Has Democracy Failed Women?

 

Has Democracy Failed Women?

by Drude Dahlerup (2018)

Book Review

This book challenges conventional wisdom that Greece was the birthplace of democracy, as it totally excluded women from participation in the political process.

Has Democracy Failed Women? starts with a brief review of women’s long difficult battle for the right to vote. New Zealand was the first to grant women a vote in national elections in 1893. Other English-speaking countries, including Britain, enacted women’s suffrage following World War I. Catholic countries, including France, Italy, Chile and Argentina waited till World War II ended. It was 1971 before women could vote in national elections in Switzerland.

It’s well established that democratic assemblies with inadequate female representation, are incapable of addressing the continuing oppression women experience under capitalism.* Yet more the 100 years after first receiving the right to vote, women (who comprise 52% of the population) are still denied full representation in the institutions of power. In the West, only two parliaments have granted women full parity (40-60% representation). In the global South, only Rwanda and Bolivia have as many women as men in their assemblies.

Dallerup blames the “secret garden of politics,” the failure of most political parties to select candidates in a transparent or democratic process, for women’s failure to receive fair representation in government. In most places, party officials limit their candidate pools to well-established old boy networks.

In general, only countries with Proportional Representation (see The Case for Proportional Representation) are likely to achieve more than 25% female representation in their national governing bodies. Countries (like the US, UK and Canada) employing a Plurality/Majority (winner- takes-all) voting system based on geographic districts have the most difficulty achieving adequate female representation. In these countries, a woman usually has to defeat a male incumbent to win a seat.

I was very surprised to learn that 57% percent of countries have achieved better female representation by imposing gender quotas. Pakistan was the first in 1956 (though they have subsequently rescinded the quota), Bangladesh in 1972 and Egypt in 1979. Scandinavian countries took a big step towards gender parity via voluntary party quotas

As of 2015, only three countries had no women at all in government: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Trump has only two female cabinet members, the lowest since the 1970s.

In an era in which the power of elected assemblies is being systematically eroded by multinational corporations, Dallerup feels it’s also really important to ensure strong female representation on corporate boards and the regional and international bodies they control. Spain, Iceland, Belgium, France, Germany, India and Norway all have laws requiring a minimum of 40% representation on corporate boards (a move consistently linked with higher profits.


*Interventions Dallerup views as essential to ending women’s inequality and oppression include

  • redistribution of money and resources, eg to single mothers for maternity care and maternity leave
  • actions against the feminization of poverty
  • public services: care for children, the elderly and disabled
  • housing and public transportation
  • an independent judiciary without with gender biases; intervention against domestic violence; anti-discrimination regulations, ie on equal pay and equal treatment; and affirmation action (ie gender quotas)
  • support for men’s role as caregivers, eg paternity leave
  • protection from sexual violence and harassment in peace and war and the inclusion of women in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation

Also published in Dissident Voice

A Global Project to Regreen Our Deserts

 

Regreening the Planet

VPRO (2013)

Film Review

This documentary is about a global social enterprise called Commonland stared by Chinese American environmentalist John D Liu and Dutch ecologist Willem Ferwerda. The primary purpose of Commonland is to attract business investment for regreening landscapes that have been desertified due to destructive industrial farming practices.

Liu first got his start regreening the Loess Plateau in China, using organic and biodynamic principles that focus on restoring healthy soil microorganisms and smart water use.

The documentary features amazing footage of four regreening projects in China, India, Egypt and Spain. Each emphasizes the economic and job creation potential of regreening. Large scale projects that shift communities from imported to locally produced food are one of the best ways to create jobs for unemployed youth.

More information at the Commonland website>

 

The Historical Roots of Patriarchy

Patriarchy, Civilization, Militarism and Democracy

Gwynne Dyer (1994)

 

This documentary traces the development of patriarchy around 5,000 years ago, which Dyer links to the consolidation of agricultural villages into empires. Simultaneously in Mesopotamia, Central and South America and China, hierarchical political systems formed under a single male dictator who controlled their subjects via absolute terror.

This transition from autonomous villages into heavily militarized states was always accompanied by strict control of women’s behavior. Dyer maintains the ultimate goal of controlling women was to increase the birth rate and produce more male subjects for the rulers’ armies. In Mesopotamia, the formation of new religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) glorifying a single male god was the crowning achievement of patriarchy.

According to Dyer, Egypt was the last ancient empire to fully adopt patriarchy. Owing to natural barriers (the Sinai desert and the Mediterranean) that protected it from foreign invasion, it was the last ancient empire to militarize and adopt strict laws restricting women’s freedom.

The 40 minute film is divided into four parts. Parts 2-4 start automatically when the prior part concludes.

 

The Lost Civilizations of Africa

Africa

Directed by Basil Davidson (1984)

Film Review

Africa is a 1984 documentary exploring the great civilizations of Africa. In it, late historian Basil Davidson demolishes the myths Europeans concocted about Africa to justify the 400 year slave trade – these myths concerning a continent of subhuman savages persist to the present day. Davidson reviews archeological evidence, ancient African and Europeans artwork and historical records and contemporary tribal traditions that survive from past civilizations.

