On behalf of the United States of America, congratulations to the people of Poland on the 226th anniversary of your historic constitution.
The United States and Poland are close friends, and our partnership continues to strengthen. We share democratic values, strong cultural and historical ties, and a security relationship based on mutual commitments. The United States is particularly proud to have U.S. troops deployed in Poland, working alongside their Polish counterparts to protect Poland, the United States, and all of our NATO Allies. As we work together to ensure our security and combat terrorism and other threats, we reaffirm our shared commitment to uphold democratic values and the rule of law, setting a standard in defense of freedom for others to emulate.
The U.S.-Poland friendship is also grounded in an economic relationship that makes both countries stronger. More than half of the top 100 U.S. companies are invested in Poland, and Poland is the leading trade partner of the United States in Central Europe. In the coming years, we hope to expand opportunities for economic growth between our two countries.
The United States looks forward to a future of continued cooperation and friendship with Poland.
Recently I heard a story about a meditation teacher addressing a class. He asked his students to demonstrate how they feel space. Immediately every student raised their hands into the air. The teacher laughed. He said, “You don’t need to put your hands in the air. You are already feeling space.” Think about it. Space is all around us. And not just outside our bodies, but inside our bodies also.
Your body’s ability to sense its position in space is part of what we call “proprioception”. The term also refers to recognizing the relative position of each limb in relationship to other parts of the body as well as the environment. Proprioception is important in all movements of the body since it enables us to know where our limbs are in space without having to look. When I teach chair exercise classes and ask participants to move their feet, everyone looks down. This always makes me smile. For most of us, our feet will move whether or not we are watching them. But somehow we feel the need to help them along by looking. I often ask my yoga students to close their eyes when standing in Mountain Pose and bring their feet to a parallel position. Then I’ll ask them to open their eyes and see how they did. Surprisingly most do pretty well! This demonstrates the ability to sense the position of one’s feet in space and each foot in relation to the other.
Of course, this is not true for everyone. People with certain neurological conditions may have difficulty with proprioception. It is also one of those senses that tends to diminish with age. Several years ago I read a book called “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte-Taylor, a brain researcher who had a stroke. While she was actually experiencing the stroke she was somehow able to marshal her knowledge of how the brain works and recognize what was happening to her. The book describes her experience both during the stroke and in recovery. As the stroke was happening, one of the indicators for her was that she became unable to distinguish where her body ended and other objects began. Every time I trip over something I think of this. Even though I see the object and should be able to get around it, somehow I lose my ability to recognize where my body ends and the other object begins. Thus we collide. As my husband would say, “No – you’re just clumsy”. Point taken. But I still prefer the other explanation.
Any of you who have ever had nerve damage to a limb will know that one of the goals of physical therapy is to restore functional mobility. In an article discussing proprioception in physical therapy, author Brett Sears, P.T., describes how different nerve endings in your limbs relay information to your brain about the relative position of your limbs and the direction and speed of movement. This process enables us to move in space without actually watching the movement. Think of yourself walking. Generally, you can move your arms and legs in space without looking at them and also usually manage to keep them from bumping into each other. When this communication between brain and limb is disturbed, it needs to be retrained if possible. Most of us understand the need for practicing balance, but proprioception is equally important. The two senses work together to help us move efficiently.
So how can we work on improving proprioception? One way is to create balance challenges. Try standing on one foot. You may notice that your standing foot starts to wobble. If you pay attention you may recognize that the part of your foot that is wobbling changes minutely from moment to moment. This is your body adjusting to subtle shifts in your center of gravity. For example, perhaps you are also moving your arms or maybe without even realizing it your body is tilting forward or back. As these changes in positioning occur, your proprioception abilities are called upon to help you stabilize. You will probably not be surprised to learn that both yoga and Pilates help to train your senses to respond to the constant changes occurring as you move through space in normal everyday activities. These and other mind-body disciplines help practitioners to develop awareness of their bodies in space and the space in their bodies.
Moving through space requires more than just internal control. We need to be aware of gravity and other forces that impact movement like momentum, uneven surfaces, and elevation changes as well as obstacles in our path. Pilates in particular focuses on strengthening from your core or center. Exercises help you to stabilize the center and move from there. The concept of “oppositional lengthening” is emphasized so that movements from the center are balanced in all directions. This does require attention and practice. But as you learn your own body’s individual idiosyncrasies you begin to train your body to become better at making those subtle adjustments enabling you to move more easily through space.
