Recent Equality Articles
Given the debate in the House of Commons, I think it’s well worth reflecting on exactly where opposition to equal marriage is coming from and, particularly, how that opposition is being organised.
As far as public opinion is concerned, YouGov President Peter Kellner laid out the actual position with admirable clarity yesterday:
The passions of grass-roots Tories who are bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage are not shared by the wider electorate. Most voters back a change in the law – and very few opponents are willing to switch their votes because of this issue.
So, among the public as a whole, 4% are pro-same-sex marriage AND say this is a vote-deciding issue, while 3% are in the opposite camp. Among those who voted Conservative in 2010, just 6% say this is a vote-deciding issue, and they divide 3-1 against same-sex marriage. So even there, the net effect is tiny.
So, not only do a majority of the public support marriage equality but its also anything but the political hot potato that its (mostly) Tory opponents are trying to make out.
However, one issue not many pick up on is the parallel problem of ‘organisational capture’, i.e. what us lefties used to refer to as ‘entryism‘.
In simple terms, it is not simply a matter of the decline in the mass membership of political parties, and other organisations, leaving them increasingly at the mercy of their residual ‘swivel-eyed’ activist rump. It also leaves them in a position where, starting at the grassroots level, they become increasingly susceptible to capture by organised minority interest groups intent on using the party/organisation as a vehicle to push their own narrow agenda.
Although this is problem that is, historically, most closely associated with the political left, and in the UK particular with the takeover of the Labour Party Young Socialists and Liverpool City Council by Militant, it is an issue that is increasingly coming to bedevil conservative politics, particularly in the United States. For example, one of the more alarming and poignant stories to emerge from the 2010 US election was that of Bob Inglis, a former Republican member of the US House of Representatives who was deselected in 2010 after losing a primary to Tea Party-backed candidate.
You might think this can safely be filed away under ‘only in America’, but don’t be so sure.
Take a good hard look at the following chart which I’ve put together in an attempt to map the many connections that already exist between our own right-wing Christian lobby and both their US counterparts and, more importantly, with a wide range of British conservative political organisations and politicians.
The map, which is far from complete, shows the extent to which our own religious lobby has already forged connections and assumed positions of influence throughout the right-wing/conservative movement in Britain.
It also shows the extent to which political opposition to measures such as equal marriage and legal access to safe abortion services originates with and is tied into a very narrow range of closely connected religious groups.
If you think that the religious right in Britain is no more than a bunch of fringe evangelical groups with few connections and very little political influence, this chart may well persuade you to think again.
A longer version of this post is here.
Peter Taylor-Gooby points out that, as inequality has risen, attitudes towards the poor and benefit recipients have hardened. He suggests several longer-term reasons for this, among them the decline of class alignment and rise of individualism. I'd add three other factors:
- A mistaken factual base. The public under-estimate bosses' pay and over-estimate welfare benefits.
- Recessions usually make people more mean-spirited.
- Capitalism generates cognitive biases (ideologies) that result in hostility to welfare recipients.
As Taylor-Goody says, it doesn't need to be this way: "Alternative approaches that emphasise reciprocity, solidarity and inclusion are possible."
This poses the question: how do we get to such approaches from where we are? One possibility is to look to a leftist party to argue for them. But there are good reasons to expect the Labour party not to do this. Just as companies' marketing strategies rarely work by telling potential customers they are stupid, so political campaigns rarely do so. This is why Labour panders to some of the worst aspects of public opinion, on immigration or welfare, rather than outrightly opposes it. The Labour party is a managerialist marketing strategy, not a force for truth and justice.
But if Labour is not an agency for radical change, what is? Sure, there are a few bloggers and columnists who are trying to shift the Overton window, but these tend to preach to smallish groups of the already-converted.
This, of course, is not to deny that social attitudes can change. For example, during my lifetime, attitudes to gays has improved considerably. But I fear that this progress has been like Max Planck's view of scientific advance – it has happened one funeral at a time.
And herein lies a paradox of the left. Whilst we have spent decades advocating social change, we have remarkably few answers to the question: through what mechanisms, exactly, can it be achieved?
The Alan Turing Statutory Pardon Bill has been published on the Houses of Parliament website.
Turing was a mathematician and philosopher who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and invented electronic computing. He was also a homosexual, and was convicted of “Gross indecency between men” in 1952. As a result he lost his security clearance, was subjected to chemical castration, and committed suicide when he was only 42.
