Author Archives: rachel_barr

Art, Alcohol and Depression


WE ALL KNOW about the somber, yet weirdly attractive, myth associated with art, and artists. The scene is all set. Behind a simple desk, deep into the night, is an open collared, boozy, melancholic painter or novelist, driven slightly out of his mind, in order to produce a luminous piece of art. It’s very tempting to be teleological about it. The idea is ancient. Early Greeks called it entheos when a slight insobriety was sought to provoke inspiration. Though there is some truth in the concept of entheos, the romanticization of the lifestyles of Hemingway or Van Gogh, seems to either avoid or answer cheaply, the question of depression.

Why are some surprised, and even disappointed, when told that Mozart’s mental condition was probably genetic and not induced by musical virtuoso? Well, when applied universally and not only to Mozart, the disappointment arises from two corollary realizations. First, that there is no maddening truth hidden in art. Secondly, it means the abolition of the pornographic wish that someone ought to find that trueness and, preferably, to be maddened by it. By the way, don’t be astonished to find out that this type of cynicism is present wherever there is a mystical or esoteric fantasy. Its not quite the human sacrifice of our ancestors, but the same old wish to see it happen is still there, especially if one could have a disclosure of the occult in return.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, a sense of confusion gripped those who knew the flamboyant, energetic, almost uncontrollable persona of the comedian. That he had such an appreciation of humour and playfulness, yet so tormented with bottomless depression. Sometimes, the hardest thing to spot is that which is staring you right in the face. I realized this half wondering about the contradiction myself and came to remember Richard Pryor and Chris Farley (who became so lonely in his last days that he paid a prostitute to hang out with him. When they began arguing about money, the lady left, with Farley right behind her, begging her to stay. That’s when he collapsed. His final words were “don’t leave me”) and many other troubled comedians. Jason Pargin wrote a brilliant article about the tragedy of humour. In a lethargic, almost aggressive manner, he reflected on how the comical often served as a masquerade for a much darker core: a ruined childhood, a mental disorder. Remember also how much of humour is self-irony. So the trauma starts living off you. Your skin colour if you’re black, your obesity if you’re fat, your foreignness, your mental instability. Pargin put it bluntly, even hauntingly, when he wrote that this was the clown feeding on the human being, and not only that, it was feeding on all the traumas and insecurities of that very being.

I saw the distinction here as well. Sylvia Plath and Mozart could all be very depressive. They articulated this in their craft. Of course, in comedy that would be a complete non-sequitur. When Mozart had an occasional go at humour in his signed letters, it was scatological. And even so, what about the lazy suggestion that humour keeps us sane? The suggestion is lazy, becomes it means nothing, though it sounds like something. Humour is the confirmation of our insanity. Try to picture the vastness of the universe, its chaos, its meaninglessness, its random disposition, its self destruction, and imagine somewhere in all this, certain ingredients of the universe has met to produce conscious mammals, who now sit round a bonfire on a hostile planet, all looking at each other bewildered, finding no other reaction to this absurdity than mere laughter. It seems disarming, though it’s perfectly insane.

The brilliant Ned Vizzini, who committed suicide, wrote about how life was being like a “reverse nightmare” and that it sometimes felt as if he was, not waking up from, but waking into a nightmare. This is painfully revealing. The utter graveness of those words hinted at a chronic twist to his suffering. Nothing is quite like the sight of an expressive mind also being incurably desolate. The most useful literature on depression or bipolar is not in psychiatry or psychology, but happens to be of Sylvia Plath, or Virginia Woolf, or Stephen Fry. Even then, such a compliment can only be pitiful at best. And so, when you need catharsis, art is apathetic. It doesn’t heal you, and even, throuh self-exploration, deepens your wounds. Its a mirror of the self. Perhaps only vaguely, or partly, but always there is a small hint of exposure. Being still magnetized to such fate might at first seem masochistic, but it is true that the manic sometimes can only think through colour, or movement, or note or prose. The true tragedy presents itself when this arousal turns into depression and one can no more see anything but through the lenses of self-pity.

And so people are right to point out that there is a triumvirate here between creativity, intoxication and mental illness, though the circle of cause and effect is much less romantic and more practical than imagined. Those who do have a mental disorder, or a proneness in that direction, are proportionally more allured by art. The implication here is of course more than disturbing. Just as much as the silly clown or the open-collared drunkard feeds of its victim, so does our culture, the viewers, the readers, the onlookers. You and me.

Written by Hanad Ali
Picture Credit: Symphony of Love

‘Against’ Homosexuality: The political battle across France


FRANCE HAS A long tradition of social movements. Strikes and demonstrations are such a common thing that French protesting generally does not bring surprise to the world. On October 7, 2014, huge demonstrations were held in Paris and Bordeaux with unconventional participants. Contra the typical ‘fight for your rights’ motivation of most protests, participants marched against guaranteed rights for homosexual couples, legislated in May 2013.

From Mariage pour tous to Manif’ pour tous

Small historical reminder: In May 2012 and in France, the socialist candidate Francois Hollande becomes the new President of the Republic. Among his promises, the legalisation of the wedding for homosexual people (it is the ‘mariage pour tous’ marriage for all) as well as the possibility for homosexual couples to adopt. One legal option was previously available for them: PACS (Civil Pact of Solidarity), a contract which creates mutual rights and obligations for couples but does not give a legal security as strong as the marriage, especially in areas concerning family and inheritance.

Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice, is asked with preparing this bill to be discussed in The Parliament. Even if this promise was in the official program of the socialist candidate – that allowed him to be elected-, a certain part of the population does not agree with it and is getting ready to make some noise. A collective of 37 associations, mostly Christians but some also targeting the defence of child’s rights and families or political, called for massive demonstrations across France from November 2012. This movement, now named « Manif’ pour tous » (Demonstration for All) – to remind, if we need it, why they are fighting for- claims to had managed to gather around 500 000 to 1 million participants from the beginning of their actions according to the movement to shout that they do not want neither gay marriage couples neither its associated rights of adoption. Encouraging citizens to protest loudly and organizing journeys from all the French cities to join them in Paris by chartered buses or train deals.

Logo_La_Manif_pour_tous

Over the course of 2013, several large demonstrations succeeded in France, interrupted of scandals and criticism. In March 2013, Beatrice Bourges, one of the figures of the movement is excluded from Manif’ pour Tous when a part of demonstrators broke prefectural rules to protest onto Champs Elysées to face policemen. This mark the official separation of the Manif’ pour Tous with another movement called French Spring, with reference to the Arabic Spring.

It’s soon the turn of Frigide Barjot, a leading media spokeswoman for the Movement who is then pushed out following claims that she is not in line anymore with the movement’s positions- too lenient with the law that had just been promulgated. Plus, happened some homophobic skids that occurred during the demonstrations, without forgetting some violent talks of the catholic association CIVITAS – often considered as fundamentalist- which joined the demonstrations, but had finally been excluded by the collective.

Manif ‘pour Tous has also been criticized for the involment of children during the protests, not only bringing them to demonstrate but also placing them at the front of the group, looking similar as a shield against the police. Some mark the irony of an organization fighting to prevent the children’s rights by same-sex parents instrumentalizing their own in such a way.

Finally, some politics have accused the Manif’ pour Tous to legitimate homophobic speeches and acts.

And after the promulgation…

What does the law say?

The law allows same-sex couples to get married, and adopt. Marriage creates mutual obligations but also advantages and security for each married. It does not say a word about surrogacy, still forbidden in France for any couple. This law leads to equal rights for both homosexual and heterosexual couples. Since the law is passed in May 2013 and accepted by the Constitutional Council, the Manif’ pour Tous has not weakened as noticed with the recent demonstration in October 2014, with a number of participants estimated between 500 000 according to the movement and 70 000 for the Police. A victory for the participants who not only want to pressure François Hollande and his team, but also send a signal for the next political elections in France. They want to be heard. And still the same message: the French family is in danger.

On what do they based their claim? Sacrilege of the wedding, of “natural”conception and of children’s rights that would be in danger – in other words to preserve the ‘traditional family.’

