Progress Is In Danger With Boris Johnson’s Cabinet By Kelly Grehan

Born in 1980, I came of age not long after the 1997 Labour government swept to power. Clause 28 was quickly abolished, civil partnerships, adoption by gay people, The Good Friday Agreement, the introduction of the Equality and Human Rights Commission,giving all full time workers the right to 24 days paid holiday and the introduction of 2 weeks paternity leave quickly followed. It seemed it was just a matter of waiting for all these changes to become the norm and the more equal society we craved would follow.

Sadly, the naivety of such a time now seems wistful. After a decade of cuts we have seen a decline in our quality of life for the overwhelming majority of us and divisions between people are at the highest I’ve ever seen. Now with Boris Johnson and his morally bankrupt cabinet in charge I”m genuinely fearful that the rights we thought we had taken for granted are under threat.

I simply haven’t the space or time to list all the things Boris Johnson has done to demonstrate he is unfit for public office, but suffice to say a man who described homosexuals as ‘tank top wearing bum boys’ and compared Muslim women to ‘letter boxes’ is very unlikely to stand up for the rights of either group.

I’ve heard people defend Johnson, saying it’s ‘just banter,’ or ‘his sense of humour.’ In my opinion these Johnson apologists need to takea look at themselves – an extremely privileged straight, white man mocking members of groups known to suffer from massive discrimination and who are recipients of high amounts of hate crime can not be defended.

It’s logical to assume that, if the person leading our country engages in such nasty rhetoric without consequence then others will follow. This is devastating.

As if it’s not bad enough our children are growing up with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister their education is under the control of Gavin Williamson, named Education Secretary just 85 days after his sacking over a National Security Council leak (which he denied). Can anyone imagine a situation where you would be welcomed back into a job in these circumstances?

Then we have Priti Patel as Home Secretary.

She was forced to resign from Theresa May’s government after revelations she had conducted secret meetings with the Israeli government. She is also a supporter of the death penalty. She was slammed in December for suggesting the government could use possible Brexit food shortages in Ireland as “leverage”.

New Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab appeared to have spent most of his period as Brexit Secretary in a state of confusion; famously admitting he had not “understood the significance of the Dover-Calais crossing.” he also admitted to not having read the The Good Friday Agreement.

In 2011 Mr Raab said “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots” and said it was time for men to start “burning their briefs”.

In 2017 he said most food bank users were not “languishing in poverty” but were instead had “cash flow” problems and has branded Brits “the worst idlers in the world”.

Chief Whip Mark Spencer is best known for comments he made in 2015 when he suggesting a “dying” benefit claimant, sanctioned after he turned up four minutes late, should “learn the discipline of timekeeping”.

Although ,surely an improvement on Chris Grayling, new Transport Minister Grant Shapps is another appointment to the cabinet with a dubious history. He was demoted by David Cameron from his job as party co-chairman and Minister without Portfolio after revelations about his second job and use of the assumed names “Michael Green” and “Sebastian Fox.”

Esther McVey, is the tories 9th Housing Minister in as many years. Ms McVey told the House of Commons in December 2013: “In the UK it is right that, you know, more people are visiting – which you’d expect – going to foodbanks.’

She also claimed reports of cuts to benefits were fake news.

I read the profiles of these “characters” Boris Johnson has seen fit to appoint and I feel genuinely afraid as to what policies they may pursue. The lack of compassion, adherence to facts and history of defence of rights and libraries is chilling.

I wish us all luck.

The Shame Surrounding Abortion Is Victory For The Patriarchy By Kelly Grehan

Abortion has been legal in this country since 1967 (well most of it, Northern Ireland continues to cling on to a law made in 1861).  Whilst the criminalisation of termination is no longer in the living memory of many people, a culture of shame surrounding abortion continues to perminate.

 

One in three women have had a termination, but it remains a subject never discussed in polite company and very few people tell family and friends about their experience.  Whereas people regularly announce and ask advice about various ailments on their social media feeds seeking a termination is done in hushed tones –  and so the stigma and assumption of remorse remains.  

 

Earlier this year the BBC drama Call The Midwife, featured a storyline where a woman died as a result of backstreet abortion.  At the end of the episode, viewers were directed to the BBC’s Action Line website that provides information about issues aired in programmes.  Except that this time there was no information about abortion. The BBC claimed the issue was “contentious” and that it could not be seen as “supporting one side”.  It remains unclear what they mean by this, how can providing information about a medical procedure be ‘supporting a side?’  Would they follow this argument through about other things once illegal such as say, equal marriage, committing suicide or marrying someone German?  We can only hope that they don’t think they fact some people fought against changes in all these areas does not mean the bbc think we need to present differing viewpoints on them too. To be fair to the BBC an outcry has seen them apologise for this decision.

