13 March 2007


From my lovely boyfriend:

What do you call people who use the rhythm method?


Abortion, sex education and privacy

I am feeling pretty worked up about this article I read on the beeb earlier today. Why? Well, because it is frequently stated by experts that confidentiality is really important to teenagers seeking advice about sex, relationships, contraception and abortion. If the right to confidentiality is withdrawn, teenagers do not stop having sex. All we have to do is look to the United States to see proof of that. Many schools now only promote abstinence until marriage in place of comprehensive sex education. As a result, they have the worst teenage pregnancy statistics in the developed world, and a population which is woefully under-informed about sex and contraception. After all, a recent survey revealed that 95% of Americans have sex outside of marriage, so we can see that abstinence, despite being 100% effective, is in fact 95% unrealistic!

So, if we know that preventing teenagers from having sex is not going to work, what is the solution? Well, in my opinion, we need to extend our sex education programmes in schools, to make sure that nobody slips through the net. We need to make sure that the physical elements of embarking on a sexual relationship are thoroughly covered by professionals: school nurses, midwives and health visitors, and we need to also discuss the emotional implications with children and teenagers. Ultimately, we need to make sure that anybody deciding to have sex is able to do so knowing the risks involved. Without that knowledge, how can it possibly be described as 'informed consent?'

The above is the only viable way to go about trying to prevent teenage pregnancy and reduce abortion rates. We cannot justify impinging on the privacy rights of teenagers to satisfy the paranoid needs of their parents to know exactly what their activities are. If we educated young people comprehensively about sex, then I feel that we would be able to trust them to make the right decisions about their own bodies and their own lives.

As for the claim that "
Parental information laws in the US are said to have resulted in a 15 to 20% drop in abortion rates for minors." What does that mean exactly? It doesn't claim that conception rates have dropped, which I think we can all agree, would be a positive effect, it claims that fewer young girls are accessing abortion services। Is this really a positive thing? If these young women want to carry the pregnancy to term, then of course they should be supported, but my concern is that right-wing pearl-clutching parents are preventing their daughters from using abortion services, and instead are determined to make their daughters face up to the 'consequences' of sex। Basically, they are punishing these young girls for having sex outside marriage by not allowing them to take responsibility for their own reproductive organs. Is this really the situation we want to be left with in this country?

12 March 2007

The politics of street-parking

Whilst I was writing the previous post, I heard an altercation outside in the street, with one man yelling loudly. Obviously, partly out of concern, and partly out of nosiness (I admit), I looked out of the window to see what was happening.

I have a lovely elderly Indian man as a neighbour, who has lived in the house next door for about 40 years. He had asked a young (white) man to move his car closer to the car in front, so that someone else would also be able to fit into the space which he was using. Now, knowing my neighbour as I do, I am certain that he would have been as polite and courteous as he was able. However, the young man decided to take issue with his request and started to verbally assault my neighbour. My neighbour said to him 'is this civilised behaviour?' which the young man leapt on as a 'racist insult'. I am really angry about this. This just screams of white male privilege doesn't it? How dare this elderly Indian man ask him to move his car? Doesn't he know that this young man can do what he likes, because he is superior in society?

I think this is one of the fundamental problems with our discourse about race in this country. I think that the term has been hijacked by people who resent attempts at equal opportunities. This is not the first time I have witnessed a white person use the 'race card' in an argument as a way of trying to discredit the opinions of their adversary. In contrast, I have never heard a person of an ethnic background accuse racism in this way. Now, of course, I am only one person, and so my experiences may well not be representative, but I feel very strongly that we are now deliberately misunderstanding the term 'racism' because, in fact, we are still deeply racist.

Now, I am sure actually that the young man did think that my neighbour was being racist. But I think it was because of several factors. This young man did not like being told that his method of parking was inconsiderate by an Indian man, whose English is a little accented, because he felt that his rights were more important than those of my neighbour, because he was born in this country. I think that this is very revealing about the deep-set opinions of this young man. He was unable to see past the colour of my neighbour's skin, and so for him, the issue became one of race. My neighbour, on the other hand, was shocked to be called racist, and I could see him reeling, because his simple request that this young man move his car forward by about 2 feet had been no more than that. There was no political, racial, or ideological motivation behind his request. As a resident of this street, where parking is very competitive, he was trying to ensure that the space was being used as efficiently as possible. The worst criticism of my neighbour is that he was being a busybody.

Perhaps we need to have a national poster campaign or something, to re-educate people about what constitutes racism?

Rape, Race and Prostitution; Campaigning for Justice in the 21st Century (Conference)

I recently started volunteering at Crossroads Women's Centre in London, and they put on this inspiring conference in honour of International Women's day. Despite harrowing stories of women's personal experience of rape and domestic violence, as well as racist attacks, I felt that this event was very positive. There was a genuine sense of support for the brave women (and men) who stood up to talk about their experiences. It was interesting also to see the links between rape, race and prostitution, and the ways in which women are particularly disadvantaged in these fields.

I think we have got a serious problem in this country. The police are not taking rape seriously enough, putting pressure on victims to withdraw their accusations, 'no-criming' cases, and failing to investigate others fully, which means that the CPS is then unable to take these cases to court and win. We are not protecting women. It is difficult to know what the solutions are, but I think that we need to start making a really big fuss about the statistic that there is a rape conviction rate of 5.3% here. As women, we have to start standing up for our right to be able to walk around alone, late at night, drunk and wearing a short skirt, and not fear rape, or if the unimaginable were to happen, we should not doubt that the police would work their hardest to find our attacker.

As for racism and prostitution, these are simply not talked about enough. We like to live in a fantasy world where racism doesn't exist, and if it were to happen, the police would 'deal with it'. The reality is somewhat different. A brave asylum seeker from Somalia told us her story of being violently attacked by her neighbour, who called her all sorts of horrendous names, and smashed her nose in. When she called the police to her house, they arrested her husband, and let her attacker get away. If this doesn't prove the institutional racism in the police, then I don't know what does.

I think that the most revealing thing that can be said about our attitudes towards prostitution is that it is still the prostitute who is criminalised, rather than the punters who perpetuate this cycle of abuse and humiliation (as it is for the vast majority of prostitutes in this country, who have a history of childhood abuse, drug addiction, or who have been trafficked.)

I can't claim to have any solutions to these problems, but I feel that the first course of action for us all should be to accept that these are still problems, which particularly women face, and are impeding their ability to contribute fully to society as they are fully entitled to do.