Archive for the 'Activism' Category

The call

NS January 2nd, 2011

Soon after I became a doula, I considered shutting down this blog.

I’ve grumbled before about the possibility of having nothing left to say or being tempted to throw in the towel but I can never quite bring myself to do it. This blog has been a major part of my life and, dare I say it, my identity for the past (coming up to) 6 years.

So I’m not going to shut it down. I may post more infrequently, or in manic bursts between silences, but I’m not ready to let go of the part of myself that still believes I am/will be a writer.

That said, I think I have a new calling.

When I became a doula, I wanted to help women have better births. After writing about, reading about and now even witnessing firsthand the terror and trauma that so many women go through (often unnecessarily) to give birth, I am even more devoted to not only helping individual women receive better care and become empowered enough to make their own choices, but to actively fighting to change the appalling state of maternal health in the UK and around the world.

Here are a few facts to chew on†:

  • If you are a north-western European woman, your risk of dying in childbirth is 1 in 30,000; if you live in Afghanistan or Sierra Leone, your risk is 1 in 6
  • Every year over half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth; 99 percent of them are from the poorest nations
  • Preventing unwanted pregnancies would reduce the maternal mortality rate by a quarter. At the moment, more than 68,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year
  • There are not enough midwives. One in four women in the world give birth without a skilled attendant present. Even in industrialised, wealthy nations, women are frequently left unattended or unsupported as they give birth, resulting in both physical and emotional trauma
  • Women in poor countries lack access to needed caesarean surgery; women in rich countries are subjected to too many. Both have dangerous implications for maternal health
  • The child of a woman who dies in childbirth is much more likely to die before the age of two

In the UK, David Cameron is revoking his campaign promise to provide at least 3,000 more midwives within the NHS, the minimum number needed to bring the service to a safe and acceptable level. Once again, as they do the world over, politicians’ lips do a lot of moving but their commitment to actually providing the funding and resources is non-existent.

Do we really matter so little?

NHS midwives are stretched so thin that at the Royal College of Midwives’ recent annual conference, RCM General Secretary Cathy Warwick painted a bleak picture of maternity services and warned that they are at the breaking point. In today’s Observer, on the front page, Warwick warns once again that if the maternity services don’t improve quickly, it is only a matter of time before it begins to break down completely, further endangering women’s lives and those of their babies.

If we can’t get maternal health right in even the most prosperous, wealthiest nations in the world, what hope do we have of bettering conditions in developing nations where conditions are much worse?

Even Dr. Tony Falconer, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, today issued a warning that women who give birth at night are at greater risk for inadequate care due to staff shortages and inexperience because senior staff tend to work during ‘normal’ business hours. This, despite the fact that many women go into labour and arrive at hospital in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning. I’ve personally heard countless stories of women in full-on labour being turned away because there just aren’t enough midwives to cope and being sent to another hospital, A&E or being forced to give birth unattended in a waiting room, corridor or car park. It does paint a rather worrying picture, doesn’t it?

That’s why I’m working on a new project, one that will hopefully combine my passions for birth advocacy, feminism and writing into one big ball of justice-seeking, anger-tinged-yet-hopeful blogginess. I’m hoping that all will be revealed in the next few weeks so watch this space. I do believe that 2011 is going to be a busy, busy year.

Bring it.

†All stats taken from ‘The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad For Business’ by Gabrielle Palmer

Photo credit

Vote. Because I can’t.

NS May 6th, 2010

I haven’t ponied up the £800 needed to become a British citizen yet (things are a bit tight after I quit my job to become an at-home parent to my own two British citizens — cough) and so I will not be voting today because I’m not allowed. I sent off my husband’s postal ballot last week so at least I know he was able to exercise that right since he’s away on a business trip right now. All I can do now is watch, wait and hope that the British people don’t let the Conservatives back in. If you’re still on the fence about who to vote for, read this and this and particularly this. A little excerpt:

The Fawcett Society have today released the results of a survey of parliamentary candidates, including the party leaders,  asking whether they would support action on women’s inequality in their constituencies and nationally (1)

Of the 3 major parties 23.1 per cent of Labour candidates and 19.9 per cent of Lib Dems and 2.6 per cent of the Conservatives committed their support. (2)

Candidates were asked to say yes or no to whether they would support local and national action on tackling the gender pay gap, improving support for women rape victims and assessing the impact of deficit cutting proposals on women. Both Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg are amongst those candidates that answered yes to all three questions. David Cameron responded with the Tories policy position in the relevant areas ( 3)

The figures aren’t great for any of the parties but 2.6 per-fucking-cent?! You’ve got to be kidding me. As the Fawcett Society report notes, the support they were asked to commit was for pretty uncontroversial things like support for rape victims and equal pay. If the Tories aren’t even willing to come out in support of that, what else will we find they don’t support? I fear know that a Conservative government will roll back at least some of the gains we’ve made in the last decade and prevent gender equality from progressing any further.