 

Abortion should be presented as a medical procedure accessed by some people.  It is not a case of ‘picking a side.’ After all there are some medical treatments which various cultures and groups are opposed to such as blood transfusions and vaccinations but we do not hide away information on how to access either of them lest someone take offence.  

 

Abortion has always been opposed by some, for the simple reason it gives women control over their bodies and situation.  

Does the attitude of secrecy towards abortion derive from the fact it is only accessed by women and the patriarchy dictates that womanhood is defined by the wanting, having and raising of children?

Although most of us are pro-choice there remains in our subconscious, an expectation that women not wanting a pregnancy are a bit odd.  This presents itself in the way women without children are continually asking when they will be having children and if past child bearing age why they did not have any.  My experience is that childless men are not held to account on this matter!  Men do not seem to be judged on their contraceptive failures either!

 

We should move towards accepting that abortion is a common part of life and as such should stop treating it as something that should be shrouded in shame.  Lots of things in life are not ideal, but that does not mean they should be taboo.

The Notion That Some Jobs Are ‘Women’s Work’ Hinders Equal Pay By Kelly Grehan

So, the court of appeal have ruled that Asda’s lower-paid store staff, who are mainly female, can compare themselves to higher-paid warehouse workers, who are mainly male, in pay claims.  

This claim could cost ASDA £8 billion in settlements, but first staff need to demonstrate the jobs are of equal value.

They might find this hard – because any job primarily performed by men is considered somehow harder.  

 

When ever the pay gap is discussed the response is often to point out that women pay the price (literally) for the decisions they make with relation to maternity and childcare, and there may be some truth in that, but there is another issue – all work traditionally or predominantly undertaken by women is considered of less value than work traditionally or predominately undertaken by men.

According to the Office of National Statistics the jobs in the UK with the lowest annual pay are:

● Waiters and waitresses

● Leisure and theme park attendants

● Bar staff

● Hairdressers

● Launderers and dry cleaners

● Kitchen and catering assistants

● Check-out operators

● Care escorts

● School crossing patrol

● Cleaners

● Nurses

● Pharmacy dispensers

● Sewing machinists

● Elementary admin

● Florists

 

It is hard to argue against the fact that most people employed in those roles are women.

 

It is interesting that, 50 years since the machinists at Ford started a strike which led to the Equal Pay Act 1970, sewing machinists remain on poor wages.  

 

Let’s look at some other examples and see if we can find reasons for their low wage:-

 

98% of nursery workers are female.

Most will have spent 2 years obtaining a level 3 qualification.  

Most can expect to earn minimum wage.

Let’s just think about that for a moment – this is one of the most important jobs imaginable – looking after under 5’s; changing their nappies, teaching them to share, teaching them to count, making them feel secure.  

But, somewhere along the line we decided people doing this role were only entitled to minimum wage.

Anyone who has ever been to a florist know it is not cheap! I had naively assumed the reason flowers cost so much more in the florist in comparison to in the supermarket or on the market was due to paying for the expertise of the worker, but it seems not.  

This is another minimum wage occupation.  

It is, ironic that the ASDA ruling occurred on the same day that Jess Phillips spoke in the House of Commons on proposals to impose a £30,000 pay threshold for EU workers to be considered skilled.  

She commented that many of her constituents do skilled work, including nursing, but earn less than £30,00.  She then went on to say “I have met many people who earn way more than £30,000 and have literally no discernible skills, not even one.”

Isn’t this something we have all experienced? People paid lots and you wonder ‘how?’

Are they usually men?

Historically, women did all the unpaid labour in the home.  This is no longer the case, but knocking down the culture that assumes work undertaken by women is of less monetary value has proven hard and hence women earn less.  

If we gave more value to the jobs that are important but are generally paid less then employers might feel more inclined to pay them more, and by default we may begin to address the equal pay discrepancies.

 

 

Mandatory Reselection Aids Representation By Lily Madigan

For the uninitiated, mandatory reselection is the idea that Labour MPs should have to convince their local members to reselect them to run for parliament before every general election.

For some this is controversial but being an MP is an important role with a lot of responsibility and a big pay cheque to match. This shouldn’t be a factional issue, as it is so often framed, but a reflection of the very party these MPs claim to represent.

It is about meritocracy, democracy and the fundamental truth that we should have the best Labour members on our benches.

I hope I’m not alone in assuming these ‘best Labour members’ might just so happen to not be a group for the most part; comprised of old, white, cis straight men.

Young people are a perfect place to start.

