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Posts Tagged ‘feminist activism’

IB imageRussia bans Trans* people from driving

Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University

Last month Russia enacted a new law effectively banning people with certain illnesses from driving. Within the listed illnesses are those viewed as “personality and behaviour disorders”, for example transsexualism and other “disorders of sexual preference”.

The move was justified by the Russian government on the basis of a need to reduce the high rates of traffic accidents occurring each year. The country currently has some of the worst figures for road accident fatalities in the world and it is believed that stricter controls on those given the opportunity to drive will make the roads safer.

Nevertheless, the Act has received international criticism due to its potentially detrimental effects on the transgender community. Jean Freedberg, of Human Rights Campaign Global, argued that the ban is “simply another example of the Russian government’s increased campaign of persecution and discrimination against its LGBT population”. Like other critics, Freedberg fails to see the logic behind connection that the Russian government has drawn between gender identity and driver ability. As Shawn Gaylord, of US-based Human Rights First, argues, “banning people from driving based on their gender identity or expression is ridiculous”. He also expresses concerns that it could deter transgender people from seeking mental health services due to a fear of losing the right to drive.

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Enright,_MaireadMáiréad Enright is a lecturer at Kent Law School and is completing a PhD at University College Cork which examines the legal treatment of questions in Muslim divorce practice in the UK and the United States from the perspective of a multiculturalist feminism. This post is cross-posted from humanrights.ie with permission and thanks.

The High Court handed down judgment in PP v. HSE today.  The Irish Times provides a useful summary here.  P., who was 15 weeks pregnant, died on December 3rd, but her body  was subjected to medical processes to ‘facilitate the continuation of maternal organ supportive measures in an attempt to attain foetal viability’ for several more weeks.  We call the experimental treatment her body received ‘somatic care’. ‘Somatic care’ seems a benign phrase, but it involved a tremendous amount of intervention designed to postpone the inevitable collapse and decay of P.’s other organs following the cessation of blood flow to her brain, thereby sustaining the pregnancy. Medical evidence given in court made clear that the eventual effects of these interventions on her appearance, and the consequent distress to her family, undermined her dignity in death. Nevertheless, doctors in both hospitals where she was treated apparently believed that the law required them to follow this unusual course of action, given that the foetus still had a heartbeat. By the time the case came to court, P.’s body was deteriorating rapidly. There was no real prospect that, even if treatment were continued, the pregnancy could be maintained until viability. Her family and partner wanted the somatic treatment discontinued, and her father applied to the court for this purpose. This morning, the  High Court exercised its inherent jurisdiction and authorised P.’s doctors to discontinue treatment, at their discretion.

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Snapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill (NI)

Sarah Thin, Durham University

On the 20th of October, the Northern Irish Assembly passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, a controversial new law which purportedly seeks to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation by, inter alia, criminalising the act of paying for sexual services.  It is likely to become law by mid-2015.  By targeting the buyer as opposed to the seller (a novel approach within the UK), the proposals aim to recreate the supposed success of the ‘Swedish model’, the idea behind which is to reduce demand within the sex trade thereby reducing levels of sex trafficking.

There has been heavy criticism of the proposals: a survey of sex workers has found that 98% of them oppose the proposals and 61% believe the new law would make them less safe.  Many argue that the Swedish model ‘strips women of their agency and autonomy’ by criminalising the consensual buying and selling of sex, has increased the stigmatisation of sex workers, and its success appears to have been greatly exaggerated.  While no-one would deny that human trafficking is a major problem in today’s society, claims that the majority of sex workers in Northern Ireland are victims of trafficking have been shown to be unfounded, and many believe the plans will simply force the sex trade further underground, making it even more difficult to combat the issue and provide support to victims.  These proposals, while presumably well-meaning, conflate the two separate issues of trafficking and consensual sex work and are likely to be at best ineffective, most likely very harmful.  We must hope that the new campaign for a similar law in England meets with a more considered approach. 

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

US Supreme Court (Sort of) Decides on Same Sex Marriage

Jesse Bachir, Durham University

Following last year’s decision in Windsor, same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy groups across the United States have been filing suits against State governments challenging the Constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

So far, almost every Court (with one exception) in the United States has found marriage bans to be unconstitutional either under Federal Constitutional law or State Constitutional law. Most recently, earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied a petition to review 7 cases from lower Federal Courts on the constitutionality of marriage bans. In denying review of the cases, the decisions of the lower courts stood (all of which found the bans unconstitutional), and the stays of execution issued by the lower courts were removed. That brings the total to 32 States with equal marriage.

The Supreme Court effectively, though indirectly, decided the issue for the rest of the country – in allowing the lower court decisions to stand, clear judicial precedent has been made.  The lower courts in all 7 of the denied review cases found the marriage bans to be unconstitutional for the same reasons. In denying review, the Supreme Court implicitly agreed with the rulings of the lower courts and avoided wading into the politically charged topic.

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks

Abusive Treatment of Indigenous Women in Canada

Gita Keshava, Durham University

On January 30, 2014 representatives from Human Rights Watch testified before the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women in the Canadian House of Commons. They urged the government to set up an independent national inquiry to investigate the current violence experienced by indigenous women and girls, in order to create a system that will ensure greater accountability with regards to police misconduct, and ultimately hold them responsible for their actions or lack thereof. In February 2013, Human Rights Watch published a report specifically investigating the protection of indigenous women and girls in northern British Columbia (BC). It highlighted the fact that police continue to use excessive force, and physical and sexual assault against indigenous women and girls. In order to target these issues, Canada needs to ensure that there is a police complaint mechanism, that oversight procedures are in force, and that there is a requirement for independent civilian investigations into reported incidents of police misconduct. In addition, the government needs to establish a commission to investigate the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and the link that these events have with police mistreatment, especially in relation to the Highway 16, now commonly known as northern BC’s “Highway of Tears.” These concerns, although specifically relevant to Indigenous women and girls, remain a serious issue for all women in British Columbia and in Canada more generally.