If you care about women, children, education, the arts, community, health, the poor, the disadvantaged, the downtrodden and the vulnerable, remember whose interests the Tories really serve (rhymes with ‘schmorforations’) and the 97.4 per cent of them who refuse to support even such basic rights for women like rape crisis centres and pay audits to address the unconscionable epidemic of the gender pay gap (which is really a mother pay gap).

Come on, Britain. Speak up for those who, like me, have no voice and no choice in this election.  I am a proud, tax-paying immigrant. I am a woman who demands equality. I am a mother deserving of support and recognition as I help raise the next generation of British workers and pension contributors. I am a feminist who will always be there, breathing down the necks of those who cling to the last vestiges of white, male, Christian hegemony.

I may not be officially British, but I am Britain. I dare the Conservatives to tell me otherwise.

A woman’s wish list

NS March 8th, 2010

I’ve been trying to decide what to write today, on International Women’s Day. There are so many issues I could explore, explain, shout about, get angry,  sad and wax lyrical about. But today, I am not in the mood for any of that. All I want to write is what needs to change. So, in no particular order, a few demands I’d like to make of the British government.

Give women absolute rights over their bodies and reproductive choices. This means allowing women as young as 25 to be sterilised if they do not wish to have children; granting no-questions-asked access to safe, inexpensive and immediately available contraception and abortion; and allowing women to birth their babies where, with whom and in whatever manner they see fit.

Require employers to keep and make transparent all records relating to the pay levels of their employees as they relate to skill level, length of employment and educational background. Heavily fine and penalise employers breaking the law by discriminating on the basis of gender or parental status.

Set out directives requiring that, wherever possible, meaningful, part-time and flexible work of all skill levels be made available to all employees, especially those with dependants or caring responsibilities.

Normalise, support and protect breastfeeding as a woman’s prerogative and a baby’s human right.

Produce a Parliament that is representative of the people it governs. If this means all-women, all-racial-minority shortlists, so be it.

Decriminalise the selling of one’s body but make buying another’s illegal and punishable.

Open childcare centres with fully-trained, well-paid staff, longer hours, greater flexibility, more individualised care, more outdoor space, healthier food and less expensive fees. Subsidise, subsidise, subsidise.

Stop blaming victims and demand that perpetrators of rape and domestic violence be held entirely accountable for their actions.

Put news relating to women’s rights, health and lives in the main bit of the paper, not the bloody ‘Lifestyle’ section or in ‘women’s supplements.’

Force anyone printing and distributing images of women, be it in advertising, promotion or media, to disclose when and to what extent said images have been altered.

Take your harmful, war-mongering, mother-blaming, woman-hating, gender-conforming, patriarchal norms and shove it up your collective arses.

Doing nothing says everything

NS January 21st, 2010

Did you know that the Metropolitan Police sent a message to every woman in the UK yesterday?

What, you didn’t get yours? Well, it didn’t come on paper and through the letterbox, admittedly (that would contravene its environmental policy and administration budget, you see), but we can all understand —  loud and clear and in no uncertain terms — what that message was. It went something like this:

Dear Birds Women of the UK,

We are sorry we were caught regret the honest mistakes systemic failures and staggering inactions on our part which led to what seemed like a nice guy serial sexual predator John Worboys (aka the Black Cab Rapist) carrying out countless attacks over a period of years on drunk slappers numerous victims, none of whom we believed when they came forward.

While we take allegations of sexual assault not at all seriously, the investigations stemming from these female fairy tales allegations were completely inadequate not quite up to our usual piss-poor high standards. For this we are totally unrepentant sorry and have resolved to get the media off our backs make changes at no all levels of the department, including a new unit specialising in regret sex sexual offences committed against whiny feminist bitches women. At all times At this time, we do not feel that any further disciplinary action against the officers in charge of the utterly failed mismanaged investigations is deserved needed.

Fuck Thank you very much,

The Boys Met

I’ll just pause while you refocus your eyes after all that reading between the lines (ahem).

Obviously, that wasn’t the exact wording, but you get the drift. If you are of a more exacting nature and wish to read the nauseating excuses comments from deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) Deborah Glass on why the body decided to only issue the officers with written warnings, see below.

“I think on the evidence available the written warnings outcome was right,” she said. “They are a serious sanction requiring officers to accept they have breached the police code of conduct and have failed in some way. People will say, if you cannot sack them what’s the point? But there is still a point, there are important points around learning here. It is not about slamming the Metropolitan police. This is their wake-up call.” She acknowledged that had the police officers at the centre of the inquiry not committed “serious errors of judgment” and “missed crucial investigative opportunities” when Worboys could have been stopped before he went on to assault more women. “There’s certainly a likelihood that if they had followed up lines of inquiry he would have been in custody much earlier,” she said.

