Friday, 27 November 2009

Weekly links

Another set of links.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The semi-Equality Bill: lobbying for improvement

Two amendments to improve the Equality Bill for trans people have been put forward. Please encourage your MP to support them. A description of the issue, and model letters, via Bird of Paradox. You can write to your own MP using WriteToThem, though only if you're using your own letter rather than one of the model letters - please contact if you do so that they can keep track of the number of people lobbying.

The narrow definition of 'trans' as people who are, have, or will undergo gender reassignment is seemingly a habit of this government, so the more people saying it's wrong the better.

The explicit omission of sexual orientation and gender identity from the reasons schools are not allowed to discriminate or harass is unbelievable. I could understand - though not accept - if anti-discrimination legislation forgot to include those as reasons. In this case, it includes language specifically to exclude those as protections. This is not a case of "not having thought about it" but of "having thought about it and decided to do it anyway".

The letter I sent to my MP follows. They're not the promptest to reply to these, so I expect I'll have to check the voting records for an answer, but I hope their office is organised enough to at least get it to them before the 3rd reading debate:

Dear [MP]

The Equality Bill currently in the Commons may well be the last opportunity for several years to strengthen the protections available for groups who are currently the subject of severe discrimination.

There are two amendments to this bill which significantly strengthen the protection it provides to trans people (transgender, transsexual, and other gender variant people), that I would appreciate your support for in Commons votes.

Firstly, for Clause 7:

Currently, in Clause 7, "gender reassignment" is a protected characteristic. A significant proportion of trans people, perhaps the majority, would not be covered by this, as they are not intending to go through the medical process of gender reassignment. Additionally, people who do not identify as either male or female (regardless of the gender assigned at birth) are not covered by this terminology, for example, some intersex people.

The Scottish Parliament passed anti-harassment legislation earlier this year which was much more broadly defined with respect to trans people than the Equality Bill's Clause 7. Having particular forms of harassment legal in England and Wales which Scotland has rightly outlawed is an inconsistency likely to cause significant problems for many people.

The recent Joint Committee on Human Rights report recommends widening this definition on pages 25 to 26 of the report, available from, by using the term "gender identity" instead. Amendments NC12(3) to (5) make this change, and I ask you to please support these amendments and encourage your colleagues to do likewise.

Secondly, in the section on education, Clause 82(10) excludes "gender reassignment" and "sexual orientation" from the scope of Clause 82, which requires that the responsible body of a school not:

  • discriminate or victimise in admissions
  • discriminate or victimise in provision of education
  • harass the pupil

Homophobic and transphobic harassment and bullying is a severe problem within schools, with the majority of LGB and gender variant pupils reporting experience of homophobic and/or transphobic bullying and harassment, in some cases from the school staff as well as from other pupils. In many of these cases, the school has failed to respond adequately to the problem.

This harassment and bullying can cause severe problems, including truancy and academic failure, low self-esteem and mental health problems, and even self-mutilation and suicide. The suicide rate for LGB and gender variant children is significantly higher than that for children in general, and this is a major cause of that.

Page 44 of the Joint Committee report states:

We therefore recommend that protection from harassment be available on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools using the narrower conjunctive definition as there is a "captive population" and vulnerable population at risk and there is an established problem of bullying and harassment in this area. We also recommend that protection from harassment be available on the grounds of sexual orientation using the narrower conjunctive definition in the provision of public services as those who use public services may also be "captive populations" and vulnerable.

Please support any amendments that would remove these exemptions, to give LGB and gender variant pupils the same protections that BAME pupils, female pupils and disabled pupils have already been granted.

The Equality Bill is a generally strong piece of legislation, that I am pleased to have seen the government introduce and I hope that it will become law before the next general election. As the most important piece of equality legislation in recent years, it needs to provide comprehensive protections as the next opportunity to improve them may be some time away.

Trans people have long had little protection in law, something which the government has recently begun to rectify with legislation such as the Gender Recognition Act. Please take the opportunity to make significant further progress now.

