Tuesday 23 August 2011

So some pirates do chivalry?

Two Somali pirates were sentenced to life terms in Virginia yesterday for killing four Americans yachters in February. Reports highlight that one pirate tried to urge that that the two women on the Quest should not be shot.

Associated Press reported that 'Burhan Abdirahman Yusuf’s attorney... said Yusuf had argued that Jean Adam and Phyllis Macay should be released. However, Yusuf was only a guard aboard the boat and was not considered a leader by the others.'

Well, 'he would say that, wouldn't he' as Christine Keeler famously said in court. Desperation can make us claim all sorts of things to protect ourselves. But let's suppose he really did try to give Jean Adam and Phyllis MacKay especial privileges.

For people interested in gender issues this is an interesting dilemma. Gallantry is by definition sexist and denigrating, however well-intentioned. The person doing the gallantry is positioning the recipient as automatically in need of his protection, not quite competent.

(Women are seldom said to gallant or chivalrous. Kind, yes, but that's not predicated on any gendered assumption that her recipient is frail and she herself is a 'gent').

So was Yusuf, presumably a Muslim, being sexist? If he was simply being kind, surely he would have argued that the two men should also be released.

But as with the many feminist debates over the last century about the Women and Children First policy when evacuating ships, shouldn't women be thankful when they are given an extra chance to live?

I think I'd be among those who argue that fair is fair. If we really support equal rights, then we have to accept equal rights to die, not preference based on presumed need.

The issue in this whole story is really another kind of unfairness: inequalities of wealth. Of course people from hard-pressed countries are going to seek ways to extract money- in this case a ransom - from those in wealthier countries. It's called trickle-down larceny. And how remarkable it is that sometimes they, as Yusuf apparently did, express humanity towards the privileged.

The irony is that Jean Adam, with her missionary ideals, might well have automatically been very kind to Yusuf.

Monday 8 August 2011

UK's first woman to head war ship

The UK Navy has just announced the appointment of first woman to head a warship. Lt Commander Sarah West will take charge of the frigate HMS Portland, with its 185 (mainly male) crew next April.See Martin Wainwright's article in yesterday's Guardian.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/08/royal-navy-first-female-commander. Photograph: Ben Sutton/PA

If it was a simple matter of equal opportunities at sea I'd be pleased, although I'd have to comment - yet again, unfortunately - that the process of giving women room to progress up maritime career ladders has been rather ...er... tardy, hasn't it, chaps. Not what you'd feel fair if it was your son or nephew who was being similarly held back, eh?

As someone opposed to war I actually only feel heavy-hearted that a member of my sex is going to be furthering Britain's war work. But hey ho.

And at least this blog is able to continue to report several of these firsts. The world is not going backwards when it comes to letting women in. And she gets equal pay: £65,000 a year.

Hope she gets on well - she certainly is well-prepared. Wainwright writes that Sarah West, 39, who joined the Navy in 1995, is 'an expert in underwater warfare and large-scale naval planning, took a law degree on top of her university maths honours while serving in the Middle East.

'She is also the first woman to achieve the rank of commander, a promotion due at the end of the year and only a step away from captain and then the various categories of admiral.'

'Signs of a high-flying career developed in her successful role in planning international exercises, including periods at naval headquarters co-ordinating operations in the Balkans at the time of Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008.

'This followed a major logistical role in the evacuation of 4,600 UK citizens and others from Lebanon in 2006, and a spell co-ordinating the navy's contribution to operations in Iraq.

'"This appointment is good news," [a RN]spokesman said. "The Royal Navy is committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for all its personnel to enjoy challenging, fulfilling and rewarding careers."'

Sunday 7 August 2011

Amsterdam Pride: Head of Navy's LGBT forum visits

At Amsterdam's LGBT Pride parade on the Prinsengracht canal on Saturday (Aug 6), uniformed Members of the Netherlands defence forces including Navy joined in for the first time.

At the parade was Lieutenant Commander Mandy McBain, the 51st most influential figure in Britain in the Independent on Sunday's LGBT 'Pink List.'

In 1974 the Netherlands made it legal to be openly gay in the military. The UK was far slower. However, as McBain reports, after the bin was lifted in 2000 big progress is now being made.

As part of the navy for 24 years, she's seen a major turnaround. Ships now carrying Equality and Diversity Advisers and LGBT naval personnel marching every year at London Pride, in uniform.

McBain joined the Navy in 1986 as a Writer and went to Britannia Royal Naval College in 1989. She didn't initially know she was lesbian, and later kept it quiet until the ban was lifted. A Logistics Officer, her roles have included being a member of the Admiralty Interview Board and the spokesperson for European forces in Bosnia.She heads the Navy's LGBT Forum (established 2008).

Mandy McBain photo:Steven Joseph Davidson.See an online interview by g3 magazine. Watch her great talk - we can make it happen - at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLZQGaMqUAw