Sunday, July 25, 2010

The election

I don't know anyone who isn't shaking their head in disbelief over this election. Labor has suddenly come up with very dodgy policies. Gillard is making it up as she goes along, and failing. The prospect of a Coalition in government is too frightening to contemplate. And election based on regressive policies about climate change and boat people - hard to believe, but here we are. So, in the interest of hope, here is Bob Brown's reaction to last night's dismal, polite, scripted, restricted debate. And a reminder that The Greens (a party which does not accept political donations from big business) do have policies about a range of issues, that do not alter when it alteration finds (ie, respond to polling outside the party).

This is from the sbs website. My bold.

The national leaders' debate between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott failed to cover a range of vital issues that Australians want the views of their political leaders on.

Boats and Kevihn Rudd far outweighed hospitals, public transport, highspeed rail and the environment in the Gillard Abbott debate.

The debate ignored national dental health care, funding for mental health, housing, Australia's forests and the fragile Murray Darling Basin.

There was no mention of local government, ending discrimination in marriage laws, saving rural farmlands from open cut coal mines, a new vote on a republic or saving the Great Barrier Reef.

The threat of an Abbott-controlled Senate versus the Greens' responsible record was also completely over-looked.

Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott's refusal to include myself as leader of the Australian Greens shows their unwillingness to be confronted on issues that require real political leadership.

Over a million people voted for the Greens last federal election and more are expected to this year.

Third parties are included in national election debates in many other nations including recently in the UK and in Canada, where the Greens were included with only one member of Parliament.

The Greens have called for three debates regulated by an independent election debate commission.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I've done various voluntary work over the last ten years that I've been a SAHM.

I started a babysitting club for local families, based on a points system.

I've visited an elderly woman at a local nursing home.

I made a cookbook for the local child care centre.

I've been on the management committee for the local child care centre.

I ran two community bookgroups; one at the local library where the children's librarian was doing activities with the children while I was running the discussion with the parents.

At school I've been on the P&C for five years. I've made things for the school fete and helped at the fete and the walkathon and other special days. I work at the school uniform shop. I help in the classroom with reading, art, computers and sport. I do Reading Recovery helping kids learn to read. There are three kids I read with each week. I'm currently class parent for the Kindy class. I have three kids at school and help in each of their classrooms. Some of these things are more fun than others.

I've been on the Management Committee for the local Community Centre, and am currently the President. I write their newsletter.

I do it to feel I'm achieving something, learning something, I suppose, to interact with adults and to support people in the community. The best part is knowing what is going on in the community and being able to connect people with resources to help them.

It can be satisfying, although sometimes it feels like more of the unpaid, unseen work that women do. Most of the voluntary work I've been involved in has been with over-committed women. We need the people who don't usually volunteer to have a go, because those of us who regularly volunteer become burnt out. It is difficult when you want to take on paid work or study, or spend more time with family and feel you can't step down from voluntary work because no-one is prepared to step up to take your place.

It can be disappointing when you organise a free program, people say they will come, and then don't turn up. I wonder why I do it when I'm telling my kids to be quiet because I'm working on something. They like me helping at school, but don't like me being on committees and going to meetings at night (good thing I started that babysitting club!)

I think it would be helpful to have more supports for committee members, which we are implementing. Being on a committee is a serious legal, financial and HR responsibility. I started doing it initially because I thought mums should be heard and hold responsibilities in the broader community (other than paid jobs). Now I do it because I see there is no point complaining about things unless I'm prepared to be part of the solution. I have learnt to speak very nicely to volunteers, and always express gratitude for their help.

I've just enrolled to study two subjects at uni (I have 67 articles, 3 textbooks, 4 novels and 2 collections of poetry to read and understand), and think it is time to cut back on some voluntary work. I'll stick with Reading Recovery (those three kids would drop off the program if I drop out), and I promised to help some African migrants at the local girls high school learn to read, and I'll stay on the P&C and do uniform shop, and be class parent, but I can't resign as President of the local community centre until someone else is prepared to take my place. Also, I've put my name down to teach the ethics course in NSW primary schools if it goes ahead. And I've promised the local Greens group that I will help with letter box drops before the election and hand out how-to-votes on the day. It is all important. I'll see how I go.