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Friday, 20 November 2009

Weekly links

More links

11th International Transgender Day Of Remembrance

Today is the 11th International Transgender Day of Remembrance. There are over 100 names on this year's list [trigger warning]. Many more will have been murdered but not come to the attention of the media, or it will not have been mentioned that transphobia contributed to their murders. Transgender Europe's map makes clear how sporadic reporting of this violence is.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Queen's Speech summary

So, the proposed legislation for the (short) session before the general election is announced.

  • Child Poverty Bill: the only substantial bit from the summary seems to be the duty on local authorities, which if not backed up with funding isn't going to help much.
  • Children, Schools and Families Bill: requiring some SRE is good (though the SRE curriculum is not great, which is something I need to find time to write about). On the other hand, it also proposes some unnecessary and counterproductive restrictions on home education.
  • Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill: "Repeals legislation limiting protests around Parliament." Now there's a sign the government expects to lose the next election.
  • Crime and Security Bill: again, mixed. "Gives police the power to bar suspected domestic violence offenders from their homes for a period, even when not charged." could be very helpful. Reducing the paperwork requirements for stop and search - when it's already got a massive racial bias in who it gets used on - not good at all.
  • Equality Bill: carried over from the previous session. It's another mixed - the anti-sexism and class-based provisions are pretty good, but there's concern that it's weaker than the anti-racism legislation it replaces, and its provisions for trans people are a mess. Then there's how much the Lords will fight it and how much the Commons will let them have in an attempt to get something passed.
  • Personal Care at Home Bill: Good idea, but the implementation might be insufficient
  • House of Lords Reform Bill: Still a draft, but it looks like it could be very good for democracy if it passed. Of course, the Lords might strongly object, so not much chance of it passing, especially if it's only in draft stage.

My overall impression from this is on balance positive, but only just, and there'd be some very unpleasant compromises involved in passing everything as-is: as I get time I'll examine the bills in a bit more detail and see if my overall impression holds up and if there's any obvious places to ask for amendments.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Lost in translation

So, the BBC report on research about what skin tones are considered healthiest (for young white people, that is). It must be a time for another instalment of "bad reporting of science". Here's the article's lede.

A golden glow is the healthiest and most attractive look for Caucasian skin, researchers have claimed.

This isn't (of course) actually what the researchers claim in their article (full text, DOI 10.1007/s10764-009-9380-z). For once, it's open-access publishing, so you can read the paper yourself. The distinction between what the researchers say and what the BBC thinks they say is more subtle than usual, but there's a lot to unpack in that difference.

The paper examines what the effects of changing redness, yellowness and lightness on perceptions of health are. (Note that strongly increasing lightness makes the red and yellow changes hard to tell as the whole image becomes oversaturated). There are pictures of this process in the paper, which show the extreme endpoints of the range they considered.

The volunteers providing the face pictures used for the sample, and the volunteers assessing the apparent health after colour transformation, were all white and young. Looking at the ages and colours, I'd guess that they just did the typical academic shortcut of grabbing a bunch of students (and St Andrews, where the research was carried out, is one of the whitest universities in the UK).

The study showed that increasing redness to an amount associated with the reddest end of the sample, increasing yellowness beyond the amount any of the sample actually had in their faces, and increasing lightness (whiteness, in many ways) to approximately the top end of the sample, were all associated with increased perceived health.

So this is where the BBC article first falls down: failing to clearly draw a difference between health and perceived health. The article repeatedly confuses the two (in a way that the paper itself largely avoids) - saying that redder/yellower skin is considered healthier-looking, but then going on to look at reasons why things considered healthy might make skin that colour, which misses out the important step - which the paper doesn't do, but also doesn't claim to do - where a correlation between "skin tone assessed as healthy" and "actually healthy" is looked for.

The second failing is not long after that: the researchers say that health perception is linked to attractiveness (and reference a lot of previous research there). They don't say that the colour range assessed as most healthy is also assessed as most attractive. It's an obvious jump, but it's not one supported by this experiment because it's not what they looked for.

The researchers noticed, unreported on, a significant gender-based difference: female skin was made lighter; male skin was made redder and yellower. This apparently is a pre-existing (statistical) difference in (possibly only white, the paper doesn't say) male and female skin, but the effect of the changes to make the skin appear healthier expanded this difference above its real extent.

