Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vaccines and immunisation: don’t leave a fifth of the world’s children behind

“The hospitals are filled with children with vaccine preventable diseases.”
Johanna Sekennes, Médecins Sans Frontières, Head of Mission, Mali

The rain’s falling thickly onto the roads in rural eastern Mali, preventing cars from passing and making travel by foot virtually impossible. Yet – as a beautifully shot yet hard-hitting new short film, A Preventable Fate, by Venetia Dearden, makes clear – the rainy season does not mean a halt to all industry.  Instead, it coincides with the farming season. Hard-working women, many with children on their backs, labour in the fields to ensure a good crop and a good livelihood. Their responsibilities to the land, to their families and to the sustainability of their agricultural practices, combined with environmental and other external factors, are just some of the complex obstacles standing in the way of them accessing adequate healthcare for themselves and their children. In the first year of their lives, children must receive vaccines five separate times – a tough ask for women given the distance that sometimes needs to be covered, the cost or difficulty of the journey and the other labour-demands a woman is subject to for survival.

The images of rural life in Dearden’s film have a liveliness, community spirit and wholesomeness which belie the tougher realities of under-resourcing in the area and generally in rural and economically disadvantaged regions across the developing world. A Preventable Fate is part of a series of six films around the theme of Fatal Neglect, produced by Doctors Without Borders to highlight the obstacles faced by millions of people worldwide in accessing quality healthcare. The series also includes a study of treatment-resistant TB and three neglected tropical diseases.

In looking at the issue of vaccinations and immunisation in Mali we see that the women working so hard in the fields do not have a day to spare to take their children to be vaccinated – a journey which is difficult even by car, let alone on foot. If a woman happens to live in a village where there is no local vaccine campaign, she may have to go even further away. A Preventable Fate features a woman explaining to a doctor at a vaccine project that she has two children and came to visit the project by bike, “and I got a flat tire. So I had to walk. It’s very difficult.” It is too much to demand of a mother or other caregiver that they take each child to a vaccine campaign outpost at least five times within that child’s first year, when shortages of vaccines may mean that repeat visits are necessary, and that trips are made without knowing whether the vaccines will be available. For those children who receive perhaps two or three of their five shots in the first year, few workable systems are in place to record, trace and make up for the vaccines they have missed when they are a little older.

Photograph (c) Medecins Sans Frontieres

 In addition to the challenges of time, distance and work neglected are problems with establishing vaccination campaigns themselves, in terms of personnel alongside the stocking, transportation, safety and sustainability of medicines. More health professionals who can administer the vaccines are needed; the ideal thing would be to have locally-trained, locally active nurses not just providing vaccines by operating as a reliable and stable way of raising awareness amongst communities. The vaccines must also be transported correctly; a challenge when considering that many require something called a ‘cold chain’, that is refrigeration at a specific temperature otherwise they become invalid. This requires the useage and maintenance of refrigerators and icepacks to store and transport vaccines.

Thus the seemingly simple question of providing vaccines becomes complicated in areas where electricity provision and consequently refrigeration is sporadic, healthcare professionals are scarce, distances between services and users are long, natural temperatures are high and road quality is variable. What is required is the development of vaccines which are easier to deliver and easier to administer to children.

In May 2012 the 65th World Health Assembly designed a Global Vaccines Action Plan to kickstart a well-funded Decade of Vaccines project working towards global vaccination. However, as the Fatal Neglect project makes clear, all major health initiatives must be sensitive to the particular challenges and particular contexts in which healthcare initiatives are established and provided – with a particular focus on those who are being left out due to issues to pricing, the adaptation of medicines and logistical barriers. MSF’s report The Right Shot: Extending the Reach of Affordable and Adapted Vaccines explains some of these issues in detail. They suggest that instead of developing countless (and expensive) new vaccines such as those against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, the basics of existing routine vaccine systems should be perfected and adapted to theenvironments in which they will be used so that they can benefit the most children, especially in remote, rural, civically fragile/unstable or economically disadvantaged areas. In India’s state of Bihar, for example, 60% of babies are not fully vaccinated. The MSF points out that failure to perfect the access, ease, stability and application of the most basic vaccine programmes have resulted in recent outbreaks of preventable diseases, like the 2010 measles outbreak in 28 African countries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) alone, 100,000 cases were reported between January 2011 and October 2011. Although there are many factors affecting the pricing of vaccines, a cynical reading could conclude that the basic, inexpensive vaccines programmes are not being perfected because there is little financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to tailor their vaccines to help those populations who have little purchasing clout as consumers themselves.

The message on vaccines and immunisations is clear, but tough to swallow. At the moment, 20% of all babies born in the world – that is 22 million children born last year alone - are not receiving protection against basic yet potentially fatal diseases such as measles, meningitis, diphtheria and yellow fever.  Underpinning the moral argument that all children born worldwide deserve the basic human right to life, health, protection and the best start in life, since medicine should not be a luxury is the transformative future effect we can envisage on already-pressurised global healthcare initiatives. Universal vaccination would drastically reduce pressure on hospitals, child mortality rates and sickness rates.  Vaccines must be researched,developed, produced and delivered in such a way that they are easier to use, easier to administer, more temperature-stable, easier to transport, adapted to developing countries’ environmental factors and also the medical factors – that is, the specific strains of the diseases found in the countries in which they will be used. Single dose vaccines which do not required difficult multiple visits; vaccines which are administered orally rather than by injected; well-trained, numerous and either highly mobile or strongly rooted and dedicated local healthcare professionals; vaccines which are affordable to all countries in the long run and not just those which rely on finite donor support through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI)  to pay for them; and vaccines which do not degrade in variable temperatures would be just some of the ways forward, or more that 22 million children will pay the price.

