Another woman dies in an American prison

February 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

The death of a pregnant woman in prison in Indianapolis is worryingly reminiscent of a post on this blog back in October about appalling conditions for women with children in prison.

 The 27-year-old inmate at Liberty Hall prison, Amber Redden, was serving an 18-month sentence for theft when she died suddenly. Her mother has since been very vocal about the need for an investigation into her daughter’s death, saying she never had a seizure before, and that she wasn’t taken care of when she became ill.

Whatever faults may or may not be found in this case, unlike many women, Redden was lucky enough to be in a jail intended for incarcerating mothers and pregnant women – a much better place to be than most American prisons, which have no policy or plan for dealing with pregnant women in prison. Most women with children in prison are non-violent, first time offenders, and in a recent “grading” of prisons, 21 states in America received failing grades for their treatment of incarcerated mothers.

And what of the children? This six-year-old child has a mother and a grandmother in prison – sentenced to nine years – for trying to steal a purse. So many cases are like this, where the women are not violent repeat offenders. In north America this Christmas, a new high was set for children with parents in prison – and African Americans are more affected than any other group. In taking the mothers away – who are in most cases single mothers and the sole carer of the child – the child is placed in an equally vulnerable position and without family support. The conditions are set for the cycle to continue.

This minimum security prison allows women to keep their children with them – and amazingly, has a re-offending rate of zero. The state average is more than 50%. Can there be a more compelling argument for changing and improving the system?

The best way to tackle women in prison is to target the root causes – poverty, vulnerability, mental illness. Instead, help with housing, employment, getting women back on their feet can improve more lives than just hers, can reduce pressure on the prison system, and can avoid tragedies like this, where lives end up being lost over minor offences.


Sexism thrives in the Chinese workplace

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Female workers in China are sexually discriminated against in the workplace, according to the country’s Women’s Commission. The commission has called for part-time workers to receive paternity rights to help counter discrimination against women who had to take pregnancy leave, and better rights for men to take time of to be with children.

Sharing the burden of childcare is something that’s been covered on this blog before  – but China is a particularly interesting country to look at. I heard a very plausible theory that China has flourished economically because of its commitment to getting women in the workplace – compare this with somewhere like India for example, where cultural and religious factors have traditionally excluded most women from the world of work.  If half of the population are kept in their homes, it can only hold back the economy and the state’s development.

Although historically women in China have been clearly placed as second class citizens – think bound feet, concubines, polygamy – the Communist Party brought with them a raft of rights for women, including the right to divorce and work. These principals have evolved over the last sixty years into a position where women traditionally control the household finances in the rapidly developing country. Men also vastly outnumber women due to the one-child policy and the status associated with having a boy, so when it comes to marriage and relationships, women are in a fairly strong position where they can afford to be picky.  

In the workplace however, two-thirds of women think they are discriminated against, and more than 70% of respondents thought men stood a better chance of promotion than women of similar age and abilities. This interesting post on the China Law Blog discusses how many women are keen to work in US or international companies based in China, because they are less likely to discriminate. A quarter of women even admitted they hold back at work and try not to be too successful because they know it might will cause trouble with their partners.

Almost half of men in a recent census said that they believed it was solely the man’s job to earn money, while the woman should remain at home and tend to the family.

Some attitudes are slow to change, but bringing in some of the laws proposed by China’s Women’s Commission would send a very clear message that family life is something that both men and women are responsible for, and a note of optimism for the masses of women who work in China and are struggling to choose between career or children.

UK women face worst fallout of nation’s cuts

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment


As a journalist based in London, today has been entirely dominated by covering the Comprehensive Spending Review outlined by the Chancellor George Osborne. In a day packed with interviewing, gathering responses, and analysing, the most striking statement by a long way came from the Fawcett Society. The campaign group has pointed out in its response to Osborne’s announcement that women are already in the worst position in this age of austerity in Britain, which is facing a national deficit of £180bn this year. And today’s measures will further cement this trend.

The Fawcett Society has said that with 65% of public sector workers being women, they are the most exposed to the inevitable redundancies that must follow the announcements today. It also said women would be hit harder as they use the NHS more through maternity uses and childcare, and will struggle with the reduced benefits in social care, housing  and child care. As a result of the “quango bonfire”, the Women’s National Commission has also been axed, a move which Fawcett says will make it even more unlikely that government will have access to balanced advice on specific women’s needs.

This is a dark day for many vulnerable groups in the UK, and for women most of all.

“Women already typically earn less, own less, and have less financial independence than men. Government plans to reduce the deficit largely through cuts in public spending look set to worsen an already unjust situation.”

European maternity laws to be blocked by UK

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

A row is brewing in Europe this week – nothing new in that! Except this row could be one of the most important decisions the European Parliament ever makes.

European Union flag

Set to vote this week on increasing maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks, the UK is planning to vote against the legislation, which would then block the laws being passed.

The British Conservative government is, predictably, concerned about alienating big business. This move could cost British businesses more than £2.5bn a year.

Woe betide any Tory that suggests that these costs are a small price to pay for a more mature approach to childcare.

So many problems with family life and gender relations across the UK are caused by biased childcare policies. The very talk of “maternity leave” places childcare, and issues to do with children firmly with women.  Plus a policy such as this, however well meaning, will undoubtedly make some employers think twice about employing young women of – and I hate this phrase so forgive me – “child bearing age”.

I appreciate that paternity leave (and maternity leave for that matter) in Europe is already bounds ahead many countries in the world – but isn’t it time to build on that success? Instead of just piling more time onto existing maternity leave, with an unreasonable cost on business, why doesn’t the EU instead make a commitment to allow a certain amount of allocated paternal leave, to be divided between mother and father as seen fit within that family.

Women in the UK currently get 12 months off, with the first six weeks on 90% pay, then 33 weeks on just under £125 a week of statutory maternity pay from the state.  

This site is a brilliant tool for comparing which countries offer what in terms of maternity leave – with Sweden leading the way with 450 days paid parental leave; 360 days at 75%, and 90 days flat rate

A flexible paternity-maternity leave approach like this makes the most sense for families and would have wide-reaching implications for women, making it less likely they would have to face a decision between putting their career on the backburner for a few years or have a family.

It’s time the state stopped putting business ahead of the welfare of its citizens.

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