Thursday, 16 October 2014

No Human Rights = Inequality

A glance at Amnesty's webpage is enough evidence in itself  of how people's lives are degraded by a lack of human rights. In the UK we go about our lives with a sufficient level of a feeling of personal security because of laws and norms that give us freedom of speech, movement and sexuality. Gone are the days when being gay meant that The Sun outed you on the front page (if you were reasonably famous) or that you would be sacked from your job.

Amnesty is campaigning actively on anti-gay draconian laws and for freedom of speech in African, among other campaigns. Both could result in spells in jail if a person is found 'guilty'. We take so many things for granted in our Western world and quite often our experiences are divided by a 'them and us' mentality. What happens across the world does not affect us and, therefore, why bother then? We need to bother for the simple reason that what happens across the globe does affect us.

If people in Uganda aren't allowed to speak their mind about wanting free and fair elections then there is a high risk that without transparency the elections may not be carried out according to fair rules. At a human level when people are killed for speaking out, being gay, or female or disabled then it affects the collective pool of rights that we draw our human rights from. A destabilizing effect in one part of the world could have repercussions for others elsewhere. 

What is 'Hidden Hunger'?

Women and children eating

Today is World Food Day and Blog Action Day and it is a paradox that in a world where people waste food and/or consume food in quantities that exceed nutrition needs there are people suffering from hunger. This dilemma is further compounded by the fact that inequality in food availability and distribution can occur in countries not suffering from famine or some other disaster.

A report titled, 'Hidden Hunger in South Africa' provides for a disconcerting read because while South Africa is considered a food secure nation, one in four of the inhabitants suffers hunger on a regular basis. The numbers stack up at 1.3 million in total.

One of the causes of hidden hunger is gender inequality. According to the report women face hunger more often than men due to differences in income, limited access to employment or means of production and cultural practices that either puts women last in the pecking order or expects them to have smaller portions when food is in short supply.

Capitalism is claimed by free marketeers to have an inbuilt efficient resource allocation system but the market structure of the food industry plays a pivotal part in enabling hidden hunger. This is because the food industry has a huge influence on the accessibility to food and the pricing of food. Five large food retailers in South Africa control 60% of the market and retail stores are located in towns and cities which people cannot always afford to travel to. Imagine this problem being compounded if you are a woman with children and you have nowhere to leave them while you make this journey to buy food?

While the world is transfixed on South Africa at the moment because of the Oscar Pistorius case let us not forget that not everyone there lives in big houses and drives fast cars.

The reality of inequality is often the story behind the headlines.

Friday, 10 October 2014

When cultural beliefs are unhelpful in furthering women's rights- Microsoft

I write this blog post as an Indian feminist who believes in inter-sectional feminism i.e we are not homogeneous and are multi-faceted. The logic behind inter-sectionalism lies in recognizing the dimensions of prejudice that women face so that the remit of female discrimination can be expanded as a means of finding solutions. Race and cultural beliefs are challenges to the one-size fits all feminist theories of past years.

 BUT, while I think that references to race and cultural beliefs are extremely imperative to understanding how women across the world live, dress and advocate I do object to the Indian belief system of 'karma' being used as a method of settling the dispute over a woman's right to equal pay. As an Indian feminist I am sick of 'karma' being used all the time as a reason, excuse, explanation, call it what you will, for glossing over bad behaviour by men who really ought to know better.

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, is causing waves today by stating that it was not 'good karma' for women to ask for a pay rise and that they should trust the system to grant them good wages. Hidden in his message is the same old Asian way of telling women to be subordinates, obedient, while their fate is decided for them by some mystical force. Scratch deeper and you will find that that force is not being operated by some divine being but by human beings on this earth who have all the power to make the work place a better environment for women but will not do so. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Neighbour/Friend of Mine Died A Very Lonely Woman

This is a painful post to write because I wish I had done more for a woman whom I knew quite well. Sharon lived across the road from me. She was the local Scout Leader when my daughter joined 10 years ago. We passed each other on the street and had a chat from time to time. Sharon spent most of her days asleep because she suffered from insomnia. This coupled with her numerous health ailments kept her indoors a lot. One year she helped us put up the Christmas tree and came to dinner a few times over the years.

I only ever saw her happy once. This time last year Sharon had met a man on the internet. He was an American soldier in Iraq and had promised to marry her when he left the army. Alarm bells rang in my head. I told Sharon to be careful but she wasn't having any of it. 'This one's different', she said. I wondered how many women had been duped similarly but consoling themselves with that language of exception. Sharon was  suddenly frisky in tone and in the way she walked. Normally she lumbered because of her bad blood circulation.I didn't want to say more in the way of warning because of her obvious excitement. A dose of reality seemed cruel, at the least, and unwanted at the most.

