Boots, Trump and Northern Ireland…Why are we still having to talk about abortion and contraceptive rights in 2017?

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For many people, 2017 will be remembered as a year when moralistic and reactionary arguments around abortion rights and women’s contraceptive rights were dragged back into the mainstream. Yesterday, Boots decided to wade into the debate around abortion and contraceptive rights by refusing to lower the price of the morning after pill, which costs around £30.

Despite the fact that other chains, like Superdrug, agreed to halve the price after a campaign by Bpas (The British Pregnancy Advisory Service), Boots wrote a letter to Bpas explaining that the “EHC [emergency hormonal contraception] polarises public opinion”  and that they “receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that the company chooses to provide this service”. Boots went on to make the revolting, moralising statement that they “would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product”.

The notion that we stupid women should be punished if we are worried we may fall pregnant after unprotected sex, whether that be because of a split condom, forgetting to take the pill, or a drunk night of unprotected sex, is insulting. What’s more, the suggestion that lowering the price would lead to a stampede of irresponsible women in Boots, post-sex, frothing at the mouth and raring to take the morning after pill “inappropriately”, feeds the suggestion that we are incapable of making contraceptive decisions independently, and that we are all just horny, irresponsible whores looking for a bargain on our mission to murder unborn children. Unfortunately, this Boots saga comes in a year where it seems our reproductive rights are once more up for grabs in many respects.

In 2017, a bill in parliament to decriminalise abortion in England was voted in. Shockingly, the 1967 Abortion Act did not actually do this, but rather made it legal only if two doctors approve the procedure – if you failed to meet these conditions, you would have been committing a criminal offence. Online abortion pills are now widely available and abortion was the only medical procedure governed by such old legislation. As Boots have now been shown to think themselves – why were women still being questioned on their ability to make these choices independently?

In the USA, we have seen the election of the racist, misogynist Donald Trump who, in his first day in the Oval office, signed a federal ban on international groups that give information about or provide abortions. He and his ilk are pro-life and anti-women. Lest we forget that during Trump’s election campaign he suggested that there should be “some kind of punishment” in place for women who have abortions (if it was banned). More recently, there has been a proposed revision of the contraception mandate (which saved women more than $1 billion in birth control costs in 2013) of the Affordable Care Act, which would make it much more difficult for women to get protection. When this is paired with the fact that abstinence is taught in some schools in the USA as a part of sex education (and often instead of education around contraception), Trump’s administration will put women at risk of pregnancy as their ability to have free, safe abortions is being threatened more every day. A Donald Trump appointed judge recently compared abortion to slavery, calling them “the two greatest tragedies in our country”…

Of course in the UK, Northern Ireland has been at the centre of the struggle for free, safe and legal abortion since the 1967 Abortion Act has never applied there. This fact has become more prominent of late due to the Tories’ dodgy deal with the fiercely pro-life DUP.  Abortion is not permitted in Northern Ireland even in cases of rape and incest and in 2016, a 21-year-old woman was given a suspended sentence after she bought drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage as she did not have the money to travel to England for an abortion. It was recently announced that the government would provide free abortions to Northern Irish women in England. Although this is a step in the right direction, women would still have to have the funds to get to England in the first place, after most likely having to take days off work and/or organise child care.

Like women in Northern Ireland and USA, the disturbing common thread is that women who have money are more likely to be able to access safe and legal abortion and contraception services, whilst women who do not, have their right to bodily autonomy taken from them. What’s more, companies like Boots are putting their profits before our reproductive rights whilst condescending to us with their sneering moralism.

The fight is no where near over whilst an estimated 22 million unsafe abortions take place worldwide each year. Women are driven to this when they cannot access safe, legal and free abortions and/or access free contraception due (often) to the sweeping moralism of the state and religious institutions and the contempt with which they view the concept of our right to choose what we do with our bodies.

