Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fear of Genital Mutilation Doesn't Warrant Refugee Status

Teresia Muturi and Grace Gichuh sexuality and lives are currently hanging in the balance of the Australian Immigration Department. Both women fled Kenya before they could be genitally mutilated and arrived in Australia for World Youth Day 2008.
Interviewed by Yuko Narushima for the Sydney Morning Herald, Grace reportedly sobbed while explaining the process,
"They use a knife. Just a knife, no medicine...10 men hold the woman down... while another brandishing the knife cuts off the clitoris.''

Grace had refused being mutilated in the same fashion that killed her mother prior to arriving here., resulting in threats to her life. Similarly, Teresia ran away after being sold to a 70 year old man for 10 cows.

The women have been told to pack and be ready for deportation, after their application for refugee status was denied and their appeal was dismissed by the Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Evans.
The women have launched another appeal, and Evans is being called to intervene on the basis that under pending legislation, the women would be covered by 'complementary protection.'

Typically, the Opposition couldn't restrain itself, with the Opposition Immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone stating she would oppose the bill, as it would "open the gates" to fabricated asylum claims:
"It could be an honour killing, it could be a genital mutilation like this, it could be a whole range of other quite complex and one-off situations where the person doesn't meet the refugee convention criteria."
However, Stone has supported the intervention of Evans within this case.

Legal Background: Australian Immigration Practice
The women have been refused refugee status as their situation is not covered by current law, which states that persecution must be based on:
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership of a particular social group or political party.
Thus, women who fear genital mutilation are deported.
Clearly, the law as it currently stands is deeply problematic. As developing countries are increasingly threatened by globalisation, we are going to continue to see the emergence of social and religious customs that not only denigrate women, but threaten their lives. Further, isn't it arguable that women who are threatened by genital mutilation actually do form a particular social group?

Demonstrating the ineffectual nature of current immigration policy, it has been noted that women with similar cases have been granted refugee status. However, the outcomes of these cases have been dependent on the judgement of an individual Immigration Officer. So let's get this straight,
  • The law is recognised to be disproportionately narrow by some Immigration Officers, who are judging cases contrary to the letter of the law.
  • Resultingly, the lives of women are therefore dependent on the individual judgement of an Immigration Official, providing plenty of room for the entry of bigotry.
Clearly, the law is ineffective - if Immigration Officials aren't following it - and it allows for individual power over the fate of another; of which the entire point of bureaucratising the process is to prevent.
Which makes you wonder why the Liberal Party is opposing the introduction of a law that would make cases such as these so much more clear cut. Personally, this didn't come as a surprise. The Liberal Party have long latched onto the xenophobic fears that are attached to immigration in this country.

Cultural Background - The Mungiki
Judging by the media reports, both women face attack by their family members who are a part of the Mungiki tradition. Originating in the 1980s, the criminalised group is steadfastedly anti-modern and anti-western; seeking to return to the indigenous traditions untouched by colonialisms taint. As is typical with any group that steadfastedly rejects the present (fundamentalist Christians, anyone?) and aims for a return to the more innocent and pure past; shitty gender roles also come into play.*

So, get out your pens, pick up the phone and chat to your federal member about supporting this bill.
*Please note: I believe that all cultures that diminish the status of women deserve relevant criticism. I do not agree with rampant cultural relativism that embraces any non-western cultural aspect and scorns criticism on the basis of it being ethnocentric. Further, the same traits that have led to the re-entrance of genital mutilation into Kenyan society, are also present in the western religious and cultural world - but that would be for another post.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Think before you open your mouth*": An Australian Experiment in Redundant Reasoning

Gender has entered the national debate with a bang of misogny and irrationality with the announcement that the Government wishes to abolish rules that prevent women from applying for frontline roles. In essence, the Goverment wishes for women to be able to apply and face the same physical testing that their male counterparts must do, without lowering the bar in terms of requirements.

Cue entry of partriachialised hysteria.