Some months later Sharon told me that the 'American soldier' had duped her off lots of money but was still insisting that he would come to visit her once he had left the army. The old look Sharon was back and the joy had gone. She was back to feeling intensely lonely. Sharon wasn't being foolish when she wired money across to this nasty man, she was filling a void in her life in the hope that her faith in another human being would pay off.

On Sunday I found out that she had died in her sleep. I miss her, my daughter misses her and we wish we had done a whole lot more for her. The busyness of life sometimes does not make sense. If I can't find the time for people who live across the road from me then I need to reconsider the way I live. How many of us spend our days rushing around for appointments that we cannot even remember a week later? Yet, we will always remember those who left us.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

"Why did you have a shower while I was sleeping?"

It is a well-known fact of life that at some stage in your mothering you will begin to reminisce about the good old days when your child was the cutest baby on earth. Quite often these stories surface during a milestone event like an 18th birthday, 21st birthday or when getting married. My nostalgia has decided not to wait and I have been indulging in 'how cute you were' stories to my 15 year old in recent weeks.

A reasonable degree of introspection and a constant one-sided inner monologue has assessed this awakening of memories followed by an onslaught of nostalgia down to the fact that my daughter is in her GCSE year. This means that she is in her last school year of wearing a uniform. I am that sort of sentimental soppy mother who recognises every first and last. I cried buckets when I dressed her in her uniform for the first time 11 years ago. I digress.

I was telling my daughter yesterday about how I used to put her to sleep on the sofa mid-morning when she was newly born and rush off to have a shower. My hair went unwashed for upto a week sometimes because I was afraid that she would wake up and suffer some trauma from me not being there. Said teenager's answer to this memory was: 'Why did you have a shower while I was sleeping? That wasn't safe was it?' 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

NATO summit: Afghanistan protest over absence of women

Campaigners say women are talked excluded from key talks © Barry Batchelor/PA Wire
This morning, 40 men in black suits gathered at City Hall, Cardiff, surrounding one Afghan woman in bright colourful clothing holding a sign that read "TALK TO ME, NOT ABOUT ME".
The protest was organised on the eve of the UK-hosted NATO summit being held in Newport tomorrow and Friday, to draw attention to the ratio of women to men in key peace talks and global security negotiations. The campaigners said that it was completely unacceptable that women have been so outnumbered with only one in every 40 signatories a woman on global peace agreements over the last three decades. Without meaningful participation from 50% of the population, peace and security agreements cannot possibly be sustainable or effective, campaigners said.
At the NATO conference this week, the future of training and support for Afghanistan is on the agenda. This will have significant implications for millions of Afghan women. However, when Afghanistan's security is discussed tomorrow, the voices of Afghan women will once again be worryingly absent, campaigners warned. So far, it is not clear whether any high-level women will be in attendance at the discussions. The UK ministerial delegation is entirely male.
The campaigners, including Afghan women’s activists, Amnesty International and ‘No Women No Peace’, are calling on the UK and other NATO member governments to ensure that discussions about women’s roles in Afghanistan’s developing security institutions are on the summit agenda, with specific commitments to increase the number and effectiveness of women at all levels of the Afghan National Security Forces.
Samira Hamidi of the Afghan Women’s Network, said:
“NATO needs to hear this message loud and clear; Afghan women must be at the table.
“There are so many capable women ready to take the important decisions needed to shape our country’s future. We don’t want these matters being decided for us behind closed doors.
“How can we be expected to be taken seriously at home when we are being sidelined in the very places where we should be championed?”
Campaigners believe that some recent positive efforts risk being undermined by the absence of women at the summit. In June, the UK hosted a high-profile summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, chaired by the then Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie. Soon afterwards, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed an action plan on improving women's role in peace and security. At both, statements were made about the importance of women’s security being discussed at global summits and how vital it was that women contributed to those discussions. This NATO summit was the first opportunity to realise those commitments, but campaigners say those recent promises have now been betrayed. Women and security is not due to be specifically discussed, and women are not there to input into the discussions.
Hasina Safi, Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Network, said:
“Nobody has greater insight into the security challenges facing Afghanistan than Afghan women themselves.
“The Afghan Women’s Network recently consulted hundreds of women who have got plenty to say about security and the role of the Afghan national forces.
“If you ask them, Afghan women will describe how violence impacts their lives in every sphere, but they also have solutions for how to overcome these challenges. The message from the women of Afghanistan is this; NATO should talk to me, not just about me.”

‘No Women, No Peace’

The ‘No Women, No Peace’ campaign is a coalition including ActionAid, Amnesty International UK, Oxfam GB, Womankind Worldwide and Women for Women International. The campaign is run by these organisations under the Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS) network who promote women’s rights in Afghanistan.