White Ribbon Day (#WhiteRibbonDay) and #OrangeTheWorld are both campaigns today, 25 November, marking the start of 16 days of activism against gender abuse on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). Whilst people are more real than statistics, nonetheless, the stats are representations of the reality of some people’s lives, they make sobering reading. Sixteen days won’t end violence against women and girls, but it might be the beginning of the end, if we start to say ‘no’ every day and give women back control, power and agency over their bodies and lives. The 16-day-long campaign ends on Human Rights Day, 10 December, but shouldn’t stop there.
12 Facts about Violence towards Women
2 women each week are killed by an ex or current partner (UK), 40-50% of all murders of women worldwide are by family or partners, but just 4-5% of men
1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 transwomen experience domestic abuse, in some countries those figures are 2 in 3, up to 71% (Ethiopia)
Even Universities are not safe where 1 in 7 young women experience abuse or violence
Up to 30% (eg Bangladesh) of women experience their first sexual act as forced
Forced marriage and sex tourism often go hand-in-hand with low ages of consent e.g., 9 (Afghanistan), 12 (Philippines), 13 (Japan), regularly 14-15 in other Asian countries. Rural areas may allow marriage even younger with sex at puberty (age 9 or earlier). Among Sri Lanka’s Moor and Malay minorities under 12 is permitted with the permission of male leaders or relatives!
Over the last year 295 trans people were killed, mostly transwomen
More facts about violence against women from WHO, UN Women.
“I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no…I want a divorce!…You’ve sullied the reputation of our family! You have stained our honor!” – Nujood Ali, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Change Men* and Society to Eliminate Causes of Violence
Violence and abuse are possible because of physical, social, religious and economic power imbalances. Men should not have power and control over women’s fortunes, choices, and bodies. This is manifested in legal, religious, cultural and political ways including victim shaming, reduced legal rights, and religious traditions. Women need human rights and agency over their bodies and lives, freedom to safely and economically exit abusive relationships, and for authorities to take seriously the claims of sexual and physical violence.
(*Men in the main, as they have the power, and are the main perpetrators, but this does not exlude women on women and girls violence)
Every 29 hours a trans person is murdered in the world, 295 were reported up to this year’s annual 20 November Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Most, some 85%, were in the Americas, but even in Europe, 5 were killed in each of Italy and Turkey. In Asia at least 11 across India and Pakistan. North America had 23 reported murders of transgender people, but Brazil had 123, ten times as many per capita. Honduras is, in fact, the most dangerous place per head of population, twice as bad as Brazil, with 89 people killed over 8 years of reporting. Over the last 8 years, some 52 trans people have been stoned to death – and not by ISIS, one just 3 weeks ago in Brazil; 630 were killed in the street, many as sex workers, but it begs the question about bystanders and communities not noticing or standing up as allies; one victim in Pakistan was refused medical treatment because she was trans, speeding her death.
These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg as statistics are based upon scouring news reports and some people may only be listed as a sex worker and/or their trans status not mentioned. Some may not have been killed because they were trans, but many were. Also, the numbers do not include the 33-50% of trans people who also try to take their own lives through suicide.
2264 Trans Lives lost Violently
Over 2008-2016 since the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) TvT Project has been running, 2264 have been killed. By far the largest, 541 were sex workers, but 99 hairdressers and beauticians, 34 artists, and 25 activists were counted among the dead as well as 9 religious leaders.
Trans Awareness Week/Month
As an antidote, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in several talks and discussions during Trans Awareness Week, or even a full month being celebrated by some. UEA, my local university, was particularly busy with events on each day, in conjunction with other societies such as FemSoc and Pride. Events covered non-binary questions, trans student politics, Ava Rollason sharing her colourful life and journey, and the growth of diversity and even dissent within and towards trans* identities.
Trans Visibility without the Violence
Trans people have indeed reached a “tipping point” and yet that has not diminished their risk of harm – self, and assailant-based. With shockingly high suicide risks, 80% consider it, and 33-50% act on it, trans people are especially vulnerable, and now, especially visible.
With around 0.75 to 2.5% or more people identifying as transgender and/or non-binary, one interesting visualisation is that there could be on average around 250-1000 trans* people at each UK premiership football match.