There's an unexamined possibility here, too. Perceived health is considered attractive. But there's a lot of socialisation in other ways about what's considered attractive - for women, very to impossibly thin, very white (again, impossibly so for most people) - and a lot of explicit connection between this beauty ideal and health from the diet industry and "beauty" magazines. So, were the sample just pushing the faces towards what they thought of as attractive, because they assumed that correlated more strongly with health? Certainly plenty of things that go with perceived health don't go with actual health (weight, for instance)

There's a collision of a lot of stereotypes around health and disability, sexism and racism here (with a bit of heteronormativity hanging around too, as every study of "mate choice" seemingly has), that I think the study accidentally exposes, and it would be interesting to see if the study was duplicated with different skin colours, or in societies with different cultural views about what "looks" healthy, or even with a wider age range of both faces and assessors.

You shouldn't be able to make a study finding how lighter (whiter) skin is considered healthier-looking and so more attractive without looking at how society considers whiteness more valuable and more attractive and examining how this might be a different cause than simple perceptions of healthiness. But they do, and the BBC doesn't question it either.

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Saturday, 14 November 2009

The scale of the problem

In the UK, according to Home Office figures, approximately 8.75 million people are currently in prison worldwide (slightly larger than the population of the South East England region). In the UK, 139 per 100,000, or roughly 85,000 in the country as a whole, are imprisoned - approximately the population of a single Parliamentary constituency. This proportion is In the US, the most imprisoning country, the figure is 686 per 100,000, or roughly 2,000,000 in total, roughly the population of West Yorkshire (or in US terms, New Mexico).

The UK proportion is above the median, and one of the highest in Europe. It's also widely considered by various liberal and left groups to be too high, and not doing any good. While I agree that in many cases people are being imprisoned unnecessarily, I think those cases are far outnumbered by those people who should be imprisoned but aren't.

[trigger warning]

Let's assume that, as a minimum, serial violent offenders should be imprisoned. They're not people who "lost control in a moment of madness", they're not people who could make up the harm they've caused to their victims and to society by paying a fine or doing a bit of community work: they're people who need to be temporarily removed from society for everyone else's safety. Most of them won't be imprisoned indefinitely, but they will be there for a while (and yes, a lot more work needs to be put in to rehabilitating them so that when they are released, they don't start again).

From this Shakesville post, I got to this post which references various studies. They're US studies, but since the proportion of people who will be raped is similar in the UK, I feel reasonably confident in assuming that the proportion of people who are rapists is also similar.

The more conservative estimate, from Lisak and Miller (2002)1, is that 76 of 1882 male college students (including mature students and postgraduates, looking at the details), had committed multiple rapes (and/or attempted rapes, and/or sexual assaults), none of which they had been punished already for: about 4% of the sample, and around 2/3 of the rapists in the sample. Other research finds a figure where between 5% and 15% of men are rapists depending on methodology and sample, so Lisak and Miller is definitely at the conservative end.

So, assuming that the 2/3 ratio holds generally, and McWhorter's study (McWhorter 20092) on a different sort of sample has a similar ratio, that means that between 1 in 30 and 1 in 10 of the male population are repeat undetected rapists (who will admit to it if asked in the right terms, too). McWhorter's study found no variation in these figures for any demographic group.

These are exactly the sort of unrepentant serial violent criminals that should be imprisoned... it's just not practical to do so. Doing so would - with the most conservative estimates - require increasing the prison population to more than 1 in 60 (assuming that at least some of the people already there should remain) - and possibly as high as 1 in 20.

For the UK, this would require increasing the prison population - assuming all these serial rapists were caught in a relatively short timeframe, and imprisoned for an appropriately long time, to between 1 and 3 million - roughly the population of Wales.

This is not a reasonable proportion of the population to imprison: it would require twenty times as many prisons and staff as there currently are. There is no prison system in the world that could cope with that, and I'm not sure that any society that didn't orient itself primarily around providing imprisonment could construct one - it would, for instance, mean providing 10 to 20 times more prison cells than current NHS hospital beds, but with the greatly added security needed to protect staff and inmates from the high-risk prisoners. Of course, leaving that many serial rapists free in society means a rapidly increasing number of victims, and so is also completely unacceptable.

