Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Church of England rejects women bishops

Dr Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury (left) listens to a speech by the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, during a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England. Photograph: Yui Mok/WPA Pool/Getty

The Church of England voted today against allowing women bishops after it failed to win the support of enough lay members for the reform, leaving the Church facing more internal strife over an issue that has divided it for years.

After hours of debate, the General Synod, the Church legislature made up of separate houses for bishops, clergy and laity, fell just short of the two-thirds majority required in all three houses to pass the measure.
"It was carried in the houses of bishops and clergy, but lost in the house of laity. The motion having been lost ... we do not proceed any further," said Archbishop of York John Sentamu.

Some women priests in the public gallery wiped tears from their eyes after Sentamu read out the results. The vote among lay members fell short by just four votes.

"It's crushing for morale, senior women clergy must feel despondent and most bishops and most clergy male or female feel hugely sad and worse than sad, embarrassed and angry," said Christina Rees, a Synod member and former chairman of the advocacy group Women and the Church.

"Women bishops will come, but this is an unnecessary and an unholy delay," she told Reuters. Women already serve as Anglican bishops inAustraliaNew ZealandCanada and the United States, but the Church of England, mother church for the world's 80 million Anglicans, has struggled to reconcile the dispute between reformers and traditionalists on whether to allow them in England.

The Church had already agreed to allow women bishops in theory but Tuesday's vote, on provisions to be made for conservatives theologically opposed to senior women clergy, needed to be approved before female Anglican priests could be promoted to episcopal rank in England.

The outcome presents a major test for Justin Welby, who takes over as the Church's spiritual head when Rowan Williams steps down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the year. Both of them supported the reform.

"How much energy do we want to spend on this in the next decade ... and how much do we want to bind the extraordinary energy and skills of the new archbishop?" said Dr Williams as he implored the Synod to back the legislation before the vote.

Bishop of Norwich Graham James said the Church's current bishops, who had strongly backed the proposal, would be meeting tomorrow to consider a way forward.

"There are different opinions in the Church of England which it has tried to hold together. I think tonight's vote illustrates how hard that is and how high the barrier is we have set for ourselves," he told reporters.
Asked if women priests, who make up about a third of the Church of England clergy, would now feel they are second class priests, he said: "I recognise that many of them are going to feel that and are going to feel very disappointed.

"I think there's a sign and willingness on the part of many people in this Synod to find the legislation to allow this to go ahead. I hope it will not be many years before this comes about."

More than 100 members spoke during six hours of discussion in a vast circular chamber in Church House, the Church's central Londonheadquarters, airing their views under a domed ceiling inscribed with a prayer to "them that endured in the heat of conflict".

The dispute centred on ways to designate alternative male bishops to work with traditionalist parishes that might reject the authority of a woman bishop named to head their diocese.

Conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics argue that a male-only clergy is God's will or say that ordaining women bishops would break with the tradition of the male-only clergy that stretches back to the Twelve Apostles.

Bishops are crucial senior managers in Christian churches that uphold the episcopal tradition because only they can ordain priests and assure the continuation of the clergy.

Dr Welby, an experienced conflict negotiator, drew the loudest applause when he urged members to compromise and vote for the measure, citing bloody conflicts in the Middle East and Africa as examples of what intractable differences can lead to.

"At this very moment in places from Israel and Gaza to Goma in the Congo, there is killing and suffering because difference cannot be dealt with," he said.

"We Christians are those who carry peace and grace as a treasure for the world. We must be those who live a better way, who carry that treasure visibly and distribute it lavishly."

However, opponents said the legislation could not be passed in its current form. Lay member Jane Patterson urged the Synod not to "bow to cultural pressure", warning more priests would defect to the Roman Catholic Church if the law were passed.

"England cannot afford this loss if we're serious about sharing the Gospel with the nation," she said.
About 60 traditionalist clergy, including five male bishops, and about 900 lay members have already switched to the Roman Catholic Church after Pope Benedict welcomed those who had become alienated by the prospect of the changes.

The structure of the Synod means a "no" vote puts off the proposed reforms for at least another five years, extending the acrimonious debate.

Religion commentator Peter Ould, an Anglican priest, said Welby's work in conflict resolution should stand him in good stead in attempting to resolve the emotive issue.

"This is a guy who's gone off to Nigeria where he was nearly kidnapped and killed trying to bring conflicting parties together - I think he can handle the Church of England," he said.

