Category Archives: Equality

Where Do We Draw The Line Between A balanced Immigration Debate And Xenophobia?

United Kingdom: stamp

United Kingdom: stamp (Photo credit: Sem Paradeiro)

It has been interesting to watch how the debate on immigration in the United Kingdom has developed over the past few months.  It is fair to say that most of the headlines have been full of emotive language aimed at evoking a reaction from the public. There is no doubt that issues pertaining to immigration need to be discussed openly but one can not refute the fact that the language being used by some in the media is borderline xenophobic. Individuals who complain about this are often seen as disruptive and stifling honest debate on immigration. This has sent a message to some sections of society that it is perfectly fine to post racist and xenophobic comments on social media sites.

It is astounding that in the 21st Century  in a globalised world, with increasing economic intergration people still have unjustified fear of being swamped particularly in industrialised countries. A policy that was recently unveiled in some parts of London where vans with posters telling people who had allegedly over stayed in the United Kingdom to “GO HOME OR FACE ARREST”, was not well received by a good number of citizens particularly people of colour, who were born and raised in United Kingdom. This campaign was condemned by a number of public figures such as Yvette Cooper who referred to it as “divisive” and “a complete gimmick which should never have been approved by the Home Secretary“.

It is certainly true that divisive politics is at play and this is seen in the way immigrants are being blamed for the current economic woes. For some reason, the global economic crisis that affected a industrialised countries seems to have been forgotten. No one wants to admit that the real reason for the current economic problems are down to bad management and dishonest politics.

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The Current Political Climate Is Creating Serious Inequality And Putting The Lives Of Vulnerable People At Risk

Government spending

Government spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

It has been interesting to observe the debate on welfare spending over the last few months and how politicians have used the current economic climate to try and bring the British public onto their side of the fence. A wide range of adjectives have been used interchangeably to describe welfare recipients, from those who keep their curtains drawn on working days, to skivers v strivers and right down to scrounger. The media are part of this narrative that has been unfolding over the past few months.

As words are thrown around to describe unemployed people, it is evident that Britain is rapidly turning into a divided society in modern times more than ever before. While the current welfare changes are applauded by those in favour of less government spending, the speed with which the reforms have been implemented is being opposed by others on the left, who feel the cuts are having a catastrophic impact on many communities and have led to accelerated inequality.

The current government have presented a strong case for the reduction of the welfare budget to tackle the deficit. The bone of contention for most critics of the current policies is that the manner in which changes are being made has created an atmosphere aimed at vilifying the poor and vulnerable. Many people claim that It feels like a war is being waged on the vulnerable and the poor.

Recently three disable people applied for judicial review to challenge the decision of the Secretary for Work and Pensions to subject applicants for disability allowance claims to tests which would determine whether they were eligible to make a claim. This challenge is a clear indication that issues regarding fairness were not considered when the decision was made to subject claimants to a series of tests. There is a strong feeling that disabled people were not put at the “heart of the consultation process”.

Most people with disabilities who are heavily dependant on these payments because of their illnesses which will never get better, feel humiliated and dehumanised. The negative way in which the press and politicians have handled the debate on welfare, has resulted in an increase in the number of disabled people being physically attacked or abused verbally on the streets. Charities such as Scope which carries out polls of people with disabilities revealed recently  that there has  been an increase in hostility and verbal abuse towards at least two-thirds of people with disabilities in the first quarter of last year.

There is a need to handle the current debate in a more responsible way that is not divisive and will not have this nation look back years from now, in shame at the appalling way in which vulnerable members of our society have been treated.

The Effect Of Plural Legal Systems On The Rights Of Women

It was quite distressing to read a story recently published in a Zambian newspaper, about a woman aged 30, who was brutally attacked. She was allegedly beaten by men supposedly carrying out the orders of the Chief in her village, who it is believed, presided over her case which she brought before the traditional court. She sustained a broken spine, serious swelling to parts of her body and is now bedridden. She can no longer go about her daily routine of working on her farm which provides an income for her and her elderly parents as well as other family members. Apparently this woman’s offence which resulted in the brutal beating that nearly killed her, was the fact that she contested the verdict by the traditional court.

