Girls are humans too!

The Johann Hari column in the independent this morning, got me going again…I have hardly been blogging of late but every now and then a topic comes up that inspires in me the hopeless desire, in an almost Liberal Polemic type way, to write a series of essays on a subject – an urge almost completely missing from my university career more’s the pity!

There are lots of things in politics that get me quite excited, especially when I am applying them in a practical sense, for example, as a school governor instead of just proselytising on them. BUT there are two subjects that to me a so big and important that I metaphorically pace up and down in my head, I get so worked up about them. One is the current assault on our civil liberties (and anybody else’s, for that matter) and second, and related, is human rights and specifically the lack of human rights that are attributed to women all over the world.

Hari makes a compelling case for the fact that too much respect for multiculturalism makes us blind to what is often a blatant disregard and contempt for the human rights the female half the world. So often our analysis of a situation is based on the experience and sensibilities of men; the experience of a woman is invisible or silenced. But in every oppressed, minority or dispossessed group or culture, the women will be there, at the bottom of the pile.

One of the courses I took at University, as part of my degree in International Relations, was entitled ‘Feminist Theories of International Relations’; at the time it was the only course available in the UK on such a subject. In fact I must have been writing an essay, after all, because I remember my Step Dad’s surprise, as he looked at my pile of books brought home for the holidays from the university library, that it was possible to find enough to say on such a subject to fill one book, let alone the six that were on the kitchen table.

That was during the first round of the Balkans wars and only then was rape becoming recognised, in mainstream as opposed to just feminist dialogue, as a bona fide weapon of war. Of course, it always has been from the Vikings to the fall of Berlin, but it’s only in the last 20 years or so that academic discourse has included it along side analysis of, say, military hardware and intergovernmental organisations. Until that point the experience of women in war, beyond keeping the home fires burning and knitting socks, was yet again invisible.

It’s not just war; a different set of human rights standards exists in everything - from the fact that women in Iran often spend far longer in jail for political crimes than men (see for more info on this topic), for no other reason that I can identify other than a deep seated misogyny, to the approach to educating women in countries and cultures, we may consider as highly educated. It is often just the elite that is so; I have a friend, from the Sinai, whose sister was taken out of school aged 9 to help her mother look after the rest of the kids, whilst he went off to university to study English. Such an education is an impossible dream for her as she can’t actually read. When travelling in Egypt, much is made of experiencing traditional Bedouin culture. I’m sure there’s not many women tourists who would really like to experience it, in all its glory – there’s a lot more to it than camels and tea!

And then, don’t even get me on to the topic of Saudi Arabia! We are all so rightly repulsed by the idea of BAe bribes, hardly blink at their human rights record as it pertains to women, but again are rightly outraged when a western contractor is flogged for smuggling in alcohol.

Human rights and respect for others cultures includes everybody, women and men…and, as Hari points out, we must not allow any fear of appearing racist or intolerant of other cultures get in the way of that.

Prius not so dull after all....

A few months ago I blogged on the topic of how dull but necessary for me I thought the Prius was and how lamentable the lack of choice of cars that seek to mitigate their environmental unfriendliness -I can't quite bring myself around to describing a car as environmentally friendly!

Still waiting for the Mercedes SLK'e for environmental' to come on the market (this is just a dream of mine and not any prior market knowledge) but am pleased to see that Saab has brought out a biofuel adapted engine - great if you live in Norfolk or Somerset, where the majority of the biofuel supply is, as I understand....

So, I'm still stuck with the Prius and actually test drove and ordered one last weekend; I've been a little busy of late, so must have somewhat surprised the salespeople with my premise that an hour and a half was an unreasonably long time to spend test-driving and buying a car. I wouldn't have done it that weekend at all but for the fact the lease on my current car is expiring and I kept receiving letters from the car company to tell me when they were going to be taking it away.

Reconciling myself to the fact that it is an automatic, which is not so bad for driving in the city I was actually pleasantly surprised - although it could be just a novelty factor.

The thing I love most about it thought was for that brief test drive in Bromley, where we just used the battery, I didn't make a horrible noise and I didn't create any pollution to get up anybodies nose! And that is very satisfying....and not dull at all!

Sydenham got there first...

This morning Radio 4 did a piece on a pilot scheme in Middlesbrough where anti social behaviour is be dealt with by the use of ‘talking CCTV’.

So much for Middlesbrough being first; this has already been happening at Sydenham Station, although I don’t know how frequently! One evening last summer, I came into the station to go into town where a couple of young lads were sitting on the back of a bench on the platform, with their feet on the seat. All of a sudden a voice came over the platform speaker, saying something like ; ‘Will the young men on platform one take their feet off the bench. Yes, YOU!’

The effect was immediate, they got down and the rest of us in the station just sort of smirked at them; minor piece of anti social behaviour dealt with.

But as I crossed the bridge over to the London platform I was aware that, although instantly very effective, this did not bode well. It’s also not so hard to extrapolate from John Reid’s latest plans a world where our behaviour is monitored and controlled by the state. If that’s the case, we’re not really that far from 1984, are we? The thing to remember is as well, how easy to implement state surveillance is in this country, as we have more CCTV cameras per head than any other country.

However, it is not enough just to demonize CCTV; I know from my work with the local Safer Neighbourhoods Team in Crystal Palace that a CCTV camera, well advertised and pointing at the right place can transform the quality of lives of residents on estates. And let’s not forget that it can also serve the defence of human rights and civil liberties as Liberty’s calls for an IPCC investigation of the treatment of a woman by the police in an underground car park in Sheffield illustrate.

It is, though, a very typical response from the government, in the face of antisocial behaviour, to resort to a centralised state delivered solution; and how much more centralised do you have to get than a faceless voice over a loud speaker?

If however, we want a solution to low level anti-social behaviour we need to look to ourselves.

If we don’t like the behaviour of our fellow citizens such as putting feet on seats or littering we actually have a choice. We can either leave it to the government to sort out and hence not be surprised when we find ourselves being treated like children, or we can start to set examples and take responsibility as individuals and a community for the behaviour of our young people.

I’m not suggesting any sort of vigilantism and it is for the police and the safer neighbourhood teams to deal with violent, threatening or criminal behaviour.

But many times the situation is quite benign, so, instead of tutting (or as often happens with me ‘fuming’) to ourselves because someone has dropped litter or a young person has their feet up on the seat in the train, we should say something, do something, just provide a different model of behaviour for them to follow. It may not always be successful, our request may be initially ignored but even a failed request will have a bigger impact on future behaviour than none at all.

Anyhow, in many cases with teenagers it is a lack of awareness that such behaviour is antisocial than any deliberate intent. And OK, so maybe their parents should be teaching them how to behave, but that doesn’t absolve us from our community responsibility. That is certainly not an excuse that would have entered our heads 30 or 40 years ago - or even 20, if you happened to be an adult in the village where I grew up!

If each one of us just undertook one action, provided some sort of role model just once a week, then we would surely start to make a difference. This is not a policy but grass roots action, that I am advocating and it is a slow burn not an overnight solution - obviously!

I firmly believe that people don’t drink and drive as much now, not because they think they’ll get caught by the police, but that it is no longer socially acceptable – I’m looking forward to when speeding becomes an equal taboo.

We have an opportunity as individuals to have an impact on our community and I am convinced that the world most of us would prefer to live in is one where the community regulates itself rather than leaving it to someone a bunch of private security employees to bawl at us through a loud speaker.

I just don’t want naming and shaming; I want a strong, supportive and free community.

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