The day began very badly.We aimed to get a taxi to the City Hall which has both an African art gallery and museum.But when we arrived the city hall staff were on strike because of the cost of living crisis and it was closed.
The taxi driver recommended another art gallery in suburbs and we left just as a number of police squad cars arrived as there were reports of fighting in the building. We got to the second gallery only to find it was closed on Mondays.
About to despair the driver recommended a third gallery which specialised in Zulu art and artefacts.This was open though I later found you were supposed to book in advance.He had taken us to a gem of a place and we got a personal tour and Margaret got help to go round the place – an old Victorian building – in a wheelchair with strong Zulu men lifting it over stairs.
What we had discovered was a place called the African Art Centre or Phansi Gallery a non profit making company which encourages and preserves Zulu artefacts and supports black artists.The gallery houses a huge private collection by Paul Mikula who has amassed over year.
Now I know nothing about Zulu culture beyond the populist view of them as warriors. What we were shown have us an insight into their lives and traditions and the everyday utensils they use. One of the most striking exhibits were the fertility dolls given to a young women on reaching puberty. They are given the doll at a special celebration and keep it to give to a man they agree to marry.
There were also ordinary utensils from spoons – there are male and female ones – and they keep them for life as they have communal eating,bowls for beer and special pots for making yoghurt.
There were also wedding dresses which are put together by relatives and friends each adding a strip of fabric with the symbols of the clans of each partner.
Without the series of unfortunate incidents earlier we would never have found out about this museum which also plays a big role in the community and helps local artists
Schools should be safe places for children. They also unfortunately make good targets for paedophiles.
The latest report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, published this week, focuses on residential schools- from specialist schools for aspiring musicians to boarding schools and residential schools for vulnerable children
As the report chillingly said: “According to Operation Hydrant,[a police investigation]approximately 40 percent of reports of non-recent child sexual abuse involving an institution, organisation or person of public prominence had connections with schools.”
Sexual abuse antithesis of what should happen at school
It went on: “The instances of the sexual abuse of children presented in this report will shock and horrify. They represent the antithesis of everything that a school should be. For many victims and survivors, the impacts have been profound and lifelong. Some perpetrators have been brought to justice, but many have not. Some of those in positions of authority and responsibility have been held to account for their failures of leadership and governance in varying degrees, but many have not.”
Some of the examples where child sexual abuse has been proved are indeed horrifying.
“Hillside First School was a maintained school for children aged four to eight in Weston-super-Mare. For 15 years from 1995 to 2010, teacher Nigel Leat had his “favourites”, young girls many of whom were vulnerable in some way. From September 2006, there was evidence that in each school year Leat selected a different girl to sexually abuse, doing so in various locations in the school. Police discovered 454 original videos in which Leat had filmed himself abusing his pupils. He was charged with 36 separate offences, including a count of attempted rape, eight counts of sexual assault by penetration and 23 other counts of sexual assault, all against girls under 13, the youngest of whom was 6. He pleaded guilty.”
And a third.
Clifton College is an independent boarding school in Bristol, offering a range of educational provision, from nursery to sixth form. In 2008, a former teacher, Stephen Johnston, was convicted of buggery and indecent assault of a pupil over a three-year period in the early 1990s. He had invited the boy to his flat to drink and watch pornographic videos. When other staff had complained of teenage boys going into the flat, the headteacher responded that “what happens in a private house which is not part of the School is nothing to do with me as Headmaster”. Between 1998 and 2014, what the respected housemaster Jonathan Thomson-Glover did in both his private house and in a boy’s day house at the school was to hide cameras – including in the showers, toilets and bathrooms – to film 2,500 hours of videos of boys undressing, showering, using the toilet and engaging in sexual acts. “
What emerges here – there are other examples – is that perpetrators are not involved in an isolated act – it is the industrial scale of abuse by individuals or groups of people.
ignorance and reluctance to report sexual abuse
The report said there is still either ignorance or reluctance to believe that children are sexually abused in residential schools and cases are not always reported to safeguarding officers either – even though there are dedicated officers to handle complaints. Inspections of schools are haphazard and standards in schools vary enormously.
Their chief recommendation to government said:
The Department for Education and the Welsh Government should: • require all residential special schools to be inspected against the quality standards used to regulate children’s homes in England and care homes in Wales; • reintroduce a duty on boarding schools and residential special schools to inform the relevant inspectorate of allegations of child sexual abuse and other serious incidents, with professional or regulatory consequences for breach of this duty; if the recommendation above is implemented, residential special schools will automatically be subject to this duty; and • introduce a system of licensing and registration of educational guardians for international students which requires Disclosure and Barring Service and barred list checks to be undertaken.
“Day and residential schools play a key role in keeping children safe from harm, but despite 20 years of enhanced focus on safeguarding they are not as safe for children as they should be. This must change. The seven recommendations in this report must be implemented to vitally improve the current systems of child protection in schools.”
This is the last investigation report from the inquiry. A final report on all its findings will be published later this year.
Please donate toWestminster Confidentialto allow me tocontinue my forensicinvestigations
This week a mundane employment tribunal hearing revealed an extraordinary tale of subterfuge, cover up and denial in the hidden bureaucracy of the National Health Service.
