26 November 2015

world wide wednesdays :: sex and violence

today is apparently the international day to eliminate violence against women, the beginning of sixteen days of activism against gender-based violence that ends on december 10, which is human rights day. given thst, i thought it would be a good day to explore the perils of being a woman in different parts of the world, as well as the progress that's been made. the fact that there is still plenty to do in order to achieve equality in the western world [and the fact that advances that have been made are always fragile, as is seen in the ongoing american debate over access to abortion], can cause us to lose focus on exactly how big the challenges are in other places. we hear about the brutal practice of female genital mutilation, but there are a lot of other dangers women continue to face, including both violence and structural impediments to independence and security.

before completely moving away from the first world, however, it's interesting to note that, while wealthy countries are generally safer, more secure and more equal for women, some of them have some pretty nasty secrets:

the nordic countries- denmark, finland, and sweden- have the highest rates of violence against women in all of europe. that's shocking, considering that these are the countries that routinely lead all structural categories in terms of gender equality [literacy and education, minimal to no wage gap, high rates of representation in the workforce and in the government]. my first inclination was to think that these countries had laws that defined a wider range of actions as violent and/ or illegal, but looking at the article, it seems that researchers asked about specific actions, so what is or isn't illegal in any particular country wouldn't matter.

canada, which has been rated the best country for women to live in the recent past, has been singled out for criticism by amnesty international for ignoring the much higher rates of violence towards aboriginal women. that actually means that things are even better for the rest of us than it appears, but hidden inside those numbers are some very harsh realities.

a family member feeds a banished menstruating woman in nepal
in carefree australia, nearly 40% of women reported experiencing some type of violence during their lifetime, and almost 20% said specifically that they had reported sexual violence. [data here, along with a lot of information on other countries. this was compiled by the united nations in 2012, however some of the most recent data is significantly older than that.]

so if things can get that bad in the countries that are good, how bad do they get in the rest of the world?

well, let's start off by talking about the worst of the worst. there are different ways of determining the absolute worst place for a woman, but it's best to look at a combination of factors: the chance of being subjected to physical and/ or sexual violence, the [in]ability to exercise control over one's own life, ability to work and live independently [determined by education level and the chances of finding employment in current economic conditions], longevity [which is a measure of general health and a measure of access to health care services] and political power [determined not just by voting rights, but by representation in parliament and in cabinet].

looking at all those factors, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place that's worse for women than afghanistan. life expectancy for a woman is only forty-five years. more than half of brides are younger than sixteen. 85% of women have experienced some form of domestic violence. a woman dies in childbirth every half hour. the taliban were bad enough for women's rights, but after a wave of reforms enacted by the post-taliban government, it seems that things are getting worse. laws passed to improve the position of women in afghanistan after the taliban were deposed have been overturned, hung up in parliamentary debate, or left largely unenforced.    

you could also look at syria, where women's participation in the workforce sits at a measly 14% [as opposed to 76% of men]. before its current civil strife, syria had a solid middle class [much like iraq, before the first american war there devastated its economy], but the position of women in government was pathetic: 12% of parliamentary seats and 9% of cabinet positions were held by women. the plight of women in syria has only gotten worse as the civil war there has progressed and as islamic state has taken control of large parts of the country. isis dictates that women be severely restricted in education [beginning no earlier than seven and ending no later than fifteen years of age] and that they can be married off to fighters from the age of nine. they are given no role in public life and are forced to remain completely covered at all times.

women in chad
the thing is, afghanistan and syria are war zones, which aren't the best place to evaluate quality of life. women in afghanistan may have a life expectancy of a meagre forty-five years, but men can only expect to live a year longer. women in syria have a life expectancy of sixty-five years, which is short in western terms but, since the onset of the civil war, is still ten years longer than a syrian man can expect to live.

so perhaps it's best to evaluate the position of women by looking at areas outside of war zones. [side note :: likewise, countries like honduras, venezuela and colombia, which have extremely high crime rates overall are exceptionally dangerous for women. women are often subject to kidnapping, sexual violence and murder, and crimes against them are treated less seriously than those against men. one has only to look at the horrific spate of murders in and around ciudad juarez for an example of this.]

for instance, in iran, only 17% of women participate in the workforce. that's the worst in the world outside of active war zones and, because that isn't depressing enough, they make only 17% of what men make. there's clearly a prejudice at work here, because, while there is a gender gap in terms of literacy, 79% of women still qualify as literate [compared to 89% of men]. religious leaders [who are also state leaders in the theocracy] have put additional pressure on women to stay at home and raise children rather than enter the workforce. women's participation in government is already low and in the last federal elections, all female candidates were disqualified.