Visibility without risk of violence is what trans people are seeking, although many would no doubt prefer a form of passing invisibility as opposed to a discriminatory erasure or prejudicial ignorance.
Many have called 2015 the year of transgender visibility, after 2014’s “transgender tipping point” but what does that make 2016? One hopes that whilst deaths and murders are on the rise, that also, acceptance, diversity, and rights, are also increasing, and the killings are a temporary peak and will subside as countries make healthcare and transition access easier and more affordable, reducing the risks of sex work as a means of paying for surgeries. It should be noted that the primary victims of trans violence are trans people of colour, and that Trans Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter should be trending side by side, particularly as they were at the forefront of the emergence of trans rights in the USA. This month we remember the dead, celebrate the living, and offer hope to transgender people all over the world, and stand against the hate that takes so many of our lives.
Yesterday was #InternationalMensDay (IMD) – not a simple awareness retaliation day to Women’s Day but an acknowledgement, since 1999, that privilege and difference are often relative and contextual. Society does make it harder for men to talk, share, open up, acknowledge depression, career pressures etc. Men’s mental health is such that suicide can be their biggest killer, indeed, silence kills. Yes, feminists can argue that every day is men’s day, but in the particular sphere of suicide, there needs to be a spotlight on men and the fiscal and fragile crises that so often masculinity prefers to conceal. Similarly, whilst young LGBT people have high suicide risks, one group most prone to it is white men aged 85+ whose suicide rate in the US is six times the national average, closely followed by Native American males.
World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 Sep
Men are more than 3 times as likely to take their lives as women (4 times in the USA), with rates of 16.8 per 100,000 for men and 5.2 per 100,000 for women in the UK. Women try suicide more than men, but male suicide methods are more likely to result in death.
The highest suicide rate in the UK in 2014 was for men aged 45-49 at 26.5 per 100,000 with the North East of England most vulnerable. Whilst the overall suicide rate fell 1981 to 2007, austerity and cuts to services have seen annual rises since with the male rate last year, the worst since 2001.
385 men-a-month take their own lives in the UK; it is even worse in the USA, at 2759, 1.5x more likely per capita. In Japan, it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20-44.
Even so, Japan is not the worst. Lithuania is twice as high at 51 per 100,000 and Guyana at 71 per 100k is ashamedly the world ‘leader’. The USA ranks #46 and the UK #101 for male suicide.
Not a laughing matter
Men’s mental health is not a joke. November 19 was also World Toilet Day, and whilst jokes about leaving the toilet seat up abounded on twitter – including by me, whilst not directly aimed at men’s health, sanitation and sanity are not laughing matters when one billion lack a toilet and half-a-million men each year die by suicide and many millions more try. Whilst depression and mental health issues account for the majority of cases, for men in particular, financial and career pressures are significant factors. Education, because it brings with it greater economic opportunities and perhaps better communication skills, is a reducing factor, except among certain professions whose jobs give them access to pharmaceutical drugs.
Learn to Talk & Listen
The old Second World War adage and poster campaign that “Careless talk costs lives” could be turned on its head – “Learn to talk and save lives”. Partners and friends of men in crisis, similarly, need to learn to listen and not diminish the pressures that drive them to drink, depression and suicide. Suicide, at one every 40 seconds and on the rise (predicted to be one every 20s by 2020) is preventable is we make it ok for everyone to talk about mental health, men in particular, and we also end the worst effects of austerity where health and welfare cuts are exacerbating the problem and denying access to solutions.
Over the last year, Brexit, Trump and the Right have been winners, the liberal Left losers this year. Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy is coming to the USA” is darkly ironic. Apart from Cohen, the arts world has also lost Alexis Arquette, David Bowie, Prince, Lou Reed, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and many more including too many comedians, just yesterday, Napoleon Solo – Robert Vaughn. Cohen died aged 82, the day before the American Presidential Election. At least, he now joins 1960s partner Marianne, to whom he wrote shortly before her death a few months back:
“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine…. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
So Long, Marianne, 1967
Cohen met Marianne Jensen on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, whilst seeking some healthy sun, as recommended by his dentist! A woman of wisdom and beauty, she captivated him and had recently been left by her Norwegian novelist husband, and so began a love affair that lasted the 60s.
