Thursday, 28 May 2015

Join the Set Her Free demo at Yarls Wood on 6 June

Next weekend I’m going on my first demo for nearly three years. It’s taking place at Yarls Wood – the detention centre where women refugees are indefinitely incarcerated after arriving in the UK seeking asylum. 

Our demo’s demand? SET HER FREE! 

If you live in Bristol, join the coach to Yarls Wood by signing up here

If you live anywhere else, here’s the link to the demo.  

I first became aware of Yarls Wood when I attended a talk by Women for Refugee Women and their sister organisation Women Asylum Seekers Together

I listened to women talk about the abuses they had faced in their country. They described fleeing and arriving at the UKBA. Women talked about being faced by male officials who asked them to talk about the violence committed against them. They explained how they felt uncomfortable talking about rape to male officers, and how no one told them they could speak to a woman. They said how the officials didn’t believe them. They told us how they were put on the ‘fast track’ system and how most fast-tracked applications fail and then need to be appealed. They told us how they were locked up. 

As I listened in horror, one woman said:

The physical scars from the violence I suffered in my country will heal. The emotional scars from what happened here will stay with me forever.”

Another woman spoke:

I didn’t come here for a better life. I had a good life. I came here not to die.”

(I’m paraphrasing from memory)

Hearing those words, I felt real shame at the way our country treats some of the world’s most vulnerable women. I felt ashamed that these women came to our country to survive, and we responded by locking them up in a de facto prison. 

A report published last year by Women for Refugee Women laid out bare the reality of incarceration in Yarls Wood. It exposed how rape survivors were guarded by men – forced to go to the toilet or get undressed in front of male guards, and how 70% of the women surveyed said how having male guards made them feel uncomfortable. 

It revealed the high rates of depression and mental ill health, and how 22% of the women interviewed had attempted suicide in detention, with a higher number (61%) saying they felt suicidal. It gave a voice to women making allegations of ill treatment and sexual assault – 50% of the women surveyed talked about verbal abuse from staff, 22% disclosed racist abuse, 3 women reported physical assault and 1 women alleged sexual assault. And the report explained the mental toll taken on women who are locked up for no crime, and given no indication of when they will be freed, of if they will be deported. 

Since the publication of the report, the Government announced that it would investigate the allegations of sexual assault made against SERCO staff. And yet, the centre remains open. 

Last week I attended a talk by writer and activist Caroline Criado-Perez, who discusses the treatment of women in Yarls Wood in her book, Do it Like A Woman and Change the World.  She talked about how the well-meaning documents on refugee rights written in the wake of the Second World War were ‘male default’ guidelines that excluded the reasons why women might need to seek asylum. The failure to update these documents to recognise that women face persecution because they are women means that women refugees face different challenges to men. According to international policies on refugee rights, people can claim asylum based on, for example, political, ethnic and religious persecution. But gender-based persecution – such as domestic abuse, forced marriage, FGM and rape – is not covered. 

In short, refugee policy is written for men. 

This needs to be changed. We know that women face gender-based persecution across the world. We know that across the world women are enduring rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage and FGM. We need to have a policy that recognises these violations as happening to women and girls because they are women and girls. And we need to have a policy that means women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution can be given asylum. 

Until then our asylum system is failing women and girls. And so long as we persist in indefinitely detaining refugees in centres like Yarls Wood, we are failing as a country to protect and support some of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

Yarls Wood is a blot on our national conscious. 

It is time to shut it down and for the women held in detention to be set free. These women are not criminals. They have committed no crime. They have travelled to the UK fleeing rape, domestic abuse, FGM, political imprisonment, forced marriage, domestic violence, homophobic hate crime, rape as a weapon of war – almost unimaginable horrors. They have travelled here because to stay in their own countries is to endure more violence, more imprisonment, more war. They travel here seeking asylum. A safe place. Maybe even some kindness. 

