Turkey and the Istanbul Convention

Turkey is a nation which gave full political rights to women, including the right to vote and to be elected, locally in 1930 and nationwide in 1934, eleven years ahead of France and Italy. However, laws stipulating that women need permission from their husbands to work outside of the home or to travel abroad were only repealed in the nineties. None the less, Turkey was also the first country to sign and ratify the Council of Europe’s treaty to prevent violence against women and domestic violence which is named after its own city, the Istanbul Convention, in 2011. It is also a country, however, which ranked 130th among 149 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index in 2018. Recently, news that Turkey intends to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention has created shockwaves globally.

The reality of Turkey’s complex relationship with women’s rights is that behind the façade of state feminism, laws protecting women have never been fully implemented. The recent #ChallengeAccepted trend, in which women have been sharing black and white selfies on social media, has spread awareness of the horrifying rates of femicide in Turkey, with countless women being murdered by men in honour killings or out of jealousy. The campaign group ‘We Will Stop Femicide’ began tracking the murders of women in Turkey after discovering that the government does not keep records. Their data shows that despite Turkey signing the Istanbul Convention in 2011, femicide has drastically increased over the years since, with 474 deaths in 2019 alone, almost double the rate of 2013. In most of those cases, the perpetrator was the husband or partner of the victim. In the remainder, they were a family member or stalker.

With the social media campaign sparking global discussion about women’s rights in Turkey, more women have come forward to share their experiences. Many claim that having approached the police for help when they were experiencing domestic violence, they were simply turned away. Protests have also broken out across the country, with women marching together in solidarity. In particular, the brutal murder of Pınar Gültekin in July of this year by a male stalker sparked outrage. Whilst President Erdagon acknowledged the crime, writing on Twitter, ‘I despise all crimes against women’, police were accused of using disproportional force against protestors. In coastal Izmir, some detainees claim to have been beaten and mistreated in custody. Protests demand not only justice for the victims of femicide, but also urgent reform to the justice system. When it comes to sentencing, men who claim that they acted on impulse, or who claim to be religious and dress smartly in court, are handed reduced sentences so often that there is now a term for it – ‘tie reduction’.

At the core of the women’s rights issue is the tension between Turkey and western ideology regarding gender roles. With Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), President since 2014, there has been a push towards a more conservative Islamic agenda and certain religious sects have become more vocal. Increasing transparency of political figures’ attitude towards women’s rights, with sexist comments being made publicly, has led up to the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. A key issue with the Convention is that it defines the term ‘gender’ as ‘the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.’ Some countries consider this definition too broad and fear it could be interpreted to make way for the allowance of a third gender. It also requires political parties to allow teaching on non-stereotyped gender roles, which can be regarded as an attempt to enforce a liberal western lifestyle in more traditional societies. Turkish political figures have prevented Turkish women from understanding what the convention really stands for by presenting it as the enemy of the family, arguing that it enables women to desert their homes and that it even encourages homosexuality.

 With the social media campaign attracting a global audience to the events in Turkey and rising tension between protestors and law enforcement, immediate action is required. ‘We Will Stop Femicide’ makes five demands of the Turkish government to resolve gender inequality:

1)         The president, prime minister and the leaders of all political parties should condemn violence against women.

2)         The protection law No. 6284, which aims to protect the family and prevent violence against women, should be officially implemented.

3)         Their legislative proposal to add an additional clause to the Turkish Penal Code regarding ‘aggravated life imprisonment’ should be accepted.

4)         A Ministry of Women should be founded.

5)         A new constitution that prioritises gender and sexual orientation equality should be implemented.

Whilst these present a comprehensive plan for reform, it is unlikely that they can all be implemented in the near future. Now, the Turkish government need to demonstrate the intention of drafting a new human rights treaty to replace the Istanbul Convention, which equally respects the social and religious culture of the nation and the human rights of its female citizens. Ultimately, the government cannot continue suppressing women’s desires for liberation without triggering further conflict; compromise is essential.