The fact that we - quite literally - cannot capture and imprison all serial rapists (and other sexual offenders), despite the fact that we should, means that a focus on prevention: specifically on preventing men3 from becoming serial rapists in the first place, through education, through weakening or removal of the influences that cause them to become serial rapists, and through doing a far better job of capturing them earlier.

I'm not for a moment arguing that the work done in convicting rapists at the moment is not worthwhile. It is undoubtedly necessary. It's not, in itself, however, a sustainable solution, because at some point it would become too successful to support itself. Prevention is the only sustainable solution - and genuine prevention, not the worse-than-useless "be safe" advice that's currently popular, but research by Lisak and others has shown that the majority of these serial rapists have strong anti-women attitudes and a strong lack of empathy and ability to express (most) emotions. So by the time they get that far, it's probably too late: one of the figures in the government documents below is that 70% of men responded usefully to government advice on the need for consent - I'd guess that there's no noticeable overlap between that 70% and the 5-10% of serial rapists, however.

So, any prevention needs to start very early in children's education, and be reinforced continually at all levels. This is something that has not been a major focus so far. This is the 2007 plan from the government, and a recent consultation. Given the context that the studies above provide, there seem on a quick read to be some major gaps in the prevention strategy: I'll look at that more closely later.

There are a number of opinion poll results in those documents - all of which have been mentioned before - which make the scale of the problem even clearer: it is of course not just the rapists, but their apologists, who need to be considered when thinking about eliminating this crime. The rape culture is very pervasive and supportive of rapists.

1 Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists by David Lisak and Paul M. Miller, published in Violence and Victims, Vol 17, No. 1, 2002. I'm relying on the abstract and Thomas Millar's summarising (which I am summarising even further now).

2 Reports of Rape Reperpetration by Newly Enlisted Male Navy Personnel by Stephanie K. McWhorter, et al., published in Violence and Victims, Vol, 24, No. 2, 2009 (McWhorter 2009) - again, abstract and Millar's summary is all I have access to

3 The research concentrates on men raping women, which is by far the most common scenario (around 90% of cases). The majority of the remainder are cases where men rape other men. When a tiny reduction in the proportion of men who rape would reduce the number of victims by more than the complete elimination of rape perpetrated by women, there seems very little point in considering it. (This differs from the reasoning behind not ignoring male victims of rape, obviously)

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Friday, 13 November 2009

Advice men never get

The Times Education Supplement reports on comments made by Jill Berry, president of the Girls' Schools Association, which represents the self-proclaimed leading independent girls' schools.

The advice is the usual "don't expect to have it all", with a secondary strand of keeping ambitions high anyway. It would probably do her pupils good if boys were also taught that "having it all" was not realistic without putting a lot of effort in to balance work and family life, too, but this doesn't get a mention in the article. The independence and ambitions she wishes her pupils to achieve would come more easily if the part of men in making it difficult wasn't ignored.

So that's the gendered differentiation in expectations, which was obvious just from the headlines this story got in the news. There's also a bit of heteronormativity, too. Less obvious just from the headlines is the classism.

A few examples:

[...] said it was "healthy" for girls to aspire to a "flash sports car with a baby seat in the back" [...]

I don't think it's unreasonable to have as an aspiration "have enough money that you can afford the things you need and still have some spare". A "flash sports car" - not even an ordinary everyday sports car - requires a lot more money than that.

They will need to realise that there may be times when they might not want to work, or they might want to take a lesser job because their priorities have changed. [...]

Or, most girls, when they grow up to be women, won't have the luxury of "not working because they don't want to" for much of their lives (and neither will most men, for that matter). They might end up in that "lesser job" (by which I assume she means "less well-paid" as opposed to "less satisfying", though both are true) because it was what was available, rather than because they wanted to do.

"Most women cannot keep all the plates spinning," she said; "sometimes the plates crash."