Somehow I manage to get the housework done, the clothes mended, and I'm a stickler for eating well, (home cooked meals), but I must admit I am tired. My exercise at the moment consists of hanging out washing and walking the kids to school. Not enough.

Seems a bit crazy to be volunteering, doesn't it. I'm thinking something's going to give.

All Joy and No Fun - Parenting

An article from the New York magazine - it's a long one - about parenting. Does it make you happy? Compares results from lots of studies.

Some quotes:

“They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.”

One hates to invoke Scandinavia in stories about child-rearing, but it can’t be an accident that the one superbly designed study that said, unambiguously, that having kids makes you happier was done with Danish subjects. The researcher, Hans-Peter Kohler, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says he originally studied this question because he was intrigued by the declining fertility rates in Europe. One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.

Of course, this should not be a surprise. If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve. When Kahneman and his colleagues did another version of his survey of working women, this time comparing those in Columbus, Ohio, to those in Rennes, France, the French sample enjoyed child care a good deal more than its American counterpart. “We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,” says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, “instead of political change that would make family life better.”


Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak. ... Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing.

Ain't THAT the truth!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dirty Laundry

A blog by Heidi Davoren in SMH. About the pornography encountered by children in their daily lives. She includes links to stories from ex-sex workers, and an article by Andrea Dworkin about Glasgow banning lap-dancing. I think this issue is gaining traction.

Sexploitation overload: porn and public places
July 13, 2010 - 8:42AM

When your child spies a trashy porn mag in a servo and asks out loud: “Mummy why is that lady not wearing a shirt?”, should you give her the honest answer? Say, “Well sweetie, men take those magazines home and masturbate over them”?

Hmmmm. No, maybe honesty is not the best policy in this scenario.

Should you lie to her? “Well, darling it must have been a very hot day that day.” No, not really cutting it.

Should you divert her attention to a giant chocolate bar instead? Oh, no wait, they’re right next to the 50 other porn mags sitting in the magazine stand and now she is confronted with a dozen more pictures of half-naked women, a couple of spread-eagled vaginas and some oiled-up backsides.

Better still, if your daughter can read she’ll be privy to headlines like Finally legal – don’t tell my dad and Bangkok over this hot Asian.

So you pay your bill quickly, trying to block her view, and head back to the car hoping an upbeat version of Cold Spaghetti might erase her short-term memory.

On the way back to your vehicle you pass a P-plater’s car with a “Porn Star” bumper sticker and a ute full of boys who yell “show us your tits” to the young female driver.

Where is a mother to turn in these days of sex, sex and longer lasting sex, not to mention sex tapes, sex dolls and sex shops?

Oh that’s right, it’s a free world and people can access porn if they want to so long as it’s not hurting anyone.

So is it hurting anyone?

If viewing pornography leads to an increased likelihood of sexual assault, pedophilia and marital breakdown then the answer is simple: yes.

But that’s just what the research tells us - maybe we should hear from some people in the sex industry themselves.

There’s this from some ex-prostitutes, or this from ex-lap dancers, or this from ex-porn stars, and let’s not forget the female staff who work in our servos, some of whom are under 18, who are forced to handle porn that is legally only suitable for people over 18.

Despite this contradictory legislation, or thousands of first-hand accounts from beaten, abused, fragile women, it seems nothing is going to stop the juggernaut that is the porn industry - there’s far too much money to be made.

So in this free world that I and my children also live in, if I don't want to access porn, how can I avoid it?

It’s impossible to close my eyes and blindfold my child while I pay my fuel bill or pick up a newspaper from the newsagent.

