Tag Archives: Women

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women #IDEVAW

End Violence Against Women & Girls

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

  • Violence against Women infographic2 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
  • Over 200 million girls alive worldwide now have undergone forced female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • 2-3,000 Honour Based Violence (HBV) reported incidences/year, with 1 person a month being killed (UK), 2000/year (Pakistan)
  • Girls are lured by ISIS (50+ last year from the UK alone) or abducted by Boko Haram & others as war brides and sex slaves
  • Sex slavery and forced prostitution accounts for over 20% of all forced labour of women (4.5m people)
  • In 32 countries men cannot be accused of raping their wives
  • Girls are aborted more than boys as part of sex selection abortion, not only in India, China and elsewhere but also in the UK, as many as 5000 girls are missing from census data.

More facts about violence against women from WHO, UN Women.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced - Nujood Ali“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)
 

World Bipolar Day, Bipolar Mood Scale, Vincent van Gogh & Manic Creativity

World Bipolar Day

Today and everyday is bipolar day for 2-3% of the population who have a Mood Affective Disorder including Cyclothymia and Bipolar I & II. A day to recognise the issues, struggles, and occasional joys and spurts of creativity – sometimes manic, experienced by people with bipolar, was created to coincide with Vincent van Gogh’s birthday, 30 March, since he was posthumously believed to have had a bipolar type condition. World Bipolar Day aims to:

“bring world awareness to bipolar disorders and eliminate social stigma.” – International Society for Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar Incidence & Prevalence

Whilst 1-in-100 or 2.6% are commonly cited figures, some studies have shown wide variations, ranging from 2.6 to 20.0 per 100,000 per year, in the incidence of bipolar affective disorder (Lloyd & Jones, 2002). These variations have been e.g., regional, SE London is twice that of Nottingham and Bristol, or by ethnicity, by socio-economic class, by childhood intelligence – especially high verbal IQ, or by hormones and gender – some studies show a much higher incidence in the female population.

“estrogen fluctuations may be an important factor in the etiology of bipolar disorder and it is obvious that more research on this topic is needed to clarify the role of estrogen in women with bipolar disorder…Why is it that rapid cycling occurs more often in women?” – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510130

It also alleged that among artistic and creative types there is a higher incidence of bipolar mood disorders, that may be genetic. Indeed, as many as 40x the national incidence, among a group of 30 American authors, studied over 15 years:

“43 per cent of them had bipolar disorder compared to only 10 per cent of the control group and 1 per cent of the general population.” – Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

A further survey of 47 British authors and visual artists from the British Royal Academy found that 38% had been treated for a mood disorder.

“A recent study carried out at Stanford University by Santosa and colleagues found that people with bipolar disorder and creative discipline controls scored significantly more highly than healthy controls on a measure of creativity called the Barron-Welsh Art Scale. In a related study the same authors sought to identify temperamental traits that people with bipolar disorder and creative people have in common. They found that both shared tendencies for mild elation and depression with gradual shifts from one to the other, openness, irritability, and neuroticism (roughly speaking, a combination of anxiety and perfectionism).” – Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh The Starry Night Google Art Project
Vincent Van Gogh, “The Starry Night”, 1889, MOMA, NYC via  Google Art Project

The famous Dutch post-Impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh suffered quite wild swings in his mental health and many paintings were produced from his asylum room. Van Gogh is thought to have shot himself, after struggling with declining mental health in his mid-30s. He had spent most of the last 18-months of his life in an asylum, but two months later was dead as the result of a presumably, though not proven, self-induced shooting incident or suicide attempt.

Ironically, it was a period when he produced many iconic paintings, some en plein air. His famous image titled ‘The Starry Night’ was a pre-sunrise nocturne as seen from his East-facing asylum window, but finished in the asylum studio, as he was only allowed to draw in his room, not paint. Van Gogh’s beautiful and happier ‘Village Street and Steps in Auvers’ was painted just days after release from the asylum:

Vincent van Gogh Village Street and Steps in Auvers
Vincent van Gogh, “Dorfstraße undTreppe in Auvers mit Figuren” – ‘Village Street and Steps in Auvers’, 1890

Barely weeks later, and days before his death, he was painting several large wheat fields canvases and in a letter to his brother Theo, he wrote:

“I have painted three more large canvases. They are vast stretches of corn under troubled skies, and I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness….I’m fairly sure that these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside.” – Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Theo van Gogh, 10 July 1890

His late paintings demonstrate an artist at the height of his talent, yet also the depths of his troubles, for whom art and the outdoor landscape was creative catharsis and therapy. What would the art world have witnessed had he lived on?

Bipolar Mood Scale Diary

It is typical for a bipolar diagnosis to take a decade and work through several misdiagnoses en route. I was first diagnosed with Cyclothymia over 4 years ago, but subsequently told it was Mood Affective Disorder and then Bipolar II, along with rapid cycling and mixed mode variations. CBT – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, helped my management, but so did self-knowledge, awareness, and diarying. I enjoy my hypomanic periods, less so the depressions which I’ve fought for 12 years or so. Finding balance when you only exist at the poles is a tricky act to accomplish and may involve staying in when you feel like going out and going out when you feel like staying in!

Risks, when hypomanic, for me include inappropriate conversation, loss of impulse control, manic spending, flirting, obsessional behaviours, risk seeking. Yet, the benefits when high are hyperactive stamina and energy, stream of consciousness ideas flooding, huge reading and writing output, charismatic and entertaining confidence and loquaciousness.

