Archive for the 'Activism' Category

3 leaders of Haitian women’s movement killed in the earthquake

Myriam Merlet was one of three leading activists in the Haitian women's movement who died, a victim of the earthquake.Watching the news coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti I have experienced something of a horror overload. The endless images of anguished people searching for relatives, bodies piled in mass graves, child amputees in hospital beds crying out in pain, desperate people fighting over water… it has on a few occasions hit my compassion response so hard it kind of short circuited, leaving me feeling not much at all.

It’s the fact that every single life that has been lost or scarred is a world full of pain for that person and their family and there are just so many such lives affected. And when I heard of the deaths of 3 inspiring women’s movement activists it struck a particular chord. Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Ann Marie Coriolan were women with every chance to escape the daily struggle of life in Haiti for more affluent shores but each of them had a deep sense of their identity as Haitian women and a vision to improve life for all women in the place they chose to call home. Between them they had already managed to improve advocacy for women, tell women’s stories through media campaigns and research, empower women to expect more from their legal system in cases of gender-based violence and reform rape law in a country where before 2005 rape was largely dismissed as a ‘crime of passion’. I was struck by this quote from Coriolan’s daughter:

“She loved her country. She never stopped believing in Haiti. She said that when you have a dream you have to fight for it,” Wani said. “She wanted women to have equal rights. She wanted women to hold their heads high.”

Read the whole article at here:


Do something to help prevent rape in your community.

Here’s the context: rape and sexual violence is a problem. Men and women both experience it, however the most recent stats from the Northern Ireland Crime Survey show that twice as many women as men report having been attacked in this way. The figure is 1/4 of all women who took part in the survey, which is consistent with stats from similar surveys in the UK and USA.

Rape prevention strategies tend to focus on telling women to be more vigilant against attacks by watching how much they drink and not going off with strangers etc. This is partly shaped by the reality of the need to be aware of your personal safety but is unfortunately heavily influenced by a deep rooted belief that women who are raped when drunk or flirting with men are partly to blame. This is seen at all levels of the process involved in dealing with rape from men who assume the right to take advantage of a woman who isn’t able to protest or defend herself, to police officers who do not investigate these rapes consistent with how other violent crimes are investigated, to lawyers, jurors and judges who turn courts into circuses where women endure character assassination, humiliation and judgement if they haven’t behaved like the perfect victim should.

It’s a mess. It is a system that is failing women so terribly that finally the UK govt has had to call an independent review in the shape of the Stern Review to find out where it has gone so badly wrong. It is often messy for men too; any man who has ever been falsely accused of rape will have suffered all the same frustration, pain and trauma as the women who are raped and not believed. Except that those women are dealing with that while also trying to heal from a devastating sexual assault. It’s an issue that divides men and women who choose to see only one set of injustices. I would be incensed if either happened to someone I loved but I make no apology for the fact that my priority is challenging the deep sexism that makes it so difficult for women who have been raped to see their attackers brought to justice. Reporting rates for rape stand at around 27% according to the NICS stats, conviction rates in the UK as a whole are worse than they were in the 1970s and the public are still not convinced that all women have the right to prosecute men who mistakenly believe they have a right to sex with or without consent.

Here’s the plan: All of this mess just described means that what passes for rape prevention is extremely inadequate, sexist and only serves to reinforce the idea that a drunk/provocative/flirtatious woman is a victim of her own bad/stupid behaviour. Flyers that warn women of stranger danger and have nothing to say to men to challenge their own attitudes not only let men off the hook but ignore the fact that over 80% of serious sexual assaults are not carried out by strangers but rather by someone the victim knows. A partner or ex, a date, friend of a friend, a bloke they’ve been drinking with who seems like a pretty good guy… There are numerous ways that women might find themselves in the company of someone who goes on to rape them but the common demoninator is this: it’s never their own fault. It is the fault of the person doing the raping and that is where truly effective rape prevention strategies need to focus.

So having written to the DHSSPS to ask them to consider this possibility and gotten a dismissive response, the next step seems to be to give it a go ourselves. The flyer below is one that we’ve created and hope to distribute as widely as possible by leaving it in pubs/clubs/cafes/gyms… It’s pretty simple, its message hasn’t been focus-grouped or signed off by the soisaytoher public policy department but it seems to make sense. Please print as many as you can, take them with you when you’re out and about and leave a few behind when you go. I’d recommend printing 4 to a page so they’re postcard size. And I’m going to print mine on red paper.

We haven’t abandoned the idea of a collective flyering expedition but having discussed it with a few peeps it seems it will be easier to do it on a saturday night sometime in the new year. Maybe the one after January pay day so we can make a proper night of it! I’ll create an event on Facebook so email me if you’re not on there but would like to be kept in the loop.

