DEGOUGERIE 5 Posted on: Monday 5th Mar 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
Welcome to DeGougerie, a monthly collectanea of news or discoveries that caught my de Gouges inspired eye: things that she might have responded to had she come across them.
An Afghan Aid appeal on the BBC mentions the plight of a family whose father would not allow the mother to leave their home. He got sick; they lost any income they had; their daughter died. Afghan Aid came to the village and taught the woman to grow vegetables. The husband agreed because his wife was taught by women and could grow the food within their plot. Now she funds their existence, the remaining children can go to school and the husband is grateful and repentant. I find it incomprehensible that such patriarchal attitudes could still hold good in the 21st century. How much longer do women's voices have to go unheeded? https://www.afghanaid.org.uk
'Me Too', starting in show business, spreads inexorably through other domains. No surprise there. If men hold more positions of power than women, and particular men are predatory by nature, then the chances are they will abuse that power. And, as other cases prove viz. Kevin Spacey, sexual orientation has no bearing on the matter. What has shocked is the highlighting of abuse by the charitable sector. The bodies of vulnerable adults and children, at their lowest ebb in many cases, are being used for sex in return for food, or other life saving aid, to the extent that some women are refusing help in order not to be accused of prostitution. The Charity Commission stated that over 1000 cases have been reported in the last year. The 'shock horror' media cover belies the fact that widespread abuse was reported in 2002 and that a review was published in 2010: 'The review included personnel from the United Nations, nongovernmental organisations, the International Organisation for Migration and the International Federation of the Red Cross, as well as peacekeeping and development partners. An external review facilitator worked with 14 agencies to help them conduct self-assessments of their own policies and guidelines and the direction and support being provided to their field offices. Field research was conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal, and desk research was carried out for five additional countries. The results of the review indicated that much more needed to be done to protect affected populations from sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian actors.' Hopefully the new furore will help to change behaviour in the sector. The work performed by so many NGOs and smaller charities is vital to those in need. Rogue elements must not be allowed to destroy it; the sector has to show the public that it is still worthy of its support by openly confronting these problems. https://odihpn.org/magazine/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-by-un-ngo-and-ingo-personnel-a-self-assessment/
On Sunday 25 February the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem shut its doors indefinitely in response to the Israeli government's proposed changes in taxation on church property. The row centres on property (majorly belonging to the Greek Orthodox church) that was leased to householders in the 1950s with the understanding that the leases would be renewed when these expired. However, to pay it debts, the church sold some of the property to developers. It is these transactions that the city council seeks to tax to repay a significant shortfall owed by the church, stating that only places of worship are exempt from imposition. The Christian authorities are protesting and stating that the Israelis are persecuting them to de-Christianise Jerusalem, and claiming this echoes laws of a similar nature enacted in what they term the dark periods in Europe. The fail to mention the identical treatment meted out to the Catholic church by the anti-clerical but still nominally Catholic French government in the early 1790s when church property was expropriated and sold to fill the state's coffers. That would doubtlessly pack a weaker emotional punch.
The Winter Olympics were held in South Korea with the participation of North Korean athletes who marched in to the opening ceremony under the Korean Unification flag. This emblematic moment has led to further rapprochement between the two countries. A South Korean envoy will visit the North shortly and talks of denuclearizing the peninsula may ensue. Despite President Trump's bullish assertiveness before the Olympic Games, military drills ceased during the Games and the atmosphere between all parties was distinctly less aggressive than before the sporting activities began. Unfortunately sabre rattling has returned between the northern state and the U.S. but South Korea seems to be asserting itself in the hopes of furthering peace seeking discourse.
The Syrian conflict has reached new heights of barbarity with its continued bombing of civilians around Damascus despite frequent promises of a ceasefire. Women and children have suffered more than ever with the worst casualties recorded since 2015. As de Gouges stated it is all too easy to stir up hatred, but so hard to control its consequences.
On St Valentine’s day a disgruntled ex-pupil returned to his school in Parkland, Florida, and shot dead seventeen pupils and staff. A week later a breakaway group of the Unification Church, the Sanctuary Church, held a service in Philadelphia blessing the marriages of over two hundred couples. The photographs of robed celebrants clasping assault style rifles, some gilded, and wearing crowns made of bullets were surreal. Sadly the church's leader, the son of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, was not indulging in attention seeking fancy dress but confirming that guns should be used to protect the righteous. He backs President Trump's call for teachers to be armed in schools. Fire, they believe, will put out fire.