We must continue to oppose any suggestion to limit our abortion and contraceptive rights in the UK and across the world, and in the case of Northern Ireland, keep fighting for the right to access free and legal abortions. Boots will likely see the effects of openly showing contempt for our contraceptive rights after a boycott has been called. What is horrifying, however, is this reminder that, in the year where millions flooded the streets to join the Women’s Marches, the hard fought victories that were won by reproductive and contraceptive rights campaigners must be held onto with all of our strength to protect them from those that are waiting to pounce and drag us back to much darker times.

5 Reasons Self-defining Women Should Vote For Corbyn’s Labour 

Amy Hills-Fletcher

Last week, as has been a daily occurrence since the announcement of the snap general election, I was having a conversation with a woman about our voting intentions. Some way into this discussion, she asked tentatively,  “But doesn’t Corbyn have a bit of a problem with women?”

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, commentators on both the right and the liberal left have thrown the accusation of sexism around, citing arguments such as, “But none of the key positions in the shadow cabinet are held by women,” or, “Wasn’t it supporters of Corbyn who  threw a brick through the window of Angela Eagle’s office?” These newspaper sound bite arguments have consistently been used to undermine Corbyn, with no real regard for the truth – a brick was not thrown through the window of Angela Eagle’s office, and quite clearly, many of Corbyn’s closest allies and most important voices in his shadow cabinet are prominent women MPs, such as Diane Abbott (Shadow Home Secretary) and Angela Rayner (Shadow Secretary of State for Education).

What has all too often been the case is that those who are ideologically opposed to Corbyn, whether this be people on the Labour right, liberal commentators in The Guardian, or right-wing journalists, have used allegations of sexism against Corbyn and his allies as a political weapon.

As well as rejecting the smears that have been aimed at Corbyn, there are 5 good reasons to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour:

1) His voting record

Corbyn’s actions over the course of his career as an MP show emphatically that he is in fact a committed anti-sexist, who has stood alongside women in their struggle against sexism. He has consistently supported abortion rights, the rights of sex workers, LGBTQI+ rights and other issues that mainly affect self-defining women, and has voted accordingly in parliament throughout his career.

2) His support of the grassroots 

It is not just his voting record that is important, but also the way in which Corbyn and John McDonnell have supported women in grassroots campaigns throughout their careers, such as this meeting, which McDonnell hosted in the House of Commons last year.  If you are still in need of convincing, Corbyn was shown to literally be amplifying women’s voices when he did this during the election campaign:

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3) His gender is not inherently an issue

There are some who suggest that Corbyn’s cis male gender identity somehow inherently means that he cannot work alongside and support women in the struggle for gender equality in the same way that a self-identifying woman could. We need only look to Theresa “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” May to see how easy it is to co-opt a radical liberation movement, and claim a “feminism” that is based solely on gender identity and not on actions. Sometimes, being a woman is not enough. We must reject the faux feminism of right-wing women who are pro-life, pro-war and pro austerity yet claim to be “on the side” of women.

4) His policies

The cruel austerity measures that the Conservatives have over seen have disproportionately affected women, particularly mothers, who are bearing 85 per cent of the cuts. The manifesto that Labour has put forward has promised to put a stop to austerity and to properly fund public services through higher taxation on the 5 per cent, as well as through measures such as reversing corporation tax cuts. There is no question that women in particular will benefit from the manifesto pledges that Labour have set out, such as (to name just a few), free childcare for 2-4 year olds, halting cuts to women’s refuges, reforming the Gender Recognition Act, making LGBT hate crimes aggravated offences, and appointing a Violence Against Women Commissioner.

5) A progressive alliance will do nothing for women

The calls for a progressive alliance appear to come from a good place, but the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with the Tories in 2010 after saying emphatically that they wouldn’t – what’s to stop them doing exactly the same this time around? The Liberal Democrats may appear to have socially liberal policies, but Tim Farron has made clearly offensive comments about homosexuality and has not supported abortion rights (shown by his voting record). Any alliance that involves the Lib Dems should not be called progressive. We have a Labour leader worth voting for, why vote Lib Dem?

In this election, women have the opportunity to vote for someone who is committed to fighting for justice for all, and for a person who feels genuine compassion for members of our community living in poverty through no fault of their own. Corbyn is passionate, dedicated and, shockingly, seems to be a genuinely nice man.

