Monthly Archives: May 2016

What is it going to take for us to tackle women’s rights issues seriously?

We were meeting with my local Amnesty International group, discussing the main lines of action for next year: the official ones and the ones we would also like to tackle. My mother brought up women’s rights and she said she wanted the group to also focus on the slow but certain erosion of these very rights and the plight of women.

It was met with a certain level of agreement but no exactly the concern I was expecting. Nor my mother. It was then commented by one of the member, a retired teacher, a woman, who said she did not want to discuss the issue more than three times. Why there should be a status of limitation when it comes to women’s rights, who know?

I know what my mother did “wrong”. The examples she gave to justify this focus were all happening in France. Nothing about the Third World, about women living in slums or deserts or small villages in a savage, undemocratic world waiting to be civilised by us.

And that was the key problem for this member as she is the typical Westerner when it comes to making the world a better place: she thinks the world should become us, basically. She is fine denouncing every single country as long as they don’t belong to the First World. She cringes and always finds excuses every single time when we try to bring the focus on what our governments and institutions are doing to our freedom or how they abuse poorer countries. She says there are bigger issues, I say she doesn’t understand that charity begins with yourself and one should clean up before their own door before complaining that the neighbour’s should be addressed.

My point is, she felt it was not necessary to dwell of the rights of women, especially in our country. We should focus on what she called “actual problems in our countries”, like the refugees crisis because that is a real problem. People die, you know!

What is it going to take for her and the rest of the world to take women’s rights issues seriously?

Women represent 52% of the world population.

If they are a minority in China and soon in India, due to their short-sighted birth policies, there are countries like Russia or Brazil where they are a strong majority. And yet, their daily burden is worsening. As shown, for instance, by today’s news of men, not only gang-raping a 16-year old girl for wearing “the wrong length of skirt”, but proudly posting pictures of themselves and their crime all over social media, to the glee of hundreds of other men who liked and shared the pictures.

Women are responsible for 70% of the world’s production yet earn only 10% of the total income and own 0.9% of the world’s property.

There are 196 countries in the world and only 15 elected heads of state are women.

About 300 million girls are deprived of the very basic education, which means they cannot even write their names rendering them at the complete mercy of the educated males around them.

And going to school is not always a charm when 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to school every single year.

In Nigeria, when a student gets raped by four other students, including her boyfriend, we only focus on why the woman was alone with four boys to begin with.

India is at a breaking point after decades, if not centuries, of women serfdom and abuse. It is only because Westerners were attacked that we really talked about it.

You think it’s all about shaming the Third World? Let’s have a look at our “civilised” societies then.

In Europe, most monarchies still apply the agnatic-cognatic primogeniture rule, which means that a man will always comes first when it comes to accessing the throne, not matter how many older sisters he has. And in case of strict sorority, the first sister who has a son will become the first in line to the throne, only because she has given birth to the next potential king. What a great message to send if you consider that these dynasties claim they are chosen by God.

In the US, girls are submitted to insane school “decency rules” regarding what they can and cannot wear whereas boys can just walk in wearing…clothes. The opening remark of this video is everything.

In the US, whether it is the Congress, the House of Representatives, the Senate, none of these prestigious institutions shaping the most powerful country in the world can managed more than 20% of women.

In our society, when men are free to be and do whatever they want, women can never win: whatever they do, they say, they look like, it’s never right.

In France, if a woman wears too much, she is frigid or a Muslim (cue derogatory tone) and if she wears too little, she is a whore craving for men to fill her every holes.

The French former ministre de l’économie openly sexually harassed a journalist during a Davos conference prompting female journalists from all over Northern Europe to specifically ask not to be sent to France for the harassment of women has become unbearable. The French female journalists and politicians are now in rebellion against the inherent misogyny of the French masculine elite. A behaviour, these old perverts like to call the “French sauciness” as if it were something we were all born with, should be proud of and nurture.

Every single woman I know has a story of abuse.

My mother who was fondled by older classmates when she was at school. She slapped them just to be told 35 years later than showing some cleavage when you are a HR manager is inappropriate. That happened in France…as we lecture Iran.

My grand-mother who was offered an after-school ride by one of her father’s business partner. A man who then wanted her to show some kind of gratitude. She went out of the car before anything happened, thank God!

A friend of mine who has been living in fear for the past two years after she broke the vicious circle and left a violent man who was cheating on her and abusing her physically and psychologically. He went all the way to punching her boss, causing damage to her and her parents’ properties, threatening her friends to the complete inaction of the police.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to official statistics, 25% of women have, are and will experience domestic abuse in the hands of the one they love. Every minute, in the UK, the police receive a phone call dealing with domestic violence and 81% of the victims are women. On average, a woman was assaulted 35 times before she finds the courage to call the police.