Photo (c) Medecins San Frontieres

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"The more voices the better!" A wonderful young feminist writes

I am a young women who has always been a feminist but only recently has really started educating myself more in the history of the movement and as such am trying to read lots to better my understanding of the many issues involved.
I am trying hard to stay positive but it is depressing to find that after so many years, it really feels like in much of the world - steps backwards are being taken at the moment! 
For my age group (I am 24) the most shocking thing for me is how many of my peers don't even recognise sexism around them. They don't identify with feminism because they no longer believe it is relevant. A whole generation (and generations to come) are being brainwashed into accepting 'low-level' sexism (adverts, 'jokes') which is quietly feeding into a culture where a woman is usually blamed for the bad things that happen to her - right up to rape! The amount of women who believe some of the fault of rape lies with the victim is astonishing. How is this the case in the 21st century. 
I could go on and on but there's obviously no need to preach this you. But, well, I just want to share with you that I see there is no difficulty in getting women my age to stand up and shout and fight against the injustices they see - the terrifying issue is really that many don't see what is happening to them in the home, in work, through the media, by our government as even is affecting them let alone oppressing them. I see that as the big issue in keeping the fight for women's rights alive and kicking (and taking steps FORWARD) in my generation.

I replied:
OK, first off, the book [I recommended at an event] is by Lydia Cacho and it's called Slavery Inc. It's not quite autobiographical, more of an investigative study - but she's an absolutely amazing woman. The publishers' blurb is here: If you ever get the chance to see her talk, she is fab - hilarious, cool, inspiring. If you read Spanish (or other languages) her previous book was called Demons of Eden, about child trafficking and child abuse amongst the Latin American elite (politicians, cultural leaders, business leaders). Again, unmissable but saddening. 
The very fact that you're writing to me and articulating everything so brilliantly gives me total hope - many, many women of all ages feel as we do and we're in the middle of a great groundswell of activism, thinking, talking about gender (and confronting the really hard stuff: rape, other kinds of violence. We just notice the ones who don't because we want to hit them over the head with a frying pan to get them to see sense! The world has only ever been changed by a small minority of people who feel strongly about things - we must make the change for everyone and our daughters and sons will thank us! But yes, of course I too feel despairing when I see complacency - because the adverts, the jokes, the casual sexism of course all create a culture where we view rape and other violence as par for the course, even natural and inevitable, and consequently we blame victims and are lenient to perpetrators.... 
...But seeing so many amazing women of all ages in the audience actually lifted my heart, Come again! And, reading-wise, I'm sure you know all this stuff but....
  • The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer
  • Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine (amazing)
  • Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy
  • The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard
  • Anything by Catherine MacKinnon
  • Anything by Aisha Gill
  • Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards 
I wondered if you might let me excerpt a bit of your email anonymous for my blog? It articulates your ideas so well and will I'm sure strike a chord with many readers.

She answered:
Of course you can use anything from my email. I absolutely will be getting involved in more talks, lectures etc. 
A few years ago I read From Madness to Mutiny, about the American family law system - my mother went through absolute hell through that system. She quickly learnt that the worst thing you can do is tell the truth about an abusive relationship. Divorce and try for custody on any other grounds but mention abuse and you anger the (male) judges - my mother had to go on the run. So here we now are in Britain (all legal and safe now I should add) all settled now, but my early years spent in women's refuges and living (pretty much hiding) out in countryside communes. My mother - a city girl through and through learnt to work the land; pick fruit, chop wood and get by... She is amazing! 
I read Who Cooked the Last Supper, fairly recently and that has sort of spurred me on to get cracking on further reading and really get involved. 
With the legal aid situation and how that's going - women and children are at even greater risk in many situations. It's such an important topic - but not a 'sexy' one for the media to cover! 
Police - well when you've got Scotland Yard Chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Lowe saying that members of the Sapphire unit pressurising rape victims to drop statements in 2008 and 2009 is a 'relatively historic' issue! Oh my - my jaw dropped to the floor watching that interview on channel 4 a few days ago. If someone had done a robbery, or hit and run etc but the crime had been buried - but then brought to light a few years later - the police wouldn't say - oh well that's just history now. You'd find the person who ran someone over leaving them disabled for the rest of their life! You would find them and charge them! These women are scarred for the rest of their life and a CRIME took place. Man it boils my blood. It is completely irresponsible and SICK that a chief of police in 2013 went on television to completely disregard rape victims because it took place a few years ago. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. 
When asked about the officers in charge who got promoted after and what action should be taken against them - basically nothing; 'It's an unfortunate symbol' - any other crime, if police officers pressured a victim/witness to back down from a statement this would be taken seriously. 
Sorry I'm sure you are well aware of this happening the other night but I just could not believe it. If that's the attitude at the top.... 
Also, the fact they aren't even bright enough to cover up their misogyny - oh god - or is it worse that they don't even know they're doing it. How can they possibly help women when don't even understand that anything has really happened to them. 
Right - rant over! 
I'm off to buy books and read and get motivated! 
Use anything I've said - the more voices heard the better!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Six Pillars to Persia: the best Middle Eastern music, discussion, reviews and profiles on the radio

Broadcasting from Art Dubai from March 19th-24th, Six Pillars to Persia will be sent to London (and then the world, through its podcasts) via the ever-brilliant Resonance FM. Created by  Eavesdropper/Falgoosh Radio, Six Pillars offers Middle Eastern music, discussion, reviews and profiles downloadable onto a phone, iPad or iPod. Contribute to Six Pillars on the website or on air, via a new submissions section on their new website or write to them at

New podcasts for download:

(c) Radio Falgoosh

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"My last attack before I got away from my abuser lasted 4 days."

