World’s first male rape centre
Aidan Bull, Durham University
A hospital in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, is believed to be the first rape centre for male sexual violence victims.
Sweden has the highest rate of rape in Europe, but this is partly because the country records allegations in a different way to most countries, tracking each case of sexual violence separately. For example, if someone says they were raped every day by their partner for a week, officers will record seven potential crimes. In contrast, many other countries would simply label it as a single incident. This wide reaching tracking system has helped to uncover the hidden statistics of male rape. In 2014, some 370 cases of sexual assault on men or boys were reported across Sweden, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, although experts believe that the actual figure is much higher.
It is hoped that the opening of this clinic will help to further Sweden’s position as one of the most gender-equal country in the world (as voted by The World Economic Forum). Inger Björklund, a spokesperson for the gender equality organisation RFSU welcomes the new facility, claiming “there are myths about masculinity that make it difficult for men who have been sexually traumatized to talk about their experiences [and that] a clinic focusing on men who have been sexually abused will contribute to the awareness of experiences of sexual abuse among men and make it more possible to meet men’s needs”.
It is hoped that this clinic will confront the traditional view of what it is to be ‘masculine’, and instead encourage men to come forward to talk about their experiences in a way to prevent future violence.
The End of China’s One Child Policy?
Oriana Frame, Durham University
On the 29th October 2015 the Chinese Communist Party announced the end of its infamous ‘one child policy’. From March 2016, couples nationwide will now be allowed two children. First instated in 1979, the one child policy aimed to control China’s rapidly increasing population in an effort to ease pressure on resources, the economy and the environment. The Chinese government have claimed the policy has prevented an estimated 400 million births and there are many who would argue that on an economical and environmental level, the policy has been a success. However China is now facing the demographic crisis of a rapidly aging population which risks reversing the progress made. Additionally, the policy has been the subject of much international protest. Abortions have been necessary where pregnancies have not been permitted or (in the case of the fines that in many cases accompany unpermitted pregnancies), simply not affordable. This intrusive regulation of a couples’ fertility has been seen as unacceptable by many.
In practice, the policy was incredibly complex with a number of exceptions and amendments. How strictly, and by what means, it was enforced also varied from province to province. There had however been gradual easing of the policy over the decades as the economic consequences begun to be realised. For example, there had been an amendment to allow ethnic minorities and rural families (if the first was a girl) to have a second child. Additionally, since 2013 there has been an exception allowing two children for families in which one parent is an only child.
Undoubtedly, however, one of the most tragic and notorious consequences of the policy has been the disproportionate impact on the female population. Due to the traditional favouring of male children as the means of carrying on the family line, gender-selective abortions have been common-place and the country also saw the under-reporting of female births, and even infanticide. This disproportionality however has had very real consequences as the country now faces a major gender imbalance. According to the National Population and Family Planning Commission men of marrying age will outnumber women by at least 30 million by 2020.
Many young and unmarried women, particularly in urban areas, are now in a position of increasing empowerment. This perhaps contrasts with the tangible pressure on a generation of only sons – who are still faced with the traditional expectations from their parents to marry and begin a family. However, this incidental twist of fate now favouring the female population does not compensate for the female loss and the failure of the Chinese Government, over the past three decades, to protect baby girls.
Ultimately, the legacy of the ‘one child policy’ is multifaceted and infinitely controversial. What can be simply summarised, however, is the fact that despite this seemingly momentous decision, it is unlikely that this final relaxation will be enough to counteract the affects that the 30 year propaganda campaign has had on a generation. For many Chinese couple having more children remains financially unattractive, or even impossible. Socially too, many have become convinced of the benefits of having a small family. Subsequently, China will still be facing the consequences of this policy for many years to come.
Petition to bar Germaine Greer from speaking at Cardiff University
Emily Whelan, Durham University
Germaine Greer and Cardiff University have opened a debate about freedom of speech which has divided the feminist movement. Greer, author of the Female Eunuch, was invited to give a lecture at Cardiff University called “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century” (no mention of transgender issues was planned). However, she then made a series of transphobic comments, and compared the transgender community to dogs.
As a result, a petition was started by the university’s women’s officer, Rachael Melhuish calling for Greer to be barred from speaking. The petition called out Greer for her “misogynistic views towards trans women” and argued that “allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the trans-misogyny which she continues to perpetuate.” It has thus far been signed by nearly 3000 students, although the talk is still planned to go ahead.