Learning to move from our center can help in other ways as well. We all know what it’s like to feel “off-center”. This is usually a sign that we are stressed and losing balance in our lives in general. Thoughts become scattered and unfocused. Even routine activities can seem overwhelming. Our mental muscles and nerves begin to lose their ability to adapt to changing experiences, internal and external. This can easily translate into physical discomfort as well. Fortunately, mind-body practices like yoga and Pilates can also help with these feelings. Breathing practices can help bring us back to our center, reminding us of what is really important in our lives. Coming back to our centers and retraining our brains to adapt to shifting energies both internal and external can help us restore balance and ease as we move through space and through life.
Our nation’s budget is a moral document. It reflects the values of the country. It demonstrates where our priorities lie. It tells the story of who we are, and who we want to be.
The budget proposed by the White House this week tells the story of a country that cares very little about science, the environment, diplomacy, the poor, and the elderly. Between the cuts in our diplomatic corps and foreign aid and the increase in military spending, it’s a budget that seems eager for war.
So we must ask ourselves, “Is this who we want to be? Is this what our country should look like?”
Do we really want to completely eliminate all government grants for the arts and the humanities? Have we decided that we no longer value art and literature, music and sculpture? Shall we cut funding for the educational programming on PBS, and have our kids watch cartoons filled with violence and toilet humor instead?
Speaking of our kids, do we really want to cut all funding for researching and fighting global climate change? What kind of world are we leaving our children and grandchildren if we abandon all efforts to slow climate change, and eliminate funding to keep our air and water clean?
Have we become so calloused to the plight of the poor and the elderly that we will eliminate funding for Meals on Wheels? Meals on Wheels! We’re talking about feeding poor, home-bound senior citizens! If the budget is a moral document that shows what we, as a nation, care about, then what does this say about us?
And for what purpose are we cutting funding for the arts, and for alleviating poverty, and for health research, for low-income energy assistance and low-income housing? These cuts are being made to allow us to increase military spending by $54 billion dollars a year.
Never mind that the United States already spends significantly more on its military than any other nation. In fact, our military budget is bigger than the budgets of the next eight highest-spending countries combined – and of those eight countries, we have formal alliances with six. We have 19 aircraft carriers; the other countries of the world have a combined total of 12. Do we really need to be more poised for war than we already are?
As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” This budget is definitely a step away from helping the poor and vulnerable in favor of violence and war. It’s up to us to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.
In a democracy, we get to decide. Our elected leaders are accountable to us. This is certainly not the kind of country I want the United States of America to be, but maybe most of my fellow citizens want exactly that.
Only, if you do, don’t also tell me you want this to be a country that is built upon Christian values.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus describes a scene in which the nations are judged by God, and this is how they will be judged:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
“Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The White House wants to cut Meals on Wheels. That’s a reflection of where their morals are. Jesus said when we feed the hungry, we’re feeding him. That’s where Christ’s morals are.
Where do our morals lie? What kind of nation do we want to be?
EU court allows companies to ban headscarves. What will be the impact on Muslim women?
Z. Fareen Parvez University of Massachusetts Amherst
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that interprets EU law issued a landmark judgment on March 14 that upheld the right of private companies in EU member countries to enact policies barring employees from wearing “religious, political and philosophical signs” in the interest of “neutrality.”
Such visible signs range from Jewish kippahs to Sikh turbans and Hindu bindis; Christian crosses, can, perhaps remain hidden under clothing.
The court decision was a response to two legal cases, one from Belgium and the other in France, where a Muslim woman was dismissed by her employer because of her headscarf.
Employment discrimination against Muslim women and anti-headscarf legislation have impacted Muslim communities in various parts of Europe, but particularly in France. In Western Europe, France has the largest percentage of Muslims and the most restrictive headscarf legislation. In 2004 it banned the headscarf and all conspicuous religious “symbols” in public schools.
Every year, there are several hundred hate crimes committed against French Muslims. Of these, the majority of victims who have been physically assaulted are women in headscarves.
So what will be the impact of the Court of Justice’s ruling on an already beleaguered minority of headscarf-wearing Muslim women?
History of headscarf legislation
It was in the 1990s and early 2000s that the headscarf started to be seen in France as a violation of secular, “neutral” space. It also became a symbol of political Islam and the oppression of women.
Debates over the issue continued for years, until the Conseil d’Etat (France’s highest administrative court) recommended the ban on all conspicuous religious gear in public schools in late 2003. In 2011, the state also banned the face veil, worn by an extremely small minority of Muslim women, in all public spaces.
