No neutrality in the fight for justice.

The title for this blog is taken from a line in a speech made by the former Prime Minister of Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto.  Bhutto close up

She delivered this speech at the opening day of the 1995 Beijing UN Women’s conference which marked a significant turning point for the global agenda for gender equality and you can read about it here Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing – and it deserves to be better known. 

The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action,  was adopted unanimously by 189 countries, is a key platform for women’s empowerment and considered as one of the foundational global policy documents on gender equality. It set strategic objectives and actions for the advancement of women and the achievement of gender equality in 12 critical areas of concern, which still inform Gender mainstreaming

beijinc conference SUDAN delegation

and equality measures for politicians, international development agencies

and women’s rights activists across the globe.

Here is what Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had to say about the situation confronting women globally in the last decade of the twentieth century. Her perspective on social justice, equity, women’s right to access education, the true point of religion, law and economics to empower women to take their place alongside men in an equitable distribution of the world’s goods and resources holds power for today’s world seven years after her death (December 2007 whilst re-contesting elections in Pakistan) and 19 years after she first delivered it.

Benazir Bhutto Speech – Male Domination Of Women

Speech delivered by the Prime Minister of Pakistan
UN World Conference on Women
 Beijing, 4 September 1995

As the first woman ever elected to head an Islamic nation, I feel a special responsibility about issues that relate to women. In addressing the new exigencies of the new century, we must translate dynamic religion into a living reality. We must live by the true spirit of Islam, not only by its rituals. And for those of you who may be ignorant of Islam, cast aside your preconceptions about the role of women in our religion.

Contrary to what many of you may have come to believe, Islam embraces a rich variety of political, social and cultural traditions. The fundamental ethos of Islam is tolerance, dialogue, and democracy.

Just as in Christianity and Judaism, we must always be on guard for those who will exploit and manipulate the Holy Book for their own narrow political ends, who will distort the essence of pluralism and tolerance for their own extremist agendas.

To those who claim to speak for Islam but who would deny to women our place in society, I say:

The ethos of Islam is equality, equality between the sexes. There is no religion on earth that, in its writing and teachings, is more respectful of the role of women in society than Islam.

My presence here, as the elected woman prime minister of a great Muslim country, is testament to the commitment of Islam to the role of women in society. It is this tradition of Islam that has empowered me, has strengthened me, has emboldened me.

It was this heritage that sustained me during the most difficult points in my life, for Islam forbids injustice; injustice against people, against nations, against women.

It denounces inequality as the gravest form of injustice.

It enjoins its followers to combat oppression and tyranny.

It enshrines piety as the sole criteria for judging humankind.

It shuns race, colour, and gender as a basis of distinction amongst fellowmen.

When the human spirit was immersed in the darkness of the Middle Ages, Islam proclaimed equality between men and women. When women were viewed as inferior members of the human family, Islam gave them respect and dignity.

When women were treated as chattels, the Prophet of Islam (Peace Be Upon Him) accepted them as equal partners.

Islam codified the rights of women. The Koran elected their status to that of men. It guaranteed their civic, economic, and political rights. It recognised their participative role in nation building.

Sadly, the Islamic tenets regarding women were soon discarded. In Islamic society, as in other parts of the world, their rights were denied. Women were maltreated, discriminated against, and subjected to violence and oppression, their dignity injured and their role denied.

Women became the victims of a culture of exclusion and male dominance. Today more women than men suffer from poverty, deprivation, and discrimination. Half a billion women are illiterate. Seventy percent of the children who are denied elementary education are girls.

The plight of women in the developing countries is unspeakable. Hunger, disease, and unremitting toil is their fate. Weak economic growth and inadequate social support systems affect them most seriously and directly.

They are the primary victims of structural adjustment processes which necessitate reduced state funding for health, education, medical care, and nutrition. Curtailed resource flows to these vital areas impact most severely on the vulnerable groups, particularly women and children.

This, Madam Chairperson, is not acceptable. It offends my religion. It offends my sense of justice and equity. Above all, it offends common sense.

That is why Pakistan, the women of Pakistan, and I personally have been fully engaged in recent international efforts to uphold women’s rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enjoins the elimination of discrimination against women.

Bhutto voting

The Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies provide a solid framework for advancing women’s rights around the world. But the goal of equality, development, and peace still eludes us.

Sporadic efforts in this direction have failed. We are satisfied that the Beijing Platform of Action encompasses a comprehensive approach toward the empowerment of women. This is the right approach and should be fully supported.

Women cannot be expected to struggle alone against the forces of discrimination and exploitation. I recall the words of Dante, who reminded us that “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.”

Today in this world, in the fight for the liberation of women, there can be no neutrality.

My spirit carries many a scar of a long and lonely battle against dictatorship and tyranny. I witnessed, at a young age, the overthrow of democracy, the assassination of an elected prime minister, and a systematic assault against the very foundations of a free society.

But our faith in democracy was not broken. The great Pakistani poet and philosopher Dr. Allama Iqbal says, “Tyranny cannot endure forever.” It did not. The will of our people prevailed against the forces of dictatorship

But, my dear sisters, we have learned that democracy alone is not enough.

