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From: 50.50, uk

Assembled delegates at the Men’s Rights Conference in the London’s Excel Centre. Picture credit: Justice for Men and Boys.For our fourth episode of The Backlash podcast, we went inside one of the world’s largest gatherings of men’s rights activists (MRAs) in London, and spoke to some of the men, and women, involved in this anti-feminist movement.

We hear from Alastair (who didn't give us his surname) from the UK fringe political party Justice for Men and Boys which organised the conference. We also speak to Karen Straughan, a revered figure within the MRA movement and “the most famous anti-feminist in the world.”

Lara Whyte (LW): Hello and welcome to The Backlash: a podcast series tracking threats against women’s and LGBT rights, brought to you by 50.50, the gender and sexuality section of openDemocracy. I’m Lara Whyte and I am your host.

In July, 50.50 spent a weekend attending the International Conference on Men’s Issues in London, where men’s rights activists from 24 different countries gathered to discuss the evils of feminism and what can be done about it.

Concepts like mansplaining, manspreading, rape culture on campuses were all used as examples of how feminism and women’s rights have supposedly 'gone too far'.

When we talk about the backlash against feminism or women’s rights, men’s rights activists – or MRAs, as they call themselves – are a movement that we think needs serious and critical attention.

I wrote a dispatch on the conference for 50.50 and promptly received torrents of abuse – as the conference organiser emailed all attendees urging them to troll me in the comments section of our website.

There has been some extreme cherry-picking of the article, and claims of misrepresentation as I wrote how, when I walked into the room before the conference began, I was briefly the only woman in a room full of white men. It was worth mentioning, because it was the first thing I noticed as I entered, and it was quite intimidating. I did not say there were no women in the movement – there are – and at the conference there were a tiny handful of non-white attendees, including a speaker from the Indian men’s rights movement.

The Men’s Rights Movement in India. Photo:Amit Deshpande/Peter Wright/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0.At the conference I spoke to a woman named Karen Straughan, who I really tried to understand in a lengthy interview where she talked about women's privilege and why she's never identified as a feminist herself.

Karen is a revered figure within the movement – and is loved for being, quote: “the most famous anti-feminist in the world.”

Before we go into that interview, here’s a man called Alastair from the British anti-feminist political party Justice for Men and Boys, which organised the conference. This is the description of feminists, and feminism, that he gave to openDemocracy’s Adam Bychawski, who was at the conference for 50.50.

Alastair: There is no pleasing them, there's no making deals with them. They are ideological terrorists. They are obsessed with their ideology and, regardless of what they say, they will attack you and resort to criminal and terrorist activities: bomb threats, violence, disrupting peaceful meetings and then, of course, just lies and slander.

Adam: And have you experienced that yourself?

Alastair: Personally no, but I have seen various examples. Just look at the famous case of Big Red, attacking the cafe meeting and then screaming that feminists don't hate men we just hate patriarchy and using various expletives.

So there has been case after case of feminists and feminist-aligned institutions attacking peaceful people just gathering to talk about their problems because they want to control the narrative. They are offended by men talking without women – no, without feminists – supervising. Feminism is an evil ideology and I want it to be equated with, say, the Westboro Baptist Church.

Other feminist organisations, I would rather have them classed as con groups. They are not charities, they are massive cons. They just lie about statistics to grab money. So that's not terrorism it's just con artistry. Like, wow, women's aid and things. They lie about statistics to get money, playing on people's sympathies – so they're just con artists.

“Feminism is an evil ideology and I want it to be equated with the Westboro Baptist Church.”

LW: So, that’s what we are dealing with there.

Karen Straughan is a Canadian anti-feminist who has been writing and video blogging on gender issues since 2010. She has almost 200,000 subscribers on YouTube which, from the MRAs I spoke to at the conference, seems to be a vital platform for this movement.  

Karen opened the conference with her keynote address which was called: “Why women must consign feminism to the dustbin of history.”

We spoke for about 40 minutes, and covered a lot of topics. She is a charismatic and incredibly engaging woman, and so her activism on men’s rights seems to add a certain legitimacy to this movement – which is why I wanted to talk to her to try to dig down into why she does what she does and what motivates her.

In Karen’s keynote address, she spoke about why she would give up her right to vote if it led to men and women having equality – and remember that she thinks that women have more privileges than men.

So I start here by asking her why she would possibly give up her right to vote.

Karen Straughan during her keynote speech. Photo: Lara Whyte.KS: I would if I felt like that was something that I had to do in order to make things more fair or redress an imbalance, I would certainly do that. That doesn’t mean that I want to, or that I would choose to do so for no reason whatsoever, so...

LW: So what is the reason then?

KS: Well, you know, when women got the vote – when men got the vote, they got the vote, largely in the US, they got the vote because their voting rights and their citizenship rights were tied to conscription. And when women got the vote and full citizenship rights they didn’t have any similar obligation placed on them.

Women got the rights, got all the same rights, they didn’t get any of the obligations to the state. So I think that’s not fair. Personally, I would rather women be made to register in the selective service in the US, I think they should be held more accountable, as citizens, and have similar obligations to men.

You know, people say there’s no draft in Canada, but that’s just one act of parliament away from happening if it’s ever necessary, right? And if women aren’t included in that draft, then I don’t know that they deserve their vote.

LW: So what about the obligations on women to continue the population?

KS: There are no obligations on women to do that. Would you...

LW: But without those bodies none of us would be here...

KS: True. What we have is this idea that women have an obligation, you know, in quotation marks, to give birth, when women have no such obligation and they haven’t for at least 50 years.

LW: And so you think that’s a privilege, that women have more privileges than men? Is that correct or am I putting words into your mouth there?

KS: Um, I think that women definitely have more privileges than men. Because a privilege is something that you get for nothing. Right?

“Women definitely have more privileges than men. Because a privilege is something you get for nothing. Right?”

LW: So what are those privileges?

KS: Well, if men got the vote because they’re draftable, and women got the vote for nothing, that’s a privilege.

LW: But do you not think everyone should have the vote?

KS: I think everyone should have the vote too, I just don’t think that only men should be drafted. And I think that the way we frame it now, it's all of these horrible men, who kept the vote away from women for no good reason whatsoever, when in reality the majority of women didn’t want the vote and essentially fought against getting the vote, some of them because they were worried that they would be drafted, and they didn’t want that.

LW: But fundamentally you do agree with the principle that women should be able to vote...

KS: I think that every adult should be able to vote, sure.

LW: So when you say 'I would give up my vote,' you are just being provocative, you don't really mean it?

KS: Not really, because I would, I absolutely would.

LW: You’re Canadian;

KS: Yes.

LW: There’s a lot of Canadian women in this movement. What's that about?

KS: I don’t know; cabin fever? I have no idea why that is, we’re a little bit weird I guess.

LW: And what did draw you to the movement – and I’m trying to avoid the 'why are you here' question – if you could just kind of take me through the steps, like did you identify as a feminist?

KS: No.

LW: Never?

KS: Never.

LW: But some of the arguments that the men’s rights movement put forward, to me as an outsider, do seem to be in line with some of the feminist goals…

KS: Yes.

LW: So...

KS: It’s not about the goals, or its not about the stated goals – feminism isn’t just a prescription, right, it’s a description as well. So it not only says here’s what we want society to look like, in the future, it also describes what they feel society actually looks like right now.

That’s a diagnosis, right, so they are essentially saying: here is the disease, here is the mechanism as to how it operates and here is what we need to prescribe in order to get to a healthy body. And I think that they have the entire paradigm of disease wrong, the entire model and conceptualisation of the disease wrong.

Slut Walk protest in Toronto, 2011. Photo:Anton Bielousov. CC 3.0LW: What has feminism got so wrong?

KS: Oh, that society is a patriarchy, where men oppress women for their own benefit. Who is raising these men who allegedly created a society that hates women? And how can you actually look at the men around you, that you care about, and say that you and people like you constructed a society based entirely on oppressing the people with whom you form the most intimate personal relationships with from the moment you are born. Oppressing them for your own benefit. What kind of psychopath would a man have to be to decide that this is how I want society to operate? That I want to oppress these women for my own benefit.

“What kind of psychopath would a man have to be to decide that this is how I want society to operate? That I want to oppress these women for my own benefit.”

LW: But did they not just inherit this society where they had a privileged position so therefore they're unwilling to give it up?

KS: I wouldn’t call it a privileged position at all.

LW: Why not?

KS: Why not, well, OK – have you ever spent any time being shelled in a trench?

LW: No, thankfully not.

KS: There you go. Well, you know, that was just something that men... all it took was social pressure from young women. There was a story I read on...

LW: Was that not more about government winning territory and utilising both men and women to do that?

KS: Yeah, they utilised women to manipulate men into giving their lives. And why would men give their lives at the behest of women if they were interested in oppressing women?