Corbyn is the only truly progressive, anti-war, anti-racist and anti-sexist potential Labour Prime Minister we have ever had the chance to vote for, and he can win.

Register to vote by this Monday, and then, #VoteLabour.

 

Amy Hills-Fletcher

 

 

One Woman’s Battle to Get a Diagnosis of…Vulvodynia

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Anonymous 

Some time last year, I went to the sexual health clinic with the usual symptoms of vaginal thrush – a change in discharge, itching and discomfort. I was seen by a doctor, examined and given the suitable medication for what was, indeed, thrush. My vulva soon returned to its normal state, and I continued my life as usual.

A few months later, I again started to experience what I believed to be the symptoms of vaginal thrush. I had a quick google and reluctantly decided that I should probably go to the sexual health clinic, again (admittedly mainly because they give you the medication and cream for free). I waited the usual hour at the drop-in and was examined by a nurse. When she inserted the speculum I cried out because it hurt and held back the tears that pricked my eyes. She said that she couldn’t see any symptoms of thrush and that, this time round, it was actually my cervix that looked red and inflamed. The nurse told me that I shouldn’t have sex until the pain had reduced, and that the discharge was probably something to do with my inflamed cervix. I left the clinic feeling confused and still experiencing pain and discomfort.

My symptoms of discomfort and burning did not go away, despite abstaining from sex. After a while, I decided that I would, again, return to the sexual health clinic. I waited the hour once more, and this time was seen by a doctor. I explained my symptoms and told her that I still thought it could be thrush and that I was worried about the pain I had been in for the last few months. The doctor was very understanding and decided she needed to examine me. I endured the pain of the speculum once more and was again told that my cervix was inflamed. When I told her that I only really experienced pain internally during sex, and that what I was concerned about was the pain around the entrance to my vagina, she said there was no obvious inflammation of my labia. I was reassured by her that the redness of my cervix was not a serious issue and sent away.

I performed this dance at my local sexual health clinic three more times over the next four to five months, one of the (male) nurses I saw during this time even had the audacity to say “you know sometimes sex can hurt when you are not in love.” I even went to the sexual health clinic attached to my local hospital, where I was examined by a consultant with no result.

I eventually broke down in hysterical tears to a nurse about the pain I was in. He looked at me, wide-eyed and unsure of what to do as I wailed “nobody will help me,” and sobbed uncontrollably. He eventually went to get another woman nurse, who seemed irritated at his lack of resourcefulness, and offered to examine me. She said that I had been rubbing the painful area of my labia so much that it was red and raw and gave me some soothing cream and aqueous cream to wash with. It was only at this point that they finally referred me to the specialist psychosexual unit at the local hospital. Living with pain everyday had become normalised during all the months it took for me to finally get this referral.

After more than six months of sexual health drop-in clinics and GP appointments, I arrived at the hospital for my appointment with both a consultant and a psychologist. I was quizzed about every part of my sex life, my mental health and lifestyle. Deep down, I was uncomfortable at detailing intimate elements of my sex life to two strange middle-aged men, mentally flinching when they asked me how often I masturbate, but I performed my role as practical, open and relaxed patient, eager to get my appointment over and done with. Both doctors were very nice, but I was never given the option of seeing a woman consultant or being examined by a woman – the best they can offer you is a woman chaperone.

After the grilling and a further vaginal examination, the consultant diagnosed me with unprovoked vulvodynia. He assured me that I had done well to seek out medical support as quickly as I had, as many women endure the pain of vulvodynia for years before going to see their GP. He also informed me that lots of women report symptoms of vulvodynia after experiencing a couple of serious bouts of thrush, which I had never heard anyone talk about before. They gently started to explain the various treatments available, from medication to therapy, and I tried hard to conceal the fact that they had just smacked me in the face with a bag of bricks.

Vulvodynia is persistent, unexplained pain in the vulva which can be long-term and chronic, but the doctors assured me that much can be done to relieve the pain. It is not an STI, it is not infectious, it is not related to cancer and you cannot pass it on to a partner. In my case, unprovoked vulvodynia means that my pain is burning, sore and spontaneous in nature – it is not touching that causes the pain, it is there all the time.