“I managed to rack up £300k of credit, hardly average! I was, and indeed am, very convincing when hypomanic, it made me a good salesperson, deal-maker, innovator, public speaker but terrible at time and money management.”May 2013

Having been in a balanced mood state for nearly 3 months now, a rare occurrence, possibly due to recent endocrine changes, I miss the hyper states. I also realise, however, how destructive they could be to life, economics, and relationships, whilst at the same time being a creative buzz. I don’t miss the lethargic, inactive, hopeless depressive episodes at all, although they were a great way of avoid life and its stresses.

The best advice I was given was to monitor my mood on a daily basis, as I was already doing with my insomnia diary and general personal diary. The catharsis of writing and recording also came with the recognition that moods, highs, lows, sleeplessness all came in phases, that changed – they got better, and they got worse. Unlike, when I suffered with depression for 6-8 years as that felt like nothing would ever get better. The Bipolar Mood Scale diary has helped me to hold out for the good days, and to manage my moods better.

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Being or having bipolar – people’s attitudes to which verb to use varies, should not be romanticised. It is both a blessing and a curse, and for some is very hard to live with. I’ve made friends with mine, though it is still unpredictable. I’ve come to appreciate the moment, mindful that it can change, but I take the rough with the smooth now. Hopefully, I can look back on past suicide attempts as distant memories, and seize the creative periods to be productive and expressive, whilst trying to rein it in when it tips into hypomania.

 

 

 

Gayle, Boycott & the non-PC world of sexist & homophobic humour in Sport

Geoffrey Boycott Bingo

Geoffrey Boycott is still struggling with the modern age it seems as heard on Test Match Special this morning during the England-South Africa cricket game:

“Pitches are like wives, you never know how they’re going to turn out…Best not say that to ‘our Rachel'”

Presumably, the Rachael mentioned is his wife Rachael Swinglehurst, but another Rachael might have something to say about attitudes to women as cricketers, or in sport generally. Rachael Heyhoe-Flint is England women’s team former captain and premier cricketer who did so much to promote women in the sport, including being the first full female member of the MCC, not to mention also playing hockey for England.

Cricket commentator Mark Nicholas, who worked with Boycott, told his biographer that “sometimes Geoff can be so rude you just want to punch his lights out”. Something which Geoff would call “being forthright” or “blinkers on”, and for which he has apologised.

Some more non-pc quotes from Geoffrey, having become part of the lingo of Boycott Bingo, which some argue should be boycotted:

“Me mum could have caught that in her pinny”
“My gran could have hit that with her broom handle”

Equally, one could argue that we take sexist humour too seriously – but humour often sits in reality, and it’s not men we should be asking if they find it funny, but women and wives. Theresa May, is apparently a big fan of Boycott.

There is indeed a “corridor of uncertainty” with Boycott as to how likely it is a case of ‘tongue in cheek’ or a ‘foot in mouth’ expression, when he said the following, of his wife, it was meant to be endearingly funny:

“She’s lucky to have me. I keep telling her. I could have got fulltime help in and less lip.”

Beefy was not immune to not getting to grips with evolved equality:

“I don’t ask my wife to face Michael Holding, so there’s no reason why I should be changing nappies” – Ian Botham

Chris Gayle’s Alleged Sexism

Chris Gayle West Indies Cricketer
Chris Gayle West Indies Cricketer (2005)

With Chris Gayle (mis)taking the opportunity of an interview with an Australian female sports interviewer, Mel McLaughlin, to flirt, patronisingly rather than in any sense endearingly, some sportsmen are still struggling to shed the image that it is a heterosexist no-go area for women and gay men. Gayle called McLaughlin “baby” on live camera, he argued cultural differences later, as faux-apology. An interview with Boycott in 2011 described Geoffrey as liking “to call a spade a shovel and a woman ‘love'”, another cultural difference, are West Indies and West Yorkshire closer that previously thought?

Gayle’s behaviour was described as “sexist, not sexy” and contributing to why, despite:

“almost everything about sport [having] improved in the past few decades, yet still women are unable to simply turn up to work and do their job properly without being slobbered over by lecherous simpletons like Gayle.”

The same writer, male in fact, reported with disbelief on how women in motorsports were essentially meant to be “good sports” which he summarised as “silently accept[ing] being sexually harassed” and turning a blind eye. I would add that women are expected to be good sports in the sense of laughing off inappropriate testosterone-fueled banter rather than be “good at sports”.

Coming Out as Gay in Sport

FIFA, has this week fined five South American football bodies for homophobic chants at their games. Meanwhile, Qatar – awarded the 2022 World Cup, has just banned the film The Danish Girl for its trans depiction as “moral depravity”.

Coming out as a gay sportsman, in football, rugby and cricket, especially, is rarer and harder than coming out as a gay Tory cabinet minister. As Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives leader quipped, “it was easier coming out as a lesbian than coming out as a Tory”. A gay male footballer still remains a taboo beyond even that. Part of the issue for people is that the atmosphere of sport can still so often seem like some men behave down the pub, “Blokesworld mindset“, after a few drinks too many, and the overly “laddish” environment can discourage the full participation or spectation of all members of society.

Safe Alcohol guidelines from Nanny State unlikely to change my Wine intake

New Safer Alcohol Guidelines

New “safe” alcohol guidelines from Nanny State have been drawn up, where “safe” means none, like a nun, more abstinence than absinthe. Beer takes a battering and wine is to be watered down. Livers up and down the country are leaping for joy!

Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse and Grill
Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse, as opposed to rarely drinking

I’ve always been a wine-drinker, but with food at the dinner table from an early age. It created a responsible drinking habit – again with the nun references!

I did try teetotalism for three months at University and pigged out on pizza instead. My partner is more into total-tea-ism.

I actually, never get drunk, well extremely rarely and unintentionally. I drink for pleasure and only with food, never to get drunk. I prefer to stay in control and able to appreciate the taste.