UN Oral Intervention: Modern Slavery in the UK

The following has been prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer Naomi Buhmann for submission by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, thousands of trafficked adolescents are enslaved by criminal gangs on the county lines for drug distribution. The British government should encourage the police to prioritise cases of underage drug couriers and ensure they are covered by the National Referral Mechanism for trafficked people, and that they use more telecommunication restriction orders through the County Lines Taskforce.

Girls acting as couriers on the County Lines are particularly vulnerable. We urge support services to ensure as many victims as possible are introduced to the National Referral Mechanism.

Prostitutes are another vulnerable group about whom we are increasingly concerned since the advent of Covid-19 in the UK. As many of them continue to work, their safety is more at risk. Others are being abandoned by their traffickers and are in need of shelter.

There is insufficient support for those forced into prostitution. Emergency accommodation services do not know where the victims are located. The lack of funding for those that offer emergency accommodation to help prostitutes in need is an acute problem. Her Majesty’s Government has not yet provided sufficient help to support these services.

Since Covid-19, trafficking is more underground and new strategies are needed empowering institutions and structures that can strengthen exit pathways and break the cycle of exploitation.

We wish to see more funding for anti-trafficking support services and charities so they can adapt to new circumstances swiftly.

In order to identify more victims, help hotlines should be better staffed and widely promoted. They need to connect closely with the National Referral Mechanism and with law enforcement officers so all can remain alert in regard to the trafficking issue and the related problem of online sexual exploitation and grooming.

Are we born like this or did we learn this growing up?

The word “racism” was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary less than a hundred years ago, but racism started long before. Since the dawn of time, there have been people who feel superior either because of their bloodline, race, money, language, or gender. It comes to the surface in various ways, each a different picture, like that of the slave trade, racial discrimination, or of gender discrimination.

When the religious era came to the world, there were scripts against such behavior. The prophets came with a clear message that promoted the idea of equality and how we all must love each other. Some examples include one in the Torah, “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman, but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love those that live around you as much as you love yourself: I am the lord” Torah (Leviticus 19:17). “You shall love the stranger like yourself” Torah (Leviticus 19:34). And the Bible “This is what I command you: Love each other as I have loved you.” Gospel of John 15:12. And the same ideal is mentioned in Islam, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Surely in this are the signs for people of sound knowledge.” The Holy Quran, Al-Rum (The Roman), Surah 30: verse 22. And furthermore: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white except for piety, all mankind from Adam, and Adam from dust.” The Farewell Sermon of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

Some people may qualify these quotes claiming one has only been sent to the Jewish people, one to the Christians, or one to Muslims, and maybe accuse them each of being an exclusive message on discrimination to one religion, but anyone who really understands the essential significance of religions would know that these messages were sent to all people. After all aren’t we all from same mother and father, Adam and Eve? And aren’t all religions originated from one another?  Wrong understand of religion would only add another type of discrimination which is religious discrimination.

I believe that some engaged in politics in many countries may have induced discrimination indirectly, for example, when a crime happens, the media would place emphasis on the nationality and the religion of the criminal instead of just mentioning the cause and the circumstances of the incident. Rather than just put all the blame on the individual, they give them an excuse for what they’ve done, and that, in my opinion, provokes the aversion of citizens against each other, and greater chaos would be produced as a result.

Another perspective is that, as the whole universe is linked together either by land or water and of course we all share the same sky, it’s impossible to not live together. One way or another people will inevitably find themselves with other people, some of whom they don’t like because of discriminatory reasons; so we should learn how to live in harmony together. As Carl Schurz, a German revolutionary who subsequently emigrated and became an American journalist, said “From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own”.

