Saturday, 21 January 2017

A crack in the wall

I've been on a lot of marches, organised a few too.  I used to get very affected by the crowd feeling, overwhelmed, which isn't a problem when it's happy but was harder when it was angry or even negative.  I've built a wall (yes, a wall) now that I'm a parent that means I don't react as once I did, especially when my children are around.  I push it all away behind the wall, muttering "later, later", but Later rarely comes.

Today Later came a little for me, after the Auckland Women's March, when I came across a sexist arse in Aotea Square.  It was the Mansplainiest of Mansplaining.  A man with a megaphone yelling at those leaving the march, mostly women, about how good women have it, and how wrong we all are.

Because the problem isn't the disproportionate impact of poverty on women and other marginalised groups, or the over the odds rate of incarceration for indigenous people in colonised countries world-wide, or the economic inequality and injustice that in our own city manifests in people begging on the streets and children (usually with their mothers) living in cars.  The problem isn't the greed of some, the complicity of others, the oppression that is sexism, racism, discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, body parts at birth, income level, skin colour,religion, and the downright meanness of many.  No the problem is that women are stupid.

The problem is not that women are stupid.

At first I felt not much, as I had on the march - intellectually pleased by the turnout and seeing friends and family, proud of my kids with the signs they made, assessing in the back of my mind how this was playing out as a protest given my own experiences.  I was ok to walk on by, and to then feel bad about doing that because I knew I probably shouldn't.

But then this chap was just so earnest, and so misrepresented feminism and the issues and the arguments, and maybe I've been listening to the soundtrack of That Bloody Women too much lately but I yelled at him.  And then I went closer to him and yelled at him some more.*

I was shaking with anger and knew I needed to walk away.  A few bystanders clapped as I went back to the stroller and someone else yelled at him too.  He kept going, certain in his righteousness, with his red capped mates no doubt pleased he'd got a reaction.

I've seen this before, this supreme arrogance, and it has always got under my skin.  I'm reasonably articulate, it's been a large part of my jobs for years, but I can never find the words to move people like this one.  Not in the moment anyway.  Maybe he'll read this and maybe it'll have an impact but I sincerely doubt it.

Because whenever I've seen this before I've also seen in their eyes the dismissal of whatever I say.  Which, when you've lived a bit longer and had a few things happen to you and people you love, becomes what we used to call on the feminist blogs a few years back "denial of lived experience".

It's a dismissal, a denial, a calling untrue, of what has actually happened to you in your life, what you have actually seen and experienced.  So callous, so ruthless, a simple "no, that's not possible".  Or, more often the more sly refutation of "then why didn't you...".  All of it, all of it, saying what you know is true must not be.

That gets to me, down in my bones, in my very gut.  I can remember starkly a few other times; the argument in a politics tutorial where someone ended up telling me that a child of my acquaintance was choosing to be poor; the pleas to those who would observe a social justice march, walk alongside rather than join in, to come on board, met with sneers that told me I was dirt and my hopes ridiculous;  the shutters coming down on the eyes and the turning away when I was hurting and a peer didn't want to see it; the constituent who insisted on the unimpeachable veracity of information I knew intimately was completely untrue.

And when I got back to the stroller, and the two kids I had with me, my wall had a big crack in it.  Bits were leaking out.  And I couldn't do that right then, couldn't leak everywhere.  One of my children was oblivious, but the other was a bit confused and upset: "I don't like it when you yell at people Mummy."  "It doesn't happen very often though, does it?"   "No, but I don't like it."

A quick fix job on the wall then, rushing to squeegee up all the leaked rage and frustration, squeezing it back over the top to deal with Later.  Mortar of forgetfulness, brick of fake cheerfulness for the kinders.  I've done it before, I imagine most parents do, I'll do it again no doubt.  The wall was solid again.

Maybe it's more like a dam than a wall, maybe.  I shall work on finding a turbine for that anger to power, a positive outlet that creates energy rather than flooding the whole valley.  Maybe this is that.


*  And mis-spoke and said I was paid worse, when I meant I was treated worse, as unlike most jobs in Aotearoa NZ, the pay for my role is transparent and set independently by the Remuneration Authority, that's the bit I'm kicking myself for most, damnit.

I'm not doing comments on my posts these days.  I'm easy to find on social media if you desperately want to tell me what you think, under my name, Julie Fairey.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Three year olds, "science" and burdening society

There is a whopping conflict of interest buried in a horrifying article I want to write about today.  First the horrifying bit:  Professor Richie Poulton is waxing lyrical about which three year old children will grow up to be criminals or poor:
"A simple test at the age of three can predict if children will grow up to be a burden on society, New Zealand researchers say.
The tests on the brains of young children can reveal who is likely to become part of the minority of adults to use the biggest share of social services, new findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study show."
Three year olds.  Imagine the state deciding a three year old you know will be a criminal one day.  Imagine what the state will do to that child.  Imagine being that child.

This is Minority Report on steroids.  It's not even pre-criming - it's just class and race profiling, because we all know which (poor, brown) children Professor Poulton is talking about:
"We also found that members of this group tended to have grown up in more socio-economically deprived environments, experienced child maltreatment, scored poorly on childhood IQ tests and exhibited low childhood self-control," Poulton said.

The problem here is not that people without enough are a burden on society.  It is that we have structured our society so that many people do not have enough but the rich can thrive.  Finding ways to blame three year olds for intergenerational, entrenched poverty and racism is a quite the side-step, even for the most vicious of benefit bashers.  I wonder how well Professor Poulton's test predicts white collar crime?  I'm sure it takes into account the institutional racism which study after study has identified in our criminal legal system.  And I'm certain he found a way to pay attention to the fact that the children of rich people may not need to access social services in the same way because they are well-protected by the wealth of their parents.

Now to the conflict of interest, which hasn't even made the small print. The article fails to mention that Professor Poulton is also the Chief "Science" Advisor at MSD.  It does say:
"The findings were enabled by a "unique situation" in which governmental data on benefits, criminal convictions and health services could be analysed alongside the smaller scale but more detailed information gathered by the Dunedin study."
So people's INDIVIDUAL information, about accessing benefits they need, and criminal records, and how and when they have needed healthcare has been handed over to researchers who are interviewing people one-on-one about their lives.  Because of the "unique situation" of Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton - benefiting from government money as a researcher in one role, making decisions about what counts as research and evidence in another while he is part of the vast collection of data about us that is the Integrated Data Infrastructure

I wrote six weeks ago of my concerns at an increasingly pressured community sector being forced to hand over individual level client data to the government if they wanted to continue to be funded:
"The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include.  Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why."
How much money is being spent on the Integrated Data Infrastructure?  Enough to feed and house all the people in New Zealand that are hungry and living in sub-standard housing?  How much money is Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton getting for his longitudinal research - particularly in a climate where other longitudinal research funding is being cut?  And just how political are these decisions?  Designed, say, to fit an agenda which criminalises poverty?  Let's not forget how Bill English recently justified cutting funding to New Zealand's largest longitudinal study (not Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton's):
Finance Minister Bill English said the decision was more about providing "value for money" rather than saving money.  He suggested the Government was not gaining adequate access to the data.
"There's a whole history behind the Growing up in New Zealand study, there have been ongoing negotiations for some time, to make sure it meets the Government's needs. 
"To some extent the longitudinal studies aren't as powerful as they used to be, because we've got our own administrative data."
What was important to the Government was the "availability of the data".
The brutality of this government is, I believe, not yet fully appreciated, when they write off three year olds and the families they come from as "professional agency hoppers" and a "burden on society."  Let's not forget too, the changes in child protection for these written off three year olds - changes which without doubt at some point will include introducing private profit motives.

