The Time for Action is Now – Beijing +25

The Time for Action is Now – Beijing +25

 WOMEN

The Time for Action is Now – Beijing +25 and Women’s Rights

Hillary Clinton at Beijing 25+ 1995
parisa

Parisa Zangeneh

27th October 2020

2020 is an election year in the United States. We are standing at the precipice of change in many respects. This year, we (Americans) have a choice to determine the path our country will be on not only for the next four years but for the foreseeable future that extends beyond the next presidential term. A crucial group that will be impacted by the results of the American election is women and girls. Which path will we choose? Additionally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote; why aren’t we hearing more about this?

 

These important developments aside, 2020 also marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration supported by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United Nations Fourth World Conference held in Beijing, China. The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security commemorated this landmark event in a webinar, Beijing+25: Commemorating a Watershed Moment for Women’s Rights, including participants Ambassador Melanne Verveer and Secretary Madeleine Albright. All three women recounted their stories of the conference and of serving as women in foreign policy. The webinar was notable in the candor with which all three shared their experiences, recollections of the atmosphere, and the literal physical and logistical challenges they faced in attending and delivering their message. Secretary Albright amusedly shared anecdotes regarding their difficult reception in China. Cab drivers had been given sheets to put over the naked women apparently expected; at the hotel, someone fogged up their bathroom mirrors; and the Chinese government turned off the sound during Clinton’s speech. The conference location itself posed an obstacle to women’s rights: Albright recounted how the government put the conference in a far away, muddy location, which also proved difficult to access for people with disabilities and other participants. Albright also mentioned how someone present asked her “where is the country of lesbia?” because they were confused about people talking about lesbians.

 

What was striking about the event’s description was that women, as late as 1995, could face harassment and physical hurdles to participating in an event in foreign policy, especially women of privilege, social standing, and high political rank in the United States. Additionally, some anecdotes illustrated the difficulty faced in protecting not only women’s rights, but ensuring women’s participation in foreign relations and institutional goals. Albright recalled that during the establishing of the new war crimes tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, she also lobbied to ensure that there were female judges on the bench and to prevent rape from being used as a weapon of war. Clinton made a point of mentioning rape being used as a weapon of war in her speech: “Even now, in the late 20th century, the rape of women continues to be used as an instrument of armed conflict.”

 

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Remarks to the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, 1995.

Albright recalled that when she first become US Ambassador to the UN in February 1993, she asked her assistant to invite the other female ambassadors to her apartment for lunch: this was one of the first times she had not had to cook lunch herself – after she had become an Ambassador. At the time, there were 6 other female ambassadors to the UN. They formed a caucus, the “G7”. When considering the progress that women have made towards equality, it is easy for younger generations to forget that our mothers and grandmothers’ generations had to climb over obstacles to fight for women’s rights, and it is easy to ridicule and to dehumanize them if their views are different from ours. The act of remembering is crucial, not only to appreciate their efforts in pushing the envelope on women’s rights but in appreciating our own ability to live in a more equal society than that which held back our mothers and grandmothers. It is also crucial to understanding why our mothers and grandmothers may have views on issues of gender and sex coming to the fore in today’s political debates. Albright pointed out not only the moral dilemma of excluding women and girls from foreign policy and political participation but the pragmatic reasons behind empowering women, who constitute roughly 50% of the population. 

 

The event also launched a report, Beijing +25 Accelerating Progress for Women and Girls. In the forward, Clinton pointed out that while we are at a watershed moment for women and girls, Beijing was a watershed moment as well (p. vi). The Beijing conference was revolutionary because of its focus: women and girls. It provided a platform for women to demand change and equal rights in the presence of representatives of 189 countries and women from around the globe. It underscored women’s historic demands for reversing ancient, deeply-entrenched misogyny and structural oppression with the following mantra, which is as relevant today as it was in 1995, if not more so: “women’s rights are human rights.” Secretary Clinton, wearing a pink suit, delivered these words. In 1995, I was 11 years old and remember looking up to Secretary Clinton and other women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generations. I also remember seeing them face constant criticism, ridicule, and harassment in the media and in everyday life due to their reproductive capabilities. The fact that Secretary Clinton boldly asserted this represents a monumental achievement on behalf of women and girls in the never-ending fight for equality. In 1995, Clinton argued that we need to break the silence regarding abuse of women, such as female genital mutilation, in her forward to the report. In 2020, Clinton reignited the call for structural and institutional abuse of women to be addressed, noting that “in some countries, there is not even a word for rape. In most, a culture of impunity thrives, allowing the subjugation, humiliation, and silencing of women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in their homes and workplaces.” (p. vi)  