Admittedly, I’ve always found myself fascinated by the differences; different colors, languages, accents, cultures, food, thoughts, and differences in the way of living. These diversities, in my opinion, are what give the world its balance and its equilibrium. After all, no one gets to choose his color, race or to where they belong, so it’s inequitable to treat someone according to something they didn’t have a choice in. As a matter of fact, people do not wait for others to accept them, rather they want to be treated with the same rights as everyone else. Honestly, that’s not much to ask and as Abraham Lincoln, an American statesman and the 16th president of the United States, said “These men ask for just the same thing: fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as is in my power, they, and all others, shall have”.

The whole universe is based on differences, not only human beings but you can see it if you take a deep look at mother nature, and just wonder what do you think the view would be if there was one color for the flowers or one shape for the trees or if the sky is always blue? How would you feel if all animals sounded the same, or if all foods tasted the same?

Probably it’s not a fair comparison, although it gives us signs and pictures for the balance in the world. One perhaps would think if animals and other beings can live together in a limited environment why can’t we do in such a huge unlimited world? Speaking about this kind of thing will just leave us with many questions, but maybe the way to change things is to start by questioning yourself.

Princess Basmah’s current situation

During recent years, several royal family members from Gulf states have tried to leave their countries or found themselves in prison if they remain. Some stories cause international outrage, others happen quietly and discreetly. Since one Saudi princess is particularly associated with our Foundation (NCF work in 2012-13, Media Awards in 2013, though less so in recent years) and has recently appeared in news articles again, it might perhaps be a good time to look at her case. We are speaking of Princess Basmah bint Saud – the youngest child of King Saud, part of a branch of the family once seen as a potential alternative to the current branch in power (HRH King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed).

To begin with, here is a brief picture of her life so far: Princess Basmah spent many years in Beirut and later, London. She studied social sciences at different universities across the world. In 2007, she divorced her husband and started operating her own businesses one year later.

Princess Basmah is known for participating in the meetings of human rights organizations and raising awareness about women’s rights issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Her main criticisms cover the state’s role in promoting virtue, the brutality of religious policemen, the banning of gatherings of men and women and the clothing laws for females. Surprisingly, the long (and recently successful) campaign to acquire the right to drive for women in Saudi Arabia does not seem too have been too important to her as she seems to have regarded that as being related to men being overprotective of women. According to her, it was something that could resolve itself over the years and was not an urgent problem as regards individual freedoms.

The daughter of King Saud has proposed some interesting ideas how to modernize society and improve the role of women. And ironically, many of the ideas she championed have indeed been adopted by the new Crown Prince, HRH Mohammed bin Salman.

In 2014, the EU registered a specific set of suggestions by her – the award-winning “Fourth Way Law”. This idiosyncratic but interesting concept contains strategies on how alternative governing systems could be implemented. The theory looks at what Basmah calls the four fundamentals of life which are required to create a balance: security (main focus), freedom, equality and education. In response to her persistent lobbying, countries such as the UK and US have at least considered some of her recommendations when developing laws regarding the implementation of human rights and the monitoring of social media.

Although Princess Basmah has frequently criticized the Saudi establishment and other middle-level administrators, she has continued to stress her loyalty to the royal family and the fact that she is proud of her country’s ancient culture. Nevertheless, a number of articles by her have been censored by Saudi Arabian officials.

Now these attempts to silence her have intensified. HRH Princess Basmah was arrested in March 2019, along with her loyal and devoted 28-year old daughter Suhoud.

On this occasion, eight armed men took her into custody when she wanted to leave the country. Princess Basmah intended to go to Switzerland for medical treatment, however, she was suspected of fleeing Saudi Arabia.

At first, the state security accused her of procuring a false passport, but these charges were dropped quickly – now it is unclear why she is detained. Since March 2019, Princess Basmah has not been seen in public. She is held in the Al-Ha’ir prison (Riyadh) which is normally used for Jihadis in Saudi Arabia.

Insiders suggest that this could be related to internal issues, either regarding the custody of her children, or Princess Basmah trying to receive the inheritance she is in theory entitled to under Islamic Law from her father – her assets are currently frozen. The Twitter account of the Princess obviously went silent after she was taken into custody.