Hindus across the globe celebrated Holi, the festival of colour that marks the arrival of Spring, while Europe was gripped by a Siberian freeze that returned vast swathes of the continent to deepest Winter. Strangely in France it was the warmer South, de Gouges's homeland, that was hit the hardest with snow covering Mediterranean beaches and paddle boarders putting on skis to explore the new terrain.
This is the season when the film industry in the West gives itself awards. De Gouges would have been astounded that the hot topic this year was inclusivity. She fought for equal rights in theatrical circles over two hundred years ago, the advent of celluloid entertainment did nothing to improve the situation. The same groups are still marginalised and still fighting; the creative side of the business appears to be shifting positively towards inclusivity: the financiers within the industry must follow suit.
DeGougerie 4 Posted on: Friday 2nd Feb 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
As January ends Iranian authorities have freed Vida Mohaved from prison, having arrested her for publicly removing her hijab in Tehran last December. The image of her holding her white veil aloft on a stick, standing on a utility box in the city centre, spread across the world via social media. The numbers of women joining the White Wednesday protest is growing; a silent act of defiance that is not going unnoticed nor at times unpunished. Men who are drawn to support the movement hold white flags in solidarity. The protest is not seeking to ban the wearing of the veil but to make it a question of choice not enforcement. In 2014 the journalist Masih Alinejad started and online movement called My Stealthy Freedom encouraging Iranian women to share images of themselves not wearing the hijab. White Wednesday has grown out of this community of like-minded women and men fighting for equality and the freedom to choose how to live their lives in Iran.
Carrie Grace resigned as BBC China editor this month having worked for the corporation for more than 30 years. Her resignation was a protest against the broadcaster’s employment structure that she believes pays male presenters more than their female equivalents. Many women employed in similar circumstances at the BBC agreed with Grace: it was pointed out that the Equal Pay act was passed in 1970 yet forty-eight years later the problem is far from being resolved. Olympe de Gouges, unable to earn money as a female author, longed for a time when women would be remunerated according to their talents. Today's lack of parity inevitably reflects a societal judgement that still appears to favour male employees over their female counterparts.
'Balance ton porc' the French 'me too' campaign has left the French sisterhood in disarray. Fearing that puritanism might constrain relations between the sexes a hundred women, including Catherine Deneuve, wrote an open letter to le Monde stating that 'balance ton porc' was in danger of making sexual freedom a thing of the past. They worry that people will no longer feel free to behave in an importuning way, that adults will be denied the liberty to be openly flirtatious. They claim to represent women's hard won freedom; the response from a number of their sisters is uncompromising outrage accusing Deneuve and others of supporting sexual predation. Both sides appropriate the same territory i.e. protection of women's rights and freedom of expression but hold diametrically opposed views. Catherine Deneuve felt obliged to respond to the accusations. She stated that her intention was to highlight the dangers an un-nuanced approach to the problem. The use of social media to condemn individuals publicly without due process was no solution to the abuse of power by a sexual predator, something she abhors. She was at pains to stress that the education of boys and girls might be a better solution rather than a generalised and puritanical condemnation of male behaviour. Brigitte Bardot also criticised those who complained of sexually inappropriate behaviour in the cinema industry, suggesting that most of it is led by actors who flirt with producers to gain a foothold in the industry. French responses to sexual advances do seem to be divided along generational lines with older women defending a type of behaviour that their younger counterparts no longer appreciate. The debate continues to divide opinion given the possibility of sexual harassment being made illegal on the streets of France. Everyone admits to finding life complicated these days.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a climate change activist and poet from the Marshall Islands. In these words from her website I find an echo of Olympe de Gouges:
"..I fell asleep
were a current
to greet you"
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner's poem Monster from 2017 was written in response to an invitation from the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. She continues to use her voice to campaign for a fairer peaceful world. The poem was performed at Hiroshima and can be viewed on her website https://www.kathyjetnilkijiner.com
Sometimes I wonder if Marshallese women are the chosen ones.
I wonder if someone selected us from a stack. Drew us out slow. Methodical. Then, issued the order:
Give birth to nightmares. Show the world what happens. When the sun explodes inside you.
How many stories of nuclear war are hidden in our bodies?
574 – the number of stillbirths and miscarriages after the bombs of 1951. Before the bombs? 52.
Bella Compoj told the UN she could no longer have children. That she saw her friends give birth to ugly things.
Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like the intestines 
She told this to a committee of men who washed their hands of this sin – these women who bore unholy things – created from exploding spit and ugly things.
And how these women buried their nightmares. Beneath a coconut tree. Pretended it never happened. Sinister. Hideous. Monster. More jellyfish than child.
And yet. They could see the chest inhale. Exhale. Could it be
Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like intestines.
