Support for Anti-racist Action

Some people within the group have given powerful and troubling examples of racism and xenophobia they’ve experienced since the referendum result. It should be acknowledged that prejudice has not suddenly emerged as a result of the Brexit debate, though clearly some of those knuckle-draggers with racist and xenophobic beliefs now feel more emboldened to espouse them more publically.  As such, lots of us from Chelt Fems hope to attend and to support upcoming events such as the anti-racist community project facilitated by the Wilson Arts Collective on Wednesday 6th June.

As a heads-up for those will full diaries, Chelt Fems are currently working in partnership with the charity Remembering Srebrenica to mark 21 years since the genocide and to share post-conflict learning.  The as yet unnamed event will start at 6pm at Gloucester Guildhall on 26th July. Further details tbc.

Blog on The Bog

By Tess Beck

indexToilets seem to be a hot topic at the moment among transactivists, the religious right and radical feminists.  This is due in part to legislation introduced in North Carolina* making it illegal for people to use bathroom facilities that do not correspond to the sex recorded on their birth certificate.

This leads to the unedifying spectacle of Caitlyn Jenner (obnoxious Trump supporter) using the ladies’ at Trump Towers and making rapey jokes about it.

But even more worrying is this scene, where a woman is forcibly removed by police from a public bathroom, because she is judged not to look sufficiently feminine and she is not carrying ID on her to prove her sex.

Meanwhile, here in the UK there is no legislation about who can use male or female washroom or changing facilities.  In practice, most businesses recognise the discomfort users may suffer if they see someone of the opposite sex in their changing room or toilet, and will put up warning signs as appropriate when cleaning/ maintenance is being undertaken by a male or female operative, or even temporarily close the facilities.  We hope that all users, especially women, would have the confidence and means to report anyone using a public lavatory or changing rooms whose behaviour gave them cause for concern.

But public toilets have long been a feminist issue here, and not for the reasons the American controversies would have you believe.  Although public toilets for men were introduced for men in the 1820s, they were not introduced for women until several decades later.  Providing public toilets for women enabled respectable women to be present in public space, which is why it was controversial. Reforming organisations such as the Ladies Sanitary Association continued to campaign for better provision into the 1880s.

Now in the 21st century, there is still far less provision of public toilets for women than men.  This is despite recommendations that the ratio of provision should actually be 2:1 in favour of women, as it is in Japan.

w.c.http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmcomloc/636/636.pdf

Local authority cuts and concerns about the use of public toilets for anti-social and illegal activities have led to a decline in the number of public toilets across the UK.  The lack of availability of public toilets leads to certain groups of people not going out for fear of being caught short.  This particularly affects older people, people with disabilities and their carers, people with irritable bowel disorders, pregnant women, parents and carers of small children.  This leads to greater social isolation for these groups of people, who are mostly women.

Some of this shortfall has been made up for by Community Toilet Schemes, where in the absence of public conveniences, local businesses make their facilities available to the public.  But many of these are in pubs, where some women may feel less comfortable entering on their own, especially in the evening.

Pop-up urinals are used in many town and city centres to cater for the late night economy.  Unfortunately they cater only for men.  There is no equivalent provision for women.

As mentioned earlier, there are no laws in the UK about which toilets you should use according to your sex.  Those of us who are parents or carers for someone of the opposite sex often have to make a judgment call about which loos to use.   Too often, baby changing facilities are only located in the ladies’ toilets making it difficult for men whose baby or toddler needs changing.  There is a terrible shortage of Changing Places (facilities where a severely disabled adult can be changed by their carer in a hygienic setting with hoists and other necessary facilities).  This further isolates both the people with disabilities and their carers (usually women).

Many mothers report unease sending their young sons into the gents’ on their own, as many men’s public toilets feel unsafe.  Many trans people also feel unsafe in men’s facilities.  This of course creates additional users for the already scarce number of ladies’ facilities. The issue of safety in public toilets needs to be addressed for all users.

What do we want:

At least equal provision of public toilets for women, but ideally a higher ratio of provision for women.

All public toilets should be safe and feel safe.  If a facility is unattended, details need to be displayed of whom to contact in case there is a problem.

Better provision of disabled facilities including provision of Changing Places.

Baby changing facilities should not just be in the ladies’.

This article is written from a UK perspective. We should be aware that in many parts of Africa and South Asia, girls are missing out on education because of the lack of safe gender-specific toilet facilities. 90 million schoolgirls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during menstruation. If you are able to support ActionAid please do.

Further reading:

Sally Feldman (2010) Going to the Ladies: the sexual politics of toilets. https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/2249/going-to-the-ladies

The House of Commons Communities & Local Government Committee Report of the Provision of Public Toilets (2008) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmcomloc/636/636.pdf

Soraya Chemaly (2015) The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Public Toilet Lines http://time.com/3653871/womens-bathroom-lines-sexist-potty-parity/

Taunya Lovell Banks (1991) Toilets as a Feminist Issue: A True Story. Berkeley Women’s Law Journal

Potty Parity Wikipedia

*The North Carolina ‘Bathroom Bill’ is not just about bathrooms.  It also removes legal protection for LGBT people from discrimination.

Women on the Side

By Jo Bartosch

It was like a verbal tick, the phrase ‘and also some men’ punctuated each comment made by the three male candidates; we were reminded that men can be raped, can be victims of domestic abuse, that men can be subject to street harassment.  I’m not sure if candidates were consciously aware of this, I wonder if at some level they felt it their duty to point out male suffering to the feminists, lest we forget.  I spent the event with my head down, frantically tweeting before really processing their comments, and trying to fend off accusations of sexism against men (see my previous post).

I met the candidates and briefly chatted before and after the event, I have no doubt they are decent community spirited people, probably caring fathers and loving husbands.  As with most political types, I am confident that these are not careerists ‘on the take’ and that they are genuine in wanting to do their best for those they represent.  Depressingly, after hearing them speak I was left in no doubt that none of them are properly equipped to do this, as they all seemed to struggle with the notion that ‘women’s issues’ are in fact fundamental human rights.

When Barry, the Labour candidate, proudly described his commitment to child-friendly policies allowing mothers to balance family and work commitments, I knew he was trying to do a good thing.  It felt rather churlish to wonder who was looking after his children so that he could further his career that evening, but nonetheless the thought drifted through my mind.  His introduction was firmly party political, championing the work of the Labour Party in taking positive action. To be fair, unlike the others Barry tried to get it, he said his wife described him as a ‘feminist’ and unless he does something unspeakably stupid, he will have my vote.

Will Windsor-Clive (double-barrelled, guess which party…) was an affable fellow with considerable experience, particularly within the Fire Service.  Similarly to Barry, he was quick to cite notable women within his party and was clearly proud of the Conservative Party’s record on promoting women into positions of leadership.  As he was a nice enough chap, I felt myself silently willing him not to mention that Prime Minister to a room dominated by feminists but alas, he did.

One of the first comments that made me snort some tea through my nose was during the incumbent Police and Crime Commissioner’s introductory comments. Martin Surl, a man with huge power and responsibility for the entire police budget of Gloucestershire, referred to the female half of his electorate as ‘a special interest group.’ Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect a man of a certain age who has spent his working life in a male-dominated profession to always use the phraseology preferred by feminists.  Nonetheless, the one in five of us who are raped, the one in five of us who are stalked, the ninety-nine per cent of us who have been harassed on the street, are not a ‘special interest group.’  The needs, experience and understanding of half of those he represents should be at the core of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s strategy, women are not an adjunct.  I’ve singled him out for his poor choice of words, but in attitude it seems clear to me that all of the candidates are alike in this.

Each of the candidates was invited to comment upon the case of a prosecution barrister, who referred to his client, the woman who had instructed him to prosecute her alleged rapist, as a ‘silly girl.’  The next morning I woke up to hear former Director of Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer, eloquently describing the culture of disbelief that used to characterise the police approach to allegations of sexual abuse.  During his work, Starmer sought to ‘fundamentally shift the focus to get away from myths and stereotypes’ during sexual abuse prosecutions.  Clearly, not one of Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner candidates got the memo. Not one of them was willing to condemn the sexist and stupid comments of the barrister, nor even to use the opportunity to high-light the problem of victim-blaming.  As a woman who has suffered abuse, this made me realise that I made the right decision when I opted not to report the crime to the police.  I cannot express how depressing this knowledge is.  The failure of the candidates to take this opportunity to take a stand against sexism made it painfully apparent to me that even at the highest levels sexist behaviour is ignored, underplayed and excused.

