Saturday, 17 December 2011

Victim of vicious long-term sexual violence failed by Pakistan justice system

Campaigning group Equality Now has issued an urgent alert after the brother of a teenager gang-raped by police has been shot dead outside a courthouse in Pakistan. The organisation is calling on government officials to protect 16-year-old Uzma Ayub and her family and to ensure justice in her case .

Equality Now is challenging the government of Pakistan to ensure justice in the case of this 16 year old gang rape victim. She was held captive for almost a year during which she was gang raped by a number of men including police officers. The rapes have resulted in her becoming pregnant. She has been fighting for justice with the support of her family and in particular her brother who was tragically shot dead outside the court house earlier this week by relatives of some of the accused police officers.

Equality Now is an international human rights advocacy charity working on issues of violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. They work with grassroots women’s organisations in country in order to determine the best responses to women’s rights abuses. They have over 35,000 organisational and individual members in 160 countries. Their main areas of work are sex trafficking and prostitution, sexual violence, discrimination in law and practice and FGM.

More details of the case are as follows:

Uzma Ayub is from the Karak district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. She was abducted by police and held hostage for nearly a year, during which time she was repeatedly gang-raped by men whom allegedly included police officers and a civilian member of the Pakistani Army. On 9 December 2011, Equality Now learned that Uzma’s 25-year-old brother, Alamzeb Marwat, who had been supporting her pursuit of justice, was hit by a car and shot dead outside of a Karak court house while picking up legal documents with Uzma. 

Following pressure from the media and local human rights groups, five men have now been arrested, though one is still at large. In light of this murder and ongoing threats against Uzma and her family, Equality Now is deeply concerned for their safety and has issued an Urgent Alert calling on Pakistani officials to ensure the family’s immediate protection; make certain that Uzma’s case is properly investigated and that all the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; protect local human rights organizations that are being threatened; and to bring Alamzeb’s killers to justice without delay. 
“This case epitomizes all the problems with Pakistan’s justice system – a system that repeatedly fails victims of sexual violence,” says Equality Now’s Global Director Yasmeen Hassan. “First and foremost, police officers who perpetrate sexual violence enjoy widespread impunity for the crimes they commit, using terror tactics to intimidate victims who dare to bring such violations to the justice system.” 
The abuse of women by police in Pakistan has been well documented and was the subject of a 106 page report released by Asia Watch and the Women’s Rights Project in the 1990s.  Uzma’s horrific situation, which has left her eight months pregnant, is yet another example of this ongoing epidemic. Uzma’s family is continuing to try and fight for justice despite grave threats being made against them, rampant police corruption and a district court that has been slow to act. Equality Now has further learned that police officers have been putting pressure on members of the local community and encouraging fundamentalists in the area to demonstrate against the arrests of the accused. 

Fundamentalist groups have also carried out protests against Uzma, accusing her of dishonoring her community and carrying an illegitimate child which they say should be aborted, and three local human rights organizations which have been assisting her.  Currently the case is adjourned as some of the accused requested an out of court settlement with Uzma and her family – a settlement which the family has repeatedly refused.  In fact, the murder occurred while Uzma and her brother attempted to get away from relatives and staff of the accused officers, who approached Alamzeb in an attempt to pressure him to accept a settlement.  Though today the Peshawar High Court issued a notice that a high-level committee will investigate the case, Equality Now and local groups do not put much faith in this as a similar decree was made prior to Alamzeb’s murder.

Equality Now’s goal is to mobilize global public pressure so that  Pakistani officials will properly and immediately address the violations committed against Uzma and her family, including those aimed at stalling her quest for justice.  Pakistan is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.”  Additionally, under their own Constitution, all citizens are considered equal before the law and are equally entitled to its protection.  However as this case clearly demonstrates, this equality will never be achieved if the very people who are sworn to uphold its mandates are the very ones who are violating it. Says Hassan,
“Pakistan has just passed two important laws aimed at the protection of women from harmful practices, including acid throwing and forced marriages, demonstrating that there is political will to further women’s rights.  But as a preliminary matter, the Government has to ensure that women are not violated by its own agents and that all perpetrators, starting with police officers, are brought to justice.” 
To learn more visit
text (c) Equality Now from their press release

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Refugee women and the power of words

The writer, campaigner and broadcaster Natasha Walter is the founder of an amazing organisation called Women for Refugee Women. Among many other activities and initiatives, they provide free English classes to women who have sought asylum. The women who come to the classes have all fled persecution and abuse of one kind or another, from imprisonment to trafficking for forced prostitution to honour crimes. These classes are taught by volunteers to about 40 women every week. The women who come to learn are desperate for education and since they are all living destitute or on benefits it's very hard for them to find classes that they can access.
Because these classes are unfunded the students and volunteer teachers are desperately in need of books. So we've made a wishlist on Amazon of books that they would love to be able to use; from dictionaries to graded readers. If you care about books and the power of words, you might like to buy a gift that would really make a difference to someone's life this Christmas. Please click on this link to view the list and feel free to flag up this notice to anyone you know who would be interested in participating and helping.
text (c) Women for Refugee Women

Monday, 12 December 2011

Ryanair: red hot fares, red hot sexism

This, from

In the new Pan Am series, Christina Ricci says to a customer with wandering hands, "I'm not included in the price of your ticket." Pan Am is supposedly a recent-historical drama series about the birth of air travel, set several decades ago... and yet, as we see, its depiction of sexism and harassment is still pertinent today. The Guardian have covered this in an excellent article, Flights of Fancy: The Truth About Female Cabin Crew.

The most recent perpetrator of sleaze-in-the-skies is Ryanair. Ryanair has a poor record when it comes to sexist advertising, but a newspaper advert they produced recently is their most offensive, sad and demeaning so far. Featuring a woman in her underwear with a finger in her knickers, the slogan proclaims "Red hot fares & crew!" As you can see from the charmingly retro ad on the left (setting it in the past makes it okay, as every sexist ad man knows), it looks as if the woman herself is being sold for a tenner, along with a freezing cold flight in a crumb-filled tin can, where the other passengers applaud upon landing because (a) they can't believe they have got back to the ground in one piece, and (b) they have never been on a plane before and are not v sophisticayted. Relax, Ryanair, I am only having a little bit of light-hearted bantering fun - the same kind you no doubt think you're having with this sad ad.

[UPDATE, as at 15th February 2012: the advert has now been banned by the ASA but the man behind it, Ryanair head of communications Stephen McNamara, has branded the ASA "PC quacks" for upholding human women's right not to be objectified as pieces of meat. Sexist men really are angry, aren't they? Much angrier than women's advocates. I mean, I write these articles all day, but I don't go completely mad and throw insults about when I do. I don't need to, because the gendered contempt I'm talking about is obvious. It's often simply a matter of looking, reading, counting. Misogyny-peddlers get angry when called on what is, after all, blatant and deliberate, as though they are victims rather than perpetrators, targets rather than attackers, subjects of punishment rather than malicious objectifiers whose actions have been questioned instead of passively accepted.]

Women throughout the airline industry are furious at Ryanair's attempt to cast female flight attendants in a predominantly sexual role, undoing years of work to change their image -- and possibly encouraging harassment and advances by male customers.

Ghada, a member of an airline cabin crew, started a petition on demanding that the advert be pulled immediately. Click here to sign Ghada’s petition and tell Ryanair to stop using this demeaning advert.

"My work colleagues, many of whom are male, work hard with me to ensure the safety of our passengers. Safety is our number one priority, not the brand of our underwear," says Ghada. She wants to make it clear that sexist representations of women in the airline industry will not be tolerated. A public outcry can get the ad banned -- and send a clear message to other companies considering similar marketing ploys.

Add your name to Ghada’s petition now, and make it clear that Ryanair should be selling their service, not the attractiveness of their female staff.

text (c) except the sarcastic additions which are obviously by me.

UPDATE, as at 14th December. I have spent part of this afternoon speaking with people on both sides of the process: the advertisers who invest in print campaigns which start at several hundred thousand pounds and can go up into the millions; and the newspapers, magazines and other outlets which need advertising in order to survive. My conversations shed an interesting light on the mentality of both parties. It is no secret that print matter - especially big name glossy magazines and broadsheets - are funded by advertisers, not by sales to readers. It is extremely expensive to keep a publication going without committed and plentiful advertising. When a contract or relationship is in place it is the advertiser's responsibility to maintain the level of its images and messages; the publication does not have the time or resources to look over every single thing that comes through and cannot exert the kind of editorial control that it would have over its own writers, art department and other staff. More than that, the power is weighted in the advertisers' direction. Advertisers have been known to exert some influence on editorial, particularly in the fashion, beauty, lifestyle and luxury goods magazine sector. If an advertiser is displeased, for some reason, the retraction of their support from a publication can cause that title to collapse.

