Corpus Christi Catholic College pupils make their way home passing tributes to teacher Ann Maguire. Photo: Getty
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The stabbing of Ann Maguire was not an isolated incident – it’s part of a trend of fatal male violence against women

The murder of Leeds teacher should Ann Maguire should horrify and upset us, but no more or less than the killings of the other 49 women in the UK this year before her.

Update: Will Cornick was sentenced to life for the murder of Ann Maguire on 3 November 2014.

The stabbing of Ann Maguire was described as an isolated incident by West Yorkshire Police, the Association of Schools and College Leaders, Leeds City Council and governors of Corpus Christi College, Leeds, where she worked. It was not. We can choose to see Ann Maguire as the first British teacher to be stabbed at school since the murder of Philip Lawrence in 1995, however, in the context of fatal male violence against women, her killing was anything but isolated. Ann Maguire was at least the fiftieth woman to be killed through suspected male violence in the UK this year. She was at least the twenty-third to have been stabbed. Seven further women have been killed through head injuries, three through multiple injuries, two strangled, three shot, one smothered, one killed by a fall from height, one from wounds to the neck and two women have been decapitated, through suspected male violence, in the UK in 2014. The causes of death of the remaining seven women have not been publicly released.

Women are most likely to be killed by men. More men than women are killed every year. Men are most likely to be killed by men. Fatal male violence against women is not restricted to domestic violence. Between April 2001 and March 2012, 296 men (an average of 27 per year) and 1,066 women (an average of 97 per year) were killed by a partner or ex-partner. The women represent 47 per cent of the total number of women killed, the men 5 per cent of all men killed. 31.8 per cent of homicide victims were women, 68.2 per cent were men. 6.1 per cent of people convicted of murder were women, 93.9 per cent were men.

Ann Maguire is the second UK woman in 2014 allegedly killed by a boy of 15. Gender is not a switch that is turned on when a person reaches adulthood. It is learned behaviour that is taught from birth. It is a social construct through which sex inequality is maintained and reinforced. Gender creates a conducive context for male violence against women. Ann Maguire was killed by a child and it is important that the law and wider society recognise this but that does not mean that the sex of her killer is irrelevant.

The last school-based mass-killing in the UK was at Dunblane Primary School in 1996. The killer, Thomas Hamilton, was a 43-year-old male. He shot dead one woman teacher, Gwen Mayor, 45, and 16 children aged between five and six; two other women were shot. In the USA, between January 2013 and 10 February 2014, there were 44 school or college shootings, resulting in 28 deaths.  The shooters were aged between five and 37 years old. In all cases, though this is rarely acknowledged, where the sex of the shooter is known (in 40 out of the 44 cases) he was male. The crucial difference between the impact of violence in schools and colleges in the UK and USA is the availability of firearms.

Schools are not utopian microcosms where sexism and male violence against women and girls are absent. An End Violence Against Women Poll conducted by YouGov found that 71 per cent of all 16-18-year-olds said they hear terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a daily basis or a few times a week, and 29 per cent of 16-18-year-old girls identified being subject to unwanted sexual touching at school. Boys are pressurised to exhibit their heterosexuality through misogyny, treating girls as sexual objects and using homophobic taunts against boys who are deemed not to conform to or who do not attain their assigned masculine behaviours. Sexual harassment is not restricted to girls but extended to female teachers with 39 per cent identifying sexist language from pupils directed towards colleagues and 8 per cent having experienced sexual harassment themselves within the last year. Gendered double standards of acceptable behaviours have been internalised, are policed and are used to admonish girls and boys who transgress. Girls and boys have learned that power and authority are linked to successful masculinity. What better way to demonstrate this than to attack the classroom’s key authority figure, the teacher, especially the female teacher?

We cannot fail to acknowledge the existence of gender expressed through enforced roles and behaviours in children and young people if we want to end male violence against women and girls. We cannot ignore routine sexual violence against and the harassment of, girls and women teachers in schools. The education system presents one of our biggest opportunities for sustainable generational change.

Each incident of fatal male violence against women has its own specificities, each dead woman was an individual. Most of them were loved. Almost all their deaths leave friends, families and others grieving. Looking at the commonalities across fatal male violence against women does not reduce women to statistics but it does allow us to recognise a pattern. The refusal to acknowledge that pattern is as much a political act as demanding that male violence against women needs to be named and eradicated. The stabbing of Ann Maguire should horrify and upset us, but no more or less than the killings of the other 49 women in the UK this year before her. These 50 dead women and their killers are linked.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at kareningalasmith.com and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen. Sign her petition asking for improvements in data collection of women killed though male violence here

 

 

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at kareningalasmith.com and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen.

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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.