Freedom of choice alone does not guarantee justice.

Equal rights are not defined only by political values.

Social justice is a triad of freedom, an equation of liberty:

Justice is political liberty.

Justice is economic independence.

Justice is social equality.

Delegated sisters, the child who is starving has no human rights.

The girl who is illiterate has no future.

The woman who cannot plan her life, plan her family, plan a career, is fundamentally not free….

I am determined to change the plight of women in my country. More than sixty million of our women are largely sidelined.
It is a personal tragedy for them. It is a national catastrophe for my nation. I am determined to harness their potential to the gigantic task of nation building….

I dream of a Pakistan in which women contribute to their full potential. I am conscious of the struggle that lies ahead. But, with your help, we shall persevere. Allah willing, we shall succeed.

Benazir Bhutto 1995 Beijin

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No Sex Please – we are Church of England Bishops

This was a post which I guest wrote for Ellee Seymour’s pages back in January 2013. In the light of recent developments here in Britain and in Russia, which I have blogged on above – the posting of this piece here will enable the line of thinking which I am developing to have some coherence for those just coming to the debate – and the important issues of where Religion, Equality, Justice and the vision of Western Political Liberal Democracies now sit in relation to each another. Enjoy reading and creative just thinking.  June 2013.

Just when we thought that the Church of England had made its final assault on civil society’s sense of modernity and inclusion by failing to support women bishops, here comes another twist which is beyond belief.

The latest House of Bishops announcement made today effectively ends the ban on an openly gay man becoming bishop – as long as he (an it still at time of writing is most definitely a he)  remains celibate, and repents of any gay sexual relationships which he might have engaged in before his appointment. This interrogation on sexual practice does not form part of the standard procedures for appointment for a ‘straight’ male bishop, and, as the Christian writer Symon Hill, also the associate director of the think-tank Ekklesia, noted in an interview with The Independent this week,  the Church of England is still in the position of enforcing discrimination against both homosexual and female clergy.

“Unfortunately this is being presented as progress,” he said, ”but it’s really another announcement of discrimination It’s saying straight bishops can have sex but gay bishops can’t. Celibacy is a gift from God. Some people are called to it, others are not. It’s not a second best option for second best clergy.”

The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said by way of explanation of the

The Bishop of Norwich Rt Revd Graham Jones - out straight with two children

The Bishop of Norwich Rt Revd Graham Jones – out straight married with two children

extraordinary announcement, that “The House (of Bishops) believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline.”

The challenge now is how the Church of England can engage in a mature manner and theological insight, rather than political expediency. It has engineered its own precipitous exclusion from the gay marriage legislation, with ‘religious freedom’ protected via a “quadruple lock” announced by Culture Secretary Maria Miller.  This lock was forged by the government as a response to the vociferous opposition religious leaders within the established and the Catholic churches, to the idea of offering the sacrament of marriage to same sex partners. The “quadruple lock” effectively closes out the liturgy of the Church of England, its premises and its clerics from the performance of a marriage service for gay couples. The Equality Act itself will be altered so that a discrimination claim cannot be brought where there is a refusal on the part of any organisation or individual to marry a same-sex couple.

Rt. Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool Eighth bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles Out Gay and contributing into the life of the Church in America.

Rt. Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool Eighth bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles Out Gay and contributing into the life of the Church in America.

‘Crime against nature’ was an old English euphemism for sexual transgression. It is presumably these ‘crimes’ which an aspirant bishop will have to confess to, or deny having partaken of, as part of their assessment process, before an appointment can be made. The theological and ecclesial angst surrounding homosexuality on the part of religious leaders, emerges explicitly or implicitly in statements with a feint towards either the ‘unnaturalness’ of homophilia itself or its realisation in explicit sexual acts.

That would-be bishops who are gay must promise to stay celibate whether in a civil partnership or not in order to secure their appointment is an extraordinary and thoroughly unhelpful fudge. The fact that sexual congress is congruent with professed fidelity, which is what ‘validates’ sex for their ‘straight’ ‘married’ colleagues, and forms an integral part of building a relationship of companionship and self-giving love for any human being in a relationship configured by desire, regardless of sexual orientation, is ignored.

A theologically tuned-in leadership could find in all the recent energy emerging from gay and lesbian communities across the world, seeking parity in religiously or state sanctioned relationships a wonderful source of fresh insights into the ministry and praxis of their founder. After all, Jesus was not the offspring of a conventional heterosexual marriage, and his teaching on the nature of familial relationships was thoroughly disruptive of any model of ‘nuclear patriarchal household’ we might care to erect.

When we consider the nature of relationships now being entered into by gay people seeking parity through marriage, civil partnership, adoption and IVF rights, we see a vibrant display of what is an irreversible diversity, transforming wider society’s understanding of the legitimate relations of gender, sexuality and family. It is a pity that the leadership of the Church of England is currently struggling to find a way to interpret and bring any theological insight to how this diversity and life force streaming out of communities for too long silenced, degraded, humiliated, and demonised, is part of the movement of God’s creative, life affirming and transformational presence in the twenty first century.

