Why the UN panel is so very wrong about Assange

If anyone hasn’t already heard about the UN findings on Assange’s “detention” in the Ecuadorian embassy, here’s the detail by Marina Hyde

There are a lot of people arbitrarily detained in the world, and it’s great that the UN will take up and publicise these cases, putting public pressure on the governments concerned. However, the very fact they reviewed this case at all raises huge questions about what the heck they were trying to achieve.

This is a case which is so not arbitrary, it has been through 8 different legal proceedings, which at every one Assange was represented by a legal team of his own choosing.

This is not even a case of detention, but of someone hiding. Assange can leave at any time he chooses. Of course, if he chooses to leave, he will face the repercussions of breaking his bail conditions in the UK, and needing to be questioned about some serious allegations in Sweden. He is hiding from both of these things, not being detained by anyone.

By taking this case, the UN is completely undermining it’s own ability to talk about arbitrary detention. Because either they are talking rubbish, or the EU is talking rubbish by issuing and enforcing arrest warrants. So any future cases immediately have to ignore pressure from either the UN or the EU. Great move for human rights around the world, very clever.

By giving Assange an advance copy of their findings, allowing him to grand-stand and make ridiculous “poor me” statements, the UN has completely undermined it’s reputation for independence and neutrality.

The UN has also put it’s own arbitrary statute of limitations on rape and violence against women. Women’s rights around the world are a vital part of the UN’s work – whether that’s addressing FGM, rape as a weapon of war, representation of women during peace talks, the UN’s own “he for she” campaign… I could go on.  Just today, the UN is trying to draw attention to the massive problem of FGM around the world but this isn’t being spoken about – instead, Julian Assange is headline news, again.  This decision by the UN has basically said that it will uphold inconvenience to men over and above the right of women to have allegations of assault properly investigated following due process. Women can no longer trust the UN to be independent and stand up for their rights.

So this decision is not only ridiculous, it is hugely dangerous for women across the world. The UN urgently need to address this, to maintain it’s own reputation for defending human rights – for the sake of those in arbitrary detention, and for the sake of all women around the world.


Affirmative consent not victim-blaming

That Dawkins tweet today has linked a couple of recent articles in my head, and resulted in this post.

The first was a couple of weeks ago, when a retiring judge says that rape conviction rates won’t improve until women stop getting so drunk: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/former-judge-says-rape-conviction-rates-will-not-improve-until-women-stop-getting-so-drunk-9691911.html

The second was a response to the news of a college requiring affirmative consent: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/-sp-campus-rape-prevention-yes-means-yes’  a commenter actually asked “what am I supposed to do, like ask every 5 minutes?”.  This comment has stuck so much in my head, as it seems so blindingly obvious to me that, yeah, when having sex you should be aware of your partner as a participant!  How can someone even ask this?

And yet they can, and do, and this is where this comment meets the Dawkins tweet and the Judge’s comments. The problem here isn’t women’s drinking.  The problem here is in the sexual education of young men. 

30 years ago it was acceptable and fine to get in your car after a few beers and drive home.  Yet education and media campaigns have turned this completely ground.  We now need the same zero-tolerance high profile campaign about affirmative consent.  Posters shouldn’t tell girls not to drink, but tell boys to look for affirmative consent.  Sex education in schools should focus on what consent is, what it means, and about continual consent –  checking every 5 minutes shouldn’t be a question because you’re continually checking in with your partner.

Juries no longer consider whether they think a drunk driver was really incapacitated, whether they can handle their drink, how many years safe driving they have.  The court system realises it is unacceptable to drive drunk. Just as they should recognise it’s unacceptable to have sex without consent.

I am only using this drunk driving analogy to show that perceptions of acceptable and criminal behaviours can be changed. 
And that is where the focus needs to be. Not on controlling women’s behaviours, especially not on victim blaming.  But on making sure that affirmative consent is the benchmark of acceptable behaviour.

Goodbye, and thanks

I know that a lot of people I respect cheering goodbye to Thatcher. I know that for those on the left, the damage inflicted was unforgivable  And I know that Thatcher was not a feminist icon – rather than taking the chance to lead the way, she chose instead to argue that women were rubbish, but she was exceptional.

But my life, and my feminism have been hugely affected and inspired by Thatcher, and I’m grateful for that.

