexual conflict, need to make sure are properly funded. Too often, pledged money gets lost in International NGOs. We need to make sure a lot of more that is reaching smaller charities on the ground.

Looking forward, I am reservedly optimistic that the protocol will be beneficial to tackling sexual violence in conflict. I commend Jolie’s dedication to this subject, and her commitment to making real lasting change. The summit is nothing to be scoffed at. Indeed, when Sunday Times columnist Adam Boulton refers to it as “trivial”,  it serves as a sharp reminder of just how difficult it is to get people to take rape seriously. For Angelina Jolie to use her celebrity in this fashion is refreshing. Often, we see famous people engage in charity work in a very superficial manner, benefiting from the good press without any type of dedication to the cause. That Jolie continues in this field of work, despite media scrutiny and, at times, criticism for her involvement, is worthy of recognition.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon 


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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End sexual violence in conflict: Change will come from the Congolese

This week sees the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit–  a four-day event, organised by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. The summit is co-chaired by William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Many from the international establishment – governments, militaries and judiciaries from around the world will have representatives at the summit, as well as field experts. There’s also a three-day Fringe event open to members of the public and media, with exhibitions, discussions and performances from various Non Governmental Organisations and charities.

The Summit’s aim is to identify specific actions by the international community in four areas where greater progress is essential regarding sexual violence in conflict. Those four areas are improving investigations, providing more support and reparation for all survivors of sexual violence, ensuring a response to gender-based violence and promoting gender equality as an integral part of all reform, and improving international strategic coordination.

It’s been five years since I filmed my BBC3 documentary, The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women. In it, I looked at the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC]. Since then, there has been a lot of change. Indeed, that the UK is hosting a summit on sexual violence in conflict shows the progress that’s been made in awakening the international community to a horrific humanitarian crisis. Whilst financial and security obstacles have kept me from returning to DRC since, I have continued to speak out on the atrocities occurring there, as I promised the incredible women who I met whilst filming. I was moved to see a substantial number of the global Congolese diaspora represented in all aspects of the Fringe event of this week’s summit – amongst the public, in the displays and stalls, through the performances and holding discussions on the situation in Congo. More heart warming was seeing how packed all these discussions were, with people interested or looking to learn more about the situation. In 2010, it was not always so.

The cause of sexual violence in Congo has always been a complex question to answer. It is this complexity which has often caused people to underestimate the scale of the issue, leading to certain aspects being more highlighted than others. It has become further complicated as the atrocities, initially committed by external troops in Congo, are now being committed by Congolese troops themselves. At the root of it all is the same issue – a lack of accountability, a system of impunity, and gender inequality.

At the Fringe I was able to speak to Fiona Lloyd-Davies, director of my documentary, who was attending the premiere of her new film Seeds of Hope – a documentary filmed over three years chronicling the work and story of the inspirational Masika Katsuva.

Katsuva, who I met in 2009 whilst filming, runs a refuge for women who are survivors of rape. Whilst watching Seeds of Hope, I was moved to tears at the progress Katsuva’s refuge has made since I last saw her. I was saddened however, to see the number of women relying on her refuge, a sign that whilst her awe-inspiring work empowering these women was producing results, that the danger to these women had not abated. In fact, as we learn in the documentary, Katsuva was raped again in 2012 following the attack in Minova, a period which saw her receive 130 new cases, the youngest of which was 11 years old.

During the question and answer session after the film, which is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Lloyd-Davies agreed that there had been a sea change of opinion and focus on the issue, a view supported by Dr. Denis Mukwege, the two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of Panzi Hospital.

Dr Mukwege also believed that there had been positive change, but stressed the still precarious nature of the situation. He spoke of how only a week ago, 35 people were massacred in a church in the Bukavu region. Both Dr. Mukwege and Lloyd-Davies stressed that in order for further progress, a priority had to be made for the fighting in Congo to stop.

I asked Dr. Mukwege about what hope for the future in Congo, tackling this crisis. “There will be no lasting peace without justice,” he told me.  “Integrating criminals and militia into the [Congolese] army is unsustainable. We need to stop the culture of impunity until all who played a role in the atrocities are accountable”

Dr Mukwege also believes that the Congolese people themselves have the power to make change, both the global diaspora and the citizens. He believes that substantial change and evolution will “not come from the UN, or Special Envoy, but will come from the Congolese people”. This is a view shared by many of the Congolese NGOs and also by Lloyd-Davies.

Lloyd-Davies stressed it was important to view the women in her films, not only as victims, but survivors – three dimensional people with hopes as well as fears. These women were rebuilding their lives. She believes a lot of the solutions to Congo are in Congo itself and that perhaps instead of constantly looking to external solutions, we should aim to better support the internal solutions already in existence. As she so eloquently put it, “there are many more women like Masika.”

Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, hosting the question and answer session for Seeds of Hope, spoke of a Congolese Justice system “on its knees” and of a need for better judiciary mechanisms. This view is shared by many Congolese activists and NGOs who stress for Congo to adopt a specialised mixed court for cases of sexual violence. A mixed court would see the Congolese Judiciary supported by international community to improve its efficacy. In the recent trial where thirty-nine soldiers were being prosecuted, only two of them were found guilty of rape. Senior command are consistently evading accountability and justice.

All of us, however, are hopeful that real lasting change can come to Congo. There are many positives to be taken from the last five years, such as the Minova trials, the capture of Bosco Ntaganda who is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court, and this week’s Summit. It is up to the international community to continue to support the Congolese people by ensuring the discussions and decisions made at this summit will be followed up and implemented. The future of Congo depends on it.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon 


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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A Womb With a View: After birth – what I’ve learned…

IMG_6788So, here he is. Or, should I say, here we are.

Meet my five-week-old little boy, Evan, and his heavy-lidded, rocket-boobed, topsy-turvy mother. I’m someone changed quite a lot by the last month and a bit. I’m writing this with my thumb on my phone at 4.07am while feeding for starters (EDIT – I’ll be writing the rest of this column in 10-minute bursts in the next week-and-a-half when the baby’s gurgling at his cot’s mobile while farting/sleeping in his pram, which I’ve gingerly inched in from outside as he only conks out in the open air/cooing in the sling with his dad, at a time when I should really be catching up on sleep, blah blah blah).

I’m also someone who remains, despite everything, the same person.

The birth? Not conventional. Then again, whose is? I had an emergency caesarean section after 3 days of failed induction, at nearly 2 weeks over due date, and after countless alternative therapy sessions (yep, even this sceptic tried everything – and isn’t having your feet fiddled with for £60 divine). Pessaries and drips were applied, Mister still wasn’t shifting, his mum wasn’t dilating, and his heart-rate started levelling out.