Tongue in Cheek Comment

Actually, all of this is tongue in cheek, wine sloshed around the palate stuff – I just hate being told what to do. Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer recommends a cup of tea instead of a glass of wine so expect a tax on tea sometime soon. Tea duty! Perhaps we should have a Boston Wine Party or a new political movement like the American Tea Party movement, the British Wine Party movement!

It all seems to be part of the austerity cuts and equalities agenda. Men’s drinking has been cut to the levels of women as it turns out male livers and female livers were not gendered at all and after several female livers took the UK Government to the European Court of Humourous Rights the Government out of spite decided to reduce men’s limits rather than raise female limits to an equal level.

Furthermore, the hypocrisy continues as Parliament is choosing to keep its bars open to serve more than the daily drinking allowance to MPs drunk on their own power.

It’s all clearly an anti-LGBT ploy (or conceivably out of concern for our health and wellbeing – which is an anagram of “binge well”) since it turns out LGBT people are nearly twice as likely to binge drink compared to the more sober hetero/cis population!

A History of Safe Drinking Limits

1984 was a positive drinking utopia compared to now. That year saw the first guidance on gendered drinking produced in a pamphlet called That’s the Limit. Safe limits were defined as 18 “standard drinks” a week for men and 9 for women. At least we now have drinking equality! One standard drink was defined as one alcohol unit – a concept that would be introduced in the next edition. The pamphlet also defined “too much” alcohol as 56 standard drinks a week for men and 35 for women. 1987 saw these limits revised down to familiar 21 units a week for men and 14 for women, with “too much” defined as 36 units for men and 22 for women. That is until today where it has been revised down to zero units for safe drinking and 14 as a recommended maximum should you still feel the need.

BBC Booze Nationality Calculator

The BBC website has devoted public money to shaming us further with their online booze nationality calculator which clearly makes no allowance for sexuality as a factor.

French wine drinker - new alcohol guidelines
French wine drinker – new alcohol guidelines

You drink like you’re from France, which is the joint 18th heaviest-drinking country in the world…You are on course to drink about 20.7 litres of pure alcohol over the year, which is 25% more than the average for men in the United Kingdom, and 200% more than the average for women.”

It turns out either I’m French or a bisexual/lesbian British woman but not a gay man.

A Choice between Risk and Pleasure

Drinking more than 14 units *may* increase your risk of dying from an alcohol-related condition by about 1%. That compares to more risky behaviour like a bacon sandwich or watching television for an hour!

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said:

“These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. So should we feel OK about risks of this level? An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”

Another tempting pleasure might be the latest research from Harvard and the UEA  suggesting that a high intake of blackcurrants and a few glasses of red wine could be “sexual superfoods“.

Drinking and Cancer

If wine is so bad for you, presumably most of Europe is dying of cancer, as opposed to stress and anxiety and other smoking and eating habits contributing to poor health outcomes. Other studies into the flavonoids, resveratrol and polyphenols in red grapes have shown wine’s heart protective benefits.

Actually, the Danes and French (big smokers) do unenviously top the cancer league however Portugal (36th) and Spain (34th) who drink more than Britain (23rd) come lower down the table. My plan is to drink more Malbec as the Argentinians come 49th. Clearly, other lifestyle factors are at work.

For women breast cancer risk from all factors but including increased drinking does rise from 10.9% to 12.6% (up to 14 units/week) to 15.3% (14-35 units). Similarly, bowel cancer rises for men and women by around 30% to 7-8% risk once 14 units are exceeded.

Allegedly, there are still health benefits if you are a woman over 55, I’ve never looked forward to ageing so much before! New #alcoholguidelines suck! I need a drink!

Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt
Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez BBC Radio 4 Today Guest Editor on Food & Feminism

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez – guest editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme

BBC Radio 4 Today guest editor for a day, senior international lawyer and secret food blogger, Miriam González Durántez took charge of the programme’s direction and interviews. Intelligent and disarmingly charming González discussed politics, women, role models, immigration, extremism, high heels, and food with Jamie Oliver and Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain, and interviewed Richard Branson, Theresa May, James Blunt among others, whilst sidestepping Justin Webb’s sexism. Barely minutes after the interview some people were criticising her interviews as “embarrassing“.

Only last week she wrote for the Financial Times on Spain’s recent election impasse, and political and judicial corruption there:

“The message is clear: voters do not want a focus on personalities or parties, they want a focus on cleaning up politics. Whoever becomes prime minister is almost irrelevant since he is likely to have to pack his (no chance of hers, alas) bags before long.” – Miriam González Durántez, Financial Times

González is an inspiring woman who also promotes the Inspiring Women Campaign since 2013 which talks with girls in state schools about future paths.

As El Mundo reported, it is the first time a Spaniard has guest edited the programme since the idea was introduced back in 2003. 

La abogada Miriam González es la primera persona española que ha sido invitada a codirigir un día el programa Today de la BBC Radio 4.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez Guest Editor BBC Radio 4 Today
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez Guest Editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme

 

Spanish Food

González turns out to have been the secret author of a cookery blogMum and Sons“. She has some excellent mayonnaise cheats and a delicious guacamole  recipe.

“I’m Spanish we talk about food all the time… at breakfast we talk about what’s for lunch, at lunch what’s for dinner!” (2h48m)

Having lived in Spain for two years and being complete obsessed by food, I must have had a secret Spanish heart transplant.

British Freedom

She mentioned on the programme about her love of British freedom as she’s discussed before in the Guardian:

“The very first five minutes when I came to live here, I felt a freedom that I had never felt before in my life, a freedom to be myself.”

