Remembering Naomi Jacob (1884-1964)

 - by whnadmin

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  August 27th 2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the prolific author Naomi Jacob. Although her books were widely-read during her lifetime they have been somewhat neglected in more recent years. With the first digital editions of her Gollantz Saga being published to commemorate this anniversary, now seems a fitting time to revisit Jacob’s life and work.

Naomi Jacob was born in Ripon, Yorkshire. Her family were well-established in the town – her maternal grandfather was twice the mayor of Ripon, while her father was the headmaster of what is now Ripon Grammar School. Her mother’s family had a centuries old association with the area, whereas her father was a German Jew. This dual heritage was to be a great influence on her writing throughout her career. Many of Jacob’s books celebrate the Yorkshire people and landscape, but she also wrote about anti-Semitism, particularly in her seven novel series about the Gollantz family.

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Jacob had a comfortable upbringing, but the family’s fortunes changed when her parents separated. At fourteen, she moved to a deprived part of Middlesbrough to become a student teacher. It is around this time that she contracted TB, which affected her health for the rest of her life.

At eighteen, Jacob began to visit music halls in Leeds. By going to the Stage Door she met the actress and singer Marguerite Broadfoote, and became both her secretary and her lover. Jacob loved the theatre world, and mixed with the big names of the day, including the Du Mauriers, Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt and Marie Lloyd. In time, Jacob herself became a character actress, and had a successful career in the West End and in touring productions. Most notably, she played opposite John Geilgud in the Edgar Wallace play The Ringer. Shortly after Marie Lloyd’s death, Jacob wrote the star’s first official biography. A friend at the time commented on the book: “[Naomi Jacob] doesn’t let facts get in the way of the truth.”

Jacob also had a great interest in politics. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, and in 1912 joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She also stood, unsuccessfully, as a Labour PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) in East Ham, London.

In 1925, Jacob published her first novel, Jacob Usher, which she described as a “very free adaptation of the play Birds of a Feather by H.V. Esmond”. The book became a bestseller, and so began a writing career that was to last the next almost forty years.

Jacob appeared for the defence in the 1928 obscenity trial of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. She developed a life-long friendship with Hall and her partner Una Troubridge. However, Jacob never broached the subject of lesbianism in her own work, in either her fiction or non-fiction.

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A worsening of her TB prompted Jacob to move to Italy in 1930. She took a villa in Sirmione on Lake Garda in Italy. It was called “Casa Mickie”, Mickie being the name Jacob was known as to family and friends.

Although she was brought up in the Church of England, Jacob converted to Roman Catholicism at around the age of eighteen. But she remained proud of her Jewish heritage. This is most clearly demonstrated in The Gollantz Saga, which she began writing just before the Nazis swept to power in Germany. Beginning in early nineteenth century Vienna, it follow several generations of a Jewish family, as the head of the house establishes a business and life in England, moving among the British upper classes. The series is an engaging and warm exploration of family ties and rivalries, and the principles of honour and loyalty.

In 1935 Jacob was awarded the Eichelberger International Humane Award, for her novel Honour Come Back. Initially delighted, she was moved to reject the award on discovering another recipient was Adolf Hitler. In a letter to a newspaper at the time, she wrote: “…it was impossible for me to accept an award which was given to me and to Herr Hitler, because of the terrible persecution, the monstrous injustices and the abominable cruelties which are even now being laid upon the Jewish race in Germany. To have accepted it would have been to almost betray those people to whose race I partly belong, and who have been my good and loyal friends all my life…”

When Italy entered the Second World War, Jacob returned to England. She joined the Entertainments National Service Association, which provided entertainment for British armed forces personnel. During this time she became well-known for her appearance of crew cut hair, a monocle and a First World War Women’s Legion uniform.

After the war, Jacob went back to live permanently in Sermione. But she continued to visit England often, returning to her beloved Yorkshire, and making regular appearances on BBC radio’s Woman’s Hour programme.

Jacob had a very disciplined attitude towards her writing, which enabled her to publish one or two books every year. She could write quickly, and in later years she dictated her stories to a secretary.

Jacob’s great-nephew, who as a boy spent time with Jacob in Sirmione, remembers that she liked to be surrounded by people and loved conversation. Actors and writers, among them Hall and Troubridge, were frequent visits to “Casa Mickie”. Jacob would write until lunchtime or early afternoon and spend the rest of her day in the company of friends. She enjoyed sitting in local cafés, where she would smoke cigarettes and drink grappa, speaking fluent Italian with a heavy English accent.

Fifty years on from her death, it is time to take another look at the legacy of this most fascinating literary figure.

Ian Skillicorn (c) August 2014

Ian Skillicorn established Corazon Books (www.greatstorieswithheart.com) in 2012. The imprint publishes new fiction and reissues of bestselling works. For many years Ian has produced audio short stories and writing podcasts. His first audio project was supported with a grant from Arts Council England. In 2010, Ian founded National Short Story Week in the UK.

Find out more at www.naomijacob.com

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Homelessness or Heartlessness? When Government Fails Women

 - by whnadmin

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As Australians for whom World War 2 and the seventies were emblematic, we are distraught at the destruction of our once wonderful women’s refuges.

Dr Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda, instructed the world that ‘words are valuable’;  they can ‘convince people that a square is, in fact, a circle.’ The current conservative governments have learnt the Doctor’s lessons well!

Australia for the last forty years benefitted from the women’s refuge movement, a consequence of feminists, Germaine Greer and Dr Anne Summers AO, the later both producing seminal works: The Female Eunuch and Damned Whores and Gods Police.

The first Australian refuge, Elsie, was established in 1973 in a ten

ement in, Glebe, Sydney, NSW by Anne Summers et al.

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It was another ten years for such an idea to reach the coastal town of Taree, NSW, where a women’s refuge was established in 1983. In 1992, because of a far-sighted Manager, the first purpose-built women’s refuge funded by both Labor and Conservative governments opened its doors. Unfortunately, it proved to be the last of its kind!

In general, Federal Governments funded the projects overseen by State governments. Volunteer community committees and paid Managers dealt with day-to- day administration, an excellent method!

With 1.5 women murdered each week by a partner or ex-partner, one would think governments would be glad of the refuge movement but the following is the history of its destruction by stealth:

  • Give a woman, Gabrielle Upton, the job of Minister responsible.
  • Persuade the refuge movement to ‘update’ by adopting an acronym, DVNSW and appoint celebrities as ‘Ambassadors’ – which means nothing to the general population!

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  • Persuade managers to remove the personal, traditional appellation, Lyn’s Place, renaming it ‘women’s service’!
  • Replace the words ‘women’,’ violence’ and ‘children’ with ‘homeless’.
  • Berate previous governments for not dealing with ‘the homeless’.
  • Compose a slogan: Going home staying home.
  • Change method of funding from grants to tender.