Following this, a woman who has worked locally in the women’s sector for many years, who I know to be an expert in matters of sexual and domestic violence service provision, asked about the closure of GDVSAP.  This was a service used by marginalised groups, particularly BAME women who were experiencing domestic violence. Funding was withdrawn, interestingly in favour of a service that also provides support to men. The ninety BAME women who were on the books have disappeared.  That this was news to the candidates was disappointing, one might have hoped that they’d have had the courtesy of doing a little research into women’s services before attending an event with a focus on women.  Making pledges before you’re in office is hard, but condemning an obvious injustice shouldn’t be.  Again, the candidates totally failed to offer any solution, or pass any criticism about the impact of funding cuts.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering if the response would have been different had the expert had been white and male.

Will Windsor-Clive was quick to herald the work done recently by the Cheltenham and Gloucester MPs with regard to extending the sentencing guidelines for stalking. He asserted, that he wasn’t aware there was a problem with under-reporting or with cases not being taken seriously, despite the MPs’ report clearly stating that ‘relatively few cases ever reach court.’  He assured us all that if it did prove to be a problem, he would look into it.  Perhaps I’m unfair, but I suspect he hadn’t read the report and I was not reassured.

For once, I felt brave enough to ask a question myself.  I hate speaking-up and really battle against being shy, (damn female socialisation) so this was a small personal victory.  I asked the candidates whether they’d support the Nordic model on prostitution, the system whereby pimps and punters are prosecuted but prostituted women are helped with exit strategies. None of them had a clear understanding of the issues, and whilst I was somewhat reassured that they recognised prostituted women as vulnerable (with the usual caveat of ‘some men’ and those mythical few who love the sexy sex industry) they totally failed to understand the nuance between total decriminalisation and decriminalising prostitutes themselves.  The adoption of the Nordic model is something I feel passionately about, and I sometimes wonder if I am guilty of expecting those in positions of authority to know an unreasonable amount about what happens to interest me.  I suppose, what irked me, was that none of them was honest enough to just admit that they didn’t know. It struck me as textbook masculine behaviour…

The feminist community I’m immersed in is warm and supportive, sometimes when I step out of it I am shocked at how cold and unconcerned with women the outside world is.  I am grateful that the candidates cared enough to attend; during a recent mayoral hustings focussing on VAWG only two of the candidates were there in person as it clashed with a business event.  It seems to those with power, the interests of pretty much any other group trump those of women.

I left the event with a firm belief in the glass elevator, the counterpart to the better known glass ceiling, whereby mediocre men are promoted to positions of importance.

Men in the Lion’s Den

By Jo Bartosch

Before, during and after the women-only questions at the Police & Crime Commissioner hustings, Chelt Fems & the University of Gloucestershire came in for criticism.  The decision to have a separate section where women’s views &  voices were prioritised was understood as ‘sexism against men’ by some.

Cathal

Interestingly, one of those who criticised the arrangement considers herself a feminist.  I have no doubt she had noble intentions when she complained of sexism against men, though I fear she might have missed the point of both promoting women’s voices during this event, and indeed, of feminism itself.  After the hassle of organising the complaints did get to me, and I was a bit of a bitch to her.   I should probably feel more guilty than I do, but I am getting tired of listening to the same ‘what about the men’ arguments, especially as each person who trots it out seems to be under the impression they’re the first to do so.

KellieMarie

I shouldn’t single her out, as despite numerous emails to explain the reasoning, one young man tweeted furiously and despite my genuine offer refused to meet with me claiming ‘I’m not in the habit of walking into the lion’s den, thank you. As a man I would not feel welcome or want you to feel unsafe.’  I flushed about being thought of as a lioness, hear me roar and all that…

unsafe

Perhaps we should have anticipated this, as a friend of mine commented recently, when you’re used to privilege equality can feel like oppression.

Anyway, I hope that they reflect and change their minds.  I wrote this to try to explain to the young feminist why having a women-only section was not sexist against men.  To argue otherwise rather supposes the current system isn’t sexist against women. I will remind readers, the three candidates were men…

feminism

I am sorry for losing patience, and I hope I’ve not alienated anyone who might have understood had I have kept my temper.  To be honest, the ignorance of the few who complained had nothing on the terrifying displays by the candidates, though more on that in my next blog.

Equality!

 

 

 

Stop Street Harassment Week

This week sees the launch of an international campaign to #stopstreetharassment

To mark the catchily-named ‘Anti-Street Harassment Week,’ Chelt Fems member and multi-talented comedian Joy-Amy Wigman made this stunning video with a lovely man called Rob…Anti-Street Harassment Advert  Please do share the video widely.

We’re also asking people to share photos with what they’ve wanted to reply with when harassed in the street using the hashtag #cheltbitesback . Where the location is included this will be added to a map so that harassment hotspots can be identified.  biteback