Friday, 30 March 2012

Conference: Images of exploited and trafficked women

On 27th April The Central American Women’s Network (CAWN) and Frauensolidaritäet are hosting a London-based conference, “Images of exploited and trafficked women: The role of the media and campaigning in women's empowerment”, at Friends House, George Fox Room, 173-177 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BJ.

They write:

While there has been growing awareness over the last decade as to the urgency to address trafficking for sexual exploitation and exploitation within the sex-industry, advocates have not always agreed on the most appropriate approach to tackle it. Debates are played out and amplified by media stories, backing the prevalence of dominating discourses.

The conference intends to be a forum for the effectiveness of such approaches to be discussed and for their complementarities to be explored. It will bring together speakers from the policy, academic and NGO fields to examine current efforts to counteract the trafficking and exploitation of migrant sex workers. Plenary discussions will be followed by three workshops which you may sign-up for in advance.

The event has been put together by CAWN and Frauensolidaritäet as part of their current project, “Women’s rights, social inclusion and the media” funded by the European Commission. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to campaigns@cawn.org by 18th April.

The day's itinerary is as follows:
  • 10.00 - 10.15 Registration
  • 10.15 - 10.20 Introduction: Why a forum on exploitation and trafficking in the UK sex industry, by Marilyn Thomson (Central America Women's Network co-director)
  • 10.20 - 11.30 Plenary 1:The exploitation spectrum: current approaches to tackle exploitation and
  • trafficking of migrant sex workers, by Julia O’Connell Davidson (Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham) and  Baroness Mary Goudy (APPG Human Trafficking)
  • 11.30- 11.45 Tea break
  • 11.45 - 13.00 Plenary 2: Media and campaigns' representations of exploited and trafficked women by
  • Rutvica Andrijasevic (Lecturer at University of Leicester), second speaker TBC
  • 13.00 – 13.45 Lunch and refreshments
  • 13.45 - 15.15 Workshops: The use of media in Nicaragua to advocate for women's rights, facilitated by Central American women right's activists Yamileth Chavarria and Helen Dixon; Trafficking and exploitation in Southern Africa: stories from the ground, facilitators TBC; Global events: examining some connections between women's exploitation and the Olympics facilitated by Anti-Slavery International and x:talk
  • 15.15 – 15.30 Tea break
  • 15.30 - 16.15 Workshops' facilitators panel
  • 16.15 - 16.30 Conclusions: Latin American migrant women sex-workers in the UK, by Carolina Gottardo (Latin American Women's Rights Service Director)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Springtime of the women: a season of amazing talent in spoken word, literature, art, film, theatre and more.

For Books' Sake publish their first fiction anthology; Eve Ensler brings Thandie Newton, Neneh Cherry, Meera Syal and Rosario Dawson to the Lyric Theatre on 26th March; the Human Rights Watch film festival launches with a stunning programme of topical international films 21st-30th March; and a look ahead to Electra Productions hitting Tate Modern with Her Noise, their 3 day celebration of avant-garde women artists' genius at the beginning of May.

1.     For Books’ Sake celebrate smart fiction by smart women with their first anthology, Short Stack, Wednesday 28th March 2012

In moments of deep despair at the cultural femicide all around, occasionally an amazing heroine shines a light. And sometimes a load of heroines shine a load of lights and throw a party for all their friends. For Books’ Sake is the legendary online magazine dedicated to promoting and celebrating writing by women, in the face of the widespread ignoring and dismissal of women’s work by literary editors, jury panels, TV and radio editors and commissioners and literary event producers of both sexes. The site is brilliantly written, insightful, influential and powerful. Book-lovers and lady likers will emerge from a plunge into For Books’ Sake with a handful of new reading and writing recommendations, a head full of new ideas and a refreshed sense of women’s genius. Get behind this amazing group of women: For Books’ Sake should be a paper magazine, a cultural festival, a TV and radio network, a prize scheme and a full-on touring roadshow with  a free big-bonus raffle and tombola.

If you don’t want to spend your solidarity-time glued to a screen, For Books’ Sake have gone one further and released Short Stack, their first fiction anthology, which is being published by Pulp Press at the end of the month, with a party at 7.30pm at the Tamesis Dock on Wednesday 28th March. You can already get the Kindle e-book edition here. If you want your timbers shivered, For Books’ Sake promise that Short Stack will offer “ten twisted tales of heroines hell-bent on vengeance, reanimated corpses, post-apocalyptic sex and much, much more.” I hope that in the future, the “much more” includes science fiction and fantasy anthologies, because I want in.


2. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Wednesday 21st March – Friday 30th March 2012.

Just when you were despairing at the gung-ho 3D big studio Cineplex drek on show as spring and summer approach, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes to London as part of its global tour, with a series of nineteen intelligent, topical, global, confrontational and eye-opening work, screening at the Curzon Soho, Curzon Mayfair, the ICA and the Ritzy. Visit the main festival site for a full list of screenings and a look at the brilliant line-up of talks and debates happening alongside the films. Most of the screenings are followed by extremely well-programmed panel debates discussing the issues with the director/s, critics, academics, activists and politically and socially engaged artists. If you’re interested in work looking specifically at women’s place in society then take a look at three standout works amidst a generally stunning programme:

Love Crimes of Kabul, Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary, which follows three young Afghani female prisoners as they go on trial for “moral crimes” which include running away from home to escape abuse and  allegations of adultery. In refusing to fit into society’s norms by their defiant actions, these women come to be seen as threats to the very fabric of society, and their acts of self-determination as illegal.

A still from The Price of Sex
The Price of Sex, directed by Mimi Chakarova, is about young Eastern European women, sex trafficking and abuse. Chakarova’s film is told by the young women who managed to escape and refused to be silenced by shame, fear, and violence. Director Chakarova is an Emmy-nominated photojournalist Mimi Chakarova filmed undercover and gained extraordinary access for this documentary, which won the 2011 Nestor Almendros Award, announced at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York in June last year. The screening on Saturday 24 March will be followed by a panel discussion with Mimi Chakarova and Abigail Stepnitz, national coordinator of the Poppy Project, which provides support to women who have been trafficked. It will be moderated by Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

Family Portrait in Black and White tells the story of Olga Nenya, who is single-handedly raising 23 foster children in rural Ukraine. Sixteen are the biracial offspring of visiting African students and Ukrainian women, who often see no choice but to abandon their babies. Olga reveals herself to be loving and protective but also narrow-minded and controlling. A product of communist ideology, she favours collective duty over individual freedom, and this paradox gives the children the sense of belonging they ache for, as well as cause for rebellion and distrust.


I support this festival wholeheartedly. All the films aim to “address economic inequality and consequences worldwide” and are organised around four themes: development, environment and the global economy; migrants’ rights and racism; personal testimony and witnessing; and women’s rights. The roster is impressively international, with 15 documentaries and 4 dramas from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Canary Islands, Ethiopia, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, the Maldives, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the USA. Many of the films will be followed by Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and some by panel discussions with experts and film subjects.

The festival will launch tomorrow, Wednesday, 21 March, at the Curzon Mayfair with a fundraising benefit and reception for Human Rights Watch, featuring Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s  film 5 Broken Cameras. 5 Broken Cameras documents a Palestinian village's struggle against violence and oppression. The wall consumes much of the village’s arable land and allows nearby settlements to extend onto villagers’ fields. A cycle of resistance and retaliation develops between the village and the settlements.  

