North, south and nowhere. Of rape, politics, PR and simple geography

I’m angry. I apologise in advance if this is poorly researched, disjointed and incoherent. I’m not stopping to find things out, I’m writing from the heart, not the brain. And I’m writing as a northern English person who feels passionate about fairness both at home and abroad.

First, abroad. Africa – that vast, awe-inspiring place that’s believed to be the birthplace of humanity – well, humans.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Africa over the last 32 years.

On my first visits I was shocked to my core by apartheid South Africa. I would say, with hindsight, it changed my life.

I was pleasantly surprised – superficially, it turns out – by Swaziland.

I was amazed and charmed by a Zimbabwe frozen in what now we might see as Mad Men world – without the ad agencies.

After a few summers spent looking after diggers in Swaziland, I made my first visit to Zambia, because of my husband’s work.

At the time Zambia was very poor – materially. Shops had blankets, soap, worming tablets and dried fish. Rolls of cheap toilet paper were cut in half – even in hotels – to make them go further.

I learnt, from that first visit, that I must take everything – absolutely everything – I might need with me.

It was a great place to visit. I hate to write ‘people are so friendly’ clichés but it’s true. Is true. We’ve broken down often enough to know how much poor people will do to help a stranger for no reward. Yes, there’s corruption, yes, there’s crime, yes, there’s danger – but no more than in any other country, really.

I tell you this because these are my credentials for saying things I don’t like – things I don’t want to say.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the end of the Cold War. About the US government’s attitude to peace and war. The military industrial complex. But that’s for my book, not for now.

For now, I’m stunned by the news I heard this morning on BBC Radio.

An interview with a doctor – sounded Australian but I don’t know if he is – that had me frozen where I stood.

Two hundred girls were kidnapped in Nigeria – remember? This man tells us he has been talking to leaders among their captors. He tells us that they would be willing to hand over 40 or so girls – but that 60 more girls would be kidnapped to take their place.

But this is not the worst thing. He then tells us that Nigerian government officials are involved. That this is part of a political campaign, if you like.

My husband tells me of a report he’s read of four girls who escaped and say they were raped every day.

Dear God, what kind of world is this?

Is there no oil to make world leaders sit up and take notice?

Yes – but, silly me, the Americans are doing quite nicely without it, than you very much.

Why is nothing being done for these poor, poor girls?

Why is so little, so late being done about Ebola?

Fly back, for a moment to the UK.

We know, those of us who live in the north of England, that our concerns are far from the minds of our leaders. They live, most of the time, in and around London. They absorb (and create) the London and south-east news.

They believe house prices are rising everywhere (they’re not – surely that’s a good thing?) and people enjoy working for themselves for a pittance – aka becoming ‘entrepreneurs’ – because they can’t get a real job.

Some believe that paying hundreds of pound a night for a hotel – or a meal – is normal.

If we, here, in our small island have such a huge cliff of perception separating the north and south of just one part of our small island nation, what hope does the south of the world have of being heard?

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is the north’s fault that nothing has happened in Nigeria. Yes, the north could apply pressure, but Nigeria has oil and thus money.

Nigerian politicians have western educations. But that doesn’t make any difference. Like the UK, apparently, one region really doesn’t matter – other than for votes. But the way this doctor says they are going about getting them is, to say the least, extreme.

I think back to poor old Swaziland. Corruption endemic, a King with many wives and cars, spending money like water while his people suffer. I had high hopes, way back when – because this King was educated at Sherborne school in Dorset, England. Pah.

It’s all our fault? Colonialism?

Give me a break. How long has it been? It’s like a fifty-something still blaming mummy and daddy for sending them to the wrong school or buying them the wrong clothes. Grow up!

My own, maddening, experience this week is a paltry thing by comparison.

I sign up to a day of ideas about how to make northern England an economic success story. Eight events in cities across the north of England, twenty people in each.

I spend time thinking about it, do a bit of research. I’m pleased that someone – even if it’s our deputy prime minister, whose party is haemorrhaging support – is asking us for our ideas.

Yesterday we’re told we’ll be filmed. And have to make a film.

Can we bring laptops – especially if we have video editing software – or smartphones or tablets – and leads to connect to a big screen.

What a naïve fool I am. This isn’t just partly a PR exercise, it’s entirely a PR exercise. I should have known. I might have organised such a series of events myself – but, ye Gods, I would have given them meaning, too. I don’t underestimate ‘ordinary’ people. I’m not that much of a fool.

One last thing.

At university I did a term of ‘historical geography’ and saw an image that made a terrific impact on me – though sadly I can’t remember where – of a world map.

Communist Russia up top, rest of world below it. Aggressive-looking arrows showed the way the commies would march down and take over us good guys.

Turn the map upside down. It doesn’t look so simple.

North, south. It’s an illusion in a spherical world, rotating in the universe.

But two hundred girls being raped daily is not. Imagine them in Massachusetts or Surrey. Something would have been done.

This entry was posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to North, south and nowhere. Of rape, politics, PR and simple geography

  1. EllaDee says:

    I’m pleased you are angry. I’m not pleased about the events you are writing about but they need to be written about. I like that although you are angry (but not at all poorly researched, disjointed and incoherent) you are not shouting… I’m so over shouting, bitter, blaming angry writers. As far as research goes, the details speak for themselves. I hate that you are right, that the things that are not right in this world come down much to power-politics-priorities-PR.
    Currently there is much discussion in our local media of Vladimir Putin’s welcome at the G20 – http://www.smh.com.au/business/comment-and-analysis/vladimir-putin-is-no-saint-but-g20-is-a-club-full-of-sinners-20141013-1155yz.html – the article is a sad litany of the sins of the respresented nations (the non-represented are a whole other tragic litany). There are 2 statements in the second last para, “It’s about collective economic self-interest. And that, if it’s successful, will make life better for billions of people.” I have no doubt about the first, and the second sounds good but as with the 40/60 exhange of kidnapped girls… details… details.

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    • That article is great, thanks Ella. It’s getting little coverage here. Australia’s such a long way away of course – unless you consider the world wide web as a connecting medium… 😉 The trouble with the economics benefitting all argument is that we’ve been promised for years that ‘trickle down’ will work – does it heck! Inequality increases.
      Yesterday I was talking to friends about one of our ‘best-loved’ supermarkets and the fact that a major shareholder is a very repressive regime – they had no idea – why would they? But millions of pounds pour out of our local communities to its coffers… The world is a difficult and very complicated place and if we boycotted everything bad we’d all die of hunger I suspect!! But I still can’t cope with the idea that well over 200 girls (we don’t KNOW how many???) are left to rot when it is plain that people who could do something know where they are and – if necessary with outside help – could get them out – if there genuinely is official collusion it’s obscene. And frustrating – all I can do is let off personal steam about it. Or Tweet #BringBackOurGirls

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  2. mud4fun says:

    Well said and I agree almost entirely!

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    • Thank you. It feels so inadequate but at least I’ve said it.

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      • mud4fun says:

        The one point I disagree with you on is the suggestion that this would not be tolerated in the UK. Hundreds of girls are raped every day in the UK and it doesn’t make headline news so in a way it is perverse that the media or aid agencies highlight such a terrible thing happening in another country but fail to mention the atrocities being carried out here.

        Of course most of it is ‘hidden’ and not reported for numerous reasons whether it be by ethnic minorities who are protected by the politically correct society we now live in that prevents people speaking out and making allegations or by the government itself as the figures for illegal immigrants is vastly understated which tends to hide the volume of girls that are shipped into the UK for exploitation in the sex industry.

        I was reading an old government white paper the other day that was suggesting certain crack downs on the porn industry to try and curb the exploitation. Sadly I disagreed with many of the suggestions as the author had clearly not understood that a highly paid porn actress willingly performing sex as her chosen profession is slightly different to an eastern european girl being brought here illegally, having her passport taken and then being forced to have sex against her will which in my view is rape. There should be no need for new legislation (we have enough already), what we need is more enforcement of existing legislation!

        The estimated figures in the various reports I’ve read suggest that in London alone the volume of these ‘rapes’ is thousands per day, across the country many times that. So while I agree that we should be horrified by what is happening elsewhere in the world we should also look a bit closer to home and get our own house in order before criticising other countries?