I want to raise my two daughters to believe they are worth more than what is between their legs, but as children they will be confronted with this and this, as teenagers this and as women of the world the bombardment continues.

This month the UN created the “UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women”, in a bid to “promote gender equality” according to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Let’s help the Secretary-General out and get this trash out of our servos and off the shelves of our convenience stores and into adult shops where it belongs away from the eyes of our children.

You can join the growing movement to protect our kids from porn and other psychologically-damaging images here.

Now bring on the femi-Nazi labels and the pot shots at my sex life and call me a prude as much as you like. Given 100% of men view pornography by the time they’re 15, I’m not expecting the male population to applaud such a move.

Any men care to prove me wrong?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The oil spill - what to do?

Follow Greenpeace's advice on how to use less oil. Sounds like a plan.

In the wake of the ongoing catastrophe of the Gulf oil spill, lots of people have been asking us how they can reduce their oil consumption in their daily lives. Here's our top ten:

1. Carpool, cycle or use public transport to go to work.

2. Choose when possible products packaged without plastic and recycle or re-use containers.

3. Buy organic fruits and vegetables (fertilisers and pesticides are based on oil more often than not).

4. Buy beauty products (shampoo, soap, make-up) based on natural ingredients, not oil.

5. Choose when possible locally produced products (less transport involved).

6. Buy clothes made out of organic cotton or hemp - not from oil derivatives.

7. Use non-disposable items in picnics and summer festivals.

8. Quit bottled water.

9. Fly less.

10. Demand that your government encourage renewable energy instead of oil.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Truth About the Porn Industry

An article in the Guardian about Gail Dines, an academic who campaigns against pornography. Do I feel a bit sick and sad now? Oh yeah.

The truth about the porn industry

Gail Dines, the author of an explosive new book about the sex industry, on why pornography has never been a greater threat to our relationships

The last time I saw Gail Dines speak, at a conference in Boston, she moved the audience to tears with her description of the problems caused by pornography, and provoked laughter with her sharp observations about pornographers themselves. Activists in the audience were newly inspired, and men at the event – many of whom had never viewed pornography as a problem before – queued up afterwards to pledge their support. The scene highlighted Dines's explosive charisma and the fact that, since the death of Andrea Dworkin, she has risen to that most difficult and interesting of public roles: the world's leading anti-pornography campaigner.

Dines is also a highly regarded academic and her new book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, has just come out in the US, and is available online here. She wrote it primarily to educate people about what pornography today is really like, she says, and to banish any notion of it as benign titillation. "We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn," she says, "and given what we know about how images affect people, this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behaviour and attitudes towards women."

The book documents the recent history of porn, including the technological shifts that have made it accessible on mobile phones, videogames and laptops. According to Dines's research the prevalence of porn means that men are becoming desensitised to it, and are therefore seeking out ever harsher, more violent and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much violence the fans want, she says; at the industry conferences that Dines attends, porn makers have increasingly been discussing the trend for more extreme practices. And the audience is getting younger. Market research conducted by internet providers found that the average age a boy first sees porn today is 11; a study from the University of Alberta found that one third of 13-year-old boys admitted viewing porn; and a survey published by Psychologies magazine in the UK last month found that a third of 14- to 16-year-olds had first seen sexual images online when they were 10 or younger – 81% of those polled looked at porn online at home, while 63% could easily access it on their mobile phones.

"I have found that the earlier men use porn," says Dines, "the more likely they are to have trouble developing close, intimate relationships with real women. Some of these men prefer porn to sex with an actual human being. They are bewildered, even angry, when real women don't want or enjoy porn sex."

Porn culture doesn't only affect men. It also changes "the way women and girls think about their bodies, their sexuality and their relationships," says Dines. "Every group that has fought for liberation understands that media images are part and parcel of the systematic dehumanisation of an oppressed group . . . The more porn images filter into mainstream culture, the more girls and women are stripped of full human status and reduced to sex objects. This has a terrible effect on girls' sexual identity because it robs them of their own sexual desire."

