Categories
activism Hastings media Politics

What is a safe country?

Our politicians are talking about safe countries. They say refugees need to claim asylum in the “first safe country” they reach. In today’s news, we’re told that the UK and the Netherlands have agreed that refugees arriving here need to be “returned” to the “first safe country.”

Screenshot of MSN article,, header pic shows beach-art message 'safe routes now'
link to article

Sounds logical doesn’t it? But who decides what is safe, and how? Or is the very idea of “first safe country” yet another convenient myth, some words to say in parliament? I think this is likely, firstly because the problems that are creating the tide of refugees across the world are enormous – wars created by the arms industry, climate crises created by a generation of destructive industries, and unstable, unsafe regimes created by lousy politicians, mostly propped up by the USA, who don’t like to see other countries running independently of US hegemony.

It could not be more obvious that we have no politicians in our own current government with the intention or the ability to solve problems that big, so jockeying with other countries to try and prove refugees should go somewhere other than here is likely to be the best they will attempt.

In fact, according to France, our politicians are so bad it’s not worth talking to them at all. Macron is apparently annoyed with Johnson for tweeting one thing when he’s just said another, and although it’s possible he’s making a fuss, all our experience of Johnson suggests that when Macron says there’s no point in trying to work with him, it’s likely to be true.

We need a proper government, managed by professionals.

Our Home Secretary is making the refugee situation a crime issue, and thinks the answer is “tackling the criminal gangs” who arrange channel crossings – an absolutely standard Tory response that amounts to treating the symptoms. No-one would be paying strangers to organise stupid little boats if there was an official, safe route available.

Our so-called opposition has at least managed to point out that there needs to be a safe passage.

Michael Rosen tweeted the other day about the masses and masses of displaced people who were on the move after the Second World War, about how the UK had refugee camps all over the country then about how, despite being broke and all but broken by the war, we assimilated many of those refugees and organised passage to places they could live for many more. When you have a proper government, you can do things like that. Like any other project a government runs, such an endeavour builds bonds, creates work, and generally becomes a part of the life of a healthy country.

My second reason for not believing in the “first safe country” idea is that I have seen a stark example of how this works in reality.

An example of a ‘first safe country’

I went to the FiLiA women’s conference in October and in one of the plenary sessions, we all joined a zoom with some women in a refugee camp in Kakuma. It was a devastatingly emotional experience. Most of the women we spoke to were lesbians, and had been put in a ‘special’ area in the camp, because they were in a place where LGBT people were seen as something strange, something to put ‘outside’ the ‘normal’ area. There had been attacks, there had been rapes, there had been tents set on fire. One woman’s baby had been killed.

The women were terrified, and tearful, and had no idea how they could get away from that camp to a place where they would actually be safe. Most of them had no money, and those who did found that traders would not take ‘dirty’ money from gay people. Some had tried to escape from the camp, only to be attacked by security forces and dragged back. They had run away from a country where LGBT people were not safe, and been trapped in a place that was as bad, if not worse.

When I realised what the zoom was about, I worried at first that this would be some terrible spectator drama, but it wasn’t. The women had wanted to do the link-up because of the way news and politics works, because people who are known, people who have names and faces and voices, people who are in communication with others around the world, are harder to kill. I’m writing this blog post because I saw those women, they spoke to me, and I will never forget them.

We know about those women, Ms Patel. We have heard about “first safe countries”, Mr Johnson. We don’t believe you, we don’t trust you, and we require that you participate in #safepassage arrangements for refugees.

If you would like to help the Kakuma women, please visit the FiLiA website here.

Joanna Cherry has written to Priti Patel – one of the outcomes of that zoom…

Header from Nationa Scot article "Joanna Cherry: Priti Patel must help the women from the nation her parents left
Cherry’s column in the National Scot

We need to make more contacts with refugees, whether they are here or in camps elsewhere, find out more about them, and the issues that drove them from home, and then we need to educate our government.

Categories
activism Politics prejudice women

To the person handing out leaflets outside FiLiA in Portsmouth

Was it the ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach? The kiddies filled the square with obscenities and threats while you did nice and polite leafletting by the conference entrance? Well, maybe you really did mean well and had no idea what they were doing so just in case that is so, here’s a polite reply to the points made in your politely offered leaflet.

You say: “The Truth about GRA Reform for Trans Women”

Firstly, you cannot possibly say what’s right or wrong about reforming the GRA unless you stipulate what reforms you are talking about – there are lots of people suggesting lots of reforms, some good, some not so good, some disastrous for women.

