Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Rape 'jokes' are not okay. Rape culture is not okay. RAPE is not okay.

Fuck you CNN, fuck this misogyny, fuck the notion that a girl who was raped could possibly be in the wrong. I hate this, I hate this idea that rape is some sort of innocent mistake that is somehow justifiable if the victim is bad mouthed enough, as if her suffering isn't enough already. Because you know what, I'm done with this. I. Am. Done. Already.

Unpopular opinion: every time you laugh at a rape 'joke' you're encouraging rape culture. Rape 'jokes' aren't funny and rape can't be excused. It's uncomfortable, you won't want to believe it, it's a terrifying truth but, sadly, rape happens, and as many as one in four women will be sexually assaulted. You might not know who, but I can guarantee you'll know at least one girl who's been a victim. More than that, with numbers that high, you also know someone who assaulted. And that's even more of a worry because contrary to the pervy mustache myth, you can't tell a sex offender just by looking at them. But, we live in a culture that blames victims of the most degrading of crimes and tells women it's their fault because they drank too much but it's not the perpetrator's fault because, what the hell, they were drunk/smart/are really sorry so does it even matter?

I don't want to live in a society that says that's okay. I don't want to be on my guard or have to walk home in groups and avoid certain parts of town. Except it's not even in a dark alley, you're more likely to get raped by someone you know anyway and hell, if you're showing any hint of cleavage you're obviously gagging for it anyway. I want my daughters to live in a world where if they say no because they're too tired, because they're not really feeling it, because they don't fancy him, because they're happy just kissing, because they don't even want to justify why not then their no won't be questioned and it will be respected. And, in the most awful circumstance where it's not, they're not branded frigid or told 'but you seemed into it at the club' or told anything that justifies what happened, but society instead embraces them and endeavors for it to not happen at all.

Because no way should this medieval crime be still happening at all in 2013, certainly not in such staggering numbers. As absolutely abhorrent as the Delhi gang rape was, we shouldn't need iron bars and the woman to die for us to be shocked. We should wince and recoil every time a story comes to light instead of feeding the disease of a misogynistic culture that only allows the most dramatic version of a crime to be something above a joke. We should allow survivors to feel supported, that their claims will be taken seriously and that they will be safe. I am done with this attitude, I am done with the lack of reportings, I am through with this.

If you've been equally angered by recent rape coverage by CNN or just generally pissed off by attitudes to rape then get in on this.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Too much doubt; I am Reggie Clemons.

Ever since I was about fourteen and learned that there were these amazing things called 'human rights' that I get to enjoy every day and some people don't, I've been a passionate supporter of the work of Amnesty International. Mostly however, my human rights interest was limited to signing petitions online, reading about when they were violated and occasionally sneaking in a cheeky blog post (cue exhibits a and b). However now I've entered the life of a student' and whilst I was being mobbed by too many clubs at once at the societies fayre I spotted the Amnesty International stand and joined the world of protests and petitioning.

Today we were protesting about a man in Missouri, USA called Reggie Clemons who was sentenced to death in 1991, personally I find this a strange concept; he's been on death row for longer than I've been alive which is surreal. The next few months could also determine whether or not he lives or dies, death is something that's been hanging over his head constantly for the past twenty years, a thought which is somewhat unnerving. Yet, whilst I am personally against the death penalty, this protest was about several key issues from when he was prosecuted. 

The biggest issue was that there was never any confirmed physical evidence to connect him to the crime, which I think speaks for itself.

When Clemons arrived in court for the first time, witnesses confirm that his face was swollen. He claims that he 'confessed' to rape after being beaten up by police, his face was in such a bad way that the judge sent him to the emergency room. Surely police thuggery shouldn't be acceptable in modern America? Clemons claims he felt like he was going to be battered to death by them and it's widely accepted that when you're being beaten up, you'll say anything.

Clemons' legal representation was pretty abismal, to the point that his lawyer was later suspended from practicing, his co-counsel had a full time job in a different state at the time she was supposed to be represented Clemons. A lawyer hired by his mother before the trial later commented that their predecessors had not done the necessary preparation beforehand.When he was first arrested (despite it being on the charge of double murder) his mother was even dissuaded from seeking legal advice by the police leaving him vulnerable at the very start of his case. 

