Carry on Cwtching

This article first appeared in the June/July 2012 issue Red Pepper magazine.

In January, a fledgling community group opened the first in a series of squatted social centres in Swansea. Naming themselves Cwtch, the Welsh word for cuddle, most of the group met during Swansea’s Occupy protests, but from day one they were a movement in their own right.

‘Not everyone in Occupy Swansea wanted to do a social centre,’ recalls 57-year-old activist D Murphy. ‘So we kind of split our meetings into two: we would have an Occupy meeting and then people would drift away and talk about the social centre.’

They began by squatting the abandoned Dolphin hotel in the city centre, after gaining access through an open window. Just one day later they’d transformed the 66-room hotel into the Cwtch Community Centre. There was a donations-optional café, a freeshop and room to relax and hold workshops.

Cwtch has found strength in the variety of people involved. ‘There’s one local businessman who was there from the beginning. There’s a university lecturer and I’m an office manager . . . I’ve made a wonderful new friend who’s 17; it’s cut across all kinds of boundaries,’ says D.

Cwtch has keenly promoted the centre via its own videos, on Facebook and in the mainstream media too. Its transparency has helped attract a diverse range of Swansea residents. At the Dolphin hotel many different people could be found enjoying a cup of tea, or browsing the library, including young families and homeless people.

Homelessness is a serious problem in Swansea. More than 15,000 people sought council help for homelessness in Wales during 2011, up 11 per cent on the previous year. The highest number of homeless as a percentage of the population is in Swansea.

Cwtch’s aim has been not just to provide shelter for the homeless but to highlight the lack of provision for homeless people. ‘Considering the wealth of finance we’re supposedly stopping by running a free arts café, you’d think they could provide more than a single emergency bed for the homeless of Swansea,’ comments Rev, another member of the organising group.

The hotel’s leaseholder, UBS, acted quickly and an interim possession order was obtained, bringing the group to court on Valentine’s Day. D says the courts were surprisingly sympathetic: ‘When he [the judge] was handing down [the verdict] he said if he had any discretion in the matter he might have come to a different decision’…

Read the rest at the Red Pepper website.

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Are quotas the answer?

This was originally written as a university assignment and aimed at  Press Gazette.

Hundreds of  journalists in Germany have called for gender quotas in top media jobs. Women in the UK media give their opinion on whether we should be calling for the same here…

Rebekah Brooks and Sly Bailey: both high profile, both women, and both out of the job. Whatever your opinion on them, they were part of a very small group of women in the industry who make it to the top of their game.

The lack of women in powerful media positions is not just a UK problem. In February, in a letter sent to around 250 editors, publishers and managers across Germany,  journalists called for quotas to get 30% women in executive jobs in editorial departments within the next five years.

Quotas have been in the news recently in Britain in the context of business but the issue has not been seriously raised here in relation to the media. When suggested in any sector they are controversial but are they the only way to equality?

What limited research there has been into the amounts of women in the UK, and global, media workforce has shown that despite high numbers of women entering the industry they are not working their way up the career ladder.

In 2011 the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) released the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media. Covering 170,000 people they found that 73% of the top management jobs globally are occupied by men.

Looking at 16 news companies in the UK across newspapers, television and radio the IWMF found that although women represented 45% of the combined workforce, at senior management level the proportion of women was 29.5%. The UK companies studied, “exhibit entrenched institutional practices of marginalising women in their newsrooms and decision-making hierarchies.”

The trend is similar across media platforms. The Fawcett Society carried out research in 2007 which showed two woman editors out of the 17 national newspapers surveyed. If the study were to be done again today this would be just one, Tina Weaver of the Sunday Mirror. Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) was replaced by a man when she left The Sun to become chief executive of News International. The 2007 also showed 6% women among deputy editors at nationals.

In 2011 Skillset released research into the UK broadcasting industry that said that while women working in radio were better qualified than men (73% had degrees compare to 70% of men), they earned, on average £2,200 less each year. They were also just 34% of senior managers and only 17% at Board level. In television the numbers at board level were 29%.

Dr Cynthia Carter, of Cardiff University, is a leading academic in gender and the media and founding co-editor of the Feminist Media Studies journal. She says there needs to be more research done into why women are not progressing. “A lot of the top jobs need 24/7 availability,” she explains. “As women get into their 30s they start having issues with partners and children and start taking positions that don’t lead to the top jobs to allow them to have a life outside work.”

In Skillset’s research only 16% of women in UK radio had dependent children compared to 25% of men. A report on the film industry commissioned by the UK Film Council, published in 2007, echoed this saying 36% of men lived with dependent children whereas only 14% of women did.

Janet Street-Porter raised the issue in the 1997 documentary A Night In With The Girls saying society still expects women to fill a role. She said women needed time to themselves when they get home from work to “stop being a boss woman and become a normal person.” She suggested men are used to being bossy all the time.