In our legends lives a monster. Mejenkwaad. Woman demons – unhinged jaws swallowing canoes, men, babies. Whole. Shark teeth in the backs of their head. Necks that stretch around an entire island, bloodthirsty. Hungry for babies and pregnant women. Monsters.
My three-year-old likes to hunt for monsters in our closet. We use the light of my cell phone. A blue glow in the dark. We whisper to each other – did you hear that?
Did I hear what?
The silence of my dreams is severed by her screaming nightmares. And I am a mewling mess turned monster huddled in the corner wide-eyed, wild haired, unable to touch, unable to care, unable to bear the exhaustion, anxiety clawing away at my chest. Am I even
human? Post-partum – easier to diagnose after the fact. Two years later those memories haunt me. When I became the bump in the night. When I realized I needed to protect her. From me.
Did you hear that?
Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like intestines.
In our legends lives a monster. Woman demons, unhinged jaws. Swallowing their own babies. Driven mad. Turned flesh rotten. Blood through their eyes their teeth their nose.
Were the women who gave birth to nightmares considered monsters? Were they driven mad by these unholy things that came from their bodies? Were they sick with the feeling of horror that perhaps there was something
wrong. With them.
My three-year-old sleeps next to me. I have lost my fangs and ugly dreams. I watch her chest inhale. Exhale. Know that she is real, she is mine. I try to write forgiveness and healing into our story. Into myself.
In legends lives a woman. Turned monster from loneliness. Turned monster from agony and suns exploding in her chest. She gives birth to a child that is not so much a child but too much a jellyfish. The child is struggling for breath. Struggling in pain. She wants to bring the child peace. Bring her home. Her first home. Inside her body.
It is an embrace. It is only. An embrace. She kneels next to the body.
DeGougerie 3 Posted on: Saturday 6th Jan 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries
At this time of year it is customary to review the last twelve months. Most commentators have found it hard to be positive about 2017. I ended the year at a concert in London given by the great American singer, Joyce DiDonato; she began her encore by telling us that politics in the U. S. had given her cause for optimism. This was met with bemused silence. She explained how challenging and rewarding she found it to be forced to consider events in greater depth and develop clarity in her response to political events back home. Such positivity in the face of what the official Chinese news agency (www.xinhuanet.com) calls ‘the social ills of Western countries’ caused by a ‘deeply ingrained violence culture’ fuelled by rampant gun ownership and ‘the intensification of class division’ was cheering.
The Nobel Peace prize committee rewarded a remarkably positive achievement in 2017. Founded in Australia in 2007 the winner, ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of non-governmental organisations in one hundred countries) has worked 'to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons' and through its campaigning was instrumental in the success of a legally binding global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons supported by 122 of the 193 UN member states. The treaty prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons. Immediately following its adoption, the United States, the United Kingdom and France issued a joint press statement saying that they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.” The official British response was: 'It will not improve the international security environment or increase trust and transparency. The unpredictable international security environment we face today demands the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future.' The treaty, though ratified by only three signatories and needing another forty-seven ratifications to enter into force, is significant in that it marks a concerted strengthening of opinion against the use of nuclear arms in any form. Something the pacifist Olympe de Gouges would have applauded for she always believed in jaw-jaw not war-war.
A seemingly negative move – President Trump pulling his country out of the Paris agreement on climate change in June – was received by the agreement's chief architect, Christiana Figueres, with gratitude. The U.S. President's retrograde step encouraged others who might have wavered to become actively progressive; even states within his own country stated that they would sign up to the agreement, opposing their leader's direction. Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat who has dedicated many years to combating anthropogenic climate change, is on record as stating that injecting optimism into the debate was her primary tool for achieving this global accord on protecting our planet. In her TED talk of 2016 she states that there can be ‘no victory without optimism’ and has spent the last six years relentlessly feeding it into the system. Humanity has more to gain from collaboration in the face of severe threats to its survival than from division. https://www.ted.com/talks/christiana_figueres_the_inside_story_of_the_paris_climate_agreement
In October the UN Security Council debated the role of women in achieving peace and security. Noting the importance of gender equality and security of women as reliable indicators for peace, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) said ’The chorus of voices that are appalled by the persistent political marginalization of women in decision-making is speaking louder’. Working on a similar project the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) concluded that '[women’s] participation is essential in resolving conflict and in helping to build sustainable peace, and yet they are often not included or consulted in programming directed towards them and rarely are key partners in implementation.' It is frustrating that over 220 years since Olympe de Gouges asked why women could mount the scaffold but not the tribune the role of women in policy making is still relatively marginal. Cheri Blair, on the BBC, pleaded for 2018 to be the year when women were fully accepted as equal partners in all endeavours across the world. To sideline such a creative and numerous resource for reasons of gender alone is an anachronism that needs defeating. It is now well known that many of the ills that face our societies are lessened if girls are well-educated and women participate in decision making as equals to their male fellow citizens. There seems no reason to wilfully ignore these facts
