Category Archives: In the Media

Motherhood 'devastates' women's pay, research finds

Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian, Friday mother10 July 2009

Mothers earn around 22% less than their male colleagues. Photograph: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Corbis

Women with children earn about 22% less than their male colleagues, according to a new report that explores the “devastating” impact of motherhood on earnings.

“Before becoming parents, men and women are equally likely to be employed, but childbirth marks the start of a great divide, which continues even after children have left home and does lasting damage to women’s careers,” the report finds.

Around 57% of mothers with children under five are in paid work, compared with 90% of men, according to the research published by the Fawcett Society. Partnered women without dependent children earn 9% less than men on average, but for mothers working full-time who have two children, the pay gap with men in the same situation is 21.6%.

“For each year she is absent from the workplace, a mother’s future wages will reduce by 5%,” says the study, entitled Not Having it All: How Motherhood Reduces Women’s Pay and Employment Prospects. Mothers are also much more likely than fathers to adjust their work to fit in with their children’s schedules. Continue reading


Norway Tops Gender Equality List

Norway's women handball team
Norway has done the most to close the gender gap, says the WEF

Norway has topped a league of countries in closing the gender gap, followed by three other Nordic nations, a survey by the World Economic Forum says.

Progress in political, education and economic spheres has occurred globally but the gap in health has widened.

The UK fell in the ranking while France rose helped by women’s political role.

The forum said more women at the top of financial institutions and government and was “vital” to finding solutions to the economic turmoil.

“Greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil but to stave off such crises in future,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the forum.


1, Norway
2, Finland
3, Sweden
4, Iceland
5, New Zealand
Source: World Economic Forum

Norway rose from third to first place and scored 82.45% in the table of 130 countries, denoting the percentage of the gap between women and men that has been closed to date.

Finland, Sweden and Iceland came second, third and fourth respectively.

Last year, Sweden came top of the index.

The UK came 13th and slipped from 11th place last year while France was among those countries whose ranking rose sharply, from 51st to 15th place helped by gains in economic participation and political empowerment.

Syria, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia all fell in the ranking and showed a drop in overall scores.

Progress in closing the gap is not only “possible” but can be achieved in a relatively short space of time said the forum.

The index surveyed economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival.

126, Benin
127, Pakistan
128, Saudi Arabia
129, Chad
130, Yemen
Source: World Economic Forum

The report provides some evidence on the link between the gender gap and the economic performance of countries.

“Our work shows a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores”.

“While this does not imply causality, the possible theoretical underpinnings of this link are clear: countries that do not fully capitalize effectively on one-half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential”.

The survey stems from a collaboration of individuals of Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley and the World Economic Forum.

Comedy from The New Yorker: "My Gal", by George Saunders


My Gal

by George Saunders September 22, 2008

Explaining how she felt when John McCain offered her the Vice-Presidential spot, my Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin, said something very profound: “I answered him ‘Yes’ because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

Isn’t that so true? I know that many times, in my life, while living it, someone would come up and, because of I had good readiness, in terms of how I was wired, when they asked that—whatever they asked—I would just not blink, because, knowing that, if I did blink, or even wink, that is weakness, therefore you can’t, you just don’t. You could, but no—you aren’t.

That is just how I am.

Do you know the difference between me and a Hockey Mom who has forgot her lipstick?

A dog collar.

Do you know the difference between me and a dog collar smeared with lipstick?

Not a damn thing.

We are essentially wired identical.

So, when Barack Obama says he will put some lipstick on my pig, I am, like, Are you calling me a pig? If so, thanks! Pigs are the most non-Élite of all barnyard animals. And also, if you put lipstick on my pig, do you know what the difference will be between that pig and a pit bull? I’ll tell you: a pit bull can easily kill a pig. And, as the pig dies, guess what the Hockey Mom is doing? Going to her car, putting on more lipstick, so that, upon returning, finding that pig dead, she once again looks identical to that pit bull, which, staying on mission, the two of them step over the dead pig, looking exactly like twins, except the pit bull is scratching his lower ass with one frantic leg, whereas the Hockey Mom is carrying an extra hockey stick in case Todd breaks his again. But both are going, like, Ha ha, where’s that dumb pig now? Dead, that’s who, and also: not a smidge of lipstick.

A lose-lose for the pig.

There’s a lesson in that, I think.

Who does that pig represent, and that collar, and that Hockey Mom, and that pit bull?