in nepal, normally thought of as a peaceful country nestled in the heart of the himalayas, women's rights are more of a rumour than anything else. 1 in 24 women dies in childbirth, largely due to hindu and buddhist religious beliefs that prevent them from having their babies in hospitals. after childbirth, women are often forced to stay in remote, unhygienic locations, away from their homes, for up to two weeks. child marriage and human trafficking of young orphaned or unmarried women is still widely practiced. women who are married, but outlive their husbands are often stigmatized [and persecuted] as witches.

an afghani child bride who escaped her abusive husband
large swathes of africa remain incredibly dangerous and difficult for women. mali and chad are especially bad. the labour force disparity is not as bad in either country as it is in other places, but that is largely the result of an economy based on subsistence agriculture in both places. in both countries, only about a quarter of women are literate [chad fairing slightly better at 28% to mali's 25%] and female enrollment in even primary school is below 65% in both countries. the participation of women in government in both countries is among the lowest in the world- 10% in mali and 15% in chad- meaning that there are few people to advocate for women's rights on a federal level. women in mali have a life expectancy of forty-eight years, which is among the lowest in the world [and just slightly lower than afghanistan which, as we mentioned earlier, is a war zone]. in mali, 71% of women are married before the age of eighteen, many of those before the age of fifteen. additionally, mali still practices widespread female genital mutilation, with over 90% of women having undergone some form of the procedure. what's worse is that that number is unchanged in the last twenty years, so there has been no improvement whatsoever.

in 2014, both the world economic forum and the social institutions gender index selected yemen as the worst place for women. women there are entirely under the control of their husbands, fathers or brothers, unable to travel or even leave the house without their express consent. half of women are married before they turn eighteen and almost fifteen percent before they turn fifteen. while the literacy rate for men is relatively high [83%], only about half of women are literate. 26% of women are employed, compared to 74% of men, but the vast majority of women work as agricultural labourers, where their employment is determined on a day-to-day basis and where they have no form of job security or recourse against unfair employers. nor do women have any voice in government: only one out of 301 members of parliament is a woman.

common types of female genital mutilation
among g-20 countries, the one that fares the worst when it comes to women's rights is india. this is a somewhat contentious evaluation, because india is an extremely diverse country by any standard and it's therefore difficult to generalize about the nation as a whole. in 2012, nearly a quarter of a million crimes against women were reported, which is high even given the large population. the capital of delhi is viewed as especially dangerous. the government's own numbers report a rape rate of more than 25%, which has caused numerous countries to issue warnings to women not to travel alone there. in fact, india topped a list by a women's travel site of the worst places for women to travel alone. that said, india still fares well better in terms of women's rights than the neighbouring countries of nepal, afghanistan and pakistan. while it might seem horrifically depressing that one in four women report being raped and nearly 70% report being victims of domestic violence, it's worth noting that india has made greater efforts in the last ten to fifteen years to address gender violence. before 2005, it was difficult for a woman to even file charges of domestic abuse, so the increasing rate there is likely more indicative that women are reporting incidents more often.

in a previous world wide wednesdays, we talked about the horrific gender violence in papua new guinea, which makes it surprising that the nation doesn't fare worse in evaluations of women's rights and opportunities.

in order to write this up, i used a few different sources, including some different lists, with different criteria, for evaluating the places where women are at the greatest risk. there's a more subjective one here [the only one to even mention papua new guinea and that only in passing]. a widely cited one using information from the world economic forum is here. this one draws information from a number of sources to come up with its list. other sources have already been linked within the post.

you'll note that a couple of those links also lead to lists of where women have it the best: belgium, france, spain and slovenia all rank very highly.

as you can see, there is much work to do and there is work to do even in those places where things are going well. the important thing is always to keep an eye on what needs to happen and where the need is most urgent. 

24 November 2015

mental health mondays :: a bill is due

don't look now, but america's infamously ineffective congress may be on the verge of getting something done. something important.

rep. tim murphy [a republican, no less and also the only psychiatrist in congress] has paired with texas democrat eddie bernice johnson [a psychiatric nurse] to put forward the helping families in mental health crisis act, meant to bring about serious reforms in the way that the american health industry deals with the mentally ill [h.r.-2646]. at the same time, senator bill cassidy [r-la] and senator chris murphy [d-ct] have introduced a bill in the senate [s. 1945] called the mental health reform act of 2015.

this is actually a second kick at the crazy can for murphy #1 and johnson, whose earlier bill was heavily criticised by those involved in the psychiatric care industry. this time around, reactions have been better. mental health america, a century-old not for profit group, has offered their cautious support for murphy-johnson, labelling it "a good start".  they've also offered qualified support for the senate bill, although they do note that there is an important difference between the two in terms of the funding to be allocated to helping those with mental health issues. [side note :: the murphy-cassidy bill is cosponsored by susan m. collins r-me, al franken d-mn, debbie stabenow d-mi and david vitter r-la]

another not for profit group, the treatment advocacy centre has given enthusiastic support to murphy-johnson, but does not appear to have taken an official position on murphy-cassidy.