 

In Beijing, conference Chair Gertrude Mongella (R) with (L-R) WEDO’s Bella Abzug and Madeline Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State

In Beijing, conference Chair Gertrude Mongella (R) with (L-R) WEDO’s Bella Abzug and Madeline Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State (U.N. Photo)

One of the points also raised by Clinton in the report is how to counter backlash against strides made towards gender equality and fostering democratic inclusion and accountability. The report argues that men who benefit from the status quo may resist gender equality, and it argues that: “Political violence against women activists, political leaders, and demonstrators has emerged as a prevalent form of backlash […] Women most often faced violence when serving in positions of authority, reflecting resistance to women in power.” (p. 26) As the election draws near, it is important to remember that these issues, which have been showcased almost every day during the past several years in national headlines, are issues upon which we will be voting as we submit our ballots. Indeed, the 2016 presidential debates between Clinton and President Trump perfectly illustrate how male privilege and violence against women were quite literally utilized to block a woman from political office. Clinton recalled this experience:

 

“It was the second presidential debate and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

 

 

The fact that a woman of Clinton’s stature in the American political echelons could openly face harassment and intimidation – acts of violence – on national television during a presidential debate – in 2020 – is staggering. In any other circumstances, Trump’s behaviour may have incurred criminal liability, but there he was, a presidential hopeful, unabashedly engaged in the act of harassing a woman who surpassed him in legal education and governmental and political experience. And he could get away with it.

 

Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright keynote Beijing +25: Commemorating a Watershed Moment for Women’s Rights on Sept. 10

Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright keynote Beijing +25: Commemorating a Watershed Moment for Women’s Rights on Sept. 10 (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security)

In a way, the participants’ personal recollections about their experiences in Beijing in 1995 overshadowed the actual launch of the report, and it captivated my mind and imagination far more. This is not saying that the report is not important – it is. However, a consistent source of fuel for my fire is that women could and still can be treated as objects of ridicule, harassment, and derision for having the audacity to demand that “women’s rights are human rights”, to demand respect, to demand inclusion –and to demand equality.  

 

Clinton made a call to action in 1995. 

 

The time for action is now. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by UN

 
 

 

Women in Horror Cinema: ‘Screen Queens’ and changing representations

Women in Horror Cinema: ‘Screen Queens’ and changing representations

ARTS + CULTURE

Women in Horror Cinema: ‘Screen Queens’ and changing representations

gender roles in horror
ARIANNA STEWART - stand news

Arianna Stewart

16th October 2020

Horror cinema has always been an extremely nuanced genre of film in terms of its representation of female characters. Conventional gender roles and stereotypes permeate the genre with clichéd female archetypes such as the helpless victim as portrayed by Drew Barrymore’s character, Casey Becker in Scream (1996) and the sexually promiscuous woman as depicted by the character of Marcy in Cabin Fever (2002). The genre’s female characters have been historically perceived, in the words of English professor, horror novelist and Stephen King enthusiast Anthony Magistrale “exclusively as objects inspiring salacious behaviour from the horror monster, or at least as the object of the monster’s victimisation’’. Films such as Ginger Snaps (2000) began to comment on these quintessential female roles problematising them. The protagonist, Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle), directly comments on the limitations of gender roles in horror film, criticising how ‘’a girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease or the virgin next door’’.

 

gendered roles in horror - ginger snap

Still from Ginger Snaps, Copperheart Entertainment.

However more and more contemporary characterisations of the female figure in horror cinema have challenged these long-held gender stereotypes. In this article I’ll be examining the historical representation of women in horror films and how the horror landscape is changing, allowing for more nuanced and multi-faceted female characters that speak directly to modern female experiences.

