Recent Resources for Feminists
India ~ Wednesday 03 February 2016
Civil society opposes legalising sex determination
Union Minister Maneka Gandhi had said that sex determination should be made mandatory as a solution to female foeticide
By Kundan Pandey
PC-PNDT Act prohitbits determination of sex of foetus. (ThinkStock Photos)
Union Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi’s suggestion to make sex determination mandatory has been opposed by the civil society.
Gandhi, on Monday, had said that the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Act should be amended to make sex determination compulsory during pregnancy. Subsequently, keeping track of the pregnancies and checking if the female babies are born or not will help counter female foeticide, she added. The Act currently prohibits sex selection before or after conception and misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for determination of sex of foetus.
In a statement, non-profits working in health sector, said that it is extremely distressing that the union minister should make a statement in contravention of the PC-PNDT Act (1994, revised 2003) which states disclosure of the sex of the foetus as the prime offence. The Act talks of strict penalties against diagnostic facilities and practitioners who do not comply with the legal requirements. The minister, on the other hand, expresses reluctance to “keep arresting” ultrasound owners and involved medical personnel who make profits from sex determination tests, the statement added.
Civil society groups have also expressed astonishment at such a proposal emerging from the Ministry for Women and Child Development, as it will severely hamper women’s rights to bodily autonomy and their access to essential maternal healthcare, such as safe and legal abortion services or post-abortion care. Women in need of ultrasound or safe abortion, for reasons other than sex selection, would find themselves being denied these services.
“The Minister must be aware that unsafe abortions significantly contribute to maternal deaths in India, and such rules will only increase these deaths. We need to move towards greater empowerment and autonomy for all our citizens and a fulfilment of their human rights, and not move back into an era where vigilant behaviour was encouraged and our bodies and lives were not in our control,” the statement said.
The group recommended that society should look deeper for reasons that compel families to opt for male children, and consider daughters a burden.
The statement was endorsed by AIDWA, All India Peoples Science Network, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, CommonHealth, Healthwatch Forum UP, Human Rights Law Network, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights, Right to Food Campaign, Adivasi Adhikar Samiti, Chhattisgarh, The Ant, Chirang Assam, CREA New Delhi, Forum Against Sex Selection, IPAS Development Foundation, LOCOST Vadodara, Nirantar New Delhi, Prayas Rajasthan, Public Health Resource Network, SAHAJ Vadodara, Sahayog Lucknow, Sama New Delhi and many others.
Thursday February 4, 2016
Coming to grips with female foeticide
Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s clarifications over her remarks on the existing ban on sex-selective abortions should put the focus back on the real issues. There are three aspects to the proposal that she put forth at a conference in Jaipur: establish the sex of the foetus when a pregnancy is detected; tell the mother about it and register the fact in public records; and ensure that deliveries happen only in institutions and not at home. This twin strategy of tracking sex-determined foetuses and requiring institutional deliveries is expected to ensure that female babies are not aborted, or killed at birth. While this idea might seem persuasive, like many technological fixes it betrays a worrying lack of awareness of social realities. The very attempt to record the status of the foetus involves the obvious risk of exposing women to undue psychological and social pressure to abort female foetuses. Two, such an intrusion by the state into a woman’s personal-biological space is unwelcome, even Orwellian. That such suggestions are being floated no matter how quickly they are withdrawn in the face of criticism is an indication of India’s persisting inability to address the problem of female foeticide, and the continuum of social ills that this practice reflects.
At the moment, there are few incentives for medical technicians, apart from public interest, to withhold information from families on the gender of the foetus. And when such violations have come to light, prosecution has been indifferent. Maharashtra is believed to have come down severely on errant doctors and clinics, which is significant given the likely impact the State’s large population could have on child sex ratios. The record of Punjab and Haryana, with a high prevalence of sex-selective abortions, also points to a modicum of enforcement. But there is a long way to go. After all, where traditional cultural norms dictate a strong preference for boys, recourse to medical technologies could well reinforce socially detrimental personal choices. Clearly, the emphasis ought to be on the reversal of India’s adverse sex ratio among children in the 0-6 year age group. On a national average, the number of girls for every 1,000 boys in this segment of the population dipped to 918 in the 2011 decennial population Census, with more disturbing regional variations. The corresponding figures were 927 and 933 in 1991 and 2001, respectively. Notably, Ms. Gandhi’s six-time constituency of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh has seen a sharp drop in the child sex ratio in the 2001-2011 inter-Census period. At 940, the figure was above the national average in 2001, but declined dramatically to 912 in the last Census. Pilibhit could easily set an example for the whole country, if only by a scrupulous compliance with the spirit of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, under which any disclosure of the foetal status is a punishable offence.