Outcome: control by religious organisations e.g., The Samaritans, Mission Australia and St Vincent de Paul.

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All successfully tendered.

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Now, refuges are in a state of flux, with different individual outcomes – none of which are anything like their predecessors. One or two were not required to tender but managers are ‘gagged’. DVNSW imploded leaving the refuge movement without a base.Taree is now a non-secular, non –specific house run by The Samaritans.

Note: the odd thing about this scenario is that New South Wales has been subject to Royal Commissions and enquiries into church- run organisations. And yet, irrespective of these commissions and disturbing findings these very organisations are handed another group of damaged people. It beggars belief!

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The State Labor Opposition held protest meetings, gained the required amount of petitions and in September, will debate this issue in the Conservative controlled State Parliament.

Marion Hosking OAM……… for Socialist Women for Justice, Australia

 

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Gender-Biased Sex Selection – Manifesting Patriarchal Power

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Releasing a report on the problem, UN Women and UNFPA hav joined forces in deploring the extreme manifestation of gender discriminaton and inequality against women in India:

Biased Sex Selection an Extreme Form & Manifestation of Gender Discrimination & Inequality against Women, Say UN Women & UNFPA’ … Study on History, Debates and Future Directions of Gender Biased Sex Selection launched in New Dehli

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The sharply declining child sex ratio in India has reached emergency proportions and urgent action must be taken to alleviate this crisis. The study ‘Sex Ratios and Gender Biased Sex Selection: History, Debates and Future Directions,’ undertaken by Dr Mary John on behalf of UN Women and with support from UNFPA, helps to understand gender-biased sex selection more  holistically, and aids in the identification of the important way forward for organisations and people working on the problem.

“Gender-biased sex selection is first and foremost a reflection of how little our society values girls and women. The sharply declining child sex ratio in India has reached emergency proportions and urgent action must be taken to alleviate this crisis. The deteriorating ratio from 976 girls to 1000 boys in 1961, to 927 girls in 2001, and to 918 girls in 2011, demonstrates that the economic and social progress in the country has had minimum bearing on the status of women and daughters in our society,” says Ms Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Assistant Secretary General of the UN.

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The study maps existing evidence on gender biased sex selection in the Indian context, weaving in significant social debates and  policy developments, and the way forward on action. It offers practical suggestions to advance research and understanding on the subject by focusing on different areas such as family and household, education, labour and employment, and on institutions that directly or indirectly aid or fight the practice of sex selection.

“This report provides a road map for what has a widely researched topic and includes study on several pertinent topics such as  the emergence of female infanticide from the mid-nineteenth century, the discovery of declining sex ratios in the 1960s and  1970s  through the use of census data, history of relevant legislation and policy and a critique of its implementation, an interesting viewpoint on the extent to which dowry is a cause for the practice of sex selection and, finally, a look at different perspectives for research, namely culture, violence and political economy,” says Dr Rebecca Tavares, Representative, UN Women Multi Country Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives & Sri Lanka.

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The study forms part of a component of the UN’s joint work on Sex Selection. This joint group is made up of UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO and the UNRCO and endeavours to support the UN’s work on preventing and reducing Sex Selection.

“India has witnessed many critical initiatives made by the government, academia and civil society to understand and resolve the issue of gender biased sex selection. UNFPA has played a key role in drawing attention to the issue in the last one decade, through engagement with multiple stakeholders. UNFPA leads and coordinates the efforts of the UN core group on sex selection in India, and is pleased to support UN Women in this joint initiative to map existing evidence on the issue.  This report bears testimony to the research work thus far, and points to the wisdom that we can build on for evolving a definitive response to skewed sex ratios in India,” added Ms Frederika Meijer, Representative, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) India.

The report also provides a brief overview of the sociological and ethnographical areas of study, including the role of civil society and the state, and changing familial patterns. Unequal inheritance rights, dowry, unequal socio-religious status, unpaid work, unequal pay, lack of economic opportunities for women, focus on male lineage, a culture of honour [sic] that places a greater burden of safety and protection on the parents of girls  all contribute to building a society that favours sons and men, and neglects daughters and women.

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“The government and the civil society must go beyond policy-making and must quickly identify specific behaviours, cultural attributes, practices, media representations, mind-sets, and notions that propagate discrimination against daughters and, consequently, help sex-determination testing flourish despite its illegality. While we are witnessing a rapidly changing Indian society with modern and egalitarian values finding their way into the traditional and conservative family systems, the numbers, however, prove otherwise. A wider mindset change is cru/cial if we are to indeed save and empower our daughters,” adds Ms. Puri.

“The Government’s commitment to gender empowerment is evident  from Prime Minister Modi’s speeches confirming zero tolerance for violence against women to the very substantial funds that are being allocated for schemes. When it comes to gender biased sex selection, however,  ntire social structures including those linked to work, marriage and community need to change and the root causes of son preference, acknowledged and fought,” concludes Ms Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative in India.

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UN Women and UN Women South Asia (c) July 2014

Thanks to Lois Herman of WUNRN   http://www.wunrn.com and Dr Lynette Dumble of GSN  http://www.global-sisterhood-network.org/  for making this report available to WHN Blog

http://www.unwomensouthasia.org/2014/gender-biased-sex-selection-an-extreme-form-and-manifestation-of-gender-discrimination-and-inequality-against-women-say-un-women-and-unfpa/

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Discovering, Uncovering, Recovering Women’s History

 - by whnadmin

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FLA: Feminist and Women’s Libraries and Archives Network

First official FLA Gathering – 14th and 15th September at Nottingham Women’s Centre

The first official Feminist and Women’s Libraries and Archives Network gathering is to be held at Nottingham Women’s Centre on 14 and 15 September. All women librarians, historians, archivists, independent scholars, graduates and undergraduates studying history, politics, women’s and gender studies – and all women interested in and concerned for the preservation and promotion of women as significant actors in work, industry, politics, economics, philosophy, science – and everywhere - welcome. You don’t have to be associated with a feminist library or archive to come to this event but get in touch if you have any questions!

Please note that Nottingham Women’s Centre is a women only space and therefore this event is open to self defining women only.

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What is FLA?

In February 2014, Nottingham Women’s Centre hosted the first Feminist Libraries and Archives Gathering in partnership with Feminist Library London attended by Feminist Archive North, the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, Unfinished Histories, and Dr Sara de Jong with active support from The Women’s Library Glasgow, Women’s Archive of Wales and Feminist Archive South as well as interest from as far as Turkey and Japan.

