J.K. Rowling backlash shows how progressives are turning on their own kind

Good commentary on the risks of being dogmatic (although written as a critique of progressives, warning equally applies to conservatives):

When author J.K. Rowling recently voiced her concerns around transgender activism, the criticisms and pile-ons quickly reached a fever pitch. Ms. Rowling is on trial because she thinks that sex and gender ought not to be entirely decoupled. The attempt to limit debate and the vilification of the debater is yet more worrisome evidence of the problematic culture among too many on my side of the political spectrum.

I’m a boomer, and the circles I travel in lean pretty heavily social democratic. A lot of us are Canadians-for-Bernie types, readers of The Guardian and Vox, a bit ashamed about our fossil fuel consumption, enthused about long-overdue reckonings with racism, appalled by police brutality. Some of us march in Pride parades and donate to Médecins sans frontières. We are progressives, but I suspect that some would dispute that claim because our brand is insufficiently pure.

I’ve about had it with the way too many progressives go about their business. Liberal democracies are admirable precisely because they are liberal, in the classic sense. Freedom matters, especially freedom of expression. I am a John Stuart Mill liberal: the silencing of an opinion – even and especially one without much merit – robs humanity of “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.”

A sign that a movement has become sclerotic and dangerous is when it stifles debate and turns on its own. Totalitarians such as Stalin and Mao wrote the manual on silencing dissent and dissenters. The progressives have not sent Ms. Rowling to the gulag or Margaret Atwood to a re-education camp, but their hegemonic impulses flow from the same well.

Ms. Rowling’s view that sex and gender should not to be entirely decoupled is not an issue about which there is settled science (and there may never be). It is not like climate change or Confederate statues. It is emergent, fluid and intellectually contested; some impeccably credentialed feminists argue that de-linking gender from sex is dangerous ground for women. Ms. Rowling is obviously and famously progressive, and her views are informed by both her politics and her own experience.

Ms. Atwood was pilloried for daring to state the obvious: that the University of British Columbia prematurely and improperly fired Steven Galloway on the basis of sexual-assault allegations that have proved unsubstantiated, in a deeply flawed process that equated being heard with being uncritically believed. It doesn’t matter that Ms. Atwood was right; what matters is that too many progressives turned on her because she refused to overlook a travesty of procedural justice.

Not every opinion deserves a hearing and not every proponent deserves respect. Some want to limit immigration because they are racists; others want to limit immigration because they don’t want to deprive developing nations of their best and the brightest. Such differences matter, and motive and past behaviours are often critical to understanding the argument being made and its subtexts. But excommunicating or censoring thoroughly decent people for raising perfectly legitimate questions sends an ominous signal.

Truth emerges from relentless scrutiny – exactly the kind of questioning and challenges to orthodoxies that have fuelled so many progressive causes. Churches are exempt from taxation. Can I create my own church and declare my house a tax-exempt temple? Surely it’s right for someone to question the legitimacy of my claim even if it offends my sensibilities – just as it is reasonable to ask why churches are tax-exempt, period. There is nothing unfair or disrespectful about probing discussions of gender and sex, or the presumption of innocence or guilt.

One cause of much of this piling on is humourlessness. Tyrants don’t laugh, but the tyrannized use humour to sustain hope and show their contempt for their oppressors and the lies of their regimes. It is possible to be committed and serious without being dour and dogmatic. We are all inconsequential specks in an absurdly vast universe. Our very existence is cosmically laughable, and amusement is an essential coping mechanism. I am much more inclined to trust leaders and fellow adherents who laugh – especially at themselves.

When your cause becomes your dogma, you have entered dangerous psychological territory. What drives the search for truth is curiosity and doubt. Shouting down speakers, stifling classroom discussions and having a black-and-white view of the moral universe are wrong, unnecessary and fatal to the prospects for building a progressive majority.

Political correctness is a mocking term; the irony is that its substance is indeed (mostly) politically correct. It is correct to acknowledge and try to redress historical wrongs. It is important to broaden representation in the halls of political and economic power. It is just to remind all of us that life’s playing field is disturbingly uneven. The comportment of many – by no means all – progressives is a gift to opponents, who can make the politics about the behaviour rather than the substance.

I don’t want to choose between my substantive politics and my even more fundamental beliefs. If I have to, I will. And I’m not alone. Enough scolding, enough censorship, enough dogma and enough beating up on good people. Cannibalism is a lousy recruitment strategy. Progressives everywhere need a lesson in the importance of not being so angrily earnest.

Source:   Opinion J.K. Rowling backlash shows how progressives are turning on their own kind Steven Lewis    

Sheema Khan: We must listen to women’s warnings about the Middle East

More good commentary:

In 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously recognized that the key to peace and security lies in the equal participation of women in civil society. UN Resolution 1325 reaffirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. Canada is one of 79 member states with a national action plan to achieve these goals. Last June, the government went one step further by appointing Jacqueline O’Neill as its first ambassador for women, peace and security.