Thursday February 4 2016
Maneka's radical idea
Pregnancies cannot, and should not, be tracked
Before Union minister Maneka Gandhi chooses to voice one more radical idea to improve the child sex ratio, she should get a few facts right. With poor health infrastructure, especially in rural India, institutional deliveries are not available to all. Two, women are not cattle, their pregnancies cannot be tracked. On Monday, the minister suggested that instead of withholding the gender of the foetus under the PCPNDT Act and penalising the ultrasound lab owners and doctors for any violation of the law, foetus sex determination should be made compulsory, the gender of the child registered, and the birth be tracked by mandating institutional delivery.
It reeks of Sanjay Gandhi-ism. Can institutional deliveries be above board; they have not even reduced infant mortality significantly. The hon'ble minister should know babies are born in the fields, on pavements and in homes in India. Moreover, a mandatory registration of pregnancy violates a woman's dignity and privacy. It also treats all pregnant women as potential killers of their female foetus. The suggestion is also ill-timed as most indicators have begun to show a partial improvement in the gender ratio, after years of hard work in implementing the PCPNDT Act.
In a country as vast and corrupt as ours, the Minister's suggestion, if put into practice, would be counter-productive. By making sex-determination compulsory, 'diagnostic centres' would mushroom to do the job. Since they would be legal, they could exploit the situation. The minister should rather pay attention to the general welfare of the girl child, her education, health, security and eradication of dowry. For a government that pretends to swear by a mantra of "minimum governance" the minister's suggestion smacks of Stalinism. agency and could be a model that needs studying.
Tuesday February 2, 2016
Foetus registration is not feasible: activists
By R. Sujatha
Union Minister Maneka Gandhi had on Monday said that some stakeholders believed that such registration would help to check female foeticide. (Reuters)
Chennai: Activists against sex-selective abortion say the Union Minister Maneka Gandhi’s reference to an “alternative point of view” that every pregnancy should be registered and the parents informed of the gender of the foetus is unfeasible.
The Minister had on Monday said that some stakeholders believed that such registration would help to check female foeticide.
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act currently prevents scan centres from revealing the gender of the foetus. Though very few violators have been punished so far, activists say registering the foetus is not the answer.
They point out that despite a robust birth and death registration Act abortions have not fallen drastically.
Scientifically too the suggestion cannot work as gender of the foetus can be determined with some certainty only in the 18th to 20th week of pregnancy and an abortion that is done beyond 20 weeks could harm the woman, they add.
M. Jeeva, convenor of Campaign Against Sex Selective Abortion says the village health nurses (VHN) attached to primary health centres, who are empowered to record all pregnancies do not do so.
“A VHN covers a population of 40,000 to 50,000. If 10 women get pregnant then the logical end is that their birth/death should be known. But not all data on abortions are recorded,” he says.
Three years ago the National Rural Health Mission devised a solution by making it mandatory for every pregnant woman to register at the scan centre.
She would have to bring the form with her during every scan. But the process was abandoned within six months.
S. Elango, former director of Public Health and president of Tamil Nadu chapter of Indian Public Health Association says the element of surprise to the parent is recognition of Nature.
“A foetus registered as boy could turn out to be a girl at birth. Also, how will the government take forward the concept? Who will register the pregnancies, where will they be registered and will there be an age limit on pregnancies,” he asked.
According to him, the best option is to strengthen the PCPNDT Act.
Saturday February 6, 2016
IMA supports making pre-natal sex determination compulsory
New Delhi, (PTI)
The Indian Medical Association(IMA) today came out in support of Union Minister Maneka Gandhi's suggestion to make pre-natal sex determination compulsory to check female foeticide.
The IMA said the recent statement by the Union Women and Child Development Minister indicates that a 20-year old ban on foetal sex determination may be lifted.
"She referred to a point of view put forth by stakeholders before the Ministry that if each pregnancy could be registered and the sex of the foetus could be made known to the parents and if the same happens to be a female, the delivery should be tracked and recorded.
"However, there is no formal proposal being considered by the Ministry on this issue at this stage and this is a suggestion that needs to be debated. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) supports this viewpoint," the doctor's body said in a statement today.
The minister's suggestion that pre-natal sex determination test be made compulsory to check female foeticide evoked sharp reaction from the activists and the netizens.
India is among the countries with the worst child sex ratio in the world. The 2011 Census showed that the child sex ratio has dipped from 927 girls in 2001 to 919 girls in 2011. Child sex ratio is the number of girls per 1,000 boys between the age 0-6 year.
"The data proves that India has an abysmal record when it comes to reining in the cases of female foeticide. Latest Census numbers also cast a shadow on the adequacy of measures which are helping in educating people to not prefer sons over daughters," said National President of IMA, Dr S S Agarwal.
Reports said that with 919 girls per 1000 boys, child sex ratio in India has reached its lowest levels since 1961.