A very significant issue in this problem is Princess Basmah’s health status. Since she is in need of medical care, her family is especially worried about this. Although she might have limited access to medication, it is feared that there may be no adequate treatment provided for her.

In April 2020, Basmah’s office tweeted a statement to ask HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (her cousin) for mercy:

“I am currently being arbitrarily held at Al-Ha’ir prison without […] charges against my person. My health is deteriorating to an extent […] that could lead to my death. I have not received medical care or even response to the letters I dispatched from jail to the Royal Court. I was abducted without an explanation together with one of my daughters and thrown into prison. I am beseeching my uncle […] and my cousin […] to review my case, and to release me as I have done no wrong. My current health status is very critical.”

These tweets and her website were taken down quickly. Her communications to the outside world, which consisted of one weekly call before, got completely cut off.

As the Crown Prince usually pardons some prisoners during Ramadan, Princess Basmah had hoped for his goodwill during that month. However, she was not released, which is concerning. As stated above, the widespread opinion is that Basmah bint Saud is held in the Al-Ha’ir prison without legal recourse. The public might not have insights into internal Saudi Arabian affairs – understandably – but a revision of her case would undoubtedly be a kind gesture.

All these points urge the Next Century Foundation to appeal to HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Princess Basmah be discharged as quickly as possible. By allowing her contact with the outside world and releasing her from Al-Ha’ir, her health could be improved from the critical state she is currently in and necessary treatments could be provided for her.

We beg the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reconsider. HRH Princess Basmah represents little or no real threat to the status quo in Saudi Arabia. Indeed viewed from a Western perspective, she could be regarded as a credit to the Kingdom.

The horrors of human trafficking during COVID-19

During this COVID-19 crisis, many feel isolated, “locked in” due to restrictions on their daily life – understandably. But what would the forty million trafficking victims worldwide say about the same situation?

It is not so long since International Sex Workers’ Day (02/06), so perhaps this is a good moment to examine the pandemic’s impact on sexually exploited people and other victims of modern slavery.

Human trafficking is the trade of people, both across and within borders. When a person is affected by this, he/she gets forced into labour exploitation, debt bondage and other miserable circumstances plus often gets one of the “DDD” (dirty, dangerous, difficult) jobs: This is modern slavery.

Perhaps trafficking should stop under a nationwide lockdown and increased police presence on the streets. However, luring and recruiting victims is still possible, even in their own home neighbourhoods, where they are still obeying travel restrictions. Instances have been recorded of the use of drive-thru and delivery services for the sexual exploitation of children. Others have been satisfying demand for sexual services delivered online by webcam. Additionally, the county lines (criminal exploitation of children selling drugs on the UK’s streets), are still active everywhere. Brothels operate underground. As recently as 22 April, British police found trafficking victims at four different premises in Westminster, London.

So, the trafficking business has adapted to the current situation and flourishes. Academics have identified three pillars which are the foundation on which this has been happening:

  • Firstly, current victims of labour exploitation need to cope with a worsening of the situation they already find themselves in.

Due to the pandemic, many healthcare services and trafficking survivors’ assistance centres diverted resources to deal with the enormous pressure from COVID-19. This limits the authorities’ ability to expose trafficking activities, identify victims and offer support.

The trafficked persons’ movement restrictions are aggravated by travel disruptions and the governmental order to stay at home. This leaves many vulnerable people isolated and helpless in the hands of their abuser.

Even if they can leave their house, debt bondage forces them to remain with their trafficker, who can now easily force them to do even riskier activities. Moreover, recession leads to low-cost production everywhere, forcing victims into extremely exploitative jobs simply to avoid the danger of homelessness and severe poverty.

Another important aspect of the situation is the way in which increased stigmatization can damage the mental health of trafficked people. Now more than ever, many trafficked people are seen as outcasts due to their living and working conditions: sex workers could easily spread the virus due to their activities, construction workers living very close together in labour “camps” (e.g. in the Gulf) have low hygiene standards, and so on.