On Thursday 22 March, the Curzon Soho will host the opening night film, Jon Shenk’s The Island President, which follows former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives (who was forced to resign the presidency this February) as he fights to convince the world’s policymakers to do something concrete about climate change. The Maldives is in danger of disappearing below rising sea levels, creating the world’s first cohort of environmental refugees.

The closing night film and reception will be on Friday 30 March at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. It will feature Nadine Labaki’s drama Where Do We Go Now?,  the story  of a group of women determined to protect their isolated, mine-encircled community. With the women united by a common cause, their friendship transcends the religious fault lines that constrict their society. The film will be followed by a discussion with Nadine Labaki.

Other films to look out for include the following. Further details can be found on the London festival's main site:
  • Bettina Borgfeld and David Bernet’s documentary Raising Resistance follows the life-and-death struggle of farmers in Paraguay confronted with the ever-expanding production of genetically modified soy, which requires herbicides and decimates nearby crops.
  • Documentary Special Flight, in which director Fermand Melgar has gained  extensive access to rejected asylum seekers and illegal migrants in Switzerland’s Frambois detention centre.
  • Maggie Peren’s drama Colour of the Ocean tells the story of a father and son, African refugees whose paths collide with those of an altruistic tourist and a Canary Island police officer.
  • Carlo Augusto Bachschmidt’s Black Block documents the police violence and arbitrary detention experienced by seven activists who demonstrated at the 2001 Genoa G8 summit. Each person describes brutal treatment by the Italian police that night, and in the days that followed.
  • Annie Goldson’s documentary Brother Number One tells New Zealander Rob Hamill’s story about the deaths in 1978 of his brother Kerry Hamill, and his two friends − John Dewhirst of England, and Stuart Glass of Canada - at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. As Rob retraces his brother’s final days, takes the stand as a witness at the Cambodia War Crimes Tribunal, faces the former prison warden Comrade Duch, who gave the final orders for Kerry and thousands of others to be tortured and killed and meets survivors who tell the story of the notorious S-21 prison. 
  • Werner Herzog’s  exploration of life on death row, Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, follows the story of Michael Perry, who was executed eight days after filming began,  and Jason Burkett, who were found guilty of three capital murders in Texas, and unravels the crime and trial from separate viewpoints, including the victim’s families and prison staff.
  • Lise Birk Pedersen’s documentary Putin’s Kiss focuses on 19-year-old Masha and her journey through the Kremlin-created Nashi youth movement. Masha supports Putin’s policies of seeking to rid Russia of what Nashi believes are Russia’s “enemies”: political opposition, investigative journalists, and human rights defenders. But as a journalist herself she starts socialising with colleagues in this circle, and  begins to question Nashi and its leaders.
  • In Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge’s Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Jawad travels to Pakistan to treat women who have suffered acid attacks. Among them is Zakia, who goes to court to prosecute her husband for her attack. She becomes the first case tried under a new law in Pakistan that punishes the  attackers with life imprisonment.
  • Susan Youssef’s drama Habibi tells the story of young lovers Qays (Kais Nashef) and Layla (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who are university students in the West Bank. Both are forced home to Khan Yunis before they have completed their studies and in this more religious and traditional environment their love story can continue only if they marry. Yet Qays is too poor to convince Layla’s father that he can provide for his beloved daughter. In an act of rebellion Qays paints verses from the classical poem Majnun Layla all over Khan Yunis, which angers Layla’s father and the local self-appointed moral police.

And now for......

3.  A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer: Eve Ensler comes to the  Lyric Theatre on Monday March 26th 2012.

You will know Eve Ensler as the originator of The Vagina Monologues, V-day founder, tireless international campaigner for women’s human rights, an advocate, a writer, a personality, a heroine and a wit who has used her seemingly infinite energy and success to enable girls and women all over the world in speaking up, shouting out and even taking the stage. A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer is a new performance piece showcased as a collection of one-night performances featuring some of the coolest women performers working today: Rosario Dawson, Eve Ensler herself, Neheh Cherry, Meera Syal, Thandie Newton and more. Memory... is an adaptation of Ensler’s book of the same name. The producers have selected ten monologues to produce a varied and entertaining show expressing how violence against women affects everyone. All proceeds will go to charities dedicated to stopping violence against women and girls including Women for Women International and the Domestic Violence Intervention Project.

In addition to the sharp, shocking, deeply affecting script the Memory... series boasts some incredible art- and acting-world talents as directors: Tate Modern director Chris Dercon; Iwona Blazwick, OBE, director of the Whitechapel Gallery; RADA's Sue Dunderdale and Marcus Warren and Anna Ledwich.

Goldman Sachs Gives altruistic arm (don’t say anything) will be matching all ticket sales with donations, and The Millby Charitable Trust will be tripling this. There are also VIP seats which include the aftershow party with the cast and main players, on sale for £225.


4. Her Noise: Feminisms and the Sonic performance, talks, symposium and screening at the Tate Modern, 3rd – 5th  May 2012. Book tickets here.


Image by artist Jan Herman
 After the high profile mainstream success of Eve Ensler’s global empowerment project, I’ll end with something really intriguing, new (to me), avant-garde and promising to look forward to in May. I’ve been contacted by Electra Productions about Her Noise, a three day event which looks critically at political questions in sound, moving image, performance and cross-disciplinary art. It celebrates women in these fields – in particular, longstanding and veteran talents whose practice or influence is still going strong – given context, analysis and discussion by a thrilling range of additional speakers. I hope very much to see much more of this from Electra: putting women artists right back into the heart of cultural dialogue, acknowledging our creativity and importance, treating us to respectful appraisal and positioning us within a broader critical and art-historical framework. Check out the Facebook page here.

Her Noise includes performances and a talk by Pauline Oliveros, an evening considering the legacy of director Meredith Monk and a day of talks and discussions with contributions by Ute Meta Bauer, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Nina Power, Tara Rodgers and more. This programme marks the donation of the Her Noise Archive to the University of the Arts London Archives and Special Collections housed at London College of Communication, and is realised as a collaboration between CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice), Electra and Tate.

Full details below:

Artist Talk and Performance by Pauline Oliveros
Thursday 3 May 19.00-21.30, £12 / £9
Pioneering composer, performer and humanitarian Pauline Oliveros celebrates her 80th birthday this year. She gives a solo performance and a talk entitled 'Archiving the Future: The Embodiment Music of Women', followed by a performance of her 1970 score To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation in the Turbine Hall.

Film and performance: The Voice is a Language
Friday 4 May 19.00, £5
This performance and screening celebrates the legacy of avant-garde pioneer Meredith Monk, featuring work by artists Sophie Macpherson, James Richards, Cara Tolmie and Sue Tompkins and rarely seen films by Monk. The evening is curated by Isla Leaver-Yap.

Symposium: Feminisms and the Sonic
5 May 11.00-17.50, £20 / £14
Exploring and developing emergent feminist discourses in sound and music, this symposium brings together contributions by musicians, artists, academics and writers, including Ute Meta Bauer, Sonia Boyce, Georgina Born, Viv Corringham, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Lina Dzuverovic, Catherine Grant, Emma Hedditch, Anne Karpf, Cathy Lane, Anne Hilde Neset, Maggie Nichols, Nina Power, Tara Rodgers, Salomé Voegelin.

I hope this round-up fills your diary, freshens your heart and restores your faith. Enjoy!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Workplace bullying: a realtime case study.