The dirty secret she refuses to reveal and so implies through omission isn't the case, is that most men can't, either. The difference is that women are expected not only to spin their own plates, but to catch any that fall off the men's poles.

When men are told not to expect it "all" either, then I'll be less critical of this sort of thing.

It doesn't surprise me that the head of an expensive private school doesn't consider the class privilege inherent in their statements. It does show how little critical journalism there is, however, that all the major news sources I've found reporting on this - TES, BBC, Reuters, Independent, Daily Mail so far - have presented her advice as advice applicable to girls in general, rather than the upper-class and possibly upper-middle class girls that Mrs Berry considers representative (conversely, of course, the advice is more applicable to boys than either Mrs Berry or the news organisations think)

Is there any major news organisation out there that doesn't just spend most of the day rewriting and reprinting press releases for the vast majority of its articles?

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Well, that wasn't trying to be subtle

An advert for a purple V-neck jumper (this one, but purple, I think) in a typically laughable "gifts for him" piece of advice in the local advertising paper, described the article of clothing as "masculine but sexy" (the linked page does not make this claim).

The implication is that being sexy - presumably in a visually attractive way - is not normally a masculine trait. However, this jumper is so special that it somehow is both really manly but also decorative. It's in a (heteronormative, of course) article aimed at partners of men, so presumably the motivation is "get your partner to wear this and they'll look sexy to you, but they'll think they're really masculine [for wearing a V-neck jumper?!] and so being decorative for you is not going to offend their fragile male ego."

It startled me slightly how many assumptions about gender roles and masculinity could be revealed in a few words about a V-neck jumper.

Weekly links

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Sexuality and hate speech

The BBC reports that the government will be taking anti-hate-speech legislation to a fifth vote in the Commons, to remove so-called "free speech" protections that the Lords keep putting back.

The fourth time this came up in the Commons, the vote was almost entirely on party lines: Labour and Lib Dems in favour, Conservatives opposed. There were a few Labour MPs and 1 Lib Dem MP against it. The votes in the Lords were on a similar basis.

The nature of this debate is that the Lords can keep putting them back in and the Commons can keep taking them out more-or-less indefinitely. The principle that the Lords do not have the right to indefinitely overrule the Commons is in the Parliament Act, but this sort of shorter-term delay is allowed and probably sufficient to block the bill. The question then is whether the Lords is willing to block the bill as a whole, which they are presumably mostly happy with, over this small bit of it, and whether the Commons is willing to take that risk or just abandon this amendment to pass the rest of the bill.

As it happens, the Commons backed down first. LGB rights are not sufficiently important to them to risk the Lords blocking the bill as a whole.

As for what was being argued over here, it's quite complicated to determine, because the Statute Law database hasn't been completely updated, so the relevant bits of legislation are scattered all over the place, and the media doesn't go into enough detail. I'll try to summarise:

  • The Public Order Act 1986 contains Section 3 which makes creating racial hatred illegal.
  • The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 inserted this amendment to the Public Order Act 1986, making religious hatred (which includes hatred over a lack of religious belief) illegal to stir up.
  • The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 modified this insertion to give sexual orientation equivalent protection to religious preferences.
  • In the religious hatred section, there is the language: (section 29J) "Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.". Summarised: you can insult religions and belief systems as much as you like, but you can't attempt to get people to hate them. You can also try to convert people.
  • When the sexuality hatred amendment was made, an equivalent section (29JA) "In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred." was added.
  • The Commons would now like to remove 29JA. The Lords would like to keep it.

The Lords/Conservative argument is that removing that part, while not removing 29J, creates an inconsistency between the two forms of incitement to hatred which they do not wish to support. (They also, presumably, think 29J is good, since they're not proposing to remove that). They also don't think it's a problem, or if they do, they haven't mentioned it, that a similar provision to 29J or 29JA isn't in the original racial hatred language.