Labour’s membership has surged since Corbyn became leader, bringing a new focus to the political power young people possess.

We are the activists on the ground doing door-to-door canvassing and leafleting, making a difference in marginal seats and university towns.

We saw ourselves represented in Labour’s 2017 manifesto that promised to abolish our tuition fees, fund our mental health services and create housing that we would have a hope of affording.

The political landscape has undoubtedly changed in our favour so why shouldn’t the makeup of our MPs?

The average age of an MP is 50, with only 14 (2%) aged 18–29, and the Labour Party having the most MPs over the age of 60.

It’s unsurprising just how badly we’ve had it politically when the reality is we are horribly outmatched. It’s essential the value we bring to our Party is recognised.

We will suffer most from the depredation capitalism has caused our environment.

It’s us who must endure the mistakes of the financial sector, rescued by mortgaging our future.

It’s the young who will live harder lives than our parents because of the neo-liberalism pedalled by the Tories and the last Labour government. We are disproportionately likely to be in unpaid internships, zero hours jobs, and when we can get a job we are paid less than older people for the same work.

We see a similar phenomena across other minority groups as well; women; those with disabilities; BAME and LGBT people, all suffer from a lack of representation in Parliament and would benefit from mandatory reselection.

The reality is the most secure seats will continue to be held by the same people unless something changes.

This lack of representation hinders the policies we create.

For example, a massive issue facing LGBT people is homelessness but without an adequate amount of LGBT people with voting privileges and a voice in Parliament, we receive inadequate consideration. This is worse at the intersections of groups, for example, disabled trans people suffer both from inadequate access to housing period, as well as a lack of accessible housing.

The reason we must fight so hard for tuition fees; affordable housing; decent jobs; and things like adequately funded mental health services, is because we are systematically underrepresented in the House of Commons.

Minority representation will transform British society, but we need to be on the benches and we need the chance to compete with other members for the limited number of seats within our party.

Mandatory reselection should be a priority for anyone passionate about increasing representation, not simply to meet a numbers game, but because with it the political priorities of this country will shift markedly in our favour — and ultimately, they will shift left.

Trans Women Are Real Women. Deny This If You Must, But Not In My Name. By Kelly Grehan

I’ve always been drawn to the statement by American mythologist Joseph Campbell that “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Being yourself strikes me as the true route to happiness and something that we should all want for each other and to try to help others to achieve.

But others clearly disagree.  

In recent months there have been increasing reports that ‘radical feminists’ oppose trans women using women’s spaces, standing on all women shortlists and joining women’s groups.

As a feminist, this situation has left me fuming.  For me, being a feminist is about allowing all people to be who they want to be, to show kindness to all and to oppose all oppression.

I just cannot understand the motivation of those trying to stop trans women (and men) from being who they want to be.

One argument I have heard is that, having been raised as male , trans women have benefitted from male privilege and therefore cannot understand the experiences of cis women.  I find this a bizarre argument. I would guess being stuck in a body you despise all day every day pretty much cancels out any advantage you might have accessed as a male.

From what I have seen trans women suffer the absolute opposite of privilege at every stage of their life.

It is not on the same scale of course, but I have been shocked at the online abuse I have received every time I have tweeted support of trans rights.  Of course, as unpleasant as this was, I simply turned the device off and walked away.

I cannot imagine what it is like to face this abuse every day and have no means of escape.

Abuse against the trans community remains rife.

Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.

A study by equality campaigning charity Stonewall, last year revealed that amongst school pupils who identified as trans 9% had received death threats at school while 84% say they have self-harmed and 45% have tried to take their own lives.

Then there is the argument about who should use what toilet.

Frankly I envy people who have so little to worry about that this consumes their time.  I put this question to them, are they equally concerned that male and female disabled people are expected to share the same toilets?

It’s sad to say, but history tells us we should not be surprised by transphobia.  

People have always been afraid of things outside their own experience and rather than seeking further understanding the default position of many people seems to be to try to drive people of difference away.

We have seen this time and time again, whether the differences concern race, sexuality or even differences in choices like music or dress.

Despite great efforts to see it maligned, feminism is just as needed now as in the past – there are battles still to fight –  America have a misogynist president; we have yet to achieve equal pay; despite the ‘me too’ movement women continue to suffer sexual harassment; legislation concerning pregnancy, maternity and childcare continue to be inadequate.

So why would any feminist concern themselves with trying to exclude an already marginalised group?  It makes no sense to me.

And you know what defines everyone in the trans community?

They have had the courage, against all social convention, knowing the abuse and exclusion that is likely to follow, to stand up and be who they really are.

I’d say that’s the definition of courage. Such people are an asset, not a threat to the ideals of feminsim.

