Monthly Archives: February 2011

Egypt: The oppression people aren’t talking about

Picture by Nick Bygon

The Egyptian political crisis seems to  be drawing fewer headlines now the campaign to remove President Mubarak has lost some of its momentum, though protestors are still camping out in Tahrir Square, determined to force a change of government.

But the oppression nobody seems to be concerned about is the ongoing one which is carried out against young girls every day.

Female Genital Mutilation [FGM] is still performed on millions of girls every year. Its prevalence in certain parts of Africa are shocking, above 90% in Egypt, Somalia, Djibouti, northern Sudan, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In most of these countries the practice is illegal.

Senegalese hip-hop star Sister Fa spoke to the Observer on Sunday.  She is part of the campaign to eliminate the practice, and though some prevalence rates have been reduced [in Egypt it has fallen from 97% to 91% over the past decade] there is still a long way to go.  She told the Observer:

“Cutting is still here, a lot of women are in prison, but cutting is still here, nothing is changing, there are a lot of laws to punish people, but it’s prevention we need.”

She also spoke about the ineffectiveness of NGOs in Africa, because they lack the cultural sensitivity to tackle the issue.

In this area the human rights project is limited, perceived as inherently western and seemingly patronising towards African culture.

So perhaps human rights organisations are not best equipped to deal with the problem, but acknowledging this fact does not mean accepting FGM as a part of African culture.

Violence and mutilation should not be swept under the carpet as a part of life, wherever that life exists.

Sunday was international day against female genital mutilation.

No FGM symbol. Picture by Blatant World

The full interview with Sister Fa can be read here


Why is Baroness Hale a “woman judge”?

The UK Supreme Court


In a recent article by the Daily Mail the headline reads:

“Shout at your spouse and risk losing your home: It’s just the same as domestic violence, warns woman judge

There are three things wrong with this headline.

Firstly, its not really an accurate summary of the Supreme Court’s decision and if you’re interested why there’s a good post on it here.

Secondly, the decision came from the Supreme Court, rather than a single “woman judge” as suggested by the Mail.

And thirdly, it was completely unnecessary to highlight Lady Hale’s gender as her single most important defining feature.

And yet it is so often the case that when a woman judge makes a decision her gender is almost inevitably mentioned, as though of crucial importance.  By contrast a male judge is only ever a judge.

By qualifying a judge as “woman”, her authority is inevitably undermined and her judgments questioned.

When the Mail challenged Baroness Hale’s decision by calling her a “woman judge”, they decided not to challenge her legal judgment purely on the merits of her argument, but instead chose to make her gender part of the criticism.

And this is not an isolated example of this sort of gratuitous labelling. If you search “woman judge” in the Daily Mail search the first three results are

  • “How a top woman judge dragged her neighbour to court over a pair of Dobermans and landed him with a £20, 000 bill”
  • “No mercy: Woman judge jails Czech sham wedding bride who is pregnant with third child”
  • “‘It’s a f****** travesty!’ Woman judge’s foul-mouthed outburst after being convicted of failing to control her Alsation.”

And the Mail is by no means alone in using these sorts of unnecessary prefixes on a regular basis.  But everytime it happens, the female judge is labelled as different.

This is surely dangerous in a society where difference in our judges is not acceptable.