After a fruitful weekend of discussion, knowledge sharing and a wealth of feminist solidarity, and as a response to the lack of networks between feminist and women centric libraries and archives in the country, we decided to form FLA: Feminist and Women’s Libraries and Archives Network (notes from this discussion are available).

Our manifesto:

-          To improve communication between our libraries and archives and to develop and strengthen connections and networks.

-          To provide a platform for feminist and women’s libraries and archives and to highlight their importance.

-          To promote feminist and women’s libraries and archives to a wider audience.

-          To support each other in various aspects of running feminist and women’s libraries and archives and to share knowledge and expertise.

-          To ensure the continuity of feminist and women’s libraries and archives.

-          To create and maintain links between feminist and women’s libraries and archives, other women-friendly archiving projects which chronicle the heritage of progressive social movements and the wider feminist activist community.

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We envision this network to fulfil two purposes. Firstly, on the network side of things, we will create a directory of feminist and women’s libraries and archives which will be a resource for ourselves as well as for external audiences. We will hold regular events for networking and knowledge sharing – the next one happening on the weekend of 13th and 14th September at Nottingham Women’s Centre. We will also be hosting a workshop at the Feminism in London conference in October.

Secondly, in the longer term, we will start looking at the possibility of creating a more uniform system of categorising our material where appropriate. This will take time, research and effort so for now it is something to begin thinking about.

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To help with planning this event, we would like you to answer a few questions (see below). In addition to the provided questions, we welcome any other ideas, comments, and feedback.

Please answer the following:

  1. Are you and/or your organization interested in this conference?

o Yes           oNo

 

If yes, approximately how many people would attend?

 

 

  1. We plan to charge a small donation fee for attending in order to cover costs. Would you be willing to pay this fee?

oYes             o No

 

If yes, how much?

o£0-£5       o£5-£10       o£10-£20       o£20-£50         o£50

In addition we will be providing cheap and tasty vegetarian food.

 

  1. Please state if you have any allergies or dietary requirements:

 

 

  1. Will you require childcare?

oYes               o No

 

  1. Some rooms at Nottingham Women’s Centre do not have complete disabled access. Please mention your access needs here so that we can make appropriate arrangements:

 

 

  1. We are unable to provide accommodation but will direct you to the different options available in Nottingham. However, we can explore the possibility of organising accommodation with local participants. Would this be something you would require?

oYes                 o No

Do you have any special requirements, e.g. cat-free house, must have bed.

 

 

  1. Are there any topics you would particularly like to see covered by the conference? If so, please write them in below:

 

  1. Would you or your organization like to lead a workshop, discussion group, or talk?

oYes                   o No

On which topic(s)?

 

  1. Can you suggest other people/ organisations we should invite?

 

  1. Anything else you would like to add?

 

 

  1. Name, address, email address, and phone number for your main contact person

 

 

Please return this questionnaire as soon as possible and no later than 22nd August to zaimal@nottinghamwomenscentre.com.

Thank you.

We look forward to meeting you soon.

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Thank you to Zaimal Azad for providing this information, survey, notice and invitation to the FLA: Feminist and Women’s Libraries and Archives Network 13th and 14th September 2014 Nottingham Women’s Centre 30 Chaucer Street Nottingham NG1 5LP

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Remembering Edith Picton Turbervill (O.B.E. 1872 – 1960)

 - by whnadmin

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When I lived in Wellington Shropshire during the 90s I learnt that Edith Pargeter ( better known as Ellis Peters ), had lived in the area. But it was only by chance that I found out about another Edith –  Edith Picton-Turbervill . I discovered that she was by far the most important Edith. However, there wasn’t one plaque or memorial to her and she seemed all but forgotten. I read about her in a biography of Jennie Lee. My Edith had been a very early Labour Member of Parliament for the area and as I was interested in politics, I became curious to discover her story.

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Where the millennium clock stands in the Church Square in Wellington ( now part of Telford) is where my Edith had been cheered by the residents and voters in 1929 at the time of her election victory. The crowd of three thousand miners and their families had broken spontaneously into song with the words ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’. When I delved into Edith’s past I discovered that she had also been a writer, held the post of Vice President of the YWCA and campaigned during the First World War for women hostels and canteens.

As my admiration and knowledge about her grew, so did my anger about the lack of recognition. But as a writer I realised that words and writing would be one of the best ways of restoring and resurrecting her into women’s history   I purchased some of her books and read her autobiography ‘Life is Good’ published in 1939.

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Edith had come from a privileged background, whose father had inherited Ewenny, formerly a Norman Priory in South Wales. It had land and profitable coal mines.  Born in 1872, she grew up at the time when peoples’ attitudes to women, careers, and their role had started to alter. Edith had a religious ‘epiphany’ and being of a determined character started to forge her own way in life. She had been sent to the Royal School in Bath with her twin sister Beatrice and then she persuaded her father to allow her to go and train to be a missionary with the YWCA. Here she was exposed to the poverty in the slums of the East End of London in the early twentieth century, but undeterred she went to India to set up hostels for women and girls. Later, she became disillusioned with the work in India and felt that the real needy were not being attended to.

On her return to the UK she rose to become Vice President of the YWCA and campaigned for funds to support the women munitions’ workers in the First World War. She helped to set up canteens for them in England and hostels in France. After the war she met many other women who were becoming involved with the fledgling Labour Party, and was eventually asked to join and to stand as an M.P. She helped in the soup kitchens in Wellington during the General Strike and then was adopted as the candidate for The Wrekin constituency there winning the seat in 1929.

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She continued to work and strive for the working class, the poor and for women.  She also travelled extensively. She visited Russia in the thirties and later met Kemal Ataturk . She was President of the National Council of Women Citizens. She even appeared on television in the sixties.

In her autobiography she tells us that her family were important to her, but they must have felt astonished that she was joining a political party that was not of their class. Her immediate descendants would have felt uneasy and uncomfortable when she died in 1960 and that is possibly why in the family chapel at Ewenny there is only a plaque to her with the dismissive words … ‘ Sometime Member of Parliament’. She isn’t buried there but in Cheltenham where she lived towards the end of her life.   Women in politics continue to have a particularly hard time and indeed had a very hard time at the start of the twentieth century. It was easier to come from a privileged background with money  (for example, Lady Astor ),  and to be supported by your own class. If the women candidates were supported and backed by the male dominated Trade Unions (as in the case of Jennie Lee and Margaret Bondfield), they would also have had an easier time.   Edith doesn’t fit into this mould. She certainly doesn’t fit into any mould when you realise that her own father was a coal mine owner and she was on the soup kitchens and supporting strikers of the coal miners in Shropshire! Edith never married and must have had some private income. This of course would have helped her in her political life. She also had a very large network of influential and campaigning women friends throughout her life and a large number of male friends and colleagues.