The overview of Europe is pretty much the same. Some countries look bad because they actually consider these numbers when others still stubbornly refuse to acknowledge them.

One in 10 women have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, while one in 20 has been raped.

One in five women have experienced some form of stalking since the age of 15, with 5% having experienced it in the 12 months preceding the survey. However, three out of four stalking cases reported in the survey never come to the attention of the police. And having a name for yourself will not make the police be any more understanding or professional.

Of women in the survey who indicate they have been raped by their current partner, about one third (31%) say they have experienced six or more incidents of rape by their partner.

Just over one in 10 women experienced some form of sexual violence by an adult before they were 15.

These numbers will only tell a partial story as they rely on women’s courage to break the circle of abuse and speak up. Like all these girls and women who don’t exist because they cannot sign their own name, how much abuse “doesn’t exist” because women cannot put words on what they suffer everyday?

On average, in Europe, in every single country, every three days a woman is killed by a current or former partner. If you consider the whole of the UE, that’s 9 women killed every single day.

Every day.

Every. Day.

Remember that, as you are working, eating, walking, cooking, playing or listening to music…As you are living your daily life, 9 woman are suffering, agonising and eventually die of domestic violence. In their own house. By someone they once trusted and loved.

Nine woman. Every day. In the European Union.

As Amnesty International, we are campaigning against oppression, violence, abuse and death penalty. Why, then, can’t we spent more than three days discussing the fate of the people who suffer the most from it?

How many more will have to die for us to finally consider that women are indeed fighting an everyday war and need our help?

Free Internet? Please, and I want Adblock to go with it.

I read this article today saying that Adblocking could “remove” £12bn in advertising by 2020. I don’t see you can remove something that is not there to begin with but let’s go with it.

The following picture show you all the related articles where Adblock is basically the new evil and its users should be rebaptised Damian or at least accept their mothers to be called Rosemary.

ScreenHunter_002

As you can see Adblock is everywhere. Including on both my current laptops, all my former and future ones.

Before I go into why I have Adblock, my issue is: 100 000 000 devices have it. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that one device = one person, are these people living miserable lives because we have no adverts? Have we stopped buying cars, clothes, food and other goods because of that lack of something that is talked about as if it was essential to our survival? Have we completely isolated ourselves from the rest of the world by not force-feeding ourselves with ads on a regular basis? Have we all become hermits refusing to give in to materialism and over-consumption? Are we unaware of what’s new and are therefore doomed to eternally live in the past? Are we now in a parallel world? Do we even exist?

The answer to these questions is obviously “No.”

100 million people. That’s a country-worth of people beyond borders, culture, language, age, gender who can live a normal life without ads so what are they for in the first place?

Ads have been presented as a way to keep us inform of novelty. They are is aimed at the people to encourage them to make the right choice because choice is endless today and how are we ever going to be able to make the right one if an advert doesn’t show us the light?

These words are not mine but the ones of a friend who works in advertising. When he told me that, I couldn’t help but remembering the Eddy’s rant from Ab Fab at another PR person:

“You! You attached to that crap-ad man over there. The king of bastardisation that just takes everything that is ever real and and genuine honest and original to attach it to a toilet cleaner! I don’t more choice, I just want nicer things!”

That’s excatly the point we make in one of the articles you see above: we don’t like the ads and it turns out we don’t need them, we can make choices of our own through experiencing and searching. We needn’t be force-fed.

Nothing has changed in terms of advertisement between today and yesteryear. They still are as patronising, infantilising, irrelevant, stupid, deceiving as they always were so we don’t believe what they say. We heard it all before. They have been watched on TV, listened to on the radio, read in newspapers and magazines. My generation grew up with them in the background of everything like a mosquito buzzing in your ear on a hot summer night when you try to sleep. We have learnt to ignore them, change channel, flick through, leave the room. We have also grown wary of their ridiculous claims and terrible acting that makes want to hammer the TV and the radio to dust, the same way we end screaming in the night and fumigating the whole room to oblivion.

Take any ad to sell us cleaning products. Jesus Christ! I cannot believe these desert of intelligence are actually the outcomes of countless meetings and millions of pounds. All for talking toilets?!

“Please someone! Just make shut the fuck up!”

Now we can! That’s the difference. It’s brilliant and it’s Adblock! I can actually enjoy watching, listening, reading without someone telling  me my life is over if I don’t get the latest Tampax. The one that allows me to climb on my boyfriend’s shoulders because I don’t want to cross the river with my shoes…I am man, why do I care?!

It’s not about skipping anymore, it’s about removing them altogether, enjoying the freedom away from their overbearingness and contempt.