This government is finding new ways to make money from those already carrying the burden of greed in our increasingly unequal world.  Some of it just looks like the old ways - giving money, jobs and positions of influence to their mates, exploiting conflicts of interest for all they are worth, making those at the bottom of the heap increasingly vulnerable through shrinking protections and safety nets.  Some of it looks newer - privatising prisons and maybe at some point child protection.

Devastating as all these changes are for those with the least, the biggest damage of all may be to our imaginary world.  Three year olds look like children to most of us now.   But if Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton has as much sway as his title suggests, when will they start looking - especially the poor brown ones - like future criminals? And what will that mean to how we treat them - or how we allow the state to treat them?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Leading the National Party

"Do you really think it's ok for us to get here so early, John?  Doesn't strike you as a little, well, unfair to hold the leadership vote without anyone here but us?"

"Actually Bill, I'm relaxed about it.  At the end of the day, you're the best man for the job, I've already been straight about that with the New Zealand public.  We need to work on you being relaxed now.  Apparently that might be a bit of a problem."

"Oh John," Bill says with admiring awe in his voice, "no one is as relaxed as you."

"Well, the five houses help.  And the nice little nest eggs I have in my offshore bank accounts.  And of course the Labour Party hasn't exactly been the stuff of nightmares for me, have they?"

The two men, best of friends, chuckle together over their last few years. Relaxing together, again.

Their peace is rudely interrupted by the crash of doors flung open.

"J-j-judith!  How l-l-lovely to see you.  And what's that you've done to your hair?"

"Hello Bill.  It's a new look I'm trying."  Minister Collins approaches the outgoing Prime Minister, swishing her shimmering locks, bound into a tight ponytail.  "What do you think, John?"

"Smashing Judith.  It's a great look for you.  Why don't you come and sit over here?"

"So when do we vote on the leadership?  You should all know, Cammy will be running some rather interesting stories over the next few days.  Investigative stuff.  Hard hitting."  Minister Collins turns her attention to the other man in the room.  "How are you, Bill?"

"I-i-investigative stuff?  W-w-what do you mean, Judith?  I am a clean slate."

John pats his deputy with his right hand.  "Relax, Bill.  The public won't care about that silly little housing thing.  It's hardly like stealing, is it?  At the end of the day, you paid us back.  And no one cares about abortion.  Besides, we tidied that up ages ago, remember?"  Turns to Minister Collins.  "Judith, what's that on the table?"

"Oh nothing John, just my Ipod.  I'll turn it off now.  When are the others getting here?"

"Actually, Judith, we might just hold the vote now, everyone else is late. Oh, who's that?"

Paula Bennett strides into the room, wearing gold leopardskin and sporting a stunning new hairstyle.

"We need to pick someone kiwis want to have a beer with, a few sausages.  We all know that's me," she says, flicking her ponytail high.  "Bless you Bill, you're looking old, are you feeling ok?  I guess those memories from the worst election result ever must feel close now?  Poor darling."

"H-h-hello P-p-paula," says Bill, looking from side to side, checking with the Prime Minister how to behave.  "Great hairstyle."

John is distracted, looking at Paula, eyes clouded over, his hand reaching towards her.  Minister Collins slaps it down.  "Good grief man, be serious."

Minister Bennett says sweetly "are you worrying about people thinking you're a dreadful old Tory, Bill?  I guess I can see that, too."

"Girls, girls, girls," says John, appearing to have recovered his relaxed poise.  "Remember what I always say: the media and public are idiots.  They don't even care when our children behave like they hate the gays, remember Bill?  And we're the party of family values!!!"

"I do hate the gays, John.  All the gays.  I mean, think of the children....."  For the first time, Bill starts to become animated, puffing out his chest and growing a couple of inches in height.

Minister Bennett pours herself a beer, knocks it back in one.  "You've got a problem there, Bill.  Might want to deal with that."

"Hello everyone.  Prime Minister, so good to see you.  Now, shall we get this vote underway?"  Steven Joyce enters the room.  "I have the proxy votes of everyone else, been carrying them for a while."

Minister Collins looks up from her Ipod with a sneer.  "What on earth is going on with your hair, Steven?"

"Transplants, Judith.  I'm getting it cut tomorrow, but I've had to tie it up today because they were so successful."  Minister Joyce fixes his eyes on the deputy Prime Minister.  "Bill, my friend.  How on earth are we going to deal with the fact the public sees you as a loser?  If you're my deputy, that won't be as much of a problem, of course.  Who wants to open all the proxy votes?"

"H-h-hello S-s-steven, I'm n-n-not a loser.  John said so.  He said no one will remember.  And I believe him.  Right, John?  John?"

"Steven, I've never seen you looking so good.  Let's take a look at those proxies shall we?  I'm feeling relaxed about this, very, very relaxed.  Looking forward to my new job and at the end of the day, that's all that matters."

Monday, 7 November 2016

I am not a Hillary fangirl but

As a little girl growing up I briefly hated Helen Clark because I realised she would likely be NZ's first female prime minister and beat me to it.  I disliked Jenny Shipley for a lot longer, before, during and after her stint as PM, for her policies and limited view of society, not least the odious Code of Social Responsibility (which by the way is largely in place these days from what I can see).

When Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in the USA I was a bit excited, although Bernie was closer to my politics and had Larry David as his SNL impersonator.  Could this actually happen?  A woman in the White House not as First Lady or a staffer or a visitor, but as the President?  In the flood of anti-Hillary outpourings that washed over us all, even here on the other side of the world and dateline, over the next few months that excitement was quickly extinguished.

And then for a long time now we have been watching Trump.  This election is all about Trump, much like a real reality TV show (and what an absurd phrase).  I can't believe it has come to this, that what seemed like a joke or a play for attention is now coming to an endgame that could put someone in control of the USA with no political experience or understanding, a seemingly compulsive liar who is racist and sexist (and anti-abortion) and no doubt lots of other awful things I have missed because to pay close attention to this is to take a wound to the heart every five minutes.  I could pepper this paragraph with links to The Awfulness but surely it's accepted by now, despite his  often nonsensical denials, that he has done and said and downright IS these terrible things.