Spanish love affair
Cohen sang that before he fell for Marianne he “used to think [he] was some kind of Gypsy boy”. He was inspired by the Spanish poet Lorca, assassinated, aged just 38 during the Spanish Civil War.
At an awards ceremony in Spain, he said that in search of a voice, “It was only when I read, even in translation, the works of Lorca that I understood that there was a voice.”
“It is not that I copied his voice; I would not dare. But he gave me permission to find a voice, to locate a voice, that is to locate a self, a self that is not fixed, a self that struggles for its own existence. As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.” Leonard Cohen’s acceptance speech at award of Prince of Asturias literature prize, 2011 (Other awards)
Musically, Cohen also learned just five or six Flamenco chords from a Spanish guitar teacher who killed himself before his fourth lesson.
“Journalists, especially English journalists, were very cruel to me. They said I only knew three chords when I knew five!”
Nonetheless, they became the musical basis of his mournful music – that, and the gravitas of his gravelly “golden voice”.
It was, however, the combination of his sounds with the poetry of his own soul searching that leant it real depth, despair, darkness and désolé.
Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now. Then why do I feel alone? I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web is fastening my ankle to a stone. Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began … For now I need your hidden love. I’m cold as a new razor blade. (So Long, Marianne)
(So Long, Marianne)
Cohen once joked that his record company should package razor blades with his records. His sometimes subversive humour amidst the angst and anxiety, strangely softened the pervasively painful lyrics.
“Any startling piece of work has a subversive element in it, a delicious element often.”
He sought in his own way “to be free” (‘Like a bird on the wire‘) and his writing in all forms drew you in if you were among the “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”, as he wrote to his publisher.
More positively, he said and sung:
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Recent Nobel Literature Laureate, Bob Dylan, would probably acknowledge that he could have shared the prize with Cohen. The pair were discovered by the same music scout in the early 1960s, and whilst many – including himself, regarded Dylan as the number one, (Dylan joked he was number zero to Cohen’s one) Cohen was a strong contender for the number two spot as greatest songwriter for a generation.
“Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon), he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is [was] still working at the outset of the 21st century.” – Bruce Eder
Annoyingly, for Cohen at least, he worked hard at what came more easily to Dylan. What took Cohen five years to write Dylan could knock out in hours or less. Most famously, ‘Hallelujah’ took 5 years to write, probably down to the near-infinite number of verses, and almost a generation to rise to its modern reputation and dubious honour of being on the Shrek soundtrack.
Faith and Drugs
Cohen came from a Canadian-Lithuanian-Polish line of successful and literate Jews, Talmudic scholars, businessmen, and synagogue founders. He practised his Judaism, but that didn’t interfere with his spiritual exploration of other beliefs from Scientology to Buddhism in the 1970s, leading to his ordination as a Zen Buddhist monk in the 90s. Of Jesus of Nazareth he said:
“I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I’m not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.” Leonard Cohen: In His Own Words (1998)
Perhaps he was a depressed Spock-lookalike figure, at times, but he also pursued life in all its fullness. From drugs to drink to women and wisdom, he ploughed life’s lows in search of its highs. In the end, he was neither a pure Buddhist nor a “really good junkie” but somehow the former, even as a drug in some way itself, held off the latter.
As he turned 65, he finally felt at peace with himself and the world, to some degree at least. He described it as acceptance and learning to ignore rather than solve himself.
Kurt Cobain wrote in Nirvana’s ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ (1993)
“Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld So I can sigh eternally.”
After his suicide, Cohen wished he’s been able to speak to Cobain:
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him.”
Democracy and Darkness
He leaves behind, millions of devotees, missing the mournfulness and aged adolescent agonising of his search for meaning. Even now, his songs remain poignant, if somewhat ironic, like ‘Democracy‘, and it still feels like ‘You want it Darker’ (2016) lies ahead, but perhaps too, we’ll also find the peace, that he found and now rests in.
