Birmingham (UK) council workers win discrimination case

Several women (different reports have different figures ranging from 1,400 to 5,000) working for Birmingham council in the UK have won a pay discrimination case. The women work in jobs such as as care workers, caretakers, kitchen staff, and cleaners. The women are on the same grade as men working in different jobs, but whilst the men receive bonuses, the women do not. Some men working in traditionally female jobs such as those listed, have also been affected. Read More »

Yarl’s Wood – hunger striker released from Holloway prison

I posted earlier about the hunger strike at Yarls Wood immigration prison. I have just received the following press release from BWRAP, the grassroots organisation that tries to help women refugees.

PRESS RELEASE: Hunger striker released from Holloway
Following a third bail hearing on 26 April, Ms K won her long overdue release from Holloway prison.

Ms K participated in the recent six week hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre. She was wrongly labelled a ring-leader by guards and on the fourth day, tricked into leaving the crowd of other women, snatched and ghosted to Holloway. She suffered racist abuse from guards and was told “You are from the jungle, you should go back.”

Ms K then faced an onslaught of unfounded and shameful allegations from UKBA aimed at discrediting her and preventing her release. Her solicitor Toufique Hossain, Lawrence Lupin Solicitors and barrister Raza Halim, Garden Court Chambers had to work overtime to prove that these allegations were false.

As a victim of torture, Ms K should never have been detained. She fled to the UK in 2005, having suffered years of domestic violence from her uncle in Nigeria and because she refused to submit to female circumcision. On arrival, she was told by others in the Nigerian community, that the hostility and discrimination from the Home Office against Nigerian people was so severe that she didn’t stand a chance of getting asylum. She lived underground for years relying on friends and charity. In 2009, she was arrested and convicted of possessing criminal property because she had a few thousand pounds in her bank from the sale of her parent’s home. She was remanded in Holloway and eventually in desperation, and believing that she would be released sooner, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 months. While in prison, she made an asylum claim but when she finished her sentence, instead of being released she was taken to Yarl’s Wood. She reported to the authorities that she was a survivor of torture and showed them her scars, but no action was taken. The organisation of health professionals, Medical Justice, interviewed her and documented the torture she suffered.
Read More »

Should we respect the privacy of frogs?

It’s a nice question, and Brett Mills, a lecturer in film studies at the University of East Anglia, is raising it.  From the BBC:

Mills said filming such encounters with miniature cameras was a level of surveillance humans would most likely object to. “The key thing in most wildlife documentaries is filming those very private moments of mating or giving birth. Many of these activities, in the human realm, are considered deeply private, but with other species we don’t recognise that,” he said. Mills’ report appears in the Journal of Media and Cultural Studies.

Mills said that while it might seem odd to claim animals have a right to privacy, the idea should not be dismissed. “We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they do often engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they’d rather not encounter humans,” he said

One example of an animal seeming to seek privacy was that of a whale going under a shelf of ice.

The counter-argument is that knowledge of the animals and nature films in general imparts important knowledge and increasess important awareness  of ecological issues.  What do you think?

Before we decide, we might remind ourselves that there are some questions about whether many animals can have much conception of privacy and/or a desire for it.  So if we address the question generally, we’ll want to think about whether it makes sense to respect the privacy of creatures that can’t think about or even want privacy.

Many of our readers will know about these debates – very likely more than I do in fact.  But here’s a started kit for those for whom its new: There seem to be a number of components to the idea of privacy, but two are certainly problematic for many animals – though perhaps not whales, chimps and a few others.  One of these is a sense of oneself and the other is the idea of being 0bserved by others. 

There are interesting tests  for whether  an animal can think of its self.  A common one uses mirrors to ask whether the animal can distinguish between something happening to one of its kind and that same thing happening to its very own self.  I think children pass this test at about 18 months; chimps and whales do ok.  Most animals don’t seem to do very well at all.  (Get a cat or dog before a mirror while you put  on its head some light thing it won’t feel.  Do it seem to have any awareness that  the thing is on it?)

