Tunisia and Quebec become the latest places to restrict the Islamic veil in public spaces

Tunisia and Quebec become the latest places to restrict the Islamic veil in public spaces

Earlier this month, Tunisia banned the wearing of the niqab (a religious veil covering all but the eyes) in government offices following recent reports that terrorists have been using the religious garment as a disguise. This is not the first time in recent history that religious veiling has been banned, in Tunisia or elsewhere, but rather the latest in a decade-long trend of ‘burqa bans’ and other limitations on religious freedom and expression in public places in many different countries and regions. 

In 2015 the Muslim-majority country Chad banned the full veil following two suicide bomb attacks, citing security concerns similar to those expressed by Tunisian officials this year. Cameroon also banned the Islamic face veil after suicide bombings in 2015. 

Although Muslim women have been the most widely affected by the various bans, limitations on religious-wear and symbols in public have also affected those of other faiths.

Last month Quebec passed a law known as Bill 21 prohibiting certain public employees such as teachers, civil servants, and police officers from wearing religious symbols at work, including Muslim veils, Jewish skullcaps, Skikh turbans and any other religous headwear. Supporters of the bill claim that it protects secularity within Quebecois society. However, the ban has faced strong opposition, including challenges to its constitutionality. Lawyer Catherine McKenzie claims the bill “amounts to criminal legislation by seeking to regulate religion for a moral purpose,” according to the Montreal Gazette

Quebec’s Bill 21 follows in the steps of their fellow French-speakers in Europe. In April 2011, France became the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in any public place outside of the home, imposing a fine upon violators. In 2018 the Huffington post reported  that the UN Human Rights Committee declared “France’s ban on the niqab and burqa is a violation of Muslim women’s rights,” finding unpersuasive the claim that the ban was for security reasons.

The trend of banning religious headwear in public spaces has spread across Europe over the past decade. Belgium outlawed any clothing that obscures one’s face in public spaces in 2011, with a fine similar to France’s in place for violation of the law. The Netherlands approved a partial ban on the full veil in schools, hospitals and on public transport in 2015, also citing public security concerns as the basis for the law. Austria’s ruling coalition agreed to prohibit full-face veils in public spaces such as courts and schools in 2017. 

At the heart of the contentious debate over these regulations is the question of balance between religious freedom of expression and public security. Muslim women, disproportionately affected by the laws, are perceived as a security threat by merely adhering to the teachings of their religious faith. 

This stems from a broader debate, which has grown louder in the years since 9/11, regarding the veiling of Muslim women in Western society: European cultures often perceive covered Muslim women as oppressed by their dress, insisting they should be “protected” through un-veiling. Many see the face veil as a symbol of Islamic terrorism rather than an expression of personal religious faith, and without adequate representation among the powers proposing these laws, Islamic women will more often be forced to choose between practicing their faith and breaking the law.

Photo courtesy of Azamat-Zhanisov via Unsplash

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Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

The popularity of this summer’s Women’s World Cup was unprecedented…

Record numbers of viewers tuned in to watch the matches. England’s semi-final match against the United States (US), with nearly 12 million views, was the most watched English TV programme of the year. Ditto France’s quarter-final match against the US.  

US viewership of the final in which its team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 was 22% higher than the 2018 men’s final. Remarkably, 88% of Dutch TV viewers also watched the match. Overall, FIFA estimates that this year’s World Cup has attracted one billion viewers for the first time in history. 

Despite Ireland’s team failing to qualify, Irish viewers also tuned-in in their droves, with a peak audience of 315,000 watching England’s dramatic defeat on RTE (surprise, surprise). The fact that Michele O’Neill was assistant referee during the final (becoming the first ever Irish woman to referee a World Cup soccer match) also helped to pique interest levels. 

There are several reasons for the dramatic take-off in viewership for this year’s World Cup. 

For one thing, the skill levels in the women’s game are increasing year on year. In soccer, skill is most accurately measured by the number of passes in a game, rather than by the number of goals. For instance, a typical English Premier League game contains more than 900 passes but this falls to about 650 passes for games in the fourth division. The average number of passes in this year’s World Cup is up 10% on 2015 levels, with latest figures from Opta showing the average game had 825 passes – and that data does not even factor in the knock-out games! The prize money on offer also doubled to 30 million dollars, compared with the 2015 prize pot. The fact that most countries broadcast the World Cup on free-to-air channels like RTE also helped to win more viewers.

Another key reason for the growth in women’s football is the transformative power of new, multi-million sponsorship deals. Some sponsors like Visa are now spending equally on promoting the women’s World Cup as on the men’s. UEFA’s recent unbundling of the rights to the women’s competitions in Europe also encouraged many female-focused brands like Avon to get involved. 

However, issues remain. The annual global wage for a female professional footballer is around 7000 dollars. In England, which has one of the wealthier competitions, a female footballer barely takes home one-hundredth of what a Premier League male footballer makes. These financial issues lead many female footballers to consider throwing in their proverbial boots. 

The US women’s team marked International Women’s Day 2019 by filing a class-action suit against their employer, the United States Soccer Federation, alleging that differences in pay and employment conditions between the women’s and men’s teams violate the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act because the women’s team is getting paid less despite engaging in “substantially equal work”

The US team also called out the FIFA scheduling of the World Cup final as “disrespectful” to the women’s game due to the decision to schedule the Copa America final and the Gold Cup final on the same day.

Closer to home, the FAI has attracted criticism for its perceived failure to truly progress the women’s game. Colin Bell, the former manager of the Irish women’s team, recently stepped down due to his frustration with how women’s football is being handled in this country. In Ireland, aside from the Senior Cup final, there is little to no coverage of domestic women’s football in the media or on television and the women’s game is definitely not getting the attention, nor the financial support, it needs and deserves. 

Don’t be a Fairweather Fan. Let’s show that our support for women’s football is not a passing fad! Now that the furor of the World Cup has passed, why not find out more about the Irish women’s national team and consider going to see them playing in person?

Photo courtesy of US Soccer WNT via Twitter

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The impact of the US Equality Act on LGBTQ rights; an Irish perspective

The impact of the US Equality Act on LGBTQ rights; an Irish perspective

A historic Equality Act, passed by the US House of Representatives in May, could protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, the workplace, public accommodations, and other settings. While, several States already have such laws in place, more than half don’t explicitly prohibit discriminations based on sexual orientation. It is hoped that the Equality Act, which would be implemented at a federal level, would extend penalisation of such discrimination to the entire country. However, the legislation faces opposition on the grounds of the longstanding debate between the US Federal and State governments, as many politicians across parties feel LGBTQ rights should be dealt with on the more localised state government scale.

The Equality Act is facing additional opposition by the Senate where many Republican Senators have framed the issue in “religious rights terms”, arguing that banning discrimination against LGBTQ people would prevent people from expressing their religious views about sexuality and gender. 

Over the past decade, Ireland has attracted global attention as a country paving the way for civil rights protections for members of the LGBTQ community, with reforms such as the Civil Partnership Act 2010, the same-sex marriage referendum, Equal Status Acts 2000-2015 (ESA), and the Gender Recognition Act.

It is questionable however whether these reforms have fully vindicated these rights. For instance, the “Rainbow Report” (2019) cited Ireland as being 17th out of the 49 European countries on LGBT rights. Additionally, the report noted that in two biased motivated acts, which occurred in the Dublin area in 2018, there was no charges incurred by the culprits. 

Ireland, as a country with deep Catholic roots, faced religious arguments undermining the efforts of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. In the US, the ‘compromise bill’ proposed a middle ground between LGBTQ rights and religious rights. Moreover, it could be argued that LGBTQ rights could be recognized through the courts: the constitutional case of Norris v. Ireland recognised the unconstitutionality of the criminalisation of homosexual acts.

The domino-effect of the Irish reforms in the UK, namely legal gender recognition and the very recent vote to legalize same-same marriage in Northern Ireland, indicates that Ireland is taking a leadership role in the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

Photo courtesy of Jasmin Sessler via Unsplash

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Why self-care can be a radical act

Why self-care can be a radical act

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde, writer and feminist

What do you think of when you hear the term self-care? Do bath-bombs, luxury spa days or yoga retreats spring to mind? Is it reminiscent of a solitary walk in the woods or of curling up with a good book by the fire? Maybe it simply means cooking yourself a good meal or going to bed on time. More importantly, do you react positively to the term or do you view it as somewhat self-indulgent?

Self-care relates to the self. It is personal in nature. Thus, it makes sense that self-care looks different for each of us. However, the concept has an interesting and complex history that most people have forgotten about.

With the advent of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, self-care became a political act. Women and people of colour perceived the white, patriarchal medical system as inadequate for their specific needs and – worse – as sexist and racist. To tackle hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation, marginalised groups had to look after their own health, simply because nobody else would. For women, taking the time to self-care also went against patriarchal ideas about women’s role in society, as women are often type-cast as carers of others rather than self-carers.

As Sadie Trombetta writes, for these groups, “[self-care was] a courageous act that started with acknowledging that they had needs, that their needs were important, and that those needs deserved to be met, no matter what their oppressors said”.