 

Women and Islamic State Extremism

González challenged Radio 4 to investigate and find out why over 60 British women and teens have travelled to Syria to possibly join Islamic State. Interviews include the Unity of Faiths Foundation which fights radicalisation through football, member of the Youth Parliament and an Ambassador for TUFF FC, Umra Butt, and director at anti-extremism Connect Justice, Laura Zahra McDonald.

“Facing racism and Islamophobic slurs…it’s the only place they feel accepted, it’s about belonging and fitting in…how can we empower people to belong…” (2h33m)

 

Smart and Beautiful

She used the opportunity as Today programme guest editor to challenge both gender roles, stereotypes and interview male and female role models. She also called on James Blunt to rewrite “You’re Beautiful” as “You are Smart” (1h45m). Blunt apologised for his “ridiculous accent” but not for being seen as sensitive or gay.

“…not very macho…effeminate and gay…not an insult…to call me gay is a compliment, and I’d like to be considered an honorary gay man, I’m totally at ease with myself.” James Blunt

Everyday Sexism

Ever the diplomat, she chose not to slam much of the inherent everyday sexism of BBC male interviewer Justin Webb who introduced her as Nick Clegg’s wife – a dubious honour not used to introduce anyone else’s marital status or partner. Twitter of course, took him to task:

 

“Who’s in charge in your household?” (2h54m50s) “You’re the wife of Nick Clegg – it is a fact, you don’t rile from that?” (2h56m50s) “You want Theresa May to be in charge of the Tories, you are willing her” (2h59m15s

 

Home Secretary Theresa May Interview

Sharing a love of shoes, González says to May:

“I think better in high heels” (2h20m)

On whether Theresa May would lead a BrExit “No Campaign”, May dodges the question, González challenges “That’s not really an answer to my question”, May replies, “I’m a politician, Miriam”, González reiterates “I’m a lawyer, I have to insist”, then deflects with laughter. (2h25m45s

 

An Embarrassing or Endearing Interviewer?

Despite a debate this morning on whether her interview with May was “embarrassing” González appears genuine, is obviously intelligent yet uses endearing humour – which may appear self and female-patronising at times, but which seems to be a ploy to disarm and choose which “square centimetre” battles to fight. Wanting to see change, she says, means choosing your battles wisely. Not every successful woman needs to be a Theresa May-Margaret Thatcher battleaxe, woman can make it by being themselves, not by being men.

World AIDS Day some Sex & Gender Myth Busting about HIV

World AIDS Day, December 1

When World AIDS Day comes around each year, we memorialise those lost to the infectious disease, but also recognise that for many it is no longer a death sentence, certainly not an imminent one. People live longer and fuller lives after diagnosis than ever before. It remains, however, the biggest cause of death for African teens and “the second biggest killer for adolescents around the world” (UNICEF). The theme of World AIDS Day 2015 is: “Getting to zero; End AIDS by 2030.”

In the UK, a Kissing Booth in Soho Square was today spreading the message that “Kissing Doesn’t Spread HIV. Ignorance Does.”

Whilst HIV and AIDS are improving in the UK, and we congratulate ourselves on survival rates, better education, and great use of celebrities, social media, schools etc to combat residual ignorance – meanwhile, it remains Africa’s biggest killer – not terrorism and conflict. Fear and denial of homosexuality or MSM (Men who have sex with men) does not help. LGBT equalities,  freedoms and awareness will help end the ignorance, but teaching safe sex and that heterosexual people, men and women, are the biggest at risk populations, is vital.

HIV Facts not Fear

  • Around 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK
  • Only 1% of those in the UK with HIV died from AIDS
  • Only 0.3% in the UK go on to develop AIDS from HIV
  • UK people can expect a normal life expectancy with the disease
  • Some 34 million worldwide are living with HIV
  • Some 33 million worldwide since 1984 have died
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the most serious HIV and AIDS epidemic in the world with 25m people, 5% of all adults
  • Over a million deaths annually from HIV in Africa
  • Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence of any country worldwide (27.4%)
  • South Africa has the largest epidemic of any country with 5.9 million people living with HIV
  • More women than men in Sub-Saharan Africa have HIV and each year 10% of women without HIV become infected especially 15-24 year olds
  • 26 new HIV infections an hour for African teens aged 15-19 with girls making up 70% of those infected
  • It is the biggest killer of young people in Africa, second biggest worldwide
  • Poverty is a social determinant for HIV infection across all age groups in South Africa
  • 20% of those in the US with HIV are women (84% from heterosexual sex)
  • Over 125,000 women with HIV in the US have died since 1984
  • Effective treatment makes you non-infectious
  • HIV is mostly caught from unprotected sex with anyone (95%)
  • It can be developed from intravenous drugs needle sharing (2%)
  • It can also be caught in extremely rare unscreened circumstances from infected blood through transfusion, organ transplant, and mother to baby (0.5% chance)
World AIDS Day HIV Facts not Fear Mythbusting
World AIDS Day HIV Facts not Fear Mythbusting

More UK facts on the National AIDS Trust site, US women data from CDC. Other facts where linked.

On World Aids Day HIV we are right to remind people that AIDS is no longer a death sentence in the UK. It remains, however, Africa’s biggest killer, not terrorism or conflict. There is a global imbalance in health prospects, life expectancy, sex education, drugs funding, and attitudes to the value of people’s lives of different races and nationalities.

Africa Day 2015, a Diverse Continent in Conflict not Unity

Africa Day – 25 May 2015

On Africa Day it is worth reflecting on diversity as much as the so-called unity of the African Union. Africa may be a continent but it is far from united or content. Nor need it be. Diversity and difference, religious, economic and national identity struggle, are features of growth as much as peace and unity are. For now, discontent still rules whether in North Africa’s culturally Islamic Arab Spring countries or in Zimbabwe and South Africa’s continued issues. In between, Nigeria, Sudan and Kenya struggle with North-South divides, extremist groups and campaigns of terror. There are many Africas, not just one.