LW: Your talk was about how women need to demolish feminism…

KS: I think you need to appeal to their basic sense of fairness. I think women do have a sense of fairness when it’s sort of really presented to them in bold terms.

So many of the women who have come into sort of the men’s movement or the non feminist and anti-feminist activated sectors of society it's because they had sons and they saw how their sons were treated at school or saw how their sons were treated by the system. They don’t want to dope their kid up with ritalin, just because the teacher doesn’t like his boy behaviour.

Things like that…

“They don’t want to dope their kid up with ritalin, just because the teacher doesn’t like his boy behaviour.”

LW: Within every newsroom that I’ve worked in, I’ve experienced a man on my level earning more. Have you never experienced any kind of sexism within your work that’s made you think: oh, something’s not really right here?

KS: Not in terms of pay, no…

LW: So you’ve never been a victim of sexism?

Australian Services Union Protest, 2011. Photo: ASU/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.KS: Sure I have… not in terms of pay. And frankly, as far as pay goes, it wouldn’t really, you know, 50 cents an hour doesn’t bother me, I’ve always been a minimum wage worker, up until I started doing this. So that’s just arguing over pennies and...

LW: It’s value, and it's a sense of...

KS: OK, you know you have a right to be angry about that, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it's systemic, across society, it may just be in places where you’ve worked, or in a particular industry. You know, I could tell you that female runway models make 10-100 times more than male runway models…

LW: And male footballers make 10-100 times more than female footballers.

KS: That’s right, there you go, and there’s not necessarily any injustice there. Because female runway models bring in more money for the client, right, and so do male footballers, bring in more money for the league. So, essentially, what you're looking at: some of these issues are systemic, maybe; you can’t assume that all of it is sexism, and you don’t necessarily have to assume that any of it is sexism, because some of it can be explained just by personal preference of women.

LW: So you were featured in the film Red Pill. So one of the things that really struck me in that film was that there was a discussion of a loss of status for men, a kind of, a loss of income, a loss of place, and that women were kind of blamed directly for that. But at no point was there any discussion of capitalism. The economic realities of our time are that a few people are incredibly rich and everybody else is getting poorer, and the film really didn’t go into that.

And the men’s rights movement, from my so far limited experience of it, just seems to be anti-women it doesn’t seem to be anti-the other contributing factors that have led men to this space where they feel like they’re not being taken seriously, where their pain isn’t being heard…

Women's March in Philadelphia, 2018. Photo: Rob Kall. CC 2.0.KS: OK, well, here’s the thing: it hasn’t really mattered what system we’ve been operating under, men’s pain has not been heard. So, communism, you know, men’s pain was not heard. Capitalism, men’s pain was not heard. Socialism, men’s pain is not heard. Men’s pain is not heard. It doesn’t really matter what economic system we’re working under these are deep psychological, social-psychology problems right, that are intrinsic to us as human beings, they’re not some kind of bi-product of whatever economic system we’re using, they’re endemic to all of them.

“Men’s pain is not heard.”

LW: But it feels like feminism and women’s rights are being blamed for the conditions of where we are at the moment, and feminists would be advocating for some of the same things here… you know, men’s pain should be heard, they shouldn’t have to be strong, boys should be able to cry...

KS: I know, and it seems very surprising then that when men’s rights activists talk about their feelings, the male tears coffee mugs come out on Twitter, you know, from feminists, from the very feminists who say we want you to talk about how you really feel. When men talk about that, then they get: wha-wha, man-baby beer tears, sorry I hurt your man-feels.

LW: But is that not more about the corporate capture of feminism and how capitalism is just making feminism…

KS: Oh no, feminism has always been just absolutely rotten, right from the declaration of sentiments and probably before, it’s just absolutely rotten. It’s had a streak of man-hating a mile wide running through the middle of it, and go read the declaration of sentiments, read it with an uncharitable eye, okay, and look at it as a list of grievances: men have been horrible to women, end of story, period.

LW: But is the men’s rights movement not doing kind of the same thing by blaming women?

KS: We don’t blame women.

LW: Second part of that question is what’s it like being a woman within the men’s rights movement?

KS: It’s excellent, it’s excellent, it’s awesome to be part of this movement. One of the things that always struck me is, because I come to a lot of these things, and I have never ever in anyway felt uneasy or unsafe; there’s some wacky guys here sometimes, right, at these things, they’re a little socially awkward, they’re a little goofy, for sure. But I’ve never felt in anyway endangered while I’ve been here.

But, you know, there was this male feminist I did an interview with, and I did a sort of conversation with him online, about a year and a half ago, and he seemed desperate to jam me back into a female victim box – he seemed absolutely desperate to essentially say what you've said to me here, some of the things that you have said to me here, you know: don’t you feel you’ve been victimised by sexism? Don’t you feel you’ve been treated unfairly? Well, of course I have, everybody has. But he just seemed determined to cram me back into this box of female victimhood, where he could, I don’t know, be my rescuer and the rescuer of all woman and then, like 8 months later he shot his girlfriend to death.

LW: He’s not a feminist – if he shot his girlfriend, he’s not a feminist.

KS: But what is feminism? Other than trying to keep women in a box where they concentrate constantly on their victimhood. What I get out of the men’s rights movement is the feeling that I can serve, that I have something to offer people who are not like me, that I have something to give to society, something unique, something valuable, right, that I have an obligation and a responsibility to pick that up and carry it forward. Not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of others. That is a massively huge feeling. Feminism, all it ever told me was, you know: poor you. And that's just not who I am.

“What I get out of the men’s rights movement is the feeling that I can serve.”

LW: So do you get abuse from people online?

KS: No…. I get the odd bit from feminists, the odd feminist will be like, you know, you’re a traitor to your gender, or you just want male attention. I just, generally I just ignore it. Every once in a while someone will put an actual argument rather than a slur, and I’ll get involved in a conversation, but generally it’s pretty, I keep things pretty genial.

But 99% of the feedback I get is positive, so…

LW: What do you think is the biggest myth about the men’s rights movement that you would like to bust?

KS: That we hate women, that’s the biggest myth that I would like to bust. I have never seen anybody at any of these events who I could describe in any way as hating women. Men are angry at women, at times, particularly, and I think, honestly, justifiably so. It’s justifiable to be angry like, when you ask, how do you convince women to give up these advantages, and it’s like: because that would be fair?

LW: What advantages do you mean?

KS: Like advantages in family court, the assumption that the mother is the best parent...

LW: But feminists would agree with you on this.

KS: Except that they fight shared parenting bills.

LW: I think it was you that said earlier that a lot of shared parenting bills were brought in by women.

KS: They are brought in by women but they're not brought in by feminists.

You said: you guys seem so anti-women. And we are not anti-women. And honestly even when we talk about how men have specific masculine virtues – or like when I was saying there weren’t any women swimming through the caves in Thailand, rescuing those kids – like, you know, that’s fine, that’s fine. Because women have other things that they do, that they're good at, that men aren't necessarily good at, or don’t want to do.

And you know the whole idea is that we are complementarian, that we are together, and that we each have strengths and weaknesses and we balance all of these things out. That is what we want. We don’t want men and women to be in competition with each other – that’s just a recipe for unhappiness for everybody, especially children.

LW: You said something in your speech about gallons of water that would be saved if families stayed together. What did you mean by that?

KS: Well, when you have a divorce and you have a family now living in two separate households instead of one, you use more water, you buy more refrigerators, and washing machines, and TVs...

LW: Yeah, I get that, that’s not what I’m asking…

KS: If we didn’t have the divorce rate that we do, and if people were getting married at the age they were in the 1970s and staying married, then 30 billions gallons of water a year in the US would be preserved because we would have a lower consumption rate.

“If we didn’t have the divorce rate that we do… 30 billions gallons of water a year in the US would be preserved because we would have a lower consumption rate.”

LW: But why would you stay in an unhappy marriage? You are not advocating for that are you?

KS: Unhappy, define unhappy. And how long does unhappy last? And can you work on it to make it less unhappy, or even back to happy? They surveyed women, I forget how many, what the sample size was, but they asked them what they were going to do and they followed them for 5 years, and asked them how happy they were, and the women who decided to end their marriages were less happy than the ones who decided to work on it and stick it out.

LW: That’s seems to be a really traditional, heteronormative view of the family...

Paul Townsend/Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0) Some rights reserved.KW: But my family never decided what I was going to do with my life.

LW: If I could clarify, what I was trying to say there is, you know, the traditional family with the man being the head of it and the family staying together…

KS: I haven’t necessarily talked at all about…

LW: But that’s what it seems like to an outsider when we talk about families staying together…

KS: So you’re saying when women are the head of the family, families split apart... is that what you're saying?

LW: No, I’m not saying that…

KS: Because that’s what it seems… when men are the head of the family, families stay together, when women are the head of the family, families break apart...