Feminism is not about telling other people who they are or who they can be.

At its core it is about aiding people to be themselves.

Experiencing feelings of transphobia?

Want to exclude others?

Then there is nothing I can do to stop you.

But please do not do it in the name of feminism!

Can We Talk About Periods? By Sarah Crook and Kelly Grehan

Recently we came across the picture above and loved it.  We talked about copying the wording and using it for an art exhibition on women we are involved with. We decided it was not suitable for a family audience, which got us thinking about why periods are such a taboo subject?

Why aren’t they freely discussed?

We remember our own mothers being shocked when sanitary towel adverts were first allowed on TV in the early 1990s.

In fact in 1993 an advert featuring Claire Raynor for Vespre Sanitary towels was banned following 700 complaints that concerned matters such offence being taken ‘about the format in which lots of women talk freely and easily in their own words about the product.’

Comments included things like ‘I didn’t know where to look when it came on and my husband was sitting beside me.’

The complaints led to sanitary adverts being banned between 4pm and 9pm.

More recently the advert above was banned on the New York subway because of the language used.

The first-time menstrual blood was depicted as red in an advert (as opposed to as blue) was in October 2017!

Why does the mention of periods remain a taboo?

Why does a perfectly natural process, one which without which we wouldn’t exist, still cause embarrassment and shame?

Does ‘discomfort’ come from ancient beliefs that menstruation is dirty?

This belief continued in numerous cultures and religions and was one reason why women were deemed unfit to hold positions such as priests.

The Old Testament makes numerous references to bleeding women being unclean (see here http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp)

Given that they are experienced by half the population, women are likely to bleed for between 2,250 to 3,000-plus days across their lifetimes and a quarter of women of reproductive age are menstruating at any one time – So why are periods still such a taboo?

From the time we start menstruating; girls are taught that periods are something to keep a secret and that sanitary towels are to be kept hidden.

Research has found that women go to lengths to hide their period — from concealing tampons and pads at the bottom of their shopping basket, to putting a used pad in their handbag when there is no bin in a bathroom.

We recall trying to work out the least conspicuous way to go to the toilet at work with a tampon, is it to take our whole bag, hide it up our sleeve or squeeze it tightly in our fist and hope no one sees?

Some women experience their first period as young as 8 years old now. Feelings of shame or embarrassment at a completely natural process are reinforced before they even hit being a teenager.

If it’s not openly discussed and spoken about honestly by all in society then how are we supposed to allay their fears and feelings of shame?

Only when periods are openly and honestly discussed in the media, at home and at schools can we set about change.

Education for all that enables women to feel empowered and comfortable by the natural processes of their bodies is needed.

We have both started using moon cups and it is astonishing how many women view them as a “bit disgusting!”

Of course, this stigma continues into other female associated words, with most women terrified to use the word vagina, often using euphemisms like ‘mini’ or ‘nunny.’

Very rarely do we hear the word vagina used in conversation or the media.

We would guess this avoidance to talk about our own bodies leads to the gynecological cancers being often undiagnosed until it is too late.  

Women suffering in silence or too scared to speak to doctors with health issues related to vaginas. We don’t tend to have nicknames for other parts of the body like arms and legs!

We believe stigma around menstruation is a form of misogyny. Negative taboos condition us to understand menstrual function as something to be hidden, something shameful.

This leads on to the issue of period poverty.

Anyone who has seen the film I, Daniel Blake will recall the harrowing scenes where Katie, played by Hayley Squires is driven to shoplifting sanitary towels, having been sanctioned by the benefit office and having found there were no sanitary products at the food bank.

Hayley Sims, ‘I Daniel Blake’

A recent survey of 14 to 21-year olds by Plan International found that 15% of girls have struggled to afford sanitary care at some point, with one in ten girls admitting to borrowing or improvising with sanitary products.

Shockingly, 7% of girls described using socks, newspaper or fabric to get through their period, in place of tampons or pads.

Plan International’s findings highlight that there are a significant number of girls in the UK whose daily lives are impacted by period poverty, both physically and emotionally, as taboo’s around menstruation are impacting girls’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Scotland has taken a step forward to becoming the first country to outlaw period poverty as Labour plans to formally introduce the legislation at the Scottish Parliament.

Monica Lennon’s member’s Bill has won the backing of each of the five parties at Holyrood, giving her the right to press forward.

Her proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill would create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products.

We recently started running a Red Box Project in Dartford (https://www.facebook.com/RedBoxProjectDartford/).

This is a project where women set up drop off points for sanitary products and then give them to schools to give to girls in need.