And so the necessary was done. At 10.06am on Monday 28th April, in a bright operating theatre, my son made his entrance into the world. He was 9lb 4, 57cm long, with brown hair and a chubby belly. And yes, I’m lucky that I love him so very, very much.

Here’s some other things I learned about having a baby:

* Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards, and in high heels. First-time mums do very little that other people do, but they do keep another tiny person alive, with no specialist training or experience, one-handed, on no sleep, in mismatched leisurewear with a stray, leaky tit.

* Yes, yes – I know I’ve barely started, and I’m proving that happy mums whinge a lot. We got ourselves in this position etc, etc. But as a person largely responsible for fulfilling the needs of another breathing human, while you’re in recovery from 24 hours+ of agonising pain/major abdominal surgery/a torn perineum, while everyone else tells you this is all normal, surely you’re allowed a grumble. You disagree? Then bugger off.

* Newborns rarely sleep for more than three hours at a time, if that. I missed this fact in the endless reams of baby literature I read beforehand. Mine is pretty good at kip (EDIT – I lie – the last two nights have been like living with the creature off Eraserhead – EDIT – he’s changed again, he was an angel last night ­- EDIT – this only proves the inconsistency of babies). Anyway, their short sleeping cycles should remind mothers of three little words. Take. Things. Easy.

* A diversion for my brief Caesarean Section. The idea of being too posh to push – ie that caesareans are the easy option – is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Before mine, I hadn’t realised how big an operation a c-section was; five weeks on, the seven-inch smile on my abdomen and the residual aches and pains reminds me I’m still recovering. If you have one, don’t panic – I am still in awe of them, genuinely, as a baby with an impacted head got pulled out of that tiny slit, somehow – but you need to remember how big these ops were after the fact. So: accept help from all sides. Buy a load of high-waisted, non-sexy granny knickers (thank you, John Lewis). Live in yoga trousers bought hurriedly online that make you look like you eat quinoa for breakfast. Take your bloody painkillers. Slob in front of DVDs you love when you’re feeding to cheer yourself up. Don’t be a martyr. You don’t have to be Superwoman.

* Don’t accept too many visitors. Or be prepared to tell people to sod off. You will probably be knackered and crave your own time more than ever before (then again, do see friends if it’ll make you feel a bit better, and if family are bringing warm arms to help you with the baby, then accept them).

* Our generation give ourselves a lot more shit about parenting than our mums and dads did. They only had people around them to ask, and most of us turned out OK. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

* The internet is unhelpful. Type any question about your baby’s health into Google, and the responses you’ll get will largely be from “normal mums”. Normal mums who a) you don’t know, b) might be mad, c) might be smug, d) keep telling you to “trust in the Lord’s work”, e) keep telling you to “trust in nature”. If I’d trusted in nature, as many women have to in countries less developed than ours, my baby and I might not have been here now.

* The internet is amazing. During endless night feeds, you can play Word Scramble, read the news, nose at people’s normal lives on Facebook, receive advice from countless wonderful people about your baby through Facebook, and text your mum-pals on Whatsapp. Which last point brings me to the the biggest tip of all…

* Meeting people having kids the same time as you, through antenatal classes or activities, or post-natal support groups, is essential. Knowing you’re not the only mad harpy worrying about every burp, sick or poo will change your life.

* The mental health of new mothers is a huge priority for healthcare professionals, as it should be, but normal anxieties get pathologised too much. Worried you might break your baby? Or drop it down the stairs? Every mum I’ve spoken to thought that too, so these worries aren’t necessarily a sign of incoming depression. Other medical issues get less attention, however, like babies that have tongue-tie (this is when babies’ tongues need a snip to help them feed properly). I know four recent babies who had this condition, and their mothers had to fight hard to find out if their children needed help. Without help, babies struggle to gain weight, spend hours at the breast, making their mothers, ironically, more and more distressed. All these women need is someone trained to have a very quick look at their little ones. So listen up, NHS.

* Becoming a mum soon? You will be endlessly grateful for having cooked and frozen meals before the big event. If you like being at the hob, as I do, this is what maternity leave is for (I also enjoyed solo cinema trips, afternoon dozes, and forages for weird old documentaries on the iPlayer – do use your maternity leave to do gentle things you enjoy). If you haven’t cooked and frozen food before baby comes, tell friends not to bring presents round, but something that can be shoved into a pot, or the oven in one dish, and eaten out of a bowl with one hand.

* A tea towel placed over a baby’s head helps you eat out of a bowl with one hand.

* Long, patterned, diaphanous scarves are essential pieces of kit for any new mum (not plain colours, ladies – these will show up dribble, or worse). Scarves help you feed discreetly when you need to, or hang over your pram, especially when the sun suddenly deigns to blaze out on a previously grey day (thanks for that, British spring).

* “Nature is amazing, science is awesome”. My friend Ellie, who gave me advice about what to do about the in-hospital Bounty reps in my previous column, said this to me in a text while I was still in recovery. It’s still the best sentence ever. For instance, when I was sad about Evan not having arrived in the usual way, and my body not having done what it “should” have done, I realised that every time he fed – which was, and is, often – I felt my stomach cramp, and this was helping me heal. Breastfeeding helps the womb contract, and reduce to its old size; now, five weeks on, I look pretty much as I did before I was pregnant. Somehow, our bodies also keep us awake in these difficult weeks, and power us through. But science also has its place, beyond doubt. Take Evan, on antibiotics for a week after he showed signs of infection, who is now absolutely thriving (EDIT – today’s weigh-in – 11 pounds – oof). Things don’t have to be either/or. Let’s use everything we’ve got to keep Mum and baby well.

* If your mum/friends seem to be posting pictures of their babies too often on social media, consider this: that may have been the most constructive thing she felt she did with her day, or the one moment when baby was happy that she wanted to preserve. Facebook pictures are little markers that say, yes, world, I can manage this.

* Midwives are brilliant, undervalued people. One upside of me being in hospital for a week is that I had fantastic midwifery care. I’d go further, in fact: when you’re a new mum, there’s something to be said for having a longer stay in hospital than six tiny hours (the usual time now), and being cared for by people who have been there, and done that. In hospital, I got specialist breastfeeding advice that proved invaluable later, was watched over by a midwife while I slept in bed with my baby (who wouldn’t sleep in his crib, when I’d hardly any sleep for five days), had every question answered about my baby’s qualities and quirks, and felt properly monitored. It’s helped me ever since.

* I’ve also got a new-found respect for the power of women. I’ve had so many of them help me immeasurably since Evan arrived – both professionally and personally – and as a result, I’m enjoying my little boy so very, very much. Here’s to all of you, ladies. And here’s to us. We’re still here!