this recap from the american psychiatric association gives a summary of the key points in murphy johnson. if you're feeling hardcore, you can read the complete text of the bill here. and then if you really want to dive in, you can also read the full text of the senate bill here. after all that, i have nothing else to offer you.

well, almost nothing.

one of the more controversial aspects of the bill is that it makes it easier for friends and family to force treatment on someone they believe is sick. that's a godsend for people who have lost someone they loved because they felt powerless to intervene, but for others it's a very scary pathway to stripping the mentally ill of their rights, especially since the bill is at best vague about the legal recourse of those who feel they've been unfairly sequestered.

the important thing is that there is actual legislation on the table. the even more important thing is that it's the first legislation that moves towards getting the mentally ill out of prison and into hospitals, making sure that there are enough hospitals available to care for patients and working on solutions that allow patients to remain in their communities or in their homes while receiving treatment.

we've talked about what other countries are doing to address the issue of mental health treatment and chances are this won't be the last time there's a post about these two pieces of legislation. but for now, it's a miracle: the least effective congress in history may be the one that pushes through meaningful, long overdue reform on a very complicated issue.

p.s. :: if you don't recognise the image at the top of this post, it is from the iconic schoolhouse rock "i'm just a bill" [watch it here!], which is still the source of 90% of my knowledge about the american legislative process. the rest comes from the simpsons treatment of the original

22 November 2015

the ouroboros of stupid :: adventures in fascism, feminism, and fallacies in the industrial music scene

i originally wrote this piece for heathen harvest as an editorial about a month ago in response to an article that was probably best left ignored, the sort of thing that is just so ignorant that you know you're just wasting everyone's time by even trying to argue. my logic was that people are debating donald trump's ideas seriously and the crazier he gets, the more popular he gets, so it might be dangerous to assume that some arguments are so ridiculous that they don't warrant any response, even if the arguments are about a music scene that almost no one ever thinks or cares about. 

after a week or two, i contacted my editor at hh and told him to scrap the article. i'd started feeling like the fire had burned itself out and there wasn't much point in trying to poke the embers. furthermore, since i was taking an irascible tone with two different groups, i felt like i was potentially provoking a fight with a lot of people and possibly creating more of the same crap i say i'm sick of dealing with. [i want to make it clear that it was my choice to pull the article, not heathen harvest's.] 

having thought about it for a couple of weeks longer and seen the tenor of public debate fall a couple of weeks lower, i've changed my mind again. yes, this is an unnecessary response to a poorly written article. the article appeared on a marginal web site and now i'm using an even more marginal web site [mine] to answer it. both articles are written about music for which "obscure" is arguably too generous a definition. yes, its audience is deeply passionate and the internet has made it possible to think that we constitute a larger group than we actually do. but this is really one unknown fan of electronic music throwing mud at another. i can accept that. 

what i no longer accept, and what made me decide to go ahead and publish this, is the idea that ignoring something makes it go away. giving it attention may seem to make it more important than it actually is, but part of being passionate about these weird genres of music is caring about the fact that i constantly hear these arguments and the most common responses to them and get angry. angry has no place in my relationship with music. these sorts of people are fucking up one of the few respites i have in my wretched, ultimately meaningless life. 

i'm not the only one who's frustrated by what she sees, but i am one who has a blog and difficulty holding her tongue [or fingers].

make of it what you will. [also, if you have no idea what i'm talking about, don't worry. it will never, ever have an impact on your life, i promise.]

20 November 2015

making faces :: chanel's k.i.s.s. for fall

i must be honest: i've been a little disenchanted with chanel for the last couple of years. it's not that what they've been doing is bad, exactly, but that so much of it [and there has been so much] has seemed forgettable or- gasp- trendy. their relaunch of their rouge coco line this year might have been due, but the colours they included seemed like slightly washed out versions of the juicy, bold hues we've been seeing from everyone for at least a year and a half now. same goes for their relaunch late last year of their rouge allure glosses. they got rid of the best and most unique lip gloss shades on the market [no qualifier!] and replaced them with ones that looked a lot like things we've from dior or even mac. note: that doesn't make them bad colours- far from it. but chanel is one of the priciest brands around, so if i'm looking at their products and thinking "this looks a lot like something i can get for much less from another brand", it's not a good sign.

this autumn, though, chanel did something that caught my attention. while every other company was doing the usual job of creating fancy fantasies to sell their seasonal wares, chanel chose one that was completely unexpected: the theme of their autumn collection was "autumn". the fact that that seems weird is evidence of what a ballsy decision that was, but eventually the philosophy of "keep it simple, stupid" was bound to make its way through to the cosmetic counter.