All the effects of poverty are cruel, of course, but there is something particularly desperate about a girl trying to learn whilst worrying about bleeding through her school uniform, feeling unclean all day and the dreadful impact this has on a girl’s self-esteem.

The fact that periods are treated by taboo by many will reinforce those feelings for that girl.

The response we have had from the community has been fantastic, although we have received criticism, including one woman calling us ‘pseudo feminists’ trying to solve ‘a non-existent problem’ and ‘favouring women over men.’

Of course, this just spurred us on, but it showed the disdain some people hold those unable to afford sanitary products in.

We believe girls, dealing with the misery that puberty almost inevitably brings, as well as all the stresses of school, friendships and modern adolescents, should be spared the embarrassment of period poverty.

We hope our Red Box Project makes some difference.

Women’s Contributions In History is Under Represented… Even In Stone Statues By Kelly Grehan

Today Millicent Fawcett made history as her statue joined the 11 others already at Parliament Square and she became the first woman to feature there.

That it has taken 100 years since some women got the vote for her to be included perhaps, speaks volumes about the contempt women’s roles in history are viewed with.

Millicent Fawcett was a British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer.

She is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women to have the vote, having led the nonviolent suffrage organisation, the NUWSS from 1890-1919, and therefore played a key role in gaining women the vote.

She also engaged in other political activities such as supporting worker rights and overcoming laws which were based on a dual morality for men and women.

Parliament Square is not the only place where women have been overlooked for commemoration.  

Research by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez revealed; of the 925 statues listed in the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association database, only 158 are of a woman as a lone standing statue.

Included in this figure are numerous statues of Queen Victoria and numerous nameless sculptures, typically rendered as naked, curvaceous and reclining.

Criado-Perez commented that if you are a woman “ your best chance of becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.”

The need for female representation was recognised as long ago as 1952 when a correspondent wrote to the Times about women being neglected in statues and memorials. The piece was entitled : “A Man’s World Even in Stone”.

Sadly there does not seem to have been a great deal of progress in the intervening years.  

It is not that women’s roles in history were minor, it is that they have not been celebrated enough to become common knowledge.

Many key women have not been recognised in stone… here are just a few;

Virginia Woolf,

Matchgirl strike leaders Mary Driscoll and Sarah Chapman (who’s pauper’s grave is at risk being moulded over),

Suffragettes including; Jessie Kenney, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst (there is a plaque for the latter on the statue of their mother),

Family planning pioneer Marie Stopes,

Social reformer Octavia Hill,

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson –  the first woman to train to be a Doctor (the rules at the time designed to keep woman from doing so),

Rosalind Franklin – whose x-ray work eventually led to the discovery of the DNA double helix and

The first British astronaut Helen Sharman.

Hard to believe that none of these women have a statue to commemorate them isn’t it?

A campaign for a statue of  Mary Wollstonecraft to be put on Newington Green  has been started.

Wollstonecraft was the author of the 1792 text  “Vindication of the Rights of Women” which was the first book in English arguing for the equality of women and men.

She is also notable as an early human rights advocate, educational pioneer, icon of social mobility, key Enlightenment philosopher, first female war correspondent and mother of Mary Shelley – let us hope this campaign proves successful.

You may ask why this matters, well in my view it matters because history matters.

Much of our cultural identity comes from the people and events we choose to celebrate.

Could a reason why women make up only 32% of the MPs in the House of Commons and local authority councillors be because we are socialised from birth into expecting those in such roles to be men?

I think one reason I have always been so drawn to the stories of the suffragettes is that learning about them  is the only time at school I that I can recall learning about females in history who were not Queens!

Another question is does the nature of many of the male statues being war related lead to a culture where we celebrate achievements in battle high above those in say medicine, or education?

I would say the evidence that we do this is all around us.

So let us celebrate our new statue of Millicent Fawcett, but let the real celebration be when the number of statues of women matches that of men and the number of women inside Parliament does the same.

Donate to the Mary Wollstonecraft statue here https://www.maryonthegreen.org/project.shtml

Petition to save Sarah Chapman’s grave is here https://www.change.org/p/minister-of-justice-save-sarah-chapman-s-grave-a-leader-of-the-1888-matchgirls-strike-trade-union-heroine?recruiter=109957635&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Petition for 50:50 parlaiment here: https://www.change.org/p/50-50-want-to-build-an-inclusive-modern-and-gender-balanced-parliament-it-would-lead-to-more-responsive-and-informed-decision-making-so-everyone-would-benefit-50-50-are-asking-those-in-power-for-solutions-and-taking-action-join-us-5050parliament

Information of some statues that are of women in London http://www.secret-london.co.uk/Women_2.html