From Mandy Thomas, writing for Women's Aid the day before Mother's Day:
"I have used many Women's Aid services over the years, seeking a place of safety with my children. Sadly, the last service that I used is now closed due to a lack of funding. This is why we need to support Women's Aid now, to help them campaign to protect their member services all over the country.
When it comes to using domestic violence services, I have been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I have been through the system and spoken to people who don't work in specialist domestic violence services and simply don't understand the issue or have any compassion for victims. That is why it is particularly alarming that itis the specialist services that are being hit the hardest by the economic crisis and cuts to public spending. 
The result of our experience of domestic violence, and the traumatic ongoing effects on our family, have meant that I have faced a mother's worst nightmare and buried one of my children, my eldest son Daniel, This should not have happened. He took nightmares to his grave of the things he witnessed. He could not visualise or believe in a change, be it help, or a way out. We need to make a united stand to make the changes happen to save lives.  
Victims need proper support to rebuild their lives. 
My last attack before I got away from my abuser lasted 4 days. I was tortured - beaten black and blue to the point where my children could not recognise me. Cut with knives and broken glass, punched, kicked and bitten, then dragged through the house naked by my hair, burnt with a blowtorch and raped. 
We need to make a change right now so that future generations will not be subjected to such horrific abuse. Our children look to us for protection and guidance. In a way, I was lucky. Two women every week die from domestic violence in England and Wales alone. And that's just what is reported as domestic violence. Domestic violence costs our government £178 billion every year. The cost of the aftermath is huge - hospitalisation, medical treatment, and counselling is needed to help victims deal with the impact domestic violence has on their physical and mental health. 
More specialised domestic violence services are needed, not less. These services really do save lives."

One query from me: why is Gordon Ramsay an ambassador for Women's Aid, listed alongside Tana Ramsay, the woman he sadistically and selfishly betrayed, lied to, tricked and deceived for years, at the same time as pretending to be a family man? He has shown by his behaviour that he is not capable of treating women as human beings worth of basic respect and his presence as an ambassador to this incredibly important charity gives me pause every time I donate to it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Nothing for us, without us." Women rise in Afghanistan, Malawi, Nepal, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ghana.

In February Womankind Worldwide welcomed their partner women’s rights activists from Africa and Asia to London to share their experiences and expertise of women’s leadership and political participation. Further images from the day, all taken by Abi Moore, can be viewed at the bottom of this article.

At the Emmeline Pankhurst statue with Seema Malhotra MP

From countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Ghana, Nepal and Zimbabwe, participants faced a similar challenge – how to overcome the exclusion of women from political and public life.  Despite their different contexts, cultures and political systems, the women highlighted some common problems and common solutions.

Women’s voices must be heard from every corner and at every level. Women are not a homogenous group, and their participation in politics must reflect their diversity.  Durga Sob, founder of the Feminist Dalit Organisation of Nepal said, 
“Dalit women are doubly discriminated against in political parties – Dalit forums are run by Dalit men, and women’s wings of parties are run by ‘high-caste’ women."  
Young women, disabled women, women from ethnic and religious minorities often face multiple barriers to accessing decision-making spaces, and they must be supported.

The women were united in their commitment to focusing on local as well as national politics. Local level is where many of the decisions affecting women’s daily lives are made, and as Wangechi Wachira from Kenya’s Centre for Rights and Awareness said, 
“to be a leader, it starts at family level, and then changes happen at community level.”
 Civil society, and in particular women’s right organisations, provide fertile training ground for women’s leadership, and enable women’s voices to be heard.  Maryam Rahmani, of Afghan Women’s Resource Centre, said,  
“we need to find space for women to speak about the issues that affect them, even when it’s difficult." 
In Afghanistan, where 87% of women have experienced some form of violence, and women activists and politicians are routinely threatened, attacked and killed, this work is vital and dangerous.

Women’s rights organisations help to build women’s confidence and skills, create opportunities and access to political spheres. When women do get into positions of influence and power they are supported to negotiate corridors of power, build networks, and advance women's rights.

The activists were unanimous in the need for affirmative action to level the playing field between women and men.  Whether through political parties, reserved seats or quota systems, the only countries that have made significant progress are those that have taken specific measures.  And compared to those countries, the UK does not perform well.  In Afghanistan 28% of MPs are women, in Rwanda it’s 56% and Mozambique 43%, compared to the UK’s paltry 22%. 

The voices of women from all walks of life need to be heard in all places of power. From community forums to the halls of national parliaments, and on the international stage, as Fanny Chirisa from Zimbabwe’s Women in Politics Support Unit said, 

“Nothing for us, without us."

The organisations attending were as follows:

  • Afghanistan: Afghan Women Resource Centre (AWRC)
The Afghan Women Resource Centre provides practical education to girls and women who were forbidden to learn under the Taliban.Their programmes allow women to learn in a safe environment, with a focus on vocational subjects including journalism, business skills and tailoring, in order for women to be able to earn an income and live independently. They also teach literacy, civil & political rights, and women & family law.

Attending: Maryam Rahmani, Country Representative. Maryam got involved with AWRC by doing short management courses when she was at school in Peshawar, Pakistan. In late 2002 her family came back to Afghanistan, where AWRC had opened a sub-office, where she began working. In the meantime Maryam passed her exams and joined Kabul University, eventually graduating with an economics degree in 2007. The
university faculty board wanted to recruit Maryam as assistant to a professor but only on the condition that she left AWRC. Maryam refused as she wanted to continue helping women.