The hearing was yet another in the long run saga of the case of Dr Chris Day, a plucky young doctor who has taken on the NHS establishment over a very important issue of patient safety and is still in the middle of an eight year battle with the authorities. The legal bill to taxpayers from the NHS to pay for this long battle is now is likely to rise to close to a £1 million.
The story began in August 2013 when Chris Day, a junior doctor initially complained about inadequate staffing. It got worse in January 2014 when he was working overnight in the intensive care unit at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich when two locum doctors failed to show up. He had to cover other wards and A&E and reported his concerns to managers. He saw this as putting patients in such a sensitive area at serious risk.
What followed was not moves to put this right by the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust and Health Education England, which has a responsibility for employing junior doctors, but a state of denial which ended up at the High Court and the Court of Appeal and a long delayed employment tribunal hearing. At one stage Mr Day,a married doctor with a young family, says he had to settle because the NHS threatened him with huge legal bills which could have bankrupted him. Both the HEE and the Trust have publicly denied doing this.
However at a new hearing it turned out that the NHS Trust had withheld crucial documents – which should have been declared in a previous hearing – and he won his case for a fresh hearing which is scheduled to take place next June.
Health Education England ” misled the public, press, MPs and officials”
The grounds for the new hearing is essentially as Dr Day says” that Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust and Health Education England have objectively misled the public, press, several MPs and public officials on my case and how it settled in 2018. I say this is in order to smear and discredit me and the patient safety issues that I raised. The Trust have then failed to disclose 18 letters in their Tribunal standard disclosure that their CEO sent to local MPs and public officials with this misleading content in.”
This week’s hearing was centred round the role of Health Education England. This body is reviving a claim – which it conceded last time at the last minute – that it has nothing to do with his case. Its first attempt was to claim it didn’t employ junior doctors. The new attempt at avoiding involvement is to claim that one of the principal figures involved in the case Dr Andrew Frankel is no longer employed by them so HEE now has nothing to do with it.
Dr Day said: “HEE are arguing because this person is now no longer in post as Post Graduate Dean they are no longer responsible for him. They are doing this even though he was clearly in communication with the top of HEE and assisting them with various functions, since leaving his Post Graduate Dean post in 2018. We say he was an agent of HEE and they are still responsible.”
What emerged at the hearing centred round an approach to one of Dr Day’s supporters, Sir Norman Lamb. Sir Norman is a former health minister in the coalition and was an MP at the time. He has not held back on his criticism of both the trust and HEE on the way they have treated Dr Day.
Sir Norman has postgrad level of knowledge about the way NHS and Whitehall officials use subterfuge to get their own way. He has hero status in my mind for making sure that an independent panel inquiry into suspicious deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital happened after civil servants used the time he was on a French camping holiday with his family to try and annul his decision by getting another minister to put up a written statement in Parliament saying there would be no inquiry.
He found out and blocked it. As a result a thorough investigation by the panel found that no fewer than 456 elderly people had their lives shortened by overprescribing drugs like diamorphine. and it had been covered up by the health trust. As a former member of that panel I am restricted in what I can say about this but this is now the subject of a big police investigation,
In Dr Day’s case Sir Norman had given an interview to the Sunday Telegraph where he accused the trust and HEE of trying to crush Dr Day for his disclosures.
What this week’s tribunal revealed is that the HEE were profoundly disturbed by his comments because it would damage their reputation with junior doctors.
A cache of emails revealed that HEE was discussing ” behind the scenes ” methods -including contacting the General Medical Council – to redress the balance rather than openly criticising Dr Day.
Professor Wendy Reid, medical director of HEE, admitted this was the case but said no action was subsequently taken. But she did correspond with Dr Andrew Frankel suggesting if she was going to meet Sir Norman he ” could give her a tutorial”.
What happened instead was that Dr Andrew Frankel, now a former postgraduate dean at HEE, told the tribunal that he decided off his own bat to approach Sir Norman by asking to meet him and sent him an 11 page document to refute the criticism. Dr Frankel insisted that he had not told anybody that he was doing this, even though he obtained material for his document from the HEE. He admitted that he had acted stupidly in getting personal details about Dr Day from HEE for his report as he knew they would refuse him as an ex employee.
Instead he tried to make out that he was being helpful to Dr Day by discussing this with Sir Norman. When this was put to Dr Day in cross examination by Mr Dijen Basu, QC for HEE, Dr Day flatly denied it.
In extraordinary evidence Dr Frankel insisted he had no role to play that would bring him in contact with HEE though later it was disclosed that in his new job at Imperial College Hospital Health Trust some of his work would bring him into contact with them.
Professor Reid told the tribunal she had been ” flabbergasted and staggered” about what Dr Frankel had done, insisting she knew nothing about the meeting.
But when HEE did find out it remained silent about what happened knowing that the document was favourable to their case. As Andrew Allen, QC for Dr Day said in his summing up:. The document “is repeatedly expressed in a way that presents the report as an HEE position rather than an individual view from Dr Frankel.” Nor did HEE take any action to disavow Dr Frankel when Sir Norman informed them he had received a document from Dr Frankel three months later.
