Cosmo 'Man of the Year': one for the boys.....

On Tuesday night I went to another WAFE (Women Against Fundamentalism and for Equality) seminar at the House of Lords. As always these events are thoroughly engaging but always leave me in the confusing state of feeling both uplifted and despairing at the same time.

There were as ever many very interesting women speakers about whom I will blog later (especially the Finnish MP Johanna Sumuvuori; and no, not just because we share a name!).

We also had Chris Green, the Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign (UK) come to speak, who has in the last few weeks been named as Cosmo Man of the Year, no less!! Who is this man, I hear you gasp, and what has he done to deserve such an accolade? Surely some sort of sex god? Well, no perhaps not quite, but he’s something much more compelling and a man that I am very grateful is around campaigning today.

The White Ribbon Campaign is a global campaign to ensure that men take more responsibility for reducing the level of violence against women. It is not a campaign about bashing men but instead asks those men who know that it is wrong to hit women, pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. The stats on male violence against women in the UK are truly shocking.

I find it an attractive campaign on two counts: firstly, it is about creating a norm in society that makes it quite clear that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and that to ignore it is almost as bad condoning it. Secondly it places emphasis for action onto men, as something men can resolve, as men listen to other men; especially young men. It does not leave it to women to solve and resolve the problem over in the ‘women’s issues’ corner.

And as the blogosphere is so overwhelmingly male I have the perfect audience to highlight this campaign!! Sunday 25th is the UN’s International Day to End Violence Against Women, worth taking note of because, even in the UK, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

This means that you will almost certainly know a woman who has experienced domestic violence, even if you’re not aware of it; it’s not the sort of thing a woman sings from the rooftops or you can tell from just looking at her. This then also means, the chances are, you may know a man who has either been violent towards a woman or thinks it’s OK to be so.

Personally, that’s a thought that sends shivers of fear down my spine; but when I heard about the work of Chris Green and the White Ribbon Campaign (all volunteers) I felt utterly inspired by the humanity of the campaign and the men who sign up to it.

Is mysogyny on the rise across the world? And how would we tell if it was?

Chris K , Rob Knight on Liberal Review and Jonathan Calder have all blogged on the horrific news that a gang rape victim had her punishment, yes, her punishment of 90 lashes increased to 200 for having the cheek to appeal her sentence.

And last week, we heard reports from the Chief of Police in Basra that 42 women in the city had been murdered between July and September for not covering up; which makes me wonder how many women had been beaten or assaulted for the same ‘crimes’? This is not just happening to Muslim women but Christian women as well.

And there! We can see the game is given away; because this sort of behaviour towards women is not as a result of religion as often assumed, but, as a result of militant misogyny.

The UN undertakes country comparisons related to Gender as part of their reports on Human Development. There is the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and also the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM). The GDI measures all the same things as the Human Development Index but just splits them by gender, male and female. The second, GEM, looks at the proportion of women that work as political representatives, or are managers, senior officials or work in professional or technical positions. Now, it very easy to pick many, many holes in these two measures and some of the assumptions around what is deemed as being ‘developed’; but they’re there and they’re better than nothing.

But they miss out the day to day impact, which the two examples of rampant misogyny above, have on normal women’s lives. ‘Cos, you see, wonderful though it is that 33% of Iraq’s MPs are women (just under twice as many as in the UK), that doesn’t seem to be helping the women of Basra right now. There will be no direct reduction in the GEM of Iraq as a result of these killings even though, I would suggest that women are seriously less empowered now than they were 4 years ago, as a result.

And of course, Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow women to be empowered at all, but there is a different between a woman getting gang raped and given 90 lashes and one being given 200 lashes. Again, I can’t see where this sort of degradation in women’s rights and quality of life are being measured – although, if anyone does, then do let me know!

I think its time we have a different sort of measure of women’s freedom and rights; one that measures the qualitative impact of misogyny on women’s lives. So one might be able to see that in recent years, Afghanistan’s has gone up as women are at least now allowed out of the house but Iraq’s has gone down because of the type of thing that is happening in Basra. I am not suggesting that this would be easy to do, but we need more than a clutch of newspaper reports to measure these things.

And in the UK, well how does the fact that so few reported rapes actually end in any sort of conviction (5.3% this year, when it used to be 33% in the 70’s) figure in any UN measure of women’s empowerment? Or the fact that so many people think that a women who goes out late at night holds some sort of responsibility for her rape, if she is raped.

Next Saturday, 24th November will be the ‘Reclaim the Night” march in London at 6pm; last time over 1200 women marched in support of women’s right to go out onto the street free from fear of violence or rape.