 

Historical representations of women in horror cinema can be overall perceived as chiefly negative due to the hegemonic cultural practice of gendered stereotypes. According to film theorist Claire Johnston, ‘’the image of woman operates in film as a sign, but as a sign which derives its meaning not from the reality of women’s lives, but from men’s desires and fantasies’’ (Gymnich and Ruhl 229). This holds true with the many slasher films where women are repeatedly victimized such as Halloween (1978) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1978) and Friday The 13th (1980) to name a few.

 

Although there are a few exceptions, such as the character of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in sci-fi horror Alien (1979). The film reconfigured the idea of women as helpless victims and placed her centre stage, a powerful gun-toting feminist heroine. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of The Lambs (1991) who is a successful female agent, dominates within the phallocentric industry of the F.B.I.

 

“Masculine roles such as the antagonist or monster figure are upheld by a male or a masculinised female, whereas women are more than often the victims of highly sexualised violence”

However, within the horror genre specifically, female characters have been repeatedly victimised and punished for being sexually active, in contemporary language, they’re slut-shamed. The horror genre can therefore be recognised as a gendered genre as the masculine roles such as the antagonist or monster figure are upheld by a male or a masculinised female, whereas women are more than often the victims of highly sexualised violence.

 

Such films as American Psycho (2000), The Human Centipede 2 (2011) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) feature scenes that depict sexualised violence against women which can perpetuate a harmful coexistence of sex and violence. However in recent years, as described in a comprehensive article about the evolution of women in horror cinema ‘’Women in horror: Victims no more’’ by Beth Younger, ‘’the genre has moved from taking pleasure in victimising women to focusing on women as survivors and protagonists. It has veered away from slashers and torture porn to more substantive, nuanced films that comment on social issues and possess an aesthetic vision’’. Such films as It Follows (2015) subverts the idea of woman as sexually deviant and opens up an opportunity to critique rape culture and comment on the importance of sexual consent.

 

With the contemporary emergence of empowering, feminist directors such as Julia Ducournau, Ana Lily Amirpour, Greta Gerwig and Ava DuVernay to name only a few, it only makes sense that the on-screen female characters are equally as empowered.

 

This series of articles will examine contemporary female-centred narratives from a number of directors across multiple cultures, such as; A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) Midsommar (2019) Hereditary (2018) The Witch (2015) and Halloween (2018). It might not be a bad idea to check these out before my next article. Happy spooky season!

 

Check out some of the interesting sources that I’ve mentioned in this article below!

Gendered (Re)Visions: Constructions of Gender in Audiovisual Media edited by Marion Gymnich, Kathrin Ruhl

Women in Horror: Victims no More

 

 

Featured photo from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 chiller Psycho

 
 

 

Women and the Military: Could pushing female representation do more harm than good?

Women and the Military: Could pushing female representation do more harm than good?

OPINION + WOMEN

Women and the Military: Could pushing female representation do more harm than good?

Women and the military representation
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

2nd October 2020

From female CEOs to LGBTQ+ visibility in films, the participation of under-represented groups in powerful institutions has been widely praised as both a reflection of and a catalyst for, social progress. However, to what extent individual representation should be prioritised is a matter of serious contention within social justice movements. In the age of tokenism and performative allyship, many are now asking: how useful is representation in and of itself? If individual members of marginalised groups are in positions of power, will the necessary changes for their community be achieved, or do we need a collective movement of oppressed groups to attack systems of inequality from the outside? These questions have been particularly divisive in feminist discussions on women and the military.

 

Some women’s rights advocates argue that in countries such as the U.S. and Britain, the army is an instrument of patriarchy and imperialism that cannot be participated in from a feminist perspective. However, the argument generally put forth by liberal feminists is that progress in this area cannot be gained without female representation in the military. For instance, when all U.S. military positions became open to women in 2015, the move was praised by some as a victory for women’s rights; but some left-wing feminists argued that this development widened the reach of the American military, an institution that ultimately perpetuated violence against women of colour in other countries. In Britain, there was a similar discourse about whether the opening of combative roles to women should be interpreted as a feminist milestone. Today, the use of feminist language in British Army PR campaigns has raised scepticism again. When Laura Whitmore defended her appearance on the British Army podcast, she argued that “every industry and body is bettered by… a balance of all sexes”. While this is often true, is possible that the push for female recruits may do more harm than good for women’s rights?