You’d have to give more detail – but I do wonder – do you have any opinions about what trans MEN want and need, or are you one of those who mysteriously only care about trans women? Anyway, regarding the statements you listed about this unspecified reform…

Reverse of leaflet. Points listed are included as headings in the blog post

You say: “Trans women have always used women’s facilities”

You know, the toilets and changing rooms question is not the soul and centre of this, nor did I hear it mentioned even once during the FiLiA weekend. They are the issues the media tend to focus on, so I suppose you think that’s what the average feminist is concerned about. There are laws about toilet and changing room *provision* but in many places – including all private and commercial venues, the rules are up to the proprietor, not a matter for law. Use of women’s facilities is becoming a problem because identifying as this or that is such a trend in recent years that the number and variety of people claiming the right to use women’s facilities is increasing unpredictably. You cannot possibly know where or how this is safe for women, because no-one does.

What concerns us more about the facilities situation is that the demands of trans activists are increasingly making it impossible for parents, guardians and facility managers to operate elementary safeguarding, which relies on women feeling free to call for help if anything concerns them. What made the now notorious wi spa incident so alarming was that a woman who was quite rightly going for help because her daughter had encountered a predatory man was responded to with accusation of transphobia, rather than prompt assistance.

You say: “Most shelters in the UK accept trans women”

We know that and, in many cases, they are right to do so. Most shelters have special facilities, or can direct people to other facilities when it is necessary to apply the Equalities Act exemption for women who need to be in female only company/spaces but, as in the point above, it is getting increasingly hard for refuge and crisis centres to use their best judgement on this, due to bullying and threats of de-funding from trans activists and those who respond to their demands.

You say: “The prison system makes its own determination on a case by case basis”

Are you aware (most commentators don’t seem to be) that this does not mean person by person? The authorities have severe trouble making the law as it stands at the moment work in line with the safety and rights of women. They often depend on waiting to see if women get attacked before they can deal with problem people. This is not fair on women, and has added to the appalling state of fear and tension in women’s prisons. Here’s a snip from a recent judge’s report confirming that sorry state of affairs, and a snip of the relevant bit…

"...A history of sexual offending is an indicator of risk of future sexual offending; and women are more likely than men to be the victims of sexual offending. The evidence therefore supports the existence of a prejudicial effect on women if transgender prisoners in the male estate are transferred into the female estate."
excerpt from the report linked to above

You say: “Individual sporting organisations make their own regulations”

We know this, and current guidelines in the UK state that those organisations should ‘strike a balance’ between fairness and safety on the one hand, and inclusion on the other – that is, women’s sports organisations should try to make their fixtures fair and safe for women *sometimes*. I think that’s pretty appalling, don’t you?

You say of altered birth certificates, “the change is not retrospective”

How can you possibly know that? You don’t know whose reforms will be heard and passed, or what arrangements about birth certificates they might produce. You do realise, don’t you, that the accurate recording of the number and whereabouts of males, females and trans identified people in our country is an essential for all of us, if the government is to plan for and provide the care we each need?

And finally, you say “allow trans women to get married and die with dignity”

That sounds to me as though you are one of the many people who has misunderstood the notion of ‘spousal veto’. A lot of people have got the idea that a person’s spouse can veto their transitioning. That is not true. What the current law does is allow a spouse to veto their partner transitioning *without voiding their marriage*. That safeguard is necessary because some religions and cultures still forbid same-sex marriage. Now, whilst I would agree that that is a backward attitude, I can see that it *is* unfair to shunt a religious person into a same-sex marriage without their permission, can’t you?

As for needing a Gender Recognition Certificate to die with dignity, what on earth do you mean? I thought trans activists wanted to scrap those certificates. Anyway, I’m afraid I can’t comment on that as I don’t get the point. Perhaps someone could explain in the comments.

What feminist activists actually do

So, your leaflet might change minds somewhere if people don’t really know the law, but most of the women at FiLiA are experienced activists, with their minds on tackling the problems women face in the light of war, the climate crisis, rape and porn culture, sexist obstruction of women’s careers and education, and a hundred and one other issues. That means most of the delegates would know the law as it applies to women far better than you seem to and anyway, are fed up of the assumption that we want to think about GRA reform all the time, and/or that we are worrying over nothing.

