Tourism pushed women out of Zanzibar's public spaces – but now they're taking them back

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 October, 2018 - 07:30

Women-only spaces on the 99% Muslim island have been usurped by economic growth. The Reclaim Women’s Space project is trying to change that

Wandering the maze-like streets of Zanzibar’s Stone Town, it’s easy to get lost and stumble into one of the city’s many courtyards. Here, a social buzz breaks the quiet: men sit on low stone benches, or baraza, which are carved into the sides of many houses, and fan themselves and chat; at night, the courtyards come alive with men laughing in the balmy night air, drinking cups of masala tea and watching football on fuzzy televisions, as hawkers sell juicy skewers of spiced meat. And yet, amid all the liveliness, there is just one thing missing. Women.

Zanzibar is 99% Muslim, and women and men in Stone Town have traditionally occupied separate spaces. Older women remember the days before tourism began to flourish, when there were all-female beaches and parks for local women. Near the coast, the Old Fort, built by the Omani empire when they expelled the Portuguese in 1699, used to belong to women.

We want to empower women to stand on their own

Related: Scores of women 'divorced or abandoned' for voting in Tanzanian elections

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Stacey Dooley and the environmental impact of fashion

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 October, 2018 - 18:58

Stacey Dooley, a young white woman with blonde hair wearing a white top with a dark blue or black sleeveless top over it, in conversation with a south-east Asian man with very short hair. A tree is out of focus in the background. The words "There is a CCTV over there" can be seen at the bottom.I haven’t watched any Stacey Dooley for about five years, since I watched her programme on drug smuggling through Ukraine in 2013 and gave it this scathing review. In tonight’s BBC Three documentary (shown on BBC1; BBC Three is now online only), she tries to expose the environmental impact of the fashion industry and to test and try and raise people’s awareness of it. She visits Kazakhstan, where almost an entire inland sea, the Aral Sea, was lost because the rivers that fed it were diverted to irrigate cotton fields in what it now Uzbekistan, and then to Indonesia where textile factories were shown dumping large quantities of chemicals in a river that locals used to drink, wash and irrigate crops with. She interviews the head of a local textile manufacturers’ association and tries to get answers out of big fashion bosses and the UK government, all to no avail.

In her opening sequence, she asks people on a British high street to rank six industries known for causing heavy pollution (coal/oil, beef, tourism, transport, fracking and fashion) in reverse order of cleanliness, i.e the biggest polluter at the top. Most people put oil and coal (which she grouped together for some reason; putting fracking separately is also puzzling as it produces oil) at the top (correctly) and fashion as number six, when in fact it is number two. She gets a delivery of dozens of huge industrial water tanks to demonstrate the huge quantities of water that it takes to grow cotton — a man’s jeans, supposedly, took over 15,000 litres. I found this comparison dubious, because fashion is after all a globalised industry in which fabrics are either grown (like cotton) or synthesised (like polyester), transported to countries like Indonesia where they are spun, dyed, woven and then cut into a garment before being transported again to its markets such as here in the UK. The ships and trucks used in each stage of the transportation process, as well as the factories themselves, all either burn oil or use electricity which is often generated from coal or oil, so all these forms of pollution are interlinked. And that amount of water was probably used to produce the whole batch of cotton from which the cotton used in those jeans came from, not just the cotton in the jeans.

As an example of the environmental impact of cotton, Stacey is taken to see the Aral Sea on the Kazakh/Uzbek border, where both of its main water sources were diverted during Soviet times to irrigate cotton farms in Uzbekistan which turned the sea bed into a desert and destroyed a thriving local fishing industry on the Kazakh side. She mentions that these projects started in the 1960s but does not mention that the Soviet Union was still in existence then and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were Soviet republics; this decision would have been made in Moscow. She does not mention that in fact many western clothing companies try to avoid using cotton sourced from Uzbekistan because the state uses forced labour on its cotton farms, including child labour, although the boycott may well be less than 100% effective. In addition, water loss was greater because the channels were poorly constructed and leak, though even if that were not so, it still would likely have reduced the size of the Aral Sea considerably. She does not address the politics of this at all and does not explain why she does not attempt to visit the cotton farms or talk to Uzbek officials (Uzbekistan is still a dictatorship and people critical of the regime disappear). Furthermore, overuse of water is a major problem everywhere cotton is produced and the usual issue is the use of water from aquifers such as in the USA and India which will not last forever; at least if the over-irrigation from the Amu Darya river in Uzbekistan is reduced, the Aral Sea could recover.