When they don’t completely overshot and encourage my best friend, a Polish Catholic, to go on a dating website for single Muslim women just because she is friend with an Algerian guy on Facebook, they reduce all of us to nothing but wallets that need to be emptied. We have to buy! What are we waiting for?! 30% off on all vitamin C complements at Tesco’s, it’s madness!…Madness? Really?! Do I need that much vitamin C?  Can’t I get strawberries?

Well that’s perfect, the next ad shows me there is a Buy one get one free offer on all strawberry boxes at Sainsbury’s! That’s madness!…Are they any good or half rotten as usual?

And that’s when ads don’t actually cost money per say. Having a I-phone 4S, I don’t have the adblock app so I cannot read the Guardian when outside because most of my data roaming goes to download endless banners I never see on my laptops. That’s my own money down the drain for ads I don’t care for.

There is also the fancy graphics. Once I was cut out of the Guardian website for three weeks because the main advert was some kind of gif/video that couldn’t load. So I kept getting the “Sorry, the page did not load properly, we try again”…for almost a month! I played Wordfeud and sod trying to keep informed.

So yes, we have Adblock to be free of all that and to be able to enjoy something that is proudly and loudly advertised as free. And the truth comes out. The ads have nothing to do with us and everything to do with companies: the ones selling their products and the ones being paid to allow them to sell their products on their “free” platform. The ads are the key to Free Internet.

If social media are free, YouTube is free, newspapers are free on the Internet, it’s because the companies are buying advertising space. Just like they do on TV. Like we say in French: Tout se paie.

Hence the vilification of Adblock: it’s a threat to Free Internet. Without ads, everything will have to be actually paid for or will be doomed to disappearance. I and all the other Adblock-lovers are killing free internet, it’s our fault if websites close for lack of revenue.

In the UK,  the culture secretary said “the fast-growing use of software that blocked advertising presented an existential threat to the newspaper and music industries”. We are selfish, irresponsible bastards, it turns out.

Maybe I was naive but for me Free Internet meant free as uncensored, unedited by anyone expect creators accordingly to their own will and desire. For me, when someone puts something on the Internet and claim it is free, it is free, end of. There are no strings attached.

But I understand now. The word “free” has two meaning: freedom and not-to-be-paid-for. And the fact is: they don’t actually come together. Youtube is free to use for us but relying heavily on private cooperation to find revenues, they also have imperatives that come with this imperative.

Nothing has changed, it’s traditional media all over again but within the new media. Except for one glitch in the system: Adblock. So in the face of dissent, companies are realising that the Internet is more flexible, at the day of the end people have the power and won’t give in. So it turns out not to be the goldmine they expect to dig dry and they have second thoughts. And everyone is panicking.

That brings my final existential question about Internet: how can you pretend to be the essence of Free Internet and Internet Neutrality when the availability of your content, its independence and transparency are depending on the whims of private companies?

If your independence and transparency are threatened by the unwillingness of your audience to be force-fed ads made by and allocated for private companies, what you do doesn’t sound “free” and “neutral” to me, rather dependent and heavily controlled.

Private companies have an agenda. There is nothing such as selflessness when it comes to them – whatever they do. They have money to make, an image to build and maintain, customers to reach and I know, because I owe many blogs, that ad space also means a line of editing. I was offered countless times and always refuse. The temptation is great but I know that means sacrifice and bias.

I also learned about that through some of my favourite YouTubers who talk openly about the process of sponsored videos for instance. The fact is that every single sponsored video has to be reviewed by the company prior to being posted to make sure there is nothing that would could potentially be damaging to them – directly or indirectly.

Others said they have been contacted by companies willing to do business just to back down when they found out the channel was run by a gay couple or a hijab-wearing girl or a feminist activist. Nothing is free and rarely innocent when companies are involved. They put their money when the mouths are speaking what they want to hear.

What is killing the Free Internet and its Neutrality is not adblocking but its utter reliance on the money of private companies. What’s killing the Free Internet is that it hasn’t been able to truly find a viable alternative to actually be genuinely free. There is a whole part of the Internet that has truly failed in providing a new model and bowed to ones who run everything in the real world so they also have the reins in the virtual world.

We, however, have made a decision: we want to be free of ads and be careful, Le Monde, other news outlets and social media that are trying to force them on us, look at what happened to TV and you’ll find you are not irreplaceable. Time to go back to the drawing board but there is hope: we are ready to pay for the lack of ads, see Netflix.

Sadiq Khan: a person above all else.

A lot of questions have been asked to me since Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London and all have to do with his being a Muslim.