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers 

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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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It’s feminist to vote in the EU elections

Even for those of us who do not call ourselves Euro sceptics, the EU is hard to love – there is no doubt about that. It’s a bit like maths or entomology. We know it’s there, and it’s probably serving a vaguely useful function, but apart from a narrow proportion of geeks, experts and fanatics among us, in everyday life we rarely find ourselves enthusing about quadratic equations, critters or Directives.

Europe’s decision-making bodies sit far away, with their unfamiliar bureaucrats, strange rituals and opaque processes.

Our apathetic (or downright hostile) media has given up on reporting how and why decisions are being taken in Brussels by our Ministers and our MEPs working with their counterparts from other countries. This has allowed successive UK Governments to blame ‘Brussels’ for tough decisions and to take the whole credit for successful EU initiatives.

I don’t entirely blame editors having to make tough choices in these cash-strapped times: covering the EU story costs money; repeating lazy misconceptions and firing off indignant editorials is far cheaper.

But don’t let them fool you into thinking the coming European Parliament election doesn’t matter, or that a UKIP triumph is inevitable or indeed that it might be a desirable outcome, to shake things up or send some sort of message to complacent Westminster elites. A decisive UKIP win would do nothing to help the UK lead on reforms in Europe, but spell disaster for the cause of gender equality at UK and EU level.

The European Union has been promoting equality between men and women since its inception, enshrining the goal of equal pay for men and women in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. A Directive on Equal Pay was finally passed in 1975 to be followed by dozens of other pieces of EU legislation – against discrimination at work or in accessing services, combating violence, sexual harassment and people trafficking, establishing maternity rights and parental leave.

The EU funds national campaigns against gender-based violence and, in the last 7 years, has spent some €3.2 bn in Structural Funds to provide childcare and promote women’s participation in the labour market in Europe’s most economically depressed areas. The EU further promotes gender equality all over the wold with its humanitarian actions and through its trade agreements.

Now contrast this with UKIP’s view of women and their programme.

Their attitude towards women is often described as reminiscent of the 1950s, although my conservative grandfather would have been horrified by their language and sentiments. Women are sluts, who should be seen (cleaning) and not heard; mothers are worthless to employers. And these are not just retired colonels, old fashioned fogeys – the Twitter trolls who tried to silence Women Against UKIP all last week are the party’s tech-savvy young guns, UKIP’s bullish, bullying future.

But worse than their attitudes is their programme, insofar as they can articulate one. Make no mistake: the biggest advantage Nigel Farage sees in the UK withdrawing from Europe is that it would be able to return to the 1950s, not just culturally but also in the law: no maternity leave or labour protection of any kind for the most vulnerable workers, who are often women; a bonfire of health and safety and anti-harassment legislations. This might resonate with chain-smoking pub landlords, (freedom of smoking is championed, by the way; freedom of movement less so), but it sure scares the hell out of me.

Since the 2009 European Election UKIP’s only two female MEPs, Nikki Sinclaire and Marta Andreasen, have both left the party. Andreason said Farage: “doesn’t try to involve intelligent professional women in positions of responsibility in the party. He thinks women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom”. Nikki Sinclaire won an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against the party.

Last week we finally saw UKIP’s leader drop the genial ‘chap down the pub’ act when being questioned about his use of EU expenses. Chummy Nigel turned into Snarling Nigel, railing against the media that so far has idolised him for having the cheek of asking him to account for his actions, like any other politician.

Farage’s confusion about EU money not being, somehow, taxpayers’ money tells a bigger story about what you get when you vote for a UKIP candidate to represent you in Europe. Their goal is to destroy Europe, not reform it or make it work in Britain’s favour.

In practice this means that after 22 May, unless we feminists use our vote, even more UKIP MEPs will be flocking to the European Parliament to get their nose in every possible money trough, whilst disrupting sessions with their cheap stunts and insulting speeches, clogging committees, (including the Gender Equality Committee, where so much of the above legislation is dealt with), not voting, not amending, not doing anything at all, and all at our expense, for the next five years.

I happen to believe in the EU project. But even if I didn’t, as a woman and a feminist I can think of few worse fates than having Farage and his braying chums in charge of or able to influence any policies at all, at home or internationally, as my chances of becoming a chain-smoking pub landlord, unconcerned with maternity leave, anti-trafficking laws and all that – what do they call it? red tape – are vanishingly small.

Paola Buonadonna is Media Director for the pro-EU membership campaign British Influence.

Graphic: Sarah Spickernell is a freelance journalist and Interactive Journalism MA student at City University London. She has written for the Financial Times and The Sunday Times, and has a particular interest in women’s rights in the Middle East. Follow her @Sspickernell

Main Image: Rock Cohen

You need to be on the Electoral Register to exercise your right to vote. The deadline to register to vote in the 22 May European and local elections is 6 May. Please visit:

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Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

Leftover WomenLeta Hong Fincher is the author of ‘Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China’, published by Zed Books. She gave Deputy Editor Sarah Graham an in-depth interview on the state of Chinese gender politics.

During the Mao era gender equality was seen as an important revolutionary goal – Mao famously said “women hold up half the sky” – to what extent was that aim achieved, both legally and in terms of attitudes?

In the early period, following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party publicly celebrated gender equality and sought to harness women’s labour in boosting the nation’s industrial production, so it introduced many initiatives such as assigning urban women jobs in the planned economy. Women’s labour had traditionally been agricultural, but under Mao women were told they could do anything that a man could do and were recruited into formerly male-dominated work. The Communist Party frames the 1950s as the age of “women’s liberation,” and for many women previously bound to the home, unable to participate in public work, it was.

One of my professors at Tsinghua University, Guo Yuhua, says that women were objects of mobilisation in China’s gigantic social engineering experiment in the 1950s, so their “liberation” was an important symbol of the success of the prole­tarian revolution in the Communist Party’s rendering of history. But the state-imposed equal employment of women and men failed to transform underlying gender relations. Behind the public celebration of gender equality in the Communist workplace, women continued to shoulder the heavy burdens of childcare, housework and cooking at home. Rural women in particular suffered tremendously.

A year or so ago I read Xue Xinran’s book The Good Women of China, which is largely based on interviews conducted during the 1980s (i.e. post-Mao) and addresses issues like suppression of homosexuality, rape, forced marriage, and abuse carried out by government figures. In what ways has China today progressed and/or regressed since then?

It’s a very complicated picture but briefly, women’s rights abuses have occurred throughout Chinese history and since the Communist Revolution of 1949. Xinran’s book tells some very moving tales about the suffering of women. At the same time, the early Communist-era policy of mobilising women to take part in the workforce had the long-lasting, positive effect of very high female labour force participation compared to the rest of the world. At the end of the 1970s, over 90 percent of working-age women in the cities were employed, so this significantly raised their social and economic status relative to men.

