Thursday, 10 July 2014

Are Strikes about class wars?

KARL MARX observed in 1865 that wage levels can only be “settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labor, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction.”1 Indeed, as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the opening to the Communist Manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles

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Sunday, 6 July 2014

My Encounter with an Orthodox Jewish Woman

On Friday I was passing through a busy London train station. A small group of Orthodox Jews caught my eye. I have always been fascinated by their traditional dress (the men) and how the women are compelled to cover their hair with wigs. My daughter often tells me off for staring at them, such is my fascination. Anyway, the group consisted of two men, a woman and some children. The woman saw me looking at them and started drumming her fingers in a 'walking' manner up and down her thigh. There was fear in her eyes. I was going down the escalator and they disappeared from my sight. I was rushing to get home to cook for a dinner party that I was hosting only three hours later.

The look in the Jewish woman's eyes disturbed me. The penny dropped the next day. The woman had been using her fingers to to alert her male companions to my presence. She kept glancing at them nervously but they were engrossed in their smartphones. It seems so obvious now that I don't know why I never thought about it before. Yes, I know it is rude to stare but why was she so scared? She must have thought that I was a Muslim. Brown skin equals being a Muslim in the Western world. Only a few days earlier my new boss had asked me if I was observing Ramadan. I don't. I am an Anglican, a CoE regular attendee. Recently, people whom I meet for the first time have started asking me whether I am Muslim. This has never happened before. Nobody assumes that I am Christian. Quite strangely, nobody makes an assumption that I am a Hindu either. The latter would qualify as being quite an educated guess with a high chance of being correct. Many in my family are Hindus.

The whole strange episode has got me thinking. The blowback of Israel's policy against Palestinians seems to be a feeling of individual and personal insecurity within their own people. Jewish friends who live in North London tell me how they have to be extra careful over their personal safety whenever Israel launches an attack on Gaza etc.  If a woman sitting in a London station could fear a brown skinned woman dressed in a business suit then their individual fears multiplied across their population globally must amount to some sort of breach of their own liberty. If you cannot live in peace even when you are not physically caught up in the conflict zone then surely it is time to question what good the policy is and for whose benefit?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Is William Hague a Feminist?

The unlikeliest of questions crept into my head at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict when I watched William Hague give his opening address to the summit. Is William Hague a feminist? It isn't often that I attempt to attach an alter ego to a Tory minister so this was a first for me but what do you call a man who uses his power to raise a female issue on a truly global scale? You had to be at the summit to see it. There were African army personnel dressed in their military regalia taking part in the discussions. Activists, scholars, judges, lawyers and victims had flown in from different parts of the world.

Discussions on sexual violence even encompassed the normally taboo area of male rape, something which most men ought to ponder upon when making sick rape jokes.  Sexual violence in conflict areas is not just a female problem. The numerous fringe events and films screened highlighted real life testimonies about how men and children can be victims too.

The feminist movement loves it when a man takes on our causes. The less popular the issue the more kudos the man gets for championing it. The last time any man did this on such a large scale was when...I can't remember. But here was William Hague tackling the issue of sexual violence. In a world where violence against women is on the increase, whether it is on the streets of suburbia or in war torn areas, and where misogyny is on the rise here was a man making it his business to do something.

This is not to say that there aren't people working to solve the grossly inhumane issue of sexual violence in war. The summit bore testimony to the thousands of foot soldiers in the form of NGOs, charities, individual activists and small organisations that work tirelessly to ensure that the real life experiences of victims are not reduced to anecdotal evidence but are built up to reflect the structures of violence that exist during wars.

I sit on a committee myself that ensures UNHCR 1325 is reflected in the UK's action plans. While all our efforts turn the stories of individual victims into a political discourse a platform was needed to remind States that a heck of a lot more needs to be done; and to warn soldiers and rebel movements that rape is not an inevitable act of conflict. Feminists have always maintained that the personal is political and I think the summit did just that. A woman raped in a rural forest area in Liberia is not an individual suffering alone. Her sad experience is a political one. Multiply this by the thousands of women, men and children who have been raped and it becomes a global political problem.

Some women whom I spoke to at the summit were disappointed that the causes of war (sales of arms, foreign policy etc) were not addressed. There is some truth in this. Also, as a Tamil I had hoped to see something about the situation of women in Sri Lanka post war; and the treatment of female refugees in Britain.

If William Hague isn't a feminist then consider this. He positions sexual violence as a problem for the perpetrator, not the victim. Women have for far too long borne a stigma imposed upon them by society and it is time to shame the perpetrators.