  • Malawi: National Women’s Lobby Group (NAWOLG)
Potential female political candidates in Malawi often struggle with lack of funds, social pressures to stay at home and patriarchal political organisations. NAWOLG’s goal is to get more women to become involved in the democratic process as voters and representatives. It has a team of professionals specialising in gender, human rights and civic education issues, who help provide training and support to women inside and outside of politics.

Partners attending: Faustace Chirwa, Founder/Executive Director. A gender and women’s rights activist for 17 years, Faustace continues to promote women’s participation in the socio-economic development of Malawi and in political decision making.

And Atupele Chirwa, Acting Executive Director. Atupele started off volunteering with NAWOLG in 2003 and is now acting Executive Director. She focuses on sexual reproductive health and rights issues of young people in Malawi.

  • Nepal: Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO)
The Feminist Dalit Organization was founded in 1994 by a group of Dalit (low caste) women aiming to fight for their rights and overturn caste and gender discrimination which causes women and especially Dalit women to be treated as second class citizens facing very high levels of sexual and domestic violence. FEDO educates women on their rights, offers counselling and organises mass protests and community events to raise awareness.

Partner attending: Durga Sob - FEDO. Durga Sob is a Dalit woman who founded the Feminist Dalit Organisation in 1994 to combat caste and gender-based discrimination in Nepal. Durga is renowned as a passionate feminist and activist in defending the rights of Dalit women in Nepal. She says,
“There used to be no Dalit women in positions of power. Now 25 Dalit women have been
elected as members of the Constituent Assembly and this is one my happiest achievements”.
- Case study: Pabitra's Story
- Example of the kind of context they’re working in:  Women Human Rights Defenders Beaten and Detained

  • Zambia: National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL)
ZNWL aims to promote the representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making through lobbying, advocacy and capacity-building. It provides education, runs community forums, provides leadership courses in schools to boys and girls through their innovative ‘Girl’s Leadership Clubs’, monitors elections and provides support to women involved in politics, for example through Women’s Radio Clubs, supporting isolated rural women to gather to listen to news about politics and current affairs and discuss together so that they’re better equipped to take part in the democratic process.

Partners attending: Juliet Kaira Chibuta, Executive Director. Juliet is a development specialist and a journalist by trade. She worked for national print media organizations including the Zambia Daily Mail and National Mirror where she held various positions including editor. Ms Chibuta has also sat on various boards of media and women’s organisations.

And Beauty Katebe, National Chairperson. Beauty is a human resource expert and works in Zambia’s Ministry of Health. She has vast experience in women and youth issues, democratic processes, capacity building of women, governance and elections issues. She is the current National Women Council Chairperson of the Agriculture, Technical and Professional Union of Zambia.

  • Zimbabwe: Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU)
The Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU) provides support to women in politics in Zimbabwe to help increase their participation and influence. It does this by providing leadership and election training for candidates; educates women MPs and councillors about their roles, connecting them with female constituents; organises community forums; and lobbies political parties to implement gender quotas.

Partner attending: Fanny Chirisa, Director. Born in Mutare, Fanny has worked with The Federation of African Women’s Clubs, The Voluntary Organizations in Community Enterprise, Red Banner, Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Center & Network and WiPSU. During the outreach process of the current Zimbabwean Constitutional Reform Process, Fanny was invited to be team leader representing civil society.
They led teams of reporters capturing the views of citizens across the country.

- Case study: Not Service But Power

  • Ghana: Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF)
Since its inception in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1990, the network has grown to encompass 31 countries, 500 organisations and more than 1,200 individual members. At the national and international levels, the WiLDAF network lobbies for laws that promote women's rights. In Ghana, WiLDAF offers free legal counselling as well as training in legal literacy.

Partners attending: Bernice Sam, Executive Director (Ghana branch). Bernice Sam is a lawyer and human rights activist. She spearheads the campaign for the participation of vulnerable groups in democratic processes including organising women’s dialogues with presidential candidates. She also led the struggle for the protection of the rights of people in non-formalised relationships. Bernice has written and co-authored books on HIV/AIDS, violence against women and the property rights of women.

And Frank Bodza, Programme Manager for Governance (Ghana). Frank has more than nine years’ experience in both local and national governance; having worked with an MP for four years prior to joining WiLDAF in 2005. He is a gender and human rights activist who had carried out numerous public education programmes on women’s rights issues. He is experienced in capacity-building, mobilization, networking and coalition-building and was part of groups that observed the December 2012 general elections in Ghana. He is married with two children.

Richard Sam, Programme Assistant for Governance (Ghana). Richard did his national service with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for one and half years before joining WiLDAF in 2009. He is a volunteer from WiLDAF Ghana on the Coalition of Domestic Elections Observers (CODEO) and the Civic Forum Initiative. Both groups have observed various elections including the December 2012 general elections in Ghana.

  • Ghana: The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (GSHRDC)
The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre works to promote and protect women’s rights, running a number of projects in rural Ghana working to end violence against women and reduce women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.

Partners attending: Dorcas Coker-Appiah, Executive Director. Dorcas Coker-Appiah is a lawyer by profession and a feminist. She is a women’s rights activist in Ghana and a member of a number of women’s rights organisations. Dorcas has a lot of international experience, having served two terms as a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

- On work to end the practice of ‘widow inheritance’ read this piece here.

  • Kenya: Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW)
CREAW’s mission is to transform Kenyan society through the promotion and expansion of women’s human rights, rule of law and social justice. They provide legal aid and health services to thousands of female survivors of rape and domestic violence, produce informative radio shows and give training and support to community organisations.

Partner attending: Wangechi Wachira, Executive Director. Wangechi Wachira has more than 10 years of experience in senior management. She has experience in lobbying and advocacy, gender integration and inclusion, human rights and development issues.

