Friday, 23 April 2010

A Fond Farewell

My time with the White Ribbon Campaign UK has come to an end and I am moving on to another human rights organisation. It's been a delight working with the White Ribbon Campaign and I look forward to supporting this campaign in the future. This blog will likely be inactive for a few weeks until my replacement is settled in London.

While you're waiting for the blog to start up again, check out these books and movies relating to male violence against women:


(1) This Charming Man by Marian Keyes - A story of four women and one very "charming" man

(2) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - an amazing story of two women in Afghanistan and how they're lives converge over several decades

(3) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - The first of the Millennium series, this gripping thriller was originally titled "Men Who Hate Women." It's a bit slow at the beginning, but takes off about halfway through. The Swedish film adaptation of this book is in theatres now. Though not as good as the book, it is still a decent film. Warning: it is a bit graphic.

(4) The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle - this infamous novel is about Paula Spencer, abused by her husband. The novel is narrated from her perspective.


(1) North Country - Based on a true story, this film tells the story of a group of female mine workers who win a landmark sexual harassment case.

(2) Behind the Smile - A short documentary on prostitution and trafficking in the UK, produced by the Anti-Trafficking Alliance. It can be seen here.

(3) The Stoning of Soraya M. - I first saw this at the Toronto Film Festive almost 3 years ago, and it has stayed with me every since. It tells the true story of an Iranian woman who is falsely accused of adultery and is consequently stoned. An amazing film, the climactic stoning scene is very difficult to watch, but extremely important to convey the horror of the act.

(4) There are several other films relating to violence against women. Hollywood films include Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire, Sleeping with the Enemy, the Colour Purple, and Enough.

Take care, and continue to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women! And keep checking our new and improved website:

x Kaitlin Bardswich

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Women in Politics

As the second political party leaders' debate takes place this evening, it's fitting to ask - Where do women's rights fit in? Last month, our friends at Eaves hosted Women's Question Time. The panellists were Vera Baird QC MP (Labour), Theresa May MP (Conservative), Lynne Featherstone MP (Liberal Democrat), and Caroline Lucas MEP (Green). The panel was chaired by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist for The Independent. This panel gave us a rare look at the women in politics, when the focus is usually on the men - and the male party leaders. Yesterday, an an article appeared in The Guardian on this topic:

Women in a very male general election

Election 2010 sees increased emphasis on party leaders which MPs say is marginalising female political voices


‘A woeful lack of representation’… (Left to right) Labour MPs and parliamentary candidates Meg Hillier, Stella Creasy, Joan Ruddock, Tessa Jowell, Harriet Harman and Diane Abbott. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA/PA

The increasingly presidential style of the UK general election campaign has edged senior women politicians out of the forefront of the political debate, shifting focus instead on to the wives of the three party leaders, a number of prominent female Labour MPs conceded today.

Women in all three main parties have been at the margins of the political campaign, with greater attention paid to the activities and outfits of the leaders' spouses than to the roles played by senior women politicians, in a shift described as a significant regression by campaigners for improved representation of women in parliament.

The shift in focus has been exacerbated by the increasing prominence that the leaders' debates are playing in the campaign, concentrating attention on the three male party leaders rather than a wider spectrum of politicians, and triggering an intensified interest in the supporting role played by their partners.

"As we watch this election, it is clear that women politicians are markedly absent. We have a lot of wives, but not many women MPs," said Kat Banyard, co-founder of UK Feminista and author of The Equality Illusion, a recent study of modern feminism. "All the main players are white men. The lack of female role models is really stark."

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for greater equality between men and women, said: "There is still a woeful lack of senior representation of women in politics and that is reflected in the election campaign."

At an event yesterdaythis morning to celebrate the record number of women standing as Labour candidates, Tessa Jowell, Cabinet Office minister, acknowledged that traditional aspects of the campaign, such as press conferences, had been supplanted by the leaders' debates, shifting more attention to the male leaders, but she stressed that she and other women politicians still "feel at the forefront" of the campaign.

"This is the most activist-led, grassroots-led campaign that I have worked on, largely driven by the internet. Women MPs are all over the country getting votes."

Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour party, said: "Politics has always been male-dominated – that's why we have much more work to do."

"There is a growing celebrity culture in this country," said Joan Ruddock, an undersecretary in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. "It is inevitable that the leaders' families are more prominent than a decade ago. The Obama election has played into that as well."