You figure it out. Then give me a call.

Seriously, give me a call.

Now, let us discuss the Élites. There are two kinds of folks: Élites and Regulars. Why people love Sarah Palin is, she is a Regular. That is also why they love me. She did not go to some Élite Ivy League college, which I also did not. Her and me, actually, did not go to the very same Ivy League school. Although she is younger than me, so therefore she didn’t go there slightly earlier than I didn’t go there. But, had I been younger, we possibly could have not graduated in the exact same class. That would have been fun. Sarah Palin is hot. Hot for a politician. Or someone you just see in a store. But, happily, I did not go to college at all, having not finished high school, due to I killed a man. But had I gone to college, trust me, it would not have been some Ivy League Élite-breeding factory but, rather, a community college in danger of losing its accreditation, built right on a fault zone, riddled with asbestos, and also, the crack-addicted professors are all dyslexic.

Sarah Palin was also the mayor of a very small town. To tell the truth, this is where my qualifications begin to outstrip even hers. I have never been the mayor of anything. I can’t even spell right. I had help with the above, but now— Murray, note to Murray: do not correct what follows. Lets shoe the people how I rilly spel Mooray and punshuate so thay can c how reglar I am, and ther 4 fit to leed the nashun, do to: not sum mistir fansy pans.

OK Mooray. Get corecting agin!

Thanks, Murray, you’re fabulous. Very good at what you do. Actually, Murray, come to think of it, you are so good, I suspect you are some kind of Élite. You are fired, Murray, as soon as this article is done. I’m going to hire someone Regular, who is not so excellent, and lives off the salt of the land and the fat of his brow and the sweat of his earth. Although I hope he’s not a screw-up.

I’m finding it hard to concentrate, as my eyes are killing me, due to I have not blinked since I started writing this. And, me being Regular, it takes a long time for me to write something this long.

Where was I? Ah, yes: I hate Élites. Which is why, whenever I am having brain surgery, or eye surgery, which is sometimes necessary due to all my non-blinking, I always hire some random Regular guy, with shaking hands if possible, who is also a drunk, scared of the sight of blood, and harbors a secret dislike for me.

Now, let’s talk about slogans. Ours is: Country First. Think about it. When you think of what should come first, what does? Us ourselves? No. That would be selfish. Our personal families? Selfish. God? God is good, I love Him, but, as our slogan suggests, no, sorry, God, You are not First. No, you don’t, Lord! How about: the common good of all mankind! Is that First? Don’t make me laugh with your weak blinking! No! Mercy is not First and wisdom is not First and love is super but way near the back, and ditto with patience and discernment and compassion and all that happy crap, they are all back behind Country, in the back of my S.U.V., which— Here is an example! Say I am about to run over a nun or orphan, or an orphan who grew up to become a nun—which I admire that, that is cool, good bootstrapping there, Sister—but then God or whomever goes, “It is My will that you hit that orphaned nun, do not ask Me why, don’t you dare, and I say unto thee, if you do not hit that nun, via a skillful swerve, your Country is going to suffer, and don’t ask Me how, specifically, as I have not decided that yet!” Well, I am going to do my best to get that nun in one felt swope, because, at the Convention, at which my Vice-Presidential candidate kicked mucho butt, what did the signs there say? Did they say “Orphaned Nuns First” and then there is a picture of a sad little nun with a hobo pack?

Not in my purview.

Sarah Palin knows a little something about God’s will, knowing God quite well, from their work together on that natural-gas pipeline, and what God wills is: Country First. And not just any country! There was a slight error on our signage. Other countries, such as that one they have in France, reading our slogan, if they can even read real words, might be all, like, “Hey, bonjour, they are saying we can put our country, France, first!” Non, non, non, France! What we are saying is, you’d better put our country first, you merde-heads, or soon there will be so much lipstick on your pit bulls it will make your berets spin!

In summary: Because my candidate, unlike your winking/blinking Vice-Presidential candidate, who, though, yes, he did run as the running mate when the one asking him to run did ask him to run, which that I admire, one thing he did not do, with his bare hands or otherwise, is, did he ever kill a moose? No, but ours did. And I would. Please bring a moose to me, over by me, and down that moose will go, and, if I had a kid, I would take a picture of me showing my kid that dead moose, going, like, Uh, sweetie, no, he is not resting, he is dead, due to I shot him, and now I am going to eat him, and so are you, oh yes you are, which is responsible, as God put this moose here for us to shoot and eat and take a photo of, although I did not, at that time, know why God did, but in years to come, God’s will was revealed, which is: Hey, that is a cool photo for hunters about to vote to see, plus what an honor for that moose, to be on the Internet.