It is simply not good enough for the Church to continue to play out at any level the transcript of ‘loving the sinner but hating the sin’.  Any conception of homosexuality as some form of ‘abnormality’ chosen or inflicted, is embedded in an outmoded view of homosexual orientation fixed somewhere in the latter half of the nineteenth century, when Karl Maria Kertbeny first coined the phrase in 1868.

It is time that the Church of England, and all other religious organisations, took note of what a range of scientific disciplines ranging from anthropology, zoology, neurophysiology and psychiatry has disclosed over the last century. Homosexual desire which plays a central part in configuring a homophilic man or woman is part of the normal distribution of human society.

Eva Brunne - out gay, civil partnered, a mother and a Bishop - holding the Stolkholm Crozier after her consecration in 2009

Eva Brunne – out gay, civil partnered, a mother and a Bishop – holding the Stockholm Crozier after her consecration in 2009

It is time that the Church of England played straight with theology, science and its own demographic.  Some clergy, some laity, some theologians, some bishops, some churchwardens, some would be ordinands, and some archdeacons are gay. It is time to address the way we live now without having to provoke a fresh searing satire from the hands of a contemporary Trollope, or to enforce any further suffering, shadow living, early retirements, blocked participation, half-truths, inauthenticity or needless stress on those in our communities who are gay.  It is time to get over old shibboleths, surmount ignorance, acknowledge the Body’s grace, review the church’s position on gay marriage before it’s too late and ordain those to the Episcopacy whom God is calling from the splendid diversity of those created, male and female, straight and gay in God’s image, without further prejudice.

As the Stonewall poster campaign has been declaring for the last four years on billboards around the UK – some people are gay, get over it.

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To hug or to hold? the art of shaking hands in a bro hug age.

To Hug or to Hold?

Women Need To Stop Hugging At Work And Start Shaking Hands - this post by got me thinking. The essential thesis of the Grindstone piece is that for women in the North Atlantic zone to get on and start seriously ‘mixing it’ with male power brokers, then having a good strong hand shake in one’s handbag of greetings probably is as essential as a reliable waterproof mascara, and an all day long lippy.handshake So here is why in my opinion this issue of how we greet is significant and carries implications for all sorts of thinking and change around equality and inclusion.

Whilst not neglecting the importance of a good firm hand shake for both genders in Western business contexts,(the mascara and the lippy probably taken up more by women than men) it is clear that men have a wide grammar developed over many centuries of confident public greeting patterns own which they can draw in their greeting of other males, through which they express solidarity, affirm their networks and indeed start the process of recruiting new members into their particular circles of power. Hand oObaman shoulder, bro hug, strong connected handshake sometimes involving the double hand clasp, a brief hand pat on the back – all these are deployed when males greet and mutually affirm each other’s presence in public and business environments. When cross-gender relations are being established there is some hand shaking that is applied and also the kissing of women which can take a variety of forms from a single kiss on the cheek, and if continental, a double or triple kiss. Bro hugging is a strong form of homo-sociality – which has long been in place both in public spaces and behind closed doors in offices, clubfootball bro hugs, pubs, terraces and sports facilities across continents. Its benefits are multiple in realising and developing social bonding, spheres of influence and the manifestation of trust – essential to building effective working relationships.

The challenge for females is that their forms of same sex bonding in public space which are widely recognised in western society, can carry a more domesticated or cocktail party flavour. The air kissing of WAGS (Wives and Girlfrair kissing

iends of Sportsmen) and celebrities which which has a great deal of public play in the North Atlantic imaginary, sustained by print and TV media – carries something slightly inauthentic in its enactment. The stronger double or treble kissing for women in the southern states of the EU -which can be undertaken across gender, has more historical authenticity and robustness as a form of greeting – and can operate powerfully as a cross-gendered greeting both domestically and in business relationships in those countries.courtesy of

The wider public and business grammar of greetings which leave women both creating strong public presence, establishing trust in off line women’s networking fora, and able to establish equality in mixed gender settings – particularly where there are powerful hierarchical currents in play – needs to be explored and the underlying themes of social bonding, and territorial marking understood.

Where does air kissing sit in such settings? Does continental European cheek kissing present as suggested above, another subtly more powerful mode of initial greeting? Just how close do women want to get in close up and personal bear or bro hugs or a single formal kiss with male peers or even seniors? What is the level of relationship which is being publicly expressed in more intimate gestures as they start to be manifested as a routinised form of greeting? Should we start preparing North Atlantic females to manage strong purposeful hand shakes as their initial point of departure, with full facility in the panoply of other greetings increasingly available to them – alongside the essential ability to side step and adjust greeting patterns with which they do not feel comfortable? It happens – and women should be prepared for these moments and have already considered their responses. The proverb to be forewarned is to be forearmed is relevant in these cases. Consideration enables us to be both considerate and considered in our management of public space and all that can emerge within it to capsize women’s confidence and equality which occurs from time to time.

