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Friday, 30 July 2010

The End Of Men?

Salvor-8-mars-2006-dublinersImage via Wikipedia
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same.

For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences. (Read More)

So begins a very interesting read in the latest edition of the superb Atlantic Monthly.

We'd like to test some of the theories mentioned in this article to see whether the European reality matches the American experience.

To that end, we want to hear from women of all ages and backgrounds, to find out whether they believe they are now living in a 'feminised' world.

Do you see your workplace and home as havens of equality?

Did you live through the feminist waves of the last three decades? Is the European society of today what you expected?

Tell us how feminism has changed your life? Is it still relevant to the lives of younger women and to those who are not counted among middle class professionals?

Why does feminism seem to be making a comeback in the UK if the world now belongs to women?

What are the battles still to be won to ensure true equality? 

We'll use your replies for a September feature article.

Thanks in advance for taking part.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

View From The Court - 29 July 2010

TramStrasbourg lineE DroitsHomme panneauImage via Wikipedia
In the case of P.B. and J.S. v. Austria, the Court concluded that the difference of treatment concerning the extension of an insurance cover was discriminating against a homosexual couple. (read more)

The European Court of Human Rights has notified in writing two Chamber judgments concerning Russia, neither of which is final.

Both cases concerned the applicants’ allegations that their close relatives had been kidnapped by Russian servicemen in Chechnya.

They further complained that the domestic authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation into their allegations. They relied in particular on Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. (read more)

Football Leads Fight Against Islamophobia

Symbol against the construction of a Mosque.Image via Wikipedia

Top international footballers have added their voices to the campaign against Islamophobia organised in the United Kingdom by Show Racism The Red Card.

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand and midfielder Ryan Giggs appear alongside France international Thierry Henry, Arsenal's Kolo Toure and Chelsea 's Didier Drogba in a new video which challenges stereotypes about Muslims.

''Before you judge, you need to know people,'' said the French international forward Henry. ''People are confusing what they see on tv and what they should learn for themselves.

''No disrespect to journalists or tv but they have a big power and sometimes they use it in the wrong way.''

An education pack accompanies the video, offering lesson plans and activities for work with children and adults.

The introduction to the education pack states: ''The activities have been designed to help young people to challenge stereotypes and prejudice towards Muslims and gain greater historical and political awareness of the climate which has enabled Islamophobia to flourish in recent times.''

Show The Red Card, a campaign group based in Whitley Bay , uses football celebrities to focus attention on discrimination. It believes its current campaign is timely given the surge in Islamophobia since the terrorist attacks on the United States and the bombings in Madrid and London .

In the United Kingdom , the Dispatches programme broadcast on Channel 4 revealed that anti-Muslim attacks are now so commonplace that some violent assaults are not even reported to the police.

Writing in the Independent newspaper in July 2008, programme-maker Peter Oborne stated: ''The systematic demonisation of Muslims has become an important part of the central narrative of the British political and media class; it is so entrenched, so much part of normal discussion, that almost nobody notices. Protests go unheard and unnoticed.''

Elsewhere in Europe, evidence is plentiful that suspicion of Islam and fear of Muslims have taken hold.

In the Netherlands, the popularity of MP Geert Wilders, known for his ‘anti-Islam' film ‘Fitna' is on the rise.

In his report on the Netherlands published in March 2009, the Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, encouraged Dutch authorities to ''take a firm stand against the anti-islamic undercurrent in society and to promote the national action plan against racism and xenophobia and monitor its implementation in close cooperation with civil society.''

The United Kingdom 's British National Party has thrived politically as popular fears about Islamic extremism have deepened. Complaints about the "Islamification of Norway” have boosted the appeal of the country's hardline, right wing politicians. In Switzerland , voters accepted a proposal to ban minarets.

A 67-page report published in February 2009 by Human Rights Watch argues that eight out of the 16 German states which ban teachers and other civil servants from wearing religious symbols and clothing discriminate against Muslim women.