Dorcas Coker Appiah 

Atupele Chirwa
Fanny Chirisa

Frank Bodza

Faustace Chirwa

Maryam Rahmani
Wangechi Wachira

A special post (c) Sarah Jackson at Womankind Worldwide with enormous gratitude and admiration

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dr Dukan shows us exactly how little he thinks of women

Dear Dr Dukan of the Dukan Diet,

Thank you so much for your unsolicited email to me. This is what it said:
Treat mum this Mother’s Day to a selection of homemade pattiseries and delicious desserts with a little help from the man behind the plan. If your mum’s watching her waistline this Mother’s Day there’s no need for her miss out on the finer things in life, as the creator of the Dukan Diet, Dr Pierre Dukan, reveals his revolutionary indulgent dessert and patisserie recipes for all to enjoy. 
Mum can enjoy her guilty pleasures guilt-free and still lose those inches fast. Hailing an “eat as much as you want” policy, the Dukan Diet can help you successfully shift those unwanted pounds without going hungry or missing out. Indulge mum in cupcakes, meringues and Madeleines without compromising the success of her weight-loss.

Thank you for the recipes you provided without me asking for them, for cupcakes, madeleines and meringues and a "lemon extravaganza". What a lot of work you expect me to do for nothing! Or do you expect my mother to do it? Thank you for making it clear, through your patronising assumptions, sexist cliches and  reductive simplifications, just what you think women are like - and thank you for putting yourself forward as "the man behind the plan" offering us pathetic women "a little help" for our little goals in our stupid little lives. What plan would that be, by the way? Ah! Every woman's plan, every woman's obsession, every woman's little favourite hobby: in your eyes we are infantile enough to be tempted by hideous pastel cupcakes and other sweeties, obsessed with losing weight, watching our waistlines with the feverish attention which men give to more important and interesting things, so pathetic that we think mere desserts are among "the finer things in life", yet masochistically riddled with guilt when we do eat them (because we are so weak we cannot resist), desperate to lose inches and only able to judge success and failure by our size. That is all a mother is to you, isn't it, a nameless, domestic, small-minded "mum" with petty obsessions, who you think you know everything about.

Dr Dukan. My mother is a tough, cool academic who has been patronised, demeaned and objectified by helpful gents just like you all her life, as have I, as have all women. We are tired of your insulting assumptions about us. We are not objects and we don't hate ourselves enough to obsess over our size, shape or weight. It is not our job to spend all day in the kitchen like pathetic Stepford Wives and we are not interested in the revolting dessert recipes you have sent me out of the blue, accompanied by this gack-making pastel picture:

Dr Dukan, I think I speak for so many high-minded and noble women of dignity, vintage and spirit when I say, Dr Dukan, with great forethought and nuance: Dr Dukan, go fuck yourself. Kan you do that, Doctor Dukan?

1950s art heroine Barbara Jones celebrated by the Whitechapel Gallery

The Whitechapel Gallery presents a new archive display revisiting the Gallery’s 1951 exhibition Black Eyes and Lemonade. Coinciding with the Festival of Britain, the exhibition challenged established ideas about the cultural value attached to particular kinds of objects. Celebrating everyday items, from the traditional and the handmade to the mass produced, it included lavishly decorated pub mirrors, an edible model of St Paul’s Cathedral and a talking lemon advertising Idris lemon squash.

This presentation at the Whitechapel Gallery includes several of the original exhibits from 1951, including the fireplace in the shape of an Airedale dog, alongside unseen archive material from the University of Brighton Design Archives, the Vogue Archives and the Whitechapel Gallery Archive. Re-examining Black Eyes and Lemonade over half a century after it was originally staged, the exhibition looks afresh at the presentation and curation of popular art.

Entitled Black Eyes and Lemonade, after the Thomas Moore poem Intercepted Letters or The Two-Penny Post Bag (1813), the original exhibition explored topics including advertising, toys, festivities and souvenirs and featured ship figureheads, old Valentines, quilts and Salvation Army uniforms. All the exhibits shown were made or manufactured in Britain.

The 1951 exhibition was organised by artist, designer and writer Barbara Jones. It was divided into categories such as Home, Birth-Marriage-Death, Man’s Own Image and Commerce & Industry, reflecting Jones’s ideas on popular art and museum culture and questioning the cultural values attached to both handmade and machine made objects. Stating that ‘the museum eye must be abandoned’, Jones created a provocative spectacle which posed challenging questions about hierarchies of value, making and manufacturing as well as consumption while championing the judgement of makers, collectors and consumers.

Many of the items included in the exhibition came from Jones’s own collection acquired during travels, from bazaars, second-hand shops, and directly from makers. Further exhibits were sourced during a road trip in June 1951 that Jones made in a converted London taxi with her co-organiser Tom Ingram. This presentation features material from Jones’s surviving studio, highlighting her innovative curatorial approach and the connections she was able to draw across images and objects.

The exhibition is part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s dedicated programme curating archives of individual artists or institutions. The exhibition is co-curated with director of the Museum of British Folklore, Simon Costin, design historian Catherine Moriarty and Curator, Archive Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, Nayia Yiakoumaki.