Inappropriate greetings

I remember one of my senior clients, when I was working as a junior member of the firm eight months pregnant and manifestly blooming, placing his hand on my presenting stomach as his first gesture of greeting and saying ‘wonderful, how is everything going down there’ – momentary shock allied with a genteel publpregnant womanic school education alongside the presence of a surrounding posse of office senior males, prevented me responding in like manner, only a few inches further south. The point of all this discussion around acceptable forms of greeting is that we should be steered by the rule of thumb that greetings in the business and public domain are designed to express equality, respect and safety. That is the purported reason why the handshake was developed in the first place, to demonstrate that neither party held a weapon in their dominant hand (which somewhat begs the question about those who were left handed – but sinistrism can be discussed at another point).

Greeting, making connections, sustaining connections and supporting wider connections are part and parcel of building influence, healthy networks, and supporting our well-being in general. Understanding how these different forms of greeting function and how to become adept across the spectrum of the grammar of connection is an important part of cultural flexibility and intercultural networks

In Russia up until very recently shaking a woman’s hand by a man would not be acceptable, raising one’s hand to be kissed would be far more appropriate – but not in the business setting. The day of the firm, confident handshake is not over. Time methinks to ensure women and men can still manage a confident handshake, or a clear European cheek to cheek as women move forward into formerly designated and culturally marked male public spaces. Thoughts?

See more on cultural readiness and translateability at

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The Equality Act 2010 and Women Bishops

In the light of the UK Equality Act of 2010 there are some serious questions for the Church of England to be addressing over the next months as it collectively ruminates on the trauma it delivered, to itself and the waiting public who still care what the institution makes of itself in third millennium Britain.  By 6 votes  the legislation which would have been put in play to ordain women as Bishops into the Church of England failed.  Ironically the vote failed to reach the required two thirds majority in the House of Laity.  Testimony claimed some that this was not about systemic misogyny or sexism, but a matter of deeply held theological difference, which must be honoured.

First female Bishop in Africa

At the same time as the Church of England Synod was failing to legitimise the

the first female Bishop of the diocese of Swaziland

As the Church of England says NO – one of the Southern African churches says ‘Yes’.

equality of women across its organisational remit,  one of her African sisters was on the move. African christians, so frequently lassooed into conversation to add  ballast to the argument of conservative forces against opening up the Church to yet another equality, whether that of recognising the right for persons with the protected characteristic of sexual orientation to be ordained, or of the challenges around gay marriage, were welcoming the first female Bishop of Swaziland – Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya into their midst.  A clear reversal of fortunes and dynamics, of which the Church of England and its leadership should take clear note. The newspaper headlines calling out from billboards in the streets made clear the opinions of some of the press and general public about what had been holding up such an appointment over the last decades of political and civil society change.

160 years of male domination in the Anglican (colonially planted) church ends today, calls out the billboard.  For the Anglican church in England it will be interesting to see which year is set for the timeline to be adjusted to by the editors responsible for the sales strap-line.  For change is coming, and will come – and other churches on the move are not simply the churches of our former ‘colonial’ cousins, in New Zealand, Australia, the USA and Canada, but emerging from across Africa.  At present the signs are smaller than a child’s fist, but they will undoubtedly grow. As confidence builds,  old shibboleths are overcome, and the onward march of civil entitlement and equality is understood, this renewal of the Anglican church will emerge in India, South America and even have a presence in China and the far East, alongside other minority churches seeking to express the equality which has been ‘in captivity’ within the founding mission statement of the churches for so many generations.

The Equality Act of 2010 has a history rooted in the evolution of the declaration of Human Rights which emerged on the 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The Declaration arose directly from the horrific experiences of the second world war and was the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.  Unfortunately the male ascription of sibling affinity, somewhat undermined its ability to transform immediately the gender inequalities which were endemic across European polity at that time. The first article announces in the same tone adopted by so much of the liturgy of the Anglican church, references to brotherhood, and the assumption of the male is the referent for all ascriptions of humanity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1 of the Universal declaration announces: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. And Article 7 declares that : All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Protection from discrimination

This is the deep political and civil entitlement context out of which the Equality Act 2010 eventually emerged into our legal landscape.  The 2010 single Equality Act which outlines 9 protected characteristics which public authorities have a duty to protect and to actively promote inclusion are as follows:
gender reassignment;
pregnancy and maternity;
religion or belief;
sexual orientation.

Equality Act  Section 149 para 7

This public duty applies to all public bodies, though there is some form of exemption which operates for the General Synod buried deep in its inner legal workings – which has left the Church of England free to evolve its own decisions about how authority, power and talent acquisition and development can be managed in a manner which clearly privileges certain types of male. These days of being let off the hook though may soon be ending after yesterday’s shocking result. A result which visibly shook Archbishop Rowan Williams, and his heir apparent the Rt Revd Justin Welby – and the majority of General Synod members in all three houses.

The church needs a prod

In Prime Minister’s Question Time this afternoon UK Prime Minister David Cameron was asked to comment on the no vote at General Synod and mentioned that the Church of England might be in need of ‘a sharp prod’ (@cllrbpiper).  There will undoubtedly be numerous prods being poked through the railings surrounding Lambeth Palace, across the desks of church bureaucrats and into the meetings of Bishops and the Archbishop’s council in the coming weeks, to provoke the Church of England’s corporate imagination and ingenuity to finally realise the aspirations of 42 out of its 45 dioceses, and overwhelming 70% of its representation at General Synod.

