We ARE all in this together

15 09 2011

Over the past few weeks I have performed Stand Up comedy to raise money and awareness for groups working to prevent the trafficking of young girls in India, joined a group looking to improve diversity in the boardroom, accepted a position as one of 50 female entrepreneur ambassadors, joined the board of Glasgow Women’s Aid, worked in care relief with adults with learning difficulties and spoken in support of young enterprise.

On the face of it a very diverse range of interests with little to connect them, perhaps. But no, there is a very strong link. As David Cameron says but does nothing to action, we are all in this together. As women we are all connected and to focus on issues that just affect women in business here in the UK is to see a tiny part of a much, much bigger picture. No man is an island and, more crucially if we are to address inequality, neither is any woman. If we are going to make a difference then we must address the issue of equality.

For example, violence against women is, I believe, a consequence of the historic and persistent inequality between men and women.

While physical violence is often what makes the headlines, verbal domestic abuse, forced marriage, trafficking of young girls, honour crimes and non-consensual sexual activity within relationships, amongst others, are all manifestations of this basic inequality and should all be treated as violence against women.

We all have a basic human right to live without violence or the threat of violence. We cannot artificially remove the violence from the context in which it is taking place. That is to say that it occurs within a society where women have a subordinate status and it is only by tackling the basic inequality in the system that we can permanently reduce the risk of violence against women and improve the life chances of children adversely affected by exposure to such violence and abuse.

We are all influenced by what is expected of us as a man or a woman. These expectations are subtle and pervasive and lead to the feeling ‘that this is the way that it has always been and will always be’. The challenge is to change those expectations. Young girls see images of women as being glamour models or WAGs and set their sights on instant celebrity, largely through use of their bodies not their minds. We need to create alternative role models for young girls so that they can have different expectations around what it is to be successful as a woman.

We can change expectations; after all it was once acceptable to smoke in a restaurant, now it isn’t. This came through a combination of legislation and a change in what we as a society came to think of as acceptable and the same dual approach needs to be taken to address gender inequality.

Gender inequality has led to an inequality of power within relationships. Physical domination, verbal abuse, degradation and repeated humiliation coupled with the deflection of blame for this behaviour by the perpetrator of the abuse onto the woman being abused, are characteristic of the power and control that men exercise over women. Economic disadvantage and expectations around the care of children and dependants in the family exacerbate this imbalance of power in favour of men. At its worst this lack of power has led to rape being used as a weapon against women in war zones.

To achieve sustainable change gender inequality needs to be addressed. Violence against women is a result of this inequality. The cause and the symptoms both need to be tackled together. Taking steps to end domestic violence will promote gender equality. Taking steps to change expectations about what it is to be a woman will enhance gender equality and reduce the risk that women are subjected to violent and abusive behaviour.

What has been seen as a vicious circle of inequality, abuse of power and violence can be broken by tackling any and all of its component parts.

Why isn’t there more anger?

1 09 2011

Whatever the root causes of the unrest in English cities one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that there is a lot of anger among some elements of society. What surprises me is not that they are angry but why on earth aren’t the rest of us angry?

When Darcus Howe said that he wasn’t shocked by the riots he was asked if that meant that he condoned them. His reply “ Of course not … what I am concerned about is a young man called Mark Duggan…the police officer blew his head off”. The IPC found that there was no evidence that Mr Duggan had fired at police and an eye-witness said that policeman had him pinned to the ground when shots were heard. If that happened in your community wouldn’t you be angry?

But this is not an isolated incident. There is the death of Jean Charles de Menesez and that of Ian Tomlinson. In fact, since 1998, 335 people have died in police custody and not one officer has been convicted of any offence. Why are we not all out on the streets protesting at this situation?

We were all, rightly, horrified that the voicemail of the murdered girls Millie Dowler had been hacked into by those sub-contracted by News of the World to find stories to fill their pages. It has become clear that the police failed to investigate the initial allegations fully. At the same time the close personal relationships between senior policeman and senior executives at News Corporation have been exposed. While the two things may be completely unrelated there is, surely, a chance that there is a link? Why are we not all out on the streets demanding a full investigation and prosecution of all those concerned?