  • Barbara Jones (1912-1978) studied mural decoration at the Royal College of Art. She was a designer, book illustrator and artist. During World War II she was associated with theRecording Britain project of the Pilgrim Trust. Jones painted murals for the post-war Britain Can Make It exhibition of 1947 and the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition. Her mural designs were commissioned to decorate several passenger liner ships as well as hotels and restaurants. The same year she curated the Black Eyes and Lemonade show, she published her influential book The Unsophisticated Arts (1951). Jones was also involved in designing the sets for television series The Woodentops.
  • The exhibition is co-curated with museum director, Simon Costin, design historian Catherine Moriarty and Curator, Archive Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, Nayia Yiakoumaki. Simon Costin is the Director of The Museum of British Folklore, an art director and set and exhibition designer. His work has been presented across major institutions including the ICA, London and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Dr Catherine Moriarty is Curatorial Director of the University of Brighton Design Archives and Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Arts.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Testimony and development: think globally, act locally, think locally, act globally

(c) IRC maternal health project

I recently covered Untold Stories, a major exhibition of photographs of global urban refugees and a showcase of their testimonies, produced by the International Rescue Committee and featuring images taken by photographer Andrew O’Connell. Since the exhibition closed I’ve been thinking about the placing of these images, in the sleek, double-plus height, busy spaces of King’s Cross International Station. It’s either a striking juxtaposition, stopping Paris- and Brussels-bound travellers and their consciences dead in between eating a cake from Konditor and Cook, having a salmon platter at Le Pain Quotidien and buying overpriced disposable fountain pens from Paperchase. Or it’s just more visual wallpaper, another image from the global ad era, something for the eye to skim over, barely taking in the words or registering the general purpose – tearjerking international pain campaign – before getting on a train bound for somewhere more pleasant. 

As a second generation British Indian, I’ve always baulked at coverage that makes a show of the suffering of global others. Stricken-eyed orphans, hungry looking yet still undeniably cute; survivors and victims gazing out balefully, beseechingly, next to a large-fonted list of bad things that will happen to them if you don’t sponsor them for three pounds a month; a child just about to drink from a plastic tub of brownish water; a dazed toddler gazing up from a hospital bed it wouldn’t need to be in if only the correct vaccines and immunisations had reached it in time. The testimonies are true, as is the scale of each crisis and each issue, but coverage like this reduces each featured person only to the story of their suffering. The individual, although they are made an example of, becomes generic in the telling. The adverts and coverage do not tell us about their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, their family, their friends, their locality, their ambitions. Instead, the individuals are broken down into a demeaning, generalized narrative. We know nothing of them but their pain and are shown nothing of their own drive, their own strength and resistance. Instead we are invited to feel like the heroic saviours of the powerless:

The farmer who can’t grow and sell enough crops for her family.

The baby who’ll die by the age of 3 if he doesn’t get the right treatment.

The girl, first name only, trafficked, raped, bought, sold, impregnated, beaten, abused.

The boy stitching plimsolls by the side of the road, forced to sleep on the street.

The girl denied education, doomed to be taken and used for sexual and other manual labour.

The family whose nearest hospital is an eight mile walk away.

I sit on the Tube and cringe: is this what people in this country think of us?And by us I mean all the non-whites, the former colonised, the far-away, the different-from-them. It’s humiliating to see one’s own (historic) country and those of many others represented as backward, violently misogynistic, agonisingly poor, superstitious, class-ridden, corrupt, intractably problematic, unable to help itself. It’s embarrassing to think about the way other cultures are so often misrepresented, in Western art, culture and media, as depraved, eroticised, exoticised, criminal, subjugated, chaotic, oppressed, self-sabotaging, primitive, violent and more. And it’s easy, being bi- or multicultural, living in a city as visually diverse and mixed as London (even if, if you look at who really holds power in all sectors, the image is strongly un-diverse in terms of sex, race and class), to forget how little people know of the many different societies beyond their own national borders, how few people get under the skin of other countries through equal friendship with others, how few people speak or read other languages. The solicitations, which are meant well, are targeted at people who often know little about other countries or cultures except what they have seen on the news, what they are fed in entertainment-industry films and novels or simply what they have heard in the air – a mixture of myths, fantasies, suppositions and stereotypes which are insulting at worst and limiting at best. The adverts and campaigns often replace people’s ignorance with extreme, galling patronage. We are invited to feel for survivors and victims but not feel outraged, as we should, about the deliberate actions of the perpetrators or the extreme injustice and exploitation which underlie inequality. The help the adverts elicit is accompanied by a sense of personal smugness and cultural superiority. Yet the only way you can understand a culture and drop your own sense of superiority is to participate in it fully and as an equal, not a patron, exploiter, client or dominator.

It’s also easy to point to finger at other nations’ problems without recognizing that many of those same problems are strongly prevalent within the UK too and that the prejudices and inequalities which keep them in place are common across seemingly different cultures. Gender prejudice, gender violence, racial prejudice, racial violence, class prejudice, class violence; these are present to a greater or lesser degree in all cultures regardless of the predominant colour, religion or language of the majority of the people. The terrible consequences, in terms of opportunity, treatment and advantage, as a result of the gap between richer and poorer; the scale of sexual violence including endemic harassment, sexual exploitation and the consequent ignoring or denying of victims and excusal of perpetrators; endemic levels of women killed by current or ex partners; trafficking; labour exploitation, low pay, unstable employment and inequality; problems of hunger; problems of housing; problems of literacy. These are all issues here in the UK, as elsewhere.

And so, in the morass of pain, suffering and need, we return to the power of individual testimonies, specific case studies and concrete examples as a way of making issues which are so widescale as to be overwhelming feel real at last. Humanity needs to put names and faces to social problems; we need to attach a story to an issue; we need to be convinced emotionally and not just factually. And so there’s testimony after testimony, home-made video after witness photograph exhibition, statements, confessionals, documentaries, archives. It’s only through putting a human face onto inhumane circumstances and treatment, adding flesh and blood to advocacy and arguments, that grassroots change really happens.

