Monday, November 10, 2008

Update on prostitution law in Norway

Norwegian Parliament (Storting) in Oslo

As you may know the Norwegian government has been planning for a while to follow Sweden in criminalising the men who pay for sex. Influenced by radical feminism, the law aims to shift the responsibility wholly on to those who create the demand for prostitution and who use their money to abuse and exploit others. Like in Sweden the punishment will be a fine and/or term in prison of up to 6 months although at the same time it'll go further by making it also an offence for Norwegian citizens to buy sex while abroad.

Kvinnegruppa Ottar, the more radical of Norway’s two main feminist campaign groups, is reporting on their website that the law is to be voted on by the Storting on the 20th of November and if it passes (which is almost certain as it has the support of all three governing parties as well as the Christian People’s Party) it will enter the statute book on the 1st of January next year. Glasgow City Council have also been advocating the adoption of similar legislation here in Scotland so let’s hope the Norwegian move will add new momentum for the campaign against prostitution not just in our own country but all over the world.

To mark the occasion the sex industry has been getting more attention in the Norwegian press than usual. Best-selling tabloid VG has gathered together a series of articles under a section titled 'det norske sexmarkedet' on their website and in the last few days it's emerged that several years ago a member of parliament was warned by the Storting's President Jørgen Kosmo after being reported paying for sex while on an official delegation abroad.

The VG articles, as well as giving coverage to both supporters and opponents of the law in Norway and abroad, go into detail about the effects of the law in Sweden where, since it was introduced in 1999, trafficking and street prostitution have been dramatically reduced and where the vast majority of people continue to support the legislation. But undoubtedly prostitution does still continue and it's not necessarily been as effective in curbing the demand as feminists would have liked. Many Swedes blame the softness of the penalties handed out or believe that the police haven't done enough to tackle the problem. Indeed of the 189 people reported in 2007 for buying sex not a single one (according to VG) was convicted.

The authorities in Norway will perhaps try to learn from some of these failings but, regardless, the law will still send out an important message about what society thinks of prostitution and whom it believes should be held responsible for its existence. As Grete Jacobsen from Kvinnegruppa Ottar said in an article for Stavanger Aftenblad, it is:

“Mest av alt retter seg mot menn og menn sine holdninger! Loven sier at vi som samfunn ikke aksepterer at menn ser på kvinner som en vare de kan kjøpe seg rett til å penetrere bakfra i smugene i Gamle Stavanger, eller hvor det nå skulle være. Det er en lov som slår fast at prostitusjon er vold mot kvinner og barn, og det motsatte av likeverd. Helt korrekt blir kundene definert som voldsutøvere og fra 1. januar i neste år, vil horekundene bli straffeforfulgt for sine handlinger. Da kan endelig folk melde i fra til politiet om navngitte horekunder. Fra da av må horekundene stå til ansvar for sine overgrep. Andre tiltak for å snu menn sine holdninger har dessverre ikke lykkes. Horekundens frihet har gått på bekostning av andres frihet og må dermed begrenses i et samfunn der kvinner og menn skal være like mye verdt...

“Å skape en folkelig motstand mot prostitusjon vil likevel gi den største effekten av en kriminalisering av horekunder. Loven er normgivende og kommer som følge av en langvarig, seig kamp om hodene til folk. Det er ikke lett å frata menn rettigheter, men det forplikter å være et av verdens mest likestilte land. I en verden med økende fattigdom og prostitusjon, trengs menn i en solidarisk dugnad for mer rettferdighet, også for kvinner som da slipper å ‘opne seg for mannen.’”

"Most of all directed at men and men's attitudes! The law says that we as a society do not accept that men should be able to see women as a commodity which they can buy the right to penetrate from behind in the alleyways of Old Stavanger, or wherever it is now. It is a law which clearly states that prostitution is violence against women and children, and the opposite of equality. Correctly those who pay for sex will be defined as perpetrators of violence and from the 1st of January next year, will be punished for their actions. Then can people finally report to the police the customers who buy sex. From then on the customers will be made responsible for their abuse. Other measures to change the men's attitudes have unfortunately not worked. The freedom of sex customers has come at the expense of others' freedom, and must therefore be limited in a society where women and men shall be of equal value...