She also visits a part of Indonesia where there are textile plants which pollute local waterways considerably, especially the Citaram (pronounced Chitaram) river which is used by local people for all the usual purposes, causing major health problems. She talks to local environmental activists who say they have been threatened by thugs employed by the textile companies; they also say that if people are seen filming, the companies close the outflow pipes until they have passed on, although we did see a large amount of coloured liquid being discharged straight into the river. She arranges an interview with the head of the local textile manufacturers’ association who says all the right things, telling her that there are standards and all that and he’d like to see there be no pollution from the industry but that he has no power to force companies to stop polluting; she seems convinced that his explanation is genuine, when it struck me as straightforward PR talk.

Stacey Dooley, facing away from the camera wearing a blue cardigan and loose, light blue jeans, standing in front of a row of industrial water containers made of plastic inside a metal cage, each with a sign on them saying "13,000 LITRES", "14,000 LITRES" or whatever, talking to a balding white man in a white shirt and blue jeans, holding a shopping bag in his hand.Later on she interviews a group of fashion vloggers or ‘influencers’ who seemed unaware of the pollution caused by the fashion industry; she opens a bottle of the river water from the polluted area in Indonesia and they all say how foul the smell is. It’s assumed that their clothes are all from the factories implicated in her programme, but they may or may not be and finding clothes that are not from developing countries is extremely difficult nowadays; all the major stores, including upmarket ones, sell clothes made in China or South Asia. She lectures us that we should shop less, but nothing is said about alternative fabrics other than recycled cotton; she only briefly mentions the fact that the oceans are being polluted by microplastics which includes fibres detached from polyester clothing during washing, and does not mention that a lot of ‘fashion’ clothing, especially for women, is made of these materials and not cotton.

She also attends a summit on sustainability in Copenhagen and tries to talk to a number of bosses of fashion companies, such as ASOS, but none of them will speak to her and she starts plaintively asking why they will not speak to her when they’re here to talk about sustainability. In response to another refusal, she professes bafflement that someone paid to communicate will not communicate (with her). She has much the same response when the environment secretary, Michael Gove, refuses her an interview and instead gets his secretary to send her a very brief statement. Of course, any serious investigative journalist would have had much the same response, but whining about it seems a bit unprofessional and they may have been briefed about her because she has a history of inappropriate and juvenile conduct in her programmes.

I have to say that her presenting style has not changed much since 2013 when I last watched enough of one of her shows to review it. The gushing emotion, the banal observations presented as if they were deep insights, the inappropriate touchy-feely behaviour are all still there. The only countries she visits are the ones where it is easy to film, namely relatively open places where there is no danger of her or her crew coming to harm, and while the environmental impacts are important, so is the prevalence of sweatshops and dangerous working conditions, which she does not touch on at all in this programme. And she does not really get to the bottom of why fashion is such a destructive industry, which is that the industry dictates that fashions will change each season and that the things people (again, especially women) bought last season will go off the shelves and “out of fashion” and completely different things will be sold now, much of it poorly made so that it will not last. To change this needs more than just for people to “shop less”; it requires organised boycotts and political action to force up the quality of clothing being sold.

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Is Britain really the most tolerant country in Europe?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 October, 2018 - 22:00

A young white man wearing an open-collared black shirt, with hands moving as he talks, sitting in a TV studio audience. A South Asian man is sitting in front of him.Last Thursday, on the BBC’s Question Time programme (a weekly late-night political panel show in which a panel of politicians and an academic, writer or other lay ‘expert’), there was a contribution from an audience member who claimed that Britain is “one of the least racist societies across Europe” and that one of the supposed benefits of Brexit would be that it would end preferential treatment for (white) European immigrants and allow more people to come from places like Malaysia and Singapore. One panel member (who was Black) countered that he had been stopped by police while just sitting on his mother’s front porch while a Muslim woman (wearing a headscarf) argued that he was a white man and that he wasn’t the person experiencing racism, such as being screamed at while in hijab or being stopped by police while walking across the street. I saw a Twitter thread explaining various measures by which Britain could be considered the least racist or most tolerant country in Europe, in terms of things like positive attitudes to Muslims or other minorities as expressed in opinion polls. But that does not tell the whole story.