So he's not fit to be President, not fit to be a politician from my point of view.  Like Paul Henry times ten.*

Thus it's quite possible to support Hillary on the basis she is the lesser of two evils, and I take on board the views of the many many people who tell me that's so.  She's quite a long way less surely most people outside the USA can objectively see that, but putting that to one side, she is, as we all are, a flawed human being.  Will she be as good as Obama (himself not perfect, eg the extra judicial execution of Osama Bin Laden)?  Time will tell.  Her championing of Black Lives Matter, an unapologetic pro-choice position, supporting marriage equality all point to a capability to lead on tough national issues that her country seems very divided over from all this distance away, filtered through CNN, Last Week Tonight, and Fox.  The capacity for an inclusive, optimistic, hopeful leader is there.

As a feminist I don't support Hillary because she is a woman.  I support her because she is a feminist woman, a woman with the skills and life experience, a woman who has handled a truly bizarre and hurtful campaign with grace including being stalked around the debate stage by a large man who has encouraged people to shoot her supporters and wants to put her in jail.  I support her because the idea that a woman can be a political leader is still anathema to some, as I see myself in my own political life sadly.

Part of me looks forward to the awkwardness that will ensue.  Bill can't be First Lady.  How often will Hillary accidentally be called "Mister President"?   How much outcry can we look forward to if she refers to founding mothers?  It will be hard for her, and it will be hard for women, to see that everyday sexism happen, but it will also hopefully be a catalyst for change, for realisation by some of those who haven't understood to date.

Clinton is not the perfect feminist left wing presidential candidate.  She's also not Thatcher.  The US Democrats aren't even a particularly left wing party by NZ or European standards, just in comparison to the small minded small government zealots of the Republicans.

Hillary will be the first female president of the USA, and as I did when Obama became the first African American to hold that role, I suspect I may shed a few tears Wednesday afternoon NZ time.

* I originally wrote million, then scaled it down to a thousand, but really seems like they possibly aren't that different.  You get the idea.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Control, surveillance and "professional agency hopping"

In 2009/10, communities won a serious victory against this government when the hated, poorly conceived, cost-cutting travesty that was the "ACC Clinical Pathway" was kicked well and truly into touch by survivors, feminists, mental health support services and specialist sexual violence response agencies.

It was a community issue worth fighting.  In the short time the Pathway was implemented, the review forced by activists demonstrated a staggering drop in survivors who could access support, and horror stories of trauma were told by survivors and by the community agencies and therapists trying to support them.

The ACC Clinical Pathway illustrates the dangers of ideological public policy, and the importance of community safeguards and advocacy in speaking truth to (rape culture, neo-liberal) power.  I'm mentioning it now because I think this government has learned from that public policy defeat, but not the lessons we might hope.  Quietly and quickly, calmly and efficiently they have muzzled the community sector so it will not happen again.

There were some warning signs even back then.  I was heavily involved, in my own time, in fighting the ACC Clinical Pathway.  The sexual violence agency I worked for then was quietly told by an ally in government that we lost a large contract because of my activism, which thankfully my boss did not begrudge in the grand scheme of survivor safety. This should be completely shocking - to change a funding decision based on the private activities of an employee of an organisation - particularly when, as it turned out, we were right.  But in a growing context of threats to advocates, it somehow just started to become intimidation business as usual

This government has decimated the community sector with a series of smart, chilling moves over quite some time, dismantling the sector's ability to play watchdog on punitive government policies.  There were the changes to the Charities Commission, restricting the ways in which organisations registered as charities could "advocate" for social change.  Even far from radical groups like the National Council of Women were forced to take legal action to defend their rights to advocate.  This step institutionalised advocacy, away from the public eye.  It's ok for community groups to meet with nice government officials quietly, to talk about their concerns - but don't even think about saying anything in the media.

Another major step was the introduction into contracts of requirements that community groups cannot discuss their contracts anywhere.  This one policy stroke alone would have stopped the ACC Clinical Pathway activism dead in it's tracks - because gone from public view and debate would have been the volume of horror stories from around the country of the impact the Pathway was having on real people.

Then there are the terrifying spectre of funding cuts.  Everywhere you look.  Services going under, like Relationships Aotearoa, despite nothing to replace them.  Services cutting their hours, and relying yet more heavily on volunteers.  Play nice, little community group, or we'll be sending you home, no matter how many lives you hold in your hand.

While the language of community shifts to neo-liberal talk of markets and providers and social investment and demand and results based accountability, the language of "people who are asking for help" has shifted to the obscene "professional agency hoppers."

The latest nail in the community coffin, that community groups will have to report to government the names and personal details of people coming to them for help if they want to be funded, is just the logical conclusion of all the changes over the last few years.  Taken together, these changes severely undermine democracy and the ability to show solidarity with people with little power.  They also turn community groups into de-facto arms of the state and will certainly stop people accessing community services through fear, shame and stigma.

If you doubt this, think about whether you'd be ok with the STI tests you're having being linked to your name in a government database.  The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include.  Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why.

But think again, about accessing services.  Let's say you've got a gambling problem, and your relationship and home are both at risk if you can't change.  But if you go ask for help, that will be linked to all your other personal information.  Are you ready for that, or should you wait a little longer?

Or you've got an eating disorder and it's quietly killing you, but if you ask for help and it's loaded onto your system, will it mean you can't apply for that job you want in government?   

Then there are the safety concerns.  Logging women and children escaping domestic violence into a government database every time they go to a new Refuge will make them much less safe, particularly if their abusive partners can access where they are.  I've worked with women whose abusers were Police officers, and to keep them safe we had to make sure nothing was ever logged in their Police files which might help them to be tracked.  Will this new system acknowledge those dangers?  Of course not.  And while we're on this one, women going to multiple Refuges isn't "professional agency hopping," Minister Tolley, it's acting to save your life in the cycle of violence perpetrators use to control their families.  Just as people who've had lots of trauma and difficult stuff in their lives needing to try multiple agencies to find all the pieces of the help they need isn't "professional agency hopping," it's desperation and fear and lack of trust born from experience.  And it warrants compassion, patience and generosity - not sanctimonious penny pinching and vicious judgment - because do you know what?  If I'd survived some of the things women I've worked with have been forced to manage, I can't even tell you what my survival strategies would look like.  They wouldn't be clean, or pretty, or the model of a perfect little social services consumer though, I'll tell you that for nothing.

If funding contracts which force the community sector to pass on names and personal details had been introduced immediately post the ACC Clinical Pathway defeat, the community sector would have fought.  Fought for their place as safety, for people and families they support, to hold together lives which might be fraying a little.  Fought to remove barriers to help-seeking, not add them.

No, the government introducing it now is smart. 

This government has been confident in shutting down evidence it doesn't want to hear, from silencing researchers to these steps to muzzle the community sector.  It doesn't seem to want the well-informed debate when it comes to complex social issues, debate informed by people with personal knowledge and professional experience in supporting communities.  There are even steps to dismantle the long-term funded research in this area, now the government is exerting more control.  When questioned over the cuts to the longitudinal research Auckland University runs in order to understand child development needs - the kind of research which should help us decide community services - Bill English let slip some frightening honesty:
"Finance Minister Bill English said the decision was more about providing "value for money" rather than saving money.He suggested the Government was not gaining adequate access to the data.
"There's a whole history behind the Growing up in New Zealand study, there have been ongoing negotiations for some time, to make sure it meets the Government's needs.
"To some extent the longitudinal studies aren't as powerful as they used to be, because we've got our own administrative data."  What was important to the Government was the "availability of the data".
If the community sector hands over the names of people asking them for help, not only will it stop people getting the help they need.  Not only will it shift what the community sector is for - away from advocacy and support, towards monitoring and policing services.  Not only will it mean advocacy slips further into the distance, weakening our public policy development.  But it is part of a wider and largely unmonitored shift towards the state controlling more information about us than we've ever agreed to, and with that, making decisions about public spending based on data they control and interpret. 

Does anyone seriously think these changes will be good for our communities?  Trevor McGlinchey from the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services absolutely nails it when he says:
There has been a quiet revolution occurring which will have profound impacts on community-based social services organisations......Robust discussion and critique is needed to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities can access the services they need, and community organisations can continue as independent promoters of civil society and community development.
Call me cynical, but the people that brought us the ACC Clinical Pathway are not qualified to make decisions about communities without us acting as safeguards.  Bill English and his "administrative data" do not fill me with confidence, because this government is ideologically driven to support the powerful and leave the less powerful to rot, in cars, substandard housing, shiny new prisons, a decimated community sector.  It's almost as if, the more they silence our voices and have control over interpreting our voices, the less we matter.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Tamariki, raupatu and the legacy of Margaret Thatcher

This National government has found it's foreshore and seabed.

It's not been enough to flirt with punitive legislative changes to benefits, legal aid restrictions, fail to curb housing greed or meet housing need, or make marginalised people more marginalised in a variety of other ways, with the sure knowledge that all these areas will impact disproportionately on Māori.  Nope, National have lit the powder keg, just like the raupatu in 2004, with their proposed changes to how the state supports families and whānau to be safe, thriving places for children.

No one doubts that our systems to respond to family violence are struggling.  But the new "Ministry for Vulnerable Children" replacing Child, Youth and Family and removing the parts of the Care of Children Act 1989 which required consideration of how a decision to place a child affects the family, whānau, hapu, iwi and family group will not improve outcomes for children living with violence at home.

It flies in face of the evidence, which tells us that in families where there is a violent parent, the best things we can do to keep children safe are to support the non-violent parent and their support systems, and stop the violent parent using violence.  Not easy - but the very people you want involved in stopping violence in homes are those connected to the family, because those are the people that are around all the time.

The inquiry into racism which informed the 1989 Care of Children Act, the Pūao-te-Ata-Tū Report of 1988, stated as it's first objective: 
To attack all forms of cultural racism in New Zealand that result in the values and lifestyle of the dominant group being regarded as superior to those of other groups, especially Māori, by: (a) Providing leadership and programmes which help develop a society in which the values of all groups are of central importance to its enhancement; and (b) Incorporating the values, cultures and beliefs of the Māori people in all practice developed for the future of New Zealand.

Because, again, the evidence is clear.  What works to prevent violence for ANY cultural group is that group identifying, promoting and celebrating their own cultural norms and practices which are protective and non-violent.  Every culture has protective practices.  It's just that colonisation has ripped into the fabric of what it means to be indigenous everywhere colonisers went.  In Aotearoa that means the horrible outcomes for Māori across every social indicator we can think of will only be kicked into touch through decolonisation.  Access to kaupapa Māori services, whakapapa and knowledge to just be Māori.  Systems set up for Māori, by Māori which value cultural values enhancing wellbeing for all the whānau.

What the "Ministry for Vulnerable Children" is proposing is nothing like this.  It's essentially proposing we treat children as beings completely independent of their family, whānau and caregivers.  Just as we now have "Child Poverty", we have "Vulnerable Children".

Margaret Thatcher must be sighing, self-satisfied, as she settles comfortably into her grave.

When Thatcher was dismantling the post-war British consensus on fairness in the UK otherwise known as the welfare state, she was very clear - there was no such thing as society, there were only individuals and families. This new tack of the National government - there's not even any such thing as families, there are only children - takes the Thatcher doctrine to it's logical conclusion.

Make no mistake, this is bad for all of us.  But it's much worse for families more likely to come into contact with the state in punitive ways - especially since new data systems mean we don't even know how much state monitoring is going on.  And for Māori, it's something else again, another pit stop on colonisation highway.

Raupatu, only this time it's Māori children that are being stolen by the state.  Indigenous children in other British colonies have faced similar fates - racist assumptions of children needing saving allowing Canadian and Australian governments to rip Native Canadians and Aboriginal Australians into state care where the levels of abuse were obscene.  Taking children away literally steals culture, steals the ability to pass on knowing who you are on this land, where you belong and who your people are.  It is an attempt to force assimilation down the throat of the colonised.  It's telling that while assimilation has been aggressively pushed at Māori since the 1840s, it's taken this National government - with it's commitment to privatisation of state institutions like prisons - to start removing the small protections which existed in the Care of Children Act, and ignore all the reports detailing why iwi should be part of these discussions.

There's been a lot of commentary on these issues in Māori media, from iwi leaders to those working in the area with extensive experience.  The Hands Off Our Tamariki Facebook page is feeding evidence and community events into the discussion, and social workers have been all over it too.  There's an event hosted by Te Wānanga o Raukawa in Ōtaki, tomorrow, with Moana Jackson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou) and Paora Moyle (Ngāti Porou, Te Whanau a Tuwhakairiora) which will be well worth attending.

I think there's going to be a lot more, and I think it's time for all violence prevention and intervention services, and all those concerned about family wellbeing and violence as well as racism and colonisation to get busy, supporting the great work that is being done to resist this by Māori.

Apologies:  I am supporting a friend having surgery over the next couple of days, so I've closed comments on this post because I'm not going to be able to moderate, and it's likely that would be needed.  But feel free to rant about how much you agree/disagree with me in your own lives.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Darth Vader, Don Brash and tino rangatiratanga

Don Brash is my father.

Not in a Darth Vader way.  But sadly, I don't believe Dr Brash's views are so way out we should just laugh at the stock photos on a website featuring a gallery of old white people.

I'm also not convinced that this is pure Pauline Hanson style racism.  For some of the people involved, sure.  You don't have to delve too far into the Hobson's Pledge website to feel bigotry stirring, and for many Pākehā, Dr Brash's words provide the scaffolding for not just supporting institutional racism, but for feeling bold enough to be viciously, personally racist to children.