If we set aside the issue of the mainstreaming of the objectification of (young, thin, white, passive-looking, conventionally beautiful) women and the way they are used to sell everything from insurance to cat food to aeroplane seats, advertising is supposed to integrate relatively seamlessly with editorial. Even a strikingly clever advert should not jar. It should be easy to read, easy to understand, easy to act on, easy to skip, easy to forget about, easy to be impressed by. Given the amount of advertising out there, there are relatively few complaints. So if something snags on readers' consciousness and provokes a strong negative reaction for its sleaziness, it is not only poor gender politics and poor advertising but a sign that something is seriously wrong. If an ad is considered particularly sexist within an already-very-sexist cultural context, that means it really is, really, rather, very, very sexist. It mars the brand for a much longer time than the ad campaign lasts.

Another comment from a major publication which runs advertising prompted a smile: major brands often run slightly different adverts for "inside London and the M25" and "outside London and the M25" - bringing me back to my earlier point about what is considered v sophisticayted and metrosexapolitan, and what is not. Either way, Ryanair (along with Lynx deoderants and Pot Noodle) have been in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority before and seem, for all that, remarkably committed to their current route despite the turbulence. That was an aviation joke. Maybe, like the naughty cheekie chappie teasey schoolboys they no doubt think they are, they like to be spanked by an ASA reprimand every now and again. That is an advert I would like to see, but am unlikely to, as Ryanair only objectify women, although both sexes work as their cabin crew and both sexes (and all ages, creeds, nationalities, shapes, sizes and orientations) travel as their passengers.

Activists and women's advocates have long been critical of the ASA as sexism in advertising is, after all, obvious and endemic, and the ASA has done relatively little to take a strong stance against it in the past. However, I think this is now changing, as this Mumsnet thread indicates, and am delighted to learn that the campaigning group OBJECT are working with them to get them to understand, however laboriously, that we are human beings and not stupid useable pieces of meat.

I wonder what exactly Ryanair are trying to say, and what they are trying to sell. I will write this in small words and simple sentences so they can understand. It is mainly women who organise and book family holidays. This advert would not appeal to them. Women who do not have to do this type of unpaid family labour also travel, for both work and leisure, in equal numbers to men. They would not be interested either. This advert would not entice me to buy anything from Ryanair, it would prompt me to boycott them. Equally, I cannot imagine a sleazy man (the only type of person to whom this ad might possibly appeal - non-sexist men would not be impressed) paying a whole tenner to buy a ticket to go to Stansted to get on a plane to sexually harass a Ryanair cabin crew member when he could harass multiple women, all the time, on the street, for free victims of endemic street harassment know. Ryanair, you are an airline, as your name implies. Your job is to sell oddly small and sometimes vomit-encrusted vinyl plane seats to a range of international destinations. You are not sex traffickers, selling human women to harassers, johns and punters. Get a grip on yourselves, so no-one gets a grip on us.

With thanks to Mr Anonymo, who phoned me today.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Kymiy soaps: too too cute

I love all design, fashion, style and aesthetics but don't usually plug specific items on this site. I'm breaking my rule for a friend, Paris-based Nazanine Nayeri, an IT entrepreneur who has (as a side project) produced a line of pure, olive-oil-based soaps that are exquisitely wrapped in Liberty fabrics. They are presented in lovely box sets, and can be ordered from the web site. They are gorgeous, they work and I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true. If you love them, let Nazanine know:

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Sexual harassment during Reclaim the Night, West Yorkshire

I have been contacted by someone via Hollaback, the international anti street harassment movement. The writer reports on the vicious sexual harassment she experienced during a Reclaim the Night march in West Yorkshire. The post is here and I will reprint the body of it below - but please visit the original site because it contains links to other articles, testimonies and Hollaback resources. Sexual harassment is absolutely endemic globally and I have written about it here and here and am a supporter of Vicky Simister's high-profile Anti Street Harassment campaign. The BBC have covered the issue here and the Guardian have also covered it here - and in many further articles. If you want some denial, belittlement, dismissal, perpetrator excusal, claims of lying and outright victim-blaming, read the comments below the Guardian articles.

The woman contacted the Yorkshire Evening Post about the events she describes. The paper ignored her letter, which is below. The editor of the paper is Paul Napier but as you see here from the staff and contacts page, which you can use to express your concern, there are many women in high positions at the paper. Despite this, they obviously do not regard sexual harassment in Leeds as an important issue.

Here's the letter, which was posted to Hollaback today. [UPDATE: I am either delighted or depressed to announce that following this blog post the paper has now printed the letter. The link is here. I am pleased that this blog and that Hollaback are making some kind of a difference in foregrounding theses issues but of course extremely angry that the issues exist in the first place.]
An open letter to the people of Leeds
I don’t know what you all did this weekend, but Saturday evening rather than staying in watching TV, or going out for some drinks, I got the train from Calderdale to attend the annual Reclaim the Night march in Leeds. Although they started in Leeds 1977 in response to the Yorkshire Ripper and the suggestion that women should stay inside in they wish to be safe from violence and sexual assault in the City this was the third event I had attended.
As I met with over 100 other women all ready to `reclaim the streets,` raise awareness of the low rape conviction rate and issue of violence against women. I know lots of you were also out on the town and having a nice evening, some of you saw us and waved, or took a leaflet, or looked bemused at a big group of women all wrapped up protesting in Leeds at 7pm on a Saturday night. However, I’m wondering what it was that led a percentage of people we passed to react to us with such a degree of hostility, violence and aggression?
I’ve both worked and socialised in Leeds before, so why have I never encountered this level of abuse in the past? I don’t understand why a large group of men verbally threatened me two minutes into the march, and shouted in my face comments so sexualized and lewd that this paper wouldn’t print them even if I wrote them down. I wonder if they knew how shocked and saddened this made me feel?
As we passed with our banners and chants, did the people who acted in this manner not think we could easily have been their wives, grandmothers, sisters, partners, aunts or daughters, what was it about what we were doing that made some people act this way towards us? I wonder if the group who stood in a line and swore, shouted and threw plastic bottles full of liquid at us near the dark arches would let me know what angered them so much about a group of women walking through the City protesting against violence against women? Why did this make you violent?
I would love to ask the angry middle aged man outside the Northern Monkey pub on the headrow if he knows how scary I found him when he was shouting and swearing at me? Did he know that I thought he was going to assault me or another member of the group? What made him follow screaming, demanding we come back so he could shout at us more when we tried to walk away?
To what extent where the threats, violence, aggression and hostility toned dowN because some of us had small children with us? I wonder if those reacting in this way noticed them? Was it because we were women? Was it because we were protesting? Was it because you believed women ARE actually safe from violence and threats on the street of Leeds, and that this event has no place in the City?
These aren’t rhetorical questions, I’ve been wondering the reasons all day and would like an answer if anyone can offer me one. What was it all about?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

We want to hear ourselves think: a call to action against cultural femicide

NEWSFLASH, ON 21ST DECEMBER: CERI THOMAS FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME HAS NOW ISSUED A STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO THE GUARDIAN'S RESEARCH. Please skim down until about halfway, to where it says UPDATED. I have added excerpts of women's complaint letters and done some fresh research about Today's lineup over the last 9 days and there is now a Mumsnet reaction thread here with more than 70 responses.

Last month I received a letter from a dismayed radio listener, who has noticed the ignoring of women at all levels of the media and public life. She mentions her many complaints to the producers of various shows and the way they have largely been ignored. At major speaking events at The Women's Library in London last year and at The Arnolfini in Bristol this year - a sold out event called Where Are The Women? - countless women approached me and said that they had complained to major media shows and organisations and were dismissed, patronisingly rebuffed or ignored.

While the ignoring of women is a problem across all public platforms, whether it be radio, TV, policy debates, panel events or festivals and conferences about everything from pop to politics, Radio 4's flagship current affairs programme Today has received particular criticism for having 4 men and just 1 woman presenter, a persistently low number of female reporters, guests, subjects and interviewees and a management team who seem to think this is not a problem despite enormous media pressure to change.

On this morning's show on Tuesday 6th December, aside from the presenters, Today had 20 male voices and just 5 female lady-women. Yesterday it had 14 men and 7 women. On Friday 2nd December it had 18 men and 6 women. On Thursday 1st December it had 18 men and 3 women. On Wednesday 30th November it had 17 men and 6 women. On Tuesday 29th November it was 18 men and 6 women. Notice, ladies, we never get above 7, and the men never get below 14 - usually much higher actually - and that's not even counting the presenters, who are 80% male.