How does the moose feel about it? Who knows? Probably not great. But do you know what the difference is between a dead moose with lipstick on and a dead moose without lipstick?


Think about it.

Moose are, truth be told, Élites. They are big and fast and sort of rule the forest. Sarah took that one down a notch. Who’s Élite now, Bullwinkle?

Not Sarah.

She’s just Regular as heck.

Sarah Palin – the woman from nowhere (or so says the Economist)

Sarah Palin - the Woman from Nowhere?Lexington

The woman from nowhere
Sep 4th 2008
From The Economist print edition

John McCain’s choice of running-mate raises serious questions about his judgment

Illustration by KAL
THE most audacious move of the race so far is also, potentially, the most self-destructive. John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running-mate has set the political atmosphere alight with both enthusiasm and dismay.

Mr McCain has based his campaign on the idea that this is a dangerous world—and that Barack Obama is too inexperienced to deal with it. He has also acknowledged that his advanced age—he celebrated his 72nd birthday on August 29th—makes his choice of vice-president unusually important. Now he has chosen as his running mate, on the basis of the most cursory vetting, a first-term governor of Alaska.

The reaction from inside the conservative cocoon was at first ecstatic. Conservatives argued that Mrs Palin embodies the “real America”—a moose-hunting hockey mum, married to an oil-worker, who has risen from the local parent-teacher association to governing the geographically largest state in the Union. They praise her as a McCain-style reformer who has taken on her state’s Republican establishment and has a staunch pro-life record (her fifth child has Down’s syndrome). Who better to harpoon the baby-murdering elitists who run the Democratic Party?

Mrs Palin was greeted like the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan by the delegates, furious at her mauling at the hands of the “liberal media”. And she delivered a tub-thumping speech, underlining her record as a reforming governor and advocate of more oil-drilling, and warning her enemies not to underestimate her (“the difference between a hockey mum and a pitbull—lipstick”). But once the cheering and the chanting had died down, serious questions remained.

The political calculations behind Mr McCain’s choice hardly look robust. Mrs Palin is not quite the pork-busting reformer that her supporters claim. She may have become famous as the governor who finally killed the infamous “bridge to nowhere”—the $220m bridge to the sparsely inhabited island of Gravina, Alaska. But she was in favour of the bridge before she was against it (and told local residents that they weren’t “nowhere to her”). As mayor of Wasilla, a metropolis of 9,000 people, she initiated annual trips to Washington, DC, to ask for more earmarks from the state’s congressional delegation, and employed Washington lobbyists to press for more funds for her town.

Nor is Mrs Palin well placed to win over the moderate and independent voters who hold the keys to the White House. Mr McCain’s main political problem is not energising his base; he enjoys more support among Republicans than Mr Obama does among Democrats. His problem is reaching out to swing voters at a time when the number of self-identified Republicans is up to ten points lower than the number of self-identified Democrats. Mr McCain needs to attract roughly 55% of independents and 15% of Democrats to win the election. But it is hard to see how a woman who supports the teaching of creationism rather than contraception, and who is soon to become a 44-year-old grandmother, helps him with soccer moms in the Philadelphia suburbs. A Rasmussen poll found that the Palin pick made 31% of undecided voters less likely to plump for Mr McCain and only 6% more likely.

The moose in the room, of course, is her lack of experience. When Geraldine Ferraro was picked as Walter Mondale’s running-mate, she had served in the House for three terms. Even the hapless Dan Quayle, George Bush senior’s sidekick, had served in the House and Senate for 12 years. Mrs Palin, who has been the governor of a state with a population of 670,000 for less than two years, is the most inexperienced candidate for a mainstream party in modern history.

Inexperienced and Bush-level incurious. She has no record of interest in foreign policy, let alone expertise. She once told an Alaskan magazine: “I’ve been so focused on state government; I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq.” She obtained an American passport only last summer to visit Alaskan troops in Germany and Kuwait. This not only blunts Mr McCain’s most powerful criticism of Mr Obama. It also raises serious questions about the way he makes decisions.