A few days ago the novelist and journalist Linda Grant wrote a brilliant article for the Guardian about everyday sexism, inspired by a Tweet she had sent commenting on women's position in society today. The response, on Twitter and in the article comments, was huge, as women everywhere simply recounted incidents of injustice and prejudice that they experience and witness every day. Grant wrote extremely movingly about feminism being the greatest, most wide-reaching and successful revolution the world has ever seen and I agree with her completely. It is exciting to be part of such a strong women’s movement, which advances despite such immense and ubiquitous opposition - a misogynist opposition so widespread that it has become the norm, the standard, the default, the context for everything.

On the issue of this opposition Grant is not triumphant but sober. She indicates the sadness, the chagrin, the depression and the sheer horror that come from ubiquitous sexism as it is expressed virtually constantly in “everyday experience, not rhetoric or theory, but the very air we breathe, the way we live, yesterday and today: the small indignities, the opportunities denied, the insults, the patronage, the dismissal, the ignoring, the diminishing, the low expectations, the whole indignity of sexism, including the relentless jokes about it, jokes that are rarely made in relation to racism.”

A few days after Grant's article was published I received the following email and sent the response below. I have kept in the compliments because I didn’t want to edit anything. The writer gave me permission to reprint her emails and all names have been changed.

Dear Bidisha,

I have only recently started reading your blog, and am hooked. I am really enjoying your writing - your honesty and frankness, but also the way you aren't afraid to talk about how sexism makes us feel. I have always been wary of admitting the emotional impact of such experiences, for fear that it somehow makes the facts less powerful.

I wanted to email because I am having trouble at work and my instinct tells me strongly that it is a sexist issue, although I feel sure that those involved would disagree. I am just interested to see what you think, so that I can understand the situation a little better.

I teach music part time at [an educational institution that does extremely valuable work].  I am a performing musician myself, I sing and play cello, in bands and solo. I have recorded in studios and worked with various producers in various genres of music. I am in an a performance collective and am working on a piece of solo theatre which will involve music, comedy and text-based performance. I have also years of experience as a workshop leader, both music and drama, for young people of all ages.

Since I started teaching at this particular [institution] I have had as my teaching assistant a man called Iain, who is 37 (I am 29). Until I arrived at school he was without doubt the only adult at school with experience with 'modern' music in performance, and considers himself to be the go-to guy at school in terms of cool bands and playing guitar. In my lessons he undermines me at times, and in conversation always, always disregards my performance/music experience.

There is another man in school, Sean, who has a degree in music technology.  When I first arrived at the school he was really helpful, offering his help in selecting new equipment but ultimately deferring to my decisions. I considered him an ally, if not quite a friend.

Then, at the staff Christmas party, we were chatting and getting on well.  I thought nothing of it - I am in a 5 year relationship (which he knows) and he is married. But just before he left he tried to kiss me.  I turned him down, said "I thought you were married?" and he left.

Since then, him and Iain have seemed to become a gang. They have arranged music clubs for lunchtimes I am not there, even though I have directly told them not to, and told me I can do the singing with the girls on a Thursday. Eventually, after numerous occasions where I have sat them down and reasonably explained my decisions, I sent an email and cc'd in the headteacher. Sean emailed back, a snide, nasty email that implies heavily that I have done no work towards the project and that he couldn't believe he had to explain this to me again.  To add to that, another teacher overheard Iain speaking to me in a manner not appropriate for him being my teaching assistant, and so I was pulled into the head's office to ask whether Iain undermines me. When I said a reluctant 'yes', the headteacher told me he would deal with it.  The head then pulled Iain out of my lesson, told him off then sent him back to my lesson for the remaining hour, during which time Iain neither spoke to me nor looked at me, and refused to help the kids, instead just saying, "You'd better ask Miss" whenever they asked a question.

I don't know why I felt the need to write to you about this. I am feeling unbearably anxious about the meetings with Sean, Iain and the headteacher on Thursday, and feel that I just am not going to be listened to properly. I suppose I just wanted to ask you whether you thought that I am on the receiving end of some sexist behaviour? I feel sick about the whole situation.

I guess the only other thing to mention is that there is another teacher, Rosie, who is on my side completely, and I know she fearlessly sticks up for me.

I imagine you are very busy, so obviously you might not have time to reply.  In fact, even just writing this email has helped me see things a little more clearly.

I replied,


Hello,

You are absolutely totally and utterly being victimised in a range of pretty typical sexist ways, all of which are deeply detrimental in combination. Your email makes this very clear indeed. You have done all the right things and (if I may) kept your head very well while all this is going on! You have been proactive, clear and dignified and you have not internalised what is happening.

I wondered if you would give me permission to use what you have written and put it on my blog, with all names changed, along with this reply. I feel it would be very powerful in letting other women know they are not alone - and that the methods of bullying are universal. Your situation may feel isolated and specific but frankly I think you will find that many women have experienced the same, in different fields, and will know what you are going through: the lurking suspicion, the disbelief, the sadness (which I think is always greater than political anger), the confusion about what to do and the horror that it is happening at all, perpetrated by people who seem to be normal, decent guys, colleagues, friends.

Dismissing and undermining a woman, talking down to her, ignoring her, freezing her out, erasing her expertise and contribution, ganging up on her, freezing her out from meaningful and interesting projects, bullying her, refusing to acknowledge her or help her - and outright sexually assaulting her - are all sexist behaviours. Luckily some of these behaviours have been witnessed by other colleagues.

It sounds like a very claustrophobic situation, too. You have been right in taking it to the head and extremely brave in confronting the perpetrators themselves. They now know that you are interpreting their behaviour (rightly) as sexist and bullying. The man who tried to kiss you has grossly overstepped the boundaries of normal, decent, civil (or legal) behaviour and has committed an attempted sexual assault.

I am at a loss for how to advise you. I feel incredibly sad in writing and thinking about possible courses of action and in contemplating how this is poisoning what sounds (reading between the lines) like an otherwise lovely, interesting and challenging job. You could take it to a tribunal - sexual discrimination, bullying - but even if you won, you would be isolated and scapegoated afterwards. Even when a woman wins a tribunal about workplace issues, it can be hard to go in there again as the legal process is tainting in itself.

But you can't continue in this way at all. You have a right to work and to have your no doubt great contribution, expertise, experience and talent acknowledged with gratitude, welcomed into the broader work that is done and thankfully referenced. You have a right to face your colleagues without fear of bullying, belittling and sexual harassment/assault and a right to flourish as a teacher and a musician of great pedigree.

It is not as though you want the perpetrators 'punished', as such; more that you want to be able to do what you do best, without being undermined or mistreated.

If I were you, I would talk to Rosie and ask if she might support me, then I would submit a formal complaint to the head (if you have not already done so) and if there are any 'higher' disciplinary bodies, giving as many specific examples, with times, dates and dialogue, as possible. I would explain what specific action I would like taken. If this makes no difference, or things become worse....

....Perhaps it's a sign that the universe wants you to step out onto a bigger stage, as a creative theatre, music and performance star in your own right. Sometimes a school is too small to contain a woman's charisma, talent, guts and gifts.

Lots of love,

Bidisha

She replied,


Hello,

Thank you so much for your response. I feel heartened by it, and a lot more confident in facing the meeting on Thursday. I do feel that I have been frozen out, belittled and bullied, but I think I hadn't really seen it like that.  It feels so shocking and personal, somehow insidious, that I have been seriously asking myself whether it's my fault.  However, now I am prepared to go in and fight my corner, as much as I would infinitely prefer not to have to. I feel so bored by the situation, really, a sort of fundamental boredom, bored by even having to go down this path.