And yet, the full participation of women in civil society is fraught with danger in countries where women’s rights are lacking – especially when demanding basic human rights and speaking truth to power. For their efforts, many have been beaten, sexually abused, imprisoned or killed in an attempt to silence their call for human dignity. Now, the pandemic has multiplied the challenges faced by these courageous activists.

In late April, the Nobel Women’s Initiative launched an ambitious online campaign to highlight the work of seven extraordinary women striving for human rights in the Middle East. This took place in lieu of a one-day conference originally planned for April in Ottawa, during which Nobel peace laureates Tawakkol Karman, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi were to address delegates.

A number of common themes emerge from this campaign.

Foremost is the worry that with countries focused on domestic initiatives regarding the pandemic, less attention will be paid to human-rights abuses elsewhere. Omaima Al Najjar, an exiled Saudi human-rights activist, believes the Saudi government will further violate rights “because the world is busy with COVID-19.”

Many of these activists are pleading with us to remember the vulnerable – especially in conflict zones where many of the NGOs that had been working on peacebuilding are now also helping with the COVID-19 response with very limited resources. Muna Luqman, a Yemeni peacebuilder, points out that despite the recent ceasefire, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are now “more isolated to face the threats of warring parties on their own,” given the decreased oversight of ceasefire violations. She also reminds us that the basic act of hand-washing is a challenge for many Yemenis lacking access to clean water. She fears the spread of COVID-19 through her war-ravaged country.

There is also deep concern that prisons in the Middle East will become COVID-19 hot spots – perhaps by design.

Fahima Hashim of Sudan has devoted her life to women’s equality and rights. Years ago, she led a successful campaign to reform rape laws. She warns that female prisoners in Sudan “are at great risk for the spread of COVID-19” due to poor living conditions, overcrowding and lack of access to health care.

Mozn Hassan, a prominent Egyptian feminist human-rights defender, has been under a travel ban and asset freeze because of her work. She reminds the world that “when priorities shift, we need not to forget WHRDs who have been jailed because of their legitimate activism. We need to call for their release.”

While a number of countries have released prisoners to ease overcrowding, COVID-19 is being used to endanger the lives of political prisoners who remain incarcerated. Reem Al-Ksiri, a Syrian women’s human-rights lawyer and expert on torture, leads research at the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research. She has raised the alarm: “Women in prison, especially those imprisoned with children and those imprisoned for political reasons, are at present in a catastrophically dangerous situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” She is calling for the release of all political and pre-trial detention prisoners.

Similarly, Maryam Shafipour is an Iranian human-rights activist who spent time in Evin Prison for her political views. She advocates for the release of female Iranian political prisoners, observing that “COVID-19 has become a tool in the hands of the Iranian authorities to do more harm to political prisoners” and accusing authorities of using COVID-19 to “kill political prisoners.”

Finally, the spectre of increased domestic violence is on the mind of Yanar Mohammed, a prominent Iraqi feminist who heads an organization that runs underground shelters for women fleeing honour killings, sex trafficking and domestic violence. COVID-19 is a ”double jeopardy,” she believes, since authorities are ”threatening us and trying to shut us down” while ”at the same time COVID-19 has locked us in our homes.” Please spare a thought for these brave women who, at great personal risk, are demanding basic rights that we often take for granted.

Source: We must listen to women’s warnings about the Middle East: Sheema Khan

‘Will my child ever be a Malaysian?’ — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Of note how the impact of gender discrimination in citizenship policy has a greater impact under COVID-19:

Malaysian women currently do not have equal rights to confer citizenship on their children born overseas on an equal basis as Malaysian men. Women must utilise an application process under Article 15(2) that is fraught with delays and frequent rejections without reasons given, and sadly, no guarantee of ultimately securing citizenship.

The Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship would like to highlight that the impact of discriminatory citizenship laws on women are even worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the Malaysian movement control order (MCO) mandates a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, this would be a challenge for pregnant women, especially those who may be travelling with their other children.

Additionally, the MCO only allows foreign spouses to enter Malaysia during the MCO provided they have a long term social visit pass (LTSVP). Hence spouses who do not hold one will not be able to accompany their wives and these mothers either have to return on their own or make the decision to give birth overseas while risking the chances of their children securing a Malaysian citizenship.

With countries’ borders closing and a limited number of flights during the Covid-19 pandemic, these women live with a tremendous dilemma.

That is, expose themselves to the health risks of traveling home (leading to the understandable quarantine) so that the child can be Malaysian; or deliver overseas, and live with the excruciating uncertainty if their child will ever be a Malaysian and then undergo the long tedious process of application.

