Rights of women

The real RBG

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is too ill to sit on the Supreme Court. When she saw On the Basis of Sex, a hagiography written by her nephew, she must have thought she had already gone to heaven. Directed by Mimi Leder to the highest TV-movie standards, this prequel to the obsequious 2018 documentary RBG will appeal to all purchasers of the grovelling 2015 biography, Notorious RBG. The real RBG totters across the last frames of this movie like the laminated ghost of American liberalism. Such idolatry diminishes Bader Ginsburg’s achievement, the unpicking in 1971 of the first of 178 laws discriminating against you-know-who on the basis of you-know-what. But this film

Target practice | 17 January 2019

As the Allies advanced towards Germany in September 1944, their supplies were brought all the way from western Normandy in a constant shuttle convoy known as the Red Ball Express. If you were making a realistic movie about this, three quarters of the truck drivers would be played by black actors, because that’s how it was in real life. Similar rules would have to apply to any remake of Zulu or Zulu Dawn. It is an awkward but inescapable historical fact that there was no diversity whatsoever among Cetewayo’s Impis: they were all, resolutely, from the same African tribe. At the Battle of Crécy, on the other hand, every single

I’ve quit the Labour Party because it has betrayed women

I was elected as a Labour Councillor to Cambridge City Council in 2014 and re elected in May this year. Just five weeks after the elections, the Council’s breach of the 2010 Equality Act surfaced on Twitter. Just ten days after the Act became law, an amendment to the Council’s Equality policy had been voted through committee. This amendment abolished women-only facilities in the city including toilets and changing rooms – and plunged the council into illegality. It meant that male-born transwomen could access female facilities. The council further breached the Act by failing to consult with women and by not conducting an Equality Impact Assessment to assess potential negative

President Erdogan’s views about women should terrify European feminists

As I entered my 30s I remember thinking how lucky I was. I had a successful career, owned property and was enjoying life as a singleton. Many of my friends were already married, some with children, but the desire wasn’t quite there for me. I wasn’t ready. Now as I march towards my 40s, I’ve embarked on a new life in Turkey. I’m still single, childless and successful. I’m happy, but apparently I shouldn’t be, as according to the country’s President, I have behaved in the wrong way. On the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim Holy month, President Erdogan gave all women something to think about during the fast. Addressing

Passionate pioneers

If Mary Wollstonecraft, as she once declared, ‘was not born to tred in the beaten track’, the same with even greater reason could be said of her daughter Mary Shelley. Not only was she the child of the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she was also the daughter of William Godwin, the radical political philosopher. Given this auspicious pedigree, it is perhaps not surprising that Shelley would lead a life every bit as daring as her mother, and in Frankenstein produce a masterpiece of equal fame. A joint biography of this most famous mother/daughter combination is, therefore, a good idea. Despite the fact that Wollstonecraft died

Women in the various hells of Algiers

On the surface Harraga is the story of two ill-matched women colliding dramatically, with life-changing consequences. What emerges, in throwaway fragments, is a picture of Algeria’s chequered past and present; a history of conquest and occupation. It’s a sugar-coated pill with a burning, bitter core. Boualem Sansal is an Algerian writer recently nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His novels have been translated into 18 languages and won international awards. In his own country, his books are banned. Before becoming a writer at the age of 50, he enjoyed an enviable life as general director of Algeria’s ministry of industry and restructuring, until open criticism of the regime cost

Sex-specific abortion is gruesome – but not explicitly illegal in Britain

Imagine that you became pregnant. Imagine that you were entirely dependent upon your husband. Imagine that you became the victim of domestic violence during that pregnancy, and your husband began demanding that you did not give birth to a baby girl. Facing strong social pressure, coercion, or violence to end a pregnancy because you are carrying a girl, is a reality for a disturbing number of women in Britain, according to women’s advocacy organisation Jeena International, which helps women escape domestic violence. To begin tackling this issue, a large group of MPs led by Fiona Bruce have proposed the Abortion (Sex Selection) Bill. This is a short and simple piece

Having an abortion means ending a life. Even pro-choice students should realise that

Last week, the Tab, an online student tabloid, published an article by an anonymous Cambridge student entitled ‘I shouldn’t have been aggressively reminded of my abortion at Freshers Fair’. The author was complaining that she had been upset by a stand at the fair run by Cambridge Students For Life, an anti-abortion student society. The stall, she argues, had no place at an event that is meant to welcome new freshers, and was offensive to her personal choices. Her article certainly offended me. Her own abortion, she tells us, ‘crosses my mind only once in a blue moon, and never tinged with regret’. It is clear that she considers abortion