  • The second pillar is that of the increased pool of people that can be exploited since many more people worldwide have become vulnerable due to the Coronavirus crisis.

As usual during international emergencies, support structures change and break down. Since COVID-19 has exacerbated social inequalities and unemployment has risen, disadvantaged people are ideal victims a trafficker is looking for!

Let’s say you’re in desperate need of paying for your basic needs and someone proposes a cheap loan or an easy way to earn money – you might accept it, assuming that it’s only temporary. Even if you know that it’s far from a fair offer paying minimum wage, you’d take it since it can help you out of acute poverty!

So, the downward spiral begins, the victim becoming financially dependent on their respective trafficker and usually being threatened with violence.

Even in the absence of such external influences, really desperate people may take, for example, sex work into consideration. However, due to brothels being closed at the moment, prostitution is being pushed underground, making it more dangerous.

The next point is the increased risk of child exploitation – currently, children are mainly at home instead of attending school. This has three negative effects on their safety: they are more prone to online exploitation, abuse and grooming; they might be forced to search for money and food on the streets; and if the situation goes on for much longer, they could be at risk of child marriage in some countries.

This is very concerning, having the third pillar in mind:

  • Due to the pandemic, victim support services and law enforcement agencies are being disrupted in their usual work.

Recently, shelters for trafficked people have had to close due to financial pressure or high infection risk. Since donors turn away from them and governmental resources are being redirected towards the battle against COVID-19, some emergency networks had to issue requests for material support – not just for sanitizers or masks – but simply for food! This illustrates the severity of the situation.

Also, many governmental or NGO offices are closed leading to delays in legal proceedings. Immigrants who’d have to renew their documents might not be able to do so, but then, they cannot return to their country, either. This leaves them in a precarious situation.

To sum up, the remaining question is how can we tackle these problems? Researchers assume that if we invest to support victims adequately, we might still be able to stop a “trafficking epidemic”.

Most importantly, resources need to go directly to the most vulnerable in our society. This could consist of providing housing for victims, providing anti-trafficking workers with PPE and more generally, strictly enforcing minimum wage laws.

Clearly, it’s not easy for an individual to act against such a large-scale issue, but one way to help is to watch out for situations that seem suspicious and report them to police or suitable NGOs (e.g. unseen UK, hope for justice or the Red Cross) – they are grateful for every hint they receive! 

Image by sammisreachers from Pixabay

Of Boris and of Banning the Burkas

The following represents the personal view of the NCF Secretary General and does not necessarily represent an NCF position:

There are two issues here. One is that the full face covering is a Mediaeval practice and one that is abusive in so much as it enshrines the doctrine of male dominance over the female. In a sense it degrades women.

It may be right to speak out against this practice.

However, even the birds of the air have need of nests. And whatever the rights and wrongs of that great cultural leveler, migration, one thing is certain, we are responsible for welcoming the migrant that arrives at these shores in a way which does not foster prejudice and hatred. Britain’s former Foreign Secretary’s remarks were calculated. They were written by Boris Johnson in a newspaper editorial. They are abusive of women in themselves, comparing those who practice full face veiling to pillar boxes with slits. Furthermore his manner provokes those already inflamed with Islamophobia (often exacerbated by but not because of the recent terror attacks) into further hatred. The former Foreign Secretary behaved as a racist. The sentiment behind his words, a concern about what the full face veil represents, may echo genuine concern for those women who choose, sometimes of their own volition, to do this to themselves. But he had no right to say that in that way. Not a man who may become our next Prime Minister.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Boris Johnson was therefore quite wrong. He should apologise. And if it was not his intention to foster religious hatred, he should apologise at least for the unwitting effect his remarks had.

Christ told us not to judge “Lest we be judged”. But there is an expectation that politicians in a position of leadership make considered judgements on our behalf. Boris’ remarks were unwise. Boris’ remarks can hardly have helped in these difficult times.