According to an article that appeared in Nature in June,(https://www.nature.com/news/the-rise-of-political-apathy-in-two-charts-1.22106) the biggest voting block across Europe, since the 1990s, is made up of citizens who are entitled to vote and choose not to. This sad fact has major implications on election results and would have appalled Olympe de Gouges and others who fought so hard for universal suffrage. Collating information covering a century of voting patterns has shown that voter turnout is at its lowest since World War II with only approximately 65% of eligible citizens going to the polls today. Cynicism among younger generations is assumed to be the reason, potentially reducing the voting population to the pre-emancipation models of the past. Ironically this trend appears to be strongest in the newly created democracies of Eastern Europe who most recently wrested their freedom to vote from Communist dictatorships. Along with non-voters the only other group to grow in popularity in Europe is that of the far right (in Germany the Alternative fuer Deutschland came third in the September elections and is the first right wing populist party to enter the Bundestag since 1945). The malevolent manipulation of information through social media attracted particular attention towards the end of 2017 with suggestions that the UK Brexit result and President Trump's win in the U.S., among others, may have been skewed by outside forces. Perhaps younger citizens, devoted to the use of social media, can use their knowledge to counter these forces and find a way to reimagine and reengage with the politics of their time.
When shopping in Waterstones in London I passed a large pile of the classicist Mary Beard's book Women and Power, a Manifesto (London: Profile Books, 2017). I planned to purchase a copy online but grabbed an armful of them when I overheard a passer-by say to her male companion, “Oh, that's the woman who's always having a bad hair day.” Thanks to a grumpy 'sister' my Christmas shopping was done. Olympe de Gouges was also ridiculed for her appearance when she resisted the fashion for elaborate headpieces atop of huge wigs. She preferred a loose type of mob cap which the actor Fleury said made her look as though she had shaving cream on her head. As Beard argues in her foreword, 'When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.'; ridiculing us to limit our authority is a habit that is alive and well. Beard points out it's not so much what we say that offends, more the fact that we're saying it. In 1793 Olympe de Gouges was guillotined by the state for publicly speaking out, today's victims are more likely to be sanctioned by the populace using the anonymity of social media.
Like so many theatre goers today, Olympe de Gouges would have done anything to get a ticket to the phenomenon that is Hamilton. The ground-breaking musical which has just transferred from New York to London is the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda who not only performed the central role to great acclaim, but also wrote the music and lyrics. Born of a Puerto Rican father he has chosen to highlight the racial divisions in his native U.S. by using non-white performers to play the roles of America's white founding fathers. At the show's original auditions there was some controversy suggesting that specifying a need for non-white performers to play historically white characters was as racist as preventing black performers from playing roles traditionally played by white actors. These debates, and the eventual casting of Hamilton, would have fascinated de Gouges whose play on slavery was denounced because its central role depicted a black man as a fully rounded individual capable of heroism and autonomy. French 18th century actors being white, she insisted that those playing black roles attempt some form of realism: 'I have only one bit of advice to give to the actors of the Comédie Française, and it is the only favour that I will ask of them in my life: they must adopt both the colour and the dress of the Negro. Never was there a more favourable time and I hope that the Performance of this Drama will produce the effect that one can expect in favour of these victims of ambition.' (from Reflections Concerning Black Men appended to de Gouges's play Zamore et Mizra on www.olympedegouges.eu). This request horrified the thespians who refused to do something they considered so demeaning: they did not share the author's aim to persuade an audience that all peoples are equal in nature if not yet in law. Miranda's didactic use of history to highlight current situations would have appealed to de Gouges who used both past and present personalities to comment on the actualities of her time.
Happy New Year and may 2018 bring us all the space and time to reflect on our shared humanity, our shared environment and act accordingly.
DeGougerie 2 Posted on: Friday 1st Dec 2017
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
As stated on the UN's website violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. This year's UN campaign was headlined 'Leave no one behind: end violence against women and girls.' 'Orange the world' and symbolize a brighter future without violence. From 25 November to 10 December (Human Rights day) the world is invited to use this vibrant colour to draw attention to the five goals that underpin UNiTE's mission: adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans; strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls; increase public awareness and social mobilization; address sexual violence in conflict.
