Posts Tagged 'women'

Why does public sexual harassment matter?

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Fiona Vera-Gray

The announcement today that MPs are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter. Fiona Vera-Gray, author of The Right Amount of Panic, looks at how safety and freedom work together in women’s lives.

“Picture this: You’re on a bus and this guy in front of you turns around and starts talking. You think, it can’t be at me, so keep reading, and then he says, “Are you ok? I’m talking to you.” You’re polite, a little unsure, so respond, “Oh sorry I don’t know you.” And then it starts. He says, “I thought we could get to know each other. What’s your name? Have you got a boyfriend? Where have you been? What are you reading? Why are you being so rude? You think you’re better than me? Stuck up bitch.” He follows you when you get off at your stop. You make sure you stay on a main road. You lose him at a busy intersection when you cross the road just before a bus passes, leaving him stuck on the other side.

“Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space.”

This is just one example of what women have told me about their experiences of public sexual harassment. Parts of this will be familiar to many women in the UK and beyond, the intrusive questioning and interruption, the quick turn to insults and aggression. Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space. And though usually such encounters, and the work women do to manage them, are commonly dismissed as “all part of growing up”, it looks like the impact they have is about to be taken seriously.

The announcement today by the Women and Equalities Committee that they are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter.

Activists and organisations have been working for many years to try to raise awareness of the routine intrusions women and girls experience from men in public spaces. In the UK, the filmmaker Aleah Scott’s short film LDN GIRLS profiled the work of activist Kafayat Okanlawon, and groups such as Purple Drum, the young women’s project at Imkaan committed to archiving and amplifying the voices of black and minoritised ethnic women, have highlighted the importance of looking at racialised public sexual harassment, and the experiences of queer black and minoritised ethnic women.

I have been researching this since 2012, publishing the first full length study in the UK in 2016. I’ve also been working with young people on the issues, developing a set of Lesson Plans with Rape Crisis South London and Purple Drum that helps young people think through the differences between banter, harassment, and a compliment. What I have found is that far from the ways public sexual harassment is trivialised, it plays a significant role in limiting women’s freedom.

Women are habitually performing safety work, often without thinking. Habits such as restricting where they go, what they wear, choosing particular seats on public transport or certain routes home. The vast majority of this work is pre-emptive, a highly crafted way of evaluating what the right amount of panic is in any given situation.

“… crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety.”

However, this ability to create a feeling of safety through changing their behaviour creates a problem: it means that crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety. Questions such as “how safe do you feel?” or “how often have you experienced sexual harassment in public?” are unable to capture the work that women may be doing to feel safe, or the many times where this work has been successful and they have expertly avoided sexual harassment. We become unable to see the full impact of the sexual harassment of women in public because we’ve separated out safety from freedom and are only measuring the former. But in women’s lives, the two work together. The Women and Equalities Inquiry may finally give a space for this connection to be uncovered.

Over the past months, we have seen the ways that the #metoo movement has mobilised women across different sectors. It is not that women are finally speaking about their experiences of harassment – indeed many of the accounts include how disclosures were previously made to people with the power to make changes – it is that women are finally being heard. This movement has shown what happens when we take workplace sexual harassment seriously. The Inquiry over the next few months may at last do the same for our experiences in public.

9781447342298The Right Amount of Panic by Fiona Vera-Gray is publishing in July 2018 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for just £11.99.

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Understanding the Trump Moment: Reality TV, Birtherism, the Alt Right and the White Women’s Vote

Jessie Daniels

Jessie Daniels

Policy Press author Jessie Daniels on understanding the Trump moment, and what led to it. Originally posted on Racism Review.

Many of us woke up to a November 9 that we never could have imagined. Donald J. Trump, real estate developer and reality TV celebrity, is president-elect of the United States.

Over the last 18 months of his campaign, he has engaged in explicitly racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim language that has both shocked and frightened people. The implications of what a Trump presidency could mean for ginning up racial and ethnic hatred are chilling.

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But first, it’s important to understand the Trump moment, and what led to it. This is an election that will spawn a thousand hot-takes and reams of academic papers, but here’s a first draft on making sense of this victory. Continue reading ‘Understanding the Trump Moment: Reality TV, Birtherism, the Alt Right and the White Women’s Vote’

Q&A with Minky Worden, editor of The Unfinished Revolution

Unfinished Revolution no 3

Image from The Unfinished Revolution. Photograph Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

The unfinished revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights outlines the recent history of the battle to secure basic rights for women and girls, including in the Middle East where the hopes raised by the Arab Spring are yet to be fulfilled.

The book’s editor, Minky Worden, is Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch where she develops and implements international outreach and advocacy campaigns.

Here, she talks to us about developing the book and the future for women’s rights.

Firstly, can you tell us how the idea for the book came about?