The lack of acknowledgment of colonial history or ongoing negative impacts of colonisation has been slammed with ease by Louisa Wall and Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga.  Many journalists have asked Mr Brash how his analysis makes sense of the negative statistics for Māori around health, education, violence and the criminal justice system.  He's been clear he doesn't want to go there.

Don Brash is my father, and these are conversations my father has in the pub he's been drinking in for 45 years, with men who used to work in the freezing works or factories of the Hutt Valley.  Dad says his pub mates, some of whom are Māori, don't believe in people being treated differently.  The consensus, according to him, is that treating everyone the same is the way to stop racism.

There's a simplicity to this which is deeply compelling.  It makes sense, in the kind of teachings small children receive about fairness inside the Pākehā world, that sharing something means we all get the same amount.  This is the part of Don Brash's argument that most needs addressing, because this is the reason, I believe, we see these arguments resurface, over and over again. 

Aotearoa was colonised late, so late that Home Office instructions to Hobson acknowledged Māori sovereignty and insisted that Māori should agree to a British colony.  This was not the approach towards indigenous peoples taken earlier in British and other European colonisation.  The meanings we can take from Hobson saying "we are all one people" are many.  He could have been signposting that colonisation would deliberately suppress Māori cultural values, ways of organising, language and social systems.  He could have been warning people that understandings of mana whenua would be supplanted by British concepts of ownership, already entwined with capitalism.

He could have been saying that he firmly believed, in line with (racist and sexist) Enlightenment thinking on progress, that equality meant everyone being treated the same.

This simple, liberal, individual rights based argument underpins the conversations in my father's pub, and underpins many white people's approach to behaving well in the world now.  My father is aghast when we argue and I describe his views as racist.  He doesn't recognise that view of himself, because he honestly believes that treating everyone the same is the way to everyone having a fair suck of the sav.

This simple, liberal, individual rights based argument underpins anti-racism work in the UK - and it works better there, to challenge why say, white immigrants from New Zealand are treated better than Black immigrants from the Caribbean.  When this argument is marshaled to insist on equity with indigenous people who are in control of their land - as is the case in the UK - it can acknowledge the historical context and ongoing impacts of colonisation and be used to challenge racism.  But when it is marshaled to deny the historical context and ongoing impacts of colonisation, it stops being progressive in any way, shape or form.

Countries that have been colonised need different kinds of anti-racism than coloniser countries.  Unpacking colonisation here actually means tino rangatiratanga - not equal rights.  We need to shift what feels intuitively fair to us - and I'm talking to other Pākehā here - because colonisation has caused deep harm, trauma and dislocation which can only be repaired through tino rangatiratanga.  To draw another comparison with fairness and children, when I visit Marama's house, we eat food she has, play with her toys, her family decide what time we go to bed and where, what kinds of games we are allowed to play.  And when she comes to my house, my family provide for and make those decisions for us.  These are the kinds of concepts of fairness Pākehā need to explore to shift this repeating conversation.

Photo from Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

In case you were wondering ... removing pubic hair is less hygienic than leaving it alone

Caitlin Moran and others have pointed out that the fashion for removing all pubic hair from ladyparts arose from the proliferation of pornography via the internet.

Sometimes it's argued that removal is good for female hygiene. In a survey of 3,316 women in the US, published this week in JAMA Dermatology, 59% said they did it for “hygiene reasons".

But according to this useful Guardian article, exactly the opposite is true: it is more hygienic not to remove pubic hair, and the survey explains why.

"Your pubis is your own business. But pubic hair was put there to protect your genitalia from friction and infection..." 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Indiana woman appeals 20 year sentence for her own illegal abortion.

If you thought Donald Trump's widely condemned call for women who have abortions to be punished was totally off the wall, think again. It's already happening in the USA. 

In February 2015, an Indiana court sentenced Purvi Patel to serve 20 years in prison for giving herself an illegal abortion. The Guardian explained (2 April 2015) that because the prosecution contended that the fetus had been born alive, she was in fact: 
"convicted of feticide and neglect of a dependent, making her the first woman in the US to be charged, convicted and sentenced for giving herself an abortion. The law was passed by the Indiana legislature in 2009 in response to a bank shooting in April 2008, in which a man shot a woman who was five months pregnant in the abdomen, killing the twin girls she was carrying. Most feticide laws are designed to be used this way – to charge a third party accused of hurting a pregnant mother or unborn fetus. Patel’s conviction, reproductive rights experts said, is the first time such a law has been successfully used to convict a woman for attempting to abort a pregnancy."

Her appeal against her sentence has now been filed.

Please Note: Some commenters want to constantly discuss the morality of abortion, particularly the issue about fetal personhood, regardless of whether that is relevant on the post in question.  The Hand Mirror has established a separate page (click on the Abortion and Morality heading above) for discussion of that element of the issue (the moral arguments, not just fetal personhood).

In terms of this post, I want this aspect of morality issues to be discussed on the separate page provided, not here on my post. Please respect this. Comments that do not respect this direction are likely to be deleted.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Changing the face we value

Most people have done something for which they want to be forgiven.  Things they feel ashamed of, and want to do differently in the future.  Maybe they've said harsh things to people they care about, treated people around them callously, participated in or failed to stop bullying.

Most people have changed their behavior after getting feedback from people around them that it wasn't ok.  Stopped being late whenever they meet a friend; stopped using a racist or homophobic word; stopped drinking or using drugs more than is helpful for relationships around them.

Nearly all of us, I think, want to believe in redemption. 

So when sports broadcaster Tony Veitch returns to the media to tell his story, again, about the broken bones he left in the body of someone he said he loved, many New Zealanders want to believe him when he says sorry.  Anyone who has hit a partner or a child wants to believe him.  Many who have been hit by a partner or parent want to believe him, because they want to believe their partner or parent is sorry - and maybe they are.  Anyone who knows someone who uses violence wants to believe him.

I believe in changing behavior, that violence is learned, not "natural" or only and always linked to masculinity.  I believe violence is linked to power, always, and I believe we can end violence by shifting balances of power towards more equity, whether that's in terms of addressing the harms of colonisation or ensuring equal pay for work of equal value or addressing the impact the greed of a few has on the poverty of many or teaching that gender and sexuality diversity is pretty damn ordinary and nothing to be scared of.  If I didn't believe in changing behavior and the possibility of ending violence, I wouldn't be a feminist.

But there is something else going on in the case of Tony Veitch, beyond the mere desire to believe that people using violence can change.

Ironically, a truly bizarre piece of writing over at the Standard captures it perfectly.  RedLogix says in their defense of Mr Veitch:
You’ll notice I’ve said nothing about Tony Veitch. I think we should let him speak for himself and allow the space for catharsis as Incognito so very elegantly expressed it. While his words will not placate every judgmental urge, personally I will accept them at face value and wait to see what comes next.
People believe men using violence, rather than women experiencing it.