LW: Well, no, it’s normally when a family breaks apart that the woman becomes the head of the family not necessarily through choice but circumstances… but I suppose the point I was trying to ask you about was, in a wider sense, there seems to be a kind of over-romanticising of the past within this movement…

KS: Not really…

LW: So you talk about your sons in the talk and how a lot of women come into this kind of advocacy after having sons. Why is that? And you talked about the tricks, the pitfalls, that girls can destroy boys' lives, what are they?

KS: Oh, any kind of false allegation, for sure, even if it doesn’t really go anywhere other than rumour, it can destroy your social reputation as a boy.

Paternity fraud, going off birth control without telling him. How’s that? I know a guy, one guy whose wife ‘oops’-ed him for four out of their five kids.

LW: And told you, and didn't tell...

KS: She told her sister and her sister told me. I think after the third time he pretty much knew. But by then he was stuck; it was cheaper to keep her. And every time he said he wanted a vasectomy she said she’d get a divorce. Well, yeah, she hasn’t worked the whole marriage, he’s stuck paying alimony, and she’d get custody and oh my goodness there’s his entire life in ruins, in shatters.

You know, like, honestly you realise that when men rape women, the legal system at least tries, at least acknowledges that those women have been wronged, but when women rape men, the legal system is the instrument that they use to do it.

“When women rape men, the legal system is the instrument that they use to do it.”

LW: So you’re one of the most high profile women within the men’s rights movement, and more women are joining this movement, why do you think that is?

KS: Because I think that they see something wrong, and part of the reason why I do this isn’t just because I want my sons to be OK, I want my daughter to be OK too, and the world that I am leaving them. I’m not going to be here forever, and they're going to inherit this shit, this complete shit pile, OK, and so I feel like I have an obligation to try and make things at least liveable for them.

LW: So that was Karen Straughan – and as you've heard, this movement and the men, and women, who lead it are complex.

Some of what they say actually chimes with feminist thinking, like when they talk about shared parenting responsibilities. But then other messages are just baffling: the suggestion that women, overall, are more privileged than men, or their obsession with men dying in wars for women.

We'll continue tracking the men's rights movement on 50.50, openDemocracy's gender and sexuality section. Before you go, I wanted to draw your attention to two fantastic pieces from the last month that you might have missed. Both of these pieces can also be read in Español – for those of you who can speak and read Spanish.

How ‘conscientious objectors’ threaten women’s newly-won abortion rights in Latin America – it’s an amazing piece by Diana Cariboni. And also on sexual violence at the San Fermin running of the bulls festival in Pamplona, we have a special piece by Rocío Ros. So do check those two pieces out.

You have been listening to The Backlash, by 50.50, openDemocracy’s gender and sexuality section.

Big thanks to the team at the International Men’s Rights Conference this month including Camille Mijola, who is one of our feminist investigative journalism fellows, also to openDemocracy's Adam Bychawski, who did some great reporting with these MRAs.

50.50 is an independent feminist media platform. You can find us on Twitter @5050oD, and you can support our work by donating on our website. Help us track the backlash against women’s and LGBT rights.

This episode of The Backlash was presented and produced by Lara Whyte. Audio editing and music production by Simone Lai.

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From: 50.50

50.50 at the 2018 International Journalism Festival. 50.50 at the 2018 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.Lara Whyte (LW): Hello and welcome to the third episode of The Backlash, a podcast series by 50.50, the gender and sexuality section of openDemocracy. I’m Lara Whyte and thank you for listening.

This month’s podcast is a little bit different, because we were at the International Journalism Festival in the beautiful Italian city of Perugia and we hosted a panel on why we need feminist investigative journalism. So we thought for this episode, we could give you a flavour of the conversation that we had there.

On the panel, we have 50.50 writer Claudia Torrisi; we also have Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, who is the co-editor of openDemocracy’s UK investigative section Shine a Light; and Crina Boros, an independent data-driven investigative reporter.

Here’s the editor of 50.50, Claire Provost, starting us off by explaining what we mean when we say feminist investigative journalism.

Claire Provost (CP): So I became particularly attracted to and interested in investigative reporting because of its promises, its very core promises, to uncover and expose abuses of power, to reveal critical new information in the public interest.

So where are the investigative journalists challenging patriarchy, challenging structural violence against women, challenging intersecting forms of power and oppression? Now, of course, there are some incredible journalists who are doing this work, but they often do this thanklessly and with too few resources. And this is just not enough.

The goal of our ‘Tracking the Backlash’ series is to demystify how international networks of ultraconservative and fundamentalist organisations are increasingly working together internationally to undermine [sexual and reproductive] rights in law, in policy, in media and other battlegrounds.

So we see feminist investigative journalism as serious investigative reporting about women and LGBTI rights, but not only that.

We want to produce important investigative stories in collaboration with other and with younger women and trans writers to also build their capacity, and thus our collective capacity, to investigate these issues. So it’s not just about what we write, but also how we write and how we work.

"It's not just about what we write, but also how we write and how we work."

LW: And so, Claire, why do you think this hasn’t been happening so far?

CP: This is something you and I have talked about a lot. And I think there are a couple of reasons, and one of them is about the structure of newsrooms and the structure of media organisations that are – you know, this is no surprise – are often very male-dominated, particularly when you look at who holds power in these spaces: who the seniors editors are, who the commissioners are, when you look at job titles and responsibilities and the freedom that individuals have within newsrooms to pursue things that interest them.

In the US, there was one really striking study from the Women’s Media Center, which is a non-profit that tracks issues like these, that looked at when reproductive rights, for example, are covered in the media – when they are covered – it’s more often by men. And they produced a study in 2016 that looked at 12 major outlets in the US and found, for example, that at The New York Times men authored nearly twice as many reproductive rights stories as women did. And that men are were also quoted more often in these stories.

And if the exclusion of women’s voices in debates around our rights is part of the problem, then why do we accept this?

Because who speaks and who frames issues in public debates, it really does matter. And in addition to this, our very male-dominated newsrooms are often filled with a really ultra-competitive atmosphere that kicks questions like this to the curb in the race for my byline, my story, my moment, my recognition, my career, my promotion… always about the individual.

And this doesn’t encourage collaboration or mentorship or solidarity between reporters. And it can also reproduce and really fail to challenge extremely disempowering and damaging power dynamics.

"Who speaks and who frames issues in public debates, it really does matter."

This isn’t to say that all women are feminists, they aren't; and it’s not to say that doing this work is easy, it really isn’t.

As an editor, it can be easier, it can be faster, to work with a highly-educated (in a traditional sense), highly-experienced (in a traditional sense), native English-speaking man, based in the same time zone as you, who doesn’t ask these difficult questions, who doesn’t ask their editor: “Am I really the right person to write this story? Maybe should you give it to someone else.”

But that doesn’t mean that the status quo is right, or that we should continue to abide by it or to support that status quo.

Meaningful collaborations, working in solidarity with other women, supporting new writers, challenging corporate power, challenging fascisms, fundamentalisms, investigating structural violence this is also really difficult and delicate work, which I think is another reason why mainstream organisations, in particular, might not choose to focus their time on these areas.

We spend a lot of time with our writers. We spend a lot of time getting to know them, working with them, developing relationships, editing their pieces really carefully, explaining our edits, engaging in a back and forth that most news desks and editors wouldn’t dream of. It would seem really inefficient.

But our goals are different; our goals are also very explicitly about challenging the exclusion of women’s voices, of trans women, of women of colour, politically-radical women, working-class women, challenging the exclusion of their voices from media and public debates – this is really core to what we want to do, but of course it requires significant care, time and resources.

LW: Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi is an investigative reporter and the editor of Shine a Light which is openDemocracy’s UK investigative section. So, Rebecca, I wanted you to talk us through how Shine a Light covers state and structural violence against women.

ROO: Our sources tend to be based in communities and actually living through an injustice rather than people with access to money and power who might blow the whistle on something. We cover structural violence against women where it’s related to the British government’s austerity program. That program began in 2008 in response to the financial crisis and it’s continued since then.

London women’s protest against austerity cuts. Photo: Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi.By austerity I mean cutting the role of the state in society so that's less spending on public services like social security, which we call welfare benefits in the UK; that’s less money for local authorities; that’s cuts to legal aid for people who aren’t rich; and that’s a freeze on salaries of public sectors workers.

It's also lowering taxes, saving money by cutting spending, and all of this hurts women most – that’s really well documented. There is a ton of statistics I won’t go through now. But, just broadly, the reason women are more affected by austerity programmes is because they are more likely to use public services; they are more likely to be in low-pay jobs in the public sector; and they are more likely to do unpaid care work when the government is no longer providing a particular social service.

And all of these policy choices are very deliberate. Impacts assessments were produced and sent to civil servants and they still went ahead. And some of these policies seem to be a deliberate attempt to create an old-fashioned nuclear family where women are forced into financially-dependent relationships in order to survive.

