Fiddling While Rome Burns

12 03 2011

On Tuesday night I was booted and suited and striding along Princes Street on my way to the Caledonian Hilton for a drinks reception hosted by CMI-WIM group at which Lady Susan Rice was the guest speaker.

I’d had a productive day and was looking forward to getting out of the rain, to networking in pleasant surroundings, to cocktails and canapes and to hearing what Susan had to say. It was cold and starting to go dark in that sullen way that is peculiar to Scottish cities.

As I strode towards the hotel I passed bundles of humanity huddled against the rain and preparing themselves for the bitter night ahead.

As I passed I was struck by a single thought – one that I haven’t been able to shake – are we fiddling while Rome burns?

This week the New Statesman printed a well written and well argued essay from Natasha Walker in which she details the plight of a woman, Saron, who fled Ethopia and jail, rape and violence only to find that her treatment here in the UK was even worse. As Saron puts it, “ It wasn’t what happened to me at home that broke my spirit it was what happened to me here.”

I am not going to detail her mistreatment here in the UK and her repeated detention at Yarl’s Wood. Hers is not a unique story, would that it were. The mistreatment of women refugees here in the UK is commonplace.

I mention her case, in this week when we celebrates 100 years of International Women’s Day, to suggest that a preoccupation with issues that just affect women in business here in the UK is 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.

It is easy to focus on issues that affect one personally. I may have had a good day, or a bad day, but I am always able to come home to a safe place.

We all know, at some level, that women are oppressed in other countries but stories like Sarons show that women can be treated just as brutally here in the UK.

We are all connected and it is incumbent upon all of us to join the dots!

This month’s issue of the3rdi magazine has an article by Ruth Walker highlighting the plight of the Dallits in India. This piece is the first of many and the April issue will be opened up to look at the issues facing women in the wider world and, importantly, explores ways in which we can do something to support women who are not as lucky as we are, as knowledge without action means that we run the risk of fiddling while Rome burns.

The3rdi magazine will continue to develop initiatives to support women in our communities and beyond.

The Inspiring Leaders Foundation will support community projects following the launch event in Edinburgh.

Fair Comment is designed to support community projects in collaboration with the Women’s Fund.

You can support us by joining the co-operative. You will get benefits that support you as an individual and you will support our programmes for women . £50 is not a lot of money but we know that these are difficult times. If you are unable to become a full member then please consider making a donation.

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Outrage is not enough

24 10 2010

Yesterday I was working from home as I was having a new boiler fitted. The installation engineers took 12 hours to fit the boiler and to reduce my home to something akin to Beirut after the fighting stopped. The noise and general disruption meant that I wasn’t able to do the work I had planned and so spent the day catching up on e-mails, checking LinkedIn invitations to connect and in particular I spent more time on Twitter than is safe for one’s sanity.

The tweet doing the rounds concerned 5 kittens that had been found hanged at a shopping centre in Aberdeen. I have no reason to assume that my pals are all ailourophiles or particularly tuned in to grim news so it made me wonder why so many people pass on these types of story. A similar case, but with a happier outcome for the cat concerned, that of the ‘cat in the bin’ dominated the headlines for many days. Is it just that we are a nation of animal lovers? Clearly we can’t all be as the stories of cruelty wouldn’t abound.

So why do stories of cruelty to children, women, the elderly not go viral in the same way. One possibility is that the horror of these stories of these human tragedies is just too great – they are beyond the comprehension of most people. Maybe we don’t pass on these stories as they are just too dreadful. But when these stories are presented to us, as with Baby P and James Bulger, we are all animated beyond belief and the media are encouraged to uncover every grizzly detail for our edification and to fuel the demands for retribution against the perpetrators, whether that be the actual killers or everyone else who is involved, however tangentially, in the story and onto whom we can heap blame.

But when the news becomes old news we all go back to our lives. We all know that there are thousands of children being abused, neglected and mistreated everyday but until and unless a tragedy occurs of the proportions of the Baby P case we trust the authorities to get on with the job of looking after these cases on our behalf so that we don’t have to think about the society we live in and the roles and responsibilities we each have

Greater Manchester Police recently conducted an experiment on Twitter. It released details of every single call that came into the force over a 24 hour period. The idea was to show the public what it had to deal with during the course of a normal day. Most of us don’t give much thought to what the police do on a day to day basis, only concerning ourselves if we are the victims of crime or of police malpractice. This is true for most things. We don’t look for information but are ready to respond when the information is placed right under our noses.

A perfect example of this is the TV fund-raising spectacular. Not many of us wander the streets at night looking for homeless people to help but when Comic Relief brings pictures of hardship into our living room we do, at least, put our hands in our pockets to fund those that do devote their time to offering practical help and support.

I find myself wondering whether it would be useful exercise for social services departments, for example, to undertake a similar experiment to Greater Manchester Police; to tweet the brief details of cases they investigate every day. If we saw the huge list of children who are neglected, abused or simply disadvantaged by living in poverty or in a dysfunctional family, would we create a twitter storm akin to caused by that caused by the death of the 5 kittens.

Maybe if the actual stories of the children suffering in our society were placed right in front of us on our twitter screens we would be moved to act as well as to spread the story – or maybe we prefer not to see the world as it really is.

Outrage is not enough.

We can’t all do everything but we can all do something to engage with the community and society we live in.

It is not acceptable to leave others to manage things for us and then rage when failings result in tragedies.

Outrage is not enough.