Why I March

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The political landscape over the last two years or so, riding on the crest of a wave that formed decades ago, has been terrifying for those of a humanitarian, liberal, compassionate persuasion. Like myself. The terrible conflict in Syria, which has displaced millions of people, thousands of whom have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe, has led people to divide themselves fairly neatly into two opposing camps. There are those who are moved by the atrocities they hear about and want to help, to reach out and provide shelter and refuge for those fleeing for their lives. We see the pictures of dead babies on beaches and the tears that fall spur us to action. For some of us, it goes no further than donating a blanket and some winter boots to a collection. Others have travelled to the refugee camps and volunteered. Some, like the incredible Rob Lawrie, even attempting to do the truly humanitarian thing and unite children with their families living in Europe.

InequalityOthers, however, take a more selfish view. Preferring to fear those with different coloured skin and different faith, preferring to close borders and protect their own self-interests. They blame the innocent victims of war for the crimes of their own governments. The chronic underfunding of public services here in the UK, coupled with the vitriolic lies in the tabloid papers has meant that millions of Brits have an irrational hatred of everything foreign.

This was displayed, to the horrified astonishment of half of us last June, in the referendum result. Now, we have a far right government vowing to steer us towards economic turmoil, possible bankruptcy and social unrest.

As if all of this weren’t bad enough, we have now seen the shocking inauguration of a US President who openly mocks the disabled, brags about sexually assaulting women, is regularly having to pay off people he has swindled, and has gone bankrupt six times.

The first day of his Presidency saw the global, coordinated efforts of millions of people to demonstrate their opposition to his appointment. The Women’s March movement is just getting started. In my own town, a group of us have been campaigning locally since last summer to expose the actions of our MP, Philip Davies, who claims to want equality, but who repeatedly votes against and even blocks votes in Parliament on bills that would improve equality in this country. We organised a Sister March on Saturday 21st January, to show solidarity with American women, people of colour and those who identify as LGBTIQ, all of those groups who Trump has publicly threatened.

I marched because Davies openly supports Trump, stating that he would “vote for him in a heartbeat” if he could. He fully supports this proven liar, accused sex offender, known misogynist, and openly racist slimeball. No, I don’t mince my words.

I marched because we are standing on a precipice. Women, and all marginalised groups, are at very real risk of being further persecuted by the rise of the far right around the world.

TwitterOne of Trump’s first actions has been to sign legislation that seeks to undo decades of progress on women’s reproductive rights. In a truly disturbing image, he sits in the Oval Office, surrounded by white men watching over him as he signs away women’s bodily autonomy. It’s a troubling first step towards a very dark future. We must oppose this fiercely, so as not to lose the hard-won rights that women before us literally died for!

My MP has stated that feminists want to “have their cake and eat it”, that we want equality, but only when it suits us, and that we want “special treatment”. He claims to want equality, yet uses the word “feminist” as a pejorative term. When he corresponds with female constituents he is rude, aggressive and often sexist (many members of our group, Shipley Feminist Zealots, named tongue-in-cheek following his comments last summer, share the emails they receive from him in reply to their raised concerns). He seems totally oblivious to the fact that women do not yet have equality and that much work needs to be done to address the remaining imbalance. I’m not sure he understands the difference between equality and equity, either. He has, rather absurdly, been appointed to the Women and Equalities Commission, and stated that he would like to remove the “Women” from the title of the group. He stood unopposed, so won the seat by default. It’s disgraceful.equality-vs-equity

I’m absolutely certain that those in power are deliberately turning people against one another. It’s a proven technique to maintain the status quo of severe inequality. The rich and powerful want us afraid, compliant and too run down to have the energy to resist, and revolt.

Now, I’m not suggesting a violent revolution or rioting, but we do need a peaceful revolution. We need to march. We need to have our voices heard and not allow those in power to strip us of our civil rights, ignore our voices, sell our public services, lead us into a dark future. We need to strive for the light, for the right way forward, into a world of equality and fairness.

I want Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future; one where humanity is united, basic needs are met, and all are free to pursue a life that satisfies them.

We can’t achieve that without upsetting the status quo.

That is #WhyIMarch, and I hope you will too.

I Am Woman… Hear Me Roar

Today is International Women’s Day, so I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the wonderful women in my life and write a bit about what the event means to me.