Whew! And here I thought that written warnings were just a weak, one-digit tap on the wrist: not even akin to a slap! Thankfully we have Deborah to explain that, actually, writing the words ‘You were naughty…but carry on as you were” in an officer’s file (perhaps alongside a frowny-face doodled in the margins) is an adequate reprimand for “serious errors of judgment” and other perfectly understandable breaches of professional misconduct like laughing at the victims, failing to follow up crucial leads or interview any potential witnesses, failing to fully investigate Worboys or obtain a warrant to search his home and, most of all, failing to believe that anything could or even should be done about it.

For the Met and the IPCC to act like this was some kind of shocking revelation and that the individual officers in question conducted themselves (and the investigations) in an unusual, non-sanctioned manner is absolute and utter bullshit. For as long as they have been reporting sex crimes (a long time) and for as long as they have been police officers themselves (not such a long time), women have been belittledharassed, bullied and disbelieved by the boys in blue. Those meant to protect the people and uphold the law have often been accused of protecting one another from criticism and even from criminal charges, despite compelling evidence to the contrary. They have botched other serial rape cases. The rape conviction rate in this country is the lowest in Europe, a measly 6%.

This is not a recent phenomenon.

Why, just as recently as 2003, a Met rugby team put together a magazine for its players with sparkling sexist gems such as: “Why did God invent lesbians? So feminists wouldn’t breed,” and “Women: can’t live with them, can’t force them into slavery,” not to mention “How do you know when your wife may be dead? When the sex is the same but the washing starts to pile up in the sink.”

But hey, I need to lighten up, right? It’s all just a bit of harmless fun and in no way influences the way these men think, behave or do their jobs, yeah? Tell me it doesn’t contribute to rape culture or the belief that a woman who reports a sexual assault is to be shooed away, fobbed off or altogether discredited unless she has irrefutable proof, has been battered to within an inch of her life and/or is a ‘respectable’ white woman who hadn’t been drinking, wearing revealing clothing or flirting before she was violated.

If you believe that I’d also like to talk to you about tropical jungles in Siberia and ocean-view property in Nebraska. Call me.

Hell, even the Guardian reporter from whom this information comes in today’s paper (and who, on the surface, seems quite repulsed by it) subtitled his article, “Boys will be boys. But shouldn’t the boys in blue know better?” suggesting that men naturally feel and think these things about women (by the way, it’s called m-i-s-o-g-y-n-y) but that, as police officers, these guys should have hidden it better.

So thanks, Met police, for the fucking pathetic half-hearted attempt at making yourselves blameless accountable, but your words, I’m afraid, hold no value. Your actions speak louder and ring truer than any statement you could ever make.

A new NS venture

NS January 20th, 2010

FF Symbol (1)

I have to admit something and it’s going to be very difficult for me to say. Okay, here goes.

I’ve been cheating on you, Noble Savage. I’ve been working on this other website and it looks like it’s gotten serious. I’m not breaking things off with you (No! Not at all!) and it doesn’t mean we can’t still be together, create new memories and share good times; it just means that I have so much online love to give that no single blog could handle it. I have to spread myself around, you see. It’s in my BLOOD. But you know I still love you, right?

I’m sorry if this sounds exactly like a pathetic excuse given by a two-timin’, lyin’, cheatin’, no-good man in a country song but that’s just how I roll, see what I’m saying? So without further ado (*drum roll please*):

I am happy to announce that my new website, Fertile Feminism, has launched as of today. It was designed and created with an enormous amount of help from the amazingly skilled and oh-so-professional Aaron Smith of 100000words. I’ve copied the ‘About’ section below to give you a feel for what its purpose is. I’d be oh-so-grateful if you came over to have a look and, if you’re interested, subscribe.

This site’s chief aims are: Fostering a greater understanding of women’s issues amongst mothers and helping those who have been alienated by feminism to feel more included and invested in it as a social movement; exploring ways in which mainstream feminism could better advocate for mothers (and their children); and creating an honest, realistic and mutually-respectful dialogue on how each can merge into and strengthen the other.

The discussions here will stem mainly from relevant news items, the feminist and parenting blogospheres and both UK and US politics. This is not a personal blog, as such: it is a community project intended to showcase and discuss the various viewpoints, ideologies and challenges facing mothers, feminists and that not-uncommon creature, the feminist mother.

Fertile Feminism is about bringing the activism already present within the vibrant, ever-growing feminist movement together with the vast army of mothers who are also disillusioned with the status quo. It is about addressing the challenges and injustices we all face, but with a particular interest in issues most effecting parents. Mostly, it’s about using our voices and our numbers to demand and create the kind of change that will benefit us all, regardless of gender or parental status.

We’ve got to start somewhere — let’s get our hands dirty.

Here I explain how I came to be interested and involved in feminist mothering and the first post, ‘The public policing of pregnancy,’ is ready and waiting. If you have any comments or experiences to share I’m all ears! My loyalties will not be divided so feel free to read and take part in one or both.

Thank you kindly, dear readers, and I hope to see you at Fertile Feminism soon.

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