The genesis of The Unfinished Revolution was an interview with Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer. She recounted her life story: as a young lawyer, she had been the first female judge in pre-revolution Iran, and was on the frontlines of that revolution. But after the political revolution in 1979, Iran’s legal system was changed to give women half the value of men in law, and Dr. Ebadi was made a secretary in the court she had once presided over. The Iranian government has since persecuted her for human rights and women’s rights work. So Shirin Ebadi’s story, which she tells in the book, is a cautionary tale for today.

We have seen political revolutions sweep decades-long dictators from office in the Middle East and North Africa. But we should remember that when new governments are taking power, when constitutions are being rewritten, this is a time when women and girls can either have rights advanced and solidified – or basic rights and freedoms can be rolled back.

And despite the undeniable progress achieved in women’s rights around the world in the past two decades, much remains to be done. The “unfinished revolution” refers to the global struggle for gender equality in education, work, health, and political participation. In many countries, women are legally considered second-class citizens, and in others, religion, custom, and traditions – from ‘honor killings’ to denial of property, labor and economic rights – block basic freedoms such as the right to work or study, and access to health care. Around the world, women and girls are trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery; rape is used as a weapon of war in conflict zones, and women still face major obstacles to education and reproductive freedom.

There are a wide range of contributors to the book. How did you manage to bring so many diverse people together?

Of the 33 contributors to this anthology, half are Human Rights Watch experts based around the world who wrote on topics ranging from rape in the Congo to maternal mortality in India, and domestic violence in Europe.

Others are key colleagues such as Georgette Gagnon, who has been the human rights director a the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and contributed a powerful chapter on how women in Afghanistan may be losing ground. We felt it is important to bring voices of women on the frontlines including Dr. Hawa Abdi of Somalia and Esraa Abdel Fattah from Egypt because they are themselves agents of change and share our vision that now is the time to tackle the “unfinished revolution” for women’s rights.

The book talks about a revolution in thinking about women’s rights as human rights. What differences do you think this would make to women’s lives?

In Dorothy Thomas’s chapter, she calls it “the power of an idea”. This concept is a key to changing mindsets, particularly in countries where so-called “harmful traditional practices” such as female genital mutilation, or ‘honor killings’ prevail. Our book seeks to make a reality of the slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights” by looking at practical and multi-dimensional solutions that work to empower and end abuses of women and girls.

A central feature of the book is a number of pieces from women who are victims of human rights abuses.  What do you think these heart-rending stories can tell us about the future battle for human rights?

 Honestly, although I asked her to write it, and have read it dozens of times, the story of a girl in Congo that opens Anneke VanWoudenberg’s chapter make me choke up every single time I read it.

These testimonies underscore the urgency of justice and change, particularly in countries where the lives of women and girls are at stake every day, such as the DRC, Afghanistan, Somalia or Iraq, but also in countries where the abuses are more insidious – in Europe, where domestic violence occurs behind closed doors, or the United States where many immigrant women face threats when they try to cross the border from Mexico or even once they have made it safely across the border.

There are several proposals within the book for new policies and solutions. What can people reading the book do to help?

First, thank you for reading the book! Second, it is easy to become complacent that progress for women is always forward. At times of political upheaval or transition, as with the military pull-out in Afghanistan, it is absolutely essential for leaders to engage on the subject of protections and freedoms, and to send the message that women’s rights are a top priority. When leaders don’t prioritize women’s rights, that sends a message too.

So write your leaders that it matters very much what messages are sent about women’s rights, and stay on top of what is happening through Human Rights Watch’s website. You can also consider getting involved in a global campaign such as “Girls Not Brides” efforts to end child marriage. Make your voice heard!

On the Human Rights Watch website, there are examples of success stories resulting from your campaigning. Can you tell us about any recent successes in the field of women’s rights?

One recent advance for women is the Saudi government’s announcement that it would allow “qualified” female athletes to compete in the London Olympics, following intense outside pressure from Human Rights Watch and concerned women athletes.

Can you tell us more about this current campaign regarding Saudi sports for women?

Despite this modest advance, it is at best a partial victory because we have still not succeeded in ending the effective ban for women who want to play sports inside Saudi Arabia. Gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia is institutional and entrenched. Millions of girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools.

The fact that so few women are ‘qualified’ to compete at the Olympic level is due entirely to the country’s restrictions on women’s rights.

Human Rights Watch is seeking the end of discrimination against women and girls who want to play sports in Saudi Arabia. More broadly, we continue to push for long-term reforms in the kingdom, such as an end to the male guardianship system. For more information, please visit http://www.hrw.org/let-them-play.

Find out more about The Unfinished Revolution

A Historic Moment for Women’s Rights

Christiane Amanpour

An extract from The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights, edited by Minky Worden

Unfinished Revolution cover image To the one who makes the lonely feel they are not alone, who satisfies those who hunger and thirst for justice, who makes the oppressor feel as bad as the oppressed. . . . may her example multiply,
May she still have difficult days ahead, so that she can do whatever she needs to do, so that the next generation will not have to strive for what has already been accomplished.
—Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, from his poem “To Shirin Ebadi,” read at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2003

In October 2011, the Norwegian Nobel Committee named three women winners of the Nobel Peace Prize—an award won by only a dozen women since 1901. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman were honored “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights,” in a declaration that was clearly intended to send the message that the moment for women and girls to achieve basic rights had arrived.