“I was planning to give birth in Malaysia but because of the coronavirus, travels are restricted. I might not have a choice to give birth in Malaysia which is a pity for my baby as Malaysian women are not able to obtain automatic Malaysian citizenship (upon registration) for their own children, this is just getting more and more impossible.” – Malaysian woman living in Germany

Another Malaysian mother in Singapore felt it was not an ideal solution to travel to Malaysia to deliver her child as her husband could not enter Malaysia without an LTSVP, and she was not comfortable to undergo delivery by herself considering she experienced anxiety throughout her pregnancy.

She has since given birth in Singapore which cost her almost double in medical fees due to such changes in her delivery plans.

Women are often expected to accommodate their pregnancy according to existing Malaysian citizenship provisions by delivering in Malaysia for their children to be Malaysian.

Such inequality in citizenship laws discriminate against women and contribute to the unequal status of women in the family and society. Laws as such make women vulnerable, especially during times of crisis as they are left with limited choices influenced by constraints.

While the Malaysian Government has been swift in addressing the ongoing pandemic, a fair and just solution is needed to ensure that all Malaysian women enjoy equal rights and are not put in unnecessary vulnerable situations.

Therefore, we call on the Government of Malaysia and every Member of Parliament to amend Article 14 of the Federal Constitution so as to grant Malaysian women equal rights to confer citizenship on their children on an equal basis as Malaysian men.

In addressing the urgent needs of the Covid-19 situation on pregnant Malaysian women overseas, we urge the Government of Malaysia, specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration Department of Malaysia to especially grant citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysians during the Covid-19 situation as a temporary measure until full equality is enshrined in Malaysian citizenship laws.

Source: ‘Will my child ever be a Malaysian?’ — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Algorithms Learn Our Workplace Biases. Can They Help Us Unlearn Them?

“The nudge doesn’t focus on changing minds. It focuses on the system.”

— Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School


In 2014, engineers at Amazon began work on an artificially intelligent hiring tool they hoped would change hiring for good — and for the better. The tool would bypass the messy biases and errors of human hiring managers by reviewing résumé data, ranking applicants and identifying top talent.

Instead, the machine simply learned to make the kind of mistakesits creators wanted to avoid.

The tool’s algorithm was trained on data from Amazon’s hires over the prior decade — and since most of the hires had been men, the machine learned that men were preferable. It prioritized aggressive language like “execute,” which men use in their CVs more often than women, and downgraded the names of all-women’s colleges. (The specific schools have never been made public.) It didn’t choose better candidates; it just detected and absorbed human biases in hiring decisions with alarming speed. Amazon quietly scrapped the project.

Amazon’s hiring tool is a good example of how artificial intelligence — in the workplace or anywhere else — is only as smart as the input it gets. If sexism or other biases are present in the data, machines will learn and replicate them on a faster, bigger scale than humans could do alone.

On the flip side, if A.I. can identify the subtle decisions that end up excluding people from employment, it can also spot those that lead to more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Humu Inc., a start-up based in Mountain View, Calif., is betting that, with the help of intelligent machines, humans can be nudged to make choices that make workplaces fairer for everyone, and make all workers happier as a result.

A nudge, as popularized by Richard Thayer, a Nobel-winning behavioral economist, and Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, is a subtle design choice that changes people’s behavior in a predictable way, without taking away their right to choose.

Laszlo Bock, one of Humu’s three founders and Google’s former H.R. chief, was an enthusiastic nudge advocate at Google, where behavioral economics — essentially, the study of the social, psychological and cultural factors that influence people’s economic choices — informed much of daily life.

Nudges showed up everywhere, like in the promotions process (women were more likely to self-promote after a companywide email pointed out a dearth of female nominees) and in healthy-eating initiatives in the company’s cafeterias (placing a snack table 17 feet away from a coffee machine instead of 6.5 feet, it turns out, reduces coffee-break snacking by 23 percent for men and 17 percent for women).

Humu uses artificial intelligence to analyze its clients’ employee satisfaction, company culture, demographics, turnover and other factors, while its signature product, the “nudge engine,” sends personalized emails to employees suggesting small behavioral changes (those are the nudges) that address identified problems.

One key focus of the nudge engine is diversity and inclusion. Employees at inclusive organizations tend to be more engaged. Engaged employees are happier, and happier employees are more productive and a lot more likely to stay.

With Humu, if data shows that employees aren’t satisfied with an organization’s inclusivity, for example, the engine might prompt a manager to solicit the input of a quieter colleague, while nudging a lower-level employee to speak up during a meeting. The emails are tailored to their recipients, but are coordinated so that the entire organization is gently guided toward the same goal.

Unlike Amazon’s hiring algorithm, the nudge engine isn’t supposed to replace human decision-making. It just suggests alternatives, often so subtly that employees don’t even realize they’re changing their behavior.

Jessie Wisdom, another Humu founder and former Google staff member who has a doctorate in behavioral decision research, said sometimes she would hear from people saying, “Oh, this is obvious, you didn’t need to tell me that.”

Even when people may not feel the nudges are helping them, she said, data would show “that things have gotten better. It’s interesting to see how people perceive what is actually useful, and what the data actually bears out.”

