Tuesday, 23 June 2009

La Burqa

In 2004, the government made school uniform, truly "uniform" when it prohibited the wearing of any religious symbols (including headscarves, turbans and skullcaps) in all state schools. A large number of students who defied the ban and continued to wear such items were subsequently expelled and forced to pay for private tuition instead. The law excluded and isolated the very people that it intended to liberate. I think we are about to experience a severe case of deja vu.

Just what France needs: a commission to "study the extent of burkha-wearing." President Sarkozy isn't going to wait around for the results though, announcing yesterday that "burkhas are not welcome here."

This move by Sarkozy is not entirely surprising, considering the decision of the Conseil d'Etat last year to deny French citizenship to a Moroccan woman on the grounds that she insisted on wearing a burkha. Whilst praising the decision, minister Fadela Amara described the burkha as a "prison." Yesterday, Mr Sarkozy went further to describe such women as "prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity" -- an insult to the fashionistas methinks, lots of women spend absolute fortunes on their "netting."

When I first moved to the Middle East, I was shocked when I first saw women wearing a niqab with an eye veil so that the entire face is covered, even the eyes. It was difficult for me to imagine that there was a human being underneath the black chiffon. It was certainly very strange to be browsing through the clothes in TopShop alongside women in burkhas.

After 4 months living here, the burkha now seems very normal to me and I find it very beautiful. I met with one of our client's key business representatives a few weeks ago -- she is a woman and of course, she wears a burkha.

My message to Mr Sarkozy: you cannot change someone else's culture for them and you certainly cannot change it overnight. By banning the burkha, you may well be taking away the one thing that actually liberates Muslim women in France. Without the burkha, some women may not leave their homes at all.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Labour Women's Network training

It's great to see LWN have put an event together to give women training for parliamentary selections. Full details from their recent newsletter are below.

LWN Training & Personal Development Opportunity
We are running a training weekend from the evening of Friday 10 July to the morning of Sunday 12 July. This is for women who are serious about wanting to be selected to fight a parliamentary seat and are prepared to invest time and effort in achieving it. We will be looking at a whole range of actvities, including personal planning, media skills and CV writing, and you will also be able to meet like-minded women for a great weekend of politics and personal development.

LWN is financing most of the costs of the weekend, and is therefore able to offer it to participants for only £50 - which includes 2 nights' accomodation, meals, and all materials for the course. (You will have to pay your own travel to and from the venue, which is in Leominster, and is accessible by train.) Please note that the training is only open to members of Labour Women's Network.

This is an unmissable opportunity for any woman who really wants to win, and places are limited. If you would like to apply for one, please email our Training Co-ordinator, Ann Leedham-Smith, at annleedham@hotmail.co.uk explaining why you want to do the training, whether or not you have done any previous LWN training, whether you have stood as a candidate before, and what your ambitions are. We hope you get a place and look forward to seeing you there!

Parliamentary Selections
As you will know, a number of MPs have recently announced that, for one reason or another, they will not be standing at the next General Election. Labour-held seats include Elmet & Rothwell (notional majority 6,078), Wirral South (notional maj 3,538), Barrow & Furness (notional maj 4,843), Makerfield (notional maj 17,903), Carlisle (notional maj 5,085), Luton South (notional maj 5,698) and Reading West (notional maj 4,931). There are also vacancies in marginal seats and in seats held by the Tories and Liberal Democrats - and we need good candidates in all of them!

At this stage we don't know which will be all-women shortlists and which open, but we do know that we will need good women candidates to seek selection. If you would like to sign up for our special selection alert service (currently being developed) please let us know by emailing us at lwn@lwn.org.uk. And if you know good Labour women who should be encouraged to stand, get them to join LWN, attend training, and go for it!

Finally, the earlier the information we have about selections, the better. If you know of vacancies which are coming up, please let us know so that we can let other women know. And if you get selected for a seat, let us know so that we can celebrate your success!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A few thoughts today ...

1. I was really proud to vote for two great labour women on Thursday: Sandra Holland for Mayor of Doncaster and Linda McAvan at the top of our euro candidates list.

2. I can’t believe instead we have a mayor who stood for a party that wants to withdraw from the UN Convention on Refugees. Meanwhile he’s going to stamp out political correctness, by which as far as I can tell, he means anything to improve the position of women, black people or gay people.

3. While personally I support electoral reform for Westminster we need to be really careful about ‘compromise’ systems such as that for Mayoral elections. In London everyone knew it was between Boris and Ken and could use their second preference accordingly. In Doncaster no-one saw the English Democrats coming so I didn’t use my second preference against them and was effectively disenfranchised in the final round. If we’d had either first past the post, or a proper preference system I’m he wouldn’t have been elected. The fact that only 601 votes separated the top three candidates made only putting two through to the final round a farce.

4. I’m astonished – but perhaps I shouldn’t be – that this election is getting almost no national media coverage.