We should do better. But should we ban the burka and the headscarf like they do in France and Finland? Well maybe there is an argument for banning the hoody in young men and the burka in women because they are socially divisive and threatening. But not the headscarf. The French have gone overboard there. Women in the West have worn headscarves for generations as a fashion statement. And old fashioned European Catholics have always worn headscarves. The Muslim headscarf may be more concealing but is still just a cultural extension of the same thing and we should all find it in our hearts to accept it.

FGM in the UK: how to prevent this tragedy

Although it has been over three decades since FGM was made illegal in the UK, UNICEF estimates that it is currently a reality for 137,000 British girls and women and a further 144,000 are currently at risk of FGM in England and Wales. Despite these staggering figures, only two FGM cases have ever been brought to court in the UK and both have resulted in acquittals.

One of the great difficulties is that police often struggle to obtain enough proof to secure a conviction. Although FGM is certainly being carried out in the UK, most cases are carried out abroad over the summer holidays before the child is brought back to school. Even when it does occur in this country, many of the affected communities are socially isolated and children feel a duty to protect their complicit family members. Many cases also exist where a person has undergone FGM before taking up residency in the UK.

Since being first made illegal in 1985 (in the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act) the law has been amended multiple times to safeguard potential victims of FGM and also to introduce mandatory reporting of FGM in under-18s. Despite this legislation, many are angry that there have been no prosecutions related to FGM in the UK, whereas in France there have been more than a hundred convictions over the past few decades.

The eradication of FGM is made all the more difficult by the domestic nature of the practice – many rightly argue that sending a child’s parents to prison is unlikely to be in the child’s best interests. Education, therefore, is the key to changing the societal attitudes that underpin and perpetuate this crime. FGM is not sanctioned by any religion, there are no health benefits, and the psychological and physical damage from the procedure are long-lasting, not to mention the numerous human rights violations it entails. More time and money must be invested in the prevention of this hugely damaging and out-dated procedure so that FGM is no longer a reality for thousands of vulnerable young girls both in Britain and across the globe today.

#FGM

Mrs June Jacobs CBE

Mrs June Jacobs CBE, Trustee of the Next Century Foundation and former President of the International Council of Jewish Women, has died suddenly following a stroke. She was much loved.

June was one of the founding members of the Next Century Foundation. Many core members of the Next Century Foundation, such as the late Duke of Devonshire, who hosted our first and at that time secret, international conference at his Chatsworth home, were on board because June brought them on board. She was trusted. In those early days it was illegal for Israel’s politicians to meet senior members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. One of the key functions of the NCF at that stage was to bring together senior PLO members like PLO fund boss the late Jaweed al Ghussein, with senior Israelis, men who even now must remain nameless. And June was often the unheralded facilitator of such meetings.

June had many talents. She was a superb chairwoman for one thing, merciless as the best chairs often are. With an iron fist in a velvet glove she would brook no misbehaviour, and treated king and commoner alike.

Perhaps more importantly June was  a great networker and a great campaigner for women’s rights. These two aspects to her character we place side by side because of her work at the United Nations, where she encountered and supported fellow activists. In which context the NCF is particularly grateful to June. She brought onboard human rights workers across the world, one of the greatest of whom, our anchorwoman in Kirkuk, the great Surood Kirkuky, who often risked her life to support NCF missions to that poor benighted city, only did so because she trusted us because she trusted her friend Mrs June Jacobs whom she loved and respected.

That was the best of June, her enviable capacity to make and keep countless friends across the world, and her great compassion. And June was the embodiment of that word: Compassion. Like the greatest of those with a Jewish heritage, she cared deeply for others. She cared most particularly for the Palestinians. This perhaps because she regarded them as particularly vulnerable and the Jewish people, having reclaimed their ancestral homeland, as having a particular responsibility for the wellbeing of their cousins. In which context her compassion was boundless. She had more close Palestinian friends than any Jewish woman since the beginning of time.