Africa’s History

Whilst shaking off the shackles of historical European colonialism, no one African identity has emerged but dozens. Self-determination, battles for independence, and religious and tribal/civil wars have ensured that national identities and stable futures are still fighting for supremacy. Africa is still making and creating its modern history.

War and Conflict

Africa leads the world on at least one thing, its 161 conflicts in 26 African countries, half of the continent.  Peace One Day? and prosperity are yet distant horizons. The poor, dispossessed, women and children are so often the innocent victims in conflict. Africa needs peace, but that is not the same as unity.

Africa Day

Africa Day, itself, celebrates the May 25 founding in Ethiopia, by 30 African leaders, of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, which in 2002 became the African Union whose motto is “united and strong”. Its current chairperson is Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and his statement today is AU president Robert Mugabe’s Africa Day statement 2015.

Geography and the Clash of Civilisations

When was the last time anyone thought of Egypt, ancient or modern, as part of Africa rather than part of the Middle East? Geographical unity is a false guide to religious, cultural and national identity unity. Again, when we talk of the ancient world Africa is usually forgotten, yet Egypt is African, Nubia too, and what about historical Mali and the medieval literary and learning centre of Timbuktu.

African Languages

Africa ethnic language groups Wikipedia via CIA 1996
Africa ethnic language groups Wikipedia via CIA 1996

Arabic, English, French, and Swahili, may be the most well known African languages but many forget the 500 languages of Nigeria, or indeed the 2-3,000 across the whole of Africa making it the most diverse location on Earth, linguistically. South Africa has 11 official languages, more than anywhere else, only Somalia has just one. Most countries will speak ex-colonial languages alongside indigenous ones. 75% of Africa speaks over a dozen different languages but 25% speak hundreds more.

African Economics & Absolute Poverty

Many in African still survive – and that is a dubious description, on less than $1-$2 a day.

“Over the last 30 years, worldwide absolute poverty has fallen sharply (from about 40% to under 20%). But in African countries the percentage has barely fallen. Still today, over 40% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa live in absolute poverty.” Our Africa – Poverty

Nigeria, riven by conflict, violence, corruption, is nonetheless on target to continue to grow as Africa’s strongest economic nation, in the main due to oil.

African Women and Gender Equality

The theme of Africa Day, this year, is the “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. Gender equality is far off with Boko Haram continuing to kidnap young girls and make sex slaves or forced marriages of teenage women. Education is still not an equal right in many states and countries, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains a health and human rights issue barely being tackled at all.

Dr Zuma, the Chair of the African Union Commission, said today that the 2015 theme represents:

“a recognition of centuries of African women and women from the Diaspora to the struggles against slavery, racial and gender discrimination, and for the emancipation of our continent and African men and women everywhere.

Women and girls continue to play critical roles – paid and unpaid – in their families, communities, countries and regions, that directly impact on economies and societies.

Despite the constraints that they continue to face, we have made strides, as a result of different waves of struggles by the women’s movements. Since the historic Beijing Conference twenty years ago, and the recognition of women’s rights as human rights, we have seen progress on women’s representation, in the advancement of reproductive rights, on equal pay for equal work, on access to education and basic services.

At the same time, it is estimated that if real change happens at the same [pace], it will take us 80 years before reaching full gender parity.”

Unity and equality in Africa are a long way off, slow progress is being made and conflict in various forms continues to destabilise economic and cultural development. Individual hopes, educational and economic opportunity, health and women’s rights, are bigger issues than a surface unity this Africa Day. African rights are human rights and abuses remain ignored by pan-African and international communities. News stories, unless they be of thousands of migrants or hundreds of schoolgirls, go ignored or buried by the international news services. Africa needs greater news coverage and the spotlight of global media, as well as economic aid, in order to progress both human rights and economic development.

BBC Bring Back Jeremy Clarkson? He is back but on Amazon Prime 2016

STOP PRESS: Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear team to return

But on Amazon Prime online video streaming in 2016 not the BBC. Meanwhile Top Gear will return to the BBC but with a different team. The schadenfreude is palpable as the BBC reports  on their own loss of a profitable though oft inappropriate franchise.

In an Amazon statement, Jeremy Clarkson said:

“I feel like I’ve climbed out of a biplane and into a spaceship.”

Richard Hammond quipped:

“Amazon? Oh yes. I have already been there. I got bitten by a bullet ant.”

James May saw the perhaps double irony:

“We have become part of the new age of smart TV. Ironic, isn’t it?”

BBC suspends Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson amid mass Change.org petition

Whatever the “fracas” and nature of petulant millionaire star twat Jeremy Clarkson‘s “interaction” with a BBC producer, there’s nothing like a Top Gear fiasco (one of many over the years) to get the nation raging along with over 1 million signatories on a Change.org petition delivered this week by self-propelled big gun, aka tank (probably the slowest vehicle to appear in relation to Top Gear), to BBC HQ. It is just such a shame that this is what energises us and not more significant world matters.

Discover the top 5 really important petitions on Change.org to get behind instead and a bonus tribute petition for Terry Pratchett!

Has Jeremy Clarkson quit or not? Yes | No

Clarkson hinted that he was on the way out and had no fear, now that the internal inquiry is over – though not published, in berating his BBC bosses with a f*** laden foul-mouthed tirade at their idiocy at potentially ruining the Top Gear formula.