He also said Dr Frankel contradicted himself. He claimed “encyclopaedic knowledge on the case’ but on the other hand he repeatedly said in oral evidence that his knowledge was only about him and his team and the actions they took between June and December 2014.
Even the lawyer for HEE Mr Basu described Dr Frankel’s position as ” devious”.
The tribunal will decide next month. If HEE wins the organisation will no longer be part of Dr Day’s case. If it loses its role will be part of the June hearing.
Please donate to my blog Westminster Confidential toallow me to continue forensicinvestigations.
Successive governments’ decision to cut drastically the legal aid budget has caused enormous damage to diverse women and girls groups according to witnesses who gave evidence today to the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.
They cover the plight of Muslim women who are forced to seek divorces at Sharia Courts because they cannot afford to go to a civil court, migrants denied access to legal aid and married women fleeing domestic violence going to family courts over the custody of children and divorce settlements. The tribunal is looking at how the Un Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination can be put into UK law.
Legal aid ban putting Muslim women at the mercy of patriarchal fundamentalism
A damning indictment of the drastic effect of legal aid cuts which had created formidable barriers for all women – but especially black and ethnic minority women – was made by Pragna Patel.
She was particularly critical of the plight of Muslim women fleeing a marriage and unable to access the civil courts because of the lack of legal aid. Instead decisions were taken by unofficial religious courts dominated by conservative patriarchal fundamentalists. ” The woman has no status there, no right to keep her children, no property rights and no inheritance rights. This completely contravenes human rights.”
She cited a case of one woman who has only had a religious marriage – which had never been followed by a civil marriage. As a result when she went to a civil court to get her rights – the court could not rule on the marriage as it has never been legally recognised. The case has gone to the Law Commission but it has so far not ruled on it.
She also attacked the funding system – having won a judicial review against Ealing Council – when it withdrew funding. She said most of the money was now given to ” generic services ” based on getting results set by targets rather than specialist services offering long term support to people.
“Domestic abuse perpetrator given custody of children at his former wife’s expense”
Dr Proudman highlighted the lack of legal aid holding back women to defend their rights in family courts after quitting their marriage over domestic abuse. She said there was an inequality of arms when they had to appear as a litigant-in-person because they could not afford to pay a barrister. She also said the courts had the discretion on who should pay and where the children should reside in cases – leaving in one instance a woman who had left her husband because of domestic abuse having to pay for her children to be looked after by her abuser – her husband.
She was highly critical of the lack of training for barristers and judges on handling domestic abuse cases – and the failure of the government after the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act to specify what training will be given. She also said that many of the lawyers eyes glazed over when they the issues of women’s rights and certainly CEDAW were mentioned.
She also thought that judiciary was dominated by elite men -” male, pale and stale” – educated at private schools and Oxbridge. She said most of the women were also from the same elite -privately educated and with Oxbridge degrees – meaning neither knew much about the life of the people who came before their courts. She came from a working class background and had gone to a state comprehensive school.
Equality Act has left people working in silos
Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, from Anona Development Consultancy on International Developments on Human Rights. Esuantsiwa was one of the first black VSO volunteers, serving as a teacher in Tanzania 1977-79. Esua was a leading figure in the UN process for women, attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, as a member of the UK Government Delegation representing Development INGOs. She was founder and Chair of the Beijing Forum which co-ordinated the input of UK development NGOs. She was the first black woman Chair of theFawcett Society, Chair and Co-founder of the Gender and Development Network
Esua has highly critical and disappointed by the failure of the 2010 Equality Act. She had great hopes that the Equality and Human Rights Commission by putting all the equality issues together would be a big improvement. But instead she said it was still working in silos and relying on individual litigation.
She thought putting CEDAW into domestic law would create a much more holistic approach bringing together business, politicians, civil society, ngos and the women’s sector together by breaking down barriers.
She was scathing about the lack of progress of BAME women in Parliament – 35 out of 650 MPs. She also attacked the way white males trolled and pursued prominent black women like Diane Abbot, just because they were powerful people.
Dramatic rise in on line sexual abuse during the pandemic
Dr Kelly’s areas of research/expertise include domestic and sexual violence, policing, and more broadly violence against women and girls; including Rape Crisis. She has particular research experience in the policing of domestic abuse, image-based sexual abuse (including ‘cyberflashing’, so-called ‘revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’) and feminist theory.
An alarming picture of the rise in ” revenge porn” during the pandemic leading to sexual violence against was women during the pandemic left the police unable to have the resources to act to control it, Dr Kelly told the tribunal. She said this caused “significant and devastating harm for women”. Black and ethnic minority men were disproportionately involved and many of the attacks were misogynistic with a sense of male entitlement that they could do what they wanted.
When sexual violence followed this the police were not always able to cope – with basic resources like police cars in short supply – so they couldn’t get out to see people. Perpetrators were getting away scot free and were also using on line dating sites.
She called for long lasting cultural changes including much better education of young boys, teaching them the need for consent.