What could be of great assistance as Synod says goodbye to Archbishop Rowan and prepares itself to welcome in his stead the Rt Revd Justin Welby when it convenes some time during the coming year, is to consider the public duty which all citizens in the UK are asked to be mindful of.  This is the duty which  every public authority in the UK is tasked to actively promote and attend to within its own organisation and is announced in the Equality Act of 2010 – which I attach below.

Love thy neighbour

Although a statement of well sculpted legal text, it spells out clearly a late modern vision of non-discrimination, the preconditions for a flourishing meritocracy, and the sort of world in which God might be pleased to dwell in.  That final clause is not one detailed in the Equality Act itself. But it is one on which the Established Church of England might like to ponder, and post across its churches, as a contemporary intention for mission.  It may not make as good spiritual poetry as the ancient Aramaic of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves, but it might just spell out some of the consequences of trying to work out the consequences of its founder’s central brand statement for the church today.

Equality Act 2010

Section 149    Public sector equality duty

(1) A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to—
(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;
(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
(c)foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
(2)A person who is not a public authority but who exercises public functions must, in the exercise of those functions, have due regard to the matters mentioned in subsection (1).
(3) Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—
(a remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are connected to that characteristic;
(b) take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it;
(c) encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low.
(4)The steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled persons that are different from the needs of persons who are not disabled include, in particular, steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities.
(5) Having due regard to the need to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—
(a) tackle prejudice, and
(b) promote understanding.
(6) Compliance with the duties in this section may involve treating some persons more favourably than others; but that is not to be taken as permitting conduct that would otherwise be prohibited by or under this Act.
(7) The relevant protected characteristics are—
gender reassignment;
pregnancy and maternity;
religion or belief;
sexual orientation.
(8) A reference to conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act includes a reference to—
(a)a breach of an equality clause or rule;
(b)a breach of a non-discrimination rule.
(9) Schedule 18 (exceptions) has effect.

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Bridenapping – a new twist on an ancient patriarchal art

Celebrations in the local hostelry after the bride has been seized is not so far back in our culture as many of us suppose.

Celebrations in the local hostelry after the bride has been seized is not so far back in our culture as many of us suppose.


Today’s Independent has a piece by Emily Duggan in which she reports on the existence of a scarcely reported phenomenon of bridenapping in over 17 different countries.  The UN spokesperson Aminata Touré, chief of the Gender, Human Rights and Culture branch of the UN Population Fund, is reported as saying: “What we really need is more research to come up with the level of the problem. For something to be registered as a crime, it has to be reported; that’s the problem, because it’s often seen as a cultural practice and not a crime. When it’s not perceived as a crime, it becomes even harder for this practice to be registered as one. These are issues that sometimes it is problematic even to talk about. The bottom line is that women are considered as commodities – both by the husband who takes them and their own families who accept a deal.”

Well yes – because although the excesses of bridenapping are still being carried out with the default acceptance by the authorities in many countries included in this Independent on Sunday report in Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, China, across many countries in Africa including Somalia, and from my own first hand reported experience in DR Congo, aswell as in some countries in South America – the resonances of this in our own Western idealised Hollywood weddings are still extremely present today.

This is not to diminish the appalling offence of bridenapping as it is being executed today on the lives of young women seeking to live out their lives independently and freely, and finding this avenue cut off precipitously by force by a marauding male, or more frequently small team of males.  A form of legitimized rape, and long-term removal of a woman’s life options comes on the back of any cultural legitimation of buying, selling, removing by force of women from their communities, whether the wider culture seeks to diminish the offence by placing the word husband next to the man who has appropriated another’s life.

However – and when you have read this next portion please hop across to the report on the Independent’s pages to see the extent of the challenge which faces the legislature in the affected countries and the UNPF as it seeks to make cultural inroads on the problem – however.  We in our celebrity, meringue laden, Bridegroom assisted by team helmsman of Best man and his crew of Ushers performance of marriage, where the Bridegrooms sword hand is free to fend off any attempt by the bride-napped family to regain their daughter, where the Best Man is situated behind the Bridegroom precisely to defend his

The Bride and Groom depart with the applause of family and friends - the history of bridenapping in our medieval past long forgotten

back, and where Father’s still ‘give their daughter’s away’ in marriage to another man – all these practices hark back to an age which now in most of Western Europe has happily passed into the archive.  But the cultural practice of male power, dominance, privilege and inter-male exchange persists.  Not to mention the popularity of recruiting wives from Thailand, Russia, the Philipines and countries where a woman can be a means by which her wider family gains access to previously undreamt of financial resources – whilst her own understanding of her rights and freedom to choose can be substantially constrained.

A timely piece and one rich with implications for action both here in the West, as well as in the halls of the UNDP, and the legislatures and communities of the 17 countries named and shamed so far.

The Independent on Sunday –

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The best people to sort this all out.