In part that’s because the nudge “doesn’t focus on changing minds,” said Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. “It focuses on the system.” The behavior is what matters, and the outcome is the same regardless of the reason people give themselves for doing the behavior in the first place.

Of course, the very idea of shaping behavior at work is tricky, because workplace behaviors can be perceived differently based on who is doing them.

Take, for example, the suggestion that one should speak up in a meeting. Research from Victoria Brescoll at the Yale School of Management found that people rated male executives who spoke up often in meetings as more competent than peers; the inverse was true for female executives. At the same time, research from Robert Livingston at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that for black American executives, the penalties were reversed: Black female leaders were not penalizedfor assertive workplace behaviors, but black male executives were.

An algorithm that generates one-size-fits-all fixes isn’t helpful. One that takes into account the nuanced web of relationships and factors in workplace success, on the other hand, could be very useful.

So how do you keep an intelligent machine from absorbing human biases? Humu won’t divulge any specifics — that’s “our secret sauce,” Wisdom said.

It’s also the challenge of any organization attempting to nudge itself, bit by bit, toward something that looks like equity.

Source: In the ‘In Her Words’ NewsletterAlgorithms learn our workplace biases. Can they help us unlearn them?

International Women’s Day: With Shoes And Stones, Islamists Disrupt Pakistan Rally

Sigh….

Demonstrators belonging to Islamist groups attacked an International Women’s Day rally in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Sunday, hurling rocks, chunks of mud and even their shoes. The demonstrators, who were at a rival rally held by hardline Islamist organizations, were particularly enraged by one slogan the women’s day rally adopted: “mera jism, mera marzi” – “my body, my choice.”

Riot police set up large cloth barricades to dive the rival rallies, which flanked either side of a main road. But the police were also there to protect the women’s day protesters, after the hardline men and women threatened violence.

As the protest was winding down, dozens of men tried to push through the barricade, including a man who held a little girl aloft on his shoulders. According to a video uploaded to Twitter by a BBC reporter, police used batons to push them back. Still, for the next few minutes, they hurled projectiles that scattered the women’s day protesters, as journalists huddled behind concrete road dividers.

The hardline groups, their surrogates and conservative talking heads, took to the airwaves preceding the rally to condemn Pakistani feminists, accusing them of encouraging anti-Islamic vulgarity by raising a slogan that hinted that a woman had the right to do as she pleased.

The tensions even boiled over on a live talk show, where a screen writer swore at a prominent Pakistani liberal after she interrupted him by chanting the slogan. “Nobody would even spit on your body,” he shouted in a clip widely shared on social media.

Conservative lawyers petitioned the courts in Pakistan’s three cities to try ban the women’s marches. One prominent Islamist opposition leader, known as Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, threatened protesters on Feb. 29, warning them not to chant “my body, my choice.” “God willing, we will also come out into the streets, and we will destroy you,” he warned. And a senior teacher at Jamiat Hafsa, a hardline women’s seminary in the Pakistani capital, told NPR her students would halt the march by organizing a rival “modesty march.”

“This is a march to stop that march,” said the woman, who uses the name Bint Azwa (the women at the seminary often use first names or fake names to avoid being identified by security institutions that monitor their activities). “We are not going to let those women march the streets of our country, our neighborhood, with those vulgar chants.”

The violence underscored how hardline Islamist groups played upon conservative outrage over the slogan “my body, my choice,” to assert their presence in the Pakistani capital – and demonstrate their muscle.

The opposition leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has struggled to find a toehold in Pakistan’s freewheeling politics since his party was forced into opposition. The hardline Jamiat Hafsa was violently shut down in 2007, after a standoff that killed more than 100 people. The women returned to the seminary only this February, and have dared security forces to remove them again.

On Sunday, dozens of the seminary women turned up at the counter-rally, clad in long black robes, headscarves and face veils, segregated from dozens of men who stood in a nearby park. They stood in military-style rows, their fearsome appearance only jarred by blue, green and pink bows pinned to their shoulders, to identify which bus they should return on, explained one 25-year-old, who only gave her first name, Rubina.

“We don’t want women to make choices for their bodies. The choice rests with God,” she said. Nodding toward the women’s day march, she described the women there as “naked.” “These people don’t even wear dupatas,” she exclaimed, referring to the shawl that Pakistani women traditionally drape across their chests to signify modesty.

On the other side, at the women’s march, hundreds of men, women and transgender Pakistanis clustered. Some waved the red flag of a leftist party. Others held up signs, including “my body, my choice,” but they denounced so-called “honor” killings, where men murder their female relatives for bringing alleged shame onto the family. Some demanded to know the fate of female political activists who mysteriously disappeared.

“Pakistan is getting more and more divided over time,” said Ambreen Gilani, a 41-year-old development consultant, gesturing to the Islamists across the road. The opposition to the women’s march helped motivate another protester to turn up, Sukaina Kazmi, a chemical engineer. She gestured to her Muslim headscarf, “Our religion does not teach us any of the things they are standing up against, our religion actually does fight for women’s rights,” she said.