The incident has opened a wider debate regarding inclusivity and freedom of speech in the feminist movement. Whilst many agree that Greer’s status as a feminist icon should not place her above criticism, other’s feel that merely holding controversial opinions should not be enough to override her right to speak. They hold that the importance modern feminists place on inclusiveness means they risk excluding those with differing or offensive views.
“We’re in it for the change: Both making a living and making an impact.” – the first transgender modelling agency in New York
Chantelle Pang, Durham University
With reality star Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, our society is gradually paying more and more attention to transgender people. This is also happening in the world of modeling, where the “conventional” standard of beauty is slowly readjusting.
Peche Di, a transgender model from Thailand, moved to New York City in 2010 with the determination to get signed but realized it was much more difficult than she expected. After many rejections by the typical modelling agencies, The New York Times contacted her for a story about being a trans model at the end of last year. “I just didn’t really want to give up…I wanted to feel like I had something that I gave birth to,” she says and three months later she opened Trans Models, with the vision to help and represent the minority.
By setting up the Trans Models Agency, Di not only wishes to offer transgender more opportunities with regards to modelling, but also to use it as a push for trans models of colour. According to a Fusion article, a total of 20 trans people were murdered this year alone. As Di stated: “I think it’s very important to have them represent the true, unique beauty of trans models…I want to project them to be gorgeous human beings that people shouldn’t look down on or treat like they’re not normal.”
Campaign over Tampon Tax
Ellie Mullan, Durham University
Menstrual products are still considered a ‘luxury’ item after MPs recently voted against scrapping the controversial ‘tampon tax’. Women still have to pay 5% VAT on sanitary products, while this is note paid on products which are considered essential. From helicopters to twiglets, flapjacks to crocodile meat, there are a range of frankly ridiculous products which are considered not taxable due to their apparent essential need in society.
The average woman buys, uses and throws away 11,000 tampons during her lifetime. In Tesco, a box of 20 regular Tampax costs £3.14. This, as Natasha Preskey notes, means that someone earning minimum wage must work about 38 full working days to pay for her lifetime’s supply.
This news has caused a hilarious reaction on Twitter, with women describing treating themselves to a ‘luxury’ Lillet and placing tampons on their eye lids to convey a decadent spa treatment. Although these comments are humorous, they hold a very important and serious message – the fact that this measure was scrapped in Parliament, a chamber that is supposed to convey the view of the public, reinforces the patriarchal stereotypes embedded in our society. This tampon tax serves to merely illustrate the continuing prejudice women face daily – if equality is still not present in the laws we make, what hope do women have in our day-to-day lives?
UCAS to consult on anonymising application forms
Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University
The education admissions body UCAS announced last week that it would consult on plans to anonymise application forms by removing the names of candidates from 2017. The promise was made by PM David Cameron, writing in the Guardian on equality. He said research had shown that ‘top universities make offers to 55% of white applicants, but only to 23% of black ones’. It is hoped that, by becoming ‘name-blind’, the policy will avoid any indirect bias on the part of admissions panel and produce a more representative selection of students.
However this is not the first policy of its kind aimed at increasing diversity. Financial services firm Deloitte has also changed its recruitment policy so that recruiters have no information on where the candidate went to school or university. This is a recent policy change and thus its success is not yet measurable. However, the adoption of such policies appears to show a growing trend in favour of positive measures to increase diversity. This could potentially represent the eventual movement away from the ‘trickle-up’ approach, hoping that inequality in the workplace is a problem that will solve itself. Whether such a movement will be successful depends on the amount of recruiters who opt in to similar systems. For national and sustained change, the numbers will need to be much higher than where they currently stand.
10 Year Old Wants to Change the US Constitution so She Can Run for President
Emily Lombardo, Durham University
When 10 year old Alena Mulhem from Massachusetts told her mother she wanted to become president, her mother had no other choice than to reply; “Honey, unfortunately that’s the only thing you can’t be.”
The fact is that according to the American Constitution as it stands today, only “natural born citizens of the United states” are eligible to run for office, and Mulhem, who was adopted from China at the age of 10 months, will therefore never get the chance to lead the country she’s growing up in and loves unless there is a change in law. “I am an American as much as you are and everyone else. And I don’t really remember China that much. All I know is America,” says Mulhem. She believes this particular section of the constitution is outdated, and isn’t doing America any favors; “Just think of all the great candidates that would not be able to serve our country because of a law that came into existence more than 200 years ago.”
Mulhem is not the first American president hopeful to be shut down because she is not natural born, in fact, politicians like Madeleine Albright and Arnold Schwarzenegger have also been affected, despite being hugely successful, for the simple reason of being born in another country.