The documentary is divided into 8 episodes of approximately 25 minutes each.

Episode 1 Different But Equal – studies the depiction of blacks in medieval and renaissance European paintings to show how the concept of race was created in the 16th century to justify the immensely profitable enslavement of human paintings. He starts with an examination of cave paintings that point to a highly advanced Saharan civilization prior to the Sahara’s desertification (around 7,000–8,000 years ago   and the prominence of black-skinned the 3,000-year  civilization Egypt enjoyed under the pharaohs.

Episode 2 Mastering a Continent – focuses on Kushites and the great Nubian civilization to the south of Egypt. The latter converted to Christianity and persisted until the 11th century when it was destroyed (by Saracens) during the Crusades.

Episode 3 Caravans of Gold – discusses the vast commercial trade network (extending as far as India) centered in Timbuktu (Mali) and the Ashanti civilization (in modern day Ghana). In the 14th century, Mali converted to Islam. Under the guidance of Muslim scholars, Timbuktu became a global center of Islamic scholarship in law, literature and science.

Episode 4 The King and the City Within – describes the civilizations of Huaser, Benin and Ethe in modern day Nigeria.

Episode 5 The Bible and the Gun – covers the arrival of the Europeans and the devastating of slavery on long established African civilizations. Over 400 years, the African continent lost approximately 15 million skilled craftsmen and farmers. As the slave trade declined in the 18th and 19th century, Europeans opened up Africa’s interior in order to exploit its rich natural resources. As in Latin American and Asia, Christian missionaries played a fundamental role in this process.

Episode 6 The Magnificent African Cake – gives an overview of the extensive European military campaigns that flattened African resistance to colonization. By 1914, Liberia and Ethiopia were the only two countries not under European military control.

Episode 7 The Rise of Nationalism – relates how forced conscription in World War I and World War II radically changed Africans’ view of Europeans and fueled demands for independence. The Gold Coast (later renamed Ghana by President Dr Kwame Nkrumah) would launch the first independence struggle in 1945. Davidson contrasts this with the more bloody independence struggles in Kenya, Algeria and other countries with substantial(European) settler populations.

Episode  8 Legacy – explores how the adoption of European-style Parliamentary systems proved disastrous for many African countries. Davidson blames this on the fact that Parliamentary government is based on a well established class divisions. It worked poorly in Africa owing to the continent’s historic tendency towards egalitarianism.

 

The Billionaires Who Helped Destroy Democracy

The Mayfair Set: Four Stories About the Rise of Business and the Decline of Political Power

Directed by Adam Curtis (1999)

Film Review

The Mayfair Set is a four part documentary series profiling the right wing financiers responsible for the financialization of the British-American economy in the seventies and eighties. It also explores the simultaneous transfer of real power away from elected representatives to banks and financial markets. “Mayfair Set” refers to a private London gambling club – the Clermont Club – where many of these future billionaires were members.

Part 1 – concerns British aristocrat Colonel David Sterling, founder of the British SAS (Special Air Service). In the sixties and seventies, Sterling created a series of private mercenary armies to fight independence movements in Africa and elsewhere. In addition to secretly fighting Egypt’s invasion of Yemen in 1962, he also set up numerous arms deals for Saudi Arabia,* with the assistance of notorious Saudi arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi.** He also created the Saudi air force.

Part 2 – concerns two right wing Clermont Club members John Slater and Tiny Rollin. Slater was a corporate raider who almost singlehandedly wiped out Britain’s manufacturing sector in the seventies and eighties. He did so by targeting specific companies for hostile takeover, stripping their assets, sacking thousands of workers, and investing the proceeds in the share market. Rollin was responsible for bilking newly independent African nations of their mines, factories and plantations.

Part 3 – concerns Slater’s fellow corporate raider, Michael Goldsmith, who emigrated to the US in 1980 and paired up with junk bond guru Michael Milken to destroy America’s manufacturing base by initiating dozens of hostile takeovers of US companies. In 1990 Milken was sentenced to 3 ½ years prison on 94 counts of fraud, racketeering and insider trading.

Part 4 – concerns the rise to power of Clermont Club darling Margaret Thatcher and her (controversial) embrace of Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed. Al-Fayed saved her government when currency speculator George Soros led a vicious attack on the British pound in 1992. Al-Fayed would subsequently blow the whistle to the Guardian on all the British MPs who accepted bribes from him. Al-Fayed was father to Dodi, the boyfriend killed in the car crash with Princess Diana.


*British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which continue to the present day, have become extremely controversial owing to the Saudis’ carpet bombing of Yemen and the resulting humanitarian crisis.  See Shelve UK arms sales to Saudis over Yemen, say two MPs’ committees

**Khashoggi first came to public attention for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which George Herbert Walker Bush and other members of the Reagan administration illegally sold weapons to Iran to finance their illegal war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Khashoggi also had direct links with the alleged 9-11 terrorists (see Spike the News) and was the uncle of Dodi Al Fayed, the boyfriend killed in the car crash with Princess Diana.