This case highlights the problems that women in developing countries who are subject to plural legal systems (customary and English law) face. It is evident that plural legal systems mostly found in patriarchal societies hurt the rights of women who remain under represented in the judicial systems of many countries. Here is a woman trying to exercise the right to have her case heard only to end up with life threatening injuries.

Most women living in developing countries that were once British colonies, tend to be subject to plural legal systems which operate in an incoherent way. The patriarchal institutions in place particularly the traditional courts which heavily rely on customary law, continue to maintain the status quo with no indication that things are moving towards adapting to the needs of a 21st century world.

These courts where the Chiefs are at liberty to generate their own rules and procedures, are structured in a way that has led to abuse of
power by those in authority who often insist on induced compliance of the decisions they make. Subjugation of women is institutionalised in these courts that are now a legacy of a bygone era.

The thrust of the argument is not that customary justice should be relegated to the past. The need to preserve long standing traditions relevant to dispute resolution remains. There is however, a need for coherence and uniformity in the law to ensure that the legal remedies available in traditional courts are in compliance with state constitutional enactments.

A good number of traditional courts that exist where no women are present to provide a balance to the arguments presented, deny women equal opportunities before the law. There are no mechanisms in place to prevent the arbitrary use of power by the chief who presides over the case and also ensures that his pronouncements are enforced. The lack of gender balance does not inspire trust, credibility and confidence.

Dual legal systems found in many parts of the African continent are known to promote random application of legal remedies which can have long term effects in the stability of the judicial landscape. Traditional court systems which tend to operate in a semi-autonomous manner in a bid to preserve traditional ways of living in communities, need to be brought in line with constitutional requirements of their nations in order to serve the rights of women as well as other marginalised groups.

American Elections: A Vote Against inequality And Bigotry

English: Barack Obama delivering his electoral...

English: Barack Obama delivering his electoral victory speech on Election Night ´08, in Grant Park, Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been quite interesting to hear the views of people from diverse backgrounds regarding the recent American elections. There is no doubt that inequality featured a great deal in many discussions that political commentators on the left had. For those on the extreme right, the discussion was all about curtailing the powers of the state, working towards “taking America back”, whatever that means.  Using phrases of this nature which are divisive has clearly alienated the Republican party which appeared far removed from the reality of what 21st century America is all about.

The speech delivered by Obama after he was declared the winner of the 2012 presidential elections will be remembered as a historical speech comparable to the Gettysburg address by Lincoln.

Here is an extract from that historical speech :

America, I believe we can build on the progress we have made and continue to fight for new jobs, new opportunity, new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders. The idea that if you are willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Asian or native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you are willing to try.

This speech resonated with many people and reinforces the fact that Obama is arguably one of the most unifying icons of our time.

Civil Rights And Equality

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Who would have thought a children’s book would contain nuggets of information that are so powerful. This book documents the work of the civil rights movement in Britain, in ways that very few historical books do. Most narratives regarding the civil rights movement in the United Kingdom tend to focus on the 1950s, a period of time when there was mass migration of workers from the Caribbean and Africa, who filled vacancies as transport workers and laborers. Very little is written about the Civil Rights movement following the abolition of slavery in Britain.

It is refreshing to see a children’s book that documents the life of prominent black people such as John Archer (1863-1932) who was the first British black mayor born in Britain. We are often given the impression that people of colour in the early to mid 19th century had no aspirations.

Not much has been written about Dr Harold Moody (1882-1947) who qualified as a medical doctor in 1904 at Kings College London with excellent results but was denied a hospital position because some members of staff at the hospital he applied for work felt uncomfortable having a “colored doctor” working with them. Dr Moody set up a medical practice of his own which became very successful . Its a shame that the personalities mentioned above are rarely remembered as pioneers particularly by main stream historians.

The professional ban of black people in professions like medicine, law and many other sectors explains in part why ethnic minority people gravitate towards certain professions in this country. The impact of the inequalities of the past is still felt today. Furthermore, there seems to be a persistent kind of historical amnesia which casts black people as lazy and always willing to assume the position of victims.