But since the onset of market reforms in the 1980s, the state has retreated from its previous role in mandating gender equality in the workplace. Women’s employment rates started to drop significantly in the 1990s, and today urban women’s employment rates have fallen to new lows, while the gender income gap has also increased sharply. Combine that with the unprecedented gender wealth gap caused by China’s real estate boom, deeply entrenched patriarchal norms, and the new state media campaign against “leftover” women, and gender inequality has come roaring back.

The name of your book refers to those “leftover women” – the notion that unmarried, educated women over the age of 27 are “leftover”. Compared to women in the west (as in You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?) how strongly is that pressure and stigma felt by women in China?

Women around the world face all kinds of gender discrimination, so Chinese women are certainly not alone. I have received mes­sages through my Twitter account from women in India, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines and other countries telling me that they also face intense pres­sure to marry.

The difference in China is that gender-discriminatory norms are exacerbated by a one-party state intent on social engineering, with a massive propaganda apparatus that maintains a tight grip on information. So when the state media mobilise to push the message that women in their late 20s are “leftover”, like rotten food, and those messages are repeated ad nauseum ever since 2007, even university-educated, young women may internalize that ideology because they don’t have enough access to alternative sources of information.

The “leftover” women media campaign is also aimed at the parents and other older relatives of young women, so even if the young woman rejects the sexist media messages, she still comes under intense pressure from her parents and others to get married. Arranged marriages are supposed to be a thing of the past, but I see quite a lot of young women rushing into marriage with a man pushed on them by their relatives, just because they are afraid of winding up “leftover” in their late 20s or early 30s.

One of the biggest regressions you’ve mentioned in your writing on the subject is the amendment to marriage laws, which dramatically reduce women’s property rights. What have been the biggest practical knock-on effects you’ve seen for women?

China’s privatisation of housing since 1998 has resulted in an unprecedented and fast accumulation of residential real-estate wealth, but this wealth is out of reach for women whose families are unwilling to help them make the down payment on an urban home. I argue that Chinese women have been largely shut out of the biggest accumulation of residential property wealth in history, worth around US$30 trillion in 2013, since parents tend to buy homes for sons but not daughters; most homes are registered in men’s names; and many women transfer their life savings to their boyfriend or husband to finance the purchase of the home, but then forfeit ownership of this valuable asset by leaving their names off the property deed.

The 2011 new judicial interpretation of China’s Marriage Law was a severe setback for women’s legal property rights because it essentially says that if you don’t have your name on the property deed, and you can’t prove your financial contribution to the home’s purchase, you don’t get to keep the home in the event of a divorce. I didn’t focus on why the Supreme People’s Court made this change in the law, but the amendment has been extremely controversial.

Many of the married women I interviewed were dismayed by the legal change because their names were not on the marital home deed. And I found that time and time again, young women in their 20s might first insist that their name is registered on the deed before they agree to marry, but in the end, they tend to back down and give in to an unequal financial arrangement because they are afraid they might become a “leftover” woman, who will never be able to find a husband. Not all women are like this, of course, but social and regulatory forces work overwhelmingly against women’s interests.

You also mention that women have “almost no recourse” if their husband abuses them – what is the legal status of domestic violence, and how does the system work in practice?

Official statistics state that one-quarter of China’s women have experienced domestic violence, though activists say the real figure is much higher. But the biggest problem is that it is exceedingly difficult for a woman to gain protection from a violent partner. The government has stalled on enacting targeted legislation to curb domestic violence, despite years of lobbying by feminist NGOs.

Since China doesn’t have a specific law on domestic violence, feminist activists say that judges routinely refer to intimate partner violence as “family conflict” instead. My book gives some chilling examples of how women suffered horrifying abuse at the hands of their husbands and made multiple police reports and went to the hospital to document their injuries, but still received no protection from the police or the courts. There is now talk that a domestic violence law may finally be passed, but so far it hasn’t happened.

What role has the one-child policy played in cultural attitudes towards women’s position? 

Some scholars argue that the one-child policy has empowered urban women because they don’t have to compete with brothers for parental investment in education. And it’s true that urban women today are arguably the most highly educated in Chinese history. But the one-child policy also exacerbated sex-selective abortions because of the strong cultural preference for boys, so that China now has a severe sex ratio imbalance.

The National Bureau of Statistics says there are now about 20 million more men under 30 than women under 30, and the State Council calls the surplus population of men a “threat to social stability.” State media reports say these unmarried men are more likely to disturb the social order by “rioting, steal­ing and gang fighting.” So restless, single men are seen as a threat to the foundation of Chinese society. And single women threaten the moral fabric as well, for being free agents, and unnatural in failing to perform their duty to marry and give birth to a child.

What is the position of lesbian and bisexual women in Chinese society? 

The Chinese govern­ment took homosexuality off its list of “mental diseases” in 2001 and, since then, the Chinese public’s acceptance of lesbian and bisexual women and the entire LGBTQ community has increased. The Internet and social media like Weibo have helped to build an expanded online network of support for the LGBTQ community in recent years.

Still, LGBTQ websites are often targeted by the police in “anti-pornography” media crackdowns. LGBTQ films are banned from being shown in public and must be screened quietly in non-public spaces. Lesbian activists have formed support groups, but they complain that they are marginalised by mainstream women’s rights NGOs, and have a lot of trouble getting legally registered.

You’ve mentioned the role of the (state-run) Women’s Federation in the campaign to pressure women into marriage – do you believe the Women’s Federation really serves Chinese women’s interests?

There are a lot of genuinely committed feminists working within the Women’s Federation who have done important research on women and who work to protect women’s interests. But the organisation itself is in many ways just like other agencies controlled by the Communist Party. So, for example, the Women’s Federation has played a major role in organising mass matchmaking fairs targeting educated women, which only further intensifies the marriage pressure.

What work are independent feminist activists and organisations doing to push back against the regression of women’s rights? 

Some registered women’s rights NGOs, such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, do effective work to raise awareness about China’s epidemic of intimate partner violence, and they are eligible for funding from international donor groups. But by and large grassroots feminist activists in China are extremely cash-strapped and often harassed by the police. It is very difficult for them to register as legal organisations, so it is hard for them to get funding from outside sources and their ability to organise is severely constrained by the state’s security apparatus.

My last chapter profiles some extremely courageous feminist activists fighting against the widespread gender discrimination in Chinese society against tremendous odds. It’s not easy for readers outside China to support these activists, but there are some international groups that manage to fund meaningful women’s rights activities.