But, yes, of course please do put this up on your blog. Also I have sent my email and your response round to some friends and family and many have already come back to me in support. Also a friend (who has more experience in workplace confrontation) is going to prep me for the meetings so I can express myself in the most calm, assertive way possible! I will certainly talk to Rosie and engage her support as well.

Again, thank you so much, I so appreciate your warm, compassionate response.

Love,

Harriet
Well...Thursday has come and gone. I wonder how it went.

UPDATE, as as 27.3.12. Well! Now you know:

Hi Bidisha,

Thanks for publishing the story, I hope it helps other people in similar positions not feel so alone.  I went into the meetings feeling confident and reasonable, and came out feeling like I had stood my ground and shown that I wasn't going to take any of that behaviour, and it worked. I compromised at the points I had decided I could compromise on, and since then have been feeling much better about the whole situation. I have also decided that I am not going to let it upset me, and will deal with problems if and when they arise without letting what's happened and what might potentially happen dent my confidence.

A few people have contacted me having read your blog post, and so I was wondering whether you could take out the reference to [certain identifying factors]? It hadn't occurred to me before that these things would would identify me as much as my actual name.

Thanks, and again, thanks for your help and support, it has helped immensely.

Love Harriet x 

My reply:
First of all - CONGRATULATIONS!
Yes, I will take out the references you mention immediately.

May I include this exchange at the bottom of the blog post? It will make many readers delighted. You have been noble, civilised, high-minded, shown absolute smarts under great pressure and acted with a confidence and a sense of self-worth which have shone the way. And you have triumphed without losing the job you love the work you excel at.

Congratulations - I am full of admiration.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

An appeal from Child in Need India reveals "two Indias" - that of the privileged, and that of the poor

Child In Need India (CINI) has been working in India for nearly 40 years to combat the worst effects of poverty in a country where 6,000 children a day die from preventable causes such as malnutrition and women are 80 times more likely to die in childbirth than in the UK, according to  UNICEF research from 2009.

The charity's health workers identify pregnant women in poor districts who are at risk of developing complications during pregnancy or giving birth to severely malnourished children. Health workers dispense life-saving ante-natal advice to women and advise the family on creating nutritious meals on a tight budget. They also provide vaccinations and act as advocates to help women access the health and education services that they are entitled to in order to bring about long-term improvements in people’s lives.

This Mother’s Day, CINI hopes to raise enough funds through a charity appeal on Radio Four to support 1,000 women through their pregnancy upto their child’s second birthday through a sponsorship programme costing just £10 per month for 33 months - which add up to the first 1,000 days of a child's life.

Designer and entrepreneur Jade Jagger has recently been appointed as CINI’s celebrity ambassador. Speaking ahead of Mother’s Day, Jade said:
As a young mother [of two daughters], I’ve always been aware of the hardship other families endure and, of course, the potential dangers. CINI's work with pregnant women and children from the poorest families saves lives and there is no better time than Mother’s Day to highlight the fact that, for many women in India, childbirth can be a deadly experience without the right support.
You can read the pregnancy diaries and case studies of two Indian women on the CINI site, here.

The charity will broadcast an appeal read by Sir Mark Tully on BBC Radio Four this Mother's Day, Sunday 18th March, at 7.55am and 9.26pm and the following Thursday, 22nd March, at 3.27pm. Mark Tully is a patron of CINI and said his experience of travelling around India  had demonstrated the gaps in basic health care which resulted in many needless deaths. He added:

Conservative estimates show that one young woman in the prime of her life dies every seven minutes in India due to pregnancy-related complications.
CINI founder Dr Samir Chaudhuri, a paediatrician who set up the charity as a small clinic in Kolkatta in 1974, said it made him angry to see so many preventable deaths in his country. He said healthcare for the Indian poor was either unavailable or of poor quality and that illiteracy and poverty were also contributing factors in maternal and infant mortality. But why, in a country which is booming economically, are so many people dying from preventable causes? He says,

Today, there are two Indias. The India that is booming is literate and has the skills and capacity to generate wealth - their children won’t die. Then there is the other India, where there is malnutrition, illiteracy and poverty and there is no access to healthcare and nutrition.
In the UK, more than a century ago, the same situation existed with a ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ England separated by wealth. It was the industrial revolution, along with education and greater transparency which helped to close that gap and I believe the same thing will happen in India but it will take time - maybe another 20 years. I don’t think I will live to see it.




For my colleagues: call Ian Griggs on 07790 926 292 for more details or to arrange interviews.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Disgruntled of Devon shows how Tesco patronises women just in time for Mother's Day

This, from a reader, too painful to pass over:

I meet examples of sexism virtually daily here in Devon, and I try always to challenge it - though it gets very wearing sometimes!  I dropped into Tesco this morning to be met by a large placard/ad at the front entrance for Mother's Day, which began:
Mums do so much for us - not just the cooking, shopping and cleaning.

I shouldn't be surprised, but I was - it just encapsulates all the unspoken assumptions about 'women's work' and who does the chores in the household, and it just so saddens me that, after all these years, these assumptions are still so much on display, so much a part of our daily life.  The placard went on to extol the virtues of mums, how much they care and look after us, etc. - and I'm a mum too, and yes, I've done all this stuff - but I do other stuff too, and my (male) partner shares shopping and cooking and cleaning and other chores too, as well as the caring and parenting.

I'm intending to complain to Tesco, but it so feels like an uphill struggle in this neck of the woods...  I just wanted to share it with someone out there who I know will 'get' immediately what I mean and how I feel about this - and believe me, there are so many people I know here who just wouldn't even see this placard as any kind of a problem...

Thanks for listening!

Monday, 12 March 2012

To all rape and sexual assault survivors, WE BELIEVE YOU

A large-scale, pioneering Mumsnet survey has found that one in ten of the respondents have suffered rape and over one-third have been sexually assaulted. The overwhelming majority of these women have not reported these gross acts of violation and sexual violence to the police; many have not even told family and friends. It is in response to this revelation of endemic and cataclysmic sexual violence that Mumsnet have launched a new campaign, which I suppport wholeheartedly and have written for, here. It is called We Believe You.

 The survey was completed by over 1,600 women and showed that, of the respondents,

• One in ten had been raped (10%)
• Over one-third (35%) had been sexually assaulted
• Almost one-quarter (23%) reported being raped or sexually assaulted four or more times
• In two-thirds (66%) of cases the women knew the person responsible

Many women felt unable to report rape or sexual assault:
• Over four-fifths (83%) of respondents who had been raped or sexually assaulted did not make a report to the police
• Over one-quarter (29%) didn’t tell anyone at all, including friends or family, about the assault/rape
• Over two-thirds (68%) said they would hesitate reporting to the police due to low conviction rates
• And over half (53%) would not report due to embarrassment or shame.

The results also reveal that most women feel that rape victims are treated poorly:
• Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape
• Over half (53%) feel the legal system is unsympathetic
• And over half (55%) feel society at large is unsympathetic

In response to these results, Mumsnet is today launching the week-long ‘We Believe You’ campaign. Backed by Rape Crisis, Barnardo’s and the End Violence Against Women coalition, the campaign aims to support women who have suffered rape and sexual assault by raising awareness of how common these crimes are and challenging the myths that stop people reporting them. Below you will find their report Rape: the Truth Behind the Myths, which is published today and sets out to bust eight persistent myths that help to make society less sympathetic to victims than it should be.