In an article I wrote in May this year, Shut Up Ladies, Can't You See We're Trying To Talk?, I made a survey of representation across various networks (not just the BBC and not just talk radio) and all viewing times. It makes for very depressing reading, especially for any woman, like me, who is an experienced broadcaster and an avid radio-lover, who wishes to have a career. I know, how very dare we? Here are the stats for Today:
On Friday 20th March 2011, Radio 4’s Today programme featured 28 men, including the 2 male presenters, and 1 woman. The previous day they had gone completely mad ...and gave us Ladies’ Day: 7 whole women spoke, including presenter Sue Macgregor, alongside 21 men. The day before that it was a much more acceptable 4 women and 19 men. I have no idea what that spike on Thursday 19th was about. 7 women! Using up the space that men could have occupied! By Friday, thank Patriarchus, He That Knoweth, natural order had been restored.
Nothing has changed since then. In Kira Cochrane's shocking and unmissable article about cultural femicide this week she revealed, after months of primary research, that 84% of reporters and guests on Today  are men and 16% are women. Cochrane's piece presents a terrifying vision of an entire culture which sidelines women across all media and all outlets/networks/institutions, but Today's stats are the worst of an already-dreadful bunch. Cochrane writes, "On 5 July you had to wait from 6.15am until 8.20am to hear the one female contributor who appeared alongside the 27 male contributors on the programme." There is currently a raging thread about this on Mumsnet, started when Kira's piece came out. There was also an instant and very interesting response in the Guardian letters page, here.

What could be behind the femicide, I ask myself? What on earth could it possibly be? Back in March 2010, speaking on Radio 4's Feedback programme, Today's editor Ceri Thomas said about this issue:
It's quite hard to have a formula that helps you decide who should be the new presenter. I can say quite honestly that it would not be, was not and will never be the case that being a woman will be the overriding criteria
When asked why more women were being seen on the BBC News channel but not heard on Today, Thomas said,
Because I think those are slightly easier jobs. They are difficult jobs but the skillset that you need to work on the Today programme and the hide that you need, the thickness of that, is something else. It's an incredibly difficult place to work.
...what you can't expect is that the Today programme is the first place you'll see those changes [ie. more women] because it's just too tough an environment for novices, frankly.
But I don't think the public furore is really about the presenters as much as it is about the guests. Today is honoured among listeners for a good reason. It is serious, quality broadcasting. Every day there are more than 20 expert guests, usually live, talking about more than a dozen different subjects, in dozens of different ways. Today is able to tackle any issue, in any area, about any country or culture, in any discipline. Its producers can (seemingly) access any speaker, craft any item and set up any discussion, interview or debate. It is capable of excellence in everything, except including women. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, only 16% of its guests or reporters are women, and 84% are men. That is why listeners are angry.

I have addressed the issue of the under-representation of women in a series of articles with statistics and anecdotes, many of which blow the whistle on the day-to-day misogyny of some of the producers, editors and commissioners I have worked with at broadcasting, media, arts and culture institutions: Tired of being the token woman. - The subtle art of misogyny. - So Today is a boys' club - what's new? - It's simple - just invite more women on air. - 30 seconds of misogyny in the lifts at Broadcasting House  - Thank you, Radio 1 DJ Greg James, for today's edition of 30 Seconds of Misogyny - I hit the glass ceiling. It really hurts. - On despair.

Do we care? Yes we do! Everywhere I go, in public or private, in every in-depth conversation I have, with friends or near-strangers, this issue comes up. Countless women tell me they have written in to events organisers, editors, producers, impresarios, governors, MPs, whoever - and been brushed off. Countless extremely able women tell me they would love to be involved in these events as speakers, experts, advocates, artists, performers, debaters, subjects and commentators. They ask me to put their names forward, which I do, only for them to be ignored, talked down, frozen out.

What to do? Does complaining help? Cochrane spoke to Ceri Thomas on Friday 11th November, when only two female contributors appeared on the Today programme. The previous day there was just one. Thomas told her (three times, as Cochrane reports) that the issue of female representation "almost never comes up as an issue from the audience...  I suppose it might be two letters a year, or something of that nature."

Only two? Check your Spam box. Oh - and perpetrators, please stop victim blaming. We are not your secretaries or subordinates and it is not our job to write you a memo to remind you that we are human beings, that we exist and are worth listening to. We are not going to beg you submissively to recognise our worth. You should recognise it anyway, if you are decent human beings yourselves and do not have some kind of misogynistic, man-worshipping superiority complex. We are not shy, unwilling, thick, boring, absent or too busy cooking and cleaning to attend. We expect and demand fair, unsneering and equal treatment and representation and you must supply this. You must change your behaviour.

If any programme, event or venture keeps its number of women guests at a steady 16%  or invites 26 men and just 2 women to talk at an industry-wide conference, as happened at this year's Next Radio event, it is because it chooses to, not because women are too lax, amidst all the other oppression we constantly witness and experience, to write in and plead for basic recognition and humane treatment. Are perpetrators really so passive, hate-filled and unwilling that they need serious prompting to acknowledge and reflect the fact that we are 50% of the audience and half the world? Do they so despise the thought of contacting women, inviting women, being in women's presence and hearing women speak as experts, endorsers, analysts and subjects of celebratory discussion as writers/artists/thinkers/innovators? As ever, perpetrators make their hatred clear by their behaviour. They do not like women so they do not have any near them, except those used behind the scenes as exploited labour in a system which promotes and celebrates men as geniuses, on any topic, in any manner, in any field.

Those non-media outsiders who victim-blamingly say that women 'should' push themselves forward have not understood how events, conferences or shows are organised. Guests are cast, invited and briefed by producers in advance; potential guests are not supposed to psychically intuit that an unannounced and unpublicised event is in its early stages of organisation, and somehow get in there. It does not work like that - and indeed, confident women who do put themselves forward are, according to the double standard, slandered and punished for shrillness/loudness/bolshiness/aggression/whatever. The responsibility, the agency, the decision and the fault is on the perpetrators and the issue is one of sexism. As I wrote way back in late spring of last year:
We no longer live in an age where female thinkers, writers, philosophers, academics, artists, theorists, activists or politicians are rare. The discrimination is obvious. All you have to do is count. It's all the more galling given that women equal or outnumber men as attendees of arts festivals, concerts, readings, discussions and debates, and as arts and humanities students at university. Women write, read, edit and publicise more fiction than men. Women make up the majority of executive, PR and organisational staff in arts and cultural institutions. Women's ticket revenue, licence fees, book purchases and entrance fees are being used to fund events at which women artists and thinkers are marginalised with breathtaking obviousness.
Regarding the issue of women and broadcasting, I want to celebrate Sound Women, a coalition of amazing professional women in radio who are sick of institutional sexism, discrimination, marginalisation and cultural femicide. All the women in Sound Women are known, seen, heard in public and cannot be ignored or sidelined. They include Fi Glover, Margherita Taylor, Miranda Sawyer and many, many others. Sound Women maintains a hundreds-strong (and ever growing) list of willing women speakers in all fields so that when programme producers and editors lie that no women are available or able, they can easily be disproved. See the Guardian feature here. Read Jane Garvey advocating for more women here. Feel our rage that of the 14-strong Sony Awards committee, only 1 is a woman (and she is an absolute radio heroine, R4 controller Gwyneth Williams) and that at this year's Next Radio conference there were 26 male speakers and just 2 women. The conference website claimed, "We promise no panels, no suits, and no waiting forever for a rubbish session to end" - and a sexism so deep that women were not even allowed to speak, although we could sit passively and listen to 26 men.

This issue, prompted by Kira's article, has truly opened Chauvin's Box.

This is what Sound Women suggest regarding the Today programme specifically: that people write to BBC Trust Chairman Chris Patten - ah, Lord Patten, a posh man who will never have to worry about these issues or be affected by them - and get our friends to write too. For a bit of encouragement, there's already a growing Mumsnet thread on this, based on a shortened version of this article. No ranting, please, and no abuse when you write in. Just concern, stats and a fervent desire for the glory of radio to reflect the intelligence, interest and intellect of its 50% of loyal women listeners. Send it to Chris Patten at and cc in his assistant - because, of course, the best partiarchal prop for a powerful man is a subordinate female assistant who does all the real work and has now been placed in the awkward and unfair position of fielding these messages. 

Sound Women have drafted the letter below, but please feel free to adapt and change it, especially if you are a Today listener but do not work in the media and have additional points you’d like to make.

Dear Lord Patten
The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 has four male presenters and just one woman, Sarah Montague.  In addition to this, today it’s been revealed that on average 84% of its guests and reporters are male, and just 16% female. 

As [a woman working in the radio industry, and] an avid radio listener, I am deeply disappointed by these figures.  If the Today audience is made up of 50-50 men and women, as Today Editor Ceri Thomas claims, then this means that the women in that audience are being under-represented and badly served.
Ceri Thomas also says he receives only two letters of complaint a year, and seems to think this means the audience don’t care about the issue.  Well we do care.  We don’t always write letters of complaint – sometimes we change to another station or shout at our radio instead – but if it will make a difference then please accept this as a letter of complaint, to which I would greatly appreciate a response. 
I know the representation of women on air is an issue you feel strongly about, and have spoken about before.  I hope you can encourage the BBC to bring about the change that is needed, and look forward to hearing a more balanced version of the Today programme, with many more female contributors, reporters and presenters very soon.

Thank you for reading this email. 