Defending the party's record, Harman said Labour had attracted many more women into parliament than the other two main parties, with three times more female MPs in the last parliament than all other parties put together – 94 women MPs, compared with 18 for the Conservatives and nine for the Lib Dems. In seats where Labour MPs are retiring, 53% of Labour candidates are women.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said that, when she first stood as a candidate in 1987, "Many people didn't believe that I could win because the notion of an MP was of a middle-aged white guy in a suit. Things really have moved on. If you raised subjects like work-life balance or childcare 20 years ago, people would say, 'But that's not really politics.' Now the party leaders are all talking about it. Things have progressed – perhaps not as much as I would have liked, but they have progressed."

Jowell argued that the number of policies benefiting women and children during Labour's administration was a reflection of the increased representation of women, citing Sure Start, better childcare facilities and child tax credits.

Campaigners such as Goddard believe the way politicians have tried to appeal to female voters marks a regression.

"There is a focus on women as mothers and only mothers, particularly as the polling is showing that middle-class mothers are a key voting group and all three parties are targeting them. This has had the unfortunate knock-on effect that much of the coverage of women in the campaign has been about women as mothers."

The Conservative party's drive to alter the male-dominated profile of its shadow cabinet has failed, according to a poll published in the Financial Times this week, in which most people questioned could not name a single female Tory MP. Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary, is a lone female figure in the Conservative campaign. But party officials point out that a third of its candidates are women, most in winnable seats.

"If the Conservatives have a majority of one we will have 60 female MPs in parliament," May said yesterday. "However, I realise we need to continue the process of getting more women involved in politics."

Banyard is despondent about the proportion of women MPs. "There was massive progress in 1997 when we saw the number of women MPs doubling. But that has ground to a halt and we only have six more women MPs today than we did in 1997," she said. "We have slipped to 73rd place in the world league table for women's representation as MPs."

And if you want to read about Conservative MP Theresa May, who has been a keen supporter of the White Ribbon Campaign UK, check out The Guardian's December article here.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Women's Link Worldwide's Gender Justice Uncovered Awards

Women's Link Worldwide is an international human rights non-profit organization working to ensure that gender equality is a reality worldwide. They annually judge the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards, deciding on the best and worst decision made in English or Spanish relating to gender justice. There is also a People's Choice Award based on the public's vote. So make sure you vote by May 10!

Check out the video on the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards:

Across the world, people are uploading videos to explain why they are voting for the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards. Here's a video from Iceland:

And here's a short video I made of my friend Paul Goldsworthy discussing the Awards in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

The White Ribbon Campaign UK supports the Gender Justice Awards. Vote by May 10 here.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Earthquakes Caused By Promiscuous Women

Today the BBC reported on a story from Iran, where a senior cleric said that promiscuous women are responsible for earthquakes. While most will find this laughable, it is also an example of hate speech that could lead to violence against women if they are viewed as being "promiscuous" and therefore responsible for earthquakes. Let's hope that does not happen.

Iranian cleric blames quakes on promiscuous women

The reuined citadel of Bam aftern the 2003 earthquake
More than 25,000 people died in the Bam quake

Promiscuous women are responsible for earthquakes, a senior Iranian cleric has said.

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told worshippers in Tehran last Friday that they had to stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves.

"Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he said.

Tens of thousands of people have died in Iran earthquakes in the last decade.

Mr Sedighi was delivering a sermon on the need for a "general repentance" by Iranians.

"What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes," he said.

'Disappoint God'

Young Iranians sometimes push the boundaries of how they can dress, showing hair under their headscarves or wearing tight fitting clothes.

Mr Sedighi also referred to violence following last year's elections, which occurred when thousands of - mostly young - Iranians protested against the result, as a "political earthquake".

"Now if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God's power, only God's power. So lets not disappoint God."

More than 25,000 people died when a powerful earthquake hit the ancient town of Bam in 2003.

Seismologists have warned that the Iranian capital Tehran is situated on a large number of tectonic fault lines and could be hit by a devastating quake soon.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said many of Tehran's 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

There are plans to build a purpose built new capital near Qom.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A Year Ago Today

Here's an article from The Guardian that was printed on April 14, 2009.