Diverse Top Gear Replacements

Suggestions to replace him have included Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, and Alan Partridge. Whilst they are all comedians, at least Perkins would not be sexist (towards women at least), neither she nor Clary would be homophobic, and any of Partridge’s foreign jokes would be obvious parody and satire. Other comedians who’ve appeared in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car race around the Top Gear test track have included Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili, and Sanjeev Bhaskar – all of whom would counter the alleged racism of the show.

Having Ellen MacArthur, Jennifer Saunders, or Jodie Kidd, on as the fastest women on the track would prove it doesn’t need 3 blokey blokes to present it – although that is the formula to date, and a politically correct presenter team would be as bad as the minimum female comedienne to be included on all panel shows which smacks of tokenism and harms female comedians standing in their own right.

Top Gear Matters to the BBC

Forget the impending General Election, Islamic State, Boko Haram, austerity crisis, the real serious issues of the day are the state of England cricket team – actually, that is pretty bad – and Clarkson’s latest open mouth (insert foot, boot, and massive car) bad boy laddish humour, allegedly watched by an audience almost equally split between men and women (60:40).

Jeremy Clarkson via Twitter
Jeremy Clarkson via Twitter

Top Gear, Clarkson, and his 4.63m twitter followers, are the BBC’s greatest export (yes, bigger than Doctor Who), greatest that is in financial rather than cultural terms. Bedder 6, as the anonymous company is called, helps to draw in £150m a year for BBC Worldwide from Top Gear from 150-350m viewers across 170 countries and spin-offs.

Top Gear’s Political Incorrectness

In the last 3 years Top Gear and Clarkson have scaled new heights of profitability and popularity – apparently it is 30x more likely to be tweeted about by Ukip voters -and yet, simultaneously, ploughed new depths of political incorrectness.

Just this week it was announced that in December Top Gear had somehow been cleared by the BBC of using “pikey” in a derogatory manner, to the utter dismay of representatives of Traveller communities.

The show is often no-holds-barred macho-masculine pub banter comedy that has comprised insults around race, nationality, sex, and disability. Just read some of Clarkson’s own attempts to be positive about women and yet explain the lack of female representation on the show itself:

“if one presenter on a show is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed heterosexual boy, the other must be a black Muslim lesbian. Chalk and cheese, they reckon, works. But here we have Top Gear setting new records after six years using cheese and cheese. It confuses them… Unlike furious thin-lipped feminists, I tend not to draw distinctions between men and women, apart from in bed where you really do need to spot the differences. At work, girls are just people.”

Conservative MP Maria Miller, has offered support for Clarkson, despite her being a former Disability, Women and Equality Minister. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, she said:

“The BBC needs to be better at managing its talent … there are other organisations that have to deal with larger-than-life characters…[he] is…a legend, not just in this country, but around the world.”

Jeremy Clarkson big screen 2006 via flickr Ben Metcalfe
Jeremy Clarkson big screen 2006 via flickr Ben Metcalfe

Legends, however, are extinct people, like the dinosaurs, something that Clarkson himself, in his column in The Sun, admits to being.

“The fact is that you can sign as many petitions as you like and call on the support of politicians from all sides, but the day must come when you have to wave goodbye to the big monsters and move on… I think it’s fair to say that nature made a mistake when it invented the dinosaur. It was too big, too violent. So one day, all the dinosaurs died and now, many years later, no one mourns their passing. These big, imposing creatures have no place in a world which has moved on.”

Does this mean that Clarkson should go the way of the dinosaurs and gas-guzzling cars? That a petition to reinstate him is as pointless as one to bring back Terry Pratchett – however, wonderful a tribute to the latter author?

Change.org Petition to #BringBackClarkson

Change.org logo
Change.org public petitions for change

A record making petition on Change.org had accelerated to nearly 600,000 signatures in barely a day (now over 1,112,000), easily eclipsing more political or ethical campaigns such as the pardon for 49,000 gay men prosecuted in the UK for acts now considered legal. The site’s popularity is such that I could not even get on to it to check the count at 10pm Wednesday night, as it was down with an “Error 502 Bad Gateway” , unless that was some political ploy due to the embarrassment of its success. Well it’s back now, seemingly the site is crashing under Clarkson’s popularity, and advocating the “Freedom to fracas” and with comments including:

“I pay my TV license to ensure that irreverent people can express themselves. If you become boarding [sic] and politically correct, you may disappear BBC.” and “A minority of over sensitive people should not ruin one of Britons [sic] favourite shows.”

I wouldn’t call allegedly hitting a producer over a lack of hot food and xenophobically referencing his Irish nationality, an act of irreverence nor suspending someone for that act, “over sensitive”. That the two most popular comments both had spelling mistakes should not lead anyone to any stereotypical conclusion. They were probably texting whilst driving their fast cars!

BBC Public Service Priorities

BBC logoAs a public service broadcaster with essentially a tax or compulsory licence fee, the BBC’s priorities should not be mere entertainment or subsidised insults.

It is remarkable that the trending twitterati are more interested in #BringBackClarkson than the all but forgotten #BringBackOurGirls. Viewers are more interested in bringing back fast cars and coarse humour than in rescuing Boko Haram kidnapped girls in Nigeria, ending FGM, freeing imprisoned journalists or teen suicides – campaigns that are now in the shadow of “a bit of a knob”, as co-presenter James May describes Jeremy Clarkson. Multiple petitions calling on the BBC to sack him have also launched, although you can be sure they won’t race to half-a-million signatures so fast, they’ve barely reached a 1000.

