Remembering John Lennon and Matthew Shepard

Remembering John Lennon and Matthew Shepard

OPINION 

Remembering John Lennon and Matthew Shepard on the anniversary of Shepard’s death

matthew shepard john lennon
parisa

Parisa Zangeneh

11th October 2020

Today, October 12th, 2020, marks twenty-two years since Matthew Shepard’s murder, three days after the 80th birthday of John Lennon, international peace and human rights activist and icon, who was also murdered and lost to the world at an unbearably young age.

 

Why is it important to remember their lives and what they stood for today, in 2020? It is important because their lives and deaths symbolize the fragility of the global fight for human rights. The victims of hate and violence, such as Lennon and Shepard, are among the people who made it possible for us even to begin to talk about human rights and pie-in-the-sky notions such as world peace. Additionally, many young people do not know who Matthew Shepard was.

 

In the next few weeks, we will march into a time of intense vitriol and polarization. The progress on which we have been riding will be renegotiated and redecided at the ballot box by over 300 million people. During this period, we must remember the sacrifices of people whose work and memories have formed the basis of the human rights movement, which is at a critical stage in its progression. Matthew Shepard and John Lennon are two of those people.

 

 

Let’s remember.

 

 

John Lennon was shot outside of his apartment building, the Dakota, in New York City on December 8th, 1980. Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left to die on the Wyoming prairie and died on October 12th, 1998.

 

Shepard’s mother described his final moments in his hospital bed this way:

 

“Bandages and stitches all over his face,” […] “and bandages around his head where the final blow had crushed his brain stem. His fingers and toes were curled in a comatose position already. Tubes everywhere enabling his body to stay alive. One of his eyes was partially open so you could see his blue eyes and the tubes in his mouth. You could see his braces, so of course it’s Matt. His face was swollen, actually kind of unrecognisable till you got closer.”

 

Lennon was a political target not only due to his support for the peace movement but because he was married to a Japanese woman, with whom he eventually had a son, Sean. In the 1960s and 1970s, inter-cultural marriages, which is one way of putting it, were not easy affairs. Lennon’s personal decisions were political. Significantly, Lennon’s professional decisions were also political: Ono was only named as a co-writer of Imagine in 2017.

 

Lennon was also a baby boomer, of the same generation as my parents. His parents would have involved in or at least affected by, the war that undoubtedly left Ono’s childhood with deep, indelible scars and trauma. Their martial and professional union literally spanned the globe, cultural borders, and historically disparate human civilizations. Lennon would have grown up among the first generation in human history, probably, to be educated about concentration camps and the evils of mass murder, or the international crimes that comprise the basis of the jurisdiction of a human innovation formed after his death: the International Criminal Court.

 

Their lives and deaths are clear, strong reminders of the work that is left to be done for all vulnerable people, including women, not just to be able to physically survive in the world, but to thrive. In the coming days and weeks, many of us will have a critical choice to make that will influence the world. We will continue to have micro-choices in front of us on how we implement our commitment to human rights and feminism in our daily practices.

 

This brings me back to the context in which I introduced this topic: The future is ours. The question is: what will we do with it? I hope that we will choose to “Give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace. All we need is love. I believe it.”

 

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures

OPINION 

Climate Migration: Effects of COVID-19 lockdown measures

climate migration and covid-19
lydia howard Chevalier

Lydia Howard Chevalier

6th October 2020

Unfortunate, though it may be, the initially positive reactions of eco-activists after the introduction of strict lockdown measures may have been premature. Online reports of crystal-clear water running through the canals of Venice and visible starry skies in China proved to be the glimmer of hope we were all desperately searching for in the midst of these unprecedented times. That sense of hope was short-lived, however, and data soon emerged showing that although levels of carbon emissions declined somewhat thanks to lockdown measures, this was merely a temporary slowdown – and environmental damage from the burning of fossil fuels is continuing, unabated. Indeed, pandemic safety measures, such as the wearing of PPE, is contributing even further waste – non-recyclable face masks and gloves can be found discarded carelessly on our streets and in our landfills. Whilst our attention has been almost exclusively focused on COVID-19 during these past few months, we must not forget that nothing on our planet exists in a vacuum – climate change is inextricably linked with public health as well as with migration.