I told them I was grateful that I had a diagnosis, but really, I felt worse being diagnosed with a long-term chronic pain issue than I had when I assumed the doctors were just missing some kind of skin condition. The doctor prescribed me medication that, in higher doses, is prescribed for depression. The reason for this being that the medication alters the way in which nerve fibres send their impulses to the spinal cord and give the sensation of pain. I remembered that there was once an episode of Sex & the City where Charlotte is diagnosed with vulvodynia and told she is going to be prescribed a “light anti-depressant…for [her] vagina.”  I want to smack whoever wrote this episode of Sex & the City into oblivion.

I left the consultant’s office, feeling numb, to go and pick up my medication from the hospital pharmacy. I cried quietly on a squeaky plastic chair in the waiting room and then got on the bus home. I felt stupid for crying and pulled myself together for the phone call to my partner. I explained that I had been prescribed this medication and that, hopefully, in a few weeks time, it would start to work and the pain I was in would be reduced.

Obviously when I got home the first thing I did was to google both Vulvodynia and the medication I had been prescribed. I found the encouraging news that the drug I am now on (amitriptyline) is effective for pain relief in 1/4 people, which is apparently very high…let’s hope I’m in that 25%. I also scrolled through various websites about amitriptyline where the warning DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL as dangerous side effects or death can occur, was a consistent piece of advice. Amitriptyline also makes you drowsy, and I’ve been waking up in the mornings with a feeling similar to a hangover.

I am only in the first week of taking this medication and I know that it will take some time for doctors and/or psychologists to help me deal with the pain, but I cannot get over the amount of doctors visits it took for me to get the referral in the first place and that this actually only came after I sobbed hysterically to a bewildered nurse. GUM clinics are so stretched and understaffed that there was rarely a doctor there who was able to see me. This resulted in a cycle of being seen and made to leave with no diagnosis and no pain relief (ibuprofen and paracetamol do not work to relieve the pain of vulvodynia).

There is also the effect that this ordeal of almost a year has had on my mental health and sexual confidence. I have developed a level of anxiety around penetrative sex that I never had before, and sometimes it is too uncomfortable to have myself or another person even touching my vulva. I also never imagined that I would have had so many strange men examining and peering at my vulva, and how unpleasant I would find that experience.

I am hopeful that I will be able to take steps to relieve the pain that I’m experiencing over the next few months, but if I had been fully aware of what vulvodynia actually was, perhaps I would have been able to go to doctors with the vocabulary to explain my symptoms and have the confidence to ask for the help I needed. From my experience, there can be a distinct silence when it comes to the treatment of women’s sexual health. The difficulty, though, was that my inflamed cervix (which doctors did notice) had nothing to do with the vulvodynia. I believe this issue may have confused how I described my symptoms to doctors, but even so, it should have been picked up on that I was in physical pain with no external symptoms, given that I sought out medical help roughly ten times for the same issue.

I am ultimately thankful that I now know what is going on with my vulva and hope that my experience may help the up to 15% of women who have vulvodynia, and that it could also be a useful tool for those who will most probably never have heard of vulvodynia before.  I found this website useful and have also discovered that there are vulvodynia groups on Facebook, including one for partners of women with vulvodynia.

My vulvodynia journey stretches on…hopefully it won’t continue to be this painful.

 

The Forced Separation of Mothers from their Children is an issue of Poverty

House of Lords & House of Commons Lobby. The Parliament. London. UK

Inside House of Commons where the state facilitates the poverty that results in women having their children taken from them

Amy Hills-Fletcher

Legal Action for Women launched a dossier on 18 January detailing how the push to increase adoption in England, a policy that was set in motion by Blair’s government in 2000, is punishing women on low incomes. Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Children & Families, Emma Lewell-Buck, sponsored the launch of this research document at an event in the House of Commons. There was panel of campaigners from grassroots organisations, academics and a woman who’s daughter had had her child taken into care. I went along to the meeting and was moved, shocked and outraged by what I heard.