The theme this year is “Connecting girls, inspiring futures”. I think it is so important that young girls and women are encouraged to think about their sexual health, their futures and their relationships, to value themselves enough to make positive choices. The only way that happens is through the examples of positive role models. There are far too many pop tarts gracing the magazine covers and television these days. Hyper-sexualised “singers”; super-skinny celebs who are famous for being famous and make a reputation for themselves as lacking intelligence; lost and desperate starlets who poison their bodies and have their own rooms reserved in rehab for their frequent falls from the wagon. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

There are a small handful of alternatives out there, such as Tyra Banks, who not only represents a more healthy body type these days, but who works to help girls and young women value themselves. That’s not to say she isn’t also making a lot of money out of the good PR of her apparent altruism, but I think that’s true of most philanthropists if you look at the whole picture. Then there’s one of my favourite singers, Pink, whose attitude and music set a wonderful example to young girls, showing them that they can be themselves in the face of peer pressure.

It’s really important to me to recognise that even in the UK, there is still inequality between men and women. Women still earn less than men in the same jobs; women fill more service roles and less professional roles than men; the socially valuable role of mother is extremely undervalued financially and culturally (how many times have you heard a woman say “I’m just a mum” when asked her occupation?); women bear the brunt of the government’s spending cuts too. Women often seem to be the ones to take responsibility for their contraception too and many of the options are hormonal; that is, they work by changing our biological functioning. What are the physical and social implications of that?

Teenage girls were routinely paraded through the school nurse’s office in the last couple of years, to be given the HPV vaccine, with the promise that they would be protected from cervical cancer. There is some concern that this vaccine gives girls a green light to have unprotected sex, as they, and their male peers, may believe that being vaccinated against one STI makes it safe to have unprotected sex. Not the right message for these young people at all. A number of my friends with daughters of the appropriate age talked about the issues with their daughters and helped them come to fully informed decisions about whether to accept the vaccine or not.

As mothers we are censored and discriminated against for the way we feed our babies, both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers report being discriminated against or judged, sometimes by businesses but all too often by other women. Whether women really are judging each other is not easy to determine, we often project our own insecurities onto onlookers and read judgement where there is none.

It’s acceptable for the female body to be depicted as a sexual object, but not as a mother growing or nourishing her child. Men’s nipples can be shown in public, but women’s nipples can’t. For a very thorough exploration of the topic of infant feeding as a feminist issue, please see this blog post by The Alpha Parent, particularly points 4 and 5. Caution: If you are offended by the facts of formula feeding it’s probably better for your blood pressure to simply not click the link.

Birth is also a feminist issue, both for the women giving birth and the women providing care. Midwives who refuse to conform to the medical model and instead provide woman-centred care, are bullied and harassed in the workplace, in some cases risking their livelihood and even imprisonment. Pregnant and birthing women are taught to expect to lose all of their dignity during birth, to have decisions about their own bodies made by someone else. This is, of course, absolutely unacceptable and untrue, it is perfectly possible to retain both one’s dignity and bodily autonomy in birth, no doctor or midwife can legally force a woman to comply with hospital protocols against her will, to do so is assault. But the language used by maternity care providers often hides this fact. Women are told that they are “not allowed to do x”, or that they “have to have y”. Care providers who use this language should be reported to their supervisors.

The global picture for women is even more bleak. The very fact that we need an International Women’s Day is itself a telling sign of the huge inequalities and difficulties that women face. I think it’s vital that we take the opportunity to reflect on the situation and see if there is anything we can do to change it. One day a year isn’t much, it’s a token gesture really, unless people really take notice and do something positive. One off events like this are intended to do that, to draw attention to an issue and have an impact reaching beyond that one day.

An individual can contribute in a number of ways, from simply letting those important women in their life know how special they are, to mounting a campaign against a sexist corporation or government! Check out the IWD website for ideas on how you can make a difference.

I’m already a birth and breastfeeding activist, albeit on maternity leave at the moment, so I will mark today with a huge thank you to some very special women:

My mum, Linzy; my dear friends, Jo R-D, Lisa S, Vicki M-W, Debs R, Lori F, Sarah C, Kellie R, Sally P, Chloe B, Gillian S; my friends and colleagues Beverley B, Nadine E, Debbie C-D, Jo W, Ruth K, Ruth W, Caroline W; fellow campaigners Emma K, “Mrs BWF” and everyone else who is working tirelessly to inform and empower other women. Thank you all for being amazing women.