Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

There’s no discrimination in England, is there?

It seems ages since I last wrote, which is probably because it is. So this post seems set to be huge – hope you stay til the end!

As usual, ongoing work is blighted by recalcitrant technology. The internet finally came online on Friday last week, and on Monday I foolishly though I could install a Windows update and carry on as normal. Instead, it got stuck in a crash/reboot cycle. The computer is now back with the lovely folk at Jamie’s Computers http://www.jamiescomputerclub.org.uk for some TLC and I hope to have it back at work soon.

But anyway. Lots has been happening. There are rumours that Chumbawumba are going to donate a track to the album, which comes after the wonderful Subgiant (who I can’t wait to see on Saturday), legendary New Model Army and beautiful lyricist Joolz all offered tracks too. I’m stunned, thrilled and hugely grateful for all this and I feel it only fair to say a big shouty out thank you to the wonder that is John for garnering this support. He is the man who knows everyone.

Other good things happening are that my super talented and number minded bookkeeping friend and the pants Treasurer have met, and I can heave a sigh of relief as they between them will take the financial reporting and management on. This is not my strong point at all and it’s great to know that two such capable people have it in hand. Oversight of production, design and sourcing machinery is also looking very likely to go into the hands of an industry expert, which is brilliant. All this stuff being taken off my plate means I now have time to do things like writing policies *yawn* and proper business plans, and yet more funding applications. I bumped into a contact in Regeneration the other day, and we’re going to get together soon, and I’ve been told about some new funds to try. This is timely. After the end of March my teeny tiny salary runs out again and I’m hoping someone supports it (there are bids in) as otherwise I’m going to have to go and get a job, and I like this job so very much.

Today, I’m just back from a brilliant conference at the Human Rights Action Centre, home of Amnesty International, a place I’ve wanted to go since AIUK moved there some years back. The Women’s Centre and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, hosted, ‘Seizing the Opportunites of CEDAW: Developing a women’s sector strategy for 2011’. They launched a report last night, nicknamed ‘Bread and Roses’ in homage to striking textile workers in the early 1900s, who it is claimed, appealed for wages not just for bread, but for roses too – food for the body and the soul. The launch was great, and I was grateful to my friend Sam for providing free sleeping space between then and today. Great mates are great.

The conference was amazing, full of dynamic, passionate women, all doing great things, including representatives for various Rape Crisis centres, women I will endorse and advocate for and praise as long as I have breath in my slightly faulty lungs. Until a few weeks ago, I have to admit, I’d never heard of CEDAW – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of my touchstones, but CEDAW is absolutely going to be another. For more information on it check here http://un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/ but it’s basically a UN Convention, adopted in 1979, which legally binds those who ratify it to end discrimination against women at a national governmental level. It covers things like sexual violence, trafficking, equal pay, and something called ‘substantive equality’ which was a real penny dropping moment for me, the moment when I had words to describe what I think we don’t have. That we have policies which are gender neutral, rather than gender specific, and therefore take no account of the needs of women, means that women do not have ‘substantive equality’. Equal does not mean the same – two half pints equal one pint but they are not the same. Men and women are not the same, and need different things, but ought to be treated equally. Examples given included pregnancy, which to the best of my knowledge, is only experienced by women, and childcare arrangements, which affect many more women adversely than men. The commitment to equality of access to employment and economic empowerment means little to women who could do a job, but can’t get childcare – this means that in real terms, they do not have the same access to opportunity.

Funding is a massive issue – services that save lives like Rape Crisis saved mine do not produce ‘value for money’ but are invaluable. I cost Rape Crisis approximately £4,500 – they’ll not make profit out of me but the value I now hope to be able to turn back around and pass on to other women is massive. We heard that women’s services still, and it seems, increasingly, have to justify their women only status – there is little understanding that the value of certain services to the users depends on their being women only. Sexual health and breast examinations are things many women want to discuss or undergo with female heath professionals, as are experiences of sexual violence, honour violence and forced marriage. I could go on and on about all the things that enraged me as my eyes were even further opened but I’m going to stop before my brain pops.

There are successes – such as how the excellent Southall Black Sisters used CEDAW provision to retain funding for the vital work they do. And how San Francisco succeeded in getting CEDAW written into city Law – even though the USA refused to ratify the Convention at all. On top of this there were countless statistics and examples, and w it felt like a whirlwind tour of what is a fantastic piece of legislation. We talked about how we might use CEDAW in our own towns and cities. And I’ve a few ideas on that. But most of all it was inspiring, and fun, and a jam packed day of learning and talking and meeting. And lunch was way better than the one at the College of Fashion!

We had some very senior expert speakers including Violeta Neubauer ( I hope that spelling is correct, it’s taken from the CEDAW page) who is on the CEDAW committee at the UN. As a left, I had a proper comedy moment. There was a cab waiting for Violeta, with her name on a card in the window. I knew she was still talking but was on her way, so I told the driver, as he was looking a bit vexed. And he asked me what was going on there today. I replied that it was around discrimination against women, to which he said, ‘What’s that for then, we’ve got none of that in England. Do you really think we do?’

Bearing in mind the controversy surrounding the suggestion that we can’t afford Equal Pay in a recession, I’d say we do. And the ‘have your say’ page on Rape Crisis Scotland’s brilliant campaign http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk/ site shows clearly how responsibility is still assigned differently to men and women – we can never claim to have real equality, or have ended discrimination against women, when people believe that it is a woman’s fault if she is violently attacked. No other crime is routinely blamed on the victim.

Rant over. I do plan to write more often, and at less length, when the internet/computer/technological provision actually provides. Until then, thanks for reading!

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