In South Africa, which according to UN figures has the worst record in the world for gender-based violence, the Joe Slovo Foundation has initiated a
Red Card against Women Abuse campaign to make such violence culturally unacceptable. They are also rolling out a mobile phone app Free SOS Rescue Alarm Service for girls, women and children which when activated sends urgent multiple alarm messages alerting the local community, family and friends and gives the victim's location enabling a speedy response.
The sexually predatory behaviour of the all powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein has created what Oprah Winfrey calls 'a watershed moment'. Weinstein is being investigated by police in New York, Los Angeles and London following an overwhelming number of accusations against him by women in the film industry of non-consensual sexual acts. Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian newspaper, makes the point that 'the female body remains a source of social risk and cultural shame' which in part explains the culture of secrecy that allows such behaviour to remain unchallenged. This is echoed by Karishma Upadhyay writing for Firstpost.com the Indian news and media website: 'It takes a lot for a woman to come forward and publicly acknowledge that she was sexually mistreated. The stigma, alone, is enough to keep women silent....There is a very real possibility that the victims in Bollywood might never name and shame their predators. But, if they do, now is the time. And it is our responsibility to not dismiss or diminish their stories.'
On the 25 November French President Emmanuel Macron, during a speech at the Elysée presidential palace, which he began with a minute of silence for the 123 women killed by a partner or ex in the last year, stated that 'it is time for shame to change camps.' adding 'Our entire society is sick with sexism,' as he unveiled plans to put gender equity at the heart of his presidency. The Twitter campaign #Balancetonporc [ratonyourpig] launched by the French journalist Sandra Muller immediately received thousands of accounts relating predatory behaviour in a country where 1 in 5 women will be sexually harassed in the workplace. However Elisabeth Lévy, a founder of Causer magazine, warns against confounding criminality and unsavoury behaviour and fears that social media movements pass judgement outside legal frameworks, destroying reputations and careers without the need for corroborating evidence. Her queasy statement that “Even chivalry has become criminalized,” undermines her more sensible opinions. De Gouges frequently referred to chivalry as a long lost ideal: I am convinced that she was neither evoking nor condoning sexual violence against women, but rather longing for a time when respect and courtesy would influence all forms of exchange. I imagine she would have agreed with Anne Berger (professor of French literature and gender studies at the University of Paris 8 and Cornell University) who finds #Balancetonporc hypocritical. “It’s possessive and symbolically reduces men to pigs. They’re essentially doing to men what they’ve done to women, which doesn’t help the transformation of relations.” Certainly #MeToo is a more nuanced expression for a movement that includes all victims of sexual abuse, not just women.
The domino effect of Harvey Weinstein's unmasking is that women and men in many industries are now speaking out against the routine sexual harassment they have received from those more powerful than themselves. Too often we assume we know where vulnerability lies, but these accusations make clear that very few are exempt from such attacks. Zoe Williams suggests we should treat these actions as we might a possible gas leak. Report it. If there is no leak, what a relief; if there is a leak then dealing with the source will save the edifice from implosion.
Olympe de Gouges fought against slavery. She would have been horrified to find that money is still to be made selling human beings. Smugglers are abusing vulnerable refugees and migrants on an industrial scale. Trading in people, still prevalent in our times despite two centuries worth of anti-slavery movements, was highlighted in Libya by CNN this month; it showed the strongest young men being sold off as farm hands to local farmers. UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency providing relief for those reaching official detention centres, says that pregnant women and new born babies also suffer at the hands of these abusers. France has offered to take 25 – 40 refugees detained in Libya, a compassionate drop in the ocean considering the numbers involved.
One of the great women of state, Angela Merkel, is fighting to stay in position having suffered a poor result in Germany's latest election, due in part to her generous, and pragmatic, offer of sanctuary to Syrian refugees. Ironically, at the same time the nonagenarian Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe whose reputation is in tatters, tried to cling on to power. Like so many revolutionary leaders, his good intentions had declined as his need for power and possession overcame the man who sought to fight for his country's advancement. Plus ça change....
On a more cheerful note, the 22 of November was St Cecilia's day. This year Help Musicians UK celebrated the patron saint of music with a 5 year strategy to include more women in music making in Great Britain. Sally Beamish, composer and musician launching the campaign, spoke of lacking female role models when she was young. Having composed and conducted at her all girls school, she abandoned both at university because these roles appeared to be exclusively male. Moving to Scotland, where the rich tradition of folk music attracts and encourages participation from all members of the community, made her realise the need for greater inclusion elsewhere.