They won’t give up, and they are encouraged by their successful demonstrations. This time, it’s for two things, according to the official website of the movement. First, the abrogation of the Taubira Law – which would create insecurity for the 7000 couples already married in 2013. Second, to manifest their aversion to the surrogacy of whom government has already said that the legalisation is not discussed in France, and the Assisted Reproductive Technology for homosexual couples- which is not allowed as well.

A few widespread factors explain Manif’ pour Tous’ success in France: a certain Christian heritage, conservative mind-set, a tradition of going down in the streets to protest, and a rejection of the socialist policy of Francois Hollande.If you make a detour by their website, you will notice that they do not only denounce Taubira’s law but interfere now with the politics in general- as you can see with their article against the end of the universal amount of family allowance (the government wants to reduce the amount for the richest families). Thus, It is becoming a real political movement with opinions on political French affairs and laws, trying to gain head on the moral issues of the time, based on the defence of traditional Family and conservative values.

These demonstrations have revealed a split between the French population, and a stron conservative mind still existing in the French society. This law may be a new start for future generations to not be questioned anymore about it. At the dawn of 2015, the battle for equal rights for homosexual couples in France is not over yet and Manif’ pour Tous leads as the symbol of a movement that does not accept a changing France.

Written by Pauline Sani
Image credits: wikipedia and huffington post (creative commons)

The pitfalls of Italy’s abortion law

ON PAPER, Italy’s law on abortion seems flawless – but reality is much different due to the existence the loophole known as conscientious objection.

Abortion was illegal in Italy until May 1978, when Law 194 was passed and introduced the right to terminate a pregnancy safely and with the minimal risk for women’s health. By law, any woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first 90 days for whatever reason they see fit. Once obtained proof as to the state of the pregnancy, all that it takes is making an appointment with a structure authorized to terminate the pregnancy. This may be either a public hospital, where the whole procedure is free of charge, or in a structure authorized by the regional health authorities. Should carrying the pregnancy to term endanger the woman’s life or health, or should the foetus’ health turn out to be seriously compromised – thus putting strain on the mother’s emotional and psychological state – the termination can be carried out up to 20 weeks after conception.

All in all Law 194 seems flawless, allowing women to terminate an undesired pregnancy with minimal risk for their health. Reality, however, is quite different. The most obvious loophole is that of conscientious objection: the possibility for any doctor to refuse performing an abortion on ethical or religious grounds. As a result, while Law 194 grants women the right to a safe abortion, doctors are also allowed to refuse performing it.

The volume of objection

What raises an issue is the sheer amount of conscientious objectors. While the percentage varies depending on the region, it only goes below fifty percent in one region. In several regions conscientious objectors are 80 – 85% of the medical personnel qualified to perform abortions. These numbers are at odds with people’s general attitude toward the issue: in 2012 a Censis report found that only 26% of individuals interviewed were against the right to abortion, with 60% being pro-choice.

As a result of the high percentage of objectors, booking an appointment can be far more difficult than it should be – with the risk of getting past the time limit of 90 days after which a pregnancy can only be terminated under special circumstances. While any attempt at changing the situation has been rejected by Catholics and pro-life movements as an attack to the medical personnel’s conscientious freedom, Claudio Crescini – of the Italian Association of Hospital Obstetricians and Gynecologists – says that it often isn’t a matter of personal belief.

“Abortion is overused in electoral and political debates, and there’s a lot of pressure on us,” he says.“While it’s not explicitly stated, someone who’s not an objector doesn’t have the easy career an objector makes – and they’re often forced to perform nothing but abortions.” In short, conscientious objectors have less of a work load than non-objectors with no risk of damaging their career by avoiding a loaded issue. It’s no wonder that many choose not to perform abortions for convenience rather than because of a religious or ethical issues.

An even bigger obstacle comes from those who take their right to conscientious objection well past what the law allows. Objectors have the right not to personally perform an abortion – but that’s all. Emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill or RU-486, isn’t covered by the right to objection; there is no right for the doctor to refuse prescribing it, or for any medical professional to refuse giving it to a woman who asks for it.

At what cost ? 

And yet that’s precisely what happens and women’s right to safely terminate or avoid a pregnancy is constantly under attack. Despite it being against the law, many doctors downright refuse to prescribe emergency contraception. Last week in Voghera, a town in Lombardy, a nurse kept two young women from accessing to the hospital when they said they wished to get a prescription for the morning-after pill. It’s not uncommon for objectors to try guilting women into not terminating the pregnancy, adding strain to what’s already a stressful situation. Some were even left alone through part of the procedure because the doctors and nurses who started their shift were objectors. As a result, women have to leap through fire hoops for a chance to terminate a pregnancy – a right granted by Law 194. Some doctor go as far as refusing to certify their state, knowing that without a certificate they cannot terminate a pregnancy without medical proof that there is indeed a pregnancy. The practice is so widespread that Nicola Zingaretti, President of Lazio, had to introduce new rules in his region stating that medical personnel in public structures could not refuse to certify a state of pregnancy or to prescribe emergency contraception.

This raises the question of what pro-life movements precisely hope to accomplish by trying to force women into carrying undesired pregnancies to term. If they think it would make abortions stop, they’re sorely mistaken: history and common sense tell us it wouldn’t be the case.

A 2000 survey by Istat – the Italian National Institute of Statistics – estimates that at least 20,000 illegal abortions were carried on every year prior to 1978, when Law 194 was passed and abortion became legal. The fact most illegal abortions were obvious carried on in secret makes it difficult to give exact figures; Istat doesn’t rule out the possibility their estimate may be lower than the truth.Before Law 194 abortions had been happening under wraps in the entire country as illegal, unsafe procedures that could easily result with the woman’s death due to haemorrhage and infections. Fear of social stigma would lead many unmarried women to risk their lives to terminate the pregnancy; fear of punishment would keep them from seeking medical help afterwards. Even for those who sought help, it was often too late.

This is what comes out of taking away women’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term: not only it fails to keep abortions from happening, but it also puts women in the position to risk their own health and lives to terminate a pregnancy.

So much for pro-life.

Written by Allessandra Pacelli 

Image Credit: Paolo Margari 

 

 

 

‘A mass movement needed to happen’ – Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution

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FROM A CLASS BOYCOTT by student activists, to the sudden kick off of the long awaited Occupy Central Movement, the mass protest started on 28th September in Hong Kong is the biggest in the city since 89 Democracy Movement in 1989. While depicted by international media as the most peaceful revolution, there actually exits very opposite opinions of the movement among citizens.

Conflicts and confrontations between protesters and the police, between pro-occupy and anti-occupy supporters, filled the movement with the unnecessary element of verbal and physical violence. The infiltration of triads and gangs in the protest also questioned the movement’s nature and raises concerns that more violence would be caused.

Entering its third week, the movement appears stagnated: both the government side and the protesters are looking for a direction. Student leaders, scholars and professors know well that Beijing is not going to back down at this stage and give Hong Kong full democracy. C.Y. Leung, a puppet of the Chinese government, is unlikely to step down because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would “lose face” by doing this. In other words, the protest has not achieved and is not likely to achieve anything concrete any time soon.

Many thus blame this on the immature decision of student leaders and the youth. Because of their blind impulse, Hong Kong has been paralyzed and the daily life of general public is disturbed. School has to be suspended; shops in central areas are forced to close; traffic, business is interrupted, all in exchange for a movement where no significant achievement is foreseeable.

However,  the mass protest is needed and is a milestone for the future of Hong Kong, politically and socially.

The lack of confidence in the government is hindering the city’s development

In the past few years, Hong Kong citizens have lost confidence in the government. In a survey conducted by Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, ratings of the current governor C.Y. Leung has constantly been below 50, which – among previous governors – is a failed performance. As a result of the lack of trust, members of the Legislative Council (Legco) – half being elected by eligible voters and thus representing the will of the public – hardly agreed on any budget plan, public expenditure or law proposed. From 2012 to 2014, radicals from the opposition camps have staged filibusters four times, as a way to prevent votes on several proposals they were against, and as a gesture to show their dissatisfaction of the governor. Legco is an important body in enacting, amending and repealing law, also in examining and approving budgets, taxation and public expenditure. If Legco is not functioning, Hong Kong cannot move forward.

The lack of trust in the governor, to a very large extent, is because he is not elected with the system of universal suffrage. He was appointed by the CCP. He is not legitimated to represent the people and whatever he does, the public interprets as Chinese agenda – to tighten its political control over the city. This civil disobedience, as how the student leaders call it, is a fight to accomplish full democracy, which is actually fundamental for the city to move forward.

A public lecture for the HongKongese

The Occupy Movement is not merely a protest, which the anti-occupy supporters argue just causes public disorder, but a very important lesson for the 7 million inhabitants to stop and think about what they really want from the government, and how they want their city to develop.

It is also literally a lesson because along the occupied areas, professors and scholars have been constantly giving public lectures about democracy, social movements and current political issues. It also provides a platform for discussion between citizens with different political orientations, which is quite rare among the politically silent Hongkongese. The city dwellers have a reputation of being politically apathetic and ignorant. This mass movement has taught them that it is not a privilege to practice political freedom. It is instead the basic right that should be enjoyed by people in a civilized city, and it is also their responsibility to participate in every political decision.

Beside the poorly functioning government that hinders the city from moving forward, the atmosphere of the society has been grim and tense in recent years. This is not entirely but to a large extent because of the increasing number of mainland Chinese moving to, traveling, or doing business in Hong Kong

A cultural difference between mainland Chinese and HongKongese has to be addressed

SARS in 2003 brought an economic depression to Hong Kong. The by then governor C.H. Tung carried out Individual Visit Scheme, which allows easy access for mainland Chinese to visit Hong Kong. From then on, various kinds of social problems have emerged: Chinese pregnant women travel to Hong Kong and give birth in order to obtain Hong Kong citizenship; the speculation of milk powder products that drove up the price of milk powders; of Chinese tourists eating, drinking, littering and even defecating in public transports outraged the local citizens. These are just some of many examples.

Though these public behavior problems seem minor and trivial, they actually disturb the harmonious order and daily life of the locals. Criticism from the locals against the mainland Chinese has gone from objective to subjective, from reasonable to radical, from fair comments to personal attack. It is an inevitable product when two very different cultures are put to live under the same roof. It is the result of the accumulated daily clashes.

Needless to say, Chinese tourists have helped boost the economy of the city, but the cultural clash in the society cannot go on any longer. Hatred, discrimination, and binary divisions would only deteriorate the relationship between Hong Kong and China. This protest represents the fundamental ideology shared by Hong Kongese but not with mainland Chinese because of historical context – the thirst for freedom and democracy.

By the time this article is published, the police will have launched again another round of eviction in the occupied area. Anti-occupy protestors, at the same time, tried to clear out roadblocks surrounding the occupied zone and suppress the pro-occupy supporters. Triads and gangs, who it is  suspected were sent by the government or anti-occupy group to create disorder and chaos, were also trying to confront and provoke the police, creating unnecessary violence.

It is important that at this stage of the movement, protestors do not forget the major purpose that drove them to take to the street in the first place. Their attention should not to be diverted by ingenuine gangs who are trying to disunite the peaceful public.

As the old saying goes, it takes more than one day to establish a full democratic system. But in any case, this mass movement has taught the Hong Kong public the power of collective efforts and has changed the city’s culture of being politically passive. It is one of the most revolutionary events that has happened, and there is still a long way to go.

Written by Cheuk Yin Chan
Images taken from Instagram 

“A peaceful protest?” The other side of the coin in Hong Kong

HK4 feature

THE PAST TWO weeks of turmoil and instability to hit Hong Kong has been a saddening sight. Whilst I am happy to see my generation in Hong Kong have such a deep interest in politics and fight so peacefully for the democracy they wish to obtain, it is nonetheless alarming and saddening to see how the younger generation’s true and honest original political aspirations have been distorted by the Occupy Central campaign.  What has my hometown become?

As a Japanese and Chinese national who was born and raised here in Hong Kong, I have always been aware of the long standing tensions between Hong Kong people and the Chinese people. Since repatriation of Hong Kong into China as a Special Administration Region (SAR), the cultural and ideological divide between us, the people of Hong Kong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has only increased.

However, we have enjoyed economic growth and stability during this period of time, thanks to China’s enormous population and its purchasing power. The events of the past fortnight have quickly made it apparent to me that we seem to have forgotten where our food, resources and finally economic stability come from.  It’s true, we are perfectly entitled to take to the streets and protest our discontent towards the government. Still, I question whether this was the only viable option of discourse that we, the people of Hong Kong, had at our disposal.

 

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Suffrage or Suffering? 

While one may have the right to protest, what gives the right to put all 7 million lives within Hong Kong at risk for your political cause?  The answer is nothing. What started as a peaceful student movement quickly escalated into a city-wide riot, the Hong Kong Police’s unexpectedly violent response towards the protesters led to the massive increase in the numbers of people on the streets. While the international community has been led to believe that everyone on the streets was protesting for universal suffrage, the reality was far more multifaceted, with many people taking to the streets instead to condemn the police force’s actions.

“Last night can be best summed up as a mob mentality with those people involved in the observations above (not the protesters as a whole.) It was a sort of social contagion where a concept or idea (in this case about the police) spread like wildfire once it had been stated.” – Ulf Olufsson, resident of Hong Kong.

The above quote taken from the following article written by a resident of Hong Kong whilst may not be definitive proof, it is definitely enough to demonstrate that the mob of protesters were not entirely united and fighting for the same political aspirations. Some people were merely on the streets because they disagreed with the police’s violent reaction.  There is no justification for this; the police force were forced into action by the behavior of the protesters. Charging at the police with your arms held up is not a definition of peaceful protesting, and to have 50,000 people take to the streets because eighty seven tear gas grenades were used to disperse the crowd is to me a ridiculous overreaction. Where were these 50,000 people when ISIS was beheading innocent women and children in Syria?

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Not so peaceful 

Further, I question whether this was a “peaceful” protest and the right of the protesters to take authorities into their own hands.  The protesters barricaded specific MTR exits in order to cause the greatest disturbance to the general public, hindering the morning commuter’s abilities to get to work to maintain their lives.

They searched police lunchboxes and vehicles in efforts to prevent them from transporting ammunition and supplies. They barricaded streets and refused to allow commuters through. Their actions alienated many citizens who didn’t support their cause, whilst continuously asking for the peoples’ understanding. Though claiming to be peaceful, these protestors did nothing but violate the lives of the Hong Kong people. Income and revenue were lost and, in one extreme case, a family was unable to reach their relative during her final moments due to the unexpected traffic standstill caused by the protest.

The protest has divided the city at every level. Multiple organizations in Hong Kong have split divisions due to the split opinions on the protest. The emergence of the Pro-Beijing/Hong Kong Police Force ‘blue ribbon’ supporters and anti-occupation citizen mobs is equally disturbing, as they took matters into their own hands and attempted to clear the streets themselves.

The result was painful to watch on the news, as I witnessed many violent and underhanded tactics used against the protestors by these “anti-occupation mobs”; skulls were bashed, students were beaten and girls were openly sexually harassed. This sort of behavior should not be tolerated.

Nonetheless, I can understand the feelings of anger towards the protesters. Why should 6 million people suffer for the political aspirations of a confused minority within our population? Those who have taken to the streets have claimed they are fighting for a brighter future. Yet I believe they have been incredibly short sighted in their vision for their fight for democracy.

The discord and chaos created by the protest is enough evidence for me to personally condemn these demonstrations, and feel pity for those who have been persuaded onto the streets without clearly understanding the situation.

Without a doubt there is a minority group of protesters out there fighting for “universal suffrage” and nothing else. But my own personal experience with some of these “Yellow ribbon” supporters has confirmed my theory that many of them are merely bandwagoning on to the protest because they dislike the CCP rather than because they have a thirst for democracy.

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Fight the long fight 

I believe that if our generation is really so passionate about the fight for democracy, then we should realize that the fight for democracy against communism is a long one. Although it may seem like all hope is lost, we MUST look BEYOND our own futures and look towards the generations down the line. The CCP may not be ready to give us democracy now, but who knows what would happen in 50 years? I firmly believe that the only course of action we should take is to negotiate with China to extend the existence of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region beyond 2047, if we do not obtain an extension whatever political concessions we obtain during this time could prove to be useless. As China would still have the executive power to tear down all that we have built in 2047.