This accepting at face value happens at every stage.  In the telling of violence in the first place - or it wouldn't take 57 women calling Bill Cosby a rapist before we even thought we needed to investigate Dr Huxtable.

It happens in the re-telling, in court, where many defendants simply use the "she's lying" defense, effective when victims can't get every single detail right when recalling traumatic events.

And it happens afterwards, when men like Tony Veitch simply do not tell the truth and rely on our collective desire to believe him getting them by.  As his victim's father says:
"Tony, to atone for your actions, you must stand in the complete truth.  This was no one-off, as you still attempt to mislead the New Zealand public to believe.  The other charges were never presented to the court, but they remain evidence of your systematic abusive pattern. In those files lies a very inconvenient truth for you."
I would LOVE to believe Tony Veitch regrets the years of abuse that his Police file details.  But for me to do that, he would have to stop making jokes about punching people.

He would have to apologise, not just for the incident he was punished for by the court, or even the years of other abuse, but for his appalling treatment of the woman he abused throughout the media furore which surrounded his court case - and the impacts all of his behavior has had.

You see, I don't think Tony Veitch can possible be sorry for the harm he caused - because he never, ever, ever mentions it.  In all his apologies, we have heard only about how hard it was for him, to be caught out breaking someone else's back that one time.

I have a suggestion for people who want to believe in redemption.  Listen to the person or people who were harmed.  Listen to them some more.  Think about what redemption looks like for them.  Centre that.  We have to stop giving Mr Veitch and others who use violence a free platform to re-frame events to suit them.  We have to change the face we value.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Making him stop

Trigger warning: child sexual abuse, victim blaming, rape culture.

It's official, Mr "Prominent Man" was not convicted of indecent acts towards the two girls who said that he repeatedly touched them in their sexual and private parts - their groins, bums and breasts.  He was not convicted of pressing his penis into one of the girls backs.  He was not convicted of forcing one of the girls to touch his penis, by pressing her foot into it.  He was charged with 12 indecent acts - four against a child, and eight against a young person.

The jury struggled to decide, and the reasons for that, of course, are not clear.  In a case like this, there's no forensic proof, no swooping in of science to prove the girls are telling the truth.

The girls said they wanted it to stop.  That's why they told a social worker back in 2014.

They wanted it to stop.

Mr "Prominent Man"'s defence was very simple.  The girls were "lying."  They "had their reasons."

See, here's the thing.  I don't believe you, Mr "Prominent Man."  I think you were grooming the girls so you could keep sexually abusing them.  I think that's why you were buying them things.  I think it was going to get worse - as one girl said, she was scared you were going to rape her - and I think the best outcome of this whole travesty is that the girls actually got it to stop.  And not only that, because everyone knows who you are, I'm hopeful you'll never be allowed anywhere near children - of any gender - ever again, because those around you, even if they care about you, will be wondering, just wondering, and won't want another child to be hurt by you.

I know many people reading this blog will instinctively understand this, because we know how child sexual abuse works.  But some won't. You might have never talked to or been a survivor of child sexual abuse.  You might want to believe Mr "Prominent Man" because it's a nicer world to believe in, the world where children lie about being sexually abused and nice, prominent men just wouldn't do that.  For those people, I'm going to spell some stuff out.

Expecting young people to have clear memories of events at least two years ago (probably longer), when those events are traumatic is ridiculous.  So using "inconsistencies" in their recollections, as the Defence Counsel did, repeatedly, to "prove" they are "lying" is ridiculous.  Trauma messes with memory.

But it's all Mr "Prominent Man" had.  He couldn't say he didn't know the girls, because clearly, whatever their relationship is, there was no doubt he knew them.  And it's not like our justice system doesn't know in these kinds of situations how difficult proof can be.  In 2009, research asked New Zealand Police and Crown Prosecutors:
‘If you had a close friend or family member who was a victim of sexual violence, would you recommend they go through the criminal justice system?’
41% of Police said no, or they didn't know, if they would recommend going through our criminal justice system. Those who were unsure talked about being happier to recommend if the sexual violence corresponded to rape myths (stranger, violent etc).
I wouldn’t put myself through this and certainly would let a friend or family know how degrading it is and that they will be revictimised and the chances of a guilty verdict are very, very low. (Police)
As for Crown Prosecutors, those responsible for arguing that sexual violence has occurred? 61% of them said no, or they didn't know, if they would recommend going through our criminal justice system. As with the Police, those who were unsure stressed they would be more likely to recommend for stranger rapes.
In my view the process for complainants in sexual violence cases is brutal, every aspect of the complainant’s character and conduct is questioned and exposed, and the likely outcome is not guilty. (Crown prosecutor)
Both the Police and Crown Prosecutors in this research talked about how seldom juries believe teenagers, and that any small inconsistency is deliberately blown up by defence lawyers to "prove" dishonesty.

So I ask you, New Zealand, who do you believe?  People working in our criminal justice system, who say our system is so broken, they wouldn't send their own family members there?  Two girls, with nothing to gain but stopping themselves being groped and forced to touch an adult man's penis?

I know who I believe.  Whangarei District Court, you've disappointed us.  Let's hope the community does better at keeping Mr "Prominent Man" away from children in the future.

And girls - you rock.  You made him stop.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

It's Time to Free the Pill

Back in the 1960s, when the Pill became available in Aotearoa New Zealand, the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association (the precursor to today’s NZMA) decided it would be unethical for doctors to let unmarried women get their hands on it. Doing so, it was argued, would be akin to doctors giving extra-marital relationships a stamp of approval, and the NZMA wasn’t about to do that.
If you thought doctors keeping us from the Pill for our own good was a thing of the past, think again. Sure, it’s no longer under the guise of protecting our moral purity – (most) doctors have (mostly) given up on that argument. Now, it’s all about protecting our health.
As recently as 1996, both the Royal College of General Practitioners and the NZMA opposed the reclassification of the Emergency Contraceptive Pill so it could be purchased in pharmacies. “We have concerns that in a pharmacy the patient may be disadvantaged from receiving the greater advice that would occur in a general practice consultation,” the college’s chairman, Professor Gregor Coster, was quoted as saying in an article in the British Medical Journal.
Fast forward to 2016, and a new front in this seemingly endless struggle is focused on efforts to get the Pill, aka oral contraception, liberated from doctors’ prescription pads and made available over the counter. The most recent round began in 2014, when Pharmacybrands Ltd (now Green Cross Health, which represents 300 community pharmacies and has an equity interest in 80) and Pharma Projects Ltd, (now Natalie Gauld Ltd.) made an application to Medsafe’s Medicines Classifications Committee to reclassify the Pill so it could be sold in pharmacies without prescription, though only by specially trained pharmacists, following the model that’s now used for the Emergency Contraceptive Pill.
 That application was turned down in the face of stiff opposition from general practitioners and the NZMA: the latter said they didn’t think prescription only access was a barrier to the Pill and wanted to make sure doctors continued to provide “the advice and counselling about its use and about sexual health in general”, while the College of GPs, apparently felt “as if they are being excluded from an important part of primary health care”. (Never mind that the actual users of this “important part of primary health care” were – and continue to be – excluded.)
On the plus side, the New Zealand Committee of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (is that a long enough title for you?) backed the reclassification saying it was “strongly in support of any responsible development designed to improve access to quality contraceptive advice and service”.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Honouring Our Prejudiced Past?