"Since the PC-PNDT Act, the sex ratio in the country has not changed. The government should form working group of Ministry of Health, Women and Child Development Ministry, IMA, FOGSI and Indian Radiological and Imaging Association (IRIA). These bodies should deliberate together on this and work out implementation of the guidelines," Dr KK Aggarwal, Secretary General of IMA, said.
Tuesday February 2, 2016
Sex determination test must to check female foeticide: Maneka
Move can prove counter-productive: Cong
Union Minister Maneka Gandhi. Tribune file photo
Jaipur: Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has suggested that sex determination test should be made compulsory to track women pregnant with a girl child as a measure to check female foeticide.
"In my personal view, the woman should be compulsorily told that whether it is a boy or girl child whom she is going to give birth. It should be registered to be able to check whether they have given the births or not," the minister for Women and Child Development said.
"I am just putting out this idea. It is being discussed though there is no conclusion yet," she said at the All India Regional Editors Conference here.
It is a different way to look at this problem (female foeticide), which could be solved with this idea, she said.
"We cannot keep catching people doing (illegal) ultrasound," she said, adding that arrest of such people was not a permanent solution.
Congress not in tune with Maneka's suggestion to control female foeticide
Meanwhile, the Congress on Tuesday said Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi's suggestion of sex determination tests to be made compulsory to check the rising cases of female foeticide could prove to be counter-productive.
“In this country today, women are unsafe, girl child is unsafe and if by sex determination the information is registered whether the female foeticide can be stopped, this is her idea or imagination. Whether it will be counter-productive, whether it will have positive effect is something to be seen,” said Congress leader PC Chacko.
He asserted that sex determination and making it known to the mother and to the family members may lead to even bigger problems.
“I don't know whether the minister has made the statement in a confidence. I am not very sure whether it's a well thought-out formula. This can be counter-productive as well,” he said. PT
January 31, 2016 Rabi ul Sani 20, 1437 A.H.
The WoW factorBy Enum Naseer
Women on Wheels is a timely initiative, as it seeks to allow women to reclaim public space by riding their motorbicycles
That women from different walks of life have applied is an encouraging fact, with respect to the reach and the utility of the programme. (Rahat Dar)
Generations of women have been made to feel subhuman whenever they have ventured into the public sphere. The society that we live in repeatedly attempts to have men dominate all outdoor activities. The ‘good woman’ does not set foot on the street. From an early age this idea is drummed into her mind and she is kept in fear of her own mobility and independence. It’s a big, bad world out there, she is told. If you are a good woman, you won’t tempt fate. Society trusts you to know better.
But are the times truly changing? Can we expect the claustrophobic definition of womanhood in the Pakistani context one that assumes that differences in anatomy mark out different roles, boundaries and destinies for both genders to undergo a change?
The optimism is not entirely unwarranted. Women on Wheels (WoW), the initiative aimed at ending street violence and harassment against women and allowing them to reclaim public spaces seems to be doing justice to its acronym.
The first all-women bike rally, held recently, created waves as foreign and local media flocked to cover the one-of-its-kind event in Lahore.
Earlier, the motorcyclists were being given free training lessons starting November 19, 2015 as part of the programme which was launched in collaboration with the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit (SMU) on Law and Order, the City Traffic Police and UN Women HeForShe.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. I saw the female motorcyclists on TV. They seem happy and confident. I would like to learn, too,” says Saima Javed, a housemaid who often has to walk long distances to get to work. “I mean I have to ask my husband for the smallest of things beg and plead most of the time if I need to go somewhere far from home. If I had a bike like he does, it would be a lot easier.
“I want my daughter to learn how to ride a bike as well,” she adds. “It is sad that in our society, at least where I come from, men will see this as a threat to the power and influence that they have in the house. If our lives are easier too, then wouldn’t it make for a more stress-free environment at home? Isn’t that good for everyone?” she asks.
“It can happen in a big city like Lahore I don’t know so much about the rest of Pakistan,” interjects her friend Tahira, who accompanies her to work sometimes. “But that can be good; maybe, it will become a trend. The road is just as unsafe for pedestrians as it is for motorcyclists. Even if you are walking on the road, you are just as likely to get hit. I don’t think that this should matter much. Although I think domesticated women will not be able to benefit from the campaign. Their men won’t let them.”
The pool of applicants is quite diverse, according to Salman Sufi who is positive about the prospects of the programme. That women from different walks of life have applied from professionals, housemaids and students to homemakers is an encouraging fact, with respect to the reach and the utility of the programme.
The preferred mode of transport for women is cars and rickshaws and ideally accompanied by a male chaperone. Anything less than that is considered to be something out of the ordinary risky and irresponsible.