"Some of these policies seem to be an attempt to create an old-fashioned nuclear family where women are forced into financially-dependent relationships in order to survive."

So, as you can imagine, there is a huge swathe of material to investigate. You've got public services that have been built over decades, usually by feminist activists, over time, that have become state services, and they are being rolled back through this policy.

And one area that I have tended to focus on is the lives of black and brown women and working-class women because we have data to show that they lose even more than the poorest white women, so they are really hit by some of these policies, and they are also dealing with existing structural disadvantages.

How does this play out in my work? In the long history of the battle for women’s rights and civil rights, and I include trans women in that struggle, personal testimony, and women talking and being listened to, has been crucial in forcing a public awakening that precipitates activism, protests, legal and policy change.

But in the world of investigative journalism, it’s very masculine, so there are certain stories that are deemed worthier than others, and the voices of women just aren’t seen as a priority. In my reporting, I deliberately listen in a particular way, especially when I’m with women of colour, groups often invisible to wider society, in policy, in politics, in feminism – there are so many stories to investigate: the violence is pervasive and it’s hidden in plain sight.

"There are so many stories to investigate: the violence is pervasive and it’s hidden in plain sight."

One story I worked on was in collaboration with journalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland to tell the story of refugee women, and women with uncertain immigration status, trying to leave violent relationships… and there is this huge gap and there is this group of women who are not being helped.

So I wrote about a smart young woman named Nabila who came to the UK from Pakistán and married a British man. Her migration status was a bit iffy; she didn’t have complete rights because she was in the UK on a spousal visa.

He was physically abusive, his family bullied her, and one day she just decided that she’d had enough. So she went to the British police and instead of supporting her, and treating her as a victim of crime, they interrogated her. When she went to a domestic violence refuge, they asked “What’s your immigration status?” before asking, or even saying, I believe you.

There is a gap in the law, basically. And it means that some migrant and refugee women in the UK who are there on a spousal visa can’t access certain public services. Nabila managed to somehow get out of this situation, leave her abusive husband, but she had nowhere to go, so what happens next?

As part of my research, as well as interviewing women, one thing that I tried to do was to get data from the government.

I sent Freedom of Information requests to the Home Office (they manage immigration). They said they don’t keep the data on domestic violence victims. I also sent requests to 34 local authorities across England and Wales, part of a network who are already monitoring migrants with precarious immigration status. Not one single council had kept any data on these women.

One of the problems that I had, as someone who is trying to track what happens to women who aren’t white or who have uncertain migration status, is that sometimes the data isn’t collected. In another quick example, I worked with a university researcher on this. She was writing a story for me about the cuts to services for South Asian women and other women of colour in her area, and she found statistics on gender, statistics on race, but never statistics on both, and it made her feel invisible and frustrated.

"She found statistics on gender, statistics on race, but never statistics on both, and it made her feel invisible and frustrated."

LW: Thank you Rebecca. To move on to Crina – Crina is a freelance data-driven investigative reporter based in London, but from Romania. I wanted you to start by telling us how you started looking into gender-related stories as a data journalist.

CB: Freelancers must find the underreported stories for a living. And I report on drivers of injustice, so I chase dodgy people, questionable business interests and harmful policies. To get a comprehensive understanding, I usually start with data analysis. When reporting on vulnerable groups, it is impossible not to find examples where women suffer the brunt of inequality.

I reported on compensation policies implemented by the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) for victims in war-torn Afghanistan. A table I obtained via Freedom of Information laid out the sums the ministry paid out for each type of injury: partial blindness, $1,000; loss of a foot, $2,500; loss of both legs, between $2,500-7,000, etcetera.

I found that women victims were compensated by default and design significantly less than men for the same type of injury. For example, if a man was accidentally killed by the British armed forces, his family would be compensated with anything between $8,000-12,000. Yet, if a woman was killed, her family would be paid between $5,000-8,000.

And so on for pretty much every single type of injury, apart from one: facially disfigured women were compensated with more money than facially disfigured men because it affected their prospects of a good marriage, if any. Asked why they made this stark discrimination between sexes, the defence ministry of Britain said they were applying local customary laws.

Case 2: I conducted two international polls on women’s rights in a small team of two. One examined endemic sexual harassment and violence on public transport in the world’s megacities. We interviewed over 6,600 women. Parisian women interviewees felt that no one will help them if they were attacked in a metro station or on a train at night. Women felt safer to travel in gender-segregated coaches or carriages in Latin America, while in India they reported being targeted even more for using women’s only transport vehicles.

The most shocking aspect of this research, to me, was to find out that women around the globe choose their lives and livelihoods not around their aspirations, dreams or ambitions, but, say, on how long they will have to walk on a street with no public lighting a seemingly banal aspect of everyday Western life.

Women using gender-segregated public transport in Jakarta. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0. Some rights reserved.Case 3: A look at outward migrations patterns in Romania’s most underprivileged areas shows that children left at home suffer when mothers are the first in a couple to migrate for seasonal work. Due to language similarities, Romanian women prefer to migrate to Italy, Spain and Portugal. Their departure, forced by economic circumstances, had led to children going through emotional trauma, burnout phases, spikes in child sexual abuse (especially in girls) and divorces. The migrating mothers are abused too.

Their physical and mental health, self-esteem and civil rights suffer as they toil abroad, often in abject conditions. Strawberry farmers are discouraged from bringing their husbands, but they are strongly encouraged to bring other women from their village... these women have become the main breadwinners of their family. Underprivileged Romanian villages are experiencing a poverty-induced matriarchal revival.

Data-driven investigations: they have the power of showing if a wrongdoing is systematic, whether it is scientifically-correlated with another aspect of life or politics.

"Data-driven investigations: they have the power of showing if a wrongdoing is systematic."

When you go about your reporting using a data-driven approach, there is a certain integrity in your findings. Sometimes you must write your stories around extreme cases; sometimes the average is the biggest anomaly you will ever find. Evidence-based reporting, rather than anecdotal, shelters both journalists and their sources, to some degree, from retaliation.

It’s sometimes better to protect vulnerable sources when you have a database, that’s an inanimate object: you can’t kill it. Most of the times, with data, you don’t assume, you know.

LW: Claudia Torrisi is an independent reporter who writes a regular column for us. Claudia, a lot of your work for us focuses on violence against women. Why?

CT: I think that violence against women is one of the best examples of why Italy needs real feminist journalism. In Italy, the mainstream media talks a lot about stories of femicides, women killed or abused by their partners, raped by strangers. Newspapers and TV programmes are full of these kinds of stories. The problem is that telling stories about women is not the same thing as telling women’s rights stories, and too often the caution and the care that should be applied to reporting on such a critical issue is absent.

Italian media too often use a sort of romantic frame to talk about these stories. The murder is often presented as a crime of passion. You can read words like sick love, jealousy it is really unbelievable how widespread this narrative is. If you do a quick search on Google, with the words in Italian “killed for jealousy” (uccisa per gelosia), you will see an incredible number of results.

An example: last month in Sicily, a 20-year-old girl was stabbed to death by her boyfriend and there were plenty of articles and headlines saying that he killed her for jealousy. But if you dig a little into this story, you find that the relationship between that girl and her boyfriend was far from being perfect and healthy. She had been beaten up by her partner several times, but she had never filed a complaint with the police.

"Telling stories about women is not the same thing as telling women's rights stories."

So I think that is why this narrative, full of stereotypes and this romantic frame, is dangerous because describing the violence as linked to individual responsibilities leaves out from the story the roots of the violence, which are patriarchy, unequal power relations between women and men, discrimination.

There are a lot of issues related to femicides and violence that need to be investigated. For example, a lot of victims had filed complaints to the police before being killed. So the question is: why are Italian laws and authorities failing to protect women from violence? Or why do women’s centres and refuges have so many difficulties in carrying out their activities? Why are many of them about to close? Or, another example, why is Italy unable to set school education programs to prevent violence?

Something is changing now, thanks to groups of female journalists and researchers who are trying to reconstruct the way we talk about violence against women in Italy. There are initiatives, education courses, protests when there is bad coverage, but still, this narrative is predominant, so we definitely need better reporting on violence against women.

LW: You give us one of our biggest hits on 50.50 when you looked into the Weinstein scandal and how the Italian media were reporting it. Do you want to tell me about that, and what was different about how it was being reported in Italy, compared to other countries?

CT: One of Weinstein’s accusers was the Italian actress and director Asia Argento who told The New Yorker she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein in 1997. That’s the reason why the Italian media gave significant space to the scandal, but instead of focusing on Weinstein, they scrutinised the victims. We can definitely say that, in Italy, the Weinstein scandal quickly became Asia Argento's scandal.