A vending machine for the homeless dispensing food, water, socks, sanitary products etc. is being set up in Nottingham by Action Hunger and will be the first of its kind. If successful the charity hopes to place others in cities in the UK but also further afield in Europe, and the US. The charity will register those who need to use the vending machines, prioritising rough sleepers who will be issued with traceable key cards that will allow three retrievals from the machines per day, to avoid fraudulent use. The scheme is the brainchild of Nottingham resident Huzaifah Khaled; he hopes the scheme will spread across the world and help eradicate the scourge of homelessness.
Black Friday, November 24 this year, began life in America and is traditionally the Friday after Thanksgiving, which is always the fourth Thursday in November. This ghastly day has spread globally as companies vie with each other, often at their expense, to slash prices and encourage inordinate consumption. The day has now morphed into a week or more which can undermine the viability of some businesses that cannot sustain such levels of price reduction. Shoppers can descend to unimaginable levels of unpleasantness and aggression in order to get their hands on the best bargains. Thankfully some organisations suggest alternatives: #BrightFriday encourages the recycling of clothes, raising awareness of the waste within the clothing and fashion industry; #SaturdaySanctuary encourages people to explore books and to enjoy 'bibliotherapy' for the day; Buy Nothing New Day urged shoppers to purchase goods from secondhand shops to support the charities that run them, their volunteers, their clients and to help recycle goods that are in perfectly good condition; or best of all, have a Buy Nothing Day, ignore Black Friday, heave a sigh of relief, and feel good about doing nothing with your wallet.
As Olympe de Gouges stated: destruction is easy, construction is difficult. Fereshteh Forough uses the same words to describe Afghanistan today. She was born in Iran, an Afghan refugee, experienced prejudice but learnt that great things can start with empty hands. 'You learn to get the most out of the least, the value of adaptation and to appreciate even small opportunities.' Her parents fought for their children to be adequately educated and after returning to their home country, Fereshteh Forough earned a degree in computer studies and studied successfully in Berlin for a masters degree in IT. Her mantra – 'I won’t let my gender and ethnic background set me back.' Returning to Herat she found girls constrained by the lack of a safe and secure learning environment, travel and social restrictions, a patriarchal society, and verbal and sexual harassment in the workplace. For these reasons she established Code to Inspire and opened the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan which aims to educate Afghan women with in-demand programming skills, empower them to add unique value to their communities, and inspire them to strive for financial and social independence....Women don’t need sympathy; women need the genuine understanding of what they have been through and how the community can stand with them and treat them equally to men. 'Our students are bold, courageous and inspiring. They are agents of change, in a country where women have been deprived for decades. progress is being made in Afghanistan...we have a lot of work left to do, but I am hopeful of a peaceful, bright future for Afghanistan.'
DeGougerie 1 Posted on: Tuesday 31st Oct 2017
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
Welcome to DeGougerie, a monthly collectanea of news or discoveries that caught my de Gouges inspired eye: things that she might have responded to had she come across them.
The fact that the women of Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive was prime news for a few days following their kingdom's announcement that a woman can now apply for a driving licence without reference to her male guardian, and can legally drive a vehicle in public. There is now no country left where women are banned from driving. However, Madawi al-Rasheed, writing in the Guardian newspaper, warns against jubilation. She reminds readers that this is a relatively 'cosmetic reform', dictators often seeking to distance western criticism by promoting women in such ways. Recently Saudi women were allowed for the first time to attend sporting events held in public stadia. Western critics too often accept such gestures as genuine milestones in the democratic process when in reality dictators cynically use women rights to reduce opprobrium. Hope lies in women themselves: they were first allowed to bicycle in public in 2013 but only in authorised places, supervised by men. In response Baraah Luhaidan founded Spokes Hub in 2016; as the name implies it is a centre where women who cycle can meet, share news and buy or repair their bicycles. To fulfil legal requirements the business had to be seen to be run by a man, for men and the 'centre' for women operates from a van. Female peddle power is not straightforward: visit their surreal website spokeshub.co for confirmation. Our century sees cultures elide at the press of a keypad, yet the patriarchal judgements that beset Olympe de Gouges continue to determine the lives of so many women and men, unable to live freely in their world.
On the first day of October a man beset by who knows what demons or delusions, and bereft of the most basic sympathy for others, armed himself to the teeth with the weaponry so freely available in the U.S. and randomly killed and injured vast numbers of his fellow citizens in Las Vegas. They were of all ages, all backgrounds, all races; they shared a common humanity seemingly unavailable to their attacker. Stephen Paddock, aged 64, had no apparent motive; his state of mind will remain a mystery as he killed himself in the aftermath of the attack. Another mystery is the U.S.'s inability or unwillingness to curb firearm sales to private individuals. Violence, as de Gouges attested, is easily aroused but once unleashed, is nigh impossible to contain.