Efforts to have the headscarf removed expanded from public schools to workplaces. But dismissing women on the grounds of wearing the headscarf remained legally ambiguous or unchallenged. The March 14 ruling gives clarity and legal justification. With an official policy of neutrality that applies to everyone, companies can prohibit the headscarf without being considered discriminatory.
What about the perspectives of those who wear it?
As researchers have long demonstrated, women have many diverse motivations for wearing a headscarf. But for some, the headscarf is not merely a “symbol.” It is instead an act of piety and a way of being. Forcing them to remove it as a precondition for gaining work puts them, it can be argued, in an unfair and potentially harmful situation.
Muslim women’s voices
In the communities of French Muslims that I observed for my book on Islam and politics in France and India, the beginning of anti-headscarf legislation marked a major turning point in their hopes for integration and acceptance.
I began doing research in France in 2006 in the southeastern city of Lyon. Since then I have returned several times, totaling 14 months of ethnographic research in two different mosque communities. In both of these communities, most women I knew chose to wear a headscarf.
I had many conversations with people about the headscarf ban in public schools. Most felt demoralized when it was passed. As Ismat, a young woman of Moroccan descent, recalled, “we realized then…that Islam in France is going to remain difficult.”
Ismat, like almost every headscarf-wearing woman I met during my time in Lyon, had faced employment discrimination. When she went to see a lawyer for legal advice, the conversation quickly turned to his interrogating her about why she wanted to wear it in the first place.
According to the women I spent time with and interviewed, employers were explicit in their demands that the women take off their headscarves. There were eight women whom I knew well and who shared these stories with me. But I interacted briefly with many more who casually mentioned their experience with this kind of discrimination. Some women were willing to remove their headscarves to keep their jobs or continue their training, but many were not. Those who refused sometimes faced personally devastating consequences.
For example, Aisha, a lively young woman active in the mosque community, had long dreamed of becoming a psychologist and had studied hard to pursue her dream. In 2009, after moving to Paris with her husband, she found that no hospitals or clinics would accept her for clinical training in her headscarf. So she abandoned her ambition. Aisha lamented to me,
“We women are psychologically exhausted.”
In the working-class suburbs of Lyon, where I spent time with Muslim women with much stricter forms of veiling, the situation was more dire. Some had dropped out of high school, even against the wishes of their parents, because they did not want to remove their headscarves at the door of the school.
Suffering both poverty and stigma, they struggled to find work as child-care and domestic-care workers. Occasionally, informal employers temporarily tolerated their veiling before eventually placing conditions on them.
Asma, an Afro-French woman, went back and forth with her employer over the issue until finally, her employer fired her. She warned Asma,
“You will never be accepted here.”
Why this will isolate women
The Court of Justice’s ruling seems to validate such social and economic exclusion.
The ruling gives a stamp of approval to the discriminatory atmosphere that shapes the lives of women who choose to wear a headscarf as part of their faith. In my research, the women who managed to hold onto a job were those who found work only among other Muslims who tolerated or simply ignored their clothing.
What does this imply, then, about the ideal of integration?
These women will be further estranged from the formal labor market and are less likely to feel they “belong” in France – even though many come from families that have been in France for three generations.
Maryam, an observant Muslim who said she worked hard to reconcile her French identity with her Islamic faith, had a few years ago insisted in an interview with me,
“I am just as French as ‘Jacqueline,’ even with my religion.”
The question is, with yet another legal defeat, will she continue to believe this?
The court’s ruling will likely undermine religious freedom. And it will reinforce the arbitrariness of defining what practices are “political,” “philosophical” or “religious.”
In today’s globalized world, it is murky at best to distinguish between the religious and nonreligious. Many symbols we don’t think of as religious are, in fact, sacred in some traditions. For example, the yin-yang symbol is considered sacred in the Buddhist and Taoist traditions. Will companies prohibit employees from wearing the yin-yang on a shirt or ring?
There are other popular symbols we hardly notice, like the Apple logo or the Nike swoosh. In my view, these too raise a question, whether corporate logos like these could be seen as symbols of worshiping the market. If so, should such logos be banned from employees’ clothing?
To be sure, the court’s ruling leaves specific matters to be decided by EU member states, who may interpret the issues differently in individual cases. Nonetheless, it is not a step forward.