 

 

There are undeniable benefits to promoting female representation in many contexts. Increasing the number of women in decision-making roles can lead to more gender-sensitive policies being adopted and improve institutions as a whole. For instance, when women are involved in negotiating peace processes, this not only increases the likelihood of gender provisions being included in peace agreements but also increases the sustainability of peace in general. The importance of female representation in influential roles is often discussed in the context of critical mass theory. This theory argues that having a very small percentage of female decision-makers is unlikely to progress gender equality. However, once a critical mass of female representation is achieved, usually estimated at 30%, women’s interests are more likely to be defended. This theory can be applied to boards of directors, political offices and any position involved in policy-making. However, does it apply to army recruits?

 

In considering this, it’s important to remember that the advancement of women’s rights through representation can only happen when women are actually given decision-making power. Entry-level cadets and lower-ranking members of the military have no say over the rules they follow. Moreover, even the highest-ranking members of the military ultimately do not determine their nation’s foreign policy agenda, and how it may impact female civilians. Therefore, when the army pushes for female recruits, be it through making more positions available to women, or using feminist talking points in their recruitment campaigns, this does not necessarily present an opportunity for women to shape military policy. Of course, it could be argued that a higher level of female participation at entry level will eventually lead to more women in higher ranks. However, gendered barriers and widespread discrimination make it unlikely for a critical mass of women at the top to be achieved through the normal course of promotion. If the British military actually wanted to include a female perspective, they wouldn’t be using media campaigns – they would be adopting targeted internal policies such as quotas for high ranking positions. Given that the army has only recently allowed women to even apply for all roles, it seems unlikely that affirmative action is on its way any time soon.

 

“If the British military actually wanted to include a female perspective, they wouldn’t be using media campaigns – they would be adopting targeted internal policies such as quotas for high ranking positions.”

However, even if there was a large minority of women in the higher ranks of the military, recent research suggests that this would not actually guarantee the progression of women’s interests. While some studies show that increased female representation will lead to more gender-sensitive policies when over 30% of decision-makers are women, other studies have shown the opposite to be true. Increased representation sometimes hinders women’s interest; while a small number of women may be accepted within an establishment, a large minority can be perceived as a threat to male dominance and thus face a negative response. This kind of backlash could be of particular concern in the military, where there is a long history of male dominance and ongoing issues of discrimination and abuse against women.

 

A lack of understanding of civilian women in war is another reason why female participation in the army might not be effective in bringing about change. The reason female representation at the top can sometimes advance the position of women more broadly is not that every woman is necessarily committed to feminism – but because female leaders often have shared experiences with their female subordinates, and can understand and empathise with what it means to be a woman in their institution. However, servicewomen in the British Army are unlikely to have experienced the gendered impacts of war or understand the experiences of female civilians in conflict. Furthermore, the disproportionate effects of conflict on women are often indirect and may not be witnessed first-hand by foreign soldiers. Because of this, increased female participation might lead to some advancements in the internal workings of the military, but is unlikely to make war safer for female civilians, the most vulnerable group in this context.

 

British Army 2020 recruitment Campaign Women Confidence

British Army recruitment campaign targeting women (Ministry of Defence, 2020)

Overall, the British military pushing for female recruits could lead to improvements for servicewomen at some undefined point in the future. However, these benefits are ultimately uncertain and indirect. Unfortunately, the harms of this kind of campaigning are more concrete. When the British Army uses feminist rhetoric to sell militarism, it is intended to sanitize their public image and make war seem more palatable to those who value women’s rights. This situation can be described as “woke-washing”, and serves to drown out concerns about the oppressive impact of militarism on female civilians. In practice, this means that the lived experiences of marginalised women are shoved to one side, while images of the military as a driving force for empowerment circulates mainstream media. This situation could make people being less likely to fight for justice because there has been the illusion of progress but no meaningful change. From the army’s perspective, if they can reap the benefits of being perceived as feminist either way, there is no incentive to acknowledge women’s rights abuses in the past or to work towards change in the future. These damages exist even if the military is unsuccessful in recruiting more women because the affiliation of the army with feminist talking-points is powerful in of itself.