The Peace Prize citation proclaimed, “We cannot achieve demoracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” As the Nobel Committee emphasized, this moment is as dramatic as any in recent decades for women and girls.

I have been a foreign correspondent for almost three decades in just about every war zone there is. I have made my living in an overwhelmingly male profession, bearing witness to some of the most horrific events of the end of the last century. In this time, we have seen enormous changes in law and practice, with measurable progress in women’s ability to get an education, to work, and to make decisions about their own bodies.

Yet as this book seeks to explain, in much of the world, basic rights such as control over their lives and access to health care remain far out of reach for millions of women and girls.

In India, some state governments can’t be bothered to count the number of women dying from preventable causes in pregnancy and childbirth. In the United States, rape victims are denied justice through bureaucratic inertia. In Somalia, warlords and famine—yet again—threaten women’s lives and families. In some European countries, women fleeing domestic violence are sent home to “work it out” with their abusive spouses. In Saudi Arabia, women of all ages live under a male guardianship system, preventing them from working, studying, marrying, driving, or traveling abroad without the permission of a male guardian—a father, husband, brother, or even a son.

China is a country of contradictions that has lowered infant and maternal mortality rates, and raised education standards, while still imposing a one-child policy that often leads to major abuses of women, including forced abortions. Indeed, in many countries, the picture is mixed, with progress in education and maternal mortality paired with escalating health threats such as HIV/AIDS and barriers to participation in public life.

In several places, including Iraq and Afghanistan, women are losing ground, facing violent insurgencies that threaten and attack women who are active in public life or work outside their homes. As Rachel Reid writes in this anthology, a common form of threat in Afghanistan is the “night letter” left at a house or girls’ school, such as this ominous letter sent to a female government employee: “We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government, otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working.”

With societies from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya in political transition from repressive dictatorships, fundamental questions remain about whether women will indeed benefit from the overthrowing of tyrants. It is not yet clear whether they will be allowed to participate in the new political systems in the Middle East, or whether their rights will be protected under the region’s new constitutions.

This book is designed to spotlight these and other pressing problems for women and girls in the world today, and to give a road map to solutions that can work. In these pages you will meet tenacious women human rights defenders. You will hear in their own voices from women and girls who have faced unimaginable terror and grief. And you can decide for yourself whether so-called “traditional practices” such as early marriage or female genital mutilation are just harmful practices that have no rightful place in the world today.

Human Rights Watch was one of the first international organizations to treat domestic violence as a human rights issue. In war-torn Bosnia and Rwanda, researchers documented systematic rape and other forms of violence against women as a “weapon” in war, laying the groundwork for courts to later prosecute sexual violence as a crime against humanity. The organization’s experts, such as Nadya Khalife, who writes movingly about her work to end female genital mutilation in Iraq, show us how it should be possible at this historic moment for women’s rights activists to expand local campaigns and achieve truly global impact.

In some cases, as when Eleanor Roosevelt championed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, change for women can come at the stroke of a pen; in other cases, change takes generations. In Libya and states now building institutions from the ground up, addressing rights and protections for women is not yet at the top of priority lists. However, as the US State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer points out, this is a shortsighted and dangerous approach because “the vibrancy of these potential democracies will depend on the participation of women.”

When women are fully empowered, there is clear evidence that previously unthinkable opportunities develop, for them—and also for their families, communities, and countries. The effectiveness of women as peace negotiators in conflict zones led the United Nations Security Council to adopt Resolution 1325, which recognized “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building,” as well as “the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.” The selection of Leymah Gbowee as a laureate of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was based largely on her tireless activities as a peace negotiator in Liberia.

In September 2011, just before the Nobel committee announced its award recognizing the vital work of women, the world lost one of its few female Nobel laureates. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was a pioneering professor who led an environmental revolution in her native Kenya. Her key to success, she often said, was empowering women “to create a society that respects democracy, decency, adherence to the rule of law, human rights, and the rights of women.”

It is a time of change in the world, with dictators toppling and new opportunities arising, but any revolution that doesn’t create equality for women will be incomplete. The time has come to realize the full potential of half the world’s population.

Christiane Amanpour is the anchor of ABC’s Sunday morning news program, This Week with Christiane Amanpour. Chief International Correspondent at CNN from 1992 to 2010, she joined CNN in 1983. Amanpour has reported on and from the world’s major hot spots including Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iran, Iraq, Rwanda, and Somalia, and has won every major broadcast award—including nine Emmys, four George Foster Peabody Awards, two George Polk Awards, and the Courage in Journalism Award.

The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights was published by The Policy Press in the UK & Europe on 4 July 2012, £14.99. The book is available to buy at 20% discount from our website.

You can hear editor Minky Worden talking about some of the issues in the book on a podcast or follow news relating to the book on its Facebook page.


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