The extension of the HKSAR beyond 2047 is paramount: once HKSAR is dissolved it will be assimilated into China. All that once made us stand out to international businesses and investors will disappear, we will become “another” city in China and fail to compete with the power of Beijing and Shanghai. This is why I urge all of you who are protesting on the streets to look beyond our life times and fight for the future of our children. If we continue to occupy the streets and undermine our government, China will have the perfect excuse to take back what it wants, rather than patiently wait out the 50-year transition period we managed to obtain back in 1997.

Without any raw military power or natural resources, the reality is that our government is powerless against the might of the CCP. Our food, our energy supply, our materials and resources for production are all from China. The reality is China doesn’t need to invade or break international law to hurt us. They can just cut off the power and leave us to it.

We are destined to lose the war for democracy as long as the HKSAR has an expiration date. Rather than infuriate China through grassroots movements that have done nothing but divided our city at every level, we must recognize the situation and regroup for a new direction.

Written by Takashi Nakamura
Images taken from Instagram

 

Electoral hangover in Brazil as blank ballots give power to ‘racist neo-liberals’

With 38 million blank ballots, Brazilians refused to vote the available candidates. Rookie mistake: results benefited those recognized for opposing individual liberties. 

THERE IS A bitter taste in the mouths of millions of Brazilians, who still do not understand how polls contradict the chants and banners of last year. As the country prepares for the second round between two representatives of the so-called ‘old politics’, outcomes at state level frighten. Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo – in theory, the most politicized of the country – have chosen as rulers men recognized for their racist, neoliberal and anti-LGBT proposals.

Bolsonaro: advocate of  the death penalty, defendant of homophobic violence
After a failed attempt to run for presidency, Jair Messias Bolsonaro was elected Federal Congressman for the sixth time, now with the largest amount of votes in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Known to favour the implementation of death penalty and new military intervention on civil matters, he became particularly known abroad after being interviewed by Stephen Fry for BBC [3], regarding his role on barring the bill that criminalized homophobia. In 2010, he defended the use of physical violence to “cure” homosexuality.

Feliciano:  not who you’d call a ‘feminist’
In economic superpower São Paulo, Pastor Marcos Feliciano was the third most voted candidate, despite last year’s protests specifically targeting his positionings regarding women’s reproductive rights. An extract from an interview to O Globo [4]: “When you stimulate a woman to have the same rights as men, she wanting to work, her part as a mother begins to get canceled. To avoid motherhood, either she’ll not marry, or will hold a relation with someone of the same sex so she can have pleasure without children.” He was, ironically, head of the Human Rights Commission in Congress at the time.

Heinze: racist of the year
Brazil is one of the largest food exporters in the world, and agricultural production gives financial and political power to landowners and multinational companies throughout national territory. Tensions over land use often result in armed conflict between indigenous and maroon (slave-descendant) communities. All with political support of people like Luis Carlos Heinze, re-elected in Rio Grande do Sul. In March, he received the Racist of the Year ‘Award’, from the British NGO Survival. [5]

If corruption were criterion, the list would be meaningfully longer, with traditional emphasis on Paulo Maluf. Better known for figuring Interpol’s red list regarding accusations made ​​in the USA – related to deviations of public money in Brazil – and surviving through an absurd loophole: the country does not extradite its own citizens. As long as he doesn’t cross the border, he cannot be charged or trialed.  However, he is free to perform in public office, nationwide. Yesterday, Maluf was among the top ten deputies voted in Sao Paulo.

For the first time in a long career, his candidacy will be banned and he can not assume the position. Impediment is due to a new law passed last year under popular pressure. The ‘Clean Record’ makes ineligible for eight years a candidate who previously had his mandate revoked, resigned to avoid impeachment or has been convicted. But with such turnout, there are still many questions to be raised.

But what happened, Marina?141006020838_marina_silva_624x351_ap

It is still difficult to make sense of the defeat of the ‘electoral tsunami’ which was not borne out. Despite having grown exponentially during the three-month campaign, Marina Silva didn’t even pass to the second round. On the 26th, the remaining governors and a president will be chosen – either the newcomer Aécio Neves, or a surprising comeback for Dilma Rousseff – the first woman to rule the country since Princess Regent Isabel, a hundred years ago.


For the win…

Yesterday’s elections showed at least two positive results: the high rate of blank votes, and agility in the verification. One in three Brazilians refused to vote for the current candidates, nullifying their vote. If, on the one hand, this resulted in the above, it also gives consistency in relation to protests of 2013. Exhausted, citizens withdrew from this particular political game.

The second positive point is the role of technology. For years the country has an electronic system for polling and counting of votes, but this time there is an impressive number of free apps – from official and civil society actors – created to oversee the background of candidates and parties, as well as tracking outcomes and monitoring irregularities. We highlight a few:

Acordei: The app recounts the professional and personal background of each candidate. One should remember that in Brazil, political career is a profession, and the elected stop performing their usual social functions – medicine, law, commerce … A list of lawsuits and charges, property and proposal for governance are part of the profile.

Voto x Veto: The app features real motions of candidates, drawn from official plans for governance. They are presented individually, without identifying the candidate who proposed them. The user then chooses whether to agree (vote) or disagree (veto) it, and only then discovers who is the candidate who suggested that platform. A good way of encouraging reflection, making Rousseau proud.

Candidaturas e Apuração 2014: Both created by the Electoral Court, they are the official reference apps. The first is an impressive list of candidates, with information on coalitions, donations, government proposals and performance in previous elections. The second rocked this morning (GMT): it’s a minute-by-minute report on the results sent by electronic ballots. Between 17:00 and 19:00 local time, mobile devices followed the back-and-forth of candidates as if they were racehorses.

Você, fiscal [2]:  Perhaps the most creative solution, it audits the results of each ballot box in order to gather evidence of fraud in the verification. The initiative of a renowned university (Unicamp) invites voters and volunteers to photograph this Bulletins printed by the electronic ballot during the closure of each voting position. By comparing this ‘statement’ from each region to the official results, it denounces security flaws and frauds. This is of particular importance since the Superior Electoral Court suspended the implementation of safety tests in 2012 when, even on limited resources and short period of time, the anonymity of voters was broken with ease.


 

Written by Scheila Farias Silveira:  a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Image credits: BBC, Senado Federal

 

“No Thanks” – the real legacy for Scotland’s teenagers

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The votes were counted, the results were announced and – with that – the United Kingdom remained exactly as it was. For first time voters Sabina Jedrezejczyk, Sean Thomson and Amina Davidson, the Scottish independence referendum was so much more than just a ballot.

AS THE NEWS that Alex Salmond has stepped down as First Minister of Scotland pops up on my phone – interrupting our interview – Sean and Sabina both give a little gasp. “I told you!” exclaims Sean to Sabina, “I said this morning that would happen!”

Political engagement has been a welcome new dynamic among Scottish teens in the last few months, in the lead up  to what was a potentially life changing referendum on independence. Our chat takes place the day after the results are in: the country’s electorate have chosen to remain in the UK, by a margin of 55 per cent of those against independence to 45 per cent for it.

With the voting age in Scotland being lowered to sixteen ahead of the decision, and with an unprecedented 84.5 per cent voter turnout on the day, this revitalised level of engagement and enthusiasm in politics from teenagers like Sabina and Sean is – Scotland should be proud to admit – nothing unusual.

However, there are a couple of differences between this pair of sixteen year olds and  their peers. The two have been part of the BBC’s Generation 2014: a small group of young Scottish residents discussing issues for and against independence in the public eye since last September.

‘No Thanks’

Thursday’s referendum was the first time they voted.  It was a decision they made with some certainty, but not – I’m told – without a lot of thought and changes of heart beforehand. But for both, in the end, it was a “No”.

Sabina, who lives in Dalkeith but is originally from Poland, was undecided until only a week before the vote: deciding in the end that, ultimately, it “wasn’t worth the risk”.

“We’re stronger and safer together”, Sabina says decidedly, highlighting that security issues were a big part of her decision. “There could be a war soon – I’m not saying there will – but for all we know, it could happen any second”. Being part of the United Kingdom safeguards Scotland against this as part of a wider defence strategy.

Sean – a first time voter from Perthshire – nods in agreement. His stance on independence has gone through an even more drastic transition. Sean has gone from being an ardent ‘yes’ campaigner and SNP member, to an active advocate of the Better Together campaign and self-proclaimed convert to the political right.

This switch he attributes to the “contradictory and opaque” nature of the White Paper: a document released last year by the Scottish Government, outlining their vision of an independent nation. Far from convince him, the paper – which Sean adds, with some pride, that he read in its entirety – “pushed” him towards the No campaign.

“Yes was good in principle, but bad on paper: the more they wrote the less they said”, he summarises.

Sweet Relief

Even the promises of new powers to Scotland in the aftermath of a No vote aren’t something Sean is necessarily in favour of. Further plans for devolution should be taken “with a pinch of salt”, he argues: “there are just some things we should decide as a nation: its good to keep things within the existing framework”.

Sabina doesn’t necessarily agree. “No doesn’t have to mean no change” she says, the statement an echo of a popular phrase used during campaigning by Better Together. For her, waking up on the morning to find the country’s decision had been to remain in the UK brought a great sense of relief.

“I thought for a while that Yes were going to win, especially after the Glasgow ‘Yes’ rally. I was scared for the future. This morning I switched on the TV, and saw that No had won, and I was really relieved.”

“We had it in the bag”, Sean chimes in – confident in the No campaign’s victory from the beginning – “I knew we would win.”

There’s no need to be smug 

Still, it’s not something to be ‘smug’ about: this they both agree on. Indeed, the high levels of discussion and engagement around the country are not entirely positive now that the referendum is over, and just under half of the population have been given an answer they’re unhappy with.

The friction between Yes and No voters in the lead up to the referendum wasn’t just constrained to rallies and televised debates: Sean and Sabina describe regular lunchtime fall outs in the playground over the country’s future.

“We discussed it more and more as it got closer” Sabina says, to the extent that “we would be shouting over each other”. Sean agrees that – while most of his friends were also No voters – the flipside of other young people informing themselves meant “yet another argument”.

“Some people took a lot of convincing!” Sean jokes, adding – on a more serious note – that he’s planning already to return to school on Monday and “acting as though nothing’s changed”, in awareness of how high emotions can run on this topic.

“The nation is divided”, Sabina says: this decision is now something that we should all “accept and move on” from.

A disappointed Yes voter

As we continue to chat over coffee, more of the Generation 2014 group enter the cafe. Among them is sixteen year old Amina Davidson: a first time voter from Edinburgh who had decided to vote Yes in Thursday’s referendum.

“Obviously I’m a bit disappointed” she says, adding that the seeming momentum of the Yes campaign had her really “hope towards the end” for a positive result.

Amina tells me that she’s been a Yes voter since the very beginning. This is because, put simply, “we should decide what happens in our own country, and our wealth should be spent in other ways”. Far removed from Sabina’s worries on security and Sean’s disillusionment with White Paper specifics, Amina outlines arts funding, Trident nuclear defence and the expansion of Gaelic media among her reasons for voting in favour of independence the day before.

Much like her Generation 2014 peers, she worries about division in Scotland’s future between those on either side of the vote. “I’ve always been open to both sides”, she explains to me. “My friends were a big mix, though we mostly voted yes. I’m just worried about No voters being smug now – they seem a bit up themselves today. Not all of them, obviously, but some”.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to vote and to participate in shaping the future of Scotland is something Amina found extremely exciting – even if the vote didn’t go the way she’d hoped. “We’re mature enough to work, to marry, to have kids and pay taxes: we’re old enough to decide our future”.

The real legacy

During my afternoon chatting with the most well-informed teenagers I’ve met in a long time, I get a glimpse of what they’d like their own – personal – futures to look like. Sabina, Sean and Amina all voice a desire to continue being active in politics and the media: with ambitions of political and journalistic careers. In fact – despite their differences on polling day – all three of these bright, informed and enthusiastic young people seem to share a common vision for what the legacy of this referendum should be: continued youth engagement with politics.

I sincerely hope that, outside the huge prospective changes passed up by fellow Scots last Thursday – or the proposed changes decided for us in Westminster in the coming months – that the real transformation to Scotland will be in the attitude of its youngest generations: towards politics and their part to play within it.

Written by Rachel Barr
Image: BBC images, Generation 2014 

The lesson 142,8 million Brazilians want you to learn

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When it comes to politics, the ability to read in between the lines is  just as important as tracking numbers.

AFTER BUSY MONTHS of protest, Brazilians’ lack of satisfaction with political scenario reaches a turning point as 142,8 million people cast their votes this Sunday. As the usual ensemble of oligarchs, happy-go-lucky first timers and community leaders try their luck towards state and federal-level government positions, voters acknowledge looking up personal and professional backgrounds might not be enough.

In a complex society as this, full of regional disparities and local interests, accountability for the past might not be enough  when it come to choosing which leaders will guide the country from January 1st. With predictions of bleak government budget for the coming term, religious threats to personal freedom, soaring levels of impunity  for corrupt politicians and US demand for intervenion in ISIS, Brazilians have learned that futurology is needed to balance  both internal and external interests of the now global player.

Eleven candidates run for presidency this year, three with real chance of election. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy thirty years ago, none of them ARE believed to bring social progress or financial stability. However, they can all mean some kind of loss to Brazilian society.

The current president

Dilma Rousseff was Minister of Mines and Energy, and later Chief-of-Staff during Luiz Inácio Lula da dilmaSilva’s government, and much of the sucess of income distribution policies and social development strategies were atributed to her, even though some of these programmes had been started with previous rulers. Her association with his image might have earned her first term but, several corruption scandals later, might be more harmful now than beneficial.

These scandals range from the widely known “Mensalão” scandal – a “vote buying” scandal relating to the congress – to some recent developments, the latest of which involve the state owned petrol giant Petrobras. According to recent statements by former director Paulo Roberto Costa, the federal government was “leaking” money from the company in order to pay politicians for favorable votes in congress. While the scandal is still unproven, it has taken its toll. The electoral period has become a minefield, with old scandals returning (even when proved false) and new ones – such as the postal office allegedly “distributing campaign fliers illegally” – popping around.

Other scandals involving the Workers Party led government have not to do with corruption, but with diplomacy – namely the support given to Latin American countries, the pardon to debts mantained by African countries, the support to Palestine, the hiring of 10 thousand Cuban physicians, financial aid to Cuba, and most recently, the non-commital stance on warfare against ISIS. All of those have brought forth the wrath of the opposition and – with greater intensity – conservatives.

Stock market behaviour during the last three months have shown that whenever Rousseff’s ratings go up, investors freeze or remove their bets on the Brazilian economy. Considering that employment indexes and GDP have ceased to grow, those focused on economic prosperity – more related to exports than national growth – do not see the president with keen eyes. With a projected GDP growth of a measly 0,3%, inflation nearing the Central Bank ceiling of 6,5% and interest rates at 10%, there might be a point in these fears. Still, with 40% of the intended vote, she is most likely to make it to the second round

The socialist ‘newcomer’

Marina Silva is not exactly new to politics. As her campaign constantly enforced, she was Chico Mendes’ sister-in-arms in the defence of labour rights in Acre. Embedded in the middle of the Amazon, the commotion was the battle between the rubber tappers who depended on the forest to extract rubber, and loggers who depended deforestation to ensure their livelihood. As a result, both came to be seen as environmentalists.

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She has since become Minister of the Environment, also during Lula’a government. Disagreement about conservation policies as “sustainable development” no longer seemed a priority for the party made her abdicate office, beginning her popularity among voters who considered it a rare case of consistentency.