Media stereotyping of women puts pressure on women politicians at national and local level
Sofia is Co Investigator in the ESCR-funded Representative Audit of Britain project, part of Parliamentary Candidates UK and principal investigator in the Survey of Local Candidates in England. Fields of expertise: Gender equality, Participation, Policy design and delivery
The media were criticised for stereotyping women politicians and putting extra strain on women in public life. Some times they were the victims of a campaign of disinformation or not given the opportunity to reply. She called on journalists to be more accurate and carefujl in their reporting of women ;politicians and local councillors.
She said that though there were more women MPs -originally from a low base – an analysis of candidates standing for Parliament showed they were often given unwinnable seats so never got elected. She praised three countries -Sweden, New Zealand and Mexico – for giving women politicians a pro active role. Mexico was particularly praised for having a gender equal role which saw a massive increase in the number of women politicians.
She thought Parliamentary candidates should have compulsory training in equal rights before they stood for Parliament – as part of an initiative to bring CEDAW into domestic law.
The secret UK world of polygamous marriages
Yasmin has worked for more than 30 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. She has acted as an expert witness in legal cases providing expert reports on faith based abuse and Muslim marriage practices including polygamy and temporary marriage. Yasmin is chief Executive Officer at JUNO WOMEN’S AID (formerly Women’s Aid Integrated Services).
An extraordinary picture of the unknown scale of polygamous marriages in the UK was given to the tribunal by Yasmin Rehman.
She said nobody knows the scale of the marriages and the government is blind to the problem. It is hidden because Imans often give secret ceremonies for Muslim men who have one civil marriage to marry other women. There is also a ban on sex outside marriage for Moslems, she said, – which is why there are some additional marriages. Other polygamous marriages avoid bigamy laws – as UK men with a wife and family at home, marry another woman in countries where polygamous marriages are allowed.
She said the religious practice was harmful to women who are given a subordinate role – but the real problem was the clash between the freedom of practices allowed by religion with gender and equality issues. Worse there was some evidence that women were trafficked into the UK for forced polygamous marriages.
” The issue is seen to be in the too difficult box which is why there is not a single politician who is prepared to take the issue up.”
She said only one politician – the former Tory Chancellor, Sajid Javid – had raised part of the issue – but only over children being forced to marry an older man.
Baljit Banga, executive director of Imkaam, a UK based black feminist umbrella organisation, gave a detailed run down on what was wrong with the Domestic Abuse Act and why there is a need for a much better alternative and Dr Annette Lawson, chair of the national Women’s Commission, abolished in 2010 on why there is a need for some successor funded body to pull all women’s groups together to implement CEDAW.
The hearings are now over and the next stage is to draw up a report.
The president of the Cedaw People’s Tribunal, and a former judge, Jocelynne Scutt, said today that the decision by the Court of Appeal to turn down the judicial review into the handling of the rise of the pension age for 50s women will be overturned.
She was commenting on evidence to the tribunal from Christine Cooper, chair of accounting at Edinburgh Business School on the plight of 50s women and how CEDAR could redress the issue. She was giving evidence in a personal capacity.
Christine Cooper pointed out that the ruling -part based on the fact that the 1995 legislation allowed the Department for Work and Pensions to say they had no obligation to tell the 3.8 million women about changes to their pension would have wider implications for the rest of government policy if it was applied in other areas. For this reason alone it is likely to be challenged in other cases.
If the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was part of UK law it would seen as discrimination against a particular group on that ground alone.
Christine Cooper strongly defended the 50swomen saying ; ” This is a group of women who did all what was expected of them in society, brought up families and went back to work when they could. The way they have been treated is mad.”
She said if the government had spent the £6.5 million on an advertising campaign to get people to take out a second private pension instead on informing women about the change in 2001 they would have been more prepared. Instead it had only spent £80,000 47,000 leaflets many going to private finance advisers – the people who were most likely to know about it anyway. She said the worst affected people were those who were in low paid jobs, single women, divorced women, women from ethnic minorities and those who had worked part time.
She it was clear that there had been no impact study in 1995 on the effect it could have on the women and the impact study which covered the 2011 Pensions Act was based on how men would be affected. Most women only had months notice – while men had seven years notice of the rise in the pension age from 65 to 66.
She also revealed that the DWP does not keep any information on the gender pay gap ,the gap between the pension earnings of women and men. Instead a survey is done by Prospect, a Whitehall trade union, which revealed that the difference has remained stubbornly at 40 per cent for the last five years -meaning men will get a pension worth £7,500 more than women.
Occupational pension pots for women aged 65 are at present £35,800 – a fifth of the figure for men at the same age.
Government pressure to get trade deals will hit women’s pay – former civil servant
A former senior civil servant warned that both Brexit and the hostile environment against migrants were going to have a disproportionate effect on women’s rights.
Janet Veitch OBE is a consultant in the UK and internationally on women’s rights, having worked for ten years for the UK Ministers for Women and as Director of the UK Women’s National Commission.
She is a founder member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition; Vice-Chair of ‘Equally Ours’ and an associate adviser on gender for the British Council. Janet was awarded the OBE for services to women’s rights in 2011.