 

In 2019 alone, extreme weather events displaced 24 million people within their own countries – an alarmingly high number, serving as a stark reminder that we must not ignore the seriousness of the issue. Climate change is likely to result in even more frequent and intense weather events in the future, which will inevitably lead to a dramatic shift in the demographics of our planet. The displacement of large numbers of people is a high-risk scenario, particularly during a global pandemic – how can migrants obey stay-at-home orders when their homes have been destroyed by hurricanes, bush fires and major floods? Can we reasonably expect social distancing in cramped refugee camps or frequent handwashing in places where soapy water is often unavailable due to damage to infrastructure? Consider the example of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti; survivors in crowded camps were often forced to drink water that had been contaminated by flooded rivers and latrines, resulting in a serious cholera outbreak, killing many of those who already displaced. If we wish to suppress the spread of COVID-19, we must also simultaneously address climate change.

 

Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm
Hurricane Matthew: Haiti storm

Hurricane Matthew: the impact on housing in Corail and Jeremie, Haiti (BBC, 2016)

Migration due to environmental change is not a new concept; however, the levels of climate migration have increased dramatically in recent years. According to the Migration Data Portal, in 2019 alone, nearly 2,000 disasters triggered 24.9 million new internal displacements, the highest number since 2012. These were mostly the result of tropical storms and monsoon rains in South Asia and East Asia and Pacific. While it is difficult to measure exactly how many have fled their homes as a direct result of climate change, it is categorised as a “threat amplifier”: something which exacerbates an existing situation, such as conflict or competition over scarce resources. Those who are forced to flee their homes as a direct result of sudden-onset weather changes face a complex legal situation when attempting to access assistance or seek asylum; the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) currently refuses these migrants refugee status, designating them merely as “environmental migrants” and leaving them out in the cold without legal protection.

 

Unlike the measures introduced to tackle the pandemic, there is no organised effort to monitor the migrant population, and the UN lacks the resources to address their needs. The Sustainable Development Goals mention climate action and the urgent need to address it; however, the refusal of the US to adopt the Global Compact and its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement are not very encouraging signs of a commitment to future action. The Global Compact on Migration represents a unique opportunity for the international community to understand the climatic drivers of migration as well as the impact of migration on the environment, while the Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by setting out goals involving carbon-emission mitigation, new technologies and the reinforcing of countries’ adaptive abilities in the face of severe weather events.

 

How a situation is perceived is critical when planning an effective response. Too much doom-and-gloom on the news can lead to “crisis fatigue” – a phenomenon many are already familiar with, watching the ever-rising death toll on television every night. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which is only amplified when the population also views extreme weather events as “acts of God” over which they feel no sense of control. Utilising a crisis-narrative inhibits effective action, as crises are typically short-term, unexpected events of which we could have had no prior knowledge or indeed, any level of preparedness. This can be applied to both COVID-19, which proved to be the “Disease X” public health experts have warned us about for many years, as well as climate change, the effects of which we have long been aware of. We cannot keep burying our heads in the sand when faced with mounting evidence of the effects of both of these threats.

 

COVID-19 and climate change pose immediate and long-term challenges to our well-being and everyday survival; the New York Times estimates that in South Asia alone, the living conditions of 800 million people could dramatically diminish due to climate change. Therefore, both must be addressed with an equal amount of urgency, long-term planning and multilateral cooperation. One significant difference must be acknowledged, however: flattening the curve of climate change will take many years, as opposed to mere weeks, and will require effective, pre-emptive intervention. International organisations such as the UN should specifically target the most vulnerable populations when planning to provide assistance and support, as it is often the countries with the lowest adaptive capacities who suffer disproportionately from the effects of flooding, droughts and desertification.

