Archive for the 'women' Category

I’m a barbie girl in a barbie world

Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and with breasts that defy gravity (and god). Is it Claudia Schiffer, Monica Bellucci or even Madonna? No, this is Angela Merkel, as created by Barbie.

To celebrate half a century as the world’s most iconic toy, Barbie manufacturer Mattel has brought out a version modelled on the German chancellor.

Today, mini-Merkel stole the show at the the 60th annual international toy fair in Nuremberg, south Germany.

She will soon be available in shops for €20 (£17.50).

A spokeswoman for Mattel said that they had chosen to portray Merkel because she, like Barbie, embodies the dreams of ambitious little girls around the world.

She said: “She’s simply a good role model for girls around the world.”

As Germany’s first female Chancellor, it would be hard to argue that Merkel is not a good role model for little girls, whatever you may think of her policies (or lack of them). But does she really represent the kind of woman that girls aspire to become?

Looking at the state of the UK government, it would seem not. Despite speeches, promises and policies to the contrary, women are still sorely underrepresented in British politics.

In the House of Commons only 1 in 5 MPs is a woman. And while local government is doing somewhat better, still only 30 per cent of all local councillors are female.

That places the UK 18th out of 27 European states in female representation in national government, and 21st when it comes to female MEPs, which account for less than a quarter, according to 50/50, a European women’s lobbying.

By comparison, Sweden 57 per cent of seats in Sweden’s government are occupied by women.

Is this disparity down to a lack of interest among women in going into politics, or is it more pervasive? Is there something innately macho about the structure of government that precludes women from entering into the hallowed halls of Westminster?

The UN answers yes. According to a report by iKnow Politics based on research by the UN, most local governments are inherently patriarchal institutions.

It states: “Their structures and procedures are designed for and by men and they do not take into account women’s multiple responsibilities in their homes and communities, or differences of communications and decision-making styles existing between men and women.”

Hardly news. It has long been remarked that the structures of power, be it government, education or business, are innately geared towards men. Yet I believe that there is one decisive factor that differentiates politics when it comes to vilifying women: the media.

Women in politics almost invariably get a bad press. If they are strong or defiant, they are painted as witches or harpies in the eyes of the public. If they are quiet or attractive, they become reduced to classic stereotypes of the Madonna or the whore.

Take the uproar that greeted some recent ill-judged remarks from the Parliamentary Under Secretary, Baroness Vadera. Ill-judged though they undoubtedly were, very little of the media coverage of the incident actually referred to her comments.

Instead, we were shown some kind of evil incarnation of Xena Warrior Princess. In the Spectator she was an “assassin … ass-kicker … axe-wielder”, in the Mail she was given the moniker of “Shriti the Shriek”.

Even the BBC decided to get its penny’s-worth, with Nick Robinson on the Today programme saying: “Civil servants call her Shreiky Shriti. Others choose to leave.”

It is as if we are in the school yard, gossiping in corners about the popular girls in the year.

But at least the UK is not alone. Last year’s US Presidential Elections were one of the most openly bitchy displays of character assassination by the media in history.

While Obama stormed to victory, much of the rest of the press devoted their time to a face-off between Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton. And it doesn’t take much to see who won.

So, maybe in the end Barbie really does have it right. If you want to get ahead in politics, it’s better to be made of plastic.

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting the victims of domestic violence

Last night a cabinet minister accused Britain’s most senior judge of defending “our own version of honour killings” as the government clashed with the Law Lords over reforms to the law on murder.

Harriet Harman, the Minister for Equalities, said that the government would not bow to pressure from the judiciary to preserve the age-old law of provocation, despite coming under criticism from Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Senior Law Lord.

“This defence is our own version of honour killings and we are going to outlaw it,” Harman said in an interview with The Observer.

“We have had the discussion, we have had the debate, and we have decided and are not going to bow to judicial protests. I am determined that women should understand that we won’t brook any excuses for domestic violence.”

Defence by provocation is frequently used by men who have murdered their wives, claiming they acted under provocation from infidelity or verbal aggravation. If it can be proved that someone has been “provoked to lose his self-control”, then the charge is downgraded from murder to manslaughter.

This form of defence is deeply problematic. Not only does it transfer blame from the killer to the victim, making it offensive toward the loved-ones of the dead, but because it only applies to murders that happen under the “red mist” of anger it intrinsically favours men and discriminates against the primary victims of domestic abuse: women and children.

On average one in four women in the UK will suffer domestic abuse in their lifetime and two women are killed by a current or former partner every week. More shocking still, some criminologists estimate that domestic violence is up to 140 per cent higher than government statistics suggest.

Successful prosecutions for domestic violence rose from 46 per cent in December 2003 to 65 per cent in 2006/7. However, many forms of emotional and psychological abuse are not classified as crimes, although their effects can be as devastating and permanent as any physical scar: 64 per cent of women who have been the victims of domestic abuse experience post-traumatic stress disorder, 48 per cent have depression, and 18 per cent attempt or commit suicide.

Defence by provocation takes no account of the lasting psychological trauma suffered by thousands of victims of domestic violence every day. Because women and children are physically weaker than men, murders committed by victims tend to be premeditated and therefore subject to the full might of the law.

I do not believe that defence by provocation should be outlawed. It is important to acknowledge mitigating circumstances in every case to ensure that justice is served and the sword does not outweigh the scales. Nonetheless, domestic violence remains one of the most complex subjects in Britain today, with most victims suffering 35 assaults before they talk to the police.

If this is to change, the taboo must be tackled and we as a people must be more aware of the deafening silence that surrounds violence behind closed doors.


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