Janet Veitch said that the UK leaving a market of 500 million people would profoundly affect the British economy because it had yet to find alternative markets. Pressure to get trade deals would lead to a downward pressure on wages and labour conditions, which would predominately affect women, as many were already in low paid jobs.
The ” hostile environment ” against migrants would also lead people to start to condone a critical attitudes against people who looked visually different to themselves. CEDAW might not be a complete panacea but it would force the government to do due diligence on a host of issues.
Horrendous statistics on how women are treated over maternity leave and costly child care
A horrendous picture of discrimination against pregnant women was outlined by Joeli Brearley to the tribunal.
Joeil,founder and CEO of ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’, a charity which protects and supports women who encounter pregnancy; maternity discrimination and lobbies the Government for legislative change. This was after being sacked when she was four months pregnant. Joeli was awarded the 2019 Northern Power Women ‘’Agent of Change’’; and is an International Women Human Rights Defender.
She described the appalling position of pregnant women who were often sacked by employers but then found they could get no redress under the employment tribunal system She said they had, while heavily pregnant only three months to lodge a case, found it would cost them £8000 to do so and many had no knowledge of the law. As a result there were very few cases.
She said women were hit by two major issues -facing pay cuts if they lost their jobs as they had to seek part time work on low pay – and paying for the second most expensive child care costs in Europe.
Typical child care costs took 33 per cent of their salary while single mothers, it took 67 per cent of their earnings. The difference between maternity leave and male parental leave of just two weeks meant only three per cent of men took a major part in looking after the new born baby, even though many more men would have liked to do it. Those who did had a 40 per cent more chance of staying together.
She said the situation had worsened during the Covid 19 pandemic. She thought CEDAW would make a big difference.
Loneliness and misery for women in rural Britain
Poor transport and health services, loneliness in the remote areas of the UK were all part of the problems facing women in rural England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Nick Newland is from the Association of Country Women Worldwide The organisation exists to amplify the voices of rural women, so that the problems they face and the solutions they raise are heard and acknowledged by international policy-makers and legislators. Rural women are the backbone of families/communities but they go unheard in legislation, and they remain unprotected and unsupported. ACWW exists to change that.
He hoped CEDAW would lead to women have a much greater say in rural areas – and not just in the odd focus group -so they could get change in their area. He said transport was a major problem for many women – though it was better in Scotland and Wales than England.
He cited an example of one woman living in Monmouth who had to spend seven hours travelling to get a 15 minute jab against Covid 19 in Newport because of the bus timetable.
He also said that loneliness and isolation of women was a major issue – and had been made worse for women by the raising of the pension age. He said getting health care was also a big issue and there was a serious mental health crisis in rural Britain – some times aggravated by their farmer partners committing suicide. There were also cases of brain damage among women who had tried to commit suicide but had not succeeded.
” There is a desperate need for a national strategy , a better quality of life and equality for women in education and health.”
” We have already got one Pakistani here , we can’t take another one” – women’s refuge owner
Rosie Lewis is Director of the Angelou Centre , Newcastle supporting the organisation’s services for Black women and girl survivors and has been involved in social justice activism for more than 25 years.
She has given evidence to CEDAW and to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in order to ensure that the findings of both reflect the state response to violence against Black and minority ethnic women and girls.
An appalling picture of the treatment of women from ethnic minorities now migrant women and children had been excluded deliberately by the government from new domestic abuse legislation was given by Rosie Lewis
She said they were now being excluded from access to justice, help from specialists and many professional organisations no longer want to know or help them. She cited the case of one woman fleeing a forced marriage being told by the person running a women’s refuge, ” We already have one Pakistani here, we can’t take another one.”
She said a city like Durham now had no specialist organisation that could help people in the surrounding rural areas.
She thought if the UK did adopt CEDAW in UK law it would raise awareness, and improve access to services for ethnic minorities.
There was also evidence given today from Catherine Casserley, a barrister specialising in employment, discrimination, and Human Rights law. Co author of ‘Disability Discrimination Claims: An Adviser’s Handbook’. She said CEDAW would make a big difference to the plight of disabled women, including increasing awareness, creating a willingness to change and give a proactive approach to achieving equality.
Cris McCurley, who studied Law at the University of Essex and is a Partner in Ben Hoare Bell LLP; and a member of The Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee. gave some damning evidence of the treatment judges gave in family courts towards ethnic minorities.
Rebecca J. Cook from Toronto University who has made a contribution to international women’s rights as an author, legal educator, editor, lecturer, and participant in numerous conferences sponsored by such organizations as the World Health Organization and Planned Parenthood. She gave a video interview on abortion issues facing women.
Lisa Gormley from the LSE Women’s Peace and Security Policy, gave a talk on violence against women and the role of the Istanbul Convention, which the UK has yet to sign up.
She is an international lawyer specialising in equality for women and girls. She has also worked closely for several years with the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Lisa a legal adviser in Amnesty International’s International Secretariat (2000-2014).
Finally there was also a video from Professor Diane Elson and Mary-Ann Stephenson analysing how much the government spends on women and the huge pay gap between women and men.
Mary-Ann is the Director of the Women’s Budget Group and has worked for women’s equality and human rights for over twenty years as a campaigner, researcher and trainer. She was previously Director of the Fawcett Society and a Commissioner on the Women’s National Commission.