Every once in a while large organisations with international clout and mega-billion budgets, which bestride our societies like Colossi, reveal their feet of clay, and their heads of – well if not clay then certainly some base metal.  These immense juggernauts which gather up so much passion, resources, time and human energy, suddenly spew out their harvest, and whilst convulsing, the command centre desperately seeks to keep its balance and authority.

Two such Colossi this last fortnight have suffered such implosion. One is the epitome of the capitalist phenomenon of unfettered growth ‘giving the people’ in their purchasing millions, what they supposedly wanted and reaping the benefits in a multi-billion pound empire. The other has had incontrovertible power and authority over millions of faithful Catholics across the world, and multi-billion pounds of real estate, but its days of holding sway over the hearts and minds of four million Irish men and women could well be numbered.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, this last week faced unprecedented attack and criticism from a government report which found one of the dioceses, the diocese of Cloyne in direct contravention of the stated policy of the church to co-operate fully with police investigations of alleged child abuses in the diocese.  Stung undoubtedly by the swingeing remarks by Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the negligence of the Church authorities and leadership to address the appalling cover up of sexual abuse by priests and those placed by the Church in authority over children in its institutions, Archbishop Diarmuid, claimed that there was cabal in his own Archdiocese and in the Vatican which was failing to drive through the reforms in procedures, which the Irish Bishops’ conference has ratified and for which he has pastoral oversight. Key individuals, including the Bishop of Cloyne, have failed to fully cooperate with government prosecutors and investigators, preferring to protect the institution according to the old rules, not recognising that the order of play has fundamentally altered.

Across the water in Westminster a similar attempt was being launched by Robert Maxwell, to save the nerve centre, as he bewailed the failure of those whom he had appointed to uphold the standards and values which News International required from their employees. A foam based custard pie thrown by one of the audience, was the vote of no confidence expressed more eloquently, but less democratically, than a thousand words of fresh copy.

The point is this.  Institutions as Mary Douglas reminds us in her wonderfully adroit exposition of How Institutions Think, have hidden sequences which catch individuals in their traps and hurl them down paths they never chose. It is all part of the latent power of groups and the ways in which individuals collude with the wider organisation’s themes and cohesive values in order to maintain the group’s unity and identity.

In the Catholic Church in Ireland this has meant that child abusing priests have been protected against prosecution for the sake of maintaining a myth of rectitude and the unbroken interlinked chain of power of priest, bishop, cardinal, pope and ultimately God.    At the News of the World it has meant that hacking or accessing information which would give advantage over and against its opposition and maintain high volumes of sales allegedly became an accepted mode of behaviour.

Whether prosecuting a campaign to out paedophiles in British communities, or simply acquiring yet another piece of juicy political, royal or celebrity gossip and enabling an embarrassing photo opportunity, the journalistic end started to justify the means. And so a form of journalism emerged which placed those who practiced it and those who consented to its practice, clearly in a rat trap.

And those caught in a trap and hurled down the path have been senior directors and executives. Down this last fortnight have hurtled Andy Coulson, Rebecca Brook, and eight other reporters associated with the News of the World.  But also down go the wider employee base of the paper which after one hundred and sixty years precipitously ceased production – caught in the after shock of the revelations, as the Colossus starts to crumble. At  this point, with extraordinary Chutzpah the command centre steps forward.  ‘I think’ said Rupert Murdoch to the parliamentary committee convened to investigate the crisis  ‘“that, frankly, I’m the best person to clean this up.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin obviously thinks the same. However whether he will be able to clean this particular cess pit of buried difficult, embarrassing and criminal behaviour is uncertain. Unfortunately for the Archbishop, like his fellow beleaguered multi billionaire leader of News International, much of the current trouble has happened on his watch. Archbishop Martin’s discomfiture with the criticisms made this week by the Taoiseach have stung him into an outburst at members of his own clergy, the retired Bishop of Cloyne and some of the entrenched protectionist culture practiced in Rome.

When Archbishop Rowan Williams made direct criticisms of the Irish Catholic Church and its inability to grip the issue of child abuse last year Archbishop Martin was reported to have “rarely felt personally so discouraged”.  At that point Archbishop Martin had said that those working to renew the church did not deserve the remarks, which “will be for them immensely disheartening and will challenge their faith even further”. Of course any criticism is disheartening, but the report produced by the independent panel of investigators this Wednesday showed that the collegial prompt from Lambeth was in order.

Now the only way forward for Murdoch and Martin is apparently to shake the dust of their amputated feet of clay from under them and seek to put as much distance from their corrupted limbs and torsos as Colossal brass necks will permit. Whether the strategy will work for either of them – only time and tide will tell. For the sake of Milly Dowler’s parents and family, and for over 13,000 children and adults who have filed cases against the Irish Church since the Catholic Church began the process of reporting such cases to the Police in January 1996 it is to be hoped that the process of clarification is carried through thoroughly.

Last Wednesday’s lacerating 341 page government report on numerous cover ups of paedophilia by Catholic priests between 1996-2009 in the County Cork diocese of Cloyne, will take some digesting. Whether the command centre of News International or the Irish Catholic juggernaut can be overhauled to be seen as roadworthy, fit and safe to travel on in the future will be a task for government, law enforcement and the judiciary to enable. But ultimately it is you and I, the readers, purchasers, parishioners, and congregations to decide.