 

“The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility.”

The idea that closed borders represents safety while open borders bring chaos and danger is a flawed and dangerous one that right-wing populists across the developed world have capitalised on throughout both the 2015 refugee crisis and the current pandemic. The lockdown measures we have all recently been subjected to has offered us a brief insight into the impact on human wellbeing of restrictions on mobility – a mere snapshot of what it is like for those fleeing parts of the world rendered uninhabitable by the devastating effects of climate change. Whilst all public health experts recommend travel and border restrictions as a necessary part of the pandemic response, they emphasise that this must be done on a test-and-trace basis, instead of an all-encompassing blanket ban. Such measures could lead people to fear “outsiders” or “foreigners” as potential sources of infection, a fear which could translate into a long-term policy if we are not careful. We need to remember the opportunities and benefits of welcoming migrants into our communities: many societies are experiencing a demographic decline and ageing populations – a fresh injection of migrant workers can provide a significant boost to local economies, a much-needed necessity in many post-COVID nations. The irony seemed lost on U.K. politicians recently when many applauded and expressed gratitude to the NHS for saving lives throughout the pandemic, despite the fact that many of its healthcare workers are migrants living in a nation whose Home Office is fighting to maintain policies that promote a “hostile environment” for such workers in order to deter any future influx.

 

And so, we have arrived at our current situation, through a combination of denial, ignorance (politically motivated or otherwise) and a preference for short-term gain, all whilst ignoring the true long-term pain. This myopic attitude must change if we are to ensure the survival and quality of life of the inhabitants of this Earth. We cannot simply relocate the problem, irresponsibly dispose of our waste in developing nations, and perpetuate an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The evidence is clear: the developed world may be more capable (but perhaps not always willing) to prepare for and manage the effects of extreme weather events, while many in underdeveloped nations lack this capacity. Yet as true as it is that we will all suffer through our own inaction, this conversely means that we will surely all benefit through positive, coordinated action.

 

To learn more about ‘Climate Migration’ check out STAND’s online student festival taking place between the 12th – 24th of October 2020. To register for online workshops, creative events and panel discussions, click here!

 

 

 

Featured photo by Wallpaper Flare

 
 

 

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

OPINION 

The Far Right Rises – yet another anti-mask protest in the capital

anti-mask far right grafton st ireland
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

4th October 2020

If you have wandered through O’Connell Street in the past number of weeks, you may have noticed certain groups protesting outside the GPO. Upon first glance, it may have been difficult to identify exactly what was being protested: some raised placards call to “Protect Our Children”, and Irish tricolours are plentiful. Then, however, you may see the signs that beg you to “take off your mask”, claiming that “it’s only a common cold”. It becomes clear that the demonstration in question is an anti-mask one, protests that have been ongoing in Ireland since July.

 

The latest in these strings of incidents took place yesterday afternoon, October 3rd, as hundreds of anti-mask campaigners held a sit-down in the middle of Grafton Street as part of a protest in Dublin city centre. The protesters started with a rally outside the Custom House before marching to Grafton Street chanting “no more lockdown” and “no more masks”. While Gardai are investigating the organisation of the protest, it was believed to be linked to the group Yellow Vest Ireland. Yellow Vest is a populist movement that was founded to imitate the French Gilets Jaunes, describing itself as a “people’s movement” that is “not aligned to any political group, organisation or politician”. It has protested on a range of issues in recent years, like vulture funds, property taxes, the banking system and the immigration system. Their most recent activism has been aimed towards the anti-face-mask movement, however, with no social distancing and, of course, no face-masks, present at the event. Some of these demonstrations’ attendees may merely be believers of conspiracy theories about the virus, while others might simply be of the opinion that Government restrictions have gone too far. But is there a more sinister edge? It has come to light that such issues like direct provision, child protection, and most recently, this opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.