Today is International Women’s Day and as my contribution I am focusing on Afghanistan as both the UK and the US cut their support to this country
I have recently come across a searing Congressional report from the United States Inspectorate on Afghanistan Reconstruction on the state of women’s and girl’s equality there.
Everybody knows the years of conflict which has cost British and American lives to rid the country of the Taliban regime and their horrendous treatment of women.
But this report shines a different light on the current plight of women just as the UK and the US are about to leave the country should a deal be possible between the war lords and the Taliban.
The United States has spent £564m in aid over nearly 20 years on women and girls
It reveals that during the never ending conflict from 2002 to 2020 the US has spent some £564.6 million on women and girls. On one level the achievement for women has been startling. From virtually no girls in schools under the Taliban there are now 3.5 million girls receiving an education. And a third of the country’s 210,000 teachers are now women but mainly in urban areas like Kabul.
There have been improvements in maternity care despite a horrendous death rate among pregnant women. Prenatal care coverage rose from 16 percent of pregnant women in 2002 to 61 percent in 2015. Postnatal care coverage increased from an average of 28 percent between 2005 and 2010 to 40 percent in 2015. And the number of trained midwives rose from a pathetic 467 in 2002 to roughly 4,000 in 2018.
There is, like many other areas, a huge disparity between urban and rural areas. Some 16 per cent of women died in childbirth in Kabul rising to an alarming 65 per cent in one rural province in 2002. This has improved with various estimates from the UK, Irish and World Health Organisation by between 19 per cent and 50 per cent, because reliable statistics are difficult to verify.
What has not improved particularly in rural areas is the attitude towards women. The US government also tried to encourage women to join the army and the police – this was the least effective of their programmes. “Targets have been highly unrealistic and unachievable. Although there has been a modest increase in the number of women police officers, women in all parts of the security forces face threats to their personal safety and pervasive harassment and discrimination,” says the report.
The US aid has had more effect in getting women involved in politics and the community. The report says: “Afghan women have assumed leadership roles at the national, provincial, district, and community levels. At the same time, they face threefold threats: continued or intensified violence, the risk of Afghan peace negotiations leading to erosions of women’s rights, and a dire economic and humanitarian situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Covid 19 has caused big problems in Afghanistan. The report says: “The lack of testing capability means that up to 90 percent of collected samples are untested, and therefore go unreported. Of the limited number of tests conducted, Afghanistan’s positivity rate—the percentage of tests that reveal COVID-19 infection—was nearly 43 percent as of July 2020, one of the highest in the world.”
The World Bank is alarmed that widespread poverty will become worse as the Afghan economy is hit by the pandemic cd see those living in poverty rise to 72 per cent of the population. Cultural problems make treatment for women worse. “Due to deeply entrenched sociocultural norms, many Afghans are reluctant to allow their mothers, wives, daughters, or sisters to visit a doctor directly, or at all, if that doctor is a male.”
The future is not rosy in other areas for women. The report found “Some of the gains made for girls in access to education may not be sustainable, since a large portion of the education sector in Afghanistan is dependent on international donor funding for maintaining and expanding those gains.”
No level playing field for men and women in meetings
And it is not a level playing field in political meetings. One woman told the report “When we have meetings and both men and women raise their hands and show their cards, the respect that is given to men is not given to women. The time which is given to men is not given to women. When a woman speaks, she is not allowed to speak more than three minutes, but a man is allowed to speak more than 15 minutes.”
Women are still scared in many parts of the country to go out alone as they can face harassment and violence from men. SIGAR interviewed 65 people from all Afghanistan’s 14 provinces and both men and women said it was society’s constraints that held women back.
The time which is given to men is not given to women. When a woman speaks, she is not allowed to speak more than three minutes, but a man is allowed to speak more than 15 minutes.”
Many interviewees—male and female—said that social and cultural norms are one of the biggest barriers to Afghan women’s advancement, particularly in rural areas. “Men in our community think the role of women is to sit at home and cook. If their mothers tell them to behave well with their wives, so they do, and if their mothers order them to beat their wives and misbehave, so they also do,” said a woman from Nangarhar Province.
President Biden will decide soon whether to completely pull out of Afghanistan which was the policy of the Trump administration. The UK, according to a leaked report to Open Democracy will cut aid sharply to Afghanistan shortly. Once again it will be women who will lose out and many of their fragile gains could once again be lost. As the report said if the Taliban and other war lords regain full control “the effort to promote women’s rights may be hampered by a growing narrative in Afghanistan that the country can either have women’s rights at the cost of peace, or peace at the cost of women’s rights.”
” Let the Queen of England collect a great fleet, let her stow away all her treasure, bullion, gold plate, and precious arms; be accompanied by all her court and chief people, and transfer the seat of her empire from London to Delhi. ”
This is a quote from Tancred, a novel by former Tory Prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, written in 1847. In it he also said; ““England is no longer a mere European power; she is the metropolis of a great maritime empire . . . she is really more an Asiatic power than a European one”.
