On the Agenda: Gender Making News
Circumcision 'holidays' banned - MP Ann Clwyd has put a private member's bill to
parliament to close the legal loop-hole which allowed parents to take their young daughters
abroad to have circumcision of the labia and clitoris performed. Although the practise was
outlawed in the UK 17 years ago, parents, often but not exclusively of Muslim and African
origin, were able to get round the law by taking their children on circumcision
'holidays'. David Blunkett has backed the bill, which could lead to parents serving up to 14
years in prison if they break the law.
Science - Professor Susan Gibson, who is professor of synthetic chemistry at
King's College, London, is the first woman to receive the newly-created Rosalind Franklin
Award, designed to give greater recognition to women scientists. The award is named after the
DNA pioneer, who died before she could receive the Nobel Prize and was created in 2002
following Baroness Greenfield's report which revealed 'institutional sexism' with academic
science. Professor Gibson receives an award as well as £30,000, in recognition of her place as
a role-model for other women scientists.
Do-It-All - a new survey has coined a new term for busy working women, 'Do It
Alls', after finding that women under the age of 45 spend on average 15 more per week on
household chores than men (between six and three times more than men).
Bigger breasts vs Counselling - a psychologist in the NHS has claimed that
giving women access to breast enlargement surgery is more 'cost-effective' than counselling in
helping women who are psychologically distressed about the size of their breasts. Noting that
the operation was being increasingly carried out on the NHS, he added that it was a better
idea to operate on women than to 'dig around in their past' or, in other words, to investigate
the underlying psychological and social reasons for women's lack of self-esteem. Meanwhile, a
team of Dutch scientists have found that women with breast implants are three times as likely
to commit suicide than the population at large, noting, contra their UK counterparts, that the
desire for bigger breasts was often due to more serious underlying symptoms of low
In Bloom - researchers from the University of Sunderland have refuted the
long-held cultural belief that pregnant women are more prone to memory loss and lapses in
concentration. A series of tests on pregnant and non-pregnant women revealed no significant
different on a series of cognition and memory tests. Dr Ros Crawley said that it was possible
that there were changes in mood which might increase the perception of 'scattiness', which was
in turn reinforced by old-fashioned expectations of pregnant women, but that this was not
supported by the evidence.
Safe - a new government initiative has created safe houses where women who have
been forced into the sex trade, usually due to illegal immigration, can seek refuge and find
support, counselling and housing. The Home Office reported that numbers of brothels running
out of massage parlours were on the increase, with 80% of the working there illegal immigrants
who had been smuggled in by unscrupulous traffickers. The women were encouraged to work with
the police to bring traffickers to justice and given temporary asylum pending a fuller
investigation of each case. Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat spokesman for the Home Office, said
the government needed to take a bolder approach whilst not creating an easy route to asylum to
women claiming to have been in the sex industry.
Lower birthrate - the population of Europe is set to decline in the next 20
years, say researchers, led by Wolfgang Lutz of Vienna's Academy of Sciences, on account of
women giving birth to fewer children, as well as later on in life. Assuming that migration and
other factors remain constant, the population could fall by as much as a quarter (or about 88
million), creating an increasingly ageing population who will place a far heavier demand on
the welfare state drawn from a dwindling workforce. Currently there are more adults in the UE
than there are children.
Cosmopolitan - the first national women's magazine has been set up in
Afghanistan in March. Called 'Morsal' (Rose), it covers women's lives both as mothers,
housewives and in public life, including photo-stories to appeal to the estimated 85% of
Afghan women who are illiterate. The first editions are being distributed free of charge in
order to build up a following both in rural and urban areas.
The House that Jill Built - a programme funded by Habit for Humanity is enabling
single mothers in Tanzania to build their own homes by granting them loans to buy construction
materials. The women work together in groups, contributing what is termed 'sweat equity' to
build the homes themselves. The women, who would otherwise be among the lowest earners in
Tanzanian society, are motivated to work hard to build homes for themselves and their children
and to escape the tyranny of unscrupulous landlords, and say that the process of building
together with other women on the estate creates a sense of community and empowerment.
Bust-up - the Thai government launched a campaign in February to cut the number
of women having cosmetic surgery to increase their bust size by recommending a series of
'bust-enhancing' exercises, following fears that cosmetic surgery was often unsafe. A large
crowd of women performed the government-backed exercises in an open-air demonstration in
Bangkok. Critics have pointed out that the government's actions only reinforced a western
model of beauty taken from Hollywood movies. But Pennapa Sabcharoen from the Health Ministry
defended the campaign, saying, "Women will have their excellent bodies without any need for
chemical injections or plastic surgery".