The research that was launched was conducted by Dr Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work at University of Central Lancashire. In his presentation, he highlighted that there had been a huge adoption push by Labour in 2000. By 2005, adoption had increased by 40%. Before going to this meeting, I had never deeply considered the reasons why children are taken into care – adopting children who are in ‘dangerous’, ‘neglectful’ familes: what is the issue?

The problem comes when you delve deeper into the statistics of which children have been adopted, are under Special Guardianship or have been taken into care – they are staggering. You are 11 x more likely to be in care if you are in the poorest 10% of people in England and, out of this poorest 10%, 1 in 30 children are in care.  There has been a dramatic rise in the amount of children who are classified in need of investigation but at the same time an increase in investigations which find no abuse.

Given that there has been such an adoption push since 2000, which has only increased under the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition and the current Tory government, surely this means an overall decrease in children who are in care? In fact, the statistics show that the number of children in care is also increasing alongside adoptions and, despite the adoption push, there has been no improvement in safeguarding children.

What Dr Andy Bilson’s research has found is that poverty is being classified as emotional abuse and neglect by the state. Over 90% of children come from families living below the poverty line, who are then adopted by largely middle class families – this is social cleansing and does not solve the issue at hand. Additionally, 40% of the women who formed part of Dr Andy Bilson’s research were black and/or immigrants who were often in very vulnerable circumstances.

The research also shows that rape and domestic violence are the most common underlying factor for children being taken into care. Women are not being protected by the family courts, despite claims that men are the ones losing out in these battles. Women who are suffering domestic abuse and rape in the home are being told by the family courts that they are failing to protect their children and therefore that they are not fit to look after them. This is the state’s solution. Rather than funding women’s services and building safe council housing so that women have the opportunity to get out of violence in their homes, the social services are often being used as an arm of the police and not to help vulnerable women living in poverty. What’s more, women have reported being afraid to go to A & E to get medical treatment for injury caused by domestic abuse as they are terrified social services will try to take away their children – this is a criminal failure by the state to help the most vulnerable in our society.

One speaker at the meeting highlighted how this was exemplified by what had happened to girls in Rotherham who had been put into care due to abuse. This abuse had then carried on in care and later on when they had children, the state are taking their children away from them – this is not a solution to the wider issue of poverty. Rather than funding proper public services and removing the zero hours contracts and criminally low paid work that so many women are forced to survive on, the state would rather pay thousands of pounds towards keeping children in care away from their mothers. These women’s situations are as a result of poverty that has been facilitated by the state. Essex County Council pay £54,000 a year for one child to be in care – why can this money not be used to help mothers to get out of abusive relationships and not have to rely on zero hours contracts whilst attempting to pay for child care?

The terrifying reality of what is happening to social services is exemplified by the Children & Social Work Bill which is currently going through the House of Commons. This will enable councils to ‘opt out’ of statutory child protection and pave the way for further privatisation in the social care sector. Privatisation is happening alongside devastating cuts to schools, hospitals and community services – we must stand together to oppose this at all costs.

Mothers are bearing 85% of austerity cuts and 1/4 of low income mothers go hungry to feed their children. If the state put a stop to this life destroying, ideologically driven austerity and increased wages and gave mothers the support they need ,they would enable families to get out of poverty and put a stop to the practice of equating poverty with emotional abuse and neglect and allow children to stay with their families.

 

 

 

 

Ched Evans’ Acquittal: A Dangerous Precedent Set For Future Rape Trials

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Royal Courts of Justice, London

TW: Rape, Rape Trial, Institutionally facilitated misogyny

Ched Evans was today cleared of rape in a retrial that was granted after he won his appeal in Easter 2016. I sat through the two days of Ched Evans’ appeal case as a representative of a women’s organisation to ensure that we had notes that accurately reflected the events that unfolded – we didn’t feel we could rely on the press for this. I want to use the details of the appeal to highlight how dysfunctional and unfair our justice system is and also to provide the specifics of that appeal in order that members of the public have a clear idea of the circumstances under which it was granted.