Images have now become so extreme that acts that were almost non-existent a decade ago have become commonplace. From studying thousands of porn films and images Dines found that the most popular acts depicted in internet porn include vaginal, oral and anal penetration by three or more men at the same time; double anal; double vaginal; a female gagging from having a penis thrust into her throat; and ejaculation in a woman's face, eyes and mouth.

"To think that so many men hate women to the degree that they can get aroused by such vile images is quite profound," says Dines. "Pornography is the perfect propaganda piece for patriarchy. In nothing else is their hatred of us quite as clear."

Born in Manchester, Dines moved to Israel in 1980, aged 22, and soon became involved in the women's movement. An event organised by the feminist consciousness-raising group Women against Pornography in Haifa – in which pornography was shown – changed her life forever. "I was astounded that men could either make such a thing or want to look at it," she says. From then on, she knew she had to campaign about the issue.

There were two images from Hustler magazine that she found especially shocking: a cartoon of a construction worker drilling a jackhammer into a woman's vagina, and one depicting a woman being fed through a meat grinder. "I was newly married and told my husband that night how appalled I was, which he fully understood," she says. "If he had said I was a prude I don't think I could have stayed with him."

The couple moved to the US in 1986, and Dines has taught at Wheelock College, Boston ever since, where she is professor of sociology and women's studies and chair of the American studies department. She is something of a lone voice in academia. Aside from what she says are "a handful" of colleagues across the US, most contemporary scholars are positive about pornography, and Dines thinks this is due to both a fear of being considered in alliance with the religious right and the view that pornography represents and champions sexual liberation.

"Many on the liberal left adopt a view that says pornographers are not businessmen but are simply there to unleash our sexuality from state-imposed constraints," she says. This view was reflected in the film The People vs Larry Flynt, where the billionaire pornographer of the film's title – the head of the Hustler empire – was portrayed as a man simply fighting for freedom of speech. Dines disputes these ideas. "Trust me," she says, "I have interviewed hundreds of pornographers and the only thing that gets them excited is profit."

As a result of her research, Dines believes that pornography is driving men to commit particular acts of violence towards women. "I am not saying that a man reads porn and goes out to rape," she says, "but what I do know is that porn gives permission to its consumers to treat women as they are treated in porn." In a recent study, 80% of men said that the one sex act they would most like to perform is to ejaculate on a woman's face; in 2007, a comment stream on the website included a number of women who said that, on a first date, they had, to their surprise, experienced their sexual partner ejaculating on their faces without asking.

Sexual assault centres in US colleges have said that more women are reporting anal rape, which Dines attributes directly to the normalisation of such practices in pornography. "The more porn sexualises violence against women, the more it normalises and legitimises sexually abusive behaviour. Men learn about sex from porn, and in porn nothing is too painful or degrading for women." Dines also says that what she calls "childified porn" has significantly increased in popularity in recent years, with almost 14m internet searches for "teen sex" in 2006, an increase of more than 60% since 2004. There are legal sites that feature hardcore images of extremely young-looking women being penetrated by older men, with disclaimers stating all the models are 18 and over. Dines is clear that regular exposure to such material has an effect of breaking down the taboo about having sex with children.

She recently interviewed a number of men in prison who had committed rape against children. All were habitual users of child pornography. "What they said to me was they got bored with 'regular' porn and wanted something fresh. They were horrified at the idea of sex with a prepubescent child initially but within six months they had all raped a child."

What can we expect next from the industry? "Nobody knows, including pornographers," she says, "but they are all looking for something more extreme, more shocking." She recently interviewed a well-known pornographer, while his latest film played in the background. It contained a scene of a woman being anally penetrated while kneeling in a coffin.

