Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Guest post from Tami - Feminists and Respect

Another guest post , this time Tami from Unknown Conscience and Shiraz Socialist.
Tami gives her views on the upcoming Respect Women's Conference and why it does not hold out much for feminists.
Guest posts are a chance to widen the debates on this blog , rather than just my views. Be good to hear what others here make of her opinions . I am expecting the usual from Paddy :-)

Over to Tami ...

Why feminists should ask tough questions about the Respect Women’s Conference

On the 3rd of March, Respect will be holding its first ever “Women’s Conference”. Supporters of Socialist Resistance and other groups are being encouraged to attend. However a quick look at the agenda, and recent Respect activity, makes one wonder why any left-wing feminist would participate in this conference.
-Why women are under-represented in politics.
-Raunch culture and sexual exploitation
-Muslim women and politics-Women at work
-Should we defend a woman's right to choose?
-'Having it all'
-Young people - does apathy rule?
-Is fat a feminist issue?
-Women in politics - the future

A few of these points are no doubt interesting and important for the left to discuss, but a number of them are much more worrying given Respect’s recent history. On the second point “Raunch culture and sexual exploitation” as reported by Liam on his blog. Respect has participated in campaigns against stripclubs on a moral basis, in Tower Hamlets going so far as to hand out leaflets at mosques with photos of Labour Party councilors implying a “guilty” verdict regarding their not voting against “SEX & STRIPCLUBS”and implying their support for immorality.

Further, the question of “raunch culture” is brought up time and again when members of Respect try to claim that the use of the veil is understandable – ie “Well it’s no surprise given the prevalence of ‘raunch culture’”. It is in this context that the issue of “raunch culture” is being raised by Respect at this conference.

The most problematic point above for the agenda isthis “Should we defend a woman’s right to choose?”Firstly it is problematic because this means one thing to leftists and another thing to Muslim women. During the debate about the veil, the slogan was used by Respect and others and completely taken out of contextof its original meaning. Therefore one is left to wonder if this refers to abortion or to the veil. I suspect it was left ambiguous to draw as many numbers as possible, but the fact that one has no idea whether the discussion is going to be on abortion rights or the veil is telling.

Further, if the discussion is indeed on abortion rights – why is the question being asked? This was again of the feminist movement years ago. One could think of numerous titles to discuss reproductive rights without questioning whether we should have them at all. This should be a given for an organisation that claims to be of the left.

The remainder of the problem with the agenda is the subjects that are glaring because of their absence. First is prostitution. This is a massive discussion on the left right now and in society as a whole, particularly in the wake of the Ipswich murders. The absence of a serious discussion about how one looks at prostitution and the issues surrounding it –legalisation v. criminalisation – is vital for the left to discuss. In fact the debate has been going on for some time as was evidenced by the recent (in my view incorrect) position taken by the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

Finally, the most glaring absence is that there is nothing on sexuality or LGBT issues. Given that Respect has had a dodgy record in the past of removing clauses (and re-inserting them when they were caught) on LGBT rights from the constitution and being ambiguous on positions regarding sexuality, this is hardly surprising. Even ostensibly middle class organisations in the states like National Organizationfor Women (NOW) wouldn’t dream of having a conference without numerous workshops on issues of sexuality.

So what does this lead one to conclude? For me its clear that this is a “Women’s Conference” which is geared towards and designed for Muslim women and not socialists or feminists. I’m absolutely fine with there being a Respect sponsored “Muslim Women’s Conference”, but they should be clear that is what they are aiming for and not pretend to be gearing it towards the left. The agenda items are meant to be non-offensive to religious sensitivities and in doing so Respect forgets that fighters for abortion rights and the LGBT community should be an important part of any women’s conference.

If you are a leftist feminist, unless you have a particular interest in issues that Muslim women have in modern Britain – and you may very well have such an interest – this is not really the conference for you.