I’m less famililar with the experimental evidence for whether animals have an understanding of being watched.  There are lots of  indications that they recognize that eyes are significant organs, though interestingly most animals do not have eyes whose direction of look can be detected.  We do, because of the whites of our eyes, but I think we may be unique.  Nonetheless, many animals  may attach some significant to head direction, but that’s a long way from getting that one is being watched.

There are reasons for thinking some of this discussion is wrong-headed.   For example, some of it is quite involved with the idea that most human beings have a theory of mind that involves ascribing to others mental states.  And there are serious challenges to that idea.

So rather than trying to resolve those debates, we could ask:  Do the lower animals (felines and canines on down) have rights to privacy we should respect even if they cannot understand or desire privacy?

One thing that does occur to me is to wonder whether we think 1 year olds have a right to privacy.  Do we treat a one year old’s body and emotions as private as we might think of adults.   If we don’t, does that decide it for the rest of the animal kingdom?  Or even, do we know all human societies have spheres of privacy?

Women to serve in US submarines in 2011

US submarine service has been considered elite service and open only to men.  In the fall of 2011, that will change.  CNN says:

The change in policy was recommended by the top naval officer, Adm. Gary Roughead; the secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus; and Gates. No Navy leaders opposed the plan, officials said.

Women on submarines and gays openly serving in the military raise some of the same issues, particularly those concerned with sexual attraction among people living together in tight quarters.   While no Navy leaders objected, it’s likely some of the officers off camera did.  “No, it’s impossible,” I heard someone who used to serve on submarines say recently.  “If you have to  pass  someone in a corridor of a submarine, you are going to be really rubbing against one another.  You just can’t have this going on with men and women.”

Imagine a hall before a conference room where that was necessary!   Privacy is another concern and CNN tells us:

The Navy will implement the policy change by assigning three female officers to eight different crews of guided-missile attack and ballistic-missile submarines. … Smaller, fast-attack submarines are considered to be too small to accommodate the necessary infrastructure change in living quarters that is possible on the larger subs, Navy officials explained.

Perhaps the corridors are wider.

A nice fishy example

God clearly does not love all fetuses.  Ones particularly expendable are fishy ones.  The male three-spined stickleback is the fish in question right now.  He goes in for cannibalism and recent research confirms an explanation:

The researchers manipulated the clutches that individual males cared for, replacing up to 100 percent of the eggs fertilized by the male with eggs fertilized by another male. They found that the higher the percentage of “alien” eggs, the more likely the male was to completely cannibalize the clutch. The researchers suggest that the fish probably take their cues from the odor of the developing eggs as the paternal genes start to kick in.

Cannibalism of a clutch with a high proportion of alien eggs makes sense for the fish, because it avoids putting a lot of energy into producing offspring that carry another fish’s genes, and because by eating the eggs it gets energy to rear future clutches of its own eggs.

But what I like about the example for teaching  is that it’s a clear case where the explanation appeals to the good of the agent without giving any reason the agent actually could entertain.  As we say in evo-speak, it would be much too expensive and impractical  to build a  fish brain that could grasp facts about passing on one’s genes.  So evolution has linked his actions with odor or taste.  Others’ eggs are just so yummy. 

It’s also a really good way into  to the apparently mythical idea that step fathers tend to kill their step children, though if I’m out of date on the many twists and turns of that debate, please someone let me know.

Beserk Paternalism? Should we mount a protest?

What  in the world could they be thinking?

From the NY Times:

The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override vetoes of two highly restrictive abortion measures, one making it a law that women undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion.

Though other states have passed similar measures forcing women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, requiring a doctor or technician to set up the monitor where the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

The second measure passed into law Tuesday protects doctors from malpractice suits if they decide not to inform the parents of a unborn baby that the fetus has birth defects. The intent of the bill is to prevent parents from later suing doctors who withhold information to try to influence them against having an abortion.

The governor, Brad Henry, a democrat, vetoed the first on the grounds that it didn’t exempt rape and incest, and violated a woman’s privacy.  The second he labeled as immoral.  Right!

This kind of disregard for the rights of othersin order to preserve a fetus does seem to me to be psychopathological.  It  is very hard to believe that the legislators’ desire for control has left them with any empathy for anything more than a fetus.

This may make linking immodesty to earthquakes fairly small beans.  Will we feminists just stand by?