The Pew survey of global attitudes reported in 2008 that more than half of Spaniards and 50% of Germans said that they did not like Muslims. The figures for those holding unfavourable opinions of Muslims in Poland and France were 46% and 38% respectively.

Such is the scale of Islamophobia that since 2005, the Council of Europe has treated inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue as priority themes.

In March 2008, the Organisation's leaders denounced Wilders' film Fitna as ''political propaganda'' playing ''into the hands of extremists.''

Through books, conferences and the campaign 'Speak Out Against Discrimination,' the Council of Europe wants to encourage Europe 's 800 million citizens towards greater understanding and respect.

''Fact-based education on the diversity of religious and secular beliefs is indispensable if we want to be able to live together as equals in dignity,'' said Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer Buquicchio. ''It is indeed a key element of education for democratic citizenship, human rights and intercultural dialogue.''

File: Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue

Website: Show Racism The Red Card

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The End Of Multi-Culturalism?

Theo van Gogh (July 23, 1957–November 2, 2004)...Image via Wikipedia
For the first time in a generation, multiculturalism, the set of principles which underpin the relationship between Europe 's majorities and its minorities, is under sustained attack.

The May 2008 publication of the Council of Europe's White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue was a sign post to the drift away from multi-cultural ''old thinking.''

The report recognised that ''old approaches to the management of cultural diversity were no longer adequate to societies in which the degree of that diversity (rather than its existence) was unprecedented and ever-growing.

"The responses to the questionnaires sent to member states, in particular, revealed a belief that what had until recently been a preferred policy approach, conveyed in shorthand as “multiculturalism”, had been found inadequate.''

It is this concern that multiculturalism no longer provides full answers to today's questions about diversity and identity, which explains the volume of criticism now heard in Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy and the United Kingdom.

''Multiculturalism was intended to create a more cohesive and friendlier society by facilitating bringing people together,'' said the British Conservative MP Dominic Grieve in March 2009.

''But instead the laws and concepts underlying it seem to drive people apart endangering our traditional sense of community based on common values.''

Grieve's observation reflects the hardening of attitudes in a continent marked by the 'Islamic cartoons' dispute in Denmark and the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands.

Global recession, international terror and the spectre of 'home-grown' bombers, the far-right agenda on migration and 'political-correctness' fatigue, have also contributed to a reassessment of the multicultural contract.

The scale of this re-evaluation is still to be determined but the impact of the challenge has been felt across the political spectrum. Accordingly, governments, equalities regulators, NGO's and activists have been forced to re-think their approach to issues of diversity, discrimination and national identity.

This new analysis informed discussions at the November 2008 Council of Europe conference in the Hague on the protection of human rights in multicultural societies.

''In tense times it is more important than ever to take a firm and common line on certain questions,'' declared Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Guusje ter Horst.

''Let us be clear that human rights, the principle of equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association are not up for discussion. What we need to discuss are the boundaries between them and the questions they raise in the everyday world.

''Over the last five years we have become accustomed to the idea that these questions need answers. But we have not found them yet. So, over the next five years, it is vital that we keep talking and acting, at both national and European level.''

Yet some observers remain uneasy with the calls for a ‘redefinition' of the relationship between majorities and minorities.

''The mounting campaign against multiculturalism by politicians, pundits and the press, in Britain and across Europe, is neither innocent nor innocuous,'' said Ambalavaner Sivanandan, director of Britain 's Institute of Race Relations.

''It is a prelude to a policy that deems there is one dominant culture, one unique set of values, one nativist loyalty - a policy of assimilation.''

Read more

Reference text : White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue

File Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue

File Conference in the Hague (Nov. 2008)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Gender Expert: 40% Of Politicians Should Be Women

Women montageImage via Wikipedia
Are only the wild-eyed, politically correct zealots of the “sisterhood” concerned that just four women have made it into Prime Minister David Cameron’s first Cabinet? I rather hope not.