In Dines's view, the best way to address the rise of internet pornography is to raise public awareness about its actual content, and name it as a public health issue by bringing together educators, health professionals, community activists, parents and anti-violence experts to create materials that educate the public. "Just as we had anti-smoking campaigns, we need an anti-porn campaign that alerts people to the individual and cultural harms it creates."

"Myths about those of us who hate pornography also need to be dispelled in order to gain more support from progressives," she says. "The assumption that if you are a woman who hates pornography you are against sex shows how successful the industry is at collapsing porn into sex." Would the critics of the employment practices and products at McDonald's be accused of being anti-eating, she asks pointedly.

The backlash against Dines and her work is well-documented. Various pro-porn activists post accusations about her on websites, suggesting she is motivated by money, hates sex, and victimises women to support her supposed anti-male ideology. reported recently that the sex writer, Violet Blue, had launched a pro-porn campaign to counteract an anti-porn conference that Dines and colleagues held last month. Dines is regularly criticised by pornographers in the trade magazines and on porn websites and she tells me that her college receives letters after any public event at which she is speaking, attacking her views.

Does she ever feel depressed by all this? "It gets me down sometimes, of course. But I try to surround myself with good things – my students, colleagues, and my family." She says the blueprint for her aims is the eradication of slavery in the US, which was achieved despite the fact that every single institution was geared to uphold and perpetuate it. "What is at stake is the nature of the world that we live in," says Dines. "We have to wrestle it back."

Hey Yeah Right Get a Life

I've just read a book of short stories by UK writer Helen Simpson called Hey Yeah Right Get a Life. All the stories are about being a mother. There are stressed out stay at home mums. There are stressed out career mums. There are mums struggling with the loss of time for themselves and their changed identities, and changed adult relationships.

It is such a relief to find truths about mothering in fiction.

I can recommend this book. I'm adding it to my list of recommended books about mothering in fiction.

Mothers in Fiction:

Nursery Crimes: A Mommy Track Mystery - Ayelet Waldman

I Don't Know How She Does It - Alison Pearson

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Schriver

Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

The Hours - Michael Cunningham

Dying for Cake - Louise Limerick*

The Love Child - Fran Cusworth*

Safety - Tegan Bennet Daylight*

Arlington Park - Rachel Cusk

Little Children - Tom Perrotta

Hey Yeah Right Get a Life - Helen Simpson

Herland (1915) - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

What Daintha Did (1910) - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

BPAs info goes mainstream

The Essential Baby site is running some stories on BPAs, and how to avoid them. This is good news. A huge area of concern, and, to avoid them means changing the way we shop, prepare and store food, and what toiletries we use. This way of thinking is what people in the green movement have been thinking about and doing for a long time. Yes, it takes work, but yes, it is worth it. Also worth campaigning about. There is a blogger who's writes at The Zero Waste Home. Whenever she comes across something she won't buy, or something that ends up in her bin, she emails the manufacturer.

Nine steps to a healthier, greener household
July 5, 2010 - 11:24PM

Common food packaging contains many harmful chemicals.

It is becoming more and more apparent that substances such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates are a potential danger to ourselves and especially our children.

While many governments, including in Australia, are beginning to ban BPA in things such as babies bottles, the fact remains that these substances are in a huge range of products, not just bottles. It can seem totally overwhelming if you start thinking about how to avoid them, to the point you feel like giving up and just forgetting about it all. But there are steps you can take to at least cut down on the amount of BPA and Phthalates your household is exposed to. Here are nine steps – five relatively easy, and four that might be a bit more of a challenge, but well worth considering – that you can take to start eliminating BPA and Phthalates from your life.

Don’t heat food in plastic containers – it’s all too easy to take last night’s take-away and heat it up in the microwave in the plastic containers it came in. But various studies on BPA have shown that heat, such as heating a container in a microwave, can lead to BPA leaching out of containers in to food. Play it safe and if you are going to re-heat food in the microwave, use a glass or ceramic container.