Leta Hong Fincher is an award-winning former journalist who has been published in a number of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times. She is completing her Ph.D. in Sociology at Tsinghua University. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China was published this month by Zed Books, as part of their ‘Asian Arguments’ series.

Leta Hong Fincher will be appearing at two Zed Books events taking place on Thursday 17 April, with a book signing at 1pm at the Arthur Probsthain bookshop and the Leftover Women book launch from 7pm at the Royal Asiatic Society lecture hall. See Zed Books for more details.

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Feminist Times presents: SEX INDUSTRY WEEK, 24th – 30th March

Dear Feminist Times readers,

Following our coverage of the pro and anti Nordic Model campaigns, we present Sex Industry Week at Feminist Times, where we will be taking a look at one of the most polarizing issues in contemporary feminism. Follow the debate on Twitter at #SexIndustryWeek


Feminist Times’ exclusive serialisation of Playing the Whore
Feminist Times is the only place you will be able to read a serialisation of extracts from Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Author Melissa Gira Grant was an online sex worker before becoming a writer and journalist. Whether you think you’ll agree with her or not, here’s your chance to read extracts from the book for free online all this week. To coincide, we will give away a signed copy of Playing the Whore every weekday. Keep an eye on Twitter and each extract for details.

“To produce a prostitute where before there had been only a woman is the purpose of such policing. It is a socially acceptable way to discipline women” The first extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

by Charlotte Raven

“Was I too easy on Grant? You can judge for yourself.” Editor-in-Chief Charlotte Raven kicks off #SexIndustryWeek with her review of ‘Playing The Whore’.

“We should, in fact, refuse to debate” The second extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

by Glosswitch
“Feminism has to do more than simply polish patriarchy’s turds,” says Glosswitch on porn, feminism and moral panic.

#SexIndustryWeek: Five Gloria Steinem quotes
As Gloria Steinem turns 80, we look at her perspective on the sex industry.

#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Industry
“These demands on sex workers’ labor, while it is simultaneously devalued, is why we still insist that sex work is work.”

#SexIndustryWeek: The Future of Porn
by Jordan Erica Webber
“…bring more women into the tech industry, and hope that the next time technology leaps forward we get social change to match.”

#SexIndustryWeek: Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people
by Philippa Willitts
Disabled feminist Philippa Willitts addresses the argument that, without sex workers, poor disabled people would never get any sex.

#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Stigma
“Asked only to talk about how empowering it all was or about how much of a survivor they are.” The fourth extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – English Collective of Prostitutes
The English Collective of Prostitutes explain their demands.

#SexIndustryWeek: My enemy’s enemy is my friend
by Roz Kaveney
Editorial Board member Roz Kaveney writes on the alliance between sex workers and the trans community.

#SexIndustryWeek: 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.”
The fifth and final extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

#SexIndustryWeek: We can’t have good sex in an unequal society
by Susan Dowell
From the Puritans to Josephine Butler, Theologian and Author of Dispossessed Daughters of Eve, Susan Dowell explores a history of sex industry free utopias and what they can offer us

#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry
As part of #SexIndustryWeek, the Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry present their manifesto.

PLUS we want to make sure YOU are included in this debate. If you have a grassroots campaign, point of view or experience you think should be included, let us know and we will try our best to publish as many as we can next week. Send a brief description to editorial@feministtimes.com

Follow the debate on Twitter at #SexIndustryWeek



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Women are used to being ignored, even in their millions

Something peculiar happened on Sunday 9th March. On its front page, the Independent on Sunday bore a picture of the seventh annual Million Women Rise march. Not too strange in itself, but in seven years of Million Women rising and marching, this is the first year that they have garnered front page press coverage.

Million Women Rise marches each year on a day close to International Woman’s Day, with the aim to end male violence against women. Founded by activists, with no big funding backers, it is impressive that the march continues to grow each year. What’s more, it’s one of the most diverse feminist marches to pound through London – founded and led by black women – which is increasingly obvious in the march’s make up.

This year thousands of women took to the streets, gathering in London’s Leicester Square for a rally and speeches. The march isn’t without its criticism, though. For too long, powerful women’s spaces have operated with hostility towards trans women and sex workers – voices that we as a movement cannot afford to ignore.

Alongside this unprecedented press coverage, is an inkling of hope that women are finally being listened to. Historically women have known the sharp edge of what it feels like to be ignored when we articulate exclusion, discrimination and pain. In 2012 a leaked BBC email regarding the Jimmy Saville case referred to the on-the-record testimonies of victims of Saville’s abuse as “just the women”.

It’s as if women’s testimonies, women’s work and women’s efforts are constantly undervalued and written out of history. Shunted down to the bottom of the priority pile, violence against women becomes a domestic issue, an occupational hazard of womanhood. There’s still plenty of work to be done. Women must march through the streets of London annually until violence against us makes the 6 o’clock news.

For years now, women have organised in their local communities, as well as screaming at the top of our lungs whilst marching through central London. Feminist activism has existed on the fringes of the mainstream for decades. There was even an uncertain period in the early noughties, when newspapers would run twice yearly features proclaiming: “feminism is back!”

But feminist activists have slogged it out for years, dong work that is vital, much needed, and mostly thankless. So many women’s marches take place annually, and they are routinely ignored. Take, for example, Reclaim the Night – often pulling in the numbers, yet rarely getting the attention it deserves.

There was almost a scuffle for airtime between the anti-rape marches when the Slutwalk movement emerged in 2011. Formed in Toronto in the April of that year, Slutwalk was a direct backlash to the words of a police officer who, in a talk to undergraduates, told his audience that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to avoid rape.

Slutwalk got the coverage because the press was completely bemused by it. Viewed through an uncritical lens, no one could understand why anyone would want to reclaim the word slut – simultaneously forgetting the main message of the march. Pictures of partially dressed, conventionally attractive white women didn’t hurt either.

So this image of a racially diverse, fully-clothed march on the front page in the Independent on Sunday marks a turning point. Feminism has stuck its flag in the ground, and it is here for good. A number of contributing factors have collided together to create the perfect storm of women’s voices being heard in harmony. But we can’t hinge all hope on one front page. Now that women have the mic, the responsibility is on us to centre our struggles around the most marginalised. Now is where the hard work doubles down, harnessing the transformative power of people who are dedicated to changing the world.

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

Photo: Nick Sutton

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Profile: West London Fawcett

Following a turbulent summer of life-changing illness, a brand new perspective and, ironically, a new lease of life after suffering a stroke at just 27 years old, I set out to enrich my life and concentrate the energy I had been left with on things that I really believe in.