There are not words enough to write of June Jacobs. Her constant love and care was a phenomenon. She never came to a meeting empty-handed, sometimes bringing a bottle of wine but more often bringing her own home baked cheesecake – arguably amongst the best in the world. June was a great woman who embodied the best of what it is to be Jewish. The world is a better place because she lived. The Next century Foundation is, in large part, the organisation it is because of her. She will be sorely missed. May God grant her the place among the angels she so richly deserves.

William Morris, NCF Secretary General

Photo of June at the International Media Awards 2017 copyright Matthew Tomkinson 2017

In Memoriam

For Mrs June Jacobs CBE, 1930 to 2018:

Come Summer,
Wrap her up,
In goodness.
Soft balm’ed breeze,
Careen her home,
Whilst still alone,
She trails dependents,
Like a fisherman,
Trails a net,
Behind her.
Save these her fishes,
She protects,
As duty would decree,
Or destiny,
Or perhaps mere providence,
In evidence of which she holds,
Tomorrow in her hand.
And finding death she walks beyond the grave,
Still trailing those that need her care.
As others did in their time,
She does now,
And stands upon their shoulders in so doing.
So too for all of those who care,
And dare,
To stand defiant ‘gainst decree-ed fate,
And cut a path that’s theirs, however late,
A swathe scythed naked from the Summer grass,
For Autumn’s coming and comes in too fast.

photo: © Jackie Richards 2018

India continues to fail its Dalit Women

India’s 2011 census stated that 16% of the Indian population, some 200 million people, are Dalits. Historically, being a Dalit in India means being at the bottom of an outdated and abysmal caste system. This idea still persists and as a result, Dalit people are vulnerable to a host of human rights abuses. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable must also struggle against patriarchal structures. A UN report from February 2018 highlights the fact that the discrimination Dalit women face, alongside factors such as lack of healthcare and sanitation, has resulted in Dalit women living, on average, 14.6 years less than ‘higher’ caste women. This is a shocking statistic. The report emphasises the fact that it is not just being of a lower-caste and one’s gender that acts as a barrier to mobility, opportunity and equality. The colour of one’s skin can also play a factor in how you are treated in India. A fair complexion is praised and promoted across society, through the media and beauty ideals. As a result, racism becomes a pertinent issue. If you are a dark-skinned Dalit women, your prospects in Indian society are not as fortunate as those of higher-caste, fairer women. This is particularly true in terms of employment with statistical evidence demonstrating that Dalit women are less likely to gain employment and when they do, they earn significantly less than their non-Dalit female counterparts. Literacy rates and levels of education of Dalit peoples are also significantly lower than their ‘higher’ caste counterparts. This huge problem persists across the nation and needs continuous attention.

There is a radical Indian feminist push within the country that seeks to move away from more homogenous feminist movements that fail to take into account the further oppression one may face as not just a woman, but a Dalit woman. As a result, we have seen the development of ‘intersectional feminism’ at both a grassroots and international level. Both Dalit and non-Dalit Indian women have used the concept of intersectional feminism to raise the profile of injustices against the Dalits. The ‘Dalit Women Fight‘ in India and the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) in Nepal are two such groups campaigning for visibility and change. There are other platforms that have established themselves as a means of articulating the voice of Dalit women, notably All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) which is a movement born from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Womankind Worldwide is an international women’s organisation that lends its support to groups such as FEDO. The voice of these Dalit women is growing in prominence. This gives hope to those that believe in the improvement of the welfare and wellbeing of Dalit women in a country that has historically seen them marginalised and oppressed.

The position of Dalit women in India, a nation infamous for its failure to protect its women and facilitate true equality, is deplorable. Whilst there are grassroots and international efforts making noise, this is not enough. The Indian government has continuously been the subject of great criticism for the position of its women, minorities and those from ‘lower’ castes, yet they continually fail to do anything substantive about it. The international community needs to raise the profile of Dalit women in India and apply pressure where it is needed to ensure that the future for these women is one of hope and change.

Iraq’s Innocent Children – When will their Suffering End?