"Creating a popular opposition against prostitution will be the biggest impact of the criminalisation of those who pay for sex. The law is normative and comes as a result of a long, tough battle for people’s minds. It is not easy to challenge the position of men, but it is an obligation to be one of the world's most equal countries. In a world of increasing poverty and prostitution, men are needed as part of the collective struggle for more justice, and also for a society where women will no longer have to ‘open themselves for the man.'"

(Sorry about the far from perfect translation. I’m learning Norwegian but even with a dictionary it can be hard to understand fully what some things mean or how best to phrase them in English.)

Also worth looking at is this speech/presentation (in English) by a representative of Kvinnefronten, the other main feminist organisation in Norway, on the background of the campaign against sexual exploitation in her country:

Monday, October 20, 2008

12 of my favourite songs on Youtube

Bendik og Årolilja (Gåte)
Bonden och Kråkan (Ranarim)
Dejelil och lagerman (Gjallarhorn)
Euchari (Garmarna)
Gamen (Garmarna)
öga berg och djupa dalar (Ranarim)
Hùg Air A' Bhonaid Mhòir (Julie Fowlis)

öttrarna (Gjallarhorn)
Oró, 'Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile (Sinéad O' Connor)
Puirt-a-beul (Julie Fowlis)
Sjå Attende (Gåte)
Suvetar (Gjallarhorn)

All the songs I've posted are folk music of some kind and nine are from Scandinavia with the remaining three from Scotland and Ireland (which probably reflects what I listen to now and what I have in my collection - which I added to when I was in Sweden at the weekend). Celtic music is certainly better known internationally but the Nordic countries and especially Norway also have a vibrant folk music scene. I’ve always enjoyed listening to Scottish and Irish music on Radio Nan Gaidheal but since first hearing Scandinavian music when I was there two years ago I’ve came to like it even more.

It’s difficult to explain why I like it so much but I find folk and especially the Nordic stuff to be quite expressive and emotional and influenced by the natural environment. Many of the links aren’t really for traditional folk music (Gåte and Garmarna are both folk/rock groups) so they maybe don’t give an accurate picture of the differences between different styles of music. But I like both the old and the new and its always good to be open to different and modern influences.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Iceland - a terrorist state?

Poor little Iceland. A population of just 300,000 yet home to some enormous banks which are now going bust and which the government certainly doesn’t have the resources to save. A rapidly devaluing currency, sky-high inflation and a shortage of public finances are just some of the problems the Icelanders are now having to deal with. In addition Gordon Brown has decided they’re a nation of terrorists. Why else would he be using ‘anti-terrorist’ laws to seize their assets, declaring their actions “illegal” and “unacceptable”?

Whether or not Brown actually considers Prime Minister Geir Haarde to be another Bin Laden, his move is unprecedented and throws scorn on the idea that such laws are here to protect the lives and liberty of the average citizen, rather than to centralise yet more powers in the hands of an overbearing and imperialistic British state.

This, by the way, is far from the first time Iceland has had its sovereignty trashed by the big powers of the world. After the wartime allied occupation the Americans decided to hang on to their large base at Keflavik with little regard for the wishes of local people. And in the 1970s Britain sent in its navy in an attempt to force the Icelanders to accept the exploitation of their fishing stocks by UK vessels.