It’s also highly unlikely such women would give credence to leafleteers who work as part of an event like this …

A selection of the obscene and abusive placards and pavement chalkings around the Guildhall. Sorry, I am not going to reproduce them in detail.
Protestors in front of Portsmouth Guildhall during FiLiA conference weekend.

The real tragedy though, is the things that didn’t happen in Portsmouth, due to misguided objections to FiLiA.

Categories
activism Book reviews book shops Politics Uncategorized women

Really useful feminism

Why we should all read Julie Bindel’s new book

I’ve been wondering why feminism grabbed me so much the second time I looked, but not the first.

I remember feminism going on around me when I was a teenager. I had a vague idea it involved a lot of arguments about whether you should shave your legs or not. A couple of decades later, my daughter told me she’d had the impression for years that she couldn’t be a feminist because she likes dressing up, cooking and being a mum.

In the 70s, I couldn’t do feminism because I didn’t like dungarees. In the 80s, I couldn’t afford the ‘power dressing’ and then in latter years, I thought I couldn’t be a feminist because my partner was a bloke, and because the ‘feminists’ I saw on telly all seemed to spend their time making pointlessly rude and embarrassingly flirtatious swipes at men. And anyway, those somewhat boring organisations like the Fawcett Society and Labour Women’s Network were constantly bashing on about whether female execs in London were earning enough tens of thousands more than me, yet.

And then Stonewall tried to get women’s legal rights repealed. A new kind of women’s campaign (new to me) came along. I was so angry, so involved, and so excited, talking to so many great women, helping to put together ideas for the Women’s Place UK manifesto, getting involved with the Women’s Liberation Conference, and to top it all, I’d discovered FiLiA, with its glorious weekend every year of women singing, women cooking, women dancing, running businesses, making friends, building communities and doing politics, women escaping and traveling the world as fugitives, then coming together at last, singing, cooking, dancing, making friends, running businesses, building communities and doing politics.

People ask why women get so ‘obsessed’ with the sex based rights campaign, why we never ‘come down off it’. Well you know, there’s more to it than that. For those of us who were relatively new to feminism, the women we met on the way told us about real feminism, and Woman’s Place, and all the other organisations the benighted like to call ‘anti-trans hate groups’ set women’s worlds on fire. It’s VERY exciting. (Apparently, last time around they called the women’s groups ‘anti-men hate groups’.)

Read Julie Bindel’s REALLY exciting new book, and discover proper feminism. As she explains, the stuff that went mainstream – liberal feminism, they call it, IS boring. Radical feminism isn’t feminism only more so, it’s the growing, sustaining root of feminism. In manifestation, it’s any aspect of feminism that’s not acceptable to the establishment.

We don’t want half the seats at the table,’ says Bindel, ‘we want to break the table.’

Feminism is about rescuing and standing with fugitives, it’s about learning and teaching, about fighting back, about community politics and addressing the problems that are so big mainstream politicians barely dare touch them.

Buy the book, go to FiLiA. Get angry, get serious, get excited. You can sing, dance, make friends, dress up and cook as you go if you want to. You can also make up your own mind as to whether you shave your legs or not. You decide, it doesn’t matter – but you might have some interesting conversations over coffee about why mainstream society thinks such things matter so much.

Just read the book, in fact read all her books, and her journalism. I am!

Video: Julie Bindel in conversation with Claire Horchan

The book…

Categories
activism Labour Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

Solidarity? It’s out here!

Being a socialist feminist in mainstream politics is a pain, it really is. If you intend to read this article, for your sanity, before you start could you remind yourself that outside of party politics, people have families, friends and colleagues with a range of opinions and ideas, and they mostly manage to get along, and even enjoy discussing their different opinions….

Then you have the Labour Party, which a friend recently said feels like this…

… a party which would appear to be full of ‘socialists’ who exclude anyone who talks socialism, and ‘feminists’ who support misogyny in the thinnest of disguises, and jump down your throat if you dare mention ‘controversial’ topics like women’s legal rights,

That may be a slight exaggeration – or is it? A significant proportion of my socialist friends who have been visible in lefty organisations and debates are now getting those ‘Are you or have you ever been….’ auto-exclusion letters but others, whilst yelling about that injustice, are scoffing at the idea women are being side-lined. Well, here is the only successful (if you can call it that) attempt to discuss women’s legal rights at the Labour Women’s Conference…

Or you have the Green Party, where as a woman, you are liable to find yourself being referred to as a ‘non-man’, so terrifying is that ‘controversial’ word ‘woman’.