Women form the majority of the British electorate but make up roughly 20% of the country’s elected representatives. This should be a call to action for all those who care about the health and durability of the democratic process.

Research from the Council of Europe shows female representation in the United Kingdom lagging behind that of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

Elected female representatives are also more numerous in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Portugal, Spain and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Where balanced representation is concerned, Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands are the established leaders among the Council of Europe’s 47 member states. Each country records impressive numbers of women contributing to the national decision-making process.

A 2008 Council of Europe study concluded that "obstacles to participation can be related to electoral systems, but also to the functioning of political life and to its rites and rhythms, that still follow a dominant male pattern of social organisation. The report added that "they can also be related to the unwritten, traditional rules of political parties which, still too often, tend to function as ’old boys networks.’

"Deeper rooted obstacles are linked to educational, social and cultural factors that still tend to privilege the public/political domain as being a mainly male domain."

Fair representation is not simply “a numbers game,” nor is it the outcome of a gender supremacist view that the greater involvement of women would improve politics and decision-making.

It is the honourable and urgent demand of those women and men who want a political process that reflects society and is open to all. Balanced representation is fundamental to our democratic system. That is why the Council of Europe is asking its member states to respect a 2003 pledge to ensure that the representation of either women or men in any decision-making body in political or public life would not fall below a 40% threshold.

The practical steps needed for achieving this goal remain to be worked out in each country but fairer representation in Britain and elsewhere in Europe could boost involvement and encourage a higher turn-out. It would definitely strengthen and enrich democracy.

For the time being, the global picture is still one of inequality as regards the participation and representation of women. Allowing this critical democratic deficit to continue should invite the outrage of us all.

The author, Johanna Nelles, is working on delivering Europe's first international convention combating violence against women and domestic violence.


Monday, 26 July 2010

Human Rights Boss: Bar Maid Visas May Boost Trafficking In Cyprus

The Commissioner welcomes the measures taken to combat trafficking, in particular the abolition of the much criticised ‘cabaret artist visa’ and the introduction of the new action plan 2010 - 2012.

However, he is concerned that other types of work permits, such as the one for bar maids, might be used to circumvent the law. “The authorities should remain vigilant against organised crime and ensure that no type of visa or working permit can be abused for such unlawful purposes as trafficking in human beings.”

Read More

Friday, 23 July 2010

Profile: Naema Tahir - Dutch Human Rights Lawyer And Novelist

Novelist Naema Tahir is no stranger to breaking with established traditions.

Her fifth book which is published next October, discusses the issues surrounding Muslim women who choose their marriage partners.

The subject material hints at autobiography. More than a decade ago, Naema stood firm against parents determined that she would accept an arranged marriage.

“If I chose myself to marry someone my parents arranged, that would be ok,” says Naema, as she prepares to take part in a Council of Europe human rights television programme on the right to free expression.

“But I didn’t choose it. It was forcibly put on me and I had to say no. It has been the most painful part of my life.”

Although Naema now 40 and her parents have reconciled, the experience may have strengthened a willingness to challenge orthodoxy.

Certainly the process of “critical rethinking” that it demanded continues to mark her work both as a writer and as a public intellectual. It is a process Naema encourages.

Naema’s first book ‘A Muslim Woman Unveils,’ published in 2005, tackles issues of inter-generational conflict, identity and migration.

The follow-up Dutch best-seller ‘Prized Possession’ (2006), deals with the reproductive and sexual rights of three Muslim women.

It helped to catapult the former Council of Europe human rights lawyer into the Dutch media spotlight. She has remained there ever since, staking out positions on religion and migration which strike at the heart of the Dutch debate on multi-culturalism.

A Council of Europe report published last February on the Netherlands, underlined how fraught the issue has become in a country noted for its tolerant and relaxed attitudes to social questions.