None of this is to deny the recklessness of the Icelandic banks in this particular case. But they hardly behaved any worse than banks in Britain or anywhere else. Unlike here where the government can seemingly chuck £500 billion of taxpayers money down the drain in a handout to the very same fat-cats who caused this problem in the first place, Iceland has far less options at their disposal. People like Brown should understand this before trying to crucify Iceland for doing exactly what they’ve been doing, and would do should they find themselves in the same circumstances.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gray wins Labour leadership

We shouldn’t have been too surprised but Labour has yet again shot itself in the foot by choosing the useless and uncharismatic Brownite clone Iain Gray as its Scottish leader. Cathy Jamieson came second while the most obnoxious candidate of all Andy Kerr was relegated to third place. In the deputy leadership campaign Labour members rejected the socialist Bill Butler in favour of Glasgow MSP Johann Lamont.

In my view Labour’s only hope was to choose Jamieson and Butler. While Cathy Jamieson’s hardly a radical socialist she does speak more for the left and has closer links to the unions than either Gray or Kerr. I also thought a victory for her might have been good from a gender perspective as she appears to have a record of speaking out on some feminist issues (such as her strong condemnation several months ago of the proposed opening of Hooters ‘restaurants’ in Scotland).

Cathy Jamieson was the one person who could have made the SNP seem bad from a left perspective and re-energised Labour’s core supporters. Whether or not she was actually committed to doing anything once in a position of power I think a shift to the left in tone from the Labour leader would have helped move Scottish politics in a leftward direction and forced the SNP to take more notice of ordinary people’s concerns.

At the same time that Labour have been imploding the Liberal Democrats have been moving rapidly to the right with its UK leader Nick Clegg attacking ‘social-democracy’ as somehow being no longer relevant and demanding a new wave of tax cuts, a call echoed by their Scottish leader Tavish Scott who has proposed an immediate 2p tax cut for everyone - this would apparently give the average Scot another £300 in their pocket each year (and of course mean the government has £300 less to spend for each person on education and healthcare).

The next general election at Westminster is almost certain to yield a huge majority for the Conservatives and unlike last time (ie. the 1980s) not one of the main UK parties is going to have any sort of alternative to offer whatsoever. Here in Scotland the SNP will keep on portraying themselves as the radical alternative which people want while in reality hardly ever doing anything differently.

Large sections of the electorate can be deceived for a few years, perhaps a decade, but not forever. When they realise the real agenda of those in power there is always an opportunity for new social and political movements to emerge. But the more likely outcome is yet more political disillusionment and a growing sense of hopelessness among those who are left behind, those who mainstream politicians ignore and wish would simply go away.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I’m back... again

It’s been a long time since I last posted here but I’d really like to get things going again. I’ve been reading through a lot of radical feminist blogs lately and feel really encouraged and inspired to see so many people taking a stand against the ideology of male-supremacy that pervades every aspect of our lives. I often haven’t known where I want my own blog to go, what to talk about, whether or not to focus purely on things making the news or whether to make it more personal for example. But most of all I’m lazy and would rather sit around doing nothing than actually thinking and bothering to come up with some decent posts. A total of just 4 posts has been the product of my last 12 months here. So I want to try again, I want to talk about what’s happening here and around the world. But I also want to talk about what ordinary people can do and what it means to belong to certain groups in society.

I go back to uni on the 22nd by the way. I haven’t actually found out for sure what I’ll be doing but I want to continue with sociology and since I’ve only done it for one of my two years at uni I might have to do the second year course now on its own as a part-time student. This would of course give me yet more time to waste and would make a change from the fairly heavy workload I had last year. Anyway I like sociology and think it fits in well with my own way of looking at the world. It’s not just about understanding the world as it is but about understanding how it got that way in the first place and perhaps how things can be done differently. Only then can we see things like gender and class and race truly as a fiction put in place to serve the interests of the powerful whether they be men, or rich people, or white people.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Large increase for minimum pension in Norway - but will it be enough to keep the left in power?

Leaders of Norway’s three governing parties - Kristin Halvorsen (Socialist Left - SV), Jens Stoltenberg (Labour - Ap) and Åslaug Haga (Centre Party - Sp)

The centre-left government in Norway on Wednesday announced a historic increase to the minstepensjon (minimum pension) of 14% - from 119,820 kroner this year (around £11,500) to 136,296 kroner (around £13,000) in 2010 - by comparison the basic state pension in the UK is just £4,700 a year. Disability benefits have also been increased by a similar amount and the settlement has overall been seen as an extremely positive one for the poorest sections of society.