Asia Argento in Cannes, 2012. Photo: Hahn-Marechal-Nebinger/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Media reports focused on her behaviour, describing her as an opportunist, even a prostitute, questioning why she had waited so long to come forward, and some reports said that what she was claiming wasn’t violence as she was not beaten, she did not scream, she did not escape, she did not fit the stereotype of a sexual violence victim. What is worse is that such voices, here, are seen as common sense: “She could have done something to avoid that situation.”

The debate here got stuck in show business and was treated by the media as gossip. It seems that industries all over the world had their own moments of reckoning inspired by the Weinstein scandal, while we did not have any.

Here the discussion around sexual harassment at work remains a sort of taboo. This is, of course, a cultural problem and it shows how much sexual abusers and harassers can feel safe in this country, but this also has to do with the Italian media industry which is a world in which the power is all in male hands. So the real problem is that narratives are shaped by men who are in power and we know that harassment is about power.

"The real problem is that narratives are shaped by men who are in power and we know that harassment is about power."

Our National Institute of Statistics estimated that 8.2 million Italian women between 14-65 years old have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. 1.4 million women have experienced physical harassment or sexual blackmail in their workplace. What's more: 80% of these women said that they told no one at work about the incident; almost no one had reported the incident to the police.

So we need feminist investigative journalists to uncover this system of harassment and abuse in every working field, including the media, and to tell these underreported stories to create safer spaces for women to share their experiences.

LW: That’s it for us. Join us again next month. You can tweet us at @5050od or @Backlash_Track. Feel free to give us a bell, let us know what you think, give us some ideas, feedback also welcome. You can email us, or you can find us on Facebook.

50.50 is an independent feminist media platform. You can support our work by donating on our website. Help us track the backlash against women’s rights.

This episode of The Backlash is an edited version of 50.50's panel at the 2018 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, chaired by Lara Whyte. Audio editing and music production by Simone Lai. Produced by Lara Whyte and Claire Provost; assistant producing by Rocio Ros. 

Explore
11 April 2018
From: 50.50

Vending machine with snacks and condoms, Berlin, Germany. Vending machine with snacks and condoms, Berlin, Germany. Photo: Berliner Verlag/Archiv/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.For our second episode of The Backlash podcast, we look at the conservative groups lobbying against women's rights at the United Nations, how they define success, and what impact these successes have on women and girls.

We hear from professor Anne Marie Goetz from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, who was at the recent UN women's talks for 50.50, and Raimundo Rojas who attended as a delegate, as well as author Clifford Bob who explains how a 'Baptist Burka' network at the UN works against women. 

We also speak to Cledwyn Atush Mamai, an organiser in Kenya's growing anti-abortion lobby, and our columnist Tiffany Mugo talks us through her recent story on teenage girls arrested in Tanzania for getting pregnant. Listen to the episode by clicking on the audio player, or you can read the full podcast transcript below.


Listen on itunes here.

Lara Whyte (LW): Hello and welcome to The Backlash: a podcast series tracking threats against women’s rights, brought to you by 50.50, the gender and sexuality section of openDemocracy. I’m Lara Whyte and I’m your host.

Thanks for joining us this month as we track the backlash against women’s rights. We will be hearing from our columnist Tiffany Mugo in South Africa; we will be in New York where last month the United Nations women’s rights conference took place; but first we are going to Kenya where so-called ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-family’ groups are on the rise.

Here’s what the recent March for Life in Nairobi, Kenya sounded like:

Kenya protester: A community that does not respect life is a community that lives not in accordance to the will of God. This is why we gather today, to say no to abortion, no to irresponsible behaviour that brings down the life of the family.

LW: The march in Kenya was sponsored by dozens of organisations including CitizenGo, a Spanish right-wing group that is best known for its online petitions but increasingly its offline demonstrations. I spoke to one of the organisers of the March for Life just after it finished, Cledwyn Atush Mamai, and I start here by asking him how it went.

Cledwyn Atush Mamai (CAM): It’s been good; we had a good number that showed up. What we are now trying to do more is create awareness because it’s something that has not really been talked about. More and more people are becoming aware now on what needs to be done in the area of promoting the culture of life.

LW: Do you work with organisations from different countries?

CAM: Yes, yeah we normally have like, today we had another person from Nigeria who came to help us, and we had CitizenGo.

March for Life Kenya, March 2018. March for Life Kenya, March 2018. Photo: Facebook/CitizenGo.LW: How do you work with CitizenGo?

CAM: We’re now just starting to work with them; we’ve not been having them as one of our partners for a long time. So it’s only this year that we’ve begun to actually have a discussion around how we can work together in matters of promoting life in the country.

LW: Abortion is illegal in Kenya at the moment, yes? Why is there a need for a March for Life in Kenya?

CAM: We’ve always been, we seem to be, always reactive, talking about things that have happened and trying to oppose it. So what we’re trying to do is promote what is already happening in the country.

'In Kenya, so-called ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-family’ groups are on the rise.'

LW: CitizenGo collected more than 180,000 signatures on a petition this year, demanding that abortion be ‘removed from the United Nations agenda’ along with what’s called ‘comprehensive sexuality education’. The petition was presented to delegates at the UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women talks – or the CSW, as they are known for those in the know.

Anne Marie Goetz is a professor at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University. She was formerly chief advisor on peace and security at UN Women. Anne Marie joins us now from New York. You were at the UN talks and you wrote a piece for 50.50 about the backlash there. Do you want to start by telling us a little more about that?

Anne Marie Goetz (AMG): There’s been a backlash building to women’s rights since the Beijing 1995 conference... and that of course is linked to all kinds of other geopolitical developments including the rise of religious extremism in various parts of the world; the intensification of what could perhaps be described as disgruntled and toxic masculinities clustering around misogynistic agendas; it’s been linked to financial, fiscal austerity in response to the crisis of 2008 and earlier financial crises.

So there’s been a number of things building towards the sense that women’s rights have gone too far, men are feeling disenfranchised. And let’s not forget that behind all of this is the logic of late capitalism, which is an energy that leads to the rich getting infinitely richer and the poor getting poorer and no amount of global trade and technological advances seems to be enough to reverse that polarisation between and within societies.

"There’s been a number of things building towards the sense that women’s rights have gone too far, men are feeling disenfranchised."

So that backlash has been building anyways. It has been felt at discussions at the CSW for a very long time, in part because of the role the Vatican plays, as an observer, but nonetheless as a very vocal and powerful one. And it has a very important role actually in fostering the build up of conservative voice at the Commission on the Status of Women.

So too, have theocratic countries, notably Iran, and after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the very brief post-Cold War honeymoon, the intensification of authoritarian tendencies in Russia I would say have also fuelled this backlash against women’s rights which is rarely expressed as such. It’s usually expressed as simply pushing the UN to stick to established rules and stick to past agreements and not expand beyond them.

LW: One of the things you mentioned in your piece for 50.50 was how there’s these kind of strange bedfellows at these talks and…

AMG: Of course this is a recent development, because of the new administration in the US, and it first became apparent last year when the US sent a delegation to the CSW which included several very right-wing civil society organisations which had been identified by the southern law poverty group [Southern Poverty Law Center] as being hate groups when it comes to LGBTI issues, and of course they’re anti-abortion.

So this year the US has sent a delegation that is entirely made up of government personnel, of political appointees in the main, and they include people who have a record of being anti-abortion, and at least one, who is quite strongly anti-trans…

LW: That was Anne Marie Goetz, and you can read her piece – Will reactionary delegations torpedo UN talks on rural women? – on our website; that is opendemocracy.net/5050.

Commission on the Status of Women, March 2018. Commission on the Status of Women, March 2018. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Some rights reserved.Also at the UN talks, was Cuban-American anti-choice activist Raimundo Rojas. He wouldn’t tell me which organisation he was actually there with, but he wrote a blog accusing the United Nations of ignoring what women around the world actually want.

Raimundo Rojas (RR): We have many nations in Latin America, who have very protective laws on abortion, say, and we see that the UN, the first world, the European Union, the Americans, the Canadians, depending on the administration, want to do these social experiments on them, when what we need in the developing world is food, it’s water, it’s access to medicine, it’s you know, those are our needs.

You know, let’s feed the women of the world, let’s make sure they have access to medical care, you know, this is what women want, they want to be well-nourished, and not malnourished, and sometimes I think that gets lost in the grand scheme of things of the European Union.

To sit as I have for many years and listen to the women of Africa, listen to the women of Latin America, during negotiations that take place, you know we can talk about this and gender equality is important and access to all of these rights is important, but can we please first talk about survival? You can’t eat a condom.

"Gender equality is important and access to all of these rights is important, but can we please first talk about survival? You can’t eat a condom."

LW: But do you not think – ‘you can’t eat a condom’; sorry, is that what you just said?

RR: Yes, I believe it’s true. Well, I guess you could eat but you can’t digest it, I would say.  