the collection, "les automnales", is an earthy, rustic take on the season, with each piece having a natural inspiration behind it [or at least linked to it in the marketing campaign]. it's a clever angle, because so many people love autumn for its warm colours, the last wildflowers of the season, going for walks in the woods and seeing the forest floor as it prepares for sleep, that a collection of makeup inspired by those things practically sells itself. [its being chanel takes care of the rest.]

a case for why you should avoid my family altogether

old family reunion photo
i've recently succumbed to the glitzy allure of an account on ancestry.com, which is kind of like crack, if crack was made up of little green leaves and ended up giving carpal tunnel syndrome from using it all the time. come to think of it, crack would have a better reputation if it did that, although i have a feeling that dropping it after a month or two of free access is likely to require some serious detox.

i feel kind of bad, because i took some pride in the fact that i had found out so much about my family without ever spending a nickel to do so, and now i've given in to the most commercial vehicle for peddling your dead ancestors on the planet. that feeling is somewhat mollified by the fact that i've accomplished in less than a week about six times what i was able to accomplish on my own and have found out that, contrary to what i previously believed, i have some pretty illustrious, albeit very distant, progenitors. i also have some pretty questionable ones, but that's a story for another time.

as dazzled as i am by how far back i've been able to dig [once you've located a relative who was nobility of any sort, you've hit genealogical paydirt, by the way], my favourite part of this exercise is some of the weird stories i've been able to find about the strange things these people actually did with their lives, like defeating a french invasion with an unholy army.

ok, maybe it wasn't exactly an unholy army, but it does make me realise that it's a minor miracle that anyone in my family turned out even marginally sane, because it's clear that we didn't get off to a great start.

welcome to our humble home
the story involves a fairly distant relative by the name of john earle. he was born in poole, dorset, england around 1678, but emigrated at a young age to the english colony of newfoundland. the colony was still a pretty wild place, and a man who came from the commoner class could establish himself as a landowner there pretty much by picking a place he liked and constructing something on it. hence, large parts of my family are comprised of poor people from the southwest of england who figured that living in the colony sounded pretty swell when compared to living in poverty in the home country. of course, no one told them about the winters, or that it was comparatively expensive to get stuff there, because there were about eight people in any given area and they hadn't quite figured out the whole farming thing because newfoundland is known to get snowfall as late as may.

nonetheless, young john was determined and plunked himself down on a cute little island [later] named little bell island with his new wife some time in the mid-90s. 1690s, that is. john wasn't entirely thrilled with his new home: there are historical records about how he complained about the prices of staples there. most people are not noted in history books for their whinging. people put up with this, i'm guessing, because john earle had repelled the french navy at the age of eighteen, which is the sort of thing that earns you the right to bitch.

in 1696-7, the french, eager to extend their empire from the adjacent province [colony] of quebec [new france] and to get their paws on newfoundland's considerable booty [meaning the lucrative fishing and fur resources], staged an assault on the island with two barges full of soldiers. two boats might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that the area they were invading was inhabited solely by poor englishmen trying not to starve to death in winter or die of the plague, it's clear that two boats would have been more than enough.

john apparently liked his new home enough to fight for it, but he didn't have the means to push back two boats full of professional soldiers. in fact, he and his wife had the tiny island all to themselves, which was great when they wanted to get crazy drunk and sing traditional songs into the wee hours, but not so great when it came to doing battle. john did have a cannon, which was clearly useful and some imagination.

come be our friend, forever...
when the french arrived [no, i don't know who told him they were coming, but let's just leave that aside for now], the were fired on by the cannon, which struck and sank one of the boats before it could inflict any damage. when the survivors and those in the accompanying boat looked up, they were faced with john's disturbing creation: an army of scarecrows standing on the crest of a hill, ready to do battle.

at that point, historical sources say that the french were fooled into thinking that, contrary to their pre-invasion intelligence, the british had forces there to defend the area and they quickly headed back where they came from. i would like to put forth, however, that it's equally likely that the french saw a gang of scarecrows staring out at them with their dead eyes and firing a cannon and decided that whatever the fuck lived on that island was something they wanted nothing to do with. that seems like a completely reasonable decision to me.

the rest of newfoundland didn't fare so well: the french used another approach and completely leveled the city of st. john's in 1697, killing everyone and burning the place to the ground, but continuing to avoid the nutjob with his island of scarecrows. eventually, the english sent their soldiers over and rebuilt the fort around which st. john's had formed, since there wasn't anything left to defend. john lived a long life on little bell island and, as far as i can tell, his family remained the only inhabitants there until after his death around 1750. both his sons moved to the mainland, probably to get away from the scarecrows.

wait, come back! i only want to hug you and will totally not suck your soul through your eyeballs!
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