Since last August I have joined a befriending programme for Age UK, got a place on the board of trustees for WAND UK (Women’s Association for African Networking and Development) and, finally, helped to set up the West London branch of The Fawcett Society – the women’s rights organisation founded by Millicent Fawcett in 1866.

Equality has always been something I have strived for but only really at a personal level; the West London Fawcett Society has provided a platform to take my feminism to the next level. After one summer of spreading the word, one autumn of auditing interest and commitment to a winter of women, work and research, we are hoping that spring will see some real change and engagement blossom within the West London political community.

Just a few meetings in and we’ve already set up a colourful committee and drafted our first report, ‘Vote4Women’, to examine the economic impact of political decision-making on women. The report is not only a respectful nod to the suffragettes and their infamous slogan; it also neatly paves the way for the 4 pillars of the campaign.

In their entirety, the report and campaign aim to highlight and, more importantly, end the disproportionate impact of budget cuts, spending and other political decisions on women… but how? The main ways we aim to achieve this are to lobby across all West London boroughs to:

1. Increase the number of female representatives in politics and local councils to achieve a 50 per cent gender split

2. Influence a change in working practices to be more inclusive to women councillors

3. Drive policies that address economic inequality – e.g. housing, sport, sure start, equal pay

4. Drive policies that impact women’s safety – e.g. refuges, rape conviction rates, domestic violence

It is our belief that without equality at Government and local council level, we will struggle to ever see equality throughout society or women’s needs placed on a level playing field.

The report is still a work in progress but from humble settings (a freezing cold, empty room on the top floor of a Hammersmith pub), and thanks to the hard work of several brilliant minds, big ideas are brewing!

Individual research on all West London boroughs is now complete, the first discovery being an average of 33% female council members across a seven-borough region. Admittedly, this is a step up from the dismal figures of private sector boards and organisations as a whole – women account for just 13.2% of FTSE 250 board directors – but there is still a lot of work to be done!

If you’d like to get involved or contribute to the report, please do get in touch at westlondonfawcet@gmail.com. Follow us @njambler and @wlfawcett or join our Facebook group – just search West London Fawcett Society!

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Feminist Toolkit: How to make a Citizen’s Arrest

Last week Twiggy Garcia was working in a trendy Shoreditch restaurant when he realised Tony Blair was holding court in the private dining area. Seeing a once in a lifetime opportunity Twiggy acted out a citizen’s arrest by placing his hand on Blair’s shoulder and saying:

“Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq. I am inviting you to accompany me to a police station to answer the charge.

Blair’s response was to talk about Syria and Twiggy, upon realising the plain clothes security were about to feel his collar, legged it from the restaurant leaving Tony, and his job, behind. He is the fifth person to try and arrest Blair and the fifth person to fail, but you have to admire his pluckiness.

We can imagine all kinds of situations where we might want to place someone under citizen’s arrest, and not just alleged war criminals, so we went to top barrister and feminist Julian Norman to get an indispensable guide on how to take justice into your own hands. Turns out you probably shouldn’t.

How to make a citizen’s arrest.

The first rule of citizen’s arrest is of course don’t do it. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know how. Daydreaming of grabbing a tube-train groper and arresting him to the admiring cheers of your fellow commuters can be very satisfying. So here is your toolkit guide to a technically accurate daydream.

# 1: Don’t do it
Why not? Before we get started on how you would if you could, really, it’s a bad idea. People who have tried it tend to get arrested themselves for assault and false imprisonment. And even when they are acquitted, they had to go through that telephone call to their boss / their mum / their spouse explaining that they were in police custody. So keep this for revenge-based daydreams and absolute genuine emergencies.

#2: When to do it
The rules on citizen’s arrest are covered by s.24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which lets a person “other than a constable” arrest anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence or anyone whom she reasonably suspects of committing an indictable offence. Where that offence has already been committed, she can arrest anyone who is guilty or anyone whom she reasonably suspects is guilty of it.

So what’s the catch? Well, first, be sure your offence is “indictable” – that is, could be heard at a Crown Court. Some less serious offences can only be heard by magistrates (“summary only offences”) and these include most driving offences such as speeding, common assault, and some public order offences. If our heroine tries to arrest someone who’s been abusive and slapped her, she’ll be the one arrested, because she didn’t have the power to conduct a citizen’s arrest. See Rule One.

Let’s assume though that we have a more serious offence. Back to Mr. Gropey – she’s just seen him grab a stranger’s crotch, and there is no way it was consensual. Sexual assault is an indictable offence. The next obstacle is that arresting him must be necessary in order to stop him from causing physical injury to himself or another person, suffering physical injury, causing loss of or damage to property or making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him, AND it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest instead. Could she call the police to meet the train at the next stop rather than arrest him? If so, it is reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest and she should not do it. However, if he is about to be set upon by a dozen angry bystanders and there is no constable in view, then she could perform a citizen’s arrest as being necessary to stop him from suffering physical injury.

#3: How to do it
Disappointingly, there is no set form of words for the person performing the citizen’s arrest. However, she must inform the person she is arresting of what she is doing, why she is doing it and what offence she believes the other person has committed.

She is allowed to use ‘reasonable force.’ What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, but as a general rule you are allowed to defend yourself but not to attack. If Mr Gropey responds to the citizen’s arrest by attempting to punch her, she is entitled to judo kick his legs out from under him and sit on his chest, but once he is restrained she can’t carry on. If he runs away she can use ‘reasonable’ force to detain him but this must not turn into anything the court could construe as an assault.

Once he is arrested, she can ask him to accompany her to the police station or she can call the police to come and get him.

#4: Really, don’t do it.
Citizen’s arrest is a bit outdated these days. It’s the same power that PCSOs have, you need a thorough knowledge of criminal law so as to be sure whether your offence is indictable or not, plus it’s risky both in terms of annoying a potentially dangerous criminal and in terms of getting yourself arrested accidentally. In the age of the iThing, it’s safer just to video an offence taking place if you see it and hand the footage to the police (assuming that the offence couldn’t have been prevented, obviously, don’t just sit there and watch if you could stop it without risk to yourself), or place the offender in the Youtube stocks, like Racist Croydon Tram Woman.

#5: Checklist

  1. Is someone in the act of committing an offence?
  2. Or, has the offence already been committed and do I know (or reasonably suspect) someone to be guilty of it?
  3. Is the offence indictable?
  4. Could a constable practicably do this instead?
  5. Do I have to arrest the suspect to stop them hurting me, themselves, anyone else, or being hurt, or damaging property, or running away?

If the answer to these is ‘yes’ then you can perform a citizen’s arrest. If it’s ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ then don’t.