Why was the appeal granted?

Ched Evans’ defence lawyers were granted the appeal under extremely questionable circumstances. His defence claimed that ‘fresh evidence’ had been uncovered that would’ve added to Evans’ defence at trial. This ‘fresh evidence’ consisted of two witnesses, who the defence claimed had had ‘similar’ sexual encounters with Evans’ victim.  To those unfamiliar with the law, this may seem fair – if similar sexual encounters had occurred with the same victim that were not rape, what makes Ched Evans’ case different?

So what makes this ‘fresh evidence’ questionable?

Section 41

This is a section of the Youth and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 that is supposed to challenge the (sexist) notion that “unchaste” women are more likely to consent to sex and such women are less worthy of belief when reporting rape. In theory, it prevents defence lawyers from trawling through women’s sexual history to use it against them in court. The point of this part of the law is to highlight that having sex with someone in a certain way at one time does not provide evidence for the consent of any other separate sexual encounter i.e. the only thing that is relevant to a rape trial is that specific incident – a woman’s character, clothing, sexual tastes and preferences or previous sexual encounters should have nothing to do with it.

Evans’ defence argued for the restrictions of Section 41 to be lifted in this case, claiming that there was a thread of commonality in Evan’s victims’ sexual behaviour when she’d had too much to drink. Their appeal hung on the notion that sexual encounters with two different men had been “too similar to be coincidence”. It is for this reason that the two new witnesses were allowed to give evidence at the appeal.

This case has now set a precedent for the future – what is to stop any defence lawyer in a rape case using Evans’ appeal as a case study to argue that Section 41 should not be applied to their client? Are we to regress to a time when being considered a ‘slag’ would be enough to mean you couldn’t possibly be raped?

The ‘Fresh Evidence’ – connections to Evans and his family 

When the two witnesses were then called forward to give this fresh evidence, I was somewhat taken aback to discover how closely connected both witnesses were to Ched Evans and/or his victim.

Witness 1 was contacted by one of Evans’ victim’s friend’s boyfriends to urge him to give a statement to the police about a sexual encounter he’d had with the victim. Witness 1 then called his cousin (who just so happened to be a good friend of Ched Evans) who then told him to get in contact with Evans’ new lawyer. In a nut shell, he was told by someone closely linked to Evans himself to give a statement. When pressed by the Prosecution, he admitted his cousin had filled him in on what had happened to Ched Evans but he claimed  he didn’t know any of the details of what had happened on the night of the rape.

Similarly, Witness 2 went to Primary and Secondary School with Evans’ victim – they were in the same year group and their mums were best friends. This was the same school that Evans himself attended. Witness 2’s brother was in the same year group as one of Evans’ friends who had been outside the window of the hotel the night of the rape. Witness 2 called the police on the day of Evans’ original conviction – he knew that Evans’ had raped the girl in a Premier Inn from the papers but said he didn’t know much detail. The Prosecution pressed Witness 2 on whether the friends that were urging him to go to the police knew Ched Evans to which he replied “I’m not sure”. He said he was shown a post on Facebook by a friend that suggested Evans’ victim was after money (which was then revealed to be complete nonsense). He saw many posts about the case on Facebook but, like Witness 1, claimed there were no specific details about the rape.

The Defence argued there was not enough evidence to show that both witnesses were connected to Evans or that they knew the details of the night of the rape. This was despite the fact there had been years of articles in the press, a vicious campaign by members of Evans’ own family (that revealed the identity of his victim illegally) and many Facebook and Twitter posts discussing the case. I will never understand how the judges at this appeal allowed this new evidence, given the clear connections both witnesses had to Evans and the sheer volume of information that had appeared in the press or online since his conviction – how could any of the evidence be considered credible?

The ‘Fresh Evidence’ – Trawling Through Evans’ Victims’ Sexual History 

Both witnesses claimed that they had had sex in the same positions that Evans had had sex with his victim. Witness 1 alleged that the girl had said “fuck me harder” – a carbon copy of the words Evans claims his victim said and the reason he thought her to be consenting. Witness 2 described the girl as telling him to “go harder” – a phrase sufficiently close to be similar, it was claimed.