I argue that the values and ideas of inclusion, democracy, freedom, or women’s rights, that the EU claims to uphold will not be advanced through this ruling. It might, in fact, undermine these values by allowing companies to discriminate against people in the name of “neutrality.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, which recently ended its 2017 rendition, is an event as contradictory as it is extraordinary.
No mere mimicry of other such celebrations in Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans, Carnival on this Caribbean island of 1.4 million people – primarily descended from enslaved Africans and Indian indentured labourers – combines African traditions with European pre-Lent festivities and Indian musical rhythms.
Given this syncretism, it’s perhaps unsurprising that, over the past 200 years, Carnival has been not just two days of normal order turned upside down but also an annual expression of female political resistance.
Beads and glitter and ‘bikini mas’
Caribbean women’s takeover of Carnival is most evident during “bikini mas”. Each year, tens of thousands of women participate in this Carnival mas(querade), “playing mas” in Rio-style sequined bikinis, feathered headpieces and beads.
Because playing bikini mas has come to replace traditional costumes portraying other periods, places and cultures (as well as some fantastical imagined characters), some fear that Trinidad and Tobago’s historic tradition is dying. New, imported masquerade styles, say traditional mas makers, do not make political statements or show off local artistry.
But bikini mas is a complex phenomenon. Its rise is directly linked to women’s increasing earnings and economic independence; disposable income and the desire for well-earned fun support the demand for such costumes. It also reflects black and brown women’s wish to be affirmed as beautiful and sexy, not only seen as successful and serious students and workers.
As feminist scholar and mas player Dr Sue Ann Barratt told me:
A big part of it for some women is … to show they have been working out and qualify as gorgeous, for affirmation as a woman and to send a message that you can be watched, but not touched.
In short, bikini mas authorises women to push back against the strict moral controls that religion and society place on them (while allowing men more sexual freedom).
Take, for example, these lyrics from Soca music star Destra Garcia’s 2016 hit, Lucy: “I grew up as ah real good girl, always home, don’t go nowhere. As soon as I was introduced to Carnival, they say I loose”.
Meanwhile, singer Orlando Octave observed in one 2017 tune, “Plenty girl have [a] man and [yet] acting like they single, wining like she single, feting like she single”.
This contradiction – which Trinidadian women live every day – has helped spur bikini mas to become a ritual for an entire generation of young women: a women’s movement given cultural expression.
The original anti-slut shaming
These revellers are continuing the nation’s long-standing tradition of female self-affirmation, resistance to subordination, and renegotiation of the rules governing public space.
Caribbean women have always been at the forefront of rebellions, from rising up against slavery in the 1500s to leading the 1903 riots over access to water.
Well before slavery was abolished in 1838, Trinidadian women played in Carnival bands. Sometimes they covered themselves in mud, expressing a sexuality even then decried as indecent. Alongside them would march women who fought in stickfights (public duelling competitions), a stereotypically “masculine” activity.
By the 1800s, such women had come to be known as “Jamettes”, from the French diametre, which referred to those considered to exist below the line of respectability.
After abolition these working-class, African-descended women continued the Jamette tradition. They often cooked, washed clothes and socialised in shared urban backyards, and worked in a wide range of trades, from washerwomen or market vendors to sex workers.
With its fearless and unapologetic combination of sexual, reproductive and economic issues with insistence on justice, equality and freedom from violence, Jamette politics has come to influence Trinidad and Tobago’s modern Carnival – and Caribbean feminism – in ways that cross class, colour, religion and race.
Predating by decades the “slut walks” of Canada and the United States, bikini mas has helped cultivate contemporary women’s opposition to rape culture in Trinidad and Tobago, where male domination and sexual harassment of women is seen as natural and normal. Indeed, the Caribbean region has disproportionately high rates of sexual violence.
Last year, a Japanese steelpan player, Asami Nagakiya, was murdered during Carnival in Port of Spain. After the city’s mayor suggested that that women’s dress and behaviour at this annual event invited abuse, feminist groups called for his resignation and young women came out in their bikini mas costumes to protest the victim-blaming.
Over the next months, #NotAskingForIt campaign, featuring female students, workers, family members and bikini mas players, circulated social media across the entire Caribbean region.
Classist and sexist or empowering?
Bikini mas is not without its contradictions. The cost of participation in a “band” of mas costume players can be up to US$1,000 per person. Though all classes of women find the money to pay for an outfit, economics shapes access to these moments of female freedom.