I have written an article for Mumsnet tackling one of the issues they outline and you can read an excellent article by Laura Woodhouse on the standards, research methods and challenges of analysing sexual violence statistics here. There is also a great piece on this issue from Who Does She Think She Is?

Launching the campaign, Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Co-Founder and CEO, said:
The results of our survey are really shocking. We simply shouldn’t accept that we live in a country where one in ten women are raped and over one-third sexually assaulted. Things are made worse by the feeling among many women that they can’t talk about these crimes for fear of being treated unsympathetically, denying them access to practical and emotional support when they need it most. The message from the men and women on Mumsnet is clear: we believe you – and we want others in society to start believing you too
Katie Russell on behalf of Rape Crisis (England & Wales) stated:
The findings of the Mumsnet survey reflect the front-line experience of our member Rape Crisis Centres across the country, and we welcome this campaign's determination to dispel the negative myths and misconceptions that prevent women and girls from accessing the support they want, need and deserve.
Holly Dustin, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
The survey findings show clearly that sexual violence is far more widespread in women’s lives than commonly thought, and that prejudicial reporting in the media and negative public attitudes have a harmful impact. We want to see ongoing public campaigns to tackle attitudes to sexual violence, and work with young people in schools to prevent harmful behaviours developing in the first place. It is also critical that all women and girls have access to Rape Crisis centres or other specialist support services in their community.
Further details:
  • For interview or case study requests please contact Katie O’Donovan, reachable at Katie@mumsnet.com
  • The Twitter hashtag for the campaign is #webelieveyou
  • To contact Rape Crisis: media@rapecrisis.org.uk
  • To contact EVAW coalition email sarah.green@evaw.org.uk
  • Mumsnet is the UK’s busiest social network for parents, generating 38 million page views per month and 5 million visits per month.

 Rape: the truth behind the myths

MYTH: Women are most likely to be raped by a stranger, outside, in dark alleyways.
REALITY:
  •  More than 80% of women who are raped know their attacker.[i]
  •  22% of perpetrators are reported as ‘partner/ex-partner’.[i]
  •  Over two-thirds of rapes take place in the victim’s home, the suspect’s home or the victim/suspect’s shared home.[i]
The effect of this myth is that women who are raped in domestic circumstances don’t identify their experience as rape, or report it. It also blames the victim, and limits women’s freedom of movement, by implying that rape can be prevented if women avoid certain places.

The Mumsnetter view:
It makes people view rapists as monsters (which is true) and therefore the man who lives over the road or the man who works in accounting or your husband’s friend couldn't possibly be rapists (which unfortunately isn't true) because they're normal decent human beings.

MYTH: Women provoke rape by their appearance or behavior.
REALITY:
  • Dressing attractively and/or flirting is never an invitation to rape.
  • Rape is not a ‘crime of passion’; it is an expression of power and control.
No woman ‘asks to be raped’ or ‘deserves what she gets’; the rapist alone is responsible for the rape. Rape happens to women of all ages, from the very young to the very old: the victim’s physical appearance is irrelevant.There is no ‘typical rape victim’.

The Mumsnetter view:
I was very promiscuous (my choice entirely, but not really coming from a happy place) and frankly I couldn't handle that being used against me in court, or my family having to listen to it.

MYTH: If a woman didn’t struggle, wasn’t injured, or didn’t report immediately, she wasn’t raped.
REALITY:
  • Victims may co-operate with the rapist to save their lives, or they may be paralysed with fear.
  • Following rape, many victims experience shock; this can make them seem ‘unnaturally calm’.
  • Victims may experience shame, shock or denial, which might mean they do not report the rape for some time.
Victims are often legitimately afraid of being killed or seriously injured; the rapist may have threatened further harm – or harm to family members – if they resist. The victim's perception of danger will influence their behaviour. In 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled that, because of feelings of shame and shock, victims of rape might not complain for some time; a late complaint does not mean it’s a false complaint. (R v D (JA) October 24 2008.)ii

The Mumsnetter view:
It's a defence mechanism. Somewhere our brain is telling us ‘if you fight, scream, make a fuss, he might kill you. Do what he tells you and it'll be over soon.’ It's very common for women being raped/assaulted to ‘just lie there’ and do nothing, to not try to scream or run away, because that's actually more dangerous. Our subconscious takes over in these sorts of situations, so just because a woman didn't try to fight does NOT mean that she wanted it.

MYTH: Women who get drunk or take drugs shouldn’t be surprised if they are raped or sexually assaulted.
REALITY:
  • Being vulnerable is not the same thing as giving consent.
  • if a woman is unable to give consent because she is drunk, drugged or unconscious, it is rape.[ii]
  • Women have the same right to consume alcohol as men.
If a woman has consumed alcohol (which is true in fewer than 4 in 10 cases of rape and sexual assault), it is the man’s responsibility to ensure that the victim has given/is capable of giving consent. If he does not do so, he is committing rape.

The Mumsnetter view:
I genuinely thought for years that, because I was drunk and because I'd taken him up on his offer of the sofa bed downstairs from him, that I must have been at fault when he came down in the middle of the night.

MYTH: Women often lie about rape; police officers and jurors should bear this in mind.
REALITY:
  • There is no evidence that false allegations of rape are more common than false allegations of many other crimes.
  • Home Office research indicates that between 3 per cent and 8 per cent of initial allegations are false, but that the lower figure is likely to be most accurate.[iii]
Far from being widespread, malicious accusations are rare. A much greater problem in the criminal justice system is the under-reporting of rape: the government estimates that 89% of rapes are never reported to the police at all.[iv] In addition, only 5.3 per cent of rapes reported to the police end in a conviction for rape:[v] the lowest rate of any country in Europe, except for Ireland.[vi]

The Mumsnetter view:
Most people genuinely believe that rape is rare and that most rape allegations are false. That is why most rape victims never bother to report rape; they know they won't be believed. What is the point of putting yourself through the humiliation of the police process and then a court process (if it ever gets to court) when the rapist has a chance of walking free with a smirk on his face?

MYTH: It’s not rape if a woman has consented to some sexual intimacy, or has previously had sex with many partners.
REALITY:
  • A woman can withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity.
  • Having many previous sexual partners does not imply generalised consent to sex.
A woman has a legal right to change her mind about having sex at any point of sexual contact. If a sexual partner does not stop at this point, it is sexual assault. All men are capable of stopping sexual activity at any point. Likewise, having previously consented to sex with other partners does not imply consent to all partners. Women involved in prostitution are as capable of being raped as other women.

The Mumsnetter view:
It was a friend’s husband. We’d been seen laughing and drinking together so I was sure no one would believe me.

MYTH: Rape can’t take place in an ongoing relationship.
REALITY:
  • Previous consent to sex does not imply ongoing consent.
  • Sex without consent is rape. It makes no difference whether the aggressor is a woman’s husband or partner, or a complete stranger.
  • 22% of rapes are committed by partners or ex-partners.i
It’s irrelevant whether or not a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them previously. Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, told a court to approach rape within a relationship, including marriage, as being “no less serious than rape by a stranger”.ii  Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact. Sex without consent is rape.

