Why should it be only women who speak out about sexual violence? An IWD protest in Brazil. Photo: Getty
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On International Women's Day, let's ask men why progress towards equality is so slow

Men need to do more than ask for gratitude for being an ‘ally’ or say they think equality is a ‘good thing’ in principle. They need to feel real anger - and help make a change.


As our TV screens, Twitter feeds, newspapers and magazines burst with feminine talent for International Women’s Day, I have a nagging feeling something has been lost in translation. International Women’s Day shouldn’t actually be about women per se. It’s about showing what it would be like to have a more equal society. A magical glimpse of a parallel universe where all our lives are full - not just for one day, but every day - of the difference women can make if they are free to fulfill their potential. What kind of lives we could all have if they really were given equal billing, or even – perish the thought - promoted.

And when the conversation only focuses on how women are leading the charge for change, the ball is then put firmly in our court. Why can’t we find the women to lead the country, to run our companies, to fight our wars and write our great novels if they are all so talented, the refrain goes. Yet we rarely ask what kind of society it is we expect women to take on – or who else has a role to play in changing it. That makes it seem like ending inequality is something for women to do, not something from which we all benefit. In turn, the question about why progress is so slow – when we’ve had feminism for generations – also becomes something for women to answer alone.

Yes, you - Women. Why have you let inequality endure? Why does the pay gap still exists, and indeed why is it is getting bigger? Its existence is ‘just a fact’, says Nigel Farage . . . because only women have children and so of course their pay should suffer. Why are women only overwhelmingly appointed to non-exec positions in businesses rather than as decision makers - because it is ‘elitist’ to want to see women running businesses, according to Alison Wolf. Why do rape and domestic violence reports continue to rise, but prosecutions continue to fall – because it is ‘complex’, according to the police.  The list goes on - why do we still lock up women who have experienced sexual violence in conflict? Why do only middle class, white feminists seem to get the book deals? And why is the word feminism so negative, ‘unhelpful’ and offputting? All this and more is our problem - and so ours alone to resolve.

It's time to stop the blame game in its tracks. It is not for women to change the world, but for the world to change through equality for women. And that means we need to turn to the other half of the equation and ask men as the major beneficiaries why progress is so slow - and what they are going to do about it.

Feminism isn’t about women. It’s about the inequality in power and outcomes that occurs when women are locked out from the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Changing that requires not just women to come forward but men to unlock those barriers too. To be the ones saying they are frustrated by the pace of change, because they are missing out on that magical world they get to glimpse once a year on IWD. Men need to do more than ask for gratitude for being an ‘ally’ or say they think equality is a ‘good thing’ in principle. They need to feel real anger that more should be done - and help with the action necessary to get it done.

I stand alongside those amazing women fighting the good fight and encouraging them to speak up. Their diverse voices enrich my life and make me passionate about equality and how it will benefit me and those I love. But this International Women’s Day, I’m turning to my male colleagues, friends and family and asking them not just to listen, but to be accountable too.

Men of the world: see the difference women make and the talent they have. See what you are missing out on when inequality goes unchallenged, when your mothers, sisters, lovers and friends have to put up with this rubbish we call the patriarchy and so struggle to succeed. The time for sympathy or indifference is over. Start being selfish and do something about breaking it down yourselves – trust us, it will make your lives better too, not just on IWD but every day.  

Photo: Getty
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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?