This statutory pardon seeks to atone for the Government’s appalling treatment of a national hero.
Nevertheless, the idea of such a narrow pardon worries me a little.
The implication seems to be that Turing gets a pardon because he achieved so much. But that should not be how the law and justice works.
What about all those under-achievers and ordinary men who were convicted under the same illiberal and unjust law? Why do they not get a pardon too?
Having strenuously protested his innocence just three months ago, veteran BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall last week admitted he sexually abused girls – one of whom was as young as nine.
The Hall case shows more than ever just how vital it is that we continue to name men accused of rape and sexual assault. Because it is this naming that can give survivors and victims the confidence to come forward.
In Hall’s case, the police and CPS have been vocal in their argument for naming defendants. They have explained how naming Hall helped lead to his guilty admission. As survivors recognised that they were not alone, that he had attacked others, the police were able to gather the evidence they needed to charge and eventually prosecute.
We see the same pattern over and over again. Serial rapist John Worboys is a key example in how naming a defendant helped lead to his conviction. After he was named, it became impossible for the police to ignore the weight, the sheer amount, of women coming forward to name him as their rapist. Naming leads to evidence which helps lead to convictions.
Some argue that if we name the accused we should name the alleged victim. But why? Naming the victim isn’t going to help lead to convictions, it’s not going to help secure justice for rape survivors.
People cry ‘false accusations’ but if a woman is charged with that specific crime, then of course she will be named as she will be a defendant herself. The case of Ched Evans shows what can happen when you name the survivor. His victim was victimised all over again when she was subjected to horrific abuse to the point that she had to change her name and flee her home. How can we have ended up in a situation where some treat rapists with more sympathy and respect than their victims?
When criticising the policy of naming defendants, I think people confuse two different issues. The first is the legal issue and the indisputable, mounting, continuing evidence that naming helps convict rapists. The second is media behaviour.
The fact that the media convict people in their pages and often seem to tread a very narrow line between reporting and contempt of court is not a reason to end the policy of naming defendants. It is too important a policy, too important in bringing justice to victims and survivors, to be dropped because the press behave intrusively.
Press behaviour is an issue for the press. If they harass and taunt and wrongly convict men in their pages then that is not the fault of a sensible law that helps bring justice to rape victims. Bad behaviour in some sections of the media is not a reason to deny women and girls up and down the UK justice.
A longer version of this blog-post is here.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, rape convictions have hit an all -time high:
The Crown Prosecution Service has today published new figures that show the conviction rate for rape and domestic violence prosecutions increased once again last year.
The statistics show that the conviction rate for rape prosecutions has continued to rise to the highest on record, from 58% in 2007/08 to 63% in 2012/13. CPS recorded data on rape prosecutions includes all cases initially charged and flagged as rape, including those cases where a conviction was obtained for alternative sexual offences or serious offences of homicide or offences against the person.
Ah, but have you noticed the caveat in paragraph 2?
In the parallel universe that bureaucrats inhabit a ‘rape conviction’ is not actually a conviction for rape, it includes any conviction is a case that was initially charged and flagged as a rape, even if the actual rape charge was dropped before the case reached court or the defendant was acquitted of rape but convicted on a lesser offence.
In short, however good the overall conviction rate in these case might now look on paper, the claim that rape convictions have hit an all-time high is bullshit, a point that I made back in March 2012 when they tried the same bullshit arguments.
I’ve pulled together this [hopefully] handy infographic which lays out the truth about rape – from the British Crime Survey estimates for annual prevalence of rape and other serious sexual offences, to the CPS’s own audited figures for outcomes (for cases initiated in 2009).
Starting from a annual baseline of 85,000 completed or attempted serious sexual offences against adult women in England and Wales, plus around 10,500 rapes in which the victim was a female child (i.e. under 16), the criminal justice system delivered just 802 actual rape convictions.
I.e. where a defendant was actually convicted of rape and not a lesser offence, of which over half (415) came by way of a guilty plea and just over half were for offences against children.
In short, in that audited data, less than 400 actual convictions for rape related to offences in which the female victim was aged 16 or over.
Full file here (large 6mb PDF).
Copyright notionally creative commons non-commercial licence, but I can also waive that if the poster’s being used for fund-raising purposes by a non-profit organisation.