The USA is infamous for the impact race has on the outcome of a court case, for example, although they only make up twelve percent of the general population, they make up forty two percent of those on death row. There have also been suggestions that black people were 'dis proportionally dismissed during jury selection', leading to a jury which was racially unrepresentative of the considerable black population in St Louis. 

Finally, there have been allegations of a'stacked' jury. Amnesty International said: 'In 2002, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Clemons’ death sentence should not stand because six prospective jurors had been improperly excluded  at jury selection.'

In all honesty? This isn't about ending the death penalty. Nor is it about Reggie Clemons being released, or even about whether or not he did The fact is that he has not had a fair trial, his human rights have been ignored and he's been treated by the justice system in a primitive manner that we all had America had grown out of. On that level, surely it's only right for him to have a retrial before he's punished. It seems ridiculous to me that someone could be executed on such tenuous grounds; if he's guilty of the heinous crime of rape and murder then let him have the appropriate punishment, but certainty is recquired before such a conclusion is reached and justice should be served all round.

for more information I found this fact sheet gave some pretty good background as well as this basic about page. YOU can get involved too by checking out the Amnesty International petition.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

9K? No way

Now, I know I've prattled on about the rise in tuition fees before and hey, it cheekily shot up a few months before I was set to start university myself so I think it I had every right to be annoyed and start escapades like this:

photo courtesy of the immensely talented Catherine Bialley

Anyhow, I have since started at the University of Sheffield and have been reading my own body weight in philosophy books (see if you can guess what I'm studying) and I absolutely love everything about it. I've wanted to go to university ever since I was knee high and I freely admit (how am I such a nerd?) that I loved every stage of my education. In particular A levels got me interested in philosophy and history at a level I'd never even thought about previously and I relished the challenge that they presented.

I've barely been at Sheffield but already, I've loved everything. I've loved the social aspect, I've made new friends (I know right, who'd have seen that one coming!), I've started climbing again and I've got involved with the love of my life/Amnesty International (more on this coming very soon). And, of course, the academic side is incredible. I absolutely love my course and the excuse to read about philosophy all the time and find out more about something which truly fascinates me is pretty much a dream come true. I even managed to throw in a couple of additional history modules so I get to learn about Europe from the Romans until today and our library not only has more books than I could even imagine to be possible in one place, but it also has showers.

So the idea of the trebling of fees (cheers once again for that one Cleggy <3) putting off potential students makes me really sad. The idea of so many talented people (young and old) put off attending university and the opportunities it brings because of the immense amount of debt it also brings is really a tragedy for us as a nation and such a waste of potential. Of course many people will go on to establish successful careers for themselves and will prosper without ever even entertaining the idea of attending university which is fair play and, some people were seeing university as a way of dossing about for another three years before starting out in the real world. But what about the people who were put off from even inquiring further?

University applications dropped by around 15, 000 this year, as fees were raised which scared the average person after being put forward by a man who had the finest education money could buy (here's looking at you Cameron). Thankfully, the NUS have not stopped fighting for educational equality, hence Demo 2012 a nation wide protest aimed at making the voices of students heard and forcing the government to listen.

Educate, Employ, Empower

You can find out more about the campaign on their official website here and check out the movement of #demo2012 on twitter.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Snow Leopards, female empowerment and clean water aka why can't I be you?

This summer, I was lucky enough to spend a large part of my ridiculously long (although still completely appreciated I can assure you!) abroad. I've been trekking through LaDakh, the mountainy bit of India, slap bang on the boarder with Tibet, Kashmir and Pakistan with the Girl Guides, it was the greatest thing I've ever participated in. I really didn't think I could fall in love with a country until India in India was a thing that happened, I knew it was somewhere I wanted to sped my forever in as soon as I stepped off the plane in Delhi airport, and it's given me fuel for a whole load of blog posts in the future, so stay tuned for that!

Our guide on the trip was one of those people, you know the sort. Who've done everything, they've achieved so much and just generally done so many good things you end up questioning your motives and everything you've ever done pales into nothing in comparison. I mean, once I got a double figures on a Facebook status versus him rescuing baby snow leopards trapped under buildings, there's no contesting who wins really... What makes matters worse is he was also the loveliest person ever, so you couldn't even hate him for it.

Anyway, I stole Khenraub Phutshog for a few minutes whilst we were all helping build a playground in Thiskey to quiz him about snow leopards, tourism and empowering local women.

me and the man himself, Leh, La Dakh

How long have you been doing your work for the environment?