Many black people at the time lived in the kind of sub-par conditions strongly correlated with ill-health. To help address this structural inequality, groups like the Black Panthers set up free community-service programs to look after the healthcare needs of their community and ensure their access to healthcare. Women’s groups took their cue from these community programs and opened health clinics to ensure women – particularly poor, working-class women – could get the care they needed. This often included access to reproductive services.

Around the same time, a broader wellness or self-care trend arose within society – however, this had more to do with improving quality of life than ensuring access to healthcare. People began doing activities such as yoga and paying attention to their diet in order to create positive health (rather than the mere absence of illness). By the 1980s, this trend had become mainstream and commercialised, and soon it developed into the mass billion-dollar industry we are familiar with today.

As a result, some argue that self-care has been hijacked by capitalism and that the concept has been reduced to something we buy – wholly divorced from its political origins. However, for marginalised groups the act of looking after oneself is still arguably a radical act for the reasons outlined by Trombetta. Furthermore, in airplanes we are told to tend to our own oxygen masks first before helping others. This isn’t selfish – rather, it puts us in a better position to help others and to deal with life’s challenges. Used wisely, self-care can help us become our best selves so that we can also serve society – a noble aim for any aspiring activist!

If we are seriously concerned about effecting change in our world, it is important to keep psychologically healthy so that we don’t become disheartened or burn out. The fact that the term ‘self-care’ was googled twice as much in the week after Trump’s election illustrates this point beautifully.

Now, where are my bath salts…?

Photo via Pixabay

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Nelson Mandela Day: how his legacy lives on

Nelson Mandela Day: how his legacy lives on

As the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s determination and resilience helped overcome an apartheid regime and cement his status as an international peacemaker. Ten years ago, the United Nations General Assembly began to commemorate this special person on his birthday, 18 July. Since then, World Nelson Mandela Day has been celebrated using special hashtags #ActionAgainstPoverty and #MandelaDay. 

Mandela left office in 1999, but his policies and legacies continue to shape the social landscape of South Africa beyond a dismantling of an oppressive apartheid regime. In 2000, a quarter of 15-45 year old South Africans tested positive for HIV/AIDS, which amounted to over four million people. Nelson Mandela advocated for treatment and future prevention in a groundbreaking agenda. Today, while HIV+ rates remain high at 18.9%, South Africa has a fully funded HIV programme with 90-90-90 targets, the first of which was reached in 2017 – 90% of the population are now aware of their HIV status. Nelson Mandela’s determination to tackle this issue in governmental policy began this long road to a manageable epidemic. 

The clause with World Nelson Mandela Day is to honour Mandela’s sixty-seven years of public service with sixty-seven minutes of selfless acts to help others in your community. The Nobel Peace Prize Winner founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 1999, an organisation which works as “a committed facilitator of his living legacy … to promote his lifelong vision of freedom and equality for all”. The Foundation organises World Nelson Mandela Day alongside the UN, working to honour the statesman while encouraging international positive difference. This 18 July, it is worth remembering the impact that a single person can have in securing a brighter future for our world – and to carry that inspiration forward. 

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Menjoulet via Flickr

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How they (almost) knocked down the House

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How did working class women, with no experience of politics whatsoever, managed to shake the establishment in four states of America? That’s the question that Netflix’s documentary “Knock Down the House” suggests answers to, by following outsider candidates at last year’s congressional campaign – the one that saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez become the youngest woman ever to win a seat in the American Congress.

“For Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, the biggest shared goal is removing the corrupting influence of money in politics.” In a bid to bring down “politics as usual”, national grassroot groups Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats recruited outsider candidates from the working class to run against established politicians in the US’s 2018 Congressional and Senate elections. The documentary reveals the lengths the four women went through as minorities, women and coming from a working class background, to even get on the ballot and campaign for seats in Congress and the Senate. 

The documentary concentrates on the campaign led by Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s Queens – a disadvantaged district of the Big Apple. “In a district that is overwhelmingly working class, we deserve a working class champion,” said Ocasio-Cortez during a televised debate with her opponent Democrat Joe Crowley, who held the position for 14 years before she won the seat. 

The documentary shows the importance of having working class people, who don’t accept corporate donations, in US politics. They have insights to different problems and challenges that citizens in their constituency experience, which many of their opponents wouldn’t have as a majority of them are coming from a privileged background – often being white, rich, straight and male. 

Ocasio-Cortez was the only one out of the four women to win a seat. However the documentary shows that with their campaigns, the other outsider candidates left their mark on local politics. 

To this day, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is still making strides to fight against important issues and is using her position in Congress to make politics work for the most disadvantaged, rather than the 1% richest. 

The documentary proved that the US political system can be changed for the better. It gives hope that, with the right people with the right amount of passion and bravery to fight their way to the top, changes can happen.

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