Campaigners in Egypt say the problem of sexual harassment is reaching epidemic proportions, with a rise in such incidents over the past three months. For many Egyptian women, sexual harassment – which sometimes turns into violent mob-style attacks – is a daily fact of life . .
In 2008, a study by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights found that more than 80% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment, and that the majority of the victims were those who wore Islamic headscarves.
Said Sadek, a sociologist from the American University in Cairo, says that the problem is deeply rooted in Egyptian society: a mixture of what he calls increasing Islamic conservatism, on the rise since the late 1960s, and old patriarchal attitudes.
Egyptian women fight back:-
An Egyptian women’s initiative has launched a campaign entitled “We Will Ride Bicycles” to confront sexual harassment in the streets and public transportation. . .
“Riding a bicycle and feeling the breeze of the air is one of our simplest dreams,” said the campaign’s event page, adding that all women should be allowed to freely ride bicycles without being harassed or judged.
The activists behind the campaign said they chose the theme of riding bicycles to promote women and girl’s rights to run errands through cycling without being afraid of attracting negative reaction in the streets.
Scheduled for Saturday, the event’s assembly point will be outside October War Panorama on Saleh Salem Street and its end point will be at Azhar Park. “The campaign’s main objective is confronting the unjustified rejection of the community concerning females riding bicycles,” said Michael Nazeh, one of the founders of the campaign.
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.
Susan B. Anthony, February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906
American campaigner for women’s suffrage and civil rights
Guest post Pink Prosecco.
On Socialist Unity I have just read what struck me as a sensible and sympathetic review by Phil B C of Laurie Penny’s new book Cybersexism.
Before long John Wight (above – note left hand), scourge of moralisers, is muscling in below the line:
“There is nothing wrong with a good filthy fuck. Men and women are primal animals and lust is both healthy and entirely natural.
What is unnatural is the demonisation of sex.
I think this latest moral panic over porn is exactly that: an artificially whipped up moral panic with a political objective at its heart.”
Actually, Wight has said many stupider things, and this made me laugh:
“I don’t [know] about you, but the last thing I think about while approaching orgasm are “workers’ rights”.”
Then I noticed that there were no (identifiable) women commenting on this lively thread. I had a look at all the other posts currently in play, ten in total, attracting (so far) 182 comments and there were no identifiable women commenting there either. Funny that.
From Workers Liberty
Camila Bassi reviews Liz Millward’s Women in British Imperial Airspace, 1922-1937 (2008, McGill-Queen’s University Press).
The period of 1922 to 1937 represented significant inter-war development of gendered airspace within the British Empire.
From 1922, when the International Commission on Air Navigation debated the place of women in commercial airspace, to 1937, the year in which the female pilot Jean Batten completed her last long-distance record-breaking flight, the British Empire was at its peak, ruling about one-quarter of the world’s territory. Millward notes:
“The interwar period was a window of possibility for many young white women in the British Empire. The First World War had undermined powerful old certainties. Women who were determined to learn the lessons of the past turned to internationalism, pacifism, nationalism, and fascism as they looked for ways to control the future.”
Millward’s concern is with the contestations of female pilots in producing, defining, and accessing civilian airspace during this time. What’s more, she is interested in how such struggles were bound up with different kinds of airspace: the private, the commercial, the imperial, the national, and the body; that in turn had their own relations of gender, class, race, sexuality, nationalism, and imperialism.
Like many geographers seeking a radical understanding of space, Millward draws on the work of Henri Lefebvre, who wrote that “a revolution which does not produce a new space has not realized its full potential; indeed it has failed in that it has not changed life itself, but has merely changed ideological superstructures, institutions or political apparatuses”.
Millward concludes that post-war airspace had the potential to be what Lefebvre coined, capitalist “abstract space” par excellence, specifically, in its commodification, bureaucratisation, and decorporealisation.
In one sense it is a curious application of Lefebvre, given Lefebvre’s focus on the city. Lefebvre denounces capitalist urbanity for its drive to repress play and prioritise productivity and rationality. He also recognises potential within the centrality of the urban, meaning that a whole range of social interactions converge.
For Lefebvre, all people have the right to space, i.e. to access and participate fully in urban life, thus the constraints placed on this possibility by capitalism must be critiqued (Lefebvre, 1991; Shields, 1988). Lefebvre’s interest lies in working out the spatial strategies for social change and, as such, his ideas resonate with the French Situationists (with their slogan of May 1968 “beneath the pavement, the beach”) and Britain’s “Reclaim the Streets” movement of the 1990s.
Millward concludes that notable female pilots modelled achievement and “beat the men”, so, in effect, supported wider feminist struggles and proved that women were part of airspace.