Child trafficking into Britain accelerating, figures show

• Victims hidden in lorries or pass with false papers • Case workers say rescued are told to flee care centres

Suspected victims of child trafficking from Asia, Africa and the Middle East are being smuggled through Britain's leading ports and airports at an accelerating rate, new figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

A total of 957 children, including more than 400 from Afghanistan and 200 from Africa, were picked up by local authorities in the eight months between April 2008 and the end of the year.

At least 53 came from Iraq in a development that appears to back up warnings this week from aid agencies and police in the war-torn country of a growing trade in child trafficking to countries including Britain and Ireland.

The figures, obtained by the Guardian, represent a 90% increase compared to the annual rate of arrivals over the previous three years.

The children are often hidden in the backs of lorries which travel through ports in Kent and Suffolk and others are smuggled through Heathrow and Gatwick on false papers, according to care officials and the victims' testimonies. It is thought many are trafficked for exploitation in prostitution and domestic servitude.

Anti-trafficking campaigners are particularly concerned that one in eight of those taken into care go missing. Case workers who help victims said the children are commonly told by their traffickers, often under threat, to flee care.

Figures released by Kent county council, which handled the biggest single influx of suspected victims of trafficking, show that 86 of the 474 children it took into care over the eight month period last year, went missing. Officials in Hillingdon, west London, which handles children trafficked through Heathrow, said 27 of the 285 children it took responsibility for left care without leaving a forwarding address and have been reported missing.

"These figures bear out what we see happening across the UK where reports of child trafficking are increasing significantly," said Chris Beddoe, chief executive of Ecpat UK, which campaigns against child prostitution, child pornography and child trafficking. "Given so many of these child victims go missing so quickly after they are taken into local authority care, it seems clear that we are witnessing a pattern of criminal activity among traffickers. Yet no one goes out looking for these children when they disappear. If the government is really committed to keeping them safe they would implement a system of guardianship so someone would be responsible for each and every child."

In Kent, where the largest proportion of trafficked children arrive, facilities to look after suspected victims of child trafficking are thin on the ground. There is only one residential reception centre which can accommodate two dozen children. Yet in the last recorded eight months, authorities there had to try and help 255 Afghan children, 55 from Iran, 50 from Iraq and 49 from Eritrea as well as others from Vietnam, China, Kosovo, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

"We are of course most concerned about this situation," said Leyland Ridings, Kent's cabinet member for children, families and education standards. "We do all we can to prevent it."

Not all local authorities are losing the battle against traffickers. West Sussex, which handles cases from Gatwick, has managed a reduction in the number of children who go missing from care. It took 55 suspected victims of trafficking into care between April and January last year and only five children went missing. In the previous three years it lost track of 42 children.

The Home Office has admitted there are barriers to victims of human trafficking seeking help and last week launched a national mechanism so that any suspected victim will be referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield.

It is part of a series of measures which followed the introduction of the Council of Europe convention on human trafficking which came into force in Britain on 1 April. "Human trafficking is one of the most horrendous crimes threatening our society," said a Home Office spokesman. "Those who are responsible for this modern form of slavery are profiting from human misery and suffering."

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Violence against Forcibly Displaced and Stateless Women

This is an older news story, but still really important, as it highlights discrimination against refugee women and girls - a group that are all too often forgotten.

UNHCR attends landmark meeting on discrimination against women

News Stories, 24 July 2009

© UNHCR/L.Foster
A group of female refugees from Central African Republic in south-east Cameroon. Forcibly displaced and displaced women and girls are at risk of discrimination.

NEW YORK, United States, July 24 (UNHCR) A landmark meeting in New York, co-organized by the UN refugee agency, has given important impetus to efforts to eradicate discrimination against forcibly displaced and stateless females, including rape, domestic violence and other abuses.

The July 16-17 seminar, the first of its kind, brought together officials from UNHCR and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) with 15 independent experts from around the world who serve on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The meeting was called specifically to look at how the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women a de facto international bill of rights for women can be used to protect forcibly displaced and stateless women. CEDAW is meeting until August 7 to review countries' implementation of the Convention.

A number of important so-called "general recommendations" and "commitments" were agreed upon with the CEDAW members to increase awareness about discrimination against women of concern and to bolster the Convention's power to protect and help them through better use of existing reporting and complaint mechanisms.

