Women's Liberation

Implanting oppression

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It hasn't been a great winter for the breast implant industry. First the French company Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP) was discovered to be using industrial instead of medical grade silicon to fill its implants.

Now surgeons from the British Association of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons want to ban advertising of cosmetic surgery altogether. It is extraordinary that it has taken them so long to notice that there's an ethical problem with surgery being offered with BOGOFs (Buy One Get One Free) and the sickening "yummy mummy makeover" packages of surgery for women shortly after they've given birth, or those particularly aimed at newly-divorced older women.

However we dress, wherever we go...

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Women's dress keeps hitting the headlines and not because of fashion shows either.

At the beginning of April, the French government decreed that all women had to expose their bodies more as the new law against wearing the veil came into effect. Then a few weeks later, a Toronto policeman was telling students to avoid dressing like a "slut" if they wanted to avoid getting raped. In other words, they should cover up more. And thus the "slut walk" protests were born. In the same week Kenneth Clarke pitched in with the view that some rapes are less serious than others and that men who admit to rape should get reduced sentences.

Socialism and women's liberation

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It is 100 years since the first International Women's Day was held in March 1911, yet despite many victories gender inequality still exists today. Sally Campbell argues that only socialism can bring genuine liberation

We live in a time of contradiction. There are more women in positions of power than ever before, yet attitudes to women seem to be going backwards. Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, a country debating imposing a quota for women in the boardrooms. Yet the head of Deutsche Bank, when asked if he supported the proposal, said yes, of course - women would make boardrooms "more colourful and prettier".

They won't divide us

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The female workers among Birmingham's refuse collection staff have been underpaid for years. They rightly put in equal pay claims and claiming for back pay, and this can range from £30,000 to £60,000 each. It should have been dealt with years ago, but it never was.

So the council had two choices: to bring the women's wages back up to our level or drop our money, which is exactly what they have done. It's loaders on the refuse collection side who have lost, ranging up to over £4,000. The drivers on refuse collections didn't lose anything. On my side of the council, the street clean team, it was our drivers who lost money, up to £3,000, but not workers like me who are considered street sweepers. We didn't lose anything.

Made in Dagenham

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Director: Nigel Cole; Release date: 1 October

It's 1968 and 187 female machinists at the huge Ford Dagenham car plant in east London vote for a 24-hour stoppage in a dispute over grading. Employed to sew seat covers in a dilapidated building where the roof leaks, the women decide upon action when they are regraded as unskilled while male colleagues doing similar work are classified as semi-skilled.

The rise of Islamophobia

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Anti-Muslim racism is on the increase. Dave Weltman looks at how Muslims have been scapegoated in Britain and across Europe.

The trend towards making anti-Muslim racism "respectable" continues to grow relentlessly throughout Europe. There is the success, for example, of those who look likely in the next few months to win a ban on Muslim women wearing garments to cover the face - whether citing "security" concerns in Belgium or "defence of national values" in France. In Switzerland the recent outlawing of minarets through a referendum is being looked upon by reactionaries across the continent as a step towards normalising the arguments that portray mosques as "alien" and threatening cultural impositions.

Positive side-effects

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"These days, nobody seems able to 'keep it in their pants' or honour a commitment! Raising the question, is marriage still a viable option? I'm ashamed to admit that I myself have been married four times, and yet I still feel that it is the cornerstone of civilisation, an essential institution that stabilises society, provides a sanctuary for children and saves us from anarchy."

This was Raquel Welch's response on CNN to this month's fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the pill in the US. Her somewhat internally contradictory argument (she loves marriage so much, she's done it four times!) is that the advent of oral contraception has led to the breakdown of "family values" and rampant promiscuity. She is not alone in putting that case. Tory politicians such as Iain Duncan Smith have argued against making contraception more available to girls, paradoxically claiming it will lead to higher teenage pregnancy rates.

Interview: Sheila Rowbotham - Women who dreamed of emancipation

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A new generation is taking up the struggle against women's oppression. Sheila Rowbotham spoke to Judith Orr about her latest book celebrating women who were fighting for liberation 100 years ago

Your new book, Dreamers of a New Day, explores the period around the turn of the 20th century. What motivated you to write about this period?

The book has a very long history. When I was writing Century of Women I worked through the period and summarised different aspects of politics and work. But I had material that I wanted to explore in more detail that didn't really fit into that very terse format.

Letter from Spain

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In the wake of controversial proposals by the Spanish government, Tamara Ruiz reports on the fight for abortion rights

Controversial proposals by Spain's Socialist Party (PSOE) government to modify the country's abortion legislation have led to waves of protest both by the right, which wants them withdrawn altogether, and by a revitalised women's movement which points to their severe limitations.

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