As a Muslim, I’m well aware that none of the laws which restrict the observance of Islam by ordinary people in some European countries apply here. We have no bans on hijab in school (although individual schools can ban them or impose “hijab uniforms” which many Muslims consider not to constitute hijab), no bans on wearing niqaab in the street or anywhere else, no ban or restriction on halal slaughter and no requirement to register religious observance. There are enough of us that businesses will take our needs into account in designing things like staff uniforms, which is not the case in some places in Europe where no legal discrimination exists. Unlike in some Muslim countries, mosques can remain open all day and night and you will not face arrest or intimidation for growing your beard or praying the dawn prayer in the mosque. That’s the good news.

A young South Asian woman wearing a black headscarf and black glasses, sitting in a TV studio audience.The bad news is that there is a commercial press which regularly demonises minorities, in some cases explicitly (e.g. Muslims) and sometimes implicitly; we have politicians who make threatening noises at Muslims and send vans into areas with a high non-White population with “GO HOME” printed on them in big letters; we have police who stop and search Black men for no real reason, and immigration officers who accost anyone who “looks foreign” demanding papers that they are not obliged to carry; we have ordinary members of the public who harass and abuse Muslim women in the street because all they know about Muslims is stories about terrorism (mostly by men); we have many stories from people working in the NHS and elsewhere of being told they do not want to be served or treated by them, or that they should go home. It does not matter if the situation is better or worse in France or anywhere else; Britain is the only home most of us have and we cannot up sticks and move to France where we know nobody and do not speak the language. Black and Asian people moved here in the 50s and 60s because their countries were or had been part of the British empire, not the French or Portuguese one.

And as a white man who has no relatives in any of the groups that regularly suffer harassment, even though as a Muslim I find the media coverage and political noises threatening, I am not in the “front line” as it were. The young man in the Question Time audience clearly has no idea; frankly he sounds like he comes from a posh background and went to a “nice school” and probably thinks Britain is a country where success is based on merit, not privilege, and that if you get into trouble it is your fault. I wonder if he actually works for a political party or a think-tank. But whether he does or not, it’s offensive to counter stories of real racism with claims of how tolerant we as a country are, because laws and opinion poll results do not always reflect people’s everyday experiences, and comparisons with other countries are irrelevant.

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High-tech barbarism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 October, 2018 - 18:00

A picture of a very wide Victorian building, with a central three-storey block with two-storey extensions to the side. In the foreground is an extensive green. The sky is cloudy and grey in parts.

Last Tuesday evening there was a 45-minute programme on Radio 4 (part of its File on 4 slot) exposing the abusive treatment of an autistic teenage girl at the St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton, an institution which has been the focus of at least one other documentary exposing its treatment of adolescents, particularly those with autism, and adults as well as a number of inadequate CQC reports. My last entry was a commentary on the programme (which also exposed the failure of councils to protect people in care homes from abuse or to bring negligent management to book, which is why I recommend listening to it in full), but since then I have heard from Bethany’s father Jeremy on Twitter who answered some of the questions about her treatment the documentary raised.

One positive outcome of the programme was that the bits of a ballpoint pen which had become embedded in Bethany’s arm as a result of self-harm have been removed (this was after they had left it in for two weeks because it was supposedly too dangerous to take her out of her isolation room to do it). However, Walsall council — the same council who vetoed a community placement earlier this year — have also attempted to take out an injunction against Jeremy for displaying a picture of Bethany as the cover photo on his Twitter account. It seems they believe they are a better judge of her best interests than her own father, despite having nothing to offer her themselves. (Naming a living victim of rape or sexual abuse without their crime, or at all if they are under 18, is a crime, but parents of children in care, whether the care is the result of a question over the parents’ adequacy as parents or, as in this case, the child’s special needs often face demands not to identify their children; supposedly this is to protect their privacy but the presumption should be that the parents know best, as there is normally no prohibition on sharing information about one’s children’s lives and some parents overshare.)

Jeremy also filled us in as to why he is forced to talk to her through a hole in a door rather than being allowed in the same room as his daughter. The answer is that when he has the opportunity to visit, at weekends and in the evenings, regular staff are off duty and agency staff cover, and they are under strict instructions not to open the door no matter how calm Bethany has been during the day or whether it has been open all day or not. In other words, it is a case of cost-cutting and staff convenience taking precedence over the needs and rights of the patients; it is just easier for the institution to hire agency staff to cover periods where there are fewer activities such as education and therapy and the wards are winding down for the night or most people are asleep. The fact that this is the only time when some people’s parents can visit doesn’t get in the way of this institution-centred thinking or behaviour.