"This is a breakthrough," said UNHCR Chief Protection Policy and Legal Adviser Oldrich Andrysek, who attended the meeting. This was echoed by Pierre Bertrand, director of UNHCR's New York office, who told the opening session, "This seminar is a milestone in our collective efforts to ensure that the rights of displaced and stateless women and girls are fully respected."

Others stressed the importance of governments and international organizations in ensuring progress. "The violations that women experience . . . will never be dealt with appropriately until justice issues receive sufficient attention both nationally and internationally," said Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of OHCHR's New York office.

The seminar participants also heard powerful and sometimes harrowing testimonies from former refugees from Bhutan, Liberia, Mongolia and Zimbabwe as well as two internally displaced women from Chechnya and Kenya. "Discrimination against women is everywhere," said one of the women, a widow who suffered abuse.

"The fact that refugee women gave testimonies and that the often forgotten situation of refugee and stateless women was discussed in detail allowed us to spotlight and deal with the problems women face," UNHCR's Andrysek noted.

Forcibly displaced women and girls, and women seeking to integrate into new societies or reintegrate in post-conflict countries, are frequent victims of multiple forms of discrimination and sexual violence. Yet there remains a persistent culture of denial, neglect and impunity around this growing problem.

Monday, 12 April 2010

New Website

Our new website is up and running - check it out here.

And please make the pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

International Tuesday: Women in Space!

While this is not related to violence against women, it is a step towards gender equality and should be celebrated as such for International Tuesday. Yesterday, the Discovery shuttle launched three women into space, bringing the total number of women in space to four - a record! The Guardian article below points out that men still outnumber women by more than 2 to 1, but this is still an achievement - a step in the right direction.

Discovery shuttle launch sets record for most women in space

Three women on board will join female scientist already on space station during one of orbiter's final missions

Discovery astronauts Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki

Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki will join Tracy Caldwell Dyson at the International Space Station, between them becoming the most women ever in orbit at the same time. Photograph: Gary I Rothstein/EPA

The space shuttle Discovery rocketed into orbit today on one of Nasa's final stockpiling missions to the International Space Station.

The launch – the last scheduled one in darkness for Nasa's fading shuttle programme – helped set a record for the most women in space at the same time. Three women were on board Discovery as part of the seven-member crew, and another is already at the space station. The shuttle should arrive at the orbiting outpost on Wednesday.

But problems with Discovery's main antenna, which emerged as soon as the shuttle reached orbit, could affect the radar needed for the rendezvous, Mission Control said today.

A spokesman stressed there were other tools to work around the situation. "We probably won't have answers for you today about what this means," Mission Control told the astronauts.

The six space station residents gathered around the dinner table to watch the launch on a laptop. "We are absolutely delighted to have our friendly comrades joining us here in a couple of days," said Timothy Creamer.

"Stand by for a knock on the door," Mission Control radioed.

Men will still outnumber women by more than two to one on board the shuttle and station, but that won't take away from the remarkable achievement of having four women in space at one time, coming 47 years after the world's first female astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova, rocketed into space.

A former schoolteacher, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, is among the female astronauts about to make history, as well as a chemist, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who once worked as an electrician, and two aerospace engineers, Stephanie Wilson and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki.

Japan celebrated its own space feat with Discovery's liftoff. Two of its astronauts were circling Earth at the same time, one on the shuttle and the other on the station.

Only three shuttle missions remain after this one. Nasa intends to retire its fleet by the end of September, but is unsure what will follow for human spaceflight. President Barack Obama will visit the area on 15 April, while Discovery is still in orbit, to fill in some of the blanks.

Commander Alan Poindexter and his crew will spend nine days at the station, replenishing supplies. The astronauts will install a fresh ammonia tank for the cooling system – a cumbersome job requiring three spacewalks. They will drop off science experiments as well as an extra sleeping compartment, a darkroom to improve picture-taking from the lab's high-quality window, and other equipment weighing thousands of kilos.

The space station will continue operating until 2020 under the Obama plan. The idea is for commercial rocket companies to eventually provide ferry service for astronauts. Nasa is currently paying for seats on Russian Soyuz rockets. That's how Caldwell Dyson got to the space station yesterday, two days after being launched from Kazakhstan.

Once combined, the shuttle and station crews will number 13: eight Americans, three Russians and two Japanese.