Don’t use hairspray – Almost all hairspray is the equivalent of spraying plastic on your hair. Not nice. And the phthalates found in most hairsprays can be absorbed through your scalp and inhaled. Oh, and the artificial fragrances used in hairsprays, they are full of phthalates too. Try making your own hairspray out of vodka (mix one cup of water, 1 tbsp of vodka and 4 tbsp of lemon juice. Mix and put in a spray bottle. Stored in the fridge, it should last for about a month).

Don't use baby bottles containing BPA - this might seem like a no-brainer now that Australian retailers are beginning to phase out bottles containing the substance, but bottles handed down from a sibling, or on shelf right now, could still contain BPA. EB members have compiled a list of brands which are BPA-free.

Stop using air fresheners – Those things are nasty: they usually end up making rooms smell a bit weird, give people headaches and are generally not needed. And almost all of them are made with phthalates and other really unpleasant chemical compounds. Similar story for candles made with chemical scents (choose bees-wax or soy candles instead). Make your own pot-pourri with natural essential oils, or just try opening the window – it’s often just as effective as plugging in an ‘air freshener’ (which don’t really freshen the air anyway!)
Get rid of your PVC shower curtain – most shower curtains are made with PVC, which is softened with phthalates. Try a cotton or hemp shower curtain (a fabric shower curtain can be more effective than you probably imagine!) or try places like Ikea for a PEVA shower curtain instead.

And a bit harder...
Avoid your car – okay, this is going to be hard for most people. But much of the plastic in your car (for example, the dashboard) is full of BPA and phthalates. While there are no studies to show how exposure from being in a car affects passengers, some people argue that it is better safe than sorry. At the very least, if you get your car commercially cleaned, avoid any fragrances on offer (see below about fragrances).

Avoid plastic packaging – another hard one, as almost everything comes in plastic! But as well as the environmental damage from plastic, it contributes to oil dependency (you did know plastic was made from oil, right?) and much if not most packaging contains BPA and phthalates.

Avoid as much food packaging as possible – unfortunately it is not just plastic packaging that has potentially toxic materials – it is also found in cans and other containers (the lining of cardboard boxes that make them leak proof? There is a reason they are leak proof, and the compounds used to make that lining are being investigated in various countries as they are believed to be potential carcinogens). Try to avoid individually wrapped items, and buy fresh produce rather than processed food wherever possible.

Avoid artificial fragrances – this one might seem easy, but it’s really very difficult for most people. Almost everything in your bathroom, from the soap and shampoo to make-up, cleaning products and shaving cream, is almost guaranteed to have artificial fragrances in it. Almost all cleaning products, lotions, creams and cosmetics now have artificial fragrances in them, and as well as setting off allergic reactions in a lot of people, those fragrances are full of phthalates and often other compounds you probably want to avoid. As well as being potentially harmful to human life, studies have shown that things like artificial musk (which is widely used) is highly damaging to many other organisms. While it may seem difficult at first, avoiding these things is possible. Try to clean as much as possible with simple products like vinegar, bi-carb of soda and lemon juice (the internet is full of tips on how to go about this). Companies such as Lush sell products that are better for you and the environment, and usually smell as good if not better than the artificial fragrances you might be used to.

At first, avoiding things like BPA and phthalates can seem overwhelming. But by being just a little more mindful about the products we purchase and use, we can reduce the exposure to these harmful products that our households, and families are currently enduring. And who knows – a little thought today could end up being something we are extremely thankful for in the future.

Natalia Forrest is a UK based writer and researcher with an interest in incorporating ethical and sustainable practices in to everyday life. She is the mother of a six year old.

And Natalia Forrest's story explaining more about BPAs is here

Sunday, July 04, 2010

New United Nations body for women

From The New York Times:

A U.N. Agency for Women? Yes! But Those Names...
Published: July 2, 2010

UNITED NATIONS — A certain hallowed ritual around the United Nations holds that to ensure a truly auspicious beginning, any new branch of the world body needs a really first-rate acronym.

