Monday, 26 December 2011

A Female Retrospective: Women's News 2011

-          Women of the Arab Spring: President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees Tunisia, marking the beginning of a period of protest and revolution across the Middle East, which has seen both Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya torn from their towers. Women have played a central role in the Arab Spring. They have not only endangered their lives in opposition to oppressive regimes, but also faced harassment and sexual abuse. Across the countries of the Arab Spring, women have brought the question of gender equality under the new regimes to the forefront of political discourse. Perhaps just as importantly, they have illustrated that women’s liberties are inseparable from the liberties of a country; in the fight for justice, women are and always will be a half of that fight. In the press: huffpost, msmagazine, the independent, guardian

-          Sky Sports Sexism: In the UK, the January papers were filled with news of the disgrace of Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who were filmed, unaware, making sexist comments about a female lineswoman. Following up his suggestion that “women don’t know the offside rule”, Gray sneered, “did you hear the charming Karen Brady this morning complaining about sexism? me a favour love.” Further evidence of sexism quickly came to light, from sexual harassment of female colleagues to derogatory mocking of women in sport. While both men were forced to leave Sky, it wasn’t long before they were signed by radio station TalkSport, which, luxuriating in their infamy, announced it had scored a “sensational coup”. In the press: bbc, guardian, telegraph, youtube

-          Anti-Berlusconi Demos: Women in around 60 towns and cities across Italy conduct anti-Berlusconi demonstrations, sporting slogans like “Italy is not a brothel”. Silvio Berlusconi stands accused of paying for sex with an underage woman, and faces trial for a number of other sex charges. Sympathy demonstrations took place in other countries, including on the steps of the Sacre Coeur in Paris. In the press: bbc, nytimes 

-          The Davies Report: February saw the publication of the Davies Report in the UK, a government commissioned report on women in the boardroom. Conducted by Lord Davies, an ex-minister, the report found that 18 FTSE 100 companies have no women in the boardroom whatsoever, and the same was true of half of all FTSE 250 companies. Companies were advised to adopt a range of targets for improving female representation, including recommendation for FTSE 100 companies to aim for 25% female board-membership by 2015. Comment: BIS, Fawcett society

-          International Women's Day: International Women’s Day, March 8th, saw women (and men!) across the world involved in peaceful demonstrations, raising awareness of issues from rape in war, to representation of women in politics; from female enfranchisement, to honour killings. For a brief period women’s issues were widely covered by the mainstream media. Extraordinary women worldwide performed publicity or fundraising stunts to aid women’s charities and draw attention to much-neglected problems; for just a few fleeting days, the world was made aware of the sidelining of women, whether in developing countries or in apparent havens of democracy. Bring on March 8th 2012. See: guardian, reuters, Hillary Clinton for the NYT

-          "Virginity Tests": The news that women protesting were being forced to undergo “virginity tests” in Egypt hit the popular press in March. Amnesty International reacted fast, calling for an investigation by the authorities in Cairo, and issuing a statement that stated “[the test’s] purpose is to degrade women because they are women”. Human rights groups condemned the actions as torture, and “virginity tests” have since been ruled illegal by a judge in Egypt. See: bbc, guardian, telegraph

-          The Slutwalk Phenomenon: The first Slutwalk took place in Toronto, Canada, triggering similar demonstrations in cities across the globe. The original protest was sparked by remarks made a policeman, Michael Sanguinetti, in addressing students at a university; talking about how to reduce the risk of rape, he told his audience, “women should avoid dressing like sluts”. There was an immediate outcry, with women taking to the streets to defend the firm distinction between a woman’s dress and a rapist’s actions. The marches opened the debate over rape conviction rates, and the persistent tendency of courts to take into account the dress of the victim. For reporting: bbc (in fact, there’s very little neutral coverage). For commentary (an unrepresentative and random selection): guardian, nytimes, telegraph, daily mail

-          Cameron's Commons Sexism: In the UK, meanwhile, April saw Prime Minister David Cameron tell MP Angela Eagle during a Commons debate: “calm down dear, calm down and listen to the doctor”. Refusing to drop the “joke”, he repeated the phrase a number of times, to the great amusement of many Tory MPs; Chancellor Osborne, in particular, seemed to find the demeaning put-down utterly hilarious. Cameron was shortly forced to apologise for the gaffe in the wake of widespread outrage, but the incident clearly wasn’t enough to impress upon him the seriousness of the remark “that just came out wrong”. In September, he went on to call MP Nadine Dorries (and however vile she is, it doesn’t excuse rampant sexism in Parliament) “ extremely frustrated”, a derogatory jibe about her support for abstinence to be taught in schools. “I’m going to give up on this one”, he laughed, amid the school-boy hysteria of Commons. In the press: guardian, Angela Eagle in the guardian, telegraph

-          Women Driving: The Saudi authorities arrest an activist who posted a video of herself driving, an action that’s not strictly illegal in Saudi Arabia but, in the reported words of the police, violates “the norms”. The video went viral, with more than 500,000 views clocked before the woman, Manal Alsharif, was arrested. It was reported that police came to get her in the early hours of the morning, but Saudi police declined to comment. Women’s activist groups widely spoke out against the authorities’ decision to imprison Alsharif, who was committed to fighting for women to win the right to drive in the country, and ultimately be able secure native licences. In the press: guardian, telegraph

-          Rape in Libya: Reports flood the world media that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (killed by revolutionaries in October) ordered the use of rape as a weapon oppression, with chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo describing the actions as “a weapon” to “instil fear and curb dissent”. Moreno Ocampo said that in some areas over 100 women were raped, and confirmed the judicial consideration of eyewitness reports describing how the Libyan government provided viagra-style drugs to “enhance the possibility of rape”. See: bbc, guardian