I suspect that the world view of Disraeli, who later made Queen Victoria Empress of India, might now be similar to the world view of Boris Johnson and Elizabeth Truss, the international trade secretary and the new Empress of the Pacific.
Of course neither are going to do anything as crude as reconquering India nor are they going to emulate Tancred, Prince of Galilee, the Norman who led the first successful crusade in the Middle East in the 12th century.
But what they are doing by planning to join the Asia Pacific free trade pact and create – with the offer to 5.2 million people in Hong Kong to come to the United Kingdom – potentially the biggest migration of people for centuries that is going to change the nature of this country for good.
Since at the same time it will far more difficult for Europeans to settle here the UK will become in Disraeli’s words ” more an Asiatic power than a European one.” It will be backed up by pressure from countries like India, Malaysia and Vietnam for the UK to concede more immigration into the country as part of any future trade deals.
Foreign student numbers from China and India are booming
What is interesting is that it has already started. The moment the UK voted in 2016 to leave the EU the young started voting with their feet – with students from EU countries no longer so keen to come while applications from China and India started soaring. Figures released this week by a London property company show it even had an effect on the capital’s rental market as wealthy overseas students were happy to rent or even own new flats. And this is all before the ink was dry on the withdrawal agreement which came into force on January 1. The biggest rise is China -over 20 per cent in one year with India recording a 15 per cent increase.
One reason for this surge also appears to be ex President Trump and his ” America First” policy which has deterred Asians from going to the US.
Andrew Weir, CEO of LCP, the London property company, comments “The UK’s safe haven status, diverse and liberal culture has attracted overseas students who would have previously studied in the US. The US has not seen growth rates above 5% since 2017, this contrasts with a 15% growth rate in the UK in 2019/20.”
“Despite fears Brexit may impact the UK and London’s status as a global city, the number of first year overseas students from the Asia region now vastly outnumbers the total number of students from all EU countries combined.
“There has been a recent surge in students from India enrolling into UK higher education establishments, almost doubling in 2019/20 compared with the previous academic year. A new generation of overseas students view the UK as a desirable place in which to reside and study.”
Falling numbers of German and Irish students
Indeed the number of students from Germany coming to the UK is now falling as are the number of students from the Republic of Ireland our nearest neighbour. Cyprus and Greece are also falling slightly. This has been balanced by a rise in the number of students from Portugal – always a low number – and Romania. You can read in more detail on this website which not only gives a bigger picture but also a breakdown for each university. Of course since then there has been the pandemic, but if there is a fall, it will only be short term. It is quite clear what the trend is. And when students come others will try to follow.
There is a supreme irony in all this. Many people who voted for Brexit were also against mass immigration – remember Nigel Farage and the warning of millions of Turks getting free movement to come to the UK. Well we may not get millions of Turks – in fact there was not much danger of that anyway as it takes years to join the EU. But we are going to get a major reset in the composition of people who make up the UK population. I actually welcome more diversity and Asian and Chinese people have a great record as entrepreneurs. But I wonder whether people thought when they voted for Brexit that Britain was on the way to become an Anglo-Asiatic nation.
Company predicted “successful business performance” on the back of feeding poverty stricken children
The spectre of poor children going hungry during the Covid 19 crisis is something the government have had to be put under pressure to remedy – notably by Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United footballer.
But now it has emerged that even when the government finally did the right thing – they managed to make a mess of it. The initial scheme was poorly implemented and the supervision by the Department for Education (DfE) of the private company, Edenred UK Ltd, was lamentable.
Naive civil servants thought they were getting a bargain when the company told them that they get the supermarket vouchers for them at their face value without it costing them a penny more. What they hadn’t realised was that the company could get a huge discount from supermarkets by bulk buying and pocket the difference themselves. And on an initial contract worth £77m later increased five fold to £425m that’s a lot of cash.
Whitehall ” surprisingly unconcerned” about Edenred making big profits out of taxpayers’ money
The report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee expresses dismay that the ministry even now seemed ” surprisingly unconcerned” about the profits made out of our money and has hit back at the MPs for suggesting it – backing the company which is also trying to deny it. A wonderful example of how the Johnson government is prepared to be shamed faced about making money out of Covid 19 and the plight of poor children.
There were serious problems in the early weeks of the scheme” and “unacceptable delays in Edenred processing orders from schools and getting vouchers to families,” the report reveals..
Those words cover up the distressing evidence given by individual schools to MPs.
School staff had to work in the middle of the night to get Edenred’s vouchers
Ms Andrea Howard ,School Business Manager at Truro & Penwith Academy Trust at the time of using Edenred, wrote to Mps, saying she was ” subjected to extreme levels of stress.”
“From the onset, the portal was not fit for purpose, initially it continually crashed and when the portal was first upgraded, there was a very long wait to access the site, this wait was sometimes more than two hours. “For several nights in a row, I and many other school business manager colleagues took to waking up in the middle of the night to attempt to upload our spreadsheets, and site traffic was better in the early hours of the morning. However, the fact that there was still traffic at these times is evidence of the desperation of school staff to be able to provide their families with vouchers.”
“Once parents received their vouchers, we had reports from the majority that they were not able to access the platform to redeem them. It must be recognised that many of these families have limited access to the internet and tried to redeem the vouchers through their phones using their limited mobile data.