Fingers crossed. And if anyone wants to start up a (paid) women's radio station, I'm 100% in on the arts and culture side. Just contact me and it's a yes.

UPDATED at the end of the working day on Wednesday 21st December 2011: After the enormous reaction created by Kira Cochrane's article, which has (my sources tell me) prompted fervent debate in many major arts and cultural institutions, many women contacted me attaching copies of their own complaint letters. A very senior woman and former London bureau chief at a major international news and reporting agency told me that she was "at a 'Gender Agenda' event discussing this last week and was struck by how internally focused it was and that barely a single man was present to discuss the issue." In her letter to the BBC she wrote the following:

I am writing to address the perception that appears to be prevalent at the BBC: namely, that a failure to deluge the inbox of BBC executives with complaint about female representation on news and current affairs programmes is evidence that this is not an issue. On the contrary, it is a most pressing and serious concern and one that needs to be addressed urgently.

As [COMPANY] London Bureau Chief from 2007 to 2011, and a former financial and foreign correspondent, I personally put myself forward on numerous occasions to talk on serious business and political topics relating to the UK. Instead, I was invited on (just twice) to review newspapers during the general election.

Busy, professional women like me have full-time, executive jobs that rarely give them time to write letters of complaint – but if it will make a difference then please accept this as a letter of complaint, to which I would greatly appreciate a response.

 ...I hope you can encourage the BBC to bring about the change that is needed, and look forward to hearing a more balanced version of the Today programme, and other news and current affairs programmes, with many more female contributors, reporters and presenters very soon.
Another woman, a radio lover and longtime Today listener, wrote to the BBC:

I noticed in that article that Ceri Thomas, Editor of Today said that he received hardly any letters about the lack of women presenters and contributors to Today and concluded that the audience didn’t care very much. 
I grew up with Today and still listen to it briefly most mornings. I do care about the lack of women on the programme, and think it effects the way in which stories are covered and the way in which some issues are largely ignored. I’ve never written to complain – I just turn off the radio and get my news on-line instead. 
I think the Guardian research should be a wakeup call to the BBC (and print media, which doesn’t come out of it well either, including the Guardian). Please can you tell me what you intend to do to ensure that we get something a bit closer to gender balance on our airwaves?
Another woman, a very prominent journalist, wrote the following:
I am writing to complain about the under-representation, nay near invisibility, of women on the Today programme.

...Specifically, I find it hard to believe that Ceri Thomas says he only receives two letters of complaint about this woeful under-representation of women on the Today show per year. I question this figure and would like it confirmed.

As as writer for [COMPANY] I would welcome your comments on how the BBC is going to address this situation.

In the letter sent to me before the Guardian article a listener wrote,
My friend and I share regular tallies of the low numbers of any women’s voices on the Today programme. Lots of rage and gnashing of teeth. I have written to the producers/editors/ complaints departments in vain.

My point is that not only is there a dearth of women presenters – women are routinely not invited on to the Today programme to discuss the topics presented, women’s names are not even referred to in discussions. The words “her”and “she” are not heard. Education controversy – let’s wheel out Chris Woodhead, Anthony Seldon – because clearly there has never been a notable women headteacher or schools inspector. It’s not just laziness, a question of the usual suspects invited on the programme over and over again - it’s a powerful bias that ensures that women’s voices simply don’t matter, that women don’t matter. I sit and listen and watch the minutes tick by as we are not only marginalised, but are inaudible, invisible, non-existent.

You could land here from Mars, tune in to the Today programme and - on some days - I kid you not – up to an hour later not have a clue that women exist at all.

I’m 60 in December – all that struggle in the 1970’s - and I cannot bear it. How many other young women are going to protest?

Another point - if Woman's Hour can respond at 10am to a breaking news story and get women on the show - academic/politician/vox pop/historian/scientist/other worker or professional/whatever - to interview, just why can't the Today programme do the same?!
I have now received messages from the BBC Trust and also from Ceri Thomas of Today. See the below:

from: Trust Enquiries
date: Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 5:47 PM
subject: : Today programme
Dear Bidisha

Thank you for your recent email to Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust. I am responding on Lord Patten’s behalf as a member of the Trust Unit which advises and supports the Chairman and Trustees. I understand your concerns about the number of women presenters and contributors on Radio 4’s Today Programme.

As Lord Patten received a number of emails expressing similar concerns, we are responding to them all in these terms.  I can assure you that equality is an issue that the BBC Executive and the Trust takes very seriously and, as you may be aware, it’s the Chairman’s view that there should be more women both on radio and television.

However, the role of the Chairman, and of the Trust, is distinct from that of the BBC Executive and day-to-day editorial decisions - such as selection of presenters and contributors to the Today programme, for example - are rightly the responsibility of the BBC Executive and ultimately the Director General as Editor-in-Chief. 

Reflecting that distinction, the BBC complaints process requires that complaints are handled by the BBC Executive in the first instance. The Trust’s role in the process is to consider appeals from complainants should they be dissatisfied with the responses that they have received from the BBC’s management. I have therefore forwarded your email to the editor of the Today programme, Ceri Thomas, and he has provided the attached response.

Should you remain unhappy and would like to progress your complaint further, you can do so using the BBC complaints process via BBC Audience Services, details of which are available on the BBC complaints website Following this route means we can deal with complaints in a logical progression from BBC management to the Trust and those most closely involved with the complaint have an opportunity to respond first. I hope this is helpful and thank you again for bringing your concerns to our attention.

Yours sincerely,
John Hamer
BBC Trust Unit 

And this is is from Ceri Thomas, the editor of Today, exactly as sent to me, unedited, uncut and complete. It was sent  from the man above as an attached Word document. It is aggressive, cold, arrogant, patronising, immature, punitive, derailing and defensive in tone, with no greeting, politeness, sign-off, contact details, introduction, tail-off or anything else. It personally singles out Kira Cochrane in a bullying and sneering way, when in fact the negative critique of Today has been made, rightly, by many people of both sexes across the media for nearly 18 months. As is obvious from the tone and style, Thomas cannot even pretend to be respectful of women or to take this seriously. It is written as a short school essay. The title in bold is original too:
Response from Ceri Thomas:
Your complaint springs from an article in the Guardian which contained extracts from an interview with me. Your letter quotes rather selectively from that article so, for the sake of completeness, I think it is worth bearing in mind the fuller context. In addition to noting the relatively small number of complaints which have come directly to the programme each year about the numbers of women on Today, the article contained the following exchange between me and the Guardian journalist, Kira Cochrane:

‘I asked if there was a strong enough female presence on the show at the moment. "I think nearly every day there is not," he said. "And within the programme it's a very active discussion. And not just a discussion – it's pursued actively, too. Every producer on the programme is aware we're trying to increase the representation of women on air. People such as the planning editor, who is in a position to do a bit more about it, have it as a specific objective." He adds that the show's listenership is about 50/50 men and women.’

It is difficult, on the basis of that exchange, to characterise the representation of women on air as an issue about which Today does not care.

The broader question raised by your complaint is what the 'correct' proportion of male and female guests on Today should be. The figures quoted in the Guardian article are inaccurate, even on the specific days which are mentioned, but there is no argument about the fact that the programme has more male guests than female. This is a programme, however, which deals largely in areas of public life in which it is a simple statement of fact to say that, at senior levels, men outnumber women. To give just two examples, about 75% of MPs are men, as are over 80% of board members of FTSE 100 companies. The same skew exists in virtually every corner of the public arena which listeners expect Today to cover. It is inevitable, to a large extent, that the male-female balance within organisations in the wider world will be reflected on air.

Having said that, the programme clearly acknowledges the need to achieve the best possible representation of women on air consistent with listeners' expectations of Today's editorial agenda, and it is actively working to do that.
Thomas claims that "the figures quoted in the Guardian article are inaccurate, even on the specific days which are mentioned." This is not true. Cochrane's article links to the specific programme line-ups mentioned, which anyone can check. The team at the Guardian rechecked the data multiple times to ensure accuracy. The Guardian has an extremely prompt and rigorous complaints, corrections and clarifications desk which deals with specific inaccuracies and Thomas has not contacted them with any objection. The furore over Today's extreme marginalisation of women began long before the Kira Cochrane article, as far back as March 2010 when Thomas gave his interview to Feedback. The data I have supplied in this piece, all of it accurate, is from March 2011 and November - early December 2011. The Guardian's research took place over the entire summer of 2011 and is accurate.

I have now done even more research over the last 9 programmes, analysing every line-up and every item. Here it is:

The Today programme has 4 male presenters and 1 woman. Aside from the presenters, on Saturday 10th December there were 19 male speakers and 2 women. On Monday 12 December there were 17 male speakers and 2 women.  On Tuesday 13th December there were 17 men and 6 women. On Wednesday 14th December there were 18 men and 4 women, of whom 3 were speaking on one item about domestic violence. On Thursday 15th December there were 18 men and 7 women. On Saturday 17th December there were 19 men and 3 women. On Monday 19th December there were 22 men and 6 women. On Tuesday 20th December there were 19 men and 4 women. On Wednesday 21st December - today - there were 18 men and 6 women.

