Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembrance Day Sierra Leone

In 2000, shortly after the rebel RUF fled the Sierra Leonean capital I was invited by the British Council to fly to Freetown. I wrote the following article for the Guardian

Remembrance  Day Sierra Leone - November 2000

'To our collective shame it is often forgotten that over 500,000 West African troops took part in World Wars 1 and 2.  In my role as a Member of the Governing Board of the British Council I attended the Remembrance Day service at the Freetown military cemetery by the sea About 250 of us stood among the haphazardly laid out gravestones in front of the memorial.  British and Sierra Leone military stood to attention in the front-rows.  We civilians stood behind them. Muslim veterans dressed in white and gold robes sat or stood beside the memorial to comrades in arms.   
British Military snipers guarded us from the top of nearby giant storage tanks. British soldiers in camouflage gear with guns at the ready surveyed the sea.  A Sierra Leone military band seated beneath the only shade-tree played Remembrance Day hymns. 

Freetown is in the same time zone as the UK, at that very moment at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and in churches and at war memorials across the United Kingdom people were choking back tears to just the same music. The helicopter-carrier HMS Ocean, anchored out in the bay, fired a gun to mark the two minutes' silence. 
When a handful of young kids paddled up in their canoes the soldiers became extra alert. They had reason to be cautious. The Revolutionary United Front rebels controlled  thousands of cocaine-addicted, scrambled-brained child soldiers. For seven years, the RUF tactic has been to raid a village and round up boys and girls aged 10 and upwards. 
The children were immediately injected in the temple with crack cocaine or skin scraped from leg or chest and the drug rubbed straight into the bloodstream. Soon after the kidnapping, drug-confused youngsters were forced to chop off a limb from one of their relatives before being taken away to be trained to fight and kill. But these local youngsters who sat quietly in their gently rocking canoes were no threat. They had simply come to listen to the singing. 

The next day, 500 troops in amphibian craft accompanied by helicopter gunship air - cover landed on the beaches of Aberdeen peninsula for a royal tournament display. I was conducting a workshop for Sierra Leone women Leaders in the British Council Hall on the top of  Tower Hill. We ducked in unison as a low-flying helicopter roared over the seminar room. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans on the beach below cheered and shouted: "God bless our mother country, God bless Britain." 

A couple of days later  in my role of Board Member of the British Council I attended a special session of the SL parliament. I sat behind the UK high commissioner, Alan Jones, and the commander of the British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards. The praise for Britain was so warm and effusive it was embarrassing. But at the same time it was deeply touching. 

A Muslim MP said: "The British are a special people ready to live and to die for what they believe in, rather than for short-term gain." He mentioned the British belief in fair play and justice and the spirit of King Arthur. 

At the end, and in keeping with the  Nineteenth Century character to life in this beautiful country, even perhaps recalling his own Colonial period education, an MP stood up and said, "I could see the great spectacle on the beach from my window.  When I saw the British forces landing - nothing could be more reassuring.  If I may quote Wellington, "I don't know what they do to the enemy, but by God they put the fear of God in ME."  
Members of parliament from all the political parties offered paeans of praise to Britain. They thanked Tony Blair. They thanked Robin Cook. They thanked Britain's UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock. They thanked the Department for International Development. They even praised the deputy prime minister, John Prescott. It must be one of the few rave reviews our minister for transport and wet and every other controversial thing had that year. '

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Looking forward to speaking at the Feminist Conference 
24 October 2015 in the Women in Politics session.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Election update

Scottish Nationalist Party  sweeps Labour MPs out of Scotland. Youngest  MP  elected to the UK Parliament 20 year Scots Nats woman knocks out  Labour Shadow Cabinet Minister Douglas Alexander.
Liberal Democrat support dives from 57  - forecast to lose 47 seats. Very sad to lose Minister Jo Swinson. Her husband Duncan Brack, Government Minister - Energy Sec Ed Davey, Menzies Campbell, Lynne Featherstone​ and Simon Hughes also lost their seats.