” Additionally, we are located in a rural part of Cornwall with no nearby supermarkets, many of our families do not have access to their own transport and there is a very limited bus service, however the vouchers were only able to be used in large supermarket chains and not local shops such as co-op (initially) and Spar. “
Gavin Williamson made ” untrue statements”- headteacher
Raphael Moss, Headteacher, Elsley Primary School, Wembley, told MPs:” Due to the untrue statements made by the Secretary of State [Gavin Williamson] and DfE, their lack of acceptance of many of the issues, or the downplaying of the impact, I feel compelled to submit evidence for what amounts to gross negligence. As a result of the delays to providing vouchers, our own school set up a food bank, relying on donations from staff and the public, to ensure that children did not go hungry. “
“A major flaw in the scheme was that there was a huge incentive for schools to use the Edenred scheme rather than use a local alternative. A school’s own scheme would require laying out the cost of it it ourselves, with DfE guidance placing several limitations on which schools could claim and maximum amounts that could be claimed.
“The Edenred voucher amount of £15 was also in excess of the usual funding of £11.50 which also acted as an incentive to use the Edenred scheme. The public messages implied that schools had a choice to use their own scheme but without mentioning the limitations on schools reclaiming costs.”
Profits of £10.7 million
Taking this evidence it is quite clear that the scheme was aimed ( with Whitehall connivance) as much as benefitting Edenred as the poor hungry children. No wonder after a National Audit Office investigation and a critical report by MPs they have decided to return one per cent of the cost of the contract.
Their latest accounts – they are a subsidiary of a French firm – show they made profits of over £10.7 million.
Their annual report says they were ” honoured ” to get the food voucher contract which” will enable a successful business performance in 2020.”
You bet it did. The pay rise for their highest paid director last year was £136,000 – it went up from £235,000 to £371,000. That pays for a lot of food vouchers – more likely in caviar and French champagne than baked beans and spaghetti.
Imagine in 40 years time booking a 14 day holiday on Amazon Prime to hike the craters of the moon. Or a tourist world voyage to Mars.
Visiting the Kennedy Space Center on a huge nature reserve on North Merritt Island this year is not just awesome but at an extraordinary time in its history.The Florida site is not only where NASA does its top level research as well as showcasing its past achievements it is now the place where the world’s richest men are competing with each other to launch into space.
If you ever wondered where the huge profits of international capitalist companies are going, most of the money they have made is being spent here. They are gambling on a new lucrative tourist business that will be worth billions in the future. And they are changing the face of Cape Canaveral. Dotted among the state owned space facilities are brand new space centres owned by private individuals and companies each competing with each other to build rockets , space capsules and launch sites . The only one missing is billionare Richard Branson whose Virgin Galatic company is based elsewhere.
Thus you have Elon Musk, worth $37.7billion, and owner of Tesla electric cars ,with SpaceX, planning with his Falcon rocket to take US astronauts to the space station and then planning to go to the Moon and beyond. He is competing with the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, worth $125.3 billion and owner of Amazon whose Blue Origen company wants to go to the Moon. And you have Boeing with a base here who want to expand from building aircraft to spacecraft.
And what is also interesting is that the Space centre itself has the Journey to Mars centre where enthusiastic scientists are openly aiming to recruit the next generation to work on their space programme to “solve the impossible ” for the Mars mission.
The talk aimed at today’s ten year olds is premised that if you follow the history of the development of flight within 40 years what could be accomplished by a few pioneers will become commonplace for commercial services for tourists. Hence the interest in the commercialisation of space.
On the cruise ship one of the most interesting lectures came from a NASA scientist who explained some of the pioneering work being done to aid the space project.Dr Lawrence Kutznetz showed that the breadth of research was spilling over into fields that could help the disabled , aid medical research,and go the limits of technology.One worldwide research project involves designing a light weight spacesuit from scratch which will be essential if anyone wants to roam around Mars. Unlike the Moon Martian Gravity is similar to Earth’s and no human could walk more the few yards without collapsing under the weight of what they have to carry to stay alive. So using the Internet, peer reviewed research is designing new materials, sealing the helmet from the rest of the body and allowing the rest of the suit to leak
Another project has very recently discovered by mistake that a particular drug when used on elderly mice caused cells covering its whole body to regenerate turning the equivalent of a 60 year old mouse to having the energy of an adolescent.
Scientists are not quite clear how this happened. The implications of this last experiment I can imagine will be very interesting for our wealthy billionaires funding the space programme – imagine being able to live until you are 150 – double the present lifespan.Or imagine Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch being offered a double lifespan.Perhaps not.
Other experiments have discovered that if you link two people’s brains using non evasive electrodes it is possible by thought alone to operate another person’s artificial hand.
So not only is the space centre an exciting place to visit but some of the research going on there is in the realm of science fiction.
Another day. Another taxpayer disaster for the Conservatives. This time it is the National Audit Office reporting on the full cost of Michael Gove’s failed vocational education initiative which cost taxpayers £800m and left a trail of brand new closed colleges. Read the horrendous details of this latest scandal on Byline Times here.