Be the Change.org Petitions to get behind

Some campaigns have reached a million signatures, but never so fast. For instance, a million people worldwide signed to save Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy. Nearly as many called for the release of Iranian woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, jailed for attending a volleyball match.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Bring Back Our Girls Change.org
Bring Back Our Girls Change.org

HuffPost has drawn up a list of better campaigns to get behind, though not the most important ones it could have got behind, perhaps. Why not:

And as a bonus, what about:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

The limits of Satire, Comedy & Humour

In my past I’ve enjoyed Top Gear, some of the banter and car challenges, but I’ve squirmed at the sexist racist humour Humour is one thing, the question is whether it’s actually deeply held bigotry disguised as humour, or an ever-so clever parody of “UKIP white van man racism” – which will no doubt be seen as offensive to white van men. The thing about satire and parody is that they often fail, as with Comedy Central’s Colbert Report on race and trans issues, when delivered by people in the majority who’ve not experienced prejudice, whereas the Kumars making fun of being Indian is.

What makes the parody both unlikely and unbelievable is that either Clarkson is a bigot or he maintains the persona off-screen as well. To Clarkson, even his suspension is just another joke, despite knowing he was on his last warning.

I’ve done stand-up comedy myself, and made it a rule to only insult and offend myself, not others – although I can’t stop some still choosing to take offence.

Top Gear‘s humour is pub or front room banter, the kind you use when you think nobody is watching – but there are tens, if not hundreds, of millions that are.

And this is the “British values” we should be so proud of exporting? I’m all for freedom of speech, but allegedly hitting your employer’s staff, insulting other nations, and expecting to not only get away with it but get paid millions for it?

Whilst the infraction was off-air, it is no less abusive of workplace colleagues and bullying, despite it not being part of an aired programme. According to The Mirror, he called Oisin Tymon:

“a “lazy, Irish c***” before splitting his lip with a punch that left the 36-year-old with blood running down his face and needing treatment in A&E, the BBC investigation will be told.”

Hitting is not humour, and nor was it his first public punch up. If the rest of the show is very clever parody like Alan Partridge or Comedy Central, then it does not work. It is very hard to successfully satire racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia, all of which have appeared on Top Gear. All the more so when it fuels the white male entitlement patriarchy rather than challenges it.

Whilst James McDermott thinks it’s harmless fun:

“Top Gear is an escapist post modern light comedy entertainment show; the vital ingredients being Clarkson, May, Hammond and cars will keep it on the Beeb for a while to come.”

Apart from what may be a short-lived 2011 prediction of its long-term longevity, I beg to differ. Their lives on and off the screen are making stereotypical jokes, setting chauvinist poor role models, and should not be the BBC’s best export. The fact that it is popular in human rights violating China and Putin’s Russia should not be a cause for celebration if it encourages their sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia, rather than challenges it.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

Jeremy Clarkson – change your attitude, everyone else sign some petitions and be the change! If we are evolved at all, it is time the politically incorrect (such a polite term for sexist racist ableist homophobes) dinosaurs died out.

International Women’s Day 2015 Empowering Women Make It Happen

International Women’s Day 2015

Since the early years of the century before last century nearly 200 years ago, in diverse ways individual countries and eventually the world, at the behest of the United Nations since 1977, have fought for various forms of women’s equality and celebrated women.

Now known as International Women’s Day it is a national holiday in many countries, appropriately just for women, in China. Like Mother’s Day, which falls on a Sunday in the UK, it is not a day off for mothers, working or otherwise!

Women in Finnish Parliament (1907)
13 of the total of 19 female MPs, who were the first female MPs in the world, elected in Finland’s parliamentary elections in 1907

In 1910, an International Women’s Conference of 100 women from 17 countries was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the conference, Luise Zietz, a German Socialist, suggested establishing an annual International Woman’s Day. The delegates agreed and promoted it as a way to foster equal rights, including suffrage, for women. It was observed far and wide across the Austro-Hungarian empire, even in Russia in 1913. The First World War suspended much advancement but 1918 brought rights for women in England and Germany, but not until 1944 in France or Greece! French Algeria took until 1958 to grant the right to Muslim women.

2015 IWD Themes

The International Woman’s Day theme for 2015 is ‘Make It Happen’ whilst the UN theme is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!“.

Bring Back Our Girls

Whilst Boko Haram this week have seemingly sworn allegiance to IS (Islamic State, ISIS, Daesh) it seems less likely than ever that the 200+ Chibok girls kidnapped in Nigeria a year ago will be returned. Yet, the UN seems to be more worried about declaring the cultural vandalism of destroying ancient Assyrian artefacts in Nimrud and other historic cities of Iraq and Syria, a war crime, than the heinous human rights atrocities of kidnap, torture, forced marriage, stoning of women and more, as crimes against humanity, especially women.

Somali-born feminist and activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, fights against forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour violence. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Ali wrote that:

“The kidnapping of the schoolgirls throws into bold relief a central part of what the jihadists are about: the oppression of women. Boko Haram sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated. The terrorists’ mission is no different from that of the Taliban assassin who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai because she advocated girls’ education. As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal and educated women.”

WOW Festival

Last year I attended the awesome Women of the World Festival in London, this year I followed most of it on Twitter and Radio 4, and heard an interview that gave me pause for thought. Was it not “preaching to the converted” the interviewer asked? Perhaps, but it was also encouraging the feminist faithful. Still, more does need to be done.

Selma, Voting and Double Discrimination of Black Women

This week has also seen the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march and demonstration which triggered US voting reform. As one young woman visiting the site this month said, “Voting was never really important to me,” she said. “But I will never not vote again.”

The 1965 activism on 7 March was one of several marches to pressure full enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the legalities of which were being avoided by those finding ways to inhibit black voters.  At Selma, one of the leading organisers, Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious by state troopers. Rosa Parks had been present too. Boynton survived and in 1990, she was honoured with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal.