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Rice Christianity – from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg

Not since the Fidei defensor turned excommunicated renegade has there been such a public falling out with Rome on account of the actions of an  independent thinking Anne. At 18.36 precisely on the 28th of July,  Anne Rice, author of Interviews with a Vampire and one time Catholic returned prodigal, posted on her face book page the following notice:

‘For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.’

The other Anne, sister of Mary Boleyn and wife of Henry Tudor, was a similarly feisty lady. A champion of the spirit of the European Reformation, Anne owned one of the first copies

Anne Boleyn - A champion of the spirit of the European Reformation who lost her head in the struggles at the English court for succession.

of the revolutionary Tyndale Bible. This Bible was a radical and future orientated item to own, a veritable iPod of change. Tyndale’s Bible brought sacred texts previously the privileged possession of  the clerical elite into the hands of the laity. English rather than Latin, the voice of the peasant rather than the court, the Aramaic and Koine Greek of first century Palestine rather than the politically corrected translation of the Constantinian Empire.

Tyndale and Wycliffe before him exploited the new technology emerging out of the fifteenth century.  Gutenberg’s printing press prompted a knowlege revolution of unprecedented proportions. Scripture was released from the ‘thought police’ of the Vatican.  Clerical control of the the thoughts and imagination of the faithful was severed. The printing press providing the means for mass distribution of ideas, and the bold scholarly translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular of German, English and French revolutionised sixteenth century Europe.  At the centre of the firestorm in the Tudor court was Anne Boleyn with  her copy of Tyndale’s Bible. Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII triggered papal excommunication and the emergence of the Church of England, independent from Rome, with the monarch as the temporal Head of the Church.

Anne Rice whose Facebook post has caused a stir in virtual Christendom

As with Boleyn so with Rice.  This time the internet not ink and paper, courtesy of one Mark Zuckerberg not Johannes Gutenberg. Nevertheless a similar gauntlet has been thrown down to the Vatican. No marriage was being annulled, but questions around the efficacy of same sex-marriage  informed a great deal of the anxiety which led to Anne Rice’s profile update. This issue of which marriages can be approved of by church and state is part of today’s ‘great question’ mirroring Henry’s troubled question on his leveritical marriage to his brother’s wife centuries ago.

“I believed for a long time that the differences, the quarrels among Christians didn’t matter a lot for the individual, that you live your life and stay out of it. But then I began to realize that it wasn’t an easy thing to do,” said Rice, in an interview given to the AP news from her home in  California. “I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t make this declaration, I was going to lose my mind.”

The conclusion that Anne Rice came to was that she could no longer be part of a church which she perceived as anti gay, anti democrat, anti feminist, anti artificial birth control.

Since her post, over 100,000 Facebook members have become friends with Anne on her facebook page, many of whom have been long term followers of Anne through her writings on Vampires and her metaphysical fiction series, “Songs of the Seraphim.”

It makes you wonder what could have happened with the other Anne had she had the facility of engaging directly with the villeins and peasantry of the kingdom.  Comments on the dissolution of the monasteries would have been extensive and spawned a number of fanpages for Wolsey, Thomas More and the Northern Rising and Robert Aske. Henry VIIIs role as temporal head of the Church of England would have been widely disputed no doubt, and the Pope’s excommunication of the King and the withdrawal of the papal legate would have occupied numerous blogs and tweets on the twittersphere.  But with the traction of social media, Anne might have survived the savagery of a King desperate for a son and the violence which he meted out on his second wife in her perceived betrayal of him in failing to provide a baby boy and secure the Tudor succession.

Which raises the question about what this new form of Rice Christianity, denouncing the perfidy of Rome and its stagnant out of kilter positions on gender equality, same-sex relationships, the privileging of the unborn child over the welfare of the birthing mother might be harbinger to.

Gutenberg's printing press spawned a thought revolution across Europe in the sixteenth century.

Gutenberg’s press opened up a way of sharing and expressing ideas which the political economy of the Holy Roman Empire and the Divine right of Kings never recovered from. The populations touched by the ink of the printing presses never returned to their former pre-enlightenment state.  In Britain the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible emerged as a new Trinity to face down the old ‘restrictive’ practices of Rome – it heralded married priests, communion in both kinds, services in the vernacular,  energised a movement towards mass literacy and saw an upsurge in vestry power.

So what of Zuckerberg and the growing band of disappointed pilgrims  now identifying with Anne Rice’s disillusionment with the Catholic Church.  The internet provides a new technological tool for realising virtual communities with an unprecedented means for associating, sharing ideas, providing practical support and enabling the spread of ideas internationally across generations, genders, ethnicities and ideological persuasion.

When Anne Boleyn’s fiance set his face determinedly against the Holy See – the religious and secular landscape underwent a seismic change. Whether Anne Rice’s self-exclusion from the fellowship of Rome will result in similar shock waves is not yet clear. What is certain however is that in an age of internet connectivity and virtually shaped communities, the pre-modern stance of the Roman Catholic church on issues of equality, diversity,  the rights of women over their own bodies’ reproductivity and redress of paedophilic transgressions,  will be exposed to immense pressures of public reflection and criticism, with alternative modes of performing its religious functions developed outside of the control of the religious hierarchy.