Francesca Preece, editorial assistant at The Sun, says that women in journalism have to fight their corner. “It takes a very strong woman to break through the prejudice. If you had two equally qualified young people, one male and one female, the male journo would almost definitely be taken more seriously,” she explains.

The main argument for the introduction of gender quotas in the UK media follows that although change is happening it’s not happening quickly or thoroughly enough. People recruit in their own image, and will continue to do so until someone shakes things up. Dr Carter describes this as informal and unconscious discrimination where men often see themselves in a candidate of the same gender and similar background.

It is argued that quotas are compensating for the barriers a particular group faces and that as audiences do not get to choose who runs the media so they deserve a more representative workforce to better cater to their needs.

Quota Project, a database of gender quotas for women, use Norway as one of the examples they say prove quotas work. A law was passed there in 2003 to allocate 40% of boardroom places in publicly traded companies to women. There are now have 37.9% women on company boards whereas the UK has 12.5%.

But those people against quotas see them as patronising, elevating people to positions they are not skilled or ready for. “Hiring more women at the expense of men for example won’t make male journos respect them any more than before…They would just be seen as filling a quota and not there on merit.” says Preece.

“If Rebekah Brooks managed it without a quota at one of the most male dominated titles, I am sure many others can elsewhere in Fleet Street.”

Do we need gender quotas in the UK? Journalists Alison Clarke and Michelle Perry go head to head.

Yes

Authour and journalist Alison Clarke is the founder and co-editor of Women’s Views On News.

“Quotas are a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut but where they have been introduced, in boardrooms and parliamentary representation, they do make a difference…Quotas serve a purpose and they should be time limited so it’s not that they’re on the statute book forever.

“I’m 57 and I’ve heard that argument [that we should wait for change] for 30 years. Well, I’ll be dead before it does; it’s nonsense. It won’t happen because we all hire in our image.

“The UK media industry is not just dominated by men at the top, but when you drill all the way down then newsrooms are dominated by men as a result of which our news is filtered through that male lens. They’re deciding who should be heard and who shouldn’t be heard.

“One woman is never enough they reckon you need about 30% so you have a critical mass then things start to change, so you get a critical mass with parliament, suddenly parliament starts talking about childcare, maternity rights, lots of issues which are of more direct relevance to woman and I think the same thing would happen in the newspaper industry.”

“I would say that most women who work within that industry know that it’s very male dominated but if you asked an awful lot of men they wouldn’t necessarily be aware of that. Or if they were they wouldn’t be aware of the impact that it has on women in terms of the culture.

“People on the right argue against it because they say it’s tokenistic and that they don’t want to be a token woman and that they want to get there on their own merit. My argument would be that there are plenty of women out there with plenty of talent and there’s a reason they’re not getting on and it’s got nothing to do with their ability.”

No

Michelle Perry is a journalist specialising in business and finance. She is the editor of CFO World a website for chief financial officers.

“I personally wouldn’t back any quotas in any industry, for any reason. What I’ve seen in business the threat of quotas is enough to make people make change. People don’t like change whether they’re a man or woman and they especially don’t like being told to do it from outsiders.

“Even though journalism is predominately populated by men it is changing and in the younger ranks coming through now there’s probably a greater balance of men and women. Personally I’ve always worked with male bosses and with a majority of men on news desks and I’ve never felt it’s a problem and I’ve never felt that I was inhibited from progressing in my role.

“I think it [the workplace] is changing because more and more women are in the workplace and want to go back to work after they’ve had kids. I think more organisations now realize that they have to have flexible structures to incorporate this very talented workforce that is being excluded.

“Someone should do an industry piece of research then we can see who’s in all levels, then if there is a problem you can work from facts and not presumption. Perhaps it won’t change unless it’s raised and we just carry on plugging along and perhaps women don’t rise up and leave the workforce and don’t vocalise why they are. I think there’s also an issue that women tend to be not as bolshie as men and perhaps wouldn’t go for the roles that they don’t feel confident about.

“I find that if you kind of force the situation then you end up getting people into positions who perhaps aren’t ready. Not because they don’t have the skills or they don’t have the ability to get the skills, but because they haven’t had the experience…they may fail and that will be a disservice to all of us.”

How to…give your cocktail a green-over

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 8 May 2012.

Shaken or stirred, recreating the bar experience at home is becoming ever more popular as the economic downturn makes staying in the new going out. But staying in doesn’t necessarily mean green. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the carbon footprint of alcohol consumed in the UK is 1.5 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The life cycle of the product adds to this and needs to be considered when making the green choice.