 Exit polls suggest Tories will win 316 seats - just short of a majority
 Labour predicted to win 239 seats - down 19

Monday, April 20, 2015

Migrants fleeing Libya - Europe must act

Europe can't stay silent in front of the tragedy of desperate people who seek to flee war, ISIS, or prolonged extreme poverty. We all have a human obligation to help. 

UK were in the vanguard of stopping the ghastly Slave Trade to the W.Indies - UK should take the lead in the EU in this week's talks and demand: 1) Immediate action - provide rescue services to prevent people fleeing to Europe from drowning.2) Go after the crooks exploiting desperate people who are fleeing to Europe.3)Helping to improve life for people in their countries of origin.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Celebrate successes for Women in Parliament globally on International Women's Day.

It’s International Women’s Day. Let’s celebrate successes. In the past two decades women MPs have gained ground in nearly 90% of 174 countries. Electoral quotas in more than 120 countries have underpinned this success.

 Since 1995 the number of parliaments where women occupy more than 30% of the seats has increased from five to forty two. Thirteen Parliaments have more than 40% women MPs (Twenty years ago there was just one parliament with over 40% women.) Four parliamentary chambers have more than 50% women MPs and Rwanda, has more than 60 % women MPs.

 Since 1995, when the UN Beijing Platform for Action on women’s empowerment was adopted, the global average of women in parliament has increased from 11.3 per cent to 22.1 per cent.

 The Americas have made the greatest progress. The Americas now have the highest regional average of women MPs in the world. The percentage of women MPs climbed from 12.7 per cent in 1995 to 26.4 per cent in 2015. Nine countries in the Americas region have more than 30% women MPs. In 1995, there were no legislatures with 30%. In addition, three countries have more than 40 per cent women MPs and one country – Bolivia – has 53.1 per cent women MPs.

 The three countries from the Americas in the top ten of IPU’s world rankings in 2015 are: Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador. Ecuador has made the largest gains in the region in the past twenty years, increasing women’s representation by 37.1 percentage points to reach 41.6% women MPs in 2015.

There was a more modest increase in the USA, which saw the percentage of women in the US legislature rise from 10.9 per cent in 1995 to 19.3 per cent in 2015.

 Europe ranks second in regional averages for women in parliament. In 20 years, the average percentage of women MPs in Europe has increased from 13.2 % in 1995 to 25% in 2015.

 Seventeen European countries now have more than 30% women MPs. In 1995, there were just five countries with more than 30 per cent women MPs. Andorra has achieved total gender parity in parliament at 50/50. Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Spain have more than 40% women MPs.

Sweden has elected more than 40 % women MPs to every parliament since 1994.
 Other notable successes have been Spain, France, Portugal and Italy, with rises of between 15.9 and 25.1 percentage points in the number of women MPs. Legislative quotas are behind the progress. 

Eastern Europe has a lower average than Western Europe mainly due to the unpopularity of quotas as a relic of former regimes. Balkan States have proved to be an exception. Slovenia, Serbia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia all have more than 30% women MPs through the adoption of quotas.

 The only country in Europe with fewer women MPs in 2015 than in 1995 is Hungary.

 Sub-Sahara Africa has achieved some of the most dramatic breakthroughs. Africa currently has the third highest regional average for women MPs. In the past 20 years, often in post-conflict situations, the percentage of women MPs increased from 9.8% cent to 22.3%.

 Twelve African countries have over 30% women MPs compared to none twenty years ago. Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa have more than 40% women MPs. Rwanda has achieved 63.8 % women representatives in parliament.