In the flurry of hagiographies and tributes to Margaret Thatcher, her long list of heinous political acts seems to have been ENTIRELY forgotten. In particular, the way her rampant homophobia became integral to British law.
Which, you will understand, hardly sits at ease with the relentless campaign to portray her as Holy. They may tell you that she was stubborn and, if they really fancy rocking the boat, that “some people saw her as fairly divisive”, but that Thatcher was behind Britain’s first new anti-gay law since 1885 is so utterly embarrassing that chances are you won’t hear about it.
Like human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell writes, “At the Conservative party conference in 1987 Mrs Thatcher mocked people who defended the right to be gay, insinuating that there was no such right.
During her rule, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behaviour rocketed, as did queer bashing violence and murders. This backlash coincided with her successive “family values” and “Victorian values” campaigns, which urged a return to traditional morality and family life. In fact this is what she publicly said:
Too often, our children don’t get the education they need—the education they deserve…
Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life—yes, cheated.
Which is how, aided by a hysterical tabloid campaign about “the loonie left” and “gay lobbies” along with talks of AIDS as “the gay plague” and the barefaced lie that “GAY PORN BOOKS [were being] READ IN SCHOOLS“, the Thatcher government steamrollered in the homophobic Section 28.
The Act, which remained part of the statute book until Labour scrapped it in 2003, was as controversial and ambiguous as it was soaked in hate and deep prejudice.
In one fell swoop, Section 28 crucially advocated censorship – preventing local authorities and schools from discussing (“promoting”, the hideous wording was) homosexuality or engaging in anti-bullying activities, sneered at “pretended family relationships”, and added insult to injury by linking homosexuality to “the spread of disease”.
It is almost impossible to believe that such an ignorant piece of legislation was part of the British legislative framework and that half the Tory party was still defending it tooth and nail as recently as 2003.
Nevertheless, caught between rising homophobic violence and intolerance, and the calls in favour of tackling discrimination and promoting acceptance, Thatcher made it very clear where she stood.
No coincidence that, shortly after Section 28 became law, the offices of a gay newspaper, Capital Gay, were burnt down and lesbian and gay helplines reported a threefold increase in “queer bashing”.
Which is why, when the current hysteria over Maggie’s beatification subsides a little, hopefully the world will manage to remember how such a detestably homophobic piece of legislation was entirely in line with Thatcher and her character. Now hopefully buried forever.
by Huma Munshi
I am not often filled with rage but earlier this week I attended a screening of ‘Banaz: a Love Story‘ directed by the Human Rights activist, Deeyah, and I felt such frustration and anger.
We hear statistics about the numbers of young people, mainly women, experiencing so-called ‘honour’ based violence and oppression but watching this young woman, who was eventually murdered by her family members, gave a stark insight into the horror of what these young people, mainly women, are enduring on a daily basis.
The figures for domestic violence in the UK are harsh, make no mistake. The Home Office reported that in the UK 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetimes and the Home Office reported that in 2010/11, 21 men and 93 women were killed by a partner, ex-partner or lover in the UK.
The Forced Marriage Unit published its figures this week indicating that they gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1485 cases involving 60 different countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America last year. Of the 744 cases where the age was known, over 600 of those involved were young people under the age of 26.
What I saw on screen a young woman fighting for her life. She fought time and time again. Her father sought to break her will and her spirit. This is exactly what this hate crime – because it is a hate crime – seeks to achieve. There is an intense hatred and fear of women: their autonomy, their sexuality, their intellect, their very essence.
She was mutilated at a young age so she would derive no pleasure from sexual activity; as she grew older she was not allowed friends as they would be a negative influence on her; when she turned 17, her father and uncle arranged her married to a much older man from Iraq who spoke no English and abused her in every way imaginable: sexually, physically and mentally.
When asked why he raped her repeatedly, he had responded, “well I only do it when she does not want to have sex.” When she left him, the men in her family forced her to return to retain the honour of the family within he community.
It is the very people that should be your support and provide you with love and care that sometimes put you in harms way. A form of collective madness overtakes a community and their traditions, culture and social mores provide moral legitimacy for their actions.
Banaz was savagely raped and murdered by her cousins, as planned by her uncle and father. Like in other cases we are only too familiar with – Shafilea Ahmed, for example – no one in this community provided protection for these young women. The silence of the community leaders in these horrific cases is deafening.
In Banaz’s case, the report from the initial interview did not even get written up until three months later. She approached the police time and time again and at one point left a note with the names of the people that would kill her; tracking those individuals helped them to eventually find her body.