However, Marina is a neopentecostal evangelic, and has received increasing support from a conservative, right-wing portion of society.  Powerful pastors – some of which already hold federal positions – have drawn followers to vote for what they believe will be a Christian politician. However, this support comes at a high cost. Promises considering LGBT rights, for example,  have been withdrawn within 24 hours of publication, after pressure from such religious leaders. This has also earned her a reputation as a flip-flopper – as noted by candidate Aécio Neves, during the last debate, who replied her critiques with “the one who constantly changes  position here is not me”. She has yet to explain, as well, her sudden visit to the US on september 26th, talking to US State leaders.

Part of her current popularity – with 24% of the intended vote, according to pollsters – came from tragedy: the death of previous Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, in august 13th. Afterwards PSB candidature went steadily upwards, and is almost certainly going to second turn. If so, this will be an unprecedented event for Brazilian politics: for the first time, a non-catholic, black leader will be in power. More importantly, she represents a part of the country historically excluded from decision-making processes.

So far she has changed her position on GMOs, LGBT rights and work legislation. In the last five years alone, she has changed party three times: from the Worker’s Party (PT) to the Green Party (PV in 2009) and  from PV to her own proto-party Rede Sustentabilidade in 2013, which failed to be approved in time to run for president; and this year from Rede to PSB, running for vice-president, and later president.

The main man from the opposition

While Dilma represents the current stablishment, and Marina portrays herself as the “new politics”, Social Democrat Aécio Neves is pure tradition: grandson of president ellect Tancredo Neves – the first ellected president after the military dictatorship ended in 1985, and who died before assuming – Aécio has years of experience on his shoulders. Federal congressman for 15 years, Minas Gerais Governor for 8 years, one of the largests votings on Senator in the countries history – yet he’s on decline, despite promoting the neo-liberal agenda that is on the rise in social media.

Much like Dilma, he is involved in his fair share of scandals. These are regarding airports in particular, as during his time as Governor, he built two new airports in Minas, one of them in the small city of Claúdio, 60 kilometers away from another airport – inside his family’s farm. One of his main allies in the senate’s helicopter was stopped carrying 450kg of cocaine in 2013, yet the scandal failed to hit either of them.

Neves also faces another problem: while he pleads to mantain most of president Dilma’s social programs, a sizeable part of his electorate is rabidly opposed to them. Either he risks losing the popular vote – as he did when his probably Economy Secretary Armínio Fraga said the minimum wage was “too high” – or he risks losing his own electorate. This combines with a reputation of censorship:  relating to lawsuits against twitter users, and search and seizure warrants against bloggers from criticizing him fora  very strange candidate.

The man with the air train

A prominent and rather folclorical figure is presidential candidate Levy Fidelix; while his portly shape, bald head and tick mustache make him look like an aging Oliver Hardy or a middle aged Super Mario, his call to fame comes from what is his main (or only) proposal since first attempting to run for president, in 1994: the air train, a high speed bullet train connecting the cities of Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Besides that, his program is marked by reducing the size of the state – and for that he presents in debate a lot of numbers, and little actual plans on actual implementation.

However, after a september 27th debate, Fidelix ceased to be just a comical symbol of a failed project. A far right, conservative candidate with a motto of “morally enrighting the country”, his view became the center of a controversy after being asked about gay marriage – in national TV he called “upon the majority” to “fight against this minority”, said gay rights threatened the country, and closed up by saying “those people”(in reference to LGBTs) need psychiatric treatment – “far away from the rest of us”. In response, the National Order of Lawyers and other civil entities sued his candidature – who has less than 1% of the vote.

Smaller, yet notable

While those are the so called “mainstream” candidates, and one who has risen to notability after saying heinous things in national television, there are a grand total of eleven candidates for president. Joined up, most of them don’t add to one percent of the vote, but some deserve attention – either for escaping this fate, or for representing something about national politics.

Christian Social Party candidate Everaldo Dias Pereira, a.k.a Pastor (Preacher) Everaldo, is one such case; with a measly 1% of the vote, according to polls, Everaldo nonetheless represents an expressive part of the political debate in Brazil. While simultaneously defending minimum state – going as far as suggesting privatizing the police – Everaldo defends the idea that peoples private lives – or at least, deviant’s private lives – are an state affair. Essentially, much like some brazilian libertarians, he is for freedom – unless that freedom is to have sex with someone your own gender, use drugs, practice your religion or abort. Not that it is any surprise: his party is a front for churches eager for more state intervention in “morality”, and less in business.

Another “small notable” is Socialism and Freedom candidate Luciana Genro, daughter of former Worker’s Party President Tarso Genro. Again with a mere 1% of the vote, and little political experience, Genro has fiercely attempted to push her agenda against “the private capital”, even though she has no chance of being elected. While being ridiculed by some, Luciana has much like Green Party candidate Eduardo Jorge (mentioned in the previous article) become a sort of “Living meme”. She definetely won’t be elected – but won’t be forgotten. Even if that means people still aren’t taking politics seriously.

So what have Brazilians to teach us?

That looking for solutions for the future is far more complex than just looking at candi*rties. Other spheres of society – like churches – and foreign policies are far more intervening on homeland developments.

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Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Picture Credits: Marina Silva campaign site, Marcos Fernandes, Ichiro Guerra

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.

Unsafe Abortion kills – the dangerous ‘pro-life’ war in Europe

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Europe has a reputation for being one of the most liberal places in the world when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights. However, laws on paper do not necessarily reflect attitudes on the ground.  Ariane Osman investigates the growing attempts to repress abortion rights across the European Union and the consequences this could have on its women and girls.

On Sunday 21st of October, Savita Halappanavar, a dentist from India who was expecting her first child with husband Praveen, was rushed to hospital in severe pain. The medical staff informed her that she was going through a miscarriage and that – at 17 weeks – the foetus would not survive outside the womb. On Monday, Savita was in such a state of agony that she requested an abortion. She was denied due to the existing foetal heartbeat, which rendered the procedure illegal unless it was judged that there was substantial risk to her life. Savita spent the following day vomiting repeatedly and consultants continued to deny her repeated requests for the procedure. She collapsed that night but still, the foetal heartbeat meant that nothing could be done. On Wednesday the foetus died and its remains were surgically removed. Savita was placed under sedation in an intensive care unit with systemic blood poisoning. On Saturday her heart, kidneys and liver stopped functioning. On Sunday October 28th – she was pronounced dead. This scene did not unfold in an Indian hospital, it took place in Ireland, where abortion has never been legal and can land you 14 years in prison.

Hundreds crossing the Irish Sea each year

According to Amnesty International, over 12 women a day from Ireland went to the UK to access a safe termination between 1980 and 2012; however, these numbers, which are recorded by the UK Department of Health, are a gross underestimate according to Mara Clarke, founder and Director of the Abortion Support Network. “It only gives the number of women who attended a clinic in England and gave an address in Ireland or Northern Ireland,” she said. “It doesn’t count the women who give the address of a friend or family member in England, [or] the women who give a fake address.”

Savita’s death is a stark reminder that conservative reproductive laws are not only relegated to the developing world but are present within the European Union as well. Unknown to much of its population, legislative changes, which would make abortion illegal have been growing within member states over the past three years.

“One of us” citizen’s initiative

A European Union initiative has recently been employed to try and make abortion illegal across all member states.

On April 10 2014, citizen’s initiative “One of Us” was heard at the European parliament. According to the initiative’s report submitted to the European commission. the main objectives were that the EU, “establish a ban and end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health”.

It utilised the European Citizens Initiative (ECI), which allows European citizens to propose new legislations to the European Parliament if they have support from one million people from across seven member states.

The European Commission struck down the initiative on May 28, stating that their campaign would destroy life-saving scientific advances as well as life-saving sexual and reproductive heath rights.

Although rejected, “One of us” reflects the potential for democratic processes such as the ECI to pass laws that could take away rights granted to European citizens at a state level.

Restrictive legislation being debated

Women who undergo illegal abortions could be sentenced to up to three years in prison under a proposed law currently being debated in the Lithuanian parliament.

The ‘Law on the protection of life in a prenatal phase’ would only allow for an abortion if the woman’s life is in danger or if she is pregnant due to rape. Allowance for rape would only be granted if the woman can prove that she has been raped by the 12 week gestation limit.