 

 

The Yellow Vest protest was led by a formal “colour party”, comprising members of a Donegal-based far-right group named Siol na hÉireann. Its founder, Niall McConnell, spoke at the protest, rallying against “LGBTQ+ propaganda” and equating immigration to plantation. Earlier on the 12th September, veteran LGBTQ+ activist Izzy Kamikaze was struck in the head with a piece of wood wrapped in an Irish Tricolour at an anti-mask demonstration on Kildare Street that she was counter-protesting. The masked man who assaulted Kamikaze was part of a smaller group of protestors wearing badges that read “Antifa Hunting Permit. Open Season. All 58 Genders”. Antifa is short for Anti-Fascist, which is a decentralised left-wing protest movement that gained prominence in the U.S. recently for aggressively protesting against the far-right. And on August 22nd, a small number of far-right protestors, wearing face-masks and surgical gloves and armed with weapons such as iron bars and batons, attended a large anti-mask protest outside Custom House. These protestors were believed to be members of the Irish branch of Generation Identity, a thought-to-be deplete white nationalist organisation focuses on street activism and thought to have attended combat and survival training courses abroad.

 

“Opposition to measures taken in response to Covid-19, have brought a growing far-right movement from existing almost entirely online, onto the streets.”

Gardaí have been concerned about the expanding far-right in Ireland for many months now. In November, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris expressed that he is “concerned about right-wing extremism. We can see evidence of it on our shores as we have seen it spread across Europe.” In June, Europol warned of a meaningful escalation in far-right activity in Ireland. Dr Eileen Culloty, a disinformation researcher at DCU, explained that far-right activity has merely accelerated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures taken. “Back in March, they were mostly scapegoating minorities for breaking the lockdown rules, even though minorities are making up a large proportion of the key workers keeping Europe open. Then over the summer, it moved towards exploiting people’s frustration over the restrictions and claiming Covid was a hoax. And then, in the last month or so, it has culminated in these anti-mask demonstrations that are popping up around Europe.”

 

Opposition to lockdown measures is merely the latest cause commandeered by the far right. This is clearly seen in the case of McConnell and his far-right ideals infiltrating the supposedly non-political Yellow Vest protest. Yellow Vest leaders later spoke out against McConnell’s speech, claiming that all were welcome at their protests – and it is true that the far right is just a tiny minority of the attendees at such protests. But they are present. They are able to utilise the platform to advance their own agenda. They have an audience, willing to listen and capable of being persuaded. This is where the danger begins.

 

 

Featured photo by Paul Dunlea

 
 

 

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

OPINION + WOMEN

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the military representation
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

4th October 2020

In recent years, the relationship between women and the military has become topical in countries such as the UK. In 2018 all positions in the British Army became open to women for the first time, and since then the army has been using increasingly feminist rhetoric in their PR and recruitment campaigns. However, during the same period, government reports and individual testimonies have shed light on the level of discrimination, abuse, and sexual harassment experienced by women in the British armed forces. These issues have fuelled important discussions on the compatibility of feminism and the military – or lack thereof. These discussions have been largely focused on the experiences of female soldiers, questioning whether army service can be empowering to women on an individual level. However, the stories of female civilians (the group that has historically been most affected by war) have been consistently left out of the discourse. Women who have witnessed the reality of imperialist military intervention and shouldered the true cost of war should be at the forefront in discussions about gender and the army. Instead, both historically and in the present day, female civilians in conflict have had their voices spoken over and their stories twisted and misused, for the benefit of imperialist powers.

 

As we can see in the British Army’s current PR campaign, particularly in their podcast episode with Laura Whitmore, feminism is being appropriated in order to paint military service as empowering to women. Another, perhaps even more dangerous way in which feminism has been misused is in the portrayal of Western military interventions as liberatory to civilian women. Both of these narratives are used to expand the military reach and both erase the lived experiences of women who have suffered at the hands of militarism. The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.