We need a call to arms on International Women’s Day. We will fail time and time again if we don’t get this right.
The End Violence Against Coalition is proposing to make Sex and Relationships Education statutory to deal with this problem because schools have a vital role to play in helping young people develop healthy attitudes and behaviours, as well as supporting young people experiencing abuse.
Karma Nivarna have tried countless times to go into schools and raise awareness about forced marriage and honour based violence but are turned away because schools want to bury their heads in the sand.
During this month of activity to celebrate women, we have must show dogged determination and be resolute to stop violence again women and girls.
Huma Munshi is a feminist, trade unionist and occasional writer.
For 11 months from September 2006, I was the day-to-day organiser of the Lib Dem Campaign for Gender Balance, the party’s internal initiative to mentor, train and network female would-be candidates for Parliament.
Though managed by Jo Swinson MP, I was actually based in the party headquarters, my desk sandwiched between those of the Candidates and Campaigns teams, on the floor above the office of the then Chief Executive, Chris Rennard.
In my own life, these were important months. Galvanised into membership as a student by the heat of my opposition to the Iraq war and plans for 92-days detention, it was only when working right next to them that I saw how much else was missing that I also cared about- like class, redistribution and solidarity. Oh, and actually taking women’s under-representation seriously enough to do something about it that might work.
And it was also during this time that inappropriate sexual touching by Chris Rennard of Alison Smith was alleged to have taken place. I don’t now remember where I first heard about it, but I do remember the phone call when Jo told me she had spoken to Alison herself, and that the information had been passed to Paul Burstow, the Chief Whip. And I know that key members of staff at Lib Dem HQ were also aware of all this.
Naïve as it now sounds, I believed it was being dealt with, and that what I had to do was make sure Alison knew she would still get the campaign’s help if she chose to look for another seat. I left shortly afterwards, to become a law student and a Labour activist – things I now struggle to remember a life without.
Almost six years later, I was emailed by a researcher from Firecrest Films, who said she wanted to talk to me about “a possible short film looking at gender balance in political parties”. I could not have been more thrilled: the level of women’s representation in our Parliament is both embarrassing and damaging to sound policy, and cannot be fixed alone.
I wanted to talk about liberal ideology and its innate misunderstanding of positive discrimination, and the more prosaic issue of complacent local party officers who pay zero attention to the diversity of their membership until longlisting day. And yes- I wanted to talk about the questionable attitudes that some male politicians – in all parties- have towards young women.
But, of course, this wasn’t actually the purpose of the meeting at all. As I wittered on about shortlisting quotas and the great I Am Not a Token Woman scandal of ’01, it was impossible to miss the recurring theme of her questions. Those training events that in my view focused on the wrong aspects of what it takes to be a candidate- did, erm, did Chris Rennard usually come along? And did he stay over? Not even my hilarious Lembit Opik anecdote could throw her off.
So I adjusted my expectations, and told her what I knew. And having learned that, as far as we can tell, nothing was done about the allegations, I am wholly supportive of the Channel 4 investigation and the mounting pressure on the party leadership to explain who decided what.
What worries me now is that, as the coverage ramps up and up, and becomes increasingly politicised, we risk taking our eye off the wider issue of culture in all our political parties. Sexual harassment is hard to report anywhere- but it’s borderline impossible in a world where success means avoiding embarrassment at all costs, where new recruits can expect to be tested on their loyalty at least as much as their talent, and where employment rights don’t exist, because candidates are not employees.
There are answers to be developed here – from a cross-party protocol for handling allegations of candidate mistreatment, to opening up the remit of the existing Parliamentary regulators – but this won’t happen if scrutiny gives way to scandal. The commentators- from both politics and the media- must not look solely what was done, but about what will be done differently in future. And, in case any researchers want to hear my Lembit Opik story – I still think that short film on gender balance is a good idea.
Many of the people who attacked the author Hilary Mantel on Twitter yesterday made derogatory remarks about her appearance. This was unwittingly ironic, given that Mantel’s speech to the London Review of Books concerned the objectification of women, and our media’s obsession with looks.
— anne selley (@cheltenhamlady) February 19, 2013
If we believe in free speech, then insult becomes unavoidable. But that does not mean that objectification and misogyny should go unchallenged.