Vetted for 15 minutes
Mr McCain had met Mrs Palin only once, for a 15-minute chat at the National Governors’ Association meeting, before summoning her to his ranch for her final interview. The New York Times claims that his team arrived in Alaska only on August 28th, a day before the announcement. As a result, his advisers seem to have been gobsmacked by the Palin show that is now playing on the national stage. She has links to the wacky Alaska Independence Party, which wants to secede from the Union. She is on record disagreeing with Mr McCain on global warming, among other issues. The contrast with Mr Obama’s choice of the highly experienced and much-vetted Joe Biden is striking.

Mr McCain’s appointment also raises more general worries about the Republican Party’s fitness for government. Up until the middle of last week Mr McCain was still considering two other candidates whom he has known for decades: Joe Lieberman, a veteran senator, independent Democrat and Iraq war hawk, and Tom Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania (a swing state with 21 Electoral College votes) and the first secretary of homeland security. Mr McCain reluctantly rejected both men because their pro-choice views are anathema to the Christian right.

The Palin appointment is yet more proof of the way that abortion still distorts American politics. This is as true on the left as on the right. But the Republicans seem to have gone furthest in subordinating considerations of competence and merit to pro-life purity. One of the biggest problems with the Bush administration is that it appointed so many incompetents because they were sound on Roe v Wade. Mrs Palin’s elevation suggests that, far from breaking with Mr Bush, Mr McCain is repeating his mistakes.

Emergency dash may help drive change

by Donna Abu-Nasr

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

When Ruwaida al-Habis’ father and two brothers were badly burned in a fire, she had no choice but to break Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers to get them to a clinic.

Using the driving skills her father taught her on the familyfarm, al-Habis managed to reach the clinc’s emergency entrace without a hitch.

“When I pulled up, a crowd of people surrounded the car and stared as if they were seeing extraterrestrial beings,” the 20-year-old university student said. “Instead of focusing on the burn victims, the nurses kept repeating, ‘You drove them here?’.”

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans all women – Saudi and foreign – from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and women who cannot afford the US$300-US$400 ($410-$550) a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

But there are signs support for the ban is eroding.

Al-Habis’ story was first published in one of the biggest Saudi newspapers, Al Riyadh which even called her “brave”. Her father, Hamad al-Habis, praised his dauther’s action.

“Why should it even be an issue?” said Hamad al-Habis in his hospital bed. “My daugher took the right decision at the right time.”

Al-Habis is one of several women whose driving has made headlines. It is not clear whether the reports are a sign that more women are driving or that newspapers are just more willing to report about them. But in either case, it suggests the long-unquestioned nature of the ban is crumbling.

That may in aprt be because ofthe signals from the top: King Abdullah, considered a reformist, has said the issue is a social one, not religious, opening the door for society to spur change.

Previously, women who spoke out against the ban paid heavily. In November 1990, when United States troops were in Saudi Arabia following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, some 50 wmen drove family cars in an anti-ban protest. They were jailed for a day, their passports were confiscated and they lost their jobs. The reaction was so harsh that lifting the ban was barely broached again until recently.

Recent media reports have high lighted women driving not as organised protests, but out of necessity or just a desire to be behid the wheel. Five women were breifly detained in separate incidents across the kingdom.

One was a 47-year-old woman detained by the religious police after they received calls from Saudis who had seen her drive repeatedly in the eastern city of Qatif, sasid Muhammad al-Marshoud, a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, speaking to Al-Watan newspaper.

Last month, two women died while driving. One, in her 20s, was speeding in a famly car when she hit a power pole in Riyadh. The second, in her 70s, died in a collision with another car in the northern region of the Hail.

Supporters of ending the ban on female drivers point out that the prohibition exists neither in law nor in Islam.

There is no written Saudi law banning women from driving, only fatwas, or edicts by senior clerics that are enforced by police.

No major Islamic clerics outside the country call such a ban.


NZ Herald, 23 August 2008


Last year we had quite a debate about this parade – freedom of speech or degrading to women and society generally? Your thoughts?

Boobs on Bikes man indignant at injunction threat
3:45PM Thursday August 14, 2008

Steve Crow
The Auckland City Council have gone to court to try and stop a topless parade from travelling down Queen St.

A majority of Auckland City Councillors have today voted to seek a court injunction to prevent the Boobs On Bikes parade from happening in Auckland’s CBD next week.

However, the parade’s organiser says he won’t stand by and let a court injunction prevent the event from going ahead.

The display is to promote the Erotica Lifestyles Expo.