-          Women's Worldcup Final: Women’s Football World Cup final on the 17th July saw Japan beat the United States for the Cup. It’s been a record year for women’s football, which was only granted a World Cup tournament in 2009. The final was trending worldwide on twitter, with peak-response on the social networking website at 7,196 tweets per second. The British Football Association (FA) are branding 2011 a “pivotal year” for women’s football, and much is being done to promote the game. See: Wikipedia, financial times, the FA

-           Dorries' Amendment wins govt backing: The government announced it would back calls for reform of abortion counselling services, as endorsed by Nadine Dorries. Happily for pro-choicers (and women generally!), the government shortly instigated an abrupt U-Turn, but had the policy been carried out it would have seen anti-abortion and religious groups more involved in abortion counselling. Proponents of the change accused the current system of services, run by charities such as Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), of being biased and not sufficiently pro-life, despite plenty of evidence of the impartiality of these services. The proposals would have added another layer of counselling, shrinking the time-window in which an abortion could legally be performed. In the press: guardian, daily mail, telegraph

-          Saudi Women get the Vote: The autocratic monarchic government of Saudi Arabia announced in September that women would be granted the vote, to take effect in 2015. Women’s rights are still widely oppressed in the country – the guardianship laws mean that women are, in many areas of their lives, legally governed by a man; they are unable to conduct business with men, except through a male mediator; they cannot mix with men in public places – but there is a view that the current monarch, King Abdullah, is more willing to promote women’s liberty than his predecessors. See: bbc, guardian, financial times

-          Topman Tshirt Debacle: To a less monumental – but nonetheless noteworthy – matter: September saw a controversy surround Topman after they began selling undisputedly misogynistic tshirts, one of which can be seen to have endorsed domestic abuse. Reading: “nice new girlfriend – what breed is she?” and “I’m so sorry but... I was drunk [plus a checklist including ‘you provoked me’, ‘I didn’t mean it’, and ‘I was having a bad day’]”, the tshirts went viral with twitchfork mobs and feminist bloggers quickly bringing the super-brand to its knees. The tshirts were discontinued, and Topman apologised (though rather half-heartedly in this blogger’s opinion). See: guardian, metro, telegraph (brace yourself), YouFem blog

-          Women-only buses: Guatemalan Congresswoman Zury Rios Montt succeeded in securing designation of women-only buses in the capital, Guatemala City, in a bid to halt the trend of sexual harassment experienced by women on mixed-sex buses in the city. Although the practical details of the women’s bus service are still being ironed out, the move has been widely met with enthusiasm. It marks a precedent in the segregation of gender on public transport in pursuit of women’s rights, as opposed to denigration of women. See: guardian (the guardian appears to be the only major paper that covered the story)

-          "Foxy Knoxy": 2011 saw the release of Amanda Knox, who was acquitted of murder charges in Perugia. In October, Knox made further headlines when Channel 5 presenter Matthew Wright thought it appropriate to include a segment on his afternoon show discussing the question: “If you met Amanda Knox in a bar and she invited you back to her room – would ya?” The piece was entitled “Foxy Knoxy – Would Ya?”, with Wright saying of Knox “she’s undeniably fit and loves wild sex”, but adding, “would something in your brain make you think twice?” Wright defended the piece in the face of widespread condemnation, and the show’s producers released a statement claiming: “at no point did we lose sight of the fact that at the heart of the matter is the tragic death of a young girl – Meredith Kercher”. Some would perhaps dispute the basis of this statement. See: metro, guardian, telegraph

-          Cameron's "women problem": David Cameron’s “women problem” dominates the British press. Following a series of policies that hit women hardest, the PMs poll ratings amongst women plunged in the autumn, triggering a furious bid to boost support by Number 10. This month saw TUC leaders speak out on the subject of women and the cuts; the Fawcett Society held its “Don’t turn back time of women’s equality” march; the questions of female unemployment, childcare, and women’s pensions took pride of place in government’s domestic policies (though, it could be argued, to almost no effect). Cameron’s ratings amongst women have since massively improved, but it’s unclear what triggered the boost. Women’s unemployment remains the highest it’s been for more than two decades, childcare costs are mindboggling, and it’s widely agreed that women will bear the brunt of the government’s public sector cuts. See: guardian, the spectator, telegraph

-          Egpyt's Naked Blogger: A female Egyptian blogger, Aliaa Mahdy, made news worldwide after posting naked pictures of herself on her blog in defiance of the new military regime’s repressive sexual politics. Not in any way pornographic, the photos were hailed as an assertion of female strength in the face of “virginity checks” and the unreserved suffocation of women’s rights under Hosni Mubarak, repression that hasn’t been dislodged by the succession of a new government. Mahdy wrote: Put on trial the artists' models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression”. See: nytimes, guardian, daily mail

-          Nobel Peace Prize: The Nobel Peace Prize awarded jointly to three female activists and human rights campaigners: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakul Karman. The three extraordinary women were awarded the prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. See: nobel prize website, bbc, guardian
-          Day of the Girl: The Day of the Girl was internationally recognised by the UN General Assembly in December, with October 11th designated. The confirmation was the result of tireless campaigning by women’s and girls’ pressure groups and charities, led by the Day of the Girl Campaign (Day of the Girl). We at YouFem made a half-hearted attempt to join the drive, but our efforts were frankly unacceptably rubbish. We’d just like to congratulate, however, the women that made this happen, and to say that we’ll definitely be planning celebrations for October 11th 2012.

Have a great New Year, thankyou for reading, and keep up the fight for equality. 2011 has been an eventful year, with amazing progress made in some areas in terms of women’s rights. Let’s make 2012 even better.

1 comment:

  1. Lots to provoke fury, but many, many victories.