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Left to right:

Lady Cynthia Mosley (Stoke), Marion Phillips (Sunderland), Edith Picton-Turbervill (The Wrekin),

Ethel Bentham (Islington East)

Her principles and high morals were always with her. But I don’t think It was a dilemma or a problem for her as she only ever thought that in politics the ‘Christian’ way was the right one to follow.   I wanted to honour and celebrate her by bringing her to life as a person. The research showed me what an interesting and important contribution she had made to women’s history, but I also wanted to show how her thoughts and beliefs might have come about and why she forged such an independent way. So the book I wrote was a fictionalised diary. This came to be the first part of my book ‘A Head Above Others’.

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‘A Head Above Others’  - fictionalised memoir of Edith Picton – Turbervill O.B.E. By Sue Crampton ( Pub. Perigord Press -ISBN 978 – 9573977 – 8 1 available on Amazon and other bookshops and as an e book)

Edith’s book ‘Christ and Women’s Power’ seemed to me also as important for today’s women as it was in 1919. In this,she wrote to urge women, to take an active part in public life and to assert their power and influence.

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‘Woman and the Church’ by Burnett Hillman Streeter and Edith Picton-Turbervill

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That’s why I transcribed her the words of her book for the second part of ‘A Head Above Others’.   The town of Wellington should be proud of what she did and who she was. I hope they will commemorate her in some way and that my book begins the process of retrieving the history of this forgotten woman. I have succeeded now in putting her on Wikipaedia and am very proud of that.

Sue Crampton (c) July 2014

 

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Sue Crampton is author of ‘A Head Above Others’  - fictionalised memoir of Edith Picton – Turbervill O.B.E.  (Pub. Perigord Press -ISBN 978 – 9573977 – 8 1 available on Amazon and other bookshops and as an e -ook)

 

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A CONVENT SCHOOLING – SCHOOL DAYS, ADULT WAYS … Pt II

 - by whnadmin

A talk given at the House of Lords, London, on 5 June 2014 as part of a seminar on ‘Oppression, Repression and Resistance – Renouncing the Fundamentalist Yoke’, organised by WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality (Pt II).

Cont. (Pt 1 – http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/?p=3877)

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Another thing that has not changed is the kind of response you will get if you challenge Catholicism. Now as then, if you take issue or even ask awkward questions (such as, did Jesus know he was God and had divine powers? If not, he can’t have been God because God knows everything. If he did know, his so-called humanity was bogus, since humans in general do not have those powers) you get told one of the following.

  1. It’s a mystery, and you have to have faith.
  2. It’s in the bible, so it must be true. (the fundamentalist approach.)
  3. Or, even if it isn’t in the Bible, it is part of Catholic tradition so it must be true. This is also fundamentalist, but in a different sense. Catholic tradition is created by popes, cardinals and priests. All of whom are men. It’s true because men say it is.

If we look at the justification offered for the all-male priesthood, we find an example of this circular reasoning. The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth, which, published in 2007, has the Church’s imprimatur, i.e. official declaration that the document is ‘free from moral or doctrinal error, says this:

The Catholic church ordains only baptised men because Jesus chose men, not women, to be his Apostles…for this reason the church is bound by Jesus’s choice to ordain only men. [3]

By this analogy it might be argued that since Jesus only chose Jews to be his apostles, only Jews can be Catholic priests. But Catholics don’t exclude non-Jews from their priesthood, so why should they exclude non-men? Here’s the answer.

The Magisterium of the church has consistently upheld that this practice is part of the Tradition that has been revealed by God and cannot be changed by human beings.[4]

Or, to put it another way, It’s true because we say it is. And who are ‘we’? Celibate men.

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I’m not knocking celibacy. Lots of people are celibate, either through choice or force of circumstances. But to make it part of a job specification, as the Catholic church does for its priests, does suggest the kind of fundamentalism under which individuals who are not women, and who have chosen to forego sexual contact with women or indeed anyone, nevertheless seek to control some of the most intimate areas of women’s lives.

*

Some Jesuit monk is supposed to have said, ‘Give me a child before he is seven and he will be mine for life.’

I wonder sometimes if the Sisters of Mercy who taught me were working on the same principle. Did it work? Am I ‘theirs for life’?

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In one sense, yes. My brain is full of Catholic clutter. I can effortlessly recite prayers, Biblical quotations, questions and answers from the Catechism, the words of hymns in English and in Latin. While I was preparing this talk, I came upon an online Catholic general knowledge quiz, and had a go. I ticked the boxes, and checked my score.

I got 87%. I am, apparently, a Catholic Genius. I was invited to CLICK HERE to become a missionary.

I’d be a funny kind of missionary, believing as I do that God the Father, as envisaged by Catholic tradition is a bully, a tyrant, a sexist and a sadist, fully worthy of our fear and contempt, but not our love or admiration.

Eternal damnation is a frightening idea, which is why the threat of it is such an effective way of controlling some religious devotees. If Hell turns out to exist after all, that will be bad news – but not only for nonbelievers.

It will be bad news too for believers, because they may have to go to heaven – a heaven devised by someone whose idea of justice is to torture people with fire for using a condom. A person whose idea of good governance to have their own son crucified in order to teach everyone else a lesson.. How sure can we be that this individual’s idea of eternal bliss would be as blissful as it sounds? In the words of the Irish-American lapsed-catholic writer Mary McCarthy, author of Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, ‘I should not care to spend eternity in the company of such a person.’

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I’ve heard that, since the revelations about sex abuse in the Catholic church, Catholic priests get spat at in the street. I don’t imagine that Pope Francis’s recent comments on the subject have helped. “A priest who has sex with a child betrays God,” [5] he told journalists recently. Betrays God? No, Francis, sexual abuse is an offence against the human victim, not God. God is all-powerful, according to you, and so cannot be abused. A child can.

At the same press conference, Francis also said “I compare it (i.e. child abuse) to a satanic mass.” What is the point of this simile? Is he really saying that the evil and cruelty of child abuse can only be expressed by comparing it with what a recent correspondent to the Guardian identified as “a harmless ritual that is neither illegal nor immoral”?

I would not defend anyone spitting at Catholic priests or anyone else. But you can see where that sort of anger and disgust comes from.

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Sheila Jeffreys in Man’s Dominion calls on feminists to reconsider the idea that other people’s religions should be treated with ‘respect’.