 

Historically, Britain and other European powers have attacked the rights and undermined the autonomy of women in colonised countries. In the process of colonisation, the social, legal, and economic structures of patriarchy were often forced upon native societies. For instance, in pre-colonial Canada, indigenous society generally valued women, and indigenous women often held leadership and decision-making roles. Furthermore, because of strong kinship systems, women were not economically dependent on men. However, colonial settlers ignored the position of women in indigenous culture, refusing to engage with female spokespersons and enforcing the patriarchal norms that had been well-established in Europe by that time. The lasting impact of patriarchal colonialism can still be seen in Canada today, where indigenous women face the highest rates of violence, poverty, and poor health.

 

“The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.”

The colonisation of Africa also saw the European ideals of patriarchy imposed on native women. The arrival of cash crops and the exclusion of women from the marketplace meant that African women generally lost power and economic independence during the colonial period. Because colonial authorities relied on the testimony of men to establish customary laws, the legal systems that developed under colonialism disadvantaged women. Furthermore, the pre-colonial political activity of women was largely disregarded and colonial agents worked exclusively with men in establishing political offices. For instance, in many parts of West Africa, associations run by and for women had deciding authority in disputes related to markets and agriculture. However, because these institutions were completely disregarded by European colonisers, they tended to lose power after the late 19th century. Overall, Britain, alongside other imperialist powers, has a long history of reversing the rights and freedoms of civilian women in colonised countries.

 

Despite this reality, the subject of women’s rights was used to defend British imperialism. This phenomenon relied on the portrayal of women in the Global South as victims, who need to be saved from their own culture by “civilised” Westerners. This paternalistic and racist narrative has been used time and time again to justify devastating wars and exploitative invasions, particularly in Islamic countries. As scholar Leila Ahmed discusses in her book Women and Gender in Islam, the late 19th-century British coloniser Lord Cromer used the veiling of women in Islam as evidence of the inferiority of Islamic civilisations, and ultimately as justification for the colonisation of Egypt. Lord Cromer actively opposed women’s suffrage in Britain and hindered the progression of women’s liberation in Egypt – yet none of this stopped him from using women’s rights as a pretext for his colonial endeavours. Disturbingly, a similar pattern is still playing out in the 21st century.

 

Since the early 2000s, Britain and the United States have used “feminist” rhetoric to help justify imperialist military invasions in the Middle East. In 2001, George Bush pushed the idea that war in Afghanistan would free “women of cover ” – reverting to the same patronizing portrayal of Muslim women that was used to defend British colonialism over a century prior. Concerningly, women were also complicit in promoting this storyline, with both Laura Bush and Cherie Blair being wheeled out to speak on the plight of Afghan women in the lead up to war – as though Western military invasions and bombing raids would somehow help liberate them. Yet in 2011, ten years into the war, Afghanistan was named the “most dangerous place in the world to be a woman”, with ongoing conflict and NATO airstrikes among the primary reasons cited. In a similar fashion, the narrative of rescuing women was used to legitimise the Iraq war. Bush repeatedly made vague, non-committal statements about women’s rights in the lead-up to the invasion. “Respect for women can … triumph in the Middle East and beyond”, he said in a speech to the UN in 2002 in which he urged action on Iraq. While Iraqi women were granted some benefits on paper during the war period, in reality, they were disproportionately harmed by conflict and left with less security and economic autonomy than before. The vast suffering of female civilians at the hands of British and U.S. military action highlights the utter emptiness of feminist language in this context.