And rather than offer them that kindness, we lock them up and don’t even bother to tell them how long for. 

This has to end now. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The What the Frock Book of Funny Women is hitting the shelves

Great news!

Bristol-based comedy night What the Frock brings together the funniest women from across the UK, proving once and for all that the sexist stereotype that 'women aren't funny' is nothing more than a lot of misogynistic bilge.

Now they're going even further, with the publication of their Book of Funny Women.

The book is written by What the Frock founder, Jane Duffus and the foreword is by Lucy Porter. It profiles some of history's funniest women, and has guest contributions from everyone from Viv Groskop to Ian Martin.

I've recreated the press release below with all the details.

Happy - and hilarious - reading and well done to everyone involved in What the Frock and the fantastic work they do for women's representation.

The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women is published this May
to celebrate 100+ years of fantastically funny women

WHAT THE FROCK! COMEDY and BCF BOOKS announce the publication of the groundbreaking, myth busting paperback The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women (written by Jane Duffus, foreword by Lucy Porter) – which is putting an end, once and for all, to the tired idea that women aren’t funny by providing countless examples of side-splittingly hilarious women.

The book’s publication coincides with the third birthday of What The Frock! Comedy – the phenomenally popular, award-winning all-female comedy event that celebrates up and coming talent via stand-up shows, improv, workshops, an all-female comedy award and more.

The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women is a book of two halves. The first half contains chapters outlining the history and important role of women in comedy on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as addressing the myriad of obstacles that stand in the way of female comedians’ success. The second half of the book collects together more than 70 profiles of some of those women (from Caroline Aherne to Victoria Wood), and includes guest contributions from names such as Ian Martin (writer on The Thick Of It, Veep), Viv Groskop (comedian, broadcaster, journalist), James Mullinger (comedian, GQ comedy editor) and Kate Smurthwaite (comedian, broadcaster).

What The Frock! Comedy founder, and author of the book, Jane Duffus, says: “This book neither asks nor answers the question ‘are women funny?’ because of course women are funny. To suggest otherwise is as absurd as asking whether a man can be a nurse. This book presumes you know women are funny and confirms this by celebrating some of the wonderful women who have made us laugh for the past century or more. We shouldn’t have to segregate the genders in the 21st Century. But to me the important point is to provide a platform to nurture new female talent, and to continue to raise the profile of those talented performers in the media. This is what What The Frock! aims to do and this book is an extension of that goal.”

Comedian Jenny Éclair says: “A wise and witty guide to the wisest and wittiest women in comedy. At last someone gets it – women have funny bones! Read all about it.”

Visit the website at

Find What The Frock! Comedy on Twitter (@WTFrock_Comedy)
and Facebook (

The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women by Jane Duffus
BCF Books, ISBN 978-0-9571275-0-0, £7.99, Published 11 May 2015

Monday, 4 May 2015

She's not like other girls...

I’m not like other girls! You can’t straighten my curls

No, sadly this post is NOT about PJ Harvey, I just can’t get that song out of my head because of the title of this post. 

It’s about BABIES!!

(Jarvis! Such moves!)

It’s about BABIES and EQUALITY! 

Yes, that’s right - unless you have been living under a rock for the last two days you’ll know by now we have a NEW PRINCESS! They even lit up Tower Bridge pink because girls are pink amirite it’s innate don’t you know, it’s not like gender is a construct and rigidly policed by societal expectations from the moment of the 20 week scan…But anyway, just as this post isn’t about PJ Harvey or Pulp or Jarvis Cocker’s dancing skills, it’s also not about gender stereotypes. 

It’s about this one sentence in Allison Pearson’s frankly nauseating front page Telegraph article published today called:

I mean, that headline tells you all you need to know about the squishy, sickly, syrupy prose. But the line in the article that caught my eye was:

One day, they will have to explain to their daughter that she is not quite like other little girls

She is not quite like other little girls. 