Classism features, too, in the way that many women who play in bikini mas bands are contained on either side by ropes and security personnel. This reproduces historical ways that white upper classes used to cut themselves off from others while taking over the streets.
But such cordoning also signals a harsh modern reality of violence against women: the ropes are meant to protect women of all classes and races from sexual harassment. Still, this policing of women’s bodies complicates the radical potential of bikini mas.
Young feminist are finding ways to connect Trinidad’s centuries-old Carnival to a new generation of political resistance. This year, the prominent “Leave me alone, Leave she alone” campaign teamed up with singer Calypso Rose to embolden women against sexual violence and encourage men to help create a Carnival – and by extension society – in which women are safe and free.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival is where thousands of women express their aspirations for freedom and equality. Look beneath stock images of pretty glitter and beads, and you’ll find just such feminist ideals.
There are times in all of our lives when we need a little help from our friends. Yet some of us have a hard time acknowledging that.
Last week I was talking with a friend who was commenting on the struggle she was encountering with some home repair projects she was trying to complete on her own. Any of you who have attempted something similar, especially after the loss of someone you relied on to do these things, will recognize the dilemmas these tasks present. It can seem like an overwhelming chore looming over you like a black cloud. You find yourself succumbing to the procrastination mantra: I’ll do this when ________. Fill in the blank with any mythic event in the nebulous future that will somehow enable you to handle this on your own. As we talked, we both wondered why it was so hard to accept that sometimes you just can’t do everything all by yourself. And, in fact, there are times when it is better not to even try.
Our culture has ingrained in us this mythical idea that self-sufficiency is the ultimate noble goal. We need to be strong and face all of our challenges by ourselves. This concept seems to be in our national DNA. In fact, our society carries it to such an extreme that we get upset with people who we perceive as “not carrying their own weight”. You can see this in the current debates raging around us, particularly when it comes to social services. Policies are built with rules that will prevent the “undeserving” from obtaining services. This means that arbitrary moral judgments need to be made about who is or is not deserving. Sometimes following those rules is so daunting that even the “deserving” can’t get access to services. Thus everybody complains and nobody benefits. Somewhere along the line we have lost the sense of community and common good. Or worse, our sense of community has become so distorted that only certain people are allowed to join. If they don’t meet the requirements they become outsiders, not worthy of our generosity or even compassion.
This scenario may seem extreme, but I think you all know what I mean. Still I can hardly profess to having the answers to all of the world’s problems. One thing I do know, though, is that we can all do a better job of accepting our own limitations. Sure we’ve all heard stories of people overcoming impossible obstacles to achieve some amazing goal. Those stories can be inspirational. But too often we forget that these are the exceptions, not the rule. When we find ourselves unable to accomplish similar feats we can easily become discouraged, focusing on perceived inadequacies rather than recognizing that we, too, each have our own amazing skills. Instead we withdraw into our safe little cocoons afraid to let anyone know that we might not measure up to the impossible standards we set for ourselves. And – yes – we impose these standards on ourselves. You can try to blame outside circumstances, but ultimately we make our own rules for acceptable behavior.
Let’s all engage in a little thought experiment. Look back in your own life and try to find at least one achievement or experience you have had in which you accomplished something that you didn’t think you could do. My guess is you’ll find something. Probably more than one thing. We have all faced struggles and challenges. Chances are, too, that each of these has been a learning experience. This is something that the “vulnerability expert” Brene Brown talks about in her speeches and writings. Her message is that even though we think that putting on a brave face is what is expected of us regardless of how we feel, it actually takes more courage to acknowledge that not being perfect isn’t a measure of self-worth. In an interview with Krista Tippett on the program “On Being” Ms. Brown said, “the most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath. . . the moments that made me were moments of struggle.”
So needing help on occasion doesn’t mean inadequacy or even failure. What it means is that each of us has certain gifts, but no one is always good at everything. We can fall into the trap of thinking that other people have it all figured out, but somehow we missed the boat. We are obsessed with perfection. Interestingly, though, perfection itself is in the eye of the beholder. There is no hard and fast definition of perfection that works for everyone. I like the Urban Dictionary’s definition: “an impossibility, something unattainable, something that cannot be reached..ever.” Even the Cambridge English Dictionary defines perfection as “the state of being complete and correct in every way”. Does anyone know of any person or thing that meets that consistently meets that definition? Of course not! And yet somehow we expect it of ourselves.