“The overall tone of the public discourse in the Netherlands and the new integration policy, with its particular focus on the preservation of the Dutch identity, have had negative consequences on the preservation of a climate of mutual understanding between the majority population and the ethnic minorities," the report revealed.

Undaunted, Naema enters the fray with advice for the country’s immigrants.

“If they are not integrating well, we should hold them accountable for their lack of willingness to become part of this society,” she says.

Naema also focuses her attention on the Netherlands’ Muslim community.

“There should be a discussion on Islam,” she declares. “There should be a discussion on the norms, the rules and the practice. It’s in all our interests.

“There is not always equality in those rules for men and women. There is not equality for a believer and non-believer. It‘s a religion which is monopolised by men. It’s a religion where critical thought was apparent until 11th century and then it stopped.”

As an introspective writer, Naema is not a natural fit for the slaying of sacred cows. She is determined not to be seen as a politician and is wary of the public gaining an understanding of her work solely through the media lens.

“I wish to inspire and not injure,” Naema says. “Being a member of the new immigrant communities, I felt it was my duty to communicate to the larger European group because there’s so much misunderstanding and fear.”

A self-described “Pakistani-British girl who lives in Holland “ and one who has also called Nigeria and France home, Tahir rejects any comparison between her views and those offered by the assassinated Dutch critics of Islam Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh.

“If you write about a hot potato issue like Islam, there is always a fear. But my biggest fear is being misunderstood. It’s really easy to take elements of what I say and put them in isolation as a headline. It does sound provocative.

“My task is to write in as nuanced and as detailed a way as possible, so that people cannot politicize the work.
“If that would be my fear that rightists would hijack my work, I would never be able to write critically. Critical thought is the only way to open up. I don’t do it to criticize the community I come from. We have so much opportunity in the West but you have to be more ambitious that just wanting to integrate.”

Ambition, encouragement and positive-thinking are key to understanding Naema’s approach to multi-culturalism, which requires all groups in the Netherlands to face up to hard truths.

“We should criticise both sides,” she declares. “Migrants are worried about the closed attitude of Dutch people. We Dutch tend to say that we are open to diversity but I sometimes doubt if that is the case.

“There is this abstract on the one side Islam and the abstract of the West on the other side. We have to smash into pieces these abstracts and bring them to smaller elements.

“When we do that, we’ll see there is no clash. There are many levels on which people encounter. There is actually more communication and connections than a clash.”

The stakes may be high but Naema, who is also a visiting professor at the University of Leiden, remains optimistic about the future.

“I don’t really believe that it’s going to go badly,” she says. “People who have this attitude of critical reflection and introspection welcome new views, fresh ideas and even criticism.

“In the next 10 years we are going to see positive things coming out of the Muslim community. Muslim women will be more aware of their rights and be able to communicate about their rights. I want to write about that.”

Thursday, 22 July 2010

View From The Court - 22/07/10

Roland Dumas 1987Image via Wikipedia

The Court has declared inadmissible the application in Van Anraat v. the Netherlands. The applicant was convicted of being an accessory to war crimes for supplying the Iraqi Government with over 1,100 metric tons of a chemical used to produce mustard gas. Read More

In the case of Roland Dumas v. France, the Court found that the applicant's conviction, a French lawyer and politician, following publication of his book “L’épreuve, les preuves” infringed his freedom of expression. Read More

More From The European Court of Human Rights

Birgitta Ohlsson: Europe wastes the world's “most educated housewives”

Swedish politician Birgitta Ohlsson at the 200...Image via Wikipedia

A failure to capitalise on women’s professional skills threatens growth and will make Europe home to the “most educated housewives” in the world.

In an interview with the Council of Europe's Viewpoint television programme, Sweden’s EU minister Birgitta Ohlsson said that the number of working women should be increased as part of the 2020 Strategy for Growth.

“To get more growth, more people need to work and especially more women who need to get onto the labour market, “Ms Ohlsson told Viewpoint, Europe’s first human rights talk show.