In the last 9 shows the general Thought For The Day, which is specially commissioned and not so closely pegged to the news agenda, had 6 men and 2 women. One of these women, Canon Angela Tilby, was used twice, probably because the producers could not stomach having another whole entire female she-creature stinking up the place. Across the last 9 shows, again, the number of men did not go below 17 and the number of women did not go above 7. These figures vary only minutely from those mentioned earlier in this piece for summer of this year (counted by Kira Cochrane's team) and spring 2011 and spring 2010, counted by me. Across something like 100 items the only one featuring all women was one about male violence against women. Because we are just victims, aren't we, of male femicide - both physical and cultural.

The Today programme does not just cover Parliamentary affairs or big business, nor does it only feature heads of major FTSE companies, political parties, conglomerates, major organisations, firms or any other endemically sexist institutions. Over the last 9 shows, these are just some of the topics Today have covered: the production of frankincense; Russian parliament; UK planning reforms; homelessness; found recordings of writers reading their own short stories (in which 3 white male writers were named, and 0 women); children testifying in court; pensions for council workers, NHS staff, teachers and civil servants (an item in which 2 men were invited to debate despite the overwhelming majority of public sector workers being women); commission on foreign currency bought on credit cards; large companies' tax liability; ambulance journeys; high street revenues; chronic fatigue syndrome; Syrian human rights; birdsong, the age of criminal responsibility; child poverty; London's social history; illegal immigration; wind turbines; the Zimbabwe elections; the greatest invention of all time; interviewing children in court; job seeking; the cost of green energy; homeowning and negative equity; a newly discovered Charlotte Bronte manuscript (in which a male trustee of the Bronte society was interviewed - yes, where there is female genius, be sure to dilute its power and remember, female genius must be dead); land rights in Southern China, the Egyptian elections; badger culling; diabetes; children in care and adoption; funding for care for the elderly; cholera in Haiti; violence in film; UK Uncut; foster care; maths on the curriculum; Ealing studios' films; teaching history in schools; Jamaican patois and Bible translation; Kinks singer Ray Davies and his new musical; tax breaks for married couples.

The most random item was the author Alexander McCall Smith [no diss to him - his books actually have excellent women characters and plenty of 'em, and they speak, too] getting an entire 3 minute slot of his own after Tweeting that it was "painful" to chuck away old books. He authored an item on 14th December revealing some of the responses to his Tweet and "gives his own tips on bookshelf management."

Over the last 9 shows the vast and overwhelming majority of named editors and correspondents (in politics, the environment, Moscow, parliamentary affairs, sports, the Middle East, home affairs, business, Scotland, Scotland business, North America, politics, health, science, world affairs, Beijing and religious affairs) are white men. There are 2 named women as correspondents on defence (Caroline Wyatt) and in the arts and one female sports newsreader. These 3 women are used very sporadically, unlike the main sports (Garry Richardson and Rob Bonnet) and business (Simon Jack) guys.

I will now give just a selection of the job titles of speakers on the last 9 shows. They are not all heads of companies, heads of political parties, major institutions, banks, companies, government bodies, quangos, thinktanks or heads of anything else. In fact the vast majority of speakers are just reasonably-ranked, broadly experienced and capable professionals who know what they're talking about. Here goes: archaeologist, farmer, zoologist, Pentagon official, green campaigner, classical music promoter, magistrate; climate change science analyst, diabetes expert, historian, academic in journalism and screen violence, maths teacher, academic in planning and local governance, varied museum experts and curators, drama and literature curator at arts institution, professor of psychology, member of Criminal Bar Association, pensions analyst, economist, music magazine editor, music journalist, management consultant, evolutionary biologist, science writer, researcher in animal behaviour, novelist, songwriter, UN human rights worker, consultant paediatrician, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem MPs across all areas, contributing editor of current affairs publication, sleep researcher.

In the last 9 days Today has featured 167 male guests and 40 women. That's 19%. There's something else: of the 19% of women in the last 9 shows, women are massively over-represented as victims, subjects and case studies rather than experts, academics, influencers, analysts or endorsers. So, one is speaking about black students' experience at Cambridge, one was an evacuee from the Basque country to the UK in 1937, one fled Burma after the Japanese army invasion 69 years ago, one (on Wednesday 14th December)  is named as a domestic violence survivor who "lived in an abusive relationship for a decade", one is a case study of homelessness, one is a foster carer and one is a Bangladeshi woman giving an interview about her abusive husband, who cut off her fingers.

So, can we only speak when we have been brutalised, abused, victimised and forced to flee?

Yes we can! But remember, even then, you are only allowed to be 19% of the total number of speakers, absolute max, last year, last season, yesterday, tomorrow and Today. Got it? They do not like us. They are not going to change. We have been told, good and proper.

There is now a Mumsnet comment and reaction thread on this, with some very interesting additional observations, some of which I have excerpted below. Each set of quotes if from a different contributor:

One woman wrote:
"What Ceri Thomas' response basically says is: You are only interested in this issue because of the Guardian article. And anyway there aren't enough women in prominent roles, so it's your problem. Well, I am interested, Guardian article or no. And I intend to let them know regularly. Is one email a month too many? (And another one from my mum and my sister, who I will get to write in as well)

The stuff about women in prominent roles is just there to confuse the issue. Firstly, you could always try inviting the women that are there in prominent roles instead of more or less ignoring them, and secondly, as Bidisha points out on her blog, the guests are frequently not in those roles in any case. I am just as capable of analysing the economy/ literature/ various random topics as all those random men!"
Another woman wrote:
"Great to see the highlighting of the fact that it isn't just reflecting who is high up as that isn't who the guests are.

A specific example, the other day they had men talking about town planning reforms. Now this is indeed male dominated profession. However the head of the professional body, the RTPI, is a woman. So if it's that they need the 'heads' then it would have been a woman. But of course they didn't, they had people much lower down the 'food chain'. Who could have been women or men. They were talking about basic general interest stuff so they had many many people to pick from. And so the cycle continues with the profession being represented as male.

Bidisha did you see my spot that they had someone from Seoul women's university the other day and it was a man?"
Another woman wrote:


Is he really, genuinely saying that as 75% of MPs are men, women don't need to be represented? Women don't mind hearing mostly from the men who dominate business? MPs are there to represent everyone including women!! Oh my god I hate getting this angry. Bullshit bullshit bullshit. He's making excuses and expecting us to buy it."
Another woman wrote:
"I actually can't write anything articulate or thoughtful here because the noise in my mind is just "RAGE RAGE RAGE RAGE!"

ugh. UGH. RAGE!"
Another woman wrote:
"I am a regular listener to the Today programme (and a relatively recent "convert" to feminism in a conscious sense) and I think a nerve has been hit. Ceri Thomas's reply suggests that the Today programme are trying really hard to balance things more. I'd like to know how they are trying to do this. I suggest one method would be retiral of the adverserial John Humphries. I find his attempts to turn any interview into a battle tiresome and inappropriate.

I almost wonder if the calibre of men on the show (presumably educated, intelligent and ostensibly egalitarian) belies the continued sexism. No-one there would probably either see themselves as sexist nor consciously wish to push women out of the programme. (I am making assumptions here). I'd be surprised if the representation of the genders isn't more balanced further down the chain (i.e. researchers) and so would guess that this is problem (like many) requires a mindquake. I know that until I'd read Mary Daly (Gyn/Ecology - my first foray into feminist literature) I hadn't considered sexism and the importance of feminism to a great extent. If it took an educated woman like me until I was 25 to really get it, how can we expect the men of our society to even attempt to understand when they are the group benefiting from the inherent inequality.

Gah. Merry Christmas everyone."

Monday, 5 December 2011

Are you quite a frothing beserker? Then jolly well join in!

I wanted to write in support of the already very marked critique of the current government's cuts, which will disproportionately affect women. I have been alerted, via the ever-excellent Mumsnet, to a group of  "ordinary people, mainly women, who feel the government has gone too far with the cuts." The group wants to be "a focus for all the groups protesting against the cuts and provide an outlet for people who are worried or scared and feel they need to do something. We are hoping to be accessible whether people want to just read and be better informed or sign petitions, write or be part of more direct activism."

The inspiration behind the group was a Mumsnet thread, I'm Not Quite A Frothing Beserker But I Am Getting Rather Cross With Our Government Messing With The Good Stuff. That thread was so full of passionate writers who know exactly how the cuts are affecting ordinary people that a new thread has begun to catch the overflow: Frothers Unite, Time for Change. Now, I think a frothing beserker is a rather excellent thing to be, so I want to stand by this group, which has a blog, Too Many Cuts, a Facebook page and a Twitter stream, using the #frothers hashtag. Join in if you want to protest against economic measures which will see this country's women - and with them, our children, partners, friends, relatives and parents - thrown to the dogs.