One of the easiest ways to go green is to go organic. Chris Parker is the owner of the Surrey-based Organic Spirits Company. ‘Normal fertilisers contain a mixture of natural phosphates, which are gradually running out,’ he says. ‘There’s also nitrates which, in terms of pollution, give off nitrous oxide which is 300 times as toxic as carbon dioxide.’ Dr Paul Taylor is a Carbon Trust advisor who specialises in food and drink. He agrees that farming practices are important. ‘If there’s an agricultural component they need to be careful of not using too many fertilisers,’ he says. Parker says that, after winning 36 international medals, the proof of the Organic Spirits Company’s product is in the drinking. ‘Independent judges who are blind tasting have been picking out our products against the world’s best,’ he says. Fans of organic cocktails say they taste smoother and fresher…

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

The dark side of soya: how one supercrop lost its way

This article was first published in the Ecologist on 1 May 2012.

Once credited with power to prevent cancer and combat high cholesterol, over the last few years, evidence that soya is far from a superfood has begun to emerge. And it’s not just the potentially negative health impact of the bean that has former supporters up in arms: it’s the environmental impact. In the UK we rely heavily on soya, or soy, and it’s not just for vegetarian food. It is a hidden product in many foods and everyday items such as soap. It is a cheap source of protein for people as well as animals and according toGreenpeace, 80 per cent of soya worldwide is used for the livestock industry.  WWF add that the UK consumption alone requires an area the size of Yorkshire to be planted with soya every year. So how did soya go from super crop to super bad?

Deforestation and slavery

Brazil, the second biggest grower and the biggest exporter of soya, is such a big player in the industry that there are major concerns about how this is affecting the Amazon Rainforest. According to Greenpeace, in 2005 around 1.2 million hectares of soya was planted in the Brazilian rainforest. Sarah Shoaka from Greenpeace’s Forest Network says that deforestation has been decreasing on the whole in Brazil since 2008. This is mainly because of the enforcement of a soya moratorium that bans soya produced as a result of deforestation from entering the market place.  However, Shoraka warns that this positive trend may be changing…

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

World Naked Bike Ride: a protest with a difference

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 27 April 2012.

A group of naked strangers cycling through a city centre is going to turn heads. Every year across the UK World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR), ‘the world’s biggest naked protest,’ is held to try and get people to notice in the name of oil dependency and pollution, car culture and the vulnerability of cyclists.

The two biggest issues for the naked protesters are our continued dependence on oil dependency and the lack of safe roads and pathways for cyclists, helping us to reduce our dependency on oil. The naked part of the protest symbolises the vulnerability of cyclists as road users.

While the rides themselves are a bold statement, there is debate around whether they are effective in communicating the issues behind them. The organisers of the bike ride say campaigning for better protection  of cyclists and promoting cycling itself is the only reason they do it. ‘But bear in mind that those behind it often have their own angle,’ says a spokesperson for the WNBR.

Bigger environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth see the naked protest as something more amusing than effective. ‘I applaud the bare-faced cheek of those taking part in the naked bike ride. Anything that helps raise awareness of pollution and greener modes of transport is a good thing in my book,’ says Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth (FOE)…

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

In season now: what to eat during May

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 30 April 2012.

Bank holiday weekends are becoming a regular occurrence and with the weather (hopefully) improving, it’s time to get out and explore. For the foodie, this is about more than just enjoying the scenery; there are plenty of treats to be found if you know where to look. But too many of us don’t, says Slow Food UK CEO, Cat Gazzoli, who is adamant that we need to start taking advantage of our ‘forgotten foods’. ‘Eat it or lose it’ is the motto behind Slow Food’s Ark of Taste network, which catalogues forgotten flavours. It currently stands at 700 products from 30 countries. ‘The producers of these foods swim against the tide of intensive production methods to continue the culinary traditions that have been passed down through the generations,’ says Gazzoli. ‘Every product has a fascinating story behind it.’ So what should you be eating this month? Gazzoli has a few unusual ideas.

Read the full article here at the Ecologist.

Ethical jewellery: what to ask and what to buy

This article first appeared in the Ecologist on 24 April 2012.

Nobody wants to look at jewellery and feel pangs of guilt but there’s no denying that the industry has a poor record when it comes to ethics with everything from blood diamonds to dirty gold and environmental destruction on the charge sheet. What’s more, according toEthical Metalsmiths, although metal mining only employs 0.9 per cent of the global workforce, it consumes 10 per cent of the world’s energy. ‘Mining is the most environmentally damaging industry in the world, and jewellery is 100 per cent dependent on mined products,’ says Greg Valerio, co-founder of Fair Jewellery Action(FJA) and owner of CRED Jewellery. But does that mean you have to give up bijoux entirely? Well, no. But you do need to know what to look out for.

Gold
Jewellery, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, accounts for around 50 per cent of global demand for gold. But there’s a plus side to its popularity and the yellow metal has become the first jewellery component to get Fairtrade certification. Figures released by the Fairtrade Foundation show that artisan and small-scale (ASM) miners sometimes receive as little as 70 per cent of the internationally agreed price of gold. Along with paying fair prices to workers, in order to be certified, mines must minimise the use of chemicals such as mercury and cyanide to extract the gold from ore. Along with low-chemical gold, there is also Fairtrade and Fairmined Ecological Gold….

Read more at the Ecologist