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Assange’s case makes clear women’s rights are still secondary to political games

Monday 15/April/2019 - 08:51 AM
Sada El Balad

Jess Phillips, the Guardian

Women’s issues are always the political side salad، never the main event. We are always told we have to wait until everything else is perfect and then we can focus on the fact that women are being sexually abused in their workplaces، beaten in their homes and sexually assaulted in their personal lives


For example، in recent months I and others have been pushing the government to make it a legal duty on all employers to protect their staff from sexual abuse and harassment at work، just as they have to make sure their employees’ fingers don’t get chopped off or that staff aren’t doused in bleach.

The push-back is always that it would be too onerous on businesses to ensure women’s safety. The big، important people pat those like me on the head and say: “We know it’s very important that women feel safe at work، but we don’t want to make things too tricky for the big boys because we have to all focus on jobs and the economy. Once that is sorted، we promise we can look at your thing. Good girl.”

The sexual misconduct allegations in politics have been treated in the same way. Political parties have reacted with horror about the sex pestery of their opponents and shuffled quietly around the misdemeanours of their mates and political allies. We have asked for systematic changes in political institutions and it is always met with a few tweaks on the edges and then the firm reminder that there are bigger fish to fry. Then everyone goes back to discussing the customs union.

Last week، once again، the political establishment slapped us around the face. Enter، stage left، everyone’s favourite Targaryen lookalike، Julian Assange. If there was ever a case that needed the exercise of nuance and intelligent politics it is that of Assange. His expulsion from the Ecuadorian embassy and subsequent arrest for skipping bail have underlined how little the political class from left and right give a toss about women’s safety.

The fact that Sweden was not even informed about the actions due to take place so that it could have considered seeking his extradition for possible charges of rape tells us that when big boys are playing toy soldiers no one cares how many lady figures are brushed off the table.

I expected the Tory government to react the way it did; I expect very little from it. I was disappointed by the Labour party’s official response، which didn’t even doff its cap to the nuance of a situation that also involves multiple accusations of serious sexual crimes. I get that they think Assange did some good things، but the man is not a hero. The Labour response could have been balanced and thoughtful and made a statement about how important it is that women who come forward deserve access to justice. I’m sure they think it; I’m not sure why they didn’t say it.

The trouble is that many of those who like what Assange did with WikiLeaks are willing to look the other way about the accusations against him. The same people who would march for women’s rights wearing pussy hats and waving banners about what a sexist pig Trump is are not feminist allies when their gods are found to be fallible. Platitudes about how we should never say women are lying when they come forward about rape suddenly don’t fit any more and now women are making up sexual violence as part of an American conspiracy. Women are liars when it suits the bigger cause.

Lazy، childish political rhetoric du jour only allows for goodies and baddies. If a goody helped on the big، important stage of war and truth، it doesn’t matter if he might be a baddy on the little stage we have given to women’s lives. The truth، if you wish to see it in the case of Assange، is that the first and most pressing case he should answer is the one where he has delayed and therefore denied possible justice to two Swedish women. The UK government should support his extradition to Sweden before they even begin to consider any pressure from the US.

Political men love to talk about rape as a weapon of war. They love to stand alongside Angelina Jolie and act like saviours to the poor women of war-torn nations; so few recognise the war against women at home. Sexual crimes are so much easier to loathe when they are done by marauding barbarians in the theatre of war. The everyday battles of women are always accepted as part of the norm and we are told to wait until everything else is perfect before we can have our safety. Perfect never comes، women keep on waiting and those who pretend they can see us look away because political perfection looks to them like a man with whom we would be scared to be alone.

No one is perfect.

Edited by Rehab Sayed.

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