Nonetheless, civilian airspace was naturalised as masculine and had the potential to become abstract space. She ends: “‘To change life,’ writes Lefebvre, ‘we must first change space’. Women pilots tried to do just that.”
Reflecting on the book as a whole, I wonder: what does Millward gain from a poststructuralist feminist approach? Such an approach emphasises the discursive and contingent nature of all identities with particular focus on the construction of gendered subjectivities. This intersectional analysis combines the cultural and economic features of gender, race, sexuality, nationality, and class.
“Capitalism”, “imperialism’”and “class” are given wider definitional scope: capitalism and imperialism as social, cultural, political, and economic relations, and class as a cultural construct (to include the economic but differing from simply wage-labour). So, rather than asking what is gained, perhaps the real question is — what is lost? Actually, rather a lot I think.
In the context of all that is solid melting into air, I cannot help but sense that the book would have been a richer account had the dialectics of the struggles been fully explored. Three aspects of dialectical materialist thinking would have strengthened the study: firstly, looking for the interrelationship between phenomena to other phenomena (past and present, and including apparent opposites); secondly, seeing conditions (and relations) of existence in continual movement; and lastly, comprehending societal processes moving through contradictory tensions.
Moreover, the book missed (or rather, seemed to bypass) the centrality of class and imperialism and its intersection with gender, race, sexuality, and nationalism. I’ll end, before any retort accuses me of crude economic determinism and class reductionism, with the words of Engels (1890):
“If somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he is transforming that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase.
“We make history ourselves, but first of all, under very definite assumptions and conditions…history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a variety of particular conditions of life.
“Thus, there are innumerable crisscrossing forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event.”
Engels, F (1890) “Engels to J. Bloch”, Marxists Internet Archive
Lefebvre, H (1991) The Production of Space (Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith), Oxford: Blackwell.
Millward, L (2008) Women in British Imperial Airspace, 1922-1937, Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Shields, R (1988) “An English Précis of Henri Lefebvre’s La Production De L’Espace”, Working Paper, Department of Urban and Regional Studies, University of Sussex
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatsey)
Wadjda: Joyous and Free.
Wadjda is pioneering film by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. She is also the first person to shoot a full-length feature in the country itself.
The picture is wonderful. It also raises serious political and cultural issues.
Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old. She is referred to in reviews as ”sparky” and “rebellious” and, somewhat patronisingly, a “sweet scamp”.
She reminded me of Marjane Satrap in Persepolis - someone with the humour and wit to stand up for herself against the dead hand of religious pressure.
In that film Marji faced the power of Khomeni’s Iranian Islamists.
In Wadjda the heroine has to live with the Saudi educational system and the male-dominated world of orthodox Islam.
The latter appears in the trap her mother is caught in: a life dependent on the good will of her husband, a daily commute provided by a Pakistani driver who speaks broken Arabic, and her fears about him searching for another wife.
For her daughter we see the continuous surveillance of her dress, and the sudden appearance of the religious police when Wadjda is seen playing around with a boy.
The scenario revolves around Wadja’s efforts to buy a bicycle.
Bikes are, naturally, not seen as suitable for modest women.
Listening to “satanic” rock music she plots to raise the cash. But selling football team colour bracelets does not get her far.
Her efforts also get ensnared by her pious head mistress – whose constant enforcement of the Islamic ‘modesty’ codes go against the fibre of the young rebel.
Wadjda hears that winning a Qur’an knowledge and recital competition could deliver her the money.
She suddenly becomes pious and sets out for victory.
As her project gets underway there are plenty of moments with a political message.
With an admiring friend, a young boy, they pass a celebration of a suicide bomber’s death. He remarks that the martyr will be enjoying 72 virgins in paradise.
Wadjda looks at him wryly and says,”Does that mean I’ll get 72 bicycles in heaven?”
It’s hard not to relate the film to recent discussion about multiculturalism.
It is the right thing to defend plural cultural identities, and, specifically, groups targeted by the Church and King mob of the English Defence League.
But do we want to defend those who wish to introduce a moral police like that of Saudi Arabia?
The curriculum followed by Wadjda is present in this country, in Saudi linked schools – right up to their textbooks. It’s hard not to imagine that the religious policing that goes with it is not present.
Wadjda shows how women can be joyous and free.
Like the Iranian film by Jafar Panahi Offside it expresses the universal hopes for human freedom.
And it does so beautifully.
Exactly 100 years ago, Emily Davison was trampled by King George V’s horse Anmer when she burst onto the track at the Epsom Derby. She died four days later from a fractured skull and internal injuries caused by the incident.
She was a courageous campaigner for women’s suffrage, who had already shown herself willing to put her life on the line in the course of the struggle for women’s votes. She’d been imprisoned no less than nine times, force-fed, her cell flooded by the authorities, and flung herself down a staircase in Holloway prison.
On the night of the 1911 census, Davison hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster overnight so that on the census form her place of residence that night would be recorded as “The House of Commons.” In 1999 a plaque to commemorate that event was set in place by Tony Benn.
But her very courage has allowed detractors over the years to brand her as a suicidal obsessive, not the principled and courageous campaigner that she was.
Now, a detailed analysis of the film from the three newsreel cameras that recorded the incident, has shown that Davison did not deliberately martyr herself, but was almost certainly trying to attach a ’votes for women’ sash to the bridle of the King’s horse.
The film of that day still has the power to shock, 100 years on:
The fatal incident occurs at about 6.08, but it’s well worth watching the entire film.
PS: We should also remember the jockey, Herbert Jones. He suffered mild concussion in the incident, but was “haunted by that poor woman’s face” for the rest of his life. In 1928, at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst, Jones laid a wreath “to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison”. In 1951, Jones committed suicide in a gas-filled kitchen.
Today on Woman’s Hour (first item) they were discussing Disney making over Merida, the red-haired heroine of Brave, into something sexier and more feminine for merchandising purposes. Little girls were angry that Disney has spoiled Merida, as Disney does most things it touches.
“I like Merida because she likes wearing loose-fitting dresses so she can aim properly when she’s hunting. And I also like her because she’s not one of those pink girly princesses who is always flapping around looking for boyfriends.”
Going by the pictures, they’ve changed a quirky kid with a bow and arrows to a hot babe, who spends her time in the hair-dresser’s rather than on the archery field.
The mothers on Woman’s Hour were annoyed as well, as Merida is a gutsy princess they like their daughters to admire, as any decent mother would far rather their daughter had a pin-up of Jessica Ennis (achievement, drive) than of Kate Middleton (expensive teeth).
The little girls favoured Merida’s penchant for dress suitable for active pursuits. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life was Van Helsing. Among its general badnesses was Kate Beckinsale playing Anna Valerious who was constantly pursued by evil winged vampires. If a family curse had me being pursued by evil winged vampires I’d wear a loose top, jogging bottoms and trainers, or the nineteenth century equivalent, not a corset and high-heeled boots up to my thighs. I’d also tie back or even cut my hair, however tumbling and curly. Throw her to the vampires.
I can understand why the little girls were so furious with the Disney makeover. If you love a character, you hate them being messed around. When I was little I adored Emma Peel, as played by Diana Rigg, in The Avengers. She raced about in a Lotus Elan, wore cat suits and karate kicked the baddies. I’d have been raging if she had appeared in a frilly dress and stilettos, and had waited to be rescued.
Emma Peel was replaced by a less fighting woman, and the show fell out of my ratings.
From the AWL’s website and their paper, Solidarity:
By Martin Thomas
Solidarity has criticised the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) on its handling of allegations of sexual harassment and then of rape brought by a young woman member of the SWP against leading SWP organiser Martin Smith.
The SWP leadership’s approach, over two years and more, was to steer as near as it could to bureaucratic brush-off. The case is not closed: the woman involved should have the option of an independent investigation by labour movement people unconnected with the SWP and with some legal qualifications.
Some on the left have attempted to “no platform” the SWP — for example, shouting down speakers on demonstrations who are SWP members. We disagree. The SWP must be confronted politically, not “no platformed”.
The Glasgow protest against the bedroom tax at Easter, several thousand strong and the largest such demonstration in Britain, was disrupted by people (mainly young women) trying to shout down an SWP speaker. Some were violently harassed by SWP stewards, who told them to “go back to their rape demo”, and attempted to get the police to remove them.
The SWP speaker was Dave Sherry, a member of the SWP Disputes Committee. We understand why people object to someone so complicit in the SWP leadership’s handling of the issue.
But shouting down SWP speakers, even Disputes Committee members, will not improve the culture of our movement, or make it more safe and welcoming for women.
In Scotland, some members or ex-members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) have an added edge to their anger against the SWP because of memories of the destructive 2006 split in SWP, when the SWP sided with Tommy Sheridan.
At a demonstration in York on 6 April, anarchists and Maoist-Stalinists harassed SWPers and in one case spat at an SWPer. An AWL activist running for election in a Unison branch recently was denounced by some because her supporters in the election included SWPers. One union branch has voted not to affiliate to the West of Scotland anti-bedroom-tax campaign on the sole grounds that the SWP has influence in it. Some union branches have seen moves to oust SWPers from office.
The shouting-down and spitting disrupt the labour and socialist movement rather than helping it develop a better culture on issues of women’s rights and gender violence. Often, in unions, such responses will play into the hands of the right wing, which has no better attitude or record than the SWP on women’s rights. A union branch which disaffiliates from a broad campaign because of SWP influence is less, not more, able to make that campaign hospitable for women.
Some of those wanting to “no platform” the SWP learned this approach in the SWP itself, which has a long habit of trying to deal with political issues by anathemas and exclusions.
The International Socialist Group (ISG) in Scotland was formed by people who split from the SWP only in early 2011 (when the Smith scandal was already brewing: there is no evidence that the people now in the ISG did anything specially good on the issue when they were in the SWP).
The SWP’s own approach is now coming back on them. For example, the SWP and the AWL disagree on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The AWL argues that a workable and democratic settlement must recognise the rights to self-determination of both nations, Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, and must therefore be a “two states” formula (a real one, not the Israeli government’s hypocritical “two states”, meaning all power to Israel and parcellised bantustans for the Palestinians). The SWP argues that justice for the Palestinians can be achieved only by conquering Israel and subsuming its people into an Arab state.
We’ve seen the SWP, not in an over-excited outburst by some young activist but in an official letter signed by Alex Callinicos, hyping this up into an absurd claim that the AWL “supports the Israeli state’s terror against the Palestinian people”. The outrage is selective: the SWP is relaxed about cooperating with people who really do support the Chinese state’s repression of the people of Tibet. The hype serves not to give due urgency to debate, but to replace it by curses (“Zionists!” “racists!”).
The ISG writes that the way the SWP handled the scandal “replicated the culture of… rape apologism”. On the streets, that translates into broadside denunciation of SWPers as “rape apologists”.
There is a reasonable case for the labour movement and the left not accepting Martin Smith, in particular, as an organiser and a representative until some better tribunal than the SWP Disputes Committee has delivered a verdict. And, in fact, despite protesting that Smith remains “in good standing”, the SWP CC has quietly pulled him out of public organising roles.
The investigation by the SWP’s Disputes Committee, all of whose members knew Smith well, was unsatisfactory. But the wider left is even less equipped to deliver a verdict than the SWP’s Disputes Committee was. Smith, like any other similarly accused, should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Something like half the active SWP membership came out in one degree or another of opposition to the SWP Central Committee’s handling of the case.
Other SWPers backed the CC because, despite everything, they believed the Disputes Committee. Or because they were persuaded by the Central Committee’s cursing of its critics as feminists who had ceased to look to the working class, or as semi-anarchists. Such wrong attitudes do not make them “rape apologists”. Their attitudes can be changed by serious argument, not by shouting and spitting, and not by tactics which help the right wing.
The self-righteousness of the ISG does no service to women’s rights. As well as criticising the SWP, the AWL has also attempted self-examination. How would we have dealt with similar allegations in our own organisation? Even the best political positions and education programmes are no guarantee against individual abuse. Do we have strong enough safeguards against the sort of lower-grade wrongdoing which seems to have formed the background to the Smith scandal: older activists using their “prestige” in political activity for sexual advantage with young members and contacts?
Attempts to “no platform” the SWP cut against that sort of self-examination and against the rational argument — sharp and angry where necessary — by which alone the labour movement can progress.
Russian soldiers entering Germany at the end of World War Two raped as many as two million German women. In east Berlin some 100,000 women were raped, and up to 10,000 died as a result (Antony Beevor: Berlin: The Downfall). Communist Party activists across the world denied these facts or tried to explain them away. Trotskyists vehemently criticised the CPs, but they still sought to work with rank-and-file CP workers in the labour movement where there was common ground, and to re-educate them.
In 2001 the SWP openly “explained away” the Taliban’s abuse of women in Afghanistan (SW, 6 October 2001). The AWL criticised the SWP, but did not rally against the SWP in any way that could help the “bomb Afghanistan” brigade, then in full flood after the Twin Towers atrocity. We sought to discuss with and convince SWP members of the wrongness of their politics.
We should be criticising, debating with, and politically confronting the SWP in an attempt to persuade activists and clean up the culture of our movement.
A very unfortunate and, it seems, very nasty confrontation between SWP stewards and anti-rape campaigners at the Bedroom Tax demo in Glasgow yesterday. This footage isn’t, perhaps, conclusive proof of SWP culpability, so we’d appreciate comments from anyone who was there.
The person who took the film and posted it on Youtube, writes: “i should make it clear, i only got my camera out after the stewards started to push people back and started all this off, i hadn’t gone intending to record anything, just show my opposition to the bedroom tax.”
H/t: Mod and Jelly (an unlikely pair…)