Disrespect is crucial. Disrespect for the cultures, values and institutions of male domination is the very foundation of feminism. Since religion is crucial to the construction of cultural norms of every culture, disrespect for it should be the natural amniotic fluid of feminist thought and activism. [6]

I wouldn’t go that far. Christianity and other religions have bequeathed some good values to humanity, as well as fine literature, art, architecture and philanthropy. There are plenty of religious feminists and multiculturalists out there whom I don’t disrespect, and don’t want to.

So what has been the outcome of my non-Catholic Catholic education? Am I ‘theirs for life’? Here is my answer. I am a feminist, secular, and a humanist. I am a woman who has lived with a man for 40 years without marriage. I have chosen not to have children, and have used contraception to achieve this. I support lesbian and gay rights, and abortion rights. I do not believe that the existence of God can be either proved or disproved, any more than the existence of Father Christmas and the tooth fairy can; but I do not believe in any version of God that has been constructed by men to promote patriarchal power, and I do not know of any others. And I have the same respect for all religions, including fundamentalist ones, as they have for me.

 Zoe Fairbairns (c) June 2014

[3] P 199

[4] P 199

[5] theguardian.com 27 May 2014

[6] 3%

Zoe Fairbairns studied at theUniversity of St. Andrews, Scotland, and College of William and Mary, USA. Former poetry editor of Spare Rib,she is a freelance journalist and creative writing tutor, holding appointments as Writer in Residence at Bromley Schools (1981-3 and 1985-9), Deakin University, Geelong, Australia (1983), Sunderland Polytechnic (1983-5) and Surrey County Council (1989). A widely acclaimed novelist and nonfiction writer, her first novel, Live as Family, written at seventeen, was published in 1968, followed in 1969 by Down: An Explanation, whilst still at university. Benefits (1979) was followed by five further novels: Stand we at Last (1983), spanning 120 years, three continents and five generations of women living through Victorian repression, prostitution, the suffragette movement, war and the women’s movement; Here Today(1984), awarded the 1985 Fawcett Society Book Prize; Closing (1987), depicting working women caught between feminism and Thatcherism; and Daddy’s Girls (1992), three sisters enmeshed in a family’s secrets. Zoe Fairbairns’ most recent novel, Other Names, was published in 1998.

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A talk given at the House of Lords, London, on 5 June 2014 as part of a seminar on ‘Oppression, Repression and Resistance – Renouncing the Fundamentalist Yoke’, organised by WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality (Pt II).

 

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A CONVENT SCHOOLING – SCHOOL DAYS, ADULT WAYS … Pt I

 - by whnadmin

A talk given at the House of Lords, London, on 5 June 2014 as part of a seminar on ‘Oppression, Repression and Resistance – Renouncing the Fundamentalist Yoke’, organised by WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality (Pt I).

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I was listening to a radio discussion about airport security. The issue was whether all passengers should be treated equally – i.e. thoroughly searched before being allowed to board a plane – or whether resources should be concentrated on people who ‘look like terrorists’.

Some people (it was argued) are obviously not terrorists: newborn babies for example. And nuns. Nuns are mild, gentle people who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, let alone blow up a plane. They can be safely waved through after only the most cursory of searches. That was the view of one of the speakers.

But somebody else thought nuns should be regarded as prime suspects, because what could be more fundamentalist than a nun? Nuns believe so strongly in the truth of their religion that they dedicate their whole lives to it. They live in like-minded communities, and spend many hours in rituals of religious devotion, serving a god who, they believe, has a special mission for them – their vocation. A god who, if they follow their vocation obediently will reward them with eternal bliss, but who, if they don’t, may send them to hell.

That is exactly the sort of mindset, the speaker argued, which motivates religiously-minded suicide bombers.

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I mention this debate not because I have any reason to believe that any of the Catholic nuns who educated me in the 1950s and 60s were terrorists, but because one of our topics this evening is fundamentalism, and I want to underline the point that it is a word that means different things to different people.

a)    For the speaker on the radio,’fundamentalist’ meant ‘religiously devout and therefore a possible terrorist’.

b)    In the Oxford dictionary, fundamentalism is ‘strict maintenance of the doctrines of any religion, according to a strict, literal interpretation of scripture.’ That’s neither good nor bad: it depends on the doctrines.

c)    Sometimes the word ‘fundamentalist’ is used is to mean ‘theocratic’, describing a religion that has a role in government. The Church of England would be an example of this.

d)    A fourth way in which the word ‘fundamentalist’ is used is to describe patriarchal men who pursue their favourite hobby of controlling, exploiting and oppressing women, and who seek to justify this by reference to religion.

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In her book Man’s Dominion: the Rise of Religion and the Eclipse of Women’s Rights, Sheila Jeffreys suggests that the term ‘fundamentalism’should be avoided, because it seems to suggest that religion is OK as long as it isn’t fundamentalist.[1]

In Jeffreys’ view, any belief system which is based around the worship of a male godhead, deference to a male hierarchy, and the control of women’s sexuality, will always be bad news for women. And that is my view too.

Jeffreys bases her arguments on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I’m confining my comments to Christianity – specifically Catholicism. I’m not a Catholic and never have been, but I spent 14 years as a day-pupil in a Catholic convent school.

Why? I hear you ask. And I have wondered that myself. In defence of my late parents, who weren’t Catholics either, or even particularly interested in the Church of England to which our family nominally belonged, I can only say it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The Catholic school was nearby, its girls behaved well on the buses, and the school had a good (and, as it turned out, well-deserved) reputation for getting its pupils through exams.

Non-Catholics were welcome, but we had to take part in group prayers, which occurred up to seven times a day, and which often involved special body-movements: head-bowing, genuflection, the sign of the cross, the dipping of fingers into holy water. We had to study Catholic theology, take exams in it, and show proper respect for its beliefs. For example:

 

  • God created the universe. His power over it is absolute and eternal. But if anything goes wrong – floods, famines, droughts, diseases, storms, snakebites – it’s not his fault, it is ours.

 

(My religious education was not, of course, phrased in those terms – I’ve tried to translate the evasive, slippery language of some Catholic theology into plain English so that we know what we are talking about.)

 

  • God forgives wrongdoers who repent. But the price of his forgiveness is that Jesus, who was God’s son and who never did anything wrong, had to be tortured to death through crucifixion. God could have intervened to save Jesus, but he chose not to. Yet God is to be regarded as a loving father.

 

  • God created all human beings equal, and in his image. But he won’t tolerate lesbianism, male homosexuality or women priests.

 

  • The use of pharmaceuticals or barriers to prevent conception is against natural law and are therefore sinful. But it’s fine for women to take their temperature every morning, peer closely at their vaginal secretions, use the data to draw a graph indicating when they are least likely to conceive, and confine sexual intercourse to those times. This sort of behaviour is apparently natural.