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 on the 6th of March 2018, Children in Armed Conflict.

Mr President. The bi-product of armed conflict is often devastation to the lives of innocent children, whether during conflict, or in the aftermath. Whilst travelling in Iraq in late 2017 the Next Century Foundation was given alarming reports of the treatment of the families of ISIS fighters. We have heard similar reports from Northern Syria.

In both locations there are camps in which the families of ISIS fighters are being detained. The families were detained without warning, and given no reason for or information about the duration of their detention at these camps. Many of these families have had their identity documents confiscated meaning a definite inability to leave. Likewise, there have been reports of the destruction of civilian property, and of villages and of the removal of livestock owned by those who are now in these camps. This has been corroborated by satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch. By early 2018, over 200 families had been placed in these camps in Iraq over several weeks with 220 such displaced individuals arriving at the camp near Daquq, South of Kirkuk, Iraq, the most prominent of these camps. Children are of course amongst these numbers and there are young children and infants that are growing up in these camps. The imprisonment of women and children who have committed no offense is illegal and the Next Century Foundation wishes to express its concern over the situation as there has been no fair reason presented for the holding of these people or for their treatment. Having declared victory against ISIS, Iraq should be investigating these prison camps and rectifying the situation in order to work towards a better future for these Iraqi people and those children who are part of Iraq’s future. The continued use of these ‘prison camps’ and the current treatment of these many families could potentially be regarded as a war crime, in view of the fact that these families could be considered forcibly displaced.

This issue is not exclusive to Iraq. In northern Syria there are four Kurdish-run camps in which around 800 families from approximately 40 different countries are being held because of their alleged association with Islamic State fighters. Whilst there is the possibility that many of these families do indeed have fathers, sons or brothers who have fought or are fighting for ISIS, collective punishment is illegal. There is no reason to punish those who have done nothing wrong. There has also been little assistance given by the home nations of these families to address this problem, thus far only Russia and Indonesia have worked with Kurdish authorities to have their nationals repatriated.

In these circumstances, it really is the innocent women and children who are suffering. Their detention in such camps, and the treatment they endure, is abhorrent. The young children who have been forced out of their homes and are now living in these conditions are experiencing the fallout of a conflict that is not theirs. It is a necessity for both Iraq and the international community to respond and take action.

The Struggle for Suffrage: 100 Years On

100 years ago today, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, allowing some women in the UK the right to vote for the first time. It is bittersweet to celebrate the centenary of women’s right to vote in a year that has so far been dominated by conversations on gender pay gaps, sexual harassment and gender inequality more broadly. But perhaps it is also a timely reminder that despite the vast achievements of the suffragettes, there is still a lot that needs to be done.

Indeed what the last year has especially highlighted is that we still need feminism as much as we did 100 years ago. To identify as a feminist today has almost become taboo; honest and much needed conversations about the gap in women’s pay and attitudes towards sexual harassment are often interrupted with “well what about.” But discussing the gender pay gap in the BBC or sexual harassment endemic in some business cultures does not diminish the impact nor the importance of issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or the lack of basic female rights in countries such as Saudi Arabia. In fact it serves to highlight the continuing endurance of negatives attitudes towards women in all societies and the action needed to eradicate these pernicious beliefs.

The history of the suffragettes has become so sanitised that it is easy to forget that the suffragettes themselves faced a huge backlash for wanting to achieve political equality for women and that this backlash came not just from men but also from other women who felt that women lacked the capacity to understand politics and branded the suffragettes as “ugly spinsters.” Such attitudes are unthinkable today when we have female presidents, prime ministers and heads of state.

So this year, while we honour and remember the sacrifices made by the women who fought for the right to vote, we should also recognise and honour the women that are still fighting, not just in far flung places across the world, but also here at home. The fight for women’s rights anywhere does not diminish the fight everywhere else. Injustice anywhere is felt everywhere, no matter how small.   After all, how can we tell other people to clean up their backyards when we have weeds growing in our own?