Julian Norman is a barrister, professional law nerd, feminist and writer. Follow her @londonfeminist

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New Year Message from a Crone: Woman’s Inner Time

I’m calling on Dames, Matrons, Crones and Hags, Witches and Medicine Women – “Granny” can be rather patronising and too comfortable – to set up a network of ‘WIT Eldership’ collectives, supported by trusted and respected people of other age groups and genders.

Eldership is a source of strength, especially in old women who acknowledge our species is self-destructing (destroying many other species along the way) and who recognise that true teaching is a receptive process; knowing what the Earth needs requires solitude and quietness.

I often feel lonely and irrelevent, and in the great tradition of older people, feel concerned that the younger generation is losing its way. From the perspective of age we can see what’s important. It’s our role to steer us all back onto the path of intuition and deep listening.

Yesterday at Oxford Antiques Market I got talking with a Moroccan who sells old stuff that appeals because of its mystery. He has no idea where it comes from, we know nothing of its history. I picked up two horses that were skillfully made with leather; I could feel the way the person who made these objects loved and respected animals. This knowledge came from a sense that is beyond words.

Both of us have been watching our grandchildren using their iPads and computer games, and realise they appear to be disconnected from their heritage. They feel masterful in their own worlds, but are they able to reach out to each other and communicate complex & subtle emotions? In a time of urgent and evolving crisis for our beloved Earth, these skills will be paramount.

Young people need to be listened to. I want us to move beyond patriarchal authoritarian concepts of ‘the expert’ to a deeper place where people search within themselves for their own innate skills and capacities, which the alienating forms of exam-based education tends to squash. All human beings have amazing capacities, which older people can draw out with patience and insight.

It takes a village to raise a child” – Proverb with African Roots

How do we construct that “village” in our world of super speedy communication? How do we find communion between different ages and levels of society? I request that we invest in old women who feel ‘called’ and have been moved by the sixties/seventies liberation struggles, by that age of interactive self-exploration.

I’m an old hippy and I’m remembering how earlier in my life I was so full of hope, as so many of us were. Aware we had work to do and willing to pledge and honour that sense of being called; but now I’m questioning myself and sometimes feel powerless and daunted to the point of numbness, but I know that it’s not hopeless. The Work is increasing in its depth and demands.

We’ve just moved through solstice time, nurturing our bodies and developing communal bonds. We’re also at a stage in our human development where we need to nurture the inner realms we sometimes call ‘soul’. I’ve developed the concept of WIT (Woman’s Inner Time); as contemporary Medicine Women, we would not be teaching children, but rather supporting adults who teach kids, including parents and professionals.

We older women would develop the art of listening without imposing agendas, judgement or opinion, but rather create ‘sacred’ space for uninterrupted personal exploration. We would be a resource and would begin with ourselves and our own ego-nurturance, in order to move beyond old wounds and the habits of internal conflict and self-sabotage.

Raga Woods is a frequently-photographed, much-travelled mad Crone . If you’d like to find out more about WIT email her: ragawoo@gmail.com

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Top Ten of 2013’s Most Unlikely Feminists

Top Ten of 2013’s Most Unlikely Feminists

Feminism is most definitely fashionable. So, we present to you, the Feminist Times reader, without comment, a list of some famous people who declared themselves feminist in 2013.

10. Tamara Mellon: “Am I a feminist? Absolutely”

As the designer behind all those Sex in the City Jimmy Choos comes out as a feminist, does this finally answer the first (and most annoying) question we get asked by every media org: ‘Can you be a feminist and still like shoes?”


Photo Clotee Pridgen Allochuku

9. Selena Gomez: “That’s not feminism. [Lorde is] not supporting other women”

In a Pop-Starlet Feminisn-off – Disney’s Selena was hurt when her fellow chart-mate Lourdes accused her of not being feminist enough.


8. Courtney Stodden: “I’m a true Feminist”

Famous for marrying a much older actor when she was only 16, this year we saw the 19 year old grow up and feel empowered in the Celebrity Big Brother House, oh and put a stock cube in a kettle.


7. Stephenie Meyer: “I think there are many feminists who would say that I am not a feminist.”

She may have written what many regard as an incredibly sexist and misogynistic series of books, but the Twilight author insists she loves women and that makes her a feminist.


Photo Gage Skidmore

6. Jesus: “Jesus thought women were people, too”

Jesus let a woman wash his feet, hung out with women and stuck up for women. In her book Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey argues that Jesus made her a feminist.


Photo rochelle hartman

5. Cosmo: “…deeply feminist”

Editor in Chief Joanna Coles asked Capital: “where are all the left-wing academics?” when it comes to fighting for women’s rights, and described Cosmo as “deeply feminist”.


4. Joan Collins: “I think I probably am”

Like all feminists, Joan Collins gets grumpy when she’s hungry. Nuff said.


3. Margaret Thatcher: “…ultimate feminist icon – whether she liked it or not”

Emma Barrett gave Thatcher the posthumous honor of the title ‘feminist icon’ in the Telegraph, regardless of the fact the Tory Prime Minister said, in her own life time:

“The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.”


Photo Gwydion M. Williams

2. Miley Cyrus: “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world”

Miley Cyrus believes telling women to do whatever they want to do is feminist. She says she does everything she does because she wants to do it, and that’s as complicated as it gets.


1. David Cameron: “I am a feminist”

Almost Rans.

Nicole Scherzinger: “Instead of a feminist, I’m a feline-ist.”



Photo Radar – Bbspears

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#ManWeek: What about my Man Day?

It’s International Men’s Day! Hooray, said hardly anyone, ever, as millions of people around the globe have literally no idea it’s going on. While around half of the ones that do, including many feminists, just roll their eyes and say ‘every day’s international men’s day’. And quite.

Men. That famously oppressed group. I’ll park the sarcasm there.

Have you ever tried to explain International Women’s Day to a drunk and very annoying middle aged man? If so, I’ve been there: ‘What’s that then, a day for talking about periods? Pfft, and what about Man day? Where’s my Man Day?” To those of us scarred by such experiences, IMD appears to be the answer to that question, and that’s just one reason why it comes across as ridiculous as that old lush.

It’s galling that the one day that women have to address a historical global imbalance is mimicked by those many consider to be the perpetrators. Like white supremisists who claim to be victims of racism, or a straight pride. It feels at total odds with reality where women are 70% of those who live inpoverty and violence against women is at pandemic proportions.

It’s obvious then why many feminists and women find it hard to engage with International Men’s Day when one is repelled. But what if we start with the idea that men also suffer, that men are victims of patriarchy too – can it ever make sense?

International Men’s Day was founded by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. You can see Dr Teelucksingh explaining his reasoning on the video below: Too many families with absent fathers. Too many men in prison. Men failing at education and losing their identity as the ‘breadwinner’.