LW: Clifford Bob is an author and professor of political science at Du Caine University and coined the term the ‘Baptist Burkha network.’ I rang him up to find out what this term means.

Clifford Bob (CB): I did it more as a kind of colourful way to describe the interesting and in some sense surprising coalitions you see working on what they call traditional families or family value issues, and primarily working at the UN to promote their vision of traditional families, of the right to life, in opposition to groups that are promoting abortion rights or broad definitions of the family or even the basic concept of sexual orientation and gender identity.

These groups across religious lines are working at least loosely together to fight against those goals of various progressive groups, and others who might be part of that include the Holy See, and various Catholic NGOs, C-Fam is probably the most well-known of them, based in New York.

Increasingly, and this really happened after my research, I’ve been thinking I should have called it the Baptist Burkha Babushka coalition, because the Russian Orthodox Church is also heavily involved in a lot of these issues.

"I should have called it the Baptist Burkha Babushka coalition."

LW: You talk about how decades of non-action and slowdown are part of successful strategies for right-wing resistance. And so, if you look at the CSW, the Commission on the Status of Women, the real lack of achievement it has had, do you think that’s a sign that they have been successful, the Baptist Burkha Babushka Network?

CB: Yes, I definitely do. The lack of progress on women’s rights, or something like that, or especially on abortion rights, at the UN, could be seen as a failure of the pro-abortion groups. The flipside of that, I would say, is seen by the pro-life groups as a success for them, even if they haven’t actually put into place a new policy per se, they have preserved the old policy which doesn’t recognise that right, or at least not as clearly as they would like. Similarly, in the case of definitions of the family, efforts to put into significant UN documents even the terminology of sexual orientation and gender identity have generally not succeeded despite very strong efforts by gay rights groups, but that is also a success for the groups that are fighting for their very traditional view of what a family is.

LW: So the impact of these victories by the anti-rights groups is what this series is tracking.

Early forced pregnancy when it’s not an actual death sentence for teenage girls can turn into to life sentence as they are forced out of their education. In Tanzania teenage girls have actually been arrested for getting pregnant whilst in school.

'In Tanzania teenage girls have actually been arrested for getting pregnant whilst in school.'

Our 50.50 columnist Tiffany Mugo reported on this earlier this week. So here’s Tiffany, on what’s happening here.

Tiffany Mugo (TM): It all comes down to this idea that women – it’s a very sort of conservative idea that women that get pregnant are just being loose, and throwing their lives away.

And it also feeds into the problem or the idea that educating and empowering the girl child isn’t exactly very helpful. So in terms of looking at girl children and education, it’s already enough of a struggle for us because people already think within the continent that putting their resources into boys is a lot better. So by the time a girl gets pregnant you’re like: ‘aw, for goodness sake,’ like: ‘what is going on here.’ Like: it’s bad enough that we had to spend money to send you to school and now this?

And it all feeds into that idea that whatever happens to a woman is her fault, so be it sexual assault, be it falling pregnant, so you find that this idea of sort of like cracking down on these girls, and the backlash against these girls – because the boys are all allowed to stay in school. It’s a distressingly widespread practice, be it officially or unofficially, because in some societies, in some spaces, girls simply won’t be sent back to school, even though it’s not like an official policy or anything, but it’s something that’s been ingrained on a state level and a sort of national level that this is how things must go, this is how things must happen.

That then brings the problem of how to fight back against something like that because it’s not official, so you can go to a school and they’ll be like ‘no, she just didn’t come back.’

"It all feeds into that idea that whatever happens to a woman is her fault."

LW: The girls who were expelled from school, they all had to do mandatory pregnancy tests, but yet they didn’t have sex education classes? To me, I just couldn’t quite get my head around that.

TM: If you had no idea about sex, how do you even begin to like ask what the hell is going on? Like when somebody says we’re testing you for pregnancy, and all you’ve ever been told is like boys are bad and like close your legs, and all sorts of other things like close your legs even when you’re just sitting around. It’s such a punishing system; it’s almost like you’re being punished for things you didn’t know, which I think for me is the most mind-boggling thing.

In Kenya, to use Kenya as an example – to look at the backlash against sex education programme within Kenya, you find that when people are asked about it a lot of them are saying: no, we don’t want it because it’s not taking into consideration our cultures, and the way we do things.

What is actually blamed for sort of the hot mess that apparently we are in, is these sort of western ideas that are brought by governments – sort of every government that comes and says ‘hey, you need to accept LGBT rights,’ and stuff like that. Or, in the case of Kenya and these sexual education programmes, the whole idea of comprehensive sexual education, is being blamed as being brought by the UN and western countries via the UN, because these sex education programmes want to look at ideas of masterbation, want to look at ideas of sexuality as a spectrum, as opposed to: ‘hello hetrosexual couple, here are baby-making tips,’ type thing. 

LW: Just to stay on the UN, should the conference on women’s rights take place in New York? What’s your view on that?

TM: Oh, no. It’s a big no for me, because I know a lot of people who do incredible work who can’t access those spaces, because New York is far guys. New York is far, and getting an American visa? Oh God, forget about it.

LW: That’s it for us. Join us again next month. You can tweet us at @5050od or @Backlash_Track. Feel free to give us a bell, let us know what you think, give us some ideas, feedback also welcome. You can email us, or you can find us on Facebook.

50.50 is an independent feminist media platform. You can support our work by donating on our website. Help us track the backlash against women’s rights.

This episode of The Backlash was presented by Lara Whyte, produced by Claire Provost and Lara Whyte, and recorded and edited by Simone Lai. Original music by Simone Lai. 

Explore
22 February 2018
From: 50.50

Jayda Fransen (right), deputy leader of of far right group Britain First, 2017. Jayda Fransen (right), deputy leader of of far right group Britain First, 2017. Picture: Claire Doherty/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.50.50, openDemocracy’s gender and sexuality section, is investigating the global backlash against women’s and LGBTQI rights. Rising nationalist and extreme right-wing populism have been identified including by UN experts as major threats to our rights. And yet women around the world are also joining some of these movements.

In the first episode of 50.50's new podcast – The Backlash – we speak to three experts on women’s participation in the far right: councillor Jolene Bunting, a Belfast politician and supporter of the far-right, anti-Muslim group Britain First; researcher Marilyn Mayo, senior fellow at the Anti-Defamation League in the US; and Akanksha Mehta, at the University of Sussex. 

Listen to the episode here. You can also read a (lightly edited) transcript below. Follow The Backlash podcast on Twitter and let us know what you think.

Trigger warning: this episode contains some distressing material, particularly in the comments of Councillor Bunting. So if you are exhausted by hate and would prefer to sit these out – skip the first five minutes.


Listen on itunes here.

The Backlash podcast episode 1: Women and the far right – transcript

Lara Whyte (LW): Hello and welcome to The Backlash: a podcast series tracking threats against women’s rights, brought to you by 50:50, the gender and sexuality section of openDemocracy. I’m Lara Whyte and I am your host.

This month, we are kicking off by looking at the rise of the far right – and in particular the many women who are enlisting. Who are they, what are they doing and why? I’ll be speaking to three women who know more than most about this: councillor Jolene Bunting, a Belfast politician and supporter of the far-right group Britain First; Marilyn Mayo, senior research fellow at the Centre for Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the US, and Dr. Akanksha Mehta, lecturer in international relations at the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex.

For those of you listening from outside of the UK, it’s important to stress that Britain First are not in Parliament – they're a far-right, anti-Muslim group with no elected political representation at the moment. Last year, Donald Trump retweeted three of this group’s videos; fake content pillaged from other sources and re-purposed as news. Old ideologies using new technologies. Here’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen (JF), speaking in Belfast late last year.

JF: The biggest threat to civilisation across the world is Islam. Without a doubt, just switch the news on. And it could be in London, it could be in Manchester, it could be in Germany, it could be in Brussels, it could be in Africa. We are at war with Islam. The world is at war with Islam.


Deputy leader of Britain First Jayda Fransen (centre) and Jolene Bunting (right). Deputy leader of Britain First Jayda Fransen (centre) and Jolene Bunting (right). Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.LW: Independent councillor Jolene Bunting (JB) represents a very small part of north Belfast in Northern Ireland. She was banned last year from Facebook for 30 days, as part of its attempt to clamp down on hate speech. I start here by asking her: did she not think Britain First were bit extreme?

JB: It’s extreme to plant a bomb in an airport. It’s not extreme to speak about something. There are hundreds of girls now living with the trauma of being raped by the Asian Muslim grooming gangs. But no one wanted to talk about that... and that’s where the problem comes [from]. And if we look closer into that, and we look at the Islamic teachings, and the life of the prophet Mohammed, he thought that it was OK to have sexual intercourse with a 9-year old child – and that’s a fact; that’s not me being derogatory. I’m not one to put anyone down, but that’s a fact, and if we don’t look at that then we’re never going to get to the bottom of these grooming gangs.

