A spot of Reading then Heathrow

The Green London mayoral candidate reports from Reading and her party's conference plus fighting air

Conference in Reading is remarkably quiet compared with recent Green Party get-togethers, or perhaps it just seems that way after leaving behind the excitement of the London election. The campaign is snowballing now, and the first full hustings took place on Thursday, hosted by the Green Alliance. You can watch the videos and judge for yourself how we all did on Friction.tv.

Away in Reading, we've been enjoying the international flavour of the conference. The 'Global Voices' panel on Friday afternoon saw the Venezuelan Ambassador to the UK, Samuel Moncada discuss global human and environmental rights with Dr Abdullah Abu Hilal from the Palestinian West Bank town of Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb on its way to being officially twinned with my home town of Camden. Also on the panel, talking about the ongoing problems with Shell in the Ogoni region of Nigeria, was human rights lawyer Patrick Okonmah.

Meanwhile, back in London, two new reports have been published that finally demolished the government's paper-thin economic case for expansion at Heathrow. Friends of the Earth have released their paper, “Heathrow expansion – its true costs”. This shows the massive faults in how the consultation documents value the impacts of expansion. The report shows that, even if you accept the government’s ethically dubious framework that reduces all the impacts of a new runway to amounts of money, the numbers still don’t add up.

The figure used to calculate the cost of climate change damage isn't the Stern Report’s 'business as usual' figure of £53 per tonne of carbon dioxide, but just £19 - a figure that assumes climate change itself will be minimised thanks to strong policies from the government. FoE calls this 'circular reasoning of the worst kind'. Assuming that expanding an airport does count as 'business as usual', correcting this error almost triples the climate costs from £4.8 billion to more than £14 billion, and wipes out the government's 'net benefit' at a stroke.

The FoE report also finds flaws in calculations of the future cost of flights. In particular, the most ridiculous assumption in the whole consultation – that the price of oil “falls from $64 per barrel in 2006 to $53 per barrel in 2030”. I read this and (after I picked myself up off the floor) went to check the oil price today - it was $95.

The second report, published by consultants CE Delft who were commissioned by campaigners HACAN to look more closely at the figures, is also damning of the government’s economic analysis. They found that gains to business and employment were being similarly inflated by not taking into account the fact that money, if not spent on via the expanded airport, would be spent elsewhere in the local economy.

These studies, exposing the economic con-trick BAA and the government are trying to pull, are important since these supposed benefits are their last positive argument, set against a vast pile of negative consequences of expansion. The population of London are virtually up in arms about the extra noise and air pollution that would result from more flights, and the climate change argument is completely clear – we can’t fight climate change and build more airports, full-stop.

We now have just a few more days until the close of the consultation. Like most such consultations, the questions have been put together in such a way that it’s very difficult to answer them and actually get your opinions across. The campaigners suggest answering all the questions with a simple ‘No’ and I'm urging everyone to do the same before 27th February. See the Stop Heathrow Expansion website for more on what you can do before then, including coming to the big rally in Westminster on 25th February.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.