I felt it was particularly important to challenge people’s language in this case, because Mantel’s speech dealt directly with the problem of sexism in the media.
I spent some time yesterday evening collecting examples, which I made into a Storify.
My conclusions? The recent phone hacking scandal and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry has given us an opportunity to scrutinise the press. The conclusion is usually that the media is shallow and nasty.
However, I think these tweets, from ordinary members of the public, suggest that society can also be spiteful and sexist. Why blame the press, when they reflect the public?
— mary beard (@wmarybeard) February 20, 2013
On Saturday I spoke at the University of Newcastle’s excellent International Development Conference (#IDC2013) about Progressive Development. Below is an edited version of my remarks.
My main argument was that changes in the global economy were making traditional approaches to development – which portray the economic issues facing emerging and developing countries as qualitatively different from those facing industrialised nations – less relevant.
1. Development isn’t different
It’s often said that the past is another country, and that’s an important issue in international development. In the 1930s, my uncle and aunt were domestic workers; my grandad was a street vendor. Both occupations are key elements of the informal employment that characterises so many poor communities in the global south.
But of course they were in Plymouth and Cardiff, and within a decade they were all in regular employment, with pensions, a National Health Service, and a home of their own. They were also paying income tax, which was a major change.
Seemingly intractable poverty can actually be overcome remarkably quickly. Even in Europe, we only made poverty history recently, and it may be on the way back.
What I take from this is that the challenges of international development are not so different from the challenges we face in our own country.
This morning’s Action Aid report about tax dodging by Associated British Foods in Zambia is not so different from last year’s domestic scandals about Amazon, Google and Starbucks. Tax justice is a global agenda, not specifically a northern or southern problem.
Another example is Oxfam, founded 75 years ago to mount famine relief programmes not in Africa but in Greece. We may even have come full circle with the expansion of food banks even in Britain.
When Make Poverty History was launched in the UK in 2005, it was about poverty in developing countries. But others did it differently. Make Poverty History Canada addressed domestic poverty as well.
2. Solidarity isn’t charity
I don’t agree with those who say that overseas aid is a bad thing, encouraging dependency. I see it more as a form of economic transfer payment like unemployment benefit. State expenditure has been vital to the economic development of industrialised countries and spending on education, health and infrastructure is as vital in developing countries as it is in the north.
But at the same time, unemployment benefit is only a sticking plaster to get people through the bad times, until economic growth returns. So I’m pleased to see politicians starting to talk about ending aid in our lifetimes.
China, for example, is the major success story in reducing the number of people in absolute poverty, and that’s been achieved through a mixture of economic growth and welfare safety nets, rather than external aid.
But what I particularly take from the Chinese model is that, primarily, you cannot eradicate poverty from outside: the people who will overcome poverty are the poor themselves, and our role is to support them in that rather than take over and do it for them.
We can certainly stop making things more difficult – for example by ensuring that multinational corporations don’t dodge their taxes, and adhere to international labour standards.
And we should certainly stop portraying people in poverty as powerless victims: the ‘starving black baby’ pictures that open people’s purse strings, but don’t challenge the fundamental causes of poverty here or abroad.
Indeed, we should take our lead from those who are demanding change, rathe than imposing our own model on them. That’s frankly the TUC’s main concern – among rather too many to be comfortable with – about this year’s ‘Enough IF’ campaign, which was developed without any southern leadership or even input at the planning stage.
3. We need a new model of development
So, the concluding point I would make is that we need a model of development campaigning that addresses issues that affect people across the globe: tackling inequality between and within countries, reconciling economic growth with environmental sustainability and social justice, that says saving a hospital in Lewisham is as important as opening one in Luanda.
Tax justice is easily the clearest example of this, but precarious employment and informalisation is a challenge in the USA and Southern Europe just as it is in Ghana and Nigeria. Violence against women is an issue affecting the UK with cuts to police domestic violence units and Women’s Refuges, even if South Africa, India and the DRC present more alarming news.
So we need development initiatives that span the G20 and the G77, campaigns that are led by southern as well as northern voices. Inequality has been thrust into the forefront in industrialised countries, and in particular the shift in extreme poverty from poor countries to middle income countries.
These are the issues that will condition the post-2015 agenda, rather than the largely technical issues of the MDGs.
And this is especially important in conditions of economic hardship in the industrialised world when the pressure on politicians and on civil society generally is to focus inwards. Because charity isn’t enough to change the world.
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