LW: So you’re linking these grooming gangs directly with the prophet?

JB: Well... how I have come to that is I have looked at their religion, and I have seen a pattern.

LW: So Jolene, Britain First don’t have any councillors or [elected] politicians; do you think they’re trying to get you to join?

JB: I don’t know. I actually approached Britain First. I invited them to an anti-terrorism rally... [where] Jayda, she was pointing out things which were in the Koran, which may harm our society. She was then subsequently arrested for it.

LW: When you invited them over to Belfast – I can see the benefit from Britain First’s point of view, because you’re an elected official, and they don’t have that; but what is the benefit to you and your constituents?

JB: The benefit for me of inviting Britain First over was to speak to English people, so that English people can hear what is actually going on in Northern Ireland. Jayda Fransen is one of the most powerful women I have ever come across. She’s one of the most inspirational women I’ve ever come across. She knows exactly what the problem is, and she knows how she needs to fix it. And she is determined, and she doesn’t care who or what steps in her way. She is determined to stand up for her country and do what’s best for her country.

"Jayda Fransen is one of the most powerful women I have ever come across... and she doesn’t care who or what steps in her way. She is determined to stand up for her country." 

LW: Do you think Britain First are going to ask you to formally join them, and then your political career would be on a Britain First platform? And do you think that would work?

JB: They haven’t asked me thus far, and I don’t know that they ever would ask me. However it’s something that I would have to consider. Being an independent is quite a hard platform; being on your own is always going to be harder than having a party to hang to. Britain First has been more than welcoming to me.


LW: That was independent councillor Jolene Bunting there, and this is The Backlash – brought to you by openDemocracy 50.50.

Marilyn Mayo (MM) has been studying far-right movements in America for more than 20 years. She is senior fellow at the Center for Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League in the US. I reached out to her to ask about the rising numbers of women participating in extremist right-wing movements. Is this a new trend? And if so, what is so new about it?

MM: Women have come into the alt-right in various ways. I can think of a number of women off hand who are playing sort of a dual role, espousing traditional roles for women while at the same time trying to make kind of a voice for themselves. You do have more women interested in the movement. They’ve always played kind of a secondary role to men in the movement though, even in years past. A lot of men in the alt-right have misogynist points of view, really do believe that women should take the back seat, that women should just be in traditional roles, that women shouldn’t be the voices that people respond to in the movement. I think it’s been a very mixed bag for the women.

LW: And do you think the alt-right in general is actively trying to recruit women? Do you think it has the strategic sense to realise that it needs more women in order for the movement to grow?

MM: There are groups that have talked about women and their roles in the movement; they don’t want them to be necessarily the leaders of the movement. They think that women play important roles in terms of supporting them in the movement... but I think it’s a double-edged sword for a lot of them because when they do get very active ,and start to have like a voice, they get criticised by men in the movement. And part of the alt-right movement, or part the men’s rights movement that's fed into the alt-right, they’re pretty misogynistic just in general. But there are a lot of women that support the views of the alt-right. 

"Women have come into the alt-right in various ways... but I think it’s a double-edged sword for a lot of them because when they do get very active and start to have like a voice they get criticised by men in the movement."

LW: So a lot of the young women I’ve met [in the growing right-wing scene] are in their early twenties. One thing they had in common was distrust, fear, you could even say hatred, of feminism.

MM: On this they’re in agreement with the men, even the men who attack them: that feminism has been a detriment to women in many ways, because it’s made women less likely to take on traditional roles of being a wife and a mother... they think that feminists have destroyed relationships between men and women in certain ways, and they’re very much promoting themselves a traditional role that women should have.

LW: What I find quite weird about that: so Lauren Southern, for example, she’s a spokesperson for a movement that thinks women shouldn’t really speak much.

MM: I agree with you that there’s a lot of irony in that, and she’s been attacked in the alt-right, by men in the alt-right, for having that activist role. She’s kind of played it both ways, from what I’ve read from her, promoting herself yet at the same time taking on these traditional roles. It’s sort of inherent in the role that they’re playing, that once you take on a leadership role, you’re seen in a certain light, as a spokesperson, but you’re still promoting this idea that women should take on traditional roles as mothers and wives.

Alt-right videocasters Lauren Southern and Brittany Pettibone. Alt-right videocasters Lauren Southern and Brittany Pettibone. Photo: Jeremy Breningstall/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.LW: Do you think it’s significant that many of these women are so young that they’re not mothers and wives yet? I just had this feeling that there was a lot of young women and a lot of old men, and I wasn’t quite sure where the older women were?

MM: I’ve seen a lot of controversy over this in the alt-right, and the white supremacist movement, asking why these women are not having babies. And many of them say they’re not ready, or they haven’t met whoever they want to meet to do that with. But I think that young people generally are still forming their political ideas, and these women have been kind of buoyed up by the social media apps of the alt-right, and getting into the rejecting of political correctness, and other aspects of this world. There's a lot of irony, and I think that young people have been attracted to the movement in general because there’s this ironic humour and view of the world. There's something about it, especially the meme culture and things like that, where people are responding to that irony and bigoted humour... I’m thinking of people like Milo, getting up and attacking women and attacking feminists and attacking transgender people, and thinking that it’s really funny.

LW: Have you been surprised by what has been going on or have you been calling this for a while? 

MM: You know, having looked at this for 20 years, there are movements that come and go, and there are waves of activity. I think different movements are created within the context of the time we’re living in. There’s certain things that made the alt-right unique, and that has a lot to do with social media, and the environment created by the polarisation in the United States right now, that’s so deep... the Trump effect, and things like that. 

Most of the time, the white supremacist movement has been dominated by men. And there have been waves of activity when they’ve been more active than other times. When I first came to ADL for example, in the 1990s, the neo-nazi movement was the most active movement. And it’s not as active as it once was, though it’s getting active again in the United States; there are a number of groups that are openly calling themselves neo-national socialists.

It was a bit of a phenomenon that happened given a bunch of other currents in the United States, when the alt-right came to life  like the Trump campaign, and then when you had the Unite the Right rally [in August 2017], in Charlottesville, which was the biggest white supremacist gathering in decades. A lot of it had to do with the way it was presented and advertised, like through social media, blogs, people networking online. All sorts of things that didn't exist so much, years ago. Demonstrators carry confederate and Nazi flags during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 2017. Demonstrators carry confederate and Nazi flags during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 2017. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.LW: Because it’s almost a surprise that they’re attracting women – like say for a young woman who’s curious about these movements, what do you think they’re finding there, that they might not have found say 10 years ago?

MM: Well, it’s a younger grouping that is involved in terms of the alt-right. It’s definitely a younger demographic than we’ve seen in the past, you have people as young as high school age, maybe even younger, being part of the movement. So there’s definitely a youthful element that’s a little different. And it was more that the women that were involved, for example in racist skinhead groups, were more like the girlfriend of the racist skinhead. I think now you have young women sort of coming into it on their own, and people like Brittany Pettibone, Tara McCarthy and Lauren Southern and others are sort of seeing themselves in leadership roles in ways that maybe women didn’t before – again, even though they’re espousing this traditionalism.

"It’s definitely a younger demographic than we’ve seen in the past, you have people as young as high school age, maybe even younger, being part of this movement."

LW: And so, Marilyn, do you think we need to talk about white women and why they’re so angry that they voted for Trump, that they're joining these movements? You tend to think of the far right as angry young men, but is it time we changed that view a little bit – or is it still a bit premature, are women still playing small roles, that are getting amplified for propaganda reasons?

MM: It’s still mostly I would say a male-dominated movement, but women are increasingly asserting themselves within the movement. But again, I want to emphasise that it’s still a two-edged sword for them because of the reaction they get from the men. We may be talking about two different things in some ways too, because when you talk about white women who are angry and voting for people like Trump, for example, they’re not necessarily part of the alt-right or the white supremacist movement, they might be angry for other reasons.

So it is important to talk about women. We’ve seen a lot of overlap between extremists in the US and then abroad in Europe; certainly there’s always been a relationship for example between white supremacists in the US and the BNP; there’s a lot of support in the alt-right for groups like UKIP, and Britain First, and things like that. I think that given the way we communicate these days, the impact of a group geographically is such that their material, their ideas, are easily transmittable just across the world.

LW:  Marilyn, final question: do you think it’s kind of become cool to be racist?

MM: I think that some people feel that way. I think they feel that it’s actually OK now to be openly racist; I think that we’re seeing that more and more especially in the United States where we have young people in colleges who are openly being racist and expounding these views, I think people have become much more willing to express their racism and their anti-semitism very openly.

"I think people have become much more willing to express their racism and their anti-semitism very openly." 