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mephotoVikki Lang is an MJur student at Durham Law School.

They call themselves the ‘naked soldiers of feminism.’ They are the women that ran down the runway in Paris fashion week, shouted ‘Fuck Democracy’ to Putin, interrupted Pope Benedict’s Sunday mass with ‘homophobe Shut up’, and organised world-wide ‘topless hijab protests.’ They are Femen; the bare-breasted self-dubbed ‘sextremists’, and they are coming to the UK.

In a recent interview with the Huffington post, lead campaigner Inna Shevchenko summarises the cause of Femen; ‘our main enemy is patriarchy and its three manifestations – dictatorship, religion and the sex industry.’ Their main methods in fighting patriarchy? Their breasts. Their protests are often dangerous and can be violent, their tactics are extreme and shocking, often resulting in the women being forcibly removed, arrested, and even allegedly kidnapped. It is not surprising that debate surrounding this Ukrainian-born group is high. It has once again ignited after their announcement to set up a Femen branch in the UK, with the leader Inna Shevchenko vowing that ‘the streets of London will be occupied by our naked bodies painted with our political demands.’

They certainly get people talking. As a group of topless beautiful women, they are frequently on front covers of newspapers, tabloids, online blogs and social media sites; their radical protests are difficult to avoid. But is this the sort of publicity feminism in the UK needs? Is there a place for radical feminist protest in the UK or, more specifically, is there a place for protest using the female body? (more…)

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kathrynElizabethSharpProfessor Kathryn Hollingsworth with Dr Elizabeth Sharp

During periods of rapid social change we are presented with opportunities to alter the status quo: to move towards a more equal society, to address the oppressive conditions experienced by those lacking economic, social, political, and cultural power and to engender social renewal (that is, to encourage individuals and communities to thrive).  However, times of change also generate new contexts for the power structures of the past to be perpetuated and further entrenched, creating more – not less – oppression.  This we can see when we consider the position of women in the UK, in 2013.   

Think about the economic crisis.  In June 2013, a report entitled The Impact of Austerity Measures on Women: A Case Study of the North East was published by the Women’s Resource Centre and the NE Women’s Network.  The report, which was presented later in the summer to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), found that women are disproportionately affected by unemployment (especially in the North East), by welfare cuts, and by the closure or reduction of services that help prevent or respond to the problems (including sexual and domestic violence) that women experience.

And what about developments in technology? (more…)

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HFsmlHelen Fenwick is a Professor of Law at Durham Law School. This post is also published at Human Rights in Ireland.

 This post concentrates on Article 8 ECHR to argue that it can be viewed as sympathetic to feminist goals since, due to its particular ability to impose positive obligations on the state in relation to creating respect for private or family life, it can require the state to create curbs on the actions of non-state actors particularly adverse to women (eg. in relation to domestic violence: Hajduova v Slovakia) and ensure the efficacy of services that women in particular might need to access, such as to abortion (P&S v Poland). Women are, it is argued, more at risk than men from the actions of non-state actors within the private and family sphere (see intervention of Equal Rights Trust in Eremia and Others v Moldova on this point), so Article 8 has a particular pertinence for women, and unlike Article 14 (the guarantee of freedom from discrimination), which has not proved to have a strong impact as a means of advancing the interests of women due to its reliance on furthering formal equality (see eg Dembour Who Believes in Human Rights, Ch 7), Article 8 can address the substantive concerns of women, without the need for any reliance on a comparator.

Other ECHR Articles are also relevant. Article 3 would also support recognition of positive obligations, (see McGlynn, Clare (2009) ‘Rape, torture and the European convention on human rights’ ICLQ 58 (3)) including in the contexts considered below, although the harm threshold is obviously high. Article 8 currently may be the gateway to Article 14, the freedom from discrimination guarantee (bearing in mind that the UK has not ratified Protocol 12). In other words, if Article 8 is engaged but no violation is found, a violation of Article 14 might nevertheless be found of the two read together (Van Raalte v Netherlands).

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Last week, the End Violence Against Women Coalition sent the following open letter to the Prime Minister. It has been reproduced here with permission and thanks:

 

 

 

 

OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER

Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister

Urgent action needed to prevent abuse of women and girls

86% of people want compulsory Sex and Relationships education to address abuse in the wake of the multiple prosecutions of groups of men for raping and sexually exploiting girls, the murders of Tia Sharp and April Jones, the ongoing child sexual abuse allegations, as well as weekly accounts of domestic violence murders of women and children, we are writing to ask you to put in place a Programme of Work to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls. In particular, we are asking you to ensure that all schools tackle harmful attitudes and behaviours amongst young people and to ensure that survivors are supported. This will build on good work that your government is already carrying out and ensure that the pledge to prevent violence in the Home Office-led Call to end violence against women and girls becomes more than just a promise on paper.

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ComputerHolly Dustin is Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Fiona Elvines is the Operations Coordinator of Rape Crisis South London.

The following slides were presented by Holly and Fiona at the ‘Criminalising Extreme Pornography: Five Years On‘ seminar in Durham University on the 8th May 2013. For further information about the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s campaign to prevent violence against women and girls, read their report ‘Deeds or Words?’ released yesterday, and their letter to the Prime Minister urging him to take action.

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