 

  • Warfare and judicial execution are, in many circumstances, acceptable. But abortion never is, because it involves killing a human being. .

These are the sorts of things that my Catholic friends were raised to believe, and I, sitting beside them, was warned that I had better believe them too. These doctrines are still alive and well in Catholic catechisms and textbooks today. [2]

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Zoe Fairbairns (c) June 2014

 

Zoe Fairbairns studied at theUniversity of St. Andrews, Scotland, and College of William and Mary, USA. Former poetry editor of Spare Rib,she is a freelance journalist and creative writing tutor, holding appointments as Writer in Residence at Bromley Schools (1981-3 and 1985-9), Deakin University, Geelong, Australia (1983), Sunderland Polytechnic (1983-5) and Surrey County Council (1989). A widely acclaimed novelist and nonfiction writer, her first novel, Live as Family, written at seventeen, was published in 1968, followed in 1969 by Down: An Explanation, whilst still at university. Benefits (1979) was followed by five further novels: Stand we at Last (1983), spanning 120 years, three continents and five generations of women living through Victorian repression, prostitution, the suffragette movement, war and the women’s movement; Here Today (1984), awarded the 1985 Fawcett Society Book Prize; Closing (1987), depicting working women caught between feminism and Thatcherism; and Daddy’s Girls (1992), three sisters enmeshed in a family’s secrets. Zoe Fairbairns’ most recent novel, Other Names, was published in 1998.

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[1] Sorry I can’t give a page number – my Kindle only does percentages. It’s in the Introduction, at 2%.

[2] See for example the Catholic Truth Society’s Catechiism of Christian Doctrine (2013); Brian Singer Towns et al: The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth (St Mary’s Press 2008); and Religious Education Curriculum Directory for Catholic Schools and Colleges in England and Wales (Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales 2012)

For Pt 2 – http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/

 

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Communique – Getting Asia Pacific Women’s Voices Heard!

 - by whnadmin

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Introduction

Women and girls of the Asia Pacific Region and Oceania are vital political activists and agitators. Although the region has one of the lowest parliamentary representations of women – possibly the lowest in regional terms – women and girls are determined to make their voices heard – and listened to. Around the region, conferences, workshops, seminars, meetings and group activities take place on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. Women organise in business, in markets, in mothers groups, as office workers, retail assistants and managers, as villagers, city women, town-dwellers and itinerant workers. Women and girls speak up and speak out against violence against women, against trafficking in women, women’s right to abortion, women’s right to contraception and family planning advice, education in sex and sexuality, criminal assault at home and other forms of domestic violence and the importance of ending it, women’s political rights, business rights, resource rights and right to exist in dignity and freedom – everywhere.

Women’s non-government organisations are well-established with a vital presence at UN Commission on the Status of Women meetings, and UN regional meetings.  This is a communique from one such meeting.

Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) June 2014

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Communique – Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (RCEM)

Seventy-five (75) representatives of civil society organizations in the Asia Pacific region gathered on 15-17 May in Bangkok, Thailand for the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development. The meeting preceded the UNESCAP intergovernmental Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD) and focused on consolidating and expanding the collective civil society call for Development Justice as central part of the post-2015 development agenda.

A major milestone of the CSO forum was the creation of a transition mechanism for a new

Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (RCEM).

The momentum to create such a mechanism derives from a series of discussions and meetings held throughout 2013 and 2014 in the region. These meetings have focused on the creation of a comprehensive and structured process to facilitate and coordinate Asia-Pacific CSO engagement on sustainable development with the entire United Nations system. This is a result of the Rio+20 outcomes, which has articulated the importance of multi-stakeholder participation for sustainable development.

During the CSO forum on May 15-17, representatives of the Transition Committee have been appointed based on constituency and sub-regional representation. During a one-year period (2014-2015) they will collate input from civil society on the optimal structure and functions of the RCEM. They will also facilitate outreach and capacity-building as well as consolidation and articulation of common positions of CSOs in the Asia-Pacific region in regional and global discussions on sustainable development. The Transition Committee is complemented by an Advisory Group consisting of individuals that have extensive knowledge on sustainable development and civil society engagement. This structure is expected to further evolve based on lessons learned and collective experience during this transition period and culminate in the formation of the full RCEM.

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Transitional Committee

5 Sub-regional Focal Points,

14 Constituency Focal Points

Subregional Groups

Pacific, North East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia

Constituency Groups

(1) Women, (2) farmers, (3) fisherfolk, (4) youth, children and adolescents (5) migrants, (6) trade union/workers, (7) people living with HIV, (8) LGBTIQ, (9) urban poor, (10) people displaced by disasters and conflict, (11) small and medium enterprises, (12) science and technology, (13)persons with disability, (14) Indigenous peoples, (15) elderly, (16) Local Authorities

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Thematic Working Groups

Advisory Group

The aim of the RCEM is to enable stronger cross constituency

1 coordination and ensure that voices of all sub-regions2 of Asia Pacific are heard in intergovernmental processes. Thus, the RCEM will ensure that the 60% of the world’s people living in the Asia Pacific region are better represented by civil society and social movements in global negotiations and have a stronger, coordinated, and more effective voice in regional processes.

1 (1)

Women, (2) farmers, (3) fisherfolk, (4) youth, children and adolescents (5) migrants, (6) trade union/workers, (7) people living with HIV, (8) LGBTIQ, (9) urban poor, (10) people displaced by disasters and conflict, (11) small and medium enterprises, (12) science and technology, (13)persons with disability, (14) Indigenous peoples, (15) elderly, (16) Local Authorities

2 South East Asia, South Asia, North East Asia, Central Asia, Pacific

As result of a bottom-up and inclusive process, the creation of the RCEM has been initiated, designed and will therefore be owned by CSOs in Asia and Pacific. It will be an open, inclusive and flexible mechanism designed to reach the broadest number of CSOs, harness the voice of grassroots and peoples’ movements to advance a more just, equitable and sustainable model of development. Moreover, it will be a platform to share information and best practices and build capacities of CSOs for better and more effective engagement in the future.

Taking into account diversity of the Asia Pacific region and the limitations of existing institutional structures for civil society engagement, the CSO Forum in Bangkok defined 8 additional constituencies

3, which are currently not included in the existing Major Group structure, as well as 5 (five) sub-regional groupings.

3 Fisherfolk; migrants; people living with HIV; LGBTIQ; people displaced by disasters and conflict; SMEs; persons with disability; elderly

At the UNESCAP APFSD, the RCEM served to coordinate the interventions and engagement of CSOs in the various plenary and roundtable sessions as well as for side events and informal dialogues. This generated positive feedback from many UN bodies and member states who are recognizing the substantive contributions made by civil society at the APFSD. This was a very encouraging preview of the RCEM’s role and contribution to the sustainable development agenda for the region and beyond.