I began to think about it ten/fifteen years ago.

Why do you think it's important to protect the snow leopard?

The snow leopard is at the top of the food chain; so it's important to protect them for LaDakh's ecological system. Control the snow leopard population and you continue the balance. This is why it's important.

And on a more personal level, why do you do it?

A big reason? They've never attacked a person!

Can you tell me about some of your projects?

In the more remote areas, the aim of walking there is heavily linked to the fact that younger generations migrate to the cities, first for their education and later on for their livelihoods. The cities are expanding and the villages are dying. 
So sustainable development is so important.
Eco tourism is important so that the people in the villages can get an income.

You're also involved in a number of restoration projects; what's the main purpose of this?
(He's helped restore a large amount of ancient Buddhist monuments)

The main idea behind the restoration project is that: people come to see the landscapes and the monuments. This saves their heritage and is interesting to many people.

As well as this, you're involved in the selling of something which is locally referred to as 'women's products' which empowers local women in ways that they weren't before. Please can you explain some more about that?

In the villages we get the women involved in empowering groups called 'self help' groups which help to give them some more independence. 
These include teaching the women handicrafts and skills such as knitting souvenirs  like the local wildlife (snow leopards, lynx, blue sheep) which can be sod to tourists, as well as items of clothing such as gloves and socks.
Otherwise, the women [who mostly work in agriculture during the summer] have nothing to do in the winter, so this makes use of their free time.
The products are then sold in community shops and tea shops, giving the women a cash income that otherwise would not be an option for them.

The Women's Groups also produced a variety of (incredibly delicious!) snacks which are sold in local tea shops.

What other issues are caused by tourism in the area, and how do you try and combat this?

Garbage is a real issue. There are many trekkers in the summer who bring stuff with them. So, afterwards, when they have all gone home, we collect it. A big issue is plastic bottles as they take up a lot of space very quickly, so transporting them out again is a real issue. The rubbish is then separated but, as there is no way of recycling garbage in Leh, it needs to be taken tight down before it can be properly disposed of. It's a real problem.

What is the main message you would give to tourists visiting LaDakh?

Tourists coming to La Dakh is very good for the economy, but they need to care about he impact of leaving their garbage in the campsite or village on the environment. You should try and take it home with you.

He's also involved in a local initiative that aims to provide free, clear drinking water from points such as this to minimize the waste made from  plastic bottles and the subsequent pollution.
pretty fancy eh?

Thank-you very much  Khenraub! :)

Friday, 17 August 2012


For all you fans of free speech out there, today has been a pretty rubbish day. Following months of being held without an actual conviction, three members of the Russian punk band 'Pussy Riot'  have been sentenced to two years in prison for the truly heinous crime of holding an anti-Putin protest concert. A ridiculously disproportionate punishment that, you'd surely think wouldn't happen anywhere in the world in 2012 and has lead to worldwide outcry. Blogs have been full of furious posts demanding the release of the band, Madonna and Paul McCartney have complained loudly about the oppression of artistic freedom and Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has been wearing his home made Pussy Riot t shirt to perform.

Of course, the real reason they've been shoved in a cell is because now they can't hold more concerts and if they're not holding concerts they're not making us think about how generally rubbish Putin is. Now, I'm not recommending some sort of violent revolution but, I'm pretty certain this was the kind of leadership that lead to the Tsar being overthrown. This suggests it's not a leadership style that's highly recommended...

Russia for a long time has been under scrutiny for multiple and consistent human rights abuses. Those involved in peaceful protests are regularly detained, high control over broadcasting and mass media and corruption in the law are all huge problems. And, like all long running issues it's gone off the radar a bit until Pussy Riot thrust it back under the spotlight in typical punk style.You'll all probably know that I'm not too big a fan of Cameron, but at least I know that I can blog saying that and I don't have to worry about being arrested for it.

What's happened is just so ridiculous, three locked up Draconian style and three in hiding from the authorities and for what? A concert.