Women make up a significant chunk of the population and contribute in more ways than one to the development of the country yet they are held back by tradition and a warped interpretation of morality and propriety to go out and reclaim the roads of their country. Riding a bike, driving a car, walking the streets and moving about un-chaperoned is ideally not something that should strike the imagination as eccentric actions. If the environment puts them at the risk for harassment and harm, it is the environment that is toxic and needs to be changed.
Confining them and disallowing them to move about in the public sphere for their own ‘good’ is not just tying their fate to an argument that is built on cyclical logic but also a statement on the society’s perception of its men.
“India probably has had one of the worst rape statistics in the world but you still see women on bikes on the roads,” asserts an undergraduate university student. “It is a routine matter that they are participating so visibly in public life. We are even similar with respect to victim blaming but look at how far ahead they are.
“I mentioned the idea [of WoW] to my brother. He had a smirk on his face and slowly said to me, “Yeh Pakistan hai!”
She sees the programme as a step in the right direction one that sets the foundation for woman empowerment and emancipation. She hopes more men will extend support for the development of an egalitarian society.
“If a woman can walk on the street then there’s no reason she should not be on a bike.”
Fatima Tassadiq, a graduate student with a background in anthropology, believes there is a need for the idea to be normalized: “If a woman can walk on the street then there’s no reason she should not be on a bike.
“Normalising the idea of women cycling like they once did in Pakistan is really important.”
“There are already female bikers around the city. My friend bikes all the way from Cantt to Lawrence with her male and female friends from the neighbourhood. She’s been doing this since before that rally on Sunday,” adds Siraat Sheikh, a law student at LUMS.
Talking about Women on Wheels, she says, “It is an excellent, much needed initiative. Men need to accept women as self-reliant persons who have as much a right to travel by themselves as men do.”
“More women on the streets makes it safer to have more women on the streets,” she argues.
What comes as additional good news is that there will soon be a mobile application that will help women reach out for help in case they are being harassed by alerting the closest traffic warden who is expected to be there in less than 5 minutes. While it is yet to be seen whether these promises will translate into reality, there is a need to engage in constructive criticism in order to optimise it and it should not be written off.
It is likely to be met with a lot of opposition by ‘traditionalists’ but if the outcome is even slightly closer to what was conceived, then this marks a significant turning point and can even push the government to address other issues related to women’s rights to serve as a testament of its sincerity and seriousness to empowering the gender.
For now the government should put on its thinking cap the success of the project lies in ensuring that the 1000 scooters that will be distributed among women as a part of this campaign will be used by the women themselves and not the men in their families.
Monday January 25, 2016
Rosie Batty's year of grief and opportunity: 'I have been genuinely astounded'
By Judith Ireland /National political reporter
Rosie Batty reflects
Rosie Batty reflects on the past 12 months and her achievements as Australian of the Year. (Courtesy ABC News24).
A year ago, when Rosie Batty was named the 2015 Australian of the Year, she was still reeling with "raw grief" and feared she had only won because of her son's murder.
"I'd made it to this point because of a traumatic and horrific event that was beyond my control."
But Ms Batty soon realised she was selected "because of the way that I had responded and reacted to [Luke's death]".
Rosie Batty says she was completely swamped, giving more than 250 speeches and interviews as Australian of the Year. (Graham Tidy)
Over the past 12 months, she has been busier than she ever thought possible.
With more than 250 speeches and more interviews and meetings than she can count, "I was completely swamped".
Spurred on by the chance to make a difference, Ms Batty told an audience at the National Gallery on Monday that she wanted to say "Yes" to everything.
Rosie Batty, giving her final interviews before delivering a final speech, as Australian of the Year. (Graham Tidy)
"I couldn't wait for change. I had to make it happen within my year ... before I ran out of time."
Luke Batty was killed by his father in February 2014, immediately casting Ms Batty into the public spotlight, where she began to make the case for change in the way Australia talks about and deals with domestic violence.
Reflecting on her time as Australian of the Year in a valedictory speech, Ms Batty said she had been aware that the second year of grief "is often the hardest, because everyone gets on with their life while you are still adjusting to the loss".
Rosie Batty and Luke Batty
"But [this year] I have been genuinely astounded by the response that I have received.
"Every day, people will say positive and encouraging things out of compassion and out of respect ... I have grown in a way that I never thought possible."
But it has been a year of highs and lows.
"This journey has been conflicting, too, as I juggled grief and loss, suppressing my sadness whilst enjoying the most amazing opportunities of my life."
As she prepares to hand over the Australian of the Year reins to the 2016 winner on Monday evening, Ms Batty says she will not stop working to end domestic violence.
"Together was have created an awareness of an issue that has always been there and there is so much more to do," she said.
One in six Australian women has experienced physical violence at the hands of a current or former partner.
"Whilst family violence is still happening behind closed doors, the conversations aren't," Ms Batty said.
On Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the government would grant $500,000 over two years to the Luke Batty Foundation to enable Ms Batty to continue her work.
"Rosie's voice will continue to be there," he said.
"A powerful, persuasive, compelling advocate to tell all of us, to remind all of us, that there has to be a cultural change."
The 2016 Australian of the Year will be announced in Canberra on Monday evening.
Thursday January 21, 2016
Rosie Batty reveals the self-doubt, grief and strength she found as Australian of the Year
By Jenna Price
Video: Rosie Batty receives Australian of the Year award
January 2015: Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year, says she won't stop in her mission towards domestic violence.
Huge self-doubt, total exhaustion; and grief, just so much grief.
And a simple little shelf with a few mementoes.
- It helped me survive a lonely and difficult year after Luke's death. Of course, it doesn't get any easier, but it's a distraction. - Rosie Batty
Rosie Batty's term as Australian of the Year is nearly over. She's spoken at 250 conferences to more than 70,000 people; talked all day and all night. She's done some crying, but privately.
Australian of the Year Rosie Batty at Parliament House. (Andrew Meares)
Crying in public focuses attention on her. She wants people to think about Luke and all those other victims of family violence, all the death and despair we could avoid if the system worked differently, if we thought differently.
On February 7 she flies to India to have a real holiday, far from the phone, the media and her little house in Victoria.
Far from a simple Ikea shelf in her son Luke's bedroom.
Luke Batty. (Wayne Taylor)
"Soon after the funeral, when my family left, within weeks a friend and I went through all of Luke's bedroom ... I was so methodical and made myself do it.
"I chucked out anything that was Greg's; and all the things which were not sentimental.
"I gave things away ... [Luke's] Lego, I donated it to the Lego library in Frankston. I thought through it to make the best of where it went, making sure it went somewhere that was of benefit.
Rosie Batty on the Australians of the Year Walk beside Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.
"I've kept personal things, milestone things from his birth, but they have been in a cupboard and I've not looked at those. I haven't gone through those baby memories and I haven't looked at baby photos."
And what's on the shelf in his old bedroom?
"Pieces of Lego he made, his slippers, hats, toys, his favourite books. Things that were something which meant something to him and I can look at that.
"Whenever I move, that will always be there. It's not like a shrine."
Artist Jacqui Clark painted a portrait of Luke and that's in her living room.
"Everyone sees it who comes to the house. It's not creepy. It's beautiful, it's like him.
"He is here, but not here."
Rosie Batty became Australian of the Year after the murder of her son Luke by his father Greg on February 12, 2014.
Most of us grieve in private, but Batty decided against that. She was determined to talk about family violence every single day. And she has.
Batty is the first ever ordinary Australian to be appointed Australian of the Year. She wasn't famous before the murder of her son. She was a single mother on a small income whose son was the sun in her life.
Everything she did centred on Luke: where she lived, how she spent her money. It was Scouts and drama and cricket and football.
"I didn't have any family support, I didn't have people on hand to babysit. My life was Luke and me and I worked hard to build relations with people in this area which you can more easily do when you are a parent. I didn't have a lot of spare money and it was a struggle financially."
She had absolutely no experience of dealing with the demands of public life.
"She came to prominence through the most tragic of circumstances and she astounded everyone with the power of her message," says Jeremy Lasek, chief executive of the National Australia Day Council.
"She was a very different Australian of the Year and we may never see another one like her, I think because she hadn't had a career [with] a support base or had a management structure, publicists, a support team."
Batty had much to learn - and so did the Australia Day organisation.
"We had to adjust our thinking and what we do ... Rosie being the person she is, we could have given her 10 full-time staff and it would not have been enough."
Batty credits Lasek with giving her astonishing support during the process. He says he does it for everyone but not too many Australians of the Year had to deal with the ruthless attacks of former Labor politician Mark Latham.
Says Lasek: "We had to remind each other that for every Mark Latham, there were several million people who felt she was a great choice and had given amazing service to Australia."
Now the year is over. "I don't know whether to be pleased or sad. I had no idea about the volume of contact, I had no idea and I wish I'd had a team in place to be ready to support me at the start. I didn't understand the impact it would have on my life. It places a lot of pressure on you.
"That kind of high-profile talking, anywhere from 200 to 2000, that's been new to me. I had nerves and self-doubt, huge self-doubt at the beginning, and then I became more confident when I could see people appreciated what I was saying."
A group formed around her, most of whom she didn't know before Luke died.
"What happened to me when I became Australian of the Year isolated me somewhat from some of my friends.
"But to be completely honest, my friends have got children and partners and I would have been relatively isolated anyway after Luke's death. What linked us together was Luke, but now I am doing different things.
"It helped me survive a lonely and difficult year after Luke's death. Of course, it doesn't get any easier, but it's a distraction.
