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.
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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?