But legislation is not only being rolled back in Eastern Europe. The Spanish population has shown outrage at the attempt to backtrack on recent advances made to Spain’s abortion legislation.

The existing law, which was introduced by the Socialist government in 2009, allows women and girls to terminate their pregnancy. The proposed reform, by the conservative Popular Party (PP), would make abortion illegal in all circumstances, unless the health of the woman is in danger or if the pregnancy is a result of rape.

“We can’t allow the life of the unborn baby to depend exclusively on the decision of the mother,” Ruiz-Gallardon, the Spanish Justice Minister told reporters in December 2013.

Women and girls seeking abortions also have to consult two doctors and produce a police report if they have been raped. Abortion providers also have the choice of refusing terminations, decreasing access to facilities.

Various polls have shown that 70-80 per cent of Spaniards oppose the reform; however, the rightist government has pursued the change in legislation.

If the bill is implemented, Europe risks repeating the trends that existed before abortion became legal, including a rise of maternal mortality. “We will come back to the previous years where the women from Spain were travelling to France and to the UK to have safe abortions,” explains Dr. Luc de Bernis, Senior Maternal Health

Adviser at the Technical Division at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “Certainly we will see an increase of maternal mortality and morbidity.”

Not everyone holds this view. “The life of an unborn child cannot be sacrificed without a proportionate reason,” said Gregor Puppinck, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), in an analysis of the Spanish proposal. US evangelical media mogul, Reverend Pat Robertson, founded the anti-choice organization in the 1990s.

France bucking the trend

Unlike their European neighbours, French lawmakers voted to ease access to terminations on January 21 2014. The previous law, which was passed in 1975, stated that all “pregnant women whose condition puts her in a situation of distress” had the right to an abortion.

The wording was changed to a “woman has the right to choose whether or not to continue with her pregnancy” and does not force women to explain their choice in seeking a termination. “Abortion is a right in itself and not something that is simply tolerated depending on the conditions,” said minister of women’s rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.

Abortion rights are widely supported in French society: according to a 2010 IFOP poll, 86 per cent of women support it, although there has been backlash from the Catholic Church.

European Union: Abortion is a human right

The European Union has made note of the growing threat to sexual and reproductive health in member states and re-confirmed it’s unwavering support for full sexual and reproductive rights for every citizen.

A 2013 draft report on sexual and reproductive health rights by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) states that sexual and reproductive rights are “human rights” and any obstructions are “breaches of women’s and girls’ rights to equality, non discrimination, dignity and health, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Dr. de Bernis explained that the importance of making abortion legal and accessible stems from the consequences of unwanted pregnancy, which can result in child abuse and mental health issues. However, advocating for the legality of abortion does not equal taking the procedure lightly. “We (UNPF) are not promoting abortion, certainly not,” he said. “Abortion is not a means of contraception […] but abortion has to be considered if the women don’t want to be pregnant.”

Disparities between States

Despite recommendations by the EU, there remains disparity between the sexual and reproductive rights granted by member states.

According to official EU figures, 21 of the 28 member states allow for abortions on demand, mostly within the first 12 weeks.

In, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Finland and the United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales) abortion is available, but with limitations: including if the life of the women is in danger, health, social and economic reasons and if pregnancy is caused by rape or incest. Most circumstances call for two doctors to approve the termination.

In Ireland and Poland, abortions are severely restricted, with Polish law only permitting the procedure if the woman’s life or health is in danger, if it is the result of rape or if there is a malformation of the foetus.

In Malta, abortion is illegal under all circumstances.

Barriers regardless of legislation

But even in countries where the laws indicate that abortion is easily accessible, the facts on the ground tell a different story. Women must surpass multiple barriers including mandatory waiting periods, unregulated counseling services and conscientious objection’s practice to be granted a termination. The practice describes the ability of a healthcare provider to deny women access to a range of sexual and reproductive services.

According to the FEMM report, in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Ireland and Italy 70 per cent of all gynecologists and 40 per cent of all anesthesiologists conscientiously object to providing abortion.

The report explains that these barriers hit the most vulnerable women and girls the hardest. Having to travel long distances within their own countries due to lack of local services or having to travel to other EU states due to total bans adds to financial strain, which contributes to growing health inequities throughout the European Union.

Furthermore, the report states that making abortion illegal does nothing to decrease the amount of abortions that take place.

This is seconded by research conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They found that although some western European countries have the lowest rate of abortion in the world (12 of 1000 women), countries in Eastern Europe including Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, had more abortions than live births in 2003 (103 abortions per 100 births) giving them the highest estimated abortion rates in the world.

“Unsafe abortion kills”

The FEMM report does describe a relationship between the legality of abortion and the safety of the procedure, which is supported by the WHO’s Fact and Figures about Abortion in the European Region. It concludes that, “women seek desperate measures if they cannot obtain safe abortions.”

According to WHO, common methods to self-abort include the insertion of tubes or liquids into the uterus, coat hangers, knitting needles and the insertion of a flexible rubber catheter into the uterus to stimulate labour. The report into unsafe abortions states, “the more invasive the technique, the more dangerous it was to the woman and the more likely it was to disrupt the pregnancy.”

Short-term effects are listed as life-threatening sepsis or haemorrhage, which may lead to a hysterectomy and gas gangrene from Clostridium perfringens and tetanus.

Long-term effects are more difficult to come by. WHO estimate that 20-30 per cent result in reproductive tract infections and 20-40 per cent in upper-genital-tract infection and infertility. Unsafe abortions also risk reproductive problems in the long run including ectopic pregnancy, premature delivery, and spontaneous abortion.

Why the backlash?

The question now is: why, having being liberalized in the majority of the EU, are governments changing their minds on abortion rights?

According to the FEMM report, the decreasing demographics across Europe are changing policies focusing on sexual and reproductive rights to so called “family policies” in order to increase the number of births.

The number of anti-choice movements in the EU has also increased. “ [It] has expanded and professionalized over the past ten years,” said Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum of Population Development. “Many anti-choice organisations themselves feel that their set of values is under threat from what they perceive as an overly ‘progressive’ EU.” He also notes that they have learnt from the tactics of the US Christian right. “ There have not been non-religious organisations involved in an anti-choice initiative.”

The Catholic Church’s links to anti-choice groups, as well as it’s own influence, is also adding pressure. The midwife looking after Savita Halappanavar admitted at the inquest into her death that she told her patient the reason she could not have an abortion was because Ireland is a Catholic country. “It was the law of the land,” she told the inquest, “there were two referendums where the Catholic Church was pressing the buttons.”

The re-interference of the church in governmental affairs across Europe raises questions regarding the enforcement of laws separating Church from state.

According to Dr. de Bernis, attempts to make abortion illegal are reminders that sexism is still rampant in European society. “It’s just because […] the fight for gender equality is still not fulfilled,” he says. “A number of groups […] want to maintain a number of rules which are making women dependent […] with less rights and this means that certainly even in the most developed country, gender equality is still not fully established.”

Remembering Savita

The lives and health of women and girls in the European Union have benefited greatly from the legalisation of abortion and it is up to member states to protect this right.

“The EU can facilitate the exchange of good practice,” said Neil Datta.“So that national decision-makers may benefit from the best practices across the EU and adapt their legislation and policies accordingly.”

Whether the legislation’s currently being debated pass, the case of Savita Halappanavar is a constant reminder of the possible consequences banning abortion can have on women and girls.

“I am distraught, I have lost my soulmate,” Praveen Halappanavar, Savita’s husband, told The Irish Times. “I hope they change the law and make it more people-friendly [rather] than on the basis of religious beliefs, no other woman should have such a tragic unexpected end like Savita.’

 

Written by Ariane Osman
Image: informatique

The lesson 142,8 million Brazilians want you to learn

When it comes to politics, the ability to read in between the lines is  just as important as tracking numbers.

AFTER BUSY MONTHS of protest, Brazilians’ lack of satisfaction with political scenario reaches a turning point as 142,8 million people cast their votes this Sunday. As the usual ensemble of oligarchs, happy-go-lucky first timers and community leaders try their luck towards state and federal-level government positions, voters acknowledge looking up personal and professional backgrounds might not be enough.

