#March4Women |London, 5th March 2017

Come rain or shine, the #March4Women organised by CARE made its way from City Hall across Tower Bridge to the Tower of London. From 12pm-1:30pm, a series of speakers and musicians spoke and performed for the waiting crowd. From the introduction by Dr. Helen Pankurst, Great-Granddaughter of the leading suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, through to a musical performance by an array of talents – Kate Nash, Mel C and the string quartet Bond to name but a few – the energy of the crowd was contagious.

The pre-march event was hosted by Emma Barnett and included several musical performances, speeches and a panel discussion with refugees and campaigners Marchu Girma and Muzoon Almellehan.

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Each speaker received several rounds of applause. Bianca Jagger highlighted the rise in violence against women, focusing on how the number of reported rapes and sexual assaults has now reached a record high, while Annie Lennox brought attention to the fact that the biggest killer of women of reproductive age in the continent of Africa is still HIV/AIDS.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, stood before the crowd as the final speaker, declaring three facts: “number one, my name is Sadiq Khan. I am the Mayor of London…I’m a proud feminist in City Hall“. This was the first time in the history of the march that the Mayor of London was the official partner.

With the occasional pink pussyhat, the new symbol of the women’s rights movement, adding a dose of colour to the march, the gathering made its way from City Hall, across Tower Bridge and through to the Tower of London.

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Not even the rain could keep away the marchers, in a march that highlighted equally the issues facing women in the UK, as well as around the world; from refugees to FGM.

What next?

CARE have asked as many people as possible to get involved with their ‘Walk in Her Shoes’ campaign, focusing on the fact that most women in developing countries have to walk five miles day to get water.

It runs from the 8th-14th May, with the hopes of raising funds to help to “allow CARE to work with local communities in the poorest countries to build clean and safe water sources closer to home, like wells, boreholes and standing taps. This will not only provide poor communities with clean water that is safe to drinkbut will also relieve women and girls of their daily trek for water, and allow them time for work or school. With an education or time to earn an income, they have a chance to fulfil their potential and step out of poverty“.

You can sign up to join the fundraising via their website, however, you can take part in the incentive year around, but the focus is particularly on the period from 8th-14th May.

CARE are also urging supporters to email their MP, to take action to help protect and safeguard female refugees.

“Women and girl refugees face specific threats, including sexual violence and trafficking. Pregnant women also face increased risks: 60% of preventable maternal deaths and 53% of under-five fatalities take place in countries affected by conflict, forced displacement or natural disaster.”

#March4Women - London, 5th March 2017

The Definition of Feminism – A Response to Kellyanne Conway

During yesterday’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Kellyanne Conway attempted to portray her opinion on feminism, and what she views as “classic” feminism.

For me, it’s difficult to call myself a feminist in the classic sense, because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion”.

Instead, Kellyanne spoke of an “individual feminism” in which “you make your own choices”. She believes she is a product of her choices, not the “victim of my circumstances”, and that this is, in her mind what “conservative feminism, if you will, is all about”. Yet, a key principle of modern feminism – and indeed, feminism throughout history – has been providing women with the opportunity to make their own choices in their own lives.

The Oxford Dictionary defined ‘feminism’ as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”.

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The definition of feminism according to Merriam Webster.

Feminism is not the idea of female superiority, and this perception appears to arise primarily through the female prefix of the word, ironic when compared to ‘male’ words such as ‘history’. Feminism is clearly not the idea of female superiority, but equality of the sexes.

Feminism is the belief that women, all women, are equal to their male equivalents. Feminism does not run on an ‘anti-male’ agenda, it works for all women, not just women in boardrooms or running for elections, but for transgender women, women within the LGBT community, women of minority races and minority religions; it works for ALL women.

There is an extreme difference between being ‘pro-choice’, fighting for the ability for women to have control over their own bodies, and being what Kellyanne calls ‘pro-abortion’. 21st Century feminism is unapologetically pro-choice, one of the many reasons why feminists everywhere are fighting to keep Planned Parenthood open in the USA, as well as fighting for reproductive rights for women where access to abortion is forbidden or limited to extreme cases.

Kellyanne Conway, when speaking about the millions of men and women who marched for women’s rights the day after Trump’s inauguration, claimed that “it turns out that a lot of women just have a problem with women in power”.

If anyone should have a right to utter those words, then it’s Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In my opinion, you would struggle to find a person, anywhere in the world, who took part in the marches on January 21st who has “a problem with women in power”. You would also struggle to find anyone within the majority of the popular vote who voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has “a problem with women in power“.