“I’ve seen the nations rise and fall, I’ve heard their stories, heard them all. But love’s the only engine of survival.”
“Sail on, sail on O mighty ship of State To the shores of need Past the reefs of greed Through the squalls of hate Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on”
On the day of the US election when Trump and Clinton should be trending, the American-owned formerly Swiss Toblerone has stolen their thunder as a trending topic on Twitter and the BBC. UK Consumers unwrapping the same size, same price packets this morning were greeted with a 10% or more drop in weight from 400g to 360g or 170g to 150g, but with the iconic mountain ranges trimmed to leave the chocolate peaks resembling a bicycle rack.
The triangular shape and peaks of the chocolate bar are believed to be representative of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, yet Theodor Tobler’s son claimed the inspiration came from the pyramid shape formed by Folies Bergères dancers at a show finale.
Before we blame Brexit for a subtle change also made by the now US owners of previously York-based Terry’s Chocolate Orange, they reduced the weight of the oranges from 175g down to 157g, on 29 May, three weeks before the EU Referendum. They did this, as with Toblerone, by leaving the packaging unchanged and hollowing out one side of each orange segment.
Is all this a metaphor for life, or indeed politics? Read the small print. Check the ingredients (Cadbury’s Creme Eggs switched to a cheaper chocolate mix). Beware fake packaging and reduced content. Who of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is more shiny wrapper than edible content? Personally, I find nearly everything Trump says unpalatable.
Just as with elections, there are also winners and losers in all change. The European Union may be about free trade between its members and negotiating deals with America and Canada outside it, but it can be quite protectionist elsewhere. Take the German coffee-roasting industry worth billions, in order to protect that, the EU slaps a 7.5% tariff on any roasted coffee exports from developing markets in Africa, accepting only raw beans on fair terms.
At the end of the day, whilst traditions and chocolate loyalty are peculiarly passionate debates, it is the political battles of Brexit (ongoing) and the American Presidential election (today) that will have longer lasting effects on our cultures than a mere change of confectionery. In the battle of Trump v Toblerone I’m hoping that both are losers – as I don’t like either!
So the Battle of Brexit is back on as Theresa May v Parliament, the alleged powers of the crown and office of PM v ministers, Leave vs Remain, UK v EU, England v Scotland, UKIP v itself, presses on. The High Court has ruled that the UK government must consult Parliament before triggering Article 50 to leave EU. In addition, the original drafter of Article 50 reminds us that the treaty clause says nothing about canceling the process if the political landscape changes, another referendum or general election changes things, or the likely ‘Hard Brexit’ deal is unappealing.
The Right Wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail went for character assassination of the High Court judges, including describing one with disdain as “openly gay”, or like The Sun attacking the petitioners as elite and/or foreign. The Daily Telegraph published a column by Nigel Farage on the front page.
Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former attorney general, said reading hostile coverage in the Mail and the Daily Telegraph “started to make one think that one was living in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe … I think there’s a danger of a sort of mob psyche developing – and mature democracies should take sensible steps to avoid that”. – The Guardian
The Government is going to appeal to the Supreme Court but this is embarrassing for Theresa May and will add delays to the process. The appeal, may, ironically, end up in the European Court of Justice! Something that would not appeal to Nigel Farage.
I now fear every attempt will be made to block or delay triggering Article 50. They have no idea level of public anger they will provoke.
Labour leadership contender, MP Owen Smith has now called for Labour to amend a parliamentary Article 50 Bill to include a second EU referendum on it.
Crown & Prime Minister v the People
The argument by the Government that it can use the Crown’s royal prerogative powers is itself a smack in the face for democracy and Parliament’s sovereignty – the very thing Brexiters claim was the main reason for leaving the European Union. Yes, the EU Referendum was democracy in action, albeit with huge lies, fearmongering and bribes, on both sides – but, then saying that the PM now has the final say, reverses that very democracy. The PM is unelected and is not sovereign over Parliament’s MPs – who were elected on a stronger more honest mandate than a yes/no poorly managed Referendum campaign only brought in to appease the Tory Right so that they did not join UKIP. So just who is the Crown and who are the People? UKIP seem to be laying claim to being the voice of the people – if that it the result of Brexit then everyone loses in the long run.