 

George W. Bush gives a speech on war in the Middle East, focusing on the rights of women (videocafeblog, 2008)

The trend of world leaders appropriating feminism to sell militarism ultimately contributes to public ignorance about what war really means for women. According to the United Nations, war and conflict exacerbate pre-existing gender inequalities and leave women at a heightened risk of human rights violations. During conflict, women and girls are increasingly targeted through the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war. In late 2019, the British government and army were accused of covering up war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including sexual abuse. As well as a serious increase in the risk of gender-based violence, women are also disproportionately impacted by unstable access to essential services. Access to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, can often be disrupted during conflict, leaving women and girls at risk of unplanned pregnancy, maternal mortality and STI’s. Furthermore, due to additional domestic responsibilities and fear of targeted attacks, girls’ right to education is disproportionately threatened during war. Continued instability in post-conflict periods means that the threats posed to women’s rights can last long after war officially ends. These issues, and the immense suffering they cause, are too often swept under the rug in discussions about gender and the military.

 

In conclusion, despite the empty words of political leaders and the vague sentiments of military PR campaigns, war poses a threat to women’s rights throughout the world. The suffering of civilians has always been inherent in the military action of countries such as Britain and the U.S., and women have shouldered the brunt of this injustice. The use of feminist rhetoric in a pro-war context is not only hypocritical but serves to erase the experiences of civilian women in war, including those who have lost their lives.

 

Stay tuned for episode 3 of this series which will explore whether or not gender representation in the military actually promotes equality.

 

 

 

Featured photo by USA Today

 
 

 

Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

OPINION + WOMEN

Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

British Army 2020 recruitment Campaign Women Confidence
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

4th September 2020

 

Love Island presenter Laura Whitmore faced major backlash last month following her sponsored Instagram post promoting her appearance on the first episode of the British Army podcast ‘The Locker’. While Whitmore denied that she was trying to recruit people to the army, many condemned the paid partnership as insensitive and tone deaf. Her tribute to John Hume on twitter the same day was the subject of particular scrutiny, with some accusing her of hypocrisy and ignoring Irish history. Despite the controversy, Whitmore defended her decision to appear on the podcast, arguing that the episode presented an important discussion on gender. Although issues such as body image and being female in a maledominated industry were covered, some have questioned whether the British Army podcast is an appropriate platform for these discussions.  

 

As is the case with most military bodies, the British Army has a poor track record when it comes to women’s rights. The prevalence of sexual harassment within the military, the disproportionate effect of military conflict on female civilians, and the historic impact of colonialism on women’s liberation are all defining issues in the relationship between women and the army. With this in mind, it is clear why many were sceptical of Whitmore defending her collaboration with the army in the name of feminist discourse. While the British Army’s use of feminist language in their PR campaigns could be interpreted as a sign of progress, it is important to question the intentions behind this move and, most importantly, who benefits from it.  

 

While discussion on this topic has been focused on Laura Whitmore personally, there has been little scrutiny of what the military were trying to achieve with the collaboration, or what this controversy says about their recruitment tactics more broadly‘The Locker, the podcast that Whitmore appeared on, is dedicated to “lifelong confidence”- the theme of the 2020 military recruitment campaignThe campaign, released at the start of this year, is targeted at 18 to 24-yearolds who believe that confidence holds them back. The primary message of the campaign is that while today’s society offers youth shortterm confidence boosts, military service provides confidence that lasts a lifetimeA marketing tool that plays on the insecurities of young people is highly questionable in and of itself, but is particularly concerning in the context of military recruitment. 

 

British Army recruitment campaign advert for 2020 – ‘Army confidence lasts a lifetime’ (The Telegraph, 2020)

Through their podcast, social media and other marketing platforms, the 2020 recruitment campaign has presented young people with a deceptive image of military service. Far from being the beacon of confidence and stability that is portrayed, there is much evidence to suggest that army service can have a devastating impact on mental wellbeing. A study published in 2018 showed that 17% of UK military veterans who were deployed in a combative role in Iraq or Afghanistan presented symptoms of PTSD – over three times higher than the rate for UK civilians. Furthermore, while the UK does not keep records on suicide rates amongst veterans, evidence from countries such as Canada, the U.S., and Australia suggests that the risk of suicide for army veterans is far higher than it is for the general public. These issues may partly explain why the UK military is facing a crisis in both recruitment and retention, with figures released in mid-2019 revealing the army had fallen in size for the ninth consecutive year. The charity Forgotten Veterans argue that this shortfall has arisen in part from public recognition of the severe mental distress experienced by veterans.  