The ‘family unit is under attack’, he felt, back then. ‘Society needs to strongly condemn certain trends like multiple partners…. these deviant family patterns influenced by North American media… These project the wrong image of men which we tend to copy, we tend to mimic, we are mimic men, and we see that men are being less responsible.’ He goes on to explain that they need ‘better quality men’, ‘high calibre, trustworthy’ role models.

The men behind IMD are not just the white privileged few. IMD comes from a place where the men admit they are irresponsible, where their brothers are wasting their lives in prison, where they miss out on fulfilling relationships with the women and children in their lives. Fourteen years later in the UK IMD focuses on some of the same issues:

The six ‘pillars’ of International Men’s Day in 2013.
To promote positive male role models.
To celebrate men’s positive contributions.
To focus on men’s health and wellbeing.
To highlight discrimination against males.
To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
To create a safer, better world.

Some men, the minority involved in IMD, feel misrepresented, some feel discriminated against. The similarities between International Women’s and Men’s Days are that they both seek to express what they feel is misunderstood about their gender and bring to light issues their gender face.

In the light, not every day is fun times for all the boys, which is probably why the younger ones are the highest suicide-risk group. The pressure to fulfill stereotypes with a lack of diverse and ‘quality’ role models. Stereotypes that lead to abuse of women. The pressure to succeed in a world they are supposed to have built, with rules that are supposed to work for them, when really they are in a system that only allows the few to succeed. Shining light on both these issues can change life for the better for women too.

But IMD has the danger of being highjacked. By men who hate women. By the guys who think we’ve got too many rights, and that our rights are discriminatory towards them. By that drunk guy who just wants a day too. We should be wary of him.

Every day is a Man’s Day, but International Men’s Day is a chance to have a different kind of Man day, where gender stereotypes can be challenged – imagine if that happened every day.

Photo: Martin Abegglen


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Poetry: Faucet by Kavita Jindal

In response to the Saudi women’s day of action against the driving ban.


A woman
may buy a tool-kit and know how to use it
may change the washer, adjust the stopcock
swap the ball bearings
fix the leaky spigot with a spanner.
A woman may suggest to Nature
that for the next millennia
men become pregnant
a facetious fractious suggestion;
the woman knows her pleas
are just venting, as ineffectual
as hammering water.

A woman may not drive in Saudi Arabia
may not bike unless in a ladies’ only park
may not be seen in public without a male protector.
A woman must also be fertile
dribbling out male heirs;
she may spout songs in private
and dance in full Dior, smeared with make up
for her mirror and other ladies to see.

A village panchayat in Punjab declares
that mobile phones given to girls
leads them to pre-marital sex;
boys can have cell phones and call for help
when they’re in trouble, but females,
young things, must take it on the chin,
remaining on the drip-drip of advancement.

A woman there thinks: what if instead of aborting
the female foetuses, the nozzle was turned off
as if by a spell, a sorcery; no babies were born
to the women of this village, then the new elders
all men, would die out without replacement
and further afield too the taps would be fixed just so
by the women who knew how.

(First Line after ‘Woman’ by Arun Kolatkar)

Kavita Jindal

Image courtesy of: fo.ol

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What is Feminism? banner

Susan Dowell: Feminism is…

Susan DowellName: Susan Dowell

Age: 71 (or 17, I’m dyslexic when asked for my age – take your pick!)

Location: Rural South-West Shropshire (back ass of nowhere)

Bio: I’ve done lots of things including living and working in Africa (Ethiopia and Zambia) for 5 years, having four children, and most importantly finding feminism which has been the focus of my writing and thinking over many years.

Feminism is A Dangerous Delight (the title of a 1991 book by Monica Furlong who died 20 years ago this year).

Dangerous, lethally so, for so many women throughout history and across the world today who struggle to be recognised as equal human beings with the same rights and dignity as men.

Delightful because feminism offers those of us who live in the prosperous secular West a solidarity in their struggle which, when we take care to ensure it is neither self-seeking nor self-aggrandising, heals 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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What is Feminism? banner

Madeleine Walton: Feminism is…

Madeleine WaltonName: Madeleine Walton

Age: 52

Location: Sheffield

Bio: Lesbian artist with three adopted daughters

Feminism is … Women: as the subject; asking questions; ascertaining the truth; being in control; believing in ourselves; breaking boundaries; creating space; demanding respect; developing new ways of working; doing it for ourselves; empowering each other; ending injustices; establishing the facts; exposing the reality; expressing ourselves freely; fighting patriarchy; forging alliances; getting old disgracefully; having equal rights; having the freedom to choose; knowing our rights; learning from each other; liking our own bodies; listening to each other; living life to the full; saying it as it is; looking out for each other; loving ourselves as we are; overcoming set-backs; setting the agenda; showing girls how to be independent; speaking out; speaking up; stopping violence against women; subverting society; taking back the night; taking control; taking on the state; thinking for ourselves; threatening the status quo; understanding our history; valuing ourselves; voicing our opinions; we are stronger together!

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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Natalie Bennett

Natalie Bennett marks International Day of the Girl

Following her criticism of the cabinet reshuffle earlier this week, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has marked the UN’s International Day of the Girl Child with a statement, sent exclusively to Feminist Times, which is to be read today to girls at the Royal High School, Bath.

Dear pupils,

I am sorry I can’t join you today to pass on in person how pleased I am that you are paying serious attention to the International Day of the Girl.

When I was five years old, it was brought home to me that I was indeed a girl. Was told that I couldn’t have the bicycle I passionately wished for, because I was female. Riding a bicycle was “unladylike” I was told. But had I had a brother, he could have one and I might be allowed to ride it some time.

Ever since that day, I have been passionate about women’s rights.

Of course we know many girls in the world today suffer vastly great deprivations – lack of food, lack of a chance for an education, risk of violence and abuse – simply because of their gender.

We need to say – and I hope you will say, as you step out into the world and start to take over the world – that no discrimination against girls is acceptable.

And I hope you will celebrate the many achievements of girls – from the high profile, such as the magnificent Malala, to the unsung girls around the world who labour to feed their families and themselves. They should be in school, but they are doing their best with the hand society has dealt them.

The future world is your world – you can shape it, make choices about its direction. Maybe one of you will be a prime minister, one of you might be a Supreme Court judge – and we certainly need more women there. Maybe you’ll be a chef, or a farmer, or an engineer. And we need more women doing all of those jobs too.

Whatever you do, I hope you’ll be thinking about not just your own progress, but also that of other girls and women around the world.

When we work together for the common good, we’re all stronger, all happier, all more secure.

I hope you have a great day today, a great celebration, one that you will remember in the years to come.

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