The fact that this evidence was accepted in the appeal and is essentially what has ended up getting Evans off is an absolute disgrace. Any sexually active young woman is highly likely to have used one of those expressions – it is a porn cliché and something that would be considered extremely normal for young women to say during a sexual encounter. Considering that Evans’ victim remembers nothing of the night, we only have his statement to go by – is it possible he pulled porn clichés out of thin air to defend himself?

Equally, being proactive by choosing sexual positions in two other encounters has absolutely nothing to do with the night in question. The suggestion being that because a woman engaged in consensual, proactive sex at one point with a man, she must’ve engaged in consensual proactive sex with another – one bears no relation to the other.

The suggestion that Evans’ victim was regularly drunk and having sex again has absolutely nothing to do with the night in question. The witnesses’ evidence should never have been allowed to be considered: it is irrelevant.

The crux of all of this being, though, that the Defence’s case did not convince me that the lifting of Section 41 was at all warranted. The appeal should never have been accepted and the retrial should never even have occurred.

Money and power

Ched Evans spent two and half years in prison (not serving his full sentence). For the entirety of Evans’ sentence, his family and friends conducted a fierce campaign to prove Evans’ innocence. The name of his victim was made public, snatching her legal right to anonymity away from her – she was forced to change her identity several times. There were countless online posts.  A lot of money was pumped into Ched Evans’ innocence campaign, part of which included a £50,000 reward for information. Ched Evans managed to fast-track himself through the appeals system and pay for an expensive QC to defend him. There is no doubt that he was granted this appeal because of his status and economic position – a poor man convicted of the same crime would never have been capable of getting as far. This is the same appeals system that leaves women convicted of perverting the course of justice for reporting rape on waiting lists a year long.

Evans had the money to buy his appeal and the status as a popular local footballer to get his family and friends on a mission to find men who had slept with his victim that were willing to give a statement. It is essential to repeat that this should never have been allowed. There should never be an instance where a woman’s sexual history can be used as evidence in a rape trial.

“Justice”

Given the details of the appeal, it is important to remember that Evans has just been acquitted for rape when the details of the night in question are as follows:

Evans turned up to a hotel in the middle of the night after a friend rang him and said: (something along the lines of) “I’ve got a girl”. He proceeded to lie to the hotel receptionist to gain access to the hotel room. He walked in, had sex with a drunk woman he had never met and then left the hotel through the fire exit.

Despite the jury aquitting Evans, it is essential that the public understand that a “not guilty” verdict does not mean “she lied”, something that has been thrown around social media all afternoon and which is loaded with misogyny.

In a world where we now know for certain that our sexual histories can be used against us in rape trials despite the protections that are supposedly in place, are women supposed to refrain from kinky sex? Orgasms? Directing our sexual partners into the positions we enjoy for fear of these being used against us in court?  It is an absolute disgrace that this is possible in 2016. As far as I’m concerned, this trial has been a witch hunt instigated by Evans’ family, friends and acquaintances and facilitated by social media. I dread how Evans’ case will be applied to future rape trials and send love and solidarity to rape survivors globally who, statistically, will never get the “justice” that Ched Evans was able to buy.

 

 

 

 

 

The Burqini Ban exposes the hypocrisy of the “Secular” French State

Burkini

Photograph: Franck Pennant/AFP/Getty (The Guardian Online)

Sara Khan

This month – while the Scottish have officially allowed the hijab to be worn as part of police uniform – French politicians have given us a clear demonstration of what constitutes liberté, égalité, fraternité. In a nutshell, women are liberated only when armed white men patrol their beaches, dictating what they should and should not wear. Of course, it’s only oppression when brown men are doing it.