With the RCEM civil society can better advance their collective call for

development justice - an agenda that calls for five transformative shifts of redistributive justice, economic justice, social and gender justice, environmental justice and accountability to peoples.

For further information: Wardarina – Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development

Chair of Transition Committee of RCEM. Email: rina@apwld.org

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Transition CommitteeConstituency Focal Points
1 Wardarina, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) Email: rina@apwld.org Women/Chair of TC
2 Wali Heider, Roots for Equity, Pakistan E-mail: walikhi@yahoo.com Farmers
3 Paul Quintos, Ibon International E-mail: pquintos@iboninternational.org) NGO
4 Anusha Kumari, SLITU, Sri Lanka E-mail: kumari.anusha27@gmail.com Trade Union & Workers
5 Frances Quimpo, Center for Environmental Concern/CEC Email: fquimpo@cecphils.orgMasanori Kobayashi, Ocean Policy Research Foundation Email: m-kobayashi@ynu.ac.jp Scientific and Technology
6 Bernice See, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact/AIPP, E-mail: bernice@aipp.org Indigenous Peoples
7 Emani Kumar, ICLEI Email: emani.kumar@iclei.org Local Authorities
8 Kabita Gautam, BYND2015 Nepal Hub email: kabitagautam1@gmail.com Youth, Children & Adolescent
9 Gomer Padong, Philippine Social Enterprise Network, E-mail: gomerpadong@gmail.com Small Medium Enterprise
10 Lani Eugania, PUANTANI, Indonesia E-mail: puantani.desa@gmail.com Fisherfolks
11 Aron Ceradoy, Asia Pacific Mission on Migrant Email: ahc27hk@gmail.com Migrants
12 Maria Lourdes Marin, Coalition of Asia-Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS, Email: malu_7sisters@yahoo.com People Living with HIV
13 Helen Hakena, Leitana Nehan Women Development Agency, Papua New Guinea E-mail: helenhakena@gmail.com People in Conflict and Disaster Area
14 Rudolf Bastian Tampubolon,GCAP SENCAP Email: bastiangerard2003@gmail.com LGBTIQ
Sub-Region Focal Point
1 Ranja Sengupta, Third World Network E-mail: ranja.sengupta@gmail.com South Asia
2 Ahmad Syamsul Hadi, WALHI, Indonesia E-mail: ahmad.walhi@gmail.com Southeast Asia
3 Cai Yi Ping, DAWN, China E-mail: caiyiping2000@gmail.com East Asia
4 Nurgul Djanaeva, Forum of Women’s NGO of Kyrygysztan Email: dnurgul@yahoo.com Central Asia
5 Alaipuke Esau, Pacific Youth Council Email: alaipuke@gmail.com Pacific
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Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

 - by whnadmin

 

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At the appointed hour on a sultry, mid-July afternoon, the highly decorated, customized Model-T autovan, nicknamed “Rome’s Chariot,” arrived on the corner of Washington Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton, Massachusetts. In the autovan rode Martha Moore Avery and David Goldstein, the featured lecturers for the meeting to be held that evening sponsored by the Catholic Truth Guild. The Model-T had been modified to hold evangelistic meetings from within its doors. It housed a moveable platform, complete with a stand-up rostrum known as the “perambulating pulpit,” that folded out at a forty-five degree angle from the front of the car. Its four seats could be removed or stacked on top of one another to form a table, and ample storage compartments carried large quantities of Catholic literature.

Designed as an eye-catching spectacle, the autovan generated a crowd simply by driving into town. Its decorations blended American patriotism and Roman Catholic devotion. It sported a sentence from George Washington’s Farewell Address: “Reason and experience forbid us to believe that national morality can prevail where religious principles are excluded.” A miniature star spangled banner decorated the hood to display visibly its patriotism. The Catholic nature of the enterprise shone forth in a large crucifix topped by an electric light and in the yellow and white chassis colors borrowed from the papal flag. In cardinal red letters, the refrain from the Holy Name hymn, penned by Boston’s Archbishop William O’Connell, covered the other side of the car: “Fierce is the fight for God and the right; sweet name of Jesus in Thee is our might.” The autovan’s maiden voyage took place on Independence Day, 1917, when it carried Avery and Goldstein, the co-founders and lecturers of the Catholic Truth Guild, to Boston Commons, to the inaugural meeting.

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The Catholic Truth Guild provides only one illustration of the rampant institution building that women evangelists pursued during the decades of the Progressive Era, from 1890 to 1920. Three thousand miles to the west, Florence Louise Crawford brought the Pentecostal message from Azusa Street to downtown Portland and opened the Apostolic Faith Mission. In Hicks Hollow, an impoverished enclave in Kansas City, former slave, Emma Ray, turned a ramshackle, two-story wooden building into a rescue mission for African American children, while at a nondescript crossroad along the foothills of the Appalachians, Mattie Perry founded Elhanan Training School, even before the first public school opened in Marion, North Carolina. When institution building reached the craggy creek beds of western North Carolina through an ordinary woman like Perry, with no financial reserves, no church standing, and no higher education, the movement can be said to have thoroughly pervaded the entire nation.

This phenomenon differentiates women evangelists in the Progressive Era from their counterparts in previous generations. Earlier in the nineteenth century, evangelists like Harriet Livermore, Jarena Lee, Nancy Towle, and Zilpha Elaw, the so-called “strangers and pilgrims” featured in Catherine Brekus’ groundbreaking study, Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845, had labored single-handedly as preacher, publicist, and pastor at the altar. What changed toward the century’s end was that women evangelists settled down to build institutions, from evangelistic organizations to religious training schools, from churches to rescue missions.

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Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era focuses on the generation of women evangelists who shifted their tack from itinerancy to institution building. The salient change was this: the first generation of lone itinerant women evangelists who had once wandered the continent became, in the next generation, a phalanx of entrepreneurial institution builders. With this key strategic change, these women transformed the quintessential expression of American Christianity—evangelism—from an itinerant practice into the grand task of institution building.

 

Priscilla Pope-Levison (c) May 2014

Priscilla Pope-Levison is Professor of Theology, Seattle Pacific University and author of ‘Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era’.

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‘What does a woman want money for?

 - by whnadmin

‘Heading Households – Power, Domination, Subjugation and Survival’

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 ‘What does a woman want money for?’ the Reverend Patrick Brontë asked when his daughter, Charlotte, told him she was going to be paid for a book she had written. The book was Jane Eyre.

Patrick’s stipend was not enough to maintain his children, and until his daughters began to earn money, first as governesses and then as novelists, the family lived in poverty.