"I am not in denial and I feel the loss of Luke, but it comes in waves and at a different times."
How do people respond?
"People know the quivering voice and see the tears well up and some people see me lose it and are very compassionate. I don't see pity in people's faces now and that's a relief. But some don't understand and don't expect grief to look like this and it triggers their own discomforts and insecurities. It can strain friendships and that can be within your own family as well.
"I've been disappointed. Whether its because they've upset me or I've upset them, I feel friendship is about being there through thick and thin when the worst thing in the world has happened to someone.
"We should be able to find the bigger part of ourselves."
On January 26, the Australian of the Year title moves on. Two governments have already been in talks with her about where she goes next, although she admits some frustration with politics and politicians who don't always take kindly to criticism.
"I'm obviously determined to be a strong public advocate and continue the momentum, to keep speaking out."
There are people in Batty's life who have come through with her and she now has a solid underpinning for the Luke Batty Foundation, where she will continue to be an advocate who can help Australia stop family violence.
"We are in a strong place for the future."
Thursday 14 January 2016
Annie Leibovitz: latest show explores women as 'whole human beings'
Revered photographer’s new exhibition focuses on women of note, from Lupita Nyong’o to Aung San Suu Kyi Annie Leibovitz was first encouraged to focus an exhibition on women by her late partner Susan Sontag. (Rex/Shutterstock)
By Mark Brown Arts correspondent
She has captured thousands of faces as perhaps the world’s pre-eminent portrait photographer, but Annie Leibovitz thinks most subjects would rather be at the dentist than in front of a camera. “If they like having their picture taken something is wrong with them!”
Leibovitz was speaking at the opening of her new London show of portraits of women including Aung San Suu Kyi, Adele, the documentary-maker Laura Poitras, the ballerina Misty Copeland, and the primatologist Jane Goodall.
Goodall was one of her quickest shoots, the photographer revealed. “I only had eight minutes,” said Leibovitz. “She walked in and said, ‘you know, I hate doing this. I like going to the dentist better than this’, and I totally understand.
“I don’t know anybody who likes having their photograph taken. It is normal to not like having your picture taken because you have to deal with yourself and wonder who you are.”
She was, however, pleased by the result. “First she stuck her tongue out at me and then she settled in, and I didn’t realise until I got back to my studio that this is how she looks at a chimpanzee. This is why a chimpanzee is intrigued with her, falls in love with her – that face. I was captivated by that face.”
Leibovitz began her project portraying women in 1999 at the suggestion of her partner Susan Sontag, who died in 2004. When the Swiss bank UBS more recently approached Leibovitz to work on a possible commission, she suggested revisiting it. The result is Women: New Portraits, for which Leibovitz has photographed various women of outstanding achievement.
The one woman Leibovitz has not photographed, to her regret, is the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who she says is probably the most important woman in the world today.
“I’m on the path, I’m asking her,” she said. “I remember when I photographed Queen Elizabeth; I couldn’t believe I had the opportunity and when we were leaving I asked her press secretary ‘why did she agree now?’. She said ‘oh you wrote a letter five years ago.’ There’s a real lesson in that – perseverance.”
Annie Leibovitz’s celebrated portrait of Caitlyn Jenner features in her exhibition. (Annie Leibovitz/AP)
One woman who is in the show is the transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, whom Leibovitz photographed in a white corset, a version of which also featured on a recent cover of Vanity Fair.
Leibovitz said it had been a beautiful experience. “Bruce is still there but Caitlyn emerged. On some level the project wasn’t even the photograph – it was really to help Caitlyn emerge. We wanted to help her, give her the best start.
“She was very quiet the first day and we looked at a lot of imagery of women – remember this is an acquired look. By the second day it was like being dragged behind a truck; she just took over, she knew where she was going. It was like watching someone emerge, it was beautiful.”
Other subjects include Alice Waters, a restaurateur, the Russian model Natalia Vodianova, the singer Taylor Swift, the actor Lupita Nyong’o and the feminist writer Gloria Steinem, who advised on the list. They will be joined in the near future by Malala Yousafzai, Serena and Venus Williams, and the performance artist Marina Abramovi .
Steinem agreed that it was an important project: “There have not been representations of women that show them as whole human beings, so this is remedial. Yes, men can be denied their full humanity, but not as much. Each one of these photographs is a novel; it is so amazing, there is a complete human story in every photograph.”
Annie Leibovitz: ‘I couldn’t believe I had the opportunity’ to photograph the Queen. (Mike Marsland/WireImage)
The show, which includes works from the original Leibovitz series and a huge portrait of the Queen, has opened in the atmospheric Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, which was until 2013 an arts space. After London, the exhibition will travel to Tokyo, San Francisco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Istanbul, Frankfurt, New York and Zurich.