Organiser Steve Crow says it is not against the law to ride on the back of a motorbike topless, so there is little the council can do. He says he does not have a permit for the parade, and has never needed one.

Mr Crow says it is hard to see how the District Court could issue an injunction which would overturn the Bill of Rights.

Some members of the city council, however, are unimpressed.

Councillor Cathy Casey says the organiser’s claim the parade is about freedom of expression is “absolute crap”. She says it just free advertising for a porn show, and the council finds the parade offensive. Ms Casey is confident the District Court will grant the injunction.

However, councillor Bill Christian believes the council is overreacting, saying the parade attracts a decent crowd.

“It’s simply an aspect of life in the 21st Century that we have to accept there are times when women will bare their breasts, let’s hope it stops at that.”


Should ALAC's 'Lisa' ad be taken off air?

Click here to watch the Lisa Ad

For those who haven’t seen the ad, or are unable to follow the link above (sorry, could not embed it):

It shows a young woman who has a few drinks with her workmates to relax, a few turns into a lot – we then see her dancing uncoordinatedly in a bar, finally stumbling outside into a dark alley where she is grabbed and led away by a man who has been watching her earlier. We see her struggle and protest, and the ad fades to black….’It’s not the drinking, it’s how we’re drinking.’

There have been several concerns about this ad, mainly that it perpetuates rape myths, and that it implies the victim bears some responsibility for the rape.

What are people’s thoughts? Is the ad effective in that it will encourage women to drink moderately in future, and so should remain on air? Or should it be taken off, due to it’s problematic implications?

Women's role in terrorism alarms EU

EUROPE: Females involved in everything from suicide bombings to logistics


By Jason Burke

Monday, August 4, 2008, NZ Herald


European intelligence chiefs have launched a major investigation into the threat posed by female Islamic militants within the EU, whose involvement they say runs from logistics or propaganda to suicide bombing.


“This phenomenon has not been really taken into account yet and we need to explore and understand it,” said one diplomat connected with the probe. “It is a new strategy by al Qaeda.”


 The moves follow a spate of attacks in the Middle East by women bombers and concerns among European security services about increased radicalization of female militants. The officials specifically cite Britain and North Africa as problem areas.


Women’s involvement in recruiting volunteers is a key concern


Though the only known European female suicide bomber was Muriel Degauque, a 38-year-old convert from Belgium who killed herself in Iraq in 2005, European security officials said services were monitoring dozens of women involved in logistics or propaganda. There are also fears of women bombers being sent from overseas, particularly North Africa.


“The problem is knowing who is just fundraising or running websites, who is recruiting and who is a potential bomber,” said on French intelligence specialist. “Then how do you pick up someone coming in from outside the EU? That’s hard to do.”


Gilles de Kerchove, European counterterrorism co-ordinator, has asked British, French, Spanish, German and other security services to pool their intelligence through Brussels’ strategic analyst unit, the Joint Situation Centre, to produce a report by the northern autumn.


“The issue is a very high priority,” one EU official said.


In Britain, the involvement of women in militant activities has been limited. Yet security services fear that this may not last.


“Time and again we have seen al Qaeda trying tactics in one place and, if they work, trying them again elsewhere,” said the French specialist.


Women bombers have become relatively common in Iraq because they can more easily penetrate much-tightened security. They elicit less suspicion, can hide explosives under their clothes, and male soldiers are unwilling to search them.


In Algeria, according to security sources, the “al Qaeda in the Maghreb group” now use women in bombing campaigns.


“Women are largely responsible for support material: medicine, food, clothes,” said one. “But some have more major roles. Last year we dismantled a logistical network run by a woman.”


The source said militants “seek to recruit women with a brother, father or son already with the extremist groups”.


Expert say this may be because, in traditional Islamic societies, women without close male relatives are exposed to economic and social problems that make them more vulnerable to recruitment.


In Iraq, US intelligence officers say militants are marrying women then allowing them to be raped knowing that the subsequent dishonor will make them easier to groom as bombers. The officers have also noted women who have had relatives killed in the fighting turning to violence.


The issue is not without controversy in militant circles. Recent statements by al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri that women should restrict themselves to caring for the homes and children of male fighters provoked an outcry on extremist websites.


A Taleban spokesman has denied an American news report that Zawahiri might have been killed or wounded in a missile strike in Pakistan’s border region last week.


“Zawahiri has been killed by them several times, but once again this is baseless,” Maulvi Omar told Reuters from an undisclosed location.