This might be clearer with a table:

LegislationGroupsBehavior or written or spoken words must beExceptions "for the avoidance of doubt"
Public Order Act 1986Races, colours, nationalities, citizenships, national or ethnic originThreatening, abusive or insultingNone
Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006Religions, beliefs, or lack thereofThreateningAbuse, insults, conversion explicitly allowed, provided it isn't threatening.
Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008Sexual orientation (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Het)ThreateningCriticism, conversion explicitly allowed, defined as not threatening.

The debate is whether the highlighted table cell should be changed to 'None'

Even with this amendment, the protections against sexuality-based hate speech are considerably weaker than the protections against racist hate speech. You can be abusive and insulting about LGB people, provided you somehow do this without being threatening, without breaking the law.

The clauses, despite the Lords/Conservatives stance on them, are not particularly equivalent to start with. The religious hatred one states that insults, abuse and conversion, in the absence of a threat, are legal. The sexuality-based hatred clause states that criticism of sexual conduct and practices and calls to refrain from them2 are not in themselves threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

Of course, they are, no matter how politely they're phrased, because you can't say that people shouldn't be LGB without it being a threat to those who are, because of the high levels of violence from other people who also say that, and because it's a denial of a basic part of someone's identity. There are good reasons that no similar clause is in the racial hatred legislation3, and these reasons apply to the sexuality-based hatred legislation too.

These clauses are not equivalent to start with. The Lords added it to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, and the Commons backed down rather than lose the rest of the bill. Yet again, the Lords have delayed the bill up until the end of the Parliamentary session, and the Commons have been unwilling to see if they were bluffing about killing the bill entirely.

There won't be another chance for a while, since the next Parliamentary session will be a short one, truncated by the inevitable general election. At the moment, it looks likely that there won't be the Commons majority necessary to try again after that happens.

As an aside, from the BBC article: "But some comedians have criticised the plans, saying they could stifle creativity and even lead to the threat of people being arrested over jokes." If your 'joke' counts as homophobic hate speech, it wasn't very creative, since that sort of joke has been around for centuries. If it was so hate-filled that it gets you arrested, then it probably wasn't funny either. Going after easy targets and relying on prevalent stereotypes is not "creative humour", it's unwarranted laziness. Since abuse and insults are still allowed, and since I presume comedy doesn't intend to actually threaten people, I doubt many acts will need to change. The presence of the racial hatred legislation, which is far broader, hasn't prevented racist jokes being made by comedians, after all.

1 I use a restricted initialism because the amendment being debated doesn't address transphobic statements or those made about gender identity. As far as I can tell, that is still legal. The language added in 2008 defines sexual orientation "whether towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex or both", so asexual people are also still legal targets for hatred. As far as I can tell, since the Public Order Act seems to be the place for hate speech legislation to live, you can also threaten people for their gender more generally, any disabilities they have, or their weight, with complete impunity. Comedians relying on bigotry for their act needn't worry about running out of material any time soon. Everyone else probably should worry.

2 Pre-emptive note: there is nothing at all in this legislation, with or without 29JA, that would prohibit criticism or prevention of non-consensual sexual activities. Take that slippery slope elsewhere.

3 While the racial hatred legislation is stronger, it's fairly clearly still not strong enough.

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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The variability of the gender pay gap, and intersections

The Fawcett Society provides a breakdown by local government area of the gender pay gap. (It doesn't say in that document, but I assume it measures the difference in full-time mean annual pay)

It varies more than I'd expect, from East Renfrewshire, where women are paid 32.6% more than men on average, to West Somerset, where men's mean wage is 52.7% more than women's. The regional pay gap varies between 9.5% in Northern Ireland, to 25.4% in London (both in favour of men, of course). There are very few local government areas where women earn more, and it's usually by a small single-figure or even sub-percentage amount. There are far more where the pay gap is in the high twenties in favour of men.

County Durham, at 15.5%, has become a unitary authority, and so the variation within it will soon be hidden - from 2.8% in favour of women in Teesdale, to 26.8% in favour of men in Chester-le-Street, the variation reflects that across the country.

It's hard to tell exactly how many of these differences from the general trend are just statistical effects - the document doesn't give the error bars, but the sampling error for a district council will be much larger than the sampling error for a region. Nevertheless, the variation between regions is still large, and probably larger than statistical error would imply.