The Mumsnetter view:
I didn’t [report it] when I was a teenager as I knew they would laugh in my face: ex-boyfriend, was happy to kiss him, rang him a week or so later as I wanted to talk about what had happened to try and understand it. So even though I knew that what he had done was wrong, and I called it ‘a sort of sexual assault’ (it was rape but I was minimising), and I did blame him, I knew it would go nowhere.

MYTH: Some rapes aren’t “serious rapes”.
REALITY:
  • All rape is a violation, whether or not the rapist is a stranger, or uses violence.
  • All rapes are serious; some rapes and sexual assaults are compounded by other crimes, such as further violence, kidnapping or abuse, which will add to the woman’s trauma.
Acquaintance-rape survivors may feel particularly vulnerable, since they have found that even people they trusted may hurt them. They may often have to face their assailants after the rapes, causing additional distress, fear and humiliation. They also tend to view themselves more negatively, and suffer more serious psychological problems than other victims.[vii]

The Mumsnetter view:
A few months ago I went for a drink with a friend of a friend whom I then allowed to sleep on my couch as he'd had a couple too many to drive home (wasn't drunk though). He tried to kiss me and I said no, let's just stay friends, and went to bed. I woke up to find him having sex with me.

References:

Friday, 9 March 2012

UN Resolution: the power of educating girls

This is taken from The Power of Educating Adolescent Girls by Cynthia B. Lloyd and Juliet Young, who conducted a UN study on the education of women in developing nations. You can access the full study here.

If you want to change the world, invest in an adolescent girl. An adolescent girl stands at the doorway of adulthood. In that moment, much is decided. If she stays in school, remains healthy, and gains real skills, she will marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn an income that she’ll invest back into her family.

But if she follows the path laid down by poverty, she’ll leave school and enter marriage. As a girl mother, an unskilled worker, and an uneducated citizen, she’ll miss out on the opportunity to reach her full human potential. And each individual tragedy, multiplied by millions of girls, will contribute to a much larger downward spiral for her nation. Investing in girls is the right thing to do on moral, ethical, and human rights grounds. Perhaps no other segment of society globally faces as much exploitation and injustice, and we owe girls our support as integral, yet overlooked, members of the human family. Investing in girls is also the smart thing to do. If the 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world today follow the path of school drop-out, early marriage and early childbirth, and vulnerability to sexual violence and HIV/AIDS, then cycles of poverty will only continue. Yet today, only a tiny fraction of international aid dollars is spent – and spent effectively – on needs specific to girls.

Cherie Blair impresses at the Southbank. But for one tiny detail.

Cherie Blair, QC, opened Europe's largest speed mentoring event at the Southbank today, kicking off the WOW festival. As the venue's artistic director Jude Kelly quipped, "It's like speed dating but without the love. But then - who knows?!" Cherie B was on fine form, genial, friendly, intelligent, extremely charismatic and direct and unexpectedly playful. She reminded Jude, "We have something in common: we're both from Liverpool, we're both from the same year in Liverpool and we're both quite loud and provocative." All said with a twinkle in the eye. Jude Kelly added that "Cherie has made a point of mentoring at an international level for women as well as being an international lawyer." 

Cherie Blair opened by saying, "Thank you for having the imagination and drive to make Wow happen. It's so important to celebrate women when around the world the birth of a girl is sometimes greeted, at best, with an "Oh dear.""

Blair qualified as a lawyer in 1976. It was the first year that the number of women becoming barristers had gone over 10%. She came top of her cohort in the Bar finals and yet was told, when trying to gain an appointment afterwards, that "Women don't do law." She was also told by a prospective employer, "We do have women in our firm, but we've already got one. If we had two, what would happen if they both got pregnant at the same time?"

When she was up for a job as a young lawyer she was told that she was a prime candidate out of two but that as "it's between a girl and a boy, of course we have to give it to the boy." Blair added, "And I thought this was very unfair because they recognised that I was the better lawyer, and he [the boy] recognised that too. And, you know, that boy's name was Tony Blair and a few years later he went off to do something else, and now I've been a lawyer for 35 years. But If I hadn't met that boy all those years ago, who knows what opportunities would have been lost since?"

Ah yes, Tony Blair, the man whose name Cherie faithfully totes. The name she was introduced by today. That's War Criminal Tony Blair (TM), whom Cherie mentions several times in her brief talk, reminding the world that he is a Middle East envoy, despite the fact that he has been seemingly invisible and silent during both the Arab Spring uprisings and in recent discussions on Israel and Palestine, thank goodness. What would he possibly say? "Kill them all! Kill them now? ...What?... I don't want to hear it. I'm not a details guy." I wonder why she loves him. I wonder how she can respect him. I think, on balance, that were I to have fallen in love with WCTB as a young lawyer, the love would pall when he constructed a government in which many women MPs including Clare Short, Diane Abbott and Mo Mowlam acknowledged that women were just used as set dressing and the general culture was macho and sexist, according to Alistair Campbell's memoir. Weirdly, I do believe Campbell, because when people lie they usually do so to make something seem better, not worse; more sophisticated, not more coarse; more enlightened, not more backward. And then, the love having palled, I think it would probably disappear entirely after Tony B spontaneously began an illegal war which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and dozens of soldiers. Of course Cherie Blair is not responsible for her husband's actions. But she ain't embarrassed neither.

Anyway, Cherie Blair's daughter will be qualifying as a barrister this year and the situation is very different in some respects. Her class is 50% female and she can "look up and see examples of senior women." Blair also points out that many of these senior women have thriving work lives as well as children, "Because it's not fair that women should have to choose between having children and having a fulfilling career."

She points out that there must be fundamental support and solidarity amongst women and stresses the importance of mentoring: "Men naturally seem to do this for each other [I mean, Tony B didn't do it for Iraqi men - mainly he killed those, and their families too - or Gordon Brown, really, but I'm sure he did it for many other chaps like, um, Alistair Campbell] and women need to do the same."

Totally agree Cherie. And I agree wholeheartedly with her closing statement: "Never let anyone tell you 'You can't do that, because you're a girl.' You can do that, and we'll do everything we can to make sure you achieve it."

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Marches, bridges, tweets and Tender: International Women's Day, 8.3.12.

International Women’s Day is on the 8th March. As Amy Dawson wrote in the Metro newspaper today, “Violence against women causes more deaths and disabilities among the global female population aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, road traffic accidents and war.” Combined. She adds, “It is estimated that one in five women worldwide will become a victim of rape or attempted rape and one in four will experience domestic violence.”

The abuse of women is global and endemic – but equally, the fightback is also global, vocal and breathtakingly brave. We women number three and a half billion. For all the mocking talk about women disagreeing and not getting along, which I think is a myth, every woman on the planet certainly agrees on one thing: that women, men and children alike have the right to live, breathe, work, walk, laugh and speak freely without fear of violence, violation, abuse, exploitation, discrimination or any other type of abuse.

We are in the middle of an amazing time of rebellion, activism, questioning, freedom fighting and defiance and we should feel privileged, despite the injustices of the world. We have the opportunity to change that world by our actions, whatever the risks, and we are doing so. Protests against abuse of all kinds – financial, sexual, political, military – are happening all over the world.

Here are just a few of the campaigns being launched around International Women’s Day, which have been brought to my attention. The text below is from the respective charities’ press releases, read through and endorsed by me.

Women for Women International are enabling women from all over the globe to stand with the women survivors of war and call for peace and equality as part of their Join me on the Bridge campaign. If you can't make it onto a bridge, you can make a donation to Women for Women International to support women survivors of war to rebuild their lives.