“We have a lack of representation in the labour market supply when it comes to women. Women need to get out and work. Europe cannot afford to have the most well-educated housewives in the world. Women need to get out and show their competence.”

The talk show ’s theme – ‘Women: New Century, Old Problems’ – brought together Portuguese author and journalist Isabel Stilwell, German business consultant Anke Trischler and British gender expert Paul Wolf-Light.

The programme reviewed women’s professional progress, the impact of feminism and the fight against male gender privilege.

The panelists also examined gender roles in the economic crisis, debated the value of positive discrimination and analysed the benefits to men in accepting women’s demand for fairness at home and at work.

Watch Viewpoint

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

July 2010 Podcast: Romaphobia

Deportation of Sinti families from southwest G...Image via Wikipedia

Roma and Sinti communities have been described as the rejected Europeans.

They have lived here for centuries and yet during much of that time have been segregated, excluded and even murdered.

In today's programme, Robert Rustem of the European Roma and Travellers Forum explains why Roma activists are looking for inspiration to the Black Power movement of the United States in their fight against discrimination.

We also explore the roots of Roma phobia with studio guests Samantha Agro, a journalist with the ANSA press agency and Michael Guet, a Roma specialist from the Council of Europe.

And Nils Muiznieks, Chair of European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance gives a glimpse of a future dilemma for European governments - their economies will need migrants but their citizens don't want them.

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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

European experts: Counterfeit medicines more lucrative than heroin trade

Criminalising the manufacture of fake medicines will help to curb a global trade now more lucrative than heroin trafficking, according to the Council of Europe.

The intergovernmental human rights organisation wants its 47 member states to ratify a treaty against counterfeit medical products which it will unveil in Istanbul next November.

The Council of Europe (CoE) says fake anti-coagulation drugs have already been used on British patients. There are concerns that unwitting patients may also be taking adulterated antibiotics, cancer treatments, anti-psychotic drugs, cholesterol lowering treatments and treatments for erectile dysfunctions.

“This treaty offers a comprehensive approach to tackling a crime which threatens public health and public health care systems,” said a spokesman. “Counterfeit medicines are more lucrative than heroin. It is a vile crime to fraudulently provide patients with products that don’t work.”

The move against the fake medicine industry began with a conference in Basel on 15 -16 April.

The conference marked growing worldwide concern that health care systems, particularly in developing countries, are increasingly vulnerable to the mass entry of counterfeit medical products.

Experts are also worried that the trend towards self-treatment has flooded the internet with medicines produced without any controls, tests or authorisation.

The Council of Europe believes that its treaty, the first global convention against ‘medicrime’ will strike at the heart of an international commerce with high returns.

Counterfeiters are attracted by the huge profits available. They are also encouraged by low detection rates, lengthy prosecutorial procedures and the comparatively light penalties currently imposed by governments.

The treaty, open to all governments, encourages cooperation among law enforcement agencies, customs, health professionals and the judiciary.

It introduces tougher sanctions against counterfeiters and a more effective pursuit of counterfeiters across international borders.

The CoE spokesman added: “Counterfeit medicines break the relationship of trust between patient, doctor and pharmacist.

“Patients are vulnerable. They trust that medicines will help. Counterfeiting disrupts the whole health care system. Criminalisation increases the efectiveness of justice and the protection of public health.”


Those responsible for the death of Natalia Estemirova must be brought to justice

One year has passed since human rights defender Natalia Estemirova was brutally murdered. On 15 July 2009 she was abducted near her house in Grozny, Chechnya. She was pushed into a car by several assailants and some hours later her body was found in a forest in Ingushetia. She had been shot in the head and chest.

Commissioner For Human Rights

Monday, 19 July 2010

ECRI Report: Europe's Dilemma

In an interview following the launch of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance's annual survey, chairman Nils Muiznieks explains Europe's dilemma.