Article 50 may not be final
So, the leaving process can and could be halted, not just by court action, but also since Article 50 is not irreversible according to its drafter. John Kerr, a former UK chief diplomat, and Secretary General of the European Convention, has stated the obvious, that anyone reading Article 50 can discern for themselves, that:
“It is not irrevocable – you can change your mind while the process is going on.” – Lord Kerr
Indeed, Kerr suggested that the purpose of Article 50 was to slow down dictators from taking existing members out of the EU too quickly, nobody envisaged a country democratically withdrawing – although that right, should and does exist.
Hard Brexit would sink UK like the Titanic
Former equivocating Leavecampaign leader and now bumbling Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said, this week at the Spectator Awards that Britain would make a “Titanic success of Brexit”. When the audience yelled out “it sank!”, one has to wonder whether he knew or was well aware of what he was saying.
Adding further poignancy to the event, Nigel Farage won the Spectator Lifetime Achievement Award. This recalls the Brexit Battle on the River Thames earlier this summer.
Currency & Stock Market Response
The Pound has leapt 1.5% against the Dollar and nearly 2% against the Euro in just a morning on the currency markets in response.
The near 20% fall in Sterling since the EU Referendum has made exports cheaper, but the cost of using Microsoft software for business has just risen 22%. Lenovo and Apple have raised their prices 10-20%. For the poor and vulnerable, food, drink, energy, and transport costs are all rising. The Government is guaranteeing that car manufacturers will not suffer during trade and tariff deals, meaning that they will find a way to compensate (itself against WTO rules) them or negotiate a trade deal on a sector-by-sector basis, something the non-car producing nations may block.
The FTSE-250 jumped 1.5%, it is made up of more British revenue-based businesses. The FTSE-100 lost 0.6% as it is more made up of multinationals with balance sheets in Dollars.
Where are the lines of democracy drawn?
Whilst a slim majority voted for Brexit, it was not a majority of either voters or the population. It was also regionally divisive. Northern Ireland and Scotland votes to stay, as did London and Norwich! More interestingly, Wales voted to leave, yet is concerned that England is driving the terms of Brexit against the wishes of regionally devolved parliaments like the Welsh and Scots.
Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, has now called for votes on Brexit terms and negotiating positions to take place in Cardiff, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Westminster. Democracy may have begun a process to take the UK out of the EU, but it may also have triggered a process to take Scotland and others out of the UK. With the Government playing hard ball against the regions, nay countries, of the UK, we are storing up future problems and questions over whose sovereignty is paramount.
Theresa May seems to be arguing that the courts should not stand in the way of the Government. So the Government is above the law? Suzanne Evans, of UKIP, agrees, and has called for the judges in today’s decision to be sacked!
Whilst many fearmongering scenarios may be unlikely, and initial economic data post-EU Referendum is not as bad as feared – yet, it does show that continued discussion and opposition may be fruitful, whether to change our negotiating position with the EU, or to wriggle our way out of Brexit itself. If that is a possibility, there needs to be a wider political discussion before a clearer and cleaner campaign and a second referendum on any final EU deal. Paddy Power have, today, halved the odds from 10/1 to 5/1 of a second EU referendum taking place before 2019.
So, as the Battle of Brexit reignites, with the threat of appeals and riots, this is neither over nor barely begun in divided Britain. After the last 6 months of the EU Referendum campaigns, increased hate crimes, rising stock markets and falling Pound, the likelihood of fresh devolution votes – Britain will not be healed or united by either leaving or remaining. Crown and Parliament have been set against each other, and democracy and debate seem to be the losers. Leave campaigners think the former is ignored if the Referendum vote it upheld. Remainers believe the vote was tarnished by lies and a politically-motivated campaign run for reasons other than the over-simplified seemingly consequence-free question being asked. At the very least, the debate should remain open to challenge Hard Brexit and Brexit means Brexit positions, and to see how the mind of the EU and the UK changes over the duration of Article 50, should it be triggered, and should it lead to Brexit, given that it is possible to cancel the process if the terms of #Brexit are too hard to bear.