By the way, on the left Red and Green used to be friends

They have a leadership election coming up. They have the opportunity to choose between Shahrar Ali, who has expressed the heretical view that people ought to be able to talk about women’s rights…

….or this (apparently women who disagree with Womack are sh*t that won’t go away)

https://mobile.twitter.com/Obsolesence/status/1428267078860132353

Fortunately for Green Party members, it’s an STV election, so you could for example vote for Shahrar Ali and a civilised debate *and* vote for an effective activist woman, such as Tina Rothery (Ali is a socialist/environmentalist activist of long standing too by the way, so vote for both of them!) and if there’s someone you really, really don’t want, you just put ‘RON’ which means ‘re-open nominations’ ie, ‘this candidate is not acceptable’.

There’s even the option, if you’re a ‘civilian’ who broadly supports the Green Party, of joining for a while (it costs £3 per month) voting for civilised debate (Ali) and a focus on actual environmental issues (Ali and Rothery), then scarpering before anyone discovers you’re one of those foul people who is a socialist, thinks sex exists, believes in freedom to debate, and even dares to say ‘woman’.

Which reader are you?

You might be one of those Labour Party people who are intent on getting rid of ‘the hard left’ or ‘far left’ – please bear in mind that our country is way off track from a global or historical perspective. Terms like left and right are not static and, according to most progressive politicians outside the UK people who supported Jeremy Corbyn here, and Bernie Sanders in the US, are actually democratic socialists, and therefore relatively moderate.

There will be those whose political and trade union experience and general common sense tell them that allowing a proper debate is the way to solve a conflict. To them I say, please speak your truth more loudly – the hurlers of abuse are absolutely drowning out common sense from both socialists and feminists in ‘progressive’ politics at the moment.

There will be Red and Green people who think that gender-critical women are being silly about trans people. Please find out what these ‘trans activists’ mean when they say ‘trans rights’ – they aren’t fighting for what you may think they are. They are fighting for a law change to ensure the right of any kind of male, at no notice whatsoever, to just say ‘I am a woman’ or even ‘I am non-binary’ (a term no-one has yet found any material or science-based definition for) and gain entry to women’s spaces and services for any reason or none, or just for a laugh.

There will be those who just think this is a horrible, transphobic article, and that everything people like me say is ‘hate speech’ and that we can’t possibly be socialists. To think that, you have to also think there is absolutely no truth in the idea that any male would abuse opportunities of access to vulnerable women and girls. To you I can only say – what planet are you living on?

There will also be those who think women bothering them about women’s issues is an annoying distraction, some sort of obsession that gets in the way of serious socialism. I think they, above all else, are the main reason that I, a socialist feminist, can’t put up with the Labour Party any more. You know what? Even the Communist Party of Great Britain are doing a better job of listening to a range of women’s opinions. This is an extensive and useful debate about what’s going on…

https://fb.watch/7wCSyheyIy/

Personally, I’m not going to join any of those parties but I am going to go to FiLiA, where among the genuinely women-centred events and talks, we will meet Women Uniting – an all-party political group, formed to try and persuade the political world that sex matters, and that women matter, whatever their political hue.

https://filia.org.uk/latest-news/2020/6/21/women-uniting

But we’ll no doubt have to put up with a cluster of pottymouths ‘protesting the meeting’. No-one seems to mind women from left and right getting together to debate but apparently, allowing all the varieties of feminism is not acceptable to ‘the left’ in Plymouth ‘Antifa’ and CLP. If you’re in the area, try telling them what you think about people bullying women when they meet to debate. At best, they’ll tell you about something nasty someone reputedly said, offering it as proof that Women Uniting is yet another ‘far right hate group’. But don’t try to tell them that conferences are debating arenas, and that there’s no such thing as a conference in which only one opinion is allowed, because there is, as Labour will discover in September – the Blairites are in charge again, and you know what happens to people who express divergent opinions at Blairite conferences…

[The Red-Green image in the body of this article comes from London Green Left. Please read the article and comments. It’s very informative…

The image at the head of this article comes from an organisation now proscribed by the Labour Party, I forget which one. I wonder what they said wrong.]

…but (don’t forget) outside party politics, people *can* discuss their differences so if you’ve still got the party-political bug, here’s Shahrar Ali’s pitch – if you want to rescue socialism in the Labour Party, there will be ‘alternative’ meetings around conference in September. Look here for socialist news – or here for feminist news or if, like me, you’ve had it with party politics, please don’t give up with *politics*. There is much that can be done, in a comradely way, from out here.