Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Gender Equality in Northern Ireland

Posted by Bronagh Hinds WNC Commissioner for Northern Ireland

Even Northern Ireland’s cynically hardened journalists were surprised to find how moved they were at recent political developments in Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, two apparently implacably opposed opponents described by some as arch enemies, sat together on 26 March to announce they had agreed terms to share government. And just a week later they agreed on how to carve up Ministerial posts. Roll on D-Day - 8 May - when the Assembly and the Executive will really start business.

But what does all this mean for women?

The 2007 Assembly Election did not demonstrate a model of good practice in political leadership in advancing equality for women. Overall, there were three less women candidates this year than in the last election. Disappointingly, the same number of women of MLAs were elected in 2007 as in 2003 – so no advance there. In fact, women did proportionately worse in all political parties, even in the one party in which the number of women MLAs increased. Why? Because when parties increased their votes the extra seats went to men. When parties lost votes women were casualties.

Sinn Fein was better than other parties, increasing its women MLAs to 8 with its 9 women candidates running mainly in winnable seats. While 40% of SDLP candidates were women just 4 were elected – one less than in 2003. The DUP was also one woman down from 2003 with 3 women MLAs, while the Ulster Unionist Party’s sole woman candidate failed to get elected. Alliance retained 2 women MLAs; and Anna Lo is the first MLA from a minority ethnic background and the first Hong Kong Chinese person to be elected to any European parliament.

But electing women is only half the story. The other half is what is the Assembly going to do for women?

Women’s organisations got together before the election to prepare a Women’s Manifesto. It is really time the parties did something for women. Here are some things that women want prioritised:

· Strong Ministerial leadership of a Gender Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland that is properly resourced
· Adequate funding for the infrastructure of women's organizations rather than fostering competition and division
· Consultation with women on all policies and services
· Gender proofing of all public policy
· A programme to end trafficking and violence against women
· Investment in entrepreneurial activity by women
· Support for family planning and education on sexual health for young women

Every party made demands before they would share power, allow others into government, decommission weapons, join policing arrangements or whatever. Yet women are still waiting for ALL parties to make good on these promises to women in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement: ‘the right of women to full and equal political participation’ and ‘the advancement of women in public life’. We know from experiences in legislatures where women form a critical mass – like those in Scotland and Wales – that there are new perspectives, policy priorities change, outreach and involvement are more inclusive and cultures are transformed. There must be more women appointed as Chairs and Members of public bodies; and parties must select equal number of female and male candidates in winnable seats in all future elections starting with the next Council elections.

Bronagh Hinds is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Governance, Queen’s University Belfast with interests in equality, democracy and governance. She previously held posts in the voluntary sector and has been active on gender and other matters at European and international level. As Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland she led the introduction of the statutory duties on equality and good relations. She was a founder of the Women’s Coalition and involved in negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. She runs DemocraShe to improve women’s access to politics and public life and is a partner in an initiative to advance women in local councils. She is a Member of the Local Government Staff Commission.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Female Genital Mutilation: The Power of the Clitoris

Posted by Enshrah Ahmed of FORWARD

The World Health Organisation defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as “Comprising all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reason.”

There are four main types of FGM, the first three are classified according to the severity of the procedures. For example FGM type one consists of the excision of the prepuce with partial of total removal of the clitoris itself while FGM type 2 consists of the removal the prepuce and the clitoris with total or partial excision of the labia minora. The most serve type of FGM is type three which consists of the excision of part or all of the external genitalia and a stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening.

Why People Practice FGM:
Each practicing community has explanations / rationalisations of why they practice FGM. These explanations include religion, culture, hygiene, health and beauty. For example it has been documented in Mali’s oral culture that clitoris harms men’s penises during intercourse, due to this belief they carry out FGM as proactive and preventive measure. It has also been reported that some of the Yoruba people in the west African coast think the clitoris harms the baby’s head during delivery, therefore, they practice FGM on pregnant women during the second
trimester i.e. FGM is carried out before the delivery of the baby. Likewise some communities in Northern Ghana, they hold the believe that if a woman doesn’t go through FGM and touches /steps across a tree, the tree would not bear fruit.
Interestingly, in the Horn of Africa particularly Sudanese and Somali view women with their intact genitals as “wild” women. For some Muslim FGM practicing communities, the removal of the clitoris means lesser sexual desire for women which is thought to prevent them from being promiscuous.
Underpinning all these explanations is the fact that, these FGM practicing communities view the clitoris as distinctive source of women’s power .Thus for these communities to attain complete control over women, they opt for FGM. FGM like any other form of gender based violence(GBV), must be seen as an indictor of the dynamics of gender power within that community.
Throughout history societies have come up with various forms of GBV particularly violence against women to curtail women’s freedom and prevent them from the full enjoyment of their rights.

For more information on FGM please visit FORWARD’s website www.forwarduk.org.uk.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

The Missing Link

Posted by Jennifer Drew
Researcher in Male Sexual Violence Against Women

Consider how the following sentences all focus on women and girls and omit naming the perpetrators. X number of women and girls were raped last year. How many teenage girls have been in abusive relationships? How many women have experienced domestic violence within the last year? Here are the same sentences again but with a slight difference. Males raped X number of women and girls last year. How many boys have sexually abused their girlfriends? How many men have sexually/physically abused their female partners within the last year?

The difference is the first group of sentences depict women and girls as passive victims. The second group names the gender responsible for acts of sexual and physical violence against women and girls.

One of the most pernicious aspects of male violence against women and girls is its continued invisibility. The phrase ‘violence against women’ or ‘domestic violence’ tells us nothing apart from the fact women experience violence. But just who are committing these acts? Can it be other women? Or perhaps women are abusing themselves. The media too collaborates in taking a gender neutral stance wherein it is always ‘people’ or ‘youths’ who have committed violence. Of course those taboo words ‘male or men’ must on no account be used, as attention will then focus rightly on to the perpetrators’ actions and not the victims.

But there is no such taboo against the words ‘women or girls.’ Naming the female gender is central whenever the media reports such acts of violence. As in ‘a woman committed violence’ or ‘a teenage girl hit someone.’ Victim blaming is very popular for a number of reasons, but the primary one is to remove attention from men’s and boys’ accountability. It also reinforces the message that (male) violence against women is solely a female issue and effectively makes invisible males’ central role in violence against women and girls.

Challenging male violence against women and girls is vital but unless the gender of the perpetrators is always named, nothing will change. Refusing to name the gender primarily responsible for (male) violence against women, means we are inadvertently colluding in hiding and excusing male accountability. Of course not all men and boys commit violent acts against women and girls, but the fact remains many do. How boys and men are socialised into what is perceived as ‘natural’ masculinities must be constantly challenged.


http://www.xyonline.net/ - Men, Masculinities & Gender Politics
http://scottishwomenagainstpornography.co.uk/ (Note site is currently being reconstructed)

Labels: ,