And please post any interesting experiences you have while distributing flyers in the comments section below!

Many thanks to Stu who designed this. Clicking on the image should open the full size jpg in another window.

Armchair activism is all very well but…

… if something is worth saying then it’s worth saying to the people who need to hear it.

If you’ve been checking in here at soisaystoher on any kind of semi-regular basis then you’ll have gathered I’m particularly interested in talking about the deeply ingrained sexism in the attitude that women who have been drinking alcohol are in some way responsible for their own rape. I don’t wish to oversimplify an exploration of how men and women keep themselves safe when they’re out and drinking to a point where their ability to make decisions that are in their best interests could be compromised. For example I like the Belfast City Council’s ‘Get Home Safe’ campaign as it isn’t gender specific and it deals with the range of risks that exist when you’re not attending to your personal safety. However, a man forcing sex on a woman where she feels threatened/ he is overpowering her/ she is not physically able to express her ‘NO’ or fight him off because she’s on the verge of passing out, constitutes rape. This is something that I know, I’m assuming you know, the law is very clear about, but unfortunately not everyone who is currently out in Belfast city centre on their 8th pint of the night as they try to survive the annual Chrismas work do, is fully aware of.

Not only is the law clear that a woman who is drunk should not be considered fair game or someone to be taken advantage of but also that men who force sex because they are drunk should not be treated any differently than sober rapists. It’s encouraging to know that in response to the obvious failings in the reporting and conviction rates in rape cases in the UK, the government has commissioned an independent review to figure out how everyone involved in that process is getting it so terribly wrong for women. Today the Guardian reported that the review, headed by Lady Stern, has plenty to say about the use of alcohol in rape cases, both to discredit female victims and excuse male perpetrators. It makes for hopeful reading.

Here’s the thing. I’m getting a little frustrated with just spouting off online and am absolutely itching to DO something to help bring these important developments right to the frontline. With another rape in East Belfast at the weekend a couple of hundred yards from my house I’m more aware than ever that we have a responsibility to take action.

So what I’m proposing is this: a night of flyering in Belfast. Hitting the pubs around Botanic and Shaftsbury Square and taking the message that no Christmas night out should end with rape and the responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen lies with the blokes. We can tell women to watch their backs till the cows come home but it won’t change the fact that there are men out there who believe they are entitled to sex with or without consent. I was reading this horrific story today about a school in California where an 8th grader pinned a 7th grader up against a wall in the stairway and raped her while other students were all around. Thankfully, in this case, some of them intervened and others went to get help. I noticed this quote from the local police:

El Cerrito police Chief Scott Kirkland said. “It is interesting, the criminal mind. When a situation like this occurs, to actually do something like this … you have to be a little sick.”

and I thought, ‘see, this is why they don’t quite get it.’ Because the problem is you don’t have to be ‘sick’ to rape somebody, you just have to have an inherent belief that you have more of a right to use their body and sexuality than they have to deny you. And the justifications that perfectly unsick men can find to tilt that balance in their favour include things as innocuous as the amount of legs and boob she was showing, the way she was dancing, the fact that she snogged you in the club and let you have a grope, her willingness to let you buy her drinks all night or the fact that she’s probably too drunk to really put up much of a fight. None of which equate to consent but are often taken to mean as much.

I have 2 flyers in mind, the first being the one produced by NIO which clearly outlines the legal definition of consent and the changes to the law which mean a man has to prove consent was obtained. This is the one I enquired about getting copies of but couldn’t so I’m going to get a bunch printed up. If you think this is a message worth getting out in the public domain please think about doing the same. Secondly, I’m putting together a short postcard sized flyer that will say the following:

“She’s clearly up for it dressed like that.”

“She’s been drinking with me all night and now she’s inviting me back to her’s.”

“She’s so drunk she won’t even remember this in the morning.”

None of these mean she’s consenting to sex.

“ A person consents if she/he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” Sexual Offences Order, Article 3

Forcing sex on someone who doesn’t want it is rape. Taking advantage of someone is a crime that you’ll have to wake up to the morning after.

Any feedback? I’m designing it at the minute so am very open to suggestions.

I’ll post more details on when the first Soisaystoher Night of Action will occur. Please let me know if you’d like to join in and we’ll work on getting a night that suits most people.

I’m not proposing we go up to randomers and put flyers in their hands – more just wander round the pubs and distribute them around tables, toilets and the like. And maybe have a drink or two while we’re at it. If you need any encouragement I’ll leave you with this: When I was waiting for my slot on Seven Days on Radio Ulster to begin on Sunday, one of the other panelists asked me with a grin “So are you a balanced feminist or a stir-it feminist?” to which I replied “Well, I don’t think feminism would exist if there wasn’t something that needed stirring.”