 

“Prioritizing the individual ambitions of white women over the collective needs of women of colour is a defining feature of “white feminism”, and yet another issue with the military co-opting feminist language”

On the other hand, if this kind of campaigning does attract more women, it means that the army can expand its reach and power. If history is anything to go by, this looks like a greater capacity for unnecessary military interventions that disrupt civilian lives and perpetuate gendered violence. It is of course true that some women may find military service empowering and want the chance increase to improving conditions for servicewomen. While everyone should be free to choose their career path, praising these cases as a win for feminism is misguided. An increase in female recruits could someday benefit the predominantly white population of British servicewomen, but these gains would ultimately rely on an institution that oppresses and kills women of colour. This is particularly problematic given that servicewomen choose to be in the army, while civilian women don’t consent to how their lives are impacted by military intervention. Prioritizing the individual ambitions of white women over the collective needs of women of colour is a defining feature of “white feminism”, and yet another issue with the military co-opting feminist language.

 

For as long as civilians shoulder the cost of imperialism, and empty rhetoric is used in place of real change, the military will continue to be a patriarchal force. As feminists, this is not a system we should strive to participate in or strengthen, but rather something we should refuse to accept. Whether it is in the ballot box, in the streets or in the media, feminist action needs to incorporate an anti-war perspective and raise the voices of civilian women in conflict throughout the world.

 

Check out part one and part two of Aoife’s ‘Women and the Military’ series. 

 

 

Featured photo by Wallpaper Flare

 
 

 

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

 
 

 

Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

oatly boycott blackstone
Elizabeth Quinn

Elizabeth Quinn

29th September 2020

Oatly has made headlines recently for accepting an investment from Blackstone, one of the largest private equity firms in the world, which has links to deforestation in the Amazon, the Trump administration and the commercialisation of the housing market. The case of Oatly raises the question – is it possible to be 100% sustainable within our current economic framework?

 

Oatly is a plant-based milk alternative which has at its core a message of environmentalism. Oatly state that their mission is “to make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.”  Now Oatly has made headlines for accepting an investment of $200 million from private equity firm Blackstone. This means that Oatly is now 10% owned by Blackstone and receives financial support from them.

 

Blackstone has been criticised for their links to investment in the Hidrovias– a Brazilian infrastructure company that has been accused of contributing to deforestation in the Amazon. Blackstone denies this. Blackstone’s CEO has also been a prominent supporter of Donald Trump. The UN has accused Blackstone of contributing to the global housing crisis through the commodification of housing. In letters from the UN to Blackstone, this financialisation of housing focused on the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the US. Blackstone dispute this claim. However, this means Oatly now earn money from a private equity firm which appears to be at odds with Oatly’s goal as a company wishing to create sustainable change for the good of the environment.

 

This case brings to mind the question of the role businesses should play in our society. Should businesses aim only for-profit maximisation or should businesses also have some social aspect to them? Do they have a responsibility to conduct their actions in a socially conscious way? Those believing the answer to be yes led to the evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR). One of the most famous economists, Friedman, argued against CSR as he saw it as moving money away from profit maximisation. What Friedman fails to acknowledge here is that being socially responsible and engaging with stakeholders could actually provide for better business and may deliver profits.

 

Being socially responsible has, until now, worked for Oatly. Oatly’s total growth for 2018 was 65%, and a turnover of 1028 million Swedish SEK. This point shows that the sustainable message Oatly gives is one which is resonating through the population. Many people believe in Oatly’s mission and thus bought their product. Oatly’s high turnover gives the impression that Blackstone’s investment is not money which is needed for Oatly to survive, rather it is extra venture capital needed to expand. The argument that if Oatly does not accept these types of investment it will completely fail as a company falls short.