Part of the regional difference may be that the really high-paying jobs: senior managers at big corporations, bankers, lawyers, etc. are mainly available in the South East and London (both for where the jobs are and where people doing those jobs live: I'm not sure which this document measures), and mostly held by men. There seems to be a general trend that the pay gap is higher in the richer parts of the country.

The substantial differences at least show that the pay gap is not inevitable, but it's possible that the skewing effect of the highest paid jobs means that imbalances in the lower-paid jobs could be hidden. Quixotess looks at this for a different set of equal pay data that explicitly focuses on the payment to organisation heads (in this case, of US Jewish organisations).

While the headline figure for the mean pay gap may be interesting for showing that there's a problem, the breakdowns of the data might be more useful - how many men and women are in particular pay bands. Comparing only the full-time pay gap also hides class differences.

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Infidelity as a partial defence for murder

The BBC reports on the difference of opinion between the Commons and the Lords on whether infidelity should be a partial defence for murder (and so make it manslaughter rather than murder, for instance).

What's happened is that the Commons passed this particular bit of legislation a while ago, so it went on to the Lords. The Lords amended it to take out the clauses that prevented infidelity from being a partial defence. The Commons have now put those clauses back. It's a small victory.

[trigger warning]

In the (short) Lord's debate, the voting was very much on party lines, with all the Lib Dem and Conservative Lords voted for the amendment, as did most of the independents. All but one Labour Lord voted against it.

In the Commons, the vote split slightly differently, with all (present) Labour MPs voting to put the clause back, all Conservative MPs voting to keep it out, and the Lib Dems largely abstaining. David Howarth (Lib Dem MP for Cambridge) proposed an amendment that would have changed the terms but not significantly. The debate in the Commons has Claire Ward (Labour MP for Watford) setting out the reasons this is necessary very clearly.

It will mainly be a symbolic victory if this stays in the final bill: after all, a judge who agrees despite the letter of the law that infidelity should be a defence can always impose a lighter sentence, and many will. The arguments against its inclusion that were made in the Commons and Lords, however, expose an unstated assumption: the claim by the Conservatives and the Lib Dem Lords is that whether infidelity is a partial defence should be up to the jury for that case, but for that to be true requires that there should be a significant number of existing cases - not just a "it might happen" - where infidelity is a legitimate reason for "losing control"1 to the extent of murder.

This is what most of the Lords believed, and the Conservative MPs in the Commons. It may well be an attitude shared by many jurors, but that doesn't make it right. It essentially is preserving an existing expectation that infidelity is (and should be) punishable by death in at least some circumstances: an attitude that we're very quick to condemn in other countries if it's the state rather than the partner (despite Lord Gresford's claim based on the sample of cases he remembers, it is usually the male partner) that carries out the execution.

Let's not pretend either that most of these cases of murder won't have been preceded by some other forms of abuse, including violence. This isn't usually going to be someone who "just snapped", it's going to be someone who has been previously violent. (and because of the victim-blaming culture around abuse and domestic violence, which the [...] are trying to reinforce, and the extents to which abusers conceal their activities, and other people try not to notice them, this fact may only be known by the now dead victim). Jack Straw points out that the existence of a murder charge in the first place implies intent to cause serious harm.

1 Now, everyone handles anger differently, but I think that if someone gets angry enough to kill or seriously injure someone, in a situation that was not before their violence a threat to anyone's life or safety, then future public safety is best served by their incarceration - one of the few cases where imprisonment is necessary. "losing control" implies that they had as much control over their actions as someone who skids their car on an invisible patch of ice and runs into a pedestrian before they can stop, and is not an appropriate phrase.