I was born just two weeks after Thatcher was elected. I lived my entire childhood with a female Prime Minister. I realised at 11 and a half that my world was going to change. That we were going to have a man as Prime Minister. I remember so clearly, writing in my diary a rationale about all the ways I thought a man as Prime Minister was a really bad idea.

Thatcher was an inspiration. I grew up with a strong belief that I could do anything, be anything. I knew that my Mum had had to make sacrifices to have a family.  But I could do anything – look at Thatcher. I know the reality was different. That actually Thatcher had received the keys to the executive bathroom, but was not only closing the door behind her, she was nailing it shut. But as a child, she represented possibility. A woman on the world stage – as important as Reagan and Gorbachev.

Since then, women have fallen out of sight in British politics. As a child, I looked up to Thatcher – the Iron Lady, the one with the Poll Tax, and Edwina Curry, the one with the eggs. And now for female politicians (if the papers are to be believed) we have the one with the shoes and the one with the cleavage.

How could I have been anything but inspired by the women leading our country, being taken seriously as politicians, being claimed as a product of the finest Universities.

I know that I have some seriously rose-tinted spectacles on here. I know that actually, if I’d been just a little bit older, I would probably have been joining in the cheers at her downfall. But just for now, for me, personally, I want to tip my hat.

To a woman that inspired me, that taught me that I really could do anything, become anything. That there wasn’t an opportunity beyond my reach. That I could not be held back by my gender.

Thank you Mrs Thatcher.

Number 10 support for International Women’s Day

Today, @Number10gov tweeted how much they support International Women’s Day:
From access to justice & healthcare to empowering women in business, the UK gov’t is helping women across the globe #IWD…

And yet…

Empowering women?  This is from the government that is made up of just one sixth female ministers. The government who called on a female MP to “calm down dear”.  The government who has seen the number of women in senior civil service posts decline so much that women are nearly invisible.  The government who has seen an increasing pay-gap between men and women.

Better access to justice?  This is from a government who oversaw the Sapphire Unit – the unit who encouraged rape victims to drop their complaints.  A Justice Secretary who distinguishes between “real rape” and something else that’s not quite rape EXCEPT IT IS.  A government that has removed legal aid from women looking to leave abusive relationships.  A government who couldn’t find a single female candidate to nominate to the supreme court.

Better access to healthcare?  From a government who allowed Nadine Dorries’ bill to severely restrict women’s rights to independent counselling and access to abortion services.   A government that remains committed to reviewing the time-limit on abortions.

To do all this and then add a bland tweet trying to claim support for women is like rubbing salt in a wound.  Don’t try and pretend anything else.  David Cameron, Number 10, and this government are anti-women.

Female commentators, boys clubs and quotas

It’s not news that women are hugely under-represented when it comes to news commentary, professional panels and conferences – anything where expertise is valued. The excuse so commonly given is that the organisers just don’t know any women who are experts in x,y or z.  Which is why I am so thrilled to hear about @theWomensRoomUK, who are setting up a database to ensure that the media can always find a female expert.  Getting rid of the easiest excuse – that they just can’t find a woman – ensures that at the very least, organisers are left with just two options: to come out and admit to their misogyny, or to admit their complete lack of knowledge of their subject.

Which is exactly what happened to the organisers of a fundraising summit recently.  Fundraising has a good track record, with many incredible women achieving great things, and heading up well-known organisations.  So when challenged about why organisers couldn’t find women to speak at their summit, Giles Pegram stated it was because women weren’t the “thinkers” in Fundraising.  Which shows a brilliant lack of knowledge about the fundraising sector, along with a healthy dose of misogyny.  Is it any surprise that the event had to be cancelled – or did Mr Pegram really think that female fundraising directors would take a break from their tea-making-duties to come along to listen to what the men thought of their profession?

I have a feeling that the reaction will be written off as “hysterical” women and a problem with social media rather than fundraising.  But I do hope it gives pause to the next organisers of a conference.  Not “believing” in quotas is an easy thing to say when you’re represented.  It’s not so easy when you’re on the outside.  It can be very hard to know when you’re part of a club.  You may think of yourself as an outgoing and approachable person.  But if this cancellation can encourage organisers to look around at their panels, perhaps they will start to see that they are looking at the same faces over and over again.   Maybe when they realise this, they will look for a practical and simple solution – such as that offered by @theWomensRoomUK.

So I’m singing the praises of The Women’s Room in two different ways.  Removing the easy excuse, which will hopefully prevent laziness.  And making it easy for those that want to challenge a boys club to find a way to do it.  What a brilliant idea.

