Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Most EU states drifted backward on gay rights"

(Photo: Miguel Discart)
 "Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland still show the least respect of all EU countries toward sexual minorities, with activists calling for political “courage” and “backbone” by EU institutions. 

The three member states all scored below 20 percent on a map of human rights compliance in Europe published by Ilga-Europe, a pressure group in Brussels.

The NGO ranks countries on the basis of laws and policies that impact LGBTI people’s rights in six areas, including equality and non-discrimination, family, and hate speech and violence.

At the other end of the scale, Malta (88%), the UK (76%), and Belgium (72%) led the way, with France (71%) not far behind. 

The map, as in previous years, showed more red (non-compliant) or shades of red and orange in the east, compared to green (compliant) in the west. 

The rating did not always correlate with religious mores - Italy, a Roman Catholic country, scored just 27 percent, but Ireland, Portugal, Spain, which are also Catholic, scored between 52 percent and 69 percent.

Even though Italy scored low, it improved by 7 percent from 2016. 

Denmark, Finland, France, and Slovenia also improved slightly, but the group-of- five were the only ones to do so, while most counties eroded slightly and a few others stayed the same.


Meanwhile, the worst places in Europe to be gay were Azerbaijan (5%) and Russia (6%), where gay people have been rounded up, jailed, abused, and, on some occasions murdered in Russia’s Chechnya province despite EU outcries. 

Ilga-Europe said legal gender recognition in France, civil unions in Italy, and a ban on conversion therapy in Malta “made global headlines” last year, but it said LGBTI people in other parts of Europe were “literally living in fear of their lives”. 

It said marriage equality was “not the only marker of improvement” and the new frontier in Europe is the rights of trans and intersex people"

Read more from source at EU Observer here.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"Democracy and other duds" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo: JUANMA RAMOS.]
At a time when the European Union appears to be slowly falling apart, its highest court was fixated on whether a woman at one workplace in Belgium should be allowed to wear material covering her head.

As a staunch non-believer in religion, I find the continuing European fascination with burkas, hijabs and the like very, very odd. 
Yes, when I was 16 in Australia and deeply afraid of the unknown (in the form of Malaysian and Indonesian Muslim students at my school) it was challenging to my childish attitudes but I associate that kind of fear with cultural ignorance. 
I don't see why this style of dress should force someone out of their job, as it did in the case of Samira Achbita.

In essence, the European Court of Justice supported the right of a private company to have an "internal policy or rule" on staff clothing. If this means the wearing of a uniform, I see no problem. 
But to outlaw other items is to trample on human rights. Ironically, this is the very thing that modern and secular society is supposedly better than because fundamental Islam tries to impose restrictions on women's dress. Moderate, progressive Islam does not.

Logic now dictates that if a Muslim-run company based in Europe told its female workers to wear a cloth head covering then they would have to if the company decided it was part of their uniform and not an individual choice. 
As Human Rights organisation Amnesty International stated after the court's recent decision, "by ruling that company policies can prohibit religious symbols on the grounds of neutrality, they have opened a back door to precisely such prejudice."

Manfred Weber, head of the center-right European People's Party, the largest in the European Parliament, said that he believed it was: "[an] important ruling by the European Court of Justice: employers have the right to ban the Islamic veil at work. European values must apply in public life."

If we substitute the words “European values” for “German values” we have the same flavour of statement that was repeated continually in the 1930’s about another religious minority. “Jews have to accept that German values must apply.”

In this way, by establishing the idea that a Muslim cannot be a true European, it is already going part way to also establishing the idea that a Muslim is a lesser human. 
This makes the association of a Muslim as a terrorist much easier to create in the mind of the average person. (It is then only a small step to restrict their travel, as Trump is currently in the process of doing.) 
We are led to believe that the European court decision is a first strike for great European democracy, a brave attack on the terrible dangers of those frightening women who wear a bit more more than others do.

So, what we call democracy has now taken away the liberty of a small number of females without a single good reason. 
Recently, different arms of our imperfect democracies, have also thrown up a far-reaching referendum result in the UK that only 25 percent of the population voted for. In the USA, a demagogue President strutted into office despite his opponent getting almost 3 million votes more than he did.

In other news, it has come to light that in that same 'land of the free' (the USA) almost 1 in 5 adults are are in fact free from the burden of being able to read. 
Hurray for democracy!
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2017.]

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Video: I talk and listen about this week's national and international stories











This week I was a guest again on Matthew Tree's English language discussion program on El Punt Avui TV. 

We covered topics including Trump's latest actions, the current Spanish government's insistance on preserving Europe's largest fascist monument and their threats of legal action against any company making ballot boxes for the Catalan government.

For a video of the show click here.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Video: "Meet Spain’s Only All-Female Cricket Team...[in Barcelona]"


Via the excellent Business Over Tapas, I came across the above short video that tells how "when Aïna Coscollola began working with a group of teenage girls from Pakistan who had recently moved to [Besos in] Barcelona, she came up with a unique approach to tackling the self-confidence and language challenges that many of these young immigrants faced. 

She started an all-women’s cricket team. Cricket, the most popular sport in Pakistan, proved a unifying force for this community, helping the girls unearth a sense of identity, cooperation, and a newfound sense of self-esteem at school."