 

Britain’s Struggle to Abolish the Slave Trade

abolition

Abolition: The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies

By Richard S Reddie

Lion Hudson (2007)

Book Review

Reddie devotes most of his book to debunking common myths Europeans perpetuate to justify chattel slavery and the current plight of the African diaspora. First and foremost is the prevailing myth that Africa was a savage and backwards continent prior to the arrival of the first Europeans.

Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of the Nubian, Great Zimbabwe, Ghana, Songhay or Mali civilizations. Archival records suggests that Africa, not the Middle East, was the cradle of civilization. The pioneering Greek scientists Archimedes and Pythagoras both spent their youth studying in Egypt. There’s also fairly strong evidence that East Africans began producing steel before Europeans did.

Of the millions of slaves forcibly transported to the Americas, 40% ended up in Brazil, 40% in the Caribbean, 15% in Spanish territories and 5% in North America. Many Caribbean slaves were subsequently relocated from sugar plantations to North American cotton plantations.

Africans in the New World would outnumber Europeans by five to one until 1820. This population imbalance meant violent slave rebellions were a constant phenomenon.

This is the second myth Reddie debunks: that Europeans were primarily responsible for ending slavery. Citing a wealth of historical sources, he makes an ironclad case that Africans were primarily responsible for liberating themselves.

Even during the horrific Middle Passage, there was a major revolt in approximately one of every ten ships that left Africa. Reddie maintains it was mainly the fear of armed resistance that caused Europeans to terrorize their slaves with beatings, branding and mutilation.

Reddie details the bloody 1791 uprising in St Domingue (now Haiti), in which St Domingue slaves both freed themselves and won independence from France. All the new world colonies experienced frequent slave revolts, with those of Jamaica and Guyana deserving special mention for the number of Europeans killed.

Abolition! also discusses the grassroots organizing led by Quakers, evangelical Methodists and other religious groups leading to the 1807 law banning the British transatlantic slave trade. Although men such as William Wilberforce receive most of the credit, the abolition movement was mostly led by women.

The fight to end slavery altogether in British colonies would take another 27 years. Wilberforce opposed ending slavery itself as he believed slaves needed to be “properly prepared” before being granted their freedom.

World War I through Arab Eyes

Essential history I should have learned in high school but didn’t. I must have been absent that day. This documentary gives me a new understanding of how European colonial powers totally wrecked the Arab world – a process that continues to the current day.

World War I through Arab Eyes

Al Jazeera (2014)

Film Review

This is a three part documentary in which Tunisian journalist Malke Triki interviews European, Turkish and Arab journalists and surviving families about the role of Arab forces – on both sides – in World War I.

Part 1 concerns the forcible conscription of Muslim troops by both the Ottoman Empire and the Allies. Two-thirds of the soldiers who defeated England, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli weren’t Turkish, but Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, Iraqi and Palestinian. As these countries were still part of the Ottoman Empire, they were subject to a mandatory draft.

I was unaware that England and France, who had occupied large swathes of North Africa since the end of the 19th century, also forcibly conscripted Muslim troops. England forced more than 1.2 million Egyptians to fight for the Allied cause, while France forcibly drafted 100,000 Algerians, 80,000 Tunisians and 45,000 Moroccans.

The French were widely accused of using these colonial forces as cannon fodder to protect French soldiers.

Many colonial troops rebelled against being compelled to kill fellow Muslims. This, as well as their abominable treatment by Europeans, was the spark that inflamed the North African independence movements that arose after World War I.

Part 2 tells the story of the decline of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century and the Ottoman-German relationship which led to their Treaty of Alliance in August 1914.

In 1830 the Ottoman Empire stretched from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) to the Red Sea and encompassed most of North Africa and the Balkans. It was under continual attack by European colonial powers. In the late 1800s, the British military seized Egypt and the French military Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In 1912, Italy seized Libya. In the 1912-13 Balkan Wars, the Empire lost its European territories.

This episode also describes the Ottoman leadership’s brutal suppression of Arab nationalism in the Middle East, particularly in Syria/Lebanon. In 1915, one third of the Lebanese population died of starvation and another third were permanently displaced when their villages were decimated.

It also provides important background on the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman leadership in 1915-17.

Part 3 covers the secret Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France and the way the two imperial powers carved up the former Ottoman Empire between them, regardless of promises made to nationalist movements across the Arab world.

Despite the Egyptian Revolution and the Iraq Uprising, Arab subservience to Ottoman rule was replaced by a series of mandates across the region in which Britain and France seized control of the areas they prized most – to satisfy their own ambitions, interests and ultimately to gain access to region’s valuable oil resources.

World War I gave birth to the Turkish nationalist movement, which led to the founding of the modern Turkish state; and to Zionism, aided greatly by the Balfour Declaration of 1917.