Sunday, 29 November 2009

End violence against women: a step in the right direction

The UK’s Home Office has launched earlier this month a three-month pilot scheme to grant women facing violence and who have insecure immigration status the ability to access a refuge and seek specialised support.

Women who hold spousal or international student visas or who are in the UK on temporary work permits, are currently unable to access a refuge or specialised support because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule.

Amnesty International and Southall Black Sisters, which have campaigned against the ‘no recourse’ rule for months, have interviewed dozens of women who have been affected by the rule and gathered testimonies from dozens of refuge workers, police and medical professionals who have previously been obliged to turn women away and leave them with no other option but to return to the place of violence.

One caseworker interviewed by Amnesty told of a woman who was physically and sexually abused by her husband and family – at one point she was doused in petrol and threatened to be set alight. She was returned to her home after fleeing to her GP for help because she was on a spousal visa and had no access to a refuge.

The pilot proposal outlined by the Home Office Minister Alan Campbell MP now provides the security of funding a woman’s refuge place for up to 40 days and enabling her to access the support required by survivors of domestic or other violence.

The government initiative will run for three months, and will be followed by an evaluation which will be conducted in March 2010.

“This announcement is certainly a welcome step in the right direction, albeit a long time coming, which would enable hundreds of women to escape an abusive situation and access a refuge,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.

“However this is only a short term pilot scheme. Women who have no recourse to public funds have been until now trapped in a cycle of violence. Only once the Government provides a permanent solution to providing assistance and support for these very vulnerable women will they have fulfilled their human rights’ commitments to provide safety and justice for all women fleeing violence living in their jurisdiction.”

Thursday, 19 November 2009

V-Day at Royal Albert Hall - Stop Sexual Violence in DRC

Today, 19th November 2009, hundreds of men and women – activists, politicians from all parties, journalists, celebrities and religious leaders – are gathering on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall in London to demonstrate against the use of sexual violence in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The event is organized by V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.

Exactly one hundred years ago, the Great Congo Demonstration was held at the Royal Albert Hall, chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury and joined by artists and intellectuals, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain, to campaign against the exploitation, slavery and murder of the Congolese people.

One hundred years on, violence and exploitation of a different but equivalent devastation remains. Over the last 12 years, the ongoing conflict has claimed the lives of an estimated 6 million people and sexual violence in the DRC is being used to torture and humiliate women and girls and destroy families.

V-Day Founder/Playwright Eve Ensler, who has travelled to the Congo five times in the last two years stated: “What we are seeing in the DRC is a war being enacted on the bodies of women that is conscious and intentional - it is the systematic destruction of the female population of the Congo. Today, we are hearing reports from activists on the ground that the babies born of rape are NOW being raped. What this tells us is that this vicious cycle is continuing, that we are fighting for the same human rights today that the protesters at The Great Congo Demonstration fought for 100 years ago.”

Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since the conflict began. In addition to the severe psychological impact, sexual violence leaves many survivors with genital lesions, traumatic fistulae, severed and broken limbs, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Survivors are regularly ostracised and abandoned by their families and communities.

V-Day UK Committee calls upon the international community to champion:

*A political – not military – solution to end the devastating, incessant conflict in the Congo.
*For prosecutions to be taken against those who are living in impunity for the sexual crimes they inflict daily upon Congolese women and girls.
*Support for a larger women’s police force in the Congo that can bring reliable security and protection to the most vulnerable members of its society.

This event is the first in a series that make up Congo Now - an international campaign that unites a coalition of more than 20 of the UK’s biggest NGOs plus UK parliamentarians. The campaign combines British and Congolese voices to demand an end to the world's worst humanitarian crisis - and action to address its underlying causes and consequences. The campaign will reach a climax in June and July 2010, when the DRC celebrates 50 years of independence.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance Day at St Pancras International

Today the huge, bustling St Pancras station fell silent at 11am - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, marking the moment World War I ended with the signing of the Armistice Treaty by Germany and the Allies in 1918.

It didn’t happen all at once. Clusters of people hesitated, looked around and stopped tentatively; others kept pushing by with heavy suitcases, walking fast, talking loudly on the telephone. Then from the upper gallery of the station, the poignant melody of Taps started playing, first faintly then louder, and everyone stopped in their tracts, looking up from where the music came from.

I looked around me and hundreds of people, most wearing red poppies, stood perfectly still. For two minutes there were no train announcement, no phone ringing, no talk. Everyone standing there – all remembering, all together. It was eerie and beautiful.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Twenty years after the Fall of Berlin Wall – Wide dissatisfaction with Capitalism

Apparently, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has not been the crushing victory for free-market capitalism that it seemed at the time—particularly after the events of the last 12 months, according to this interesting poll by the BBC World Service.

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the BBC World Service global poll finds that dissatisfaction with free market capitalism is widespread, with an average of only 11% across 27 countries saying that it works well and that greater regulation is not a good idea.

In only two countries do more than one in five feel that capitalism works well as it stands—surprise, surprise, the US (25%) and Pakistan (21%).

The most common view is that free market capitalism has problems that can be addressed through regulation and reform—a view held by an average of 51% of more than 29,000 people polled by GlobeScan/PIPA.

But an average of 23% feel that capitalism is fatally flawed, and a new economic system is needed—including 43% in France, 38% in Mexico, 35% in Brazil and 31% in Ukraine.

Furthermore, majorities would like their government to be more active in owning or directly controlling their country’s major industries in 15 of the 27 countries. This view is particularly widely held in countries of the former Soviet states of Russia (77%), and Ukraine (75%), but also Brazil (64%), Indonesia (65%), and France (57%).

Majorities support governments distributing wealth more evenly in 22 of the 27 countries —on average two out of three (67%) across all countries. In 17 of the 27 countries most want to see government doing more to regulate business—on average 56%.

The poll also asked about whether the breakup of the Soviet Union was a good thing or not. While an average of 54% say it was a good thing, this is the majority view in only 15 of the countries polled. An average of 22% say it was mainly a bad thing, while 24% do not know.

Among former Warsaw Pact countries, most Russians (61%) and Ukrainians (54%) believe the breakup of the Soviet Union was a bad thing. In contrast, four in five Poles (80%) and nearly two-thirds of Czechs feel the disintegration of the USSR was a good thing (63%).

The results are drawn from a survey of 29,033 adult citizens across 27 countries, conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan, together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork between 19 June and 13 October 2009.