A quick visit to the website of ‘Emily’s List’ would disprove Kellyanne’s theory. As a response to the election of Trump, and by extension the movement that has grown since that faithful November night, when the woman who won the popular vote for President lost the Presidency, more women than ever have shown interest in running for elected office.

Emily’s List is aiming to provide women with the tools to run for and succeed in elected office. Their ‘Run to Win’ campaign, is “a national recruitment campaign aimed at recruiting and helping thousands of pro-choice Democratic women around the country run for office and win”.

Feminism is not an ‘alternative fact’, it fights for the equality of all women, and it is neither ‘pro-abortion’ or ‘anti-men’.

March 8th, 2017 – A Day Without A Woman

First came the march, then came the strike.

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The Women’s March on Washington, the day after Trump’s inauguration, became an international movement, exceeding the expectations of even the most optimistic of supporters. In London, organisers were expecting 20,000 people, instead, over 100,000 men, women, and children (plus the occasional four-legged furry friend) showed up to march for the rights of all women.

Groups and communities are putting emphasis on ensuring that the momentum of the march becomes more than a moment, but a movement. There was no doubt that the organisers of the Women’s March on Washington had this in mind in the days leading up to, and after the march itself. While a strike was unexpected by some, it has the possibility of having a wider impact than even the January 21st march had. International Women’s Day was an obvious choice for the next day of action. 

The strike shows the importance of female workers to the economy and every industry. One of the obvious issues that the strike will hope to bring attention to is the gender pay gap.  The Institute for Women’s Policy Research revealed that in 2015, women made 80 cents to the dollar in comparison to their male equivalent. The figures only become more shocking once compared to women who belong to ethnic or religious minorities. Black women earned 63.3 cents to the dollar in comparison to their white male equivalents, and for Hispanic or Latino women, this drops to 54 cents.

The Institute revealed that at the current rate, it would take until 2059 for the pay gap to close between men and women; the date would no doubt be significantly further for trans-women, black women and all women who belong to ethnic or religious minorities. By 2059, I’ll be turning 64, and there is no way I’m letting my daughters or granddaughters grow up in a world where being a woman seems a valid excuse for employers to pay them less than their male counterparts.

This is only one of the countless reasons why taking part in this strike is important.

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On Facebook and other forms of social media, I’ve seen concern for and from women who are stay-at-home mothers, or who can’t afford to miss a day at work. Women in essential positions, such as doctors and members of the police service, are unlikely to be able to take full action on the strike day. How can they contribute to the day? The list is endless, and it is important that we make an effort to ensure that women in these situations are made to feel included in the movement on this day (and every day).

Educate a friend or a colleague at work, let them know about the movement, what it means to you and why it matters.

If you can, consider donating to a woman’s charity. If you donate to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name, then you can be my new best friend.

Sign petitions, and keep signing them. Here are some that I would recommend:

Save the Acton FGM Community Clinic 

“The Acton FGM Community Clinic will be forced to close after March as it has lost it’s funding. The clinic is a specialist service dedicated to help women who are suffering the mental and physical health consequences of Female Genital Mutilation.”

Legalise Abortion in Northern Ireland

Body autonomy for the people of Northern Ireland should not be subject to financial constraints; the cultural climate created by our outdated law encourages women to endanger themselves and encourages shame and stigmatization.”

Write to your MP or local representative. If you’re not sure how to contact your MP, then this page offers some sound advice. If you’re unsure as to who exactly your MP is, then feel free to use this website to check. If you’re in the US or another country, it should be fairly similar. 

Pick up a pin or button from Etsy and wear it to bring awareness. A lot of the small businesses on Etsy are offering a portion, or all, of the profits from their sales to Planned Parenthood. I purchased this one myself, but a simple search on Etsy is sure to find one that meets your tastes. If you have one of the now iconic pink pussy hats, then pull it back out again (in fact, get it on your head as much as possible), or consider knitting a few to drop off to others or sell for those of us without the talent.

Educate yourself. Pick a policy or an issue that is close to your heart, or something that you’re not overly familiar with and research. Educate yourself, then use that the educate someone else and raise awareness to your chosen issue. 

(The statistics included in this post can be found here and here)

A Return to the Borders of the Past?