Shocking, stunning, horrifying, unmissable.

The Guardian's Kira Cochrane has produced an exhaustive, serious and very informative, though devastating, study about the representation of women in all walks of life, from politics and the media to comedy. Here it is. Full disclosure: I am quoted in it briefly. The article is the result of several months' study by a diverse group of researchers and gives a complete picture of just how strongly women are pushed out of the public frame - and how this impacts on girls and young women's sense of their own voices and possibilities. There is currently a very strong thread on Mumsnet about this issue, here.

I would urge anyone who cares about this to get onto the Guardian comment thread and talk, give your own experiences, encourage other women, participate positively and in solidarity. This is a hugely important article and it's all about us and our place and space. Don't let the derailers and trolls dominate!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Place your bets for the inaugural William Hill Sportswoman of the Year Award

Out of its longstanding commitment to women's rights, female emancipation, the elimination of cultural femicide and human rights issues generally, betmakers William Hill have created a female alternative to the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year, which this year features a 10 man, 0 woman line-up despite many women athlete's great achievements in 2011. To compile its list, the BBC asked 27 sports editors, the overhwelming majority of whom are men, for their nominations. Despite women's excellence this year, all the editors (which included sexist mags Nuts and Zoo) submitted lists in which women were heavily outnumbered; more than a third (10) gave all male lists. The Guardian has covered this extensively and excellently here, here, herehere - in a great piece by Andy Bull, here by Jane Martinson and here, where the BBC defends itself against formal complaints by women MPs and points out that in the past, "at least two women have always previously been shortlisted for the main award." Yes! At least 20%. Be thankful for that ladies (and quit yo' moaning). Anyone interested in institutional misogyny in the world of sport and sports media should read the horribly funny, genuinely enthusiastic, honest and wideranging Get Her Off The Pitch! by Lynne Truss. The link will take you to her own website, which is as hilarious and observant as all her other work.

Thank you, William Hill, for standing up for women. I know your heart is where our wallet is. Here are the details, taken from the press release. All the breathless punctuation, erratic quality of tone and random capitalisation remains. It is well classy. When the final shortlist is agreed you can vote for your favourite online or act like a lady and pick up one of the coupons which will be available in all William Hill outlets - yes, I am talking about that notoriously female-heavy and woman-positive cultural space, the betmaker's shop. Now I am off to watched looped re-runs of all of Boots's Here Come The Girls adverts. Enjoy:

The inaugural William Hill Sportswoman Of The Year Award will be decided on the 21st of December, the winner of which will gain a VIP trip to the William Hill King George on boxing day as well as £1000 Charity bet on the big race & a Trophy for the mantelpiece. To Nominate Your forgotten female: Go to the William Hill Facebook page. The shortlist will consist of the ten sportswomen with the most nominations. The final shortlist will be confirmed on Monday, you can then vote for your favourite at or pick up one of the 240,000 coupons which will be available in all William Hill shops from mid week. “The award is designed to give members of the public the opportunity to choose both the shortlist, as well as the winner. It has been a good year for Women’s sport, let’s celebrate it,” said Hill’s spokesman Rupert Adams. Further Information….0208 918 3858……0784 1011 584

UPDATE: As at 14th December 2-11 , the shortlist is now up. Here's the press release I was sent:

The shortlist for the inaugural William Hill Sports Woman Of The Year Award has been announced and it is time to vote for your favourite. Hills are accepting votes online at or you can pick up a coupon in any of the 2350 William Hill shops. The Shortlist For The William Hill Sports Woman Of The Year, as voted for by William Hill customers:        
  • Rebecca Adlington: Won a gold and silver medal at the World Aquatics Championship in Shanghai.
  • Charlotte Edwards: Captain of the all conquering England Women’s Cricket Team.
  • Jessica Ennis: UK No.1 Heptathlete, won silver at World Championships.    
  • Tamsin Greenway: captain Of The Surrey Storm, bronze medal winner at the netball World Championships.       
  • Helen Jenkins: British No.1 Triathlete, qualified for Olympics after winning the Hyde Park Event.        
  • Sarah Stevenson: Won gold at the 2011 Tae Kwon Do World Championships.      
  • Kelly Smith: England Striker who competed in the Women’s Football World Cup earlier this year.        
  • Hayley Turner: Rode 83 winners in 2011, including two Group One wins.    
  • Beth Tweddle: Grabbed gold at European Gymnastics in Berlin.       
  • Chrissie Wellington: Added a fourth Ironman World Championship title in 2011.                                                                                                                                                                                            
Vote Online until Midday 20th December
Vote In Shop until 9.30pm on the 18th December
Winner Announced on 21st December 2011

Um, William Hill, I know you have better things to do than work on basic literacy skills, like betting on sport, but perhaps you could hire a new person to write your press releases? Capital Letters Do Not Go Everywhere.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

OBJECT: news and events

* Saturday November 26th - RECLAIM THE NIGHT!
Join OBJECT and march with thousands of women through central London to reclaim the streets, calling for an end to violence against women. Look for the OBJECT banner at the assembly point so that we can sing and chant together as we march. More info here

International Conference featuring leading academics and activists from the UK, US, Australia and Norway, including Prof Gail Dines, author of 'Pornland' and Jennifer Hayashi Danns, author of 'Stripped', plus OBJECT, Imkaan, Women's Support Project and many more. Places are limited so advance booking is strongly advised. For further details and registration see:

* OBJECT is advising the Advertising Regulator, the ASA
Following our roundtable meeting with the Prime Minister, OBJECT is now acting as an advisor to the advertising regulator, the ASA. The ASA have committed to stricter regulation of adverts which hyper-sexualise women as part of their commitment to tackle the sexualisation and commercialisation of children. Recent succsses include a decision to ban a new series of Lynx adverts which were degrading to women. You can complain about an advert here

* Protest outside the Miss World Finals
November 6th: OBJECT joined London Feminist Network, Million Women Rise and UK Feminista to revive the spirit of the 1970 protest outside the Miss World Finals in London. Wearing sashes emblazoned with ‘MissOgynist’ and ‘MissRepresented’, protestors sang and chanted to make the message clear: 'Beauty pageants are sexist and outdated and they have no place in twenty-first century Britain!'
See news coverage here
See OBJECT factsheet on beauty pageants here

* Fem 11
November 12th: OBJECT were delighted to run a workshop for 700 people at the inspiring and motivating Fem 11 conference. We were honoured to meet so many dedicated and courageous individuals and we were pleased to have the oportunity to question Mayoral candidates about whether they would publically support a campaign to end the sexual objectification of women in the press. The answers were positive - now is the time to ensure that they live up to their promises. Email any responses you get to

* Lap Dancing Clubs - Update
Ongoing: To find out the latest news about how councils across the country are using their new licensing powers to regulate the lap dancing industry and to learn more about how you can have your say in the licensing of lap dancing clubs, please see the OBJECT website here  Take action now!

* Book and Nomination - Jennifer Hayashi Danns to carry the Olympic Flame
OBJECT has nominated Jennifer for her outstanding work in raising awareness of the harmful realities of lap dancing. Jennifer's nomination has been accepted and she is now in with a chance of being a Torchbearer in the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. You can view Jennifer's nomination here  Details of Jennifer's book (co-edited with OBJECT's former lobbyist, Sandrine Leveque) can be found here

* OBJECT in new book 'Big Porn Inc.'
"With contributions from leading world experts and activists, Big Porn Inc offers a cutting edge exposé of the hidden realities of a multi-billion dollar global industry that promotes itself as a fashionable life-style choice... This fearless book will change the way you think about pornography forever." For more reviews and to order a copy of the book see here

all text (c) OBJECT

Monday, 21 November 2011

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe: Lessons on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

On the first anniversary of Lynne Featherstone MP's appointment as the UK Government's Champion on International Violence Against Women The Gender and Development Network invites you to reflect on
the year passed and the year to come. The debate will be from 1-3 pm on Thursday 24 November 2011 in Committee Room 6 at the House of Commons.

  • Lynne Featherstone MP, Champion on International Violence Against Women
  • Rt Hon Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State for International Development
  • Netsai Mushonga, Director of the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ)
  • Selay Ghaffar, Executive Director, Humanitarian Assistance for Women and Children in Afghanistan (HAWCA)
  • The event will be chaired by the ever-brilliant Jane Martinson, Women’s Editor of The Guardian
RSVP by 22nd November to

Please attend this event to demonstrate to the ministers how seriously you take the issue of violence against women, and to match the commitment the government is showing in sending two ministers to  speak at the event.