But, what did Charlotte want money for?

Charlotte paid the doctor’s bills – her sisters, Anne and Emily died from tuberculosis. She paid for their home, the parsonage at Howarth, to be redecorated and improved. She paid off her brother’s debts. Her prosperity did not last long, for in 1855 Charlotte, now married, died, not in childbirth, but from being pregnant; her body was simply too frail to withstand a pregnancy. Did poverty during her own childhood contribute to her frailty?

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By earning her own living, Charlotte Brontë took on the role of head of household, but it was not until 1993 that the assumption that the man was ‘head of household’ ceased to be automatic, and a definition of ‘chief income earner’ adopted. Charlotte broke the pattern of genteel poverty imposed on nineteenth century women of the middling sort, but only by posing as a male author.  When the success of Charlotte’s novels brought her to London to meet her publisher, George Smith, of Smith, Elder and Co, was shocked, but he was also generous towards his writers: Charlotte had chosen well, and she continued to earn what a man would have earned.

So, more than a century and a half on from the publication of Jane Eyre under a male pseudonym, how are women faring? And what impact has equal pay legislation had on women’s ability to earn a living?

The equal pay legislation

The Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Equal Pay Act 1975, enables a woman to claim pay equal to that received by a man on the grounds that they are doing:

  • Like work
  • Work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme
  • Work of Equal Value

‘Pay’ includes wages, holidays, pension rights, company perks and some bonuses. Claims are pursued through the Employment Tribunal system.

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The current gender pay gap

The median full-time gender pay gap for hourly earnings is 10.00 per cent [ONS April 2013], an increase on the previous year. For the tax year ended 5 April 2013 median gross annual earnings for male full-time employees were £29,300, women the figure £23,600.

Averages do not tell the full story: some women will experience no pay gap, others will experience much larger inequalities than the headline figures imply. And it’s important to recognise that a pay difference doesn’t necessarily signify pay discrimination. A pay gap can have many causes, only one of which could be pay discrimination.

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Full-time gender pay gaps are wider in some occupations than in others. The gap in median hourly earnings is widest for skilled trades and for process, plant and machine operatives, both at 22 per cent. Among major industrial groups, the median full-time gender pay gap is widest for financial and insurance activities, 37 per cent, and in England, the widest gender pay gap is in the South East , reflecting the higher average earnings of men in those regions, particularly of men working in the financial services industry.

Full-time gender pay gaps widen for women aged 40-49 and 50-59, before narrowing for older. Conversely, the gap has largely disappeared for those in their twenties and thirties, with the earnings of women and men aged 22-29 being similar.

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Research into the gender pay gap

We know from the large body of research into the gender pay gap, as well as from our own experience and observations as women, that the nature and pattern of women’s labour market participation remains distinct from that of men. Women’s choices about what kind of work to do, where to do it, and for how many hours a week, are still quite restricted. Women are over-represented in the ‘5 Cs’: caring, cashiering, cleaning, catering, and clerical. These roles tend to be poorly paid, with few opportunities for training and progression, and often do not make the most of women’s skills and abilities.

Men dominate full-time employment, women part-time, but while the proportion of men working part-time is steadily increasing, for men this reduction in hours tends to be for a finite period of time – while they are students, or after they have retired; for women it lasts for many years. Despite advances in ‘flexible working’ – intended to open up higher paid jobs to working on a reduced hours basis, there is still a real limit to high quality and well paid part time work.

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 The consequences of the gender pay gap

Almost all the research into the gender pay gap has looked at its causes, but I want to look at its consequences. The correlation between low pay and unequal pay is unclear – I believe deliberately so: policy makers quite simply don’t want to face up to the fact that poverty is a women’s issue; easier by far to blame the education system, or the way in which benefits are distributed, than to redress the imbalance of power that impoverishes women.

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Low income in retirement

What we do know is that women are more likely to be low paid than men throughout their working lives. This often translates into lower income in retirement. 17 per cent of women pensioners live in households with a low income compared to 14 per cent of men [EHRC 2012]. The pensions’ gap is narrowing, but until the underlying cause – the gender pay gap – is tackled, the problem is not going to go away.

The consequences of unequal pay and/ or low pay are more than financial, especially when women are heads of household. Over the past fifteen years the proportion of mothers in couples who are breadwinners has risen from 18 to 31 per cent, while the proportion of mothers who are sole earners is up from 11 to 18 per cent. The consequences of unequal pay/low pay for women include:

  • Residence in poor neighbourhoods. More female-headed households with children report both ‘pollution and grime and other environmental problems’ and ‘crime, violence and vandalism’ in the local areas than do other types of household [EHRC 2012].

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  •  Poor housing. Households headed by women are more likely to live in overcrowded or substandard homes than those headed by men.  articlewhnblog18imagesCAGGUMH3
  •  Life transitions. Bereavement or divorce have a more significant and potentially negative impact on women’s financial position than on men’s [BHPS].

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  • Domestic violence. Divorced or separated women are more likely to experience domestic violence, but domestic violence is less likely to occur in households where male and female contributions to household income are roughly equal [Olsen &  Walby, 2002]. articlewhnblog18untitled

Conclusion

Not enough has changed in the century and a half since Charlotte Bronte shocked her father and her publisher by taking on responsibility for her own material wellbeing. While the headline gender pay gap is 10 per cent, the figure for older women is 18 per cent. ‘Women’s rates’ were outlawed almost fifty years ago, but we all know that a part-time rate is a ‘woman’s rate’. ; Unequal pay all too often also means low pay, which in turn means poorer housing provision and less ability to self-provide for a pension. We’re still stuck in the male breadwinner mould. It’s not regulation that is needed, nor endless policy initiatives, but a seismic shift in attitudes towards women.

Sheila Wild (c) March/April 2014

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Sheila Wild

Writer and equality consultant Sheila Wild was for many years the Director of Employment Policy at the Equal Opportunities Commission (the EOC), where she headed up a number of major projects on workplace issues affecting women. Through her work on equal pay cases, and on the 1997 and 2003 codes of practice on equal pay, she acquired a particular expertise on equal pay issues and subsequently led the development and dissemination of the EOC’s equal pay audit kit, which for over a decade has been the focal point for UK campaigns to close the gender pay gap.  Sheila moved across to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007, where she continued to lead on equal pay issues. After leaving the Commission in 2011, Sheila set up www.equalpayportal.co.uk an information resource on equal pay. Sheila Wild is an award-winning poet and is currently reading, part-time, for a Masters in Publishing.

This is an edited version of a presentation at the WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality) seminar at the House of Lords on 6 March 2014 – ‘Heading Households – Power, Domination, Subjugation and Survival’.

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