As the protesters regrouped and walked away from the dozens of men trying to assault them, one organizer, Anam Rathor, said the violence underscored why they were demonstrating. “This proves our point, and this movement is growing. And now we will have more people. The reason why they are throwing stones is because they are afraid of us and that makes us happy.”

Source: International Women’s Day: With Shoes And Stones, Islamists Disrupt Pakistan Rally

‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

Always interesting to follow Indonesian debates:

Maimon Herawati is an accomplished woman who believes in equal opportunity for women. She finished her Master’s degree at Abertay University in the United Kingdom in 2003, securing tenure as a lecturer of mass communication science in West Java’s Padjadjaran University and then juggling her family life with her social and political activities.

She has participated in various activities in her community, including a “Free Palestine” movement.

Maimon is one of many empowered women who has been politically active but has worked against the feminist movement in Indonesia, including by protesting against a bill that is intended to eradicate sexual violence. Such women have been in a cultural clash against Indonesian feminists on several other issues, like the Pornography Law and, most recently, the family resilience bill.

The two warring groups both have highly educated women as members who express their opinions with confidence, are politically active and have made achievements in their lives. However, at some point, these empowered women who fight for women’s empowerment have parted ways.

Antifeminist groups claim the sexual violence bill is “pro-adultery” since it only criminalizes nonconsensual sex. They said the bill should instead prohibit all extramarital sex, consensual or not.

Objections by the antifeminist group have halted deliberations over the bill, triggering protests from women’s rights activists. The bill’s supporters said they believe that since it defines more types of sexual violence than the prevailing Criminal Code, it would end impunity for sexual violence perpetrators and provide more help to survivors.

Neng Dara Afifah, the author of Muslimah Feminis: Penjelajahan Multi Identitas(Muslim Feminists: Multi-Identity Exploration), said the antifeminist movement had become counterproductive to gender mainstreaming efforts.

“What they are doing is a form of betrayal of feminism, which has allowed them to access the public sphere and eventually express their ideas,” said the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University lecturer.

Maimon disagreed. She said she could be active politically because Islam allowed women to be so. Islam, she said, introduced gender equality some 14 centuries ago, long before feminism did.

Islam, which emerged from Arabian society during the so-called Age of Ignorance, had elevated women’s dignity from being considered merely as property to having the right to inherit and secure their own property, Maimon said. She said she refused to be associated with feminism because “the idea came from the Western world, which is antithetical to Islamic values”.

Maimon said that one of the basic principles of feminism that collides with Islamic principles is the notion of “my body is mine”, meaning women possess full authority over their own bodies, no one else has the right to control them and they can wear whatever they want over their bodies in public. However, in Islam it does not work that way, Maimon explained.

“My body is not mine. It’s a mandate from God, so I cannot just do what I please on my body,” she said.

Another prominent figure among conservative Muslims is Euis Sunarti, a professor of family studies at the Bogor Agricultural Institute. Euis said feminism was problematic for Indonesia because its “liberal” values conflicted with the values of Islam, which were adopted by a majority of Indonesian citizens.

Feminism, she claimed, does not recognize the “division of roles” between men and women, husbands and wives. If a husband works and earns a certain amount of money, the wife should also do the same to achieve the goal of equality, Euis said.

“In fact, it does not have to be that way. If a married couple is committed to building a family and have children, then who should focus more on raising the kids?” Euis asked. She suggested mothers as the ones giving birth should take more responsibility in child-rearing but added that that did not mean mothers could not “actualize” themselves by participating in public affairs.

Women’s rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana clarified that feminism did not put money or power above all, but instead “fights for equal rights between men and women, inside and outside their homes”.

Instead of applying gender stereotypes to domestic roles, Nursyahbani said, feminism actually promoted “cooperation within households” by which both parties were encouraged to play active roles in taking care of domestic affairs, “unlike the rigid role of husbands and wives as stipulated in the 1974 Marriage Law”.

Article 31 of the law regulates that “husbands are the heads of the households and wives are homemakers”. Article 34 further states that husbands are obliged to fulfill the family’s needs, while the responsibility of wives is to properly manage domestic affairs.

“We want to eliminate the rigid legal norms because they’re inconsistent with the social reality, where many women actually act as breadwinners in their respective families,” said the founder of the Indonesian Women’s Coalition and the Legal Aid Foundation of Indonesian Women Association for Justice.

Source: ‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

UK’s expensive visa fees ‘could deter NHS staff and scientists’

Supply and demand theory would suggest the higher costs will have an impact on the numbers and attractiveness of the UK as an immigration destination:

The UK’s “sky-high” visa fees could deter vital NHS staff and the “brightest and best” scientists that Boris Johnson wants to attract with his new immigration policy, experts have warned.