 

“This case brings to mind the question of the role businesses should play in our society. Should businesses aim only for-profit maximisation or do they have a responsibility to conduct their actions in a socially conscious way?

 

Oatly states that they wish to show Blackstone that sustainable investment is the future. At the same time, they have acknowledged that they will have no control over what Blackstone invests in outside of their partnership. Therefore, their idea that they will have an influence on Blackstone’s investments in the future is naïve. Blackstone owns over $538 billion dollars in assets. Oatly is part of a $200 million deal. Blackstone cannot wave a magic wand, invest a fraction of what it is worth and become a sustainable investment company.

 

Rather, becoming sustainable takes work- work which Blackstone does not seem to be willing to do. Oatly needs to judge Blackstone not by their words but by their actions. Oatly states that the decision to engage with Blackstone was an intense thought process. This is very vague. Companies like Oatly have access to toolkits such as human rights impact assessments to gauge the impact their decisions would have adversely on human rights. Whether Oatly has completed this kind of assessment is not clear. If it had, I doubt that it would have come to the conclusion it did. Blackstone now shows on their homepage that they are supporting growth and sustainability. Private equity firms can, on the one hand, state they are supporting environmental goals, while on the other hand directly contribute to the opposite goal.

 

The language of corporate social responsibility has evolved. The UN guiding principles on business and human rights are responsible for this language change. This means that rather than the vague CSR, which is not based on international standards, that companies have guidelines on what they need to do in order to respect human rights in their operations and supply chains. These guidelines should be used in assessing whether there are human rights risks involved in projects. Companies such as Oatly should, in their operations, carry out impact assessments in order to deal with risks which may occur to rights holders.

 

An interesting fact with regards to Oatly is that it is not a publicly-traded company, meaning that the general public cannot own shares in Oatly. The only way for Oatly to be informed by the public that this behaviour is not seen as acceptable is through a boycott, which some have already called for. If the general public own shares in a corporation which they believe need to improve its human rights standards, then this may be an easier way of putting pressure on a company to conform to the human rights standards which the public sees fit.

 

This investment with Blackstone appears to go against what Oatly’s CEO stated in 2019- “If you say you’re ethical you have to back it up”.

 

 

Featured photo by Oatly

 
 

 

parisa
“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing

 WOMEN

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” – a Muddy Business in 1995 at Beijing

Hillary Clinton at Beijing 25+ 1995
Cassie Roddy-Mullineaux

Cassie Roddy-Mullineaux

28th September 2020

The Beijing World Conference on Women, took place in September 1995, 25 years ago! Those born after 1990 are probably too young to remember the conference and its significance. But Beijing was a true landmark event. It resulted in more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations, unanimously adopting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a vision of equal rights, freedom, and opportunities for women that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide (UN Women).

 

This was the event at which Hillary Clinton made the famous declaration, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security recently hosted an online conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Albright where both women recalled their experience of attending the event, discussed the legacy of the Beijing Platform for advancing women’s rights globally, and identified areas where we still need to see significant progress. Their conversation merits watching in full. This article focuses on a few key moments from their discussion, which serve to symbolise the struggle women face – then and now – in working towards full equality.

 

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Remarks to the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, 1995.

In marked contrast to how it is typically portrayed, and despite Hillary’s pink suit, Beijing in 1995 was not always an easy or glamorous experience. Many people wanted to shut down the message of women’s rights are human rights and the practices that obstruct women from claiming those rights. Clinton recalled how during her speech, when she was criticising certain practices towards women (some of which applied to the Chinese regime), the sound was cut off (they had initially been piping it out the conference hall into a big convention centre). Ironically, the sound was suddenly diverted into a department store in Beijing – a site where a lot of women would have been shopping. In a recent article for the Atlantic, Clinton wonders what subversive person managed to achieve that turn of events.