A Muslim feminist, Seyran Ates, imam at the Ibn Rushid-Goethe mosque in Berlin believes we should adhere more sincerely to 'liberty, equality and fraternity' in order to combat the terrorists who attack in the name of ISIS. Curtailing our laws on human rights and civic liberty legislation will destroy the very fabric of the societies we are trying to protect. For her outspoken liberal views Seyran Ates has been attacked, forced into hiding and is unable to travel freely. Enlightenment values ended feudalism in France in the 1790s but liberty, equality and fraternity were, and still are, too often in short supply. In certain circles it is as hard for liberal women to speak out as it was in 1793. To read more about Seyran Ates visit www.stopextremism.eu.
A. C. Grayling writing in the New European (September 7 – 13) argues for voting to be compulsory because '…not voting at all, not being bothered to give the matter some thought and to go out to a polling station, is frankly to be condemned, given it took centuries and much bloodshed to get, and is therefore no trifling possession. Disenfranchising oneself is a sin that should be a crime.’ Many years ago I mentioned, in the presence of an older woman, that I wasn't going to vote. Like a gorgon she rose up: her mother's best friend had died so that I could vote, how dare I be so disrespectful of this precious right. It was a profound and never to be forgotten lesson. De Gouges wanted women in government: women in France had to wait until the end of WW2 before they were entitled to vote; in 1945 thirty-three women were elected as deputies for the first time.
In Bradford, Yorkshire, an exhibition was held to celebrate Musine Kokalari, an Albanian writer imprisoned and brutalised for 16 years for supporting free speech. She was exiled and died in 1983 from a cancer that the state refused to treat. I was grateful to discover this brave and intelligent woman: http:musinekokalari.org.
Two men of big egos and small minds are bestriding their countries, shouting expletives at each other across the globe. They have the power to destroy much that most people hold dear. They both have nuclear arms in their arsenals. Weapons develop: may mankind's intelligence keep pace.
Catalonian independence: and expression of liberty, equality and fraternity? The first is the right, challenged by the Spanish government, of the Catalans to vote on their desire to secede from Spain; the second is their sense of inequality vis-a-vis the rest of the kingdom; the third is the impact on fraternity when nations fragment into ever smaller independent regions. Excessive regionalism can close minds and exclude others, it is not often a nuanced approach to life.
In Myanmar an iconic female leader, viewed as progressive and a winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is unable (or unwilling?) to protect her Muslim Rohingya people from the grossest persecution at the hands of their mainly Buddhist fellow citizens. Apparently the latter believe the former to be barely human. Does our disappointment come from loading Aung San Suu Kyi with too may of our own expectations? In our need for a hero have we disregarded the complexities of her situation and the ramifications of Burmese culture? A peace laureate accused of ethnic cleansing is an uncomfortable reminder that persecution of 'the other' remains one of humanities unresolved problem.
I feel that de Gouges would view with some irony the fact that the Catholic church canonised 35 new saints this month, 33 of whom lived in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Time to reconnect Posted on: Tuesday 21st Mar 2017
A few days ago Mohsin Hamid discussed his latest novel Exit West on BBC Radio 4. When asked how he maintained a sense of optimism in the work despite its bleak descriptions of migration he urgently replied that it was his political duty to be optimistic. Demagogues, he said, exert more power and influence when we feel pessimistic. In a world increasingly ruled by demagogues, at a time when people are being encouraged to unite in ever narrower groups, when issues such as global warming are a fearsome reality, I thank him for the challenge of finding optimism to control my rising dismay.
Olympe de Gouges, like us all, referenced the past to illuminate her present. Now we use her to shed a light on ours. The play I co-wrote, Olympe de Gouges porteuse d'espoir, is still attracting audiences, five seasons after it's first performance. This is entirely due to her voice. French theatre-goers, despite the tragedy of her death, leave the show uplifted by her strength and dogged energy, her optimism if you will. Their resolve is strengthened by her words.
Next Saturday I will March through London to express my sorrow at separating from the EU and to exort the British government to be collaborative rather than combative when it seeks to negotiate its exit. Pessimism nearly kept me at home, why bother when the decision is taken, but optimism and Olympe's spirit have got the upper hand. Go, she says. When did sullen silence ever win the day?