 Asia has the fourth highest average at 18.5 per cent of women MPs. In 1995, Asia too had no parliament with more than 30 per cent women MPs. Today Timor Leste has 38.5% women MPs. However, both Nepal and Afghanistan are close at 29.5 and 27.7 per cent respectively. Singapore, meanwhile, has seen one of the biggest jumps in women’s representation over 20 years with an increase of 21.6 percentage points.
Mongolia and Bhutan have also seen notable spikes in figures. In the past two decades there were minor increases to both houses of parliament in India, though the overall percentage remains low.

 The Arab region. In 1995, there was no Arab State with 30% women MPs. Now Algeria has 31.6% women MPs and Tunisia has 31.3 per cent. In the past two decades women gained suffrage in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. So far these gains have not been reflected in political representation.

 The Arab region has the second lowest regional average for women MPs, nevertheless, the number of women MPs in the Arab region rose by 11.8 percentage points to 16.1 per cent between1995-2015.

The Pacific remains the region with the lowest average for women in parliament. Since 1995, it has seen an increase of 9.4 percentage points to 15.7 per cent today. The progress is largely due to gains in Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand, has 31.4% women in its lower house.

 In 1995, there were no countries in the region with 30% women MPs. Australia’s lower house has seen the largest increase in women MPs from 8.8 per cent in 1995 to 26.7 per cent in 2015.

 Among the Pacific Island States, Fiji has the highest proportion of women MPs at 16%.
 Although Micronesia and Palau both appear on the lists of countries with no women MPs in 1995 and 2015, Palau has had women during the 20-year period and still does in its upper house. Micronesia, however, has never had a woman MP. In 2015, the Tongan and Vanuatu Parliaments again become all-male institutions.

 I have based the statistics in my blog on The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) annual analysis of statistics and trends on women in parliament released ahead of International Women’s Day on 8th March. The IPU Review this year provides an overview on progress and setbacks since the Beijing Platform. In 1995 at the UN Fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing the target was for at least 30% women in parliaments. The IPU’s Women in Parliament: 20 years in review has identified a rising trend in efforts to make 50% the new target for women’s participation in parliament.

 IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong. Says, “Political action and will must remain a constant if we are to successfully tackle the gender deficit in politics. There is no room for complacency.” ---

Saturday, November 08, 2014

UN Secretary General no longer fit for purpose after he insults women by ignoring UNSCR 1325.

It's time for women (and supportive men) to call for Ban Ki-Moon to step down as UN Secretary General - he seems to have passed his 'sell-by' date and is no longer fit for purpose. On October 31st, 2014, the very day of the 14th anniversary UN Security Council Resolution 1325 calling for women to be equal participants in peace-processes Ban Ki-Moon established a High-Level Independent Panel to re-think Peace Operations. He appointed fourteen members: eleven men and three women! This week-end let's remember - in the the middle of World War 1 women very nearly managed to negotiate an end to the war. In 1915 female delegates from the Hague Congress travelled to meet top statesmen in London, Washington, Berlin, the Hague, Copenhagen, Vienna, Paris, Petrograd, Berne, Budapest, Oslo.The two delegations of 13 women included British Chrystal Macmillan (see pic), American Jane Addams, Dutch Aletta Jacobs, Hungarian Rosika Schwimmer. 'The belligerents said they wanted to cease hostilities but could not ask for mediation as this would infer they were losing militarily.'...'Meanwhile thousands of men went 'up the line' to their deaths, as if they had no individual lives of their own but were merely cogs in the war-machine.'

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius, Evening Standard

This was my letter in today's London Evening Standard. Yesterday in South Africa a man was sentenced by a Judge to serve a sentence that is predicted to amount to around 10 months in prison followed by Community Service. Was his crime a minor burglary or persistent shop-lifting? Nope. He killed a woman. Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius on Valentine's Day in 2013. Statistically speaking, Steenkamp was one of three women killed by an intimate partner on Valentine's Day in the country. In South Africa, a woman is killed by domestic violence on average every eight hours. The rate of women killed in South Africa by their partners, is five times higher than the global average. According to a report (by Lydia Smith , International Business Times Sept 11 2014) the day after Reeva Steenkamp was killed, she was due to wear black in a "Black Friday" protest against South Africa's high number of rapes. The event was spurred by the gang rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl, who managed to identify her attacker, her ex-boyfriend, shortly before she died. Earlier this week a man called Kon Karapanagiotidis (@kon_K) tweeted ’57 women killed this year by men in Australia. No one killed by terrorists. When do we declare war against violence against women.' Precisely!