Here’s another thought experiment: think of all the times when you have helped someone else. Usually, you feel good about helping and give your assistance freely. You feel glad that you were asked for your help. Why not spread those good feelings around? When you ask for help you are giving someone else the opportunity to experience those good feelings. So instead of feeling needy, you can actually feel altruistic.
All of this can, of course, relate to my favorite topic – exercise. Sadly, I still hear people say that they don’t want to come to a class because they are sure everyone is going to point and stare and laugh because of their inability to be perfect. There are, of course, many flaws in this viewpoint not the least of which is that everyone starts somewhere and even people with innate abilities were not born experts. All attempts, no matter how rudimentary, are opportunities for learning. So give the people around you credit for their willingness to support and help you along your journey, wherever you are on that path. Accept their help at whatever level it is offered. You might be surprised to learn that none of them is perfect either.
In my work as a gender and communications specialist I have met – and in some cases professionally advised – female ministers, legislators, mayors, community leaders and judges across the world, from the Dominican Republic and Honduras to the Netherlands and Sweden.
I’m Argentinean, so the struggles described to me by Latin American female leaders, who confront inter-party resistance and media double standards on a daily basis, are familiar ones. Our region’s gender gap is a disheartening 30%; Guatemala and Paraguay are among the world’s least gender-equal places.
I have been surprised, however, to hear that women in northern Europe – the most gender-equal region in the world – report the same grievances. While researching my latest book on women in power, I interviewed 18 female politicians in Sweden and The Netherlands, certain that their experience in public service would starkly contrast that of their Latin American peers. After all, in those countries, women already occupy 40% of political positions – and they didn’t need a quota system to do it. Only in a gender-equal paradise could that happen, right?
The women I interviewed varied in age and ideological background. Some were already retired and others were engaged as EU parliamentarians, congresspeople, government ministers, judges and congressional commission presidents.
It turns out that although women in Sweden and the Netherlands have achieved near parity in national parliaments, they nonetheless share many challenges. Every person interviewed – conservative, progressive, junior or senior – felt that women still had a long way to go to achieve substantive equality.
“When we talk about involvement of women in politics,” one Dutch interviewee said, “it is not just a matter of numbers, but … also of their position to exert influence. How many of them are in ‘hard core’ areas like budget, for example, and really have visibility?”
In other words, equality is not just numeric.
In the Netherlands, since the 1970s “gender mainstreaming” effort, the idea of gender equality is so firmly instilled that citizens won’t vote for parties whose candidate lists aren’t roughly gender-equal, ensuring women get on the ticket. The EU first began to legislate equal pay and equal rights for women in 1979, pressuring member states to adopt such laws nationally. So a top-down cultural shift has been underway for decades.
All the women I spoke to agreed that this has helped, but only to a degree. Women are still under-represented in ministries and decisive parliamentary commissions: among developed-world nations, only 17% of government ministers are women. It’s also meaningful that in Spain only 9% of male ministers do not have children, while 45% of female ministers do not.
Neither Sweden nor the Netherlands has yet seen a female head of state – something that, for example, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Costa Rica have all achieved.
We’ve still got a long way to go
So even in the world’s most egalitarian countries, the debate on women’s rights continues.
“There are still many stereotypes that exert influence, especially on domestic task divisions,” one Dutch parliamentarian said. Yes, even Western European women confront the “can she have it all?” dilemma.
Another woman, an EU parliamentarian, told me:
When I became Member of Parliament, [the media] asked me how I managed to combine my work as a politician with motherhood or family life. Before we had kids, my husband had two jobs … He gave up one to take care of the household and our children. After eight years, he became Alderman of Amsterdam, … and then everybody turned to me and asked what I would do now. I answered ‘well, I have the same job, he is the one who has a new one, so ask him.’
Of course, in Northern Europe as in the rest of the world, stereotypes and double-standards still influence media coverage of women. Women said journalists made numerous comments about their hair or clothing, or about looking exhausted after a late-night session (men were celebrated for their stamina).
One woman with experience as both an EU parliamentarian and government minister, recounted this anecdote:
A photo journalist came to me and said ‘Madam, you have always the same suit on’. I said ‘Yes, that’s not a problem for me, is it a problem for you?’ And he answered that in fact it was … because it gave the impression that photographs were always the same one. I always wore a brooch, so I told him, ‘Ok, I will give you something new: I will change the brooches.’
Women make the road
The women interviewed shared recommendations for fixing these inequalities – again, political affiliation made no difference in these policy recommendations.