As we celebrate black history month, its important that people from diverse background explore the history of black people in Britain in order to understand why their communities struggle particularly when it comes to social mobility issues. We can not run away from the fact that our past will always influence our present.

Social Inequality In The World is More Visible Than Ever

 

Occupy movement gathering at St. Paul's..19.11...

Occupy movement gathering at St. Paul’s..19.11.2011 (Photo credit: wheelzwheeler)

 

It is an undisputed fact that the debate about social inequality in the world will dominate many political and economic discussions over the next few years.

 

We live in an era where the super-rich have tacked away wealth estimated between $21 trillion and $32 trillion in tax havens such as Switzerland and the Cayman islands. These figures which were recently released in a study by an economist at Mckinsey consulting firm show that the top 10 percent of the world’s population control 84 percent of assets, while the bottom 50 percent have access to just 1 percent.

 

It is for this reason that we will continue to see a growing movement in many parts of the world. The protests in Tahir Square, the toppling of the regime in Tunisia and the occupy Wall Street Movement in New York, all signify the discontent deeply felt by the vast majority of ordinary people on the street.

 

While critics claim that most of these protests have not brought about any reform that is tangible particularly in relation to the “Occupy Movement”, it can be argued that these movements have significantly increased public awareness about the economic disparity and unbalanced power in the hands of the wealthy. They have sown the seeds that will ultimately lead to a change in the way things are done.

 

 

Perception Is Everything

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...

Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watching the diversity training video “Perception is Everything” by Jane Elliot was  an eye opening experience for me. In the thought provoking video, Ms Elliot engages her participants by asking a series of questions which help them examine how they perceive others. She discusses height, gender, skin colour and age and exposes the rarely acknowledged advantages and disadvantages of being perceived as a part of a particular group.

Ms Elliot goes on to explain that we can not and can never “all be the same” and instead encourages us to accept, value and cherish our differences whilst encouraging equitable treatment under the law.

This video has been the subject of ridicule in some quarters. Critics have, accused Elliot – a pioneer in diversity training and social justice – of intimidating her participants and refusing to acknowledge that mainstream society has changed within her own life time. They go on to argue that awareness campaigns make people increasingly more anxious and reinforce the sense of difference in people rather than bring them closer.

What the critics fail to realise is that we all have strong stereotypical views about other people we may perceive as not belonging to our group. It is for this reason diversity training can help people in society develop some sort of “racial etiquette”  to enable cohesion in society. There is no doubt that diversity awareness initiatives have helped improve race relations in Britain over the years but more needs to be done to dismantle the stereotypes that perpetuate institutional racism.

So They Want To Re-write The European Convention On Human Rights!

European Court of Human Rights - Cour Européen...

European Court of Human Rights – Cour Européenne des Droits de l’Homme Français : Cour Européenne des Droits de l’Homme – European Court of Human Rights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The controversial proposals by the British government to re-write the European Convention to incorporate subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation will no doubt be met with opposition from some of the 46 countries signed up to the convention in the upcoming summit in Brighton.

The argument being propounded by ministers who wish to capitalise on Britains six month presidency of the Council Of Europe to introduce these sweeping changes, is that there is a massive backlog of cases and a watering down of the powers of British Courts. The argument  that giving people less time to apply to the European Court will clear the cases seems cogent. However, there is a growing feeling these proposals are driven by populism with little regard for the implications.

The idea that the Court in Strasbourg dictates what happens in the British legal system, “one of the best legal systems in the world” has angered certain sections of society. The European Convention On Human Rights is being viewed with contempt by those who see it as an instrument used by a few to undermine the human rights of others. It’s quiet interesting that this debate is seen as timely given that the likes of Abu Qatada can not be deported “thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights”.

Most human rights campaigners view the proposals as a move towards a slippery slope to a despots dream and will not encourage the promotion of human rights in young democracies. Countries that are signatories to the ECHR need to ensure that the Court in Strasbourg  stands above the political fray in order to defend individual rights when it is unpopular for governments to do so.

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