Equality isn’t one way

We now live in a world where car insurers can’t charge men more for being male. While I’m not jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of paying more for my insurance (and I’m not naive enough to think me paying more will mean my boyfriend paying less) I do think this is a step in the direction of equality. Ok, I’d have much rather other things came first – how about equal pay before equal charges? – but I really can’t gripe about a in the right direction.

Jo Swinson, Minister for Women and Equality described this change as “very unfair” in the Telegraph on Christmas Eve.   But her arguments seem to fall flat.  Rural transport is unreliable – just as much an issue for men as for women.  Using public transport can be dangerous at night – again, an issue for men as well as for women, and the idea that women shouldn’t use public transport is wrong – women should have the right to travel at night, they shouldn’t have some sort of public curfew.  Women also shouldn’t have the primary responsibility for ferrying children around.

Insurance does depend on risk assessment  which uses all kinds of information to judge you – your postcode, your income (you pay a lot less insurance if you have a garage, or a drive instead of having to park on the street), your occupation.  And I do understand the argument that women are statistically judged as being less of an insurance risk.  But I think we have gone past the point where people would think it acceptable to say that white people should pay more for insurance, or that Christians should pay less.  So why is it so acceptable to say women should be treated differently?

Finally, if there is any doubt that treating women differently for insurance purposes is sexist, take a look at this Ad from Diamond from late November:

Diamond Car Insurance

It shows all the things women are interested in – like lipstick and jewellery and smellies, whilst using juvenile text speak.  Guess what Diamond – women aren’t children.  Women aren’t childlike.  If that means I have to spend more on my car insurance…  Well of course I’m not pleased that I get to give more money to insurance companies.  But am I pleased that this is one area I won’t have to see sexist advertising in?  Yes.

The real danger behind the loud stupidity

Of course I’ve been angry about the stupid comments from George Galloway, Ted Akin and others this week, just as I was with the Ken Clarke comments last year. To me, it’s simple – sex needs to be consensual, anything else is rape. And I’m really not quite sure how that’s a contentious comment.

A lot of great commentators have written about these comments, and so I’m not going to rewrite them here.

These comments were at best misinformed, and people running for office (or sitting on the House of Representatives Science committee FFS) really shouldn’t be so misinformed. I’d go further and say these comments were dangerous – adding justification to any rapists that if they’re not holding a knife to a woman’s throat then what they are doing is ok.

The bit that I find really dangerous is when this kind of speak – from elected representatives – is seen alongside this report about representation in the senior ranks of the Civil Service.  I’ve already spoken a lot about how much our politicians are white and male, and they are now ‘rolling this out’ to the civil service.  While Gus O’Donnell managed to leave a Civil Service with an equal balance of men and women at the top, a lot of the women have moved on recently, and there’s now a real danger that these top posts will go to men again.

I do understand the arguments against affirmative action – that individual merit should be the most important factor.  Except it’s not all about individuals.  It’s about the group of people running the country, and them all looking exactly the same.  If the criteria that they use to recruit is valuing what they are already good at, then they will keep on recruiting people that look like them.  That doesn’t mean that people with different skills are less efficient, it simply means they are different.  And that is the problem with crying “affirmative action isn’t fair”.  It is fair in the wider sense.  It is fair to everyone, rather than just one.  And it’s fair in that it forces people not to look for the person most like them (as most recruitment policies do) but to look for people differently.

Please understand my argument before screaming about all the discriminated against white men out there.  I’m not saying a lesser-woman should get a role over a better-man.  I’m saying that when any organisation becomes so unbalanced that everyone looks the same, they are likely to need to be forced to consider ‘outsiders’.  I’m saying that an organisation that has looked exactly the same for hundreds of years is going to need a little encouragement to change.  It will need to be persuaded that change is needed and desirable.

And put this against the backdrop we are painting – of politicians who so misunderstand biology that they believe women can’t become pregnant from rape.  Of politicians who so misunderstand the law that they claim having sex with a woman who can’t give consent, or proceeding to force someone into another sex act because they’d already agreed to something else, wouldn’t be crimes in the UK.  Jonathan Freedland wrote brilliantly in The Guardian on Friday about how these incidents are part of a wider misogyny amongst politicians.  And if we were to let our other branches of government, including the Civil Service fall further into the hands of this group of privileged men, we are seriously putting human rights at risk.