The above notice was sent to me by Womankind Worldwide, an international charity whose work I admire greatly and with whom I hope to work and support more intensively next year. In the meantime, don’t miss their Three Butterflies Lunch on Friday 25 November 2011 at The Savoy Hotel, London. The Three Butterflies Lunch will raise much needed funds for Womankind’s Worldwide’s work to end violence against women, increase women’s participation and secure women’s human rights. The speakers this year are Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the South Bank Centre and Netsai Mushonga, a human rights defender and Nobel prize nominee from WW partner the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. Find out more and buy tickets here.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Amnesty: Write for Rights

Amnesty International is launching a new Write for Rights campaign in celebration of the organisation’s 50th anniversary and to mark International Human Rights Day. Amnesty's other celebration of its 50th year was to launch Amnesty TV, an online global human rights series made by 11 white men and 0 women. Of the men, only one, Chris Atkins, had any human rights experience (the others were from British telly comedy). When challenged about the all-male makeup of the team Atkins told me that "positive discrimination harms the very people it is supposed to support." Read all about it here.

Let's hope they can do better with their new campaign, details (from a press release) below:

Amnesty, the pioneers of activism, is encouraging people to pick up a pen and change a person’s life in a return to the classic, hand-written letter, which has proved such a powerful tool for change. Millions of people around the globe take all forms of action for Amnesty’s campaigns, from online petitions and other methods of digital communication to public rallies and demonstrations. But in the organisation’s 50th year, the humble hand-written letter is being championed once again, in a “penaissance”.

It is hoped that more people than ever before will write a letter demanding action on one of the ten cases in the Write for Rights campaign. The cases illustrate the diversity of Amnesty’s work; from people facing the death penalty to communities facing forced eviction and women who are challenging the impunity which allows soldiers in Mexico to avoid justice for rape.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK [yes, it's a woman! Thanks, sister], said:
In 1961, when Amnesty was started, our founding members had no idea whether ordinary people writing letters to Heads of State and other people in power would make any difference. It turns out that it did, and it still does.“These days, we Tweet the President of Azerbaijan, or e-mail the head of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles – and we will continue to deploy every weapon in our arsenal - but the humble, classic letter is a uniquely formidable tool. A letter has the power to embarrass, persuade, protect, coerce and force people to alter their behaviour, and ultimately to change the world. If you want to right the wrongs, write about them.
The ten individuals and groups who feature in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign, include; Jabbar Savalan, a 20 year old history student in Azerbaijan who is serving a prison sentence for anti-government comments he posted on Facebook; 75 year old Hakamada Iwao, believed to be the world's longest serving death row inmate who has spent the last 43 years awaiting execution in Japan and Inés Ferndández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, two rape survivors in Mexico who have tirelessly campaigned to have the perpetrators of the attack brought to justice.

So... on Saturday 10 December (Human Rights Day) Amnesty International is hoping that an unprecedented number of people across the UK and around the world, will write to people with the power to stop human rights abuses. Thousands of school pupils across the UK will be writing letters on behalf of the cases on Friday 9 December. To find out more about the ten cases, click here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Women and Film in Africa: Overcoming Social Boundaries conference at the University of Westminster

The University of Westminster’s Africa Media Centre is celebrating the achievements of female African filmmakers who have overcome the double oppression of patriarchy and colonialism to produce some of the most original and thought provoking films it is possible to see today.

The Africa Media Centre is bringing together notable female African directors, actors, scriptwriters and academics from all over the globe for a two day conference in London on 19 and 20 November. Filmmakers will share experiences, reflect on the contributions made by pioneering women from the past up to and including the present day and discuss the influence that women have in the television and film industry and on audiences in Africa.

The keynote speakers are as follows:
  • Jihan El-Tahri is an Egyptian-French writer, director and producer of documentary films. Her award-winning films include documentaries filmed in the Congo, Angola, Zambia, Tunisia and other parts of the world, including Saudi Arabia. Her latest film Behind the Rainbow deals with the transition of the ANC from a liberation organization into South Africa’s ruling party.
  • Yaba Badoe is a Ghanaian-British documentary maker, journalist and novelist; she is a visiting scholar at the University of Ghana. Her directing and producing credits include the award-winning documentary The Witches of Gambaga the story of a community of women condemned to live as witches in Northern Ghana.
The two-day programme includes film screenings and over 40 presentations by filmmakers, actors, academics and other contributors from Africa, Europe and America.

Jane Thorburn, co-director of the Africa Media Centre, says:
The immense contributions by female filmmakers are sadly underrepresented, both in industry debates and academic research. This conference represents a great opportunity to learn at first hand how so many African women filmmakers have successfully made films and documentaries despite the additional difficulties of working in Africa.
Topics will include the following themes: the Influence of Feminism on African filmmakers, women in front of and behind the camera in African film, women in the African feature film industry, women in technical roles in film, video and television in Africa, women documentary makers in Africa, gender and the representation of women in African film, audiences for films by African women/female audiences in Africa, case histories of leading African women film makers, women scriptwriters, African women acting in video, film and television, the censorship and the portrayal of African women in film and television, the role of NGOs in commissioning women filmmakers and issue-based films, how African governments have helped or hindered filmmaking by African women.

Event details:
  • Full conference: Standard rate £135. One day rate £95
  • Full conference: Student rate £55.  One day rate £40.
  • You can register here.
  • Fees cover: conference pack, lunch, coffee/tea, a wine reception and administration fees.
  • Please follow the link here or here 

Text (c) The University of Westminster press release

Friday, 11 November 2011

A letter from a listener

"Hi Bidisha

I’ve just been directed to your piece on women in radio by a young woman, the daughter of my friend. My friend and I share regular tallies of the low numbers of any women’s voices on the Today programme. Lots of rage and gnashing of teeth. I have written to the producers/editors/ complaints departments in vain.

My point is that not only is there a dearth of women presenters – women are routinely not invited on to the Today programme to discuss the topics presented, women’s names are not even referred to in discussions. The words “her”and “she” are not heard. Education controversy – let’s wheel out Chris Woodhead, Anthony Seldon – because clearly there has never been a notable women headteacher or schools inspector. It’s not just laziness, a question of the usual suspects invited on the programme over and over again - it’s a powerful bias that ensures that women’s voices simply don’t matter, that women don’t matter. I sit and listen and watch the minutes tick by as we are not only marginalised, but are inaudible, invisible, non-existent.

You could land here from Mars, tune in to the Today programme and - on some days - I kid you not – up to an hour later not have a clue that women exist at all.

I’m 60 in December – all that struggle in the 1970’s - and I cannot bear it. How many other young women are going to protest?

Another point - if Woman's Hour can respond at 10am to a breaking news story and get women on the show - academic/politician/vox pop/historian/scientist/other worker or professional/whatever - to interview, just why can't the Today programme do the same?!

I also emailed Matthew Bannister on Last Word a while ago to ask him how is that women don't seem to be dying nearly as much as men- and I've noticed the programme has improved somewhat - at least he replied to me and said they were trying."

Related articles:

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

All That I Am by Anna Funder

All That I Am is one of the most impressive, frightening studies of the approach and aftermath of war that I’ve ever read. It is about precursors and consequences, clues and fallout, foreboding and legacy, assembled with the single-minded intelligence of a detective sifting through other people’s lies, regrets, self-justifications, denials, hidden heroism and memory.

The book is, as Anna Funder says in her afterword, an act of imagining and recreating the skin, sinew and muscle that once connected the bones of real events. It features a wide cast of refreshingly intelligent and articulate people from the German playwright Ernst Toller to Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein and W H Auden – men honoured by history for their creative gifts, pioneering discoveries, genius for self-expression, depth, political engagement and principles. It covers Hitler’s emergence as a leader in the long aftermath of World War I, focusing on the six years of his increasing suppression of intellectual, critical, political and democratic activities before the outbreak of World War II. We observe the ruthlessness with which he implemented new law after new law, steadily breaking all conventions of justice, equality, democratic protection and freedom, in a stunningly audacious campaign of Nazi double-think. Funder’s genius – so obvious in her award winning non-fiction book Stasiland – is for uncovering vital, devastating truths about power and the ease with which those who want it get it, by lies and force.

Many things are known about Hitler and the Holocaust but that ridiculous, terrifying man did not come out of nowhere. All That I Am is the riveting story of the pre-events, the violent crushing of opposition and the sabotage and betrayal of the resistance. Its hero is not any of the Great Men I’ve namedropped above but two real women, Ruth and Dora, political activists who were instrumental in fighting Hitler every step of the way, assisting refugees leaving Germany, trying to preserve the intellectual and political life of the soon-to-be-disenfranchised and writing frantically from America, London and elsewhere in Europe to convince the rest of the world that Hitler was a threat. It is a novel about great unseen acts of heroism and resistance and a tribute to the impressive personalities of ‘ordinary’ women and men who did not see themselves in a heroic light and whose political beliefs went against the notion of individual heroism.

The novel presents us with a completely new method of looking at events. The only way to depict a shattered world is through a shattered story. The people, the locations and the times are disparate. Friends are separated; the present and memories of the past contrast sharply; methods of depiction splinter and fail, leaving gaps, contradictions and overlaps; there are different takes on the same events.