Every woman commented on the need to address gender bias in early childhood education. One congresswoman who suggested working with young boys and girls to raise awareness of gender stereotypes also commented that teachers at preschools and schools must be trained in equality as well. And indeed, some Scandanavian nations are, controversially, already mandating gender-neutral reading (goodbye, Snow White).
Although defying gender roles is everyone’s job, women have a decisive part to play. Each and every woman I interviewed, regardless of age or political position, agreed that mentorship was key to her success. Women with more experience offered advice to those with less, and gave them strength to keep fighting.
At a collective level, too, these powerful women agreed that women’s movements and women’s organisations, both within civil society and inside political parties, are fundamental to the continued struggle for political inclusion. Such groups offer women “a place where women meet [and] fight for their causes”, one interview subject said.
When Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau introduced his new cabinet, comprised of 15 men and 15 women, after his 2015 election victory, a reporter asked why it was important for him to have a gender-equal cabinet.
Trudeau’s answer was, “Because it’s 2015.”
But it’s 2017 now, and I can’t seem to find gender paradise – only more women struggling for it. Maybe in 2018?
Virginia García Beaudoux, Professor of Political Communication and Public Opinion, University of Buenos Aires
WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. today announced that China’s Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation and ZTE Kangxun Telecommunications Ltd., known collectively as ZTE, has agreed to a record-high combined civil and criminal penalty of $1.19 billion, pending approval from the courts, after illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea in violation of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR).
As part of the settlement, ZTE has agreed to pay a penalty of $661 million to Commerce’s Bureau of Industry Security (BIS), with $300 million suspended during a seven-year probationary period to deter future violations. This civil penalty is the largest ever imposed by the BIS and, if the criminal plea is approved by a federal judge, the combined $1.19 billion in penalties from Commerce, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Treasury, would be the largest fine and forfeiture ever levied by the U.S. government in an export control case.
“We are putting the world on notice: the games are over,” said Secretary Ross. “Those who flout our economic sanctions and export control laws will not go unpunished – they will suffer the harshest of consequences. Under President Trump’s leadership, we will be aggressively enforcing strong trade policies with the dual purpose of protecting American national security and protecting American workers.”
In addition to these monetary penalties, ZTE also agreed to active audit and compliance requirements designed to prevent and detect future violations and a seven-year suspended denial of export privileges, which could be quickly activated if any aspect of this deal is not met.
“The results of this investigation and the unprecedented penalty reflects ZTE’s egregious scheme to evade U.S. law and systematically mislead investigators,” Secretary Ross said. “This penalty is an example of the extraordinary powers the Department of Commerce will use to vigorously protect the interests of the United States. I am very proud of the outstanding work of the Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and its Office of Chief Counsel.”
As part of the $1.19 billion plea deal, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas will consider imposing $430,488,798 in combined criminal fines and forfeiture on ZTE as part of a plea agreement with the Department of Justice. ZTE has also agreed to pay the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) $100,871,266 pursuant to a settlement agreement.
Starting no later than January 2010 and continuing through April 2016, ZTE conspired to evade the long-standing and widely known U.S. embargo against Iran in order to obtain contracts with and related sales from Iranian entities, including entities affiliated with the Iranian Government, to supply, build, operate, and/or service large-scale telecommunications networks in Iran, the backbone of which would be U.S.-origin equipment and software.
As a result of the conspiracy, ZTE was able to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with and sales from such Iranian entities. Additionally, ZTE undertook other actions involving 283 shipments of controlled items to North Korea with knowledge that such shipments violated the EAR.
Shipped items included routers, microprocessors, and servers controlled under the EAR for national security, encryption, regional security, and/or anti-terrorism reasons. In addition, ZTE engaged in evasive conduct designed to prevent the U.S. government from detecting its violations.
The Investigation, Sanction, and Subsequent Charges
The BIS Office of Export Enforcement Dallas Field Office, in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas, The Department of Justice Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations, investigated ZTE for five years, beginning in 2012 when allegations of illegal conduct first surfaced in media reports. BIS’s subsequent service of an administrative subpoena on ZTE’s U.S. affiliate, ZTE USA, Inc., led ZTE to slow its unlawful shipments to Iran. BIS later learned that in November 2013, following a meeting of senior managers chaired by its then-CEO, ZTE made plans to resume transshipments to Iran that would continue during the course of the investigation.