So the new umbrella organization for women, which was unanimously approved by the General Assembly on Friday after years of haggling, seemed off to a rocky start, given that its acronym would be Unegeew.

That shorthand stands for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. It borders on being unpronounceable, and as some indigenous wags pointed out, ends with a rather unfortunate “eew” sound.

The General Assembly’s resolution actually christened the fledgling organization U.N. Women, which nobody likes either. (The basic complaint is that it smacks of a social club, rather than an organization designed to lead the transformation of women’s lot globally.) A proposed name discarded as not quite catchy enough was Nations United for Women. In the end, diplomats have resorted to calling it the “Gender Entity,” often groaning or laughing as they say the words.

Of course, there is nothing like a language issue to get the French exercised. French is one of the two official languages of the United Nations, but very little work around headquarters unrolls en français. (To make the point, a few months ago the French ambassador to the United Nations, Gérard Araud, who speaks mellifluous English, refused to start speaking at a news conference until the often elusive interpreters were in place to translate from French to English.)

With the new women’s organization, the French managed to get the official translation included in a footnote: ONU Femmes. Now they are pushing for that name to be used over the English version.

“ONU Femmes just sounds so much better than ‘unwomen,’” said Stéphane Crouzat, the spokesman for the French Mission.

The basic idea behind U.N. Women is to pull together four small, fragmented agencies that worked on women’s issues, with much duplication. By reconstituting the agencies into a single entity, member nations are hoping the organization will provide the United Nations with more clout in addressing women’s problems. U.N. Women is supposed to undertake a variety of tasks, from supervising projects around the world to lobbying for better laws for women to ensuring that United Nations agencies promote women’s equality.

Its director will be a senior post, an under secretary general. The basic criterion for the job, which is expected to be filled in September, is for someone seen as an international star from “the south,” so as not to give the impression that the Western world is thrusting its concept of women’s rights on the rest. The favorite so far is Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile.

The negotiations dragged on because of resistance among some member states to the very idea that women needed their own United Nations organization. It took four years to negotiate the final text. The problem with finding a good name, diplomats said, is that they ran out of time.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 3, 2010, on page A5 of the New York edition.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

IVF expert warns women to not wait

From The Guardian, an interview with Gedis Grudzinskas, an obstetrics and gynaecology expert, expressing his concerns that we are too dependent on fertility technology. He is known as a straight-talker and doesn't give his patients false hope. He is concerned with the trends in women's choices, and the broader social picture.

"This is what has intrigued me in recent years," Grudzinskas goes on. "That the age women have their first child is increasing slowly. In the UK it's a bit over 31. Even in Lithuania the age is starting to go up there too. It can happen very quickly, over a period of just 15 years. Something is happening in society. I don't think it's directly related to how women view themselves. And it's too easy to say that the world of full of males who can't commit to relationships. There is something else going on." He fears it may be linked to a misplaced trust in medical advances.

"Women should avoid delaying starting their family until their 30s. But society has to change for that to happen. Women should be given adequate time to have the child without losing opportunities for career development. At the moment, we are seeing women who tend to do better in the workplace behaving like men [ie postponing childbirth or not bothering at all]. Is that what we want?" He has the opposite concerns to activists who argue that we are becoming overpopulated. He wants to encourage more babies. "We need more babies to sustain the economy. As it is, we are not going to have enough people to support the ageing population."

The other unspoken cruelty behind fertility treatment is the gender bias, he adds. "There are many more limitations to women's fertility than to a man's. A man may only have two sperm to rub together and that may be sufficient to derive a live birth. The technology has its limits for women." And it is, like nature, notoriously unpredictable. He has seen couples with very low numbers of eggs "and, abracadabra, they conceive naturally." But many people are over-reliant on IVF – not fate – as their fallback. "And going on that IVF merry-go-round with all the drugs and the stress, given the limited return ..."