Each of the 44 member churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion can decide for itself whether to allow women bishops.

Many Anglicans in developing countries are strongly opposed to women priests, no less bishops, and many national churches there have formed a parallel group to the Communion to coordinate their efforts against reforms they see changing Anglican churches in the West.


Friday, 16 November 2012


I've just watched Persepolis, a film about the modern history of Iran through the eyes of a girl. I really enjoyed it's warmth, humour and tragedy.

Watch it if you haven't already. I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

I think that it is an inspiring film about female solidarity and the importance of family life in the face of adversity. I loved Marjane's grandmother.  If only we all had someone like that in our lives to tell us how it is.  Persepolis gives us a glimpse of what it must be like growing up in a country ravaged by war and atrocity.

Many women grow up in fear of war, violence, abuse, and internalise the trauma that we have experienced. What this film does beautifully is show us that our similarities are greater than our differences, whether they be cultural or religious. Womankind knows no national boundaries.  Under the veil there is a woman that we can reach out to and understand.

Maybe we should have a page on here about great feminist films. I'd love to hear some suggestions.

Monday, 12 November 2012


“This occupation is the cruelest one that the Malian people have had to undergo, nowadays women are deprived of all liberties and even the choice of a husband is dictated to them by the occupying forces,” says a displaced woman* living in Bamako and originally from Timbuktu – a city occupied by armed groups today. “Even worse, the woman is married to several men against her will. Nowadays our children can no longer go to school,” she added.

Mali is currently experiencing an unprecedented security, political and humanitarian crisis, threatened by armed conflict in the north of the country which is having a direct impact on the population, and especially on women and children. The country has had to face radical armed groups such asAnsar Dine, Mali’s northern rebel MUJAO and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – groups that have taken control over the northern part of the country where they enforce a strict interpretation of the sharia as well as restrictions, especially targeting women.

“The city of Gao has recorded the worst cases of gang rape or rape by an individual and such crimes are still being perpetrated. How to help these innocent victims on whom the occupation has taken a heavy toll? Nowadays in Gao everything belongs to these people who lay down the law and wreak havoc uninhibited,” says another woman from Gao, a city located in the north-east of the country, now residing in Bamako. She deplored the “cruelty” of the armed groups targeting women in particular.

“As for the populations who have remained in the occupied areas, their daily existence has become a nightmare: enforcement of the sharia with no tangible proof; stoning and amputations are performed. At present, young girls and boys are forcibly enrolled in the armed groups or are indoctrinated to become jihadists,” she explained.

According to the UN, instability and insecurity have driven more than 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries – not to mention the 174,000 other displaced persons within the country itself. Given this alarming state of affairs, the women have made a list of their demands, entitled “Appeal from the women of Mali.”
On 20 October, Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, visited the country and met with female leaders supported by UN Women and the UN system in Mali in order to hear their proposals and demands aimed at helping to resolve the conflict.

Assembled in Bamako, the capital of Mali, approximately 40 female leaders together with officials from the Forum of Malian civil society organizations participated in the discussions.

Saran Keïta Diakité, President of women’s peace and security network REPSFECO/Mali, was among the 40 women leaders who presented their recommendations for resolving the conflict. Photo Credit : REPSFECO/Mali

“Though they are the main victims of the various crises that Mali is experiencing, women are still not very much involved in the various bodies managing the transition,” stressed Mrs. Diakité.

The concrete recommendations made by the women at the meeting were strong.

“We, the women from civil society in Mali (…), demand the following at the decision-making level: at least 30 per cent female representation in all bodies for crisis management and post-crisis management;  participation in political and institutional governance, security and the electoral process; capacity-building in terms of mediation, negotiation, prevention, conflict-management and peace-consolidation; advocacy by the UN Secretary-General in favour of reparation for the harm suffered by rape victims as well as their care; and immediate implementation of a support fund for the self-empowerment of the women of Mali.”
A copy of the appeal was handed over to the Deputy Secretary-General, who assured that the message from the women of Mali would be carried to the highest level and that he would follow the situation closely.
UN Women is also setting up a psycho-social and economic assistance programme for displaced women and young girls affected by the conflict.
*The names of the women have been withheld for their safety and security.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Julia Gillard is no feminist hero

John Pilger gives a his view on the Australian Prime Minister:

She has been praised for standing up to sexism but Australia's prime minister is also rolling back rights.