 

I’m one of the fortunate members of the generation who have no memory of the “borders of the past”, whose only experience with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is as a seamless one, almost invisible to an unsuspecting tourist. Nevertheless, I had always been aware of it, almost subconsciously. Both my parents and grandparents would share stories of the former difficulties in crossing between Northern Ireland and the Republic. As a child, I would watch out the window of the car impatiently to see the lines at the side of the road change from white to yellow, and for the signposts to change to display the Irish translation of towns and villages alongside their English version. Now, the face of this border will undoubtedly be changed once again.

 

David Davis, during his statement on the Brexit Bill in the House of Common, emphasised that Northern Ireland had made a “serious and significant” contribution to the talks on departing the European Union. He later added during the same session that the government was taking Northern Ireland “incredibly seriously” in negotiations and in their plans for Brexit. While Stormont itself is facing its own political earthquake, having collapsed after weeks of tension between DUP and Sinn Fein, the failure of the Assembly to propose their own plans for the border is unsettling. Nicola Sturgeon has been vocal since day one about her proposals for how Scotland should be handled during the exit from the European Union, yet the Executive in Northern Ireland has failed to follow her lead. Furthermore, it appears as though the SNP press the issue of Northern Ireland in Brexit more in the House of Commons than some of the Northern Ireland MPs. Nicola Sturgeon published her proposed plan, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, in December while Stormont remained silent in comparison.

 

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was largely ignored throughout the debates prior to the referendum in June 2016, with the position of Northern Ireland itself being largely unheard. Perhaps the unlikely outcome of the referendum left the Brexiters grossly underprepared for dealing with the issue of Northern Ireland, while the Remain camp had seen it as being unnecessary to use Northern Ireland as a vehicle to paint Brexit as uncharted, dangerous territory for the UK as a whole. However, it’s impossible to tell if more attention to the Northern Irish issue would have swung votes in England or Wales, where those who have never experienced the culture of Northern Ireland would have been able to turn a blind eye to the consequences of Brexit.

 

The Prime Minister, and her Ministers in charge of overseeing the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, have voiced the phrase “borders of the past” repeatedly when trying to reassure both the media and politicians that they can maintain the common travel area between both parts of Ireland. Theresa May’s Brexit plan, a fuller version of the twelve point plan that had earlier been introduced, appeared to downgrade the importance of maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, citing it as being an ‘aim’ of the government.

 

A “return to the borders of the past” could send Northern Ireland itself back into the years of the troubles. There is no doubt that a physical border would become a target for republican groups, and bring a halt to trade and tourism between the two respective sides of the border. How would such a border be regulated? Which police force would be in charge of overseeing its protection? Such a border between the European Union and the United Kingdom could become a headache for people living on both sides of the border, attempting to travel from one to the other.

 

The Belfast Telegraph reported in May 2016, that 34% of exports from Northern Ireland go to the Republic, with 61% going to the EU as a whole. In a time when Northern Ireland has been attempting to find its footing in the international trading environment, it cannot afford to lose its single primary export market. Northern Ireland has no true ‘natural resources’ that are financially viable, thus its export market is essential for the stability of the market. The construction market in Northern Ireland took a heavy hit during the global financial crisis, and only now Belfast appears to have become a heartland of expertise once again.

 

The current border is practically non-existent, to the extent that it is difficult to tell exactly when you cross out of UK territory and into the territory of the Republic of Ireland. How the border will look post-Brexit is difficult to predict. A physical border would no doubt echo the troubles of the past and cause discomfort for the nationalist side of the community, as well as hindering trade and tourism. An ‘invisible’ border could be difficult to police, and would need to be strong enough to act as a UK/EU border, the only one that would actual meet on land between the two.

 

The Northern Ireland Assembly Election will be held on the 2nd March, the same month Theresa May intends to trigger Article 50. Regardless of the makeup of the Assembly and Executive following the election next month, the parties must put their differences aside, if be it for this single issue, to propose a united solution to the issue of the border that would work both in the interest of the people of Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland’s place in the economic market.  

 

Direct Rule or Formal Opposition? The storm that has finally hit Stormont

Ten years have passed since the historic moment when Martin McGuinness, a man who is Republican to his bones and has confessed to being an IRA leader during The Troubles, and the Rev. Ian Paisley, whose phrase of ‘never, never, never’ has secured his place in the history books as one of the most strong-minded unionist leaders, shook hands and sat together on the steps of Belfast’s Stormont buildings at the heart of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Now it appears as though the heart has been well and truly taken from the power-sharing Assembly.