If Cambridge’s debating girls can’t stand the heat, they should stay out of Glasgow kitchens

Glasgow University Union is in the headlines again. The story at first sight appears typical of the petty campus rows to which undergraduates attach passionate importance but which bore the rest of the world. On closer consideration, it encompasses issues of free speech and political control that are of genuine concern. At the recently held final round of the Glasgow University Union (GUU) Ancients debating competition, involving the older-established British universities, two female speakers complained of being heckled and booed during their speeches and of being subjected to sexist abuse. One girl was from Cambridge, the other from Edinburgh University. As a reprisal, Cambridge has announced it will not send

Thinly veiled threats

No one could ever accuse Shereen El Feki of lacking in courage. To spend five years travelling around the Arab world in search of dildos, questioning women about foreplay and anal sex, is not a task many writers would relish. Sex and the Citadel is a bold, meticulously researched mini Kinsey Report, rich in anecdote and statistics. El Feki’s father is Egyptian and a devout Muslim, her mother a Welsh Baptist, who converted early to Islam. An only child, with fair northern features, she grew up in Canada and was raised as a Muslim. Having done a doctorate in molecular immunology and served as a member of the UN Global

Women on the frontline isn’t simply a matter of equality

It won’t take long for the US decision to allow women in combat roles to travel here according to The Times today, on the basis of, it must be said, unnamed sources. And the paper’s leader is duly supportive of the idea: ‘The number of women who want the risk and pass the tests will not be large, but those who earn a place at the spear tip of Western defence should be assigned there.’ On this reckoning, the right to join combat units – to kill – is just one more of those equality hurdles to surmount, like women becoming bishops or CEOs. I’m against, myself. Partly this is

A long road ahead for equal rights in Saudi Arabia

Great news for Manal al-Sharif, the Saudi activist who rose to prominence after footage of her driving on the Kingdom’s roads went viral on YouTube last year. She was arrested, of course, and spent time in jail for defying the authorities, but a small and committed campaign emerged nonetheless. Their tactics were simple: Sharif and her cohorts repeatedly applied to the General Directorate of Traffic for a driving licence, only to be refused on each occasion. That seemed to change yesterday when a euphoric Sharif tweeted a picture of her new driving licence. The only downside is that it was issued by the United Arab Emirates. Saudi women still face a long

George Galloway’s fifty shades of rape

The supporters of that exhibitionist monkey Julian Assange are becoming ever more bizarre. George Galloway MP, for example, has been sounding like a High Court judge in 1973: those women were not ‘raped’, he says of the accusations against Assange; calling that sort of thing rape diminishes the concept of rape — it was just “bad sexual etiquette”. So, there are — as Ken Clarke once pointed out before he was eviscerated by the liberal hate mob – different gradations of rape and some things which are called rape are not rape at all. As it happens, I think Galloway has a point. But as far as George is concerned

The problem with using soldiers to advance women’s rights

Mariella Frostrup, fresh from interviewing Nick Clegg in Cheltenham, writes about women’s rights in Afghanistan in The Times (£). Her pithily-titled piece — “Women’s rights in, before troops out” — makes the case that British forces cannot withdraw from, and the government should give no development assistance to, a country where the plight of women is so terrible and declining. It is hard not to sympathise with Frostrup’s point. During my own time in Kabul I witnessed plenty of examples of female subjugation, and was glad the West was present to help address some of these problems. Western policymakers were, at the time, eager to portray the entire mission as

Blood relatives

The last time I saw Benazir Bhutto was at Oxford, over champagne outside the Examination Schools, when she inquired piercingly of a subfusc linguist, ‘Racine? What is Racine?’ Older and richer than most undergraduates, and as a Harvard graduate presumably better educated, she was already world famous, and was obviously not at Oxford to learn about classical tragedy. The last time I saw Benazir Bhutto was at Oxford, over champagne outside the Examination Schools, when she inquired piercingly of a subfusc linguist, ‘Racine? What is Racine?’ Older and richer than most undergraduates, and as a Harvard graduate presumably better educated, she was already world famous, and was obviously not at

The Gita Saghal Saga Continued

I have no doubt that history will vindicate Gita Sahgal in her decision to challenge Amnesty International over its relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners.  She has now left her job, as The Times reports today. This will be a great loss to Amnesty, which has lost a deeply respected figure in international human rights, especially in the field of women’s rights and the threat of authoritarian Islam.  I can’t really better Oliver Kamm’s analysis of how damaging this is for Amnesty: “Its critics charge that it has diluted its defence of universal human rights by allying with a group that rejects that principle.