Monday, 10 June 2013

Response to a letter posted on the Belfast Telegraph website about victim blaming.

(Response to Sue Alexander's email on 10th June as appeared on the Belfast Telegraph website)

Victim blaming (that is, proportioning blame on to the victim of a crime rather than blaming the perpetrator) is coming up again and again in the recent discourse surrounding rape.

Victim blaming is an attempt to place blame for the crime (in particular in a case of rape) on the victim rather than blaming the perpetrator. This happens in ways such as telling women they should not consume too much alcohol, by telling women they should not walk home alone at night (which doesn't make sense, as statistically most rapes are committed by a person known to the victim), by telling women how they should and should not dress and that this is a responsibility of theirs in order not to attract unwanted attention.

Women should never carry any blame or be made to feel in any way responsible for what is a hideous, terrible thing to happen to someone, and the only person who is at fault in a situation of rape is the rapist, never the victim. We need to keep repeating this. You shouldn't have to teach your daughters how to minimalise risks to themselves- we should be teaching our sons not to rape.

Aisling Gallagher
NUS-USI Women's Officer

It's time to put consent on the curriculum.

Tomorrow there will be a vote on an amendment to the Children & Families Bill to include Sex & Relationship Education in the national curriculum. If the amendment is carried, it will go into the bill.
Women's Aid and Brook are supporting the amendment, and are urging people to contact their MPs ahead of the vote tomorrow to ensure that it passes.
Why is it so important?
Currently, sex education is compulsory on the national curriculum, but it focuses primarily on the mechanics and biological aspects of sex, as well as focusing on good sexual health. This amendment "puts the R into sex education" - families can and do play a key role in educating children, but high quality sex education delivered to both boys and girls is a vital tool in empowering young people to overcome societal and cultural pressures around sex education and consent. Sex education isn't just about the biology of sex- it is important that young people learn about the societal aspects of sex and sex in relationships, and particularly about consent.
The programme of sex education delivered in schools should be grounded in a zero tolerance approach to violence against women and girls. By including this amendment in the overall bill, it ensures that schools will be given the resources and materials necessary to adequately equip teachers to carry out the education effectively.
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Stella Creasy said that it is essential we teach children about consent- there have been repeated calls for it and still nothing has been done. It's important not only for young people to know about the biological aspect of sex, but to respect one another and have healthy relationships. Essentially, it's time to put consent on the curriculum.
My experience of sex education is probably quite different to that of young people in England and Wales- and unfortunately this bill doesn't extend to Northern Ireland. However, I believe it's essential that we should be pushing MPs to vote for the amendment, regardless of whether or not it affects our own constituency.
The sex education in Northern Ireland is unsurprisingly strongly influenced by the highly conservative, anti-women, anti-LGBT culture we live in. I didn't receive any sex education. Instead, we had 'social education', where at the age of 12 we awkwardly were talked to about periods and where babies come from. I went to an all girls Catholic school- the most adequate education I received about contraception was in my GCSE Biology class (and when my friend first told me about the implant, I thought she was making it up- which is funny now, but at the age of 15 or 16 with the little education I got, it probably isn't that uncommon amongst students in Catholic schools).
This bill won't cover Northern Ireland, which is already a good few steps behind the UK on a number of important issues, but it will introduce the issue of consent into schools in England and Wales and this is a massive, much-needed step forward. It means that, eventually, a similar kind of thing will be introduced into Northern Ireland, despite the fact that it will probably not be for many years.
You can search for your MP here, and contact them ahead of the vote on the amendment tomorrow. It's time to put consent on the curriculum, and tomorrow is an opportunity to do just that.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Special Advisers Bill

NB: This is a personal blog, and I speak about this bill as an individual. I'm not speaking for the Labour Party, nor am I speaking for the SDLP or NUS-USI. I'm speaking as myself, and will be held account as an individual. If you have any problems or concerns with what I have said, talk to me about them- not my political parties. These words do not reflect any political party nor political organisation. 

PDF of the final Bill:

Copy of the Belfast Agreement:

The Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill is causing a lot of controversy. In the last fortnight we've seen a lot of immature, childish, and pretty libellous things said about parties and individuals on both sides of the debate. This is a debate that needs to be had with great sensitivity and respect. We're talking about the lives of innocent people who have died during a period of intense conflict- essentially, it was a war.

The Bill stipulates for the appointed "special adviser not to have serious criminal conviction", which means a conviction for which "a sentence of imprisonment of five years or more was imposed" or "a sentence of imprisonment for life was imposed" and applies "whether the person was convicted in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, was convicted before or after the coming into operation of this Act".

"The Department must issue a code governing the appointment of special advisers within 3 months of this section coming into operation" and "the appointment of special advisers must be subject to the same vetting procedures as the appointment of Senior Civil Servants to the Northern Ireland Civil Service". 

A number of amendments were proposed by Dominic Bradley & Alban Maginness- all of which were rejected by Jim Allister, the proposer of the bill. Unsurprisingly. 

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 stipulates that "the parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community... the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations, the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means... the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity... the right of women to full and equal political participation". 

"The achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence". "An essential aspect of the reconciliation process is the promotion of a culture of tolerance at every level of society". 

If we had a Bill of Rights, like we're supposed to, this Bill wouldn't hold up. Criminal convictions do play a part in some jobs, such as teaching, medicine, etc. And *mostly*, I can see why (though the fact that criminal convictions play a part in whether or not you can work in a certain sector opens up another argument to the validity of the convictions and the processes surrounding them- which is another important argument to have, not not one I'm trying to have here). 

But the peace process (if you can call it that) wouldn't have happened if we didn't have political prisoners on side, if they were not sitting at the negotiating table and actively working to end their campaigns of armed resistance. It wouldn't have happened, period. There are many weaknesses to the Good Friday Agreement, but the fact that it actually happened remains a strength. 

To shut out those with criminal convictions from becoming special advisers is not fair. We elect them. We work alongside them. If we're going to open the special advisers can of worms, then why don't we focus on their huge salary? Why don't we focus on the fact it is more often than not 'jobs for the boys', rather than the appointment of an expert in the field? To me, that is more concerning. I'd have no problem with a special adviser having had a criminal conviction if they actually knew what they were talking about when they took up the post- many don't, and that's a huge problem that seems to be too often ignored. We seem intent to shut out those with criminal convictions but ignore the fact that so many of those employed (with and without criminal convictions) are in no way qualified for the job. That's the most important issue, to me.

If we had an adequate programme of reconciliation, victims would feel as though their losses have been acknowledged. Recognised and apologised for. And we haven't done that yet. The reason that emotions are running so high amidst this Bill is because we have no process of reconciliation, we have not acknowledged the hurts of the past and it doesn't look like the current Executive in Stormont are getting any further in any kind of strategy. This is a huge problem. And again, the Bill has overtaken this issue as seemingly a more important one. 

It's a plaster covering a wound that needs properly dressed and a much bigger bandage than the one currently being offered. It'll help for a bit, but in the end, will prove futile in both the reconciliation process and any kind of attempt to foster a tolerant and just society.