"Europe needs migrants but Europeans don't want them," he says. "The pull from the demographic crisis will continue as will the push from sending countires."

He goes on to discuss the "existential crisis" in parts of southern Europe.

Listen to interview with Nils Muiznieks

ECRI report

Why Martin Luther King Matters To Europe’s Roma

By Robert Rustem, head of the Secretariat for the European Roma and Travellers Forum

There can be few more inspiring litmus tests of social justice than the one laid out for America in Martin Luther King’s ‘I have A Dream’ speech.

The black civil rights leader’s passionate appeal at the March on Washington on 28 August 1963, was an exhortation to recast the country’s racial model.

Some 47 years later, King, the man and the methods of the civil rights movement remain a model and a point of reference for marginalised communities.

Roma activists in Europe are now looking closely at King’s fight for justice and are debating the value of direct action and civil disobedience in overturning the racism which has marked them out as second class citizens in the countries they call home.

Certainly, there are strong parallels in the condition and treatment of the two communities.

Like black Americans of the pre-civil rights era, Europe’s 12 -15 million Roma are “politically invisible” despite being the region’s largest ethnic minority. Roma suffer from widespread and deeply-ingrained discrimination. Compared to other groups, Roma people have lower life expectancy. They have poorer health and live in worse housing. Employment and education levels are abysmal and of little concern to the politicians, whose commitment to change is at best weak, and most of the time non-existent.

Like black Americans, Roma know the indignity of segregated schooling and medical experiments conducted without informed consent. The American Tuskegee syphilis programme finds its echo in the sterilisation of Roma women throughout Europe.

Whilst Roma do not yet face the terror of lynching, they are still subject to random attacks and, as in Belfast last year, are liable to be chased out of their homes. In some parts of central and eastern Europe, Roma run the risk of being murdered in their sleep.

The hate which fed the systematic killing of up to 1.5 million Roma during World War Two’s ‘Pharrajimos’ or Roma genocide continues to this very day.

The television appeal for a “final solution” to the “Gypsy problem” made in the Czech Republic last year, was a grisly reminder to Roma communities that even in 21st century Europe, they should keep moving or live in fear.

Rather than recognise the plight of Roma as an urgent social and political issue, too many European governments ignore the application of their own laws, see Roma as primarily the concern of local councillors or the criminal justice system or simply do nothing at all.

A similar intransigence served as a call to action for the African-American leadership in the 1950’s. It responded by mobilising support among black and white people and set out to pour shame on America’s political elite.

Bus boycotts, sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and the emergence of more militant political forces such as Malcolm X, focussed the international spotlight on the injustice of Jim Crow apartheid and created the political pressure needed for lasting change.

There are those in the Roma community who believe that similar non-violent tactics may now be needed in Europe to end the cycle of good intentions, warm words and neglect that has marked the post-war discussion of the ‘Roma Question.’

Admittedly, such thinking remains on the fringes of political activism but it is likely to filter into the Roma mainstream should they continue to be excluded from the European project of free movement and open borders .

More strident voices are already arguing that Roma communities have waited long enough for what Martin Luther King described during his epic speech as “the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

Change for Roma is coming too slowly and too late. For decades, the Council of Europe in particular has worked to fight anti-Gypsyism. Its Dosta! (Enough) Campaign recently recruited the French actress Fanny Ardant, director of the film Chiméres Absentes, to highlight the injustices forced upon Roma people.

Whilst it is true that there are no longer anti-Roma laws on the statutes in Europe, the mountain of reports from the Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI), show that virulent anti-Gypsyism not only survives but is growing in many countries.

That is why Europe’s Roma will share in the celebrations marking the 47th anniversary of the March On Washington and look to the civil rights movement for inspiration.

It offers a convincing example of how reconciliation, social justice and the progress of the marginalised into to the mainstream can be achieved.

Audio Interview

European Roma and Travellers Forum