Nurses, lab technicians, engineers and tech experts who currently flock to the UK from the EU may not be able to afford to do so if the prime minister’s proposed immigration overhaul becomes law.

At £1,220 per person, or £900 for those on the shortage occupation list, the fees are among the highest in the world – and this is before charges for using the NHS and costs for sponsoring employers are taken into account.

Comparisons with fee structures in other countries, published by the Institute for Government (IfG) thinktank, show that a family of five with a five-year work visa for one individual would have to pay £21,299 before they could enter in the country.

This includes the annual £400 health surcharge that must also be paid upfront per person. This is double the fee charged by Australia and about 30 times the amount charged by Canada, where it costs just over £10,000 for a family for five years. Germany charges £756 for entry for a family of that size.

The fee comparisons are equally stark for individuals. A single person who wants to come to the country will be charged up to £3,220 for five years. If they want to move to the UK with a spouse, the cost would rise to £6,500 for a five-year work stint.

UK visa fees compared with other countries
UK visa fees compared with other countries Photograph: Institute for Government

This compares with Canada, which charges £220 for an individual visa for three years; Germany, which charges £147; and France, which charges £2,075, according to the data supplied to the IfG. Luxembourg charges €50 (£42) for a visa and€80 for a residents permit.

Source: UK’s expensive visa fees ‘could deter NHS staff and scientists’

And on the gender impacts:

The British government’s plan for a post-Brexit immigration overhaul was designed to wean the economy off its reliance on cheap foreign labor. But in the process, women’s groups warned on Thursday, women will suffer disproportionately.

The new points-based system will give precedence to occupations in which women are underrepresented, favor male migrants over female and deepen gender inequality, according to the Women’s Budget Group, an independent network that promotes gender equality.

“The new immigration system roundly fails to understand the lived experience of women, many of whom are prevented from accessing paid work by the weight of unpaid work — caring for children, older people and those with disabilities — that successive governments rely upon them to do,” said Sophie Walker, the chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, a British feminist organization.

Under the new rules, which will be implemented next January, applicants will be required to receive a job offer with a salary of at least 25,600 pounds, about $33,300. The salary threshold will be lower in special cases where there might be a shortage in skills, such as in nursing.

By and large, however, that requirement will work against women, who are more likely to work in sectors like home and senior care that are relatively poorly compensated, even though the skill levels of such women are relatively high, women’s advocates say.

“Care workers’ average annual salaries stand at just £17,000, not because care work is ‘low-skilled,’ but because the work force is 80 percent female and therefore undervalued and underpaid,” says Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

Imposing the salary requirement would mean “shutting out care workers, piling pressure on women to take on yet more unpaid care, and widening the existing social care gap between need and provision,” she said.

Women are also four times more likely than men to leave paid work to shoulder unpaid caring responsibilities for children and older relatives. This is one cause of the gender pay gap and gender inequality, the Women’s Budget Group found.

As a result of these inequities, major industries like food production, hospitality, health and social care that rely on female migrant workers are likely to see staff shortages after the new measures are put into place.

In the points-based system, the government gives top priority to scientists, engineers, academics and graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, once again to the detriment of women because of the gender disparities in those professions.

“There is a great emphasis on wanting to attract scientists to the U.K. under the new system, but it is another well-known fact that women are underrepresented in the sciences,” said Adrienne Yong, a lecturer in law at the City Law School in London.

“That the U.K. will give a Ph.D. in STEM subjects 10 more points than Ph.D.s in other subjects already puts women on a back foot,” she said, “as there is already a problem with female students doing STEM subjects, much less continuing further education to a doctoral level with that specialism.”

On Wednesday, the cabinet minister responsible for migration policy, Priti Patel, suggested that around eight million “economically inactive” people in Britain could be trained to fill such shortages, but experts say that many of those people are women who are already providing full-time care for children and families.

“It feels like they just want us to fill the badly paid jobs while the men and foreigners will get the higher-paying jobs,” said Amy Pears, a mother of three who left her job as a professional caregiver and went on benefits in 2015 because she could not afford child care. “My mother is disabled, so between her and the three children I have my hands full.”

The Women’s Equality Party says that without substantial government investment in child and elder care, women are put into a position where they simply cannot work.

“These shortsighted plans are in fact more likely to exacerbate the shortages in formal care, leaving it to women to pick up unpaid and increase the number of ‘economically inactive’ full-time carers,” Ms. Reid said.

Women’s groups warned that shutting out foreign workers would put more pressure on women who are already in Britain, particularly caregivers.

“Without extra colleagues from abroad, U.K. carers are going to have even less time to do the job they’re employed to do and offer people the dignity they deserve,” Ms. Walker said. “This policy makes it an inevitability that this exhausted system will come under further strain, while female family members will increasingly be expected to pick up the pieces as the system continues to erode.”

Ms. Pears said that many of her European friends and former colleagues, who played important caregiving roles, would be locked out of the new system because they did not qualify for the salary threshold or education qualifications.