Thankfully, if Anne Rice continues to keep her head in the ensuing noise in the twittersphere and blogsphere, there will be at least one place where those interested in exploring Christianity can gather, abandoning the bitter misogynistic and homophobic discourses which are now perceived  as commonplace in Anglicanism and embedded in Vatican house rules. It may not be an upper room, nor a Queen’s bedchamber, and only a humble page – but it could signal the beginning of new reformation – and for that only time will tell.

You can follow Anne Rice’s public separation from formalised religion and independent journey forward as a follower of Christ on Facebook -

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Fridays are a great day to look forward to the week-end and sum up the week that has been – except frequently I find there is no time!

Here is Beth Nielsen Chapman getting her priorities right –

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Paraskevidekatriaphobia – fear of Friday 13th.

Who is afraid of  big bad Friday the 13th? Well whilst on the twittersphere at the time of writing, it hasn’t made the top 10 of trending topics with Inception and Ramadan – there are a huge number of #related tweets on ‘why do things always go wrong for me on Friday 13th’  ‘spooky’ and general excuses for countering the protestant work ethic and staying in bed.

So back to the title. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is literally fear of Fridays when they happen to fall on the 13th day of the Roman calendrical month – so what is all the fuss about?

A study in the British Medical Journal provocatively titled “Is Friday the 13th Bad for Your Health?” published in 1993,  undertook an examination of road useage, supermarket attendance, and hospital admissions on a Friday 13th as against the previous Friday the 6th in the South East of the UK. It was discovered in this limited but nevertheless wryly enlightening piece of research that whilst the utilisation of supermarkets remained fairly constant between the two fridays, the likelihood of hospital admission  as a result of a transport accident was increased by as much as 52%. The report’s abstract finishes with the recommendation that staying at home, if not under the duvet, is to be recommended.

Whatever the shortcomings of the above research in terms of managing out other contextual impacts on road traffic accidents in terms of weather or specific local alterations in condition between the two Fridays in the study’s area of control, the South West Thames region of the UK and its associated stretch of M25, it does point to an enduring public anxiety attached to Friday the 13th in the UK which could do with some explication.

As David Emery points out on his blog in []

The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times, and their inevitable conjunction from one to three times a year (there happens to be only one such occurrence in 2010, in the month of August) portends more misfortune than some credulous minds can bear. According to some sources it’s the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people refuse to go to work on Friday the 13th; some won’t eat in restaurants; many wouldn’t think of setting a wedding on the date.

The figure in the United States, according to  Dr Donald Dossey, an American psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias, of those who experience a phobic response to Friday the 13th,  could be a staggering 21 million people in the US alone.  An unknown but probably significant proportion of phobia sufferers simply refuse to go to work when this particular conjunction of 6 and 13 coalesce – a combination which occurs from one to three times annually.

So where has this fear of 13 come from for the North European and North American mind? I put this geographical limiter on quite purposefully because in China and in Egypt the number 13 is not an omen of bad fortune, but a sign of luck and of happiness.

If we consider the roots of dominant northern societal myths, we need look no further than the Norse myths of Scandinavia, and the dominant religious motifs emerging from Judaeo-Christendom for some indications of wobbly moments around the numbers 13 and 6 some interesting details emerge.

In Norse myth a banquet at the gods Hilton – Valhalla – saw twelve gods on the celebrity invitation list. However Loki, the one that they all loved to hate, the god of mischief, was not invited.  He crashed the party and brought the total number of guests to, you guessed it, 13. Loki got in amongst the conversations, and provolked Hod, the blind god of winter into an assault on Balder the Good.  Balder was killed – remarkably by a sprig of mistletoe (thereby hangs some other tales for Christmas) shaped in a spear, thrown by Hod.  The number 13 as a poor choice for dinner invitations has endured to this day.

Which leads us nicely to an upper room in Jerusalem. There on the night before Jesus was Crucified – on the crucifixion day set aside by Imperial Rome and later adopted across Northern Europe as hangman’s Friday, thirteen men sat down to dine. One of this number was to betray Jesus, thus solidifying Nothern European anxieties around the unequal numbers for dinner arrangements.

In other evidence from the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, Friday has been traditionally linked to the day when Eve ate some delicious fruit from the tree of knowledge and offered it to Adam, resulting in their subsequent eviction from the garden, the Tower of Babel project was interrupted by God with the confusion of languages on a Friday, the Temple of Solomon was ransacked and destroyed on a Friday and although linguistically marked as ‘good Friday’ Christians have traditionally recognised Friday as a day of penance, fasting and general abstinence.

I’d be interested to hear from those whose cultures mark out Fridays and baker’s dozens’ in an altogether more favourable light. Meantime happy Paraskevidekatria – watch out for making deals on these strangely ‘marked’ days as some of the right people may not be in the office or paying due attention  – and may all your phobias be little ones.

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