A set of the new photographs will then enter the UBS art collection, one of the world’s biggest corporate contemporary art collections, which features more than 30,000 works.
• Women: New Portraits is a free exhibition at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, east London, 16 January-7 February
~ Wednesday January 6, 2016
Turnbull must act decisively on Dutton 'witch' comments
By Phil Cleary
Tony Abbott as opposition leader in front of posters proclaiming "Ditch the witch". (Andrew Meares)
Remember when Tony Abbott stood in front of posters on the lawns of Parliament House in 2011 exhorting Australians to "ditch the witch", our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard? Remember how not one single member of the Coalition had the courage to damn his actions, and the posters, as misogynist and capable of giving succour to violent men?
Four years later, it's a man cut from the same political cloth, the tough-talking Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who has propelled the misogynist notion of woman as witch back into the lexicon.
It might have been a private text to a colleague, sent inadvertently to a temporary adversary, News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden, but what does it say about Dutton's view of women in modern Australia that he saw fit to reduce Maiden's opinions to those of a "mad f------ witch"? Has it escaped him that women accused of being witches were once put to death?
Rather than acknowledging his words as a form of abuse that could reasonably leave people believing he harbours a deep-seated distrust of women, the minister offered a meaningless apology. "Sam and I have exchanged some robust language over the years so we had a laugh after this and I apologised to her straightaway, which she took in good faith," he said with a smile.
The palpable truth is that like so many men – bosses of leading companies, members of the police and armed forces, judges, celebrity sportsmen and politicians among them – Dutton either doesn't understand or doesn't care to understand the cultural landscape that has sustained the epidemic of violence against women.
The anti-violence campaigners aren't propagandising when they point to the generations of women bashed, raped and murdered and then subjected to courtroom depictions and media commentary founded in the myth that they have provoked the violence inflicted upon them, often attributed to a flawed or "witch-like" personality.
Paraded as sophisticated legal argument, so much of what passes as probative inquiry in our courtrooms amounts to little more than character assassination of the kind contained in Dutton's text. That's why the law of provocation has been abolished in several Australian states and the courtroom remains a battleground for reformers.
Last month a Queensland Court of Appeal noted that Allison Baden-Clay "had in the past suffered from depression for which she was prescribed Zoloft", when it controversially dismissed a properly instructed jury's finding that her husband had murdered her. Her state of mind gave veracity, the court said, to the possibility that the mother of three had engaged in an "angry attack" on her husband, who had unwittingly killed her. Her supporters reacted indignantly to the finding and the implication she was "mad" or anything less than a caring and sensible woman.
It seemed those dark days of denying the state's complicity in the scourge of violence against women might be coming to an end when, on White Ribbon Day 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered a "special tribute to the victims of domestic violence, past and present, who have borne the burden of our failure to act for too long", adding that "violence against women is the end point of disrespecting women", and that the solution lies in "significant cultural change".
How can the Prime Minister's words now be treated seriously when a key minister's default position on a woman who crosses him is that her views are those of a "mad witch"? What hope is there when men of such antiquated views occupy positions of power in Turnbull's government?
Try as they might to hide behind the excuse that the use of the word "witch" amounts to nothing more than a robust sledge, the apologists' days are numbered. Having drawn a nexus between male disrespect for women and the epidemic of violence, the Prime Minister cannot maintain the position that Dutton's comments were merely inappropriate. If he is genuine when he says only cultural change can end the violence, he must either sack Dutton or force him to deliver an apology that acknowledges the harm his words have done to the anti-violence campaign.
If the Prime Minister chooses neither of these courses of action, he faces being pilloried by the opposition.
"If little boys see their fathers disrespecting their mothers, they will grow up to disrespect their partners. If they see their mothers respected, they will respect their sisters." So said Malcolm Turnbull on White Ribbon Day. How can those words carry any weight when one of his ministers fosters the malicious idea among his colleagues that a non-compliant woman should be deemed a "mad witch"?
That Maiden appears to have forgiven Dutton for his comments should not and does not lessen the significance of the words or their implications for the government. How she responds emotionally might be her prerogative, but it has little bearing on any objective judgment, mine or the community's, on Dutton's words. As with the "ditch the witch" posters in 2011, we know there can be no escaping the implications for gender relations of a public figure calling a woman a witch. It remains a black mark on Australian political and social history that Gillard was left to her own devices to decry the posters. How different history would look had Turnbull stood with the prime minister, with both sides of politics rising in the House of Representatives to decry the posters and their dangerous implications for women. It was an opportunity lost.
If Australia was a truly democratic society, devoid of gender inequality, misogyny and chronic violence against women, Dutton's comments might have less significance. However, with homicide rates – more than 60 "domestic" murders of women in 2015 – and the violence surging, we are in the middle of a crisis in which there is no room for bystanders. Having nailed his colours to the mast, Turnbull must act. If he doesn't act decisively and publicly, he'll have lost me and, I suspect, many reformers who welcomed and praised his White Ribbon Day speech.
