Thursday, 10 July 2014

Are Strikes about class wars?

KARL MARX observed in 1865 that wage levels can only be “settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labor, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction.”1 Indeed, as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the opening to the Communist Manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles

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Sunday, 6 July 2014

My Encounter with an Orthodox Jewish Woman

On Friday I was passing through a busy London train station. A small group of Orthodox Jews caught my eye. I have always been fascinated by their traditional dress (the men) and how the women are compelled to cover their hair with wigs. My daughter often tells me off for staring at them, such is my fascination. Anyway, the group consisted of two men, a woman and some children. The woman saw me looking at them and started drumming her fingers in a 'walking' manner up and down her thigh. There was fear in her eyes. I was going down the escalator and they disappeared from my sight. I was rushing to get home to cook for a dinner party that I was hosting only three hours later.

The look in the Jewish woman's eyes disturbed me. The penny dropped the next day. The woman had been using her fingers to to alert her male companions to my presence. She kept glancing at them nervously but they were engrossed in their smartphones. It seems so obvious now that I don't know why I never thought about it before. Yes, I know it is rude to stare but why was she so scared? She must have thought that I was a Muslim. Brown skin equals being a Muslim in the Western world. Only a few days earlier my new boss had asked me if I was observing Ramadan. I don't. I am an Anglican, a CoE regular attendee. Recently, people whom I meet for the first time have started asking me whether I am Muslim. This has never happened before. Nobody assumes that I am Christian. Quite strangely, nobody makes an assumption that I am a Hindu either. The latter would qualify as being quite an educated guess with a high chance of being correct. Many in my family are Hindus.

The whole strange episode has got me thinking. The blowback of Israel's policy against Palestinians seems to be a feeling of individual and personal insecurity within their own people. Jewish friends who live in North London tell me how they have to be extra careful over their personal safety whenever Israel launches an attack on Gaza etc.  If a woman sitting in a London station could fear a brown skinned woman dressed in a business suit then their individual fears multiplied across their population globally must amount to some sort of breach of their own liberty. If you cannot live in peace even when you are not physically caught up in the conflict zone then surely it is time to question what good the policy is and for whose benefit?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Is William Hague a Feminist?

The unlikeliest of questions crept into my head at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict when I watched William Hague give his opening address to the summit. Is William Hague a feminist? It isn't often that I attempt to attach an alter ego to a Tory minister so this was a first for me but what do you call a man who uses his power to raise a female issue on a truly global scale? You had to be at the summit to see it. There were African army personnel dressed in their military regalia taking part in the discussions. Activists, scholars, judges, lawyers and victims had flown in from different parts of the world.

Discussions on sexual violence even encompassed the normally taboo area of male rape, something which most men ought to ponder upon when making sick rape jokes.  Sexual violence in conflict areas is not just a female problem. The numerous fringe events and films screened highlighted real life testimonies about how men and children can be victims too.

The feminist movement loves it when a man takes on our causes. The less popular the issue the more kudos the man gets for championing it. The last time any man did this on such a large scale was when...I can't remember. But here was William Hague tackling the issue of sexual violence. In a world where violence against women is on the increase, whether it is on the streets of suburbia or in war torn areas, and where misogyny is on the rise here was a man making it his business to do something.

This is not to say that there aren't people working to solve the grossly inhumane issue of sexual violence in war. The summit bore testimony to the thousands of foot soldiers in the form of NGOs, charities, individual activists and small organisations that work tirelessly to ensure that the real life experiences of victims are not reduced to anecdotal evidence but are built up to reflect the structures of violence that exist during wars.

I sit on a committee myself that ensures UNHCR 1325 is reflected in the UK's action plans. While all our efforts turn the stories of individual victims into a political discourse a platform was needed to remind States that a heck of a lot more needs to be done; and to warn soldiers and rebel movements that rape is not an inevitable act of conflict. Feminists have always maintained that the personal is political and I think the summit did just that. A woman raped in a rural forest area in Liberia is not an individual suffering alone. Her sad experience is a political one. Multiply this by the thousands of women, men and children who have been raped and it becomes a global political problem.

Some women whom I spoke to at the summit were disappointed that the causes of war (sales of arms, foreign policy etc) were not addressed. There is some truth in this. Also, as a Tamil I had hoped to see something about the situation of women in Sri Lanka post war; and the treatment of female refugees in Britain.

If William Hague isn't a feminist then consider this. He positions sexual violence as a problem for the perpetrator, not the victim. Women have for far too long borne a stigma imposed upon them by society and it is time to shame the perpetrators.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Has Kirsty Allsopp Read the Child Poverty Report Out This Week?

Kirsty Allsopp has stunned the femaledom in this country by giving her views on how young women should be living their lives. In an interview with The Telegraph newspaper she starts off by talking about her grief over her own mother's death in a frank and moving way. However, it is in the latter part of the interview that she arouses the ire of many women. Kirsty says: “I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying 'Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.” 