Surprisingly, the two men had a better working relationship than most political analysts and watchers could ever have predicted. They were often referred to as the ‘chuckle brothers’ and appeared to have shared a friendship that eventually transcended the chambers of Stormont. The remarks made by Ian Paisley Jr on the announcement of McGuiness’ retirement from front-line politics is proof of this, “we would not be where we are in Northern Ireland, in terms of having stability, peace and the opportunity to rebuild our country if it hadn’t been for the work that he did put in with my father at the beginning”. The same regard could be given to McGuiness’ relationship with Peter Robinson, who would eventually replace Paisley in 2008. Ultimately, there is no doubt that their relationship was much more pleasant than that shared between McGuiness and Robinson’s eventual successor, Arlene Foster, as the two men spent almost eight years together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

Arlene Foster’s continued reminders to the public of her childhood experiences with the IRA, their attempt to murder her father and the bomb planted on her school bus, show an inability to set aside the past to work on a power-sharing Executive between the opposing sides of the community in Northern Ireland. In an interview that Foster gave to Sky News only days prior to McGuiness’ resignation, she once again referenced these events and argued that the fact she was a woman would not mean she would “roll over to Sinn Fein”. Her protests against the supposedly misogynistic calls for her to resign have fallen largely on deaf ears when she has prevented women gaining reproductive rights, as well as heading a party that is seen to be preventing the development and progression of women’s rights in Northern Ireland. Even more so when her scandal could cost the taxpayers of Northern Ireland upwards of £400 million.

Concerns have been voiced over recent years as to the stability of the power-sharing assembly, particularly through the continued use of the petition of concern, a mechanism that was introduced to prevent majoritarianism by either side. Now it can be seen as a vehicle standing in the way of progression and equality in Northern Ireland, most notably used by the Democratic Unionist Party over possible votes gay marriage, one of the most notable human rights that remain limited in Northern Ireland.

Due to the nature of the power-sharing Assembly, and the tradition of voters going to the poll with the mentality of ‘only working to keep the other side out’, there is little doubt that the DUP and Sinn Fein would be returned to the OFMDFM with a similar number of seats to what they currently attain, perhaps with a small gain for Sinn Fein, closing the difference between the two heavyweights of Northern Irish politics. Sinn Fein has made it clear that they do not want to cooperate with the DUP, and the response within the DUP and by Arlene Foster herself portray the picture that warm relatives are unlikely to return between the two parties.

The Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic Labour Party, the former giants of Northern Ireland politics at the time of The Good Friday Agreement, joined forces to form what they described as a ‘formal opposition’ in Stormont. In these politically uncertain times, it is clear that a complete rebuild of the Assembly may be the only cure to the instability.

There is no doubt that yet another political agreement must be reached in other to salvage what remains of the Stormont Executive. A pattern continues to occur, with political crises being solved by agreements that are quickly brushed aside by one party or the other. Few of these political agreements have ever attempted to truly redevelop the foundations of Stormont, with one limiting the size of MLAs. It should be considered that an entire rebuild of the foundations and mechanisms of the Stormont Executive might be exactly what is needed to create a lasting cooperation across the political borders. Power sharing cannot be removed completely, but a new form of cooperation, unique to the situation that Northern Ireland currently finds itself in must be established, even more so with Brexit likely to push Northern Ireland even further into the unknown.

A return to direct rule seems inevitable until this political crisis is dealt with. It would allow time for a political agreement to be forged and agreed that would actually bear fruit for Northern Ireland and her citizens. Direct Rule could allow a cooling off period for the DUP and Sinn Fein, as well as allowing time for a proper investigation to be carried out on the Renewable Heat Initiative, which the UUP fear is not going to be properly investigated.

Undoubtedly, the scars of the past must be set aside. The continued fighting over the three thorns in Northern Ireland’s side – the past, parades and flags – must be dealt with once and for all. A new form of government, with tougher scrutiny powers and MLAs with the ability to hold the executive to account, could eventually lead to a progressive Northern Ireland, and bring it forth to the current era, with reproductive rights for women and equal rights for the LGBT+ community of Northern Ireland. The generation gap between those alive during The Troubles, and the Good Friday generation who feel like their political choices are limited to the communities they have been born into, is something that can only be dealt with once young people themselves begin to take elected office in Northern Ireland. The growth of the Alliance party and the fact that the Green Party have MLAs in Northern Ireland suggests that eventually there may be a move away from the ‘identity’ oriented politics in Northern Ireland, but this era is far from breaking through.

Northern Ireland must be brought into the twenty-first century, most likely kicking and screaming, and this change must begin with the Stormont Executive itself, whose heart and soul must be rebuilt in order to prevent a recurring political crisis between the political giants of the small nation.