Amelia was born to parents of African-American/Cherokee heritage in 1911 – the very year that International Women’s Day was marked for the first time by a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. As a young girl Amelia had joined the fight for women’s suffrage. As an adult she organised alongside Martin Luther King. While Selma was 50% black, only 1% of the town’s African-American population were registered to vote.

In 1964 Amelia ran for the Congress from Alabama, “the first female African-American ever to do so and the first female of any race to run for the ticket of the Democratic Party in Alabama.”

Triple Discrimination of Women

Audre Lorde wiki
Audre Lorde

Imagine being black, female, and bisexual or a lesbian – before race equality, voting reform, gay rights, let alone sex discrimination. Furthermore, don’t imagine but recognise that some of that prejudice came from other women, white heterosexual women. Audre Lorde, was one such black lesbian feminist who realised that not all women fight for “all women”, in reaction she became a staunch advocate of intersectional feminism of the “continuum of women”, of ANY women, of ALL women:

“I am not free while any woman is unfree even when her shackles are very different from my own” – Audre Lorde

In addition, she spoke about the oversimplification of labels and single issue politics:

“there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle. We do not live single-issue lives.”

We are multifaceted human beings, complex creatures, not to be reduced to someone’s label or category and in the process denied our unique identity and individuality.

Yet More Stigma

Add to all of the above prejudices and discrimination that some aspects of mental health disproportionately affect women. For instance trans women and bisexual women have the greatest mental health risks of all groups. 25% of women will suffer from depression, 15% post-natally. Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders as men and ten times as likely to suffer from anorexia.

Audre Lorde heel print quoteAs Audre Lorde argued it is time for a coalition of the continuum of women to fight for any woman, until all women are free, from the schoolgirls of Nigeria to the sweatshops of the Far East, and the LGBTI women denied recognition and respect, whether as asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood or as trans teenagers taking their lives and being misgendered in life and death.

Whilst gender may be a construct and sex an accident of birth, how we treat each other is the one choice we have the power to make.

UN Female Genital Mutilation Zero Tolerance Day, Origins of FGM

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

The United Nations designated Friday 6 February 2015 a worldwide day of zero tolerance on FGM, and called for action to end FGM now before another 86 million girls under 15 (most are under 5) are cut against their will by 2030.

African girlIt is carried out at the behest of male patriarchal societies, and increasingly by medical practitioners not just by tribal societies. In some countries up to 75% of cases involve healthcare professionals (most often other women) against the primary rule of medical ethics – The Hippocratic Oath, primum non nocere – “first do not harm”.

“It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death.” – United Nations

Prevalence of FGM

African mother and baby girlDespite laws against it, and blatant after-the-fact evidence that is occurs on UK soil, and not just in African and elsewhere, female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) still happens. In 7 countries 85%-98% of girls are cut, with Somalia being the most extensive practitioner.

Some 140 million women and girls throughout the world are thought to be living with FGM, including some 200-500,000 in the USA and an estimated 66,000, 103,000 or 137,000 in England and Wales (2011 figures). It still goes on in at least 30 countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Illegal but not Prosecuted

In the UK the first court case of its kind brought against medics and others involved has just failed to reach a prosecution. Another woman was arrested in the last few days trying to take her 8 year old daughter abroad, presumably to engage someone to carry out the intervention, the child was taken into care.

It has been illegal in the UK for nearly 30 years without a single successful prosecution. In Egypt it’s been against the law for only 7 years, but it has had its first guilty case just last month.

Culturally Barbaric

African girl TanzaniaWhilst it has been rightly called “barbaric”, even primitive, is can be a distraction to use this term. Amnesty International counsel against it, though others think we should call a spade a spade, or a barbaric scalpel.

“Barbaric” may mean “uncultured, uncivilized, uneducated” or even “foreign, strange, brutal” from its earliest Greek and Latin origins, but some societies practising it do so in full knowledge of what they do, and as part of their culture, or coming of age ceremonies.

FGM Origins and Geographical Spread

It was present as far apart as Australian aboriginal tribes and Tsarist Russia in a Christian sect called the Skoptsy. They practiced castration and cutting of men and women as necessary for salvation – a complete misreading of some biblical texts in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. The early church father Origen, was said to have castrated himself too.

Indeed, there are reports that the ancient Egyptians and Romans did it themselves, highly civilised cultures by some measures. FGM and female circumcision pre-date the Quran, in fact they are not mentioned in it. Its practice may have related to controlling slave women, and through the slave trade spread across sub-Saharan Africa via Arab and other traders. Some early descriptions seem to be of early surgeries on intersex people with either an enlarged clitoris or large labia. To this day genitals and even gender are still defined by size.

African mother and baby girlWhatever its origins, in a supposedly post-slavery era (though we are not there on that count yet either) it remains used in traditions and cultures that are innately sexist where men and marriage define and control status, pleasure, and purity. Virginity and FGM remain prerequisites for some African marriages thus forcing mothers into being accomplices in the practice, in order to find marriages for their daughters and avoid the social and economic exclusion of not being married off.

Zero Tolerance to End FGM

Zero tolerance rather than a phased ending of FGM is the only way to bring about its demise, irrespective of cultural excuses, rather than setting some future date for it to end by. It is abuse, explained by culture and tradition but never justified by it. Mothers and medics, being coerced into collusion breaks their sacred vows to first, do no harm, to their child or patient. We need education of mothers, medics and girls, as much as legal action, to raise awareness that this is an unacceptable practice that must end.

An early version of this article was first published here.
Credits
Images courtesy of Pixabay and do not imply people illustrated are affected by FGM