 

Furthermore, many people might not know there was actually a separate conference by and for NGOs in Huairou, a small town 30 miles outside Beijing, at which Clinton delivered a version of her speech. Both women recollected how this NGO conference was originally intended to be held in the centre of Beijing; however, Chinese officials decided to move it to Huairou in a thinly-veiled bid to make the conference as inaccessible as possible to those attending it. In order to get to the conference, the NGOs and women activists (including over 400 women in wheelchairs), literally had to wade through fields of mud to get to the conference tents! However, despite the mud and the teeming rain, Clinton and Albright said that they had never seen such enthusiastic, energised people at the event. They both acknowledged how crucial Huairou was in addition to the publicised formal work, which resulted in the famous Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This was because Huairou was the key moment that enabled the NGOs and activists to collectively meet and engage in action around what was being formally agreed and, critically, to bring it home to their networks, their local communities and imbed it into their work.

 

Huairo, Bejing 25+ 1995

Women discuss the issues at the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum held in Huairou, China, Sept. 3, 1995, as part of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. (U.N. Photo/Milton Grant)

Clinton’s and Albright’s recollections of the events serve as a microcosm of the issues women face in claiming equality. Many people (read: powerful men and patriarchal systems and institutions) are threatened by the idea of women gaining power. For example, the Chinese authorities recognised the power of the message that was being shared at Beijing, and at Huairou, and the threat it posed to their power and regime. This is the reason why they felt a need to censor, sideline, and marginalise this message. Even as both Clinton and Albright were emphasising the “pragmatic” case for women’s participation and representation, e.g. the myriad research that demonstrates that gender equality helps to grow economies (amongst other benefits), those in power still didn’t want to listen.

 

While many feminists are understandably exacerbated that an economic case has to be made to justify women’s inclusion (shouldn’t the fact that we make up 50% of the population and are human beings be justification enough?), the mudslinging, backlash, and censorship that women face as they seek to participate, even in the face of all of peer-reviewed scientific evidence making the case for their inclusion, illustrates the depth of the problem women face in claiming power. The patriarchal system colludes against women’s inclusion, even against its own best interests. We might think money is all-powerful but, in many cases, culture and tradition are still stronger than financial capital when it comes to keeping women subjugated (expect more on why changing culture is all-important to empowering women to claim their rights in Part 2).

 

The recollected events also serve to illustrate the resilience and determination of women in fighting back against the many obstacles that are put in their way. In this case, literally wading through mud – in many cases, in high heels! – in a bid to realise their right to equally participate at all level of society and be valued as citizens. Because women have traditionally not been allowed into the political fold, much of women’s organising of necessity has come at a grassroots level and from informal action, often happening in parallel to formal efforts. While clearly women need to be – and deserve to be – represented formally too, this informal action also has huge power to bring about change and deserves greater recognition and support in its own right (consider, for instance, the incredible activism of the women of Sudan and South Sudan). Further, it highlights the vital role that NGOs and grassroots activists play in translating formal commitments into action on the ground and the need to value and join up formal and informal efforts more.

 

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 15, 1995

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 15, 1995 (U.N. Photo/Yao Da Wei)

As both speakers emphasised, Beijing wasn’t just about having nice conversations; it needed to be about commitments and action. This included implementing the Beijing commitments on US soil. To do this, a tight “tag-team” relationship was formed between Clinton’s and Albright’s roles as First Lady and Secretary of State respectively, and other key figures in the Clinton administration. This network helped them to continue pushing for women’s participation and representation in positions of power such as the Senate and keep a weather eye to ensuring US laws at federal, state, and local levels did not impede women’s equality. Both women emphasised the perennial need for women to work collectively, help one-other to rise up through systems of power, and ensure platforms and networks exist for women to come together globally to share strategies for getting the work done. This is an evolutionary process – not something that happens overnight – and the torch needs to be passed on from woman to woman, including across political parties, because women’s rights are not a partisan issue. Both women discussed the recent setbacks during the Trump administration with dismay. However, their overall message rang loud and clear – these push-backs have to make women even more determined to challenge cultures that prioritise fiction over fact and the subjugation of women over their full inclusion, participation, representation, and flourishing as human beings.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article which discusses the progress made since the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and where our attention must be focused going forward.

 

 

Featured photo by White House Photograph Office