US broadcaster CBS said it had obtained an intercepted letter from Pakistani Taleban commander Baitullah Mehsud requesting urgent medical help for Zawahiri, who was in “severe pain” with infected wounds.


-Observer, additional reporting Telegraph Group Limited


Surely Slavery is a thing of the past? No? ABC Australia reports.

Do you think we have sexual slavery in NZ? Apparently our brothels are very nice according two nice Women Institute ladies from the UK who did a tour of them recently see “NZ brothels get thumbs up from UK Grannies”

ABC News

Australia: Modern Face of Slavery
By Kathleen Maltzahn

July 28, 2008

We should not look for shackles, but rather at the impact of the slave traders, at their power to reduce a person to a commodity. (Getty Images: Sean Garnsworthy, file photo)


“You must be mindful to have your Negroes shaved and made Clean to look well at every Island you touch at and to strike a good Impression on the Buyers…” – Humphrey Morice, Member of Parliament, Governor of the Bank of England, slave trader, England, 1730s

“I’ve paid $45,000; why can’t they look decent.” – Trevor “Papa” McIvor, brothel owner, Australia, 2000s

From the safety of distance, historical crimes look obvious. We would have been one of the ones who fought against that, we tell ourselves, it is so obvious that was wrong.

Things get murkier once they get closer.

In the 1990s, trafficking in women and children, particularly for prostitution, emerged as crime of concern in many parts of the world. In 2001, the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called it “one of the most egregious human rights violations of our time”. Report after report talked about this “modern form of slavery”.

Few countries escaped being either a source, transit or destination country.

Australia seemed to be an exception.

While in 1999 the Commonwealth had brought in laws outlawing sexual slavery and put the crime at a million dollar a week industry in Australia, by 2003 then justice minister Senator Chris Ellison was confident the problem had been solved. “Slavery chains,” he told the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, “where people are traded in, as goods and chattels might be,” did not exist in Australia.

Doing outreach to brothels in the late 1990s and 2000s, however, I wasn’t so sure. I was seeing women who looked very much to me like they were being treated as “goods and chattels” and at least one court case reinforced what I thought. In 1999, Melbourne man Gary Glazner was charged with breaches of the Victorian Prostitution Control Act for crimes relating to trafficking. The investigating police officer believed Glazner had bought up to 100 Thai women, enslaved and then prostituted them. The case echoed an earlier Sydney case, where the AFP had uncovered a trafficking ring.

Both uncovered the practice of bringing “contract girls” to Australia – women forced to pay of “debts” from $30,000 to $50,000 through prostitution. Neither the debts nor contracts were real, but both were enforced through threats and violence, including rape. Women frequently had to do up to 500 “jobs”, unable to refuse drunk, demeaning or dangerous customers, and told by traffickers that if they went for help they would simply be deported.

In 2003, after researching trafficking, including through interviews with “contract girls”, my organisation, Project Respect, began a successful campaign to change federal government policy on trafficking. After years of deporting trafficked women and ignoring the traffickers, in October that year the government brought in a $20 million counter-trafficking package, committed to strengthening the laws against trafficking, and gave trafficked women visas to stay in Australia while they recovered.

In the same year, the AFP charged a Melbourne brothel owner with sexual slavery, the first significant prosecution under the 1999 sexual slavery laws. Five years on, that case has gone all the way to the High Court. When the full bench of the court hands down its decision in a few weeks, it will redefine slavery in Australia.

There are two possible positions the court could take. It could say, as people now charged with trafficking contend, that being a Thai prostitute on “contract” is not slavery. It’s an argument made by people such as Byron Bay criminal lawyer Bruce Peters, who is currently representing Trevor McIvor against trafficking charges.

“These girls were not exploited,” Mr Peters is reported to have said (Sydney Morning Herald, July 6, 2008). “No one argues that they came here illegally but they were brought here voluntarily so everyone could make money. They were not my client’s chattel slaves. They had mobile phones. They were free to come and go as they pleased.”

The alternate view is that being on “contract”, being forced to pay off imaginary debts of up to $50,000 through unwanted prostitution, is indeed a modern form of slavery. We should not look for shackles – the enslavement tool of the transatlantic slave trade – but rather at the impact of the slave traders, at their power to reduce a person to a commodity.