Stuart Robert, backbencher for the opposition, was first to enter the stage. After calling the notion, öutrageous,"and telling Mr Combet (who introduced the topic) that he should, "think before you open your mouth," (an interesting charge considering what spewed forth from his), Robert exclaimed:

"My concern is that really only Israel and a handful of countries whose very existence is threatened have gone down this path - the rest of the Western world hasn't,"

Perhaps my feminine mentality prevents me from discerning the finer points to Roberts arguement, but, WTF? Isn't one of the most base reasons for maintaining an armed force is to prepare for the event in which a country's existence is threatened?   Also, am I catching a hint anti-semitism? Well, its alright for the Jews - but, their women are made of different metal.

Enter Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defence Association with this gem:

"It's a simple physicality thing. On the battlefield, academic gender equity theory doesn't apply. The laws of physics and biomechanics apply."

Ummmm... the laws of physics, huh?

Of course, there is nothing like the notion of women being involved in combat that brings out the construction of gender. Even supporters have framed their arguments around the notion that women are not naturally cut out for the job. As MP  Lynda Volz notes:

"You talk to any men who do triathlon and marathon running and ask them if there are not a few women out there that are freaks of nature that beat them home every time,"

That's right, freaks. Because it is unnatural for women to be as strong as men - as it is equally unnatural for them to wish to serve on the front line. But hey, I'm progressive and won't stop them....  gah!

This round of arguments that center around physical ability act to highlight the utter irrationality and redundancy of their bearers. Did they not hear the announcement correctly? Dudes, if women are not up to the physical standard, they won't get in. No ifs, no buts. Moaning on and on about how women aren't up to the standard is redundant. Because, if you are right, well, then, they won't get in.

Naturally, this topic has moved further into the morality of allowing women to serve. For a brilliant write up, visit Larvatus Prodeo.

Image by Dunechaser CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Thursday, September 17, 2009

True Blood Divergence

In response to meloukhia's brilliant summation of the current vampire trope, I'm motivated to post a little defence of True Blood.
Before I get carried away, let me layout Mel's groundwork. Mel has provided one of the best summaries of the current vampire trope that I have read:
Essentially, Mel notes that the current vamp story contains the following:
  • A socially isolated young woman (broken home, dead parents, adopted, etc). Further, our heroine is usually adolescent.
  • Enter devilishly good looking, but ultimately noble and of impeccable manners "Ancient Vamp," who is maddenly attracted to our heroine.
  • They fall in love, which results in numerous complications.
  • The vamp deflowers our heroine and in doing so, is "initiated into a magical (and sexual) world by the Power of the Vampire Penis.
Although not completely across the board, I would like to add the following:
  • Through her interaction with the vamp, our heroinse gains skillz that while increasing her ability to not be helpless against her foes, render her reliant and connected to the vamp. Think Anita Blake and the vampire marks, Bella and her creepily passive vamp talent.
  • Our heroine is not only isolated by circumstance, but appears to have very few social connections at all. Anita Blake has hardly any real friends - Ronnie turns up every few books, briefly - nearly dies and buggers off. Bella has friends as fillers - usually only there when Edward is not.
Although I'm sure there are more standard characteristics to this tale, I note the two above for my nefarious objective; True Blood's Sookie Stackhouse provides a reasonable divergence from the standard. In doing so, Sookie, gasp, becomes a rounded character.
Sookie's Mad Skillz -Spoiler Warning
Unlike some of her compatriots*, Sookie's skillz are entirely her own. Sookie's ability to read minds and shoot crazy lightning energy stuff is, as it turns out in the novels, based on her fairy bloodline. Her skills are not enhanced by Bill, nor do they originate from him.

Sookie's Social Skillz
Although Ms Stackhouse is isolated from the folk of Bon Temp due to her mad skillz, Sookie manages to have friends and family. Unlike Bella, who doesn't really relate to anyone who isn't a freak, or Anita, who only really seems to relate to freaky dick and scorns everyone else with her rather antagonist and harsh personality, Sookie can, omg, relate to people.

Although I admit that Sookie is not a feminists dream. She does present a vamp story heroine who is not adolescent who actually has agency within the story. Indeed, through Sookie not being a passive filler, (Bella), the storyline of True Blood is able to diverge from the Sookie/Bill love story, enabling the series to be about...Sookie!

*Note: I realise that this deviation is shared by Buffy.
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