Kirsty Allsopp is an intelligent woman otherwise she would not be fronting a popular TV show. Whenever she is a panellist on Question Time she gives a good argument, even if I don't always agree with them. So it comes as a nasty surprise to read about her views on what young women should be doing. My first thought was, how can somebody who tots up the prices of property that involves some economics to take account of people's living circumstances and regional variations and who appears on a politics programme have such disembodied views of the socio-economic circumstances that we live in? Kisty's analysis is so flawed that it overtakes a sieve with the amount of holes that you can find it. 

She ignores the economic reality of the working class people in the main and many of the middle classes too. She also makes assumptions which cannot be a realistic life for many. For instance, how many parents will be able to afford to fund their daughter's property buying? She also assumes that a 'nice boyfriend' will be a Prince in waiting ready to father children with her daughter and live happily ever after. Isn't this a rehashed version of Cinderella? A fairy tale brought to life from the books with brightly coloured pictures and happy endings.  

Just this week Save the Children released a report titled: 'A Fair Start For Every Child: Why We Must Act now to Tackle Child Poverty in the UK'. According to the report, children's lives are being made harder by a 'triple whammy' of flat wage growth, pressure on social security spending and a rising cost of living. Work is not an adequate solution to poverty for families with children. Poverty threatens children in a myriad of ways through poor physical health, emotional wellbeing and reduced cognitive development. The cause of child poverty is parental low wages. 

Women are increasingly sharing the responsibility of earning a wage to enable their families to live a better life and the better educated the mother the more money comes into the family's coffers. It is irresponsible to assume that  in a globalised world where competition drives down salaries that our daughters will be able to leave secondary school, walk into a job, earn enough to save while happily living at home and then being able to part-buy a flat is a reality. 

Most jobs these days require post-school qualifications of some sort. The sort of low skilled jobs that people could walk into are fast dying given the technological developments i.e machines replacing people's jobs. Hairdressing is a highly competitive field for girls. The service and care sectors are big employers of women but the wages there are low or non-existent (zero hours contracts). Why would anybody advise their child to not better their employment prospects? A post school qualification could be gained at a college, it does not have to be a university. My point is that some sort of higher qualification is necessary to increase the odds of earning a higher wage. By Kirsty's reckoning women could do this later in life, as if it were some sort of hobby.

She says: "You can do your career afterwards. We have to readjust. And men can have fun after they have kids. If everyone started having children when they were 20, they’d be free as a bird by the time they were 45. But how many 45-year-olds do you know who are bogged down? “I don’t want the next generation of women to go through the heartache that my generation has. At the moment we are changing the natural order of things, with grandparents being much older and everyone squeezed in the middle. Don’t think 'my youth should be longer’. Don’t go to university because it’s an 'experience’. No, it’s where you’re supposed to learn something! Do it when you’re 50!”

Again, a false assumption is made that life has been milk and honey between the ages of 27 and 50 and then it is time for something different from the age of 50 onwards. Most 50 year olds I know are worrying about their pensions and how their children are going to survive financially. Most 50 years I know cannot afford to go back to university because they have to think about things like healthcare and bills. Does Kirsty know the price of a university education? It would eat away at most people's savings. That's why one goes to university when one is young because the chances of increasing one's salary is higher (thought this is strictly not the case in the present economic situation)and this higher salary enables one to live a better life (a general rule that is sometimes debunked, though). 

Picking up a career in mid-life is an impossibility because so much in the workplace has changed.  I have a friend who gave up work in her 30s to bring up her children, struggled to get back into the workplace when in her 40s and when she did get a job she could not believe that paper filing had been replaced by online filing and initially struggled with emails. Sadly, her tale is not an unusual one. 

Kirsty's ill-advice also heaps pressure on the 'nice boyfriend' to earn a high wage because he has to support her mythical daughter and grandchildren. Abramovich will be far too old and the Russian oligarch system may have collapsed under their ruinous political system.  A Bullingdon boy perhaps? They tend to favour the Chelsea female types who work in posh estate agents as receptionists. 

Kirsty is wrong in so many ways and I don't care whether she identifies as a feminist or not. Even when one examines her arguments through a non-feminist viewpoint it is still wrong given the world that we live in. Unlike her, I don't lead a pound-gilded life and my daughter is certainly being encouraged to go to university, get a job, earn her own living before shacking up with a man who may or may not turn out to be a 'prince'. If he doesn't, my daughter will have the financial means to look after herself at least. There's no way in the world that I would disempower my daughter by throwing lines from Hans Christian Andersen to her. Kirsty Allsopp needs to take a week off and read Thomas Piketty to acquaint herself with the world that the rest of us live in.