Our MPs were quick to denounce feral youth. What about the feral elite? By common consent bankers brought the whole world economy to the very brink of total meltdown. Taxpayers all across the western world are paying for their greed yet they are still paying themselves huge bonuses. A commission is about to recommend that investment banking is separated from high street banking. This will have at least two huge benefits: ordinary savers will be protected from the risks taken by investment banks and banks will never again be too big to fail, which will protect taxpayers from having to pick up the bill when the gamblers lose. But even before publication of the report banks and their big business allies are going in for a campaign of special pleading, claiming that changes to the banking system will undermine growth. Growth will come from small businesses and the banks are refusing to lend to them. Why are we not shouting our anger from the rooftops?

And the politicians seem prepared to go along with the banks argument, kicking reforms into the long grass until after the next election, hoping that we will all forget about it. And the thing is …. we probably will! Why aren’t we out there demanding that bankers bonuses are restricted or heavily taxed or banned completely? We own these banks now. Why aren’t we angrier at the way they continue to behave?

And the politicians. Oh yes, the expenses scandal, cash for questions, cash for honours, overseas tax havens, millionaire donors … the list goes on and on. Why do we just shrug and let them get away with it?

So the question is not why there is anger but why there isn’t more.

I dont know …do you?

1 09 2011

Everyone and their dog put pent to paper in the aftermath of the recent riots in England. I resisted the temptation because I just don’t know. And neither do you and neither did they.

But now that middle-class commentators are being wheeled out by the BBC to tell us all that Britain is broken, that we have a feral youth, that we have lost our moral compass I have to put pen to paper and say – “shut up – because you just don’t know”.

I was brought up in a solid middle-class household on the outskirts of Liverpool. I have two degrees, no debt, a lovely home and have never been unemployed. I live in Crieff, and only occasionally see a non-white face. I have absolutely no idea what it is like to live a life of poverty, social isolation and deprivation. Neither do you, I’m guessing, and neither do the commentators called on to talk about what went wrong.

I am a single mum and since being a young teen my son has been much taller and stronger than me. I mention this only because there has been lots of talk that mothers should have kept their sons at home. How exactly? The situation never arose for me, which is just as well as I have no idea how to restrain a grown man determined upon leaving the house without my permission. Do you?

And is it really all down to poor parenting? While he is a wonderful young man I knew that he was only as good as the company he kept. Teenagers are unfinished articles, prone to quixotic actions, with little sense of danger and little concern for consequence. I know that because I was one, I grew up with lots and I raised one. They do stupid things because their pals tell them to, because they want to fit in, because it looks like fun, lots of reasons but not many of them rational. My son had, and still has, great friends, for which I am grateful. I’m also grateful to their parents for instilling in their children the same core of values that I gave to my son. But this need not have been the case. Had he met and been influenced by a different set of friends could I be sure that the values I gave him would have stopped him taking more notice of his new friends than his old mother? I cannot be sure. If you have children can you be absolutely sure? I doubt it, so why are the commentators so sure?

I feel pretty sure that he wouldn’t throw a brick through a shop window. If he was walking down a road and saw a box of wine sitting on the pavement I’m not 100% sure that he wouldn’t take a bottle. I think probably not but am not certain. I do not know for sure. If a friend was to take a few bottles and later bring them back to share I’m not sure that he wouldn’t take a glass. I’m not sure that anyone can be completely whiter that white on those grounds. We all like a bargain and do we always question where the man paving our driveways got the slabs?

My point is that if we cannot be sure about these things in our own privileged worlds how can we possible know what it is like from the viewpoint of poverty and deprivation? I don’t think we can. Parenting probably did play a role in the riots but parenting does not take place in a vacuum and can’t be divorced from social conditions.

I think we can try to find out what the root causes of unrest are but in the meantime will all the experts please just SHUT UP because you don’t know.