The Guardian's description of Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott as "neanderthal" is not unreasonable. Misogyny is an Australian blight and a craven reality in political life. But for so many commentators around the world to describe Julia Gillard's attack on Abbott as a "turning point for Australian women" is absurd. Promoted by glass-ceiling feminists with scant interest in the actual politics and actions of their hero, Gillard is the embodiment of the Australian Labor party machine – a number-crunching machine long bereft of principle that has attacked and betrayed Australia's most vulnerable people, especially women.
Shortly before Gillard's lauded rant against Abbott, her government forced through legislation that stripped A$100 from the poorest single parents – almost all of them women. Even Labor's own caucus reportedly regarded this as "cruel". But that is nothing compared with Gillard's attacks on Aboriginal people, who remain Australia's dirty secret, suffering preventable diseases such as trachoma (blindness in children), which has been eliminated in much of the developing world, and scourges that hark back to Dickensian England, such as rheumatic heart disease, even leprosy. I have seen Aboriginal homes in which 30 people are forced to live, because the government refuses to build public housing for them. Indigenous young people are incarcerated in Australian prisons at five times the rate of black South Africans during the apartheid era.

Gillard has continued with gusto the authoritarian and mendacious 2007"emergency intervention" designed to push Aboriginal Australians off their valuable land and box them into "hub centres": a version of apartheid. She and her indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, have implemented this inhumanity in defiance of international law. In a speech last year, Gillard, like most of her predecessors, blamed the victims of Australia's unresolved rapacious past and present. I have just spent several months in Aboriginal Australia; and the views I have gathered from remarkable, despairing, eloquent indigenous women of Gillard and her "feminism" are mostly unknown, ignored or dismissed in this country. Watching Gillard address the UN last month and claim that Australia embraced "the highest ideals" of human rights law was satirical, to say the least. Australia has been repeatedly condemned by the UN for its racism.
Gillard came to power by plotting secretly with an all-male cabal to depose the elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Two of her conspirators, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, sought inspiration in the US embassy where Gillard enjoyed an unusually high approval rating. This was understandable. Her views on aggressive war might be described as neanderthal if they were not Victorian; referring to the dispatch of Australian colonial troops to Sudan in 1885 to avenge a popular uprising against the British, she described the forgotten bloody farce as "not only a test of wartime courage, but a test of character that has helped define our nation and create the sense of who we are". Invariably flanked by flags, she uses such guff to justify sending more young Australians to die in faraway places, essentially as American mercenaries – more soldiers have died under her watch than that of any recent prime minister. Her true feminist distinction, perversely, is her removal of gender discrimination in combat roles in the Australian army. Thanks to her, women are now liberated to kill Afghans and others who offer no threat to Australia. One Sydney feminist commentator was beside herself. "Australia will again lead the world in a major reform," she wrote. A passionate supporter of the Israeli state, Gillard in 2009 went on a junket to Israel arranged by the Australian Israel Cultural Exchange during which she refused to condemn Israel's blood-fresh massacre of 1,400 people in Gaza.
With political trickery reminiscent of the former arch-conservative prime minister John Howard, Gillard has sought to circumvent Australian law in order to send refugees who arrive by boat to an impoverished hell on isolated Pacific islands, such as Nauru. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, these people are "90% genuine refugees". They include children who, as government studies show, go insane in such confinement.
Australian feminism has a proud past. With New Zealanders, Australian women led the world in winning the vote and were at the forefront of the struggle for equal pay. During the slaughter of the first world war, Australian women mounted a uniquely successful campaign against a vote for conscription – known as "the blood vote". On polling day, a majority of Australians followed the women. Now that's feminism.
The Guardian 15th October

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Feminism – a spent force or fit for the 21st century?

Here is an interesting debate about feminism with  Fiona Ranford, a leading member of UK Feminista; Rehana Azan, senior trade union official; Yvonne Roberts, Observer chief leader writer; Melissa Kite, columnist from the Guardian:

Feminism is dead, says Netmums. As feminist activists prepare to lobby parliament, we bring together a group of female thinkers to discuss the rights and roles of women – and men – in society.

Yvonne Roberts It's been a very interesting week for feminism. Netmums has announced that feminism is dead and pronounced the last rites. But at the same time we've had the coverage of the Jimmy Savile revelations and a very strong feminist voice saying that this is an institutional problem, not just the behaviour of one individual. So feminism, is it alive or is it dead? Fiona?