White Ribbon Day

That’s today, November 25th, and I know I’ve been over-blogging in the last 24 hours but I couldn’t let this one pass. I think the End Violence Against Women campaign, which today is a part of, needs to be recognised.

You can read about the UK branch of the global EVAW campaign here and follow their blog here. The main function of this coalition of women’s organisations and individuals is lobbying, putting pressure on our national government to act on their duties to eliminate violence against women. There is a Northern Ireland EVAW lobby which seems to be made up of professional women’s sector women using their roles to bring the mandate of mainstreaming policy on violence against women right to the door of Stormont. This piece of work has been the most significant by the group so far:

Making the Grade? (2007)

The document is described as “An independent analysis of Northern Ireland Government initiatives on violence against women.” In line with a similar study in England and Wales, the paper outlines the scored given to all of our government departments based on their responses to a questionnaire probing their department’s action on violence against women in line with the UK’s duties under the Beijing Convention. Across all Stormont departments the overall score was a dismal 1 out of 10 so lots to be done there. It also draws attention to the shortcomings of current NI policy and strategy on these issues and the distorted lens which does not match up with the approach of the United Nations.

The current approach to violence against women in Northern Ireland

Legal and policy developments have focused largely on domestic violence. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) oversees the implementation of Tackling Violence At Home, thecurrent strategy for addressing domestic violence. It has also consulted on a strategy to tackle sexual violence, Hidden Crimes, Secret Pain, and established sub-groups which are currently working on action plans in respect of it.

However, these strategies fail to make the connection between violence against women and women’s inequality. The United Nations defines violence against women as a form of discrimination. Any analysis of VAW must be informed by an understanding of the power and privilege held by men over women; and that the vast majority of gender-based violence sustained by women is committed by men, especially men that they know. Given these facts, it is impossible to address violence against women effectively within a gender-neutral framework.”

White Ribbon Day is an international awareness raising day, a chance to reflect on what all of us are doing to address violence against women in our own lives and communities. It actually marks the beginning of 16 days of action, ending on International Human Rights Day on December 10th. All over the world women’s groups are engaging in vigils, petitioning, protest and informing. It makes me wonder what we could be doing here.

Given our goverment’s poor track record in understanding, nevermind tackling the issue of violence against women, there must be more we can all do to push this further up the priority lists of those representatives looking for our votes. First thing I’m going to do tomorrow is go to The Spinning Wheel and get my hands on some white ribbon. Then I’m going to fold it over, pin it to my jacket and hope that someone asks me what it’s for. I’m also going to commit to reading about this issue from as many sources as I can get my hands on. From facts and figures to heart-breaking testimony, becoming informed is in itself an expression of activism. I’ll tweet something everyday until the 16 days are up. And, most importantly, I’ll contact some people I know whose names are on the EVAW Northern Ireland group and I’ll start finding out how a wider campaign group of people writing and demanding and holding MLAs to account might be able to help their work.

Anyone else got additional ideas? Any Women’s Aid Staff know of opportunities for activism over these next couple of weeks?

Here’s some reading to get us all started:

Endorsement from Ban-ki Moon and some shocking global stats.

A history of the 16 days of Action.

Today saw the launch of a new strategy by the British govt.

White House press statement from VP Biden. Chances of us ever having something like this?

The White Ribbon Campaign, run by men to encourage men to commit to having no part in violence against women

More frightening revelations about discrimination faced by women who report rape.

Important insight into how our legacy of violence in NI has impacted on sexual violence from Rape Crisis Belfast.

And if you’re tired of reading, listen to the debate in today’s Women’s Hour on Radio 4.

As I finish this post I just heard this on Channel 4 news: “All children will be taught in school about domestic violence and gender equality.” That’s great to hear. Shame it was followed by an interview with some teenaged boys whose assessment was that women stay with violent men because they have low self esteem and it’s hard to respect women when they run around with “tits hanging out.” Great joined up thinking there then. People, we have work to do.

Congratulations Dawn Purvis!

After yesterday’s slightly dark look at the failure of our devolved government to have half a clue about pretty much anything that matters, especially that which matters to women, it only seems right that I acknowledge one particular winner at the Slugger Awards last night.