 The charity points out the following facts:
  • In Afghanistan, 85% of women have never had any formal education.
  • In South Sudan, one in six pregnant women die in childbirth.
  • In Democratic Republic of the Congo, 48 women are raped every hour.
Already, 200 brave women have marched on a bridge in Kabul, Afghanistan to call for an equal seat at the peace negotiation table. Last Saturday, 1,500 men and women marched together for peace and equality in their new nation, South Sudan, following many years of war and instability.


 Women in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda are getting excited about International Women's Day and the opportunity to make the world a better place with the Join me on the Bridge campaign. You can help the women survivors of war and conflict in the eight countries Women for Women International work in - Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan - by making a donation now.

A different charity, Womankind Worldwide, is connecting women in a different but equally original way: bhosting a virtual march around the world. They write:
Nowhere in the world do women enjoy the same rights or opportunities as men. Every day women and girls face discrimination, poverty and violence. Globally, 10 million more girls are out of school than boys, and at least 1 in 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
But women can transform their lives, their communities and the world if they have the right support. On International Women’s Day 2012 Womankind want to get the message out that the women’s movement is a powerful, global force for change. 

Women demonstrating in Peru. Photo courtesy of
Womankind Worldwide.
Join women and men in marching around the world and show that together we are a force to be reckoned with. You can also explore an interactive world map to find out about the pioneering projects making waves for women’s rights all over the world. And visit www.twitter.com/woman_kind or www.facebook.com/womankind to send a message of support to Womankind’s partner organisations.

 ...And Theatre For A Change, whose work in Malawi I highlighted in this post, will have their gender equality campaign highlighted on their home page - with links to their newsletter.

I have also been contacted by Tender, who work with young people to foster non-abusive and non-coercive relationships. Here's what they have to say:

Seven years ago, Tender designed a small pilot project for young people.  The aim was to change attitudes.  We believed that by educating young people, we could break the silence surrounding domestic abuse and sexual violence.  We could empower young people to promote equality and respect. We started small.  In the end, we delivered the pilot to just 5 secondary schools in London, and we waited nervously for the results. 

The response was overwhelming.  Young people and teachers felt there was a need for this project to grow, to reach more schools, and to involve more young people.   Today, our projects reach more than 100 schools and youth centres in a year. It’s been incredible to watch the explosion of activity by young people to end abuse.  Think back to what we achieved since this time last year on International Women’s Day.....
  • 1,242 young people have produced peer education performances about domestic and sexual violence, reaching 15,000 further young people.
  • We’ve changed attitudes and behaviours: 91% of the teachers who took part in the delivery and advanced training of our work said that it resulted in positive changes in their students.·        
  • Young people performed for MPs, teachers and opinion formers to call the government to prioritise prevention in its Violence Against Women strategy, in collaboration with End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW).·        
  • Individual young people have found the strength to leave abusive relationships after attending our programmes.
Help Tender celebrate the achievements of last year and invest in their future success with a contribution.  Your support would help Tender expand their campaigns and projects even further and equip even more young people with the skills they need to recognise and avoid violent and abusive relationships. Tender do not have the resources to spend time and money on heavy marketing schemes. They add:
We know that it is very easy to write empowering words about how strong we can be when we work together, but for Tender, we see the proof of that every day. We see it in the young girl who had the courage to leave her abusive boyfriend. We see it in the teacher who became more confident in approaching the issues of sexual violence with his students. And more importantly, we see it in the schools and youth centres that continue to deliver violence prevention after we’ve left. 
 Visit http://www.tender.org.uk/  or email  communications@tender.org.uk for more information.
     

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Mister high profile theatre artsbag, I will not be your soft landing.

How to lose feminist friends and alienate decent people in three easy steps. Some proper nouns have been changed - the changes are obvious. Like no-one goes to Homs for a romantic mini-break.

I try hard to repulse men. I do this through my strident, shrill, aggressive, angry, hysterical women's advocacy, my militant celibacy (thirteen years, with one little mistake), my unwomanly sense of messianic destiny, ceaseless nagging and carping and all the features I was born with. Sometimes, however, I fail. I have failed at the man-repulsing project to which I have dedicated my life. Now it is not a man who is repulsed, but me.

Picture the scene: a debate about women's representation in cultural life. Many women advocates and some male supporters are there, one of whom is Sir Constance Care-A-Lot, a great respecter of women, who respects women, when he isn't busy respecting women, and is Supreme Respectful Commissioner of Women at the renowned Temple of Former Discrimination, now The Palace of Egality. That is to say, he is a literary manager at a major London theatre which champions new work. Sir Constance Care-A-Lot speaks at length, with depth, and wit, and passion. He speaks with eagerness and pleasing self-deprecation. A simple glance at his track record shows that he has supported many women at all stages of their careers. He reads us, references us, celebrates us and publicises us with his sense of fair play, his talent and his civility. He respects us - so much! - and we appreciate him.

"I just went shopping," he says.
"Oh, what did you buy?"
"Just some shorts."
"Running shorts?"
"No. Sitting shorts."

What Wickham-like lightness he has! What ability to laugh at himself! He says he's shortly to travel to the war-torn city of Homs in Syria for a romantic weekend which will involve some good Syrian food, a sports match and all the recreation, style and ease that Homs is famous for. He tells me that he's been with a Syrian "girl" (meaning woman) for a very long time and that he'd been thinking about settling in Homs "when it became time to move our relationship up a stage from set weekends here or there, in Homs and London. But then I was offered the job of Supreme Respectful Commissioner of Women and you can't say no, really." 

Earlier in the conversation I'd remarked, "I'm interested in consequences. Even consequences for the worse. I like how everything turns into something else."

He picked up on it:

"Even though my relationship's now in its final throes, you mentioned consequences: one consequence is that I now have this fifteen year old girl, a step-daughter, basically, who walks around with me arm-in-arm and has no intention of saying goodbye to me from her life, and that's just lovely."

Yes, it is lovely. Lovely and decent girls deserve decent and lovely, kind, friendly, warm, honest, trustworthy father figures who know how to treat girls and women as human beings and behave appropriately. And also, I would say that their grown-up Syrian mothers deserve decent treatment by their partners even in the last stages of a long-term relationship. They do not deserve to be betrayed, to be played, to be messed about. They do not deserve a man who makes overtures to others, shores up dates or hedges his bets. And I do not like to be implicated in that man's romantic explorations or drawn into exchanges which I have not invited, instigated or encouraged.

Women of Syria, know that I am not the ally of any man like that. I do not act with protective discretion in regard to his sleaziness.

At the end of the day the group said goodbye and went home. It was Friday. Several of us had exchanged business cards. I gave about six of mine out, including to and from Sir Constance, whom I had never met before that day.