There are many obstacles. In the case of sexual violence in particular there is widespread and tragic denial of the existence, reality and scale of the issue; the disbelieving, denial, punishment and ostracisation of victims; leniency, excusal and condoning of perpetrators; and a denial about the way entire cultures collude across the board in the undermining and sexual objectification of women and girls, from our extreme under-representation as speakers, leaders and experts in all areas of powerful public life to our over-representation as silent objects used to sell consumer goods from yoghurts to shampoos and the way our bodies are used, bought, sold and bartered as sources of sexual, domestic and other labour for others’ benefit; and so on and so forth, as I’ve written in a million articles a million times. Even when survivors of sexual violence are believed, people have a hard time facing the reality of the scale of the problem, the truth of the situation and its systematic, entrenched, values-based origins. They prefer to recast sexual violence as either a tragic anomaly; an inevitable consequence of war which will never change; or a private, ambiguous, personal, shadowy, domestic matter whose mysterious truth none can fathom. At the heart of all this is an absolute inability to face the reality of what perpetrators choose to do, how many of them there are, how common it is, and what that says about how much and how violently women are hated. For more on the most extreme and distressing examples of this, with a trigger warning, look at Women Under Siege.

Sometimes the resistance comes down to cultural prejudice – a feeling of not understanding and not wanting to interfere or get involved with a society which is seen wrongly as ‘other’, subject to its own laws and logic, somehow different and therefore inscrutable. And equally there is a laudable desire not to patronise. Over the last few years, as I’ve been working and writing a lot on the Middle Eastern revolutions, meeting countless female activists who have worked for changed for years, who lead demonstrations and organisations. They bemoan the western media’s obsession with the oppression of Arab women, veiling and not veiling, sexual assault and sexual harassment, as though these latter two issues are not totally endemic in the UK as well as in the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Northern America, India and wherever else you look. The problems of the world seem to hide in open view, supported by our prejudices, our willful blindness, our excusal of perpetrators and our deep denial.

Sometimes resistance to global appeals comes down to simple apathy, selfishness, insularity or outright pessimism. People do not use their power for change, because they are convinced of their powerlessness. They think an enterprise is doomed to fail before it has begun, and so they doom it to fail with their own unwillingness, tepid support and lacklustre participation.

Yet this pessimism is misplaced. The problems of the world have not arisen by magic or by chance and are not kept in place by magic or chance. They are specific problems which can be solved in specific ways. Those who benefit from inequality, injustice and exploitation rely on the apathy of bystanders. To laugh cynically at the large scale of the problems identified for solution is to behave as though the world can only change for the worse, not the better. During the course of the year, as part of my International Reporting Project fellowship, run by Johns Hopkins University and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I will be focusing on issues in support of the MillenniumDevelopment Goals for 2015. These are:

  • To end poverty and hunger
  • Universal education
  • Gender equality
  • Child Health
  • Maternal health
  • Combating HIV/AIDS
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Global partnership
Do I believe that it’s possible to save the world? Yes. If it can transform negatively it can transform positively. This requires believing survivors, fighting perpetrators, challenging preconceptions, changing society, educating the very young, supporting the weak, breaking the dominators, investing money, creating lasting infrastructures and forming organisations which are structurally and ideologically different from those created by exploiters and power-holders. To say the world cannot be saved is to give the bad guys a free pass to do exactly what they want, to make a mockery of others’ constructive efforts and to deny one’s own power to influence events. I believe that something good is better than nothing good, that speaking up is better than staying silent to protect perpetrators and that a tidal wave of change starts with the smallest ripple.

There are millions of people in the world – usually, those who have relatively little themselves – who are working and have been working tirelessly for years to transform the lives of people in their own communities. Although they are assisted by the same organisation, they do not get exhibitions in King’s Cross, major funding for their beautiful photographs or international coverage which boosts their career, enables lots more exciting international travel and promises a strong culturally legacy once their working days are done. They are not hailed as intrepid, globe-trotting heroes bearing witness, constructing powerful testimony, standing up for human rights. They have no names, or rather no cultural Name. But here they are:

  • The village women in the South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo forming groups called village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). The women members put their small household earnings toward the group’s broader goals. When there’s enough cash in the box, a member can take out a loan to start her own business — like a tailoring shop, the purchase of a small plot of land to farm and raise animals. When the business makes money she begins to repay that loan back into the cash box to fund another woman’s ideas.
  • The 30 new health facilities and 2,500 newly trained community health workers supported by the IRC in South Sudan, where the country’s decades long civil war has left the region without a functioning healthcare system and few trained medical personnel. Currently, more than 2,000 out of every 100,000 pregnant women in the new nation die during childbirth.
  • The necessity of bringing healthcare closer to remote communities by enabling trained community health workers to travel with families as they migrate. For example in Turkana, Kenya, is one of the world’s poorest regions, frequent droughts have left inhabitants dependent on food aid. Malnutrition rates are estimated to be around 22 per cent, leaving children too weak to fight off illness. Consequently, many children die from preventable or treatable illnesses such as fever, malaria and diarrhoea. With about 80%of people being nomadic, many families find accessing healthcare difficult due to their mobile lifestyle. These problems are compounded by a severe shortage of facilities and qualified health professionals. 
  • The strengthening of strained healthcare facilities in Syria’s neighbouring countries, like the 2 new health centres in the cities of Ramtha and Mafraq in Jordan, to help the million-plus people fleeing the violence in Syria. As IRC emergency response coordinator Tom McNelly explains, “These people crossed the border with nothing but their clothes. They have no money to pay for treatment or medicine - and we supply both, at no cost to them.”

Related articles:

Statistics and specific project details © IRC with thanks. To donate to these projects via the IRC please click here

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wants some tits with your kids' toys? Lego shows you how.

This, from Steve Grout at and (c) him:

I love Lego. I grew up with it. When I became a dad one of the things I was looking forward to was sitting down with my kids and building Lego models with them. Lego is an educational toy, great for boys and girls and is a brand that has become synonymous with integrity and positive values.