I’ve just discovered Stoat’s earlier post on this topic here.

The whiteness of British politics

Read about it here. Particularly interesting is the situation with the Lib Dems:

The leaders’ debates have produced a love-affair with the Liberal Democrats that has barely paused to question the party’s record on diversity. Although popular with Muslim voters in many constituencies, due in large part to its stance against the war in Iraq, and in spite of its mini-manifesto on equality, the Liberal Democrats are the only party whose MPs are likely to be entirely white. Of the 36 Liberal Democrat candidates from minority backgrounds, not a single one has been fielded for a winnable seat.

The Lib Dems’ poor record on minority representation has been noted by minority voters, but so has the media’s failure to reflect those concerns.

CFP: Diotima

Diotima: A Graduate Conference for Feminist Philosophers
Feminism, Technology and the World: Ecological Perspectives
University of Western Ontario
September 25-26, 2010

This conference aims to bring together graduate students who share an interest in feminism, post-coloniality, queer theory, critical race theory, philosophy of disability and anti-oppression theory in general, regardless of their primary area of research.
Keynote Speaker: We are pleased to announce Lorraine Code, Distinguished Research Professor Emerita at York University and recipient of the Distinguished Woman Philosopher Award (2009), as our keynote speaker. Prof. Code’s work explores “ecological thinking as a conceptual apparatus and regulative principle for a theory of knowledge – an epistemology – capable of addressing feminist, multicultural, and other postcolonial issues.”

We are also pleased to announce Gillian Barker as our faculty keynote speaker. Prof. Barker specializes in philosophy of science and of biology. She is interested in ecological conceptions of organism-environment interaction and their implications for our thinking about agency, normativity and knowledge, and in ecological psychology as a tool for transformative learning and action.
We invite submissions in any area of philosophy or feminist theory, that have been influenced by your feminist commitments broadly construed, including but not limited to:

• Feminist analysis of information sharing systems and new technologies;
• Social consequences of genetic or biomedical research and treatment;
• Explorations of a human/non-human divide, or personhood generally;
• A discussion of a recent work or emerging political concern;
• Developing interactions between theorists from different cultures;
• Wilderness, the built environment, poverty and politics;
• Environmental disaster and response;
• Intergenerational justice

Presenters will have 30-35 minutes to speak, followed by a 10-minute commentary and a 25-30 minute discussion period. Papers should be approximately 4000 words. Please include an abstract with your submission of no more then 200 words.

Please send your submissions electronically to All papers will be evaluated by blind review; identifying information should appear in a cover letter only.

We’re all equal before the law!

It’s not often you hear senior members of the judiciary criticising the law for being on the side of dominant groups in society.   And in Britain you don’t get much more senior than Lord Bingham of Cornhill, formerly Master of the Rolls, then Lord Chief Justice, then Senior Law Lord – or, to be precise, the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary – aka Tom Bingham.

So I was for a moment heartened to hear the following exchange with the poet Simon Armitage, who said,

…as a probation officer in a magistrates’ court in the north of England – the high street supermarket of the legal system – I got to the point where I felt I was enforcing… not some gold standard of justice every day, but actually a series of moral values.  And there would be… students of history who would say that many laws are designed to keep the wealth and power with a certain proportion of the population and stop the others from getting it.

Nice point!  What do you say to that, Tom Bingham?

There have undoubtedly been periods in history when the law reflected the interests of the dominant class.  They were represented in Parliament and they made laws that were convenient for them.

Cool, I thought.  What a promising recognition.  He continued,

But I think that we would now claim, and certainly aim, at a situation in which there is true equality before the law: you don’t get a lesser punishment – indeed, rather the opposite – if you’re well-to-do…

Oh well.  Silly me for thinking that the problems were things like low rape conviction rates, or imprisoning drug addicts for petty theft when white collar fraudsters do deals to avoid prosecution, or the provocation defence which tends to recognise men’s ‘crimes of passion’ but not the years of abuse suffered by battered women.

Nope, turns out it’s all okay now, because – after conviction – rich people get the same punishment as poor people for the same crime.  Thank goodness we’re all equal before the law!