That night at 10.33pm, I received the following text:
Loved your company today. Not sure how to go about this but I'm wondering about inviting you stwE5Z?rbYtre [this part of the message was garbled and I have reproduced the garble as closely as possible] sometime soon. Constance X.
I responded to this creeping. slimy, disgustingly over-familiar and fake coy message just 80-odd hours later, on Tuesday at 2:05pm, with
Hello, this is Bidisha. The second half of your text was comically garbled. You want to invite me to what? Are you inviting me to submit work? If so, I would absolutely love to.
The response a few minutes later was,
I was wondering whether you'd like to come to a show some time. With me, I mean.
I replied,
No thanks, there's no need! The Beeb send me to loads of stuff so I keep up to date with what's on the theatre scene, but I'll tell our mutual friend Tamarin Talentissima you've been in touch and send her your best. Hope you had an excellent weekend enjoying biking, sport, food and romance in Homs in Syria. Have a great year.
Thankfully, he replied,
You too.
As the day has worn on, I have found myself unable to concentrate on my work - I've been trying to organise a series of panel discussions about war reportage around the publication of Beyond the Wall in May and cast some debates about film history for a festival in June and July. I have not done anything to 'invite' attention from Sir Constance and I am not flattered but revolted and outraged on my own behalf and that of his partner and step-daughter. I always communicate with people by email and do not get involved in intimate little text exchanges, with anyone, about anything.

My skin is crawling as I write this: a man who goes to a feminist conference and pretends to respect women but is actually there to betray his female partner and make unwanted advances to a female stranger without a second's hesitation. A man like that does not respect women but behaves towards them with contempt and hypocrisy. Sir Constance, I am not to be harassed or used or sleazily approached by text at night as if to be grabbed like an object. And your partner is not to be betrayed, deceived, tricked, set up or cheated on as a dupe. That is outright abusive behaviour and I think you would not like it, Sir Constance, if it was done to you. If you have pretended to your colleagues, your step-daughter, the female playwrights you commission and your female friends and relatives that you respect women, you have lied deliberately to cover your  infidelity and hypocrisy.

I now have to be cautious whenever I visit the Palace of Egality to review something. I must remember that I am not tolerated there for my mind and will not receive any commissions to develop my art, even though it is highly acclaimed . However, my (totally average and absolutely OK) outward appearance and manner are always there to be reacted to and used whether I want it or not or whether I am aware of it or not. I must be cowed and mistrustful next time I meet a seemingly decent powerful man in the arts and, as Austen and Wharton knew, I must tread carefully and keep custody of all I do and say, how I move and where I cast my eyes, whether I am eager or toyingly quiet, lest the fragility of my reputation be shattered forever. I must shelve my friendliness and confidence or someone will take it, falsify it, misconstrue it, sexualise it, use it as an excuse to behave improperly, justify their own sleaziness by it and then blame me when they are outed.

I contacted my friends and all colleagues from the event, alerted all the organisers, asked if I had behaved in any way that might justify any victim-blaming and sent them transcripts of the texts.

As I have said in so many places at so many times, sleazebags are scum. But a special category of scum is reserved for those who talk publicly, with pious faces, about how much they respect women, only to demonstrate with nauseating speed and facility how ready they are to immediately objectify, trivialise and implicate a woman they have just met while backstabbing another woman whom they have known for a long time, built a life and family with and to whom they have overtly or implicitly pledged love and loyalty.

Sir Constance Care-A-Lot, your behaviour is inappropriate, violating, unwelcome, uninvited, slimy, arrogant, belittling, objectifying, hypocritical and presumptuous. I do not want you, I do not know you, I have not 'flirted' with you and I do not fancy you. I don't play teasing games with people I do not want, as that is unfair and sleazy. I do not fancy people who have partners, as anyone who is ready and willing to cheat is clearly an abusive piece of scum. And anyone ready and willing to cheat after talking freely about their relationship (oh, "in its final throes," of course, I do recall, those throes and their endless finality... how was your cosy weekend?) with a stranger is a sickening, hypocritical piece of scum, squared.

I do not want you and am not your ally, your admirer or your victim, Constance. You are a 50-something man who is as plain as plain can be, to the point where I cannot even picture your face as I write, thank God. I am the ally of all women who must tolerate sexual harassment, sexualised overtures, revoltingly coy unsolicited night-time messages, disgusting hypocrisy, irrelevant hints, sneaky texts and other incorrect and unnecessary behaviours, simply to exist and survive in this industry. I am the ally of women who are betrayed by emotionally abusive partners. We have a right to do our work and speak with new colleagues as human beings, without being turned - against our will, consent, knowledge, inclination, expectation and dignity - into objects of unwanted 'romantic' proposals.

You have misused the information I gave you. I exchanged business cards with several people on the day I met you. You are the only one who has used the details to make an over-familiar, sexualised overture via text at 10.30pm the same day. You will notice, if you think back, that I told you nothing personal about myself at all. This is because I am not interested in being known personally by you.

Sir Constance Care-A-Lot, if you contact me again, I will out you here. Any message you send to me will be made public. Anything you say to me in person will be written down and put here. Anything said about you to me by an industry colleague will be made public. If I ever encounter your partner I will tell her and show her your texts. Anyone who asks me privately who you are will be told and indeed I have already forwarded your texts to everyone involved in the event including the organisers.*


UPDATE: In less than 24 hours this blog post has now been read by thousands of people, most of whom are arts professionals, many of whom have contacted me to find out the identity of the above person. I have told them. There is now a very funny Mumsnet reaction thread here.

And, below, a very flattering and salutary response from a famous playwright. Included not because of its decency towards me, but because of her humour and her analysis of the underlying power games behind the incident:
Oh god. How depressing. It's just so depressing. I don't know what to say. This is just shit.

Sometimes it all just seems so exhausting.Both explaining to men that the difference between 'I am being nice to you/polite to you/socially open with you/professionally interested' and 'I fancy and want to have sex with you' is SO FAR apart you will just have to take my word for it because you will never get to see the second option. if you did, you would realise, I do not want to have sex with you.

But having to explain it is exhausting and depressing.

And also just the idea of unfaithfulness is exhausting. And for some reason men in the arts who cheat are just even more depressing. Maybe it's just because it's basically EVERYWHERE and also ACCEPTED. Everyone does it and everyone turns a blind eye. And it's always the same pattern over and over - successful man, with talented wife (but not as successful as him) cheats with younger woman who is probably (at least unconsciously) only trying to further her career :( Man's career sky rockets while talented wife stays home and looks after children. He repays her by shagging around.

I expect men see you as a 'feisty challenge' they would like to conquer.

It's almost like he felt he had to do something in 'reaction' to the facts of the day. Like, unconsciously he targeted the strongest FIGUREHEAD of the day, and tried to reduce you to a 'sexy thing' who might like to go on a date with him. Because if you go out with him, then maybe that makes him ok?? Do you know what I mean? Maybe I'm over-analyzing. But I don't think it's impossible. You are a powerful presence at those events, and some men find the idea that sexism is a massive problem really really hard to deal with. Especially entitled priveleged men - because they fear things being different. And they fear the idea that they are complicit, because that would mean they don't deserve everything they have. And they have to believe they do deserve it, or how would they continue to exist?

Your response was pretty good though, I mean, you coped very well. I probably would have ended up going to see a show, reluctantly eating a meal, getting pissed to get through the evening, and then having to avoid him for the rest of my life :). Change career. Move country. That sort of thing...

* The exact words in my email to the organisers were this:
I had never met him before and certainly did not behave in any inappropriate way with him. [I then transcribe the texts and timing and say...]

...let me say seriously that I resent being drawn into a little texty exchange and also having to question myself in case I may have given someone the wrong impression in my behaviour. I am also disgusted to be invited anywhere in this covert, 'intimate' way by a stranger who is cheating on his partner, after having spoken at a conference about how much he supports women. I think cheats are scum and pseudo feminist cheats are the biggest scum of all. I thought I'd flag this up. I have a right to do my job, which I do excellently, without this bullshit.