For more information, you can read Amnesty International's Annual Report 2012 on the human rights situation in Russia here and an interview with the three members of Pussy Riot in hiding here.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The real losers of Euro 2012

As I type, it feels as if all eyes are firmly on the England football team as the hope to either draw or win with Ukraine so that they can qualify from group D (I think I've got that one right...?). Football, in my humble opinion, really brings everyone together, it's quite sweet really that we remain so optimistic. Every time there is an England game it feels as if the whole of the nation is sat there with their fingers crossed, full of hope that we have a chance of getting through. This faith in eleven men charging around after a ball is really lovely, I mean, how many people get that much belief in them after decades of not really winning much?

The old Eastern bloc rarely gets our attention, I mean, so we're all up for Euro 2012, but how often do we usually pay attention to things that happen over there? Last night, BBC4 forced viewers to pay attention to life in Ukraine in an exceptionally well made, if often disturbing documentary highlighting issues in their care system. 'Ukraine's Forgotten Children' shows the horrific treatment of children signed over to a state which fails to adequately support them. There are around 88,000 children who have been abandoned by their parents to institutions where malnourishment, abuse and general inadequate support is commonplace and every orphanage has a graveyard attached.

Even worse, is that this horrendous treatment of children is not limited to the Ukraine. Following the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, the last brutal leader of Communist Romania the plight of tens of thousands of institutionalized children shocked the world. The outlaw of abortion and birth control led to many families giving birth to children they simply could not support, they then entrusted them to a state system which was totally unequipped to care for them. Over crowding, lack of medical equipment, too few, poorly trained staff and primitive methods of dealing with special needs children are shocking and it is not surprise that their de-institutionalization is a condition that must be met before Romania is allowed to join the EU.

Although not fast enough, there is a decline in the number of children trapped in the Romanian care system, yet according to UNICEF, the amount of institutionalized children in Ukraine has doubled in the past decade. This is in the country which has splashed out nine billion pounds on improving infrastructure in preparation for co hosting Euro 2012, but this was spent in the major cities and thus putting those already at the bottom in an even worst position.

It's at times graphic and uncomfortable to watch, but I would definitely recommend that in between the all important football matches, everyone has a glance at this.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Eurovision, more than a song contest?

I like to think I'm funky, hip or at the very least, a little fresh. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that I hate Eurovision, all that it stands for and definitely do not watch it every year with subtitles so I can really understand what each country is trying to tell me.

But oh God, it is so good! Think about it, where would we be without ABBA? Or what cheesy party playlist is complete without Bucks Fizz 'Making your mind up' or musical birthday card without Cliff's 'Congratulations'. Furthermore, whilst politically explicit lyrics are actually banned from the contest, its history can almost be read as a politics history of Europe and international relations. Eurovision played a key role in the cultural battles of the Cold War as the western countries showed the Eastern Bloc how much better their music was, those who lived near the wall risked their jobs to watch the song contest in secret despite the poor quality of reception (as Russia attempted to block signal from Western television channels). If you're prepared to risk so much for something, surely it's justified by its importance? Arguably, Eurovision is important, it brings the whole of Europe together, it made everyone think about the children being killed in the Bosnia in 1993 and when it was held in Ireland in 1994 Riverdance was invented (seriously, who doesn't wish they could move their feet like that?).

This year it seemed like everyone was talking about the Russia's Grannys even more than they lusted over Germanys Lenas legs in 2010. Naturally England tried their best but didn't quite make the grade (here's looking at you Engelbert Humperdinck) and it was back to the Grannys. But there was something far more important going on behind the scenes of Eurovision 2012 that was easily forgotten masked by sequins and smoke machines.

Azerbaijan, it turns out, still thinks that 'prisoners of conscience' is an actual thing that can be justified and arrest people who protest against a government whose authorities intimidate, blackmail and attack journalists who reported the evictions whole neigbourhoods in order for the Eurovision stadium to be built at all.  Its press is classed as 'not free' and even it's internet access is only 'partially free' and it is yet to hold an election which can be described as wholly free and fair.

State-authorized violence, illegal evictions and political prisoners have, in my opinion, no place in the modern Europe. Morally, I felt like I was obliged to boycott the Eurovision song contest this year and for the first time, we did not all sit as a family and dance to Europop. It was an incredibly sad day I can assure you and I hope to never go without Eurovision again, but I think it's on a par with the sporting boycott of South Africa during the apartheid. Surely, by accepting Azerbaijan and letting it partake in such events and even letting it host them, but ignoring their human rights record, we're saying it's OK?

I don't think it's OK at all, do you?

If you agree with me and think we should stand up for what is right you can make your voice heard here.