Monday, August 25, 2014


FYI - worrying stuff: UK - WOMEN, ESPECIALLY LOW PAID WOMEN, ARE SHUT OUT OF ANY ECONOMIC RECOVERY - NEW RESEARCH 1 August 2014 - New research released by the Fawcett Society shows that women – and especially those on low pay – are firmly shut out from the recovery. Direct Link to Full 21-Page 2014 Report: The new report - The changing labour market 2: women, low, pay and gender equality in the emerging recovery’ - includes analysis of national employment data [2] and a survey of 1,003 low paid women [3]. Key findings include: - Since the start of the crisis in 2008, almost a million (826,000) extra women have moved into types of work that are typically low paid and insecure. Since 2008, female under-employment has nearly doubled (to 789,000) and an additional 371,000 women have moved into self-employment, which is typically very low paid. 1 in 8 low paid women now describe themselves as on a zero hours contract. - The increasing levels of women in low paid work, along with the declining value of low pay, is contributing to the widening inequality gap between women and men. Last year the gender pay gap increased for the first time in five years and now stands at 19.1 per cent for all employees - Low paid women are feeling the cost of living crisis sharply: nearly 1 in 2 say they feel worse off now than five years ago; nearly 1 in 10 have obtained a loan from a pay day lender in the last twelve months; nearly 1 in 12 low paid women with children have obtained food from a food bank in the past twelve months

Friday, December 13, 2013

Royal Jordanian Airlines - Golden anniversary? They kept passengers trapped without food and information for over 7 hours.

Yesterday (December 12) Royal Jordanian Airlines brought disgrace to their country. Jordan's national air-line behaved in exact contrast to usual Jordanian courtesy and hospitality. Royal Jordanian kept us sitting on a plane for seven hours on the ground at Amman, Queen Alia Airport without food or information. The Airbus was packed with British and Middle East passengers of all ages including children. The flight from Amman to London should have taken just over 5 hours. We boarded the Airbus soon after 11.30am. Seven hours later we were still sitting waiting for take-off. After some hours, in desperation a female passenger fetched water and plastic glasses from the galley and walked down the aisle serving the passengers with water herself. The cabin crew served passengers no food – not even a packet of nuts. Throughout much of the 7 hours the Captain kept the seat-belt lights switched on. This resulted in angry clashes between cabin attendants passengers who needed to go to the lavatory – especially elderly people. During the first seven hours of our twelve hour ordeal we were left uninformed about what was happening. The Captain only bothered to make two announcements in the first seven hours. After two and a half hours at around 2.30pm the Captain announced our flight had jumped up the queue of planes waiting to take off and we would be departing in five minutes. Not true. Four hours later we were still sitting there. We heard no more information from the Captain for a further two and a half hours, by which time we had been sitting five hours on the plane. He finally admitted there was a technical problem with the plane and told us we would be transferred to another aircraft. He said we would be transferred in twenty minutes time. Around 45 minutes later we were taken by bus to another aircraft. Where we waited at least another hour. I am a frequent air traveller – I have travelled to 91 countries. I can appreciate that poor weather conditions such as yesterday’s snow can cause delays. I also understand that occasionally planes have mechanical problems which need to be fixed. But nothing excuses keeping a passengers on a crowded Airbus on the tarmac for seven hours without food or information. As part of their Golden Anniversary events Royal Jordanian Airlines need to train their pilots and cabin attendants in passenger care and communication skills.