We often think of slavery in terms of ill-treatment, and imagine that violence is unrelenting. But slavery does not necessarily mean constant abuse. Eighteenth century slave trader Humphrey Morice had firm views on the treatment of slaves – he thought they should be treated well. “Take care your Negroes have their Victualls in proper Season and at regular times and that their food be well boyled and prepared,” he told his captain in 1721, “and do not Sufferr any of your Shipp’s Company to abuse them”.

It is important, then, to look at the limits of such treatment. Here’s Morice again:

The slaves are to be served water three times a day, Tobacco once a week and Pipes when they want…Be mindful to iron your strong rugged men Slaves, but favour the young striplings or those who begin to be sick: and let them in general be washt at convenient times: in an Evening divert them with musick letting them dance.

It doesn’t matter if women have mobile phones, it doesn’t matter if they are taken on outings, it doesn’t matter if they have food and drink. If a person’s agency is taken away, if their identity is stolen, if they cannot remove themselves from violence, and if they can be bought and sold at whim, they are slaves. This is the reality of many women on “contract” in Australia.

Whether or not we can see this present day form of slavery, and not just look for its past manifestation, is a test of our capacity to recognise a crime against humanity.

At the end of the day, however, it is perhaps not our views that are most important.

The final word should go to the women who say they have been trafficked, and in the McIvor case, the women’s statements are very clear. “I don’t know why they treated me that way,” one woman has said in her victim impact statement, “as if I was not a human being.”

Kathleen Maltzahn is the author of Trafficked, the first book-length account of the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution in Australia, published this month by UNSW Press. She was founding director of Project Respect, which spearheaded the successful campaign to change government responses sexual slavery in Australia.

France rejects Muslim woman over radical practice of Islam

From The Guardian

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

Saturday July 12, 2008

A woman in a burqa

A woman wearing a burqa. France has denied citizenship to a Moroccan woman who wears a burqa on the grounds of ‘insufficient assimilation’. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

France has denied citizenship to a Moroccan woman who wears a burqa on the grounds that her “radical” practice of Islam is incompatible with basic French values such as equality of the sexes.

The case yesterday reopened the debate about Islam in France, and how the secular republic reconciles itself with the freedom of religion guaranteed by the French constitution.

The woman, known as Faiza M, is 32, married to a French national and lives east of Paris. She has lived in France since 2000, speaks good French and has three children born in France. Social services reports said she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Her application for French nationality was rejected in 2005 on the grounds of “insufficient assimilation” into France. She appealed, invoking the French constitutional right to religious freedom and saying that she had never sought to challenge the fundamental values of France. But last month the Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, upheld the ruling.

“She has adopted a radical practice of her religion, incompatible with essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes,” it said.

“Is the burqa incompatible with French citizenship?” asked Le Monde, which broke the story. The paper said it was the first time the level of a person’s personal religious practice had been used to rule on their capacity be to assimilated into France.

The legal expert who reported to the Council of State said the woman’s interviews with social services revealed that “she lives almost as a recluse, isolated from French society”.

The report said: “She has no idea about the secular state or the right to vote. She lives in total submission to her male relatives. She seems to find this normal and the idea of challenging it has never crossed her mind.”

The woman had said she was not veiled when she lived in Morocco and had worn the burqa since arriving in France at the request of her husband. She said she wore it more from habit than conviction.

Daniele Lochak, a law professor not involved in the case, said it was bizarre to consider that excessive submission to men was a reason not to grant citizenship. “If you follow that to its logical conclusion, it means that women whose partners beat them are also not worthy of being French,” he told Le Monde.

Jean-Pierre Dubois, head of France’s Human Rights League, said he was “vigilant” and was seeking more information.

France is home to nearly 5 million Muslims, roughly half of whom are French citizens. Criteria taken into account for granting French citizenship includes “assimilation”, which normally focuses on how well the candidate speaks French. In the past nationality was denied to Muslims who were known to have links with extremists or who had publicly advocated radicalism, but that was not the case of Faiza M.

The ruling comes weeks after a controversy prompted by a court annulment of the marriage of two Muslims because the husband said the wife was not a virgin as she had claimed to be.

France’s ban on headscarves and other religious symbols in state schools in 2004 sparked a heated debate over freedom and equality within the secular republic. The French government adheres to the theory that all French citizens are equal before the republic, and religion or ethnic background are matters for the private sphere. In practice, rights groups say, society is plagued by discrimination.

The president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has stressed the importance of “integration” into French life. Part of his heightened controls on immigrants is a new law to make foreigners who want to join their families sit an exam on French language and values before leaving their countries.