On March 7, 2016, the Department of Commerce sanctioned ZTE by adding it to the Entity List, which created a license requirement to export, reexport, or transfer (in-country) to ZTE any items subject to the EAR. The principal basis for the addition were two ZTE corporate documents titled “Report Regarding Comprehensive Reorganization and Standardization of the Company Export Control Matters,” which indicated that ZTE reexported controlled items to sanctioned countries contrary to U.S. law and “Proposal for Import and Export Control Risk Avoidance,” which described how ZTE planned and organized a scheme to establish, control and use a series of “detached’’ (i.e., shell) companies to illicitly reexport controlled items to Iran in violation of U.S. export control laws.
During the course of the investigation, ZTE made knowingly false and misleading representations and statements to BIS or other U.S. law enforcement agencies, including that the company had previously stopped shipments to Iran as of March 2012, and was no longer violating U.S. export control laws. ZTE also engaged in an elaborate scheme to prevent disclosure to and affirmatively mislead the U.S. Government, by deleting and concealing documents and information from the outside counsel and forensic accounting firm that ZTE had retained with regard to the investigation.
This scheme included forming and operating a 13-member “Contract Data Induction Team” within ZTE between January and March 2016, that destroyed, removed, or sanitized all materials concerning transactions or other activities relating to ZTE’s Iran business that post-dated March 2012; deleted on a nightly basis all of the team’s emails to conceal the team’s activities; and required each of the team members to sign a non-disclosure agreement covering the ZTE transactions and activities the team was tasked with hiding. Under the non-disclosure agreement, team members would be subject to a penalty of 1 million Renminbi (or approximately $150,000) payable to ZTE if it determined a disclosure occurred.
“Despite ZTE’s repeated attempts to thwart the investigation, the dogged determination of investigators uncovered damning evidence of an orchestrated, systematic scheme to violate U.S. export controls by supplying equipment to sanctioned destinations,” said Douglas Hassebrock, Director of the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Office of Export Enforcement which spearheaded the investigation.
Every once in a while in Washington, the fuse is lit for what seems to be a big scandal. Much more rarely does that fuse lead to an explosion of the magnitude we are seeing with Russia and the new Administration, and frankly the Republicans in Congress. How can anybody say, with all this billowing smoke and sights of actual flames, that there is no need to at least independently investigate whether a fire is burning down the very pillars of our democracy?
The pressure is obviously starting to mount as leading Republicans are now calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. This comes in the wake of serious and credible evidence reported by a vigilant press that the Attorney General, mind you the top law enforcement man in the United States, perjured himself in testimony to the Senate about meeting the Russian ambassador during the election. Sessions is but the latest person close to President Trump who seems to be ensnared in a story that is more worthy of Hollywood melodrama than the reality of the governance of our country. Democrats are calling for Sessions to resign, and this story could move very quickly.
We are well past the time for any political niceties or benefits of the doubt. We need an independent and thorough investigation of Russia’s meddling in our democracy and its ties to the President and his allies. We don’t know what we don’t know. Perhaps there are perfectly innocuous reasons for why Mr Trump won’t release his tax returns, why he has continued to speak admirably about President Putin and why his aides and advisors seem to be so close to Russia. That’s why we need an investigation. If the air is to be cleared, it needs to be cleared. And if there is deep rot, it needs to be exposed. And quickly.
The press is doing an admirable job. But there is only so much it can do without such things as subpoena powers. Let’s just make this clear. This is about a foreign and hostile power trying to influence our election while being in contact with close aides to the presidential campaign that the Kremlin wanted to win. Furthermore, there are serious questions about Mr Trump’s longstanding ties to Russian money and influence peddlers. We don’t know where this might go, but it isn’t going away.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The South Dakota Democratic Party released the following statement in response to reports that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath about meeting with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and that Trump associates and Putin associates had multiple in-person meetings in Europe during the campaign, according to European intelligence services:
“New and troubling revelations about connections between the Trump campaign or Trump associates and Russia seem to come to light almost every day. Almost as troubling as these ongoing revelations is the continuing lack of leadership shown by Republican leaders in South Dakota in responding to these continuing revelations. Republican elected officials and candidates, such as Representative Noem, Senators Rounds and Thune, Attorney General Jackley, and congressional candidate Dusty Johnson need to finally put their country above their party and call for the resignation of Jeff Sessions, the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the formation of an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the connections between Donald Trump, his campaign, and the Russian government. If they do not do so today, they need to be asked what other shocking and incriminating revelations it will take for them to do so.”