In 2013, Schwarzenegger expressed his ambitions about running for president, and changing the constitution in order to do so. His original plan was to abolish the law early enough to be able to run for president in 2016; unfortunately we haven’t heard much from him on this front since then. Still, Mulhem has been gaining a lot of attention in favor of the cause in both national and international media. Perhaps Mulhem being the face of the campaign, giving the cause a fresh voice is exactly what is needed to abolish the law, and give all Americans, no matter where they were born, the opportunity to be president.
Transgender Prison Sentence Complication
Kitty Kirton, Durham University
Tara Hudson, a transgender woman, was given a 12-week jail sentence following an assault. Tara has lived as a woman all of her adult life and has undergone six years of gender reassignment, but is still legally male. Thus, she was jailed at the all-male HMP Bristol.
This led to an online petition calling for Tara’s transferral to a female prison, attracting more than 125,000 signatures, claiming that she “is in extreme danger of abuse, sexual violence and even death.”
Although Tara was unsuccessful in her appeal against her sentence, a judge asked for consideration as to where she serves her sentence, a decision for the Prison Service to establish. A Prison Service spokesperson said, “it is longstanding policy to place offenders according to their legally recognised gender. However, our guidelines allow room for discretion.”
Following the campaign to transfer Tara and a judge asking the Prison Service to reconsider where she serves her sentence, she has since been transferred to a female prison (HM Prison Eastwood Park).
Tara’s difficulty over where she served her sentence arose from not obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) providing her with a new birth certificate of her acquired gender, under the Gender Recognition Act 2004. This is a lengthy process with strict requirements. These include, having or have had persistent gender dysphoria, having lived fully in their identified gender for at least two years and intending to live as this gender for the rest of their life. Nonetheless, a GRC does not prevent an individual’s right to identify as a certain gender, change their name or ask for details amended in certain official records. As such, Tara remained in this legal limbo.
MP Receives Rape Threats after Criticising a Request for a Debate on Men’s Rights
Jessica Tang, Durham University
The MP for Birmingham Yardly, Jess Phillips, has recently been subjected to threats of rape on Twitter after denouncing her colleague’s, Philip Davies, call for a debate on International Men’s Day during a backbench business committee meeting. In response to Philip Davies, Jess Phillips remarked, “as the only woman on this committee, it seems like every day to me is International Men’s Day” and that “when I’ve got parity, when women in these buildings have parity, you can have your debate.” Following her comment, Ms Phillips faced a “huge torrent” of graphic rape and murder threats on social media, including calls for her to be publicly and repeatedly raped and bound.
While Jess Phillips has remained strong in the face of the online abuse, and fellow MPs and a co-ordinator of International Men’s Day have shown support by denouncing the “disgusting” remarks, this is not the first time that female MPs have received rape threats in recent years. For instance, in 2013, Labour MP Stella Creasy was subjected to rape threats after showing support for a feminist campaigner. In addition to highlighting the worrying and prevalent mentality that rape can be used as a weapon, this perhaps calls into question the safeguards that social media platforms provide in preventing such abuse.
Northern Ireland and gay marriage equality
Ariadne Vu, Durham University
Ever since the historic vote ‘yes’ in Ireland, there has been an increasing pressure on Northern Ireland to legalise same-sex marriage. Northern Ireland is the only constituent in the United Kingdom where gay marriage is still not recognised, even when the fifth attempt took place in Northern Ireland’s assembly. For the first time, there was a narrow win for marriage equality; however, the result was thwarted by a ‘petition of concern’ issued by the opposition Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
A petition of concern can be raised by 30 or more MLAs if they fear there will be insufficient level of cross-community support over a certain legislation. Such a measure was designed in 1998 Good Friday Agreement to balance the interest of both Protestant and Catholics. Unfortunately, at the moment, DUP has 38 seats in the Assembly, which essentially gives the community a veto power over any decisions it objects. Amnesty International has commented that it was ironic that a mechanism established to ensure the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland had been used to deny a fundamental right to the LGBT minority.
Despite such a setback, it seems like the LGBT community in Northern Ireland will not be disheartened in their fight for marriage equality. Just recently, a gay couple who were originally from Northern Ireland but got married in England last year have raised a legal challenge in Belfast court. They claim that their marriage has been ‘devalued’ because it is not formally recognised in their own home region. It is likely that this case, which was filed against state authority concerning fundamental human rights, will eventually end up in European Court of Human Rights, whose decision can have an impact on the law of Northern Ireland.