Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Saudis Ease Restrictions on Women

I really struggle with this.

According to a recent article in Gulf News women in Saudi Arabia are now permitted to stay in a hotel without a a male escort. Woopee doo!!

http://www.gulfnews .com/news/ gulf/saudi_ arabia/10183906. html

I have spoken to many Muslim women about what I, and many women, see as unacceptable restrictions imposed on them in the name of religion. I cannot comprehend how they find this acceptable yet most I have spoken to adamantly defend the policies.

A few years ago I attended an National Union of Students conference where a guest speaker from Iraq spoke about the negative impact of the illegal war there. Hard fought improvements in rights and freedoms for women are being eroded as strict Muslim dress and behaviour codes are forcefully reimposed. Half way through her speech a large group of Muslim students at the meeting noisily stood up, turned their backs on the speaker and walked out of the conference. That behaviour was not challenged by the organisers and when I challenged them later I was rudely told to mind my own business, yet earlier in the conference members of that same group were appealing for support in their campaign against Islamaphobia. Since then of course we have heard that women are being beaten and even killed for failing to comply with these draconian rules. So clearly these rules are not a matter of choice - they are part of a viciously imposed regime of oppression against women.

Oh and back in Saudi - they are considering allowing women to drive. I think the airline pilot a few years ago got it right when he announced - "Ladies and gentlemen we will shortly be commencing our decent to Riyadh Airport and you may want to put your watches back about - Oh four hundred years." Unfortunately, as usual, the Saudi's were unable to see the humour and the pilot was sacked.

Of course as a trans woman I have had to keep Saudi along with other Arab states off my list of possible destinations - Though ironically Iran, where homosexuality carries the death penalty has become the transsexual mecca of the middle east thanks to the unbelievable courage of one trans women who managed to convince Ayatollah Khomeini to permit gender reassignment.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

UK Fails to Implement EU Discrimination Law by December 21st Deadline

I have been dismayed today to receive a newsletter from The Gender Trust explaining that the long awaited amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to outlaw discrimination against Trans people in the provision of goods and services, which was due to have come into force on December 21st, has been postponed.

Gender Trust Newsletter

It is difficult to understand why this government shows such disdain for gender and transgender issues. Of course there is always a strong religious, and especially Christian, lobby against all transgender rights, and the recent news that Tony Blair has converted to Catholicism does perhaps give us a clue as to why a government that talks equal rights and diversity has only acted on gender and sexuality issues when compelled to do so by the EC or European Court.

The Sex Discrimination Act amendment is in response to the EC Goods & Services Directive 2004/113 intended to create equality throughout the EC. The draft regulations were presented to parliament on 28th November following consultation during the Summer and should have come into force on 21st December. The regulations include a number of changes, the most significant of which are to make it unlawful to discriminate against people in the provision of goods and services on grounds of gender reassignment, maternity or pregnancy. They also change the burden of proof in favour of the person discriminated against.

I really find if difficult to understand why when the EC directive was issues in 2004 it has taken until now to implement in the first place. There was an attempt to deal with this in an amendment to the Equality Act 2006 which did result in goods and services legislation for lesbian and gay people in April 2007 once again delayed, and it seems that the reason for this latest delay is again because the government is attempting to allow exemptions for religious organisations.

Later this year the new Single Equality Act will be debated which will be an attempt remove anomalies in the various strands discrimination law and create fairer and more equal treatment for all discrimination. Yet once again powerful lobby groups on doctrinal grounds will argue for the right to discriminate on the basis modern of interpretations of a few questionable paragraphs in the old testament of the bible.

Surely it is time these religions accepted that discrimination, especially where it is on the grounds of a physical characteristic over which we have no control, is unacceptable. Right now Britain is in breach of EU law and it is very likely that if this legislation is not put in place soon, they will find themselves facing high court litigation over their failure to comply with their EU obligations.

Update - 16th January 2008

I have now learned that one of the problems with these regulations, apart from objections from religious pressure groups, has been that they failed to fully reflect the requirements of the EU directive. In fact had the regulations as drafted gone into force they would have diluted previously agreed rights. As a result the government had decided to redraft the regulations and they will be presented to parliament shortly. Whilst this does mean that the UK is now in breach of the EU directive, any trans person experiencing discrimination in respect of goods and services is able to take legal action and courts are bound to interpret the law as if the EU directive had been implemented.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

An Inspiring Speech from Isabel Allende

This is one of the most outstanding speeches about change and the role of women in that change I have ever heard. It is just 20 minutes long and I promise you, you will be inspired.

Novelist Isabel Allende writes stories of passion. Her novels and memoirs, including The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, tell the stories of women and men who live with passionate commitment -- to love, to their world, to an ideal.