Jeremy also reported in a tweet earlier today (Sunday) that, shortly before Beth was transferred to St Andrew’s (when she was in a unit in Preston), the two of them had spent time on a nearby beach together without any staff present; yet now, they are not even allowed to be in the same room together? It does not make sense.

These people are not trying, and should not be in any kind of healthcare.

On many occasions I have seen media exposés of primitive mental health care abroad; one that got a large amount of media coverage was the spectacle of mentally ill people in Indonesia being chained to beds for extended periods (Human Rights Watch did a 75-page report on this [PDF] in 2016, complete with numerous pictures of people shackled to wooden platforms or metal bars, often in a state of undress); another was a girl in the Palestinian territories being kept in a cage in her parents’ back garden. These stories often have somewhat racist overtones, particularly when they are about peoples who have been campaigning for freedom but who, so goes the stories, keep intellectually disabled or mentally ill people locked up in cages. However, the abuses in some western psychiatric institutions often has a calculated cruelty to them and it is backed up with security that money and technological advancement can buy — high walls and fences, multiple locked doors, air-locks, cameras everywhere. In fact, keeping a mentally ill relative locked up at home (with a hired nurse to guard and look after them) used to be regarded as a more humane way of caring for them than submitting them to an asylum, which in the era of ‘Bedlam’ was likely to be a hellhole full of restraining devices and crackpot ‘treatments’, all for public spectacle. The story of Bertha and Grace Poole in the book Jane Eyre is based on this practice, which was common amongst the well-off (poorer people did not have the money or space). This is nowadays in theory illegal, although I have heard of some families doing this, but I do not see how it is any more cruel than keeping someone in a high-security institution hundreds of miles from home for years and not even letting them hug their visiting relatives or talk to them without it being listened in on.

Our system is as barbaric as anyone’s. It’s just that it’s high-tech barbarism.

There is now a fundraising appeal for a new placement for Bethany. The goal is only £1,000 which will not fund a whole new placement on its own but might, for example, contribute towards legal action to improve her situation. You can find it here.

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Deconstructing the Muslim Male Gaze

altmuslim - 5 October, 2018 - 23:33
Islam is not sexist, but sometimes, Muslim men are. Islam is not misogynistic, but sometimes, Muslim men are. My words may be alarming, but they are not meant to be accusatory. Muslim men: You are privileged to live in a world that has largely been shaped by male paradigms, one that has been written in […]

The 40th Anniversary of Attenborough’s Life On Earth

Inayat's Corner - 4 October, 2018 - 22:30

Today sees the publication of an updated 40th anniversary edition of David Attenborough’s classic book which accompanied his major BBC TV series, Life on Earth (though I think the publication of this anniversary edition has been brought forward a couple of months because I believe the original was published early in 1979. See below).

It is hard to overstate the landmark undertaking that the BBC’s series represented. It was filmed over a period of three years and the result was one of the world’s most informative, beautifully filmed and best loved nature series telling the spectacular story of the evolution of life on earth according to our latest knowledge.

The book version of Life on Earth was divided into thirteen chapters – one for each episode in the TV series. It became a rapid and huge best-seller. My copy was published in November 1979 and it shows that it was reprinted no less than eleven times in the very first year of publication due to its immense popularity.

At a time when the Director of the UK’s Natural History Museum, Michael Dixon, feels compelled to write in a national newspaper this week about his concerns about how Darwin’s powerful theory of evolution by natural selection is being attacked in Turkey, Israel and India by those who have allowed themselves to be blinkered rather than enlightened by religion, this week’s 40th anniversary publication should be seen as an opportunity to share Attenborough’s work with others around us.  Dixon writes:

Darwin’s theory of evolution not only underpins all biological science, it has an immense predictive power. From understanding the emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms, to the ways in which different species might respond to global warming – emerging as new pests or sustainable sources of food – human health and prosperity will depend on decisions informed by evolutionary evidence.

For those of you who like me cannot get enough of David Attenborough – you can now purchase the Audible version of the updated 40th anniversary edition of Life on Earth which is narrated by Sir David Attenborough himself.

Below is a short clip about the original series.



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