The Doris Gordon Memorial Trust: Honouring Our Prejudiced Past?

By Morgan Healey and Alison McCulloch  

Over 2015, the US witnessed a groundswell of campus-based racial justice activism. From Missouri to Princeton University, Black Lives Matter activists and their counterparts honed in on ongoing racial oppression and injustice at universities, and called the institutions’ leaders to account. Activists have asserted a range of mechanisms for addressing these issues, including universities removing the names of historical figures that promoted white supremacy from campus halls and departments.

Internationally, the actions of US activists have had a ripple effect, challenging the memorialisation of people who perpetuated and sustained beliefs in the racial inferiority of non-whites while reaffirming their own supposed racial superiority as white (mostly) men. The tale we tell below draws on these challenges within the historical and cultural location of Aotearoa New Zealand in the context of sexual and reproductive health. As two white/Pākehā authors, we suggest that, in the spirit of cleaning our own house, contesting white supremacy should also be done by those with white privilege and that we must play a role in opposing the ongoing veneration of historical figures that propagated racial and gendered inequalities.

Re-imagining an imperfect past
Our story begins at the most recent conference of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, where a defunct trust in the name of a mid-20th century physician, Dr. Doris Gordon, was relaunched in conjunction with the National Council of Women. According to the Trust rules, it aims “to promote, undertake, sponsor, co-operate in or otherwise further the study and/or the teaching and/or the practice of women's health and wellbeing in New Zealand”.  Funding will be used to hold an annual Doris Gordon Memorial Lecture by awarding a chosen lecturer with a medal and honorarium. The honorarium will be used for the study, teaching, and/or the practice of women's heath and wellbeing in New Zealand, exemplifying the spirit of Dr. Gordon’s work.

As part of his Inaugural Doris Gordon Memorial Oration, lauding the work of the renewed Trust’s namesake, Professor Ronald Jones told the audience of Dr. Gordon’s work in setting New Zealand obstetrics on a sound footing, stating that she had “made a greater contribution to the health and welfare of New Zealand women and children than any other individual”. Then, with only a passing and absolving reference, he proceeded to dismiss Dr. Gordon’s indisputably offensive beliefs on contraception, abortion, class and race as artifacts of her time with little or no bearing on her legacy.

For the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) this raised a serious red flag. Is it possible or even prudent to erase the hateful and bigoted aspects of Gordon’s past in order to glorify her positive contributions? Does the past really have such little bearing on the present that we can selectively ignore part of an individual’s complex biography without consequence? And what does it mean for modern obstetrics that a founding member of the profession believed that contraception and abortion were social evils, and professed the racial superiority of white/Pākehā people? We believe it is dangerous to assume that the prejudices of the past have been eradicated and that the legacies of social reformers can be re-imagined anew, their harmful beliefs stripped neatly away.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The chubby canary in the feminist mine.

Cross posted from my usual spot

Most people have heard the ‘canary in the mine” thing, but I’m just going to quickly explain.  Back in the days before electronic testing, miners would carry a caged canary in the mine with them. If Carbon Monoxide built up then the canary would die before the man, and give him a heads up to get out of there a.s.a.p. So yeah, the canary was handy, but it got the rough end of the deal.

With all of this discussion of safe and unsafe male allies of feminism (or self-proclaimed feminists), I was interested to notice that several key figures were already not followed by myself and some friends. The news that someone had said something silly was met with “of course” eye rolls. Most of us had un-followed well before any safety issues, or arguments, simply because we hadn’t liked something they tweeted.
None of us could remember why we had un-followed, it was no major issue or insult, and none of us had interacted, we had simply quietly lost them off our feed.
Interestingly we are all body positive, larger sized women, older women, or trans.

I suspect that if you want to know who the effective allies are, look around you at the feminists on your feed that don’t fit the young, slim and cis bill, check who THEY are still following. I get the sinking feeling we may be the chubby canaries of feminism.
We might have a limit for what we won’t cope with that doesn’t bother other people  in the slightest.
But fat shaming isn’t actually that far from victim blaming. Feminism that doesn’t include trans women is a good marker of feminists or allies that don’t try to learn about issues that don’t directly affect them. Ignoring the voices of older feminists or those you find less attractive, is a pretty good indicator that you have unrecognized biases that need to be examined.
In short, it’s an easy fight saying that hitting women is bad, and women should be treated like human beings. As long as you stick to that line, only real jerks would openly debate, and they are fun to kick. It’s not exactly a high bar. I know this because I do it myself, and it’s the easiest part of being a feminist.
And when it comes to pointing this out, most canaries frankly, can’t be bothered. Let the young, pretty, healthy, cisgender, energetic feminists negotiate with the media savvy likable allies who think we are gagging for their help. I can’t be bothered. I have enough battles with people who are overtly unsafe to bother taking on someone who half the feminist community will back up.
It’s not worth the effort, the exclusion and the stress.
Because when you are a “good guy” you can go a long way towards behaving like a crap one, before anyone gets any support to call you out.
Most people are LOVELY people. Most people are loved. Most people in feminism do active work in an important area to help. This isn’t SPECIAL. This isn’t unique. And it isn’t an excuse for degrading women who don’t fit your rules or specifications to be valued or using slurs against women.

So if someone you love is awesome and working hard, and doing good work, and they screw up. Have a quiet word, remind them that we are only as good as our last action, and for gods sakes, resist the urge to shit on the person brave enough to call them out.

Ignoring the canary doesn’t end well for anyone.

Monday, 14 March 2016

unsuccessful IRL…

Cross Posted from my usual spot.

Keyboard warriors… people with nothing better to do… SJWs, unsuccessful IRL… not helping in the REAL world…

I quit one of my volunteer roles last week and cried hard about it. I will miss the people I work with, the fun we have, and the identity I held as a volunteer for that organisation. But one of the strangest reasons my volunteer work is important to me, is that as a feminist online the above phrases are used to undermine my comments. I am particularly sensitive to the idea of “simply bickering online” rather than getting out there and “really making a difference”. Frankly, it gets to me.
This is bizarre, because during the day I literally save lives, and since I was 16, I have always had a volunteer job as well as my paid role. I have no reason to feel vulnerable to any accusation of lack of action, and yet it gets to me.  Congrats Jerks.
In the future I may not always be well enough to do a paid job, let alone additional work on top of that. My wellness may deteriorate and I may be stuck at home, “just” online.