Good News Posted on: Tuesday 15th Dec 2015
City of Joy
The City of Joy in the Congo is a ground-breaking community that heals women survivors of violent trauma. Despair and damage are tranformed into hope and strength. The community has 10 guiding principles
1. TELL THE TRUTH
2. STOP WAITING TO BE RESCUED; TAKE INITIATIVE
3. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
4. RAISE YOUR VOICE
5. SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED
6. GIVE WHAT YOU WANT THE MOST
7. FEEL AND TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH
8. USE IT TO FUEL A REVOLUTION
9. PRACTICE KINDNESS
10. TREAT YOUR SISTERS’ LIFE AS IF IT WERE YOUR OWN
If there was an Olympe de Gouges prize for inspirational women then this community would be a winner.
To share in their joy go to drc.vday.org/about-city-of-joy
Friday 13th November 2015 Posted on: Friday 20th Nov 2015
Violence cannot kill peace, only disturb it for a time.
'Dans les siècles de l'ignorance les hommes se sont fait la guerre; dans le siècle le plus éclairé, ils veulent se détruire. Quelle est enfin la science, le régime, l'époque, l'âge où les hommes vivront en paix?'
'Throughout the centuries of ignorance men have declared war on each other; in the most enlightened century they want to destroy themselves. Where is the science, the regime, the epoch or the age that will allow men to live in peace?
These words were written by Olympe de Gouges in 1792 - tragically they are still relevant today. She lived through violent times but never gave up hope that peaceful cooperation and fairness could create a better world than bayonets and bombs. She died too soon to see Paris flourish again. The guillotine silenced her in November 1793, yet we can still hear her voice. Let us have the heart to listen and face our challenges with equal humanity.
No Honour for Olympe Posted on: Sunday 2nd Mar 2014
Can her ideas really upset people today?
Olympe de Gouges was not one of the women immortalised in the Panthéon in Paris last week; M. Hollande uncontroversially chose two remarkably courageous women resistance fighters Geneviève de Gaulle and Germaine Tillion. I wonder if de Gouges would have had much truck with a system that confers enduring fame on a few while excluding the many of equal merit. Nonetheless the debate that has raged around her 'panthéonization' has increased her reknown. This has led to some unfortunate repercussions. France is currently in an electoral phase (municipals) and feelings are running high: vocal groups are marching in favour of 'family values' and in fear of homosexuality; gender equality is again on the agenda. In some parts de Gouges's outspoken support for divorce and dislike of marriage (in an 18th century context) are deemed sufficient to consider her opinions, polemical in their time no doubt, polemical today. A festival in her honour has been cancelled along with a series of performances about her due to be played to a student audience. When I discovered the work of this extraordinary woman, a few years ago, such a thing would not have seemed possible.
Research in Paris Posted on: Saturday 1st Feb 2014
another play online soon
A week in Paris reading de Gouges's texts in the city of their creation sustained by delicious pastries and cheese is, despite the endless rain and rather arcane library rules, a very privileged form of work. Many of her texts are available online thanks to Gallica but some remain tucked away including a manuscript version of La Nécessité du Divorce, bound together with other plays and wrongly attributed to a Monsieur Prévost. I had the good fortune this week to meet Professor Verdier, from Milwaukee, who discovered the manuscript several years ago. I hope to have its translation online in a few weeks.
Debate rages in France regarding Olympe de Gouges and the possibility of placing her in the Panthéon, a mausoleum to the great and the good men of France. Marie Curie is alone in representing female achievement within its hallowed walls and while no one denies that women are under-represented, de Gouges is far from being universally approved. On the one hand she discomfits those who still see in her views ideas that are, even now, considered to endanger familiy values, on the other she upsets the notion that all revolutionary trials and subsequent executions were fair and legal. The decision will probably be taken in March; heated debates have raged on the blogosphere.
Forthcoming texts. Posted on: Tuesday 10th Dec 2013
Zamore et Mirza/Black Slavery/The Fortunate Shipwreck
Having decided to translate L'Esclavage des Noirs I realised that it would be interesting to do both the 1788 and the 1792 versions in order to make clear the progression of de Gouges's ideas, both political and theatrical. The later version also highlights the changes that had taken place in France, and her colonies, during this period. I have since come across a version of the play (L'Harmattan, 2007) based on the original prompt copy used in 1789. This is a wonderful edition; it clearly marks all the changes to the text that took place during performance, as well as subsequent publishing. The complexities of translating even more alterations defeated me for now, though I may feel less fainthearted later on. The texts should be availabe online in a couple of weeks.
Olympe de Gouges was the first playwright to put slaves on stage as fully rounded individuals with voices that deserved to be heard; her aim was to highlight the horrific nature of the slave trade in order to stimulate an argument against it. The powerful men behind this trade effectively silenced her play.
Slavery is still very active today despite its global ilegality; www.walkfreefoundation.org and its global slavery index make it only too clear that the fight is not remotely over.