Never mind that an estimated 40% of burqini wearers are non-Muslim (see Nigella Lawson, who wears one in order to protect her skin). Never mind that white French women are allowed to wear full body wetsuits and swim caps – you know, covering exactly the same parts of their body as a burqini, save maybe a bit of neck – without being forced to strip. The important thing here is the word: burqini. Bring an Arabic word into it and suddenly it’s evil. By definition, the term burqa simply denotes a loose garment covering the body from head to foot; it is not mentioned in the Qu’ran even once. In several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women are forced to wear these, and that is wrong – whether or not a woman wears a burqa should be her choice, her decision to express her modesty and her faith in a certain way – but it is equally wrong to prohibit them from doing so. Women can only reclaim their bodies when they are able to choose how to do it. Remember, while burqinis provoke terrorism, short skirts and tight dresses provoke rape. Either way, women’s clothing is inevitably the reason for appalling and immoral actions committed by men; it’s not like men have agency over themselves or should be held responsible for their own actions.

The French public have shown overwhelming support for the outright racism and sexism of these politicians. Mathilde Cousin, a witness to the incident at Nice, said that “the saddest thing was that people were shouting ‘go home’, and some were applauding the police.” According to an Ifop survey, 64% of French people are in favour of the burqini bans, while another 30% are indifferent. That’s 94% of French people suffering from either active or internalised racism, Islamophobia and sexism. And it is extremely important to note that this figure includes women. That’s an overwhelming number of white “feminists” supporting the bans (because the liberation of women only counts when in accordance with Western ideals).

French politicians keep saying that the burqini opposes secular French values. Since when did secularism translate into “the authoritarian imposition of atheism”? If secularism is about the separation of the state from the influence of religious organisations – which it is – then it does not entail the suppression of religious expression. Secularism is about taking an unbiased standpoint; it’s about protecting people from being imposed upon. When practiced correctly, it should entail the elimination of discrimination on the basis of religion, and it should protect the rights of religious minorities. Looks like it’s actually the French authorities whose actions are flying in the face of secular values.

Aheda Zanetti, who designed the burqini, recounts how when she was growing up, her hijab made it difficult to participate in sport. She remembers being afraid to go outside and to socialise because of rampant Islamophobic attitudes in the English-speaking world. She created the burqini – along with other sportswear for Muslim women – to give them the freedom to engage in a range of activities, to integrate and to be accepted. In denying the burqini, the French have shown that they are not interested in the rights of Muslim women, or of any women, really. The burqini ban defines Frenchness by whiteness, and it defines womanhood by sexuality. Consumer culture relentlessly commodifies women’s bodies, and women who choose to cover themselves are perhaps the most threatening of all, as they radically refuse to be defined by patriarchal, capitalist trajectories.

Unfortunately, these bans are only one manifestation of a terrifying trend. In France, Marie Le Pen and her racist Front National continues to rise, while in the lead up to next year’s election, Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that as president he would extend the ban on the hijab to universities, restrict access to benefits for women who repeatedly violate the burqa ban, and scrap laws authorising immigrants to be reunited with their families. Elsewhere, Donald Trump rallies vast numbers of white Americans against the immigrant population, and Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have successfully lead us towards Brexit, resulting in exponential rises in xenophobic abuse. Racism and fascism are spreading, and they are spreading fast.

The world that many French, American and British politicians would have us live in is steeped in hatred, bigotry and fear. In particular, the claim that the burqini bans have been made in the name of counter-terrorism is completely farcical. The Nice ban specifically references the Bastille Day attack last month, but completely fails to mention that 84 of its victims were Muslim; the mayor of Cannes has said that burqinis refer to an allegiance to terrorist groups (because Islamist organisations are known for encouraging women to bathe in form-fitting swimwear on mixed gender public beaches). By pitting us against each other, the people that spread these lies hope to divide and conquer.

As ever, it is wonderful to see that the French authorities have their priorities in order. Instead of focusing on resolving the socioeconomic issues that affect migrants and that may predispose them to harbour negative feelings towards the state, they choose to aggravate the situation by alienating them further and making them more vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. Today, the French High Court suspended the burqini ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, and this does bode well; the ban may soon be suspended in other towns across the country. State-sanctioned Islamophobia, racism and sexism are still alive and well in France, however, and we have not heard the last of Sarkozy, Le Pen, or Manuel Valls. When Islamist organisations next strike, remember to blame the government.

Sara Khan