But with opinion polls consistently predicting a strong lead for the four opposition parties of between 5 and 20% all is not well in Norway. Especially when much of the declining support for the three governing parties has gone to the Progress Party (Frp) - a populist and highly opportunistic right-wing party which plays on people’s dissatisfaction with high tax rates and their fears over issues like crime and immigration. The Frp cannot, I think, be compared to the neo-fascist and overtly racist parties which have been gaining support across Europe but their high level of support (over 25% in recent polls) is nevertheless a worrying phenomenon.

Large numbers of public sector workers are currently on strike as teachers and nurses are demanding higher pay from local councils and the government’s recent decision to increase fuel taxes in a country which already pays the highest prices for petrol anywhere in Europe isn’t exactly popular. In addition a range of reports of run-down schools and universities, a declining quality of care in hospitals and residential homes, and dangerous and poorly maintained roads, have led many to seriously question the competence of both local and national authorities.

I recently read a comment on Dagsavisen partly blaming the government’s unpopularity (and the rise of the Frp) on the social and cultural impact of Norway’s enormous oil wealth - people have apparently came to think that anything is possible, that public services should all work perfectly and that they shouldn't personally have to bear the costs of something which could be funded through the oil revenues. They demand to see all the possible benefits of the oil wealth now without realising the importance of saving it for future generations and for dealing with the impact of the oil running out in the next few decades.

The Frp is clearly on the right economically, calling for tax cuts and greater private involvement in the provision of public services. But much of their support has been gained, not through this, but through their lavish spending promises - particularly for the elderly but also when it comes to education and healthcare. In most countries it would be impossible to combine this with lower taxes but, at least in the short term, this may appear not to be the case in Norway where oil revenues guarantee a large budget surplus each year.

There may be some truth in that observation but it’s also the case that the governing parties had promised far more than they've yet been able or prepared to deliver and inevitably large sections of the electorate are likely to feel let down. The pension and benefit increases this week are a good start for a government trying to get in touch with the mood of its people again but they're long overdue and it will take a lot more over the next 15 months to get enough of the population back on side before the election. The government will also need to put across their agenda more effectively and take on the arguments of their opponents rather than allowing themselves to be scared by them.

One area to look at here is income tax - the government has so far avoided increasing it in the fear that it will harm their chances electorally. But in actual fact what they should be doing is making the case for taxation which is both high and, at the same time, progressive. Opinion polls have repeatedly found that Norwegians don't object to paying high taxes on income as long as they can see real benefits to their public services. What is unpopular are indirect and regressive taxes, particularly on basic consumer goods bought equally by the rich and poor alike. If the red-green government are genuinely committed to closing wealth inequalities then they must take concrete steps now to start shifting the burden away from ordinary people and on to those who earn the highest incomes.

Even if the worst comes to the worst and the centre-left doesn’t significantly regain its support by September next year an Frp led government is far from certain as although Høyre (the conservatives) have left the door open to cooperation with them, the other two opposition parties - Venstre (the liberals) and the KrF (christian democrats) - have not. The radical left's decline meanwhile looks likely to continue as the SV's inability to, as of yet, take the Labour dominated government in the radical direction many of their supporters had hoped has disillusioned many and harmed the party's reputation as a force for challenging the established political scene in Norway.

EDIT: This article from Red Pepper (which I found a few months later) is I think useful in explaining some of the tactics used by the Progress Party and perhaps why they've been so successful among sections of the Norwegian electorate.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A new start for the SSP?