There you have it. One sentence that explains the utter absurdity of having a monarchy and a system of inherited privilege in 2015. 

It’s a system that enshrines inequality from day one. At some point, Pearson remarks, William and Kate will have to explain to Baby Girl that she is not like other girls. Not because she is special and unique and her own marvellous little person - as all girls and boys are. But because she was born into a family that has inherited wealth and privilege that most boys and girls born today could never imagine. And they haven’t inherited that wealth and privilege for any other reason than at some point in history their ancestors won a battle and decided winning the battle gave them a divine right to rule, and when we challenged that assumption we then gave them that right - and all the glitz and wealth that went with it - back, and have failed to challenge it since. 

Ca ira…

How can we ever hope for an equal and truly meritocratic society when we continue to insist that one family is apart from us? That one baby born on 2 May 2015 will not be ‘like other girls’ simply because of the family she was born in to? 

As a socialist, as a feminist, damn it as a human being - I cannot agree to a system that says this one baby is different to every other baby born on Saturday, and to every other baby born before and since. I cannot agree to a system that says one child will be born to wealth and privilege, whilst other children are born in poverty. I cannot agree with Allison Pearson as she cosily coos that this baby is “not like other girls” - not, again, because all of us are unique but because she was born to inherit power and wealth and we were born to…not. 

I believe that we must and should all be born equal with equality of opportunity to live out our true potential. I believe that every baby born in this country and around the world has the right to grow and learn and develop that potential. I do not believe that this Baby Girl is any more or any less special, any more or any less deserving, than all the other baby girls simply because of who her parents are. 

To me, the monarchy continues to be a great con. To paraphrase Marx, it’s offered to us as an opiate for the masses. I can’t help see the irony of this great celebration of inequality coming at the end of a government that has seen the yawning gap between rich and poor widen and widen until food bank usage has risen dramatically whilst the Times Rich List is the healthiest it’s looked in years. As we cheer and wave our flags in appreciation of the new baby, Cameron uses the rhetoric of scroungers and shirkers vs hardworking families as a justification to cut life-supporting benefits from the poorest and most vulnerable in society. As parents of disabled children are forced out of their homes because of the bedroom tax, we all quietly ignore the Royals requesting a hardship fund. As we’re told that people should work for free or lose their benefits, we all look away as William and Kate spend £4 million on refurbishing their palace that we pay for. 

It’s not fair. It’s not right. We cannot end inequality and have a monarchy. We cannot pretend we want equality when we place one family above anyone else for no reason other than history. 

And then of course, what about the baby herself? Does she want to be different to all the other little girls? William and Kate are (rightly) praised for their determination to keep their children away from the media glare. But when she’s 18 and not under their protection anymore, how long will it be before sneering articles come out mocking her body? Is that a future we want for any little girl - to grow up knowing that everything she wears will be mocked, that her body will be held up for scrutiny and found wanting? Perhaps the media should have actually read Mantel’s essay on Royal Bodies and learnt something from it, instead of calling her ‘ugly’. No one deserves the bile and hate that is poured on to royal women’s bodies. Why should she have to grow up under that spotlight? Why does she not get a choice either? 

Having a monarchy means we can never have a truly equal society. Having a system where one family have more, enjoy more and are told they deserve more merely because they are born into that family means our society will never be equal. How can we look at the babies born this weekend and tell them they can be anything they want to be, when at the same time we tell one baby that she’s not like other girls? How can we justify that inequality, that legally-enshrined unfairness, to all the children born this weekend? 

I wish William and Kate and the new baby well. But I also wish that this farce would come to an end. We are so far from having a true meritocracy where everyone is truly equal. And we won’t get any closer to that truly equal society so long as we have a monarchy. 

Why don’t we want equality for every baby born? Why are we happy to accept, in syrupy cooing prose, that one baby will always be different from us? Why we are we happy to accept that inequality for our own children? 

I’m not.