“These people are carrying a huge burden for our country, and the truth of the matter is we need them,” she said. “Without them we are putting our services at risk.”

Source: Women Will Be Hit Hard by U.K.’s New Immigration Rules, Experts WarnWith its minimum salary requirements, the new system would particularly affect female migrants, who tend to cluster in lower-paid occupations.By Ceylan Yeginsu

Before we hurl insults around about ‘transphobes’ let’s be clear about what we mean

Definitions can be helpful but can also be divisive as we have seen the shift from the IHRA antisemitism working definition to one that has been adopted by governments and institutions:

When anti-semitism still appeared to be the Labour membership’s most glaring problem with intra-party prejudice and related mudslinging, great importance attached to definitions. What might seem to some members a perfectly allowable comment on the Israeli state might to others, using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, be manifestly hateful and targeted.

The party’s adoption of that definition was itself disputed. Labour took on the IHRA definition in 2016, then argued about adopting its examples of antisemitic behaviour. As ugly as this difficulty with internationally agreed terminology might look from outside, the interest in precise wording represented some common ground. On the definition of antisemitism, Labour’s factions were at least able to communicate.

More recently, the party has adopted a working definition of Islamophobia advanced by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims (after consultation with more than 750 British Muslim organisations, 80 academics and 50 MPs). The group’s co-chair Wes Streeting dismissed objections that free speech would suffer. “While our definition cannot prevent false-flag accusations of Islamophobia to shut down reasonable debate and discussion, it does not enable such accusations. In fact, it makes it easier to deal with such behaviour,” he said. “Our definition provides a framework for helping organisations to assess, understand and tackle real hatred, prejudice and discrimination.”

There could hardly be a better case for another considered definition – after a week in which its meaning has been both stretched and contested – of what should be understood by transphobia. Unless we want to leave that job to the courts. Is it allowed, for instance, to satirise self-ID, as in the case of Harry Miller? Yes, says Mr Justice Knowles. And in a passage that might have been inspired by Labour’s pledges: “Some… are readily willing to label those with different viewpoints as ‘transphobic’ or as displaying ‘hatred’ when they are not.”

There are obvious implications for the unprecedented debates prompted by a proposed reform to the Gender Recognition Act, facilitating gender self-identification (ID). Can it be damagingly transphobic – if Miller is not – for people to meet and discuss the possible implications for women-only spaces and safeguarding? Should people be able to meet, without fear of abusive crowds, to share concerns about early gender dysphoria diagnosis/affirmation? Is it actionably bigoted – unlike Miller – to question the fairness of male-bodied athletes competing in women’s elite sport?

Rulings spark hope for Egyptian Copts fighting Islamic estate law

 Some apparent progress:

  • Egyptian courts have largely applied Islamic inheritance laws to both Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority

  • But Coptic Orthodox customs call for gender equality in inheritance matters

CAIRO: Egyptian Copt Amal Hanna says she is determined to fight the long-standing application of Islamic inheritance laws to Christians, as recent court victories embolden Coptic women.For decades, Egyptian courts have largely applied Islamic inheritance laws — which mostly allocate a bigger share of inheritances to men than to women — to both Muslims and the country’s significant Coptic Christian minority.But Coptic Orthodox customs call for gender equality in inheritance matters.
Hanna has twice been faced with the unbalanced division of family estates.
The first was more than 20 years ago, when a court granted her brother double her share of their parents’ property.
Then, after her aunt died last year, another court awarded the entire inheritance to Hanna’s brother.
“I was dumbstruck,” she said. “It really upset me, especially as my family raised us — me and my brother — as equals.”
Hanna has appealed against the ruling.
But Christian women’s hopes were rekindled late last year after Coptic lawyer Hoda Nasrallah and her brothers were granted an equal share of their father’s inheritance.
The November ruling by a Cairo family court took into account a constitutional article allowing Christian principles to be the basis of rulings on the minority’s personal status affairs.
Nasrallah’s rare victory generated a buzz across Egypt, but it was not the first of its kind.
In 2016, a Christian woman won a legal dispute with her brother, obtaining equal inheritance.
Coptic Christians have long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation in Egypt.
They are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, and account for 10-15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 100 million.
They have also been the target of Islamist militant attacks that have left more than 100 dead since December 2016.
Elizabeth Monier, an expert on Coptic affairs at the University of Cambridge, said applying Christian inheritance rules would meet resistance from within the legal system.
Their application “has had to overcome resistance from entrenched practices and norms, both in the judiciary and society,” she said.
Though Nasrallah had already agreed with her brothers to split the estate equally, it took her around a year to have a court rule in her favor.
She said she pursued the case in order to set a legal precedent for other Christian women.
“My fight was about ensuring that the constitution is applied,” Nasrallah said.
“Many judges are against applying Christian norms,” she added. “It can be even more challenging when the heirs are in disagreement.”
Hanna also criticized a lack of legislation forcing judges to apply Christian rules.
In building her case, she said she invoked the constitution and used the 2016 ruling as precedent.
Hanna said she feared her appeal would be rejected, but would keep on challenging the decision.
“I will even take it to the constitutional court if I have to,” she said.
Lawyers say the lack of a personal status law for Christians is partly to blame for courts’ resistance.
“Coptic males sometimes push for Islamic laws to be applied since it’s in their interest,” lawyer Atef Nazmy said. “It is vital that a personal status law for Christians be created to regulate these issues.”
Christian denominations have for years been locked in talks over a unified personal status law.
They have yet to reach agreement or present a bill to parliament.
Nazmy said issues like divorce were at the core of the divisions.
Egypt’s strict Coptic Church applies rigid rules to divorce, granting it only in cases of adultery or conversion to other faiths.
Monier said courts might also resist granting Christian women equal inheritance because they fear Muslim women would seek the same rights.
In 2018, then Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi sparked controversy across the Islamic world by proposing a bill on equal inheritance for Muslim women.
The move drew praise from secularists and women’s rights activists across the region, but stern rebuke from Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s most prestigious educational institution.
Despite the resistance, Monier remains optimistic.
“That a Coptic woman has taken her case to court and won suggests there is some progress being made,” she said.
“This is another step that is part of the journey toward greater gender equality.”