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        • I wondered what you disagreed with. I was not, though, talking about overall statistics of girls being raped in Nigeria, but the kidnapping of over 200 from school, about officials knowing where they are – and colluding, according to the person I heard on BBC radio and have since seen on the TV (Channel 4). If 200 girls were snatched from school in this country there is no way they would still be held captive after six months – especially when officials knew where they were. On rape in general, I thoroughly agree that it is a serious problem that it seems our governors are either afraid or unwilling to tackle. If you read this post I wrote a little while ago http://wp.me/p2vL4D-lE you’d have seen the statistics I quote, the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2013 figures, which differ from numbers of crimes reported to the police. These suggest that there were around 85,000 female and 12,000 male rapes in the previous 12 months – if this is the tip of an iceberg then God help us. Behaviour needs to change, but it will only change if we shine a light on the problem – if there is publicity, education and if such behaviour is seen to be punished – the only way some people might be forced to acknowledge that what they are doing is wrong. I hate to think that there are any men who think it is OK to have sex with a woman without her consent, that it is their right, but sadly I know only too well that there are men who do think like that. I am glad I am not living with one of them – so many women are.

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  3. mud4fun says:

    Yes I read that post and made another rather overly long comment on it 😉

    Agreed that in this country it would be difficult for even our corrupt officialdom to ignore 200 in one go. However I am convinced that there are a lot of people in positions of power in the UK that are fully aware of individual examples and yet have done nothing.

    Of course there are also ‘grey’ areas where in certain cultures it seems the norm for women to be treated in a way that we would not normally tolerate in British society and yet it goes on en masse under our noses in our very own country. I used to live next to a man who was from a wealthy background, always smartly dressed, well educated and he had lived in the UK his entire life and yet he treated his girlfriend in a way that I found disgusting. When I confronted him over it he told me it was nomal for his culture.

    I spoke to the police about it but nothing could be done about it as the girl (she was all of 20 at the time) refused to admit anything was wrong. He used to walk to the local shop but rather than walk side by side possibly holding hands as couples would normally do, the girl was made to walk behind him. When at the shops she was made to stand outside like a dog while he went inside. When he drove anywhere the girl sat in the back of the car. On several occasions I had to help him move something heavy into his garden or tow his car in the snow etc and he actually offered me his girlfriend claiming that she would be happy to repay me for assisting him and I don’t think it was said in jest. Obviously I did not take him up on this offer however I did try and speak to the young lady about his behaviour and she just smiled and told me not to worry as it was quite normal. More worrying was that she implied that she’d got into trouble because I’d turned down the offer – in my British view this would have been rape and yet they didn’t see it that way.

    Now was it me being overly British and having black and white views on the things? is this sort of thing really that common and accepted in certain countries or cultures? I just don’t have sufficient experience of the world to know but I dread to think how much of it goes on here while those in power ignore it. 😦

    Anyway, let us pray that those in power see sense and get the school girls back!

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    • Hi again – I know you commented on that one, meant to look it up – sorry! I was rushing. I’ve been having technical problems and needed to finish before technology got the better of me.
      Your story is horrible. No, I won’t believe it’s acceptable and normal in any culture. I don’t know about everywhere of course – and there are places where it’s perfectly normal for men to have many wives – and places where women choose to have many partners as the norm and where there is no such thing as marriage – but as for offering ‘your’ woman to repay a favour – if that is acceptable anywhere it’s slavery and worse. Political correctness has done some good, but has obviously led to fear and that has led to failure to act in unacceptable ways. I do see that sometimes making things socially unacceptable represses and drives them underground, corners weak people who react wiht violence and anger. I harp on about it, but simply can’t understand why 50% of the human population has ended up in this place. And why women and men who try to change it are regarded as dangerous. Well, no, I suppose I do understand that. Vested interests. I’ve got a copy of Grayson Perry’s edition of the New Statesman (this week’s) which explores why the white male has become the default position in our society. I’ll tell you if he has any answers!

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      • mud4fun says:

        You’ll have to do a post on how the white male got to that position as I’m sure it will make an enjoyable and interesting read. 🙂

        While I don’t always agree with your viewpoint, the eloquence and wit that you use in putting your point of view across makes excellent reading.

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        • Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that as I feel quite insecure about what I write here a lot of the time! Yes, I can tell we don’t always see eye to eye – but it’s good to have differences of opinion and realise there are other, valid and rational points of view. Sometimes I am jolted out of my viewpoint by what people say in response – it’s good for the soul. See you again soon!

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