Dawn Purvis scooped MLA of the year, nominated by Slugger readers and named victorious by a panel of journos, bloggers and general PR-y type people. I’m delighted she not only won but also received the biggest cheer of the night from the assembled crowd in the Black Box. As one of her East Belfast constituents it’s always a source of pride to be represented by someone who doesn’t play the sectarian game and has a genuine desire to do the best with what we’ve got and try to build a vision for a peaceful and progressive Northern Ireland. Importantly for women, she is one of the most openly feminist MLAs and has risked her support base, her seat and even her party leadership to advocate for the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

In Dawn we have a female representative who believes in women and understands that equality has to be fought for. At the same time she also understands the nuances of the NI political arena, tries not to alienate those who disagree but stands up for what she believes when a principle is on the line. When she spoke to defend the party’s position on reproductive rights after it was challenged in a debate at the party conference in October, she gave a passionate defence of this policy as core to their priniciples of social justice and equality for all. I was almost bursting with pride and hope as party members voted with her.

Dawn is not the only reason to be cheerful when it comes to female representation. Anna Lo is the only other openly pro-choice MLA, again placing her passion for women’s rights above the temptation to not rock the boat. As our only MLA from an ethnic minority community she has overcome a double barrier to achieve the support of her constituents and have a voice for some of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland. Barbara de Bruin is an excellent advocate for women’s rights in Europe and as an MEP has used her role to help push forward the kind of social policy we seem to be a bit slow to wake up to over here. And I was gutted when I heard of Carmel Hanna‘s plans to leave the Assembly as she has been an inspiring female politician who, along with Anna, has been really active on the issues of sex trafficking and sexual violence that have plagued South Belfast in recent years.

So there you have it. Those women are out there representing us. They need us to engage with them, to speak up when decisions affects us, to hold them to account. to congratulate them when they do us proud. And maybe eventually, some more of us will join them…

Women in the news: an eventful day

Listening to the news today, I am struck by how many stories are about women. Some are cause for great celebration, others are heart-breaking. The fact that there are such an unusually high number made me want to post a quick overview, by way of showing the breadth, complexity and diversity of women’s experiences. In a country where men and their actions tend to dominate the news I wanted to make note of a day where that is not the case.

Starting on a celebratory note, a joint campaign led by Eaves and Object lobbying the House of Lords to make it illegal for punters to purchase the services of exploited sex workers has proved successful. More info at the Demand Change Website


There are other important campaigns going on this week at Westminster that are worth knowing about. Amnesty International are leading a mass lobby to challenge the “No recourse to public funds” policy which means some women are not able to gain access to specialist services or a refuge should they become victims of violence. Read more at here.


Also, peers are currently considering another clause in the policing and crime bill, this time one which will change the lisencing conditions of lap dancing clubs, naming them as “sex encounter venues”. Object have been leading a lobbying campaign. More here.


If you’ve been listening to Radio Ulster today you can’t have missed the story about the Irish Supreme Court’s decision to allow Portmarnock golf club near Dublin to ban women. I was impressed by the impassioned arguments of the women commenting on it on said local radio station who effortlessly showed up the opposing commenters for the arrogant little boys that they were. More here.


I was upset to read about a horrific rape that took place at the weekend, when a 36 year old man held a 15 year old girl and committed at least 4 different sexual assaults against her. I feel for her as she faces the beginning of her fight for justice in a legal system which is not famous for it’s treatment of girls and women in her position. More from BBC here.


It is encouraging to see someone with a bit of power speak out about the failings of the police when it comes to properly investigating rape and taking women’s experiences seriously. The police ombudsman has recommended disciplinary action to be taken against 4 police officers in Derry for this horrendous fuck up.


The ongoing inquest into the deaths of a mother and her 9 year old daughter in Carryduff highlight failings on the part of the health trusts responsible for treating her and reminded me of the difficulties many women face in getting adequate mental health care here.

Who makes the news: Fancy being involved in The Global Media Monitoring Project?

In the coming weeks groups of people in over 110 countries will gather all the news materials produced over the course of a day and analyse each story in order to understand how women are presented in the news. We will record television and radio news broadcasts produced in Northern Ireland as well as looking at the main newspapers containing local news. For each story that features a female we will be asking how she is presented – victim, hero, villain, eye candy? Does the story perpetuate gender stereotypes or actively challenge them? How is the woman defined in the story – her occupation, family role, age, race, hair colour?

There are so many messages we can miss about how women are perceived in our news media that subtly shape the backdrop against which we are expected to live and work. A project like the Global Media Monitoring Project not only allows us to illuminate the underlying sexism in our own wee country but also gives us the opportunity to make a valid, meaningful comparison against the other countries taking part.

I’ve signed up to be coordinator for Northern Ireland and so far both @mrtumnus and @amybat have volunteered to be involved. But we’re going to need more help. If you’re interested in getting involved we still need people to help complete the analysis which involves filling in coding sheets with data from each story. We will be arranging dates to work on this together sometime later in the month and would love more hands on deck.

If you can help with this job please comment below and I’ll get in touch.


Previous posts

Tweet Us.