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Monday, 9 November 2009

Gender gap report

The World Economic Forum Gender Gap report for 2009 is out. Interesting 'headlines' from the rankings:

  • The UK has slipped a few more places. This is other countries improving rather than the UK getting any worse, but the UK isn't getting better either.
  • Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Norway are still the top four, and then there's a significant gap to the fifth-placed country.
  • They don't assess Rwanda, which is a pity, since as the only country with a majority-female parliament, they should end up near the top in political empowerment. They have been extending their survey to more countries each year, so maybe next year.
  • Their "educational attainment" category is fairly narrow in scores: lots of countries have parity, and dropping from 100% to 99% parity goes from (joint) 1st to 75th out of 134. All this seems to be doing is pulling up the overall average for a lot of countries. The "health and survival" category, similarly - almost all countries are in a narrow 96-98% range
  • The lowest scoring category, by a long way, is "political empowerment". The best score is 59% parity (Iceland). The worst is 0% parity (Saudi Arabia).

It's interesting that the forms that gender inequality takes nowadays don't appear to have much effect on education or health, though I wonder how much of this is to do with women having a naturally longer life expectancy, for example. Girls also do better than boys at almost all levels of education in the UK, which raises a lot of questions regarding the education figures that I don't have the information to answer.

The report measures outcomes, not routes, too, which may be why the figures don't seem as bad as they might be expected to: women are used to the second shift and needing to work harder than an equivalent man to get the same recognition, so this may be hiding a lot of discrimination: not because it doesn't have an effect, but because women are determined to overcome it.

It's an interesting starting point for thinking about things, and in many respects it's a useful cause for optimism - if countries as diverse as Denmark, Ecuador, Mozambique, and the Phillipines can all do better at gender equity in political empowerment than the UK, there's clearly no reason that the UK couldn't do better. On the other hand, concentrating solely on outcomes risks missing things - many countries have equal outcomes in education, but that doesn't mean that there isn't sexism in the education system that if removed would improve absolute educational achievement.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Weekly links

Busy week, so I'll have missed lots.

Monday, 2 November 2009

They're inviting the Pope.

A "consortium of university and religious leaders" is hoping to get Pope Benedict XVI to come to Durham as part of his planned visit to Britain. It would be the first ever visit by a Pope to the North-East, and is supported by local political leaders including Durham's MP and the County Council.

Let's file this under "things that they thought everyone would be joyously happy about because their definition of 'everyone' was lacking".

Here's the letter I wrote to my MP: [trigger warning]

You recently said, as published in the Northern Echo and elsewhere,

"The possibility of a papal visit to Durham and to Durham Cathedral, a site of unparalleled beauty, would be of tremendous benefit to the North East. I'm sure the people of Durham would feel great pride in welcoming Pope Benedict and the world's media. Durham is a very important ecumenical centre including our cathedral and the university and it would be wonderful if the Pope was able to visit. I have written to the Foreign Secretary to encourage him to promote Durham as a possible site for a Papal visit and I look forward to hearing more about the Pope's plans in the coming weeks and months."

Pope Benedict XVI, as you are aware, has strong views on a range of political and social issues. For example, he is strongly against the use of contraception (including claiming that the use of condoms in Africa has made the AIDS epidemic on that continent worse), strongly against abortion (including giving his support to the excommunication of the doctors who allowed a 9 year old rape victim to obtain an abortion for a pregnancy that would otherwise have killed her), has referred to homosexual relationships and transgender identities as being against nature, and disapproves of men or women who step outside their "traditional" gender roles.

Inviting him to visit Durham as a high-profile honoured guest gives the implicit support of Durham to his views. Durham has previously been supportive of the LGBT community, recently hosting an International Day Against Homophobia conference at County Hall. I find it very difficult to reconcile this stated support with extending an invitation to someone who actively promotes homophobia and transphobia.

The consequences of homophobia and transphobia can be extremely severe. There have been vigils across the UK within the last week to remember the victims of violence. This October, Ian Baynham in London and Andrea Waddell in Brighton lost their lives as a result of homophobic and transphobic hatred. To invite Pope Benedict to Durham is to condone the views that led to their deaths.

I would feel no pride in welcoming Pope Benedict, and I feel that whatever temporary media attention Durham benefits from as a result could never outweigh the message this would send about how important Durham really considers the lives of its LGBT citizens, women needing abortions, and other groups that he wishes to marginalise or punish.

I hope that you will consider the message that inviting the Pope to Durham would send, withdraw your support for this invitiation, and encourage the other groups involved in it to do likewise.

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