Source: Rulings spark hope for Egyptian Copts fighting Islamic estate law

How Iranian immigrants can be role models for diversity in STEM

Of interest:

When I first came to the United States from Iran in 2007 for a doctorate in computer science and machine learning, I was surprised by how few women attended industry conferences. Those I did meet were usually fellow immigrants.

Diversity and gender equality drive creativity and spur innovation across the globe. It’s why the United Nations has declared Feb.11 the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and why the U.S. House of Representatives just launched the first-ever Women in STEM Caucus. The bipartisan initiative, started by four female congresswomen, now has 13 members from both sides of the aisle. The caucus aims to increase the presence of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM across the country.

In Tehran, where I grew up, it’s considered normal for girls to study computer programming from an early age. That culture has opened the door for new generations of female engineers. In fact, in Iran, nearly 70 percent of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women.

That’s a sharp contrast with the United States, where women are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields. Data by the Council of Graduate Schools found that in 2018 U.S. women earned only about a quarter of PhDs in engineering, math and computer science. This is at a time when the United States is facing a critical shortage of STEM workers; in 2015, 14 states advertised 20 STEM jobs for every unemployed STEM worker, according to New American Economy. That demand is projected to grow over the next decade.

Today, I’m the executive vice president and chief algorithms officer for Overstock.com, a tech-driven online retailer committed to diversity. As an immigrant and a woman, I bring a wealth of experiences that help me see problems differently. Plenty of data shows women bring skill sets, strategic thinking and creativity valued by businesses. Women also take women’s needs to heart when creating products and services for them, whether it’s heart medication, seat belts or air bags designed for our physiques. Simply put, women are an essential part of the talent pool.

American companies should strive for increased diversity and inclusivity throughout their organizations. Teachers need to create inclusive classrooms that value girls’ and women’s opinions. Those of us in the field can create better representation by hiring and championing female colleagues or requesting female-friendly policies inside the companies where we work. Leaders in our communities also need to do more to encourage women, immigrants and minorities to enter STEM fields. I applaud the Congressional Women in STEM Caucus, whose mandate is to improve access to hands-on learning, technical training and real-world application of skills required in these jobs.

But we also need to remember the value of our personal stories in influencing young lives. If young American women and girls, including immigrants and minorities, are going to embrace STEM, they’re going to need more support and role models. As Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of West Chester, Pa., said, she was one of 10 women in her engineering major and doesn’t think the numbers have changed much in 30 years.

A 2018 study of 6,000 American young women conducted by Microsoft and KRC Research found that girls who know a woman in STEM are more than 70 percent more likely to know how to pursue a STEM career and what types of specific jobs might utilize a STEM skillset.

The study said parents’ encouragement was particularly influential in whether girls cultivated a love for science and technology and stuck with these fields over time. Likewise those of us already working in these industries can also serve as mentors for them, whether it’s volunteering at coding camps or sharing our enthusiasm for AI and robotics over ice cream.

Or we can simply raise our hands high in our communities and say: “This is what a female coder, engineer, biotech founder, mathematician or science professor looks like. You can be one, too.” That’s especially important, because 30 percent of girls and 40 percent of women described a man when asked what a “typical” scientist or engineer looked like.

As a woman in STEM, an Iranian American citizen and an immigrant, I want to encourage new generations to realize their potential. With any luck, I’ll see many more female faces at industry conferences to come.

Dr. Kamelia Aryafar is executive vice president and chief algorithms officer for Overstock.com.

Source: How Iranian immigrants can be role models for diversity in STEM