And to that I say THAT IS GOOD ENOUGH.
n fact, it’s not only good enough, the communication of equality, equity, fairness, and justice to your community is PIVOTAL. Without good marketing, the best brands fail, and we need a good comms team for the decency of humanity. The other side may not have particularly good communication, but they make up for it in the sheer amount of filth they spew onto the net each day.

When we look at the Violence pyramid above, far fewer people are actually assaulting and physical hurting people than there are making horrible jokes, degrading other people and using problematic language to perpetuate issues. So for every person out there literally saving lives, we need 100 at home explaining to Uncle Jack that his emails are gross and offensive and no one wants them. 50 people need to be online showing their friends that they CAN speak up to racist FB posts. 20 people should be on twitter, expecting more of allies, and speaking up for people being harassed and abused. 5 need to be brave enough at work to ask a colleague to explain how that offensive joke was funny.
The people working at the public face of activism are pivotal, they are important, and even if that IS all they do, it is of value.
To expect more of anyone is rude. It is ableist and objectionable. Most people have lives, families, jobs and health to take care of. The fact any of us have time for this, which we can do from bed, is an unpaid miracle and yes, we have things we would rather be doing!

So next time someone uses “they have nothing else in their lives” or “not really helping” as a critique –think twice about supporting them.



Tuesday, 8 March 2016

This international womens day, dont miss a beat.

In the last week I have had cramps bad enough to require pain killers; I have lost enough blood to warrant taking a prescribed clotting agent twice daily. I have had to apply a menstrual pad to my undergarments while standing on the back of a rescue vehicle hoping like hell my (all cis male) colleagues didn’t notice what I was doing back there because we didn’t have time to stop. I haven’t taken any time off. I have looked pretty crap and asked to leave my 12 hour volunteer shift early (I couldn’t), and slept most of my spare time. But I haven’t taken a day off.
Because the STIGMA around taking time off for “lady issues” is so strong. It’s given the side eye. Is she really sick? Is she faking? Is she being a bit soft?  I’m TERRIBLE at taking a break and listening to my body, and I am not proud of it.

My biggest concern around this is that it is a symptom of a bigger problem. We need to START TRUSTING WOMEN.
  • We need to believe women when they say they are in pain.
  • We need to believe women when they say something isn’t normal.
  • We need to stop assuming physiological symptoms are related to psychological issues.
  • We need to believe women when they say they can’t keep going like this.
And I need to start trusting myself. 
Take a minute to think about the last time you listened to your body and did what you felt you needed to do to take care of yourself.
This lack of trust in women is seen in clinics where women are assessed for anxiety rather than cardiac issues, it is seen in pregnancy cases where women must undergo counselling and multiple consultations in order to gain permission for an abortion. This is a symptom of a bigger issue, and we need to start seeing it.
Usually I talk about women’s health at this time of the year in terms of gynae issues as they are close to my heart (metaphorically, not anatomically), but this International women’s day I would like to talk about our cardiac health. I have chosen this topic because it is relevant to both cis and transgender women, and is the biggest cause of Death of NZ women.

Cardiac health and disease is still widely misunderstood, most Australian women (and I suspect NZ women) are unaware that heart disease is a major women's health issue (Guillemin, 2004), yet 8 women a day in NZ are dying from cardiac arrest. And in US statistics since 1984, the number of CVD deaths for females has exceeded those for males.
The outcomes we are seeing in the cardiac cases of women are grim. Women with acute cardiac presentation have poorer outcomes than men, even independently of comorbidity and management of condition. This is despite the fact that women often have less obstruction of the coronary arteries. This out of proportion higher mortality rate is most easily seen in our population of younger women (Davidson et al., 2012).

Misdiagnosis and treatment differences in women compared to male patients are a researched issue. In the Framingham Heart Study cohort, half of the acute Myocardial infarctions in women were unrecognised, compared with being 33% unrecognised in male patients (Murabito, 1995). Pope et al. (2000) reported that women presenting to the emergency department with an acute Myocardial infarction were more likely to be discharged without admission than men, and misdiagnosis was a high risk for those who were under 55 years of age.  
Depressingly, in Canada, Spugeon (2007) found that even once correctly diagnosed, women patients were less likely to be treated by a specialist, transferred, or receive cardiac catheterisation than their male counterparts.

I am not here to put the blame entirely on doctors, we need to be aware that as women, we are more likely to underestimate our risk of cardiovascular disease (Hammond et al., 2007), we are more likely to rate our cardiac disease as less severe as our male counterparts (Nau et al., 2005). If we ARE experiencing pain or discomfort in our chest, we are less likely to report it (Canto et al., 2007), and more likely to delay getting help from a doctor (O’Donnell et al., 2006). In case this sounds like classic victim blaming I want to acknowledge that when you look at the statistics in how women are treated when they DO present with chest pain, it’s no wonder they are cautious about presenting at all. Key reasons for delaying treatment include “attributing symptoms to other causes fear of bothering anyone, embarrassment about a ‘false alarm’ and reluctance to call emergency medical services.” (Davidson, et al., 2012, p. 10).
So, how can we look after ourselves?
Be aware that during a heart attack women and men may both feel chest pain, but women are more likely to experience less common symptoms such as Back, Neck, Arm, or Jaw pain.
Women’s symptoms may include nausea, weakness, or a “sense of impending doom” (dread). (American heart association)

If you want to support women, here is what you can do this year. Start believing. If someone you love is complaining of not feeling well, encourage them to listen to their body, encourage them to see a doctor. If that doctor is a jerk, or minimises concerns, encourage them to see another doctor.
This international women’s day if you are a woman, start listening to your body. Believe yourself, and if you feel like you aren’t coping, then understand that is real. Be kind to yourself, and seek help. Seek rest. Seek wellness. Pick one thing you can do this year that will help you live a little longer, with less risk.
This year I am choosing to promise myself the time to have 3 sessions of cardiac fitness in each week. How I will do that is by cycling to work, swimming, aqua jogging, aqua aerobics, and stationary bike exercise at home. I promise you this. I will look after my heart this year. Because women need strong hearts!

Picture courtesy of the American College of Cardiology

Canto, J. Goldberg, R. Hand, M. Bonow, R. Sopko,G. Pepine, C., et al. (2007). Symptom presentation of women with acute coronary syndromes: Myth vs reality. Archives of Internal Medicine, 167 (22) (2007), pp. 2405–2413
Davidson, P. M., Mitchell, J. A., DiGiacomo, M., Inglis, S. C., Newton, P. J., Harman, J., & Daly, J. (2012). Cardiovascular disease in women: Implications for improving health outcomes. Collegian, 195-13. doi:10.1016/j.colegn.2011.12.001
Guillemin, (2004). Heart disease and mid-age women: Focusing on gender and age. Health Sociology Review, 13 (1) (2004), pp. 7–13
Hammond, J. Salamonson, Y. Davidson, P. Everett, B. Andrew, S., (2007). Why do women underestimate the risk of cardiac disease? A literature review. Australian Critical Care, 20 (2) (2007), pp. 53–59
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