I live in France where most of our immigrants for the past 60 years have been coming from Muslim countries and yet, we still can’t seem to be able to get our heads around the fact that one of them has managed to reach such a position. “How brave of them to vote for…him. I mean…you know…”, we say as we still call “immigrants” the great-great-grand-children of these who left what was still colonies.

No! I don’t know and frankly, I am not interested in what you “mean”…

On the English side, people have been asking why the continentals are so obsessed with his religious beliefs. A bit hypocritical I have to say, considering the headlines of most of their tabloids but It is true that the headlines from Europe’s newspapers looked like the Tory campaign with the indissociable words “Sadiq Khan” and “Muslim”.

We are obsessed the same way the world was when Paris elected her first gay mayor. It was everywhere because that’s what we do: we put people in boxes that comes with expectations and prejudice. These boxes were called “minorities” until the people living within them decided to call themselves “communities” in this schizophrenic idea that letting the differences define not only what they are but also who they are…well, that would allow them to somehow eventually make these differences irrelevant. Maybe…

However, what I see instead is the “majority” using this idea of community to further exclude them, bringing the minorities to work even further for a place in the system they are no longer a part of as if they had some emancipated. Some going as far as excluding themselves from the rest of the society altogether and turning against it with inconceivable violence.

But I digress.

The fact is that: when one manages to go beyond the hindrance the “minority” tag erects in our Western society, when someone makes it against the odds of our narrow-mindness, we are surprised and that’s all we can talk about. And not really in a good way so far.

First, there is our sickening self-congratulation. Bétrand Delanoë, Barack Obama, Sadiq Khan: all were used by their respective countries as proof that these very countries were now beacon of modernity, acceptance and forwardness in a world of neighbours they could legitimately look down on. We do the same for every woman reaching a position of responsibility; she is here to prove we are not that sexist. The same way Obama was used to prove to the world that the US are not racist. Yeah…

In this, these people are still defined by their status of minority that was bravely disregarded by the good majority of the West who has been giving them a chance to prove they can make it. That’s why “Sadiq Khan” and “Muslim” were inseparable in most news outlets. He’s a poster for something new about us: we are not the bastards we thought we were.

Yes, we are! Because he was elected in London, a city so diverse that the concept of majority doesn’t apply. Because his opponent’s campaign used his personal religious belief to attack him and it worked. Not in London as a whole but in the rest of the UK and Europe, yes! And very well with that. I mean, his being a Muslim is all we knew of him! Hence and because such a thing would never happen anywhere else than in a city like London or Berlin. Not even Paris.

Secondly, we talk and talk and talk but we forget that Sadiq Khan’s biggest achievement is being overlooked: he has managed to be himself, an individual person beyond the realm of communitarianism.

Being gay, I know what the “community” does to you. You will find support when isolated and endangered in the face of intolerance and rejection but you are also sucked in and you lose your individuality. I have never liked what we call “the gay community” as such because there’s a sense of autarky that comes with belonging. As the community looks to be stronger on its own, you lose yourself in the name of something bigger that needs to be as homogeneous as possible because this is where it finds its strength.

The problem with the community steaming from the status of minority is that we often look for a common enemy to soften our inner differences. There is the need to level out, to standardise, to all be the same so we can present a united front, in mind and appearance. People are no longer individuals, they are members who abide by the same rules for a common purpose: to gain recognition.

I am not damning communities as a whole but I do distrust it as much as I distrust establishment in the way that both are looking to deny my identity: one through what it means to be gay and the other through the need to impose nationalism.

I see myself in Sadiq Khan, like I did in Bétrand Delanoë before, because they too refused these terms. They did not run as a member of their communities for the purpose of bringing their peers to national acceptance, They ran as themselves. Plain and simple.

The Tories tried to reduce to Khan to his religion – like UMP tried to abuse Delanoë’s homosexuality – and it failed. Not because the whole of the Western world has suddenly decided to be tolerant of anything, rather because Khan has proven that he was not different because he belonged to a community but because he is an individual: he had a history to tell in which Islam belongs but we actually don’t know much about it, except that he has always fought against the ones who prey on people’s uncertainties and doubts about belonging. He had an actual programme with clear policies that went beyond his own interests and the ones of his religious peers, he had ideas and he defended them.

In being his own creation, Khan has never been divisive but always uniting. He talked to everyone and did not target certain people for gain – expect his being a Londoner, obviously. He has managed to make people forget that he is a Muslim and see the individual beyond all labels. I am even sure some people who voted for him did not know he was Labour until they took the ballot. And that is the victory we should celebrate.

This London’s Mayor race was the victory of the individual above all categorisation, whatever they might be: gender, sex, religion, ancestry, skin complexion. It is the victory of one man as his own who managed to appeal to people as their own.