This is an update for anybody that I may have browbeaten into contacting Nick Clegg about Dianne Abbott’s Early Day Motion. Specifically, this is anybody who is part of the Sheffield Hallam constituency, which includes anybody who lives in University of Sheffield Endcliffe Village student accomodation.

For once, I actually did what I told everybody else to do, and I’ve since had a reply from his office. The important part says:


“Unfortunately, due to parliamentary convention, party leaders do not sign non-legislative EDMs and therefore Nick will not be able to sign EDM 625. However, this EDM has been supported by a  number of Nick’s Liberal Democrat colleagues.

Speaking on this issue, Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, expressed his frustration that the government has prevented this issue being debated in parliament as part of an amendment to the human fertilisation and embryology bill, saying ‘the government has indicated that it is not appropriate to debate these issues at this time. If that is the case, when is an appropriate time to debate abortion issues?’ Please rest assured that Norman Lamb and the Liberal Democrats will continue to press for a full and open debate surrounding this issue.”


I think it’s still worth writing to Nick Clegg about this, though. Yes, he’s a party leader and apparently can’t sign this, which is sad. But he’s still a local MP, and as such has a duty to represent his constituents. So even if he can’t put pen to paper, he might at least recognise that this is an important issue, and act accordingly.

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Via The F-Word blog, the news that the wonderful Dianne Abbott is campaigning for abortion rights in Northern Ireland, with the early day motion that states:

“That this House supports safe, legal abortion for women, within existing time limits, no matter where they live in the United Kingdom; notes that because the Abortion Act 1967 was never extended to Northern Ireland, women in Northern Ireland do not have the same access to abortion as women in the rest of the United Kingdom; further notes that as a consequence women who are for example the victims of rape or incest or who are carrying a severely abnormal foetus are forced to continue their pregnancy against their will or to travel to England and pay for a private abortion, which can cost up to £2,000 and takes place later in gestation than necessary because of the burden on women to raise significant sums of money at short notice and to organise travel to Britain; condemns the inequity that this causes by its impact on poorer, younger and other vulnerable women; deplores the fact that thousands of women are forced into motherhood, illegal abortion or debt each year because they do not have the same reproductive rights as women in other parts of the UK; and calls on the Government to relieve this burden and provide funding for women in Northern Ireland to access NHS abortion services in Britain.”


Abortion Rights is asking that everybody contact their MP to ask them to add their support, and, because I’m awesome, I’ve got the list of Sheffield MPs for you*. The links will take you to an email form hosted by the Parliament website, which in simple terms means that all you’ve got to do is click on the suitable link, put your address and email address in the relevant boxes, type a message along the lines of

“As one of your constituents, I would like to ask you to support the Early Day Motion 625 tabled by Dianne Abbot, MP, and help extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Thank you.”

and hit send. It might help to vary the message somewhat, though, so that they don’t think we’re spamming them!


Sheffield Central               —  Rt Hon Richard Caborn (Lab)
Sheffield, Attercliffe        —  Mr Clive Betts (Lab)
Sheffield, Brightside        —  Rt Hon David Blunkett (Lab)
Sheffield, Hallam              — Rt Hon Nick Clegg (LD)
Sheffield, Heeley              — Meg Munn (Lab/Co-op)
Sheffield, Hillsborough  — Ms Angela C. Smith (Lab)


For reasons which escape me, I, and therefore every other University of Sheffield student living in the Endcliffe accomodation, am in “Sheffield, Hallam” and our MP is therefore Nick Clegg.

It should be pointed out that emailing these MPs could have a big impact – each of them voted against lowering the abortion time-limit from 24 to 22 weeks when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was around last year. Now, either it was politically expedient for them to vote in that way, or they were sensible people, or both. Either way, emails from people like us could well remind them to be sensible again. Happy emailing, everybody!


*For any non-Sheffield-based readers, this link will take you to upmystreet, the website that I used to find the MPs.

First of all, thank you to Thefems, who have kindly allowed me free rein over their shiny new website. They are awesome.

Writing here has its own issues, though. On my own site, I can talk about the things that interest me in any way that I choose, secure in the knowledge that it is my own space. On a collaborative website, though, things get a little tricky.

Partly this is because the Sheffield Fems as a group don’t have one single collective opinion on anything. I cannot and will not ever claim to be writing on behalf of the whole group, because we always see things differently. Which makes us almost like a little model of what feminism is about, I suppose.

With that in mind, anything written by me as an individual will be just that – an individual response. And so, to business.


Islam

The BBC and the Guardian both reported yesterday on Professor Amina Wadud’s leading the Friday prayers to mark the start of a conference on Islam and feminism in Oxford. (The Guardian also has an interesting Comment Is Free article on the issue. Since it is in the CIF section, I’m issuing a Risk of Rage warning – you do always get the good, the bad and the ugly commenting there.)

It’s an intriguing situation all round, with the kind of quotes you might expect; on the one hand,

“This is something divine not human. We have to do it in the way it has been ordained by God to do it. Women can lead prayers before other women but for this very specific point, in this situation before a congregation of men and women, a man must lead.” – Mokhtar Badri, vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

and on the other,

“We believe Islam is a gender-equal religion” – Dr. Taj Hargey, Chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre Oxford (MECO).

Dr. Hargey also cites an example in which the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) allowed a woman to lead a mixed-gender service.

Perhaps the most interesting point that was made was the reference to Catholicism made by Mokhtar Badri:

“I also don’t think this is a subject confined to Islam. Even in Christianity Catholics still don’t accept female priests”

Frankly, I’ve always had higher hopes for Islam than for Christianity. Although there is always room in religion for patriarchal norms to take over, at least Islam has a better starting point. You’d never find Catholics claiming that theirs was ‘a gender-equal religion’.


Abortion

Moving away from religion a little, and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is raising its head again. As mentioned in a recent meeting, now is the time to try to make a difference.

It’s interesting to note the different approaches to the story given by the Guardian and the Telegraph – not surprising, but interesting nonetheless. I was told recently that the USA doesn’t have newspapers that are so openly affiliated to one political leaning or another, but that they all seek to maintain a conservative status quo – and present this as being unbiased. Of course, this only makes me appreciate British newspapers more – how better to practice freedom of speech than to have a system whereby you can read whatever version of reality suits you best?!

I don’t really want to go into the minutiae of what each paper has said and why. Suffice it to say that where the Guardian categorises its article under Health, Politics and Women, the Telegraph categorises it under Religion.


USA

And lastly, a few days late but still worth noticing, given the topic above, is the American news on abortion, and other women’s rights, with pre-election dramas being played out everywhere you go online, and some pretty angry bloggers. I don’t want to try to regurgitate what’s been said, because there’s a hell of a lot of it, but have links:

From Hoyden About Town: Third Debate Thoughts, and Video of McCain’s air-scarequotes “health of the mother”

From Alternet: McCain Mocks Women’s Health

From Fourth Wave Feminism: Debate Summary

This last post wasn’t made in the context of the recent debate, but instead talks about two form letters that a woman recieved after writing to each of the candidates in turn. Although not strictly on-topic, it’s well worth a read (and indeed, I recommend Fannie’s Room in general for her “political, social and homo writings for which the first amendment may or may not have been intended”).

From Fannie’s Room: Maybe My Definition of Straight Talk is Different