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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

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. 

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.


10 March 2015


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) 

Download podcast (right-click and save as) 

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


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.

The list below provides jump links to specific points in the video

Coarse jump-links

Fine-grain jump-links


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.

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.