Ruth is a survivor – and, in real life, a friend of Funder’s – living out an ignominious but witty old age in present-day Sydney, satirising her own physical failings with the confidence of a woman who has earned her sarcasm. She is a former activist who has travelled the world and served time in Hitler’s prisons, but is patronised and treated as a child – or simply ignored – by the people around her. She is treated as though she is a stupid, useless female with no story. In truth she has been an active participant at the heart of world events. One day she receives an old edition of Ernst Toller’s (real) autobiography, I Was A German, found in storage in the New York hotel he lived in briefly as an exiled intellectual in 1939, using a young émigré, Clara, as a secretary. The edition is full of interpolated sheets of paper, Toller’s own act of restitution, dictated to Clara. The extra pages tell a (true) story from the early 1930s that Toller had omitted out of ego and guilt – that of Dora, his lover, comrade and secretary (and also Ruth’s cousin), who was caught and imprisoned by Hitler’s police in her attempts to smuggle Toller’s papers out of the country.

By the time Ruth receives the package Toller is long dead, Dora is also dead, most of the friends are dead and history has seen what Hitler did. As Ruth reads Toller’s telling of Dora’s story she reflects on her own friendship with Dora during the same period. Ruth tells the story herself in parallel, bringing their international circle of friends, comrades and colleagues back to life. Together, skilfully, perfectly, Funder assembles a portrait of an entire society of richness, culture, bravery and fervent political participation, which has been written out of history or overshadowed by what came next. Toller is an author writing with apparent honesty, although we realise just how much he has left out and just how enormous his ego is. Ruth is herself a gifted photographer – her first camera was given to her by Dora – who works for hours to frame, take and develop a shot. Both art forms are created not just by the addition of words of visuals but by subtraction, editing, erasing, the deliberate and precise construction of images or narrative. Both creators are fallible; as Ruth says, “it is entirely possible to watch something happen and not to see it at all.”

Throughout, Funder excavates the negative spaces of the stories, dramas and pain that happened before, between, around, and the anguish of those whose considerable power had been defused through forcible exile. She makes stunning and tragic revelations about the intensity of anti-Semitism and racism in England and of the Nazi German presence in London, something I had not known about. She writes movingly about the cultural, linguistic, intellectual and social devastation of all displaced people, whether they are refugees, objectors, exiles, asylum seekers, migrants or prisoners. What she has to say will resonate far beyond those touched by the specific  consequences of Nazism.

One observes with growing alarm the negative transformation of German society in its steady and (for Hitler, deliberate, concerted and systematic) plunge into hellish destruction. The novel begins with a disturbing mixture of  tragedy and hope. Dora and Ruth are “completely German” secular Jews, wealthy, clever, stylish, successful, highly cultured, from homes which are not just good but lavish. It is a depiction of existence before subjugation. The ending of World War 1 creates a brief desire for a pacifist revolution and a far longer legacy of damage to its mentally and physically wounded former soldiers, many of whom are German Jews. There are half-gruesome, half-amusing scenes amongst the horribly injured inmates of an army sanatorium. Funder’s excellently crisp descriptions of fighting and carnage have a shocking immediacy, as do her revelations about German’s secret war hospitals for those so wounded that they would be unfit for civilian life and unsuitable for public visibility lest they lower morale and “frighten women on trams.”

The way power- and violence-hungry governments lie to their people to justify war is one of the main themes of novel, and is just as relevant now as then (Hi, Tony Blair, if you’re reading this). Hitler rises with a powerful conviction that Germany’s loss in WW1 is a humiliation which must be avenged, first by making it strong, pure and infallible from the inside. For all his outward bombast and his easily caricatured manner, he is a far from hot-heated politician. He begins with ragged demonstrations by callow Swastika-wearing youths but in the six short years covered by the novel he has developed multiple vicarious/proxy bodies of brutality – the SA, the SS, the Gestapo. Ruth, Dora and their friends go from being on the inside – prized as Berlin intellectuals, smug, secretive and sexy – to being on the outside, in fear of their lives.

If you were reading this in a speculative fiction novel, the coming dystopia would be so clichéd as to be unbelievable. But it was all real. Dora finds “a list of thirty-three people Berlin is making stateless by decree. Because of political opposition or…for having ‘violated the duty of loyalty to the realm and the people, as well as damaging German interests’…They’re taking everything – houses, flats, cars – stripping people of their qualifications, impounding their bank accounts, cancelling passports. They are making us legally cease to exist.” Well before the Holocaust Hitler’s goons set up, follow, hunt down, drive out or kill all dissidents, journalists, political critics, challenging political parties, intellectuals and other opponents: “When they found eight Communists hiding in a cellar in Mitte they simply boarded it up. People walking to work heard their calls from the vent at pavement level but no one dared help.”

At the same time, Dora and Ruth and their comrades discover that youth soldier training camps have sprung up all over the country, that production of weaponry and air and road transportation vehicles has begun in regional factories and that the development of electricity and wirelesses for all homes has been mobilised to enable the Nazi propaganda campaign (the radio should be renamed a “Hitler Hearer”, one character quips).  Hitler introduces laws which suspend all prior notions of justice, democratic process and political engagement and – to put very simplistically – imprisons or kills anyone who is not for him. The Holocaust grows out of this fervent act of mass ridding: “thousands of anti-Hitler activists were being held in ‘protective custody in makeshift SA barracks – empty factories, a water tower… even a disused brewery. Soon there was not enough room. That was when they set about building the concentration camps.”

All That I Am is a fully-formed novel as well as a devastating depiction of real events. Its artistry can be found in the unity and cohesion of all of its images. Every phrase or observation is related to the linked themes of ageing, memory and narratives of the past; of survivors’ guilt hidden or revealed; of covert political activity and covert emotional dynamics; the revelation and withholding of political and personal truths; breakages in narrative, distinctive narrative forms and interrupted narratives like rebels’ coded messages, censored reports and lists of the condemned. This is not fine writing for fineness’s sake but a way of striking allusions against each other to reinforce the whole. Seemingly innocuous comments – like the ageing Ruth observing that a hospital gown is designed to “remind one of the fragility of human dignity, to ensure obedience to instruction, and as a guarantee against last-minute flight” – are devastating in the context of the wider narrative. The young Ruth discovers her talent for photography – “The camera’s shutter was a lever at the side of the box. It made a long, soft, metal sound, the sound of capture and theft” – which is exactly what is to happen.

The novel is also a work of gendered justice for which I am grateful. Ruth and Dora’s milieu had many women participants who were just as gifted, just as fearless and worked just as hard as their male comrades. The women were instrumental in assisting people of both sexes and all classes trying to flee Germany, and of alerting the wider world to Hitler’s threat. They were, additionally, prominent spokeswomen in the fight against the oppression of women before and during Hitler’s time. However, despite what they say, they suffered themselves from this oppression during their own lifetimes and have suffered from the erasure of women from history in the many decades since.

Toller and the others are Names, great men, great artists. As Toller ruefully says in the novel, Auden leaves lunch to write a poem that will still be read in two hundred years’ time (hey, but not by me). Thomas Mann and Einstein show up to speak for Toller’s release from prison. The men are in a boys’ club supported by the world and by history. They know each other and help each other; and history knows and has helped them. It ignores the women. Despite the women’s deluded proclamations of equality (and the men’s patronising ones), they are voluntary subordinates – Dora is Toller’s little assistant, safeguarding his genius while he marries someone else. His guilt, when it comes, is too late and too self-indulgent to prompt anything but contempt. Ruth is the girlfriend of (real) star journalist Hans Wesemann and sees herself, with typical self-abasement, as “an anchor for his high-flying.” 

Funder exposes these contradictions with sly satire and the fineness of a true artist. The men’s torments are funnelled into masterful works of art, heroic reputations, connections, cultural power, international fame and worship, which they are given by everyone and take full advantage of even when in the depths of existential pain. Toller, dictating in New York in 1939, writes sleazily and objectifyingly about his new secretary Clara, and just as sleazily and self-justifyingly about the old secretary, Dora. Ruth writes about Dora with a very different emphasis – she has human respect and understanding for her energy and intelligence. This is what makes All That I Am a work of art and not merely a factual fiction: its flawless differentiation of voice and viewpoint, its subtle calibrations of psychology and subtle revelation of people’s individuality, nobility and hypocrisy. The women are left with no name or legacy or reputation for genius or heroism while the men – Toller, Spender, Isherwood, Einstein, Auden, Mann – have everything gifted to them for free by history. On this point I thought of how much has changed since Hitler’s terrible triumphs (as he saw them) ….and yet, how little has changed, that it has taken until 2011 for just two or three of the heroines of the 1930s to be shown proper respect, given credit and a place in official history.

Funder’s book is  an impeccable act of cultural restitution, a beautifully written novel, a strong countermove against the neglect that official history has perpetrated against her heroines and a true horror story about the incremental development of fascism, dictatorship, autocracy and genocide.

All That I Am is published by Penguin.