Archive for February 2013

Emperor’s New Clothes

18/02/2013

  Julia Hobsbawm was one of four judges for the ‘Speaking Together’ Media Award which is part of the Migrant and Refugee Woman of the Year award celebration at the Royal Festival Hall in London on International Women’s Day on March 8th 2013. She links London Fashion Week with the way asylum seekers are treated in the UK.

JHobsbawn

Do you dress well? I try to. It’s London Fashion Week and the whole of the UK media celebrates fashion as an economic driver and determinant of British individuality. The Prime Minister’s wife always supports the men and women of fashion because it is ‘in’ to stand out and equates with our most treasured democratic value of freedom.

We are all clothed in labels and not just on our backs. Who we are as individuals in society, and what makes us stand out is language too – “I am a mother” or “I am a doctor”.  Immediately we associate status and bring opinion to bear on the clothes of identity.

So we all strive to stand out. Social media has made peacocks of us all, from Government to Vogue, from celebrities to nonentities, we all tweet and preen and strut our identity around.

Well, except some. If you are a person arriving here seeking asylum then, well, you don’t stand out at all. You might as well not exist. Try saying “I am an Asylum Seeker” the next time someone turns to you at a conference or a dinner party and asks, appraising your clothes, hair or husband “what do you do”?

The answer, if you seek asylum, is nothing. You might in fact have worked in recruitment or law or engineering or media in your own country. A country which might even be celebrated in a Hollywood movie your dining companions would see and enjoy. But now you are not a name, you are a number. And no-one wants to know you.

But you might be locked up anyway in a detention centre. And if not, locked out. Locked out of any kind of system that allows you to work, to contribute or to live. To seek asylum in Britain is to exchange whatever identity you once had for the cloth of opprobrium, suspicion, and destitution.

My heart, I should say, does not bleed liberally or blindly. I do not believe the UK can or should let unlimited numbers of migrants,  émigrés or even asylum seekers in. I do not believe that having large numbers of pressure on particular communities or community services is without stress or social consequence.

But I do believe this: the British cloth themselves in a fantasy suit of kindness, of compassion, and of political management which is revealed as naked as the Emperor’s New Clothes when it comes to doing the right thing: treating refugees with respect and as names, not numbers.

We weasel around international law protecting the right of people seeking asylum to enter the UK, but envelop most in a cloak of disbelief when they do. We then, literally, bundle them out on planes at the earliest opportunity, unless the handful of men and women who report stories turn a spotlight on what is happening.

No, Asylum Seekers and refugees are definitely not in fashion. But thanks to awards like the ‘Speaking Together’ Media Award for which I was a judge , a spotlight is thrown, albeit briefly, on a catwalk. A catwalk of shameful behaviour by a nation which pretends it is wearing silken threads of distinction.

www.juliahobsbawm.com

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Why we are rising

12/02/2013

Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, explains why women are coming together on 14 February to demand an end to violence

Women aged 15-44  are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Whether we look at violence in the home, at work, or on the streets, women across our world face a multitude of daily threats simply to stay alive. The focus on individual cases can give the impression such horrific events are terrible exceptions, rather than the everyday in every nation. Here in Britain 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence, fewer than one in thirty rape victims can expect to see their attacker brought to justice and 24,000 girls are at risk of female genital mutilation.

One Billion Rising is an international coalition brought together by the vision of Eve Ensler, the creator of the Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day. It is a global movement that calls for violence against women and girls to be a priority for all Governments. I believe that this international solidarity is vital if we are to create change.

Women are now coming together across borders and across cultures. From Norwich to Peru, through ButeManila and Luxembourg via San FranciscoNigeria and Tel Aviv, activists are organising flashmobs and performances – and they are  seeking policy changes that speak to our simple message.

What is that message? Enough. We will not wait any longer for change. It is time. Time to say violence against women and girls isn’t an inevitable fact of life. Whether in Indiathe CongoOhio or Battersea, we can’t survive, let alone thrive, in a world where 50% of our population is subject to such persistent brutality and horror. It is time not to ignore but to challenge those who make this issue the responsibility of women to resolve. It is time to say that it is for everyone to have a zero tolerance approach to violence against women. Time to say is not a matter of gender to care about these issues, but a matter of principle.

One Billion Rising is not the end, but the beginning of a worldwide call for change. By rising together on 14 February we can show our support  for those in other countries and show our desire for change in our own country. Here in Britain you can be part of this day of action by asking your MP to vote in parliament for sex and relationship education to be a statutory part of the school curriculum so that both boys and girls can be taught about respect for each other. Many have rightly held politicians to account for not recognising the value of this in helping change these patterns of behaviour in future generations.

It’s not only MPs who can lead the way in tackling violence against women and girls. Whether you join one of the 100 events being planned across the UK or decide to organise one yourself. Whether you come to London on the day to join the flashmobs and performances and lobby your MP. Be part of the rising. Be part of saying enough. It is time.

A version of this article appeared in the Huffington Post. Follow @stellacreasy on Twitter