Fiona Ranford The news from Netmums isn't surprising. We're all well aware that there's been stigma attached to feminism for many years, making it seem like it's something that is done and dusted, and actually what we're seeing across the UK is a huge rise in the number of women – and men – taking part in feminist activism. So we've seen a doubling in the number of local feminist activist groups in the past couple of years. We've seen a thousand people come to UK Feminista's national conference, which sold out. We've also got a huge lobby of parliament this week, where hundreds of women and men from across the UK will be coming together to demand that feminism is put at the heart of British politics and many of them will be doing feminist activism for the first time. So it's clear that the feminist movement is growing.

Rehana Azam I don't think feminism is dead. As a trade union officer active in the workplace, I've seen the gender pay gap growing significantly over the past decade. So I think there's a very real need for [feminism] in the workplaces, for us to fight for equality.
YR But if equal pay is such an issue, why are so many women saying "We don't need feminism any more. Everything's OK"?
RA I don't think feminism is dead. It depends what your interpretation of feminism is. My interpretation is all about having the freedom to choose. I don't think if you asked some of my members in the workplaces, are they the ones who are choosing the rates of pay they are on, which, compared to those of men, are less? I think the answer would be no, they aren't.
Melissa Kite I sincerely hope feminism is alive. If younger women are rejecting it or saying it's irrelevant, it's only because the women who've gone before them have won so many battles that they now can't see what the problem is. But I think the problem now is much more subtle than it used to be, and sexism – if you like, chauvinism – is not as obvious; it doesn't hit you over the head, maybe. It's very insidious, very subtle, the ways that women might still be kept down. There are still women in this country of different cultures who do not have the rights that I have, for example. And I think there is a very difficult problem nowadays of equality and women's rights coming up against other cultural so-called rights, religious rights. And these two agendas bash up against each other and women are stuck in the middle of things like forced marriage, female circumcision, women not being able to get a divorce because their husband has divorced them in a religious sense, in a Sharia sense.

For full story go to Guardian website

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Health check for women’s rights in the UK

On October 22nd a small group of women from the UK will be going to Geneva to address the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)[i] to highlight the problems impacting on women’s equality in the UK and what our Government must be questioned on, and held to account over, by the UN. This is a unique opportunity for women to raise the key issues they are facing with the UN and the eyes of the world will be on the UK and their progress on women.

Women’s rights in the UK have come to a standstill and in fact some are being reversed. Government policies[ii] and austerity measures[iii] are disproportionately impacting on women and the rights that were fought so hard for are now being reduced:

-       The representation of women in the media[iv] continues to be unequal and damaging, reinforcing gender-based stereotypes and sexism[v]
-       Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) which impacts on sexual health and confidence is no longer compulsory[vi] and schools are not safe for girls[vii]
-       Female unemployment is at a 25 year high[viii] and there has been little movement on the gender pay gap[ix]
-       The widespread closure of Sure Start Centres[x] and the high cost of childcare,[xi] which is the highest in Europe,[xii] leads many women not to seek work at all
-       Women’s specific health needs are not addressed and we still see more women than men reporting debilitating mental health problems,[xiii] while there are GPs who illegally perform FGM.[xiv] The localisation of healthcare and changes to the National Health Service also risks women falling through the gaps in provision and is why a gendered approach to health is even more important[xv]
-       There is also a danger that women’s reproductive rights will be rolled back with government support[xvi]
-       Violence against women and girls (VAWG) still occurs in the UK at epidemic proportions and austerity measures, which have led to high unemployment and increased debt, are creating an increase in violence[xvii] and impacting on women’s safety as support services are being cut[xviii]
-       Government policies around welfare benefits and other support are disproportionately impacting on the most vulnerable[xix] and measures such as the Universal Credit[xx] will see women trapped in violent relationships with no where to turn for support
-       The lack of government support for women’s NGOs, despite demonstrating value for money,[xxi] and the decentralisation of power to local authorities who are also facing huge cuts, means that local services for women are closing[xxii] at a fast rate leading to a lack of appropriate, accessible services for many women.

A new report from the North East Women’s Network[xxiii] gives a stark example of these issues as a microcosm of women across the UK. It outlines how government policy changes are disproportionately impacting on women in the North East who are facing unprecedented challenges.