This weekend I was a delegate at the SSP's annual conference in Glasgow which was devoted almost entirely to reforming the constitution by giving members a chance to vote on over a hundred proposals which had been the result of extensive consultation within the party. Altogether I was impressed by how things went and while turnout, at around 120 over the two days, could maybe have been better it wasn't the sort of event likely to attract huge numbers of people and everyone that did come was really optimistic about our prospects for the future.

The election last year in which we lost all our seats in the Scottish Parliament was of course a huge blow for the SSP but, rather than sit back and allow itself to disappear from the political scene, the party has been ready to learn from its mistakes, examine and change its own structures based on the new political reality which faces us, and most importantly to get back on the picket lines and in to the community struggles to defend our services from attack. Naturally the media has been ignoring us (with just two brief reports on the conference – in The Herald and on the BBC website) but as Colin Fox pointed out the SSP remains by far the largest and most active party of the left in Scotland and there will always be a place for us, especially as people become more and more disillusioned with the SNP.

The SSP has throughout its existence tried to be different from other far left parties, being much more inclusive and largely free from outdated Marxist dogma, but the changes voted through this weekend, in my view, represent the most radical departure possible from the sort of traditions which have rightly given the left a bad name in the past. Perhaps most importantly the role of 'Convenor' (who the media have always referred to as the party 'leader') has been reformed as 'National Spokesperson' and split into two joint posts, one male and one female. In addition this post, along with all other elected positions, will be limited to a maximum 4 year term which will ensure powers and responsibilities are shared out far more equally among all our members.

Other important changes will include the strengthening of the 50:50 system which attempts to ensure gender equality in SSP bodies and on electoral lists together with a new passage relating to gender being written in under the fundamental aims and principles of the party. The conference itself was designed to be as open and inclusive as possible in terms of how things were discussed and how people could get up to speak and it'll be interesting to see how things develop within the SSP in the years ahead as part of a radical process aimed at making us one of the most democratic parties anywhere in the world.

Of course some will ask what the point of all this is when electorally things couldn't possibly be any worse than they are at the moment. I certainly hope the changes we all decided on will help to revive the SSP internally, something which has I think already been happening in recent months. But even if our support among the public doesn't improve in the immediate future I believe that what we've done and are trying to do will be a worthwhile exercise in building a new participatory and genuinely democratic type of politics, a politics in which there are no great men, only equals who are committed to working together in the struggle for a better world.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Monster locked up but how many more women have to die?

The life sentence handed out to the vile Steve Wright for his murder of 5 prostituted women last year is welcome to say the least but as Rmott asks, far more powerfully than I ever could, what is actually going to change for the tens of thousands of women in this country, and the many millions across the world, who find themselves in an industry where life is cheap and where bodies are bought and sold like pieces of meat? Wright got into the news because he was a serial killer, because the papers saw money-making opportunities from yet another 'ripper' story, but where are the stories of the dozens of other women who have disappeared off the streets over the last decade, largely ignored by a male dominated legal system and a male dominated media who see them as worthless 'whores' who deserved what was coming to them?

Proponents of prostitution have typically, including several days ago in The Guardian, used this terrible case to argue that legalisation is the answer and that as soon as the industry gains legitimacy it's going to cease being any more dangerous or more exploitative than any other. This idea is wrong on so many levels - it is wrong because it assumes that most so-called 'clients' are decent people and that violence against prostituted women is a rare exception which can somehow be legislated away. The truth is that men who pay for sex do so because they want a feeling of power over women, her body becomes nothing more than an object to be invaded and controlled, he pays his money and gets to do whatever he wants to her.

It is also wrong because it assumes that prostitution has always existed and will always exist in our society. Am I the only one who's sick of hearing this 'oldest profession' crap? I mean really, do these people think that early humans didn't have more pressing things on their mind such as finding the food they needed to survive on perhaps? The question we need to be asking ourselves today is whether or not we accept the buying and selling of women's bodies by men as normal or whether or not we want to abolish it. We should be asking whether or not men's violence against women is natural and unavoidable because if it is then we may as well start dividing the world up into a male and a female half.