In a complex society as this, full of regional disparities and local interests, accountability for the past might not be enough  when it come to choosing which leaders will guide the country from January 1st. With predictions of bleak government budget for the coming term, religious threats to personal freedom, soaring levels of impunity  for corrupt politicians and US demand for intervenion in ISIS, Brazilians have learned that futurology is needed to balance  both internal and external interests of the now global player.

Eleven candidates run for presidency this year, three with real chance of election. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy thirty years ago, none of them ARE believed to bring social progress or financial stability. However, they can all mean some kind of loss to Brazilian society.

The current president

Dilma Rousseff was Minister of Mines and Energy, and later Chief-of-Staff during Luiz Inácio Lula da dilmaSilva’s government, and much of the sucess of income distribution policies and social development strategies were atributed to her, even though some of these programmes had been started with previous rulers. Her association with his image might have earned her first term but, several corruption scandals later, might be more harmful now than beneficial.

These scandals range from the widely known “Mensalão” scandal – a “vote buying” scandal relating to the congress – to some recent developments, the latest of which involve the state owned petrol giant Petrobras. According to recent statements by former director Paulo Roberto Costa, the federal government was “leaking” money from the company in order to pay politicians for favorable votes in congress. While the scandal is still unproven, it has taken its toll. The electoral period has become a minefield, with old scandals returning (even when proved false) and new ones – such as the postal office allegedly “distributing campaign fliers illegally” – popping around.

Other scandals involving the Workers Party led government have not to do with corruption, but with diplomacy – namely the support given to Latin American countries, the pardon to debts mantained by African countries, the support to Palestine, the hiring of 10 thousand Cuban physicians, financial aid to Cuba, and most recently, the non-commital stance on warfare against ISIS. All of those have brought forth the wrath of the opposition and – with greater intensity – conservatives.

Stock market behaviour during the last three months have shown that whenever Rousseff’s ratings go up, investors freeze or remove their bets on the Brazilian economy. Considering that employment indexes and GDP have ceased to grow, those focused on economic prosperity – more related to exports than national growth – do not see the president with keen eyes. With a projected GDP growth of a measly 0,3%, inflation nearing the Central Bank ceiling of 6,5% and interest rates at 10%, there might be a point in these fears. Still, with 40% of the intended vote, she is most likely to make it to the second round

The socialist ‘newcomer’

Marina Silva is not exactly new to politics. As her campaign constantly enforced, she was Chico Mendes’ sister-in-arms in the defence of labour rights in Acre. Embedded in the middle of the Amazon, the commotion was the battle between the rubber tappers who depended on the forest to extract rubber, and loggers who depended deforestation to ensure their livelihood. As a result, both came to be seen as environmentalists.

marina

She has since become Minister of the Environment, also during Lula’a government. Disagreement about conservation policies as “sustainable development” no longer seemed a priority for the party made her abdicate office, beginning her popularity among voters who considered it a rare case of consistentency.

However, Marina is a neopentecostal evangelic, and has received increasing support from a conservative, right-wing portion of society.  Powerful pastors – some of which already hold federal positions – have drawn followers to vote for what they believe will be a Christian politician. However, this support comes at a high cost. Promises considering LGBT rights, for example,  have been withdrawn within 24 hours of publication, after pressure from such religious leaders. This has also earned her a reputation as a flip-flopper – as noted by candidate Aécio Neves, during the last debate, who replied her critiques with “the one who constantly changes  position here is not me”. She has yet to explain, as well, her sudden visit to the US on september 26th, talking to US State leaders.

Part of her current popularity – with 24% of the intended vote, according to pollsters – came from tragedy: the death of previous Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, in august 13th. Afterwards PSB candidature went steadily upwards, and is almost certainly going to second turn. If so, this will be an unprecedented event for Brazilian politics: for the first time, a non-catholic, black leader will be in power. More importantly, she represents a part of the country historically excluded from decision-making processes.

So far she has changed her position on GMOs, LGBT rights and work legislation. In the last five years alone, she has changed party three times: from the Worker’s Party (PT) to the Green Party (PV in 2009) and  from PV to her own proto-party Rede Sustentabilidade in 2013, which failed to be approved in time to run for president; and this year from Rede to PSB, running for vice-president, and later president.

The main man from the opposition

While Dilma represents the current stablishment, and Marina portrays herself as the “new politics”, Social Democrat Aécio Neves is pure tradition: grandson of president ellect Tancredo Neves – the first ellected president after the military dictatorship ended in 1985, and who died before assuming – Aécio has years of experience on his shoulders. Federal congressman for 15 years, Minas Gerais Governor for 8 years, one of the largests votings on Senator in the countries history – yet he’s on decline, despite promoting the neo-liberal agenda that is on the rise in social media.

Much like Dilma, he is involved in his fair share of scandals. These are regarding airports in particular, as during his time as Governor, he built two new airports in Minas, one of them in the small city of Claúdio, 60 kilometers away from another airport – inside his family’s farm. One of his main allies in the senate’s helicopter was stopped carrying 450kg of cocaine in 2013, yet the scandal failed to hit either of them.

Neves also faces another problem: while he pleads to mantain most of president Dilma’s social programs, a sizeable part of his electorate is rabidly opposed to them. Either he risks losing the popular vote – as he did when his probably Economy Secretary Armínio Fraga said the minimum wage was “too high” – or he risks losing his own electorate. This combines with a reputation of censorship:  relating to lawsuits against twitter users, and search and seizure warrants against bloggers from criticizing him fora  very strange candidate.

The man with the air train

A prominent and rather folclorical figure is presidential candidate Levy Fidelix; while his portly shape, bald head and tick mustache make him look like an aging Oliver Hardy or a middle aged Super Mario, his call to fame comes from what is his main (or only) proposal since first attempting to run for president, in 1994: the air train, a high speed bullet train connecting the cities of Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Besides that, his program is marked by reducing the size of the state – and for that he presents in debate a lot of numbers, and little actual plans on actual implementation.

However, after a september 27th debate, Fidelix ceased to be just a comical symbol of a failed project. A far right, conservative candidate with a motto of “morally enrighting the country”, his view became the center of a controversy after being asked about gay marriage – in national TV he called “upon the majority” to “fight against this minority”, said gay rights threatened the country, and closed up by saying “those people”(in reference to LGBTs) need psychiatric treatment – “far away from the rest of us”. In response, the National Order of Lawyers and other civil entities sued his candidature – who has less than 1% of the vote.

Smaller, yet notable

While those are the so called “mainstream” candidates, and one who has risen to notability after saying heinous things in national television, there are a grand total of eleven candidates for president. Joined up, most of them don’t add to one percent of the vote, but some deserve attention – either for escaping this fate, or for representing something about national politics.

Christian Social Party candidate Everaldo Dias Pereira, a.k.a Pastor (Preacher) Everaldo, is one such case; with a measly 1% of the vote, according to polls, Everaldo nonetheless represents an expressive part of the political debate in Brazil. While simultaneously defending minimum state – going as far as suggesting privatizing the police – Everaldo defends the idea that peoples private lives – or at least, deviant’s private lives – are an state affair. Essentially, much like some brazilian libertarians, he is for freedom – unless that freedom is to have sex with someone your own gender, use drugs, practice your religion or abort. Not that it is any surprise: his party is a front for churches eager for more state intervention in “morality”, and less in business.

Another “small notable” is Socialism and Freedom candidate Luciana Genro, daughter of former Worker’s Party President Tarso Genro. Again with a mere 1% of the vote, and little political experience, Genro has fiercely attempted to push her agenda against “the private capital”, even though she has no chance of being elected. While being ridiculed by some, Luciana has much like Green Party candidate Eduardo Jorge (mentioned in the previous article) become a sort of “Living meme”. She definetely won’t be elected – but won’t be forgotten. Even if that means people still aren’t taking politics seriously.

So what have Brazilians to teach us?

That looking for solutions for the future is far more complex than just looking at candi*rties. Other spheres of society – like churches – and foreign policies are far more intervening on homeland developments.

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Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Picture Credits: Marina Silva campaign site, Marcos Fernandes, Ichiro Guerra

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.