 

Given the harsh reality of military service, the British Army’s “lifelong confidence” campaign can be seen as an attempt to manipulate and exploit vulnerable youth in the name of hitting recruitment targets. Troublingly, women may be disproportionately harmed by this kind of campaigning. Women, particularly in youth, face intense social pressures and harmful patriarchal narratives that can be detrimental to their self-confidence. These issues contribute to the self-esteem gendergap, wherein women tend to be less confident than men. Because of this, any marketing campaign that is intended to play on insecurity has inherently gendered effects. As well as this, the Laura Whitmore controversy reveals that the army may be specifically targeting women’s insecurities as part of their campaign. 

 

“Sexual harassment, the disproportionate effect of conflict on female civilians, and the historic impact of colonialism on women’s liberation are all defining issues in the relationship between women and the army.

As Whitmore herself suggested, the podcast episode she appears on discusses the issue of confidence from a specifically female perspectiveIt is hosted by three women who speak on topics such as body image, imposter syndrome, and underrepresentation in the workplace. While this kind of discussion has the potential to be productive and empowering, it arguably had the opposite effect in this case. Underneath the language of female solidarity, the episode is essentially an advertisement for the army. Military service is continually framed as a solution to the challenges facing women’s self-esteem. It is suggested that women can be empowered by joining the army, as this proves others wrong and demonstrates that they are as competent as men. This individualistic approach masks the reality that lower confidence in women is a product of systemic misogyny that must be tackled through collective feminist actionIt also promotes the harmful idea that in order to overcome the psychological harms of being stereotyped, women need to prove themselves to others, instead of fighting the system of patriarchy that creates these stereotypes in the first place.  

 

Laura Whitmore British Army Podcast The Locker

Laura’s Instagram post for ‘The Locker’ podcast (@thewhitmore, 2020)

However, perhaps the most damaging part of the episode is what is left unsaid about the experience of female soldiers in the British military. In May of this year former senior officer Diane Allen spoke out about the widespread issue of sexual harassment and abuse experienced by female soldiers both historically and in the present day. She argued that power in the military is still held by a toxic cohort of senior, misogynistic, white, middle-class males.” Allen’s statements are in line with the findings of a 2019 report by the British government that revealed unacceptable levels of sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination facing female and minority soldiers. As well as these issues, women in the army face disproportionate risks to their mental health. The 2019 Ministry of Defence report into mental health in the armed forces revealed that servicewomen were over twice as likely to present with a mental disorder than servicemen. Research from the US also suggests that female veterans are significantly more likely to commit suicide than their male counterparts. When the true experiences of female soldiers are brought to light, it seems unjustifiable that the army are advertising to young, insecure women with the promise of empowerment.  

 

Ultimately, female liberation is about more than individual women occupying roles that have been traditionally held by men. Liberation is about tearing down entire systems of inequality and holding those who have perpetuated them accountableIt is therefore a step in the wrong direction when institutions that have consistently undermined women’s rights are allowed to co-opt the language of female empowerment for their own gainThe recruitment of young women into military service by preying on their lack of confidence is to the benefit of the British Army alone. This PR move appears without any recognition of the experiences of female soldiers; it comes without any promise of change and, despite what Laura Whitmore might suggest, it is anything but feminist.

 

Stay tuned for episode 2 of this series which will explore the disproportionate effect of war and conflict on civilian women.

 

 

Featured photo by Ministry of Defence

 
 

 

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Business + Politics

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties

free speech covid-19
brandon lynch

Brandon Lynch

8th September 2020

 

Freedom of speech is understood to be fundamental to the democratic system, a system that, thus far, has stood the test of time. We hold our freedom of speech dearly as human beings, with constitutions such as the United States reserving its first amendment to uphold such a right.  