Phil Cleary is a writer, broadcaster and former independent federal MP.
Wednesday January 6, 2016
Greens leader Richard Di Natale calls for Peter Dutton's sacking
By Fergus Hunter
Dutton gaffe a 'test for Turnbull'
Labor puts pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's 'boorish' text message. (Vision ABC News 24)
Greens leader Richard Di Natale has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to sack Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and to lead cultural change in Australia by ridding the Liberal Party of "rampant" sexism.
Senator Di Natale called Mr Dutton a "serial offender" who was "not able to deal with complex immigration issues" such as the case of Abyan, an asylum seeker allegedly raped on Nauru.
"Malcolm Turnbull needs to show he's serious about changing culture," Senator Di Natale said.
"One way he can do that is to ensure this repeat offender, Minister Dutton, is sent to the backbench where he belongs, and another suitable replacement is found for that difficult portfolio ... preferably a woman, a capable woman from within the Coalition ranks.
"He has made comments towards a senior journalist that do reflect the sexism that is at the heart of the Coalition government."
Peter Dutton's SMS slip has landed him in hot water. (Andrew Meares)
Mr Dutton is likely to avoid any further consequences for his text mishap, in which he labelled a journalist a "mad f---ing witch", which Mr Turnbull called "completely inappropriate".
Senator Di Natale said the Prime Minister should lead by example and bring about change in Australia's attitude towards women.
"What's required in this country is a change in culture. We need to see that change in culture come from the ground up, from our sporting institutions right through to politics," he said.
"I launched a domestic violence initiative on White Ribbon Day with the Prime Minister where he said very clearly that it was the responsibility of all men in Australia to call out sexism when they see it.
"That it was about men respecting their sisters, their mothers, their wives. And that where they fail to do it, they need to be called out.
"Well, the Prime Minister needs to demonstrate that he takes the issues seriously, that it's more than just rhetoric."
He also called on the government to reinstate domestic violence funding cuts and commended Liberal MP Sharman Stone for admonishing the "boys' club" in her own party.
Labor continues to call for an investigation into the leaking of a photograph of the public servant who complained about the behaviour of former cities minister Jamie Briggs.
"Actions speak louder than words and ... Mr Turnbull needs to show that he is taking this matter seriously by investigating who Mr Briggs sent this photograph to and who it was that gave it to The Australian newspaper so it could be published," shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister has rejected the calls, saying, "These leaks inquiries, they tend to come up with very little.
"I think we know the photograph was taken by Mr Briggs' phone and he shouldn't have done it."
Wednesday January 6, 2016
'I'd call you a c---': Senator David Leyonhjelm drops the c-bomb on Twitter
By Fergus Hunter /Reporter
Following an argument on Twitter, Senator David Leyonhjelm responds by calling someone a 'c---'.
There's plenty of bad language and abuse on social media, but it doesn't usually come from an elected representative in the Australian Parliament.
Libertarian senator David Leyonhjelm has labelled someone a "c---" on Twitter during an argument over Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's text mishap, in which he labelled a female journalist a "mad f---ing witch".
Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm in his Sydney office. (Jessica Hromas)
Senator Leyonhjelm, whose profile warns that "offensive abusers are blocked", dropped the "c-bomb" the day after he called another Twitter user a "witch".
He said Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong, who had said she would find being called a witch offensive, "protests too much" and that "offence is chosen".
User @labourareliars then asked him "if someone called you a 'baldy lunatic f---wit', you'd be fine with it?"
- The senator's tweet."I'd call you a c---. And probably a rude name after that," Senator Leyonhjelm responded.
The Liberal Democrat senator is on a plane to Italy. A spokesman said the senator "is a rude man" but noted people offended by his use of the word have "probably used it themselves".
The outspoken senator is no stranger to causing controversy through language:
In November, the NSW senator said that police had earned the saying "all cops are bastards".
That same month, he called children "bundles of dribble and sputum" and praised people for not having them.
In July, he labelled another Twitter user a "legitimate f---wit" when they raised his anti-wind farm views.
In June 2014, he said he thought John Howard "deserved to be shot" when the former prime minister cracked down on firearms following the Port Arthur massacre.
And following the 2014 Martin Place siege, he said tough gun laws had made Australia a "nation of victims".
Mr Dutton continues to face criticism for accidentally sending veteran News Corp political journalist Samantha Maiden a text message calling her a "mad f---ing witch". The message was intended for a colleague.
On Tuesday, Deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce implored Australia not to become too "sterile" and politically correct.
"I like that Australia is to the point," he said.
"One of the great things about Australian politics is our informality and directness and I'd hate to lose that - even if there can be faux pas."
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