LW: Marilyn Mayo there. Of course this isn’t just a western story. Extreme nationalism is raising its ugly head all over the globe, and more women are participating worldwide. In India, the Hindutva movement believes in an extreme version of religious nationalism: that Indian culture is identical with Hindu culture. And it’s a violent movement. I asked Dr. Akanksha Mehta (AM) from the University of Sussex about the growing role of women in this movement.

AM: I did fieldwork in different places in India, in Delhi, in Bombay, in Nashik, in Puna... this was in 2013-2014, when the campaign elect Narendra Modi was ongoing. He was elected in May 2014, while I was in fieldwork.

There was a lot of honesty and openness on their part to just share with me what they were thinking, feeling, doing, writing and so in that sense it was not difficult to gain access, it was difficult to process the ethics of it and think about what they were doing and how I was writing about it and whether I was complicit in what they were doing by writing about it, more of those sort of ethical questions.

 They’re really proud to be nationalists, they’re really proud to be, as they say, Hindus, but they conflate Hindu with Hindu nationalism, so they’re in this sense very open and proud of being on this side of the political spectrum, of not being what they call ‘anti-national,’ or not being ‘secular,’ or not being ‘on the left.' 

"They’re really proud to be nationalists, they’re really proud to be, as they say, Hindus, but they conflate Hindu with Hindu nationalism."

For some of them, they see this work as not politics  because they see politics as still a very dirty game played by politicians and 'high-rankings', and so they see themselves as just doing the work they need to do to keep the nation alive... So it’s a very complex terrain but they’re absolutely identifying as being right-wing women, as being nationalist women, as being pro-certain things and anti-certain things and they’re very open about all of that.

I think for many of them, their husbands or fathers or brothers have been going to the weekly meetings, have been part of the sort of family structure of the movement for a really long time... But there are also lots of younger women, who may not have these kinds of backgrounds, who have gotten involved I think mainly through social media to begin with. There has been a lot of Hindu right-wing activism on social media; a lot of Hindu right-wing organisation and mobilisation on social media, especially on Twitter.

"there’s been a lot of Hindu right-wing organisation and mobilisation on social media, especially on Twitter."

I can see some patterns there, in terms of older women being more involved through families, and younger women being more involved through finding their own way. But these are not set in stone, because there are a lot of younger women as well that have joined because their families have been part of the movement for decades.

I think they get a sense of mobilisation, a sense of being part of something, being politically involved, gaining more access to public space, political space... So women are actively involved, they stand for something, they’re going to meetings, they’re going to protests, they’re putting together different kinds of organisations, they’re putting together different types of events, so there’s definitely a sense of achievement and a sense of community that’s coming through. Supporters at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's road show, March 2017, Varanasi, India. Supporters at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's road show, March 2017, Varanasi, India. Photo: Hindustan Times/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Through the movement, they’re able to move to say a bigger city to start a job, because they have these networks. So they have other families looking after them, friends, they have all of these other people that they’ve met through the Hindu right-wing who will watch out for them, and so hence their parents will let them move to a big city. So it has very much to do with women being able to mobilise and being able to gain access to spaces that they may not have been able to earlier, and then using that mobilisation to then bargain for space within the home – so being able to tell their husbands that they’re not going to be able to cook today, because they have to go to a meeting, and sort of arguing within their domesticity, changing those roles.

"For a lot of the women in the movement it’s also jussurpriset about a sense of community, friendship, intimacy... and using that mobilisation to then bargain for space within the home."

I think what surprised me most was how open and frank and honest the women were, because they had absolutely no fear of being persecuted or being charged with some sort of law for the kinds of hateful, violence-inciting things that they were saying and doing. So that was quite shocking. They were so comfortable in what they were saying without any fear that they could be held accountable for any of this. I expected that yes, of course there are lots and lots of people who hold these kinds of politics and views. But I expected that they would hold them with a least some acknowledgement that oh what I think is a bit extreme and what I think is violent, but it’s necessary... they really had nothing to hide. 

LW: That was Dr. Akanksha Mehta from the University of Sussex there. That is it from us – thank you very much for listening. Our series on women and the far right is part of openDemocracy’s partnership with the World Forum for Democracy.

Tweet us at @5050oD or @Backlash_Track, or email us or find us on Facebook. 50.50 is an independent feminist media platform. Support our work. Help us get a better microphone, and help us track the backlash against women’s rights.

This episode of The Backlash was presented and produced by Lara Whyte. Thanks to Simone Lai for audio editing and music production.

 

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10 March 2015

PANELISTS 

Caspar Bowden (Independent Privacy Researcher) 
Hanane Boujemi (Hivos International: MENA region) 
Catherine Easton (University of Lancaster/Internet Rights and Principles Coalition) 
Sherif Elsayed-Ali and Champa Patel (Amnesty International) 
Becky Kazansky (Tactical Technology Collective) 
Gavin McFadyen (Centre for Investigative Journalism) 

Moderator: Marianne Franklin (Global Media and Transnational Communications Program, Goldsmiths) 

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The internet-dependent world is still dealing with the fallout of Edward Snowden's revelations of mass online surveillance. The human rights implications of state and private actors' tracking of our everyday life online, our digital imagination, and our relationships with other people through social media have been thrust into the headlines as a result. 

This public debate held on 26 February 2015 at Goldsmiths, University of London, brings longstanding human rights defenders, such as Amnesty, (h)activists, legal experts, and journalists around the table to discuss the practical and political challenges of defending human rights in a digital age; online and on the ground. As human rights NGOs consider the digital implications of human rights abuses, so do technical and legal experts have to consider the design and legislative implications of recognizing that online we have rights too. Official recognition, e.g. at the UN, is not enough. And grassroots awareness-raising about our human rights online is hampered by government policies that undermine rights like Freedom of Expression, privacy, education, and freedom of association in the name of cyber- or state security. 

This panel discusses the options available for the design, access, and use of the future internet now that the "genie is out of the bottle" as the battle for ownership and control of tomorrow's internet gathers steam. 

Co-organized by the Global Media and Transnational Communications MA Program, School of Journalism's Media Forum, and Radical Media Forum, Department of Media and Communication. 

Read more from our 'Closely observed citizens' series here, and listen to more Goldsmiths podcasts here.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

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Thank you to the wonderful people at TheatreDelicatessen for hosting us and keeping their bar open, to Ross Fairgrieve for the pro bono filming & to the Tedworth Trust for supporting this series on openDemocracy.

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In 2011, there was a revolution in Egypt. The country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, was deposed and law and order collapsed. During protests in the centre of Cairo, the Egyptian national museum was ransacked and treasures from Egypt’s ancient past were stolen.

Two years later, protests in southern Egypt led to an attack on the Mallawi archaeological museum. The United Nations catalogued the theft of more than a thousand objects from the museum.

Antiquities are being looted across Egypt. Some are lost forever — destroyed or forgotten. Others are smuggled out of Egypt and into private collections in the Middle East. And still others are finding their way to the great auction-houses of London, Paris and New York.

The Egyptian government, archaeologists, private investigators and antiquities dealers all have a part to play in stopping this illegal trade. But they all view the problem from different perspectives — occasionally complementary, often at crossed purposes.

In Gleaming in the Dust, we uncover this illicit trade and hear from some of the people trying to stop it.

 

Gleaming in the Dust is an audio documentary by Square Bracket Productions, and was produced by George Richards (@gergis) and Tristan Summerscale (@trissum), with music by Anthony Cardona. 

Contributors to the documentary were: Dr Monica Hanna (Egyptologist), Sohair Younis (Press Counsellor, Egyptian Embassy), Dr Chris Naunton (Director, Egypt Exploration Society), Marcel Marée (Assistant Keeper, Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department, British Museum), Julian Radcliffe (Chairman, Art Loss Register), and James Ede (Member of the Board, International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art).

The documentary was launched at the Egyptian Cultural Bureau in London in July with a panel discussion between Dr Chris Naunton, Marcel Marée, James Ede and Tristan Summerscale, chaired by George Richards.

Coming soon: follow-up interviews with George and Tristan.

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17 September 2014

This week, Scottish voters will decide whether or not Scotland goes independent. It’s neck and neck, and divided along generational lines. Young people are more likely to want to leave the UK, with the grey vote bringing the average down.

The Precarious Europe team visits Glasgow to meet some of the young people voting Yes this Thursday. We also speak to Shiv Malik, a journalist and co-author of the book Jilted Generation, on why a younger generation of Scots might be turning away from the Union. 

As Carl Miller at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media tells us, it’s not only the message but the medium. Whatever the result, the independence movement, which has drawn heavily on non-politicians, activists and civil society, has re-engaged a generation of Scots.

What will happen after the vote? A ‘Generation Yes’ activist assures us, it won’t be back to ‘politics as usual’.

 

Read more about the Precarious Europe project.

Credits: 01/09/2014, produced by: Yiannis Baboulias, written and voiced by: Niki Seth-Smith.

 

 

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