 

Historically, the ancient Greeks pioneered this principle around the early fifth century B.C as “Parrhesia” or “to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking”. Parrhesia was fundamental to the democracy of classical Athens, with courts, theatres and assemblies subscribing to its proponents, much like today’s contemporary structure. However, protection of speech was first introduced by King John of England in 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta, a charter of liberty and political rights, subjective to who you’re asking of course.   

 

Today,  free speech centres around the 1948 United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes free speech as a human right.  

 

‘If the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and press is to mean anything, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community’ – William O.Douglas (1957)  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination. Epidemics have also altered the societies which they have spread through, affecting personal relationships, the work of artists and intellectuals, and man-made and natural environments. COVID-19 is much the same in this sense, with its presence rapidly altering the political, social and economic landscapes of our modern world.  

 

Now COVID-19 is attacking not only our ability to be heard, but also the legitimacy of that voice. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is one of the many prevalent examples of where freedom of speech has been hindered by COVID-19’s continued exponential growth. However, I do feel Ethiopia, unlike many other examples I could use, will disproportionately suffer from the stripping of such scarce personal freedoms.  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination.

 

As of July 23rd, Ethiopia, the ‘Land of Origins’, where humans first walked uprights, ranks 75th in world COVID rankings, with 11,524 cases. For a country of 115 million inhabitants, this stat isn’t particularly daunting. However, when we look at the additional statistics of testing capacity and availability, the issues become more cognizant. Arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics and journalists have spiked following the declaration of a state of emergency on April 8th 2020. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed cited such arrests under enforced emergency legislature, stating “media institutions are to deliver accurate information to the public”.  

 

However, if we are to critically analyze such statements, a reality of biased corruption and state censorship shines through. This lockdown on free speech has been exacerbated by the change in government., Under the current administration, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation legislation grants government authorities powers to fine and imprison citizens for their social media activity, infringing on the autonomy to speak, organize, mobilize, and challenge the government’s narrative.  

 

We have seen the impacts of this on a personal level, with stories such as that of Yayesew ShimelisShimelis, an employee of Tigray TV, a regional government-owned station, published on his personal Facebook and YouTube the proposal and preparation of 200,000 graves in anticipation of deaths from COVID-19. The following day Oromia police arrested Shimelis at his family home, seizing his laptop, cellphone and notebooks.  

 

Other examples of free speech infringement can be seen in examples like that of Elsabet Kebede, a prominent member of the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association. On April 4th, Addis Ababa police detained Kebede and transferred her to the custody of Harari regional authorities. Reports suggest officials have not charged her with an offence but accuse her of disseminating false news on Facebook posts they claim could ‘instigate violence’.  

 

Alp Toker, executive director of Netblocks, a non-profit organization that monitors internet censorship expressed his concern on the ever-increasing powers of censorship in Ethiopia.  

  

“On 22 June 2018, his government (Ahmed) declared free expression a foundational right and ordered the unblocking of over 200 websites. Instead, exactly one year later, the entire internet  has been blocked and Ethiopia is digitally isolated from the world”  

 

Such issues are unfortunately not pandemic exclusive, beyond arrests of some high-level officials in November 2019, there has been little progress on accountability for past abuses within Ethiopian institutions. A national reconciliation commission was set up in December 2018 but it has an unclear mandate.  

 

For the roughly 16 million internet users in Ethiopia, internet shutdowns have been routine since 2015, with newly implemented emergency powers exacerbating restrictions. Internet access is key to unlocking the country’s economic, social and political potential. Continuing internet blackouts and censorship are costing Ethiopians roughly $4.5 million each day the internet is cut, hindering proposed social initiatives to lift inhabitants from poverty.  

 

 

Featured photo by wiredforlego