Ironically this comes at a time when the UK’s record on women’s rights is about to come under the spotlight internationally. In July 2013 the UK Government must report to CEDAW on their progress since they were last examined by the UN Committee in 2008.[xxiv]

It will be interesting to see how the Government will address the reversal of women’s rights in the UK and the deepening of women’s inequality, especially when they are supposed to be presenting an example to other countries through their international work.

The Women’s Resource Centre[xxv] coordinate a network of organisations across the UK who are producing a shadow report which will reflect on the Government’s report[xxvi] to CEDAW which has been submitted. This CEDAW Working Group have already sent a list of key issues and suggested questions[xxvii] for the Committee to ask the Government to highlight the extent of discrimination against women in the UK and will be following up on this at the meeting in Geneva.

These issues will also be raised at the UK Feminista lobby of Parliament[xxviii] on October 24th where women from across the country will meet with their MPs and ensure that they understand their international obligations as well as those to their female constituents.

“The Government must face up to their international obligations under CEDAW to protect and advance the rights of women in the UK. It is unacceptable for the UK to be reversing women’s rights and austerity cannot be an excuse - the legacy of these changes will be felt for generations so we must ensure that the UN holds them to account and they do not continue to roll back women’s rights in the UK,” says Vivienne Hayes, Chief Executive of the Women’s Resource Centre.[xxix]

Notes to Editors[xxx]

[iv] Research by Women in Journalism found that male journalists wrote 78% of all front-page articles and men accounted for 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces
[v] UK NGOs responded called on the Government’s Leveson Inquiry to look at the way the media in Britain reports on violence against women, including victim-blaming and the perpetuation of myths about abuse, and how the press objectifies and degrades women
[vii] Research has found that sexual bullying and harassment is routine in schools and one in three 16-18 year old girls say they have been 'groped' or experienced other unwanted sexual touching at school, one in three teenage girls has also experienced sexual violence from their boyfriend
[viii] In February 2012 of the 2.67 million people who were unemployed, 1.12 million were women
[ix] On average women in the UK earn 15% less than men. The Government have introduced agreements with private industry to combat this but these are voluntary and ineffective
[x] 281 centres have been closed since April 2010 and local authorities have also cut their budgets by 11% in 2011 and 21% in 2012
[xi] An average part-time nursery place in London is £126 per child each week
[xii] 33% of a British family’s net income goes towards the cost of childcare compared to the OECD average of 13%
[xiii] Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men (29% compared with 17%)
[xvi] Senior Ministers, including the Health Secretary and Minister for Women, support a reduction in the abortion time limit against medical evidence
[xviii] Thirty-one percent of the funding to the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector from local authorities was cut between 2010/11 to 2011/12, a reduction from £7.8 million to £5.4 million
[xix] As the Women’s Budget Group have found in their analyses of the Budgets since 2010
[xx] The Women’s Budget Group believes these proposals will concentrate financial resources and power into the hands of one person which may exacerbate existing gender inequalities
[xxi] Research by the Women’s Resource Centre found that on average, over five years, for every £1 invested in women’s services, between £5 and £11 worth of social value is generated for women, their families and the Sate
[xxii] Women’s Aid found that 60% of refuge services had no funding agreed from 1st April 2011 and in 2011 the Women’s Resource Centre found that 95% of women’s organisations surveyed faced a funding crisis (unpublished)
[xxix] Contact – Vivienne Hayes, 0207 324 3032
[xxx] For further information contact Natalie Gyte, Head of Communications 0207 324 3040 or Charlotte Gage, Policy Officer 0044 (0) 7841508231 and follow @womnsresource and

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Julia Gillard's attack on sexism

Please click the link to see an inspiring speech by the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in which she attacks the leader of the opposition for sexism, calling him a misogynist.

I hope one of our female MPs in the UK will stand up to David "Calm Down Dear" Cameron in this way. It is interesting how the Australian media (overwhelmingly male and middle class) saw this speech as a political disaster and said that her judgement was flawed.  However, Gillard seems to have struck a chord with women around the world. Lets follow her example and stand up to sexism and misogyny.  We should not have to put up with it.  We deserve equality and social justice.

For more on this story and the rise of a new wave of feminism in Austalia:

Destroy the Joint Facebook page:
"This page is for people who are sick of the sexism dished out to women in public roles in Australia, whether they be our Prime Minister or any other woman"