So I was appalled to find out that Lego is promoting its toys in The Sun just millimeters away from an image that is famous for being one of the most sexist institutions of our time -- Page 3. That’s why I'm asking Lego to stop partnering with the Sun until the newspaper drops the topless images on Page 3. Click here to sign my petition.

My boys are seven and nine. They are like information sponges - absorbing what they see. When they see things they don't understand they ask about it. How on earth do you explain the topless pictures on Page 3 to kids of that age? And why should I have to? Lego talks about its positive impact on children's development and learning. In a section on its website called ‘Caring’ it says:
“Caring is about the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children, for our partners, colleagues and the world we find ourselves in, and considering their perspective in everything we do.”
The Sun: 5 free Lego toys, 2 free tits
Lego should look at their partnership from a child’s perspective -- the impact that seeing these images has on how young people grow up thinking about women is very important. Please join me in calling on Lego to do the right thing by our children and stop partnering with the Sun until Page 3 is dropped.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Women of Iraq: power and resistance

I am writing this after having sat in disbelief through Newsnight's Iraq: 10 Years On special tonight, in which they had 11 male speakers on stage, and just one woman. The speakers were not at all all high-level Iraq specialists and included newspaper journalists, the novelist Michael Morpurgo, politicians, writers and other politically-aware commentators with a general interest in the issue. Women experts and speakers from the audience were similarly strongly outnumbered. A very impressive woman who was a gender expert was asked about women in Iraq and gave an extremely important, troubling account of increases in trafficking, prostitution, forced marriage, rape, 'domestic' violence and the feminisation of poverty. This was simply passed over and not picked up again, as though what happens to women, the largest and most hardest-hit group in the country and in the world, is some kind of fringe, minority or side issue. Another comment the same woman made, disputing a panellist's claim that Saddam Hussein's rule had somehow smoothed over sectarian conflicts, was dismissed by Jon Simpson as "not very valuable." Thank you, white English man, for openly belittling and undermining an Iraqi woman who knows what she's talking about and thank you British Newsnight producers for making it clear that what happens to Iraqi women is not worth discussing after the issues have been brought up. And thank you for making it so clear by having 11 men and 1 woman onstage that you think women are not qualified in any way to talk about Iraq.

Newsnight is guilty of extreme discrimination against women and the argument that women speakers about Iraq, about war, about the Middle-Far East, about UK foreign policy, about public anti-war protests and about the war on terror are simply not available is totally specious. Next week the international culture and advocacy organisation The Abundance Lab and IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums, and are bringing together an all-women panel of inspiring speakers to share their tales of Iraqi women’s resistance, re-invention and strength for a unique event. Iraqi Women, Power and Resistance will mark International Women's Day and the 10th Anniversary of the 2003 Iraq War.

On Thursday 7th March 2013 from 6.00pm to 8.00pm at Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, you will hear first hand from women who fought for survival, freedom or challenged the status quo through activism, music and photography including:
  • Houzan Mahmood, international campaigner for the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq and contributor to The Independent, The Guardian and The New Statesman.
  • Photographer Eugenie Dolberg who used photography with Iraqi women to help to tell their stories of bravery and resistance (as part of Open Shutters Iraq.
  • Iraqi pianist and activist, Zuhal Sultan, who founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq at the age of 17, will share how she used the power of music to bring the next generation together and overcome the horrors of the conflict.
If you can get there a bit earlier, from 5pm you will also get a unique advance preview of Iraq: Photographs by Sean Smith, the new display by The Guardian newspaper’s award-winning war photographer. It contains images on display for the first time alongside Smith’s award winning photography from before, during and after the Iraq War 2003.

  • Thursday 7th March 2013 from 6.00pm to 8.00pm; Sean Smith photo preview from 5pm
  • IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums, The Quays, Manchester. For directions, click here
  • Free event, but booking is essential via or 0161 836 4000

Monday, February 25, 2013

Looking for Kool? It's right here.

Looking For Kool is a new pop-up theatre show happening in Manchester from 5th-24th March 2013. Written and performed By Rani Moorthy and directed by Alan Lane, the Manchester performance follows a sell-out premiere at the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival 2012, sited in the underground spaces in The Royal Festival Hall. Rasa Productions, who are behind the show, are now bringing Looking For Kool to a Manchester high rise building. The story goes like this:

Mrs U has watched her beloved home and ancestral land taken over by hotels and time-share apartments for foreigners. She has survived the Sri Lankan civil war and its aftermath on her wits and on kool, the comfort stew that binds her community. Defiantly she occupies one of these spaces and creates “The Coconut Grove”, part party, part family album, part secret ritual, all makeshift, all imagination. Enter her world, drink her kool and through her and her family, witness the vagaries of life and war.

Event details are as follows:
  • Venue: 4 Piccadilly Place, Manchester M1 3BN, UK
  • Meeting Point: Starbucks
  • Wheelchair access: Yes
  • Running Time: 1 hr
  • Suitable for audiences 12 years and above
  • Event capacity: 40 people per performance
  • Looking for Kool is an immersive theatre experience in an unconventional theatre venue. While there are points in which some members of the audience can sit, most of the show requires you to stand and walk as the action moves from one point to another. The producers advise you to dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes.

Praise and quotes:

Rarely have I seen such talent or such intimate contact with the pulse of this nation. 
The Independent on Curry Tales

****An Incomparable storyteller. 
The Guardian on Shades of Brown

Life, death, survival, pain, mourning, love; Looking for Kool evoked these emotions most effectively through its imaginative form, not by fancy staging or theatrical trimmings. This was immersive, experiential theatre. 
The Gecko UK on Looking for Kool.