Our misogyny may not be hard coded into our penal system as in Saudi and thankfully the women of London are not subject to militia’s going around killing us for being ‘inappropriately dressed’ as in Basra but there’s still plenty of misogyny here, if 1 in 8 men think it’s Ok to hit a woman if she’s been nagging or if a third of us, both men and women, think a women is partly responsible for her own rape if she flirts, has been drinking or is dressing sexily.

Sometimes, it feels to me that as Liberal Democrats see feminism as surplus to requirements, because as liberals we would not discriminate against anybody of whatever sex; but on days like today I know that if we are going to achieve better lives for women all over the world we have to be clear and say that feminism has a vital role to play and has a long way to go before misogyny is overcome; we need to be proud to be feminsts!! Laws (of the legal rather than the David kind) help but they are not enough.

Reclaim the Night

In a couple of weeks there will be the 2007 ‘Reclaim the Night’ March from Euston to Soho. It’s a girl’s only gig, followed by a mixed rally at the University of London Union.

The march will highlight the fact that women have the right to be able use public space without fear. These are our civil liberties at risk; it is not good enough for society’s response to rape to be to tell women they can’t go out!

My Mum’s coming down to visit that weekend, and she doesn’t know it yet, but, she’s about to embark on her first political protest. Still, it's not as if it's in the middle of the starts at 6pm and there'll be plenty of time to go and have dinner afterwards!

What Blair is also responsible for in the Met Police.....

Will Sir Ian Blair, survive the week?

I think not, I think that once the IPPC report comes out, unless something truly remarkable happens, then Sir Ian Blair will probably have to resign. If it wasn’t for that then I’d think he’d probably survive. But then it really rather suits the Government, the MPS and the MPA for Blair to hold on and take chop for both convictions/results – rather in the manner of a burglar asking for several other offences to be taken into account at the same time.

And, I do accept the arguments that such was the catastrophic nature of the mistakes made on July 22nd that it is already outrageous that nobody is putting up their hand to be accountable for it. I do not accept the argument that anything that happened on the 22nd was somehow understandable because of the extraordinary position that the Met found themselves in that morning. It is absolutely how people or organisations behave when the pressure is on that tells us if they are working.

However, if Sir Ian Blair goes then it will not be without concerns for other parts Met Police activity that he has had a considerable positive effect on. The Stockwell Shooting may have been the most catastrophic mistake but there were other pretty high profile ones and other gaffes that when taken together could have felled another police commissioner. But they didn’t; and this has to be because Sir Ian’s batting average must have been high enough for the Government to want to keep him on.

A couple of weeks ago we held the latest meeting of the Crystal Palace Safer Neighbourhood Residents Panel, where I have been the Chairperson for the last 2½
years. I love this meeting and it is always a joy as well as a welcome challenge to chair it. It is here that we get to set the priorities of our Safer Neighbourhoods Team (SNT) and woe betide them if they do not report back and take action on these priorities. I may look all nice and smiley but I can get quite scary and as for Linda, from the St Hughes Residents Association…..!!

The change I have seen in our area and the cultural change I have seen the Police and the SNTs has been amazing. And as someone who has spent their professional life attempting to plan and implement transformational change in all sorts of organisations, both large and small, private and public, I am simply amazed by what he has managed to achieve. I believe in terms of community policing, particularly in urban areas, the Met Police is the envy of many other forces.

The other week we had finally moved on from prioritising graffiti & fly tipping and there was no persistent antisocial behaviour on the St Hughes Estate; even the residents of Anerley Vale believed that things were now ‘manageable’. There are still problems, compared with the rest of Bromley Borough we are a crime hotspot, and one particularly opportunist burglar had managed to make our burglary rates peak for the year in just one morning. We have to focus on tackling drugs in the ward. But Haysleigh Gardens Neighbourhood Watch for the first time in its 8 years of existence had no crime to report at their last meeting and that is an event worth celebrating.

These are not headline grabbing achievements, they are small but important steps and I am not sure that we have had time to prove the case for community policing once and for all. How a police force reacts at times of terror is very, very important and I am not overlooking it or seeking to downplay the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. However, most of the policing that takes place in London is of a different type and on that, in my experience, Sir Ian Blair acquitted himself well. He is a talented leader of transformational change and crime in London has gone down.

Of course, the test of change is that it outlasts its instigator and we need every layer of the Met Police and the Home Office to buy into the idea that the police are there primarily to serve and protect the community and not drive around in fast cars with a blue flashing light on. What I want to be sure of is that the funding and focus that the SNTs require remain in place beyond Sir Ian’s departure. I am nervous, that if he goes, those who don’t have the patience to wait for community policing to pay its dividends, will scrap it. If they do that, then my and my fellow residents’ quality of life will be diminished.

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